Create Opportunities by “Swiping” Ideas

It’s Linda Wilkinson here sharing resourceful ideas to help you build your freelance business. Yesterday, I compared your contact list to MacGyver’s multifunctional Swiss Army knife. Today I’ll discuss another simple tool that MacGyver used to creatively solve numerous problems – duct tape.

Whether it was to create a periscope out of bus mirrors … a torpedo out of a beer keg … or an ultralight airplane using bamboo poles, a tent and a lawnmower … MacGyver used duct tape to ingeniously come up with solutions to all sort of challenges.

As a copywriter, you should have a similar type of tool in your arsenal. One that will allow you to come up with brilliant ideas without having to spend hours, or even days, brainstorming and researching.

Here’s what I mean …

It’s possible to “duct tape” ideas for your copywriting projects by using a swipe file. A swipe file is simply a collection of sample promotions you’ve received in the mail and by email, such as sales letters, brochures and e-newsletters.

It’s called a swipe file because you can actually “swipe” ideas from good copy and good design. While you won’t use the actual words in your copy, you’ll gain inspiration. And you’ll start to see what works and what doesn’t, the bigger your collection becomes.

When I started my swipe file, I collected mainly sales letters and brochures that arrived in the mail after I requested information on a variety of products. Then, when I decided to switch to web copywriting, I set up a new email account and started subscribing to e-newsletters for my niche.

Here are some tips for building your own swipe file:

  1. For an electronic swipe file, create a separate email account for each e-newsletter you subscribe to in your niche.
  2. For a direct-mail swipe file, order merchandise from companies in your niche, so you get on a variety of mailing lists. (You can always return items you don’t want to keep.)
  3. As your mailbox and your inbox start to fill up with promotional material, organize your swipe file in a way that makes the most sense to you – according to the format, the type of product, the type of offer, the type of prospect, etc.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about how MacGyver’s scientific knowledge relates directly to a freelance writer’s knowledge.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your swipe file. Do you use a physical file, electronic (such as Evernote) or both? How has your swipe file helped you improve your copywriting skills and create business opportunities? Let me know in the comments.

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Published: August 27, 2014

6 Responses to “Create Opportunities by “Swiping” Ideas”

  1. When I read about the swipe file on the Accelerated copy program I didn't get the idea, but after reading this post everything went back into my mind and suddenly everything fits. My mail is a treasure on that and I'm already organizing everything on my evernote (What a great app!)

    CecalliAugust 27, 2014 at 2:29 pm

  2. Cecelli, I'm so glad that the article was able to help you make sense of a swipe file. It is an indispensable tool for copywriters.

    Guest (Linda)August 28, 2014 at 12:23 pm

  3. Hi Linda, Great article with clear and direct tips. I also started my swipe file when I began the AWAI copywriting course. It's grown significantly since 2012. I go back to it on a regular basis.

    I also keep fund-raising letters that my mother-in-law gets in the mail (and doesn't need), for additional inspiration and reference. Those and other hard-copy swipe material are in a file box, specifically for that purpose. It's a great tool for sure.

    And, by the way...Duct tape does fix everything. Thanks for sharing.

    Guest (Shelly Moreau)August 28, 2014 at 1:00 pm

  4. Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experience with swipe files, Shelly. I like the idea of keeping fund-raising letters. You just never know when you will be required to write one.

    Guest (Linda)August 28, 2014 at 2:24 pm

  5. Hi Linda, I'm enjoying your series... I was in grade school when MacGyver was on and I absolutely LOVED that show so you're bringing back good memories!

    I like to think of myself as "impervious" to marketing messages and that I only purchase what I want to buy because it's what I want, not what someone makes me want it (yeah, right!!) so when I can't resist opening an email because of a subject line, I throw it into a special folder in my Gmail that is my headline swipe file!

    Denise ReneeAugust 28, 2014 at 3:56 pm

  6. Nice to hear that this series is bringing back good memories for you, Denies. I love your idea of saving effective email subject lines. That would be a great addition to any swipe file.

    Guest (Linda)August 29, 2014 at 5:46 pm


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