Last month, I gave a copywriting workshop to the eight startups selected for this year’s Accelerate NH program. In case you’re wondering, Accelerate NH was created to support “the next generation of innovative, growth-oriented companies in New Hampshire” (i.e. tax-paying businesses).
Through Alpha Loft accelerator program these fledgling startups get free coaching, work space and, most
importantly, plenty of opportunities to network with successful entrepreneurs, VCs and angel investors.
While it’s been 16 years since The Hired Pens was a fledgling company, I remember the challenges well. Namely, you have to do everything yourself because you can’t afford to hire anyone. And you know what every new business has to do a lot of? Writing. We lucked out in that department, although our first tagline — Call in the Professionals — still makes me cringe.
My workshop was designed to take these entrepreneurs through the basics of writing passably professional copy for their website, email marketing and social campaigns. Did it really change their lives? It’s too soon to tell, but they were definitely more prepared for the networking event that immediately followed.
Not one of the lucky 8 companies invited to the workshop? Here are the top five key takeaways:
- You don’t have to have a flashy elevator pitch (“My company is like Netflix for dogs!”), but you do have to be able to succinctly describe what you do without relying on word crutches like “innovative” and “solution.” Further reading: Find Your Brand in Eight Questions
- Just because everyone wears shoes doesn’t mean “everyone” is your customer. Before you write, get a clear picture in your head (or better, on paper in the form of a “buyer persona”) of whom exactly you’re writing to. Further reading: You Don’t Have to Be Everything to Everyone. You Have to Be Something to Someone. / Getting to Know Your Target Customer When You Have No Money for Research
- The more time you spend preparing to write, the less time you actually have to spend writing because your thoughts will be so beautifully organized. Further reading: Want to Write Better in Less Time? Answer These Five Questions.
- If you don’t have money to hire a professional copywriter, at least hire a professional proofreader. They are much less expensive and can keep you from looking stupid and careless. Further reading: Five Easy Steps for Editing Your Own Work / Five Essential Self-editing Tips for People Who Don’t Like Self-editing
- Writing isn’t just about words; it’s also about math and art. For example, there are some guidelines for length of headlines, subheads, sentences and paragraphs. Further reading: Want to Improve Your Word Skills? Memorize These Numbers.
Finally, I will leave you with my favorite question from the group.
A young woman asked if it was okay to use swear words on her site. People kept telling her not to, she said, clearly frustrated, but she felt strongly that her real customers would respond to her sassy, “tell it like it is” attitude. And that included occasional profanity. She was surprised when I agreed with her.
Bonus sixth tip: Sometimes you’ve got to trust your gut. Maybe time will prove you wrong and you’ll have to do some back-peddling, but better to be bold than blend in. Can I get a “Hell yeah”?