Archives for February 2020

How to Flout the “Rules,” Be Unconventional, and Still Become a Massive Success (A Must-Read Book That Might Just Change Your Life)

Ash Ambirge The Middle Finger Project book

It’s no exaggeration to say that finding Ash Ambirge’s blog, The Middle Finger Project, changed the trajectory of my life.

A little bit melodramatic yes, but that’s how I roll. 😊

Let me explain.

Once upon a long time ago, I was wandering the career desert, wondering how I could use my writing and marketing skills to create a career that paid well, offered lots of flexibility, and allowed me the freedom to be the quirky soul I was.

A career I could be proud of, one I was actually excited to get to do every day.

I had been working in public radio, which wasn’t cutting it for me (one of several jobs I tried and didn’t love).

Feeling bored and uninspired, I started casting around for something else I could do. And I knew that thing would involve writing.

Then One Night, I Fell Down the Online Rabbit Hole and Discovered the Person Who Would Well and Truly Change the Course of My Life

While tooling around on the interwebs one night looking for a “sign,” I found Ash’s blog post, The 67 Emotions of Unconventional Success: My Story, and was instantly smitten with all things Ash.

It was the beginning of everything.

It jolted me out of my complacency.

It made me feel something.

Reading that post, then signing up for Ash’s email list, and later, taking advantage of her paid workshops, courses, kits and e-books, etc., jumpstarted my copywriting career and my freelance writing  business.

I never would have had the guts to become a freelance copywriter and run things the way I do if not for her.

I never would have even believed it was possible.

Yet, here I am.

I can tell more of that story another day if anyone’s interested, but today, I’m here to tell you about Ash’s fantastic, amazing, quite possibly life-changing new book, THE MIDDLE FINGER PROJECT: Trash Your Imposter Syndrome and Live the Unf*ckwithable Life You Deserve.

Ashley wrote this book …

… for the imposters, the small town girls, the trailer park trash, the inner city warriors, the dirt road queens, the ones without a voice, the ones being supervised by a man, the ones broken and divorced, the ones without enough self-esteem, the ones who don’t know what to do next, the ones fighting every day to find themselves, the ones who don’t know what their passions are yet, the ones who could use a big sister, the ones who need someone to grab them by the hand and say “get the fuck back up, we’re doing this” the ones who are gravely underestimated, the ones dying to find their purpose, the ones who need a dangerous dose of confidence, the ones who are down to ride because THAT IS WHAT WE DO, and the ones who don’t know, yet, that they are so much more capable than they think.

I read an advance copy online (I have an actual hard copy coming to me in the mail this week – woohoo!!), and I can tell you, it is mad inspiring.

Reading the digital version made me want to do something big and bold and c-r-a-z-y, so I can only imagine what’s about to transpire when I read the hard copy – yeehaw!

Here’s what the book’s about, in bullet-pointed nutshell:

  • Girl grows up in a trailer park in rural America
  • Mom = social anxiety, doesn’t leave house
  • Dad dies when girl is 14
  • Mom dies when girl is 21
  • Girl leaves small town. Goes to big city. Tries hard to fit in with people who paid real money for “nude” as a nail color.
  • Becomes disillusioned to discover nobody actually knows what they’re doing and the rules were made up by a guy named Ted who ate a cheeseburger for lunch and has a dog named Wedgie.
  • Leaves job. Rebels. Sleeps in car in Kmart parking lot.
  • $26 left. Lots of chicken nuggets.
  • Hears radio announcer. New music album available for pre-order. Suddenly realizes that value comes in many forms—not just in all of material things she never had—and art is worth paying for. And? It doesn’t have to be *finished yet* in order to be exchanged for future value.
  • Takes hidden talent—writing—and uses it to create an all-new job for herself.
  • Earns first $2,000 from backseat of car.
  • Uses it to kick start new life.
  • Makes first $103,000 that year, and then goes on to earn several million dollars from her art.
  • Learns lots of lessons along the way, like: You must be brave enough to cause problems. And: Sometimes you’ve got to be a bitch about money. And: Every good idea is offensive to someone. And: Selling yourself requires you to insist on your own brilliance. And: We must learn to become mothers to ourselves.
  • Ash: “I NEED TORN DOWN SOULS TO READ THIS. I need them to see that they can do so much more than they think. And not just them, but anyone who feels like an imposter every single day of their life. Anyone who doesn’t know what else to do. Anyone confused about their career. Anyone who doesn’t have passions anymore. Anyone who feels like they’ve lost themselves. And anyone who is still really just an innocent babe inside, trying to find their way.”

Today, Ash runs The Middle Finger Project®, an online company and award-winning blog which has provided tens of thousands of young “women who disobey” with the tools and mind-set to reject the world’s expectations of success and get on their own path to happiness, wealth, independence, and adventure. The women who flock to her message want to hear from someone who has hit rock bottom and survived to tell the tale—all while becoming her own brand of self-made success. Expanding on the short, pithy advice on her blog, Ash’s book of the draws on her unconventional personal story to offer an empowering and occasionally potty-mouthed manifesto for the transformative power of radical self-reliance and taking risks.

I didn’t grow up with much myself, so I have all kinds of respect for this girl who went from being orphaned in a trailer park to becoming a wildly successful CEO and author, now published by Penguin Random House and killing it.

And as she points out over and over again in the book, if she can do it, so can you.

A few choice quotes from the book:

  • Every good idea is offensive to someone. This is the very nature of good ideas: they are good because they change things.
  • You must be brave enough to cause problems. A person who never causes any problems is a person who doesn’t trust herself to handle what happens next.
  • You only have 12 fucks a day to give, so use them wisely.
  • Life circumstances are not life sentences. If a Scranton girl who grew up in a trailer park can make it, so can you.
  • Don’t do something because “it makes sense.” It can make all the sense in the world and still make you miserable.
  • That’s when you know it’s bad: when you’re living a life not even Chip and Joanna Gaines can fix.
  • Radical self-reliance comes from following your most dangerous ideas.
  • Anytime you are doing work that you hate, you are disrespecting yourself and it hurts.
  • Sometimes ensuring that you’ll respect yourself again in the morning is the most important form of self-care we have.
  • It’s not about the work. It’s about how the work makes you feel.
  • If you have an idea, you’ve got something of value.
  • Most people will say anything to justify their own actions, because most people would rather be right than happy.
  • What you believe about yourself will either murder your chances or change your life.
  • It’s not about getting hired anymore. It’s about having enough guts to hire yourself.
  • Trying is always the very best thing we can do in any moment.
  • There is no such thing as a starving artist, anymore: the Internet runs on artists. It’s the only reason the Internet was made: by people like us, contributing their ideas.
  • Quit often. Quit over and over again. Become an expert quitter, because this means that you are also an expert starter.
  • It’s easy to do things that merely promise money. It’s much harder to do things that don’t. But in a most ironic fashion, the latter is the surest way to get a metric crap ton of it.
  • Ladies, you need to have your own money. You need to have enough so that you never have to compromise your own better judgment.
  • Nothing is permanent, not even your worst nightmare. This little blip on your radar? This will not kill you. This will show you that you are made of fucking stars.
  • You don’t have to be the most qualified person, ever, in order to make a valuable contribution. All you have to do is be willing to solve a problem you care about.
  • Nobody’s just going to put two-hundred dollars in your hand. You have to be willing to show up and ask, “Would you like my help?”
  • The most important and courageous thing you can do: simply show up.
  • You can have everything you want in life, as long as you’re willing to sacrifice everything you don’t.

I started this blog, this website, and my entire business around the idea that it’s not easy to flout convention and follow your creative calling, but it can be done, and the brave ones do it despite the odds … and succeed. So you can believe I wholeheartedly endorse Ash and her kick-ass book. If you follow and like my stuff, I fully believe you will love her book. (This is not an affiliate promotion by the way, I just love Ash, and I know from experience that everything she puts out is excellent, truly the best of the best.) 

THE MIDDLE FINGER PROJECT:

Trash Your Imposter Syndrome and Live the Unf*ckwithable Life You Deserve

By Ash Ambirge

OUT FEBRUARY 11, 2020

From the founder of The Middle Finger Project®, which is both the name of her hallmark lifestyle blog as well the title of her first book, a fresh, funny, and fearless point-by-point primer on how to get unstuck, slay imposter syndrome, trust in your own worth and ability, and become a strong, capable, ballsy you.

HOW TO BUY THE BOOK:

You can go directly to Ash’s site, The Middle Finger Project, here

Or buy from your favorite retailer, online or in store.

 

Let me know if you pick up a copy of the book, and we can discuss! 🙂

 

From Full of Excuses and Failing in Business to Self-Made Multi-Millionaire: How a Dead Broke Carpet Cleaner Turned It All Around Using the Power of Copywriting and Direct-Response Marketing

brand vs direct response marketing

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

Why is it that we so often stubbornly resist what turns out to be the most life-changing advice about achieving business success from those who’ve been there, done that, and know a thing or two, and refuse to do the one thing that might change things for the better and get us to the point of actual traction in our business?

The thing that might transform a wheezing, sickly, underperforming business from breathing its last dying breath into a revenue-generating, full-time income-producing thing of beauty we can be proud of? A business where the number of email subscribers, new client inquiries, and yes, sales, actually increases consistently?

I’d wager fear of the unknown and the natural tendency to avoid discomfort (~ raises hand ~) is probably right up there at the top of the list, wouldn’t you?

Trouble is, we often let this fear and avoidance dynamic keep us stuck inside our wretched comfort zones, where dreams go to die, all the while banging our heads against a wall, expecting something to change even as we won’t, as we go on doing the same ineffective thing day in and day out to get our business to grow.

Sometimes even to the point where the business withers and dies, and we have to – gasp – go back to work for “the man.” Oh, the horror!

Granted, not everyone reading this is in that position.

But plenty of business owners are – gravitating by default to the familiar and comfortable when it comes to marketing and selling, instead of doing something that might be uncomfortable, yet will yield far greater results.

Well, listen up as I tell you a story about a dead broke carpet cleaner who was failing miserably in his business until he discovered the power of copywriting and direct response marketing, then used this knowledge to turn things around.

And turn things around he surely did, going from flat broke and on the verge of giving up, to charging $25,000 per half day for his consulting services, and hanging out with the likes of people like Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Bill Clinton.

Joe Polish is the guy.

As a lifelong student of marketing and copywriting, I’m always on the hunt for people in the copywriting field who are more – and I mean WAY more – knowledgeable and successful than I am, so I can soak up their wisdom and apply it to my business where it makes sense. Joe Polish is one of those people.

Polish is the Founder and President of Piranha Marketing Inc., founder of the Genius Network Mastermind, and co-founder of a highly popular free weekly podcast on iTunes called I Love Marketing. After creating mega-success in his carpet cleaning business, he went on to teach what he learned about marketing to others in that industry, then created a highly profitable marketing consulting business.

But once upon a time, before the accolades, the successes and the abundant income, he was that practically bankrupt carpet cleaner.

Joe’s Story

You can check out Joe’s full story in his own words here, but in a nutshell, when he was in his early twenties and struggling in his carpet cleaning business, as in, on the verge of bankruptcy, dead broke and living-on-credit-cards-struggling, he got invited on a weekend trip that would change the course of his life forever.

On this jet-ski trip to the lake with his buddies, Joe met and struck up a conversation with the multimillionaire real estate investor who owned the jet skis, a man he rightly assumed he could learn a thing or two from. He told the guy about his carpet cleaning business and how poorly it was doing. He shared that he was thinking about getting into another, more lucrative kind of business. He asked the multimillionaire for recommendations for what kind of business he could get into where he could make more money.

The multimillionaire asked him, “Are there people in your industry making money?”

Joe replied that yes indeed there were, and that a few of those companies were even making over a million bucks a year. But he said those companies had an advantage, because they’d been around for years, and had lots of employees and were well-established in the market, with name recognition that he couldn’t compete with as a newbie.

After listening to these and many other excuses Joe made for why he wasn’t successful, the multimillionaire said to him, “If there are other people in your industry doing well and making money and you’re not, there’s nothing wrong with your business, there’s something wrong with you.”

He told Joe he sounded like one of those people who think “the grass is always greener on the other side,” and that going into a new business wasn’t the answer. What he really needed to do was learn and apply fundamental business principles to his current business to make it work, said the multimillionaire.

In Which Our Hero Makes a Very Wise Decision

Our hero Joe takes this advice to heart, and decides he will do whatever is in his power to make his business successful, “or die trying,” as he said.

Cut to advertising and marketing. Except, instead of using traditional image-based or brand advertising, which essentially attempts to create a positive feeling or image around a product or company and build awareness of the brand – think car commercials and fancy perfume ads, for example – Joe decides to use the timeless, proven principles of direct response marketing, which have been working like gangbusters for nearly every kind of business, company and cause for over a hundred years, thank you very much. 

What exactly is direct response marketing you ask, and how does it differ from image and brand advertising?

Unlike brand advertising, which seeks to raise awareness, direct response marketing’s goal is to stimulate an immediate response or action, via print (yes, still!) or web communications. So on the web, that could mean things like getting someone to sign up for your email list, call you for an appointment, set up a free consult, reach out for more information about your products or services, or make a purchase of said products and services.

Direct response marketing works because, as Joe says, “it educates, motivates, and calls your consumers to take action.” (Unlike the Jeep commercial that leaves you full of daydreams about the rugged and adventurous life you might lead if you owned the latest version of the Grand Cherokee, but doesn’t provide a mechanism that allows you to take immediate action.)

And the thing that helps direct response marketing work its wonders? Persuasive writing – copywriting – writing meant to encourage action.

According to AWAI (American Writers and Artists Inc., where I got some fabulous copywriting training):

Unlike news or editorial writing, copywriting is all about getting the reader to take action. That action might be to purchase, opt-in, or engage with a product, service, or company.

But back to our hero . . .

Joe was determined to make his business a success and willing to try direct response marketing to get there. As a result, he went from grossing $2100 per month to grossing $12,300 per month, in just 6 short months. Within a year, he had turned his carpet-cleaning business into a six-figure business.

He began a second business teaching others in his industry the direct response marketing techniques that helped him go from dead broke to six-figure success. He eventually sold the carpet-cleaning business and now generates millions in revenue from his marketing training business.

All because he got out of his comfort zone, stopped complaining about what wasn’t working and opened himself up to something that did, and took action by applying what he learned.

But Will This Work for Me?

Now, you can do “image advertising” or a “brand awareness” campaign if you want to, there’s nothing wrong with that, but just know that it might take months and months to see any kind of traction from your efforts.

Whereas with direct response marketing & effective copywriting, you can create web copy and other communications today that get potential clients and customers reaching out to you tomorrow.

I encourage you to read Joe’s story here, where you’ll learn a lot more about what direct response marketing is and how to apply it, if you’re interested. At the end of his story, Joe shares four proven strategies for marketing your business that worked incredibly well for him and over 6300 business owners in his industry.

And before you go thinking, “But I don’t own a carpet cleaning business, those strategies won’t work for me,” or, “I’m not comfortable using ‘aggressive’ marketing tactics,” keep in mind what I said earlier: the timeless, proven principles of direct response marketing have been working like gangbusters for nearly every kind of business, company and cause for over a hundred years.

And you can adapt those principles in a non-aggressive way to your business and your marketing comfort level. (But don’t get too comfortable, mind you, because your comfort zone is where dreams go to die, and we actually want results here, right?)

Please note, I’m NOT saying you have to actually mail things to people or use the kind of direct response ads Joe talks about in his story (though that works too), but you can practice direct response marketing principles on your website.

If you click on the link above to read Joe’s story, pay special attention to what he says about the difference between marketing and selling, and his definition of what selling really is. I think you’ll find Joe’s definition of selling comforting.

The Takeaway

Over the years I’ve had several clients who don’t feel comfortable “asking for the sale,” or in some cases, even alluding to the fact they have something for sale.

You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that those people make far fewer sales of their products and services than people who know they have to get comfortable with marketing and selling to be successful in business, or act in spite of their discomfort with it.

(By the way, I find it easy as pie to help other people with their marketing, but I’m not that terribly comfortable doing it for myself, despite providing marketing, copywriting, and PR services to my clients since 2001. But I act in spite of my discomfort, because if there’s one thing I’m wildly passionate about, it’s having a successful business so I never, ever, E-V-E-R, have to go back to work for “the man.”)

That said, I get that Joe Polish’s style may not be right for everyone. I understand the strategies and tactics of other wildly successful marketers I’ve mentioned on this blog before, people like Dan Kennedy, Ben Settle, or John Carlton may be a little too aggressive for your taste.

I get it.

However.

From Polish, Kennedy, Settle, Carlton and other classic marketing mentors, to brilliant marketing types like Naomi Dunford, Ashley Ambirge, Marie Forleo and others – I take what works for me, what I can adapt to my shy-ish, sensitive and creative sensibilities, and leave the rest.

No reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as I see it. Instead, I learn and adapt, learn and adapt.

At the end of the day, if solopreneurs and small business owners who are afraid to sell, or think there’s something inherently wrong or sleazy about selling – and therefore resist learning how to effectively market online – would let go of that one very detrimental mindset, they’d be a lot more successful.

And I can say this, because I had to learn this lesson myself in the early days when I was first launching what was then my generic freelance writing business. I fervently wish I hadn’t wasted a year and half and then some working my fingers to the bone doing what was comfortable but wasn’t working, and applied tried-and-true principles of copywriting and direct response marketing instead.

But better late than never, eh?

So my plea to you is, become a student of copywriting and marketing. Even if you don’t learn from me, that is A-OK my friend, but find someone whose teachings and trainings you do resonate with, and learn from them.

Because as Dan Kennedy says, copywriting is the #1 skill to master if you want to increase your income. I wouldn’t be in the business of writing copy for my clients, or helping my clients optimize and improve their current copy, if I didn’t believe that.

In my case, learning from masters like Kennedy, Polish, Settle, Carlton and other copywriting greats has given me a priceless return on my time investment, many times over.

I wish the same for you.

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By the way, if you’re ready for a magnetic website that attracts, engages & sells to your dream clients, using proven direct response marketing principles (in a 100% non-sleazy or aggressive way), check out my Work with Me page for more details.

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How I Wrote a Story-Based Sales Email That Landed Me in the Top 5 in a Copywriting Contest

sales emails

Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🇬🇧 on Unsplash

I came in 4th place, to be exact. Now, that might not seem like much, but there were roughly 78 entries from copywriters who ran the gamut from fairly new to quite successful and experienced.

I’ve been doing this here copywriting and marketing thing since about 2001, but some of my fellow copywriters participating in this? Let’s just say I was a little (and by little, I mean a lot) intimidated.

In fact, initially I thought, “No way am I entering a contest I likely won’t do well in given the competition, especially since it’ll take me hours to write an entry. I’m already at capacity with work right now.”

[Can ya hear all the limiting beliefs nonsense going on there? Yikes!]

But deep down, I really wanted to do this. Because if you’re not making yourself uncomfortable from time to time, you’re not growing. So say the personal development geeks. Of which I am one. 😊

I’m sharing the contest details and my entry here, because if you pay close attention to the rules, template, questions, and other guidance Kevin and Chris presented, along the prep work I did before submitting my entry, you’re sure to learn a thing or two about what it takes to write a story-based email that sells.

The Background

The contest took place inside the Copy Chief community, which I’m a proud member of.

The emails were judged by Kevin Rogers, founder of Copy Chief and expert direct response copywriter who has helped clients earn $100M in sales, and fellow Copy Chief member Chris Orzechowski, email copywriter & consultant extraordinaire who helps e-commerce companies earn big paydays with email.

Kevin and Chris critiqued the email entries via video inside Copy Chief, and chose the top 5; we lucky 5 received a coveted Copy Chief “Nobody Writes Alone” t-shirt. Yee-haw! The grand prize winner also won a scholarship to Chris’s Email Copy Academy and an email sequence review.

The Challenge: Write a “story-based” email that sells

The fellas did a fantastic presentation explaining the elements of, and psychology behind, storytelling emails that sell to help us prepare for the challenge.

The Rules

We were given three products to choose from to write the sales email for:

A pillow, a pressure washing service, or a productivity course.

We were to pick the product, write a story-based email that sells people on buying the product, then post our entry inside the Copy Chief forum.

I chose the pillow, and used Casper for my model. But I renamed my “imaginary” product the Euphoria Pillow. 😊

We were graded on:

  • Subject line
  • Strength of the story/hook
  • Clarity & readability
  • Call to action language

Emails That Sell Need to Do a Few Important Things

In order to write a persuasive email that moves people to action, we had to do three things: determine what our ideal customer’s current beliefs were, tell stories to implant new beliefs that would get them interested in our chosen product, and give them an action to take that would bring them closer to their goal, such as making a purchase.

To determine what to say, we were instructed to:

  1. Talk to people in our market – I did this by chatting with couple of friends who had sleep issues and had recently purchased pillows. I also did lots of review mining: I sifted through pillow reviews on the Casper website, plus positive and negative reviews of other premium pillows on Amazon. I saved loads of this voice of customer data into a doc to use while writing my sales email. (You need to understand where people are now, the challenges and struggles they’re facing, and where they want to ultimately be – which is what your product or solution offers. You can’t write persuasive copy without research and voice of customer data. Full stop)
  2. List out their problems – The review mining mentioned above gave me lots of intel about problems and challenges. For example, many people suffer poor sleep and wake up with a stiff neck and other aches and pains because they don’t have a quality pillow. And we all know poor sleep has a hugely negative impact on everything else we do in our day-to-day lives.
  3. List the outcomes (results) they want in their life – On the surface they just want to wake up pain-free. But what they really want is to wake up feeling refreshed, well-rested, and ready to tackle the day. To slay the day. To handle everything with grace, ease and joy, the way you do when you’ve gotten eight glorious hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep.
  4. List their “false beliefs” – Some could include: “Spending $80 on a pillow is crazy, it’s not worth it.” “A premium pillow isn’t going to make that much difference in my sleep quality.”
  5. List “new beliefs” they need to gain in order to make a buying decision – “$80 is a small price to pay for something that can seriously improve your sleep, and because quality sleep is so important to health and overall happiness, it’s worth every penny.”

The Template

Chris shared a basic outline of emails that sell:

  1. Subject line
  2. Story
  3. Segue/The ‘Turn’
  4. CTA

(Optional): P.S.

(You’ll see these things in action in my email entry, below)

He also talked about eight kinds of subject lines, along with eight different story frameworks.  I chose the personal story framework for my email.

And of course, we covered the uber-important call to action: you must tell people what to do, why they need to do it, and why they need to do it now.

BUT … even after all this, we’re still not quuuuite ready to begin writing.

Nope, first, we needed to answer the following questions. My answers included here:

1. Where does this email fit into the context of the marketing funnel?

It comes after web visitors have read some info on the Casper website, or have otherwise been exposed to the brand, and they’ve signed up for the Casper email list to learn more.

2. What is the objective of this email?

To make a sale

3. What’s the new belief you want readers to have?

That an $80 pillow is totally worth it and can change their life

4. What’s a story/hook that can implant that belief into their brain?

Talk about how quality sleep is the most important health action they can take, as illustrated through a personal story about the before-and-after results of getting quality sleep; demonstrate through a story that shows – not tells – the transformation. Could also consider using data on sleep; benefits of quality sleep, etc.

5. What is your call to action going to be?

Buy now

6. What ‘reasons to act now’ do we need to add?

Don’t miss one more night of quality sleep and go through your days unable to do all you want to do, to the best of your ability. Life is too short, and you have too much you want to do, for that.

The presentation Chris and Kevin gave was so good, and so thorough, it’s not possible to share all of it here, but I’ve outlined the very basics above.

Prep I Did Before Writing

Once I decided to enter the contest, I was all in. Meaning, I did what I do with every actual client copy project I take on – research, research, and more research, which comes in a few varieties:

:: I talked to a couple of friends with sleep issues. I asked how the sleep issues presented, and what they did to resolve them.

:: I signed up Casper’s email list to see how they do email.

:: I spend loads of time on the Casper website, reading about their pillows (product research), AND, more importantly, reading customer reviews (to gather voice of customer data).

:: I did review mining of other premium pillows on Amazon to gather more voice of customer data on things like: where people are in their solution-seeking journey when they arrive at the place of deciding to spend upwards of $80 for a single pillow, what problems they’re trying to solve, what they’ve tried before that didn’t work, and to suss out the transformation they really want. Sure, they want a good night’s sleep, but more than that, they want all the benefits that derive from a good night’s sleep.

:: If this were a real project with a real client, I also would have: had the client fill out my intake questionnaire, had a call to review completed questionnaire and discuss the direction and goals of the copy, talked to a handful of actual customers, done loads more product research, and undertaken more competitor analysis.

My Sales Email Entry

(Chris and Kevin’s feedback is pasted in at the end of the email.)

Original email subject line ideas:

Red wine, tough love, and clouds made of rainbows

Alternative SLs:

Pairs nicely with success

$80 for a pillow?!?! You’re crazy.

A handful of other subject lines I considered, but didn’t post as part of my entry:

BOOM! This is how you improve every area of your life … for just $80

There’s not an app for that

As soon as I laid down, I was in love

This 5-letter word changed EVERYTHING

Why aren’t more people talking about this?

Is this the missing link to a better life?

You can’t put a price on this

__ % of adults don’t get enough of this

Pillow talk

Driving drunk or driving underslept … which is more dangerous?

Sixty percent of adults have done this life-threatening thing

EMAIL BODY COPY

One Saturday night a few weeks ago, Ronda, my BFF of 30+ years, committed one of the kindest acts a trusted friend can ever do.

She called me out on my bullshit.

Over a bowl of creamy cacio e pepe and a glass (or three) of Poggio Bonelli Chianti Villa Chigi 2016, I shared with her for what felt like the 187th time how my terrible, fitful sleep over the previous few weeks was really beginning to wear me down.

The truth?

My crappy sleep habits were actually wreaking havoc on my career.

Last Thursday was a typical night, I told her.

I woke up in the middle of the night with shoulder and neck pain. Again.

Tossed and turned for hours, couldn’t get back to sleep.

And the whole time I’m lying there, I’m stressing out more by the minute each time I look over at the clock, knowing I’m gonna have to go into work on the next day and give one of the most important presentations of my career, to our agency’s highest-profile potential client yet, on 3 freakin’ hours of sleep.

The stress and exhaustion made me want to weep.

“Well that sucks,” Ronda said.

I told her that wasn’t the worst of it.

After the presentation that Friday my boss called me into her office. Told me she didn’t think I brought my “A” game. Said if we don’t land this big account . . . then she kind of trailed off and didn’t say much else.

“Uh oh,” Ronda said.

Uh oh is right. Like me, Ronda’s worked in advertising. She knows the drill.

If the agency didn’t land this big client we’d been wooing for weeks, I might get fired.

“Crap, I can’t get fired, I just bought a house,” I said.

That’s when Ronda dropped the tough love.

“Kimberly, you’ve been complaining about this since early April. It’s now May. I told you 6 weeks ago about the Euphoria pillows I bought that totally eliminated my shoulder and neck pain. I told you how I’ve been sleeping through the night for the first time in years since buying them. I told you how I’ve never felt more well-rested. I waxed so poetic about these pillows you accused me of being a rep for the company. Hell, you even slept on one when you spent the night here a few weeks ago and said it was like sleeping on a cloud made of rainbows. BUY THESE PILLOWS, girlfriend.”

I’m embarrassed to say that’s when I nearly shouted, “But those pillows are $80 damn dollars a piece!”

With a sigh and what I swear was a little bit of an eye roll, she said, “Kimberly, I say this with love as your best friend: you can be kind of a miser sometimes. I know you spent well over $80 on this bottle of wine and the ingredients for the dinner you made us tonight. Why wouldn’t you spend $80 bucks on something that’s actually, you know, going to improve the quality of your life in an honest-to-god real way?

I had to admit she was right.

“Oh alright,” I said, “give me the damn Euphoria Pillows website link. [à Link to website] And pour me another glass of Chianti.”

I’m happy to report that I ordered two Euphoria pillows that very night.

And while it took me a minute to get over the mild shock of spending $160 (I could buy four bottles of pretty decent Chianti for that sum), a few weeks on, I can say it was more than worth it.

Now I’m sleeping through the night for the first time in a very long time. I’ve never felt more well-rested. I’m ready to wax so poetic about these pillows you might accuse me of being a rep for the company.

And it’s not hyperbole to say that sleeping on Euphoria pillows is like sleeping on a cloud made of rainbows. [à Link to website]

Now, you might be asking yourself, “What the devil is Kimberly emailing me about pillows for? I got on this list to learn how to rock an ad agency career.”

But hear me out on this:

Think of superior quality pillows as a career enhancement tool.

That’s right.

A career enhancement tool, one of many in your arsenal.

You wouldn’t show up to the interview for the senior copywriter position at your dream agency with a resume written on a piece of paper ripped out of a spiral notebook would you?

Of course not.

You wouldn’t knock back two martinis at your agency welcome lunch the first day of your new job, right?

No. No, you wouldn’t. (Unless you’re Don Draper, in which case, you don’t need my career advice.)

So why would you rely on pillows that make it damn near impossible to get a quality night’s slumber, and potentially screw up your chance of landing & keeping that hot new agency career, all because crappy sleep prevents you from bringing your “A” game?

Don’t do that.

And don’t be me – don’t wait until a poor night’s sleep practically derails your career.

It just so happens that today – next Monday the exact kind of Euphoria Pillows I bought and swear by are on sale for $50 bucks off when you buy two.

$110 bucks to improve the quality of your life and, dare I say, your career prospects too.

Go on over to the Euphoria Pillows website right here, and get your $50 off today through Monday only[à Link to website]

Your shiny new ad agency career prospects will thank you.

XO,

Kimberly, reformed miser

P.S. My hesitation about investing in Euphoria Pillows is now a small speck in the rearview mirror. It’s been overshadowed by 6 weeks of kick-ass quality sleep that’s seen my agency land that high-profile client (and I was even made the account lead after redeeming myself with a second presentation to the client last week, woohoo!).

Get your career-enhancement tool here for $50 off, through Monday only.

[END OF EMAIL COPY]

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So, there it is.

Once I knew my entry placed in the top five, the next step was to watch the video Chris and Kevin recorded breaking down the email and pointing out what worked and what didn’t.

If I’m honest, I was terrified to watch that video, and put it off for days.

Turns out, it wasn’t so bad. Everything they pointed out that needed improving was spot on, and super helpful to know.

Sure, I winced a couple times, but as Chris said in his review, “I’m being nitpicky, but yeah, you know, you’re on the leaderboard, so I reserve the right to be.” LOL.

Feedback from the Experts

(The feedback below comes from the video review Chris and Kevin did. I took notes while watching the video, so they’re a bit rough.)

Kevin’s feedback:

This had me hooked top to bottom.
Although you risked losing me in detail here…

Over a bowl of creamy cacio e pepe and a glass (or three) of Poggio Bonelli Chianti Villa Chigi 2016, I shared with her for what felt like the 187th time how my terrible, fitful sleep over the previous few weeks was really beginning to wear me down.

I love how you framed the value in STORY.

Really well done, @KimberlyHouston

Chris’s feedback:

First up, the weaknesses / what needed work …

He said the subject lines were just “ok/decent.” He said there was some curiosity in the main subject line I chose.

Curiosity is critical to persuasive copywriting, and subject lines are one of the key places we need to be using it. If your SL isn’t compelling, ain’t nobody gonna open that sales email, and you know what that means … no sales.

He also called out this section, saying that I was erring on the side of “a little too much detail” –> Over a bowl of creamy cacio e pepe and a glass (or three) of Poggio Bonelli Chianti Villa Chigi 2016, I shared with her for what felt like the 187th time how my terrible, fitful sleep over the previous few weeks was really beginning to wear me down.

Detail is necessary and good, and it’s sadly missing in much of the underperforming copy I see when I do copy reviews. However, as Chris pointed out, “There’s a fine line into crossing into too much detail territory.”

He said he would break this up into two sentences –> And the whole time I’m lying there, I’m stressing out more by the minute each time I look over at the clock, knowing I’m gonna have to go into work on the next day and give one of the most important presentations of my career, to our agency’s highest-profile potential client yet, on 3 freakin’ hours of sleep.

I say this to my own clients all the time: If people see long blocks of uninterrupted copy, they’ll usually be turned off and not read it, so this is good to keep in mind, whether you’re writing web copy, sales emails, landing pages, or anything else you write for your business.

He said about this paragraph, “It’s ok, but a little much,” and suggested I might want to pare it down. –> “I told you how I’ve been sleeping through the night for the first time in years since buying them. I told you how I’ve never felt more well-rested. I waxed so poetic about these pillows you accused me of being a rep for the company. Hell, you even slept on one when you spent the night here a few weeks ago and said it was like sleeping on a cloud made of rainbows. BUY THESE PILLOWS, girlfriend.”  –> Oh, and he didn’t like the “wax poetic” thing either, lol.

Here he cautioned against using “wax so poetic,” again, and suggested I not overdo that. Ditto, “accuse me of being a rep for the company,” which he pointed out, “is kind of redundant from before, so let’s not have that twice.” –> Now I’m sleeping through the night for the first time in a very long time. I’ve never felt more well-rested. I’m ready to wax so poetic about these pillows you might accuse me of being a rep for the company.

Here he said, “Ok, I don’t really know what that means, but alright.” –> And it’s not hyperbole to say that sleeping on Euphoria pillows is like sleeping on a cloud made of rainbows.

He said to tighten this up a little. –> You wouldn’t show up to the interview for the senior copywriter position at your dream agency with a resume written on a piece of paper ripped out of a spiral notebook would you?

Here, he mentioned something that has always been one of my weaknesses as a writer – long sentences. Sometimes lengthy sentences are 100% necessary, but when writing copy, generally not. –>  So why would you rely on pillows that make it damn near impossible to get a quality night’s slumber, and potentially screw up your chance of landing & keeping that hot new agency career, all because crappy sleep prevents you from bringing your “A” game? –>So Kimberly you really have this tendency to, you know, these long sentences. They’re ok. I mean, you have that, then you have a 3-word sentence, and then you have a medium-size sentence. [Which is good, he confirms] So with readability, let’s try to make this a little bit better.”

And here, Chris made a smart observation about how he would have done this differently. –>“Oh alright,” I said, “give me the damn Euphoria Pillows website link. And pour me another glass of Chianti.” –> He said, “Now here, I might handle this a little bit differently, I might transition and zoom out from the story. ‘You know, she was absolutely right. So I went to the website and actually I got a link for it right here.’ Blah, blah, blah, ‘you can buy it through my link. And it’s changed my life and here are the benefits,’ you know really quick, and then, ‘I think you should buy one too, and it’s honestly changed my life and I started sleeping better, my performance at work started improving,’ and blah, blah, blah. That’s how I would have probably taken it. Instead of putting the link in the dialogue, just segue directly into it.”

Finally, he pointed out the “the whole CTA (call to action) could be tightened up just a tad bit.”

And now, what worked about the email:

Chris said he liked the storytelling, and the one-to-one conversation. He said it was very natural and flow-y, “very email.”

He mentioned that a lot of people tried to shove a sales letter into an email in this challenge, and he told people not to do that; my email was a story-based email, “which was exactly what we were looking for.”

He said this was a great opener:

One Saturday night a few weeks ago, Ronda, my BFF of 30+ years, committed one of the kindest acts a trusted friend can ever do.

Chris –>  “It’s a great opening line, because it hooks you to the next one. And both lines pull you into the email copy. And that’s what you want to do at the beginning of an email.”

Here Chris said, “Yeah that’s a real fear, the fear of underperforming. There’s all these problems in people’s lives, how they manifest, how they appear, how they are dimensionalized in people’s lives, those are a good kind of demonstration.” –> After the presentation that Friday my boss called me into her office. Told me she didn’t think I brought my “A” game. Said if we don’t land this big account . . . then she kind of trailed off and didn’t say much else.

“Here you’re piling on the fear, but it’s ‘good fear,’ not like, ‘you’re gonna DIE!!!’ A lot of other people took that angle. But this is like a real fear.” –>  “Crap, I can’t get fired, I just bought a house,” I said.

“I like this because it’s telling your customer, ‘buy my thing!’” –>  “Kimberly, you’ve been complaining about this since early April. It’s now May. I told you 6 weeks ago about the Euphoria pillows I bought that totally eliminated my shoulder and neck pain.”

Here Chris pointed out, this is “an awesome way of handling an objection. This is a nice job.” –> With a sigh and what I swear was a little bit of an eye roll, she said, “Kimberly, I say this with love as your best friend: you can be kind of a miser sometimes. I know you spent well over $80 on this bottle of wine and the ingredients for the dinner you made us tonight. Why wouldn’t you spend $80 bucks on something that’s actually, you know, going to improve the quality of your life in an honest-to-god real way?”

He said this worked. –> And don’t be me – don’t wait until a poor night’s sleep practically derails your career.

And he liked this. –> Kimberly, reformed miser

And finally, re the P.S., he said, “Good, there’s some resolution to the story.”

P.S. My hesitation about investing in Euphoria Pillows is now a small speck in the rearview mirror. It’s been overshadowed by 6 weeks of kick-ass quality sleep that’s seen my agency land that high-profile client (and I was even made the account lead after redeeming myself with a second presentation to the client last week, woohoo!). I was even made the account lead after redeeming myself with a second presentation to the client last week, woohoo! –> Chris:This is kind of aspirational, an implied benefit. People will read that and go, ‘I want that too.” They start to place themselves in your story and they’ll be like, ‘maybe if I . . .’ and they start to connect the dots. ‘Maybe if I get better sleep, I might perform better at work, and good things can happen for me too.’”

In the end, according to Chris –>“Overall, nice job. I thought this was strong, and demonstrative, and very email native I guess is maybe the right way to describe it. So, awesome job, Kimberly Houston.”

Key Takeaways

#1: Do things that scare you. I came very close to not entering this contest, for all the reasons mentioned at the top of the post. And if I hadn’t? I wouldn’t have honed my story-based sales email writing skills, I wouldn’t have gotten one-on-one feedback from two uber-successful & skilled copywriting experts (<– priceless), and I wouldn’t have a valuable piece of content to post to the blog.

#2: Get in a supportive community of your peers. To quote the Copy Chief guiding motto, “Nobody writes alone.” There’s nothing like knowing a wise and experienced group of industry peers has your back anytime you need help with challenges or problems in your business, or simply when you want to share a win. The Copy Chief community is about so much more than copy feedback. Copywriters, marketers and business people of all experience levels are there everyday providing feedback, answering questions, seeking answers to their own questions, and as an added bonus – having a damn good time doing it. It’s no exaggeration to say it feels like a family.

#3: If you want to write persuasive copy that sells, you must do the pre-work before ever putting fingers to keyboard. See above, “Prep I Did Before Writing.” This is imperative if you hope to connect with your ideal customers and convert them into buyers.

#4: When it comes to selling via email, stories tend to work better than strictly transactional emails. (NOT in every case, but in many.) You can probably see why. Would you rather read an interesting story that actually demonstrates how a product can improve your life in real-world ways, or an email that whose sole purpose is to sell, at all costs, and screams something like, “Our biggest pillow sale of the year!! 75% off through midnight tonight! Click here to buy now!”

 

Next time you’re writing an email to sell your products or services, consider using a story-based approach. It can be a lot more fun for you – and importantly, your audience – than writing a standard sales email. And it may get much better results, too.