Well, that hurts…

Not a lot of copywriters talk about this — neither do entrepreneurs in general, especially not “guru” entrepreneurs.

But I’m going to today.

Because I think it’s critically important.

I think I discuss it way less than I should.

And in doing so, I’m doing you a disservice.

So today, let’s talk about…

FAILURE.

I was dreading my first call of the day…

I had a client promo tested a few weeks back.

And I hadn’t heard much.

Which is kinda par for the course for freelancers, with some clients more than others.

Aside from good news along the lines of, “This thing is blowing the doors off,” clients often take a wait-and-see on sharing results.

They’ll gather data over a couple tests, compile it, analyze, and then share.

Then, you make some decisions on what to do next.

A couple days ago, I got an email.

Here’s some direct quotes:

“We have pulled the package and are not spending on it anymore right now.”

“The heat map shows 25% of people drop off before they get below the fold. That’s MUCH higher than normal—the highest we can ever remember honestly.”

“We will need some significant changes to move the needle here and turn this promo around.”

It also included some good news: Once we actually got people reading, they tended to keep reading and then click through to the order form at a decent level.  And the order form was converting, too.  And refunds are not an issue.

We were just completely failing at getting people to read…

So my first call of the day was a call to discuss with this client these bad results — and what we might do about it.

Which is the call I was dreading.

Because, probably a lot like you, I hate to admit failure.

I get a sinking feeling in my gut when I realize I’ve failed at something.  Especially a project like this where I know how much money has been spent and how much generated, and the revenue pales in comparison to the expense so far.

It’s sickening.

But, that’s direct response.

It’s in these moments that I remember the testimonial Doug D’Anna gave to Gary Bencivenga…

“If a copywriter beats the control one out of four times, you’ve got a really good copywriter. If he beats it two out of four times, you’ve got a great copywriter. If he beats it seven out of eight times, you’ve got Gary Bencivenga.”

By the end of his career, Gary was doing even better than seven out of eight.  But even the great Gary B. would occasionally write a loser.

Other good and even great copywriters fail even more often than that.

Errare humanum est.  To err is human — including in copywriting.

I’ve spent much of my life trying to avoid failure…

Early in my copywriting career, I heard Gary Bencivenga’s interview with Ken McCarthy (available in the Titans of Direct Response DVDs package as a bonus).

In it, he described his career in marketing.  And how his biggest question has been, “What can we do to prevent this campaign from being a loser?”

He said for his first 10 years, he had no clue how to consistently write winners.

But he kept asking that question.  And every time he lost, he’d seriously analyze why.

Like Gary, I’ve always hated losing.

I wasn’t conscious of it when I was young.

But at my first marketing job, my boss and my first marketing mentor, Jeff, called me out on it.  Jeff once covered professional sports as a sportswriter, and had interviewed many NBA greats (among others).  Plus his daughter was an extremely competitive basketball player.

He said in sports — and in business — there are a few different kind of competitors…

— Those who play for fun.

— Those who play to compete.

— Those who play to win.

— And those who play to NOT LOSE.

The most intense competitors, who often rise to the highest level, are those who play to not lose.  Who hate losing.  Like me.

It’s not necessarily mentally healthy.  But it can lead you to develop your skill to an incredible level.  And if you don’t take me as an example, you can still point to Gary B.

The thing about people who hate losing is that we learn something incredibly important from every failure…

Every failure is an opportunity to get better…

When you hate losing, you work to avoid it.

And the best way to avoid it is to not make the same mistakes twice.

You take every loss as a learning opportunity.

And in fact, I’ve borrowed a process from the book Traction by Gino Wickman that’s incredibly helpful.

It’s called IDS, and it stands for Issue, Discuss, Solve.

It’s a three step process for overcoming issues that come up.  It’s designed for working through issues in business meetings.  But it works as a great thinking tool, even if you’re trying to work through something on your own.

Here are the three steps:

ISSUE: First make sure the issue you need to overcome is clearly defined.  Often the real issue is a layer deeper, so here you’re supposed to make sure you’re focused on the real issue and not a surface symptom.  Look to the data as much as possible, if you have it.

DISCUSS: Here you discuss any and all possible solutions, getting them all on the table.  The goal is not to pick the best solution.  Rather, to look at potential courses of actions to resolve the issue.

SOLVE: Pick the best course of action, and define a clear next action or next step to implement it.

Since learning this process, it’s taken a little edge off dealing with failure.  Because at the very least, I know I have a process to course-correct.

This gave me a way to deal with having to confront my failure…

I didn’t use this process overtly in my call today.  Sometimes I do (especially in my Friday coaching calls).

Yet I still have it internalized as a way to deal with issues, negatives, and yes, even failure.

Now, I’ll tell you: there’s no way to avoid the anxiety of confronting failure.  Besides maybe heavy drugs.  But that’s not a productive way of actually dealing with the failure.

You’re going to feel anxiety.  You’re going to feel fear.

But you can step into it.

Move through it.

And at the very least, if you follow the IDS process, you’ll have action steps to take on the other side.

So despite the fact that one part of me was dreading hopping on the call, I got on anyway.

And we talked about my failure.

(Owning it is also important!  I COULD blame others.  But I’m ultimately responsible for the copy I write or am the lead writer on.)

And we actually came up with a list of seven things we could do to potentially fix the fact that almost nobody was scrolling after they loaded the promo page.

We’ll update the promo.

And we’ll test it again.

We defined every possible issue we could.  We discussed how to deal with them.  And we picked the best possible solutions.

It doesn’t guarantee we’ll turn this failure into a resounding success.  But there is hope.

Like Gary B., I’ve spent most of my career at least learning to avoid failures.  I don’t always beat the control.  But it’s rare that I write things like this that are actually unprofitable.  And the fact that the people who do read end up converting is a testament to that.

If we can fix this above-the-fold issue, we could very easily create something that’s working.  Or at the very least, that we can continue to test and tweak to make it into a winner.

That’s also direct response.  Even when you don’t have a runaway success, you can improve and optimize.  Especially online.  And even small tweaks can make a huge difference in your ability to scale a campaign.

But first, you have to learn to confront and learn from failure, and move through it.

That’s the real breakthrough.

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr

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