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Copywriting is a skill. Excellent copy can persuade readers to act in a way they otherwise wouldn’t. That includes the clients and prospective clients reading your website or social media posts. Poorly written copy can not only turn away prospective clients but can confuse them, resulting in a reduced rate of return for your business. The good news for budding marketing copywriters is that it’s a skill that can be learned, practiced, and improved upon over time.

The saying ‘imitation is the best form of flattery’ may apply in many circumstances but not where copywriting is concerned. Copying is plain-and-simple plagiarism. To avoid the temptation to steal another’s content, we bring you the inspiration to write like a pro. If you write at all, I recommend trying Grammarly. It is by far the best on the market without breaking the bank.

Upfront, we have three copywriting health warnings

One, tie in your content marketing plans with your overall marketing and corporate objectives. It shouldn’t be an afterthought but an integrated element of your company’s strategy.

Two, too much-branded content – that’s copy written with your commercial interests in mind rather than addressing your audience’s demands and pain points – will have the opposite of your desired effect. People will detach themselves from your brand.

Three, be prepared to ditch your copywriting schedule if circumstances dictate a change in direction. If we’ve learned anything during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s the absolute necessity to flex and adapt to what’s happening around us. Be sensitive to external factors always.

Without further ado, here are our five golden rules of copywriting to empower you to pick up the pen or open the laptop and have a go…

Related: How to write a blog post: A step-by-step guide from preparation to publication

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Rule #1: Inspiration, not emulation

The more reading you do, the better your writing will be. The first task in any copywriting project is to research your chosen subject. Read what’s been written about the topic to gather ideas for your writing.

As stated in the introduction, do not plagiarise someone else’s work. Not only will the original author complain about your bad behavior, but it’s also likely other people will notice your copycat content too. If you’ve written for the web, this includes search engines that specifically look for new content and penalize for regurgitated content. In other words, your rankings will suffer.

Rule #2: Collaboration, not isolation

The phrase coined by John Donne, ‘no man is an island,’ is highly relevant to the copywriting process. Depending on where your content is being placed, your collaborators will be any combination of graphic designers, website developers, publication editors, and marketing agencies.

Strong imagery, such as infographics, will bring your copy to life. That’s where your graphic designer comes in. Nicely formatted content broken up into chunks makes your copy easier to scan online. That’s where your website developer comes in. Investing your time in trending topics identified in forward features lists of industry, regional or national magazines is time well spent. That’s where your publication editor comes in. Admitting copywriting isn’t one of your best talents, and seeking expert assistance instead is preferable to doing a terrible job. That’s where your marketing agency comes in. (Bar Marketing can help with most of these tasks.)

Related: 120 of the Best Words and Phrases for Marketing with Emotion

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Rule #3: Quality, not quantity

Just because you have a defined word count or character limit, it doesn’t mean you have to achieve it. If you’ve said everything you need to, stop. Your readers will not appreciate unnecessary waffles. It’s a valuable exercise to challenge yourself to write in as short a form as possible. Obviously, this is more pertinent to online channels, social media particularly, but don’t protract your writing anywhere (both online and offline), or it’ll get boring.

Rule #4: Influence, not interruption

Traditionally, marketing operates by interrupting the reader to deliver an announcement. Marketing influences the reader by enabling a conversation between a proposition and a prospect. You should (1) find your voice, (2) create an argument, (3) formulate your proposition, (4) understand your prospect, and, finally, (5) bring your copy to life.

The last of these, bringing your copy to life, is trickier than it might sound. Without getting overly technical regarding literary devices, use verbs, single-syllable words, and full stops to generate energy. Within your sentences, please start with the subject and verb; end on a high with a strong word or phrase, and don’t let it dribble away.

Rule #5: Structure not uninviting blocks of text

We touched upon this briefly above. Even the most prolific reader is put off when confronted with pages of unformatted writing. The ability to scan is essential. With this in mind, summarise the whole piece in a one-paragraph introduction, break up content regularly with subheadings and bullets, highlight quotes and essential facts or statistics to draw the eye, and use amazing visuals. Employing all these tools will bring successful results. You must hire a professional website developer to present your business in the manner you want it to convey your thoughts, products, ideas, and stories.

Related: How Good Website Content Helps You Earn Potential Customers

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Catherine Bailey, Managing Director at Bar Marketing

Article by Catherine Bailey is the Founder and Managing Director of Bar Marketing Limited, a dedicated legal industry marketing agency utilized by leading law firms, solicitors, sets, and barristers across the world. She is also co-author, along with Jennet Ingram, of ‘A Practical Guide to Marketing for Lawyers’ by Law Brief Publishing, now in its 2nd edition.