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My eight-step formula for writing long sales copy

A lot of people ask me how I write copy. Of course, there's way too much information to squeeze into one article. But I can offer you a basic look at my methodology by giving you a short list of the eight steps that I take.

Here they are.

1. First, with all projects I ask that my clients take time to answer an initial, 25-point questionnaire. Their answers will provide some background information. Admittedly, there's a lot of research to do. But they provide me with a place to start and, more importantly, a basic understanding of their business, the purpose of the message and its goals.

Yes, that's "goals" in the plural.

Of course, there is the main goal, which may be to generate leads or sales. But other, secondary goals may include: to dispel rumors, eliminate misconceptions, answer questions, build credibility, differentiate from the competition, etc. (If you want a sneak peek at my questionnaire, I posted one online at http://successdoctor.com/questions.htm.)

2. Then, I read and study the answers carefully, and I also add to the questionnaire by conducting a lot of "exploratory" research. That is: I try to gather as much information as I can — anything about the business, the product, the offer and, above all, the target audience.

Throughout the process, I copy everything into a plain text editor (I use TextPad at http://www.textpad.com/), where I can easily rearrange the content, include any corresponding URLs (links are active in TextPad), make important notes and add small story blocks. (I'll return to this later.)

3. When I conduct my research, it also helps me to go through the information and pull out the important stuff. The idea at first is to have as much information as possible at my fingertips: including facts, features, factors, etc. I undiscerningly add whatever information I find out there.

Of course, there's a lot of good information out there. But a lot of it is also irrelevant to the story or the platform (I'll return to this). At the beginning, however, I gather as much as I can, put it all into one document, highlight the most important information and later discard the rest.

4. After that, I dig deeper. I spend a lot of time studying the information. I ask questions about the product or the offer, and perhaps try to get some clarification from the client. And I try to put what my client tells me into words that specifically meet my client's audience at their level.

You see, what the client feels is appropriate (or positive, or beneficial, or interesting) may not be a shared feeling among her clients. Too many businesspeople are "married" to their products or businesses that they tend to forget (or at least become removed from) their clients' perspective.

5. Next comes the creative part. I first try to find what top copywriter Bob Bly calls "a copy platform." A platform is a storyline, an angle or a slant that I will take to describe the offer. It may be the fear of loss, a news story, a "hot button pusher," a success story, a claim, the pleasure of gain, a takeaway offer, a "lie dispelled," a secret, etc.

From the platform, I write the copy but start with bullet points only. (The platform will give me a good indication of what I can write about and how to write it, as well as the options I have.) For example, I:

  • Write the headline (the most important part);
  • Add qualifiers (e.g., surheadlines and subheadlines);
  • Create the opening or introductory paragraph;
  • List the features, advantages and benefits (see http://successdoctor.com/articles/article67.htm);
  • Expand on key items for the main body;
  • Integrate headers at every two or three paragraphs;
  • Incoporate story blocks (i.e., highlighted stories, remarks or sidenotes, which all aim to give the reader a break and at the same time reinforce key benefits, reasons, urgencies, etc);
  • Create the offer and boost its value (such as by adding bonuses, premiums, discounts, options, packaging, comparisons, etc);
  • Build credibility and believability (such as by adding background information, testimonials, proofs, factoids, guarantees, etc);
  • Close with a call-to-action statement;
  • And plug some "PS's" at the end to restate the benefits of the offer, emphasize the sense of urgency or add a bonus not yet offered.

6. I then rearrange the content for flow. One of the benefits of working with TextPad is that I can work with multiple, tiled windows opened at once, each showing a different part of a same document. That way, I can easily scroll through each window and rearrange the content from one window to another (i.e., from one section of the copy to another).

Why? Because it helps me to ensure that the ideas in the copy flow properly and that they follow the AIDA formula (i.e., that the copy grabs their attention, creates interest, builds desire and calls for action). From this, I can sense if I need to also add certain elements, whether cosmetic (such as a grabber) or tactical (such as a liftnote or pop-up).

7. Once re-arranged, then I write. I expand, cut out, tighten and add more. I then place it all into an HTML or rich text document in order to add emphasis, such as with formatting, typestyles, tables, colors, graphics and so on. (Cosmetics of direct response copy are important, since certain visual "triggers" help to increase both readership and response.)

I re-read the copy. Out loud, too. Why? If I ever struggle with a part of the copy, or if I verbally trip, then I know I need to edit or rewrite that section of the story. After I'm done, I have my assistant proofread it, and then upload it to my website for my client to read and offer feedback.

8. I revise the copy until the client is satisfied.

There is no way to predict how well my copy will do. For some, my work multiplies their response rates like gangbusters. But for others, my copy is a downright dud. It happens, maybe because the platform is wrong, the audience is not targeted or the offer is not appropriate and will never sell, no matter how good the product is. The only way to know is to test.

I appreciate it when my clients keep me posted on the results. While there's not much I can do, it gives me an idea of what can be improved. In fact, some clients prefer to keep me on a retainer after the initial project, so they can have me rewrite parts of the copy or offer any suggestions on how to improve it, without contaminating the initial control.

About the author
Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter and consultant dedicated to turning sales messages into powerful magnets. Get a free copy of his book, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning," when you subscribe to his free monthly ezine, "The Profit Pill." See http://SuccessDoctor.com/ now!

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