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Interview with Sarah Talbert – So You Want To Be A Copywriter? – Episode #79
  • “I write words that sell for people…”

    Finding the voice of ideal clients for business owners across the US and Canada, Sarah Talbert is the copywriting strategist trusted by six and seven-figure business owners alike. Founder of Sandbar Marketing, Sarah has developed a proven research process to truly dig out the language of an ideal client, research their behaviors, and turn it into copy for everything from websites to social media. With her expertise, Sarah changes the lingo from various industries into common, everyday words.

    Certified by CopyHackers, Sarah enjoys working creatively with business owners in a variety of industries. A loving mother of three, Sarah and her entrepreneurial husband enjoy boating and living life with their family on the coast of Florida.

    Questions and topics we covered include:

    • The core differences between content writing and copywriting.
    • Can a content writer learn to be a copywriter?
    • Why is copywriting an important skill to learn and why is it so difficult to master?
    • The things Sarah has seen brands do wrong when it comes to their copy.
    • What skills are needed to be considered a good copywriter? (Preview: one of them is being a good researcher)
    • How important is it for copywriters to development documentation on a brand’s voice and copy guidelines?
      • How to qualify clients before starting a project.


Full Episode Transcript:

Kenny Soto  0:00  

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the people digital marketing with your host Kenny Soto and today’s guest, Sarah Talbert. Hi, Sarah, how are you? 


Sarah Talbert  0:15  

Hi, Kenny, good to see you.


Kenny Soto  0:16  

So prior to recording, I gave you a little spiel of background information on the podcast. And I always like to start every single episode by getting more context on you, as a person and as a professional. So my first question for you is what got you into copywriting?


Sarah Talbert  0:33  

Oh, well, let’s how far back you want me to go. Um, so I say that my husband is a serial entrepreneur. And I have we’ve been together since middle school. And so there have been many businesses that have done really well and many that have not. 


But there was a time frame, well, my degrees in accounting, which has nothing to do with writing, but there was a timeframe where he had, we had a landscape company, and I was doing the books, and I was miserable and hated it. And he was like, You need to find something of your own. And I was like, No, I just like helping you. 


And he’s like, no, like, you need your own ideas. You need your own business, you need, like, to do something for yourself. And so I do give him credit for like pushing me out of my comfort zone and starting to pursue some things that I found I was passionate about. And so that kind of led me on a journey of like trial and error of a bunch of different things. 


I did, I had my own bakery, I had my own most like an in-house bakery. I tried, like some international travel to like, meet with some weavers in Guatemala to talk about like, this baby wraps concept. I don’t know if any readers know about this, but like they hand baby wraps and women wear them on the babies on their backs. 


When I met him, I decided that was not for me. I tried so many things. And it wasn’t until I realized I had been helping him with like the marketing side of things. That was like, I really enjoy this piece of it. And so I dove into marketing. And I’ve always been a writer just on the side. And like for my own personal Hobby writing, processing all of that. 


And so I started trying to figure out how to merge the two of the marketing brain I had, but also the writing side. And so that’s a long journey of getting there.


Kenny Soto  2:46  

Can you describe for the audience what you do today for work?


Sarah Talbert  2:52  

Yeah, so because I think copywriting is very, is taking a lot of information and synthesizing it, I usually say it’s words that sell your stuff. So I write words that sell to people. So that I mean, that’s a very short, condensed version. I think a lot of times people will consider a content writer and a copywriter the same thing. 


And I don’t necessarily see them as the same. I have a writer on my team that takes and she’ll do content writing and do like the blogs and the social media or sometimes even emails, but I’ll take a lot of information and synthesize it down for like web copy or sales pages. So it’s much faster and easier to consume and has more sales.


Kenny Soto  3:53  

This is a great follow-up. And we’re going to go off on a little tangent here because I like that you mentioned the difference between content writing and copywriting. If a client of yours asks you, what are the core differences, you mentioned a few as far as like output is concerned, but from a high level taking a step back what are really the core differences between content writing and copywriting?


Sarah Talbert  4:17  

So content writing, as I said, is more like a blog or a social media post. And I think it’s more informational and helps people get to know you or get to know your brand. And it’s, it may lead to a sale, but the goal of it is to help kind of nurture and encourage people to get to know who you are. 


Where I feel like copywriting is very sales driven, and it’s very, and we do want people to see us in our copy and we do want people to know who we are, but it’s more kind of at the bottom end of the funnel where people are wanting to get Didn’t like but they’re ready to buy now.


Kenny Soto  5:03  

This is more of a question to get your own opinion. Can a content writer learn to be a copywriter?


Sarah Talbert  5:13  

Yes, I think so. For sure. Awesome. I think I think copywriting is a skill. And so it’s just a matter of what direction you want to go in. And for my brain, it’s harder to take, one idea and really expand on it, I do better to find all the information and putting it very organized. And so that’s just where I find I thrive and so, but the content writer that I have, we’re doing work on teaching her how to do more copywriting. So yeah, for sure.


Kenny Soto  5:52  

Why is copywriting an important skill to learn? And why is it so difficult to master?


Sarah Talbert  6:00  

That’s a great question. I think copywriting feels difficult to master because you started, typically start your business not to learn how to write. And so we’re focused on no payroll, or we’re focused on trying to get something else set up for our business. So the actual skill or reason that we started our business. 


And so I don’t know that it’s always the top priority. And so it kind of tends to be the thing we keep putting off, so then it feels harder than it is. But I think if you’re set on learning it, and you get a few skills under your belt, then and a few tips and tricks under your belt, then it’s not as difficult. 


With that being said, I think there are pieces that you can quickly pick up such as I find when I’m having a hard time writing something, I haven’t gotten enough research, or I don’t fully understand the person that I’m writing to. And so if we can have kind of some strategies to fall back on it does make copywriting a little easier. 


But then to the question of why is it an important skill it’s essentially taking all the ideas in your head as an entrepreneur and putting them on paper so other people can understand your ideas. And so it’s hard to communicate any value that you have as a business owner without having some form of copy.


Kenny Soto  7:43  

What are some things you’ve seen brands in general, and or clients of yours before they start working with you? What have you seen them do wrong? When it comes to their copy?


Sarah Talbert  7:56  

The first thing that comes to mind is using industry lingo. A lot of times in any industry, there’s lingo that you use. The lingo you might use in a water cooler is totally different than the lingo you need to use when talking to your ideal client. I had a lawyer that I worked with a while back, and he kept talking about how amazing his deposition process was. I was like, no one cares. No one cares what the word deposition is or what that is. 


And so I have a research process that I go and I talk to my client’s past and current clients to find out like, what was the reason that you chose this person to walk with work with what was the reason that you decided they were the person to work with. And so I was walking through that process with his clients, and every single one of them never used the word deposition. 


But all of them use the words, they said he makes me feel like a human before I get on the stand. And so I was like, what? Don’t you want a lawyer that makes you feel like a human? I mean, that’s totally different than what vocabulary he was using. And so take thinking about getting in the head of your ideal client, what are they thinking about when they’re looking for your services? How are they describing it, not? Water Cooler language, I think is a big one.


Kenny Soto  9:26  

You’ve mentioned just now the ability to distill jargon into everyday language. You’ve also mentioned research, those are two skills that are very important for a copywriter to be good. What are some other skills that people need to have marketers need to have to be considered a good copywriter?


Sarah Talbert  9:48  

Well, if I can just touch on the research piece, again then you can’t write or talk to your ideal client unless you’ve actually listened. So the research piece is a skill of listening as well. And so we don’t want to just figure out the what of what they’re looking for. But we want to know like, why they’re looking for it. 


And researching deeper and listening going in, not with a mindset of, I’m pretty sure I’m looking for this answer, but going into their research with a listening ear to find out why they’re looking for fill-in-the-blank, whatever we’re selling. And then another skill. I don’t know if this is necessarily a skill. But this the psychology piece, I think, sometimes we miss, you didn’t understand how the human brain works, and or to the level that we can understand it. 


What causes someone to buy? What are they going through before they purchase? A lot of times when I go through and do research with my clients, and talk to their clients, I find there’s some pattern of behavior that was happening in their life right before they purchase, or right before they started looking for a solution. 


And so the psychology behind it? Why is that the thing that’s causing them to search for answers? How do they need to feel after they purchase? What are some of the things they need to experience and go through? And how to take words and phrases to speak to the human experience. This makes me also think of another scale is just communication in general, a lot of times we think, when I’m going from putting it on paper, it’s going to be different. 


And a lot of times communication is what you’re thinking, and let’s take what you’re thinking and just put it on paper, putting pen to paper. And so communication, and then the research in the psychology behind human behavior. That answer your question.


Kenny Soto  12:19  

Definitely does. And I love doing this in every interview. So now I’m gonna throw you a curveball, okay? Is the voice of a brand important? And our copy guidelines important?


Sarah Talbert  12:36  

The voice of a brand is extremely important. So I use this example. And I like to use maybe it’s the copywriter in me or not, I don’t know, I like to use an actual example. So if you were to go into thinking about brand voice, specifically, if you were to walk into a restaurant, and the waitress had a no, or the hostess had on like a little black dress and high heels, and her hair was done up very nicely. 

But you look in the restaurant has kids climbing across the table, and they’re serving hot dogs, that it feels off, and you can’t like, maybe you can’t put your finger on it or like something, something’s off. And I feel like that’s what the brand your brand voice does it sets the tone for how people should experience you. 


And so if your website sounds very, very formal, but then someone encounters your brand. And they’re, you’re not in your which there’s no right or wrong, but it sets a set the tone for this is how you’re going to experience us. I got an email for a lead. And they said last night and it said, We hereby request your proposal, your request for a proposal, we hereby request a proposal or something like that. 


And I thought when I encounter them, are they going to be extremely formal? Or is this just what they thought they needed to say, to get me to respond? And so, yes, the brand voice matters.


Kenny Soto  14:26  

And to what degree do coffee guidelines matter?


Sarah Talbert  14:30  

Yeah, so do you copy guidelines, in my head can mean a few things. So would you define what you mean?


Kenny Soto  14:37  

I would say essential phrases, ways to style sentence rules to consider when creating a landing page versus an email, etc.


Sarah Talbert  14:49  

So my thought is I have an editor on my team, and she’s got a style that she works with, but there’s also Congress, And then we have about this person says this way. And so whenever you see that that doesn’t need to conform to APA or whatever guidelines that need to stick with this because when that person shows up online, they’re saying it this way. And so that needs to go into their own style guide. 


And so yes, we need to sound consistent overall. But there are also words and phrases that aren’t grammatically correct. And so let’s make sure our audience feels like they are interacting with the person behind the screen.


Kenny Soto  15:40  

You mentioned the client used very formal language to try and get a response from you. In regards to clients in general, for your business, if you’re evaluating them, how do you qualify whether or not they’re good clients to work with?


Sarah Talbert  15:55  

Yeah, these are great questions. So when the first step of my process, when working with me, I mentioned a couple of times is this research process. And so one thing that I asked before diving into, here’s a proposal and invoice, can you tell me a little bit about the past clients that you’ve worked with? And so the red flag for me is if they say something about, oh, none of my clients have been great, or I’ve only had one or two that have really fit the bill. 


And so that one, that’s going to make my job really hard to see patterns and behaviors of good clients, and to, if every one of your clients has been bad, that’s, that’s a red flag, that’s not gonna work very well. So if they have a really long list of people, they’re excited to share with me, I think that’s a great sign that it’ll be a better working relationship. 


And another thing that I kind of watch out for is if a client comes to me, and they say, like, I am an expert in everything about the I just finished a job with some engineers, we are expert engineers, and we want you to we know nothing about copywriting. 


So if you can, if we can merge our relationships, and you be the expert in the copy, and we’ll be the expert in the engineering, and then I’ll just help write about it that that’s a great way for me to qualify them as if they’re recognizing my expertise, and I can reciprocate and recognize that they’re doing what they do. Does that answer your question?


Kenny Soto  17:51  

It absolutely does. Now, I’m going to flip the table or change views, if you will, because I feel like this is a great opportunity to sell your services, but also help aspiring copywriters know what is the bar to hit in terms of how they can approach clients in their own business. So let’s say I’m the client, and I’m looking to hire a copywriter. What are some considerations business owners can take into account when evaluating copywriters for hire?


Sarah Talbert  18:23  

Yeah, so there were a few questions that you were asking. First, how do I evaluate? And sometimes I evaluate based on? Are they asking me good questions? And so these are some of the things that I kind of listen for when I’m talking to potential clients.


And so it’s, what is your process, a good copywriter or worth his weight, and anything should have some form of process that that’s going to tell you that they’ve done this job, a decent amount of time to know what works for them and what works best for you. 


And so they should be able to clearly say after the invoice is paid, we’re going to do step one, step two, and step three. And it should make sense, for some reason, another good question to ask is if they have samples of work, and does the Did they have a variety of work. Or do they have very targeted work in your industry? What are some of the samples of work that they’re sending you? Another good question is what is a good turnaround time? Because as marketers, you know that time is money. 

And so if you need you need to make sure that they have a deadline and you have a deadline when working with a copywriter. I’ve seen so many times where copywriters set a deadline and it’s not necessarily met on time. And then you have to push back a design date or you have to push back a launch date or something like that. 


And so what’s your turnaround time? And then a follow-up? Question is, have you ever struggled to meet that timeline? And what were the circumstances? I am pretty strict and straight with deadlines. And so I just appreciate that piece of the conversation. 


And then the question I always get asked is going back to your question about brand voice and like, how do you go about capturing brand voice? When I encounter a new brand voice, a new brand in general, a new person that I’m working with? I go back and do the research. But I ask my clients for three pieces of content that their audience has really resonated with their audiences really loved. 


And this kind of almost flips the script, and it’s not a what is your what do you what, what are three pieces of content that you have loved putting out, but what are three pieces of content that your audience has resonated with because that’s gonna give me an even deeper insight into one how their audience hears them and sees them and resonates with? And then I can dive into more tactical pieces of what that looks like and why they resonated with that. 


And so yeah, the brand voice. So those are some questions I like to be asked and I think are wise, if you’re hiring a copywriter to ask them.


Kenny Soto  21:36  

What are some marketing technology tools that you use for your copywriting services?


Sarah Talbert  21:43  

Oh, um, I tools I use. Though, I use Google Docs like crazy is what I, and I actually, haven’t seen every copywriter do this. But I actually wireframe my copy. And so I’ll use the Insert, like a, like not a graph, but like text boxes. And so I’ll have like, it’s hard to see here in audio, but I have like sick content over here. And then I’ll put just like an image. And so a designer can just literally take it and see and just plug and play.


Kenny Soto  22:30  

So it’s a wireframe for a newsletter or a wireframe for a web page or landing page. I see.


Sarah Talbert  22:37  

Okay, and making the header bigger and the, you know, the subtext smaller, and so forth. And so Google Docs is a great tool. I use Grammarly a lot. Because I will say I’m not an editor, I have an editor. I’m not an editor. I like the strategy and the concepts and so forth. And the other stuff. Where I am now has become too tedious for me to dive into. I also really like the Hemingway app.


Kenny Soto  23:17  

Because those are one of my favorites out of all those I’ve used.


Sarah Talbert  23:20  

Yeah, yes. And, I tend to write in a passive voice even after all these years. And so it’s a great tool for me for it to catch it quickly. And I can just go in and change it.


Kenny Soto  23:35  

Well, while you’re thinking, I think a good follow-up, because this is something that I’ve always been curious about. A lot of people don’t even pay attention to it, but you just mentioned it is using passive voice, a bad thing.


Sarah Talbert  23:49  

So I just did a training with a company to train their marketing team on a copy, and give them some tools. And then I brought in my editor in the last training and she did like 15 minutes on passive voice and how it wasn’t. It wasn’t the best. And I think it’s just copied you need it to be direct and speaking and so passive can it can be passive and it’s not as direct and so I find it to be important and it’s still in my head. It’s the concept as it’s I She explained it great. 


And so but yeah, it’s something I do watch out for. I don’t know that it’s necessarily again in like a blog post. It’s not necessarily the worst thing. But if you want it to be directed in copy and so


Kenny Soto  24:49  

What are some resources that can be a book or YouTube video expert that you follow that you use on a weekly or monthly basis to improve your skills? and your knowledge as a copywriter?


Sarah Talbert  25:03  

I love Joanna Wiebe, W I E, B E, or is it WEIB? E from Copy Hackers. And so I’ve gotten a lot of certifications through them. And I’m always you in right Schwartz is another one that he’s done a lot of training with them and through them, he’s got his own thing. Both of them are phenomenal in service to the customer. It’s not sales. It’s meant to like serve. 


But just fantastic. tactical things and also an inspiration for oh, yeah, I’m like in a rut, I need some new ideas. Yeah, they wrote this stuff. And just some examples of lots of things that I can do. Great with fresh eyes.


Kenny Soto  25:55  

Last question. And it’s hypothetical. If you had access to the time machine, I can go back in time, 10 years into the past, knowing everything you know, right now, how would you accelerate the speed of your career?


Sarah Talbert  26:08  

I would talk to more people. And by that, I mean, I’m an introvert. And so it felt. In the beginning, it felt intimidating, to just start talking to more people. I know this sounds, maybe it sounds weird. But my husband, being a serial entrepreneur, was always out talking to everyone doing all the things and he would bring in new business for whatever business we were doing. 


And I, I should talk to more people, and just not in a sales way, like here’s my service, you need to buy it, but just start making connections. And just because every person may not be a connection, but they may know someone who could be a connection, or it’s just a new friend. And so my business best friend, I guess she’s a web developer, web designer. 


And so we do business a lot together. But the first time I met her was on a sales call. And I told her no. And so I think there’s a lot of value. And even though someone says no to your services, it doesn’t mean it can’t be a great relationship down the road.


Kenny Soto  27:21  

I love that advice. And I will add to it by just giving my own story here. Building relationships with people is so important. And you mentioned that you don’t necessarily see an opportunity with one person, but they can lead you to one. 


And with this podcast, I’ve made connections with so many marketing leaders that I recently got laid off from a position that accompany but luckily enough, I built a network to this podcast to then find other freelance work that I can use and leverage as I’m looking for a new job. 


So it just goes to show that in almost any instance, if you’re just looking to make a relationship, rather than just a short transaction, it’s going to help you out in the long run. So if anyone wants to say hello to you online, where can they find you?


Sarah Talbert  28:08  

Yeah, so my website is Sarah And then I’m on Instagram a lot and sandbar marketing.


Kenny Soto  28:17  

Perfect. Thank you for your time today. And thank you to you the listener for listening to another episode of the people of digital marketing with your host Kenny Soto. And as always, I hope you have a great day. 




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