How To Succeed As A Copywriter Without Ever Lying
My partner Michel Fortin recently introduced me to James Chartrand’s MenWithPens blog.
James speaks with the authority of a grizzled veteran of the marketing trenches.
His recent post on KissMetrics unsparingly carves up the seamy underbelly of the world’s third oldest profession -“salesmanship in print” – or copywriting. (You did know the copywriting profession had a seamy underbelly, right?)
It took James just 10 swift strokes to run-through the most egregious “worst practices” engaged in by certain of our brethren – and if you’ve dealt with copywriters for very long at all, you’ve no doubt been subjected to some of them yourself.
I’d quibble with a few of James’ points.
In fact, in well-defined situations, some of the statements James calls “lies” are easily defended. But that’s not my objective here – and for the most part he’s giving solid advice.
Without question, the copywriting craft attracts a fair number of sleazeballs.
After all, we get paid to persuade – and in the big bad world out there, the lines between selling, seduction, manipulation and flat-out skulduggery seem to be violated as often as they’re honored.
But I’m of the opinion that the overwhelming majority of copywriters want to do a good job. I’d even wager James agrees with me.
Because even if your heart is blacker than Hannibal Lecter’s, it doesn’t pay to continually shank people.
And the copywriters I’ve been fortunate enough to meet – especially those that enjoy long-term success – are for the most part extremely generous.
They’re also honest about their capabilities and the limits of their craft.
Now it’s true there are some real reprobates out there. But you’ll find those sorts everywhere – especially when one group of people (marketers) is paying another group (copywriters) – for the express purpose of inducing folks to part with significant sums of money.
If you’re new to marketing, and want to avoid paying the naive tax… print up James’ harangue, tape it to your computer and read it before during and after you get on the phone with a copywriter (or anyone else who’s asking you to pay money for services for that matter).
I don’t need to add much to James’ warning to marketers.
Instead, I’d like to speak directly to you – the fledgling copywriter – about the best ways to avoid taking even that first step down the road to copywriters’ perdition.
Now I trust you take your standards and ethics seriously, but here’s the thing…
Any copywriter worth their fee has to have the ability to convince a target market that the widget they’re selling is absolutely the BEST widget ever created.
But you’ve got to go even further than that.
You have to leave no doubt in your prospects mind that buying this particular widget – and ONLY this widget – is the surest path to true salvation.
In order to do that, you have to believe it yourself for at least as long as you’re selling that widget. If you want to keep your self-respect, you should believe it for the rest of your life – or until someone makes a better one.
And as long as you’re a freelance copywriter, the most important widget you’ll ever sell is your services.
Not you, your services. (Remember that – it’s important.)
Because when you’re selling high-ticket items, the temptation to bluster, bully and b.s. can quickly rear its ugly head. It’s also when those practices are most easily rationalized.
Of course, your services are a high-ticket item – or they should be. The question is, “Do you provide value in excess of your fee?” … And…
How much in excess is the value you provide?
Because a good copywriter is more than a hired word-slinger. You are or should be a valuable asset, confidante and advisor. You also are or should be the one who’s most critical of whatever it is you’re selling.
Everything you sell should be run through your personal b.s. detector well before you ever accept any money for selling it.
I think you see where this is headed…
What I’m leading up to is this…
The one thing you can never afford to hype is your own capabilities – and the one person you can’t ever afford to b.s. is yourself.
That’s why it’s important to remember you’re selling your services, not yourself. Because as hard as we might try, we can’t be objective about who we are. It’s just not possible.
It’s a bit easier to be objective about what we can do. How? By looking at what we’ve already done.
Direct response is all about measurables. And your past clients usually know your value down to a couple of decimal places.
When someone’s thinking about hiring you, that’s really all they’ve got to go on. Keep that in mind the next time you’re selling a prospective client on what you can do for them.
Now you might think, “Well, if I can deliver the goods, it’s ok to bluster my prospect a little bit.” I can’t say I haven’t thought that way myself – especially early in my copywriting career when I was trying to figure out how to pay my bills and considering going back into restaurant management.
But here’s a bit of hard experience I hope you can learn from…
On the one or two occasions when I did resort to that sort of thing to win a job, I found out the person I was working with was a jerk. Very likely they thought I was a jerk as well.
And they were right.
So here’s the thing… Keep your self-b.s. detector running at all times. If you feel yourself tempted to fall back on one of James’ “lies”, don’t.
And then make time to ask yourself why you thought it was necessary.
Usually it’s a sign of a weakness that you need to address.
If you’re telling prospects or clients “I missed your email,” it means either one of two things. You’ve been goofing off when you should have been working (a huge trap for the newly self-employed)… or… you don’t have a good follow up system.
If you’re telling someone “All you need is good sales copy,” you better know that’s the case.
Because sometimes that’s true. Your prospect may just have everything else in place and all you need to do to set “Operation Moneysuck” in motion is plug in a sales letter, but usually it’s the other way around.
In fact, at least a few times a year we turn down projects because the prospective client doesn’t have the necessary pieces in place.
And for sure if you hear yourself using more than one of the statements James mentions in a single conversation, it’s probably time to politely tell your prospect, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I’m a good fit for this project.”
You’ll have your self-respect. And the respect of anyone else you may want to do business with.