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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The rise of the non-book

July 7th, 2017 by Bob Bly

I call it “the rise of the non-book.”

I’m talking about the increasing number of extremely short Kindle
e-books being published and sold on Amazon.

My FB friend TJ describes Kindle as a place “where anyone can
string 10,000 words together, make a cover, call it a book, and
present it to the world.”

Back in the day, when I wrote my first book in 1981, you had to
write an actual book to become a “real” author.

For a 200-page trade paperback or hardcover book, that meant
writing, on average, about 80,000 words.

Not a monumental task, but quite a bit of work.

Among my 93 published books (plus two more under contract and
being written by me even as you read this email), most are around
200 pages.

Yes, a few are only around 100 pages. And I have written half a
dozen published children’s books which are even shorter.

However, these short ones balance out with several adult
nonfiction titles that are over 300 pages … and one that is a
whopping 800 pages — “The Advertising Manager’s Handbook,”
published by Prentice-Hall.

But today, as TJ points out, you can write a short document —
just 10,000 words, 5,000 words, or even less — slap a nice cover
on it, create a Kindle e-book, and sell it online.

When people see it on Amazon, most don’t realize it is a
glorified report or article — and they mistake it for the author
having written a real full-length book.

To self-promoters who want to inflate their guru status,
publishing a series of short pieces as individual Kindle e-books
is a quick and easy way to make yourself look like a more
prolific book author than you really are.

But for actual book authors, like me, it devalues your work and
production — because to the untrained eye, it looks like everyone
has written as many books as you have.

This is why I am a fan of paperbound books over Kindle e-books,
and of books sold by mainstream publishing houses vs.
self-published.

Having a paperbound book with a major publisher doesn’t guarantee
quality.

But at least the book has been vetted at several levels beyond
the author himself — including the literary agent, publishing
house editorial committee (they make the decision whether to buy
and publish your book), book editor, copy editor, and
proofreader.

I know many of you today are self-publishing and Kindle fanatics.

But to borrow phrasing from “Make Mine Marvel” Stan Lee, “Make
mine McGraw-Hill (or Macmillan, or Morrow.)”

You get the idea.

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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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How I made $907 in 90 minutes eating Korean food

June 30th, 2017 by Bob Bly

One Friday night last month, after checking, answering, and then
deleting or filing in Outlook all my emails, we left the house at
6pm to get a quick dinner.

When we returned at 7:30pm, I checked my email again.

In the 90 minutes we were out, I had gotten $907 in info product
orders online, all for products I was not actively promoting that
week.

(We call these “over the transom” orders because we took no
deliberate action to generate them.)

No work on my part. Over $900 made while eating in a Korean
restaurant.

(Full disclosure: this is an isolated incident — and not a
typical Friday night.)

Some people work all week to make $900 in a 9-to-5 job that bores
them.

One that they must commute to and from on their own time and dime
— for a boss they don’t like

I tell you this not to brag, but to illustrate (a) the value of
having multiple streams of income and (b) the advantage of having
at least one of these be a stream of passive income.

Just to be clear, passive income is anything that makes money
without your direct labor.

Passive income streams generate cash flow for you on Sundays,
holidays, vacations, and even while you sleep.

As George Clason writes in his book The Richest Man in Babylon,
“I wish an income that will keep flowing into my purse whether I
sit upon the wall or travel to far lands.”

On the other hand, with active income streams, you get paid only
when you are working.

Dentistry, for instance, although lucrative, is strictly an
active income stream.

Dentists have a saying: “Unless you are drilling and filling, you
are not billing.”

Most people I know have, for the most part, only a single stream
of income — typically the paycheck from their full-time job,
where they toil away to make someone else rich.

And unless you are getting a huge salary, that’s risky … although
back in the day, when I worked on staff at a Fortune 500 firm in
the late 70s, a corporate job gave one the illusion of security.
I know I felt safe in mine.

But no longer.

The scary part is that if you get laid off or the company
falters, you suddenly have zero income … except for a small sum
from temporary unemployment insurance.

Your income stops. But your expenses relentlessly keep on coming.

This sudden stoppage of your cash flow makes it extremely
difficult to pay your rent, mortgage, car loans, insurance
premiums, property tax, and kids’ college tuition — among many
other expenses.

When I became a full-time freelance writer in February 1982, my
main source of money was an active income stream — writing copy
for clients.

But even back then, I had a smaller passive income stream:
royalties from my hardcover and paperback books published by
mainstream publishing houses.

The nice thing about royalties is that your work can generate
ongoing income for you months, even years, after you write it.

For instance, I recently got a check from one of my publishers
for $4,856 … for the Chinese edition of a book I wrote in 1985,
which is work I completed more than 3 decades ago.

Some of the passive income streams various writers I know have in
place include:

–Book royalties.
–Copywriting royalties.
–Reselling your published articles to multiple magazines and web
sites over and over.
–Real estate investing.
–Stocks and bonds.
–Online information marketing.
–Options trading.

Action step: develop at least one active income stream and one
passive income stream.

Your goal: Build them to annual six-figure revenues. Each.

That way, if you decide to quite working someday, you can live
comfortably from the passive income stream alone.

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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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Category: General, Online Marketing | 2 Comments » |

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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Avoid writing boring copy or being a bored copywriter

June 20th, 2017 by Bob Bly

“There are a lot of sins in life,” Senator Lindsey Graham was
quoted as saying in New York magazine (3/5/17, p. 24). “But the
one that’s intolerable is being bored. I hate boring.”

The problem with saying that something is “boring,” however, is
that the statement is meaningless unless you ask: “Boring to
WHOM?”

For instance, I recently had the assignment of writing, for a
chemical company, a white paper on “clean agent fire suppression
systems for data centers.”

While this topic would put the majority of copywriters I know
into a coma, for me, being a chemical engineer and former
chemistry major, it was absolutely fascinating — and pure joy.

Especially in sales copy, being boring is an absolute sin and a
sure road to lack of interest and dismal response rates.

As David Ogilvy once observed, “You cannot sell the consumer by
boring her to death.”

So … how do you avoid being bored with your copywriting projects
as well as boring prospects with the copy you write?

Making sure the copy you write is not boring is a five-step
process:

>> Step one is to, as much as is humanly possible, only take on
assignments that — if they don’t absolutely fascinate you — at
least are interesting to you.

That way, you don’t have to fake enthusiasm, because you will
enjoy learning about that product and selling it to others.

>> Step two is to dig into the topic to find the area of it with
the greatest interest to the reader.

One high-tech copywriter told me, “The most fascinating thing
about technology is that people invented it.”

Joseph Kelly, a former speechwriter for Eisenhower, said: “There
is a kernel of interest in everything man or God made.”

Your job is to find that kernel. In copy, it must either arouse
curiosity, lure the prospect into reading the copy, or make her
want to own the product being advertised.

>> Step three is to do the hard work of research.

Most copywriters I know enjoy learning, so the research is often
fun and intellectually stimulating.

Research is important because, in copy, specifics sell.
Generalities bore the reader and cause her to quickly lose
interest and click away.

But wait. There are two additional steps that can help ensure you
are never bored as a copywriter….

>> Step four: Always have multiple writing projects.

Isaac Asimov said the secret to his great writing productivity
was having many projects, so when he got bored or tired or just
felt he could not go further with his book that day…

…he switched to his columns and articles on other topics, which
kept him fresh and interested.

>> Step five: Write things other than copy.

My 80/20 rule for copywriters is to spend 80% of your time
writing copy for clients.

This is the key to a six-figure annual income year after year.

But to vary things up, spend 20% of your time with non-copy
writing projects that are purely yours.

Mark Ford writes poetry, short stories, and movie scripts.

The late Herschell Gordon Lewis wrote and produced grade B horror
movies.

I write short stories and had a book of them come out from Quill
Driver Books last year:

http://amzn.to/2r7qtyd

I have had a blast on writing nonfiction books on everything
from sex and Star Trek, to careers and satire.

I also did cartoons and wrote the occasional newspaper or
magazine article, published in periodicals ranging from
Cosmopolitan to the Baltimore City Paper.

This keeps me fresh and ensures I am virtually never bored, except
by paperwork, which I loathe.

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