Archive for the ‘copywriting’ Category

My Brief Career as a Criminal

September 2nd, 2017 1 comment

“Talk to an attorney, he said, “before you bring a world of hurt on yourself.”

That’s one of the comments I got when I posted my business idea on a private forum I belong to.

Damn! I was this close!

I had figured out how to perform a badly needed service at virtually no cost. I knew how to streamline the process into a repeatable system. I was going to outsource most of the work.

I was going to create a training program out of the business, and sell it to thousands of investors across the country. In fact, I already had a small group of real estate investors lining up to pay me, thanks to some of the most effective copywriting I’ve ever done.

This was it! I could finally buy a villa in southern Italy and retire by the age of 50. Except for one glaring detail. I was breaking the law.

You need a real estate broker’s license to do most of the things I was proposing. One reader who vetted my copywriting for me said, “The ad is effective. The activities are illegal.”

There are some big lessons from this. The first one is hopefully obvious: When you have an idea, don’t keep it to yourself! Run it by other people. I’m saying this because it’s usually something I don’t do.

Lucky for me I’m trying to be less of a hermit and involve more people in every aspect of my life. Otherwise, I’d be telling you this story from a prison cell.

The second take-away is related to marketing and copywriting. If that’s something you want to learn about, here’s the rest of the story.

“Landlords! I’ll bet you $25 I can find you a dream tenant in 14 days”

My criminal business activity was to help landlords find and screen new tenants. My wife and I have done this twice for our own property, and this summer I helped fill a few vacancies for a friend.

I wrote a Craigslist ad explaining what I do and why it’s needed, and asked a bunch of people for feedback.

One of my mentors, Gary North, was impressed enough to publish an open critique of the copy. I got so excited, I tweeted the link to the world–right before I realized that only paying members of his website can see it.

The copy was based on one of Gary Halbert’s methods for writing an ad. (If you’re interested enough in marketing to have read this far, you’d better look up Gary Halbert and read his stuff.)

His suggested first step is to write a fact sheet about your product or service. I usually do this, but not Halbert style. I typically come up with a few dozen facts. Gary Halbert wants a list that’s 15 pages long. I had to rack my brain to think of more and more ideas.

This in itself is a great way to promote your business. It greatly increases your chance of finding a Capo D’astro Bar. But there’s more to the story.

After you have your fact sheet, Gary Halbert wants you to copy an advertisement by hand. It’s the one David Ogilvy wrote for the Rolls Royce. If you’re a copywriter, I recommend you copy the ad, too. If not, at least Google the ad and read it. You’ll get a deep new respect for the power of simple facts.

Anyway, I did my homework and loaded facts into every stage of my ad. Aside from the glaring legal issue, the responses to this ad were positive. Gary North had this to say, before he critiqued my ad almost line-by-line: “I want to go through it here to show you why I think it’s going to work.”

He did say the last third of the ad was weak. And I’ll tell you why this makes sense.

I filled my ad with concrete facts…until the close. The result was that I left readers wondering what they were going to get, and what they had to do.

One comment read: “My only question at this point is this: ‘What is this really going to cost me?'”

In other words, the deal killer was the uncertainty. The lack of facts at the end.

Since I can’t legally offer this service, I pulled the ad and I won’t post it here. But I’ll tell you what my closing says:

“If this sounds like something that could help you, please reply to this ad. I’ll send you a simple questionnaire, follow up by phone or email if necessary, and then I’ll get to work.”

Here, a few facts could have dispelled the uncertainty. I should have said, “I’ll send you 11 simple questions to answer, and if anything is unclear I’ll follow up with a 10-minute phone call. No matter what, you will only pay x dollars, as promised.”

Now the reader won’t be left wondering what this is really going to cost them, either in time or money. 14 questions, x dollars, and maybe a 10 minute phone call if I need it.

The number one reason people don’t buy from you is that they simply don’t want what your selling. But the number two reason is they don’t believe you. For whatever reason, they don’t believe you can provide what you say you can provide.

The best way to strengthen your close is to be a fanatic about dispelling every last trace of doubt and uncertainty. You can go a long way towards accomplishing this by backing up your claims with facts. And that’s a fact.

What are the 3 most important facts a potential client should know about your business? Leave them in the comments below.




Too much information

January 30th, 2017 No comments

I’ve have a few relatives who like to talk about their miserable health. The latest injury, the side effects of last year’s whatsectomy, their inflammations and parasites, all the foods they can’t eat anymore.

Somewhere in my thirties I realized they’re doing this to make me feel better. Compared to them, my age-related ailments are nothing.

This is the best kind of pain relief. You start with gory, graphic, visceral images. Exploding bodies. Dwarves riddled with parasites. Followed by the immediate relief that none of it will happen to you.

But the pain doesn’t have to be physical pain. Most people have a gut-level reaction to things like audits and foreclosures.

There’s the pain of mold and termites eating the studs in your house. Your mainframe crashing for three hours on an important day. The pain of divorce, rejection, growing old without utilizing your best talents to improve the world.


What Business Are You In? Pain Relief

The good news: You’re probably in the business of relieving one or more of these gut-wrenching pains. Better yet, you relieve the fear of these plagues before they ever become a reality.

For example, Chellie Campbell, a onetime financial planner, changed her destiny forever when she started to describe her service as “Financial Stress Reduction.”

Keep your message both visceral and simple. And that means curing yourself of a crippling illness: TMI.

Too much information. Believe me, I battle with this too. But today’s about you, not me.

You see, you might be suffering TMI if your website is full of things your prospects don’t want or need to know. But there’s a cure. All you have to do is focus on their fears and pain, and your cure for their pain.

Robert Cialdini touches upon this in a book called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. It’s one of the books I’m studying intensively this year.

Cialdini talks about the Law of Contrast. If someone is afraid they’ll have to pay $1,000 to fix their garage door, they’ll be thrilled when someone offers to do it for $600, even if they could have gotten it done for $300.

Likewise, if you go to the emergency room with severe pain in your chest, the doctor who informs you that it’s acid reflux is going to seem like a hero.

What is the worst thing that can happen to your prospect if they don’t do business with you? Paint them a vivid picture of the consequences. Let the fear worm its way into their guts. Drive their adrenaline and cortisol to levels usually reserved for bungee jumpers about to take the plunge.

Then show them exactly how you’ll protect their data or their home. Tell them about all the wonderful things you can do to keep their life or their business from falling apart. Take away their pain and their fear.

What business are you in? Don’t answer that with too much information. Tell me about the pain you relieve.

In fact, tell me in the comments below.

Categories: copywriting, Tactics Tags:

What do you want to learn in 2017?

December 8th, 2016 No comments

“Formal education will make you a living. Self-education will make you a fortune.”

–Jim Rohn

You probably have some idea what you want to do in 2017.

As for me, I know this: If I keep investing in my most important skills, if I deliberately build strength where I want to be strong, I will find the right opportunities.

I have great writers on my bookshelf (and in my phone), and dreams of becoming just like them.

But in 2017 I’m bringing all those high and mighty ideals down to earth.

Can I motivate people to action with my writing? The operative term here is “I.” Others have already done it, and they’re going to be my teachers.

Zig Ziglar said that nothing ever happens until a sale is made. Good writing can make thousands of sales. books marketing writing

Revisiting the Old Masters

For my birthday, my wife gave me a copy of Mastery by Robert Greene. One of the first steps of becoming a master at anything is an apprenticeship, where you learn by watching and imitating the masters.

Sadly, there are few real apprenticeship opportunities today, but Robert Greene suggests you create your own apprenticeship. That’s what I’ve done here.

I have dozens of books on writing, selling, creativity and business. I’ve read most of them. Some are like old friends, dog-eared and full of highlighter marks and notes in the margins. Many deserve a long-overdue reread. A few are even autographed by the authors.

Starting in 2017 (this could easily take two years or more), I’m going to go through a self-designed copywriting apprenticeship. I’m going to digest each one of those books, read part of it every day and apply what I learn immediately.

Want to join me in my apprenticeship?

I made a sharable Google doc with a list of all the books and some explanatory notes. The comments are open to anyone who has the link. Maybe you can join me, help me refine the program, or even use it as a jumping off point for your own personal apprenticeship. Here’s the link:


Categories: copywriting, Experiments Tags:

What every copywriter doesn’t want you to know

August 2nd, 2010 No comments

Don’t tell anyone I revealed this. I’ll get enemies left and right. But here’s the reason I always talk about missing 20% of your best opportunities. Because even the best copy only accounts for 20% of your results. There are two other factors that are twice as important: Your list, and an offer.

But before you even get started writing copy, or especially before hiring someone else to write copy for you, get clear on the two things that may account for up to 80% of your marketing success: The right offer to the right people.

Be the demanding client for a moment, and let’s see how this works.

The backpacker principle

Suppose you’ve earned some free time, and you want to do something special. You’ve always wanted to go backpacking in the remote parts of Hawaii. You want to climb volcanoes and watch them erupt at night. Hey, you’re even going to sleep in a lava tube if you get the chance.

Four hundred travel agents are competing for your business. But they’re not all on a level playing field. After some initial research, you start getting emails from 100 travel agents that are based in Hawaii, and specialize in travel there.

Which one will you choose? Out of 100 possible agents, fifty of them advertise on outdoor adventure websites. You now have 50 agencies that specialize in outdoor Hawaiian adventures. They know where to find the most comfortable lava tube beds. They can get your camping gear safely on and off the plane, and bring you to the best trailhead.

Ten of these companies are offering special discounts or premiums for the month you want to travel. Guess what? Out of 400 competitors, these 10 are the only ones in the running, based on choosing the right list and the right offer.

Who will be the winner? Assuming the 10 finalists offer comparable value, then and only then will the copywriting make a difference.

What the research says

A lot of market research over the last 30 years has produced the same conclusion. Getting the client is 40% list-building, 40% the offer, and only 20% the copy. A good copywriter will help you write a good offer, and could therefore contribute 60% to your success. But finding the right list is critical. Don’t waste your time selling lava tubes to clients who want a 5 star hotel.

Does copywriting still matter?

These are tough times. There are still plenty of people spending money, but everyone is more careful about where and how they spend it. Focusing on a narrow list is critical. (You can have multiple lists, but you need to market to each one separately.) Constructing a worthwhile offer is vital.

But then, in the end, when you’ve done all your hard work and research and you’ve made the right offer to the right market, all of your efforts can go to waste. Because when you’ve fought your way into that last handful of carefully-selected candidates, you’re competing with businesses that did all of their homework too. You’re up against the toughest and smartest competitors, and they’re going to fight you with everything they’ve got.

This is when you need a copywriter at your back.


How to use copywriting to reduce your costs and lower your risk

June 19th, 2010 No comments

Response Magazine often talks about a low-cost way to test your infomercial, before you spend a fortune on DirectTV.

They suggest running a long radio spot with the same or similar script that you plan to use for your infomercial. Many long-copy radio spots have been successfully morphed into high-yielding infomercials. And if your radio spot bombs, you can change the script or the concept before you’ve spent a fortune on TV advertising.

But even a simple radio ad will cost your company thousands of dollars but the priciple is useful no matter how small your advertising budget may be: It’s better to discover a failing campaign before you when the costs are low.

Since copy is the backbone of every ad campaign, along with a solid offer, you’re best off testing your copy and your offer as cheaply as possible. If it’s successful, you can invest more money to get your message out there on the expensive media.

Start with a sales letter, and make 2 slightly different versions so you can compare the response.  Maybe change the headline, or they layout, the “p.s.” at the end or the call to action.

Mail each one directly to 100 or 1,000 of your most likely prospects. Send out the different versions as an email to everyone on your list. Post them on your blog, and link a few relevant Google ads to the pages.

Track your results, and find out what works This is the time to tweak and test your message. Copy is the foundation of every effort. Once you’ve got it right, then you can re-apply it–with amplified results, over other media such as radio and TV.


This overlooked copywriting tip will save you from disaster

March 12th, 2009 No comments

I was putting the finishing touches on a sales letter, and almost didn’t use my  “secret ingredient.” But I’m glad I did. Let me share it with you. Read more…

Categories: copywriting, marketing Tags:

When storytelling isn’t enough

July 3rd, 2008 No comments

You might have heard marketers and sales professionals, and especially copywriters, pitching the idea of a story. But they skipped one essential that can shoot your results into the stratosphere.

You see, a good storyteller does have a distinct edge in copywriting and selling. You’ll be more original, more real, if you can tell a good story. But anyone can tell a story and find a way to sew it onto their sales message. That’s the crude way of doing things.

The most savvy copywriters actually reverse-engineer their story so the sales message is embedded into every stage of the story. Here’s how it works.

First, look at your basic pitch. There are several specific statements that you want your listener/viewer/reader to believe to be true. The typical sequence goes something like this:

1. The listener has a problem or a need (you want them to believe that they suffer from this)

2. Your product can solve the problem/fill the need (you want them to believe this to be true)

3. Your product is the best way or only way to solve the problem/fill the need (you want them to believe this is true)

4. In fact, right now is the best time to solve the problem (you want them to believe this is urgent)

Now, go back to your story. Instead of just using it as an “opening” or attention grabber, find as many elements in the story as possible that support each of the above points. You might have to take some poetic license, embellish the story, or change the way you tell it.

The result is irresistable, because human beings are wired for listening to stories. Instead of just telling a story that segues into a sales pitch, your story now is the sales pitch.

This is a very advanced copywriting secret. It doesn’t take long to explain, but it’s very hard to do. Start practicing.

Categories: copywriting, selling Tags:

You won’t find it here!

March 31st, 2008 No comments

I just finished up the April Fools edition of “Bored Words.” It’s a joke (I hope people laugh at it), but if you read between the lines you might find it to be one of the most useful rants I’ve ever published.

However, it’s for subscribers only. Why not sign up for your FREE subscription to Bold Words? Just click here and you’ll be on your way.

Categories: copywriting Tags:

Where’s the Beef?

March 26th, 2008 1 comment

Hey what’s going on here? I’m a copywriter, not a burger joint! In fact, I’m a vegetarian most of the time.

But this historic ad took some boring yet critical information, and made it funny. Ask yourself, if there’s one thing you want everybody to know about your business, what is it? And how can you tell everybody, in a way that they’ll get it, remember it, and even go around reminding others?

Maybe you would do it like this. Read more…

Categories: copywriting Tags:

Test-Drive Your Copy Before You Crash

December 5th, 2007 No comments

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You’ve just written a world-changing promotion. Time to mop the blood off your keyboard, and send your grand opus to your graphics person.

But wait! Wouldn’t a second opinion be useful?

Maybe, you think, but there’s no time. It’s 2 a.m. and this has to be ready at six. If you drag somebody out of bed and ask them what they think of your copy, you know what kind of opinion they’ll give you.

But when you can’t get a reading from somebody who loves you, works for you, or owes you money, you’ve still got a good option. Read the piece out loud.

You’ll probably find you’re a better listener than you think. Especially when you’re listening to yourself.

I find typos and grammar problems that the spell-checker missed. I dig out dead words and phrases that don’t seem to carry their weight. I may even get an idea that takes the copy in a new direction that will work a lot better, if I can stay awake long enough.

The best sales copy is conversational. That’s why one of the easiest tests is to read it out loud. I do this with all my copy. Try it, and you’ll be surprised how often you’ll find something that doesn’t sound right.

Ask me some time why some words just don’t sound right. And also why they mind not look right. Or if you’ve ever had a marketing piece that didn’t feel right, I can tell you why this happens. And how to turn it into a powerful marketing advantage.


To get ahead in business, you have to stand out from the competition. You have to do something different.
You have to be bold.

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