Why low-priced training isn’t always a bargain

May 11th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Regular readers of the Direct Response Letter know that I tend to
favor lower prices on information products — both my own and
others.

Yet despite that, I have to warn you that there is one major
drawback or risk of taking low-priced training.

And that is uneven and unreliable quality.

For instance, back in the day, I taught at the Learning Annex in
New York City, which offers courses on many interesting topics at
low cost.

As an instructor, I could take the occasional course for free,
which I did.

And while some of them were excellent, a few were taught by
subpar seminar leaders — who, as a former Annex instructor
myself, I know were paid very little.

Outside of NYC, I’ve had somewhat less luck with inexpensive
courses offered at local high schools and adult education
programs.

For instance, pre-internet, I had a traditional mail order
business selling paper-and-ink reports and books, which I ran out
of my basement.

The reports were “typeset” on an ordinary IBM Selectric
typewriter in Prestige Elite and “printed” on my office
photocopier.

The covers were actually typeset by a typographer and photocopied
on green paper, to add a more “expensive” look to the reports.

Anyway, to improve my business, I signed up for what looked like
a promising course — “How to Make Money in Mail Order at Home in
Your Spare Time” — at a local community college.

But when I got there, the instructor picked up a textbook and
began reading in a monotone, “Mail order marketing is defined
as….”

And I realized: she was just a business professor at the college,
and she had never operated a mail order business in her life.

She knew nothing about mail order outside of what she had read in a
textbook, which became immediately apparent to the bored and — as
she nervously kept reading — increasingly dissatisfied students.

Finally, I got up the courage to raise my hand — and when called
upon politely asked her, “Do you actually have your own mail
order business?”

She admitted she did not. I asked if anyone else in the classroom
did, and no one raised their hand.

“Well, I do,” I said, asking her, “Do you want me to teach the
course?”

She said yes, and I did.

Maybe I wasn’t great.

But my fellow classmates seemed thrilled to get first-hand
guidance in mail order by someone who had actually done it.

And the professor was obviously relieved at not having to fake
her way through material she clearly knew nothing about.

Now, if you take low-priced local training — which, unlike
courses you buy online, do not issue a refund if you are not
satisfied — you don’t risk much money.

But of course, you do risk wasting your time, which is arguably
even more precious.

So how can you profitably learn from “cheap” training in your own
backyard, without getting too badly burned?

Easy: Simply ask if the teacher is an active practitioner in the
topic.

For instance, if the course is about bookkeeping, is she or has
she been a bookkeeper? If it’s about training a puppy, is she a
vet, dog trainer, or even a dog walker?

If the answer is no, run.

Why?

Because if the instructor is a professor or other teacher, but
has never done the thing being taught, you are getting theory —
which in practical subjects like parenting, pet care,
bookkeeping, tax preparation, small business, or marketing, is
fairly worthless.

And the teacher being a great lecturer won’t make up for it: The
course might be enjoyable, but you won’t learn much that is
useful.

On the other hand, an instructor who is an active participant in
the field can pass on his “expensive experience” to you — giving
you a fast start and saving you from going down the wrong roads.

The expertise and rock-solid knowledge can more than make up
for the teacher perhaps not being the best seminar presenter.

And if she is not only a genuine expert but also a good lecturer —
as experts often are, in my experience — then you’ve struck
learning gold.

Online, you are a bit safer, because if the course is not to your
liking, you can — at least from an honest seller — get your money
back.

Locally, though, you — as the old saying goes — “pays your money
and you takes your chances.”

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Category: General | 12 Comments » |

Why I avoid meetings like the plague

May 8th, 2018 by Bob Bly

The other day, I got an e-newsletter with the lead article
titled, “How to Improve ROI from Your Business Meetings.”

And my immediate thought was: that’s easy — don’t HAVE business
meetings!

In my nearly 4 decades in business, I have yet to find a bigger
waste of time than face-to-face meetings … with the possible
exception of social media.

Back in the day, pre-email, pre-internet, and pre-skype, I did go
to some meetings with local clients here in NJ.

For out-of-state clients, we typically had the meeting over the
phone.

And guess what?

I consistently found that we could accomplish the same thing in a
20 to 30-minute phone call with the distant clients …

…as I did in a 2-hour face-to-face meeting with local clients.

And 2 hours was the actual meeting time. When you added in the
round-trip car ride — an hour each way — the meeting took 4
hours, or half a day of my time.

So now, no matter whether the client is down the block or in
Australia, our meeting is via phone, email, or Skype.

I just don’t meet with people in person, unless they are willing
to pay a hefty fee to do so. And often not even then.

My Facebook friend PO writes: “Business meetings are the death
knell of profitability, productivity, and employee morale —
senseless.”

Another FB friend, BM, cites a study about meetings from the
Organizational Development group at MIT.

This computer-simulation study concluded that the optimum number
of people to have in a business meeting for maximum productivity
is 1.3 — which can mean just me if I’ve gained some weight!

DG comments, “Business meetings should be concise and pertinent.
And if they fill up someone’s calendar, my suspicion increases as
to their necessity and value.”

JF opines: “The bigger the organization, the less productive the
meetings in my overall experience.”

JL says this about meetings: “If you take an hour’s salary
for each person in the room plus the cost of someone making an
agenda and a report and then compare that with what came out of
it, you’d have to ask yourself why you did that. Meetings: yuk,
gag, awful.”

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How to rid yourself of Writer’s Block

May 4th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Louis L’Amour, best-selling author of more than 100 books, had a
simple method for overcoming Writer’s Block.

I use it too and find it work well.

He said, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow
until the faucet is turned on.

“You can sit and look at a page for a long time and nothing will
happen. Start writing and it will.”

If you look around, many of the most successful and productive
authors essentially used the same method to keep the juices and
words flowing.

Georges Simenon, author of over 500 books, said he used a small
vocabulary so he wouldn’t have to get up from his desk to consult
a dictionary. His goal was to keep his butt in the chair in front
of his typewriter and not be distracted by anything.

My personal writing hero, Isaac Asimov, also wrote more than 500
books. His secret? Asimov wrote 7 days a week, usually for 8 to
10 hours a day or more.

I remember Stephen King in an interview once saying he wrote
every day except Christmas and his birthday.

A common excuse for not writing is that the writer says he does
not feel inspired; the muse has not struck. To me this is the
height of absurdity.

In his book “On Writing Well,” William Zinsser said: “The
professional writer who waits for inspiration is fooling himself.
He is also going broke.”

Another writer — I think it was Joe Haldeman — put it this way
(and I am paraphrasing):

“The idea of not writing because you don’t feel like it is
ridiculous. If I work in the chicken plant, and I don’t feel like
going to the chicken plant, do I not go to the chicken plant? Of
course I go.”

You may not have the muse at your side, but write anyway.
Remember this old Caribbean saying: “Every day is not a catching
day, but every day is a fishing day.”

I also use another technique for never having Writer’s Block,
which Isaac Asimov advocated.

He said (and again, I am paraphrasing): “Always have multiple
projects. That way, when you get stuck on Project A, instead of
not being able to write, simply put it aside and move to Project
B, which keeps you fresh and energized.”

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Why I love libraries

May 1st, 2018 by Bob Bly

Recently, on a Facebook post, I casually mentioned in passing
that I get a lot of my books to read at the local town library.

My Facebook friend LW wrote:

“Bob, why the public library when there is Kindle?”

My immediate thought was:

“LW, why Kindle when there is the public library?”

I absolutely prefer paperbound books over digital books — and I
am a regular patron at my town library.

As Louis L’Armour writes in his book “Education of a Wandering
Man” (Bantam), “Education is available to anyone within reach of
a library.”

My fellow copywriter and FB friend DG says:

“I’m a public library guy and I also buy books. I only read
paperbound books myself, and I’m already way out of room to store
the ones I have.”

Now, I understand the many reasons why people tell me they love
their Kindle readers. I just don’t find them personally
appealing.

One of the big reasons people advocate Kindle is the ability to
easily carry dozens or hundreds of books with them wherever they
go.

But since I almost never go anywhere, there’s no benefit to me.

And in those rare instances when I do travel, one thick paperback
is enough to get me through the round-trip flight.

There are legions of people who just love paperbound books as
physical objects: the feel, the look, even the smell of the
paper.

I’m one of them. And Kindle wants to take all that all away from me.

As the author of 95 published books, one of my greatest rewards
is holding my latest hardcover or paperback in my hand — and
putting a few copies in our living room bookcase.

Holding electrons in my hands with a Kindle just doesn’t give me
that same pride of authorship.

(Similarly, I get much more of a charge holding a magazine with
my article in it than I do seeing my article on some website.)

Another big advantage of physical books is the venues where I get
them: bookstores, libraries, and used book catalogs, my favorite
of which is Edward R. Hamilton, though Bas Bleu and Daedelus are
not far behind. (Especially Bas, because they sometimes carry my
books.)

When you are in a library or a bookstore, or thumbing through a
book catalog, you encounter all sorts of books, information, and
subjects that you otherwise would never have thought about
before.

Yes, this can also happen online

But in a bookstore or library, with the actual book in front of
you, the compulsion to browse is, for me, even greater than
online. And yes, like so many people, I like web surfing.

——————————————————————

You may be thinking that I am a hypocrite, because I
publish, sell, as well as read PDF ebooks.

But when I buy a PDF ebook, I don’t read it on a screen. I print
it out, put it in a 3-ring binder, and read it as a hard copy
document.

And I suggest to my PDF ebook buyers that they do the same.
Although, of course, they are free to read it on a screen if they
prefer.

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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
Freelancer.com, 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
engineer.

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.

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Category: Writing | 12 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:

https://amzn.to/2HxCR3r

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
freelancers.

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
stratosphere.

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
you.

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:

https://amzn.to/2quiHz7

Sincerely,

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
me.

>> 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?

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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
parts.

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
copywriters.

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.

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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
expression.

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.

4–Enjoyment.

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.

5–Communicate.

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.

6–Influence.

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.

7–Posterity.

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

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.

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