Conversion designer and sales page specialist Melissa Burkheimer is the guest for the 187th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. We talked a bit about why copywriters and designers don’t always see eye-to-eye and what we all can do about it. We also asked Melissa about why she niched to conversion design and sales pages and her design process. Here’s what we covered:
• how Melissa became a “conversion designer” and started her own business
• what she learned from investing in several programs and courses
• how she connected with Amy Porterfield through a friend of a friend
the “relationship” process she followed to keep adding clients to her roster
• her thoughts about “pay to play” and what we think about it too
• what she would do to get traction if she had to start over today
• why she niched to working only on sales pages and the impact on her biz
• how she prices her sales pages and the packages she offers
• what it takes for copywriters to work closely with a designer
• the difference between a regular designer and a conversion designer
• her design process and how she works on a project
• her thoughts on wireframes provided by copywriters
• what to do when the designer wants to cut your copy
• the things that copywriters do that bug designers
• what Melissa is working on today and the future of conversion design
It’s another great discussion that will give you plenty to think about. Ready to hear what Melissa has to say? Click the play button below. Or scroll down for a full transcript. Or subscribe on your favorite podcast app so you never miss an episode.
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The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:Rick Mulready
The Conversion Design School
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground
Kira Hug: This episode is brought to you by The Copywriter Underground, the place to be if you want to master marketing mindset and copywriting in your business and hit 10K a month in your business without losing your mind. Learn more at thecopywriterunderground.com.
Rob Marsh: 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 Hug: You’re invited to join the club for episode 187 as we chat with conversion designer Melissa Burkheimer about what copywriters need to know about the design process, how good design makes your copy way more effective, why she only works with seven clients a year and why she created the Conversion Design School. Welcome Melissa.
Rob Marsh: Hey Melissa.
Melissa Burkheimer: Hi, Kira and Rob, thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.
Kira Hug: We’re excited to have you here. You and I met, I don’t know, three or four years ago, maybe working on a sales page project for Rick Mulready, and that’s when we first met. And it was such a positive experience to work with you on the design side because I know, we’ll talk about this today, but oftentimes it feels like copywriters are battling designers and designers are battling copywriters on projects.
But when we worked together, it was just really collaborative and we became friends too, which it was a great surprise too. So a lot of what we’re going to talk about today is how we can work together more effectively. But before we dig into that, why don’t we just start with you and your story? How did you end up as a designer?
Melissa Burkheimer: So it’s a funny story. So I actually had a business, I was a professional paid singer as a kid when I was eight and I quit when I was 11. And by the time I quit, my hourly rate was more than I charged when I first started my design business. But when I was in high school, I took photo journalism and I was the photo editor of the school newspaper. And so I ended up going to college right down the street from my high school planning to major in journalism. And then I found out they had a major called graphic drone journalism.
So I switched really quickly and that meant I took half of my classes in the design department and half in the communication department. And so when I started college, I also got surprisingly pregnant with my now high school senior. So I was juggling a job and a baby and a relationship and a mortgage while studying. But when I graduated I got married and I had my second son. So I ended up just staying at the same job I had while I was in college because they offered part time and flexible hours before that was really a thing.
And then in 2011 I got the itch to be creative. So I started networking in in-person events and got clients based on the fact that I wanted to get paid to be creative while staying home with my kids. And nine months after starting I quit my job. So that was the start. And after that I was working with local clients primarily when they needed me on an hourly basis just because I didn’t really know another way.
I don’t feel like there were a lot of communities or trainings out there on how to start a freelance business, how to know what to charge, how to deal with crazy clients, contracts and stuff like that. So in 2013 and even 2012 I started investing in programs like B school and I took some programs with Amy Porterfield and Erika Lyremark and Elizabeth DiAlto. And I just wanted to learn how to transition my business from serving local clients to working with people online because I was just really fascinated with how these influencers were presenting themselves online.
And so in 2013 which I think we’ll talk about the story here in a second, I got my first sales page gig and then was referred to multiple people that I was buying courses from. They ended up being my clients and I switched primarily into doing sales pages. That’s been my main offer since about 2013 and then I was a launch manager for another person for a while. And so really that’s the main thing I’ve been doing for the last nine years since I started.
Rob Marsh: It sounds like a lot of your initial clients came from people that you were buying their programs for or from referrals. Is that how you got all of those initial clients or were there other things that you were doing?
Melissa Burkheimer: That wasn’t actually how I got those clients, but investing in those programs kind of showed me what was possible. And I actually got my first sales page gig in late 2013 when a Facebook friend that I had connected with because I posted on Facebook that Amy Porterfield had liked my Facebook page, I thought that I was really cool. And so I posted that picture and there was a guy who liked that picture that I sent a Facebook friend request to not really thinking anything of it.
And then he did a post on Facebook one day like the ones that we all see where it’s like I’m looking for a graphic designer. And so I raised my hand, we connected, there were two available gigs, I didn’t get one of them, but that gig was a sales page for Amy Porterfield. So I didn’t know what the project was. I just knew that he needed a graphic designer and I raised my hand. So from there I just went on to work with a lot of other people that were in her space. And this was back again in 2013, 2014 so there weren’t a lot of big names out there. I feel like the market’s much different now. And so it kind of just started from there.
Rob Marsh: So I want to ask about this a little more deeply because we work with a lot of copywriters who create an ideal client list. And oftentimes ideal clients are these big name personalities in the internet space or in the coaching space. Or they may even be big companies in tech or SaaS or whatever the niche is that people are working in. And so aside from that first connection, did you have to pitch a lot of these big names? What were the other things you were doing to connect?
Melissa Burkheimer: So there was no pitching? One thing that happened was when I bought B school, that May 2013, so this was six months before I got the first sales page gig. I went to an in person mastermind and James Wedmore was there. And I didn’t go there with the intention of getting him as a client at all, I wanted to learn YouTube ranking strategies from him. So he was there and then six months later, so this was January 2014 so maybe eight months later.
I was on a hot seat call for a group coaching program that he had. It was a monthly membership and I was really destined to get the hot seat because I had a question and my question was, so I’m working with these local clients, they’re nice, they pay me on time, the work is fine, I’m making enough to sustain our house. My husband works full time and he’s always had a great job, but now I’m doing this sales page thing, which I didn’t even know was a service. What should I do?
And so his response was, I would love to hire you. So of course he vouched for me with the person that I had connected with because it wasn’t Amy that I was working directly with, it was someone who was behind the scenes of her business at the time. And then I worked with James, did a couple of sales pages for him, did a lot of other things for him and he referred me to pretty much everyone at that time who was in his rolodex.
Rob Marsh: So just to draw the lines really clearly for myself. Again, it kind of sounds to me like the first connections happened when you started buying people’s programs and then it just kind of grew because you got in the room where these people were that you wanted to be hanging out with. Is that right?
Melissa Burkheimer: Yeah. And I think that the other thing that I did differently that I didn’t know was even a thing was that I just had a really good process for designing sales pages or really just designing anything because that’s how I’m wired. But I really didn’t understand that that was a talent. So just kind of by doing a good job listening to what they had to say, not acting like I knew everything and just doing what I did when I said I was going to do it and creating designs obviously that would help them get results in their business.
At this time a lot of these people had made a name for themselves, but they were still kind of figuring out their launch strategies, they were wanting to build their audience and so they were building landing page after landing page after landing page. And so they would come to me and I would produce something when they needed it done. Because most of the time they needed a quick turnaround and I would get one client and then they would come back to me for multiple sales pages. Well then client also has this launch manager, that launch manager was working with multiple clients so they would come back to me for both of the clients they were serving, if that makes sense. So really it was relationships and just doing a good job and helping them make money with my designs.
Kira Hug: So clearly you were doing a lot of things right, which is what led to your success. And what you mentioned, it’s kind of hidden in there is that you befriended launch managers too because launch managers often have the most connections to multiple clients. And so if you could build that relationship with the launch manager, that could lead to a handful of projects. And I know I’ve seen you do that and you’ve done it really well. I think it’s something that we overlook. We just focus on the dream client, but we don’t think about, well who is working with that dream client that might actually have more control over the hiring process anyway.
Melissa Burkheimer: And for me, I also build relationships with copywriters. I have so many copywriters that I could call my friend that you wouldn’t believe it because I think that they’re just really smart and we both are serving the same people. So I’m not going into it with a secret hidden intention of getting their clients. I’m going into it saying, “This is what happened for this project. What launch strategies are working right now for you?” It’s kind of just being in the know of what’s happening and that has really helped as well.
Kira Hug: And I know that’s part of what we would chat about too just kind of casually once we met each other. It was kind of like, “Hey, what sales pages are you working on right now? Are you looking for more sales pages?” And you and I would just share leads too just because we were serving the same client. So for copywriters it is really helpful to figure out what designers are you working with, whether it’s sales page designers or website designers or another type of designer too and building that relationship.
I would like to just talk about something that popped into my head, just kind of how this conversation has kicked off around pay to play. I feel like this has popped up into a couple conversations I’ve had recently where I feel like there’s this negative stigma attached to the concept of pay to play and investing to be in the room. And I’m just wondering for both of you, Melissa and Rob, how you view pay to play in the businesses that we run as freelancers. Where does that show up and even why some people are so against it?
Melissa Burkheimer: Honestly I think that people might be against it because there’s a fear of the unknown and not knowing what it will do for you. And I again did not invest in the programs I invested in back in 2013 because I wanted to work with those people. I wanted to learn from them, I wanted to do what they were doing. And if I look at the most pivotal measures of my business, it was when I was investing and showing up and just being a part of the community. But I look at it much differently now.
I’ve recently made one of those big investments that everyone’s afraid to make. And I’ve invested more in 2019 than I have probably throughout the whole duration of my business. And if I look at the years where like I’ve seen the most momentum, it’s where I’ve invested the most. I would say I’ve also paid, not financially, but with my time just by serving people, getting on connection calls and just helping them map out their launch because that comes very naturally to me. But I believe that pay-to-play is a definite way to go from here on out when you want to show up in the room, even if it’s not a big mastermind. Like I just invested to go to TCC IRL and it’s one of the best events I was ever at.
Rob Marsh: That’s nice of you to say that. I mean for me, because you asked Kira, I mean, I can remember the first time that I made that big investment in my business. Not just buying a small course or something, but in joining a mastermind. And I remember having that page open for three days while I was just kind of mulling it over and thinking, “Should I pull the trigger on this? This is so much money. I don’t know what I’m really going to get out of it.”
And so there was definitely the fear side that you’re talking about, Melissa, that you don’t realize what may happen. And quite frankly, there are some programs out there that aren’t worth the money that you pay to be in them. I’ve heard people come out of masterminds that they didn’t feel supported or they didn’t feel like it was worth the money. But I think if you’re smart in choosing the program, making sure that you’re not just buying a training but you’re getting mentoring, you’re getting support, you’re getting one on one time with the person who’s running it. I think that you can make really smart investments.
And I hate the term pay to play. I don’t think it encapsulates what you’re really doing because you don’t pay money and then you’re expecting to be on their stage or to be the focus of their business. You are investing in your business. And they usually will take an interest in you, use their resources to help you, if you’ve chosen well, if you’ve gotten into the right space. And of course we’ve told this story dozens of times, but if I hadn’t hit that button and gotten into that first mastermind, Kira and I never would have met and The Copywriter Club wouldn’t exist. There would be no TCC IRL or any of the other things that we’ve done. So I’m a huge fan.
Kira Hug: I don’t know, Rob. I think we would have met somehow else. I think we would have bumped into each other at an airport.
Rob Marsh: You think…
Kira Hug: I do, I do. But I get the message. So Melissa, you mentioned the market has changed. And the market has dramatically changed since 2013 and continues to change today. So I’m just wondering, beyond investment in these programs, learning, showing at events… And what I love about what you’ve done too is you not only show up in the right room, but you’re speaking up and you’re getting yourself into a hot seat where you can be the person everyone is listening to and looking at so that someone can hire you to write a sales page because you’re talking about designing sales pages.
So I’m just wondering if you were starting over today as a freelancer maybe speaking to designers and copywriters, what would you do to get that traction? Or maybe what would you do differently based on today’s marketplace?
Melissa Burkheimer: Based on today’s marketplace, I would one, just invest in building connections. I can’t tell you how many virtual coffee chats I’m having this month with people that I met at TCC IRL, exchanging Instagram voicemails with and just becoming actual friends with other people who are in the same field as you. When you have potential clients or you’re working with someone and there’s a weird situation or an uncomfortable situation or maybe you’re getting scope creep, learning from someone who’s been there, done that, it’s going to just change the way that you do things and help you get where you want to go much faster. And don’t ever stop that.
I would say just building relationships and showing up and finding mentors who believe in you, who don’t just create a seven step formula and then just leave you high and dry, just figure out what you really need in your business. For example, I can share this. It’s kind of an embarrassing story, but I went to an event in October that was hosted by someone named Brandon Lucero. And I used to manage launches for a course he sold called Local Video Academy back in 2014, 2015.
And I went to his event in October and I was destined to get a hot seat. And I got my hot seat, but I’m a planner and I felt really unprepared. And so we did the hot seat and I left the stage feeling really silly because we didn’t really get to complete what the outcome was for that. And so one of the speakers was there and I introduced myself and one of my friends is a coach in her program and she’s like, “I know you. I saw you on the live stream.”
And so after I talked to my friend Jordan who was at TCC IRL the next day. And she was like, “I saw your hot seat on Facebook live.” And I spent so much time focused on being embarrassed and feeling ashamed that I didn’t have my ish together. But I realized really quickly that’s not a good thought to have and if I want to step into the person that I’m going to be and sell this program that people have been asking me for for years then I can’t think like that. That makes sense?
Rob Marsh: Definitely makes sense. I want to change the subject just a little bit. Maybe we can come back to mindset a little bit later, but I want to talk about why you decided to focus on sales pages exclusively. Because again, it seems like the design world is wide open, there’s so much potential for work. Why did you choose to go all in on that?
Melissa Burkheimer: I chose to go all in on that because in 2014 that’s where I was getting the most referrals and those were the products that were just showing up for me consistently. And I became really good at managing the process, making sure that the design matched the copy, making sure that the design not only just looks good but it serves well on the internet and it matches the entire funnel. And I’ve worked on a couple of website projects over the years and not that I don’t like to offer websites because I do for really special clients, but sales pages just come very easily to me.
And I like that because I found that again, a few years ago people were more willing to invest in their sales pages than they were even a website project because that was directly tied to the sale. And that doesn’t mean to say that a website isn’t important, but when someone is kind of figuring out who they are, what offers are going to sell, what strategies are going to be the most effective, they’re investing in projects like sales page copy and launch manager and Facebook ads. So I just decided in 2016 to actually make a sales page for my sales page service because that was what people kept coming to me for the most.
Rob Marsh: And this is probably the biggest question that we hear about niching. Do you feel like that cost you business or did it actually add to your business, help you grow?
Melissa Burkheimer: I mean, I’m sure it could have costed me business because people will come to me and they’ll say, “I want a logo,” or I want this and I can just refer them to another designer. But honestly the sales page service still lives today because it’s the easiest one to sell. It’s not really even a sale for me, it’s just more talking about the project and if it’s a good fit. It’s the most profitable, it’s the easiest thing for me to do.
And I am someone who likes to stick with what’s working. And when I look at other things that I had done in the last few years to kind of dip my toe into launching my own products and services, sales pages still are at the top of what people come to me for, where I feel like I shine and how I can make the most impact in the world of design when most people don’t even know what a sales page is.
Kira Hug: I’d love to talk about pricing if you’re comfortable sharing. It could be rough numbers. But if I wanted to hire a conversion designer to design a sales page, what are the different packages you offer for that and rough prices?
Melissa Burkheimer: So right now it kind of varies. And I’ve done my pricing over the years. I mean, I’ll just say the first sales pages I was doing I was charging by the hour just because I didn’t even know that a sales page service could be a thing I could offer. And then I think about seven months later I was charging $900, maybe more or less depending on the length of the page. Because sometimes people just want a test they can split test their Facebook ads with like let’s say someone visits the sales page, but then they don’t actually click the buy button. And pretty steadily from 2014 to even 2019 I would say I charged right anywhere from 3500 up to 6000 for the design alone.
And I think one thing that’s important to note here is that I personally do not provide development services in my business. I test it out, bringing the copy and the development in house and I just decided I wanted to focus on the design. However, I’m very involved in the whole process from start to finish. And that’s a lesson I’ve learned from working on sales pages where they hired a copywriter who was known for sales pages, but then the offer’s not clear.
So then I designed a whole entire page but I just have to say to the client, “Look, I’m really sorry to tell you this, but I know what you offer because I know you and I know your business, but this is not clear. And if it’s not clear for me, someone who needs to know all the details, it’s not going to be clear to your audience.” So right now I charge anywhere from 4000 to 7000 for the design alone. And I’m very involved in the development process, which is a separate fee.
And what I’m actually doing now is I’m booking multiple projects with clients. It’s a better fit because I am really involved in the business, we can do one sales page. Because a lot of times I’m not doing the branding too, so we have to spend some time on the aesthetics because they either have a brand or they don’t have a brand. So once you kind of figure that out with one client in one offer, it’s really simple to do it for another one. So that’s kind of how I am structuring those offers now. But again, I’m working on the timeline, I’m working on the creative assets and the roles in the project before we ever get started so that the client doesn’t really have to worry about that.
I finished a sales page yesterday for someone and I’ve worked with this client before, this was my third page for him and he didn’t even see 75% of the design before I went to development with it because we had such a tight timeline. But you build that level of trust and that’s kind of why I’ve always limited it to seven clients a year because 90% of my sales page clients come back for more than one.
Kira Hug: That’s a lot of trust there. That’s a great sign. But how are you structuring it so you have multiple projects per client? Is that something that you bring up on the initial sales call? Like, hey, when I work with clients, we work on three sales pages a year and that’s how I operate.
Melissa Burkheimer: This is honestly a new thing in here. So it’s something I’ve wanted to test for a while. Our good friend Sage Polaris kind of turned me on to this. And so it’s actually just kind of worked with one client this year and then another one I’m working on a proposal for it. They want three sales pages. And so the client I did two sales pages for, we worked out a two sales page package and now he’s coming to me for another project, we’re talking tomorrow. And then yesterday I also met with someone who wants three sales pages between now and July. And so that’s kind of how it’s worked out. It’s kind of weird, but when I make decisions like that and I just show up ready for it, it kind of happens. I can’t explain that.
Kira Hug: No, and that could work really well for copywriters. And I’ve heard Sage talk about that too. But if you know that you are working on sales pages for a client who launches multiple programs a year, you can sign a bigger project from the beginning. So I do want to ask you about copywriters and designers working together in harmony. Because I know like you said, you have a project management background, you are very hands on, which is why you’re great at what you do.
I could also see where designers and copywriters could have conflict if you’re coming in and saying, “Hey, the offer’s not right. The message isn’t clear here.” And then the copywriters like, “What are you doing?” So can you just talk about from your perspective, what works in this relationship? What doesn’t work? Just giving your side of how we can make these relationships really effective and maybe even what to avoid.
Melissa Burkheimer: I think that the first thing is to just really acknowledge that there are always going to be personalities that won’t work well together. And I think also just like… And this is what I did with you, is just initiating a conversation with the other creatives on the team. I think you have to just kind of take it as a case by case basis because some clients have a whole entire team that’s going to give creative feedback on all assets of the element. Sometimes they have a creative director or a project manager who’s driving the project and making sure things happen, but they don’t have a creative background or that’s not their duty within the project.
So I think the first thing is just really reaching out and having a conversation with the people who are working on the team, even if they’re outside of designers. I was standing at TCC IRL, this is a funny story, and on one side of me was this same client that I’ve referred to, his copywriter and on the other side was his Facebook ads manager, all in the same room, within the same vicinity of me. So-
Kira Hug: I’m trying to guess who this is and who all these people are.
Melissa Burkheimer: I can say if you want to. It was Gin Walker and Tony Willy. Gin Walker and Tony Willy. But yeah. And I had heard of Tony but I didn’t know him, so I’m building relationships with them. And so again, initially when you guys are talking, like let’s talk about how they approach the project, how the designer approaches the project, is the copywriter willing to look at the design and make sure it kind of matches the vision of what they’re looking like? Does the client want the copywriter to give feedback?
I also have an editor on my team. I use Renee who you referred me two years ago here, so thank you for that. So I have her come in and edit the copy before we even get started. Not because the copywriter has done a bad job, but just because this is a high quality offer. I want the project and the end result to be fantastic and I want it to perform and get results for my client. So really just, I think, looking at how you approach the project, identifying the steps in the entire process and where the copywriter does and doesn’t want to be involved.
And so the project I mentioned where the copy wasn’t clear, a lot of times people will come to me with their copy and it’s already done. And if I know the copywriter or I can at least take a look at the copy, I can tell from a directional standpoint if it’s up to par with the type of sales page copy that I would design. There are other designers who maybe don’t have as much experience as me, but they’re just as good as design who might be a better fit for something like that.
So again, it just really depends on the project because sometimes the copy’s done before I even get involved. Like I knew that Jen Walker was the copywriter for the first project I worked on for this client. And I knew that she was speaking at The Copywriter Club event, so I didn’t have to question it whatsoever. You know what I mean? Because I knew that she was under your mentorship. So again, just communicating, asking questions and bringing up awkward things. Like one time I was doing a sales page and this client was going to be fly fishing over the weekend in a state, the state has wifi, but in a place where there was no wifi.
And when we were supposed to do the final review of the developed page, which this client wanted to do, I had to have the awkward conversation with the launch manager to say, “Hey, we’re behind a couple of days because we’ve had these last minute changes come in to the bonuses or there’s a new section of copy that was added last minute,” which those things always happen. I try to plan for them, but it’s just a part of the process.
But I had to say, “I need their feedback this day, or I will not have this page ready for you by next Tuesday when your webinar is, because you’ve given me changes after the whole design was already approved.” So it worked out to where that client had a layover on their flight on Friday so they were able to give the review. But a lot of times you just don’t know who has the creative final say on the team so it’s important to have those conversations, I think.
Kira Hug: I think the ability to communicate with copywriters, designers in particular. I’ve had projects that have gone way off the rails because the designer didn’t have a lot of direct or conversion experience and they designed a sales page like they would design a label on a nutritional bottle or whatever. And I’m not sure that I handled the conversation well because I don’t think it got fixed entirely the way that I would have done it. But the designer certainly was not in the place to take any kind of criticism either. So those conversations are critical.
Melissa Burkheimer: And I think that this is something that needs to stop immediately in this industry. I did a webinar recently and a girl who I met at the event saw that I posted about it on Instagram and she’s a copywriter. She works at an agency and I was chatting with her afterwards and she’s like, “It was so helpful to learn how you approach things from a design perspective because I’ve worked in an agency and the copywriters and the designers were taught to not talk to each other.” And I was like, “What?”
Rob Marsh: It doesn’t make sense.
Melissa Burkheimer: I’m extroverted but I don’t understand that. I would consider Kira one of my closest copywriter connections in the industry. And we don’t talk that often but when we do it’s a rich conversation about what’s working and what’s not and how we can support each other. And you have to have the conversation and don’t approach a project like you know everything. Yes, you are an expert but you are a participant in this project. I’m going to stop ranting.
Kira Hug: No, keep going. I love it.
Melissa Burkheimer: There’s got to be egos have to be put aside. And so many people are fearful of hiring copywriters and designers and a lot of times it’s just because they’re not at the level to where they’re ready to have someone else do it or they’re not ready to tell their story in a certain way. I just hired a copywriter for my bio and I feel terrible because when we first started I needed help adding personality to it because I write very straight to the point because I have a journalism training background.
And she added personality to it and through the process I had this evolution of realizing who I am just like in the last 30 days. And so I felt like I was being really difficult. And I wasn’t trying to be difficult. People just want things a certain way and sometimes they’re just having trouble letting go of the control. Be friends, collaborate, work together and just talk about your process beforehand and it just is going to be such a better experience for everyone.
Rob Marsh: I think you’re talking about who has control or feeling like you need control is a big part of that conversation. So…
Melissa Burkheimer: And like one web project I worked, because again I don’t do a lot of websites but I did one. And this client I had worked with for years and they said, “I don’t want to be in involved in this process at all.” And that should have been a red flag to me. Even though I worked with this person for a really long time, that was not the type of client… that was not the best way to approach this project, if that makes sense. So it caused delays and it was just not the best experience for me. So yeah.
Kira Hug: The client said, “I don’t want to be a part of this project.”
Melissa Burkheimer: They didn’t want to be involved in it. They wanted me to just handle it. But there’s some things that I knew and that I could do, but just a lot of stuff happened behind the scenes that we don’t need to get into. But yeah. So just again, paying attention to those things, not only from the creative people who are going to be on the project, but also with the team. And again, I think it’s when you’re approaching something like this, you can say to someone, “Hey, what do you think about making this a few words shorter. This is how I have this designed and I think that this is going to be a really effective way. But if we could just cut five words, can you do that for me?”
Just again, I was trained as a journalist, so that’s kind of how I operate anyways, but my goal is to make sure that the design has every single character, like the bolds are bold, the commas are where they’re supposed to be. There’s no extra words. And that’s why I have that editor with within my process at various steps just for extra assurance that it looks just like the copy was given to me.
Rob Marsh: So the new worldview is copywriters are more like chocolate and peanut butter and less like the crips and the bloods. We got to get…
Kira Hug: Thanks Rob for that.
Rob Marsh: So I want to change topics again, Melissa. This is probably a question I should have asked at the very beginning of the interview. You call yourself a conversion designer. What’s the difference between a conversion designer and a regular designer or even a direct response designer?
Melissa Burkheimer: I would say a conversion designer, the theory of conversion design is that it’s based on a goal. And this was kind of, I think, spearheaded by Oli Gardner at unbounce.com. And conversion design, you’re focused on the entire customer journey as it relates to getting a lead or getting a sale or getting someone to take action to hit your goal. And I think that design in general is the layout of characters, visually creating an aesthetic that helps with your customer and help you build the credibility. And I honestly think the main difference is that conversion design is based on a result and the other design is based on how people feel and experience when they’re interacting with your brand.
Kira Hug: Can you share more of a state of the union on what’s currently working in conversion design for sales pages, what’s working, what’s not working as far as any major elements we should be thinking about that are working today?
Melissa Burkheimer: In my personal opinion, one thing I think that people do is they have too many testimonials. And that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good thing to have a bunch of testimonials in your business backend somewhere. But I think that one testimonial that showcases results and a before and after is better than 25 testimonials talking about how cool you are. I think that there is not enough emphasis put on mobile design when people are designing websites, even outside of the conversion step for this because I’ve had so many people come to me when we’re on initial project conversations saying, “We just want to see the mobile design. The designer we hired the last time didn’t do a mobile design.”
So I design custom sales pages like mobile when I do a project now. I don’t do it for everyone because it really depends on how they’re going to be developing it. But just making the mobile design, even making the iPad level of design while you’re building the whole thing I think is really important on the PSD side. I think that just building your credibility and really at the back end of things, caring about your students and your audience and the results you’re going to get for them is really important.
I think white space or blank spaces, I like to actually call it is your friend. And so when you have more of that, it just gives your users and your audience more time to read. Even just with your testimonials, I personally use a simple format and I stack them on top of each other versus having tiled where they’re to the left and the right and on top and bottom of each other. Because I think it’s easier and it’s more relaxing on your eyes to read. And I think that paying attention to where your audience is clicking, where they’re bouncing and understanding your data and that conversions are really just a big test, especially for those who are new to launching or selling online and that it’s a long term game versus fast results now, if that makes sense.
Rob Marsh: Definitely makes sense. So as I’m listening to you talk about this stuff, it sounds like there are a couple of principles that you are always looking at as you’re designing a page. So maybe could you walk us through your process from start to finish? As you look at the copy, as you think through what needs to happen, what does that look like so that at the end you get this awesome sales page that’s going to deliver a six figure launch?
Melissa Burkheimer: So I think that the first thing I do that’s not like most people is I actually take a look at the copy and I ask really specific questions in my onboarding form about how many clients this offer has helped my client get, how many students have they had, how much money have they made, what’s their goal with this new offer, what is the timeline? And that really kind of helps me understand their method of launching.
And one thing I’m actually going to start doing based on a couple of projects I’ve done earlier this year is just getting on an initial call with the client after we’ve booked the project to really understand their launch strategy. Because I used to be a launch manager and I find that when I can talk that out with the client, it can help avoid delays in the project if things are changing kind of last minute, which again that’s always going to happen.
But when I’m designing I always ask if the client has a brand guideline or logos or fonts or colors or photos they want on the page. Because a lot of times people will brand their offers differently than they will their business. So when I’m actually designing, I’m taking the first few sections of the page and that is what we are coming up with on our first drafts. I’m not doing the whole entire thing because I want the client and the aesthetic to make sense. I want it to be really clear.
And sometimes we have to go through a few rounds. I always tell people we don’t usually get it perfect the first time, but by the second or third round of revisions based on their feedback and things I want to do and even from the other creative, people working on the project, once we get those first few sections, we can move through the rest of the page pretty quickly and just kind of nail it. And I think it’s because we’re doing the initial inquiry.
And again, the inquiry is done sometimes via live review. Sometimes clients just like to send me Loom videos. It’s really up to them. But also finding out who in the project is giving directional feedback to me is important because I don’t want to be 90% through with the design and then there’s this person on this person’s team who was on vacation and now they’ve come in and they want to completely change everything. You know what I mean?
And that has happened and of course I do my best to work around it, but the best methodology I’ve found is just looking at the whole entire picture, understanding the funnel and understanding the strategy. That doesn’t mean I’m writing the copy, I’m just looking at sections to make sure that everything’s flowing and works really, really well together.
Kira Hug: How do you feel about copywriters handing over a wire frame to you? Is that something that you encourage and do you feel like it’s really useful? And if so, what do you look for in wire frames? What’s helpful for you?
Melissa Burkheimer: I love wire frames because it takes the guesswork out of it for me. And not that I don’t like the guesswork or can’t do the guesswork, but I think that people, especially copywriters who are trained as conversion copywriters… Like the samples that I’ve recently gotten for clients aren’t necessarily even in a wire frame, but they’ve laid out where there should be bullets, where there should be arrows next to text where this is a subhead, this is a headline, this is body copy.
So even just having those things ahead of time makes my job much easier and it helps the client kind of see what the visual is going to look like at the copy standpoint, even though they’re not necessarily looking for that. There are people who they’re visual processors. And so the people especially who are visual processors who can see the wire frame and understand what it’s going to look like even just with black and white text and very basic, it just helps the project to me go a lot smoother.
Rob Marsh: And how often do you get a wire frame and you start to rethink it and say, “Actually, this section I want to do a little bit differently.” Does that happen or usually get a pretty clear idea of what should happen on the page?
Melissa Burkheimer: Most of the time it I don’t get it to where I want to change something. It may be where the client has requested we’ve got a photo with text next to it and we’ve got four of those stacked on top of each other. The times where we’ve had to go through and change all, say, “Can we cut this word so that all of the paragraphs are equal amount in characters?” So that we don’t have one with 100 characters and then one with 30. Because visually that would kind of look a little bit disruptive. So I’ve had to have conversations with copywriters and clients there, but there’s also clients where I could just kind of make that creative decision because they trust me enough and it won’t make that big of a difference. But for the most part with a copywriter who understands conversion copy, I don’t have to make a lot of changes.
Kira Hug: I have a question just because, well, this pops up a lot where I’m working with a designer and I hand over the copy, the clients approve the copy, we’ve worked through all the processes and then the designers like, basically this is too long and tries to cut down the copy dramatically for various reasons. So how do you suggest handling situations like that and not working with you? When you and I worked together, we created a very long, very, very, very long sales page.
Melissa Burkheimer: Very long sales page.
Kira Hug: And we were both on board with it. But with some other designers, it’s been really tricky where they have a lot of push backs because they either don’t understand the conversion aspect of it or whatever. I know the initial conversation would help and I’ve tried to do that with designers. They don’t always want to hang out with me and jump on a call with me. So I don’t know. How would you approach situations like that? Because this has happened repeatedly.
Melissa Burkheimer: I mean, honestly, I think there has to be a conversation I think and an understanding from the client perspective who’s bringing everybody on to get everybody on the same page with the overall mission, if that makes sense. And I think it’s honestly just A, having the conversation with them and not approaching it from the fact of, “I’m the designer, I know everything. I went to school at this program and graduated 20 years ago and it doesn’t matter that design has changed.”
I could do the same little bad voice impression for any type of creative field. And I think that again, this has to come initially and when it does happen, you have to have an honest conversation about it. There’s really no other way around it. What happened when the designer said the copy was too long?
Kira Hug: The client came back to me and became this go-between, almost like the parent and we were two siblings fighting over copy and design. And so it puts the client in a bad position too, where they feel like they have to go between the two parties. So I don’t know, maybe it’s more of just stressing the importance of having those initial conversations with designers and copywriters in the same room, which again, I did try to have, but how important that is so everyone’s on the same page from the beginning.
Melissa Burkheimer: And I think mainly the client has to be on board. Again, and I just don’t really know any other way because this is just how I do it, no one trained me like this. I wasn’t taught this in design school. But I bring in most of the time the copywriter, the designer, the developer, the final shot or just… I’ve been working on a pitch with a client for a couple of months and after multiple conversations we realized we need someone to come in and review the copy because this person will create their own content.
But we need someone to look at the content from a funnel perspective. And I can do that, but we need someone to give actual direction. I can say, “Well, maybe this will work better, try this.” But we need someone who’s kind of an expert in that space. So I think having a client who’s on board with a collaborative project and just realizing that sometimes we’re going to have to duke it out with people and just be as nice but firm as you possibly can.
That is unfortunate but I think it’s something that’s not going to go away because there’s so many people. And that’s really why I started mentoring designers and I started my podcast because I wanted to give design a voice but a collaborative place. And I don’t want just the people, the good old boys clubs who are well known in advertising. I want to create a new era and a new generation of designers and creatives who understand things better and how things are working now versus how they worked 20 years ago.
Rob Marsh: As I think about this, I’m curious what conversion mistakes do you see copywriters making? Maybe on the projects that are coming your way, maybe other copy that you’re seeing elsewhere in the world. What are we doing wrong?
Melissa Burkheimer: Sometimes testimonials are too long. I think when I worked with Carol, I’ll share the example of-
Kira Hug: Are you just talking to me? Because I have I heard a lot of long…
Rob Marsh: Kira likes long testimonials.
Melissa Burkheimer: No. But what I’m saying is how…
Kira Hug: It’s true…
Melissa Burkheimer: No, what I’m talking about is how you approach this. So if I’ve got a section with five or six stack testimonials with the photos on the left hand side, the text is on the right, the headline might be bold, we’ve got the person’s name, we’ve got a standard for that design. If the testimonial is super long, that makes it really awkward. And I was going to talk about what Kira did with the golf course.
I don’t know if you remember this, but actually that golf course is 10 minutes from my house. It was a case study for Rick, I don’t know if you remember this or not. But there were multiple sections where you weren’t just spieling this whole long testimonial that someone maybe gave on a video. You told the story. We told the story in three or four different sections and made it look like a case study versus a design.
And I think that when you structure the copy so that it’s not just paragraph, paragraph, paragraph, paragraph, paragraph, and add the bullets, add the headline, add the pullout quotes, add the things that will keep it interesting without it being overwhelming. That’s one mistake I see people making.
And another one, this is just a personal preference, but I don’t like it when the text, and I know this is on the design and the copy side, but maybe there’s two columns of text right next to each other, but they’re really wide. I’m a big fan of the narrow column design. And if you structure your copy like that, it’s just much easier to read. I like to compare that to newspapers. They were designed because the thin columns are easy to read. So if you can pull that principle in over to the web, I think that that’s easier.
And I think also two, when you’re working on a landing page, I think it’s important to introduce the offer and make sure that you have the navigational direction that you want to go set up. So I want to know where the first button is supposed to take me on the page. Is it supposed to take me to a sales video? Is it supposed to take me to a case studies page? And really introducing the offer and repeating what’s included in the offer multiple times because people are scanning.
People say they don’t read, people don’t read long sales page copy. I think people do read long sales pages because they perform really well over and over again. But I think just repeating the basic elements of exactly what’s included in the offer multiple times is just really helpful and sometimes not done when you’re working on a page. And you’re going to have the clients who want to buy from you no matter what it is. They’ll give you their credit card before they even know what you’re offering because they’re such a big fan and they just kind of want to be in your world.
But for the people who need to understand the details, they say that we need to see something. I don’t know what the exact study says, but it needs to be repeated and in front of us multiple times so people know what they’re getting. And that can also help reduce refunds and questions about what they’re getting. How many times have you bought something and you don’t know what it is? No really you bought something because you just…
Kira Hug: All the time.
Melissa Burkheimer: All the time.
Kira Hug: What is this? So I want to find out more about what you’re doing today. You’ve mentioned that you kind of led into the why behind starting Conversion Design School and your podcast. But can you just talk about what your business looks like today, where you’re spending most of your time because it has grown beyond your sales page offer into these new areas in your business?
Melissa Burkheimer: Yeah. So today my business looks a lot different than it did in the early days. And so my main offer like we’ve talked about is sales page design. And I also have a newish program called Conversion Design School. And I do run a few, like some free and paid mentorship programs for designers. But I’m finishing those up and shifting into really focusing on Conversion Design School and sales pages as my two main ways people can work with me. And people have been asking me for years are like, “Make a sales page course.” And I was like, “No.”
Because I know that you need to understand more than just the design aspect of a sales page. I don’t believe if you have an offer that you haven’t sold multiple times that you should even invest in a sales page especially with me. Go get your offer perfected, run it again and again and then invest in the sales page. Because there’s ways to sell things other than the internet. There’s the phone, there’s direct messages.
And so I was interviewed on a podcast just about a year ago called the Get Back to Design Podcast with Krista Miller and Kory Woodard. It’s a podcast for designers and it ended up being all about conversion design. And so I got the idea then, but really wasn’t sure how to package the offer because I understand what should go and not go in and offer but I just really wanted to take it to the next level.
And so I hired Erika Lyremark who’s been on the show before and I joined her offer program, now I’m in knowing him in her marked mastermind. And she really kind of helped me figure out what to offer in the course, how to position it. And I have run that a couple of times, I’ve got a new methodology that I’ll be teaching in it that I’ve been working on. And also really in my business today, I’m cleaning up so many different things that I’ve created or that need updating and just making systems for…
And again, I’m good at making systems, but I am taking those systems to the next level. Right now I’m planning my next launch for Conversion Design School and I have someone who’s helping me with the project management of that, which is new because I’ve always been my own project manager. I’m in the visionary space and then I’m in the doing space and there’s too much back and forth going on there.
So I’m also bringing on someone too, which we’ve been working together for a few weeks and she’s helping me with things like podcast show notes and picking out what assets we should put on social media to promote the post. And so my goal is to bring her in and have her completely manage the podcast and my social media. And then I can take my launches to the next level because I’m not doing every little thing.
So I’m working more hours than I would like to admit right now. For the most part I work during school hours because I still take my kids to and from school. Well, not the one you can drive, but the other one. Like this week I stayed up till 4:00 AM just working on something because I wanted it done. And I outsource a lot but there’s just things right now that I need to be the person to do so that I can perfect it and then hand it off and it can work for me on the backend, if that makes sense.
Rob Marsh: Totally makes sense. So we’re almost out of time, but we want to ask what you see the future of conversion design as we move forward.
Melissa Burkheimer: Honestly I think the future is mobile. And I think people will still be on their computers, but I think paying attention to how you can interact with your customers, how you can actually achieve the goals and knowing the data, understanding the data so you can then take it and tweak it for the next round. I think that right now there’s a popular thing going on with the script fonts and rose gold and gold. And I think that those are going to go away really soon.
And I think that the future is just going to be short and to the point. If you go to Apple’s website right now, it features a few of the products they sell. It’s very easy. You understand once you get to that webpage, what they’re selling, what they want you to buy. You know what I mean? So I think just getting to the point and making things more simple is the future in my personal opinion.
Kira Hug: All right. Simple. Keep it simple. So where can our listeners go to find out more about you and your sales page offer and then also your podcast and your school?
Melissa Burkheimer: So you can find out about my podcast, my is over at thedesignbusinessshow.com. Kira interviewed me for the first episode. It was really, I felt like it was a disaster on my side.
Kira Hug: I felt like I didn’t bring my A game. I’m sorry. I feel like we need to redo it.
Melissa Burkheimer: Listen, we are going to redo it, but this was two years ago. So I mean a lot can happen in two years. So that’s where you can find my podcast or just anywhere that you listen to podcasts. And my website is melissaburkheimer.com and that’s where you can find links to the wait list for Conversion Design School and my sales page offer. And I also am hanging out more and more on Instagram these days, so I’m at Melissa Burkheimer. And I’m working on something new that I’m releasing on my birthday, which is May 6th, which I’m not sure if that’s before or after this goes live. But it’s basically how to design the hero sales page or hero sections for your sales page. I’m really excited about that.
Kira Hug: I like, okay, I want that.
Melissa Burkheimer: I’m getting people that on my birthday, so yeah.
Kira Hug: Cool. All right, well thank you so much for being part of our community. I do feel like you are connecting copywriters in our community to the design world and so we can connect these two communities and make them one. And so thank you for being at our event and part of the community and for this interview today.
Melissa Burkheimer: Thank you for having me. I’m really grateful.
Rob Marsh: Thanks Melissa.
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 in 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.