Ryan Johnson, Head Copywriter at IWT (short for I Will Teach, Ramit Sethi’s company) steps up to the microphone with Kira and Rob for the 53rd episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. This interview covers a lot of ground, including:
• how after a grueling interview in his car, Ryan failed to get a job with IWT only to get hired a few months later (never give up)
• how to get inside the head of your client so you can speak with his or her voice
• his process for laying out all the moving pieces of a launch, and
• how he maps emotions to his launch plans so customers can’t wait to respond
• the 7 deadly email funnel sins
• two reasons to use long-form sales pages
• the “leap stacking” technique he uses to help his writers uplevel their skill (and what doesn’t work when trying to improve)
Plus Ryan shares the “copy levers” that Gary Bencivenga used to get better at his craft, how he avoids writer’s block, and the one thing he would do if he had to start his career all over. Lots of good stuff packed into this episode. To hear it, click the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
The Briefcase Technique
The Headline Project
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
The Copywriter Club Podcast is sponsored by Airstory, the writing platform for professional writers who want to get more done in half the time. Learn more at Airstory.co/club.
Rob: What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, and then steal an idea or two 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 53 as we chat with in house copywriter, Ryan Johnson, about he became a copywriter and landed a job writing for Ramit Sethi, how he tackles a massive launch, capturing the voice of your client, and how long it takes him to write a 50 plus page sales letter.
Rob: Yes, welcome Ryan.
Ryan: Thank you for having me. Glad to be here.
Kira: Yeah, it’s great to have your here, and I think a great place to start is just with your story of how did you end up becoming a copywriter?
Ryan: It was kind of a circular process to copywriting. I didn’t even know what copywriting was at the very beginning. My original interests were in film and creative writing, which led me into a delightful career waiting tables. After a few years of that, my first real job was in instructional design, and I was editing textbooks, and building training programs. I actually ended up designing an associates degree in business. I packaged and edited textbooks on business, and economics, and entrepreneurship before I realized that doing that was with no experience was totally crazy. But it was a good baseline.
But while I was doing this, I can still remember. I was in the middle of editing this 500 page textbook on economics, which is about as exciting as it sounds, and my wife was working as a creative copywriter, and she was getting paid much, much more than me to edit this glossy one page ad. It looked like so much fun and so much easier than what I was doing. I’m like, “I’m doing something wrong, ‘cause there’s clearly a cap on where I am, and there’s no clap over here.” So shortly after I figured out how I could transition into marketing, into copywriting. It’s been a race every since.
Rob: You’re working as an in house copywriter, but what does that look like today? What is the day to day … How do you spend your time? What are you working on? Those kinds of things.
Ryan: Yeah, so with Ramit at IWT / Growth Lab, I am the head of the sales team and the editorial teams. I oversee all of the in-house copywriters in all these different facets, all the material that we produce.
All the blog posts, emails, sales pages, up sale pages, all the little copy that you don’t think about, but ties all this stuff together.
Rob: And how did you connect with Ramit?
Ryan: I was a longtime reader, I’ve been with Ramit for over six years now. But back in the very beginning, I was just reading his blog, and he had an advertisement for a case study writer, just a freelance position a few hours a week, and I applied for it. It was the most grueling application that I had been through. There was multiple rounds of tests I had to go through, samples I had to do, interviews. Actually, I took the interview, I took it on a lunch break at work, it was in the middle of the summer. I’m in my car, it’s 100 degrees, and I’m just roasting in the car.
And he asked me, “Hey, give me an example of somebody that’s doing copywriting well, content marketing well.” And my mind totally blanked, and I knew instantly, I just lost this, it’s over. And sure enough, I didn’t get the position. But I had been reading Ramit for a while, and I knew about his briefcase technique and a lot of the great material he had, so I called in sick the next day, spent the whole day preparing a briefcase to sell Ramit on why I was the right guy. And I ended up doing that twice with two different proposals for Ramit.
I still didn’t get the position, he hired someone else. But that person fizzled out. He called me a few weeks later and said, “Hey, you still interested, you want to give it a shot?” Absolutely. So I started writing case studies for him, and that quickly turned into other types of blog posts. And yeah, six years later, taking on more and more.
Kira: Wow. Okay, cool. So I’d love to hear more about the path copywriters can follow – and I know it’s different for everyone, but for a copywriter that’s listening that wants to become a top, high-performing copywriter, or even potentially in-house managing a team, where should they start early on?
Ryan: I don’t think there’s one path that you can take. There’s definitely threads that a lot of the successful writers have in common. My path is a bit unusual, because I started in literature and film and storytelling, and then I was in instructional design and product development. And it was only after years of that, that I moved into copywriting and direct response, and I was writing ads and sales letters and brochures.
That foundational experience has really impacted how I approach copy. And most copywriters don’t come in with a foundation in product development, really thinking about the product. They look at it, and think okay, what are the benefits of this? But not the impact on the person actually using it.
And I did sales copywriting for a while, and I kept running into blocks. Challenges like man, it would be a whole lot easier to sell this if the product was a little bit different. Or, if our brand had a slightly different position. Setting things up to make it harder to sell. And I could see this in other businesses as well. And that led me into brand and into strategy, really trying to get to the root cause of a lot of these things.
And those in turn were very powerful in the copywriting that I was doing as well. So I became a Swiss army knife, where I could come in and look at a piece of copy, as direct response. I could look at it as editorial. I could think about the brand implications of it. It allowed me to be versatile in a way that a lot of copywriters aren’t. A lot of copywriters are very, very specialized. “I write sales letters for the financial industry, in this one format. And if you want that I can do a pretty good job, but if you want anything else, if your brand is different in any way, eh, it’s going to be hard.”
So what I think helps a lot of writers who really make it to that top level is, yeah, be good at what you’re doing, but also try and get out of that bubble that you’re in. Look at different types of copy. Build that versatility, because the best can take those core lessons and apply them to other things.
Rob: Let’s talk about that just a little bit more. Obviously a lot of the stuff that you’re writing on a daily basis is not in your own voice, you’re working for somebody else, and it’s in his voice, it’s his products or at least the brand he’s built around himself. How do you get yourself into another person’s shoes in order to create copy that reflects, like you’re saying, their brand or their personality?
Ryan: For me, a lot of it is acting. With my background in screenwriting, one of the things I had to do was write a lot of screenplays. There’s a lot of different characters in a screenplay, that means I’m writing dialogue for different people. I’m writing dialogue for the husband, dialogue for the wife, dialogue for the villain, dialogue for the hero, dialogue for the child.
To do that, I would literally stand up, pretend to be that person, and act it out, and try and even do it in their voice. That’s hard at first, but it gets easier and easier, and pretty soon you can start to feel what that person is feeling, think what that person is thinking.
The same is true in copywriting. If you have a client with a particular voice, it’s about getting into their mindset and being able to pretend that you’re them. Reading all their material, watching all of their videos. How would they think through this problem? How would they express this? And you can shortcut it, but looking at what they say over and over and over again – what’s the phraseology that they would use to describe x? And you can collect some of those things, start to build a map for how they think about it.
Kira: I like that idea of acting it out, I can say I have never done that and I really need to do that to embrace the voice of my clients. And it could be really fun, right? Get costumes, wigs, maybe that’s going too far?
Ryan: A good example is Jay Abraham. Jay Abraham has a very particular voice. He’s very articulate, he has a great vocabulary. And the way Jay’s mind works, he understands so many different industries and ideas and strategies, and they’re all coming into his head at once. and you can see it in the way he speaks and the way he writes, because he lists a lot of things. “Hey, you could do this. You could send it out via partnerships, the direct sales, the phone team, whatever it is.”
And you see those lists, and those are just all of those different options, popping into his head. He sort of tosses a question out there, and he gets multiple answers back to back to back.
Kira: No, I’d love to hear more about your writing process, once you get past that stage where you really understand the voice. What does it look like, as far as the time required for research, especially since you’re working with a team. What actually happens behind the scenes?
Ryan: If you’re producing copy, one of the things you need to do is research to really dive into the customer, into the product. One of the things you hear a lot of copywriters talk about is discovering the actual words that the customer uses, so that you can bake those into your copywriting.
One of the great things about working on a team, the idea of a team, is that we have a whole product team totally focused on deep customer research, baking that into the products, and sharing that information.
So any project that we come onto, we are building off of a lot of that core work that they’ve already done. So if you’re a solo copywriter, you can do that work on your own. But one of the advantages that we have is, baking that into the process ends up saving us time.
Rob: Can I ask about the process leading up to a launch? How do you guys as a team work together to decide who’s doing which piece, how many pieces there are, whether it’s emails or landing pages, your follow-up sequences, videos? How does that all come together, then how do you distribute the work to your team? What does that all look like?
Ryan: That is a gigantic question.
Rob: That’s why I asked it.
Ryan: Product launch, building a funnel, there’s so many different aspects of it. How do you start it, how do you build it, the timing and all this. It’s really easy to get overwhelmed. One of the things that I find very helpful to break this down is to think about it in terms of layers. Put all these layers in. Then it’s a lot easier to assign each piece out.
The first layer that I think about is just a pure structural layer. Okay, so you’re launching a product. What is the launch date? When do sales actually open? When do sales close? Let’s put those two pillars into the ground. Are there any other things you know at this time? Maybe there’s a webinar that you know of. Maybe there’s some affiliate promotions that are involved, you know the dates on them. When does the funnel actually start?
That’ll give you a framework that you can actually start building in, a container. Then the next thing is to think about the sales fundamentals. There’s a lot of models for how sales will work through the AIDA: attention, interest, desire, action. And you can start to map that over the structure you’ve built.
So okay, sales will open at this point. This is focused on action, buying the product. What’s the desire phase look like? What are the key pieces that we need to hit there? Let’s put those locks in place. How are we building their interest, there’s a few blocks we gotta put in there. And how are we just getting their attention at the very beginning? Everyone’s busy, they’ve got their own things to worry about, you’ve got to somehow get in their home, get in the conversations they’re having. What are we doing there?
So you can start to map those blocks out, and that’ll start to give you a shape for what this funnel could look like. There’s lots of room to tweak it at this point. Then you can add another layer over that. That could be an emotional layer. Buying a product is a very emotional process, people don’t usually buy for logical reasons, they buy for an emotional reason and they make up these logical reasons.
So what are they feeling right now at the very beginning? Let’s get very clear on that. Let’s specifically call it out, let’s write it down and make sure that we’re meeting it then. And where do we want them to be at any of those key milestones when sales open? When sales close? You can specifically write those down. I’ll even draw the whole funnel on a board, and write out, “This is the emotion they should be feeling at this moment.”
And you can start to connect the dots between those. Okay, they’re gonna start out disinterested, they’re busy, they’re living their lives. You want to get them curious. Okay, now that they’re curious, let’s get them excited, something’s coming. And then right before the product is gonna be launched, you want them feeling hopeful. Or maybe it’s nervous, depending on what your product is, what your industry is.
So you map all of those out, and you can start to wiggle some of the blocks underneath it as well. So each layer that you add, allows you to get a little more specific about what you need at each step of the way.
Another layer that you can add is interest. Is this fun, is this interesting? You can go through each piece along the way here and say, what’s gonna get someone’s attention? Okay, I want them to feel this way, and then we have to open sales. That’s a mechanical step in the process. What’s unusual and interesting here, it’s like watching a TV show. There’s some sort of hook that’s going to get you to keep going. You can brainstorm ideas for those at each step of the way. And as you do, you want to make sure that each layer you add lines up with the ones underneath it, just as your walls would line up with your foundation.
And keep stacking those layers, and eventually you’ll get to the point where, oh okay, I have this full outline now. I know I need these emails, these five, 10, 12, however many emails you want. And email one needs to do these four things. Email two needs to do these three. That gives you the map. Once you have the map, it’s easy to take: alright, you can write email one, you can write email two, you can write email three, and assign those out, schedule those. That becomes more of a project management process at that point.
Kira: Wow, okay. So I love this visual, it’s really helpful. I would love to hear what you’ve noticed in the marketplace, as far as where do we go wrong with our funnel? Especially with our email funnel, where do things fall apart for a lot of online marketers and even copywriters who are working on launches?
Rob: there are so many ways to go wrong.
Ryan: I mean, you can think about just going back to those layers of the funnel. If any of those layers are missing, that’s one way you can go wrong. Or if they’re misaligned, that’s another way to go wrong.
You can see that, you’ll get into a funnel, and you’ll run into an email like, I was really interested reading what they were doing, and this thing feels so boring. Or, why are they talking about this? Or, they keep beating me over the head.
And the reason is, some of those core fundamental things don’t line up. I mean, I’ve gone through dozens and dozens and dozens of funnels. My team, not to mention all the ones I’ve read, there are a number of common problems I’ve seen. I call these the seven deadly email funnel sins. They pop up again and again. And they’ve gotten to the point where we can call them out by name, someone will submit a funnel outline, like, “Oh, no, you’re committing lecture mode,” which is the first funnel sin.
It’s where you’re just lecturing, you’re nagging somebody to death. You see this in a lot of emails out there where the writer wants you to learn something even though it’s kinda boring, they haven’t gone through the work of making it interesting or entertaining finding that hook. They’re just going to beat you over the head. That’s one of them.
The second email sin I see a lot, I call “straight to sex,” and this one, you just jump right into selling whatever it is. You’re not gonna sweet-talk, there’s no foreplay here, it’s just, “hey! Here’s my offer, you better take it.”
You know, there’s a time and a place for that. But if you do it over and over and over again, it gets really, really old. People start to tune you out.
Another one I see a lot of is logic attack. And you can see this in certain writers. Certain writers are very logical-minded, very right-brained. They go, “Well, if I just lay out all the reasons why you should join this course or buy this product, or use this service, of course you’ll say yes.” So their emails look like “If A, then B, then C,” and they’re not gonna convince you at all. Because nobody buys for logical reasons, they buy for emotional reasons.
Another one you see a lot of is magical thinking. And you don’t often see these in actual sent-out funnels. But you see them in people building funnels internally. And that’s where, “I want to sell this product, but I’m not entirely sure how to do it, I’ll send out a fun email, and then we’ll do a case study of a successful student, and then people will be ready to buy.” But what is it about this case study that’s gonna actually get people excited, actually make them want to join? And they don’t have an answer.
They like to say, “Oh, we can do an AMA, an Ask Me Anything about this. Everyone loves those.” Okay, but how does that actually get us to the next step, what if nobody shows up to it? What’s the Plan B? You can start to poke holes in it.
One of the things I ask my writers, and I use this framework as well: hey, if you’re gonna put anything down in your emails, if you’re gonna plan this, assume that you have to write it tomorrow, under a very tight turnaround, and if you can’t do that, you should probably not include that in the email. Be very specific that this is doable and this is going to work, and that you can do it.
There’s room for moon shots, you can still write those on the side, but don’t bet the bank on that.
Another one that I see a lot of is, I like to call Groundhog Day. People start to write and they get an email, and they like the template, they like the format, so they include another one. And then another one. Pretty soon, reading their emails, you’re sending me the same thing over and over and over again, the same message, it’s the same length, you’re using the same type of pictures and the same space. After a while you just tune out, like, “Ah, I’ve already read this. There’s nothing new here.”
You have to really use different types of emails, different structures, different lengths, really vary it up.
The last one is, you can avoid all those things I just mentioned, but sometimes you see emails and you read it, and you think, “Man, this is boring. There’s nothing in here worth reading.” This one, I probably see more than any other one. And it feels like they felt like they had to write an email, and didn’t really have any juice that they actually wanted to share.
The best trick I’ve ever found is, when you’re outlining an email funnel, when you’re writing it, if you’re not super jazzed about reading the final email, if it’s not something that you’d say, “Man, I really want to share this with somebody,” you should probably just delete it, right there. Find something else to do. Because if you’re not excited about it, nobody else is gonna be excited about it. That can be hard to do on deadline, and “Man, this is a funnel, I gotta write 10 other things,” but you can’t trick anybody into being excited about your business or your product. You have to genuinely get them interested.
Rob: Yeah. I want to shift gears just a little bit. You guys produce a lot of content in addition to a lot of copy. I know that’s sort of a fuzzy line between the two, there’s some people that think, “Copy that sells is the only true form of copywriting,” but it seems like you guys embrace a wider range of words that represent copywriting, building a relationship from start to finish.
Can you talk about that balance, and how much you think through: when is it appropriate that you’re talking about something in a blog post, versus an email, versus a launch page?
Ryan: Yes. I love this question, and I’ve had this debate with a number of people on both sides of the spectrum.
I never understood the whole, “Direct response is the only true type of copywriting.” It’s a sort of pure sales mindset. There’s a lot of power in direct response, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of the tools and structures that come with it also really undercut a lot of what it’s trying to do. And you can see that in a lot of direct response businesses, where we’re using the tools, we’re pushing really hard, all the little tricks with scarcity and risk reversals, and extra bonuses on timers and whatnot. It drives a whole lot of extra people into the product, but there’s no trust there, there’s no reputation. So refunds become high and you get a lot of low-value people into the product. Refunds are high, then they gotta push even harder on driving more leads into the system. That means they have to push even harder on the direct response, on the sales. The end result is, you wind up having to sell a lot harder, because there’s no core brand to support you.
If you think about someone who does something totally different, like Apple – when you walk into an Apple store, you trust that you’re going to get a good product. When they say, “Hey, we need to take your phone for a little bit to transfer the data,” you don’t worry about getting your phone back. As opposed to, “Hey man, I’m reading this really long sales page, and is this a scam? Is this gonna actually do what I want it to do? If I want a refund, are they actually gonna give me my money back, or is this gonna be a huge, long nightmare?”
A whole lot of sales strategy is about forcing people into getting that trust so that they’re willing to buy. But in forcing people, they’re eroding that trust at the very core foundation. So one of the things that we’re trying to do is to pull back a little bit from some of those direct response tactics. Let’s think about the brand, let’s think about trust. Let’s think about the value that we’re adding. We add value upfront. Not fake value, and “Hey, let me tell you a really good story. But first I want to talk about blah blah blah.”
Genuinely building that brand and trust, entertaining them so that when it does come time to sell, people are ready to buy. And we see this in a lot of their products. People will come in and write these really long sales pages, and some people won’t even read it. They’ll just go right to the bottom and buy. That’s totally crazy. We’re doing all this work on these sales, and people trust us so much that they don’t even need it, they’re ready to jump in buying right then. It’s power.
Kira: I’d love to hear, Ryan, just about people also argue about our attention spans and long-form or short-form copy. So I know you have incredibly long sales pages. What have you found from your data that you’ve collected as far as what actually works, have you tested short-form versus long-form? Can you share that with us, just to help us with that argument?
Ryan: Yes, yes. I don’t even know who said it, but who reads all this long copy? The buyers read it. We are known for long copy, long sales pages. Some of them are over 50, 60 pages. Not all of them, some of them are actually short.
There’s a couple reasons behind why we do it. We’ve tested the long copy a lot, and it definitely works for us. Two key reasons that we like it are: if you’re on the fence about the value, it takes a little bit of work to read that long copy sales page. You’re gonna put in the effort to do it, and that gives us a better quality of student, that makes life easier for everybody. That means less hassles for our student success team, that means better student results, we get higher quality students, so more of them are being successful. It means lower refunds, because we get fewer tire-kickers who are just coming in and they were never gonna succeed anyway. It’s a good trickle-down effect on everything else in our business.
The other part is that, who reads long copy? The buyers. Let’s put all the information in there, let’s make sure there’s real value in it as well. So you could read a sales page, and if you don’t buy, you still learned something from it. We’re always leaning into that value.
Rob: Yeah, the one thing about the pages you guys do at IWT, there’s long copy and then there’s IWT long copy, which breaks all of the screenshot apps that try to grab it all, because they are so long. You guys have it down to a science.
Ryan: Not quite science. There’s a lot of messy art behind it. there’s a lot we want to share, a lot that we want to give, not just to our students but to the readers, who want to get ready for that job. We’re happy to share it.
Kira: I’d love to shift gears and ask you about up-leveling. So, so many copywriters, especially new ones, they’re hungry and they want to improve fast. So what can they do to improve, have you tested anything that’s worked for your writers or for yourself?
Ryan: Yes. As the head of the sales and editorial team, finding copywriters, up-leveling copywriters, has been a key piece of my job. And I’ve tried a lot of different things, different levels of success with different options.
One of the things we tried early was, we called it a shadowing program. We used Google Docs, so all the revision history is there if you want to look at everything that happened to a sales page. You could track what were the changes and all that.
So it’s very self-paced. Hey, here’s the pieces that went out, study all the different revisions. That works if you’re super, super gung-ho and you have access to it. But for most writers, they didn’t take the initiative to do it.
We also tried building out SOPs, guidelines, this is exactly how the copy should look, how it should flow, the rules for different types of pieces. And what I found was, the best writers didn’t need the SOPs, they could build them on their own, on the fly. And other people didn’t know how to use them. Those weren’t helpful either. You see this, a lot of copywriters looking for templates and what the rules are, give me the shortcuts. And well, we tested it, and sometimes those aren’t as helpful as you think they’re actually going to be.
Another one we did was a two-month training program for the in-house team, and it was very intensive, I built it around research, on talent, on how masters of different domains train and improve their skills. We had daily exercises in a shared forum, we had large weekly assignments, we had ongoing feedback, we had discussion and all of these things.
It was a ton of fun, and there was almost immediate improvement in the exercises. But what we found was, a lot of those improvements, they didn’t clearly and consistently trickle down into the actual work. So we could sort of work the system to get better at this small, specific skill, but when it came time to, “Okay, now go write a new funnel,” all those weren’t reflected in the core writing.
When I think about up-leveling writers fast, and skill improvements, one of the biggest insights was, the biggest gains aren’t really from building your skill but from building the process around it. And a good example is actually one of my favorite copywriting stories: Gary Bencivenga was writing, wanted to get more competitive. “How can I stand out? How can I be different?”
What he decided to do was to take on fewer clients, fewer projects, and spend more time on the ones that he did take. He was gonna spend twice as much time and write extra long copy, longer than anybody else was doing. And was successful. His pieces were beating other people’s pieces. He was actually doing less work, but doing it better. He had a disproportionate impact.
And other people started to copy that, and then he doubled down and spent even more time, more edits. What’s super fascinating about that was, it wasn’t that Gary Bencivenga had more raw talent, because he’s competing against other investors who were just as talented. But he was using some core copy [inaudible 00:30:13], and really working those. Okay, so what are those copy [inaudible 00:30:18]?
There is the raw talent, there’s a skill. It takes a lot of time to improve. There isn’t really a shortcut to going from, “Hey, I just started this three months ago,” to “I’m an A-list copywriter.” That’s the tough news.
But there are other levers that you can pull. One of those is the rounds of revision that you’re using. So Gary Bencivenga in this case, he’s using extra time, he can do more drafting and just write many more drafts than everybody else and that allows him to get higher up that hill.
Another lever is the research: how deeply do you understand the customer and the product? Gary Bencivenga’s spending more time, he can dive deeper into the product to find those unusual, interesting angles, that core drive that’s gonna get somebody to join.
So, what we’ve done is really tweak the process to take advantage of these levers. So for raw talent, we’re gonna focus on top performers, even if you’re a junior copywriter, you want to work with an amazing junior copywriter. But we’re also gonna do the other two, too. So rounds of revision, you’re not necessarily gonna take three months of one person working in isolation doing a lot of drafts. But what we can do is build the process so that you can get feedback on whatever piece that you’re working on, faster.
If you think about a graph mapping the leaps in quality of a piece, there’s this initial leap when we first start working on a piece. You edit for a while, it kinda plateaus off. Maybe you’ll sleep on it and come back the next day, and oh, you have a better idea, there’s another little leap. Then you go away for a weekend and you come back and there’s another leap.
One of the best leaps is showing it to somebody else. “Hey, I wrote this sales email, can you look at it?” And they’ll give you some feedback, and that’s an immediate leap.
So what we try to do is build the process to stack those leaps as fast as we can, and minimize those plateaus, where you’re sitting there and not making a lot of progress.
And then I already mentioned the one about research, how we have a world-class in-house product dev team that does so much of the research for us, packages it for us, is there to answer questions.
All of those allow us to really take a copywriter, up-level them fast, up-level the quality of the work pretty fast.
Rob: Ryan, when we knew you were gonna come on the show, Kira posted in our Facebook group “Does anybody have any questions?” And somebody asked, Bob Cohn asked, “What do you do when the words just don’t come?” Especially when you’ve got to produce so much content, you can’t afford to be blocked. So what do you do to overcome those days?
Ryan: Ice cream helps.
Rob: Ice cream fixes all of the problems.
Ryan: There’s a lot of tricks that you can use to get over that block. We had a previous interview guest, Abby, she worked with us, I worked with Abby closely. And she had a background originally in journalism before she got into copywriting.
And one of the things they teach you very fast is, you don’t have time for writer’s block. You have to get it done and you learn very fast how to get it done. And I definitely believe that you can build that mindset, with deadlines, with accountability, that hey, you just need to get this done. Even if you’re stuck.
So some of the letters you can use to crack those codes is to shrink the field, is one of them. Hey, you gotta write this sales page, you’re working on the headlines and you’re totally stuck. Alright, how about you take just a small piece of this? Instead of actually writing a headline, which is complicated, let me just write down some ideas. Not that you hold a headline, but just possible things that I could talk about. Sometimes by shrinking that, it’s easier to get the ideas flowing.
Another one I like to use is, hey, if you’re stuck on coming up with one idea, the best thing you can do is write three. Or, if you gotta write a headline, don’t write one, write 10 headlines. And suddenly, it frees you up. It doesn’t have to be perfect, this one thing you’re producing. You can do 10 and you know what, most of those are gonna suck, they’re gonna be terrible. But that’s okay, that’s part of the process. So write down your terrible ones. You don’t have to show them to anybody. The process of putting those out there, not needing to worry about something being perfect, is very, very liberating.
Sometimes even just free writing, like you know what, I don’t know where to begin, I’m just gonna get a piece of paper and write. I’m trying to write this headline and I’m stuck on this, I know I want to talk about this benefit, it’s really rambly, it sounds like a horrible diary. But you know what, at the end of the first page, second page, oh, well maybe I could use this. Creativity starts to flow.
Kira: That reminds me of Justin Blackmon, who’s in our group as well. He’s doing the 100 Headline Project, where he’s writing 100 headlines every single day for 100 days. But I feel like it’s probably freeing to go through that process where you can just cut loose and not put so much pressure on yourself.
Kira: Ryan, I’d like to hear from your time, I know you said you spent six years working with Ramit—what is one of the biggest lessons, or just a lesson, that you’ve taken from working with him that you’ll take wherever you go?
Ryan: One of the biggest lessons is, Ramit is very good at what he does. He’s driven, he’s always pushing to become better, to take whatever piece that he’s working on and make it better. And you can see that in a lot of the stuff that the company has produced. And the other people on the team, they share that mindset as well. They’re very driven, they want to make it the best, how can we put all these things together?
I actually think it’s an unusual approach. A lot of people that I’ve seen in other companies or freelancers, it’s “How can I get this done?” Or, with a freelancer who might be working on a project basis, it’s, “I gotta do this fast, because if I have to go in and actually draft, ugh, it’s eating into my hourly rate here. And I want to get that up as high as I can.”
That’s a short-term win and a long-term loss. But having that drive, that big push, to always make it the best, it opens up so many doors.
Rob: Ryan, I have one last question for you. And that’s: if you had to start over today, with none of the connections that you’ve got, perhaps not even the skills that you’ve got, what would you do differently and what would you do to get back to where you are?
Ryan: I think the one thing that I would do differently is network more, network earlier, network harder. It’s only relatively recently that I really started to push on that, and it’s been a really rewarding experience. But in the beginning, I didn’t do any networking at all. I read books, I’m gonna read about the thing, and [inaudible 00:37:29].
That’s great, that’s a lot of power and there’s so much more information out there now than there was 10, 12 years ago when I was getting started. But super powerful to connect with people who are doing what you’re doing, or doing something different, or they’re three steps down the road you’re on? That can be truly transformative. I wish I’d started earlier.
Kira: And where specifically are you networking? Because I want to network where Ryan Johnson is networking.
Rob: I think I could use that too.
Kira: Yeah. I’ll just follow you.
Ryan: I don’t have any networking secrets. It’s, people that I’m interested, I want to meet. I’m very interested in meeting the copy chiefs out there, the editors in chief, the editorial directors, the creative directors, the marketing directors, I want to meet those people who are behind the scenes, the movers and shakers for a lot of these organizations. A lot of them are actually hidden, you don’t know that they’re there. Or maybe it’s just a little name at the bottom of some masthead. But those are the people that I’m trying to reach out to.
And there’s not a secret place where they hang out, or if there is, I don’t know. So if there is, somebody let me know. But yeah, it’s reaching out. It’s saying, “Hey, we have this in common, let’s connect,” or, “Do you know anybody?”
Kira: Awesome. If people want to find you, they want to contact you, where should we send them?
Ryan: You can reach me at Ryan@IWT.com, and that’s my work email. For a personal shout-out you can reach me at Ryan@RyanWJohnson.com.
Kira: Awesome. Thank you, Ryan. This has been really interesting and helpful. It’s helped me look at everything I’m doing, from a different perspective. I should probably slow down and spend more time on my processes. Thank you.
Rob: It’s been great. Thank you.
Ryan: Thanks for having me.
Like what you've seen so far?
There's plenty more where that came from. Sign up for The Copywriter Club newsletter today and we'll send you the unpublished Doberman Dan interview (plus two other awesome resources) in addition to regular updates about what's going on in the club. You won't find this on iTunes, Stitcher or anywhere else. The only way to get this "secret" mp3 and transcript is to drop your email in the box and hit "gimme!".