I’m two-thirds of the way through my first run of copywriting workshops. And I have to say that aside from the initial cold sweats and wobbly knees, overall, it’s been a very enjoyable experience.

The workshops have attracted a huge mix of business owners, from people who think I’m a legal professional to those who are already seeing massive reach from their blogs.

One thing that’s proven to be useful for business owners who want to have a crack at writing their own copy, is our short list of useful online tools. I won’t lie. Some people were shocked and appalled (what a fantastic phrase) to find out that myself and my co-host, Aileen Scoular, regularly frequented ‘Thesaurus.com’.

Is it still cheating if everyone’s doing it?

If it helps you write better copy and expand your vocabulary – I will always count that as a win. Hell, we’re all about to be replaced by robots anyway, right?

Copywriting Workshops in Perthshire – One Left to Go!

One left to go. But there’s been a change of venue!

We have one workshop left to run in conjunction with Growbiz Perthshire. This action-packed tip-fest is designed to give small business owners in Perthshire the tools they need to write copy that resonates with their customers, sells their products and will project their brand from cottage-industry to household name. Those are big promises. And it’s debatable whether or not I will keep them all. But come anyway. The final session will be held in Coupar Angus at the brilliant Coupar Angus Cycling Hub on 25th June 2018 from 6.30pm – 8.30pm. Tickets are free but limited and you can register now on Eventbrite.

Look forward to seeing you there! I might even cycle along from the house (I know, I’m so country).

Free Copywriting Tools I Use to Improve My Writing Everyday (from a pro copywriter)

1.Thesaurus.com

Okay, so let me tell you one thing. EVERY professional writer I know uses this website at least ONCE A DAY. Those that say they don’t are either lying through their wordsmithing teeth or don’t have enough work on their hands. And that is my firm belief.

It works in the same way as your old-fashioned, book-learnin’ thesaurus. If you’re looking for a new way to say ‘engaging’ (cringe!), for example, you can type it into the search bar then sit back and wait for a shower of shiny new words to come pouring in. How about ‘captivating’, ‘alluring’ or ‘mesmeric’?

The difference between this and the crusty old paperback version is you’ll find loads of synonyms (different words that mean the same thing) in one click. Along with a handy list of antonyms (words that mean the opposite). ‘Repellant’, ‘tiresome’ and ‘repugnant’ being a few of my favourites pertaining to our example.

A WORD OF WARNING ABOUT THESAURUS.COM

This one was pointed out by Aileen Scoular, during the last session. Beware of US spellings! As of yet, there doesn’t seem to be a UK or Canadian English version of the site, so keep this in mind when using the words it suggests. This is where you might want to use Grammarly (keep reading).

A WORD OF WARNING ABOUT AFFILIATION (or lack thereof)

It’s worth noting here that I have no affiliation with any of the tools referenced in this blog. But if you want to back-date by affiliate cheque, I can work with that.

2. Grammarly

Ah, my old friend Grammarly. I’m not known for my desire to make new friends. My usual stance is that ‘I like the ones I’ve got.’ But the truth is that there’s always room for someone who shows up every day, enriches your life and isn’t afraid to give it to you straight. This, my friend, is Grammarly.

As my real-life friends might tell you about me, Grammarly also comes with her flaws. If she was on Tinder, her profile might read something like this:

“Fed-up of making embarrassing mistakes? You’ve tried Spellchecker. But she left you high and dry. She’s okay for those one-word corrections but if you want to string a meaningful sentence together, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect either. You only get out what you’re willing to put in. But if you’re different from the others, if you value good grammar just as much as spelling and punctuation, I can help you with all of this… and more. The best bit? I’ll bring my own plug-in for Chrome.”

Grammarly, in summary, is a useful app that will check both your spelling, grammar and punctuation for you. Like all spell-checking tools, it’s not perfect. So don’t rely on it to pick up every mistake. And don’t be afraid to override the Green Goddess either – sometimes the rhythm and flow of great writing bend the rules. Tell her where to take her suggestions.

Always proofread your work. I always have someone else look mine over with a fresh pair of eyes. There are several useful tactics for proofreading your own work but that’s for another post.

And yes, there is a Grammarly plugin for Chrome. In fact, it just underlined ‘plug in’ for me because I made it two words. How technophobic of me.

3. Templates

Not a tool in the traditional sense. More a tactic that’s going to make writing easier for you.

Don’t waste your time staring at a blank page. We exist in the age of free information. We can learn almost anything online. I recently went on Youtube to learn how to remove a broken turnkey from my gas boiler. Worked like a charm. And nobody was harmed in the process. Although maybe don’t take combi-related into your own hands. You might blow up.

IMPENDING DOOM

For example, if you want to write a press release for your business search for ‘press release template’ and you’ll find something to get you started. Yes, you might have to trawl through a few duds but like anything online, there are always hidden gems. Templates will help you to break up your writing task into smaller, more manageable chunks. Just like your to-do list. Aw, time-management cliches, cute.

Here’s an example press release template from Freelance UK that Aileen shared in the session. And, of course, Joanne Wiebe’s well-visited list from the Copyhackers blog.

4. CoSchedule Headline Analyzer

As much as it pains me to spell ‘analyzer’ with a ‘z’ this is another useful tool from our friends across the pond.

In the day of fleeting attention spans, writing good headlines is crucial. We might argue that it always has been. But now that more of us are writing and publishing across more platforms, as small business people we have to work pretty damn hard to get any attention.

In his book, The Adweek Copywriting Handbook, Joseph Sugarman talks about the purpose of a headline. It’s actually not that inspiring. The headline’s job is to get you to read the subheadline. And what’s next? You can probably guess. The subhead’s job is to get you to read the first sentence. And consequently, the second, third and fourth sentences. And so on, into copy-oblivion. Far from being old-hat, this is more relevant than ever. Especially when it comes to blogging for business and social media copywriting.

CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer is a useful tool for crafting more effective headlines. Your headline should grab the reader’s attention and also be SEO friendly. That is, lend itself to being ranked highly in search results on Google or Bing. Heck, even Ask Jeeves. Hang on while I check my AOL.

Try it with your next article headline. As always, these are tools, not Gods. You must be prepared to defy them.

5. The Hemingway App

I have never used this. But I know that lots of writers rave about it. It’s designed to help you write more simply which can come in handy especially if you’re prone to being a bit ‘wordy’. I am a bit wordy so I guess that’s why I’ve refused to use this app. I did try it once and there were a lot of red lines. So I thought better of it.

Here’s Hemingway’s (not Ernest) lovely, succinct description of itself:

“The Hemingway App makes your writing bold and clear. The app highlights lengthy, complex sentences and common errors; if you see a yellow sentence, shorten or split it.”

The app also picks up uses of ‘passive voice’ which you want to avoid. For this reason alone, it’s definitely worth using if you’re starting out. When I edit my own writing, I’m constantly chopping sentences, doing away with words and culling commas. This makes me think that with practice, the function of the Hemmingway App becomes inbuilt. I’d say it’s a prudent choice while you’re finding your feet.

*Awaits barrage of feedback aimed at my ill-formed and complex sentences.*

6. Google Docs

Ooooh, if Grammarly is a cool new friend then Google docs is my oldest and dearest gal-pal! I spend my life in Google Docs. They say that the best ideas are the obvious ones. I truly believe that Google Docs is simple but magical.

Google Docs will allow you to:

A. Work collaboratively with your clients, co-workers, editors and friends on word documents, slide shows and spreadsheets.

B. Leave comments and suggestions on documents or make direct edits.

C. Write without worrying about losing your document – Docs saves automatically as long as you are connected to the internet*.

*Always back up your work. If it’s an important client piece I always print hard copies of critical drafts as I go. Never trust technology. Fuck the trees.

I can’t believe I just said that about the trees.

7. Canva

Last but not least – every wanna-be designer’s dream! I’ll hazard a guess that trained graphic designers don’t think much of Canva. But if you’re a writer with limited design skills or even better, a small business person who wants to look the part on a shoestring – Canva will make you look like a pro FOR FREE.

And here’s one I made earlier.

Granted, the app can be a bit glitchy at times. But hey, it comes stocked with thousands of free templates to choose from. You can design Facebook posts, blog title images (I use this for ALL of my title images), posters, ebooks and pretty much every other design application you can think of.

Canva now allows you to save your brand fonts and colours as your default, too. So it’s easy to throw together branded content. There’s a load of free stock images and illustrations to use too. The only annoying thing is that the ‘paid for’ images are mixed in with the free ones. If you’re a cheapskate you’ll usually have to do some sifting. You can upload your own images or download stock imagery from another site then upload it for using in Canva. It’s really very user-friendly.

Canva has changed the way I work. And it can dramatically improve your brand image for diddly-squat. I still pay Adobe a subscription for Photoshop but I barely use it now. If Canva started charging, for what I need, I’d probably opt for that over more advanced editing packages.

__________

Go forth, padawan learners, and use these tools I have bestowed upon you. If you made it this far, answer me this:

Q: What copy-related topics would you entice you to attend a workshop? 

There’s still time to register for our next copywriting workshop in Perthshire. We’ll be raising the roof of the Coupar Angus Cycling Hub on 25th June! Thanks to Growbiz for sorting out this cushty local venue. It’s great to be supporting. See you there. Kick-off 6.30pm sharp (ish).

Now, I’m away to lean on Grammarly like the electronic crutch she has become.

Need a hand with your blog or ad copy? Even if you want to write your copy yourself, I can help you do that. If you’re struggling to find the right voice for your company or want expert feedback on your content, why not book a copy consultation with me? I’ll review your copy and let you know where you’re going wrong and how to fix it. You can then take what you’ve learned and apply it to everything you write. 


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