Q. Who are you and what do you do?
A. I’m Alan Sharpe, a direct response copywriter and copywriting trainer. I help businesses sell their products and services, and secure sales meetings with qualified prospects, using direct response. My innovative, strategic sales letters, self-mailers, postcards and dimensional mailers generate sales and qualified sales leads for firms in Canada, the United States, South America, Europe and Asia.
Q. How do I subscribe to your weekly newsletter?
A. Click here.
Q. What experience do you have?
A. I have been a copywriter since 1989. More than 285 clients have retained my services to create their sales letters, lead generation letters, marketing letters, fundraising letters, email marketing letters, self-mailers, B2B postcards, trade show invitations, product brochures and other promotional messages.
My copywriting advice appears in marketing textbooks and guides, including Canadian Marketing. 5th ed., Internet Marketing for Less than $500/Year, and Start and Run a Profitable Copywriting Business. I have written five books on copywriting: Breakthrough Fundraising Letters, Mail Superiority, Pushing the Envelope, Lucrative Donor Newsletters and Online Fundraising Secrets. I have co-authored a number of books, including two editions of The Canada Yearbook and two editions of Canada: A Portrait, one of which won awards across Canada.
Q. For whom have you written?
A. My clients include Apple, IBM, 3M, Sprint, Bell, Hilton, Intuit, Allstream and Sun Microsystems. You can review a list of the firms I have written for here.
Q. What publications have you been published in?
Articles by me or about me have appeared in: DM News-iMarketing News Daily, Faith Today, IBM Business Partner Newsletter, LINK Network Magazine, MarketingBiz.com, Marketing Magazine, Nonprofit Communications Report, Ontario Farmer, Small Business Canada Magazine, Strategy, The Christian Communicator, The Data Advisor, The Edward Lowe Report, The Globe and Mail, The Idler, The London Free Press, The Ottawa Business Journal, The Retail Challenge, The RICOH Report.
What experience do you have teaching copywriting?
I have taught direct response copywriting at the post-graduate level. I taught a 12-week course, Copywriting that Sells, at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. And I was invited for many years to teach a class on direct mail fundraising copywriting at Humber College. I have taught copywriting workshops for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Fundraising Institute of New Zealand, Blackbaud Annual Conference and others. I teach highly rated copywriting courses at Udemy.
Q. What high-tech sectors do you write for?
A. Computer hardware, object-oriented software development, insurance, encryption and authentication software, employee management software, utility trailers, mortgage software, aerospace, florist supplies, management consulting, yachts, digital cellular and landline telecommunications, construction management software, continuing education for dentists, interactive voice response, digital video transmission systems, advanced manufacturing, graphic design, industrial pumps, semiconductor and electronics, integrated circuit design, manufacture and testing, welding and fabrication, laptops, desktops, and pre-paid Internet access.
Q. Did you really fight in the Falklands War?
A. Yes, I really did. I went ashore on D-Day with 42 Commando Royal Marines and led an eight-man rifle section at the spearhead of 3 Commando Brigade until the Argentines surrendered four weeks later. I also served two tours of duty in Northern Ireland.
Q. What if I’m not satisfied?
A. If you are not completely satisfied with my services, I will, at your request, either waive my professional fee, or accept a portion of my fee that reflects your level of satisfaction.
Q. Are you recognized in a niche market?
A. Yes, two. I am a direct response copywriter that helps businesses sell their products and services using the mail. And I am a fundraising letter copywriter for non-profits.
Q. What are your fees and contract terms?
A. Because what I offer is my expertise and experience — not just my time — I rarely charge by the hour. Instead, I charge flat, firm fees for dozens of common projects. These include sales letters, direct mail packages, postcards, self mailers, dimensional mailers and fulfillment brochures. I give you a firm quote before each project. Unless you change something, that’s what you pay.
For all projects, we both sign a Letter of Agreement. That way, we both agree in writing about the scope of your project, what I am required to deliver, deadlines I must meet, what is included in my professional fee, and how I will invoice you. For first projects with new clients, I require a retainer of 50 percent of my fee in advance. I invoice after submitting my first draft, payable within 30 days. To see a sample Letter of Agreement, click here.
Q. You say your written quotes are flat and firm. What do you mean?
A. Flat means the quote is all-inclusive. It covers writing, research, consultation, revisions and more. Firm means the quote won’t change later on. No surprises. Unless you change something, what I quoted is what you pay.
Q. Why do you require 50 percent of your fee in advance? Don’t you trust us?
A. I do trust you. But trust is not the issue. A 50 percent retainer shows me that you are serious about your project and serious about retaining my services to your advantage. I like to work with people who value their time — and mine.
Q. Your competitors do work on spec. Why don’t you?
A. Hey, I used to. Now I have more than enough work from clients who are happy to retain my services at my full rates. I no longer have to do spec work to get business.
Q. How do most clients like to work with you?
A. My clients prefer to work with me by e-mail, phone, courier and conference call. They are busy. So am I. We find that face-to-face meetings are not necessary.
Q. What do you call a boomerang that won’t come back?
A. A stick.
Q. Are there any projects you don’t work on?
A. Yes, there are. Because they are outside my areas of expertise, I do not write radio or television commercials. If you need a top-class senior copywriter to write your TV and radio spots, I recommend Steve Denvir. Neither do I write annual reports, technical manuals, fiction, speeches, or video scripts. I can recommend other copywriters who will help you with these types of projects.
Also, because I am a Christian, and because I want to love God and love my neighbour, including you, I do not work on projects that either promote or encourage alcohol, profanity, smoking, illicit drugs, violence, weapons, nudity, gambling, lotteries or sweepstakes.
Q. You sound like you’re religious. Does that show up in your copy?
A. Yes, between the lines. I never lie. On paper or in person. I don’t even bend the truth. I treat your customers with dignity. I don’t use high-pressure tactics. Or fake handwriting in the margins. Or offers that prey on the gullible or needy.
Q. If I wanted to hire you, how would I go about it?
A. Please complete my on-line request for a quote, or pick up the phone and call me at 519-500-9746. Let’s talk about your project. I’ll e-mail you a firm quote. Once we’ve agreed on the scope of your project, and what I will deliver (as well as my fee and terms), we’ll sign a simple Letter of Agreement and you’ll send me my 50 percent retainer. Then we’ll get started.
Q. Who is your favorite copywriter?
A. The late Bill Bernbach.
Q. How can I copyright my poem?
A. Beats me. I’m a copywriter, not a copyrighter. I write copy. You need someone who deals in copyrights, patents, trademarks and copyright law. If you’re Canadian, I recommend you visit copyright resources on the Web.
Q. What made you decide to become a copywriter?
A. I was already a writer. I started freelancing at university, writing technical manuals. I became an editor in 1991, and moved on to full-time writing after two years. I wrote for government departments, which I found boring because all that my writing did was inform. I wanted to write words that persuaded. I like the challenge of persuading someone to buy a product or use a service.
Q. How did you break into the field of advertising as a freelancer?
A. I interviewed the president of the best local advertising agency in my city. I asked him how to break into the business. I did what he recommended (see below). He gave me my first paying copywriting assignment (and never paid me, I might add).
Q. What formal schooling did you receive to become a copywriter?
A. None. I taught myself the craft of copywriting. I learned what I know by reading the experts and putting what they teach into practice.
Q. I want to be a copywriter. How do I get started?
A. The single most important thing you need is a Book. A Book, in the advertising world, is a portfolio of your work. Advertising agencies, direct response companies, graphic design studios and other creative shops do not care about your academic qualifications or even your experience as much as what you’ve done–and can do. Your ticket to jobs as a freelancer or even as a full-time job as a copywriter is your Book. Nothing demonstrates your writing talent and creativity better than your Book.
If you do not have any published work, then you need to build a book of Spec Work. Spec Work is work that you’ve done on your own for no pay. Spec Work is work that you create yourself with a view to getting hired. You simply write an ad, illustrate it with a visual, lay it out to look like an ad, then put it in your Book. Spec ads show Creative Directors and others how creative and competent you are. If you’re looking for consumer work, you write consumer spec ads. If you’re looking for business-to-business copywriting, you write business-to-business ads. And so on.
My first Book consisted of spec ads that I created and wrote. I found products and services that interested me, found some funky visuals, then wrote copy to go with the visuals and laid them out as a finished ad, then took those ads to advertising agencies and showed them to creative directors, who hired me to write copy for them freelance, for pay. I then took samples of the finished, paid work and put that in my book, and continued the process.
I recommend that you start by reading Start and Run a Copywriting Business, by Steve Slaunwhite.
Read Bob Bly’s book, Selling your Services: Proven Strategies for Getting Clients to Hire You (or Your Firm). Henry Holt and Company, 1992. He covers much of what you need to know.
You also need to read the best books on copywriting. Among my favourites, and those that have helped me the most, are:
- Ogilvy on Advertising. David Ogilvy. Wiley.
- Positioning: The Battle for your Mind. Al Ries and Jack Trout. Warner.
- The New Positioning. Jack Trout. McGraw-Hill.
- Tested Advertising Methods. John Caples. Prentice-Hall.
- How to Make your Advertising Make Money. John Caples. Prentice-Hall.
- Guerrilla Advertising. Jay Conrad Levinson. Houghton Mifflin.
- Direct Mail Copy that Sells. Herschell Gordon Lewis. Prentice-Hall.
- Sales Letters that Sizzle. Herschell Gordon Lewis. NTC Business Books.
- Herschell Gordon Lewis on the Art of Writing Copy. Herschell Gordon Lewis. Prentice-Hall.
- Romancing the Brand. David Martin. American Management Association.
- The Art of Writing Advertising: Conversations with William Bernbach, Leo Burnett, George Gribbin, David Ogilvy, Rosser Reeves. NTC Business Books.
- Confessions of an Advertising Man. David Ogilvy. NTC Business Books.
- My Life in Advertising. Claude Hopkins. NTC Business Books.
- Scientific Advertising. Claude Hopkins. NTC Business Books.
- How to Become an Advertising Man. James Webb Young. NTC Business Books.
- The Lasker Story as He Told It. NTC Business Books.
- Advertising Concept and Copy. George Felton. Prentice Hall.
- The Copy WorkShop Workbook. Bruce Bendinger. The Copy Workshop.
- Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Ads. Luke Sullivan. Wiley.