While Honing one of the most important Creative Marketing and Business skills You’ll ever Develop …
Today we’re going to be talking about how you can quickly and easily tap into the world’s biggest “Open-Air Bazaar” …
I’m talking about a marketplace that’s visited by over 81 million people each and every month.
A place where people come to buy cars from Arizona, trading cards from Finland, used records from Africa, sports memorabilia from the MCG, and literally everything else under the sun, at prices ranging up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Virtually anyone in the world can “rent” one of the bazaar’s stalls and sell whatever they like to whoever happens to stop by that day …
And every one of these sellers benefits from the massive aggregate foot traffic that the giant “bazaar” offers. They don’t need to brand themselves or attract customers; they just have to sport a fair price and a sharp pitch to close a deal and leave with cash in hand for the day.
Best of all, this simple and approachable format still satisfies three out of four key criteria for making a fortune in sales:
- It’s got a pool of potential customers, the more the better …
- It supplies products their customers want, the more the better …
- It provides sellers with the ability to sell their product openly and freely, even building positive reputation as they go along …
The fourth and final criteria (finding an easy way to take their money) is—as always—still up to you.
But even still, this bazaar can be nearly all kinds of things to nearly all kinds of people. As long as a seller is motivated, it can provide a detailed and product-specific offer to a self-selecting audience of eager buyers.
And just for offering that service, this “bazaar,” a little company called eBay, cleared over ten billion dollars last year.
So why can’t you get a piece of that pie? After all, I don’t think it would take you more than a few minutes just to try for yourself and earn some quick cash …
Just look up from your screen right now and I guarantee you’ll see something you could bear to sell within a few seconds. Some old DVDs or computer software? An old piece of memorabilia without any real sentimental value?
If you’re anything like me, then you’ve probably got a Jackie Chan DVD collection you only picked up because it was on sale, or some old school book that an Eastern European college student might sorely appreciate. So why keep it? Why lug around the dead weight, especially when you’ve already made the decision to lean out your debts and boost your personal cash flow? Clearing the clutter in our homes can pave the way for clearing up the clutter elsewhere in our lives …
Because regardless of any misconceptions you might have about eBay’s sophistication, it ticks all four of the boxes above in a very big way. 81 million buyers per month, proof that products can sell in a huge way on their platform, and the ability to sell easily at a low cost.
Now you just need to refine your pitch; to guarantee that your product and your little stall both stand out and lock in your sale … which leads me to what I see as the single most important part of this exercise … and one of the best things about selling something on Ebay;
The Place is a Salesman’s Dream
Simply put; Ebay is a paradise for the skilled salesman.
After all, few people ever wander into a restaurant without being either hungry or thirsty. Likewise, few folks will ever visit Ebay without the urge to buy something very specific. So not only is there a constant moneymaking opportunity just for selling your old junk … but there’s the chance for you to learn from the market itself in a remarkably low-impact kind of way.
You write up a few simple ads and post them. The products either sell or they don’t. So you tinker with price points and photos and teaser copy …
In an hour or two each week, you’ll start to pick up on the fundamentals of sales and sales copywriting that take some people years to grasp. Just by taking advantage of this unfiltered back-and-forth with the market, you’ll get a much better idea of how your target buyers respond to all your offers and pitches.
You don’t have to go door-to-door selling your old Van Halen records. You don’t have to pester friends or waste anyone’s time. You just have to make sure that two things happen;
- You draw the right buyer into your listing
- You compel that buyer to buy with your written copy
No need to worry about face-to-face sales or nervous convincing. No haggling or crazy costs involved or anything. You have a rare shot at a captive and self-selecting audience. It’s just the buyer and your listing and the website, for however many days your sale or auction is set to last. You offer a compelling product at a compelling price with a good advertisement, and the market (the best teacher) will let you know right away.
It’s a powerful kind of simplicity that most people take for granted. I know I did. A few years ago, I was using Ebay to offload the remainder of my MCG carpet cuttings, and was meeting with lackluster success.
But then I took a step back and thought about it like a salesman would—like a copywriter would. And I realized the opportunity I was simply giving up …
You see, it’s not just the captive audience that the copywriter loves about Ebay. It’s the competition. For the most part, the average ebay seller—while fierce on prices—is rank amateur on the quality of their pitch and their listing.
Think about it; we’ve all seen the “average” listing with “Cool! New! L@@K!” in the headline, then a two line description and some fuzzy pictures. Like many of the different products on ebay, there wasn’t any direct competition on ebay (no one was offering similar McG carpet squares), so at first I made up an average listing like everyone else.
The experienced salesman sees this and he literally laughs out loud. He knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can eclipse this kind of competition, and paint such a compelling story that far more buyers would pony up far more in price.
But wait … competition?
Yes, competition. Because the experienced salesman sees my McG carpet square and says “are you kidding me?! Why would anyone else be buying any other sports memorabilia right now? This offer is simply too big to pass up—even if you’re (gasp) not a cricket fan!” And I started to realize that’s exactly how I should’ve been looking at it.
Instead of focusing on owning my own little personal niche of eBay, I needed to be reaching out to more window-shoppers. I needed to be painting a more fascinating picture, and seeing every other piece of sports memorabilia as a competitor for my sale. After all, it’s what my product deserved.
So I went back and I got hard at work. I ditched my old description, and I wrote an honest-to-god pitch. I explained the five W’s (Who, What, When, Where, Why) and kept my story faithful to the core rules of copywriting
Most of all I just didn’t hold back. I didn’t act like I was coming to a yard sale, I acted like I was trying to write the most compelling street-corner pitch humanly possible.
In short; I finally started acting like I gave a damn about what I was selling. Which—as I discovered—is basically the easiest and most genuine way to get others to give a damn about your offerings as well.
AND, boy did the bidding start to GO-OFF… Once I changed the sales letter I started selling carpet squares for well over $120… plus I have been making second chance offers to a number of bidder who are accepting and purchasing thier own piece of history at prices still above the original sales price of $74.00
Another thing I added to the listing was a bunch more photos of the carpet. Again—thinking like a copywriter—I realized that more pictures = better. It makes the product more tangible in the buyer’s mind, and since I wasn’t paying to print them or anything, I could go overboard.
On the right you’ll see what the actual listing looked like by the time I was finished, and you can check out the exact copy used in that listing here: http://preneurmarketing.com/online-marketing/story-telling-on-ebay-proof-it-works/
Even Stranger Tales of Greater Ebay Success …
While my own personal copywriting experiments have met with great success on Ebay, I can already think of dozens of sellers who took their stories to the next level, sometimes gaining media acclaim in addition to an outrageous price, just for sharing that much more about the product they were selling.
My personal favorite was the father from a few years back, who after finding his 15 year old son smoking pot in the family backyard, sold his Christmas present for 72 times it recommended retail value on eBay…
You read that right.
In a four page manifesto on eBay, the Canadian father tells how he spent two weeks searching for the rare Guitar Hero video game for the Nintendo Wii gaming system before buying it for his son. But later, after coming home from work early, he caught his son smoking reefer in the backyard with his “delinquent friends,” and he listed it on ebay as a punishment. The damn thing sold to an Aussie guy for $9,100.01.
That kind of selling power all resulted from the father’s passionately and furiously copywritten story.
And of course the list goes on. Another example of great storytelling leading to massive profits in this kind of situation would be the “mythical bikes of Craigslist.” It’s a bizarre running joke amongst American college students and young urbanites, in which an old bike will be listed with an outrageous price, and have the difference in price and perceived value explained away in listings including “magical powers” or “ninja-certified.”
In many cases, these listings will go viral instantly, passing through thousands if not millions of laptop screens before a well-heeled goon decides the fame is worth the price tag.
One of the most infamous of the Craigslist bikes can be seen below:
“Alright, I get it, these listings are great fun
…but what’s the point?”
Curiously enough, actually, the fun is the point in every one of these cases.
By giving the buyer a story to hold on to, we give them excuse after excuse to take the wallet out. They’ve already self-selected, so we already know they’re interested. Imagine someone viewing my MCG carpet squares, or a $700 fixie in Greenwich village, New York. These are already people with a specific set of interests and a specific sense of humor, so why not play directly to it?
My ad told a story of the romance and glory of days gone by. Of how these loyal sports fans would be saving some small piece of the past first from the wrecking company, and then from my mother’s garage! The bike ad gave the eventual owner one of the greatest and most irreverent of backstories he’d ever share with his friends.
That’s the goal of telling a story here, and it’s the goal of writing in general. To share something intangible with your buyers and your readers … something they could never give back or forget, and something they’d hesitate to ever put a price tag on.
Now I realize that thinking so deeply
about something like Ebay might make some think I’m a loon,
But I’d wholeheartedly disagree.
Because I always make it a point to take my copywriting duties with extreme seriousness. As a matter of fact, just the other morning I was re-writing a few welcome e-mails for my Simply Headsets company. These were just boiler-plate e-mails that most folks would assign off to an in-house copywriter, but I thrive on the stuff, on the practice of it.
And it’s not some idle, pedantic thrill either. You see, by increasing these e-mails effectiveness—by making sure that the welcome e-mails really stand out to a new buyer and the upsell emails in the sequence illicit response —I’ve been able to consistently increase my “Transactions Per Period” from each client (one of the 7 Levers to doubling your sales permanently)
Virtually every step of the way—and every bit of copywriting and relationship-building we do with our clients—works toward that 7 Levers concept of creating repeat buyers.
When they’re cultivated and nurtured properly, a strong core of repeat buyers can keep your business from becoming seasonal, minimize your month-to-month stress, and pave the way to long-term compounding success in business – but that’s whole other essay right there.
And don’t let the process intimidate you!
Persuasive writing can be painfully difficult for some when first starting out. But it doesn’t take long to find your groove …
The more I practice my writing—especially on a topic like sales or web businesses—the more I find my thoughts becoming more articulate. The more organized my verbal arguments become, and the more coherent my entire communications strategy becomes as a whole. The value of that result is something I can barely begin to appreciate, let alone express to you.
The remainder of this essay will give you literally everything you need to complete your first listing on eBay.
But do remember that it might take some time to craft your first sales letter/pitch for this listing, even for something as simple as eBay. Copywriting, on the whole, is extremely easy, but it requires a great deal of practice and adjustment to remove the time-consuming frustration of some aspects.
Which is exactly the thing we’ll try to speed up for you below …
It’s a curious irony that despite the creative nature of copywriting, many of the world’s most successful sales writers all abide by a pretty strict set of rules governing the subject matter and delivery of their copy.
They approach the job scientifically. The “split-test” their copy using different, highly formulaic leads, and then repeat the same proven approaches again and again and again.
Why? It’s not because they don’t trust their own creativity. It’s because they acknowledge the fact that they, the writer, don’t really matter in persuasive copy.
This is an extremely hard pill to swallow for most folks, and it’s the stark realization that separates the amateurs from the pros. But it’s true. We’re always brought up to write about ourselves; we write book reports in school expressing our understanding of a book … or essays in college about our understanding of the source material. We rarely stop to think about the fact that—all the while—our teachers are being paid to care what we say and think.
In my case, that made for a pretty serious system shock as soon as I finished my undergrad degree in marketing. I was suddenly faced with a very real challenge to write real-world persuasive copy, and my whole writing paradigm was instantly flipped on its head.
All of a sudden I didn’t matter at all. All of a sudden it’s all about my reader. Because the reader isn’t a family member or a teacher whose paid to read what I’ve written. They’re a busy stranger with things to do and people to see, and unless you step outside of your personal bubble and grab them by the shirt collar, they will eagerly and completely ignore you.
Again, this can be a rude awakening for many, but it’s a harsh truth of sales, communication and persuasive copy. In my eyes, it’s sort of the “red pill” of copywriting. If you can accept it, you’re on your way. If not, maybe this wasn’t right for you in the first place. In my current position on the Advisory Board at Deakins University, I’m trying to keep this same challenge from blindsiding my students the same way it’s blindsided so many others in the past.
Because copywriting isn’t evil or exclusive or intellectual. It’s expression, plain and simple—albeit a little more refined than some are used to. It’s still much better than door-to-door selling or retail, but the challenge is no less engaging.
As such, we’re going to hit you with some rapid-fire rules and principles for making your way through your first sales letter, and then show you how to go back and critique or improve it …
Your Headline, the Brilliance of Specificity
…and the 4 U’s
In sales copywriting, the obvious has been confirmed; your headline is far and away the most-read part of any sales letter.
Generally speaking, 50-80% of viewers will read a headline received in their mailbox or e-mail, whereas only 5% will still be reading a few pages into the letter. Selling on Ebay, you can expect an equivalent if not bigger gulf between the two numbers, so you need to pay careful attention to it.
Luckily, this sales letter doesn’t have to be nearly as creative as some of the direct-mail letters you’re probably seeing all the time. I say that because the default setting on Ebay is “Best Match,” and some 80% of users won’t change that before clicking search.
That means all you have to do is be specific; which brings us to our first big copywriting tip.
Specificity removes doubt.
If a criminal robbed a 7-11 brandishing a “gun,” then you get some kind of picture in your head. If a criminal robbed a 7-11 brandishing a “nickel-plated Colt .45,” then you probably get a different, substantially clearer picture, and the police might even have enough to find a perpetrator.
Specificity is truly paramount in copywriting. In telling the story of the MCG carpet, or a father writing his four-page diatribe over a Guitar Hero video game. Both of these stories provided so much specificity that even a discerning reader didn’t have time to doubt. They painted pictures while telling stories, and they left people’s heads spinning.
Especially with that self-selected and eager-to-buy audience we’re talking about on Ebay, specificity crushes deals.
So really focus on specificity and those “best match” words. If you’re selling a nickel-plated Colt .45, you don’t list it under the heading of “gun.” You list it as a “nickel plated colt 45,” or some other search-friendly phrase. In many cases, throwing in the product’s abbreviations and nicknames won’t alienate any potential buyers, as they’ll be familiar with these terms as well.
If you feel like your headline needs a “little bit extra,” you could always turn to the copywriter’s “4 U’s” of headline writing; Urgency, Usefulness, Uniqueness, and ultra-specificity.”
You’ll already have specificity from your other terms, but perhaps these rules will remind you of some other reader-oriented description or hook you could add without cluttering the headline.
Again, stay away from overused crutch words, like “new” and “cool,” and only get creative if you’re relatively sure it can’t hurt your sales and only stands to help.
Because you should be saving your real juicy descriptions for the body of your sales letter …
The Meat of the Letter—and your chance to Shine
The body of the letter is the easiest place to have fun as a writer.
There’s less pressure to grab the reader’s attention; less worrying about each and every little word. Instead, the body of your letter is allowed to ramble—for several pages in some cases—as long as you know that’s what your buyers are looking for.
But don’t get lost or overindulge. Once again, there’s another ridiculously simple outline for how to write the body of your letter. Seriously; it’s so simple you might think I’ve gone dim, but here it is:
- “Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em.”
- “Tell ‘em.”
- “Tell ‘em what you told ‘em.”
It’s that simple. And it’s usually never corrected to the proper English when it’s shared. But here’s an example of how it would work;
“Hello, my name’s Pete, and today I’m going to tell you about this wonderful new television. It’s a widescreen, just a few pounds and hangs neatly up on the wall to stay out of reach of the kids. So that’s my television, we’re all really enjoying it, and thanks for letting me share.”
Are you starting to see it? I told you I was going to tell you about my tv. Told you about the tv, and then recapped what I told you.
Practically speaking, this outline is only here to keep people from rambling on in some increasingly strange stream of consciousness. It guarantees that the reader will get an introduction and a conclusion, which is all they really need to follow along. And it provides the most basic possible outline that can apply to virtually any kind of material in any kind of medium.
Another basic rule that applies to pitches far and wide is that more is, in fact, more in a great number of cases. Veteran writers will rarely pretend to understand why, but virtually all agree that “long copy sells.” At the very least, a longer and more intensive sales piece will show your reader that you take the material seriously and you’ve done the appropriate homework.
And finally, once you have your piece together on paper, there’s an editorial exercise that will help you improve the balance even more …
This exercise is called “Picture, Proof, Promise, Push,” and it’s based on a pretty simple idea. That each component of your sales letter should be doing one of the four; either painting a verbal picture for the prospect, making a promise of the product’s utility and effectiveness, demonstrating proof that the first two are genuine, and then finally pushing the prospect toward a sale.
By going through your listing and highlighting the different paragraphs, then noting whether each was picture, proof, promise or push, you’ll quickly be able to see whether the letter is pushing the sale too hard, or if it’s lacking proof for your claims.
By filtering the body of your sales letter through these three simple guiding principles, you’ll have given yourself an advantage over the majority of eBay’s current sellers, and potentially paved the way to fetching a higher price than the competition …
But don’t forget;
If you start to use these simple guidelines in your own writing, don’t be surprised if you start noticing it literally everywhere; from news broadcasts and documentaries to commercials and magazine articles. It’s a subtle yet extremely powerful way to think about writing and organize your speech to communicate more effectively.
And remember, that’s all that matters here. Seriously, bring the train to a full stop and read the following line with as much attention as you can share:
None of these rules or guidelines will matter if you do not communicate effectively with your chosen demographic. Period.
I’ve known so many writers who get caught up in the scientific approach; split-testing and headline testing until they’ve completely forgotten that they’re talking to actual human beings. Never take it all that far.
George Orwell’s final rule for effective writing was “Break any of these rules sooner than doing anything outright barbarous,” and I offer that same advice to you. An alienated prospect is no longer a prospect.
One of the most perfect examples of what I’m talking about here is also one of my favorite sales letters of all time, the classic newsweek letter. Legend has it that the editors fought its publication, that it very nearly didn’t run, and then it blew the barn doors off with absolutely unprecedented sales. How? By throwing all the classic ‘rules’ of the time out the window, and going straight for the throat on the known demographic:
If the list upon which I found your name is any indication, this is not the first — nor will it be the last — subscription letter you receive. Quite frankly, your education and income set you apart from the general population and make you a highly-rated prospect for everything from magazines to mutual funds.
You’ve undoubtedly ‘heard everything’ by now in the way of promises and premiums. I won’t try to top any of them.
Nor will I insult your intelligence.
If you subscribe to Newsweek, you won’t get rich quick. You won’t bowl over friends and business associates with clever remarks and sage comments after your first copy of Newsweek arrives. (Your conversation will benefit from a better understanding of the events and forces of our era, but that’s all. Wit and wisdom are gifts no magazine can bestow.) And should you attain further professional or business success during the term of your subscription, you’ll have your own native ability and good luck to thank for it — not Newsweek.
What, then, can Newsweek do for you?
You can read the rest here. Truly a stupendous piece of work, and it gives you an idea of the risk a writer can take; and the rush that could be in store if his wild swing succeeds.
The very last step before you start cashing in—
So you’ve got your first finished sales letter. Congratulations!
But before we ever go to market—even with this simple, first listing—it would be a good idea to seek out some peer review beforehand …
Some folks don’t mind peer review at all. Others can be a bit more touchy, while others still (some of them successful writers) despise peer review. But in my eyes, it’s the best way to improve your writing quickly. As long as you can trust the person to provide honest, intelligent, and relative feedback, then the more the better.
Remember, that the nature of this feedback is often going to be destructive since the nature of your writing is creative. You really can’t let this get to you or be touchy about it, as you could be making it much more difficult to improve your writing.
Moreover, some of the best feedback I’ve ever gotten has been negative. I can’t tell you how much money I’ve saved just because a trusted friend or business partner said, “no, I really don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Meanwhile—if my friends had been more timid or if I’d surrounded myself with “Yes” men—I could’ve spent countless hours and dollars on a wild goose chase that would have mattered greatly to me, but to none of my potential clients.
So seek out criticism. Be glad when it’s negative, because it means they won’t damn you with faint praise.
In short; peer review is the fastest and cheapest way to improving your results in print copy. It’s the first crucial step outside of your own head and towards that “handshake” that leads to repeat sales.
As a matter of fact, I believe peer review is so crucial that it’s worth paying for in certain circumstances …
Because in the past, I’ve been known to visit some of the freelancing sites—places like oDesk and eLance—and pay a copywriter just to review my copy. It costs a fraction of hiring out the whole job. Usually you’ll pay for 2-3 hours at the absolute most, but the review you get out of it could potentially be priceless. If you find yourself writing a listing that will sell dozens of individual units, then you might want to consider the idea yourself (I’ve attached my standard listing in the P.S. Below, feel free to copy and paste it to your heart’s content).
But above all, Just Don’t Stop!
Just don’t stop writing and pitching and strengthening these core business muscles.
Because for the pages and pages of examples and rules I’ve listed out above, I can personally name off a dozen of the most successful sales letters of all time, several of which have wantonly broken almost every one of these rules.
Print media may be going the way of the horse-and-buggy, but “print” sales—especially over the web—are enjoying a renaissance unlike anything else we’re going to see in our generation. These new sales writers will use the same passion and the same off-the-wall ingenuity that characterizes every one of the examples above, and they will inevitably close more in sales than any generation that came before them. All just for trying.
And you? You can write the same ruthlessly effective copy. You can apply it to office presentations, investor pitches, or conversations with the pizza delivery girl. Because it’s not just a way of writing; not some static talent that’s only useful for selling on eBay.
If you enjoy the challenge of writing ads and copy, you can check out different websites like eLance or Odesk, either to offer you services as a copywriter or pick up freelance help for a business venture. After all, once you know the basics of copywriting yourself, it won’t be hard to separate the real ad-men from the dead wood.
Copywriting is a mentality; one that’s exactly like the veteran entrepreneur described in the introduction. Because the copywriter isn’t thinking about himself, he’s thinking about that same kind of communication—that same handshake between two parties—through which he’s learned to express himself.
And that, friend, is the first foundation of wealth.
Not just the ability; but the will … the drive and the passion to step outside of yourself, to forge new partnerships and become a useful part of your community. To work and sweat and forget yourself in the name of building something bigger. Something that can last or change the world.
Because in a perfect world the entrepreneur gets rich, but not by taking part of the pie from others. Instead he gets rich by making the pie bigger for everyone, and then taking just a little bit of that for himself.
P.S. Here’s the swipe you can use when looking for a copywriter to review your work on places like oDesk and eLance:
Short Copywriting Review + Critique (+ Edit)
I am looking for an experienced copywriter to take a look over a sales letter I wrote (for eBay) and provide some constructive feedback, advice (and maybe some small edits)
What have I missed in my copy to ensure it converts well?
What needs to change?
What needs to be removed completely?
etc etc etc
You will need to provide either written, recorded or live (via Skype) edit and feedback on the sales letter.
I’d prefer you to edit up the sales letter, and then record a screen capture video of you talking through the changes/suggestions/edits you’ve made so I can not only have a better letter, but really learn along the way.
I’m trying to get better at copywriting, and decided a good way to sharpen my sword is to write some copy for a bunch of crap I have lying around my house, and maybe earn a few dollars while I learn.
I’ve read a little on copywriting and done my best job; but would love some guidence and advice.
You will be provided with a word doc (.docx) file with my copy.
As mentioned above, I’d not only love written feedback, but some form of verbal content provided as well.
In your reply/application please include:
1. Links directly to some copy you’ve personally written.
2. Any questions you have about the project, that shows me you’ve seriously though about this project
3. Let me know what colour the sky is, just so I know this is not one of those typical batch reply applications. I want to work with someone who has attention to detail and wants a long term relationship.
4. How long you expect this task would take you to deliver.
5. How you’ll provide the feedback (video,audio, live on SKype etc)
5. Any questions you think I should have asked.