How and Why to Use a Swipe File
by Theresa Ceniccola
If imitation is a form a flattery, then there are plenty of people I’ve flattered since I started blogging more than five years ago. Like most people, I created my first website and launched a blog with no real training or experience. I was already a professional writer, so I figured I’d learn the rest on the job. And part of the learning process for me is studying what works well for others. That’s where my swipe files comes in handy.
A swipe file is a tool I learned about in my early career in public relations and marketing communications. I collected articles, headlines, direct mail postcards, advertisements, proposals, and other materials for inspiration. It was kinda like Pinterest for writers. Only, when I first started using a swipe file, it was a paper accordion style folder with actual printed samples torn from newspapers and magazines.
I’d save anything I found interesting or compelling—even if it had nothing to do with my industry or current projects. Then, when it came time to work on a new piece, I’d flip through my swipe files for ideas. I’d find formulas for great headlines, templates for sales letters, and even some clever photo captions that would trigger an idea.
I eventually went digital with my swipe file, and now I use it to kick start my creativity on all sorts of new projects. Even if you’re not a writer, chances are you do a fair amount of writing for your business or ministry. So, why not make your job a little bit easier and start a swipe file of your own? Collect anything you find interesting or effective so you can refer to it later. Start with a simple file folder on your desktop, or try using Evernote to store your swipe file items. Evernote lets you bookmark webpages, add images or screenshots, and tag your notes for easy sorting and retrieval. You can even share your swipe file with someone on Evernote.
Not sure what to collect? Here are a few ideas to get you started!
Seven Things to Add to Your Swipe File
1. Sales pages. Have you ever made a spontaneous online purchase? You may have stumbled across a compelling sales page and found yourself hitting the “buy now” button without even thinking about it. When that happens, take a screenshot of the sales page and file it for future reference. There is probably some language in there that will come in handy!
2. Facebook ads. If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably clicked on an ad in your newsfeed at some point. There are definitely tricks and tips to Facebook advertising, so capture screen shots of your favorite ads and study them to see what works well for others. When it comes time to do your own Facebook advertising, you’ll have a head start.
3. Bios. I always get a kick out of short, clever bios I read online. Not the ones that are stuffed full of credentials and accomplishments. But the ones that reveal addictions to Sharpie markers or a lifelong struggle to successfully grow a tomato plant. I’ve been swiping memorable bios for years and vowing to make my own humdrum narrative a little more intriguing. One. Of. These. Days.
4. Freebies (Compelling Free Offers). If you’ve got a website, then you probably have a freebie or compelling free offer that you use to help build a list of prospects. It could be an ebook, whitepaper, printables, video training series, audio recording, or a simple checklist (something like my free ebook called the Ten Commandments of a Mompreneur). If you don’t already have a freebie, start collecting samples of interesting freebies you’ve signed up for yourself. And even if you have a freebie, you’ll probably change it every couple of years, so keep your eye out for inspiration!
5. Blog posts. Have you ever read a blog post and thought, “I should totally write something similar on my blog!” Maybe you read a post about the Top Ten Reasons to Go Vegan (Even if Your Family Loves Burgers) and decided you should write a post about the Top Ten Reasons to Homeschool Your Children (Even if You Think You’re Not Qualified). Swipe that blog post and tag it in your file so you’re ready with an idea when it’s time to write!
6. Book covers. The most important text in any book appears on the book jacket—on the front and back covers. Even in the era of digital books and e-readers, the jacket copy is essential for converting casual browsers into paying customers. So, even if you never plan to write your own book, take note of the extraordinary book covers you read and use them for inspiration on other projects.
7. Solicitation letters/emails. Asking for money takes a special kind of skill. There is a great deal to learn from exceptional development (advancement) professionals. They know how to tell a story. And they know how to make you part with your money and feel good about it. That’s why I save those seven-page letters from non-profit organizations and capital campaigns. And it’s why I take note of the occasional solicitation email that makes it past my spam filter.
What else? Have I left off anything you would add to a swipe file?
Theresa Ceniccola is The Christian Mompreneur—a Mentor to Moms Who are Running a Business that Supports Faith and Family. She empowers entrepreneurial moms to build profitable businesses with wisdom and grace through the Christian Mompreneur Mastermind program and her professional Marketing services, which include copywriting, marketing, and strategy consulting and private coaching.