How I Lost $1.5MM In 2018 And Almost Quit Writing Copy

Nick Chalker asked an interesting question in the Justin and Stefan Talk Copy Facebook Group previously: 

“How many copywriters (and you ALL better raise your hand – LOL) go through “The Dip”? How many of you have almost had it ruin your career, and worse…your confidence as a writer?”

Well, when I read this question, I could immediately relate. 🤔

Despite all of the success I started having as a copywriter in 2014 and 2015…📇

Despite the fact that in 2015-2017 I started multiple health supplement companies that grossed over $60MM in a single year…💲

And despite putting on a highly celebrated copy intensive in Las Vegas in early 2018…

I had a period of time in 2018, where I completely lost my groove and wanted to give up on everything. 

Here’s what happened: 👇

At the time, I was creating new health offers for clients, then helping them with traffic…

And it seemed like any offer we put out could just easily get to 100 sales a day. 

So things were going great…

And given how automatic it all appeared to be…

World financial crisis. Bankruptcy due to Corona crisis. Collapse of the economy caused by coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. Market fall

I decided to create a full service “Agency” business where we would:

  1. Write the sales copy for clients
  2. Do the design, web-dev, and integrations of their sales letter and funnel
  3. Run traffic to the new funnel for the client (and take $10 per sale, as an affiliate network)
  4. Help monetize the data for them (email marketing)
  5. Provide our call center to them as well. 

I thought it was a brilliant model…

We get to “act” like the offer owner but with “less” of the headaches and hassles…

Because we’re not worrying about merchant processing, or risk, etc. 

And because this model worked the first few times I did it with a client…

I decided to roll it out on a much larger scale. 

One of the first places I pitched it was at a mastermind in New Mexico. 

This mastermind was essentially a “rehab for Free Trial people.”

Now when I say “Free Trial”…

I’m talking about pretty scammy stuff…

Guys (and gals) who create landing pages offering people a free bottle of skin cream, or a supplement…

But who then keep rebilling the consumer afterward…

Regardless of how much a customer tries to cancel their subscription.

I never messed with Free Trial…

But if you’re unfamiliar with it…

It was a multi-billion dollar vertical for a LONG time.

In fact, it still is…

But the industry started declining rapidly in late 2017 and early 2018 after Visa and Mastercard changed their rebilling practices…

Which made it harder for Free Trial people to continuously sift money out of people’s bank accounts. 

So that’s the context…

I get to this mastermind and there’s a bunch of former free trial folks who are desperately looking for a new business venture…

And I’m feeling great, because I’ve got the MAGIC BULLET! 

Straight sale, above-board, health supplement businesses.

I share all of my experiences with them…

Show them how much money me and my clients are making currently…

And tell them I can do the same thing for them…

For just $50,000 + $10 per sale when I bring them traffic. 

So they signed up. 

I have like 8 people take me up on my offer after giving one single talk…

And I leave that mastermind with an extra $400k in my pocket, plus the promise of millions of dollars in future commissions. 

Life is good. 

Nailed it.

And then…

It all goes to shit. 

First, there’s the Cambridge Analytica scandal. 

This was going on in the background, but when it finally bursts through the seams…

Facebook clenched up tighter than a 60-year-old at the proctologist's office.  

I mean Facebook went NUTS…

When it came to running advertisements on their platform, their policy became “deny first, re-evaluate later.” 

Suddenly, virtually NOTHING can get approved on Facebook…

So that easy 100+ sales a day I’ve been hitting for every single offer…

That’s immediately in jeopardy. 

Set of Blue ribbon and banner with Special Offer. Discount banner promotion template. Vector EPS 10

Then the market got flooded with new offers. 

It turns out, I’m not the only one telling these Free Trial people to move to “straight sale.”

A bunch of them got the idea on their own, or were pitched by other people to do it…

So suddenly, the market was flooded with new offers…

And competing to get the attention of affiliates became a lot tougher. 

Before, I had a monopoly on the attention of certain affiliates…

Now my offers are just one fish in a crowded sea…

And traffic starts diminishing even more. 

Beyond those two things though…

I also made several mistakes personally that really put things into a tailspin. 

Mistake #1: Because nothing seemed to get approved on Facebook, I decided I had to write super watered down and boring sales letters. 

It doesn’t entirely make sense on hindsight…

But at the time, my thinking was, “Well, the only way to get stuff approved on Facebook is if the copy is so bland that they can’t possibly object to it.” 

Cool, except guess what…

Bland and boring copy doesn’t convert.

So I was writing these stinker sales letters…

And because I have so many people wanting to hire my agency for our “done for you” offer…

I’m also hiring outside copywriters to do some of the offers…

But I’m not doing a good job of training them on RMBC or vetting them (Mistake #2). 

As a result, a bunch of the offers we’re putting out for clients suck.

They’re too boring to convert much on Facebook (even when we get them approved)…

But they’re also too watered down to do well on affiliate traffic sources like email.  

So I’m sitting here with a bunch of duds…

We’re BARELY getting 10 or 20 sales a day on all these offers…

And meanwhile…

I’ve got like 8+ clients sitting calling, messaging, skyping, and texting me saying:

“What the hell is going on? You sold me the dream of 100+ sales per day. You’re not even doing 10. This sucks. You suck. ARGH.”

And that becomes my life for the next year. 

It was brutal and there were SO MANY times where I wanted to give up…

Except I couldn’t, because I didn’t want to have taken these folks’ money without delivering them an ROI.

So instead, I kept pushing…

And here’s what ultimately turned things around:

First, getting a compliant offer onto Facebook that actually converted quite well.  

The offer was/is called GS-85 and it was originally written for email. But we had a compliance expert go through the offer and help us make changes, and I realized it might be able to run on “the Book.”

So I gave it to my friend Robbie at Tried and True Media…

They got it up…

And we found out that it actually converted. 

Halleljuah. 

Finally I had something for one of these clients that was doing over 100 sales a day again. 

Football trophy design, vector illustration.

Second, I went back to writing copy for clients who already had traffic figured out.

This one is SUPER important – don’t overlook it. 

For a stretch of 2018, I had only focused on the agency. That meant not writing any outside offers.

But at some point, I got talked into writing a letter for a client was already getting their own traffic and doing good volume. 

They simply took my copy, plugged it into their infrastructure, and guess what?

The offer started CRUSHING! 

I can’t overstate how important that was for me:

It made me realize that the root cause of my issues was not that I’d forgotten how to write effective copy…

The root cause was that my team SUCKED at getting traffic to those offers…

Especially since we didn’t know how to find a balance between compliance and claims. 

What I saw though…

Is that once I could take the gloves off and just write a sales letter like I normally would…

It turned out, I was still one of the best in the world…

I’d just been neutering myself for the last year…

With devastating consequences.

So as I started doing more outside client work and it started crushing, the confidence began trickling back. 

And then I started rewriting some of the offers for those agency clients too…

Worrying less about Facebook, and more about just delivering good copy.

And guess what?

Suddenly their offers went from 10 sales per day to 30 sales per day…

Then to 50 sales per day…

And finally to 100+ sales per day. 

Out of those 8 people who hired me…

I spent well over a f****ing year, making sure they got an ROI. 

But ultimately, 6 out of 8 did get a positive ROI… 

One got a refund…

And one of them stiffed us on a big bill for traffic and cost us close to 6 figures. 

Funnily enough though, if you still talk to those folks today, I doubt they’ll say they’re particularly fond of me. 

They’ll say that I’m high integrity and that I worked hard to make things right for them…

But they still have a bitter taste in their mouth because they’d expected to become gajillionaires after hiring my agency…

And instead, they just got a modest return. 

So it goes though, right? 

Nothing I can do about that…

But at least I can sleep well knowing that when things were at their worst…

I didn’t just give up…

I killed myself to at least get them those returns, period. 

Alright, so this post is a long one…

But it’s also the first time I’ve really talked about any of this publicly…

So it’s all spilling out…

And before I finish…

I do want to share a few more key lessons and takeaways from this entire experience: 

  1. Why My Agency Model Sucked. 

I thought this “Done For You” agency approach was brilliant. Why? Because we got to control the entire funnel and take a piece of the pie all around. 

We get paid to write the copy and create the funnel.

We get paid to run the traffic.

We get paid to monetize the email.

We get paid to do customer service. 

Amazing!

Except in truth, here’s what I learned:

By taking ownership of so many parts of the business…

It meant taking responsibility for nearly anything in the business going wrong. 

I mean even if I wrote the perfect sales letter (or someone on my team did)…

If we couldn’t get traffic to the offer, the client was still gonna be pissed, right?

And meanwhile, even if we were getting traffic…

If the profit margin wasn’t as high as I’d predicted it would be…

Or we didn’t do a good job of monetizing the emails…

The client was still going to be unhappy. 

So finally, I had this major realization…

Ready for it?

“People will pay me $50,000 to just write a sales letter. So why on EARTH am I adding in so many other freaking things to the mix for the same amount of money?”

Does that make sense?

My copy is so damn good that people will pay me $50k just to hand them an 8k word Google Doc…

Yet I was saying: 

“Hey, for that same $50k let me also take responsibility for the design, setting up your funnel, integrating it with everything, getting you sales, and providing you with customer service too!”

What the hell, right?

I was doing that because of the $10 per sale thing on the “network’ side…

But guess what else I learned?

Running an affiliate network SUCKS. 

Unless you have a ton of experience, you’ll probably get your ass handed to you.

I know we sure did. 

Why?

You’re the middleman. 

You’re the one floating the cash…

Floating the cash is awful. 

Say your client goes out and buys a Ferrari, so suddenly can’t pay the bill for their traffic (actually happened).

Well, now your network is responsible for that bill. 

The client’s MIDs get frozen suddenly…

Guess who is floating the cash?

Oh hey, what if there’s fraud?

Say the traffic partner ends up sending a bunch of fraudulent traffic to your client…

You don’t find out for a month…

Your client was good and paid their bill, and you sent the money to the traffic partner…

But now refunds and chargebacks are spiking through the roof…

Your client is hemorrhaging money…

So now they can’t pay their new bills to all your legit traffic partners…

Because they’re in a hole. 

Guess who is floating that money?

I’ll put it to you bluntly: 

Between 2018 and 2019 I lost at least $1MM cash on the agency…

Personally.

Probably it was closer to $1.5MM…

And a huge part of the reason why was because of the affiliate network.

So it was an expensive lesson to learn…

But hey, at least I won’t make that mistake again 🙂 

And man, I could keep going here…

But we’re at over 2k words, so I’m gonna stop it at this point.

Anyways, hope you got some value from this…

And have a great day. 

 

– SPG

P.S. This post originally came from an email I sent to my private list. If you want to see more stuff like this from me, you can apply to join my list using this link

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