This one is a bit of a holiday gift for you all… so many good ideas and a fantastic guest! For the 63rd episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast, Kira and Rob talk with Margo Aaron, a copywriter and psychological researcher with an impressive range of experience and know-how. During our conversation, Margo shared:
• how she went from academic researcher to copywriter
• the importance of psychology in copywriting (and life)
• why you need to listen to people don’t say in addition to what they do say
• what to ask for to get good feedback
• how copywriters can use the skill of listening and use it to their advantage
• how she built a business that she hated—and stopped taking clients
• Product Founder Fit—what it is and why it’s important
• how to learn the stuff that isn’t written down
• why we are all so scarred of breaking the copywriting rules
• what copywriters do that drive her crazy
• where the money is in marketing (the answer isn’t your list)
We also asked her about what goes on in the altMBA, but while most of the content and assignments are secret, she shares just enough to whet our appetites. She also talks a bit about how to write an email that people actually want to read, the future of copywriting—it will become more important than ever—and a few strategies for communicating more clearly with your clients. Want to hear it (or read it)? Click the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
Honest Selling Secrets for a Dishonest Man
Work Week Lunch
Hillary’s Post on What’s Not Working
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.
Rob: 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 Kira and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Kira: You’re invited to join the club for episode sixty three as we chat with psychological researcher, strategic planner and copywriter Margo Aaron, about changing the world and making a profit, what copywriter’s absolutely must know about psychology, what it’s like to hang out with Seth Godin in his altMBA program and how to learn the stuff that isn’t written down.
Kira: Welcome, Margo!
Margo: Thanks you guys, happy to be here.
Kira: Great to have you here!
Rob: We are so excited!
Kira: I secretly want to be friends with you, so by the end of this need to be friends.
Margo: I’m in. I’m in.
Kira: When are we getting coffee? Or tequila?
Rob: Margo, you came to our attention because somebody posted your website in The Copywriter Club Facebook group and immediately there were like forty comments about how great your website was. And literally within a couple minutes people were saying we’ve got to have Margo on the podcast! Got to have Margo on the podcast! So we reached out and made it happen. Tell us how you got to the point where everybody wants to know about you! Where did you come from?
Margo: (laughs) Honestly, when you find that out let me know. I have you all deceived! The short version is I sort of fell into marketing and copywriting by accident. I started my career as you said as a psychological researcher: I was working in a lab for depression-anxiety patients and you guys, had I known then what I know now the amount of people we could have helped—you can’t even imagine. I didn’t know it at the time but it was kind of my first introduction to funnels because I was the person on the phone… like, I was in charge of what’s called recruitment and screening so it’s effectively tofu and mofu, like I have to get people in the door and then I had to qualify them for different studies and around that time I realised how there was a huge disconnect between what we know and what we do.
And I was frustrated with how limited our exposure was as a clinic, like we weren’t really able to help people the way I wanted to be able to help people and I was really really obsessed with this question of how do you get people to care? And I went to graduate school and in the middle of graduate school I realized that the academic life really wasn’t for me and I got introduced to this world of online business, which I’d never heard about before and in fact would have been very embarrassing for an academic to even associate themselves with… but I was fascinated by how effective it was and you guys know as copywriters, I mean, it’s effectively just psychology and so I sort of went down this dark hole of learning about direct response copywriting.
And a mentor at the time told me that I had skills and whatever was called market research and I’d never heard of that before and so I took a job as a market researcher… Ended up working in-house in a marketing agency for a few years before jumping off to start my own consultancy and the rest is history.
Rob: That’s great history. I love like, the psychological background, which is critical for everything, certainly in the direct response copywriting area but even in content creation, just knowing and understanding how clients react. It feels like every copywriter could benefit from a course, or even a degree in psychology.
Margo: Absolutely. I worry about telling people to learn psychology because I think a lot of it is ingrained in who you are and how you interact with the world. Like, the more you learn to pay attention to the people around you, what they are not saying is arguably a more important skill than learning the science.
I know a lot of copywriters who tend to be perfectionists; we get obsessed with funnels, we get obsessed with systems and optimization and automation, and we forget about the human being that’s on the other side of our copy and I think that’s the piece that’s most powerful and when you say psychology a lot of people go to the academic version of it, the testing and the studies and the rules and I think for copy especially, the more important piece is recognizing that there’s a human who is driven by emotion behind the scenes, and tapping into that, which you can do when, I mean, if you guys are married… Rob, you say you have a kid; you’re using that psychology every single day as you negotiate, you know, how to get them to eat vegetables or why they shouldn’t come home late. All of that is using the same kind of persuasion techniques and psychology that you would use in, say, a sales letter.
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Rob: Yeah, yeah. So I’m really intrigued with this idea of the things that people aren’t saying. I mean, in addition to sort of just, you know, the life skills and psychology, what do you mean by that?
Margo: So this is something I learned in the clinic and, funny enough, from my father. So in the clinic one of the things we had to assess for was demeanor, and so you would listen to people’s faces. So some of this is body language, but some of this is also learning how to hear rationalizations, and learning how to hear social norms, and learning how to hear when people aren’t just lying to you—but lying to themselves.
So when I say listening to what people don’t say, it’s kind of like asking someone, “what did you think of my essay?” and if I’m your friend I might say oh, it was great – you did great. And what you’re listening for is their tone – the context in which they said it. Did you ask the question in a way that actually lends itself to an answer? Because what you’re really hearing when you say it was great is, “I don’t want to fight with you.” That’s the actual answer. Because a real compliment sounds different.
A real compliment sounds like, “wow, this argument you made in paragraph seven was really strong because what you said about trees and snails really compelled and changed my view on this, this, and this. That’s a real compliment. Someone saying, wow, it was great – I liked it – that’s your friend trying not to hurt your feelings.
Rob: This sounds like every conversation with a client.
Rob: You know, yeah I like your copy, you know, or yeah, the copy is great, or even worse: I don’t like it, you know, it’s not right, you know, without that in-depth feedback.
Margo: Oh yeah. I always tell future freelancers and consultants to never ask a client what they like, because what they like is irrelevant. It’s, “did it work?” Is this effective? Did we achieve our objective? If you start asking what someone likes you’re going to get twenty five thousand opinions and they’re not qualified to give them to you. You’re the expert.
Kira: So how does this come into play as copywriters? How can we use this? Is it just getting, you know, as we’re interviewing customers and doing research, is it getting people on video calls so that we can kind of read their face? How can we use this to our advantage?
Margo: That’s a great question. Developing the skill of listening takes time. I think it starts with—this is going to sound silly—but it starts with actually shutting up. So oftentimes, when we sit down—I certainly I’m guilty of this—when I first sat down with clients, I would ask them maybe one or two questions and then I’d verbal vomit all over them about why I could solve all their problems.
And I never closed any sales that way and it wasn’t until I would learn to how to ask questions and really listen and just get comfortable with the silence and get comfortable with letting them talk without necessarily expressing my views, or having known what I think, that starts to develop that muscle of being able to listen well.
That’s step one, is sort of silencing your inner voice and stop thinking about like, how am I going to respond? And it doesn’t have to just be in a client interaction. If you want to practice this skill. Like, you can do it with drinks with your girlfriends. You know, when you’re sitting down and your friend is telling you a story a lot of us are thinking, oh, I have this piece of advice I want to give it to her right now, instead of actually listening to the person, being fully present with what they’re saying.
That’s one way to start with it and then the next is what I call rigorous self honesty. So this piece is a little harder to measure, but generally you know when you are lying to yourself and when you’re talking with clients, if you’re hearing what you want to hear versus what’s actually happening, you’re going to have a really big problem in the future. And so it’s the skill of being able to identify what someone is telling you versus what you want to hear and knowing the difference, which requires you to be honest with yourself and really self-aware.
Rob: It feels like that’s related to sort of that voice inside your head when you’re talking to a client and you sort of feel like something’s maybe off but you’re still, you know, you’re willing to go ahead with the project because you think, well, I can make this work, or I know how to solve this problem, but you should have that niggling in the back of your head, like this isn’t going to go right eventually; you’re going to regret this down the road, and we tend to ignore that, a lot.
Margo: Yes, that is a great example. So right, we’ve all had that client that you work really well together for five months and all the sudden at the end, they hate everything and they rewrite all your copy… and that can be avoided if you have the correct listening skills and can hear when they’re fake telling you yes. So I have an example. I’ve done this with design. So I’m miserable at design. Words are my drug of choice and when I hired my first web designer, I was probably the world’s worst client, but I was so afraid of hurting her feelings, I told her that I liked everything and then I would attack her work later.
I didn’t even know I was doing it! Like, saying that right now, I sound like such an ass… but I realized later that had she just paused and said, Margo, you don’t actually sound happy. What is going on? You seem very fake or this doesn’t seem like a genuine compliment. Something feels off; why don’t you tell me what you don’t like about this? Or what isn’t resonating? It would have been a much more amicable relationship at the end and we both would have ended up happier.
Kira: Interesting. I’ve done the same thing before, where I’ve worked with many designers. I feel like I’m quite picky and I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, so I’ve held back and now I’m at the point where I’ve just realized, I cannot do that because, you’re right, it just never ends up well, right? You’re not happy with the final product or you want to get a refund just so you have to do it a lot along the way.
Margo: Absolutely and knowing the difference between like, what is them being fake and condescending versus insecurity. So something I noticed with a lot of my clients is there something about marketing that makes smart people feel stupid. And it’s one of those things that feel like we’re supposed to know, but we don’t.
And one of things that really helped me was I would give my clients the benefit of the doubt and I’d say listen, I’m sure you know all this but just so we’re clear, I’ll tell you my definition of what a brand it is, or the difference between branding, marketing, and advertising. Or like the difference between ad copy for sales and the creative campaign copy, and just give them a baseline so they weren’t embarrassed, because a lot of the conflicts you have later on, you discover is simply semantics or a fundamental misunderstanding of what they hired you for.
Kira: That makes sense. So, Margo, I want to pivot a bit because I want to hear more about what your business looks like today, and kind of dig into that. So where are you spending most of your time? How are you helping clients today?
Margo: Sure! I actually stopped working with clients in February.
Kira: Oh, interesting! Tell us about it.
Margo: It was – yeah, I built a company I hated.
Kira: Let’s talk about that! Let’s talk about that.
Margo: You know I escaped the nine to five like everyone talks about, probably in 2012. I was so excited to build a consulting firm, and it was working with clients that I adored and I realized probably two years in that it was taking everything out of me and I had made some critical mistakes.
Number one, I didn’t niche well. I had managed to successfully get a lot of word of mouth so I didn’t even have a website, you guys, for the first two or three years of my business. I didn’t have a website. And I had a colleague who told me that it was embarrassing and sketchy and that she wasn’t going to send me anyone else but I had enough business that it didn’t matter. But the problem was, because I kept getting referred business, it was always for the most random stuff because former clients say, Oh Margo can really help you with that! And they would send over someone and they would say, hey Margo, I’m really struggling with getting leads for my —this studio.
And they’d say, can you help me? And you know I’d look at them and be like, probably, I have no idea, but let’s figure it out. And I would jump in and so I had a lot of diverse experience in that way but it didn’t allow me to really specialize in a particular skill. And I think that’s a huge mistake. It made me a lot of money, but it also drove me crazy and was very confusing when anyone said, what do you do? I had no idea how to answer that question.
I was trained as a strategist and a strategic planner so that was my skill set but you can’t sell strategy and I’m sure anyone on this call knows that you can’t sell research. You can’t sell strategy, so it’s sort of a sell them what they want, give them what they need. I was doing a lot of that. So anyway, I’m several years in and I’m realizing that the majority of the work that I was doing was client management and even the clients that I adored, they either had a fundamental misunderstanding of how marketing worked or didn’t have the budget or there was always a million reasons why something amazing didn’t get executed, and I was several years into my business when I looked at my metrics and realized I didn’t have any good case studies of my skills and I was really embarrassed.
Like, it made me feel a lot of impostor syndrome, even though people were referring me business and my clients had nothing but amazing things to say about me and this kind of contrast was really, conflicted me inside, because I felt like I wasn’t a real marketer. So I wasn’t seeing the results that I wanted to see in terms of sales, even though they were happy.
I also didn’t feel like I got to do any real marketing. Like, I was doing a lot of, you know, this C.M.O. is fighting with the C.E.O. and now the director of marketing isn’t responsive to this and then, this designer’s mad and now we need to go in and fix that and, I remember I was visiting my sister and she was listening and when I had a few conference calls and afterward she goes, so Margo, is what you do for a living like crisis management, like you manage people’s emotions?
And then I was like oh my God, this is mortifying! So that’s the big irony is that, I was making a lot of money at the skill of client management and I wasn’t going to do any actual marketing. And I missed it and as a writer, to be honest with you guys, I don’t think I did nearly as much copywriting as I was selling because you ended up getting pulled into all these other things that was in the best interest of the client to focus on something else, or it never got executed. Or you know, insert million reasons here and I missed it! Like my soul missed it! And that’s when I put up my website, thatseemsimportant.com. I was like, screw this; I just missed writing and I just want to write and I actually did everything wrong and I didn’t tell anyone that it was up for a while because I knew according to, you know, direct response doctrine, I wasn’t going to follow any of the rules, because I just wanted to play. I didn’t want permission to play.
I don’t know if you guys have experienced this, but I feel sometimes with the copy world there’s a lot of rules, and I can get really obsessed with following the rules instead of just writing in my voice. Especially when you’re doing ghostwriting for other people and so I wanted to give myself permission to just have fun! Like, create an opt in that doesn’t make any sense, or write about random topics and maybe not have a focus, just for a little bit. I now have much more focus and have gotten to know my list a lot better and actually given it some form, but I needed that re-connection to the craft to reignite my interest in all of this. So this is a long winded way of telling you why I shut down the company.
So around the tipping point was, I was offered a pretty large contract and it was just under six figures and there was not a bone in my body that wanted it, and I had a long conversation with my husband and I said, I don’t want this life. If I don’t do this now, I’m going to create a company and a business that I can’t leave because I have Golden Handcuffs, and I believe there’s something called Product-Founder-Fit, that we don’t talk about enough which is similar product market fit, except it has to do with you and the business you can run versus the business you should run. And for me like I know that I can’t run a VC-backed company. That’s not something I’m interested in. I don’t think I would be good at it so there’d be no good product founder fit there. But with a consulting firm it was really difficult because I was good at it but it was killing my soul.
Kira: Okay, I have lots of questions. Right, so you mentioned you’re giving all of yourself, so can you just talk a little bit more about what that looked like. And because I think that happens to a lot of us and maybe it’s an indication that we need to change something. It may not mean shutting down the business, but it may mean pivoting.
Margo: Yes, yes. So I find that there are activities to that are difficult that light me up and activities that are difficult that drain me. And knowing the difference between the two of those has been sort of a lifelong battle, but if I’m sitting, like I wrote a piece called Honest Selling Secrets for a Dishonest Man for HubSpot, and it took me probably forty hours to put together. It was hard, but I loved every second of it and where my friends were like going out, and having brunch, and doing all these things like, all I want to do is write this piece.
I was so excited about it. And that is the type of activity that you want to look for from the work that actually lights you up and can be profitable. What I mean by I put everything into it and it was draining me, is things like instead of spending my time in my strengths, like writing, I was spending time constantly in meetings. I mean I was a professional meeting attender, keeping clients happy, really really having ethical dilemmas between doing good work and what the clients wanted, and trying to—I mean you guys—this is a side tangent, to answering your question here, but many times I did not mean this is a sales tactic but it worked, many times I would sit down with the prospect and say I actually don’t think you should do this. Here all the reasons why, and if you want to, here’s people I recommend you move forward with. And they would turn around and say that’s why we want to hire you – you have so much integrity so we’re going to hire you to do this.
And it would be so disorienting for me to know what to do with that, because I’m getting paid to do something they don’t fundamentally agree with. And it was never something that was lying or deceptive… it was like throwing a bunch of cash in a direction for market research that I thought was unnecessary. You know, things like that. So anyway. So things like that were very, very draining and taking up a lot of my time. You know there’s—When you’re a writer, you need long stretches of uninterrupted time to do good work and with consulting, I found that there was a lot of task switching. Part of it was my fault. I didn’t do a good job of establishing boundaries up front, but also I felt a tremendous amount of guilt and obligation to people who were paying me good money to execute for them and I wanted to be available so if they had something, I made myself available no matter how much I told myself, you don’t take calls after five. It wasn’t true! If I saw the call come in, I want to take it, so it was difficult to establish those boundaries and it was exhausting.
The hours were exhausting. Dealing with different temperaments was exhausting. The dance around how to create proposals… I mean, I would create twenty page proposals sometimes, and that in and of itself would take me a really long time because I customize them for people. So it just took a lot out of me.
Rob: Interesting, Margo, you’re the second person in a row we talk to who built an agency or consultancy and then hated it and shut it down so that they focus more on the things they love. So tell us what you’re doing today, now that you’re not working with all those bad clients… How are you spending your time?
Margo: In fairness, they weren’t bad clients, they were just not a good fit for me.
So I spend most of my time writing now for my site and I’m also a contributor on Inc. I write a column called Advanced Basics on marketing and entrepreneurship, but I run a virtual co-working space for solopreneurs with online businesses and virtual companies. So we connect people who don’t have access to places like New York or San Francisco and connect them with other like minded people.
Rob: And I’m actually really glad you brought that up because when I was on that page, the headline on this page is, what you need to learn isn’t written down, and I am really intrigued by this idea you know, that so much of what we do or so much of what we need to know isn’t in a book, and it’s not in a course, it’s somewhere else. So how in the heck do we find that?
Margo: Yes! Oh, Rob: now you’re into my marketing philosophy. So originally, I wanted to sell courses on marketing. And I was sure I was going to change the world, because like I said I started in Academia and I was like if I can just give good people good companies and nonprofits the tools of direct response, then like everything’s going to be fixed, and what I discovered was, these tools are out there! And for most people, you know what to do but you’re not doing it and that was certainly true with the people on my email list, and that was certainly true with the peers of my space. And most- especially with copywriters but also I would say a lot of entrepreneurs and freelancers, we get really, really, really stuck in perfectionism.
And we are addicted to courses. And when everyone is taking courses and I think that’s because we are seeking certainty. And if if you guys are anything like me, like, I was an A student, I was an overachiever, I was kind of crazy. And the thing that really humbles you about entrepreneurship is it’s actually a process of unlearning that needs to happen. Not actually learning. So there’s a huge gap between what we know how to do and actually doing it.
So here’s a perfect example: you can master so many of the direct response rules, but until you have a sales pitch that’s live, you have no idea what works and doesn’t and the skill that I think is even more important is developing the thick skin to execute something that’s not perfect and figure out why it did or didn’t work. So, Rob, you’ll enjoy this. The first version of that sales page—I challenged myself because I was like, you know what? You’re stuck in perfectionism, you know this can help people; just test it. So I put up a Google Doc—I kid you not sales page.
Rob: I love that idea!
Margo: And I was like, I’m going to test this! Unfortunately, I wasn’t tracking as a result, so I don’t know if my conversion rates could have been way better… But I did a Google Docs sales page and I sent it to you part of my list and then a few people on my network. And that’s actually how I got my first about twenty people into the space and here’s the secret: no one cared. Like, to the people who had the problem I could solve, they just wanted their problems solved.
To everyone else it was like, well, who is this amateur person who can’t even spend money on pages? Like, what’s wrong with them and as a marketer, I have a lot of shame to write. Like, you don’t want people to see when you know the rules. It’s really hard to execute when you know them and you know you’re not doing that right. I mean, it definitely kept me from showing anyone in marketing my website for a long time because I was like I don’t want feedback from them that like, my opt-in C.T.A. is bad. Like I know it’s bad.
I just needed to be able to play again. Anyway, your question on like, what you need to know that isn’t written down… my philosophy and what I try and preach from the top of my lungs in our virtual corking space is, you have to do, and you have to fail and from that experience comes the learning. So a lot of these lessons in direct response, you can actually figure out when you do a launch and you forget to put scarcity into it. But you figure out that you need scarcity, right? Like you don’t have to read a million books to discover that, and I think we’ve really limited or because we’ve done such a good job of marketing so many of these courses and selling certainty, we scared ourselves out of just trusting our intuition. Which often can be wrong, and that’s the beauty of it you need that wrong intuition—you need to jump in headfirst and do something horrible and botched, and really mortifying. You know, like sending your first e-mail where you write hi first name. You know? Like you need that experience and you’ll never ever make that mistake again, right?
And I know that was an empathy laugh.
Rob: That was totally an empathy laugh, and I remember almost being fired from a job for doing that exact thing. Yeah, of course.
Margo: That’s the direction I want to move us all in, you know? I think we get so obsessed with studying for the test and getting everything right and getting it perfect and you know, being behind the scenes of so many businesses when I was consulting, I saw how much money was being made from people who did things wrong. I don’t mean ethically wrong, I mean they didn’t understand marketing and they weren’t doing things according to the system and optimizations and all the books I’d read.
And I was fascinated by this! I was like I don’t understand, this isn’t supposed to work! Why are you selling things?? And it’s because at a certain point, if you have a problem that needs to be solved, people are going to find you if you have the solution. That’s stronger. Everything else is sort of an amplification tool for that and you have to be able to trust yourself and your own founders intuition and yourself as a, as a copywriter and also as just a human.
And be able to navigate that and jump right in. That’s why I call it the Arena. I don’t let in wantrepreneurs, or people with side hustles, even though maybe if I get enough interest from side hustlers, I might, but I want people who are, who are in the arena getting their ass kicked, falling on their face, and needing to get back up.
Kira: It’s funny, I feel like I, I feel like I’ve really learned how the principles of direct response, when we started marketing our programs under The Copywriter Club, even though I had worked on several big launches for my clients, that’s, by doing it ourselves that’s what I really learned – oh this is why we do it this way and how you can improve it. When copywriters are listening to this and they’re like cool, Margo, like I need to do, not take a course; Where do they start? Is it a matter of creating something for their own business? A product and then selling that just to learn that way versus finding a mentor to learn copy from?
Margo: Yeah, yeah. With copy, it’s also complicated because it’s really a skill and there is merit to honing your skill. I don’t want to minimize that. That is very important but I do think that a lot of us sit on prospecting calls or, like, we avoid doing the things that are uncomfortable, when really, like get on a prospect call and if you don’t know what your packages are, make some up! You know? Like, don’t be afraid of creating your own solution and I think what I see in a lot of copywriters is, they’re like, well I don’t understand how royalties work so I can’t do anything and I need to spend six hours on the computer understanding rev share and you know, like, you don’t. Pitch what you think works, ask some questions, you know, figure it out as you go, but don’t let the fact that you don’t know be an excuse for an action.
Kira: That’s powerful.
Rob: Love that.
Kira: Let’s sit with that for a second.
Rob: But yeah, I’m sitting here thinking there are like, ten quotables that we could pull from the episode to use as headlines. There are so many good kernels of advice—I’m just sitting here thinking okay, yeah, I need to do that. For instance, the idea of trying stuff. You know, if you’re always following the formula, we never get past the formula, right? You never figure out that if something else—you try something else, that might work even better. You never know, because you’re plugging in and you know I’m going to get all of the objections, then next I’m going to hit them with my guarantee, and then next I’m going to the scarcity. You know, then I’m going to hit them with the purchase button. You just never know you know what could actually work better than what we’ve been used to trying.
Margo: Exactly! And I think we’ve also gotten really scared. I mean, maybe I’ll speak for myself, but I got really scared of breaking the rules, like as if something really bad was going to happen. And it’s just not true!
I was actually really inspired by a friend of mine who’s in the virtual co-working space. Her name is Talia. And she just plays. So she created a company called Work Week Lunch and against medical advice, right? went straight went—not medical—but decided that she was going to build an Instagram community instead of just an email list, which like, god forbid!! Right? Like “never build your community on social… always build it on e-mail!!” What are you, stupid? And she was like well I’m getting traction here so I’m going to play with that. And I was—first of all I just thought I was really ballsy.
And then she, slowly, over a year, got ten thousand followers, figured out Instagram, and then grew her following within four months from ten to seventy thousand people. I know! All, you guys, from playing. Like she didn’t buy followers, she didn’t get bots, like, she just played!
And she would update us on what she did and now, what’s even cooler is, she and I are currently debating this, but she’s totally winning – she has a launch going on and she’s showing us the numbers of like email, versus Instagram, and she’s selling more on Instagram. And everyone is like blown away. Because, really, this is what’s happened- you broke all the rules! What do you mean you can’t sell on Instagram? Like everybody knows that that’s not the rule—you have to do a proper Jeff Walker launch. What’s wrong with you? And she just like, I’m going to try it and so there’s you know, that playfulness that like, I’m going to try it out. Just like, she wasn’t scared; she was just like, why not? Like what could go wrong? Worst case scenario I sell nothing. Okay. Like it’s not that big a deal.
And it feels like such a big deal, like you can even it in my voice—I feel anxious just thinking about it right now. I’m like, what do you mean? What do you mean, sell on Instagram? Well, I agree you can’t do that you need to have your sequence ready to go and you’ve got to have all your webinars ready and did you optimize all your landing pages like, what’s wrong with you? You know, just like I’m going to use Unbounce, going to stick something up there we’ll see I’ll play with you know maybe test the headline and call it a day.
Rob: I love that philosophy.
Kira: So, Margo, I want to ask you, because we were speaking about other copywriters before, and you’ve observed the space, you see what’s happening, you’ve had experience in it… what else are copywriters doing today that drives you insane?
Margo: Oh, that’s such a good question. Oooh. So this isn’t as relevant to your community, because I really like your community, but I would say a lot of other copy communities I’m in – there’s a lot of lying and deception. And I think there’s a really big difference between manipulation and deception. So, manipulation is when you amend some aspect of copy or context in order to influence an action. And like, I manipulate my husband to get him to say yes to come to my sister’s event, right? Like, that’s a manipulation. Is it good or bad? That’s up for debate, right?
It’s mostly neutral. And I would say if you’re a dentist, using manipulation, like if he’s using scarcity, for example, by putting a deadline, saying like, if you don’t come in in the next 2 weeks, then you can’t have your monthly—or yearly—clean up. You know? That’s actually like a very positive use of manipulation and scarcity. But, deception, is lying. And it’s specific to claims. It’s when you make claims that aren’t true. And as copywriters, I think that we have a moral obligation to not work with clients where we know they are pushing the limits.
Like, we’re not going to make a million dollars in a weekend, you’re not going to lost 60 pounds in four days, like… there are claims that you know are not true. Or, if you know that the testimonials like, only came from poor people who didn’t actually pay for the products. And I think there’s all these areas that like, they’re not ethically gray… they’re just not right.
And so, that, I have a problem with in this space. We see a lot of that.
Rob: So, you had an awesome experience, I believe, with Seth Godin and the AltMBA and this is something that I’ve looked at and I’ve thought, yeah, I’d like to do that, and I know Kira has done the same thing, and I’m guessing probably half of our listeners, if not more… tell us about that experience, what it was, what you guys did, and- and, Seth. Tell us about Seth. We’re all a little bit of a fanboy when it comes to Seth.
Kira: Yeah, I have such a crush on Seth.
Margo: Well, unfortunately, he’s not really involved in the program, just like a true—I think he was the one who said the difference between an entrepreneur and a freelancer—I think he has a post on that. So this one he definitely treats as an entrepreneur, where he’s kind of outsourced it to everyone else, but he dips in and out. And it’s all his philosophy, so he’s definitely present. The altMBA… I’ll tell you, my expectations going in were that it was going to be a lot more academic and rigorous than it actually was, and what surprised me the most was, it was skills-bas—
Not so much like, teaching me how to read a P&L. Which, he kind of tells you, but for some reason in my head, I wasn’t totally expecting it. And the beauty of the altMBA, it’s hard to talk about it because you can’t share that much without giving the good stuff away, so yeah. You like, have to be in it.
Kira: Can you give us… can you give us—Okay.
Margo: So I’ll tell you just enough. So, the lessons are meta lessons, so a lot of what they build into the program is stuff that I immediately was able to implement, so you learn, where I thought I would learn, again, like, how to read a P&L, it was more like, how to make decisions based on incomplete information. Or, like, evaluating the actual power structure of a hierarchical way people work in a company. Like, who actually has the decision making power in evaluating these things? So he would introduce you to concepts and force you to shift so often that you basically got desensitized to perfectionism. So for me, the altMBA was way more effective in un-training me… than training me.
So, it got me into the habit of shipping fairly regularly, shipping publicly, being comfortable with something being wrong, or not perfect, and getting feedback. So, this part i think I can share. So, you get a series of assignments that are dripped out to you every couple of days. And you basically have 48 hours to finish them with the group. And you spend a lot of time trying to understand what the assignment even is, and oftentimes the lesson is in trying to figure it out. Then, after you submit it, the harder parts start, which is, you are required to evaluate other people’s submissions and this is the part that’s interesting, and I think really relevant to copy, in that they distinguish and train you on the difference between praise and feedback.
And by the end, you know how to give feedback. And that is the most valuable piece and it’s definitely made me better as a business owner, as a friend, as a writer; you know how to separate. Because like, our ego, I mean, I love praise. Who doesn’t love praise? But you will also want some feedback. Feedback can be positive, it’s mostly neutral. It’s mostly can be like, this piece can be stronger. That’s helpful feedback, versus praise, that can often dismiss some things and not actually let you get better.
Kira: So for someone who’s listening who is interested or has been interested for a while, what would you say as far as, how do we know if it’s a good fit for us? And where we are in our career as copywriters? Would you recommend it at a certain stage as we grow our business?
Margo: Oh, that’s a great question. I think if you have a lot of business right now and you are working like a well-oiled machine, or maybe you’re overwhelmed, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it yet because it’s a lot of time. If you’re going through a lull, or you’re starting out, I would recommend it. Or if you’re already a well-oiled machine and you have some time, I would recommend it as well. I think if you – this is one of those programs that you’ll get out of it what you put in. If you aren’t able to put, I would say, 20 hours a week in, you’re going to have a hard time. Like, I don’t know how you did it with clients. It’s difficult. It’s a lot of work. But it’s worth it, and I’ll tell you why. If you are a copywriter, you’re in the client management world. Period.
You’re selling products but you still have—you make a bulk of your money in dealing with people and a lot of what the training is in altMBA is how to navigate that changing landscape and understand how you work and figuring out how to work more efficiently and also, recognizing your limits and even getting evidence for how much you actually can get from something. Like, I had no idea.
I thought I was working insane hours… altMBA showed me I wasn’t even working hard enough at all. Like, I could hustle so much more. I was shocked. I really was shocked. You don’t really have a choice, you have to get it in by midnight, and if you don’t get it in by midnight, nothing happens, whereas with copy, I’ll speak for myself—I don’t know about you guys, but often I’d be like alright, I had four to six solid hours of writing today, that’s an amazing day, now I have to take my mind off and do other things. Because like, you can’t write that well for much longer than that. But in altMBA, it was like, too bad. Too bad. You have this due, so you have to ship. Figure it out. Which is much more real life.
Rob: I’m not even sure I want to learn that lesson, right? That’s a hard lesson to learn.
Margo: It’s mortifying. But it’s worth it.
Rob: I want to change direction just a little bit again. So, you mentioned earlier that you write for your own list and you have a really interesting newsletter that is actually the kind of thing that people actually want to read, so I’m intrigued by the idea of creating something that’s unique for your list. How do you do that? How do you engage your readers? How do you provide something that’s different and you know, again, that people are excited to see show up in the email box instead of all of the other stuff that’s out there?
Margo: Yes. Rob, the email list is the best thing I’ve ever done. I love everyone on my list. And I think that that’s why people enjoy it. I’m writing specifically to them. What I saw a lot of clients do that was a mistake is that it was very much about them. Email was treated as a distribution channel for, we’re having this event! We’re selling this product! We need to let people know about this update! It’s very me-centric. Nobody cares. That’s the honest truth.
Nobody cares about you. I think you guys know that as copywriters, right? You have to shift it to the benefits about why anyone should care and what I’ve tried to do with my email list is make sure I stay on topics that people care about and not make it about me. It’s things that I hear in the community, it’s things that I hear from people, it’s observations I want to make, problems I have, sometimes I sent rants, that’s true. But I do my best to mimic one on one communication.
So if you get an email from me, and it feels like I’m writing to you personally, it’s because that is true. Like, I go into it thinking about YOU. I think about one person, and I write directly to them. And some days it’s a different reader than another, but I’m always writing directly to them. And I value that. In my mind, marketing is really relationship building at scale. And if I can find a way to convey that like, you and I have a relationship, I actually value your time… because that’s the most important asset anyone has.
If you’re going to take some time to read anything, that’s a privilege for me. And I need to be able to earn it. So I don’t ever publish anything half-assed, or at least that’s not my intention; if it ends up being that way, you’re welcome to criticize it. But I certainly work really hard to make sure like, if this is going out and someone is choosing you know, to be on their phone, reading me instead of paying attention to their child, or like, the meeting that they’re in, or the subway ride they’re on, whatever it is that I’m taking attention away from, like, I need to earn that. And I feel that every time I sit down to write an email to someone. So keep that in mind the whole time. I really believe that there’s a marketing juju that like, what intention you go in writing something, it comes out on the other end. And that your people can feel that.
Rob: I definitely need to do that better for our list, for sure.
Kira: You do a good job, Rob, what are you talking about? You’re fine!
Rob: Always room for improvement.
Kira: Well, okay, Margo, I have one final question: What is the future of copywriting? It’s a big question… I know.
Margo: Yes. I think it’s going to get stronger, to be honest. I mean, we’re at this tipping point where I think we’ve saturated the market on like, buy my e-book to teach you how to publish e-books! And launch! and there are a lot of things that we’re seeing disintegrate, like I think Hilary’s article really hit the nail on the head that a lot of things that have worked aren’t working and we’re probably going to see the pendulum swing in the other direction when it comes to courses and product launches and sales page and a lot of things that relied on copy are working less. But I don’t think that that speaks to any devaluation in copy.
I think right now, the internet is controlled by words. Until we have another way of searching that isn’t text-based, it’s going to be reliant on copy and what I’ve seen in the content marketing world, is we’ve sort of saturated the click-bait market and people are actually hungry for quality pieces. So it’s never been more important to be an effective communicator and a copywriter because that skill is going to be needed more than ever. I don’t know what the applications of it will be; I think that there will be more and more growth hacking happening. I think you’ll see a lot more people wanting and recognizing the value of copy in ways they didn’t when I got started.
There’s a lot of educating that needed to happen versus now; I think there’s a lot of companies who understand like, I need a copywriter because I get what conversion rates are and I understand why it’s really important that when people come to my site, they know why, right? Like we sort of graduated to that next level so I think there’s going to be more and more opportunities for copywriters but I do think, in terms of the future for copywriting, that we’re going to have to distinguish ourselves a lot louder from writers and from content creators. Because those have actually become a commodity and that is a problem. Like, it’s hard to talk about the future of copywriting without talking about the future of content.
And right now, I mean, I got a lot of incoming requests for me to write for outlets and publications and companies and they never want to pay you any money. And until the value on that goes up, we’re going to see crap writing. So if you’re a copywriter, that’s a very different skill than you know, writing listicles for a living. And I think that we’re going to have to do a better job of communicating why that’s different and that is going to be recognized in the market more and more.
Rob: It feels like, to go back to some of the things you were saying earlier, that copy needs to be focused more on relationships or relationship-building and less on selling the thing. Right? It’s creating real value and human interaction, rather than oh, here’s another thing to read, here’s another thing to move your career forward.
Margo: I don’t know that they’re mutually exclusive, Rob. I think that you can still, if you’re selling the thing, it can—it should—feel like I’m selling you a thing specific to you that can actually help your life. It shouldn’t just be, I need you to click on this so I make a few more ad dollars and then I don’t really care if you read the rest of it. I think those are very different.
Rob: I think that totally makes sense. And I think that’s really what I’m saying. The more human and the more the relationship becomes important in whatever the thing is… you know, a course that’s just video of a skill, you know, maybe it’s a screen capture versus a course with coaching or some kind of a relationship, it feels like the human-ness is becoming more important in all of our interactions online.
Margo: Yes, Rob nailed it. That’s a perfect note to end on because you guys, money is in the relationship. If you take nothing else out of this, that’s what got to come out of your marketing. Especially through copy, also through design and strategy and all the other ways that you communicate it, but I’m a traditionalist and I think everything rests on the backbone of copy, and if your copy isn’t conveying that this relationship matters and that I actually care about who’s on the other end of this, then it’s not going to convert. Period. The relationship is the thing that matters.
Rob: The perfect thing to end on.
Kira: The best way to end this conversation. Margo, where can our listeners find you online?
Margo: I am at thatseemsimportant.com – that’s my website—you can also tweet at me, @margoaaron, I’m very bad at Twitter but I’m learning to get better so if you guys want to teach me, I’m open.
Rob: I’m not sure that we’re much better, but we’re looking for you everywhere.
Kira: We’ll find you.
Margo: Awesome, awesome.
Kira: Thank you Margo, this has been incredible and I’m just really glad and grateful that you’re in The Copywriter Club and now we’re friends! So this is great!
Margo: Yes! This is awesome! Thank you so much for having me.
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