For the 62nd episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast, Kira and Rob brought former screenwriter, movie producer and copywriter Jamie Jensen into the studio to talk all about her copy business. She shares the good and the bad and why she decided to shut down her agency just as it was really taking off. We also talked about:
• how her dad unknowingly put her on the path to copywriting as a kid
• why she left Hollywood to make her own movie, then jumped to copywriting
• what she did early on to attract clients to her business (her no-strategy strategy)
• how she developed a unique brand voice (Hollywood helped)
• the systems and processes she used to connect with her customers
• the place honesty and enthusiasm plays in attracting clients to her
• why she decided to grow a micro-agency instead of staying a sole proprietor
• the challenges the come with running an agency—she shares the dark side
We also asked Jamie about what she’s doing today, the course she just created and launched, and her one word tip for course creators. Lots of laughter in this one and some painful lessons. Click the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
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 can 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 62 as we chat with copywriter, filmmaker, and storyteller Jamie Jensen, about going from Hollywood to hot copy, the importance of storytelling when it comes to writing copy with personality, working with a team of writers, the ins and outs of creating courses, and how making a movie made her a better copywriter.
Kira: Jamie, welcome!
Jamie: Thank you! Thank you so much for having me!
Rob: It’s great to have you, yes!
Kira: Yeah! You were on our list early on as someone that we wanted on the show and it’s nice to have a fellow New Yorker on the show, as well! So a great place to start is, you know, you went from Hollywood to hot copy. So we want to know, how did you even get into copywriting?
Jamie: Sure! Well, what’s interesting is for me, for my story, is that my dad was an entrepreneur, so I actually grew up with a lot of like, copywriting things around me already, meaning, not just like, from the sales perspective of reading books about sales and marketing and all of that stuff, like, they were always around the house because my dad was marketing his own business, and doing things like buying domain names up and coming up with catchy things that he wanted to trademark for his business. And even like, direct mail was still a big thing then, so I would even help him like, review mailers that he was sending out to his physical mailing list, because that was a thing, you know?
And so I actually grew up exposed to a lot of that to begin with, and the way that I made the transition from Hollywood to hot copy was I had made a film. So you know, I left Hollywood, I’d kind of had enough, came back to New York City where I’m from, and my producing partner and I decided at the time that we were going to just make our own film. So I had already written the script and she had been working on it as a producer and we decided like, you know what? Forget guys, by the way, because at this point we had both had a lot of negative experiences with men in the entertainment industry; we were like, we’re going to shoot this movie—no offense, Rob—
Rob: Well, I was going to say, it’s not like men in the entertainment industry have a bad name or anything…
Jamie: I mean… no! They’re so respectful to women! Have you watched the news lately? (laughs) It’s so great!
So, we were like we’re going to make our movie ourselves, we’re going to have a fully female crew, it’s going to be amazing, so we did and that was amazing. And ultimately, it ended up being digitally distributed, so we got a digital distribution deal with one of the digital distribution companies and that really taught me a lot about like, digital marketing and you know, we had started working with this one consultant… who… I don’t think that it was very helpful actually, when we worked with them, but we just had to figure so much out about like, okay, well, we’re going to be on iTunes, and what does that mean, and how do we launch? Just all of the things that come with like, launching a piece of content digitally that weren’t things that we necessarily thought about or had learned in grad school with producing, because we had learned like, the business of the entertainment industry.
And so, kind of making that transition and having to think through the marketing process like, even just putting my head into it kind of got me more thinking about you know, digital marketing and like, what room there is for different types of content on the internet and what the value of content on the internet is and how it all works and where those things cross over.
I had to write copy, we had to write copy for our film. We had to write like, descriptions, and we had to create a website, and it’s funny looking back now, now that I know what I know, also if I could go back in time, what I would do differently with that as well. But just figuring out that process kind of got me into thinking about like, just writing other types of things for hire.
Kira: Interesting, and so, what would you do differently if you looked back on that time when you were marketing your movie?
Jamie: I mean, the website wasn’t very awesome. (laughs)
Kira: Can we see it? Is it something that we can find?
Jamie: It’s not! We actually like, gave up, we shut down; we still have the domain, but we shut down the website about a year ago and the movie is still on iTunes and it’s – so you can go and watch the trailer, it’s around, but the website is not still live. It’s just looking back now, I think we could’ve had a lot of fun marketing the movie and kind of developing more of an audience for it before we released it, you know, and obviously foresight is 20/20, but we were so focused on creating the project and that was so much investment and so much work and time and energy that I don’t know that it would’ve been possible to do more, but I wish that we would have. You know?
Rob: We’re going to link to like, the IMDB page, so that everyone can see your movie.
Jamie: Okay! Sure! (laughs)
Kira: What is it called?
Jamie: It’s called Hannah Has a Ho-Phase.
Kira: Oh! Right, okay. So, you realize that there’s other opportunities for copywriting, marketing opportunities; how did that turn into your business? Is there a rough year you can give us because I want to dig into those early days in your business.
Jamie: So, I had actually, there were a few different ways that I had kind of, ran around and ended up—Hot Copy became a business. And so, initially, when I decided to branch out and start my own business, I was interested in copy. Because I was doing it for free for people already, like I had friends that I went to high school with who were creative entrepreneurs and they were starting their own businesses and they were coming to me to help them with their about pages and they were coming to me to help them with their website copy.
And so, I wasn’t even considering that that was something that people could pay me for, it was just the person people came to for that. That was a hint that like, you know when like a guy is interested in a girl, and it’s really obvious to everyone but the girl? It’s like, that was my relationship with copy in the beginning. It was like, oh yeah, totally, like this is so the thing that I do, but total unawareness around the fact that it’s a valuable service to offer someone, so I actually, when I first branched out into having a business, I was excited about coaching writers and working with writers, particularly after leaving Hollywood and developing more of what I consider life-balance for myself as a writer.
So I was excited to work with other writers who were doing time in Hollywood and help them kind of design more of a lifestyle that was healthy and look at other streams of income that they could be creating for themselves while they were kind of waiting for their projects to pop, essentially. So, that was kind of when I first started my business, I want to say that was like 2012. That was what I intended on doing.
What’s funny is, that’s ultimately what my agency ended up becoming anyway. So, that was what I intended on doing and I did coach a handful of writers in the beginning and it was only through like six straight months of considering building a business and not really going full time and figuring it out and then it dawned on me that I was writing copy for free. And writing my own copy as I was building my own business and realizing like, oh, this is the thing that I actually want to be doing that feels really good and exciting.
Rob: So Jamie, I think a lot of copywriters would be very envious to hear that projects were just falling into your lap, almost, but you must’ve been doing something to draw attention to what you were writing or the clients that you were working with that brought in additional clients, so you know, what was it that you were doing that was attracting them to you?
Jamie: Well, I didn’t fully open up shop. I didn’t decide that like, I hadn’t committed fully that copywriting was going to be my business 100% until like, six months into discovering what my business was, so it wasn’t until I believe, March 2013, and at the end of 2012, I had signed up for a business course with Rebecca Tracy, Uncage Your Business, who I adore, she’s a great friend of mine, and it was through that process of doing that course, like trying to develop this like, I want to work with writers, I don’t know how, but like, I really want to help them… and writing copy… and so that was initially the people I was writing for were the people that knew me from other parts of my life, like I was bartending, I had people who knew me from the bar business, and a lot of the people in the bar business were also creatives.
Some of them were graphic designers, and they did freelance at ad agencies also, so just kind of honestly, being me, showing up in the world as myself, brought clients to me. And I know that that sounds really corny, but it’s true; I showed up as me in this business course and I was just being funny and writing great copy and making jokes and then people wanted my help with things that they were trying to create or name or come up with taglines for, and I ended up showing up in Rebecca Tracy’s Facebook group, like her free Facebook group, again, just as myself, having fun, being helpful to people. Honestly, in the beginning, I had no specific strategy around getting clients. I was just like, hey, I’m so excited to be doing this now!
And I know that that sounds really awful, but like, that’s the honest truth, you know when people ask me like, what I did, I’m like, I didn’t strategically search for clients, I was actually enjoying bartending and I knew that I wanted to eventually stop but I was in no rush to be like, oh I need this to replace my income tomorrow. You know? I was in a very big debate with myself over how much I would miss and I do miss bartending because I get to physically be with people in a space; that does not exist now. Because I’m a gremlin in a room by myself all day now, which is not always the funnest. And like, what I always tell copywriters when I’m working with people, especially in the beginning, is that the best thing that you can do for your business, especially in the first 6 months, is do great work for people.
Rob: Totally agree.
Kira: Yeah, oh my gosh.
Jamie: Like, a lot of my clients in the beginning were just like, wow’d with the work that I was doing. They loved the experience of working with me, I made it easy and fun, I created a very professional system and process from the beginning so that they felt really taken care of and it was just – their experience as a client, the product they received, you know, they just loved working with me. And then it became word of mouth and referrals and they just kept coming. You know, I really believe that focusing on like, your current clients is the most valuable thing you can do for your clients. Especially in the beginning.
Everyone’s obsessed with marketing and everyone’s obsessed with funnels and like, how can I bring in leads and lead generation and I’m like, take really good care of your clients.
Rob: Yeah, let’s unpack that just a little bit. You said you developed some systems and processes that made it really easy to work with you. Tell us about what that looked like.
Jamie: So I have a very clear brand voice, right? Like, Your Hot Copy is a very clear brand voice and that was clear from the beginning. So I’m also not going to discount that I think that having been a writer in Hollywood, which meant that for years prior to starting my business, I was already in the process of, well, what’s your voice and what’s marketable about you? And thinking in terms of like, okay, well, what’s sexy about this project? So already having thought that way and already having done this work on voice and what makes me marketable and what’s like, cool about me as a writer and what makes me pitchable and sexy and interesting to work on a project, it was kind of like I’d already laid the foundation of thinking through who I was and what made me appealing as a writer. So by the time I launched my copywriting business, that was already clear.
Jamie: So when I launched my first brand, I was like, oh, duh, I’m just going to take all of this and apply it to this business because I’ve already done the foundational work of people knowing who I am, what I sound like, what kind of writer I am, what experience they’re going to get. So there was a consistent brand voice throughout the process. For example, my website spoke volumes about who I was. Even my first website – I did the work for myself before I did it for my clients. So, my website sold me. And then, you know, when people kind of went through the process, the onboarding process of hiring me, every touch point was on brand.
So you know, they fill out an inquiry form to potentially hire me, they get an auto-responder back that’s the same level of fun and excitement as the rest of my website, and then when I reach out to them to schedule a call, again, they get a message from me that’s communicating the same experience level, the same voice, the same you know, they’re in the same world, if that makes sense. So a lot of those touch points, like, I just kept consistent, like the brand voice was consistent so there was just this like, consistency that allowed clients to feel taken care of and they could trust the experience and trust the process and know that I’m not a phony.
I feel like, it’s confusing for people when they see one thing but then get another thing on the back end. So there’s that part, and then also, once people booked with me, I just had a very like, I have a very systematic way of working and my business still runs very systematically. And I’ve always been that way, so they get an intake form, they schedule a call, then this happens, then this happens, and I just have a very specific process that I work with people through, and it’s kind of always been that way and I think that them, even something as simple as like, if you’re going to be late by a day, let people know.
Jamie: Set expectations and then meet expectations, or exceed expectations. You know? I’ve heard that a lot of people work with copywriters and they have an experience of like, sitting and waiting and wondering when something is going to show up, or like, you know… because the copywriter is over there doing the work, but for the client, they’re like patiently or impatiently waiting for their copy to arrive, and kind of like wondering and not knowing when it’s going to come or what it’s going to be like.
Even throughout the process of me writing stuff, I like to touch base and just be like, hey, I know it’s coming this day, but here’s what’s going on, or here’s what I’m excited about, or I have a question for you. So you know, I just think that having those touch points that give that client that feeling of consistency and that they’re being taken care of and the process is professional, all of that helps.
Kira: So I love all of that because systematizing what we do is challenging for a lot of copywriters, including myself. Could you share some of those other touch points, especially for new copywriters that may be doing it or not doing it? You mentioned intake forms, schedule a call; what are some of those other touch points and how are you managing that in your system? Through what type of project management system so that it does stay on track?
Jamie: When I’m doing 1:1 work, a lot of it is just me managing it. So, I didn’t actually set up a project management system for my business that we used consistently until I want to say a year and a half ago, when there were just more projects and more clients to manage at once.
That being said, my answer to that question of touch points, is, it’s every moment that your client is engaging with your brand and your business. Like, that’s where you are developing a relationship with your client. So touch point one might be someone recommended you and then they might’ve said like, oh well, hire this writer because they’re insert three adjectives here, like whatever the brand stands for, that’s probably how people are describing you to others when they’re referring you. So assuming that that’s how you actually are, then they go to your website and then your website speaks to all of those three adjectives or qualities that that person’s describing you as so there’s a touch point.
Then they decide that they want to reach out and get in touch with you so they fill out a form on your website or use a contact thing or maybe they schedule a sales call with you directly on your website, all of the languaging and all of the experience as they’re going through that process, whether it’s scheduling or filling out a form, that’s another touch point where you have an opportunity to make an impression.
Then, depending on what that sales process is for you, you’re going to get on the phone with them, the relationship you have with them then gets deeper as you’re connecting with them. Is the way that you’re talking with them on the phone the same way that your brand sounds? That’s important for that to be consistent. So there’s that touch point. And then there’s like, if they decide to start working with you, the payment system. The project management system. I think there’s about four or five different systems in business that you want to be setting up, so all of those are touch points. How are you invoicing? Are you invoicing on time? When can they expect it?
And then, closing a project out. So there can be like the starting process, the onboarding and the off-boarding. Delivering your first draft is a step in the process. I’m trying to walk through it chronologically in my head but I keep talking about it out of order right now. As I’m saying it, I’m like, there’s all these touch points – but I’ve been doing it for so long that I forget! I haven’t mapped it out in a while. They contact you, they put a deposit down, they get their start stuff, then, maybe you get a welcome gift, they get a welcome packet, you set up your first call, you deliver a draft, you have a revisions process, whatever that is for your brand or business, you have a specific timeline that you work within, like it might be longer or shorter depending on how you work, and then there’s either another call to go over notes or there’s a revisions process, and there’s a way that you manage getting feedback from your clients.
Then you deliver the feedback, you kind of touch in again, and then delivery of final draft is a huge piece in the process too, like how are you closing the project out, what note are you leaving it on, what’s the experience throughout the entire thing, then there’s off-boarding, so delivering the drafts, final invoices, if that’s how you invoice, sending a wrap-up gift if that’s part of your process as well, or a handwritten note, and then follow ups. So like, then what happens? Do you give them tips on what they can do now that they’ve gotten their copy? It really depends.
A lot of this is also saving you time if there are questions that people tend to ask you every time you work with them, then you can answer all those questions in your welcome packet and your goodbye packet, and then they have everything they need and they’re taken care of!
Rob: That’s really good stuff. And on top of that process, then, you layer in your brand, which is very personality driven and almost unique in some ways. You know, the email that you send out is very Jamie; it feels like you. Every communication that you have feels like you. Tell us a little bit about how you came about to develop your brand personality and how it shows up for your clients and in the world.
Jamie: (laughs) How does my brand personality show up in the world? I don’t know.
Rob: But you are very conscious about like, the things that you create and send out there, though, they’re very reflective of who you are. And it’s a very genuine feeling brand, right?
Jamie: I appreciate that.
Kira: And on social media, too.
Jamie: I appreciate that. (laughs) I’m really just being myself. (laughs) I actually had a call with my like, tech and client care VA recently and she was like, I don’t think that you’re like, she said something about me not being happy with something or I don’t remember what the conversation was but she said something like, I don’t think with your personality you could ever hide anything you’re feeling, ever… and it’s true! Like, I am just very present in my like, whatever – I’m very present in myself. I don’t know how – this is a really weird answer. It just sounds really freakin’ weird. I’m just very honest, brutally honest, and if there’s ever something that bothers me, or feels off to me, I am very aware of my feelings and I’m very sensitive and I’m hyper-sensitive to others and to be honest with you I think that it’s a big reason why I’m good at what I do.
My sensitivity makes me actually an excellent copywriter and excellent screenwriter. Because I feel like my ability to truly feel my feelings, to be aware of what’s going on with myself, and to be transparent about it, especially like in a present moment, helps me really understand like, the psychology and emotional buying behaviors of a customer, and you what? And like characters, which is how I would write for that, like with screenwriting. So, I don’t even know how to answer this as like, a systematic process, other than I think people really… My advice is you know, however you can be empowered to be fully yourself in your business is only going to benefit you. Because again, it comes down to consistency. Like, as authentic as you can possibly be in your brand, in your brand voice, you know, the better. Because then you’ve set this expectation of what the experience of working with you is going to be like.
So for me, like, you know, I’m funny. (laughs) I’m an occasional comedian. Like, the projects that I work on, my screenwriting projects are funny—I write comedy—so for me to like, having a brand that didn’t have jokes would just be weird. And for someone to show up and like, talk to me and then it wouldn’t make sense if I had a really funny website and then someone came to speak to me and I was like the most boring person you’ve ever met in your life. (laughs)
Jamie: It wouldn’t make sense! But honestly, my process is like brutal honesty! It’s a lot of like, how I write, it’s where my comedy comes from; I will say also, that like, when you had asked before about how people were finding you, I also just write things as Facebook statuses and that’s how a lot of friends came to me asking me for copy help. Or help with writing. It was because of the level of honesty that I would consistently use when just writing statuses on Facebook.
Kira: I think it’s highly, I mean, from the posts I’ve seen and I follow you on social media, not only are you active and showing up, which you said earlier is a big part of it – just showing up enthusiastic all along – and that’s what’s attracted people. But because you’re highly sensitive and honest, I think you’re sharing what we’re all thinking but we’re not saying. And I think that helps people want to lean in and want to work with you and I appreciate you saying that you’re highly sensitive as well, because we’re going to have Heather Dominick on the show (find that here) and she talks about being a highly sensitive entrepreneur, which I am as well, and we realized on the show that Rob is not highly sensitive. (laughs)
But I have a feeling a lot of writers are highly sensitive as well. But anyway, I wanted to pivot and ask you about your agency. And you know, it sounds like, I know from watching you from afar early on, you got a lot of traction, you had a ton of clients and if you go to your testimonials page, it’s crazy! It’s like never ending pages because you’ve worked with everyone and have tremendous testimonials. So when did you realize like hey, this is going to turn into something bigger than just me? This is going to turn into a micro-agency. When did you see that path and what did you do to kind of set the wheels in motion?
Jamie: Well, here’s the thing. My agency started because I was booked out, like within the first two months of going full time, and I couldn’t handle it. (laughs)
Jamie: Like that’s how it started. I was like I have too much work! I need help! And Erin, who is also a crazy talented writer and has always been a crazy talented writer and I knew from the business program that I had taken and she was also kind of toying with coaching and writing and not really 100% sure what direction she wanted to go in at the time, but was so talented and was also like writing really clever, witty taglines for people, for fun, had, she just was like, I can help you! Like, I’ll come aboard and I’ll help you, like she had just had her second child so she didn’t have a ton of bandwidth to kind of devote to her own business at the time, so she kind of preferred just coming aboard and you know, she just helped me with a lot of the pieces of the business. Meaning like, thinking through the vision of like, what I really wanted, and you know, at first, I was like I just need you to do a bad first draft of something so that I can come in and like revise it; I just can’t generate everything from scratch myself right now, so at first like, that’s what I was having her do. Then, it turned into her offering unique services through my business, like she’d offer services I didn’t want to offer.
So things that I was going to retire anyway, she was like, I’ll just take them over. I was like great! So if someone wants that, you can do it, and if they want something else, I’ll do it! So it’s really like our relationship is she came aboard, our working relationship and her role in the agency, and my role as well, like, it transformed a lot over the three years. So, initially it was just like, I kind of subcontracted some help to her with projects so that I could not write the first drafts of things and then it became a unique services thing and then it became, you know what, I sort of developed this vision over that time of you know, I’ve always wanted to support other writers, and that’s always been important to me and I started this kind of wanting to help other writers who were “doing time in Hollywood” create other revenue streams and you know, kind of have that flexibility and freedom to do a little work over here for money and then kind of focus on what they really wanted to be focused on as far as like, their work in the world is concerned.
So it kind of transitioned from I’m going to coach them to no, I’m going to staff them. And that’s how that happened. And I was like, I have so many leads I can’t handle, but I know so many writers in LA who are kind of just doing the writing thing and picking up jobs here and there and I’m like, I can make this really simple and easy for them to kind of just have this cash flow stream if they want it; I will train them how to write copy for businesses.
And I also knew that I would be able to communicate with them as far as how I made the leap from screenwriting to copywriting. Like, right, I have the storytelling background, so my approach is very specific to that and the way that I handle brand voice is like, okay, well, we have to look at them as a character. So if you were writing dialogue for a screenplay, that’s what I want you to be identifying when you’re figuring out someone’s brand voice. So that conversation was really easy for me, training them, because that was how I translated and understood the bridge between screenwriting and copywriting.
So that was kind of how that all started. (laughs)
Rob: You make it sound easy, you know, the work just came and the agency just grew and everything is happy, but there have got to be challenges with running an agency. Tell us the dark side.
Jamie: Okay. There’re so many challenges – so many challenges! And the thing is, none of this was easy. Okay? Like, I think a lot of people decide that they want to start an agency or take on a junior writer because like, they think it’ll make their life easier if they don’t have to do all of the writing and that’s just not true at all. That’s absolutely not true at all.
Like, it’s more work. Because you have more clients, you have more writers, so in and of itself that’s more communication, that’s more management, you have to shift the role that you’re playing in your business to be able to hold that. So what I’ve said, and I’ve said this to copywriters that I’ve mentored too, who were considering starting agencies, I’m like, if you don’t have a big why, for why it’s important to you to do this, then do not do it. Because if you’re doing it because you think it’s going to make your life easier, because you think you’re going to make so much more money, you’re not.
And I’m not saying that it’s impossible to do that, but I think if you don’t have a bigger why driving you, then it’s just not going to be rewarding at all. So for me, I really felt excited about providing work to these other writers. That had so much meaning for me and it played into this bigger why and vision with my business and the work that I felt I was doing in the world that felt important to me, which is still something I feel very passionately about. I feel very passionately about writers being compensated for their talent and their skills and it’s like something that’s very important to me.
That drove me. That drove me to kind of build the business and think about the vision and that was what was important to me and why I did it. I think – I had moments of thinking like, well maybe this will be easier, and then it just wasn’t, but I still had that burning purpose behind it. Does that make sense?
Rob: Oh, yeah.
Kira: Yeah, and I love that idea of okay, know your why, and if this is really important to you, if it’s not then just don’t do it, but let’s say somebody has their why, similar to you, and so they’re still moving forward with it, what’s the best way to move forward? Is it to bring on someone like Erin, just to kind of test the waters? See if you like even subcontracting before you expand?
Jamie: Yeah, there are a few things that I would have someone do. First of all, there are like three inquiries that I would have someone ask themselves before they start. One is, why do you really want to do this? What do you really want to get out of it? And what do you really want to feel? What feeling are you going after that this is important to you? So it could be ease, it could be significance, it could be that they think they’re going to make more money, so they want to feel more wealthy or abundant.
So what is the actual reason for yourself why you want this? Right? The second thing is, what role do you really want to play? What job do you really want? I mean, a lot of us start our own businesses because we’re creating the life we really want for ourselves, you know. For some people, copywriting is a freelance thing, it’s a way to make extra money. It’s just the job that they found, whatever. I think for a lot of us who are striking out on our own with our own businesses, like, we’re doing it so that we have a life of choice and that we have flexibility, whether we want more time with our family or we want to be able to travel or we just don’t want to work for anyone else.
A lot of times, when we’re building our own businesses, if we’re bringing on a team and scaling, we have to ask the question of like, well, what job do I want in this company? And what job am I creating for myself? So they have to know, what tasks do they even like in their business and what tasks do they hate in their business and like, what role do they really want to play?
And then the third thing is like, what is the vision? So actually, long term, where do you see this going? And how long are you willing to work at it to get there? Because it’s not quick. It’s a marathon. You know what I mean? To commit to building something into the vision that you want it to be. You know, what actually is that and how long do you think it’ll take you to get there because there’s just a lot of steps in the process to getting there. So I would say please ask yourself those three questions and give yourself clarity before you do anything.
And then the obvious step – or the obvious step to me – the answer I always give is like, yes, absolutely, what you just said. Start with one. Bring on one team member. And experiment with what you want to give to them. And honestly, the first team member could be a VA. For a lot of writers, like, just hire an assistant to start, and then when you’re ready for more, and you decide you want a junior copywriter, I would say, before you’re thinking about building an agency, just experiment with what it’s like to work with one person under you and to take on a couple extra clients, where you’re managing someone else writing, and training them, and just see a) how you like it, and b) is it sustainable for you?
Kira: Okay, so I want to hear more about what this actually looked like for you behind the scenes. Here you are, adding people, you’re training them, what did your role look like when you realized okay, these are the tasks I want to focus on, this is the role I want to play, what was that for you?
Jamie: So at first for me, I was really excited about being the person who provided like, doing the calls with the clients, connecting with clients, pulling their story out of them, doing the strategy; I was very excited to be the person who was doing the strategy and not all of the writing. So I was excited to take sales calls, I was excited to be the face of the brand, I loved thinking about marketing, i loved creating new products and offers.
I created a course within the first 6 months of my business because I was just excited to create things and teach! I was like yay, I have an idea, I want to do it! So I just loved doing that. I just loved that. I also loved working with writers, so a lot of my role was like, I will do the marketing for the business, I will take the sales calls… you know, when Erin first started taking on her own services, she would do her sales calls for her services and I would do my sales calls for my services. So we kind of operated autonomously within the business and she would still send things to me to supervise, and while that happened, when she kind of took over her own services and acted autonomously within the business, I brought on two other writers to start training them and experimenting with me doing strategy and them writing.
So I’d be sending them recordings of calls that I did with clients, and they would kind of draft it out and then I would come in and I would, you know, give them comments and I would explain why I would want things changed, so there’s no way to develop content without developing the writer at the same time, so as I’m working on content, I’m just also doing the job of explaining to them why, like, change this to this but here’s why. Do it this way and here’s why. So you know, it’s obviously that that is a more intensive process than just going in and fixing something yourself. It’s different. So that’s what I was doing and I was loving it because I love training and working with writers. I was working long hours-
Kira: Yeah, let’s talk about the dark side again. (laughs) What that really looked like.
Jamie: The dark side of building an agency is, you have more mouths to feed, so you bring on people and you train them and you put in the work and energy of training them and you get excited and by the way, you’re also training them on like, how you work, what your processes are, what your systems are, so you want to obviously hire people who are self-managing, who already have talent, who learn quick, all of that stuff.
And so there were writers that like, worked out and writers that didn’t. And sometimes, the writers that didn’t would deliver drafts to you that were totally un-useable and then you’d have to write everything yourself to fix it, because you still have to deliver quality product for the client, you know? So a lot of times, it’s doing double the work or extra the work or three times the work; it’s not as agile and efficient as doing it yourself, which is why I’m like, you have to have a bigger why.
When I actually talked about the scaling issue with agencies of, you know, you obviously- hiring is hard, and finding an amazing team is hard, and all of that stuff is hard and then you have the team and you’re like okay great, now lead generation. Is everyone booked out all the time? Do we have enough projects to go around for all of the writers right now? So I think once I kind of got to the point where I had three to four writers, I was then stressed out about having enough work for them. (laughs) So it’s that balance. And it’s also like, the struggle with agencies is always, and it’s been for me the experience of balancing the capacity with the leads. You know? Like okay, well now I have trained writers who can take all the projects, but now I can only book three of them instead of four, so I don’t know what to do about that.
Rob: Listening to you talk about this, you keep saying things like, I “loved” doing strategy, like it’s all in the past tense…
Rob: …like maybe something has changed! (laughs)
Kira: It’s interesting. (laughs)
Jamie: Yeah. (laughs) I also like, I’m really good at strategy, it’s one of my top five strengths, like Strengths Finder strengths; strategy is a natural strength for me, but I actually don’t enjoy it. So that’s something that I’ve discovered over the course of my business. I really don’t love doing strategy even though I’m good at it. So in the beginning I was doing strategy and then eventually, in year three, I was like okay, I’m going to bring in another strategist so that they can have a meeting with the strategist on strategy and then the writer can write and like, I don’t have to touch any of that.
So then that was the next stage. All right, I don’t like this anymore, I’m going to get someone else to do this step. So I got someone else to do that step. It was just a lot of, I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do this, and then rebuilding every time to kind of create more I want to say, agility and efficiency in the business so that I could step into the role of CEO, which I feel I—that’s basically what I’ve been doing for the last 8 months, is like, all right! I have all of these other pieces tasked out and systematized and now I’m like, fully in the CEO role…
Rob: So you’re making some changes to your business, I understand, because of a lot of this. You want to talk about that and how you’re changing your business to fit what you really want?
Jamie: (laughs) Yeah, sure. So, I have made a decision to shut down my agency operations as of November 1st, 2017, and it’s been a hard decision, it’s a scary decision, it’s a sad decision; there’s been a lot of grief around it for sure. But ultimately, the decision comes from the place of like, I’m still not really actually able to be in my own genius zone, in a business where I’m the CEO and the boss and looking at profit and loss and looking at expense reports and thinking about lead generation and marketing and bringing people in and everything that you do when you’re running a business, like all of the departments.
And in the beginning when I first ran my business, I remember feeling the overwhelm of like, oh my gosh, when you have your own business, you have to do all the departments. If I could offload some of the actual contracting work, then it would seem lighter, also, for me, but the reality is that I built a business where I’ve created almost an ideal work environment for a lot of the people on my team because I supported them being in their genius zones, and I supported them doing what they were best at; I would look at what they were good at and then I would put them in the role, you know, I would restructure their role based on their talents and their skillset and I was doing that for everyone except myself.
Jamie: So I came to the conclusion that I need to change things again and I need to kind of dismantle the agency to really give myself the freedom to restructure my business again, or potentially even step away from the concept of CEO altogether in order for me to feel good every day to do what makes me happy and to feel like I’m actually doing my brilliance work and not the work that I’m good at but don’t actually love.
Kira: Okay, wow. I have a lot of questions about it.
Jamie: And I also want to write more film and television stuff. I’m like, I need to be pitching. And doing these things. And it’s time. I’ve taken enough time away from Hollywood, I need to go back.
Kira: Yeah, I was going to ask you, what is your genius zone? And you have so many different strengths, like you said strategy; what is it for you where it actually aligns with what you enjoy? Is it the storytelling piece?
Jamie: Yeah, for me it’s writing, like, literally. Writing is my genius zone. So for me to be running a business where I write for a client twice a year is just, it’s so – literally, I’ll joke about it, like, this is the dumbest thing I ever did. I spent the last four years building a business where I’m not doing the thing I’m actually best at. Like, that’s dumb.
Writing is my absolute, like, I love it, it’s my brilliance, all of that stuff. I also really love supporting writers and entrepreneurs with storytelling; with storytelling, with voice development, and with the creative process. Hilariously, it’s like what I started doing four years ago!
Jamie: Coming back around a little!
Rob: Maybe you could turn that into an agency.
Rob: Or maybe not… yeah.
Jamie: Maybe! (laughs)
So yeah, it’s writing and it’s honestly, it’s ideas, like if I had to be honest with you about what my brilliance zone is, it really is getting ideas and knowing what concept for a campaign or like a product or something marketable, like what are people actually going to be excited about? It’s actually tapping into like, what audiences want and what buyers want, right now. So I genuinely believe that that is like, my actual brilliance as far as like, the work that I do with clients and also with like, my film and TV writing, you know, and the writing piece and the storytelling piece around that.
Kira: Yeah, that all makes sense as you’re saying it. So when you decided to shut down, I know you’re in the process of it now, what does that actually look like? How do you do that and what does your business look like as soon as you shut it down and this new version? Or are you still figuring that out?
Jamie: So shutting down is like, a multi-step process, like everything else, systematic brain. Step one was having conversations with my team one on one, just setting up times and speaking to everyone and letting them know here’s what I’ve decided, and you know in a lot of cases I’m just having my writers continue their working relationship with clients, you know, ending-terminating the contracts with my LLC and then letting them kind of restart their own contracts directly with clients so they can just kind of go right directly for the clients.
So I’ve just been, you know, that step is just making sure that my clients and my writers are taken care of, so that’s been what a lot of these 30 days have been, like, having those conversations, letting our retainer clients know, letting other you know, I’m going to be sending a message just to our like, direct clients about this and letting them know that they’re welcome to contact my writers directly if they want to, and I’m going to be booking some projects for me to write on a limited basis as well, so that’s definitely a step. And notifying my audience that I’m doing this, and just like, telling people. It’s a lot of the like, communication strategy.
It’s communication strategy, really, like who do I need to tell, and in what order, for this to be – for no one to freak out, really. It’s like I don’t want anyone to freak out, so that’s what that process has been like and we’re putting up a one-pager for the website that should be live soonish…
That just basically like, “LOL, JK, we’re not an agency anymore” and (laughs) you know you can hire my writers, you can hire me, you can download the whole story, because I will make it available not on the website, but you can get it in your email if you want it, and yeah. That’s it. And what’s next for me is I have a program story school that I launched in, September? That I’m running that I’m obsessed with and you know, I don’t know when I’m launching it again but my intention is to put my energy into that and into my other writing projects. And working with the limited amount of one-on-one clients too.
Kira: How have you dealt with this big change—a pivot—like, you’ve had multiple pivots in a short amount of time, and all of us will have those and we are having those, maybe not quite as extreme, but we are experiencing those too. So how have you dealt with those, mentally, emotionally, especially such a big one now, so that you know, you don’t completely fall apart because I think that’s the hard part, is being okay when we pivot, and realizing like hey, this thing I thought I was really good at or thought I enjoyed is not working and I don’t want to feel like a failure because I have to keep going and making money, but this is okay. How do you deal with that?
Jamie: You know, I deal with it with my other areas of my life. Really. Like, I have spiritual practices, I have a support team, I have a partner. You know? So I think a lot of it is just give yourself permission to be confused, to grieve, to accept the uncertainty. I think that in a lot of ways you kind of have to have that to build a business to begin with, and to me, this is just another step. And it’s extra sad because it feels like an ending. But like… every ending’s a beginning, #storyschool. (laughs) And you know, honestly, like my first gut reaction to your question is like, I mean, if you have people in your life who will listen to you cry and hug you, you’re fine. It’s a lot of crying and a lot of you know, I have a life coach, I have – I take good care of myself, I do energy healing, I do acupuncture, like, I am woo-woo and I do those things and it does help me. It does help me kind of just like, lean in and be like, alright, next!
Rob: So Story School isn’t your first course; you’ve done a bunch of these and I know we’re really running out of time and bumping up against the hour, but do you have like a top two or three best pieces of advice for people who want to create their own course, what they need to do, what they should maybe avoid doing, and how they can make it successful?
Jamie: I mean, I have tips but it’s not advice that I’ve always followed myself. So I don’t know if you want (laughs) the Jamie Jensen way of course-launching…
Rob: Yeah, of course! That’s why you’re here! We want the Jamie Jensen way.
Jamie: Or… if you want like, learn from my mistakes and do it smarter… (laughs)
Kira: I guess we want to do it smarter… (laughs)
Jamie: So the first time I launched a course I presold it, and I think that’s a smart thing to do. Presell something, then create it. Because then you have the energy and you have the proof that people want it and you don’t waste your time creating a course that no one wants. So I think that’s a smart thing for anyone to do whenever they’re creating something new, just presell. I’m just into preselling. It’s a great way to finance a film, too. (laughs)
FYI. So I’m into preselling. The other thing I would say is, I mean, with Story School I didn’t presell; I was just like, I’m making this, and I’m investing a lot of money into it and I believe in it and I’m doing it. And so I just did it. And that’s a scarier way to go. So I don’t recommend people do that, necessarily; it worked out, but I think it just makes the process a little more stressful and painful. It really depends on your level of risk-tolerance I think.
Jamie: But that’s what I would say. And like, really be willing to co-create something with your students. You know? I think when you’re creating a course or experience or program, you have to adapt to their needs, you have to listen to what they want, and like, that’s the whole point. If you are really invested in supporting them, then you need to meet them where they are, and support their needs and listen, so I think the best business tip that I would give anyone, is like, listen.
Kira: That’s hard to do. Let’s see. So, you mentioned your zone of genius is really the ideas and figuring out what people want right now, so what do buyers in the marketplace want right now? Like, what are you seeing? Because I know you do feel it out and you are sensitive to that. In the marketplace right now, what should copywriters, marketers, be aware of in the space we’re in today?
Jamie: I think this is relevant to copywriters specifically because like, we are, we tend to be B to B, like we’re writing for businesses, so from the perspective of business to business, I think that what audiences want right now and what buyers want right now is like, a deeper level of authenticity and connection with leaders. I think that we’re in this space where like, the superficial just isn’t clicking with people and there’s a lot of like, eye rolling and okay, well, I’ve been through this before, and you know, I see like, Facebook ads not converting as highly, and things like that, where people just want a deeper level of connection, if that makes sense.
Kira: Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah, I think we’re all seeing that and feeling that and aware of that. So, before we wrap, can you just tell us a little bit more about Story School? Like, what – because you are going to launch it again, if somebody is interested what can they expect from it, and where can they contact you if they want to get on the list?
Jamie: So, what Story School really is, is a 12 week program that basically walks you both through like all of the components, what makes a story good, how to think about story, in like, big picture terms. So, it’s a lot of teaching a way of thinking about writing and storytelling and how these elements apply across everything you’ll write, these elements can apply, and they’ll help you create something that gives audiences a more emotionally connected experience and like, a more emotionally invested experience, no matter what you’re writing.
So that’s what Story School is, and it really pulls from all of my experience in Hollywood, all of my degrees; I actually have a degree in dramatic storytelling from undergrad, and then film producing is my graduate degree, and then I’ve worked in Hollywood and I’ve written a lot and I’ve written as a writer and I’ve also been on the buying side with stories where I’ve listened to writers pitch things, so that’s kind of where the course comes from, it’s like from working with many different mentors, reading every book on the subject, and like, from Aristotle to you know, Robert McGee, so that’s basically what the course is. It’s also teaching the hero’s journey in a way that I think has been clicking a lot with my audience and they’re like oh, I never saw it this way, or I never understood it this way, or I never looked at it this way, and it’s just like wow, that really clicked for me in a totally different and new way.
So that’s actually what the course is. And it just gives a lot of practical tools and analysis tools for looking at story. For anything really, for copy, for screenwriting, for a talk, for – just for anything where you’re going to be writing because story is the container, really. So that’s what Story School is. (laughs)
Kira: (laughs) Rob was going to say something…
Rob: I was just going to joke—my breath must be really bad—
Kira: We couldn’t hear you breathing.
Rob: I was going to say you know, even if you’re not interested in buying the course, you should at least get on the list so that you can read Jamie’s emails about the course because I think they’re fantastic. They’re some of the best launch sequence emails that I’ve read in a long time; definitely worth checking out for the story she tells, and just for the way that they’re written. They’re really good. Yes. So get on the list, even if you don’t want to buy the course, make sure that you’re reading what she’s writing about.
Jamie: I super appreciate that, Rob, thank you so much. Thank you so much! I receive that!
Jamie: I’m learning to take compliments, so yeah. You can go to yourhotcopy.com and get on the mailing list there and I will just be sending updates as they are available. I’m still developing a new lead magnet for Story School, like, listening to my audience and figuring out how I can best support them, for free. What’s the free value I can give? I don’t know yet! But whatever it is, they’ll get it if they sign up now!
Kira: Yeah, maybe like a quiz, or something! I feel like quizzes are popular right now. So Jamie, thank you for hanging out with us and sharing, and being honest, and sharing your update and sharing your experience, especially within the agency world. We really appreciate it and of course, want to have you back to share all the updates as you make this pivot.
Jamie: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. I had so much fun! Yay!
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