What is a swipe file? (And why you should have one…)

by | Mar 25, 2021

Creating new posts, articles, and content to market your business can be… painful.

After all, let’s face it — as a business owner, you wear a lot of hats.

You’re the bookkeeper, the dog trainer, the marketer, the customer service team and more. That means when you sit down to write or schedule posts for your social media channels, you don’t have time to spend staring at a blinking cursor, waiting for ideas to come.

You need starting points to help you work quickly, and get your content done so you can move on to the other 300 things on your to-do list.

That’s where keeping a swipe file comes in.

What is a Swipe File?

A swipe file is a collection of other peoples marketing — articles, social media posts, advertisements — that can be used to inspire your own content, and boost your skills. Keeping a swipe file is a common practice for marketing professionals, as a reference of ideas for future projects.

The practice started among copywriters; they collected clippings with marketing strategies like sales letters, headlines, and print ads that had worked well in the past and placed them inside physical folders. When they needed to create a new piece of content, they pulled the folder out and looked through it for ideas.

But swipe files aren’t just for copywriters anymore. In fact, I’m going to recommend you keep one.

Types of Swipe Files

I’m actually going to recommend you keep more than one (or one folder, but with subfolders, since I’m going to recommend keeping your file digitally).

Common *marketing* related swipe files might include:

  • headlines
  • intro paragraphs for blog posts
  • full blog posts with great structure
  • facebook posts
  • marketing & sales emails

But swipe files can go well beyond your marketing work. Consider creating a swipe file for…

  • Support emails — if you contact a company’s customer support and like their response, stick it in your swipe file.
  • Design — if you find a create handout design, or a logo design you like, stick it in a design swipe file.
  • Instructions & processes — anytime you see someone else mention a process or talk about how to do something, and you want to remember it for later, stick it in a swipe file (in fact, I have a “how to manage others” swipe file, where I stick notes about content I read on that topic).

Basically, anything you’re like to do that someone else has done first where you’re likely to come across examples detailing how they did it, you can “swipe.” The idea is to give you a jumping off point, so when you do things you don’t have to start from scratch.

How to Organize and Keep a Swipe File

There are tons of options for HOW to keep your swipe file — some folks may even prefer the original version, and print things out to put in actual paper folders.

Personally, though, I prefer to go digital. My swipe files are a combination of “notebooks” in Evernote and “boards” on Pinterest.

Screenshot of Digital Swipe file in Evernote

Evernote has a handy “web clipper” browser add-on that I use to quickly nab full articles or chunks of articles to stick in my notebooks. Pinterest also has a Chrome Add-on for a “save” button, that does the same basic thing but for images.

So written content goes in my Evernote swipe files and visual content goes on my Pinterest boards.

You don’t HAVE to be that fancy though — you can just as easily copy-paste content into a text doc and save it in a folder on your computer or to your Google Drive account; or maybe you want to take screenshots and add them to Google Keep… the options are truly endless.

Choose whatever tools make the most sense and will feel most seamless for you.

One More Type of Swipe File… for Very Bad, No Good Days

There’s one more type of swipe file I’d recommend keeping yourself: the Very Bad, No Good Day swipe file.

We all have days where imposter syndrome is being especially persistent, or where a client decides to express exactly how unhappy they are and it makes us doubt why we started our own businesses in the first place. Those are exactly the kind of days your Very Bad, No Good Day swipe file is for.

Every time someone says something nice about you, or writes you a happy and grateful email, add it to THIS swipe file. Include glowing client testimonials. Include quotes that make you feel good. Include comments from mentors, colleagues, friends, and even your parents, if need be. Basically, if it makes you feel better and will help pick you up on a bad day, add it to the file.

Then, the next time you’re having a rough day, read through it. Let it remind you why you do this thing after all and why wearing all those hats is worth it. Let it remind you that, actually, even if you don’t feel like it at the moment, you kind rock. After all, look at all these people who think so… and they can’t all be wrong, can they?

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