Category: Copywriting Secrets

Trade secrets of the most successful copywriters, exposed.

How to “Stalk” a Client

Before you get the wrong idea, Cupcake, from looking at today’s “stalking” title… no, we are NOT about to review the best places to hide in people’s bushes or which telephoto lens get you in close for those elusive sunbathing shots.

Rather, let’s dive into a hot-off-the-presses piece sent over by our pal Chris Marlow, the famous career coach to copywriters the world over.  I’ll let Chris take it from here…

 

When stalking pays off

by Chris Marlow, the Copy Coach

 

Have you ever met your perfect match… in a client?

But they barely know you’re alive?

You’ve studied your market like your should.

You know what your ideal client looks like. And this potential client meets every criteria… and then some.

You love their product… maybe you even use it. Perhaps their office is right next door!

But their copy is crap. You could do so much better. You could make money for them!

The company grosses well over $5 million a year and they have a marketing director.

They don’t have a copywriter on staff nor do they have an agency they work with. 

No one’s mentioned an entrenched freelancer. The door should be wide open!

But your calls aren’t getting through and your letters haven’t produced. 

What in the world is wrong with them?

It’s time to go into stalker mode

Now before you call the marketing cops, what I mean by “stalker mode” is that you simply adopt a “don’t give up” strategy. (Some others may call this stalking.)

Because if you truly believe that you can do wonders for that client — if they’d just give you the chance — then you owe it to them to be persistent. 

Remember: if you don’t do the grunt work of finding them, then they have to do the grunt work of finding you. 

By contacting them, you’re doing them a favor! This is always the mindset you should have because it is true.

Believe me… your marketing directors and business owners would agree with the statement: by contacting them with a perfect match, you’re doing them a favor.

So the logic goes:

** Don’t give up quickly on a perfect match

** Don’t be an annoying pest and badger them weekly… every three weeks to monthly works best

** Have something new to say or offer each time you come back

** Know when to fold ‘em (my own personal threshold is not more than 7 months of contacts — after that I delete their database entry with great relish because the fools  — they so missed out!)

Combine stalking with flattery

Flattery combines really well with stalking. 

In fact, in marketing circles it’s acknowledged that “Flattery will get you everywhere.”

And for whatever reason, flattery works really well with those who hire copywriters. They are human, after all.

In my “get clients” coaching with copywriters, we’ve found many ways to effectively flatter the prospect.

One of my favorites is to say something to the effect of, “I’m looking for one very special client to round out my roster of clients. I’ve studied 250 websites over several months looking for just the right match. I’m writing you because I believe I’ve found it in your company.”

Now first of all, there is no lying. My students do look at between 250 and 500 websites to compile their customized target list.

But do you see how flattering it is to let your prospect know how hard you worked to find her? And by saying you’re looking for one very special addition to your client list, you don’t come off looking like you’re flat broke with no work.

Rather, you look like you’re busy but smart enough to take the time to do your marketing.

The flattery is such that potential clients want to know more. “Really?”, they say. “How is that?”

The right kind of flattery can open a conversation that starts off on the right foot, because this type of flattery carries with it a strong dose of curiosity. They want to know more. “What was it about our company that…?” You’ll notice a tone of pride in their voice… which lets you know that, as a copywriter, you’ve hit a hot button.

There are other ways to flatter a prospective client, but this approach has been a winner for me most of my copywriting career and I’ve shared it with many students as I copy chief their letters. 

It’s such an effective approach that it’s now standard in all of my prospecting letters, in one form or another.

There’s a famous direct mail letter written for Newsweek that used the same principle of flattery to sell millions of subscriptions:

“If the list upon which I found your name is any indication, this is not the first — nor will it be the last — subscription letter you receive. Quite frankly, your education and income set you apart from the general population and make you a highly-rated prospect….”

Yes… flattery will get you everywhere if used correctly and direct response history shows that to be true. 

So the next time you market your services, think about adding a bit of curiosity-building flattery and for ideal clients, a bit of stalking. You’re likely to close a few more deals.

Thanks Chris!

Great advice, as always. And an interesting take on a thorny problem, especially for new writers.

By the way, if you want more of Chris’ wisdom — and why wouldn’t you — you out to check out the free webinar she’s giving next week, on June 4.

It’s a full hour of her revealing exactly how lots of top freelancers fill their calendars with new work. Oh, and there’s a Saturday, June 7 option if you can’t swing Wednesday. Plus, it’s free.

Take a look here for details: http://chrismarlow.com/free-training

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The Things Copywriters Wish Designers Knew

With online direct response giving good ol’ fashioned print direct mail a run for its money, you’ve got double the dealings with designers when it comes to getting  your copy seen by the general public. So what is it you’ll want any designer you work with to know?

First, the general rule is that good design can’t make bad copy work, but bad design can destroy the performance of good copy. So it matters. Just know how it matters. But what else can you do to make sure you get a “good” design for any sales pieces you write? To start, you’ll at least want your designer to know the following… 

  • Fancy design isn’t always good design. Your first aim is readability. Your second is to make sure the copy isn’t obscured by the design. Good design makes the copy feel easy to read. 
  • If you throw a designed piece of copy onto a table with other pieces of finished direct mail designs… and it disappears into the pile… you’ve got a problem. 
  • No screened images behind text. No screened images behind text. Did I mention? Please avoid screened images behind text.
  •  When in doubt, cut graphics before cutting copy. Really. By the time the designer gets a piece, the copy should be airtight. Or close to it. Graphics are less important than the written message. That’s just the way it goes.
  • Designers need to understand the motivations of the target market just as much as the marketers and copywriters. There’s no way to be a good designer when you’re working in a vacuum. 

One last thing, but very important: Always, always, always ask that your designer reads the copy. I’m blown away by how many don’t. And it shows. Boy does it show.

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How Woody Allen Would Write Copy

An interviewer asked Woody Allen how to write a joke.  Here’s what Allen said: “It depends on where I want it to take me.  First, I figure out where I want to end up.  Then I start asking questions so I can work backward to a beginning.”

Writing the end first is something a lot of novelists also do. Same for screenwriters.

So maybe it won’t come as a surprise to you that a lot of successful direct response copywriters to this too. For instance, I once asked great copywriter Bill Christensen how he gets started. “I write the offer card before anything else,” he said. “And then the sales close. Then I’ve got something to aim for in the rest of the letter.”

I was just getting started when he told me that. And I’ve done the same ever since.

Try it yourself. Especially if you ever feel unfocused or unsure of how to begin. Start writing by drafting a reply card and a sales close… and see if it doesn’t clarify your whole game plan.

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In Picture Ads, The Eyes Have It

eyeHere’s a quickie insight and useful tip:

The common wisdom is that everybody loves a pretty face, right? Not always so, says Bryan Eisenberg over at grokdotcom.

 Oh sure, the pretty face does attract attention. But that’s the problem. In ads, a real looker can pull a visitor’s eyes away from your message.

Heat maps showing viewer interest reveal that we impulsively go to the eyes first in a face.  This is especially true if it’s a head-on shot where the face in the ad is making eye-contact with the viewer. And that can detract attention from where you want the prospect’s attention to end up, which is with the content of your ad.

But when the model’s eyes look aside, the same heat maps show that viewers tend to follow the model’s gaze to where it lands. A good photographer knows this to be true, too. Portraits with someone looking directly at the camera have a very different feel from those where the subject looks off-frame or into an empty space.

For the marketer — even a copywriter — this matters when you choose stock photos or when you higher someone to take pictures for your promos? If you’re in that situation, ask the model to look in the direction of your product or headline instead.

(Or, in a pinch, use Photoshop to make it happen.)

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Which Sells Best, Stories or Stats?

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“Simplicity is the peak of civilization.”
– Jessie Sampter

Do this: Write down the word “baby.”

Now, how does that word make you feel?

Try it with another baggage-friendly word like “family” or “war.” Or any other phrase that gets your inner emotional stew simmering.

Done? Good. No, dear reader, you haven’t stumbled into a 1970’s sensitivity training group.

There will be no hugs here. And no massaging your chakras (I mean, really… who does that in public?)

Rather, I’m just trying to warm you up for today’s issue. See, I’m still reading that book I mentioned, “Made to Stick.” (Okay — listening to it as an audio book, during the morning run. But in print or audio, I recommend you get a copy too.)
And this morning, the book gave me a shocker worth sharing.

So now that I’ve got you “primed” to receive (I’ll explain what I mean in just a second, let’s begin…

Which Works Best, Stats or Stories?

Carnegie-Mellon, says the book, did a study. They invited participants in to take a survey. The topic wasn’t important — something about tech products — but what mattered was the small payout. Each participant got paid with five $1 bills. They also got an unexpected letter and an empty envelope. The letter asked for donations for an international charity called “Save the Children.” But different groups got different letters.

One letter dripped with grim statistics. In one African country, it said, 3.2 million stand on the brink of starvation. In another, 2.4 million have no easy access to clean water. In a third, almost 4 million need emergency shelter. Each problem was gigantic and serious.

The second letter had only a story. “Rokia,” it said, “is a 7-year-old girl from Mali, Africa. She’s desperately poor and faces a threat of severe hunger or even starvation. Her life will be changed for the better as a result of your financial gift. With your support, and the support of other caring sponsors, Save the Children will work with Rokia’s family and other members of the community to help feed her, provide her with education, as well as basic medical care and hygiene education.”

Which worked better?

Now, dear reader, I know your momma raised no dummies. You’re going to tell me that the Rokia letter cleaned up. And you’d be right.

On average, Rokia’s letter took in $2.38 in donations from the test group. The stat-soaked letter took in only an average of $1.14.
But that’s not the big surprise, is it? No, of course not. (What kind of storyteller do you think I am, after all?)

See, the study didn’t stop there…

How Less Really Can Mean a Lot More

The researchers then called in a third group. You’ll get paid for taking this survey, they said again.

Only this time, instead of giving the participants only one letter with their cash — everybody got both the story AND the stats together.

Great, you might say.

Heart AND head. A real one-two punch. Wouldn’t that net you both the bleeding hearts and the brainiacs, all in one sweep?

As it turns out, no.

Not only did combining both approaches fail to gas up the giving engines… it doused the pitch-power of the story-only approach with ice water.

The combo group, on average, gave almost a dollar LESS than the story-only group alone.

Just $1.43.

Isn’t that amazing?

I thought so.

But even more amazing was the last part of the experiment. This time, just to make sure of their conclusion, the researchers invited in a fourth group.

This time everybody would only get the stronger Rokia letter. But beforehand, they would complete an exercise.

Half the group would finish some simple math problems. The other half would answer a word challenge like the one I gave you at the start of this issue: Give word, write down feelings.

What happened?

Incredibly, the group that got “primed” with the emotional exercise gave an almost equal $2.34… but the analytically “primed” group AGAIN gave less, for an average of just $1.26.

These were unrelated calculations. But somehow just putting on a thinking cap was working like one of those tinfoil hats that crackpots wear to block out alien mind-reading waves (I’ve got to get me one of those).

Nearest the researchers could figure is that, while analytical thinking can shore up beliefs or activate a reader’s capacity for focus, it actually stymies action.

To get someone to act, they need to go beyond beliefs to the feelings they HOLD about those beliefs. Feelings inspire action.

And I don’t just mean that in the “touchy-feely let’s all hug a kitten and light a vanilla candle” kind of way. All persuasion works best when it focuses most on core emotions, not cerebral abstractions.
I know this charity, “Save the Children,” pretty well by the way. My wife and I have a Danish friend who works for them.

She’s a talented photographer.

Whenever there’s a crisis, her boss dips into the funds and puts our friend and her camera on a plane.
Burned out post-war zones, post-tsunami and typhoon disaster areas, dirt poor African villages — she’s been there, capturing a personal, eyewitness view.

Why?

Because in the charities well-tested experience, those individual on-the-scene images raise more money than a boatload of shocking statistics ever could.

I know that I’m going to try to work more of the “story of one” effect into my future promos. Maybe you should too.

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How to Ace Any Job Interview

frustrated-job-applicant.jpg Interviewers will tell you, they hire based on qualifications… experience… results… and so on and so forth, blah blah, etc.

Says Richard Wiseman, in his book “59 Seconds…” they’re mostly kidding themselves. And he’s got 30 years of psychological research to back him up on this point… including a joint study by the University of Washington and the University of Florida.

Two researchers followed the job searches of over one hundred students, from the creation of their resumes and their lists of qualifications through to the content of their interviews, replete with follow up thorough interviews and questionnaires.

The same researchers then contacted the interviewers and quizzed them too. They noted everything from general impressions to job requirements, skill matching, and so on. And, of course, whether the interviewers expected to make a job offer.

What was the key?

Not past experience. Not school performance or other qualifications. Not even embarrassingly low salary requirements or the cost of the suit worn to the interview.

Over and over again… it came down to how much the interviewer “liked” the interviewee. Yep. It came down to being irresistibly… personable.

Is that fair? I haven’t a clue. But it is what it is.

Gallup says the same, looking at presidential polling going back to the 1960s. Consistently, a candidate’s “likability” has more reliably predicted who will take the White House, more than any other factor.

Says the University of Toronto, the same goes for divorce — people others characterize as more “likable” end up about half as likely to get divorced. And doctors who rank as more “likable” are far less likely to get sued for malpractice, even if something goes wrong with a patient.

Likewise, says Wiseman, your “likability” can save your life — since doctors are more likely to urge pleasant patients to stay in touch and come back in for frequent checkups.

But what’s all this matter if you’re NOT looking for a job… getting married… visiting doctors… or seeking to run the country? Simple.

See, likability is simply another way of saying you’ve managed to persuade someone to trust you.

Both aren’t both those things — trust and persuasion — the very oxygen that sustains a good marketer and a good copywriter?

Yes, Cupcake. Yes they are.

If indeed that’s right, that you can persuade anybody to do anything just by being more likable… then how do you go about it?

Wiseman had a few tips. And in some ways, they’re not at all what you might think. For instance, he says, in interviews you might look to go in swinging, with a barrage of your best selling points right up front. After all, you want to impress… yes? No, actually. Not yet.

Research shows it’s much better, says Wiseman, to come in positive and personable… but to quickly get past a worrisome weakness first.

That way, you come across more genuine. People are less likely to trust you if you’re too perfect.

What’s more, says the same research, you’re also better off saving really impressive details for later. Why? For the same reason, coming in with them early sounds like boasting… holding them until later smacks of humility. It also lets the good bits linger longer, after the interview is over.

Reading that made me wonder, could the same be true in copy? Indeed it could. Think of the best classic ads of all time. Rags to riches and bumbling genius stories abound. (e.g. Every variation of “They laughed when I said…” ad ever written).

Likewise, consider what Dale Carnegie used to say. You’ll win more friends in two months, he said in his famous book about how to do just that, by developing a genuine interest in the people around you… than you will in two years of trying to make them interested in you.

In interviews, Wiseman says that means you need to show genuine interest in the company or client you’re trying to woo by knowing something about what they care about, by asking questions, and by offering a sincere compliment about something you admire.

And don’t be afraid to go off topic and chat — sensibly — with your interviewer about something he or she cares about too. Or rather, getting them to talk while you listen.

In copy, you do the same when you show you know what your prospect worries about… and when you do the work of finding out what they want a product to do for them in return.

You do that, too, when you use examples and analogies they can understand in their own terms… and when you tell them stories where they can see themselves, either as victim or hero.

In short, like the company looking to hire, your copy prospect is “interviewing” you and the product you’re selling, too. They want more than just the thing you’re offering. They want more than just the irrefutable data points you’ve dug up, too.

They want to know, most importantly, if they can trust you. They want to know… if they could learn to like you.

And will they?

If you don’t already think this way, you’ll be surprised how much it will change more than just your pitch. It will change the way you do business.

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What’s the Secret to Selling Bad Products?

chaplinCopywriters are hired guns. We usually don’t create the products we sell, just get hired to sell them. So how, pray tell, are you supposed to write copy that sells a product that… well… stinks?

Here’s the simple answer: You don’t.

And no, not just because making a strong tease for an unworthy product presents a serious moral challenge — though, that’s reason enough to turn down the job right there. But also because, frankly, bad products are  just… well… harder to sell.

Here’s how marketing great Roy Williams put it once in his famed “Monday Morning Memo” ezine…

“Give me a business that delights its customers and I can write ads that will take them to the stars. But force me to write ads for a business that does only an average job with their customers and I’ll have to work like a madman to keep that business from sliding backwards.”

Yes, you might say. It sounds so obvious. But pressed, couldn’t you or I come up with plenty of examples of businesses that managed to excel with mediocre products?

Yes, it’s possible.

And not always for reasons easy to explain. Perhaps customers at the start of a certain market just had fewer options. But where, these days, are you going to find businesses with no competitors?

Choice has exploded across all kinds of product lines.

For that reason, it means that taking on copywriting assignments for inadequate products or services is a situation you should find yourself in less and less. If at all. Since, fortunately, a multitude of choice for the customer also often means more choice for you when you’re talking about which products to write copy for and which clients to take on.

What to do if a good client brings you something mediocre to sell?

You have a choice. Either work with the client to make the bad product better (I’m doing that right now with a newsletter that’s decent, but needs to “bump it up” another 10% before it meets customer needs)… or bag the project altogether… and let your client know why, albeit with diplomacy.

If that’s a problem for the client, then you have the more difficult but ultimately career-enhancing choice of moving on to somebody else who’s got a more thorough and thoughtful core strategy for servicing customers.

It’s that simple.

Sure, all that said, sometimes you still might find yourself uncomfortably committed to a bad campaign. It happens. Never berate the client. But don’t be a pushover or a sucker either.

Again, this is either where you’re going to suggest possible ways to sell even better, in a consultant’s even tones and with the understanding that re-working the product might involve re-working your deal… or offer to take a kill fee and maybe even to share your research with the next copywriter who comes along.

The bottom line is that half-finished products and ideas CAN be sold without compromising your own integrity, but only if you’re willing to work with the client to make them whole. This is especially true in the information industry, where products can often be improved on the fly.

Just realize, even then… it can take a lot of work to get them there.

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What Keeps Your Customer Up at Night?

cantsleep1The meteorite in the rear view mirror. The 35 earthquakes, on average, that rock the globe every day. The threat of hurricanes and tsunamis. The doom of cosmic rays that would otherwise rip our DNA to shreds, were it not for the thin magnetic field protecting earth.

These are awesome, overarching realities of existence. 

But would you read a sales letter about any of them? Maybe, maybe not. But now consider the pain of arthritis. The horror of halitosis. Dandruff, psoriasis, and public speaking. The date you’ll never get. The weight you’ll never lose. 

 Or how about fear of not surviving this current market crunch… or making a terrible investment? How about the fear of joint pain, heart attack, or cancer? How about the fear of just looking stupid?

Fear of saying the wrong thing to the opposite sex… fear of wearing the wrong shoes to a party… fear of flashing your yellow teeth on a date… or God forfend, the fear of looking fat in a thong?

Or perhaps the most devastating problem of all, an “embarrassment of riches.”

 You notice immediately that fear — the deeply felt and personal kind — is local.

Personal. Immediate. And it’s no accident these same personal, immediate fears are the ones that tend to hold the most hooking power for headline writers. Not only because they’re specific. But because we have sense of exactly what they mean to us. And we’re emotionally connected to the outcome.

Just as importantly, these immediate fears are attached to problems we feel we can solve… or hope we can.  Your customers share that same sentiment. And tapping it is the key for you, as a copywriter, to making leads that start in the negative work. 

The more seasoned you are, however, you quicker you realize that fear alone doesn’t make the sale. Showing you know the cause of anxiety wins you attention, but what really makes a fear headline work is the hint of a solution. An antidote. A key to escape the prison of worry.

Think about some of the most famous copywriting classics:

“Do You Make These Mistakes In English?”… “Do You Do Any of These Ten Embarrassing Things?”… “Why Some Foods ‘Explode’ In Your Stomach”… “Have You A ‘Worry’ Stock?”…

 All focus on a fear innate to the target market.

But what really makes them work is what you don’t see here, but what’s surely delivered in the copy that follows… the promise of better language skills… better social skills… better health from better eating… safer investing…

 By the end, the copy transforms the customer from pessimist to optimist, full of hope and ready to try whatever it is you have to offer. Of course, once you see it’s a pre-existing worry you’re identifying, almost any headline could be a ‘fear’ headline, at least indirectly.

 “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” for instance, works because the copywriter identified the common fear of feeling alone or unimportant. Another headline classic, “Are You Ever Tongue-Tied at a Party?” identifies a similar fear.

But in each case, what makes the headline work is not just empathy for a reader’s concerns. That’s only the hook. Where the copy works is in offering a final, credible solution. If you can manage that… well then… you’ve nothing to be afraid of, right?

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Was Steve Right?

Silly shorts aside, in the video below Steve Jobs bares what he sees as the soul of Apple’s famous “Think Different” campaign just after it was written.

I’ll let you watch to hear what he says is the “why” behind it, but the sum of it is… a great product is so much more than its parts and the great appeal to a prospect is so much more than what we can see on the side of the box.

Take a look and then ask yourself… how does what he say here fit with what I’m selling and how I’m trying to sell it? And should it fit that way? Bottom line: was Steve right? Opinions welcome:

 

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Seven Toxic Habits That Could Wreck Your Writing Career

“It is a great thing,” said Cicero, “to know our vices.”

With that in mind, let’s dig in and take a look at some positively poison habits that could dash any aspiring copywriters career. No, I don’t mean the biggies like gorging yourself on pizza… quaffing gin with breakfast… or hanging out with loose women and/or using that exercise bike you bought last year only as a towel rack.

Arguably, these are the habits that just make copywriters more interesting. But in this post, I’m only talking about the little work-related habits. Each of them all too easy for any copywriter, even one with the best intentions, to develop…

Bad Habit #1: Compulsive “Inboxing”

Here’s one of those bad habits where yours truly was once guilty as charged.

I’ll be frank. I’m a nut for technology. The nerd gene, in our family, runs long and deep. In 1981, my brother and I were using an early Apple desktop with a cassette tape drive and 300 baud phone line to log onto local “bulletin boards.” In the early 1990s, I was among the first in our office to use Compuserve via dial-up… and first to tap into search engines (remember “Archie” and “Veronica?” Way before Google’s time)…

 And even now, I’m about as armed as you can get with POP accounts, instant messaging, and all the rest. There isn’t anything I can’t FTP, bit-transfer, or digitally find. But still, I’ve learned one has to be careful. Even the best technology is a distraction if you let it intrude on your deadlines.

 Email especially.

 Over the last year, I consciously re-prioritized my email activity to fall later on my to do list. Emails no longer get answered instantly. Unless they’re urgent, they can wait for my reply. The results have been liberating. And profitable.

Ironically, you can find dozens of “productivity websites” offering exactly the opposite advice. Along with elaborate systems for keeping your inbox clear at all times, including how to empty out your inbox early as part of the “fresh start” for the day. And to those I say… baloney.

 Don’t get me wrong.

 Email is a valuable tool. It makes my laptop career possible, in more ways than one. But just answering emails around the clock won’t get the job done, no matter how productive it makes you feel at the time.

Which is a good way to segue into…

Bad Habit #2: Inverting the Checklist

 This too, is something I was once more guilty of than not. In fact, I still find myself slipping into this poisonous practice from time to time. By “inverting the checklist,” I’m talking about when you take your list of ‘must do’ items and flip it so that you end up doing the things of least importance first.

 Think about it.

 Most people write their checklists starting with the small details, especially the pressing items and immediate tasks. As you finish the list, the feelings of urgency fade and your imagination kicks in. You write out the big stuff, the life-defining things, the things about which you dare to dream.

 The next day, on the next to do list, you change the details on the front to much the newest, most pressing, undone stuff…

 Pick up dry cleaning. Send fax. Order paperclips.

 But the back half generally remains unchanged. And still, very general about the things you hope will eventually happen in your lifetime. Become a copywriting guru. Write the novel. See world. It’s an easy rut to fall into.

 But every success story you can imagine begins with somebody flipping that personal checklist around. The big, ambiguous accomplishments become the priorities. And the little niggling daily stuff gets pushed back, even dumped from the list entirely (though, hopefully, not to the level where personal safety, relationships, or hygiene will suffer TOO dramatically.)

 This, of course, is just as true for copywriting as it is for any other endeavor. You’ll make the most happen if you aim to get the big stuff done first. The secret is to pick the big goal and break that down with the same detailed fervor you applied to the less important details of past “to do” lists.

For instance, do you really want to be a six-figure copywriter? I get lots of emails from people telling me they do. But who also don’t think they can. I’m shocked, after digging deeper, to find out how many of those who have quit on the idea have yet to try landing even one client… have yet to try writing a full promo… have yet to even finish the exercises in whatever copywriting course they’re following.

 Each time, I lay it down: Yes, it’s true. Not everyone can succeed at this. Because not everyone has the “stuff” to do it. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be such a lucrative career path. Still, you’ll get nowhere if you don’t get started. And getting started means more than sharpening pencils every morning. It means approaching and hitting the big milestones, step by step.

 Make a daily game plan to finish the course. Get on the mailing lists and read OPC (other people’s copy). Get that one client… offering to write on spec if you have to… as the first step in building your client list. And THEN come and talk to me, yah?

Bad Habit #3: Chronic Cathode Overloading

 Oh boy, is this one a tar trap.

 I’m talking of course about television. And here too, I want you to know I’m not throwing stones. I was notorious, as a child, for getting sucked into the boob tube. Turn one on a mile from where I stood, my jaw would drop and my eyes would go wide. Think the torture scenes in Clockwork Orange, but self-imposed and self-supervised.

 Then, by circumstance, I found myself without a television. For eight years straight, it stayed that way. And I couldn’t believe what happened. I started reading. A lot.

 Mind you, I was always a reader. But not like this. I plowed through books end to end, like a chronic smoker facing the firing squad. I bought classics for 50 cents a pop at the used book store. I picked up how to books on advertising, fiction writing, and guitar. History books. Philosophy. Biographies. And more.

Where my TV wasn’t, I had IKEA bookshelves eight feet high and filled to bursting with text. Even better, I couldn’t imagine how — during my TV watching days —  I had managed to find and then waste all that time.

 I confess, we have a TV again.  We rationalize it as a learning tool, for language, since the one TV we own we keep in our apartment in France. DVDs are now the danger. And the Internet. Both have a similar power for sucking up time. Still, I read plenty. Less fiction, since I don’t find as much of the modern stuff nearly as satisfying. But lots of books and articles related to what I’m writing about. Plus, I’m a heavy user of audio books on all kinds of subjects, from trade and finance to science and ideas of all different kinds.

 You don’t have to toss your TV. Especially not if it’s one of the brand spankin’ new flat screen variety. But do try switching it off… or even unplugging it… for awhile. A week. A month. And see what happens. You might be surprised.

Bad Habit #4: Writing from the Mountaintop

 No question, one of the things I love about my copywriting career is the isolation. An open window, a quiet room, the clack of the keyboard. It’s how I prefer working, most of the time. And it’s usually all I need to feel like the master of the universe.

 Still, there’s a danger to be aware of. Even as a writer, you can’t be alone with your ideas all the time. Because writers, even the great ones, grow stale in isolation. It’s the energy you draw with contact from other people that keeps your writing interesting.

 In copy, that means regular if occasional contact with colleagues and customers. Brainstorming meetings. Trade seminars. Company cocktail parties and, yes, happy hours. If you get the invitation to mingle with like minds, you shouldn’t pass it up. Make a point of staying in touch. Phone calls will do, but a few hours of face time is even better. Both social and professional.

Bad Habit #5: Tossing the Road Map

 What’s the point of speeding if you don’t know where you’re going? If you never get where you’re headed, it doesn’t matter one lick if you’re making great time. Germane to copywriting, I’m talking about passionate writers who consistently miss the point of why they’re writing or what they’re writing about.

 Exhibit A, the new writer that’s passionate about the idea they’re pitching… without a game plan for how they’re going to lay the whole thing out. Start with at least a general outline. An end and a middle, not just a beginning.

 Before you pile up research, ask yourself: What’s this product really about? Who’s this customer and where does he stand? Where do I need to take him to make the final sale? Early in my own career, I wrote without a map.

 I started and let my research pull me through, heading down this path and that. Sometimes it worked. Most of the time it did not. Then I started dissecting other pieces to see how they came together. I “lifted out” the outlines and stuck it together again, with my own research draped over the skeleton instead.

 Now I write my own outlines. Because I’ve got the basic structure imprinted on my memory already. Once you’ve got this, it helps all kinds of you make all kinds of choices about how to the whole piece will come together… just as planned.

 Bad Habit #6: Radical Revisionism

 The opposite of too little planning is, of course, over-planning. And this too, in copy, can happen to the best of them. After all, great copy has the feel of being written fast and spontaneously. Yet, we’ve also always heard that great writers revise.

 So when do you stop perfecting?

 Where do you draw the line?

I once knew a writer who spent over a month writing and re-writing his headline. Once he had it, he moved on to writing his first line. How long would THAT take him? Nobody waited to find out. The company had to fire him. See, here’s the thing. You’ve got to recognize what all the editing you’ll do is actually for.

 You’re going back to tighten, yes. To take out the clumsy phrases, to clarify the ideas, and more.

 You’re revising, too, so you can hide the seams and stiches, the girders and rivets, and all those other pieces of your construction that need to be there but remain hidden so as not to impede the flow of your prose.

 After that, though, there comes a time when you just… have to… let… it… go. Let it mail. Let if flop. Let it win. But get it out there to get tested, where all good (and bad) copy belongs.

 Polish the writing, yes. But remember that you’re nothing as a copywriter if your copy never, ever mails. Speed up that process to get it out there, in as many ways as you can.

 Bad Habit #7: Thin-skinned Amateurism

 It’s not easy, in this biz, not to take lots of things personally. You spend a lot of time alone with the things you’re writing, after all. So when a critique feels extra harsh… when a client seems less than happy… when a mailing flops… at least once in awhile, you’re going to feel personally let down.

Don’t.

It’s great to throw yourself into your work. It’s great to feel responsible for results. But the truth of the matter is, it’s also a sign of a real pro if, whenever you get knocked down, you get up brushing off the dust and ready to go all over again.

 Instead of defending yourself during a critique, ask questions that open you up for more. On flopped mailings, study the results. Do a post-mortem on the copy to find out what happened. And them move on. Maybe getting the flop out there was the best way to unveil the newer, better idea that will work the next time.

You never know until you give it a shot.

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