How to tell a great story when writing articles, blog posts, and other non-fiction

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People are drawn to great stories. Who doesn’t like reading a great novel? But you can – and should – tell compelling stories when writing articles, blog posts, case studies, and non-fiction books.

Keys to telling a good story

According to Wes Kao, there are five keys to telling a good story. He dissects a story to identify those elements, which include:

  1. Focus on the reader so that they can envision themselves in the story.
  2. Build trust with the reader so that they feel understood.
  3. Use words that make the reader feel something.
  4. Create space for the reader to fill in the blank.
  5. Create a visual to set the scene.

Non-fiction writing techniques for captivating readers

Want to make sure your next work of non-fiction is non-boring? Check out Alexander Limberg’s post in The Write Life for five nonfiction writing techniques that will captivate readers, which include:

  1. Tell a memorable story, which will have more impact than facts, formulas or concepts.
  2. Bait your audience – begin with a personal story, ask a question, or start with an interesting or funny thought.
  3. Use emotionally charged language and words to create a reaction.
  4. Say it simply – break down ideas in digestible bites and simplify the language.
  5. Surprise the reader by being imaginative and creative where it is not expected.

Write like Anthony Bourdain

I’m currently reading Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, which is a fantastic book. He’s an amazing writer, and I will probably pick up his other books as well. Daniel Marriott provides five tips for writing like Anthony Bourdain, which include:

  1. Start with a bang – grab the reader’s attention from the first sentence.
  2. Speak in your own voice, and write how you feel.
  3. Keep it simple (again!) and do not overcomplicate things.
  4. Say what you feel, and show your passion.
  5. Give readers something to digest – teach and share knowledge.

Need help with writing articles, blog posts, case studies, white papers or website content? Let me know –


How do you write copy that sells?

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Full disclosure – I prefer writing to tell. I tell my clients’ stories through articles, blog posts, case studies, and web content. I like leading the reader through a story about what a company is doing to help their clients, or describing the best way to achieve a certain goal.

However, it’s important to know how to write to sell – yourself, your company, your products and services, your specific solutions, etc. So, how do you sell with your writing?

Focus on benefits over features

Too many people focus on the features of a product of a service, and overlook the benefits. People buy based on how the product or service will benefit them. They don’t really care about its characteristics – they care about how it solves a problem.

What’s the difference between features and benefits?

  • Features describe what a product is or has (e.g., This device has three ports).
  • Benefits describe what the product does and how the user will gain as a result (e.g., This device enables users to connect three devices for greater efficiency).

When describing a product, list a benefit of every feature:

  • Use the most important benefit as the main heading, and support it with the copy.
  • Include the next 3-5 most important benefits in your copy.

Use a motivating sequence

When writing copy to sell, use a motivating sequence that pulls the reader in and gets them to buy or contact you to learn more.

  1. Get attention. Use the headline to focus on the strongest benefit. Include visuals to attract attention as well.
  2. Show a need. Show the reader why they need your product using the headline and supporting copy.
  3. Satisfy the need. Position your product as the solution to the need.
  4. Offer proof. Prove your product can do what you say it can do – discuss the benefits, use testimonials, compare your product to the competitors, cite evidence, show reliability of your company, etc.
  5. Ask for action. Tell the reader what to do next – send in a coupon, visit your website, email their order, etc. Give an incentive to respond now.

Create a unique selling proposition

To get people to buy, you must show how your product has a major benefit not offered by your competitors. This is your unique selling proposition.

How do you do that?

  1. Make sure your headline offers a benefit.
  2. Differentiate your product from similar products.
  3. Ensure that the differentiator matters to the reader.

Do you need help with writing to tell or sell? Let me know –


An incomplete list of writing tips for freelance content writers and copywriters

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There are bookshelves and websites filled with strategies on how to write better, faster, clearer, more compelling copy. I came across a few writing tips I wanted to share here because they are quick and easy to digest.

Writing tips that seem wrong but work

There are many “hard” rules for writing grammatically correct content. There are other rules for writing great ad copy, or great articles, or great blog posts. These writing tips might seem wrong, but can work when used properly. Try them out.

  • Begin sentences with a conjunction (but, or, and)
  • End your sentence with a preposition (of, with, for)
  • Use sentence fragments
  • Write one-sentence paragraphs
  • Use graphic techniques (sparingly) to emphasize words – bold, underline, capitals, italics, colours, arrows
  • Use bullets in the middle of your copy

The writer’s checklist

When you’ve finished writing your first draft, ask yourself:

  • Does the copy fulfill the promise of the headline?
  • Is the copy interesting?
  • Is it easy to read?
  • It it believable?
  • Is it persuasive?
  • Is it specific?
  • Is it concise?
  • Is it relevant to the reader?
  • Does the copy flow smoothly?
  • Does it contain a call to action?

40 one-sentence writing tips

This list of writing tips comes from Josh Spector. It’s a collection of lessons he has learned over the years that can help you get the most out of the next thing you write.

Writing lessons for the beginning writer

We’ve all been beginning writers – even Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, who make everything sound great. When we look back on our writing careers, there’s a lot we wished we knew when we started. This article on eight writing lessons explains what Naomi Pham from Craft Your Content wishes she knew as a beginner blog writer – it’s good stuff. These tips can help you to write more productively, overcome self-doubt, and love your writing.

Writing better email copy

I’ve written a million emails in my life, and I do a lot of email prospecting. Here’s a good list of six email copy characteristics that will help you write your next email.

Have any writing tips? Need help with your writing? Let me know –


Preparing for a writing project… before you start writing

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Whether you’re a novice copywriter or content writer, or have years of experience in the field, you should prepare before doing any writing. Writing by the seat of your pants – without preparation and research – might work in some cases, but it’s not a recipe for success. You’ll often miss the mark with the client, and will have to write the draft again, possibly from scratch. If you totally miss the mark, you might annoy or lose the client, which is not a way to run your writing business.

Follow these four steps when preparing for a copywriting project (you can apply these tips for content writing as well):

  1. Get the client’s previously published material on the product.
    • Ask the client for material before attending any briefings or writing any copy.
    • Check out the client’s website for published materials.
  2. Ask the client questions about the product.
    • What are its features and benefits?
    • What does the client consider most important about the product?
    • What competitors’ products exist, and what are their features and benefits?
    • What are the product’s applications?
    • What typical problems does it solve? What about secondary problems?
  3. Ask the client questions about the audience.
    • Who uses the product?
    • Why do they use it?
    • What are their main concerns?
    • What do you know about their persona?
  4. Identify the objective of the copy.
    • Generate inquiries?
    • Increase sales?
    • Qualify prospects?
    • Build brand recognition?
    • Support marketing efforts?

Once you’ve collected this key information, you can start writing your copy. Ideally, the client will provide a brief that includes this information, but you should ask for at least this much before writing your first words.

Need help with writing content? Let me know –


Ten tips for writing clear copy

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One key goal of writing is to communicate with the reader. You might want to discuss an important topic, sell your product or service, talk about your company, describe strategies for reducing costs, or some other purpose. Whatever your goal, it is important to write clear copy that the reader will understand.

Follow these 10 strategies for writing clear copy:

  1. Put the reader first. Address the reader directly (e.g., You will find…). When writing the copy, ask yourself:
    • Will the reader understand what is written?
    • Does the reader know the terminology?
    • Does the copy say something new or useful?
    • Would the copy persuade the reader to do something?
  2. Organize your selling points. Write all key points in order, and order them in the copy in a logical order. The headline should state the main selling proposition. The first paragraph or two should expand on the main point. Secondary points should follow under subsequent subheads.
  3. Break content into shorter sections. Cover each main point in its own section. Use numbered points if sections contain ordered content. Use bullets if order is not an issue. Break each main section up with subheads. Keep paragraphs short.
  4. Use short sentences. Try to keep sentences under 15 words. Break long sentences into two or more sentences. Use punctuation (dashes, ellipses, etc.) to break up sentences. Vary sentence length to create interest.
  5. Use simple words. Avoid long and complicated words. Simpler words will help to get your point across more effectively. avoid technical jargon unless most readers will understand the terminology or it precisely communicates your meaning.
  6. Be concise. Remove unnecessary words (e.g., that, in order to), redundancies (e.g., small and tiny), run-on sentences, wordy phrases, unnecessary adjectives (e.g., very, really), and passive voice.
  7. Be specific. Include and describe facts and information. Avoid vague copy.
  8. Get to the point. Start talking about the key points in the opening paragraph. Sell from the first line of copy.
  9. Write in a friendly, conversational style. Write the way you talk – use a conversational tone. Imagine yourself speaking to the reader. Use pronouns (e.g., I/we, you, they). Use colloquial expressions and contractions.
  10. Avoid sexist language. Use plurals (they) instead of he / she. When using he / she, alternate the use of he and she, or write “he or she”. Rewrite copy to avoid reference to gender. Create an imaginary person to set the gender. Replace sexist terms.

Do you have your own suggestions on writing clear copy? Need help with writing clear copy? Let me know –


An incomplete guide to writing better headlines

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The four functions of a headline

The first thing that the reader sees when they come across your blog post, article, press release, case study or other marketing content is the headline. The headline is more than the title of your content – it has a job to do. Actually, a headline has four functions:

  1. Grab the reader’s attention – if they’re not interested in the headline, they won’t read the rest of the content
  2. Select the audience – you want to appeal to people you want to reach, and screen out people you don’t
  3. Deliver a complete message – make a complete statement, including a selling promise
  4. Draw the reader into the body copy

Types of headlines

You can write headlines in a nearly infinite number of ways. Most headlines can be classified under the following eight categories:

  1. Direct headline – state your selling proposition directly
  2. Indirect headline – make your point in a roundabout way, arousing curiosity and raising questions answered in the body copy
  3. News headline – provide news about a product or service, such as the release of a new product, improvement in an existing product or a new application
  4. How-to headline – show how to do something, and promise good information, sound advice and solutions
  5. Question headline – ask something that the reader wants answered
  6. Command headline – tell the reader what to do
  7. Reason-why headline – list what will happen or what the reader will learn
  8. Testimonial headline – relate what a customer experienced and how they are satisfied with your business

Formula for writing headlines

When writing a headline, consider using the four Us:

  1. Urgent – give the reader a reason to act now
  2. Unique – say something new or in a different way
  3. Ultra-specific – tease the reader with a mystery
  4. Useful – offer a benefit

Eight ways to create engaging article titles

Esther Ilori from Craft Your Content wrote a great post on eight ways to create great article titles that will engage your audience. She suggests doing one of the following:

  • Highlight a solution to a problem
  • Employ the AIDA (attention, interest, desire, action) method
  • Use facts and data
  • Use the how-to method
  • Be creative
  • Use a figure of speech
  • Make it personal
  • Think about what your audience wants

Links to my other blog posts on writing headlines

Have some suggestions on writing headlines? Need help with writing your headlines? Let me know –


How to write effective cold emails to prospects

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I’ve been writing more cold emails lately to prospects to help grow my business. They can be effective, when done right. Here are some tips that have helped me to get more email responses from prospective clients.

Target the right prospects

Don’t send emails to every company or prospect that you come across. It’s going to waste your time and deter you from sending cold emails, since your response rate will be really low. Focus your emails on the right prospects, and tailor the emails to their needs. A positioning statement can help you to identify the right targets for your emails.

Get your email opened

Create a personalized subject line that will interest your prospect – use humour or something personal to them. The key (as is often the case) is to target the right person at the right time with the right message. Make sure to keep track of messages that have worked (and ones that have not) so that you can make adjustments to future emails.

Lead with value rather than a sales pitch

Focus on what you will do together (saying “You” and “we” rather than “I” and “me” in your emails). Refer to what is going on in their business – their needs, challenges, goals, successes, etc. Describe the positive value of working with you – how you can help them to achieve their goals, how you’ve helped others overcome similar circumstances. Ask for a next step that gives them value (send a free report, offer to do a consultation). You want to get a response more than a sale.

Keep your emails short and direct

Put the information front and centre. Don’t make them read a lot to get to the point. This will make responding much easier. Use formatting strategies (bullets, headings, bold points, links to outside sources) to make your emails more attractive to read. Emails should take less than five minutes to read – brevity is key.

Close with purpose

Don’t be wishy washy (e.g., “Let me know…”). Close with a clear next step that the reader can do in the next five minutes (e.g., “Let’s set up a call…, Can I send you some thoughts?”). The goal is to make it easy for the prospect to take the next step and move forward.


Warm emails are better than cold emails, but effectively written cold emails can still do a lot of heavy lifting for you, and help you to reach prospects and turn them into clients. Put thought into that next email and you will see results.

Do you need help with writing cold emails, or writing emails in general? Let me know –


Ramping up your freelance writing business

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Whether you’re new to freelance writing, or you’ve been doing it for a long time – like me – there is always room to grow your business. I’ve written a lot about getting more clients, and other issues related to freelancing, but I’ve come across five tips that, taken either individually or combined, will help to ramp up your freelance business… and also help you to make a better living.

Define your “best” client

Before you market your services to that first or next client, define who you want to work for. Ask yourself: Who do you enjoy working with – what types of businesses or clients or industries? Identify their values, and how they align with yours. Determine their struggles – know their problems, and what they need. Does your writing experience and ability fit this client? Where can you get these clients? How do you get referred to them? These are all important questions to answer before doing anything else. 

Approach a potential client and be generous with your offer

Once you know a possible client’s needs or pain points, talk to them about in their language, and explain how you can help them to solve that problem. It’s not about selling your services – it’s about addressing their need, helping them to get better, finding a solution. Be prepared to WOW them with a generous offer. Create a targeted trial solution that solves a specific need, and that will fit into their budget, so they can see what you do without breaking the bank. (I don’t advocate giving anything for free – expect perhaps a consult – or heavy discounts. But I do like the tripwire offer, or the small but powerful offer that gives a lot of value.)

Prove yourself

When you do an assignment for a client, go above and beyond. Do a great job, and then WOW them with something else – completing it ahead of schedule, following up with a small gift, calling to ask what they thought. Of course, always do a great job.

Be different

Don’t come off as the same editor or writer or designer that they’ve worked with in the past. Show that you are supportive of their needs, and not just doing a job to get paid. Find ways to make them better – offer help where you can. Exude positivity. 

Ignore everyone else – including what I just wrote

Do what works for you in your business. Everyone has advice and tips on what has worked for them. Do what works for you. Take all the advice, learn from it, apply what works for you – and forge your own path. 

A few more words of advice

  • Niches are great, but consider focusing on a theme rather than a niche, which allows you to work across more markets – and yet still focus your writing and editing.
  • Websites are nice, but referrals are more effective at building your business and getting great clients.
  • Don’t compete on price – it’s a race to the bottom. Higher rates will make you more attractive to certain clients, who also pay higher rates.
  • Charge according to your value, not by the hour or the word. There are situations where you will charge by the unit (hour, word, etc.), but look for opportunities to quote based on the value you provide.
  • Before quoting anything, know your living wage, and what you need / want to earn.

Let me know your thoughts, or if you want to discuss ramping up your freelancing business –


Need more freelance writing clients? Try a tripwire offer.

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Freelancers, please heed the following awful truth. You should probably tape it to your wall or around your desk when you’re having a difficult time with prospecting:

Just because the market wants what you’re offering does not mean that they want it from you.

It’s also true – in freelancing and dating (so I’m told) – that we become more urgent and desperate in our approach when times get lean. Your first meeting with a new client is like a first date – don’t propose “marriage” right away. Stop assaulting prospects and new clients with pitches for doing a lot of business with you right away. (Of course, if they want to hire you for a big job, don’t play hard to get.) You have to build the relationship, and entice them to get to know you and your service offerings.

That’s where the tripwire offer comes in. The tripwire offer is an irresistible, super-low-ticket offer that helps to convert prospects into buyers. It gets the prospect to buy something small, and turns them into a client. It changes the relationship – once someone buys from you, and they’re satisfied, they will tend to buy from you again.

Note: The tripwire offer IS NOT A COUPON – it does not discount your current offerings. It is a special offer, designed to provide value in advance of using your key services.

A good tripwire offer is a “splinter” offer. It is a portion (or splinter) of your core product or service. It should be geared to addressing the prospect’s key problem. It provides a quick result, or solves a small problem. Once the person buys the tripwire offer, they become a client, and you can promote your main services to solve bigger problems.

Another key advantage of the tripwire offer is that it helps to address doubt:

  • Doubt in you (what you can do for them)
  • Doubt in themselves (their ability to achieve a goal)

The tripwire helps the client to achieve a little victory, thereby erasing both doubts. They now believe your ability to help them, and believe that they can achieve their goal. The client feels satisfaction – it’s a positive feeling toward you, and relief that their problems will be solved.

For example, suppose that I come across a client who needs their website rewritten from scratch. It’s a huge job, and it can cause a lot of grief as there are a lot of things to consider. My tripwire offer would be to revise one page on their website for a fee (say $50). I would make sure that the new page hit all the markets – solid, attractive copy that targets their desired client. Another option would be to create a brand new bio for their LinkedIn page (again, for a fee). It would make them look great, which makes them feel great. Then we can discuss a larger project after that.

Give the prospect a taste of what you can for a reasonable fee, and make them feel good about their issue and what you can do. You can create a few tripwire offers for your target market, or tailor one for a prospect you really want to work with. It’s up to you. Know your benefits, and know your prospect’s needs, to create a great offer.

Do you need help with creating a tripwire offer? Want to discuss other writing or editing needs? Let me know –


Seven keys to being a successful freelance writer

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I’ve had a few one on one conversations with younger people looking to get into freelancing. Some of them are not happy with their current full-time job, but they’re afraid of giving up the “guaranteed” income of a job. We all know that nothing is guaranteed, but I get it. I came from a world where you were told that the goal should be to get into a good company and stay there until you retire. However, I fell into freelancing and have been doing it – almost consistently for more than 20 years.

I came across some great advice on what freelance writers (and others) need to succeed in this world, where there is no safety net or guarantee of work or income. 

  1. You must love your craft. If you want to be a freelance writer, then you must love everything about writing. It cannot be just a job that makes you money, as your income depends on the amount of effort you put into it… and loving the writing helps to put the effort you need.
  2. You need to have a service-based attitude. You want to do the best work for our clients and produce great material for your audience. You think of giving the reader what they want. (You can write for yourself, and should. But if you’re in business, you have to think about the client’s needs.)
  3. You must have confidence in your abilities. The “impostor” syndrome is common in freelancers – you never think you’re good enough or have the skills to do the job. That’s why you must believe in your skills, have pride in your results… and be humble and thankful for your clients wanting to work with you.
  4. Get training. You might have great natural ability, but it needs to be honed. And you need to learn what you don’t know to complement what you do know. Training will help you to understand the strategies and techniques needed to get a response from your writing. You can learn from others or learn on your own, whatever works best for you. 
  5. You must develop discipline to get the work done – right and on time. Being answerable to yourself is difficult for some as distractions are everywhere. It’s easy to let things slide when deadlines are far off and no one is there to crack the whip. But letting things slide regularly will doom you in the long run.
  6. Marketing is essential. You might be one of the “lucky” few who have clients banging down the door. But most freelancers must market their services regularly and search for clients. Marketing is more than necessary – it is part of your job, as are sales, customer service, accounting, billing, and so on. 
  7. You need support from other people – for encouragement, for financial support, to help get leads and clients, for companionship, for someone to provide advice, and so on. Freelancing can be a solo business, but you are never alone. Find a community of people who do what you do so that you can get support when needed. And hire professionals to help when you cannot do something yourself.

I could add more strategies on being a successful freelancer, but these will do the job. Follow them, and create a path that works for you, and you’ll get there.

If you need advice on freelancing, let me know –