A winning formula for freelance copywriting success

June 19th, 2018 by Bob Bly

In the last issue of this e-newsletter, I promised to give you
some advice on how to succeed as a freelance writer in today’s
highly competitive, over-crowded market.

So without further preamble, here are some suggestions for
surviving and thriving as a copywriter — and in particular, as a
newbie freelancer — in 2018 and beyond:

#1–Get good.

Your competitors are studying the books, taking the courses,
attending the conferences, watching the videos.

If you are not similarly a student of copywriting, you will soon
be left behind, unable to compete on their level.

#2–Next, get even better.

If you think you’re already a decent writer, don’t stand still.
Move forward.

Keep learning. Improve always. Continue reading the books, taking
the workshops, and studying.

Remember this famous saying: “School is never out for the pro.”

#3–Read.

There are only 3 ways to get better as a writer: study (see #1
above) … write (see #4 below) … and read.

Read a lot. Read books about business, marketing, and writing …
and about all sorts of other topics.

The books about business, marketing, and writing improve your
ability to write kick-butt copy.

The books on all other topics give you a storehouse of knowledge
on all sorts of subjects you can draw on to add interest and
verisimilitude to your copy.

They will also teach you how to write better through example.

#4–Write.

Isaac Asimov wrote for 10 hours or so a day, 7 days a week.

Stephen King has said he writes every day of the year except
Christmas and his birthday.

Write every day. If you want Sundays off, that’s fine.

#5–Avoid generic assignments.

The worst projects are writing articles and blog posts on general
subjects that anyone can look up on Google.

That’s because writers of these articles and posts essentially
just search Google for other articles on the same topic, pull
something from 4 or 5 of them, and cobble together a new piece.

Since any idiot can do this, it doesn’t — and never will — pay
particularly well. It’s a commodity service. And boring. So why
bother?

#6–Choose a niche.

All else being equal, in whatever field you look, specialists get
paid more and have a much easier time getting work than
non-specialists.

For instance, neurosurgeons make more money than family doctors —
and patent attorneys out-earn local attorneys with general
practices.

As a writer, you can specialize either in a medium (e.g., white
papers, case studies), a product or industry (e.g., chemicals,
investment newsletters), or both (e.g., SEO for chemical companies).

#7–Acquire specialized knowledge.

Once you’re in a niche, become an obsessive student of the topic,
and if you can, acquire some credentials to make it evident to
others that you are a subject matter expert.

For instance, in the 1980s, when I was inundated with assignments
from computer and software firms, I trained to become a certified
IT professional. And as an engineering graduate, I already knew
some programming.

#8–Compete.

Any writing field where the success of your copy can be measured
and proven — and that is most notably in direct response
marketing — will pay you more than writing disciplines where ROI
cannot be measured.

By “compete,” I mean specialize in areas where results can be
measured.

You don’t have to win every time, and you won’t.

But if you get known as a top gun in a writing area with
measurable ROI, you can get paid top dollar.

#9–Know what pays.

Some specialties and writing tasks pay better than others.
Gravitate toward one or more of those areas, and you’ll make more
money.

For instance, writing white papers pays well; writing blog posts
does not.

#10–Persist.

You will have frequent setbacks, failures, and disappointments
that will knock you to your knees repeatedly.

But as long as you get right back up, you will come out a winner.
As my Facebook friend Mike says, persistence breaks resistance.

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Is this the end of freelance copywriting?

June 15th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Subscriber BD, who happens to be both a songwriter and a
copywriter, writes:

“I fear something similar will happen to copywriting as what
has happened to independent musicians and songwriters over
the years.

“So many out there doing it. Just for exposure. For experience.
For samples. For confidence boost. For networking.

“So many people with solopreneur dreams.

“There’s a lot of similarities between freelance writing and
independent performing songwriters.

“Glamorous, romantic lifestyle compared to the factory and
cubical worker. Free spirit. Independent. Live life on one’s own
terms. The list goes on.”

Is BD right?

Are freelance copywriters becoming as obsolete as, say, this
librarian from the Twilight Zone?:

Today copywriters certainly face new challenges.

But we are far from down and out.

Newbie copywriters often ask me whether it is more difficult to
become a freelance copywriter now than when I started full-time
freelancing in the early 80s.

The answer: some aspects of freelance copywriting in the 21st
century are more difficult, while in other ways it’s easier
today.

Overall, it’s a wash.

For instance, the competition is much fiercer, with so many more
people entering the profession.

The internet in particular contributes to this, as we copywriters
now have to compete not just with local copywriters — but with
freelancers across the country and even around the world.

Many of these freelancers live in regions and nations where the
cost of living is so low, they can afford to charge much less
than you do.

But the internet is also a boon to copywriters. Reason: digital
marketers need more copy than ever — everything from blog posts,
e-newsletters, and auto-responder campaigns, to websites,
long-copy online sales letters, and VSLs.

So yes, there are more copywriters. But there is also a lot more
work — enough to keep you, as David Ogilvy put it, in beer and
skittles.

Will that continue in the future? I don’t know. I’m not enough of
a futurist to say. But I suspect it will.

Another mixed blessing is computers and software.

On the downside, there is software that can write articles and
other content, and at least one software package that can write
subject lines and other short copy.

On the upside, when personal computers came along, my writing
productivity easily doubled — and the ability to produce twice
the amount of work gave me a big jump in income, as it did many
other writers.

Also, millennials who were raised with computers have never
experienced the dubious pleasure of having to retype entire pages
just to make even relatively small rewrites and edits; I shudder
at the memory.

In my next essay, I’ll share specific tips and strategies for
surviving and thriving as a freelance copywriter in today’s
over-crowded, hyper-competitive market.

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This kind of blogging is for dummies

June 12th, 2018 by Bob Bly

An article in a PR e-newsletter suggested that the way to write
great blog posts is to research online what topics you should
write about.

For instance: write on blog topics suggested by Google … get post
ideas from the Google Keyword Planner … jump on a topic that’s
trending or being shared a lot … write on the same topics the big
blogs are writing about or your competitors are ranking for … get
topic ideas from FAQs on other sites.

To me, this is a terrible idea, because it’s a major source of
“content pollution.”

Specifically, it’s a surefire way to create almost nothing but
link bait.

“Link bait” refers to content written for the primary or even
sole purpose of getting high search engine rankings.

Link bait posts and articles … which is what the PR newsletter’s
suggestions will produce … are usually generic, boring, useless,
and devoid of wisdom, new information, or actionable ideas.

Often, link-bait marketers hire dirt-cheap writers on Upwork,
fiverr, or freelancer.com to write these thin posts for a few
bucks a pop.

These hack writers go on Google, find a few articles on the
topic, and cobble them together into a new post or article that
contributes absolutely nothing original to the subject.

I call these articles “Google goulash.”

If you are a good writer and care about what you do, stay away
from link bait, Google goulash, and content pollution.

But how do you avoid this kind of bottom-of-the-barrel
scribbling? Here are 3 suggestions:

>> First, don’t write for peanuts for cheap, second-rate clients.

Write for marketers and publishers who care about the quality of
the copy and content they hire you to produce.

In my opinion, firms that use direct marketing are the best
clients, because they measure everything and live and die by
results.

So are big corporations and also those producing blog posts on
technical topics.

>> Second, write what you know and care about.

When you don’t know a subject and write a Google goulash piece,
all you are giving the reader is recycled information he can
easily get elsewhere.

When you care about your subject and have deep knowledge of and
experience with it, you can deliver much more — insight,
analysis, wisdom, empathy, strategies, experience-based
expertise, and new ideas and case studies that can make a
difference in the reader’s life.

Email marketing whiz Ben Settle advises, “Open your computer and
start writing. Soon a story or theme will emerge. Send it to your
list.

“Do that day after day and you will be successful — even if
you’re not the most talented copywriter or salesman in the room.”

>> Third, especially with blog posts and articles, let your
personality shine through in the writing.

Link bait articles read like they were written by automatons,
which in fact is increasingly the case as software can now
generate this kind of mindless, simple article.

But when you have a personality that comes across in your posts
and articles, you engage readers and keep them reading.

Also, if you do #2 and #3 above — write what you know and care
about, and have a distinctive voice — you gain a loyal following
that comes to view you as a trusted source advisor on your topic.

Your readers see you as an expert, and those readers who are in a
positon to retain your services are more likely to do so, because
they see you as a recognized authority in your field.

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Category: Writing and the Internet | 15 Comments » |

How to cope with the ups and downs of business

June 8th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Subscriber MF writes:

“Right now I am having a very slow month — slowest in the history of
my firm.

“Bob, how do you or others manage the psychology of ups and downs
in business?”

This answer to this question has two parts.

First, instead of “managing” your worry and concern, why not just
get rid of those anxiety-causing slow times altogether?

And yes, there is in fact something you can do to either totally
avoid slow times … or failing that, certainly minimize their
frequency and duration, so it becomes a non-issue.

It’s my “double pipeline” lead generation strategy.

In a nutshell, you figure out how much lead-generating
self-promotion you need to generate enough inquiries to keep you
busy.

And then you do twice that amount of marketing!

By doing so, you will have two times as many potential new
clients and projects as you need.

So if Prospect W doesn’t come through, you don’t agonize over it
— because Prospects X, Y, and Z are waiting in the wings, ready
to pull the trigger on your services.

Second, have multiple streams of income.

That way, if your primary business gets soft for a time, then
instead of worrying about it … or sitting around with nothing to
do …

…you focus one of your other profit centers until the lull in
your main business is over.

That way, you are still productive — and you still have money
coming in.

Now, admittedly, these two strategies don’t actually address the
“psychology” MF asked me about.

But consider: You can use the first tactic to prevent or reduce
to near-zero slow times.

And with the second, you don’t really care if your main profit
center is in a slump, because you can stay active and profitable
with your other money makers.

In other words — problem solved.

Alfred E. Neuman famously asked: “What — me worry?”

And now, you don’t have to.

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Is paying rock-bottom prices an awful mistake?

June 5th, 2018 by Bob Bly

A few weeks ago, while in a doctor’s waiting room, an interesting
and nice gent named BC sat next to me, and we struck up a
conversation.

BC is from Scotland and is 92 years old. He revealed to me that
he came to the U.S. in his youth and started a furniture business
in Manhattan, which became very successful and grew to 5 stores.

He asked me if I wanted to know his #1 success secret, and when I
said yes, told me it was simply that he paid wages 20% higher
than any of his competitors.

The reason, he explained, was to keep good employees happy so
that they stayed with him and did not look around for a better
opportunity or jump ship when given jobs offers by other
businesses.

I think this is actually a very big point. Let me explain….

Many of us are essentially price buyers, meaning we get three
quotes, and invariably pick the service provider with the lowest
price.

In essence, we are saying that low price is the most important
factor in our purchase decision, ranking ahead of customer
service, quality of work, reliability, promptness, and contractor
expertise and know-how.

Isn’t that kind of stupid?

Smarter buyers of business, trade, professional, technical, and
health care services look for the best value — not the best
price.

I mean, say you had a tumor in your cranium, needed brain
surgery, and went to three neurosurgeons for opinions.

The first says the operation is $30,000. The second charges
$32,000. And the third, whose neurosurgery practice is called
Brains ‘R Us, quotes a fee of $300.

It’s certainly the low price. But would you go with it? I think
not.

Price buying leads to crappy work from inferior vendors often
found on Upwork and Fiverr, among other online service sites.

People who patronize such sites often look for the low-priced
vendor, usually to their regret.

So why do so many people always look for the low price in so much
else they buy?

I love this quote from John Ruskin: “There is hardly anything in
the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a
little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this
man’s lawful prey.”

There was a cartoon in a magazine showing two barbershops. The
sign in the window of the first said, “$5 haircuts.”

The sign in the window of the second barbershop said, “We fix $5
haircuts.”

I have certainly spent a significant portion of my time over the
years fixing $100 copy.

Back to BC….

He also told me the internet killed his furniture business, in
which his specialty was providing high-end furniture for wealthy
Manhattan businesspeople looking to furnish their entire large
apartment.

In his heyday, said BC, these customers trusted his judgment. And
so they loved the furniture he sold them and kept it forever.

But when the web came along, these customers saw that e-commerce
furniture dealers allowed returns, refunds, and exchanges if the
customer didn’t love the furniture when it was delivered.

Because of that, all of a sudden BC was inundated with calls from
customers who wanted to send back the furniture and try out
something else.

It was so expensive and so labor-intensive, and he hated it so
much, he soon closed the store chain and retired.

It seems that the internet is a mixed blessing for business.

For some industries it’s great. For others it is terrible. For still others,
it is somewhere in the middle, with both many pros and many cons.

JM, who blames the web in part for the closure of his New Mexico
bookstore, says, “People were happy when they came in, but wanted
us to have the resources and pricing of online or they would not
buy.”

For those who embrace the internet, and don’t love bookstores or
brick and mortar, BC’s and JM’s woes mean little.

But writer LD echoes the sentiments of many when she writes, “A
town without a bookstore is a town without a soul.”

And I like a local furniture store, too.

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My #1 productivity hack: the quick “kaizen break”

June 1st, 2018 by Bob Bly

“Kaizen” is the Japanese philosophy of making continuous
improvements.

Given that there is hardly anything we do that we can’t do
better, this is a smart approach to business.

The problem, however, is that our time and attention is already
absorbed by pressing tasks, deadlines, and responsibilities.

So making improvements in our systems, processes, skills, and
products too often falls by the wayside.

My solution is a business tactic I call the “kaizen break.”

Notice that as you are working frantically on getting through
your to-do list, you invariably tire.

And when you do, you take a small mental break … maybe 5 or 10
minutes … before either returning to the major task you were
working on — or moving to the next major task.

During these breaks, we often waste time, or at least are fairly
unproductive, doing everything from watching a quick YouTube
video or getting a coffee refill, to petting the dog or staring
out the window.

So here’s how to turn these short bits of wasted time into
profitable time with my “kaizen break” method.

In a kaizen break, instead of futzing around, you do a short task
— usually one with no urgency — that can produce an incremental
improvement in your business.

Example: A few weeks ago I presented one of my standard webinars,
“Effective Business Writing.”

Over the decades, I have presented versions of this basic program
on how to write better and faster dozens of times — earning
hundreds of thousands of dollars teaching it over and over.

Whenever I give one of my talks, I always think of ways,
immediately after presenting, to make it better.

So, after my most recent lecture, I printed a hard copy of the
PowerPoint.

The next day, during a short break between copywriting projects,
I went over the slides with a pen.

I made a few corrections, added a few points, and then faxed my
small edits to my PowerPoint designer for a minor update of the
file.

The result?

In a brief pause between intensive writing, during which I
otherwise would have sat here contemplating my nave l, I instead
made a small but useful improvement to one of my core products.

Namely, a workshop that I get $5,500 a day to deliver to my
corporate training clients.

For me, turning dead time into productive time like this, and
wasted time into a money-maker, is a no-brainer.

Thanks to my new “kaizen breaks,” I am making small non-urgent
but valuable improvements to my systems and products almost
every week of the year.

And now, you can, too.

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The awful truth about “flimsy” books

May 22nd, 2018 by Bob Bly

Recently, a colleague handed me a book on communications she got
at a seminar on that topic from the speaker.

I flipped through it and immediately thought of a comment I read
in a book review once: “This is a book that should never have
been written.”

And increasingly, in this era of self-promoters and CreateSpace,
the rise of books that should never have been written — or
published — is increasing at a tremendous rate.

I call these works — most not worth the paper they’re printed on
or the price of a Kindle download — “flimsy books.”

And I urge you to neither read, buy, nor heaven forbid, write and
publish such books.

They are 9 times out of 10 a waste of both the writer’s and the
reader’s time, effort, and money.

Why?

Because these flimsy books have a number of characteristics in
common, which make them good for lining bird cages or starting
fires in the fireplace — but not so good for actually reading.

>> To begin with, flimsy books are actually flimsy. That doesn’t
make them bad in itself, but is an identifying trait.

When you see a flimsy book, your first impression is that it’s a
pamphlet, not a book. And actually, that is essentially the case.

The communications book I was given has barely 50 pages with text
on them … and the page size is small.

Reason: Authors of flimsy books are more interested in having a
published book for use as a marketing tool or to enhance their
reputation, rather than writing a good book.

So they tend to dash them off quickly, often without much effort,
thought, research, or editing.

>> Second, the vast majority of books I am referring to as
“flimsy” are self-published, more often than not today on
CreateSpace.

Again, that doesn’t make them bad in itself.

However, anyone who has written a book for a big publishing house
knows that those books almost always get a lot more attention to
detail — especially in the editing, proofreading, and production
process — than self-published books.

My editors at these publishing houses are tough, and don’t let me
get away with being lazy or doing a half-assed job, or being
unclear or incomplete.

Most self-published authors I know don’t hire a copy editor, and
so their books lack this essential quality control.

“Submitting a book for publication is also submitting to the
discipline of the market,” says my Facebook friend WC.

“Indeed, there are worthy self-published books, but I tend to
agree that added prestige is given when books are published by a
major publisher.”

>> Third, you don’t get much for your money with flimsy books.

The flimsy communications book I am using as an example is, as I
said, barely 50 pages and less than 15,000 words total.

By comparison, my average 200 to 300-page trade paperback for the
big publishers is 80,000 to 100,000 words — so the buyer gets 5
to 6 times more content than in a typical flimsy book.

>> Fourth, as mentioned in my first point above, the motivation
for publishing a flimsy book is more often than not marketing —
either to sell for maximum profit with minimal effort … or to
serve as a sales or reputation-building tool.

As Dr. Jeffrey Lant notes: “A book is a brochure that will never
be thrown away.”

>> Fifth, most flimsy books I review are — uh, how can I put this
— just not very good.

It is painfully obvious that they have not been fact-checked,
proofed, researched, or written with careful attention.

In so many flimsy books, the writing is disorganized, the text
meanders and is full of pointless digressions, and the coverage
of the topic is woefully incomplete — with much of the key
information missing.

But — why am I complaining? Why bother to protest? Is there
really any harm caused by the growing practice of writing,
publishing, and selling flimsy books?

Answer: Yes — some. And here’s why I think the world would be
better off without so many — or even any — flimsy books….

Reason number one: The existence of flimsy books cheapens the
value of real books.

When I started writing books in 1981, having a book published was
prestigious. But flimsy books make people think less of books and
authors.

Reason number two: People write and publish flimsy books to
convince others they are experts.

To write a 300-page book that is vetted by a top publishing house
does require some expertise or at least a lot of research.

Writing a flimsy book, not so much.

Reason number three: Flimsy books are a major source of “content
pollution” — which I loosely define as books, reports, courses,
and other materials that, to put it charitably, should never have
seen the light of day.

You may disagree. But that’s the way I see it.

Before you ask or say anything, yes, I have written a few
books that are small and slim.

But, of my 95 published books, I have written many that are
200, 300, or 400 pages — and in one case 800 pages.

So my average book is indeed a real book, and not a flimsy
pamphlet.

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The 2/24 formula for turning a no into a yes

May 18th, 2018 by Bob Bly

So many people allow themselves to be defeated by either
rejection or lack of persistence.

“Persistence” is the ability to keep moving forward … and
pursuing your goal or objective … even in the face of failures
and setbacks.

“Rejection” is a more specific case of lack of persistence after
a disappointment: giving up too easily when people say “no” to
you.

Calvin Coolidge said, “Your ability to face setbacks and
disappointments without giving up will be the measure of your
ability to succeed.”

But most people don’t. They give up quickly. Fold too easily. And
as a result don’t get what they want.

The solution is the “2/24 formula.”

It’s simple.

Say you have a negative result. It could be anything from a
publisher rejecting your book proposal — to a potential speaking
client choosing your competitor to deliver a keynote.

The 2/24 formula says that, within 24 hours of your rejection,
you make not one but TWO more pitches for the same project or
work with two new prospects.

So in the case of the book proposal, you turn around and submit
it to not one but TWO other publishers.

Why does the 2/24 formula work?

For three reasons.

First, because it is a formula, following it becomes almost
automatic. So it gets done by you consistently.

The 2/24 formula removes the decision of whether to wallow in
misery … or get up, dust yourself off, and try again … because
the formula says you HAVE to move forward and do so immediately.
It’s mandatory.

Second, the “2” part — by making TWO sales calls for every
rejection, you double your chances of closing a deal.

Third, the “24” part. The formula requires you to take swift
action — within 24 hours. And as my friend Joe Vitale and others
have said, “Money loves speed.”

One more thing….

The old saying … “There is no failure, only feedback” … is mostly
true.

You only really fail when you stop trying and give up.

Rocky Balboa states this idea eloquently here:

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