That fall, I decided to start reading some books on advertising. I was skeptical of many the titles I found in Amazon, promising that things like copywriting could lead to six-figure incomes or that a few tweaks to a headline would make the sales crush down the door.
The one book that changed my life was David Ogilvy’s book, On Advertising. In particular, a story he told of the first time he “tasted blood.”
A man walked into the agency where the young David then worked. The man wanted someone to write an ad to sell his house. The agency didn’t want to bother with the small account, so they gave the work to the office boy—David Ogilvy.
David used his skills in direct response copywriting (the skill of writing sales letters that sell rather than brand advertising such as TV commercials) to sell the house. He earned a commission for the sale. Most of all, David realized: copywriting really works. It would later make him famous and rich. He even bought a castle in France.
This was a nice story. I remember reading it while waiting for a doctor’s appointment on a rainy day. But I didn’t believe that I could use those same principles of copywriting to sell products and make money.
I kept reading about copywriting. And then came a day, I decided to try my skills out.
I was still working at the landscape company. I was the manager and work was slow. We needed new clients.
My boss sent me a crappy Craigslist ad. It looked like all the other ads you’d see: reliable service, professional, free estimates. Bleh.
That day, I decided to try three principles of copywriting that I had been reading about. Was this all bullshit? Or did this stuff actually help you make money?
I wrote a sales letter that essentially did three things:
It had a headline that pulled the reader in: We’ll work on your gardening for free (a $250 value).
It used social proof, listing different million-dollar properties we took care of.
It made an offer that had urgency and reversed risk for the buyer.
Why did this ad work? It had two things essential to direct response: personality in the copy (so that people notice and trust your ad) and a strong offer. The second is often ignored, which gives you a sales pitch without substance.
The basics of the offer were (I’ve lost the original ad):
We’re looking for long-term clients. So you need to sign a monthly contract. This isn’t for people looking for one-off services.
But in good faith, we’ll begin by offering you $250 in free services. Prune a hedge. Power wash your deck. All on us.
If you aren’t happy at the end of the month, you’ll owe us nothing. And won’t be charged for the $250 in free services. So the risk is on us.
This offer expires in 5 days.
I waited for the phone to ring . . .
That week, I sold $10,000 in new services from that ad (based on the yearly contracts they signed). All of those clients were still with the company when I left to work in an advertising agency. It was much-needed fuel for a struggling little business.
And it came with one of the proudest moments in my career. I drove up to meet a man who requested an estimate based on the ad.
Here are the latest sales from my hobby product which earns me money (sometimes) while I sleep.
$19,807 USD to date. This is all profit, just a small website, landing page, and email capture.
But the big lessons I’ve learned from that $10,000 day and the $1,000 or so each month I make in passive income is this: make the first yes easy for the buyer, reverse risk, and show your personality long before you ever ask for a sale.