“I was always rubbish at English at school”, “I hate writing copy, it’s like pulling teeth”, “I have no idea what to say”, “I’m worried people will know I’m not a writer”, “I feel like a fraud or an impostor”….
Is that how you feel about putting pen to paper (or, at least, fingers to keyboard)? Do these kind of worries go through your mind when you are faced with the prospect of writing some marketing copy for your business?
I hear these worries from my clients all the time and understand that writing copy may present you with a huge mental block. One client recently confided that he’ll find anything to do to avoid writing copy, from taking the dog for a walk (at the pleasant end of the work avoidance scale) to cleaning the toilet! I would feel much the same way about giving presentations.
For most small business owners, I imagine there are tasks that make our blood run cold. Copywriting seems to rank quite highly, especially if the last time you needed to write something was at school or university and you didn’t great feedback (because, of course, our tricky brains seem to find criticism easier to recall than praise). Many of us worry that we’ll get caught out, that people will realise we’re not very good at what we’re doing, whether that’s writing copy or something else related to running a business. It’s a feeling often called Impostor Syndrome, that fear that someone’s going to spot you for a fraud.
Impostor Syndrome is a very real barrier to writing great copy because it plays into all those fears I outlined at the start of this article. What if people don’t like what you write? What if you make mistakes? What if it’s not very good? What if people ask what qualifies you to write about a topic? What if…, what if….?
The thing about Impostor Syndrome is that it can sneak up on anyone. The good news is that there are things you can do to beat it.
1. Write about what you know
What was it Albert Einstein said? “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
It’s so true. No-one can know everything but I’d be willing to stake a large bet that you know more about your business, products or issues in your industry than a significant proportion of the population. To write compelling, engaging copy that converts, you don’t have to know everything, you don’t have to be a world-leading expert, you just need to be willing to communicate some of what you know.
- What knowledge do you have that your customers value?
- What questions can you answer?
- Would your customers benefit from hearing your story – how and why you went into business, why you sell the products and services that you do?
- Is there something happening in your industry that your customers should know about?
- Do you have an opinion you want to share about a recent news story?
I always find that by stopping to take stock of what you do know, rather than what you don’t, you can help shake off that feeling of being an impostor.
2. Know your customers
I remember that there was a massive turning point in my mindset as a copywriter quite early on in my career. Despite straight As at school and a degree in English Language (which some would say provided an excellent foundation for a career as a copywriter), I was in my mid 20s at the time and – eternal worrier that I am – I used to fret that I was just too green and inexperienced to get the work I wanted. The shift came when I realised that my focus shouldn’t be on me but on my customers.
What did they want?
How could I help them?
How could I add value?
The more I’ve come to know and understand how I make life easier for my clients, the easier it is to shake off the shadow of Impostor Syndrome. I know I say this a lot (but only because it’s REALLY IMPORTANT) but spend some time getting to know your customers. Ask them questions, listen to what they have to say, make a note of their questions, look at the social media posts that get them engaged, ask for reviews and testimonials – whatever it takes to ‘get’ where they’re coming from.
I find it helps me enormously to imagine my ‘ideal’ customer as a person sitting in front of me. What do I want to say to them? What’s the common ground that will help us connect?
If I’m struggling to get the words on paper, then I actually speak out loud to them (thank goodness my cat is usually my only audience) and record what I’m saying using the voice recorder on my phone. It’s a simple exercise that reminds me I do know what to say and how to say it.
3. Be inspired by others
There are a few blogs that I love to read every week – some are about copywriting, some are about business, some are more eclectic. I find I read things with quite a critical eye – what was it about a particular blog title that caught my attention? What kept me reading? How do I feel about a topic? What did the writer do well? What could they have done better?
If I find an article I love, a heading that sparked my curiosity or even a call to action that compelled me to click, I’ll add them to my copywriting swipe file for inspiration in the future. I find that by understanding what other people in my industry are talking about, it helps me put my own knowledge and experience in context. Also, by studying what works and what doesn’t, I am able to view my own writing with a more critical eye and rationalise why I’ve written what I have. Knowledge is power and great for beating Impostor Syndrome.
Be authentic and you’ll never need to worry about Impostor Syndrome again
Personally, my biggest weapon against Impostor Syndrome is recognising that perfection doesn’t exist. I could always learn more, I will always be changing and growing as a writer (and, indeed, as a person) but that doesn’t make me an impostor, just a human being. Yes, I am pedantic about grammar and punctuation (or so my children tell me) but I also recognise that copy doesn’t have to be perfect to connect.
There are some brilliant writers out there who break the rules or simply ignore them. They write about what they know, they write to their customers, they write from their hearts and, in choosing to use a voice that’s authentic, they make a huge impact.
I know it’s easy for me to say that writing is fun but, honestly, it really can be. Let go, experiment, let your personality shine through and before you know it, no-one will be able to accuse you of being an impostor.
And if copywriting still makes your blood run cold, remember you can always hire a copywriter like me to do it for you!