NON-Copy Lessons From Writing Dozens of Controls

By Kim Krause Schwalm                          

Issue #54—February 1, 2019

Over the past 24 hours, I've shared with you the backstories behind some of my most successful controls.

Did you miss them? Make sure you go back and re-read those emails...they weren't just sales emails. There were a lot of promo examples---and valuable lessons---in them.

Heck, I even got "fan mail" about them, as well as orders. Like from Carolynn Ananian, who wrote "Your emails are like grad school for copywriters. I love it."

And from Alvin Leong, who messaged me with "I like receiving your emails... interesting and not dry. You really make an effort in writing it :)"

Some of the lessons in those promo backstories I shared were about copywriting. Things like:

1) Don't put a Godzilla-like dinosaur on the front of your promo with a non-benefit-oriented headline that no one will even get (i.e., "Change Monster").

2) Don't have a multiple-benefit "this does everything!" theme for a supplement promo when you can focus on solving a specific problem the prospect cares about.

3) Don't ever call me "senior"--or insult or talk down to your prospect in any way. They can smell "fake empathy" make you're speaking their language.

But what I hope you were able to glean---and what I want to talk about today---are some crucial NON-copy lessons I've learned from writing dozens of controls. So let's get started...

Lesson #1: Failing does not mean you suck.

If you bomb out the first try you get your "big break", it's not the end of the world. Remember, when I had those first few initial failures I shared, I was far from being an A-list copywriter. I wasn't really on anyone's radar. I was basically still a "nobody".

But what I learned was this: that client that you had your initial failure with can end up becoming your best client.

That's why you should always put forth your best effort and be good to work with (meet deadlines, communicate, don't whine or argue when you get feedback---you know, the basics.) It's also important to remember this next lesson...

Lesson #2: If you fail, the client is at least partly responsible.

(And I say this having once been a marketing executive and publisher on the client side for Phillips Publishing who worked with copywriters.)

Most direct marketing professionals "get" that no one bats 1000 when it comes to writing successful promos...they expect that some tests will fail. It's the way it works.

I can tell you from my experience working at Phillips that some of the top TOP copywriters who were legends in their own time---and still are---failed sometimes.

So if your client doesn't "get it" and blames you 100% for something that failed, they're failing to take responsibility for their part. After all, they approved and tested it, and the problem may not be your copy.

They may have a terrible offer or guarantee, they may be going to terrible lists, they may have a terrible product no one wants, etc. Copy is only 20%---offer and list make up the other 80%.

Yet all too often the copy---and the copywriter---gets 100% of the blame. You don't deserve that. And it's yet another reason to choose your clients wisely whenever possible. Especially when you get a bad client who wants you to do this next thing...

Lesson #3: If your promo fails, the client does not get "free rewrites" till the end of time (or a penny of his or her money back).

Hopefully you've been CRYSTAL clear in your proposals and contracts with your client in order to manage expectations. You've clearly stated what the "kill fee" will be if the project is discontinued at each stage of the project.

You've clarified the number of rounds of edits. And you've unequivocally stated in your invoice and contract that any advance paid is non-refundable.

(If you haven't been doing these things and want some actual templates and examples for doing so---without paying a lawyer thousands of dollars---you can get them in the "tool kit" that comes with my 3R's program on retainers and royalties.)

But what if you didn't cover your butt properly before you began working with a client--and things start to go awry? It's important to stay professional, try to work with the client to resolve things as reasonably as possible---and stand up for yourself in the process.

There's no way you---or anyone else---can "guarantee" results. As I said earlier, there are too many variables that are beyond your control that affect how your promo performs. Any client who expects "free rewrites" until you get a winner is being unreasonable.

If your client wants a significant revamp of copy you wrote already---even if it's already been a control---they should expect to pay you an additional fee.

Side note #1: I always make free updates (if they're not significant---no more than a few paragraphs) or provide free headline/leads to test or email ads to drive traffic or offer tests or whatever when I have a current control promo I want to keep alive and keep earning royalties on. But if a huge chunk of the promo needs to be changed, that's getting into "rewrite" territory.

Side note #2: If your initial test didn't beat the control but performed respectably, or came close to winning, see if you can't do a re-test or re-working of the promo. Again, don't offer to do a complete do-over for free (unless you really need that first sample). But if it's just trying a different headline, lead, or offer, do it for free if they're willing to give you another shot. (P.S. That's how I got my Tax Hotline control on the second try with Boardroom!)

I hope these lessons give you some new and valuable insights into running your copywriting or freelance business. You deserve to be treated as the professional you are. And I get upset when I see other copywriters getting used and abused by clients...or bending over backwards to yield to their unreasonable demands.

Not only is it bad for them, it's bad for all of us, as it rewards bad client behavior and makes them think their expectations are reasonable. So they try them on the next copywriter that comes along, too. We let enough of them get away with it, and it becomes an industry "norm".

That's it for this week's edition (hope I didn't tick off any of my clients who are reading this...but clearly, I'm NOT talking about you. Otherwise I wouldn't be working with you! You're the best-est...)

And because I've shared a lot of promo breakdowns with you over the past 24 hours (and have a deadline I need to meet), "What's in Kim's Mailbox" will be back next week.

In the meantime, take a look at what's in your email inbox. If you see any interesting promos you'd like me to take a look at and consider featuring in a future edition of "What's in Kim's Mailbox", please forward them on to me at

While you're there, check out those emails and promo examples that I sent you over the past day or so if you haven't done so yet. I think you'll get a lot out of reading those promo backstories. I know I enjoyed sharing them.

Yours for smarter marketing,


P.S. If while going back and reading those promo backstories you decide you want to grab some swipes---but think it's too late to save 50%, no worries...I've extended the deadline for the HALFJAN19 savings until midnight PST tonight to give you some extra time.

Remember that discount code is also good to save half on the sale price of my "Buy 'em All" complete swipe file, and gives you free swipes every time I add more to it (I just added 2 more promos to it the other day so it now gives you 33+ promos).

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