Do you want to become a copywriter? Are you looking for advice about what this profession is really like? What do you need to do to get started on this career path?
Henneke Duistermaat is a copywriter, author and coach.
She has written for top blogs like Copyblogger and KISSMetrics and also published the popular book Blog to Win Business: How To Enchant Readers and Win Clients.
In this interview, Henneke explains how you can become a copywriter, what makes compelling copy and what her life and writing routine is like.
Finally, Henneke recommends a number of books that can help you get started on your journey to becoming a copywriter.
Q. How did you become a copywriter?
I just stumbled into copywriting by accident. My background is in marketing. That is a good background to have.
When I talk to clients, they think they have a copywriting problem but the problem is usually with their marketing.
They don’t really know who their customer is or what value they offer their customer. [Marketing] is a really good ground to understanding what customers want, to asking the right questions and to getting information from clients.
Q. How is copywriting different from other types of writing like journalism?
I copywrite mainly for webpages.
It is quite different because journalistic writing means people will still spend time reading articles. While writing for a website, you have to be much quicker to get your message across.
You have to really work hard to simplify your message and make it as concise as possible to when people arrive. They have to get the information as quick as possible.
Q. Have you had any mentors?
I started studying copywriting when I took Jon Morrow’s guest blogging course. He recommended a few books, and that’s where I got started.
Copyblogger was another main source of information for me. I’ve been very much self educated by reading copywriting books and by studying copywriting.
I also looked at sites like Apple and tried to figure out how they are writing, and studying the theory in the books helped me worked out what they are saying.
Q. Where do you go for advice?
If I am stuck, I ask for advice in Authority.
I’ve not often been stuck though. I’m a very structured person and through my background in marketing and sales, I have understood how to sell something. It is just a matter of putting that into words.
Q. What is a typical copywriting project like?
I have always used a structured process when writing. First I try to understand who I am writing for, by researching online and by asking customers what they want.
Then, the next stage is researching the features and the benefits and understanding what is the most important feature for the customer. And when I read transcripts or surveys or even reviews online, I try to see what people talk about most.
Then, I distill this information into a key message (a value proposition) and decide for each page what is the action people should take and what is required to take that action.
Q. How long does a copywriting project take you?
It usually takes between four and six weeks.
That is not full time. If I have a six week project, the first couple of weeks would be research and then writing the pages.
I usually write a couple of pages at the time and then gain feedback from the customer. Depending on the size of the website, I work in batches. I always stipulate in my contract that there is one round of editing max.
People have to be really clear to me about what’s wrong and what is right. Then I make some final edits and that’s it.
Sometimes I need to do some more research for an About page. We might talk more about the history of the company or I will talk directly to different employees that needed to be featured on that page.
I like to get a sense of personality. If you have a team it’s nice to talk to everyone. I like to let their personality shine through.
Q. What tools do you use to write?
I have a PC. I try to show in a Word document the hierarchy of the content I am writing. I will make the fonts bigger for headlines and subheads. If possible, I will match the colours and fonts [to the site I’m writing for].
There is a little Chrome extension which is called the WhatFont. If you use that, you can hover the text on any webpage and see what font they use.
It is quite basic but it gives the client a better impression. If there is a ‘How To’ section with three different steps, I would create boxes so I will have a feel for how [this page] will look.
Q. What is your writing routine like?
It varies for me but I like to batches. That is why I like to do projects over several weeks. I edit my drafts myself twice. I leave it for 24 hours. Then, I edit it again. Then, I leave it for another 24 hours. I also get somebody to proofread it before I send it to the client.
Q. What advice would you give someone who wants to become a copywriter?
The best advice I can give is to sneak into the head of your reader and really try to understand what they are looking for.
The basis of good writing is empathy.
Q. What is the worst advice you have heard about copywriting?
There are people who say you have to write fast. I think there is an alternative. I am not a fast writer at all. You can also be a slow writer and focus on quality. I don’t think speed is always the way.
Q. What productivity tips can you offer writers?
Just block some time in your calendar. It can be 30 minutes first thing or it can be every Friday afternoon. It really depends on your day and what’s on your to do list.
Some people can write a blog post a week just by spending half an hour first thing every morning writing a headline, the first draft and the second draft.
A lot of people find it easier to be focused for a few hours. If it is a priority, you have to put it in your calendar or you diary. If you don’t block the time, it won’t happen.
Q. How did you get your first clients?
I got all my first clients through guest posting.
I looked for popular blogs that were read by small business owners and business people. I wrote blog posts for them about copywriting. KISSmetrics and Copyblogger were the best for me in terms of referring clients. I still guest post about once a month, but not like before when I would write two or three guest posts per month.
Books Recommend by Henneke
Human behaviour and persuasion
Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
Contagious by Jonah Berger
Influence. The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
Brainfluence by Roger Dooley
Switch by Chip and Dan Heath
To Sell is Human by Daniel H. Pink
Drive. The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
Writing and communication
Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples
Wired for Story by Lisa Cron
Resonate by Nancy Duarte
How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey
Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath
Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The Art of Explanation by Lee Lefever
The Accidental Genius by Mark Levy
On Writing by Stephen King
The Adweek Copywriting Handbook by Joseph Sugarman
Ca$hvertising by Drew Eric Whitman
Content Rules by CC Chapman and Ann Handley
Permission Marketing by Seth Godin
Purple Cow by Seth Godin
How the World Sees You by Sally Hogshead
Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug
The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott
The Tall Lady With the Iceberg by Anne Miller
If you enjoyed this interview about becoming a copywriter, please join the Become A Writer Today Insider list, connect with me on Twitter or contact me on Google+. You can also learn how to become a sports writer.
You can also find Henneke at Enchanting Marketing.
Join over 15,000 writers today
You'll get a free book of practical writing prompts.