#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?

Facebook isn’t social marketing. It’s social networking. It doesn’t get a business result.

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.

Figure out the amount of marketing you need to do to get to the level you want, and then double it.

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