As promised, in this week's issue I'll be answering your most burning questions that were submitted to me earlier this week.
There seems to be a bit of a common theme with many of them: how to build a successful and thriving freelance business.
Right now there are more challenges...and more opportunities...to doing so than ever before. And this nasty virus that's going around is contributing to both.
We'll sort some of that out, along with other burning questions about using stories, coming up with angles, doing research, and much more. So let's get rolling! (It's Friday afternoon of Labor day weekend, and Kimmy wants to wrap things up early...)
But first, I want to announce (unless you don't read to the end) I just launched my new website yesterday. You can check it out right here: www:kimschwalm.com.
You'll find all of my current copywriting trainings, info on my mentoring program, a selection of podcast interviews, an updated blog with all my content-rich emails added on since the beginning of the year, and much more. (Since the site's freshly launched, if you come across anything that's not working right, let me know!)
Okay, here are your questions--and my unfiltered, honest answers...
Q: What makes a story feel real even if it's made up (like a lot of stories are from what I heard)? I know a story needs details, but which details are the essential ones? Second question: What's the biggest commonality you see between all of the most successful ads you've written and studied?
A: The best way to ensure a story doesn't sound made up is obvious: use a real one. I've always used real stories in my promotions. I get them from a variety of sources: doing research online (articles and forums can provide great fodder), interviewing past customers by phone or using testimonials/reviews, or even drawing from my own experiences and those of my family members or friends.
I once dug out a story about a substance being dripped into a patient's brain who was suffering from severe Alzheimer's from a published medical book, and used it in a memory supplement promo. (I wrote about this and using stories in general in a past issue of Copy Insiders you'll find here.)
I'll generally write out the entire story the way I might tell it to a friend, and then edit it down from there (in conversation I've always had a tendency to provide way too many details, so I find I need to edit down more than maybe others would need to). Keep the details that make it authentic, and that speak to the resident dominant emotions you want to tap into.
Now for your second question: the biggest commonality I've seen between all of the most successful ads I've written and studied. I have to say it's that they're written in a way that hooks me in and makes it almost impossible to stop reading. There are many copy techniques I've learned and taught that help you do it.
But one of the most important to master is the "greased chute" concept where you have smooth transitions, you avoid tripping your prospect up (one reason to have others read your copy cold), and you keep it interesting and relevant, with every sentence and word "earning" its place.
Q: Hello Kim, recently bought the two seminars you had on offer. Both great :) My question is semi-related to your seminars: How do YOU approach learning? Both when it comes to copy and in general. What are your learning habits? How often do you actively try to learn something new to improve your skills? Looking forward to your answer...
A: Back in the pre-Internet "dark ages" when I actually went to school and college, I had to learn everything through books. Even starting out as a copywriter, I had a slew of books that still fill the shelves in my office that I'd reach for, constantly dog-ear-ing or flagging certain pages with post-it notes, etc.
If I wanted to get up to speed on a particular doctor's whose newsletter or website I was writing a promotion for, or write about an enzyme supplement or get up to speed on a disease like arthritis, I'd read a good old-fashioned book.
Now, thanks to the wonders of technology, I use Google. It reminds me of how my kids, when they were in high school, would say, "I don't need to learn that. I can just Google it!"
I've come to agree with them, at least on some of the topics I'd try to become an "instant expert" on in order to write a promo. It saves me a ton of time and I can find far more useful studies and copy fodder than I would scouring multiple books.
However, for ongoing learning, I'm not as much of a non-fiction book kind of gal. I prefer reading focused print newsletters that give me a super-valuable distillation of new ideas as well as great reminders, with a minimal investment of time. I subscribe to Ben Settle's Email Players and Chris Orzechowski's Make It Rain Monthly, and just subscribed to Justin Goff's new Marketing Letter, and get a huge ROI out of all of them.
I also am a member of Brian Kurtz's Titans Xcelerator virtual mastermind (you can find out more on my new Resources page here), and am able to constantly learn new things and keep up with what's working by listening to the great speakers Brian brings in and from the other super-talented members of the group.
And when COVID ends, I plan to get back to regularly attending in-person events, as it's a great way to do the same thing, plus maintain and make valuable connections.
Q: If you're still working full-time and want to transition to copywriting, how best to learn given limited time and brain cells left (tired from work)?
A: Try getting to bed a bit earlier (put that phone away in a drawer) and wake up an hour earlier each day. Use that "golden" hour as YOUR time to read, hand-copy promos, go through copywriting courses, and otherwise invest in your training.
Q: Hi Kim, At what point would you recommend to quit your 9-5 (which in my case is not copy related) and go all in on freelancing? Thanks! Gabriel A: Everyone's circumstances are different here. If you don't have a working spouse who's also bringing in the bacon, and you've got a mortgage/kids/etc to worry about, then you're going to want to line things up carefully before you take the leap. Ideally you'll have some liquid savings stashed away to help with the inevitable lags in getting payment from clients or dry spells. The best approach (something I did when I first went freelance) may be to line up a retainer arrangement that helps replace a good chunk of your current income. Keep in mind that you generally can (and should) charge about 50% more than what your currently salary's hourly rate is since your employer is probably giving you benefits like health insurance, sick leave, paid vacation, and other "perks" it costs them to offer employees, not to mention the 6.2% for the employer's portion of Social Security and 1.45% of Medicare tax you'll now be paying as a self-employed person (in addition to the employee's portion of both). Good luck!
Q: Alright, I'll ask you 2 questions, as you insist. First one. How can I build my copywriting portfolio since I can't get any gigs? Second. When you were early on copywriting career, what's the line you used to get businesses to hire you, or at least give you a chance?
A: For building your portfolio, one thing you could do is assign yourself some practice promos based on a product you've seen sold online in a niche you're interested in writing for. Focus on creating the strongest possible samples of your work that you can, and use those to demonstrate your abilities to potential clients.
But ideally, the best approach is to get real, paid gigs...even if they're paying far less than you'd like. This is where making connections is so valuable, whether it's in an online mastermind like Titans Xcelerator, or in a copywriting community like Copy Chief (you can find out more on that same Resources page on my new website).
Many a top copywriter (like my friends Stefan Georgi and Dan Ferrrari, both of whom are now super successful) started out not that long ago taking gigs on Upwork. Use your samples you create for yourself to land one of those gigs, do a great job with it, add it to your portfolio, and keep building from there.
As far as any "lines", the best "line" is to have a solid sample or, better yet, a winning promotion--even just a well-written email. Clients need some kind of "proof" like that to feel more comfortable hiring you. Getting a personal recommendation or referral from someone the client knows can also help a ton (another reason why making connections, even in copywriting Facebook groups, can be so helpful).
Q: What advice would you give to a female looking to change careers into copywriting in today's world? Is there anything from your experience that you would do differently?
A: Develop a thick skin, you're going to need it! I'd say that whether you were female or male. You need to be able to take criticism well, deal with failure by facing it head on and learning from it, and handle rejection by putting it in your rear view mirror and moving forward to the next opportunity.
Also know that it's a very male-dominated world in certain niches, like financial and fitness. Being able to "hang" with the guys and deal with some of their "bro-ish" ways will help you greatly as you build your network. I grew up with all brothers, and had to deal with some challenges growing up, so I've learned to let a lot of things roll off my back...how to be resilient...and how to keep a sense of humor.
Q: What's the best way to approach a client you'd want to work with during a live event? (I don't have years of copy experience and I would like to find out other ways of standing out)
A: Do your homework in advance of the event, if you can, and study their current promotions that are working so you're familiar with them. Let the client know you've seen it and show an interest in them and their business.
A core Dale Carnegie principle is getting people to talk about themselves, and being interested in what they say (in fact, "How to Win Friends and Influence People" is a classic book for any copywriter to read).
Be conversational, don't just focus on their business, but about them as a person. Basically, shut up and listen to them talk and they'll think you're the most wonderful person in the world! (Just be sure to work in that you're a copywriter, and when you wrap up the conversation slip them your card or get theirs, and ask if they'd like to connect after the event is over to discuss any possible opportunities.)
Q: What are the dangers of structuring an offer that is opposite everything else in a niche you're after?
A: The most obvious danger is that it won't work. There may be good reasons why no one is doing an offer like yours in a particular niche. Do some low-risk tests to try out your offer concept to a warm audience if possible, or do other market research. You could be on to a breakthrough...or a complete bomb!
Q: Hi Kim! I've got two! 1) How do you get over the inner critic when writing and in business? & 2) Other than surveys, what are the best ways to do market research?
A: I'm grateful for my "inner critic" as it pushes me to do my best possible work, and turn in copy that's as cleaned-up and perfect as possible. I just make sure I don't let it get out of hand. Knowing that many other top copywriters have failed multiple times early on (including yours truly), and that even the best ones don't bat a thousand helps me realize total perfection is neither possible nor necessary.
There are many ways to do market research, and it's a super-broad category...everything from competitors to avatars to ingredients (if supplements) or track record (if financial), to name a few.
One of my most valuable types of research is to call up and interview repeat buyers of a product that I'm writing for, or absent a list of buyers to call (some clients won't give them to you), going to forums to see how your avatar talks about certain problems, what they've tried, what they're struggling with, etc.
I plan to put together a new training program on doing research that I hope to have out later this Fall, so keep an eye out for it!
Q: What’s your best/favorite way to come up with angles and hooks for a piece of copy when the research is minimal? A: First off, I'm not sure what you mean by "when the research is minimal". If you're not happy with the research the client provides you with, go out and find what you want yourself. Don't settle. If it's such a brand-new product or ingredient that there's not a lot of study back-up, surely you can dig out the mechanism of action and research that, look at competing solutions and dig out why they're not as good, or find tangentially-related scientific discoveries or real-life stories you can use as inspiration for a new angle or hook. Q: What would you recommend to an experienced copywriter moving into writing supplement copy for the first time? What to study... how to "learn" the ins and outs of supplement copywriting... how to get "up to speed" as quickly and easily as possible... and the best way to approach new clients and pitch myself as an experienced copywriter (just not in alternative health). Thanks!!!
A: I think you squeezed 4 or 5 questions in there lol. First off, what to study: become an avid collector of as many online sales pages and direct mail promos as you can for supplements (you can get your hands on some of my past and current controls here) and read them, write them out by hand, and study them to see what tactics are being used.
Which leads me to your next question: learn from more experienced copywriters who've written lots of successful supplement promotions to find out their best strategies (my Copywriting Velocity program is a great place to start and will definitely get you "up to speed" more quickly and easily).
As far as approaching and pitching yourself to clients, I already touched on that a few times. Get out to events (once we're post-COVID), join virtual masterminds and/or communities and/or be an active and helpful contributor in Facebook copywriting groups, and when you meet a potential client, talk to them like an actual person by showing interest and listening. Finding mutual connections who can introduce and recommend you is also super valuable. Hope that all helps!
Q: Hi Kim, I'm a 20-year-old copywriter who's learnt a ton from your stuff. I was wondering if it's a bad idea to take on two projects at once. I currently write in the health niche but I'm considering getting into financial and doing two projects a month - one health, one financial. Would that be a bad idea? One more question, is there a big difference between doing the research for a financial promo and a supplement offer? Do I need to be a stock market wizard or could I get by with just knowing the basics and doubling down on the research.
A: I'd recommend you work on the deep research/writing phase of a project one at a time. There will always be other things popping up you need to work on, but the deep research/writing phase should get your "prime time" (for me that's morning) focus and be the one thing you're thinking about when you're driving or in the shower and the ideas and connections pop out of nowhere. Don't try to do that with two big ones in the same phase at once.
Part of this is also being a professional and not taking on too much work at once. You owe it to your clients to give THEIR project your best focus and effort. When you pile other projects on top, your work on all of it suffers. You don't want to burn bridges and do a bad job on projects early in your career (and obviously never).
It's better to tell your client you can't take their project at that particular time, but you have this later slot available in your schedule. In most cases, it makes the client even more eager to hire you, and even pay a higher rate, since it provides social proof that you're busy and "in demand".
This may benefit you far more in the short and long run than whatever extra revenue you can get from squeezing in "one more project". Plus, take time to be a 20-year-old, for crying out loud. Carpe diem while you can.
On your other question, you do NOT need to be a stock market wizard, but it wouldn't hurt to read the Wall Street Journal now and then and make some small stock investments yourself, so you can experience what it's like to invest. Be sure to build in extra time for doubling down on the research when you do take on a financial promo since it's something you haven't done before and will need more time to do it.
Q: There's a bridge between success and no-money land. On the success side, you have to invest to leverage and multiply your earnings. Yet, in no-money land, there's a vicious circle where you only get crap results. What do you think it's the best way to build the bridge, cross it, and then blow it away (to never get back)?
A: Commit yourself to being the best at what you do. Do whatever that requires.
Yes, that may mean making investments in training, mentoring, conferences, and masterminds...but you can also do it on a budget by reading the classic copywriting, marketing, and business books...building up swipe files of what's working and being a voracious student of that...and making every time you get up to bat count by doing your absolute best work (and not settling for anything less!)
This is not sexy advice, the kind that will bring you "overnight" results...but it's the timeless truth. Be the tortoise, not the hare, and you'll blow that bridge away before you know it!
Thanks to all of you who submitted questions...this was fun! Hope you enjoy your Labor day weekend. And don't forget to check out my new website and let me know what you think!
Yours for smarter marketing,