TCC Podcast #79: Learning while Getting Things Done with James Turner - The Copywriter Club
TCC Podcast #79: Learning while Getting Things Done with James Turner

Copywriter James Turner is our guest for the 79th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. We’ve known James for a few years now, so we’ve been saving up questions to ask him for a while. Here’s just a sample of what we covered…

•  how James went from an English teacher in Japan to copywriter in Canada
•  the jobs he took on as he started out in his career and what’s changed since
•  his thoughts about retainers—the good and the bad
•  his book ghostwriting experiment and what that involves
•  why undercharging for work doesn’t serve you or your clients well
•  how James gets more done with Pomodoros (and other tricks)
•  “The power of asking” and how it got James a new business
•  how automation can change your copywriting business
•  why he started a podcast and the impact on his business
•  how he networks (and his advice to copywriters who need to do more of it)

James is the kind of copywriter we can all learn something from. Make sure you download this one to your favorite podcast app, or click the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript.


The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:

Hillary Weiss
Laura Hanly
Pomodoro Technique
Lianna Patch
The Copy & Design Brew Podcast
Oli Gardner (Unbounce)
Business of Software
Turner Creative
The other James Turner
Kira’s website
Rob’s website
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
Outro: Gravity


Full Transcript:

Copywriter James TurnerRob: What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Kira and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.

Kira: You’re invited to join the club for episode 79, as we talk with freelance copywriter James Turner about ghostwriting a book, running a micro-agency like SNAP Copy, why he started a podcast, and what’s he’s learned from it, and what he’s done to manage his done and get everything done.

Rob: Hey James!

Kira: Welcome!

James: Hello! Thanks for having me.

Rob: Yeah, we’re glad that you’re here, finally! I mean again, another person that we should’ve talked to months ago; you’ve been on our radar, been in our circle of friends forever, and it’s about time you got here. So, thanks.

James: Yeah. It’s a pleasure. I’m glad we waited; I have more things to say.

Kira: Laughs.

James: If you asked me a week ago, it would’ve been a mistake.

Kira: Laughs.

Rob: Laughs.

James: Life moves fast!

Kira: James, let’s start with your story. How’d you end up as a copywriter?

James: So, I’ve been thinking about how to tell that story quickly. Long story short, I went from having an English degree to teaching English in Japan to working in HR at an English school in Japan, to being instructional designer in Fredericton, New Brunswick—little Fredericton, New Brunswick—to becoming a copywriter. That’s the story arc. The reason I specifically want to talk about the HR thing is because that was the first time I really, truly used words to their full power, I suppose, like in a persuasive way. If I may go a little bit into the story of that…?

Rob: Please do.

James: So we worked for this big school in Japan, this sort of conversational English school. My wife and I, we moved there; we lived in Japan for three and a half years. And, I was brought into the, sort of, the personal coordinator role in my last year there. They were sort of shaking up the top level foreign part of the company. Everyone above us was Japanese, so it was like a big Japanese company with all kinds of different arms of business, and the English school we were sort of at the top of…our column, if you will, our business arm. And, the morale was really crappy because the people before us had not done a good job internal communications, essentially. Like, it came down to sort of personality stuff, but at the end of the day, it was all a matter of how people were spoken to, typically in emails and that was basically what I did for the company.

I mean I was myself, and I was friends with a bunch of teachers because I’d been there for a couple years, but in essence, I’d rewrote all of the sort of internal stuff, and most of the teachers were spread out over a long, large area—so we had about a hundred teachers going to forty-five different schools. So, the only real interaction they had with the company… and, so, you know, I think of these, like, now as a copywriter, I think that you know, we were all customers, in a way, you know? We had to buy into wanting to work there, to showing up and like representing the school in a positive way, and the only real interaction that we had with a company on a day-to-day basis was through these internal communications, and it made a big difference.

Kira: So James, what did your first few copy jobs look like, beyond this role in HR, you know? Communicating and trying to keep the morale up. When you really jumped into copywriting, what types of jobs were you taking?

James: My very, very first one was a product description job, and it was for a high-end whiskey decanter e-commerce store. And I got to describe…I think, fifty, or maybe thirty; no, maybe fifty…different whiskey decanters. It was a lot of fun! Laughs. Had a lot of fun with that job. There were three different brands, so I had this taxonomical sort of, you know, this brand gets this one line of intro sentence, and then, expands from there. And then they all had whimsical names, and…it was a lot of fun. That was my very first copy job. First client that I got, I should say, through the Copyhackers website.

Rob: So tell us about your business today, the kinds of stuff that you work on, the projects that you take. What’s happened since those first couple of jobs that you took on?

James: Well, I mean the main thing is, I have set a minimum, which those…that job would not be over, I suppose. So now, I try to do more strategic jobs that are…writing copy is not the only thing that’s involved, you know? I don’t love just writing what someone tells me to write, so it’s nice to sort of have some sway in whether that is the thing to write in the first place. I sort of pitch myself as someone who does emails and landing pages.

Kira: So how did you get from where you were—writing product descriptions and taking your first few jobs—to a place now where it sounds like you’re kind of more of a consultant role, right, working on strategy and taking bigger projects, which we can get into. How do you get from there to here? Is there an easy way, or is it just time and experience, and just, kind of pounding the pavement?

James: Yeah! Well, I think the biggest influxes of knowledge came through Joanna Wiebe’s various courses. Basically it got to the point where I’d read enough and learned enough about email marketing as a holistic thing, not just individual emails, that if I was hired to write a bunch of emails, I would take a step back and question whether this was the appropriate number or the right use of this particular type of email marketing, or you, how, you know, you ask a client, like, “How are you segmenting your list?” and they’re like, “What?” Laughs. And then you realize that… There comes a point, if you do enough learning, where you realize that you know more than you think you know. And that’s the point where you realize you have more to offer than just doing what people think they want.

Rob: Interesting. So, the clients that you work with today, is it mostly conversion-oriented stuff, or is there a big mix of projects you take on?

James: I’m still a bit of a mix. I like it that way. I’ve resisted obviously wise course of choosing a niche, or niche, as you like to say on here.

Kira: Laughs.

James: So yeah, I’d say it’s still a mix. Conversion….Persuasive writing.

Kira: Right.

James: I don’t do blog posts; I don’t like content where it’s just content for the sake of building authority. I like things that drive towards a point. So, in that sense I suppose it’s more conversion-oriented.

Kira: And is it typically…I think you had a retainer client, maybe you have more than one retainer client…or is it one-off projects, or huge projects… Retainer clients, is it a mix of all of the above?

James: It’s a mix, yeah. I went through a phase where I was like, “Retainers is the way to go!”

Kira: Right! I remember that!

James: Laughs. In the end, I didn’t like it as much. I much prefer a series of $2- to $10,000 jobs. You know? It keeps me on my toes; it gives me flexibility; it allows me to take time off, kind off, ad hoc. Not that a retainer can’t, but you have to be more planned. But yeah. I’ve swung over that way, and I’ve come back, and I think that I prefer this.

Kira: Laughs.

Rob: Can we go a little deeper on that? Because, I think a lot of writers think, “Hey, retainers? That’s the gold mine; I have monthly income coming in.” Let’s talk about the good and the bad: why you wanted retainers at first, and why you moved away from them, you know. What were the things that you really didn’t like about the retainer projects?

James: Well, like, for one thing, they’re just this surface level. I’m naturally curious; I want to try new things; I want to do different things, and I think I—at some level—got a little bored just writing, sort of, the same thing, writing for the same product, writing for the same group of customers. Like, I really enjoy digging into the customer research, and, not that you only get to do it once, but, you can’t really justify continued research with the same retainer client unless they’ve got a huge business, or are trying something new all the time. So, stagnation, I suppose, is one thing. Another thing I felt was just it takes up a chunk of your time, and that means that you’re saying no to other things, and there’s that whole opportunity cost, right? At one point I thought, “Great; if I could get three retainer clients at a decent rate, I could just do nothing, you know? I’d have my clients for the year. But, I really like sort of finding new people, getting on to new projects, and being open for that.

Kira: Yeah, and we have Hillary Weiss—been on the show—has a retainer model that seems to work really well for her, and then for others, it’s kind of like what you’re saying. It feels like it’s preventing you from other projects that can pay more, more exciting, so… I don’t know. I’ve steered clear of retainers because the commitment part of it freaks me out, but I know it also could be… What would make it a good opportunity for a copywriter who is considering a retainer? What would make it worthwhile to you?

James: I think—going to what you said there—one of the things that bothered me is that often you have to calculate it somehow, right? So it’s either a volume output—then you know you’re doing the same thing over and over again—or it’s a time output, and then you’re into charging hourly, kind of, again…

Kira: Right!

James: …which we’ve all been trained to get away from. I’m sure that’s controversial, probably. You know, some people would argue the opposite, but I’ve certainly agreed with the idea that charging by the hour is a bit…. I don’t know, you’re just like, “Oh no, this is taking me a long time! I’m making a lot of money off of this…” It’s a weird conflict of interest. So, if I could really dial in my schedule and know that this retainer client would take up, you know, just Monday morning and it really would just take up Monday morning, and I could provide a value that the client thought was worth it. And, it was a, you know, a no-hassle, payments on time….and the work was well thought-out, by whoever was thinking and had been planning it? I can see that working. But otherwise, I feel like there’s either monotony, because it’s the same thing over and over again, or there’s too much extra head-work that you’re not getting paid for because you’re charging a—probably somewhat reduced rate, as a retainer.

Rob: That’s a pretty high bar, for most clients, I think. That’s a pretty rare project that would fit all those requirements. So one of the projects that you worked on James in the past year—it’s not exactly a retainer client, but—you ghosted a book for someone. And, I think you finished it, or maybe just wrapping it up, but will you tell us about that project? How it sort of fell in your lap, and the kind of commitment to work that it took to complete a book?

James: Well, I’m buoyed by the optimism in your past-tense….but unfortunately, still…

Rob: Still working?

James: Yeah, still working on it.

Kira: Oh no!

James: No, no, it’s g—it is all good.

Kira: Oh good, good. Laughs.

James: And so, a work of passion. I guess….hmm. So I’ve never done a book before, and I was upfront about that. So that’s one thing I would say. Like, don’t judge me, if you’re listening to this. I didn’t….

Kira: Laughs.

James: Laughs. I didn’t sell something that I pretended to know what I was getting myself into. And the client had never commissioned anything like that, so we were all just the blind leading the blind, and we sketched out what we thought might be a schedule. It fell in my lap basically through networking. Through just meeting people, chatting, being open and honest. You know? I definitely feel like I’m still the right person for the project even though it’s taking a lot longer than we thought it would. And one of the reasons it’s taking so long is that I just refuse to cut corners. So…laughs. I did not in any way anticipate just how involved it is to continually write on something that large. I mean, I haven’t counted words. I have no idea how many words it is, but it’s…it’s a lot. It’s going to be a lot, a lot of work.

Kira: Laughs. A lot of words.

James: A lot of words, a lot of hours. I’ve finally now figured out sort of a good… So this is something that I hadn’t done a year ago. If you asked me a year ago, I was really bad at projecting how long things take. Like, scooping out projects. And not I’m a lot better, so I’m keeping track better. This actually, this project forced me to track my time so that I could figure out, you know, the fudge factor of how long I think a thing is going to take versus how long I actually take doing it, and just being honest with that, you know? I think at first you try to like, kid yourself that you’re better than you are, and it doesn’t serve you well, so…

Kira: Yeah. Are you tracking your time through any type of platform, or are you just logging in your journal?

James: Neither, no. I guess through…my Google Calendar? I’ve spent a series of pomodoros set down in my Google Calendar, and I assign at the start of the week what I’m going to do with those pomodoros. And at the end of the day I adjust to match what i actually did, and then going forward, I have a projection of what I intend, and then looking back, I can see: “Oh, actually I did this”, you know? This part of the project took… So I’m measuring everything in terms of pomodoros, which is twenty-five minutes of work and a five-minute break. So…

Kira: Gotcha. Okay.

James: Yeah.

Kira: So, back to the book project…

James: Mm-hmm.

Kira: If you were starting again, same project, what would you do differently? Especially in those early conversations with the client, and setting it up, and even the amount you charged… Basically, like, what advice would you give to someone else who is doing a book project for the first time?

James: I think it’s worthwhile. I think I’m learning a lot from it. I think that you can’t pay for the learning. I think of it like that. So, I guess what my advice would be is, it’s going to take probably twice as long as you think, if you really care about it. And so, make it something you’re really interested in. And make the client be someone that you really, really, really want to do good work for, that you really like as a person. And then, you’ll be able to get through that double workload that you hadn’t anticipated. It wouldn’t have been reasonable for me to charge double, I don’t think, sight unseen with no street cred for book writing, so… We have an arrangement on the back-end of sales, and that will possibly compensate for the under-quote.

Rob: So, I know you’re not going to reveal who you’re writing it for, but can you tell us a little bit about the subject matter at all? Can you talk a little bit about what you’re learning about what you’re writing?

James: Well it’s related to persuasion-optimization.

Kira: Can you speak to how much you did charge? Are you okay sharing that, or any numbers, or any just ballpark numbers so people know how much roughly might be the right amount to charge for a first time writing a book?

James: Yeah, I went in asking for thirty thousand. And, they were like, “That’s out of our budget.” And then I, stupidly, was like, “Oh, I meant thirty thousand Canadian!

Rob: Laughs.

Kira: Laughs.

Rob: Which is like, twenty-six dollars.

James: Yeah, right? Laughs. I thought it would just feel like, such a mental relief that they’d just jump at it, but they were like, “Great! It’s still out of our budget, but…

Kira: Laughs.

James: So, it didn’t really matter, because their budget was their budget whether it was translated into Canadian or American, it didn’t really matter. Then they offered a percentage of the sales to compensate for the fact that they couldn’t pay as much as they were charging. If I go and look back at what I’ve done, I probably should’ve charged forty thousand, and something on the back end.

Kira: Okay.

James: But, you know, can you ghostwrite a book at the rate that you would charge as a consultant? Probably not, I don’t know. Like hourly.

Kira: Right.

James: That’s the hard thing about if you offer a mix of services, and they aren’t all exactly equal and, you know.

Rob: It doesn’t sound out of range. We interviewed Laura Hanley recently, and she writes books—ghosts books—for a living, and that’s certainly within the range where she started, you know. That’s not where she is now, having done it for several years, and working with bigger and bigger names; she’s gone on, so it feels small, maybe, because it’s the first book, but if it were something that you wanted to continue, maybe it’s just where beginners begin, right?

James: I think so, and I think that the thing is, this is one of those moments where you realize that, like, you got to get over your fear of large numbers because even though forty thousand sounds like a lot of money, it would’ve been great to have had enough money to, let’s say, not do any other work for six months.

Kira: Right. Yeah.

James: And that’s where, you know, undercharging doesn’t serve anyone well, because if you need to hustle and take other jobs, then you’re not going to be able to spend as much time, and the whole thing just takes longer, so.

Kira: Well, let’s talk about that—the hustle, and balance between the book and then also taking other clients so you can make the money to pay bills, and then also you run SNAP, with Lianna Patch, so you have a lot happening; plus a family!

James: Mm-hmm! Mm-hmm.

Kira: So, how do you balance all that?

James: Well, that’s a great question. And if you find the answer to it, please email to me. I don’t know, I think my life right now is a bit crazy. I started my business with a six-month old, something like that. We just bought a house; our son was—I don’t know—six or seven months old, and then I got laid off from my instructional design job because the company moved out of my town. And we moved here to start a family here, and there’s not a lot of jobs here. I might have been sort of learning copywriting as a specific conversion copywriting skill on the side, and I just decided to do that instead of look for another job. But, looking back, I really wouldn’t recommend starting a family, and a business, and owning a home and having a mortgage, all at the same time. So I don’t know; like, how do I balance it? I have been working really hard to get out of the urgency mode and into the plan-your-work-and-work-your-plan mode. And I’m just getting there now, three-four years in, so. It’s tough. But I like the challenge; laughs. Sometimes I end up pulling all-nighters that I regret.

Kira: Oh, do you?

James: Sometimes. These days, not so much. I mean, well right now, more of my all-nighters all like, trying to get a baby to sleep…those kinds of all-nighters.

Kira: Right, right.

James: I have a sit-stand desk so sometimes I can like have a baby in a carrier and actually work; kill two birds with one stone.

Kira: Laughs.

James: Yeah, I don’t know. So SNAP Copy was an interesting thing that, it just was the right time to ask for—it may not have been the right time to get it going, but it was the right time to make it be a thing, and we’ve been growing it slowly to the derision of some in our circle. But, I would like to move towards more of a company-owning mindset then a writing-all-the-time mindset. And that’s my bigger plan, so.

Rob: Before we jump into what you do with SNAP, and maybe talk a little bit about that, I don’t want to leave the time management thing quite yet. You mentioned you started using pomodoros; talk us through that process, and what impact that’s had on your ability to get things done. This is something that I think we probably all struggle with—I definitely struggle with getting stuff done—and I’m really curious, because you found something that’s really started to work for you, and so…

James: Mm-hmm.

Rob: …let’s go deep on that. Tell us about that: how it’s working, and what the impact has been.

James: My productivity in the last month has been, like, better than the last quarter of 2017. Without any question.

Kira: Wow.

James: Yeah, and the genius of the pomodoros is that you’re constantly twenty-five minutes away from the end of your deadline, mentally. If you’re like me, I like to procrastinate, but there’s really no room to procrastinate in twenty-five minutes. Maybe you procrastinate for one minute, and you like, “Whoa. This pomodoro’s going by!”

Kira: Laughs.

James: “I got to get on this”, right? And by planning out my projects in terms of, you know this morning and do four pomodoros on the book and then, take the same amount of time to check my email, and review my plan for the day, and then going back to my Google Calendar…. So I now turn my computer—well, I don’t turn it off, because I’m one of those people, sorry—but, I put it to sleep with the Calendar up, so the first thing I see in the morning is my Calendar and it always used to be my Gmail, and I’d just get in there, and get lost. So, one of the things it’s done is, I know what to do. Like, you know that whole mindset of everything with a place and everything in its place?

Rob: Yep.

James: But, applied to time.

Kira: Yeah.

James: So, I don’t get down and be like, “Now, what should I do?” And then end up lost in some, you know, reading someone’s very nice but not very productive email that’s in my inbox, you know. So, it’s sort of obvious in a way, but at the same time until you do it, you don’t realize how bad you were at it, or how much you weren’t doing it. Those little deadlines has been one thing, and just giving you away to scheduling your time that makes sense, instead of looking at the week as this one amorphous block of time, and being like, “Well I don’t know, I guess on Monday I’ll do this, and Tuesday I’ll do that.” It’s like, very specific: “On Monday, from 9 to 9:30, I’m going to do this one task.” And, when that time comes, you don’t have to wonder what you’re doing; you’re doing that. And, for me anyway, that’s been a huge game changer.

Kira: Yeah, that reminds me of one of my favorite people. Jasmine Star showed us on a workshop her little sticky note with her day, and like, every minute was accounted for, throughout the whole day. She knew exactly where she should be, and she, you know, she would jump out of calls at the end of the hour, and it was all planned, and I always kind of have that in the back of my mind, that I need to get better at that. So maybe just following pomodoro will help, but what else have you done? You know, you were mentioning that you want to move from a writing mindset, or like, client-work mindset, to a company owning mindset. What was the catalyst for that, where you’re like, “Okay, I need to make this change,” and then what else are you doing to make that change?

James: The catalyst is just the simple fact that I really enjoy getting clients. Like, I enjoy the beginnings of a project. I like writing as well, don’t get me wrong, but I really enjoy meeting new people and finding out what they’re doing and setting things up and figuring out what needs to be done. I’m not super-fussed about the actual doing all of the things, which I think is the right mindset for a thing like SNAP. I like reviewing work; I like editing work. If I’m going to put my name on it, I want it to be up to a certain standard. But I suppose the catalyst was that the only way to amplify your time is to have other people do other things while you’re doing other things, right? Like if someone is writing this piece, and someone else is writing this piece and I’m talking to this client, and it’s all happening at the same time, then I’m getting three hours in the one hour, kind of. There’s other people who are just as happy to never deal with clients, and just get like an email being like, “Could you write this fairly simple thing,” you know, “for a reasonable rate?” And, then say yes, and so, I think it’s, yeah. I don’t want to just that the catalyst was making more money, because that’s an oversimplification, but at some level, you know, you reach sort of critical maximum, and you either raise your rates through the roof and become unaffordable, or you subcontract some work out and do what you’re best at.

Rob: Let’s chat a little bit about SNAP Copy; it used to be run by Joanna, Copyhackers, and I think when she decided to close it down, you must’ve reached out to her and said “Hey, you know I think there’s some value here.” How did you go about acquiring SNAP, and what are you doing with it today?

James: Yeah, I mean, I set up a call, and I just asked: “Hey, is that a thing that you’d be interested in keeping going, or that I could keep going, maybe?” And she was just like, “Whoa, yeah! I mean I’m not doing anything with it—you should have it!” So…Lianna Patch, who’s the copywriter with whom I run SNAP, we met in Joanna’s first mastermind and decided we needed to do something together; we weren’t sure what, but we were both tickled with the notion of a little more productized version of copywriting. And also, just, yeah; we wanted to hang out more, and do work together. We had a similar mindset. And it just seemed like the right things. That was kind of the pitch, if you will, I mean it was really a genuine inquiry. I wasn’t sure if at the end of that call, I’d be like, “Whew, now where am I going to find the money to acquire that?” But yeah, Joanna was very, very generous, and she sort of was happy that someone wanted to continue it. I mean she didn’t stop it because it wasn’t working; she just stopped it because it wasn’t working for her. So.

Rob: And what are you guys doing with it today?

James: Well, we’ve been running it for a ye—oh, gosh—year and a half, now? Slowly simmering away. We did three or four times the amount of business in 2017 as we did in 2016, and we are currently sort of planning our first full-on marketing push that we haven’t really put into it before. The challenge being, we both run our own fairly successful—Lianna more so than me—consultancies. And—laughs—are, you know, not exactly wanting to shut them down, so, we always are balancing our…trying to figure out where we want to put our effort, but we decided we need to really take a stand and put some extra love and care into SNAP, and to try to make it fly a little bit. I think what we both want would—for it to be a success that made it so that we could be really, really choosy with who we worked with, and maybe just take on a few really select clients in our personal consultancies and spend most of our time managing and running staff.

Kira: Yeah, and what I love about the story with SNAP is just that, it’s a reminder that the power of asking

Rob: Exactly.

Kira: And just asking for what you want, right? You just asked Joanna, and sure enough, she was generous and ready to give it to you, and oftentimes, it’s just hard to ask for what we want. Can you just share more about SNAP, and how it works? Especially for people who are like, “What is that? I have no idea what SNAP is about.”

James: Absolutely. So, it’s on-demand conversion copywriting. So, I think one of the problems people have when they’re trying to hire copywriters who are focused on specifically online conversions whether they be sign-ups or sales is that people who are skilled in that are in high demand because there are so many companies still trying to update their businesses to sort of match the demands of the online world. And, so we have typically month-long waiting times, and we have higher-than-some-people-can-stomach rates, but we have a unique skill set that people want, so SNAP is a way to get access to that level of copywriting in a timely fashion. We have a credit system, and you buy SNAP credits, and you can use them. We have a list of, one SNAP credit is, you know for example, three headline variations, or, two SNAP credits is to optimize one short email. Four SNAP credits is to optimize a landing page. You know, that kind of thing. So we’ve got common jobs that people typically want done, and if you’re a huge company, you’ve got loads of landing pages, you don’t necessary want to be in a huge back-and-forth, so here is a way you can buy credits; the credits are good for six months; and you can use them as and when you need, to get projects done, and we have a fixed turnaround time per credit, per size of job. So it’s just more of a known quantity. And the way it works for us is there aren’t revisions. If people buy their credits upfront, so there’s, you know, we don’t have that sort of risk that we have inherent in our larger consulting projects. I don’t charge everything up front. Some people do, but with SNAP, the money’s already there so you know we can kind of just account for your time better. So yeah, it seems to work for a certain level of business. It’s not cheap; it’s cheaper the more you buy, so like—I can’t remember exactly, but let’s say—five credits in $1000, and fifty credits is $5000. That sound right? Laughs. I think that’s right.

Rob: Yeah, something close to that. So…

James: Yeah.

Rob: You and Lianna handle all the work, or do you have other writers to take on projects for you as well?

James: We touch everything. There’s nothing that comes through that we don’t get involved with at all, but we definitely have worked with a handful of writers, and we want that to expand. I think when Joanna was running it, she had upwards of twelve people working for her. That sounds like a reasonable number if we’re getting to a more steady state; if that was the mainstay of my business, I could handle that. But for now, yeah; we’ve written probably the majority of the copy that’s gone through SNAP since we’ve been running it. But, certainly not all of it.

Kira: What has surprised you the most about running SNAP?

James: How nice automation done right can make your life.

Rob: Nice!

James: So someone buys credits, and the money is there, and they get sent an email to fill out a client brief, and then they fill out, you know, client brief and then it generates another email asking them to fill out a project brief whenever they’re ready, and like, we just sit here and the emails come to our inbox, and sends a lot of credits, and they’re like, “Okay, great,” and eventually we get a project, and it all just kind of happens, you know? There’s no negotiation; up to that point, we can invest zero time. And then from there, of course, we’re working on like we would on other projects, but it’s amazing how getting all that overhead—just sort of the admin work—automated, makes such a big difference in the flow.

Rob: I want to shift gears a little bit, and talk about your podcast. You launched a podcast a few weeks—maybe a couple of months—before The Copywriter Club podcast launched. Tell us about why you decided to do that, and you know, just how you’ve partnered up in the kinds of clients that you talk to?

James: Why I started to do that, partially because of my lovely copywriter mastermind group suggesting I had a good sort of empathetic ear and voice for a podcast, that I listen to people, and I take the time to truly get to know them, and that would translate well to a podcast. So that was one of the things. I also had this designer friend who was about a year behind me, maybe, in his own business. And so he was starting his business up; he’d been in-house, and he was switching over, and we kept having all these conversations, and I was telling him how I got started with this and got started with that. Then we realized, hey…you know, we’re drinking a beer, we’re talking about how to start a freelance business. Like, if we were recording this, this would be a podcast. And so, that’s what we did! So, it’s called The Copy & Design Brew—copywriter, design, brew—yeah. We started from there. We did a bunch of episodes where it’s just the two of us yammering on about business and, then, we got bored of that so we started getting in other copywriters and designers, and, then we got kind of bored of that so then we…

Kira: Laughs.

James: Laughs… we kept sort of, not rebranding exactly but, we changed our tagline. We changed our focus. And, now we’re at the point where we just talk to business owners about freelance copy and design. And I think actually to be honest, we think we’re going to change that again, because we realize what we really like doing is just talking to business owners, and just asking them about their story and… You know, every now and then, we’ll have an episode that’s really focused on beer, specifically we had a couple of beer episodes and, we have shop-talk kind of episodes where we’re talking to a copywriter, or a designer, and going deep on the craft but, for the most part, it’s kind of more of a background story. We’ve toyed with, like, Copy & Design Brew: Origin Stories, as a—laughs—a branch, so. The most recent one we talked to—it’s not out, it’ll be out on, like I guess probably be out by the time this episode’s out—is we talked to Ollie Gardner from Unbounce.

Kira: Oh, cool.

James: Yeah, that was nice. So it’s given us leeway to reach out to people who could potentially be our clients.

Kira: Right! Yeah, and that’s what Rob and I were saying that, one of the best parts of having a podcast is it gives you an excuse to talk with people that you wouldn’t normally talk to, or reach out to potential ideal clients and get them on the show, and build a relationship.

James: Yeah. That’s one of those things, right? They say, find out where your clients are and talk to them there. Well, just be where your clients are, laughs.

Kira: Right! I like that also, that you’ve changed and you’re not afraid to rebrand your podcast as you move along and, and kind of continue to tweak the audience, and tweak the content, and format, because we’ve talked to some of the copywriters in our Think Tank too, and I think there’s this fear of having to have it figured out from day one, and not launching a podcast until you figure out the hook, and you kind of know exactly how you’re different in the space, and I feel like there’s also merit to also just doing it, and getting it going, and figuring it out as you go.

James: Yeah, I actually remember when we were first starting, you guys and us were starting our podcasts, you Kira specifically were talking about recording a bunch and then scrapping the first four.

Kira: Oh! Did I say that? Laughs.

James: Well you were just saying it as a notion, like the first four you’re really finding your feet, and you stumble all over yourself, and, it’s true. But at that point we’d already committed! Laughs.

Kira: Right.

James: So, I often think of that when I look back at our episode one and how it really genuinely was episode one.

Kira: Yeah, those are sometimes the best ones to listen to with a new podcast; like the first few are just so raw, and imperfect in such a fun way. I also want to hear how your podcast has impacted you business. If it has, you know as far as building partnerships, or finding new clients, making new connections, if it’s had any impact…?

James: Not directly, and I think Chris…I think maybe for Chris, I think he’s had a couple of design clients who came through needing people that we had on the podcast. I’ve had one guest who’s since reached out and I’ve put in a proposal to be part of a bigger proposal that hasn’t gone through yet. But I don’t know how much it effects when people look at my profiles and they see, “Oh, so he’s so into copywriter, he’s got a podcast about it,” and I think that’s sort of the hidden value of things like that, right? Even if people don’t listen to it, the fact that you’re willing to have a podcast and take the time to make one, implies that you’re genuinely interested in what you’re doing.

Kira: Yeah, interested, and professional and consistent, and it kind of puts you in this authority-position, right? Because you’re showing up and speaking about something consistently, so people view you differently.

James: Yeah. And you can just naturally… it’ll come up in conversation, you know: “Well I can’t; on Friday afternoons I record my podcast.” “Oh, you have a podcast?” You know, that kind of thing. It’s great. If you’re really aligned with doing what you love, naturally, things like that will just be in your life, and, it’ll be the most natural thing in the world. It’s not like you’re name-dropping or whatever, but you can’t talk about your life without talking about those things, and that comes across in client conversations or, you know, if you’re out at a networking event.

Kira: Yeah, so speaking of networking, we cannot talk to you without asking you about networking because you mentioned, I think you got your book gig from networking, and Rob and I have been to conferences with you, and you are kind of the pro-networker. Especially, you know with a lot of copywriters are introverts, and we’re just kind of like, hiding in the back on a conference room, and there’s James! Like, talking to everyone, friends with everyone…

James: Laughs.

Rob: Yeah, I just follow James around at conferences, because… that’s, it’s the easy in, right?

Kira: Yeah!

Rob: So good.

James: I remember we did that! We did it at Conversion XL, Rob.

Kira: Laughs.

James: You and I did a tour of one of their parties.

Rob: That’s exactly right, I just stood on your arm and…

Kira: Right!

James: Laughs.

Rob: You were my wing-man, introducing me to everybody. It was great.

Kira: Yeah, so the question is—there is a question—just, how do you…? I mean, I’m sure a lot of this comes naturally to you, but, what would you say to copywriters listening who are not as good at networking, and they struggle with it, it might just not be their favorite thing to do, yet they know they need to do it, and they’re going to a big event. What would you say to them?

James: So this is the question. I had an inkling that you were going to ask about this, and I asked my wife because I was like…I don’t have a good answer. I was like, “It can’t just be ‘have a drink in your hand, always have a drink in your hand’, and it’s not. According to her, one of the things that I do that makes that possible, is just I guess, I’m not really scared of just being myself, and even, you know, we’re introverted. We’re writers. If you just believe that the interesting real you will connect with a number, you know, whatever that number is, of interesting other people, who have the same mindset, or who are interested in your mindset, who have the opposite mindset, whatever… Like, just believe that you are an interesting person. Like, no matter what your life has been, you’re interesting to someone, probably to more people than you think you are.

I think a lot of networking events, there’s lots of masks. There’s lots of facades. People think that you—you know—“Oh, a business owner has to be like this, or, a copywriter has to be like that,” and I think people get really tripped up in that, on both sides of the fence, so I think it can be disarming, like Kate says it—that’s my wife, Kate—says this very, sometimes it embarrasses her, because she’s like, “Oh my God, why are you telling them that?” But, if you’re just kind of authentic, and you don’t worry about being embarrassed about the real facts of your life, and your thoughts, then it really comes across, and you’ll end up drawing that out of people. And then afterwards, their impression of meeting you will be significant, because they were able for that moment to be naturally themselves in a setting that’s often all about artifice. I think that’s, in a word—no, two words: act naturally.

Rob: And I think it probably goes beyond that too, James, because you’re very good at being empathetic, and in being interested in the people that you’re talking to. And so, it’s not just about believing in your abilities, but you know, as you’re talking with people at these kinds of events, it’s really clear that you’re actually interested in their stories, and in what they’re doing, and that makes you very approachable, and it makes it sort of easy for you to join in those conversations, and so, that’s definitely a skillset I need to work on, one that I need to be better, that you’ve got it locked in.

James: Laughs. Well, I guess I’m lucky in that regard. It’s not an effort to do that. But, I would imagine Rob, that you’re empathy is, as a copywriter, if you can turn that writing empathy into talking and listening empathy, you’ll find you got a well of it yourself.

Rob: No doubt. Or, I just have to take you to every conference with me…

Kira: Laughs. I know…!

Rob: …and just hang on your arm, and let you walk around with me.

James: I…. That sounds wonderful. Laughs.

Kira: Yes. So speaking of which, what conferences are you going to in this upcoming year James, so we can follow you?

James: Well, you know, I’ve been struggling with that one a lot, and I might be taking a year off.

Kira: Yeah.

James: I think I might need to get my feet on my ground, so yeah. I’ve got a, now an eight-month-old daughter to add to our four-year-old son, and we’re just getting out feet under ourselves as a family of four, and you know, I work from home and my wife stays home. So we’re very family focused. And, me running off and traveling around the world is very disruptive to our flow—not that it’s not to other people, but you know, some people are more hands-on; some are not. So I have to take a year for the family, and kind of just keep my feet on the ground, you know. I’ve said to myself that this year will be a year implementing the things that I’ve been taking in, taking in, taking in, for a long time. And I think I need to believe that I know a lot of stuff, and try to put that out there, and then make it back in the next year. Not sure, not sure.

I think another thing that needs to be said is that, being based up in the wilds on Canada, I have to either fly a long way or drive a long way to get somewhere, so a two-day conference is really a four or four-day commitment. That’s a long time away from family; it’s also a long time away from my business right now, so. I’m not sure. But the ones that I wish I could go to is, of course, I wish I could go to your conference that you’re bringing together in New York City, it sounds amazing. That would be top number one, 100%. Yeah, that’s the one that I’m like, really, really sad that I can’t make it to.

Kira: I know! I feel like it’s not complete without James.

Rob: How am I going to meet anybody at this conference without James?

Kira: What are we going to do?

James: Laughs.

Kira: Could we just hire you to come in and just like help us network?

James: Yes, accept you’d have to hire my whole—you can…we can…the whole family.

Kira: Laughs. Yeah.

James: Other one’s Business of Software, is one that I would really like to go to. It’s in Boston, so it’s closer to me, but, may or may not be able to make that one. I like the Conversion XL one in Austin; I like that it’s at a resort, and it’s singly tracked, and you’re in a, sort of—not pressure cooker, but—a captive audience. I like that, that notion. And, of course, CTA Conference. Another favorite of mine: Unbounce’s conference in Vancouver. Not…well it’s single track, but it’s in a city so you’re freer to stray if you want to.

Kira: Gotcha. Well, we’ll catch you in 2019, then next TCC in Real Life event. So James, we’re at the end of our time together. Where can people reach you, find you online?

James: So, is my website, and then there’s, where to go for SNAP, and then you know, the various social medias. I’m usually at James Turner Creative; I think one of them I’m not, I can’t remember, but….

Kira: Laughs.

James: Twitter…Twitter and Facebook, I am at. Interestingly there is another copywriter names James Turner.

Kira: Oh, really?

James: I often refer to myself as James E. Turner, and that’s why.

Kira: We’ll have to get the other James Turner on the show.

Rob: That’s right, right. Well cool, James, thanks very much for hanging out with us. We appreciate your time, and glad you could make it.

Kira: Thank you James.

James: My pleasure; thanks for having me.


You’ve been listening to The Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from Gravity, by Whitest Boy Alive, available on iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard, you can help us spread the word by subscribing in iTunes and by leaving a review. For show notes, a full transcript, and links to our Facebook community, visit We’ll see you next episode.



  • I am just starting out as a copywriter. I want to start freelancing, but I don’t have a portfolio yet. Do you have any suggestions on how to get started?

    • Rob

      Yes… start a blog. Or write for medium. Find a client you can do work for to prove yourself. Clients want to know that you can write. Also consider getting a job as a copywriter. With an in-house position, you learn the skills and build a network on your employer’s dime. Then when you’re ready, the clients are waiting as you launch your freelance job. Good luck.

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