Copywriter and calligrapher Ashlyn Carter joins Kira and Rob for the In 68th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast and wow, does she deliver. In just a couple of years, she’s built a six-figure business that is growing like crazy. In this interview, she shares:
• how she went from agency consultant to PR publicist to freelance writer
• what she learned from working with companies like Delta Airlines and Chick-Fil-A
• the difference between working with corporate brands and personal brands
• her struggle to do everything right, the repercussions, and how it led to the work she does today
• the process she used to break away from the negative behaviors that tied her down
• what happened when she chose a niche and had to fire some of her clients
• how she had to adapt new processes as a business owner (as opposed to being a freelancer)
• when she knew it was time to create a digital product
• the questions she asks to keep her team focused on getting things done
• how she organizes her time to get more done
• her onboarding “magazine” that sets boundaries and outlines processes
And as we often do, we also asked about a couple of her non-copywriting hobbies. She sold us why she does calligraphy in addition to working as a copywriter, and the lessons she learned from dancing that have made her a better copywriter. To hear Ashlyn tell it, click the play button below. Or scroll down to read the transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
Rest by Alex Pang
Todd Herman’s 90 Day Year
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
The Copywriter Club Podcast is sponsored by Airstory, the writing platform for professional writers who want to get more done in half the time. Learn more at Airstory.co/club.
Kira: What if you could hang out with seriously copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea to inspire your own work? That’s what Rob and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Rob: You’re invited to join us episode 68 as we chat with copywriter Ashlyn Carter about what she learned managing crisis communications for brands like Delta and Chick-Fil-A, how choosing a niche has affected her business, the process she used to break her own negative behaviors, and how dancing has made her a better copywriter.
Rob: Ashlyn, welcome!
Ashlyn: Thank you so much! So excited to get to talk to y’all today.
Rob: We’re excited to have you!
Kira: I know, I know! All right, so, Ashlyn, I think a good place to start is with your story, of course, and how you ended up getting into copywriting!
Ashlyn: Yes, so it turns out that if you chronologically file magazines under your bed growing up, you’re a shoe-in for a journalism major, so I went into college, like, no doubt what I wanted to be. I wanted to work in magazines. I wanted to do editorial stuff. So I was a print major in the journalism school in 2009, which, I’m sure all of us who work in this industry—that was a tough year for publications. So I promptly went back from my senior year, switched to the publications track, and knew that that’s what I wanted to do. Right out of college, I worked as a traveling consultant for a women’s organization. I worked the ultimate dream of working in—I grew up in Alabama so the big city of Atlanta is where I wanted to be—I wanted to work an agency life in Atlanta, so I did that! And was in agency for about four years all together and worked as a publicist as well for a chef and his slew of restaurants and then I moved on to working on my own! There are a lot of ups and downs and valleys but that, in a nutshell, is what happened.
Rob: So I’m curious about your agency experience. The kind of clients that you were working on, the kinds of projects you did there… was it PR focused? Was it copy focused? Tell us a little bit more about that.
Ashlyn: Yeah, that’s a great question. So, I look back on agency life and I loved it so much. It’s like an incubator of sorts and it teaches you so much. You know, I wasn’t there that long all together, but it was a full service firm, so we did everything in-house, from public relations and pitching to more marketing-driven campaigns to experiential events for our clients and also, being in Atlanta, I was primarily on the Delta Airlines account, Chick-Fil-A, those kind of brands—Coca Cola in-house. So those were what we were working on. And I did a lot of customer communication for Delta Airlines, so crisis communication there is really fun because you’re planning for things like, what if an airplane crashes? What are we going to do? What’s our game-plan? But also, high-value customer events, which was really fun planning those—I really enjoyed it. But my favorite part, which I didn’t even realize that it had a name, being copywriting—it was just writing marketing words, right? But crafting the email communications that we would send out to SkyMiles and Value members and writing the website for the Delta.com relaunch when we did that a few years ago, and other SkyMiles program initiatives. That was primarily my wheelhouse and what I was working on, but I did get my feet wet with some pitching.
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Kira: So what did you learn from crisis communications at Delta and the customer communication during that time, working with these big brands like Delta, Chick-Fil-A, that you KNOW that you’re using today in your own business?
Ashlyn: Yes, so one of the biggest things that I think that agency teaches you, and I know that there’s other fields that do this, like law, but tracking your time. I think as you move into an entrepreneurial space, our time is money! And when you have to bill time with the quarter hour and you do that year after year… I still keep timesheets for myself and my business. I’ve used Toggl before—there’s tools out there—but to me it’s just easiest to write it down. And if nothing else, it keeps me accountable. And it helps me measure how long client projects take. That was one of the biggest lessons—I do think there’s like a post-traumatic period where you have like, I remember folding laundry at times after working in agency and being like, I bet I can do this in a .25, you know?
Ashlyn: And that’s not helpful for anybody. (laughs) But it did stick with me. So that was one thing that I learned. I also learned quickly how to voice switch back and forth which, I think is integral as a copywriter with multiple clients. You quickly have to be able to chameleon brands and brand voices. I didn’t realize that that was part of my education until I had this student ask me one time, “How do YOU switch?” and I was like, I have never really thought about that! You just switch. But that is something I think that I didn’t realize that I learned. I learned a lot about project management and I think the biggest takeaway though is, how to behave as a business owner. Like I said, I can’t speak highly enough for that agency—it’s, the name of it is Jackson Spalding—it’s a mid-sized communications firm—locations all over the US, but based out of Atlanta. But the founders there just had an expectation of behaving that I just watched from afar and it really got engrained in me.
We had our core values on our desk—everybody did—in a little frame, and one of them, I remember, was “We tell the truth.” And I think that just sunk into me over time. And even now, as a business owner with a team, you know, it’s so easy, especially online to you know, just shore up that email with a few extra things, I think, but I constantly remember that and I can’t shake Jackson from my head and what he stood for and I do think that I learned that if you don’t cast a crooked shadow, it’s a lot easier to operate your business and go to bed at night without any regrets about the way that you’re running things. There was just a lot that I learned from watching him. Those days were hard, though, I do think I got bosses that edited, you know, like any job where you have an editor and you get it torn apart and it’s bleeding and it’s like a murder scene, but you learn how to write.
Rob: So I’m curious if you saw a difference in working in PR with companies and then working with the celebrity chef, you know, where you’re working with a personality. Is there a difference in the kind of things that you do for a personal brand versus a company brand? Or is it basically the same process?
Ashlyn: That’s a great question. So, when I switched from being more agency-based to being more in-house, yes. I think I learned what it’s like to work for a personal brand, right? And that was everything that Ford would do, I was constantly watching, you know, how is he going to say-what is he going to say in this interview? Have I prepped him well for this? It kind of takes everything that was going on in a corporate setting and pushes it into just, one single focused point and that was this man. He was the brand. And all the restaurants were built around him. So I learned how to market a brand and a personal face, so that was really different for me. I’d never really done anything like that before. It came with its own set of challenges, but yeah. I would say that that’s the biggest difference: going from having the opportunity to have lots of different stories to tell to learning that you’ve got to get really good at the stories that go with this person and making him—pushing him forward as you know, the face of the brand—and having a good relationship with him. Because I’ll be honest, there were times when I had to, you know, (laughs) he’s a classic entrepreneur type. There would times when he would say things and I was like, you can’t do that. You should pump the breaks a little bit. So learning that too, at a younger age, I think I the leadership of having to step in and speak up when I saw something that, you know, this was something that I studied and I did know how to communicate with the media. Did not know my way around a chef’s side or anything having to do with the kitchen. I had to learn all that. But, yeah!
Kira: So you are now the face of your brand and as copywriters many of us are the face of our brand, so what did you learn from working with Ford as a celebrity chef that you know you’re using now in your own business?
Ashlyn: Oh, so much. And I think that comes when—I didn’t expect to be—you know, you don’t really want, or I didn’t, I think that there’s a lot of, especially copywriters or writers or wordsmiths, that’s our medium, so things like video and showing our face—we have to kind of adjust to. Or at least I did, for sure. But I do think I’ve learned how to you know, the business was only as healthy as he was and I think that I’ve learned that—and being the personal face and the brand and the entrepreneur behind it all, there’s a direct correlation with how I’m doing and how my personal health and happiness and well-being is. And the bottom line of the business, you know, like, when I take care of myself, when I give myself what I need, then we’re going to be in a better place, so I did kind of learn that from watching this business operate around—crystalize around him and who he was and so… Again, like, I don’t think that many of us, especially given our medium as copywriters, go into this wanting that. But it is something that is a by-product, especially in this day and age I believe.
Kira: So that’s a perfect segue into you know, hitting a wall in 2015, which you’ve been very open about…
Kira: …hitting a wall, you know, anxiety, and going through a really rough time. So can you just speak to that? What led up to that? What caused it and what happened?
Ashlyn: So I love at the beginning when you were like, “Tell us your story!” I totally left all this out…
Ashlyn: (laughs) …because it opens up a bit of a can of worms, but I’m totally open to talking about it because when I was in the midst of it all, I just kept thinking if I ever get through this, I’m going to open my mouth about it because I thought I was the only one. So, being somebody that probably, as listeners can tell now, was a little bit Type A, like many of us are that work in marketing, I was always just a little bit bent toward perfectionism and just, getting it right. You know? You work in agency and you just nail it, constantly, day in and day out, for your clients. And then all throughout this, I had grown up as obviously one of those kids who was more attracted to words growing up, and so I remember sitting in the back of chemistry class, changing my handwriting because I didn’t quite understand them all, and little by little, that led to me growing in love with the art of calligraphy.
Throughout my time working in corporate communications, I would do calligraphy at night and it was just something to—after typing all day—it just felt good to make something, to create something. So I started taking on clients, so here I am, working a 9-5 and then going home and having this other side business and things were going okay, you know, I’m juggling the balls in the air. And then my husband proposed and that was like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Just one more thing to get right, get perfect, and knock it out of the park and I couldn’t do it. So I started trying to measure the one thing that was within arm’s reach, the one thing that I could, and that happened to be—a terrible idea—but what went into my body and what I could get out through exercise. So obviously, you can tell where this is going, before I knew it, I had full-on developed an eating disorder. And that, you know, like I said, I didn’t see it coming and I didn’t also understand the repercussions of what comes with that. I had always struggled just a little bit with anxiety and depression and I didn’t think it was anything that anybody else didn’t deal with, especially anybody that worked in a high-stress environment. But everybody was stressed. Everybody was running around like a chicken with their head cut off all the time. So I just thought that was the norm.
This all culminates and develops and I remember, I got through our wedding day literally by the grace of God. I don’t remember all of that day. I was just really sick with panic attacks and stress and social anxiety and my mother in law looked at me pretty soon after, and she said, “Ashlyn, what is more important to you, your job or your relationship with my son?” And everybody was kind of shocked that she said something so bold to me, but to be honest, I needed to hear that, and I also couldn’t give her the answer that she wanted, which was when I realized that I was pretty sick. And so, she helped me put in for medical leave of absence from work, which, I didn’t know that was even a thing. I was terrified I was going to lose my job. So this girl who’s obsessed with marketing and her job and working all the time and hustle and I lived and died by that, was ripped from me, so to speak. I was put into partial hospitalization, couldn’t go to work, didn’t have any of that, my marriage was on the brink, and it was in its infancy, and so it was this time where I got pulled away from everything and I really had to sit there and think about, okay, what do I want life to be? What’s important to me? Yeah. Just kind of had had everything going for me growing up, I guess. I didn’t grow up in a crazy family or anything like that, so I didn’t see—this was just very alarming to me and this was a moment where I just really had to sit there and think about things. And then I saw that there was this whole ecosystem of creative entrepreneurs and freelancers who worked for themselves. I started looking at that and thinking, you know what? Maybe one day I can do that. I know how to write, I have this calligraphy thing going on; I bet I could figure that out.
I came home complaining about work after I went back to working for Ford, complaining one too many days, and Wes, my husband, looked at me and he was like, we’re done. We’re done with this. I can’t listen to you complaining anymore. So I left a lot—I think I had this plan to have you know, loads of clients before I left and went full-time and that was not the case for me. I always think that when we’re looking on the horizon of leaving our current jobs and going full time, we think we need to have everything all together and I can talk about that because I don’t think you need to, but yeah. I left and I think I still have to monitor and watch myself because I know my tendencies and I know that if I get really obsessed or I start working too much, it’s not a healthy place for me to be. But like you said, Kira, it’s one of those things that I am so, so happy to talk about because for so long, I thought it was the norm—that people were just really stressed out and you just kind of made it. (laughs) But that’s not true.
Rob: Yeah, I don’t think you’re alone in this, either, Ashlyn. You know, maybe there are writers who don’t have the same degree of anxiety, or haven’t you know, gotten to the brink, but all of us struggle sometimes with either perfectionism or too much work or all those things. So I’m really curious—you talked about how you had to put a lot of thought into what you really wanted, but were there questions or were there exercises that you were putting yourself through to really get to the answers that helped you figure out the way forward?
Ashlyn: I love that question. So I happened upon this tool called PowerSheets and it, I mean, you can do exercises without a tool, but the questions it brought up like, “Who do you want to be when you’re 80 years old?” and I was looking at the path my life was on—this workaholic, so to speak, life and just seeing you know, the person that I would want to be is not, in any way, correlated to what I’m creating now, so I’m you know, especially after I worked through that and seeing the freedom that I’ve found and being able to start a business and do the thing that I know I was called to do, which was help people with words. Writing has always come easily and after I saw that that was a sales mechanism that some people didn’t understand… that’s another thing. I moved into full-time, and I didn’t even offer copywriting at first, but it was something that once I realized being in this space where there was creative entrepreneurial women trying to sell products primarily in the wedding industry that were not able to make sales and make ends meet and work for their families and bring in an income because that link was missing… so I was like that is what I want to do. I want to influence, I want to impact, and I want to help people with the gifts and the tools that just happen to be in my hands. So it was working through some of these PowerSheets questions and Laura Casey is the author of those and she has a great book. Those were the tools and the workbook so to speak, that I use. I did not have this epiphany where I had all these questions, to answer your question, Rob. I did use some tools. (laughs)
Rob: No, that’s helpful, I think, because again, at some level, a lot of us still suffer from the same kinds of problems and again, to a different degree. But knowing the questions or knowing the process for sort of thinking ourselves out of that I think, is really helpful.
Ashlyn: Yes, so true.
Kira: Yeah, I’m just wondering as you’re talking through this, how you personally avoided it happening again, or getting to the brink again? Because especially yes, you moved from a stressful agency world into your own business, which could be flexible but we also know, when you’re running your own business, it’s also really intense, too. Especially early on when you’re just figuring it out. So how do you continue to avoid it, especially we’re all dealing with it? (laughs)
Ashlyn: (laughs) I love it. Who is it—I think Laurie? On Shark Tank? I think she’s the one that was cited as saying, “Entrepreneurs are the only ones crazy enough to leave 40 hours a week working for someone else to work 80 hours a week for ourselves.”
Ashlyn: Like, 100%. Right? I do think it’s the best psychological experiment you can do on yourself—like, starting a business. Because every day is an act in personal development and learning who you are. So some of the ways that I’ve learned how to navigate that—and I, it’s like my side-hobby in business, learning about productivity and hacking into things that are so “us”—right? Like that we’re so created to do. And so I do like studying that. I think—this is kind of a backwards way of getting into your question, but I am a big believer in getting into the StrengthsFinder test and I think that by learning what I am really good at, like, we should know about ourselves, right? But when you take a personality test like that and you see it sitting there in black and white, what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at, that gave me a whole lot of freedom to look at the things that I’m not that great at and just, have some like—I can give those up and that is totally okay.
So I think that was the first correlation in freeing me up to seeing how I could “outsource” or just bring on some extra help, which, has ended up growing since, but in the very early days, that is one thing I saw as a way to stay healthy. If I just did what I was good at, and just got out there every day and showed up in the ways that I was gifted and didn’t worry about the other stuff or gave it to someone else, then I was going to be able to stay in a place where I was healthy. Another thing that has helped immensely is a book, and I wish I could pronounce his last name. It’s called “Rest” and it’s by Alex—I think it’s—P-A-N-G is his last name. He’s a researcher at Stanton and he has written about how rest impacts us as creatives and people in the workforce that tend to be bent towards a more creative vibe. And the book is—oh my gosh—it’s totally one of the best that I read this calendar year. But he talks a lot about how different, I think I’ve had nap-shame in the past, like, if I’ll be exhausted… do you know what I’m talking about?!
Rob: Yep! (laughs)
Rob: I’ve totally overcome my nap-shame recently. I am more than willing to take a nap in the middle of the day. (laughs)
Kira: (laughs) I know what you’re talking about, yeah.
Ashlyn: That’s weird—I had to read a book, apparently, Rob, to get through realizing that that’s okay but the book is like, that—and I’ve taken a sabbatical now. Once I took my first sabbatical—my husband took one too, arranged his work schedule so he could and now we’re like, hey, every year we need this! This is really important. But I would recommend to anyone listening who kind of isn’t sure how to figure out—or maybe needs to sell their brain on it a little more—because he is such a researcher and backs everything up with neurological findings, it shows you a lot of different ways to add in and weave in leisure that not only takes the steam off things, or you know, gives you some release, but at the same time, in turn, makes us so much better at what we do anyway.
Rob: Yeah, there’s so much there. It’s so interesting working from your strengths. But I want to jump forward now, because you’ve gotten through that period of stress and hitting bottom and now you’ve built a pretty incredible business for yourself. You shared some of the numbers with us and we’re like, “Wow, you’re doing awesome!” So tell us about what you’re doing today, how you found your niche, and the kinds of projects that you’re working on.
Ashlyn: Okay. So—and I appreciate that Rob, I’m always humbled and I think I have to be careful as somebody who measured numbers one way for a while that wasn’t a good idea, I do have to watch myself now but I’m just having so much fun serving an industry that I didn’t see being served. So to talk about how that kind of happened, I think one of the first things that helped me hit the ground running—I’d never once considered myself a freelancer. And I think that I look at a lot of writers and they move into working for themselves and they call themselves freelance writers, or freelance copywriters, and at least for me, I needed the mindset that I was a business owner. I was an entrepreneur. I was a business owner. And that helped me approach things with a little bit more of a vision-casting mind instead of so focused on project-based. Especially coming from an agency, you can take the girl out of an agency, but still, client work is my security blanket, right?
It feels good, I know I can do it, but you do have to pivot a little bit. I think that was one thing that I did and then another thing that I can’t go without saying is, I had somebody look at me and what I could do and see something in me, see potential in me and trust me with a big job at a time when I was new in my business and now I just want to be that for somebody else one day. The story I’m eluding to is, I was at a conference for creative entrepreneurs and one of the women there, her name is Jenna Kutcher and she has a pretty sizable brand and internet business, and she was a photographer but has since recently moved into education, but we’re sitting there over jalapeno margaritas—where all good things start, right? We’re sharing our stories and we really connected, and after that conference, like a month later, she emailed me and she was like, hey, I need somebody to help me with email copy, I saw that you did that for Delta, would you be interested in making the jump over to this? It’s for an online course. This was her first program that she launched but she saw the talents that I had in one capacity and how they would translate over so I say that because when people ask me you know, what works? What didn’t? You know, paying a few thousand dollars to be in front of people at that level before I was ready to changed my business. You know, that was a very expensive conference, but I knew by going there that it would be a small group of people and I could land time with women that I not only looked up to, but would be able to pull things out of me that I could not see for myself. So I’m a big believer in doing that. Yeah. I think that was a big game-changer for me as well.
Kira: That’s so important too, I think, and I’m glad that you shared that. Just being in the right room, showing up in the room, and we always say, feeling like the dumbest person in the room, Rob and I are big fans of that. We’ve joined masterminds to be that person where we’re like WOAH, everyone is so far ahead of us! And then you build relationships, and they pull you up with them and you rise. So I think that’s a great example. I want to back up a little bit—what you were saying about starting your business and not viewing yourself as a freelancer and viewing yourself as business owner is so important so I want to dig into that a little bit more because I’m wondering what copywriters who maybe are viewing themselves as freelancers now, what shifts they can make, beyond just the mindset, what they can actually do to make that change that may even impact their mindset and help them view themselves as business owners instead?
Ashlyn: I love it. And I know that you’re both Team Niche, so I know that I can lean into talking about that. At least for me, my experience, and I know that there are some generalists out there who rock it, but for me, what I found was that when I fully allowed myself to go into one service sector of copywriting, things blew up. I think it sounds so easy for me to say now, that was terrifying! And I went in kicking and screaming. So I’m doing copywriting and I also was doing calligraphy and doing all the writings right? Like, you name it. Editorial stories? You’ve got it. Blog posts? Here I am. Like, I was doing everything. And I had two people—two coaches specifically—one friend and one coach look at me and say Ashlyn, just lean into the copy thing—and, in that, just lean into it for women/female creative entrepreneurs and then, maybe just like, focus on the launch thing for a while. You seem to really enjoy the strategy of that.
What happens if you call yourself a launch copywriter?! And I remember sitting there over breakfast with my friend Christina and telling her, that is a TERRIBLE idea. Like, what happens when the industry shifts or pivots…
Ashlyn: …and I have built this brand off this?! So you know, little by little, over time, that’s the beauty of what we do as entrepreneurs. Let’s try it! Let’s go for it. And that is like, when I stuck a stake in the ground and said these are the people I work with—and I had to break up with a lot of clients that I was on retainer with—but when I really became the go-to girl of a certain niche, I like it—I think you’re in the right direction when you name people to others—and they don’t know who you’re talking about. And let me explain what I’m saying. I was just at an event this past weekend for entrepreneurs and I kind of like that sometimes, when I mention my clients, and they are HUGE for the people that they serve, like, they’re big brands for them. But when I mention them to some other people, they’re like, I have no idea who that is. And I’m okay with that. You know? Like, I’m okay being really tiny and laser focused for that group of people. So that is one thing that I would say helped me transition. Instead of being a freelancer—jack of all trades, give me the job, I’m going to get it done—just being like, playing the long game, playing five years, ten years down the road. That is something that changed me. And another thing that I didn’t see coming, but a lesson that I learned along the way was the beauty in the client process.
I work in an industry that lends itself to very high end, luxurious, experienced type of products or services. I mean, these people are serving—like, they shower them with gifts. Right? They just—the level of care and high touch that they give to their clients is out of this world. And so, coming from agency, I’m like what? We just send the deliverables to the client—there’s nothing… like, what’s this? But little by little, looking at this and thinking okay, if I want to charge like, BMW prices, I’ve got to give that BMW level of service that they are doing. So, starting to see how I could adopt pieces of my niche into my own process and make them more comfortable was fun. Like, how, looking at how do they do sales? And how do they get someone through their quote on quote sales funnel that they don’t call that… but how do they do that? And then once they have brought someone under their brand as a client, how do they serve them? What are they doing along the way? Client gifts are big in the wedding industry so how am I doing that? How am I off-boarding them in ways that they’re comfortable with? The more I stepped into being a business owner, the more that those things were very different from how I had done things as a freelancer.
Rob: And I know there are a lot of ways to measure your business and we touched on the fact that money isn’t everything—it’s maybe not even the most important number. But choosing a niche has had a very significant financial impact on your business as well. Do you mind sharing maybe not necessarily the actual number, but the effect that it’s had?
Ashlyn: My first year, I did not take home what I made in corporate. The end of the first year was when I started to make that pivot and it went to a multiple six-figure business the next year. Like, it totally changed it. Like I like how you said, Rob, like yes. Sometimes James Wedmore talks about—I know he’s spoken about this with the three of us but—he also said, at the conference I was at this weekend, no, it’s not important, but it sure is a dang good measurerer and bench mark for you. But even seeing influence be measured, I guess, when I really buckled down and wanted to serve one niche, the stories just pop off the page now. You know, they say do what you know, write what you know, do what you love. When I started serving people who—let’s be honest—are not too far off from me, then, the anecdotal evidence of their stories means more to me and I can measure my influence by when I’m able to read some of the stories of our clients who are able to pay for you know, in vitro whatever, because they can’t get pregnant. I’m like, you’re not that far removed from me. Stories just mean more than these random clients that I have. It meant a little more because it hit closer to home when I started niching down.
Kira: So I’m wondering, you know, while we’re talking about money and growth, how you get paid as far as the way that your business is broken down because I know you still have those two businesses—calligraphy and then copy—and then within there, you have different programs and courses, so again, you don’t have to share the numbers for each piece of it, but like, what are the different parts of your business today?
Ashlyn: Sure, so I think—and I’m always comfortable saying this, especially with copywriters—the calligraphy, at least in 2017, was only 12% of the business income. So it’s really not a big part, but I do it for a couple of reasons. One, like I said it kind of gets my feet wet still on what is it like to be B2C? Because a lot of my students and clients are B2C. So what is it like to market to those brides in a really saturated industry? The other reason that I won’t let it go out the door and fall to the wayside completely is just because I know myself and I know how I work and I know that I need the artistry and that kind of stress-reliever. But it is just about 12%. And then the breakdown of the rest of it… We took on a lot of 1-on-1 clients this past year and I say we because this past year, in March, I brought on two associate copywriters and just trained them up in my system and the workflow that I was serving clients with, and they’ve done an unbelievable job. So I was able to really focus on launch copywriting. That is a part of the income as well, but then one thing—and I think there’s always that question about digital products—when should I create a digital product? When am I ready? And again, I could just speak from experience but what I saw was that once the amount of inquiries becomes more than you’re able to take on and you’re not able to see these people who are totally deserving of the process but they were not in a place where they could afford it, and at the same time, I knew that if I could just put the tools in their hands, they would be able to get far more out of it.
So by starting to launch a digital product and teach my copywriting—the process of writing a website—I inadvertently launched a course. And the first time I did it was August 2016—wasn’t expecting really anything big, and I think that starting 2017, I remember looking out on the cusp of the year, looking out and thinking, okay, I have been marketing and creating revenue streams for so many people but I’m not doing it for myself. So 2017 has been just a banner, game changer year because I went in thinking okay, I’m going to have to show up regularly, I’m going to have to email my email list, like what?! What is that? I have to blog regularly… (laughs)
Kira: What?! (laughs)
Ashlyn: Yeah, like, create freebies, do all of these things that I’m doing for everybody else, but started doing them for me. So all of those things just really lifted the business financially and have enabled us to like I said, bring on a team. But you know, next year, one of them is going to be able to come on full time. I’m so excited and it’s so fun when you start getting to a place where you’re able to play big and watch people walk into their own callings and giftings and what they’re good at and like we were talking about earlier, I can just stay in my strengths zone and we’re able to do stuff like that.
Rob: I’m really curious to ask about your team and working with your team. You’re basically creating a micro agency and we’ve recently had guests that did that and sort of had this nightmare scenario and ended up closing everything down in, you know, three years because they found that they weren’t focused on the things that they love. So tell us a little bit about how you’re building your team and how you’re doing it so that you focus on the things that you LIKE to do, and you’re not necessarily just taking on all the administrative tasks so that somebody else can do the fun stuff?
Ashlyn: Got it. And I have to say, Rob, just being under your tutelage, the both of you, it was that talk that we had where I think I did realize like, hold the phone, I don’t think I want to grow this thing into like, a huge mini-agency, right? So I think that you know, grow slow, grow intentionally, but I do think that it’s hard. And I am happy to say that I did not do everything well when I was growing a team. I guess it was just me, but I’ve always heard, hire before you’re ready, but like, how? I could not figure out, like, it wasn’t the time when I’m drowning, reaching out for help… like, I just, you know, come on in, hit the ground, and go. Like, that was my experience with growing a team. There wasn’t a whole lot of time to take five weeks away and ramp up everybody really slowly and intentionally, but I do think that I was always writing down the process, like even our copywriting clients, as varied as they are, they’re still a process. Right? They’re on-boarded, they get this email, all the emails are templated out, all the way through the process, wash, rinse, repeat. Do it again.
So I had that system really well-honed before I brought anybody on, so I would tell anybody who’s looking at potentially you know, having someone under you help service your brand. If you’re looking to have them potentially take on something soup-to-nuts one day, turn it into… I think, sometimes we think copywriting is different. You know, it’s—it can’t be turned into a system. But I really think it can. There’s two “products” that we offer. One is Brand Story, which is essentially copywriting coupled with a brand excavation first. I just realized that we really needed that brand excavation to write a good website. And then the other is a Launch Copywriting Path, and that is a lot more varied with what goes into it because you know, some people are doing PLF’s now, some people are doing webinar launches, but all that to say, there is still a process both ways. So creating that, before I brought anybody on, was a big help. And then I am a big fan of Todd Herman and the 90 Day Year, but all of that to say I’m about to say the three questions that I ask my team every day but I just don’t want anybody to think that I made these up because they’re really brilliant and I did not. But asking, checking in with your team, asking what they did yesterday, what they’re doing today, and what’s holding them up. What do they need to make that happen? As a leader, realizing if I can just let them go and do their thing but give them what they need, that has been a really big help in letting them go and do their thing and know that I trust them 100%. But I want to make sure that because it is my brand, my eyes are on everything at the end of the day.
Kira: Oh, yeah. I want to take Todd Herman’s program. I feel like I’m ready for it.
Ashlyn: It’s good.
Kira: You mentioned your breakout year in 2017 and you mentioned emailing your list regularly, creating lead magnets, doing all the things that we tell our clients to do but doing it in your own business. What else does it take to create this big year? Is there something else that you could share with us, especially for anyone who is listening and is like 2018!! It’s going to be the year that I go big.
Ashlyn: Yes. I think it’s simple things, too. One of the biggest game changes this year was batching my days and my time. We’ve talked a little bit about time and productivity but it helped me so much to be able to compartmentalize days. Like, if we’re talking about looking at your business more as a business owner and playing for the long game instead of just being a jack of all trades freelancer, I had to start looking at, every day had to serve a purpose.
So, and I can share what they are. I do marketing Mondays, I do client work Tuesdays, product development Wednesdays, meetings on Thursdays, and then finance Fridays, also systems on Fridays, but the literation of finance Fridays is just too good. But that really helped me start looking at, you know, like, when an opportunity would come in, you know, my bookkeeper needed something great! That goes on Fridays to deal with.
So I can say, like, context switching is such a real thing, but I’m able to stay honed in and focused on Mondays, creating that lead magnet, writing that email, writing the blog post, scheduling out any social media posts that are going to go out. I can just focus on one thing at a time. And I think that no, it’s not a perfect system, especially with client work and the launch sphere of all things, right? There’s going to be days besides Tuesdays that I’m going to have to work on it. There’s going to be Saturday nights where I’m going to have to work on stuff right? But that was able to give me a framework and that was a big game-changer in helping me play big. Because I got to, yeah! I didn’t just show up at work every day like, okay, what clients need to be serviced today? I was like, if it’s not Tuesday, you know, we respond to their emails, but the bulk of the work waits and I also, I do want to say I’m very up front with my clients in telling them that and I have a whole onboarding magazine for anybody that comes on and I explain you know, for anybody like are clients going to be okay with that? My experience has been that they are, as long as I am very, very up front. I’ve even blogged about it and stuff. So, for anybody that is looking to ever work with me, hopefully I put enough out there that it’s not a shock that they’re going to have a day where I work on them for about twelve hours. But, yeah.
Kira: Okay, so I’m just going to jump in here and ask what does that look like? The on-boarding magazine? And what are you saying to them to prepare them for the “Hey, I only work Tuesdays and I want to make sure you’re cool with this?” How do you say that?
Ashlyn: Yeah, so earlier when I was talking about looking at things that the wedding industry was doing, this is a prime example. This whole idea of an onboarding, beautiful magazine… so, I mean, I say magazine; it’s a PDF that we send them in their onboarding along with—we send them it digitally and then the client gets it in the mail at the same time. But the magazine does include how their process is going to work, the steps of it, just so I’m really up front with that, and then I frame it in kind of the copy and the language that I use is like, every good relationship is built on solid communication so here’s how we’re going to be able to communicate.
I say my office hours, I say how they can get in touch with me, how they can schedule meetings, your big day is going to be on Tuesdays. Each package that I do is a four week package and it’s going to be on Tuesdays and those are YOUR days. I only take on, for me, one 1-on-1 client per month—my associates have theirs—but those are your days. You can contact me anytime that day, I will be writing for you, but otherwise, during the week—that’s why I need your rounds of edits to come in at a certain point, so I’m just really up front through that. And I explain how they CAN give me edits, and I also kind of give them a little tour around the CRM system that we use. I use a tool called HoneyBook, but I give them a video tour of that—I want to make sure they feel really comfortable working in that as well.
Rob: The thing I love about this is that you’re taking control. You assume that you’re the one in charge, whereas so many copywriters feel like the client runs the meetings or is in charge. And again, we’ve talked about this in the past, but just thinking through this, it takes some guts to play at that level!
Ashlyn: I love that, Rob. It is! You’re assuming a leadership position. They’re looking at you to be the leader. I think once that cooked in my head, I was like, they’re not the leader in this, like, I am! I need to step up to the plate and do this thing right. Yeah.
Rob: So where does your business go from here? As any good type A writer would do, you’re planning for the next year, you know you want to accomplish some things. What are you going to be doing in the next 12 months to change your business?
Ashlyn: Yeah, I really want to start showing up for the tribe and the audience I already have gathered. I think that sometimes that’s hard. I think my husband sometimes was looking at how fast we grew, which, i want to say that because we so often look at you know, the struggle of getting clients and that those involved tear filled nights and crying in your pillow but like, growing fast is just as hard. It sounds like, I always think of Mean Girls, when one of them is looking at her cuticles—
Ashlyn: And she’s like “My cuticles suck” and you’re like, okay, sweetheart, that must be bad… but I think it brings with it its own set of problems so when my husband was looking at that you know, and asking questions, it hit me. It’s been hard. It’s been a year of a lot of growth because I’m a marketer. I have always known how to market and that’s been my focus, so it’s the other stuff that I’ve had to learn from the ground up because i had no experience in customer service, or being a CEO, you know? Like that was the stuff that was completely foreign and painful to learn the hard way.
So I do think that this is a year where I want to recognize that and really focus on showing up for the students and the audience that I already have gathered. I have loved being able to serve people who aren’t able for that 1-on-1 level price point with tools to help them. So this is the first year I launched a copywriting template shop, which has—I really just wanted to create an entry point for people who couldn’t afford my course or couldn’t afford the one on one; that has been so fun to see people be able to use. So I want to focus on that. And then continue to say no to good to make room for great! Which, I think that is continually learning how to look at those opportunities but realize, what is at stake? What’s the payoff? And weigh them out. That’s something I want to get better and better at with each passing year.
Kira: So we often ask what opportunities you see for copywriters in 2018, especially, you know, you’re in the trenches, working with clients and building this business. What do you see for us? What are we missing?
Ashlyn: Okay, so y’all heard me ask James Wedmore this, I believe, but I also asked it at Amy Porterfield’s event and it is su… or, no, I asked it in a different setting. But you two have heard me kind of freak out a little bit about the launch industry and as so many of us, as copywriters, we are the strategy and the brains behind a lot of a launch funnel. So that is one thing that I have freaked out about in the past. Like, what’s going to happen when this -you know, when we’re wise to the webinar pitch and when things start shift and undulating? And I think I’ve had the past week, a gear shift in how I think about that and I’m starting to look at it as maybe this is our chance as copywriters to do it differently. Like, we have mastered the principles. We know how to sell. We know the psychological techniques that go into different things. We know it. So this is our chance to step in and be leaders and do it differently because we don’t have that learning curve of having to learn how to sell, right? We already know how to do that. So I think that’s the biggest opportunity I see, is us stepping into a leadership position. And we call ourselves creative entrepreneurs but I think a lot of times we recycle things, maybe inadvertently, but I think we get to step into a place of ownership with that and really get to be creative with the things that we know really, really well.
Kira: And I have to ask you because I was stalking you like crazy before this conversation about your background in dance. You grew up as a dancer; how has that influenced the way that you run your business today?
Ashlyn: Love that. So a couple of things. I think there’s an Ann Lamott quote about “Just get your butt in the chair every day” when it comes to writing, and Chuck Close has some similar quote where he talks about, you just—you don’t look for inspiration, you just show up. And I think every year after year, you just go to the ballet barre and you do technique class and you do warm ups. And then you move on to rehearsal and creating and improv class and all that kind of stuff but every day, you do the exercises day in, and day out. You just, you put in that time. And I know that there’s—I think it’s the Berlin Study that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in Outliers, but the four hours a day principle. You know, if you practice, you’re going to move from apprentice to expert if you practice something for like, four hours a day, so it adds up to 10,000 hours over a decade or whatever. Putting in that little effort, even just as a copywriter, like, I think I learned with ballet, I didn’t necessarily have the overly arched feet and the hyper-extended legs, but I was going to study like crazy and I was going to have stage presence and I was going to sell myself in other ways. So I think now, looking at how that relates to being a copywriter, I’m going to study it like crazy. I’m going to read the greats, I’m going to figure this thing out, and then I’m going to show up and just do the work. I’m just going to go to ballet class every day. You know? And over time, that’s going to lend itself to opportunities to be creative.
Rob: I love that advice. It’s inspirational knowing what you’ve done with your business in the past, and how quickly you’ve grown and the kind of business that you’re running, and yet, still taking the time to step back and say, there’s still practice here to be done, there’s still things to learn, there’s still ways to grow differently, again, I feel like you should be doing the podcast here Ashlyn, and I’m learning from you! You know? It’s one of those—really good advice.
Ashlyn: No, I remember the first time I talked to y’all. I was so- I just, I appreciate so much that there was not a forum for people like us until you two stepped out and created it and I’m just really grateful for that. Things felt very alone until The Copywriter Club popped up. So.
Rob: Well, we’re thrilled that you’re a part of that. So, if people want to connect with you, you know, learn more about what you’re doing, or just reach out and get to know you better, where should they go online to find you?
Ashlyn: Yes, you can find me at ashlynwrites.com and I’m also on the social medias at @ashlynscarter.
Rob: Awesome. Thanks Ashlyn, this has been fantastic advice and information.
Kira: Thank you Ashlyn!
Ashlyn: Thank y’all so much; I really appreciate it!
You’ve been listening to The Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from Gravity, by Whitest Boy Alive, available on iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard, you can help us spread the word by subscribing in iTunes and by leaving a review. For show notes, a full transcript, and links to our Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.
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