Freelance copywriter Josh Garofalo joins Rob and Kira for the 26th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast to talk about the importance of choosing a niche (and to go deep into it), what resources he uses to stay sharp, how to get noticed at conferences and working with other copywriters on big projects. He also shares the story of how he got into copywriting and his process for working with customers (this episode is worth listening to just for the way Josh talks about process). Check it out…
Click the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:Inbound
The Retainer Necklace
Tested Advertising Methods
You Should Test That
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
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 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 26 as we chat with conversion copywriter, Josh Garofalo about finding a niche and breaking into the SaaS market, the mistakes he’s made as he’s built his business, how he networks with potential clients at conferences and what it’s like to partner with other writers on big projects.
Kira: Hey, Josh. Hey, Rob.
Rob: Hey, Josh.
Josh: Hey, thanks for having me. I was actually shocked that you do that intro every single time because it sounds the same every time you do that every single of the episode. That’s pretty incredible.
Rob: I think if you go back and listen, you’ll hear us actually flub a couple of the words here and there.
Rob: It’s not always perfect.
Kira: That’s funny. As we were reading that, I feel like we got to switch it up, Rob. I feel like we have to just change the copy …
Rob: Should we do something different?
Kira: … or read it differently. I don’t know. This is the first time I’m feeling that push to just like surprise people a bit.
Rob: Maybe we need to hire a writer, see what they can come up with.
Josh: Yeah, I think it’s a good idea.
Kira: Yeah. Josh, what are you doing for the next hour?
Josh: Talking to you.
Kira: I think a really good place to start is you kind of did our job for us and you posted in the Facebook group and asked the group what they want to know and what questions they’d like to ask you, so thank you for kind of giving us a head start but what I was really interested in is the way that you positioned the post in that group. You said that you’re still newish but somehow, you’ve managed to have as much success, perhaps more than some oldish copywriters despite doing a lot of things wrong (or differently). Let’s start … I mean there’s a lot packed into that. I want to hear about, let’s just start with what you’ve done wrong and differently.
Josh: Yeah. I think if you were to sort of take a look at my website especially when I first started, and it probably lasted for the first six months, it was a $100 template from Genesis that looked absolutely horrible. I had, I think, two blog posts on there. I think I’m only up to like three or four blog posts now. I think most people would say that’s not the way to start a business and yet, through that terrible website and two blog posts, I landed two clients and had them on retainer for a year plus. One ended maybe six months ago and the other one, I’m still working with today. Thousands of dollars generated from two blog posts in a Genesis website.
I don’t think that really tells the whole story because I think what I was doing differently is I was hanging out in communities and looking for quicker wins which for me was necessary because my first goal starting out in this business was to amass enough savings that, should I want to take a step back and refocus on my business or should things change and I want to pivot a little bit, I have that cash sitting there that I can draw from and make strategic decisions.
My first goal was quick wins and the way I saw that happening was hanging out in communities where my target market hung out and copywriters who have been at this far longer than I had, where they also hung out and then just going over the top and adding value which, Kira, I don’t know how much time you are spending at inbound but I know that’s where I first became familiar with Rob. He can probably attest to, especially like in The Pit where we were doing free landing page critiques. Most of the critiques were quite shallow and short and sometimes, just bad advice. I was offering multipage long critiques that most copywriters would have charged for. That’s sort of where I kicked off my career.
Rob: Yeah. It’s interesting. In The Pit, if I went in and saw somebody had posted a landing page for a review, if Josh had gotten there before me, I almost never had anything to add because it covered everything. I was always looking to get there before Josh and maybe Joel because they would cover everything and the feedback was so good. Josh, I want to back up a little bit because even back before you became a writer, you studied things like human psychology. I believe you worked in marketing as a marketing director before you shifted into copywriting. How did that base of knowledge and learning inform what you do as a writer today?
Josh: It definitely does. For example, my choosing a niche in SaaS wasn’t an accident. It was a well calculated move and I can sort of work my way up to that. In university, I studied psychology, did a lot of cognitive and social psychology, worked in gambling labs and weird, neuro conditions and things like that. I worked in physiology labs where they actually did research on like astronauts and the effects of space on human beings which was pretty cool. I was actually planning on going to med school but sort of a last minute decision, I overheard a conversation about a new master’s program at the university I was at that focused on like digital business and user experience. Around that same time, the startup scene was really picking up in town and I really want to get involved with that.
I sort of saw this master’s program even if it was a terrible program … It wasn’t the best at the time because it was pretty new. I saw it as a way to reinvent myself at least on paper. I could, all of a sudden, turn my history in the lab and psychology into being this perfect fit for a tech company whether it’s in marketing or copywriting or something related to that. That worked. I got hired right out of my master’s program into a B2B SaaS company. I went through all the typical startup things. I went through like incubators and accelerators. I spent 10 weeks in New York hustling while we were an accelerator there. We raised venture capital money. It was through my work there that I learned there is actually something called copywriting and like pretty much everyone that’s on the podcast, once I started to learn about that, Joanna Wiebe came up.
Kira: It always does.
Josh: Yeah. She came up and I got really interested in what she was doing there. I realized that I actually didn’t really like marketing in general but I really loved it when I had to write copy for the company. Then, it was through Joanna that I saw that there’s a career in this and a few fateful happenings that sort of helped me launch my business and that’s when I quit my job, is when I had two clients on retainer and chose my niche as SaaS for obvious reasons. I had a lot of experience in it. I don’t know if you guys want to go into it but I mean, there’s tons of reasons like SaaS in particular was attractive to me beyond my experience and my history.
Kira: I do but first, I feel like there’s this fuzzy part in the timeline between when you landed your first retainer clients and you were working at the job. Can you connect those dots for us?
Josh: As I mentioned, I came across Copy Hackers, Joanna’s site. She was doing like this tiny, insignificant competition on her site where the best comment on this post about pages won a free ticket to Microconf in Las Vegas where she was going to be speaking. I’ve been reading her stuff and I was starting to read the classics of copywriting and all that and I took a shot at it, added some humor in, sort of keeping my reader in mind which was Joanna who has a sense of humor especially in her writing and she liked it. She gave me that ticket to Microconf. I went there. I was totally star struck when I met her, which to me sort of reaffirm that I’m in the right place because like to copywriters, she’s a celebrity but to everyone else, she’s just somebody, right? I was like so shocked when she sat behind me. I didn’t even want to turn around and introduce myself but I finally worked up the guts.
Then, I e-mailed her and I thanked her. I said, “You know, what should I do next?” She didn’t really know what I should do next but she said, “You got to do something. Right now, you’re hungry. The fire’s burning. If you just let this pass, it’s going to be like everybody else where you let the grass grow under your feet.” I think that was her exact words. “And you’ll totally forget about this.” I did. I think it was the next day I started a website, not really selling services because I was employed and not really thinking about doing this myself. It was just going to be a blog about conversion copywriting for SaaS companies. That’s where I wrote a couple of posts.
I got inquiries from those posts and because I had a job and I’m pretty risk averse, I wasn’t going to leave unless it looked like as close to a sure thing as it can be when you’re starting a business. I basically gave the ultimatum like this is what I need to make. We’ve got to be on an ongoing retainer agreement and both of them agreed. Actually, the one client, I just threw a price out. I didn’t even know if it was like reasonable or not and he just said yes. That felt like a win but also a loss like where I could have asked for more.
Rob: Josh, other than going to that small conference where you’re surrounded by guys building SaaS businesses, is there another reason you focused so heavily on tech and SaaS or did you just sort of fall into that because that’s what you’d been doing?
Josh: It’s a combination. I think that’s where I had the biggest head start but then, I’m not very romantic when it comes to business. I’m very practical, so before I started my business, I took a look at the general freelance and freelance copywriter market and I saw there’s so many copywriters out there. Most of them are struggling and most of them don’t choose a niche. When you look at any industry in business, you have your giants who kind of own the market and then you have your incumbents who choose a little problem that seems insignificant or boring to the big players and you just dig deep into that and you serve that niche better than any generalist ever could. That was going to be my strategy.
Then, SaaS was the obvious choice for me. This is more of a response to a lot of people who say choosing a niche is boring. A lot of people will say that and I think people on the podcast have said that too. I don’t agree because … I don’t know. If you’ve gone to university, for example, and you’re first year and you see what your professors focus on, it is mind boggling. They seem like they must be the most odd and boring people ever but what you realize is your psychology prof can’t possibly be a master of the whole brain. There’s way too much information. Information is only accelerating so they choose a piece of it and they actually are really fired up about the piece that they own because they’re masters of it and they add to it in a meaningful way. I don’t see choosing a niche as boring.
Then, for SaaS specifically, SaaS is just a way to deliver business services. We’re always going to have to deliver business services. I can definitely grow with that niche. The niche itself is young. There’s tons of million and a few billion dollar companies but it’s tiny compared to where it’s going to go. When you look at the exciting technology that everyone’s getting fired up about like virtual reality, artificial intelligence, machine learning, internet of things, that’s all going to find its way into SaaS and SaaS-like industries, so I see myself getting my hands dirty in all of those exciting areas down the road. If people are right and that we should be scared of machines and machine learning and artificial intelligence, I hope I’m the person that’s writing copy to sell it and not the person being displaced by it.
Rob: Just to follow up on that, as I look at your homepage, Josh, it’s really clear you’ve done a great job of saying, “Hey, if it’s SaaS copywriting you need, that’s what I offer.” I’m assuming that’s completely intentional because the advice that you’ve given in the Facebook group, there’s absolutely no question that any of your clients would come to you and say, “Do you do blog post about health marketing or whatever,” because you’re just laser focused.
Josh: Yeah. It’s actually kind of funny because I do still get the odd inquiry from someone who isn’t in SaaS. I think it’s simply because I’ve shown that I know how to at least choose something and focus on it and execute on it well. Recently, I wrote some copy for a real estate developer who’s selling like million dollar homes which was completely outside my area of expertise but I’d like to take the odd project on like that because it does keep things fresh. You never know you might learn something writing for another market that you can apply to your main market. It does still happen from time to time.
Kira: I find like on my website, I need to get more clear about my niche because I’ve only really had the realization and the focus on it recently but I do sort of feel frustrated when I have inquiries from people that are like way outside of my niche. I used to take those jobs too and I’ve just realized it doesn’t work well for me. I really do need to specialize and it just has to do with my level of confidence going into a project when I know I can deliver versus, “Hey, this is something new. I’m actually not sure if I can deliver what you want.”
I think for me, I’ve learned that just communicating what you need and what you want in your website does help and go a long way, like you said with your website. I think all of us listening can kind of look at our websites and audit it just to see if that’s very clear. Even if you know what your niche is, maybe other people don’t know what it is. What would you say to the copywriters that are listening? You mentioned you’ve seen so many of them struggling and that’s why you really wanted to come in strong with a niche and a focus. What would you say to the ones that are struggling and they’re like, “Cool. I know I need one. You’re telling me I need one but I don’t know what that is. I don’t even know how to figure out where to go or how to get started and figure this process out”?
Josh: The first thing, and it’s way beyond the scope of a podcast, is obviously, if you’re trying to be a copywriter and you’re not very good at writing, no strategy or a niche is going to save you. You have to actually be good at writing but assuming that’s out of the way and you’re a struggling copywriter who is actually good at writing and good at writing copy, it’s got to be a combination of … There’s got to be a market for it, so enough people that would benefit from a copywriter, looking for a copywriter. The market’s got to be willing to pay well for that. The story doesn’t have to be intentional but you have to be able to tell some sort of story about where you’ve come from that positions you as someone who didn’t just choose a niche out of thin air but who, where the niche kind of chose you.
When I was going through my undergrad and even when I joined that B2B SaaS startup, I wasn’t thinking one day, I’m going to be a freelance copywriter. Right now, I’m just trying to connect these dots so that I’m the perfect person for it. Instead, what I did is I decided I want to be a freelance copywriter at the end. I chose SaaS and then, I looked back at my history and decided how could I tell the story of my history to make me seem like someone who should be doing this.
If I were doing something else like if I’d gone to med school and I had to write an essay about my history, I would have found a way to talk about my past in a way that would position me to be a great medical doctor one day. I think if you’re to go to my about page, you’d sort of see that, the events that I chose to speak about weren’t … it’s not my entire history but it’s the things that I was able to look back on and say, “You know what, this kind of led to where I’m at today and gives me some credibility.”
Rob: Another thing that I love about your website, Josh, is something that you have in common with Joel Klettke who we talked to a couple of episodes ago, and that’s your process page. I think it’s really impressive. You guys are sort of among the minority, I think, where you really lay out step-by-step what exactly happens at every part of the project including when you expect to be paid. Talk to us a little bit about that process and how clients react to that. Am I right that this actually helps you close more projects in just being really upfront about how it all works?
Josh: Yeah. Definitely, it helps close projects. I can’t speak for Joel but I know for me, I do adjust to the client and the project. Sometimes, my process doesn’t go exactly as it’s laid out on the page. That’s sort of the ideal scenario but just having a process page that shows that I actually do have a process, I’m not just going to take your money and then send you the odd e-mail and then, we’ll see when this gets done and how I get paid because that’s how a lot of freelancers work.
It’s just refreshing to anyone who’s been looking at other copywriters. It sort of de-risks it a little bit and they feel like they’re going to be working with a professional who’s going to do what he said he’s going to do, when he said he was going to do it, that’s a huge selling point in freelancing. Freelancing in general and especially among copywriters, is just sort of poor business acumen. It’s too common. If you can show you’re not going to do that, it’s a huge plus.
Kira: Josh, can you walk us through … I mean people can check out your process page but can you walk us through your process because I’m sure there’s something unique? I believe you mentioned even sharing an outline with your clients which I think not a lot of copywriters do.
Josh: I’ll go through the whole process but I’ll first sort of address the whole outline thing. The reason that I do that is I don’t want to write a first draft of copy where I’ve agonized over headlines and sub headlines and body copy and structure and things like that only to the give to the client and say, “You know what, like this completely misses the mark. There’s no way this is going to work.” Then, I have to rethink everything about the page. I use the outline as a quick checkpoint. If I’m going to be writing a homepage, for example, the headlines won’t be final. I will not spend a ton of time on that but the ideas will be there. I’ll show like, in the above the fold section, these are some of the points I want to make and why. I’ll sort of leave a little comment in the Google Doc as to why I want to say that.
Then, I’ll work my way down the page that way and it doesn’t take me very long once I know what I want to say. Then, once they say, “You know what, this makes sense. This is a good direction for the page. We can move forward with this,” and when I get to that first draft, they don’t get to go back and say, “You know what, I don’t really like the messaging above the fold. I think we need to say this.” I’ll point to the outline and say, That’s not going to happen. You’ve already signed off on the ideas. We can talk about word choices at this point but we’re not going back and re-imagining what we’re going to say. We can talk about how we’re going to say it.” I use it as a checkpoint, if that makes sense.
Kira: Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. I just am curious to hear how long that typically takes you.
Josh: An outline?
Kira: Yeah, the outline.
Josh: It doesn’t take me long at all. I’d say maybe an hour or two max.
Rob: That doesn’t include the research.
Josh: No, definitely not the research. Yeah.
Rob: You’re spending some time trying to learn about the project first, right?
Josh: Exactly, yeah. I’ll do the research and then, when I do the outline, it maybe adds an hour or an hour or two. Then, if I were to just go right to the first draft, but it saves me time if there’s any back and forth about the what. To me, that’s way worth it because I would hate to have to go back and rewrite a page.
Rob: That seems like a good idea.
Kira: Yeah. No, it does. I want to start doing that.
Josh: Yeah. It doesn’t take long really and make it clear that you’re not giving them final copy here. Don’t critic the way I’m saying things, just the ideas but yeah, if you want, I can sort of walk through the whole process from inquiry to …
Rob: Yeah, let’s do it.
Josh: payment if you’d like. Yeah. In an ideal world, the way it works is I would get an inquiry from my website through the form, an e-mail or I’ll get a referral which happens more often. The referrals are better when you’re in a niche but I won’t go into that right now. I’ll get that inquiry and my first e-mail which definitely puts some clients off but to me, I think it works is I will immediately ask things like, what is your approximate budget? I’ll put that in the context of I want to make sure we’re talking about a project that I can actually execute on, like we’re not in a dreamland where you have infinite dollars to give me, so we have to come up with a practical solution. I talk about timelines and deadlines. If they want this copy tomorrow and I’m busy, let’s just not even get on the phone and waste an hour. Let’s just figure that out right now that we’re not going to work. Then, I’ll ask for a little bit of information about the project and their company.
If everything checks out, we’ll hop on a quick call which I don’t charge for. I think some copywriters do and that seems like a pretty decent idea, so I might consider that. There, I’ll dig a little bit deeper. I’ll talk about what kind of data they have available to me like Google Analytics or what kind of resources, whether they’ve done like customer surveys, for example, or they have a bunch of testimonials or sales notes that I can dig into, sort of their expectations of the project because if their expectations are unrealistic, we can knock that off right away rather than at the end of the project.
Then, we’ll talk timelines and the deposit and next steps. That is the next step. I’ll send a quick proposal usually via PDF. It is quick. I don’t waste a ton of time, so if we don’t get past the proposal stage, I’m not going to be upset. I’ll ask, I’ll demand 50% in order to save my next available date. That’s non-negotiable. The only thing I change there is if a project is under 2,000, then I’ll ask for 100% before we get started. I’ve had no pushback on that whatsoever.
The due date comes, I’ll usually send some, like a customer survey and a client survey where I’ll learn a little bit about their company and their position and then, the customer survey which is sort of similar to what everyone’s talked about so far on your podcast which is more of a jobs to be done type survey, so figuring out their pain points, what brought them to look for a solution, what they can do better now that they have your solution, et cetera, et cetera. Then, I’ll do the messaging mining which has been spoken about by, again, like pretty much everybody. I think every good copywriter does it, so I won’t go into detail on that but sort of pulling words and phrases from the customer.
Then, it’s at outline phase that I spoke about. Once I get signed off on that, it’s a first draft where I do include headlines and it’s in a low fidelity mock-up, usually in Google Docs which is really just like tables and headlines and sub headlines and stuff like that. It’s not colored or pixel perfect. I’m not focusing on typography.
Rob: It’s not just the document. You are doing some layout to sort of show what the copy might look like once it is laid out, right?
Josh: Yeah, exactly. Any decent designer would be able to look at this and know what I had envisioned but it’s not so final that a good designer would feel constrained like they’re just now coloring it in. It shows where the messaging hierarchy and things like that and some rough ideas of how different sections could be laid out or what kind of images you might want to include along with the text but it’s by no means like a replacement for a good designer. Then, we’ll do usually one or two rounds of revisions. Once that’s done, I send my invoice for the final 50%. Then, usually, a few months down the road, I’ll follow up and see how things have done, get a testimonial and if they’re willing to share statistics, I’ll get those statistics. That makes for a good case study.
Rob: Josh, I want to ask a couple questions that sort of come off of what you’re talking about. When you start out like talking about, asking for a project budget, what is the typical project size that you take on? You mentioned 100% under $2,000, so I’m assuming that there’s not very many of those that come along but what’s your typical project?
Josh: Yeah. I would say it’s typically between 2,500 US and it goes up to maybe nine or 10,000 US, is about as much as I would invoice at one time. Some of the long term clients I’ve had, I’ve definitely billed more than that over time but in terms of just one set project, that’s typically where they’re falling right now.
Rob: You also mentioned your quick proposal. You want to keep that fast. Is that just a single page? What do you include in your proposal?
Josh: It’s a bit of a multipage document but it’s very much like plug and play like I go in there, I’ll change obviously the client’s name and then where I scope out the project, that’s obviously going to be a little bit different but the way it’s laid out is already set up for me, then everything about the process that we’re going to go through when we work on this project, certain deadlines, certain conditions that I have like with payment and turnaround times like they can’t take three weeks to get back to me on a page. They have about three business days usually to give me revisions. A lot of that stuff just remains the same throughout my project. I literally don’t spend more than 20 or 30 minutes on a proposal.
Kira: Josh, I have a couple more questions about rates because that’s always the fun thing to talk about. You mentioned you may charge 9,000, $10,000. What type of project would that be for?
Josh: That would usually be for a much larger project like the HubSpots and like the InsightSquareds and stuff like that. The reason that you’d price it that high is for one, there’s usually a decent amount of work to be done. There’s always a lot of research to go through. The nature of these businesses being so large and having so many stakeholders, you’re going to spend more time on revisions. It’s unavoidable. There’s just more people that need to say yes to everything. That gets priced in there. At the same time, these rates are unreasonable for a much smaller business who really values copywriting, has maybe benefited from it in the past. They won’t blink at those prices either.
Kira: Right. I know we want to talk about HubSpots soon as well. When you have these initial conversations, kind of just like vetting potential clients, are you dropping the number in there if you have a rough idea of what they want and you know it’s approximately $5,000? Are you sharing that on the call with them to feel it out or do you just kind of wait until you send that proposal?
Josh: Usually before the call, I would have an idea of the budget I’ll be working with. Then, I wouldn’t get into specifics on the call simply because, and this is probably common for a lot of copywriters, I think better when I have time and I’m writing versus when I’m live and on a call or on a podcast. I like to wait until after the call where I can sort of regroup, think about all, everything that we spoke about and then lay it out nicely in the proposal and show them everything that goes into that price which I know I wouldn’t communicate as clearly if I did that on a call. Some people who are a little bit more with the talking could probably just cover that off in a call, no problem.
Rob: Let’s talk about HubSpot. You mentioned, and I know Kira wants to ask about this as well, I’m curious about how you and Joel went about landing that project but more than that, I’m actually curious how you and Joel worked together and what the process was there in order to make the client happy.
Josh: That was definitely Joel. He landed the project and then, he brought me in because it was a pretty big project and Joel, being Joel, already had a lot on his plate. Rather than say no or rush a major project like that, he brought me in and we split it 50/50. Then, in terms of how we worked on it, we spent a lot of time in Slack with the HubSpot people that we were working with. It’s kind of funny because Joel and I, when we work individually work similarly probably because he showed me a lot of what he does. We both sort of did our own thing. We had our own pages that we were responsible for and then we would jump in and we edit each other’s work in the Google Docs and then, throw it in the wireframes. Basically, the work process that I told you about for myself, it was just duplicated. It wasn’t too much different aside from the fact that we spent a lot of time in Slack with the HubSpot team.
Kira: It sounds like it went really well. I’ve been collaborating with other copywriters recently. I’m always curious to hear how other people do it. Do you have any tips though to help copywriters that may have not collaborated before, how they can do it for the first time with ease instead of frustration because people do have really different styles? I know. It sounds like you and Joel have a similar style though.
Josh: I don’t know because I wouldn’t be speaking from experience. The only copywriter I’ve ever collaborated with on a project is Joel and our styles are very similar. If our styles were completely just because of the way I am, I actually don’t know that I would even do it because I like working by myself. Working with Joel is like duplicating myself. It’s like two of me but to work with someone who’s much different than me, I don’t think I would enjoy it very much unless they were in a completely different discipline like I was the copywriter and they were like the data person or the designer or something like that. I could make some things up but I have no experience with that whatsoever.
Kira: No. I mean that makes sense. It’s just worth considering if, before jumping into a project with someone, if they do have a similar style or not and if that will work for you.
Josh: Definitely. Yep.
Rob: Kira, you mentioned that you’ve been collaborating with other writers lately on several projects. Maybe it’s the kind of thing, it’s this debate between do we work as freelance copywriters or are we creating sort of an agency model where you become a contact person and you’re relying on other writers to help create some of the work. It really is almost two different ways of getting a lot of work done.
Josh: Yeah, exactly.
Rob: Can I shift gears again? I noticed last month, you went to a conference and you’re doing some pretty interesting stuff on Twitter to make connections. It immediately stood out to me. I’m an introvert. I think you probably are as well. The typical experience for me at a conference if I don’t know anybody is I kind of stand off to the sides and hope that I can figure out some way to talk to somebody, right? You were doing something different that I thought, “Wow, that’s a great idea and I’m totally going to do that.” Tell us about how you reach out to people and try to meet new clients.
Josh: The common advice that they always like to give you for an introvert that goes to conference is to get over it and realize the other person wants to talk to you just as much as you want to talk to them. You’ll be doing them a favor by going up to them but if you’re an introvert, that doesn’t make things any easier.
Josh: It doesn’t.
Kira: It doesn’t matter.
Josh: It doesn’t work. You still just, like keep looking at [crosstalk 00:29:27]-
Kira: Okay. Clearly, an extrovert made that rule.
Rob: Yeah. It’s hard enough just to get to the conference sometimes.
Josh: Exactly. The extroverts make all the rules. I’m never going to be that person that goes up to people and is totally comfortable doing that but most conferences tend to have some sort of online components. This one had a sort of like a chat that was specific to the conference and hash tags obviously and same with Microconf where I met Joanna. They had a messenger thing there. That’s where I would talk to people.
Anyways, this conference that Rob’s talking about in San Francisco is like the biggest SaaS conference. There’s like 10,000 people there. It’s incredibly intimidating and sort of my way of reaching out and adding value was to go online onto their little chat there and say if anyone has a webpage or a website that they want me to look at, I’m doing that for free all conference long. Just send me a link. Then, I started to follow up that message with you have venture capitalists and potential customers looking at your website right now while you demo it. There’s probably some quick fixes that we can make right now to make those meetings go a little bit better.
I did have some success with that. I did a few critiques, either I did one on my website and I did others just sort of live sitting there with them. That’s the big ice breaker because Rob, I’m sure you know as an introvert, it’s not that you hate talking to someone. If you’re one-on-one with someone and you have a common interest, it’s not a problem. It’s that initial ice breaking that’s a pain.
Josh: Once they come to me and they’re asking me questions and they’re interested in me, it’s super easy to kick things off that way. That was my strategy there, same with trying to meet people to go out for dinner. I just throw it up on there and be like, “Hey, if you want to meet up for coffee or dinner, I’m going to go to this place at this time. We can talk coffee or whatever, completely off the clock. It’s just free. I’m just trying to meet people.” Then, people are pretty receptive to free and valuable things.
Kira: It’s more like if you’re an introvert, you have to give people a reason to come up to you, so you don’t have to go up to them. You can allow them to do the work.
Josh: Yeah. When people are coming to you to get something from you that’s valuable and that you know a lot about it, it completely removes all the nerves for me. Even at the odd times someone will come up to me just to say hi because they’re braver than I am and sometimes, that goes well and sometimes it doesn’t but when they come to you for a specific purpose, it’s exactly what we’re going to talk about. I’m going to be leaving the conversation and it just makes everything like a million times easier.
Kira: Okay. It kind of reminds me, I have this silver plated retainer necklace that I wear to networking events, I haven’t recently, because this retainer will attract people from across the room and then, they’d want to come over to me.
Rob: Wait. Wait, wait, wait. It’s like a retainer like braces?
Kira: Yeah, like a …
Rob: Oh my gosh.
Kira: It’s silver plated. It’s not my retainer but the designer’s retainer and so, whenever I wore that to networking event, people would come over to me and they were like, “Is that your retainer?” Now, I didn’t have to go over to other people. It made the whole event. I know I was thinking about the same thing.
Rob: This is not the kind of-
Josh: [crosstalk 00:32:35] another way we’re doing it.
Rob: Not the kind of retainer that I was expecting to talk about today.
Kira: No, right. The other retainer. Okay. My actual question for you, Josh, it sounds like a lot of what you’re saying and a lot of what we’ve seen in the club from you is just that you give so much, like the viewer gets much value and you were helping people. It sounds like that’s the way that you’ve really built your business. That’s a way that you’re connecting at these events. I guess, what would you say to new copywriters that want to use that tactic as well? I mean I hate to call it tactic because I know you’re helping people but what’s the right way to do it where you feel like you’re not giving too much and there’s no return? Do you just have to give and give and give and not think about the return? Maybe this is like Gary V’s style, right?
Josh: Yeah. Maybe it is a little bit about Gary V’s style but yeah, sometimes, it’s just because I’m drawn to a place and I enjoy contributing, so definitely early in Inbound, I knew that customers were there but I genuinely enjoyed going on there and talking about this stuff and people liking what I wrote. Same with the Facebook group you guys have, I don’t have a course right now for copywriters and it’s all copywriters, so I’m not going to be getting a bunch of customers through you guys but I enjoy being there. In other times, it’s intentional like at the conference, for example, I was giving with the intention of people seeing what I do for free and then thinking what could this guy do for me if only I paid him his rates, right? It’s a combination of the two.
It’s just, I think lacking in freelancing in general is just general business sense. They’re coming at this as like, “This is what I like to do now. Pay me for it.” They’re not thinking about it the way every other business has to think about it which is finding a market, adding value, choosing a niche, competing with others. I think that’s what’s missing. I think there’s so many talented copywriters that are struggling to make money simply because they don’t understand the business side of it. That’s the way I see it. It’s just it’s the business side of it. It’s building relationships.
Kira: What I’ve noticed is by you showing up consistently and speaking about your niche and what you do and building this credibility, I know I’ve seen people say, “Hey, Josh. I’ve got some work for you.” I did it myself. Your name popped into my head when I was talking to this other client. I was like, “Josh would be perfect for this.” I don’t even know if you would but because you keep showing up, I thought of you. I’m only saying that because if you were in the club or another group on Facebook or wherever, if you show up consistently, people will start sending you work. It just happens.
Josh: Yeah. I will add to that and say it’s a combination of showing up in a group like that but again, going back to choosing a niche, I think that’s also so huge because if you have someone coming to you for something that isn’t SaaS, there’s probably a hundred generalist copywriters competing for that referral when it comes to you but if someone comes to you with a SaaS project, there’s probably not that many. It’s probably like, what, me, Momoko. I think she likes to focus on SaaS. I can’t remember his name. He’s also on show.
Rob: Rob Marsh.
Josh: Rob Marsh, yeah.
Rob: Sorry. No, there are definitely a few that we’ve had on the show. Joel, I think, does a lot of tech and SaaS type stuff.
Josh: Not even that many that explicitly say it like I am SaaS. You know what I mean?
Josh: I’m not competing with that many people. I get referrals from people who I’ve never even worked with like we’ve never worked together, Kira, and same with the other person on the group that sent someone. I’ve actually never even spoken to that person before but it’s easier to be top of mind when you’ve got a niche. Showing up and standing for something, I think, is a great recipe.
Rob: In some ways, it’s not even just showing up because you’re not in the groups giving that, “Hey, you go girl,” kind of advice, right? You’re laying out … Some of the advice may actually be really hard for some people to hear where you’ve been pretty critical about how people position themselves or how they talk about their services on their website, that kind of a thing. You don’t sugarcoat it but it’s incredibly valuable advice. If somebody’s going to take it and do something along the lines of what you’re suggesting, the chances of them finding success are greater for sure.
Josh: I would just ask a generalist copywriter, if you’re struggling … I mean if you’re making the kind of money you want to make and you’re a generalist, then my advice doesn’t really matter but if you’re a generalist and you’re not making the kind of money you want to make, just be honest with yourself. Pull your website up. Pull like three or four other websites up of other generalist copywriters that are around your level that you see like in a Facebook group like this one and compare sites.
I think you’ll see that it would be extremely hard as a client to choose one over the other. They all say very similar things and they have similar style logos and things like that whereas if you choose a niche or if you’re like a kingpin in copywriting and you’ve written for the major brands across different niches, that’s different but if you have a niche like SaaS and you were to come to my website and your SaaS company put my website up against all the generalist copywriters, it becomes much easier to choose somebody and to even pay a premium to get that person.
Kira: Man, I feel like I have to rewrite all my copy now on my website. Thanks, Josh.
Josh: I don’t think I was talking to you. I feel like you do a pretty good job of it but … Yeah.
Kira: I don’t spell out my niche at all like, “Hey, this is what I do.” Anyway, we don’t have to talk about me but-
Josh: It’s scary though, isn’t it? It’s kind of scary to choose a niche. I think that’s what stops a lot of people from doing it because it’s like, “I’m already struggling and now, if I eliminate 90% of the market, I’m definitely going to go broke.” It just doesn’t really work that way in business in general especially in freelance copywriting.
Kira: It might take time too like you just knew and for me at least, it’s taken a while to kind of dabble and figure out what I like and figure out what I feel like I’m good at. I think it’s okay to take your time figuring it out too.
Josh: Yeah, for sure. Definitely, it’s okay to work towards a niche but it’s just once you do it, things get easier. Your portfolio gets stronger, faster because every single project speaks directly to the client who’s looking at your website. It’s just everything gets easier, in my opinion.
Kira: Josh, you mentioned somewhere that you are an avid learner and you emphasized that. Maybe it was on your website. I think you embody that when you show up online. How do you keep your edge? Are you participating in different trainings? How do you continue to kind of advance?
Josh: In some ways, I think I’m slacking on that a little bit because as I mentioned earlier, I focus on things to the detriment of everything else. Since I’ve started, my focus has been short term wins, amass a certain amount of money so that I feel like I’ll never have to go and get a job in order to make ends meet. I’ll always have that buffer to make changes but I’ve been doing that for a long time now and I’m getting closer to that dollar amount. Now, I’m starting to look at other ways to maintain my edge, as you said. Courses would be great. I haven’t taken any courses but if I were, I’d definitely be looking at Copy Hackers and ConversionXL. They’ve definitely put some things out where I look at and was like, “Oh, I wish I had done that.”
Then, outside of that, it’s reading the classics often more than once and then just staying interested in my industry which again, is a benefit of choosing a niche because I only focus on SaaS. I can keep up on sort of all the industry news and the thought leaders which would be impossible if I focused on five different niches and then, yeah, just staying nimble by reading things that are completely unrelated to copy whether that’s cosmology or psychology or anthropology or fiction, sci-fi, just staying interested, engaged and doing lots of work which I think gets under-emphasized a little bit, is everyone wants to sort of take the course that’s going to fix them whereas I think there’s a lot to be learned by just doing a lot of projects and taking note of how things go and what goes well, and what doesn’t go well and learning from that in the trenches which has sort of been my priority.
Rob: You may have just answered this question at least in part, Josh, but I’m curious, if somebody came to you and said, “Hey, I want to do exactly what you’re doing. I want to be a conversion copywriter. I want to be working for these really cool tech businesses. I don’t have any experience right now. Give me three things that I should be doing so that I can be, next year or the year after, I can be where you are today.”
Josh: I’ll probably point them to the same books that pretty much every copywriter would point them to, like your Tested Advertising Methods, Scientific Advertising, Influence, some newer ones. I mean Joanna’s … All of her books are amazing. I’ve read all those and they’re very timely. Actually, I have some books at my desk here so you should test that, anything from Schwartz and Ogilvy. Then, I would ask them to assess whether or not they’re actually the right person for tech. What I’m hoping is that people don’t listen to this podcast and think that, “I need to become a SaaS copywriter. That’s the key.”
Kira: That’s what I think.
Rob: I think you’re right though because any niche can be profitable. You could write for medical. You could right for health and wellness. You could basically do anything, right? It’s not the niche. It’s niching itself, is what you’re saying.
Josh: Exactly, that’s right. There’s a copywriter, there’s multiple copywriters who focus on the pet industry and some who are even thinking like, “I need to get deeper than that and focus more on like pet food or pet accessories.”
Kira: I love that.
Josh: Yeah. The goal is to niche and just be the obvious choice for a certain someone. That’s what I’d do there. Then, the third thing would be to get involved in groups where your ideal customer hangs out, even better if they’re asking questions about their messaging or how to increase sales or how to write e-mails and things like that. Then, start solving their problems the best you can for free and share what you did with them.
Even better, get on a call with them and tell them what you did and why you made the choices that you did. Then, to take it to the next step, I would say, “This is better than what you have right now but it’s not as good as it could be because if we actually work together, I would have access to these resources and this data and I would have way more time than what I have for a free project. Then, this is what I would actually be able to deliver for you and why it would be so much better in return. It will probably be more like X, Y, Z if we work together.” Trying to turn an honest question into a project would definitely be my advice to a new copywriter versus just writing spec ads for random things.
Kira: Sounds great, Josh. Where can we find you if we want to stalk you online?
Josh: You can visit me at swaycopy.com. Something I was thinking of doing too is I’m going to … I don’t have it yet but I’m going to have a landing page at swaycopy.com/tcc and what I’m probably just going to say is if you want to hook up and chat on Skype or something like that for 15, 30 minutes on a Friday afternoon, I’m thinking I’m just going to start providing us a lot of time where I talk to people because freelancers get lonely. I think this would be a nice way to meet other people. Whether you’re new and you sort of want to pick my brain for 15 to 30 minutes or if you’ve been at this for a while and you want to impart your wisdom on me, I think it would just be fun to talk to some people live. I’ll throw that up and give people a way to contact me there. I’m on Twitter but hardly ever and LinkedIn and obviously in this group.
Kira: We can talk to you about anything for 15 minutes?
Josh: Copy and business related, I think, would be ideal.
Kira: Okay, just double checking. Also, we’ll use this as a promo opportunity for our Facebook group because Josh is active in there as of right now. He does provide excellent advice and responses to your questions if you tag him, so you can jump in there and ask Josh lots of questions. I’m always impressed with his responses. Anyway, thank you, Josh, for giving us your time today and being a part of the community.
Rob: Yeah, we appreciate it, Josh.
Rob: You’ve been listening to The Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from Gravity by Whitest Boy Alive, available in iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard, you can help us spread the word by subscribing in iTunes and by leaving a review. For show notes, and full transcript, and links to our free Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.
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