The #1 challenge of writing a weekly e-newsletter

April 25th, 2017 by Bob Bly

I am a big advocate of publishing your own e-newsletter,
because it is one of the best ways to build a large opt-in e-list
… and to establish a good relationship with your subscribers.
Doing so builds trust that leads to sales.

“But where do you get ideas for all those newsletter articles
seemingly without end?” I am often asked (I have been publishing
this online newsletter continually since 2004).

If you wish to publish an e-newsletter — whether sporadically,
monthly, or weekly — all of which can work … let me share with
you my 5 favorite sources of ideas and inspiration:

1–Things I learn.

If you are an active practitioner in your field, and given the
breakneck speed with which new techniques and developments are
invented, you are learning all the time.

Many of my articles are based on things I learn doing and
observing marketing.

I don’t invent most of them. I merely study and then explain them
in my newsletter essays.

2–Things I see.

When I observe and admire a particularly clever or effective
marketing campaign, I tell you about it here — so you can learn
it and perhaps adapt it to your business.

3–Things I know.

After almost 40 years as a copywriter and marketer, I’ve seen,
read, and tested a lot of things most other marketers have not.

Many of them are evergreen, and I present these rules and tactics
here for you — hidden gems not 1 in 100 of your competitors even
know about — giving you an almost unfair advantage.


When I see people repeatedly making egregious marketing mistakes,
ignoring time-tested principles, or saying things that are wrong
or stupid, I report their errors (not naming the person
responsible) so you can learn from their mistakes.

I call these “rants” because I do tend to get worked up about it.
I have a highly sensitive B.S. detector and share what it detects
with you — often in opinionated and forceful terms.


Whether it is a new book, new guru, recognized expert, online
course, vendor, or other resource that I think you should take a
closer look at, you’ll read about it here.

I could go on, but for me, these 5 sources give me 90% of the
ideas I need to keep on writing two fresh essays every week like

As for frequency, start with monthly. If open rates are good and
unsubscribe rates low, test going to weekly.

If the unsubscribe rate doesn’t spike, then your subscribers like
your missives well enough to want one a week.

Since at least half of your messages should be content, and half
or fewer sales pitches, a weekly newsletter gives you at least
one opportunity to sell a product a week.

Which can substantially increase your online revenues to the
$100,000 to $200,000 a year level or more — a stream of passive
income that can make your life easier without you working too
hard to get it.

Who wouldn’t want that?


Category: Writing, Writing and the Internet | No Comments » |

A marketing lesson from 9/11

April 21st, 2017 by Bob Bly

Amy and I attended a wedding recently.

We knew the parents of the bride but almost no one else there.

Given that I am not outgoing or terribly social, these situations
are always uncomfortable for me.

Anyway, to avoid awkward silence, I forced myself to make small
talk with RH, the guy sitting next to me at my assigned table.

RH and most of the other friends of the bride’s parents were a
tad older than me — early to mid-60s.

Anyway, I asked RH what he did, and he told me that even though
he had been in corporate IT, he was now working as a high school

I assumed he had been fired from his IT position.

He was sort of, but not quite.

The company didn’t outright fire him.

They said they were shutting down their NJ office, which was
about a 20-minute drive from his home. He had worked in this
nearby office for over a decade.

They gave him a choice: get downsized or keep your job but move
to our NYC office.

He told me: “I almost did, but at my age, I just didn’t want a 90-minute
commute to work.”

“And so even though I didn’t want to leave my job, I refused the
offer — and I was out on the street.

“No one wanted to hire a senior IT guy whose experience was
strictly on older platforms, so I could not get another corporate
job and ended up making a tiny fraction of my old salary doing
menial work.”

But that’s not the end of the story.

The company’s NYC office was in the World Trade Center.

A few weeks after he would have moved to that office, 9/11

Everyone in the office was killed, as RH would have almost surely
been had he taken the job at the WTC.

The lesson is something you already know.

A lot of what happens in life, good or bad, is timing, which is
just a subset of luck.

So don’t beat yourself up too much over the bad stuff — and
conversely, don’t pat yourself on the back too briskly for the
good stuff.

Much of what happens results from factors beyond our control.

If you want more proof that forces we have no control over
what determines much of our lives, read Adam Alter’s excellent
book on that subject, “Drunk Tank Pink” (Penguin).

But here’s the good news about timing as it applies to marketing
(Alter is a Marketing Professor).

To make the sale, you have to be in front of the prospect at the
right time — the time he is thinking about buying your product or
another like it.

And the way to be there at the right time is to be there ALL the

In the pre-Internet era, that was almost impossible, because
print and broadcast media were generally too expensive for that
kind of frequency.

But in the digital age, we CAN be there all the time … or at
least much of the time … in an affordable way with blogs,
e-newsletters, banner ads, and other online media.

So timing is everything. And the best way to make sure your
timing is right in marketing is to be there all of the time — or
as close to that as you can get.


Category: General | No Comments » |

The desire to fit in

April 18th, 2017 by Bob Bly

I am not a tough guy or a macho man or particularly strong.

But what if that’s what you need to be to fit in with your
colleagues, customers, or coworkers?

While I was going to college, I worked summers and Christmas
breaks in the warehouse of a company that distributed potato
chips, pretzels, and other snacks.

It was a minimum wage job doing mindless manual labor, and I was
the only college student — and the only employee who worked just
seasonally. Everyone else in the warehouse was full time.

About two-thirds of the crew were adults stuck in a low-pay,
dead-end job; one-third were younger guys about my age who were
either high school drop-outs…

…or, if they had graduated, had gone as far as they were going to
go in their education. And they all knew I was in college
studying chemistry.

Naturally, spending 40 hours a week working side by side with
them, I wanted to fit in as best I could.

Well, the toughest guy there was “Big Hank,” an incredibly strong
forklift operator who stood about 6′ 2″ and weighed around 300
pounds — almost all of it muscle.

One day, on the lunch break, Hank got into a challenge game with
the guys one at a time.

Hank and his opponent would shake hands, and both would squeeze
the other’s hand as hard as he could — until the victim couldn’t
take the pain anymore, cried out in agony, and was declared the
loser. And Hank never lost.

Worker after worker could not withstand Hank’s grip — and begged
for release.

After Hank made Chris, the second-strongest guy in the warehouse,
yelp in pain and plead with Hank to release his hand, I calmly
stepped in front of Hank, looked him in the eye without smiling,
and held out my hand — shocking everyone on the crew.

Hank grinned. Then he gripped my hand. But no matter how much he
squeezed, I stared right back at him, and my expression never

Amazed, he clamped down with all his might, intending to cause me
maximum pain — but to no avail.

Finally, realizing he could not beat me, he released his grip,
shook his head admiringly, and said out loud, “Fellas, this
college boy is the only tough guy in the room aside from me.”

Now the truth is, I never tried to squeeze or crush Hank’s hand.
I was strictly on defense.

And, I have this odd thing in my right hand: no matter how much
pressure someone applies, the bones move or slide in such a way
that they do not break or bruise, and I feel virtually no pain.

Hank and the crew did not know that, and so after the contest,
they liked me better, because I was more “one of the guys.”

The next day, a younger coworker, with whom I was already
friendly, wanted to show me his martial arts fighting prowess
during lunch.

So he leap off the ground and lashed out at me with a karate kick
— designed more to dazzle than to hurt me.

He was slow, and I easily caught his foot in my hands and held it
there — putting him in an embarrassing position with his leg
extended parallel to the floor and him unable to move it, which
amused the onlookers.

To get free, he leapt up to kick me with the other leg, and as
that leg went airborne, I released the first leg.

With both legs in the air and nothing to support him, gravity
took over and he fell hard on his back and ass — to uproarious
laughter aimed at him and some congratulatory pats on the back
for me.

I have to admit, these two victories felt kind of good!

Anyway, after that, all the guys became my pals — and on Friday
nights we often went to a bar or a pool hall to hang out. I was
accepted as part of the gang.

The lesson for you as a marketer is: People like people who are
like them.

So the more you can show the prospect that you are “one of his
people,” the more open and receptive he will be to what you tell

One example is that if you are doing direct mail to doctors, you
get a better response if the letter appears to be written by and
is signed by a doctor.

Same thing for lawyers, CPAs, farmers, and construction workers.

Whatever you can do to show the prospect you have something in
common with him or her, as long as it is both true and sincere,
the better the relationship — and the greater your chance of
making a friend … and the sale.


Category: General | No Comments » |

The awful truth about how-to books

April 14th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Comedian Steven Wright famously quipped: “If how-to books
really worked, we’d only need just one.”

Well, recently I received as a gift a new how-to business book.

In the preface, the author shocked me by stating, “The average
person who buys any how-to information gets little or no

Do you believe it? From long experience, I certainly do.

And if so, is this dose of realism at the beginning of a new
how-to book demotivating, discouraging, a rude awakening?

Or is it inspiration to beat the averages … and be one of those
who DO get results?

I have no solid proof of these numbers, but I think they are
pretty accurate for business how-to books, and probably even
worse for self-help books:

If you sell 10,000 copies of your how-to business book or course,
10% of those who buy — a thousand people — will actually skim or
read it.

Of those 1,000 readers, only 10% — just 100 of them — will do
some or all of what you recommend in the book.

Finally, of the 100 who actually work your system, most will give
up to soon, because it’s hard work or they get distracted.

And therefore only 10% — just 10 people — will gain the skill,
start the business, and actually make money from it.

LM comments: “Yes, I believe it. One of my FB groups is filled
with people who are always buying info products and believing
that one of them is finally going to make them rich.

“But we’ve all been in the group for several years, and almost
everyone is in the same position or even worse off than they were
when the group formed.”

As a how-to author, I get the most satisfaction from those 10
buyers who actually follow the advice and get the result they
want. They represent just 0.1% of your 10,000 purchasers.

But if I can help even 10 people achieve their business or career
goals, I can be happy that at least I have changed their lives
for the better.

It does happen. Reader SS writes, “I built a career based on one
of your how-to books, Bob. That being said, I’ve read many how-to
books that were very good — yet, I didn’t do much with the
information. I don’t think I’m alone in that.”

And JM reports, “Bob, I bought one of your books 3 years ago from
my meager pay. The book paid for itself almost immediately.”

In consulting, where clients are paying thousands of dollars for
customized advice instead of just $15 to $25 for a book,
consultant HB once told me:

“Only half my clients listen to my advice, and of those, they
implement only half of what I tell them. So 75% of my
recommendations are ignored, despite the high fees I charge.”

In closing, Steve Wright said, “I went to the bookstore and asked
the clerk where the self-help section was.”

She replied: “I could show you, but that would defeat the


Category: General, Success | 1 Comment » |

The most powerful time management technique ever devised

April 7th, 2017 by Bob Bly

lf and instead outsource to others:

>> Lawn care — a total waste of my time. I hire a service to mow
the grass, trim the bushes, and pick up the leaves.

>> Snow shoveling — another waste of time. I have a service on
call to plow and shovel us whenever it snows.

>> Accounting and bookkeeping — I have a bookkeeper on staff and
outsource tax preparation to a local CPA.

>> House cleaning — we outsource that to a housecleaning service,
as I have better things to do with my time than vacuuming or

>> Home repairs — local plumbers, electricians, contractors, and
handymen love us, because they do everything to upkeep our home
and its systems.

Why? Most of the work I cannot even do. The work I could do, they
do 4 times faster and 4 times better than I could.

And I can spend the time at my computer writing for clients
instead, so hiring them is actually a profit center rather than a
cost center. It is. Think about it.

>> Building houses for the poor — good works are important. But
by earning more money, I have more to give to charitable
organizations, essentially “outsourcing” my good works to them.


Category: General | No Comments » |

Copywriters: Stop whining about client edits

April 4th, 2017 by Bob Bly

A lot of people are complainers and whiners.

We copywriters are no exception.

One of the most common complaints I hear from copywriters centers
around clients requesting edits and changes.

But the great novelist and poet, Charles Bukowski, had a more
positive take on rewrites.

In his book “On Writing” (Ecco, 2015, p. 163), Bukowski writes:

“Writing has never been work to me, and even when it comes out
badly, I like the action, the sound of the typer, a way to go.

“And even when I write badly and it comes back, I look at it and
I don’t mind too much: I’ve got a chance to improve.

“That’s the matter of staying with it, tapping away … until it
sounds and reads and feels better.”

Three quick points for freelance copywriters to think about:

1–You may know more about copywriting than your client. But he
may know more about his market than you — and almost certainly
knows more about his product than you.

2–You will have some clients who know as much or even more about
copywriting than you do. You know who they are. Writing for these
clients takes your skills to the next level.

Once, when my client MF, one of the masters of copywriting, was
reviewing a draft of mine, his comments were all so on target I
was moved to say to him aloud, “I am learning so much — I should
be paying YOU.”

He wryly replied: “You’re damned right.”

3–We don’t always write as well as we would like to. But we must
always write as well as we can.

Of course, it helps if you — like Charles Bukowski, Isaac Asimov,
and David McCullough — belong to the segment of writers who not
only like but actually love to write.

“There is nothing more magic than lines forming across paper,”
said Bukowski. “It’s all there. It’s all there ever was. What
comes afterwards is more than secondary.

“I can’t understand any writer who stops writing. It’s like
taking your heart out and flushing it away. I’ll write to my last
breath. I was meant to be like this.

“And when my skeleton rests upon the bottom of the casket,
nothing will be able to subtract from these splendid nights,
sitting here at this machine.”

Bukowski’s words remind me of when Barbara Walters interviewed
Isaac Asimov.

She asked Asimov, “What would you do if you found out you had
only 6 months to live?”

Without missing a beat, Asimov replied: “I’d type faster.”

My kind of guys….


Category: Writing | 3 Comments » |

Work advice from a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer

March 31st, 2017 by Bob Bly

In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, the then
79-year-old (now 83) Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian David
McCullough explained why he had no intention of retiring from

“I’m having a ball. I can’t wait to get out of bed every morning.
To me, it’s the only way to live.

“When the founders wrote about life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness, they didn’t mean longer vacations and more comfortable
hammocks. They meant the pursuit of learning. The love of
learning. The pursuit of improvement and excellence.

“I keep telling students, Find work you love. Don’t concern
yourself overly about how much money is involved or whether
you’re ever going to be famous.

I’m giving a talk at Dartmouth this week. It’s called the Hard
Work of Writing. And it is hard work. But in hard work is

However, there’s a flaw in David’s hard work equals happiness

Namely, it only holds when you actually like or love the work you

Conversely, if you work 9 to 5, forty hours a week at a job that
either bores you or you actively dislike — or even hate — the
result is the opposite of happiness.

You feel like a prisoner or indentured slave, stuck seemingly
forever in a rut. And as my late client SK once observed, “A rut
is a grave without a cover.”

To me the 4 most important things in my life are (a) my family,
(b) our health, (c) having enough money that we are financially
secure, and (d) having work I don’t just like but absolutely

Fortunately, I more or less have most of those items on the list.
I was recently in a car crash, which endangered item B for me,
but after just 4 weeks of physical therapy, I was 100% recovered.

I can’t exactly articulate why I love reading and writing so much
— I just do. I have written since the 7th grace, and now, as I
will be 60 in July, there is still nothing I would rather do.

I have other interests. I have a few hobbies. My wife and I
socialize with friends. But that’s peripheral for me.

If I can write 10 to 12 hours a day, working on projects that
interest me — and I am careful to take on only those writing
projects that do — and then read after work, I am a happy camper.


Category: General | 2 Comments » |

Design your workspace for maximum productivity

March 28th, 2017 by Bob Bly

I find I’m most productive working in a space that’s comfortable
and filled with things I like — which in my case means my home

What can you tell about a person by the way he decorates his

In my case, I look around and immediately see the following:

1–A fax machine. People tell me fax is old technology. I wouldn’t
give mine up; I even maintain a dedicated phone line for it.

2–A gigantic wall poster of about two dozen of the major Marvel

3–A small abstract oil painting by my friend and sometimes
coauthor Gary Blake.

4–A framed picture of my two sons when they were young. Press a
button on the frame and it plays a message they recorded for me
around when the picture was taken!

5–Many other photos of my kids all over the walls.

6–Several toy robots including Robbie the Robot from Forbidden
Planet and Robot B-9 from Lost in Space.

7–My two favorite coffee mugs, one that says “I’m a chemical
engineer — just like a regular guy, only smarter” … and the
second which reads, “My story begins in Paterson, NJ.”

8–A picture of my little sister and I when we were very young,
holding hands.

9–A picture of Stan Lee, personally autographed and made out to
me and my boys — a gift from copywriter Peter Fogel.

10–A scale model of a 1962 Chevy Belair, the car my father bought
new when I was 5. He died 22 years ago when I was 37, so it has
great sentimental meaning to me.

11–A framed certificate recognizing me as a member of the
American Institute of Chemical Engineers since 1979. Why? It’s
a beautiful certificate, nicer-looking than my college diploma,
which hangs directly below it.

12–A handsome Successories desk clock with a transparent center
through which you can see the faux gears (the clock runs on a
battery). Also a gift.

13–A cabinet and rack with dozens of assorted CDs — mostly rock,
jazz, classical, and pop — from Madonna and Elvis, to Maynard
Ferguson and Beethoven, to Gerry Mulligan and Eminem. And of
course a boom box to play it.

14–A poster of Grumpy Cat that says “Go Away.”

15–A desk lamp that simulates the wavelength of natural sunlight.
It is supposed to make one less grumpy. I have no idea whether it
affects my mood one way or the other, though I suspect not.

16–Oddly, only a very few reference books. Reason: I need the
shelves in my office bookcases for three-ring binders, which hold
the background materials for each of my current and recent
copywriting projects. I have plenty of bookcases in nearby rooms
holding my other books. No need to clutter my limited workspace
with them.

17–My desk faces a window overlooking our one-acre heavily wooded
back yard. Almost every day I see a small herd of deer march past
my office window.

18–I had a fishbowl with a beta fish I got as a gift, but it was
too small. So I got him a tank with proper lighting and
filtration. But I was out of space in the office so he’s now
across the hall. I miss looking at the little guy!

19–I have two 4-drawer metal file cabinets that hold hanging file
folders — and a few steps away, down in a large finished room in
our basement, 8 more just l like them.

20–I have a framed Mark Alan Stamaty poster with a slightly
mocking cartoon of how Madison Avenue advertising agencies work —
a gift from the Village Voice given back in the day when I was an
advertising manager who bought ad space.

My dirty little secret: all of these add up to a strangely warm,
familiar, fun, and comforting environment in which I MUST be to
do my work.

I am in awe of you who are able to work productively anywhere
outside of your home office — on a plane, at the beach, in a
hotel room, Starbucks.

I just can’t do it. Nor do I want to. Since I love to work and
can only do so at maximum output in my home office, the result is
I am here 12 hours a day, despise travel, and seldom go anywhere.

So … what’s in your office that you treasure … that you like …
and that would tell me something about who you are or what you


Category: General | 2 Comments » |