Interview: Ryan Healy on Copywriting
If you're interested in getting into the copywriting business, today's interview is for you. Copywriter Ryan Healy recently took time out of his schedule to share his insights and experience on topics like who might enjoy and do well as a copywriter, how to get started in the industry, and more.
You can listen to the interview at the bottom of this post.
The following is a transcript of the interview.
What's one interesting thing about you that most people don't know?
Well, growing up, I was in a military family -- my dad was in the Air Force, and later switched to working with Boeing. So up until the age of 12, I moved all over the country, from Florida to Seattle, and I attended a lot of different schools, lived in a lot of different homes, and then finally, just before the start of 7th grade "“ it was the summer before 7th grade "“ we moved to Denver, and moved into Douglas County. And I actually have lived in Douglas County ever since, with once exception, where I lived right over the county line, just barely.
But I've essentially lived in the same county now since 1991. So I have kind of like two halves of my life -- the first half where I moved all over the country, and was everywhere and never felt like I had a home. And then, since 1991, living in the same county for gosh, what's going on 20 years now.
There are lots of ways to make money in internet marketing. Why would you recommend copywriting. Or what kind of person would you recommend copywriting to? Are there people, you'd recommend not get into copywriting?
I do recommend copywriting for some people. I mean, obviously you have to like writing. If you don't really like writing or you don't think that you have much skill at it, then I wouldn't encourage you in that direction. Because I do believe that copywriting takes some writing skill and talent. Now people can be taught how to write and how to be copywriters, but if you hate writing to begin with, you know, what's the point?
So what kind of person would I recommend copywriting to? First, I think you have to like writing.
Second, I think you have to like selling and promoting things.
I also think that you need to enjoy researching, because researching is a lot of what I do -- I'm digging to find a selling angle or what makes the product unique. A copywriter needs to be curious -- curious about a lot of different subjects.
You can, obviously, choose a niche and work exclusively in that niche. For instance, financial newsletters or health products or weight loss supplements or something like that. I personally haven't done that just because I think that I would get bored writing for the same types of supplements day in and day out. I do like writing sales letters occasionally for supplements, but I like there to be a good product and a good story. It just makes my job easier.
Another thing is, you need to be prepared to deal with clients. And just because you like writing, and just because you like selling, and just because you like research doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be a good fit for a copywriting lifestyle.
When you turn in copy, clients will like it sometimes, and sometimes they won't like it. And you need to know how to deal with that feedback -- how to handle it emotionally. If you've got thin skin, and you don't like dealing with clients or dealing with the business side of it, then copywriting may not be a good choice for you.
Before you ever get a project, you have to negotiate that project. You have to negotiate the fee. You have to nail down the details of the contract, and make sure you get paid and all these kinds of things. So, there's the business side of it as well. It's not just like you can go, you know, lock yourself in a closet and write all day if you have that type of personality.
And for that last piece "“ are there people you'd recommend not get into copywriting "“ if you fall outside the parameters I've just listed, you may want to reevaluate.
I think half the battle when you start anything is just being able to finish what you started, or to continue what you started. So if you're going to start a freelance copywriting career, and you're going to go at it for 3 months and then quit, well then what's the point? You're hardly out there long enough for people to even know who you are or start sending you work.
So if you're kind of like just in love with the idea of copywriting, but you're not really in love with the reality of being a copywriter, then you know, best to hold off or find something else for you.
If you had to make one recommendation to someone who's just getting started at copywriting, what would it be?
I can answer this question from two different perspectives. One is from the perspective of becoming a better copywriter in the sense of writing copy. Another one is becoming a better freelance copywriter in the sense of building your business. So there's two facets to this question that I can answer in on. So, I'll answer it from both perspectives.
The first one -- getting better at copywriting -- I think if you're just getting started out, one of the best things you can do is to study ads that have worked in the past. A lot of them are available free online.
And not just study them, like read them and study them, but also copy them out by hand. I did that early on, and I have done that periodically through the years. I haven't done it nearly as much as I did in the beginning. But that one thing really helped to ingrain certain copywriting principles in my mind. So that's one thing that I would suggest if you're just getting started out.
Another thing that I would suggest, and this is for the business side of it -- so if I have one recommendation so you can succeed with the business of copywriting, that would be to do something to market yourself every single day, every single week, every single month.
Because as a freelance copywriter, generally speaking, you're going to be going from project to project. You may have 2, 3, 4 projects going simultaneously. You may have your time blocked out so you're just doing one project for two weeks, and then another project for two weeks . Whatever the case may be, you need to be continuously marketing yourself and your services so that those projects continue to flow in.
Even if you have clients who love you, and stay with you for years, at some point in the future, they may decide to go in a different direction, or just decide that they still love you, they love your work, but maybe the project needs fresh eyes to look at it. And so they decide to bring somebody else on board. That's just the nature of copywriting.
So continuous marketing is a big deal for the business side of copywriting.
How can a beginning copywriter get the work they need to establish a track record without making false claims about their skills and experience?
This is a really good question. One of the simplest ways to get started without making and false claims, without hyping or exaggerating your skills and experience is simply to offer to write for free. So you could go to a client, a potential client and say "hey, I will write this sales letter for free, and all I want is X percentage of gross profits." Right?
You could put a cap on that, X percentage of gross profits up to a certain dollar amount, or for a certain period of time. But this is really effective because a lot of people out there are not really excited about spending thousands of dollars to hire a copywriter. It's a lot of risk for them, and they'd much rather have somebody come in and write for free, and pay on performance.
The only thing you have to be careful of is that there's a trust relationship there -- trusting relationship, and you know that the client is really going to pay you when your letter begins to work. So that's one way.
Another way is to use that same approach with an established copywriter, and to offer to write for him or her for free.
The only caution I have there is that successful copywriters are typically quite busy, and working with a junior copywriter is sometimes a distraction, and slows them down a bit. So don't be surprised if established copywriters aren't too excited about working with you. But sometimes, depending on your level of skill, you can get that kind of arrangement.
Now, another way, if you're a beginning copywriter, you can go work for somebody. I know this isn't necessarily the dream, to go get a job. When I was starting out, I didn't even really know what copywriting was until I started working for the home schooling company that hired me.
I worked there for three years, and the owner of that company taught me copywriting. It's not necessarily the same style that I write today. But he taught me fundamentals, and he kind of pointed me in the right direction to find some of these copywriting resources and use them.
Not every city has a place where you can get a job like that, but if you're in a major city, generally there'll be some agencies or some other companies that do a lot of marketing, or direct response marketing, and if you can get a job there for a year, obviously you don't have to make any claims about your talent. Just tell them your experience, and if they want to hire you, and now you have the opportunity to write lots and lots of copy for a year.
And if you do decide to go that route, the key is to track the results that you've created. So document down how many sales, and how many dollars, and what period of time, and conversion rates, and keep track of all those things so that then when you do go freelance, you can use that in your marketing right away.
When I left Sonlight, one of the things I did was I got testimonials from the people I worked with. I got a testimonial from my manager, and from the owner of the company. So I had two testimonials leaving my job, which was great. That helped me out a lot.
And another thing that you can do if you're going to go the freelance side, let's assume for a second that you're like, "no way, I'm not going to get a job in advertising. I just want to become a freelancer, do my own thing, and start getting clients."
Well, one of the things that you can do is go to people who know you from a work environment "“ try to avoid family and friends, because they're going to be obviously biased, and that's going to look bad if you do this "“ try and get testimonials from people who know you, who can say something good about you, but maybe it's not necessarily related to your copywriting talent.
So this is something I did "“ I went to people who knew me in a business capacity, and asked them if they'd be willing to give me a character-based testimonial, like "Ryan is a great guy. I would trust him implicitily with my bank account number." You know, something like that. That's not related to copywriting at all, but it still helps to build trust on behalf of people who may hire you.
The most important marketing principles are timeless, but the environment that we apply them in is always changing. In what ways, if any, have changes in the internet landscape changed your approach to copywriting? What generally accepted practices of a few years ago do people need to leave in the past?
This is a great question, and I don't know that I have a real clear answer for you. A couple of things come to mind.
When I first came on line "“ this isn't when I first came online "“ but when I first began writing copy for the internet "“ that was back in 2002 "“ and I think at that time at least, you could come out with just straight sales pitches and have sales letters with big, bold, red headlines, and make outrageous claims and things like that, and people would respond. So there was a lot more hype and a lot more blatant selling on sales pages.
I think today that people are getting a little more burned out with that approach. They're becoming blind to sales letters, so when they see a big red headline like that, maybe they pay attention "“ and it's always worth testing "“ every market is different "“ but at least for me, I've been trying to take more of an advertorial approach, or hook them in with some kind of information or something that they may not know. And then kind of either weave a story, or explain a problem or something like that, and then move into the sales pitch.
It's not really that the fundamentals of selling have changed. The fundamentals are still the same. It's just how you approach people. In the past, when everybody had money and was excited online, and they were just excited to be on a website buying something "“ I think that that has changed a bit.
Generally accepted practices that we need to leave in the past "“ that's another good question. I think particularly Google's changes over the last couple of years has forced people to change. I don't know that these things will be left in the past forever. But, for instance, with Google, if you're trying to collect information on a squeeze page, and then just send traffic there to collect emails, that's not working as well, partially because Google may send you a warning and say "hey, stop, or we're going to shut you off forever."
So the single page forced opt-in "“ the short forced opt-in page "“ while it still works, and can work with certain sources of traffic, often times you need a step between the AdWords ad and the opt-in page. So they may go from an AdWords ad to an article that then pushes them to an opt-in, or something like that.
That's just one thing I can think of. A lot of times, obviously buyer behavior, if it changes, that forces changes in the marketplace. But then there's companies like Google that have a lot of influence, and if they change their policies, then obviously that's going to cause a massive shift in how people do business on the internet.
Where can my readers go to find out more about you, what you're working on these days, and the products and services you offer?
Well, thank you for asking that question. Probably the best place to go is my blog, which is RyanHealy.com. Currently, I have over 300 articles on that blog. I do have a tab at the top of the blog that lists some of the best articles that I've written over the years.
Also on that page, you'll see links to various offers that I think are strong offers and worth looking at, as well as my own products and services. I don't have that many at the moment, but I do have a copywriting membership site called Copywriting Code -- that's at CopywritingCode.com. I also have a short eBook on how to get clients as a copywriter. And obviously, I have my copywriting services, that you can check out as well.
So, again, RyanHealy.com "“ would love you have you visit the blog and start reading.
And also, if you're so inclined, you can join my email list. I do offer a 39 point copywriting checklist when you join the email list. And I guess that's about it.
Thank you, Antone, for this opportunity. I really appreciate it.
Thank you, Ryan, for taking the time to share your experience and expertise with us.