Do you ever listen to what our podcast guests share and think, that’s not the kind of business I am building? Today’s guest for the 212th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast is Liz Painter. She has built a very “normal” copywriting business—one that probably looks a lot like your business. And there’s still a lot here that we can all learn from. Here’s what we asked her about:
• her path from journalist to email strategist and copywriter
• how copywriting and journalism are different and how to write better
• Liz’s writing process and formulas—and how it’s different from others we’ve seen
• the #1 thing she tries to accomplish in the email she writes
• 3 different formulas for writing email sequences
• how Liz finds her clients and what she does to get referrals from clients
• what her business looks like today and how it all works day to day
• how Liz has networked herself into several agency relationships
• how she changes boundaries and processes when working with agencies
• her LinkedIn strategy and how it immediately to a new client and more connections
• the “comment first” strategy for finding connections
• going all in on one social media platform and not stretching yourself too thin
• Liz’s sales process—step by step—and how she makes sure to get a “yes”
• what Liz does differently from other clients—she definitely listens more
• the #1 lesson she learned from working with Copyhacker’s agency
• what Liz struggles with in her business—why it took so long to find success
• what she would do differently if she had to start over
• a list of books she recommends for personal improvement
• what she’s doing to save the bees with every project she works with
This is a great interview with a copywriter who is doing a lot of things right. To hear it, click the button below. Or scroll down to read the transcript. Better still, subscribe with your favorite podcast app and never miss a show!
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
Philip Pullman novel
The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson
Essentialism by Greg McKeon
Personality Isn’t Permanent by Benjamin Hardy
Life in Half a Second by Matthew Michalewicz
The One Thing by Gary Keller
The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks
Liz’s website & Instagram
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground
Rob: You ever listen to the guests that we talk with on the podcast and think, “Their business is nothing like mine. What they’re doing is so different from other copywriters and I’m not really sure that I can learn anything from they’re saying.”? Well, our guest for the 212th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast is Liz Painter. She has a business like most copywriters and yet there are plenty of things that she’s doing that we can all learn from. Whether it’s her approach to LinkedIn, how she’s worked with agency clients, or her sales process, Liz is doing a lot of stuff very successfully. She stopped by to share all of the details in this excellent interview.
Kira: We’ll share our discussion with Liz in a moment. But first this episode is brought to you by The Copywriter Think Tank, our private mastermind group for copywriters and marketers who want to challenge each other, create new revenue streams in their business, receive one on two coaching from the two of us, and ultimately grow to 200K or more. The think tank is now open for a few select new members. If you’re interested you can visit copywriterthinktank.com to learn more about this mastermind.
Rob: So let’s get to our interview with Liz Painter.
Kira: Liz, before we hit record we were just remembering our time with you in San Diego way back in March when we got to stroll down the street leisurely with you and hang out with you in person and it just seems so long ago now. So I’m excited to catch up with you and hear more about what you’ve been up to since we last saw you in March. So why don’t we kick off with your story, as we do, about how you ended up as an email strategist and copywriter.
Liz: Yeah, cool. Yeah, that does seem like a long time ago that we were in San Diego. Back in the day when you could be outside with other people and hang out. So yeah, my journey started out as a journalist. Straight after university I studied journalism and then I got a job at a newspaper and it was a really good grounding in, not copywriting obviously, but writing because you’re in this newsroom and you’ve got the editor sat across from you. And if you write a really boring long intro to your story he’s going to shout across the newsroom and tell you in front of everyone that it needs work. So you have to get good at it really quickly. So that was a really good grounding in how to write concisely and quickly and in a way that catches the reader’s attention. And I did for a couple of years and what happened was one of the features writers went off sick and I ended up covering for her and I was doing a lot of the advertorial stuff where you’re going out and interviewing business owners and writing about their business. And I really loved it. And that was kind of my first brush with copywriting, although I didn’t really know it was called that back then.
And then when I eventually left the newspaper and went freelance, my intention was still to be a freelance journalist but my husband was setting up a photography business. And so he’d be talking pictures for people and they say to him, “Do you know anyone that can write the website words or the brochure words to go with these pictures?” And he would point them to me and that’s how I got into copywriting. And before I knew it I was doing that much more than I was doing the journalism. And then the route to email copywriting is probably quite a long one. I was a generalist copywriter for quite a long time. I just did what people asked me to do and didn’t really question it for quite a while. And then it was probably around 2016, 2017 and someone I was working with pointed out how much I loved email and how passionate I was when I spoke about it and maybe that was the direction for me to go in. And that was kind of the start of the journey of narrowing down into just doing email strategy and copy.
Rob: I’m really interested in talking a little bit more about your journalism background. And particularly because we see I think quite a few content writers, copywriters come from journalism or from even an academic background of writing. What do you see are the biggest differences between the writing that you did as a journalist and the writing that you do today as a copywriter and especially with email?
Liz: I think you have a lot more freedom with copywriting to go in a number of different directions. Certainly for me writing news journalism, my creativity was quite limited. These are the facts of the story and you need to present them in an exciting way. But there’s only so many different tangents you can go off on, whereas copywriting I feel like the world is your oyster to some extent. Obviously you’ve got to tap into what you hear from customers when you interview them but I do think there’s a lot more freedom in it. In terms of other differences, I have more time to do the research I want I to do when I’m copywriting. Often with a news story it’s quite quick. You just get to interview the person who’s lost a relative or whatever the story is that you’re covering and you’ve only got a few minutes really with them and then you’ve got to write the story then it’s out. So yeah, I don’t usually rush stuff like that with copy if that makes sense. Does that answer your question Rob?
Rob: It definitely answers my question. I think about … Obviously there are some significant differences. And you focus in a little bit on the audience, how you get to know the audience better to do research better. With news, you’re writing to a general public, maybe broader. But I’m also thinking there’s differences in the way that the copy is presented between news and copywriting. It might be more story based when you’re trying to connect with a customer as, like you said, going through the facts of the story and just trying to get things out quickly and you’re not necessarily building the same kind of rapport. So yeah, long way of say yes, I think you answered my question.
Kira: You mentioned that when you were working in journalism and writing articles, if you didn’t grab the attention of your manager fast you would hear about it and they would shout across the room to you. So what was your strategy for grabbing attention in the intro because I imagine you’re using a similar strategy today in the email copies with the hook?
Liz: When I started, I was a year or two out of university and so probably still more wordy than I needed to be. And I think what the editor beat out of me was that kind of using more words than you need to. But what needed to be in that intro was essentially, who, what, when, where, why. The standard journo stuff but without putting any extraneous details in or anything boring and then immediately getting into the action. And I think that carries across with copywriting. You see a lot of throat clearing don’t you? Especially in email where people are kind of warming up to what they really want to say and you’re like, just cut the first three paragraphs and start right in on the action. I wrote a blog post about that recently actually and compared what we do to Elvis songs. Because if you listen to Elvis songs, he pretty much always goes straight in. Like there’s very little intro. He’s straight in with the lyrics. There’s no kind of warmup. I think that’s what comes from journalism.
Rob: So as you write emails for your clients, how do you think about the writing process or what does your writing process look like? Obviously you’re starting with a goal in mind or a product to sell but then what? How do you make it so that you’re capturing the attention, you’re driving curiosity, you’re holding us and wanting us to hit the click and buy button?
Liz: Yeah. I think it really varies. I haven’t gone into a specific niche so I don’t only write for SaaS or only write for eCommerce. I write for lots of different clients in different niches and I think that means that I can bring across stuff from different sides. But it also means that I maybe don’t have one formula that I use to grab attention and to write my emails. I’m bringing stuff from lots of different disciplines. So I guess it’s easier if I pick an example. If I’m writing say a nurture to demo sequence for a software or tech company, I’m going to focus in on the stuff where somebody is visibly pricked up. If it is going to visibly prick up when on a sales call. So if I’ve got sales calls that I can watch or listen to, the bits where people get excited, that they’re the bit you want to focus in on. One thing in each email as you move through a sequence. Ideally with the most exciting things, the things that registered the most interest in the early emails because they’re the ones more likely to get read, right? So that would be one example. But it really varies by industry.
Kira: Yeah. Let’s dig more into the research process then. I like that you’re watching the sales calls and paying attention. Maybe even if it’s a video sales call of when people are leaning in so that you can pull that into your email copy. What else are you doing in your research process and how long do you typically take? Is it a couple weeks to focus on research?
Liz: Yeah. It’s usually one to two weeks depending on the size of the project. I try and get the voice of customer calls baked in early on in that process because I like to start and really hear the customer side of things as well. But yeah, if I can watch sales calls. Some of my clients don’t have their sales calls recorded. Some industries it’s too sensitive or some they just haven’t put that into their process. And then I might interview the sales guys themselves and get their opinions on what’s most important. That’s not obviously as good but it’s better than nothing. Founder interviews, competitor research and just trolling the internet essentially, review mining and that kind of thing, just to get as much voice of the customer data as I can and then pulling that all into a massive spreadsheet and working out what the most important messages are.
Rob: So then when you get to the writing, I know that you said that you don’t follow a template, or you don’t necessarily have a template that you’re using. But especially like say for something like a welcome sequence, is there a pattern that you’re thinking through as you go through each of say the first four or five emails where the first email you’re doing something particular and you’re hitting on some kind of an emotion and the second email is doing something else and hits on a different emotion, or is all of that organic and comes from the research?
Liz: Yeah. I think genuinely I do look at it with an open mind each time. It probably would save me some time if I had a formula but I really do base it on the research for that specific project. And I guess it’s partly because I don’t only do onboarding sequences or only do sales sequences so it’s not like I can formulate one process that I use in the way that someone would if they were say only doing onboarding sequences. And I think there’s a definitely an argument for narrowing down more so that you do have that approach to it. But for me, I guess to answer your question about welcome sequences, emotions wise, I think it’s about … It depends what they signed up for doesn’t it? But it’s about getting that connection in the first email. Like that human connection. But also delivering something that they want or need so that they are keen to open the next email as well.
Kira: And how do you build that instant connection in one email?
Liz: Yeah. I mean that’s a tall order isn’t it? I guess it’s helpful again to think of an example. So I wrote a sequence a while back for someone who runs a very successful tea room and also sells these really amazing organic blended teas online and we did a Christmas sequence for her. And her list was a bit neglected. And it was a mix of people. So some people were local to the tea room and some people were from all over the word that has visited it because it was in a very touristy area. So we did a little re-engagement sequence before we got into the main sequence that was I guess bringing people back to the experience of having been in the tea room. Because this is a tea room that people rave about. It’s a real experience. It’s quite quirky. The woman who runs it this lovely, personable, friendly, funny person. And so I was reconnecting them with that experience before we promoted the hampers and the gift vouchers and what have you that she was selling for Christmas. So that’s one example. I find it easier to talk about it when we’ve got a specific example. But that’s how I would do it for that kind of sequence.
Kira: Let’s break into the interview for a minute or two and talk about writing processes. We talk a lot about writing processes with our guests but I don’t think you and I have talked much about our own writing processes. So Rob, why don’t you share or just walk us through your own writing process or what you think through when you sit down to write.
Rob: Yeah. Well, I was really interested in learning about Liz’s process because I think we’ve heard from other people who have been on the podcast or guests that we’ve had speak at our events that they have very specific processes that they follow for say like a welcome sequence in an email. Thinking back to Dana Malstaff who spoke at our event last March, she talks about this six step process that goes … The first email is a permission email. The second email is what she calls a clout email where you’re building authority. The third one is a training email where you’re sharing something and doing some training. The fourth email is a recommend email where maybe you’re sharing testimonials or something that you’re recommending for other people. Then the fifth step is an ask and the last step is kind of this feedback when you ask about what’s going on in their life and then you can start the whole process over again. Or Sara Vartanian shared with the think tank her welcome sequence. It starts out with this oh my gosh you get me idea in that first confirmation email and then she uses the emails for shift a belief that she asks and says, tell me something about you. She shows what’s possible and then she talks about how you can help and makes an offer.
And so, I think oftentimes we have these processes that we go through as we write, and I’m really interested in these kinds of things because I don’t have quite that same kind of a process when I sit down to write. I tend to think a little bit about what is the belief that needs to be shifted here? What does the person reading this email need to feel right now in order to get to the next step in the process? And so I’ll try to maybe step out what those processes are. And I think some of the nice things that Dana and Sara have done is that they’ve almost templatized this. They know that at each step by doing one of these things, they’re moving their potential client to a final buying decision at the end of the sequence. So I like sort of thinking through that a little bit but I’m not sure that I framed mine out quite the same way. What about you? Do you have something that’s that sequenced or are you a little bit more like me, kind of figuring it out and trying to figure out what is the next thing they need to know?
Kira: Yeah. I kind of am more like you and Liz I would say as far as thinking through each email and necessarily … I don’t have a bunch of templates that I use. I think it’s smart to have a bunch of templates. I know copywriters who do a lot of email often have those and I think it’s great and it might work well for you. For me, my process is a little bit different. I kind of view it as … Especially if I’m working on email. I just view it as the multiple layers. So first layer is the theme. And so every email I write needs to have some theme. Some might be more in your face and obvious than others, but there’s always some theme that ties in the big idea for each email. And then I look at the next layer which you could say is a draft. It’s not a layer, it’s a draft. It is just write the first draft. But I usually write it pulling in voice of customer as I’m writing it. And then the next layer is going back through and adding personality. And so that’s where I’ll make sure I’m tying into the theme with the different personality injections that I will add to the email.
The next layer is adding persuasion elements. So that’s a lot of the social proof and thinking through different persuasion tactics that could be added to strengthen the email copy. Then I’ll go through another layer and another review where I will pull in more voice of customer and make sure the language really is capturing the voice of the customer and weaving that in with the client’s voice too. So pulling from both buckets. The next layer is just revisiting the theme to make sure everything is fitting together. It’s tying together by the end where it’s really clear. It doesn’t feel like I’m leaving somebody hanging where I start with a theme but I just drop off. It has to really close and almost close the circle at the end. So I need to check that. The next layer is checking key sections of the email to make sure it’s really strong. So the key sections would be the hook, which is the opener, the offer, which would include any bullets or any copy related to the offer, the close, which is the last few lines of the email copy which really need to close strong, and then it’s the sign off.
So I’m looking at the most critical points to make sure that they’re all dialed in. And then the next layer review is where I’m cutting and I go back through and I will cut whatever I can cut. That’s where you cut your darlings. That’s the hardest part in the process for me is to cut anything out, but it’s critical. And then the final layer is the polish. That’s where you polish everything and you finish it and you’re done with the email. So it’s multiple layers going back and forth to make sure it’s not just focused on personality but it’s also focused on pulling in the voice of customer, also making sure that it’s a strong, persuasive argument to the content in that email as well.
Rob: So when you’re writing like that do you do each layer differently or are you something doing them together as you’ve gotten more competent and as you’ve done more and more of it? Does that process become easier?
Kira: Yeah. I mean I’d say it will blur together at times where I might do a read through and I’m adding in some personality bits but I’m also thinking through different persuasion tactics. But it’s more of a check mark system for me to make sure I’m covering everything. So it is more intuitive now but I can’t just lean into, okay, I’m going to have this incredible fun theme, if I’m not making sure it’s also persuasive and that I’m highlighting the offer and I’m grabbing them at the hook. So it’s just a reminder to me that all those components are critical and they are all necessary so I don’t leave any of them out.
Rob: Yeah. And of course this is, we’re talking specifically about writing email right now. I mean we both sort of follow maybe a slightly different formula when we’re writing sales pages. We’ve referred to this on the podcast in the past that we have both used one of Clayton Makepeace’s 20 step formulas I think. I have made tweaks to it as I have gone on and as we’ve talked to people like Stephan Georgi, when he shared his formula on the podcast and have added and rearranged things. And I think you’ve probably done something similar with your sales page formula as well.
Kira: Yeah. Definitely. But I think the key is just figuring out what that process is for you. Whether you’re leaning more heavily into persuasion or you really hone in on the research and pulling in the voice of customer, just to make sure that you have your own process you can rely on until it becomes more intuitive.
Rob: Yeah. Agreed. Okay. So let’s go back to our interview with Liz.
I’m also interested in understanding where you’re finding your clients and how you’re growing your business. What do you do to connect with the clients that you’re working with today?
Liz: Okay. I’ve always done quite a lot of networking. This year has obviously been a bit different. But I’ve been … My business Comma Comma, I’ve been running now since 2008 so I already have a lot of contacts so I get most of my work through referrals. How I’ve done that is I’ve got part of my process now, when I get to the end of a project I will always ask, who do you know who needs what I do? Most of my best referrals come from doing that. And that’s come from getting more confident. I wouldn’t have been able to ask that back in 2008. I’d have felt … I don’t know. I wouldn’t have felt able to do that. But now I’m much more confident and able to ask that and they’re happy that they can refer me because they know I’ll do a good job for their contact. So it cuts both ways. I still do a lot of networking online now and I’ve just started probably a couple of months ago posting a lot more on LinkedIn and I’ve got a project starting next week which is someone that I closed direct from LinkedIn, which I was kind of amazed at how quickly that happened.
Kira: Wow. Okay, I definitely want to hear more about LinkedIn. But first, what does the structure of your business look like today? Do you have a team? Do you take one project at a time or multiple projects or retainers? Can you just give us more of a rundown of what this business looks like?
Liz: Yeah, sure. So it’s me and I have a VA and that’s it really. In the past I did have somebody working, doing a bit of outsourced work for me. But I didn’t find I could make that very profitable so I’ve deliberately kept my team just me and my VA and I have an accountant but other than that … Yeah, and a bookkeeper. But other than that, that’s it. So yeah, just me writing the copy at the moment.
Kira: And how do you typically like to work with your clients? Is it more of okay, we’re working on this project for two months and then we’re done? Or do you have any type of retainer styled projects that you keep onboard for a while? What does that look like?
Liz: Yeah sure. My preferred way of working is projects. I really like the energy of like we come in, we get this done and we move on and maybe we do some more work together straight away or later. But I find that works really well. So most of my stuff is projects. I try to keep it to two or three projects at a time because I find otherwise I just can’t focus the way I want to on the work too much. I have had times where I’ve had more than that, maybe five or six projects, and I just find it a bit chaotic. So two or three is the sweet spot for me.
And then I’ve got two really small retainers. One is a longstanding client that I do ongoing emails for. And the other is an agency that I write cold emails for. That one I just took for fun really more than anything. I write cold emails for them and you get to track how they’re performing for each client. My average is a 31% open and 1% leads at the moment and that’s mainly for US, which I think it’s harder to get good stats for the US than it is for the UK so yeah, that’s just a fun retainer that I have. Other than that, I’m not … I would consider retainers in the future, but I’m not actively looking for them.
Rob: Let’s talk a little bit more about your relationship with your agency because I think there are a lot of copywriters who would love to have those kinds of relationships. And maybe they don’t know how to approach the agency or if they do make a contact, maybe they don’t know how to get consistent work from an agency. Agencies have their own creative teams and oftentimes keep things in house. So how have you made that work? What have you done that maybe we can learn from?
Liz: Yeah. I think the agency side of things, it comes from relationship building for sure. All of them have been introduced to me, all the agencies I’ve worked with, by Copyhackers, which I met Joanna through doing her mastermind. But the agency here in Birmingham where I am was actually my husband introduced me to the guy that runs this agency. And my husband’s a photographer but you could recreate that situation by making sure that you network with plenty of other creatives. In fact, the guy was in touch with me today, the guy who runs the agency, and I had to turn a project down because I was fully booked. But I haven’t got any space till October. But I think it’s about building a trusting relationship. So turning that project down but being apologetic and also finding out what other work is coming up on the same call. So I could have taken that project but then I probably wouldn’t have been able to hit deadline and that would have damaged our relationship. So it’s definitely got to be an open and honest relationship there. And it’s about staying in touch. I have one agency of mine that I know are on my email list. So they hear from me and they know what I’m up to and they’re staying up to speed that way. And I know for a fact that I get more work from them because of that.
So it’s finding lots of little ways to stay in touch. And I guess it was easier before this year because if you had local agency clients if you’re in a big city, you could drop by, you could arrange a coffee and you can’t really do that now. But you can have a 15 minute Zoom call. It’s just about keeping the relationship going I think and staying front of mind.
Kira: How does that structure or the payment structure work with agency clients? It’s a space I haven’t worked in frequently but I know a lot of copywriters struggle to figure out what to charge agencies. Especially with the markup built in and it almost just becomes this math equation we’re trying to figure out so that we don’t lose the work but we’re not undercharging agencies. Can you give us any advice?
Liz: Yeah. That’s a really good description of the pain of working agencies sometimes. I have one where I have managed to get a really upfront relationship where he won’t go to the client now with their cost until I’ve given him my cost. But I think that’s really unusual. That’s the only agency client I’ve got that arrangement with. And that’s because we’ve known each other for so long. It’s a good trusting relationship. But I think half the time you are, not stabbing in the dark but yeah, you’re seeing it’s difficult. And I guess I always just go on the side of honesty. I’ll say to someone, “This is what I’m thinking of charging. Does that fit?” And the trust need to cut both ways. Obviously you can’t do that if you don’t trust them but then you shouldn’t be working with a client if you don’t trust them. So yeah, I like to be open and trusting. That’s how I work.
Kira: And what would say are the pros and cons for anyone who’s thinking about working with an agency for the first time. What should we be thinking about in terms of what works and what doesn’t work?
Liz: Yeah. I think your boundaries have to be different. So some of the boundaries that I have with my direct clients I can’t put in place with agencies. So I would always get 50% up front with a standard client. With an agency sometimes you can’t get that. Sometimes they want to pay you 30 days after you did the project. I don’t know if that’s just a UK thing. But that’s really common and there’s not always a way around that. So you have to weigh up whether that’s okay. Whether you’re willing to put up with that. So that’s a definite con. The pros are you can work with some amazing clients. I’ve done work for big software companies, Symantec, Veritas. I’ve worked with Prezi, Shopify Plus. These are brands that yeah, I might have been able to get to them on my own, but it’s a lot easier if an agency has already won them and you just get to write the copy.
And the other thing with agencies as well is it does cut out some of the work that you would normally do so you have to weigh out whether you want that. When I’ve worked with Copyhackers, the amazing research is delivered to you and you just write the copy. There’s not that much research for you to do. So if you love the research side of things, that’s probably not a good fit for you. You probably don’t want that. You probably would like to do all the research and write the copy so that could be a pro or a con depending on whether you like research.
Rob: Yeah, okay. Let’s go back and talk about LinkedIn. And I know you haven’t done maybe a lot of this but you said you just landed a client through LinkedIn and it happened very quickly. Walk us through how you made the connection and what that process looked like. Because I think LinkedIn is maybe a tool that a lot of us ignore and should be doing more with.
Liz: My approach was just to start posting more. So aiming to post two or three times a week about just stuff I’m working on or stuff I’ve observed about the industry or a great email that came into my inbox and then I posted a couple of articles as well so I wasn’t doing loads. But I was making an effort to connect with CMOs and founders in businesses that I would want to work with and kind of widening my network. And this lead came about when I commented on a CMO’s post. And this must have been one of those connections that saw my comment about email. And he just got in touch and said, “Just seeing what you wrote about email made me think that we might need that in our business. Can we hop on a call?” So we did. And I have a process that I run through, which is I try and keep the first call with someone really short just to check whether they’re a good fit. And it seemed like they were a good fit so we arranged another call and went through exactly what his project would entail. And then I put together a proposal for him and we ran through that with someone else from his team on just a proposal call. And yeah, he went for it.
And I was actually quite surprised because I get so much of my work through referrals that to just get someone that I met on the internet to come on board as a client for a pretty decent sized project, I was surprised. But it works. LinkedIn works if you do it right.
Rob: Yeah. Just to make sure that I understand. So you were commenting on something that he posted or he posted on your-
Liz: It wasn’t even his post. It was, I’d been connecting with lots of CMOs and one of them had posted something about email and I made a comment on this person’s post and he was one of their connections and he saw my comment.
Rob: Okay. So it’s just a matter of just being on the platform and engaging which is … Do you make time for that? Do you say hey, I’m going to spend 30 minutes a week or something like that?
Liz: Yeah, basically. It’s not 30 minutes a week. It’s probably more like 30 minutes, three times a week.
Rob: And then you’re looking for content to post comments to, that kind of thing. You’re just engaging as a human being I assume.
Liz: Yeah. So you can search by … So I can search what content have CMOs that I’m connected to posted and then you can narrow it down like in the last day, in the last two days, in the last week. I wouldn’t recommend going any further than that. LinkedIn will let you search that and then you can just comment on stuff. Because I think if you just focus on your feed, on what comes up in your feed, you often won’t see the stuff you want to see. But the more you do research and then comment on the stuff that’s relevant to you, the more the algorithm will show you the things that you should be commenting on that’d be useful to you. And I think that’s almost as important as posting yourself, posting your own content.
Rob: Yeah, I’m guessing that’s probably what I do wrong when I engage in LinkedIn or maybe even any social media is that I’m maybe relying too much on the feed and I’m not curating the feed enough. So I actually think it’s a really good idea for finding the kind of content that then you can add your expertise and help out and make a connection.
Liz: Yeah. And I would just add that I don’t find it that easy to do because when you post your own stuff, when you’re starting out doing it, you’re posting into a bit of a void. You might get 12 likes and that’s a good day if you get 12 likes some days. And it feels difficult to keep posting when you see people around you getting 2,000 likes on stuff. But you just have to keep going and so many more people are seeing it than the people that are actually liking and commenting. And so you have to remember that what you’re doing’s making a dent even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Rob: Okay, so I want to break in here and talk briefly about LinkedIn and we just sent out our print newsletter to members of the underground and this issue and last month’s issue both focused on how to succeed on LinkedIn. And one of the things that we mentioned that we mentioned is this thing that Liz is talking about. Not necessarily posting content on LinkedIn, but actually just commenting on other people’s posts in order to draw attention. And I think one of the things that makes this so powerful is that when you comment on LinkedIn every single comment shows both your name and the first part of the title that you have your LinkedIn profile. So if you’ve got your title dialed in, something that’s interesting, eye catching, attention getting, you can use comments to them attract attention back to your profile where people may want to connect with you and obviously this can lead to not just connections, but also projects as it has in Liz’s case. And so I really want to just jump in here and emphasize that because I don’t think you need to go all in on content posting your own articles once, twice, three in a week in order to make LinkedIn work. You can do it sort of with this easier … Let’s call it, the ease in strategy where you post comments.
And then if things are really good, if you’re loving LinkedIn, maybe you do start posting your own content. But you don’t have to go all in to begin. But then, I’m not really a LinkedIn expert. Maybe you feel differently Kira. I don’t know.
Kira: I think the fun thing about interviewing other copywriters like Liz is you get to hear about these other marketing tactics that work really well. And I don’t focus on LinkedIn right now. I know it is a great place to go if you want to make connections and if you want to find great clients. But what I take away from this and from any conversation where I hear about any type of social media platform and marketing platform is that it’s more important to focus on one channel and do it really well before you feel like you need to be everywhere. So it’s easy to listen to Liz and say, oh, I need to do that too. I should be on LinkedIn. I’m missing this opportunity. But if you’re focused on Instagram right now and maybe you aren’t even fully showing up there and you know there’s more opportunity to show up in a consistent way there, then just do one thing marketing wise really well before you start to spread out and branch out. So for me it’s just Instagram marketing right now on social media. It’s not Facebook, it’s not Twitter, it’s not LinkedIn. And once I have Instagram dialed in, then I may look at LinkedIn and figure out the systems and how to do that well so that it’s working for my business.
But I think it’s easy to get overwhelmed and think okay, Liz is doing this so I should do this too. And then you hear the next interview where someone else is doing some other tactic on Facebook and you’re like, oh, I have to do that too. So that’s just more of a warning I guess.
Rob: Yeah. I think that’s a really good point. The other thing to consider here is where are your potential clients? If you’re working in a space like you do and do so much personality copy, maybe Instagram is the place where they’re going to be more often. Whereas if somebody is writing in SaaS and tech, they’re probably going to find their clients on Twitter or maybe on LinkedIn. So basing what you do on social media should really come down to … Assuming that you’re using social media to find clients, it should come down to where are your clients first and not necessarily which of these social media tools is the one that I actually like.
Okay, so let’s go back to our interview with Liz and find out a little bit more about her sales process.
Kira: All right, so you mentioned your sales call process and how you have these two calls. Can you talk about that in more depth with us?
Liz: Yeah, sure. I did some sales training way back and this is how I came up with my sales process. And then since then working with Joanna and Amy Posner, that’s kind of honed that process. So it’s kind of amalgamation of three different people’s sales process I guess. And essentially it’s a really brief call just to see whether you’re a good fit. I would probably double check with someone in whatever method they’ve got in touch before we speak that the project is even in the right kind of ballpark for the work that I do. And then we would hop on a 15 minute call, just talk through what they need. I’d run through my process really briefly and then if we feel like there’s a fit, we’ll both agree to another call and you get that call booked in before you get off the call you’re on. You never leave any bit of the sales process without the next thing in the diary.
So then I would book a longer call, usually about a half an hour and really go into the detail of what they need and what research have they already got, what research would I need to do, and just really flush out the scope of the project. And then I should be able to leave that call and write the proposal. But what I’ll always do at the end of the call is give them a ballpark price. And if they fall over at that point then I don’t do the proposal because that’s just going to be a waste of my time and that’s probably one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is to not write a proposal unless someone’s okay with a rough idea of the price. And that’s saved me so much time. I can go two different ways at this point. If I feel like they’re not sold already, not fully sold, I will get on a proposal call with them where I’ve sent them the proposal just before the call and we go through it together. But if I get that feeling that they are sold and they’re probably going to go for it, I maybe wouldn’t do that. I would just send the proposal over to them.
So like with an existing client, I probably wouldn’t hop on a proposal call, I’d just send it over. And I’ve got everything in Better Proposals, which is just a software that you pay for monthly. So it’s easy to see when they’ve been in and how long they’ve looked at it for and they can just sign in there and they can make their deposit payment in there as well through Stripe. And that’s been transformational for me. It’s a really easy process. I looked in my dashboard yesterday. I have a 65% conversion rate for my proposals. I don’t know how that compares to other copywriters but I’m okay with it. So yeah, that’s my process.
Rob: Can we talk about the script that you use when you’re bringing up pricing on that second call? What is it exactly that you say to give them the ballpark figure of what the project is going to cost?
Liz: Sure. I mean, I don’t use a script but I guess what I say … Let me think. I say … Usually they’ll be a pause where I’m literally going through the numbers on a bit of paper because I can’t just pluck a figure out of the air obviously. So I’ll say, “Oh, I’m just going to work out some figures,” and then I’ll do that. And then I’ll say, “Look, I think it’s going to come in somewhere between, I don’t know, 8K and 12K. Does that fit with what you were expecting?” That’s it basically. And then you can tell from their facial expression whether it fits with what they were expecting.
Rob: And then how do you adjust? If it doesn’t fit, at that point are you like, well this isn’t a good project for me or would you adjust scope if you got that surprised reaction?
Liz: Yeah. We could then talk about lowering the scope. I mean, that hardly every happens to be honest. Because usually they wouldn’t have got to that point with me if they’re not in the right … I don’t know. It’s rare now that I would ever be on a call where someone falls of their chair at the price. So that doesn’t happen very often, but yeah. Where I’ve thought that someone is maybe on the edge of not being happy with the price, I will put in a lower option in the proposal. And that’s the great thing about Better Proposals, you can literally give people options. You can choose this package or choose this package or choose this lower package and they can just choose the one they want and sign and pay.
Kira: Okay, so it sounds like you’re figuring out the price tag during the initial sales call or you know ahead of time based on previous projects so you can throw out the ballpark number. Is that right?
Liz: Yeah, essentially. I’ll have an idea before we get on the call but yeah, I’m comparing it to previous projects so it might be that on the first 15 minute call I might have said to them, “Oh, I did a project that was this kind of scope recently and it came in at this.” Just to give them an example. And then so they already know what the price is going to be roughly. Just depends what we add in or take out.
Kira: Okay. So you’re doing that before you actually prepare the proposal just so … Okay. And then this is getting in the weeds but I use Better Proposals too and love it. I feel like I’m not fully leveraging this platform though. So are you sending multiple packages through Better Proposals and are you accepting deposits through Better Proposals too? I think I need to step it up with Better Proposals.
Liz: Yeah, I am. So in the section where it’s like their pricing section, you can add in options so they can choose one or the other and you can add in options so they can choose multiple things. So I do that depending on what they need. I’m trying to think of a good example of one I’ve did recently. I think there was something I did for a big data company recently and they weren’t 100% sure but they ended up going with the biggest package. That’s the advantage is they have time to weigh it up and choose to go with the biggest package which is what usually happens. Yeah, and then the other thing you asked was Stripe. Yeah, you can just hook it up to Stripe. I think my VA did it so it must be really straightforward to do.
Rob: So Liz, as you think about your business and maybe look out at the range of copywriters that you’ve met at events or online or whatever, is there something that you do differently in your day to day or in your approach to finding clients, to doing the work, that maybe other copywriters are missing out on or they’re not doing?
Liz: I certainly think the journalism background is helpful in that you really learn to be a good listener. So I’m not talking for lots of time. This is not how I normally am. How I am on this podcast where I’m talking away. I would normally just shut up and let my client speak. And the same when I’m interviewing customers. Is that massively different from what other copywriters are doing? I don’t know. I think there’s maybe an intuition that comes with so many years of doing it. So I think sometimes I maybe can’t explain why I make the decisions I make. And I think that’s maybe the next stage for me is figuring out how to teach what I do. Because I think you do … Obviously you’re using the data and I always like to take a scientific approach, I always want there to be evidence and data, but equally there is an intuitive creative side to copywriting that comes with experience and with all the knowledge that you build up over time. And yeah, I guess what I’m trying to say is I don’t know that I can explain exactly what I do differently. I know that when I write emails I’ll often take quite a nurturing approach. I’m not hiding the sales messages but I’m maybe not putting them front and center some of the time. It depends on the sequence.
So I am taking someone on a bit of persuasive journey as we all do but I’m doing it from the point of view of maybe slipping it under the radar a little bit that I’m nurturing them and the sales message is slipping under the radar. That’s the best way I can explain it I think.
Kira: And how would you describe that to someone who maybe isn’t doing it or doesn’t understand that and maybe is more in your face with sales messages because that’s the only way they know how to do it? How can we be a little bit more nurturing and subtle in our own sales messages?
Liz: I think it comes from talking to the reader like they’re a friend a lot of the time. That conversational tone. Would I say this in an email to a friend? Because if you wouldn’t then it probably is a bit strong. That sales message. It depends doesn’t it? On what stage of the funnel you’re at all sorts of other things. In that very end of a launch you’re not going to be kind of wishy washy about it. You’re going to get in there and say do you want to buy this or not? But when you’re at the other end of the funnel I think you can be much more nurturing. Almost like a soap opera sequence where you’re just dripping information and you’re just setting up the next thing that you’re going to tell them in a way that means they’ll want to hear it.
And getting stories in and bringing in everything from life and from what you’re reading and what you’re watching on TV. I’m reading a book at the moment by Phillip … Well, it’s a collection of essays, sorry, by Phillip Pullman who’s a novelist, which has nothing to do with copywriting but there’s so much in there that we can use in our work and I think it is about pulling things in from all over the place and dropping cultural references in that your audience will connect with. Maybe getting a bit of humor in there as well. Just being human.
Kira: Okay so I want to ask a question that … You mentioned you’ve worked with multiple agencies. You’ve worked with Joanna and Copyhackers. So what would you say is one big lesson you learned from working with Jo and her agency?
Liz: I think just that kind of pushing the envelope. Like how far can you push this campaign? Pushing the clients to take a stance or an angle that they maybe wouldn’t have thought of on their own and that maybe makes them feel uncomfortable but actually could bring in amazing results for them. That kind of disruptive just over the edge of what feels okay to do. I got an email … I think it was yesterday or today from Shinesty. It was written as if their account had been hacked and it was really … That’s the kind of thing. It was like on the edge. I was looking at it thinking, “Well they’re setting this up so their account’s been hacked. Is anyone going to click any of these buttons? Because it’s a bit scary looking, this email.” But it was also really funny and really edgy. I’d love to see the results of that because yeah, it was a campaign that made me as the reader feel uncomfortable. It must have made them feel uncomfortable to send it although they’re quite edgy anyways, so maybe not.
Rob: Yeah. Shinesty’s a crazy brand but-
Liz: Yeah. That kind of thing, just pushing it to the limit. And sometimes your clients will say actually, “No, there’s no way we’re doing that.” But sometimes they’ll go for it and then you can get amazing results. But it could bomb as well but it could get amazing results.
Rob: Liz, I’m curious about maybe your biggest failures. I don’t know if it’s an email sequence that you wrote that completely bombed or maybe it’s a business failure. What have you struggled with as you’ve built your business?
Liz: I think one of my biggest struggles has been around being confident enough to do the things that I’m capable of in my business. Pushing myself to speak and to get out there. Failures wise, I think we see all these stories. You guys are great at helping people get quickly to that place where they’ve got a really solid, profitable copywriting business. And I took a decade to get there. I took way too long to figure out that I needed to niche. I took way too long to find copywriting communities to hang out in that were the right places for me. Because when I started out some of the copywriters I met they weren’t as driven as me. They weren’t as focused as me. They could be quite negative about their clients and I didn’t really fit into that. I always wanted to seek out the positive people. But of course there were copywriters like me out there, I just hadn’t found them. And you guys creating the community that you’ve created, it’s been amazing for that. I don’t know that I consider it a failure, but I certainly think I could have got to where I am quicker if I’d made different decisions, if that makes sense.
Kira: Yeah. I guess that’s what I want to ask you is, what would those decisions be? You mentioned niching. So choosing a niche earlier. Maybe finding a community earlier. But what would you have done differently or what would you recommend to Liz in 2020 if you had to start from scratch?
Liz: Definitely just learning from people that are already doing what you’re doing. So I learned a lot from other business owners. But they weren’t in the copywriting space so some of the advice they gave me probably wasn’t right. You can totally fast forward by just learning from other copywriters that are already ahead of where you want to be. But I think that goes for anything in life. It makes sense to find the people that are already doing what you want to do and that are slightly ahead of you, maybe a lot ahead of you, and learn from them. And that’s definitely been what’s transformed things for me.
Rob: Is there anything else that you’ve done to work on your mindset in addition to surrounding yourself with the right people? Obviously practice over time. But you mentioned that your mindset has shift … Earlier you were talking about how you never would have asked for referrals as you were starting out. That you needed that confidence. Did it just grow organically again or have you focused on it and done something to make that shift?
Liz: Yeah, I focused on it. A few years ago I did some training. It wasn’t called a mastermind but it was essentially a mastermind. There were eight business owners in it and we met up once a month to do training and it was all around business stuff so sales training and speaking training. And some of the people in this group were multi million pound business owners. They were way ahead of me. And the speaking training we did, we did we would give a talk, speak about something related to our business, and then we would have to stand up in front of everyone and give ourselves feedback on talk we’d given. And what I saw was that these amazing talented business people that were really good at speaking, would just totally beat themselves up and pick up on the worst bits of their talk. And it really hammered it home to me that everyone struggles with this stuff, even the people that seem like they’ve got it together. And by the end of this 12 months that we were on this course, all of us were able to stand up, give our talk and then give ourselves really positive feedback and then maybe pick one or two things that we wanted to improve the next time.
But it was just a total shift from really beating ourselves up about how rubbish our talk was to full on right, where can I find the good things? What was great about my talk? And then okay, here’s a little bit of something I can improve. But always focusing on the positive stuff first. That was really valuable training and I think I read around a lot on the subject as well. One of my books I read every year is The Slight Edge. You almost don’t need to read the book. The ethos is essentially you’re either getting better and better at things and improving things or you’re going downhill, you’re going the other way. You can only be in one of those states. And if you just stay in the constantly improving state rather than getting to a point and then dipping, kind of not staying consistent with what you should be doing, if you keep letting yourself drop off that path, you won’t get where you want to go. Whereas if you stay on that upward trend, you’re going to be in the top 5% of people because hardly anyone does that. So the reading I do has been really vital.
And also, I think saying no to stuff as well. That comes from the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown which I really recommend. It’s about how if you’ve got scattered focus you can’t achieve your goals. You just can’t. You have to focus on the most important stuff and do that really, really well and say no to everything else.
Rob: Yeah. I’m glad you mentioned The Slight Edge and Essentialism because those are two books that are definitely on my grow your capabilities list. I also know because you shared this in an email a week or so ago that you were also reading Personality Isn’t Permanent by Benjamin Hardy which is another book that’s been on my shelf. Are there others that, as you think about that short shelf of books that you’ve really used to improve your mindset or your approach to work, that you would recommend?
Liz: I know that I found Life in Half a Second very useful at the time. I think it’s quite a while since I read it. But that one was very good. I think I listened to that one. Off the top of my head, what else would I suggest? The One Thing which is a similar ethos to Essentialism about focusing on one thing. And also The Big Leap, which I think I’m getting the title right. But that is about how we’ll often try and sabotage ourselves at the point where we hit success. And I think that’s quite a useful read as well. There’s so many. I’m not really allowed to buy any more books. I have so many books. But yeah, those are a few that spring to mind.
Rob: I have the same problem with books. I’m not allowed to buy any more.
Kira: Okay. I believe you mentioned somewhere that you’re saving the bees. So I’d love to hear more about how you’ve integrated causes you care about and creating more impact into your business?
Liz: Yeah, sure so that … I mean that came about from just thinking about whether my business was going in the direction I wanted and an old contact of mine who has bought an organic farm has an arrangement where you can twin a business space or an office with a beehive. And it gave me the idea that I could make that part of each project. So for every project I do with a client, I now twin a beehive with whatever space they want. So obviously a lot us are at home now so it could be their meeting room or their office or it could be their garden or wherever they want. And it just means that money is put towards these beehives into sowing seeds for wildflowers that bees can pollinate. And on top of that, I’ve also started working with The Wildlife Trust which is a conservation charity in the UK. Obviously they can’t do their face to face marketing anymore so I’m helping them put a digital funnel in place so that they can win more members and donors online. So yeah, it’s a couple of things that I’m doing and I’m really keen to look at more stuff that I can do because I love helping business owners. I love helping people grow their businesses and I get a real kick out of it. But it’s not quite enough. I want that extra thing of what else can I do.
Rob: Speaking of what else can you do, what’s next for you? Where are you going with your business as we move towards 2021 and the future?
Liz: I’m in the process of rewriting my website which has been painful. But I’m getting there with it. And part of that, going through that process I have started to package up some of my services. And I’m really toying with the idea actually of having one core service that I promote all the time. So that’s something that will go probably in the next two or three weeks. My website. And I’m also … The next couple of weeks, I’m going to be promoting a seasonal emails package for people in eCommerce to get their emails sorted in time for the holidays, in time for Christmas. So that’s on the horizon as well. And I might revisit a course that I ran in 2017. I’m toying with that idea. It was a course to help solopreneurs, solo business owners write their own emails on a regular basis. Kind of the weekly newsletter email essentially. And help them with the confidence element of that and the copywriting element of that as well.
Kira: Before we wrap Liz, I know you’re a triathlete and I’m kind of like a want to be triathlete. I would love to do a triathlon at some point. So can you share what you’ve learned about business, maybe writing or life from your experience with triathlons?
Liz: Yeah sure. So a couple of years ago … I’m a runner mainly. But a couple of years ago I kept getting injured and I decided I was going to do some shorter runs and combine it with swimming and cycling just as a way to not keep getting injured because it’s a bit less pressure on the old joints when you’re swimming. But a friend persuaded me to do a triathlon with him and we entered one which was in the sea essentially. It was a marine lake but it was a very thin wall between you and the rest of the sea. And that was terrifying to me but I was pretty determined to do it. And I ended up regularly having to put my wetsuit on and get into a lake near where I live just to practice. It did get so much easier the more I did it. And obviously with training as well, there’s that consistency element. You can’t just walk up at the start of a triathlon and expect to be able to complete it without being a complete wreck unless you’ve done the training. So just doing that regular training which I think I have to say Kira, I maybe don’t think it’s a very good combination, copywriting and triathlon, because you have to do so many sessions. I was doing five or six training sessions a week and honestly, it’s too much.
I think it taught me that I need more balance in my life because once I’ve done the triathlon I was like, I’m never doing that again. But it doesn’t teach you have to be super organized because fitting that many sessions in around the rest of your life is quite difficult. So real organization skills. That real consistency of week in week out doing the training and then just getting over your fears. I still don’t love swimming in open water but I can do it now and that has just come from doing it over and over and over again. And I think that that’s really similar to say speaking in front of an audience. You just have to keep doing it until it gets easier.
Rob: Okay so that wraps up our interview with Liz. What stood out most to you in these last few minutes Kira?
Kira: It’s something just subtle, but Liz mentioned slow improvements and The Slight Edge and this idea of either or you’re improving or you’re going downhill. It’s like either you’re living or you’re dying. And I think it’s just … Again, it’s a very simple concept but it’s just a good reminder that in our own businesses, if we’re not looking for those improvements and actively making improvements in different areas of our business on an ongoing basis then we’re actually potentially harming our business or moving backwards. And so I think it could be something very simple, but as simple as working on a project with a client and you make one improvement between this project and the next project you take a month from now. There was one improvement in your onboarding or your process or your deliverables. And that just feels really gratifying and it feels manageable. It doesn’t make me feel overwhelmed like I have to constantly update and overhaul everything. So I love that Liz mentioned that and it’s just a great philosophy for business building and life.
Rob: Yeah, this is something that we talk a little bit about in the underground. There’s a specific training in there about this and we talk about it in the accelerator too. The idea that these little tiny changes and improvements on a daily or a weekly basis can add up to really big changes over time. I mean, we’re all familiar with how compounding works with money and that’s why a little bit of savings early on can create these massive saving’s accounts when we’re say 50, 60 years old. Assuming that we’re doing a little bit every single day. The same thing applies to our knowledge. And if you’re reading 10 pages in a book every day or if you’re spending some kind of time every workday improving a skill, even if it’s just a little improvement like you mentioned, they really add up over time. I remember hearing somebody say that if you listen to a book as you drive to work or run your errands or whatever, if you’re listening to books during that errand time, that over the course of a year and a half or so you’ll listen to as many books as … Or take in the same kind of knowledge if you’re curating those books properly as somebody might to get a PhD about every year and a half or two years.
So if you’re listening to books that help add to your skillset and help you learn, you can actually do quite a bit just a little bit at a time. She’s going through all of these books that she mentioned. Things like The Slight Edge, the Gay Hendricks book about the upper limit problem called The Big Leap. And she mentioned Essentialism. Like all of these resonate with me because they all kind of talk about the same similar thing. Really focusing in on small improvements. The most important thing and trying to break through the limits that are holding us back. So bravo to Liz on the book list. I think it’s awesome.
Kira: Well and it’s really cool too because Liz has been in business, like she said, for at least a decade as a copywriter. She’s not a new copywriter. And she is accomplished in many different ways and has her network and all the processes she shared with us today, yet she still is focused on business growth and learning. And so I think that says a lot about Liz and why she is as successful as she is today and why she will continue to be successful.
Rob: Yep, I agree. And maybe that’s why so many people listen to our podcast and others. Because this is one way to get a little bit better at this craft of copywriting every week just by tuning in and hearing what other people are doing.
Kira: Thanks to Liz for joining us to talk about her business. If you want to connect with Liz or get on her email list or just checkout her website rewrite when she finishes it, go to commacomma.co.uk. That’s C-O-M-M-A-C-O-M-M-A.co.uk. Or find her on LinkedIn where she may just comment on one of your posts.
Rob: That’s the end of another episode of The Copywriter Club podcast. Our intro music was composed by copywriter and songwriter Addison Rice. The outro was composed by copywriter and songwriter, David Muntner. If you’ve been looking for a mastermind group to help you do more with your business in the coming year, The Copywriter Think Tank is open for a few select additional members right now. Learn more by visiting copywriterthinktank.com. Thanks for listening and we will see you next week.