Little things, big difference. What are you waiting for?

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Have you ever told somebody to button their shirt? To move their tie up a tad, so it doesn’t look like it’s a flower drooping in the midday sun? To change that stripy jumper for a plain one? Often, it’s the little things that make a big difference. Suddenly, everything falls into place. The look makes sense, the colours work, the missing something is no longer missing. As with fashion, so with copy. Last week once again, I turned a job away because all it needed was a tie-tuck or a done-up button. I really shouldn’t make a habit of this (it’s bad for business) but on the other hand, I never take on a job where I’m not really needed (which is good for goodwill, so it balances out). Often, all copy needs is a quick makeover, and you’re done. Not an expensive, plastic-bending splurge. Just a little accessorising to give it that all-important lift. Try it now. Take any copy you think doesn’t work and apply these simple steps. And marvel at the results.

1. Get over yourself

When you visit a website, what’s the most important thing you’re looking for? Don’t think too hard about it, because the answer is staring you in the face. And if you still can’t work it out, stand in front of the nearest mirror. Now, it’s literally staring you in the face. It’s you, of course. And when I go to a website, I want to find out about me. How the smartphone will make me smarter. How the suit will make me sharper. How the car will improve my self-esteem (well that’s a bad example, as I’m not a petrolhead, but you get the idea). Now take another look at that copy. How many times does it use the word ‘you’? Divide that by the number of times you see the word ‘I’ or ‘we’. If the result is less than 1, you’ve got a problem. But then, you already know the solution.

2. Be bold (and don’t dodge that bullet)

People naturally gravitate towards what’s easy to read. So make it easy, with bold text, big headings, plenty of bullets and a smattering of underline. Give them some stepping stones, so their eye can be led through the copy. Is anybody going to read all of this post? Maybe, maybe not. But the chances are increased if they see the bold, numbered headings (they know there’s a start and end point) and are intrigued enough to read the bits in between.

3. Slash and burn

Vast swathes of unbroken copy are daunting. Why do you think Dan Brown writes short snappy chapters with breathless cliffhangers at the end of every one? Why do you think so few people make it through War and Peace or Gone with the Wind (both weighing in at over 1,000 pages)? If classic books can be summarised in 140 characters, then there’s no excuse for your web copy, brochure, report, article or blog post. If you don’t know where to start trimming, try a more radical approach: lop off the whole branch. Instead of snipping a word here or there, cut out an entire paragraph. Does it affect the big picture? Is a vital detail missing? Does the copy still flow? If you can’t see the wood for the trees, keep hacking.

4. Loosen up

You don’t envisage, you plan or imagine. They don’t request or require, they ask or need. It’s not assistance, it’s help. And as for plethora or myriad, if they’re finding their way into your copy, you might encounter meet lots of problems. Big words impress nobody when it comes to selling, marketing, promoting or convincing. People are far more easily won over if you let down your guard and talk like a real person. Here, the golden rule is if in doubt, read it out. If it sounds wrong, it probably is. So here’s an idea: get your headset, set your PC to record, and do an elevator pitch. Or a sales pitch. Or a marketing presentation. Nobody’s listening, so be yourself. Now play it back. Notice the difference? If you’re happy with it, transcribe it. Voilà – instant copy.

5. Become an action hero

Never, ever leave people dangling. You’re not Dan Brown, you’re a marketer, so cliffhangers are not your ultimate goal. Round off every page, every section and every subsection with a call to action. Have boxes, and banners and buttons that tell people what to do. Repeat your call to action (or calls to action: phone, email, download, fill in a form, request a callback) as many times as you need – or dare.

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So there you have it. Not rocket science, I hear you say? Of course not. Any more than straightening your tie, or buttoning your shirt, or combing your hair.

If it’s really that easy, what are you waiting for? Grab some copy and give it a makeover. You can do it – I know you can.

And don’t worry about me. A little goodwill goes a long way.