Category Archives: freelance copywriters

Why We Blow Stuff Up On The 4th Of July (redux)

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Saturday, 1:35pm
Reno, NV
Wave that flag, wave it wide and high…” (Grateful Dead, “US Blues”)

Howdy,

As a kid, July Fourth meant fireworks, and lots of them.

We’d start salivating around mid-June, shaking like 10-year-old junkies until Pop finally drove us to the Red Devil stand in Fontana, where’d we stock up on the most gruesome display of flame, gunpowder and amateur rocketry possible.

Oh, the joys of ladyfingers going off under Aunt Ruth’s chair… of nearly burning down the garage when a bottle rocket zoomed sideways… of thrilling Roman candles singeing the shrubbery… of snakes, pinwheels, sparklers and fountains frothy with fire in the backyard battlefield…

It was freakin’ glorious, is what it was.

But I never made the connection to what, exactly, we were celebrating.

Later in life, I got into history, and I finally understood why (for example) my Mexican and European pals rolled their eyes at my stories of celebrating the Fourth by setting fields on fire with M80-loaded Silver Salutes, or blowing up toilets in the boy’s room with cherry bombs (as custom demanded).

Americans are a raucous bunch, that’s for sure. We take a lot for granted, we’re still fighting the Civil War, much of our politics is incoherent and illogical, and we can be pretty infuriatingly provincial.

Plus, we’re no longer world leaders in the stuff we used to be rockstars at, like education, social mobility, inventions, progress, medicine… and we’re in denial about much of it.

However, even acknowledging all of these glaring faults hasn’t made me as cynical as some of my hipster pals. As I’ve said many times, no political party would ever allow me to be a member, and you’ll never figure out how I vote or what my views are on the topics the news media obsesses about.

This causes some problems in social situations when colleagues just assume I agree with them on the major issues. And I usually don’t agree at all. I’m not a total cynic, but I find fault with almost every opinion I hear. I totally understand how a lot of folks do become snarling partisans, enraged at their polar opposites on all issues, bereft of hope for the future.

I just learned to loathe cynicism itself long ago. Worthless attitude, doesn’t help anything, doesn’t provide solutions, doesn’t make an iota of difference in what goes on. At best, the cynic may toss off an actual witticism…

… but mostly, they’re just too cool to be bothered beyond expressing droll boredom and a vague superiority at being “above the fray”.

Well, fuck ‘em. The social/political/world-affairs cynic is a close cousin of the dude who’s never met a payroll, yet feels completely qualified to deliver speeches on how everyone else’s business should be run.

And I learned to shut that guy out very early in my career. My first question, whenever someone was bashing an entrepreneur’s efforts, used to be “well, what would you do in his situation?”

Which, of course, produced exasperation that someone of such intelligence and knowledge as themselves should be required to come up with solutions.

The nerve, asking him to dirty himself with real-world considerations.

Nowadays, I prefer to just let the conversation die from non-involvement. No matter what the cynic is talking about, it’s the same game every time – either “they” (the mysterious folks apparently running everything) need to fix things, or the world just needs to stop bothering Mr. Cynic with its problems if no one’s gonna take his advice.

Yawn.

Yeah, you’re the guy I’m going to when problems need fixing. Those platitudes, snooty attitudes and arrogant dismissals of detail work oughta solve everything fast.

Oops, I let some sarcasm slip there. Sorry.

Anyway, I bring up my detestation of cynicism because it often rears its ugly head right about the Fourth of July, when guys like me start ruminating on what’s good about this country.

Yes, I know The Man is getting better at keeping us down. I know we’re being groomed for digital slavery by evil geniuses who want to control the universe. And I know it’s hopeless to fight city hall (let alone the gazillionaires currently corrupting every corner of the government with buckets of moolah).

But I’m an amateur historian. And I can scoff at the cynics because even a casual glance at the ride we’ve taken as a country so far lays bare a single fact: We’ve always been at each other’s throats… the machinery of government has always clogged up at some point with cronyism and stupidity and corruption… and there is no single “truth” about living in the modern world.

Folks, we’re making it up as we go. If you’ve been living your life believing there’s some grand plan guiding things beyond the next election cycle, well, good for you. I hope that belief gives you comfort, but you’re delusional.

What’s kept the country going, so far, has been the incredible creativity of a minority of people who either get sucked into positions of authority, or who throw themselves into the fight (and suffer the consequences) because they simply cannot ignore the craziness anymore.

Our Constitution, cobbled together by men who did their best to force-feed the breakthroughs of The Enlightenment into government, is part road-map, part mysterious Oracle (written in language so open to interpretation that we haven’t agreed on it in two centuries years of trying), part sobering reminder of how imperfect our origins are.

Hey, it was one of the first governing documents of its kind, so cut it a little slack. Your bitchin’ new iMac is a direct descendant of that first homemade Apple computer (with no monitor and very limited utility) in Wozniack’s garage, you know. Your nice dependable car with the sealed engine bloomed from the unreliable Model A. The first of anything is almost always a fragile, error-riddled Beta version that gets a few steps forward and then collapses.

Which is why we didn’t get our modern version of the Constitution until after we tossed the mortally-flawed Articles of Confederation, and added a whole bunch of Amendments to address other serious problems that kept popping up.

I don’t have any easy answers to the problems plaguing us, and you don’t either. The battles we fight have always been with us, and forever will remain with us. Right vs. left, ignorant vs. arrogant, moralist vs. libertine, religious vs. secularist… you’re not gonna solve the disconnects and partisanship with laws.

What resiliency we’ve enjoyed has been because of the elasticity of the governing document. It has bent near-to-breaking many times, but keeps snapping back.

Which brings me to one thing I insist on celebrating in our Constitution over all other elements – the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Like much of the writing in our governing document, it’s vague and easily interpreted in silly ways.

However, that key detail about freedom of speech is the grease in the engine of democracy. Most of our ancestors, thoughout history, had no such luxury. A few short generations ago, I easily could have been shot just for writing what I do on this blog. Most ruling classes, once they get into power, seek to shut down dissent (and anyone else they don’t like for general purposes). It’s hard to rule large growling groups of humans, and you can get very irritable when critics are always sniping at your heels.

So, despite all the cynical things you can say about this joint, I keep coming back to that fragile, constantly-in-need-of-nurturing First Amendment…

… which, if any of my ancestors throughout history could have seen, would have taken their breath away.

We take it for granted that we can speak our minds here… and my network of writerly pals feel mostly immune from the anxieties our colleagues in other times have suffered (and still suffer in many parts of the world).

It’s hard to imagine how I’d get through my day if I had to bite my tongue, and keep all this blather in my brain a fearful secret, 1984-style.

Americans are a contentious bunch. We may yet screw things up and lose it all… but it’s not a foolish bet, either, to believe we can also re-establish our foothold in this brave new world and keep the noble experiment going…

… as long as writers and other ass-kickers are free to persuade, cajole, cast shame and float new ideas without being tossed in the hoosegow.

And so, today, I tip my hat to the flag and Ms Liberty, and shed a modest tear for the freedom I’ve been given to be my anti-authoritarian, irreverent, rebellious bad self.

Here’s to ya, old girl. My love is genuine and forever, no matter how much she pisses me off at times.

And to the cynics: Either put up, or shut up. There’s work to be done, and your troll-like carping from the sidelines has long been like the annoying yapping of lap dogs. Lay out your plan for what to do differently. Don’t just gripe.

Okay, I feel better now. Thanks.

Hope you have a great holiday weekend. Don’t get sunburned, don’t get too wasted, and don’t burn down the garage. And for cryin’ out loud, don’t get sucked into another futile political argument with that asshole brother-in-law of yours…

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. Love to hear your comments on how you deal with cynics, and how you view this opportunity to live in a world where you can spout off to The Man without (for now, at least) risking your neck.

We live in interesting times, my friend.

Buzz And Awe, Redux

2-10 iPhone 005

Tuesday, 2:08 a.m.
Reno, NV
Is there gas in the car? Yeah, there’s gas in the car…” (Steely Dan, “Kid Charlemagne”)

Howdy…

Those of you in the loop know we’ve re-launched the coaching program of the Simple Writing System again.

We rarely offer this hand-holding, personalized, one-on-one mentoring (by coaches who are also successful copywriters). The last session was a couple of years ago.

No idea when another session will come around… if it even does.

We take this one program at a time. It’s notorious among marketing insiders, because of how effectively we’re able to transform almost anyone into a sales-message-producing machine… quickly and efficiently. It’s life-changing, and business-changing mojo…

… and that’s why the top marketers in the game have demanded that the folks in their organization responsible for marketing TAKE this course.

The personalized coaching in the SWS is extremely interactive Perfect for anyone who knows that hands-on mentoring is the best way to learn the simplest possible system (crammed with short-cuts) for creating all the sales messages needed for a profitable business…

… including all your ads, websites, video scripts, emails, AdWords, blogs and other social media broadsides…

everything that pumps eager prospects into your Sales Funnel.

So you can close the heck out them.  And get filthy rich and happy, and become the most successful entrepreneur or biz owner possible… because without killer, persuasive copy, you’re not going to find, nor close very many prospects.

Most marketers wander through the wasteland of Bad Business Practices their entire career…

… and never figure out how to SELL anything.

So, no matter how totally hot and good and righteous your product or service might be…

… you still struggle. Or go under.

ALL the top marketers you know about, online and offline, know how to write their own sales messages.

And when it’s really, really, really freaking important that it gets done right…

… they almost always actually DO it themselves.

Now, yeah, sure, they also hire out some of the writing, too. But not because they are clueless about what needs to go into a killer sales message.

No way.

In fact, the top guys are the WORST clients a freelancer can have. Because you can’t bullshit them. They know EXACTLY what a good ad looks like.

The really good marketers are armed to the teeth with salesmanship chops.  A freelance copywriter cannot lollygag around with those guys, or he’ll get thrown to the dogs. He’s got to deliver the best work possible, because the client who understands what great ad copy looks like will not accept mediocre crap.

You know what the BEST client is for a freelance copywriter?

It’s the fool who hasn’t got Clue One about what goes into a decent sales message.

The freelancer can toss off the laziest piece of garbage possible… something that barely resembles advertising… and still collect his fee.

And when it fails and dies a horrible death? Well, who’s to say why it happened.

The clueless client sure doesn’t know.

And consider this: Say you somehow manage to hire the most promising copywriter in the universe to come work for you.

Exclusively.  He becomes a member of your team.  And you teach him all the secrets of your biz, right down to the specs of your product.

I’ve seen this soap opera go down often.

Here’s how it plays out: Once that brilliant young writer gets some experience with you… and learns all your secrets…

… yep.  He leaves.

And either starts working for the competition…

… or BECOMES your competition.

And let’s see.  Hmmm.  You had the biz first.  It was your baby.  Your product.

But he knows how to create the sales messages that sell it.  And you just taught him all your secrets.

Who do you think wins in that match-up?

People… you MUST learn how to create a decent sales message, if you are to survive and prosper in business today.

Otherwise… you’re toast.

And this is why we’re hauling out the Simple Writing System personalized, one-on-one coaching program again. The very deep, yet easily-understood online quick-learning program where recognized, veteran, professional copywriting experts personally coach you through the SWS. Which will finally trick your brain into being able to create killer, persuasive ads and marketing materials…

… whenever you need them.

Is this program for you?

Here’s a simple way to find out: Go here and watch this video. (It’s just me on the video, explaining everything to you, and it’s not outrageously long. Just the facts.)

You’ll get the full story… how you can go through this program at your own pace, on your own schedule… and have a veteran copywriter coach you the entire way, with personal advice and coaching. No one is “too busy” to take this course right now — jettisoning a single TV program you watch each week, for a few weeks, is more than enough “found time” to do everything.

And when you come out the other side of this coaching… you’ll have finally learned how to create, from scratch, all the ads and marketing materials you will ever need. The stuff that sells, and pumps up your bottom line, and brings you massive success on a silver platter.

Are you ready for a ride that can change your life forever?

We’re gunning the engine, holding the door open for you…

… but you gotta take that first step on your own.

C’mon.

It’s more fun around crazy writers who know how teach you the secrets of excellent salesmanship…

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. I almost forgot…

… you can only watch this video for the next week or so.

This new SWS sessions starts very soon. (No, you do not need to “plan” or “prepare” to get involved — you can really can go through the entire program in your spare time, at your own pace… and still get all the personalized coaching from your teacher you need.)

So you need to get over here now… while we’re still accepting students.

I have no idea if we’ll offer another SWS session.

So take nothing for granted here. Go watch my video now…

How To Hire A Copywriter.

photo-1Tuesday, 2:14pm
Reno, NV
Are you going on this crazy voyage?” (Sailor in “King Kong”, 1933 version)

Howdy…

It’s high time for a little “public service” message here, for any marketer wanting to hire a freelance copywriter.

Cuz it’s a jungle out there.

There’s a veritable mob of available writers, of all levels of expertise (from world-class down to “should be hung”), charging all kinds of fees and making all kinds of promises.

It can get confusing, abruptly, and you can end up mismatched (or getting roughed up financially) if you don’t know what you’re doing.

So, here’s a Quick Start overview of what you – the dude or dudette doing the hiring – should get straight on before heading into the Big Scary Jungle Of Freelance Copywriters to find your perfect scribe. (This works for hiring ANY consultant, actually, so pay attention.)

Step One: Deconstruct and list what you want done.

Do you need a single ad written, or do you need your entire website created or overhauled? Do you need someone to write the necessary emails, Video Sales Letters and sales pages for a launch? Do you need a sales funnel created, starting with Adwords and traveling through landing pages, auto-responders, landing pages, and sales support?

Or what?

Step Two: Admit it if you aren’t sure what you want (or need). Double admit it to yourself if you’re absolutely clueless.

This is a critical step.

You’re about to shell out a lot of money, and put a lot of your hopes and dreams on the back of the writer you hire…

… so this is no time to be deluded, or to try bullshitting your way through the process.

Whether you find the perfect copywriter (someone you’ll end up working with for years successfully) or whether you bring on a misfit (who leaves your marketing efforts sputtering)…

… this is gonna be one of the most time-and-money intensive relationships you have in your business.

Copy is the MAIN ELEMENT in your ability to attract prospects and close them as customers. (Yes, the quality of what you offer matters… but never forget that the Marketing Graveyard is crammed with superior products that died horrible and fast deaths because no one figured out how to sell them.)

So, if you’re an experienced marketer who is positive that you know what you need from a hired copywriter… great.

And if (despite your other experience in business) you’re not sure precisely what you need… because you’re maybe new to a certain advertising tactic, or market forces are crushing you (like changed technology, fresh competition, or the sudden obsolescence of your product), or what you’ve done before just ain’t working anymore…

… you’re going to need a different kind of freelance copywriter.

This is a process. It will be come clear in a moment.

Step Three: Figure out your budget. For the entire project, which might include hiring professionals, paying for services (like designers or programmers), buying lists or ad space, every conceivable cost you’ll encounter.

Experienced marketers will have a “war chest” for any new project (or any other situation requiring hiring outside help). It’s an approximate amount of moolah they’re willing to shell out to get things rolling.

If you’re new to using freelancers, you may not know how much to set aside. There’s no exact formula… but you can at least figure out what you can afford right now.

Entrepreneurs often learn about the cost of outside services as they go. It can be a shock, so you have to understand what the “value” is to your business of every new move. (In other words, get clear on what a winning ad, in a winning campaign, to the right lists, via the right media, in the right vehicles will mean in terms of buckets of cash cascading into your life…

… versus how a losing ad in a total bomb of a campaign will harsh your mellow.)

At first, you may have to be vague. This applies to everything you do – from going to a high-priced seminar, taking a course or joining a coaching program, hiring a writer or consultant, designing new product, investing in new infrastructure, and so on.

There’s a “cost” to everything, which includes both the dollars involved, AND your time and invested energy… all balanced against the odds of success. If you “save” time doing certain things yourself, and the results are abysmal, how much have you really saved? Or, if you write a check that makes your hand shake to a top copywriter who produces something that opens the wealth spigot on your head, how much did that writer “cost” you?)

When it comes to hiring a freelance copywriter, you have decided that either (a) your own ability to craft an ad/website/email/etc is not up to the task at hand…

… or (b) it makes “sense” to hire a professional writer… because you have the resources to pay for the help you need…

… and the time saved (by having more people involved in the project) allows you to move more efficiently toward your biz goals.

(Side Note: If your ability to write your own marketing materials is zero… and there is no one already on your staff able to write this material at a level needed in your niche to convert prospects to customers… then your problem is magnified. I highly recommend that anyone craving success as an entrepreneur learn how to write fundamentally-solid sales copy…

… so (1) you can avoid being dependent on outside writers when it’s not necessary… (2) you can write decent copy in a pinch during emergencies… and (3) you will understand precisely what you need from freelancers when you do hire them (and never be in the dark about whether their copy is “good” or not). There are a lot of ways to get this fundamental education in copywriting…

… and because it’s the lifeblood of all your marketing plans, you should consider this as important as anything else you do in your quest for success. I can recommend the Simple Writing System – check it out here. But whatever you do, get this fundamental understanding of what goes into good sales copy under your belt asap. Consider it a primary asset in your business toolkit. A PRIMARY asset.)

Step Four: If you’re unclear about any of this, admit it.

No one is born knowing how to plan for a business project. And even MBA degrees can leave you clueless (amazing, but true) (and common).

So take stock of your resources: Who amongst your staff has the knowledge to do… or the experience to know how to price out… the things you need done?

If you’re a one-man-band, this is easy. And, you may have zero skills, and be mostly riding your passion for becoming independently rich into the entrepreneurial world. Hey, it can work. I know a lot of entrepreneurs who made a gig work, learning everything as they went. Not the recommended path, but it’s an option.

Eventually, however, every biz owner will have to come to terms with the need to invest in getting help where you need it. You can never do everything yourself, if you’re going to grow.

If you’ve never hired a freelancer before, use whatever resources you have to help you make a good decision. Ask colleagues for recommendations, shop around (never just hire the first copywriter you realize exists), and understand that learning how to hire the RIGHT copywriter is a process, not an end game. If you’re gonna use writers often, you’ll learn as you go. If you’re gonna hire someone permanently as a writer, you better know how to judge their ability to do the work first.

There’s no magic. Sorry. And it’s not quite like hiring a plumber to fix the pipes – a lot more is resting on good copy.

Step Five: There are oodles of ways to find writers. Many advertise their services. Others are well-known within marketer networks.

There are many different kinds of freelance copywriters, too. Quick breakdown:

[] The non-advertising writer. This is the guy or gal who knows how to string sentences together, but does not know how to sell. They can be great at providing content for your blog, or writing the special reports you offer as bonuses, or fleshing out the other materials you need that your biz is not relying on for sales.

They should come cheap, too – and work by the article, or by the hour, or by the project. But because they are not responsible for your bottom line profits, they are more like a vendor. They provide materials you need that require being written.

[] The “regular” advertising writer. They may come from the world of ad agencies, or from publications. They also are NOT usually steeped in the art of selling – they rely instead on cleverness, slogans, and graphic-oriented advertising that cannot be tested because it does not produce actual results.

Their fees will be all over the map. They may have a good resume, having written material for recognizable companies.

For most entrepreneurs, I’m gonna go out on a limb and warn you away from any copywriter who doesn’t understand “direct response” advertising. (The term “direct response” simply means “asks for an action, which can be measured”. A sale, an opt-in, a reply. The “response action” is where profits will be made.)

[] The direct response copywriter. This is the dude who understands how to write copy that will ask for an “action”…

… which (it’s worth repeating) includes closing a sale, capturing a lead, or moving a prospect to becoming a customer.

Real salesmanship applies. In nearly all “big” entrepreneurial jobs, this is the kind of writer you want.

There are 3 approximate “levels” of expertise to any direct response writer you hire:

Level One: Raw rookie. A beginner, with little or no track record, and few if any prior clients.

Believe it or not, a rookie can actually be a decent bet, depending on what you need done. IF he’s been trained in direct response, or is in training with a good mentor, then he will at least understand the fundamentals of good marketing-oriented writing.

However, they are untested, and you must be clear that you will be paying for part of their education. If you need something that requires real expertise, the rookie will be over his head.

Expect to pay under five thousand dollars – all the way down to a few hundred bucks – to hire a rookie writer for almost any project. And you will have to manage him closely, and know exactly what you want (and why you’ve gone with a rookie to get it).

You may be able to bully a rookie into working fast, or constantly change copy as you go… but remember that he is not experienced at meeting tough deadlines, and may not handle stress well. (A writer needs a buttload of time cooking in the front trenches to develop the thick skin of dealing with most clients, under deadline, with a lot riding on the ads. It doesn’t come naturally.)

Remember: A rookie is not a “bargain” if you’re relying on their copy for anything critical in your biz. It’s like hiring a Little Leaguer to pitch opening day for your Major League team.

Level Two: The veteran direct response freelancer. This is a writer with references, success stories, and examples of his work he can point you to that already exist online or in other media.

They will have experience in all forms of advertising and marketing, including direct mail, Video Sales Letters, email auto-responders, web sales pages, print ads, just about every way a sales message can be delivered to a prospect.

More important, the high-end freelance veteran will also have massive marketing experience – after being involved in many, many different projects over the years, he’ll have insight to what has worked, what hasn’t worked, what is working now, what isn’t working anymore, and in many cases what is NEEDED to make your project work (that ain’t there yet).

The best veteran writers are essentially marketing consultants, who provide the copy once the marketing plan has the bugs kicked out of it.

In other words… you can hire them JUST to provide copy, if you know exactly what you need done, and they’ll deliver great ads. Or, you can allow them to look at your current efforts…

… and they may help you discover where the “real” problem is with your sinking sales (hiding behind what you thought was the culprit)… where unseen problems are murdering your bottom line… where new problems may develop down the line…

… as well as pointing out what may be missing in your product or marketing plan.

Top writers earn their fees many ways, and you can expect to shell out ten grand up to thirty grand (and more) just for fundamental advertising (like a Video Sales Letter, or a web sales page, or a sales funnel from Adwords to name capture to email auto-responder to sales page, and so on).

This is why knowing what you need done… and WHY you need it done… can be so critical. If you don’t have a clear idea of how great copy is going to produce a pile of new profit for you, you cannot “fit” a high-end freelancer into your plans…

… without realizing that you’re gambling.

A lot of entrepreneurs have done just that. Some have thrived, hiring a writer to do their first campaign without really knowing what to expect… while others have gone under, because they didn’t earn enough back to justify the expense of a top writer.

When you know (or strongly suspect, based on reality) that great (or even just “better”) copy will bring in more prospects, and turn those prospects into customers… then you’re in a perfect position to hire a freelancer.

Expect to compete with other marketers looking to book any good, respected writer… and he’ll need weeks or longer, minimum, to produce copy for a project.

Warning: I recommend you do NOT do any royalty agreements on the first job. It may sound great to push off part of the fee to result-oriented royalties paid later…

… but you need to remember that you’re just beginning your relationship with this writer. A good one will usually not even propose royalties on the first job… because he doesn’t know or trust you any more than you do him.

What you pay to hire him MUST fit into the results you expect from the project. You must have your other ducks in a line – your product must be good and ready to go…

… you must have ways to access your target audience (through your house lists, or affiliates, or paid-for lists, or “push” marketing like Adwords or niche publication banner ads, etc)…

… and you must have the resources available (in your budgeted war chest) to pay for putting everything into action.

For example: If you’re selling an existing ebook on Clickbank, you may only need to hire a writer and someone to convert their copy to a Video Sales Letter.

If you’re launching a full-on new product, though, you’ll need an affiliate manager, a project manager, possible several copywriters, programmers, designers, and more.

Side Note: Some copywriters will provide ONLY the copy, in manuscript form, to you. And you must then convert that copy into a Video Sales Letter, website, published advertisement, whatever.

Other copywriters bring more to the table, including producing the VSL (though unless you’re dealing with a copywriter who is part of a full team, it’s rare that he will produce camera-ready art for publications, or direct mail, or the programming necessary for web pages).

Be aware of what you’re getting. The services AFTER the copy is written are all less important than the quality of the writer, but they are part of the process of getting a campaign going. The copy must contain essential killer salesmanship first – afterwards, you pretty it up for delivering to your prospects.

Level Three: “A List” writers. The best in the world.

You may be able to book one of the handful of the best copywriters in the game, but at a minimum you should expect to pay $30k and up past $50k into six-digits… including (not in lieu of) some type of royalty, even on the first job.

The best writers will not take jobs they are not guaranteed will deliver the kind of profits that make their outrageous fees worthwhile. They become, in essence, a partner in the project, possibly earning more than you will…

… and they’ll be worth it.

However, you as a client are under more scrutiny than they are. If you have to ask how to find an “A List” copywriter, you aren’t ready to hire one yet. You cannot make “deals” with them. They write for the largest direct response marketing outfits on the planet, and are out of the league of nearly all entrepreneurs.

And they often require three months and longer to create a package. Advance planning (and booking) is mandatory.

Good to know they exist. Down the road, after you’ve earned your first couple of fortunes, you may be ready to hire one and reap the rewards.

For now, I recommend you get your plan down as well as you can…

… and hire a veteran copywriting professional to help you put that plan into action.

Listen to what he says, if his experience and skills at dissecting current and potential problems suggest a change to your plans.

Test what he writes, but never change it without knowing from a reality-based market test if he’s right or not. Your niece with the degree in English literature is not qualified to judge sales copy. Nor is your lawyer (though a good copywriter will work with even the most nervous attorney on your team to keep you on the side of the angels). Nor are you, unless you have a better track record than the writer.

You can test a professional’s copy against whatever else you think should be better… and you’ll learn a lot doing this. The best copy I’ve ever written has nearly given my clients heart attacks. If they say “hey, this is great copy”, then I suspect I’ve failed to deliver the best ad possible.

I want them up all night, worried sick about how the ad gonna’s do… because great copy always takes you out of your comfort zone.

Selling is hard. You have to find your prospects (after figuring out who they really are), reach them, get them into your sales message, and wake them up to the point that they will take action (like buying).

The fastest-moving, most successful entrepreneurs all know how to craft good sales messages, and get them into shape to deliver to prospects. And then follow through.

If you’re not confident, or not in a position to craft a great sales message… or, if you have the budget that allows you to take advantage of hiring your copywriting out… then wading into the freelance world makes a huge amount of sense.

There are many more details to this (including the creation and handling of contracts, setting deadlines with teeth in them, and having escape clauses when things go south)… but a good professional freelancer will help you with all of this. They want a successful gig as much as you do.

This is just a first-blush attempt to help you understand the process better. I may get into more details later, if enough people bug me about it.

Now, be wise and prudent, and get busy after your goals.

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. Yes, if you’re asking, I do still take on clients. Rarely, but I do.

You’ll notice I’ve clearly separated this P.S. from the rest of the post, so nobody should get offended about me letting you know I’m still in the game. (Everything above is still solid gold info.)

Anyway, here’s how I approach the “should you hire me or not” thing with fresh clients, below. You may get some ideas yourself on how to best approach other copywriters from this, too:

“To find out if I’m available, and whether I’m your best choice or not, send an email to my personal assistant, Diane, at consult@john-carlton.com… and clearly state your answers to these simple questions:

1. What general market are you in… how long have you been in business… and what products or services do you offer?

2. What website URLs are you currently hosting for your business… and approximately how much are you grossing now, and how much have you grossed at the highest point in your marketing efforts? (This information is completely confidential… and if you’re squeamish about stating specific figures, you can just say whether you’re grossing more-than or less-than a certain figure. Whatever makes you feel more confident in sharing.)

3. Have you ever worked with a professional copywriter before?

4. Do you have a budget for hiring a copywriter? If so, what are you budgeting, right now, for hiring one?

5. Finally, what do you feel are your biggest advertising problems right now?

I have set fees for specific projects I take on for clients. We’ll know quickly if I’m your best choice for a writer, and if you’re a good fit for the kind of advertising I create. And, we’ll figure out right up front what the exact fees will be for what you need.

Sometimes, the best route is to start with consultation, then agree on a plan for your advertising, and only then actually produce the ad (or Video Sales Letter, or broadcast media, or whatever you agree you need). Consultations are good when the problem you THINK you’re having isn’t actually the main reason you’re having problems with being profitable. I bring 30 years of hard-core, front-line experience in marketing to everything I do, and I can help you see things you’re too close to, or haven’t yet considered.

Other times, you really do “just need an ad”, and I will simply and quickly create one for you.

First, however, we need to have that conversation. So, again, to move this to the next step…

… email my personal assistant Diane at consult@john-carlton.com, and include your best answers to the 5 simple questions above. Diane alerts me immediately to potential clients, and we’ll get back to you as quickly as possible. I know you’re anxious to get fresh advertising out there, and I want to help you do exactly that.”

 

The Envy Cure

Saturday, 3:17pm
Mendocino, CA
Under my thumb is a squirming dog who just had her day…” (Stones)

Howdy. I’m republishing this article from 2010, cuz it was one of the most-discussed and helpful posts I’ve written. And it’s on a subject most biz books not only ignore, but aggressively seek to dismiss. Yet, in my decades of consulting, I see it bubble up in nearly every entrepreneur I meet at some point.

So, enjoy another nugget from the archives. (And I hope you didn’t eat much — again — at Thanksgiving…):

Friend…

Do you suffer from the heartbreak of envy?

Are you jealous of friends and colleagues who attain success, while you continue to struggle?

Would you like to learn a simple cure for feeling inferior to others?

Well, then step right up…

Here’s the story: I grew up with the definite impression that ambition was a moral failing.  The operative phrase was “Don’t get too big for your britches”…

… which was a cold warning to anyone who dared attempt to rise above their (vaguely defined) place in life.

And one of the greatest joys was to gleefully watch the collapse and humbling of the High & Mighty.  I believe there’s some evolutionary fragment left in our systems that wants a solid check on keeping folks from leaving the pack.

Now, if you risk failing and succeed, that’s great.  We were there for ya the entire time, Bucko.  Rooted for ya.  Got yer back.

I think our innate need for leadership allows for a select few to “make it” without hostility.  And, as long as they provide whatever it is we need from them — protection, entertainment, intellectual stimulation, decisive action, look good in a tight sweater, whatever — they get a pass.

But we seem to have a ceiling of tolerance for others moving up the hierarchy too fast.  Whoa, there, buddy.  Where do you think you’re going?

And when the unworthy grab the brass ring, it can trigger a hormone dump that’ll keep you up all night.  Because, why did HE make it, when he’s clearly not the right dude towin.  This is totally fucking unfair, and makes ME look bad now.

The lucky creep.

I hope he screws up and gets what’s coming to him…Continue Reading

Mr. Fix-It

Wednesday, 12:53pm
Reno, NV
I’m busy 24 hours a day, I fix broken hearts, I know that I truly can…” (Del Shannon, “Handyman”)

Howdy.

Today, I want to share with y’all a simple pro-level tactic that just might change your career path forever… if, like most entrepreneurs out there, you’re laboring under a huge and common misunderstanding of how things work in the real world.

Here’s the problem: Most folks only see the surface of the culture, and seldom get to peek behind the curtain to see the infrastructure that supports everything.

Now, if you’re stumbling through life as a slacker or a follower… just bobbing to and fro like flotsam… then learning how stuff gets created isn’t important.

But entrepreneurs do not have that luxury. Once you take responsibility for the survival of a business, you better get hip to the Big Picture.

This means understanding the process of arriving at a finished product. Which requires rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty (or virtually dirty, in the digital world).

Here’s the quick tale of how I was introduced to this realization: Back in school, I was that doodling kid who just kept getting better at it… until one day the journalism teacher found one of the endless homemade comic books I was pumping out, and insisted I create a weekly cartoon for the high school newspaper.

Now, I loved the comics page in the local rag (the LA Times). The idea of drawing a comic strip of my own, however, was terrifying. I didn’t have a clue how they were actually made. Up to that point, I drew only in pencil, on big sheets of scrap paper, with no limits to sizing or length. Now, suddenly, I had to work in ink, inside a 3-inch by 4-column format.

And meet a deadline.

In retrospect, I should have just hit up the art teacher for tips on producing a cartoon in a publication. Or called up the local “real” newspaper and ask a production artist how it’s done.

But I had never had to research anything before. Like most American kids, I had spent my youth tearing things apart, not building them. I’d never asked anyone how something was done, ever. I just figured it all out for myself, in my own idiosyncratic way, thinking that’s how it had to happen. You “should” be able to figure everything out.

It’s a flaw in our brains.

Back then, the hard part of doing a weekly cartoon was coming up with jokes that fit into a four-panel format. But what consumed the most time was producing the final strip. I bought a double-aught nib in a wooden holder at the crafts store, plus a big bottle of India ink. And I drew veeeeeeery carefully…

… because I believed that published cartoons were drawn that way. You know, that Charles Schultz just sat down and inked out a Peanuts strip from left to right.

And if I made a mistake…Continue Reading

How To Critical Think, Redux

Saturday, 2:33pm
Reno, NV
When I look back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all…” (Paul Simon, “Kodachrome”)

Howdy.

As I was writing a new article to post here, I used a term I invented: “Critical Think”. It’s not all that original, as ground-breaking terms go… but the idea behind it is very important for anyone seeking to move up a level or two in their career (or in their quest for ultimate happiness).

So, I’ve dug up the post where I first explained Critical Think, and I’m dragging it back onto the dance floor.

Really, this is timeless stuff. Enjoy:

Howdy.

Someone recently asked me to offer a clue on how to nurture critical thinking.

It’s a fair question.  And while I’m no neuro-scientist, I talk about critical thinking a lot, because it’s the foundation of great writing, killer salesmanship, and engaging the world with your throttle wide open.

However, it’s not an easy subject to grasp if you’ve seldom taken your brain out for a spin around the Deep Thought Track (as most folks have not).

So let’s explore it a little bit here…

Critical Think Point #1: Yes, I know the headline on this article is a grammatical car wreck.  It should be “how to think critically”, or at least “how to critically think”.

But this botched phrasing is actually part of the lesson I’m sharing here.

Consider:  The vast majority of people sleep-walk through their lives and careers, never going beneath the surface of anything.  They process, at most, a small fraction of the information they see, hear or read about.

It’s pretty much GIGO.  Garbage in, garbage out.

So the first job of any good marketer is todeliver some level of brain-rattling wake-up call for the prospect.  To literally jolt them out of their semi-permanent reverie, and initiate a more conscious state of awareness.

Cuz you can’t expect a somnambulant zombie to be proactive about following through with your request for buying something.  Or opting in.  Or even just continuing to read.

Thus: Good ad writers make full use of the incongruous juxtaposition of compelling sales elements – or, for short, the “hook”.

Ideally, you want the induced “WTF?” reaction strong enough to unleash a splash of adrenaline, or even physically make ‘em bolt up and take notice.  (As in, “That can’t be right! This violates my entire sense of what’s real!”)

HoweverContinue Reading

R.I.P. Elvis Sightings & Exploding Preachers

 

Thursday, 2:52pm
Reno, NV
He was a one-eyed, one horn, flying purple people eater…” (Sheb Wooley)

Howdy.

In the spirit of screwing off as much as possible this fine July, I’m replenishing the blog with another oldie-but-goodie post from the archives.

So you’ve got something good to chew on, while I wander off to the beach to get pounded by merciless surf and fried by an uncaring sun. You know: Good times.

Anyway, I love meandering through the archives here… especially when I find a post that still packs some mojo.

Here’s a nice short one from ’07, on the non-scientific process of finding great hooks for your headlines. At the time, I was bummed that a favorite newsstand shock-rag was ending its run… however, the good news is that WWN is still alive and kicking (just like Elvis) online. (Today’s headline: “Saturn Ready To Explode!” Um… okay.)

The ability to find a way to hook readers (and drag them into your story) is what separates the Big Dog writers from the wannabe’s. And creating hooks (especially from otherwise boring raw material) is an art form that needs to be developed. It’s not a skill that comes with your standard brain equipment.

Here’s some insight to how the best veteran copywriters do it, slightly edited, via the Archive Time Machine, from July ’07:Continue Reading

Congratulations… Now Stop Being A Wuss.

iPhone09-2 225

Monday, 7:55pm
Reno, NV
But it’s all right… in fact it’s a gas…” (The Stones, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash“)

Howdy…

It’s time for another orgy of graduation rites across the land…

… and, in honor of it all, I am re-posting my now globally-notorious big damn rant on the subject. This was one of the more popular posts I’ve written, so it deserves an annual rediscovery.

So, without further ado… here’s the third redux of that post:

Nobody’s ever asked me to give the commencement speech for a graduating class.

That’s probably a good thing. I’m pretty pissed off at the education system these days, and I might cause a small riot with the rant I’d surely deliver.

See, I have a university “education”. A BA in psychology. (The BA stands for, I believe, “bullshit amassed”.) I earned it several decades ago…

… and while I had a good time in college (height of the sex revolution, you know, with a soundtrack that is now called “classic rock”), made some lifelong friends, and got a good look at higher learning from the inside…

… that degree provided zilch preparation for the real world. Didn’t beef me up for any job, didn’t give me insight to how things worked, didn’t do squat for me as an adult.

I waltzed off-campus and straight into the teeth of the worst recession since the Great Depression (offering us Nixon’s wage-freeze, record unemployment, an oil embargo, and near-total economic turmoil)…

… so, hey, I should have a little empathy for today’s grads, right?Continue Reading

Garage Band Entrepreneurs

Friday, 1:48pm
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Cuz the thought that I coughed up my head is the event of the season…” (“Mr. Soul”, Buffalo Springfield)

Howdy…

You like music, don’t you?

And you like getting filthy-stupid rich in business, too, right?

Well, join the club. In fact, it’s astonishing to me how many wily online entrepreneurs are not just music lovers (we’re talking the “nutso” category of fan here), but also musicians. Some keyboards, a drummer hither and yon… but more often guitar. It’s something we quickly bond over…

… even though I’m a totally old-school rocker, and most of the younger dudes are either speed-thrashers (who worship Yngwie Malmsteem) or Tone Monsters who embrace the technical side of digital music-making (with an engineer’s-level command of effects).

Which just pisses me off. The story of my early musical career fits right in with other geezer tales of walking ten miles to school in the snow (and eating gravel for lunch). We were as close to analog as you can get and still be pumping noise through electronics.

Back when I started playing, the Beatles were still touring, and everyone plugged their guitars straight into the amp (which had actual springs for reverb). The only “effects” we produced was the occasional accidental squeal, or — if we were lucky — a gutteral growl from a blown speaker that was still alive.

My first stomp box was a simple one-button fuzz-tone that mugged the signal and distorted it like a mofo. (My pal Bob made it in Shop Class.) (It sounded like a Tyrannosaurus Rex trying to eat the building, and sometimes startled dancers near the stage.) Later, I bought a used Morley wah-wah… and even later I loaded up on Boss pedals and digital amps with sampled sounds and all hell broke loose.

But basically, I’m still that guy who was most impressed with Dave Davies of the Kinks (who slashed his little amp’s speaker with a razor blade before recording “You Really Got Me”). Simple, non-technical abuser of equipment (and pentatonic modes).

So what’s this got to do with making money?

A lot… at least as far as becoming a successful entrepreneur.

Because it’s all about attitudeContinue Reading

Mid-Life Crisis #5

Thursday, 1:29pm
Reno, NV
“What this requires is a really stupid and futile gesture on someone’s part.” (Otter, “Animal House” pre-climactic scene)

Howdy…

Do you ever have the vague feeling that everyone around you is enjoying life more than you…

… or has their act together real tight, while you struggle and wake up in the middle of the night fussing over problems?

This is actually part of our default machinery as humans. Personally, I grew up as a kid believing that everyone was hiding the secrets of a happy life from me… they knew these secrets, and were smug about knowing and enjoying them. While I was left to desperate measures, trying to figure out each fresh pitfall and obstacle on my own.

If I could only catch a clue about what everyone else was thinking as they so smoothly navigated life, the secrets of eternal happiness and contentment would surely bloom for me.

My first big revelation as a teenager arrived like a bolt of lightning: After putting together a few clues…

… I abruptly realized that most people weren’t hiding secret thoughts from me at all.

They actually didn’t have Continue Reading


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These testimonials and case studies do not represent typical or average results. Most customers do not contact me or offer share to their results, nor are they required or expected to. Therefore, I have no way to determine what typical or average results might have been.

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