My guest today is Eddie Shleyner. He is the Founder of VeryGoodCopy, a popular newsletter I subscribe to. He's also the former Copy Chief at G2.com, an excellent resource for finding software and other services.
In this episode, we discuss the following:
Resources:Support the show
Eddie: A better word for creativity. Eugene Schwartz always said this. A better word for creativity is connectivity. Because it's really just the ability to take two disparate things and put them together in a new way, a flush way, a way that maybe people haven't really seen before, a way that gets people excited. I think there's still a lot of human finesse that needs to happen in order to be creative, in order to turn two old things into something new.
Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.
Bryan: My guest today is Eddie Shleyner. He is the Founder of VeryGoodCopy, a popular newsletter of which I'm a subscriber. He's also the former Copy Chief at G2.com, which is a great resource for finding software and other services. He was named Marketing MVP of the year as well. Welcome to the show, Eddie.
Eddie: Thank you for that introduction. I appreciate it, Bryan.
Bryan: Yeah, you've got so many impressive experiences, both working in the business or corporate world, and now working for yourself on VeryGoodCopy. You are a direct response copywriter, too. I suppose, how did you get into copywriting? What is it that excited you about this field?
Eddie: It was an accident, a complete accident. I wanted to be a writer. I was an English major in college. I wanted to be a writer. When I graduated, I couldn't find any writing jobs. I took a sales job, and then my buddy told me about a copywriting position that opened up at a company called CareerBuilder. I didn't even know what copywriting was, but I took it. It became very clear to me very early on that my worth in that role was dependent on how many times I can get people to click and take an action. And so that right there is direct response copywriting. That's how I went down that path and became really obsessed with it. Because I thought, hey, here's a way to make money. Writing, which was my ultimate goal. So that's how it started.
Bryan: I worked as a copywriter too. What I found is, there's no real course on copywriting. Now, granted there are newsletters like yours that you can subscribe to, it's not something you can take in university or in college. A lot of copywriting is self-directed. So where did you learn direct response?
Eddie: Well, as a matter of fact, I have the book right here. I keep it next to my desk at all times. It's called The Adweek Copywriting Handbook. It's by a guy named Joseph Sugarman. This copy is probably 10, 15 years old. I got it at the very beginning of my career. It was the first book I picked up. It really shaped a lot of my thinking early on. Because Joseph Sugarman used to write print ads. A lot of the techniques and the principles that he followed are still really applicable now on landing pages and emails and a lot of the other direct response assets that copywriters create. That was probably where I started.
Bryan: Yeah, I've read some of that book. I have a couple of other copywriting books on my shelf behind me where I'm recording this interview. What I've also found is, some of the principles of copywriting and direct response copywriting actually work quite well for social media. Is that something that you found with your work?
Eddie: Oh, yeah, sure. Social media — whether it's on social, or whether it's a print ad, or any advertisement — it's really just trying to compel people to pay attention and then take an action. All advertising is designed to get people act, to do something. It's just a matter of when you're getting them to do it.
In direct response copywriting, the action is supposed to take place immediately. You watch the infomercial. You watch the ad. The banner ad popped up, or you land on the landing page. You're supposed to do what that ad wants you to do right away. At least, that's what the copy is supposed to do. But then, there's another type of copywriting. It's called creative or general copywriting. That's really supposed to put an image or an idea in your mind. Then when that product buying opportunity comes up, that image, or idea, or emotion is supposed to pop back up and influence your decision. It's all about getting people to act.
Back to your question. Whether you're writing an ad or whether you're writing something on social media, you still want people to stop and take some sort of an action, whether that's clicking through a link and going to a different page or simply hitting the like button.
Bryan: Yeah, I was interested to hear you say that copywriting is partly creative. That's something that I found; you can write some persuasive emotional copy. But then you also want people to act, so you need to look at the click-through rate or the open rate, or how many people are actually going on to the next step in the journey for whatever you've written copy for. I've been wondering. Is AI going to take a lot of that creativity out of the art of copywriting?
Eddie: I don't think so. I think a better word for creativity. Eugene Schwartz always said this. A better word for creativity is connectivity. Because it's really just the ability to take two disparate things and put them together in a new way, a flush way, a way that maybe people haven't really seen before, a way that gets people excited. So I think there's still a lot of human finesse that needs to happen in order to be creative, in order to turn two old things into something new. That's very much a human task. I think where AI can help though is just by giving you those variables, giving you new ideas and new options to put together at a very high level. I think that's what it's going to boil down to. AI just going to make the work more efficient. But I think the creative act is still very much a human thing.
Bryan: Apart from ChatGPT, are there any other copywriting tools that use AI that you're particularly fond of? One that comes to mind that I've used a bit is Jasper.
Eddie: I haven't used Jasper. Yeah, I use AI. I use ChatGPT from time to time. Also, my newsletter has been sponsored by a company called Writer, which is a generative AI platform. I think what makes them different is that you can give them inputs. You can show them all sorts of examples around how your team writes, and then they'll create style guides. They'll create prompts that your company can use to sound like the way that your company wants to sound, in their voice, their tone. I think that's a pretty good one.
Bryan: Yeah, I would agree. I started my site as a side project while I was working as a copywriter. Then it gradually turned into a business over the years. Could you tell the listeners when you set up VeryGoodCopy or the story behind it?
Eddie: Well, I guess, it was very shortly after I started going down the direct response path, the education that I was kind of given myself. I was reading a lot of articles and books about it, obviously. I was listening to podcasts. I was just taking in as much as I could about it. When I came into an insight that I found really compelling, or interesting, or I thought, hey, I could really use this in my own work, I would challenge myself to write an article about it.
I was an English major. I studied narrative, so a lot of these little articles came out in story form or narrative form. They were rooted in stories from my life or stories that I was seeing around me, stories that my friends were telling me. And so that was just a way to keep those muscles sharp and also to entertain myself, and at the same time, like I said, record a lot of those insights, those techniques, those principles that I was coming into throughout my education. And so that's how VeryGoodCopy started. I had this long running list of probably 50 or 60 of these micro articles. I showed them to somebody and they were like, "You should put these online."
Bryan: Is this the micro content on your site?
Bryan: For our listeners, micro content is in the top menu bar. They're short essays about different topics. Yeah, please go on.
Eddie: Well, that's about it. I just had all these essays, and I put them online. Then organically, people started finding them. Then when I eventually got a job at G2, I was very lucky to be surrounded by really good people. Personally, they were great people. But they're also just world class in what they did. They were great growth marketers in particular. They were on my team that I became friends with. They not only encouraged me to spread it around, but they showed me how to spread my work around the Internet really efficiently. And so that was a real blessing in my life, to meet these people and basically use their knowledge to spread my work around.
Bryan: That's fantastic. When I was working for a British software company, I was building my site on the side. But I was quite nervous about people at work knowing about it. But eventually, when I told them, my manager at the time was actually quite encouraging.
Bryan: I suppose I got to learn online marketing and then practice it on the side.
Eddie: Same. No, man. I think, well, that's the mark of a good manager and a good company in general. It's that, if you have something that's in the same wheelhouse on the side as what you're doing at work, I think work can only benefit from you doing that and your passion growing, your knowledge growing. Because they were like, "Hey, whatever you're learning while you're working on VeryGoodCopy, come back and use it here." And I did.
Bryan: So the newsletter, according to the site, currently has just under 60,000 subscribers. I'm sure it's past 60 now at this point. You're getting, I think, 100 subscribers a day. What's working for you at the moment for growing your newsletter?
Eddie: I think at a certain point, it just reaches a critical mass. People are organically sharing it around. I think that's part of the deal. At a certain point, you reach this critical mass. People are just finding it organically, whether that's on Google or people are just sharing it around. But yeah, initially, the initial growth happened when probably the first couple 1,000 subscribers. We're just guest posting. I was just guest posting online. I got an opportunity to start a copywriting column at HubSpot, which is, it had a big blog back then. It still does. They gave me this column. Every now and then, I'd write for them. They would feature it in their newsletter and link it back to the site. So that's how I got first few 1,000 subscribers. Then after that, I think a lot of it was just me repurposing a lot of the content onto LinkedIn and creating a growth loop from LinkedIn back to my website to the newsletter. Then every single time I sent out a newsletter, I'd send people to that same article on LinkedIn. That article had a CTA to get people back to my website. The website is designed to get people into the newsletter, and it was just this virtuous circle.
Bryan: Fantastic. I wrote guest posts back in the day for CopyBlogger, Fast Company, and for a year or two, for Forbes. It worked quite well up to a point. But I do wonder. Does guest posting still has the same value these days? I think it will be quite a bit harder for somebody to grow a newsletter through guest posting. Perhaps, growing a platform on social media is probably a better way to go, at least these days.
Eddie: Yeah, maybe. I haven't done it in so long. I think everything fatigues after a while. You see results and then over time, it fatigues. You don't get the same results, I guess. But I think the secret to creative longevity is just quality, just putting out the best stuff you can, and putting your best foot forward on every piece and putting promotion behind it, obviously. You got to get it out there. But as long as you focus on that quality piece, then you're doing the right thing.
Bryan: Yeah, I would certainly agree. Are you still active on LinkedIn today? Is that your main network where you publish content apart from your newsletter?
Eddie: Yeah, LinkedIn has been very good to me. And yeah, I feel very lucky to have grown an audience over there. I don't see any reason to stop. Every now and then, I go on a little hiatus. If I'm tired, I would stop posting. Because it is a grind. But yeah, I'm definitely on there.
Bryan: Fantastic. When I was looking at your site, so you've worked with a huge variety of clients: Google, HubSpot — which we talked about a few moments ago — and Drift. You've also worked with some solo or creative entrepreneurs. For example, Justin Welsh, Scott Dikkers and a few others. Do you have an ideal or a preferred client or otherwise?
Eddie: Oh, yeah, sure. I've really enjoyed working on direct response campaigns, anything that has a conversion metric tied to it. Landing pages, emails — these are direct response assets, where if you're reading them, you should be taking an action at the end of it. I'm interested in working on those types of things because they keep me on it. There's a very clear measure of success at the end of it. Either you improve the conversion rate of the control, or you didn't. That's where I got my start. It's a discipline that I'm really comfortable in.
Bryan: Fantastic. I'm always interested to hear how creative people like you, Eddie, how you actually run things behind the scenes. Could you maybe give our listeners a flavor? Firstly, for your writing workflow, what apps are you using and how you're actually structuring and writing the micro content?
Eddie: Oh, yeah, sure. I guess, well, I'm very low tech. VeryGoodCopy.com is built on Squarespace. It's a blog site. I've just been tinkering with it for many years. I'm trying to get it as clean and lean as I can, but it's a blog site. I use MailChimp for my newsletter. Then I guess when it comes to writing the articles, I'm really just looking for, I guess, it's like three pillars. There's three things that I look for. I think about the lesson, what I want people to walk away with. I read about copywriting and creativity mostly, so I'm looking for principles and techniques to teach people. Then I'm looking for a story, a narrative, something that reminds me of this principle or technique that I'm going to teach. Then I try to bridge that lesson and that story in a certain number of words. So I'll say, okay, I'll give myself 300 words to write this article. Then it's like a puzzle. How do I put this story, this narrative, together with this lesson that I'm teaching in so many words? Sometimes I'll write it, and it will come out in 500 words. But then, I'll challenge myself to pare it down and make it 300. If I can do that, the writing almost always becomes better. Because if you can say the same thing in fewer words, I think that's the definition of good writing. That's, at a high level, that's my process.
Bryan: Yep, brevity is clarity. It's quite hard to say something in 300 words when it's 500 words long. Most copywriters have what's called a swipe file, whereby they save information and anecdotes and research in one central place. Then they review that when it's time to write something for a client. Do you have a particular system or a particular place where you put your research and notes?
Eddie: You know what? To be honest, I don't have a swipe file like that because I think that swipe files can be quite dangerous sometimes. If you lean too heavily on an example from a swipe file, it can skew your decision making or pervert your decision making a little bit. Because every ad worked for a very specific market at a very specific point in time. And if you take that ad and you try to stuff a different market into it during a different time, it might not have the same effect. So I try not to lean too heavily on swipe files. Instead, I just try to do as much research as I can in the moment when I'm working with a client.
I have a swipe file. I have ads that I like. I have ads all over my office. I definitely have inspiration to draw from, but I guess it's just like a word of caution that I always give to mentees and students of mine. It's don't mean too heavily on any one ad to create a new one. Because there's no guarantee it'll work. It was made for different people at a different point in time.
Bryan: Yeah, that's good advice. You mentioned that you're using MailChimp, Eddie. I'm wondering, have you set up a type of automation campaign where your micro content or essays are scheduled in advance and then being sent out to new subscribers, or do you like to write a new one each week?
Eddie: Yeah, I usually write a new one each week. I do have some automations set up. If somebody joins the newsletter or somebody joins a waitlist, there'll be an auto email that's sent out. But I don't really have a very sophisticated nurture sequence, if that's what you mean. I usually do things as they come. I'm pretty disciplined about having a few articles ready to go. But every now and then, like right now, I'm just tired and taking a little break. And so I don't really have anything in the chamber.
Bryan: Well, everybody needs to take a break, I guess, to recharge, particularly if you're doing something that's creative. I'm also wondering, you work with a lot of clients. I know you're creating content for your newsletter. What do you spend the bulk of your week on, Eddie? Is it the client work, or is it building VeryGoodCopy?
Eddie: It's definitely the newsletter, yeah. I would say probably 70% to 80% of my time is spent thinking about the newsletter, writing it, promoting it, just doing everything I can to just be proud of it. Then I'll take on maybe a client or two a month. I don't think I'll ever stop doing that, because client work is so good at keeping you fresh and keeping you in the discipline. It's working those muscles, so I don't want them to atrophy. But yeah, it's definitely more of a newsletter business right now.
Bryan: Yeah, you got to put into practice the principles that you're reading about or researching, which helps then. You're creating content about them because you have examples and anecdotes that you can draw from. So from what I can see on the site, Eddie, you're also working on a book. Like any good direct response copywriter, there's a waitlist.
Bryan: So what's the book about? When will it be out?
Eddie: Well, I'm going to keep that one close to the vest. I haven't shared too much about the book. Eventually, I will, probably in a couple months. But I have a little campaign in the works for this reveal to the folks that are interested about it. If you don't mind, I'm going to keep that one close to the vest.
Bryan: Yeah, of course.
Eddie: If folks like my writing and they like the style of VeryGoodCopy, and how I tell stories and teach people., they will like the book as well.
Bryan: You also have a course, which is not under an NDA. The course is about landing pages.
Bryan: I suppose, why would somebody get on a course about landing pages? How would it benefit them?
Eddie: Well, look. Everything that you sell online is being sold via a landing page, especially if there's content that you're selling. If you're selling a book, or if you're selling another course, or if you're selling webinars, subscriptions, a podcast, all of these things require landing pages to tell that story and compel that very specific audience to take an action.
Landing pages are, like I was saying, I prefer to work on direct response assets. Probably 80%, 90% of the client work that I take on is landing pages. It's just such a versatile tool in digital marketing. It's one of the most powerful levers I think a digital marketer can pull. It's improving their landing page. Because without improving the product at all, you can change a few things on the landing page and improve the conversion rate in a way that could change your business potentially. So it's a really important asset. It's what I work on almost exclusively with clients. I really enjoy teaching people the things that I've learned over the years that make a great landing page. That's why I put the course together, and that's why I think people should buy and why I think people have responded to it the way that they have. Because it's just one of those things that everybody can use to great effect.
Bryan: Talking about the components of a good landing page, it's probably a podcast episode in itself. But if somebody's listening and they are interested, but they don't have the traffic for a landing page, is that something you help them with as well or otherwise?
Eddie: To get traffic to the page?
Eddie: Well, certainly. I guess it depends on how much infrastructure you have, what kind of assets you have. If you have a list per se, then you can create an email sequence and get people to a specific landing page. If you have a social media presence, then you can create an ad campaign and get people to a landing page. If you don't have either of those things, you can put money into a paid campaign and get folks to a landing page. I can definitely work on any of the assets that come before the landing page, the kind of prerequisites to getting people there.
What's funny is that the landing page should always come first. We should always create — that's how I operate. This is my ethos. It's that you should always create the landing page first and have your complete selling message on the landing page. All of the elements that you want to compel people with should be on that landing page. Then you should use that landing page to inform all of your other assets, to inform your email sequence, to inform your your banner campaigns, to inform your social media ads. Because it creates something very important called congruence from the ad to the landing page, which keeps people on track and not confused. Even if you're creating all of these other things to get people to the landing page, the landing page should come first.
Bryan: That's good advice. I would agree with that. It's quite easy to get traffic today as well once you move the right levers. Eddie, where could the listeners go if they want to learn more about you or your work?
Eddie: Yeah, man, I appreciate it. I think VeryGoodCopy.com is home base. If you go there, you can find the newsletter. You can find ways to work with me. If you join the newsletter in the welcome email, you'll get links to six of my most popular micro courses and series. That's an instant thing. You don't have to wait for me to send out a newsletter either. So if that's interesting to folks, then I think that's where I'd go — VeryGoodCopy.com
Bryan: I'll include the links in the show notes. Thanks for your time, Eddie.
Eddie: Hey, I appreciate you, man. Thank you for having me.
Bryan: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. If you did, please consider leaving a short review on the iTunes Store or sharing the show on Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you’re listening. More reviews, more ratings, and more shares will help more people find the Become a Writer Today Podcast. And did you know, for just a couple of dollars a month, you could become a Patreon for the show? Visit patreon.com/becomeawritertoday or look for the Support button in the show notes. Your support will help me record, produce, and publish more episodes each month.
And if you become a Patreon, I’ll give you my writing books, discounts on writing software and on my writing courses.