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The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
Sponsor: Want to sponsor the podcast? Drop us a line.The Well-fed Writer
Ken McCarthy’s System Seminar
Clayton’s 20 Point Outline
Great Leads by Michael Masterson
Story Selling Master Class
Breakthrough Marketing Secrets
The Copywriter’s Guide to Getting Paid
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
Kira: 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 Rob and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Rob: You’re invited to join the club for episode 24 as we chat with direct response copywriter Roy Furr about his process for writing control beating sales pages, writing for royalties, sending long emails to his list every weekday, and other breakthrough marketing secrets.
Kira: Hey, Rob. Hey, Roy. Welcome to the show.
Roy: Hello, hello.
Rob: Hey, guys. It’s great to have you with us, Roy.
Roy: Absolutely. It’s great to be here. I love doing interviews like this, and as soon as I heard about everything that’s happened on your podcast up until now, it was clearly a place that I wanted to find myself too.
Rob: Great. We’re especially glad to have you because you do a different kind of writing than most of our guests have done so far and you’re sort of in a different industry, and so we’re excited to hear a little bit about that and to understand how you got there. But before we get into all of that, I think it’s probably appropriate that we back up just a little bit and start with your story. Did you want to grow up to become a control beating financial copywriter? Is that the kind of thing you dreamed about while the rest of us wanted to be firemen?
Kira: Of course.
Rob: How did it happen?
Roy: Absolutely. I discovered copywriting when I was two and … No, I was in college and when I was enrolling in college my mom said, “Oh, I think you’d really like advertising and marketing.” At the time I knew that like Superbowl commercials were advertising. I didn’t think it was a great idea, but she really encouraged me to get a major, so I enrolled as a marketing major. Then when they were trying to teach me Microsoft Word, which I had been using for four or five years at the time, I quit my marketing major and said psychology was way more interesting. I didn’t think about marketing much until about five years later. I had a degree in psychology with a minor in English, and my biggest financial success as a copywriter was when my grandma bought my self-published poetry book for herself and nine of her 10 kids, because my dad already had a copy. I don’t think I ever actually made my initial publish-
Kira: Oh my gosh. Is there a fire?
Kira: I thought it was in my apartment.
Roy: Sorry. I have a super sensitive… We should just leave this in, you know?
Kira: No, we should leave it in.
Roy: Yeah, we’ll say we can edit it out, but we won’t do that actually.
Kira: Rob, please don’t.
Roy: Oh yes.
Rob: I’ll see what I can do.
Roy: That was a pattern interrupt, as I’ve written about recently. No, I have a candle that I often burn in my office and for some reason my smoke alarm got really sensitive to it today, so the candle is out and the smoke alarm is off the ceiling, and nothing is on fire except for my copy that I’m going to write later today.
Rob: There you go.
Roy: All right, so back to my financial success as a self-published poet. I knew I was a writer, but I never realized I could make a living with it. Then I’m working in the call center at the local gas and electric company taking angry customer service phone calls when people haven’t paid their bill all winter and we finally shut off their service on the first warm day of spring. It’s a pretty miserable existence doing that 40 hours a week, but I worked an afternoon shift, noon to 9:00. I had time between phone calls later in the evening to read. I read a book called The Well-Fed Writer, by Peter Bowerman, which was an introduction to commercial freelance writing as he called it. He said some people called it copywriting, but he was a commercial freelance writer.
Well, it opened me up to this brand new world that you could actually be a well-fed writer, that you could actually make good money as a writer if you chose to follow certain paths. I didn’t like his idea of writing like white papers and annual reports and all of that stuff for companies, but he did mention that there was this other group of kind of ragtag, renegade copywriters who did this thing called direct response where they actually wrote marketing that was designed to make a sale. From that point forward, I just had this interest and curiosity about direct response, and I went down the rabbit hole. That was very early in 2005. Here we are about 12 years later, and I’m still going deeper down the rabbit hole, and have had a lot of fun along the way, have done well for myself and my family, and learned a lot about the business as well.
Kira: Roy, to connect the dots a bit, once you went down the rabbit hole and you were hooked, and you were still working that job, how did you make that transition and find your first clients and really jump into that world?
Roy: I was actually very fortunate that I had just, actually I was engaged to my now wife, and we were going to get married and move across the country in a few months. I was going to have an employment change whether I wanted to or not, and I started looking at marketing jobs and applying to marketing jobs. I found a couple that I really liked, that I researched the company and thought, “Oh, I would enjoy working there.” I wrote a couple letters. I got actually 100% response on these letters, that basically said, “My resume sucks for a marketing job, but what I don’t have on my resume I will make up for in hard work, and I will blow everybody else out of the water by working harder and by continuing to learn as we go.” Well, one of the people, it was a company that served audiophiles, which are people who will invest $100,000 in a listening room in their house to listen to music, and I made the mistake of actually calling myself a pseudo-audiophile or something like that. He had to spend about 45 minutes correcting me about the proper definition of audiophile. I learned a lot on that phone call.
I also didn’t get the job, but I did get the job at an IT training publisher who I ended up working for for the next five years or so as a full-time gig. In that job, I basically took over marketing from the guy who’d just been promoted to president of the company and I had a lot of flexibility in that job to test everything I was learning, short of actually writing the long sales letters that I write today. The owner of the company wasn’t a big fan of those, but I ran AdWords traffic, I created landing pages, I wrote product descriptions, I helped develop offers. All of that stuff. I became a member of the brain trust as we used to say, and really got to define the trajectory of that company. When I started, they were doing just over $2 million a year. But the time I left they were doing over $6 million a year. We were on the Inc. Magazine list of America’s fastest growing companies, and I did pretty well and had a lot of fun too. We had sushi once a week, and other lunch other days a week, and it was a great training ground.
At the same time, about two years into that I said, “Okay, I want to start doing freelance work too and writing these long sales letters that I’ve been learning about.” I have an insatiable, insatiable appetite. I listen to podcasts at 2X speed. I listen to audiobooks because I can listen to audiobooks when I can’t read, like doing dishes, mowing the yard. I’m actually building an office inside my house right now on the weekends, and so I’m always learning all the time. Driving back and forth to work when I had that job I was learning. I wanted to start doing freelance. I knew even in 2005 when I first got that marketing job, I knew that that was my training ground, but ultimately I was going to be a freelance direct response copywriter.
In 2007 I did largely what I did in 2005 to get the marketing job. I found somebody that I really wanted to work for and I said, “Listen, I’m going to work my butt off for you.” Actually what it was is I challenged him to a duel. I said, “David, I challenge you to a duel,” and that was the subject line of the email. Now, this guy was a Taguchi testing expert who was working with Perry Marshall and speaking at Ken McCarthy’s System Seminar and things like that. Taguchi testing is a way of testing thousands of ad variations in a limited number or tests, like 16 tests. I said, “David, you’re into testing so you know the value of testing one message against another. Well, what I’d like to do is I’d like to write a sales letter that you can test against your current landing page selling your Taguchi training, and you don’t have to pay me unless I win the test basically. You don’t have to test it if you don’t like it, if you don’t think it represents you well, and you don’t have to pay me unless I win the test.”
Well, long story short, he was my first client. I did win the test, and it was my first opportunity to write a long-form sales letter and I continued to pick up freelance clients here and there throughout my time from maybe that was 2006, probably 2007, but through January of 2010 I continued to pick up freelance clients here and there, always having the security of my full-time job to fall back on while I developed both my freelance network and my direct response copywriting skills.
Rob: So Roy, you took a huge risk. Maybe it wasn’t a huge risk, but you took a risk reaching out to a potential client willing to work for free. Is that what it takes to break into direct response, or are there other pathways that you’ve seen other writers make it into the same industry?
Roy: I tend to think that that’s a really effective pathway, and I don’t recommend that. The more experience that you have under your belt, the less you should consider doing any kind of work, including spec idea generation, for free. But very early on, when you have no reputation to stand on, when you have no portfolio to show them, when you have no test results, I think that you should absolutely be willing to do free work, and there are a couple ways to do that. The way that I did it was I basically created my own spec challenge. Now, working on spec is common in the creative world that I’m going to do something and if you like it, you pay me for it, right?
Rob: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Roy: That’s the basic spec arrangement. I created my own spec challenge. There are companies in the direct response space that actually do put out spec challenges that are actively looking for copywriters. I’ve spent a lot of time around AWAI, and at their annual bootcamp especially, the companies that are there often are offering spec challenges for newer copywriters. If you are getting into the direct response world, that can be a great way to just start making connections and getting the attention of potential clients. You can always go the route of saying, “I’m going to charge something for my services.” Just expect that you’re going to have to reach out to a lot more people, and bang your head against a lot more walls prior to getting real work.
Or you can do one more thing that I actually like, and it’s like a side income project. At the very beginning of 2007 I also launched a website for my dad that was at foamwingcutting.com. He builds and flies model airplanes. He has a rather unique method for cutting foam wings and he was actually selling a video on eBay for a long time to teach other modelers how to cut foam wings for their model airplanes. What I did is I said, “Dad, I’d love to do a little side project and sell this for you.” For a number or years, we made hundreds of dollars a month just in this little tiny niche selling this video about how to cut foam wings for model airplanes.
Kira: Roy, when you went out and your own and you made that transition and you were officially in your own company, can you give us an idea of what you were charging or how you were packaging your services at that point? Were you just basically taking long-form sales pages on, or were you open to a lot of different projects early on?
Roy: Early on I was open to a few different projects. A lot of what I did in my first few months as a copywriter was work directly with AWAI. As a direct response copywriter, one of the things that has served me best is the realization that working with companies that are familiar with hiring direct response copywriters is my best course of action because the education curve required to have a successful client relationship with those clients, that education curve is shortened or doesn’t exist. AWAI had a standard arrangement, which was $2000 and 2%, and it’s the same thing that you get with their spec challenges. $2000 for writing a long-form sales letter and some supporting copy, and 2% of net sales, sales minus refunds. That was how I established my initial fee for writing those long sales letters. I did take on some other work.
I realized pretty early on that once I figured out how to write effective long sales letters that those projects just went better in every single way than doing anything else. Every time I’ve strayed from that, aside from doing more sophisticated strategy, it still uses that as the centerpiece. Every time I stray from that in terms of oh I’m going to write articles for somebody, or I’m going to write website copy or whatever, it just doesn’t fit me. It doesn’t fit my approach, and it’s not the highest and best use of my time. I established my initial fee based on that and used that as my guidepost for the first six or eight months. Now, that was $2000 a project and 2%. Do you want to hear how I’ve bumped that up?
Kira: Uh, yeah.
Rob: Please. Definitely.
Roy: Yeah, so today if you want to hire me, and actually you can’t. Here we are recording this at the very beginning of February 2017 and Clayton Makepeace, who was one of my copywriting heroes, has me booked up fully for all client work through the end of 2017, so you can’t hire me today. But if you wanted to, you would have to compete with the deal I have with Clayton. Currently my fee is $20,000 per project for largely the same amount of copy or offer structure as I had back when I was charging $2000 a project. Depending on how the copy is going to be used, whether it’s going to be used to acquire new customers or to upsell previous customers on like a back end product, the royalty rate is anywhere between 5 and 10%.
Roy: Yeah, and that’s what I dreamed of when I got started as a copywriter. Now, there are other direct response copywriters, direct mail copywriters, who have charged up to $100,000 a project. I may be on my way there, or I may find myself content somewhere in between because the royalties are pretty good too. But we were going to talk about the path getting from 2000 to 20,000, multiplying the fee by 10. Well, in fall 2010, so this is I went out on my own in February of 2010. By fall I got into financial copy. Because I had not done any financial direct response work before, I decided to do a spec, going back to that topic before, and the company liked it. I talked to the person who was doing the hiring, who had a couple layers of management above her, and at the time I don’t remember exactly how I got there, but I basically said that I want $5000 for the project, knowing that I wanted to raise my fees. I’d been charging two, I went to financial, I wanted to charge five. We kind of met in the middle and she said four.
I did my first project with them for 4000. I doubled my fees just by making the decision, and then I got a three project deal with them. That first one did okay. That first sales letter did okay. I got a three project deal with them that was also at 4000 a letter. I think their royalties were a little higher. Theirs were like 3 and a half to 5%. That became my new royalty rate. My second project deal with them I think was at $4000 a letter, but it was three letters in a row. I actually on one of those letters I wrote their first single product million dollar promotion, and so very quickly it was easier for me to negotiate higher per project fees, and they quickly bumped me up to 5000, but at the same time they said, “Well, what if you just write for us all the time and we just pay you $5000 a month for that?” I said, “Okay.”
I worked under that arrangement for a while, and when that just wasn’t working for me anymore, when it was time for me to move on, I realized something had happened. Now, before I started that I was happy making $5000 a project, but while I was under that arrangement I was writing a sales letter every two months and getting paid $5000 a month. I thought, “Hmm, 10,000 is better than 5000 per sales letter.” I decided as soon as I was done there, and I had more in my portfolio and more success under my belt, I decided my new project rate was 10,000, and that’s actually where it stayed from, let’s see that was about 2013 to 2015 I think it was, late 2015. Late 2015 I hired a coach, and I was talking to him about this as I was going to a conference and going to potentially be talking to a lot of clients. I said, “You know, I’d really prefer to charge $20,000 a project as opposed to 10,” and he said, “Why don’t you do it?” I said, “Uhh, I don’t know.” He said, “Well, what happens if you try?” I said, “They could say no or they could say yes, and if they say yes I’m making twice as much.” So I tried. Now granted, this all comes with experience as well, right?
Roy: So it’s not just that I charge more money, but there’s a term that I believe came initially from a luxury car advertisement that is reassuringly expensive. I just used this in copy yesterday. Reassuringly expensive. Charging $20,000 a project for clients who know the value of a good copywriter, they’re convinced that I’m reassuringly expensive to them.
Rob: I love the stair step. Obviously it’s something that anybody can do if they’re producing the right work for the right clients.
Roy: Absolutely. We have fun with this idea of just making the decision to double your rates, but ultimately I continue to churn out good copy. I very frequently have a like unprofitable promotion. I almost always meet performance benchmarks. I have had clients where just our style hasn’t lined up and they’ve made the decision, I’ve thought it was a bad decision, but they’ve made the decision to not even test the project. But whenever the style lines up and they actually test my work, it either meets or beats their performance benchmarks. A lot of times I’m beating the control and beating sales records. Yeah, you have to do that too.
Rob: Right. Can we talk about what the project breakup looks like? How much time do you spend on research? What does that phase of the project look like? How much time do you spend writing? I assume that the fee is the same if you’re writing a eight page letter versus a 16 page letter, so how do you determine what makes the difference? What does that all look like?
Roy: I have this natural narrative or writing pattern that I tend to end up with letters in the 9 to 12,000 word range. For something that becomes a video script, that ends up falling somewhere around 60 minutes, somewhere shorter or longer than 60 minutes. That length seems to work really well, especially with getting new customers in the financial newsletter niche where I do most of my work. That for me, the actual writing time that goes into something like that is probably 20 hours. That’s 500 words an hour, which is well under my maximum output capacity, however this work is a little bit more difficult in terms of putting together my ideas and needing to refer to research and that sort of thing. The total writing time is usually only about 20 hours, and most of that is piled at the end when the deadline is fast-approaching.
But prior to that, what I’ll do is I’ll usually spend well over 20 more hours, sometimes as much as 40 or 60 more hours, in any variety of research, which can be browsing the web and finding myself inspired by an article that I read, or specifically looking for something to support the narrative that I want to put forth. I may decide here’s something that I haven’t turned into a promo yet, but I love the whole self-driving cars trend in terms of how interesting it is to me just as a consumer, how much I think it’s going to change the way that we drive, and I also think that there’s probably at least one or two very good investment narratives in that. What I may do is I may just spend hours just looking up self-driving cars, reading articles about self-driving cars. I already have an Evernote file that has self-driving cars articles in it, and I’ll spend a lot of time looking through that. What I’m looking to do is start finding a bunch of dots that I can connect that lead to the fleshing out of a narrative that works for me. That’s one thing that’s going to go on during the research phase.
I’m actually going to be interacting with the client looking at investment track record, things like that that actually is direct proof of their background and their abilities. I’m going to be interviewing the client. I like to spend at least an hour with whoever is like the editor of the promotion, sometimes it’s a lot longer, and actually record a phone interview where I’m just asking them questions, diving in, trying to get their perspective, trying to pick up their voice. I’m reading past issues of their investment newsletters if that’s available to me. What I’m doing is I am feeding my subconscious mind because there’s no way that I can really keep this all arranged consciously. I’m feeding my subconscious mind with all of this information about the topic that’s going to support the narrative, and then I sit down and I start to sketch out the outline, the main talking points that I believe are going to be relevant in the copy.
As I sketch that out I switched from mind mapping to a program called WorkFlowy, which looks more like an outline but is collapsible like a mind map. But as I’m sketching that out in WorkFlowy, I may go back to my research, or I may go looking for more research, looking for more articles to add in there to support whatever I want to do in terms of the narrative that I’m going to put together. Then when it comes time to actually sit down and write, I may include a very rough outline. Actually I used to use a 20 point outline from Clayton Makepeace that was like the structure of a good sales letter, and for my first couple years as a direct response copywriter I used that. If you look of Clayton Makepeace outline, you’re either going to find his or me writing articles about it.
Rob: We’ll link to that in show notes because I agree, I think it’s a really good outline to structure a letter on.
Roy: Absolutely, and it helps you understand how somebody could write a sales pitch that’s 10,000 words long and keep it interesting and keep it flowing and keep it moving towards the sale. I used to put his outline in. Now I’m more likely to just kind of write my narrative outline in there, with maybe some notes out of the offer section that Clayton would have used in that initial outline. Then when it actually comes time to sit down and write this, I didn’t have a good way to describe this until very recently. I really trust my subconscious. I really trust my mind to give me the information I need in order to tell the right story. I’ve spent all this time preparing not so that I can write exactly to the outline, but so that I have enough information and I’ve pieced enough pieces together, I’ve plotted out enough dots that I’m going to connect that my mind knows what to write, and I trust myself to write that.
When I say that I’ve gotten to the point where most of the narratives that I want to tell in terms of the sales letter that I’m writing, those are 9000 to 12,000 words, well like that really is a pattern, a mental pattern for me. It’s like muscle memory. It’s a result of practice more than it is planning, okay I need to write 9000 words for this. Most of what I do is on the web so it’s not space constrained. When I do direct mail, a lot of times we adapt the format to the length of it. What I’m trying to do when I’m putting that out is tell the entire story that I want to tell and nothing more, the entire story that I believe is going to make the person move to a purchasing decision and nothing more.
Kira: Wow, okay. I’m drooling and I know Rob is too because we both love the long-form sales letter, and so this is the most fascinating interview ever. I like that you mention trusting your subconscious because I’ve questioned that in my recent projects just why I put things a certain way, and I’m not always sure but I just feel it. I’m like, “No, I shouldn’t go with my feelings. I should have a reason I’m putting it there.” But sometimes it just works out.
Roy: Well yeah, ultimately you do but it’s like your body knows to breathe, right?
Roy: But you don’t have to think about your reason for breathing. Your body knows the reason for breathing. You may actually in hindsight be able to look at it … I know that if anybody argues, pretty much any word in a sales letter unless it’s just straight up typo, I can argue why that word is there, but I am not thinking of that in the moment, right? I’m just writing.
Kira: Right. For people that are listening that love long-form and they are drooling as well, like me I want to improve. I want to be the best. I thought I was cool because I was writing 7000 words and now I’m like, “No no no no, I need to write 12,000 words.” What can we do to improve our game as a direct response copywriter, other than of course taking on the projects and getting the experience, but are there any other resources, books, trainings that can speak to us in what we’re doing?
Roy: Oh, man. Well, you took away my best answer, and it really is experience is the best answer. I think that the Clayton Makepeace outline is a very good one. I think studying classic and modern advertising is great. The book Great Leads by Michael Masterson, his real name is Mark Forde, but it’s Michael Masterson and John Forde, and they’re integral parts of a direct response empire that’s doing over half a billion dollars a year. They write about the six ways to start a sales letter, and when you are dealing with the very indirect ways to start a sales letter, that’s how you end up writing such long copy. Yeah, so study the Makepeace outline. Study everything you can. If you find a really compelling sales letter that actually moves you, try and figure out, try and break down what they’re doing all throughout and trying to understand that.
Mostly though, it really is all about practice. My earliest sales letters weren’t 10,000 words because I didn’t have enough to say. Today my sales letters, sometimes it’s hard to keep them at 10,000 words because I have too much to say. But it really is because what is ultimately happening with all of that is I find a story line that’s really interesting to me and I gather as much information about it as possible to make it like super compelling and interesting, and I’m sharing it’s like 15 ways to look at one idea. I’m not telling 15 ideas.
A good example is I have a client in the survival space, and I got really interested in electromagnetic pulses, which is this phenomenon that can natural or man-made, but it’s a pulse of electromagnetic energy that can actually wipe out the power grid. A lot of people in the survival space area a little bit scared of that actually being used in a weaponized way. I was learning about that, and then I learned about this like rogue Russian satellite that we didn’t think was a satellite, and it turned out it started behaving like a satellite. We thought it was space junk but then it started behaving like a satellite. I put two and two together, because the way to actually create a big EMP is to detonate a nuclear weapon up in the stratosphere. I put two and two together and I said, “What is somebody were to load a nuclear warhead on a satellite like that and use that as an attack vehicle for launching an EMP attack?” That was the beginning of a narrative and I thought, “Wow, it’s a really interesting, scary, compelling story, right?”
I started researching, okay what EMP tests have been done? The US did an EMP test during the Cold War, and Russia did multiple EMP tests during the Cold War. How would the EMP work? What would happen afterwards? What are the other ways that the power grid could be attacked or an EMP could hit the power grid? What would that scenario look like and how would that impact society? Then my client, he sells an EMP-resistant backup solar generator, which is this thing you roll around and it gives you not house level power, but it gives you a decent source of backup power for things like deep freezers and things like that. It’s in an EMP-resistant case, and it’s solar so you’re not trying to find gasoline and all of that. All I did was I connected that one narrative to, okay and now I was concerned about that as the inventor of this particular backup solar generator, and so here’s what I did to make it the perfect solution in that scenario.
That thing did really well. That sales letter did extremely well for him, and we sold a lot of those generators. But it was all about me just finding this one story and coming at it from 15 different angles or whatever, and really, really fleshing it out and creating this compelling narrative around it. The end result was I think that that sales letter was 12,600 words. We actually didn’t mention the product once until more than halfway through. It was just because there was this narrative that was so interesting that as a prospect, I’m way more likely to be engaged with something that almost comes across as a documentary or investigative report versus a straight up sales pitch for a product that I don’t know if I want, especially when you’re selling this …
If I go out looking, and I have paper towels on my shopping list and I go to the grocery story, you don’t need to use 6000 words before you tell me I have paper towels for sale for me to be convinced, right? In fact that’s way too much. But in this scenario, nobody wakes up and says, “I need to by an EMP-resistant backup solar generator today.” It’s not on their radar, and so you have to come at it in this much more indirect fashion. Finding a really interesting story, a news-related story, or a story that has the potential to impact their life, and all that I did was I put two and two together. They were concerned about Russia. They were concerned about EMP’s. These are interesting topics to my audience. All I did was I said, “What if these two things went together?”
Rob: Roy, you’ve actually done a training course I think around stories. Can we talk a little bit more deeply about this subject? Why is it that stories are so effective? You’ve already given us one example, but how are you using them in your copy?
Roy: I’m using them everywhere. Stories are an incredible communication tool. One of the things that I’ve been studying recently, and trust me, this is related even though it sounds like a tangent, but one of the things I’ve been studying recently is hypnosis. One of the greatest hypnotists of all time, possibly the greatest hypnotist of all time, was a doctor named Milton Erickson. Prior to Erickson, most hypnosis was done like in the stereotypical way of, “You are getting sleepy, very, very sleepy,” but Erickson did something different. He started learning hypnosis that way, and the he realized that he could just tell a story, like what I’m doing right now talking about Erickson. He realized he could just tell a story and he could actually access the same trance states by talking to his clients in a very specific story-driven way without ever doing any of the formal hypnosis. He spent like 60 years, I think he spent over 60 years as a professional hypnotist, and so he got really good at this.
By his later career, he was just able to solve somebody’s problem by telling them a story and never actually … Like he would talk to them about some of the challenges that they were facing, and then he would just ramble on about a story from his life, and then another story from his life, and another story from his life, and suddenly the person would be like, “That’s it, I have clarity.” He wasn’t even talking about them, he wasn’t talking about their problem, but they would get their problem solved through this very indirect storytelling message because he was using metaphor.
We have for thousands of years, even before humans could write, we told stories around the campfire. Those stories are a much more natural way of communicating than any direct sales pitches or anything like that. We were telling stories before we were exchanging resources for goods. Story is just this natural way for us to share and receive information. Because it’s so deeply ingrained, it goes past conscious processing. It can carry messages that you never really have to think about consciously. It can convince people in a way that directly telling them will not. If somebody is naturally resistant to selling messages, telling them a story can get past that resistance for them to make a decision that’s not based on this automatic rejection mechanism that they have in place because they’re bombarded with thousands of selling messages a day. Story is just a really effective way of communicating. As copywriters, first and foremost we are communicators to get somebody to take action. We’re communicators with the purpose of getting someone to take action, and so why not use the oldest, most effective method of communication?
I certainly went a lot deeper in that training, which was the Story Selling Master Class, and currently you can’t register for it but I will be making an announcement before too long for my Breakthrough Marketing Secrets readers about being able to get back into it. But in that course, I structured it around what I called the three pillars of effective story selling, or highly effective story selling. That is the character, the story, and selling. A lot of people things like when I gave you the Clayton Makepeace outline, that’s an outline for what an effective sales pitch would be. Well, a lot of people think of stories that way, like what’s the story arc, and okay how can I use the good story arc in selling? I did spend a lot of time, I actually identified more than a dozen specific selling story formulas that have worked in advertisements throughout all time to convince people to buy.
It is important to get the narrative arc right, but you also have to step back and say, “Okay, since selling is based on relationship and if you have a relationship with somebody, they’re far more likely to take your advice in terms of purchasing a particular product.” If they know I can trust you is the term that people frequently use. “How is telling a specific story going to develop my relationship with my audience, and how does it build me into an attractive character that they’re going to want to not just do this purchase with, but continue following for years, for entire lifetime, be my customer for life?”
Stories in a selling message, you have to pay attention to how they are contributing to you being an attractive character, then you have to pay attention to the story itself, and then you also have to pay attention to how it fits in the selling message. A story of a customer being very successful with your product fits at a certain place in the selling message. It fits alongside the offer, whereas a story of having a problem that you want to overcome may actually fit before you mention the product in the first place because you are eventually setting up the product as the solution to the problem that the prospect is facing.
If you think in terms of, okay what story can I tell? What story am I going to use, but okay who do I want the prospect to see me as? I’m working on a promotion right now, and I realized actually in the shower this morning that the one word that describes what I want the prospect to feel is trust. I want them to trust this person implicitly, and the way that I’m doing that is I was talking to this guy and the whole reason he got started with investing in the first place like 30 years ago was because his dad died early of cancer, and his mom had this money she had to manage and she had no clue how. He was a journalist and he said, “Well, how can I use my journalism to help my mom out?” He decided to start a stock strategies column, and would be able to interview Wall Street’s greatest investors because he was writing this stock strategies column for a major nationally-recognized newspaper.
That was his story, and that story builds trust because what it implies is that I am going to give you investments. He doesn’t even have to say this directly, but I’m going to give you the kind of investments that I would put in my mom’s portfolio to help her manage dad’s money now that he’s gone. It establishes this level of trust through that story, and that’s not accidental. You find all the stories that you have like that and figure out how you can weave them together into this tapestry of overlapping narratives that will lead the prospect down the garden path towards the eventual decision that it’s way smarter to actually give you their money than to not do it today. That’s not one story, it’s a mix of stories. It’s overlapping stories. I hope that answered your question pretty well.
Rob: Yeah, it does.
Kira: I am going to backtrack because I have a lingering question and so maybe other listeners do as well about royalties. When you were talking about it I was wondering, do I need to start charging royalties for all of my long-form sales letters projects? Like should I start that now and just that’s my fee, I have a royalty and then I have my standard amount? Is that a best practice that copywriters listening should consider if they are focused on this type of package?
Roy: Yeah. Well, Rob, before we started recording I think you mentioned that you have my book The Copywriter’s Guide to Getting Paid.
Roy: In there I have a pretty good discussion of my thoughts on royalties, but I’ll try and break it down here. First and foremost, if you want to charge royalties you have to be writing copy that is directly connected to the purchasing decision, or towards a measurable step toward achieving the business objective. Some people will charge like a lead generation bounty where they get a certain amount per lead generated or something like that, but what I’ve always done is I’ve tied mine directly to revenue-generated, sales-generated. I decided that I only wanted to work on projects where I could make a royalty. Now, that did specifically limit me when I’ve tried to get royalties out of companies that don’t have a practice of paying royalties. I found it to be a lot more difficult. My best clients actually have like a day at the end of the quarter on their calendar where they calculate all the copywriter’s net sales for the quarter and they actually pay, they send out all the royalty checks on that day. It’s part of their process. I didn’t have to change their process in order to start making royalties.
Now, I have had clients, and I found that the royalty checks are far less consistent, I have had clients where they’ve intentionally changed their process to start paying me royalties. But largely when I made that decision, I found that the easiest way to just make sure that it happened without a headache was to work with the companies that are already paying royalties to copywriters. Now, that significantly limits your potential client pool, but that’s what’s worked for me, which is what I can speak to with the most accuracy and the most utility. But if you are writing copy that generates a business result, I believe just like a salesperson who’s generating a business result with their activity, I believe you should be paid on performance. I have a client that over the course of about 45 days I made almost $2 million in sales for them, and that’s net sales after refunds. If you pay me $5000 to do that an no bounty, well I’m getting totally ripped off, but by having the royalty agreement in place, I believe that it creates a fair payment structure.
It also motivates me to work harder because if I know that there’s the potential for that royalty, I’m able to invest a lot more time towards getting the result that we both want. Also, when I’m charging royalties it’s also easier for me to, for example this direct mail piece that I currently have in the mail right now, I basically did a rewrite of the introduction after the election. I made some big edits because I know that if I make it so they can keep mailing it and keep making sales as a result of mailing it, I’m going to keep making money. I was able to not charge any fee and just do some edits for them at no extra charge knowing that it enabled them to keep using my copy.
There are advantages across the board for copywriters being paid royalties. It’s not just that copywriters earn more. Copywriters are actually able to provide better service. The only challenge is if you can’t directly tie your activity towards generating revenue or another measurable business result, it’s going to be hard to justify it. It’s also harder to justify it if the client’s not used to doing it. You basically have to teach them and help them create the system to pay you. That can just be a little difficult.
Kira: Roy, this has been incredibly interesting and helpful, and we have one more question and then we have to wrap because we’re at the hour. I think the last question is really about your daily routine. What happens behind the scenes? If you could just share what you’re willing to share about what a typical day may look like, if you have that routine in place?
Roy: Yeah. I always say that I don’t have a typical day and that’s because I take full advantage of the writer’s life. I have three young kids. The oldest is turning eight this year, the youngest is turning three next month. Three days a week I take them to school and so I start later on those days. Three days a week, which are different days, I pick them up. My actual daily schedule where I have work blocks varies quite a bit. When I am working, I pretty much am left undisturbed and my family knows not to disturb me, and that’s great. I do have these expected time blocks, like right now, and actually Thursday is my longest day where I actually work a normal workday. I have these uninterrupted time blocks where I basically just sit down and I look what’s on my to-do list? What’s in my Trello, which is project management software for folks who aren’t familiar with it? This has developed over years, and I’m still horrible at it, but I do a better job than I once did. I look at what I need to get done and I look at what are the most important things. I consider what the upcoming deadlines are and usually if there’s a close enough deadline I start freaking out and start doing work.
Kira: That sounds familiar.
Roy: Yeah yeah. Actually I do have to admit that that’s the best thing for me. I just need to make more deadlines closer. For example, I write over 1000 words a day just on my daily email that goes out.
Kira: Oh my goodness.
Roy: Now yesterday was an exception because I knew that I wanted more time to develop the idea because it’s probably one of my most influential ideas ever. What I normally do is I give myself an hour, one hour before that email is supposed to go to my list. I say, “It’s time to write it. What am I going to write about?” I have an idea file, so it’s usually not a brand new idea, but I just start writing. Again, we go back to trusting your subconscious. I just start writing and when the time is getting short, that’s usually a good sign. Sometimes I do finish early, but when the time is getting short it’s usually a good sign that, okay I better be wrapping now. I put that idea down over the course of that hour, and then I do all my copy and paste to get it up on the website and into AWeber in time to send it and schedule it and hit send. Going back to the daily routine, it’s about setting this very, very short deadline to accomplish a specific task. What I try and be good at is setting deadlines for myself to accomplish tasks. Like I have to get this done within a certain amount of time. If I honor those deadlines, usually I’m able to be pretty productive.
Just one more thing about daily routine is this has shifted a lot. I used to be a night person, but now I usually wake up between 4:00 and 5:00 every morning. Mostly I keep that time for myself. I meditate. This morning I did 100 kettlebell swings with my 53 pound kettlebell. I’ll do a lot of personal development stuff in that time, and just having space before my day starts so I’m not waking up to three kids who are crying and want something and are hungry because they didn’t eat dinner last night and all of that stuff, because that’s what kids do. It gives me space to be ready to deal with that, and then to come back to work, I’ve usually kind of made my daily plan during that time too. I’ve found that to be super valuable. Course I have to go to bed super early too. I’m usually asleep by 9:30.
Rob: Wow. I’ve been geeking out this whole hour. There’s so much good stuff and so many things that we still want to ask you about. The Titans page, and the resources that you’ve used, and even more detail on how you’ve gotten where you’ve gotten, but we are definitely out of time. Roy, we’d love to have you back at some point in the future.
Rob: In the meantime though, where can people find you online?
Roy: If you specifically heard me talking about The Copywriter’s Guide to Getting Paid, which Rob has and said that he’s enjoyed and gotten valuable information out of, you can go to copywritersguide.com. That’s just a redirect but it will take you to a page where you can get the book for free. All that you have to do is pay shipping. I’m not really making any money off that and it’s not even that good of a front end toward a full funnel, but it’s a really good book and full of some very valuable information, not about copywriting as a skill, but about the business side of copywriting. You can go to copywritersguide.com for that. Also breakthroughmarketingsecrets.com is where I publish that daily essay. If you go there you can sign up for my daily emails talking about especially the principles and strategies behind effective copywriting, less so the tactics and techniques, although sometimes those work their way in too. So breakthroughmarketingsecrets.com. I started publishing that in April of 2014, so there are hundreds of thousands of words of occasionally good ideas in the back catalog there.
Rob: You can definitely get lost jumping from one piece of advice to another. There’s a lot of good stuff there.
Roy: Well, thank you.
Rob: Thanks, Roy.
Kira: Thank you, Roy.
Roy: Thank you, Rob. Thank you, Kira.
Rob: You’ve been listening to The Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from Gravity by Whitest Boy Alive, available in iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard, you can help us spread the word by subscribing in iTunes and by leaving a review. For show notes, and full transcript, and links to our free Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.