During my nearly a quarter century as a copywriter and marketing consultant, I have observed that business owners and managers fall into one of four categories as far as their competence and skill in marketing is concerned.


By recognizing which category you are in and taking the action steps recommended below, you can move up to the next level and significantly increase the ROI from your marketing dollars.


The lowest level of marketing competence is UNCONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE: You donít know what you are doing, and worse, you donít know that you donít know. You may even think you are a pretty sharp marketer, even though to others, that is clearly not the case. Egotistical small business owners who appear in their own TV commercials and ďcreativeĒ ad agencies can fall into this category.


Do you think you are an OK marketer, and blame the lack of results generated by your marketing always on external factors, such as bad timing, bad lists, or bad luck? You are probably in the unconscious incompetence stage.


Recognize that you donít know what youíre doing and it is hurting your business. Get help. Hire a professional from an agency like Fourth Avenue Marketing (contact info here) or take a marketing course such as AWAIís Six-Figure Copywriting Course [URL here] or ETRís Million Dollar Mailbox [URL here].


The next stage up the ladder is CONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE. Youíve recognized that the reason your marketing isnít working is twhat you donít know what youíre doing. Again, take the steps listed above.


Moving higher up the ladder of marketing competence you reach the stage of CONSCIOUS COMPETENCE. Youíve read the books, taken the courses, and understand what works. But your experience at putting it into practice is limited.


That means whenever you want to create a promotion, you have to slow down and think about what you are doing. It doesnít come naturally.


In the CONSCIOUS COMPETENCE stage, you should keep checklists, formulas, and swipe files (examples of successful promotions you admire) close at handle. Model your own efforts after the winners of others.


Donít try to reinvent the wheel. Observe what works and adapt it to your own product and market.


Do this enough times, and you will slowly begin to become a true master of marketing. You will reach the highest level of marketing competence, UNCONSCIOUS COMPETENCE.


At this stage, coming up with great offers, promotional ideas, headlines, and copy is second nature to you. You do it naturally, without having to consult your checklists or reference files. The quality of your work is better, and it comes faster and easier.


Michael Masterson says it takes at 1,000 hours of practice to become really competence at copywriting, marketing, or anything else. If you have expert guidance, you may be able to cut that to 500 hours.


But ultimately, you learn by doing Ė and doing a lot. If you are at this stage, keep doing more and more marketing. When you put in 5,000 hours, you will become great, not just good, and your results will be even better.


Action step: Rank yourself using the four levels of marketing competence as described here, and follow the recommendations for whatever stage you are in.

Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of The Complete Idiotís Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books). He can be reached at or e-mail