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.