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4 simple steps to make your writing 4X better

October 16th, 2018 by Bob Bly

The quickest and simplest way to make your writing easier to read
is with the “4 S” formula:

#1: Small words.

Small words make writing easier to read because almost all your
readers know and understand the small words you use.

Conversely, when you use long words to impress readers with your
vocabulary, many of them won’t understand the words you are
using.

And if they don’t understand the words, they don’t understand
what you are trying to say.

Back in the day, our elementary school teachers told us that, any
time we encountered a word we did not know, to look it up in the
dictionary — a popular method of improving one’s mastery of
English.

But your readers are busy adults who have neither the time nor
the desire to look up a word in their paperbound or online
dictionary.

And so if you use a word whose meaning they do not know, they
won’t get the full message you want to convey.

Use small words. Remember, you write to express, not to impress.

Mark Twain said, “I never write ‘metropolis’ when I get paid the
same penny a word for writing ‘city.'”

#2: Short sentences.

Short sentences are easier to read than long sentences.

How do you know if your sentence is too long? Use the breath
test.

Read your sentence out loud, at a moderate space, without taking
in a breath before you start.

If you run out of air before the end, the sentence is too long.

Easy fix: divide the sentence into two or more sentences at the
point where a new thought or idea begins.

#3: Short paragraphs.

At the beginning of your document, the first three paragraphs
should be one or two sentences each — no longer.

If you lead with an extremely long paragraph, the large chunk of
text is a roadblock to readership, and it will discourage many
people from reading further.

If a paragraph it too long, break it up by starting a new
paragraph wherever a new thought is introduced.

#4: Short sections.

Sections should have boldface subheads or be numbered.

Numbering makes it easier to have a table of contents.

Short sections and subheads make scanning easier for the reader
and also enable them to find the information they need more
rapidly.

Plus, overlong sections bore readers, and the temptation is to
skip ahead to a shorter section.

These tips won’t make your copy, in and of themselves, more
persuasive.

But they do encourage readership, which helps increase clicks and
conversions.

And that’s the 4 S formula in a nutshell — easy to follow, easy
to execute.

Don’t worry about hitting it on your first draft, either.

It’s easy to take your first draft, make these 4 simple changes,
which all relate to using smaller words, shorter sentences,
shorter paragraphs, and shorter sections with subheads.

Use them and your document will be 2X to 4X clearer and easier to
read.

You will get your message understood and save the reader time and
frustration.

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Category: Success, Writing | 3 Comments » |

Let others publish — and pay for — your sales literature

October 12th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Back in the day, we referred to all sales materials we published
and distributed to our potential client as “collateral.”

Lots of freelance copywriters and other small businesses take
great pains to write, design, illustrate, and print their sales
brochures — a process that can be both time-consuming and
expensive.

But here’s an easy hack that can get a superior piece of
collateral designed, illustrated, printed, and widely distributed
… without costing you one red cent:

Write an article for a trade journal and use reprints as your
collateral.

Why is this better than distributing a sales brochure?

>> The brochure is to a degree self-serving and all about you,
while the content of the article is useful to your prospect.

>> Material that looks like information (article reprints) gets
higher readership than material that looks like marketing (sales
brochures).

>> The article reprint has the magazine name or logo on it,
implying a third-party endorsement.

>> An article with solid content is often kept for reference,
while many slick sales brochures are quickly round-filed.

Here’s how easy it is to make articles work as collateral:

#1–Make the content pure how-to or other useful information — not
sales talk about your product or service.

#2–Numbering your points makes the article easier to write and
easier to read. Use the number in the article title; e.g. “7 ways
to improve pump performance.”

#3–A 2-page article can be reprinted on both sides of an 8 ½ by
11-inch paper. A 4-page article can be printed in an 11 X 17-inch
paper folded once vertically to form 4 pages.

#4–Make sure yo ur “about the author” box concisely states who
you are, what you do, and gives your contact information
including phone number, email address, and website URL.

#5–Publish the article in the most prestigious or widely read
trade journal in your niche market.

#6–Post the article on your web site and send an email to your
list inviting subscribers to download it.

#7–Retain copyright and “first rights” to your article. That way,
once it appears in the magazine, you have the right to reuse and
recycle it however you wish; for instance, as a chapter in a
book.

#8–Buy reprints from the magazine or make copies yourself and
mail the hard copy with a cover letter to prospects and clients.

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Category: Direct Marketing, Writing | 2 Comments » |

Avoid the crisis-lull-crisis of marketing

October 9th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Years ago, a freelance copywriter complained to me about the
crisis-lull-crisis nature of freelance as well as ad agency work.

Many other freelancer tell me the same thing.

When they have little or no work, almost no leads come their way,
and most those that do are of poor quality, and the good ones
never close.

On the flip side, when you get busy, the work keeps on coming,
and your schedule fills to nearly overflowing with great clients
and assignments paying top dollar.

Self-employed professionals in many fields also encounter the
crisis-lull-crisis cycle.

I have found 2 very effective ways to fight it.

The first is continual marketing, which means marketing your
services even when you’re busy — in fact especially when you are
busy.

That way you fill up your lead pipeline, so that if a bunch of
clients go silent or the leads don’t close, you have plenty of
other prospects in line eager to take their place.

The second strategy for keeping busy and profitable is to have a
second stream of income (or several), so when your main business
hits a temporarily slump, you have other revenue-generating work
to turn to.

For freelance copywriters, these second income streams can
include: writing magazine articles … writing books … consulting …
speaking and training … teaching … internet marketing … even
owning an unrelated business, like a restaurant or store.

That way, you remain busy and productive with no interruption in
income.

And just when you think your copywriting business is doomed, the
phone will start ringing off the hook with more clients wanting
to hire you than you can handle.

It’s true what they say: when it rains, it pours.

And despite your temporary drought, rest assured it will rain
again, and sooner rather than later.

It always does.

Why this is true, I have no idea.

But between multiple streams of income and having the cycle of
busy/slow/busy shift once again in your favor, you’ll be A-Okay.

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Category: General, Success | 3 Comments » |

The customer is always right — even if he’s not

October 5th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Subscriber DC writes:

“After 23 years as a full-time freelance copywriter, I still
occasionally find myself in a difficult situation with a client.

“As you know, in their terms and conditions, most copywriters
stipulate that copy revisions are free of charge, but changes to
the assignment will incur an extra charge.

“I do this too, but sometimes there can be a slight grey area in
which a client can argue that a small change to the assignment is
actually just another revision. [This incremental additional work
is referred to as “scope creep.”]

“My client did this today, and I’ve ended up effectively working
3 extra hours for free. For goodwill I offered to ‘meet halfway’,
but the client — a very large company — now refuses to pay
anything above the quoted amount.

“More than ever, clients know how powerful they are and it looks
like I’ve got to grin and bear this loss. Perhaps there’s a
newsletter article here?”

Well, this covers two fundamental rules of the service business,
both of which are important.

The first rule: the time to discuss costs is before they are
incurred, not after the fact.

DC should have given his client a written estimate of the extra
hours the rework would take, and gotten them to agree before
proceeding.

Because he did not, I feel the client owes DC nothing for the
extra rework.

The second rule is: if it’s a choice between being too generous
to your clients vs. being a hard ass and looking out for yourself
first, you should err on the side of being too generous.

I’m not saying you should be a sucker and work for people for
free.

But it’s almost always better, in case of disagreement or
dispute, for the outcome to favor the client, and not you, even
if it costs you in time, money, or both.

Being a large corporation, the client company here could have
given DC a significant amount of new business — many tens of
thousands of dollars — if they continued to use his services.

Therefore, eating 3 hours of DC’s time is insignificant when
compared to the potential income from this account.

And when you treat people in business fairly and favorably, word
gets around, and you build a reputation for being honest and
honorable.

On the other hand, if DC fights the client on this, he will lose
favor with them, and they won’t continue to use him.

The great David Ogilvy likened the advertising business to a game
of chess and advised, “Guard your King and Queen; let the pawns
go.”

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Category: General, Success | 6 Comments » |

Dream big; start small

October 2nd, 2018 by Bob Bly

In the late 1970s, when I first became a professional writer, the
most sought-after assignment in freelancing was writing magazine
articles.

Today, among AWAI students and other copywriters, the most
sought-after assignment is a long-copy promotion such as a
magalog or video sales letter (VSL) selling a product via direct
response.

Anyway, back in the day, the writers’ magazines … and the
speakers at writing conferences … virtually all gave the same
advice to newbie freelance writers: start big.

They said to avoid the literary journals, the little magazines,
trade journals, and other no-pay/low-pay markets.

Instead, right off the bat, target the top-tier magazines; e.g.
Cosmopolitan, Harper’s, Atlantic Monthly, Omni, and so on.

In freelance copywriting, some — certainly not all copywriting
teachers — say to write for big-name companies paying top fees
and royalties right from the get-go.

This may be great advice, and I may be a chicken about it, but I
largely ignored it and did the opposite.

For articles, I went after smaller outlets, including smaller
papers in the cities where I lived — and magazines in
specialized niches with smaller circulations, such as Chemical
Engineering Magazine, Science Books & Films, Democrat &
Chronicle, Bergen Record, and Writer’s Digest.

When I started freelancing in my spare time right out of college,
my first freelance articles appeared in the Baltimore City Paper
— these were medium-length feature pieces for which I was paid on
average $50 each:

www.bly.com/newsite/Pages/PDFs/journalism-city-paper-stock-racing.pdf

And I had a ball writing them.

But why didn’t I set my aspirations somewhat higher? For several
reasons.

First, I was a beginner with no credentials, so I felt I had a
better shot at these mid-market periodicals.

Second, they were small enough that you could have a personal
relationship with the editor.

To get into City Paper, I went to their offices and pitched my
stories face to face with the editor — and it worked.

Third, I was getting paid, albeit small sums, for learning my
craft.

Fourth, I was getting clips, which helped me break into better
markets and assignments, and also looked good on my résumé.

Fifth, I have always preferred getting published to not, and
here, I could do it.

Similarly, in direct response copywriting, newbies today approach
big-name direct marketers in highly competitive markets —
financial and health — and ask to do a full promotion.

Even if you are hired, these marketers regularly engage the top
guns — and your chances of beating Clayton Makepeace, Richard
Armstrong, or David Deutsch as a beginner are slim to none.

Start with smaller financial publishers, supplement makers, and
other direct response offers such as books, coins, and
collectibles.

Get winners and keep working … and the bigger companies will
slowly take notice and approach you about writing for them.

In the interest of giving you more balanced reporting, sometimes
a newbie takes a shot going after a big client — and it pays off.

In the early 80s I was working for medium-sized industrial
manufacturers and getting decent but not spectacular fees, mainly
writing brochures and print ads.

A newbie I was friendly with approached International Paper about
writing for them.

They took the bait and hired him. He did well and was earning in
his first month of freelancing pay scales it had taken me 3 years
to reach.

So really, what do I know?

However, as a rule, I think my advice here to start smaller and
work your way up is fundamentally sound.

That’s my philosophy. And I’m sticking to it.

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Category: Success, Writing | 6 Comments » |

My perfect day

September 28th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Surely there are some days you feel are just perfect days for
you.

I am no different. I have perfect days. And recently, subscriber
BG asked me, “Bob, what does a perfect day for you look like?”

That’s easy to answer, because I have the scenario of my perfect
day well-established in my mind. So here it is.

To begin with, I wake up very early — around 6:30am — feel full
of energy and enthusiasm, and can’t wait to rush downstairs to
my office and get started.

When I look out the office window onto my acre of woods in the
back yard, the usual deer show up and parade slowly by.
Sometimes a fox or coyote, too.

It’s raining. The weather is cool. The sky is gray. Cloudy. No sun.

I open the window a few inches so I can better hear the sound of
the rain as it strikes the leaves on the trees and also enjoy the
cool air.

I have no phone calls scheduled. I have no appointments, which
means I do not have to leave the house, and I can work on what I
want that day, when I want to.

I have plenty of deadlines, but nothing due that week, adding
another degree of freedom to my schedule for that day.

I fire up the CD player so there is music in the background as I
work. I have wide-ranging tastes, so it could be anything from
Brahms to Barry Manilow, to John Williams and Wazmo Nariz, to
Jimmy Smith and Ian Dury.

There is left-over coffee in the pot, which I microwave,
eliminating the need for me to brew a fresh pot; I actually
prefer the day-old reheated.

My work schedule is filled with a variety of interesting and fun
projects: copywriting for clients, writing my current book, and
working on my online info marketing business.

My wife, sons, daughter-in-law, and sister are having relatively
good days with no major problems, and seem happy and in a good
mood. No one has a cold, flu, or is otherwise sick.

There are no headaches that day, such as the internet not working
or a shingle blowing off the roof or a tree falling and crushing
our fence — which happened recently.

I have no social engagements, so I can just concentrate on work.
I almost never socialize during the work week.

I work about 11 to 12 hours and knock off at around 6pm EST.

Then, I read a book and, if someone picked it up from Walgreen’s,
the newspaper … and, if I have it, the latest issue of the New
York Review of Books.

My wife is either cooking or we have prepared food to heat up —
something I really like, such as eggplant casserole.

If there’s a TV show or two my wife enjoys, I sit in the living
room and we watch it together, though I read at the same time.
The Middle was a particular favorite, though it was just
cancelled.

I go to bed early, around 10pm, so I have good energy when I wake
up early the next day.

And that’s my perfect day. What about yours?

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Category: General | 7 Comments » |

What’s your addiction?

September 25th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Yes, it’s my belief that everyone is addicted to something.

Whether it’s surfing the net … gambling … watching sports on TV …
fishing (my dad was) … poker … golf … skiing … baseball … alcohol
… drugs … roller coasters … collecting luxury cars … travel … and
dozens more.

I define addiction as “you just have to do it” — and if you
cannot do it, you’re not happy.

Some addictions, like heroin, are bad for you.

Other addictions, like expensive antique collecting, are not as
bad, though they may cause you to spend money you don’t have.

Still others, like gardening, are healthy and affordable.

And some, like real estate, can actually make you money.

I am addicted to comic books and superhero movies, which costs
very little.

But I have also written half a dozen published books on these
topics, and so actually have made a little money from them.

I do like hobbies and interests that generate a financial return.

My dad, for instance, collected coins for decades, with his
collection appreciating in value substantially.

But he did it because it captured his interest, not to make
money. When I was young, I did it along with him, for the pure
enjoyment.

I am addicted to reading, which for a writer is not a bad thing,
because it is an important part of your professional training and
also your job.

Through reading, you become a better writer and gain a lot of
useful knowledge, which can increase your writing income.

I am addicted to writing books, which also helps make me a better
writer, and with royalties and advances, has earned me a handsome
second income over the decades.

Finally, I am addicted to certain foods, such as kosher hot dogs,
pastrami, and bagels with lox and cream cheese, which probably
doesn’t do my health any good.

My advice for my fellow addicts:

First, control your addiction. I like to collect toy robots, but
I don’t want to clutter the house. So I keep the collection
small, largely so as not to piss off my wife.

Second, break yourself of truly harmful addictions: drinking too
much, drugs, porn, tobacco.

Third, try to find an addiction that is fun, good exercise, and
contributes to your development as a person. And if you turn a
profit from it, consider that a bonus.

I am also addicted to writing these weekly essays, but it seems
to be a good thing for me. And I hope you like some of them!

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Category: General | 8 Comments » |

Packaging info profits for maximum profit

September 21st, 2018 by Bob Bly

The strangest thing, at least to me, about selling info products
is this:

You can take the same content, and sell it for different prices,
in a variety of formats, the price depending largely on how you
package it.

Which means if you are an info marketer, you should give some
serious thought to how you package your products.

A case in point: In the 20th century, an info marketer named DD
sold a course on how to make money in mail order, which he
marketed primarily through an infomercial.

The course had almost a dozen components — most of which he
called “manuals” — each selling for $19, $29, or $39 (one was
$12)

When you added them all up, they had a total list price of $250.

Then he offered them for only $39.95 — an 84% discount off the
combined retail value of the 11 components.

Each manual had a beautiful shiny color cover, making them look
valuable.

Curious, I ordered DD’s mail order course.

When I got the package, I discovered that the manuals were thin
saddle-stitched reports — only a few pages each.

When I stacked them up, in total they were much thinner and had
far fewer pages than the paperback books I was writing back then
on similar subjects … and my books sold for around $15 in
bookstores.

Because my books were sold in bookstores, I did not capture buyer
names and therefore could not market other offers to them.

But DD was marketing his course through direct response TV, and
so he rapidly built a list, which he upsold on other products and
expensive coaching services — making tons more money than I was.

The lesson: sell your info products via direct response — either
infomercials or online — and turn your content into a lucrative
info marketing empire like DD did.

And repackage the content so you can charge more than if it’s
just an ordinary book.

The more elements in your info product … especially one with
multimedia elements such as manuals, reports, resource
directories, video, audio, and live components such as webinars
or coaching — the higher the price you can command … and the
more money you will make.

If you sell only low-priced ebooks at say $19 each, you have to
make 26 sales to match the revenue of the marketer who sells one
high-priced course for $497.

Also, by selling his product at $497, he builds a list of people
who spend a lot of money for valuable information, while your
list prefers cheaper bargains.

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Category: Online Marketing | 5 Comments » |