As a freelance copywriter, I receive many enquiries about our copywriting services. One of the most frequent questions is “How can you write about my business or industry when you have no experience in it?”
It’s understandable that business people have some doubts about a freelance copywriter’s ability to understand their business and industry. An experienced freelance copywriter, however, can write about a range of businesses and industries without having worked in them.
A freelance copywriter doesn’t sit down and start spontaneously writing copy for a business. Before a freelance copywriter can start writing about a business they need to conduct extensive research. This research will cover the business, the products or services it offers, the industry the company operates in, and its target market.
Misconceptions about freelance copywriters
I think part of the misconception of freelance copywriters (and writers in general) comes from films and television shows where writers are portrayed rapidly typing at a typewriters or computers. This is especially true when showing newsrooms full of writers quickly tapping away.
There are two things wrong with this picture. The first is that newspaper reporters aren’t necessarily good copywriters. It’s actually more helpful to have sales or marketing background to become a good copywriter. News reporting is simply reporting the facts of a story, or what news organisations want us to believe are the facts. Newspaper reporters also have sub-editors who check their work and improve before it goes to press. Freelance copywriters, in most cases, draft and redraft their work without the help of editors.
A freelance copywriter needs to understand persuasion
A freelance copywriter needs to persuade the readers to accept a point of view about a product, service or idea. This requires a deeper understanding of writing and persuasion techniques that are not required for news reporting. A freelance copywriter has to be part sales person and part psychologist to understand what motivates customers to buy products and services.
The second thing wrong with the picture of fast typing writers is that writing is one of the final stages of the process. A good freelance copywriter will conduct a significant amount of research to understand the products or services, the company, the industry and the market. The freelance copywriter must complete this research before the writing begins. Some freelance copywriters brag about being able to work fast. Good copywriting takes time. There’s no way you can be a fast copywriter and produce good copy. Would you go to an accountant, surgeon, dentist or solicitor who told you they do their work quickly?
A freelance copywriter brings a fresh perspective
It’s true that a person working in the industry or business will already have the background knowledge to write copy, but an outsider will usually see things that the insider won’t.
You see yourself in the mirror every day, but you wouldn’t try giving yourself a haircut. An experienced hair stylist will do a better job at cutting your hair than you can do by yourself. The same is true about copywriting – a freelance copywriter is often better copywriter for the business, once they have done their research, than a person directly involved with the organisation.
As I mentioned, a freelance copywriter gains an understanding of the organisation, its products or services, industry sector, and potential customers through research.
A good starting point for the freelance copywriter is to read as much as possible about the business. A freelance copywriter can read websites, brochures, media releases, articles, case studies and other documents. Internal documents, such as business plans and employees newsletters, can also be very helpful in learning about the organisation. To learn about the industry, a freelance copywriter can read competitors’ websites and industry publications.
Once the freelance copywriter has the basic background knowledge, they are then ready to interview key personnel to get their perspective on the company and its products or services. The freelance copywriter should ask a range of questions to determine how to present the organisation and its products or services. Most importantly, the freelance copywriter needs to understand how the company helps its customers overcome their problems by purchasing its products or services.
Amateur copywriters often make the mistake of focusing the attention of their writing on the business, and how great it is, when it’s most important to focus on the benefits to customers (see What Many Advertising Agencies Don’t Know About Copywriting).
In some formats, such as company profiles and ‘About Us’ pages on websites, it’s appropriate to brag a little and focus more on the company and its achievements.
Once the freelance copywriter has conducted research and interviews they are ready begin writing. At this point, the copywriter should have a good understanding of the organisation, its market and what it sells.