Haris Halkic: Hi Glenn, 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.
Glenn Fisher: No problem, Haris. I’m not sure about my best tips, but hopefully fellow writers will get some use out of my strange ramblings. And a fair warning, most of what I’ve learned personally has come completely from trial and error. I highly rate it as a success strategy. Who needs expertise, right? Just try things out. It’s how I got into copywriting in the first place. I trialed being a proper human and working a regular job, but realised that was an error.
I decided I’d be a writer instead and went back to University to get some proof I could write. Arbitrary certificate of academic proof in hand, I applied for every junior writer job I could find. That was a soul-crushing farce. Pretty much nothing came of my applications aside from some paradoxical arguments with industry gatekeepers. Finally I saw a weird little advert for what turned out to be the financial publishing giant, Agora. And thankfully, the guy who interviewed me was as weird as I am and I got the job.
That said, I distinctly remember leaving the office not knowing who the job was for, what I’d actually be writing about or why…but I also felt something good was happening. It turned out I was right and I spent ten years learning about the still relatively underground world of direct response copywriting. It seems I have a knack for this type of writing, so I’ve just carried on running with it.
Haris Halkic: How did you transition to freelance copywriting from the job you had before? What specific challenge did you face and what advice would you give to someone in a similar situation?
Glenn Fisher: As I’d been working with Agora for so long, I’d got to the point where I was spending too much time managing things and not enough time actually using my key skill and writing. At the same time, my life was changing outside of the job too. I wanted to spend more time back up North with my partner and my dog and I wanted to write more.
The majority of my writing is still for Agora, in the UK, but also in America and Australia. But working freelance now means I can focus on some other personal projects too…coaching new writers and branching out into other copy niches. It’s also allowed me to finally finish my book, which is being released later this year. It was the right step for me at the right time, but if I were to offer some advice to young writers, it would be not to chase ‘the dream’ of being a freelance writer just for the sake of it.
I discussed this topic with Vikki Ross in an interview, recently. She’s another successful freelance copywriter, but we both pointed out that we’ve only got the freedom we have now because we put the time in with major companies.
All power to those writers who are brave enough to go freelance from day one, but I would encourage people to find a good company with good people who will teach you what you need to know and ‘serve your time’ so to speak.
It might seem like the slow way, but it’s worked well for me, and many others.
Haris Halkic: Getting clients is one of the greatest challenges for freelance copywriters. I know that you are in a special situation mainly working with Agora. I was wondering if you could talk about how you get clients beside that?
Glenn Fisher: Sure. As I say, I think it’s one of the most daunting elements of being a freelancer and I ‘doff my cap’ to anyone who’s got the stomach for going solo from day one. Like I say, ‘serving your time’ with a big company like Agora, or with one of the many copywriting agencies out there also has the advantage of introducing you to a lot of different people in the industry. I have a little black book of clients now who I keep in touch with and when the stars align and they have a project and I have the time, we can often figure something out. So, again, I’d say find a junior position and see it as a kind of apprenticeship.
Second piece of advice would be to write publicly and be a presence. This takes more work, but I’ve been writing my own blog AllGoodCopy.com for years and that’s brought me many new contacts I wouldn’t have had otherwise. This week alone I’ve had a writer ask if I could mentor them, a request for an interview and someone asking me to write a sales letter for them…all because I’ve been present.
Finally, and because that makes it three pieces of advice (and we copywriters love the power of three):
I would encourage aspiring copywriters to focus on how you can help people and then go out of your way to do exactly that before worrying about money.
The rewards will follow…but even if they don’t, you know you did your best and acted professionally. Working freelance, I think that’s important.
Haris Halkic: How did you learn to write copy? Are there teachers, books or resources you can recommend?
Glenn Fisher: I have no idea. I’ve thought about it a lot and I’m not sure specifically ‘how’ I learned to write copy. I think it’s something to do with being able to emulate writing styles pretty well. Or it’s something to do with being able to sell myself on an idea and then write about it authentically. That’s not too helpful to people, though. So let me try a different tack. I know I was lucky to have number of different influencers and mentors early in my career.
A chap called Dave Fedash (the weird guy who hired me) taught me a lot, as did Agora legend and copywriter, Mark Ford. I spent a ton of time learning about marketing with two former Agora guys called Darren Hughes and Vinod Gorasia, before meeting a whole other host of experts in the Agora world, people like John Forde who became good friends. Again, it’s the advantage of getting in with a company full of experts, rather than going it alone off the bat.
As well as listening to people a lot, I read more books and copy than is probably safe…and I write every day. Even if it’s just a small thing.
There are so many books I could mention, but I won’t, because they’ll be the same as everyone else’s. Instead, I’ll shamelessly say people should read my book when it comes out later this year. But also, more important than reading any book (even mine) is reading copy. Everyday. Do it.
Haris Halkic: How do you prepare for a writing session?
Glenn Fisher: I have a bath. It’s called my ‘thinking bath’ and it’s a weird image to have in your head, so my apologies. But you did ask. If you don’t have a bath, I would recommend reading around the subject you’re writing about before you sit down to write. And though doing it in the bath isn’t essential, I would recommend you do that reading and research away from where you’ll be sitting down to write.
I find when I come to write I need to get really psyched-up and focused and then get things down on the page fast. I feel like I’m running at the computer, hunched over it like some mad Jack Kerouac figure. I think that urgency helps with the copy. But it’s hard to create that sensation if you’ve been sat at the same computer researching for hours, you’re surrounded by empty crisp packets and there’s about fifty search windows open with random articles.
Haris Halkic: Who’s your favorite copywriter or piece of copywriting?
Glenn Fisher: I love the idea that if I did have a favourite copywriter I’d also have a poster of them on my wall. In fact, I should make some copywriter fan posters. Why not? Let’s do it. In seriousness, I don’t think I have a favourite, so to speak. But I do think John Forde is a great writer and love his approach and care for copywriting. My good friend James Woodburn is an excellent thinker and his excitement for copy is inspiring.
Bill Bonner and Mark Ford are both very good writers in different ways and just reading their material is an education. And though not everyone likes his style, and though he’s not strictly a copywriter, I do think James Altucher’s personal pieces are undeniably engaging, which is what good writing should be.
Haris Halkic: You have a book coming out later in the year. Could you tell us more about it?
Glenn Fisher: Yes, I’m very excited about it but it’s all still a little hush-hush right now, as it’s still being finalised. But we’re nearly there. It’s being published by the lovely people at Harriman House, who have been great. Seeing how a book actually gets published has been enlightening.
We’re in the final stages of editing the manuscript and then the marketing machine will start to roll and I won’t be shutting up about it for the next few months. I think it’s going to be useful for people. It’s easy to read…it’s full of ideas…and in it I share most of what I’ve learned about direct response copywriting over the last decade. We’ll have to speak again closer to the release.
Haris Halkic: In your opinion, what are the greatest advantages of being a freelance copywriter? What makes this lifestyle special?
Glenn Fisher: I can walk my dog, Pablo, at any time of the day. I can stop working when my partner, Ruth, comes home and spend more time with her (though I still haven’t quite shifted the phone checking curse of full time work). I don’t waste time sweating on a London tube each morning and can work outside if it’s warm. In other words, it’s the freedom. Of course, the freedom has its downsides too, including a lot of anxiety…but let’s not ruin this moment, huh?
Haris Halkic: What one daily habit has contributed to your success more than any other?
Glenn Fisher: Washing.
Haris Halkic: If someone wants to hire you, what is the best way to get in touch?
Glenn Fisher: I just launched a new website that is a little bit more focused on me and what I’m up to and what I’m thinking, rather than copywriting advice. So people can check that out at TheGlennFisher.com. There’s a contact form on there that people can fill in and that goes straight to my dog Pablo, who sorts through all my mail, online and offline. Otherwise, I’ll usually be near the bar.
Get all of Glenn’s copywriting techniques… (click to continue reading)