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Archive for April, 2018

Is freelance copywriting becoming a commodity?

April 27th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Subscriber DC, an experienced copywriter, writes:

“The market has changed quite a bit over the past 4-5 years for
freelancers. With the growing popularity of sites like Upwork and, and the flood of freelancers entering the market,
freelancing is in danger of becoming a commodity over the next
5-10 years.”

DC wants to know whether I agree. Answer: Well, yes and no. Let
me explain…..

First, yes to the fact that the market today is different — the
main change being there are so many more freelance copywriters
working today.

Contrast that to when I started freelancing in 1982, when often,
when a prospect called me, I was the only freelance copywriter
they could find.

Their choice was (a) write it themselves, (b) hire a small ad
agency or PR firm, (c) or me.

For a time, I was, as far as I could see, the only freelance
copywriter serving my niche — which back then was industrial
marketing — which gave me a huge advantage, as did my being an

Today there are many copywriters out there with engineering
backgrounds. And just many more altogether.

That being said, copywriting is already a commodity in some
markets — and yet will probably never be a commodity in others.

Copywriting is a commodity in any market where copy is either (a)
not a critical factor determining marketing success or (b) the
copy does not generate measureable response and tangible results.

This would include much of the advertising for local small
businesses as well as bigger companies that focus on either
branding or image advertising.

The reason copywriting is a commodity in these markets is that,
well, everyone today writes or thinks they can.

And when you can’t quantitatively measure the sales produced by
copy, it is difficult to prove that your copy is better than
someone else’s — hence, it is seen as a commodity.

On the other hand, copywriting is unlikely to become a commodity
in areas where it (a) is a major factor in determining marketing
success, (b) generates a tangible response (e.g., inquiries,
orders) that can be precisely measured down to the penny, and (c)
produces a positive ROI, so it is seen as a profit center and not
a cost center.

This would include most of the world of direct marketing: direct
response TV and radio, magazine and newspaper advertising, direct
mail, online sales letters, video sales letters, and
autoresponder email series.

Within direct response, long-form freelance copywriters have
traditionally been paid more and earn more than short-form
copywriters, based on the fact that there are fewer people who
can do long-form well.

And by well, I don’t mean beautiful writing or creative. I mean
beat the client’s existing long-form control.


Category: Writing | 287 Comments »

B2B vs. B2C freelancing: how are they different?

April 24th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Subscriber CO writes:

“Could you talk about the differences between starting a
business-to-business (B2B) copywriting business, versus starting
a copywriting business aimed at direct response
business-to-consumer (B2C) copy?

“Are there differences between getting clients, running the
business etc. Since you write copy for both, I figured you would
have a unique view on this.”

Well, I could write a book about the differences between B2B and
B2C copy — and in fact, I did:

Although it was first published about 20 years ago, I believe you
will find a lot of useful answers to your question in its pages.

But as far as freelance copywriting is concerned, the major
difference between B2B and B2C is the degree of hype, both in
the copy and in the business itself.

Although each industry and in fact each client is different, as a
rule, B2B marketing is more straightforward and has relatively
little hype in it.

By comparison, consumer direct response – depending on the
product, industry, or niche – has a medium to heavy degree of
hype in it.

This hype translates into two major differences in the work for

The first is that in certain product areas – for instance,
selling stock market newsletters to individual investors – the
level of hype for many promoters has skyrocketed into the

For instance, a popular copywriting technique used in financial
promotions, “misdirection,” recommends that you delay mentioning
the product until you are many pages into the sales letter.

By comparison, misdirection is virtually never used in B2B copy,
where success is achieved by clearly and succinctly describing
the precise problem readers have, and then immediately
positioning your product as the best way to solve it.

The second major difference is the mindset of the clients.

In B2B, you are more often than not working with marketing
directors at a corporation – usually straight-up, no-nonsense
executives — selling what they consider a “real” product; e.g.
an industrial pump or water treatment plant.

If you were to show this B2B marketing director your portfolio of
long-copy sales letters written for direct response offers such
as option trading services or dietary supplements, many would
think you are a peddler of B.S. – and they would likely not hire

Conversely, if you show the owner or marketing chief of a
thriving supplement or investment advisory company your
industrial pump brochure, they won’t even recognize it as
“marketing.” They will think you are a technical writer and won’t
hire you.

The thing both B2B and B2C freelance copywriting have in common
is the client’s desire to hire a copywriter having a portfolio
and experience in their product niche.

For instance, a potential client selling an option trading course
wants to see you have written promotions for other option-related
information products (software, newsletters, books, workshops) or
related areas (real estate, precious metals, stocks, bonds). Not
widgets, chemicals, or soap.

Now, you might well ask, “How can I get my first client in any
area – whether B2B manufacturing or alternatives health – when I
have no experience writing copy for that field?”

The short answer is: Don’t worry. You can.

The long answer I wrote out for you and published as a chapter in
my book on freelancing, “Secrets of a Freelance Writer,” which I
highly recommend to you if you are facing this particular
challenge of breaking into a new copywriting niche or market:


Bob Bly

P.S. In case you are wondering, no, I don’t feel scummy or like a
con artist telling you to “buy my book” instead of just giving
you the advice right here … for 3 reasons:

>> First, you can buy a used copy of “Secrets of a Freelance
Writer” on Amazon for just a few bucks. I get no money when
people buy it used. So my recommendation has no profit motive for

>> Second, the reason I write books is to convey information and
provide answers too complex and lengthy to communicate in a short
email. If I could tell you how to break into a field in which you
have no experience in one of these short emails for free, I would
do so. But I can’t.

>> Third, the advice in “Secrets of a Freelance Writer” is based
on nearly 4 decades of copywriting experience and has helped
earn me millions of dollars at my trade. Also the book took me
many months to write. Now Amazon sells it to you for less than
you’d pay for a burger, fries, and Coke at your local
luncheonette. Quite a bargain, no?

I do not believe that sending people to one of my books for
advice is unfair, greedy, or causes them undue hardship. In a
pinch, you can borrow my books from many libraries for free.

This is in sharp contrast to today’s marketing teachers who
charge you $1,000 to attend a seminar where the focus is
upselling you to their $5,000 coaching program or $10,000
mastermind group, right?


Category: Writing | 153 Comments »

How to stand out as a B2C copywriter

April 20th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Subscriber CO writes:

“Could you talk about how to stand out as a direct response
copywriter for business-to-consumer (B2C), when so many new
copywriters are now entering this space? Especially in industries
that are saturated, such as health and financial.”

Well, it’s a multipart answer — and CO may not like some of the

I would ask CO and others to seriously rethink targeting the
health and financial segments of consumer direct response.

There are two reasons. First, every copywriter and his brother
wants to write for these clients. And so the clients have a
cornucopia of writers at their beck and call.

Second, virtually all the top direct response copywriters serve
these niches. And your chances of writing a promo that beats
Clayton Makepeace or David Deutsch are slim to none.

If I were a newbie copywriter today, I would pick a niche other
than financial or health — ideally, one where (a) copy is
important and (b) I had some advantage over other writers.

For instance, if you have worked as a flight attendant, travel
would be a logical niche, because you know the industry and have
traveled many thousands or millions of miles more than other

Remember, two things clients look for in direct response
copywriters are (a) a track record of winning promotions and (b)
specific experience in an industry or product category. As a
newbie, you are more likely to have the second than the first.

If you still insist on financial and health, target areas of
these two niches other than the most competitive.

In health, a few sub-niches that are not overcrowded — but still
lucrative and fun — are medical devices and equipment, hospitals,
and software … rather than the prize every other copywriter is
chasing: writing copy for dietary supplements.

In financial, while everyone wants to write for Agora, Weiss, and
other stock newsletter publishers, consider gold and silver
(bullion and coins) sellers, option trading systems and software,
insurance, and banking, to name several.

Assuming I can’t dissuade you, and you’re jonesing to write for
nutritional supplements or investment letters, at least come at
it from the side.

Meaning instead of writing major long-form promotions, such as
online sales letters and VSLs, write related material for
campaigns; e.g., special reports, email autoresponder series, and
name squeeze pages.

And there, CO, is my answer.


Category: Writing | 800 Comments »

Why I write

April 17th, 2018 by Bob Bly

People often ask me, “Bob, why do you write?”

In fact, I have been asked this so many times over the years, it
makes sense to me to answer that question here.

So basically, I write for these 7 reasons (you can see that some
of these apply only to very specific types of writing I do and
not all writing I do):

1–Creative expression.

When I write short stories, it’s for creative or — and maybe this
is a stretch given my limited talents in fiction — artistic

Ideas pop into my head, and for the few good ones, I can’t rest
until I get them onto paper.

2–To share ideas.

I write these e-newsletter essays to share thoughts, ideas,
observations, and learnings I think some of you may find
interesting … or even helpful.

3–To educate.

My how-to business books are written primarily to teach others
what I know — a compulsion I, for good or ill, seem to be powerless
to resist.


I just love to write. In fact, there’s nothing I enjoy doing more
than writing.

May Sarton said many people want to have written a book, but few
actually want to write a book.

I’m in the minority who love the writing of the book.


Writing helps me connect with other people in the world of ideas,
without the inconvenience of having to leave the house to see
them in person.


If I think a book, idea, course, product, service, organization,
or philosophy is good, I naturally want others to enjoy, benefit,
and profit from it as I do.

And as both a copywriter and author, I can influence them to try
these great things.


Writer Harlan Ellison says, “A century from now, people will
still be reading what I wrote. That’s the delusion that sustains

I am not quite as deluded (though Harlan is a great writer and I
am merely competent) — but I like the sentiment.

However, let’s say no one reads me any more after I’m dead.

Well, if they at least said I was a good person who genuinely
cared about my readers and tried to help folks — that would do
it for me.


Category: Writing | 118 Comments »

The 5 things I regret most in my life

April 6th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Subscriber JM writes:

“I would love to know a handful of your biggest regrets
professionally or personally — or things you might have done

“You might not have many since you’ve always done what you
love… but I bet it would make for a gripping topic for your
letter too.”

I’m not sure it’s all that gripping, JM, but since you asked, the
truth is I have many regrets — because, like most people, I make
a lot of mistakes, wrong choices, and bad decisions.

Caveat: You may find some or all of these trivial. To you, they
may be. To me, not.

Here in no particular order are just 5 things I did or didn’t do
that bug me; the list could be much longer:


I got married at a younger age than my friends — 25.

But my wife got cancer a few months after the wedding.

Because of the radiation treatment, we were told to hold off on
kids for a few years.

Then, we went through infertility.

So we had Alex and then Steve later than we’d planned.

We wanted a third child. Maybe a sister for the boys.

But by then, we felt we were too old.

And so we didn’t.

Which I regret, because my kids are everything to me.


I played in my high school band, orchestra, and jazz band —
clarinet and baritone sax.

One day, the orchestra teacher offered to teach me another
instrument, one of my favorites — string bass.

He gave me a couple of lessons, but I already had a lot to do.
And so I let it go. And never learned to play the bass. Which I
wish I could play today.


At the University of Rochester, we chemistry majors were
encouraged to take German.

I took the required two semesters, but not more.

As a result, I can’t speak or read the language.

Which would have been useful to me, as in my career I have
written copy for a number of German companies.


I got hooked on writing as early as high school, writing for the
paper, and then doing the same in college.

I love being a writer, and would choose that if I had to do it
all over again.

Still, it meant not pursuing what was my first love, chemistry.
And that too I regret more than a little; I even put up a
chemistry website to stay involved with it:


Like many writers, writing a novel was on my to-do list.

But I never did it, because I never had a story idea I thought
could sustain novel-length treatment.

All my published fiction is short stories:

But no novel. And time is growing short.

And finally, I do have a couple of ideas I think might work.

So I’ll end this essay and get to work on the novels.


Category: General | 196 Comments »

Get big ideas from these 6 little books

April 3rd, 2018 by Bob Bly

In the self-help and success niche, there is a curious phenomenon
I call the “little books.”

These books are usually almost always reprints of talks,
speeches, and tracts from the 20th century, published today as
thin paperback books.

Some are so few pages they are more like pamphlets than books —
saddle-stitched with staples through the spine rather than
perfect-bound like a regular paperback book.

You can read them in a single evening without discomfort,
fatigue, or boredom. And they lend themselves to being reread on
a regular basis.

These little books survive the decades and centuries, and
continue to be avidly read today by an elite group of truth
seekers lucky enough to discover them, because these slim volumes
contain valuable wisdom.

Each essentially teaches a simple lesson that is practical,
timeless, and proven to be correct through long and continuous

The 6 “little books” I heartily recommend you read this year are
the following:

1–Russell Cromwell, “Acres of Diamonds.”

A speech given many times that says all the treasures you want
and everything you need can be found right here in your own back

2–James Webb Young, “A Technique for Producing Ideas.”

A proven and simple 5-step method of solving problems and
producing profitable new ideas.

3–Earl Nightingale, “The Strangest Secret.”

The singular lesson of this reprint of a Nightingale talk is: “We
become what we think about.”

4–George Clason, “The Richest Man in Babylon.”

A sermon of sorts on the wisdom of achieving success by putting
your nose to the grindstone, investing wisely, being thrifty, and
learning from those who have already achieved what you desire.

5–Robert R. Updegraff, “Obvious Adams.”

The story of a businessman who uses pure common sense to achieve
extraordinary success, doing what seems obvious to him but others
apparently miss.

6–James Allen, “As a Man Thinketh.”

The lesson: by controlling your thoughts you control your life —
similar to #3 above.

All 6 of these books are like gems: small but valuable.

I reread all 6 within the past couple of months — didn’t take
long, so the return on time invested (ROTI) is great — and as
always, found reinforcement of good ideas as well as inspiration
for new achievement.

Do you have another favorite little book to add to my list?


Category: General | 133 Comments »