Disillusioned Copywriter Demands The Truth

A disgruntled, aspiring copywriter wrote me demanding clarifications. He believes most copywriters lie and exaggerate their claims of wealth. Let's call him “Chuck.”

I understand where Chuck is coming from. Because I've been where he is. So I responded, not because I wanted to acquiesce to his demands but because I wanted to give him hope, ideas, and, dare I say it, a million-dollar education.

He says he will be asking other copywriters the same question, and even threatened (although, that may be too harsh of a word) to publish my reply. I've decided to take the lead myself, and publish it here.

For all I know, this copywriter may be gathering information to create his own product. Who knows? If he is, I must say that his strategy is brilliant. A tad deceptive, but brilliant. Regardless, if he does create a product out of this, good for him!

But I'm reprinting the conversation here not just to take the lead but also because I believe it will help a lot of other struggling copywriters out there. Also, I'm opening myself a little more than usual. I guess you can say that I'm exposing the real “Michel Fortin.”

My answer might surprise you…

First, here's his question:

“Michel, can you prove this ‘billion dollar copywriters?' Do you have to exaggerate so much? You are insulting anyone who reads your writings. This is harsh I know, but I am sick and tired of reading about the millions in products and services sold because of copywriters. Or the thousands they make per project.

“Where do you guys come from? Who is paying you these fees you speak of? Is there anyone outside of the ‘let's all promote each other and get rich' network?

“One other thing, if you are really making the kind of money you say, why do you sell courses, have a forum, do seminars, etc.? Is there little demand for your fee level? I do not believe any self-proclaimed top copywriter can make a six-figure income with copywriting alone. Is this the scary truth?

“You do not need to prove anything to me, or any other copywriter out there, of course. Just put yourself in our position. We struggle to get by, most of us. Then here you are, claiming to make thousands per project, yet seemingly doing all these other things online. Or maybe you are cloned?

“It makes no sense at all. All I want is the proven truth. Perhaps this is not possible online. A person can claim almost anything on the web and many will believe it.

“I may send similar letters to other ‘top' copywriters (many of us have our doubts). Perhaps I will gather the info and create a report. The tone of my letter will be the same.

“This has an intended purpose. There are many of us struggling, disillusioned copywriters out here. We hope your reply will be specific, factual and quite frankly, give us hope. A ‘no reply' will noted for the possible report.”

Chuck, I appreciate your concerns. They are legitimate, as I was in your position when I first started out as a struggling copywriter. But first, let me clarify a few things.

I'm not sure where you got “billions” (I do know that Clayton Makepeace is indeed a “billion-dollar copywriter,” as he writes for large mailing and publishing houses, and earns hefty royalties). But it's certainly several millions — at least for me, anyway.

And I also don't know how you took those sales levels achieved as income generated from copywriting fees alone. To be clear, and as I often state in my own copy, I was instrumental in producing millions of dollars for my clients. And for myself, too.

When I say “instrumental,” it means that my copy, my coaching, and my consultation work with million-dollar clients helped to produce millions of dollars. Not me, directly.

And when I say “for myself,” I don't mean just in copywriting fees or royalties. I also mean that my copy produced millions of dollars in sales, including the sale of my own products. (Plus, I'm sure you know the difference between gross revenue and net income.)

Second, many of my clients are also partners, where I get a piece of the action for writing their copy. That means, I don't get paid just a flat fee, which you seem to be implying. In some cases, I also get paid commissions and royalties my copy produces for my clients.

This is the “next level” I believe copywriters should aspire to. Why? Because as long as you write copy for a flat fee, you are no different than someone working in a job trading hours for dollars. Earning royalties is certainly a step above “for-fee” copywriting.

And creating partnerships with clients is another step above that.

(I'll come back to what this means in a moment.)

Nevertheless, I hope this a goal for you, too. Obviously, it won't happen overnight. It took me 12 years before I landed my first commission-based client. It doesn't have to take that long, but it does get easier once you get better at marketing yourself.

Third, I'm not just a copywriter. I write the copy for my own businesses, too.

I own several businesses. Over a hundred, in fact. Many with my wife Sylvie Fortin. Some are tiny, insignificant websites selling products, mostly information, to highly targeted niches — products outside the “marketing,” “copywriting,” or “make money” industries.

But others are indeed larger and far more profitable. Granted, I also do sell products in the make-money arena. But it's just one niche of many.

By the way, one of our latest products on how to make money online is the brainchild of my wife, who also owns one of the most prolific outsourcing companies on the Internet.

That's how we met, incidentally. My wife and I were both service providers catering to the same clientele. I wrote their copy while my wife handled their customer support, product development, marketing campaign management, web design, etc.

(We finally met at one of my seminars. Little did we know, we were doing this for years until we discovered we were living practically next door to each other!)

That product is called “Success Chef University” Why? Because, just as you would follow a recipe, it teaches people how to plan, start, run, and grow an online business.

You may classify it as a “make money” product, which you mentioned. And to some degree, it is. However, it was created not just out of a need in the marketplace but also as the result of an epiphany we had while dealing with a personal challenge.

You see, ever since my wife's breast cancer a few years ago, which included radical surgery (mastectomy), six months of chemotherapy, followed by three months of radiation treatments, we were glad that we owned our own businesses…

… Businesses that were not tied to servicing clients.

In fact, we had no choice. We had to train our staff to take care of our service businesses while taking time off to tackle this dreadful disease. In the process, we realized that many of our clients and coaching students would benefit from that training.

The result became Success Chef. (Do check out the “Free Video” on the site. It's 70 minutes long, and walks you through the four steps we practice and teach.)

Fourth, I'm not sure why you seem to be confused about the idea of offering forums, seminars, and courses, outside of the service business. They were created to help people, many as the result of their requests and questions. Some are completely free, too.

But they were also created because of my own personal situation.

Now, let me candid for a moment.

I'm opening myself up a little more than usual and revealing some of the inner details of my business, but I'm doing this so you can get a better sense of where I'm coming from.

While I used to be “just” a copywriter, I was getting tired of making other people rich. I was tired of getting paid $5,000, $10,000, or even $15,000 for writing long salesletters, while watching them produce millions for my clients.

It frustrated me. It still does!

As a matter of fact, my best year in terms of income derived solely as a copywriter (many years ago), where I earned close to a million dollars in copywriting fees in one year alone, I was also getting burned out. In fact, I was getting terribly exhausted.

I worked 18-20 hour days to meet deadlines, and in some cases without any sleep several days in a row. I juggled three to five copywriting projects at any given time. While that may seem like a nice problem to have, my health was deteriorating as a result.

Sure, I was in demand, charging hefty fees, and doing well financially as a copywriter.

But I hit two major walls: 1) I reached a plateau (obviously, there are only so many projects a human being can do and there are only so many hours in the day). And 2) I was also taking on too many projects, overextending myself, and making myself sick.

In fact, I got so sick that I had to “quit” taking on new projects, fired all my clients, refunded over $100,000 in copywriting fees, and took a long-needed sabbatical.

Nowadays, I own an agency. It's the one you see.

I still write copy for some clients. But I'm very selective now, and I prefer “partnership arrangements” as I stated earlier. Otherwise, I have my team of junior copywriters, who were students of mine at first, write for my clients under my agency's banner.

Also, that's one of the reasons why I offer “how-to” products, because many of my junior copywriters were first and foremost my students. They work closely with me, and follow my methodology, my formulas, my techniques, my writing style, and my philosophy.

Bottom line, I prefer to own my own businesses, teach other copywriters, and hire other copywriters I can outsource to, than to work as I did before when I was strictly a copywriter, and risk getting so exhausted to the point of making myself sick again.

Fifth and finally, if you seek proof, I encourage you to visit my websites. (Check out the testimonials and case study sections, where clients gave me not only testimonials but also revealed their results achieved with my work, which they've documented.)

Also, do check out my blog.

Speaking of which, I don't blog to make money. Not directly, anyway. I blog because I love it. Aside from copywriting, owning several businesses, and selling products in a variety of niches, my blog exists purely as a passion and a creative outlet for me.

True, I do monetize my blog in a variety of ways — from advertising revenue and using it to attract copywriting clients, to making offers and selling products on it. After all, I'm a marketer. But I do it because it's fun, and moreso for that reason than any other.

Nevertheless, I'm not sure if this answers your questions and concerns or not.

But my suggestion to you is:

1. First, learn marketing.

Marketing is the lifeblood of any business — whether you're a copywriter, or a gardener selling tomatoes. Go to my blog and read some of my articles. (My latest one, “Three Tips For Finding Top-Shelf Clients,” is one article of many I propose you read.)

2. Second, hone your craft.

Get good. Get real good. To that end, write as much as you can. The better you become at copywriting, the more in demand you will be. Your results, your track record, and your reputation will speak for themselves. They will sell for you. Especially by word of mouth.

3. Third, get a piece of the action.

Once you get busier as a for-fee copywriter, start to seek royalty arrangements. This is where you write copy based on performance. What I recommend — and it's the way I do it most of the time — is to offer a flat-fee as a draw against future commissions.

For example, say your fee is $5,000 for a salesletter. However, $5,000 is a guaranteed draw against future commissions. “Guaranteed draw” means it's not refundable.

Then, once the accumulated royalty exceeds the initial draw they paid you, they pay you the excess and keep paying you for as long as your client uses your copy.

Granted, finding such clients is not easy. But once you get better at writing copy and marketing yourself, these arrangements will start to fall on your lap. You will have clients who will be willing to consider paying you on performance, and not just for a flat fee.

4. Fourth, seek partnerships.

Once you get your feet wet with a few royalty arrangements, next is to start seeking partnerships. This is the next level, where you grow as a copywriter to the point where you become a partner and own a vested interest in your client's business.

In this case, you provide more than just the copy. You also provide consulting.

For example, you can write the copy for the entire marketing funnel. You can share marketing strategies, test results, and business-building advice. You can seek out increased revenue opportunities, under-exploited profit centers, and new markets to penetrate.

And your fee is not a royalty but a larger percentage of their business overall.

5. And finally, start creating your own products.

This is ultimately the best, because when you write your own copy and pocket 100% of the profits, you will gain a lot more momentum, freedom, and money working for yourself than you will ever gain as a service provider making other people rich instead of you.

The information business is often the easiest way to start. From ebooks, software, memberships sites, and training programs, to books, CDs, DVDs, seminars, and more. And it doesn't have to be about making money or copywriting, either.

As an afterthought…

Don't forget to learn what you can, whenever you can. Always be a sponge, as I am. I may have read thousands of books and watched hundreds of videos. But I still continue to educate myself — about business, about marketing, and certainly about copywriting.

Because doing so will help you not just as a copywriter, but also as a potential partner in your clients' businesses and, of course, in your own business.

Ultimately, seek to better your skills as well as your business. Because you are not a copywriter. You are a copywriting business. And your business provides a service. More to the point, your business provides results. Remember that.

One website I highly recommend is Peter Bowerman's “The Well-Fed Writer.”

I hope this helps.

Hi, I'm Michel!

I share tips for entrepreneurial professionals on how to attract, win, and retain ideal clients.

Get these in your inbox.

Strategic marketing consultant Michel Fortin