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How to Write on Unfamiliar Topics

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I recently received the following email from a newly established freelance copywriter. Her question and my response are pasted below because I think they could be helpful to other copywriters.

Hi Susan,

I am trying to learn to write effective copy for the mortgage industry. How do you get up to speed in a new industry? Do you study, or do you outsource the work? Wondering…



Hi Debra,

Many copywriters choose to specialize in a particular niche because they like and are most comfortable writing on a familiar subject. Popular niches include healthcare, technology and lately, cannabis-CBD

I personally prefer to be a generalist. I enjoy learning and writing about new subjects. And while it means I often have a learning curve before I can put pen to paper, that’s a challenge that appeals to me.

The way I get up to speed in a new industry varies. Often the client educates me. For example, yesterday I spent 90 minutes on a call with the owner of a national car wash franchise. It was surprisingly interesting!

car wash copywriter

I recently spent an hour on the phone with a national car wash franchise to learn how their washes are superior to their competitors’.

She told me in great detail about the type of soap they use, the brushes they have, the training of their workers, etc. I now have a vastly better understanding of what goes into operating a quality car wash business.

Today I’ve been working on a brochure for an online security company that offers multi-factor authentication services for verifying identities such as for online banking. The client provided an old brochure for background and some notes on talking points for the new brochure. I also did some research on my own. 

horse product copywriter

Writing copy to sell horse products? Have your client explain their products’ best selling points.

Last month I wrote a landing page for a company that makes boots for horses. The boots help keep their legs from swelling after a workout. And these particular horse boots have a unique feature — pockets to hold ice to further reduce inflammation in the horse’s joints.

In a phone conversation, the client told me all about the horse boots and then directed me to his YouTube video. The video showed his 11-year-old daughter putting the boots on her horse’s legs to demonstrate how easily they go on, which is a key point he wanted his landing page to communicate. In just a few days, he had his copy completed and his landing page online and generating sales!

Sometimes I prepare a questionnaire for a client and ask them to either write out the answers or call to discuss them. Last week I took this approach with a cargo-shipping company based in Saudi Arabia. My client contact chose to write out her answers. While her written English was less than perfect, she laid out the pertinent facts extremely well, making it easy for me to then compose her website copy.

cargo shipping copywriter

I’ve written website copy for numerous cargo shipping companies. Each one has helped me become more knowledgeable about logistics and freight forwarding so that I’m now fluent in writing about their services.

For something like the mortgage industry, which you referenced in your question, you can find tons of information online to at least get you started. Then, when you talk with an individual client, you can focus on the specifics relating to that client and their services, as opposed to the industry in general.

You don’t have to be an expert in an industry to write about it. The truth is you’re probably never  going to become as knowledgeable as your client and certainly not in a matter of days. He or she has likely been immersed in the industry for years. You don’t need to be become a subject matter expert who can give a comprehensive lecture on the topic.

What you CAN do is develop a basic understanding of the industry and then focus on learning how the client’s product or service is unique and will benefit their customers.

write copy

You don’t have to be a subject matter expert to write copy for your client. But you do need to understand their business.

Depending on how technical the subject matter and what the particular assignment entails, you can usually get up to speed by doing some or all of the steps below:

  • Speak directly with the client
  • Have the client connect you with anyone on their staff who is a subject matter expert and can provide additional insights
  • Review the business’s current marketing materials (website, brochures, sales letters, white papers, case studies, ads, etc.)
  • Ask for the names of your client’s biggest competitors and research them online. 

After completing these steps, you won’t be able to do your client’s job. But that’s okay; becoming their colleague or replacement wasn’t your goal anyways. You should, however, be sufficiently informed to write your client’s copy in a way that connects with their target market.

Susan Greene

Freelance Copywriter

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