Copywriter Eman Zabi joined Kira and Rob for the 82nd episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast and we had a great conversation. She became a copywriter a little over a year ago, but in that time has accomplished more than many writers with several years of experience. We talked about her experience in The Copywriter Accelerator and Think Tank and what she’s done to grow her business to the point where she’s working with major outdoor consumer brands. Here are a few of the topics we covered:
• how she went from star engineering student to copywriter (with a stop at the UN along the way)
• what the early days of starting her own business
• what she’s learned from the copywriters she’s surrounded herself with
• what she’s done to stand out online (her SEO secrets)
• why she cut the number of projects she will work in half
• how she’s raised her prices and didn’t worry about “paying her dues”
• how she goes after the clients that she wants to work with
• what you have to know to write in the outdoor industry
• why she threw away her entire list (every single name) and started over
• her thoughts about creating a signature service
• how she deals with clients who think she’s too young
• why she adopted a penguin, two tigers, a great white shark and a llama last year
• how she built a beautiful website for just $47 (and some tears and caffeine)
• why she moved half way around the globe last year
• climbing Kilimanjaro and what she learned from the experience
• how branding can make a big difference for copywriters
We also talked with Eman about her best advice to copywriters who are just starting out. And what she shared sounded good to us. To hear the whole discussion, simply click the play button below, or scroll down to read the full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
The Copywriter Accelerator
The Copywriter Think Tank
Lessons from Kilimanjaro
The Outdoor Copywriter
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
The Copywriter Club Podcast is sponsored by Airstory, the writing platform for professional writers who want to get more done in half the time. Learn more at Airstory.co/club.
Kira: 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 Rob and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Rob: You’re invited to join the club for episode 82 as we chat with freelance copywriter Eman Zabi, about how she got into copywriting, dealing with clients who think she’s too young, choosing her niche to rebranding to reach her ideal clients, and what it’s like to stand on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Kira: Welcome, Eman!
Rob: Hey, Eman.
Eman: Hey, thank you!
Kira: Great to have you here! So, we’ve been able to get to know you—we’ve had the privilege of getting to know you—over the past, well almost year, through the Accelerator Program, and then now through The Copywriter Think Tank. So we’re excited to kind of dig into your past, and your copywriting, and your business a bit more. A good place to start is with your story. So, how did you end up in copywriting?
Eman: So that’s a funny story, actually. I kind of started off as like every brown parent’s dream, because as a kid, I was like making websites at eight; I was building radios and Morse Code oscillators; and I was going to be an engineer, and I was going to be a great engineer. And then like I started writing, and then I got something published by Bloomsbury at eleven, and then I ended up at the U.N. at fifteen, and then I’m like, “Oh my goodness. I don’t want to be an engineer anymore.” And my parents were devastated. And then I went into politics, and you can’t get a job in politics. I was unemployed; there was no way I was going to get a job with a degree in international politics. And, the market’s really bad so I couldn’t get a job, and I started blogging about Kilimanjaro, and then people were like, “Hey, you’re a half-decent writer; maybe you should write and get paid for it.” And Priscilla from The Copywriter Club actually—she’s in the group, and she sent me a link to the podcast. She’s like, “This might interest you.”
Eman: And that’s basically how I got started. I like binge-listened to like twenty episodes in less than a week, and I’m like, “Okay, that’s it. I’m going to be a copywriter.” So, being here’s kind of a full circle for me.
Rob: I did not know that.
Kira: I didn’t know that either!! Yeah!
Rob: Yeah. This kind of feels like a proud parent moment in a way.
Kira: Laughs. Group hug!
Rob: Yeah, it’s totally cool! So tell us the kind of writing that you’re doing right now.
Eman: At the moment I’m primarily working with people in the outdoor industry, which is so great for me, because I live and breathe it. So a lot of the clients that I’m working with right now, they’re women who are trying to make the outdoor industry more inclusive, and it’s just such an important thing to me, and it’s such a personal cause to me. And also with businesses who are trying to do more than just make a profit. And yeah.
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Kira: So I want to back up to, you said—you kind of skimmed over—you were published at fifteen, and then you ended up at the U.N. So like, what was that craziness that happened, and how did you get to the U.N. at age fifteen?
Eman: I was doing a lot of debate in the local circuits. I was like national champion, and then I got into like the M.U.N. circuit—Model of United Nations circuit—and then, I got picked to go to the United Nations and present a paper that I wrote about sustainable forest management, and yeah. I got a little award from Ban Ki-moon, which is pretty great. So I peaked at fifteen, basically.
Rob: Yeah, not—not at all.
Rob: And then you went and you studied politics at university?
Eman: Yes, yeah.
Rob: Cool. So I’m still trying to like, get my head around the fact that you’re a copywriter because you listened to our podcast like, you know, I’m sitting here smiling, but…
Kira: You made Rob’s day!
Rob: You have, you totally made my day. But, let’s talk about some of the things that you learned as you were listening to the podcast. What was it that you were listening to that made you think, “Hey yeah, I can do this, I want to do this”?
Eman: So one of the things that I’ve always felt about writing is that it’s not just about sounding pretty and flowery, but it needs to be intentional. It’s needs to do something to the people that are reading it, and I really heard that when I listened to the people on the podcast. They were talking about it being really intentional, and crafting it with psychology, and that just blew my mind. I’m like, “This is kind of what I was grasping at my whole life,” and I felt like it was kind of my “ah-ha” moment, like, this is what I was supposed to be doing instead of like, graphing about trying politics and engineering and biology and like, everything else. This is what I felt like I was supposed to be doing. And I got that from your podcast.
Rob: That’s so awesome.
Eman: And no, they’re no paying me to say this.
Kira: Laughs. Yes we are, yes we are. We will pay you.
Rob: No, we’re not! Laughs.
Kira: So when did you listen to the podcast? Was this a year ago?
Eman: So this was January last year…January, I’ve only been in business for a year now.
Kira: Okay, so can we just talk about that? You’ve been in business for only a year. You’ve done really well, we’ve been able to see your growth. Can you just kind of share the highlight reel, like the growth over the last year? What surprised you the most over the last year?
Eman: So I got my first client within a couple of days, but it was the craziest client on the planet and, ugh. Let’s not get into that. But, I made about $200 my first month, and I thought that was a huge deal, and once I started digging into the podcast and the Facebook group, I learned that there is so much potential to grow from this, and I just kind of went with it. And I was still not really taking it super seriously, but it wasn’t until like I did the Accelerator. Like, that was my, “Okay, I’m going to really buckle down and take this seriously” moment. And the Accelerator just changed everything for me. I’m in the Think Tank now and that made a huge difference as well, so it was really just going from low-budget clients who kind of like threw things at me at weird hours and expected me to be at their beck and call, to better clients who treated me like an equal, and that was really like the big transition for me.
Rob: So this is something that we’ve talked about quite a bit on the podcast; also, you know, in the Accelerator, the Think Tank, but you are unlike a lot of copywriters just starting out who just try to kind of figure it out all on their own and they spend a lot of time I think, spinning their wheels instead of really investing in the learning and figuring it all out. Why did you jump onto the Accelerator, and try to figure it out so quickly? What’s different about you that so many other people seem to struggle with?
Eman: So, there’s really not substitute for learning from people who’ve done exactly what you want to be doing, and learning from your peers who are ten steps ahead of you, and from you guys who, like, made it, you know? So like, for me, it was just paying to be in a room full of people who know exactly what they’re doing, and picking their brain at every opportunity, and being the sponge in the room, and sucking up all of their like brain juices….if that’s a word…
Rob: Or two words, sure.
Eman: Or two words! That’s a thing.
Rob: What are some of the things that really stand out to you that, you know, you learned as you’ve gone through that process?
Eman: For me, it was really, really just owning my niche, and like… I was still half-assing it with the outdoor industry stuff prior to the Accelerator, but like, once I went though the worksheets and all of the introspective questions that you guys put us through with the Accelerator, I’m like, “ Okay; I really, really need to do this and I’m going to go, like, all out.” I put it on my website. I reconfigured my SEO so that I show up on the first page of Google for outdoor copywriter, and that worked out really really well for me. And it just, also just putting together, like, processes and like, getting a solid framework to build my business on. That was basically it for me. And with the Think Tank, I mean, these are incredibly successful people. And I’m easily the dumbest person in the room, and it’s great, because I get access to so many successful, talented geniuses in this industry, and it’s just great. I just like hang out and soak it all in.
Kira: So, how’ve you been able to find clients over the last year? It sounds like, at first, you started off like many of us do, with clients who are really hard to work with, and then you mentioned that now you’re working with some clients that are more like partners and treat you with respect, and give you the expertise that you have worked towards. So, what is the difference for you? What’s made that difference that you’re attracting the right people? What have you done?
Eman: So, SEO is a big one for me. People can find me easily; people who are looking specifically for outdoor copywriters. People understand what a copywriter can do, versus people who are just looking for, “Oh, I need a writer because like I don’t want to write this stuff on my website.” You know? And the other thing was writing a couple of pieces that got a fair bit of traction within the outdoor industry. I wrote one about business lessons from Kilimanjaro, which…. I name-dropped ‘Kilimanjaro’ everywhere because it opens doors and it’s great.
Eman: Laughs. And, I also wrote about diversity in the outdoor industry, which is something I’m super-passionate about, and that actually recently helped me… I was contacted by a brand—I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say the name of the brand yet, but—they’re doing some incredible work, where they’re basically working to create more inclusive gear, but they’re also producing it in Guatemala, and they’re working with a micro-financing institution there, and they’re trying to provide jobs for women, and they’re doing some incredible stuff. And they’re flying me over to write about it, and it’s just great. And like, writing things that really sort of speak to the people in my industry, like, I think that’s made the biggest difference of all.
Rob: So, I want to talk more about the outdoor industry but first, before we move on, tell us a little bit about SEO to make yourself stand out. Was it just real basic stuff, or did you do anything slightly surprising?
Eman: No! Really, really, basic stuff, because there are not a lot of people out there who are really optimizing for like outdoor copywriting. There’re really not that many, and most of them have like sites that look like they’re from the 90’s, so…it wasn’t too hard. Just, laughs….just regular keyword research, metadata, like…keyword dropping in headlines, just really really basic stuff. And it worked. It worked really well. And like, I’m on Wix. So if I can get my SEO up to mark with Wix, anybody can.
Kira: Yeah; I will say that I have never been a fan with Wix at all, until I saw your website, and then I was like, “Oh! I guess you can do great things with Wix; you have one of the most beautiful websites I’ve seen, it’s incredible!”
Eman: Thank you!
Kira: You should be the spokesperson fro Wix. You should connect with them.
Eman: I really should; like, I love them.
Kira: So, speaking to what you’ve done well like SEO; you mentioned content, writing about your niche, writing about content you know and live and breathe; and then choosing your niche, and kind of like, going all in; updating your website so that you’re speaking to it… You also have changed your packages over the last year too, and you mentioned that a little bit but, can you share how your packages have evolved because you did start off kind of taking any project, right, like as an order-taker, and now you are still working on it, but you’re creating a look-book with packages. Can you share that?
Eman: Yeah. So, I started off with, I think I have maybe like seven or eight services on my website? And I didn’t like doing more than half of them.
Eman: I’m not a fan of writing social media content but it was up there, and that was what people were coming to me for, but I hated it and it made me miserable. And, the first thing I did was I got rid of a bunch of those, so I only like had like four—I have four up there, maybe three—but moving forward, I wanted to just create really tight packages, so that I just have something that I can show to people and be like, “This is what I’m doing, and we can work around it, but these are my specialties,” just to show it, and to justify charging higher prices for them as well, because the thing I’ve struggled with a lot is charging the prices that I now believe that I deserve to charge, and it’s just… even coming to the point where I could say, “Okay, I deserve to charge higher rates,” is a struggle, but now I’m at the point where I feel like I have to justify those rates. So, the look-book and creating that look-book was sort of my way of coming to terms with it, and also just really showing up with something that looks professional, so that anybody who’s making that investment can also see that I’m taking it seriously, and also justifying making that investment.
Rob: So, as you shrunk down the packages or the services that you offered, you know, so many people when we talk about doing things like that, they think, “Well I can’t do that because then I’m giving up too much work.” What did you find with clients that approached you? Did you lose work, or did you find it had a different impact?
Eman: I mean, honestly, at that point i wasn’t worried about losing the work because you’d have to pay me a hell of a lot of make me do Facebook posts now; I just wouldn’t do. I didn’t get rid of the packages altogether; I just raised the prices to the point where, like, it would be worth it for me to do it. I would charge like crazy amounts of money to do Facebook posts, but I wouldn’t charge as much to do emails because I really enjoy doing them. So I didn’t necessarily lose work; I kind of just raised my rates a lot.
Kira: The look-book you’re mentioning, I mean, I would describe it as kind of like, almost like a menu of services. It’s highly visual; it’s almost like something you would see if you’re working with a branding consultant or web designer and they send you the pricing package with this beautiful visual. That’s really what you’ve created that has helped show the value of what you’re charging with your packages. I wish you could share it with everybody; I don’t know if you can, but it’s gorgeous. My question is, can you share like how much you’ve raised your prices? Because we know—and we know it hasn’t been easy—but you’ve come a long way with your prices over the last year.
Eman: Yeah, for sure. I started off—I think January last year, I was still charging ten cents per word, and I was still charging by the word, and, I just jumped from that. I jumped to charging, say, like $50 per email, and now I’m up to $250 per email—hopefully going to raise it a little bit higher soon. So it’s just been like incremental; it’s still not nearly as high as a lot of people, but, it’s been a slow process because for me, I just—I feel like I need to justify raising that price as every interval, so… Yeah. I did an entire website for $600 once. It was not great. I raised my prices immediately after that one.
Rob: Yeah. What would you say to people who say, “Nah, you got to pay your dues, you know; you got to earn your way up. So first year, ten cents a word, and then you know, you double that or maybe you increase it a little bit, but you’ve got to pay your dues to learn what you’re doing.” You haven’t done that.
Eman: I went through probably one of the most rigorous college experiences I could ever talk about. It was just crazy, and it cost me around $200,000.
Eman: So I feel like I paid my dues. Laughs.
Kira: Yeah! I think you have paid your dues. Check! Laughs.
Rob: Yeah, I wouldn’t argue with that at all, of course, you know. I think, a lot of people, especially writers who get into that mindset, you know: “I’m just starting out, so I can’t justify a higher price, even if I’m good, because I don’t have the experience.”
Rob: And it seems like you’ve overcome that really quickly and done a really good job pricing yourself as a professional.
Eman: Well, even though I didn’t feel like a professional at the time, I realized that I had invested in myself already, and I’ve been somebody who’s been learning and growing my entire life, and I do know that I do bring value to the table; I know I’m young, and I know I’m inexperienced, but I don’t think that diminishes the value I can bring. And, I wanted my pricing to reflect that.
Kira: Yeah, I think we’ve talked about this before on the show, but it’s easy to forget when we jump into copywriting and all of the sudden we’re calling ourselves a copywriter, or now we’re a business owner for the first time, it’s really easy to forget all of the experience that we’ve had leading up to that, and sometimes that’s in school; sometimes that’s, you know, ten years in various roles and different companies. So I know I forgot that too when I jumped into my business, and then I had to remind myself like, “You’ve been working for fifteen years, like…you’ve got to lot of experience.” So you mentioned the Accelerator and the Think Tank. Can you just describe both of them in your own words? I mean, Rob and I could describe them, but that’s not the point, because there might be someone listening who’s never heard of either one of those programs that we offer. So could you just kind of let them know what each one is about?
Eman: The Copywriter Accelerator for me was just something to build a rock-solid foundation. So really check all the boxes and have like an airtight business, and the processes to get everything running, like a well-oiled machine. Even before you have big clients coming in. So like, when you have your basics down, and your have the systems in place to handle bigger clients, I think that’s really the biggest thing that I got out of the Accelerator. And it’s great to network and like, build relationships with other copywriters, because, I still think that 75% of my work still comes from other copywriters. And with the Think Tank, it’s like the Accelerator on steroids. Like, the people who come in to talk to us, they’re incredibly talented, successful people who’ve really made it big in the industry, and then there’s just so much to learn. I’ve probably learned more in the Accelerator than I have in like four year so college.
Rob: Yeah, that’s impressive. So one of the things that I’ve noticed you’ve done very well, Eman, is you get yourself out in front of clients. You’ve written for Huffington Post; you been, as you mentioned, very upfront about your experience at Kilimanjaro and sharing that; you’ve cold-pitched clients that you want to work with. Talk about how you think about that, and going after clients that you want to work with.
Eman: So, I’m super introverted, and I feel like a lot of the times my business feels introverted, and like, I’m reading Dan Kennedy’s No BS Time Business for Entrepreneurs that you guys sent us for Christmas, and he talks about having no phone, no internet, no email, no website, I’m like just….working through fax….
Eman: That would be incredible.
Kira: I can see this happening.
Eman: Yeah. I would love to get there before I’m sixty. That would be great. But, I do cold pitch a lot, and my strategy for cold-pitching is really just practically doing a background check on the person I’m emailing; like I found out everything I can possibly find out about the person, and write an email that feels like them and there’s been only one time that I haven’t gotten a response to a cold pitch, which I think is pretty good. I mean, it works. It really, really works well for me, cold pitching. And in terms of really getting out there, I feel like my marketing has not been that great. I don’t really use social media to the extent that other people do and like I know that’s somewhere I really really need to work on, but I really haven’t done too much on that front. But cold pitching? Yeah; it works.
Kira: Well, and I think there’s always more you can do, but at the same time, I feel like you’re really clear about what you like and what you don’t like, and what you’re focused on right now. Can you share a little bit more about that, because we’ve had conversations where you’re like, “I do not want to do this, and I’m not going to do it, but I will cold email people, and I will write articles”? There’s something really powerful about knowing what gives you energy and what doesn’t, and that may change over time.
Eman: So there’s one thing I know I’m never ever going to do.
Kira: Don’t say never!
Eman: And that’s making a course.
Kira: Oh! Right, right, right, right!
Eman: It’s just sounds like the most exhausting process in the world. And, I don’t have the stamina for that. I’m a sprinter, like, I can’t commit to doing something that long term. I don’t think I would be able to do that. And, I know that’s not something I’m going to be able to do, but shorter projects like emails and like, I’ve just like deleted my email list and started it over and that feels really, really good. And like, writing emails, doing website copy, doing that sort of work, I really enjoy, and I know that’s what I’d like to do.
Rob: So, you do work in the outdoor industry. You know, that’s where you decided to niche. Tell us why you chose that, and are there certain things that a writer who might want to work in outdoor needs to know that are different from somebody who might work in, say, tech, or working for an entrepreneur or some other business type?
Eman: So, the biggest thing about the outdoor industry is that if you want to write about it, you need to be in it. You need to be trying to gear; you need to be getting out there hiking; getting as much experience as possible, because people in the outdoor industry, they’re pretty seasoned. They’re going to sniff out a fake in no time. So, you really, really need to be like, on top of your game. And, another thing is, as a woman writing in the outdoor industry, there’s still a little bit of that “boys’ club” feel to it. Like, there’s still a bit of the stuff like, “Oh, you know like, women can’t really do the PCT, blah blah blah,” and things like that. You need to go in knowing that there is going to be a little bit of sexism hurled towards you, and you need to be able to like use your writing and use your position and your experience in the outdoor industry to fight that, and I think that’s a really powerful thing to be able to do.
Kira: Eman, we kind of skimmed over it, but like you mentioned throwing away your list of seven hundred people in your email list? And seven hundred people is a good amount of people, I think we’d all agree. So, why did you just trash the list, and how are you building it back up again?
Eman: So, I had a travel blog which I’ve archived now, because I can’t manage both of these at the same time, but I had written a lot about Kilimanjaro and about some different adventures in travel and so on. And I got a fairly big list, and when I told people that I’m moving over to copywriting and I’m writing for the outdoor industry, blah blah blah, people like—around seven hundred people, or a little more actually—just kind of switched list and signed up to my newsletter. And I didn’t email them very much. They weren’t my target audience. They were just like random backpackers who like to hear about like what I did in Georgia, or what I did in Kilimanjaro, or Tanzania, or so on. They weren’t business owners; they weren’t people who had the kind of budget I wanted. So I just really just deleted the list. I didn’t give them an option of like signing up again; I just deleted the list. It might have been a little bit impulsive on hindsight, but I feel like it was a good start. I had six people sign up on my very first day of like restarting, which was good, and it’s up to a hundred plus right now, and I started doing email deconstructions, so I called it “Anatomy of an Email”, and I’m just like breaking down emails and I’m talking about like what works, what doesn’t, the psychology of them, and everything. I sent a really… an email that uses evolutionary theory to talk about Moose Jaw’s marketing campaigns. So, it was fun. And I like what I’m doing now, and I feel like this is something I’d be more consistent with as well.
Rob: So where do you see your business going from here?
Eman: That’s a good one; I’m not sure I know the answer to that. I’m really someone who really just flies by the seat of her pants. But I would really like to get to the point where I’m working with maybe three clients a month tops, and maybe taking like a couple months off every year. That would be pretty great. That’s really the goal; aim small.
Rob: I actually think that’s aiming high.
Eman: Okay! Laughs.
Kira: Laughs. You’re like, “Take three months off a year. No big deal.” I think that’s a great goal, and we’ve had people on the show like Sean D’Souza who do that…
Kira: Trying to think; we’ve had a couple other ones as well. You mentioned your Anatomy of an Email. So this is now your signature service, right? And, how did you package this service, and what’s the goal behind it?
Eman: So, that’s actually the title of the newsletter that I put together. So that’s like the series I’m doing. But, my signature service, I’m still working on. But it’s going to be around emails. I’d like to offer three packages within that sort of package; maybe launch sequences, welcome sequences; maybe like a nurture sequence or a sales sequence as well, and take them through the whole thing, like do the strategy, the writing, everything; the research…like a really solid package and like, priced appropriately for it as well, and that’s really the goal because I feel like emails are something I just really, really enjoy doing, and it’s something I’m pretty decent at as well. So, that’s really the goal for that.
Kira: Yeah, you’re really good; we’ve worked together on emails, and you’re one of the best people I’ve worked with on emails. It’s really incredible. So, we mentioned that you are young….ish. How—laughs—how have you…and I don’t know, I don’t know your exact age!
Rob: Heck of a lot younger than Rob is, for sure!
Kira: Laughs. So, how have you dealt with ageism with potential clients, you know, jumping on calls and people will comment or react to the fact that you’re younger than they expected? How have you dealt with that in your business?
Eman: So, I’m twenty-three, but a lot of the time I look a lot younger, especially if I’m not like wearing any makeup or anything. I look like I’m probably seventeen or eighteen a lot of the time, so that’s….been a bit of a problem for me; especially initially, people would comment on the fact that… “Uhhhhh, are you really….do you really have any experience?” and stuff like that. So, if I’m getting on a video call with like a client, I really try to look older. I know this sounds really dumb, but I would put glasses on, wear a collared shirt and try to look really professional, because a lot of the time, people think young, inexperienced, slacker, and they throw in all of the millennial stereotypes, and I really am not any of those things, except maybe young. But, I would do whatever I could to sort of put on the facade of being like a really grown-up person, even though like I’m an idiot who likes, like blow-up dinosaurs… I really try and hide that side of me. And if they do bring up my age, I change the topic. I’m like, “Oh, sorry, my cat came in,” or like, whatever. Whatever I need to do to change the topic. But, if they are someone who’s like trying to tap into the millennial market, and tap the things that younger audiences care about, then hell yeah, like I own the fact that I’m young and I go for it.
Rob: You mentioned earlier that you were trying to create some impact with the clients that you worked with, and the kinds of things that you do in your business, and if I remember right, you did something pretty interesting around the holidays. And not as a promotion, but as a way to give back. Can you tell us about what you did?
Eman: With my signature service that I was offering at the time, which was a website and copy audit, I decided to adopt one animal for every client that I worked with. And then I also adopted an animal for every one of the bigger clients that I worked with last year. And I’ve made that a part of my process this year, so every single client that I worked with in 2018, I’m adopting an animal for.
Rob: Which is cool. Now, you’re not talking about, like, moving in with a cat. You’re…
Eman: No, no. Like…
Eman: I….laughs…I’ve adopted a couple of great whites; a couple tigers; I think I did a llama for Kira…
Kira: No, I got a penguin! I got a penguin.
Eman: Oh, you got a penguin? Okay, you got a penguin. I did a llama for someone else.
Kira: My son is obsessed with it.
Eman: A snow leopard for other people.
Rob: But I think this is such a cool idea because, you know, in addition to its connection to the outdoor industry which you want to write for, you are making an impact in the world, and I think that’s just a really cool way to set yourself apart from everybody else; not just all the other writers, but everybody in the outdoor industry as well.
Eman: I mean, animals were a huge part of my life growing up. I lived in the Middle East, a desert, where there really weren’t too many, so I didn’t watch growing up; I would watch National Geographic, and I would pretend to be Steve Irwin, and like go say “crikey” and whatever bugs I could find, and like, I wanted to be that person and I loved animals. And my mum was a zoologist, so I really had that in me and like, I had a microscope instead of toys, and I would dissect things as a kid, and like, just nature was a huge part of my life. And that sort of translated into like a huge passion for the outdoors, and for animals as well, and I think as someone in the outdoor industry, I think anybody who’s in the outdoor industry has a responsibility to look after the planet, because like, we’re the forefront; we’re the people who are out there a lot of the time, and I think we’re people who can make the most impact. And I try to do that with other aspects of my business as well. Like, if I’m getting business cards made, like, I make sure they’re the Moo ones that are made of recycled t-shirts instead of regular paper; I try not to print. It’s a bit of a lifestyle thing for me, and I’m trying to translate that into my business as well.
Kira: And so, you pull it together through your website, through your brand, which I mentioned before is beautiful. For other copywriters listening who are like, “Okay, you know, I need to build my website, and share my brand and my viewpoints, just like Eman,” what advise would you give them if they’re DIY-ing their website?
Eman: It’s actually a lot easier than people think. And I neither had time nor money when I built mine, and I only spent $43 on hosting, and like, and on my entire website so far. Honestly, the advice that I would give is not try and go like really fancy, if it’s not something you can handle yourself. Like, a lot of people jump in, like, the deep end with WordPress and like, they don’t know what HTML is, they’ve never played around with all of that stuff, and if they mess something up, it’s really hard for them to go back and fix it. Like if you don’t have the technical know-how, go with something easier. You can make things like Wix work, and, I do know how to use HTML—I do have a programming background—but I still chose to go with Wix simply because it’s a lot faster and easier to manipulate on the go. And honestly, when you’re starting off, done is better than perfect, and if it’s something you can tweak as you go along, it’s even better.
Rob: Yeah. I mean as nice as your site looks, the thing that I really liked about your site is just the way that you’ve outlined your packages and your process. It’s very easy to read through, and when you get to the bottom of the page, you know exactly what you offer, you know exactly what working with you is like. I really like it, it’s a great site.
Eman: Thank you. Put a lot of work, a lot of tears, and caffeine into it.
Kira: Laughs. So you have moved recently. Can you share that experience? Like, where you moved, and how you dealt with a huge move while also running a business?
Eman: Okay, fun story about this. So I was born in Qatar and I grew up in Qatar, but I came to Vancouver, B.C. when I was seven years old on a holiday to visit my aunt, and I fell in love with this place. So, on this trip coincidentally, I watched the IMAX movie Kilimanjaro, so I basically made up my mind about two things. One—that I was going to climb Kilimanjaro, and two—that I would love to move to Vancouver at some point. And, those are two things that I made up in my mind about when I was about seven, and then, I would back to Doha to desert and the heat and the sandstorms, and then I climbed Kilimanjaro when I was….nineteen, I think?…yeah, I think I was nineteen. So when I was nineteen, and I moved to Vancouver…ooohhh….two months ago. So that was pretty much like a life goal accomplished for me, because I’ve wanted to do this practically my whole life. And, it’s been really hard, because it’s just different over here, because when I was in Doha, I had a full-time job. My day was pretty much packed. I would get off work; go to the gym; work out for maybe like an hour, one-and-a-half hours; come home around 9PM; and then work on my business til 2AM; get up at 5AM; go to work again.
Eman: So, I had a really ridiculous schedule in Doha. So now, I come here, and I have all this time. And it’s a little bit disconcerting. So, like two days after I landed, I went and signed up for boxing lessons, and then found a karate gym for myself. So now, I work out for around five hours everyday, so like my day is structured. Now I have a time in-between my workouts to work on my business, and that’s the only thing that’s like keeping me productive now.
Rob: Wow. Okay.
Kira: You’re like so badass. It’s like not even funny.
Rob: Yeah, no kidding. So much we can talk about there. We mentioned Kilimanjaro several times…so yeah, I want to hear about this trip. I mean, we sort of know why you set the goal, but tell us about the actual trip, what you did, what you encountered, and I’m really curious you know, how that’s impacted how you write. Has it changed anything?
Eman: So for me, like, as I mentioned already, it was a huge emotional, like, thing for me to actually get to Kilimanjaro. I made that promise to myself when I was seven, but I didn’t really think I’d be able to do it. But when the opportunity presented itself… At University, there was leadership challenge, and they were going to take eight people up the mountain, and we got to do it free of charge—it was great, because it usually costs around fifty grand to do it. And…
Eman: …so, there’s like a whole series of fitness tests, and like, your like psychological profile to see whether you can handle the mental stress of this and everything, and then they picked four girls and four guys to take us up the mountain. It was grueling, and we trained for months just to get into shape. It really was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life, and then the mountain itself, because one thing that really struck me is no matter how fit you are at ground level, altitude is going to hit you and it hits everyone differently. So you could be walking next to somebody who is probably not as fit as you at ground level, but altitude has no effect on them and they feel perfectly fine, whereas you feel like hell spat you out again, and…..ahh. It was exhausting. It was the first time I saw snow, which was great for me. It was really exciting; I saw snow in Africa, which was cool. But yeah. And I learned a lot about myself, and like a close friend of mine said that I would get up and down that mountain on sheer stubbornness alone, and that was true because it was really not easy for me.
Kira: So Rob and I were thinking of climbing it together, as like a team.
Eman: You should totally do it.
Rob: Yeah. Laughs.
Eman: Totally do it.
Rob: What’s the view like, from the top? You know, save me the trip!
Eman: It’s incredible! Just at base camp just before you summit, there’s this point where you are so high above the clouds, and then the clouds are sort of lit from below, and then of course, you have like the Milky Way and the galaxies and the stars from above, and it’s just the most surreal thing in the world. I’ve never seen anything like it. And then you see the sunrise while you’re summiting. And, like, the Lion King sunrise has nothing on that view. It is incredible.
Kira: What else did you learn about yourself?
Eman: That I need to ask for help more. I injured myself on descent because I was trying to go too fast, and my knee sort of blew up to the point where it was like kind of elephant-sized; it was ridiculous. But I was really stubborn to the point where I wouldn’t give up my pack; I wanted to carry my own stuff; I didn’t want help. And it took my five hours longer than everybody else to get back to base camp. But, I would’ve saved myself a lot of pain and effort if I had just put my pride aside and if I’d asked for help, and that’s something that I need to constantly remind myself that it’s okay to need help. I have to tell myself that even with my business, like, it’s okay to reach out and ask for referrals. It’s okay to ask for help; it’s okay to admit that you need help.
Rob: And has that experience made you a better writer in any way?
Eman: Yeah. So one of the things that they told us on the mountain is to slow down. So, if you climb to fast, you risk getting altitude sickness. So, “pole pole” is the one thing that they would tell us all the time. And that’s something that I kind of like to use when I write as well, because I’m someone who does a lot of adrenaline-fueled writing, and it’s…like I just sort of like last-minute try and get it all out there, but I have to remind myself to slow down and kind of let the writing breathe, and then go back and work things out. So that’s something that like, it’s affected my writing, but it’s also like a part of my life as well now. Just remind myself to slow down.
Rob: “Pole, pole.”
Eman: Pole, pole.
Kira: That’s such a good lesson.
Eman: “Pole pole” you’re way to success.
Kira: Alright. So, I want to ask you what you think it takes to be a great—no, not just great, to be a remarkable—copywriter in today’s marketplace.
Eman: I think everyone after a certain level has their own special superpowers and they’re really, really good at what they do, but I think the people that we all know as remarkable or as great copywriters are the people who make themselves stand out in some way, and I think branding is a huge part of that. Like, Kira, you have an incredible brand. Like, so do you Rob, and Hilary, you have—and Laura Belgray, Talking Shrimp—I mean, those are things that just stick in your head, and when you think of copywriters, those are the people you think of because they’re so out there and they’re brands are a real embodiment of who they are. And, they’re all super-talented, but there are a lot of people who are super-talented writers, but you remember them and that’s because they have these incredibly vivid brands that just come to life. And yeah, so branding for sure.
Kira: That’s what’s excited about what—at least I’m seeing, and Rob, I imagine you’re seeing the same thing—with copywriters in the Accelerator group, especially the most recent one, is, they’re really embracing their brand the way that you did as well, and it does seem like it’s becoming a more important factor in their business. It’s something that people are more focused on today as they’re building their business and understanding that yes, you can be a great writer, but there’s this other component of standing out and getting out there. I’ve seen a lot of really interesting brands pop up over the last few months.
Eman: Yeah, for sure. I think nobody is just a corporate stiff, like, really boring person anymore. Everybody has more to them, and when they bring that side of their personality to their brand, I mean, that’s when the magic happens, right?
Rob: Yeah, for sure. So, Eman, if you had a time machine that could go back to last year, where you’re just starting out, what advice would you give yourself as far as what to do over the next year?
Eman: First thing’s first: I would tell myself to ditch the ten-cents-per-word model. Go straight to project, or at least an hourly system at the very least; to stop trying to use Upwork, because that wasn’t a great idea, but that didn’t last long anyway; to niche right away; and, a lot of my issues starting off were like, self-doubt and imposter syndrome and things like that, so it was really just…. I’d tell myself to like, believe in yourself a little bit more. And it took going through the Accelerator and the Think Tank to get to a point where I don’t like hate on myself all the time, and like, doubt myself, and compare myself to everybody in the industry. I would just tell myself to be a little bit kinder to myself, and go easier on myself.
Kira: And what about the retainer model? I believe you’ve dabbled in that as well. Is that something that you’d recommend that’s worked for you?
Eman: I don’t particularly enjoyed retainers, but I do enjoy the safety net that they bring, so I wouldn’t tell myself to stay away from it, but I think the stability that a retainer model would bring, I think that’s great, especially when you’re starting out, and there’s no reason why I would tell myself to stay away from it.
Kira: Well, Eman, we want to find out where we can all find you. If someone’s listening, they want to get in touch with you, reach out to you, where can they find you?
Eman: So I’m fairly active on Twitter. My Twitter handle is @eman_zabi: E-M-A-N, underscore, Z-A-B-I. I’m on Instagram, eman.zabi. I have a Facebook page… Oh, and my website.
Rob: We’ve seen you pop into The Copywriter Club Facebook group from time to time.
Eman: Oh, yeah! Of course. I’m there a lot.
Rob: Thanks Eman.
Eman: Thanks so much, you guys.
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 on 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 Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.
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