It Could be a Big Mistake

It could be a big mistake.

Let me tell you, even though it’s tempting to do it, it’s something you shouldn’t do if you want to make a mark in copywriting quickly.

What am I talking about? Let me give an example from early in my own copywriting career.

As some of you may know, I started out writing in the financial niche. Because of my early copywriting training, that’s all I really knew about. Then I realized two crucial facts. One, I didn’t like writing financial copy. And two, there were other niches I could write for.

I was starting all over once I came to grips with these two realities. I sent self-promo letters to a bunch of potential clients. But the first nibble I got was a referral by a client I’d written for previously.

The new client wanted me to write promo copy for a book on how to improve your chances at winning lotteries.

The world seems to be divided into two camps. The first camp is those who believe that systems, special numbers, and mystical incantations can increase your chance of winning the lottery. The other camp is composed of those who believe that games of chance are controlled by probability and ‘the odds.’

With my background in the sciences and math, you can guess which group I’m firmly encamped in.

Call it desperation …

I needed the work. So, in spite of my misgivings, I’d originally intended to say “yes” and write the best copy I could. But because of those misgivings, I asked the client if I could look at the book and at any other information they might have. He told me there wasn’t a rush on the work, so to go ahead and get comfortable with it.

The book was well written and many of its premises about increasing your odds on winning seemed well-founded. Armed with those ideas, I started writing. And tearing up copy. And writing more. And tearing up more.

After about a week and a half, I had nothing. Well, at least nothing I would be proud to admit was mine. The copy felt strained and forced. It lacked passion.

John Forde’s words came back to me …

I’ve told the story many times of when Master Copywriter John Forde first reviewed my copy. (This was before my lottery debacle.) He’d said I’d never become a great copywriter unless I learned to love my prospect. But he said something else as well.

As I struggled with the lottery copy, the second part of what he’d told me came back.

“To write good copy,” he’d said, “you must love your prospect and you must love your product … or at least some aspect of it.”

“Love your product.” I didn’t … and it showed. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t muster the necessary passion and belief in this book.

Fortunately, I had two weeks to decide on the assignment. I called him and told him I couldn’t take it on. And I told him why.

“Well,” I thought, “that’s the last I’ll ever hear from him.”

Believe in it …

What John Forde told me that day about loving your product isn’t just his wisdom. All the great copywriters have said the same thing: John Caples, Eugene Schwartz, Mark Ford. All the greats.

If you want to write effective copy, you cannot fake it. You have to be honest with your prospect. If you’re not, he’ll know it. Your writing won’t ring true.

And you cannot be honest with your prospect if you aren’t first honest with yourself.

I know it’s tempting when you’re starting out to take anything that comes along. But like I said at the beginning of this article, “It could be a big mistake.”

I don’t mean you should be picky. Not at all. Let’s say a B2B client wants you to write about titanium alloy, hard-cast widgets. You’re not very excited about them. As you research the product, you discover that these widgets reduce production costs 9.8%. And they last 2.7 times longer than traditional ones. As you research, these seemingly dull items take on a glow of excitement.

Write about them, and you’ll write brilliant copy. You’ve learned to believe in them.

But instead, let’s say your research uncovers that these widgets are shoddily made. They wear out faster, are prone to breaking in mid-production, and cost users time and money.

If you try to write about them, you’ll fail. A part of you will hold back. You will not be able to write honestly.

Be honest with yourself. Be honest with your prospect. And eventually, you won’t face the temptation to take on marginal clients you don’t really believe in.

Being honest with yourself pays off …

Remember how I said I didn’t think I’d ever hear from the lottery client again? About three months later, he contacted me. Would I write subscription copy for a monthly newsletter about a well-known college football team?

You bet I would.

Why’d he contact me again? Although not his exact words, he told me that because I’d been straightforward with him about the lottery book, he knew I’d give them my best on an assignment that was more in my wheelhouse.

Every time you write, write the very best copy you can. It doesn’t matter how small the client is or how insignificant a step on your road to success it may seem. Write honest, passionate, top-notch copy. Sooner than you think, you’ll be turning clients away.

Thank you, Dennis Schafer, for inspiring this article with your email about copywriting and the copywriter’s responsibility.

I’d love to hear from you on this subject … or on any subject you’d like to discuss in The Golden Thread. Write me at

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Published: April 29, 2013

1 Response to “It Could be a Big Mistake”

  1. Hi Will,

    This article was like an answer to my prayers this week! I had a prospect contact me next week about writing for something not in my niche. The money would have been great but I feel excited about the product.

    I was wondering if I was making the right decision to let him go. After reading your article I feel justified.

    Thanks so much,

    Michelle Durham

    Guest (Michelle Durham)

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