I’ve spent over $1MM testing my own copy. Here are 5 things that will ruin your copywriting career. (And what I’d do if I was starting over with $50 to my name)
I CAN GUESS A FEW THINGS ABOUT YOU ALREADY:
- You were more adventurous than the next kid when you were young. You took more risks and have some good stories to tell because of it…
- On the other hand, since you’ve been old enough to work, most jobs have been a struggle. Boring, unchallenging, people telling you what to do all the time…
- Somehow you came across copywriting and got it in your head that if you learn how to string the right words together, you may never have to be told what to do again.
Sounds about right?
Well as an offer owner who writes his own copy, and has spent over a million dollars in paid ads running that copy profitably (more or less, that’s for another story), I’ll tell you that, yes, copywriting can be your ticket out of all of that…
But it’s harder than you think, and getting there will expose you to pitfalls that can destroy your career and maybe even your soul…
The odds of you succeeding as a copywriter are statistically about the same as getting crushed by a vending machine, but if you fall victim to the things I’m about to share, you’re basically guaranteed to fail.
Oh, you don’t want to fail? Then keep reading…
You probably don’t know me. I’m no guru. I’m not on social media pontificating about things I read in a book, I’m spending my own dollars running my own copy to my own products.
I work in silence on things that matter to me. Most importantly, I have nothing to sell you. (Be wary of advice with a dollar sign attached to it.)
I’m writing this because it’s the advice I wished I would have had when I first started…
So in no particular order, here’s what will ruin your copywriting career in a blink of an eye. If you want to avoid these altogether, stick around to the end and I’ll share exactly what I would do if I was starting out today with $50 to my name…
1. You’re wasting time hand-copying old controls. Do this instead.
Back when I was a photographer in Afghanistan who didn’t know copywriting from a hole in the ground, I worked with two local brothers, Faran and Farhad. Faran knew a decent amount of English, but Farhad could only repeat back phrases we’d say to him.
Every morning, Farhad would walk up with a big smile and say “Hello brother, how are you?” then promptly walk on by. He didn’t even know he was asking a question.
Faran would be a few paces behind him, and in his broken English he’d ask, “how your coffee today?” and wait for my reply.
Farhad may have sounded better, but Faran actually knew what he was talking about.
And so it goes with the sacred cow of copywriting, hand-copying proven sales letters.
Through some sort of grammatical osmosis, you’re supposed to absorb the copywriting knowledge, pen to vein.
But in reality, you’re like my friend Farhad, using words you don’t understand.
So how can you be like Faran? Easy.
You see I honestly did find an immense amount of value studying proven sales letters word for word. But it’s only because I used the technique I’m about to share instead of hand-copying.
This technique allowed me to learn the actual principles behind each part of these sales letters and gave me a glimpse into the mind of each writer.
Studying letters this way was like having a mentor guiding me along, even though I didn’t know a single living copywriter at the time…
So what did I do differently?
Simple. Instead of hand-copying word for word, I rephrased every line / idea / chunk of the sales letter into my own words.
And I did it on a computer. (I don’t need my bad handwriting slowing me down)
Afterwards, I would go back and ask myself, “Why is their version so much more impactful, succinct, and moving than mine? What’s different about how they presented this idea? What can I learn from this? What is it about how I changed it that makes it a weaker argument? Why does my phrasing carry such less authority?”
And by approaching both the classics and the modern winners this way, I gained deeper insight than I ever have through a book or course.
Sharpen Your Sword: This week, rewrite an entire sales letter using this method. Break it into chunks and take a break once you’re mentally checked out. This requires focused thinking time, because you are doing deep learning. Repeat weekly.
2. You’re training yourself to only know how to write for the worst customer base possible.
My son has a Pirate Ship water table sitting on our back deck right now.
When he pushes a button, it sends water up the mast of the ship, spilling down into a series of buckets, filling up one until it spills over into the one below it, and that one into the one below it and so on…
The bottom bucket doesn’t spill into anything, it just sits there gathering all the muck and gunk from being outside all day. In fact, if I did’t give it a bunch of time and attention, it would quickly fester and spoil the entire water table experience.
If I had my way, I’d pull the bottom bucket out altogether. It isn’t worth the time and effort.
The problem is, you are at serious risk of training yourself to write copy that only attracts bottom bucket customers.
Ask yourself… Do you write the way you talk? Could anyone talk the way you write? Would you cringe if your non-copywriting friends read your copy?
So many people come to copywriting through hardcore DR with its impossibly fake stories, laughable claims, and a customer base that is desperate enough to overlook all of it.
This is bottom bucket stuff, and it will not pour into any of the buckets above it.
The fastest way to cut off your copywriting career is to think the bottom bucket IS copywriting. It’s not. It’s the slimy, festering cess-pool, and not the one you want to swim in.
Sharpen Your Sword: You need to start writing copy that pours into the higher buckets, (because that CAN pour down into the bottom bucket if you want it to). This week, get a hold of a few Joseph Sugarman ads. Sugarman wrote copy for hundreds of otherwise mundane products like watches and sunglasses. See how he elevated most everything with a story.
Note, it isn’t the story that “sells” a customer on buying something… The story elevates the experience altogether. A pair of sunglasses is much different than a pair of sunglasses with a story attached to it. Now rewrite this ad with your own story. Contrast and compare the results.
3. You’re Trying to Work Less.
I was at this event in Denver for local tech startups where the main speaker had flown in from Silicon Valley…
The gossip was that he was uber connected to VC’s and could be the path to funding for a lot of people in the room…
He gets up and says, “Look, the reason money isn’t flowing into Denver is because you guys don’t seem to want it as badly as they do in Silicon Valley. I drove past the parking lot of most of the incubators in town, they were empty by 5:30. Guys in Silicon Valley are sleeping at the office. Which horse do you think people want to bet on?”
The room went silent. Any hope of money was gone. People’s dreams felt crushed. Finally someone stood up and took the mic…
“HOW DARE YOU! I HAVE A FAMILY! AND YOU DO NOT GET TO COME HERE AND TELL ME I NEED TO WORK MORE TO SUCCEED!”
The room legit erupted into agreement.
I don’t really need to comment on that one, but the same attitude is rotting through the online community.
Laptop lifestyle. 4 Hour Workweek, glitz and glamor with a few minutes here and there for that pesky “client work”.
Work less, earn more, that’s the dream they’re selling, but like I said, don’t trust advice with a dollar sign attached to it.
Because the truth is, you can win SO MUCH FASTER than everyone around you if you make this shift:
Fall in love with your work, and do more of it. Kill the “bare minimum” mentality before it kills every dream you have.
The ideal life in the West is supposed to be one of pure leisure, but ask the son who inherits his father’s fortune how much fulfillment he gets out of sitting around all day…
Meaning is found in getting better at work you enjoy. Lean into that HARD.
What does that look like? First and foremost, it means having more curiosity about every product you write about.
Sharpen Your Sword: : Let’s juice up your creative process. Pick a product off Amazon, any product. Sometimes the more boring the better… Come up with 5 things that are unique about this product. Come up with 5 ways the consumer’s life would be improved by owning it. Come up with 5 things the consumer’s life is missing without it (subtle but different). Give it a good name, make it catchy. Do this 3 times a week. Eventually you will pick real products from companies you can pitch your work to.
4. You remain a consumer for too long.
Have you ever grown strawberries? I hadn’t until this year. Dug some holes, tossed in the plants, and a few weeks later the strawberries were almost ready.
Unfortunately, I forgot all about it for another week or so, and the next time I checked, my strawberries had turned to a rotting mess. Not only that, the rotting strawberries had stopped all the other berries on the plants from growing.
Just like those strawberries, there is a time to stop growing on the vine and get out into the world. And the longer you delay that, the more it will rot away any knowledge you’ve gained.
If you remain a student with little to no real-world experience for too long, it may spread into a full fledged case of “Know-it-all-itis”. This is a VERY common condition in young and old copywriters alike, here are the symptoms to look out for:
- – You mistaking reading something for having actually done it.
- – You smugly give advice not born out of experience
- – You feel superior to others without the time in the arena to back it up (seeing a pattern here)
If you don’t catch in time, late-stage KIAI can manifest as “Curmudgeon Defense Syndrome,” where you defend your limited experience by cosplaying as the love child of Dan Kennedy and Dan Pena. That is, anyone questions you, you retreat behind the wall of grumpiness.
Don’t be that guy. I’d say guy / girl / other, but I’ve only seen this play out in the dudes.
How do you stop this? By getting out of the classroom and into the arena TODAY.
What I love about this group is Justin has assembled an all-star cast of people ACTUALLY WORKING in the field who’s accolades extend far beyond “selling other people copywriting courses”.
Time to join them by getting out and writing in the real world for money. The fastest way to get humbled as a copywriter is to have your copy get tested in the real world. Get humbled fast because you won’t get better until you do.
Sharpen Your Sword: For this, see my advice in the “What I’d do if I was starting over” section below.
5. You think of yourself as a Copywriter.
My buddy is a small-town dentist in Minnesota, and he’s at serious risk of being run out of business. There’s a huge dental conglomerate planting offices across the country, and if they put a location next to him, he’s done for…
Why? Because this company has nearly perfected how to operate a profitable dental practice. They’ve mastered social media, email marketing, sms, reminders, lifetime value, insurance negotiations, staffing…
And now every market they enter, they dominate.
So even though my buddy is a better dentist than any of their employees, and his patients get better care…
It’s the rest of running a business that matters. Most importantly, how you acquire and retain customers.
So if you want to survive on your copywriting, the first thing to do is stop thinking of yourself as a copywriter and start thinking of yourself as a business owner.
And as a business owner, you need to be giving about half your time to actively bringing new leads into your company. And another ten percent of your time to the busy work of running your own business.
Because those “Monday details” kill a ton of potential entrepreneurs before they make any impact on the world at all.
The truth is if you’re here you probably have ADHD or ADD or whatever label you put on it. It explains your risk-taking tendencies, your impulsivity, and your willingness to have heard about copywriting and said, “Yeah I’ll just do that with my life…”
But it also means you are probably really inconsistent and poor with time management. If you are out there raw-dogging life completely untreated, you are needlessly suffering.
Figure that out or it will be hard to succeed at anything long-term.
Once you have that sorted, force yourself into mastering project management and deliver on-time or early. Good copy delivered a month late isn’t good copy to most business owners. Decent copy delivered early can lead to more wins faster for everyone.
So from this point on, you must think of yourself as a business owner and accept the responsibility of learning how to do that alongside learning copywriting.
Otherwise you’ll get dominated by the person who can do this effectively.
Sharpen Your Sword: You are now a business owner, not a copywriter. Take 30 minutes to ask yourself, “Why does my business exist?” Really, deeply think about this.
Why do you run a copywriting business? What kind of customers do you serve? Do you specialize in something? Do you have offers? How would someone find out about your business’ services? What are successful businesses in other sectors doing that you aren’t’?
Write down 5 things you need to do to help move your business forward.
THE JUICE: What Would I Do If I Was Starting Today With $50
When I launched my first health-supplement through VSL on Facebook, I still didn’t know a single other person in the online space.
I was married with a home mortgage and had spent almost my entire life savings getting to that point. I was down to my last couple thousand bucks, but it didn’t matter because I thought I was going to turn my ads on and watch the money roll in…
Instead, my entire Facebook account was deactivated a few hours after I launched my first ad.
I was pretty devastated. I knew I needed to think outside the box, fast.
I knew of one other name that was successfully running a supplement VSL, I’ll call him Frank. He didn’t know me, and to be honest, I found his identity and contact info through some light stalking…
But I reached out anyway and said, “I think I can help make your VSL’s look better, and I can really use your help on traffic. If you’re willing to have lunch with me, I’ll pay you $1000.”
Amazingly, he replied. He even said yes (for the $1000, that is), but I was more than happy to spend almost every penny I had to meet with him.
In the end, he looked at my VSL, and sure enough, he had some solid advice. It was perfect for email traffic, not Facebook. And once I was introduced to that world, the same product went on to do multiple 7-figures through email.
My advice to you has nothing to do with spending $1000, or any money at all. I want you to be Frank in this story, introducing companies to the RIGHT traffic source for their product.
You see, you have a massive advantage at this exact moment in time, if you want to take advantage of it. And that is digging in and really understanding the phenomena known as TikTok.
E-Com done right on TikTok is crushing it right now, and it is somewhat easy pickings. But if you want to make this work, you can’t be a bottom-bucket copywriter. You need more nuance. You need to understand the “language” of TikTok, and then implement the core principles that drive good copy…
And you need to get started right away, because this moment is going to pass and eventually advertising on TikTok will be the new Facebook.
Here’s what to do:
The same way you wrote the samples above for Amazon products, you take the vibe and language of TikTok, and implement these benefits into 30 second scripts for TikTok ads.
So what do you do with the $50 and how do you get clients?
1. Pick your ecom company and hero product…
2. Write 3 scripts
3. Get your friends to act out the script using their selfie camera TikTok style. Use the $50 to buy them pizza. If you don’t have those kinds of friends, you can hire someone from UpWork.
4. Pitch your services to this company. Package your services up as you like…
5. Pitch other companies using this sample.
That’s the exact formula to what I would do if I were starting out. It isn’t much. Maybe 15% more than the next person… But getting ahead in anything often comes down to giving 15% more than everyone else.
Give 15% more effort in your thinking time. Challenge yourself to make your finished draft 15% better. Go 15% beyond just being a copywriter.
Let’s be honest, you most likely just read your eulogy… One of these downfalls will grab you and throw you into the pit of “could-a-beens”, the fate of most who head down this path.
But if you are a naturally-curious person willing to fall in love with the craft of copywriting, as well as the machine of business ownership…
It just might change your life.
Credit _ Eric Raum