From Flight Attendant to Million-Dollar Copywriter
Henry Bingaman told AWAI’s Rebecca Matter he wanted to make $1 million a year by the time he was 30. Well, today I’ll share whether he reached his goal.
Henry has generated more than $100 million in sales for his clients. He’s used a unique approach to copywriting and copy-chiefing to find wild success with companies like Money Map Press, Natural Health Sherpa (now Metabolic Living), and Newsmax.
I sat down with Henry at AWAI’s FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp and Job Fair to learn about his journey from broke flight attendant to highly sought-after copywriter — one making millions in royalties. During our conversation, he shared some secrets to his success.
For Henry, a happy client and strong work ethic are the keys to higher paychecks and bigger projects. This attitude has allowed him to enjoy a life filled with first-class travel, celebrities, and season basketball tickets. Read on to discover the thing Henry sees writers do that sabotages their careers, the secret behind his ascent to $1 million, and why he believes setting goals can be dangerous.
You and I first met at a bar in Las Vegas, at the 2010 Web Copy Intensive. Do you remember your writing projects at the time?
Yeah. I was a Roving Reporter on that, wasn’t I? I was doing video clips and updates. I was also writing my own product: The Insider’s Guide to Stress Free Flying, because I was a flight attendant. I wrote an e-book and tried to sell it online with Pay-Per-Click ads back in the early Google Ads days.
How did it go?
I lost several hundred bucks, which was a lot of money to me then. Because I didn’t realize that you had to do market research to find out if anybody wants the stuff you’re about to sell.
It was a 79-page e-book for $19 and made like two sales ever. I understood how the model worked; it’s just that nobody wanted this product. So I went to the Web Copy Intensive to try to figure out how to sell my own stuff online.
We’d been learning about Google’s Pay-Per-Click feature, and I had just seen that Facebook had launched their own Pay-Per-Click network. And I went up to Rebecca at one point, and said, “What if I did some Pay-Per-Click ads, but we did them on Facebook for AWAI?”
The first project I got was I think $300 to write 10 Pay-Per-Click ads in a landing page for Rebecca. That was one of the very first projects that I got. But really, it was just coming up with a new idea and going up to a client and pitching it.
And basically making her job easier …
Yeah. She goes, “Okay. Go write me a proposal.” So I went back to my room and googled how to write a proposal. And I sent it off. And she was like, “Great. Send me an invoice.” So I went back and googled how to write an invoice. I sent it off, and that was some of the first paid writing work I got.
A few things amaze me about your launch story. First, the fact that you just sat down and wrote an e-book on a whim … What compelled you to be so self-motivated?
I was a flight attendant making $20,000 a year, living with three roommates in the suburbs of D.C.
I had a writing degree. I went to college for fiction writing. I got out, and I finished my novel, which — you should never let a 22-year-old write a novel. It’s still in the bottom drawer somewhere. I’ve pulled it out again and just smacked my head against the desk. I can’t believe I ever wrote something that bad.
But I said, “Okay. I need to figure out a way to write.” Because I always wrote. I’ve been writing since I was 8. I wrote a story called “The Henry Tree” that was like five illustrated pages long.
I’ve been writing my whole life. So it seemed like, Well, what if I tried to make money with this writing?
Because you know, at 22, you hit the real world, and you’re like, Oh, wait. Money is an important thing. The food doesn’t come from Mom and Dad. The food and rent comes out of your paycheck.
It seemed like the right thing to do. I think I’d seen three AWAI articles. Nick’s Money-Making Websites was a big thing. I had started a creative writing website and put affiliate links up and stuff. I was just trying a lot of different things to make money online.
Making your own products was one thing that always came up, so I tried to make my own product. I should’ve learned about market research first. But I learned about it the hard way.
I was going through these things to try to figure out how to sell my own stuff and realized that I might as well sell other people’s stuff, because I don’t have anything worth selling. Other people do.
Right. And that’s when you started building up your client work portfolio …
Yeah. My dad owned a supplement company while I was growing up, so he had a lot of contacts in the natural health world. Dr. Jeff Marrongelle is a local chiropractor around Pennsylvania. I got a sales letter. I convinced him. I just walked him through the AWAI talking points of how sales letters work. And he had never done anything online. He had a website, but he didn’t have anything on there other than a contact, an address, a phone number, and emails to book appointments.
I said, “Well, you have all these supplements. What if I wrote a sales letter for this? You only pay me $1,500, and it only has to do X amount of sales. You have this many visitors, so if we convert something like 10 percent …” Nowadays I would hit myself for suggesting that you can convert 10 percent of website visitors!
But I threw it out there and wrote the worst sales letter of all time. I think we got one sale. I felt so bad. He didn’t give up on me, though. He let me do a bunch of smaller projects for him. That’s how I built my portfolio.
As your portfolio grew, how did you build your network of support?
It was really coming to live events like Bootcamp. You show up, and we’re all lost, scared little puppies when we first get here. And then you find another lost, scared little puppy and you team up.
It was 2009 … the first Bootcamp I came to. I was standing in the registration line right over there. Many people were in their 40s, 50s, older than that. And I’m like 23 at the time. And I’m looking around like, Do I belong here? These are all people who have had professional careers. There are real professional writers in here.
Then I look behind me, and there’s this redhead who’s about my age. It’s Roy Furr. I met him in the registration line, and we were hanging out together the whole time. The next year we kind of teamed up with Pam Foster.
How did connections like Roy and Pam help you?
When I was a creative writing major … The degree is almost useless, right? You put yourself in a room with a bunch of 20-year-olds. And you show them your writing, which feels really intimate. And you’re writing fiction and making stuff up and putting it on the page. And then they all sit around and tell you how crappy it is. You develop thick skin really, really fast.
But when someone like Roy or Pam says, “You know, I think you’re a good writer. This is a good idea,” you realize how valuable someone’s support is.
I could be the person who wants to tear them down and try to make myself feel better about how bad my own writing is at the time. Or I could be the person who supports someone and gives them that feeling of hope and relief, really. Like, At least one other person thinks that I’m doing something good. That’s validation. I like to give people validation, because I remember what it felt like to need the validation and then finally get it. That why I’m always encouraging to writers.
Which means the world, especially to up-and-comers. Did you get validation on a personal level when you first started writing copy in your 20s, or were they scratching their heads about this mystery career?
Actually, I learned about copywriting from my dad. Remember, he owned that supplement company. He bought AWAI’s Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting to try to sell his own protein supplement product. Then his business partner died, and his business partner’s wife kicked my dad out of the business.
So he’s like, “Well … you have a degree in writing. Do you want to try this thing?” AWAI was kind enough to actually transfer the course he bought into my name. So I got the course for free. He understood the potential of copywriting. You know, he had the struggles in the beginning too. But he understood what it could do. My parents were very supportive the whole time.
But also I have great parents. They let me go to college for fiction writing. It was like, Whatever you want to do. Go for it, and you’ll be successful.
Fast-forward to now. You’ve made more than a million dollars in a single year from copy?
Yeah. I told Rebecca during an interview when I was 25 that I wanted to be making $1 million a year by the time I was 30. And I missed it by three years, so I did it at 33. But you have to shoot for the moon, right?
What does that feel like? Having gone from being a struggling flight attendant at $20,000 a year to knowing this year you’ll pull in seven-figures, just like the famed Dan Kennedy?
I don’t know. It’s a slow progression. I’m not very excitable. It always feels like there’s another level to get to, right? Because the problem is comparing yourself with someone else. I know copywriters who make $4 million a year. So I think, Well, I’m not there. So how good am I?
When I started making $300,000 a year — I haven’t gone below that in the last six, seven years — the money stopped mattering. Really it was about How big can my next promotion be? I just want to do the work better.
Money’s not your motivator.
No. The money comes from the work. It’s a sign that the work I’m doing is good. But yeah. It’s really just about how good I can get from here. Don’t get me wrong. I like the money.
That’s a great perspective. A lot of people start writing from a place of desperation, thinking, I’ve got to make this work. I need money now. What would you tell them?
I think it’s always a mistake to focus on the money.
You need to get to a certain level. But I’ve seen people sabotage their careers by going after the fast payday. I’ve actually never asked for a raise from any of my clients.
Not even in royalties?
No. They’ve always just given it to me. I just do better work, and they up the rate. Well, and the other thing is, they know I can leave. I’m a contractor. I own my own company that I just contract out with these firms. So they know I can go to somebody else if they don’t pay me.
And I have. I went from Money Map to Natural Health Sherpa — Metabolic Living now. I got a better deal there. It was more interesting work. Then I came back, because Money Map basically doubled my retainer and upped my royalty rate.
That’s good motivation.
I focus on making the client happy and doing the best work I can. The money has just come as a consequence of getting better. That’s the best thing. It really is a meritocracy in copywriting. This is something you earn every step of the way.
But if you focus on the money … I’ve seen people come in demanding more money, and the client goes, “All right. Well, where’s the work? Why should I pay you that?” And they just soured the relationship with the client.
If you’re really good, you can always ask for a raise. I don’t tell people not to ask for raises. A lot of female copywriters, especially, undervalue themselves. I don’t know why. It’s more women than men. They don’t ask for the raise when they could.
But I’ve seen the same thing with women where they just keep doing good work, and all of a sudden, the client’s like, Wait. They can leave now, and I can’t afford to let them leave.
It’s the same thing. When I left Money Map, I was doing $30 million a year in sales for them. So how much is it worth to bring me back in? That’s why they could afford to double my retainer rate.
You’ve made yourself invaluable.
Right. And that was by focusing on the work. I don’t complain. I don’t invoice them for little things. I don’t want to make any friction with the client. I want this to be as smooth a relationship as possible. So I try to keep the clients as happy as possible. I try to do the best work I can. I guess the money comes as a consequence.
Tell me about how Jedd Canty became your mentor.
That was at Newsmax originally. I had been working for Natural Health Dossier. And I had that first million-dollar control. [Editor’s Note: A control is a sales letter that consistently beats all other sales letters for the same product.] The secret to that one is, Mark Ford advised me on it. So Jedd Canty goes to Mark. Jedd was working with Newsmax for a couple of years. He had just done his Aftershock promo, which did over $100 million and made him an instant legend in the industry.
But he didn’t know health at all. This was when Obamacare was coming out. Newsmax is a right-wing outlet, so they were very anti-Obamacare. They wanted to sell two newsletters as a package, a financial one and a health one. And Jedd’s like, “Mark, I don’t know anything about health.” And Mark said, “Well, I’ve got this kid Henry … He’s done pretty good in health for me. Why don’t you work with him?”
So Jedd brought me on to work on “The Obamacare Pandemic.” That was the headline of the promotion. I don’t know. We didn’t click at first. I was like, Who is this guy? He’s abrasive. He’s intense.
But he hired me. It was for a percentage of royalties. No fee at all. I was like, Well, I get to work with a guy who just did a $100 million promotion. I think this will be all right if we split royalties. And I was getting, I think, 5 percent of the royalties he got. It was kind of just in an adviser role. But we signed the contract and everything, and the first day, I think we spent 10 straight hours on Skype reading copy.
Just reading back and forth?
Yeah. Jedd’s intense.
He had the drafted promotion. So we just read it. And I’d be like, “Stop. You can’t say this. That’s not exactly the right way to phrase it.” But I got to watch him write copy in real time.
Then we did a couple of projects together. Eventually, he goes, “Did you ever think about doing financial? You know, the money’s a lot better.” He started mentoring me. I started writing financial packages for Newsmax.
Then, when he jumped to Money Map, I went with him, and he’s been an amazing mentor. He hates it when I call him that. He’s just like, “We’re just working together. We’re colleagues.”
I’ve seen you in some interesting pictures with Jedd.
We go to a lot of celebrity events. I’ve gone to film premieres with Meryl Streep and Stephen Colbert. It was a fundraiser thing for the Montclair Film Festival.
And Jedd’s a good friend now, so we hang out a lot. We do angel investments together, so we get to hang out with all the celebrities. We do charity events together. Every year, I give $10,000 or $20,000 to the charity Big Slick run by guys like Paul Rudd and Eric Stonestreet. A bunch of celebrities come in and we hang out for a weekend. And then they do a big fundraiser.
What insight has that given you into super-famous people who make millions?
They’re pretty normal. People are people.
They have to put up this shield when they go out in public. Especially like Paul Rudd. People just mob him. He can’t just … you know; he’s too famous. But you hang out with him and he’s just a nice guy.
Same with famous writers who seem untouchable but are totally approachable. It always comes back to the human factor.
Yeah. It’s so funny, because you come to an event like Bootcamp and all of a sudden I’m famous in a group of 400 people. But I walk through South Philly every day, and it’s not like people are going, “Yo, that’s Henry!” Nobody knows who I am. It’s the best way to be famous … not be famous except among a certain group.
How has your lifestyle changed since you found success as a writer? Other than going to celebrity events, what do you do for fun?
My wife and I got Vinnie! Best dog in the world. But other than that, we both work a lot. I take my projects very seriously. And she’s a very, very good salesperson at a restaurant. She sells events. So, she’s always working.
But we travel. Over New Year’s, we decided we were just going to go to Spain. So we went and celebrated. We went to Madrid, Seville, and Barcelona just for a week. Two weeks ago, we went out to L.A. for a weekend, just for the launch party of one of the start-ups I’m invested in. So we have fun. Mostly what we do is travel and hang out with our dog.
What’s nice is that I can afford to go. Like when I said to my wife, “You know what? In three weeks, we should go to Spain, buy two first-class tickets and not worry about what that costs.”
It’s funny, because we didn’t have any money when I was growing up. But no one else I knew had money, so it didn’t feel weird. But I still remember what it’s like to not be able to afford things. I don’t ever want to lose that feeling, because I’m selling to people who have budgets.
Has your income changed the way your family and friends perceive you?
All of my friends know what I do. I’m friends with a lot of entrepreneurs who do really well too. You find yourself in a circle. And friends who aren’t doing giant numbers, they don’t care. We hang out.
Sometimes I pick up the check. Most of the time I don’t. They don’t want me to. But it’s fun. I get to have season tickets to the Sixers. That’s a $20,000-a-year expense. I just take my friends. I don’t charge them.
My parents are just super proud. I’ve had the most supportive, best parents ever.
And, here’s the other thing. There’s no guarantee I’ll keep the money. So if I attach my self-worth to how much money I’m making, it’s going to be very dangerous someday when I step back or … you know … Everybody has a streak of bombs.
What if I go from $1.2 million, which I’ll probably make this year, back to $200,000 because I just don’t make any hits in a year? I don’t want to be so attached that it ruins me — that I have a psychological break. Because it could happen. There are no guarantees.
So you’ve laid a huge track record of success with sales letters and Video Sales Letters. But are you still tempted by other writing opportunities?
Really, I’m always just trying to figure out the next thing. And the great thing is, nobody’s figured it out yet. So new people have the advantage.
You can come in, and you don’t need the 50 years of experience. You know, I’ve only been doing this 11 years, and I’m outselling people who have been doing it for 45 years. Longevity doesn’t matter. Because the world is changing so fast, experience is actually less of a factor than adaptability. If you can be adaptable, you can jump the line.
What’s your advice to someone just starting out?
It depends on where you’re at. I think the biggest thing is that core human psychology will always stay the same. The medium is always changing, but the ideas don’t change. We’re not going to evolve into a different way of thinking, at least not in the next 2,000 years.
So I would say, understand the psychology. Figure out the psychology of people first. Figure out how to come up with Big Ideas. That’s the value of a copywriter. It’s not even the writing. It’s the thinking. Thinking, and putting it in the right psychological framework that motivates somebody to action.
That was a weird answer.
That was an awesome answer. I usually get believe in yourself, set goals …
That’s the other thing. I never set goals.
I had that one goal, which was kind of flippant, to make $1 million a year by the time I was 30. But I don’t set goals. I just do the work.
Scott Adams talks about this. Have systems, not goals. Have a system for doing something, and just know that it’s going to get you as far as it can. Just do the best you can all the time, and you’ll get to the highest level you can. If you focus on the goal, you might be shortchanging yourself. You might not even like the goal when you get there. So just do the work.
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