#058: Bob Bly: A Candid Talk With a Legendary Copywriter

I recently had the opportunity to interview legendary copywriter Bob Bly.

We talked for almost an hour. What a fascinating guy!

Among other things, I asked him:

  • What his typical day looks like
  • Where his income comes from
  • His thoughts on social media
  • How to get lead-gen copywriting work in B2B
  • How to get your income to the $200,000 level and beyond

I even threw him a surprising question towards the end. And he replied with an equally surprising answer.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or on Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

 

What types of clients and projects occupy most of your time?

It’s a mix. When Bob started, he specialized in industrial marketing writing. Now he divides his time more or less evenly between:

1. Financial copy
2. Health copy
3. Business/money-making opportunities
4. Traditional B2B copy.

What’s a typical day for you?

Bob works 12 hours a day, Monday to Friday, from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. in his home office. He spends all morning and a good part of the afternoon writing copy. Mid-afternoon, he spends about an hour on his Internet marketing business. At the end of the day, he works on miscellaneous stuff.

How do you avoid distractions?

He’s good at staying focused. When he’s working, he works.

He outsources almost everything in his life aside from his work. He also doesn’t spend much time on Facebook or LinkedIn.

What are your thoughts on social media?

Broadly, most social media is worthless. Social media doesn’t influence the purchases of business buyers.

The best social media platform for marketing professional services is LinkedIn.

Bob has developed methodologies on how to use LinkedIn to generate leads that turn into clients and projects. Recently, he and a partner have launched a new service, LinkedIn Marketing Magic, which uses software to automates these methodologies. It works well for anyone selling a professional service.

For more information about LinkedIn Marketing Magic, call or email Bob.

What’s your take on Facebook?

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=”via @edgandia”]Facebook isn’t social marketing. It’s social networking. It doesn’t get a business result.[/inlinetweet]

Bob uses Facebook for his Internet marketing business. He’s had “OK” results with Facebook ads. But that’s not social networking; it’s online advertising. Perry Marshal’s book on this topic, The Ultimate Guide to Facebook Advertising, is very good.

Question from Suzanne: Are there opportunities for writers in social media?

There’s no money to be made in authoring blogs or e-books. The profession of content writing (not copywriting) is at risk because writing “bots” can generate articles (such as those on Wikipedia) that are indistinguishable from human-written articles.

But no software can write copy for clients. Software can’t do what a good or an even “OK” copywriter can do.

Software and cheap Elance writers only write information. They can’t write analysis.

Question from Rachel: How can a solid copywriter or commercial writer get to the $200k-$300k range today?

If you want to get the $500k level, you have to do a mix of B2B and B2C copy. You need the royalties from B2C clients.

You can get to a $200k-$300 level as a flat fee copywriter, but you need to work hard and have better paying clients. You have to be good at what you do and market yourself well.

[inlinetweet prefix=”From @robertbly: ” tweeter=”” suffix=””]Figure out the amount of marketing you need to do to get to the level you want, and then double it.[/inlinetweet] You want to have a choice and not accept every project. Having a choice gives you leverage.

Bob often gets this cry for help: “I’m talking to a potential client, and they’re not getting back to me. Should I charge more? Should I charge less?” The point is: You should do enough marketing so that you don’t care. You’re not relying on that one project to come through.

Don’t stop marketing when you get a hit. For more on this, see Bob’s video: Always Be Marketing.

Question from Mike: How can I educate myself on writing B2B lead generation materials?

Lead generation copywriters usually make more than content marketers. Clients perceive lead generation copywriting as requiring a higher degree of skill.

Question from Mike: How does a new B2B copywriter get his/her foot in the door with no track record of success?

You can divide the client world into three parts:

The “hard ass” client. Clients who want you to have experience doing exactly what they’re asking you to do, multiple times.
The “sensible” client. Clients who want at least some related experience.
The “Google” client. Clients who will hire the first person they can find who says he/she can do the work.

Not all clients require experience. Some don’t have the time or desire to thoroughly research the person they hire.

Question from Nelson: Do you farm out work to other writers?

Bob writes every word of his copy. He does hire content writers to write e-books, which he sells as part of his information marketing business.

Question from Kim: What percentage of your income comes from the educational material you produce for writers and marketers vs. traditional copywriting?

Bob makes 75-80 percent of his income writing copy for clients. The remaining 20-25 percent comes from the sale of information products as well as speaking engagements.

Question from Carolyn: What inspires you?

Bob’s writing hero is Isaac Asimov. While Bob likes other things, he loves writing and things that surround writing, like reading, books, information and publishing.

Question from Patricia: If you were starting out today as a freelance writer, what would you do differently?

If Bob had known in high school or college that he wanted to be a copywriter, he’d have chosen to major in something he wanted to write about. It’s not enough to have speaking or writing skills; you need to have subject area knowledge.

Where can listeners learn more about you?

bobblyBob Bly’s website: www.Bly.com

 

 

 

 

  • Victoria Ipri

    Ed, so terrific to hear Bob Bly just being real. For most of us, he is a celebrity, so this is a real treat. And very affirming to hear that some of MY writing habits are not crazy:)

    • edgandia

      You’re not crazy, Victoria. We ALL are. LOL! 😉

      Thanks for turning in!

      • Victoria Ipri

        haha – yes, he sure makes it sound easy but, listening closely, he’s worked his pens off to achieve his status and is very upfront about the qualities necessary for even minimal success. And now I know how to respond when a family member says, “You’re still on that computer??!!!”

  • Dana

    This is one of the best interviews I’ve ever listened to – great information shared here. I always thought Bob Bly was some kind of myth. You always deliver Ed!

    • edgandia

      Thanks for the kudos, Dana. Glad you enjoyed it. Appreciate your being a loyal listener. 😉

  • Val’s Bytes

    Everytime I listen to these kinds of podcasts, it gets me really excited to finish school and really get down and dirty with copywriting. Thank you for continually inspiring me.

    • edgandia

      Thanks for listening, Val!

  • Aimee Kunau

    Great interview from a marketing legend!

    • edgandia

      Thanks for checking it out, Aimee! Always good to see you here. 😉

  • You stepped it up a notch Ed… or two! My biggest takeaway and where I need work is “always be marketing” to keep the pipeline full.

    • edgandia

      Man, that means a lot. Thanks for your kudos, David. And yes — the whole marketing thing is the the fundamental truth we all hate to hear … but 90% of problems in freelancing stem from poor, inconsistent or insufficient marketing. Been guilty of it myself!

  • Sandra

    This ranks among my favourite podcasts. Thank you for the straight shooting talk I think many freelancers still need to hear/accept. I especially appreciate Bob’s honestly around using social media and the focus needed to succeed at this. Kudos!

    • edgandia

      That’s a huge compliment! Thanks, Sandra. 🙂

  • Randy Kemp

    Hi Ed. I really enjoy Bob Bly and I have read most of his books. However, I’m trying to reconcile his position on social media (i.e. only LinkedIn), with the success of Michael Stelzner with Social Media Examiner. As you know, Michael used to also be a successful copywriter for many years (i.e.author of a book on white papers). Could we say his success in promoting social media is due to his marketing and copywriting savvy? I’m trying to reconcile what Bob has to say, with Michael’s current success promoting social media. Any insight here?

    • Bobby Burns

      Hey, Randy~ I may be off a bit here, but my take was that his position is that social media is not a particularly effective marketing venue for B2B businesses. Social Media Examiner highlights mostly B2C, at least in my experience. Just a thought anyway.

      • edgandia

        Hi Bobby — Actually, Social Media Examiner profiles both B2C and B2B social media success stories, strategies and advice. But, yes, many of the examples and case studies are B2C.

        • edgandia

          Also, at the end of the day, people buy from people. So I think the best B2B companies recognize this and connect with their audience via social media as individuals, not as companies.

    • edgandia

      Hi Randy. There’s no denying that social media has tremendous value. I think Bob’s stance is that it cannot offer a tangible ROI (outside of pa-per-click social media advertising). That’s because it’s practically impossible to measure the actual return on things such as engagement and client relationships. Keep in mind that Bob comes from a classic direct-response background, so he’s looking at social media through that lens.

      However, I think even Bob admits that social media offers other important benefits. I, for one, think it can be an invaluable tool to forge a deeper connection with your target market. But here again, he argues that this is very hard to measure. We know the value is there, but if you apply direct-response science to it, the ROI argument starts breaking down.

  • Ed, yours and Bob’s comment about not “implementing” what you learn from marketing and copywriting courses taken, merely makes your an “armchair marketer”. Ouch, that really struck home … I admit I like taking and reading marketing materials, but rarely implement the lessons they contain. That needs to change!

    • edgandia

      Great to hear this struck a chord, Alan! Thanks for checking out the show.

    • This struck a cord with me, too, Alan. I always have the best intensions, so now I need to change this, too.

  • Steve Hutchings

    Ed,

    This is my favourite podcast yet. It’s just awesome to hear from Bob Bly – he really is the master – and those nuggets that help propel copywriters into six figures, like doing ‘twice’ as much marketing to have a choice of clients. I loved the story of the guy who needed an article from Bob and just opened up his chequebook. Thanks for this great interview!

    • edgandia

      Thank YOU for checking it out, Steve!

      And I agree — within 3 minutes of hitting the “Record” button on this interview, I knew it was going to turn into one of my best shows so far. 🙂

  • PatrickBrianONeill

    Bob Bly is awesome. I read all his books that apply to my situation, I listen to every interview he gives, and he does what I do (or I do what he does, more appropriately).

    I have more work than I need because I chase down and tackle clients! I love listening to Bob, because he LOVES doing what he does, but he will not lie to you. If you work hard at prospecting, you will have as much work as you need, REGARDLESS OF WHAT YOU CHARGE.

    Choice gives you the ability to charge more, and the supply-demand rule begins to make you more desirable.

    Love ya Bob!

    Patrick Brian ONeill

    PS
    Georgia native, with my folks living just north of you in Blairsville, Ga.

    • edgandia

      Thanks, Patrick! I agree — Bob is awesome. And super generous. Great to have a fellow Georgian here. 😉

      Thanks for listening to the show.

  • That was great!