Alyssa Burkus is our guest on the 341st episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. Alyssa is a thought leadership and content marketer. She started her business after being faced with asking life’s big questions after a chronic cancer prognosis but has defied the odds over and over again by building a business that works for her, her health, and her family. While we may not all be faced with life-threatening illnesses, we all face uncertainty and downsides. Alyssa shares the systems she has in place to look after what matters most.
Here’s how the conversation goes:
- How her background in a global change consulting company has impacted her copywriting career.
- Why she leaned into thought leadership and authority building as her area of specialization.
- What really is thought leadership and how is it different from other forms of content marketing?
- Is all content marketing created equal?
- Tools to cope with uncertainty.
- The importance of energy management for your personal and business life.
- What AI doesn’t have on thought leadership.
- What’s Alyssa’s strategy for working with a new client on building their authority?
- How to strategically repurpose content.
- Using the “plant and…” approach to pivoting.
- How to create writing habits that stick as a writer.
- Why it’s a good idea to have a place you can relearn information.
- “Write it in your own words” is making a comeback.
- How she sold out her first program with no list.
- What can you modify in your products or services to make them stand out?
- The #1 question you need to ask yourself when creating a course.
- Why you can’t hustle culture your way through business.
- Morning routines vs morning windows… What’s the difference?
Press play or check out the transcript below.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
Rob Marsh: What does it mean to be a thought leader? What kind of content does a thought leader produce? And maybe the biggest question of all, once you’ve got good content that reflects your strategic thinking, how do you make sure that the world will even see it? Those are just three questions that we asked our guest for today’s episode of The Copywriter Club podcast.
Alyssa Burkus is a strategist, a copywriter, a member of the Think Tank and a thought partner for her clients, and she shared how she helps them build their audience with great thinking. We also talked about working through serious difficulties, what to do when change becomes a constant, how to pivot and creating a writing habit that will actually stick. This is an episode definitely worth listening to twice.
Kira Hug: Or maybe three times. Maybe four times. Before we get to the interview though, this podcast is sponsored by the Copywriter Think Tank. That is our mastermind for copywriters and other marketers who want to figure out the next phase of their business. Some things are working well in their business, but they want to figure out what comes next; they want to increase their revenue; they want to figure out new revenue streams, increase visibility and really figure out what their X factor looks like, so they can build a business around that.
We actually have a retreat coming up in June. It’s a virtual retreat on June 2nd and 3rd. So it’s coming up fast, and if you want to participate in that, you can apply today to see if you’re a good fit in the Copywriter Think Tank. We also have a retreat that we’re really excited about coming up in September in London, and Rob and I are thrilled to have an excuse to fly to London and hang out with copywriters. It doesn’t get better than that, does it, rob?
Rob Marsh: Does not get better than hanging out with copywriters in the UK.
Kira Hug: All right, so Rob, I have a quick question for you. You’ve been to many retreats that we’ve hosted and that you’ve been a part of. I wonder which one stands out as maybe a favorite retreat that you’ve participated in or have hosted and why?
Rob Marsh: Ooh, that’s a really hard question to answer, because most of them are pretty good. Let me just speak in general. So I really like retreats where I come away with ideas that I can implement in my business; that is the thing that sets them apart. So, I’ve been to events where I’m excited, I’m jazzed up, and then I get home. It’s like, “Well, how do I actually execute on that thing?” And for me, the ones that really set it apart is: Here’s a tactic, here’s exactly how you implement it, here are the steps and they really walk you through that. So that stuff makes a difference to me and it makes it feel more useful, gives me a pattern that I can follow to make sure that I’m making changes in my business and, hopefully, it makes my business grow or changes some way that I can reach new people, that kind of thing.
So that’s the stuff that makes the difference to me, and we’ve been in a couple of masterminds where we’ve had that. So a couple of Brian Kurtz’s groups that we attended. He recently just ended his mastermind, but when we were in it, there were a few people like that where I just walked away. I’m like, “Wow, these are five ideas that I want to implement.” And in the mastermind that you and I are in currently, that happens virtually every time, and I hope it’s something that we deliver every time we have a Think Tank retreat as well.
Kira Hug: Yes. I thought you were going to say Barcelona. Barcelona.
Rob Marsh: Barcelona was a lot of fun for a lot of reasons, and that one actually had some really good takeaways. We talked very specifically about how you can charge for the value of content, which is something that a lot of people don’t know how to do. We teach it in the accelerator, but it’s one of those kinds of things where… These are the things that don’t often get taught in the real world because they’re kind of complex. They involve spreadsheets and multiple steps, and oftentimes you just have to be in the room to learn this stuff.
Kira Hug: We also played a very competitive game of foosball in the basement of that house in Barcelona. I was quite a fierce competitor. I don’t think we played, Rob. I don’t think you-
Rob Marsh: I did not play you. I’ve learned my lessons in playing you. If I lose, it’s embarrassing. And if I win, it destroys our relationship, so.
Kira Hug: So if you’re listening and you’re interested in being a part of a mastermind that could help you figure out what’s next in your business and not just give you ideas, but give you a plan and provide coaching not only from us, the two of us, but from a mindset coach, from a visibility coach, from a systems and growth coach, so you have all the coaching support you need to actually make the shift in your business, check out copywriterthinktank.com for more information. Okay, let’s kick off our episode with Alyssa.
Alyssa Burkus: It is a long and windy path. I’ve been a reader and a writer for a long time, but didn’t follow that as a career path initially. I didn’t really realize or know how to make it a real job, and so I did the regular thing, or at least what the people around me were doing. I went to university and then I also did grad school and I took a corporate job at a global change consulting company; which I had done my undergrad in sociology, and so this felt like this giant leap forward, which was exciting. The work really involved the training and communications around large technology implementations for giant companies. So if you can imagine, the note from the CEO of a company about a new program was written by people like me, sort of corporate comms, but for specific change programs.
I did that for a number of years and progressed and really enjoyed it, but the work was grueling. I was a newlywed at this point. I was on the road a lot. And so, I made the decision like a number of other people around me at the time, and I jumped from this giant global company into a startup. I was at a tech startup, I was employee #11, doing a mix of project work and also setting up their HR function for the first time, which was really fun. My partner was already working there. We were newlyweds. It was really a great decision, really exciting project.
About a year into it, I was diagnosed for the first time with cancer, with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. So all this momentum that I was feeling around my career and life kind of ground to a halt. I had six months of chemo. And as I was going through this, our company was acquired by a giant technology company. And so, as I am kind of recovering, I’m stepping back into the world that I had thought I’d escaped and I was back into all the corporate things, and also trying to figure out what the new normal would be for my life. I was diagnosed with chronic cancer, so we knew that it would recur. I was given a prognosis that was, I guess, encouraging from the doctor’s perspective, but worrisome from our perspective. And so having to make decisions, what do I do for my job? Do we have kids? Do we plan a vacation? Do we save for retirement? Heady things that were tricky at the time. But we just decided that we needed to act as if I would live a long time, that there would be a cure in my lifetime, and so we started doing regular people things again. We had a baby.
But as I was in this big giant company, I was getting really restless. I’m not really cut out for big companies. And so I started my first company, Change Consulting Company, and made that transition into entrepreneur life, which was exciting and lots of the ups and downs that you both know well; trying to basically have a set of long-term retainers. So they were long-term projects doing many of the things that I had learned right out of university; corporate communications, training programs. It’s really where I learned how to step into other people’s voices from a writing perspective and trying to do that well; learning to write, at least from my perspective, it was important to write to the grumpiest, most checked-out person in the room. If I felt like I was writing in a way that would land for them, then the program would get the buy-in that we needed. The pieces would land well. So that was kind of the mindset that I took there.
And it was great, but I found the wild swings of ups and downs really hard, having a 12-to-18-month more than full-time assignment. And then, that feeling of stepping into this sunshine after an afternoon movie; you’re sort of a little discombobulated and you’re back to selling again and putting aside the client’s identity and stepping back into your company again. And so I found that challenging. And at the same time, dealing with more cancer treatment, we had another baby; there were just a lot of things going on. And then, a client reached out and said, “The work that you’re doing, we’re going to make it full-time.” This was another tech startup. It’s actually where I met Kira.
At first in my head I’m thinking, “I’m not employable. I don’t want to be an employee again.” But then I realized that there were a lot of things that stepping away from being a business owner and being in a team, again inside a company, doing work that was really interesting, was really appealing to me, and so I jumped back into startup life for a number of years.
But a year into that, I was diagnosed for the third time with cancer. This time was a really aggressive form. I had a lot more difficult treatment. I had a stem cell transplant. And that really shook things up for me in a different way. I really felt like… Well, first of all, I had some physical challenges now from treatment. The way I worked changed. I needed to manage my work differently, my memory… There were just some physical things that had changed. And as I approached turning 50, I was really feeling this sense of, what do I want to do with my life? I’ve been doing a lot of the same things again. Do I want to stay here? I realized I wanted to go back to being a business owner again, but I wanted to do it really differently. And so, through conversations with different people and also just thinking about… I kept asking myself the question, “What if it was easy?” And realized what I wanted to do was write and also do some coaching.
And so, that’s how I kind of found my way back into this business. It’s been about 18 months. I do thought leadership writing, so long-form content, e-books; a book book, a long form full book last year for clients who are looking to build their authority in their space. I’ve been doing that in different ways. I experimented a lot at the beginning. I did all the things from email newsletters, web copy, research pieces, et cetera, until I really kept narrowing it into longer form content, specifically focusing on strategy and launching my course. So I’ve now got this nice mix that feels really solid, even though it’s taken me a while to kind of get to this place.
Rob Marsh: Well, I don’t even know where to start with you. There’s so many places to go.
Alyssa Burkus: I know. There’s lots of things, yeah.
Rob Marsh: Let’s talk just a little bit about cancer, because obviously we’ve talked about hardships and things that people go through personally. Can’t even imagine three times. I’m curious if you have advice for somebody who is facing that kind of a challenge in their lives. Maybe it’s cancer, maybe it’s something else; but how do you stay positive when you’re looking at something that is life-threatening and maybe worse; maybe there’s a decent outcome at the end. But, what advice do you have for somebody who might be facing something like that in their life?
Alyssa Burkus: Yeah, it’s hard. It’s hard because of the uncertainty, which I think people feel in different ways in their businesses, in their lives at different times. We can’t always plan things out. I think cancer removes the illusion that we’re going to live forever. We all sort of act as if we’re going to live forever, and cancer is a big wake-up call for a lot of people.
I’m never one of those people that says cancer is a gift. I’d rather keep that unwrapped, I guess. There’s a lot of things that cancer can illuminate for you, can really bring into sharp focus, things that are important. Sometimes creates a bit of urgency, which can also be scary.
I do some cancer recovery coaching, and what I often will talk to people about is just focusing on today. So people get really caught up in the uncertainty of what’s going to happen six months from now, what’s going to happen two years from now, and so I really try to bring people back to today. What’s something small you can do every day to help you feel that you’re taking action towards what feels important. It might be towards your physical recovery, it might be towards your mental recovery, it might be helping get clarity on what you want to do from a job, relationships, any number of factors or elements that are in your life. So it can help you, just taking those small steps forward.
Things can feel really overwhelming and they can feel permanent, especially soon after you’re finished the toxic treatment. You’re expecting to feel well quickly. And for some people, they absolutely do. And other people, for me, I got really frustrated with how long it was taking to recover, and did I need to treat this as the way it was going to be or what could I expect to further recover? It can be hard.
Kira Hug: So when you’re 50 and you make this pivot, and even though you can teach a masterclass on –
Alyssa Burkus: In a pandemic.
Kira Hug: Right. And like you said, you had a stem cell treatment, you were physically not feeling well, dealing with memory struggles. How do you start a business and approach it in a way where you’re like, “I’m going to do this my way? I can’t do it the way society is telling me to do it. I can’t do hustle culture. My health and life depends on it. And I have to make it work, too. I also have to make money and make the business run.” Where do you even start to almost fight society and how you’re building, because you can’t do it the way other people are doing it?
Alyssa Burkus: Yeah, it’s hard. I don’t always follow my own advice and find myself getting pulled back in. I try to focus on what are the very specific things that I believe will move the needle or create the momentum I’m looking for in my business. I can get caught up in social media. The reality is my clients really don’t come from there, or at least at this point, historically, it’s been more LinkedIn, and I’m also trying to do more organic search and SEO as a path-in.
But social, it’s easy for me to get really caught up in social media and it’s also exhausting, and so I try to find ways to streamline that as much as possible, which is contrary to what some people will say about having a presence in different places. I really looked at managing energy through the day, and not just physical energy, although there’s a part of that, but mental energy for creative tasks specifically. The experts say, “Write first thing in the morning.” That never really worked for me. The experts would say, “You needed to do so many pieces or manage your calendar in a certain way.” Time blocking as an example, that really never has worked for me because of some of the changes in my brain. And so I just focused on really continuing to analyze how I’m approaching my work and looking for what’s working and what’s not working, and trying to be in that sort of perpetual beta, right? Continuing to refine, try not to get too frustrated when the way I tried wasn’t working and just keep coming back to what’s the core of my business? Where the client’s going to come from? Where can I create efficiencies in how I’m delivering my work?
Rob Marsh: You mentioned your first solo business was being a change consultant. That seems pretty forward-looking. As you maybe examine your life, it’s like, wow, everything was changed for a long time, and that’s maybe not different from many of us. But what did you do as a change consultant impact the changes that you’ve made over the course of your career to the point where you are copywriting today?
Alyssa Burkus: One of the biggest things that was a skill that I built early was thinking strategically in a situation and building those strategy skills. Really simply, it’s the work of making sure that the plan connects to the bigger goals, whether they’re monetary or other things, and that the goals are really clear. That has served me well through all of my work.
I think, too, there’s something about change consulting; it’s interesting because it’s really about persuasion. It’s convincing people who are resistant. We all would rather stay, many of us, anyway, in a state of steadiness and certainty, and the idea of change is difficult for people. So I think understanding that mindset, coming into it for ourselves and others really need to be clear on the why of the situation as a way to help get us out of that steady state or unwillingness mode and start to work towards making that change happen.
So, I try to bring some of those things into my writing even today. So really stating at the outset, “What’s the why?” Or “What’s the thing, the what?” What’s the, “So what?” So, why do they need to care about it? Why will it change their life in real words, not in over overstating words? And then, what are we going to do about it? What’s the, “Now what?” for them? And so trying to come back to those basic principles has really helped me as well in terms of thinking about my own life and some of the many changes that I’ve needed to work through as well.
Kira Hug: Yeah, I guess I’m wondering if we can go back to it, the process as you were thinking about what do I want to be when I grow up, and you landed on writing; you mentioned what I was thinking about, “What if it could be easy?” And that might have guided you, but what else? How else did you figure out, this is what I want to do, this is what I’m going to go in on?
Alyssa Burkus: My work at the more recent startup was with consultants and coaches and helping them build leadership training programs, change programs on their own… They were small business owners as well. And so I knew that space really well, I had all this domain knowledge, but I knew I didn’t want to go back to having my own change company. And so I was really worried about whether I needed to let go of all this domain knowledge if I wanted… I knew I loved writing. It had been so much of my work.
And so, thinking about, okay, I’ve got this audience of consultants and coaches. They need help. They were constantly asking for sales and marketing help. The problem that we all have of not enough resources or people to help them. I had this knowledge, and so I went into my business by starting with a deep niche in really focusing specifically on consultants and coaches, which is a bit atypical; probably could have been more broad, but that’s the space, the business that I knew. I understood their business, their work, and I’d also been their client at different times. So I really understood that full relationship and what was needed.
But I went into it with two hypotheses. One was that they would want to hire out the writing help, and that they would see value because…, so there’s a lot of people who write content. They can go on Upwork, they can go on Fiber and get somebody to write things for them. Would they see value in paying more for somebody like me who has the domain knowledge to bring to the equation, who can be a thinking partner and a writing partner, a business strategist for them in helping them build their business with strategic content? That was a hypothesis. I didn’t know if that would hold true, but it was a way to combine writing and still stay connected to that leadership, corporate working world, future of work space that… I mean, I enjoy reading about it in my spare time. I didn’t want to have to lose that as well.
Rob Marsh: So as you launched into your writing business, you kind of went broad content and took a little time to figure out what you wanted to do. How did you land on authority content? And just walk us through that process.
Alyssa Burkus: Yeah. I really could see that the space was there’s so many people who have a consultant and coach hat, and the people who were able to differentiate themselves were adding deeper, longer writing to their sites. They were building a platform; they were sharing their unique experience; they had a model that was specific to them. So I could see that pretty clearly. It was some of the work that they were already asking me to do. And I could see the difference once they had that content in their hands, the change that it gave them more confidence in their sales process. You could see how building the authority wasn’t just for the sake of being able to say, “I’m an expert,” or where they landed on Google, but they carried themselves differently and…
Where they landed on Google, but they carried themselves differently and how they talked about their work because they could see the evidence come together, they could see their research come together. And I’ve always enjoyed that form of content that feels interesting, new connections being made, well-connected to the research. It’s just the writing that I enjoy doing and it’s a little more difficult. So there’s, I guess, a bit of a challenge in it too. I always think of my work a bit as sort of puzzle piece. The client comes with these bits of things and you need to knit it together, but you’re not given the picture, so you need to knit it together in a way that creates that strong visual and story for their clients. So it’s just that it kind of came together as a space that was, I could see there weren’t as many people doing that work as well, and so it felt like an opportunity to really step into it.
Kira Hug: Can you share what is working today in that thought leadership space for content? If I were to sit down and write my own thought leadership piece, any tips on what to do, what not to do?
Alyssa Burkus: Yeah, I think as we see, and not to make everything about AI, but it feels like lots of the conversations come back to AI. You both are spending lots of time there.
Rob Marsh: It’s all we do anymore, yeah.
Kira Hug: It’s hard to avoid it and it’s fun to talk about it.
Alyssa Burkus: You can’t avoid it. I believe that the longer-form content will be that antidote, if you will, or antivenom. I don’t know, is that too harsh to AI? There’s lots of great things about AI for sure, but that deeper thinking for both us as the writers, as well as the reader. So the more that you can share your unique experience in the writing that you’re doing, so not just talking about the thing, but your experience with the thing, whether it’s with a client or the way that you looked at a situation. The one thing AI won’t have is firsthand experience, at least not for the next little while. Your clients aren’t going to be going to AI to say, “Tell me what it’s going to be like in the real world on the ground. Tell me your experience.” And I believe that’s the key piece that needs to come through in that thought leadership writing, is your experience.
The more that you can connect it to evidence as well, other people’s primary research, secondary research, what other people are writing that bolsters or even what you believe is different from the mainstream thinking, even if there’s evidence there, you may have proof to the contrary that what’s worked before, what we consider best practices that lead us forward. The pandemic showed us that there’s no certainty or best practices aren’t going to necessarily get us through. And so if you can speak to what you’re seeing that’s different from that, it can also help in that thought leadership work as well.
Rob Marsh: I want to ask a little bit about the strategic side of this kind of work, because it’s one thing to say well write long pieces that make new connections, but it’s a lot more difficult than that. Obviously, you’re not just talking about industry or subject matter, but you’re taking into account the person who’s writing, the kinds of things that they’re teaching. So when you sit down to write for a new client and help them build their authority, what does that strategy process look like?
Alyssa Burkus: So the conversations always start with really understanding their business, their plans for their business. What’s working well? Where are they looking to grow? What are some of the things they’re doing over and over again that could become a signature program for them? Seeing what exists already and doing the things that are fairly, I would say typical, right? We’re looking at who their customers are, who their competitors are, and understanding their ecosystem. And then I usually do a two hour strategy session to really get into where they want to go next. If we’re doing brand messaging strategy or content strategy, on that layer, it’s understanding who’s influencing their work and who’s influencing their client’s work and making sure that understanding those voices and where they fit into the equation.
Is my client looking to do something similar? Are they echoing what they’re seeing? Is there a different element? Is there a gap they’re seeing? And that also informs things like tone, level of complexity of the writing, topics they want to be known for. So many of those same things. If we’re doing a program design strategy, it’s really looking at what are all the different components of their work. Are they doing workshops, keynotes, online training, coaching? Are they doing their own strategy? What are all those different pieces? Do they combine them well right now or is it scattershot? And they’re actually looking to instead… I have a client right now and they’re looking to turn their one-hour repeated workshop into half-day multi-month programs. And so figuring out how to knit those topics together and then often that leads into content strategy, because now they’ve got this new thing that they want to talk about externally as well to sort of build their funnel.
Kira Hug: So clearly you do a lot more than write content and it’s clear from just hearing you talk about it, we know that because we work with you. But how do you position yourself and talk about what you do and your own messaging and marketing so that potential clients, who don’t know you as well, understand the depth that you provide and the level of strategy and are hopefully willing to pay more and also work with you in a different way?
Alyssa Burkus: Yeah, it’s tricky. It’s taken me a while to figure this out. I would say I’m still tinkering with it a little bit. Often it starts with making a distinction, my distinction between content marketing and thought leadership. Content can be thought leadership. Not all, I forget how I do it, but not all content is thought leadership. But all thought leadership is typically content. Just explaining to people the difference that there’s certain content marketing, likely it’s a both-and situation for them. There’s certain content pieces they want to do.
But then the deeper thought leadership, that being a thinking partner for them is often a relief. As soon as I start saying thinking partner, that I understand their business, having had their business, having been their client as well, their sort of metaphorical client, and understanding the space, allows me to move really quickly into showing through examples what I’m reading, what I’ve done recently, that I understand their space. And so for me, I can provide a shortcut for them as they start working with a new writer because I know the space, I know what they’re trying to emulate.
I think too, because I’m asking questions about their business model, pricing, many of the things I hear you asking and talking about when we’re in the Think Tank, digging deep into the inner workings of their business, it’s often a relief to them. The same issues we face as often solo practitioners of, “Who do I talk to about this?” I’m finding they say to me, “It’s so great to be able to talk to somebody who really gets it and can get there quickly.” And so I think the more you can show your clients that you understand their space and get them quickly to the part about, “So now what? What do you want to work on?” The more excited they are to kind of move that conversation forward. They can see that there’s less homework, legwork, prep work that they need to do to get you up to speed. They can jump to the good stuff, which is seeing the outcomes that they want to have you create.
Rob Marsh: So while we’re talking about thought leadership, thought content, obviously there’s a lot of work that goes into a really good piece of thought leadership content and then you put it out into the world and it maybe gets a little bit of traction or it kind of disappears and then you’ve got to have another piece of thought content ready to go. I’m guessing that there’s maybe a better approach than that, a way to repurpose this and to reuse it in various ways. Can you maybe talk about how we can do that? Obviously, I’m asking this from a selfish standpoint in some of the stuff that we create that feels like it dies way too soon even though it’s really good. But also seeing so many other copywriters doing the same thing.
Alyssa Burkus: Yeah. When I talk to my clients and when I think about the thought leadership products that we’re creating, I’ll say to them, let’s imagine that nobody reads this and they go a little pale. They’re thinking, “Oh my gosh, what?”
Rob Marsh: “What?! What happened? How is that possible?”
Alyssa Burkus: That’s part of your job, right?
Rob Marsh: Yeah.
Alyssa Burkus: But that’s what we’ll talk about is, okay, we’ve got this great piece. What are all the different ways that we can use this document, not necessarily as is, although sometimes that’s part of it. I will pull quotes for some of the obvious things that people will think of. Pull quotes for their social media person, talking to them about is there a paragraph to create for a keynote pitch that you’ll put on your website? Can we add this to your proposal process? And sometimes we’re talking about that at the beginning. Where in the funnel do people get stuck because it can inform the type of thought leadership we’re going to tackle first.
Some of the work is like pre-funnel. Where you’re sort of socializing may be a new idea that people really need to understand, but sometimes it’s actually they just need to understand that they’re not the only one who’s gone through this and that you’ve done this work before. And so that might be more of a case study further down. But thinking about it, so can I take this thought leadership piece? Yes, it’s on my website. I’m hopefully going to, for the bigger cornerstone pieces, I’m going to tune it for SEO so that I can get some traction in and what’s the CTA there? This PDF that I’ve created, can I break it up into four or five smaller blog posts? Can they be a LinkedIn series? I’ll do a series of posts and then we’ll create an article from those posts. Because articles get a different algorithm on LinkedIn than posts do.
Can we attach it to their discovery call confirmation process or page? Can we use it as the basis for pitching podcasts or pitching other guest articles on different platforms? So really trying to think about as many ways as possible to repurpose the content. Not necessarily just the piece as is, as a PDF, but what are the different ways that we can talk about this great information that’s inside of it. Do we create a contest with their community? Et cetera, et cetera. So it’s really, again, unless they have a big platform, they’ve got a big list, lots of website views and traction, we sort of go into it with, “Let’s expect low volume and let’s figure out as many places as we can that we’re going to use it.”
Kira Hug: Yeah, this makes me think of all the things we could repurpose, Rob.
Rob Marsh: It’s making me sick.
Kira Hug: I know, it’s just making me feel sick.
Rob Marsh: There’s years of work, right? Yeah.
Kira Hug: Yeah.
Alyssa Burkus: Absolutely, absolutely. I’ve seen both of you do this well of collecting a set of podcast episodes, turning it into a course. That as well. Some of my clients are working the other way. They have a course already and they’re trying to build the content around the course. But certainly a course workshop, I mean the list could keep going, of things. It’s just continuing to think about, if you think about what your core message is, what are all the different versions of that that you want to get out into the world and ways to find your audience.
Kira Hug: All right, Rob, why don’t you kick us off? What stood out to you from this conversation with Alyssa?
Rob Marsh: Yeah, so a lot of things. Let’s talk a little bit about change. We talked about change, actually at the end of the episode as well, but change is a constant and there’s so many things going on in the economy with shifts with AI. And so I just appreciate Alyssa’s approach to this and to making changes in your business, growing comfortable with change. This is something that’s really more about our mindset than about the things that are actually out there happening in the world.
If we approach this knowing that, hey, there’s always going to be rough things happening or always going to be changes to the way we do the work, occasionally there’s going to come things like AI, which could completely change an industry, but as long as we’re comfortable with that, then we can take a step back and start asking questions like, “Okay. How am I going to deal with this? How am I going to use this to my advantage? How am I set up to succeed even in spite of all of this other stuff? What new things do I need to do? What new approaches should I be considering? Who should I be talking to?” So really smart just to be thinking about change. And I think Alyssa does that really well.
Kira Hug: Yeah, and there are a couple different messages too, that Alyssa shared at different parts in the conversation. And I almost want to hold those messages close together. One was about acting as if you’ll live for a long time, and that’s something that she’s had to do for a while since her cancer diagnosis and thinking long term even when you aren’t guaranteed that long time and that long life. But also making the plans. I like to think, “Okay, well let me make a plan for my life as if I’m living to be 120,” because that allows me to think differently about what opportunities are in front of me, even if it’s not going to happen and I get hit by a car tomorrow.
But then she also mentioned focusing on what’s right in front of you and that’s how we deal with overwhelm and all the changes that you’re talking about, Rob, when we’re like, “Oh my goodness, I don’t know what to do because 10 years from now I might not even have a job because the industry is changing so quickly. Or maybe five years from now.” So she also asked the question, “What’s something you can do today?” Not six months from now, but what can you control today? And so I like both of those ideas together. Long-term thinking gives opportunities and helps you create a bigger vision, but thinking really more myopic and so that you can avoid overwhelm and all the stress that we tend to feel when we go really big.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, I underlined that as well. What is some small thing that you can do every day to move yourself forward? Whether that’s in your personal life or in your business, that’s a really good idea. We tend to think about really big changes that we need to make in the things that we do, personal life, business, whatever. But really big changes happen over time by making really small changes. And so that approach, I think, works really well. It’s all really about making the important stuff more urgent. That whole idea that, “Yeah, I’m planning on living a long time, but if that doesn’t work out. Making sure the important stuff is the stuff I’m getting to first,” matters.
Kira Hug: And then Alyssa also asked the question that guided her as she turned 50 and was figuring out her next pivot at that point, her question was, “What if it was easy?” And that’s such a powerful question that stuck with me as well, because I like to make things really hard. It’s a gift. If there’s something easy, I can make it harder. And so that’s something that I need to ask myself more often.
Rob Marsh: From a business standpoint, again, another brilliant question, “What would this look like if it were easy?” And oftentimes I think we need to take a look at our business and say, “Okay, what is hard in the business? Is prospecting hard for me?” If it wasn’t hard, if it was easy, how would it be different? What would I be doing differently? It’s a really smart question to get at the root of things that we could change that will make all kinds of improvements in what we do.
Kira Hug: And Alyssa talked about how she works with her clients today, how she talks about the work she does and positions herself, so she’s viewed as more of a partner. I mean that were her own words. She calls herself a thinking partner and she likes to share different examples of how she understands the niche and the industry that she’s working in to really separate herself from every other writer in this space. And I think that’s a good way if you really want to kind of show up as more of a thinking partner and more of a thought leader and more of a consultant at a different level with your clients, showing the knowledge base that you already carry in the industry is really important.
And that might be something you do in your own marketing, it might be something you touch on the sales call, but that’s something that Alyssa has done really well so that her prospects can turn into clients because they understand that she gets their space. So she’ll be able to take off and run early on rather than trying to stumble through and figure out the ins and outs of the industry.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, and there are so many copywriters who are doing this in their own business as well, creating this thought content, this showing up as leaders and strategists sharing that, whether it’s on social media, I tend to think of LinkedIn as its own separate category and we’re all doing this. And I loved how Alyssa also talked just about thinking about reusing that, there’s so much of it out there. And on Twitter, a tweet has a half life of a couple of minutes. If you don’t see it at that time, it’s gone. Instagram’s probably a little bit more than that, but again, after a day or so, most of the reels, most of the things are gone and off the feed. And so thinking about the stuff that we’re talking about or helping our clients think about, if we’re writing this kind of content for our clients, it’s not going to last unless we start to think about how to reuse it.
And she shared a couple of ways that she thinks through that. It really got me thinking too. It’s obvious, as we said during the interview, we’ve got so many things we’ve talked about done, taught, and it gets lost, it gets put into the underground and we don’t mention it again or happens in the Think Tank and it doesn’t get taught elsewhere. And so it’s great for the people who are there in those programs when we do it, but some of it gets lost. And so we need to be thinking about how do we recapture that, not just us, all copywriters need to be doing this for their clients.
Kira Hug: That’s why I love podcasting though, because it does have a longer shelf life compared to those tweets. And so it feels like it’s worth the investment of time and energy it takes because it will last for a while. But I agree, I think repurposing is so hard for so many of us, ’cause it takes thought and time and consideration and we often don’t have that, even though we want to, because we’re moving on to the next client project and we’re late for a deadline. And so it’s worth slowing down to think through. Even if you can’t go back in time, like you’re saying Rob, and look at everything in our library of content, which we should do at some point. But if we could just start from today and as we record the next podcast, or a workshop, or the next email we write, think about how we can repurpose at least that. ‘Cause when I think about going backwards, I get really overwhelmed. I’m like, “Ugh, I’m never going to be able to do that.”
Rob Marsh: But this is an opportunity that a lot of copywriters could help their clients with. Our friend Sarah Hopkinson has done this with podcast content and she’s really good at helping identify those kinds of opportunities for her clients to resurface ideas that they talked about a year or two ago and make it fresh.
Kira Hug: Yeah, definitely. Great opportunity, you can create a package out of that.
Rob Marsh: So let’s get back to our interview with Alyssa and learn how she pivoted her business and integrated writing habits into her life that turned into her first launch.
Kira Hug: I want to go back to the pivot idea. I know we talked around it and you shared so many ideas around how to approach it, but I feel like if I want to pivot and we’re all going to be pivoting more and more frequently, what are some steps, it doesn’t even have to be steps, but just some guidance we can take with us as we pivot?
Alyssa Burkus: I use Jenny Blake’s model from her book, Pivot. Great title. She uses-
Rob Marsh: Great model, great book, everything.
Alyssa Burkus: Yeah, that’s great. It’s great. So she uses a basketball metaphor, which is always dangerous for me. I really should not use sports metaphors when I’m talking to people, but I’ll give it a shot. So she uses basketball where you plant one foot and then you scan with the other one to see where to go next. I think it’s to, I don’t play basketball, but anyway, plant, right? So the idea being, and that’s what I did with my business is, what are the things that I do really, really well, that come easily to me, that I enjoy? What if it were easy? That’s the foot you plant. That you want to, ideally, keep in whatever that next iteration looks like. So it’s plant and can take you in some new directions. And then it’s scanning to see is it a trend that interests you? I see the two of you and your new AI For Creatives podcasts, right, is exactly an example of that. It’s something you do really, really well in podcasting and seeing this trend of AI that’s here and is going to continue to accelerate.
And is going to continue to accelerate it. If it’s not AI, there’s lots of other things of interest. Maybe it’s a gap that you see in the market that you know could fill for either your clients or maybe it’s a new group of clients, but you’re still staying planted in what you know to do well. So at least in my experience it accelerated a number of things early on in that new phase of, in my case, the brand new business. I didn’t have to think about long-form content. I’d been a blog editor. I’d done a lot of long-form content at the tech company. That was something I knew really well. So that helped me anchor the domain knowledge that I had, allowing me to get right into that work right away.
And then at the same time, figuring out how do I sell it? Where are my clients? Those types of things that were newer for me. It just made the entire process, it wasn’t easy, but it accelerated certain things that felt like early on I was creating some momentum, which I think can really help you keep going. Getting that sense, even small, back to the coping and uncertainty through illness or whatever, it’s the same idea, those small things that help you feel that you’re making momentum or sort of movement towards that new goal.
Rob Marsh: So as you talk about momentum, it’s kind of the perfect segue to talking about writing habits that stick, which is a course, an idea that you’ve done a lot of thinking and working on. Talk to us a little bit about the course itself, but also how do we do that? How do we make our writing habits actually permanent?
Alyssa Burkus: I guess because all three of us are writing books right now. That’s probably …
Rob Marsh: Yeah, but I’m not sure it’s … It’s like it’s the worst road trip ever. I go 40 miles and then I stay there for 2 weeks and then I …
Kira Hug: Rob, I’ve been at the start on the sidelines from the beginning.
Rob Marsh: So yeah, I think there’s a lot of relevance to us here, but I’m guessing there are a lot of people listening who are like, okay, yeah, I’m a copywriter. I’m pretty good at writing for my clients. How do I write for myself all the time?
Alyssa Burkus: And I see this, and as I hang out and check out other copywriters’ sites, certainly lots of people have good traction with the newsletter, but getting those articles up and published, it’s hard. I think there’s a couple of things that really have helped me build a writing habit that’s continued for quite some time and also helped my clients and people in my course.
The first is having a system for your ideas and where you collect them. So if you’re like how I used to be, there’s pieces of paper everywhere with ideas for books, chapter bits, blog articles, a new course, a new whatever. I had Evernote started, some bits of things in Google Docs, et cetera, and tried out Obsidian. There’s pieces of writing bits everywhere. So moving everything into the same place. So all of my ideas go in Notion, I have a quick start on my phone through left swipe that allows me always to put them in the same place. I can tag them. All of my writing inputs go there as well. So my Readwise, which was a huge change in starting to use Readwise, not just for electronics, for using Kindle, but Readwise, if you don’t know what it is, is an app that stores your highlighted passages from your books, Kindle paper. Now they have a new app, a reader app, which was part of the beta that allows you to clip from emails, online articles, and different things.
And again, the highlights all go into Readwise. The app serves those highlights, a set amount of your choosing on a daily or weekly basis. So it’s also that space repetition, which was one of the things when my brain broke a little bit coming out of chemo, I needed to find a way to resurface things back to myself to sort of remember what I had learned before. So collecting and organizing your writing inputs, huge part of it.
Second bit is sense-making, which is taking the time as you look at those writing snippets from the different things that you’re reading, taking the time to add your own 2 cents to that snippet and turning it into a paragraph of your own, tagging it as well. So taking the time to process, what do I think about this idea? What’s my experience relative to it? Do I agree? Not agree? You can start to create some prompts for yourself that help you make sense of, so instead of just being a flow through of, oh, that’s interesting, and parking it forever, taking the time to add your own ideas to it.
And so that starts to build up this thinking as part of writing rhythm for you, which leads to the third step, which is really the habit. And the biggest epiphany that I had around a writing habit was watching … This is going to feel like a real left turn, but watching the Jennifer Lopez Halftime special on Netflix. She’s a machine. She’s prolific in multiple domains and really impressive. And so this was a show about her preparation for the Super Bowl performance that she did. And what hit me while I watched that show was sometimes she’s in the studio doing choreography specifically for the show, but a lot of times she’s in the gym just doing the reps, she’s in the dance studio doing the reps. Sometimes when she’s practicing, there might be something really great that she does that she extracts and puts in the big show, but she keeps the practice and the show separate.
And what I realized was whenever I would sit down to write as I’m supposed to do every day, like all the experts do, I was trying to jump right into the big show. What was the big piece that I wanted to write? And I switched that to be just writing free writing or from my ideas list or my sense-making and creating, I call it a sandbox. So it’s a separate folder on Google Drive of started articles that I add to. Sometimes I’m on a daily binge, sometimes it’s weekly, but I’m adding to that collection of articles that are related to my work, what interests me. There’s always a start of articles collection that I have, which makes it much easier to draw from for client work, for my own work. I’m looking at creating a lead magnet and I have a starting point of a number of things that I can dip into.
And so that writing habit has taken the pressure off of the big writing, but it’s also fueling and feeding into the bigger writing that I want to do. There’s several free writing bits that are going to be fed into the book that I’m writing, and I’m sort of testing out the language with it. But I’ve always got this kind of machine going of idea collection, sense-making, writing practice that has made it so much easier to actually move into the publishing stage. Can you picture that? Would that be helpful? Do you do similar things?
Kira Hug: Conceptually, it makes sense to me and the systematizing of it really helps. So I feel like I need to listen to that a couple of times. I think 100 times.
Rob Marsh: At least 100 times. I mean of, I think the problem is …
Alyssa Burkus: Does it sound really complicated?
Rob Marsh: Well, it’s not complicated necessarily. I think there’s a level of discipline that you have to bring to it. And also the starting point where, I mean my sandbox, like you were talking about, yeah, I’ve got pieces in Notion, I’ve got pieces in Evernote, I’ve got pieces in Good Note, I’ve got pieces in Drive, I’ve got tons of pieces on my hard drive and all kinds. So just getting to that point where you can make it work I think is a little bit of a bump. But I think once you get over that, then it becomes a lot easier.
Alyssa Burkus: So my advice to people is try ignoring all the other stuff. Set a place for your ideas, set a place for your sense-making. For me, those are in the same place, in Notion. So my ideas list and where I collect my snippets are all in Notion and start a sandbox and just start adding to your sandbox. And as you think about something to write about, you might think, well, if you’re me, you’ll write about the same thing several times and each time think it’s wildly amazing and fresh, and then you discover you’ve written about it many times before or several times before. But sometimes you’ll think, oh, I actually wrote about this before. Let me go find it and I’ll pull it. You pull it into your sandbox. But it might actually be easier to just start with a clean slate and build the habit of even just a few minutes a day, five minutes a day. I started with 10 minutes a day. The habit that I connected. It’s habit-building like anything else, connecting it to something that’s already existing in your life.
For me, it was after I’ve had my first coffee, I will do my writing habit for 10 minutes. Sometimes it was adding some ideas to the idea machine. Sometimes it was a sort of adding my thoughts to an existing clip. And other times it was just picking up an idea and writing about it off the top of my head or procrastinating on it and picking a photo from Unsplash that would set the stage and make it feel like a real piece. But I was always in that rhythm of working in those places, but the habit was just anchored to that place in time that I always sat down to just sort of freely with no pressure or expectation, write about a thing.
Kira Hug: I guess …
Alyssa Burkus: Does that feel more doable?
Kira Hug: Getting stuck is I think this is just a me thing or where I’m getting stuck. I have the habit and I think Rob and I have developed some solid writing habits around shipping our newsletter out to our list. We each do it twice a week. And so that’s really helped me. I know those are my days, I will get something out. But then there’s this huge block between that habit and actually creating content for a book, which feels like it is the big football game rather than being in the studio. And so I have a hard time. It’s almost like there is this wall up in between and I can’t make that move through it. But it sounds like you’re talking about, and it sounds easier to make that transition.
Alyssa Burkus: Yeah, I see how those feel different. So I had a client, as I think I sort of mentioned briefly earlier. I had a client who asked me to ghostwrite their second book last year, and I had not written at that volume yet. So I had the same concern or a block that you were feeling, which was how do I go from writing newsletters to writing 50,000 words for this thing?
What helped me get through it was realizing that a book is, if you break it down, a collection of essays, which could be between 1,500 and the longest chapters I think are in that 5,000 words. Sometimes we chop them up. So then it’s a collection of essays. So for me, what worked was creating the outline, having my ideas, creating the outline, mind mapping each of the chapters about what the different topics were. That becomes your idea bucket to draw from. You can write them in the order if that feels good to you. For some people, their books aren’t necessarily sequential and so it doesn’t necessarily matter. But for me, seeing that structure of here are all the different ideas we want to write about. And I would pull the next one. And in this case it was, there were some sequential pieces that we needed to figure out before we could write the end.
But that gave me the same flow that I described earlier. It’s like the outline, all the ideas, fleshing out the ideas from a research perspective. What were we going to pull, what were we going to use as evidence throughout? It was in a research Facebook, and then picking up those chunks at different times. And this is what astonished me, didn’t change my client commitments. I had a few bits here and there that I immediately blocked for client work, but it’s not like I went completely offline for six months to write this client book. We ended up doing the first draft in about seven weeks, and I had other client things throughout that.
Rob Marsh: Maybe you just need Alyssa to write your book for you, Kira.
Kira Hug: I think so. I don’t know.
Alyssa Burkus: It is astonishing to me that I did it. And I think once you get in the rhythm of it, you look forward to it because you can see it starting to come together. It’s amazing to see it unfold that the things you’ve been carrying around, that’s how I felt about my course, the things I’d been carrying around in my head were now on a page and out into the world. It feels great. So even if you don’t quite know how to start or where you’re going to find the time, getting those ideas flowing and picking up little pieces of it and testing it out can help you start to see how it’s going to take shape. I promise. It’s fun. I promise.
Rob Marsh: I believe you. I mean I felt the same thing when I wrote my book, although I’ve now look back on it and I hate it. I can’t stand to even think about it. I wonder if David McCullough looks back on Truman and he is like, “Oh, that old thing is so 1984 or whatever, and you should be reading my latest stuff now.” I don’t know.
Alyssa Burkus: I’ve read, I forget who said it about you should be embarrassed. It might be Seth Godin. We should be embarrassed about our earlier writing. And you’ve still written a book. It’s still awesome.
Rob Marsh: And hopefully I’m not embarrassed about what I wrote this morning. It’s what I’m thinking.
Alyssa Burkus: But I’m saying even if you cringe and look back at it, the headline alone gives you street cred, which is great.
Rob Marsh: I’m not trying to minimize that. You’re right. It is an accomplishment. So you actually took that thinking process though, turned it into a course and sold it to a whole bunch of people without a list.
Alyssa Burkus: No list. Zero.
Rob Marsh: Tell us how you did that.
Alyssa Burkus: I discovered the other day, I have one person on my list. Melissa, thank you very much. I don’t know who they are, but I don’t have a list. I don’t write to a list yet. And so yeah.
Rob Marsh: How did you do that? How do you sell a course with no list?
Alyssa Burkus: I almost didn’t. I almost said, “Oh, you can’t. All the people say you need a list.” I’m not all the people, but I kept reading you need a list. So there were a couple of things. I had a really clear picture of who the audience was and what was missing in their life that I could help them with. They felt urgency around not writing and that I could help them unlock that because of what I had worked through. And I felt it really strongly, this was something that almost on an emotional level, it’s really important to me that we have more diverse voices out in the world, that more people need to be writing and publishing. So I felt this urgency for myself and this clear picture.
I had a pretty good landing page that I just created in Canva. So it wasn’t even connected to my website, but I had it in Canva. I got some great feedback from both of you and from the Think Tank that allowed me to really shape it. So I tested that landing page a number of times and tweaked it. I probably spent in and out of it three months tweaking the messaging on it.
And also there were specific outcomes. I had a unique mechanism, which was I think encouragement from both of you. So model and ways to differentiate why my writing course, there’s a ton of them. Why this one? Why now? And I knew I had a network of people who had said to me, teach me, or I want to know. I just needed a small number of people. I’d set the cap at 15. And I honestly thought at one point, I remember saying to my partner the week before I was launching that I really thought it’d be like three or four people and maybe the fourth person, maybe they would bring their mom and we do this little thing and I could test it out. And instead what happened was I sold all 15 spots, which isn’t a big launch, but it felt like that.
Kira Hug: That’s incredible.
Alyssa Burkus: Yeah, and people, there were actually strangers in my course, which I also didn’t expect. They were connections of connections, but still there were people who saw the page. It meant something to them. They jumped in. They even wrote to me after they signed up to tell me that the page spoke to them. And they were excited about starting, which I absolutely did not expect. But I also didn’t build the course before I sold it. So the course was really clear in my head. I knew what the modules were, I knew what the titles of the handouts were, but there were no slides. I didn’t even have a slide template for my brand yet because I’d hadn’t done any workshops before. So then once I sold it, then I needed to do all of those things, but I didn’t want to put in the effort of building the course, the slides and all the templates unless I knew people were going to buy it. And so I waited until I’d sold it and then started building it.
And I built it, it was like the classic build the plane as you fly it. I was building slides in the week between sessions. It was a six-week course. I ran it live. And then there was a Google Drive where all their handouts and recordings would go. So super low framework. I didn’t have any supportive technology or I didn’t have circle space or anything like that at that point. Just as bare bones as I could do it. So the test worked. I got good feedback. There’s a number of things that I’m going to change. People struggled to do the homework because there were a lot of different ideas. And so I’m going to pull those out as videos and give them more time to write in the class is the biggest change that I’m going to make. But yeah, I’m going to run it two or three times a year and continue to run it live because I like that dynamic. So yeah.
Kira Hug: All right. To break it down even more, because hearing that you’ve filled it, all 15 spots with no list. Maybe I missed it, but can you just share some of the activities that you did?
Alyssa Burkus: How I specifically …
Kira Hug: 100 people in your network, and didn’t you ask them to share with their list? What did that look like?
Alyssa Burkus: Yeah, yeah. So it was a list of, I think about 60 people in different encounters. So people, there were a couple of people that I knew had lists of their own. I didn’t ask them to share it out because I sold the page through Canva, it was registration through a Google Form, and then I was invoicing out. It felt a little bit under-polished to be shared widely on their list, but they were people who knew people. And I shared it certainly within the think tank community. And I almost didn’t post on LinkedIn. And then I thought, what the heck? I’m going to post it on LinkedIn and see what happened. And that’s how I got the remaining, I think five spots through a couple of posts on LinkedIn.
Rob Marsh: That’s amazing.
Alyssa Burkus: So I knew I had a good network. I had built up, I think a decent reputation as somebody who was, how I was settling into the space, sharing a little bit about my experience with writing. I talked about ghostwriting a book on LinkedIn. So yeah, that’s really the extent of it. I sent a couple of people a follow-up email. I timed it intentionally around the new year because I know a lot of people build a New Year’s resolution to write more. And so I was trying to tap into that zeitgeist a little bit as well. And yeah, I think it was more the timing and really honing that landing page that meant that people were jumping in.
Kira Hug: As a quick follow-up, so just to kind of summarize, because again, many copywriters are launching their own products now. It’s so exciting. Can you give us two tips, two or three tips from your launch experience, based on what worked for you? And we know it’s different for everyone.
Alyssa Burkus: Yeah, there’s a couple of things. One is being really clear about your audience and the outcome. What’s the value that they’re getting? Similar to how I think about when I coach people on books, what’s the experience going to give them? So not promises that it’s going to make them rich forever and ever or famous or whatever, but what’s the promise of the experience? What will they come out of the experience itself having accomplished? And being able to speak to that really clearly in the landing page, testing that, and really being clear that it’s connecting with your audience so that offer is really solid and that you can deliver on it.
And then I think the second thing, if you’re doing a multi-month offer or something is live, then checking in with people… then checking in with people as you go to see how their experience is shaping up. Are they getting the value out of it that they wanted? I added some free coaching, like half an hour drop-in sessions. I did some body doubling for people who are neurodivergent. I added that into the course so that they would have time to write together. So staying in tune with your customers as they go through the course, not just at the end, and trying to make some small adjustments as you go means that they’re coming out of it. I’ve got really solid testimonials coming out of it. They didn’t necessarily get out of it what they expected going into it, but because they felt supported along the way, that I was invested in their success, they had favorable experiences to report back as a result, which was great. So that’ll help me in selling it in the future.
Rob Marsh: So I know we’re almost out of time, but I wanted to touch on this before… This is my last question for you, Alyssa. We, a little while ago, interviewed one of our mentors, Todd Brown, on the podcast, and he talked about discipline, specifically that discipline is a choice. I know we made some comments about this at the time on that podcast, people can go back and listen to it. And obviously, there are ways to agree and disagree with that sentiment. But given your experience with chronic illness, with pivoting your business so many times, I’m just interested in your take on that idea that discipline is a choice or maybe it’s not.
Alyssa Burkus: Can I rant for a moment?
Rob Marsh: If you want to rant, you certainly can. Yeah.
Alyssa Burkus: So I remember that podcast episode distinctly and I was driving. And I was really angry and frustrated because when I heard… I don’t believe this was necessarily the intention, but what it felt like was if I got up earlier, if I was just determined and worked harder, that I could feel more disciplined in my work. And for me, with the chronic issues that I have with energy and things, I just can’t time block. I can’t set my alarm for 4:00 AM two mornings a week, it’s physically impossible. So initially I got home and I’m like, “I’m going to write about this, I’m going to post right away as my opposite take,” which is sometimes what I use writing for. I wrote the conclusion first because I was so sure that I was going to stick to my guns, that discipline is not a choice, and here’s why. And I still believe that that’s true on a whole scale level. We can’t just hustle culture our way through our businesses. It’s not sustainable.
Some people can sustain it much, much longer, but there’s places where it will break down or fracture, maybe that we don’t even see in relationships or other things. And where I landed was we can choose to be disciplined about certain things. And that’s the sort of landing place that I came to. Meaning, I’ll always have a cup of coffee so I can anchor my habit of writing to that cup of coffee, and that’s how my writing habit. And I’m very disciplined about that writing habit. There’s other places, I don’t have a morning routine, but I have a morning window of a menu of possible things that I can pull in depending on how I feel. I’m disciplined around that, but a super disciplined structured person would look at that and say, “That’s way too open and flexible, you need to be more rigid,” but for me, it works. I don’t know if that works for you, but for me, that’s the happy medium place that I came to.
Rob Marsh: I like that. I mean Todd would probably agree with that. I think as an overwriting theme, discipline is good, but life, kids, addictions, illness, there are things that interrupt our ability to be disciplined. And I think Todd would say, “To the extent, don’t let those be excuses to take them farther than they are, but at the same time, you got to take care of yourself. You got to make sure that life works. And it’s not always about hustle.” In fact, I know for a fact Todd would push against hustle culture in a heartbeat. He’s not that way.
Alyssa Burkus: Okay.
Rob Marsh: Yeah. But that’s a good take. It’s an interesting idea.
Alyssa Burkus: Yeah.
Kira Hug: Or we just need to bring him back on so the two of you can battle it out.
Rob Marsh: Age managed.
Alyssa Burkus: Yeah.
Kira Hug: Okay. I have two more questions, but I know we’re way over time, so if we don’t have time for two more-
Alyssa Burkus: Yeah.
Kira Hug: … I’m going to… Okay.
Alyssa Burkus: Sure.
Kira Hug: First one is selfish for us. You’re in the Think Tank. You just started your second year. We think you’re amazing. We would never want you to leave the Think Tank. I would just love to hear-
Alyssa Burkus: I can’t imagine leaving.
Kira Hug: … about maybe… It could be one benefit for you from the experience, or maybe something that surprised you about the experience in the Think Tank.
Alyssa Burkus: So many things. When I meet with new Think Tankers, the way I describe my experience is that I felt like I joined a cocktail party in full swing and that I needed to do all these things really, really quickly. I joined for a reason because I wanted to grow my business and I was feeling this urgency around doing things. And so I started doing what felt like a really scattershot appro… trying some different things, testing this, watching someone run a workshop, et cetera. But I couldn’t see how it was all hanging together. And then like that movie title, Everything Everywhere All at Once, it sounds exaggerated to say it, but all of a sudden everything just started to fall into place. So the conversation that I’d had with both of you was about how to organize, focus on strategy and bring that into the center of my business and still have some writing that I do for clients, how to speak to an audience that have done for you, but also have a DIY course, how to connect those.
Those types of things, the clarity that I’ve gotten and the confidence that gives me when it’s clear. I feel it in my body. The way I talk about my business is different now. But I think the biggest thing, and it sounds contrived when you talk about a community, but it really is the mix of people in the Think Tank. And people come and go at different times joining and that sort of thing, but everyone to a person is generous in their time, in their ideas, in joining sessions where we’re talking about other people’s businesses. And that has just been invaluable to now feel like before I was this solo person trying some stuff and now I feel like I’m part of this network of copywriters and writers that I can reach out to and stay connected with and learn from. And yeah, it’s been great.
Kira Hug: Thank you for sharing that. I appreciate that. And a final question. I can’t not ask you this. As a former change consultant and futurist that I feel like you are, what does the future of copywriting look like to you?
Alyssa Burkus: That’s a big question. I don’t know. I mean I feel so new to be speaking to that. I feel like it’s this really interesting time and because I’m new, maybe these interesting delicious times have happened many, many times before for people who have had longer businesses in this space. But I feel like this really interesting time where AI is going to make a dramatic difference in our businesses, but my hope is that it’s actually going to free up some of the things that keep us from the deeper thinking, the more interesting work that we’re going to be able to do. And so if we can harness the power of it, it’s going to take our work in some really interesting directions.
Even the conversations around copyright infringement and AI and a number of things where knowing that your writing has come from… If I think about the client’s perspective, that I can have a conversation with a real-life person who’s done these things and who’s going to write real-life first-person content for me, there’s value in that that won’t go away. And so I think it’s a really interesting time. I think we need to stay close to the changes. It’s one of the things I’m struggling to figure out where to put AI in my business and how to optimize it. I’m still working on automation in general for my business, and so I’m still trying to figure a lot of these things out, but I’m trying to stay close to it because I think there’s a real opportunity there. I don’t know if that’s futurist enough of what you were asking, but yeah, it’s interesting times.
Rob Marsh: Very interesting. And since we’re a little over time, we’re going to end it there, but we may have to bring you back just to continue the conversation at some point, Alyssa. If somebody wants to find out more about you or to find out about your course, where should they go?
Alyssa Burkus: Yeah. So my website is shiftwisdom.com and the next cohort will be launching in May, but they can also find me on LinkedIn. I happen to be the only Alyssa Burkus I think on LinkedIn, so it makes it easy for people to find me. So you can find me there too.
Rob Marsh: It’s very easy.
Alyssa Burkus: Yeah.
Rob Marsh: Because if you want to get the words out, you want to talk to Alyssa, for sure.
Alyssa Burkus: Awesome.
Rob Marsh: Thanks, Alyssa.
Alyssa Burkus: Thank you.
Kira Hug: Thank you, Alyssa. We appreciate you. And we’re just so grateful we get to work with you in a Think Tank and spend time with you.
Alyssa Burkus: Thank you, both.
Kira Hug: That’s the end of our interview with Alyssa Burkus. Rob, what else grabbed your attention?
Rob Marsh: Again, lots of things. While I’m thinking about it, I want to mention, we talked about Jenny Blake pivoting the plant and scan model. We interviewed Jenny Blake on the podcast, that’s way back in episode 41. Definitely worth a listen. I love her book Pivot. It gave me a lot of things to think about as we were making changes to our business and as I was pivoting from my personal business to working with you, and I think it could be really useful for other people as well. Check out that book. But if you don’t want to read the whole book, definitely check out the podcast episode because she talked about the idea of planting one foot and then moving in different directions until you find the right thing that connects so that you’re ready to pass the step, whatever the next change is in your business.
Kira Hug: Yeah, it’s such a great visual, the basketball visual of pivoting while you have a planted foot. I think that we’re going to pivot faster and faster as we move forward and so it might be… If you picture that basketball player, like that basketball player might be twirling around faster and faster, and maybe even the planted foot starts to shift forward because of all the pivoting we’ll have to make as copywriters and marketers and creatives moving forward. So I think I need to wrap my head around that because this is not going to be the slow pivot moving forward.
Rob Marsh: Yeah. What else stood out to you, Kira?
Kira Hug: I mean, I thought it was fun that the three of us were talking about writing our books, even though I think at least two of us are not writing.
Rob Marsh: May not be writing actively.
Kira Hug: I think it’s fun that you and I like to talk about writing our books on the podcast, I think that’s probably as close as I get to actually writing half the time, but it’s… Anyway, maybe we should stop talking about it so that we do it. And I enjoyed hearing about her process. I’ve heard about Alyssa’s process before. I think it’s a really smart process for collecting ideas, for sense-making, it’s really brilliant, and so I’m glad she was able to talk through that. I think it’s going to help a lot of copywriters. It helped me think through the whole sense-making part of it, where it’s, I can take content and then add my two cents to it, add one viewpoint, or maybe I disagree with it. And it feels easier to create content when I’m not thinking about writing it from scratch. I have to come up with all the ideas from scratch that’s really overwhelming and we don’t have to do it. So I love that Alyssa’s giving us an easy way for us to create more content through that process.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, sense-making to me is the thing that I think a lot of us skip when we’re thinking through content, and it dovetails really nicely with an idea that we talked about with a guest for our future podcast. It’s coming out in a few weeks with Linda. And we talked a little bit about talking about all of this stuff that we know or that we’ve learned elsewhere and how to do it without talking about other people’s ideas in a way that steals ideas, but how we can basically show up and talk about the stuff that matters to us in a way that helps us establish our authority.
And I think if you skip the sense-making, if you don’t stop and think about ideas, what do I think about this? How do I approach it? How do I think differently? Where’s the original person wrong or where are other people wrong? What are the uncommon ways to approach this? Is the industry doing this in a way that another industry isn’t? There’s so many ways to piece this together, and it’s a really good step when we’re talking about the content that we want to write for ourselves, whether that’s a tweet or a medium article or something, I don’t know, blogs or a book or podcast, whatever.
Kira Hug: Yeah. And that is Linda Perry, our friend Linda Perry who will be on the show soon. And I think you do a good job of that, Rob. I think you do a good job of sense-making and that’s part of your process. So I think it’s something that I want to lean into more. I also struggle to figure out my idea-collecting process. I think I can borrow from Alyssa’s, but because I’m trying to get off my phone, I’m trying to figure out how to make these processes work when I don’t want to have my phone next to me throughout the day. And so maybe Alyssa can help me privately.
Rob Marsh: Yeah. When we talked about sense-making, we talked a little bit about that with Anne Laure on the podcast a couple of months ago, and she talked about her idea of the collection process. And then we have in the AI course that you and I created, there’s a demo of this AI tool called Mem, Mem.ai. And along with that demo, we kind of showed how it collects different ideas and is able to use the AI tools to reuse it. I’m actually excited to use Mem as one of my storage places. Talking about the elicits, I’ve got them all over the place. I’ve got them in notebooks and documents. And Mem is a tool that brings it all together and then starts making those connections for you. Mem won’t be the only tool like that, Notion may start to add some AI that does that or some of the other tools, Roam Research, those kinds of things. But there’s a real opportunity here to use tools like AI to make those connections for us.
Kira Hug: Yeah. And Alyssa would be the first person to say, and maybe she did say this in the interview, that it’s not really about the tools, it’s about the process. And so we can all customize it if we don’t want to use the same tools that Alyssa mentioned or Mem. We can figure out what works best for us, but it’s the whole idea of collecting it, organizing it, turning it into something that is useful so you can have writing practice and stick with it.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, I think the third part of that writing practice, having a sandbox to play around with is another really important step. We’re not always writing for the world, the thing that we’re writing… Yeah, some future version of it may be on stage at some point, or maybe the thing that I’m talking about on a podcast or in an article or a book, but what I’m writing today is just for me. I can mess around with it. I can play around with it. I can say dumb things. I don’t have to worry about it being perfect. And if we’re going to be serious about our writing habit, having that mindset as we are sitting down with that draft document is really, really important.
Kira Hug: I think that might be my problem. Because anytime I do sit down to write, I’m like, “I’m going to share this with the world.” So I’m missing that private sandbox where I can just play. Maybe that’s what I need next.
Rob Marsh: Perhaps.
Kira Hug: All right. And, Alyssa… My last note is just, I like that she mentioned J.Lo. I have not seen that documentary, I’d like to see it. But the whole idea around keeping the practice. The practice is separate from the big show and the big show could be writing the book or whatever it is, a client project, but keeping those two separate. By keeping them separate, they actually do feed each other and they feed the system, and so I liked that idea. That works for my brain.
Rob Marsh: Yeah. My last note is a little bit different, but Alyssa, she was talking through the course that she created. It’s really important to follow that kind of a process where you validate the need for the product before you actually create it. We’ve seen people create products. In fact, you and I have created products that we didn’t actually validate right before, and they didn’t necessarily take off the way that we had hoped. It’s really smart to do what she did. Sell it, make sure there’s an audience for the thing, and then create it. We actually did that process when we created the Accelerator, and it’s one of our most popular programs because it really does match a marketing need. And then just being very clear on that offer, what is that offer that you’ve got and making sure that at the end, the buyers, whoever’s taking that offer gets the value that they expected. Is this me? Hang on. Yep. Okay.
So we want to thank Alyssa for joining us on the podcast to talk about how she has made thought leadership a key piece of her business. If you want to connect with Alyssa, you can find her at shiftwisdom.com, S-H-I-F-T wisdom.com, which we’ll link to in the show notes. And if you’re interested in learning more about the Think Tank and joining us for one of the retreats that we talked about at the top of the show, head over to copywriterthinktank.com to find out.
Kira Hug: And that’s the end of this episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. You can check out our newest podcast all about AI at aiforcreativeentrepreneurs.com. The intro music was composed by copywriter and songwriter Addison Rice. The outro is composed by copywriter and songwriter David Muntner. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode because Alyssa’s brilliant, please review this show today and we’ll share it on a future episode. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.