Copywriting Tips for Small Business

hands writing on notepad

I’ve been meaning to write about copywriting tips for small business since I began this column more than a year ago. Writing is probably the single most important factor in branding and marketing. Until we figure out that whole mental telepathy thing, words are our most reliable means of persuasion.

If you no word good, thems don’t money you.

As far as I know there is only one guaranteed way to become a better writer: you have to read. However, I don’t really feel like that’s much of a copywriting tip. That’s like saying if you want to be an Olympic weightlifter, you have to lift heavy stuff. Bit obvious.

So I’m going to spend a few weeks sharing what I hope will valuable copywriting tips for small business, but I really need to emphasize that nothing I am going to recommend will make anywhere near as big of a difference to your writing as reading more will.

READ THIS LATER: If you don’t have time to read this article right now, you can download the PDF version to your phone or computer and read it when you have time later.

With that caveat out of the way, let’s get started on my first copywriting tip. In order to really suck people in, you need to stop this one copy-killing habit.

Replace Boring Words

The thesaurus gets a bad reputation. We tend to associate it with a sitcom plot about someone using one to sound smarter. Or “employing one to resonate more astutely,” as the case may be.

Joey does a great job explaining copywriting tips when he shows how not to use a thesaurus.

Using a thesaurus is like wearing perfume. You never want it to be the first thing someone notices, but it can be a nice touch when subtle.

Some writers feel like it’s cheating but to me, scanning through a list of synonyms is simply a time-saver. I’m not using it to find big words I would never use in conversation. I’m using it to find words I already use, just more quickly.

Copywriting Tips for Small Business

When writing, we typically put whatever comes to mind on the page and then edit until we feel like we’ve made our meaning clear. There’s nothing wrong with that, strictly speaking.

In television news, clear and simple is the preferred way to write. The style has much to recommend it. It’s fast to write and easy to absorb. People who are fluent in your language and people who aren’t can both understand. It doesn’t create barriers for your audience based on education level. Simple is great.

However, in marketing we are trying to persuade someone, as opposed to merely informing them. You are being measured on more than just the content of what you say. The mood you cultivate with your words has an influence on how persuasive you are, so it’s a difficult balance.

Punch Up Your Verbs

A great way to achieve both simple copy and persuasive copy is to punch up your verbs. “Punch up” is writer-speak for making the sentence sound a little juicer, a little more pleasing to the ear, while not sounding fake or pompous.

I strike this balance by taking an extra step. I review my verbs to see if I can find a more elegant, descriptive or meaningful synonym. Powerful, juicy verbs are the difference between perfectly fine writing and excellent writing.

Copy vs. Content: What is the Difference?

Copywriting Tips in the Wild

The only way to get good at this is to practice. I got some particularly challenging practice recently when I helped my sister-in-law write a new cover letter and CV. This was not just any resume. She’s a microbiologist specializing in host-pathogen interaction who was recently published in Nature. NATURE, people. The world’s most prestigious group of scientific journals. The pressure was real.

Obviously, big words are kind of the norm in her world, so the writing has to be very, very clear in order to make sure readers who aren’t in her exact specialty can still follow along. It turned out to be a perfect example of punching up verbs, so that’s where my examples are coming from.

“My experience in this role has offered me the opportunity to get expertise in epidemiology and microbiology of infectious diseases.”

Fine, right? Nothing wrong with that. Now what if we find another way to say “get:”

“My experience in this role has offered me the opportunity to cultivate expertise in epidemiology and microbiology of infectious diseases.”

Big difference, right? Using “cultivate” instead of “get” elevates that sentence substantially. It is a more elegant read, while at the same time remaining accessible. Anyone who knows what “get” means is going to know what “cultivate” means, or be able to figure it out from context clues.

Some Verb Replacement Examples

Once you start looking for replacement verbs that elevate your writing, you will become faster at it. You’ll find your favourites, words that make you sound more persuasive, more tactful and less awkward. I’ve pulled together a few of my favourites. I would love to hear any suggestions you have too!

Bland VerbJuicy VerbBoring ExampleBetter Example
GetCultivateI’ve managed to get experience in many fields.  I’ve managed to cultivate experience in many fields.
StartInitiateI have started collaborations with many complementary researchers across Canada and the United States.I have initiated collaborations with many complementary researchers across Canada and the United States.
GiveOfferThis has given me an advanced understanding of related interactions.  This has offered me an advanced understanding of related interactions.  
UseEmployI have used molecular tools, genetic constructs, and bioinformatics.I have employed molecular tools, genetic constructs, and bioinformatics.
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