Category: Getting Clients

Advice to a Young Writer

“If I had to give young writers advice,
I would say don’t listen to writers
talking about writing or themselves.”

– Lillian Hellman

Via an old friend, a young writer sent me an email: How, he wanted to know, should he get started?

He’s a good-hearted guy, a poet, and does some work in the non-profit, fundraising field.

From what I could tell, he’s not really sure if copywriting is the field for him. Or moving ahead with trying to publish his poems. Or some other kind of writing.

Is there a future for him, he wonders, in fund-raising? And how about the money thing? Is every writer destined to starve?

(He didn’t ask that, but I know he’s thinking it.)

Ah… to be young and full of questions. I remember it like it was yesterday. Because, let’s face it, it WAS yesterday… wasn’t it?

Well, anyway, I sent him an answer.

Maybe more of an answer than he wanted.

In fact, I think I scared him. Because I haven’t heard from him since. Just the same, it’s what I would tell any writer… and hey, you’re writers… so how about it? Care to take a gander at what I said? Sure you do.

So here you go…

ADVICE TO A YOUNG WRITER

Dear “Al,”

I think I was telling your girlfriend, I used to be a living-room novelist. That is, I’d sit around in my apartment living room… usually in a t-shirt and boxers on Saturday mornings… with a beer and a hangover, trying to kick start various pieces I was working on.

Either that, or I’d spent a lot of time scribbling furiously in a journal. I piled up a lot of pages. But here’s the thing…

It’s hard to make time for writing if all you’re doing with your writing is making time.

You don’t want to squeeze off shots into the air. You need a target. 25 poems and a publishing deadline. 3 short stories sold by the end of the year. A publisher breathing down your neck for a manuscript.

Imagine someone will take a limb if you don’t meet the goal. Better, ask someone to take one if you don’t. That’s a metaphor, of course, about making it real.

Point being, if you’re not on the line for your writing, you’ll probably never make it happen. Blunt but true.

Fear to write? That goes away fast when you’re more afraid of what will happen to your paycheck — and your reputation — for not turning in the stuff you’ve promised to turn in.

Fear of not being persuasive? I’m not kidding, one of my writing mentors used to take me over to the window and say, “Imagine you were standing out there in the park, trying to sell a watch to that guy on the bench… and I had a deer rifle trained on your head… if he didn’t buy, you didn’t survive. What would you say to him then? Because that’s how you need to make it happen on paper.”

For me, I ultimately moved away from fiction not because I didn’t love it, but because I wasn’t doing it. I wasn’t working at it the way I knew I would need to if I really wanted to make it happen. And the rent check was due.

To get my foot in the door at the publishing company where I started, I took a $15-per-day internship as an editorial writer (this was in 1991).

I was still in grad school at the time, working during the day… going to classes at night… playing guitar with a friend in a bar after classes until closing… then getting up to do it all over again the next day.

The bar and guitar part, I could have done without. But I had to work and wiggle my way into place for the rest of it.

I was terrible at the start.

That is, my writing was technically pretty good, but I didn’t know how to write sales copy. So a lot of my earlier stuff got thrown away. Either by me or the guy who first started training me.

After about four months, I had a promo in the mail. After about six months, I had my first winning (by a narrow margin) promo, after my first year I was finally starting to get the hang of it. But I had to work at it. And the deadlines are what kept me going, when all else failed.

That’s not to say this kind of writing is for you, by the way. It might be. But you have to know first what it involves.

For instance, there are generally two types of advertising. What most agencies do is called “Brand Advertising” or “Awareness Advertising.”

They put a message out there, hope it gets noticed, and then hope it leads customers back to the product (well, the good ones hope that… the bad ad professionals just want to win awards and impress clients with how cool and witty they can be).

This can be a lucrative field if you can (a) stick out the abusive apprentice phase in which the agency tries to chew you up and spit you out, for very meager pay and (b) you don’t mind working on ads that may or may not ever sell anything.

What I do is called “direct response” or “direct mail” advertising. Basically, junk mail. Though these days, most of what we do is really happening online.

This is considered the ugly duckling of the ad world. Where copywriters from the big agencies are drinking martinis at the bar and wearing black turtleneck sweaters, direct-response copywriters are in the corner drinking beer and, probably, hovering over the free happy-hour slices of pizza.

The benefit of that second kind of advertising, however, is that every single “piece” or sales letter that gets mailed has an individual reply device, coded with the date of the mailing and, usually, the name of the copywriter who wrote it.

The same is true of sales letters online, only they’re tracked via clicks. When a customer makes an order from a letter you wrote, everybody knows it. And they pay you a royalty on it. Those royalties are part of what you negotiate when you take on the job.

I happen to work in the newsletter publishing business. But there are lots of other businesses that depend on direct-response copy. Fund raising is one of them. Business-driving brochures and websites for non-profits is another. These both tend to be less lucrative than what I’m doing, but can be pretty profitable nonetheless.

How would I suggest you get started?

You mentioned just going after the jobs without the portfolio. I think that’s best, with a twist. Rather than try to fake your way in, blind, something you can always do is go after the freelance jobs with the intention of building a portfolio. And you can say that to a prospective client too.

“Look,” you tell them, “I have experience in the non-profit field, but I’m looking to branch out. Since I’m just getting started, I can see why you’d want some kind of guarantee of getting quality copy, so how about this? Let’s settle on a base fee that’s half the normal rate. I’ll write the project and we’ll go through the draft phases. If you end up liking what we produce, you can pay me the rest of the fee. And if not, then we can cancel the project and you don’t have to pay me anything more. Does that sound fair? That way, I get to build my portfolio and you get the copy…”

Forget the school and forget building a portfolio with no clear purpose in mind, unless you’ve got a lot of time to spare. Training is good. But getting right in there and getting started is better.

That said, you do need some kind of education in the techniques. And there are piles of online courses. They cost money and you can’t be sure if what you’re getting is worthwhile.

Though, I do recommend one that some friends of mine started, called the American Writers & Artists Inc. It’s mostly about copywriting but they have other courses. You can Google it. I teach some of their writing seminars from time to time. At the very least, looking over their site will start giving you some ideas about available writer’s markets.

You can also go to a library or bookstore and look for books by Bob Bly on this and other kinds of writing careers (not “Robert Bly,” the poet, but “Bob Bly” the copywriter). If you end up going the copywriter route, let me know and I’ll send you a list of some more books that might help.

If it’s article writing you want to do, you might get a copy of “Writer’s Market 2007.” Just be aware that it’s pretty tough to make a living only writing magazine articles. Most magazine writers can be found in the kitchen washing dishes… next to the poets ūüėČ

As for leaving your job… you could do that, but I recommend you don’t. Not until you’ve at least taken a look at some of the resources I mention above to decide if they’re really for you.

And if they are, still dig into them first and make sure you like what they have to offer. Get a couple of clients or other repeating gigs, and THEN you can plunge in head first.

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Ego-Butter: How to Give a Copy Critique

redink.png I’ve gotten a few copy critiques in my day. I crave them, no matter how harsh, because that’s what makes the writing better.

I’ve also given a few copy critiques, too. And I’ve discovered that when I’m on the handler side of the red pen, there’s one essential element to making those recommendations more effective: “ego butter.”

Let me back up.

Some years ago, I was part of a conference call with a freelance copywriter. He’d been commissioned for a small job, which was tweaking the lift letter on a much larger, longer control (one I’d written, in fact).

Leading the call was friend and mentor o’ mine, the inimitable Michael Masterson. The letter was, well, weak. Michael took control of the call and made a series of what I thought were brilliant suggestions. We all concurred, except for the freelancer.

After the critique was over, the receiving end of the call went conspicuously silent. “Hello?” we said, thinking he’d slipped on a kumquat or something equally plausible.

“Mail it,” he said. “Mail it and see if it works? Then I’ll revise it.” Clearly, he was peeved. Not, dear reader, the protocol of a copywriter seeking much repeat business.

This guy, no matter how slighted by the review, clearly lost his cool. And with that, he also lost a repeat client. It was really too bad, because I distinctly remember plenty of high-paying work to go around. With some guys, there’s nothing you can do. Their skin is so thin, you could pop it with a tossed marshmallow.

But here’s the thing…

While I despised that copywriter’s behavior, it does occur to me now that, at some level I couldn’t help but sympathize.

See, while not all copywriters are the egoists and temperamental “artistes” like this guy might have been, there are reasons why — if you’re on the critiquing side of a creative exchange — you might want to take the writer’s position into consideration.

First, remember we’re only human. Remember too that good copywriters put a lot of work goes into what they produce. They spend a lot of time with it too.

By the time we’re finished the first draft, we’re connected with the result. In such a way that criticism — even the good kind — can’t help but set one back at least a little bit.

Again, if you’re a great writer and a smart one, you’ll take even the sharpest comments with a smile. But on the flip side, if you really want results from a hired gun copywriter, there’s a step you could take to get much better results. And it won’t cost you a dime.

Very simply, start with the positive. Not excessively so, not insincerely. But clearly and immediately.

Example: “I liked the headline. And oh wow, the typing was nice. And hey, is this scented paper? Nice touch. Now, let’s talk about your lead. I think I see a way to make it even stronger.”

Okay, of course I’m kidding here.

The point is, if the copy is salvageable, there’s something in it you like. Don’t save it for last. Talk about it up front. You can be honest about the stuff you don’t like to. But lower the resistance to your suggestions first.

Is that pandering? Perhaps.

But ask yourself, in any situation alike this, what’s the goal of the critique? Is it your aim only To toughen the writer’s skin… or are you out to get the best possible copy you can get?

The latter, I’d assume.

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Help Wanted…

help wanted

Know WordPress? 

How about PHP? 

And anything else along those lines, for that matter. 

Because yours truly is looking for a little help. Yep, I’m hiring. Well… in a manner of speaking. Truthfully, what I’m most likely to do is go to one of the many excellent outsourcing sites I’ve seen (DoMyStuff.com, GetFriday, Yo

urManInIndia, etc.) and hire someone from there. 

But just in case you find it interesting, here’s what I’m looking for: This website needs tweaking. For instance, I’ve discovered that it’s programmed to crash Internet Explorer 6. Not intentionally so. But it’s successful at it nonetheless.¬†

It also has a strange stickiness to it that hangs on to some design changes I’d like to dump, even after I’ve tweaked them in the behind-the-scenes customization interface. And it “breaks” some features. Like the Archives, for instance (go ahead, click ’em… you won’t get anything, even though there’s a plug in set up to deliver archives that’s supposed to do the trick.)

Then there are the things I just don’t know how to do but would like to. Add in design pages that don’t have the sidebars and header. Have sales pages that I can link to but that remain hidden until they’re referenced in ads. Create a forum for you guys to poke around and chat with each other. Create a membership only paid part of the site where I can give away lots of extra goodies. Program in some SEO keywords, etc.

And so on.

So how about it? Anyone out there a closet programming whiz? Warning… since I can outsource a lot of this stuff fairly easily, I’m not looking to hire full-time or to spend a bundle. I just want to get a couple of repairs made so I can open up access to the site and increase the traffic.¬†

Drop a comment onto this article and it will get to me via email.

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How To Get Started

startinglineI got a note from a reader who aspires to a copywriting career and wanted to know how best to get started. You can imagine, I get that question a lot. Here was my reply:

1) Keep on reading the Copywriter’s Roundtable!

2) Get some books on copywriting and study them. See the attached past issues.

3) Get on the mailing list of companies you think you could write for (your areas of interest and expertise).

4) Study those sales letters they send you too (the ones that make you want to buy, copy out by hand 3X).

5) Contact one of the companies (the marketing director or product manager, if you can find them).

6) Offer to write a sales letter “on spec” — which means they pay you if they like it.

7) Keep doing that until you have a portfolio of letters and some regular clients who hire you often.

Starting local is a good idea. Or can be. Businesses use sales letters and brochures to sell to other businesses (this is “B2B” copywriting) and then there’s the business to consumer market (“B2C”).

There’s also non-profit, but that can be a slow and less lucrative beginning. Better to get into that later, after honing your skills.

Look to the field you’re already working in, too. If you’ve been focusing on something in particular, you’re no doubt pretty knowledgeable about the products and the customers you service. Maybe enough that you could write marketing copy for that niche..

Of course, companies with information products, software companies, computer equipment companies, publishing companies… can all be good places to start.

You want to use each job as leverage to get your next assignment. And try to make each assignment that you get a little larger and more ambitious than the last.  

The more knowledge you get, start offering to give talks for companies and communities on how to use good copy to increase sales… and let people know, after the speech, that you’re a provider of those services.

¬†Find a good graphic designer (with direct mail experience, preferably) and form a “team” where you each try to bring in the other as part of new jobs.¬†

Again, you’re sure to have some hurdles in the beginning. And you need to expect to take at least six months to a year… maybe even just a little longer… to get good enough at this and established enough to make it a real career.

 Like anything worthwhile, you WILL need to put in the hours and be dedicated. But you can certainly learn how to do this, if you put in the time. 

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10 “Speed-Copy” Secrets

speedy

The better you get at writing good copy, the more clients will want access to your time. In the beginning, you’ll want to give it to them.

But as time goes by, you won’t be able to.

You’ll try to cherry pick projects, taking on only those that won’t bog you down disproportionately to what you’ll get in return.

But what happens when you have no other choice than to just… write… faster?

You can try these tips…

1) Really DO Cherry-Pick Projects

It’s great to be eager.

But you’ll find there really are some copywriting jobs that just aren’t worth it. Which ones? Be wary, for instance, of poorly baked products with no clear audience or no clear benefit for the audience they’re meant to target.

Likewise, look out for¬†projects without a passionate champion on the client side. If there’s nobody who can¬†sell you on what you’re supposed to be selling, there’s a good chance you’ll have a hard time selling it to prospects, too.

And finally, look out for projects that don’t have at least 85% of the pieces in place before you get started. Unless, that is, you’re also being paid to help develop the product… a different and more involved job than just writing the sales letter.

2) Know Your Load

Four solid hours of writing, day in and day out, with rest of the day for calls, meetings, and email is actually a pretty solid pace. Sure, one can go longer when needed. But writing can be physically draining, if you’re doing it right.

Copywriter Bob Bly once told me that, while he also logs only about four hours on each project per day, he stays fresh by working keeping two projects going at once and switching to four hours on the second project in the

I’ve tried that. And sometimes it works. But frankly, once I start working on something — anything — I get too caught up in in it to let it go. So I actively try to avoid other projects until I’ve got the first one completed.

Your style will be up to you.

3) Gather Your Resources, Part I

One of the best ways to accelerate the pace on any writing project is to feed it the nourishment in needs to get started. That nourishment is information.

Read up, interview, discuss.

Call the most central figure for the product that the client can offer and do a phone interview. Record it and start typing as you play it back.¬†You’ll need other resources along the way. But this is where you’ll need to begin, if you want to make sure you burst out of the gate with as much power as possible.

4) Build Your Framework

Once you’ve got a grasp on the general direction you’ll need to take in the promo, you’ll want — no, need — to make an outline.¬†Too many early writers skip this step. Many say they don’t need it.

Yet, for all but a rare few, unstructured writing shows. The benefit of an outline is that you know where you need to go. But you also know, as you pile up research and ideas, where you DON’T need to go.

And that’s equally important.

5) Gather Your Resources, Part II

Once you’ve pulled together a rough outline of where you’re headed, you’ll immediately start to see the additional holes you’ll need to fill.

Now it’s time to go out again and start digging. Pile up links, magazine clippings, notes from studying the product and the customer base. Notes from talking to the client.

Just for the record, the research part of your copywriting process should almost always take the most time. How much longer?

A fair breakdown, if you’re working with a product you don’t know well, is about 50% of your total time available spent on research. And then 30% on writing the first draft. Plus another 20% for polishing and revision.

6) Try Writing in 3D

You would think that writing the beginning first, the middle second, and the end last would be the best way to go. And for many writers, that’s precisely the path the follow.¬†However, I’d personally recommend creating a writing system that’s a little more non-linear.

What do I mean?

Research, ideas, phrases… tend to arrive in a disorderly fashion, just like a conversation that leaps from one topic to another entirely.

So what I do is write in sections. I actually create separate, labeled parts of my file in Word. These sections match my outline or “mind-map” of the message I’d like to deliver.

Then, as I research and revise, I jump back and forth between sections, adding to one, tightening another, copying and moving pieces of ideas.

Each area fleshes out at roughly the same time, then I reorganize them to fit the more logical, linear outline that will underlie the final piece.

7) Write Your Close First

Here’s an interesting idea — start at the end. And I can give you at least two solid reasons to do this.

First, because the offer you write will, word for word, have more impact on the prospect than any other section of the promo — save for the headline and lead. If the offer stinks, you haven’t got a chance no matter how brilliant your copywriting.

Second, because knowing specifically how you’ll close the sale gives you a target to shoot for. This, too, is a great defense against the tangents that can knock you off the trail of your sales message all too easily.

8 ) Give Your Lead Room to Breathe

I know perfectionism is a killer problem for a lot of new writers. Get over that. Really. Why?

Because you’ll kill yourself and your career trying to get the right word line-by-line. Especially when you sacrifice writing the bulk of the rest of that promo while you tinker and tinker… and tinker… with the lead.

Here’s an alternate idea… put the headline and lead copy in a separate document or somehow cordoned off from the rest of your promo. Open that alternate writing area whenever you’re working on the main document.

Whenever you have an idea about how to make the lead stronger, dip into that alternate writing window, make the changes and then jump back to the rest of the piece.

I do this a dozen or more times while I’m writing, with the headline and lead changing 10… 20… or more times before I’m through.

9) Learn to “Copyify” Your Notes As You Research

This takes practice. But you’ll through your copy much faster if, when you take notes from resources you’ll use, you record the notes directly into copywritten form.

For instance, not “Mention last year’s booming commodity market to support resource buying op”… but rather “Last year’s booming commodities market is the perfect example. Had you subscribed to my ‘Dirt, Rocks, and Other Investments’ advisory service then, you’d already be up XXX% on Mud Futures alone by now.”

You get the picture.

If you can record your ideas quickly in a form that’s close to the sound you’ll want for the final draft, obviously that cuts back future writing time.

10) Use Markers and Shortcuts

This last one is a small thing. But very, very handy.

Let’s say you’re writing and you need to cite a stat you don’t have at your fingertips, try just dropping in “XX” where that falls.

Or let’s say you need a subhead to transition between sections but the perfect one escapes you at the moment. Don’t get stuck. Instead, drop in “[SUBHEAD HERE]” and keep moving.

The idea is to preserve the momentum at all costs. Just make sure you search the replacement phrases and fill things in after the writing is done.

This list could go on, of course. But that’s a pretty good start.

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How Much Money Do You (Deserve To) Make?

cashregister“Money,” Woody Allen once said, “is nice to have — if only for financial reasons.”

Or as one of my copywriting mentors used to say, money isn’t just about affording a better life, taking care of your family, or safeguarding your retirement.¬†It’s also a way to ‘keep score.’

Is that a sad testament to the shallowness of humanity? Or a reassurance that ambition and the drive to thrive are alive and well? ¬†It’s up to you. But¬†personally, at least on one level, I think he’s right.¬†Think about it.

We know that there are higher things than the material trappings of being a working stiff. Yet,¬†when you see the Forbes 400 list of the world’s wealthiest… do you look? And when you do, do you stop at looking at the net worth or do you secretly search for the age, education, and hard-luck background stories too?

Most of us can’t help it.

We want to know how we’re measuring up.¬†Spiritually, intellectually, aesthetically of course. But let’s face it, those things can be tough to measure.

Income, on the other hand, is easy.

Either¬†you’ve got it or you don’t. And as a measurement of success, it ends up a universal equalizer, non-negotiable and true. ¬†Sure,¬†applications of wealth, obsessions with wealth, understanding of wealth and what it can mean, those things can all vary. But wealth itself, for everybody it’s a common denominator. A means to living in the manner we hope we’ve earned.

Long story short, having a little extra scratch on hand… ain’t such a bad thing.

And having a lot more, well, that’s a hard idea to resist too.

Okay, so now that we all feel good about money and having some… how do you measure up?

Some time ago, CR friend Chris Marlow put together a survey of fellow copywriters.

Keep in mind, most of her responses came from the U.S., some from Canada and some from the U.K.  This could be as much because the survey is in English as it is a fair representation of the global market.

Also,¬†most of the responders (61%) are in the 1-5 year range of experience. And more than half have written for both specialty markets and what they would consider “general” fields.

Most write for either the “Marketing Communications” field or “Banking and Investment” with a majority writing for both business-to-consumer and business-to-business products.

So…¬†what are we making, year over year?

Just over 25% — at the time I had taken the survey — landed in the $50K to $75K category… with nearly 15% making between $75K to $100K… and a small but impressive slice taking in as much as $300K to $400K per year. (I’m in the latter category, but know plenty in the middle and a handful in the first).

How are they finding their best business, biggest paying assignments, and favorite clients?

What fields yield the most copywriting opportunity?

What types of pieces did they write for most — speeches, brochures, e-zines, direct-mail letters, radio and space ads, and more — and what did they charge for each?

All this, you’ll have to get from Chris.

She compiles and sells the survey results every year. I recommend it not for affiliate income (in fact, I can’t find my affiliate link at the moment and want to get this post up, so this is just a straight shot over to Chris’ site (click here)), but because I know that by knowing how others pull off this career, you’ll get some ideas for yourself.

And maybe a little inspiration too.

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How To Make a Sale Without Even Trying

A great piece of sales copy can show up where you’d least expect it. With an impact you might not expect either. At levels you never imagined.¬†Take this letter below, sent to a friend of the CR, from a company called “Dove Construction.”

¬†This appeared in Penny Thomas’ mailbox, on the company’s official stationary…

¬†—

Ms Penelope Thomas

[address deleted]

 Dear Penelope:

As you may be aware, DOVE CONSTRUCTION has started work at your neighbor’s home located at [address deleted].

 We at DOVE CONSTRUCTION want you to know that there may be some early morning noise and some dirt tracked into the street during rear addition construction.

 At times, due to circumstances beyond our control, such as sleet and rain, it is very difficult to contain the resulting mud.

Be aware that it is only for a short time during the construction process.  We assure you that we will always do our best to maintain a clean and quiet job site for our customer and you, their neighbor.

Thank you for your understanding and patience.  Should you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact us at the number listed above.

 Sincerely,

Tom Cerami, President

DOVE CONSTRUCTION, LLC

Did the construction company have to send out this letter? No. In fact, as Penny told me, plenty of construction companies came through the same area, happy to crank up their jackhammers… without the slightest nod to the neighbors.

Yet, here’s a company that took what would otherwise be a net negative — all the noise and attention they were about to draw — and turned it around.

With a simple letter.

Penny was so impressed, she wrote a letter right back. And sent it directly to the company’s president…

Mr. Tom Cerami

President

Dove Construction, LLC

[address deleted]

 Dear Mr. Cerami,

 I greatly appreciated your notice that you were starting work at [address deleted].  Homeowners really like to know what is happening in their neighborhood.  I also want to congratulate you on a good piece of marketing.

 Your letter accomplished a number of things:

 * I found out my neighbors were getting an addition

¬†*It made me curious ‚Äď I‚Äôm now watching construction

 * It might have satisfied local building regulations

 But most important:

 * It told me you were a responsible contractor

 * And, if I want a contractor, I have your information at hand.

¬†Your letter was the first I have ever seen from a contractor subtly and elegantly advertising his business ‚Äď and there have been many contractors working in the neighborhood over the years.¬† Great job.¬† More effective I am sure than just a sign on the site.

¬†I am a freelance copywriter, specializing in marketing ‚Äď so I appreciated your letter.¬† My web site www.pennythomas.com has some writing samples and information about me.

¬†Take a moment to look at it and see if I can be of service to you. If you need, or know someone who needs, a copywriter to put together marketing material ‚Äď brochures, lead-generating letters, business letters, space ads, web-site copy or such ‚Äď please think of me.

 Sincerely,

 Penny Thomas, Copywriter

—-

Hey… whoa… wait a minute.

Did you see what just happened there? Go read it again.

¬†In the short construction letter, the construction company has, indeed, done plenty — the goodwill generated, the promises made, the contact information for questions and more.

¬†Penny is right to be impressed.¬†But then comes an even smarter move, on her part. She writes back to praise the construction company.¬†But Penny, quick on her feet, hasn’t forgotten that construction businesses need copy… and that Penny just happens to be a trained copywriter.

¬†A point she mentions with equal subtlety in her letter. Great idea! And this, of course, is the way it’s supposed to work too.¬†Should Penny get a copywriting gig with this local construction firm, it should be a breeze… because it’s a company she’s actually happy to sell.

¬†What’s this mean for the rest of us?¬†Simple.

¬†If you run a business, consider… how many opportunities do you have to interact with customers or even prospective customers, where a little extra copy effort might “up” the value of the contact?¬†Thank you notes for email signups or orders… renewal notices… post-sale follow-up messages… customer service surveys or technical support…

 The list could go on.

¬†Every one of those opportunities can do a lot more than just communicate functional data. They could sell your new customers… and re-sell your existing ones.¬†Subtly. Aggressively. Whatever’s right for the moment. Yet, so many marketers miss that opportunity.

¬†Likewise, if you write copy… how many chances to sell your talents to the businesses you know and trust have you overlooked?¬†Company websites… local sales brochures… online ads and sales letters… print ads in local papers… even P.R. pieces or ezine editorial.

¬†It might be the small gigs that get you started. It might be the big opportunities that let you smack the cover off the ball at your first at bat.¬†Either way, I’ve met plenty of people who had no grasp about what role copywriters play.

¬†But when I point out just how much of the written marketing word they see in a day, their eyes start to open. It’s everywhere.¬†When you realize that, it can be like flicking on a light switch. Tough to find clients? Not at all. Try looking closer to home — or at least, closer to your own interests — and you might surprise yourself.

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From “Just Learning” to “Bigtime Earning”

 LOTS of people study copywriting. Only a few of those actually make the leap and DO it. What makes the difference between them?

¬†Getting that FIRST client. When the “big time earning” copywriters look back, it often feels like it was no big deal.

¬†But looking forward, I understand it can be daunting. That’s why I’ll let you in on a little secret — there’s a shortcut. And following it can land you light years ahead of the competition.

¬†Here’s another secret. It’s not hard to learn this shortcut either. How’s it work?

Click here to find out. 


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The Curse of the Modern Age

3DD92E8C-7CDE-4F5A-8C69-C3B6EA13D930.jpg “For a list of the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life,” says Alice Kahn, “please press three.”

I’m sure you know what she’s talking about.

And even if you don’t, let me ask you this: How often do you, you know, do “it?” Maybe once in the morning… and again in the afternoon?

I’ll bet. Or maybe you like to do “it” just before lunch… or just after lunch… or before and after and during? That wouldn’t surprise me either.

And then there’s your coffee break… what else are you going to do while waiting for a pot to brew? Not to mention just before meetings… or during meetings… and as soon as one ends.

Yep, you do “it” all the time. You just can’t stop yourself. Sadly, you’re not alone. Because the rest of us probably do “it” too often too.

Of course, I’m talking about checking your email… your tweets… your texts… and your Facebook alerts.

Not so long ago, it was a non-issue. Now every computer in the world seems to ding all day with new message alerts. And if not the computers, it’s the cell-phones. Or even iPods and iPads, since they connect too.

It’s everywhere.

You can even log in on your way to the bathroom… or IN the bathroom… (please tell me you’re not reading this in a stall).

And how about that quick download before dinner… or during dinner… or just before drifting off to sleep?

How about in the elevator… at a stop light… or in motion. Maybe even over the shoulder of your loved one, during a warm but, let’s be honest, not so time-efficient embrace.

If any six of the scenarios above sound familiar… or if you’ve wondered if a Ziploc bag could protect your iPad in the shower… you might have a problem. And you wouldn’t be alone again, you wouldn’t be alone. Or so says Matt Richtel, a tech-writer for the New York Times.

Maybe this comes to you as no surprise.

This is, after all, the age of high tech multi-tasking. Or is it? Not according to a handful of studies cited in one of Richtel’s recent articles.

And if you’re wondering why you feel busy all the time but you don’t get anything done — this might be the reason why.

In short, our brains just aren’t built for the perpetually “plugged in” lifestyle. It may, in fact, be costing you.

Now hang on there, cupcake.

Yes, I DO realize the irony.

After all, I’m a direct response copywriter. My bread and butter relies on people opening messages, including email. And yes, I also write an e-letter, which is delivered by email and in which this article originally appeared (sign up in the box to the right).

But between you and me, have you noticed your relationship changing at all with your inbox? Mine certainly has.

Case in point, in the beginning days of Compuserve, I could barely get enough. I too was a serial email reader. I must have hit the “get mail” button a dozen times a day, eager for contact.

Not so much anymore.

I now have, for example, 778 emails sitting waiting for an answer. Some are dated from last summer. I want to answer them. I feel compelled to answer them.

But I won’t. I’ve even actively decided not to.

Why?

Like anything, it’s complicated.

I recently heard a radio host sum up at least one part of the problemlike this: each email is a moment on someone else’s agenda. Tell me this, answer me that, find and send me this info.

How true.

And yet, she said, she can’t resist knowing if anything new has come in. So she checks — just for a second — and finds herself lost, an hour or more later.

Sound familiar?

I don’t want that. I can’t afford that. So I stay away. These days, much as I want to, I try not to start checking email until after 4 pm… 3 pm if I’m feeling weak. Because it’s the only way.

How about you?

I ask because I know what it is to be writing, like you’re aspiring to do. And whether it’s novels or sales copy, it’s the same.

You’re either in the zone… or you’re not.

When you’re in it, you know. Because that’s when even a five alarm fire would have a tough time getting you to move from your chair or stop what you’re doing.

I’m sure you “get” the feeling. So, you might still be asking‚Ķ how did we get so hooked on email and tweets and Facebook and the rest in the first place, especially when the cost to productivity is so obvious?

Say California researchers, the reason you have such a tough time stopping yourself from checking your email or whatever other inputs you’ve got going is simple.

It’s because it delivers dopamine “squirts” to your brain. You get hooked, it turns out, to that series of tiny excitements as one email after another rolls in.

Not unlike the smoker taking his first puff after a long international flight… or a drinker getting a martini after a long day in the salt mines.

It’s a joy to get the jolt, over and over again. And without it, you learn to feel perpetually bored. But it’s a bigger issue now than ever, says Richtel.

Today, we’re hit with three times as much daily media as we were in the 1960s. What’s more, your average computer user visits 40 web pages per day.

Think about that.

We email colleagues at the next desk. We tweet our insights to friends, then meet up with nothing to talk about. We bask in the glow of unending online Facebook reunions, without actually seeing the people we’re “talking” to for years on end.

It’s all got its merits.

Business-wise, it’s been amazing. Many a direct-response company has been saved thanks to new media. Some have learned how to turn it into $100s of millions per year. And I’m happy to be one of the beneficiaries.

But what’s it tell you when even the Pope feels like it’s time to weigh in? Here’s what he told the NYT:

“Entering cyberspace can be a sign of an authentic search for personal encounters with others, provided that attention is paid to avoiding dangers such as enclosing oneself in a sort of parallel existence, or excessive exposure to the virtual world…

“In the search for sharing, for ‘friends’, there is the challenge to be authentic and faithful, and not give in to the illusion of constructing an artificial public profile for oneself.”

(Intrigued? You can check out Papal (no, I didn’t mean to write “Paypal”) proclamations like this one in eight languages, courtesy of the Vatican’s iPhone app. I kid you not.)

But addiction and virtual loneliness are just the beginning of the problem. Even bigger, in my opinion, is the illusion of productivity that goes with all this message fueled effort.

It gives us the illusion, yes, that we’re getting lots done. We are, if the email feeds are to believed, multi-tasking our way through lots of things that demand our attention, all at once.

The document feedback, the afternoon call, the kid’s b-day party‚Ķ when you bang out a message on each in under a few minutes, you feel like you’re changing the world.

But multi-tasking, says Richtel’s research for his article, is bunk. An illusion. If you think you’re good at it, he suggests, there’s a likelihood you’re kidding yourself.

How so?

First, let me freely admit, I’m not a multi-tasker at all. I never have been. Walk and chew gum? I’m lucky I get through breakfast without falling out of my chair.

Without 100% focus, I can’t work.

That makes me a pain in the you-know-what to be around during the day. I scowl when I type, I’m told. And look up at interruptions like I’m ready to bite.

And I don’t doubt it. Because I now that once I stop, I’ll need another half hour to get rolling again.

I’ve always felt a little bad about that.

But it turns out, according to what Richtel says is “half a century of proof,” many more of us are that way than I ever imagined.

What’s more, you’re probably better off resigning yourself to focusing on one thing than you realize.

Even though, with your email alerts dinging and your cell-phone vibrating, it doesn’t always feel that way.

When you multi-task, says a particular set of scientists from the University of San Diego, it might feel like you’re doing a lot at once.

But what you’re actually doing is switching back and forth between tasks. And most likely, you’re not doing it well.

Think cocktail party and trying to register two conversations simultaneously… think airline pilot tweeting to his girlfriend during a landing… think surgeon calling the deli for a roast-beef on rye, while he’s wrapping up a brain operation.

If we’re paying attention to one process, say the tests, our brains are hard-wired to ignore everything else. Even if only for microseconds at a time.

So what, if we get it done, right?

I know one guy who writes with the TV on, he says. And he’s good. I know others who keep IM and email windows open and cell phones within reach. And they all still earn a good living.

But you have to wonder, how much better would they do without the willing distractions? Maybe a lot better, if these findings are right.

In fact, the research even shows that those that cling their multi-tasking beliefs end up being SLOWER in tests than the single-minded simpletons, who score better at both noticing small details and juggling when forced to balance between different assignments.

I guess what I’m saying is… wait, hang on a sec… I just got an email… this is good… ha… I’ll be right back, I swear…

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Inspiration or Flat-Out Imitation?

Every great direct response copywriter can tell you what a valuable thing it is to have a “swipe file,” that burgeoning bin or desktop folder of winning promos crafted by other copywriters.

The idea, of course, isn’t to rip off the best of your colleagues… but rather to read, see what’s working, and use that to get your own creative juices flowing.

Not everybody gets that. Some people understand the concept, but go ahead and plagiarize anyway. Not good, folks.

And it looks like it’s not just a problem in direct mail or online advertising. For instance, Don Hauptman recently sent me a clip from the New York Times that Madison Avenue pros might be taking the, er, “borrowing” technique a bit too far.

Honda Motors and the Subway sandwich shop chain, both have ads out there centered on the old “Odd Couple” sitcom theme song. Coincidence? Maybe.

Maybe so, too, for Visa and the “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” movie trailer, who both featured the same instrumental piece of music in their commercials… borrowed from the 1985 movie, “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.”

Or the three ads from Dell, Sears, and Wal-Mart respectively — each with the “make holiday wishes come true” story line. And the movie trailer for the new “Beowulf” movie, which harkens back to the campaign advertising the blockbuster flick “300.”

Lots of ideas strike lots of people at the same time.

But it just goes to show you, you’ve got to work that much harder to be original with your message.

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