Carolyn McMurray is our guest on the 337th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. Carolyn is a copywriter and host of a community designed for generation Z to learn about copywriting. But how does one start a community and grow towards 100+ members? Tune into the episode to find out.
You’ll also discover:
- Carolyn’s accidental discovery of copywriting and how she landed her first gig.
- Her advice for getting her business started if she had to do it all over again.
- How she fell into the tech niche.
- Why she decided to build and grow a community for gen Z?
- What’s her community all about and how does she benefit from it?
- Should you label yourself as a junior copywriter?
- When she increased her rates and began to build her reputation and brand.
- How to create a copywriting portfolio that stands out.
- Where she gathers inspiration to write her list weekly.
- Why she doesn’t take herself too seriously and how it benefits her brand.
- Carolyn’s advice for building a successful community.
- Mistakes she’s made in the growth of her community and what to avoid.
- Why you need something to get you out of your head.
- Using ChatGTP for writer’s block – does it really help?
- Thinking about marketing to gen z? Here’s some advice from a gen z’er.
- Using AI and the future of copywriting for upcoming generations.
Listen to the episode by hitting play or checking out the transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:The Copywriter Think Tank
Connect with Carolyn
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground
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Rob Marsh: Way back in 1991, two academics, William Straus and Neil Howell came up with a theory about a generational cycle in American and Western history. And in their theory, they defined 13 different generations starting from the founding of the American colonies and running right up to the publication of their book. Actually, it goes farther back than those 13, but that’s where they focused on. Their work is partially responsible for the way that marketers talk today about different generations like Generation X, Millennials, who are at one point also called Generation Y and Gen Z, which some academics like to call the homeland generation.
So, why the long introduction about generations to start this episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast? Well, our guest for this episode is Carolyn McMurray. She’s a member of Generation Z and the founder of a copywriting group exclusively for Gen Z copywriters. We asked her about how she got her start in copywriting, building a portfolio, outdated writing advice, overcoming writer’s block, and what to do if you’re writing to Gen Z.
Stick around. This is a pretty good discussion.
Kira Hug: That might be your most Rob Marsh-esque introduction that you’ve ever created.
Rob Marsh: I don’t know.
Kira Hug: I love it. I love it. All right, so before we jump into the interview, if you haven’t heard yet, we just launched our newest podcast, AI for Creative Entrepreneurs, which officially has dropped this week with new episodes, which we’ll share regularly on YouTube and also wherever you stream your podcasts. So again, that’s AI for Creative Entrepreneurs. You can also check out the site where you can sign up for regular updates so you never miss an episode as we’re trying our best to figure out what’s happening with AI and apply it in our businesses and in our creative lives.
And, we won’t pass up the opportunity to also mention our mastermind, The Copywriter Think Tank, which is, in my opinion, the best place to go if you are a writer and you want to figure out what is the next thing in your business; the next offer, the next product, the next revenue stream. We’ve really figured out how to help writers create a pivot in their business and achieve that next level result, whatever that is for you. And you can learn more about that mastermind and coaching experience at copywriterthinktank.com.
Rob Marsh: Okay, let’s kick off our episode with Carolyn McMurray.
Carolyn McMurray: So basically my journey, I’d say, started when I was about 17. No one had taught me about copywriting at school. It was always: become a teacher. I was doing a lot of my own blog stuff and social media captions just for myself, but I never knew that it could be a career. So I thought, “Let’s go to university, study business” because everyone was saying you should study business. And, I hated it. I left after a month, went back again to study English because I was better at that. I liked it. It just wasn’t wasn’t me. I just didn’t like being told what to read and Shakespeare … I like Shakespeare, but I don’t know. It wasn’t for me. And while I was there, I actually ended up doing a bit of blog writing for this law firm. And again, they didn’t tell me it was copywriting and I didn’t clock that this was copywriting, it was just writing for a law firm.
And then in some funny stroke of luck, in that same month, I found out about freelance copywriting and I was like, “Oh, wow. I can do what I’ve been doing for the past couple years already and make a living out of it and travel, and be my own boss.” It sounded like a gimmick, a scam. I was like, “Can you even do that?” And then I found out you could quit … my parents were really upset with me … moved back home. Spent a month building a portfolio and then from there, it’s just been evolving up.
Rob Marsh: Okay, so I want to go back to the month of business school. I graduated with a degree in business, actually a second degree in business, but tell me what you hated about it and maybe more important, because I think a lot of people get into something and get started with something that they hate. I had this experience with law school actually, and they don’t know how to get out. And so I’m curious why was it okay to quit?
Carolyn McMurray: So first of all, the reason I didn’t like it… I think if I went back now with the mindset I have now to study business, obviously running this community is almost like a business so it would have helped. But back then they were throwing around words that I just didn’t understand, and I don’t think they properly… I don’t know, it just wasn’t explained well enough. Maybe it was just that university. There was a bit of math involved. I’m very, very bad at math. I didn’t stick it out. I probably would have enjoyed it if I could go back now.
I think I just quit because I didn’t like it. I didn’t really think too much about it. And also, I just knew I wasn’t going to be able to get a good grade if I stayed so I was like, “There’s no point in staying in something that I’m not fully enjoying.”
Kira Hug: When did you feel like, “Okay, I can do this copywriting thing? I’ve got it.” Was there a moment?
Carolyn McMurray: Probably in my second gig. So the first one I got, it was good. It was a starting point. I think it was 30 pounds per 1000 words, which is not really normal but I was like, “I’m just going to take it.” But the second one was when I started really feeling like I understood things, and I was starting to know and value my work a lot more, and charge a proper rate.
Yeah, the second one was for an agency in Dubai and that’s when I felt like, “Okay, I’m really starting to get the hang of it now.” And, that’s a bit ambitious. I think it was six months later, but yeah, I felt like I had gotten it then.
Rob Marsh: Tell us about that process. You went home after leaving school and you spent a month building your portfolio. What was that thinking process? What were you writing? What did you want to include so that you could use that to build your business?
Carolyn McMurray: So I went back home and for me, building the portfolio was just something I really needed to do because obviously I didn’t have any experience and it seemed like every job was asking for experience and I was like, “I don’t have any.” So I thought, “Let me build samples up of my work.”
And obviously, I didn’t actually have anything to begin with, so I wrote a few things for brands, made up, spec pieces, made it clear it was a spec piece. I think one of them was for Airbnb, a blog post. I also emailed two companies. They were both startups. One was a healthcare thing, and then the other one was … what was it? It was this app for food. And I said, “I’m starting out. I would love to write something for you for free.” And, they said yes.
Yeah, and that’s how it started off because I didn’t mind taking work for free because I felt like there was really no other option at the time for me. There were no internships running. And another part of the reason, if I’m being super honest, I love my parents but there were just some issues there. It’s not a completely sane family, so I just needed to get out. So that was also another really big push just to do it quickly.
Kira Hug: What advice would you give to other Gen Z-ers who know they don’t want to do business school, they don’t want to do these other things that have been pushed toward them and they might be interested in something creative, like copywriting. What do you wish you were told earlier on when you were just getting started?
Carolyn McMurray: I think building a portfolio, you can go down that route and dive straight in. That’s great. I probably wouldn’t have dived straight into freelancing. That was quite difficult. I probably would have gone in-house first and learned properly for a year or two and just had more stability. I’d probably also say there’s other options, like ad school, portfolio school. I probably would have done that if I could go back because that seemed really interesting and more specific to copywriting.
I would have maybe done a copywriting course. I know you don’t need to do it to get into it, but I do think it would have massively helped me and sped up the process. And also, just joining a community, any kind of copywriting community. It doesn’t have to be mine. It could be your guys’ or anyone. I think just to get that support and not just be completely by yourself, because I didn’t have anyone to talk to so I was making stuff up as I went.
Rob Marsh: I think all of those are really good points, really good advice. And actually, some of my career follows some of that advice. I think oftentimes we skip forward, we’re so excited about jumping into the thing that sometimes we skip over those first steps. I’m curious, Carolyn, you built the portfolio, you’ve had one or two clients, what were the next steps? How did you identify the kinds of clients that you wanted to work with, niche, and what was the work that started coming your way? And I think ultimately I’d love to know how that’s changed over the course of your business.
Carolyn McMurray: So at the start, I think for a good while, I didn’t know who I wanted to write for. I’m not going to lie, I think for me at the start, it was just about money. I just wanted to get more money. What can I get to get the next increase in the day rate? I ended up going into tech. It paid quite well and I did enjoy it. I actually still do a bit now. Some of it can be a little bit dry though sometimes. I’m working with someone and they look like they’re going to change their stance a bit and make it a bit more fun, but they called it, I think they said Ad Tech on coke. And, I was like, “Okay, that’s going to be a fun one to do and not just dry stuff.”
And I’m still doing that, but I also… Well, I don’t do it anymore. I used to work for this agency that did copywriting for brands like TikTok and [inaudible 00:10:13]. They would swear and be really ballsy. I really liked that, but now that I’m running a community, I’m still doing copywriting but I’ve scaled it down a bit so I can focus more on the community.
My niche, I pretty much say it’s still evolving. I’m still pretty much in tech. I wouldn’t mind changing it up one day, but for now, I’m happy with that. But yeah, I’ll probably experiment in the future. There’s still many years ahead of me.
Kira Hug: I’m wondering what advice you feel like you’ve heard, or that you’ve been told maybe even on podcasts like this one or other similar ones where you’re like, “Yeah, that sounds great, but that doesn’t really apply to me or people like me, or people my age.” If any specific examples stand out.
Carolyn McMurray: That’s a good one. I think one I saw, which is a bit of a fringe example, this is one I feel bad … I think most people wouldn’t say this. But one was saying something like, “Stop applying to applications, gigs, that you have no experience for, that don’t meet all of the exact requirements because you’re wasting our time.” And I was like, “I don’t really agree with that.” There’s so many times that I’ve had to apply to gigs and not had a degree, not had three years of experience and it says it’s entry level, but I’ve applied to it and I’ve written my way into the application and showed how good of a writer I am by the way I approach the application. And then sometimes, I’ve actually gotten the gig.
So, I didn’t agree with that. But I know most people actually wouldn’t say that. That was just one person.
Kira Hug: You’re like, “There’s one specific person who told me that one.” Anything else? Anything else comes to mind? I know I’m putting you on the spot-
Rob Marsh: I want to out this person. I want to out this person.
Kira Hug: It was me.
Carolyn McMurray: It just seemed a bit jaded. But, I can’t think of anything on the spot. I feel like that one overshadowed everything. Pretty much all the advice people have given so far have been pretty helpful. I think sometimes I just take it and I twist it to suit me a little better.
But I think a lot of it’s changing. I’ve never been told you need to get a degree or you should go to university to study copywriting. That was the only one.
Rob Marsh: So, you’ve mentioned the community that you run a couple of times, and I think this may have been how I discovered you and saw that you were out there. But you’ve created this community for very young copywriters, I think Gen Z. I’m not exactly sure how you describe that community but tell us where the idea came from. With all of the communities that are already out there… ours is one, obviously… Why another community? What’s different about it?
Carolyn McMurray: So all the other communities out there, I think they’re great. I joined a few as well and they were cool. I just think some of the times I felt a little bit out of place, like I couldn’t really relate. And, I wanted to meet up with people over the video, and sometimes not just talk about copywriting. Obviously I haven’t joined your community, so this is just another one. But sometimes it just felt awkward to have a chat about the everyday life of a dude that’s older than me.
Kira Hug: With a Rob? With Rob Marsh?
Rob Marsh: What are you trying to say right now?
Carolyn McMurray: No, it was just like, “Oh, let’s have a coffee.” I don’t know, it was just weird. That’s just me. They were fine. I just didn’t feel like I could properly fit in so I thought let me create a space, just the Gen Z, and also people that are wanting to get into copywriting, young aspiring copywriters.
It started off as a newsletter back in September of 2022 and then that started getting a lot of traction, and I got DMs from other young people saying, “Hey, can you help me? Can you create a space for us?” I thought, “Well, there’s something here. Let me create it.” And now it seems to be going really well.
I think it’s a safe space just for us to obviously learn more about copywriting and level up in our career, but also be super weird. The members created this really weird hamster meme that doesn’t make any sense, and then it got into Ad Age and I was like, “That’s just weird.” It was super weird.
Rob Marsh: It’s so funny that you mentioned that because our members also created a very similar… They used a mole rat. It’s gross actually.
Kira Hug: Rob never liked the mole. I always liked the mole. A cute little rodent. Who wouldn’t like a little rodent as your mascot. I guess I wonder, there are other community members, other writers who love community. Not everyone’s a community person, but some people really are excited to start one. How did you know there’s something here? I can build from here? You said it’s going well. How do you know when it’s going well? Because sometimes people start communities and they don’t know. Is it? Is it not? Is it worth putting time into?
Carolyn McMurray: I think I started knowing it was going well… just the numbers. A lot of people my age also don’t even know copywriting exists, so it was hard in a way because I was targeting people that didn’t even know that what I did existed or the career existed. Because it’s not just Gen Z copywriters I’m targeting, it’s also just Gen Z in general that want to get into writing. I think I have around 114 members now. It’s only been three, four months and they’re paying. And to me, that’s confirmation that it’s going well and the community itself is really thriving. They’re talking about it, they’re sharing it without me even asking about it. They want merch. To me, that’s all signs that it’s going well because in a way it’s almost running itself, the discord that we have. Hopefully, it still goes well.
Kira Hug: I guess we can’t be in it if we’re… I’m Gen Y so I feel like I might have a better shot than Rob who’s Gen X, but I feel like I might not be allowed either, which is a bummer. How do we sneak in?
Carolyn McMurray: As a speaker on one of the calls?
Kira Hug: No. I think it’s so wonder to have that space. I didn’t know copywriting was a thing, either. It made sense later when I found out but I didn’t know it was a career path. I didn’t know it was a freelancing gig until much later, and I wish that I had known in my early 20s. It would have made so many things so much easier and I think it’s great that you are not just reaching writers, but you’re reaching non-writers to say, “Hey, there’s this thing you can do too.”
Carolyn McMurray: Yeah, that’s part of the mission because I would’ve loved to find out about it as well much sooner. I would’ve not gone to university at all. Obviously you can if you want to, but it just wasn’t for me.
Rob Marsh: So Carolyn, as you think about where you’ve come in your career, let’s just talk about writing advice. Whether you’re talking to Gen Z or even older copywriters, how do you teach people in your community or your newsletter to become better writers? What stuff are you teaching?
Carolyn McMurray: I do give advice in the newsletter, and obviously in the community there are resources, but a lot of the advice I give in the community is built with other copywriters, other speakers that have come on. I don’t like being the main source, just because I know that I’m also evolving. I’m still very young. I’m just 22, and there’s probably so many blind spots I haven’t figured out so a lot of it is collaborated on with other copywriters that have a lot more experience. But in my newsletter especially, I think I take an approach of telling people to be conversational a bit more because a lot of young people, that I know anyway, when they come into copywriting, they’re like, “Oh wow, this is way different than university writing.” It’s not super full of jargon and complex words.
There’s this thing with synonyms as well. Back in school it was like the more synonyms you could fit into a piece, the better it was and now in copywriting you don’t do that, and I had to unlearn so much stuff. So, a lot of that’s part of it.
A lot of it’s me collaborating with other copywriters in the field that have way more experience than me.
Kira Hug: What are some of the downsides that you feel like you’ve had or obstacles that you’ve come across as a Gen Z writer coming at it at a younger age, building your business as a freelancer at a younger age, that you’ve overcome that you could share with us?
Carolyn McMurray: Probably a big one, and it sounds really cliche, but not knowing my value and worth and not aligning how much I charge with that. I’m not a big fan of the junior label. I feel like if it doesn’t hold you back in your head, that’s fine. I just know it really held me back. And that’s maybe controversial, but I just scrapped it from my title completely a year ago. I don’t use it anymore. I just feel like it’s more about how well you can write. So sometimes I feel if you’re just as good a writer as the senior guy on the team, maybe even out writing him, why shouldn’t you get paid more? I know experience is super important and that shouldn’t be undervalued, especially if you’ve had loads of years in the industry, but I also think there’s something to be said for fresh emerging talent that is so amazing at what they’re doing, but just because of their age, people look at it and go, “Oh, they should get lower pay,” even though they’re putting out the same amazing level of work.
But I do get they have to be mentored maybe by other people on the team. But yeah, it’d probably be knowing my value and my worth because I got paid quite badly a lot of the time at the start, and I think if I’d known my value and my worth, I wouldn’t have gotten paid like that. Especially negotiation, I think that’s important sometimes as a freelancer. Not just going on a call for someone and them asking you, “How much do you charge?,” and then just spitting out something. I prefer to go away and think about it before just saying a number because I tend to just undervalue my … still now, I still undervalue myself.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, let’s dive into that just a little bit. How has your pricing changed? I know you mentioned the first project was for 30 pounds, or something like that. And of course, we’ve talked to literally hundreds of copywriters and almost everybody has that $25 blog post or the $200 website that they did and start to realize, “Okay, wait, this is way more time-consuming than I thought.” But how has that evolved just from there to where you are today?
Carolyn McMurray: I think I’ve upped my day rate. Not just that, but I’ve also done this thing called the three tiered payment model. It’s this proposal method. When someone wants to work with me, I go away and I do a three tiered thing. So the first tier is super low, hasn’t got much on it, they can’t really get that much for it. The second tier is everything they need anyway and then the more reasonable price, and then the third one is just ridiculous. I’ve done it before and they usually always pick the middle one because obviously it’s surrounded by these two opposites. They’ve never picked the third one, which is actually good because it has way too much stuff in there that I’d be able to do. But, that’s massively helped.
I think another thing, like I said a minute ago, just not being pressured on calls. I keep making that mistake a lot when I go on a call and they ask and I just go, “Oh, I get paid this.” And it’s actually like, “Yeah, but they’re working for a huge brand. I’m sure you could actually ask more.” So, just taking time away to think about it and then come back, that’s helped me evolve my rate.
Kira Hug: All right, let’s cut in here. Rob, an idea or two from this conversation?
Rob Marsh: I started bolding out some of the things that really stood out to me as I was re-listening to our interview with Carolyn. I think we just started out by talking about the things that she quit in order to find the thing that was the better fit. Quitting university twice, we talked a little bit about that and I think there’s something there just worth underlining around if something’s not working for you, quitting is not a bad thing. Sticking with something that doesn’t work for you is not going to produce the results that you want. I think a lot of times we get hung up, and even copywriters, we’re trying to make a business work and we’re not cut out to be freelancers necessarily or to own our own businesses. We maybe would be a better fit in-house or working for an agency, or maybe there’s even a better fit from writing words to strategy and other things that we do.
And so if you’re listening to this and you’re thinking, “This thing I’m doing isn’t working,” quitting is not bad. And it’s probably even better if you’re listening and you’re thinking, “I’m a teacher” or “I’m tired of the profession that I’m in,” or, “I’m a university student and this thing’s just not working for me. I want to quit that and do something else.” Well then, copywriting might be the thing that pulls you out of that and makes quitting worthwhile.
Kira Hug: Yeah, I am great at quitting. I am a master quitter. And, I think we can just embrace micro-quitting in our businesses too. It doesn’t mean you’re quitting your business, but if you work with a horrible client or have a bad experience, or you do something that you’re like, “Ugh, I don’t know why I did that. That didn’t really get the result I wanted,” just taking note of it and quitting and not doing that again and making those micro-pivots in our business so we can shape it into something we actually like and want to do.
Rob Marsh: And Carolyn also mentioned while we were talking about that as she was thinking of some of the things she might do differently if she were going through that again, she mentioned portfolio school. There are several portfolio schools that help people build a portfolio, get into advertising agencies. We talked with Luke Sullivan about that when we had him on the podcast a year and a half or so ago. You can obviously start out working in-house or working for an agency, so there are other ways to do the things that we do. So if you feel like it’s not working, you don’t have to whole-self quit. I like, as you said, micro-quit. Micro-quit the thing that’s not working, and lean into something in your business that is.
Kira Hug: And so, Carolyn is not only nurturing this community and building this community, but bringing people into the community, which I think is what makes a community powerful. It’s introducing people who are outside of a community into the ideas and opportunities that exist when you’re part of the community. There’s so many different Gen Z members who aren’t part of the community because they don’t even know that copywriting is a career they could pursue, just like I had no idea when I was in college and in my 20s. I had no idea this was an opportunity until later. I think that’s the power of a community. It’s introducing people to these ideas and saying, “Hey, you could do this too, and here’s how you can get involved.”
I also felt like there was an awkward moment because I’m awkward where I tried to invite myself into-
Rob Marsh: You want to hang out with the cool kids.
Kira Hug: And she was very nice about it, but I was asking if I could be part of the community even though I’m Gen Y and not Gen Z, and clearly I just want to be part of all communities, but I’m not invited. I think my attachment is just around the letter Z because Rob, we’ve talked about naming and letters and how important they are to people and the letter Z is really important to me because of my maiden name, which is Zmuda. So anyway, I feel a special attachment to that letter. I just want to be part of it. Carolyn, if you ever bring in special guests, please invite me.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, obviously we care a lot about communities. We built our own community when some of the other communities that we were in weren’t quite what we wanted. If you’re listening to this and you’re not part of the free Facebook group, The Copywriter Club, come find us there. But we also build community into everything that we do, into our Think Tank mastermind, into The Underground, which is another paid community for copywriters who are maybe not where they want to be in their business. They’re just starting out or they’re really just trying to make those first investments, do the first things to learn those business skills.
Community is a huge part of success, and I think way too many of us, especially when we’re freelancing, working from home, we try to go out on our own. We feel like, “Well, Google will help me get there. Maybe, ChatGPT will help me get there.” And, it’s just not the same. It’s why we do our in-person events and retreats. There’s so much power in hanging out with people virtually, but also in real life. Communities just make a massive difference.
So again, if you’re not part of one of our communities, please find us online and join.
Kira Hug: And you can be part of multiple communities. Each one can serve you in a different way. And as you grow as a business owner, as a creative, the communities you need also change too, and so that’s the fun part about finding new communities and experiencing them.
Rob Marsh: Kira, you asked about advice that maybe doesn’t apply to Gen Z, which was interesting. And Carolyn mentioned the idea that we shouldn’t apply for gigs without the right experience. This is actually something I’ve seen in a different context where when we talk about the difference in what women and men charge or earn for their work, oftentimes men will look at the job requirements, and if they meet about 60, 70% of the requirements, then they’ll submit an application. Women will … and I know I’m generalizing a bit here, but this is from the studies that I’ve seen … oftentimes they’ll look at it and if they don’t meet 100% of the requirements, they won’t apply.
And because of that, they don’t get opportunities where somebody who’s making that hiring decision would’ve considered them with the 60% of checking the boxes. I know Carolyn was talking about it from a generational standpoint, but this is also specifically to a men/woman difference thing as well, and I think it’s worth paying attention to. We should give ourselves permission to apply for things that seem interesting. Of course, if you’re totally unqualified, yeah, don’t waste somebody’s time but if you’re halfway there and you’re interested in it, it might be worth putting yourself out there.
Kira Hug: Yeah, that’s such a great point. We were just chatting in our Think Tank Slack about this very same thing because I just gave myself a title on LinkedIn as of yesterday from a conversation, so I added my title as AIO, which is Artificial Intelligence Optimization writer, which is a new title that I’m experimenting with. And this writer I was chatting with was like, “Hey, how did you feel like you could own that title?” What gives you the right to own that title basically. How much experience do you need to have, et cetera. And I just feel like, yeah, women typically do feel like we need to check all these boxes before we can take on a title or apply for that job. And, we don’t necessarily need to do that. If we have some experience and we know a little bit more than the client that’s hiring us, then why not do that? Why not own it and step into it?
Because titles are made up. They’re mostly a joke. I think most of them are dumb, but sometimes they do matter. And so, can you look at your own titles and how you define yourself and how you position yourself, and just evaluate and be really honest about how you’re presenting yourself and is that matching how you want to show up, how you want to serve your clients, how you want to attract people? And if it’s not, then maybe you should look at your title and how you’re speaking about yourself and what you’re doing and take on something that feels a little bit bigger that you want to fulfill, even if you just have a little bit of experience in it.
Because as a woman, I guarantee there are other men who are doing that, even though they have less experience than you.
Rob Marsh: Specifically, Caroline was talking about dropping the junior from her title, which is we don’t need permissions to change our titles. I encourage people to do that. If you’re not writing at a junior level, for sure change your title. In fact, as we go back to listening to the rest of this conversation with Carolyn, she’s going to talk a little bit more about that experience and how she gained confidence in her writing career and learned more about understanding her own values. So, let’s go back to that now.
Kira Hug: I would love to hear just more about what you’ve done, because it’s been about five years since you started?
Carolyn McMurray: Yeah, yeah.
Kira Hug: So over the five years, what are some of the things you’ve done to attract those bigger name clients that you’re mentioning and to stand out, differentiate yourself to build your reputation and brand? What are those action steps?
Carolyn McMurray: I would say, again, valuing myself and positioning myself as a really good copywriter and taking away the junior title. That’s just me, though. I know some people would disagree with me, but I feel like it’s held me back a bit. Just because there’s a natural perception in people’s heads of the word junior, so I just take it away. I think a big thing for me was creating a proper portfolio website. I know there’s a lot of people in my community that still just have a Google Drive folder, which isn’t bad at the start. It’s fine.
But later, if you want to level up and start reaching the big, shiny brands, it helps to have a really cool portfolio. And design, I feel, is important because it’s aesthetically pleasing.
And obviously, LinkedIn was a big one for me. Being more active on there, and also just really being myself and not toning down my voice, even if I want to work for a brand that’s completely different to me. I swear on LinkedIn, I put pictures of hamsters up. So, just being authentically me I think has really helped.
But also, I feel like the big brands are also not great. They’re amazing, they’re the big sexy brands, but some of the smaller guys are also great to work with and can bring in some more stable income.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, when you’re working with big brands, obviously you have to work with their voice. You have less impact, and smaller brands, you can maybe do some things that are a little bit more fun. There are definitely trade-offs. Money is a trade-off. Time is often a trade-off in the kind of work that you get to do.
I’m curious, this newsletter that you put together, send out every week, we know how hard sometimes the discipline of writing to an audience consistently can be. We try to email our list every day, although we don’t both write every single day.
Kira Hug: I could not do that.
Rob Marsh: It would maybe be a little much. I admire people who do that, but talk to me a little bit about your process for putting together the email, how you’re coming up with the ideas, the time that goes into it before you hit send.
Carolyn McMurray: I basically keep a bank of ideas, like a Google Doc, and I just add to that throughout the week. Anything. Usually I have to set some time to actually do that, otherwise it never gets done, because obviously weekly is quite a lot, especially when I have all this other stuff going on. And I won’t lie, sometimes I have written the newsletter on the day and it comes out sometimes actually really good, because you’re pushed to really make it happen and make it good.
But most of the time, it’s advanced and I find that having an idea bank really helps. I also find, and this is a bit weird, but sometimes I make Pinterest boards of images. I don’t know, I feel like to me, images really help. I don’t really know what I’m putting together when I do it. It’s just things that speak to me that have no meaning behind it.
I also found that there’s a site called GIPHY where you can find GIFs. It’s super weird, sometimes I just go in there, scroll through and get an idea from looking at a GIF. That’s some of the stuff I do that are a bit weird.
Rob Marsh: Okay, I’m going to have to steal the GIPHY idea. Our next emails will be GIPHY-based.
Kira Hug: I love a good GIPHY. What else? I would love to hear more about creativity and how you channel creativity into your business, maybe into the community. And, you mentioned Pinterest. That’s a great idea. GIPHY. What else do you build into your life as a creative so that you feel energized?
Carolyn McMurray: I think it’s definitely taking time away. Again, that sounds like everyone says that, but I feel like my life right now is 24/7 writing. Even though I run the community, I do all my own marketing as well, so it never really stops.
I surf sometimes. I find going to the beach and surfing and… I’m not good at it, but getting battered by the waves and getting scared. It sounds a bit sadistic, but just getting hauled about the ocean brings me back to reality. I can’t really focus on anything else when I’m out there. If you focus on something else, you’re going to get smashed, so that grounds me and then I come back refreshed.
I feel really grateful for everything, and I feel like sometimes you have to take time away from something you love to reignite it and fall back in love with it. Otherwise, it just gets into this monotonous everyday thing. A bit like a relationship. Two people living together forever, you need to add a bit of distance and spice to it. So, surfing does it for me.
Rob Marsh: So you mentioned you’re doing all of the marketing. Talk about that process as well. Where are you showing up? Where are you attracting people to your business as well as to your community? What are you doing there?
Carolyn McMurray: So mainly I just use Instagram. I should really get on TikTok. It’s the one thing as a Gen Z that I really should love and understand, but I really don’t. But to me, Instagram has brought nearly everybody. LinkedIn, as well, but Instagram mostly. A lot of the stuff I do to attract people on Instagram, it’s either me poking fun of myself or even the community in a way, not taking myself too seriously and just being weird with it. I know that sounds weird in itself, but Gen Z humor I find, or at least the humor that me and my friends… the young 20 year olds, because Gen Z is from 16 to 26. Obviously, there’ll probably be a difference. A lot of the humor is just really unexplainable.
My boyfriend’s a bit older, he’s in his 30s and I was scrolling through Instagram reels and he just didn’t understand any of the stuff that I found funny. It was a picture of a burger and just weird music in the background and he was like, “What is this?” Some of my posts are like that, and some of them are not even related to copywriting at all. Someone in the community has this thing with apple juice and orange juice, and he thinks apple juice is better than orange juice so I made a post on Instagram, completely unrelated to the community or copywriting, and was like, “What’s better? Orange juice or apple juice?”
I got hundreds of comments. I was like, “That’s weird.” It works, mixing it up a bit and not just being super focused on just copywriting I find helps a bit.
Kira Hug: What does it take to build a… I don’t know if strong is the right word, but to build a membership, a real membership, a real community. Definitely what you’ve shared already about being authentic, you as the organizer and setting that tone from the beginning, but what else have you learned or has surprised you along the way?
Carolyn McMurray: I think two things. I found that having a group of people to help me to set up in the first place. I have a group of founding members, they’re all Gen Z copywriters, and having them to bounce ideas off of and also to move the focus away from me sometimes because I really don’t want to… it’s almost like you are the leader of the community and I don’t want it to be weird, “Oh, the leader.” It’s weird. I like to just bring them in.
If stuff does go wrong, if we’re all in it together… Another one that was a funny learning for me was I think it’s weird, I don’t know if it’s because I’m still quite young and I have to get used to it, it’s taking my ego out of it. It’s not about it. Sometimes I really want to do something for the community. I’ll ask them, “Hey, do you want to do it?” And then, a lot of them will say no and I’ll be like, “Uh, it’s such a good idea.”
But it’s not about me. It’s about what they want out of it at the end of the day. I’m still trying to learn and adjust to that part.
Rob Marsh: As you’re thinking through that, what are some of the mistakes that you’ve made along the way?
Carolyn McMurray: That’s a good one. I think one of them, it’s a bit unrelated to that, but we started out on WhatsApp. That was just a massive mistake. It was great, but it was super chaotic. You went on and there were 1000 messages in an hour. It was just one chat. It wasn’t focused on copywriting. It was everything. Also, moderation. I really wanted the community to be open and you could be weird, but I didn’t really put a line in.
I don’t know if I can say this, but some people suddenly were talking about BDMS and I was like, “What? This has nothing to do with … This is weird.” And some people were getting offended, so I needed to moderate the community better. So moving to Discord really helped because I could put in bots and I put in rules.
So structuring it better and knowing that at the end of the day, it is my community and I have to shape how I want that to look, and I don’t really want people to talk about stuff like that. So, that was a big mistake.
I think another one, it would be the ego thing as well, doing things sometimes when people had already told me, “We don’t really want this actually,” and me just going through with it because I thought, “They’ll see that it’s a great idea.” Those are the main two things.
Kira Hug: How do you grow the community from here? What’s your plan looking forward? Is it just focusing on what’s working, more Instagram, more being weird on Instagram? What does that plan look like?
Carolyn McMurray: It’s a big one. I feel like I need to continue marketing. I need to try other channels like TikTok. I feel like there’s a big audience there for me. Organic, I sometimes promote this stuff on Instagram using my own funds which works really well but it’ll be nice to do it organically as well.
I think another one would be investment. Obviously, I’ll continue to grow if I do the same amount of effort that I am now. I’ll probably be at 300 by the end of the year, but I also have a time limit on this. I’m 22. I’m not going to be 22 forever so I think that just getting a little bit of the shots would really help because I’m funding everything right now with advertising.
And also, getting some to help with the admin because I feel like I’m answering 60 messages from different people in one day, and stuff like that doesn’t help with the growth. So taking away the stuff that’s not really pushing it forward and then me focusing just on the stuff that I know will grow it. That’s the main goal right now.
Rob Marsh: So as we’re talking, earlier today you sent out your newsletter and it was focused on writer’s block… well that was one of the topics… and I know you even created some resources for your community around writer’s block. Talk a little bit about that. When you get stuck, what do you do to unstuck yourself?
Carolyn McMurray: So the funny thing is actually that newsletter I wrote today, so that was one of those moments-
Rob Marsh: Yes, you were blocked up until…
Carolyn McMurray: Yeah. Until that moment, I went surfing. That seemed to help. Also, I feel like this is not really good advice, actually, but having the pressure of needing to get it in. Sometimes you need to write something, but usually when I have writer’s block, sometimes I use ChatGPT. Not to copy and paste, like maybe you saw in resources. I just prompt it for some ideas. I might say, “Hey …” I don’t say hey to it, but I just go, “I’m writing about this. Can you give me some ideas?”
And it will give me a line, and then I might take that and execute it creatively if I’m really struggling. Usually, I pull something out of somewhere. I usually go to the bank of ideas and just pull stuff out.
A lot of the stuff I do to overcome writer’s block I’ve set up already, like I have the Pinterest board. I’ll have a podcast. I like reading and listening to stuff that isn’t always copywriting related as well, and then writing down a few ideas from that and bringing unrelated stuff together.
But that’s mainly it for me. Today was a bit on the edge with the newsletter.
Kira Hug: Oh my god, I’m blanking on the question I was just about to ask. When marketers focus on Gen Z, all size businesses, we’re talking large, maybe smaller ones that want to get your attention. What are some of the mistakes you feel like you see made repeatedly that they need to stop?
Carolyn McMurray: I think one of them is sometimes using outdated stuff. I think I read a report about what Gen Z do, and it was quite recent as well, and they were using words like, “Oh, Gen Z uses words like cheugy and cray-cray.” I was like, “No one does that. We don’t even-
Rob Marsh: What’s cray-cray?
Kira Hug: Cray-cray may be Gen Y.
Carolyn McMurray: That was just me, but then I asked people in my community and my other friends and they were like, “This is a bit much.” They were saying we used emojis for a certain reason and it’s like, “Actually, we don’t. It’s not thought out.” People are so focused on psychoanalyzing why we do what we do. And like I said, the hamster meme, sometimes there’s just no meaning behind it. So I really think it helps to hire a Gen Z copywriter or marketer, or get someone Gen Z in just to look at it and ideate.
Not every brand that’s put out stuff for Gen Z, who them themselves aren’t Gen Z, is bad but if it goes bad, it just looks really cringey, and I think it’s a lot easier to get away with being cringe if you’re Gen Z.
Like me, there’s some stuff on my Instagram, it’s borderline embarrassing but it’s fine because it’s more authentic because it’s coming from me. I feel like there was this one brand called Wilsonville Honda, they’re a car dealership in America. It’s the un-sexy brand that no one really knows about. And, they have an Instagram and some of the stuff they post is just super weird, and it’s unpolished and I feel like that’s something that really works well with Gen Z.
Sometimes making it look not good… I can’t explain it but making it look super unpolished, that seems to work well. And, making fun of yourself as a brand, I think, especially if you’re a brand that’s a little bit dull and you know it, it’s fun to call yourself out. Not in a bad way, but just recognizing that and playing with it and using it to your advantage.
And then sometimes also, there’s brands that you don’t need to market to Gen Z. You’ll never really need Gen Z so don’t try… You have a market of other people that is huge. I don’t know, you’re a toothpaste brand for people in care homes. Why? You don’t need to go to Gen Z. Just sometimes you don’t need to do that.
Rob Marsh: You won’t remember this, and Kira, you might not even remember this but when I was younger, Oldsmobile, which is a very old brand, released a new model and the whole tagline was, “Not your father’s Oldsmobile.” It was supposed to appeal to younger people. And of course, it falls completely flat because every Oldsmobile is an old person’s car. So, I can see that happening for sure.
So Carolyn, you’re obviously very young. You mentioned yourself you could be doing this for a very long time. So, where do you see your business evolving to? This is a horrible interview question, but five years from now, 10 years from now, where do you see yourself being in copywriting? Whether it’s with your community, working with clients, what does that look like?
Carolyn McMurray: Ideally, I’m not sure what the timeframe on this is, it’s ambitious, but I’d like to get to 1000 members. I feel like that would be my happy point. Also, to make it more sustainable because right now it’s a low membership fee. I think it’s 12 pounds a month, which is great and it’s accessible to young people, but it’s not exactly sustainable and I know that. So, I also want to build something on the side with that, like a recruitment agency but just the Gen Z copywriters. Because, I’ve gotten lots of brands reach out to me saying, “Hey, we want to dip into your community.” And usually I’ve just been like, “There you go, have it. Dip in.” Actually, you’re coming into my community. Maybe I should get a commission or something on this. So, I’m thinking of doing that on the side and then that levels everything out.
But in terms of copywriting, it might be nice to write for some bigger brands as well. It’s always a dream to write for Coca-Cola or those big brands. I haven’t done much with them. So, maybe. I’ve found that having this community has opened up a lot more doors for me, which has been nice. So just seeing where that goes with that.
Kira Hug: And what do you feel like the future of copywriting looks like, especially for other Gen Z-ers that are considering copywriting and thinking about it? What’s possible for them?
Carolyn McMurray: Everyone keeps saying this. I do think AI will play a role. I feel like we’ll need to learn how to embrace it. I don’t know how much it will become entwined in work. I don’t think copywriting will go away. I don’t think it will. I just feel like if you can learn how to use it and embrace it and not run away from it, that’s probably better. And also, really homing in on what it means to be human. Because ChatGPT at the end of the day is a robot. It’s never going to have that experience of being drunk, whatever. I’m sorry, there was a reason for that. There’s a McDonald’s ad. It was all messed up and they were slurring their words on a billboard. I don’t think ChatGPT will be able to come out with that because a lot of the stuff it spews out is still quite generic and you have to put your creative input into it.
So I think that, and then also just really honing it in your skills. And maybe this is mean of me to say, but those copywriters that write for the big content mills and they just churn out stuff, kind of the stuff I did at the start, which was a good starting point but I feel like those people, I don’t know how that will look. I feel like you need to start evolving and really be creative and not just be mediocre anymore in the future. I feel like that’s the way it’s going to go. It will get rid of the … What’s the saying? The wheat from the chaff or something like that? I feel like if you’re already good and creative, you don’t need to worry.
Rob Marsh: I think we agree. I think AI is going to be an amazing tool. You can actually get really good stuff out of it, but you’ve got to know how to use the tool. And, that’s a skillset just like copywriting that you’ve got to build. And when you start getting all of this output from AI, it becomes a skill to know what part of it is good, what part of it you should ignore, and that takes copywriting skills as well. So I think we’re in the same place.
Kira Hug: My last question. If any of us wanted to learn how to surf, what are some basic tips you would share with us if we are considering it at any point? Not that I am, but if I were to.
Carolyn McMurray: So a few basic things, go to a country where there’s actually waves. I think in America you guys actually do have waves. I’m just not sure on which coasts.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, some small-
Kira Hug: We’ve got some waves. We’ve got some waves where I am.
Carolyn McMurray: I think enrolling in surf school is really helpful. They’re really flexible if you can do one or two lessons. And then for the more general stuff, I think for me it’s something I didn’t realize was this surf etiquette. There’ll be a lineup and there’ll be surfers on it on a wave, and if you’re nearer where the wave breaks, you can go first. And, there’s been things I’ve seen on the beach where people have not understood that and there’s been fights. So I’m super cautious of that now. I just stay right at the bottom where I get the really bad waves because I’m too scared to get involved with the others.
Yeah, I also think about getting the right equipment. I feel like I’m being super serious right now, but getting the right equipment. I have a big soft board because I’m a beginner. But, you narrow it down and eventually you get to a board that’s like that big. And another one, a big important one is when you’re in the water and there’s a huge wave coming and you can’t go over it and you’re going to get hit in the face, make sure there’s no one around you and then you can chuck the board. It’s attached to your foot, but if there’s a guy behind you, you’re going to him and he’s going to be annoyed with you. I did that to my boyfriend and he got really upset with me.
Rob Marsh: Make sure you like the people that you surf with. That would be a good hint. Carolyn, if somebody wants to connect with you and learn about your community or your newsletter, where should they go?
Carolyn McMurray: I would say probably Instagram, which is @Tonic. That has everything.
Rob Marsh: All right. Awesome. Thanks for spending some time with us, telling us a little bit about your business and your community.
Kira Hug: Yeah, we really appreciate it and it’s great to meet you and we hope to stay connected.
Carolyn McMurray: Definitely. Thank you so much, guys.
Kira Hug: That’s the end of our interview with copywriter Carolyn McMurray. Before we wrap the interview, here are just a few key points we want to mention. Rob, kick it off.
Rob Marsh: Again, let’s talk more about leaning into knowing the value of what we do, what we write. We hit it in the first part, but also in the second part. It’s so important to understand that you’re not necessarily selling your experience level. You’re selling the value of what you create, and Carolyn said this, if you write the same thing that somebody with a decade more experience can write, then you should be able to charge for that. Of course, there are all kinds of limits that we place on ourselves around this but also maybe corporations or clients place on us so we have to figure out how to work around that. But, she’s 100% right. If you can bring in money for your client… let’s say you bring in $100,000 for your client, you can charge for that and you should be able to charge the same amount as somebody maybe with a decade more experience who’s bringing in the same amount.
Be aware of how we limit ourselves and the value that we create, the assets that we create for our clients because they are truly valuable.
Kira Hug: Yeah, and we just get in our own way there mostly. For most people listening, they’re providing a lot of value to their clients and they’re not charging for it. In general. I think that is the case for most of our listeners, so make sure that you can define the value that you’re creating, and if you don’t know what that value is, start asking questions of your clients to figure out those numbers and those metrics to start to define that.
And, it doesn’t always have to be about the numbers. It can be about how you made their life easier, how you allowed them to sleep at night, how you allowed them to have more time for creative thinking or solving another problem because you took something off their plate. So we can define that value in many different ways, and it doesn’t just have to be about how much money you made for them, although that helps, too.
Rob Marsh: Yeah. We also came back to the topic of building a community. I know we’ve already talked through that in the earlier part of the episode, but one thing that stood out here was Carolyn has an approach much like ours where it’s not about her in her community, it’s not about you and me in The Copywriter Club. It’s really about how does everybody grow together? And yeah, we’re standing on stage, or we’re the ones hosting the podcast, but the focus is usually on the community and the awesome things that people do there. And so, just a shared approach to community building that isn’t always true of other communities.
Kira Hug: I don’t know, Rob. I want it to be all about me.
Rob Marsh: Yeah? Well, it’s not going to happen.
Kira Hug: No, I like her approach. She’s listening. Knowing when to listen and knowing when to lead, and we’ve figured that out. We’ve struggled with it. We’ve figured it out along the way. It’s not always easy, and so if you do have a community, or if you’re building a community, figuring out that balance of when do you give people what they want versus when do you need to set some boundaries? And, she shared an example of the boundaries she had to set about what she was willing to allow in her community and what she said, “This is not appropriate in the community.”
We all have to do that at some point if you lead a community, and just figuring out the right balance there and what works for you that really creates the culture of the community you’re building.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, we’ve definitely had similar experiences. It’s too bad that BDSM doesn’t stand for branding, design, strategy and marketing because in that case, it would be wholly appropriate.
Kira Hug: And let’s see, we also talked about how Carolyn keeps everything fresh and exciting and keeps her energy up. As she was talking about it, I could feel her energy. She does that through surfing, which is, of course, very cool. Rob, do you surf? Have you surfed?
Rob Marsh: Yeah, I live 1000 miles from the ocean, Kira. I do not surf. I do not surf.
Kira Hug: You could surf on vacation, right?
Rob Marsh: I have been on a surfboard but to say that I surf would be ridiculously embarrassing for me and unfair to anybody who has actually ridden a wave.
Kira Hug: I think I want that to be our next photo shoot. I want it to be you and me on a surfboard, on different surfboards but on a surfboard.
Rob Marsh: I think that is probably not a good idea.
Kira Hug: Yes. So Rob, what do you do, though, that feels fresh and exciting and maybe shakes up the day when you’re just feeling stuck or frustrated or just need to get out?
Rob Marsh: We’ve talked about this a lot. I run. I bike. I will leave my house oftentimes for a lunch hour, whether I’m going to get lunch or not. Sometimes just getting out of the house helps break up the monotony of the day. As far as having ideas, I do keep an idea journal so that I can go back to it. If I’m feeling like there’s a day where I’m empty or blocked, or however you want to define that, then I can look through that list and say, “Oh yeah, this is something.” I’ve probably got three or four swipe files that I use in the same way, so similar to that bank of ideas that Carolyn talked about. What about you, Kira? What are you doing to freshen yourself through the day?
Kira Hug: I did this earlier today. I just got to the point where I was waiting on a couple of things for other people and I hit a wall, and so I went out for a run, went out in nature. There’s so many great trails near me. And so, just getting out and away from my desk is necessary some days. So that helps me.
Rob Marsh: We want to thank Carolyn for joining us on the podcast to talk about her business and the community that she’s building. If you want to connect with her, you can find her @TheCopyTonic on Instagram, which we will link to in the show notes. And hey, Kira? We got a five-star review from Rach the Girl this week, so thanks, Rach, for sharing this. I’ll just quickly read it in appreciation. She says, “I am so glad I discovered The Copywriter Club podcast about one year ago. Listening to these podcasts and subsequently becoming part of The Copywriter Underground has made me a stronger business owner and a more confident copywriter. Rob and Kira bring on guests who not only share helpful tips and advice but share their own business journey. I find something applicable to my personal copywriting business journey in each episode. The programs that Rob and Kira offer are stellar as well. Make sure to sign up for their newsletter if you haven’t already, so you can be amused by their emails. They’re so refreshing. And, be aware of current course offerings.” That’s really nice of you to say, Rach. Thank you.
Kira Hug: So nice. Rachel, please reach out to us because I don’t know which Rachel you are. I’m guessing, but I might be wrong because there are many Rachel’s we know. But thank you, that was so generous. We appreciate you sharing.
And before we go, we just want to remind you to check out that new podcast. We gave you two teaser episodes on this podcast with Sam Woods and Paul Roetzer, but you can check out all the new episodes that are going to come out on AI for Creative Entrepreneurs, and you can check them out at the website, shockingly, AIForCreativeEntrepreneurs.com. Or, you can check it out wherever you stream podcasts or on YouTube. It’s all about how creatives like us can figure out how to use AI in our creative work, in our businesses without losing our minds or losing hope for the future.
And that is the end of this episode of The Copywriter Club podcast. The intro music was composed by copywriter and songwriter Addison Rice, and the outro was composed by copywriter and songwriter, David Muntner. If you enjoyed any of our episodes, please leave us a review like Rachel. We really appreciate it and we’ll read it on a future episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week.