Copywriter, marketing strategist, and CMO-for-Hire, Myrna Begnel joins us for our second episode of the week (our 69th overall) to talk about her copywriting business and how she became known as “the client whisperer” among the members of The Copywriter Think Tank. In this episode we cover:
• how Myrna went from selling elevators to agency strategist to writing copy
• what she learned from her career in sales that applies to copywriting
• how you create a relationship with a client so your projects succeed
• how to recreate the “sales conversation” on your sales page
• the questions she asks to understand her client’s customer needs
• what a discovery call with her looks like
• how her processes help her repeat and scale her business
• the “grandma’s house” approach to setting boundaries with clients
• how to get started with processes, then how to improve them
• the lessons she has taken from working with agencies inside and out
• what it’s like to completely start over in business
• why it’s important to focus on mindset and not just skillset
We also asked Myrna about what her projects look like as a “CMO for hire” and how she packages her services, and charges a high price for them. Say this next line in your best stadium music voice: “Are you ready for this?” Click the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
Rob: What if you could hang out with seriously copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea to inspire your own work? That’s what Kira and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Kira: You’re invited to join the club for episode 69 as we chat with copywriter and marketing consultant Myrna Begnel managing clients so they want to keep working with you, what we can learn from the agency world, how she has structured her business and her time to get more done, and what it’s like to start over after building a business with others.
Kira: Welcome, Myrna!
Rob: Hey, Myrna!
Myrna: Hey, guys! Thanks for having me!
Kira: Or should we call you Kitty?
Myrna: Kitty! Yes. You can always call me Kitty.
Rob: I’m not sure why I can’t get over that. It’s like, to me, you’re Myrna, and to Kira, you’re Kitty! I guess we’re just going to have to live with that.
Kira: You know what, though? It fell apart, so Myrna joined our think-tank and I was trying to stick with Kitty and now you have become Myrna and I can’t go back to Kitty, so… I’m sticking with Myrna.
Myrna: I know. You know, my high school friends all call me Myrna B. My maiden name was actually Beals, but… as if there are other Myrna’s, you know… Myrna A, Myrna Z…
Rob: (laughs) Yeah, we have to make sure we don’t get you confused with Myrna D and Myrna J.
Myrna: Yeah, exactly. When you have a unique name like mine, you know, you kind of got to overcome it.
Rob: I love it.
Kira: So, Myrna, let’s start with your story! How did you end up here, and I’m pointing at the spot where you’re sitting right now.
Myrna: (laughs) Well, it’s kind of a convoluted story because I come into copywriting, a lot of the people that I know, they’ve always known they wanted to be a copywriter, they’ve had a very direct path into owning their own business and being a copywriter, and I think I come from a very convoluted path just based on my history.
Probably my third career. So I started off selling elevators and escalators right out of college and I did that for 6 years. I was the first female sales manager in the company’s 150-year history. One of the things that—you know, I’m starting to date myself—we didn’t have digital back then. There was a very different way to sell and communicate. We had an internet to do email, but we didn’t have Word programs. We actually dictated sales and letters and proposals. So, it was back in the days of three-piece suits and you go to construction site in a business suit; skirts every day. And so, from that world though, one of the things about it is that you always were writing, you were always thinking, you were always communicating and there wasn’t this digital world to distract you from everything.
There was always that writing in my background. I quit that and actually became a stay at home mom for a couple of years, which is a totally different switch. And I got really bored with that so I was always looking for, what was I going to do next?
I went back to school and I got a Masters [degree] in writing. This is probably in my 30s. And totally shifted and started my own business and started a small freelance writing company. At the time, it was focused on, digital was really just coming out. And I was focused on websites and I started building websites and started figuring out technology and I realized that you can apply a lot of the same processes in project management of the elevator world to the exact same thing that you’re doing in building websites and writing copy for websites.
That was where I first got introduced to a really huge project that changed my trajectory of my career, which was a digital agency hired me to do a huge, huge project for H&R Block. I ended up staying at the agency doing a lot more than copywriting for the next 8 years, and that’s really where I learned just about everything that I know about strategy, about how to manage projects, how to be the client whisperer, how to communicate.
I got to write in so many different ways. I got to write video scripts that I never even knew I knew how to write, I got to write websites, I got to write emails, I got to create email programs. I talked about all sorts of different kinds of marketing and putting entire marketing plans together. I sold anything from small websites all the way up to $150,000 websites.
Really got a lot of exposure and tons and tons of cross training. How I ended up where I am today was a little bit of a fluke. I restarted the company because, once an agency grows from five people to fifty, it becomes a very different animal and it wasn’t really fun anymore. So I wanted to go back to what I did before, which was get back to the writing, and it’s something that is my passion, it’s what I really love to do.
So I went back to starting my own company and I was doing that for about six months and writing and doing some of my strategy work as well and I got hired on by another agency—they just made me an offer that I could not refuse. It was literally making 75% more than I was at the old job. And when you’re making that kind of money, you think that there’s some stability and security in it. Well, it wasn’t really a good fit, and the agency wasn’t going in the direction that I think I was going in personally, and sometimes the universe just knows what to do, even though you don’t.
Fourteen months after I had this job, and I was just struggling with it—I hated it. I hated every minute of it. I really was trying to get back to what I wanted to get back into, and fourteen months later, they laid me off because I’m the most expensive employee and they wanted to go in a different direction. they wanted to do business development and that’s not what I wanted to do.
A month later, my mom gets ovarian cancer and I end up not working for about a year and a half, other than like a 12 week contract stint because I ended up taking care of her. In the meantime, my fiancé—he’s a consultant—he loses his job. We go through a 3 or 4 month span where we don’t have any work at all, no income, we’re living off our savings, and I’m freaking out over that…
He gets a job out here in California—we lived in Chicago before—and lo and behold, in the middle of this chaos, I’m moving, I’m dealing with my mom passing away, I’m traveling back and forth, and I’m trying to start a business because I’m going, well, what else do I know how to do and I don’t want to go work at an agency ever again… So I’ve been here about a year and a half and it was great because it was like the giant etch-a-sketch of life! I got to basically start over and decided to build my business exactly the way that I want to, which is why I said the universe decides—you get what you need. Instead of what you want. And I needed to be shaken out of my comfort zone and I needed something there—and that’s what I got.
Rob: I love the story, and the philosophy—both. But I want to-before we dive into all of the agency experience and what you’re doing right now—I want to go all the way back to that first sales job, selling elevators.
Rob: This is-yeah, first of all, not the typical thing that you know, people would normally sell! But, talk a little bit about your sales experience and how that has informed the other things that you do, especially in your writing.
Myrna: Yeah! Well, you know, it has a lot to do with relationship building, because selling elevators and escalators is not—you don’t just pick up the phone and go cold call somebody and pitch someone and go hey, you want to buy an elevator??
Rob: Yeah, right! Nobody is buying an elevator every week or every month!
Kira: I’ll buy one.
Myrna, Rob, Kira: (laughs)
Myrna: I don’t think you can afford it, Kira.
Myrna: Yeah, it’s a lot about building relationships ahead of the sale and it has a lot to do with planning and knowing exactly what somebody wants and what they need. For me, that really translated a lot into process, infrastructure, and doing a lot of legwork upfront before you ever take on a project, so that you can anticipate what all the things are and all of the components that go into a project. I think that informs a lot of the way that I think about copywriting and clients today.
For me, it has a lot more to do with knowing what it is that I’m selling, developing a relationship with the people that I’m working with, and not treating it as just a copywriting project—it’s not just a landing page, or an email funnel. It’s how does everything else fit into the grand scheme of things? So, if you think of you know, my copy as the elevator, I had to understand how that elevator fit in the rest of the building. And how it was going to affect—you know, the wait times or like Google analytics. And you know, you’re building a foundation and it has a lot to do with how you’re moving people. So, the analogies for me were huge and it’s what I really use to inform how I work with clients today.
Kira: So, how can copywriters, especially new copywriters, take that—what you’re saying right there? Because it makes sense to me, but it also—it’s hard for me to break that down. What it really takes for me to see the big picture and understand the context of what your client needs, rather than just taking the order and giving them exactly what they’re asking for, which may not be what they actually need. Are there any tactics or any advice you’d give to a copywriter who just knows that they’re not doing that?
Myrna: Yeah, and I think that it’s two things. It’s asking a lot of questions and having a series of questions that you kind of ask always. And really thinking about what it is that you need in a project. And I think that’s one of the things that copywriters—they just, they get so excited—newbie copywriters especially—I was just as guilty when I started. Oh my god, it’s a project, it’s a project! But you forget that you need to start asking some questions to really define that project. I think the other thing that a lot of newbie copywriters forget about, is that they’re forgetting about the audience and their role in guiding the client to better communicating with their audience.
So what I mean by that is, and this just astounds me when I talk to a copywriter that says, “Oh, I’m just writing the copy—I’m not thinking about the audience and who I’m writing for,” because they I come from a project management background and an accounts services background, my primary reason for existing is to take care of my client and to make sure that that client takes care of their client or their customer. So I become as a copywriter, the client’s advocate, the customer’s advocate, and the audience advocate. And I think if you start to look at any project from that standpoint, you start to go, well, this email isn’t going to work for this audience. This email isn’t satisfying the need that this audience has for information. This need is satisfying what my customer wants, and they want to talk in this business jargon…
It’s not satisfying what—the audience isn’t hearing what they need to hear, or in the sequence that they need to hear it. Or the experience that they need to hear. And if you start framing everything that you do from the audience’s perspective, versus the client’s perspective, you’re going to be a lot more successful as a copywriter.
Rob: This is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot because where I write sales pages, the sales pages that stand in for a sales person, and all sales are a negotiation back and forth but you can’t really do that on a sales page. You can kind of do it, you know, through an email sequence, or if you’re warming up a customer through a funnel or a marketing campaign, but a lot of times, customers don’t go through funnels. They find a sales page, and it’s sort of like, okay, decision time. So using that sales experience to replicate that negotiation back and forth, all on the sales page, keeping the customer engaged, I think it’s a really critical skill set to have as a copywriter.
Myrna: Absolutely. And the more questions you can find out about you know, what is motivating the audience and what you’re trying to get them to do and I think that a lot of clients in the copywriting world, they want these big results, but they kind of forget and skip over the, well, what external and internal and philosophical problem am I trying to solve for this client?
Myrna: And I can’t tell you how many people forget—copywriters forget to write the call to action. You know? That’s great that you’re telling me I have all of these problems, but what do you want me to do next to solve that problem? And then once I’m there to solve that problem, what’s going to happen afterwards? What are the repercussions of not doing that? It’s sort of one of the reasons I follow, and I’ve been really following this sort of storytelling and Storybrand framework of, the audience is the hero. They’re the people that you’re trying to guide to a different outcome.
Kira: I’d love to get into the weeds and ask you about some of the questions you ask, and maybe it’s on the initial call, the sales call, to really understand what problem you’re trying to solve, and understand the audience and what they need, early on.
Myrna: One of the things that I’ve really shifted is, I used to try to do a little bit too much discovery during those intake calls and I realized that I need to spend a lot more time in a discovery call to make sure this is the kind of person I want to work with, you know? And how are they answering questions and what’s their process and what do they know about copywriting? The biggest shift for me in the past couple of months especially was when somebody asked me, well, what kind of people do you want to work with? And I started to really, really define the people that I’m talking to, and instead of focusing that initial sales call on necessarily all of the elements that I could solve, it was more about really listening to them, what their problems are, and how they think. And I started asking myself, is this somebody that I can work with? So then I started selling separately, discovery, you know, and my discovery and my strategy is really a big component of every copywriting project that I do, and how in-depth that discovery session is sort of depends on what they’re trying to do, but I don’t think that without doing that discovery session, where I have different questions depending on what it is that I’m trying to do, or find out, or what the copywriting project is going to be, I ask a different set of question for that.
So I’ll give you an example.
I recently sold a big website redesign project. It’s much more of a strategic project because as I started talking to the people, it’s for a non-profit, they’re wonderful to work with; they came to me with a problem. They said, we need copywriting. So I started asking them why they need copywriting, what was the problems with their copywriting, and it turns out that they needed a complete website redesign and they had absolutely nowhere to start. Well, I can’t do a website redesign project without doing a discovery session and without doing some strategic work up-front and without doing wireframes or without doing all of these things that I’ve been cross trained to do at the agency level. So, they want copywriting too, at the end, which is a good bulk of what the project is going to be at the end. But without selling the strategy portion and actually putting a value to it, which is where they really need my brain power, you’re going to be really stuck as a copywriter and not be able to really write well and to create the structure and you’re going to start churning.
So a lot of what I try to do as far as these discovery sessions is focus on specific problem areas I always run into. It might be something along the lines of marketing and sales objectives, how do we align sales in marketing? It might be their product offerings are the problem, so we focus a lot on product offering. It might be that the audience is a problem and that they haven’t defined the audience or it might be simply something that’s a usability problem Or it might be an SEO problem. So my discovery—I’ve always tried to do one discovery session that is very general and spend at least an hour to two hours, talking about all of the general problems because what that allows me to do is uncover the specific problems and that is where the next session, if you try to do two parts, the next session is going to be a very focused session, working on very specific problem that you’re trying to uncover, even more problems. Because you can’t come up with the solution if you don’t know what the problems are
Rob: So much of what you’re talking about seems to be rooted in processes. And the more that I’ve spoken with you, Myrna, the more I realize that you really focus in on and get your processes right, whether that’s onboarding and discovery, whether that’s your writing process, whether it’s the client management process throughout the entire thing. Will you talk a little bit about the thought that you’ve put behind your processes and why it’s so important?
Myrna: Yeah! I think that the reason that I’m—first of all, I’m an organization nerd, I’m a technology nerd—so I’m always looking for a better way to manage myself and I assume that if there’s a better way to manage me and my chaotic brain, there’s a better way to manage the chaos of a client. But you know, the thing about copywriting—and this is where I really struggle and why I actually joined the think-tank—was that, I quickly realized that I’m one person, I’m a solopreneur still, and that what I do when I work 1 on 1 and I give all this energy to strategy and I give all this energy to a client, is that it isn’t necessarily repeatable and scalable. And that, you know, how do I grow my business? How do I make that six figure thing and I’m not working 60 hours a week? And how do I get back some of my time and some of my life and some of my health and all of that? And I have a passion for all of this, but you can burn out really quickly doing this seven days a week. So the reason I do create as much process and things that are repeatable and things that are easy and I look for technology that helps me and infrastructure, is because I want to be able to repeat and scale everything. And I think that the other thing that it does is when you have this much infrastructure in process, it means that you don’t miss things either.
Knowing that I can walk a client through a discovery process every single time means that I’m not going to miss something that is going to help me write a lot faster. I mean, when I get to the point of writing a website, it shouldn’t take me a month to write this website. If I’ve gotten everything figured out, it’s actually the easiest part. It’s this other puzzle piece that helps me anticipate all of the problems so that I can get to the point of able to just crank out the copy.
And having it be right the first time! For me, it just gets me bigger projects that way and it gets me better clients who appreciate being guided through a process. People like the comfort of a process. If I go back to when my kids were little, they used to go to my mom’s house and there was a routine, there was a regime, and they’d go to someone else’s house, and it was a free-for-all. And my older one, she was able to verbalize it, and she said, “I like going to grandma’s house because there are rules.” Clients are the same way!
They love rules. And they love when someone gives them the blueprint or the path. So you know, I think that more than anything, it really builds authority and it helps you become the boss and they’re not dictating the schedule, they’re not dictating how the project’s going to go. By the time you get to the copy, it’s easy! They already believe you, they trust you’ll tell them what to do. And this is where I see a lot of copywriters struggling!
“The client is a disaster!” “The client is telling me what to do!” They’re over-editing, they’re doing blah, blah, blah. It starts with process. It starts with what you do up front and how you bring that client on and the questions you ask them. If you can make that client think differently in that process and ask questions that they didn’t consider about their copy or their process or their own website or something else that they’re doing, from the audience’s perspective, you have built so much authority that they go, oh the copy? Yeah, she’s right.
Kira: Right. Yeah, oh my goodness. (laughs) So if you’re like me-
Myrna: Sounds easy, right?
Kira: Well, I just am thinking. I’m listening. I’m like, everyone probably wants to hire you and have you come in and just help copywriters create processes because for a lot of us, it just doesn’t come easily and we want to reinvent everything every single time.
Myrna: Well, I’m just as guilty of that, and I always tweak stuff, and I’m always changing things and I think one of the good times to do this is when you have a bad experience or when you have an experience that didn’t go well. I started instituting at the agency, project postmortems with the team. And it was asking yourself, what did we do right? And then what did we do wrong? And usually the project where things went wrong, it will give you so many opportunities to correct things and to create new processes. And so did the ones that worked well. You start to find some common elements—when a project goes well, why did it go well? Was it because of the client or was it because something that you did for that client made that project easier? Or was a tool they used? Or did you try something different? I think that for me is the biggest thing. Ask yourself when a project went right or wrong, what happened, and how can I fix it?
Kira: That’s great advice. I’m just thinking through—I don’t take enough time to do that and reflect after each project. What else could we do—again, if processes do not come naturally to some of us—what could we do to just get started and at least improve in that department with our next client project? Is there one specific process or tip you would offer that could help us dramatically so it’s not as overwhelming as creating a system or a complete overhaul?
Myrna: That’s a great question, because you know, I’m constantly even asking myself where could I be better at things? And to me, it probably starts—and this is something I think I need to improve myself, especially if you’re doing a lot of cold-pitching—is the intake process and how to get that client out of their head to figure out what it is exactly that they want so you can find it and create proposals. And create proposals very quickly that answer the client’s question, which is why they came to you in the first place. That’s where many of us falter. If there’s one place that you could start to—and it will help you think about the rest of the process—it’s probably in that client intake. That first phone call. How do you build that relationship, what questions do you ask?
And it helps you improve your listening skills and your relationship skills. It’s not about selling yourself most of the time, it’s about listening. How do you listen, and how do you then translate what you heard into a solution and a package for your clients? I mean, I struggle with this, so I’m not necessarily the expert on that, but I know that once I have them, it’s easy to get them to that next point, but I think it all starts with that proposal and making sure you create the right boundaries in that proposal as well.
Rob: Myrna, I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about your agency experience. You helped build an agency, you worked for another agency, and now you’re working outside of an agency but I think you still sometimes work with agencies so I’m curious what you think copywriters, who maybe don’t have that same experience, should be able to learn or could be able to learn from what’s going on inside agencies today?
Myrna: Yeah! I think about this and sometimes people who know me know I’m sort of thinking that the agency model’s broken, or that I create this very dystopian world of an agency…
Rob: And some agencies are dystopian, so that’s fair. Not all.
Myrna: …Yeah, not all are. Agencies just have the best intentions. Especially ones that are just starting out or they’re growing. I think there’s just a couple of things that, if you want to work with an agency—huge advantage is that you get access a lot of different smart people if it’s a good agency. And the boutique agencies that I’ve worked at were very focused on technology and digital marketing in particular, and emergent marketing, so how to take new technology and take old principles of direct response, and apply them to new technologies, which is really cool for me because that’s what I love to do. But you have access to a lot of brainpower. And you have access to a lot of cross training. The best copywriters in an agency, are also tend to be creative directors in the old school model. They’re the people who are most creative, they come up with ideas, they come up with concepts. They’re great thinkers and they understand how what they’re doing relates to a campaign and a client. When you work with an agency, you get the client perspective that you don’t always get working one on one. And I say that because you don’t get the perspective of how they work with all other aspects, so how do you integrate design, how do you integrate development, how do you integrate strategy? So the agency world is great because you get these bigger projects and you get a lot of different moving parts.
Rob: Do you think it’s possible to replicate that outside of an agency?
Myrna: I definitely think so. We’ve talked about this in our think-tank group. What are the different models? Can you have a micro-agency, where you have this group of creatives that you rely on and maybe a designer, developer, you have these resources that you manage in order to give the client what they need. I think you can replicate that way. I think there’s a collaborative model where you collaborate with other copywriters that give you a little bit of that so you can do bigger work, say content marketing work, and then you have a funnel specialist, you have a click specialist, a website specialist, a sales page specialist… so you can coordinate those.
You can do something that I’m experimenting with, which is this shared CMO model where I would like to get one major client that I basically am there to facto-CMO and I manage maybe their in-house team, so I can get, yet, I Can still take on writing projects that—and pick and choose exactly what it is that I want with the rest of the week. So there’s a lot of different models that you can develop from the copywriter role, but I think from a copywriter standpoint, working at an agency or with an agency, just opens your eyes a lot to the possibilities of what you can do.
Kira: You’ve mentioned a couple of times “cross-training” and that is a good way of putting it. Because when I think of you I think of a cross trainer because you’re just good at everything! I feel like you’re the go-to person, especially in our think-tank, because of your background, but I think you’re right. We can get that—if we’re a non-agency, we can still find that and have that background with collaborations and different courses and certifications to kind of pull this interest in learning when you’re not in the agency space.
Myrna: Yeah, and I think it’s a mindset more than it is necessarily a model sometimes. It’s a mindset of you know, and it certainly helps me upsell a little bit too, it’s a mindset of yeah, you’re hiring me to do a website redesign, and yeah I realize that you know, if I start looking at your funnels that effect my website, that your funnels are also broken, and the calls to action on your landing page are broken, and you know. I start to build the authority through the strategy and the website and then I start to talk about well, look at your funnels, and look at this process, and what about your SEO? Have you thought about this? And you start to uncover things that now make you pretty much indispensable to them.
And, if they like your style and your writing, suddenly you have this giant client that you can put on a retainer or you can become their CMO. I think it takes a special mindset from the standpoint of you don’t mind pivoting and you don’t mind diving into something that might not be as comfortable doing sometimes. I’m more of a content writer than I am necessarily a copywriter, sometimes. I still struggle, as you guys know, with sales pages. They’re not my thing. And in certain industries they’re really not my thing. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t push myself out of that comfort zone to help somebody. And actually become pretty good at it; so, when I say “cross-training”, I think that has a lot to do with your mindset, as far as be willing to push yourself outside of that comfort zone and do something you might not be good at.
Kira: Yeah, and Myrna, I want to shift gears and kind of back up a bit because I can’t let this go, but, I was just thinking through how you started over in your business, and what it really takes to start over, and it sounded refreshing as you were just saying it, but you know a lot of us do need to start over, maybe several times, where there’s a big pivot. So I’d like to hear what that really looks like, the good and the bad, I mean, what it really takes to start over, especially just thinking through what are you working on first when you’re working from scratch.
Myrna: Yeah, you know, there’s two elements to it. There’s like the “doing” part, right? The actual, like, I got to start a business and I’ve got to restart my business, and I’ve got the twenty things that need to happen from legal entities to paperwork, to proposals and websites; all that. But, there’s this mindset part that I think we don’t talk about enough, as far as copywriters and the fears, and the confidence, and a lot of us are introverts so we think that the world is like, you know, it’s a scary place. And I know I come across as confidence and I may come across as people think that I’m outgoing, and everyone’s all “oh, you’re an extrovert”—and I’m like, I’m not. I don’t draw energy; I just go and crawl into my, you know, into my office here and just kind of pout, and you know, get angry and scared and cry. My suggestion is to get a big pair of sunglasses and go outside and talk a walk on the beach. But you know, the mindset of that is that it really took me—this is my third attempt at sustaining the business, right, at solopreneur business. I had a passion for it, it’s what drives me. It’s kind of my “why”. And I need to be in this; I don’t want to work for somebody else, I don’t want to build somebody’s else’s business up anymore. I want to build up my own business. But there’s this huge fear about security and stability, and that’s the part that you really have to figure out how to overcome.
You know, for those who sell that this is a four-hour workweek or that, you know, you can do this part time, it’s tough. It’s really, really tough. You got to be somehow all in and make that commitment that you’re going to transition and do it, you know. You can’t be tempted; you got to be surrounded by a support system that says, you know—I’ve told everyone in my life, if I ever say to you that I’m going to go back and work for a real company you know, a real agency, ever again, you all need to stop me and have an intervention. And once you make that decision, I think that somehow things sort of fall into place. And you are going to be driven to do what you really want to do. I had to overcome stupid things like, it took me like six months to get my own website up and running, and that’s because I’m a perfectionist and I built it all myself, I didn’t trust anybody else to do it the way I wanted it done, and so I started, you know, moving pixels at the end. And I’m like, just get this out into the world! So, my only advice is, get yourself out there faster. As soon as I put my website out there, and I felt comfortable about selling who I was and thinking it through, awesome clients come in! I haven’t pinched new clients in a while. I actually get a lot more referrals—people work with me and they’re like, “Oh my God I need your brain!” So, you know the hardest part is making that initial decision to just…this is what I’m going to do and nothing’s going to stop me.
Rob: Yeah, I don’t necessarily beat a dead horse here, but we recently did an interview with Doberman Dan that we didn’t share on iTunes, but we’re sharing with our subscriber list, and he talks about how, for ten years, he focused on skillset, and you know, just got really good at what he did but his business didn’t move forward until he started working on mindset, which he said has now just—I don’t want to say “10x’d”—but, has helped his business grow in new ways that, you know, he couldn’t do before because he just didn’t have all of that thinking done.
Myrna: Yeah, and I think a lot of it is, quite honestly, it’s also getting the help and investing in yourself. Your business? I don’t think it’s going to grow if you don’t start changing the way that you think about getting some support, getting some help. It just challenges you to think differently. And I know, I mean I—besides being in a mastermind, you know—I’ve invested in a business coach, and she helps me with a lot of my mindset part, and you know, just confidence and about thinking about your business in a different structure or what pushes you outside that comfort zone and, how do you deal with things when you’re outside of your comfort zone and, you know like yesterday, I was feeling extremely overwhelmed and, you know, I get panicked about all the things that you’re trying to be patient while you’re waiting for a big proposal to come through, or you can get a hold of the client, and downtime for me is the worst because I start to panic about why it’s down. So you know, the best advice I got yesterday was, “you know what, chaos is actually good. You need to learn to be in the chaos, and chaos is a sign that you’re growing; chaos is a sign you’re uncomfortable, which means that you are actually getting to that next step. And, you know, if you don’t start shooting for the moon you’re never going to…. you know, at least part of the journey is part of what is going to change you and make your business different.
Kira: That makes me feel better, because my life is chaotic everyday, so I feel like I must be on the right path!
Myrna: Chaos is actually a good sign that your brain is thinking and that you’re doing things differently and, you know, there’s ways to harness that chaos as well and, you know, I’m big about putting structure to chaos and it’s like, get it all down, you know? I think Amy Porterfield talks about an “attack of the overwhelms”. And then I’m constantly having an attack of the overwhelms, and the best thing to do about that is juts have a big brain dump and write down everything and then start categorizing it and you’ll start to see, it’s like “well that’s not so bad”, it just feels really overwhelming at 3am.
Rob: I think there’s probably a lot of people listening who really like your approach as sort of this CMO-for-hire. What does a typical project look like, you know? Obviously, you’re not just taking on blog posts or even just one sales page at a time. Tell us, you know, how a project like that comes together, and what you do to make sure that the client’s happy at the end.
Myrna: Yeah, and that’s kind of an interesting thing because that’s something that’s really evolving for me, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that. And it’s a natural progression for me because I do so much of the strategy work upfront. I kind of see it as two parts of my brain: there’s “thinking”, and then there’s the “doing” part, right? And, the CMO role in, say, a smaller organization where there’s a lot of chaos is that it is to bring them back into some structure. So, a lot of—I’ll give a good example—I just put out a proposal out there to do this for a big client, and he’s got two different business entities for something that he does and he’s got two other business entities that he invests in. You know, one’s a retail company, one’s a software technology kind of company, and he’s all over the place. And he’s so busy doing, that he’s never stopped and actually gone, “what am I trying to do and how am I trying to do this? Do I have the right people in place?”
So, the CMO role the way I see it is structuring it, is to work on bringing the client back from the weeds and looking at things sort of at the aerial thirty-thousand foot level. And, translating that to me so that I can understand exactly what they’re doing, who they’re doing it for, and why, right, and what they expect the results to be. And then there’s this other component that is the bulk of the work, actually, which is the “doing”; which is, when we’re executing these campaigns, are they the most sufficient they can be? What are the campaigns; what do they look like? Do we have the right people in our organization, in either in-house, or do we need to go out and get some more subs and manage those people, and make sure that they’re all on the same page? Can I find one person that does more of the campaign that is a cross-trainer that can actually execute on some of these things? It’s really taking a bigger, deeper dive in harnessing a lot more chaos on a bigger level. As far as my copywriting goes, I think it becomes much more of a…from an editorial standpoint, and managing other copywriters, so it kind of molds into that agency mode as well. And then it’s sometimes going to be there’s certain things that somebody just maybe can’t do or we can’t find somebody that gets the voice that is embedded in the client as I am. So for example, one of the things I love writing is video scripts. I have a hard time finding other writers who, once they know a lot about this client and I tend to work with some clients that have maybe boring industries or difficult things to understand or difficult products to sell, is that you know I just can’t find somebody who gets the voice of that—yeah—to write a video script. So, I’ll get into that and I’ll write the video script. So I see it as kind of a three-tiered level, so it’s much more strategic, it’s managing the doers, and sometimes getting involved with actual writing projects.
Kira: How packaging those big proposals—especially, I know, we chatting about the recent one—without sharing the exact numbers, but sometimes it feels so daunting when you’re thinking of, “Okay great, I’ve got a client, I know how to solve their problem, I know they have a budget to solve this big problem, this may take three months, six months…” How do I break it down in the proposal so that they say “yes”, and I don’t short change myself?
Myrna: Yeah, and that’s a great question because, I mean, it’s still something that I’m—that is evolving for me, but I think that the initial way that I’ve been thinking about it is that, you know, again I’ve separating into thinking and doing. So, because I don’t want a client to take up forty hours of my week because I need to diversify—I like to stay “recession-proof”, if you will—and not rely only on one single client, I set a limit as to how many hours a week I think and I can devote to that client, in terms of the actual doing and managing of people, right? So, as weird as it is to say, I’m structuring it around not an hourly rate, but a breakdown of you get not to exceed this many hours per week, per month. And give them a lump sum figure, and I’m basing that lump sum figure on a more agency-type rate, so that in case I need to go hire somebody, and I know roughly what average agency rates are, so I know that if I stay in that range, that I can afford to outsource some of the things or get some of the tools that I need. And that will include x amount of activities. Separately from that, I think that it—and that’s a monthly deal with a minimum, like, six-month deal, because you can’t make change for somebody in an organization as a CMO in less than six months.
Kira: I just have a follow up to that, Myrna: what is the agency rate roughly? I mean I know it probably varies.
Myrna: It varies, and it varies on the individual, but like in a big city for example, like a Chicago or an LA, it’s probably ranging from the 125 to, I don’t know, 175 rate, depending on…like a blended rate.
Rob: Cool. So, Myrna, as we get close to wrapping up, I want to ask: What things do you wish you’d done differently throughout your career? Are there regrets where you look back and you think, “aw, man, I could’ve just done so much more—so much better—if I had only done this instead of that?”
Myrna: Well, I try not to live in the rearview mirror, that’s why they say the windshield is the bigger one, whereas the rearview mirror is so little—because you shouldn’t be looking in the rearview mirror. But, probably my biggest regret is not sticking to building my own business and having the confidence to believe in myself, that I could make writing my life my job. I took the last agency position because I thought it was secure and I thought it was good money and insurance and you know, the right reasons: for stability and family and all of that. I came home after signing the contract and I said, I think I made a mistake. I’m going to regret this. It’s not listening to your gut enough. My biggest regret is that when I don’t listen to my gut, and know that it’s a bad decision for me and I do it anyway, I need to start listening to my gut and have the confidence to just keep going and you know, I just didn’t at the time. And you know, life changed everything and it put me in a circumstance when I had no choice but to rebuild something. And that’s the best thing for me right now.
Kira: Wow, and Myrna, this has been just so interesting and insightful and I feel like you have added so much value to our think-tank group and we’re just both so grateful that you’re in there because you’ve helped everyone with all of your expertise and knowledge, especially from the agency world. If someone listening wants to get in touch with you, has a question, wants to work with you, hire you, where can they find you?
Myrna: Yes, please! Well, the best place to start would be probably on my website and because I have such a weird name, I actually use a business name and that is artessamarketing.com. Or find me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, wherever. You know. I do a lot of social media. And in The Copywriter Club. So, I’m definitely active in there as well.
Rob: Yeah, and you’ve added so much; it’s been awesome talking to you. It was so much deeper than what we normally get to do and this has been really valuable.
Myrna: No, thank you guys! It’s a lot of fun to talk about the things that I’m passionate about so I appreciate the platform.
Kira: Thank you, Myrna.
Rob: Yeah, thank you, so much!
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