Starting any new business is HARD. It takes waaaay more time, money, and energy than expected, and you get curb-stomped a few times before any success appears. Awesome.
Today I share precisely how I got Tim Francis Marketing started. Some variation of this path is probably true regardless of the business you’re in, marketing or not. I originally wrote this to a new marketer who was struggling. Although the examples below are marketing-specific, the lessons still hold true.
Listen to the podcast below or scroll down to read the blog post…
How I Started Tim Francis Marketing
Before my marketing company formally existed, I was just learning marketing skills and looking for arenas to practice in. I started looking for opportunities to practice my marketing skills “for real” with little-to-no concern for payment. Of course I wanted to roll in piles of cash from Day 1, but it just doesn’t work that way. I was unproven and unknown. Of COURSE no one would take a money risk on me.
Actually, the only reason I looked for payment (albeit *tiny* – even just $100 for writing a sales letter or whatever) in the beginning was:
1) so I could *say* I got paid – even if it was just $100, it still counted as a professional gig!
2) so the client would be somewhat invested in providing me with the content / research / meetings I needed to get the job done.
My first marketing skill actually wasn’t copywriting per se, it was Google Adwords. But I think the pathway and trajectory are similar regardless of which skill is in question.
Here’s what I did…
When I looked at my near relationships, I saw a few friends and family members owned companies, or knew people who owned companies. So I just called them and asked them if we could work together on a very, very low-cost, trial basis. Essentially I just straight-up said – “I’m newer at this. I’m willing to offer my service at no-cost, in exchange for the experience, plus a kind referral and testimonial if it goes well.”
(Companies regularly hire summer interns…. frankly, this isn’t too far from that.)
One of my first clients was my Dad’s small business. At first I did Google Adwords for them. As I acquired more marketing skills, it expanded into copywriting. Then Infusionsoft. Then basic web development.
Today my role with his company has evolved. I’m overseeing the development of a new website (I sub-contracted to a very talented and DRM-minded web developer), Infusionsoft is trucking along generally on auto-pilot, and I’ve hired a part-time contractor (whom I vetted) to oversee the core of Adwords. My issue these days is I’m just spread too thin in too many different areas. Hence why I’m going deeper into copy myself, while working to build people and software systems around me to handle the other competencies.
(I’ll take a moment to say: the volume of companies in dire need of direct response marketing help far outweighs the supply of competent marketers; I’m regularly amazed with the volume of businesses that succeed *IN SPITE* of their marketing. Most companies don’t even know they need your help, but if you can show them a few “a-ha” items such as tracking and split-testing, some *will* get it, and you quickly become their trusted go-to authority. There’s LOTS of work for all of us out there!)
The work I did for my Dad’s company (before I had staff and systems) generated over 1,083 new leads for his company. Admittedly that’s a function of copywriting + Google Adwords + web development + Infusionsoft, but I hope you can see my point here: I nearly “volunteered” in the beginning, and now I have this amazing, credibility-building story which audiences “ooh” and “ahhh” at… 1,083 new leads in one year with no cold calling, no sales force, no expensive billboards, company vehicles, or equipment to purchase, etc.
THIS SUCCESS STORY (and others like it) have been *crucial* for me. I’ve sought out a few speaking opportunities recently and because of my heightened credibility, I’ve now landed a few gigs. Then I get on stage and things can snowball… I share the results of my Dad’s case study, entrepreneurs in the crowd “oooh” and “ahh”, and some of them turn into clients – this time PAYING at a much higher level!
(The success story allows me to sell myself to *get* on stage, then to sell *from* stage to attract clients.)
On a somewhat side-note….
I encourage you to promote yourself (and this is just my opinion) NOT as a copywriter… business owners care about “copywriting” as much as I would care about a tension rod at a mechanic’s shop… nobody cares about the tool – we all just want the result, the outcome. So instead, promote yourself moreso as a marketing expert who helps businesses generate more profit without spending an extra dime on ads.
You, me, and anyone reading this post knows that all you’re going to do is re-write their current ads, add a DR tracking piece in (tracked phone number, website, email, etc.) to WOW them and fulfill your promise (of more customers for same adspend).
And once you’ve got that Cost per lead or Cost per sale you get to BLOW AWAY all competing marketers. Just train your client to ask the competing sales rep, “what’s your typical CPL on that?” When the rep sits there stunned and cross-eyed, your client immediately realizes you’re a stud.
Then, in your next meeting with the client, you suggest a few more proven strategies: an on-going, automated email sequence (more copywriting for you), as well as seasonal direct mail campaigns (again more copywriting for you) to their top-20% of customers based on Recency, Frequency, and Money.
As the results are rolling in, simply ask your client for more referrals of the same quality as them. More clients roll in, and you get to repeat the above process. Your business grows.
So do you see how crucial it is to get those first few success stories, even if you barely get paid? Even if you’re paid nothing at all?
In the very beginning, if an aspiring marketer says they won’t work for free, they’re basically saying: “I won’t put any logs on this fire until the fire starts by giving me some heat first!” Obviously that’s a ludicrous statement. And it’s the wrong way to think.
And yet countless people have this thought pattern every day.
Instead, throw logs on the fire (for free), strike a match (for free), so you can get this thing toasty and crackling! With your credibility and reputation now bristling you are now prepared for a wonderful roast. You can cook, eat, LIVE off this fire! Good thing you kicked things off by putting a few logs on the fire (for free)…
As soon as possible, try to get paid something – even if it’s just $50 or $100 – this boosts you own confidence… you’re now a paid copywriter!!!
And with ALL clients- paid or not – do everything you can to get statistics. How big the mailing was (# of recipients), what the direct response rates were, and ideally cost per lead, cost per sale, and overall sales.
Don’t expect your client to provide all this for you on a silver platter. You’ll likely have to dig a bit and ask a handful of questions, then do your own calculations. Business Owners are *notorious* for running around putting out fires all day long – they (ironically) don’t place stock in “knowing their numbers” (which would probably help them avoid fires in the first place), so you’ll need to do a little legwork of your own.
Stats are crucial for helping you land more work; this is what I mean…
I helped a client cut their cost per lead by a staggering 97%. Yes – 97%.
I switched them from their mass media spray to my targeted DRM approach of Google Adwords (w/ my copy) to a landing page (which I wrote too). When it came time to discuss their next marketing project, it was an extremely brief conversation.
“Well sir, would you like to go back to the old way (point at old solution at 100% expense), or shall we repeat the new way (point at my solution at only 3% expense) on your new project?”
Needless to say I got that contract with no negotiation. There’s no special salesman skills or trickery there – just unveiling the truth that’s been there all along. BEAUTIFUL!
Last thing I’ll say is try and avoid the mistake I made for almost 5 years: thinking of success as an “event”. Also known as the “lottery” approach to life.
“If I just buy this car, I’ll get the attention of all the pretty girls and I’ll be set.”
“If I just pay off this debt I’ll finally be happy”
“If I can just learn this one skill I’ll get a crush of clients”
“If I just take this one course I’ll be rich”
…are all examples of the “event” or “lottery” approach. As we all know, this rarely happens, and when it does, the winners nearly always end up big-time losers. Fittingly, research shows winners are almost always poorer within 3 years than before they won the lottery.
You don’t want “flash in the pan”, “here today, gone tomorrow” success. That’s a nauseating rollercoaster ride. This year’s NFL superstar athlete is (usually) out of the league within 3-5 years. Typically they’re no longer known, finances dwindling, with 60 years of questions looming over their battered bodies, knowing their only marketable skill is no longer in demand.
So your “success” as a pro copywriter or marketer is a process (as is mine too). Probably no single course, conference, event, etc, is ever going to be the panacea that cures all ills. Build firm roots and the tree above will be equally strong too.
Maybe someone can take one copy course and become an amazing writer (I hope to further boost my own copy skills), but there’s so much more to running your small business than just providing your service. This IS your own business after all!
For example, if you take a course but haven’t quite figured out how to get clients, referrals, manage your time, deal with taxes, manage your family while working at home, how to battle isolation and loneliness as a home-based business, etc, etc… you probs won’t claim the goal you hoped for.
That’s not the course’s fault, it’s just that succeeding at anything is often a constellation of factors, all of which take some time to learn and master. AND THAT’S OKAY! I often wonder: what are we all in such a damned big rush for? 2-5 years to build a thriving business is FAST. And it’s as much a personal journey as professional. So I say: “Embrace it!”
So – in short – “success” (whatever it means to you) is a process, not an event. Takes time. And you want it to take some time – it’s natural, it’s organic, it’s respecting “the process” of life. Just keep your eyes open and add whatever skill you need next. And enjoy the journey – there’s lots of exciting experiences along the way!
The great news is that courses (good courses anyways) can give us massive shortcuts and help us take a 10 year process (think lawyers articling, doctors in residency, etc) and slice it down into 2-3 years. Wow what an awesome opportunity that is, and I’m so grateful for courses that speed things up. Thanks to all (legit) teachers and content creators who’ve given us this gift, both here and from other organizations too :).
Anyways, I hope that helps! And I hope you feel as though I’m coming from a place of care and authentic sharing. I hope you don’t feel I’ve been pontificating from some ivory tower or anything. I guess I’ve stepped on many landmines and I’m just hoping to help you avoid the same pitfalls, while also demonstrating a case study that seems both plausible and empowering.
And for the record, I’m very much slugging things out myself too, grinding things out day-to-day to get my own place on this planet figured out. If I’ve rubbed you the wrong way, please just PM me and we can sort it out.
Again, hope that helps! Keep uncovering one stone at a time until you’ve got enough to complete the path from where you *were* (pre-course), to where you want to go. And rememnber – you’ve already taken this course, so you’re already on your way
Onwards and Upwards!
With humility and support,