Jaelithe Guillette // Jan 31 2011
Before I became a writer, I spent eight years in sales. It was a fantastic way to fit work in between classes and afforded me to upgrade my college cuisine to include more than spaghetti noodles.
I thought I was just paying for textbooks, but the experience I gathered while selling pianos and cell phones is what made me a copywriter.
A couple years ago I moved from Seattle to Small Town, Texas and got a job selling cell phones. My sales numbers were sensational in Seattle, but became minuscule the second I set foot in Texas.
I knew nothing about the demographic.
Phrases like “syncing with your email” and “utilizing your smart phone” sold me a lot of phones in tech-savvy Seattle, but in Texas I was hearing crickets. Literally. So I started listening to the customers talk, like I was a clipboard holding anthropologist. A couple months of smiling through turnip metaphors, and making sales was as easy as sliding off a greasy log backwards.
Get to know your reader like you would a person right in front of you.
Googling the topic you’re writing about isn’t enough. I know. I’ve tried it.
Let’s say you’re writing a blog about fishing. Don’t just research fishing. Find out where people go fishing, and for what. Find out what fishermen usually do for a living, and what bumper stickers they slap on their car. Find out their lingo and how to use it.
Here are some examples of unique ways to approach the situation:
The internet is an ocean. Jump in and swim around.
During my first few months selling phones I learned that if I carefully considered customer needs, I became equipped to sell them solutions instead of stuff. Let’s talk about one of my favorite customers, Sally.
Sally stormed into the phone store with a charger dragging behind her on the ground. “I need a new charger,” she said. My commission-hungry co-worker jumped up and scurried into the back room to grab her purchase.
“That charger is a brand new model, how did it break?” I asked.
“This is my sixth charger in the last three months,” she said. “Every night I plug in my phone, it says charging, I turn off the light, and when I wake up, my phone is dead.”
I paused. I thought. And I asked, “Is the light you turn off at night in the same outlet as your charger? Do you turn it off with a switch that shuts off the entire outlet?”
It hadn’t occurred to her until then, but she had spent almost $200 on chargers because she was flipping the light switch at night. No sales person had ever asked her before.
My co-worker wasn’t psyched that I eliminated his sale, but for the next six years, Sally referred more sales to me than anyone. Let’s face it: she wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box, but by listening to her, I was able to give her what no one else could-the exact thing she needed.
Give the reader a reason to read, and stay focused.
Sometimes it’s easy to get writing and forget what you’re trying to accomplish. We’ve all done it. I’ve driven all the way to the grocery store and forgotten what I wanted. Put me in a Word document for too long and I can get really off track.
Is your reader learning how to do something? Are you telling them something no one else will?
Answer this question at the top of your document: What’s the one reason someone wants to read this?
Read your answer often.
Have a pitch. Have a sales outline. Determine what you plan to teach them and tell them.
When I sold pianos, I became side-tracked easily. A happy couple once strolled in with their piano prodigy spawn and I was so eager for the sale, I made them look at thirty pianos. I showed them too many options, I didn’t listen, and now their little Beethoven is probably playing Britney Spears on the recorder.
Adding in useless content is a great way for you to tell them they should be reading something else. You better believe this post was in bullet points on a napkin before it was on my computer. It doesn’t have to be expansive, just comprehensive.
If you were sending a text message explaining your blog post, what would it say? If you can’t make an outline, you may not have a good enough topic to write about.
Call to action. It’s usually at the end and easy to forget, but that’s the reason you’re writing and the reason they’re reading. Remember that every word you write needs to go down a funnel and into a cup of call to action. Whether you’re encouraging someone to sign up for a newsletter, click through to another post or sign up for text messaging: if you forget to ask, you already lost the sale.
Click here for other ways to be a better writer.
Jaelithe Guillette is Associate Director of Content at Portent, Inc, an internet marketing company. She heads up the copy, social, and public relations teams and assists in creative campaigns, content strategy and driving traffic to client sites with out-of-the-box brainstorming and sharp SEO. Read More