5 copywriting misconceptions that are flat out wrong (and how to correct them)

I don’t expect everyone to understand my career as a copywriter as intimately as I do. I honestly enjoy the chance to explain what I do. But there is a substantial grey area between people understanding that a copywriter can help and understanding the mechanics of how a copywriter can help.

It in this grey area live misconceptions and misunderstandings.

I think I’ve heard them all but these are the most common.

Misconception #1: Copywriting is easy.

Copywriter gossiping on the phone

It’s commonly thought that writing is easy. I mean, we all write. Shopping lists, emails, love notes. And they’re easy, aren’t they?

So writing the copy for a website page, ad or brochure can’t be that different.

WRONG.

Copywriting requires a lot of preparation, research and planning before you even begin to write but it also requires a great deal of know-how. Many people don’t realise there is a lot to learn about the technical aspects of copywriting.

Choosing which words will push someone’s buttons isn’t a slap-dash random selection. It really is a process of crafting and honing the language to motivate the desired action.

Sometimes the words will just flow – which is awesome – but that usually only happens when you’ve practised copywriting techniques so often that you don’t have to over-think them any more.

Correcting this copywriting misconception

If you have a client who tells that they could write the copy easily, clarify why it is they need a copywriter.

They might not appreciate the value of your role and the effort you will put in. That alone could be a red flag that you might not be a good fit for each other.

If they have a lot of confidence in their own writing skills, you might suggest they write it themselves and simply work with an editor instead. Be sure to have an amazing editor to recommend.

Misconception #2: Copywriting doesn’t take long

Miniature Colorful Cars Standing In Line On Road Sale Concept. D

Following on from copywriting misconception #1, if something is easy it won’t necessarily take a long time to do.

Think how long it would take to type out a page of copy. Not long. And if you type quickly, it takes even less time. So that’s how long it should take to write, right?

WRONG.

As I explained above, the copywriting process is time-consuming because it involves a lot of steps. As a copywriter, you must get a clear understanding of what is required. You have to be able to walk in the shoes of the business owner and the customers and you have to plan and write the copy that will connect the two. Then you have to edit and edit and edit until you’re left with only the words needed.

Each step takes time (when it’s done well).

Copy that’s completed quickly will often skip one or many of these steps. The result is lacklustre, bland copy that doesn’t sell anything.

Correcting this copywriting misconception

Be realistic and clear about how long the copywriting process will take, factoring in the other projects you have on and that little thing called life you sometimes have. Don’t be afraid to put your foot down as short-cutting your process will often lead to more revisions.

If clients want something done more urgently than you scoped, find out why and judge if that pressure really is urgent. There is nothing more frustrating than working all weekend to meet a client deadline only to discover they’ve suddenly shifted priorities.

In many instances, urgent isn’t actually urgent after all.

Misconception #3: Copywriters don’t need a detailed brief

Copywriter brief on a napkin

When time is short, busy businesses don’t want to fill out detailed copywriting briefs. They want to trust in the expertise of their copywriter. And copywriters should be creative enough to fill in the gaps.

WRONG.

Without a detailed brief, a copywriter simply cannot write authentic copy that differentiates their client’s business.

As a copywriter, it’s important to ask about the values of the business and how teams work behind the scenes. It’s critical to make sure you know exactly who they are targeting and what causes them pain. You have to intimately understand how the products and services on offer will solve that pain.

The questions in my copywriting brief are three pages long. That’s just the questions. Once a customer has filled out their ideas, we spend an hour talking them through on the phone. The brief often ends up as five, six or more pages.

Gaps in the brief mean that you the copywriter don’t have all the information. If you don’t have all the information, you can’t zero in on the details that win customers.

Correcting this copywriting misconception

Patiently explain why you need the brief completed in as much detail as possible and that you can’t proceed without it. Once it becomes a non-negotiable item, projects often proceed more smoothly.

In my experience, if a client doesn’t have time to complete the brief the project will not end well (as they also won’t have time to give you revisions or pay your invoice).

Misconception #4: Writing short copy is quicker than long copy

Hourglass measuring time for copywriting

This is a big one because it’s logical that fewer words would take less time to write.

WRONG.

So wrong. Imagine every piece of copywriting is a block of marble and the copywriter has to chip away at that marble until that shape is revealed in all its glorious detail.

Now imagine that regardless of how big or small the copywriting project is, a copywriter begins with the same-sized block of marble.

If you have a smaller shape to reveal, you have to take more time sculpting.

Every copywriting project needs a brief, research and planning. Every copywriting project involves several drafts and a few rounds of revisions. Shorter projects usually involve more editing. A lot more editing.

Correcting this copywriting misconception

As I mentioned above, always be realistic and clear about how long your writing process takes. Point out that shorter copy is often harder to write than longer copy and stick to your guns.

Misconception #5: Editing existing copy is faster than writing it from scratch

Copywriting puzzle being rearranged

Can you just finesse the copy I have? Can you just take my existing copy and make it more sales-focused? Can you edit what I have to make it more readable? Can you just give it some pizzazz?

Surely copywriters can just make what’s already written more awesome, and save time and money for their clients.

WRONG.

Well, it is possible. But think of it like this. When a copywriter is asked to edit copy that requires extensive editing, they are essentially trying to rearrange the piece of a puzzle to make a different picture. It can be time-consuming to try and make something new with those pieces.

When a copywriter writes from scratch, they create a whole new (and hopefully more amazing) picture. And speaking from personal experience, although I spend more time briefing, researching, planning, writing and editing, not only are the results better but it’s a more efficient process.

Correcting this copywriting misconception

Review the copy you’re being asked to edit before you quote. It might be that it really does just need a few small edits but if extensive edits are needed, come up with a realistic plan on how long it will take you.

Also, explain the other options available (like writing it from scratch) and how much they cost. In my experience, the full rewrite only cost a little more (which made it an appealing option).

So there you have it

Five common misconceptions about copywriting and some simple strategies on how you can blast them out of the water while remaining polite and professional.

The upshot is:

  • Be realistic about how long projects will take you
  • Be practical about how much work you can take on
  • Set clear expectations for your clients
  • Stick to your guns

What can you add? Are there misconceptions I’ve missed?

Belinda

20 Responses

    1. Thanks Juliet!

      It’s a great opportunity to create content that helps to educate but it’s also important to include just as much as explanation in the sales process — to make the moment of the decision as anxiety free as possible.

      Is that something you have to do a lot? I always had to. My proposals were quite long but I was told they answered questions people hadn’t even thought of. That’s gotta help.

      1. Yes, indeed I have to do a lot of educating in the sales process. My target audience (therapists and natural health businesses) don’t understand much about marketing, let alone copywriting. It is challenging that is for sure!

  1. Well said!
    I had an interesting conversation with someone this morning about how copywriting differs from editing. It seems that people need much education about both skills.
    Happy writing.

  2. Hi Belinda

    Great points!

    I’d like to add that it’s a common misconception that copywriting can be left to the last minute – that the design is the most important thing and that the words can ‘just fit in at the end’. It drives me to despair. We need space for our brains to breathe and often the copy leads the design. I wish more clients would understand this!

    1. Ergh yes! Great addition Ruth.

      Needing time and space to let my brain breathe is something I say quite a lot too! I don’t mind finding out if there are definitely shapes I have to fill – especially on the homepage of a website as different themes can drastically change the copy. But when the words lead the brand personality, the results are sooo much better when we can work in conjunction the designer.

      Alas, most often the designer asks, ” and where is your copy?” and the client scrambles around or has to delay so that copywriter can to a proper job (that last one rarely happens though!).

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I totally agree. Unfortunately, I have one copywriting client who thinks copywriting is easy, takes a short time and that I don’t need a detailed brief. The good news is, I work with three other people on this project, so we just find ways to balance the crises. But I now know to ask way more questions during the initial meetings:)

    1. Oh dear,you have the trifecta!!

      Asking more questions during those initial stages is a great strategy to id those misconceptions and correct them super early. It’s awkward later on and usually leads to frustrated conversations (and lots of band-aid wine for us writers 😉

  4. Belinda,
    I really love your frank, realistic honesty concerning this profession. I find many other copywriting sites are selling pie in the sky solutions and promises just to get sales in their classes. So thank you for the real and keep up the great work. Looking forward to beginning classes soon.
    C

  5. True on every count. Relating particularly to #4 at the moment. Writing web copy has always been about being succinct but with the whole mobile-friendly thang going on, I am frequently finding myself trying to explain to clients that condensing your 1 hour explanation into a 100 word max block will take me some time…

    1. Ergh I don’t envy that job Jenny! It can be hard for clients to understand but a simple explanation of ‘this is how it is’ will help. Faster isn’t always better!

      Thanks for stopping in Jenny.

  6. I don’t expect everyone to understand my career as a copywriter as intimately as I do. I honestly enjoy the chance to explain what I do. But there is a substantial grey area between people understanding that a copywriter can help and understanding the mechanics of how a copywriter can help.

    It in this grey area live misconceptions and misunderstandings.

    I think I’ve heard them all but these are the most common.

  7. Belinda, thank you for writing something like this! No matter that it was written years ago. It’s still true and so totally relevant even today. In every instance where I hear people complain about how long copywriting takes, I wish I could just give them this article to read so they know. Great job!

  8. Hi Belinda,

    I’ve been writing for a long time, and it’s gratifying to have principles one uses every day confirmed by another professional. And I love your style!

    In your post about Roald Dahl’s work, I was reminded of Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. It’s been my favorite book since 1972, and I’m not a fantasy reader. To this day, I can’t read the climax without weeping.

    Thanks,
    Mike

  9. Awesome post! Another misconception I get is that for clients is editing a copywriter’s words will make it convert better.

    Every time I have a client they forget they are hiring an expert in their craft and then it becomes a balancing act between keeping the client happy and getting them results haha

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