Copywriter Matt Hall joins us in the studio for the 159th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. Matt is a member of The Copywriter Think Tank and has a ton of experience as a copywriter and agency owner. He’s worked in-house, as an agency employee, and has started his own agency—twice. Here’s what we talked about:
• the high school experience that made him want to know everything
• how he decides what he needs to learn next—without the stress of keeping up
• getting permission to be different and not live up to other’s expectations
• the system he uses to stay up-to-date on his favorite topics
• why he made the shift from eternal student to content writer and strategist
• working with a variety of clients
• why he likes to do a lot of different kinds of work
• the different roles a copywriter can choose (and why to do each one)
• his biggest struggle as a business owner
• his $30K month and the work he had to deliver
• the challenge and benefit of working with a spouse
• his system for managing all the house-hold stuff so work gets done
• the practice that keeps him from having a scarcity mindset
• how he attracts clients to his freelance business
• his thoughts about the trends in conversion copy and design
This is a good discussion you definitely don’t want to miss. To hear it, click the play button below or subscribe with your favorite podcast app. You’ll find a full transcript below.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:Kajabi
The Dunning Krueger Effect
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground
Rob: What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes, and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Kira and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Kira: You’re invited to join the club for Episode 159 as we chat with copywriter and all-around renaissance man, Matt Hall, about how he became a copywriter, different roles copywriters can take on and how they all compare, conversion design, what it is and how copywriters should think about conversion, and what Matt has done to bring business in the door for his agency.
Matt: Hi. Really happy to be here.
Kira: Yeah. Great to have you. I have this huge smile on my face and I don’t know if it’s the cold Chinese food I’m eating or if it’s just … I’m so excited to hang out with you. So let’s kick this off with your story. How did you end up as a renaissance man/conversion, optimization socialist/copywriter/many other things?
Matt: All of the things. I’m hoping more of a jack of all trades rather than a master of none. But it started back in high school and I overheard a conversation when I was like, 14. And some of my classmates were talking about one of our friends saying, ‘She is so interesting. She can talk about literally anything, like your car’s dashboard and she knows about it.’
And something about the idea of being able to engage with somebody over literally any topic at any given time and actually know what you’re talking about really connected with me. And that stuck with me, even when I was an undergrad, I did a master’s in English with the focus on professional writing, but I got … I built my own minor.
It was a combination of graph design and PR and building documents with tech and just combining a whole bunch of things. I ended up having something like 200 credits when they finally kicked me out school and said, ‘You got to graduate, dude. It’s time to go.’ And then I went and got a Master’s in American studies which is another field that’s like combining a few different fields. American studies lives on the edge of English but also history and a little bit of psychology or whatever you want to do.
So I’ve always been really interested and gravitated towards the kind of work where you can apply knowledge and experience from a lot of different areas and put it together towards making a project even more successful than it could have been maybe if you had one singular focus. So now that I’m doing copywriting/web development/CRO/UX, all the stuff put together, it turned out to be a really … a great way for me to bring my passions to life, keep my work interesting.
And also, I think bring a better experience to my clients and the people I work with.
Rob: So before we jump into how you made the switch to copywriter from student, can you talk just a little bit about, you have a framework for learning. How do you decide what you want to learn next or how you take what you’re learning and you apply it to become the renaissance person and jack of all trades so that that information becomes useful and whatever it is that you’re doing for clients or for business building, whatever the thing is?
Matt: I’m naturally a really neurotic person. And the idea of FOMO, of academic FOMO drives me crazy. So if there’s something that I don’t know, like if somebody is using a framework that I’m not familiar with, or somebody references a book. Just yesterday, I came across an acronym I had never heard of. And I go into not quite panic mode, but like, ‘Hey, what is this? What does this mean? Am I missing something? Are people going to talk about something that I need to know?’
I’ve been kind of channeling that anxiety into something productive by constantly diving in and just learning something new. I think we live in this incredible period in human history where you’re like one Google search away from learning literally anything you need to. So the only thing holding…if anybody is listening to this podcast, the only thing holding them back is just a little bit of effort on their part.
There’s no information that we don’t have access to, usually for free, that we can just find a little bit of work and something about that inspires me. I think that there’s … A big part of my identity is the idea that we should be continuously learning and growing and improving throughout life. Money comes and goes but the things you learn, even in the book you got for a dollar can stick with you your entire life.
So I’ve always seen it as just an investment in my ability to do more, to be more effective at serving other people because I can connect with them in different ways. And I think that just drives my interest in trying to learn something new. And of course, there’s courses, there’s YouTube videos, there’s so many different ways we can learn things nowadays.
I think you just have to know yourself and know how you learn best and then run with that.
Kira: Yeah. The idea of being a renaissance man or woman has always been attractive to me and I wanted to be that person, but I also feel like the idea that really stresses me out, because even as you’re talking through this, I feel stressed because it’s so hard to keep up with everything today. So what advice would you give to us if we want to be that person that knows everything?
And we are curious, how to do it in a way that doesn’t exhaust ourselves and is sustainable because I feel like when I’m on that track and I’m in renaissance mode, I end up burning out and then I just have to go a week … multiple weeks where I just don’t do anything or think about anything because I’m so burned out from overlearning.
Clearly, I’m not doing this right. So how do you do it in a way that’s healthy? You alluded to the fact that it’s … there’s a dark side to it too. So more of us can do it in a way that is effective and yet, we don’t burn out.
Matt: Yeah. That’s a great question. And I think the first thing I’d want to say is this isn’t for everybody. There are people out there … There’s Joanna Wiebe who’s known for being an excellent conversion copywriter. She invented the field. A classic example, I will never be Joanna Wiebe because there’s not one thing that I’m leaning into so hard and so far that my entire identity is going to be based around that.
And that works for her. I think what you have to do is figure out what kind of person you are. And Kira, this might not work for you, right? And that’s okay. I think that we don’t always have to be … We don’t have to live up to other people’s terms or identities, which I think is one of the wonderful things about the gigantic community we can be a part of.
There’s room for everybody. There’s room for everybody to be themselves and be a little bit different. So let’s start with that. Number two, my … A lot of the things that I do, I have developed systems, RSS readers, Feedly for example. I use Feedly like crazy. I just have all my websites dumped in there and then I’ll just look through all these different feeds.
So what I do is instead of looking at just entertainment or just Reddit or whatever, I’ll have a lot of preselected topics that I’m interested in that I can then keep on top of. So it’s probably not the healthiest thing because it’s like that typical social media distraction. I’m just creating custom social media feeds, little custom echo chambers that I’ve … where I’ve chosen what the content is going to be. Put those all together so that when I’m bored, I’m scrolling through something that’s productive rather than just dumb news.
I actually don’t really watch the news. I 100% don’t watch the news on TV, CNN or Fox or any of those channels. I stay away from that because that’s just like brain-numbing. It’s just meant to get you angry and outraged and whatever. I can’t even watch John Oliver clips anymore because it just … I know what it’s doing. I know it’s meant to just to get me angry but it’s not really meant to get me to think.
So instead, I choose what media I consume through these feeds and then probably spend … too much time-consuming at all.
Rob: Yeah. We all I think can relate to that. So Matt, make it a shift then from almost eternal student with lots of degrees to copywriter. Tell us about that, why you made the shift and how you went about finding your first clients.
Matt: Yeah. So I always liked writing. I was really more into creative nonfiction as an undergrad. And I wanted to teach technical or professional writing as my career. My father teaches history at a few schools down here in Southern California. I’ve been around higher education my whole life and I’m personally … I see the vision of what education can do to transform somebody’s life and make it better.
So I wanted to bring that to people. I’ve had some really … I went to BYUI for my undergrad and that’s a teaching school that’s not really a research school, which means that teachers are completely focused on the student experience and that was just such an excellent experience for me. Being inspired by their work, went and go do that myself and I went to a get a master’s.
And I think the little idealistic shin was worn off during that experience. There is one particular staff meeting where the department heads are arguing about if they should close a journal that’s not profitable because their salaries will go down. And meanwhile, I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m making less than a minimum wage as a grad student teaching two classes. This seems a little petty and a little poor form.’
At the same time, I needed a little bit of extra cash probably for the same reason. And I went in Craigslist and saw a gig where somebody was saying, ‘I’ll pay you $0.01 a word to write these reviews.’ So I was like, ‘Oh, I wonder if I can do that. It sounds interesting. Let’s try to see if I can actually succeed at this.’ And I’ve started writing these reviews and they were ridiculous. They were for things like perpetual motion machine that would generate unlimited energy for free and I had to write a positive review of that.
That was the one. I did this for three weeks and I quit because it was like, these things are literally impossible and here, I’m writing this crappy stuff just to fill the web with garbage. But what it did is it showed me that there’s opportunity everywhere. So I found at some other sites where you could write articles. I was actually on vacation in China for a month and I found I needed some cash and I found a site that would pay via PayPal right after you wrote an article.
So I started writing articles there and I’m making $30 an article or something. And it just grew from there where eventually, somebody in my congregation heard … overheard that I was writing these SEO articles, this is back in maybe 2011, back when everybody was just about quantity of content rather than quality.
So this guy heard that I was writing articles. He said, ‘Hey, I need a blogger who can write articles for this health company just nearby. Are you interested?’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ So I started writing some articles for him. He eventually brought me in-house. He left shortly after and I pitched myself as a content strategist, which was a term that was up and coming around that time.
This is like 2012, early 2013. So they have people on HubSpot and Copyblogger and a few other places that are talking about content strategy were coming up at that time. And I think because I can see the trends of where everything was going, because of my ridiculous media consumption, I knew that if I position myself in this role, it opens some doors for me down the line in the near future.
And that’s actually what happened. I worked in that role for probably nine months total. I went back to finish my master’s just get it done and then after that, my wife and I moved out to the Bay Area where I was a content strategist for a law school. So one thing led to the other. I think the most important thing that it did the whole time though was that I was always trying something new and I was always moving.
I think it’s really scary when people sit back and wait for work to come to them or wait for opportunities to come to them. Honestly, as long as you’re moving in some direction, you’re going to hit something. It doesn’t even matter what you’re actually moving in. You just got to keep moving. And eventually, you’re going to bump into something that will be an opportunity for you.
Kira: Can we dig into that concept of always moving? I know what you mean but for someone who is maybe struggling to get that first client, they’re like, ‘Cool. I need to move.’ So can you break down what that look like for you during that time when you were getting clients constantly moving, building your business?
Matt: Yeah. This is actually something I came up with while I was dating because I had this one girlfriend that I thought we were like, going to get married, into my family and is going to have some career. And within two weeks, everything in my life fell apart. It turns out she was … Somebody else that she was actually dating on the side and the career path I wanted to take was close to me for reasons.
And I realized at that moment, my gosh, you can’t have just a plan A, you have to have a plan B and a plan C to plan D. You have to be having all these different things in play so that whichever one works out, you’re ready to seize that opportunity. So that means I always felt like I had to be doing something to be productive.
I’m thinking about, ‘Okay, which of these opportunities do I want to pursue? If this worked out, then what would happen? If this worked out, then what would happen?’ And the same thing applies when I’m doing client work. Client work sound like dating, right? You never know which one is going to work out. You never know which one is going to turn into a long-term relationship, which ones looks like it’s going to be a long-term relationship and then they ghost you.
So you’re just trying to do the best you can to keep these relationships in play to see which one is going to go the direction you really want to go. And one of the reasons why I do so many different types of work is so that I always have ample opportunities to choose from. For example, right now in play, I have a … working by day with Kajabi which is a website platform, and their stuff is awesome.
I also have some web developer clients that were wrapping up this really big web development project we worked in over the summer that I’m finishing up. I have a copywriting client who I’m getting some stuff ready for, helped somebody to be able to launch last week. So I’ve got a lot of different things in the tech behind the launch by the way, not writing the copy.
So I’ve got a lot of different things going on and having each of those going in different directions keeps me interested, but it also means if one of those things drops out, okay, well I still have three other things that I can pursue. If two of the things drops out, okay, I still have two other things I can pursue. So that gives me a lot of freedom to be more selective in my projects. I don’t have to take clients that I don’t want to work with.
I don’t have to take clients who can’t pay their fees that I need to support a family in Southern California. I can choose the best projects where I can do my best work and everybody is going to be happy.
Rob: So Matt, you mentioned several or the roles that you have taken on. I’d love to dive into this just a little bit and talk about maybe some of the differences. So you have worked in-house as a copywriter for companies. I think you mentioned you’re doing that right now for Kajabi. You have worked in-house for agencies as a copywriter and creative director.
You’ve worked on your own as a freelancer and you’ve started your own agency as well. So I am curious if maybe we can compare those different roles and what the differences are and maybe who should be considering a role in an agency versus freelance versus in-house, that kind of a thing.
Matt: Sure. So I did it backwards. I think a lot of people start at an agency right out of college and then they move into an in-house role. I started freelance and then moved in-house. And then years later, years and years later, I moved into an agency and I was only there for a little bit. So I had a different experience going into it and it’s like if you go back to school and you’ve already worked a job, you have very different perspective to schoolwork than someone who has never worked a day in their life and doesn’t really take their classes seriously.
Same thing. Working with an agency later where I understood, the benefits of working at an agency and some of the downsides. So let’s start with that because I think as most people’s experience, agencies are a great place to learn how the creative sausage is made. Being a copywriter who you’re only responsible for copywriting and maybe strategy.
I inserted myself into a strategy role because I had already been doing them with clients and I compulsively can’t not do that. But when you’re at an agency, you don’t have to worry about the graph design. Someone else is taking care of that. You don’t have to worry about the technology supporting whatever the experience is going to be. You don’t have to worry about buying the billboard or buying the media.
All you have to worry about is writing copy that matches a spec, hand it to you by the account manager. You don’t even have to talk to the client most of the time. Somebody else does that for you. So you’re just sitting back doing your thing. The benefit of that is that there’s not a lot of pressure on you, right? If something doesn’t go well, it’s never just because of the copy or it’s never just because of one thing or another.
If there was a client, well, there’s a lot of factors in play. Obviously, there’s exceptions but really, there’s this kind of let’s say, shared non-responsibility in an agency where you just do the work. You do it the best you can but at the end of the day, you’re not personally helped to it. And that’s appealing. That’s appealing especially to young people.
The agency pace works really well if you’re young too because you’re going to be putting in a lot of late nights. If you have a family, an agency is really hard to do right. There were a lot of nights where being someone who is committed to his work and wants to do a good job ended up staying a little late at the office and that made it hard because I had a pregnant wife, I had two other young kids. It was just not a really good fit for where I was at that stage in my life.
But if I didn’t have any place to be and I was just trying to build a really good portfolio sample so that I could leverage in my next job, might be a better fit. In-house is where people usually go after they’ve worked at an agency. And that’s where you work directly for a company. So right now with Kajabi, I’m in-house. Kajabi directly hired me as a copywriter. I’m working for them. That’s how that works.
That’s cool because you’re only focusing on one client at a time. You get to learn ins and outs really deeply. You get to talk to customers. You get to get really embedded with the team whereas with an agency, you’re separate. You’re kind of a satellite and even if you’re really good at empathizing with your audience or trying to make the time to do your research because agencies have so many clients at the same time, you really don’t have the luxury of doing deep research and really getting to know an industry or a specific company and why people would choose one client’s product or service over competitors.
So I think it’s an inherent challenge with the whole agency model and I don’t … I thought a lot about what to do with it. I don’t know how to solve that. But if you’re in-house, you are able to take that time to really get to know your audience and your customers to hit those pain points. And then finally, when you’re freelance, you get to choose yourself what you want to do.
Do you want to work with a lot of clients? Do you want to work with one client? Do you want to work somewhere in between? And then the amount of time and the amount of money that you charge buys you the ability to learn more about your customers. Something that the biggest copywriters … You hear about these copywriters who do these $1 million launches.
I think it was Rob Braddock who’s sharing in one of the Facebook groups about how he put together this copy package that did like $2 million launch while I was talking to him about it. And guess what, he had six weeks to do research. Well, if you’re in an agency, there’s no way you can pitch a client and say, ‘Hey, awesome. Our agency is going to charge you $250 an hour full-time for multiple people for six weeks just to learn who you are.’
People come to an agency and they expect you to already know the ins and outs of their business even if that’s technically impossible. Well, when you’re working with your own client, you can say, ‘Research is a really important part of my process. Here’s the package that I charge for what I do. Research is built into that. By the end of it, you’re going to get this outcome.’
So when you’re in control of that relationship yourself as a freelancer, you are able to basically buy time to do a better job and get a bigger result. In-house is in the middle where you know you’re going to be spending 40 hours a week in a place and so you really just have to convince your manager that you’re being productive and show them that what you’re doing contributes to what they want at the end of the day.
Rob: And of course, there are differences in the steadiness of a paycheck. With freelancing, sometimes we’re responsible for going out and find … well, not sometimes. We are responsible for going out and finding those clients and making sure that they’re invoice where at least there’s a perception that the paycheck is a little bit more steady in the agency world as an in-house employee.
That may not always be true especially if an agency [inaudible 00:21:37]. But yeah, different struggle for different folks.
Matt: Yeah, exactly. And I think if you’re trying to add value everywhere you go, you’re going to be able to have those paychecks come to you a little more consistently. But when I was working full-time, it’s like when I didn’t have that safety net and I had three young kids, and some stuff were starting to hit the fan, the stress just went crazy, right?
It’s like, ‘All right, what’s a good for me where I am in life? What my goals are versus where eventually I’d like to be?’ Right now, having the safety net of the salary is nice, but most importantly, the health insurance that I’m getting from my day gig. My gosh, such a relief. It’s such a nightmare trying to deal with the health insurance stuff.
It really depends on what you want. And I think that there’s this idea in some entrepreneurial communities that you’re not a real entrepreneur, you’re not a real copywriter unless you’re freelancing full-time, working for yourself. I don’t buy that. I have made that work. I think I out-earned probably a lot of the people saying that. And it’s completely fine to do what works for you.
Like I said before, there’s so much opportunity now, there’s so much space for everybody. And one of the reasons I love hanging out with The Copywriter Club is because you get to see how many different types of opportunities you have to do good work. And it just works. Whatever works for you, that’s totally fine.
Kira: I hate to be a downer here, but I’m just wondering, what has been your biggest struggle as a business owner?
Matt: My biggest struggle is realizing that the magic wasn’t in the shoes at all, it was in my heart the whole time. I need to be more like my [crosstalk]. Maybe that’s basically my real struggle has been I think mindset. I am naturally a self-deprecating person which I think you know. And being willing to be that guy who gets out there and says, ‘Hey, I have something to share with you. And this might help you.’
My default is to look to other people that I admire and to say, ‘Yeah. Actually, you should listen to them instead of me.’ And there’s actually a name for this in psychology. It’s my favorite thing. It’s called the Dunning-Krueger effect. And the Dunning-Krueger effect basically says, ‘People who are incompetent who aren’t very good at what they do, well, they’re looking down for their comparisons.’
They look down at people who aren’t where they are yet and they think, ‘Oh, I’m doing all right.’ But they’re not even looking up and they don’t even realize that they’re being boneheads. On the other hand, if you’re competent, you tend to look up for your comparisons. So you actually have a false sense of not being as good as you actually are.
And I know this sounds incredibly egotistic to say, ‘Well actually, I’m better than I think I am because I think I’m terrible.’ But that’s really how it is. So I’m like, Mr. Dunning-Krueger embodied. I’m like constantly looking up to other copywriters that I admire and thinking, ‘Oh wow, I’m not there. I’m not where they are,’ when the reality is, I’m doing all right. I don’t want to get too crass on money or whatever, but … I had a $30,000-month this summer. My average per month right now is somewhere between $11,000 and $17,000.
I’m doing okay. And in all those numbers, for some people, are like a dream income. When I was an undergraduate, I never thought I’d make more than $50,000 a year, and I thought I’d be happy with that. Well okay. Now, I’m making about three times that and I’m learning two things. Number one, raising a family of five in California is prohibitively expensive and money does not go as far as it should. So I’m not rich.
Number two is there’s … again, there’s so much opportunity and you can do things your own way and you can still make an awesome living. So I just feel really blessed and fortunate to have all these things work out and I think a big part of that going back is just that forward momentum, trying to keep moving.
Kira: Yeah. Can we talk more about your $30,000 month? Because I know someone listening might think, ‘Wow, that is huge. That’s crazy. I wonder how he did that.’ So would you mind just even breaking down the $30,000 month, just high level to … so we can understand what it takes to have a $30,000 month?
Matt: Yeah. So here is how that broke down. I had a retainer client. That was a big retainer client. So they were around … I think they were around like $12,000 and that was for a content strategy type gig. I was at an international enterprise tech company and they wanted to expand into the European market for this product so I was managing the content strategy for them.
And that included doing a lot of interviews, doing a little bit of copywriting, doing a lot of strategy planning and doing really mostly, people management which I think is like 90% of working with enterprise. And then I had a few web design clients. This is actually very shortly after I had a baby. So my brain wasn’t really in copywriter mode.
My copy was mushy and my brain just had a time because I wasn’t sleeping because of the baby. And fortunately, web development uses a different part of your brain than copywriting. So I actually had a lot of web development clients during this time. So we had one client had me do like a landing page type of copy and turned it into a nice-looking landing page, built in like Leadpages or something.
This other client was like this enterprise nonprofit and they wanted us to redo their entire website. And that ended up being like a $15,000 project. So right there, where I’m like $27,000 or so and then I just … few odd jobs here and there, updating, doing like a little web design project and a couple of web development projects.
So a combination of small-ish projects, small for me, is like minimum like $1,200 or so. Anywhere from $1,200 to $3,500 is small for me. And then a bigger project which is the retainer and that was a lot. And then the web design client who was $15,000. And they were a dream to work with. They were just such a … They were like the nicest people and they trusted us as professionals and they paid really well.
It was like being in heaven. It was such an amazing experience.
Rob: And as you talk about all these projects you were doing, did the work all happen in that month as well or the money all comes in a month, but does the work stretch out longer than the one month?
Matt: Always. So the work tends to … There’s so many different factors in place. Some clients are really fast at getting you revisions back quickly and whether you’re writing copy or whether you’re doing a website, whether you’re doing a strategy, you have to get those revisions and that feedback from your client. Some of those love to turn those around in like a day. Some of them have to go back to multiple stakeholders and it takes them longer.
Actually, the big retainer client ended up leaving that project because how long the review process was taking. A lot of the work I do is really based in getting data, doing testing with live humans who are in your audience segment, not just in your company. And if you’re not willing to ship, put something out there and test it, then I don’t think we’re a good fit. So, it winded up actually not being a great fit after how they were actually going to work versus how it looked like it was going to be when I started the project.
And I was able to leave. I was able to walk away from a five-figure retainer because I knew that more work was coming along the way. So, the really big website project, that actually took several months to finally get all the work done and that’s because they were on tour for the summer. They had people on vacation and people were out but again, they were so nice to work with and just really friendly and understanding of like, this is why we wanted to ship in August.
It took until September to get that up. And a lot of it was on their team and they were like, ‘Yeah, we get it. Totally get it. It’s us. No worries. Here’s your check.’ It’s like, ‘All right. Cool. Thanks.’
Rob: You got to love that. So I’d love to dive in just a little bit more into the challenges and maybe the opportunities of starting your own agency. A lot of copywriters working on their own. You think maybe that’s the way that they want to move forward or to work with larger clients, possibly bring in numbers of a team.
You just created an agency with your wife as partner and, I believe, designer. Have worked with some great clients. Tell us a little bit about that process and how you guys came to focus on conversion design.
Matt: Yeah. So I’ve actually created a couple of agencies in my history. One was a content production house, we’ll call it, is a nice way to say it. That was way back when quantity mattered and I had a lot of people saying, ‘We need articles and you’re good.’ And I trained a lot of my English major friends to write web content well.
That was very different than what I was doing with my wife, which was we created just like a little studio. A little web design studio where I handle the strategy and the copy and the development and she worked on the visual design and that part of it. And we are focused on delivering … It was conversion-focused design which combines visuals, messaging and technology to create a measurable change in the audience. Really focused on results.
That works great. I married my best friend. I’m really lucky. You talked to the Malik’s a few episodes ago and I hung out with Prerna a few weeks ago in L.A. We’re like them where we’re like … my spouse is my bestie. I can’t spend enough time with this person. It’s really cute and mushy and all that good stuff.
Kira: The funny thing is you’re the one eating week-old Chinese food and Rob is the one-
Rob: I’m gagging right now.
Kira: You’re gagging? Rob is gagging.
Kira: I already finished the Chinese food. It’s gone.
Rob: I’ve got to say, I can definitely relate because I also married my best friend and love to hang out with her, but I don’t work with her. So that’s a different element.
Kira: You get to work with me.
Rob: Yeah. I work with my other friend.
Kira: How great is that? I don’t want to be called the other friend. Sorry.
Matt: We actively have to go out to try to make friends. And when we do, we realize how much we like each other instead. So we are like the least social humans because we just like each other’s company too much which is a … it’s a pro and a con I guess. Mostly a pro. But no, it’s going great. I think the hardest part is that we have to find time for the needful things to be done.
And the most important work that we’re doing right now is trying to raise our children to be decent human beings who are not awful monsters. And we have three four and under and so some two of them are in monster mode a lot of the time. One of them is the world’s sweetest baby who will just love to be held and smile by anyone. So I’m not special. She just loves everybody. That’s fine with me.
So yeah, we’re just … we had to make time to deal with the stuff around the house and that’s been the biggest challenge. How do you make sure that somebody is keeping on top of like tidying up? How do you make sure that somebody is keeping the kids fed? How do you make sure that all these other things are done and not default to maybe ideas that my wife nor I really subscribe to anymore that might have been invoked 50 years ago?
So it’s been good. I’m much more of the, my hobby is my work type of person than she is. And that’s actually been good for me to realize how important it is to find things to do in my life that aren’t just my work. Like I would go to parties and they would be like, ‘Oh, what are your hobbies?’ And I’d say, ‘Oh, I work for free. Sometimes I do work and I help people and I don’t get paid for it. Or sometimes, I have a project that I’m working on that will never see the light of day. Isn’t that fun?’
And they’re like, ‘No. No. Let’s talk sports or something.’ And I’m like, ‘All right. I got nothing.’
Kira: So you were just asking the question like, how do we … I forget how you worded it, but who cleans up, who makes sure the place is tidy, who makes sure the kids are fed. So how do you actually deal with those things now? Do you have a system in place? What does it actually look like?
Matt: We finally turned our babysitter into like a part-time helper. So what happens is twice a week, the babysitter will come over and she’ll watch the older kids and sometimes, the baby … usually this is when the baby is asleep. So she’ll take care of the kids and then my wife has … my wife, Mica, has the time to do whatever she wants.
And if she wants to do the chores and errands around the house, that’s fine. But it’s really more about giving her that space to be creative so that she can have time to draw or create art or to do what’s like refreshing to her. Working on like a client site design or something like that. Giving her that space where she can … Ideally, we’re still working on getting there but ideally, her flow is I create a wireframe with iCopy, she takes it and puts it in sketch or designs it up and then I turn that and make it live.
Sometimes, it takes a little bit longer and there’s few more steps in the process. But that’s what we’re doing now. And it’s working pretty well. It’s been a huge mental health thing more than anything else. So that the idea of adding work on top of raising kids fulltime, which is what she’s doing as well, doesn’t feel overwhelming and doesn’t feel exhausting and doesn’t feel like I’m putting these really unreasonable burdens on her.
And just for the record, she’s the one who said, ‘You know, I want to do something. I want to work. But I don’t want to leave the kids from home.’ And because I had worked as a freelancer and I knew what it took to start a business and to run it and find clients and all that, we were able to make that a reality instead of she had to get a job outside the house, we had to pay daycare, we had to find daycare that wasn’t creepy and all that stuff.
Everybody finds something that works for them, but this has worked out really, really well for us.
Kira: All right, Matt. It sounds like when you’re talking about getting client work, you are able to turn away projects that aren’t a good fit. You are able to walk away from big retainers which is great, because you know more work is on the way. So that’s a really powerful place to be. But if a copywriter is not quite there yet, can you just talk through how you market your business because clearly, you have a lot of leads? Clearly, you’ve got projects lined up when you need to have projects lined up.
So how do you market your business? How are you getting these projects in the door? How did you land a gig at Kajabi? Can you just talk through how you market your business?
Matt: Yeah. I think one of the most important things I do, and I don’t mean to get too Sunday school in this podcast, I do teach Sunday school to teenagers so this maybe this where this comes from. But I pay a full tithe and the Bible says that you pay a full tithing and you’re going to have blessing poured down upon you more than you can receive.
From like a non-biblical point of view, giving a huge chunk of … 10% of your income to something, it makes you realize how much you don’t need as much as you feel like you need, right? That 10%, it feels really big some months where it’s like, ‘Oh man, I sure could go for an extra $1,500 right now.’ But by giving away to something you … be giving away some of your money to something you believe in on such a regular basis, you realize, ‘Hey, I was down 10% and I still made it this month. My family is still eating. We’re still happy. Power is still on. Everything is okay.’
And that practice has helped me stay in a mindset where I know something can fall in my lap at any time. People will contact me out of the blue and they’ll say, ‘Hey, I need this done. I will pay you upfront. Let’s get it happening.’ And I’ll say, ‘Sure.’ And I wasn’t planning on that. I couldn’t control that person coming to me and hiring me.
I just got to put myself out there. I try to serve people by offering good advice and helping where I can and it seems like all this good stuff just comes back my way. The reason I think that it’s so important to give up a significant chunk of your money to something you believe in and practice this law is because it keeps you from being afraid and being panicked and having a scarcity mindset.
Dogs can smell fear, humans … our brains can pick up fear in somebody whether we realize it or not. So if I’m going to a client and I’m stressing about how I’m going to get the bills paid or how I’m going to save up money or whatever it is I’m doing. Clients smell and feel that stress and they’ll go, ‘Something is up with this person. I can’t put my finger on it but my brain feels weird about it. I’m going to pick somebody else.’
So the whole thing really comes down to having confidence in your ability to find a different piece of work. I love, love Joel Klettke suggestion, to have a little Post-it note that says, ‘This is not the best job in the world nor the last.’ Having that mindset, knowing that there’s more stuff coming, stuff can fall in your lap at any minute I think gives you that leverage to only go after the jobs you know are going to be the best fit. And it’s a virtuous cycle.
When you pick a client who’s a good fit, you’re going to find somebody where you can do your best work. And when you’re doing your best work, you’re going to get the best results. And if you get the best results, you’re going to have great results that you can share with your next client. So you’re going to be able to tell them, ‘Oh yeah, I work for somebody like you and we’re able to go from $3,000 a month to $30,000 in five months by following the strategy that I recommended. If that sounds like something you want, when can we get started?’
So that’s really been the secret to my success. I don’t feel like I’m very systematic in lead gen at all. I just try to go out, do some good, hopefully good comes back to me and so far, it’s worked really well. But what I do is really make a consistent effort to keep in the mindset that there’s always more things that can fall in my lap. And as long as I’m trying to give back the world, the universe, all just tends to repay in kind.
Rob: So you mentioned that you don’t feel like you’re very systematic in your approach to leads and I really appreciate the focus on not being scarcity focused, giving away significant portion of your income, supporting causes that you believe in. But there must be some things that you’re doing as far as attracting clients. Do most clients come through referrals? Are they coming through discussions that you’re meeting or that you’re having as you meet with people out in the world? Attending events.
Where do you find most of your clients coming from?
Matt: I’m doing all of those things. I attended your Copywriter Club In Real Life event in New York earlier this year. That turned into maybe about $4,000 or $5,000 worth of work since. Actually, a little bit more now if you think about it. So that was a good investment, just to be there, to meet people, to spend time with my ideal audience.
I go to a networking group, small business owners who are not in marketing and that lets me know what real people are struggling with and it also gives me opportunities to do good work for spaces that I normally I wouldn’t do, wouldn’t even connect with. I spend time online just trying to help people and trying to build a reputation for somebody who can be a problem-solver.
And several times, pretty prominent copywriters have come to me and said, ‘Hey, I’m launching tomorrow. My site is broken. Can you fix it?’ And I go, ‘Yeah. Let me just dive in,’ and then I fix it. So I think just trying to add value wherever you go, that’s been what’s worked well for me. I don’t like Facebook ads, I don’t do any of that stuff. I post in LinkedIn. I try to post every day, right? Now, I’m in a funk where I’m not because baby.
But I try to post on LinkedIn where I just share what I know and then what happens is people just start to remember me. They know that I’m talking about things in a little different way because I’m not just regurgitating, ‘Here’s what X influencer says.’ I’m not just swearing at my phone like a certain other influencer. I’m just trying to do things my way and people are resonating with that and then they come to me.
Mica, my wife has also been a huge part in landing gigs. People like her a lot more than me, which I like her a lot more than me so that makes sense. So she’s the one who was actually responsible for closing that $15,000 gig and for a few other things along the way. That was her first gig as a graphic designer was like landing these huge five figure projects.
So this is definitely proof that it’s more about focusing on solving somebody’s problem than trying to show how good you are, because that’s what she did and it just worked really well.
Rob: You mentioned attending our event. At the beginning of this interview, we talked about all of the things that you did, learning and some of the things that you did at the beginning of your career. And I’m curious, to get your thoughts on investing in yourself now, what are the kinds of things that you do to grow and to foster those connections that you’re talking about that then do result in work?
Matt: I want to know what room I should be in next. There is that saying that if you’re the smartest person in the room, it’s time to find a new room. So I’m thinking about, okay, what’s the next room I’m going to be in where smart people are? And then what’s the room that those people are working to get towards? And I think by trying to look a few steps ahead, I’m connecting with people who are operating in an income level closer to where I want to be and who can then afford to hire me for projects that would be a better fit for where I want to be income-wise.
So some of the development projects I’ve had for example that have paid pretty well, those have come from people who are maybe two or three steps ahead of where I am in my journey as a creative professional. Sorry Rob, can you go back to that question?
Rob: Yeah. Well, I’m curious in how you’re investing in yourself and the kinds of things that you’re doing. So I do think that you’ve answered that, but like you said, that often ends up in creating new opportunities for work as well. So just your philosophy around why you want to be the dumbest person in the room.
Matt: I believe it’s really important that you’re always trying to push yourself out of your comfort zone because if you keep doing the same things that you’ve been doing, you’re going to have the same levels of success. So if I want to reach the next level of success and keep growing in my business, in my life as a person, I need to consistently push myself out of what’s comfortable and move towards where I want to be next.
So seeing other people, this is where Dunning-Krueger comes in again. Looking up, seeing where my peers … my ideal peers are, seeing where they’re hanging out, seeing what they’re doing and then realizing, ‘Oh, I have to start doing those things too if I want to be where they are.’ So spending time on podcasts like these which is not something I actually want to do.
I feel very content just sitting back and making comments here and there but again, working outside my comfort zone and trying to do something that I’ve seen people I admire do. Putting my content out there on LinkedIn, putting my content out there in other places, in other articles. And doing that, always trying to do something that’s a little uncomfortable has been I think the key to consistently growing my income year over year over year.
I love the training that I did with Linda Perry and I know that she’s been named out a few times in this podcast. But just her training about mindset and deliberately doing the emotional work of finding out what’s holding you back and then being willing to attack that … maybe attack is the wrong word. But being willing to work through that, I think that one, it’s been really valuable to me but two, it’s something that a lot of people don’t want to do.
People don’t want to explore the core cause of what makes them uncomfortable or feel insecure because in doing that, you’re going to feel those feelings again. But when you work through it, well then, you’re in a better place than you were before. I think the real secret is do things other people aren’t willing to do and that doesn’t just mean wake up at 4:00 A.M. and work for 19 hours a day and kill yourself at a young age from a heart attack because you’re overworking. It’s not that at all.
It’s doing the emotional work other people are willing to do. It’s trying to something new that’s not very comfortable but you know you need to do it anyway. It’s learning something new. It’s saying, ‘I’m not good at this. I’m not good at web development but I’m going to learn how to do it because I know it allow me to serve my customers better.
And a few years later, it turns into a pretty lucrative chunk of your income. So it’s all really connected and the being a student of life, always trying to learn something new and being willing and brave enough to say, ‘I’m a beginner but that’s okay.’
Kira: Matt, you mentioned that you spend a lot of time reading through media and consuming media and you’re aware of the trends today. So I am curious to know what you think are the trends today and conversion copy and conversion design.
Matt: Yeah. I think that we’re at a really interesting place in the world of copywriting. We are already seeing some of the largest firms in the world use AI-powered copywriting to create very personalized experiences, the technologies out there, it’s really, really expensive. It’s prohibitively expensive right now and so we don’t have to worry about it at this point. But the real important thing to consider is it’s on its way. It’s coming.
So knowing that AI will be able to generate copy that will be just as good, if not better than ours in a lot of way, how do we shift our positioning so that the value we’re adding isn’t so much in our ability to turn out words, so that our value is in doing things that the robots can’t do? So we’re seeing a lot of understanding what customers are getting tired of.
Customers are getting tired of being yelled at. I think customers are getting tired with their data being used in really creepy ways. We’re seeing a backlash against Facebook for example, and Facebook privacy stuff. The average everyday person is starting to care about Facebook’s privacy and their data being used in ways they didn’t want, okay?
So what that means for us in our work is maybe we don’t try to harvest as much data as possible from our customers and then make their experience really creepily personal? Maybe what we do is we just pay attention to what our customers are doing once they get on our sight. And then we change what happens to them.
We say, ‘Okay. This person came in on a page talking about this feature. Maybe we can adapt outside experience so that the messaging path that go down highlights that feature instead of giving them a generic landing page experience.’ We’re at really interesting crossroads. We’ve got personalization which is more important than ever because people expect to have a personalized experience but they don’t want to be creeped out by it.
They don’t want to have their data used in ways they don’t feel comfortable with. So the brands that can figure out and the copywriters, they can very sell us the brands. Who can figure out how to create an experience? It feels like you’re talking to a friend that you like, trust and are willing to buy from. How do you create that experience that’s personal, that feels a good conversation without violating the trust and getting creepy with it?
That’s where I think we’re headed in the next two or three years. Beyond that, I think it’s going to have some really interesting things going on. We’re still not sure what the timeline for that looks like but for now, it’s figuring out, instead of following the trends, what everybody else is doing and being two or three steps behind by the time you notice it, how do you just think more about the human beings behind the screen?
How do you serve them with what they’re looking for based on what they … their expectations are? Design with a capital D combines, not just how something looks, but how something functions. It’s why something is … It is partially why something looks … why does it look the way it does? What emotion, what result is it trying to elicit in the person experiencing this piece of design?
Whether it’s a chair, okay, we want the chair to look and feel a certain way because the outcome is you want someone to feel good while they sit in this chair all day long. Well, when we’re designing an experience for our clients, that experience goes across a landing page, an email, a Facebook ad, maybe no ads at all, in a follow-up sequence.
All of the stuff adds up to be one big experience that our customers are having. So how do we design that experience in a way that’s measurable where you can measure and optimize every state change along the way and that really meets the expectations that they’re looking for … the customer is looking for? So that when they’re having this experience, they’re not jarred by the fact that they’re not seeing the information they expected to see when they click that link?
A big mistake you see a lot of people making is homepages for example. They’ll just send their traffic right to the homepage and this is a classic conversion copywriting thing. But don’t just send your traffic to a homepage that talks to everything. Do the extra effort required so that the page that your audience clicks on relays to the message that they were just looking at.
And make sure that by the end of the page they’re looking on, it relates to the message they’re going to be looking at next. Taking that big picture approach and then not being creepy with it I think is where we’re headed. That was a long and tangential answer to your question, but I hope it was helpful.
Rob: It sounds like the kind of hopeful answer that is appropriate to end the interview with Matt. So if people want to connect with you or get to know you better, where can they find you?
Matt: Sure. So I have a free email series about how to apply, how to combine visuals, your messaging and the right technology to create an experience that your audience loves and drives measurable change, and that’s at conversiondesign.org. You can sign up there. And then if you want to check out the work that I’m working on right now every day, you can go to kajabi.com because they’ve got … As someone who builds websites, Kajabi has a really … a low-key excellent platform that I didn’t realize how good it was and I’m excited to amplify that story a little bit.
And I don’t think more people are realizing what I’ve now seen working behind the scenes.
And Matt, I want to also thank you for being a member of our Think Tank Mastermind and Underground membership too because you do add so much to that community and you help everyone so much and … like you mentioned in this conversation. So, we appreciate you and I’m glad that we are able to connect with you in this conversation.
So, thanks so much Matt.
Rob: Thanks Matt.
Matt: Yeah. My pleasure. Every copywriter join the Underground. Do it. Give them your money. It’s worth it.
You’ve been listening to The Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from Gravity by Whitest Boy Alive available in iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard, you can help us spread the word by subscribing in iTunes and by leaving a review. For show notes, a full transcript and links to our free Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.