They Are NOT Your Measuring Stick
A few weeks ago I was working with a college student who wanted to focus on copywriting as a career. And like most good colleges, they had no one on staff that was qualified to give any real-life mentoring (let alone enough knowledge and experience to teach a class).
But, because of their lack of experts, my friend contacted me and put me in touch with this young man, I’ll call him Calvin for the sake of this post.
Calvin was a lot of fun to work with.
Not only was he incredibly eager to learn how to write copy, he came to me with a great deal of writing experience in prose.
His short stories were incredibly good, good enough I encouraged him to pursue getting them published.
Calvin had some experience, although no real training in copy, simply by posting items on eBay and CraigsList that he would find at junk stores, Goodwills, and garage sales. Gary Vee would have appreciated him.
We worked together over a semester on writing copy, and he was able to use his new skills in practical applications between projects for school as well as some small entrepreneurial and freelancing situations he found himself in.
Towards the end of our formal time together, I started gathering his frustration at something, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.
He wasn’t being forthright with me and I didn’t feel it my place to pry too much, until he let enough slip out that I knew this was about his writing.
The good news was, he was going to get some of his short stories published.
The bad news was, the critique that hit him the hardest was about his sales copy for his book.
The School of Hard Knocks
I’m not one to jump on the, “this generation is a bunch of snowflakes” bandwagon. Calvin was no snowflake.
But this emotional, personal response he had from a negative critique was uncharacteristic and frankly, over the top.
Ok, let’s fast forward this a bit or we’re going to be here all day…
After a semester, Calvin had this strange belief that he should be a good enough copywriter to pull in more money than he was making and that his copy should be comparable to (his words) Dan Kennedy.
After all, he read all the books (maybe not all, but a lot) and he read all the copies (seriously, printed out a ton of old sales letters and read them over and over).
So why wasn’t he able to write like Dan did? Why was he still getting critiqued and disapprovals from clients and even about copy for his own book?
I read over the sales letter he wrote for his book, and my response was pretty straight forward,
“So you’re telling me this is the perfect sales letter?”
I knew that look he gave me, he wanted to reach over the table and punch me.
I moved my Starbucks just in case he tried.
It’s incredible how expensive your ego can be.
Here’s a kid with a great deal of talent and he’s getting pissy because someone was trying to help him.
Here’s the simplest way I can put it - Your copy can always be better.
There’s no such thing as the PERFECT SALES LETTER.
It doesn’t exist.
The moment you think you created it is the moment you let your ego get ahead of you and it’s going to the reason you get brought down real quick.
A Realistic Measure Stick
This one I am going to blame on the schools, at least the specific teachers that put this into any kid’s head…
When a 20 something college kid comes out of school (not even out of school, really) thinking that they can play in the major leagues with the big boys BECAUSE a professor or parent or someone told them they were special, there is a problem.
Calvin didn’t think he was a great because of a real measuring stick, it was difficult to point this out.
Once someone believes they're special, it’s a hard crash back to reality when they find out matter-of-factly that they aren’t.
I put Calvin up against the same measuring stick I’ve used my entire career, I asked him how much money he’s made with the sales letter.
- Not views
- Not likes
- Not shares
- And certainly Not comments
How much money has he made with his sales letter?
Teachers of any kinds, whether professors, pastors, mentors, or friends can only assess the formatting, the grammar, the spelling, and the layout of the sales letter - the aspects that make it a sales letter.
The market dictates whether or not it’s good.
And that is a terrifying and difficult lesson to learn for some.
Calvin wanted the approval of his professors and I suspect of some of his peers, and that’s why he took this so personally.
I get it, the college professor has an incredible amount of influence on an aspirational student. And that’s a good thing.
But when it comes to marketing and copywriting, the only measuring stick that actually matters is the dollars generated from that sales letter.
Before Moving On
Mentoring is one of the most rewarding things you can do when it comes to copywriting.
There are so many talented young writers out there that have no idea of how their talents can generate them money and an incredible rewarding and exciting life outside of creating the next great novel.
But it’s also a bit of a reality check - one where you can look back and see aspects of yourself that you wish you could change, improve upon.
I have to admit, seeing Calvin’s position and thinking back to my own, it’s scary to think about putting your first sales letter out there - especially if it’s a product or offer that is entirely yours.
There’s no safety net.
You have to accept that everything in that offer, including the product, is all on you.
You want to have others telling you that it’s good. You want to know that it’s going to be successful.
The truth is, no one can see the future.
You may have done everything right, and sales may not be great. That’s the market. That’s the ultimate measuring stick we all put ourselves against.
Ultimately, one offer is not going to make or break a career. There’s always going to be the next one.
Measure against the market and then measure again and again.