New copywriters write me all the time, asking how to get a high-paying gig. A desperate few just want to know how to get any assignment.
Sometimes I have to resist the urge to leap through the computer screen at them. I want to grab ‘em by the shoulders, shake ‘em till their eyes rattle, and shout, “Hey! Wake up! You’re one of the chosen few. You’re a COPYWRITER! You’ve been blessed with the gift of persuasion, the greatest super-power on the planet. Compared to you, Batman and Wonder Woman are wimps! And YOU are the most exciting product you will ever write for!”
Throughout my 35-year career, I’ve been asked to write copy to sell conferences and water heaters… golf magazines and exotic pastries… investment diamonds and buttless pants… Holy Land tours and sex tapes… rare coins and junk furniture… tons of books and newsletters on finance, investing, and health… and, once, an entire company.
The single best product I ever promoted? Clayton Friggin’ Makepeace!
I don’t have to do it these days, of course. My name and past successes are well-known, and I turn down far more assignments than I could ever accept. But there was a time when I was a virtual unknown, struggling to make ends meet. I had my chops, of course – I had written some strong promotions for small-ish clients on the West Coast – but I couldn’t even get the big boys to answer the phone.
What did I do?
I sat down at my trusty old IBM Selectric typewriter (the state-of-the-art writing instrument in 1979) and wrote a sales promotion – about myself! I mentally put Clayton on the desk just as if he were any other product, and I pulled out all the stops. Then I used that copy in a six-step campaign designed to make all the best clients call me.
How’d it work? Like a charm. Within a week, my phone was ringing off the hook, and I was schmoozing with the big boys. Within two weeks, the advances began rolling in. And a few months later, a major mailer offered me a six-figure retainer plus 5 percent of his gross sales, plus perks out the wazoo to take him on exclusively.
Attract the Clients Who’ll Make You Rich!
I’m not that old. I still remember the days when I was trying to break into this business, hungry to put everything I’d learned to work for a real client. And I remember when I was a pretty successful “B” writer whose fondest dream was to fill my schedule with “A” clients. Both times, I did the only thing that made sense to me: I mounted an intensive sales promotion for yours truly.
Here’s how I did it, and how you can do it too…
Step #1: Pick your targets carefully.
First, I created a mailing list of 400 prospective clients. Since I was focusing on self-help publishers, I picked the biggest companies, starting with firms I already knew about (including Phillips, KCI, Agora, Boardroom, and Ruff Times), and then using the Oxbridge Directory of Newsletters to select the rest. (Now, with the advent of the Internet, this research is even easier.)
If I knew the name of the person in the organization who hired writers, I included that with the address on my list. If I didn’t, I called and said, “I need to send a letter to the person responsible for creating your direct-mail promotions. Could you please tell me who that is?”
Step #2: Get their attention.
I wrote a short, one-page personalized letter saying that the following Tuesday would be a Red Letter Day. The FedEx guy was going to deliver a very important package to him/her on that date – a package that would bring a big bump in sales and profits. And I asked my prospect to take a quick look at it, saying that it could be the most profitable few minutes he/she’d spent reading in years. (You may want to do this with an e-mail. It should work even better.)
Step #3: Deliver the goods.
I created a second short letter to go out with my sample kits. I introduced myself, and briefly listed my accomplishments… said that in two weeks, I’d be filling my writing schedule for the second half of the year… that I had some intriguing ideas for boosting his/her revenues and response… and asked the prospect to take a look at the enclosed material and call me to discuss it. I told him/her I’d be waiting for his/her call – and if I hadn’t heard from him/her by a certain date, I’d give him/her a ring.
Step #4: Get your spiel down pat.
I spent time thinking about exactly what I would do and say when anyone responded…
I would answer the phone on the third ring – not too eager, not too nonchalant. I would be polite, friendly, and excited that they had called. And I would compliment them on the stuff I’d seen coming from their organization. If they asked, “How much do you charge?” I would say “Depends on the product and the promotion. We can discuss that later.”
I knew precisely what I wanted the next step to be – to schedule a call a few days later to discuss potential projects. And I knew that I’d ask the prospect to send me a “Care Package” – samples of their best promotions, premiums, issues of their newsletter, etc. – that I could study in the meantime.
Step #5: Send out 100 introductory letters and 100 sample kits each week.
Timing was crucial. Every Monday, I mailed 100 introductory letters… so those prospects would get them before their sample kits arrived via FedEx the following Tuesday. At the same time, I overnighted 100 sample kits to the prospects who’d received my introductory letter the week before… so they would get my sample kit exactly when my introductory letter said they would – on Tuesday.
I waited by the phone, not really expecting anyone to call. But a few did.
Some politely told me they had all the writers they needed at the time. I’d say, “Cool! Maybe we’ll have a chance to work together some other time.” Some said they liked what they saw and wanted to know more – in which case, I told them a little about myself, asked what they were looking for, requested the Care Package, and scheduled a call to discuss it all with them in a few days.
Step #6: Make your follow-up calls religiously.
I set aside at least one full day each week to bang the phones, calling all the prospects who should have called me the week before but didn’t. I started with the ones who were the biggest mailers, and worked my way down.
If the person I wanted to talk to wasn’t available, I left a voice message: “Hey, Bob, it’s Clayton Makepeace. I sent you some samples of my work last week and promised to give you a call about them. I’ve got some ideas to boost your response, and can’t wait to share them with you. Give me a call?” I left my number, and said I’d be in all afternoon.
If they answered, I said, “Hey, Bob, it’s Clayton Makepeace. I sent you some samples of my work last week and promised to give you a call. Did you have time to take a look at them?”… and things progressed naturally from there.
Every penny I’ve earned since can be traced to this simple six-step campaign. Scrupulously following this plan filled my schedule with new clients. It also made my name recognizable at the companies I wanted to work for – a fact that paid dividends in later years. And work I did for some of the companies that responded created key turning points in my career, enabling me to hit grand slams that made mine a “household name” in this industry and earned me millions.
1. Everything you write to sell yourself to a potential client reflects upon your ability to sell that client’s product. Take time to make sure each self-promotional communication is also a sample of your copywriting skill. Pull out all the stops.
2. Never let them see you sweat. Coming off like you’re desperate for work only makes you look… well, desperate. Clients assume that if you were any good, you’d already be booked solid. So be ready with a reason why you have gaps in your schedule. Maybe it’s September, and you’re making your reservations for the first six months of next year. Maybe you’ve seen the client’s mail piece, and are so convinced you can do better you’re willing to make room for them on your calendar.
Whether you’re just starting your career or are going great guns, you can earn more – LOTS MORE – than you do now. Put my six-step campaign to work, and you’ll be on your way to a six- (even seven-) figure income as a copywriter in no time.