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Archive for September, 2017

The flaw in the A/B split test challenge

September 29th, 2017 by Bob Bly

One of the most nonsensical — and fairly common —
conversations in marketing goes something like this….

The ad agency or copywriter submits a promotion.

The client says, “I don’t like it.”

The copywriter gets his dander up, bristles, and says

“It’s very strong. Test it.”

The client refuses.

The copywriter goes on Facebook and says:

“I have a stupid client who refuses to A/B split test.”

Other copywriters chime in and say the client is stupid.

But … in fact, he is not stupid.

A lot of the time, the client is well aware that the A/B split
test is the only legitimate way to test a promotion.

The reason this is true about A/B splits is because only a
marketing test definitively determines whether the copy is strong
based on results, and not on subjective judgment.

But despite this fact, subjective judgment will always be part of
the process of developing marketing campaigns. Reason:

Before your copy can be tested in an A/B split, the team has to
agree on pricing … offer … theme … bonuses … lists … the “big
idea” for the promotion … the headline … the lead … and more.

“Pre-test” and screening of what to ultimately prepare and test
for real with money has to come down to subjective judgment.

Now, you’ve heard the old expression, “Opinions are like
A-holes; everybody has one.”

But of those opinions, the one that counts the most in addition
to the copywriter’s is the client’s, because he is paying the bills
and putting his money on the line.

And having the final say does not make him an A-hole. Far from

Fact of the matter is, you may know more about copywriting than
your client (although in some cases, not).

But the client almost certainly knows more about his business
than you.

Therefore, his instincts and opinions should be considered
carefully, and never ignored or dismissed by you out of hand.

Now, if you feel strongly that nothing beats your copy, and
client criticism annoys you, start your own online information or
merchandise marketing business.

When it’s your business, you can run all your copy exactly as you
wrote it.

But if having the final say is paramount, you should only be an
entrepreneur who writes his own copy.

And not a freelancer writing for copy for clients.

A number of copywriters have made the transition from doing
client work to 100% writing copy for their own products.

Nothing wrong with that. More power to them. I know several, and
a few are almost militant about why theirs is the smarter
copywriting path.

As an ancillary income stream, I also write copy to sell info
products I publish online.

And it by itself generates a six-figure annual income we could
comfortably live on.

But that’s not the way I roll.

Writing copy for clients has pleasures and intellectual
challenges I maintain you simply cannot get from writing only
about your own products.

And as a contract copywriting freelance, I absolutely love the
wide variety of products, services, offers, industries, and
markets I get to write about and for.

It’s more fun than I can shake a stick at.

So overall, no complaints — though on rare occasion I may grumble
a bit.

But for nearly 4 decades, I have been primarily a traditional
copywriter working for clients.

And secondarily an info marketer, book author, consultant, and

That’s where I want to be in my copywriting business.

And as I have done what I wanted to, likewise, you should do what
works for you.

As the late, great David Ogilvy said, quoting an old Scottish

“Be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead.”


Category: General, Writing | 98 Comments »

A productivity-boosting idea to sleep on

September 26th, 2017 by Bob Bly

In my last essay, I gave you my #1 personal productivity tip:
making to-do lists.

(This article, in case you missed it, is in my new book
“Confessions of a Direct Response Copywriter” —

My #2 personal productivity tip is also deceptively simple: get
enough sleep.

Forget the average; you know how much sleep you need to get
enough rest for peak performance the next day.

For me, it is about 8 hours, give or take a half hour. Nine is
too much, seven is adequate in a pinch, and with six or fewer I’m
dragging the next day.

Now here’s the secret of this tip: always get the hours of sleep
you need on every night when the next day is a full work day.

Sounds easy, but most people don’t do it.

Here’s how I ensure adequate sleep for maximum productivity, and
some of these ideas may work for you too:

1–I believe in early to bed, early to rise.


When you get up early, by the time 9am rolls around, you’ve
already done a pile of work. So the pressure is off.

On the other hand, if you delay doing the work until night, you
may get distracted and never get to it at all.

Because I need about 8 hours, I go to bed around 10pm, and rise
and start working at 6am.

2–Don’t go out weeknights.

With rare exception, I do not go out weeknights — no meetings, no
bowling, no poker game, no activities outside the home of any

When you go out, it is likely you will not go to bed until late,
which will adversely affect energy and productivity for the next

3–Don’t eat too late.

A big meal too close to bedtime can cause you to sleep poorly and
not feel well.

(Overeating in general makes you lethargic.)

4–Always make sure you get your full sleep.

On the rare occasion when circumstance forces me to go to bed
later than my normal time, I also — unless my schedule absolutely
makes it impossible — get up later.

I hate starting late. But working without enough sleep would cut
into my productivity by reducing my energy and efficiency, so the
net output would be even worse.

5–Don’t forget to prepare tomorrow’s list of things to do

At the end of the day, I prepare the to-do lists I wrote about in
my last essay for the next day — and post them on my bulletin
board before shutting down for the night.

If you don’t, you risk thinking, worrying, and ruminating about
work and all you have to do.

I also place the file for the first task I will do tomorrow on a
stand next to my desk.

This way, I can start working the instant I step into the office
the next morning — and I like a quick start.


Category: General | 116 Comments »

Double your productivity with these 3 little lists

September 22nd, 2017 by Bob Bly

There are a lot of gadgets, devices, apps, and software packages
today people use to keep organized, manage their time, and boost
their personal productivity.

But I don’t use them.

Instead, I’m going to give you my top personal productivity
methodology right now for free.

I use the system with Word — but in a pinch, a pencil and paper
will do just fine.

This is sort of a “personal productivity by the numbers” approach
based on having just 3 simple to-do lists and updating them
weekly; keeping them as Word files on my hard drive makes the
updating — and printing of the revised lists — quick and easy.

You can use more or fewer lists. You can use different lists than
mine. But the multi-list principle is the same.

Here are my lists:

#1: To-Do Today List … This is a list of all current copywriting
projects I am working on for my clients.

It is arranged so that the project with the closest deadline is
number one on the list, the project with the next-closest
deadline is number two, and so on.

This list I actually update several times a week, and sometimes
daily, based on my progress and completion on the various
copywriting assignments.

I begin each day by immediately working on item #1 on the list.

When I am unable to continue because either I am tiring or there
is an obstacle preventing me from doing so (e.g., I am waiting
for a client to provide a promised and important background
document, comments on a draft, etc.), I move on to the next item
in the list.

By having multiple projects and handling them in this fashion, I
maximize my productivity:

When I run out of steam on number one from the list, I put it
aside and move to number two.

So I am always fresh and energized; never bored. And can
therefore write better and faster.

I break my day into one-hour writing increments, taking a 3 to 5
minute break at the end of each hour to refill coffee or watch
Elvis or Dire Straits or Jim Jeffries on a YouTube Clip.

Then I decide after completion of an hour module and during this
break whether to continue with that project or switch gears and
work on another.

#2: To-Do Bob Projects … This is a list of all the projects of my
own I have in some stage of development from “it seems a good
idea” to “currently in progress.”

These projects include: books … information products … columns …
articles … seminars, speeches, workshops, and conferences … and
other projects.

#3: To-Come List … This is a list of my sales leads: marketers
who have reached out to me and expressed interest in hiring me to
write copy.

I annotate the to-come list to note which leads are the best fit
for me, which have an immediate need, and which just want to know
more about me for possible future work.

These prospects are simply listed in descending order of date of
first contact, with the most recent leads at top.

The To-Do Today List is my priority, because contract freelance
copywriting is my main source of income, my bread and butter, and
clients come first.

My second priority is my own projects. I usually work on these
during the final hour or so of my 12-hour day, as a way of
chilling and winding down.

Third comes tracking sales leads and talking with potential
clients, because my first obligation is to my current clients and
projects; I can’t detract from that focus by diverting attention
and energy to potential new business.

And that’s my 3-list personal productivity system in a nutshell:
simple, easy, and it works.


Category: General | 224 Comments »

Make money with the college of knowledge

September 19th, 2017 by Bob Bly

There’s a lot of money in teaching the business, tasks, and
skills you have mastered … and the information you have
researched, learned, and produced … to others who seek them.

Collectively this is the knowledge business, or as I like to call
it, “the college of knowledge” — packaging your knowledge as
products and services to sell for a price.

Including: ebooks … newsletters … special reports … books …
online courses … webinars … seminars … college courses …
conferences … boot camps … coaching … consulting … DVDs … audio
CD albums … training … membership sites … Facebook groups … the
list goes on and on.

So, how is it that a “knowledge business” even exists? What makes
it possible?

The key to it all a simple principle George Clason wrote about in
his book The Richest Man in Babylon:

“That which one man knows can be taught to others.”

That’s the premise — proven since the dawn of humankind — on
which today’s knowledge business is based.

Now, some who want to get into the knowledge business protest,
“But I am just ordinary; I don’t know anything others will pay

This is almost never the case.

As my colleague Dr. Gary North warns: “The great mistake of most
small business people is to imagine that their detailed knowledge
of their niche market is widely dispersed.

“On the contrary, hardly anyone knows it. They are owners of a
capital asset that others do not possess and have no easy way of
possessing it.”

And will therefore pay handsomely to obtain.

Another objection I hear is: “Well, I know something about topic
X. But I am not the world’s leading expert. So how can I presume
to teach others?”

Info marketing guru Fred Gleeck astutely notes:

“You don’t have to know more about your topic than anyone else in
the world. You just have to know more than 90% of the people in
the world.”

And either you do now … or can get to that level with some work
on your part.

Widely quoted research shows it only takes 1,000 hours to be
competent at something. And it requires 10,000 hours of practice
and study to become a master of it.

Also, if you know the subject and how to teach it to others, you are
a better source of knowledge transfer than other experts
who perhaps know more than you — but are lousy teachers, as so
many are.

The next objection is: “There is so much information available
for free on my topic already on the internet, why would anyone
pay me for the same information they can already get on the web at
no cost?”

Here’s the thing: What is widely available online is just data
and information.

But in the knowledge business, we don’t merely sell data and
information … although, both are usually part of our offerings.

What sets us apart is that our paid info products and services

>> Data we have collected through long effort that others in fact
do not have.

>> Deep knowledge gleaned from our data and long experience.

>> Analysis of the data and knowledge to show what it means and
how our customers can benefit from it.

>> Actionable ideas tested and proven to enable those using them
to achieve the desired results.

>> Wisdom to understand what will work in a field, what won’t,
and to consistently know the difference.

In other words, mere data and information are often free for the

But actionable ideas on how people can use it for their gain are
in short supply … and again, people will pay you handsomely to
get this knowledge.

One more fact about the knowledge business:

If you gain a fan base and become a recognized authority in
your field, people will pay a premium for your knowledge.

If you don’t, they are less likely to do so.

Also, it doesn’t take a huge audience to make a good living in
the knowledge business.

If you build a list of just 10,000 fans and each spends only $100
a year with you, your gross annual income is a million dollars.

Not too shabby.


Category: General, Success | 1,660 Comments »

More of this + less of that = success

September 15th, 2017 by Bob Bly

As noted in an earlier issue of this newsletter, I believe that
today many people — and in particular, many younger people — are
fascinated with bright, shiny objects (BSOs).

By “BSO,” I mean they embrace the new, trendy, hip, and cool …
and as a corollary, eschew the old, the proven, and the tried and

This favoring of BSOs over tested methods and ideas is true in
many fields, but especially so in marketing.

I contend that doing so is an egregious error.


Two reasons.

First, to paraphrase George Santayana — “Those who forget the
past, don’t learn from it.”

Or more to the point, as Martin Cohen writes in his book Reason
and Nature:

“The notion that we can dismiss the views of all previous
thinkers surely leaves no basis for the hope that our own work
will prove of any value to others.”

To me this is “axiomatic,” which means it is irrefutable logic
and always true.

Think about it: if you dismiss the views of all who came before
you, then shouldn’t the next generation conclude they can learn
nothing from you?

Second, the problem with BSOs is: they are untested and unproven.

That makes them highly risky and more likely to fail.

By comparison, the tried and true is tested and proven.

That reduces your risk of a big failure … and increases the odds
of success.

How does this translate into direct marketing?

Well, many times I have come up with an initial selling idea for
a product.

When I run it past the client, they say — “That won’t work; we
know because we have tested it many times, and in each test it
always failed.”

A BSO fan would argue:

“Well, just because you guys couldn’t get it to work doesn’t mean
it won’t work now. Get some cojones and try it my way!”

Not me. As an old-school direct response guy, I am grateful the
client knows the idea has been tested and proven ineffective, as
it saves me from writing something that will more than likely

I thank them, go back to the drawing board, and brainstorm, both
on my own and often with them, to find a new idea with the
potential to be a winner.

Other old-time direct response copywriters tell me they agree
that the surest and most likely route to a winner is to take what
is tested and proven, dust it off, and give it a new twist.

As my old friend, superstar copywriter Richard Armstrong, wrote
in an article for AWAI:

“I believe there’s a much better word than creativity to describe
what we’re really striving for in this business: Ingenuity.

“What you really want to do is study what’s worked in the past.
Find out what’s working now. And see if you can come up with a
way to do the exact same thing … only better.

“If you do that, I guarantee you catch more customers … and
eventually more clients, too!”

In copywriting, it is rare to find something under the sun that
is entirely new.

More often, winning comes from saying the same old thing, but
saying it in a fresh and compelling new way.

And then test, test, test.

Don’t assume your idea, whether old school or BSO, is the best.

You don’t know. You have to test.

In marketing, as the great Claude Hopkins wrote: The only way to
settle the question of whether an ad will work is with a test,
not with arguments around a table.

And then, once we direct marketers roll it out, while continually
testing to beat our control.

Back in my day, people at Madison Avenue ad agencies hated the
tested direct response control.

They believed in their intuition and subjective judgment of their
peers: If everyone at the agency or my friends in advertising
think my ad is clever, funny, or creative, it must be good!

This in part explains the gross ineffectiveness of so many widely
admired national ad campaigns for major brands produced by the
big ad agencies.

My friend, motivational Rob Gilbert, says the key to success in
virtually every walk of life is:

“Do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t work.”

Pretty simple. Common sense. And good advice.


Category: General, Success | 109 Comments »

Are marketers who embrace these notions cowards?

September 12th, 2017 by Bob Bly

I know instantly whether a potential copywriting client and I are
simpatico just by the marketing terms he or she uses.

For instance, when I hear a client use words like “response” …
“conversion” … “click-through rates” … “break-even” … “results” …
“leads” … “sales” … “selling” … “offer” … “closing” … “call to
action” … or “profits” …

… I know we pray from the same hymnal of direct response.

It’s only when clients use other marketing words that my radar
signals we might not be a good fit.

For instance, it was trendy for a time to say that marketing is
having “conversations” and not selling.

When I wrote about conversations in this e-newsletter, subscriber
WM replied:

“I am a salesman. At the end of the month, my sales manager asks
me how much I sold. If I was to reply, ‘I didn’t sell anything,
but I had a lot of conversations’ — I’d be out on the street.”

I’m not saying conversations are not a valid part of the sales
and marketing process.

But marketers who focus on “conversation” sometimes do so to
avoid revealing that they do not know how to sell.

“Branding” always makes me a bit wary. Yes, it’s also a valid and
often important part of marketing.

But in marketing speak, it’s often code for, “We just position
our product in the marketplace but don’t know how to sell.”

And “brand awareness” is sometimes code for, “I talk about
awareness because it can’t really be measured and therefore I am
shielded from having to produce a result that can be measured,
which would reveal whether my ad is working and profitable.”

For many years, “content” didn’t sit well with me, as I thought
it devalued and positioned writing as a commodity — just as
calling a writer a “word smith” did back in the day.

But content has become an accepted term, and I am good with it

Same with “content marketing,” which we used to call “getting
more leads and sales by giving away free information.”

The title “content marketing strategist” though is a bit
overblown to me, as many (not all) people who call themselves
that essentially just write online articles for clients.

“Impressions” is another term I shy away from. I am not trying to
impress anyone. I am trying to sell them a product or service.

“Likes,” “followers,” and “connections” in social media. Well,
they are valid and measurable, and have some value.

But they are nothing to get excited about, if they are not
driving traffic, converting, and filling up your PayPal or bank
account with money from customer orders.

Any particular marketing terms you like or don’t like? And do you
agree or disagree with my assessment of marketing lingo here?


Category: General | 507 Comments »

My least-known secret for getting new copywriting clients

September 8th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Last month, I wrote an article saying I am against copywriters
working “on spec” — with rare exceptions.

Subscriber DW agreed that spec work is a bad idea for writers.

But when she added, “In my opinion, it’s right up there with
sending prospects samples of your work,” I immediately replied
“On that, we do not agree.”

The fact is, showing potential copywriting clients samples of my
published work … with my current clients’ permission, of course …
is a key factor in me making six figures a year for almost 4

Here is my online copywriting portfolio posted on my site:

Notice 3 important things about my portfolio:

>> First, it’s big. Really big. I don’t know of a copywriter who
has more samples posted online than I do, although there may be —
I haven’t looked hard.

By having so many samples, I increase the odds that I have
something online that will impress the client and make him want
to hire me.

>> Second, it’s organized in two sections: one by media (e.g.,
brochures, landing pages, white papers) and the second by product
or industry (e.g., financial, health care, software).

For the client who, unbeknownst to me, is browsing my site, this
makes it easier for him to find what he is looking for.

>> Third, each sample has a unique clickable hyperlink that I can
cut and paste into an email or document.

This allows me to send to prospects I am in contact with the
samples that best fit their needs and interests within a minute
or two — by pasting their URLs into an email and sending it to

I have constructed my online portfolio this way because if a
sample is well written and generated good response, the closer
the sample is to what the client wants me to write for them, the
more likely I am to be hired, all else being equal.

Yes, I understand that, when you are a newbie (I never use the
term “copy cub”), you don’t have a lot of samples at the
beginning of your career.

But my advice is: get as many samples of your work as you can —
and ask the client’s permission to post them on your site. So you
can build a bigger portfolio rather than a smaller one, as
quickly as you can.

Two warnings: Never post or share a sample of your work unless
the client has given you the okay.

And never post a promotion that you did not in fact write.

Aside from being completely unethical, for all you know the
prospect you are showing it to is the person who actually did the
promo you just tried to pass off as your own.


Category: General | 212 Comments »

Being snarky does not pay

September 5th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Here’s a quick and easy communication tip:

Being snarky, rude, sarcastic, or caustic doesn’t pay off.

It doesn’t help win the other person over to your side.

In fact, it turns them off.

As an example, here’s a somewhat snarky email I recently got from
subscriber MF in response to an essay I wrote about why I prefer
writing books for mainstream publishing houses rather than

He begins:

“Dear Bob: I never buy any of your products.”

Already a tad snarky.

“But I do enjoy your emails.”

That’s nicer.

Next he writes: “Here are 2 things you seem to be missing about
the whole getting a book published process.”

Now, MF has every right to disagree with what I say or think —
just as I have an equal right to disagree with him.

But whether mainstream is better or worse than self-publishing
is, in my opinion, a matter of opinion. Not an indisputable fact
one way or the other.

So saying “I disagree with you” is fine. Polite.

But saying “you seem to be missing” is arrogant, rude, and
presumptuous — as it assumes he is right and I am wrong, which is
exactly what MF did.

Another obnoxious phrase you should avoid in communication is
“You failed to,” as in, “You failed to do this or that.”

Hey, I didn’t FAIL to do it.

I either deliberately chose not to do it, deciding it is not
worth doing … or I didn’t do it the way you would have.

Or maybe I actually didn’t do something I was supposed to do.

In that case, just say “you did not do it.”

But don’t say “failed,” as it connotes insult, criticism, and is


Category: General | 94 Comments »