copywriter-typewriterI recently had a conversation with a copywriter who is in a situation similar to where I was a little before starting my freelance career…

They had a ton of writing experience — outside of direct response copywriting.  They’d studied a bunch of the greats.  And they knew a thing or two about good copy.

But…  It wasn’t translating into the kind of “jump start” to a copywriting career that they’d hoped for…

Now, I wasn’t doing an official “copy review” for this copywriter, so this isn’t direct feedback on their copy…  But…  I got to thinking about what really turned things around for me.

And, I think, this double-barreled breakthrough (I like that!) is what a ton of newer copywriters need to transition into full-on direct response…

So I thought it’d be a pretty good focus for today’s issue…

Breakthrough #1: The Power of One…

Fall 2009, I went to my first AWAI Bootcamp.  One of the presenters was Mark Ford (then under his pen name, Michael Masterson).

Mark’s presentation was on a concept he’d identified called “The Power of One.”

Mark is a partner in Agora, Inc., which is a direct marketing publisher that sells hundreds of millions of dollars worth of information products every year, via direct response marketing.

Mark, his partner Bill Bonner, and his team have always analyzed their sales copy.  They look at what works, and what doesn’t.  And they try to learn from their successes and failures, deriving best practices and principles from each.

Along the way, they recognized something important.

A lot of writers wanted to put ALL the good ideas into their copy.  ALL the selling points.  ALL the benefits.  ALL the stories.  ALL the best bits.

Some writers would instead focus.  They’d take one good idea, and flesh it out fully.  Then, they’d ask for the reader to respond, based on that one good idea.

Most of us equate quantity with value.  I think it’s natural.

But the results suggested otherwise.  By focusing on LESS, the writers who featured one good idea would sell more.

In fact, this trend is consistent enough that if you try to put more than one big idea into any promo today, Mark will tell you to go back to the drawing board (I know this from firsthand experience!).

This is the Power of One.  Find the single-best idea, single-best story, and tell it.

Maybe there are angles and supporting facts, complimentary details and side-narratives that add credibility to the main narrative.  It’s not that you can’t tell all of that — in fact, you have to if you’re developing a long-form sales letter.

But it all has to be in service of that one big idea.  The moment you lose that, you’re losing readers and sales.

Breakthrough #2: Copy outlines…

At that same Bootcamp, Clayton Makepeace was handing out his “pretty darned good copy outline.”

This was huge for me.

This was literally an outline you could use to develop your big idea into a complete and comprehensive sales pitch for a product.

From your opening salvo all the way through to your close, this was a step-by-step persuasion process, for turning your ideas into a selling narrative on the page.

And in fact, here’s a link to the outline, but because Clayton has left out for the world to see for nearly 7 years now, I’ll quote it here as well…

  1. Grab ‘Em by the Eyeballs
  2. Support and Expand on Your Headline
  3. Establish Credibility
  4. Bribe Him to Read This
  5. Deliver Value
  6. Present Your “Big Promise”
  7. Prove Your Point
  8. Snapshot of the Future “Him”
  9. Present Your Product and Prove Each Benefit
  10. Make the Offer
  11. Trivialize Your Price
  12. Add Value
  13. Relieve Risk
  14. Sum Up
  15. Ask for the Sale
  16. Make Ordering Stupid Easy
  17. Place Him at the Crossroads
  18. Ask for the Sale – AGAIN
  19. Sweeten the Pot
  20. Add an Urgency Element

I spent the next couple years — the first couple of my direct response copywriting career — following Clayton’s outline.

It was crucial in writing my first million-dollar promotions.  It really catapulted my copywriting.

Since then, I’ve seen Clayton speak a few times.  And he’s constantly coming up with new outlines.  Sometimes, it’s clear he’s tweaking.  Sometimes, simply applying the same principles in a new setting.

What I’ve learned beyond this specific outline (as valuable as it is!) is that great copywriters think about what they’re going to say before they say it.

That is, sometimes you can write well by flying by the seat of your pants.  But more often than not, that leads to messy writing that needs a ton of tightening before it’s any good.

What’s far better is to flesh out your sales narrative before you ever get to writing…  Decide what you’re going to say…  Fill in the blanks with research…

Then, sit and write.

In fiction, this debate is called pantsing (flying by the seat of your pants) versus plotting (plotting out your course before taking it).

You don’t have to rigidly hold yourself to your outline.  But it does serve as a foundation or framing or skeleton that you can build and flesh out to create a better end result.

These two breakthroughs, above all else, really shaped my initial copywriting success…

It’s no surprise that they came from two of the top copywriters alive today.

The good news though is you don’t have to be Mark or Clayton or even me to really make the most of these breakthroughs.  What’s great is that they’re so simple.

Find your big idea.  Really hone in on what gets you most excited to share with your target market.  Then, flesh that out with a narrative outline that will walk the prospect down the garden path toward purchase.

Do that before you write, and your writing — and selling ability — will improve dramatically.

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr