Don’t Be a Perfectionist! (It’s Too Much Work)

This is from Bob Bly’s Direct Response newsletter.  It is written in the context of copywriting, but it is good advice for anyone who wants to avoid the tempting pitfall of perfectionism: polishing and polishing and refining and tweaking and reworking and retooling until we get it EXACTLY RIGHT, as absolutely error-free, bug-free, infallible and inerrant as possible.

Problem: this is usually not possible.  It is usually not practical.  Not if you want to stay on time and under budget.

It clearly applies to any business or personal endeavor that has time and/or money constraints.  And let’s face it, just about everything we do has time and/or money constraints.

The idea is this: don’t be a perfectionist.  Why not?  Because people, that is most people, don’t pay for perfection. They won’t pay for perfection.  It’s too expensive.  Unless, of course, it’s part of the deal.

What will people pay for?  Excellence. Quality.  Value.  That’s where you want to focus your efforts.  “That’s where the money is.”  Get it done.  Get it right. Do it well.

The accompanying video conveys this powerfully.  Graphs are good.  If pictures are worth a thousand words, then moving pictures with graphs in them are worth at least ten times that.

So instead of reading ten thousand words on why perfectionism doesn’t pay, spend two minutes watching this. And another minute reading the words of wisdom that prove this to be true day in and day out.


A Copywriting Lesson from Michael J. Fox

The problem with copywriting — and just about every other endeavor — is this:

You can always spend more time and effort on the job … and the more time and effort you put in, the better the result will likely be.

But how do you know when it’s time to stop, declare the project done, and move on?

Answer: you are finished when the incremental improvement to be achieved by expending even more time and effort will not generate enough ROI to justify the cost of that additional labor.

This short video makes the idea clear:

At the beginning of the project, each hour spent dramatically
improves the product you are making, whether writing an ad or
building a bookcase (see point A on the graph in the video).

But then, as time progresses, each additional hour of effort produces less and less of a return, so by the time you reach point C on the graph, the small incremental improvements you are making do not justify the investment in them.

The sweet spot on the graph is between point A and point B. Here, while your rate of improvement is slowing, it’s still worth making the extra effort.

Most of your competitors stop at point A. If you continue to point B, you’ll be rewarded for your extra work by getting better results than others do:

But if you make the mistake of seeking perfection, and push past
point C on the curve, you are spending time and money for which
you will never get a positive ROI.

Actor Michael J. Fox once said, “I strive for excellence, not perfection.”

That’s the principle the video shows and that you should follow.


Bob Bly

P.S. If you always want your writing to be better, reigning in
your impulse to keep on going forever is difficult — but
necessary to getting the work done and actually out the door.


Thanks, Bob.


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52 Brief But Powerful Sales Lessons That Will Help Both You and Your Prospects and Customers

Here is a gem of a sales training video that would benefit not only sales professionals and business people watching it, but also the customers and prospects they serve.

There’s a lot of sound advice here from Zig Ziglar and the other men and women appearing in these 52 lessons.

If you want to improve your sales ability and better equip yourself to “add value” to what you offer your customers by becoming better at identifying what their problem is and knowing exactly what their solution (hopefully your solution) might be, then this “back to basics” lesson series (all in one video) is worth your time to watch and listen to… closely:

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New Writing Project! Natural Health Website

UnderConstructionI have begun a new copywriting project!  It is actually a natural health/natural medicine-related website that I am putting together:  To date, there isn’t much there yet, but I am faithfully researching and writing the content and building the pages one by one.  Brick by brick.  Word by word.  Day by day!  It is a simple design and a very PLAIN-LOOKING site right now, I know, but over time gradually it will become more visually appealing and interesting, with more to offer and it will be far more (wait for it) content-rich!

It is largely in response to an interview I heard at the beginning of the year on Ed Gandia’s awesome, information-packed podcast, High-Income Business Writer, in which the guest, Mark Mason, talked about creating a “passive income” stream (actually a multiple income stream model) by creating online content, such as a website, on a subject or theme that you’re interested in.  (You can listen to that episode here:

I had been planning to launch a content-based website already, so this particular interview and the topic that was discussed were the impetus that caused me to go ahead and get it started with it.

Complementary Content-Writing

Natural health and (so-called) “alternative” medicine have been an interest of mine for years.  In particular, the relationship between disease and nutrition and the use of supplementation and diet to effect nutritional healing.  That is the main focus, but I will eventually be covering other aspects of natural medicine such as the use of essential oils, acupuncture, traditional (i.e., Chinese, Indian and, once upon a time, American) herbal/botanical medicine, etc..

My goal is to use the site as a resource for folks providing lots of high-quality content and information, written very informally and conversationally (how I usually write!), on various topics around the theme of natural medicine and nutrition and health, and I will recommend particular products and services to interested visitors who would like to know more.  To that end I am partnering with a couple of health-and-wellness-oriented companies and looking at different monetization models for the site in order to create some of those “passive” income streams that Ed and his guest talked about and that we writers like to think about (and write about).

It’s perfect as a vehicle for the use of web copywriting and theme-based content and the principles of direct selling and direct-response/business-to-consumer marketing.  I love that it offers real and verifiable benefits.  (I plan on doing case studies highlighting these later.)  And it lets me indulge in a topic that I have an inordinate and UNHEALTHY amount of interest in! 🙂

This project combines my passion for writing (commercially) with my interest in natural health and wellness.  It doesn’t get any better than that!

Again, the new site is here:

UPDATE (April 2015): I had to put this project on the shelf for now.  An online education commitment came up during 2014 that has required me to abandon my “hobby” site and concentrate on writing and creating video lessons for a homeschool math curriculum that I am in the process of putting together.  I will be posting an update on that…

Posted in Copywriting, Natural Health, Natural Medicine | Leave a comment

White Papers (Aren’t) for Dummies

White papers are kind of a “new frontier” for me.  I’m used to writing business web page content, blog posts and ad copy.   Not a ton of research involved in any of that —  mainly because, (a), their length (200-500 words) doesn’t require it, and, (b), their subject matter, price range and ‘sales objectives’ don’t require it.

Paul Ramirez Writes White PapersMost of us have probably never read an actual, honest-to-goodness “white paper” before (or if we did, we didn’t know it because it didn’t have white paper in the title–and it wasn’t printed on WHITE PAPER!). And, frankly, unless you work in government procurement, legislative research or the type of business-to-business marketing that involves the purchase and deployment of new, expensive or complicated products and services, you probably NEVER will!

They’re not like landing pages and sales letters for B2C products and services, the kind that virtually floods the Internet as well as our e-mail inboxes and postal mailboxes.  They are an entirely different species of marketing communication.

Whereas sales letters and landing pages are all about connecting emotional appeals with rational-logical appeals to give you compelling reasons to buy a particular product or service — selling the steak as well as the sizzle — white papers give you a comprehensive, nutritional breakdown of that steak, telling you why their steak is better than the competition, and offering you a detailed analysis of how their steak has in the past helped some of their clients solve their most immediate and ongoing meat-eating and protein-digesting dietary challenges, compared with other “traditional” (or unorthodox) solutions they have tried.

White papers, unlike long-copy sales pages, are not primarily meant to be read online–although nowadays they most certainly are published for both viewing online and downloading, printing and reading offline.  (The next generation of white papers will be all electronic and even interactive, but I digress.)  They are designed to be, sooner or later, printed out in hardcopy format with nice photos and graphics and a well-chosen type-face and layout, picked up with both hands and read by your prospects just like an interesting and informative (and illustrated) short story.  Because that is exactly what they are (or should be).

They’re meant to be informative.  They ought to be interesting.

And they ought to be intelligently and intentionally crafted with the right purpose in mind.

For those of us who write white papers for business clients (more common now than white papers for government and public-sector, which is where white papers originated), the challenge of making them informative, interesting and compelling is only surpassed by the challenge of determining which type of white paper is needed for a given project.

Thankfully, this involves less guesswork now that a certain wise and knowledgeable business-writing guru named Gordon Graham has devised a deliciously easy way to figure out what kind of white paper you need to achieve which type of result.

Gordon Graham calls himself, “The White Paper Guy.”  And he offers a very unique way of determining what “flavor” of white paper is best.

Chocolate, Strawberry or Vanilla?

Pure genius!

From his years of trial and error and experience, Gordon has managed to boil down what used to be a daunting list of 10-15 different categories of white paper to choose from, into a very short and memorable list of just three.

“Chocolate,” “Strawberry,” and “Vanilla.”

If you are wondering what kind of white paper you might be needing for your next strategic product launch or targeted B2B marketing effort, here is a brief description of the three basic types.


If you’re already a well-established, well-known company in your field, and you just want a nicely-detailed background description of a particular product or service — not for lead generation or getting your prospect moving through the sales funnel, exactly, but just a good “backgrounder” that highlights the main features and benefits in a straightforward, no-nonsense manner — then a plain vanilla white paper is probably what you need.


If, on the other hand, you need more of a “problem/solution” approach, one that digs a little deeper with a more challenging, research-based appeal to the client offering “richer” and more satisfying content that can potentially provide longer-lasting value to him and to you (which makes this the best approach for generating new leads), then a chocolate-flavored white paper is the way to go.


Sometimes a more “light and lively” approach is called for.  One that is more popularly written and easier to read, geared towards simply “making noise” and garnering attention for your product or service — “5 Ways to Improve Your XYZ Manufacturing Processes”, “7 Things Your Should Know about Replacing Your ABC Components Before They Fail” — because it focuses on why the competition’s product or service — without naming names! — is either “bad” or just okay (and clearly inferior to yours), and why yours is the obvious choice for your prospect.  This somewhat tart and tangy document presents your client with information in a neatly-organized, bulleted or numbered format that makes it easy to “digest.”  If that’s just what the doctor ordered, then “strawberry” is the best flavor of white paper.

Now, this is an extremely brief boil-down of what Graham explains, and I’m certainly not doing any justice to the sheer brilliance and intuitive value of this very tasty approach to white paper classification made simple, but I think you get the idea.

White papers are quite research intensive and more educational/instructional pieces of marketing than most, and more logical/rational rather than emotional/sensational (or motivational) in tone and content.  When I write a white paper for a client, I keep in mind that, ultimately, my reader is likely to be either a corporate executive or a harried business person with a very BIG buying decision to make.  I don’t want to spend my time or waste his on content that is thin, light and under-researched, and might be perceived as mere sales fluff and “puffery.”

Thanks to this handy-dandy little guideline, when it comes to determining which kind of white paper to write, I’m no longer faced with a bewildering choice of 31 flavors!

Posted in Business-to-Business, Gordon Graham, Marketing, White Papers | Leave a comment

Why Being “Creative” Isn’t Always a Good Thing for a Copywriter

Mooooove Over!

Actually, being “creative” has very little to do with writing good copy.

These two types of writing–commercial and creative–are almost mutually exclusive.

Copy for advertising and marketing has one sole purpose in mind: to sell. Sell cars, sell soap, sell financial services, sell subscriptions. SELL! Not entertain. Not amuse. Not impress your reader with your sophistication, your intelligence or your incomparable ability to wield the English language like an artist’s brush.

It’s not about you and your creativity.

It is to inform them, persuade them, influence and motivate them to get off the fence and into your product or service (or idea).  It is, or should be, a call to action, to make a decision–presumably a BUYING decision–in your favor.

Creative writing is like art, for art’s sake.  To be appreciated, admired, indulged like rich food and fine wine.  Creative writing doesn’t feel the need to sell.  It doesn’t want to sell.  It just wants to . . . be creative.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Creativity and originality have their place in commercial/business copywriting.  But, especially for newer writers, the more important thing to do in composing a piece of copy for a client that is intended to generate business (and sales) for him or her and their company is not to be “original”, but to take a good, hard look what has already been done and proven to work, and COPY it!

In other words, save the originality for later.

Helmet Krone, art director for a very famous ad campaign for Volkswagen, said it this way:

“Until you know how to do better, copy.”

VW - Think Small

He should know.  When this ad campaign came out in 1962–the year I was born–a lot of art directors and copywriters who saw the smashing success that it was (bad choice of words when talking about an automobile ad!), took it as their cue to immediately go HOG WILD with their own fits of creativity and “originality.”

They forgot the main purpose of advertising and marketing with copy and headlines and graphics and pictures is, well, to SELL.

Marketing legend Drayton Bird said this about that:

Few people understood why the Volkswagen advertising was so good. They just noticed it was original.

It inspired far too many people to think that the secret of success was to seek originality at all costs – to be “creative”. This led to an outpouring of irrelevant tripe that afflicts us still.

Even Rosser Reeves, who invented the U.S.P. (unique selling proposition), said:

Originality is the most dangerous word in the advertiser’s lexicon.

Who knew some of the greatest minds in the world of copywriting and marketing could be so HOSTILE to man’s natural impulse of creativity!

But then Drayton Bird applies his veteran mindset of anti-originality within the broader context of business in general:

This does not just apply to creative ideas. It also applies to business generally. When you are trying to do something, start by looking at what other successful people are doing.

Put your store in a similar spot. Run your ads in the same media. Offer the same level of service.

Then try to improve.

This is not always true; nothing ever is. But a good saying applies: “The cowboys got the arrows; the farmers got the land.”

It doesn’t pay to be a pioneer.

Do you hear what he is saying?  Watch successful people and then do what they do.  There is method to their lack of madness.

There is a reason why Claude Hopkins spent years toiling in his career before writing his classic work and titling it, SCIENTIFIC Advertising.

Why John Caples, after years of tedious trial-and-error, observation and experimentation, painstakingly developed his approach and techniques and then, at last, called his book, TESTED Advertising METHODS.

Why Rosser Reeves gave his authoritative book such a mundane, “uncreative” title: REALITY in Advertising.

It is because writing copy for clients–for whom their very financial success stands or falls on the proven, measurable, transactional success of that copy–is serious BUSINESS!

P.S. Speaking of being “unoriginal” and a copycat, I wrote this article after reading an e-mail newsletter I received on this subject from Drayton Bird!

Posted in Advertising, Claude Hopkins, Copywriting, Drayton Bird, John Caples, Marketing, Rosser Reeves, Writing | Leave a comment