Copywriter and entrepreneur, Austin Mullins, is our guest for the 137th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. We’ve known Austin for quite a while now and the more we heard him talk about his sales process, the more we knew we needed to have him share his process with the club. We covered a lot of ground—especially about sales processes—in this one, here’s a good list of most of what we talked about:
• how Austin became a copywriter in high school
• why he thinks it was a mistake (for him) to attend college
• what he did to find good clients beyond Upwork
• the #1 thing he did to grow his business—it has to do with sales
• why he chose the niche he is in and how it changed his business
• how he split his time between three “jobs” at the same time
• his “ideal” client acquisition process and selling on the phone
• what to do to encourage referrals or testimonials
• the mistakes copywriters make on sales calls (and how to fix them)
• what it means to be a growth strategist—and how to “do” strategy
• what his process for working with content clients looks like
• an in-depth review of what the sales process should look like
• how to teach yourself to “sell”
To hear this one—and if you struggle with sales you definitely want to hear this one, click the play button below or download the episode to your podcast app. Readers scroll down for a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:The Copywriter Accelerator
The Copywriter Think Tank
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground
Intro: Content (for now)
Rob: This podcast is sponsored by The Copywriter Underground.
Kira: It’s our new membership designed for you to help you attract more clients and hit 10k a month consistently.
Rob: For more information or to sign up, go to thecopywriterunderground.com.
What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your 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 137 as we chat with copywriter Austin Mullins about what he does as a growth strategist for B2B SaaS companies, how he attracts and closes leads, what it’s like to build an agency, and the challenges of investing his time in more than one business at once. Welcome, Austin.
Rob: Hey, Austin.
Austin: Thanks for having me, guys. Longtime fan of the podcast, so excited to be here.
Kira: Great to have you here, Austin. As one of our former Accelerator members and now a Think Tank member. It’s about time we had you on the show, so let’s start with your story. How did you end up as a copywriter and growth strategist?
Austin: Yeah. I started a bit early, so I first started doing a little bit of copywriting work in high school, actually. Stumbled across Upwork, which I know is often a dirty word around these parts but stumbled upon there and was interested in this freelancing thing. I had always been good at academic writing but didn’t particularly enjoy it, but stumbled across this term, copywriting and started to do some really low-level work like helping people write reviews and such at first, and then gradually worked my way up to being a generalist copywriter, who would write blog content for all sorts of businesses, brochures, a little bit of web copy in there but not web copy done the right way with lots of customer research.
Then did that for a while. Made the mistake of letting my family convince me I should go to college, and so, business dropped off. Then when I tried to get back into it, things didn’t pick up quite as quickly as I thought they would, so I ended up telling myself, ‘Okay, I need to learn sales. I’m not good enough at closing new business.’ I went in-house at an agency as a sales guy, worked my way up the ranks there and then more recently, have departed that agency and I’m now working totally on my agency, which is focused on content marketing and SEO, as you mentioned, for B2B SaaS companies.
Rob: Okay, so I want to ask about the mistake of going to college. This is something that a lot of people don’t talk about and an interesting phrasing. Obviously, it’s not a mistake for everybody, but why was it a mistake for you? What was it about that experience that was wrong and what has happened since you left?
Austin: Yeah, absolutely. One reason it was a mistake is that I had a little bit of momentum. I was not earning a lot of money as a copywriter but enough to get by at the time, and so, allocating that much of my time to something else that wasn’t really what I wanted to do but out of obligation to someone else, was not a great idea. It was understandable at the time but in hindsight, it wasn’t a great idea.
The other thing was, I was studying the wrong thing. I’ve always been interested in, how do you persuade people to do things, human psychology. I probably should have been a behavioral economics major or a psychology major and instead, I was there studying finance, which was not really where I wanted to go. I think even if I had finished, I would have gone right back to marketing, and so, it would have been a moot point.
Kira: Okay, cool. I love the way that you laid out the path and you started on Upwork. How old were you when you started on Upwork?
Austin: I believe I was 17, which I probably had to forge the forms on how to even join because I don’t think I was allowed to be doing contract work yet, but.
Kira: Interesting and we have to burst you. Okay, so for people who are on Upwork because I agree, it’s sort of this dirty word but it’s not and it works really well for some people and gives a lot of people their start in copywriting. For a copywriter who’s on Upwork right now, what advice would you give them to grow beyond Upwork? What are some steps they could take?
Austin: Yeah, absolutely and you also had a wonderful guest on, Danny Margulies, who gave some great advice on how to make that channel actually work for you but outside of that, there’s a lot you can do. I think one of the first steps for a lot of people is getting their own website, something that’s their own piece of media, that talks about the work that they’re doing, can display the work they’re doing and gives them the opportunity to have somewhere else to send someone other than just an Upwork profile or something like that. That’s a really important step and something you can work on over time. I think definitely getting involved in communities and meeting other copywriters and talking about where are they getting work.
Then also talking to people outside of a platform like that even whether it’s in person, at networking events, whether it’s online and you’ve found a niche you’re interested in and you’re talking back and forth with people on social media. All that sort of stuff is going to eventually lead to, if you’re talking about your area of expertise, people are going to want to work with you at some point, and so, you don’t have to drive them onto a platform like that. You can just start to engage with them outside of those platforms and build that up over time.
Kira: What did you learn from your time as a generalist copywriter, which is where a lot of us start and what are some lessons that you learned from that time?
Austin: Absolutely. I learned how to research really well. I ended up writing some really strange stuff sometimes. An example I like to use is, I once wrote for a company in Adelaide, Australia, that makes overland conveyor belts for Mines. Like 20 mile long conveyor belts to haul aluminum and coal and so on. I knew absolutely nothing about those ahead of time, so I had to go learn about how do they make these belts, what’s special about them versus the two major competitors they have and write something that was a pretty big deal to them because so few people control that market share and this was a brochure that was going to be sent to those 12 decision makers that control the rest of the market. So really high stakes stuff but having to learn, how can I speak in the voice and sound informed on something that I didn’t really know anything about ahead of time and that’s served me well beyond that.
Rob: Austin, as you moved yourself off of Upwork and started working with clients on your own, what did those first couple of clients look like? How did you find them and what did you do to start that engagement?
Austin: Some of them ended up approaching me because of work I had done and so you get referrals over time, which has continued to be a really major channel and where probably the highest quality leads come from, the easiest to close, certainly. So, that was a real advantage. Then also, the other thing, aside from direct referrals there are networking with other writers, and they will send up the bat signal when it’s something that they know you’re focused on and know you’re specialized in. I’ve had that done for me. I also do that for other people and that can be really powerful because their word generally carries some weight with the people that they’re interacting with and might bring you in on.
Kira: I would love to know about what really helped you get into a groove. I mean, again, you laid out your path but what in there really helped you grow your business or feel like you really nailed it and had that clarity? I’m guessing I know what it is but I’d like to hear it from you.
Austin: I mean, there were a number of things. I think going in-house was actually extremely beneficial for me and maybe it was because I was so early in my career but I think going in-house and learning how to sell not only did it mean that… I’m much more confident jumping on calls with clients now. I’m much more confident with how that whole client acquisition process should go and how to go about it but it also made my copy way better. Being able to sell on a one to one basis makes conversion copywriting or even content marketing where you’re earlier in the stages of awareness much easier because I feel you have a much more intimate knowledge of where you’re trying to go and what that’s likely to take, what the objections might be once you’ve done that on a one to one basis.
Then the other thing was getting and joining the Accelerator and then joining the Think Tank and getting to surround myself by people that were A, lot smarter than I am and B, a lot further along in their business. There’s so much you learn just by osmosis, being around, seeing what they share, seeing what their challenges are and things that you might have been concerned about. Realizing that they don’t even think about it and just have moved beyond maybe some of the mental hurdles you had around pricing or something similar to that. It helps you get over that a lot faster just by throwing yourself in the room and trying to catch up.
Rob: Before I ask my next question. I just want to jump in and say, ‘Yeah, I totally agree on the going in-house option.’ Sometimes for people that is just such a good option that a lot of freelancers sneer at or look down on for some reason I don’t understand but it’s not a failure to go in-house. In fact, oftentimes it’s exactly the thing that you need and let somebody else worry about finding clients while you just get better at copy, so I love hearing you talk about that, Austin.
Austin: Yeah, absolutely.
Rob: Then my next question for you though is, okay, you’ve specialized with SaaS and B2B and maybe even more specialized than that. Talk about that process and why you decided to specialize in the niche that you did and what that did for your business?
Austin: Yeah, absolutely. Really, it just came out of looking at the marketplace overall and seeing what interested me was the beginning of it. Also, as a generalist copywriter, you get to test out a bunch of different industries and I got to work on a few SaaS projects and was really interested in that industry. Then also, it’s a lot easier to write for a market that you’re a part of and I am definitely a SaaS consumer. My monthly SaaS bills are absurd and I’m often the go-to guy for a lot of people on, ‘You need a tool to do something in particular, chances are Austin has tried three of them and can refer you to the one he thinks is best for your use case.’
That sort of thing just combined kept sort of driving me that direction and I might have even niched before I was ready but I think long-term just having that focus meant now I knew who to talk to, I knew what to narrowly educate myself on and over time, my level of sophistication with that niche caught up to my ambition to work in it and so now, actually sound like I know what I’m talking about.
Kira: Right, so how would you break that down for a copywriter who is trying to figure out, wants to specialize. They know that they’re all over the place, they don’t have that focus, they’re a newer copywriter. What could they do to actually start figuring that out? Do you have any type of process they could work through?
Austin: I would say, first of all, just anything you think you might be interested in you can A, go look and see if there’s copywriting work you can get even if it’s on job boards or something like Upwork and try to do some basic projects there and get in the room with what their challenges are but also, I think people are very receptive to cold pitches that aren’t salesy and you’re really just genuinely asking for information.
I think if you take the time to figure out exactly who you want to talk to and then approach them. Not everyone is going to say yes but if you’re approaching them from a, ‘I’m curious about the market you’re in. I’m not trying to sell you anything. I just want to understand better, what sort of challenges of business like yours faces and whether it’s even worth me getting deeper into this or whether this is the type of work I might enjoy.’
I think a lot of people would be receptive to that and as long as you’re able to be respectful of their time and make sure it’s utilized well and then, hopefully also, be able to give them some sort of value and some sort of take away also. You could learn a lot just from talking to people that are already in that industry that would be your potential clients and seeing, ‘Do you all even think the same way and do you feel like these are problems that you’d be interested in tackling or it’s just not for you?’
Rob: Yeah, I love that. You’ve been focusing on building two different businesses in the last year or so, Austin. Would you talk about that, how you split your time and maybe the way that that’s changing as you move into the future?
Austin: Just to clarify, I was focusing on three. Are you talking about the-
Rob: I mean, let’s talk about them all.
Austin: Yeah, so not well, is how I balance that. Pretty much the solo copyrighting business has gone to the wayside. I leave the site up there because occasionally leads come in that way and I’m not opposed to doing that sort of work at all but honestly, it would be done under the umbrella of the agency contractually and in my mind as well. I basically consider myself an asset of the agency for all intents and purposes.
With the other agency I was working for, it was really tough. I found myself doing a lot of sales work there. Even though I was meant to be a sales manager, being on the phone like 20 hours a week many weeks and so, balancing that was tricky. It was good for time to have that stability and what it allowed me to do is start to build out some of the standard operating processes for my own agency so that when I’m ready to plug people in and I have already, it’s easier to actually hand things off to them and not have as many little questions on how things should be done.
It also allowed me to get the branding for that right. Get our website up, produce a little bit of content and lay that foundation so that when I decided to go full-time on it, we already have some clients, we already have our branding in play, we already have a content strategy and now it’s just a matter of executing much faster and trying to grow it at a faster pace with all of my energy and all of my time.
Rob: It sounds like three businesses is too many? This is my takeaway?
Kira: I shouldn’t start another business, is that what you’re trying to tell me?
Austin: Not until this one is on autopilot.
Kira: Now you’re fully focused on your agency?
Austin: Yes, absolutely and happy to be so.
Kira: Right. Okay, so can you talk through, because you have such a strong sales background, I really just want to tap into that and go deeper into that. Can you talk about the client acquisition process and how it should go for copywriters based on your experience, ideally how it should go for us?
Austin: Yeah, absolutely. We talk a lot about how to generate leads and at the end of the day it’s going to be either warm referrals, whether it’s someone who wants to directly work with you and partner with you and brings in the clients or they’re just referring work to you directly or it’s going to be some sort of inbound. Because you’re producing media, maybe you’re ranking on search engines, maybe you’re ranking on directories, those leads are going to come in or you’re going to do some sort of cold outreach.
I see those as the big ways to drive leads but pretty much the sales process is the same except that with colder leads you have to do more rapport building and more education but I really advocate doing consultative sales. When I’m jumping on the phone with a prospect and I do recommend that you always jump on the phone with any remotely qualified prospect, especially if you aren’t comfortable with it yet. That means you should be talking to everyone until you are comfortable. It’s a great opportunity to take unqualified leads and use them to just get used to talking to people on the phone and get used to selling on the phone. That’s one big thing that I don’t see people do.
In terms of how to do consultative sales. It really starts with asking a lot of questions. You want to understand their business as well as you can. The first half of the call should be you just digging deeper and deeper into the problem and seeing, do you see patterns that are emerging across different people you talk to? Do you really feel your services are a good fit or not and if they are, then you can move into telling them a bit about how you might help them, what it’s like to work with you. And if not, I truly do recommend referring them to someone else. Starting to build out your partnership market, talking to people who have different specialties and really getting to know them because that will pay dividends down the road.
If someone actually needs a graphic designer and you’re a copywriter. It’s great to know five that specialize in different things and then be able to refer work out to them because that will either directly or indirectly come back to you later on. If you’re a copywriter interested in sales A, I know Klettle is putting together some great materials on that and I would also recommend reading the book SPIN Selling, which covers consultative sales pretty well as an intro.
Rob: Yeah, SPIN Selling is a cool framework for thinking through the sales process. I want to jump back to, you sort of glossed over the cold leads process. How do you attract cold leads and what are you doing to warm them up so they’ll even get on the phone with you so that you can have that discussion with them?
Austin: In terms of cold leads, it’s really about a number of things. I think the number one thing is having offer-market fit, which is a really tough thing to do. Often when I’m seeking out cold leads, it’s email outreach is what I’m doing. The first step is trying to identify, who is actually going to be receptive to your offer. You’re looking at, first of all, what type of companies are you well suited to work with, in terms of the industry they’re in or even the kind of sub-niche. Maybe you don’t just work with SaaS but you work with more tech startups that just raised a series A. Depending on how specific your service offering is you need to understand who you should be talking to at that firm.
Do you need to talk to the VP of marketing or are your offers more suited to a Director level title? Do you need to be talking to a totally different department? Maybe you need to be speaking to the VP of Operations and that’s a better contact for you? Determining who you want to talk to within that and then starting to put together some messaging that basically says, ‘Okay, here is why I’m speaking to you specifically,’ and I recommend really doubling down on showing you did your homework, showing you know exactly who you’re talking to. That helps you stand out from a lot of pitches that people get and then moving into specifically how you could help them.
You need some sort of social proof element typically, so that’s where case studies are really good to include there and then trying to have a clear call-to-action. Which for me is usually, ‘Let’s jump on a call and see if this actually makes sense.’ Then once you jump on that call, a lot of it with cold leads is that early education and rapport building. Just the same as you would with a warm lead, you want to make sure you’ve done your homework ahead of time, you understand their business at a surface level. You want to show your genuine interest in their company and the problems they might have and whether this is relevant, and make sure that they understand how you can really help them or if you can’t be very respectful of that and offer to point them another direction or just thank them for their time and move on.
Rob: Okay, so I love that and then do you do anything at the end of a project to encourage repeat customers, or to get additional leads, or referrals, or anything like that?
Austin: I work mostly on a retainer basis, so by the time we’ve ended a contract, we’ve worked together for a year, so I’m pushing for renewals there. A lot of that is basically showcasing total results for the year. That can be really powerful just to show all the progress you’ve made over the course of a year. If you’re working in that sort of model, be excellent. In terms of asking for referrals, I know we’ve talked about this a lot in the Think Tank, you have to be really strategic about it. I think it’s great to ask for them whenever the client happens to be really happy with the work you’ve done and that might be after month one.
You’ve just done a bunch of high level strategy work for them and they’re loving the direction you’re going. It can be great to ask them, ‘Hey, do you know anyone else who might be facing the same sorts of challenges that I can help as well?’ Or, it might be later in the project. They’re really happy with how things are going and you’ve just wrapped up a project and maybe they don’t have an immediate scope of work for you to jump on and continue working with them. It can also be a great time to say, ‘I really enjoyed working with you. I’d love to connect with anyone else you know who might need this sort of work.’
I recommend doing it A, on the phone. Again, it’s much harder for people to just ignore things or people don’t feel as comfortable telling you, no, as they do via email. Doing that on the phone, especially if you’re doing a postmortem and walking through everything you just completed can be a great time. I think that’s also a great time to ask for testimonial language. Ask them if you can record the call and ask some questions to get some feedback on how the project went, what it was like to work with you, what wasn’t so great.
It’s even better if you can have someone else do that but I know a lot of us are solo operators and that can be a great time to tie it in with you’re giving them value but you’re also asking for that feedback. Then you can ask for permission to use it later once you’ve got it edited into something that makes them sound really smart and makes you look really good.
Kira: What are some mistakes that copywriters make on sales calls that we may not even be aware we’re making or maybe ones that you’ve made in the past that you’ve now corrected
Rob: Yeah, those are the ones I want to hear about your mistakes, Austin.
Austin: The biggest mistake I made and that I see a lot of copywriters making in the early days is sending proposals. You should never send a proposal. That’s a terrible idea. You always want to present a proposal and there are a number of reasons for that. You want to get them on a call to walk through the proposal and I recommend not even sending it ahead of time. Don’t give them any chance to look at it before you’re discussing it. I don’t even share it with them during the call in terms of sharing them a document that they can look through, I screen share and the reason for this is as I’m walking through the proposal, I want to control the pacing and I want to control exactly what you’re looking at.
The reason for that is A, we don’t want them to scroll all the way to the bottom. Just like any sort of conversion process, we want them to hear the reasoning, we want them to hear the benefits, we want them to be sold on the idea of working with you before they ever get to consider price if they’re already high level qualified. The second thing is you want to encourage them to interrupt you with any sort of objections they have so that you can handle those ahead of time. If you send over a proposal, someone might have an objection as they’re going through it and just write you off without giving you a chance to explain it, but if you’re presenting it live, and you’re controlling the frame, and encouraging them to interject with any thoughts or questions they have. You’re much less likely to run into that.
Then also at the end, you can ask really important questions and get more concrete answers such as, ‘What’s your timeline to get started?’ Or, ‘Which of these three options I presented seems most appealing to you? Should I go ahead and start drafting a contract so that you can look over the language and move things along much faster?’
Rob: Austin, in addition to being a copywriter, I know you call yourself a growth strategist. What is the difference and how does somebody become a growth strategist?
Austin: Becoming a growth strategist is about understanding the larger picture of the customer journey and certainly good copywriters, I find almost always do have a bit of growth strategist send them, but I think that’s the real key part of it. Is understanding, how does someone go from completely unaware or maybe they’re aware of their problem, all the way through to making a purchase decision and beyond or what makes them really happy and makes them stick with a particular service or product over time? Understanding that, also understanding some of the other tools that are involved.
Having a working knowledge of things like web design or graphic design so that you can hammer out basic stuff, I find this really useful. There’s a lot to be said for specialization but there’s also a lot to be said for at least having a mediocre understanding of what the other specialists are doing even if you can’t accomplish all of it yourself. Then I think the other side of becoming a growth strategist, moving beyond that is you might be doing a different type of work.
There are times where I’m coming in and the work we’re doing has nothing to do with writing, conversion or producing content. It’s pure strategy work or it’s more about implementing a process and helping document that. Sometimes it means you’re going to do different types of work that wouldn’t necessarily fit in this bucket that we call copywriting but draws from a lot of the same skillset and I’d love to see more copywriters offer that because I find they’re often some of the smartest people in the room when it comes to marketing overall.
Rob: Yeah, so I agree and I really like how you’re explaining that. I’m wondering if you could go super-specific on an example of a project that you do beyond copywriting but is it… Can you step by step us through how you might help somebody with something that’s related to growth, so that we can get a picture of what’s possible?
Austin: I guess a common case for us is the way we work in Conversion Creatives is often a combination of both content production but also content strategy, SEO in terms of technical and link building. We’re doing a lot more than just the writing portion, even though we brand ourselves as a content marketing agency. When someone comes in, we spend the entire first month of a retainer not producing any content yet. Instead, the very first thing we’re going to do is go through every piece of content they’ve already produced and map it both to where does it fit within the customer journey. From a technical side, is it competing with other pages on their domain and is it helping to drive traffic overall?
We also take a look at are there any technical errors that we need to fix? Sometimes we can find big wins that have to do with the way they structure their website and the way different pieces of content are interlinked or related. There’s a lot that can be done there that before we even get into the content. From there, we tend to put together our editorial calendar and our content strategy for the rest of the year both in terms of what we want to produce as pillar content, what we want to produce as blog posts or smaller content.
Then also, what’s our link building angle? How are we going to get out in the world and get in front of more people who are not already part of the audience? What sort of publications do we want to go after and working with the client to come up with all that stuff before we even get into the actual execution part of producing content is really important and more in line with what you might be doing as a growth strategist.
Kira: Okay, there’s a lot there I want to get into but I like the title growth strategist and I want to call myself that. Of course, I won’t but if somebody is interested in that, what would three simple action steps they could take today to just start integrating some growth strategy into their process without feeling overwhelmed?
Austin: The three simple steps. That’s interesting framing.
Kira: Or just one, just give us one.
Austin: Step number one would probably be when you see a problem in the client’s business that’s probably tangentially related to what you’re doing. Offer to jump on a call and just consult with them about it and charge for it. You’ve already built up expertise as a copywriter with your clients but often as copywriters, we’re able to identify other problems with the overall marketing picture and sometimes we know the solution, so if you do offer to jump on a call and help them work through that.
Even if it’s something that their internal team is going to be executing on, you can help them build the framework and the process of how they’re going to go about that, how they’re going to measure success and how they can iterate on it if it isn’t immediately successful. I would just start to do a bit of consulting that isn’t related to a written deliverable at all.
Kira: Can you give an example of that consulting? I mean, how much you would charge for something like that? Is that a day of your time, a half day or what would that look like in your business?
Austin: The way I’ve historically done it when it’s not tied to a big retainer is I would charge… Historically, I was charging 105 an hour for that and I found it more useful to actually instead of doing big blocks of time. I give them one or two hours at a time and spread it across multiple weeks because I like to give people homework. I would walk through, ‘Here’s how we’re going to go about this, here’s what I want you to go execute on and then we’re going to come back and we’re going to measure what you’ve done so far and start to iterate on that.’
One example of how I did that in the past was helping people develop their cold outreach process of how are you going to go about sending cold emails in batches but making sure you’re not compromising on quality as you do that and what does that mean in terms of how you do your customer research, how you word your scripts, how you use mail merge software and then how you measure the results of the initial send and continue to tweak that. Whether you need to change your subject line because your open rate wasn’t great or if you need to change the way your call-to-action is worded or what social proof you included because people aren’t taking the end action you want, which in these cases it’s usually jumping on a sales call with us.
Kira: Hey, we’re just jumping into the show today to tell you a little bit more about The Copywriter Underground. Rob, what do you like best about this membership?
Rob: This membership community is full of copywriters that are investing in their businesses and just taking what they do seriously. Everything is focused around three ideas, copywriting and getting better at the craft that we all do, marketing and getting in front of the right customers so that you can charge more and earn more and also mindset. So, that you can get out of your head and focus on the things that will help you be successful at what we do.
There’s a private Facebook group for the members of the community and we also send out a monthly newsletter that’s full of advice. Again, on those three areas copywriting, marketing and mindset. Things that you can markup and tear out, put them in your file, save them for whatever and it’s not going to get lost in your email inbox. Kira, what do you like about The Copywriter Underground?
Kira: I love the monthly hot seat calls, where our members have a chance to sit in the hot seat and ask a big question, or get ideas, or talk through a challenge in their business because we all learn from those situations and then, I also feel like the templates we include in the membership are valuable because who wants to reinvent the wheel, and Rob and I end up sharing a lot of the templates and resources we use in our own businesses. I would definitely want to grab those.
Rob: If you were interested in joining a community of copywriters that are investing in their business and in themselves and trying to do more, get more clients, earn more money consistently go to thecopywriterunderground.com to learn more. Now back to the program.
Kira: I want to back up a bit because I can’t quite let this go and I don’t think we’ve talked a lot about the proposal review and I know most copywriters do send proposals, they don’t present proposals. You talked about it but can you just break it down for us as far as what you’re saying when you get on the call or even the email you’re sending to invite a client or a prospect onto the proposal call, and just get into the nitty gritty with the proposal review because again, I just feel like we’re not talking about it enough so it’s unclear.
Austin: Yeah, absolutely. You should be thinking about the proposal presentation call from your very first call. The way I typically like to do it is before you get off the first call, where it’s more a discovery call as we would term it in sales. You’re learning about their business, you’re giving them a high level overview and then at the end of that call you’re saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to go and do the rest of my homework, maybe you’re going to send over some materials for me to look through and then I’m going to put together a specific plan for how we can work together.’
My ask always before they’re even off the call is I’ll pull up my calendar, I’ll ask them to do the same and nail down a time for that. Go ahead and if you can send them a calendar invite with a Zoom link or something similar while you’re still on the phone and get them to commit to that so that there is no email in between asking for that, that’s already on the calendar. The only thing you need to do in between is go back and forth on any sort of access you need.
If you need to have a look at their Google analytics and they need to invite you to that you can follow up on that. I often send over a capabilities deck or some case studies in between there, so to give them something to look at and then I invite them to share that with other stakeholders in case they’re doing some internal selling with the other people that have to sign off on this. Then once you jump on the call take a couple minutes to ask them how they’re doing, and then I screen share and just walk through it slide by slide or step by step depending on how it is.
Then at each step you’re explaining your reasoning of why did you include a particular item, what sort of benefit is that going to have to them, what do you need from their end in terms of communication or resources to make sure things get done on the timeline you’re proposing. Then at the end depending on the client, sometimes I think we know exactly what we need to do for them and so I’ll only pitch them one option and really try to get them to go with that. Other times, I love to present multiple options and have one that’s really high just for price anchoring on the off chance they might go with it but it’s the, ‘If you want everything under the moon and everything I can do for you, here’s kind of that package,’ and then you have your middle one, the Goldilocks option that they’re most likely to go with.
That gives them everything they need and then a little more and then have a bare bones option that just barely gets them where they need to go. It’s not inadequate but it’s not all the extras as well. Then from there you need to move into contract, so that’s where those questions such as, ‘When are you looking to get started with this,’ become really important.
Rob: I feel like I’m sitting in on a masterclass on proposals and sales calls.
Kira: Seriously, this is really good. This is good stuff, Austin.
Rob: Yes, it’s really good stuff. In the danger of changing that, I want to shift gears just a little bit and ask you, Austin. As I listened to all of these things that you’ve done and accomplished and the different things that you’ve tried, what is the one thing that’s made the biggest difference in your business?
Austin: Oh man. I think it comes back to some of the stuff we’ve already been discussing. I don’t know that I can narrow it down to just one but two certainly.
Kira: It was college. It was college, right?
Austin: Definitely not college. The two biggest factors have been learning how to sell because it influenced not only my ability to get business but also the way I write quite heavily. Learning how to sell on a one to one basis, so definitely recommend more people spend more time on that. Copywriters especially, like the hide behind their keyboards a lot and the less we do that the better. There’s a lot of opportunity for copywriters to be teaching and sharing their expertise and then the other thing was really embracing community. Realizing that it’s best to just go in for the long haul tactics right off the bat and just go all in on it.
Whether that’s sharing your thoughts with the community but also really trying to understand what other people are doing and helping to promote them as well and learn from them. Whether it’s in a larger group setting, a small group setting. In person is fantastic to accelerate that and so I highly recommend coming to events like IRL, which I hear is in San Diego next year, so that’s exciting. All that sort of stuff is really powerful, so that’s probably the biggest combination for me is learning how to sell and really going all in on community are the two biggest drivers that I’ve seen.
Rob: Okay, so if I am a newer copywriter, then I know you mentioned SPIN Selling, which is a book. I think there’s actually an expensive training program around that as well. What other resources should we be looking at? Assuming that we’re not going to take an in-house job to learn how to do this, how can we teach ourselves how to sell? What are some of the resources you could point us to?
Austin: You know what, I think the best resource you can possibly get is to have other people… Record yourself on call, so jump on calls any opportunity you can at first even with leads you don’t think are going to pan out just to get practice, record those calls. You can A, listen back to them yourself, which can be really powerful just to understand where are you pausing? What about your language is flowing? Is there anywhere where you’re not really representing yourself well?
Then also, you can have someone who’s more experienced at sales, whether it’s a fellow copywriter who’s willing to lend you some of their time or even if you’re paying a professional sales coach for an hour or two to listen to it and give you feedback. I think that can be a really high ROI activity because once you fix some of these behaviors and get your pitch down pat and really learn how to conduct a sales call properly. It’s going to pay dividends for the rest of your career, so I would recommend those two routes. Record yourself, it’s very important.
Kira: Okay. You talked about leads before and the three types of leads. What would you recommend to copywriters who are trying to get their first few clients and are really struggling to get leads, what would be the most effective and best use of their time?
Austin: One thing that I see people really early on struggle with before they’ve even had those first couple of clients is they feel like they have no work to show. Definitely there’s a lot of value in just demonstrating that you can do something even if it’s not for a real client. Feel free to write articles, or write a brochure, or a landing page copy for someone you don’t even work for or a fake client. Just to demonstrate that you can do the work is really important, so I would definitely recommend that.
I would recommend looking for more experienced copywriters in your niche and seeing are they overburdened with work? There are a lot of people who are fine to have copy cubs or to work with you on certain projects, especially if they’re kind of overburdened themselves and you’re giving them attractive rates and then overtime you get better and better. I know some of the more prestigious copywriters out there love to do that, so that’s definitely something I would look into as well.
Rob: Austin, I’m curious, what’s next for your business? With everything you’ve accomplished in the past? Like where are you going from here?
Austin: It’s an exciting time for us, where we’re going all in on publishing our own content. We actually just published an article on how to pitch editors earlier today that we spend a lot of time on. That’s a big focus for us now is how can we produce high quality content? And really, my kind of motto lately has been, ‘Don’t scoff, teach.’ Anytime I find myself looking at something and disagreeing with what someone’s putting out there or the way someone is going about something. Rather than scoffing at it, I take that as that’s an opportunity to share my perspective and why do I think there’s a different or a better way to go about that?
That’s been a big focus and then we’re also doubling down on partnerships. We’re interested in working with… We love to work with writers. We don’t produce all the content in-house, we edit it but I like working with writers of… Who are at different stages of their careers as long as they’re focused on it and willing to do the customer research and put in the work. That’s really interesting. Then we’re also working with other agencies that maybe are doing really in-depth UX work or something like that where we can both expand our capabilities but then also, it’s a great way to get intro to new clients, is working with people who have different specialties than you do and being able to build those long-term relationships with them.
Kira: You mentioned we and do you have a team? Can you talk a bit more about your team and how many people and the structure of your current agency?
Austin: Yeah. It’s a small team right now, we’re just getting started. You have myself, I’m all over the place as early agency owners and business owners almost always are. I do a lot of strategy work, a lot of editing work and a lot of promotion and sales for us. We have a content lead, Abass Sahrawi, who just wrote that article we just published today and he’s been an interesting guy that first reached out to me a couple of years ago and I’ve really seen him grow as a content writer and he’s gotten quite good, so now he’s working with us.
We have our outreach specialist, her name is Kaela, who manages mostly our link building efforts. For clients, we’re always trying to get their content featured different places, get links to their websites so they can become more authoritative over time and try and make sure those are relevant to the kind of space they play in. That’s a big focus and we do all that in a white hat manner. Just meaning we’re not faking it. We’re actually reaching out to people and trying to build those relationships with publishers and genuinely produce high quality content for them.
Then we have our analyst, a newer intern guy, his name is Bryan. He’s learning some of the on-page optimization and helping out in a variety of ways but he’s newer, so we haven’t quite found what his role is going to be long term but it’s an exciting time.
Rob: Tell me, Austin. What is the hardest thing that you do working with this team on this business? What gives you the most difficulty? What’s the thing that keeps you up at night?
Austin: The hardest thing is hiring and training people. Getting people to the point where they can do something 90% of the way you would want to do it is incredibly difficult and the only way I’ve found to do it is to create such in-depth trainings and such explicit instructions. Then we created what we call The Learning Management Portal, so we have a separate domain that’s password protected and then there are video and written trainings there for every kind of task I might ask someone to do and I just point them in that direction and then you end up doing a lot of quality work.
Coming in, having one to one meetings with the person whose work you’re having a look at and walking them through your reasoning of, if there’s a small mistake they’ve made or a way in which it could be better. Not only, what should be different but why, so that they actually develop that skillset more and more over time, and you find that the amount of quality control or editing that you have to do on their work goes down because you invested that time on the front-end to give them feedback that was actually meaningful instead of just fixing everything, which is really difficult.
It takes a lot of self-control not to just fix everything and try to get it out the door as soon as possible today, but it keeps you from building that debt of not having trained people correctly that spirals out of control as you try to scale.
Kira: Your team members, are they part-time or full-time?
Austin: Kaela is full-time, the rest of them are part-time. We’re keeping it contractor based for now. The hope is definitely to move everybody to W2’s eventually, whatever the team happens to look like then but in the interest of both flexibility and cost savings early on, keeping everybody as contractors for now.
Kira: It can sound daunting to us when you have all this team, this robust team, what advice would you give us if we’re interested in creating an agency and it does sound overwhelming but we know we want to do it or I guess even, what advice would you give to yourself if you were doing it over again?
Austin: Oh man. Don’t hire full-time before you’re ready. I would definitely start off part-time and have a very concrete idea of what you want someone to do. I’ve even heard this a lot with people working with VAs for the first time. That it goes really well when they have a set plan for them and then if they run out of set things for them to do. They find it’s very difficult for someone who doesn’t have an intimate knowledge of the business to find an area they can help.
You’ll do much better A, having a really clear idea of what someone’s role should be and what are their KPIs and what do they need to understand to do it and having all that ready before you ever started interviewing for it. Then if you can start someone part-time first. Start someone on a contract basis or a test basis so that you can see not only can they execute the work but how do you like working with them? Do they take feedback well? Do you just enjoy working with them? All these sorts of things are very important to the team dynamic and do they fit your values I think is very important too.
There’s a certain way you probably like to approach your clients and someone that shares that approach and that perspective can be really important, especially if it’s a client facing role and they’re actually going to be responsible for some of that communication with clients.
Kira: Yeah and you mentioned you’re all over the place in the agency, you have to fill a lot of different roles. How do you structure your days in your week so that you’re productive and focused?
Austin: Yeah, that’s a tricky one. The one thing I do and have kept true to is, I made the mistake the first go around of being self-employed of working when I wanted to and starting my days late and working really late. It worked okay but I don’t think it’s very sustainable long-term. I do try to work pretty much a regular… It’s more like 9:00 to 6:00 than 9:00 to 5:00 and then I go and completely leave work behind for a few hours, go to the gym, make dinner, talk to friends and family and then come back later in the evening and do some kind of mindless work while Netflix is on. That’s the structure in terms of what time gets allocated to work.
In terms of how the time gets allocated within that, so what am I working on in terms of content strategy, sales, marketing. For us it really looks different from week to week. Typically, I like to block at least two to three hours for one particular task at the time. It might be that on a particular day I’m doing sales calls in the morning and content strategy work in the evening or occasionally there’s just something pressing or I have a lot of a particular type of work to do and so I’ll just batch it and fill an entire day.
Maybe I’m going to spend an entire day just digging in and doing technical analysis for three different clients and putting together slide decks and reports for them. That’s going to take three hours each, so I might as well do all three in one day and then return back to working on the business as opposed to in the business the next day.
Rob: Austin, you’ve mentioned that you know how to get content read. Do you have any secrets that you can share with us to get our content read or everybody else who’s listening content read?
Austin: Yeah. One thing that’s been really powerful is including other people’s perspectives, and including other people in the content, and then being able to leverage their audience. We love to ask experts to weigh in on a particular topic, we love to quote them or pull out their particular knowledge, cite their work. Citing work is, I don’t think a sign of having unoriginal thinking or anything like that and I think people get worried about it. It’s important to cite where you’re pulling your baseline information from and then draw your own conclusions.
I think that can be really useful to take that and cite those people, let them know that you’re drawing from their work and ask them if they check it out and if they enjoy it, if they would share it. That’s been really powerful for us. Guest posting can be really powerful, so I definitely think taking the time to understand a publication really well, see if your perspective and the type of content you want to share would actually be something they might want to share with their audience and taking the time to put together a really good pitch and then…
I mean, we go all in. We publish content that’s of no less quality for a guest post than we would put into our own content and that could be really powerful. Leveraging an audience that’s already there, so that you can build your own audience over time but also make sure that even if they don’t join your audience after that. That it was a valuable read and that they have real takeaways.
Kira: All right, Austin. I know we’re at the end of our time together but if someone listening wants to get in touch with you, where can they find you?
Austin: Yeah, so always publishing on conversioncreatives.com so definitely go check us out there and then also, I am Austin L. Mullins on Twitter and LinkedIn, so feel free to add me. Definitely happy to be talking to more smart copywriters.
Rob: Thanks, Austin, so much for coming in and especially the masterclass on sales. It’s been great.
Kira: Yeah, seriously. Thanks for improving our sales game. Thanks, Austin.
Austin: Thank you very much. Appreciate all you all do.
You’ve been listening to The Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from Gravity by Whitest Boy Alive available on iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard you can help us spread the word by subscribing in iTunes and by leaving a review. For show notes, a full transcript and links to our free Facebook community visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.
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