TCC Podcast #107: the Instagram-ification of copywriting with Joel Klettke - The Copywriter Club
TCC Podcast #107: the Instagram-ification of copywriting with Joel Klettke

Copywriter Joel Klettke shares his thoughts with Kira and Rob about how copywriters like to show off only the best parts of their business and how that affects other writers struggling to make things work. It’s a great discussion, but we covered a lot more than that. Here’s a look at what you’ll hear in this 107th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast:

•  what he’s doing and how his business (and life) has changed in the past year
•  how audits and research have impacted his business
•  what Joel does in an audit and how he prices them for his clients
•  how he sells the audit and then hands it off to the client or another writer
•  why he’s taking on fewer projects and the season of “no”
•  the instagram-ification of some copywriter’s businesses—and why it hurts
•  why we end up chasing the wrong goals (and maybe what to do instead)
•  what to do if you aren’t performing as well as you think you should
•  what is “enough”
•  a few ideas for building confidence and the impact on your business
•  the biggest mistakes copywriters make that ruin your conversion rates
•  his advice to new dads and why you might need “guilt cancelling headphones”

To get the low-down on how Joel’s business has changed since the first time we talked to him more than a year ago, click the play button below. Or if you’re the reading type (and lots of copywriters are) scroll down for a full transcript. And you should be able to find it on your favorite podcast app as well.


The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:

Joel’s first interview
Joanna Wiebe
Case Study Buddy
Chantelle Zakarisian
Val Geisler
Laura Belgray
Joels’ Conversion Killers Presentation
Kira’s website
Rob’s website
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
Outro: Gravity


Full Transcript:

Rob:   What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes, and their habits, 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 a club for Episode 107 as we chat for a second time with freelance copywriter and case study specialist Joel Klettke about what he’s accomplished in the year since we last talked. What it really takes to grown and run a six figure business, balancing copywriting with building a second business and being a new dad, and the biggest conversion killing mistakes copywriters make.

Kira:   Welcome Joel.

Rob:   Hey Joel.

Joel:   Hey guys, thanks so much for having me.

Kira:   Yeah it’s great to have you back. All right, so let’s kick this off Joel with what you’ve been working on over the last year. What’s changed for you? We know quite a bit has changed for you, but what’s changed since the last time that we had you on the show?

Joel:   I kind of started off the year, I made the promise to myself I said, ‘I’m going to step back from the copy projects, and I’m going to press into the case study business, and focus on growing that.’ And so, that was kind of my mental goal. I thought, ‘Yeah I need to see what I’ve got in that.’ And that went well for all of like 10 minutes, and then projects cross your desk, and it’s difficult to say no. But, I have kind of stepped back a little bit from writing. I’m taking on fewer but bigger projects now, which was a big goal of mine. But I think obviously the most significant change is now I’m a dad, so I’ve got a little guy in the house, and learning to work, and live, and adjust my sleep schedules and life in general around this little person, which is pretty interesting.

And then the other side of it on a totally different side of things, I looked up kind of midway through the year and realized outside of case studies, and outside of my writing projects I’ve actually made more money, and had more work on the audits and review side of things, which was a surprise even to me, because it wasn’t something I really willfully thought, ‘You know I’m really going to spin this up and focus a ton on these audits and reviews.’ It just sort of started snowballing. And so, now I’m in a place where big life changes, potential shifts in the way I spend my time in my work, so quite a lot going on. Quite a lot to kind of grapple with, and a lot to be excited about too.

Rob:   Just for context Joel, do you mind talking a little bit about what the auditing and those services that you’re doing that you weren’t necessarily expecting to be a big contribute to your business. Tell us about those kind of projects, what you do, how they come to you and what you are helping clients accomplish.

Joel:   Yeah, definitely. So, I’ve always been a proponent of to be good in this business, especially when it comes to the conversion side of copywriting, you can’t just be a good writer. It’s not enough to just be good with words, or to be a wordsmith and make things sound nice, you have to be really good at the research part. You have to care about getting it right, and doing the research, and analyzing data both qualitative and quantitative. And so, part of my process for a long time with projects has been this research phase where we do things like look at heat maps, and recorded user sessions. We survey their customers. We interview customers. We talk to their internal team. We talk to their chat logs. And so, for the longest time that was always just phase one of bigger projects.

And then as I started kind of venturing into an area where now there’s kind of a pretty significant contingent of businesses, you know small businesses, and even some smaller midsize businesses that can’t necessarily afford to have me on a full project, but there’s projects I was interested in, wanting to engage on. And so, I came to them and said, ‘Well, instead of having me put together all your pages, and do the writing, and the wire framing, I could give you the research portion, analyze what you’ve got, make recommendations for what I would change, and you can take that and do with it what you will.’ And so, these audits and reviews, what I’m doing now yes I’m assessing the copy and the messaging, but it’s more than that. I’m looking at identifying, okay where are obvious obstacles to conversion based on the way people interact with your site and your information? How do we fix those? And then handing them kind of a blueprint of next steps for what to do with that, and how to action that.

So, it’s become even though it’s still phase one of projects, it’s now become kind of a stand-alone thing that I’m able to offer at different tiers and levels. Everything from quick little video reviews to these full blown 5,000 plus word reports. But I’m really enjoying it, and I’m loving kind of the forensic, detective side of looking at a site and trying to figure out what’s wrong, and how to fix it both with words and sometimes UX, and other elements too.

Rob:   You mentioned the tiers, I’m curious how you price that for your clients.

Joel:   Yeah, so I wanted to have a tier that was really accessible. I wanted to be able to say, I have five spots open for audits this month. And I wanted to be able to sell that out quickly. And so, kind of on the bottom end, kind of right now it’s a video review where I send them a brief, they fill it out as best they can with the details they have. We go in knowing, nobody’s kidding themselves, we’re not pretending this is a data driven audit I’m doing, but they’re counting on my experience and my ability to kind of sniff out big obvious problems, that’s the goal with these ones. So for that, I started billing really low, so I was first charging kind of like $250 for those. And I’ve kind of been testing the ceiling on that. I know now that I can close those at around $900.

So everything from that, which is still within reach for a lot of businesses, to some of theses deep dive audits where they’re multi-week affairs, we’re talking to a lot of people, we’re doing a lot of things, those can be anywhere from on the lower end $5,000 to $7,500 and up, just depending on how much we’re analyzing what the end deliverable is. So, it kind of runs the gamete what companies are interested in, but especially that bottom tier has been really popular because it’s a way for companies just to get a sense of what they can do next and action on it.

Kira:   Can you talk through the deep dive audit and what that looks like in more detail?

Joel:   Yeah. So, the things that I just talked about with regard to qualitative and quantitative when it comes to a deep dive audit, the difference when you look at a video review there’s just the brief, and sometimes I throw in a bit of … I might look at their Google search console for kicks, and that’s it. And it takes me maybe an hour or two in the morning, I’m done, I get on with my day. With a deep dive audit usually they’re larger sites, they’re more nuanced problems, we look at more pages, we look at more specifically quantitative data, so those types of companies usually are measuring with varying degrees of accuracy what’s actually happening on the site. So, the deep dive audit I just bring in more of those data points. So on the bottom end it’s just a brief and maybe one other thing. On the other side of things that’s where it’s that full surveys, and interviews, and 100 plus recorded sessions, and Google analytics, and if they have VWO we’re looking at that. And maybe we’re running a survey and I’m analyzing 100, 200 responses.

The other piece that changes is the deliverable too. So, if I don’t have to write up a deliverable that obviously saves me a ton of time. An interesting thing I’ve kind of found is people tend to value … I could send somebody a deliverable that would take them an hour to sit down and read, or literally two hours of video and people will still prefer to just watch the videos. So, the deliverables change and how deep we go into it changes, but it’s really just the more detailed and data oriented they want to be the more I charge for it, because the more time it’s going to take me to do.

Kira:   And then are you handing this off to another copywriter once they get it? And they’re like, ‘Cool, this is great. Now who’s going to execute it? Who’s going to write all this and make these changes?’ Do you recommend someone or are you just kind of back up at that point?

Joel:   Yeah, I mean that’s to be honest, that’s been the thing I’ve been trying to figure out. Sometimes I’ll pass it off. I still have Stephen my long-term subcontractor whose with me for life I hope. Sometimes I’ll pass it off to him. To be honest with you a lot of the findings that come out of this research though, they’re not just copy oriented, and so, sometimes the honest recommendation is, ‘Hey, before we do any changes to your writing there’s some technical issues. There’s some flow issues or things that need to change.’

I think part of what I’m attracted to with the audits and reviews is not having to be responsible for that writing piece. So, maybe I’m missing an opportunity in passing off the leads and taking a cut. Oftentimes these people have in house teams that they’re decent writers they just don’t know what to do, they’re not good on that assessment side. So, I have to kind of figure out what I want to do with it, and there’s just been so many other things in life, but part of the problem is finding people I really trust on the conversion side of things. And we’ve got a great little group here Kira and Rob, and you know what I’m talking about there, but outside of that and everybody’s quite busy there, it can be difficult to track down people that I feel comfortable passing off this audit and saying, ‘Hey, run with this.’

Kira:   Yeah. Well it sounds like you’re selling the research part, and I think this is a direction a lot of copywriters want to go eventually or they’re ready to go there now, but it’s hard sometimes to sell the research and kind of solve the problem without the execution side. But you’re clearly doing it well, so how do you sell it? Not to put you on the spot and say, sell it to us, but how are you positioning it and selling it so that it is a clear win and that you don’t have to deliver all the copy? How are you selling it to your clients?

Joel:   Yeah. The first couple things, I’m happy to pitch it to you. The gist of it is I never call it research, because nobody is interested in research.

Kira:   Right.

Joel:   Nobody wants to pay you to research things. So, in this case there’s a couple things in my favor. The first I say, ‘Listen, for me to do a full project, to do the research, to write this for you it’s going to cost something like x amount.’ And normally I know that’s out of reach for the company. When I’m pitching this what I’m saying is, ‘What we’re going to do is we’re going to assess what’s happening on your site right now. We’re going to dig into your customers pain points, their needs, their anxieties so that we know exactly what we need to tell them, what they’re expecting, so that we have a clear picture of what’s going to do better than what you’ve got right now. And then we’re going to look at the qualitative and quantitative data, identify what’s tripping you up, where people are getting stuck, and I’m going to make recommendations to help you get them unstuck.’ So, something like that.

Really though at the end of the day it’s tying it back to the goals they already have. So it’s saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got a site, you’ve invested money in this. You’re not seeing results you want to see. I can help you diagnose why and give you a roadmap for fixing it.’ Oftentimes I think people just want to know what’s wrong. They’re confident in their ability to solve it, but when you’ve got internal conflicts or you just don’t have that expertise in house, it’s difficult to know which lever to pull. And so, part of my job is pitching this as, ‘I’ll show you which lever to pull.’

Rob:   I love it. I think that could be a really valuable project for any copywriter who actually knows kind of the stuff that goes well beyond copy, right? You know the persuasion techniques that are happening, not just in the words but also in the design. So, I think it can be really cool offering. A lot of copywriters could offer.

So, Joel you mentioned that you’re focusing on fewer but larger projects, talk a little bit about that change in your business and the kind of things that you’re working on these days.

Joel:   Yeah, you know one of the things we talk a lot about confidence in the group, and generally as freelancers we talk about confidence. And even the people at the top I’d say people that you look at the Joanna Wiebe’s of the world and she’s definitely a confident person, and she knows her value, but I think even she would say that on her way up there’s still moments that she would get nervous. You get nervous and you take stuff you maybe shouldn’t, or didn’t want to, so I think part of what I’ve really been able to do over the past year is just be able to say no better. And when it comes to fewer but bigger projects I’m looking at, because I’ve got case study on the side, and I’ve got this audit little piece to fall back onto I’m more comfortable now kind of really asserting like, ‘This is my rate. This is the bottom. This is the let’s talk about this point. And if you’re not at that point I’ve now got this audit piece that I can present to you as an alternative, but otherwise sorry, no.’

And for me, heading into the back half of this year I’m calling it, this is the winter of I’m sorry, no. Just saying I don’t have time for that. I can’t help you with that. It’s a privileged place to be in. I’m not suggesting every copywriter can just start saying no to everything. I think it does take some time to get to the point that you have businesses coming to you, and you’ve established your reputation, and you’ve got good sources of leads and word of mouth bringing people to you. But once you realize for me it’s constantly reminding myself that the next lead in my inbox is not the last lead I’m ever going to see. And once you wrap your head around that, and get used to the idea that saying no doesn’t mean committing yourself to eating ramen noodles for the rest of your life, you open that door to be a little more patient and wait for those companies who are at the level and with a budget, and have the type of work you want to do.

So, I’m not suggesting that you can just start doing that immediately. I think there is a ramping up period where you be assertive and you kind of assert your value on the way up till the point you’ve got enough coming your way. But once you get there it’s a matter of switching out of the mindset of, ‘Okay, I’m still earning my keep,’ and now really owning the fact that ‘No, I get to pick and choose.’

Kira:   Yeah, it sounds like it’s really a process that takes time, and sometimes you start off and you start to say the no, and then maybe you get pulled back into it. And it seems like I’ve experienced that, and I’ve seen other copywriters were they want to focus on building the thing, case study buddy. And then they get pulled back into the client work, for whatever reasons, mindset, or they need the money, but it sounds like maybe that’s happened to you too, that you’ve been pulled back and then you got yourself straight again, and then you pulled back. Is that just a natural part of this process?

Joel:   I think so. I mean it’s funny because we started the conversation and I was saying that I was going to focus solely on case study and then good stuff crossed my desk, so I think I’ve gotten good at saying no in some situations, and I still have a ways to go in others. But, having that focus … you know it happens a lot, we’re human, we’re going to have great months, we’re going to have down months, we’re going to have projects that come across our desk that excite us even if they’re bad for us. I think being forgiving to yourself when you don’t always do exactly like you set out to do, is important. But now, finally I think on the back, like I say, the back half of the year, finally having really found a footing I guess in the past few months, saying no to different things, it is freeing me up. If I’ve only got one or two bigger projects then I do have more time to devote to the case study side of things. Yeah, I’m sure that I’ll elastic band the other way at some point again, but as long as you’re generally moving the right direction I think that’s all right.

Rob:   I’d love to talk a little bit more about this good month, bad month thing, because …

Kira:   Yeah.

Rob:   There’s this sense in our group, maybe even a bigger sense in some other groups, that everybody who’s successful is being successful all the time. And that every month is a $10,000 or $20,000 or even $50,000 month. And I think it creates sort of this hopelessness among a lot of people who are having an $800 month, or a $2,000 month. And they’re looking just thinking, there’s no way. So, you even have bad months Joel?

Joel:   Let me start by saying I think bad month, your definition of a bad month changes depending on where you are in your journey. So, for some people a bad month is going to be a down month on projects, they’re not going to have the work there, they’re not going to make a lot. For other people a down month is going to be mental and physical health, so maybe you just pack too much in, and you made money, but it was a bad month because you got off course with where you wanted to be headed, or you didn’t invest time in yourself, or your business, and so, yeah you made cash but at what cost? So, yeah even though now I have consistent work, do I have good months and bad months? Yeah, they’re just different. They’re just good or bad for different reasons.

I think one of the most disheartening things, disheartening trends I’m kind of seeing now in copywriter circles is its kind of becoming this Instagram-ification of people’s careers, where someone has a really good month, and they trumpet it to everybody. We want to celebrate together, we want to pat each other on the back, this isn’t me being petty, but for someone to come out and say, ‘I had a $40,000 month.’ And to make it sound like that’s typical for everybody, if you’re going to throw something like that out there you should be prepared to bring receipts to explain what it is you did, and is that just because you had a whole bunch of projects open or close all at once, or what did that look like for you? There’s so much ambiguity around these good months and this big income, and anybody can write anything. The whole saying on the internet, ‘Nobody knows you’re a dog.’ Well I could tweet out $50,000 month folks. Anybody can do that. And I think what’s discouraging is people see that and they start thinking … even if it’s true, they start thinking, ‘Well that’s the norm, and that’s where I should be, and why can’t I do that?’

It’s important to recognize that I don’t know a single successful person, especially in copywriting circles who doesn’t have down months, doesn’t have months where they earn less or they feel worse, of they get stressed out, and I know for sure that if you’re going to put out there that you’re doing 40, 50 plus a month independently your own work, that is possible, but unlikely for most people. It’s not a benchmark to measure yourself against really no matter where you’re at, because it’s just so unrealistic I think for most people, unless you’ve got some sort of product or team outside yourself.

And the last thing on that I think is being skeptical of numbers too, because I could say, ‘I generated this much in a year.’ And that’s the one people always love is like the six figure, ‘I did six figures this year.’ Well, what were your expenses? And what did it cost to get there? Because I’ve seen people say, ‘Yeah, we did half a million this year.’ And then it’s like, ‘What were your ad costs?’ And it’s like, okay they walk away with like a fraction of that. So, it pays to be skeptical and it is important to understand that yes there are people who do those types of numbers, and good on them, but it’s not like you snap your fingers or just manifest that shit and it shows up at your door. To do that type of number there has to be a system behind it.

Kira:   Yeah, no I love this so much. I was running through my numbers yesterday to prep for a call and I was really excited for a little bit, and then I ran through like my take home pay too and I was like, ‘That’s not as exciting.’ So, I think you’re right. When you really break down what those numbers look like it tells a very different story. I think that you said it’s this Instagram-ification right now that’s happening. Can you define that? In your own terms what you think that is, and I guess how we can do it right. You talked about how it’s coming across wrong, right? But how can we do it the right way. How can we actually talk about how we’re growing our business and the successes on social media without going down this other path?

Joel:   What I mean by Instagram-ification is we only show people the parts of our ourselves and our careers we want them to see, so nobody’s going to post that picture of themselves with the triple chin eating nachos on a Friday alone on their couch. Surprisingly that’s a different topic for another time, some people I think wallow in the negative too much and they make the comfort of strangers a crutch instead of just …

Rob:   Yeah, we maybe need to talk about that too, but yeah.

Joel:   There is the opposite end where people just get so addicted to being comforted, and the, you go guy, you go girl kind of feedback, so there’s the opposite end of the spectrum where people wallow in it. But, there’s this side of us that we only show people the parts of ourselves and our business we want them to see. And I think it’s great to celebrate successes, it’s awesome to come together as a group, but I would say that unless you’re willing to share what it was that helped you get there, and to break down the actually systems, and where that money came from, and how you allocated it, because otherwise it’s way too easy …

Let’s say that I launched a course this month and I got 20 signups at $5,000 each in my dream life. And so, I could come out and I could say, ‘I did $100,000 this month.’ But let’s say I run that course for the rest of the year and that’s all my work. I made $100,000 in the year. It’s just if you’re going to share your successes be honest about how you came by them, and share them with the intent to help others get there. It does none of us any good other than an ego pat when somebody comes in and says, ‘I made this much money.’

The running joke between me and a few people is the whole $20k plus royalties thing, where someone would constantly tell like, ‘I make $20k plus royalties.’ For no reason other than letting people know they made money. And I think that is so unhelpful, and so egotistical. If you’re going to put out there what you’re making be prepared to back up how you did it, and make that something helpful for people to learn from instead of this giant floating head of a number with zero context that just makes some people feel discouraged because they feel like, ‘Well, what am I doing wrong?’ So, it’s good to celebrate, but celebrate with context and make it about helping others get to the point you’re at.

I think Chanti Zak, I think it was Chanti who published a piece on her transformation through the year, and that was fantastic because she coupled it with solid advice, and things that helped her get there. Whereas just farting out a number for congratulations from people it doesn’t help anybody, it just makes you feel good for the moment.

Rob:   One of the other things that you haven’t talked about. We’ve talked about ad costs, and the costs of getting that revenue number, but there are time costs as well. If you’re having a $50,000 month then you’re actually doing the work to support that it probably means that you haven’t seen your friends, you maybe haven’t even seen your partner, or your kids, you’re not taking time for yourself, walking the dog or whatever. So there are huge sacrifices, and the real question is, is that even worthwhile? Is it even worth pursuing that kind of a number if it comes at such a high cost?

Kira:   Right.

Joel:   Right. There are systems and ways to increase your revenue that make a ton of sense. So, if we look at someone like Val Geisler, so she’s got a great day rate. I’ve worked alongside her to see what comes out of those days. So, for Val she can command I don’t know what it is, $4,000 in a day and she’s only got to close 10 days for her to have a $40,000 month. So it becomes very feasible when you’ve got something like that. The thing that I think distresses me though is you have to have for Val to do that she’s got to have 10 clients willing to pay that rate.

And so, when someone comes out and says, ‘I’ve got a $15,000 package, and so I did four of them in the month and that’s how I arrived at my $60,000 month.’ My immediate question becomes, who are these companies willing to drop $15,000? Where is this large enough pool of companies all willing to pay that, that you have four in a month every month ongoing? Because I can tell you I work with venture funded software companies. I work with big business to business companies who have marketing budgets in the hundreds of thousands, in the millions, you still have to fight tooth and nail sometimes to earn $15,000, $20,000, $30,000 that you know is going to make them $200,000, $2,000,000, whatever. And they’ve got economies of scale on their side.

So again, when you’ve got someone who’s saying, ‘I work with small business,’ for example, I will never believe anybody who says, ‘I sell a small business package at $5,000 a month, and I’m doing $50,000.’ Number one, you’d have to do 10 of those to make that revenue, so whatever you’re doing, you’re outsourcing it or you’re cutting corners. And number two, find me the businesses that can afford that at that rate ongoing. That’s 120 businesses in a year that can pay that. And this is again, when you see people making these claims, or you see people sharing this type of thing, ask questions, be skeptical. What did it cost them to get there? Are they outsourcing it? If they’re outsourcing it, what’s their take of that? Don’t just buy hook line and sinker when somebody tells you that they’re doing x amount or that they’re doing this well, ask questions because at worst you’ll find out they’re a fraud and at best you’ll learn what they did, and you can borrow it for yourself.

Rob:   And since you mentioned her name we should probably say we haven’t ever seen Val make those kinds of crazy claims for monthly income, or anything like that. You were just using her as an example for a day rate number.

Joel:   Yeah. No, I mean really positive example. So, Val’s got this awesome day rate, and I have every confidence because she’s also niche down and done the work, and has the clients to prove it. If Val came out and said I’m doing those types of numbers I’d believe her because she’s got the proof, she’s got the receipts, she’s got a good system. Other people Laura Belgrave, got a good system, got a great day rate. Those people it’s easy to believe because you can see the proof of the way they structure it, but I’m saying it pays to be skeptical, it pays to ask questions, because at worst you’ll find out they’re lying and at best you’ll learn something from them that you can take and adapt for yourself.

Kira:   Right, and it’s great when it is working, and it is legit, because we can all learn from each other and take something away from it, but we’re talking more about when it’s not, like we don’t know where it’s coming from. So, to kind of flip this a bit if I’m a new copywriter and I hear something outrageous, and it makes me feel really crappy because I’m like, ‘I’m just struggling to get a project lined up this month. How is this person doing x per month?’ How would you suggest they reboot and what do you think they should focus on that is more important to really stay focused on growth, rather than feeling really crappy, and losing confidence?

Joel:   There’s a saying that I heard it in the fitness kind of side of things, ‘Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.’ Don’t compare where you’re at to where somebody else is at, because it’s easy to see these people they look like overnight successes where for anyone who’s legitimate it took them some time to get there. It took them some learning and some figuring out and a system to get there. When you feel discouraged it’s easy to look at those numbers and feel like it’s hopeless, I’ll never get there, and that’s where you start seeing people kind of wallowing in it. But I think it’s good to start by setting a goal, a realistic goal in increments, so not just saying, ‘Well I want to make $200,000 this year.’ If you’re at $20,000 that’s a huge leap. You’re putting a ton of pressure on yourself.

So instead of tying your worth, and your value, and your outcomes to that, focus on the tangibles that’ll get you there. So, instead of saying, ‘Okay, I just want to make x amount of money,’ well maybe it’s okay, take an honest look at your business and your systems, and identify, is it because I have a lack of leads? Is it because I’m under charging? Is it because I’m doing work that I don’t really want to be doing? So, start by taking an honest look at your business as it is now, and I think we can be honest about where we struggle, and where we’re not as strong without wallowing in and feeling despair about it, because once you’ve identified, ‘Okay, I’m not getting enough leads, or I think I’m not charging enough.’ Then you can start setting goals to fix that on the way to more revenue.

So instead of saying, ‘I want to make $50,000 this coming month,’ say, ‘I want to say no to every project that’s not this. And that’s just going to be my goal. Even if I don’t book anything my goal is just to have the confidence to assert my value for this month.’ Or look and say, ‘I’m not getting enough leads so I want to commit to posting on LinkedIn every day this month something that’s informative and educational.’ And again, even if … don’t tie to a money expectation, because most things in our careers, most things we do will take time to ramp up. You don’t snap your fingers and have a brilliant network. You don’t snap your fingers and have an endless stream of leads coming to you no matter what the people on Facebook videos promise. So, tie it to little goals, little actions, something you can go and do that will help you get to the point that you’re generating that kind of revenue. Because if you’re constantly measuring against, ‘Well I didn’t hit my financial target, didn’t hit my financial target.’ I think you’re just constantly going to be defeated.

So focus more on, ‘Okay, I’m going to build the system. I’m going to do this thing. I’m going to publish this amount.’ And then take on a stock at the end of that month and say, ‘What did I get out of this? How am I moving in the right direction? Is this helping me get to the point that those numbers are becoming more feasible?’ If it’s not, switch tack, if it is, keep going, but don’t make the goals purely about finances, and don’t forget about things. Again, like your mental health, and your personal happiness. There’s a huge virtue in being able to define what’s enough. What’s enough for yourself? How busy do you want to be? How much do you have to make for it to be enough? And I think just as humans we have trouble settling for enough, I think settling even sounds like a dirty word, which like if you could do more why not do more? But there’s something to be said for defining this is the lifestyle I want to have, this is enough, and not constantly looking up the ladder, because there’s always going to be somebody above you.

Kira:   So maybe this is getting too personal, but what is enough for you right now? And I know enough changes, like month to month for each individual, but what does that look like for you as you’ve gone through hard months, you’ve gone through great months, what’s that right now?

Joel:   Yeah. I mean my enough has changed. I’ll be the first to say, I probably spent the first two, three years in my career chasing money, and enough was always a number. First it was I wanted to beat the income that I made at my old job. And next it was I wanted to increase that by 25%. And next it was this, next it was that. And so, then I went to … we talked about this last time, I went and lived in New Zealand for eight months, and my enough changed completely. My enough there was, I just want to feel mentally well, and enjoy this experience, and have enough money coming in that we can keep doing the things we want to do here.

And I think now with the little guy here my enough has shifted again. So, this is part of the reason why when I looked up and saw that audits had become a revenue source for me I was really happy about it, because that’s something where I can do fewer of those, they take less time, and I can have my time back. I can spend time pitching in around here. As he gets older and a little more active I think my enough is going to be, yes I do still want to make six figures a year, I’ve kind of figured out for myself that, that’s what it’s going to take to be financially saving for retirement, and to have the lifestyle we want to live, but rather than have this infinite ceiling of revenue now my enough is, ‘Okay, I know how much I want to save every year and what it’s going to take to build a nest egg for us to retire on.’ I have some goals, like being able to pay for his university, so everything financial now is more tied to a hard goal than just this infinite ceiling.

And then beyond that my enough is, do I have hours in the day to just be and to be present with family, and to not miss important moments? So, for me it’s not that I’ve lost ambition, it’s not that more money wouldn’t be nice, or I’ve stopped caring about that entirely. I’m still to some degree, you always want to do the best you can, but at the same time for me my enough is knowing that if we stick to the plan life is going to have that flexibility, I’m going to be able to present and do these things, and have this lifestyle, and prioritize my time.

Kira:   Yeah, it’s like your ambition just changes, right? From month to month, year to year, but it’s still there. So, I want to ask you something because as busy as you are, you have a lot happening, but you pay attention to what’s happening to the world of copywriting, and to multiple industries even outside your own. So, I wonder what you think it takes to be a successful copywriter today. Just thinking through what you see that you’re really excited about, I’m just curious.

Joel:   Yeah. So, copywriter in terms of lets just set aside running your own business for a second, and I’ll come back to that and pick that back up. If you just want to be a really good copywriter, you want to do meaningful work, you want to be really good at the craft, I think it’s what I talked about earlier, you can’t just be good with words. There’s an increasing demand within agencies, within businesses to have people who can cross fields, and who can have confident conversations about SEO and conversion. To have writers who understand the bigger picture of design NUX. You don’t have to be an expert, but knowing enough to have a conversation, a confident conversation with someone who is an expert that’s becoming really important, and will separate you from the pack, because a lot of people they’ve got one tool in their toolkit, they can only write. Whereas having these other pieces gives you the ability. I think the ability to define strategy on any level is massive. So, I talked about audits, for someone in conversion that’s an opportunity for you.

Let’s say you do content, you do eBooks, you do blog posts. It’s great that you can write that, it’s better if you can tell the company what needs to be written. If you learn how to do the research surrounding what the audience wants, and what’s going to click with them, and where those opportunities are. So, kind of diversifying what you bring to the table, and the more you can start becoming a strategist then just a worker bee, I think the more longevity and security you’re going to have in your career.

When it comes to that running your own business piece, if you want to be a really successful copywriter, have your own successful copywriting business it takes the stuff I just talked about, but I think it’s also going to take those business smarts, which largely boil down to confidence, and confidence can be learned. Confidence can be systemized. You’re more confident when you know you’ve got things behind you to back you up. And I think so much comes down to our ability to assert ourselves, to take a risk, to stand up for where we want to go and what we want to be. If you’re confident you’re more likely to make plans. If you’re confident you’re more likely to stand up for your value. If you’re confident you’re less likely to take on stuff that is only going to distract you from your [inaudible 00:36:24] goal. So, it’s a big kind of difficult concept, you could have entire conversations and podcasts and everything about that. But I think there’s no more important business skills, especially for freelancers than just the confidence to execute.

Rob:   Yeah we could go a lot deeper on that, but I want to change the subject a little bit because we teased it in the intro, and we’re going to run out of time, but I recently got to hang out with you a couple weeks ago, and heard you give an amazing presentation at a conference all about conversion killers in copy and the mistakes that clients make, and quite frankly that a lot of copywriters make. I think you had 10 of them, but would you mind talking just a little bit about what you think some of these biggest mistakes as far as conversion goes the copywriters are making in the copy that they provide for their clients?

Joel:   Totally. So, the first one is letting design drive. Our job as copywriters is to understand how the message needs to flow to hit home. If you’re being dictated to, if they’re handing you a template to fill in the blanks, there’s no way you can be as effective as you could be if you’re helping to find the template. So, when you force copy into a design it wasn’t built for it’s like cramming a fat guy in a little coat, it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t work. So, that was one of them.

Another one is burying the so what. So, you see this all the time in hero sections. Depending on your audiences level of awareness sometimes you need to communicate what the thing is, what the product, what the service is, but way too many copywriters stop there. So they’re like, ‘Yeah it’s a time tracker for your business.’ And that’s the whole hero section. And there’s no so what. There’s no, ‘Okay, that’s nice, but why should I keep reading? What am I interested in?’ So, for those trying to get into conversion copy, or doing conversion copy go look at your past hero sections, and how often did you skip the so what, or skip the why, or not communicate the value of the thing you’ve just communicated what the thing was? So, those are two of them.

And then I think the third is just writing in a vacuum. So, I’ve spoken at length about this in other places, but you can’t write to an audience you don’t understand. You aren’t your audience, don’t try to think for them, don’t huddle in a room and just invent things, making stuff up. You have to talk to your audience, you have to survey them, you have to interview them, you have to look at the conversations they’re already having. Good copy, good conversion copy is a product of observation, just like good comedy. So, if you don’t understand how people behave and what they want you can’t possibly sell it to them. So, having a system, a process to do that whole research phase that I talked about, and that whole kind of auditing process, you have to do that. You can’t be a conversion copywriter if you’re not doing that. You’ve just chucked a word in front of your title and hope for the best. Conversion copywriting is research based, data driven, copy. It’s about knowing what an audience wants and giving it to them, not just trying to sound clever.

Rob:   We see a lot of that, a lot of people claiming the title without actually doing the work.

Joel:   Yeah, it’s like agencies that just add a service to their drop down menu, and it’s like well we’re in the business of this now. Are you though?

Rob:   Yeah.

Kira:   All right, so we talked a lot about a lot of different things in this conversation, but confidence has come up a couple of times. I’m wondering Joel if you have any hacks for confidence, because I’m just thinking through, we all have those moments like you said. It doesn’t matter what your level of success is, and some of us have more of those moments than others, but if you’re having that month or that day, what’s worked for you where you just kind of need a pick me up, or maybe it’s something that it’s a little bit deeper than just something you can do quickly, it takes more time, but what’s worked for you?

Joel:   First I want to tie back to something I mentioned earlier that I think is faux confidence. So, wallowing in it, going into a group and posting ‘Whoa is me, and I’ve had such a bad time,’ and thriving on the comfort of strangers, that’s not confidence. That’s not going to help you, it’s going to make you feel good in the moment. Hey I’m all for commiserating, I’m all for sharing experiences good and bad, but if you find yourself routinely talking about how you’re failing in public just to be comforted you’re not building confidence, you’re just giving yourself a crutch to not get better on. So, avoid doing that.

But, when it comes to confidence I kind of alluded to it, confidence can be systematized, confidence can be a product of your process. So, confidence comes in knowing, yes it’s natural, it’s innate for some people they’re just bad asses who like, ‘Screw you,’ kind of thing, but confidence comes from knowing what you’re doing, or at least feeling like you know what you’re doing. I’m not going to delve into the whole imposture syndrome thing, we all struggle with that, but if you’ve got a process …

For example, there’s no way you can get more confident on calls without getting on calls. You have to do it unconfident first. But once you start getting on calls and practicing you start building a process for what you say on a call. You start getting used to the experience of being on a call, and you find certain lines, different things to say, ways to pitch yourself. So, you have to start by doing it unconfident, just hoping in and being like, ‘I’m scared to death right now,’ but getting in there and actually getting your feet wet, you can’t build confidence from the sidelines. But look for ways to bake process into every part of what you’re doing.

So, if you want to be more assertive in standing up for your rates, take an afternoon and spend it defining why you’re worth what you’re charging. What goes in? What does that process look like? And then practice communicating that. So, if someone asks you, ‘What’s the end deliverable?’ And you said, ‘Well, it’s a web page, and it’s $10,000.’ And if you stop there the end, it’s hard to be confident in that because they could come back and say, ‘Well it’s not worth it.’

And you go, ‘Okay, you’re right.’ But if you go, ‘No, here’s what’s going to go into that deliverable, I’m going to do this thing, and this thing, and this thing.’ Find value in your own process, and then bake that into the way that you pitch yourself. So, if you struggle to stand up for your rate, have a process behind what you’re doing and be able to communicate that process. Then you’re confident that what you’re doing is valuable because you know, hey it’s not just end deliverable, it’s this thing and that thing.

When it comes to soliciting feedback, have one or two people you go to in private who can psych you up or who can give you an honest reality check. Who can help you remind yourself of your value when things do go bad, and can point to specific things that you do that make it valuable. So again, do you have a process behind it? Do you have a system behind it?

Get good contracts. It’s easier to be confident when you’re backed up by the law. It’s easier to be confident when you know you’re not going to be taken advantage of because you’ve done your homework there. So, I mean that’s a little bit round about, but as far as a hack goes, just have a process and stand by it, and learn to communicate it. And when you’ve learned to communicate your process, and the value of your process then you’ll feel more confident going in, because you know that you’re not flying by the seat of your pants. You know that you’ve thought this through. You’ll have a better sense that yes, I know what I’m doing, so I’m more confident about the fact that I’m doing it, as opposed to this employee mindset where it’s like, ‘Tell me what to do, tell me how to do it.’ You’re never going to come across confident if you’re waiting to be dictated to. So, even if it doesn’t come naturally, if you can define that for yourself, and learn to communicate that for yourself, I think confidence comes out of having a good sense of the way you do things.

Rob:   Great advice. One last question Joel, it’s been a little bit of … well it’s been a long time since I’ve had any very young children at home, most of my kid are now teenagers, and I’m curious since you’ve got a relatively new addition to your family, any advice for copywriters, especially copy dads who are trying to balance work with having a new addition to the family? What would you say?

Joel:   Yeah. Get noise canceling headphones. I’m only half joking. I think one of the toughest things for me, because I work from home is there’s a guilt that comes when you hear baby crying, and you’re away, and you’re working, and you just want to go help. And so, having something to drown that out you won’t feel as guilty. I’m not saying don’t go and help, but isolate work time for work time and realize the value in what you’re doing. You’re providing for the household, at least you’re providing your piece for the household, a lot of people just forget that, hey I do have a role here outside of immediate care for the baby, because honestly in the first little while, there’s not a whole lot dad’s can do, short of if the baby’s bottle feeding.

And then the other piece of it is, look for things you can do. So, part of what’s helped me is knowing, yes I’m going to have to work, but I know there’s ways I can be involved. So we’ve established a system where like when he’s going down at night and Courtney’s had a long day, I know I can help put him down. I know that I can take a break in the middle of the day and go play with him, or have tummy time, or whatever. So, I make sure that I’m allocating time. I make sure that I’m talking with my wife about how I can be most useful, and helpful, not just to the baby, but to her because remember your wife’s gone through, or your partner, whatever has gone through quite an experience physically, mentally, as well. So when I say there’s not a lot you can do in the early days too, I do want to caveat that with, you can’t do a lot for necessarily the baby, but you can be present for mom, and that makes me feel good, and that helps me feel better about the fact that, yeah for whether it’s two hours, four hours, eight hours a day I’m going to be away and working, I still find ways to feel valuable and useful.

The last thing is, everybody leading up to having a baby, everyone says, ‘Oh, get your sleep. Get your sleep.’ I think that’s BS. Thrive, like stay up, enjoy the fact that you can stay up and you can sleep in, and you can do what you want with your time, because you can’t, there’s no sleep bank. You can’t store sleep up and like draw on that account later.

Kira:   Wouldn’t that be nice?

Joel:   It would be amazing if someone could invent that, I would be an investor for sure.

Rob:   Yep.

Kira:   I love that, the guilt canceling headphones. I feel like I need to get myself some guilt canceling headphones. All right, so Joel for everyone listening who wants to get in touch with you or just check out your stuff, hear more about you, get on your list, where can they find you?

Joel:   I’ll be in The Copywriter Club fairly often, I try to check in maybe once a day, see what’s going on in there. Pretty responsive on Twitter @JoelKlettke. Once in a blue moon I publish something on, I try to make it good when I do, so fewer but better there too. Don’t add my personal Facebook, but if you see my other one where I’m in a purple shirt, that one’s a okay, go for it, we can connect there, but …

Kira:   It’s confusing by the way. I don’t know which one, I have both as friends, it’s a little confusing.

Joel:   Yeah, because you’re on the ins with both me personally and professionally, so you get to see both sides.

Kira:   Okay.

Joel:   The purple shirt, look for the purple shirt, that one’s golden. I’ll never change that picture until I’m like so old and decrepit that I have to.

Kira:   All right, thank you Joel so much. This has been … I think we packed a lot in, and you just brought it as you usually do. There’s so much good advice in here. So, thank you for hanging out with us again. And we’ll have to bring you back for the third time in a year, now.

Joel:   Yeah.

Rob:   Yeah let’s do it.

Joel:   That would be exciting. I mean hopefully at that point I can trumpet my successes in saying no even better than I’ve been learning to, we’ll see.

Kira:   All right.

Rob:   Thanks Joel.

You’ve been listening to the Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for this show is a clip from Gravity by Whitest Boy Alive available at 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 the We’ll see you next episode.




Leave a Comment


Discover your copywriter strengths then use them to land more baller
clients and strategically position yourself at the tippy top of the industry.

take the quiz