Mike Garner is our guest on the 327th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. Mike is a message consultant who focuses on story-based emails that build connections and convert for small businesses. If you’ve ever struggled to share your story in a way that’s true to you, this episode will give you the inspiration to make it happen.
Here’s what we chat about:
- How Mike went from translator to copywriter and how he uses his past experience today.
- The art of copywriting vs the art of other forms of writing – how’s it different?
- How you can use your title or label to your advantage.
- Why Mike decided to “sit down and do stuff” aka give copywriting a fair go.
- How digging out the trash, shame, and insecurities will make you a better writer and business owner.
- Developing your rags-to-riches story.
- What’s the point of writing for ourselves?
- Is anyone actually paying attention? Is that a good thing?
- Why you need to get over yourself…
- Mike’s personal memoir book writing process.
- When it might be a good idea to get back to the foundations of your business.
- Are you neglecting your own business, dreams, story?
- How The Copywriter Accelerator and Think Tank have given Mike much needed validation and how they’ve helped grow his business.
- Everyone’s in a rush… baby steps are great.
Tune into the episode below.
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The Copywriter Underground
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Rob Marsh: Great writers of all kinds have at least one thing in common. They tell stories in copy, in content, in books, in poetry, sometimes even on packaging and postcards. There’s something magical about the way that stories hold our attention, and our guest for this episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast is copywriter Mike Garner, who just finished an entire book about stories, a book that includes many of his own. While we were talking with Mike, we took the opportunity to also ask him about his experience with the Copywriter Accelerator program, what he learned from it, and how it’s informed what he’s doing in this business today. There’s a lot of good advice that you might be able to apply in your own business.
Kira Hug: Rob, you are really good at writing introductions. I just have to note that right here, that was well written, well done.
Rob Marsh: I don’t know. I don’t know about that.
Kira Hug: I cannot write an introduction for the life of me, so I’m impressed. Before we jump into the conversation, this episode is sponsored by the Copywriter Accelerator, which Rob just mentioned. It is our five-month mastermind/coaching program for copywriters who want to build a profitable, sustainable copywriting business and make 10K a month in their business consistently. If you have interest or want to learn more about the Copywriter Accelerator, especially as we talk about it today with Mike. Go to the copywriteraccelerator.com to learn more about it. Doors do close, so fair warning, doors close to the program today at midnight when this episode goes live. If you’re on the fence, definitely move fast.
Rob Marsh: Yes.
Kira Hug: Okay, well let’s jump into the interview with Mike.
Mike Garner: Where do I start? Well, I’ve been a freelancer for 25 odd years. I was living in France. I lived in France for 20 years. I was in about, it’s about 10 years into my time in France perhaps, and I got to the end of the road in terms of employment. I’ve been a travel agent, but I lost that particular job. I trained to be a teacher, an English teacher in France. It’s a competitive exam, so if they want to take 2000 candidates for example, sorry, and you come 2001st, well that’s just tough on you in the hierarchy if you like, and I missed it by 0.4%. Which was very galling at the time, but now I thank my lucky stars because me and the French education system wouldn’t have got along.
But I got to the stage where I thought, “Well what can I do? I know I can speak English, I can speak French. Let’s be a translator.” This is the end of 1996 and you don’t know what you don’t know. The first translation I took was my one and only ever medical translation. This is in the days before AltaVista and even before Google, I just had a French English dictionary, like 20 years I had at school, and I did this translation with this thing. God knows how I got paid for it in the end, but I did.
Anyway, to cut a very long story short, I built this thing up, starting by being amazed that people gave me work and then paid me for it, but you work things through. Then I got bored by being a, I got bored with translation because I got bored with translating other people’s bad French, because I heard some horrendous things and sorry engineers, but engineers battle in any language, so I just morphed into a copywriter because that was more interesting.
I was an okay copywriter, but I’d say I was paying the bills but not much more. I wasn’t setting the wall of the light in anything, but I was happy doing what I was doing. I feel we’re jumping into the next stage of the question you haven’t asked me yet, but it’s developed from there into more of a writer. 2020 came along and there were a number of life-changing events. I worked with Margo Aaron on my writing voice. I did the old MBA and then I fell into The Accelerator, and that is the end of the beginning as it were.
Rob Marsh: That’s quite the path. I’m curious, Mike, if anybody who’s listening is going to be thinking, “Well he doesn’t sound very French.” What took you to France in the first place? Why leave England and even head overseas?
Mike Garner: I did a summer job between the second and third year university at the British rail office in Paris selling tickets, really, and that’s how I learned and that’s how I really learned, because I thought I spoke French. I did really good, but when I went there, but that’s when I really learned to speak French because I was told to answer the phone, and that’s when you noticed the difference between what the language you learn at school and the language that’s spoken by other people. Without going into all the details, I basically stayed.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, that was my next question, so a summer job that’s one thing. I went to France when I was younger, backpack around a little bit, but I didn’t stay. What was the hook that made you stick around?
Mike Garner: Oh dear. Well, I went back and did my third year, then I went back to France because I had a job and a girlfriend, so the rest is history.
Kira Hug: That’s it. The girlfriend. Yep. Okay.
Mike Garner: It’s always a pull.
Kira Hug: Yes. I will want to hear more about your translation experience because that is definitely not my background. I’m interested in what lessons you pulled from that skillset or that experience or those jobs that you apply in your writing today.
Mike Garner: I think that is actually, there’s a couple of periods. That’s actually where, in all seriousness, that’s where I learned to write properly I think, because obviously, I was at school, I didn’t learn writing per se. I did a history degree and I wrote fairly academically. Then for all the time art was, I didn’t do as much as I wanted to, I was desperate to be a writer, but I just couldn’t get going. I couldn’t find the inspiration. It was really hard, and it was almost when I first started translating that I was writing by proxy. I was writing through other people’s words, they were boring technical documents most of the time, but it was still writing. It’s probably just as well that I’ve lost the floppy discs now that my original translations were on, because I know now they were pretty horrendous.
And it was maybe just me, and because I was living in France, I was writing English tainted by French a little bit. There were one or two expressions that you think you should be able to say in English but you don’t. It was only when I moved back here into UK in 2003 and surrounded by the actual language that real people speak that I really became good and could write in a proper way, to write like the rest of us do almost. From that point of view, I think the one thing about speaking a foreign language is that it gets you to focus particularly on your mother tongue for a better word. You do think more about it and I think you pay more attention to it. It’s difficult for me to say because I haven’t seen it from the other point of view.
I was not one of these people that was writing as a kid and writing stories when I was 10 or something like that because a lot of copywriters did. I came to writing very, very late. I used to read a lot, but I always thought that writing was something that other people did, and it’s only really in the last couple of years that I’ve come to describe myself as a writer rather than just a copywriter. A copywriter is a different form of writer, just like a novel writer is. Just like a ballroom dancer and a ballet dancer are two different types of dancer. We’re a subset of the writers because we tend to think that writers, well they write novels, don’t they? But I consider what I do as an art even if I’m writing emails.
Rob Marsh: That I think that’s common with a lot of copywriters. Mike, you used the word you said you morphed into being a copywriter.
Mike Garner: Yes.
Rob Marsh: How does that happen? How do you go from what you were doing? Take us through the steps.
Mike Garner: Yeah, it basically means I did copywriting while I was doing translation.
Rob Marsh: And so what did you do to make that happen? Because obviously they’re different and it’s a different client, it’s a different process. How did you make that switch?
Mike Garner: Well the translation was all agencies, actually and the majority of them were in France and Bell, so I had different relationships with them and I really was an order taker with them. This week I’ve had, because I’ve been working with another one of my old translation clients just because I’ve had to go back a little bit. I had that kind of lesson this week because basically the agencies will call you on a Tuesday evening and say, “Can you do this for tomorrow morning?” And expect you to do it as well and be surprised when you say, “No, I’ve got an evening.”
Yeah, it’s a different type of client with copywriting and I’ve got most of the early copywriting stuff from face-to-face networking, so it was a very gradual process. For a long time I was doing more translation than I was actual copywriting. I must have done a fair amount of learning and I must have, I can’t remember the exact point where I started to really call myself a copywriter rather than a translator. There was a period where I said I did both of them. The trouble is you stand up in a networking meeting and you say, “I’m a copywriter and a translator.” And people only hear the last thing and small businesses in Southwest England, the last thing they want is a translator, so that didn’t work very well. It worked once I started identifying as a writer, as a copywriter, as a marketer in a bigger sense. The lesson there is that the message that you sent is really important.
Kira Hug: Yeah, I think that’s a really important lesson. Even when you introduce yourself as two identities. I can do this and I can do this, and you think you’re giving people more options, but they’re actually even more confused.
Mike Garner: I’ve heard some 42nd pitches where people have said they do four or five different things, and you wonder why they’re getting their business.
Kira Hug: I want to go back, and I don’t think I’m asking the same question as Rob, but it’s connected to it. You mentioned you had this hunger to be a writer, but you thought it was something other people did and then there was a moment, I think we’re almost talking around the moment where you leaned into it and said, maybe you didn’t say I’m a writer now or a copywriter, but you said, “I want that. I’m going to go get that.” And I know The Accelerator played a role in it and we’ll get to that, but I’m wondering how did you go from having that hunger and thinking other people did it to saying, “I’m going to do it.” What was that moment?
Mike Garner: Well, this is the central part of it actually because for years and years and years, particularly writing for me, you write your own website, you write your own promotion material was torture. I used to sit down in front of that blank page and nothing would come out. Anyway, then the whole 2020 happened at the beginning of January before the whole thing really kicked off. We put my mother in a home because she had Alzheimer’s and she couldn’t survive at home anymore, so that was quite an emotional big thing. A week later my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s fine now, but it all happened. 2020 started with a bang. Then obviously COVID and lockdowns happened in March.
We saw my mother in the home in February, and she was happy enough. You couldn’t understand a word she said because she’d lost all her speech, but she was fine. She didn’t make it past six months in the home because she had a big fall and she had a bleed on the brain and she came out, and basically she died on the 21st of June, which was the day after my wife’s 60th birthday. You’re sure she was hanging on, actually, because we had to call at six o’clock the next morning. The story gets better because it was then that I had this realization. I thought, “Oh my God, I’m on the wrong side of 60. My mother was 26 when I was born, so that’s my yardstick of what’s going to happen in the future. Now’s the time basically to get over all these insecurities that I used to have and basically just sit down and do stuff.”
I went on Margo Aaron’s program voice lessons and I went into that, and I’d known of Margo before then, but anyway, and I went into that saying, I’m thinking, “I’m going to be open with you, I’m going to be vulnerable with you because what have I got to lose?” And what I didn’t reckon on was her digging out all my shame. I’m eternally grateful to Margo for that, but it made me just face who I’d been and the fact that it wasn’t that bad. It was her that got me writing, because she said to me, “Just because she writes something down doesn’t mean you have to publish it and getting it out, getting all this head trash out of your head and not throwing it all over the internet. You don’t need to throw it all over the internet, but you need to get it out of your head.” And she got me writing. I wrote 20,000 words in three weeks, something like that. A lot of it will stay on my hard drive forever, it doesn’t matter.
Some of it has made it out into the open, has been what is or will be published because I’ve realized a lot of this stuff wasn’t bad, but as long as it’s in your head, you can’t edit it, you can’t deal with it. It’s like the writing process, generally we all know this stuff doesn’t flow out of our heads like magic despite what some clients might think, and it’s got to be out there to be changed, to be thrown around, to be dealt with basically and I dealt with an awful lot of my stuff. I’ve got little stories like we all have, because I never thought I had anything worth saying. We all think, “Why would anybody be interested in what I’ve got to say?” And the fact is that they are, so that’s the basis of the book that I’ve written is all these stories, we all have stories worth telling.
If you want the rags to riches, go and read, I was about to say Elon Musk but that’s probably not a good example at the moment. All the Shark Tank people, all the billionaires and everything like that. They’ve got great books, you’ll probably learn something from them, but ultimately we can’t relate to that kind of success. It doesn’t mean anything to us. What matters is the people like us, you and me, who are just trying to make an honest living in our own little way, trying to make the world a better place, so that got me on the path. When was that? That was a couple years ago, and then I went through the old MBA and then 2021 was the Seth Godin Akimbo year, 2022 has been the Copywriter Club year, and so 2023 probably will be as well.
Then I fell into this… Because the reason why I got it, because we’re going to talk about The Accelerator, the reason why I got into that was because I’d been okay as a copywriter, but I hadn’t done anything particularly great. I was paying the bills but not setting the world on fire, and the reason for going to The Accelerator was to give myself some kind of structure, some kind of basis for growing because I didn’t really know what I was doing to be quite frank. I’m not sure I do now, but it’s-
Rob Marsh: Mike, as I listen to you talk, it sounds to me, this is something that I think most of us know. There’s a pretty significant difference between copywriting, writing for clients and writing for yourself, and you’ve done both. You mentioned the book that you’ve been writing, and I think there are a lot of copywriters who find writing for clients very easy.
I can sit down, I can write headlines, I can write about the product, I can write an offer, that kind of thing. They can even do a very emotional writing, connecting with the customers of their clients, that kind of thing, but when it comes to writing about themselves, we struggle and oftentimes that shows up as we try to write our own about pages or own websites, but you even go deeper in writing a book that’s very personal, go into those life experiences and your own personal stories. Let’s talk for a minute about that side of writing. Why should more copywriters be doing more of that personal writing, and how do we get started? How do we write that stuff when we don’t really know how to get started there?
Mike Garner: Because I think the personal stuff is the way you really differentiate yourself, because there’s three of us sitting here on a podcast. All three of us have the label copywriter, so in theory, we all do the same thing, but we all know there’s a whole world that differentiates us. What differentiates us is our life experience, is the things that we’ve done in the past, is the things that we bring to the table. My history is that I am a copywriter now, I’ve been a translator, but let’s say I still am a translator because I live in a multilingual world and I’ve got a degree in history. I did it 40 years ago, but I’ve still got the degree in history, so that means that what I bring to the table is I’m current analytic, I can interpret, I can work out what’s important, what’s not important and things like that.
What’s important in terms of, I think the difference between writing for clients and writing for yourself is emotional, and it’s because it’s far, not too personal perhaps, but it’s far more personal so there’s all our, again, our head trash that gets in the way, because writing for clients is the kind of thing we can do on our sleep most of the time because we’re just used to it, but there’s all kinds of other, and everybody is different, there was all… I felt that, “Do I dare write that down? Oh yeah, let’s go. Let’s write it down. Let’s see.” And there were times when I got quite emotional just talking about events in the past, that was what I’m trying to say. The important thing is that what sets us apart is our own stories, it’s our own personal narratives. In any business as well, the ones with the real backstory are the ones that you identify with. These are the stories that identify us. I think that’s the difference.
Kira Hug: Yeah, it sounds like it almost by writing our own stories, which again can be difficult for some of us because it is more emotional, we have more resistance to it, but by doing that, it can help us grow as copywriters because it helps position us, help us connect to clients in a community and really, so it works together.
Mike Garner:I think it works both ways because it helps clients identify with us as well. It’s why would somebody choose me over you if we did the same thing or because they prefer my story, they prefer your story and the way you present it and the way you present yourself and who you are and all that. I think it makes us far more multi-layered, far more complex, so far more interesting like that. If we can, obviously someone like Laura Belgray is the poster child for this. We know far more about her and her personal life because she’s very open with it and she’s very successful with it, and no one’s going to say she’s oversharing. There’s a danger of oversharing obviously, and you shouldn’t talk about things that you’re not comfortable talking about, but just going back to the original writing process, is this getting it out, which I found made me more comfortable with who I am, so made me more real.
Kira Hug: And that’s the real win from doing it. I do want to go back to your life-changing events, sequence of events in 2020. Let’s see if the question comes out clearly, but I wonder what someone listening could do to go after what they really want without necessarily falling into a sequence of events that could be huge and losing someone and ascend. Do you have advice around how to do it without necessarily having a life-changing event?
Mike Garner: That’s really difficult because I can only speak from my experience and I needed that. I hope anybody listening doesn’t get to the age I was. Seriously, I’m almost 60 when that happened, so I realize now I’m a very, very late developer.
Kira Hug: Maybe a better question then is for you, how do you stay true to that? Because things have settled down, things do settle down. How do you stay focused on continuing to go after what you want and not backpedaling and not maybe falling into previous identities once things settle?
Mike Garner: Oh, that’s easy to say, because what’s fundamentally changed is the way that I view myself and my self-esteem and my sense of self-worth has gone through the roof in the last couple of years, and I’ve realized that I was worrying about things I didn’t need to worry about. I worried far too much about what other people thought of me. That doesn’t mean to say I can be completely empathic and not care about what other people think about me, because I realized that most of the time they didn’t think what I thought they thought about them. You see what I mean? I’m almost attributing far too much importance or I’m attributing far too much importance to me in their lives, because people in the great outside world, they’re not thinking about me, because might as well… No, this might even as much as I like them too. They’re not, and we tend to get very worked up about what other people think about us.
Because it’s a negativity bias and everything, we always think things are going to go wrong rather than going to go, and they’re not really that bothered. Which gives us far more freedom too. I was on a call yesterday with someone and she said, “I’m afraid that people won’t listen.” Or they’re afraid or no one will hear me. Well that’s liberating, isn’t it? That means you can get good until people do hear you and two, start putting the stuff out of there because it’s going to be rubbish, it’s going to be bad. Any famous YouTuber, you go back to their original, their first few videos and they’re terrible, but you only get better by practicing.
I think it’s going to sound brutal, this, but if I’ve got any advice to anybody who thinks they’re not good enough or anything, well get over yourself because, and I say that in the kindest kind of way, because it’s not that important. Just go and try it. You never know, because if you don’t try, you’ll never, you certainly will never know and you will certainly stay in that little corner, and it’s baby steps some of the time. With me, it’s definitely baby steps, but then you suddenly realize after a year, wow, I’ve done all that in a year, but you don’t realize it at the time.
Rob Marsh: I think the title for this episode, maybe get over yourself.
Kira Hug: I think I know I need to hear that many times.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, that’s good advice. Okay, Kira, so let’s jump in here and just hit on a couple of points that Mike has mentioned in the first half of this interview. Before we started recording, we’re talking about going back and re-listening and going through the transcript in this episode. There are lots of little interesting things that jumped out that there weren’t always even huge topics of discussion, but just a line here, a line there. One of the things that really intrigued me was when Mike was talking about writing for ourselves and what differentiates us, all of the different things that we can do for ourselves. Obviously, when we’re trying to talk about our businesses, some of the stuff that we do, whether we’re showing up on social media, writing on our own blogs, even talking on podcasts, we are oftentimes doing that kind of thing.
Mike said something really specific he said, I think that he had gotten this from Margo Aaron who has been on the podcast in the past as well. He said, “Just because you write something down doesn’t mean that you have to publish it.” And I think that’s really, really good advice for just getting stuff down on paper and start working through all of this kind of material that then we can turn into stories, we can turn into talking points, whether it’s on a podcast or a blog post or whatever, but just that idea that getting things out of our head is the first step, but that doesn’t mean it’s the last step and it’s certainly not even the most important step if we’re editing things down for an audience.
Kira Hug: Yeah, there’s so much there about getting unstuck and I think as writers especially, it’s really easy to not write for ourselves, especially if we’re busy trying to get clients and we’re busy writing for our clients, but I do think there’s a term, I’m going to throw out there. We’ll see if it sticks, copywriter constipation. When you’re stuck and you’re not getting your own ideas out into the world, I think that it can really start to affect your self-esteem at times. I think it could really prevent you from growing and from feeling comfortable with who you are and just feeling more insecure in your writing and your business.
The fact that Mike talked about how it’s helped him to just get ideas out there and even to share some of those ideas and to pretend like no one’s actually reading what you’re writing and have the realization that no one really cares, which I remind myself all the time. It’s like it truly is about getting over yourself because we think that everyone’s paying attention and everyone’s hanging on to every word we write, and it’s just not the reality. Even if you have a decent following or community, people are caught up in their own lives and don’t really care about what you’re doing, which is a freeing thought.
And so this is something that I had to work on too because for a while I wasn’t writing my own copy for me and I was feeling stuck, and so I had to start putting ideas out there and just letting go and not worrying about what would happen after you release it into the world.
Rob Marsh: That just gave me an idea for the title of this podcast. It should be something along the lines of Copywriter Metamucil, How to Get the Ideas Flowing, something like that. Before we talk about more of what Mike is talking about though, what are some of the things that you’ve been doing to get ideas out of your head and down on paper so that you can get going? Because as Mike talked about, you only get better by practicing, but you can’t practice if you can’t get the words out, and so I’m curious what you do to get the words out.
Kira Hug: Well, I think a big shift for both of us, or at least for TCC was after our interview with Laura Belgray where we talked a lot, our second interview with her where we talked a lot about writing daily, sending daily emails, and it was that light bulb moment for me. Even though I’d heard that before. She isn’t the first person to say it, but I was like, “We just need to write more, produce more, send more, because that’s what we do. We’re writers, so why are we not doing that?”
And so then it was I think just a freeing moment where we started to ramp up. You started to write two emails a week. I started to write two emails a week, just sharing experiences, lessons, updates, and just knowing that you and I committed to that, it was like, “Well, I’m going to do it no matter what.” That was just really freeing to make that commitment first of all, and then it forced me to start paying attention more in my life, pay attention to the details of my life to be more of an artist like Mike says, because we all are artists and pay attention to all those tiny details so I could save those notes in my phone, in my folder and maybe it will turn into an email. I think you do something similar. What is your process?
Rob Marsh: I have notes that I keep. I just have an ongoing document that every time an idea occurs, I’ll just drop it in there so that it can come back to it. I was thinking about some advice that we got from one of our friends, well two of our friends really, Robin Kennedy, who are in a mastermind group that we’ve been in together. I remember Kennedy talking about his writing process and how he looks for the least boring thing that happened to him during the day. He is not even looking for an interesting thing, he’s just looking for something that happened that is the least boring, the one thing that maybe stands out, that kind of a thing. Oftentimes, not always, but oftentimes that can turn into an idea for an email.
And so I don’t necessarily sit down at the end of the day and say, “Oh, what was the least boring thing that happened to me today?” But I’m always trying to pay attention to the stuff that’s going on, stuff that I might be reading, stuff that I’m seeing other people talk about, and I’ll just make a little note and maybe come back to it.
But also talking about that when Laura uses a tool, I think it’s called 700 Words A Day or something like that. It’s a software or a website that you can just free write in. You’re a tiny habits coach and 700 may even feel really big. I recently came across somebody who was talking about, “Hey, to be a writer, just sit down and write 100 words a day.” Sit down, first thing in the morning it can take 10 minutes, it doesn’t have to be a lot. In fact, many of us could probably write a hundred words in three minutes. Doesn’t have to be a big thing, but again, you only get better by practicing. Whether you are writing down things that you want to share, writing down things that are interesting or not, it’s a good daily practice to be writing for ourselves, not just for our clients every single day.
Kira Hug: I might even say Rob and Kennedy said, “Find the least interesting thing that happened to you.” But maybe it… Wait, no. Did I just mess that up?
Rob Marsh: It’s the least boring thing. The least boring thing.
Kira Hug: They say find the least boring thing to write about. I would say as writers especially, we can find the boring thing and we can make the boring interesting. I don’t think everyone can do that, but as writers we have that gift to be able to do that, so sometimes I do look at what could look really boring from the outside looking at my life or looking at my day, but actually is the opposite because I know that little detail. Playing Monopoly with your family or your kids could look boring from the outside, but if you look deeper, there’s all of this competitive, this competitive energy, and then there’s siblings teaming up against each other. There’s so much happening and so dynamic, so I think that’s a good way to look at it too, is what does seem boring, but you as a writer can make it interesting.
Rob Marsh: Looking forward to your next email about the battle of who gets to be the race car in the Monopoly game.
Kira Hug: I was the dinosaur and my husband and son teamed up against me and had the good old boys club, and then my daughter would not team up with me, so that just explains a lot. I’m on my own again. Thank you guys.
Rob Marsh: That’s brutal. Brutal at the Hug home.
Kira Hug: Yes. What else, Rob, stood out to you?
Rob Marsh: We’ll talk a lot about this I think in the second half as well, but one thing that just jumped out at me, as Mike mentioned some of the programs that he’s gone through and some of the people that he’s worked with really high level and yet he still wanted to join a program like The Accelerator just to add some structure to his business. There are lots of things that you can learn from different mentors at different times, and I just noticed that as he was talking about that, that was the very first thing that came to him as to the reason why he would join The Accelerators. He wanted some structure around his business, around overcoming the resistance to writing, to connecting with his audience, to getting the book done, all of that stuff which he got from The Accelerator. What stood out to you?
Kira Hug: I love that Mike is so open about his love for copywriting. He is one of and one of the many copywriters, but who truly just is so passionate about the craft of copywriting and which is really cool because he did come to this career later in life, and so for me it’s just also inspiring to see that we can have career changes throughout our lifetimes and there’s so many opportunities out there at different points in our journey, and so I just love his story and how he talks about that.
Rob Marsh: That was definitely interesting. There’s a lot of us that come to copywriting late. I wasn’t necessarily one of them, but we’ve certainly talked to a lot of people who started in other careers and it’s not too late. It’s not too late to start writing a book if you’re 50 or 60. It’s not too late to jump into copywriting if you’re 50 or 60 or maybe even older, and so oftentimes people come to us like, “Oh, I’m 35, I feel like I’m too old to get into this game.” That’s not the case at all, because there are plenty of people having a lot of success that are close to twice as old as those at the bottom of the scale.
Kira Hug: And then the last thing that’s worth noting, and I don’t want to skip over is we talked a little bit about how when you’re speaking to a potential client, even a colleague, you don’t want to overwhelm them with everything you could possibly do to help them. This is a common challenge for writers, for copywriters where we’re like, “Oh, I can do this for you. I can write emails and I can write key stays and I can write your website and I could also…” And by the time the person’s done talking to you, they have no idea what you truly specialize in, what you really can own, how you can really help them because you’ve overwhelmed them with all the options.
And so if you can just take it conversation by conversation, every conversation could be different. What I say to you, Rob, I may, depending on what we’re talking about, I may sell one service or one, I may position myself as a problem solver and I can solve this particular problem you’re talking about, and then the next hour or an hour later I might talk to someone else and position myself differently and present a different package and solution to that person, but I would not in one conversation with you, present five different options of what I can do because I’m going to lose your interest and you’re going to go to someone else.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, I think that goes to one of the points that we talk about often in our programs like the Copywriter Accelerator, where you need to have that starting point, the problem that person has, that’s the most immediate. Oftentimes we’ll talk about having some smaller projects that you can get started with people that get a sense of working with you, but if you can figure out what is the thing that you help with, you don’t have to worry about all of the things that you can do and even all of the things that you may someday do for them, you just need that first thing, that first problem, that first hit, that experience of working with you. If you can get that, you’re way ahead when it comes to being able to sell all of those other things that you can do later on.
Kira Hug: All right. Well, let’s get back into the interview with Mike to find out a little bit more about his book writing journey.
Rob Marsh: I would love to talk a bit about your book and the process of writing your book. Obviously, it gets into personal stories. It’s not necessarily a book about copywriting, which a lot of us would think, “Hey, I’m going to write a book about how do I build funnels or marketing or whatever.” I think yours is a little bit more personal than that. Tell us why you wrote the book, what the book’s about, and maybe we can dive into the process a little bit.
Mike Garner: Definitely not a book about copywriting. There are some copywriters in it. It started off… It’s been two years since I started this book, like I say, it’s the work with Margot. The work that I did was I started writing my story from a wee kid until, well certainly until I was 30, because that’s all the formative stuff. It’s changed a lot since then. I’ve made a couple of attempts to write books about copywriting and I thought, “I don’t really want to write this, if I’m quite frank, because it’s not lighting me up, and who wants another copywriting book? There’s plenty of copywriting books out there really.”
Actually thinking about it, I read Claude Hopkins, My Life in Advertising, because I’d never read it before. I’d read the Scientific Advertising book, I’d never read his memoir. I thought that gave me an idea, and this thing started life as my own personal memoir and I wasn’t necessarily even going to publish it, and then it could… Because I was working with a book coach and it morphed into one or two other things. Then I had this great revelation about the stories that need to be told and it went from there, so I’ve broken it down into the various stages of the stuff that we tell ourselves that we were all told when we were young, “Don’t get your hopes up. Don’t overthink. Money’s too tight to mention.” And the things we were told as kids and they form our ideology as adults, and then there’s one or two stories that happened to the people I talked to when they were kids or when they were teenagers that conformed their life later on. The reasons why we start businesses as well, because there’s all kinds of different reasons why we start businesses.
Then I talk about the things that you can expect when you run a business, what it’s like and how and why you should. You can tell your story in any kind of way you want. Don’t let anybody, particularly on LinkedIn, don’t let anybody else tell you how to tell your story. It’s all based around those kinds of themes. I suppose if that’s any goal of the book is for people to finish it and say, “Yeah, I can write mine too. I can be open and honest about things and it will do me a lot of good.”
Kira Hug: You mentioned baby steps and how you’ve taken a lot of baby steps, which I’m a fan of all the tiny habits, baby steps. What are some of the baby steps you took in The Accelerator and even maybe after The Accelerator that helped you morph into the copywriting business you desired?
Mike Garner: I fell out to The Accelerator straight into the Think Tank, so that was not at all a baby step. That was one-
Kira Hug: That was a big step.
Mike Garner: That was a jump up a mountain, that one was.
Kira Hug: Well, let’s maybe talk about the baby steps that other people maybe could take similar baby steps in their business.
Mike Garner: I’ve spoken to a few people recently who are thinking about going into The Accelerator, and what I’ve just said, all I’ve said to them was it will help you lay the foundations. I think the baby steps that I took were, I stripped my ideas back to the basics. I thought, “Right, I’m starting from scratch here.” There were a few people in my cohort that really were starting from scratch, but let’s say, “Right, forget the last 20 years or so. Forget everything I’ve learned, I’m going to start again.”
So the beauty of The Accelerator is that it is in what seven or eight stages isn’t it? That you go back to basics and say, “Right, why do I want to do this in the first place? What do I want it to be further down the line?” I was slightly freaked out in a way by the what will you be in five or 10 years time thing, because that’s not a kind of period I really want to think about at the moment. I’m quite happy with a year’s time, but five or 10, I’m not sure, but I can still work on a year’s timetable. It’s breaking it down into the working out who you are and who you’re selling to basically and how you’re going to do it.
It’s funny because I’ve done it a lot for other people, but I’ve never really done it properly for me. You don’t think about these things. You think about them for other people, but I suppose it’s coming back to the same thing, isn’t it? Susan Cobras and all that. When you sit down and you almost take time out to think about how you are actually doing things, without over-egging it’s a slightly statutory process as well. It requires a certain amount of humility to think, “I’ve been doing this wrong in the past and now I’m going to do it.” Which is the path I’m on.
Rob Marsh: So there’s obviously a major rethinking about your approach to business mindset. What else came out of The Accelerator for your business?
Mike Garner: I think that’s the main thing. Then there’s a lot of side benefits if you like it. It’s a community of people. It’s being able to talk to people right across the world, which still blows my mind because I’m of an age where talking to people on the other side of the world was a really big thing. As you get on a call to Australia and it sounded like they were on the other side of the moon, and you needed a mortgage to pay for it, so just jumping on the Zoom call to someone in New Zealand in my evening there’s a 13-hour time difference between me and the person I still talk to or from an Accelerator in New Zealand and it’s my six o’clock in the evening, it’s at seven o’clock the next morning and I still can’t get my head around that, but it’s talking to all these other people.
Again, coming back to the story thing, we’re all copywriters, 30 or 40 copywriters, aren’t we together? But we’re all so completely different and we all get, it’s going to sound like a big love, but we all get on and there’s no competition really because there’s enough work out there for all of us if we’re quite honest. On a purely selfish level, I got one hell of a lot of validation out of it, actually. It was just a great experience for me to be able to sit down and work through these things, the plans that I had and workshop them basically, because that’s the basic principle of it. You get down and talk to other people, you say, “Hey, what do you think about this? Am I doing this?” And sometimes people will say yes and sometimes people say, “Well, you could do that perhaps slightly differently.” Oh yeah, I’ll do this differently. On a purely selfish level, I think I’m better for it. Which again, sounds a bit woo-woo, but I’m sorry.
Kira Hug: But how are you better for it? What specifically?
Mike Garner: I’m more comfortable, I’ve got a little bit of work from it in terms of the actual, let’s address the elephant in the room, I’m reinventing my business. I haven’t got tons of work out of it yet, but I think what I’ve got out of it, actually thinking about it is I know where I’m going now. Whereas I was just muddling through before. I was working almost month to month in the famous feast and famine and now there’s up and down times. There are times when I think, “Oh, I’m not sure what I’m doing here.” But I decided not to say I’m making it up as a go along anymore. I’m working it out to go along, because I think that is actually the baby steps. It’s accepting that you haven’t got all the answers, but you’ll work them out. Maybe that’s the essence of running a business.
Rob Marsh: So moving forward, Mike, tell us a little bit about this business that you are building out of The Accelerator, out of the Think Tank experience. Who do you serve? What kind of work are you doing?
Mike Garner: The work I’m doing at the moment is, well, once I get the book published, hopefully in January, that is, it’s building around these stories. Now that can mean an awful lot of things. It can mean email, it can be any kind of content or it can just mean helping people to work out what their story is and how to tell that story. There’s a central tenant to what I believe coming back to the book is that all these, what we call insignificant stories are really what keeps the world going around. That’s why you can’t move on the internet for storytelling podcasts. The Moth is incredibly successful, but a lot of the time their stories about nothing in particular, but we love them because that’s what people relate to and that’s what I think businesses should be saying about themselves to draw in clients.
Rob Marsh: And just to be clear, you’re talking about The Moth, which is a podcast on a-
Mike Garner: Yeah, sorry, The Moth the podcast and the organization, storytelling organization. I want to help people tell their story basically better through different ways.
Kira Hug: We were talking about The Accelerator and the community element, and we talk about that frequently that pops up. That’s a huge benefit I think that people don’t expect, but not everyone jumps fully into it. You have, we’ve seen you do it and you are the person who will reach out and jump on, meet-and-greet coffee chat calls and you’ve built an incredible network of writers and creatives. Can you just talk a little bit about how the benefits of that, because I know for one, you’ve been able to practice your coaching and storytelling skills by getting on calls with people and you just will coach them through their story just as a gift. You don’t get paid for that necessarily, but you do it as a gift and you’ve gained confidence and that clarity from doing that.
And then also I know you have such a great network, you can reach out as you do need projects and there’s a benefit to that, so can you just talk about how it’s worked for you? Because I think that’s the missing piece for many writers who don’t even know what to do if they had a network.
Mike Garner: I’ve been networking face-to-face for 15-odd years and it’s just a question of trusting conversations and seeing where they’ll go. A friend of mine from years ago used to say that incredible things come from small conversations, and sometimes nothing comes from them, but quite often something does and you never know when a conversation will be useful to you.
I’ve spoken to a number of people, particularly in The Accelerator and headquarter with them just to, they weren’t completely unselfish because I was, again, I was honing my skills and seeing what people said to me in response to the questions that I had, because it was like anything, you can dream up all the systems that you want, but until it hits real people then you’ve had no idea what the reaction’s going to be.
Some of these conversations have led to actual work for me as well, but I suppose I just like planting seeds, and I’m a bit of a chatterbox as well. I just like talking to people, which is strange because I used to think I was an introvert just because I’m a bit shy face-to-face, but I did a Myers Briggs test or what I go, it turns out I’m 67% extrovert, so hey. It’s difficult to say specifically, but I just love planting the seeds and seeing what will happen.
Kira Hug: Can you give some examples though, Mike, because again, you’ve done this recently and you’ll share updates with us, but concrete examples of what that might look like.
Mike Garner: There are a couple of people in the Think Tank that I’ve been talking to about subcontracting just because we’ve had a number of calls in the past just to catch up really, and you build that trust or even in the main Copywriter Club group as well. I think it’s a question of showing up and then asking people in the right way, particularly this time of year, there are people around that they’ve got loads of work, they don’t want to work. I’ll take it off you because I don’t particularly, I don’t mind working over Christmas, so I’ve got stuff from that.
Kira Hug: But what is the right way? Could you even share just an example of something you might say on one of those calls? Because I think asking is the hardest part.
Mike Garner: It is asking. Well, there was one particular call that I wasn’t even expecting and we were just talking about my process, actually, and someone actually said, “I will pay you to do that.” And I wasn’t even pitching to be quite frank at all. “Okay, you can pay me for it.” And then obviously we talked about the mechanics of it.
Yes, I think it’s a question of recognizing the opportunities and when they arise, because it’s difficult not to be a bit spammy about this. There are things that you say like, “Oh I can help you with that or would you like me to help you with that?” And things like that rather than the in-your-face sales pitch, because that puts people off even if you are in the nice conversation with them, because there’s a natural defense that comes up and because you think, “Oh, I should be able to do that myself.”
I can’t say specifically what words you should use because that depends on the conversation in which that you are in, but you’ll see triggers because people don’t want to ask you either. Most of the time they won’t want to say, because they don’t want to admit that they can’t do this stuff. When it’s subcontracting emails and you’ve got too much work on, that’s something else, but when it’s the more storytelling, what we’ve been talking about since the beginning, really. The more storytelling, the message and the personal stuff, there’s an inbuilt feeling that people have that they should be able to do it themselves and they should be able to work it out themselves. Sometimes they can and sometimes they really want to ask for help, but don’t know how, so you engineer the conversation to say, “Would you like some help with that?” But perhaps in other words, but that’s basically what it means.
Rob Marsh: So Mike, because we move into the new year or is the new year already? Where are you taking your business? Where do you see you growing? What’s next for you and what you’re doing.
Mike Garner: Carrying on what I’m doing now, I plan to do more YouTube. I’d like to get a YouTube channel going because I think it’s worth people coming on and talking about these stories. The way I view it at the moment, it will be half me talking head stuff and me talking to other business owners just like I’ve done in the book, really. The YouTube probably will be an extension of the telling stories. The whole book is called, and the YouTube channel is called Stories That Matter. It’s the everyday stories of extraordinary business people, because when it comes down to it, we are all extraordinary.
In other terms, I would love to be able to, it’s going to sound wishy-washy, but again, help businesses tell a better story. That’s what lights me up. Now that can be in lots of different ways. It could be in mechanical writing ways, like emails or case studies or whatever you want to call them, but also workshopping these things with an entire team to get them to think in another way. To get them to think that these little things matter because that’s what people are interested in.
Kira Hug: And this is going to be extra self-promotional for us, but why not? We talked about the community and the Copywriter Accelerator, and so can you also share your experience from working directly with the two of us? What did you get from that type of coaching and support along the way?
Mike Garner: Upscaling my expectations, I think because perhaps in the past my self-esteem wasn’t as much as it could have been, and this is still going on actually now, it’s not just, we’re not stopping any time. This will go, I suspect this will go on in the future, is helping me basically see how good I am, because it’s very difficult for, I’m not talking just about me here. I’m talking about everybody else in Accelerator or any of the other groups as well. We don’t realize how good we are half the time, because when we think about the things that our clients trust us with, particularly if a client that’s just starting, just launching, there’s an awful lot allowing on that and we perhaps sometimes should give ourselves a bit of a pat, and you two and the community generally has made me think I’m actually quite good.
Rob Marsh: I’m going to take your advice and give myself a little bit of a break here as well.
Kira Hug: Rob, I give you compliments all the time.
Rob Marsh: Kira, you got to give me a break. It’s time to-
Kira Hug: I say nice things to you all the time.
Rob Marsh: No, that’s good. Mike, if you could go back in time and maybe revisit just as you’re starting out in this journey of yours, what advice would you give to yourself?
Mike Garner: Oh, well, as I said earlier, get over yourself. No, I’m a massive overthinker, I think, and the advice would be just strip it down to basics. Don’t run before you can walk because you have to put those baby steps in, those walking steps in before you can, without putting, revealing too much about my psychological state at the moment. I’m very good at living in the future and I think sometimes personally I need did or even need now to live a bit more in the present to be able to have that future that I’m dreaming about. I think perhaps a lot of our frustrations they are, as a community, our frustration is that we aren’t where we think we should be, and in fact, where we are is probably quite good as well.
Kira Hug: That really speaks to me. Where can we go to find you if we want to connect with you? At this point what’s the best place?
Mike Garner: At the moment, the best place is probably the Mike Garner copywriter. There will be a website storiesthatmatter.co, which is in the process of being finalized where there’ll be an email sign-up there and very soon the book will be available.
Rob Marsh: And when it is, we will share it so people can get ahold of it, see what they can learn from you about telling better stories and the stories that maybe some of them won’t even see the internet or see the print, the stories you need to get out.
Mike Garner: No, because I think the point of all those stories is it’s people you’ve never heard of. Well, we’ve heard of as copywriters because they’re in our community, but outside the community, no one and that’s why they matter.
Rob Marsh: Thanks Mike.
Mike Garner: Thank you.
Kira Hug: Thank you, Mike. We appreciate it.
Rob Marsh: That’s the end of our interview with Mike Garner. Before we wrap, what else stood out to you, Kira?
Kira Hug: A lot of the mindset conversation we had with Mike, even just how he uses language and how he speaks to himself to take more control, ownership over his business and his path. He said, he will often say, he stops saying, “Well, I’m making it up as I go along.” Which we frequently say, “I’m just making it up as I go along.” And now he’s saying I’m working it out as I go along. Just even that change in language can change the way you think about yourself and think about how you’re operating in the world and in your business, so those word changes can be helpful.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, I agree. I think there’s something similar too. Mike didn’t really mention this, but it comes with being open and honest and transparent and even vulnerable when we’re talking about our businesses. Oftentimes we phrase things in a way, because we’re trying to be humble about what we do. We don’t want to necessarily be braggadocios or be that person that says, “I’m all that.” But when we’re talking with our clients, we need to show up as an authority, and using language like that, that diminishes what we do, diminishes either the contributions that we have or our own skillsets or what we bring to the table or emphasizes all of the mistakes that we’ve made.
It’s okay to be vulnerable, to talk about some things, but if all you do is say, “Oh, I made this mistake and then I also made this mistake and I’m horrible at this thing and I’m lucky that I got that in my life because of all of these other things that were going wrong.” That starts to build on it on itself and at some point you’re like, “Well, are you an authority or not?” And so it’s definitely good to be open and to be honest, but at some point we also need to step up and like Mike and reword some of the stuff or rethink some of the stuff that we’ve got going on in our own heads that we sometimes vocalize and show up as an authority, especially when it comes to working with our clients who need to trust us as that authority.
Kira Hug: And another good way to show up as an authority on any type of discovery, sales call, meet and greet call is to talk about your process. We do help copywriters figure out their process, all of their processes in the Copywriter Accelerator program, but that’s really the key and Mike said that he’ll share his process with a colleague on a phone call and start talking through it. The other person, the copywriter is like, “Oh my gosh, I will pay you to do that for me.” And so that’s not uncommon, because when we talk about our process and if we can talk about it in a way that speaks to the benefits every step of the way, that’s the easiest way to sell somebody on what you do and how you do it and why you’re different, and that’s something that we can all control and we can all do it when we’re connecting with prospects or colleagues.
I also like that he mentioned sometimes when you’re talking to an ideal client, they might struggle to admit that they are stuck or that they’re really bad at something or that they’re struggling with something in their business, and I never really thought about that before, but I think that’s definitely a good way to approach those conversations because some business owners, before they hire you or clients before they hire you, they might really struggle to open up and say, “This isn’t going well, that’s why I need help.” And so just making sure that’s a nuanced conversation too, where you approach it from really, “How can I help you with that? Rather than saying, “Oh, it seems like that’s broken, that’s not working.” Because that may be a harder approach with certain prospects.
Rob Marsh: That’s a really good point and I think to take it even a step farther, sometimes the business owners that we’re working with, talking to those prospects that we have aren’t even sure why it’s not working, or they may not even be certain of the problem. They see that things should be going differently, but they’re not able to diagnose it because they don’t have that experience themselves. Maybe they’re just starting out, maybe they’re a small team and they just don’t have the context that they need to be able to diagnose it, and that’s where we can be very valuable as copywriters by asking the right questions.
If you’re showing up on a discovery call and you’re just selling yourself, “I can do this for you, I can write the website, I can make sure that the headline looks good and that the CTAs in place.” If that’s the focus, then you’re never going to get to that deeper conversation where you can actually help solve those problems, and there’s a whole list of questions that take you deeper in understanding your potential client’s business, their marketing. By asking them, you can draw out some of those problems. Then maybe they are aware of them, but they may actually not be aware of some of the underlining stuff that’s really hurting them and their ability to grow.
Kira Hug: And there could be a lot of shame around it too, especially as some of these problems are unearthed on a call with this copywriter and the copywriter’s telling you about what’s broken or what could be fixed. I think as a business owner, you could feel embarrassed like, “Wow, I didn’t even know that was a problem or wow I should be better at that and I’m not.” And so it’s just a delicate conversation that takes practice to really figure out how to approach it.
Rob Marsh: There’s a lot of good conversation about the Copywriter Accelerator. We teased it in the intro and we mentioned if you’re listening to this podcast on the day that it goes live, today’s the last day to get into this round of The Accelerator. It’ll be opened back up in the fall of 2023, but a couple of things that really jumped out, and there’s things that we hear quite a bit. Mike talked about the community and like you were mentioning getting validated by other people. As you talk through things like your process or some of the things you do and have other people say, “Oh wow, that’s amazing. I can borrow that.”
And it happens in the other way too, where you’ll be talking to somebody who’s got something amazing going on in their business that you can borrow. That community is so valuable, and it’s one of the reasons why we focus so hard on curating smaller groups of copywriters who get to know each other very well, get to share feedback, possibly work on copy together. They can even share leads, but creating the basis for a network of copywriters to be part of your support system is one of the things I think we do pretty differently and pretty uniquely in The Accelerator. While on the outside you’re like, “Oh yeah, it’s a network, it’s copywriters, whatever.” Once you get inside, you start to realize how truly priceless that is for your business growth moving forward.
Kira Hug: And we attract really cool writers to our world.
Rob Marsh: It’s amazing people.
Kira Hug: I’m blown away when we meet them. I’m just like, “Wow, what? We must have done something somewhere along the line because these people are just incredible and I want to be friends with them, all of them, because they’re just smart and humble and kind and generous and creative and ambitious and all the things.” So I think that’s what makes the network work. It’s people you actually want to connect with because you can jump into any type of mastermind network, but if they’re not really your type of people, then it’s not going to happen. Chances are if you’re listening to this, these are your type of people and you’re really going to hit it off with them. On another note, Mike said, I think we asked him something about the impact from The Accelerator, and his exact words were, “I’m better for it. I got work, I reinvented my business, I know where I’m going, I’m not working month to month.” And so I think that seems worthwhile and I’m glad he shared that.
Rob Marsh: One last thought is just towards the end, we’re talking about don’t run before you can walk. There is a process, and while there are ways that you can, there are shortcuts, there are ways that you can speed up your success or what you’re building. You do have to start with the beginning. You have to lay a good foundation for everything that you’re doing. As a writer that means daily practice, as a business owner that means treating your business not just as the thing that makes writing possible, but it’s really the thing that brings in the money and the writing is the extra bonus on top. There’s so many ways to apply that advice in our lives across the board, but if you’re listening to what Mike is sharing, maybe it’s worth taking a step back or even stopping and saying, “Okay, am I trying to run over something that I haven’t really figured out yet? And what do I need to do to go back and figure out so that I can really run and pick up speed with everything in place?”
Kira Hug: Like he said, be present so you can have and create the future you’re dreaming about rather than what I tend to do, I think what Mike tends to do is we try to just jump to the future, we want to just be there. What it takes to get there is actually to be in the moment present, focused on what you’re doing right in front of you and it’s so hard to do that, but it’s just another good reminder.
All right, we want to thank Mike Garner for joining us on the podcast today. If you would like to connect with him, and you definitely should, you can find him over at storiesthatmatter.co, and you can also find him on LinkedIn at Mike Garner. If you want more episodes similar to this one, check out episode 145 with Jay Pitkanen about trusting yourself and check out episode 297 with Mary Adkins about writing and publishing a book. That was a good one.
Rob Marsh: She actually just posted on Twitter a week or so ago about how much fun she had on this podcast, so that was really nice of her. Yeah, it was really nice of her.
Kira Hug: We had fun. We had fun too, Mary. Just one last reminder, if you have any interest in the Copywriter Accelerator, today is the last day to jump in to this group and start building your copywriting business. We officially start February 1st, so head to the copywriteraccelerator.com to learn more and jump in.
Rob Marsh: That’s the end of this episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. The intro music was composed by copywriter and songwriter Addison Rice. The outro was composed by copywriter and songwriter David Mutnar. If you enjoyed what you heard, please visit Apple Podcasts and leave a review of the show. If you do that, we’ll read it at some future time. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week.