As I sit down to write this first Copy Tuesday post after last week’s Advanced Direct Response Copywriting Workshop, there’s one topic that keeps bubbling up in my mind.
This is, probably above all, the most important copywriting lesson you can learn if you want to become in the top 1% of 1% of copywriters on the planet. (That means for every 10,000 copywriters out there, you’re better than the other 9,999 of them.)
It’s a lesson I think I first learned from Bill Bonner, the founder and still top dog in the Agora publishing empire. (We’re talking somewhere well north of a quarter of a billion dollars in sales every year, last I heard somewhat public numbers.)
But it’s also one I heard from one of my copywriting mentors who was personally responsible for over $5 billion in sales.
And one that I’ve heard over and over again from copywriters far more accomplished than me.
It’s about all the beginning lessons you get as a copywriter.
You know, how to write a headline. Grammar rules (and when to break them). Bullet-writing. Structuring your guarantee. Making bold promises — and backing them up. The works.
Are these important things to learn if you haven’t yet? Absolutely.
They are great things to learn at the beginning of a copywriting career.
Yet they will only carry you so far.
If you’re caught up in them — as I see so many eager-but-green copywriters are — they will actually hold you back.
Yes, that’s right.
Think of this like the first gear of your car.
First gear has a very important role. It engages with the engine and gets you rolling. It may — if maxed out — take you from zero to 25 miles per hour.
But if you stay in first gear, you’re stuck there with the maximum of 25 miles per hour. (Incidentally, this is also why fixed-gear bikes are typically a lot slower than 10-speeds or 21-speeds.)
It takes gear two, and all the other gears up to five (and beyond in some cars!) to get you up to full-on interstate speed.
If you want to go from zero to 60, you can’t rely on first gear to get you there.
You’re probably going to need to keep shifting all the way up to fifth gear.
Copywriting is much the same way — including all the beginners’ lessons you learn in many classic advertising books and modern books, seminars, information products, and so on.
They’ll get you rolling.
But they’ll also hold you back when you’re trying to really get going.
Which brings me to the lesson of these superstar copywriters…
The most important lesson I’ve ever been taught as a copywriter is to stop writing copy.
Weird, I know.
But stick with me for a minute, because it will change everything.
When we’re learning all these “rules” for direct response copy, we get good at creating copy that looks and feels like everyone else’s.
But that’s the death knell for copy.
When you look and feel like what the prospect has seen before, you will be filtered immediately. Their subconscious will tell them, “This isn’t stimulating to you,” and they’ll move on.
They won’t read. They won’t respond.
And you won’t get paid.
Here’s the alternative.
The best copy I’ve ever written was written in my voice. I wasn’t trying to be a copywriter. I wasn’t trying to put what I was writing through the filter of my client’s voice. I just wrote.
Note, I didn’t say, “I just wrote copy.”
I said, “I just wrote.”
I had a message — a story — and I shared it.
I dropped all pretense of trying to create sales copy. And I was just one person, talking to another, who happened to have a recommendation at the end of my message for the reader to take action as a result of what I’d just told them.
And it worked.
It will work every time — if your inspiration and feeling is strong enough — and if you know what story or message your reader is most likely to resonate with on a deep level.
But if you muck it all up by trying to be a copywriter — by trying to write all of this as copy — then you won’t resonate. They’ll turn off. They won’t read. They won’t respond.
Yes, I admit this can actually be quite challenging…
As a copywriter working for clients, you are challenged to capture their voice in your writing. You will have to put your writing through their filters. You’ll sometimes be writing about topics where you can’t write from personal knowledge and experience.
However, the closer you come, the better you’ll do.
Not only that, most of us have a ton of ego issues (weak ego, not healthy ego) that actually hold us back. We try to impress, rather than simply try to write and communicate. The better you can get your own head trash in check, the easier this all becomes.
There are a lot of lessons here.
What this doesn’t do though is preempt the value of first gear…
Have you ever tried to start your car from a dead stop in second gear instead of first? The car struggles, even shudders. Try it from fifth gear, and you’re not going anywhere — and it may even damage your car.
You can’t skip the starting points. The rules you learn as a beginner are important.
Even at last week’s workshop, we covered some fundamentals, although I tried to do it in a new and higher way that I’ve personally never seen done before (and according to attendees, I succeeded).
However the moment you know you’ve arrived as a copywriter is when you can confidently say you’ve done what Bill Bonner told me he did…
When you forget those 5,000 rules for “the right way” to write copy…
When you let it all drop away…
And when you just sit down at your keyboard, and tell a story that you are pretty certain will stop your reader in their tracks, fascinate them, motivate them to action, and get them to buy your products or services…
I promise, it will be a breakthrough.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets