Archive for the 'Writing' Category

Why I won’t write free guest posts for RM’s blog

March 13th, 2018 by Bob Bly

RM recently emailed me:

“Bob, we are simply amazed with your writing style and would want
you to be a part of our community.

“I’m the Head of Marketing at XYZ Marketers. We are building a
community of Marketers.”

“Information that you provide through your blogs could be crucial
for the marketers, businesses, and brands coming to our site
trying to increase their brand exposure.

“We would like to invite you to guest blog. Guest Blogging with
Passionate Marketers will provide you an opportunity to showcase
your thought leadership in the industry.

“As with your informative and insightful content, you will not
only provide value to the new audience, but will establish trust

“We believe the learning curve in a community is always high.
Looking forward to hear from you.”

RM actually thought he was flattering me — rather than insulting
me — by asking me to do for him for free what others pay me a
lot of money to do: write.

So I instantly emailed back a polite “thanks but no thanks.”

The reason I bring this up is: most solopreneurs, self-employed
professionals, freelance writers, consultants, and others in our
boat get requests like this quite frequently.

And if you are typical, you may struggle with how to respond …

… and whether to actually accept and do as asked — whether it’s to
write a guest post for a blog … or be interviewed on a podcast …
or allow one of your articles to be reprinted in someone else’s
e-newsletter or on their website — always, of course, with no
offer of pay.

To help you out in these situations, here are 5 simple questions
you can ask yourself to make quick and smart decisions about
requests for free contributions of your time, expertise, or other
things of value that people want without paying you for it:

#1–Who’s asking?

RM was with a blog and a company I never heard of.

I wouldn’t even write a free article for the Wall Street Journal.

I am certainly not going to do it for a blog I never heard of
that, for all I know, has 3 readers.

Do they have more than 3?

I don’t know.

Because RM didn’t think the size of his audience was worth
mentioning when he made his request.

And even if he told me, how do I know I can trust that number?

Would you run a paid ad in a magazine or a banner on a website
without knowing the magazine’s circulation or the site’s monthly

No. Then why would you write for a blog or website with no clue
of how big the audience is?

#2–What’s the benefit?

So RM is going to help me “showcase my thought leadership”?

Forgive me for not swooning from the excitement.

#3–Do I need the benefit?

So let’s say the benefit is showcasing my thought leadership.

With speaking engagements for some of the biggest corporations
and most prestigious organizations in the world … and 95 books
published … is getting more PR something I really need at this

#4–What’s the ROTI?

ROTI is “return on time invested.”

If I make, say, $300 an hour as a writer, and it takes me 2 hours
to write a guest post, it costs me $600.

Will my post on the XYZ blog make me at least twice that —
$1,200 in orders for my services or products?

If not — pass.

#5–Who owns the content?

Say by some chance your answers to questions #1 through #4 above
line up and say, “Do it!”

Then at least let RM know that you own all rights to your

And just to be sure, type the words “first rights only” at the
top of page one of your manuscript.


Because in today’s marketplace of commerce and ideas, your
content collection is a goldmine.

And you only let others borrow your treasure. You never give it


Category: Writing | 1 Comment »

How to submit copy

February 13th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Subscriber BM writes:

“Bob, can I ask a dumb logistical question? How exactly do you
submit your copy? And in what form? In a word Doc? PDF?

“Do you format the copy exactly as you envision it, down to the
headline font and size? And what about images and charts and
things like Johnson boxes?

“Do you dictate how things look graphically or just submit the
raw text for everything? Just curious about that.”

So let me briefly provide the straightforward answers to these
questions, which are anything BUT dumb:

1–I submit copy to clients as a word file, single-spaced, sent
via an email attachment.

2–The body copy is in 12-point Times Roman. Headlines are
14-point Arial bold. Subheads are 12-point Arial.

3–If there are graphics, I cut and paste the image into my Word
document directly from the source material (e.g., Powerpoints,
white paper PDF documents, websites) whenever possible, with the
source referenced in a footnote.

4–If the source material is copyrighted content owned by my
client, I assume they can use the visuals as is.

5–If the source is copyrighted material belonging to someone
else, I still cut and paste it with a footnote into my document,
but alert the client that they must either obtain written
permission to use it or redraw it so as not to violate copyright.
Or, I paraphrase to avoid copyright violation.

6–I often include in the Word document for my copy some
“copywriter’s roughs” — crude layouts, drawn in Microsoft Word.
Note: I have collected my layout templates in a kit you can buy;
see my PS below for details.

7–I clearly indicate what is a headline, subhead, or body copy;
provide images for guidance; and either give layout instructions
in text [in square brackets] — or using my copywriter’s roughs
(see #6 above).

But, I do NOT “dictate how things look graphically,” format the
copy in final form, or do a finished graphic design or layout of
any kind.

Instead, I provide sufficient “art direction” (layout
suggestions) so that the graphic designer can produce a finished
layout that will work in print or online.

I will also, at no charge, review the layout, often several
times, as it is being developed by the graphic designer and made
final by them and the client.

But I do not try to tell the graphic designers how to do a job
for which they are better skilled and suited than I am.


Category: Writing | 5 Comments »

Writing: the #1 barrier to digital marketing

February 2nd, 2018 by Bob Bly

Digital marketing has an insatiable thirst for good content and
copy to fuel it and produce results.

And therein lies a problem: companies that lack writing resources
neglect certain digital channels — because they do not have the
time, talent, nor temperament to write the copy these marketing
tactics require.

In my experience, the marketing-related writing tasks that are
most problematic are blogs, e-newsletters, email marketing, and
lead magnets.

>> Blog posts … writing one or two 500 to 1,000-word blog posts
daily is difficult, especially in a corporate environment where
everything published has to go through a review committee.

>> E-newsletters … experienced online marketers know the
importance of having an e-newsletter and building its subscriber
list. But the #1 complaint of marketers I advise in this area is,
“We don’t have the time to write an e-zine or the budget to hire
someone to do so!”

>> Email marketing … not a problem if you send one email blast to
your list a month, but it suddenly becomes a huge burden if you
want to send 2 to 3 email messages a week.

>> Lead magnets … the marketer creates a squeeze or sales page.
They then realize they want to offer a free bonus report. But
they don’t have one. The deadline is around the corner and the
budget has been spent. So they skip the report — and response
suffers because of it.

So how do you get around your resource limitations and get these
things written with sufficient quality and quick turnaround without
breaking your marketing budget?

Here are a few suggestions:

1–Recruit in-house wordsmiths.

At most organizations there are usually some people who, while
not professional writers, are decent “wordsmiths” — as we used to
call them at Westinghouse back in the day.

2–Repurpose and recycle your content.

Don’t reinvent the wheel with every new piece of copy and content
you write.

A blog post can be reworked into an article for your online
newsletter. A series of articles from your e-newsletter can be
compiled and edited into a special report or white paper.

3–Use other people’s content.

You probably already get a ton of material on your topic —
e-newsletters, webinars, trade magazines, and other sources.

As you read them, you can extract and reprint this information,
rephrased in your own words, in your e-newsletter and other
digital marketing. Just be sure to credit the source.

4–Set a schedule to publish regularly.

If you decide to blog or write e-newsletter issues sporadically,
then you have no commitment to get the material done by a
specific date — and therefore the writing is in danger of being
continually put off as more pressing tasks come up.

On the other hand, when people sign up for and you promise them a
weekly e-newsletter, you have an obligation to deliver — and you
somehow get it done.

5–Carry a smart phone, digital recorder, or pen and note pad.

Copy and content ideas will pop into your head when you least
expect them to.

Write them down. Capture ideas immediately. If you don’t, by the
time you get to your desk, you will have forgotten that great
idea or content tidbit you wanted to use in your next blog post
or podcast.

By the way, the problem companies have with getting blog posts,
online newsletters, email blasts, and lead magnets written seems
not to apply to bigger writing projects — including websites,
landing pages, and video sales letters.

That’s because these can usually be planned, and that plan
includes a production schedule the team agrees on and finds
reasonable — or at least possible.

Also because these projects are perhaps bigger, more critical,
and less frequent than the blogging or online newsletters,
marketers are comfortable devoting more time and effort to their

So they can afford and are willing to pay qualified professionals
higher fees to write these bigger pieces.


Category: General, Online Marketing, Writing, Writing and the Internet | 5 Comments »

Copywriting vs. traditional freelancing: no contest

January 30th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Back in the day, most freelance writers made the bulk of their
income, which was often quite modest, writing books for
mainstream publishing houses and articles for magazines and

Today this is still the province of “traditional” freelance
writers, though many of the books are now ebooks and the articles
are just as likely to appear online as in print.

But the problem with these conventional and popular writing
assignments — book, articles, columns, essays, stories, poetry,
plays, scripts — is that it is all done “on spec.”

For instance, if you want to write articles for magazines such as
Cosmopolitan, Popular Science, or Modern Bride, here are the

>> First, you sit around and try to dream up ideas for articles
you think these magazines might publish.

No one has asked you to do this. You aren’t paid for
brainstorming. With rare exception, it’s done totally on spec.

>> Second, you research and read the magazines you might write
for — including the name of the right editor to approach — to
better understand what they publish. Again, on your dime. No pay.

>> Third, you write a “query letter” to the editor describing the
article you want to write for her and why her readers would be
interested. And you guessed it — you are not getting paid to
write that letter.

Although some writers disagree, the best practice is to offer a
given article to only one magazine at a time. So you wait weeks
for them to respond.

Many times, it’s a rejection. Or you may not hear at all and have
to follow up to get an answer. Sometimes you never get one.

>> Fourth, if an editor is interested, there is often no
commitment stronger than “I’ll take a look at the article; send
it along.”

Sometimes, you do get a contract. But read it carefully. Most
allow the editor to reject your article … even though you think
that by giving you the go-ahead, she “ordered” it.

>> Fifth, you research and write the article.

The editor does not provide you with the research materials. You
have to dig it up on your dime.

The editor will probably want you to interview 3 to 5 people for
the article. Again, you have to find them, reach out to them,
conduct the interview, and work the material into your story.

>> After all this effort, the editor still may decide to turn the
piece down, in which case you get paid either nothing or a small
kill fee. So it’s close to a total loss.

With all this speculation, it’s a lot of risk to earn a wage that
in most instances is modest at best, and often — when measured on
a per hour basis — not much more than you would get asking
people, “Do you want fries with that?”

The whole time, you are sitting out there, all alone in your home
office, creating ideas and words that no “client” — which is what
the editor really is — much cares whether you deliver or not.

Now compare that with freelance copywriting where:

1–The client comes up with the idea for the project; e.g. a white
paper on central alarm systems for warehouses.

2–The client calls you and asks you to write a white paper on
central alarm systems for warehouses.

3–You get a contract and a retainer for half the fee up front.

4–The client has commissioned the piece and wants it on or before
the date in the contract.

5–The client provides you with a lot of source material on
central alarm systems for warehouses.

6–If you need to get more information, the client arranges for
one or more of their subject matter experts to cooperate with you
and be interviewed.

The interview subject is provided for you. And told they must
work with you. Unlike with a magazine article, where many people
you might want to interview can be difficult or refuse to
cooperate altogether.

7–You write the white paper, submit it, make any edits requested,
and get paid for the balance of the project.

Speculative time and effort on this copywriting project: zero.
Which means you get paid for all the thought, work, and effort
you put into it.

The fee? Typically 2 to 5 times or more what you’d get paid to
write a magazine article of similar length and difficulty.

I have often said that copywriting is at least 4 times more
lucrative than freelance magazine writing — because you make
twice as much money in less than half the time.

Which scenario — magazine writing or copywriting — sounds better
to you?

Full disclosure: They are not mutually exclusive. I do both. You
can too.

But over 90% of my freelance writing is copywriting, and less
than 10% is writing articles for magazines and newspapers or
books for publishers — because I like the respect and pay I get as
a copywriter. And none of the latter is on spec.



Category: Writing | 9 Comments »

Copywriters: escape the “commodity trap”

January 19th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Subscriber DC writes, “What’s the biggest threat facing freelance

Then he answers his own question: “It’s commoditization.

“To see where copywriting is going, look no further than

“This is now almost a commodity, in which freelance rates are in
a ‘race to the bottom.’

“In copywriting, barriers to entry are so low … and anyone
anywhere can bid for work.”

Then DC asks, “So how can copywriters avoid becoming a commodity
— what strategy works?”

To answer, here are 5 ways copywriters can escape the commodity

1–The “double pipeline” strategy.

You calculate the amount of marketing needed to generate enough
leads to keep busy.

Then, do twice that much marketing!

Result: a lead pipeline filled to overflowing — making you an
in-demand copywriter with more potential clients than you could
ever hope to possibly handle.

And when you have 2X more copywriting jobs offered to you than
you can take, then commoditization doesn’t matter.

Demand for your time outweighs the supply, and you eliminate
cutthroat competition or the need to compete on price.

2–The “niche” strategy.

Specialize either in a particular industry, such as financial,
health care, or manufacturing.

Or in a medium or copywriting task such as white papers, email
marketing campaigns, or long-copy sales letters.

The more narrow your specialty — e.g., direct mail selling
insurance — the more you can charge and the fewer your

3–The “multiple streams of income” strategy.

If your gross revenue goal is $150,000 a year and all you do is
write copy for clients, you must get and complete $150,000 worth
of copywriting projects.

On the other hand, say you want to make $150,000 a year, and you
can make $25,000 in speaking fees, $25,000 in book royalties, and
$50,000 creating and selling your own info products online.

That adds up to $100,000. So the pressure is off, because now you
only have to make $50,000 a year in copywriting fees to hit your
$150,000 total revenue goal.

4–The “guru” strategy.

Write articles, publish special reports, author books, present
seminars, give talks at conferences, have a content-rich website,
build a Facebook group, tweet, and do other things to help build
your reputation as a guru.

5–The “superstar” strategy.

Be in the top 1% of copywriters in terms of results generated by
your copy.

This is an extremely difficult strategy as most of us have mixed
track records and almost no one writes a winner every time.

The preeminent copywriter in the superstar category today is
Clayton Makepeace.

All 5 strategies are essentially variations on one theme: Be
different in a way that makes you better or more desirable.

But it’s not enough to build or become a better mousetrap.

To get the world to beat a path to your door, you’ve got to
effectively communicate that difference to your potential

In Working Moms e-newsletter (9/7/17), Dan Kennedy writes:

“Project a powerful, persuasive, intriguing, compelling,
fascinating message. Is your message ordinary or similar to
others in your market? Is it plain vanilla? Easily ignored? Just
about the facts? If so, it needs to be doctored so that it
stands out. This is especially true if your product or service is
widely available.

“Review your marketing. Does it differentiate your business and
perhaps establish you as the expert people should work with,
regardless the cost? If not, it should.”


Category: Direct Marketing, General, Writing | 7 Comments »

The only 3 ways to become a better copywriter

January 16th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Subscriber GJ writes:

“How do I become a better copywriter? Do you have any suggestions
or tips?”

There are really only 3 ways I know to become a better


Start writing copy. Then keep on writing it.

Do class assignments. Write copy for clients … or your own
products … or both.

The key is to write a lot and never stop, as it takes around
10,000 hours of practice to become really great at copywriting or
any other skill.


With only one exception, every copywriter I know is an avid
reader and eager students of all sorts of subjects.

To become a better copywriter, you need in-depth knowledge of
your industry and market — which you can get in part through

You also become a better copywriter with a vast storehouse of
knowledge on many different topics, and you never know which will
become grist for the copywriting mill … and again, you get that
largely from reading.


Your studies are twofold.

First, study the craft of copywriting and the discipline of
marketing — through books, courses, seminars, conferences,
articles, and so on.

Second, study the promotions that are working in the marketplace.

Tip: if you see a promotion that is running over and over, study
it most carefully.


Because it must be working; otherwise, the marketer would not
keep using it.

These 3 tasks are not difficult, which is why I call them easy.

(And by that I only mean that the learning is easy. The
successful “doing” can be very hard.)

They all involve reading and writing, which if you are a writer,
is in all probability fun for you.

But, while you can learn the basics of copywriting fairly
quickly, you can then spend a lifetime honing your skills; I work
on mine every day of the year.

Which is why I did not say becoming a great copywriter is quick.

But it is fun.


Category: Success, Writing | 8 Comments »

Should you “audition” for copywriting work?

December 12th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Recently, I wrote an essay on why I am firmly against writing
on spec.

My subscriber KR, an experienced and successful freelance
copywriter, responded:

“Bob, regarding spec work: Yes, if someone asked me to write
something on spec, I would run away.

“But sometimes if I’m pitching a very profitable-looking project,
and I see that I can add a lot of value, I’ll tell them that I’ll
write a few paragraphs to give them a feel for what they’ll get.

“In other words, I VOLUNTEER to spec a little bit — and I can
honestly say, I don’t remember anybody ever turning me down after
they get a look at what I can do for them.

“It only takes me a couple of minutes to do a little writing, and
it pays off. I think the key is that I am confidently suggesting it; not
proving myself to a doubting Thomas.

“Of course, I would not recommend this to novices, but it works
for me.”

Well, as much as I like and respect KR, I am totally opposed to
what he suggests here — which is essentially “auditioning” for a
copywriting project by doing some spec writing — for 3 reasons.

>> First, there is a rule in selling that says, “Never be the
dancing monkey.”

The dancing monkey is desperate.

He needs or wants the work.

So to get it, he will do or say whatever the prospect asks him to
do or say.

The problem is, some prospects lose respect for dancing monkeys;
they feel the monkey is perhaps a tad TOO eager — and therefore
turn away and do not hire him.

>> Second, despite KR’s insistence that “it only takes a couple
of minutes,” my experience is that almost NOTHING takes “only a
couple of minutes.”

Let me ask you: How often have you estimated a certain number of
hours to do a project … and then, well into that allotted time and not
nearly done, realize you have once again badly underestimated how
long it will really take?

We usually underestimate the numbers of hours a given task will
take and only rarely overestimate the time required.

Also, let’s say KR delivers his spec work in a flash.

That’s also a problem, because many people believe that it is
axiomatic that the quality of a piece of writing is directly
proportional to the amount of time it took to write … even though
that is often NOT the case.

Therefore, if you deliver your little spec audition pronto, the
prospect will either think it can’t be any good, because you did
it so fast.

Or, he will believe that your price for his project is too high,
because after all, look how little time it took for you to write
the first part of it, right?

>> Third, when you dash off a quick spec writing sample as your
“audition,” you are not doing the extensive groundwork and
research required to write great copy.

For me, that research usually accounts for 25% to 40% of the
total labor involved in a copywriting project.

And that research is all done before I write word one of the

So to write and submit headlines and leads before doing my due
diligence is shortchanging the client and delivering copy to him that
is not half as good as it could be — which in turn makes you look
half as good as you are.

Also, offering to write a free sample on spec says to the client
that you are not busy, and you need the job.

And clients prefer hiring vendors who seem in-demand and
successful, and not so desperate or needy that they work on spec.

After all, if you already have a full dance card, why would you
give away what you sell?

That being said, KR insists that spec auditions work for him.

And since I know him to be an honest man, it therefore must work
for him.

But it would never work for me.

I doubt it would work for most people.

And if anything, it has the potential to unsell you more than
sell you, for the 3 reasons just given.

So I adamantly advise against auditioning for a copywriting
client with even a short spec submission — despite KR’s advice to
the contrary.


Category: Writing | 3 Comments »

Have video and the web rendered copy obsolete?

December 1st, 2017 by Bob Bly

When I was just starting out in the corporate world in the late
70s, I gave one of my product managers the first draft of a
brochure I had written for his product, a complex radar system.

As he read it, he smiled: “You know, no one reads the copy

I smiled back: “In that case, why not just print the brochure
with just pictures?”

He was not amused.

And so within a year, I left for another job — this one with an
industrial manufacturer where the product managers thought good
copy was key in making the sale.

Yet, when the radar brochure was in fact published, it was of
course filled with many words describing the product, the
technology, and the features in great detail.

As for the idea that one picture is worth a thousand words,
that’s debatable.

But one thing we do know is that our visuals communicate more
clearly and effectively when they have captions.

The fact is that many pictures, though convincing, they are much
better understood by the readers when there is a caption to
explain what the person is looking at.

Also, no airport is going to invest a huge sum of money to buy a
radar upon which air traffic safety is absolutely dependent
without learning everything they can about it — and you can only
communicate that with lots and lots of words.

I stick by what I said to my radar product manager, and ask the
same question of the “no one reads” believers in marketing today.

Namely, if no one reads the copy, why do you agonize over every
word in the approval process?

In his book “The View from the Cheap Seats,” Neil Gaiman

“There were noises made a few years ago about the idea that we
were living in a post-literate world in which the ability to make
sense out of written words was somehow redundant.

“But these days, those noises are gone [and] words are more
important than they ever were.

“We navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto
the web, we need to follow, to comprehend what we’re reading.

“People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas.”

When I wrote copy for FDA-approved medical devices aimed at
doctors, my client said, “Doctors are busy and do not have time
to read.”

But a person who does not read cannot graduate medical school and
get an MD. And a doctor who does not read cannot keep up with the
many medical journals in his field.

So the idea that MDs do not read is patently absurd.

I have interviewed many medical doctors for copywriting projects
— and most were absolutely information junkies when it came to
learning about medicine.

In consumer direct marketing, we also hear “people do not read

What marketers do not realize is that the people who do not read
are not your prospects — not if you sell business-to-business,
publishing, or direct response offers.

Buyers read copy, and as a rule the more of your copy they read,
the more likely they are to buy.

These days, I write mostly for clients who are in direct response,
health, financial, high-tech, industrial, and business-to-business

In other words, clients for whom the words in the copy matter.

There are other clients who place minimal value on copy, and
focus instead on pictures, video, or other bright shiny objects.

They are not a good fit for me, and I assiduously avoid them.


Category: Writing | 4 Comments »