Archive for the 'General' Category

The worst way to approach a potential client

July 18th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Subscriber HG writes:

“As a big fan of your work, I must confess your web pages are
boring, and I guess they are not converting to sales as they did
before, isn’t it?

“Please allow me to restore a few of your web pages from the
archaeological ruins to the modern slick, easy to read, search
engine friendly, better converting pages, OK?

“If you do not want to make more money, then just neglect this
email.” (A very snarky comment.)

This approach to establishing a relationship with me is really
stupid, for 3 reasons….

First, HG does not know my landing page conversion rates. He
assumes they are poor.

But as Felix Unger pointed out in an old episode of The Odd
Couple, “When you ASSUME you make an ASS of U and ME.”

In fact, the pages he cited as failures pull like gangbusters;
one ebook sales page has a 32% conversion rate.

My pages make me so much passive income that, if I so desired, I
could quit my freelance copywriting job tomorrow, and never work
another day in my life. (But of course that idea is anathema to
me.)

Second, even if I was jonesing to improve some of my pages, why
would I hire HG? He gives not one shred of evidence that he has
any skills or success in this area.

Third, the part of his message I left out … and that you do not see
here … was even more off-putting and insulting to me — and
insulting strangers rarely wins them over.

When I posted HG’s comments on Facebook, one of my FB friends,
JS, wrote:

“All he is trying to do is use the same tactics as email spammers
that supposedly work on the weak-minded masses.

“He has no persuasive tactics. The entire thing is a pitch. It
comes from someone who thinks he is good at manipulation, though
in actuality, he sticks out like a sore thumb.”

Also on this FB thread, BM was even harsher: “Arrogant,
insulting, and a blast sent to hundreds of people whose websites
he has never seen. I see these every day.

“A good example of what NEVER to do. He needs your e-mail
marketing course, but a frontal lobotomy first.”

Another FB friend, MS, said:

There are a few turn-offs for me with this sort of
thing–implying expertise without having researched his
assertions, the sense of a little dishonesty through flattery,
and a scare tactic infused with some arrogance.

“My reaction, from an open minded perspective and willingness to
accept help, is to tell him to take a hike!”

And that’s just what I did.

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Should you ever work on spec?

July 14th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Subscriber DC writes:

“In my many years as a freelance copywriter, occasionally a
potential client has asked me to write a free ‘test piece.’

“I’ve always refused but today the marketing director of a huge
European logistics company contacted me with this request:

“‘I am evaluating external support for various projects. One such
project is for small to medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and
logistics.

“‘Can you give me some draft ideas of content (blogs, white
papers, etc.) that would appeal to SMEs who are looking to
broaden their horizons and get more involved in international
trade?'”

“So he wants free editorial consultancy work with no guarantee of
a contract or payment, and of course he could just take my best
ideas!

“This is a variation of the infamous free test piece and it shows
how careful we must be about speculative projects.

“I’m sending you this story partly to help other freelancers and
I hope it’s useful in your excellent newsletter.”

I agree with DC: Avoid working “on spec” — writing for a
potential client with no promise of getting paid.

In spec work, if the client likes what you do and decides to use
it, they pay you something.

If they don’t like it, the project is over — and you don’t get a
dime for your time and effort.

The idea of working on spec to me is patently ridiculous and
grossly offensive.

Try driving to your local gas station today and telling the
attendant: “Fill my car with gas, and if it runs well, I will pay
you for it … but if not, I owe you nothing.”

Order a meal at a local restaurant and say to the waiter: “Bring
my steak and baked potato; if I like it, I’ll pay the bill; if
not, I won’t.”

So if someone asks you, “Write my ad for free, and I will pay for
it only if I like and use it; if not, I won’t” — well, what
writer in his right mind would agree to that?

Samuel Johnson said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote for any
reason other than money.”

So if you write on spec for a potential copywriting client, you
are the blockhead.

And when you don’t get paid, you have no one to blame but
yourself.

After all, you asked for it.

Are there ever any exceptions to the no-spec-work rule?

Answer: Precious few.

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On color and readability in graphic design

July 4th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Subscriber JA writes:

“Bob, have you noticed how many websites use gray typeface on a
white background?

“It’s difficult to read.

“How about taking a minute to address the importance of color
schemes?”

Entire books have been written about color in design. And I am no
expert in color. Far from it.

But the whole of it can be boiled down to one principle:

The primary purpose of design is to attract the eye to the ad,
and to make the text easy to read — and the latter just as
important as the former.

Anything that makes the copy difficult to read, no matter how
dazzling or creative, is bad graphic design, whether in print or
online.

So at a glance, the color and type rules to follow are these:

1–Make all type large enough to be easy to read for older adults
with average or less-than-average eyesight.

2–The best color scheme is black type on a white background.

3–In body copy, avoid reverse type, which is white type on a
black background.

4–Avoid low-contrast color schemes such as gray type on a white
background, or dark blue type on a light blue background, or the
horrific but not uncommon gray type on a black background.

5–In the body copy for print materials, use serif typefaces —
letters with little extension on them, such as Times Roman.

6–Online, use sans serif typefaces — letters with no extensions,
such as Arial — in body copy.

7–On web pages, subheads can shine and make a statement when you
use an easy-to-read bold serif font such as Georgia bold, for
example, and set them in a darker color to pop off page online
and draw the reader’s eye down the page.

A dark blue looks nice. A deep red or rusty red can also feel
easy-to-read. The color depends on your overall design and what
type of audience and product you are working with.

8–In direct mail, despite what the vendors of handwritten
envelopes and letter mailing say, I have seen no proof that
handwritten outer envelopes or letters outpull typeset. If
handwriting universally outperformed typewritten, everyone would
use it all the time.

Remember, the primary functions of graphic design in advertising
are (a) to attract the reader’s eye and (b) make the copy easy to
read.

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Transparency wins in email marketing

June 27th, 2017 by Bob Bly

A few weeks ago, I sent out an email to my list with this subject
line:

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

My blood test results prompted my family doctor to send me to a
hematologist.

Turned out, I dodged a health bullet: no blood cancer.

When I told this story in my e-newsletter, I got well over a
hundred of you emailing me back — more response than most of my
other emails in recent memory.

This taught or at least reminded me of three things — the first
of which warms my heart, and the second and third of which
reveals important truths about email marketing that may be useful
to you.

FIRST, my subscribers, as a group, are considerate and caring —
really nice people — which is the kind of readers I want to have.

SECOND, that the technique of “transparency” … revealing a lot of
personal information about you unrelated to instructional content
or selling in your writing … helps create a bond between you and
your subscribers.

Some comments from the responses to my cancer-scare email:

PC: “I’ve been a subscriber of your emails and a big fan of your
professional career for several years. I truly enjoy anything you
write. Thanks for sharing such a great life lesson.”

JK: “Thank you for sharing this personal story.”

CB: “Thank you for your email communications, which are a
pleasure to read and always worth the time. I read every single
one.”

TP: “Thank you for sharing your personal story and this great
lesson for all of us.”

AB: “I always enjoy your messages. But special thanks for sharing
something so personal. Your humanity is what makes your emails
stand out from all the others in my inbox.”

DF: “Bob, I love your down to earth good old fashioned work ethic
and I love your newsletter.”

I share these comments not to brag, but to demonstrate my thesis:
transparency works in cementing your relationship with your
readers.

Result: they trust you more, like you more, and read you more.

And people buy from people they like and trust.

So transparency makes your subscribers enjoy your newsletter,
decreasing your unsubscribe rate and boosting your open rates.

And all this translates into greater loyalty and more sales for
the products you offer your readers in your emails.

THIRD, people like stories. And stories are often more
persuasive and engaging than data.

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Beware the boob tube

June 23rd, 2017 by Bob Bly

We were invited to a backyard barbecue a few weeks ago by our
friend AE and her husband JE.

Whenever we get together, JE starts recommending to me TV shows
he has become hooked on and finds interesting — and thinks I will
also like.

I always explain politely, every time we are together, thanks but
no thanks — I have no interest and will never take a look at any
of these shows.

One reason is the increasing popularity of shows that are
episodic, such as Lost was and The Walking Dead is, requiring you
to watch every week — or save them up and binge-watch multiple
episodes in one sitting.

I avoid the shows he recommends because (a) I fear I might indeed
get hooked and (b) watching TV shows are a time-suck that, more
often than not, (c) rots your brain.

Neuroscientists who took MRI scans of 290 children ages 5 to 18
found that anatomical changes inside the youngster’s brains after
prolonged TV viewing actually lowered IQ.

In effect, watching too much TV has now scientifically been
proven to make people stupider.

“Well, if you don’t watch TV then what do you do?” JE asks me,
genuinely puzzled.

I explain that the two activities I substitute for TV are reading
and writing.

Writing is mainly my vocation. Though I love it so much, I can
hardly call it “work.”

To paraphrase Les Paul, if you do what you love for a living,
than it isn’t really work.

Reading is my favorite spare time activity.

I read widely, both fiction and nonfiction books of all types.

But this too is part of work, in that reading (a) provides grist
for the copywriting mill, enabling me to acquire all sorts of
knowledge that invariably finds its way into my promotions.

And (b) reading and writing are the two best ways to become a
better writer — so reading is in essence my ongoing continuing
education as a copywriter and book author.

Avoiding lots of TV allows me to spend more time writing and
reading, two activities that are much more active and beneficial
than TV, which is passive and mind-numbing.

I do sometimes turn on the TV when I am tired and just want to
veg out, but I rarely watch more than an hour a day.

What do I watch? We have cable, so I flip until I find a movie
that looks interesting and watch part of it, and only rarely do I
find it just as the film is beginning.

I have to confess that there are certain movies that I will watch
repeatedly when I stumble across them on TV; I do not buy movies
on DVD.

They include The Book of Eli, Galaxy Quest, Water World, The
Postman, Robocop, Dracula Untold, and any movie with Wolverine in
it.

If you think my taste is abysmal, then watch what you like and
don’t worry about what I like.

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Is hawking big-ticket info products to newbies a sin?

June 16th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Ben Settle sent out an email last month that precisely expressed,
more articulately than I have…

…my own sentiments about what’s wrong with selling outrageously
expensive coaching and training programs online to newbies:

“I’m not a big fan of high ticket coaching and masterminds that
are targeted to people who are newbies, desperate, or don’t have
the money, experience, or the knowledge to put the info into
context.

“Even with my own products, I tell people not to buy if they have
to go into debt over it. They should get their financial houses
in order first.”

I applaud Ben’s ethical and sensible stance here. He explains
that his objection mirrors his own experience as an info products
buyer when he was a newbie:

“I simply didn’t have the money to afford all the high-priced
stuff. I started with low-priced books like Dan Kennedy’s
Ultimate Sales Letter, for example, which was like $8.

“Then, when I was able to afford it (using money earned from
applying what I learned in the first book), started spending
money on the more expensive stuff.”

On the other hand, my friend HK points out that some people have
spent their last dime to attend training on a money-making
venture they really wanted to pursue, learned it, applied the
learning — and became spectacularly successful at it.

I know this is true, as several of my readers and students have
achieved precisely this kind of success.

The problem is, they are outliers. As for the rest, most of the
people who spend $5,000 for a training never recover a fraction
of the investment, if any.

If you are interested in a topic and a guru, here’s the order in
which you should acquire his or her knowledge:

>> First, read and get all the free stuff only — their
e-newsletter, free ebooks, free special reports, online articles,
blog, free webinars.

>> Second, most gurus have one or more conventional paperbound
books, usually selling for around $15 new, a few bucks used on
Amazon, or available free at your local library. These books have
much the same content as their $200 multimedia home study course
or even their $1,000 coaching.

>> Third, when and only when you have exhausted the free and
low-cost supply of the guru’s content, then move up to one of his
more costly paid products — but just one to start. And always
make sure there is an unconditional money-back guarantee with a
30 to 90-day return window.

Do not fool yourself, like many students at Ivy League
universities do, into thinking that a higher price automatically
means better content, better learning, and better results.

It’s like Matt Damon’s character explains in Good Will Hunting to
an obnoxious Harvard grad student: “You’re spending $50,000 for
an education you could have gotten for a dollar-fifty in late
fees at the public library.”

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In praise of the good old days

June 2nd, 2017 by Bob Bly

Yes, today the world is filled with modern marvels that make life
better, easier, safer, healthier, and more profitable.

Examples include personal computers, smart phones, the internet,
e-mail, self-driving cars, drones, and new medical treatments for
everything from arthritis to cancer.

But, as much as I like and embrace many innovations, I do
sometimes long for the good old days.

In particular, here are a few of the things I miss from way back
when, illogical as some items on the list may seem:

1– My IBM Selectric typewriter.

Ever since getting my first PC in 1982, computers have helped my
freelance writing income skyrocket.

That being said, I loved the feel of the Selectric keyboard … the
freedom from worrying about malware and other computer glitches …
and the experience of seeing my words immediately appear on paper
as I typed them.

2–Vinyl records.

Vinyl records are making a comeback. The main advantage of
records is that the large album covers had plenty of room for
extensive liner notes.

CDs have these notes printed on separate insert booklets, which
quickly become lost. And somehow they are not as fun to read.

My kids love iPods and digital music. But I don’t want to own yet
another device, and I have no need to carry 950 songs with me.

3–Newspapers.

When I was young my ambition was to be a newspaper reporter,
which was considered one of the coolest jobs for writers on the
planet. After all, Superman was a reporter!

The millennials seem not to read the newspaper anymore. And
today, a newspaper reporter is ranked as one of the least desirable
jobs.

4–Easy air travel.

I have never liked travel of any kind.

But air travel in the 70s was an order of magnitude better than
it is today — for three reasons.

First, planes were often half-empty. Now, they are almost always
full. An ancillary benefit was that there was always room to
store your luggage in the overhead.

Second, there was more legroom. Today, there is so little, it
even bothers me … and I’m a short guy.

Third, pre-911, security was so much laxer, because it didn’t
seem to need to be otherwise.

You didn’t have to take off your shoes, jacket, and belt, which
to me is a pain in the rear.

5–The ability to unplug.

In some ways, smart phones and other mobile devices are a
blessing.

For instance, I worry about my kids less, because I can always
reach them on their cell phones.

On the other hand, wireless connectivity has created a society in
which we are continually connected and available to our boss,
coworkers, and customers round the clock. Putting us under even
more stress.

6–Chocolate milk shakes.

The greater awareness of nutrition today keeps us healthier and
may even extend our lives, and that’s a wonderful thing.

On the other hand, in the 60s we mostly ate stuff that tasted
good, either blissfully unaware or not caring whether it was good
for us.

In particular, I miss regularly consuming chocolate milk shakes …
barbecue ribs … salami sandwiches … Coke … and even the
occasional Ring Ding.

7–Safe sex.

I got married before AIDS reared its ugly head, so I dodged a
bullet — not that I was promiscuous anyway.

But back then, casual hookups and active dating were not
potentially life-ending activities.

I can’t imagine that single people who are sexually active today
with multiple partners aren’t constantly worried about getting
HIV.

8–The Beatles, Sinatra, and Elvis.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t understand how people enjoy
songs when you cannot understand the lyrics being sung or rapped.

Some people say Will Smith is a terrible rapper. But he is one of
the clearest, most articulate rappers out there (Eminem is, too).

9–Classic cars.

I liked the way cars looked and drove back in the day better than
today’s modern tin cans.

My dream car is a fully restored 1957 Pontiac Chieftain.

My mother bought one used in the 60s for $100.

It still pains me enormously that my parents sold it to a guy who
totaled the car soon after he bought it.

What a putz he was to destroy that treasure!

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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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