My interview with Ben Settle about getting started as a freelance copywriter.


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Ben Settle Transcript

DJ: Alright, I’m here with Ben Settle. And Ben Settle is a copywriter, mainly an e-mail copywriter. That’s kind of where Ben is positioned in my mind. But I wanted to wrack Ben’s mind today about freelance copywriting. He’s actually out of the freelance game, for about a year and a half now you said?

BS: Yeah.

DJ: Yeah, but that’s where he got his start, and that’s what brought him to where he is today. So Ben, if you could just give us a little bit of background, and then we’ll kinda jump into some of the questions, that’d be great.

BS: Okay, well the short version is I started in business, actually in network marketing, like a lot of people have. And I sucked at it. Really bad. And it took a couple years of failure and getting debt and all that, through MLN, to finally kinda stumble into direct marketing. And from there I found the Dan Kennedy, Gary Halbert, and all the names, people you’re probably familiar with. And from there I just, wanted to be a freelance copywriter. That’s what I did for about eight or nine years, until about a year and a half ago, now I just write copy for myself.

DJ: And that’s for your website, bensettle?

BS: It’s for that, and it’s for other ventures i’m in, and non business related stuff, you know, selling different kinds of products that are not business to business. Yeah, I mean it’s a skill that you can take anywhere. Even if you’re not doing client work, you can just be your own client.

DJ: Yeah, exactly. And I mean as you go, I’m sure just when you’re in the freelance game, there’s just ideas that are abundant. So if you find an idea that you like, and you think could work, if you have the copywriting skills, it’s just so much easier to get started with that venture. I mean that’s what I’ve found.

Cool, so I’m gonna break this interview into three sections, really. The first section will be your thoughts on getting better at copywriting, so how you get good at copywriting. And then we’ll talk a little bit about how to actually get clients, and get that first client, and then, the way I’ve mainly gotten clients is through networking, so I would like to get some of Ben’s thoughts on that, obviously he was in the MLN, so you should know, a little bit about network marketing. But um, yeah, third section we’ll talk about actually, once you’re out there, trying to position yourself trying to find clients, how do you negotiate fees, and what should you charge, as a beginning copywriter.

So, first section portion of this interview: Ben, in your opinion, what are some of the, just the best way to get good at copywriting, and get good at marketing?

BS: Well the best way and the fastest way is to start writing. All the time. And I know you’re a big fan, as I am, of copying ads out, by your own handwriting. Only, I think people should be very selective about the kinds of ads they do that with. But that’s a very very very good way to get fast, really fast. So there’s that.

And then, there’s studying the usual books, courses, and all that sort of thing. And then, actually writing, you know, doing persuasive writing. Now, I’m biased in e-mail. I’ll admit it, I’m very much biased, so most of the advice I give people is to start writing e-mails to your own list, persuading them to take some action. Whether it be to call you to hire you, or to buy a product you’re selling, or whatever. And doing that every day, and making that a discipline. Maybe writing articles on the internet, that not only show that you know what you’re talking about, with copywriting, as you learn things. But it’s a way to persuasively write so that you get people to click your link to get people to find your website.

And, I’ll even say this: Several years ago, I was kinda having a hard time. I had no clients, at all, at the time. And I had a few months where just, nothing was happening. And so I just started writing these ezine articles, like ten a day. And I started just taking that approach, like okay, I’m writing a sales letter to get someone to click over to my website, each article was. And that did wonders for getting really good at copywriting really fast, because, I was applying all the stuff I was learning, and just the discipline of writing regularly, gets you into the mode, so that it’s not like this hard thing, you know, when you sit down, most people have a hard time, it doesn’t, it isn’t hard anymore, it’s easy. And, if you do it right, it’s actually kinda fun, and maybe even therapeutic.

DJ: And maybe even profitable. [laughs]

BS: [laughs] Well hopefully!

DJ: Were you sending traffic from ezine to just like an affiliate site? Or, what was that?

BS: No, I was sending it to my own blog. At the time, I was, you know, right now, I teach e-mail stuff, but at the time, it was more of a copywriting type blog. So I would send people there, And if they opted in, they would get a free ebook, which is basically a bunch of articles I’d written already, that I just put together in a book, which anybody can do that. And that, actually, I would say that two of the highest paying clients I ever got, came from being on my list, and they read that ebook, which demonstrated my knowledge, and demonstrated that I can write, and that I am writing. And I think people would be surprised how bad of a reputation copywriters have. I mean, just showing that you’re a responsible person, and that you’re gonna make your deadlines, and that you’re not gonna try to screw someone over, is half that battle. And you can do that, just by doing what I was just saying. Just put your own articles up, and write emails to your list.

DJ: Yeah, and I guess, you know, kinda the lesson there too, is you knew your target audience was business owners. So you’re writing articles, you know, copywriting articles that are trying to get that business owner to click through to your website, and I’m assuming you were. Was that your target at the time? Like, small business owners, or people that you know would be needing to hire a copywriter?

BS: Yeah, it was, you know what it was, it was pretty much anyone on the internet looking for copywriting. Because this is a big thing that, this is a huge mistake that freelancers make. And I’m not saying everyone makes this mistake, it’s happens so often, that I think it’s worth mentioning. And that is, when you’re trying to get clients, it’s kinda time to take off the copywriter’s hat, and put on the marketer’s hat. And it’s, you know, they’re both important, but you have that strategy, who is your audience? You know? And you wanna get out there and target them, and you wanna get them on a list, and then you wanna talk to them. Regularly.

And just the act of doing that, is gonna put you at the top of the list of people that they’re gonna wanna look at when they need to hire somebody.

DJ: Yeah, that makes sense. So when you said, just to step back, with handwriting, that you need to be careful about what ads you’re copying, what did you mean by that? Could you expand on that a little bit?

BS: Yeah, I’d be happy to. I’m very wary, and I’m not saying this is the case with all of them, okay? I’m just saying, as a general rule of thumb. I’d be very wary of copying out any of the internet type sales letters that are online. Not unless they’ve been tested vigorously offline first.

And the reason why is because, a lot of online selling, the copy is important, but like, for example, somebody will look at a very successful product launch, and they’ll say; “Well that thing did millions of dollars in twenty-four hours.” But the copy probably had very little to do with the success of that launch, and most of it was just the launch process, all the buildup and all that.

So I’m a big fan of going after direct mail ads. These are things, you know, control ads specifically. But even taking it another step farther, I think if you find a copywriter that you just gravitate toward their style, and you just like, like it’s like a pleasure to read their ads, you would read it just for enjoyment. And I know that might sound kinda strange, but that does happen. In my case, I just really like reading Gary Halbert ads. So I just focused on his. I mean I’d study other ads, but when it came to copying ads, I would just do his. And I think people should think about doing that. Find someone that you just, their style just gets you. It could be Gary Bencivenga.

DJ: Yeah, he’s one of my favorites, I love his ads.

BS: Right? It could be anyone! Now I’m a huge fan of Gary Bencivenga, But I liked Gary Halbert’s style more. So I gravitated towards that. It’s different for everybody. But once you do that, that way it’s less of a chore, it’s more like hey this is kinda fun.

DJ: Yeah. It’s funny, I was copying out a Gene Schwartz ad the other day, and he was talking about getting older, and the process of aging, like, and I was copying out this ad, I was starting to get like emotional, just thinking about getting older, thinking about my Grandfather, and all this stuff. And I was like “Holy shit, this guy’s good!”

Yeah, I completely 100% agree with that. The challenge that I’ve had actually with Copyhour, is finding the newer ads. Because a lot of people, I mean, my favorite is to copy out the older ads, I love Gary Halbert’s stuff. But a lot of people are looking for the newer, what’s working now. And I 100% agree, you know you can send people to these launch sales videos, and all this other stuff, and when it really comes down to it, unless it’s converting with extremely cold traffic, you know, you can’t really necessarily know what else is going on. There’s so much else going on. So yeah, that’s a really good point to bring up.

So essentially, you’re starting to practice writing, you’re at the point where you’re starting to think about getting a client. How do you know when you’re ready, to actually go out and get client work?

BS: Well I think you should just go out there right away. Just through your hat out there, and go at it. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get paid a lot. You might even have to take some jobs on spec at first, but there’s this dude, I’m sure a lot of people know who he is, called Bob Bly. And he did an interview at my friend Michael Sonoffs(sp?) several years ago, and they did a lot, and they talked about this a lot, and I thought Bob just had a really great philosophy on this. Just go out, and get your first three ads written. If you can get paid, great. You know? If you have to barter it for some other service or whatever, fine. If you have to do it on spec, do it on spec. It doesn’t really matter, because you’re not, those first few jobs isn’t really to make a lot of money, it’s just to get your feet wet. To know what it’s like to deal with clients. To know what it’s make to meet a deadline, and to, you know, dealing with clients by itself is whole thing, but you know, and to just get yourself down there to write, and to apply what you’ve been learning, and you get those first three pieces, now you’ve got yourself a little portfolio. And, if you do a good job, and they liked you, you might have a few testimonials to help you get started too.

DJ: So do you think the first step in that process though, is getting together a website, and starting to try and send traffic to it?

BS: I think that’s one way to do it. That’s the way I would do it. And if I was starting over, knowing what I know now, no contacts no anything, I put up a very, I’d make it really simple. I’d put up a little squeeze page, and I’d offers some kind of a little bribe for people to join. Something copywriting related. Maybe it’s five or six articles I wrote, just thrown together into an ebook. And then I would start sending traffic to it however I could. If I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on buying traffic, I would article marketing, I would maybe try to do guest posts on blogs that get traffic. Maybe hit the forums, I mean I’m not a big fan of haunting forums, but when you’re just starting out, it’s a great way to rub shoulders with other people going through the same thing. And you might even be able to make some joint ventures with people. Where you write they copy, and they do the marketing. Or maybe even split the sales or something. I did that when I was starting out.

You do whatever you have to do, as far as that’s concerned. But I would make it simple, put up a squeeze page, send the traffic to it, and mail it daily, with some kind of copywriting related tip.

DJ: Great advice. And so, do you think that it’s, obviously in my mind, you’re the mail guy. Do you think it’s beneficial for somebody just starting out to try and position themselves, in the market as, you know, the “video sales letter guy”, or the “email guy”, or whatever it may be?

BS: You know what, I think that’s a good question. I think when you’re just starting out, you do what you can do. You just kinda go after, I’m not so sure specializing when you haven’t really done anything in that market, and call yourself a specialist. [laughs]

DJ: [laughs} Yeah.

BS: Unless you’re just selling your own thing. Now, there’s nothing wrong, and really, friend Dan, he’s big on this. Forget clients, just sell your own products at first. And now you have proof that you can do it, and go get clients. And you can say: “You know I’ve been selling my own stuff.” If nothing else. And you don’t have to rely on some flaky client to mail your thing, because, lets face it, a lot of these clients are not going to send traffic to your sales letter, they’re not going to do what they said they were going to do, and they’re just going to frustrate. I mean this happens to everybody. But if you can just sell your own thing, if nothing else… An affiliate product, like you were saying, just pick an affiliate product to sell. And do this while you’re also building a list of copywriters or whatever. Or people interested in copywriting. And you will at least have that experience. you can at least say: “Hey, I’ve been selling my own products, and I want to take clients now.”

DJ: Awesome. Alright, so, once you do have that first client, however you go about getting it, what’s the negotiation process like? And what kind of fees can you really expect to be getting? I know it obviously depends, but do you have any sort of advice? At least on negotiating fees, and figuring all that stuff out?

BS: I do, and this is going to probably frustrate some people, because nobody really wants to hear this, but this is the way it is. Everybody’s studying the copywriting, all the copywriting tactics, and all that. And that’s fine. You gotta do that. But when it comes to getting clients, you’re not a copywriter, you’re now a salesman. And you have to think like a salesman. And what a lot of copywriters do is come is they come out and start swinging for the fences about all these benefits and all this… No, you don’t want to do any of that. You just want to talk to them. You may not be able to help that guy, and you have to go on with this attitude that you may not be able to help this client. And you have to get that information from them. So you just want to have a conversation with them.

I’ll give you an example. I got to talking to a client. This was a few years ago. Now this wasn’t when I was just starting out, but the same basic principles apply. And we got to talking, and he was interested in hiring me to write copy, at the time I didn’t really want to write copy. I wanted to do e-mail stuff. And we got to talking, and I just started asking him about his business. You know; “What kind of challenges are you having with your copy?” You know, “What kind of numbers are you doing now? What kind of numbers would you like to do? What’s happening when you’re hiring these other copywriters? Are they not following through, or what’s the problem?” And you’ll start getting ideas of what their challenges are.

And I was talking to this guy, and I just kinda said “how are your email’s doing?”. He said “Oh they suck, we can’t get them to convert..” And I was like “You know, this is what I specialize in.” And he said; “Really, well you’re speaking my language.”

I mean it wasn’t really, I wasn’t selling anything. We were just talking. But by asking questions, getting to know them, sincerely finding out if you can even help them by asking questions. Because frankly, some people cannot be helped. Some people think copywriting is a magic pill. And “Oh, if I just hire the right copywriter, everything will be fine!” And that’s not true. They need to have traffic, and positioning, a good product, and all that first.

So it’s your job to weed people out. It’s not your job necessarily to sell everybody you talk to. It’s to find out if you can actually help. When you get into that mindset, and you really can help somebody, you’re not going to have as hard a time negotiating a fee, I mean you can just tell them, here’s what I’m charging, and they can either take it or not.

One little trick I like to use, I mean there are some tactical things that people can do, and I find this to be helpful actually, it’s counter intuitive, but you just do it once, you might find it works, is, right before you even start really talking, this is basic sales. You’re like “Look, I’m not sure I can help. Alright, I just want to talk to you and ask you some questions. Get a feel for your business and what’s going on, and we’ll see. If I can’t help you, I will try to find someone that can. But just know that I’m pretty expensive. I’m on the expensive side. I can’t quote you an actual price, because I don’t exactly know what you need. But just know going in, that I’m one of the more expensive ones.”

And if they cut you off right there, you know they’re probably price shoppers, and you don’t really want that. You want value shoppers. And even if you’re not going to charge a lot, whatever you price, your quote might even seem low to them. “Wow, I thought this was going to be expensive!” So that’s a nice little tactic, you know there’s this guy, Barry Marr, he’s a sales trainer, he calls it “making the skeleton dance.” You take that thing that everyone is scared of, like they want to hide in the closet, and you make it like, cool. Like, I’m expensive. You know? Here’s why I’m expensive. I’ve been selling my own stuff… You know, and whatever!

You come out with a flaw right away. It puts everyone at ease, they’re not sitting there freaking out “Oh God!”, you know, you’ve gotten it out of the way.

DJ: Gotcha. Yeah, that’s awesome advice. So obviously you’re pretty connected within the copywriting world. Any advice for someone just starting that networking process? And whether or not interacting with a bunch of copywriters, and I assuming it does, and you know interacting with people in that world leads to working on getting projects, getting jobs, because of the network that you built with other copywriters.

BS: Yeah. Well you know what, when it comes to networking, I’ve done it a little bit. I’m pretty introverted guy, so I don’t actually go to like, seminars, and I just like hate networking. You know there’s a few things I’d rather not do. [laughs]

DJ: [laughs]

BS: But, that said, the internet does make it very easy, because, what I suggest everybody do, and I don’t care if they’re a copywriter, or whatever, is find a mastermind group to join. People like-minded, they don’t have to all be copywriters, maybe one guy does this, one guy does that, you know, whoever. Or they could all be copywriters, it doesn’t matter. I’m in two. One is just all copywriters, that’s fine. But you start joining, get into a couple of those, you wanna deal with people who are like a notch better than you, ideally. You know? I mean you don’t really want to mastermind with people that are less knowledgeable than you. You kinda wanna play with people who are a little better than you. And you can find people who are interested in this on blogs, I mean it’s not really that hard. You just tell people, look, I’m trying to build a mastermind group.

When you do that, you now have access to all the people they know. And believe me, there were times like, I needed help. And I would just go to those guys, and go, do you know of anyone who’s looking for a copywriter? And you’d be surprised. They may have clients they don’t have time to help, and they’ll tell you, hey, check out this guy. You know, you’ll have an endorsement. So that’s one way to kinda do it.

But here’s another way to do it. And I don’t know if we call this networking, but…

DJ: We call it drinking, most of the time. [laughs]

BS: [laughs] Drinking is good! If you can go out drinking with these guys, you’re good. But, just like, excelling at copywriting, like, always working to be the best. I mean, have that attitude, like “I’m going to excel at this. I’m one of the best.” And people will just gravitate towards you automatically.

And you get that way by doing the things like you teach, like copying ads out, in my opinion, writing every day to a list, persuading them to do something. You will get really really good, really really fast. And people will just gravitate towards you.

DJ: Yeah, I’ve always noticed that. You know, in the products I put out, it’s like, the better the product, the more people come to you. And the better that your copywriting is, just, the more people will gravitate toward you. And part of that, I think, is actually just having that confidence. Because somebody typed in a question that I have here that’s like; “How can I know if I’m good enough to be a copywriter? How do I become a copywriter via freelancing?”

And that, to me, seems just kind of like, a very, a low self esteem question to ask. And I dunno, part of being extremely good at something, or at least letting the world know it, is proclaiming to the world that I’m good at it, in a certain way.

Yeah, this has been great! I’ve kind of exhausted my list of questions, but um, nice. Short and sweet. Ben, is there anywhere that people can find you? I mean obviously your website Are there any specific products that people should check out?

BS: Well I just recommend that people go to and you know, I have like eight, nine hundred pages of content up, and a bunch of interviews like this that I put up there. It’s all free. If you do decide to opt in, you don’t have to, but if you do decide to opt in, I give away a free issue of our e-mail players newsletter, a PDF. I mean it’s a print newsletter, but I give away the first issue as a PDF. And there’s twenty-four ways in there to use e-mail to rack up your sales pretty quick. You could use it to get clients information in there. And that’s free. And that gives you an idea, just being on my list, you know, I have other products too, but I just want people to do that first. If you like what I have to offer, you’ll find other products that I sell. But that’s really the only step anyone has to take if they want to learn more.

DJ: Awesome. Alright, thank you so much for taking the time, and I hope everybody found this pretty valuable. Thanks a lot Ben!

BS: Thank you, I appreciate it!