I’ve failed as a copywriter. I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded. I’ve made stupid mistakes that had cost me and others money. Some of these mistakes were because I was lacking the specialized knowledge. In others, I was lacking the common sense.
I’m proud of my failures. I have failed which mean I have tried. Whoever tells you that failure is bed never tried anything. Any venture in life involves the risk of failing and chances are that no matter if you’re launching a dieting product or you want to get a six pack abs, you will fail forward. Things are never going to be as you want them to be, you will always be one step away from losing the game but since you are making progress, you will eventually win.
Life taught me there is no such thing as failure. There are temporary setbacks. Nothing is so bad that it can prevent you from moving forward. Sometimes you progress a lot, sometimes you progress a little but everything you do, moves you forward.
That being said, failing taught me some important lessons. These lessons have a financial value but the wisdom I’ve captured from them is worth ten or even one hundred times. So the next time when you fail, realize that losing that $5000 will actually bring you $50.000 in the next ten years, based on what you’ve learned.you’ll be happy to make mistakes.
So here are the top five lessons I’ve learned from failing in copywriting.
Lesson #1 – Brilliant ideas are usually not brilliant.
Sometimes I get a brilliant idea about a hook or a theme for a new project. I sit down and I write my letter in two hours, after I’ve just received the project. I’m very pleased with it as I feel I’m very creative.
And … it bombs.
It bombs because while the hook is important, research is even more important. You can have a very good idea and that idea to not resonate with your marketplace. The purpose of your copy is not to be interesting but to sell. Selling is usually done also by being interesting yet, you shouldn’t confuse one ingredient with the finished dish.
In writing there’s this concept called “kill your darlings”. It means to get rid of those ideas you really love because chances are that they’ll ruin your work. So in copywriting. It’s good to think outside of the box but don’t bet your life on it. If you have a good idea, write it down. Then do your research, put in the time, understand to whom you’re writing and after all of this is done, go back to your idea and ask yourself if it still makes sense.
Sometimes your brilliant idea can be worth a million dollars. Yet, every idea must be tested, refined, validated and then scaled. You don’t just follow a hunch in copywriting unless you are very, very experienced. Even then, if you are that experienced, you won’t treat your business as a gambling operation. You’ll double check that everything makes sense before pumping money into your idea.
Lesson #2 – Make sure you can send traffic before you write the letter.
The reason why most projects fail is zero traction. This means that no traffic is sent, no sales are made. Most sales letters are never tested. Most copywriters don’t even know what conversion rate their sales letter have because the product developer is either sending inconsistent traffic (to test conversion, you need a steady stream of traffic that is consistent in terms of demographics and psychographics) or because he’s not sending any traffic at all. If a website is getting 5 hits per day from Google, that’s not enough to actually test performance. Plus, since those 5 hits may come from different keywords, it makes it even worse.
Sales letters don’t work on their own. You must have enough money to fuel them. You must be ready to spend at least $200 in PPC traffic to test an approach. If you are a freelance copywriter and your client doesn’t even have $500 to test with 1000 clicks (assuming 0.5 USD per click), then you may get a good testimonial but that letter is never going to actually make sales.
If you build it, they’ll not come. That’s a given. Few people ever visit my site. Few people Google for this type of information. I need to promote it. If I don’t actively try to promote my stuff, I may have as little as five unique visitors per day.
Lesson #3 – Build your copy methodically.
Every element of your copy has the purpose of statistically increasing the chance for you to make a sale. At the end, when everything is being put together, the outcome must be higher than the sum of all these parts.
When you write decent bullets, you have a certain score. When you write brilliant bullets, you have a higher score. So it is with the guarantee, lead copy, closing, post scriptum and every other small and big part. And when they all fit together, that score is doubled or tripled.
That’s why you need to have a process for writing copy. You need to have a checklist so nothing is missing. You must use every tool you have in your arsenal in order to maximize your chance to sell. Once you have done this, you must put everything together so it fits like a well oiled machine.
Most of my life, I haven’t done this. I wrote out of memory. This means that I would start with the lead copy and write until the end. Then I would slap a (mediocre) headline. Sometimes it worked, most of the times it didn’t. I would miss out something critical like price justification or scarcity or social proof.
A lot of good copywriting is just methodology. There is a best way to do everything. Crossroad closes tend to work better than generic ones. Branded guarantees are proven to be more effectives than simple ones and guarantees designed as contracts beat everything. When it comes to writing body copy, the best approach is the T3. This means “tell them what you’re going to tell them”; “tell them”; “tell them what you’ve just told them”.
Another key idea is that each time you introduce a new claim, to back it up with proof. So if you say that oil prices are going down, to introduce a chart from a well known authority showing the trend. Yet another one is to use sub-heads to tell the story of the copy.
It’s easy to miss all of these if you are not systematic. You may have a great hook but without the structure to hold it in place, it may fail dramatically. That’s why you need to have a process and you need to follow it every time you write copy. Going systematically through all the steps that make a good copy is not as exciting as just writing but it earns you money.
Lesson #4 – Plan for your project failure.
If I say that your project has a 50% chance of failing, then you’d never hire me. In practice, the failure rate is lower but it’s still a lot higher than most people think.
Now, when a potential client comes to me, he doesn’t come for me to fail. He wants an instant win. He wants to invest $1000 and get $10.000 back in a week. I know that it is irrational. If I say it so, I’ll just alienate a person that I can work with so I don’t.
Let me tell you a story though.
I know an entrepreneur selling over $1.000.000 per year. Now he’s almost selling double that. Before he can find a product that will earn him money, he tests about 10 products. So 9 out of 10 products he promotes as an affiliate fail him and don’t even break even in most cases. That’s $500 in traffic multiplied by nine times not to mention the unique landing page. That’s about $2000 per test and and $38.000 are a loss. Yes, he’s spending almost $40k to find a single product that really works. You may think this is insane. Yet, when he finds that one product, he can milk it for $40.000 per day if traffic permits it. So for him it is just a manner of having enough money to test until he finds a winner and then selling as much as possible out of that until he stops earning money.
Truth be told, he’s not really losing $38.000 in tests because he still makes some sales, but not enough to break even or to scale effectively. So the real loss is somewhere at $10.000.
Yet, what reaction would you have if I told you that we need to test $10.000 worth of campaigns until we can find an angle that works? Would you work with me? No, you’d think I’m a freaking moron. If you’re the kind of person to want to pay $400 for a copy that earns him $400.000, not knowing better, you’d think I’ve lost my marbles.
But this is the reality of the marketplace. Most angles don’t work. Most campaign fails. It’s very rare to get it right the first time. I think I’ve seen it less than times times ever. Usually it is a process of getting something up and running, testing, tweaking, testing, tweaking and going through several cycles of this until a positive ROI can be achieved.
Most amateurs in this field start with high expectations, expect everything to work the first time and then are brutally disappointed when their campaign fails to make even one sale. At that point, they either give up and say Internet Marketing is crap or they pivot and try again, eventually reaching to a formula that is ROI positive.
Professionals start with the mindset that there is a percentage of their campaign to work. With every test, their goal is not to sell as it is to find the pieces that increase that percentage. They accept failure as a given, expect it as the normal part of the process and even develop their strategy around failure (like the lean methodology process). Once they hit gold, one day, one month or one year later, they can scale and earn millions.
Lesson #5 -Put In The Work
This lesson is more valuable than the other four combined. I have lost more money by not putting in the work than I’ve lost for any other error.
Writers write. You need to remember this. If you want to become a good writer, then you must spend most of your time writing. This is true for copywriting too. The more you spend time on selling in print, the better you’ll get at this (assuming that you’re getting some feedback, as without any way to measure progress or get feedback, you may just spin in a circle).
There are many things that I do to be a better copywriter. I study, I practice, I talk about this and so on. Yet, if I would measure my skill progression on a graph and subsequently, the sales my sales materials made, they are directly linked to how much time I’ve spent working.
I don’t care how brilliant of a copywriter you are. If you work just 5 hours a week, you’ll always lose to an inferior copywriter that works 40 hours per week. Yes, you may beat him in the beginning, because in the first phase talent beats hard work but you’ll soon realize that his effort will overcome your talent in months if not weeks.
Getting to a good sales letter is a process. You wake up every day in the morning and after you have breakfast, you get to work. You do this day in and day out, as a ritual. For a long time, you’ll think you suck. Maybe you do. But one day, you’ll realize that you’re good at this. Sales are starting to come in. Today you have a 0.01% ROI but next week you make it to 0.1% and then to 1%. You’re not making small improvements. You’re making quantum leaps even if for weeks or months, you felt like you were not heading anywhere with your work.
This is the irony of life. Many days I put in the work and I wonder – does it really account to anything? Is anything I’m doing worthwhile? Am I a sucker for working so much each day?
In those days I feel depressed. And then, one day or one week or in rare cases, one month later, I get a breakthrough. All the dots connect. The work I’ve done 17 days before and I’ve thought it to be useless is proving to be very good. That networking email I’ve sent three months ago and nobody answered, now I have a reply and an invitation for dinner. The sales letter that I’ve invested two weeks on and seemed as a hopeless project is then refined through a simple rewrite into one of my best projects.
Life doesn’t make any sense when it comes to progression. It’s not 1% per day. When it comes to money, you don’t get $33 in day one, $33 in day two … and so on. No. You get $0 for 30 days and then $1000 in day 31. As Napoleon Hill said “The floodgates of abundance will open and there’s going to be so much money that you’ll wondered where that money was all along”.
I’ve noticed this in the gym too. For a long time, I haven’t saw any results. I thought that my dumbbell exercises were for nothing. Yet, after 70 or so days of exercising, I’m starting to see it in my shoulders and biceps and even chest.
You must keep writing, keep refining, keep researching, trusting that the dots will connect before it is too late (aka not being able to pay the rent anymore or having your car being taken away).
I looked many times back in my life to the times I was broke and heavy in debt. There were times where I had to borrow to buy a pack of ciggarates. I could blame it on many things. Yet, all those causes lead to an effect – I’ve stopped working, I’ve stopped putting in the effort. The loss of momentum was usually complete in one month (when you stop doing something, you don’t stop getting the benefit. You will get it for a while as you have momentum. So it is with inertia. It takes time until you get results for your efforts.).
A lack of productive hours was always linked to a lack of results over anything longer than 31 days. When I’ve started working again, it almost never took me more than one month to start generating results again. For example, I’ve had a period in which I’ve hardly done anything and it started in October 2017. By December, the well was dry.
On 2nd of December I’ve started working again. Within two weeks, I started seeing results. This is the magic of momentum. If you put in the effort, the results will come, even if slower than you’d expect.
These are the five lessons that I’ve learned from my failures. My failures did cost me a lot. They had cost me connections that took me years to build, a lot of money, even self-respect and my health. Yet, I couldn’t be where I am if I didn’t bought the wisdom I needed through those failures. I just hope that by learning from what I’ve done, you can make it a bit easier for yourself.
Are you interested in discovering how I can help your business or how we can apply these concepts to your own venture? Then let’s have a talk. For a limited time, I’m giving away complementary 30 minute calls. In these sessions, we’ll discuss ways in which we can maximize your customer value, boost your conversion, achieve more sales and increase any other relevant metrics in your business.
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The Business & Self-Improvement Copywriter