TCC Podcast #309: Improving Your Customer Research Process with Melissa Harstine - The Copywriter Club
TCC Podcast #309: Improving Your Customer Research Process with Melissa Harstine

Melissa Harstine is our guest for the 309th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. Melissa is a Customer Research Strategist who helps her clients pull out the best insights for her clients, so they can increase their reach and results. In this episode, Melissa gives us a breakdown of how we can all increase our customer research skills and why they matter in the first place.

Check it out below:

  • Melissa’s beginnings as a journalist at a small nonprofit for the elderly and how she was able to connect with her target audience.
  • Writing for a demographic much different than your own – how’s it happen?
  • Why she decided to hone in on a niche and how it worked out for her.
  • How to connect with potential clients in your local business networking groups.
  • Her advice on asking better questions during the research phase.
  • Why you need to lead with empathy and how to respond to people’s demeanor and tone.
  • The specific questions she asks clients to pull the best details and information for a project.
  • How she packages research and presents it to prospective clients.
  • The key to communicating value and knowing your target market.
  • Working with well-known leaders in the industry through building relationships.
  • Finding dream clients once you actually know what you’re looking for.
  • How to turn research into strategy.
  • Her process for pulling out the best pieces of customer research.
  • Why it’s important to stop overbooking yourself and what to avoid.
  • Questions you *probably* shouldn’t ask.
  • How she presents the research report to her clients and helps them apply and implement in real time.
  • Should you position yourself as a “thought partner?”
  • Resources you can use to become a better researcher.
  • How The Copywriter Accelerator helped her grow her business.
  • How to add more value for your clients.

Tune into the episode by hitting play or reading the transcript below.


The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
The Copywriter Think Tank
Kira’s website
Rob’s website
Melissa’s website
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground
Free month of Brain.FM
Episode 12
Episode 28
Episode 154
The TCC Shop 

Full Transcript:

Kira Hug:  Customer research is one of those things all copywriters need to do in order to truly connect with the audiences we write for, but not all of us like doing it, and some clients hate paying for it. Doing it well can be a bit of a challenge. Today’s guest on the podcast is messaging strategist and copywriter, Melissa Harstine. She talked about how she went from a copywriter without a niche to specializing in customer research for a variety of clients, including other copywriters. As we talked, she shared her favorite interview questions, ideas for selling research to clients, and how she turns her research data into a strategy her clients can execute on. It’s a great interview you won’t want to miss.

Rob Marsh:  But first, this episode is sponsored by the Copywriter Underground. That’s the membership for ambitious and growing copywriters. As a member, you have access to copywriting and business training, group coaching calls, copy critiques, our bimonthly newsletter, and a lot more, all designed to help you grow your business. And if you join now, as in the week that we’re releasing this podcast, you not only get your first month for just $17, which is a screaming deal, but you’ll also get a hard copy of our 24-page Copywriter’s Definitive Guide to Pricing, which includes data about what copywriters of all experience levels are charging for 22 different project types, as well as things like the six figure niches and so much more. So go to to join now.

Kira Hug:  And if you want to get your first month for just $17, like Rob said, use the promo code, TRY IT, that’s all caps, TRY IT, and that will get you in for $17 for your first month. All right, let’s jump into the interview with Melissa.

Melissa Harstine:  Yeah, so I started my career actually as a journalist, and I was working at this little nonprofit newspaper for the elderly in Kansas. So it’s like a regional newspaper, super-niche, super specific audience, and there was a day that really stood out to me in that kind of season of my life. We got a letter from one of our readers, and she said, “I subscribe to more than 35 different newspapers and magazines, including AARP, Time, Newsweek, and your paper is the best and has the most helpful information for people like me.” Right? So we’re this little nonprofit newspaper in Kansas, and if you objectively held us up against Time or AARP, not going to win any awards, but what we had going for us is we knew our audience super well. We were out in the community knocking on doors, showing up at the senior center, having these conversations, and we were able to create this really valuable newspaper, this great writing, this great content because we knew our audience.

And so that was really the foundation for me in developing not only my interview skills but also I think just the ability to connect with people whose lives are so much different than my own, right? I’m 22 straight out of college, knocking on the doors of people who are my grandparents’ age, and they’re just like, “Kid, you’re so young. How do you write for us old people?” But it’s really fun now to kind of look back at my journey and see how that was the foundation for so many other things to come.

So fast forward a little bit, I ended up in a different type of nonprofit communications, ended up in burnout, like I think a lot of people do in that field, decided I wanted to work for myself, had that flexibility, that freedom, and started this local marketing studio. And so at that point, I was just kind of a generalist copywriter saying, “Yes,” to everything. Everything from, sure, Grandma Linda, I can set up your Facebook profile for you for five bucks, or whatever it is, to writing a whole website for $400, right? Kind of I think that’s a common thing that people go through as they’re growing their business and just learning what skillsets do I have. What needs are there in the market? How can I make this work?

Over time, I realized that I really wanted what now I would call a high-ticket productized service. I wouldn’t have called it that at the time, but basically, I wanted to be able to work more closely with maybe two to three clients a month at a higher price point. So instead of working with 14 to 17 clients at a time, feeling like I was pulled in all these different areas, doing all these different types of copy, and design, and marketing strategy, and whatever, really have this narrow-focused niche that allowed me to just make my business a lot easier to market, to sell, to deliver consistently. And so kind of through that transition from generalist marketer to more of a specific copywriter, at that point, I started doing website copy, case studies, some content, right?

And I think that was when I first met you guys in the Copywriter Accelerator, was when I was going through that transition from a local business to an online business in 2020, like many people were, trying to figure out now that my potential target market is a lot broader, how do I market myself effectively? And I knew that by being more focused, having this more specific target market, this more specific service, this niche, it was going to be a lot easier to sell one market effectively. And so cut again through this kind of continual years of experimentation, observing what’s in the market, going from general marketing to different types of copy, ended up in customer research, and it was really interesting how that happened.

I had been writing case studies for a while for Amisha Shrimanker. She’s one of my biz besties. I met her in the Copywriter Accelerator, and she was like, “Hey, Mel, you’re so good at these interviews. You ask questions I wouldn’t even think about asking. What would you think about doing the research for my upcoming launch copywriting project? My business is growing, I need support. I’m wondering if you’d do this with me.” And it never occurred to me until that moment that customer research was a service that I could offer to somebody else.

I was just like, “Wow, this is amazing,” because, again, I look back at my journey and these common threads, and it was doing interviews when I worked in the newspaper, doing interviews writing website copy, that was always kind of my approach to writing, to case studies, all of these different things, and at the right moment, the pieces came together, and I found this really unique micro niche that was not only a perfect fit for my talent stack, my skillset, my vision for my business, but also honestly an untapped space in the market.

I know of some exclusive researchers who are working in the e-commerce space, and tech, and SaaS, and corporate verticals, but I really don’t know anyone else who does just research for service providers, or course traders, program leaders, and such. I mean, I know some copywriters are starting to offer customer research or market research as an additional package, and I’m sure we’ll get into that later as well, but really this was a way for me to show up, add value in a way that fit my skills, and just really was a way to meet a need in the market.

Rob Marsh:  Okay. That’s amazing. I mean, just following a career from one point to the next point, to the next point, and I want to step back before we get into all of the client research stuff, but as you launched your business, started this generalist agency, micro-agency of your own, I’m really curious, how did you start finding those first clients, especially coming out of a different kind of job or a different situation where you’re totally burned out? How do you get excited, and get out there, and attract the right clients for your business?

Melissa Harstine:  Yeah, what worked for me is I joined a local business networking group. And I would say for the first three years of my business, probably 80% of my leads came through that group, and so I was just showing up every day or once a week, building relationships, having kind of these one to one type coffee chats outside of the weekly meeting. And just through that, doing really good work, people getting my name out there, people becoming familiar with what I do. And so that really became my strategy as well when I took my business online too, because at first it’s like everybody says, “Write all these social media posts, send out emails, focus on visibility,” and sometimes those what I would call mass marketing strategies or traffic based strategies just weren’t quite working for me.

So it was going back to my roots, like what has always again been that common denominator for me? It’s having these more intimate one-to-one conversations with people, whether it’s in a DM, at a coffee shop, on a podcast even. How can I leverage that relationship-building strength in different ways in different seasons of my business?

Kira Hug:  I want to hear more about how to ask better questions because that’s clearly your specialty. As podcasters, we can always get better at asking better questions. So what do you think you’re doing that maybe other copywriters aren’t doing during the research phase?

Melissa Harstine:  I think one thing is I have a set list of questions that I start with every time, but then I modify it for each interview, right? Sorry for each project. So I kind of know I want to find out what state of mind was this person in before they decided to invest in this program, kind of what are the pain points and desires. Getting at those things, but then by customizing my list of questions to the person, to the moment, I’m able to really dig deeper, and so sometimes… Let me back up. I think really a key piece of it is just leading with empathy and paying attention to the person who’s in the room.

So sometimes I’ll notice that someone is kind of quiet and not really opening up, and so I’ll try to just insert myself in the conversation a little bit, and be like, “Oh yeah. I remember that happened to me too,” or, “That feels exactly what I’m struggling with in my business right now.” And it’s almost like that shared sense of humanity kind of you can almost see this sigh happening, and they start to just relax, and ease into the conversation a little bit more, and feel like, “Okay, I can trust you. I can share more of my deeper self with you.” And I really think beyond just the questions I’m asking, it’s how I’m connecting with people.

I had someone recently that was a little bit more closed off, and I couldn’t quite get a read on her, and eventually, she was just like, “Melissa, just tell me what you need. Just get straight to the point,” and that’s not my personality at all, but I was just like, “Okay, now I know how to respond to this.” And I asked more direct questions instead of trying to come around the bush, not be leading or whatever. So that’s probably my biggest recommendation is just learning those human skills and responding to kind of someone’s tone of voice, or words, or expression, nonverbal cues, et cetera.

Rob Marsh:  So given what you just said, this is probably a really bad question, because you’re basically saying, “Hey, it’s not the questions,” but I would like to know, do you have some standard questions that you start with, that you get that conversation going, and then follow the rabbit trail where it goes, or is it all organic?

Melissa Harstine:  Yeah. The question I always start off with is, “Take me back to the day when you first realized that you needed support with X, Y, Z, or you first realized that this thing wasn’t working for you. What was happening?” And the reason that question works so well is that it really anchors the person who’s being interviewed at a specific point in time, like, “Take me back to the day when.” The next part of that question is, “When you first realized,” and so sometimes off the top of their head, they may not be able to say, “When I first realized this thing,” but they kind of verbal process or talk their way into it, and so you can kind of follow that thread as they’re speaking, which reveals more into kind of that customer journey I think, which is really cool. And then the last half of that question is, “You first realize you needed support with,” whatever the thing is that the interview is about, that topic, right?

Because again, it’s like, what is that mindset, that mental process that’s going into that kind of, “Oh, I need this, I need to buy this,” right? So that question is phrased really well to kind of dig up what was happening, but it also just kind of sets me at ease, because if I ask the same first question every time, I don’t even have to think about it. I just kind of ask it on autopilot and go from there. One of the follow-up questions or two of the follow-up questions I’ve been asking recently that have been going really well are, “What changed to make it a priority at that time?” Because that kind of shows you that moment of heightened emotion, that urgency, like what’s at stake, or I’ll sometimes ask, “What makes this thing you just shared so frustrating?”

And it’s amazing. That word, frustrating, triggers something I think in the person, and they just get more animated and really kind of dig into more of that agitation type of language that we can use in our copy, so that works really well. One of the other questions I ask is, “Give me an example of something you’re able to do now that you couldn’t do before,” and I love that question because it kind of shows the transformation. It shows the before and after in a very concrete, specific way. And then the last question I always ask is just, “Is there anything else on your mind that you’d like to share with me today?”

And then I have to zip my lips and pause because usually, they’ll say, “Oh, I think we’ve covered it all,” but if I pause 20 seconds, they’ll usually go, “Oh, wait, there was this one thing I wanted to mention.” And sometimes, it ends up being the most helpful off-the-wall type thing I heard the entire conversation, but it was just giving them space to speak freely that that came up. And so that’s been a really important and effective strategy I think for me.

Kira Hug:  Okay. I’m going to use those questions on you towards the end of this interview. So I want to talk about the package and what you include in this, I don’t know what you’re calling it, but customer research package. What does that entail? Tell us a little bit more about that.

Melissa Harstine:  Yeah, so over the past year and a half, I’ve had two different packages I’ve been offering. One is kind of a white label package where I’m doing research for other copywriters or occasionally for a brand strategist. And so in that case, I’m just doing a piece of a bigger project. They’re delegating not only the interviews to me, but also kind of some of that thinking, right? It’s the initial thinking and analysis that needs to happen before writing copy. And so that package includes five customer interviews, the written transcripts, the links to all the Zoom video recordings, a really in-depth research report, and kind of a kickoff call and research review call. And so that price is currently at $2,300.

I do sometimes do survey analysis in addition to that, not creating the survey but looking at a survey that already exists. Where I’m really focusing on growing my business now is continuing to focus on this customer insights package. And so that’s why I’m working directly with a course creator, a service provider, a marketer to dig in and understand their audience. And for me ,it’s really an opportunity to solve bigger problems, because when I’m partnering with copywriters, it’s let’s take this thing, and optimize it, or make it work better, but when I’m working directly with entrepreneurs, it’s often something… This used to be selling. It’s no longer selling. I don’t know why. Let’s go try to talk to your customers and figure that out, or we want to add this new course. We want to pivot this thing we’re already doing, and we don’t have time to waste, especially with this looming recession. So let’s go talk to our customers and get these leads and these insights a lot faster.

So again, kind of going back to the package itself, the base package is very similar where I’m doing five interviews, the video links, the transcripts, the research report, kind of a customized action plan with top recommendations, but then I also tend to do a lot more additional data mining, especially if they have an onboarding form that a bunch of their customers or students have filled out, or some kind of a project debrief form to really dig into customers’ language and emotions at different points in that journey with this client. And so those projects tend to be more like $3,500 to $5,000 apiece.

Rob Marsh:  Okay. I’m going to be the master of questions that maybe you’ve already answered today, because as you’re talking about this, it sort of feels like I understand the value that you’re bringing to the table, but also when copywriters try to sell research, a lot of them struggle, because it’s so hard to demonstrate the value that you bring, or the end result, or how that translates to money. And so we like to see research paired with some other deliverable, but you have done a really good job of figuring out how to sell it on its own. And so I’m curious about your thoughts. As you’re having that conversation with your client. As you were writing your website, all those times when you get to discuss what you bring to the table, how do you make it crystal clear that this is worth paying for aside from the other copy stuff that has to happen?

Melissa Harstine: That is the million-dollar question, and something I’m still experimenting with and trying to figure out even better. I recently hired a business consultant coach to work with me, because I found that while I was doing an okay job expressing that value to especially that customer insights package where I’m working one to one with my clients, it wasn’t working as well as it could, I guess. I was getting leads, but maybe they were a little bit confused about exactly what the outcome would be. It was either someone that said, “Yes,” right away or they were a prospect for two to six months before they finally said, “Yes,” right? And so I’m like, “Something is off here. I need to get better at understanding more clearly my target market, my message, my unique value proposition and all of that.”

So my current hypothesis pending more testing and research for myself, is that the problems I’m able to uniquely solve are course creators and service providers who their annual revenue is between $750,000 and $2 million because they’re able to afford my services, and while they may have a marketing department in-house, they don’t yet have someone that’s specifically doing research or maybe even not research alongside copy, right? So big enough to have the budget for research, but not so big that they can do it themselves. The other piece of it is that the problems I’m solving for them are they’ve been selling something. It’s not selling as well as it used to; they don’t know why. They are pivoting their course, their service, or adding something new, and they want to get more of those qualified leads faster, or just general optimization. We need more qualified leads, we need more sales to support our business growth, so let’s go in and do this research to get these insights straight from our customer’s mouths.

Now, I have also been experimenting with kind of, I guess, an add on or upsell is not quite the right word, but once I finish the research, doing a copy review call where I will look at something that they or their team have written and kind of get feedback like, “Okay, remember we had this really great testimonial? We want to make sure that we pull in here. This particular headline is not quite working, because it’s touching on something that matters to your customers, but it’s not the primary thing, so why don’t we try tweaking it like this?” And I think that has really helped me start to bridge the gap between the research that I’m doing and the implementation that they and their team are doing.

Kira Hug:  So I know you have transitioned from white labeling and selling this package to copywriters, and now you’re focused on a different market, but can we go back to that copywriter piece? Because a lot of copywriters we know are also white labeling and selling offers to other copywriters, so can you just talk about some of the pros and cons of doing that, especially for people who are thinking about doing that?

Melissa Harstine:  Yeah, I think one of the biggest pros for me was having a recurring revenue stream. So when I was just writing website copy or case studies, those were project-based work. And while someone might come back to me in two or three years and ask me to redo their website, update it, or come back to me and ask me to write more case studies, it wasn’t recurring. I couldn’t depend on that, and sometimes the ups and downs in cash flow, like those feast or famine cycles were really hard for me, especially when there were these other things happening in the market and the world as a whole that made everybody kind of nervous and scared the last two years of our lives. And so for me, partnering with two copywriters in particular on a regular basis means that I always have one to two projects a month that are coming in, and so that’s been very really beneficial for me.

One of the things that I learned as I was starting and growing that particular service, the white label service, is that if I was working with copywriters who were selling projects that were between 10 to 15 K, so launch strategy website copy, bigger website copy projects, it was easier for them to bring me on, right? Because if I’m selling a service at $2,000, that’s over 20% of their total profits for that package, but if I was trying to sell that same service to a website copywriter who’s selling their package for $3,000 to $5,000, it just didn’t make sense financially for them to bring me on at that price point. And so I think realizing that went a long way in me being more focused and clear on who I was connecting with and reaching out to when pitching my services.

And so that’s something I would recommend for other copywriters who are offering similar types of services to others… as a white label type of thing, whether it’s copywriters, or brand strategists, or whoever, is thinking what percentage of the overall project scope is your fee? And kind of I think that 10% to 20% point is kind of the sweet point for me.

Rob Marsh:  So as you’ve started to shift away from that audience then, and looking at this other audience, entrepreneurs, course creators that you can help solve bigger problems, how has that changed your business, both the size and type of project that you’re working on, the financials that go along with it? Have things gone better? Is it a struggle? How has the change gone?

Melissa Harstine:  Yeah, so I was overbooked at the beginning of the year, which was great, and then things really slowed down this summer. And so I think there’s just some natural seasonality to my business that I’ve noticed over the last few years, but that said, that also has motivated me a little bit more to make this shift, because I am selling those packages directly to entrepreneurs at a little bit higher price point, which can help even out some of those, help make up for, I guess, some of those lower months. So that’s been really beneficial. I think probably the best thing for me has been this sense of joy in the impact that my research insights are able to make when I’m working with a bigger company, right?

So I recently partnered with Jordan Gill at Systems Save Me. Her Done in a Day program teaches people how to start and create VIP days, and they had had this same message for three years that was working really, really well. It was something like, “Replace your monthly retainers with VIP days, work with clients four days a month.” But all of a sudden they noticed two things. One is that they were starting to attract a different type of client to their program, and number two, they did the survey and found out that most people that were joining their program were no longer replacing their other offers with the VIP day, but adding a VIP day to their offer suite.

And so when we were working together, it was kind of to understand those things, because they knew their message needed to shift, and there were also some pieces of their offer strategy and their marketing strategy that needed to shift along with it, and I remember Jordan’s phrase very clearly. She’s like, “It feels like moving the Titanic, because this message has worked so well for us for the last few years, and now it needs to change.” And so the reason that project was such a joy for me is because I was able to see her LinkedIn strategist and ghostwriter used that research report to create some new content and copy. Their social media team used it. Their growth marketing manager used that report. Jordan and her project manager used it on a really high strategic level. Their sales team has been using it. Their coaching team has been using it, right?

All these different arms in their business were able to take these insights and apply them in different ways. I’ve seen changes in how they’re positioning their conference that they do twice a year. I’ve seen changes in some of the offer itself. They have created a new thing. I think it’s called Upfront Upsell, where it’s a way for people to use a VIP day to sell a high-ticket service instead of using a low-ticket product as the upsell into a higher-price offer. It’s been really cool to start to see how broadly these research insights can impact the business, and how many different departments and people within the business are able to really benefit from them, and I love being able to work with people on that level.

Kira Hug:  Maybe this is getting too in the weeds, and maybe you’re not able to share this, but because Jordan has been on the show, and she spoke at TCC IRL, I’m just curious if you can share how did that come about? Did you pitch Jordan? Was it a connection? How did you land that project?

Melissa Harstine:  Yeah, it was kind of twofold. Number one is that we had connected on Instagram maybe a couple of years ago. I think the initial conversation started just because I admired her work, and then also she had gone to college in Kansas. So we had that kind of natural geographic connection because there aren’t a lot of people from Kansas it feels like, but also she heard me speak about case studies on the Boss Project Strategy Hour podcast. About a year before, she’d reached out to me about doing case studies initially. And so I said, “Hey, I’m not offering that service anymore, but here’s what I’m doing, and here’s how I think I can still help you.”

And to be honest, that was a scary moment to be like, “Oh my gosh, here’s this person that I love her work. She’s like this big name in my industry. Am I really going to tell her, ‘No I can’t help you with case studies. I’m not doing that anymore’? But I took a couple days to kind of think about it, and I was like, “No, I’m going to trust my gut. I’m going to trust this new direction I’m going and say, ‘I really think I can help you in this way,'” and that was how I landed that project. And so it was not an overnight thing. It was this relationship that had been growing over a year and a half, two years, and the podcast I had been on almost a year before, but that fruit came over time.

Rob Marsh:  Let’s break in here for just a moment and mention a couple of the things that stand out. So, Kira, I’m curious, where do you think copywriters can improve their research process, or how they’re selling research, or any of the things that Melissa was just telling us about?

Kira Hug:  Well, there’s always room for improvement in the questions that we’re asking. So I feel like this episode was such a great steal as far as like I’m going to borrow all those questions Melissa shared with us, because they’re better than my questions, and I really like the questions I ask, but I feel like Melissa has taken them and improved the questions I typically ask to make them even more powerful and to pull in better insights and voice of customer from her prospects. So those questions, totally worth grabbing. I also liked her advice around asking the same questions, at least at the start of a customer interview or even a client interview when you have a kickoff call, to not be afraid to just standardize some of your questions, so that it’s automatic. You probably will feel less stressed out, because you won’t feel like, “Ah, I have to reinvent the wheel every single time I sit down to talk with a customer.”

And I think sometimes we feel like we have to get an A+ on the customer interview, so we have to reinvent everything every time we do it. And Melissa is just reminding us, no, actually you’ll do a better job if you just ask the same questions, and then that gives you space to really listen and not stress out about what question you’re going to ask next.

Rob Marsh:  Yeah, it was interesting. I kind of had an aha as I was listening to Melissa talk about those questions, those specific questions, because it dawned on me, and this is probably a no duh for most people that are listening, but for some reason it was something that just clicked for me, and it’s not that she was listening for specific language necessarily for each of the questions that she was asking, but rather she was looking for ideas around the customer journey. She mentioned mindset and mental processes when she was talking about that first question that she asked, and then some of the follow up questions she mentioned specifically she’s looking for things where there’s heightened emotion, or agitation, or where she can pick up on the transformation or missing information that she didn’t know to ask about.

And oftentimes, I think I kind of kernelize it as I’m asking questions, and I’m looking for language or specific ideas that maybe resonate with me, or I think, “Oh, that’ll make a good headline,” but it’s just a nice reminder to go level deeper looking for the emotion, the psychological hit, or the thing that’s underlying the language, because that’s where the real power is.

Kira Hug:  Yeah, I mean, it’s really just thinking at a deeper level about what they’re saying to you and using our skillset as creatives and strategists to connect all the dots. And so not just to swipe the copy or swipe what they’re saying, but to think about what it really means, and what it’s indicating, and draw some conclusions from that, and really treat it almost like you’re a scientist approaching this new problem that you’re solving. And so I think Melissa is going a lot deeper, and so that part was inspiring, and she’s got the great tools to do it. As far as how she interviews, I like that she figures out their own style when she’s interviewing a customer, and sometimes people are a little bit more direct, and they just want you to be direct with them, and other people might not appreciate that. And so part of our job if we’re interviewing someone is to make sure that we’re kind of making them feel comfortable, really extracting the most valuable information from that interview in a short period of time, because we usually don’t have more than 30 minutes.

You have to be really quick and effective at what you’re doing, and so the best way to do that is to mirror their own style and their own communication method. And so that’s something that I feel like we haven’t talked about as much on the podcast. We just talk about the questions you should ask but less about how to approach them, so you can build that relationship quickly.

Rob Marsh:  Yeah. There’s a lot of psychology around mirroring the people that you’re talking to, and especially if you’re doing this on a video call, mirroring behaviors, actions, those kinds of things actually creates a really deep personal connection between people, and I mean, pay attention when you’re sitting with somebody one-on-one, notice that when they sit forward, you kind of have the urge to also sit forward, or if they fold their arms, you might fold your arms, or if you lean back, and put your hands behind your head, they’ll do the same kind of thing. We do this naturally as humans, and so just mirroring back behaviors, ideas, thoughts, words, all of that actually helps create that connection with people as we’re interviewing them. It can really help get to the deeper answers that we’re looking for.

Kira Hug:  Rob, what are you doing right now? I’m going to mirror you right now.

Rob Marsh:  I’m leaning forward with all kinds of excitement to talk into…

Kira Hug:  I am too.

Rob Marsh:  Usually we have video on, but we don’t have video on right now, and so I can’t see what Kira is doing.

Kira Hug:  Yeah, it’s Friday, and I said, “No video today,” but I’m also leaning forward, so right now Rob and I are mirroring each other, and that’s why this conversation is going so well. So we’re going to keep doing that.

Rob Marsh:  So I also asked Melissa a little bit about just how you sell research. This has kind of been an ongoing theme for a lot of copywriters that we’ve talked to. It’s really difficult to sell it, especially on its own, but even sometimes when we’ve included it in a package of our own or other copywriters who do it, oftentimes a copywriter will come back and say, “Yeah, can I save $1,500, or $2,500, or whatever if we don’t do the research part?” And I guess there are really a couple of ways to deal with those kinds of objections. One is don’t break it out in your proposals, and I don’t think you do that.

I actually do have it as a line item in my proposals, but, Kira, I’m pretty sure don’t, and it just kind of erases that. It’s like there’s nothing you even discuss about that, but also if people come back to you and object to paying for research, you can just insist, “This is part of my process. If I don’t have this, I can’t do a great job for you. I can’t find the ideas that are going to resonate with your clients.” Occasionally, clients will have research that’s already been done for them, and of course, take a look at that, make sure that it could work for you if you’re going to incorporate that, and that may save some time that you don’t have to repeat that research process, but if you’re going to do that, also make sure that the research they’ve got is the kind of research you need in order to find the ideas and do the work that you need to do.

Kira Hug:  Yeah, that’s well said. Melissa talked about connecting with potential clients through local business networks, and that has worked really well for her. I was just wondering, Rob, if that is something that you do? Has that been something that you kind of pull in as well as your networking?

Rob Marsh:  Yeah, she basically said that the mass attraction idea, emailing a ton of people, or showing up in a group, or whatever, that doesn’t necessarily work for her, and one-on-one relationship building is really effective. I have done some of that. I happen to live in a place where there are a lot of SaaS companies, a lot of technical and technological companies, and so I have been to some events and met people that way, introduced myself, and that has turned into a few projects, but it’s not the main way that I find clients, and so it does work. I think it’s actually really nice to hear Melissa’s approach and say, “Hey, in addition to all of the other things that we have suggested, everything from what we teach in the P7 Pipeline Course, all about mass outreach and MVP pitching, as well as the really effective goat pitches, things like that, sometimes just the one-on-one connections work too.” And I think you’ve done some of that too, right?

Kira Hug:  I did BNI in Manhattan, and actually it was a great experience, and I met a ton of people, and then eventually stopped because my business was getting too full, I guess, and so I didn’t need it anymore. It was also an early morning, and I was not into that, but I’m all for it. And now that I’m in Maine and trying to build a network here, I mean, a personal network and a professional one, I’m going to start doing it now just so I can start building the local network and just see where it goes. I don’t need to land a ton of projects, but I want to just start building that for just long-term gain and also to make some friends. I’m more into it for friendship than anything else.

Rob Marsh:  Yeah, I mean, we’ve talked a lot about in our programs, whatever, there’s this idea that networking is difficult or especially for introverts, but if we reframe it, think a little bit more about making friends, creating relationships, whether that turns into work or not, just knowing that you have people out there, who like you’re saying, you can say, “Hi,” to, you can share resources with, you can reach out to with questions, whatever. All of those things are good. Everybody should be doing that, and sometimes it turns into work.

Kira Hug:  Okay, well let’s get back into the interview with Melissa and find out how she found her perfect fit niche.

Rob Marsh:  Melissa, I’m curious, as you’ve sort of moved through your business and gone from one thing to the next, and you’ve found this niche, this micro-niche, this specialty that you have, could you have found that without working with the community that you mentioned, that you found the accelerator with Amisha, going through that process? Would you have found this naturally, or did you have to go through certain steps to get there? And I guess the reason that I’m asking is because so many of us struggle to find a niche that we just absolutely love, or that we can go all the way in, and we kind of dabble here and there. So I’m just curious about that process for you. What had to happen for you to get where you are?

Melissa Harstine:  Yeah, that was definitely a struggle for me. It was like I wanted to have this niche. Not only because I heard people say things like, “If you have a niche, you’ll be more profitable. It’d be easier to sell and deliver.” There were logical reasons for it, but I also just knew it suited my personality, and I wanted it so badly. I remember being in the Copywriter Accelerator and looking at all these things like, “I could write website copy. I could work with artisans, I could work with creatives.” All these different kind of areas I was experimenting with, but like I said, it really wasn’t until Amisha approached to me and said, “Hey, would you be interested in doing this,” that I was like, “Wow, there’s this thing I never would’ve thought of that’s such a perfect fit.”

And so I really don’t think that I would’ve stumbled across this if it hadn’t been those two to three years of just trying out different things, saying, “This works for me. This doesn’t,” being willing to kind of shift, but also I think when the time comes, being willing to go all in and say, “I’m taking off my copywriting hat and planting my flag in the ground, and this is what I’m doing now. I’m doing customer research.” It was scary, but also such a sigh of relief at the same time. I remember even when I changed my signature on Gmail, I said, “I am a customer research consultant.” It was just this moment of excitement and joy. I just felt so confident in that, and it felt so right. You know what I mean?

When this niche kind of found me, I guess it, I knew. I knew it was the right thing. Even though it’s frustrating to not have the answers right away, it’s worth it to take the time to get to know yourself, to get to know the market, to experiment, and just slowly figure it out.

Kira Hug:  So maybe the advice is really just be patient. Be patient with the process.

Melissa Harstine:  Yeah.

Kira Hug:  So I know you help your clients do this, and this is a question we get from copywriters frequently, but how do we find our dream clients once we figure out like you figured out it’s a course creator who’s making between this much and this month financially? Once we know what we’re looking for, how do we go about finding them so we can market to them?

Melissa Harstine:  I think the thing that has really worked well for me is building relationships. I know that that’s the case just because it is kind of my natural tendency, my personality as more of an introvert, but also I know that because I only have to fill two to three spots per month, and if I’m converting anywhere from a 40% to 50% lead conversion, I don’t have to have that many leads in order to fill those spots, especially when some of them are people I work with month to month. And so knowing that, really just focusing on maybe doing some research on Instagram and saying, “Who fits this profile of the type of client I would like to work with,” or a lot of times what I’ll do is I’ll go to someone’s website and look at their testimonials.

So for example, I recently met a sales coach who was serving business owners who are a lot further ahead in their business than I am, right? So I was able to look at her testimonials and start to put together a list of people that might be a good fit for me. I’d look at the testimonial, Google search that person, look at what they’re offering, their personality, who their audience is, maybe some pain points that they might be sharing on social media or in a guest podcast interview, and then just kind of start a conversation, start a relationship just by sending them a message on either LinkedIn or Instagram and saying, “Hey, I recently heard you speak on so and so’s podcast. This very specific thing stood out to me. This is what I learned from it. This is how I applied it or used it in my business, right? So it’s not just generic, but this is what I learned, this is how I’d used it. So nice to meet you.” And that’s really memorable.

And so usually the person is like, “Oh, so nice to meet you. I’m glad this thing was really helpful for you. Tell me more about yourself. Customer research, that’s interesting. I haven’t heard of that before.” And so it just kind of naturally starts that conversation. I do have a spreadsheet where I kind of track some of those people that I’m connecting with, so that I can follow up in a month’s time, in three months time, or whatever. I try to sometimes set up, schedule a one-to-one call where we can get to know each other better and kind of talk about how we can support each other. I’ll usually invite them to join my email list or connect with me in some other way, but again, the goal is just to build strategic relationships with people who’ve match kind of either my ideal client profile or my ideal collaborator connector profile, I guess you could say, and just trust the process, be patient. I guess delayed gratification is probably a strength of mine as I’m thinking through that.

Rob Marsh:  Yeah, it’s a good strength to have. Okay, Another question that may be difficult to answer, Melissa, but a lot of us sort of have this idea that we know how to do customer research. We do a survey, we do interviews, we get those answers back, but I think maybe the superpower with research is taking that stuff and turning it into strategy, and that’s something that maybe more of us aren’t so good at that part. We’re really good at saying, “Oh, this will make a good headline,” or, “Here’s an idea.” So how do you do that? How do you take all of the stuff you learn in the process and turn it into a strategy, and what does that look like when you’re presenting it to your client?

Melissa Harstine:  So the first thing is going to probably surprise you, is that I have a really solid process. I’ve been kind of amazed watching my skillset grow over the last six to nine months especially, because I really do things the same way every time. Again, there’s customization, there’s flexibility within it, but as I have this master list of interview questions, I have an email request template, I have a report template, but now that these processes are dialed in, it frees up my subconscious to do more of that kind of deep intuitive type creative work, analytical work that I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. And so for example, I was working on a project last week. So I do these interviews. The first pass through the transcript, I highlight all of the quotes that kind of stand out to me. I copy and paste those quotes into buckets in their research report, so it’s easier to look at them in isolation, right?So it’s categories like pains, wants, hesitations, miss in beliefs, outcomes, offer insights, messaging feedback, sticky messages, right?

And then within those buckets, I start to drill down further and say, “Okay, what are the common threads and themes here in these quotes that I pulled from these interviews?” And then it’s like this is where it gets really exciting, because it’s like, “What’s the underlying belief or desire or thing underneath the thing?” Right? So it’s not just that someone wants to learn about productivity. It’s that they want to learn about productivity because they are a high-level entrepreneur. They have so many people, so many voices clamoring for their time, but they just don’t have time to sit and think. There’s just all these noises all the time, and so they really want to take this course about how to level up their performance because there’s all these people and ideas competing for their time, right?

I wouldn’t have been able to connect all those dots without sitting and thinking, “Okay, why do they want this? Why do they want this? Why do they want that?” I’ve heard someone talk about it as the five layers of why. So it’s like, “Okay, this is the first layer. Well, why do they want that? Why do they want that?” Just keep drilling it deeper and deeper, and then when it comes to the research report, there’s really kind of two sections. One is kind of the standard messaging recommendations guide that I know a lot of copywriters do with those pains, desires, outcomes, et cetera, but then I have a completely different section where I’m presenting kind of that deeper analysis of this is what I’m seeing in your audience, and this is why I think that they want that thing, or why this thing is standing out to them, and then sharing two or three supporting quotes to support that insight that I’m sharing.

And it’s really from there that I think my clients are able to pull that high level strategy, and that’s definitely something I’m trying to get better at. I’m aware that I’m really good at the details and good at looking at the details and building them up to a high level. I’m not just an instant high level thinker, and so I’m trying to learn how can I better share all of the things that I’ve learned in a way that isn’t just overwhelming, too many details, kind of more of that executive summary. Yeah, that’s just an area of growth right now.

Kira Hug:  Yeah. Well, I also wonder what mistakes you’ve made. When we’re just talking about your research process, because it sounds wonderful, but what have you maybe messed up or just could have done better that we could probably avoid?

Melissa Harstine:  I think that one of the first things that comes to mind is just overbooking myself, trying to do too much at once. I think that I operate best when I can do interviews first, followed by the analysis, because if I’m doing, let’s say two projects in a three-week period, and I’m trying to do interviews and analysis at the same time, I’m not able to do some of that deep thinking, right? So when you think about copywriting, it’s often easier to do some of the research first and then go and figure out what it means, and then write the copy, having that time when your schedule set aside for deep work. And so trying to kind of mentally multi-task has been a challenge for me.

And again, that’s another reason why I’m wanting to work with more entrepreneurs directly, and solve these bigger problems, and work on bigger projects is that it means I’ll be able to reach my monthly income goal doing two projects versus three, which means I’m able to get better results basically for my clients because my brain isn’t overloaded. Yeah, that’s probably the first thing that comes to mind.

Rob Marsh:  While we’re talking about those mistakes, are there any bad questions that we should never ask, or things you just want to avoid entirely because the answers are just, I don’t know, maybe they’re going to take us in a bad place, questions we don’t want to ask?

Melissa Harstine:  Yeah, I would say don’t ask, “How much would you pay for this,” because I think you’re going to get one of several answers. Either the person is like, “I have no idea. I don’t have enough context to be able to say,” or they’ll respond and say something like, “I haven’t thought about that before. I’ve never bought this thing,” or they’ll just give a number that’s completely off the top of their head that isn’t realistic for what your actual market might pay. I just feel like that question usually doesn’t get a good response, or it gives data that’s just not actually accurate or helpful. So what I would recommend saying instead is, “If you were me, or if you were my client, depending on the circumstances, how much would you charge for this course or program?”

So in that case, it really makes them think about what is the value of the thing that’s being sold, and also puts them in the driver’s seat of like, “Oh, if I was selling this, how much value would I get out of it? How much would I want to make from it?” I think that shift leads to a little bit better insight than just saying, “How much would you pay for this?”

Kira Hug:  Yeah, I like that shift. So maybe I missed this, but you were talking about all the deliverables, and what you do, and what you share with your client. How are you presenting it to them? How does that presentation go?

Melissa Harstine:  Yeah, so I have this research report, as I mentioned, with these different sections, with kind of the voice of customer or the higher level recommendations. We usually get a 90-minute research review call. The first thing I just ask is, “What surprised you about this research report?” Right? Because then it kind of keys me in on things that they weren’t expecting, those aha moments that we could talk about a little bit more. Then we kind of talked through the report kind of section by section, these key findings I had, and then towards the end of the call, we kind of shifted into the application. Okay, now that we have these insights, let’s talk about some ways you can start to put them into your content marketing strategy, into your sales page, into your higher-level business strategy.

So it’s kind of like they’re getting that opportunity to start to implement it on the call, and I think that’s another thing that a piece of feedback I often hear from my clients is they just appreciate having another thought partner. Because I think a lot of times as business owners it can be either really lonely, whether we’re a solopreneur or a small team, or sometimes we just get stuck in our own head because we’re too close to it, and having another person who can come alongside and think with us at a really high level, it’s just I think really encouraging and also really valuable.

Rob Marsh:  I love the idea of thinking of ourselves as thought partners as opposed to copywriters. I’m going to think about that because I think there’s a really big idea right there. Okay, so let’s say that I have been listening to us talking about research, and all of the amazing things that it can do, and how to do it well, and I think, “Okay, I got to get better at this.” What are just one or two basic resources that you would recommend, Melissa, that we could all go to, look for, aside from practicing it ourselves, where we can really learn this skill?

Melissa Harstine:  The top resource I would recommend is Finding the Right Message by Jen Havice. It’s a book I know that you all have talked about before I’m sure on this podcast. I first learned about it in the Accelerator, but I’ve been doing research now on some level for four or five years, and I just recently picked up that book again, and I am learning so much still. It’s like every time I go back to it, I’m at a different point and different things stand out to me, and so absolutely would recommend that. While I have not personally taken any of the Copy Hackers courses, I know that a lot of my friends and clients in the copywriting community have found some training in there about how to do customer research, what questions to ask, how to present it in a messaging recommendations report to their clients.

And then another person I know that has some really great training on customer research is Ashlyn Carter at Ashlyn Wrights. She has some YouTube videos specifically about how to organize your market research. I think that’s sometimes one of the harder pieces. It’s like, “I did these interviews. I got all this information. Now how do I actually use it? How do I put it in a way that I can find it, that I can make sense of it and do the analysis?” And I think she has some really great training, Ashlyn does, on that particular skillset.

Kira Hug:  So you mentioned that you were in the Copywriter Accelerator with us, I believe back in 2019. So I’m going to ask you a question that you shared with us about the Accelerator. Melissa, what can you do now that you couldn’t do before the Copywriter Accelerator?

Melissa Harstine:  I know how to create systems and processes and the importance of that in my business. I probably think the biggest thing is that I have a lot bigger vision for what’s possible for myself. I think when I joined the Accelerator, I was still charging maybe $30 an hour, and I think it was in the first three months maybe I sold my biggest website package ever, which was $2,500, which was double, I think, what I had been charging before, and I think that was just being around people who helped me see that bigger things were possible. I mean, I would’ve never dreamed of being able to charge that much or had the confidence to do it if I hadn’t been around other people A, telling me it was possible, but B, giving me the tools and the skillsets to actually be able to do that, to be able to find those types of clients who are willing to pay that much, to actually be able to deliver that type of value. And so I think that piece was particularly helpful to me.

And then the other really big thing that stood out to me with the Copywriter Accelerator is just meeting really great peers and community that have helped me further my business journey. Amisha Shrimanker, as I mentioned, is probably one of my business besties to this day, but there’s been other people I’ve stayed in touch with as well, Erin Pennings, Maria Thompson, Annie. There’s just knowing that when I get stuck, there are other people I can reach out to, people who understand where I am at, and what I’m dealing with; just knowing that I’m not alone has gone a long, long way in my journey as an entrepreneur, because otherwise, I think it’d be easy just to stay stuck, and cr, and be like, “Oh, woe is me.” I don’t know, just knowing there’s support there to reach out to is really helpful.

Rob Marsh:  I feel like I should probably just let Kira keep asking the three questions, but I’m going to interject another question. You mentioned $2,500 was doubling or the biggest. If you were doing that project today, what would you be charging today?

Melissa Harstine:  Probably closer to $5,000. I think I charged 3,500 before I pivoted to doing the customer research only, so I mean even that in the year and a half following, I raised my rates even more.

Rob Marsh:  Yeah. No, that’s really gratifying to see just how big a jump you can make once you’re able to make that jump.

Kira Hug:  Okay, I’m shifting into lightning round. It’ll be easy. So I heard that you’re a college football fan, so I would love to hear one business lesson that you’ve pulled from college football.

Melissa Harstine:  That is a great question. I’m not sure I can think on my feet that fast. Give me a minute.

Rob Marsh:  Who’s your team, in the meantime?

Melissa Harstine:  Kansas State University Wildcats. Went to a game one time–

Rob Marsh:  That’s why you can’t think of any business lessons.

Kira Hug:  Ouch.

Melissa Harstine:  Oh, hey, we won 13- 0 on last Saturday!  You know what, Rob? I’ve been thinking about you. If Utah ends up leading the Pac-12 and joining the big 12, our teams are going to be going head to head, and we’re going to have to talk about it.

Rob Marsh:  Yeah, it could get messy. It could get really messy in here.

Melissa Harstine:  Right?

Rob Marsh:  And I don’t want to talk about football for last week anyway, because we didn’t have the best. I mean, we had a good game, but just not the best outcome. Yeah.

Melissa Harstine:  You know what though? I think here’s my lesson. I think that K State is known as kind of a ho-hum team, kind of middle of the pack, but the thing that they have going for them is consistency. They care about people, and they’re willing to play the long game. They may not be the flashiest. They’re not Alabama. They’re not Ohio State, but they get it done consistently day in and day out, and I think that’s really who I am at the root of my business and how I approach writing and research is that I’m willing to play the long game. I’m looking for stability. I’m looking for good, solid foundations, and I’m willing to build from there and see success over time instead of feeling like I have to have it overnight.

Kira Hug:  All right. I’m going to keep going with lightning round, just a couple more. What is a book you’d recommend to our listeners and why that book?

Melissa Harstine:  I would recommend this book that’s on my desk right now called The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick. It was actually something that Amisha sent to me. The subtitle is How to talk to customers and learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you. So it’s got some really great questions that you can ask when you’re doing research, but also more of kind of the mindset behind it of why are people saying the things that they’re saying, and then how can you read through that, and also how can you reframe your question, so that they’re telling you things that are useful instead of just what they think you want to hear?

Rob Marsh:  All right, adding that to my list right now, looking it up on Amazon as we talk.

Kira Hug:  Yes. Okay. Well, unless, Rob, you have another lightning round, I’m going to go with one more. I’m curious just what you’re really excited about in business. I mean, clearly, this pivot that you’ve had and you’re passionate about the work you’re doing, but what else excites you when you think about the next year?

Melissa Harstine:  That is a great question. I think, and I know I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but I am just really excited about being able to impact people by solving bigger problems. Another thing, a lesson that really stuck with me from the Copywriter Accelerator, was showing up for our clients, not as order takers, but as consultants. And not just saying, “Yes, sure, I’ll do that thing. I’ll create your Facebook profile, Grandma Linda, for $5,” but really showing up and finding ways to add value. And I think that is what really excites me because I know that I can have a bigger impact on individuals, on businesses, on companies when I’m helping them solve bigger problems.

Rob Marsh:  Melissa, if you could go back and talk to just-out-of-the-agency, totally burned-out-on-marketing-communications, ready-to-start-her-own-business Melissa and give her any piece of advice, what would you tell her?

Melissa Harstine:  I think it would be to surround myself sooner and more often with people who have a bigger vision than myself. I think I’m someone who often makes decisions or sees the world through the lens of what I’ve already experienced or seen as possible, and I found that whenever I’m around people like the Copywriter Accelerator or this business coach that I’m currently working with, people that just help me see things differently, it’s like the rate at which I grow is just significantly bigger and faster than when I’m just trying to figure it out on my own. Yeah, definitely just surround yourself with people who are way smarter than you, way more experienced than you, but also just are willing to encourage you and help you think bigger.

Kira Hug:  All right, for real my last question for you, again, I’m pulling it directly from you. Is there anything more you’d like to share with us today? Question mark, and then we’re supposed to pause.

Melissa Harstine:  I love it. Way to apply it. This goes back to what I just said, but I think that having mentors like you, Rob and Kira, has gone a long way for me, both in the programs that I’ve paid for, the Underground as well, but even just free content like the podcast. I think back to that moment when in my local marketing studio, I was starting to approach burnout again, and I’m like, “Dang it, I started my own business to avoid this. I didn’t want to get to this place again. Why is this happening?” It was around that time that I discovered the Copywriter Club podcast, and there was one episode in particular by, I think it was Marian Schembari maybe, and she was talking about writing up about pages and selling them for something like $4,000.

And I was just like, “Wait, what? People can do that?” And that’s one of those bigger vision-type moments, and I was like, “I need to be around these people. I need to figure out how to do this.” Yeah, I’m just really thankful for you guys and the opportunity to learn both in the paid communities, but also just free content that you so generously put out as well.

Rob Marsh:  I’ll definitely link to that episode. That was a long time ago. That’s one of maybe our first 30 or so episodes, but Marian is awesome. Melissa, if somebody wants to connect with you, get to know you better, maybe hop on an email list, follow you on social media, where do they go?

Melissa Harstine:  Yeah, you can connect with me on LinkedIn. That’s the primary platform I’m active on these days, @Melissaharstine, and then my website, There’s a couple ways to hop on my list there or just book a call with me as well to get to know each other.

Kira Hug:  All right. Thank you for giving us your time today. We think you’re amazing, so it’s been great to have you on this podcast.

Rob Marsh:  A full masterclass on customer research. This has been great.

Melissa Harstine:  Thanks.

Kira Hug:  Thank you, Melissa. That’s the end of our interview with Melissa Harstine. Let’s cover a few more points before we wrap up. Rob, what resonated with you the most from this part of the conversation?

Rob Marsh:  Good question. So the one thing I mentioned when we were talking with Melissa but, I love the idea of a thought partner. You and I have talked a lot about how copywriters need to be problem solvers, idea generators, but just the idea of the thought partner. I love that phrasing instead of just being a copywriter. So we’re looking for bigger problems that our clients have, maybe bigger than the ones they’re aware of. Maybe we’re looking deeper beyond the things that they’re asking for, but really just looking for ways to help them make more money, ways to help them grow their business, maybe increase their profitability. All of these really big work-related company business problems are things that copywriters can have an impact on. And when we do that, when we show up as a partner and not necessarily as a vendor, just a copywriter, we can have a really big impact in our clients’ businesses, and they appreciate that.

Kira Hug:  Yes, for sure. And I also appreciated that Melissa was talking about really shifting her business from working with 12 clients a month. I don’t know if that was the exact number, but a lot of clients every month, and shifting it so that she could only work with two clients a month, two projects per month, and hopefully free up some time, and I think this is such an exciting point in her business and in other copywriters businesses when they get to that stage where they’re like, “I actually don’t have to work with 10 clients a month, and actually that’s probably not good for me unless I’m running an agency, and I have a lot of support. It’s probably not actually helping me and leading to a lot of burnout.”

And so I feel like we work with a lot of copywriters in the think tank who get to that point, and their eyes open, and they get it that I don’t have to do it this way anymore, and I can start to shift to higher value projects where I can charge more, and then I can focus my time on marketing and building relationships, because I only need a couple of leads per month, and Melissa has done the math. She knows her close rates on sales calls. She knows that she probably only needs four or five leads every single month, and then she can reverse engineer it to figure out, okay, well how am I going to attract those leads every single month? And it just becomes more of a mathematical equation than anything else.

And so I like how she’s engineered that process, and I think that’s something that many of us start to do once we hit that point in our business. And if you’re listening, and you’re struggling with too many projects, it may be a good time for you to make that shift from just redesigning some of your packages, so that you could charge more for them, and even thinking through your ideal client, because you’ll need an ideal client who can afford that type of package, and also gets it, and sees the value in it, and is ready to say, “Yes.”

Rob Marsh:  Yeah, and think about your pricing specifically. If you’ve got that many projects, it’s probably because you’re not charging enough, and knowing those numbers, like you mentioned that Melissa does, it makes business an equation, and you just plug in the front of the day what you need, and at the end of the day, what comes out is hopefully, it’s profit and success.

Kira Hug:  Rob, I’m going to do a lightning round questions on you. What is a lesson that you’ve had from college football, a business lesson from college football?

Rob Marsh:  That’s a really good question. So my team, as I mentioned, I follow the Utes, and the Utah Utes are really good at… Or at least the fan base is really good about having some pretty big expectations. And then, of course, having those pounded out of us by the end of the year. And so I would say a big business lesson from my college football team is to be optimistic, but be realistic about what’s going to happen. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Sometimes it helps to have two or three teams that you’re following. So at the end of the year, your heart isn’t crushed, which has happened to me far too many times. Last year was a pretty good year. Hoping for a good year this year. We’ll see what happens.

Kira Hug:  Or you could be like me and not follow any teams, and then your heart is never crushed.

Rob Marsh:  Yeah, but you lose the pure joy and sometimes agony that the 14 or 15 weeks of college football bring, and it just adds so much color to life.

Kira Hug:  I don’t know. I feel like my life is colorful, but I do get that, and I appreciate that, and I would love to watch a football game with you at some point in life.

Rob Marsh:  Yeah, we’ll do it. We’ll definitely have that opportunity at some point. Yeah.

Kira Hug:  Yes. Okay. And my last lightning round question for you is, what is a book you recommend this week especially?

Rob Marsh:  Okay, so I’m going to recommend something that’s not a business book. This is going to be totally different from what I have done. It’s actually three different books. So I think it was Copywriter Daniel Thossrell, who mentioned in an email a few weeks ago, maybe a couple of months ago, a writer that he was reading a new thriller by named Blake Crouch. And so I went and looked it up and found a couple of his books to listen to, and all three of the books that I listened to over the last few weeks by him are fantastic. One was called Upgrade, and it was really good. They’re all kinds of scientific thrillers with stuff that goes on, and they’re gripping. One of them was ready to sit down to work, and the story is going on, and I’m like, “Ah, how much longer can I listen to this before I have to jump into a call or do this thing?” So I highly recommend a book or two by Blake Crouch. How about you? What are you reading this week?

Kira Hug:  Oh, what am I reading? That is different than what I would recommend. I probably will not share what I’m reading, because they’re usually depressing. So I’m going to keep that private until I finish it, but what I recommend is called Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May, and it feels like a really good book for anyone who is about to step into winter, especially for someone like me who’s living in Maine, and everyone who’s warned me that it’s going to be terrible, but it’s about how we live in a society where everyone wants it to… Not everyone, a lot of people culturally want it to be summer all the time, and happy all the time, and lights on, and that that’s not really how the world works, and how we are designed to have a period of wintering where it is darker earlier, and we are not able to go out, and we have to hunker down and prepare for the winter, and the natural cycle of that, and the benefits to us, and why it’s so important.

So it’s kind of like pumping me up for winter, which so I can actually feel excited, and I’m even looking forward to winter now that I’ve read through the book. So it’s helped me, I think. We’ll see if I actually make it through the winter okay.

Rob Marsh:  Yeah, I may have to pick that up because I hate winter. This is the one thing I don’t like about fall is it means winter is right around the corner, so I’m already looking forward to next spring.

Kira Hug:  Yeah, then you need the book. Yeah, I’ll send you one.

Rob Marsh:  We want to thank Melissa Harstine for joining us on the podcast today. If you want to connect with her, you can find her at, which we will also link to in the show notes. And if you want to listen to more episodes about customer research, check out episode 12 with Jen Havice. That’s Jen who wrote the book that Melissa mentioned, and it is a fantastic book. Every Copywriter really should have it on their shelf. Also, check out episode number 154 with Hannah Shamji. We talked a lot about how she does her research, and we’ll also link to this in the show notes, but Melissa also mentioned our interview with Marian Schembari. That was episode 28, if you want to look that up on your podcast app.

Kira Hug:  And that’s the end of this episode of The Copywriter Club podcast. The intro music was composed by copywriter and songwriter Addison Rice. The outro was composed by copywriter and songwriter, David Munter. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, please visit Apple Podcast to leave your review of the show. I don’t think we’ve had a review in a while.

Rob Marsh:  It’s been a few weeks.

Kira Hug:  Which makes me feel a little blue. I’m feeling kind of down about that. So if you do appreciate the show, and you have not left a review, now is a great time.

Rob Marsh:  Someone help us put a smile on Kira’s face.

Kira Hug:  And then we can read it. We’ll read it in a future episode. If you want to learn more about the business building tools and trainings we’re adding to The Copywriter Club, head over to and check those out. We’ll have even more to share there in the coming weeks. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.


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