Haris: Hi Matthew, first of all, 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.
Matthew: I was lucky enough to land a job with Agora, way back in January 1999 where I started out as a marketing assistant. After wearing a number of different hats, around 2002, Karen Reddel reached out to me about a creative manager position with their brand new supplement company, Northstar Nutritionals.
It was my job to hire copywriters and designers to develop marketing promotions for our new line of supplements. And it was great—I’ve always been passionate about natural and complementary medicine, so getting paid to develop creative about products I was legitimately excited about was fantastic.
Along the way I had the opportunity to tweak headlines, rewrite leads and I really started to enjoy writing — especially when I got to see test results where something I wrote beat a control.
I guess I was in the creative manager role for a year or so when my review came around and Karen asked me what I wanted to focus on in the coming year and I told her I wanted to take a stab at more copywriting.
So, I gradually got bigger and more elaborate writing projects, and after maybe a year of copywriting and creative managing, I took the leap into writing full time. I’ve been writing, in one capacity or another, ever since.
Haris: How did you transition to freelance copywriting from the job you had before? What advice would you give to someone in a similar situation?
Matthew: Again, I think I just got lucky. In 2008 I was still working full time at Agora when a former colleague, Stacy Berver, who’d started her own marketing business, reached out to me about a freelance project writing for one of her new clients.
I was so excited. I wrote a 16-page digest for a joint product called Vital3 which went on to mail something like five million pieces over the next five years.
Interestingly enough, I still do work for this client and have been asked to beat my own control (and have) several times since its original launch.
So, I guess you could say that’s when my freelance business first started, even though I still had a full-time job.
Stacy brought a couple of other clients my way over the years, so when I left Agora in 2010, I already had a pretty good client base to work with.
Six months after leaving Agora I took a full-time job with Merkle, where I spent 2.5 years and I spent about nine months working in-house for Healthy Directions, always maintaining a relationship with the companies I’d been freelancing with.
In July 2013, I left Healthy Directions and I’ve been freelancing full-time ever since.
Haris: Getting clients is one of the greatest challenges for freelance copywriters. Could you tell us more about how you get clients?
Matthew: The vast majority of my clients have come through various referrals. And I occasionally do some work with Agora as well. I’ve picked up a client or two through LinkedIn, Upworks.com and Remote.com. But word of mouth and referrals has absolutely been the key to my success.
So, in terms of advice, I’m not sure what to say about getting started—I’ve been very fortunate to work with the people I’ve worked with. And I’m so appreciative that they’ve been happy enough with my work to recommend me to others.
Aside from always doing your best work, I’d say you really need to always do what you say you’re going to do. That means meeting agreed upon deadlines, responding when you say you’re going to respond, and deliver what you say you’re going to deliver.
Always be pleasant to work with and understand that feedback and criticism are part of what you signed up for. It’s ok to defend and justify why you’ve written something a certain way as long as you’re willing to let it go if it’s just not meeting your client’s needs or expectations.
And don’t be afraid to ask for the work. Periodically, check in with people you haven’t heard from in a while. Ask if they have any projects. And ask if they know of anyone else you might reach out to.
Haris: How did you learn to write copy? Are there teachers, books or resources you can recommend?
Matthew: I started by reading really good copy. As a creative manager, I got to read drafts, from first to final, from veteran copywriting geniuses like Arthur Johnson, Eric Betuel and Kent Komae.
I got to do AWAI copywriting critique workshops with Jack Forde and Bob Bly.
And once I started writing, I got direction and support from Karen Reddel and Jenny Thompson, some of the most successful creative markers I’ve ever had the good fortune to learn from.
I’ve ready Schwartz and Ogilvy. Stephen King’s On Writing was great as well. Even though his writing is vastly different from mine, learning about his writing process was fascinating and helpful.
The idea that after he writes a draft, he systematically goes back and deletes 10%…and then 10% more. That way every word on the page has a purpose—no fluff or filler.
If you’ve ever read Arthur Johnson’s copy, it’s clear he does the same—every word is part of the story.
Haris: How do you prepare for a writing session?
Matthew: If there’s a current control, first I go to school on the control—I’ll read it at least twice taking notes along the way. If there are references, I take a look at those too. Sometimes there’s a headline or a lead buried in the details of a study that you won’t get from the control.
Then I focus on the research. What makes each ingredient in a supplement unique? Or what makes this letter or book or website unique? How can I get it to stand out in a market that’s absolutely flooded with similar products and information?
I take notes on the studies, on the business itself, if there’s a guru, I take notes on him or her. I’ll have 3-5 pages of bulleted notes, usually separated by research, fascinating “talking points”, franchise info, offer info, etc. before I even begin a draft.
Haris: Who’s your favorite copywriter or piece of copywriting?
Matthew: Probably Arthur Johnson. I haven’t read anything he’s done recently, but when I was first getting started, nearly everything he wrote turned to gold.
I got to brainstorm with him, watched him take notes—the man is a creative genius.
Haris: In your opinion, what are the greatest advantages of being a freelance copywriter? What makes this lifestyle special?
Matthew: The flexibility. Hands down, the flexibility to make my own schedule is the biggest advantage. I take a yoga class almost every morning while everyone’s heading into the office.
I spent a month in Denver, just to check it out, without my business missing a beat. My clients don’t care when or where I do my work, as long as I meet their deadlines and their expectations.
I once landed a new client, poolside, at my aunt’s condo in Boynton Beach Florida.
Haris: What one daily habit has contributed to your success more than any other?
Matthew: Consistency. Even though I have nearly absolute flexibility, I still try to keep relatively normal business hours. I think it’s important to maintain some integrity in my schedule so I don’t get lazy.
I can sleep in from time to time, take a day off, travel when I want to travel. But staying at least fairly committed to a daily schedule is definitely helpful for me.
But everyone’s different. I know a guy who wakes up at 2 or 3 pm and does his best work between 11 pm and 3 am. I think you just need to find a work ethic that works for you and commit to it.
Haris: If someone wants to hire you, what is the best way to get in touch?
Matthew: If you visit my website, www.grandviewcreative.marketing, you can check out my work and contact me through there.
I focus almost exclusively on natural health, but I’m always open to new projects, clients and opportunities. So please do reach out.