Strategies for Success
If you’re a copywriter with a technical background, you’ll find loads of opportunities if you write for the Web.
That was Crystle Pishon’s message on October 16th when she spoke with a group of Wealthy Web Writers. You can listen to the full interview here.
When it comes to high tech, Crystle knows what she’s talking about.
She holds advanced degrees in physics and spent more than a dozen years as an engineer. During much of that time, she was the lead modeling and simulation engineer for a company in the defense industry.
Her job, though, was very stressful and she had a two-hour commute — on a good day. She wanted to be home with her two children.
One day, she opened AWAI’s “Can you write a letter like this one?” mailing and decided to try her hand at copywriting.
Crystle made the leap from full-time employment to full-time copywriting in the fall of 2010, and hasn’t looked back.
Crystle explained that Rebecca Matter encouraged her to leverage her technical experience as the fastest way to find clients and get established.
“I hung my hat on the high-tech world,” Crystle explained, “then narrowed it further to IT.”
There’s a big difference between being a technical copywriter and a technical writer. A technical writer puts together software manuals and instruction booklets. That’s not what Crystle wanted to do.
A technical copywriter, however, writes persuasive copy just like any other copywriter — she just has high-tech companies for clients.
Opportunities are Everywhere
Technical companies need writers for lots of projects, including:
- Marketing materials
- Case studies
- White papers
Opportunities for writing web copy are plentiful, Crystle told us, because most tech companies don’t understand that their websites need to be persuasive. They don’t understand how to convey information to their prospects in a meaningful way.
Typically their home page is filled with technical jargon, it’s very dry, and it’s all about the company.
“They just don’t understand WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?), or features vs. benefits,” Crystle explained.
White Papers and Case Studies
If you want to get into high tech, you need to understand the difference between a white paper and a case study.
A white paper is an independent research paper about a specific technology or business process. For example, a white paper might discuss the benefits of cloud computing, but it won’t mention a specific product.
It’s an assessment a prospect can trust because it’s not a marketing piece.
Usually five to eight pages long, it will have a blurb about the company at the very end.
The white paper helps the reader understand how the technology can help him, then provides the contact information on the last page.
A case study, on the other hand, presents a specific example of a customer who used the client’s solution and achieved her business or technical goals with it. A case study details the product, the specific need, implementation, and success.
It paints both the client and the customer in a good light.
Sometimes a customer is reluctant to provide a lot of detail for a case study because they’re protecting sensitive information about their business. But “with a cooperative customer, the client ends up with something that goes way beyond marketing.”
In terms of influencing a B2B sale, Marketing Sherpa last year found that white papers had the strongest influence, followed by case studies.
So if you’re considering a high-tech copywriting specialty, learn how to write both.
White papers and case studies help tech companies’ websites as well. They provide quality content, and demonstrate the company knows its stuff.
“A case study offers actual proof that a company does what it says it can do,” Crystle reminded us. “White papers and case studies are what people look for when they need solutions.”
Aspects of Writing for High-Tech Companies that are Different from Other Industries
All copywriters need to do specific research for their clients. The difference when you’re working with a high-tech company is the point of view.
Chances are good that as a high-tech copywriter, you’ll deal with engineers.
Engineers are involved in the minutiae of the project, and it’s hard for them to step back and explain it to someone who’s never seen the code or the specs.
As a copywriter, you have to understand the product and be able to convey your knowledge to an audience that may not be technical at all. In fact, a lot of companies really don’t understand their customer’s level of technical expertise.
Depending on the product and where on the website your content will be placed, you may need to write for customers at several different levels.
We can all identify with selling soap, Crystle pointed out, but with a technical product that you don’t use yourself, you may have to work harder to get the message across.
Think about the way a software engineer who’s developed an accounting product talks about it and the way an accountant talks about it. They’re likely to be completely different.
The accountant really doesn’t care about all the behind-the-scenes technical specs, she just wants to know it’s fast, accurate, and can do what’s needed to make her work life easier.
You Don’t Need to Be an Expert
No matter the technology, every client will have her own take on it, and some will use their own terminology.
Don’t feel you need to know everything there is to know about that technology. Instead, make sure you have a background that’s solid enough that you can have an intelligent conversation with the client.
When Crystle left her full-time job, she didn’t know much about cloud computing.
She was able to land some projects on cloud computing, though, because her IT background was strong. She could talk to the client, then do the research necessary to understand the subject well enough to get the client’s message across.
Knowing the language of the industry is more important than an advanced degree.
Do the Research
Every project you take on will require some research, and high-tech copywriting is no different.
Crystle suggested setting a fee structure that includes research time. Sometimes, though, a project will require additional research.
Crystle adds from 5-20% on top of her normal fees when she has a project that’s outside her main area of expertise.
How Can a Technical Copywriter Add Value for Clients?
The biggest way to add value, Crystle advised, is to help your client understand that a technical subject doesn’t have to be boring.
It’s possible to write both professionally and conversationally, and inject some personality. You may need to educate your high-tech clients about using a more human writing style.
Along with that, help your client understand that all buying decisions — even in B2B — are emotional. Every tech company has specs to share, but that’s not what sells the product.
You really need to write personable copy and do something different to get the customer to pick you.
Every company has a personality, Crystle reminded us. As a copywriter, it’s your job to convey that to their prospects.
Technical topics are “inherently difficult” to understand, and often a customer needs to read a white paper or case study several times to grasp the details.
If you use video, though, you make it easier for the majority — who are visual learners — to understand.
Technical copywriters have lots of opportunity to write video scripts, and some high-tech videos are highly entertaining and creative.
A company called Serena Software made a video — you can find it on YouTube — where they used strategic “bleeps.”
“It’s funny, it’s somewhat inappropriate, it won them awards, and it got them a ton of business,” Crystle stated.
To Break Into High-Tech Copywriting, Start with What You Know
Your own background and expertise are the places to start if you want to get involved with technical copywriting.
There are so many different technical industries that you really can’t be a high-tech generalist. So if you know waste management, approach waste management companies. Medical devices, energy companies, telecomm — all need copywriters.
Crystle has wide-ranging interests, including space science and energy, but she started her copywriting career with IT companies because that was her greatest strength.
To get started, she suggested you first make a list of what you can offer, then run a Google search in that area and check out the companies that come up.
“You’ll find quite a few that need some help,” she reminded us, “there are lots of opportunities for good technical copywriters.”