What an Interview Taught Me About Learning

Last week, I was interviewed for a copywriting publication. It was about my beginnings in the world of copy and how I learned how to write. I normally accept these types of interviews because I love talking about myself teaching, but it’s also great PR and exposure.

I recommend this to all my clients. Plus, I prefer this kind of exposure, too. I’m far more receptive to exposure from being a guest or contributor than from being asked to give free advice with the promise of “free exposure.”

I recommend it to my clients because the goal is to be both prolific and prevalent. You want to be in as many places as possible.

I often tell my clients to never turn down an offer to be on a show, podcast, or interview, or to contribute content to other publications — particularly if their readership fits within your audience.

Even if they don’t or when the request seems self-serving, there are many benefits and opportunities from doing so. Their readership may not be ideal, but you can leverage their lists to grow your own. In other words, they may share your content, multiplying your visibility beyond the initial exposure.

So when I’m asked, I almost always say “yes.”

But this one was different. In fact, the reason I bring this interview up is for three reasons that I want to share with you.

1) A Change in Perspective

With the vast majority of interviews I’ve given over the years (and goodness knows I’ve given plenty), this one was different. Rather than being asked questions about copywriting, marketing, or my background from a professional standpoint, the interviewer asked me questions about… me.

Personal questions. Thought-provoking questions. Seemingly unrelated questions (unrelated at first, but they eventually became relevant).

For example, they asked me about my abusive alcoholic father who was placed in a mental institution, my becoming a young father at such a young age (19 years old), and my bankruptcy as a young insurance salesperson who failed miserably because of his intense fear of rejection.

It was refreshing. Odd, but refreshing.

As much as I loved talking about myself, the interviewer wanted to know how those things shaped me as a copywriter and marketer. He wanted to know what lessons I’ve learned through my trials that made me the person I am today.

Which leads to my second point.

2) We Learn Through Trials

And I mean that in both senses of the word. That is, I learned a lot from “life’s trials” as well as from “trying different things.” In fact, they were connected.

The interviewer’s questions — which delved into some of the most challenging times in my life — also questioned what I learned from them. And the answers I gave even surprised me. I wasn’t trying to be inspirational or heroic. I was simply looking back at my life and realized how one thing simply led to another.

As if by magic.

If it wasn’t for my father, my ADHD, and my rejection sensitive dysphoria, I would have never “tried” the things I did. For example, I wouldn’t have:

  • Married as young as I did, which was an excuse to leave home;
  • Found a sales job as a way to provide for my young family; and
  • Wrote salesletters as a way to avoid cold-calling.

In other words, I would have never tried the things that eventually shaped me as a marketer and copywriter if I didn’t go through what I went through.

Again, I’m not saying this to be inspirational. What I’m saying is that “trials” can lead to “trials,” which in turn can lead to some of the best lessons you would have never expected to learn or could have learned otherwise.

The trials in my life pushed me to try different things to finally find the things I have a passion for, I have become successful at, and I have grown a lot from.

Which leads me to the third reason.

3) We Learn to Apply

We learn to apply rather than apply what we learn. Just as we learn by trying different things, we also learn how to apply things differently. This can become the seed that leads to achieving immense success and fulfillment.

For example, the interviewer asked me about my background in sales and how that connects to copywriting. That’s when I realized that it had everything to do with it — albeit in an indirect way.

When I was a young salesperson, I didn’t know anything about writing, much less copywriting. I never had any formal training. I was just a young French-Canadian insurance agent who spoke English acceptably well.

I never wrote anything in English (anything official or substantive, that is). I do remember writing song lyrics as a teen, but that’s about it.

However, I needed to fight this fear of rejection. I was trying desperately to succeed in sales, so I immersed myself in that world. I had taken every sales course and sales training I could get my hands on — which also contributed to my debtload and eventual bankruptcy at the age of 21.

I bought everything from Nightingale-Conant and others, and turned my car into a “University on wheels,” as Zig Ziglar often said.

It was also the perfect excuse: I remember staying inside my parked car (as a way of avoiding knocking on doors) where I listened to hours upon hours of Tom Hopkins, Brian Tracy, Tony Alessandra, Robert Cialdini, Dan Kennedy, Joe Girard, Roger Dawson, Earl Nightingale, Zig Ziglar, and countless others.

The result? It didn’t make me any good at selling.

But it did make me good at knowing how to sell.

When I decided to write salesletters, and without any formal schooling or experience, I simply wrote my first letter based on what I thought the message (and my audience) needed. That’s it. It was entirely guesswork.

I took what I learned in all that sales training that was stuffed inside my head, and put it into the form of a letter. I didn’t know if the letter was well-written or not. I took a chance. And it worked. It was at that point when I became the top salesperson in Canada for several months in a row.

The saying “Copywriting is “salesmanship in print” is true.

It certainly was in my case.

Learning is Accidental

Back to the interview.

The questions not only made me think about how I learned how to sell and “accidentally” applied it to copywriting, but also made me realize that I repeated this process several times since.

When I started out as a young freelance marketing consultant, my fear of rejection didn’t get any better. I wanted to avoid doing any kind of outreach.

In an effort to attract clients and get them to come to me, I decided to write again. But this time, it was a book. It was essentially a business card or resume in disguise if you will. It indirectly advertised my expertise, which would hopefully convince clients to hire me.

The book was a series of 10 marketing tips for professionals, which I gave out for free. I mailed it to potential prospects in the hope they would call me to book an initial consultation. The result? I got two bites from it. That’s it.

But I wasn’t going to stop. So later, I broke down my book into articles, submitted them to other publications, and in them offered readers to “get the rest of the book” at my website. I had a newsletter and the book (which was digitized at this point) was offered as an incentive for joining my list.

But that wasn’t the crux.

Learning is Experiential

With the permission of the publication (since some wanted exclusivity), I waited until they were published and then posted the same articles to my blog. I did edit them a little to fit my audience, but they were essentially the same.

To my surprise, those articles started to generate organic traffic. Nothing to sneeze at, mind you. But it was only a few hundred visitors a month. It was free traffic that I didn’t have to work for, so I wasn’t complaining.

When I became the paid editor of The Internet Marketing Chronicles, I wrote articles every day. The publisher allowed me to repost my articles to my blog after they were published in theirs.

So my blog grew fast.

Here’s the exciting thing that happened.

When I was “fishing” for content ideas to write about, I simply asked my subscribers. In fact, the newsletter had 120,000 subscribers. It was easy to get feedback as to what kinds of topics people wanted me to cover. Every time I asked a question, I would get a few hundred responses.

By posting the content on my own blog, my traffic started to snowball. My practice snowballed right along with it, too. And the rest is history.

But when I was answering that interviewer’s question, that’s when I realized I was doing SEO without doing SEO — and without any formal training or knowledge of SEO. Just like I did when I wrote copy without doing any “copywriting.”

I was doing SEO as a byproduct. I simply answered questions people in my target market were asking, and I answered them. As a result, I was getting thousands of organic visitors to my site quite naturally.

Over the years, I did take some official training in copywriting and SEO, including a few certification courses. Some were helpful by providing different tools and best practices to follow. But nothing beats what I learned from trial and error.

I learned more (and more effectively) by doing stuff myself. By trying different things. And by applying common sense. No gimmicks. No shortcuts. No hacks. and certainly no hats — black, white, or otherwise.

I’ll end with this.

Sometimes, life throws you curveballs. But you can’t hit a homerun if you fail to take a swing. Sometimes, you just have to try.

With apologies to Master Yoda: try or try not, there is no do.

About The Author

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Michel Fortin is a certified SEO consultant, content strategist, and marketing advisor helping plastic surgeons, cosmetic surgeons, and medical aesthetic clinics attract more patients. Since 1991, he helps cosmetic and aesthetic professionals increase their visibility and grow their practices. He is the author of the More Traffic Memo™ SEO email newsletter.

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