What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

Sunday, 6:09pm
Reno, NV


Here’s a question for you.

It’s something that — once you know the answer — you sorta want to smack yourself upside your head, cuz it’s so obvious.

However, it’s NOT so obvious until someone with experience reveals the answer to you. It’s simple, but most folks never “stumble” upon it on their own.

I hate these kinds of questions, myself. Except for, like, situations where I’m the one holding the big damn secret, and I get to do all the teasing and torturing. It’s fun being the one in control. All humans have at least a small sociopathic sadist hiding deep inside, you know…

But never mind about that.

What’s interesting here — and very, very important to marketers looking to earn the Big Bucks — is that despite the “obviousness” of the answer (which you’re very close to discovering)… fewer than one professional copywriter in a hundred has a clue to the solution.

And that’s the pro’s — the guys making a living at this.

For rookie entrepreneurs and flustered small biz owners… it’s like the Holy Grail of advertising. They’ve maybe heard rumors about it, but harbor little hope of ever finding the answer without some serious help.

Still, it’s worth wracking your brain about, because (as top marketers know) all the really good wealth-producing secrets are hidden from most people.

This is the advanced stuff, folks.

So here’s the question… and I want you to really try to answer it for yourself before you peek at the answer:


“What can a marketer do… when he desperately needs a money-making ad fast… and yet finds the ‘formal’ process of writing a ‘real’ sales pitch (or getting one written by others) too daunting to complete?”

In other words, you need to post, print or mail something (with wolves at the door)… and no way is a ‘real’ looking ad gonna get completed in time. So what do you do?

I’ll give you a hint: The answer is NOT “do nothing.” Or “crawl back into bed and curl into a sobbing fetal position.” (A very common response, by the way, to this very common problem. It’s why so many new businesses wither and die every year, too.)

The key words in this question are “desperately”… “money-making”… “fast”… and “real”.

Consider those words as you try to figure out the answer.

The need for results-getting ads is never-ending for all business owners… and most never adequately solve the problem of getting “real” ads created (either by using agencies or freelancers)… even when deadlines are loose and money’s no object.

Worse, though, is that neither entrepreneurs nor small biz owners ever come close to solving the problem of giving birth to “emergency” ads that need to get posted or published or mailed right friggin’ NOW… especially when there’s no agency or freelancer available to help, or no money to hire them.

So what do you think the answer is?

Wracked with anxiety, under a cash crunch, with the hammer coming down… and no time or resources available to pay someone else to do it… or to create a “real” ad, with superscript, headline, subhead, bullets, guarantees, graphics, etc, yourself… what do you DO?

I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments section. I promise not to make fun of anyone… especially rookies who just want to give a stab at the answer.

Again, the question (re-phrased): “What do you do, when you’re under the gun to create a money-making sales piece… and you simply don’t know how to create (or are overwhelmed by the requirements of) a ‘formal’ type ad with all the bells and whistles?”

I’ll post the veteran’s short, elegant solution Tuesday evening.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

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"11 Really Stupid Blunders You're Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now."

  • PlugIM.com says:

    What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do…

    Here’s a question for you.
    It’s something that — once you know the answer — you sorta want to smack yourself upside your head, cuz it’s so obvious.
    However, it’s NOT so obvious until someone with experience reveals the answer to you. It…

  • Emette E. Massey says:

    Damn John . . . that was wierd! I just literally submitted to your previous entry and BAM!! Here comes a brand new one post from you seconds later.

    I’m OK now.

    Back to your question, “What do you do, when you’re under the gun to create a money-making sales piece… and you simply don’t know how to create (or are overwhelmed by the requirements of) a ‘formal’ type ad with all the bells and whistles?”

    Here’s what I’d do (be easy on me. I’m still a raw rookie):

    I’d find me a revelant “swipe ad” that I know has been proven successful. Then I’d read it as quickly as possible and let it soak in. Then I’d rewrite to fit my client’s needs and hope for the best.

    Now John you’re probably laying on the floor in the fetal position LAUGHING rather than crying your ass off.

    Hopefully you’ll get at least some humor value out of my comments.



  • Rob Northrup says:

    You can tape yourself giving a sales pitch to a prospect or someone playing the part of a prospect with a list of typical questions, and objections. The transcript of the discussion (or the audio/video) should contain the raw essence of what is needed to make the sale if you know the product well enough to sell it.

  • Scott says:

    I’d make use of my “swipe file” and cobble together the ad as best as I could.

  • Darwin says:


    I am thinking would write a personal from the heart letter type ad.


  • john-carlton says:

    Darwin, Scott, Rob, and Emette — you all get gold stars for coming close.

    Very close, indeed… but not quite. I’m damn proud of you guys for thinking deep on this, and slogging through the mist of the question. Like I said, I hate questions like this.

    However, forcing myself to think hard about stuff like this is how I got good.

    Let’s see who else chimes in here…

  • Matt Hegedus says:

    Screw a swipe-ad. You should already be running those against your control(S)…

    I’d say create a brand spanking new coaching or telecoaching program and charge BIG BUCKS to a few lucky individuals.

    (Or something else relatively EASY to deliver but stretched out over a long period so the value is there)

    I’d make it clear that space is VERY limited.

    I’d make it clear that you are going to KICK THESE lucky people in the ASS to take action.

    I’d make it ONCE IN A LIFETIME

    And I’d make it quite clear that BOTTOM-LINE RESULTS are guaranteed.

    I’d also make it super down-to-earth and impromptu…coming straight from the heart (eg reason why)


  • Michael says:


    You SWIPE a proven winner, period. The emphasis is on the word “proven”.


  • John says:

    Others have already said my first idea: PLAGIARISE. Find a relevant piece of copy that comes close, use the structure, and rewrite the words in my own voice.

    The “letter from the heart” approach also works well for me. What would I write if I’d just tried to phone a close friend who I’ve relied on in the past to help me out, but he didn’t pick up the phone so I’m writing an e-mail?

    BTW a question for you: for this game, do I have access to my split-test results on Google Adwords? If you take those away from me I’m reduced to guessing, but if I do have time (even just one additional day) to run a short test it’s amazing how you can find out some hints as to the sort of words that are going to trigger a response. Even if you’ve taken away my google adwords account, I might still use WordTracker and some other tools to see what words people are using to describe our work.

    Looking forward to your answer …


  • I’ve been in this bind a few times and the answer for me was pretty simple actually. In fact, it ended up molding the entire way I market things to the public because the results usually proved to be winners.

    I’d simply turn on a camcorder and tell the prospect exactly what’s up, what’s in it for them, and how they can order it right now.

  • John says:

    If the contacts are former clients then the “I need to ask you a favor” approach which was used by Robert Collier.

    If it was a new list of contacts or you were a new writer with no extensive list to contact then the previous ideas mentioned would be the approach I would use.

  • Kim says:

    Is it anything like the guy whose wife just had a baby and somehow I needed to help him pay the bill?

    Or the guy with 5 kids who had to find another place to live, so he wanted me to buy his software?

    ‘Cause both of those things really came to me in emails from people who got my name from someone else’s list and begged me to buy something.

    They sure seemed desperate.

    It didn’t work.

    So…I got nothin’. As far as your answer ; )

  • Anonymous says:

    What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do…

    Heres a question for you.
    Its something that once you know the answer you sorta want to smack yourself upside your head, cuz its so obvious.
    However, its NOT so obvious until someone with experience reveals the answer to you. Its simple, but most f…

  • Krista says:

    First, I’d use the clients name “Jill Jones” to get instant attention.

    I’d start with an interesting story that hits the prospects’ sweet spot and makes them want to read and know more. Next, I’d offer a “heck of a deal” “limited 10 day offer” of a $99 gift certificate for Jill Jones to use toward XYZ product. I’d end that section with a “catch” I’d close with a one-year guarantee. The ps would offer something free.

    Dream light

  • Patrick says:

    Use your impending and imminent doom as the main theme of your pitch, the reason why you are outrageously discounting your product and the infrastructure and deadline of your close.

  • Edwin says:

    Thank you for reading the article and for taking the time to write such an extensive comment.

  • Patrick says:

    In other words a “fire sale” or suchlike.

  • Bernie says:


    You have two options:

    a) Ask for their previous control or marketing material and pull pieces and clean it up (most likely an improvement over what they already have.

    b) Go for the big HOOK. Get out the tape recorder, call and grill the client for 30 – 60 minutes until you find it. Focus the whole effort around the HOOK.



  • Yoav says:

    I’m a real newbie so these ideas might get weird but here goes…

    1. I’d have one (or several of my clients) write an ad for my business. They understand the impact my business has much better than me. Also the best features/benefits my product/service has.

    2. I’ll take the copies all my competitors are using right now. And pick the best parts (probably again, by showing them to my clients and ask them what has the biggest appeal). And then mesh them all together.

    3. I’d find the best copywriter I can that has tons of experience in my field. Find his friends. suck up to them, then when one likes me, have him introduce me to the big cheese, and then make an offer so outrageous (yet believable) he would have to write the copy for me.

  • Dan says:

    Hey John,

    Fun question. I don’t even qualify as a rookie but couldn’t you construct a kind of teaser ad that only outlined high level qualifiers and left the reader wanting to know more (which would be provided at a later date after you got your stuff together)?

    OK…now you can laugh. My skin is rather thick.


  • Swans Paul says:


    So the tape thing is not it. I guess the camera thing isn’t it.

    Are you talking about Operation-Money Suck? and Gun-to-Your-Head Copy?

    Swans G Paul

  • Don Graff says:

    Good Morning Mr. Carlton…
    I’d note (3) features/benefits to the ‘product’.
    Expand on those.
    Post (1) page OTO w/ payment by PayPal only.
    Time limit of (72) hours, with ‘reason’ why…
    Post at EbaY w/ ‘Buy-It-Now, (37) available. 3-Day posting.
    Post in a Classified Ad on EbaY w/ link to OTO page.
    Post to CraigList with deadline in ad.
    Email my in-house list. Email all affiliates w/ 40% comm.
    Send out the email on Monday at 9:00am CST.

  • Matt Hegedus says:


    I’ve been thinkng about this and I think the answer is YOU DO NOTHING.

    You step back, take a breath, and realize that you’re not going to die if you don’t get an ad out.

    But DO NOT write a desperate “Help me” ad (Remember Dustin Diamond aka Screech’s “Help! They are going to foreclose on my home website?” Yeah I laughed out loud and junked it fast)

    For the record, I find my response rates to ANY message much higher if I come form a place of INDIFFERENCE…

    …but never DESPERATION!


    Bottom line: Forget the ad deadline and go take a walk to reflect…

    Or burn one or something….

  • Matt Gallant says:

    I would use the simplified Carlton formula:

    1. What am I selling?

    2. Who is it for?

    3. What is it going to do for you?

    4. What are the terms (cost, guarantee, etc…)

    5. What do I need to do next?

    I would then “spice it up” by pulling out
    my Carlton swipe file and swiping a classic…
    Jason’s answer is another good one…

    So, is: hosting a teleseminar…


  • Chris Hobel says:

    Hi John first time poster-love the site.

    TESTIMONIALS!!!!!! we all should be getting these all along no matter what biz of marketing you are. You will never convey how great you or your product is -BUT your past clients can!!!!

    Voice broadcasts of satified clients or having an emergency Hotline teleseminar in which satisfied clients tell inside scoop how they got the best deal thru you etc etc Cd or dvd’s mailed out to target ed clients.

  • Ian says:

    I’d get on the phone with all my happy customers. Get them to verbally give me a short pithy testimonial confirming they got the benefits of my product / service.

    Have them typed up. Get permission to include a phone # and maybe email address.

    I’d get a hundred of them. Stuff them in an envelope with a note that says.

    Dear so and so

    In that envelope is 100 testimonials from people just like you who solved by using my product / service. Solved it in 1 day.

    If you’re convinced after reading a few I can help you almost immediately then call my personal number and we will get you going right away.



  • john-carlton says:

    Great stuff, guys. My buddies Jason and Matt — as well as several others (who obviously have encountered this situation personally, and bring real-world insight to the question) — have nearly outlined the right answer… but not completely.

    Everyone is leaving out a couple of very important details, or being too vague about using swipe files.

    Again — I KNOW this can hurt your head, trying to wrestle with all the X factors of such a situation (especially if you’ve never had to actually solve it yet in the real world)… but it’s worth the effort to think through all the implications of each suggestion.

    Remember — I’ve been telling biz owners to “just switch on a tape recorder and capture your best sales pitch” for decades now… and I can count on ONE HAND the number of clients who have actually DONE it. Human nature is involved here… and that’s something the freelancers in the crowd need to take into account.

    I think you’ll very much enjoy what I reveal tomorrow…

    John Carlton

  • Emette E. Massey says:

    John, I’m going to chime in one last time before you unveil your secrets. I’ve been racking my brain over and over then something you said turned on a light . . .

    When you mentioned involving human nature it reminded me of a lesson both you and Halbert taught me.

    And it was this. You MUST know the hidden, secret desires of your prospects. In other words what are they predisposed to buy?

    Knowing this you could make them an offer they couldn’t possibly refuse. Basically your “ad” could be nothing more than the absolute best offer you could afford to make–even if you lost money on the front end. Your copy wouldn’t even NEED to be all that great.

    Just make it easy as hell for them to get what they already want.


  • I’m glad I visited your blog today. I was going to say like Emette, and I also like Jason Mofatt’s tactic.

    What I did, and it worked very well for me was to get a headline (by a top copywriter), and write the rest of the ad with my heart. I had a BIG proof, so even if I’m not a pro, the ad was really profitable.


  • Larry Foster says:

    Even though there are a lot of good answers, I’m anxiously awaiting your answer, John.
    And the timing of the question is impeccable.
    At the same time as you posted this question I had just made a list of nearly 300 businesses that I was getting ready to mail in order to kick start my consulting business.
    Half had web sites. And most are the usual crappy brochure types.
    I planned to send 2 letters. One to those that have a site and one to those who didn’t.
    Now that you’re going to tell me what to do, I’ll wait for your answer.
    Thanks for another thought-provoking, damn useful topic.
    Larry Foster

  • Brett says:

    Since I started in advertising doing political rather than commercial work, last minute ads were the norm, not the exception, in my career. We are often asked to write and creative direct 5-6 self-mailers every day. And that does not include writing and producing radio and TV at the same time.

    Now at that pace you could not always bring your “A” game to every job, but you also could not kick junk out the door and get away with it just from the time crunch.

    If I was hung for an idea, I might hit the swipe file, but often times I was writing from an edit suite somewhere and did not have it. What worked best for me was simply to start writing. Even if it came out as the most vanilla bland copy, I would just write. And usually when I stopped tapping the keyboard, I had more raw copy than I could use. But when I read back through it, just looking over my raw data dump would often trigger an angle or creative approach that was not in my head when I put cursor to screen.

    That worked for me fairly well. Whether it would work for someone else, I really do not know.

  • Ken Calhoun says:

    Great question, been there done that. A big part of the solution is having properly positioned yourself as the go to guy Before the s— hits the fan, so that when there’s a crunch, you’ve established rep/credibility ahead of time, over time… and having done that..

    hmm what Jason said. :p

    I will often crank out a new high ticket product and use a product launch process that generates high sales within a few weeks, sans affiliates, just me and my list. That always works.

    If I was new and didn’t have a big list, I’d find out what a hot market is that already exists, find the buyers, their forums, their hot buttons, unleash the sales detective within, mod a prior winning control and go from there.

  • Michael says:

    Funny you should put this blog up. I am in exactly this position. I have to put up a website to get new customers to my Electronics Consulting business, having had it royally screwed up by some non-paying ex clients with no idea of ethics. It means writing copy that would attract the kind of client I’m looking for and get them to phone me. Nothing else. If I get it wrong I will probably be staring bankcruptcy in the face!
    I have followed Mr Carlton’s blogs with avid interest and (if anyone is interested) report back.
    If I get any reasonable amount of success ( I am not asking for much!) I promise, god, that I will buy John’s course and devour every word of wisdom therin.

  • Mary-Dell Onley says:

    Use your own desperation and generate an ad that will sell to you.

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