Haris Halkic: Hi Mark, thanks a lot for agreeing to share your best tips on copywriting and your background. Let’s start with how you got started in copywriting? Please, tell us more about your story.
Mark D. Underdahl: Back in early 2004, I think, I was looking for a way to earn a better living, and be able to do it from home or anywhere. Somehow I came across writing, as in creative writing, short stories, etc. As I was building on my interest in this type of writing, I stumbled across copywriting.
I couldn’t afford the expensive courses that were all the rage then, so I gobbled up newsletters from a wide variety of copywriters, most of whom were still alive then. Halbert, Carlton and a host of others, all of whom introduced me to the old school guys like Eugene Schwartz, Claude Hopkins, etc., were and in many ways still are heavy hitters.
In mid to late 2005, I decided I want to do this full time. But over the years, I’ve had to keep supporting my family through regular jobs, so most of that time, I was a part time copywriter.
In 2010, after unexpectedly losing my job, I was on eBay, and I found someone selling their copy of AWAI’s famous copywriting course. I think I paid $50 for it, but I’m not sure.
So I studied it. In fact, I’ve been looking for that manual since we moved.
Haris Halkic: How did you transition to freelance copywriting from your previous job? What’s your best piece of advice for someone who is employed and wants to become a freelance copywriter?
Mark D. Underdahl: In December 2017, I had to make a tough decision on my previous job. There are lots of factors surrounding that, but the big picture is that I had to leave for conscientious reasons, as well as for the sake of my wife’s health.
I knew then and there that I just had to work at home, no exceptions. My wife needed me, so it was time to step it up.
We decided to sell whatever we could, including the mobile home we owned at the time, and get ourselves down to Florida, where we are now, even after a flood of other obstacles.
The best advice I can give to someone employed who wants to become a freelance copywriter is to hang in there, and make the best of your free time – without neglecting family or other important things. Also, try not to jeopardize your job in the process.
Be determined to be the best copywriter you can be.
Haris Halkic: Getting clients is one of the greatest challenges for freelance copywriters. What ways do you use to get clients?
Mark D. Underdahl: First, decide what type of client you want to serve. This is important. It’s our tendency to take the “shotgun” approach and write for everyone. Getting more specific will help you with your writing goals.
When you’re ready to start advertising yourself, set up a website, even if it has to be a free one for now. Upload your samples, and do a reasonable amount of optimizing to it, so people will find you in the search engines.
Also, use your website to promote content to build credibility and trust. What you might also want to do is set up a sign up form to collect emails and build a list through an autoresponder.
What I also try to take the advice of many successful copywriters. Skills are one thing, but you have to talk to people. Period. If you don’t know what they need, you won’t be able to serve them properly.
Otherwise, just hustle. Get your name out there. Talk to graphic designers, who are often not afraid to pair up for referral exchanges or even collaborate on projects.
Haris Halkic: How do you prepare for a writing session?
Mark D. Underdahl: I currently write web content in high volume for a number of clients. These articles can be simply informational, while others are more copywriting-ish, and need more sales elements.
So let’s say I have to write five, 500-word articles of web content for a site. I might have to do some minimal research for unfamiliar subjects, so I keep a tab open for research. I then look at the website the article is being posted on to get a feel for their format. If there are anchor links to other sites, I give those a look as well.
When I’m ready to write, I use a timer. I set it for 45 minutes to an hour. Then I get busy. Most 500-word articles can be easily done within that time. Then I take a break. And since I’m a caregiver, those breaks often are maximized to perform tasks related to my wife’s care.
Then, I’m back at it.
As far as atmosphere, quiet is always best, but I can function with some background noise. However, circumstances don’t always permit that, so I just keep going. If I have to, I use earplugs, but those occasions are rare.
The bottom line is to create an atmosphere where you’ll be as productive as possible.
I think it’s worth mentioning that I write original articles. I’m not a spinner, or a plagiarizer. I might get some help from other content, but I never duplicate it.
Haris Halkic: How did you learn to write copy? Are there teachers, books or resources you can recommend?
Mark D. Underdahl: I would definitely recommend either AWAI’s famous copywriting course or Dan Kennedy’s Magnetic Marketing for starters. There are probably other great ones, but these are the ones I know.
Really good copywriters are out there who have great newsletters. Subscribe to them, and apply their tips, even with spec samples.
If I had to drop one single name, it would be Gary Halbert. He learned from all the old school guys, and when he was alive, he was the best. His sons, Bond and Kevin are maintaining his legacy. Check out thegaryhablertletter.com.
There’s another guy I like, whose content is of high quality, and he’s a great guy to talk to: Steve Roller.
There’s also Ed Gandia, John Carlton, “Doberman” Dan, and so many others.
Haris Halkic: Who’s your favorite copywriter or piece of copywriting?
Mark D. Underdahl: Probably my favorite is David Ogilvy’s 1958 ad for Rolls Royce: “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls Royce comes from the electric clock” – brilliant, beyond brilliant. This ad sent sales through the roof back then, but in one sentence, it highlighted the superior design and engineering of the car.
Haris Halkic: In your opinion, what are the greatest advantages of being a freelance copywriter? What makes this lifestyle so special?
Mark D. Underdahl: For me, it’s the freedom. Even though I’m a caregiver too, I have the flexibility I need for my wife, and when work is done, we can still spend quality time together.
It’s special to me because I’m too free-spirited – and possibly too old – to start over with another employer. If you were to look at my 36-year work history, you might be shocked at how many employers I’ve had.
Freelancing is my gig for good now.
Haris Halkic: What one daily habit has contributed to your success more than any other?
Mark D. Underdahl: I’ve always tried on a daily basis to positively reinforce the attitude that I can do this, and I can be successful. I forget who said it – Zig Ziglar I think – but it’s your attitude that determines your altitude.
Haris Halkic: You are also a lead generation specialist. What are some great ways to generate qualified leads online that you can recommend?
Mark D. Underdahl: Believe it or not, LinkedIn and Facebook can be great sources for leads. I looked up copywriters in my LinkedIn network, and a couple people have agreed to send work my way if they have it. I also have a realtor in my Facebook who plans to do something with me down the line.
The best way to get qualified leads is to get them organically through email list building. It takes time, but it’s worth it.
Otherwise, look up some small companies you think you can write for, and find a way to contact them. I say small because bigger corporations might have a heavy hitter or hire a marketing consulting firm they’re using. Still, you never know.
Experiment with every option you can, and find something that works.
Haris Halkic: If someone wants to hire you, what is the best way to get in touch?
Mark D. Underdahl: Currently, I’m reworking my website, but that will be resolved soon.
Otherwise, here are a few ways you can get in touch with me:
Texting: 612-293-0418…it’s a Google Voice number. You can leave a voicemail if you like, but this number is only good for texting. As for a real phone, I’m working on it.