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10 GOLDEN RULES OF COPY

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{ 10 GOLDEN RULES OF COPY }

I’m a rule-follower by nature.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched, frozen and wide-eyed, as the people around me dared to cross some line or another.

Anxiously chiming in to remind my daring companions of the posted regulations:

“Guys! No U-Turns allowed!”
“It says please wait to be seated!”
ONE sample of salsa! Costco is clearly limiting us to ONE sample of salsa!!”

(OK, it’s not my sexiest quality, I’ll admit.)

Thankfully, over the years, I’ve blossomed into more of a discerning rule-follower. (A goody-goody with standards, you might say.)

In short:

I have little tolerance for stupid rules. Arbitrary rules. Harmful rules.

See, I think a good rule should serve a real purpose. Provide solid guidance, and spur us on to be better.

Same thing with writing.

I’ve got no time for needlessly rigid, pointless rules of copy. They’ve never gotten me anywhere.

Instead, I’ve come up with my own rules of copy to follow. They’re pretty good, if you ask me. So good, I consider them golden.

Take it from this rule-follower: Stick with these, and you can’t help but improve your writing.

Read on for 10 Golden Rules of Copy that I believe every one of us should be following:

1. Above all, be clear.

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

Albert Einstein

Over all the other rules of copy, this one reins supreme:

Clarity wins. Always.

Good copy requires no additional explanation. It should stand alone, conveying the point without any other text propping it up.

Hard to achieve? Yep. It sure can be.

But, it’s absolutely worth the investment of time + effort. Because a simple, clear message will attract your dream client more effectively than an elaborate, exhaustive one any day of the week.

So, first, figure out what it is you want to say.

Next, practice saying it more simply. Then, simplify it even further.

2. Sprinkle creativity in, don’t dump it.

A little magic can take you a long way.

Roald Dahl

Despite my better judgment, I’m often a “more is more” kinda gal.

I love big dreams.

Big words.

(Even big hair. ;))

But, one area where I’m firmly in the “LESS is more” camp?

Creativity.

I’m not talking about the natural creativity that comes with you being uniquely you. (To that, I say bring it on, friend!)

No, I’m referring to the deliberate, on-purpose, choice to “be creative” in your business writing.

Unfortunately, when we try to be creative on purpose, in too many ways, all at once… we create a bit of a mess.

Our ideas may be sound, but our writing becomes meandering and disjointed.

Our metaphors become mixed, and our visuals start to blur.

Suddenly, our poor dream clients have lost the thread of what we’re trying to say. And that’s the last thing we want.

My suggestion? Start with 1.

Choose 1 place in your writing to express your creativity, and focus all your creative juices there.

Even the teensiest examples of this can be wildly effective.

For example:

Awhile back, I referred to myself as a “word nerd” (rather than a “copywriter”) in a blog post, and guess what?

I still get messages from people commenting on it.

Saying how much it amused them.

Or resonated with them (“OMG, I’m a word nerd, toooo!”).

I’ve even been introduced that way (“This is the word nerd I told you about! Read her stuff!!”)

2 words, friend.

Trust me:

The more narrowly you focus that creative energy of yours in your writing, the more powerful the punch it’ll pack.

(Oops. Unintentional alliteration! Everybody drink.*)

.

.

.

*See what I did there? That was another example of (focused) creativity. It might bomb or it might elicit a chuckle. You know your dream client best! Choose wisely.

3. Have a strategy in mind.

Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

Sun Tzu

Of all the rules of copy, this likely isn’t the most popular. But, you need to hear it, anyway:

You could be the snazziest writer on the planet and it won’t matter unless your words are driven by a strategic plan.

Even the coolest copywriting tips + tricks are only useful insofar as you’re using them to execute your overarching vision.

You should always know exactly why you’re writing a piece of copy for your business. Whether it’s a blog post, a sales page, or a headline… stop and ask yourself:

What is the goal here? 

By the time they’ve finished reading your copy, your reader should:

  • know something,
  • feel something, and/or
  • do something

If your copy doesn’t prompt your dream client to do one of the above, try again.


ready to start putting the rules of copy to work for you?

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4. Connect with authenticity.

The older I get, the less impressed I become with originality. These days, I’m far more moved by authenticity. Attempts at originality can often feel forced and precious, but authenticity has a quiet resonance that never fails to stir me.

Elizabeth Gilbert

It’s a shame that the word authentic has become as cliche as #blessed.

Because authenticity is a really good thing!

So, overused or not, I stand by the power of authenticity to transform your writing.

It’s the great connector.

It’s the lamp light, inviting your dream client in. The mirror that reflects their struggles back to them.

Authenticity is what humanizes your business in your dream client’s eyes.

It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Just spend a little time considering what you want your dream client to understand (about their struggles, themselves, your business, you…).

Then speak from the heart.

And remember: Authenticity doesn’t require you to bare your soul for all the world to see. (In fact, Brené Brown talks about the value of sharing the more vulnerable parts of our stories only after we’ve had time to heal. So, take your time deciding how much to share + when to share it.)

Don’t worry about being “original”. Focus on being authentic.

All it takes to be authentic is to write what’s true. In a way your dream client can hear it.

#nofilter
#justsayin

5. When in doubt, delete.

This report, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read.

Winston Churchill

Look, the rules of copy are universal. So, please don’t be offended when I say this:

You’re writing way too much, friend.

We all are!

Is it a carryover from our days of struggling to meet a length requirement on our term papers?

A deep-seated desire to prove our worth through the sheer volume of text we can produce?

I don’t know what it’s about. But, I do know this:

Our dream clients hate it.

Here they are, taking a leap of faith. Clicking over to our websites to see what we’re all about.

And what do we do?

We send a tsunami of words to meet them.

We’re drowning our dream clients. Let’s stop.

6. Credentials don’t convey authority; content does.

You provide value when you’re able to inspire a commitment to change. You add to the literature in your niche when you have a distinctive point of view. This is also how you build content authority.

Meera Kothand

We’re not a lazy bunch, health + wellness professionals.

And yet, we tend to fall into the sloppy habit of relying on our credentials to do the talking for us. At its core, I believe this habit is driven by a desire to convey our authority to the public.

So, we use up precious real estate on our websites and social media platforms on all the wrong things:

We put our alma mater + degree front and center.

We expound upon our specialized training and certifications.

We name-drop our mentors. 

Impressive? Sure.

But, it’s no way to approach relationship-building.

None of it matters to the people we actually want to reach: Our dream clients.

Friend, conveying authority in our chosen niche is not a bad thing. It’s one of the many ways we communicate what we’re all about, and help prospective clients decide if we’re right for them.

But, there’s a much more effective way to do this:

Through the content we provide.

Valuable, free content is your ticket to conveying the best possible kind of authority to your dream client: The kind that makes them sit up, lean in closer, and say:

“Go on. I’m listening…”

7. Focus on the “why”.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Simon Sinek

Some rules of copy are so important that I feel the need to talk about them at length.

This is one of them.

As health + wellness professionals, we tend to focus the bulk of our efforts on the WHAT.

WHAT our niche is.
WHAT struggles our clients face.
WHAT we offer.

This is all valuable information for our dream clients, no question.

But, your dream client also needs to hear the why.

WHY is this your niche? WHY is this the work you do?
WHY does your dream client’s struggle matter?
WHY will working with you make a difference in their life? 

Do this, and the other rules of copy will naturally fall into place. There has to be a strong why coming through. Or else none of it matters.


who’s ready to start putting the rules of copy to work TODAY?

ME! ME!


8. Always call for action.

Do or do not. There is no try.

Yoda

The other rules of copy may feel doable enough, but we get a little twitchy about calls-to-action in our field, don’t we?

For some reason, we tend to worry we’re burdening or coercing our dream clients by inviting them to book a call with us, or join our next workshop, or even download our helpful FREE resources!

But, calls-to-action aren’t just a marketing thing… they’re woven through every form of human communication!

Waving someone over to you at a party? Call-to-action.

Scribbling a return address in the corner of an envelope? Call-to-action.

Leaving your phone number on a voicemail message? Whistling for your dog? Swinging your arms open wide when your kid hops off the bus?

You guessed it. All calls-to-action.

Of all the rules of copy, ignoring this one is perhaps the most glaringly self-defeating. And it’s doing our dream clients no favors either!

Imagine if we avoided giving a call-to-action in real life as much as we do it in our copy:

“Hey, friend! It’s been way too long. You’ve been on my mind a lot lately, and I’ve been wondering: Are you still having a hard time with that thing we talked about earlier? Thought so. Ugh, I know how that feels, and I’m so sorry you’re struggling with it. Guess what, though? I found this place that specializes in exactly that! YES. I know, right?! I was thinking of trying it out sometime soon, because I think it could really help. K, bye!”

Do you see how silly this would be in real life? How incomplete + unhelpful?

What’s missing here?

An invitation, of course! Nothing scammy or sales-y or coercive or burdensome. Just a simple invitation:

Wanna join me?

In life + in your business copy, that’s all a call-to-action is:

An invitation to take the next step towards something helpful.

9. Tell a story.

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

Anton Chekhov

What do the Bible, the Quran, the Olympics, and your favorite comedian’s new standup routine all have in common?

They rely on powerful storytelling.

Without background, characters, conflicts, plot twists, and strong conclusions, they might read like a list of rules. A simple string of contests. A hollow formula of setup + punchline.

Storytelling elements provide depth and imagery to your message.

They captivate your dream client as if she’s a preschooler, staring up at the teacher. Hanging on every word.

Don’t miss the opportunity to bring a sense of story to every blog post, email, and caption you write.

Show with your words whenever you can. There’s plenty of time to tell your dream client everything they need to know, later.

10. Write like you speak.

Be yourself. Be conversational. Be engaged.

Aliza Sherman

Of all the rules of copy, this one’s my personal fave. That’s why I’ve saved it for last. 🙂

You wear so many different hats in your business.

You’re care provider.
President + CEO.
Graphic designer.
Bookkeeper.
Marketing manager.
Copywriter.
Official burner of the candle at not 1 end, but 2.

Amid all that, it’s easy to forget you’re also the heart behind your business.

And that heart is human.

And humans don’t speak like robots. Or textbooks. Or training manuals.

I know you’ve been told to use proper grammar. To organize your sentences into structured paragraphs. To leave slang + emojis + little quirks (like using “+” instead of “and”) where they belong:

Among the un-professionals.

But, whoever told you that wasn’t speaking on behalf of your dream client. (AKA: The only one who matters.)

Your dream client likes it when you speak to them in your normal voice.

And they don’t much mind if that means you use contractions. And words like gimme and wanna. And hit the ENTER key like it’s your ever-loving, sworn duty.

If that’s your style, by all means: Speak freely.

To your dream client, it’s pure gold.


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LET’S TAKE ACTION!

OK, here’s your action step for today:

  • Choose 1 of these rules of copy that you’ve been “breaking” and commit to start following it TODAY. (Share which rules of copy you’re committed to following in the comments below, so we can encourage you!)

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HI!  I’M MICHAELA. 
I help health + wellness professionals connect with their dream clients through genuine, engaging communication. After spending over a decade studying, researching, and teaching psychology + communication principles, I started this business to empower health + wellness professionals like me to “preach what you practice”. I share practical guidance so you can get clear on your unique value, communicate it with heart, attract + serve the people you love working with most… and actually have fun along the way.
4 Comments
  1. Cahlean says:

    Good “rules” to consider when creating verbiage on the day. There’s usually a fair sprinkling of creative, concise and simple may need a little extra oomph. Tell a story, that’s a fun one! (I’m a storyteller at heart and from youth). Suppose the why, call to action and strategy are ones to put a more focus towards.

    1. I’m sure your knack for storytelling comes through in your photography as well as your writing! For storytellers, a natural call-to-action might be a simple question to engage your reader. Wishing you well, Cahlean!

  2. Wayne Moran says:

    Oh yes. I need this so incredibly badly. Thank you

    1. We all do, Wayne! Thanks very much for reading, and I’m glad this resonated with you!

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GET THE CHECKLIST

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