Listen to the episode to find out:
- Why Jess dropped out of journalism.
- Experimentation vs expectation – why does it matter?
- The permission slip you need to give yourself – like yesterday.
- How she fell into copywriting and her career paths to get there.
- The 10-minute call that landed her inside of The Copywriter Accelerator.
- What’s the secret to building better interview skills?
- Why you need to start showing up and how it’s going to pay off.
- The diagnoses that helped Jess make sense of her identity and experience.
- How to connect with more people in your network.
- What kinds of relationships should we really be building?
- The best thing about becoming a new version of yourself.
Tune into the episode by hitting play or checking out the transcript below.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
The Copywriter Think Tank
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground
Free month of Brain.FM
AI for Creative Entrepreneurs Podcast
Rob Marsh: Connecting with others and creating a relationship with the people around you is a critical part of building a sustainable copywriting business. If you’re not connecting regularly with people that you might work with someday, you will eventually run out of clients. To talk about how we don’t let that happen to you, and speaking of creating connections and relationships, hi, we’re Rob Marsh and Kira Hug, the hosts of the Copywriter Club Podcast. And Kira, I’m pretty sure that’s the very first time we’ve ever said our names in the intro.
Kira Hug: Yeah, I’m, Kira Hug. It feels good to finally share that with the world. Why did it take us so long?
Rob Marsh: 350 episodes and we’ve been hiding back there. But now that we’ve established this relationship, we’re thrilled to introduce our guest for this episode, who is copywriter, Jess Kelly. And Jess shared how she discovered copywriting, how neurodiversity impacts how she works and sees the world, and what she does to connect with others in this interview. It’s an activity that attracts new clients to her business and an idea that we can all steal or borrow and use in our own businesses. Stick around to hear what Jess shared.
Kira Hug: But first, this episode is sponsored by the Copywriter Accelerator, which is our business building system that we put together for copywriters and content writers like you to figure out how to put the foundation of your business together so that you know how to attract the right clients. You know what to focus on in your business. You have your positioning dialed in, so what makes you different from every other writer out there. Your signature package and even a starter package that you can sell and introduce to the world. You’ve nailed down your pricing, you know how to show up and where to show up to build your visibility and so much more.
And so it’s really everything you need to run and grow a copywriting business. And it’s all one program, so you get all of it bundled together, and Rob and I walk you through the entire program along with an incredible group of generous writers who will do it alongside you. So we’re kicking that off in just a few weeks. And if you have any interest or you’ve heard about it before and you want to learn more about the Copywriter Accelerator, you can learn more at thecopywriteraccelerator.com and sign up there to get on the waitlist if you want to receive updates when we do officially open the doors to it. Okay, let’s kick off our episode with Jess Kelly.
Jess, so excited to have you here. And I know I personally can’t wait to hear your story. So how did you end up as a copywriter?
Jess Kelly: I stumbled into copywriting when I went to journalism right out of high school and very quickly left. I did not like the way reporting was done, it felt like there was a lot of bias and the way they were training us, it looked like they were basically training us to incorporate bias and skewed sort of news, it didn’t feel good. And then I didn’t want to be an observer. They told me I had to be an observer, not a participant. It didn’t feel good, but I’m a writer, and so they also told me if I wrote novels, I would starve. And so I ended up in food service and fast-forward, I trained as a nurse, but I have a wimpy immune system. So that was a no go. But I learned a lot there about interacting with people and creating that rapport and being able to talk to them about really deep and personal things, but at the same time as making them feel comfortable and at ease sharing those things with me.
So interviewing and health teaching were a big part of my training as a nurse, and I get to use those a lot today. And so then mostly food service. And then the pandemic happened and I was managing this cafe and I loved it. I really did. And I adored my boss. She has a home in The Bahamas, so in the winter she would go off to the Bahamas and I would hold down the fort and I really loved it. During the pandemic, this became very intense. She’s off in the Bahamas and I’m here handling staff and open, closed, order the food because we’re going to be open again. Oh wait, no, we’re not, everything’s spoiled. And I just realized I was running someone else’s business, and as much as I loved her, and I loved the cafe, and I loved the opportunity, the pandemic just really revealed that it was a really unstable place to be.
And so I started looking into writing, making money as a writer again. And I was thinking I was going to freelance write for children’s magazines because I digest complicated stuff into easy to access. And so I got into a writer’s group, Write Your Way to Freedom in 30 Days or something like that. There’s little activities to do once a day for 30 days. And we get partway through and we did an interview with a copywriter, Jacob McMillen, and I was like, oh, copywriting. I didn’t really realize this was a thing because when I was going into journalism out of high school, marketing was not like, I didn’t even consider it because that was very, again, I was a young idealist and that was just, marketing was evil. And so I was listening to this interview where Jacob was talking about copywriting, and he’s talking about how the tone, it’s having a conversation with the reader.
And I was like, oh, because when I’m trying to plan to write articles, you have to edit that out. And my natural tone is very conversational. So I was like, oh, this could be the thing, this might be the best fit. And so I got on his email list and started, and I think I opened two of them. It was in November. I was not that serious about it. And I happened to, in November, open an email from him that was like, “Hey, this is the best deal in copywriting this month. I won’t even sell you my course because it’s not as valuable as this thing. So here’s the link to the reading that we were talking about it, go check this out.” And so I watched this replay on YouTube around Black Friday in November 2021, and there was eight or more, eight, 12.
There’s a bunch of copywriters who had contributed products and courses to this bundle. And I guess I didn’t know at the time they were in this affiliate contest. And so it seemed like a really great entry point. Here I was going to get these 16 different products and exposure to 16 different people and companies that were doing this. And Copywriter Club was one of the products, I think it was recordings of one of the IRLs. And so I got into this bundle of stuff. I didn’t actually buy it through Jacob’s link because I started getting on the email lists of the other copywriters that were there. And we say, what we do is we’re like, hey, hit reply. And so I did, and I started to build a relationship with Lorrie Morgan because when I hit reply, she replied back to me and we just really hit it off. So then when I realized that it was an affiliate contest, I sent Jacob a message. I was like, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I went ahead and bought it through somebody else.”
Kira Hug: It’s like, you are banished from the list.
Jess Kelly: But I was like, I really do want your program, because his bonus was, you get his program or whatever. And he was like, “No, I get it.” Because he didn’t reply his initial welcome sequence where I hit reply and said, hey, this is who I am and stuff. And so he thought it was funny and everything, and I did buy his course. And so everything is good. But that’s when I realized that building relationships just becomes really natural to me because it’s a really authentic thing. And so I started exploring some of those products and stuff, and I was getting Copywriter Club emails because now I’m on the Copywriter Club email list.
And I loved, it’s very me. And I kept telling myself, I’ve already spent on this bundle and I have so many things inside this bundle that I still have to explore it. And I’m not yet a professional copywriter. I’m not yet making money like this. But you guys were talking about the Accelerator. And so it was like, that would be such a good thing, but probably maybe a little bit in the future because I didn’t have anything really to accelerate. But you guys do this really amazing thing where just before the doors closed, you’re like, hey, get on a 10 call with one of us. And so I hopped, I was like, all right, fine. So I hopped on that 10 minute call with Rob, and we had a discussion. And because I have this philosophy of coming at things from a place of experimentation, not expectation, which is something that I heard Shanti say in that initial YouTube video I was watching of everybody discussing their different products and why to be a copywriter.
So it was like Rob was, if that’s the way you’re going to come at it, then you can experiment. You can build it up and we’ll go in one direction. And if it’s not, doesn’t feel right then, and you’re okay with it, you can just choose a new direction and start something new. And everything’s done through blueprints, and we built with blueprints. We have a blueprint before we build the thing. So it felt like the right fit. So I jumped in and I found myself through all of those conversations because we jumped into these 15 minute calls with all of our peers and our colleagues, and I was really anxious and nervous because I’m introverted.
But it was these conversations with these strangers and they’re like, wow, this is a really cool thing that you do, or, wow, you’re really great this way. And it was just so inspiring and uplifting and encouraging. And then everything that I was learning about myself as I was working through the modules and the blueprints, and it wasn’t like I was just becoming a copywriter and growing this professional side of myself, but it really helped me with that personal development side. And so yeah, I am made by the Copywriter Club.
Rob Marsh: Wow, I had no idea that’s how you found us or how you made your way into The Accelerator. So that’s interesting because you talk about that promotion and we jumped in, but we didn’t actually do, I think we sent two emails and a lot of the others who were in it were emailing nine times a day or whatever and emailing about how they were beating all of these copywriters we’re like, we’ll see. And we might have looked back and thought we sold three or four, not a big deal, probably won’t do it in the future and not really seeing it as having impacted anybody. And then you come and share that story. So that’s really gratifying to hear because it’s nice that we were able to play some small part in that journey. So thanks for sharing that, Jess. I want to go back to something that you said about being a nurse, about getting to know clients and developing those interviewing skills.
Will you give us some examples of how that developed and the kinds of discussions that you had? Because I think oftentimes we think about interviewing as something that we need to do, and we have the set list of questions, but sometimes that doesn’t actually create a relationship, and a personal connection. Sometimes we’re just going through the motion in order to get some words in order to drop into a sales page or whatever. Will you just talk a little bit more about that empathy relationship that happens between the nurse and the patient and how it translates to copywriting.
Jess Kelly: When you’re working with a new patient, you get a history, and so you’re asking them about some pretty deep personal intense stuff depending on the reason that they’re seeking care that day. And so there’s just something about making sure, you want them to be completely honest with you because that’s the only way that you’re going to give them the highest level of care that they’ve come to receive. But people are reluctant to share those sort of deep sorts of things, especially with a student. And so I’m not really sure about the process. I just show up as me, the most authentic, open version of myself that I could, because I felt like that was the best way if I was vulnerable with them because they were in a vulnerable place, that it would be in their benefit and it would help build that rapport.
And also, I just don’t really know how to be any other way. I’m autistic and I found that out late in life. But yeah, I almost mimic the people that I’m in front of. And so when you’re in these situations with vulnerable people who are seeking healthcare, and I didn’t really realize what I was doing, but they’re sitting in front of me and showing up with a certain energy and in a certain way, and it was just my natural inclination to maybe mirror that to them. And I think that probably had a lot to do with just how easy it was for people to open up.
And there’s a lot of follow up because a big part of a nurse’s job is to do what we call health teaching. So the doctor comes in and does all the diagnosing and the very technical stuff, but then when they leave the room, it’s the nurses there to help patients understand what the doctor said, what they meant, exactly how the best ways to implement everything that the doctors suggested. And it’s just a very human vulnerable interaction. And just when people ask, how are you doing today? How are you feeling? They don’t want you to answer.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, we say fine, because that’s the default, right? Yeah.
Jess Kelly: I didn’t know that people would, my whole life, people are like, “How are you doing?” Or, how are you? And I would just go into it and they’re like, ooh.
Kira Hug: We don’t really want to know.
Rob Marsh: Too much, Jess.
Jess Kelly: That’s just really kind of in a nutshell that it never occurred to me ever to not just be open and honest and vulnerable in any situation with any person because it’s literal, right? You asked.
Kira Hug: Okay. When we were outlining bits and pieces of your story before recording, you mentioned the curse of the hyper-developed gifted child and that you spent 26 years trapped at 17. And so please unpack that and tell me what that looked like for you and how that’s formed, how you show up as a writer, how you show up as a business person today,
Jess Kelly: I was like, I’m smart, but I was really eager as a little kid, and I’m the oldest of my siblings and the oldest of my cousins on my mom’s side, so I had a lot of adult attention, and I guess people realized that they could teach me stuff. And before I’m starting kindergarten, I can write in cursive and I can do long division and different things. My grandfather spent a lot of time teaching me things, and I was a prolific reader and I was already writing stories and stuff before all my classmates were still trying to figure out how to write their names. And so I had a really hard time relating to my peers and connecting with other kids. And it started being pointed out to me in school that I was weird and I was odd and I was different. And so you don’t want to be weird or odd or different.
And so I realized that maybe the best way to not come off that way was just to mimic the people that were around me that were maybe not being told that they were weird or strange. It didn’t super work because I still had trouble maintaining long-term meaningful connections with my peers, but I got better at making that initial connection. I would start in a new classroom and then I would start out where I was in with the other kids and stuff, but by the time we were on Christmas break, everybody had found me out or whatever, and I no longer felt really part of that group. And that kind of went right from kindergarten all the way through high school, and it was strange, but the hyper-developed part, by the time I was eight, they were testing me, doing that IQ test piece and saying, they’re like, “Okay, so you’re gifted.”
And I think in grade two, it was actually Wayne Gretzky’s like 33rd birthday that I entered a third grade classroom. So I did the first part of the year in a second grade classroom and then entered into a third grade classroom. And at the time, they do an independent education plan. And the primary concern, that red flag was that I preferred the company of adults to that of my peers. And while I was very smart and very capable academically, they were a little bit concerned about that social development piece and what that was going to mean. And so I was eight years old and just waiting for my 18th birthday. There was all of these things in life that I was smart and I could think out and I really wanted to be a part of, but you had to be 18 to be a grownup.
And so I felt like I was just forever waiting to turn 18. But then by the time I actually did turn 18, I had a really difficult time as a teenager. I left home at 16. I suffered a lot with mental health issues. And like I said, we didn’t know I was autistic as a young person. And at 15, I had a psychiatrist tell me I was narcissistic borderline and histrionic personality disorders, which is problematic because A, we don’t diagnose children with personality disorders. B, histrionic personality disorder is basically calling someone a drama queen. And it was already outdated by the time they gave me this diagnosis.
And my mom had already suspected, or not, but she had already added up that I just had this really intense and dramatic sort of child, and that’s typical for teenage girls, and eventually she’ll outgrow it. And so I had this psychiatrist telling her clinically, she’s selfish and she’s a drama queen and she’s attention seeking because a narcissism, self-centered, borderline attention seeking and a histrionic, intense and dramatic because I think I was eight the first time I crawled up in my mom’s bed and I was like, “I’m not okay,” and she’s like, “I don’t really understand what you mean.”
I was like, I don’t feel right. I don’t feel okay. And no one really knew what to do with that. So by the time I was a teenager, I felt like I’d been suffering so long and I’d been so disconnected from any sense of self that I got into drugs and alcohol very young because it was the only way I found relief. And at the same time, it was solving some of those social issues because teens, we’d get together in the bush and have a party and stuff like that. And so drugs and alcohol helped me feel a little bit of relief, and it also gave me this connection to my peers. So by the time I turned 18, this sort of moment I’d been waiting for ever to start my real life, I was no longer in a position to actually do any of those things.
I was really trapped in this place of depression and substance abuse because every time I would go to a mental health provider and say, “I need help,” they’re looking at this file that’s following me around saying, I’m narcissistic borderline and histrionic. And they’re like, we can’t help you. There is no help for you. So more drugs, more alcohol, because what am I supposed to do with that? And I took two years off in the middle of high school and then went back and got it together and graduated. And it’s funny, I had this conditional acceptance into the journalism program, and it was really hard to get into at Ryerson University, and I had peers in my classes who were like, “Oh, I didn’t get in. You’re so lucky.” And then when I left six months in, they were so mad.
Rob Marsh: As you think about those experiences, Jess, and obviously not just the things that are going on inside your head, but the way you’re dealing with it, how did you reconcile and come to the point where, oh, this is okay, I can overcome some of those addiction issues, or I can form the relationships that I need to get the support, the correct diagnosis. How did all of that happen?
Jess Kelly: I was trying to find help and doctors are like, “Okay, we can’t help you. There’s no treatment for you.” And I finally kept persisting. And so I got set up with Canadian Mental Health Association when I was 28 or so because now I’d been to journalism, realized that wasn’t the thing that I was looking for. And so now I wanted to go into nursing because journalism was like, I don’t want to be an observer. I want to be a participant, I care very authentically, very deeply about the human experience and individuals. I’m not sure if it’s because I felt so separate and disconnected and I wanted very much to not have other people feel that way. So I’m going into nursing, but I’m still struggling with these really serious bouts of depression and substance abuse. And so I had this caseworker and she’s amazing.
I love her so much. I wish I knew where she was today because it would be really great for her to see how far I’ve come. So she had another client that had seen a new psychiatrist in my area, and she decided that when she had that meeting with that other client, she said, “I think he’s a really good fit for you, so let’s try and get you in there with him.” And so it was when I sat down with this doctor and he was like, “There’s stuff going on here, but I don’t think it’s those things.” And while I was trying to train as a nurse, we are also testing now, it’s okay, so it’s not narcissism, it’s clearly not histrionic. You have a bipolar disorder and there’s clearly a social anxiety disorder and you have these obsessive compulsive tendencies and you’re strange. Borderline kind of fits in terms of, because I struggled with my sense of identity and I struggled with feelings of abandonment and rejection, and I struggled with those long-term meaningful connections.
And so I had this psychiatrist and you have these traits and these characteristics from all of these different diagnoses, but you don’t really fit any of them in one specific way. And so we used to sit across from me, just you’re such a mystery. And I was like, that’s great. And so we were testing all of these different medication combinations and stuff because he believed in me. He really wanted me to be a nurse. He knew as a psychiatrist that the healthcare world needed more people like me. And so he really wanted me to be successful. And so his specialty, psychiatry and also where I am in Canada, we have universal healthcare, which is great, but it’s also not super comprehensive because it’s a free thing. And I’m showing up the hospital, I get 10 to 20 minutes, and it’s mostly about prescribing medication and making sure that there aren’t any adverse reactions from that medication.
And so we were stuck trying to operate inside this really restricted model. And I saw him for about 10 years and near the end of it, he’s like, “We should test you for ADHD.” And I was like, all right. And it’s not something they think of with little girls, especially when they’re smart and engaged in school. And so then I scored off the charts for ADHD, and so he’s like, all right, maybe that sort of solves the mystery. But what actually, I realized when my son was diagnosed with autism, the week of the pandemic, the week that March 14th, 2020, when everything is shutting down, my son is getting this autism diagnosis. And so I start joining all these parent groups and all these things, and there’s a ton of women who lived very similar experiences where they were intense or overly sensitive or really struggled in social situations.
And so they turned to drugs and to alcohol and then realized as you got to later in life that when they had sons being diagnosed, that was actually what was going on. And so when I look at that hodgepodge of all those things, it’s autism, it checks all those boxes. It’s like the identity and it’s that literal everything, what is what you get. And I don’t understand why other people don’t do that. All those social anxiety pieces and the OCD tendencies, all the little bits that we had to cherry-pick from all of these really weird pathological mental health sort of things were just very natural autistic traits. And so I like to tell people is that my filters and my connections are different. The stuff that comes in is different. The stuff that goes out is different. The way that I connect to other people into the world around me is different, but it’s not bad.
But they had me thinking it was bad. They had me thinking it was something that was like, I was wrong, I was broken, I was deficient. So going back to the hyper-developed child thing is I had all these grownups looking at me and thinking, it’s so sad if you just tried a little harder, if you just applied yourself just a little more, you could be so much, and it was from a place of love. But what that does to a person who is absolutely trying as hard as they can and who has now become very invested in this idea of my identity is very wrapped up in being smart and being mature for my age. And so by the time I get to 18, I can’t function and now I can’t do any of those things that I was waiting so long to turn 18 to be able to do, right, to go into travel and to do the grownup things.
And so now I’ve turned 18 and it feels like I’m stuck at 17 again because it feels like I’m almost ready to do all those things that I was waiting to turn 18 to do, but it’s just a little out of reach. And I just really loved childish things and lots of really bright colors and that very literal, so I felt very much I was trapped as a teenager until I got to this point that I realized, oh, it’s autism. And that feels really good because it solves so many mysteries. And then when I take that lens and I reflect on these really painful, terrible experiences, it makes sense. I was always so baffled by my own existence. And so this new lens was like, oh. And so I finally found that piece, yeah, it felt the first time, today’s my 37th birthday and on my 35th birthday was the first time I said out loud, I’m autistic.
And it was from that moment on this sense of ease and alignment with my sense of self returned. And then I had been in a program of sobriety and complete abstinence headed into the pandemic, and I relapsed. A lot of people, had a lot of problems during the pandemic with their sobriety and addiction and found I was discovering this bit about myself. And once I had that sense, that real sense of self, that connection inside, I just put down the bottle because it was bringing this fog into my brain that I used to seek out because I wanted to escape the way that I was feeling like. But now that I finally had this very precious sort of thing, the fog was threatening that and I was not willing to give that up. So at a time when my friends were dying, I just put down the bottle and moved on.
And so that’s when I really realized that I don’t think I so much had a real substance abuse problem. I had a crisis of self. And so once I was connected again and I didn’t want to feel foggy, I started thinking about how many women have we lost this way? How many women did we lose to suicide or substance abuse or just really unsatisfied existence because they were told, you’re not trying hard enough or if you just tried a little harder. And so it’s really motivated me, one of the other things I’m doing besides copywriting is I’m researching to write a book on the dangers of misdiagnosing humans born as females. Not sure how to really word that to be in a title, but yeah, because it’s like, what? I’m grateful. I’m lucky that I was able to have this revelation in this. I could start late in life, but I can’t help but wonder how many other assigned female at birth individuals did not have the same opportunities that I did.
Kira Hug: All right, let’s get into it. Rob, you want to kick it off?
Rob Marsh: So there are a few things that stood out to me as Jess was talking. Number one was just, it was a line she said that just kind of piqued my interest or caught my ears. I was listening through and she said, experimentation, not expectation. That was on a call where she and I were talking about different approaches to her business or anyone’s business. And it’s kind of harked back to something we’ve talked about a few times on the podcast and our programs, but our deep belief that everything is an experiment. There is no failure. You can try different niches, you can try different products, you can try different clients, you can try different prices. Everything about your business is changeable, it’s updateable, it’s improvable and trying new things is how you grow. And I’ve loved watching Jess do that as she went through The Accelerator and as she mentioned it’s just amazing to see what she’s done with her business since she just started out at almost nothing.
Kira Hug: And Jess shared part of her story around dropping out of journalism because she didn’t want to just be an observer. She wanted to be a participant. Interesting to see how she showed up in The Accelerator program with us because she definitely was not an observer. She was a full on participant who, I mean, she showed up to I think every call that we hosted in that program. And she not only showed up, but she was on video. She was the first one to share a win or to ask a question. She was highly engaged. And I think it’s something worth noting because it sounds like it’s easy to do that and maybe even expected, but most people don’t. And I know when I’m in programs, I typically am more of an observer and I’m not naturally an active participant, but you and I saw the benefits of her doing that.
We were able to get to know her well. She was able to get to know all the other writers in the room, and she’s so good at doing that, just fully showing up. And I don’t think it’s easy to do, but it’s worth us all trying to do that. And for her, it’s turned into so many different relationships with people like Jacob McMillen where she just responded to an email and built a relationship there. So many other relationships that she talks about in this conversation, did that because she wasn’t afraid to make that personal connection and even that intimate connection and not assume that people don’t want to hear from her or that she shouldn’t or that she should just be an observer. She really is just great at that piece of it. I think I can learn from her and we can all learn from her and how she shows up in the world.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, I think the takeaway here, I mean first of all, everybody listening should join The Accelerator. It is a business changing program, but if you’re not in The Accelerator, you’re doing something else. The takeaway here is being open to new experiences, but showing up for them, being present in them. If you’re going to take a training or if you’re going to try a new thing, if you’re going to launch a new service in your business or reach out and make a new connection, show up, be there a hundred percent. Look for how that opportunity is going to branch out and impact your business. There are so many ways to do that and do, as copywriters, I admire how Jess has done.
Kira Hug: Yeah, you said that better than I did. Well done.
Rob Marsh: Jess also talked a little bit about interview skills and connecting with empathy. And I know we’ll talk even more about this later on in the episode, but her experience in the medical field as a nurse being vulnerable, all of that plays a role in getting to know our clients, in working with their customers and helping them achieve more. So while it’d be really hard for most of us to go back to nursing school and have that same kind of experience, I think that we can borrow that idea and think about, okay, if I am a caretaker in this relationship with my client, what do I need to be concerned about them? Making sure that they’re comfortable, making sure that they’re looked after, making sure that their needs are met, and that may just be a new level of service that some of us can bring to it.
Kira Hug: And I know we talked a good amount about Jess’s story as a kid, and that really stuck out to me, especially just really feeling for her as a child and with children myself, knowing the ramifications if someone is misdiagnosed at such a young age and that isolation you can feel. So this is less of a business lesson and just more of an appreciation for her being so open with her story because I think that is something that I will pay attention to with my own kids, knowing how horribly wrong it can go when we are not careful and the medical field is not careful with diagnosing children and what can happen from that. So I think that was just a really interesting opportunity for us to explore something we typically don’t explore on this podcast. I appreciated that.
Rob Marsh: It’s a nice reminder that we all have different capabilities and abilities and different ways of thinking, different ways of seeing the world, and a reminder just not to dismiss people who are different in some ways and valuing the rich diversity that’s out there as far as the way that all of our brains work. Okay, let’s get back to our interview with Jess to find out more about her business and what it’s been like to shift into a new version of herself.
Kira Hug: Jess, I wonder what you would say or what advice you would give to other adults as far as what to say to the child, to the young Jess at age eight when you’re like, something doesn’t feel right and you’re being misdiagnosed. What would be the right words or questions to ask to talk to you so that it’s not so soul crushing and isn’t more confusing and doesn’t separate you from your identity even more? And I’m just asking in terms of, if we see that kid or know that kid, how do we talk to them?
Jess Kelly: That’s a really great question. And I think it’s really just about believing them. Yes, it’s a very small person and they don’t have the benefit of your experience and knowledge as an adult, but we know ourselves from the time that we’re really little. And I think adults are really dismissive of kids, sort of their experiences and their opinions because they’re just kids. So if a young person is coming to you with a very grownup statement, then believe, I guess, not dismissing it, not trying to make it small, not trying to make it small like the child is small, believing that this small person could have this very big problem and then that place of experimentation, not expectation, ask questions. And yeah, if you have a doctor who wants to tell you that your child under 18 is basically just broken and has personality disorders, don’t buy that.
Rob Marsh: Jess, I want to change, we can talk about this all day long, but I do want to talk about your business and some of the things that you’ve been able to build. So you mentioned the experience of finding these courses, eventually finding The Accelerator and working through that. Will you just talk us through that process of figuring out the kind of work that you wanted to do as a copywriter and how you have started to build your client roster and the kind of work that you’re doing today?
Jess Kelly: Yeah, one of the really appealing things about copywriting was the idea that I could show up and be a ghost writer. I could really remain anonymous and behind the scenes. And then it was joining The Accelerator and having these conversations with the other Accelerator members. And the other thing I did was I reached out to a lot of the Accelerator alumni, so not just my cohort, not just the ones who were going through the program with me. We had the kickoff call with the alumni who had just graduated. And there was some, I ended up reaching out to Shanti fairly early, and she had been through The Accelerator quite a bit earlier, or a few cohorts before me. So it was just building relationships with other copywriters and having them say, that’s a really unique perspective that you bring, or that’s really valuable, and this was really great, having this conversation with you.
And so being so positively received and feeling like I was seen and literally too, because all of this is happening on Zoom, and so I can actually see myself in the little video screen and when you see yourself, because a lot of the time we’re not seeing ourselves live our lives. We’re not living in front of a mirror, but this unique pandemic, let’s do everything online, sort of allowed me to actually watch myself grow into this sort of comfortable professional. And because I also used to do a lot of work in front of the mirror when I was really working on that spiritual personal development, just get up and show up for myself every day. I would sit in front of my mirror and I would write things on it with a dry erase marker, affirmations and stuff, you’re awesome, whatever. But watching, actually watching yourself become a new version of yourself is really powerful.
And so while having these conversations, and we show up once a week to learn from you guys. And that’s one of the things I loved about The Accelerator. It was very like school. I got to show up and have a lecture almost, and then I had homework, and then people reviewed it and I had a study group, a copy crew. We still meet every two weeks, by the way. And so it was, I showed up thinking that I wanted to be really invisible, and then it was being a part of the TC community that made me feel really comfortable with the idea of not being invisible. And that visibility was an option for me.
And yeah, I think one of the first photos I put up on my website, my socials had my sunglasses because it felt safe and it felt more comfortable. But now the photo that shows up is very bright, sunny, Jess, my hand is even in it. And the cool thing about that picture is it wasn’t planned or taken. My fiance’s a photographer, and so he’s really good at just watching me and then being like, “Hey, honey.” And then I look up and then snapping the picture, right? Yeah, I had peers saying, “You are great and you’re valuable and you have this thing to offer.” And I could see myself the same way that they were seeing me, and it just became possible.
Kira Hug: And we had a firsthand seat watching you, all of you, but on Zoom, but watching you specifically, the way you show up and the way you showed up at the beginning of the accelerator and then the end of it four or five months later, it’s radically different. And it was really cool to see that firsthand. I’m wondering, because we’re talking about relationships and that’s been such a big part of your business and really has come full circle from your struggle as a kid where you had this disconnect and you didn’t know why, and now it’s like that’s your go-to method is connecting to other people and building your business that way. But could you break that down even further for people who are like, okay, I can build a business connecting with people, that’s my specialty, but what does that even mean? How do I do that? How do I go after role models and pitch and talk a little bit more about that.
Jess Kelly: I guess step one is show up. None of it works, none of it happens if you don’t show up, go to the spaces. I don’t know, there’s probably not a lot, it was probably a really random opportunity that I had this bundle with 16 different copywriters that I could start answering their welcome sequence, hit reply, and let me know who you are and what you’re up to. And so that was a big thing. And so I guess if you don’t have a bundle of products to buy, Google, I guess look up other copywriters and sign up for their lists and get on those lists and hit reply because most of us do want you to do that. We do love that, we do engage with all the answers that we get and just show up and reach out. And it’s a really safe community to do that in.
I think a lot of us, more of us are introverted than not. And I think it’s a common theme and experience where I’ve found with the copywriters that I’m building relationships with is, we find ourselves here. This is really, we finally find the place that we fit in or we find our group and we finally feel like a part of. And so if you’re wondering if copywriting is for you or how to start building relationships, sign up for email lists and start hitting reply. Because, yeah, that’s how I have a relationship with one of the top 100 copywriters of all time. We’ve never actually met or anything, but we keep in touch on a pretty regular basis. And one of the first things, the first pitches I sent was actually to Shanti, and that was because I was like, if she can do this from a place of empathy, the entrepreneur’s ecosystem and that marketing and empathy are aren’t opposites, but you can actually vary in a real way, bring them together.
And I have not yet had anybody respond in a negative way to that. I’ve only made really awesome and meaningful connections, and at the worst, they didn’t reply back. But I had, for everyone that didn’t reply back, I had nine that did. And so I’m in a different mentorship this year and we’re talking about how to go out and get new clients and stuff and what the right path is for us as individuals. And he is like, you build relationships. He’s like, “That’s what you do. That’s what you’re really good at.” Even with me, because he was part of the bundle too, right? It’s just you showing up as you, and that works for clients too, by the way. And so yeah, I started doing that, but I really love working with other copywriters. I do have clients in other industries.
I showed up thinking I wanted to work in healing kind of thing because for me, my whole journey was healing. But that was the wrong positioning because it’s not, just because healing to me means that, and that’s not the way that the rest of the world maybe thinks about it. So it’s more in terms of I really want to work with more purpose driven organizations and brands like, business people by accident almost, they care about the world and what’s going on and the actual people in it, and it’s important to them that they use their business to do good things. And they’re looking for more of a sustainable and equitable future. And there’s a lot of copywriters who like me, also value that. And so as much as I love all the clients that I’ve worked with, and I do still seek out business owners and in different industries, I really love copywriter business owners. And so I’ve done that and I’m actually actively trying to pursue more of that.
Rob Marsh: Can I ask, let’s go into that a little bit more specifically, because you’ve grown your business to a pretty consistent level. I know oftentimes people talk about this goal, the six figure business or whatever. I’m not sure that you’re quite there yet, but you’re earning consistent, good money consistently. How do relationships play into that? Can you draw the line for us between relationship formation and dollars at the end of a project?
Jess Kelly: Yeah, because when it’s all built on a relationship, even when it goes not as expected or if it goes maybe categorically badly because it’s based in an authentic existing relationship, for me, it’s easy to recover from that because both parties see each other as the very humans that we are. And so when I’ve built these gigs or whatever off relationships, it’s a more holistic thing because yes, the writing and the results and the outcome are the most important thing. That’s what we all show up to do. But the unexpected is a thing. It’s a part of almost everything that we do, and we can’t always plan or account for that to not happen. And so having that foundation of the relationship before things maybe go sideways, leaves those doors open as opposed to burning bridges
Rob Marsh: These days we are hearing a lot of copywriters say they’re struggling to find clients and cold outreach is hard. And one of the reasons that it’s hard is because, there’s no relationship there. And so it feels to me like the ability to build relationships before you need them is a bit of a secret power when it comes to keeping a business consistent. And a lot of us gets so wrapped up in the work that we’re doing that we don’t take time to actually create, and I’m not talking about build your network, make a connection on LinkedIn. I’m talking about real relationships, friendships, even, people you want to hang out with, go to dinner with, have drinks with, whatever. You seem really good at that. And I think a lot of us, myself included, don’t do that all the time.
Jess Kelly: I like you actually nailed it. Build the relationships before you need them because yeah, we’re all in this online space and cold pitching, I have not really been successful cold pitching. Even though it’s written words and I’ve really put a lot of research into them, it’s still, there’s a disconnect. It still does feel very cold no matter how much effort I put into it. So building the relationship before you need it, people don’t feel like you’re just trying to get something out of them because there’s this mutual sense of reciprocity and respect and love and people want to show up for the people that they love. So when you hit a wall or when you struggle or you need a little bit of support, you already have people who are really genuinely invested in you and in your success and all the best clients, all the best work I’ve had have come from referrals.
One of them was through my copy crew and she knew them, so she heard from someone that she had used to work with and she’s like, “Nope, you know what? I know the perfect copywriter for you.” And so she connected us and it was a really great relationship, actually not with the company, but with the connection. She was the VP of marketing and her relationship with the company ended. So my relationship with the company ended, but her and I still have a relationship to this day, and it was a couple of months later when she’s, “Hey, what are you up to? Because I know this other place and they’re looking for a copywriter, and I really think that you are the right fit for them.”
And when I’m looking for other copywriters that I want to work with, we already have these relationships. And so it’s easy for me to show up and say, hey, we always have these really dusty marketing plans and content strategies that we someday we’re going to do or someday we’re going to implement. And so I would love to help you dust that off and put that out there. And because we already have that existing relationship, it’s easier to believe that’s coming from a real place and not just a, I am looking for clients. And so it’s easier to try to reach out to copywriters. Yeah, it’s a genuine thing, not just an easy way out thing.
Kira Hug: All right. I know we’re nearing the end of our time together and I just want to hear about what’s next for you. If you can sum it up in a minute or two, what are you excited about? What’s coming up next?
Jess Kelly: So I am really starting to bring anti-racism work into my business and into everything that I do because I’m on LinkedIn a fair bit, and it’s like this professional platform. And there are these conversations happening there and black, indigenous and racialized women are sharing about their experiences. And then in the comments, there’s a lot of, and it happens to be mostly cis white men who are saying, this is a professional platform, this doesn’t belong here. Why are you being divisive? Why are you starting trouble? But it’s not divisive and it’s not starting trouble. This is their experience, 100% their actual experience. And so it is a very professional topic because this is happening not just in their personal lives, but in their professional lives. There are systems in sort of place that create barriers to access for some of them that maybe don’t exist for me as a white woman.
And so I have a lot of power. We talk about white privilege and stuff, and I want to do something meaningful with that. And so it’s really become a big part of my business. I put a lot of it on LinkedIn. I actually had someone ghost me. I had a prospect and he found me, I can’t remember exactly where he found me, but he reached out emailed and stuff and he was like, “Wow, this seems great.” And so he ended up on my LinkedIn profile and then just suddenly the correspondence stopped. And I’m really okay with that because I don’t want to find myself in an awkward position where we’ve kicked off and we have this professional sort of relationship and project going, and then I find out that maybe they’re not kind, maybe and they’re more willing to uphold these systems than they are to join us in identifying and dismantling them.
And so I only want to work with other businesses that share my values. And so the best way to make sure that happens is being really open and vocal about it. And it’s not just for my benefit, it’s for a real reason this, it’s not just an optics or a Jess or, this is my positioning. This is the real life experiences of real humans who are suffering. I have a son and he’s 12 and he’s beautiful. He is like blue-eyed, blonde haired boy, and so he could probably get away with murder. Whereas my black friends, their little boys around the same age are suddenly going from being this cute, the world sees him as this cute little thing to overnight, a man, and now they’re afraid of him. And that’s such a different experience from my experience raising my son.
And I just want to be a part of a better solution, calling attention to that, it is what it is, and inviting other people to be in community and help make a safer world for all the little boys, like it’s little girls too, but it’s really stark the difference. My friends, they teach their sons, you can’t go into a store with your hood up, even though you’re introverted and you’re a little bit shy, that’s not safe for you. I can’t imagine telling my son that it’s not safe for you to put up your hood and because we feel better that way. So some people, it doesn’t feel professional, but I don’t understand how I could show up as a professional without incorporating that, if that makes sense.
Rob Marsh: Totally makes sense. Yep. Different voices for different people and you attract the clients that you want to work with and someone else may take a totally different approach and work with different clients, and that’s the thing that makes the world interesting for all of us. Jess, if somebody wants to connect with you or follow you, where should they go?
Jess Kelly: Find me on LinkedIn. I guess that link will be in the notes.
Rob Marsh: We’ll definitely include it in the show notes so people can reach out and connect with you. And thank you for your time, sharing so much. We didn’t cover a ton about your business, but we definitely covered a lot of really deep emotional things we don’t talk about often, which is an interesting discussion and hopefully helpful for everybody listening. So thank you for being so open and willing to share.
Jess Kelly: It’s hard. We can’t pull our personal selves really away from that professional selves, and I think that’s part of the problem. The sense of professionalism only looks a certain way, so I’m really glad to have this opportunity to really show how entwined they are.
Kira Hug: That’s the end of our interview with Jess Kelly, before we go, let’s touch on a few more things that stood out. So Rob, I’ll let you kick it off again.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, again, well, let’s revisit that idea of building relationships. So such a huge part of what we do as copywriters, and obviously we have an entire program about it, the P7-Client finding program that we teach people. How do you take a cold relationship and warm it up so that the pitch that you make actually lands, it’s warm, it’s welcome, as opposed to easily forgotten and dismissed. But even going a step beyond that, I think a lot of what Jess does is, she’s not necessarily looking for a client when she’s building a relationship. She’s literally looking for a relationship. And those are often turning into clients.
And I think there’s a lesson here that the relationship comes first. We need to start there. Pitching before or without that relationship is so much more difficult, and it’s something that we all ought to be doing more of, is connecting whether it’s online, but even better in person or through a more personal media like email or direct messages, those kinds of things. Now, I’m not saying, hey, be pitching everybody in your circle or anything that’s outwardly creepy or anything like that. But just creating friendships, being there for other people, sharing resources, ideas, tips, acknowledging their successes. And eventually that stuff will produce maybe not client relationships, but will produce good things in our businesses.
Kira Hug: In addition to that, I know that Jess really focuses on values and she’s niched down based off her values. And I think that’s something that you and I talk about a lot when we talk about niching and how you can niche in so many creative ways, and then you can even stack different niches together to have a unique combination of niches that maybe you’re the only one who’s showing up in that way, and it allows you to really differentiate from everyone else in the marketplace. And so she’s done that through values and niching based on her values and other ways of niching too.
I think it’s something that I’m seeing more and more copywriters do that and talk about their viewpoints and talk about what they care about in their own marketing messages and really leaning into what’s important to them, what they care deeply about, and connecting with their clients based off those shared interests and those shared values and so that it can be a really strategic way to grow your business that may be useful to you if you are interested in pursuing a niche based off values and viewpoints. I don’t think it’s a fit for everyone, but I think it’s something that could help you. If you’re feeling stuck with your niche and you’re working with a lot of clients that don’t really connect with you and you’re feeling like growing your business, it might be worth thinking like Jess has in her business and niching in a new way.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, I mean, we talked a lot about that recently in our interview with Peta O’Brien Day on the podcast as well. Vision stuff matters, and it’s actually kind of become a hot topic with what’s been happening with a couple of companies stepping into promotions and then backing away from them, speaking specifically Bud Light, Target, others, and I’m not passing judgment on what they do or didn’t do, but rather saying, when you market based on your values, you need to be very clear on what you believe, and then you need to stick to it. If you’re going to lean into a message when people push back, you need to stick with it and know that that is the value. That’s the thing that you believe otherwise people see it as value washing, right? Or whatever the phrase would be, that you’re just trying to market to an audience and you don’t really care about that shared value. And so if you’re leaning into your values, do it all the way and be aware that the consequences, even the negative ones are what you’re signing up for and don’t quit on your values.
Kira Hug: All right, so we want to thank Jess Kelly for joining the show, for a candid conversation about her life and business. If you like to connect with Jess, you can find her on LinkedIn at Jess Kelly writer linked to in the show notes.
Rob Marsh: And that’s the end of this episode of The Copywriter Club podcast. The intro music was composed by copywriter and songwriter Addison Rice. The outro is composed by copywriter and songwriter David Muntner. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve heard, please visit Apple Podcasts to leave a review of the show and be sure to check out our other podcast, AI for Creative Entrepreneurs, all about artificial intelligence and how copywriters and other creatives are using it to be better at what we do. You can find that show at AIforcreativeentrepreneurs.com. And just a final reminder, The Copywriter Accelerator is coming soon. You definitely want to be on the wait list so you don’t miss out on the announcements and upcoming challenge. Head over to thecopywriteraccelerator.com to get notified when the doors open and to access the and bonuses we’ll be sharing there. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week.