Shennandoah Goodson, is a copywriter and business professional from San Antonio, Texas. Goodson received her first paid copywriting gig at the age of 15. Since then she has worked with experts, small businesses, publishers, and Inc 500 companies producing content and marketing strategies. Passionate about education, Goodson empowers writers to take charge of their careers by teaching them about writing, marketing, and publishing.
On Saturday, February 20, Shennandoah is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “How to Make Writing Your Day Job” at St. Edward’s University. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.
Shennandoah Goodson: I initially stumbled into copywriting by accident. I was 15 years old and needed to raise money for my fees and expenses for the local pageant. I drafted a letter explaining the competition, my qualifications, my needs, and the benefit to the business as a sponsor or advertiser on my behalf. Not only did I get all of my expenses covered, I also picked up gigs writing sales letters and flyers for a couple of local dealerships.
Even though I started copywriting at the age of 15, it wasn’t until I was in my twenties and looking for a better fit career-wise that I started looking at copywriting as a full-time career. I always loved to write—ever since I can remember—and had a knack for putting other people’s thoughts into words. In my early twenties I came across some books by Robert Bly, a well-known professional copywriter, and learned how to really take my talent from a side gig to a full-time business. Copywriting gave me a means to use what I did best to support my family and build myself up as a professional. At first I worked freelance, so it also gave me the flexibility schedule-wise that I needed as a single mom with a young child.
Scribe: You make the distinction between “copyrighting” and copywriting? Why do you think this is important?
SG: Every time I say “copywriting,” whether in print or orally, people immediately think of the legal term “copyrighting” which is completely different. Most people aren’t familiar with the term “copywriting” which is the writing of copy for businesses, marketing, and other purposes. Thus, I make the distinction so that 1) people know what I am talking about and 2) we don’t end up with an angry student thinking they are there to learn how to protect their legal claim on their work.
Scribe: In what ways do creative writing skills come in handy with copywriting?
SG: Creative writing—and all writing skills—are critical to effective copywriting regardless of whether you are writing a script for a radio spot or you are writing a technical proposal. Creative writing teaches you how to communicate in order to develop an image, experience, and/or feeling in the reader’s mind. You use imagery and setting and other techniques to illicit a very specific response from the reader. The same is true of copywriting. Every document or item we develop as a copywriter has a specific goal. Those goals could be to persuade a customer to purchase, encourage constituents to vote, or motivate employees to adhere to certain corporate policies. Your worth as a copywriter is determined by how well you are able to satisfy that goal. As a committed professional, you want to have an arsenal of writing skills at your disposal. Creative writing techniques are an essential part of that arsenal.
Scribe: Besides the ability to write well, what other skills are called for when copywriting?
SG: There are numerous other skills that are critical to finding success as a copywriter:
- Active Listening: People hire us because they don’t know how to put their thoughts into words. We have to listen, ask questions, and understand the client’s needs and goals in order to effectively deliver on our promise.
- Time Management: As a copywriter you are often juggling multiple clients and/or projects at a time. It’s important that you manage and schedule your time so that you can meet deadlines. There is no “waiting for inspiration” in copywriting. You have deadlines and they must be met or you don’t get paid.
- Technical Knowledge: As a copywriter it’s important that you have technical knowledge of the subject matter or industry for which you are writing. For example, I am currently working for a Construction Project Management firm. As a result I needed to develop knowledge of the construction process, project management methodologies, and other related technical skills in order to meet the demands of the written materials. When I worked with publishers I did the same thing. You must know and understand your client’s work before you can effectively write about it.
- Collaboration and Team Building: As a writer you are often part of a team. Even if you are working as a freelance agent you will need to coordinate with marketing directors, HR Managers, Business Owners, developers, and other professionals in order to deliver your content. It’s important that you have developed your team building and interpersonal skills. This includes conflict management and diplomacy. A bad reputation can kill your career.
- Technological Skills: The variety and level of technical knowledge needed really depends on what types of copywriting you are doing and for which industries. However, it is important to know how to use all of the core technologies and software available today including document sharing tools like Dropbox, software like Microsoft Office, and in some cases website tools such as WordPress.
- Humility and Detachment: This is the most challenging and most critical for writers, in my opinion. When you are writing for a client it is important to balance pride in your work with an understanding that 1) you do not own what you produce 2) the client is paying for something that satisfies their wants, not yours and 3) you are creating a product, not a work of art. Thus, you need to be receptive to feedback and criticism and recognize that you are not perfect and that you were ultimately hired to give the client what they want, not to satisfy your ego.
Scribe: What aspect of copywriting do you enjoy most?
SG: What I have found is that because I am able to put things into words that my clients cannot, I am able to bring life, clarity, and direction to their ideas, goals, and intentions. Through that I’ve been able to help people connect, help companies grow, improve a company’s culture and morale, and develop things that have real, long-term value. I have since evolved beyond copywriting to more strategic and operational activities, but through it all my skills as a writer have served as the golden key unlocking doors for me.
Scribe: Does it require much face-to-face interaction or do you communicate more over email as a copywriter?
SG: That depends on the client and how you are working. Not all copywriters are freelance. Many nowadays are in-house writers serving as members of marketing and development teams. I manage projects for teams both local and across the country, so I have to use a mix of both. My team members really value face-to-face communication and so we have all travelled to connect with each other and collaborate in person in addition to our email and phone exchanges.
For those who do work outside of the organization, email and other tools give one the freedom to work remotely and with clients across the globe. However, there is still tremendous value in face-to-face communication, even if it is through Skype or some other face-time chat tool. It helps us build a deeper and more personal connection with our clients. People connect with people, and they will trust (and re-hire) someone they have interacted with face-to-face versus someone who is a faceless name in an email.
— Thanks, Shennandoah!
Click here to register for Shennandoah’s class.
Click here for our schedule of upcoming classes.