Categories
Copywriting

Why I Switched From Copywriting to SEO Consulting?

Ever since I stopped accepting copywriting clients over a decade ago, it’s a question that seems to come up again and again. It's understandable as I was quite prominent in that world throughout the 90s and in the early 2000s.

I really didn’t stop writing copy, but I left the business of copywriting and now focus on SEO, particularly after years of being a “top copywriter” — a label my peers often give me, although I never really considered myself to be one.

But the question about my departure has once again resurfaced, particularly after I appeared on a YouTube show talking about the shady side of the world of copywriting. I realize I should probably write something to explain it. So I'm going to answer that question once and for all in here.

To do this, I need to give you some background to put things in context.

If you don’t know my story, here’s a quick summary.

My Copywriting Life in a Nutshell

I got married at 19. My wife had a two-year-old daughter whom I’ve virtually adopted. (She's now in her late thirties and still calls me Dad.)

Being a father was redemptive somewhat, as my alcoholic father abused me when I was young. After my mother left, the state institutionalized him; he had Korsakov’s Syndrome (also known as Korsakoff’s Psychosis), a mentally degenerative disease caused by years of alcohol abuse.

But because of my childhood (or so I thought), I had a tremendous fear of rejection. When I learned that I have ADHD at 52, I discovered that a common symptom among people with ADHD is “rejection sensitive dysphoria” (RSD).

It explains the tremendous fear of rejection and my many childhood struggles. So my father wasn’t to blame. Not entirely, anyway. In fact, ADHD is genetic. My father likely had it, and he turned to alcohol to deal with it.

(People with ADHD are highly susceptible to addiction. Luckily, mine is coffee.)

Around the time I got married, I wanted to fight my fears of rejection and dove into sales to fight them. After all, as Emerson said, “Do what you fear and the death of that fear is certain,” right? You get rejected a ton in sales!

But of course, I failed. And failed miserably.

Working on straight commission, I accumulated a mountain of debt, bought groceries on eight different credit cards to survive, and declared bankruptcy at the tender age of 21. It was a big mistake; I know. But I was young, foolish, trying to be a good father (unlike mine), and desperate to “succeed.”

Back in the 80s, the common practice in the insurance business was selling door to door. I moved to the countryside in a tiny little town where my wife grew up in. So I inherited a sales territory in which I knew absolutely no one.

Naturally, referrals were non-existent. I had to find a better way to get leads.

How I Discovered Copywriting

I tried something different. Fueled by anxiety, desperation, or both, I wrote and mailed salesletters offering a free policy audit. Only a few people called to book an appointment with me. But I was ecstatic. I also had an open door to follow-up to see if they received my letter. So no more cold-calling!

The best part was, I also no longer had to face rejection.

That year, I became the top salesperson in my district and then in all of Canada. It was short-lived as many salespeople in my company crushed my results later on. But for a fleeting moment in my life, it felt as if a door opened up and success was possible. Plus, copywriting piqued my interest.

But insurance was tough. In the late 80s, there was an increasing outcry against whole life insurance policies as more people switched to term insurance.

So a year later, I took a job as a consultant for a hair replacement company that also offered surgeries through a partnership with a hair transplant surgeon. I also worked on commission there, too. But it was a growing industry, and I knew about it as my first wife was a hairdresser.

By applying the same tactics from my insurance job, I wrote direct mail letters, created full-page display ads in newspapers, and even produced 30-minute late-night infomercials on TV. Bookings and sales were skyrocketing. My employer was a happy camper, as was I.

At 22, I made more money than I ever made in my life!

How I Became a Copywriter

I eventually became a “marketing consultant” for other cosmetic surgeons, which became my preferred niche. (The reason I say “marketing consultant” is that copywriting wasn’t the only thing I did, and medical doctors would never hire a “copywriter” much less a “sales consultant” back then.)

In the early 90s, I convinced clients to create a “web page” on this newfangled thing called the “world wide web.” I told them it was like an electronic version of the yellow pages, and it was becoming increasingly popular. Since most of them had invested in yellow pages before, this was an easy sell.

So I wrote copy for the web. This was circa ‘92 to ’94.

A few years later, I designed my first website in ‘95 and incorporated myself as “The Success Doctor” in ‘97. The name came about because I helped doctors become successful. (I also had aspirations of becoming a motivational speaker. But marketing and copywriting was more fun, I later found.)

I eventually became quite busy as word got around. Other doctors hired me, too, including chiropractors, weightloss doctors, nutritionists, acupuncturists, etc. I expanded to include lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, and other service providers. But cosmetic surgeons remained my largest clientele.

Over time, more and more clients hired me to write copy for the web, including landing pages, websites, and email marketing campaigns. I guess you can say that this was when I was becoming more well-known as an online copywriter and Internet marketer than a mere copywriter.

But there was a problem.

Clients Would Screw Up My Copy

I love copywriting. But I remember clients messing things up.

Once I gave them my copy, they would put it up on their websites. And it would look awful! The formatting was completely wrong, the layout was atrocious, and the selection of graphics and images didn't fit what I had in mind.

So naturally, conversions sucked. Particularly with projects that paid me with royalties. I was usually the one to blame, even though I believed my copy was good. But my ADHD and fear of failure compelled me to do something.

That's when I included formatting, web design, even landing page development along with copywriting so that my salesletters would look the way I wanted.

So I repositioned myself as a copy “designer.”

I always hated the word “writing,” anyway, because most people think of writing as putting words down on paper. But they have a tendency to neglect the sales and creative aspects of writing. They ignore that it’s about strategy. I spent just as much time on the look-and-feel of the copy as I did on writing it.

I became obsessed with the copy’s performance. For me, getting the right audience to read the copy — one with the right level of awareness and intent — was important. Also, the cosmetics that drive the eyes into the copy, or the copy cosmetics, were just as important as the words themselves.

That's where my work evolved to include other aspects of online marketing.

Enter The World of SEO

I consulted clients on their traffic and demand generation tactics because I wanted some level of control over the quality of the traffic that hit the copy. The market is just as important as the message. So I did a lot of traffic generation, affiliate marketing, email campaign management, and so forth.

Clients increasingly hired me to do SEO (search engine optimization), including SEO copywriting, to help increase their conversions. I also did CRO (conversion rate optimization), which people often refer to as “conversion copywriting.”

So, what does SEO have to do with conversions?

Attracting audiences with the right search intent at the right awareness stage can skyrocket conversion rates. It's about matching the right message with the right market, or “message-to-market match,” as Dan Kennedy would say.

This thinking, along with the way the Internet was evolving, became the impetus behind my writing “The Death of The Salesletter.” Back in 2005, I knew that this is where Internet marketing and copywriting were heading. It was also the beginning of my disillusionment with the industry. (I'll come back to this.)

In my manifesto, I talked about personalization, dynamic content, behavioral targeting, sales funnels (before funnels were a thing), micro-conversions, etc — things that are commonplace today in the world of digital marketing — replacing the long-form, direct sales-driven copy.

I wrote code since I was 11 and designed websites since I was 22, so technology and how marketing was evolving online always fascinated me. Besides writing copy, I also loved developing websites, designing them, doing SEO, and making sure the user experience (UX) was as optimal as it could be.

Then, My World Turned Upside Down

Let me backup a little.

In 2003, as my copywriting career was exploding, I met my second wife who was in the customer support industry. I initially hired her to provide support for my copywriting business. When we realized we shared many of the same clients, we slowly merged our businesses. And eventually, our lives.

But from the news of her cancer diagnosis right before our wedding in 2006 until her passing in early 2015, my wife’s disease grew to become, over the course of our marriage, the center of attention instead of our client work.

I was kind of lucky in that, in 2008, my mother had the same disease as my wife (i.e., breast cancer). It gave me a glimpse into what was to come. In other words, the experience showed me what I was getting into with my wife and helped me to prepare and to grieve before I knew I had to.

In 2011, my mother's cancer became terminal, and we set up a hospice in our home. She passed away later that year on the morning after my birthday.

And sure enough, my wife's health took a turn for the worse a year later. Her cancer came back with a vengeance, spreading to every major organ.

However, shortly before she passed in early 2015 (in fact, it was just a month prior), my father, while still in the institution, passed away, too. His heart stopped during his sleep. The weakening of the heart muscles is one of the many comorbid issues caused by Korsakov’s disease.

So you can say that 2015 was probably the worst year of my life.

But it didn't stop there.

My sister who was my only sibling struggled all her life with multiple ailments, including diabetes. My parents' passing, let alone years of my father’s abuse, affected her deeply and I cannot imagine what she went through. In 2017, she, too, passed away in her sleep. Just like my dad.

Distaste For The Copywriting Industry

I didn't have the headspace or motivation to return to freelancing. So I took a job in a digital marketing agency as an SEO manager and director of marketing communications. We were a Google Premier Partner agency, and I supervised an amazing team of content writers and web developers.

While grief played a role, another reason I didn't want to go back was that I became increasingly disenchanted with the copywriting business. Specifically, I'm referring to the business of writing copy for the Internet marketing and business opportunity (or “bizopp”) industries.

It started many years before then. But it culminated around the time my wife was undergoing her final chemotherapy treatments for her cancer.

I wrote about the scummy side of the business and the reason I left. But long story short, my late wife and I had to deal with a growing number of clients whose business practices were becoming questionable, unethical, and borderline illegal. Even the FTC sued some of them for deceptive practices.

The reason is, they were selling “business-in-a-box” programs.

It's no different from a chain-letter, envelope-stuffing scheme.

They would sell a course teaching people how to make money by creating a business. Sounds legit at first. But they would use the very course people bought to create a business and make money with. When I learned they included my salesletters with their “businesses,” that's when I decided I had enough.

SEO Consulting for Plastic Surgeons

After a few years and being in a much better place, I got remarried, left the agency world, and started freelancing again. But this time, I was doing more SEO work. Sure, copywriting is still a part of what I do to an extent. But now it's about how it can help attract and convert targeted traffic.

I also returned to my roots by working with plastic and cosmetic surgeons. I did it for several reasons. It's an industry I love and have a lot of experience with.

Creating phenomenal user experiences that lead to sales starts with how qualified the user is. SEO is key for that reason. A user's search intent hugely determines their level of awareness and attention prior to hitting your website.

The quality of your conversions is directly proportional to the quality of your traffic, the quality of your content, and the quality of the user experience.

That's where SEO comes in.

Also, being a geek who loves coding and web design, SEO satisfies my dual nature, i.e., both “sides' of my brain — the creative and analytical aspects of marketing. Today, I do 360-degree SEO audits, with technical SEO (coding and hosting), on-page SEO (HTML and content), and off-page SEO (external signals).

All these components work hand-in-hand.

Yes, my work still includes writing copy. But it mostly includes helping my clients generate the right kinds of traffic. In other words, it's about having the right message for the right market — or in this case, the market with the right intent.

Categories
SEO

How to Do an SEO Competitive Analysis

Yesterday, I completed several SEO audits. I really love doing them because they fire both sides of my brain: the analytical and artistic sides.

Some have said that it's the ADHD brain. Others, the marketer's brain. Either way, one client was specifically looking to get a leg up on its competitors who seem to be doing well organically. So I conducted an SEO competitive analysis.

I want to share it with you as it might be useful to you.

An SEO audit analyzes a number of factors to see if a website is properly optimized. It looks at a number of ranking signals, both internal and external, to help determine if the content is visible, relevant, and desirable.

There are three levels to my SEO audits:

  1. Behind the site (technical SEO)
  2. On the site itself (on-page SEO)
  3. Outside the site (off-page SEO)

I call them the “three Cs” of SEO audits: code, content, and conversation.

But to be more specific, here's a summary of each:

  1. Technical SEO looks at what's behind the site and includes any technical process meant to improve visibility. It reviews the site’s hosting, coding, speed, security, navigation, and user experience. In other words, it makes sure that Google can easily find, crawl, index, and use the content.
  2. On-page SEO looks at what's on the page and includes any internal signals meant to improve relevancy. It reviews the site's content and various page elements that support it (i.e., metadata, images, HTML, etc). It provides Google with enough information about the content to help it decide if it matches their users' queries.
  3. Off-page SEO looks at what's outside the site and includes any external signals meant to improve desirability. It reviews outside activities related to the website, such as conversations, brand mentions, and of course, backlinks. It helps Google to determine if the content is authoritative, valuable, and beneficial to searchers.

I'll save the audit process for another time, but one part of the audit looks at the content's performance, its competitors (and their performance), and any gaps that exist and can be capitalized on.

A gap analysis tries to reverse engineer a website’s competitive environment by scanning the topmost competitors in various SERPs (i.e., search engine result pages), and it identifies any opportunities for improvement, underexploited content ideas, and potential backlinks.

A scan looks at several things.

First, I look at what Google suggests are competitors. Also called “people also search for,” they are usually found after the first three results, at the bottom of the page, or under the site's Google My Business listing on the right.

While Google's machine-learning is getting more intelligent, it may still be wrong or misleading. For example, it provides a list of competitors based on other people's searches, and within my specific geographical area.

They may be alternatives to what Google thinks the searcher is looking for, and may not be true competitors. By “true competitors,” I don't mean competitors in the offline world. I mean those vying for the same traffic you want.

So to find true competitors, I identify companies by looking at:

  • Existing topics from my client's current website content;
  • Keywords Google suggests the site should aim for; and,
  • Actual queries people have used to find my client.

To accomplish this, I do a few things.

First, I use a few tools to help extract the information I need. I look at Google's keyword planning tool (from Google Ads), which suggests keywords for the site based on its existing content. I also use a few other keyword suggestion tools, such as UberSuggest and KeywordTool.

With Google Search Console, I identify what keywords people have used to find my client's website. I look at both the volume and the performance (i.e., how many impressions and how many clicks did a certain search query get).

Then, I put it all into a spreadsheet and review the list to see if it makes sense. Sometimes, some keywords are either too generic, have the wrong search intent, or are just wrong altogether. So I delete them.

Once I have a good list of keywords, I take the top 10 in terms of search volume (depending the size of the project, I try to stay around the top 10-20 keywords). Then, I use them to find competitors.

Please note that this is not keyword research. It's only meant to find true competitors. These keywords may not be worth ranking for, anyway.

Finally, using the queries I list, I look for the top 3-5 competitors that are:

  • Ranking the highest organically for the same queries;
  • Appearing in the local three-pack (Google Maps); and,
  • Buying Google Ads that appear under the same queries.

Once done, I list the URLs of my competitors and check them out. I want to know if they are viable competitors. Do they make sense? To do that, I check the site manually, and punch them into a site audit tool like SEM Rush.

In my spreadsheet and with each competitor, I add their estimated monthly traffic from SEM Rush (only organic traffic, not paid), number of keywords they are ranking for, number of backlinks, and domain authority score.

Competitors with little traffic and keywords, I dump. Those with comparable amounts of traffic or keywords to my client, I keep. And those that are higher, I highlight. I then sort the list from highest to lowest traffic numbers.

Next, I look at the top 10 competitors.

These are my true SEO competitors.

From that point, I do a number of analyses, such as a content gap analysis, a backlinks gap analysis, and a crawl of each individual competitor to look at their site architecture and anything the “pops out” at me.

What's a gap analysis? For backlinks, a tool like Ahrefs can tell me all the backlinks that point to my client's competitors that are not linking to my client.

Now, I'm a big believer in earning backlinks naturally, not doing outreach trying to convince others to link to me (or my clients). I know some SEO agencies do this and it's a major part of their practices. Some even do it in very tasteful ways.

But to me, it's still icky. I don't like it. It may also be influenced by my fear of rejection, but I always preferred earning backlinks than spamming people to get them to link to me. But I digress.

The point of doing a backlink gap analysis is to see if there are any industry or common links that can be easily acquired. For example, most of my client's competitors had backlinks from the BBB, industry associations, and vertical-specific business directories.

As for content gaps, I look at what keywords each of the competitors' are ranking for. This will offer many clues as to what content ideas and topics my client should tackle. But more importantly, a gap analysis looks at topics that competitors are ranking for that my client isn't.

Finally, I use Google itself to see what it thinks.

Backlinks are actual links, but brand mentions are implied links. So I'll type in the competitor's name into Google and see what comes up. I want to see what kinds of conversations people are having about my client's competitors.

I also peek at “related searches” at the bottom of the page, which are Google's predictive list of searches based on what people have also searched for. They may offer a few ideas and additional insights.

This is list is not exhaustive.

Conducting a competitive scan varies and may have some additional steps that I'm not listing here. It depends on the nature of the project.

For example, what if a client doesn't have a website yet? Or what if the client has topics they want to rank for but that their current website doesn't cover well? A keyword extraction tool or Google Search Console won't help in these cases.

Sometimes, I may start by conducting some keyword research before doing a competitive scan. Other times, I may get suggestions from my client or my client's clients, to push me in the right direction.

Hopefully, this has been helpful.

Categories
Copywriting

How I Broke Into Copywriting

My last post, where a disgruntled copywriter demanded “the truth” about creating wealth in copywriting, inspired copywriter Andrew Cavanagh to share the story of his beginnings on my forum:

“Here's how I made my first ‘money' in copywriting.”

Then one by one, other copywriters started adding their own. The responses were nothing short of amazing! Many of the stories show that there's indeed hope. They also show that we were all struggling copywriters once, too.

And we didn't all become overnight millionaires with million-dollar clients, as “Chuck,” the disillusioned copywriter, postulated.

I loved it so much that I posted my own story. I've decided to share it with you here. (By the way, the picture below is of me, circa 1991. A lot thinner, with glasses, and a lot more hair!)

Michel Fortin (1991)
Michel Fortin (1991)

Anyway, here is my story.

When I first started out, I was a salesperson. And the worst part was, I loathed cold-calling. Especially since I had this excruciating fear of rejection. I still have it. (If you know me, then you know about the story of my alcoholic father and how my fear was the result.)

Update: I first wrote this article in 2007. Since then, I discovered that I have ADHD and suffer from RSD, or Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, which explains why I fear rejection so much.

I accidentally stumbled onto copywriting not by chance or by education, but by desperation. You see, I dove into sales in order to fight my fears head-on. I was working on strict commissions at the time as a licensed insurance salesman. I also had a young family to support.

So I thought that the pressure would help kick me into gear. But I was doing so poorly that my family and I had to eat 25-cent ramen noodle packages for months! Eventually, I was forced to declare bankruptcy at 21 years old.

I remember that time like it was yesterday.

The humiliation and the hurt I felt was indescribable. In a matter of days, the car company repossessed my car, the landlord evicted us from our home, and my wife took our daughter and left me. (We eventually divorced.)

I was desperate to make money. So I had to find a way to get people to listen to my presentation. One day, the insurance company (Prudential Canada) requested feedback from sales reps for ideas to improve sales.

I may have feared rejection immensely, but I was always teeming with ideas. I didn't realize it back then, but I was a natural at marketing.

So I sent a suggestion to the company, which was to have a rider that people could add to their life insurance policies, which would allot a portion of their coverage to a charitable organization of their choice.

Prudential loved my idea and launched a new product called (if memory serves) Charity Plus. They sent me a letter to thank me for my “contribution.” I even remember the sales manager reading it out loud to everyone at the next sales meeting. I was blushing with pride. We were both proud.

Excited, I decided to write letters to people within my territory offering them a free presentation to go over this new product with them. It was an open door, if you will. A perfect opportunity to reassess people's policies.

That's when I had a lightbulb moment and realized that this — writing salesletters — was my “way out” of doing cold-call prospecting.

I could mail to anyone asking if they would be willing to set an appointment with me. That way, I no longer had to be rejected. (It didn't work at first. I tried several times and I was about to give up a number of times, too.)

But then, things “clicked.”

I started booking appointments and selling policies. I later became one of the top salespeople for this insurance company for about eight months in a row.

Problem is, I hated my job. I hated it because I had a poor territory (salespeople were assigned territories), and this was back in the old days when insurance agents also had to visit every single client each month to collect premiums.

(My territory was so poor, some paid their premiums with empty beer bottles!)

So I moved on.

Eventually, I found a job as a consultant for a hair restoration company. Some of their services included hair transplants and surgery, with a doctor on staff.

My main job was as a patient advocate, where I consulted clients on the appropriate hair restoration method for them. I was paid a very small base salary but with commissions on any sales I made.

Part of my job, among others (and similar to what I did in the insurance biz), was to help increase appointments of consultations with prospects.

That included writing copy for direct mail pieces, display ads in newspapers (with dense copy), information packages, and even infomercial scripts. Which is why I liked the job. I didn't have to do any prospecting.

You see, the way it works is that people first read the ad or see the infomercial on TV, and then they request a free information kit to be mailed to them. If the client was interested, they would call to book a consultation with me.

During my first year, I noticed something peculiar. Before every consultation, the clinic asked prospects to fill out a form (e.g., asking about their medical history and other forms of hair replacement tried, etc).

If a prospect went ahead and bought, a client file was created. But if they didn't, I would do some phone follow-up. And if that didn't work either, their consult form was simply filed away in a storage box.

One day, I stumbled onto a bunch of these boxes in storage (I think there were 30-40 of them), which contained several years' worth of filled-out consultation forms of clients who never bought.

That's when a lightbulb lit up in my head.

It reminded me of my experience at the insurance company.

I asked my employer to buy a computer. (At the time, the only person with a computer was the accountant!) We hired a data entry clerk from a temp-help agency, and created a database of all these people who didn't take action.

Next, I wrote a direct mail piece, which made a limited-time offer.

The direct mail touted some new hair replacement procedure that looked a lot more natural than its predecessor, as well as new advancements in the field of cosmetic surgery that were introduced since their last consultation.

That's when things started to explode! I don't remember the exact number, but this little direct mail campaign resulted in over a million dollars in sales.

(Keep in mind, the price range for hair restoration solutions ranged anywhere between $2,000 to $20,000, particularly in the case of hair transplants.)

I even remember on the last week of the promotion, there was a lineup outside the waiting room of people wanting to get a consultation before the promotion ended. I was obviously ecstatic. In fact, it was also my highest grossing week in terms of commissions. (It was around $7,000 Canadian.)

Since then, we repeated this feat several times. Many of my dense-copy display ads would get a ton of new clients and patients, and I was doing quite well.

My base salary at the time was $22,000. But I made a lot more than that in commissions. I think it was around $80,000 back in the early 90s.

Now, over the period of a few years, this company grew by leaps and bounds. I would say mostly because of my help. (Admittedly, my employer at the time, who was also my mentor, was a brilliant salesperson. I learned a lot from him.)

As the company grew, opening several franchises across North America, I was tasked with the job of hiring and training salespeople in them, and consulting their owners (including doctors on staff) on how to market themselves.

And yes, that included copywriting, too.

My employer flew me to almost every major city to conduct these trainings.

Here's the problem.

While I'm on the road training other people about marketing and consulting, I wasn't selling. So my income went back down to $22,000. I was getting worried.

He had hired another consultant to take my place, so I couldn't go back to selling. But I was working really hard while the company made a ton of money. “There's got to be something better than this,” I kept saying to myself.

So I approached my employer and asked for a raise. After much back-and-forth over several weeks, one day I was called into the meeting room. The office manager then said to me, “You're doing fine work, Michel.”

“Oh, great,” I said to myself. “I can feel something good is going to happen!”

She said, “I know you've been working hard training all these franchises while not making any commissions like you used to. We want to give you a raise for your hard work and dedication.”

“Your new salary will be increased as of today by…

(I was grinning with anticipation.)

“… An extra $3,000.”

I said, “Oh, $3,000 a month! Great!”

“No, no,” she said, “your new annual salary is now $25,000.”

I was so disappointed. And angry.

Don't forget, those were Canadian dollars (less than $17,000 USD) and nowhere near the $80,000 I made previously. As you can imagine, being partly responsible for their explosive growth, I felt rejected. And hurt.

Not willing to give up, I kept asking. But with every protest I made, they gave me a different reason as to why they couldn't “afford” to raise it more.

So I quit the very next month.

It was the best decision I ever made.

I went freelance, and shortly thereafter created a company called “The Success Doctor.” (I specialized in doctors since I gained a lot of experience in that field. So the name implied “I help doctors become successful.”)

I wasn't doing too bad. But I was still eking out a meager living charging anywhere between $100 to $500 per copywriting project. (My clients at the time were primarily local doctors with small offices.)

But some of them did work really well. My first royalty arrangement was while working for a hair transplant doctor in Toronto. I was getting paid a salary plus commissions plus a percentage of the clinic's profits.

One day, while working for one doctor, a sales rep came to the clinic selling advertising space on this thing called “the world wide web.” Their services included a web page and a listing in their directory.

My curiosity was piqued.

You see, part of my job as a marketing consultant was writing copy in different media to get exposure for my clients. I was a big fan of the yellow pages. So this seemed like a natural complement.

Plus, I've been using BBS services (dialup bulletin boards) since I was 11 years old. So I knew this would be a good medium to advertise in.

Plus, since a lot of people saw our TV infomercials but failed to call for our information kit, it made perfect sense to be in as many places as possible when they finally did decide to do something about their hairloss.

So I created my client's website in 1992.

Over time, I worked with other types of cosmetic surgeons. Then other types of doctors (e.g., dentists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, physiotherapists, etc). Then other types of professionals and service providers.

But as a result of that one sales rep's presentation (which sold me on having a presence on the world wide web), I decided that I should have a website for myself, promoting my freelance work.

So I signed up on this new thing called Geocities back in 1994, and created my first website. It was nothing to sneeze at. It was just a simple, brochure-like web page with contact information. (I later registered “SuccessDoctor.com.”)

The result? Nothing. Not a single request.

Years before, however, I wrote a booklet called “The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning.” I used it as a way to get clients to hire me offline — the report was much like a salesletter in disguise. And it worked quite well.

So going online, I decided to digitize my report and offer it for free, especially if people joined my email list. (As far as I can tell, I was one of the first ones to do this way back then. At least in the freelance marketing or copywriting business.)

I started with some article marketing. I would chop my booklet into standalone articles, where the byline promoted the “rest of the articles” (i.e., the booklet).

It worked well. But the day my traffic and business really exploded was when I decided to let other people pass that booklet around. As a result of that little book, my site was bombarded with quote requests.

I was doing some salesletters and web page copy for as little as $300-$2,000 each. Mind you, I also did a lot of free ones at the time only to get my name out there and start building my portfolio. I also bartered a lot.

That's when things started moving very quickly.

It was late 1998, and I made a bartering deal for a well-known marketer. I did his long web copy for just $2,000 in exchange for getting referrals from him and for publishing my articles to his list, which was part of our arrangement.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Bottom line, it does take work. And there's no such thing as “overnight riches.” Thinking that this happens when you first start out as a new copywriter is an illusion. It took me the better part of 20 years to get to where I am today.

However, with so much training and information available, it shouldn't take that long for anyone with enough gumption, bouncebackability, and the right attitude to get there.

It may have taken me 20 years. But knowing what I now know, I can safely say that, if I were to lose everything once again, even overnight, I can easily make it all back — and then some — and do it in a lot less time.

To echo something my friend the late, great Gary Halbert once said, “If you're a good copywriter, there's no reason why you should be starving.”

There you have it!

Now let me ask you, what's YOUR story?

Categories
SEO

10 Facts About Marketing Consultant: Michel Fortin

After my article on “Lesson Learned, Lesson Earned,” in which I discussed my history with the Internet marketing industry, some people asked me several questions about my background outside of my career as a marketing consultant. Not the background stuff you'll find on my “About” or “Now” pages. But the stuff people may not know.

I believe I'm an open book. Or I think I am. But I also realized that, even though I've been doing this for 30 years, I get new followers and subscribers all the time who don't know a thing about me.

Coincidentally, too, this morning I received the latest newsletter issue from marketer Louis Grenier that inspired me. It listed 10 facts about him.

Louis is the host of Everyone Hates Marketers podcast, a show which I've listened to for a while. His style is refreshing and authentic, which some might find a tad abrasive. His show teaches real-world, no-nonsense marketing that's not sleazy, loud, or aggressive, or that resorts to using hacks or “secrets.”

That's my kind of marketing.

So I followed his example. Here are 10 facts about the person behind The More Traffic Memo, listed in no particular order.

1. I'm a husband to Barbara, a Canadian-Portuguese immigrant who works as a nurse in the labor and delivery unit at The Ottawa Hospital. Right now, COVID is making her job exceptionally tough and stressful. She inspires me so much.

Michel Fortin and Barbara De Moura wedding, May 20, 2017.
Barbara and Michel, May 20, 2017.

2. I was born and raised in the small Canadian town of Aylmer, Québec. It's now a suburb of Gatineau, which is a city adjacent to our nation's capital of Ottawa. Until the 90s, Aylmer was mostly bilingual (French and English), which is why I speak both fluently.

Recently, I learned Portuguese after meeting my wife so I could recite my vows in her language. (Yes, sounds almost like a scene from Love, Actually.)

3. As a young child in the late 70s, I surfed bulletin boards using an agonizingly slow 300-baud dialup modem. I learned to code and played Scepter of Goth, the first-ever multiplayer online role-playing game (or MMORPG). This is where I fell in love with technology and what would later become the Internet.

4. My first job was working at McDonald's as a teen in the early 80s. My wage was a paltry $2.54/hour (less than two US dollars). But my first “adult” job was selling insurance — the job in which I failed miserably, declared bankruptcy, and then succeeded after I discovered the power of copywriting.

5. I left the insurance business, moved to Ottawa, and became a marketing consultant at a nearby hair restoration clinic. I worked on commission selling hair replacement systems. Not satisfied with the number of leads coming in, I took over the clinic's marketing — including writing their ads, direct mail pieces, and TV commercials, and eventually, their first-ever website, too.

The clinic grew and expanded to include hair transplant surgery. They later opened multiple clinics across Canada and the USA, where I handled the clinic's marketing, copywriting, advertising, and training of their new staff.

6. This is where my marketing career took off. By taking care of my employer's other clinics and their marketing, my sales suffered and, as a result, my income plummeted. So I left and hung my shingle as an independent marketing consultant who specialized in cosmetic surgery.

I launched my first website in 1995. Since I worked mostly with doctors, clinics, and surgeons, I later incorporated as The Success Doctor, Inc., since my goal was to help doctors become successful.

7. How I entered the Internet marketing industry was a bit of a fluke. I wrote a booklet in the early 90s called The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning. By the mid-90s, I split the book into standalone articles, which I offered to a variety of online magazines that wanted to publish them.

The goal was to capture the attention of other doctors, particularly those who were looking to get on this thing called the Internet. But it also captured the attention of a software company that was also publishing its own magazine called The Internet Marketing Chronicles. They hired me as their editor.

8. After writing near-daily editorials for a few years, The Internet Marketing Center owned by the late Corey Rudl acquired the magazine. Luckily, Corey kept me on board as their editor. We had over 120,000 subscribers.

Eventually, Corey flew me to Vancouver to his office where I wrote copy for him, including his sales presentations and “pitch slides” he used when he spoke at Internet marketing seminars. I also ghostwrote his autobiography, “How to Create a Fortune on The Internet in Just Four Simple Steps.”

How to Create a Fortune On The Internet in Four Simple Steps - The Autobiography of Corey Rudl
“How to Create a Fortune on The Internet in Just Four Simple Steps” by Corey Rudl

9. This led to a stream of work with other Internet marketers, and speaking gigs at marketing and business seminars around the globe. I spoke on stages in front of a few hundred people in New Zealand to about 10,000 at Wembley's Convention Centre in the UK — and everything in between.

During this time, I shared the stage with other well-known marketers and copywriters, including Dan Kennedy, Jay Abraham, Yanik Silver, Gary Halbert, Mark Joyner, Russell Brunson, Ryan Deiss, Mark Victor Hansen, Jay Conrad Levinson, Brendon Burchard, and countless others.

10. Recently, David Garfinkel interviewed me on his Copywriters Podcast, and he asked me this question: “What topic makes your heart beat a tad faster these days?” My answer was SEO. The reason is, as I told him, SEO has grown to a point where it's no different from knowing how to write excellent copy.

Simply know your market and what they want, and just give it to them. That includes content and copy. What kinds of questions are they asking that you can answer? What types of problems do they have that you can solve? Knowing this will improve both your SEO and your conversation rates.

Now it's your turn. What do you do? Comment below.

Categories
SEO

Funnel Marketing: 5 Things to Laser Focus On

Today, I posted a rant on LinkedIn because I was getting frustrated with the number of connection requests that only amount to spam. This is the exact opposite of applying effective funnel marketing techniques. The vast majority of people who attempt to connect with me have one of five things in common:

  1. Some freelance network (e.g., Fiverr, Upwork, etc);
  2. Some lead generation type of business;
  3. Some virtual assistant or outsourcing service;
  4. Some LinkedIn-related marketing service;
  5. Some “High-Ticket” closer or other B.S.

I understand that it's part of doing outreach. But there are better ways to do that than attempting to connect with someone only to spam their DMs less than a few hours later.

Many of these are automated, too, which is worse.

Some are oblivious “drive-by” spammers who don't care about relationships. For example, I accepted a connection request. I get spammed. So I removed the connection and deleted the DM. But they kept following up, oblivious to the fact that I removed them.

They don't care if you unfriend them. Because once you're connected with someone and they send you one direct message, they have access to your DM box in perpetuity, unless you block them.

They would be a lot more productive if they funnelized their approach.

Sure, they can use Sales Navigator and InMail credits to pitch me. I tend to read those — either for the education or the opportunity.

But rather than spam me, use disingenuous ways to access me, or hit me over the head with a pitch, a better way is to turn their attempt to sell me into a funnel that takes me through each step of the relationship.

There are myriad ways to funnelize your outreach approach, too. It's good old multistep-marketing taught by top marketers like Dan Kennedy.

Now, I understand that this is part of doing outreach. Personally, I hate doing outreach. I'm a fan of positioning, not prospecting. I prefer to attract clients to me and not me chasing them.

Chasing clients hints of desperation, conscious or not. It's the “ketchup stain” principle. It creates antagonism and puts you in a weaker position.

I prefer a “permission marketing” approach, a la Seth Godin.

Traditional marketing is a form of interruption marketing. It's a competition to win people’s attention. Whether it's email spam or social media DM spam, it's unwanted, interruptive, dismissable, and even repulsive.

Permission marketing focuses on creating a relationship instead of making a sale. It's a graduated process that takes place over time. Sometimes, it can be short. Other times, long.

Funnelizing your marketing focuses on demand generation and lead nurturing. And the best way to generate leads is to attract them. Once you do, it's easier to get to know your client, educate them, ask questions, and of course, make an offer. It's also easier to retain them.

The typical sales funnel has 5-7 phases, depending on the industry and who you ask. There are many variations. But the one I prefer is this:

  1. Awareness
  2. Interest
  3. Consideration
  4. Evaluation
  5. Purchase (or Conversion)

The remaining two are Loyalty (repeat sales) and Advocacy (referral sales). But for the sake of brevity, let's stick with the first five.

1. Awareness

Creating awareness is where your content attracts search engine traffic, natural backlinks, social media shares, brand mentions, and so forth. It's not limited to your website. It can include your social media networks, public relations, even paid ad campaigns.

2. Interest

The goal of creating awareness is to drive qualified users to your website, social media profile or page, email list, etc so they can enter your funnel. In short, you want them to raise their hand and show interest — or create it.

Landing pages can drive your audience into your funnel. Marketers call these “lead magnets.” The key is to get them to take the first step, which in most cases is giving up their email address.

3. Consideration

By providing content, you're taking them from being interested in what you say to being interested in what you offer. You educate your qualified leads about your business, your services, and the types of problems you help solve.

You can do this via a newsletter, or it can be dripped over time through an autoresponder series or multipart course. Some people I know “spoonfeed” their otherwise long salesletter through multiple, easier-to-digest emails.

4. Evaluation

Obviously, this is where you make an offer of some kind. You're moving from educational content to transactional. But it's still educational to a great degree as you want to provide enough information to help them make a decision.

You can start sales conversations, engage with prospective clients about their situations, answer questions they might have, offer comparisons with competing alternatives, provide different purchasing options, and so on.

5. Purchase

Selling is not a single event. It's about solving problems and creating relationships. Whether you're a dentist or a doctor, an engineer or an accountant, a consultant or a coach, you're also a salesperson. Like it or not.

The best salespeople are advisors.

If a competing solution best solves the client's problem, tell them. It's in your best interest to do so. Good-fit clients come not just from problems you can solve but also from the relationships you can nourish. Your best clients can even come from non-clients.

Relationships are more important than transactions.

Finally, keep this in mind.

Funnels can be long or short. They can take place within a matter of days or over a period of years. It depends on the industry, the length of the sales cycle, the complexity of the problem, and the urgency.

But if you've positioned yourself well, chances are clients are already aware, interested, and considering your services before entering your funnel.

In either case, just be cognizant of:

  1. What are the various steps in your funnel;
  2. What's your user's stage of awareness at each step;
  3. What each step does to take the user to the next stage;
  4. And how each step performs and can be improved.

You might have one, two, three, or more funnels. One client, a dermatologist, has 40 landing pages, where each one is a funnel or an entrance into one.

But if you don't have any, just start with one. If you've been in business for a while, you already have one right now, whether you're aware of it or not.

So map out the journey your clients go through, from awareness to purchase, and understand what they get at each step and how they get to the next one. Then tweak it.

In short, magnetize, funnelize, and optimize.

Categories
Copywriting

How to Target Your Perfect Customer

The most important part of your copy is not your headline, not your offer, and certainly not your benefits. The most important part is your customer.

Sounds obvious, right? But I've critiqued some pretty good copy. Very well-written and compelling, too. But if the conversion rate is low (hence, the reason why I was hired to do a critique consultation), it's because these websites do not target the right audience for the offer, or the copy fails to connect with their readers.

Researching your customer in depth is vital to the success of your copy. It's not only an important component of targeting and qualifying the best prospect for your offer, but also an effective way to discover new ideas, different angles, captivating storylines, unsought benefits, and appropriate length and language of your copy that will convert more.

The question is, how do you target and connect with your readers?

First off, if your product has never been launched before, hopefully, you have done enough research to know your product is viable. But if you have, then you should have a good idea of who your market for your product is.

Knowing who your market is, and how and where to target them, are two different things. Your goal is to discover the qualities, characteristics, and behavioral patterns of your specific (or greatest) market. Then market to that audience with the right message, and do so more than any other and as often as possible.

Create a buyer persona of your perfect client. Then write your copy as if you're talking to that one single individual, as if it's a letter written one-on-one, and they're the only reader that matters in the world right now.

Here's how to develop a “buyer persona.”

Typically, there are four main categories.

The highest converting websites and most productive marketing pieces are usually those who have spent a great many hours interviewing clients, spending time learning about them (maybe even to be with them), asking a lot of questions, and spending a lot of time learning about:

  • Geographics
  • Demographics
  • Psychographics
  • Technographics

Empathy Starts With Discovery

It was Ken Blanchard, in the One-Minute Sales Manager, who said: “Before I walk a mile in your shoes, I must first take off my own.” Brian Keith Voiles, in an interview I gave him regarding the power of empathy in copy, said it best:

“The first thing I do is try to live a ‘day in the life' of my prospect. What keeps him up at night? What are his biggest concerns or his biggest joys? What's the first thing he does in the morning as he wakes up? Does he read the paper? What kind of paper? What sections? Does he hurt? Is he frustrated? About what? In all, I try to put myself in my prospect's shoes as much as possible and really try to see what he sees, thinks what he thinks, feels what he feels. The more I do, the more empathetic I am in my copy — and the more I sell.”

Demographics are the basic qualities and characteristics of your market. They include age, gender, culture, employment, industry, income level, marital status, and so on. Does your product cater uniquely to women? Is it more appealing to a specific industry? Does your product complement another type of product?

Geographics are the countries, locations, and establishments in which your target market resides or works, or those it frequents or to which it travels. Is your market made up of French Canadians? Are they urbanites or rural folk? Do they commute to work in large, busy offices or are they working from home?

On the other hand, psychographics are made up of the emotional, psychological, and behavioral qualities of your market. They include the emotions, buying patterns, purchase histories, and even thought processes behind people's decision to buy your product.

What is their religious or political persuasion? What interests and hobbies are they're engaged in? What previous purchases have they made, and other related products they have consumed?

Finally, there are technographics, which are people's level of sophistication with technology and their specific use of it. Are they early adopters or laggards? Do they use mobile devices to make purchases or are they primarily desktop users? Are they technically savvy or do they need hand-holding?

Bottom line, who buys from you specifically?

Try to be as specific as possible. Creating a buyer persona may seem like you're ignoring other markets, and if your market is indeed made up of wildly disparate personas, you might want to create more than one. But for now, focus on who buys from you the most or the most often.

In fact, the more specific your defined audience is, the more focused your targeting will be, the greater the connection with your market will be, and the higher your conversions will be. (Sounds contradictory, but I'll come back this and explain later.)

Intelligence Gathering

The two most important elements are, of course, demographics and psychographics. You should have a good understanding of who your client is, such as their age, occupation, marital and family status, etc. Hopefully, you also have information about their interests, hobbies, culture, aspirations, etc. If you don't, then you know what you need to do.

Another way to look at it, demographics show who may need your product, while psychographics reveal who may want your product. These are different! To determine who wants your product is to also understand why they want it. Some of the best market research has to do with how your market interacted with you and why.

Ask your current clients. Call them. Probe further. Many will appreciate that you're taking an interest in them. Say it's about gathering feedback in order to improve your level of service, which in reality, it is. For example, here's a list of questions you should ask:

  • Who are you, exactly?
  • What's a day in the life of “you” like?
  • What's your biggest challenge?
  • What's your biggest success story?
  • Why did you buy my product?
  • Why did you choose me over a competitor?
  • Why did you buy at that specific point in time?
  • Did you buy right away (on impulse) or take your time?
  • If you shopped around, what exactly were you looking for?
  • What other products / services / solutions did you consider?
  • What do you like the most and the least about my product?
  • Would you refer me to others, and if so, why? Why not?
  • What specific benefits do you enjoy the most in my product?
  • If you considered an alternative before buying, what were their benefits?
  • And so on.

These are immensely important questions that can help you, guide you, or even cause you to change your approach altogether.

Don't discount the power of doing marketing research, especially within your own backyard so to speak. You want to know not only who buys from you but, more important, why they do. In other words, think psychographics and not just demographics.

To illustrate the difference between demographics and psychographics, here's an example pulled from my own experience as a copywriter in the cosmetic surgery field.

Hair transplant doctors cater mainly to men who have experienced hair loss and are able to afford such an operation — i.e., men and bald men specifically are potential patients because they may need of more hair.

Psychographics, on the other hand, go a little further. In this example, they are comprised of men who not only need but also want more hair — since not all of them do. (It's a matter of priorities, just as the type of clothing one chooses to wear.)

They may seem to need more hair, but they might not want more. So just targeting “bald men” is not enough.

To target your best market as precisely as possible and generate better leads, doctors must take the psychographic element into account, such as their patients' lifestyle, their interests, the type of industry in which they work (since certain industries are image-related), as well as their previous buying habits (such as men who have already invested in other forms of hair replacement solutions).

The more information the better.

For example, you have a headline that said, “Are you losing your hair?” That appeals to your demographics. People who have hairloss will probably read the ad. After all, they “seem” to need more hair.

The problem is, they may not care about it. But if your headline said, “Suffering from hairloss?” now your ad is targeting someone who not only has hairloss but also cares about it enough to want to do something about it.

Aim For The Bull's-Eye

Nevertheless, arm yourself with as much of this type of information beforehand and your chances of achieving greater success with your product will be virtually guaranteed. You will know how to craft marketing communications that will appeal as specifically and directly as possible to that market.

Next, knowing this information will also help you target that market. Developing a buyer persona should give you a pretty good indication of where they hang out, where they will see your ad, or where they will learn about your product or service.

The following represents The Audience Targeting Model (a format to follow when targeting an audience, or while engaged in any targeting activity). It's in the form of three concentric circles — like a bull's-eye.

Audience Targeting Model for marketing
Audience Targeting Model for marketing.

Applying the targeting model is simple. Each circle represents a different level in the targeting process — the center being the first, your main priority, and so on. As the marketing adage goes, “fish where the fish swim.” Find places, events, or publications that meet any of the three, from the center out.

The center of the bullseye should be your main aim. These are things, events, or locations that are centered on your buyer persona. The second level consists of places, events, or things that are related to them. The third level, while not related, consists of those that are oriented towards your perfect customer.

Here's a quick description of each circle:

The Center (Bull's-Eye), or Audience Centered: It's what pertains directly to your target market. In other words, it's anything that meets your buyer persona (and does so immediately and as specifically as possible). Things like demographics, psychographics, and geographics are included, here.

The Second Tier (Middle Layer) or Audience Related: It's what pertains indirectly to your target market. Stated differently, it's anything that relates to or logically fits in your buyer's profile. This includes things such as direct competitors, complementary products, related industries, etc.

The Third Tier (Outside Layer) or Audience Oriented: It's what does not pertain at all to your target market but somehow matches or is oriented towards any of its areas. Examples are unrelated industries with which your customer is associated, other businesses patronized by your customer, other unrelated products they consume (products that do not complement, replace, or supersede yours, but are consumed by them), common threads among your audience (even if they have nothing to do with your product), etc.

Here's An Example

Let's say you're in the computer sales business. Your perfect customer is a person aged between 20 and 35, earning around $40,000, living in the eastern part of the United States, and working in the high-tech field.

The center or bull's-eye would include computer-related magazines, shows, websites, tradeshows, email newsletters, forums, social networks (specifically computer-related groups and “cliques” on those social media), etc. Wherever your perfect customer is targeted, based on the qualities and characteristics of your product or customer, should be your first goal. Your main aim. The bull's-eye.

The second tier are areas that are indirectly related to your buyer persona. Your goal would then be to target places, events, or things that are similar or somehow logically fit into your target market as well — in short, other related publications, businesses, or areas that target your perfect customer, too.

Areas include software magazines, trade publications, technology websites, industry associations, non-competing businesses, etc. An example would be other websites selling computer peripherals or software your client would need or enjoy, such as an accounting software package.

The third and final tier consists of totally unrelated areas your buyer frequents, without having anything to do with your industry. You want to be in front of as many of their eyeballs as possible, even if where you appear has anything to do with your product, industry, or niche.

Let's say, through some research, you found out that a large percentage of your target market are coffee drinkers. Then areas you would seek are coffee-related sites, specialty coffee magazines, coffee product stores (e.g., coffee maker companies, mugs, espresso machines, etc), restaurants, books on coffee, and so on.

It means that, as long as the audiences of such websites and publications logically fit into your target market somehow, even if, in this case, they have nothing to do with computers at all, then you've got it made. In essence, you're still aiming within your “dart board,” in other words.

Don't Play Darts in The Dark

The bottom line is, in order to convert at a much higher rate, you need to have the right message in front of the right people as often as possible. You not only need to know who your perfect customer is, but you also need to understand her, connect with her, and empathize with her.

So before targeting your buyer, create a marketing message or campaign that appeals to their persona as specifically as possible. Think of that one person as you create your message. How will they react when they see it? Does it match with what they're thinking? What will they say?

As Robert Collier said in his book, The Robert Collier Letter Book, you need to continue the conversation already going on in their minds.

When targeting your market, even if you aim for the bullseye but you still land somewhere on the dartboard (like marketing computer stuff to coffee lovers, using the example I used earlier), you're still hitting your market.

If your message is right but your targeting falls outside of that bullseye's center, people who fit your buyer persona will know it's meant for them, and they will be interested in what you say, feel connected with your message, and buy from you — as opposed to generic, bland marketing with which your audience feels no connection, no matter where on the bullseye they fall into.

In short, the less targeted and the more generic your message is, the less connected your copy you will be with your market. You might as well shoot darts in the dark and hope you're lucky to land on the board. Maybe.

Categories
Productivity

The Pitfalls and Blessings of ADHD

Preamble. After I wrote this article on LinkedIn, a few people asked me to publish it in a more public medium so they can share it. So I decided to reprint it here. Please feel free to share it, too.


This week, I read an article by another coach and copywriter about her recent ADHD diagnosis at age 45. It resonated deeply with me, so I decided that maybe I should write one of my own so that I can give my perspective.

I was reluctant to discuss this openly, although I have mentioned my diagnosis a little in the past. That's RSD talking. (I'll come back to this later.)

But after seeing Janet's article, and how some of my colleagues, clients, and friends discuss their mental health issues so openly (thanks to Erin Blaskie and Sophie Smith-Doré), I've decided to take the plunge. It's also a little therapeutic.

So here we go.

Late last year, I was officially diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. Specifically, ADHD Combined Type.

What does this mean? The attention-deficit type of ADHD (formerly called ADD for this reason) is the result of a restless mind. Hyperactive type is the result of a restless nervous system or body. Combined means both mental and physical restlessness (i.e., attention-deficient and hyperactive).

ADHD is a spectrum and expresses itself in myriad ways, which is why it can show up differently in different people. For example, most women tend to get the attention-deficit type while men get the hyperactivity or combined type.

I'm 52 years old and I lived with this all my life.

The reason it took me so long to get a diagnosis was a bit of a fluke, actually.

Up until 10 years ago, I assumed I was just normal. I was often fidgety, easily distracted, having a hard time focusing, hyperfocused when immersed in work (like copywriting, for example), easily triggered when interrupted during those hyperfocused moments, etc.

Then, I had a serious blowup argument with my adult step-daughter. I got mad at her for something that, to a neurotypical, would seem trivial. A week later, I was approached by her and her mother (my late wife) who wanted to sit down with me to have a “family talk.”

I didn't think it was about the argument as I already apologized. We all sat down and had what seemed to be a very difficult conversation for them. They were both crying because my step-daughter was afraid of how I would react:

“I think you have… something.”

You see, she listened to a podcast where the guest described similar behavioural patterns. She said it reminded her of me. However, the guest had autism. (Autism and ADHD share many common symptoms and traits.)

So for 10 years, the possibility was always in the back of my mind. I did a variety of online tests ⏤ some of which are as trustworthy as stock predictions made by a pet astrologer while rubbing healing crystals ⏤ that said there's a 79% chance I was neurodivergent.

After a decade, I finally decided to get officially tested only for curiosity.

When I was told I had ADHD, it wasn't what I expected. At first, I was kind of bummed out about it. But after immersing myself into the world of ADHD and its symptoms, challenges, tell-tale signs, and so forth, a rush of “aha!” moments came to me.

With every symptom I read, I said to myself, “Whoa! This is so me!” For the month that followed, I went back into my memory bank and realized all the things I did / thought / said that I now know it was because of my ADHD.

It came all crashing down.

But at the same time, it was like this massive weight had been lifted, too.

For example, in school, teachers berated me for being late, tapping my feet, or drumming on my desk. I dropped out of college because I was bored to tears. My boss at my first job declared in the middle of a staff meeting, “Geez, you're such a fidgety person!”

That first job was selling life insurance, by the way. In the 80s, cold-calling by knocking on doors was the most common way to find prospects back then.

I loathed it because I had an immense fear of rejection.

I hated having doors slammed in my face or simply being told “no.” (That's when I later discovered I could write salesletters to get appointments instead, which was the germ that later sprouted into a successful career as a copywriter and marketer.)

At first, I blamed it on my abusive, alcoholic father. He was mentally ill with Korsakov's Disease, which is a type of mental degeneration caused by years of alcohol abuse.

But when I learned that a common trait of people with ADHD is something called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria or RSD, it explained everything. This is one of those big “aha!” moments that completely changed my perception of my life.

As a sidenote, I also discovered that ADHD is often inherited. That's when I realized that maybe my father struggled with it all his life, too. As a family member told me, “Maybe he drank to silence a pain.” (But addiction is also common with ADHDers.)

What exactly is Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

ADHD is a disorder that affects the executive functioning part of the brain. It's caused by a lack of specific neurons that help to transport dopamine to other parts of the brain.

Dopamine is responsible for motivation and attention, among others. Without it, the result is inattentiveness, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and mood instability.

Now, you may not know me or know that I have any of those things. But let me give you an idea of some of the challenges I face so you understand what I have to deal with.

First off, everyone has these symptoms.

We are all inattentive from time to time. We are all impulsive, moody, restless, distracted, and hyperactive once in a while, too. But with people with ADHD, the frequency is abnormally high to the point that it affects their lives.

Here's a quick list of issues I've grappled with all my life.

  • I have a hard time staying focused. My mind wanders all the time. But when I'm engaged in a task that stimulates me, I'm hyperfocused where I completely zone in and block out everything else. But when I do, I also lose track of time, ignore other tasks, forget necessities like eating, and tune out what's going on around me.
  • I struggle to finish reading books. When I try to read a book, my mind wanders and I have to re-read the same page multiple times because I forget where I was or the story itself (or both). I prefer listening to audiobooks at 1.5x-2x speed.
  • My short-term memory is terrible. I often lose my keys, my phone, people's names right after we're introduced, track of tasks I was working on, and so on. In fact, I can walk into another room in my house to fetch something and literally forget what I wanted the moment I enter the room.
  • I can get easily bored. I'm constantly busy doing something, whether it's work or play. Other than work (which keeps me quite busy), I play drums in two bands, act in a local murder mystery theatre, and constantly take online classes.
  • I suck at multitasking. To multitask effectively, one must be able to switch from task to task, remember where they are with each task, and easily pick up where they left off. But if I don't focus on finishing a task, chances are I'll forget about it (or forget what it was for).
  • I need reminders and alerts to prod me constantly. Some people say you need to turn off notifications on your phone as they are distractions. I do turn off those that are unimportant. But I have reminders to tell me when to do stuff, even for the most insignificant little things like “take out the trash” or “pay your bills.”
  • I can easily get excited about new things. But I also struggle to finish them. This is the highlight of my life. If something catches my fancy, I tend to get immersed in it but it loses steam shortly after or until something else exciting comes along. Home reno projects? Fugghedabuddit!
  • I'm terrible when it comes to relationship stuff. Thank goodness for reminders, because I would have a hard time remembering birthdays, anniversaries, events, and other social stuff like sending gifts and cards.
  • I'm an impulsive shopper. My spending can sometimes go overboard and I never seem to learn from my mistakes. For example, I love trying new gadgets the moment they come out. But after a few weeks, they end up gathering dust.
  • I love words but I suck with numbers. Sure, I'm a big fan of marketing data and analytics ⏤ thank goodness for software! But ask me to do some mathematical gymnastics figuring out a fancy-schmancy formula for my spreadsheet? No dice.
  • I often leave everything until the last minute. I procrastinate a lot because it's hard for me to find the motivation to get stuff done. But the dopamine rush I get from the last-minute crunch trying to meet some impending deadline is often what my brain needs. Besides, it's where I do my best work, too.
  • I have a hard time paying attention. Including paying attention to detail. Like Janet Murray said so well, “I struggle so much with detail to the point where starting a project with lots of moving parts or instructions to read feels physically painful.”
  • I work best as an independent consultant. I find it hard working in an office with other people for more than a few weeks at a time. It's not only dealing with the monotony and constant distractions of the work environment, but it's also being forced to nurture the relationships with coworkers, which can be exhausting.
  • I get bored of everything very quickly. When in meetings, at social events, doing projects, or having small talks, my mind wanders and I often catch myself grabbing my phone, checking other stuff, or paying more attention to what's going on around me instead of what's in front of me.
  • I am a very sensitive person. That's the rejection sensitive dysphoria part of ADHD. For example, I tend to read too much into other people's emails, or overanalyze and catastrophize at the slightest brushoff from a friend.
  • I have a hard time “relaxing.” Luckily, when I travel or take some time off, I can get busy and do a lot of stuff to keep me going. But laying on the beach for hours doing nothing? Only if I listen to podcasts or audiobooks.
  • I have a hard time sleeping or concentrating. It's hard to shut my brain off. I love sleeping with white noise or working inside a busy, bustling coffee shop. But I can't have the TV on because my brain will latch onto what's playing in the background, forcing it to stay awake or to lose focus on the task at hand.
  • When I speak I tend to talk fast. There are two reasons for this: one is that it's the way my mind works, constantly racing. But another is that, if I don't say what I need to say the moment I think it, I'll forget it. And when I do forget it, I feel dejected.
  • When in conversations, I often interrupt. I hate being disrespectful. But for the same reason above, if I don't blurt out what I need to say when I think of it, it's gone. If I wait before speaking, I have to focus on what I want to say so as to not forget it ⏤ which in turn causes me not to pay attention to what others are saying.
  • Last but not least? Speeding tickets. I used to get into car accidents a lot when I was younger, which luckily I've avoided for many years. However, I do get a lot of speeding tickets. If I get distracted or forget the speed limit, I always tend to go a little faster. (Thank goodness for cruise control!)

All of these are typical symptoms of ADHD. I'm sure I have to deal with a lot more that I'm missing here, but those are the big ones for me.

Now, I’ve also developed lots of coping strategies, too.

Here are a few things I do to help me.

When I catastrophize or become overly sensitive, which I often do, I use a technique called CBT or cognitive behavioural therapy. A psychologist friend of mine turned me onto this technique years ago, even before my ADHD diagnosis. It has helped me tremendously with my mental health and sensitivity issues.

The way it works is that, when you're facing a tough emotional situation, you have to mentally pull yourself away from it (which is not easy to do and it does take practice), look at it from an outside perspective; focus on the thoughts, beliefs, or behaviours separately; and change the pattern by objectively thinking about them.

Next, when I write long copy or detailed marketing plans for clients, I tend to record myself, get it transcribed, or use voice dictation. I do type (like this article, for example). But if I can't do it in one sitting, I'll use dictation to help me.

Similarly, remember that I struggle when reading books.

Reading long articles is possible only because I use a Chrome Extension called Read-Aloud or Natural Readers. It's a fantastic little tool that allows me to turn written content into audio. If I'm on my desktop, I can read long emails in my Gmail using this tool, too.

With the Read-Aloud extension, as with my Audible app and Stitcher app for podcasts, I tend to listen to everything at 1.5x to 2x speeds. I have to. Otherwise, my mind wanders and I lose track. (People always tell me, “How can you listen to those chipmunks?”)

For driving, and aside from using cruise control, I use Google Maps all the time, even when I'm going to someplace local. I do it for three important reasons:

  1. I know exactly where I'm going and how to get there, and I don't get distracted. It keeps me on track. Literally.
  2. It gives me road conditions and accidents in real-time. (If I'm ever stuck in traffic for whatever reason, I can get seriously impatient and forget about where I'm going.)
  3. Most importantly, Google Maps shows the speed limit of the road I'm on in the lower corner. It even alerts me when I'm over the limit, which prompts me to slow down.

I have a hard time thinking or focusing when I'm in calm, quiet environments. So to help me focus, other than white noise, I usually listen to chill music like lo-fi chill lounge, chillhop, chillstep, instrumental coffee house jazz, meditation music, or binaural beats in the background.

It's surprisingly effective, too. By letting it play in the background, my mind can be free to focus on whatever I'm doing. But it must be instrumental music, though, and only instrumental. Otherwise, if there's any singing, my mind will latch on to the words and… Squirrel!

ADHD is really common in entrepreneurs and creative types.

People with ADHD have a hard time working in jobs or offices for long periods of time, unless the employer makes special accommodations for them. (I never had the opportunity.) But entrepreneurial ventures and freelancing are perfect jobs for them.

Marketing is amazing for that reason. As a consultant and copywriter, I love coming up with marketing strategies, writing copy, brainstorming ideas, and creating ad campaigns ⏤ and not having to deal with coworkers in a busy, easily distractable workplace.

Earlier, I said that I love working in coffee shops. How is this different? I use earphones to listen to my chill music. But I also love the white noise created by the hustle-and-bustle going on in the background. It's kind of… soothing.

Plus, people don't tend to bother you in coffee shops.

My work environment is quite busy. I have multiple tabs, windows, and apps open at the same time, all the time. I also have a ton of desktop sticky notes. I like it because it's the way my mind works. But also, this prompts me or reminds me of what I'm working on.

However, I can't stand a gazillion tabs or windows stacked on each other. I need to see them or else I'll forget they exist. That's why I use three computer monitors. Here's my home office, for example:

michel fortin marketing consultant desk
Michel Fortin's work desk

There you have it.

As Janet did with her article, which I recommend you also read, here's a list of some resources that have helped me if you feel you have ADHD, suspect someone you love or work with has ADHD, or know you do but need some tips.

One final word, and it's an important one.

If you suspect you have ADHD, or “something” like I was once told, then ask your physician and get a diagnosis. The sooner, the better. You'll thank me later, trust me on that one.

Why? Because having the weight lifted from your shoulders is an amazing feeling, and it's also the beginning of self-awareness and healing. It's also one of the easiest mental disorders to treat and manage. You can learn skills and coping strategies, as I have, to help you.

There's medication, too. But I won't go there as I'm not a doctor. (Granted, I drink copious amounts of caffeine, which helps. Stimulants activate dopamine receptors, which is why they help concentration and focus in people with ADHD.)

My only regret is not having the diagnosis sooner.

I'm jealous of children nowadays as most schools, parents, and doctors are far more aware of the disorder than they were in my day ⏤ they were certainly much less in my father's.

Tody, most educational and healthcare systems can easily help kids adapt their learning, teach them coping skills, and provide tools and optimal environments that help them thrive and promote self-actualization.

If only I had known when I was younger, I would have finished college earlier, jumped into business sooner (or found a job that would have better fit my skills), and avoided some of the difficult conversations and relationships that I've damaged over the years.

If you're avoiding it because you'd rather not know, I understand. But know that you are not only hurting yourself but also you may be affecting the people around you, like it or not.

As the saying goes, better to be hurt by the truth than being comforted with a lie. Including lying to yourself.

I also like this Shakespearean passage from Hamlet, where Polonius said: “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Categories
Copywriting

How to Hook (More) Copywriting Prospects

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The other day, an aspiring copywriter asked me a question that I hear all too often: “How do I distinguish myself from other copywriters?”

The answer is not an easy one. It takes some thought, some time, and perhaps some inspiration.

But time after time, I have found that most people tend to overlook one of the most effective and frequently used copywriting and marketing tools. And that's your “Unique Selling Proposition,” or USP.

(I prefer to call it a “Unique Selling Position.” If you've read my book, “Power Positioning,” or if you know my personal story, then you'd know that I'm a big fan of positioning rather than prospecting.)

Your USP is also your “hook.”

A USP is what distinguishes you from the pack. It increases perceived value, expertise, and credibility — without needing to state it outright.

But since I hear this question often, particularly from copywriters just entering the field, it's because it's never an easy process. You either have to dig deep to find your USP, or create one from scratch. And that's why people need a little help in defining it.

I understand. So to help you, here's a tip.

In marketing, every product or service has three levels. They include:

  • The core product.
  • The product itself.
  • The augmented product.

What does this have to do with developing a USP? Before I share it to you, let me explain what these three product levels mean.

  • The core product is the actual end-result, the benefits, that the product offers. It's what the product does for people. As Theodore Levitt once said, people don't buy quarter-inch drills. They buy quarter-inch holes.
  • The actual product is what the product is and consists of. This includes the things that make the product a product. Those are the features, the components, the ingredients, even the packaging.
  • The augmented product is what is added to the product or offer to augment it. Things like free shipping, guarantees, customer support, premiums, etc.

Now, in the context of copywriting (the business or the service of copywriting, that is), you can look at it this way (please note this is an example and not the example):

1) Core Product: Generate and/or increase response.

That's the ultimate result, or at least the reason why most clients hire copywriters.

2) Actual Product: The copy itself.

Writing the copy includes research, writing the first draft, and delivering the final draft. It includes all the elements that help to achieve the core product: headline, storyline, bullets, product details, offer, response device, etc.

The actual product is also directly tied to the market. Therefore, it also includes the market you're selling to, such as focusing on a specific industry or audience, or a particular kind of copy such as sales letters, direct mail, websites, etc.

3) Augmented Product: Whatever you add beyond the actual product.

Things you add to the service to “beef it up,” such as extras, value-adds, add-ons, bonuses, premiums, gifts, additional promises, and so on, which can vary tremendously from copywriter to copywriter, and industry to industry.

For example, it can include formatting, graphic design, layout suggestions, project management, market research, rewrites, guarantees, split-testing the actual copy before the final draft, exclusivity, rush service for quicker turnarounds, etc.

How do you use these three layers to define a USP?

Think of these three layers in the form of a bulls-eye, where you have three concentric circles. The center of the bulls-eye being the core product, the middle layer being the actual product, and the outer layer the augmented product.

Now, here's the fun part. To develop a unique selling proposition, you can add, remove, change, or give a unique twist to any of these three levels.

The easiest way, of course, it to go from the outside in. (It's easier to aim for the outer circle than the bulls-eye itself.) That is, find ways to augment your product that few do or that no one does. It may not be one single thing. It may be a combination of them.

Bulls-eye analogy aside, why is this the simplest way?

Because coming up with different angles or variations of the center of the bulls-eye requires a bit more creative thinking. It's easier to add to the existing product or its market than it is to repurpose it, rebrand it, or redefine the market for it.

(Mind you, developing a USP from within usually produces the best “hooks,” the most prospects, and the greatest perceived value.)

Nevertheless, here's an example of working with the outside layer.

You can offer design suggestions, layouts and mockups, additional tips on how to best use the copy, offer free revisions, writing copy for other parts of the sales funnel (opt-in page, order page, thank-you page, autoresponders, etc), and so on.

Here's an extra tip.

Don't offer these willy-nilly. Always place a value on these augmented elements or add-ons. Why? Because if you don't, people will assume that it's part of your original offering. It may even decrease your perceived value.

The idea is to increase the perception of higher value. And to do that, you must not only add value to the core offer but also make it visible.

For example, don't say your copy comes with formatting and layout suggestions (or worse yet, assume clients will know the implication). Instead, say you will throw in formatting and layout suggestions, which are additional services, free of charge.

Plus, add a dollar value on those add-ons as if you were to sell them separately. Don't say your copy comes with one or two revisions. Say your copy comes with an additional revision, free of charge, worth $500.

Aside from the increase in perceived value, this tactic also helps to prevent freeloaders and deal-seekers from asking for concessions. If they want “a good deal,” doing it this way will make them feel like you're already making concessions.

If they start to haggle at any point, then you have tools to work with — by removing the extras and their associated dollar value. This is better than offering discounts.

(Never discount! Never.)

Next in the layers is the actual product.

What can you change, add, or remove from the actual product to make it unique?

For instance, how do you conduct your research? Do you interview the client or the client's clients? Do you have a preparatory questionnaire they must fill out before work commences? How is your copy written and delivered, exactly?

While it is easier to work with the augmented product first, there is also an easy way to work with the middle layer. Which is, of course, defining the market.

Specifically, niche marketing.

Niche marketing is “to find a niche and fill it.” But with an existing product, it's to focus on a particular audience segment, an industry, or a certain style of copy.

You could be a copywriter specializing in, say, health products. You could even hone it down to, say, nutrition and foods. You could even be a copywriter who focuses on diets and weightloss exclusively.

But don't just focus on industries or niches.

Remember, it's the “actual” product. What you choose to work on and deliver can also be specialized. You don't have to add or change anything, either. You can simply remove something to make yourself unique.

They say that less is more. In fact, offering less or focusing strictly on a certain type of copy can create instant demand and credibility, because being a specialist creates the perception of greater expertise and skill.

I know a copywriter who focuses strictly on catalog copy. I know another who does email campaigns only. I know a third who writes for social media. I know some copywriters who specialize in a combination of niches and copy types — such as direct mail for the financial industry. And they're doing extremely well.

But that's not all. Don't restrict yourself to the medium, either.

For example, you might be a copywriter who focuses strictly on headlines. As a result, you become known as the headline expert. When people (or other copywriters) need help with their headlines, they turn to you.

Or you might be one who only focuses on initial drafts in plain text. While that might seem like a lesser offering, you can say that this is a benefit since you're entirely focused on the research and the content — unlike other copywriters who offer too much, overextend themselves, and dilute their value as a result.

A neurologist is still a doctor. But you wouldn't have a general practitioner work on your brain, right? Much less a podiatrist or coroner. You want a doctor who specializes in the specific problem or area that needs attention.

Copywriters are no different.

Finally, the innermost layer, the center of the bulls-eye, is the hardest part.

Copy is copy. And copy has one principal function. And that's to sell. But let's say that your copy's goal is to increase the client's existing response, as it is with most copy. Ask yourself, what other benefits do you offer?

I don't mean additional benefits provided by the augmented product. I'm talking about the copy itself. What else does your copy do for your clients? What else does your copywriting service specifically bring to the table?

Sure, the ultimate goal is to boost sales and profits.

But perhaps it's to make the client look good as to increase referral clients. Maybe it's to increase visibility or generate more word-of-mouth. Or perhaps it's to attract qualified staff or potential investors.

You can and should think of all the benefits your copy delivers.

Don't just stick with the obvious.

Take some time (even write a list, if you have to) of all the advantages your specific copy offers. What kind of results have you achieved in the past? What other benefits (including unsought benefits) did your clients receive?

(Sometimes, asking for or re-reading client testimonials can offer some clues. If not, take some time to interview some of your past clients. Ask them what your copy or copywriting service did for them, beyond just increasing sales.)

Here's a “off-the-top-of-my-head” example. Say your client is also looking for copy that “sounds like them.” In other words, they want a copywriter with a knack for writing in their voice, their language, and their communication style.

In this case, it makes your ghostwriting ability far more effective than other copywriters. That's a USP right there. (As your “hook,” you might call yourself “The Chameleon Copywriter” or your copy service “The Copywriting Cloner.”)

What about you?

Again, you need to sit down and take some time to really think about this. It might not come overnight. For me, as an example, it took over a decade to find the various benefits my copy specifically brings to the table.

It won't take a decade. The difference here is, you have a leg up because you have some tips in this article to give you a headstart.

In the end, there are so many ways to develop a good USP. There are so many variants, too. Each way comes with a plethora of possibilities. The idea is to be a bit creative, a bit of a contrarian, and a bit different.

Sometimes, you have to look at and copy from (and not just think) “outside the box.”

See other industries. Look at other services. Check out non-competing products. You never know. In one of them may lie the seed of something amazing.

And being amazing doesn't have to require a massive change, either. Just by being 10% different, unique, original, or special is enough to make you stand out like a sore thumb in an overcrowded, hypercompetitive marketplace.

Categories
Copywriting

Risk-Reversal’s Role Reversal

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The greater portion of my career has been in copywriting, selling, and direct marketing. And one of the common denominators I've found in any successful piece of copy is the power of risk reversal.

That is, taking more of a risk from the sale than the purchaser of your product.

Risk reversal is a powerful method to increase sales by easing the buying decision and allaying fears consumers might have.

When people are considering an offer, and if the offer is “too good to be true,” they will invariably seek out more secure means to benefit from it. Otherwise, they will have a tendency to think, “What's the catch?”

The greater the guarantee, the greater the sales. This has been consistent in almost every industry in which I've worked, and with every split-test I've conducted.

For example, a 30-day guarantee will outsell no guarantee. A 90-day guarantee will outsell a 30-day one. And so on and so forth.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule.

Sometimes, shorter or more creative guarantees can outperform longer ones.

Why? Perhaps this is because, in a promise-filled industry oversaturated with, and burned by, over-the-top hype, long, unrealistic guarantees make the offer suspect.

People might be left scratching their heads wondering if the guarantee is an attempt to pull the wool over their eyes.

Guarantees that are too strong (like one or even multiple years, lifetime, etc) can unconsciously convey that the product is so poor that either the purchaser will forget about the promise during the guarantee's extended lifespan, or the seller is trying to build perceived value in areas other than the product itself to make up for the lack.

But length doesn't always mean strength.

In other words, the strength of a guarantee is not limited to its timeframe.

Creative guarantees work extremely well, especially in an industry where people encounter typical money-back guarantees. These include guarantees that don't necessarily have anything to do with refunds or money. By being different, a unique guarantee can provide a powerful twist to an offer.

Notwithstanding the legal requirements to offer a money-back guarantee, think of guarantees that include gifts, discounts, credits, vouchers, etc.

For example, just recently a friend of mine launched an intensive and pricey classroom-style training program, but with a very interesting angle. Whether you succeed or not, or whether you like the program or not, you get your money back.

It sold out in just a few hours.

Ultimately, guarantees exist because we fear making bad decisions.

And a purchase is a buying decision.

But remember that a guarantee's job is not to remove fear. Not in a direct sense. It's to increase the customer's confidence that the product will do as promised.

In fact, in an article titled “The Great Customer Service Hoax,” the author, Belinda (who is also a copywriter), said it perfectly. “The simple truth about customer satisfaction,” the author writes, is this:

You might think that to maintain awesome levels of customer satisfaction you need to have outstanding products and services, diligent processes and reports and excellently trained staff who know when to make a decision that’s right for the customers. Well, you do need those things but the truth about consistently good customer satisfaction is much simpler.

Customers are satisfied when you met their expectations.

Guarantees help to communicate this important promise. A guarantee communicates not only that the product has value (e.g., “it's so good, I guarantee it!”), but also that the product will meet their expectations.

A guarantee encourages sales and profits. (Sales is self-explanatory. But profits? Yes! Guarantees can also decrease refunds. I'll come back to this in a moment.)

So objectively, add a guarantee that's easy, strong, and reasonable (that is, it's not far-fetched). If it has the appearance of being too long or unbelievable, either reduce it or add copy to justify your attempt.

Just like the power of “reasons-why” advertising, don't forget to back it up. Provide a logical, commonsensical explanation behind your guarantee to justify why it's so strong. The more you do, the more believable your guarantee will be. Otherwise, an overzealous guarantee will make it questionable.

(For example, with a “lifetime guarantee,” people will often ask, “Whose lifetime?”)

But in the majority of cases, if you failt to offer a guarantee let alone a strong one, you're losing a great percentage of potential sales.

In addition to communicating value of and confidence in a product, a guarantee can also become a powerful positioning tool.

Take for instance the story of the Monaghan brothers. The two ran a small business in order to pay their way through college. While one worked the day shift in order to attend school at night, the other did the converse.

After about a year in the money-losing venture, one of the brothers sold his share of the business for a beat-up old car. The other, however, with a good dose of stick-to-it-iveness, decided to make something of his fledgling pizzeria.

According to some interviews he recently gave, Tom Monaghan said that, at the time, he wasn't quite sure that his decision to put a guarantee on his pizza delivery would change much. But obviously, history tells us that his decision was a good one.

By simply marketing the strength of a guarantee (i.e., “Pizza delivered fresh in 30 minutes or it's free”), Domino's Pizza became the multimillion-dollar franchise operation we know today.

Online, strong guarantees are more than just sales tools.

The Internet has opened many doors, including those to many unscrupulous entrepreneurs. Scams and snake oils are rampant online. Millions (if not billions) of dollars are lost to these scamsters each month.

The Internet is rife with fraudulent offers, phishing attempts, and shoddy products. Even laws and anti-scam tools won't stop crafty entrepreneurs who are determined to bypass the systems to scam the unsuspecting.

So people are understandably leery, skeptical, distrusting, and cautious.

Obviously, the use of testimonials, demos and tours, statistics, laboratory tests, clinical trials, case studies, free trials and samples, real pictures of the product in question, and so on are all incredibly important.

But in addition to these methods and elements of proof you can and should add to your copy, strong and creative guarantees are equally powerful proof elements and probably some of the most underutilized.

Why? Mostly because business owners are leery themselves of adding, extending, or creating guarantees because they fear the onslaught of losses from returns.

If the product is mediocre, then this fear is sadly justified. But most products are good. (Granted, there are just as many fraudulent consumers out there as there are scams. Businesses fear them equally as consumers fear buying from fraudsters.)

But generally, guarantees will increase sales.

Chris Ayers, former publisher of Unlimited Traffic!, gives an astonishing real-life example. Writes Ayers:

“One of my first direct mail products years ago was a self-study program. When I first offered the program in a magazine, my sales weren't even enough to cover the cost of the ad. I changed my ad and sales letter to include a guarantee. The number of responses to the same ad increased by a factor of 20 and my conversion rate from my sales letter rose from 10% to almost 40%.”

Remember that adding a guarantee might increase returns and refunds. But try it and do the math. In some cases, a small increase in refunds might be greatly overshadowed by a disproportionately larger increase in sales.

For example, in one test I've conducted with a consulting client, we raised the guarantee from a 30-day guarantee to a 6-month, double guarantee.

(The “double” included a 100%-money-back guarantee within six months, and a double-your-money-back within the first 30 days.)

The result? During the test, there were no refunds within the initial 30 days. But refunds within the first six months increased from about 4% to 6.5%.

Of course, that's significant.

But look at the increase in sales…

Sales conversion went from a little less than 3% to 7%. Mathematically, it means refunds increased by 62.5%, while sales increased by over 133% (i.e., twice as many more sales as the increase in refunds).

The lesson is this: while a guarantee might increase refunds, the increase will be negligible when contrasted by the more significant increase in sales.

This is true in the majority of cases. But in other cases, net profits can increase quite substantially. Even more than the norm.

Why? Because, unbeknownst to many marketers, one of the most important benefits of using a guarantee is the fact that it can actually reduce returns.

If you have a professionally-looking website, an ethical sales approach, and a proven product or service, the lack of a strong guarantee will still, particularly on the Internet, cause most prospects to perceive your offer as questionable in the very least.

But adding a guarantee — particularly a strong one — not only increases sales because it removes the risk from the buyer's mind, but it also increases perceived value and therefore overall confidence in the product and the seller as well.

Guarantees also grant you an almost instant credibility with potential customers.

And finally, strong guarantees also help to raise tolerance levels.

Customers are more apt to ignore or even accept a few flaws, thereby reducing the need to return the product at the slightest imperfection.

This is because they feel they are in good hands, whether they know this experientially or not. The confidence level that the guarantee created acts as some sort of psychic security net.

In other words, a guarantee not only reduces the skepticism around a purchase, but also contributes to what psychologists refer to as “The Halo Effect.”

Ultimately, add a strong guarantee to your offer. But don't stop with just at increasing its timeframe. Be creative with your guarantee.

Think about multiple-money-back guarantees, add-on guarantees, gift certificates, credit or discount vouchers, the ability to keep bonuses if they return the main product, keeping the product even if they ask for their money back, etc.

Bottom line, guarantees will increase sales. The stronger the guarantee is, the larger the increase will be.