TCC Podcast 5: What's Made the Biggest Difference with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh - The Copywriter Club
TCC Podcast 5: What’s Made the Biggest Difference with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh

In the fifth episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast, Kira and Rob interview each other about work processes, research, working with customers and the two things that have made the biggest difference in their careers. This one is a bit long, but still worth a listen. Check it out by clicking the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript.

The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:

Actionable Books
Kira’s sales pages (coming soon)
Fast and Furious Movies
Case Study Buddy
Talia Wolf
Jen Havice
ConversionXL Agency
James Wedmore
The Ry Schwartz Episode
Jessica Mehring
Adobe Illustrator
Breakthrough Advertising
Ash Abirge
Kira’s website
Rob’s website
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
Outro: Gravity

Full Transcript:

RM: What if you could hang out with really talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Kira and I try to do every week at the Copywriter Club podcast.

KH: You’re invited to join the club for Episode 5, as Rob and I interview each other about our businesses, how we got where we are, clients, the projects we’re working on now, probably have some rants in there, or I might at some point.

RM: Yeah, we’ll see how that goes.

KH: Hey, Rob. How’s it going?

RM: Good, Kira. How’s it going with you?

KH: Well, before we started recording, actually I think we did start recording, I was just telling Rob that it’s been an interesting morning. I feel like it’s just that time of year where there are lots of projects. Every client I have is launching something, and so it’s just been a bit crazy, little crazy.

RM: Some of those clients are difficult and hard to deal with, right?

KH: Yes.

RM: There’s all kinds of things that we could talk about with that.

KH: Yes, and it’s funny because most of them are not difficult, and most of them are awesome, but when you have that one difficult one, it overshadows everything. I have to really maintain perspective and step back at times.

RM: Before we start talking about difficult clients, I have a question for you, Kira. Other than how did you get your start and all that sort of stuff, I’m really curious. Why did you leave such a great job in marketing for the rough and tumble of freelancing and dealing with clients on your own, and all of the issues that come up with it?

KH: That’s a good question. I think for me, I knew at my second big girl job, I was working at Estee Lauder in 2008. I’d recently started my career, was recently out of college, and I remember working there. It was like this big glamorous company, before they cut everybody in 2008, and I remember sitting at my desk and just imagining a company, running my own business. I was thinking about different ideas. I think at the time I was thinking about creating this t-shirt company with different designs focused on endangered animals, and how I wanted to sell them online. Anyway, lots of ideas as I was sitting there. Maybe I wasn’t busy enough.

RM: Right.

KH: At the time I was volunteering at a zoo, so there was this strong tie to animals. I think it’s just been in me for a long time. I’m rebellious and contrarian enough that I don’t like people telling me what to do. That way was just in me, and then I knew I wasn’t ready, so I took other jobs after that that led me down the marketing path because I was naturally good at the marketing thing. I had worked at different non-profits and then eventually a startup, Actionable Books, where I was the marketing director.

Yeah, your question was, “Why would you leave a good job,” right? I think for me, there’s got to be some pain usually. I think it’s actually harder to leave when it’s really cushy and things are really good. I think it’s easy to leave when things are bad and you hate your boss, and I’ve been in that situation too. It’s hard to leave when you actually like the people you work with and the startup is growing and they’re hiring more people, and there are lots of promises that they can actually deliver on, most likely. For me, I just knew that I was ready to step out from behind the scenes. I knew I had a lot I wanted to say, and I don’t really know what that means yet. Maybe that meant starting a podcast with you, Rob. I just knew I had a lot I wanted to do creatively to share, and I think part of it too is just I felt confident enough that I knew I had talent that I wanted to test in the marketplace. I think part of it was just confidence and ego, too.

RM: Nice.

KH: What about you? I mean, why did you go down this path? Especially with a family, with teenagers, really supporting them and being responsible for multiple people, this is a scary path.

RM: Yeah. I’ve been sort of been in and out of freelancing for more than 20 years. I got my first job freelancing. It’s sort of a weird thing where there was a girl that I had met at a party who was doing some freelance writing. She was maybe interested in getting to know me better, so I think she said, “Hey, I’ve got this project you should help me out on.” I wrote an article for, it was like a newspaper, zine kind of a thing back in the 90s for an MLM, the business is out of business now, and I got like 300 dollars for the project. This was a time when I was tending bar, waiting tables, and it was one of those things where it was like, “Hey, this is actually kind of a fun thing.”

I’ve sort of always done freelancing. I’ve worked for an agency and I’ve been a copywriter in-house several times, and then walked away from that for a while to be part of a startup where I was doing all kinds of things from marketing to operations and stepped away from writing for a while. Went back and got an MBA, but through an acquisition and working for a big tech company, I decided it was time for me to go out on my own. I, for a while, ran my own software business but finally came to the conclusion that what I really loved to do and what I am best at is SaaS copywriting, and so over the last two years, I’ve just really thrown myself back into marketing consulting, helping people figure out the story that they need to tell, the responses that they need to get from customers, the psychology that’s required to get people to click a button and say, “Yes, I want to buy this.” That’s sort of where I am today.

KH: Wow, so I kind of thought that you had been … Well, I know you’ve been freelancing for years, but I guess I assumed that you had been in this role for more than two years, like really building your freelancing business as a conversion copywriter. At least that’s the way it feels, the way you present yourself, in a really positive way.

RM: To say that I only have two years wouldn’t be correct because obviously I’ve been doing it for a long time and there have been periods when I’ll freelance while doing other jobs, that sort of thing, but yeah. I had sort of this other software business that I was running while I was freelancing, so that gave me a cushion of income, but it was also a distraction from what I really wanted to do. Every time I would focus on that meant that I wasn’t doing something that I loved. Like I said, about two years ago I said, “Okay, let’s make a change,” and so I’ve been doing this full-time for about two years, but with decades of experience behind me.

KH: How do you feel two years in with this full-time focus on conversion copywriting?

RM: Things are always scary, right? You never stop wondering, “Is this the last client? Is this the last project?” If I finish things up and I don’t have a ton of stuff out on my schedule, it’s like, “Oh, what am I going to do?” Right? How I feel about it? Everyday I’m a little bit scared, but I also love what I do, and it’s always fun. One day I may be writing a product description for a company that sells safety equipment, and the next day I’m writing a sales page for a new app. Then the next week, you’re doing case studies based around training experience, or all sorts of things. There’s just so much variety that I just love this as a way to make a living.

KH: What part about it do you love the most? Because I feel like every time I speak to a copywriter, they love one aspect more than the rest. Maybe it’s the selling part or it’s the actual writing behind the scenes in your copy cave. Do you have one aspect that you love the most?

RM: Not one, but there are a couple. I love writing sales pages or landing pages, those sales messages, and trying to figure out what it takes to get customers to click and decide, “Yeah, I want to buy.” Love that. I love the psychology of response and just getting people to do things differently. Human behavior, behavioral economics, neuroscience, that kind of stuff. I could read that and write about it all day long, and that’s a lot of what I write about in my newsletter every week, is that kind of stuff. It’s really directly applicable to the kinds of projects that I like to take on. I wouldn’t say that there are lots of projects that I don’t like doing. There are some things that I don’t love writing about, I don’t take on gaming type stuff or some projects that sort of go on and on and can get a little bit boring sometimes, but I like a really wide variety. How about you? I notice lately you’ve been doing a ton of sales pages, but you’ve done a lot of other stuff too. What do you like working on most?

KH: Yeah, and it’s funny. I feel like every sales page just launched at the same time, so it’s been fun to see them all live and well-designed and living and breathing.

RM: They’re really, really good sales pages, too. We should link to a few of them, or to screen grabs of a few of them, because I’m guessing that some of them will be down by the time that we’re able to post this, but fantastic writing and really good sales messages.

KH: Thank you, and anytime Rob says that, I feel … I always feel good when you’ve complemented my work, because I know you mean it and you wouldn’t say it otherwise. Thank you. I think for me, I have kind of fallen into the long form sales pages recently because it seems like that’s what people have been asking me for, and I happen to really like it. I think for me, I just really want to specialize in one thing and do it really well right now. It doesn’t mean I don’t like writing other types of projects, I’m open to it, but I just feel like at this stage in my business, I want to be known for something, and so that’s what it is. I don’t know, it just happened organically, and I’m 100% into it. Like you, I love the sales page format. I continue to learn. It continues to challenge me every single time. It’s always so hard, and I think that’s why I like it. It’s this daunting task every time.

RM: It’s interesting too, because especially sales pages, they’re sort of that format that you’re piecing together, it’s a puzzle and you’ve got those pieces that have to be in there, and maybe you’re following a framework like PAS, Problem, Agitates, Solve, or one of the other frameworks. At the same time, you’re also trying to figure out, “Okay, what’s the different hook?” Some of the hooks that are on your sales pages are fascinating, that I’ve seen recently, but they’re all different. Yeah, it’s like approaching a similar problem, but it’s always, maybe it’s like writing a different action movie over and over, like “Fast and Furious” 1 through 7. They’re all different, but they’re all kind of the same, right?

KH: Wait, there’s seven “Fast and Furious” movies?

RM: Maybe there’s eight?

KH: That’s insane.

RM: I don’t know, but yeah.

KH: Wow. Yeah, I know I have some interest in shorter form landing pages, which I’ve done, but I feel like I haven’t mastered those especially for tech companies. I’ve worked on different app landing pages. I can’t say I have mastered it, so I might want to move down in that direction so I can really specialize there as well, but I think for now, I always have that fear of, “Is this my last long form sales page,” too. It’s not even like, “Will someone ask me for another one?” It’s more like, “Can I continue to improve upon these?” Not because they’re so good, but just because I might burn out. I might just get bored with these, and I don’t want to. I want to keep doing them, so I think there’s this fear around potentially losing interest in it, which could happen.

RM: Yeah, it certainly could. While we’re talking about sales pages, I have a question about what you charge.

KH: Oh.

RM: When let’s say somebody comes to you with a new training series that they’ve just created, how do you take a look at what they’ve got and say, “Yes, that is going to be 3,000 dollars,” or, “This one is different, and because it’s different it’s going to be 5,000 dollars.” What are you charging, and how do you come up with that?

KH: Yeah, that’s like the best question ever, and I’m going to ask you in a second and get back at you for this.

RM: Busily scribbling down an answer.

KH: I will be up front about what I charge. I probably should date the time of this conversation because my rate may be totally different by the time we air this, but as of right now I am charging 4 to 5,000 dollars for a long form sales page, which I feel justified and comfortable and confident in that amount. It’s not to say I won’t go up or down depending on the project and the client, but that’s where I’m at right now, but only a couple months ago, I was charging 2,500. Then within eight months, I was charging 1,500 that I remember. It’s jumped rather quickly, but also, like you said, I’ve been pumping them out and spending a lot of time in that space.

I know that the ROI is great and I’m actually working on a few case studies using our friend Joel Klettke’s Case Study Buddy business, he’s going to create a case study for me, or a couple of them based on these recent long form sales pages so I can show the value. Because I do want to make it really clear, especially as I up the price even more, this is what you get in return, and this is what it’s like to work with me.

RM: When you work on one, it seems to me that the one leads to the next. You’ll do one for, say, Joanna at Copy Hackers, and then she refers you to the next client. Then that person sort of refers you to the next. Is that right?

KH: Let’s see. Yes, it is. One of the bigger ones was with Femgineer. I worked with Poornima from Femgineer and she gave me this opportunity to create a wonderful sales page. We spent a lot of time working together and she had a good designer. That’s the hard part. If you don’t have a good designer, then people look at your stuff and they could care less. The output and the final product was good, and I shared it with enough people in our circle that Joanna saw it and she liked it.

I think what I learned is that if you share your work, especially with other copywriters, then it goes a lot further. They kind of know what you’re doing and your skill level, and so they’re more likely to recommend you. I would say share your work and get feedback as much as possible.

RM: Yeah. That’s great advice.

KH: What about for you? What’s your journey been like as far as landing pages and sales pages and what you charge?

RM: I’m a lot like you, where I will charge generally in that 3 to 5,000 dollar range. It really depends on what the product is and how much research that I’m going to be doing. I don’t have any package pricing, other than a project minimum of 2,500 dollars. That’s not to say that I sometimes don’t take projects that are smaller than that, just to fill up a small bit of time or whatever, but in general, I really like a project that’s going to hold me for a few days and take me time to research and do some questionnaires to customers and figure out what the right messaging is, and that takes time and money. I don’t have a set price, and so if it’s something that I look and say, “Okay, this is going to take me a week,” that’s definitely going to be 5,000 dollars. If it’s something that I’m really familiar with or I have a reference page that I am working off of, that’s going to be a lot closer to, say, 2,500 or 3,000 dollars. It really depends entirely on how much effort and research that I’m going to be doing in order to complete that page.

I’ve had really good successes in the past. I worked with ConversionXL Agency on a page for one of their clients that unfortunately I can’t share that page or talk about it because of an NDA, but it was a really fun page to write and to work on, and resulted in a pretty good bump. I was actually matched against an existing page that had been written by a copywriter that specialized in that industry, but when we applied conversion principles to that page, we saw a really nice bump and clicks through to the order page, and even a bump in orders as well that resulted in hundreds of thousands of additional dollars’ worth of sales for their client. That’s the thing that I think I love the most, is you can write something and actually see the impact that it has on a business.

KH: Oh, I want to hear more about that project, but I know you can’t share it. That’s exciting.

RM: Yeah. Those kinds of projects are really fun when they come along. A lot of times you’re working for clients that don’t have previous information or you’re helping them get off the ground, and so you don’t know, say, a before and after kind of response, but when you get that, it’s fantastic.

I think it started with being exposed to ConversionXL Agency at their annual conference, and then another writer that we both know, Jen Havice, referred. I think she was asked to work on the project and didn’t have time, or there was some reason that she couldn’t do it, and so she reached out and just said, “Hey, is this something you’d be interested in?” Because I had that additional familiarity with CXL, it just came together and it was great. Since then, I’ve worked on other projects with them and other projects for their clients. I also get a few clients from my newsletter, which helps. Those are people I guess that find me, they’re on Twitter or on my website and then subscribe and seem to like what I write over time, and so they’ll reach out after a while and say, “This is where I’m at, I’d like to work with you and here’s my budget,” that kind of thing.

KH: Yeah, and I want to talk about your newsletter in a little bit too, but that made me think of just recently, I was working on a sales page for a client, who’s a wonderful client, wonderful team. He just invited me on a call with one of his affiliates and was like, “Kira, can you help with a couple affiliate emails?” This was already kind of a crazy month for me where I took on more than I can handle. At times like that it’s really easy to say, “Whoa, whoa, no. It’s something that at first I was like, “I don’t know if this is a good idea, if I can deliver,” and the end result is that I actually have a new client. I think, just to go along with what we’re saying, it’s sometimes good to say “yes” even though you don’t think you have the time or maybe it’s not an additional chunk of change, but it could lead to something really big and worthwhile, and I think that’s what’s helped me gain new clients and bigger projects definitely over the past six months.

RM: Yeah, one thing leads to another. Either one client leads to another, or an association with another writer who is overwhelmed or too busy or maybe doesn’t focus in that specific area, may make a referral to you. One thing definitely leads to another.

While we’re still talking about clients and writing these sales pages, occasionally you take on a project that goes south. I want to know, Kira, what are your strategies for dealing with those kinds of projects?

KH: The “no strategy” strategy? That’s my problem. I don’t have a strategy, and so I would actually like to hear from you. What I’ve found is that I’m dealing with less challenging clients at this stage, luckily. Early on, I dealt with more. I was smaller projects, smaller price points, I think they attract more problems to begin with, and I wasn’t trusting my gut, so I said yes to projects I kind of knew I shouldn’t say yes to. At this stage, I am now trusting my gut, but that being said, I have taken on at least two in the past few months where I was like, “Oh, I probably shouldn’t have. It probably wasn’t worth it,” and I knew it at the time, but I did it anyway.

I think what I’m just going to say is that you should always trust your gut, but I think there are different times where you should just say yes and get experience, and then once you reach a point where you can say no, start saying no. I’m at the stage now where, this morning I told myself, “I only want to work with clients I am really excited about,” and I think I’m at a stage where I can say that and I can do it. Maybe not, maybe I’ll find out that I need to start saying yes to some of the other clients, but I think I’m at the stage where I can do it, so I need to stand by that.

RM: Yeah. I think you make a really important point, though. When you’re working with clients who are not value-driven by price-driven and looking for cheap solutions just to get copy out there, they don’t really value what you do for them as much as they just need a need met, “I need a blog post, I need a brochure,” then you’re sort of opening yourself up for problems. Because those clients, like I said, they’re price-driven and they expect a lot and they don’t see the value that you can bring. When you’re working professionals who understand the value of copy and some of the people you’ve mentioned already who have developed courses and have done in-person training and they know the value of a sales page that actually converts and it’s actually going to impact their livelihood, those people seem more willing to trust the experience and the skill set that you bring to the table.

KH: Yeah, and I think that’s all it is. It’s just, they trust you, they know that you know what you’re doing, they know that you know more than them in this particular area, and they let you do your thing. It doesn’t mean they can’t question you, but the only people I’ve had problems with have not had that trust for whatever reason, and then that could be on my part for not educating them, like, “This is what I do,” and not providing that. I guess I get stubborn and I’m kind of like, “I don’t need to provide that. I just know, and you should just know that I know.” Maybe that is an issue, but I think if you have clients that trust your expertise, things go very smoothly.

RM: I think there’s a way to present it to clients as well. Oftentimes, and this certainly happened in the beginning of my career and sometimes I even do it now, where I’ll make a presentation to a client, and then I sort of open it up. I open myself up for those kinds of problems by saying things like, “What do you think,” not presenting it as the expert, but rather saying, “Okay, here’s a product. Now go ahead and edit it and change it to what you think, and I’ll go ahead and make those changes.” That is so not the right approach if you’re the expert and if you’re confident in what you’ve written and presented.

Really, you can only do that if you are the expert. If you’re BS-ing your way through the whole process, then you can’t do this, but if you really do understand what you’re working on, it’s not just a matter of, “I’ve just written these pretty words,” but you’ve really brought something to the table. You need to stand up and say to the client, “This is why.” Of course the client always has the option to make the changes, they’re paying for the copy, but we shouldn’t present it in a way that says, “I’m not the expert, you are. Go ahead and make changes to the copy that I’ve written.”

KH: How do you think you can do that most effectively, and what do you have to share? What’s too much, what’s not enough?

RM: That is a great question and I think it’s something that we probably all struggle with when we present to clients. It’s probably just avoiding those kinds of comments that we make at the end of a presentation like, “What do you think,” or, “What changes would you like to see?” Really just presenting it as, “Hey, this is the product. This is why I think it will work. I’d love to test it like this.”

Then if the client comes back and says, “Yeah, well, we’re not quite sure about this headline,” if you can back it up and argue for it and actually have a reason for it, because you wrote 50 headlines and this one is based on a customer comment that you pulled out of your research or the survey that you did with the customers, or is based on a formula that has performed well in other situations, you can talk to that. I think that works a lot better than, “Okay, well, let me see what I can do with the headline,” or if somebody says, “Hey, let’s add a power word,” or something like one weird trick, all those little things that people do in order to get attention. I think we just need to be more professional and stand up for our stuff.

KH: I really want to find out more about your process with clients, because I feel like based on your experience that you probably have nailed this. I think there’s a lot I can learn. Even if you could just run through the stages and how you interact with a client from the onboarding stage.

RM: I don’t know that I have nailed it. In fact, when we were talking…

KH: I’m going to pretend like you have.

RM: When we were talking with Ry Schwartz in a previous episode, where he talks about getting to know the client like a first date, I don’t do that as well as he does, and that’s probably something that I need to figure out how to do better.

My process for working with a client starts with whatever that email interaction is where they reach out or they’re referred and say, “Hey, I’m interesting in working with you.” I’ll generally send them just a quick email that says, “Okay, tell me more about your project. Who are your customers? What does your product or service do?” Those basic questions, just to try to understand if this is…

KH: Do you do it through a form, or do you just ask through the email?

RM: I actually usually just do it through email.

KH: Okay.

RM: There’s five or six different questions. I’ll usually also ask about budget, not because I want to make sure that I get every penny out of them, but because so many clients are outside of my budget. They’re looking for a sales page but they’ve only got a budget of, say, 400 dollars, and that’s just not going to work for me, and there are probably writers out there who can help them better off. Understanding that about the client, where they’re at really helps me say, “Okay, is this a project that is in my wheelhouse? Is this a project type that I have worked on before?” I like to write a lot of tech, Saas, I’ve done some writing in the nutraceutical and health care, I’ve done a little bit of finance. “Is this an expertise that I have, or am I going to have to spend more time learning about, getting up to speed,” that kind of thing. All of that sort of goes into that.

It’s really interesting, the best clients send back a ton of information in response to that email, and the worst clients will usually say something like, “Oh, we need help with our story,” and they ignore all of the other questions.

KH: Wow.

RM: Right there I know, “Okay, they don’t know what they want.” Usually what I’ll ask is, “Are we talking about creating a sales page, a website? Where is it that you want to use this copy?” If they come back and they don’t specific answers for those, I know that this is probably not going to be a great client. That first step helps me weed out people, because I know it’s going to be hard to get information out of them in the future, or they don’t have enough together to really be able to work with me effectively. I’m not saying that they’re not a good client for somebody else, and I’m not saying that they don’t know what they’re doing, but my process in communicating back and forth, that just really helps me identify, “Okay, this person is going to get me the information that I need to move forward and help them.”

KH: Will you ditch them? If they only gave you a one or two-sentence response and ignore a couple of your questions, will you just say, “Hey, this isn’t going to work”? Even if they are technically qualified and have the budget?

RM: Yeah, usually I wouldn’t know if they have a budget or not because they haven’t answered that question, but it sort of depends. Oftentimes I’ll respond back with an email back saying, “Okay, what about these other questions,” and if they don’t answer them a second time, then I know, yeah, we’re probably not going to fit. I’ll respond back and say, “Given the conversation we’ve had, this doesn’t feel like…”

KH: “Given the lack of response.”

RM: Exactly. “This doesn’t feel like it’s going to be a project that’s right for me, but there are other writers,” and occasionally I’ll point them in the direction of somebody who I think might be able to help them out.

If they have responded, then the next step is I’ll put together a proposal. Sometimes it’s less formal if we’ve got a really good rapport going, we’ve had some back and forth, I know what they want, they know what they need, and we can agree on a price really quickly. Occasionally I put together a three or four page formal proposal that talks about what the project is, what my experience is. It includes some quotes from previous clients. Occasionally it will include a sample that I have done before, similar project, that kind of a thing, and the responses.

It will include all of the deliverables. I’ll outline, “In Phase 1, this is the research that I’ll do,” and whether or not I provide them with a copy of the research as a deliverable is outlined there. “Phase 2, this is the copy and editing that I will do, and I will create these webpages or this sales page.” It will include whatever we had talked about. Then in the third phrase would be doing some testing, trying to create variants to improve the response, that kind of a thing. Usually when I bid on that project, I will create a price that’s based on Phase 1 or Phase 2. Then Phase 3, because it’s ongoing, sort of comes after all of that.

Then I send that proposal and invoice. Usually I will bill at least 50% up front. If it’s below my project minimum, it’s 100% up front, then we get to work. I’ll put together a survey that goes out to customers so that I can see what customers are thinking about the product itself, the problems that it solves for them, how they talk about it, because I really want to get into the heads of the customer.

Once I get that information back and I do my own competitive research and that sort of thing, then I start writing copy and I’ll share that with them as a finalized document. If I’m writing a webpage, that’s almost always going to be a wire frame, not just a copy doc, which feels more formal and tends to result in fewer changes. It also feels more professional, I think, to the client, where they look at it and say, “Oh yeah, he’s really thought out the layout and how this all fits together.” Then we go through revisions and hopefully we continue working together on projects in the future.

That’s my whole process, but like I said, I could probably do a lot more up front. Getting to know the customer, getting to know their business and why they’re there, and all of those things that Ry talked about in that previous episode.

KH: Wow, okay. Lots of questions.

RM: What’s your process? When I’ve seen some of the stuff that you’ve written, you’ve shared it with me in draft form oftentimes, and we’ve had some back and forth about some of the phrasing or where you’re making an argument or that sort of thing. How do you collect the information up front, so that when you’re writing a really personal sales page, and some of your sales pages talk about the personal story of the person who has created the product or service, how do you get all of that stuff before you start? What does your process look like?

KH: I jump into calls really early on, and actually that’s what I noted about yours. I wanted to ask you if you jump on a call with them before they even accept your proposal, or is that not part of your process?

RM: I will get on a call before the proposal, but not before they’ve responded to an email or two. I don’t want to spend a half an hour talking to somebody who’s got a budget of 250 dollars and they want seven blog posts, and that’s just not the kind of copy that I do. I want to find out more about them before I get onto a call, but once I get that basic information, “This is my product, this is our customers, this is the pain point. I’m looking at this kind of a timeline, this budget. These are my competitors,” and if they have them, “These are the results so far that we’ve got.” If I have that information, then yes, I want to talk to them.

KH: How long are those calls typically? Are you selling them, or is it just really like, “Hey, this is my process, I just wanted to say hi, and now I’m going to send you the proposal”?

RM: Every call is a sales call, even if it’s just to say “hi”.

KH: Yeah, that’s true.

RM: If I’m really interested in working with them, of course I want them to understand my experience, I want them to see me as somebody that they can work with, that I’m easy to work with, that I’m going to take care of them, all that kind of thing. They’re usually somewhere between 20 and 45 minutes in that discussion, and I think with that discussion you’ve locked in on, “Okay, what is the entire sales process? What does the whole funnel look like? Really, are you able to help them get an understanding of who they are as a customer,” if this is the kind of project you want to take on. All of that sort of happens in that phone call, but like I said, usually before I would send a proposal, we’ve had that conversation. How about you?

KH: Yeah, so I do something similar, then. I have a form. On my services page, I have different forms for each of the services. I do have multiple question on there. When someone submits a form through my website, I usually know that they’re pretty serious because like you said, they’ve taken time to fill out that form, so I flag those people. I also get a lot of people that aren’t going through that services page. They’re just emailing me or they’ve heard about me somewhere else, and so like you said, you never know if it’s serious or if it’s going to be a good fit. I don’t have set questions I ask them, and I don’t send them a survey at that point. I think I should based on what you said, and also based on what Jessica Mehring does. She sends them a survey with a bunch of questions. I think that would help weed out people. That’s been my biggest issue, jumping on calls with people that I shouldn’t really even be chatting with, it’s just not a good fit.

Once I do feel like someone is good to go and this could be a possibility, I do jump on a call with them on Skype. I used to do video calls, I’ve cut out video calls and now I’m doing audio, mostly because I haven’t been showering as much recently and the lighting has not been as good in my apartment, so good reasons not to do video calls, but I actually do think that it helped. I do like the power of video calls, so I may go back to them and start showering more soon. Then once I do the video call, at that point I kind of know if it’s a good fit.

I’ve gotten better at the sales process. I do feel like I am selling them, it’s become a lot easier. I actually feel like I’m pretty good at the sales part. Then I pull together a proposal that is pretty basic. I would love to see your proposals, Rob. I kind of feel like this is a good product in general, if there’s something where we can share a variety of copywriters’ proposals. As you were saying, I was like, “Oh, I know I could up my game if I improve my proposal.” I need to work on that because visually it looks good but I think it’s just not very meaty, and it sounds like yours is meaty.

RM: I try to make it meaty, but I am sure that mine isn’t the best one out there. I think you’re right. It would be cool to share proposals among other…

KH: How cool would that be?

RM: …copywriters. Maybe we’ll see if we can get someone to…

KH: We’ve got to do that.

RM: …respond to that in our Facebook group or something like that.

KH: Yeah, we’ll have to orchestrate that. Usually, the proposal, I use Proposify. Because it’s really highly visual I put a bunch of my branded images in there, so it’s a lot of me, which is probably obnoxious but people seem to like it. I’ve got some really solid testimonials in that proposal, and then links to my most recent work, like you said, that’s pretty basic. Then once people accept the proposal, we schedule a kick-off call. I have a 90 minute kick-off call with them. I used to do one hour, I felt like it wasn’t enough, and even now with 90 minutes I actually feel like that’s not enough.

RM: Interesting.

KH: A lot of this came from our session with Ry Schwartz in Sonoma when we sat down with him and he shared his process. It really helped me rethink the way I am working with clients too. I do think that I want to put more emphasis on really getting to know the client. I have been doing that, but I feel like there’s more I could do. I think I might schedule another call after that. The thing is, people don’t have a lot of time, so if I made it a two-hour kick-off call, that would turn off a lot of clients, too.

RM: Yeah, that’s a long call. That’s a really long call. [crosstalk 00:39:37] When you’re talking about really trying to get to know somebody, like Ry says and as you almost need to for some of these sales pages that you’ve been writing lately, you need that time and you really need to dive into the personal story and the business story and the product, and what it can deliver and the value. That’s not something you can do in 20 minutes.

KH: Exactly, and then part of the conversation is taken up because you’re just chatting about something you have in common, and then 20 minutes is gone from the call. I actually might break it up into two different calls, one hour each, that would be ideal, in the new year. Anyway, but I do feel like I get a good idea of who they are. Before they jump on that kick-off call with me, they’ve filled out an online questionnaire, which I could link to in our show notes. It includes about 40 questions that help me get to know them. I am updating those questions as well. I feel like I could pull in some really juicy ones that I’ve pulled from other copywriters who’ve shared. It’s been typically just more about personality and getting to know them as a person.

I’m working on that, but it has helped me really get to know people and my clients. It’s really personal, I ask a lot of personal questions. I’m not afraid to get really personal and ask awkward questions, and I give them the out, they can always tell me to shove off. That’s fine, but no one ever does. They’re happy to share. I get a lot of good information so I really know them as a person before I even interview their customers.

The next part of the process is that I interview eight of their customers or clients. Typically it’s eight, sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. That is something I made optional for a while, and then I finally was like, “This is actually working. It’s really helpful. This is no longer optional.” Now it’s just part of my process. I think we could probably go deeper into the research in another conversation before I jump into the copywriting and spend a lot of time there. Like you said, there’s a lot of work up front before I even start writing the copy. I include one revision in the process. From there on out, I typically am not jumping on calls. I’m just doing everything through Google Docs, but I will jump on a call if needed.

I have shared wire frames, not with every project. I’m actually really curious about your wire frames, Rob, if you share that. What type of projects are you creating wireframes for? Because with long form sales pages, that would take me forever, so I’m just interested in hearing how that’s impacted your work, how you do it easily so it doesn’t take up too much time, and how that works.

RM: Yeah. My wireframes, anytime it’s a website, I do create a web frame. Even for long form sales pages, I will lay it out. Oftentimes that won’t include graphics, so I’ll use a little grey box to say “this chart goes here” or “insert video”, “sales letter here”, that kind of a thing, but I have laid out just about everything that I do. I didn’t used to do that.

KH: Wow.

RM: It was about a year ago I started, and I immediately noticed that when I presented it as a wire frame, I got significantly fewer requests for changes.

KH: That’s amazing.

RM: Or revisions. Let’s say that the typical project has 10 or 15 revisions. It would have gone from that to two or one, because it feels real and complete. Before I’d just been presenting it as a Word document, and there are still clients that I just do a Word document for. If it’s a white paper or I’m ghosting a blog post for a CEO for someone, those kinds of projects, I’ll just give them a Word doc because laying that out as a wire frame is really a waste of my time. It’s either just going to go up on their blog, or they’re going to have a designer who’s going to put it into a brochure format or a white paper format, that kind of thing. For web pages in particular, yeah, I always present it as a wire frame and I’ve had great success doing it. It just feels final.

KH: Yeah, so what do you use? Balsamic?

RM: I actually create my own using Adobe Illustrator. Wire framing tools, we could do a whole session on wire framing.

KH: We should, yes. I’ll make a note.

RM: To me, wire frame tools out there just are difficult to use compared to a tool that I already understand and know. I mean, I don’t use Adobe Illustrator the way that a designer would, but I do know the basics. I know how to set up copy blocks and how to increase the font size and bold and that kind of a thing. I can add in graphics, but that way I basically control the entire layout of the page. The nice thing is, when the client gets that, they can then present it to the designer and say, “This is the layout,” and I know that the designer’s not going to take my copy doc and lay it out in a way that completely messes with the flow of the information. That has happened to me in the past, where I’ve presented a great sales page and the designer puts things in columns or underplays a headline so that it gets lost, or uses color backgrounds that just hide information that is critical for the story being told. Wire frames to me really help prevent that from happening.

KH: Yeah. That’s awesome to hear, just because I did dabble, and you’re right. When I did send it to clients, I had zero pushback and zero edits. I think that’s a really good point. Do you charge extra, or do you just factor that in and you don’t put it as a line item? You just build it into the price tag?

RM: Yeah, I build it into the price. I don’t put it as a line item because I don’t want somebody to say, “Hey, let’s save 400 dollars here,” or whatever that price would be and eliminate the wire frame. It’s not in either one of our best interests, and so I just include it, and that’s what I present to the client.

KH: Okay. Well, you talked me into it, so I’m going to start doing that.

RM: At this point, Kira, I’ve still got, like, 20 questions and I’m guessing you’ve got a bunch too, and we’re starting to go kind of long on our episode. We’re going to have to do this again.

KH: Oh yeah, we are going long. Wow. Okay, let’s ask one or two more because this is so much fun.

RM: I’ll ask my question while you’re thinking of yours. What are the two or three things that you’ve done that have made the biggest difference in your career?

KH: Gosh, that’s a big question. I think what’s worked well is standing out in a crowded marketplace, which sounds like the title for a webinar. I think investing in the brand of my business has helped me move my business forward faster than if I did not do that, and I really believe that’s true. Another one is building strong relationships with other copywriters and business people in general. I think I am good at building relationships with people, and I think that has helped me greatly in so many different ways. Those are probably the top two. I’m just going to ask you the same question.

RM: Okay. The biggest things in my career. Number one, we talked a little about this in Episode 0, but investing in myself. I started out thinking that you can buy a book or two and sort of learn this. At some point, you have to be willing to really invest in yourself and not just with what you learn, but in time, in building your own business, what Michael Gerber would say, “working on your business instead of in your business,” so taking time but also spending money on things that will move your business forward. Not being afraid to spend 2 or 300 dollars on Breakthrough Advertising, the book, because it’s a rare book.

KH: Do you have it?

RM: I do.

KH: Is it worth it?

RM: It’s totally worth it, yeah, for sure. I think actually by the time this episode airs, I’ve heard rumors that they’re going to run another printing, so it may actually be available for purchase. Looking at a book that costs 2 or 300 dollars and thinking, “Man, it’s a 200 page book. Do I really spend that money?” Yeah, you do, because what you get from that book in particular, but it’s not just that book, lots of other things, if you can take away one or two ideas that are worth hundreds of dollars to your business that you can apply over time, you’re not spending 200 dollars on your book. You’re spending 200 dollars to bring in thousands of dollars in your business and in your future. That’s the investment, and that mind shift has helped me as I started to grow my business.

I think the second thing that is more recent, you mentioned it, but connecting with other copywriters has been huge, because being able to see how others conduct their business has been eye-opening to me. Not just from a, “Hey, this is what I do to write,” but what people’s processes are, how they approach their going to market. I’m on several newsletters of other writers that I respect, and I pay close attention to…

KH: Are you on my list?

RM: I am on your list, but you never send any emails out.

KH: That’s right.

RM: I watch, and I’m on the list of some people that are totally different from me. I mentioned to you off this call that I follow Ash Ambirge, and she and I could not be more different in every possible way, but I like to read her emails because it gives me an opportunity to see how people who are completely different from me are thinking and conducting business. She has a really unique approach that I can still learn from, even though it’s probably something that I wouldn’t do myself. Just being exposed to all of these other writers in a mastermind group or in several Facebook groups, that kind of a thing, has had a huge impact on me as well.

KH: Ash, if you are listening to this show, we want you on the show. Please, please email us and get on the show.

RM: That’s right. You’re on our list, we’re coming for you, Ash.

KH: You are on the list. No, that’s interesting that we share the same ones in common, really. It’s about investing in yourself and building relationships. That’s interesting.

RM: We’re going to talk again, Kira, but in the meantime, if people want to reach you, where do they look for you online?

KH: You can find me at That’s K-I-R-A H-U-G dot com. What about you?

RM: You can probably find me at, and I’m also on Twitter, @Brandstory. I have some other sites too, but I’ll just leave it at that.

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 free Facebook community, visit We’ll see you next episode.


Leave a Comment


Discover your copywriter strengths then use them to land more baller
clients and strategically position yourself at the tippy top of the industry.

take the quiz