Writing copy for your website or other marketing materials isn’t always easy.

And unless you’re a professional copy writer (and sometimes even when you are), the blank screen of your computer can feel like it’s taunting you: You’ve got no idea what you’re doing, do you?

Sure, there are plenty of copy writing templates out there — and you definitely can learn a thing or two from using them — but they aren’t always a good fit for every type of business. Besides, if you rely too heavily on someone else’s formula, your sales copy will end up sounding…well, formulaic. 

Since none of us wants to be a copy-cat or sound like the next person, how exactly do you write your copy and have it sound as heart-felt and sincere as you really are?

My answer: The Starter Recipe.

I’ve written about the Starter Recipe before, but basically you’re after five ingredients:

1. Your ideal client‘s most acute pain or desire.

2. What’s in the way of them getting what they want/need?

3. A detailed picture of what’s possible once they do get it.

4. Why you’re uniquely suited to help them get it.

5. A call to action.

This basic recipe of ingredients can be used for all different parts of your website — from your about page to a blog post to yes, even a sales page. (We’ll get to the how of that in a minute.)

When I’m coaching a client on writing their copy, the first thing I have them do is take these ingredients and write a letter to their ideal client. Keeping in mind that they’ll need to build on the recipe with “stories” that help their reader to put themselves in the picture of what’s possible.

They also want to write this letter as if to a dear friend (NOT as if it’s coming from the corporate office of some business far removed from them and their daily lives). That means, they need to use casual language; touch on the emotional highs and lows that surround each ingredient; and not be afraid to get specific and personal.

This month, our Digital Dining Room group focused on copy writing so I assigned them a similar mission. This process usually requires three to five “kneads” or drafts before it’s really “done.” And while everyone did a fabulous job on their first go round, this letter (by Dr. Kohl at TravelReadyMD) really captured the spirit of the assignment:

Dear Angela (my angel of an ideal client),

I was delighted to learn you have been chosen for a study abroad in Ecuador next semester. You must be excited and even a wee bit nervous about being so far from home. I am sure your mother is a bit nervous too since neither of you have been abroad (if you don’t count Niagara Falls!) I trust your school has provided you with some information about how to prepare. It can be so confusing to figure out how to stay healthy and safe in a country with so many different climates. I know that when John went to China he received a packet of outdated recommendations; it took us awhile to figure out exactly what he really needed to prepare. Did you choose the leadership project in Quito or the ecology project in the Galapagos? The differences between high altitude and a remote marine sanctuary will really impact your choices as you prepare for the trip. Have you checked the CDC’s website for travelers? Their recommendations are so overwhelming it can be rather confusing to figure out exactly which ones they are recommending for you specifically. I was happy to learn your pediatrician indicated your routine vaccinations are up to date. Now you will need to figure out where you will get your travel vaccines since your doctor doesn’t carry them. As I recall you have been bothered by asthma in the past. Have you considered how you will manage an asthma flare up so far away? If you are going to Quito we should discuss how high altitude will affect your asthma too. The doctors at TravelReadyMD could help you prepare. Did you know we are the only doctors in the greater Pittsburgh area who earned their Certificate in Travel Health, so you know we are experts in the field of travel medicine? As a bonus, we are board certified Pediatricians so we are more than capable of helping you manage your asthma while you are away. Fortunately we have all the travel vaccines in stock. In addition we will get you all set up with any needed medications and even a little travel health kit so that you can treat yourself for simple medical problems. Did you know TravelReadyMD has a social conscience? Each year we donate a portion of our earnings to help promote clean water and polio eradication. Who knew you could get your travel vaccines and feel good about it too? Your mother will be so proud of you, knowing that you are the first in the family to go to South America, and that you are so well prepared. You will be confident that you can focus on your studies instead of worrying about what you can and cannot do while in Ecuador. TravelReadyMD is super easy to contact- just call (we answer anytime of the day or night) or schedule your appointment on-line. How easy is that? Well I wish you a wonderful study abroad. Don’t forget to send me pictures when you return. All my best, Sarah Kohl

Were you able to pick out her starter recipe ingredients?

She told us they were:

1. Pain/Desire: Students traveling abroad are worried about how to stay healthy and safe while traveling in unfamiliar destinations, unsure what is different from home, and unsure how to manage common chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, while away from home. Often this worry is compounded by the fact this is the first trip outside of the country for many students.

2. Obstacles: It is difficult to find information that applies specifically to you and your travel plans; many programs provide minimal advice on preparation while information on the internet can be difficult to interpret. Additionally, your regular primary care provider is often unsure what advice to give you and unable to stock any needed travel vaccines.

3. What’s Possible? Imagine the peace of mind you will have knowing that you can confidently travel abroad avoiding many health problems, managing common problems yourself, and knowing when to contact a doctor. You will learn to avoid common pitfalls associated with your exact activities –whether working with kids in an orphanage, attending a home stay, or conducting scientific exploration of the jungle. Preparation for most travel plans can completed in one convenient visit, including any recommended travel vaccines or medications.

4. Why us: TravelReadyMD is staffed by experts in travel healthcare. TravelReadyMD is the only medical practice in Southwestern Pennsylvania where the doctors have earned their Certificate in Travel Health. You can count on their expertise to help you prepare with simple, effective recommendations. Additionally, our doctors are board certified in Pediatrics so they are adept in the day-to-day management of common chronic illness of teens and young adults and coordination of care with your primary care provider. Office visits are convenient and provide plenty of time to ask the doctor questions about travel preparations. With each consultation, you receive a complementary Travel Health Kit complete medication for diarrhea, motion sickness and jet lag chosen specifically for your travel plans. If vaccines are recommended, they will be administered during our consultation. After the visit you will be able to review the recommendations with our helpful booklet about your travel plans. TravelReadyMD is committed to making the world a better place. A portion of our proceeds is donated to organizations that promote clean water and fight polio worldwide.

5. Call to Action: Call for an appointment at one of our two offices. The phones are answered 24/7/365 allowing you to schedule your appointment whenever you have time to call. For your convenience you can request an appointment through our website too.

Why the Letter?

Writing a letter to a specific person that you’ve already identified and given a name, helps to remove you from the realm of general-and-vague. Most folks tend to write sales copy with a picture of vast numbers of customers in their head. They try to write something that will cover all the bases for each of those customers — versus just one specific person. When someone comes to your website, they don’t want to be lost in a sea of general-and-vague. They want to know that you get who they are. That you understand their specific needs and desires. And that you’re specifically suited to the task of helping them get what they want.

How to Use the Starter Recipe to Develop Your “Real” Copy

Once you’ve written the letter, you no longer need to face a blank screen again. If your letter was written for a specific product or service and you want to write sales copy for that offering, just copy and paste the letter into your new page as a starting place. You can use the letter writing process for each new piece of copy you need to write — even a blog post! —  just begin with identifying the ingredients appropriate to your message and allow the letter to be your first draft. From there, you’ll need to do things like:

  • Replace the salutation (Dear Name,) with a compelling Title and Sub-title. I find that a question often does the trick here. If you know what your reader’s acute desire or pain is, you can craft a question around that to help them know whether or not they’re in the right place. For Sarah’s letter, the question might read something like: “Traveling Abroad for the First Time? Are You Fully Equipped to Stay Healthy?” 
  • Re-write the letter so that it makes sense to a new visitor. Sarah’s opening sentence might change to: “If you’re like most students, your first reaction to hearing you were chosen for a study abroad program is sheer excitement. Maybe you even squealed with delight.” Re-work the text so that it flows naturally, but retains that conversational, friendly tone.
  • Don’t worry about capturing every possible situation. Aim to keep your copy as specific as possible. In Sarah’s case, there might be several reasons why a student is traveling abroad. They might be going with family. They might be going on their own with friends. That doesn’t mean she has to talk about each of these in the copy. There’ll be enough cross over with her use of “most students” that any student will understand her services fit the bill. If you try to cover too many bases, you end up back in general-and-vague.
  • Use bullet lists and shorter paragraphs. Break up the copy so that it’s scannable. When you’re listing the features of your product or service, refer back to your ‘What’s Possible’ ingredient for the answers to the so-what question. You want to help your reader understand the emotional benefits that are tied to each feature.For example, in Sarah’s case, she might list out (in bullets) all the things her travel packages include. Since vaccinations are included, they are a feature of the package. One of the benefits of including travel vaccinations in her consultations is that the patient doesn’t need to see a different doctor — it can all be handled at one location, saving loads of time. The emotional benefit to that is the patient will feel relaxed and worry-free (e.g., It’s one less thing to worry about.) Include that language in your copy.
  • Use testimonials to illustrate why you’re uniquely suited to provide the solution. Good testimonials are real testimonials. And unless you need to protect someone’s privacy or the law says you can’t use them at all, you need to be actively collecting kudos from your current clients to share in your marketing. Get permission first. The best testimonials include a photo of the person as well as their first and last name. If you can link to their website, even better.
  • Use aspects of storytelling to help your reader see themselves in your copy. This means short vivid descriptions that help explain the before and after scenarios relevant to your offering.
  • Make sure your call to action is appropriate. Every business is different and depending on the price point, your potential clients may need more or less time developing a relationship with you before they decide to buy. Don’t push them to make a purchase without laying the groundwork first. Perhaps they need to talk with you first? Remember, it’s kind of like dating. The bigger the commitment you’re asking for, the more trust you need to build.

These are just a few ways to take the letter and use it to build a solid sales page. Obviously, there’s more to add depending on what you’re selling.

Keep in mind that all things being equal (between you and your competitors), folks will choose to buy from you if you do a better job of creating a relationship with them.

That means showing them (via your copy) that you understand where they’re coming from and that you’re someone they know, like and trust.

Does this case study help you understand the copy writing process better? Do you have any questions about how to use it for your own business? Leave a question or comment below and let’s discuss!

p.s. – If you’d like to get some expert help with doing this process for your own website, I invite you to work with me one-on-one via my Copy/Content Coaching package.