Interview with a Barefoot Writer: Casey Demchak

Casey Demchak

Meet a Writer Highly Skilled in the Art of Getting Clients to Say, “You’re Hired!” — And Then Keeping That Business for Years to Come
— Casey Demchak, Top Copywriter, Author

Casey Demchak is a master at connections. His highly-successful freelance writing career began by connecting with contacts who eventually helped him grow a promising writing business. He’s since connected up-and-coming writers with tools all but guaranteed to help them grow their own B2B writing businesses.

Casey’s list of accolades since breaking out on his own is considerable. He hosted the VoiceAmerica ™ Business Internet radio talk show, Essential Marketing Secrets, which offered a lively and indepth look at some of marketing’s hottest topics. He’s also the author of the AWAI program, Key Message Copy Platforms, which shows B2B writers how to create a springboard for writing a variety of marketing materials. In addition, Casey wrote the book, Essential Sales Writing Secrets, and authored a chapter on persuasive sales writing techniques that was featured in the book, Advice from the Top: The Expert Guide to B2B Marketing.

He also has author credits for a multitude of special reports and trade journals, including The Denver Business Journal, Colorado BioScience, and Advertising & Marketing Review.

Casey came into freelance writing through a series of fortunate connections, and since then, he has put together an enjoyable, freedom-filled writing lifestyle. Enjoy his tips on making the time to tackle big projects, and find out which common technology-related problem new writers face nearly every day (along with how to overcome it!).

Did you always want to be a writer?

When I was a little boy — I was probably six or seven — I told my mother that I was either going to be a professional baseball player, my first pick, or a professional writer, my second pick. So I knew early on I wanted to play baseball or write. I grew up in California, playing baseball all day long, 12 months a year. Then I’d go home and sit at my little red desk in my bedroom and write. I started writing a lot when I was in third grade.

So I knew early on I wanted to play baseball or write. I grew up in California, playing baseball all day long, 12 months a year. Then I’d go home and sit at my little red desk in my bedroom and write. I started writing a lot when I was in third grade.

So it was definitely a passion from early on?

It was. It was funny, too, because I was born in ’62, so when I was a little kid, it was a very violent time in America. We had all of these assassinations, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and Vietnam War highlights on TV every night, so the first writing I did were these slasher stories, these very violent short stories when I was just eight years old. I showed them to my teacher and my teacher called home and said, “Is everything at home okay and is there anything going on?”

My mother said, “Everything’s fine. What’s wrong?” And the teacher said, “Casey’s writing these very well-written stories, but they’re very violent.” That’s how I started.

How did you go from slasher stories to copywriting?

I couldn’t sell my screenplays. I went to film school at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and I really liked writing screenplays. I even won the university’s top screenwriting award two years in a row, and worked for a while. I did an extended internship that turned into a part-time job as a story analyst. So I read and evaluated scripts, and I was getting agents, losing agents, going through the whole Hollywood meat grinder thing for about 10 years, and it was brutal. I lived in Manhattan Beach, which was fun, but I came home one night and had pretty much had it.

You realized it was time for a change?

Exactly. I was around 28 or 29 years old and started reading my junk mail one night, and then the blindfold came off. I thought, “Gosh, I bet they pay people to write this stuff.” We had no Internet back then, so I went to Barnes & Noble and started looking in the marketing section to see if there were any books on writing. I didn’t even know it was called copywriting at the time.

I found a book by Bob Bly, then a book by another guy, then a book by Bob Bly, then a book by some other guy, then a book by Bob Bly, and so forth. So I went with books by Bob Bly and picked up The Copywriter’s Handbook and Secrets of a Freelance Writer: How to Make $85,000 a Year. I took them home and read them both about 25 times.

Have you ever met Bob Bly in person?

I was at the B2B Writing Intensive in Texas last year. Bob was there and I was telling that story. And I was there with Steve Slaunwhite and Gordon Graham and Casey Hibbard. Casey Hibbard’s sitting right next to me and she says, “That’s the exact same thing I did!”

I think Gordon and Steve did, too, so we all pretty much did the same thing.

Bob Bly and his books have launched a lot of successful writing careers — one of the many reasons we’re so glad he’s part of the AWAI family.

I told him my story and Bob was very touched. He was very nice.

How did you wind up doing freelance writing?

You know, when I was trying to write screenplays, I was working nights as a computer operator. I worked for one of my old girlfriend’s uncles, and I would go into his office — I was doing computer operating stuff — and I said, “Can I write some marketing materials for your company?” He knew

what I was doing with my screenwriting and all that. I told him I wanted to get into writing sales copy, but I needed to build a portfolio, so he let me write marketing materials for his company, which was a plastic card company called International Plastic Cards in California. They make ATM cards and bank cards and customer loyalty cards. So I wrote marketing materials for them, and actually some B2B marketing materials, though I didn’t even know at the time that I was writing B2B marketing materials.

Nice way to leverage an existing contact.

So I built a little portfolio and started applying to full-time jobs as a copywriter. By chance, I got hired by a healthcare company in Newport Beach called Cost Care; it was a managed care company.

I worked there for two and a half years, and then applied for a job in Santa Barbara, California at a medical device company, and was hired. When I showed up the first day, my boss called me in and said, “You know, we’ve never hired a copywriter before. We’ve always called the marketing people and have always used freelancers, so the rule is, they still can. They can use you if they want, but they don’t have to.”

That’s an odd situation to walk into!

I was raised by an entrepreneur, so it took me five seconds to figure out if they don’t use me, I’m not going to be here very long. So I had to take on the freelance mindset right away. I had to go around this building and build up relationships, sell myself, and get people to hire me because they were used to using freelancers. So it was really great practice because I had to treat it like my own business.

And you did all of this face-to-face with the people who could hire you?

Yeah, it was kind of different. I got really good at it and built up a lot of relationships over five years. And what happened was, people who worked there would leave that company and go to marketing jobs at other companies, and they’d call me up — “Casey, this is Larry. I got a new job at this particular company, do you think you can on-the- fly do some copywriting for us?”

So I started writing — and back then, Bob Bly had an article in Writer’s Digest called “Writing by the Light of the Moon.” It was about how to set up your own little moonlighting copywriting business, so I read that article 50 times, and I thought, “Well, I’ll just have my own little moonlighting business,” which I did while I was doing full-time writing for this company.

When did you finally make the leap to solely freelance work?

After I’d worked there a total of five years, I went around to all the marketing people at that company and said, “Look, I just live across the street, as you guys all know. If I quit, will you use me as a freelancer?”

They all said sure. So I quit and they didn’t replace me because my boss, who was the marketing communications manager, she also started hiring me. That company was a good client of mine for 10 years. Along the way, I started picking up other stuff and eventually moved to Denver from Santa Barbara.

That’s a great example of the importance of building up contacts and reaching out to the people you know.

What helped me a lot was when I had that fulltime job, I took a real entrepreneurial approach to it because I had to. That’s the one thing I impress upon new writers is that you have to be entrepreneurial. You have to be a risk-taker to a large extent.

Right. You can’t just stare at your screen and let it come to you.

And you can’t take program after program without ever starting. You can keep taking programs while you’re getting your business going, keep learning the whole time.

Did you stick with marketing for medical professionals or have you branched out?

I’ve been writing for medical stuff for 21 years, 15 years on my own. I’ve had ups and downs because

it can be boring, you know? And you’ve got to look at some really gross surgical videos. But I was good at it and people kept referring me. Then a few years ago, I got into writing a lot for authors, speakers, and coaches, and that’s a big part of my business now. I really hit a point where my business slid back because I was only writing medical device stuff and I was getting tired of it. It really reinvigorated my interest and my business to change focus. You know, as the years go by, you should be open to shifting and morphing and changing your business.

For authors, speakers, and coaches, I write a lot of extended sales pitches for informational products and books, and so it’s really gotten me into long sales copy. Now I’m looking at getting into more direct response copy, and I created Key Message Copy Platforms a number of years ago. So I’m making that much more of a signature service.

What are some must-reads that you recommend for writers?

One thing that you don’t hear too much about is to read personal development material. I think having a mindset for success and getting yourself in the right frame of mind to succeed and have positive thoughts and all that is really important.

I would highly recommend Tony Robbins, and some of the Hay House stuff — some of the more spiritually based stuff. I’m actually writing marketing materials for a book all day today for a book coming out in September. It’s called The Common Thread of Overcoming Adversity and Living Your Dreams. It’s by Jerry Gladstone, and it’s a super cool book because it’s personal stories and lessons as told by some big names, like Sylvester Stallone, Howard Stern, Joe Namath, Muhammad Ali, Stevie Nicks, Ringo Starr, Jimmy Kimmel, Snoop Dogg, Seth McFarlane, Mark Cuban, Kid Rock, and Montel Williams.

It’s a huge, diverse group of people and he does a three- to four-page profile on each of them where they talk about what kind of mindset they use to overcome adversity and achieve their goals. It’s really fascinating.

Do you meditate?

Yes. I meditate every day and I read all of the Law of Attraction books. You know, if you read Think and Grow Rich, which is a really old book, or you read Tony Robbins or Jerry Gladstone’s book, they all say very similar things: That your thoughts and your mindset are just a huge part of your success.

So I meditate and connect to my spirit guide and ask for the things I want. I do that all the time. It’s a big part of my life.

Do you have any other writing rituals?

Every morning, I speak out loud about what I want to have come into my life. I close the window, so none of the neighbors can hear me. I talk about my business, my personal life, my health, and I speak out loud about all of the really great things I want to attract into my life. I do it in a very heartfelt way. And people go, “Man, that’s nuts. Meditation, we get it, but talking out loud every morning — what is the point of that?”

I always tell people, “Look, would you start your day by going in your backyard or some room by yourself and speaking out loud in a heartfelt way about all the bad things you want coming into your life? That you want to get in a car wreck and get a fatal disease or something?” And they go, “By God, that’s crazy as hell. Hell no, I wouldn’t do that.” I go, “Why not?” “Because it could happen to you if you do that,” they say.

Well, there’s a flipside to that coin. Nobody in a million years would talk out loud every morning in a heartfelt way about all the bad things they want to come into their life, because as you’re doing it, it would feel creepy and every fiber in your body would be telling you to shut up, because when it comes down to it, everybody really does believe if you go looking for trouble, trouble always finds you. It’s that whole attraction thing. So I say, there’s a flipside. You would never talk out loud about all the horrible things you want coming into your life, so why not talk — via that same reasoning — about all the great things you want to come into your life and see how good it feels, and then freak out when some of those things start happening?

So that’s my pregame ritual. People think it’s phooey, but I’ve proved to people that they believe it.

You’ve written two books. What was the easiest and the hardest part of writing the books?

You know, the easiest part of writing a book is, you’re a writer. A lot of people want to write books. A lot of subject matter experts want to write books. But they’re not writers, so I think the easiest thing is the fact that you’re a writer, so it’s relatively easy to write the book because that’s what you do. You’re in the habit of writing.

But the hardest part is finding time. You know, you have so much content you have to create for your business — blogs and special reports and things — plus all your client stuff.

How did you find the time?

One of the things I always talk about — I’ve done some blogs on it — I followed my own advice and I did what I call the “pizza slice approach” to writing, which is to find 20-minute slices of time during the day. Use them to work on that book project or e-book and then write for 20 minutes. Then get back to your other tasks, and then at the end of the day find another 20 minutes, or 20 minutes before you go to bed. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you can do two pizza slices a day, in 10 days, that’s 400 minutes, and they just really pile up.

With a book, it’s like, “Oh, it’s such a big project.” Well, just slice it up into 20-minute segments and, as a writer, you can really get a lot done that way.

Do you have any good luck charms?

I have my catcher’s glove from when I was 18 years old. My senior year of high school. It sits right up here on my shelf, and from time to time I’ve been known to go over there and smell it. It gets me pumped up, and I’ve got some old baseballs in and around the glove.

That’s it, and I love labs [Labradors]. I have a new lab, and I’ve had two previous labs, and I keep their dog collars right around the catcher’s glove.

What about any must-have tools you recommend?

I am Mr. Simple. I made this a very conscious decision about five, six years ago. I’m 53, so when I was in my mid to late 40s, I had a web dude who was my age and he never taught me anything new, and I started meeting some younger people in their 20s who knew a lot of cool stuff. I’d tell my web guy, “You know what? You don’t teach me anything new.” He’s like, “These young people, they’re just kids and I’ve been doing this 15 years.” So I had some of these “kids” come over and evaluate my systems and they’re like, “You’ve got to update your systems and get more space and here’s how.” So I got rid of my web guy, in a friendly way, and now I have a 31-year-old web person who’s kind of my digital marketing consultant, and I have a 31-year-old virtual assistant.

They’re certainly not kids, but they’re very, very smart. So my must-have tool is to work with younger people. I know what I know, I know what I don’t know, but that area of I don’t even know what I don’t know — what I don’t know exists — that’s where the younger people help.

Let’s reach back into your past. What kinds of scrapes did you get into as a kid?

I was a baseball catcher. When I played, they didn’t have these rules that said you can’t run over the catcher. I’m only 5’8”, but I was a really good catcher and guys would try to run me over because I wasn’t really big, so I was very good when throws would come into home plate — I always kept my catcher’s mask on. They always tell you, “Take your mask off,” and I would say, “That’s stupid.”

If I can catch a pitch with my mask, I sure as hell can catch a ball coming in from the outfield, so I would get really low and try to stick it in the runner’s gut. If there were guys I didn’t like or maybe they got a little too nasty when they were trying to run me over, next time they were up, I’d have the pitcher drill them in the ribs with a fastball.

Pretty much all my scrapes took place right around home plate. Either home plate collisions or having the pitcher throw at the hitter.

How much time a day do you spend on writing versus the administrative stuff that goes along with life as a writer?

That’s a good question, because I got a great tip from Bob Bly years ago reading his newsletter. He describes it as doing his heavy-lifting first. I tend to write client stuff until, probably, 3:30 p.m. or so. I only look at my email first thing in the morning and maybe at 11 o’clock and then 4 o’clock. I don’t keep email open all day. I think that’s really bad because that can distract you like crazy. I try to keep the email stuff and admin stuff to a minimum, like 90 minutes. Maybe I’ll do a little paperwork Saturday mornings, and then I’ve been known to wander into my office at night and do some more writing.

I think that’s a big challenge these days. More and more, people don’t even like to talk on the phone. They’d rather just email, so I think you really have to manage your email. I think it’s important, especially for new writers starting their businesses, not to have email open all day.

When I first started my business, everybody had dial-up, so you had to dial out to your phone just to get your email, so that made you, right there — you only wanted to do that a few times a day. I try to keep that mentality.

Along with keeping email at bay, what other tips do you have for new writers?

I think they’d want to write a lot, which sounds obvious, but I talk to some writers, and they don’t write that much. I think writing a lot, so you can stay sharp and keep learning about writing, is important.

Also, come up with a few marketing activities at the beginning of your career, but just come up with a few. Come up with a simple plan that’s very repeatable, as opposed to a complex plan. If you come up with something repeatable, like sending out 10 emails a day, or going to two networking events every month, or spending an hour a day in LinkedIn groups, those are simple things you can do and you can repeat them.

What a lot of writers do, when they’re marketing, if they’re not getting responses right away, they start telling stories in their own head about why they’re not getting responses, and the stories they’re making up in their heads are usually negative. So I tell people shut your brain off a little bit. Do the activity, and be smart, but don’t start overanalyzing and making up a bunch of gobbledygook in your head. Keep at it and have that positive mindset.

I tell them to think back to when you were learning how to ride a bike. You didn’t say, “Oh man, I can’t.” No. You saw the other kids in the neighborhood riding bikes and now you’ve got a bike and the first time you start pedaling, you fall. But you don’t just jump off the bike and go hit your head against the wall and say, “I’m a dummy, I can’t learn how to ride a bike.” You keep pedaling until you’re one of the kids in the neighborhood who rides a bike. You’re not about to stop, because you’re so young — when you’re young, you’re very positive.

So I tell people to think like when you were a little kid. You dreamed big when you were a little kid, and you kept doing things until you succeeded. Just take the same approach.

This interview was previously published in the July, 2015 issue of Barefoot Writer. To read more interviews from fellow Barefoot Writers be sure to checkout The Barefoot Writer's Club.

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Published: November 29, 2017

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