Archive for the 'General' Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


Category: General | 1 Comment »

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

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

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

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

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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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

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:

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?


Category: General | 1 Comment »

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:

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:


As your freelance copywriter, Bob Bly is responsible for:

–Requesting all the information he needs to write your
–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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The secret of “M-Day”

May 2nd, 2017 by Bob Bly

For decades, I have been a semi-workaholic who works 11 to 12
hour days and rarely takes a vacation.

But I do have a technique I want to share with you for giving
yourself a break once a month.

It makes you feel as if you are playing hooky for the day, though
in fact, you are getting a lot done.

I call it “M-Day” or “Miscellaneous Day.”

Each month, I pick one day.

It has to be a day when I have no pressing deadlines, no phone
meetings, no other appointments, and nothing to deliver to a
client or publisher due that same week.

On regular days, I schedule my work during the day so I am
working on one project or another during every hour, with a short
rest between hour increments.

On Miscellaneous Day, there is no schedule. So I don’t HAVE to do
anything at any particular time.

I crank up the music.

And I spend M-Day working on whatever project or task strikes my

Then I jump to something else … well, whenever the mood strikes

I often start M-Day with easy, light work — like a magazine
article, working on one of my info marketing projects, or writing
an article for my e-newsletter, as I am doing right now.

But often I will get inspired to tackle one or more tougher jobs
on M-Day … such as a particularly challenging sales letter … and
if that mood strikes me, I do it with great gusto.

And somehow, because of the immense freedom I have on M-Day, if
anything I enjoy it even more than usual (and I really enjoy
writing sales letters) … and do it even better and faster than

M-Day is also a good day for me to handle miscellaneous tasks
that I often put aside because of my usual multiple writing
deadlines, such as filling out paperwork or straightening out the
occasional problem with a health insurance claim or similar
stuff. Miscellany that is boring and distasteful, but still needs
to be done.

(For instance, recently my health insurance didn’t pay a provider
because they said my other health insurance carrier should handle
it. And you guessed it, I do not HAVE another insurance plan.
They are my sole carrier. But I had to spend time on the phone
and filling out forms to prove it before they would pay the

For me, M-Day relaxes and revitalizes me, while giving me a full
day in the office that is different and therefore even more fun
than usual. And, it is always a very productive day — not really
a hooky day at all!

I think it’s the change of pace in an otherwise fairly set
routine that is part of the secret of M-Day — it’s a full-day
“pattern interruption.”

The other aspect is, with all the projects I can work on during
M-Day to choose from, I feel like a kid in a candy store, picking
whatever I want as the mood strikes me. There is a big smile on
my face and a lightness of spirit that is so invigorating!

So why don’t I do more Miscellaneous Days?

One M-Day a month is just about right for me. I tried doing two
Miscellaneous Days a few months ago, and it didn’t feel right — I
felt like a slacker. You may be different.

My suggestion is that you try giving yourself a Miscellaneous Day

If it works for you as it does for me, give yourself one M-Day
a month.

You will thank me for it.

Time to sign off now and get back to more M-Day fun!


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Is college a waste of time and money?

April 28th, 2017 by Bob Bly

An investment guru I respect recently wrote in his e-newsletter,
“It’s not necessary to go to college. You’re likely to be
corrupted, and indebt yourself like an indentured slave for many
years to come.”

Well, yes, maybe it’s not necessary to go to college. But is it a
good idea to go?

For many people, yes — and others, no.

CNN Money reports that the unemployment rate among those with
only a high school degree is about double that of people with a
college degree.

Those with a college degree earn on average around twice as much
money a week as those who did not go to college.

So the statistics would seem not to support Mr. Investment Guru’s
anti-college stance.

He does note that, for the most part, if you want to enter a
trade or profession — doctor, lawyer, CPA, engineer, scientist —
you need college, both to gain the knowledge and skills, as well
as to obtain the credential that will get you hired.

If I did not have a BS in chemical engineering, IBM would not
have offered me a $23,000 a year job as a process engineer at
their semiconductor plant in Binghamton, NY in 1979.

Mr. Investment Guru notes that you can take courses online or
play CDs from The Teaching Company while driving in your car.

I am all for being an autodidact — which means educating yourself
through reading and study on your own.

But for many of us, the best education is a combination of
self-education with formal schooling.

There were so many difficult concepts I had trouble understanding
in my reading of science and engineering, I needed experts
(professors) to explain them and answer questions.

When you listen to an audio CD, you can’t ask it questions.

Also, while some teenagers are mature, many are not, and I was in
the latter category.

So being away at college was a maturing experience I sorely
needed — especially working my way through it washing dishes in
the cafeteria.

The other common complaint I hear about college is, “Don’t go,
because it just prepares you to be a corporate tool. Start your
own business instead — you’ll have more freedom and make more

The problem with the “everyone should own their own business”
school of thinking is that it assumes having a job is universally
terrible and everyone hates it. And also, that everyone wants to
and should be self-employed.

But I know many people who prefer being employees. They have no
stomach for the marketing and selling which is required of most
small business owners. They are quite content being given work to
do by a boss and then doing it well. They like having a regular
paycheck, too.

In my case, I was perfectly content in my two corporate jobs. I
only quit because in my second job, I was told I had to relocate
from Manhattan to Wichita, Kansas, and I did not want to.

Not up to another job search, I asked myself whether there was
anything I did in my job as an advertising manager I could offer
as a freelance service.

And that’s how I got into freelance copywriting.

One more thing….

For my first few years as a freelance copywriter, I specialized
almost exclusively in industrial writing.

Prospects challenged me: “How can you understand our products?
They are technical!”

I had a five-word answer: “I am a chemical engineer.”

And that was all it took to overcome their one major objection —
that a copywriter could not understand their products — and get


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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.


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