For the 233rd episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast, Mariah Phillips shares the secret to building a copywriting business in the nonprofit sector. Mariah is a Digital Marketing Strategist and Copywriter based in Baltimore, Maryland. She teaches entrepreneurs how to market their businesses and tell their stories. If you’ve been looking for a way to make an impact in your copywriting career, give this episode a listen. (Or read.) Here’s what we talked about in this interview:
• Mariah’s journey through brand story development and the secret to long standing brands.
• How to write for top nonprofits AND earn a living.
• The right way to build a local community event with the power of words.
• The brilliant way to pivot and share knowledge with others about your expertise.
• A day in the life of an agency writer: sampling 10’s of voices?!
• The truth about going down the rabbit whole. (Can it actually be a good thing?)
• What you need to know about working in fundraising. – and storytelling.
• The formula to learn when writing to people not directly receiving a benefit.
• The better way to navigate a conversation with agencies and their strategy.
• Why you should give more value than your client pays for.
• How to go from scrappy freelance mindset to empowered CEO mindset.
• The quickest, easiest way to NOT connect with your clients.
• Why it’s vital to connect with people where they’re at.
• 5 ways you should use the same metaphor. – or shouldn’t.
This is an interview you won’t want to miss. To hear it, click the play button below. Or school down to read the full transcript below and while you’re reading… subscribe with your favorite podcast app and never miss an episode.
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The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:Kira’s website
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground
Kira: Time and time again, guests on our podcast have told us they started copywriting without actually knowing that what they were doing was writing copy. They were just figuring out how to market a product or service and copy was a natural part of the process. That’s also true of today’s guests for the 233rd episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast, Mariah Phillips. Mariah jumped from PR to fundraising to SEO before figuring out that the thing she did best in all of those roles was copywriting.
Rob: Before we share our interview with Mariah, this podcast episode is brought to you by The Copywriter Think Tank. The Think Tank is a private mastermind group for copywriters and other marketers who want to challenge each other, create new revenue streams in their business, receive one on two coaching from the two of us and ultimately grow their businesses to six figures or more. If you’ve been looking for a mastermind to help you grow, email us at email@example.com to set up an interview or go to copywriterthinktank.com.
Kira: Now let’s jump into our conversation with Mariah.
Mariah: Somehow I’ve always been a copywriter and didn’t know it. So as I worked… I started in corporate America, I worked in a boutique PR firm in then New York Metro area. And so while there, we had to do a lot of brand story development for clients. Some of our clients were global and longstanding brands, and since some of them were brand new and sold quirky things like monocles, like this was their first time ever stepping out. And so my responsibility was to write their brand story, write copy, and even write pitches which isn’t necessarily copy, but pitches to the media are making a sale. So, I did that and then I transitioned to working for an ed tech company called 2U, Inc. And in the process there, I started off as a placement specialist for a clinical social work program. And if you don’t know anything about 2U, Inc basically they power the biggest universities in the country, they power their online master’s programs.
My goal there was to get into their digital marketing department, but at the time when I was moving from the New York regions back to Maryland, they didn’t have any openings in that department, so I said, you know what, I’ll start off with student placement and help these master’s level social work students get their internships. And that was cool because in order to do that, the students had to take their social work program online, but they had to take their clinical programs in their hometown. And so I had to find clinical social work placements for students, working adults and places like Waukesha, Wisconsin. Places where there’s like one person in a whole town.
And I worked throughout different regions in the U.S. to do that, and that relates to copy because it was there that I realized that the team there who was pitching these different clinical social work partnerships and like agreements with health systems to get our schools in partnership with these health systems to make the clinical internship finding process easier, the pitches were very hard for people to understand. They just didn’t have anyone who was like a wordsmith on the team pitching these opportunities to the major health systems and placement sites. And so when I joined, because I had come from the public relations background, I was just like, “Hey, these are some things that we need to say in the subject line to get people to open. You guys are asking people way too much, way too soon, and you’re scaring them off with these emails.”
And so I was able to, along with my team, of course, come up with copy for like, I guess you can kind of call it a sales funnel for how we acquired more national partnerships and legal agreements with these different healthcare systems across the country. And so when they started asking me like specifically to write emails for those sorts of things, I was like, okay, cool. I guess writing emails is a thing, but I still didn’t know that it was called copy and I still didn’t know that it was so valuable. And then I transitioned, I ended up applying for a role in their digital… On the marketing floor, so it was like a 12 storey building and everybody was like on the 11th floor is marketing. And if you reach… Nobody ever gets to marketing, so good luck you can apply, but we don’t think you’ll get it.
And I’m always the type of person who’s like, well, you got to try. So, we had a few case studies that you had to do to get a role as a digital marketing specialist for their inbound marketing team. And I did the case studies, they picked me and the rest is history as far as how I got into search engine optimization and how [inaudible 00:05:26] later how that relates to how I write copy now, because a lot of people are like SEO and copy don’t go together. And I totally agree, but the two worlds can merge at some point. So anyway, there I also had to start writing different sales type copy, and also we would have a lot of guest posts on a lot of website for those who are familiar with inbound marketing. And so in order to do those things, we would have to write different advertising copy and come up with like blog posts briefs which are a lot like copy briefs when you’re working with freelance. I had to partner with freelance writers to help us write the amount of blog posts we did. And so it’s kind of like writing copy briefs, and we can go into that later if you find it helpful to do so.
But I eventually ended up getting a job with Catholic Relief Services and they are one of the top global nonprofits in the world. And so I was on their digital fundraising team. It was just me and my manager fundraising millions of dollars a month. And I had to write the email copy for about 10 campaigns or more a year, as well as like product descriptions for what the website copy for donation forms and things like that, to get people to take action, to donate money without having something in return other than the satisfaction that they were making the world a better place. But again, nobody called the copy and it wasn’t until I left that job… I did the thing that I would never recommend anyone do, leave your job thinking that you have it all together, but you don’t really have a very well put together plan. I wanted more freedom to work with people like populations and help people who I knew needed my help outside of the guidelines of working for any sort of agency. And so I didn’t really know how to do that. So I did the only thing I did know how to do was throw events. I didn’t know how to do outside of traditionally working in the marketing field, I threw an event in Baltimore where we hosted Baltimoreans who just wanted to come and hang out and have a good place to hang and chill.
And through that event, I had to do like a lot of like off the ground and grassroots promotion. It was a live event called Sunday Dinner Baltimore it’s still on Instagram and it will happen again at some point. But COVID happened, like I had the first event, it was successful, people loved it. People were like, “When are you releasing the next tickets for this cool event where we get to do trivia and eat good food and meet new people?” And I was like, “I don’t know, because COVID is here now.” And so that kind of like crushed my dream of having this wonderful community-centered event concept in Baltimore. So I had to pivot to doing something online to make money as I was no longer with my former employer and I was like, “I do know how to fundraise.”
So I started putting out information a lot about my fundraising experience on LinkedIn and sharing different stories. And nothing about my story in the beginning ever matches so here we go. And Anti-nuclear Proliferation Think Tank in D.C. that focuses on women’s education was like, “We need a fundraiser, can you come and help?” And they were like, “We’ll pay you 2K to write four emails to help us fundraise for a particular campaign.” And I was like, “Cool, I need the money.” And so after that, I realized that was when I really got more familiar that copy was a thing. And I realized that people were willing to pay you a substantial amount if you could help them make sales and get donations. And so that’s when I started, I literally got on my podcast app on my phone and looked up podcasts about copy and The Copywriter Club popped up. And so that’s literally how I got started in copywriting.
Rob: Wow. Okay. So I’ve got about 20 questions, maybe more about all of that before we talk about fundraising or SEO or the event stuff that you did. I’d love to go back to that first job where you were the marketing specialist and basically doing copy as part of your job in-house, like what was the process in-house of working with the other members on that team? And the reason I’m asking is because we don’t talk to a lot of in-house copywriters, you know most people we talk to are out freelancing doing their own thing now. But I’m curious that first job how did work arrive on your desk? What was the work that you were doing? How did you pass it off and the approval, the mentoring that you were getting just a few details there?
Mariah: If we’re talking about the agency I got there they were like, Hey, we work with tele brands and we work with like all of these different kind of like Shark Tank-type of businesses who were finding people with really cool inventions. Making deals with them and taking it from there. And they were like, “Read through some of the campaigns we’ve had in the past, like stalk the client’s website.” YouTube was hot at that time. It wasn’t like the… It was pretty hot, but it wasn’t what it is today. So I would watch a lot of YouTube videos and that was really how I learned how to get immersed myself in the culture of whatever brand I needed to write for or represent. And so after that, they gave me like some sample, they were like, “Pretend like you are pitching to whatever company.” And they gave me some… My higher-ups would give me some pitches that they had written their score quality placements or PR packages that they had put together for major brands that we represented. And I would basically, they literally… They didn’t do the sort of thing where they gave me a fake brand. They were like, “We have a new client coming on. And so we want you to write a PR package and pitches for them. Don’t worry it’s not like we’re going to send these out, but we just want you to start writing and like jump right in.”
I wasn’t afraid because I was used to jumping right into things my whole life. So I was like, “Hey, they either like it or they don’t. But at the end of the day, I’m already on the team so here we go.” And they loved the pitches so much and liked the copy so much that the CEO… We had weekly meetings in the morning each week just to like talk about our successes, our failures, what we would do differently. And he literally pulled up my very first like go at writing pitches and press releases and stuff. And he pulled it up on a big screen and was like, “This is what everybody should be going for.” And so I was like, “Oh, I guess I did it right.” And from then on, we just had… You would get like your client bucket kind of. So like some of us were responsible… For me I’ll say what I was responsible for, I had a lot of the direct response clients. We represented Wolfgang Puck like his pressure oven, just a bunch of like very unconventional stuff like PedEgg and like those by now type of pants.
And so that was like my wheel house along with different like innovative fashion brands that were closely related. They weren’t related because they were like the same type of product, but they were innovative, quirky products that you really had to work hard to sell to the media. And so they bucketed us into like those groups and we would literally spend time brainstorming the different audiences that we could pitch or get these products into. And that was interesting because I had a lot of PR internships before I got into that space, but it wasn’t until you have that pressure of being like you have to get this client payments because they’re paying way too much for you not to. And you also don’t want to be fired. You start getting really creative about the types of audiences that you can imagine for the type of products.
And so, like most people might not, if you have a shoe, a comfortable shoe for walking throughout New York, but doesn’t look like a sneaker. Most people might not think to pitch it to a travel agency, or they might not think to pitch it to mommy blogs were really popular at the time. So we might have an angle about you come from work and you need to take your kid directly to the playground, you can stuff this in your purse and have it on the go. That’s a really like basic level example, but it was just there. We really focused a lot on helping our brands reach new audiences.
So in both of those jobs that was very interesting. And then I’ll just make one more point about how that also transferred into the digital marketing space at 2U, I was representing brands like American, UC Berkeley, a bunch of big brands who needed to up their admissions. And so they would have programs like Syracuse Masters of Business program and of course you don’t just want to target business blogs, so we would maybe we had a blog post about marijuana legalization that’s a big one that I worked on. And the tax implications for each state or for a particular state should recreational marijuana be legalized. And so you don’t just want to go for, I learned that you don’t just want to go for the business publications.
But you also want to go for publications that are like closely related to this topic or people who might be interested in the medical side of it or different, I don’t know, marijuana daily sort of publications, or talk about it from a I’m a mom. And here’s how moms are usually criticized for delving into this very like traditionally sketchy space. And so there were just so many… I just learned how to see beyond what was being sold and figure out how to get that type of content. And sell these concepts to different types of people who may not have even been thinking they needed such a product or such information.
Kira: You talk more about that, especially in relation to copywriting and how copywriters could use some of these same processes, like almost the creative process that you went through to see beyond what the product could do and to see it in new ways and then pitch it to new audiences. Was there a creative process that you worked through every time you did that? Or just a couple of lessons that we could take away as copywriters and use with our own clients in our own office?
Mariah: Yeah. So I would… Something that I did often was research what was already out there about the topic. Research online, via Google, what people were already talking about and Advanced Google Search was really helpful too, because let’s say we were talking about a new dog whistle or something like that. That’s usually like the easiest example for explaining stuff so I say, we’re talking about a new dog whistle. I would go on Google and do an Advanced Search and do, I think this is important to remember too, like when you’re thinking of your creative process before you even get to that part, try and see what geographical areas are already very familiar with whatever topic you’re talking about or are big fans of whatever niche you’re in or whatever you’re talking about. So like for example a lot of people like dogs, but like what sort of area usually has… You could think what sort of area usually needs to walk their dog, has the most trouble doing so, why they have that trouble and why this dog whistle that coms dogs based off of science-proven sound waves will help them.
And so if you think that way you can start doing Google searches, so it can be like dog whistle, you can do all in text, you know dog whistles, or ask questions back to Google, how do dog whistles work? Then you can go to the news tab and you can see all the different articles that were ever written about dog whistles. You can just do a regular Google Search about dog whistles and then you can also do Advance Google Searches, and then you might come upon something like, Oh my God, people, there’s always something about dog whistles or a dog supplies and products in the New York city region.
Well, okay, cool. Apparently that this is a hot topic, unconventional dog items and New York city. And then you get curious about, well, how come? And then you might start to find out, I think you should use logic in New York is a highly populated place, there’s a lot of concrete and dogs like to poop. So usually people in New York needs solutions for doing things with their dogs that don’t violate dog owner rules. And so then you can start to do even more Google searches about different blog posts and stuff that you’ll find about dog owners in the New York region, and just go into a rabbit hole just like we do on social media when we find something that we like, and we go into a rabbit hole about it.
The creative process for that type of thinking requires you to dedicate yourself to a rabbit hole and just to go down as many different types of rabbit holes as you possibly can. And when you find that thing that piques your interest and holds your attention to that you think is really cool that maybe a specific angle that a certain writer or reporter has taken, or maybe you’ve gone down a rabbit hole and you’ve ended up on a Twitter account for dog lovers and people, somebody, and the audience on that Twitter account has gotten into a really interesting conversation about something you didn’t even think about. So nowadays people might be in conversations about, Oh, my God, my dog is always barking during my Zoom meetings and it’s so effing annoying.
So if you’re someone who is selling a dog whistle that coms dogs you’re like, “Okay, cool. Well maybe I can pitch this dog, if you are COVID happened more of us are working from home, we have a dog whistle that coms dogs based off of science-backed sound waves. Let me find out the type of publications that this audience gravitates towards, let me search on Twitter and find out if there are any people, anybody who has a pet beat or work from home beat or something like that.” And now you have this whole angle that you can just start writing pitches for to convince people to write about it. But if we’re talking from a copy perspective, now you have this angle that you can take and use it as the angle that you’re going to sell to a specific audience.
Rob: Awesome. So I want to change the subject just a little bit and ask you about fundraising. We talked to copywriters every once in a while, who want to write in the fundraising space. Oftentimes they’re worried that there’s not enough money in it, or they don’t know exactly the differences between copy for fundraising versus other kinds of response-oriented copy. Will you talk a little bit about your experience there? What is it that makes you so effective as a fundraiser?
Mariah: Writing for fundraising it’s really important to not to assume that people know what you do, why you do it and why they should help. A lot of times we can look at people and we, as the copywriter can say, “Oh, my God, this audience is perfect because X, Y, Z.” And like in our heads, we have all of these… We put all of these expectations on to this audience who has no clue who we are, about what they should believe and what they should think and what they’re capable of, but they don’t know that they’re capable of it yet. And so when writing for fundraising, it’s really good just like when you’re writing for sales copy to present the problem, because most people are caught up in their daily lives and they might not know that there is a water problem in Bangladesh or a food justice problem in Chicago.
So present the problem when it comes to fundraising, it’s really important to educate people really quickly before you ask them for anything. So, hey, let people know that there’s a problem connected to somehow to what they already do, what they are already aware of, and then educate them on why there’s a problem, why the problem should matter to them. Like you have to connect it to, hey, yeah, this is a problem we’re not just asking you to help because we want money. We’re asking you to help because if you don’t, your life will be effected in some sort of way that you don’t want. And that can take some time to find out what your audience doesn’t want to happen in their lives, but with research and by being a good listener and asking the right questions you can find out and then once you present the problem, educate your audience you can then spiral into what your company organization does, and be very specific towards the end on how they can help.
And not just that, but just like if you’re writing a sales page after you show them how they can help, make sure you’re letting them know exactly what their money will do after they donate. That’s the really important part that a lot of people forget is not just saying, hey, there’s a problem. This is the problem, this is how it’ll affect you give, but once you give these are all the things that you were making possible. And once you let them know all the things that they are making possible with their gift or with their donation, and hopefully have some proof of what your organization has done in that sector before then always end the fundraising ask with that clear call to action, donate now, chip in or anything like that.
Kira: This is kind of in the weeds but if a copywriter wants to focus on the fundraising space what would you recommend? How should they approach client work? Do you think it’s better to work with one or two clients on retainer in that space, or to create like one-off packages and kind of shop them around to a bunch of different organizations and non-profits? What’s the best approach in that space to getting client work?
Mariah: Yeah, so for the fundraising space I would say that it’s better to work on retainer because fundraising is much… So when it comes to sales versus marketing I always like to think of marketing in groups and then like sales is a one-on-one experience. And so when it comes to fundraising, if we’re talking about getting your clientele, your clientele is really thinking about how you can help them get a group of people and keep growing that group of people to join in with their mission, to believe in their mission and to donate. And any client, honestly that’s worth working with understands that you can’t do that overnight. And so in order to position yourself as a qualified copywriter and fundraiser the fastest way to do that is to say, “Hey, I want to work on retainer… I offer packages on retainer or let’s talk about how we can work my services into the process that you’ve already got going on or your end.”
Because you have to think that you need time to learn their audience. You need time to learn what that client is already doing well and what they’re not doing well. You need time to learn the chinks in their strategy’s armor. And if you try to hop in without having that retainer type relationship, where you’ve already worked in, like where you guys have already talked about the fact that this is going to take time to build momentum, if you don’t do that, then you’re promising them something that could quickly disappoint them and disappoint yourself because you haven’t been realistic about the type of effort that it takes to build a raving audience who’s going to give you money for something that is not tangible. Did that help?
Rob: Yeah, it definitely helps. So when you have had that kind of a relationship, what has your retainer look like? What are the deliverables and can I even ask, how much did you charge for what you were providing?
Mariah: Yeah, so for me, it really depends on the agency. I have a soft spot for helping up and coming agencies who really don’t have the money to pay the 15K or the 5k a month. 5k is what I’ll usually charge a medium-sized agency for my services, but for a small business or like a small organization who really doesn’t have the money I really asked them like, “Okay, well, so what type of funding do you already have?” A lot of times small agencies get funding from different sources, maybe the state, or like a private major gift giver. So I ask them to be transparent about what they currently have going on, and we work out a rate that makes sense for them to keep running their regular operations, but also for me to work with them and give them the type of effort and attention that it requires.
So it’s a multifaceted thing, because as someone who’s running your own business, you really have to think, yes, I want the… If you’re thinking from working with of newly formed organization that has funding, but they’re not necessarily like a billion dollar organization, you really have to think first about yourself. And I say that because it’s yes, you want to be able to help this organization get where they want to be. But if you’re putting so much time into that project or like that client that you don’t have room to grow your business, because you’re not charging them enough to sustain yourself, then you’ve just worked your way into a hole where you’re going to give up anyway, because you’re going to get hungry and need to pay your bills.
So it’s really important just to find out what I like to do is I’ll see they’ll let me know their budget and I’ll try to work out something where they kind of like you guys have a guy on the podcast not too long ago, who was saying that clients will pay like the first month and then like half of the last month upfront. And so, I will do that depending on the rate, the rate really varies and we’ll just go based off of that. But I can say that for like medium to major agencies right now, I’m charging about 5K a month for consulting, for getting their strategy and development plan into place. And also for helping them pull together the different key players that they need in order to bring their content and copy and also execution together.
So the process usually starts with an intake, then we develop a plan and then we get to the actual execution of the plan, which is usually a repetitive cycle because when it comes to fundraising or any sort of digital strategy there’s always some sort of campaign involved. There’s always some sort of special, unique initiative that’s unique to the agency. So, if this could be helpful to somebody who’s doing it for the first time, if you think of writing out your client’s plan in the form of campaigns as opposed to an ongoing strategy, it’s really helpful. Because you can even break it down like this, the first month that you guys work together, the campaign is creating awareness.
The second month we work together, the campaign is keeping that awareness going and educating the audience. And then you can think of it the third campaign might actually be a campaign in the traditional sense where they’re fundraising for a specific thing. So sometimes it’s easier to think about digital marketing strategy and development in the form of like segmented campaigns in order to help you track how many hours you’re spending on a particular initiative. And that can help you eventually figure out your pricing. But I will say that it’s kind of like when you’re on an airplane and they first take off and it takes a little bit of time for the plane to like correct itself. So you just have to be open to not getting your pricing right from the very beginning. And knowing when you have to tell the client, hey, this is going to require more and so the cost is going to change. If you have a good client that you’ve been transparent with from the very beginning they’ll understand, and you guys will be able to work something out. And I think that’s really important to remember in general.
Kira: So can we dive even deeper into that? So, you know, there are variables that you shared, but like let’s say roughly it’s 5k for that retainer client, what does that look like? I mean, you mentioned the campaigns and execution, but like what does that look like for you and the work that you’re doing each month on average, I’m sure it changes per client. But is that like a weekly call with the client? And then, you know, it’s about 10 hours a week of client work working on that campaign? Do you have a team helping you? What does that look like per client and how many clients do you ideally want to work with at a time?
Mariah: Yeah, so when it comes to fundraising and digital marketing strategy, I usually try to work with… I work with about seven clients right now. And that’s possible because they’re clients who have different needs and are at different levels. So for a client who doesn’t really have a big budget, but I identify with what their mission is. I’ll set up monthly calls with them or biweekly calls. And that’s because usually you’ll find that newer startup, not startups startup is the wrong word, I don’t want to be misleading, but newer organizations still have a lot to figure out for themselves. And so biweekly, and monthly calls allow you to pack information into a 60 minute call. I usually do 60 minute calls or 90 minutes depending on the client, but I will just say 60 minutes because that’s usually the most people can handle before they get overwhelmed.
If they’re a new organization, we’ll talk about different things pertaining to their strategy currently. And I’ll give suggestions on how they can pivot the different key performance indicators they need to keep track of, the different tools that we need. And I like to space it out biweekly and monthly because it allows them time to actually implement what we’ve talked about and to come back to me with results or questions as they’ve navigated this new space. As opposed to when I work with clients who are more established and have the bigger budgets they get what I’m talking about, they usually have people who can do it and a weekly call is great, because they’re moving more rapidly than the smaller organizations. And you also want to make sure you’re letting the client know that you’re not just paying me 5K so that I can kick my feet up and wait until you need me. You don’t want to be annoying, but you want to be in the client’s face.
So you want to let them know I’m here. You’re on my mind. Great way to provide value for clients in between those monthly, biweekly or weekly calls in a consultant role is to always stay abreast of whatever niche or industry you’re in, what’s going on, what competitors are doing, what new… How tools could help them. And some of them surprised emails like stuff they didn’t ask for. A lot of times when people are consultant, they’ll wait for the call and there’ll be like radio silence between the first call and the next one.
But what I like to do is if I find out something that could help them, or if I know of an event or a workshop or just a small insight that I believe will be helpful to them, I’ll send them a quick email and let them know just so that they know I’m not just thinking about them 30 minutes before I hop on the call. I’m thinking about them all the time. And it also helps me to stay abreast of how my client is feeling and also if the going gets rough and they need to make budget cuts, we already have a more personable relationship than they probably do with a lot of the other vendors. So, just making sure you’re being a human being with your clients and staying in their face, so that you can make sure you’re always going to get over-delivering, give them more value than what they’re actually paying for, to be quite honest.
Rob: Let’s break in here to talk a bit more about a couple of things that Mariah’s been sharing. So obviously Mariah got her start working inside a couple of big organizations, and while our podcast is often focused on freelancers, I just want to note here that working in-house can be a great way to start a career, to learn the ropes, to get feedback on your work and to build a network of contacts that you can then use when you’re ready to launch your own career, your own business as a freelancer.
So just worth noting, Mariah is not alone here. We’ve actually interviewed a lot of people that have done this as well. It’s something that I did before I started my career, and it can be a really good path for starting out your freelance career. So what stood out to you, Kira?
Kira: Definitely the event space and how Mariah was really focused on starting this event company before COVID hit and how she had this great business plan and that was in the works and then all of a sudden she couldn’t do it. So I think it’s a note about the power of events, but also how quickly she was able to pivot too, which is quite amazing because she’s doing really well in her business. Clearly she has a lot of experience in the non-profit space with fundraising and agency work and PR. But I guess I’m just surprised and amazed that like she was able to jump in, in COVID times and launch her business and do so well so quickly. And I know other copywriters out there have done the same where they just had to figure it out so fast. And I’m just always impressed when copywriting businesses and these agencies take off once COVID hit.
Rob: Yeah and you’re speaking of events, obviously we’ve talked with a few people who have used events to grow their business. I mean, going the way back to our first interview with Brian Kurtz when he was talking about boardroom dinners and even for introverts like you and I, there’s something special still about getting together in small groups, you know, around a table, having food, or even just hanging out that really intensifies that connection, that one-on-one connection. And so while you may be thinking, I’m not going to put on my own events or big events or places where I get lost, there are ways to make events work for connecting for people. And one of the best ways is to actually start your own events, whether that’s a six person dinner or something even bigger like what we do at TCCIRL.
Kira: Yeah. And I know we were interested in doing more events before the pandemic hit and we wanted to travel, you and I wanted to travel all around the world and have smaller events for the members of our underground. Of course, it didn’t happen, but we’re excited to pick that up once we can travel again. And I know for me in D.C. I would love to start holding events, smaller events, maybe dinner parties who knows for different copywriters and marketers in D.C. Is just a way of getting to know people and potentially making some business connections too. I love using in-person events as a way to grow business, but also just to make friends and make more connections.
Rob: Yeah. Another thing that jumped out at me just was the help and the instruction that Mariah was giving, talking about how to write for non-profits. And, you know it really strikes me, this is we can use a lot of the principles of direct response to help our clients in the non-profit sector, but because there’s no real product here, you really have to think about the benefit that you’re selling to the person who’s making a donation or who’s giving their time or sacrificing something. You’ve got to connect that to a very deeply held belief or need or something, it’s less about a transformation, although maybe there’s a big transformation if you solve the problem that you’re working on, but being really cognizant of tying that benefit back to something that your client believes or feels, I think is an important part of writing in that space. So it’s just kind of an interesting note that I started to write down because I’d love to write for a nonprofit.
Kira: Me too, Rob. This is what we could do with our new agency. We could write in the non-profit space, I felt energized after speaking to Mariah about writing in the fundraising space and with non-profits. I’ve worked for a handful of non-profits and I think, although it was a good experience I also was turned off a little bit just because non-profits are hard and they don’t have a lot of resources frequently. And so it was really positive to hear from Mariah about her work and how we really can apply these skills that we have as more of a consultant and maybe not working in the non-profit, but serving them at a higher level with strategy. And so I love that we went deep with her on that work because I think it might motivate more copywriters to look at that space, especially ones who are wondering how they could have more impact and maybe feeling frustrated that they’re not doing more for the causes that they care about. This is a great way to step into that space.
And she’s getting paid well, she mentioned 5k per retainer or up typically I know she said sometimes she offers discounted rates or lower rates for newer organizations, but that’s a solid retainer pay for a lot of copywriters. And so I think there’s a lot of opportunity in the non-profit space and I’m glad the two of us are interested now we can do it.
Rob: Yeah. When you said that we should write for a non-profit in our agency, I was thinking that you were saying that our agency is going to not make profits. That’s not the same kind of non-profit I was thinking of.
Kira: Let’s make an agency that is a non-profit model. That’s a great idea.
Rob: It can be fun. So Mariah mentioned a guy when she was talking about retainers and collecting the first and the last months’ payments in a retainer. She mentioned a guy who talked about that on the podcast, I just should note that was Brian Speronello and that was episode 211, if anybody wants to go back and listen to that.
Kira: Yes. Okay. And I just loved hearing Mariah’s creative process. She’s clearly a creative and she is a researcher and curious, and she knows how to go down the rabbit hole. And so it was just fun to hear her talk through her thought process for how she comes up with new hooks, new ideas, how she thinks about new audiences for her brands and her products. And so it was just a really great reminder that even though sometimes we say the rabbit hole is a bad thing and you don’t want to go down the rabbit hole and there’s so many distractions, there’s actually a purpose. And sometimes it’s helpful to go down the rabbit hole when you’re thinking about new hooks and new offers and doing the research. And so listening to Mariah I was like, “Oh, this is a great excuse for me to go down the rabbit hole more frequently to get new creative ideas and solutions.”
Rob: Yeah. Listening to Mariah talk about that reminded me of what we were talking about last week with Marcus and the research that he does, the search for empathy, the search for the things that are going to connect you with the audience and how you convince them and it is definitely a rabbit hole worth going down.
Kira: Yeah. And she goes deep and that’s why she’s doing really well with her agency and thinking more strategically and not just thinking as a copywriter, she’s looking for new angles, new solutions. And so I think that’s what you need to do if you want to step into more of that consultant role.
Kira: All right. Well, let’s go back to our interview with Mariah and hear a bit about what she’s doing to rebrand her business today.
Rob: So before we started the call, Mariah, you were telling us a little bit about how you are going through a branding process and separating your personal brand from the business side of your business. Would you mind talking a little bit about that process? Like why are you doing that and what do you expect the outcome to be?
Mariah: Yeah. So the process has been interesting because it really came about because I started off only offering copywriting services once I found out that that you could get paid so much for doing copy. And I love writing, I’ve always loved writing. And so I started off with copywriting and then I realized that a lot of the clients that I was getting… Pivoting away from like fundraising, a lot of the for-profit clients that I was getting, they either needed copy, they want a new website or want a copy and had absolutely no marketing funnel or digital strategy to actually drive people to their website. So you have this beautiful, alluring copy and no one to read it or they wanted digital marketing help but like everything about their messaging was inconsistent, off and quite flat.
And I think it’s important and I’ll mention that the clients that I work with already have like a really cool idea going on, and they’ve been able to create a lot of traction and generate sales without a strategy. And so that’s how I identify whether or not I really want to work with a client is if they already have a hot idea that’s catching on to the market without a smart marketing strategy in place. Cause I said that because a lot of folks will be like, “Well, how can you write copy if you don’t have reviews or if they don’t have clients.” And that’s how I know that they do have reviews and clients because they’ve already caught on. So I was doing that as Mariah Phillips Copywriter, and a lot of clients would come to me specifically for copy and then they would be like, “Oh, do you also do digital marketing?” Or I would just discover on my own that they didn’t have a digital marketing plan.
And so as I began to release like small level or low-risk courses like my recent SEO Course for Beginners, as I began to provide more one-on-one brand voice and messaging calls for people, I realized at a certain point that if I were to continue to go as Mariah Phillips Copywriter who was also helping people with digital marketing and SEO, that that would be very confusing for people to understand exactly what I’m doing and why I’m here. Because someone who’s looking for a serious copywriter who can get conversions might not necessarily be looking for digital marketing. But I can definitely say that most people looking for digital marketing have no problem with having copywriting thrown into the mix.
And so I wanted to be able to serve both of those audiences without the confusion. And so my process has been kind of janky because of the way that I got into the business. But, through continuing to dig deeper into the clientele that I already have, this could be very helpful to people is not to focus always on finding new clients and getting new attention, but digging deeper into the people, the clients who already have and finding out what else they need. I was able to identify, okay, I have these clients they’re emerging and on the brink of wild success, I’ve written copy for them, they’re outsourcing a marketing team, or like a virtual assistant maybe overseas and things like that. But they keep coming back to me saying, “Hey, how do we get attention on social media? Releasing a new membership and I can’t get this campaign together. I’m not able to get email subscribers.”
And so I was like, I need to be able to have a place where I can have ongoing retainer clients who I’m providing all that digital marketing value to, in addition to copy support. And then Mariah Phillips Copywriter who is a brand and more of this will be unveiled as I continue to roll everything out. But who’s a brand, who’s known for copy, who’s known for SEO. Like I’ll have my pillars of what my specialties so that’s for like the general public that’s for everybody, if you ask who I am, this is what I do. But if you’re looking for services, E3 Digital Marketing is where you go to get these services. And so right now I’m talking with the clients all that I have to see exactly what they need, honing in on the type of digital marketing help and the delivery of that help that will be most helpful to them. A lot of them have very busy and unorganized schedules because they’re in business and don’t have a really big team.
So their biggest struggle is how do I run an effective digital marketing campaign, pull all the key players together and do all of this within my busy schedule. And so my digital marketing agency, E3 Digital specifically helps innovative brands and their education, employment and event hosting space who are ready for takeoff create lucrative digital marketing strategies that have a huge ROI and are conducive to their schedule. And so that’s what I’m doing right now is really just sorting out exactly the type of services that people need. And you’ll even see on my website like my beginner’s website that I have a wide range of things that I’m letting people know that I offer. Not because I want to offer a wide range of things forever, but because I want to see what people latch on to. And I think that’s really important to remember if you have something you’re branching off into two separate offerings like I’m doing with Mariah Phillips Copywriter and E3 Digital is to not be so anal about what you’re telling people you offer, because you really want to see what the market is asking for and what people are struggling with.
And so right now, it’s actually funny, you guys had a lady named Ashley Gartland on here like a lot of episodes back. So I’m actually working with her very soon to like define my packages for E3 Digital. And so right now, as I’m collecting like a lot of market research and finding out what clients and age old clients and new clients need, then I’m bringing all of that to my strategy call with Ashley to really package it up nice. And I think that it’s important to remember that as you’re growing and branching off into different things, that this is probably a point where you might want to start paying people for help.
You can go a lot when you first start… I gave myself a year to figure out my audience, make mistakes, look a little scrappy, not have the best website. And so now that I really understand my audience and I know what I want to offer and have thought about that from the very beginning, I now have a budget to say, “Okay, I need people to help me pull all of these things together by flexing their expertise to make that happen.” So I have a web developer, I’m working with Ashley, I have a graphic designer. And so you really have to just go from that scrappy freelancer mindset to a more authoritative mindset and letting people flourish in what they do best so that you can do what you do best.
Kira: So I would love advice, we have a lot of copywriters who are kind of strictly doing copywriting, and I think over time organically, a lot of copywriters do move into more digital marketing strategy and take that on and just learn it and understand it and can advise and become that consultant. But for copywriters who maybe are newer and it’s not happening naturally for them, what would you recommend they could start doing differently to embrace and wear that strategy hat and kind of show up as more of a consultant and do more than just copywriting and add more value in other areas. What are some initial steps that they could take to do that?
Mariah: Yeah, so I think it first starts internal. I know as a word nerd I like to think of things that are clever and I like in The Copywriter Club group we really get caught up into words and the fun that you can have with them. But it’s really important if you’re going to start wearing that new hat of strategy and consulting and breaking out into new markets to really realize that when you’re trying to reach more people, you have to keep the word nerd stuff in the community. And when you’re going out into the world to attract everyday people and to attract clientele, to really be people-oriented. And find out how average everyday people are talking and how they like to be approached.
I know that in a lot of many creative and anyone who is interested in writing as much as we do, we’re very different than a lot of people. We have like very quirky interests and like do a lot of things that most people might consider boring we find it really fun. And so just immersing yourself in like the rawness of the world and how people act and operate and behave and talk you can really start to have more of a leadership mindset of like, okay, this is how this bucket of people operates and talks. This is how this bucket of people operates and talks. Based off of what I’m seeing what do I need in order to reach all of these different types of people or what do I need to pull together?
Be a good listener and listen to what people want and need. People will usually tell you what they want and it doesn’t always line up with what they need. And so my method is usually to have, if I find that someone is continuing to engage with me on social media or continuing to ask me about my services, or just always likes my stuff online, then I will dig deeper into what they do. And I start to engage with them back in a very organic and natural way. And again, this is a scrappy way to do it for people who don’t have a big budget to get all these marketing offers in order, this is a great way that you can do it for free. Start to engage with them back, have conversations where you’re asking like third person questions about them, third person questions about their audience.
So for example, if I’m working with somebody who is in the education space, let’s say that they work in the educational space and help children fix their diet. You don’t want to eat chips and cookies all day you want to eat fruits and vegetables. I’ll say, well, what do you most like… Just like we can do on a podcast or something we can say, what do most parents get wrong about feeding their children? Or like what do most agencies who try to help families or children eat right, what do they get wrong about delivering that information to their audience?
And most people will be more than willing to tell you how much other people get wrong, more than willing to tell you about what other people need to do, or their beliefs about other people. And usually it can give you insight to beliefs about how they feel about themselves or what they are doing for themselves or not doing for themselves. And so you can take that information and run with it and take that information and use it as a tool to learn more about them, to dig more into the type of issues or problems they’re dealing with, document, document, document as you have these conversations and as you find out more about what your audience is dealing with to keep track of the different things that people continue to unveil to you. So that you can kind of put together the pieces of the puzzle.
Okay. People keep saying this thing and people keep saying they’re struggling with that thing. And people keep running into this problem. And so you take the things, the consistent issues and consistent beliefs that people keep revealing to you and then you find through your own unique way, you figure out how you can add your spin on their solution and get it to them. Usually I’ll say that as consultants, copywriters, digital marketers, the solution is usually the same in the end. But the way you go about telling people you can get them to the solution is how you differentiate yourself and how you can start to position yourself as an expert.
So for example, I have a lot of clients in the education space. I grew up in Baltimore, probably one of few African-American Baltimoreans who went to public school, was homeschooled and went to a private school in the city of Baltimore. And so that’s how I have conversations with people to differentiate myself. Oh, you’re in the education space. Not only do I have digital marketing copywriting expertise, I grew up as a child who had three different types of education in an underserved city. So it’s that type of thinking that you can use your authentic story to start positioning yourself as an expert to your audience.
Rob: Yeah. I really liked the idea of you pulling that authenticity into the way that we talk with our audiences. So Mariah, as I listened to you talk about your career and how you’ve… It sounds like you’ve kind of naturally gone from one thing to the other, and you’ve added these skills that have made you a more powerful strategist, but I wonder what are the things that you struggle with? What has gone wrong?
Mariah: Oh yeah, a lot. So one thing that I continue to well, no longer struggle with because I’ve hired somebody is website development and design. That is just not my forte. And so throughout the process of growing into being a business owner I’ve learned to quickly identify when something is not my lane, not my forte, not for me and find out pricing or like find out groups and organizations that help with that sort of thing and make a plan for investing or a plan for learning more about how I can get help with that. Website design and website development is something that I got wrong a lot of times because when you’re new and when you don’t have the biggest budget, you just do what you can do for as long as you can do it.
I also struggled before with pricing. I know a lot of people struggle with this too, when you first get into… When you are breaking into something new and you’re like, okay, I’m onto something here, people like my services, or maybe I don’t know if they like my services. In my situation I knew that people already liked my writing because I had been in that arena. But some people, this might be your very first time going out into the world and offering your services. And so you’re wondering about like how to price yourself. And so that was something that I struggled with because I had an employee mindset, I didn’t have a business owner’s mindset. So I was thinking, all right, cool. I was making this amount of money while I was an employee so it’s totally cool to match that as a business and that’s not the case. So there are taxes and different taxes for businesses versus employees.
So I would say in order to get correct on that you can ask somebody. I’ve found out that a lot of people are just afraid to ask people what they charge. And so I started to ask like different copywriters. I was like, “Oh, okay. So what do you charge when you have if you’re doing a sales page?” And I found out that people are like, okay, well, since when I first started, I was charging 750, and then clients were coming back to me and telling me they had like these crazy conversions. And so then I decided, okay, well, if they’re having this crazy conversions then I have proof that they have these crazy conversions and are making a lot of money off my work, then I doubled my price because now I had proof. And I knew that I could almost guarantee, never 100% guarantee, I don’t want to get into legal trouble. But you can almost guarantee that you’re going to get them results because your process works.
And so by asking questions and getting those types of answers from other copywriters I was able to get more exact on my pricing, but what somebody’s pricing is not always going to work for your audience. So I know that for my audience, a lot of people have the money to spend. They want the benefit, but a lot of everyday people can still, because I know a lot of us are working with up and coming companies and brands too, they still have this misconception that words are words. And why am I paying you anywhere near four figures for you to write something on paper. And so really get to know those people and say, okay, well, how valuable is your company to you? What would you be willing pay for somebody to help you get your website copy of words together? They’ll usually quote you a price. It’ll usually be way too low.
And then that’s when you go into explaining your process of how you come to get them the words that they want and let them know be transparent, it takes this amount of hours, show them examples of… Usually if you’re doing an intake you’ll want your clients or potential clients to give you examples of companies or brands that they admire, or that are fans of, or like websites that they really like. And then you break down to them, hey, this is how they got to this point. This is the amount of work their copywriter put in to get to that point. Okay, now let’s talk about what I can do for you, the pricing that I’m willing to do. And then you guys can naturally have a conversation and get to a happy medium about what you’re willing to take and what they’re able to give.
People will find the money for what they want and usually people do have more money to invest than they’re going to reveal because it’s scary to let folks know I have the 3K to pay you because people can be taken advantage of. So I think that when I’m pulling your pricing together, it’s really good to start recording the amount that your audience is telling you that they’re willing to invest, start recording the objections as to why they don’t think they should pay any more than that. And start keeping track of the type of questions or conversations that you’re going through to really talk people up to a price that makes sense for you and that makes sense for them.
Once you get a consistent price, now you have that information from all of those conversations where you one-on-one address a client’s objections, and now you have that consistent price that you’ve been offering a client or a few clients for a while. And so now you can confidently take that into the market and address those same objections and use those same selling points in your public copy and then your public conversations. And you can be more transparent about your price point upfront and then you can feel confident that you are selling people something, you’re quoting people a price that you know they can meet if they really need your services. And you’ve gotten over the fear of being like but I don’t know anything about this person, am I embarrassing myself by asking for this much? So, yeah. It’s not really a one size fits all, but that’s the process that I have found helpful to go through when deciding my pricing.
Kira: All right, Mariah, we’ve covered a lot. I know there’s just so much more we could continue to cover, but we’re at the end of our hour together. So can you just let us know what is coming up next for you beyond the website where you shared and kind of splitting apart your brand and your agency? Is there anything else coming up next and also where can our listeners find you?
Mariah: Yeah, so up next I am doing a lot more collaborative workshops. So my goal is to provide more trainings, in-depth trainings for new companies who might have pieced together marketing teams or new marketing teams or teams where people are wearing different hats. And so the receptionist might also help with marketing, pulling together packages to help people get basic level marketing plans into place, and really delivering that to companies on a one-on-one, very customized workshop basis. People can find me online everywhere is Mariah Phillips Copywriter. I’m huge on Instagram though, Instagram is mariahphillipscopywriter. My website is www.mariahphillipscopy.com. I don’t really use Twitter even though I should.
So you can find me on those places and soon I will be launching a YouTube channel talking about SEO and introducing… I’ve come up with a plan to introduce the concept of search engine optimization to more everyday business owners so that they can start benefiting from advanced level marketing strategies that usually keep them out of the game. Because they don’t know, and that big companies are using to steal their sales on a regular basis. So the workshops, the YouTube channel and E3 Digital are what’s coming up next for me.
Rob: Awesome. Cannot wait to check out the videos that you post on YouTube. That sounds interesting.
Mariah: I hope they are. I’m trying to make them so it’ll be fun I’m excited, thank you.
Kira: That’s it for interview with Mariah, but before we go, let’s recap a couple more things that she mentioned. So what stood out to me is how she’s separating her brand from the agency she’s building to avoid confusion and to be able to grow both of them separately. So, Rob, do you have any strong opinions on when it’s good to think about separating your brand from your agency or your other business?
Rob: Yeah, I think it’s a good idea sometimes to separate. It really depends on what you want to do in your business. So most people are going to search, if they’re looking for me, they’re going to search for my name. They may be search for Rob Marsh Copywriter, or they might search for a niche that I write in SaaS something like that. And so having something built around your name I think is an important part of branding yourself, but there’s this other side too, where you may want to build a business that you can sell, or that isn’t necessarily tied to your name, but can grow independently of what you do, who you are.
And so in those cases, it makes sense to create a second brand and to go all in on creating resources for a website on a domain and everything that’s tied to a brand name that’s not necessarily your personal name. So there’s two different ways to think about things. There are obviously pros and cons to both, and clearly Mariah knows what she wants to do in her business and has found a reason to separate the two and it’s working for her.
Kira: Yeah. I would love to have Kira Hug as my brand and then that’s where I will post and share all the books that I’m going to write in 2021 and my speaking gigs. And then have the Copywriter Club separately and then you have potentially like a future agency that’s separate. And so I think it’s just kind of fun to think about, even though we can’t launch all these things and do all these things at once. But it helps to think about all the separate business entities and how they really are different and they have different purposes and different audiences. And we don’t have to try to clump it all together in one website, which is what a lot of us do and then we have confusing messaging on our own websites. So Mariah is a great example of separating it for clear communication to avoid confusion and to make sure that each site is working. What else stood out to you, Rob?
Rob: So the one other thing that really jumped out at me as she was talking about what she’s doing with her brand and her business moving forward, as she mentioned that she’s found the lane, she’s found the lane in her business. And I really like thinking of my business like that. Like there’s this thing that I am best at and I can go a few meters to the left a few meters to the right and I’m okay. But if you get too far from those things that you’re best at you don’t connect with the right customers, you don’t connect with the kinds of projects that you want. And so just that idea of figuring out what the thing is that you do, finding your lane and sticking to it was just another idea that just kind of stuck out to me. Maybe she didn’t necessarily mean that as a really big point that she was making, but again, something that kind of jumped out.
Kira: Well, and she also said that she gave herself a year to figure out her audience and probably to figure out that lane too. And so I think that’s just a really helpful reminder that we should give ourselves some space to figure these things out. And even though in courses and programs you may join it’s all about like figuring out your niche early on. I mean, we talk about that in the Accelerator, but sometimes it takes a period of experimentation and exploration to really figure it out and nail it. And it’s okay to give yourself that space like she did, to figure it out. And you mentioned finding your lane, but that’s really like you and I say figuring out your X factor. And it’s hard to stay in your lane if you’re not clear about what lane you should be in. So I think it’s just a reminder of the importance of figuring out what makes you different, what your X factor is, what you bring to the table. So then you can really stay focused and avoid all those shiny objects in the future.
Rob: Yeah. And having that time, that year to figure things out you can try out a couple of different lanes. You know if you don’t like the fast lane, change lanes and do something a little bit different, or you can even get off of the highway and drive on a different road to take this metaphor way too far. So that first year, or the very least the very the first three to six months is all about experimenting, figuring out what works, figuring out how to sell the thing that you’re creating so that you can turn it into a business long-term.
Kira: That is such a great metaphor though, I have all the visuals in my head. I mean, you’re right, like we don’t necessarily have to stay in the same lane forever. And there are times where we want to get off and like go down in the country and have a very scenic route and maybe slow down. And there are times to be on the freeway and to honk at other cars and get more aggressive. So it just depends on what stage of business you’re in but yeah I really liked that.
Rob: Anything else stand out to you as we wrap this up?
Kira: I mean the last point that we’ve kind of talked about already is just how good Mariah has been at paying attention to her audience and to asking questions and to finding out the language that they’re using and the struggles they’re talking about and how she has stepped away from just talking about the words like so many of us copywriters like to focus on. You know we say we’re a wordsmith, we love to play with the words. We’re great with words, but she’s moved into this other phase where she’s talking about the real struggles and speaking the language of her clients, so that they feel like she’s the best person to help them.
And so a lot of it is just around asking questions and paying attention to what your audience is saying, which is so obvious. But oftentimes we forget that and I know that’s how you and I created our Accelerator program back in 2017. It was purely like looking at what copywriters were asking for in our Facebook group. And we can all do that and as things change in any industry, it’s important to continue to observe and be a student and ask questions and be open to the changes that take place in the space, because it will evolve. It doesn’t matter if you’re offering products or services. It’s so important to stay clear about what your audience is talking about.
Rob: Yeah. I think that’s an important point to make. When we work with copywriters, we see copywriters who are calling themselves wordsmiths or talking about how they play with words, the focus is on that. But they tend to be newer in the business and not as experienced and as copywriters gain experience, they tend to get a little bit more strategic about the way they talk about what they do. It’s less about finding the right words and it’s more about solving the problem. It’s about creating a particular value or helping their clients reach a particular goal or transformation or something like that. And maybe it’s just one of those signs where you can tell that somebody’s been around a little bit longer when they start to focus like that and Mariah’s figured that out. So thanks to Mariah for joining us to talk about her business, working with non-profits, retainers, branding, and so much more. You can check her out at mariahphillipscopy.com and while you are there ask about a workshop or how she’s introducing SEO to more business owners.
Kira: That’s the end of this episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. Our intro music was composed by copywriter and songwriter, Addison Rice. The outro is composed by copywriter and songwriter, David Muntner. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve heard, please visit Apple Podcasts to leave a review of the show. Thanks for listening, we’ll see you next week.