Copywriting Secrets Revealed With Kevin Donlin | Small Biz Marketing Specialist
Copywriting Secrets Revealed With Kevin Donlin

Copywriting Secrets Revealed With Kevin Donlin

How can you use words to sell? Kevin Donlin joins “Small Business Stacey” to share his latest and greatest copywriting tactics to grow your small business.

Episode Transcript

Stacey: What is copywriting?

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Kevin DonlinKevin: It used to be called salesmanship in print. Salesmanship multiplied, selling multiplied, meaning if you’ve ever gotten one person to buy you have the basis for copywriting. It’s just a matter of taking your best words that sell, writing them down, and just multiplying your audience, whether it’s online or offline. Copy is an old word for text. People think a copywriter is a guy who sits in Washington with a c in a circle so they think “I work for the government.”

Stacey: Copywriting is words that sell. Is there any difference whether that’s online or offline?

Kevin: The format can change. If someone can see you, you need to say different things in a different way than if they can’t see you. The message is generally the same, but the format it takes will change depending on the medium. Here’s an example of a success story: Have a client, we sent a message out via FedEx letter. It was 6 pages. I took the same message and turned it into a 45-minute script that he used from the stage. It was close to $600,000 he made in one day with that message. It’s the perfect example of how the medium determines how you deliver that.

Stacey: When it comes to copywriting, I see a lot of small business owners in two camps: 1) those who chest beat “I, I, I, We, We, We” and 2) those who stare at a blank computer screen and have no idea where to start. What do you recommend for each of those people?

Kevin: Go through your website now and everywhere it says “I, I, I, Me, My, We and Our” replace that with the word “You”. It forces you to rewrite everything from the point of view of the reader or your listener. It’s a simple-sounding technique but it completely changes how you speak. So if you say “We have been in business since 1990” change that to “You will gain from our 28 years of experience in helping folks just like you.” The more times you can use “You” in any given sentence the better. Regarding the blank screen, that’s very common, even among other copywriters. It’s a big fear. The way to get around that is to use a swipe file. It’s a file, in my case it’s actually 3 or 4 cabinets. Start with a manilla folder. You find letters or mailings, anything you’ve gotten more than once. That’s called a control, meaning it’s winning so much they mail it again. Go online and search for examples of _____ (blank) – whatever you’re trying to write. Swipe file example of blank. Get a sense of what other people have done because no matter what problem you’re trying to solve, someone has been through it or a similar situation and has a solution. You should never copy another sales letter verbatim – that’s called plagiarism. You can find someone who has faced a situation similar to yours. You can borrow their idea. That’s where the “swiping” part comes from. That’s how I come up with all of my best ideas. I take two or three ideas from other people or from my own files. That’s how I got this big win for my client. When you do this you can take all of the ideas, dump it into a Word document, copy and paste whatever, start with something on your computer and then play around with it. That’s how you get around the problem of the blank screen.

Copywriting Secrets Revealed With Kevin Donlin

The best way to create your own sales message, and you don’t have to do it from scratch, is to have someone interview you or dictate into your phone someone selling something to you. The next time you’re on the phone with a client selling something record the call, transcribe it, and there is 90% of your sales letter. Copywriting is salesmanship multiplied. It’s words that sell. If you’ve ever sold anything before you’ve got the start of a sales letter or sales page already. Don’t overthink it.

The best of both worlds is to combine your sales message with someone else’s brilliant headline or brilliant offer or brilliant insight and that’s where the magic can happen.
I was reading Charles Darwin this morning and it was about species that are most closely related, they compete the most fiercely for the same resources. In other words, if you look and sound like everyone else it’s the toughest way to stand out. You’re most likely to be exterminated and go extinct if you say and do what everyone else is doing. So if you’re looking to your industry for ideas you’re competing against everyone else for customers and for mindshare and according to Darwin you’re going to go extinct more often than not. Someone is going to beat you out.

Yesterday I was writing copy for the front label of a very high-end dog food company. I took ideas from Muscle Building, supplements, brain supplements. I wasn’t looking at other dog food bags. I was taking ideas from other industries and came up with a pretty great result. The client is happy. He was like “Where did you get that?” I just said “I’m a genius. You pay me to be a genius.” To him it was like wow, I never would have thought of that.

The man who stops advertising to save money is like the man who stops the clock to save time.

Thomas Jefferson 

Stacey: So true. It’s something I preach in my book “Small Business Marketing Made EZ” because what you’re talking about is what I call “Ant Marketing”. If you’ve ever seen a row of ants, they all follow each other, but nobody really knows where they’re going. That’s what happens in small business marketing. “Suzy’s hair salon sent out a postcard so I’ll send out a postcard.” So you’re saying don’t’ do ant marketing, right?

Kevin: Exactly. Just think about the origins of species, natural selection. If you want to be one of a thousand other penguins trying to get the same fish, swimming the same way under the ice trying to compete for that fish, well one of those thousands is going to get that fish and it’s probably not going to be you. So you want to be in a boat with a spear, you want to harpoon the fish, do it different, and you’ll probably succeed. Just think of how species get weeded out because the more similar you are, the worse your chances are for survival.

Stacey: You said copywriting is nothing more than salesmanship. You’ve given some examples of how people can go about that. I want to go deeper into how you sell through your words because a small business owner who doesn’t have a lot of experience in copywriting may perhaps use the wrong words just like when they go to do their website they’re doing “I, I, I, We, We, We”. How do you write something in a sales tone that isn’t saying “Buy this now!” How do you go about doing that?

Kevin: The easiest way is to just be yourself. I know that sounds trite. Don’t sound like somebody else. I know lots of people including other copywriters who have written for clients and the language is just overwritten. The easiest way to make your language sound natural is to read it out loud to yourself. I promise you’ll be shocked. Anything you write that doesn’t sound like you’d say it out loud, fix it. Ideally what you write will sound like you speaking, and that’s how you know you’ve got a winner. Just doing that will make your copy more readable and more persuasive and more human. I find the more college educated you are the more overwritten your copy is. Never write to impress or wow people. Write to sell. If you wouldn’t say it on the phone or in person, don’t say it online, don’t say it in print. That will solve 90% of the problems right there.

Stacey: I couldn’t agree more. When I drive and listen to commercials it’s all tech-speak, I can’t even understand what they’re saying. It’s like they’re trying so hard to impress, that’s they’re actually accomplishing the opposite where it’s in one ear, out the other, where I can’t even remember the name of your company. Sure copywriting is salesmanship but would you agree it’s also storytelling?

Kevin: Sure. Storytelling can be part of a great sales message. I hesitate to recommend it because it can be tricky for most people to pull off. Not everyone is a natural storyteller. When we’re sitting around the campfire, drinking a few beers, telling stories is easy, but when trying to do it on paper, it can take 9 or 10 drafts to get something in terms of a story. There’s a whole train of thought in psychology about how humans prefer stories. It’s hard-wired into us. There is a lot of power in storytelling. Again I hesitate to recommend it to everyone because it can be tricky to pull off. The big win I had for the client had a story in it “Mr A” and Mr B”. “Mr A” didn’t use my client and lost business and his life savings. “Mr B” did use my client and he’s now close to retiring 15 – 20 years early. Storytelling is often a great way to tell your sales message.

Stacey: How long should a typical sales letter be?

Kevin: It should be as long as it needs to be and no longer. In print, a rough rule of thumb, I use about a page for every $100 . . . . if it’s 10 pages, maybe I’m selling something for $1,000 – $2,000. The letter I referenced for my client was 6 pages and that was because we had a very targeted audience so I broke that rule because I sold something for close to $80K in just 6 pages. In general, the higher the price tag, the longer the copy. As long as it’s interesting and relevant to the reader, they’ll read it. Anyone who says people don’t read long copy is ignoramus. Don’t give them a penny because they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. I’m passionate about it because I know long copy works. Go as long as you need to to make a complete selling argument because you may never get another shot at this person.

The way to answer “How long should my sales letter be?” If you were selling it door to door how long would it take you to stand on the front porch and get invited in the house? How much talking would you have to do? Anyone who says people don’t read long copy would you send your sales people out and say “Stop talking after 30 seconds” because no one will listen to you after 30 seconds. That’s idiotic. That’s the same mentality that says that no one will read long copy or watch a long sales message. Talk as long as you need to to make a complete sales argument. Just picture yourself on someone’s front doorstep and when you lose their attention they slam the front door. It’s a great exercise to keep yourself on track.

Stacey: In online marketing there’s A/B testing where you can test different headlines or messages. Can you do that with written copy?

Kevin: Yes! Before there was Google there was something called US mail and newspapers. Claude Hopkins who was a pioneer, he used split testing. Split testing is basically A/B testing . . . . half the audience gets version A, half the audience gets version B. Which one produced better results? That’s the winner. That’s called the control. Then you try to beat it with the next ad. The winner of that you try to beat it. The Japanese call this Kaizen, continue to improve. The general rule of thumb is when you’re mailing, split test about 500 – 1000 people with each version. You then take the winner and go out to a larger audience where you’re always trying to beat that winner. Never mail your entire mailing list one offer. Split test it on a smaller portion and then roll it out.

What do you test? Headlines are the first thing to test because the headline is 50 – 80% of the whole impact in the sales letter or the print ad. Second thing to test is the offer. “If you call today you get A, B and C” If you call today you get “D, E and F” – 2 different offers. What are you giving people in exchange for their time or money? Of course, price is a good thing to test. You can and should. For most business owners the barrier to raising your price is entirely inside your head. It’s a mental block. For my client just last week the original price for their program started at $25K and then someone suggested we go up to $49K and we went to Dan Kennedy, he said no go close to $100K. My client’s eyes got big and he was going to do $69K and he kept getting pressure so he changed it from $25K to $79K. The same deliverable. And we got it. The price barriers are not in your market. They’re in your head. You can ask for you. You just have to make the value clear to your buyers.

Stacey: A strategy I share with my audience is “The Power of Zero”. Whatever number you’re thinking of, add a zero to the end. If you think “I’m going to charge $100”, add a zero and charge $1000. It actually changes the way you think about it. $100 may not be a stretch but if you charge $1000 you want to make sure you’re delivering that value, you’re going to think bigger. It changes the whole process. Even if you don’t get the $1000 you’ll get more than $100, probably closer to $750 so look so far ahead you are.
What tips or suggestions do you have for a small business owner on where to spend their time when it comes to copywriting?

Kevin: The big 3 factors that impact the success of your mailer are 1) the list – who’s getting your offer 2) the offer – what are you giving in exchange for their time/money and 3) the copy – the stuff people pay me big bucks for. It all starts with the list. Your most valuable list is your house list. It means the people who have already given you money in the past, your current customers and clients. Whenever you have a new product or service start with your house list, people who have bought from you in the past. They’re the most likely to buy from you again. We overlook the people in our database because we always want the “new” people, more clients. No. Start with your own list first then branch out. When you start with your current customers they’ll give you feedback also because they’re used to working with you. There’s much more validity to getting feedback from someone who’s already bought something from you vs a generic focus group. List, list, list first. If you get that right the other stuff is much easier.

Next is the offer. What are you giving people in exchange for their time or money? Here’s where I will push my clients until they think I’m crazy. You know you’re making a great offer to people when they think they’re ripping you off, this is such a great offer, so I’m going to buy. If you get the offer right and the list right, the copy takes care of itself. I like to stack the deck in my favor by starting with a good list. I’ll help my clients create the offer.

You want to give 3 bonuses. People will buy for the bonus. I can tell you from experience this works. In order of importance get the list right, get the offer right and the copy takes care of itself.

Stacey: Small business owners are strapped for time. They come to me to get their marketing done. A key component of that is copywriting. They may not realize that outsourcing copywriting is a smart thing for them to do. They may not realize there’s experts out there like you who write copy.

Kevin: For most businesses you can’t afford me. If you’re making over a million, that’s where I get a sweet spot. I make money for people by helping them raise their prices and typically I pay for myself by being able to charge a higher price. My clients understand it’s an investment. There’s no better investment in your business than marketing. Where else can you put $5 into Google Adwords for example and get back $5,000. You just can’t do that in the stock market. What I do for clients is I come in when you’ve already got something that’s working, if you have a sales message already. I don’t work with startups. I don’t work with part-timers. If you’ve got something that’s working I’ll refine that and multiply it for you. Typically people will have something good online and they have nothing offline or vice versa. Or they’re good on the phone but they’ve got nothing with direct mail. What I help them do is first of all take a look at what’s working, let’s refine it a bit and let’s expand your reach, use more media such as direct mail, the phone. Within direct mail there’s Every Door Direct Mail which is very affordable. There’s traditional direct mail to your customers and clients. I can write a script for you. Of course, create web pages. Really for the right client who understands that marketing is the world’s best investments, I’m one of the best investments you can make because I’m going to take what you’re doing and help you completely expand upon things and go into areas you never thought of. I’m not a genius, I’ve just been doing this for 20 years. I have a lot of experience from other industries that you just don’t.

Copywriting Secrets Revealed With Kevin Donlin

Stacey: Your work is brilliant, I can attest to it. It’s almost like printing money because when you have words that sell, you send out an offer and the money comes in.

Kevin: It’s very real alchemy in a sense. If you’re creating value out of nothing and people are paying you everyone wins. Your customers, your clients. Their lives are expanding, your bank account is expanding. Everybody wins.

Stacey: I understand you have an offer you were willing to make to my audience.

Kevin: It’s very simple. My main business for copywriting is called Client Cloning Systems and I help you get more clients like your best clients. I typically work with people who have clients, not customers. I’m not terribly picky about that, but if you’ve got clients, and you’re typically selling a high-end service and you’re not a commodity. I have something called a client cloning kit. It’s 5 reports. I do make it available for download but if you’re in the United States I’ll mail it to you. Here’s what it looks like – it looks like a pipe bomb. It’s not. The postal inspectors let these go through most of the time. Inside is a printed version. I have 5 reports and tools for people that they can take and start making money with right away. I’m happy to mail this out to you. Take this idea and steal it. Whatever you’re giving people to download, print and mail it. This goes on the top of every pile of mail. You have to involve yourself with it. The client cloning kit is free if you’re in the United States. Just go over to and click on the little link that says free client cloning kit and I’m happy to ship one out to you.

Stacey: Thanks for sharing that with my group. Is there any other way people can get in touch with you to learn more about what you do and how you help them with copywriting?

Kevin: Go over to and my contact information is there. You can request a free client cloning kit. There is a link there where you can email me. There’s also my phone number where I’m very reachable. I’m a real person here in the United States. I’m happy to talk with any of your viewers. You’ve got a really good audience. You have a really good message.

Stacey: Kevin, thanks for coming on today. Any last words or advice for small business owners and their copywriting?

Kevin: Don’t wait to get started. If you’ve got a message selling in one medium, you should be selling in more media. If you’ve got a good website, that’s an opportunity to print and mail that message. If you’ve got a great storefront, you’ve got a great message that can work on your website or direct mail or on the phone. It’s just a matter of finding one thing that’s working, refine it and roll it out to a wider message. There’s no limit to how far you can go.

Stacey: This was jam-packed. You’re going to need to listen to this a few times and take notes. He’s writing 6-page sales letters, you’re going to have 6 pages of notes. Make sure you take advantage of Kevin’s offer. Check out his website and know that he’s available as a copywriter and copywriting resource for you. Kevin, thanks for being on today. For all of you out there, I’m “Small Business Stacey”, here to help you get your marketing done and help you become a #SmallBizMarketingWiz. Bye!

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About the Author smallbizmarketing

Stacey Riska, aka "Small Business Stacey" is a serial entrepreneur who is passionate about saving small business and rebuilding Main Street. She helps small and local business owners become a #SmallBizMarketingWiz by teaching them marketing strategies that get MORE: MORE leads, MORE customers/clients/patients, MORE sales, and MORE money. Stacey is the founder of Small Biz Marketing Specialist, THE go-to place for marketing tips, techniques and strategies that get results. She's also the author of "Small Business Marketing Made EZ" where she shares the 6-simple-step plan to get your marketing into ACTION - literally and figuratively. Stacey is also the creator of the Daily Deals for Massive Profits, an online video training program that teaches small and local business owners how to use daily deal sites like Groupon to skyrocket their business growth and get massive profits. In this program she teaches from experience, as it was the key strategy that transformed her coffee and smoothie business from being $500K in debt to a 7-figure profitable business. When not saving the small business world, she enjoys sipping red wine, eating chocolate (who doesn't!) and spending time with her amazing husband.

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