One of the questions I’m asked most often by freelance copywriters, marketing consultants, and small business owners is…
“Pete, how can I become better at writing X?”.
I get it. Writing things is tough.
And I’ve spent most of my time teaching people the strategy behind landing new freelance business and achieving growth.
But here’s the problem with that approach.
If you have the strategy but your copy isn’t persuasive, it’s not gonna work.
- As a business owner, you’ll direct traffic that just won’t buy.
- As a freelance consultant, you’ll land clients who will never end up hiring you again.
The good news is I’m going to outline the exact steps and copywriting exercises I’ve taken to get my copywriting and persuasion abilities up to a level that’s generated millions in sales.
If you’ve not got the time to read this entire piece, here’s the super short advice I have for you.
Basically, these are the key copywriting exercises you need to follow to become a more proficient, and profitable, copywriter.
- Read books on writing good copy.
- Handwrite breakthrough promotions to get a feel for the language and rhythm the “greats” use
- Create something and try to sell it with nothing but words in real-life
Now, on to step 1.
Step 1 – Read these books.
Reading is step #1 to improving your ability.
You’ve gotta dive deep into the world of other writers and see how they structure their work and the kind of language they use.
You could do this with any well written, highly effective writing.
However, my opinion is you should be learning from the master direct response copywriters.
These folk are objective-based and testing nuts.
If they do something more than once, it’s not a mistake. They’re doing it because it works.
These are the kind of folk you need to be learning from to improve your writing ability.
In no particular order, here are the books I’d recommend.
- The Boron Letters by Gary Halbert – Gary wrote these from prison to his son. They are a great example of how to write great copy. You can buy from Amazon, but the link to the left is the free online version.
- Ogilvy on Advertising – David Ogilvy is the literal grandfather of modern advertising. Pretty much the #1 copywriter in many other copywriters’ minds, this is – in my opinion – his best book and well worth a read.
- Great leads – An incredible book by Michael Masterson on the 6 kinds of leads (or openings) you should use in anything you write to ensure a high level of engagement.
- Scientific Advertising – Claude Hopkins gives a great primer on how important the scientific side of writing is. If you’re not using data and research to improve your work, read this.
These are the “must reads”. However, there are plenty of other copywriting books you should check out in this list.
Read what these great writers have written. Learn from their years of writing and testing copy on real audiences.
Listen to what they say, they have a wealth of knowledge that is, for all of us, an easy shortcut to becoming a much better writer and copywriter.
Step 2 – Handwrite great sales letters and promos
Back when I was a kid the “naughty boys” were often punished in a particular way.
We were forced to “do lines”.
Not the same kinda lines 80s power brokers were doing in the dingy bathrooms of loud clubs.
The kind of lines Bart Simpson smashes out at the beginning of every Simpsons episode.
We were given a 2 sided piece of A4 and told to write the same thing out on every line and fill up the page.
Thing is, it kinda works.
I mean, when you write something out that much it sticks in your head.
Which is exactly the same approach you should use when improving your writing.
What you wanna do is find a piece of writing you know was an absolute smash hit.
You have to be certain what you work with here was a winner. If it wasn’t, then it’s not the kind of thing you want to learn from.
Then you’re gonna sit down with a pen and a pad and start hand-copying the thing out.
Word for word.
You don’t have to copy the whole thing, especially if it’s a 30,000-word sales letter. But put 30 minutes to an hour aside every day to hand copy these killer pieces of copy out by hand.
You’ll get a much better understanding of…
- the structure of effective writing.
- the tempo and rhythm of great writing.
- the formulae great writers use throughout their pieces.
You’ll pick all of this up (and more) simply by copying it out by hand.
It’s something I still do as proved by the below image.
If you want to know where you can find good examples of copy to… copy… then I’ve listed a few resources below.
You can also Google around for “great copywriting examples / ads” or something similar.
Finally, I keep an active SwipeFile of my own. I’ve got a few hundred examples in their now for everything from LinkedIn posts to YouTube video titles and old school print direct mail to long-form sales pages for online education programs.
And if you refer to section 1, you’ll find a few potentials in there of great copy, in particular in the Boron Letters and Ogilvy on Advertising.
This definitely puts the exercise element into the “copywriting exercises” we’re looking at, but hey, exercise makes you stronger, right?
So let’s take this a step further.
Writing out these great promotions is a great copywriting exercise to learn the rhythm, cadence, and language the pros use.
After a while, you’ll start to notice the patterns and formula all great sales pieces use.
Your job then is to focus intently on those elements with…
Step 3 – Practice active rewriting to improve your copywriting
We’re gonna take your rewriting to the next level through two actions called “active rewriting” and “active analysis”.
Active rewriting is the simplest.
You basically keep an eye out for piece of copy in your daily life. When you see something that’s weak, you mentally rewrite it to make it…
- More persuasive
Or whatever. The goal is to come up with a mental image of what the copy could be changed to in order to make it more effective.
What I like to do is lead this off by asking a question. That question could be something like;
- How can I make this clearer?
- How can I make this more persuasive?
- How can I cut the length but retain the message?
Small challenges to improve the copy in a specific way.
I do this pretty much daily as part of improving my craft. I find the kind of brands I might want to work with and rewrite something like their value prop.
Here’s an example, not my best but a quick one simply to prove a point.
My question here was “how can I make the user understand what this brand offers in 5 seconds?”.
You’ll never run out of examples and things to try this on.
As you browse the internet you’ll find sales pages, product descriptions, ads, and more that could do with a little tweak here or there.
As you walk around you’ll see sandwich boards, billboards, window displays, print ads and more that could do with your critical eye.
Step 4 – Use Active Analysis to understand what makes great copywriting
In addition to active rewriting, you wanna be doing something I call “active analysis”.
In short, you wanna look at the best pieces of copy around – the same pieces you’ve been copying out by hand.
But you want to go one step further.
When you’re writing these things out don’t just mindlessly copy the words.
You want to actively analyse what the writer was doing and WHY they were doing it.
For example, you might notice that they’re heavily featuring the story of an “average Joe” type person in their opening.
- Why would they be doing that? What’s the benefit?
- Why are they using repetition there?
- Why are they putting their primary call-to-action at that point?
- Why have they bolded those words?
If you want to see a true master of this, check out Kyle Milligan’s old YouTube videos like this one.
He’s great at actively analysing the copy he reads and breaking down why the writer has done these things.
If you can dedicate a little time every day to rewriting and actively analysing the copy you see around you, then you’ll quickly see improvements in the results of your writing.
Step 5 – Improve by actually practicing good copywriting
There’s a very simple difference between the good and the great writers of the world.
Something which you can easily embody and practice by the end of today.
The difference is…
… doing the work.
I’m not talking about the research steps up to this point.
I’m talking about actually writing things and publishing them in the real world.
Then getting real feedback from real-life readers and customers which they use to improve and optimise what they’re doing.
There is no substitute for real experience.
Research and practice will get your foot in the door to joining the great writers of the world.
But to blast that bastard off its hinges and stride confidently down the hall of great writers, you’ve gotta write real things.
No great writer was born great.
They were born tenacious.
They wrote something terrible, got feedback and improved.
Then they wrote something OK, and improved.
Before long they’re writing things that are good.
And their persistence will eventually have them writing things that are great.
Any writing, be it a fiction novel or a sales pieced aimed at making sales is only successful if the target readers want to read it.
And the only way you can figure that out is to give them something you’ve created and ask them how it can be improved.
Here’s a few ways you could actually do that and get real-life feedback without spending a penny.
How to get real-life feedback on blog writing exercises
Blog writing is the easiest thing to get some relevant copywriting exercise and experience where you can get real life feedback.
Thanks to platforms like Medium you can publish something for the world to see.
Spend 30 minutes looking at articles in your niche, come up with a simple plan, and then write your own take on a trending topic in your target niche.
Publish that to Medium and submit to a publication of your ideal audience.
After acceptance, give it a week, then go back in and see what the stats look like for it.
This is also a great way to add a couple of relevant pieces to your freelance copywriting portfolio.
How to get real-life copywriting exercise and feedback on sales pages
This ones a little tricker, cause to do this well you’re gonna need a product to sell.
In an ideal world you’d create a product like an eBook or something easy you can quickly bang out and get to selling it.
However, if you don’t have a product you can easily find something your ideal audience would enjoy on sites like…
Once you’ve found a product you’d like to promote, apply to become an affiliate.
Then write a page explaining why people should buy the product, publish it, and see what sort of response you get.
How to become a better ad copywriter
If you’re honing in on the ad copy world (Facebook, Google, Instagram ads etc), there’s really only one way to get better.
Save up a little bit of money and start playing around with different kinds of ad copy, creative and targeting.
Due to the need of ponying up some cash, this will be a little more prohibitive, but it’s worth the effort and cash if you really want to get better.
How to improve your email copywriting skills
This is the one that’s most difficult to become good at if you don’t already have an email list.
Mainly because you’ve then gotta also look at how you can build an email list to practice your email copywriting.
Building an email list is something every business – whether product or service – should be doing.
So if you’re not already building and email list start now. Watch the below video where I explain how I got 1000 new visitors and 100 email subs in a few weeks from a single piece of content.
Then start emailing those people with the newsletters or promos you’d like to start charging clients for.
Practice is the only way to improve your writing
I don’t care what kind of freelance writer you want to become.
I don’t care what sales channel you think is best for your brand.
If you want to become better at writing of copy, the only way to really improve is look at those who are already further along the path and copy what they’re doing.
To analyse their approach and build that into a daily copywriting exercise to strengthen your persuasion muscles.
Then, when you’re getting more confident, you start producing your own stuff and pushing it out into the world for real feedback from potential customers.
There are no shortcuts.
There are no cheats.
It’s hard work and you need to put in the hours.
Good luck, and if you want to get access to my swipe file to help kick things off, check out our full guide to building a 6-figure copy business.