Laura Belgray + Natasha Lakos

Q&A with Laura Belgray // on Copywriting

I’m so happy to share this conversation with you. Do you know Marie Forleo‘s copywriter, Laura Belgray? You should. For starters, she helps Marie create her Webby award winning show Marie TV, and I vouch for Laura first-hand, as I’ve seen her transform copy for many of my clients. Laura helps entrepreneurs make their writing “more compelling, entertaining, and money-making”.

As far as I’m concerned great copy is one of the musts when it comes to creating a magnetic online presence. Even if you consider yourself a good writer, I invite you to get in on this convo. It’s full of helpful advice from a total pro, who knows how to have fun with copy.


So Laura, tell us – how can our copy (writing) set us apart from others – as online entrepreneurs or in general?

The same way a person sets themselves apart in the world: with personality. To me, the best copy sounds like something you’d say. And rather than being clever, it’s often almost-dumb. For instance, one of my favorite billboards ever was for the show King of The Hill. It was a picture of the kid, Bobby, and the line was: LIKE BART SIMPSON, BUT FATTER. Simple and dumb and genius.

Most businesses have terrible copy. It might not seem that way, because the ones who catch your eye have awesome copy. But the truth is, if your copy is punchy and conversational and to the point, and resonates with your audience, you are WAY ahead of the pack.

Okay, so if we’re writing our web copy ourselves, where can we look for inspiration? What should we pay attention to?

For inspiration and pointers, hang in there – because Marie Forleo and I are creating a course this year. Get on our lists and you’ll be the first to know when it’s available.

OK, plug over.

Pay attention to marketing outside your industry. I can’t emphasize this enough. When you see great copy from someone who does what you do, if you’re at all like me, it’ll just deflate you. You’ll wish you’d thought of it, then wish you could steal it, then realize neither is possible since you can’t go back in time and you have a sense of dignity. And you’ll get stuck thinking that’s the only way to say what you wanted to say in the whole world. So, yeah. If you’re a health coach, look at car ads on TV, or about pages of handbag designers. Just stay away from looking at other coaches’ copy.

Pay attention, again, to language you use with your friends. Language your clients use with you. What phrase would someone be eager (as opposed to embarrassed) to repeat? For instance, if I were telling my husband about a healthy cooking class I’d signed up for, I’d say “They teach total kitchen dunces how to cook healthy meals that don’t taste diet-y.” I would not say, “They empower women with little cooking experience to embark on a maiden journey of delicious, nutritious cooking for life.”

Tip: drop the kind of language you get caught up in when you immerse yourself in an industry, and going back to the language you used before you ever heard all these words. For instance, forget you ever heard phrases like “attract abundance.” That’s a euphemism for being a luck-and-money magnet. Also overused, but way more to the point.

Love it. Love looking outside your industry – completely agree. It pulls you out of the loop you can get stuck in when you’re comparing yourself to your colleagues.
Next Q: What would help us become better writers? What would make the process more fun (or less intimidating)?

One trick I have for channeling my natural voice is to start an email to a friend, and actually put her address in the to: field, and write whatever copy I’m struggling with as a message to her. For instance: I wouldn’t say,

Dear Victoria,
Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to write effective, authentic sounding copy? If you’re like millions of others, you probably struggle with this challenge.

This is one of my very best friends. To her, I’d write,

Hey!
Question for you: you ever have a shitty time trying to write good copy? As in, copy that sounds like you and gets right to the point? You’re normal (I mean, besides being a beautiful genius) so I’m guessing you do.

This is especially helpful for writing your actual emails, but also for coming up with copy for your website and other areas of your marketing. It loosens you up, assuming you don’t hate writing emails to your best friends.

Another trick: play around. Write your copy in caveman (or cavewoman) style:  Me make people with small business have good words for make more money. Send right message, bring right clients!

You have to do it without trying to make it good. It’s just an exercise to loosen you up and see what comes out.

Genius. I find myself using this when I write emails, particularly when I’m asking for something. I feel myself get super-wordy and resort to the kind of writing we were taught in school. Which is dry and not at all how we actually sound. So I love this.
OK…what is the #1 mistake you see online entrepreneurs make with their copy? (And how can they fix it).

Big mistake: confusing professional with formal. Your copy doesn’t have to be formal to be professional. If it’s accurate, spell-checked, and nicely laid out by an excellent designer {*cough* *Natasha Lakos*} then it can be casual and down-homey and slangy as all get out.

Folks think they’ve gotta write just like Old Mrs. Fishenstein taught them in 8th Grade English. She’d take off points for that whole sentence. Or for what I’m about to write: Me, I like it just fine.

So, how does one go about finding a copywriter? Other than word of mouth, are there professional groups online, or what would you suggest?

That’s a tough one. I do believe in word of mouth, because there’s so much you don’t know from checking people out online: are they responsive and easy to work with, or will they take your money to the craps table in sad-sack Atlantic City and never be heard from again? In terms of hiring people, I’ve had good luck being part of professional communities like Marie Forleo’s B-School. People are eager to recommend the pros they love, and usually chime in pretty quickly.

Okay, we’ve taken it up a notch and hired a copywriter – what should we be sure I be sure to tell them so they “get” us, so they can capture the essence of who we are, what we do, how we help people?

Find some examples of copy you hate, and more of copy you love.

Talking personally on the phone, just chit-chatting about nothing, can be really helpful.

Pay attention to and note down the words your clients use when they talk about what you do for them, and the words you use when you describe what you do at, say, a party.

For instance, if you tend to tell people, “I help high school seniors write essays that get them into Ivy League colleges,” use that. Not, “I help mindful young adults at the pinnacle of their secondary school journey express themselves through powerful words that cut through the clutter in the top-tier college admissions process.”  More complicated does not equal more sophisticated. (This is actually advice you can use for writing your own copy.)

What can we do to make sure we’re ready to work with a copywriter? Is there any prep work we can do that helps you do a bang-up job?

One of my latest and best-prepped clients came to me with material for each section she wanted to work on, such as: About, Shop, Book a Session (including separate pages within that for Women, Couples, Families etc.) The material she’d prepared was bits and pieces of language she liked, plus the apologies and objections she heard from every single client – like, “I bribed my kid with candy to do this shoot“ or “What if I don’t want to wear lingerie?”

That made it really easy. It was a goldmine of language that’ll hit home with the right people, and the puzzle was mostly in figuring out where it would go.

So, I’d recommend keeping a google doc full of that stuff. Separate phrases and words you’d like to use, organized by section of your website if possible.

A tip about google docs: make sure you keep an original copy of all the stuff you send your copywriter. It can be in an identical doc that you don’t share, or in a sacred, “do not delete” notes section at the bottom. This way, if the copywriter changes something and you liked your original better, you still have it to go back to.

What’s the #1 tip you have for entrepreneurs and artists when it comes to their writing? What’s the one thing you want to shout from the rooftops when it comes to the power of the written word?

You don’t need to say everything. Say just enough to make someone else say, “Ooh, gimme that.”

Thank you Laura!


UntitledLaura Belgray, founder of Talking Shrimp, helps entrepreneurs make their writing more compelling, entertaining, and money-making. Her expertise in catchy copy comes from almost 20 years (and counting) of writing promos for TV. In other words, she gets paid to watch shows like “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and write commercials that get you to watch them, too.  She also co-writes the Webby-honored Marie TV, and she’s not afraid to boast about it. Nor is she afraid to tell you that she loves Real Housewives.

Go find her and her blog at talkingshrimp.com