I’m a Creative Conversion Specialist (a title I’m testing out to replace the well-worn and over-used “freelance copywriter” or “freelance writer”).
I help clients convert viewers to leads, and leads to sales. And that’s the key.
Copywriting is really all about selling.
Now, in addition to writing conversion copy for clients and for my own business, I also hire copywriters regularly. In spite of having easy access to 1,200 copywriters in my Copywriter Café group on Facebook, I’ve actually struggled sometimes with finding a good writer for my projects.
Hard to believe, right?
Well, I think I’ve figured out why. A lot of writers fancy themselves wordsmiths, but they don’t really understand the art and science of selling.
You can get by for quite a while without understanding selling, especially if you’re a content writer or content marketer. In that case, it’s not of prime importance to know how to sell.
But if your goal is to make good money as a copywriter, either writing for clients or for your own business, you have to fully grasp that copywriting is essentially selling in print (or online, of course).
Want to get on my go-to list of copywriters I hire when I have overflow work or I’m too busy with personal projects? Or for that matter, do you want to become known as a copywriter who “gets” selling?
If you and I are talking about a potential project, be prepared to answer these three questions (suggested by a wise mentor of mine):
- What do you like about sales?
- Why do you think you’re good at it (in writing, in person, or best – both)?
- What proof can you show me that you are?
Don’t worry if you don’t have great answers right now. Just like copywriting, selling is a learned skill. And you’ll use it in some way almost every day as a Creative Conversion Specialist (or whatever title you give yourself).
Here are a few ideas to help:
1. Learn how to ask good questions.
Contrary to common opinion, effective selling is more about listening than talking.
The better your questions and listening skills, the better you’ll be at selling. Whether you’re talking to potential clients on the phone, interviewing your clients’ customers, or writing your own self-promotional marketing materials, knowing what what questions to ask, and then listening, will improve your chances of success.
2. Write out scripts ahead of time.
Just like writing a good sales letter or landing page requires certain elements in a certain order, so does any sales script. Best not to wing it if the conversation could lead to a copywriting project for you. Write out what you’re going to say, including questions you’re going to ask. Then practice.
3. Watch master sales people in action.
How do you do this? You could take mental notes when you’re sitting down with a good salesperson. For example, if you have a financial advisor, insurance agent, or attorney, pay close attention the next time you’re in a meeting with them. If you’re going to buy something, like an appliance, a suit, or a car, observe the sales person in action, and again, take mental notes.
Even better, ask an A-level copywriter how they handle sales conversations. I’m not an A-level copywriter, but I have been in direct sales since 1986, and it’s the only reason I’ve made it this far as a copywriter. I’ll be coming out with short YouTube videos, some ebooks, and a program on Selling for Copywriters soon. In the meantime, watch for more blog posts.
4. Read good books on selling.
We always talk about reading classic copywriting books, but I don’t see many people suggesting reading books on selling. Some of my favorites are How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger, Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, and Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling.
More than anything, as an aspiring copywriting rock star – writing for clients or yourself – understand that copywriting is selling, plain and simple.
You can listen to people talk all day about how “the content marketer is king” and “the content writer runs the show,” but in the end, it’s the copywriter who makes the sale and makes the big money.
Or should I say, the Creative Conversion Specialist.
Your thoughts on selling? I’d love to hear. Leave me a short comment here.
Greetings Café Member,
As some of you know I’ve been operating my business from Quito, Ecuador, since June 15, and will continue here until the end of August. 95% of the time that works well, but the past couple days I’ve been road tripping down the Avenue of the Volcanoes to Baños, Ecuador, and Internet access has been very spotty.
In my absence, Ed Estlow, Café Member and one of my administrators for our Café Facebook group wrote an epic post this week. After I read it I commented that I was going to nail it Luther-style to the door of my office. It’s that good. Take it away, Ed…
A Copywriting Business Manifesto
One thing I want you to realize is that copywriting is, first and foremost, a business. IT’S A BUSINESS! Just like a hardware store or a gas station or a dry cleaners is a business. It’s just as much work, only a little more portable. The reality of ‘the writer’s life’ is selling, negotiating fees, dealing with clients both good and bad, sticking to schedules, long hours, sometimes-tedious rewrites, and more.
If that jazzes you, great. Read on. If not, consider some other way to make a living.
Some of you got here on an AWAI vector. Many in the Copywriter Café are AWAI members – but many are not. (I am – and I think the percentage is about 60%.) But it turns out, this isn’t an AWAI-centric group. And frankly, that’s to your benefit. You’ll get a lot of different perspectives, not just AWAI’s. This is not to dissuade anyone from AWAI – their stuff is very good. But there are other programs out there.
A quick thought before I dive into the guts of this manifesto, I’m one of Steve Roller’s administrators. If you have any issues, please get ahold of Steve or one of us. The others are Tanya MarCia and Michael Beil. Also, even though we’re about 1200 at this point, Steve is very approachable via PM – although he’s very busy. Get to know him and the others in the group. I’ve heard it’s one of the most helpful groups on all of FB, certainly in the copywriting realm. You’ll quickly learn who resonates with you and vice versa.
If you’re a beginning copywriter, I encourage you to work on three fronts: developing your copywriting skills, developing your business skills & knowledge, and developing/ doing your marketing.
With respect to copywriting skills, there are several good programs out there. Copyblogger has a ton for free. John Carlton’s stuff is great. Dan Kennedy’s materials are second to none. Naomi (I can never remember her last name)’s IttyBiz has excellent training aimed at small businesses. As I mentioned above, AWAI’s stuff is very good.
Beyond pointing you at such programs, if you want to do sales letters, practice by copying out the great sales letters (but make sure they’re the right ones… don’t copy crap). Do this as much as you can, for as long as you can. Even seasoned pros go back to this fundamental. Dan Kennedy claims he did this twenty-one times over with each of 100 direct response ads when he started.
And get a hold of Gary Halbert’s Boron Letters. You can find them free on the web, but his sons have now published them in a book with new commentary, which you can find on Amazon.
Bob Bly’s “The Copywriter’s Handbook” is very good. There’s Joe Sugarman’s “The AdWeek Copywriting Handbook.” Gene Schwartz’s “Breakthrough Advertising” is simply gold. Read it as many times as you can – at least once every year or two. Read everything of Gary Bencivenga’s you can get your hands on. If Schwartz is gold, Bencivenga is platinum.
Business skills? They are fundamental, since you’re starting a small business just like any other. Get good at selling yourself and your services. Don’t be afraid of local work in any field. On one level, a sales letter is a sales letter. Who cares if it’s for a local real estate agent or Motley Fool? You need to practice and you need early wins with clients.
Track & know your business numbers. Cash on hand, accounts receivable/ invoice aging, conversion ratio, prospects in the pipeline, etc., etc. If you don’t know what business numbers are, learn. And spend time developing that pipeline/ sales funnel.
As you contemplate a marketing plan, for God’s sakes, DON’T farm it out! Write it yourself. That’s the only way it will be of value. The value of any plan is in the planning process and internalizing what you learn along the way. The plan itself will be obsolete before you print the last page. That’s OK. Print it out anyway and start implementing. Mark it up, dog-ear it, put Post-It tabs in it, spill coffee on it, update it, etc. Put it under version control and formally revise it with your mark-ups occasionally.
Do the same with your business plan.
It sounds almost oxymoronic, but these plans are nearly useless. They become obsolete almost instantaneously. But do not ignore them, before or after creating them. The knowledge gained is critical, essential to succeeding as a business person.
How and how much to charge? Well first off, charge by the project, not by the hour. And charge based upon the value it brings your client, not on the effort you put in (a round figure is 5-15% of the value it brings the client). Read the book at this link on pricing your services. It’s free, takes only an hour or two to read, and it will make you wealthy if you let it.
Marketing your services? Spend roughly a fifth to a third of your week marketing yourself – or at least on marketing tasks. Even if you’re booked solid. Learn what a sales funnel is, and set one up so you don’t need to work so hard. Understand marketing and sales, where they overlap and where they don’t.
Know your target market inside and out. Read about them. No, wait. This is better – read what they read. Subscribe to and buy other products aimed at them. Hang out with them. Literally. Find out where rich people in your town hang out. Go there and make friends. They are your tribe, not other copywriters.
Not that we’re bad, but we don’t pay your bills. Limit your time with us.
John Jansch’s Duct Tape Marketing is excellent stuff. So is Copyblogger. So is IttyBiz. Dan Kennedy is a genius. Follow and study these people and their materials.
Now, this next bit will sound harsh and maybe unkind.
Don’t get seduced by some wonderful vision of “the writer’s life.” You know the one I’m talking about. The dream of sitting on the beach, glass of wine or boat drink in hand, scribbling on a pad or typing a bit on a laptop while waiting for royalty checks to come in. That’s not realistic – unless and until you get very, very good. The writer’s life is a business person’s life. It’s work, just like running a restaurant or a landscaping business is work.
You can teach yourself all this stuff without sending anyone your money. But if you have sent someone Cash American in exchange for a program, work your ass off to get maximum return for your investment.
I don’t know you personally, so I don’t know your history or capabilities. But I will recommend one – and only one – personal development program without hesitation. That program is Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. He published it in 1960. Dan Kennedy bought the rights to Maltz’s entire body of work a couple of decades ago, and updated it (he has since sold that business to Matt Fury).
Get either Dan’s Nightingale-Conant program, “The New Psycho-Cybernetics” or his book, “Psycho-Cybernetics 2000″ (which lists Maltz as a co-author even though he had passed away by the time Kennedy wrote it). Put the principles into practice immediately.
Finally, and most important of all, work damn hard to get rid of any prejudices you may have about money, about having money, and about the rich. They are your constituency – especially if you’re going to be a financial copywriter. Learn to be one of them, even if you are not yet rich yourself (I alluded to this up above).
I hope this manifesto has helped you. It IS the most effective way to ‘skin the cat.’ Your thoughts? Please leave a comment.
Steve Roller here, back from a long hiatus. If you’re new to the Copywriter Café blog, I’ll be posting three times a week again, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, with occasional random additional posts.
The past two months I hosted two Ultimate Writing Retreats™, finished two big client projects, and moved my family temporarily down to Quito, Ecuador, where we’re spending the summer.
I also launched Coffee Chat with Steve & Kat, a twice a month Google Hangout on Air that’s designed to help Independent Creatives like you build your business with fun, fresh ideas.
Katlynn Blakely, a former NYC ad agency copywriter, and I are melding the worlds of direct response and ad agency copywriting. We’re creating a bit of a stir with both those camps, who tend to be antagonistic to each other.
I’m taking the Copywriter Café in exciting new directions, and I’m glad you’re along for the ride! Today I have a quick story for you, and an action step that will help you stand out in a noisy world.
Your copywriting business on Magic Beans
On Saturday we celebrated my wife’s birthday at a restaurant here in Quito called the Magic Bean. It’s an institution, and has thrived for many years, despite charging premium prices for average food in a very competitive market. There are probably hundreds of restaurants within a one-mile radius where you can get a cheaper meal that’s just as good.
How do they do it? How do they get good reviews all the time, a loyal following, and a long waiting line on Saturday and Sunday mornings for breakfast?
One big reason. They’ve positioned themselves as a great place to meet international travelers and swap stories.
This concept, this “story” that they’ve woven throughout their brand and carefully cultivated over the years, is even on the back of the waiters’ t-shirts. It’s a Shel Silverstein quote that reads:
“If you are a dreamer, come in…
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
The Magic Bean has built their brand around their story, their name, and something unique besides their food, which they couldn’t compete on alone.
What does this have to do with you and your business?
Well, just like the Magic Bean has hundreds of competitors within a few square miles, all doing roughly the same thing, you have hundreds of competitors offering similar services.
Think about it. How many people out there are offering copywriting, SEO copywriting, or marketing consultation services?
Become the “Magic Bean” of copywriters
So how do you charge premium prices, have people lined up at your door, and get consistently good reviews? By doing something different than your competitors that stands out.
I’m going to suggest that it starts with three things:
- Your business name and what you call yourself (your title)
- Your positioning in the marketplace (offering something unique that truly sets you apart)
- The image you project
If what you’re doing is working great for you, stick with it and do more of it!
On the other hand, if you’re not generating the results you want, you might want to re-think those three things.
I’m not saying to change any of them, at least not yet.
But let me ask you this. Do you have a story to tell about your business?
When people ask you what you do, do your eyes light up? Do you get animated talking about your business, how you got started, and what you do for people?
If not, let me challenge you this week to come up with a short story, a narrative about your business that ties in with what you do. Kind of like the Magic Bean and their idea of being a place for travelers to hang out and share travel stories.
Or like the Copywriter Café takeoff of being today’s version of the Shakespeare & Company Bookstore in Paris in the 1920s, a place where writers can come together to offer each other advice, feedback, ideas, and encouragement.
When you have a story to tell about your business, one you really enjoy telling over and over again, you’ll start attracting more and more clients organically.
That’s the starting point, then we’ll talk more about your business name, your positioning, and your image and style. But start with a story, and craft it now.
Let me leave you with one more Shel Silverstein quote:
“But all the magic I have known, I’ve had to make myself.”
Do you have a story to tell already? I’d love to hear it (the short version). Leave a note in the comments.
Why scheduling fun will make your copywriting flourish
The beauty of being a freelance copywriter is that you can set your own schedule. That, and the fact that you can work from anywhere in the world are the main reasons I became a copywriter in March 2009.
While the traveling and writing thing has worked out, sticking to a productive daily schedule has often been a struggle.
I mean, on any given day, is anyone telling you what to do? No one is watching you, and no one cares if you decide to work in your pajamas all day (not my thing, as I wrote about here, but you may be different). As long as you hit your deadlines, no one knows the difference.
Stop working so hard!
So let’s say all your deadlines are three weeks out, it’s Wednesday at noon, and you’re completely caught up for the week. What do you do?
If you’re like me, you feel guilty doing anything except sitting at your desk writing, rustling up new business somehow, or studying something that will help you become a better copywriter, right?
The Monday through Friday routine seems to be ingrained in my head, even though it’s ridiculous to follow the masses.
Here’s a weekly plan I used years ago when I was in direct sales. It served me well then, and I’m going to resuscitate it in my business again.
4 + 1 > 5
The idea is to actually schedule fun, and take a day or two off every week. I recommend two.
I call it the “4 + 1 is greater than 5” schedule.
Here’s the way I used to do it: Work all day Monday and Tuesday. Get a good six hours of writing in each day, do some marketing, follow up with clients. Be productive and focus for two days, that’s all.
On Wednesday, you spend the morning evaluating your first two days, catching up on anything you missed, and planning the next two days.
Then you take off Wednesday afternoon and evening. Goof off, go to a movie, go for a bike ride, hang out all afternoon reading a novel at your favorite coffee shop.
You’ll be all rested up for Thursday and Friday, which are a repeat of Monday and Tuesday. Serious discipline. Nothing but business-building related activities.
You can focus, because you know you’re not going to work on the weekend (like a lot of normal people don’t). We writers aren’t exactly normal, so you may still enjoy writing on the weekend, but the thing is, it will be your choice, not because you feel compelled to.
Saturday morning is creative thinking time. No hard core projects, just brainstorming big ideas, mapping out a new business concept, figuring out a marketing funnel. Fun stuff!
That’s it. Four days of focused work (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday). One half-day of planning (Wednesday morning), and one half-day of creativity (Saturday morning). Two half-days of fun (Wednesday and Saturday afternoon and evening), and a day of rest …
… and all will be well with the world, your business, and your life. Simple, right? Give it a try, and I’ll bet that:
- You’ll be more productive on the four days you work
- Your down time will yield more creative results
- You’ll enjoy your days off more
- You won’t feel guilty taking time off
- You’ll separate work and play more
I go in spurts, so I won’t necessarily do this schedule year-round. And I certainly don’t do it when I’m in Ecuador. But at least a few months out of the year it works wonders.
Give it a try, and see if it doesn’t for you, too. And let me know if you’ve tried a version of this before.