You may or may not have a website and be into web copywriting, you may or may not want to get a brochure and learn how to write one, but you’re exposed to writing direct email or letters on a day-to-day basis. You may not be conscious of it, but every time you write something that reaches a prospective client (or some would say that it applies even to existing clients), you’re in fact writing copy about your translation services.
In our freelance translation careers, we’re writing direct emails all the time. Sometimes they take the form of cover letters accompanying our CVs, on other occasions we follow up with prospects we met at an event, and every now and again we reach out and contact a prospective direct client with our offer. Whether unsolicited or in response, our emails and letters could benefit from some good copywriting tips.
The first and most important point is to write for your reader and with your reader in mind. One of the best pieces of training that I received was to imagine the reader sitting in their office on that day, drinking (cold) coffee, going through some paperwork and probably heading to a meeting later on. Take the reader’s perspective and try to see the world through his or her eyes. This technique, apart from helping you visualise the reader, also makes it easier to write for them rather than about you.
Second, make sure your letter or email is neat and organised. Draw a plan of what you should write and make sure the text has a logical flow.
Third, before you start writing, make sure you know what is the email or letter’s goal. One of the most common mistake in copywriting in general is that we write without knowing what we want to achieve. So, in our case it’s quite simple: land this particular translation project.
Now that we’ve done some groundwork, we’re ready to write it!
Gauge the reader’s needs, aka. the problem
Every piece of writing has to have an interesting beginning (starting from the subject line of your email) to drag the reader in. Perhaps the best beginnings in the business context tell the reader that you know what they need (copywriting masters are able to convince a reader that they desperately need something they had no idea about before even starting to read). Outlining the problem, the missing aspect, something they need will inevitably catch their attention. On a very, very basic level, it’s like saying “Why your website isn’t available in English? You may be missing out on so many customers” rather than saying “I am a freelance translator and can localise your website into English.” I’m sure you can already see the difference.
Offer a solution
Of course, after alerting your reader to a potential problem or issue, you have to offer a solution. And this solution, no surprises here, is your translation or interpreting services. In this part of your letter outline what you can do for them.
Write about benefits not features
In a previous post on this topic I outlined some basic techniques to turn features into benefits. We have to remember that clients really, really aren’t that much into where we studied and which courses we completed. They’re after ‘what’s in it for me’ and we have to give it to them. I know that this part is often tricky for many colleagues because it seems to be the most ‘salesy’ element of a letter. I really encourage you to work on these lists of benefits of using your services and translation in general that you can then just adapt accordingly.
Write to generate leads, don’t sell
Something that took me long to understand was that I’m not actually writing to sell my services, because selling happens much later in the exchange, but in fact I’m writing to make the reader interested in what I’m doing. I don’t write to say HEY BUY MY TRANSLATION, but I write to say ‘maybe translation would help you grow your business?’.
Make it easy to read
I was also underestimating the power of layout, be it in a letter or email. Having done a copywriting course, now I know that layout can help us guide the reader to the most important parts of our letter and it has an enormous impact on readability. Direct mail that I write now consists of smaller chunks and paragraphs, headlines and has bullet points. Try it for yourself and see what works better!
Call to action
We all have this itch to finish a letter with ‘I’m looking forward to working with you in the future’ or similar. Endings like that don’t work, are flat and predictable. Would you feel incited to work with somebody after they finished their email like that? Perhaps, but it’s much more effective when we finish by telling our reader what we want them to do with all this information. Prompt your reader to act or suggest some sort of action: ‘why don’t you take a look at the proposal I drafted for you and I’ll give you a call next week?’. Including a call to action is also something that needs practice, that’s why I suggest you draft a few possible endings to your direct mail up front.
What are your ideas for direct letters or emails? What do you usually do that works?