Archive for May, 2017

My doctor said: “Bob, you might have blood cancer.”

May 30th, 2017 by Bob Bly

It’s been observed many times that you need 4 things to enjoy a
happy and successful life:

>> Meaningful work.
>> Money.
>> Personal relationships.
>> Good health.

Well, I have several of these things, a lot of the time.

But I just dodged a bullet — in the health department.

Here’s what happened….

After a routine physical, I got a call from Linda in my doctor’s
office.

“Dr. RS says your blood protein levels are a bit high, and he
wants you to see a hematologist.”

I went to the hematologist’s web site … and discovered the words
“hematology and oncology” were both in the name of the practice.

Not exactly encouraging.

So I saw the hematologist, Dr. FB, who said the high blood
protein could mean I have blood cancer — multiple myeloma.

He said he thought there was a 30% chance that I did in fact have
blood cancer, based on blood work.

To determine whether I actually had it, he ordered a battery of
additional blood protein tests … and had me go for a full-body
x-ray of every bone in my body.

Apparently, if you have myeloma, it can weaken your bones.

The results came back. Not negative. Not positive. But
inconclusive.

“At this point, I think your risk of having cancer is lower than
I originally believed — I would say down to 20%,” he said.

“But you could still have bone cancer.”

So he did a bone marrow biopsy with a needle through the bone
near the bottom of my spine where it connects to the pelvic bone.

It took a week to get the results.

I was not particularly on edge, but my mother and wife were
becoming frantic (I did not tell my kids).

Finally, a week later, Dr. FB called and immediately said: “Bob,
this is Dr. FB, and you do not have bone cancer” — in a cheery
voice, no preamble, exactly as such news should be delivered.

So for now, I am free and clear.

But it’s a reminder.

Remember that list of the 4 things you need to be happy?

I believe they are nearly equal.

But health is perhaps a little more equal than the others.

KS, a friend who is a cancer survivor, commented when he read the
line above: “I have come to believe exactly the same thing. Health is
the bedrock on which pretty much everything else in life is
dependent.”

When you or your loved ones have health worries or problems, it’s
one of the most difficult things to cope with.

And brings to mind the old saying:

“Every day you wake up above the ground is a good day.”

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The 80/20 formula for freelance writing success

May 26th, 2017 by Bob Bly

I hear from hundreds of freelance writers each year, many of whom
are not entirely happy with their careers.

And they fall into two distinct groups:

>> The first group is freelancers who are primarily pursuing
their literary or journalistic calling.

They mostly write plays, poems, movies, novels, nonfiction books,
articles, essays, short stories, screenplays, and whatever else they
are passionate about.

They love what they do. And find it fulfilling.

Only problem is: most writers in this first group tell me they
are hardly making any money … and are barely getting by.

>> The second group is freelance writers who pursue high-paying
commercial projects.

These assignments include technical articles for scientific and
medical journals … white papers … long-form direct response sales
letters … video sales letters … web sites … speeches … and many
other lucrative gigs.

Most of the writers in this group who reveal their income to me
say they are earning $100,000 to $200,000 a year or more.

As a result, they can afford to live in a nice house in a good
neighborhood … pay tuition for their kids at Ivy League colleges
… take great vacations at five-star resorts … drive late-model
luxury cars … and build a big enough IRA to retire secure for
life.

Only problem is: many tell me that, while this commercial writing
pays the bills, it doesn’t fulfill them artistically.

The solution for both groups is simple. I call it “the 80/20
formula for freelance writing success.”

The formula says you spend 80% or so of your time on high-paying
projects for commercial clients — and the other 20% on your
literary, journalistic, and artistic writings.

By spending 80% of your time on high-profit writing, you earn
enough money to provide well for your family — while remaining
freelance and avoiding having to work at a 9-to-5 job for someone
else.

But by spending the other 20% of your time writing for fun and
artistic fulfillment, you also get to write the things that
matter most to you.

And because of your cash flow from the high-paying 80% of your
work, you don’t even need to make a dime from your more literary
endeavors — although for some of us it does in fact generate
additional, and in some cases even significant, cash flow.

By the way, the magic of the formula is that you spend some time
writing what others will pay you a lot of money to write … and
some time writing things for your own pleasure, self-expression,
and amusement — whether they pay well, poorly, or not at all.

There is no magic, however, about the actual ratio. You can
adjust it to fit your temperament and needs. For instance, I do
90/10, not 80/20, and that works for me.

Full disclosure: the great advantage I have is that I actually
love writing the high-profit stuff — in my case, copy.

Some writers do. Others not so much. But the 80/20 formula works
in either case. Try it!

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Some straight talk about being self-employed

May 23rd, 2017 by Bob Bly

Don’t get me wrong.

I would much rather be self-employed than working for a company.

But I do think the idea of being your own boss and starting your
own business is a bit oversold by promoters of courses on how to do
those things.

Their marketing tells you the many advantages of being a
freelance, solopreneur, or small business owner … and most of
what they say is true to one degree or another.

But what they do not tell you are the drawbacks of being out on
your own.

So in the interest of fair play and full disclosure, here are a
few of the things that are not so good about being an independent
contractor or small business:

1 — Every 3 months you have to make a large quarterly payment
toward your estimated federal and state (if your state has it)
income tax — whether you have cash in the bank or not when the
payment due date arrives.

2 — If you work at home, you have to empty your own waste basket. I know, that sounds like a small thing. But mine seems to be filled to
overflowing every 15 minutes or so. At Westinghouse, a janitor
emptied my trash every night — no cost to me. Now I even have to
buy my own trash bags to line the waste can!

3 — When you work for someone else, they provide and pay for just
about everything. When you are self-employed, you pay for
everything from office space and furniture, to computers,
printers, and printer ink cartridges (which cost a fortune
today).

4 — There is a health insurance crisis in the U.S. today, and
health insurance costs an arm and a leg, no pun intended. But
there are few things more dangerous to both your physical and
financial health than going without health coverage. A huge
problem.

5 — Self-employed? No pension for you — and no matching
contributions by an employer to your retirement plan. Today fewer
and fewer corporate people have these things — but many still do.
We freelancers do not.

6 — Life has gotten more and more expensive today. Incomes to me it seems have not kept pace with inflation. When I got my BS in the
late 70s at University of Rochester, it costs me for all 4 years
— tuition, room, and board — around $16,000. My son spend 4 years getting his BS at Carnegie Mellon. He graduated 2 years ago, and the total bill was around a quarter of a million dollars — more
than 15X what I paid for my degree. I know the average
white-collar worker today does not earn 15X what my dad did when
I was in school.

7 — Freelancers do not have the luxury of getting sick, because we
do not get paid sick days. When an employee takes the week off
with bronchitis, his corporation chugs along fine without him,
with others easily taking up the slack. If I were home sick for a
week, not only would my copywriting business make no money, but I would worry and fret about clients, projects, and deadlines.

8 — My friend KK has been in IT with his company for over 3 decades and at this point gets 5 full weeks of paid vacation a year. I
have never taken more than a week’s vacation in a year in my
life. For many years I only took long weekends, because the
demands of my clients did not allow me to be gone for an entire
week.

9 — Most freelancer writers work alone, sitting in a room, with no
co-workers to chat with. While I am usually fine with that, you
can, like Jesse the Maytag repairman, get lonely. If you are a
people person, in a corporate job you spend a lot of time near
and with team members and other coworkers.

10 — Many small businesses have a crisis-lull-crisis rhythm: they
are either too busy and pressured to fill orders on time, or they
are slow and in need of new business and cash flow. For them, it
either rains or pours — and only rarely is the workload at a
happy middle ground.

And believe me, this is far from a comprehensive list of the dark
side of being an entrepreneur or independent contractor. I could
easily double the number of items.

So to paraphrase Sylvester Stallone’s speech to his son in Rocky
Balboa — the freelance life ain’t all sunshine and roses. Be
warned.

But for me and many others I know, it sure beats the alternative.

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My theory of haste-based rudeness

May 19th, 2017 by Bob Bly

More and more people today are curt, cold, unfriendly, mean, and
downright rude.

But I believe most of them are not bad people, and they aren’t in
many instances deliberately being mean or discourteous to you.

They are short with you and impolite because they are just so
darned busy!

I call this phenomenon haste-based rudeness.

People used to be kinder and more civil.

But especially in business, they are just so swamped, they are
always crazy/busy.

And as a result, feel compelled to get through every conversation
as rapidly as possible.

This leads to the impression that they are uncouth louts for two
reasons.

First, everything is fast. They want to get the conversation done
as quickly as possible. Which may make the other person feel they
are getting the brush-off. Also, the tone of a rapid-fire
conversation is often not genteel.

Second, they are in such a rush, when you try to get a word in,
they feel you are interrupting them. When you try to express your
opinion, they view it as arguing — and they get irritated.

If you are a client, customer, or the boss, you do have power
over certain people, and may feel it’s OK to treat them
dismissively or brusquely.

It’s even worse if a boss is talking to an underling, or a vendor
to a client, because they are the ones in a position of power.
But as Ben Parker tells his nephew Peter Parker in Spider-Man:
“Just because you can do something to someone doesn’t mean you
should do it.”

So what can you do? And how can you act better?

A few suggestions….

< < First, if you find yourself being short or impatient with others, slow down. If you are stressed, close your door or put on ear buds, and listen to something relaxing and soothing for a bit. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata works for me. Then do a little deep breathing. Only then do you open the door, invite the person in, and start the meeting or conversation. You will be less rude because you are calmer. >> Second, if you find others being rude with you, and they are
the boss, client, team leader, or even fellow team member, don’t
lose your cool.

If you respond with a smile and a non-angry rebuttal, spoken in a
soft, measured voice, it can usually get them to back off and
match your more reasoned demeanor.

On occasion someone will say something that is incredibly rude,
offensive, insulting, or inappropriate.

Pause a second, look the person in the eye (if you are
face-to-face or on video chat), and firmly but calmly say, “What
was your purpose in saying that to me?”

Eight out of ten will instantly realize they were inappropriate.
They will then apologize and continue in a more civil tone. Try
it.

For the 2 out of 10 who don’t, at least you have made them aware
that their words and demeanor crossed a line — and most people do
not want to do that.

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Is great research really necessary to write great copy?

May 16th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Subscriber JL writes:

“Bob, I was hoping that you could do a few posts about research.

“How much time do you spend just on product research for a
copywriting job?

“Where do you start and how do you know when you are finished?”

Well, as to the first question, I would say that of the total
time I spend on a copywriting project, 25% to 40% is devoted to
research.

By “research” I mean:

–Reading the background material the client provides.
–Reading the additional research I request from my freelance
online researcher.
–Doing additional research on my own.

I start by reading everything the client gives me, and then going
on to supplement that with additional research by me and my
researcher.

The research materials I study for a copywriting project
generally cover three areas:

1–Information about the product.
2–Information about the market.
3–Promotions for competing products.

As to JL’s second question, I created this short video to give you
as precise an answer as to when you know you are finished:

I’ve already said where I start — with the background materials
the client has provided.

And as for when to start, I would say: start within 24 hours of
getting the assignment.

Reason: If you put off research, you may find that when the
deadline is around the corner, then it’s too late.

So you don’t have enough time to do a proper research job and
still get A-level copy written on time.

The late, great David Ogilvy said, “Advertising people who ignore
research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy
signals.”

One more thing….

My client AS has said to me repeatedly, “To get a big idea for a
winning promotion, you have to do research until you find the
core idea in the research materials.”

I would add that sometimes the great promo idea leaps out at you
and strikes like a bolt of lightning the instant you come across
it.

Other times, it doesn’t come easily. You have to dig and dig. But
you almost always find something good eventually in the research.
And if you are lucky, you often find something great.

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Does the world really need the book you are writing?

May 12th, 2017 by Bob Bly

My FB friend BL writes:

“We need fewer books by people who feel having a book is good for
their career. If you’re going to write a business book, take time
to put some meaty information in it. It pisses me off when I
spend good money on a fluffy ‘ego’ book.”

It may surprise you, but I agree with BL.

“Wait a minute, Bob, you hypocrite,” you may be thinking. “You
have written dozens of books on marketing and copywriting to
boost your career. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!”

Well, here’s what you may not see….

Yes, the business books I have written certainly have boosted my
freelance writing career and helped build my reputation in the
marketing field.

But, that was a byproduct of writing the books — although I was
well aware of that benefit and it was a part of the motivation
for doing them.

My main reason for writing how-to books however, has always
been this….

Whenever I learn new skills or information of a practical nature,
I feel immediately compelled to put what I know into a book about
the topic — and teach it to others.

Especially when I feel my grasp of the material is strong and my
application of it has been effective.

So my primary motivation for how-to book authorship is to teach …
to pass on what I know to those who might find it interesting,
useful, or both.

This has three benefits:

First, it creates a loyal readership that appreciates the books I
write, so that they continue to buy new books and other info
products by me.

Second, writing a book builds your reputation as an expert in
your field, which in turn helps promote you and your services.

Third — and this is the one benefit many newbie authors don’t
realize — writing a book on a subject probably teaches you as
much or more as the people who buy and read your book!

That’s because writing a book forces you to do further research
on your topic … think more deeply about it … organize your
material more logically … and then explain it so clearly that
even a layperson can easily understand, enjoy, and profit from
it.

By the way, the same is true of teaching a course in the subject.

So IMHO, writing a book or teaching a course on your specialty is
one of the most worthwhile activities you can pursue.

On the other hand, some people only write their nonfiction book
for the sole purpose of achieving guru status.

This has resulted in a tidal wave of the fluffy “ego” books BL is
talking about.

If you ever read a business book and think, “This is a book that
should never have been written,” you are reading a fluffy ego
book produced solely to promote the author, and not to educate
the world or even herself.

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The awful truth about online reviews

May 9th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Anybody who is in the public eye on the internet … even someone
as minor as me … will invariably get his fair share of people who
feel compelled to bash him — often in a nasty and mean-spirited
way.

Of course the conventional wisdom is to shrug it off. But I
sometimes find it difficult not to take personally.

For instance, MM writes:

“I have purchased several of Bob’s products on his websites and
found them to be a complete rip-off. He charges $50 for 80 pages
of useless, outdated content.”

It’s easy for me to prove that MM is by far a minority opinion;
take a look at some of the testimonials from my e-newsletter,
book, and e-book readers:

http://www.bly.com/newsite/Pages/Testimonials.html

Also, most of my e-books are in the $29 to $39 range, not $50
(though a few are).

MM’s comment proves to me something I read in an article in a PC
magazine more than a decade ago:

“The best thing about the Internet is that anyone can post
anything to it.

“The worst thing about the Internet is that anyone can post
anything to it.”

Evidence of the latter statement is in an article on Quora
reporting a Harvard study concluding that one out of five reviews
on Yelp are fake.

And on one occasion, a reviewer gave my new book a one-star
review saying I hadn’t been polite to him when he asked me a
question online; he had not even read the book.

Amazon says reviews cannot be personal vendettas and have to be
based on the book itself.

And though I have notified them 3 times that this particular
review is based on a personal incident, Amazon has ignored my
repeated requests to have it removed on that basis.

Also, back in the day, book reviews were written by professional
book reviewers who often had a background and knowledge in the
topic of the book.

And their reviews were vetted by a newspaper or magazine editor
prior to publication.

Now online reviews on Amazon and elsewhere are written by any
Tom, Dick, and Harry with a computer and an internet connection.
They are not required to have a working knowledge of the topic of
the book … and no editor is there to make sure the reviews are
civil, literate, and accurate.

Which do you prefer — book reviews by professional reviewers, as
in the New York Times Book Review or the New York Review of Books
(the latter is my favorite periodical)?

Or the opinions of consumers, which range from honest and smart
to pure Bozo?

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How to get better input from clients

May 5th, 2017 by Bob Bly

If you are a marketing manager … copywriter … ad agency …
creative director … or content marketer …

… the marketing you produce is only as good as the information
you are able to gain on your target market and your product — and
your understanding of it.

Therefore, in the profession of marketing, we ad writers are
extremely dependent on our clients.

The better the briefing and research they provide us, the better
our copy will be.

Conversely, when we copywriters lack either enough information on
the product and the market – or worse, have wrong information —
it’s extremely unlikely the promotion will be a home run.

Computer programmers call this GIGO, which stands for “garbage
in, garbage out.”

So we need good background information — and not garbage — to
write the best ad we can.

Yet it is our responsibility as ad creators to help our clients
and guide them so they get the right information to us … and
enough of it to write a kick-butt promotion!

Some people call the transfer of product and market knowledge
from the client to the marketing creator the “discovery process.”

I find it useful to post my own discovery process on my web site
and refer clients to it — so they can see the kind of
information we need to gather and share to create winners:

http://www.bly.com/newsite/Pages/documents/HTPFAC.html

Getting the right information from the client is so important, I
outline the responsibilities of both me, the copywriter, and the
client, in my standard agreement as follows:

CLIENT AND COPYWRITER RESPONSIBILITIES

As your freelance copywriter, Bob Bly is responsible for:

–Requesting all the information he needs to write your
promotion.
–Writing the strongest copy possible.
–Making any revisions you ask for within the terms of the
copywriting agreement.
–Always telling you the absolute truth about any of your ideas,
edits, or plans — even if it’s something you may not want to
hear and could even possibly upset you.
–Keeping the client’s project confidential.

As the client, you are responsible for:

–Providing Bob with the information about your product, offer,
and market he requests for the writing of your copy.
–Being as specific as possible about any edits, revisions, or
changes you want Bob to make to his copy draft.

I can’t force the client to comply, and of course I always do the
best job possible with whatever materials I have to work with.

But by taking on the responsibility of assisting your clients in
providing what you need in the discovery process, you greatly
increase the odds of having a winning promotion.

Which is good for both you and your client.

I also think guiding the discovery process proactively means you
are meeting your fiduciary responsibility to the client by doing
due diligence to the best possible level.

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