What makes a great copywriter?

Laura Johnson

Laura Jane Johnson | Freelance copywriter

Is there a secret formula to being a great copywriter? A broad vocabulary and a clever way with the English language, combined with an almost pedantic penchant for precise punctuation? In my eyes, they’re the makings of a distinctly average copywriter.

If you’re going to charge someone a professional copywriter’s fee for your words, expect people to want a lot more. A knack for saying things nicely and unwavering loyalty to grammatical etiquette isn’t enough. You need to think about copywriting as a business.

It takes more than words to be a great copywriter

The thought process for this blog post started about a month ago, when I found myself working my way through a pesky crisis of confidence. They commonly afflict creative types I’m led to believe. Even the (generally) less sensitive ones like myself.

On this particular day, I had a touch of writer’s block. Words weren’t flowing with the velocity I’m used to. (Cue frustration and impatience.)

Sentences felt forced and unnatural. (Take a seat in my self-esteem insecurity and paranoia.) Everyone on social media was being so much more brilliant than me. (Why didn’t I just switch Instagram off?) It was pretty glum.

Put it this way, I was only a misplaced apostrophe away from pouring a mid-morning glass of merlot.

I held it together. And had a coffee

By the time I was desperately firing up my trusty Tassimo for an afternoon hit of caffeine-fuelled clarity, I was convinced my writing career was over and was considering retraining as a barista. It was all very melodramatic (another creative tendency I believe).

Fortunately, once the caffeine kicked in and I emerged from my self-indulgent wallowing, I realised something important. I’m actually a great copywriter (apologies for the lack of modesty for a moment) and it’s not just because of the words I write.

My afternoon coffee didn’t cure the bad day of writing, but it reminded me of something very important about my work. It’s easy to think of content as a neat little package of words you hand over to a client. However, words, whether they come packaged as a script or as a series of blogs, aren’t products.

Copywriters provide a professional service. And words are only one part of this.

Five things great copywriters do (on top of being excellent writers)

Let’s put SEO, tone of voice and conversion copy techniques to one side for a moment. Instead, let’s focus on what it means to deliver a truly outstanding professional copywriting service.

1. They have the awkward pricing conversations upfront

I for one would rather run 10K, in torrential rain, uphill than talk about money. But I make myself do it. Trust is so important, and it comes from being clear and completely open about what you’re offering and how you work.

Nail the scope of the work. Explain how you charge, the amount you charge and anything that could impact on this. It’s uncomfortable, it’s difficult, and you’ll probably break out into an unattractive cold sweat, however, it has to be done. I also reinforce my terms and conditions.

2. They like a brief raw, uncensored and without boundaries

To understand a client you need to understand the ‘real grit’ driving the business. This is the secret to creating the authentic voice and high impact content they’re craving.

Before I start writing, I want to know the niggles playing on their mind. The qualms that they’re not sure whether to mention. Basically, all the things that get edited out of an email exchange or won’t neatly fit in an allocated space in a formulaic briefing questionnaire.

This is why I insist on talking to a client (face to face or Skype) as part of the briefing process.

3. You won’t hear from them all that much

I hear a similar story from most of my clients when they first ask me to write their content. “We just don’t have the time.” “We don’t have the internal resource for this.” “It’s been on my to-do list for six months and it’s still nowhere near the top.”

Therefore, the last thing they need is a needy freelance copywriter to manage as well, right?

I always close a briefing meeting with some variation of, “I’ll be in touch if I have questions”. But if the brief goes to plan, this won’t be required. A great copywriter just gets on with it.

4. But they’ll fill you with confidence and deliver on time

After agreeing the brief, my next step is always to set a project timeline and I share these mini-milestones with the client. As a result, they know exactly what needs to be done and by when, in order to deliver a project on time and within budget. These deadlines are set in stone.

5. When it comes to reviewing, they make it pain-free (for both sides)

I include up to two rounds of amends in my fee quote. This sets a clear benchmark and keeps things simple for the client as well as for me. Who wants to review thousands of words of text multiple times?

I also use a tried and tested template that makes content clear and easy to review. Simple things like line spacing make a difference when you have 4,000 words plus of web copy to scrutinise.

Finally, I encourage clients to use track changes to ensure any revisions are captured effectively.

In short, listening, being easy to work with, inspiring confidence and delivering on time. Every single time. That’s what makes a great copywriter.

Finally, if you’re wondering if I ever got over the writer’s block on that painful day back in August, I did. The solution was a run across the fields. Half an hour of sweat and fresh air never fails.

Obviously I spent the evening working to catch up after a day of procrastination (gotta meet a deadline) and kicking myself for not going on a run sooner.

Next time I’ll remember. Hopefully.

First published on

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