Today’s conversation will have English teachers everywhere throwing their hands up in dismay. But that’s ok. Because today’s episode is not about how to write the perfect essay. It’s about how to grab your audience with an amazing copy. Because incredible copywriting is essential whether you’re trying to reach prospective clients, donors, volunteers, or employees.
So toss out your copy of Elements of Style by Strunk & White and listen in on our conversation with Nicki Krawczyk. It might even help you become your nonprofit’s first, next, or best in-house copywriter.
Listen to the Episode Here!
Filthy Rich Writer Website
Free Copy Writing Video Training
(02:51) Your number one copywriting goal
(55:06) Writing tips
(07:48) Writing to grade level
(09:38) Breaking the rules you learned in English class
(12:03) Listen here for Nicki’s do-this-every-time tip!
(13:43) Getting your creative juices flowing
(23:40) How you can become a copywriter
Dolph Goldenburg (00:00):
Welcome to the Successful Nonprofits® Podcast. I’m your host, Dolph Goldenburg. Today we are going to be speaking with Nicki Krawczyk about copywriting for your organization, and maybe even for your career. Before we get there, I just want to remind folks that we are planning a chief executive coaching group that will start in January. It is limited to 12 chief executives. It is designed to help you as a chief executive handle what will probably be some tough times coming our way in 2021. So make sure you go to successfulnonprofits.com and learn more about how our chief executive coaching group. And now it is my pleasure to introduce Nicki. She is not only a phenomenal copywriter, but also a leader in the profession. She actually has a couple websites, but when I go to one of her websites where she markets her copywriting services, I see household names that you and I will recognize: Adidas, Hasbro, Reebok, TripAdvisor. If these brands trust Nicki to be doing copywriting, she’s got to be doing something right.
Dolph Goldenburg (01:24):
Now, one of the other things that I have mad respect for Nicki about is she’s a very successful copywriter. She could make a great living just being a copywriter for these fortune 500 companies. But she has started an additional business where she helps individuals figure out how to launch their own copywriting career. And she does that at Filthy Rich Writer. She is coming on today for a few reasons. The first is to help provide some tips for ways that your nonprofit can be more effective in copywriting. With the understanding that you probably do not have just one employee who is devoted only to copywriting. And toward the end of our conversation, we are going to chat a little bit about making a career change into copywriting. So make sure you stay through all the way to the end if you think you have any interest at all in being a copywriter, Hey, Nicki, welcome to the podcast.
Nicki Krawczyk (02:35):
Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Dolph Goldenburg (02:37):
So let’s just jump right. In. What advice do you have for those non-copywriters? Maybe they’re in a one or two person marketing department, a development officer, or even the executive director who needs to produce compelling copy for their nonprofit.
Nicki Krawczyk (02:51):
Copywriting for nonprofits is a little bit different than writing for your average business. And actually I would say that it is a little bit easier to write for your average business. Because one of the most important things that you want to convey in copywriting is the benefit to consumer. What do they get out of doing what you want them to do? And when it comes to buying a car or even signing up for a newsletter, it’s relatively easy to convey exactly what they get out of it. Whereas when you’re writing for your own nonprofit, that benefit is a little bit more amorphous, right? You don’t get a car, you don’t get free tips. It’s more of a feeling. Now, if you are doing a campaign where they do get something, like a tote bag from PBS, then you can talk to that element. But in general, you don’t really have that benefit to consumer.
Nicki Krawczyk (03:49):
What you need to get really focused on are two things. Number one is the emotion. Because that’s really the benefit that people are getting when they contribute. When they are part of a cause, when they’re helping to make a difference, their takeaway is that feeling that they have contributed. So that’s something that you really need to convey and really need to get into. And one of the easiest ways to get there is through storytelling. To really get detailed about someone that your organization is benefiting, the outcome of a previous campaign, or it could be a situation on the ground that your organization is trying to deal with right now. But the more detailed you can get and the more you can really bring something to life, the more you’re going to hook people, get them interested, and then hopefully pressing that button to donate.
Dolph Goldenburg (05:06):
Obviously they’ve got to be tapping into the emotion. What are some of the other core writing skills, like punctuation or sentence length? What does a copywriter want when they’re trying to really build that compelling case?
Nicki Krawczyk (05:24):
I’ll tell you something, and this is painful for me to say because I am a writer, but no one is going to read a whole bunch of copy. Nobody wants that. In general, you want to make your pieces as easy to get through as possible. And I know it sounds like I’m saying two different things: you need a detailed story but at the same time you need it to be easy to get through. But those two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. To your point, Dolph, you can have shorter sentences and paragraphs. You don’t need to use big over the top words. You’ll get better results if you’re writing in a more conversational tone. We’ve all gotten those big long letters that you open it up and go, “Hmm, Nope. I’m not even going to look. I respect this organization and maybe I’ll send them some cash. But I’m not reading this letter.”
Nicki Krawczyk (06:15):
It’s because it looks like a job to read through the letter. And at no point do you want your copy to look like that. Whether it’s in a literal printed letter or on a website or anything like that. If you have a lot to convey, then call things out by using subheads or bolding certain things. You want it to be easy to get through, but at the same time you want it to be easy to skim. So if I open up that letter and read just your subheads, can I understand what you’re trying to convey to me? The answer should be yes. And if they are really good subheads, then someone who skims all the way through should go, “Oh, actually that point was interesting. Let me go back and read this little bit.” So your subheads actually end up telling your story, but then also become hooks to get them to read a little bit more.
Dolph Goldenburg (07:06):
Almost sounds like the way we see most websites built these days.
Nicki Krawczyk (07:11):
Yeah. When they’re done well. Because when you get to a website, you have a certain purpose for being there. So you want to be able to quickly find what it is you’re looking for. And then if you want to, you can go back and look at other things. But those subheads or the bolded sections direct your eye immediately to what you’re looking for. And of course the same thing should be true for a non-profit’s website, as well. It should be very easy to see what you are going to that website for. You should be able to find it very quickly and it should take as few steps as possible for you to take whatever action you want to take.
Dolph Goldenburg (07:48):
What grade level should people be writing at? Word can easily tell us what grade level we’re writing at. And there’s also some other great apps. I use an app called Hemingway which actually helps me not just understand what grade level, but will give me other stats, like percentage of passive sentences and number of adverbs.
Nicki Krawczyk (08:17):
Grade levels are a little bit of a difficult thing because, unfortunately, grade levels differ depending on where you live. But I think more than anything else, your aim should be to simplify. Copywriting doesn’t mean overwriting. If you have something to say, say it as simply as you can. Nobody wants to read a long sentence or an overwritten sentence. I think one of the things that my students are often surprised about is how different it is from high school English. We were taught to diagram a sentence and how to use an adverb. It’s a very different type of writing for what we were taught. I specifically remember being taught how to, essentially, overwrite an essay. The longer the sentence, the better. And the more complicated the sentence, the better. A lot of us have learned that academic writing and it can be hard to break away from that when we need to write for your average, every day person.
Dolph Goldenburg (09:38):
I’ve found that in my own life, especially as I’ve been blogging over the last several years. As an example, in high school and college, everyone always said, “Oh, you can’t use a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence.” I can’t tell you how many times in the last five years I start a sentence on my blog with “And” or “But.”
Nicki Krawczyk (10:00):
Yeah, absolutely. That’s absolutely one of those rules that can be thrown away. More than anything, your copywriting should, within the boundaries of your nonprofit, sound the way that people talk. And, yeah, people talk by starting their sentences with “And” and ending their sentences with “to.” , It’s much easier to read copy that is written the way that people actually speak. Which is in short sentences, in phrases, and, frankly, sometimes in bullet points, as well.
Dolph Goldenburg (10:36):
From my perspective, I think when we break those rules of grammar, we have to know that there’s a reason behind it. And so, as an example, starting a sentence with “But.” It’s easy to skip over that conjunction when it is in the middle of a sentence, but it stands out at the beginning. So if I say something like, “Non-profits almost always experience decreased income during a recession period. But 5% of nonprofits do not.” That “but” suddenly stands out.
Nicki Krawczyk (11:13):
Absolutely. That’s a great point because that’s a great way to call attention to things. And to start a sentence in a way that you wouldn’t normally, it makes it clear that that is something important.
Dolph Goldenburg (11:24):
And are there any other ways that if you break a rule, you’re emphasizing something?
Nicki Krawczyk (11:29):
Numbers. Often we’re taught to write out numbers from one to nine and then if it’s above nine, you can use the actual number. But the thing is that people’s eyes are drawn to characters that are different from all the other characters. So people’s eyes are drawn to numbers. So I almost always would recommend if it’s an important number, which it probably is if you are including it, to use the actual digit instead of writing out the word.
Dolph Goldenburg (11:57):
I love that. Are there any other rules that should be broken to make a point?
Nicki Krawczyk (12:03):
Take it on a case-by-case basis. But if you have a reason for breaking a rule, go ahead and break it. If you’re writing something out and you’re thinking, “Well, the rule says it should be this way, but it just sounds better this way.” If it sounds better, then that’s probably the way to go. Now I will say that one of the tips that I give to businesses, nonprofits, and my students is, once you’ve written something, take the time to read it out loud. Because sometimes we do catch things when we read it out loud, that we don’t catch when we just read it in our heads.
Nicki Krawczyk (12:48):
I guess the takeaway really is to not worry so much about the rules and be much more concerned about the message and what you are trying to get across. I think that’s one of the biggest things that people get tripped up. People get very caught up in all the stuff they have to put in their message. When one of the best ways to stay focused is to take a step back and say: Okay, what am I trying to get across here? What is my big message? What key points support that? What is the action we want this person who’s receiving this message to take?
Dolph Goldenburg (13:43):
Got it. I’d like for us to shift gears and talk about being creative when you don’t feel like being creative. Let me give you an example. As a development director, you are responsible for sitting down and writing the annual end of year letter. Well, after working in the same organization for 5 years, one year I sat down to write it and thought, “I’ve said this five times. What else can I say?” And the mood to write this letter just completely left my body. What advice do you have for people like me that experienced that?
Nicki Krawczyk (14:33):
That happens for all of us, right? Whether you’re writing for a nonprofit or a corporation. I remember feeling something similar when I used to write for Marshalls and T.J. Maxx. It’s the same campaigns year after year, but just slightly different. So I completely understand. The first two points have to do with being prepared going into it. First, know what time of day you are most creative. Most of us have a time of the day that things just come easier to us. And then we also have time of the day when it’s like pulling teeth. Personally, I am a first thing in the morning creative. From the moment I wake up until maybe 12 or so, I get great ideas. When it comes to the afternoon, I’m totally useless. It’s a great time for having conversations and recording podcasts, for example. But it’s a really terrible time for me to have to sit down and write creative copy.
Dolph Goldenburg (15:45):
You and I are so similar with that. My best creative time is also the morning. In fact, it is typical for me to not even check email until sometime between 11 and 12 because I’m in the groove. I’m doing my deep think creative work, and I don’t want to interrupt it.
Nicki Krawczyk (16:04):
Absolutely. If you have a project that you know is coming up, then schedule your day so that you can do it during your creative time. Why fight that battle if you don’t have to? The second point to being prepared is that you may also find that you can get a fresh perspective by going somewhere else and writing in a literal different place. So whether you can go to a coffee shop or, take your notepad and go sit in a park, or get in your car and drive somewhere so you have a different environment. Having a different environment can be really conducive to getting new ideas flowing.
Dolph Goldenburg (17:04):
I have found that true in my own life. If I go over to a coworking space or I go somewhere else, suddenly I’m not distracted by all the things that are at my desk.
Nicki Krawczyk (17:16):
Yeah. We were just saying my home has been so noisy lately that I checked myself into a hotel last week so I could get something done. Not only was it quieter, but because I was in a different environment, it was so much easier for me to tap in and focus on what I had to do. Now, we might not all have the luxury of being able to book a hotel for writing an important piece for work. But you can still get that. Even writing in a different room in your house can help. It sounds silly, but even going into your bathroom, sitting on the floor, and doing work there helps because it’s a different environment and it can help get the creative juices flowing a little bit better.
Dolph Goldenburg (17:55):
This conversation has actually made me remember something that I used to do to prime my creativity: I would collect letters from other organizations that I really liked. And that was not a reflection of my thoughts on the organization. It had to do with liking the letter- the setup, pitch, ask, etc. So I ended up with a couple binders of letters that I just really liked. And so I would thumb through them and get ideas.
Nicki Krawczyk (18:36):
That’s a great idea. I think sometimes people think that is stealing. No, it’s not stealing. Obviously don’t use the exact same words, but you can borrow ideas and make them your own. That’s a great idea and a great way to keep yourself fresh.
Dolph Goldenburg (19:05):
The other thing I’ve been doing a lot, especially while we’ve all been working from home, is to take a 12 to 15 minute walk when I start to just feel stale. There’s something about getting out of the house and walking and feeling alive that makes me sit back at my desk and go, “Oh my gosh, I now know what it is I need to write!”
Nicki Krawczyk (19:34):
Yeah. That’s a great point. I think people think, especially right now since we’re home, “Oh, well I want to take a break. I’ll just throw on Netflix for 10 or 15 minutes.” That is not what your brain needs to be able to sit back and do the thinking that you need it to do. It takes your brain in a totally different direction. TV is probably one of the worst things that you could do for your own creativity.
Dolph Goldenburg (20:06):
To me TV, social media, and email are terrible for creativity.
Nicki Krawczyk (20:13):
I completely agree. And frankly, I think screens in general. I don’t know if anybody else still does crossword puzzles but me. So you sit and look at this clue and you just can’t figure out what the answer could be. So you set it down and take a walk or put your dishes away or whatever. And when you come back 10 minutes later, you look at it and you know what it is instantly. That’s the creative process, as well. And your brain can do that same thing with a letter you have to write or with any other copy or r really any problem you have to solve. If you give it that time away.
Dolph Goldenburg (20:52):
So quick aside, I have a subscription to the New York Times Crossword. And I’m going to admit this publicly. So, Listeners, I’m owning this. I typically do their crossword Monday through Wednesday or Thursday. But I can never complete Friday, Saturday, and Sunday without significant help from the Google machine. If I get 20% to 25% of the way through, I’m like, “Ooh, that was a win! I feel good!”
Nicki Krawczyk (21:25):
Yeah. Those Friday, Saturday ones get really hard. Well I’m glad to know I’m not the only one. It’s basically you and I. Will Shortz is like, “Oh, Dolph and Nicki are doing the crosswords today.”
Dolph Goldenburg (21:39):
That’s awesome. And, Listeners, if you do not do the New York Times Crossword, I also just have to share with you that you can click a button and it will reveal a letter or a word. But if you do that, it also gives you a warning that says they don’t count it if you complete the puzzle. So there’s a certain amount of pride of not using their reveal a word or a letter. Because even just one letter means they don’t count it as you did it. And so if you’re on a four day streak, you’re not on a four day streak anymore.
Nicki Krawczyk (22:09):
Yeah. You break your streak. It’s painful.
Dolph Goldenburg (22:15):
Yeah. I’m sorry. That is such a tangent. But I just had to say that, like you, I’m a crossword puzzle person. I’m also a Scrabble person. I love Scrabble.
Nicki Krawczyk (22:24):
This is actually not as much of a tangent as it seems like it is because I will often tell people that one of the reasons I like copywriting so much is it feels like a word puzzle. It is absolutely creative. But at the same time you always have an objective, there’s something you’re trying to do and some connection you’re trying to make. It all comes down to how you arrange the words and how you arrange the messages. And when you get it to that point where it’s all coming together and it flows very naturally, you can step back and go, “Oh yes, I hit it out of the park!” I really feel very much like copywriting is a word puzzle.
Dolph Goldenburg (23:08):
Admittedly, I never thought about it that way, but you’re 100% right. Sometimes you want a short word and you want it to begin with the letter “D” but you’re just not sure what word it is. I never thought about that, but you are right.
Nicki Krawczyk (23:21):
And sometimes a sentence needs a certain cadence so you can’t use a longer word. And sometimes you’ve got this message here that’s really powerful and another message there and that’s really powerful, but I need to connect them somehow. So what do I have to say in the middle that makes it all make sense together?
Dolph Goldenburg (23:40):
Thought it was a tangent and it’s not, Nicki. I’m super impressed you were able to tie that in. This is a great segue for us to discuss a copywriting career change. So if our Listeners love words and crosswords and Scrabble and may be interested in doing copywriting as a side hustle or maybe even a career change, how do they do that? How does someone mid-career who’s never been a professional copywriter make that shift?
Nicki Krawczyk (24:09):
The good news is that the vast majority of my students don’t have any background in copywriting or in marketing or in sales or anything like that. I can teach you all those skills. But that innate love for writing, that natural affinity, is something that you bring to it. I would think that a lot of your Listeners who might be interested in writing are like me in that, for a lot of my life, I loved writing but I also thought that writers couldn’t make any money. Your novelists don’t make any money unless they’re J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. And sadly, most journalists don’t make any money. But the good news is that copywriting is actually a field in which writers are respected and paid well for what we do. And then, thank goodness, it’s also really fun to do. But it is a very different field from any other type of writing.
Nicki Krawczyk (25:06):
It is a full career. So people should look to get trained in it if that’s something they want to do. So the good news is that you don’t need to go to college for four years or anything like that in order to perfect your technique or even just learn how to do it. We have students that land their first client within a month of starting to learn. It’s a very specialized field, but what that means is that as you’re learning these techniques and you start practicing, you are able to help people with their messages pretty quickly.
Dolph Goldenburg (25:48):
And so it sounds like it’s definitely something that a person working in the nonprofit sector could do as a side gig or a side hustle.
Nicki Krawczyk (25:56):
We have a lot of students that intend to go full-time eventually, but start part-time. But we also have a lot of students that like their full-time jobs, but they want to add a little extra income. It’s a very flexible career. You can talk to your clients and have Zoom calls with your clients and do your work in the evenings and on the weekends, if you want to. It’s a very merit-based career. So it doesn’t matter what you look like, how old you are, what your background is, all of that kind of stuff. If you can write good copy, then people will hire you to write good copy.
Dolph Goldenburg (26:37):
That is such a powerful statement. If you can write good copy, people will hire you to write good copy.
Nicki Krawczyk (26:45):
And the thing is that never before have there been more companies and organizations that understand the importance of good marketing. And never before have they also understood the importance of good messaging and good copywriting. So it’s an excellent time to be a copywriter. You couldn’t possibly even begin to flood the market with copywriters. There’s so much more need for good copywriters than there are good copywriters out there to fill that need.
Dolph Goldenburg (27:32):
I’d also be willing to bet part of the flexibility is that most companies nowadays don’t want to hire a permanent full-time copywriter. What they want is a contractor who is going to come in and work on a project basis and get something specific done. And maybe they’ll use that person again.
Nicki Krawczyk (27:55):
Companies definitely do hire copywriters. But right now, specifically right now during the COVID-19 crisis and the recession, companies get hyper-focused on selling. And, unfortunately, that means that they will maybe let go or furlough teams that are not directly focused on selling. But they get hyper-focused on selling and the messages that sell, which means that they also get hyper-focused on their copywriting. And that may mean that they’re bringing in freelance copywriters. The first time that I hit six figures as a copywriter was in 2008 in the middle of the great recession right after I left a full-time job. As much as it seems scary and chaotic out there, and in many ways it absolutely is, for copywriters it’s actually a really great time. I hesitate to use the word “great” because I don’t want to sound tone deaf or insensitive. But strictly in terms of career and career goals, it can be a great time. And you can be impactful on companies. You’re always impactful, but I think that now when things are as crazy as they are, it can be helpful to know that you are helping a company or a nonprofit survive.
Dolph Goldenburg (29:19):
And I would be willing to bet that in 2008, that first year that you hit six figures, you had more security than your peers who stayed in full time jobs because you probably had multiple clients. So if you lost 10% of your clients, you felt it, but you still had money coming in.
Nicki Krawczyk (29:53):
Absolutely. One of the things that I will always say is you are safest when you are in control of where your income comes from. If someone wants to go freelance and their plan is just to tell the world “I’m freelance!” and then sit there and wait for the clients to come to them. I would say, “No, no, no, no, no, no. You need to stop.” One of the things that we teach our students is a predictable system for finding and landing clients. If you don’t have a system, then it’s not going to work. Clients are not going to find you. It’s not a field of dreams if-you-build-it-they-will-come kind of situation. But if you know what you’re doing, if you know how to do the work, if you’re willing to get a little outside of your comfort zone, and if you have the system and you execute on that system, then you have every opportunity for success. And like you said, you are in control of your income,
Dolph Goldenburg (30:48):
Nicki, thank you so much for coming on. You know, there’s an off-the-map question coming your way. And my off-the-map question is: I understand that you were both a Pilates instructor and I think an Aqua aerobics instructor before you were doing what you’re doing now.
Nicki Krawczyk (31:07):
So I have been a copywriter for 15 plus years. And actually not included in that time was my experience in high school. My dad was a marketing director at the time and would bring home extra work and then would give me feedback on it, which is how I dipped my toes in copywriting. But I went to school for PR, didn’t like PR, and got out of school. Then I worked at a health club as their events person and then their front desk coordinator and then the assistant general manager. I decided I didn’t want to do that, but I needed to pay the bills. And I had not realized that I could do copywriting full time. So in that interim period of time, I was teaching Aqua aerobics. I made those ladies work. I was teaching spinning and Pilates and personal training. And unfortunately also sleeping a lot because I was depressed and couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with my life. And then I realized that copywriting was something that I could actually do. And since then it’s been what I do. I love it.
Dolph Goldenburg (32:09):
It’s really impressive that you were teaching those classes. This is a long time ago now, maybe 25 years ago. One of my best friends from grad school and I decided that we wanted to look into becoming aerobics instructors. This is pre-internet, so we ordered the course, which came as a big honkin book. She was a young lawyer and I was a young grant writer. And we were both like, “We’re too busy. We’re just too busy to learn everything that’s in this book.” We did not do it. So, super impressed that you made that happen.
Nicki Krawczyk (32:43):
I did it. And actually while I was still working there full-time they didn’t have enough step instructors. And they thought they would have me teach step. And so they had me take a class and I fell off the step in the middle of class. So they decided that maybe teaching step wasn’t for me, but you can’t fall off a spin bike.
Dolph Goldenburg (33:07):
That’s awesome. Well, Nicki, thank you so much for joining us today. Listeners, I want to make sure that you know how to reach out to Nicki and I’m going to give you two URLs. The first is filthyrichwriter.com. The second is freecopywritingtraining.com. At freecopywritingtraining.com, She has a free intro course that you can take. If you think you may have an interest in doing this as a side hustle or even maybe one day as your permanent career. So make sure you check out both of those. She also has, as she’s mentioned, other classes and support that she could be providing those individuals that really want to make copywriting their career. Nicki, thank you so much for joining us today.
Nicki Krawczyk (34:03):
Thank you so much, Dolph. This was a lot of fun
Dolph Goldenburg (34:05):
Listeners, if you were not able to write down those URLs because you were on the New York Times website, trying to figure out how you can get a crossword subscription, don’t worry. You can go to successfulnonprofits.com and you can get all of Nicki’s URLs. And if you enjoyed this episode, if you got something out of this episode, there are two episodes that I would suggest you take a listen to. The first is Episode 143: with Mitchell Levy. You may recall he actually did an entire episode about why you should consider writing a book and how that will help your nonprofit and you. Also consider Episode 82: Starting Your Own Grant Writing Business with Susan Bacon. If you’ve listened all the way to the end, you clearly have some interest in launching out on your own at some point and you clearly have some interest in writing. So something else to consider is that grant writing business. So make sure you check out episode 82. Listeners, while you are on our website and while you are downloading additional episodes, also rate and review the podcast. That is part of how people find out that we are here and how they become Listeners as well. That is our show for the week. I hope you have gained some insight to help your non-profit thrive in a competitive environment
Dolph Goldenburg (35:41):
I am not an accountant or attorney and neither I nor the Goldenburg Group provide tax legal or accounting advice. This material has been provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for tax, legal or accounting advice. Always consult a qualified, licensed professional about such matters.
** We have edited this transcript because how you listen is not how you read. If you have a problem with this, remember you got this for free!
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