“Copywriting is a now a commodity…”
It was 2013. At the Marriott, in Stamford, CT.
Across from the world headquarters of Boardroom, Inc., the legendary direct response company, founded by Marty Edelston, run with the help of Brian Kurtz (and many others), and top client of many of the greatest copywriters in modern history.
Brian was hosting a closed-door training session. For Boardroom marketers, and special guests.
Perry Marshall was there, on stage.
While the topic occasionally bounced off AdWords, on which Perry is the world’s most-quoted expert, it wasn’t about AdWords.
It was about innovation. How, tactically, to innovate your messaging — based on the principles of evolution — to connect with your market it absolutely profound ways.
But also, it was presented in the greater context of how innovation is coming at us rapid-fire today. And the sacred truths of even 10 years ago are no longer relevant.
(And even that was now 7 years ago and sounds like ancient history — but today his message is EVEN MORE RELEVANT.)
Perry was speaking a truth most of us didn’t want to hear…
At the turn of the century — two decades ago — simply understanding direct response was an advantage that could garner you high fees.
But as the internet has allowed this knowledge to spread rapid-fire, and the tracking has forced every marketer to learn it, it’s become bare-essential knowledge.
If you don’t understand the fundamentals, principles, and strategies of direct response, you’re toast.
Which means more and more marketers know direct response.
Even if they use terms like “big data” and “marketing analytics” to sound cool while they’re describing it, it’s all the same stuff as Claude Hopkins described in Scientific Advertising almost 100 years ago.
As the skill has become ubiquitous, the value has gone down…
What used to be rare and thus worthy of premium fees has become common and cheap.
What used to be only available from a handful of the world’s best copywriters is now available from people living in developing nations. We all have access to the same internet, and the same abundance of free information.
But if you’re living in Lincoln, Nebraska or — god forbid — Silicon Valley or New York City where rent is sky-high, you’re competing with someone living in a community where most people live off a few bucks a day.
Which means they can charge $5 for what you must charge $50 for to eat, and they’re thriving.
Do they have more barriers to success? Sure. But many marketers are happy to hire a handful of help at $5 and do a little more management, and still come out ahead versus one $50 investment (or $500, or $5,000).
Perry explained how he does it all the time, through sites like Fiverr and the other freelance sites.
Hence his statement about “commodity.”
How can YOU afford to compete against the next person who is happy to charge pennies on the dollar versus you, for the same project?
This is the deeper issue, at the root of today’s reader question…
It’s Monday, which means I’m opening up my stuffed mailbox to answer YOUR questions.
If you have a question about freelancing, copywriting, marketing, selling, business-building, or similar topics, you can submit it here to be answered in an upcoming issue.
Here’s today’s question…
I’m a beginner-ish copywriter.
My biggest challenge now is moving off Upwork and transitioning to working with clients who appreciate how much good copy can help their businesses.
I’m really glad I came across your stuff and am really grateful that you put it out there.
Can I make matters worse?
We’re probably not that far from a lot of lower-level skills disappearing from the workforce entirely.
For example, there is now AI copywriting programs that consistently write subject lines better than human copywriters. As in, the subject lines get more opens.
Likewise with a ton of other short copy.
Where you’re not being replaced by low-priced workers from around the globe, the machines will get you.
Think I’m kidding. Tell that to the communities that were chock-full of manufacturing jobs in the 1970s, who saw manufacturing first disappear overseas, then come back only to be done by robots. More than ever is “Made in America.” You just miss the little asterisk that says, “* by robots.”
Perry’s answer then, and again in 2014 at The Titans of Direct Response, was…
“Become an artist.”
While the artist’s work can be copied by low-cost laborers, the original remains highly-prized, and often increases in value.
While there’s a lot of tactics and skill involved in understanding full-on direct response campaigns and long copy, there’s also still an element of art that can’t be replicated.
Understanding what to say, when, in a webinar campaign — for example — is something that might eventually be programmed into a computer. But is very hard to replicate.
Likewise for the low-rate copywriter. They may understand how to write many of the moving pieces. But it takes a composer to be able to put them together in a way that plays like a symphony, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Dumb clients don’t get this, but smart clients do. And smart clients will go to places other than Upwork to get the copywriter who is simultaneously an expert on webinar campaigns.
Because they understand there’s an extra level of skill involved.
Likewise for whatever you choose to build a core offer around. If it is bigger than, “Will write for food,” it’s more likely to resonate that you are an artist, and not simply a pen for hire.
Hence, you’re much less replaceable.
Notice my advice isn’t so much about “Go here instead of Upwork.”
Upwork is a meat market for anyone who is willing to perform the technical work for cheap. (I focus on copywriting, but this applies to all skills.)
If you switch from one meat market tot he next, you won’t help yourself. Not at all.
Likewise, there are job fairs targeted at freelancers that are nearly as bad. The barrier to entry for clients doing the hiring is higher, so they tend to be slightly better opportunities. But if you line up like cattle at the meat market, you’re volunteering to get slaughtered.
You have to refuse to be meat. You have to refuse to be a commodity. You have to choose to be different, and then STOP behaving like all the meat.
Which probably means you need to go elsewhere.
What’s the difference between a steak sold at a slaughterhouse and a steak sold at Wolfgang Puck’s CUT, which has an average per-guest ticket of $117? Considering it could be the very same steak, it’s primarily PLACE.
Sure, it’s cooked and dressed at the restaurant, but another steakhouse may have the same cut, from the same farm, for half price or less.
CUT created a place of its own where the expectation was that you would pay more. And part of that included the choice of location, inside the Palazzo casino, where patrons are used to spending large amounts of money.
So, what’s the takeaway advice?
Consider PLACE. Where can you present yourself where you’re no longer a cut-of-meat commodity, and (at the very least) are among clients who are willing to pay more, and perhaps who can recognize your ARTISTRY beyond the mere technicals of the craft.
EXAMPLE: If you write a specific type of internet marketing copy, find the top three events where that type of internet marketing is taught, where the preponderance of attendees are marketers and not copywriters.
At some point, everyone in the room will be told they need a good copywriter, who does what you do. When you introduce yourself to other attendees as a copywriter at the next break, they’ll be falling over themselves to get you. You think I’m kidding.
Even better if you have the air and presence of an artist. It’s not necessarily something that’s easy to teach, but the big idea is that artists are harder to get to, and the harder they are to get to the better they must be. Which means that even if you’re there, you shouldn’t really be available. There’s a lot of positioning to this, built tactically into my Networking Secret training inside the Freelance Copywriter’s Independence Package. (The Core Offer training there is also very much in alignment with this.)
Your mission, should you choose to accept it…
Is to stop being hired to “write copy.” Instead you must make your entire career objective to be hired instead because you are you.
This involves reputation-building. Positioning. Establishing yourself as the de-facto authority on your unique mix of skills.
It involves becoming an “artist,” whose art is whatever mix of business skills you have.
When that’s what you’re known for and known as, the right clients will come to you instead of searching for some capability on Upwork.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,