When we launched The Copywriter Club Podcast, we made a list of copywriters we wanted to interview and the guest for episode 51, David Garfinkel, was at the top. Known as the World’s Greatest Copywriting Coach, David is a world-class copywriter who regularly consults with clients like Agora Financial and GKIC along with several high-level copywriters to help improve the performance of their copy. During our interview, David talked about:
• how he got his start as a copywriter
• a “this will only work for me” method for finding your first project
• the story behind his $40 million dollar sales letter
• the mistakes he made as he was just starting his business
• how he made the shift to coaching and what he does as a coach
• the three things to look for in a copy coach
• how to overcome objections with your copy
• what mistakes he sees over and over again that you will want to avoid
• the importance of “relevant credentials” when making any sale
• when you should start coaching other writers
• the two or three things to go from good to great as a writer
Plus David talked about what his business looks like today and he shared details about the breakout hit song he wrote for the urology department at the University of California’s Centennial celebration. (This is stuff he hasn’t even shared on his own podcast.) To hear it, you need to click the play button below, or scroll down to read a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
McGraw Hill World News
Gary Halbert’s Newsletter
Barbara (Bloch) Stanny
Jay Conrad Levinson
The Billion Dollar Copywriter
Peak by Anders Erickson
Fast, Effective Copy
David’s Facebook Page
The Copywriters Podcast
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 talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea or two 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 the club for episode 52 as we chat with the man who has been called the world’s greatest copywriting coach, David Garfinkel, about the lessons he’s learned coaching and working with so many copywriters, what it takes to be truly great as a copywriter, how his life away from copywriting makes him a better writer, and how to do an effective copy critique.
Kira: David, welcome.
David: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
Rob: Yeah, we’re excited to have you.
Kira: It’s an honor to have you. Yeah, this is the highlight of my day.
David: I know I’ve been looking forward to this for a while now.
Kira: I feel like every time I think of you, David, I think of the beach because I listen to episode 13, Why Customers Buy, while I was running on the beach on vacation last month. I’m just happy anytime I hear your voice because it takes me back.
David: Yeah. I think you mentioned that in an email to me. Which beach? Because I’m about six blocks from the Pacific Beach in San Francisco.
Kira: Oh, this was Myrtle Beach.
David: Oh. Yeah, I went there when I was in high school. I grew up in Maryland. We went there in the spring break or something. It was a very nice beach.
Kira: Yeah, it was great.
Rob: A great place to do some running, some copywriting learning.
Kira: Exactly, yeah.
David: Well, everyone has their own use for the beach. I think that’s a good one, frankly.
Rob: Yeah, exactly. David, we really like to start a lot of our episodes with a story, your backstory, how you came into copywriting. Tell us where you came from.
David: Well, I had been a business journalist. My last corporate job was as the San Francisco bureau chief for McGraw-Hill World News, which is like an internal news service for McGraw-Hill’s business and trade magazines, and it came time to leave. I was doing well, but I wasn’t happy. I knew if I wasn’t happy, I was going to find a way to screw it up. It’d probably be better just to leave. I was wandering around looking for what to do and had a lot of false starts.
I co-authored a book and then I created a little audio program called Referral Magic: 17 Ways to Let Your Clients Do Your Selling, and I didn’t have the skills to sell it. I was, believe it or not, teaching public speaking at the time. My business partner got one of Gary Halbert’s newsletters as a six-month gift subscription. I remember looking at the first issue. He said, “Davis, this isn’t for me, but it might be for you.” I looked at it, I said, “What in the world is he doing? I don’t know what he’s doing, but I’ve got to do this.” Sooner or later, I found out about Gary and I found out about copywriting. I said, “This is my next step. This is my path,” and then I just dove into it.
I love it. I love copywriting. I love what you can do with it. I love the fact that it uses a very basic emotional language, and it can be so powerful for a business. It can help the business grow. For an individual who knows how to do it, you can buy or earn or acquire freedom and control of your life like with nothing else I know of. I got hooked.
Kira: What did those early days look like for you when you knew you wanted to get into copywriting and then you figured out, “Well, I need clients”? How did you get your first few clients?
David: The early days looked like a lot, a lot, a lot of work and a lot of frustration. I think I got clients by referral. I was big in the speaking world at the time, so I used to go to all these National Speakers Association meetings and all the speakers needed help promoting themselves. Just through networking like that. At that time, I would take anything, I would do anything. If you don’t call it copywriting, if you call it advertising, and if you call it advertising, that actually gets people, clients make sales. People are interested. I just fumbled my way from one thing to another until I started figuring out what I was doing and having a lot of success with it.
Rob: David, I’ve heard you talk a lot … Well, not a lot. I’ve heard you talk occasionally about this letter that you wrote. I believe it was for a travel company that was like a $20 million successful control, something like that. How do you find a client like that? Tell us the story of how that all came together.
David: Okay. I’ll tell you the exact method, but I’m not sure anyone else can do it. You need to have a girlfriend in Phoenix named Sally, who knows the owner.
Rob: We can work on that. We’re adding that to our ways to find copywriting jobs list.
David: Number 133: have a girlfriend named Sally who lives in Phoenix. Yeah, it was a referral. That was an interesting story because they had this beautiful, slick, heavy, well-designed glossy brochure that could have, as I often say, hung in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Everything was great about it except they weren’t getting any clients with it. They were getting all of their business through referrals.
This was fairly early in my career, and I had some of the skills, the information-gathering skills, the interview skills, the research skills, but I really didn’t know how to write copy. Fortunately, I had a mentor who helped me. I remember completely rewriting the letter seven times. Actually, that’s nothing compared to what some people go through, but I mean if you’ve ever seen Aaron Sorkin talk about his screenplays, he will retype the screenplay three or four times. This is a 120-page document.
But I didn’t know about that at the time, and I just kept going after we put together a terrific offer. They got a really good list. I used what I’d learned from Gary Halbert about white male, which is something that was stamped and it had a return address, but not the name of the company so someone opens it out of curiosity or out of worry that it might be something that they really missed out on if they hadn’t seen it.
It worked. Their unit of sale was an ongoing relationship with an entrepreneurial businesses that did a lot of travel and would like to have the capability in-house. In those days, unlike today, you had to go to a travel agent or at least you had to have a ticket printing machine in your business.
The two owners, Bonnie and Dwayne, had both worked for several airlines before. Well, I’m not sure Bonnie had, but Dwayne had been a vice-president of two different airlines and Bonnie knew the travel business inside and out. They were able to offer … I mean it sounds easy now. It sounds easy, but getting all that information out and then getting them convinced to present it and then figuring out how to actually present it that way, it was a lot of work.
Actually, it wasn’t $20 million, it was $40 million. Bonnie was a CPA. The CEO was a CPA, too. She calculated it and then wrote me a testimonial. Just brought in these big clients, and they stayed with them for years.
Kira: Wow! David, I want to back up because you mentioned that you wrote the book Referral Magic and that you landed a lot of those early clients through your referrals, through your girlfriend. A lot of our copywriters in our community are new and they struggle to even get referrals. I know you can’t share the whole entire book with us, but are there some tips to help us land the referrals? Maybe it speaks to what you said about don’t call it copywriting, call it making sales. Maybe we’re just positioning that wrong.
David: Yeah. Well, I can give you some advice. I’m not sure how much people are going to like it. It is what I did, and it’s sort of a paying your dues kind of thing. The first thing you have to do is be willing to work for free or to work for far less than you think you’re worth just for a while in order to get experience and in order to get testimonials.
You have to focus more on adding value. Adding value means giving someone something that produces results, which is probably worth some money or a lot of money, and understand that this is your opening bid in the poker game. You’re going to put in this value, someone’s going to get results, they’ll give you a testimonial, and they may refer you on to someone who will pay you. You just keep working that system.
Referrals are more about relationships than a series of mechanical steps. When anyone asks me to give a referral for them, and I do with my mentoring clients, I need to feel a very high level of trust not just in their character, but in their ability to consistently deliver results. Someone needs to feel that way about you. Well, how do they feel that way? Usually from experience where you took enough of the risk so that they were willing to do that.
I guess that’s my best advice. There are all kinds of techniques and methods and strategies for referrals, but without the trust and without the value, they’re just empty formulas.
Rob: A lot of the times we like to talk about things that have worked, but my guess is that you, especially early on, David, discovered a lot of things that didn’t work, had some failures, mistakes. What are some of those mistakes that you made and how do we avoid them?
David: I did make a lot of mistakes. I think I’ve internalized what they were and learned not to do them. I would say spreading yourself too thin. I remember at one point in the ‘90s, I got walking pneumonia because I was just burning the candle too much at both ends. Sometimes that’s going to happen. You have to know when to say stop and when to say no.
I think early on I made some mistakes by taking some really unscrupulous clients who … I think I got paid most of the time, but, boy, there’s a thing in consulting called scope creep where someone says, “Well, I’d like you to put one egg in one section of the egg carton,” and before you know it, they’re asking you to put 12 eggs in 12 sections and it’s three-egg cartons.
I had to learn how to envision a project and set down some ground rules ahead of time. I made a lot of mistakes before I did that. Good copywriters are usually smartasses and they’re clever. You have to learn how to balance your need to be clever in order to catch attention with your … Not your need but your mandate to sell.
Boy, I don’t know how to give you some rules of thumb on that, but it’s very important not to go too far off the deep end if it’s not going to help someone sell. On the other hand, you can’t bore people into buying, as David Ogilvy said. There’s a happy medium, there’s a midpoint on that. I think there have been times when my cleverness got the best of me and I wrote a copy which was incredibly amusing and not particularly effective.
Kira: David, where in your journey did you switch to coaching? Was it a gradual change for you where you were balancing both for a while before you moved full time into coaching?
David: That’s a good question. I actually started coaching before I started copywriting, but only sporadically. I didn’t really start writing copy until the early ‘90s. I remember my first coaching client was Barbara Block, who has since become an international bestselling author in women in money issues, and just recently heard from her on LinkedIn. She said how appreciative she was for me getting her started. That was ‘87. I didn’t do a lot of coaching since then.
What happened was there would be these situations. For some reason, the ones I can remember most happened in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, where I don’t spend a lot of time, but I went to a meeting and met Jay Conrad Levinson, a friend of mine had written a book with him, and all the authors were getting together. Jay took a look at me, shook my hand, and said, “Would you like to write Guerrilla Direct Mail with me?” We ended up doing other stuff together.
There was a class I took in Marin County in a separate occasion where there were a couple of other writers and there was a screenwriting class. One was a novelist and one was a journalist. I would always spout off about how copywriting was like screenwriting. It got the teacher very annoyed. They came up to me after class one day and said, “David, if you don’t stop talking about copywriting, we’re going to beat … “ No, they didn’t say that. They said, “David, this thing … “ Well, I had you there for a second.
David: They said, “Could you teach us how to do copywriting?” I said, “Well … “ [inaudible 13:49]. “Well, if I could record it and sell it as a product, that’d be great.” People just started coming to me. I don’t quite know how or why, but initially people just started asking me to do it, and it was a natural thing for me, which is odd because … Well, no, not entirely odd.
I mean also in 1987, I had my first coach in the business world, a guy named Jim Camp, who went on to become a negotiation guru. Jim passed away a couple of years ago, but he was a profound influence on my life. I think that gave me a different framework for coaching than what I have experienced in school, in college, and even in some seminars I’ve taken. It was a combination of things and ultimately realizing it was something I could do that people wanted and there was room in the market for me.
Rob: What’s involved in the coaching engagement, David? Is it the kind of thing where you start at ground zero or do you start with somebody’s copy and start critiquing that? If I was to hire you as a coach, where would we begin and what would that look like?
David: The way I do it is it’s a four-year program. I ask for people who are in the game, who are actively writing copy for their own business or, if they’re professional copywriters for clients, they’re making money with it. With what I charge, there needs to be something already going on so that they could expand it to get a good ROI.
I mean I’ve had people who took it out of curiosity because they had a lot of spare money in their bank account. They were okay with it, but I felt like I wasn’t able to help them, and that wasn’t a good feeling. I mean I guess I was; they just wanted to know what it would be like to be coached in copywriting without actually being coached.
I tend to work with people who have some experience. The way I do it is I’ll start out with a couple of questionnaires and a Kolbe test. Are you familiar with the Kolbe Index A test?
Rob: Yeah. A few people actually have mentioned it on the podcast.
David: Yeah. It’s very good. It’s not an intelligence test or a personality test. It’s basically how you allocate your energy in terms of how you use your brain. That helps me a lot learning about their learning style and what coaching style I should use.
We start out with some assignments; some of them are standard, some of them are customized. I keep my coaching relationships confidential, but I’ll tell you I have one guy, he is overseas. I’m having him watch movies and do a particular form of analysis of the movies that I came up with so that he can fill in a gap in his copywriting skills, and it seems to be working. He likes watching the movies, so that’s fun.
Rob: That sounds like a good coaching program, right? I get to watch movies all day.
David: Yeah. Oh, no, just one and then there’s some work involved afterwards. Yes, every session involves a critique. If you were my client, I’d ask you to give me something that you’re working on to look at. I might also give you a writing assignment. Sometimes copywriters are the worst self-promoters. They’re really great at everything else.
I had one client. He was actually in the personal growth space. He was writing a lot for personal growth people, and he’s doing really well. I said, “You should write your story.” It was very abstract and not personal, which is funny. When you think about the thing that makes personal growth personal is the first word, “personal”.
We kept working on that, in addition to many other things, but assignment after assignment. When he finally got it right, a major guru in the personal growth space out of the blue called him and asked him to do a Skype interview to be part of his next product.
Weird things happen like that, but I actually went back to school after having coached for … If we started ‘87, we could say 20 years, but I really didn’t get into the coaching until the mid ‘90s, late ‘90s, and took a graduate level coaching program. I was fighting with them 90% of the time because they had these ideas like, “The answer is always within the client. All you have to do is be a mirror.”
That might be true for psychotherapy or maybe life coaching, but for copywriting, a very small portion of what I do involves that. A much larger portion involves … I’d say it’s more like a 14th Century apprentice program. “Do this. Okay. You did this this way. Okay, look at what’s missing. How would you change that?” A lot of it’s very didactic instruction.
Alive, really, because the thing I think about is, okay, I grew up in Maryland. I went to Meadow Hall Elementary, Edwin W. Broome Junior High, that was before they had middle schools, and Richard Montgomery High School. Then I went to the University of Michigan. I’m not giving my resume, but I’ll tell you in all of the thousands of hours I spent in those schools, I was not encouraged to be provocative. I was not encouraged to cause emotional reactions with what I said or did. I was programmed, trained to be very compliant and agreeable.
That doesn’t serve you too well when you’re writing copy. You’ve got to upset the apple cart emotionally a little in order to get the prospect engaged. I went through quite a transformation about that, and hopefully I’ve got that stuff pretty well sorted out in my own life. A lot of people don’t. A lot of people, especially when they’re writing when they’re under stress, they’re going to default to the old programming. It’s not going to do them or their client or the prospect any good.
Part of what we do is we work on changing … You can’t change what’s there, but you can build an alternative default, alternative knowledge base or behavior baser or mindset base you can refer to. That’s a big piece of what I do. People start to see things differently as a result of having a set of options to see the world more as a copywriter and less as a good, obedient employee.
Kira: Wow! Okay. That’s really interesting because I feel like Rob’s heard me complain already today about how I’m so overwhelmed with the project, but I’ve noticed that I have defaulted back and I’m not being as provocative right now because I’m in that stage of overwhelm. It was good to hear that. I’m just wondering, for clarity’s sake, if someone wants to work with you, they do need to commit to a year. It’s not like I can just say, “Hey, David. I’ve got a sales page. What are you doing next week? Can we work on this sales page together?”
David: Well, I do have another thing where I do one-off critiques.
Kira: You do? Okay.
David: I do. I have that. Those I fit in when I can. If they want to work with me, they should go to garfinkelcoaching.com. It’s all laid out there. It’s garfinkelcoaching.com, because there are about six ways to spell Garfinkel. I happen to spell it the best one, but there are other ways to spell it.
Rob: Well, you’re a copywriter.
Kira: Well, of course-
Rob: Of course, you know how to spell Garfinkel.
Kira: I’m asking all these questions, these are all personal questions for me, but what should we look for in a copy coach?
David: I’d say three things. I’d say the first thing is chemistry. I don’t do pre-conversations before the critiques because they’re just buying my time for that. If you’re going to have a relationship over the course of the year, you need to be able to get along. I mean if there’s something about the way I stutter or stop and think a little bit and that drives you crazy, it’s not going to work. Likewise, I mean somebody who’s very successful came to me and said they’d like to get some coaching and I told her, “I’ve looked at some of your videos, and our styles are so different. I don’t think I could be a good coach for you.”
I’d say chemistry is one. I would say a track record of actually having written copy under the gun where the results mattered is another. They need to have done it. I think the best copy coaches that I know have that.
The third thing is the ability to coach, the ability to teach. You can be a very good copywriter and not be a particularly adept coach or teacher or mentor. There are different skills. You obviously need to take the skills you learn in copywriting and package them, or embed them, there’s the word, embed them into the coaching.
This is very loaded, but I wouldn’t want Tiger Woods to be my golf coach. Maybe my playboy coach, sure, but not my golf coach. There are much better golf coaches who aren’t necessarily great competitors. I’d say those three things: chemistry, track record, and competency in coaching.
Kira: Is it fair to say that all copywriters should work with a copy coach at some point, every project, or what is fair to say?
David: Yeah, I wouldn’t say that’s right. I think what’s important is you need to be a part of the community or part of a one-on-one relationship where there’s some feedback from someone who’s been there and done that.
That could be anything from working in an ad agency to being in something like Kevin Rogers’ Copy Chief to taking seminars, going to seminars where even if it’s not about copywriting where you might need other copywriters, or you might see one of the speakers speaking about copywriting and it goes to taking online classes and home study courses, because, well, it’s ironic. Copywriting is a very solitary thing. I mean look at you, Kira. You walk on the beach as you’re thinking about … You’re not leading a small platoon of other copywriters; you’re there by yourself when you’re there. I mean in Copywriting Club, maybe you do, but when you’re walking by the beach.
Yet I wouldn’t say it’s exactly social, but it is interactive. When you’re writing good copy, you’re figuratively or functionally having an interactive conversation with the person who’s going to read this. You need to know about other people. You can’t just do it in your mind.
Gary Halbert, I’ll tell you an interesting story that his son, Bond, told me. Bond and I are good friends. I met Gary once. I never really got to know him. I’m sorry that I didn’t. Bond told me that when Gary was working on a sales letter, you wanted to not get in the car with him because he would lock you in there, drive around Key West or L.A. or wherever they lived at the time and keep reading you his lead, his headline lead, from his head over and over until he had it honed. Now that’s not exactly a two-way conversation, but he would be looking for your response.
Gary also used to write letters for some mass market products and go down to a bar and show people the letter. If they said, “That’s a great letter,” he’d say, “Oh, thank you.” If they said, “Where can I get one of those, Gary?” he knew he had a winner.
Rob: Interesting. I’d love to change gears just a little bit because you’re well-known as copy coach and you do this on your own podcast, which is a fantastic podcast. Kira and I are both fans. Talk about actual copywriting for a few minutes. I’ve got a couple of questions.
Rob: I’ve been through a good chunk of your book Breakthrough Copywriting, where you talk about all kinds of things, headlines, how to formulate an offer, all those kinds of things, stories. I’m curious if maybe we can expand on some of the ideas in the book a little bit and talk about the best ways to handle objections. I know there’s tons of them, objections to price or skepticism or believability of a mechanism or an offer. What are the best ways you see for handling objections?
David: I’m probably going to answer this in a way I don’t cover entirely in the book. I’m very familiar with the book right now because I’m going through the paces of trying to record an audible book, and, boy, that’s a lot harder than what we’re doing right now. That’s all I want to say about it. I don’t want this to be a pity party for me about the audible recording.
I think the first thing is to either sell it, try to sell it to another person whatever’s in the offer, or having have sold it or talked to a sales person who has sold so you’ll have some visceral experiential sense of what people are going to object to. You and I can both reel off the objections. “It costs too much. How do I know it’ll work? Will this really work for me?” There’s about five or six objections people have. “I don’t trust you. Is this through the mail?” blah, blah, blah. “This is over the internet.”
The reality is you need to actually find out what people really say as opposed to what you think they’re going to say. That’s the first thing. In other words, know what the objections are from your experience. If you’re not going to sell it and if you haven’t sold something like this, talk to the client or talk to one of their sales people and find out so you know what objections you’re actually answering.
I think the best two ways to answer objections are with testimonials, real ones, from customers that answer an objection, like, “It costs too much. I was a little worried about the price here. It was higher than all the other do-hickeys I was thinking of getting, but once I’ve had it, I haven’t had any problems that I have had with other do-hickeys. In fact, it’s probably worth twice as much. I hope that the guy in charge of the pricing doesn’t see this because it’s such a great … “ Okay, it’s a little corny and hackneyed, whatever, but you see the idea. If you get another person saying that and you can get their written permission to use, signed a written permission to use a quote so they’ll be safe in case in whatever challenges you on it.
The other thing, I would say, is with stories. People generally tend to try and answer objections with argument, with logic. There are times where you can use logic in certain ways to answer objections, but I’d say, overall, telling a story that disproves it without being real argumentative is often a better way.
Kira: Through your copy coaching and the clients that you work with, do you tend to see the same copywriting mistakes over and over again that you know you’ll probably address with every client that we can avoid?
David: Good question. There are two big problems that almost everyone has. Let me give you a little background before I tell you the problem. If you’re going to write copy about something, you’re going to do a lot of research on it. You’re going to probably research its competitors, you’re going to find out maybe the origin story, you’re going to get into the details, all kinds of things. Hopefully, you’re very sold on it before you put finger-to-keypad, pen-to-paper, chisel-to-tablet, however you write.
You’re going to forget that your prospect is very skeptical. This is not just about answering objections, as Rob was talking about. This is also about just proving any claim that you’re making that’s obvious to you but not obvious to your prospect. You need to really have a lot of empathy and crawl into your prospect’s mind and see every sentence that has a claim or a promise about the product through your prospect’s eyes and think, “If I were that person, what would I need to see or know or hear in order to believe this?” That’s one thing.
The second thing is not so much for freelance copywriters, except when they are promoting themselves, which is, as you both probably know, a whole different kettle of fish, and also business owners, when they’re writing about themselves and their own businesses.
People tend to make mistakes in two directions. On the one hand, they tend to be too modest and shy and worried about coming across as being braggadocious and whatever, and so they don’t say much. The other thing is they confuse a sales letter or a piece of copy or a VSL or a print ad or whatever they’re writing with a resume. Nobody cares that you got a gold star in third grade for being on time more than any other student, but … Well, maybe an employer would, or maybe if you were a member of the on-time club, you could be in the senior leadership.
For the most part, that’s not important. I’m giving you a ridiculous example, but nobody cares what degrees you have, nobody cares what awards your business has one. They really don’t. They’re looking for relevant credentials, and sometimes people give irrelevant credentials that are important to them but not important to their prospect. It just waters down the parts of their copy where they could have credibility.
Rob: Those relevant credentials include things like successful projects, I’m assuming?
David: Sure. Successful projects, particular specialties in writing different types of copy. You know what I mean? Knowledge of Facebook ads or expertise in writing email launch sequences. If the person has training in industry guru, that would be good. Also, a testimonial from a client about a successful project or a case study. All of those things are good.
Think about it. If you’re at Starbucks with somebody and you have a new martial arts teacher. The person says, “Oh, he’s probably hacked just like everyone else.” You go, “No, he’s not. He won this competition and he’s been in these dojos and he’s done this. He’s able to show me how to do things I’ve been trying to learn for years. I finally understand them.” Those are all relevant credentials.
If you take it out of life, if you take it out of a situation where your sense of embarrassment or your sense of urgency or the pressures of the work situation aren’t present and you think about what would you say if someone was challenging you about a decision you made, how would you justify it to that person so that they would stop bugging you about it? That’s what I mean by relevant credentials.
Kira: That’s really helpful. I’m just thinking through the copy coaching on the flip side. I know that we’ve been asked recently by another copywriter, “Is it too early to start coaching other copywriters? Because I’m only just getting started. I’ve been copywriting for a couple of years. Is it too soon to start coaching others?” I know Kevin Rogers said on our show something along the lines of it’s always good to teach. It’s always good to teach someone who’s a couple of steps behind you. That’s how you can learn. I’m just curious to hear what your opinion is on that.
David: Let me start with some rules of thumb. I think you should teach what you know and teach what you’ve done, not teach what you’ve read about or teach what you think is a good idea. I mean if you look at, for example, Scientific Advertising, the book by Claude Hopkins, one of the things he says in there is, “There’s no theory in here. Everything I’m writing about comes from proven tests, measured track tests.” I think you should apply the same thing to yourself. What do you know about that someone doesn’t yet know about that you can help them with and what don’t you know about and say, “That’s not my area”?
For example, with me, I have tried so many times and finally I just drawn a line in the sand. I can’t help people who aren’t making money as a copywriter. It’s not because of my fees, because there are a lot of people with a lot of money who haven’t done any copywriting and might like some help. I can’t help them. I don’t know why. I’ve tried it, it doesn’t work.
I’ve been good at developing my own career, I’ve been good at helping people who are already getting clients get better clients and make more money and this and that, but I can’t work with beginners. That’s me. Everyone’s got their strengths and weaknesses.
I think you need to take a hard look at what your strengths are and you need to maybe either do a little test or just do a visualization of how would you teach someone else that. Of course, you’re not going to know everything about how to do something when you start, but if you have a comfort level about it and you have something to teach people or you know how to coach people, then do it. Just frame what you’re doing to the limits of what you can do.
I mean one of the biggest problems with copywriting with this whole business is people making ridiculous claims that-
Rob: What are you talking about? That doesn’t happen.
David: Oh, well, maybe not in copywriting. I guess other businesses I’m talking about.
Rob: You’ve seen the book the Billion Dollar Copywriter, I’m sure.
David: I haven’t, but, wait, that one sounds good. I think I know one guy who might qualify for that, Ted Nicholas, maybe Gary Bencivenga, I don’t think so.
Rob: We talked a little bit about some of the things that a lot of beginning copywriters, the mistakes they might be making, but let’s say that I’m a decent copywriter and I want to be great. What are the two or three things I really should be focusing on to take my skill set to the next level?
David: Okay. Excellent question. The first thing is you want to figure out what you’re great at and what you’re not, and figure out how much energy and effort and time can you put into the thing that you’re great on and how little energy and effort and time can you put into the things that you’re not great at while still … I mean you might be terrible at proofreading. Well, hire a freaking proofreader. You don’t have to go to proofreading school.
The first thing is find out what your qualities are that you’re good at. The second thing is are you familiar with the name Anders Ericsson and the term “deliberate practice”?
Rob: Yeah. His book is a great book.
David: Yeah, the latest one, Peak, right?
Rob: Yeah. That’s the study that Malcolm Gladwell talked about that started the whole 10,000-hour rule, which was maybe not really what Anders was talking about, but, yeah, a great book].
David: Well, yeah. Anders put out Peak with a co-author since Gladwell put out his oversimplifying deception, which I don’t have a lot of happiness about. Yeah, Anders Ericsson is a professor at Florida State University, and he’s really studied what does it take to become excellent.
There’s a concept called deliberate practice, and this stuff ain’t fun. This is about working on things that are painful to work on in order to get better. This is about within the area of your greatness, finding the weaknesses there; not the proofreading but maybe you’re good at headlines, but you’re not so good at leads. It’s probably going to be a little painful to get better at leads, and you need to work on that incessantly and have someone to work with you on that, a coach or a mentor or a copy chief or a colleague or something, and learn to embrace the pain and the discomfort a little bit.
I’d say that’s the second thing. The third thing is … Kira’s not going to like this, I don’t think, because she walks on the beach.
David: You need to give up the idea of a balanced life. Just forget about it.
Kira: Oh, don’t worry. My life’s not balanced.
Rob: We’re well beyond balanced, that’s for sure.
David: Okay. Okay. As long as you’re unbalanced, then we’re in the same room.
Kira: Very unbalanced.
Rob: There aren’t very many writers more unbalanced than the two of us.
David: Oh, okay. Well, that’s comforting in an uncomfortable way.
David: I mean if you want to be good at something, you need to work at it a lot. I mean a lot, and for a long period of time. That’s why I think you need to focus on the things that you’re good at already because that gives you a running start. I think, in general, those are the three things, I’d say.
Kira: That’s really helpful. Hey, while I was running on that beach, I was listening to your podcast and learning. I wasn’t totally balanced there.
David: Oh, good. You weren’t visualizing waves lapping … Oh, you didn’t have to because the waves were already lapping up on the shore.
Rob: She was visualizing cash registers ringing as they….
David: Now that’s secret number four. I forgot that one, yes.
Kira: Well, that’s where it’s helpful to have a mentor, a coach, to have someone put that mirror up and someone who knows your work and can say also, “Here’s where I see you’re doing very well,” because I think a lot of our copywriters have said, “I don’t know necessarily what I’m doing well or where I fit in to this picture.” I think that’s also a challenge.
David: Yeah. That’s hard in the beginning. I mean I wish there were a dozen Kevin Rogers. I mean I don’t know if I could handle that much comedy in my life, but I love what he’s doing.
Kira: A lot of comedy.
David: I’m actually talking about the Copy Chief thing. I mean that’s such a good thing. I don’t know of too many others. There probably are. You guys probably know more about that than I do, but if there are beginner and intermediate levels where you can be in a community, get feedback. There are a lot of things which are crappy, which I’ll just avoid mentioning, but there must be some other good things out there. I just don’t know what they are.
Kira: Well, our free Facebook group, which we’ll give a shout out to, that’s where you can jump in and connect to people.
David: Yeah, that’s a good place to go.
Kira: They need that mirror. What does your business look like today as far as what’s happening behind the scenes? How many clients do you work with each month? I want to know everything. What does your typical day look like? I don’t know if we have time for all of that, but whatever you’re willing to share.
David: Sure. Right now I have nine clients, which is I’m just maxed out and I have a waiting list at this point. I meet with each one twice a month for an hour and a half, but there is both observable prep and follow up, as well as the mental work, even the point where, on occasion, I know there’s a problem I have to solve with a client and there’s no known way to do it, no known way I know of, and I will literally ask my unconscious mind to come up with a way to do it. It always works and I always don’t get that much sleep that night, but that doesn’t happen all the time. That happens once in a while.
I’ll generally do two clients a day on Monday and Tuesdays. Then I have one client who can’t do that because of her schedule and her children, so meet on Wednesday morning. Generally, it’s Mondays and Tuesdays.
I’m a copy consultant to Agora Financial, which is one of Agora’s companies. There are many Agora companies. They’re the biggest one. I have incredible respect and affection for them, which is an unusual feeling for me to have about a publisher.
We have a conference call every Tuesday. It’s a private, closed conference call where we’ll go over a piece of copy or we’ll have a guest speaker. Last week, we had someone from the marketing department. At this company, it’s basically the telesales department. They talk about some of their techniques and how they’re improving conversions and improving revenues. I do that every Tuesday. Because they’re on the east coast and I’m in California, they have their call at 10:00, but I have to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 7:00 a.m. on Tuesdays. Tuesdays can be a little bit of a challenging day. Then I’ll have two clients after that.
On Thursdays and Fridays, well, we’re recording this on a Thursday, I do podcast interviews on Thursdays. I record my own podcast with Nathan on Thursdays. I’m also working on my audible book and I’m planning on creating some new products and writing another book. I’ll be working on that. Then sometimes I’ll … I guess I haven’t really organizes this, but my critique calls would generally be on a Thursday or a Friday, probably more on Thursday, when someone just wants to sign up for a one-hour critique. There’s a lot of coffee and Facebook and checking the news and things like that.
Rob: I will say you’ve been very generous jumping into our group and offering advice and answering questions there from time to time, as people have tagged you. We’re grateful for that. We’re running out of time. I want to ask a question about your life away from copy. You’re a musician. I think you’ve composed some music. How does that inform what you do as a copywriter?
David: Yeah, great question. My hobbies, I guess, are music and drawing. One time I draw really … Occasionally when I’m doodling or when I have to sign in one of those screens, one of those electronic screens where you sign to receive packages or signing credit cards, I’ll draw the face of the person in front of me just to get a little practice. They usually like it, even though they’re, between you and me and Kira, really bad drawings.
I started playing music when I was nine, and I stopped when I was 19. I got the bug. I’ll tell you a really strange story. You might have to cut this because it might be too disgusting.
Kira: No, we like disgusting.
David: Good. Well, I had prostate surgery … It was not cancer, but an enlarged prostate … in March, and something inspired me to write a song around the general subject. The title was You’re in Trouble. I recorded it and I shared it with my surgeon. This happened last week. He said, “David, we’re having our centennial.” “Our centennial?” “Yes. The Urology Department Centennial at the University of California. If you’d like to do a couple more songs, we could play them.” I don’t know if you guys remember way back in the day I did Fast, Effective Copy with Brian McLeod, do you? Yes? No?
Rob: I’ve seen the sales page for that, yeah.
David: Okay. Well, Brian is quite a musician and had a great sense of humor. He said, “David, I think you’re going to call these songs in the key of P.” I thought, “Oh, that’s good.”
Rob: We’re going to have to link to this. We need an album, like an iTunes link or something.
Kira: I know.
David: Yeah, he said it could be an EP rather than an LP. I said, “Stop with it. Stop. Stop already.” Yeah, I do that. Also, it’s taken me a long time. When I first started again, I took jazz lessons. I felt like an idiot. I just couldn’t do it. I found my way around to acoustic blues. I really love that. I’m not nearly as good as I’d like to be, even just to have the basics, but that I’m willing to practice. I wasn’t really willing to practice jazz stuff because I couldn’t, it was just too complicated.
But I found some really good courses at homespun.com. I practice that maybe 20 minutes a day. I should probably practice two hours a day, but it’s a hobby. It’s a hobby with benefits. You get to put University of California, San Francisco Medical School on your LinkedIn page. There you go.
Kira: Well, I’m glad Rob put that question in to hear that story. I know we are out of time, David, so I want to thank you for spending time with us and sharing your advice and wisdom with us. If our listeners want to find you, can you share once again where they can find you online?
David: Sure. An easy thing to do is to follow me or to friend me on Facebook, and I’ll probably look at if you have a few friends of mine already or if you have a large group. It’s David Garfinkel SF. I also have a public page called David Garfinkel Copywriting Coach. I post all the podcast to that. There’s copywriterspodcast.com, or if you want to subscribe to it, it’s garfinkelcoaching.com/podcast.
If you want to find out … I don’t do a lot of emails back and forth. I’m not a real chatty person outside of Facebook, where I have a completely different personality. You can explain that. I don’t have any idea why. Only place in the world I’m really social. I’ll answer questions sometimes, not the kind of questions that require a lot of analysis and step-by-step, but little things.
David: I guess the other thing is get in your group and get in the Copywriter Club Facebook group and tag me. I’ll probably show up and say something.
Kira: Well, I’m going to add you as a friend on Facebook now that you said that.
David: Yeah, do it. I mean with a last name like Hug, how can I go wrong?
Rob: Exactly. Well, David, thank you very much for your time. I will add that we think that your podcast is a great balance to ours, where we talk about a lot of the behind the scenes things in copywriting businesses and you talk about the actual art of copywriting. I think a lot of our listeners would get quite a bit out of listening to your podcast in addition to ours. Thank you very much for taking the time to spend the last hour with us. It’s been incredible, it’s been great.