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How to Write Sales Copy Like a Pro (Even if you’re a rookie)

I know you’re winging it.
I know that you B.S. your way through sales copy.  And I get why you do it.
You’re busy.  Maybe you hate writing.  Maybe you’re just trying to scratch it off your todo list and you want to move fast.
Today we’re going to end all that nonsense and finally get you to REMEMBER the structure your copy should follow.
I promise, the writing process actually does go faster (and produces better results) when you follow a formula.
Trouble is that most people, no matter how into marketing they are, don’t follow a formula when they sit down to write.  No matter how many sticky notes or print outs you’ve got sitting by your work station, you probably end up winging it.
And I don’t think you’re being lazy.  It’s just not convenient to go through research on how to write every time you have to sit down to write sales copy.
The average business owner (even those doing some heavy content marketing) is not writing sales copy every day or even every week.  So, when you do go to do it, it probably takes every ounce of discipline you have to get your butt in gear and get it done, let alone follow a formula.
But I’d like to change all of that for you today.
I’m going to share with you a formula I used in my early days of copywriting that really resonated with me.
The perfect anecdote to a willy nilly, “I think I’m getting this right” approach to copywriting is to commit your formula to memory. 
I know there are a lot of copywriting formulas out there.  But this one is simple, yet it gives you enough steps to develop a relationship and a story, and plug in a lot of copy elements that’ll increase response.
I remember feeling sort of lost in copy space before I heard it (I think from the stage at a marketing event in Atlanta, ’09).  But then, I heard the right words and it all came together for me.
I suddenly felt like I could sell anything to anyone so long as I understood a few basic things about the situation.
The reason I think this is worth sharing is because if it resonates with you too you’ll remember it.  And …

If you remember it, you’ll USE it!

And one more point before we get into the formula (that I know you can remember).
Copy that has no structure, sucks.  It sucks because no one wants to read it.  If you can’t tell a story, you’re dead in the water.
And so what I want to share with you today will not rely on you remembering every single little detail or element that you could include (although I’m a big fan of doing everything you possibly can to make a sale).  Instead, it’ll provide structure that’ll make your copy more reader-friendly.
Here’s the formula …
STEP 1 – Point out who your message is for
STEP 2 – Identify their problem
STEP 3 – Talk about why what they’re currently doing to solve their problem won’t work
STEP 4 – Tell them how you discovered what DOES work
STEP 5 – Tell them how they can get it
Simple?  Yes.
Effective?  You bet!
Here’s the thing about this formula.  Even if you skip what most marketers would consider vital elements in a sales letter, your message will come across as real, genuine and welcomed information.
But, just to make you feel nice and cozy about it, I’ll show you how I break down this formula to include the typical elements you’d find in a direct response sales letter.

STEP 1 – Point out who your message is for

Call out your audience and be specific
For example, if I’m selling to business owners, I’m going to get more attention from the right people if I specifically say…

“Small business owners who want to DOMINATE their market online (without playing Google games, chasing Social Media, or paying through the nose for PPC).”

I just wrote a similar pre-headline for a client who sells a content marketing service.  He’s not talking to all business owners.  He’s talking to small ones who want to DOMINATE their market online.
Check out this audience cue from John Carlton.  You can tell right here, before you ever get into the sales letter that he’s very specifically talking to business owners who have not yet reached what they’d consider in their own minds financial success.

  • He’s not talking to big players.
  • He’s not talking to people who are currently in a mastermind and disappointed with it.
  • He’s not talking to start ups.

He’s talking to people who are “finally” ready …

STEP 2 – Identify their problem

This is no place to skimp.
What’s going on with these people you’re selling to?  Sure, people have lots of problems, but talk about the one that your product or service solves and really develop it over several paragraphs.
And for the record, I’m not trying to twist the knife in their side to make them feel the pain.  I’m trying to build a bridge so they know I get it.  We’re on the same side.
I love the way Carlton does this.  Notice how he uses the word “our” – like he is a part of us.  He’s totally on our side …
When you describe their problem in a way that has them nodding along, they start to see you as a friend, or at least a trusted resource. You’re someone who MIGHT have the answers they’re looking for. That’s exactly the position you want …
See how the letter below (that I wrote for GKIC back in 2011 for the Fast Implementation Boot Camp) points out a bunch of different emotions the reader may be feeling …

STEP 3 – Talk about why what they’re currently doing to solve their problem won’t work

This is the space where you’ll discredit all other possible solutions.
Make an exhaustive list of your competitors and/or ways to handle the problem and their shortcomings.  Point all of that out to your prospect in a “If you’ve ever tried ___, you already know how disappointing that can be” way.  Remember, you’re on the same team.  So align yourself with them psychologically.  All other solutions are on the other team.
This is about overcoming objections like “I’m already doing X or I’m afraid of Y or I don’t have enough money for Z.”  You’re meeting them in that space in their head where they naturally go to resist change.
You have to discredit their current mindset about the problem in order to open their minds to what you offer.
Check out how Dan Kennedy does it in this old sales letter he wrote for his Coaching and Consulting Bootcamp Info-product …
Don’t forget to make apples to oranges comparisons.
For example, when I put out an offer to sell my copywriting services, I should be sure to compare my services to writing your sales copy yourself, or not having it written at all.
Yes, I’ll still make the comparison between me and my competitors, but I’ll also focus on what it’ll be like if you never get around to selling your “thing.”
Or, perhaps I’ll focus on lifting the burden from you pointing out all the things you have on your plate already, and thus making my services the natural, logical choice.

STEP 4 – Tell them how you discovered what DOES work

This step is a huge deal.  It covers so much.  This is where you’ll get a chance to …
Provide the solution as Frank Kern does in this sales letter – “Here it is!”
Show pain of and cost of development – “You wouldn’t want to (or couldn’t) recreate this on your own”
Explain ease-of-use – “It’s easy”
Show speed to results – “It’s fast”
Future cast – “Just imagine what your life will be like once you have/use this.” I love how Kern paints a picture of the worst case scenario and the best case.  Smart!
Show your credentials – “You should listen to me because”
Detail the benefits – “Your life will be better in the following ways (see my previous post on giving your benefit bullets a one-two punch that makes them super effective).
Here’s my favorite one from the Frank Kern letter (he didn’t use bullets but the same principles apply however you format your benefits) …
Get social proof – TESTIMONIALS, TESTIMONIALS, TESTIMONIALS or, in the case of Frank’s letter here, keep it super simple with a short brag list of esteemed clients.
I know, I know.  There’s a lot going on here in step 4.
But remember that the formula states that step 4 is about telling them how you discovered what does work.  This is really about storytelling.
You’re just telling the story about how you built/found the solution they need.
You can talk about how much it cost you to do that or how hard it was, how long it took, etc.
Then you can go into detail about how well it solves the problem (how easy it is to use, how fast they’ll get the results they want).
Paint a picture of how different/better life is going to be when they get their hands on what you have.
Then explain that you’re not just some jerk who can post a website.  Giving a little background (braggy stuff) about you helps them know you’re not a sheister looking to take $97 from them.  You’re legit.  Let them know.

STEP 5 – Tell them how they can get it

This is the most important step.  You’ve got them here, now give them what they want!
Make your offer and name your price.
It might be a good idea to also back up your reasoning for the price you chose.  The truth can be very powerful.
Why did you choose $97?  $199?
Because your competitors are charging more and you’re delivering more so you know it’s well worth that price?  Say that OUT LOUD in your copy.  It’ll only strengthen the perceived value of your offer.
Example from a sales letter I wrote for
Then, you’ve got to tell them EXACTLY how to get their hot little hands on your goods.
That’s why you see people saying “Click on the link below” or click here or “DO EXACTLY THIS.”
I’ve talked before about picturing your prospect as a lazy bum.  You might also consider that you need to picture that person as a little dense (no matter how sophisticated your market is).
I’m not suggesting you talk down to them, but what I am suggesting is that you make your call to action so brain dead simple that a 4 year old would understand exactly what you want them to do.
Enter the beloved Belcher button that still works today!
In step 5 you also have an opportunity to reverse risk (with a guarantee), inject scarcity (with limited availability or a deadline), and close the letter with reminders and warnings.
And that’s it!
Now if it still feels overwhelming to you, I want to remind you that the marketing gods are not going to strike down upon you for forgetting to add in bonuses or failing to adequately future cast.  Those things will make your offer stronger, for sure.
But it’s more important that your offer gets read and makes a connection with the right people.  Over time you can easily go back and add in strengthening elements.
If you get hung up on including all the “stuff” you’ve been told you should (and yes I agree you need all that stuff), you might not get around to getting it out there in the first place.  So start with a real human connection.  Then master the sale.
Here’s an exercise for you … take a look at your core offer landing page.
Can you see that you have followed this formula?  If you haven’t, fix it.  Add in what needs including.  It’ll only make your offer stronger, give your copy more structure, and therefore, make the whole thing more compelling and easier to read.
Here it is one last time for good measure …
STEP 1 – Point out who your message is for
STEP 2 –
Identify their problem
STEP 3 –
Talk about why what they’re currently doing to solve their problem won’t work
STEP 4 –
Tell them how you discovered what DOES work
STEP 5 –
Tell them how they can get it
So, what do you think?  Let’s get a discussion going in the comments section!

Julie Boswell

Julie Boswell

Julie operates a copywriting and consulting business she cofounded,, a company dedicated to providing a second set of eyes for business owners.  Their focus is on teaching the fundamentals of direct response copywriting, reviewing and providing feedback for improvement, as well as providing done-for-you copywriting services.

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