I’d venture to say that 98% of remodeling companies do not have a professional copywriter and/or art director on their staff. But what if I told you that you could get the expertise of these talented (and expensive) professionals for free?

You may be thinking “Mark, you’re nuts.” Then again, “What’s a copywriter?” or “Why would I need an art director?” are also valid responses to my bold statement. So, for those who haven’t seen Mad Men yet, here’s a quick definition courtesy of Wikipedia:

“The copywriter has ultimate responsibility for the … verbal or textual content, [she is] responsible for telling the story, crafting it in such a way that it resonates with the [prospect], ideally producing an emotional response. The art director has ultimate responsibility for visual communication and, particularly in the case of print work, may oversee production. Although, in many instances, either person may come up with the overall idea for the advertisement ... (typically referred to as the concept) the process of collaboration often improves the work.”

As you can imagine, it can be expensive to hire these pros on a freelance basis and, for most, having them on staff is flat-out crazy. But samples of their work—the techniques and strategy they use—are all around you.

Look Around and Start Swiping
Every day you are bombarded with advertising messages. Even the most conservative estimates say you’re exposed to 5,000 per day. The problem is you have convinced yourself that these messages are an intrusion in your life. You have trained yourself to ignore these messages. Stop! 

These “intrusions” are the result of countless hours of work by marketing professionals. They’ve spent days (if not weeks) crafting the perfect words, the perfect call-to-action, the perfect visuals … the perfect marketing message.

What do you do with this stuff? You create a “swipe file.” Despite the shady feel of the name, swipe files are not illegal nor unethical. Every copywriter worth her salt has a swipe file. In fact, most college students in the field are required to start building their own as part of the curriculum. Your swipe file is where you keep any piece of marketing communication that stands out to you. This includes sales letters, print ads, postcards, email newsletters, email offers, banner ads, and so on.

Notice I said email newsletters? It amazes me each week when I look at our PowerTips newsletter performance reports and see the handful of people that unsubscribed. You should never unsubscribe from an email list (not just ours). Doing so is giving away a treasure trove of information that you can swipe for your own use.

I am currently subscribed to well over 100 email lists. Obviously, most of them go unread. But the ones that I do open are pure gold. Why? Because I opened it! Something about that email worked on me. So I may file it in my Subject Line Swipe folder. If I take further action within the email (like click the link) I’ll file another copy in the appropriate swipe folder (such as the Calls-To-Action folder or the Great Storytelling folder.)

Get Organized—and Inspired
You can set up your swipe file however it works best for you. For some it’s by category: emails, post cards, print ads, etc. For others it’s by marketing piece anatomy: great subject lines, calls to action, great layouts, and so on. I prefer the latter because it’s easier to filter through when I hit writer’s block. If I’m trying to create a postcard but I’m stuck crafting an attention-grabbing headline, I refer to my great subject lines folder. What do I care if it was originally the subject of an email? If the copy inspires me to come up with a headline for the postcard, great!

Notice I said “inspires” me. It’s important to understand that your swipe file is for inspiration, not straight out duplication. Use it whenever you get stuck—whenever you know what you want to say, but you’re not quite sure how to say it.

Armed with your new swipe file, you’ll be able to tackle any situation, from client letters to newspaper ads. It’s like having your own copywriter and art director on call 24 hours a day.