I was at a dinner party last week and met someone who reads my e-newsletter. (That rarely happens, by the way, but when it does it does wonders for my ego!)

TopTenHe said he particularly liked my copywriting tips and asked which I considered were most important. “Give me your top ten…” he said, “ten tips that are worth pinning to the bulletin board next to my desk.”

Whoa. That put me on the spot. I wasn’t sure what to say at first. Then I clumsily went through what I thought were the most important things to keep in mind when writing marketing copy.

Here’s the gist of what I told him.

1. Know your prospect.

The better you understand your target audience, the more likely you are to write a message that persuades them. That’s why the phrase “Bookkeeping Sucks. We Make It Suck Less” worked so well for Less Accounting.

2. Decide what you want the prospect to do.

Like an archer staring at a target, you need to aim your marketing copy at a bull’s-eye. What action (your bull’s-eye) do you want the prospect to take? Sign-up for something? Agree to a meeting? Place an order? The clearer you are about that, the more likely you are to craft copy that’s clear, focused, and uncluttered with extraneous information.

3. Gain attention.

Bob Bly, in one of his books, points out that if your marketing piece fails to gain attention, it fails completely because no one will read the copy. How true. Most often the headline — or in the case of email, the subject line — is what does this work. So make it a good one!

4. Start with the prospect’s problem or goal.

Don’t start a marketing piece with information about your product or offer. Instead, begin with the prospect’s problem or goal. Prospect’s problem: Bookkeeping Sucks. Less Accounting’s software product: We make it suck less.

5. Position your product or offer as the solution.

Now you can introduce your product or offer and describe how it’s a solution to the prospect’s problem, need, or aspiration.

6. Bring out the benefits by asking, “So what?”

You probably know that your marketing copy should focus on benefits. But what the heck are benefits? In my opinion they’re simply answers to the question, “So what?” For example, say your corporate training program can be conducted via webcast. So what? Well, more crazy-busy executives will be able to attend. That’s the benefit.

7. Tell stories.

Stories, examples, scenarios, etc. bring the benefits to life for the prospect. It’s human nature to remember stories and be influenced by them. In fact, if you get stuck while writing copy, try beginning a new sentence with, “For example…” (Just as I did in #6.)

8. Sprinkle on the belief-builders.

People are skeptical of claims made in marketing materials. (Imagine that!) That’s why testimonials, endorsements, specifics, facts and other evidence — what I call “belief builders” — are so important. Sprinkle them liberally throughout your copy.

9. Make it easy to say yes.

Ultimately, you want the prospect to take action – click, call, buy, visit, respond. So make taking that action as easy as possible. Provide clear instructions. Explain why taking action now, rather than later (or never), is such a good idea. If you have a guarantee that reduces the risk, now is the time to mention it.

10. Write conversationally.

Harrison Ford, struggling with some lines during the filming of Star Wars, famously said, “You can write this s–t, but you can’t say it!” Can you say your copy? Try reading it out loud. Is it a message you could comfortably, confidently and conversationally say — in person — to your prospect? If not, revise it.

So those are the best tips I could think of on the spur of the moment. How did I do? Are those tips you would have given that dinner party guest? Or did I miss other, more important ones?

Let me know. (Please comment below.)