Issue #88—December 13, 2019
Well, it's Friday the 13th...and just a little while ago my computer screen suddenly froze up, went all pixelated for a second, and then went black. But fortunately, my "high-tech" solution of turning the computer off and back on again did the trick (after a temporary freak out).
So take THAT, "Friday the 13th!"
I sure hope your Friday is going well, in spite of the date. If you didn't get my email earlier announcing my brand new mentoring program, you can get the details here.
Now, without further delay (please computer screen, don't flip out on me again), I'm going to dig in to as many of your burning questions I received this week as I can before I have to break for lunch...and give you my frank, un-cut, honest (and in some cases, "controversial") answers in this week's issue.
Let's get rolling before the "Friday the 13th" computer gods strike again...
Q: How can I get started as a copywriter business with no list and only $100 to invest?
A: If I wanted to get started as a freelance copywriter with minimal upfront investment, I'd do two things:
1) I'd get on as many free email lists as possible and start collecting and studying promotions sent to those lists (I began studying and analyzing as many direct mail controls as I could when I first started out), and...
2) I'd read the classic books on copywriting and direct marketing. Two books I read the first month I decided to become a freelance copywriter are "Scientific Advertising" and "My Life in Advertising", both by Claude Hopkins.
You can find the first book multiple places online, but check it out here (and get some other free training goodies courtesy of the late great Gary Halbert and his still-very-much-alive sons Bond and Kevin). There are also some good Facebook groups with copywriter resources and connections. My favorites are The Copywriter Club, Justin and Stefan Talk Copy (Justin Goff and Stefan Georgi's group), and The Gary Halbert Copy Club.
While taking advantage of as much "free" training as I could, I would also start banking my funds so I could travel to live events where I'd have the chance to meet new clients, and/or consider joining a mentoring program (where a copy mentor can connect you to potential clients) and/or Copy Chief where you can become part of a community of copywriters. There also may be opportunities, depending on where you live, to attend industry trade shows (often you can go for free) and meet potential clients. (If you're interested in natural health there are a slew of these trade shows held internationally).
I also remember trolling for clients (sometimes Carline Anglade-Cole and I went together) at the local DC chapter of the Direct Marketing Association's monthly luncheon meetings...it was only $30 or so to attend. So if it resulted in just one client gig it was a great ROI. The DMA has now merged with the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and it looks like they still put on some local events, which you can find out about here.
Q: What are your top 3 recommendations for beginner copywriters for getting their first-ever client?
A: See my responses to the previous question, but in addition, I would work my "network" as much as possible. Your network may include a past employer, current or former coworkers, friends, neighbors, and family members. Let everyone know you are hanging up your "shingle". At the same time, focus on building your skills and create practice promos for yourself (and hand-copy successful promos as well). You want to make sure you know what you're doing with copywriting before you bring on that first client. Because your best "second" client will either be repeat business from that first client, a referral from that client, or both.
Q: Is $1 million/year in revenue from my campaigns in total (from mostly email) enough to give me SOME bragging rights, or is it so low I should keep it for myself until I get it higher? And since it's the holiday season and I'm feeling extra pushy...I was thinking about doing a direct mail piece to send out to larger prospects (something akin to what Goff did with his mastermind invitation with a special gift + message with CTA to work with me). If the copy's good think it might work, or should I focus on building referrals like you talk in your 3Rs course? Happy holidays!
A: I don't have enough info here to tell if this is revenue from your own email list. If so, congrats! That is definitely brag-worthy---is your name Laura Belgray by chance? (she did an article on hitting this threshold recently, and she's on this list).
Or is it revenue you've generated for your own copywriting clients (in which case, it's pretty decent and you could still throw it around, though with big companies it obviously won't be as impressive). When you think about it, anyone who can sell a million dollars' worth of anything simply using words you type on a keyboard is a bit of a magician. It's pretty cool what we do, isn't it?
I was on Justin's mailing list and due to a mailing snafu (he'd sent it to my P.O. box and it got returned to FedEx and I followed up too late on it, only to find out later it was an offer to his mastermind with a $100 bill inside). However, I know that ended up being very successful for him. If you have a similar offer for a consulting or coaching-type program or mastermind event, I think it could work well.
I think anyone sending out anything physical into people's mailboxes these days will get the chance to stand out, as there's less competition there than ever...and you get the "staying power" of sticking around, especially if you offer something of value. Maybe consider in your case a special report, checklist, or "cheat sheet" or other tool your target prospect will find helpful that showcases your expertise and what you can do for them.
See the answer to the previous question about getting referrals, and add "referrals from your current clients" to that list. You should always be nurturing your relationships with fellow colleagues, past and current clients, and others in your industry by not just asking for referrals and other help, but by being helpful to THEM.
Ask them what they most need help with, and see if you can provide it. I'm always looking to make mutually-beneficial introductions for people I know and meet, and it always comes back to me in spades. What goes around, comes around!
Q: I notice more and more copywriters are selling their own products to up-and-coming copywriters. Is something happening in the industry that is driving this huge wave of copy gurus? Are the copywriting golden years over?
A: This is a very interesting question, and I can see why you're asking it. There are multiple factors at work here. As a 20+ year veteran freelancer, I've seen a lot of changes in the industry. There used to be a handful of direct response behemoths who, once they had a successful promo, could mail that control to millions of people on their mailing lists.
A top A-level copywriter could easily rake in $100,000 or more in royalties on a single direct mail drop to say, 2 million mailboxes. Now some of these former behemoths aren't anywhere near as big or actively mailing. Others have made the leap, some much more successfully and aggressively than others, to online.
Are top copywriters still raking in lots of money in royalties? I've definitely seen a bigger uptick in what I'm earning from online royalties compared to 5 years ago, while direct mail royalties continue to shrink (in part due to there being fewer recent buyers on mailing lists, so even if you get a hot control there's a limit to how much you can scale with it).
On the other hand, there is more opportunity to write copy than ever before. There are tons more potential clients, and while there is more competition in terms of copywriters, most clients are still desperate for good copywriters...and willing to pay for them.
So the pie has gotten larger, even if it's sliced up more thinly. You may need to have more clients/projects/successful controls under your belt to make the kind of money that the likes of Jim Rutz or Gary Bencivenga made back in the day.
You may also find that it's worthwhile, once you've really proven yourself, to goose your earnings by going in-house with a big company like Agora (like Clayton Makepeace did a few years ago) or another company with a huuuuuuge house file where you can really rack up big royalties due to their ability to scale.
However, some of us prefer to remain "unchained" (like yours truly). There are many copywriters who you've never heard of...who've never put themselves out but prefer to stay behind the scenes writing controls--people like Kent Komae, Susie Belttari, and others---who quietly plug away making hefty six-figure incomes without anyone knowing who they are. As far as why copywriters are selling their own products, I can't speak for everyone---just myself.
For me, it was at two-fold realization:
1) I've lived a very good and rich life thanks to freelance copywriting. And if I can help more people be able to achieve the earning potential and freedom and control over their lives that copywriting can bring them, that's gratifying to me.
2) I'd been itching to use other parts of my brain besides the writing side for years. In fact, almost 9 years ago I started thinking about where I wanted to move on from copywriting. The fact that the earnings continued (and continue) to be so good and all the other perks of freelance life made it hard to figure out "what's next".
In fact, I found myself throwing myself into a multitude of volunteer projects on the side to satisfy my marketing urges, like fundraising at the private school my kids attended to build a new arts center, and serving on their Board and revamping their summer camp marketing.
It wasn't until a nudge from Ben Settle, who I met a few years ago at an AWAI dinner, that I got the "bug" to start putting myself out there and offer up my training and advice. And now here we are. It's something I not only find extremely gratifying (and is why it's also evolved to my offering my new copy mentoring program), it lets me use my marketing chops, be more in control of my business and life, and work on my own terms. It's really fun and freeing to write copy for myself...though I still write copy for clients as well.
So those are my reasons. It's not that the "golden years" are over. For me, they're just kind of starting, at least in a new and exciting way...and there's plenty of golden opportunity out there for you, too, as a copywriter. I can't speak for others, like I said, but the "proliferation" of copy gurus out there is in part due to the fact that barriers to entry are low.
It's easy and cheap to put up a landing page, get an email service provider, and start hawking yourself as a copywriting expert. Some are the "real deal" and have produced dozens of controls for top companies, while others have written maybe one or two controls and now consider themselves an expert.
That's why you need to do your due diligence. The bottom line is, there are more opportunities than ever to learn from the right people and give yourself an edge so you can be successful as a copywriter. I had to take much more of a "do it yourself" approach when I was starting out a few decades ago (there wasn't even AWAI then)...though I benefited greatly from working as a marketer at Phillips Publishing, and launching and running the Healthy Directions supplement business, before going freelance.
Okay, that's all I've got time for today---it's time for a very late lunch. But I'll be back at you next Friday (or likely sooner) with more answers to burning questions people are asking. There's at least a few dozen more for me to address, so keep an eye out. In the meantime, don't let any black cats cross your path today, and enjoy your weekend!
Yours for smarter marketing,