They say that every mistake is a learning opportunity in disguise. If that’s true, I once had a doozy of an opportunity. And it came with a hefty price tag.
It all started one night when I was cooking dinner. There I was at the stove, stirring the spaghetti and half listening to a copywriting podcast, when the host dropped an unbelievable offer: a weeklong intensive class on writing sales copy for the unbelievably low price of $97!
Okay, okay. Looking back, the infomercial-style offer should’ve deterred me. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
I signed up. And to be fair, I got what I paid for. I spent every evening the next week, taking copious notes during the online class and applying what I’d learned to my copy. At the end of the week, I had some new ideas and a decent sales letter.
So far, so good.
But here’s where the story took a turn. As the class wrapped up, the teacher made another offer that was hard to refuse: a yearlong master class on copywriting. For only two grand.
If that seems expensive, it’s because it was. I’ll be honest – this guy was a master at manipulative sales writing. He pulled out every trick in the book. As I copywriter, I knew what he was doing. Still, by the third email, I was convinced the class would help me. So, I signed up.
This time, though, regret set in almost immediately. The class turned out to be a patchwork of writing hacks, shortcuts, and sales tricks. Each module offered Mad Lib-style templates and a handful of strategies to manipulate people into spending money.
It felt less like Advanced Copywriting and more like Smarmy Sales Tactics 101.
I didn’t learn much about writing at all. At least not the kind of writing I care to do. But I did learn two things:
First, integrity matters, even in sales writing. Especially in sales writing. Yes, sales copy needs to be engaging and persuasive. But it should also serve its audience with honesty, offering understanding and value instead of gimmicks. Manipulation may get the sale once or even twice, but it won’t build lasting relationships with customers and clients.
Second, there are no shortcuts. Truly great copywriting is a craft, one that takes years to develop and hone. It demands ongoing effort, creativity, and time. It’s not a skill you can hack with a few templates and an online course. The fundamentals of good writing are important because people will judge you by how well you communicate.
In the end, I’m grateful for the career lessons I learned, and I’m happy to pass them along in this post.
But next time, I hope they’ll be a lot cheaper.