Writing Words That Sell Stuff 

Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

When it comes to making money in your business, the words you choose will help you land the sale or lose the sale. Whether you are making an in-person sales presentation, creating a web page, or delivering a speech to a local group…the words you use matter.


We live in a content driven world with web page content, social media, email, video, direct mail, and all the other media out there. So copywriting is the most valuable skill you can possess. Everything revolves around your ability to create content (or your ability to hire a great copywriter to do it for you). But even if you hire a great copywriter, you will be well-served to have a basic understanding of copywriting.

What is copywriting?

Copywriting is the key to converting customers and unlocking the full potential of your business.

Here is a basic definition of copywriting. Copywriting is writing words that sell your stuff. It’s writing and rearranging words so your products and services sell better. Think of it as your sales force in print.

Writing copy is 80% research and 20% writing. Anytime I am working on a copywriting project, the last thing I do is write. The first thing I do is start looking for books, magazines, articles, blog posts, videos, and websites to learn more about the business I am writing for at the time.

But even though learning about the business or industry I am writing for is important, the main thing I want to learn about is the customer. What is the prospective customer searching for? What are they buying and why? Then I need to know demographics and psychographics (basically who are they, where they are, and why they buy?)

This may involve doing a little keyword research on the topic. So I will go into Google’s Keyword Tool and start typing in what I think they are searching for. This will give me the number of monthly searches, additional words or phrases I haven’t thought of yet, and possibly a few of their pain points. This is especially important when writing SEO (search engine optimized) content.

So that is the beginning of the research part of the copywriting project. No writing takes place until I have researched the business and the potential customer.

Once the research is completed, the writing process begins. This generally starts with an outline of the piece I am writing so I can ensure it flows well and leads the reader down a path that leads to a purchase. That is called direct response copywriting.

Direct Response Copywriting

Direct response copywriting is writing copy that leads your prospect to take a very specific action. It could be to go to your website to download a free eBook or downloading a coupon to bring to your store to get a discount, a purchase, or some other specific action.

A good use of direct response copywriting in a direct mail piece is to get them to go to your website or landing page to download a free eBook, report, checklist or guide. This gives you the opportunity to keep communicating with them via email since they have to enter their email address to get your free eBook. Now you have two points of contact to keep communicating with them direct mail and email.

Some of the great direct response copywriters, such as Gary Halbert, David Ogilvy, Dan Kennedy and others charge exorbitant fees for their services. $50K  for one direct mail campaign is not unusual.

They can charge these type fees because they are generally working with larger clients who have high-value products or services to sell. And these companies know the ROI (return on investment) is astronomical. So it’s simple math. If they pay $50K for a direct mail campaign that sells their $250K widget, then it’s worth it. So when hiring a copywriter, make sure the math works for your business.

Your Headline

Writing a great headline will determine if your copy gets read. It may be a direct mail piece, a page on your website, a blog post, or an email subject line. It’s all the same.

Think about when you are walking through the checkout line at the grocery store. All the magazines have glaring, almost unbelievable headlines. But they generally get your attention. And that is the point.

So next time you are waiting in line at the checkout, take a look at the magazine covers and make note of any great headlines you see. Think about how you could rewrite it for your business. It could potentially make you a lot of money.

One of the most use headlines of all time was written in 1924 – “They Laughed When I Sat Down At The Piano, But When I Began To Play!”

This could be rewritten for a language company – “They Laughed When The Waiter Spoke To Me In French – But Their Laughter Changed To Amazement At My Reply!”

Long copy or short copy?

Deciding whether to have long copy or short copy is an important first decision when starting the writing process. Look at it this way. If you are selling a $10 widget, then short copy will probably suffice, although not every time. But if you are selling a $2000 widget, then you will need longer copy.

Think of sending a salesperson out into the field. They are trying to sell a $10 widget to a customer. This is going to be a much easier sale and probably a shorter conversation. With a $2000 widget, there will be a longer conversation and maybe even multiple conversations.

So if I am sending a direct mail campaign for a $10 widget, then I will send maybe one piece. But it depends. If this $10 widget is used to lead to a $5000 sale, then I will schedule a sequence of mailings.  

But out of the gate, knowing that selling the $2000 widget takes a longer conversation and multiple touches with a potential customer, I will be more inclined to send a sequence of direct mail pieces.

Your Offer

When writing your offer, think about any preconceived notions your audience may have about their business. What are their beliefs about you, your title, or your business? What reservations may they have about you or your business? Then you have to address those reservations and consider what they would have to believe to accept your offer. If you know this, you will create a great offer.

Keep A Swipe File

One final thing I want to mention is keeping a swipe file. This will speed up the process of researching and writing your copy. Anytime I find an interesting ad, direct mail piece, headline, or whatever, I put it in my swipe file. This swipe file can be a physical folder, a box, or a folder on your computer, or notes in your smartphone. Do whatever works best for you.

There is so much more I could write about copywriting, but I don’t want to write a 5000 word blog post (or book). So I will be breaking down some of the individual copywriting topics in future blog posts.

Happy writing,

Mike Coleman