The next million dollar copywriter…

If you thought the full subject line above could have been: “The next million dollar copywriter…could be YOU,” it’s not…because the world is changing in this area…and quickly.

In fact, I will maintain that the next “million dollar copywriters” will be working under a completely new paradigm…one that I believe all copywriters AND marketers need to be aware of…and that is the subject of today’s post.

What I have to say is going to be controversial…so be it…

As someone who has dedicated himself to being the best serial direct marketer I can be, I’ve been selfishly committed to never leaving the most important part of my marketing to amateurs.

My wife and kids might think I am a cheapskate…but you won’t find one “A list” copywriter who has ever worked with me thinking that.

Regular readers of my posts know that I believe you have to pay to play; and all boats rise if you are never willing to compromise on your creative.

You must never be looking for cheap talent…only great talent…and if the talent is truly great (based on results), you must share the wealth with that great talent, your creative partners.

Hmmmm. Maybe one of my copywriter buddies will take me in when my family kicks me out…

Copywriting may be the most important topic we can tackle as direct marketers…and I want the copywriters AND marketers to hear what I’ve got to say…and as always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Simply put, if you are a copywriter, I believe that the path to earning 7 figures is very different than it was in the past.

And if you are a marketer looking for copywriters (as everyone is…I get at least two or three calls or e-mails a week from folks asking me to “recommend a good copywriter”)…it’s just not that easy to find the best creative talent.

It’s getting harder to make the old model work. Each day we become more adept online. We are now getting the results to our marketing programs in a matter of minutes.

But for great results, everyone needs to get paid.

The idea that a copywriter is a “gun for hire” and available to all clients is being replaced in some places by copywriters who are much more focused on only a few clients (maybe even just one) and moving from “hired gun” to “keeper of all the ammunition and weapons.”

As someone who has spent millions of dollars for copywriting–something I wear like a badge of honor–I think I have a unique perspective on the trends I see…and how we can all take full advantage of the incredible writing talent in our marketing community today.

So this is not about a shortage of talent but rather the allocation of that talent…and how we are moving from an “open dating” model to a “Match.com” model…and to take the metaphor to its logical conclusion, moving from flings to marriage.

And it’s marriages between world class copywriters and perfectly suited marketers.

My good friend and copywriter coach extraordinaire, Kevin Rogers, said it best:

“Copywriters are not just writers anymore, they are marketing experts with copy as their specialty. A full view of the landscape is the essential.”

Dan Kennedy has also spoken about this for years–the notion that “writing copy for food” is ultimately a losing proposition financially; and I will add that becoming a consultant/copywriter is how you can leverage your talent best, create the most impact AND make the most money.

Taking Kevin’s observation and Dan’s rule of thumb together, it is becoming clearer that writing for just one killer client and immersing yourself in everything about that business may be the fastest (and surest) path to the million dollar payday.

This is in stark contrast to trying to be a generalist (or even an expert) in too broad a category, or in too varied a client base, with everyone supposedly working with self-proclaimed superstars.

In addition, some of the smartest marketers on the planet today emphasize “research over writing” with their copywriters…and having them in-house, full time, focused on “The One Thing” (great book by the way!) is leading to much better results than looking for the next hot writer for a project.

Big royalties in direct mail for “number of pieces of mailed” are few and far between…not because direct mail is dead but because direct mail volume doesn’t support this model anymore.

Direct mail created many million dollar copywriters like Gary Bencivenga and Jim Rutz; but since there are very few writers like Bencivenga and Rutz floating around, and huge volume direct mail is a thing of the past, even this direct mail believer knows, in the words of one of my clients:

“Direct mail, while not a thing of the past, is not going to make you a million bucks. But Internet advising will.”

Kennedy would probably add that while it is certainly about the advising, success has less to do with the medium and more to do with the “craft.”

I will add that it’s about all three: Advising and not just writing,the craft regardless of medium, and maybe most of all, the focus.

Big royalties for offline and online copywriters stillexist for an elite group.

But the dexterity with which the best online marketers can test out of a control into a new control (in minutes!) will eliminate many less-than-superstar writers from making the big bucks.

At least that has been my observation over the last decade, watching the migration of offline to online.

Back to those weekly calls or e-mails where folks in my various marketing circles tell me they need a great copywriter.

It’s just not that simple anymore.

You can’t just find a solid copywriter in some directory, hand them the history on a product, and expect anything close to a miracle.

It’s more specialized than ever…and any writer who does not dominate a niche (despite stating they can “write for anything”) is a writer who I would steer clear of in today’s super-competitive environment.

My post “Show…Don’t Tell” explored the characteristics I’ve observed in every great copywriter I’ve worked with (or wanted to work with) over my 35 years.

Copywriting is just not a commodity. Period.

Many online marketers will argue that it really isn’t that expensive to test an unproven writer in their niche because online media is relatively cheap.

But the best in class online marketers understand that the opportunity cost is huge, when they waste time on trying to work with mediocre copy from mediocre writers.

They can test it cheaply but they have sunk time and effort into a test that has no chance of winning…so why not spend that time on training and development?

That’s what I see as the new paradigm

I believe it’s something totally contradictory to what we all believe is the “copywriter’s dream”:

To collect royalties while sitting on a veranda in the south of France…writing when they want to…for any client in any category.

And then all they need to do is to get a couple of controls that remain controls for a year or more and they are all set.

This scenario has now gone from dream to fantasy.

A close friend and world class copywriter recently said to me:

“If I don’t change something, I’m gonna stay stuck in this copywriter gig, making $15k/promo, working my ass off, sweating blood and spending MONTHS working on each promo…then left wondering how long my control will last until they hire somebody to beat me.

In the old world of direct mail where major tests against a new control could take 6 months to create, if you wrote a blockbuster for a huge mailer, you were almost guaranteed big royalties because the calendar was on your side; that’s just not the case anymore.

Some of the best online copywriters I know today have lamented to me, like my friend above, “I just can’t do this anymore.”

Too much tweaking, reiterating, revising, editing being done on the fly puts you on the defensive as a work for hire copywriter the minute you get the control.

Controls you used to be able to defend for months (even years) are now getting beaten in hours.

That’s no way to create passive income and save for retirement is it?

Should the most talented copywriters now become full time in one company with total immersion?

I certainly want to put that out there as a possibility…and when I look at the characteristics I outlined in “Show…Don’t’ Tell” it is interesting that working in one category or with one client will make you an expert a lot faster in one thing than trying to be an expert in many things.

Can the one (or few) clients make you wealthier too?

Yes…if they have an abundant mindset about paying to play like I mentioned earlier.

And those clients also need to be in synch with what the great Gary Halbert told us many moons ago (which I preach regularly):

“Any problem in the world can be solved with the right sales letter”

If you get this one right, it’s a game changer.

However…if you want to keep things as they are, feel free to keep e-mailing me asking me if I know of a good copywriter (if you are a marketer); and feel free to keep e-mailing asking me if I know of “good clients/marketers” who pay hefty royalties (if you are copywriter).

But my thesis is that I think this may be a losing proposition going forward.

The better question for marketers to be asking me:

“What talented copywriter/creative talent is out there who might have a keen interest in taking a deep dive into my world and my company…possibly leading to an exclusive (or almost exclusive) relationship?”

The better question for copywriters to be asking me:

“I am obsessed with ____________ and when I write about ____________ I do my best work. Do you have suggestions on who I could talk to about a copywriting career rather than a copywriting assignment in __________?”

I could be all wrong about this…of course I would love your thoughts on it (based on your experiences on either side, marketer or copywriter)…

I know I have tons of brilliant folks on this list in both camps so I would love to hear from you.

But if I am right…or even partially right…I am excited about a new kind of “matchmaking,” one that turns the client-copywriter paradigm on its ear.

Of course if you are the next Jim Rutz, feel free to ignore everything I just said since you probably can still make a million bucks as a hired gun.

And I want to meet you immediately!

But for everyone else, let’s start a new conversation.

Let me know what you think.

Warmly,

Brian

P.S. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is on this as well…on two fronts:

1) If you are a copywriter who might be interested in an opportunity that’s more about exclusivity with one killer client…where you might take two steps back from your freelance world to take five steps ahead into one client/one category total immersion, learning everything and anything about one thing, send me an e-mail with the subject line “The One Thing.”

The categories where I have the most contacts and influence are finance/investing and health…but in both cases, it’s about the niches in each.

2) I will be recording a podcast with the aforementioned copywriter and copywriter coach, Kevin Rogers…his “Copy Chief” audience is one of the most active groups of copywriters in the world and they have shown interest in this topic.

I will let everyone on this list know when that interview goes live which will also invite interaction and debate.

P.P.S. What do I want out of all this?

A new level of copy and creative…leading to increased revenue and profit for as many marketers I can influence…copy and creative written from the heart, with conviction, and not by writers always looking to the next assignment anywhere they can get one.

I think that raises the bar and everyone’s game in the process…

18 Comments

  • David Garfinkel

    Reply Reply January 24, 2016

    Brian,

    I’m in total agreement with you… and with my good buddy
    Kevin Rogers, of course… 🙂

    I’ll even go one step further:

    Many of the top copywriters today who I know ARE marketing
    experts who just happen to write copy.

    Including two of the Titans from your seminar.

    The thing is, they don’t usually talk up the wide angle of their
    view and the depth of their specific knowledge in so many
    fields.

    Because until you wrote this piece, I don’t think there were
    many others who were listening for this additional breadth and
    depth, beyond copy.

    Or cared about it.

    Or had any inkling of its massive addition to value.

    But thanks to you, Brian… the smart ones will, now… 🙂

    Great post, btw. I suspect a lot of thinking went into this before
    you wrote it.

  • Mike Connolly

    Reply Reply January 24, 2016

    Couldn’t agree more Brian.

    With the profusion of media, the buyer’s journey has become a great diaspora away from direct mail and into that PLUS social media, email, landing pages, video, live events, etc., etc,…

    With all these disciplines needed, marketing has become a team sport.

    And as a copywriter in this emerging environment, I believe you’re more likely than ever to hit water when you drill a 1000 foot deep well than 100 ten foot wells (or vice versa)…

    As example from another industry, you don’t see Tom Brady or Peyton Manning skipping around the league as freelancers.

  • Stephen Anderson

    Reply Reply January 25, 2016

    I recently spent some of my hard earned Social Security to purchase John Carlton’s “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets” and his “The Freelance Course.”

    I also happen to be 70 years old; please don’t tell me you think I’ve wasted my money !

    Cordially, (at this point anyway) I’ve also read Kevin Rogers 60-minute, $50,000 Hook. What is a fella to do ?

    Stephen Anderson
    West Rutland, VT

  • Bert Botta

    Reply Reply January 25, 2016

    I like it brian! Rings true for me, especially since my niche is aviation and especially since I spent 35 years looking out the window of an airliner cockpit (something my 5th grade teacher told me I’d never make a living doing when she caught me staring out the window)

    I’m retired now but I so miss the smell of jet fuel that I get as close as I can to aircraft by writing for charter companies, FBO’s and any other remotely familiar aviation business or service.

    A fixed base operator is a company that fuels and services private aircraft, mainly rich guys jet toys.

    I have no problem being a “specialist” in this niche because I love everything about it.

    If you don’t believe me, not that you really care, then you can check out my website to see that I’m serious: http://www.bottacopywriting.com

    I have no idea where this will lead, except for you to put me on some mailing list.

    But it’s worth a shot to me since I really enjoyed your article and I’m on board with the future of copywriting as you so aptly described it.

    But don’t wait too long to put me on your list; since I’m old and I want to max my writing potential while I’m still old!

    Great stuff Bro…

    Bert (please don’t call me captain) Botta

  • Trine Elverum

    Reply Reply January 25, 2016

    Interesting reading. Please keep me posted on the podcast with Kevin 🙂

  • Tim Genster

    Reply Reply January 25, 2016

    Brian,

    For ‘The ONE Thing’ email…

    What is your email?

    TG

  • Daniel Callantine

    Reply Reply January 26, 2016

    Stephen,
    Never feel as if you wasted your money on John Carltons courses or any of the greats above courses. You just have to adapt to the new landscape of internet marketing just as the others have said.

    I don’t see myself as a copy writer even though I have followed Halbert, carlton, garfinkel and even toe cracker for some time. What they are telling you is that writing copy on multiple subjects is not the money way anymore. Find a subject you are deeply passionate about and pursue the companies that have the products in your passion zone.

    The internet has changed the copy as it used to be into a fan page, pin or even a video. You just have to know where to engage your market and pursue them in their comfort zone. That is what Brian is meaning by be a marketer and a copywriter. Then you can write landing pages, posts, pins, fan pages and google plus pages or even forum posts that will get your target market to buy because you and your companies product stand out from the crowd. You have passion for the niche.
    Just my 2 cents worth or maybe a peso. lol
    Daniel

  • Roger Williams

    Reply Reply February 1, 2016

    Yep! Totally agree, Brian.

    Great salespeople have prospered over the centuries by understanding a simple maxim: know your prospect and know your product. The more intimately you can know both, the more successful you’ll be at selling. This maxim translates perfectly into direct marketing.

    If the clarion call to everyone from college grads to online marketers has been to “find your niche,“ shouldn’t copywriters heed that same call? We specialize in medicine and we specialize in law, why not specialize in copy? Heck, even plumbers and electricians have their niches.

    People want to deal with experts … not novices. And no one can be an expert at everything. So defining your passion and then seeking out an environment in which your passion can thrive … that would make the most sense for today’s eager copywriters.

  • Ken McCarthy

    Reply Reply February 14, 2016

    Great reality check from Brian.

    The “here it is, see you later, send my royal checks to (fill in the blank)” model doesn’t work any more for writers or for clients.

    It doesn’t work for writers because as Brian to correctly states online controls just don’t last long enough to generate meaningful royalties.

    It doesn’t work for clients because they need a never-ending barrage of copy for various platforms and can’t do it all with one “battleship” of a sales letter the way they used to be able to when direct mail was king.

    Interestingly, some of the smartest online companies I know HAVE dedicated writers built into their organization charts. Are they paying them enough? They better because if not, the best ones will find greener pastures eventually.

    Also, there’s another alternative which Dan Kennedy, Gary Halbert, and I and a few others have used successfully:

    Write for your OWN account, in other words create your own businesses and be your own chief copywriter. As a road to millions it’s the surest route for a copywriter though I will admit there is nothing easy about it.

    Note to newbies: Gary Halbert was right – the solution to every business problem is copy – but beware the sharks who tell you you need to write them a big five figure check to launch your new business. Yes you need great copy, but not everyone who charges big fees to newbies if a great copywriter.

  • Aaron Hughes

    Reply Reply February 20, 2016

    Brian,

    Great article. Love the ‘total immersion’ approach. That’s the path I’m taking.

  • John Forde

    Reply Reply February 24, 2016

    Brian,

    Exactly the revelation I’ve been coming around to — a little begrudgingly, by the way — for the last couple of years too.

    The full-on shift to online selling has been great in that it radically upped the demand for copy… and great because it’s cracked open whole new ways to reach untapped audiences.

    But, absolutely, great writing — and, to one of your readers in this forum thread, there’s no “wasted money” when it comes to studying those copywriting secrets you just paid for — isn’t enough anymore.

    I say that as a just-turned-50 24-year-veteran who’s now trying to soak up as much stuff as he can on marketing funnels, display ads, etc… before it all gets outdated and replaced with the next new thing.

    I’m also, after a year or so of spending a lot of time trying to write less but more perfect copy — which is a huge gamble when some of it inevitably misses the market — I’m back to doing what I did at the start of my career, trying to write faster. A lot faster. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    Meanwhile, I’d love to see more from you on this.

    Specifically, I’d love to see more on which skills you feel the copywriters… say the Halberts, Bencivengas, and more… would need to pick up, if they were to come back into this brave new world of copy-marketing.

  • Ben Hunt

    Reply Reply March 15, 2016

    I absolutely love this post, Brian, thank you for writing it.

    I have come to similar conclusions over a few years of thinking, but coming from a different angle.

    I came from the hot, primordial soup that was web design – a discipline that’s only just over twenty years old. So I (and my contemporaries) had zero education in marketing, never mind direct response! The result is a lot of money wasted, repeatedly, by a lot of clients.

    Last year I wrote a book, “Web Design is Dead”, where I explain that the old, broad web designer / developer / webmaster role is becoming extinct, thanks to a tipping point in online publishing that happened at some point in the last few years… Today, it’s not only cheaper, quicker, and easier to use pre-made web page templates, but the result is also BETTER. You can now get a BETTER bare-bones website for $49 than you could have got for $49,000 just five years ago.

    The question that concerns me is, “What does that mean for practising web designers now?” And I figured that they need to go in one of a few directions. One is to go in-house (similar to what you’re suggesting), either for a big-budget brand, or for a company that makes web design artefacts (themes etc.).

    The other main direction is to grow into being a marketing strategist, not a web designer. The focus should then be to figure out which of the plethora of options is likely to be the most effective for a brand. Execution should then be done by specialists in those areas, but all conducted by the Strategist.

    Of course, whatever medium we use, from pay-per-click to long-form copy to video to webinars… there’s one thing that unites them. Everything is linguistic. So I maintain that copy will always be the most powerful weapon we have… It’s just gotten a lot more challenging to decide where to point it!

  • Dave_C

    Reply Reply March 22, 2016

    IIRC Clayton Makepeace said the very same a few years ago, before closing up his Total Package. (http://www.makepeacetotalpackage.com/archives/six-figures-is-chump-change/)

  • Jen Leary

    Reply Reply May 23, 2016

    Glad to read this. Tie my comment to John Ford’s; because I can imagine how the game of staying current also challenges veteran copywriters. As John Carlton’s student and follower of Makepeace and Ford, I also see a growing list of key areas of working knowledge beyond DR.

  • Jen Leary

    Reply Reply May 23, 2016

    Glad to read this. As John Carlton’s student and follower of Makepeace and Ford, I also see key areas to have working knowledge of beyond DR.

  • Steve Hill

    Reply Reply December 31, 2016

    That’s a very valid point, Brian. I was just researching online marketing trends today to see what percentage of current promotions are hybrid or entirely online, and your post showed up.

    With the growing move online, reader habits are also changing. Audiences are no longer as focused on the message because of the many competing distractions – flashing ads, pop-ups, slide-ins, cell phone alerts, and so on. Attention spans are shorter, unless it is something they really, really want to know about.

    Extended performance data on short form vs. long form content in the online (especially mobile) environment would be very informative, as well as data on evolving design trends to maximize the delivery environment’s reading styles.

    Coming from a web development background, I have to agree with Ben Hunt that the most valuable marketing and copywriting team members are not only going to be copywriters that can accommodate different reading environments, but are also market strategists.

    Internet marketing has become complex enough that specialists are needed (SEO, online ads, promo design, testing against continually evolving display technology, legal considerations, ordering security issues, analytics, live A/B testing, and cross-media promotions, to name just a few), but there really needs to be a market strategist overseeing the bigger picture.

    Coming back to your point, Brian, because of shorter promo lifespans market immersion specialists will likely have an edge. Those that can provide copy and creative with a full understanding of the online environment will be even more valuable. Add in an understanding of and ability to set up complete online sales funnel strategies, and that’s going to be someone that can deliver outstanding results.

  • Laurie Hagedorn

    Reply Reply June 5, 2017

    Hey Brian,

    I’d like to start a conversation about “The One Thing”.

    What is your email, please?

    Thanks in Advance,
    Laurie

  • James Steadman

    Reply Reply June 8, 2017

    I’ve gotta agree with you there, Brian.

    Getting to be a tough gig, much tougher than it used to be even 5 years ago.

    Interesting points raised and I’m looking forward to seeing how everything progresses in the next 5!

    Cheers, James

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