Direct Response Copywriting – Expert Interview with Eric Finnigan (Part 1 of 3)

FunnelProfit’s Founder and CEO Lawrence Klamecki interviews expert Direct Response Copywriter Eric Finnigan. They go into detail about using direct response copywriting to attract new ideal customers and significantly increase conversion rates.  In Part 1 Eric walks through a step-by-step case study where he increased conversions and reduced time to sale by 500% for a business using effective copywriting strategies.

The Making of a Direct Response Copywriter

Lawrence: We both came from Wall Street Jobs, pretty intense stuff. Since then, you made a really big career change and have done a lot of copywriting. I just want to understand how you got into copywriting as an area of expertise. What was that journey like?

Eric: I started when I was still employed in my last job. I found a mentor to help me learn how to start businesses really quickly and start them almost exclusively online. It was a business model where you could validate the business idea before building anything, and actually get customers before building anything and have them fund the development of the product. So it’s sounded really cool and…  

Lawrence: So this was The Foundation?  

Eric: Yeah, The Foundation…and one of the first lessons before going into any other business stuff…they did a whole module on copywriting and introduced this thing called Direct Response Copywriting. Dane and Andy who were the main guys there, they had both studied direct response copywriting for years. It was something Dane said was the highest, most leverageable skill as an entrepreneur. If you don’t know how to write code and you’re not building products, you should learn direct response copywriting because it teaches you to think in a way to make products easily salable in your market. You know how to do research in your market, you know how to talk to people so that they’re interested in your idea if they’re the right fit. And you can do all these very quickly.  Direct response copywriting is this underlying skill that can make all that happen and makes it all easier. That resonated for me — that sounded believable.

And then, they gave a little exercise to do. They gave us three sales letters, three direct mail sales letters written by John Carlton, Gary Halberd, and I think Eugene Schwartz. And they said, copy this by hand. Handwrite them on your notebook paper, and at the end of that, see if you can break down the strategy and the techniques they’re using.

So I did that, took about a couple weeks and I just loved it. I loved doing it, I loved practicing. This element of practice…I’m a musician so I come from a practicing music background where I learned how to play guitar. I learned how to play my favorite songs on guitar, and from there I just went on to write my own songs and play.

So I ended up continuing and I was so interested in how someone could craft a letter, a one-page letter that they sent out to a bunch of people through the mail. And there was something in this letter that had people either pick up a phone to give their credit card information for $10 for a book or they would send a check through the mail. And it was just because of this letter, they didn’t know the person on the other end of the letter who wrote it, it was their first introduction and they were already convinced that they wanted to spend this $10. It fascinated me. I just spent a lot of time and mental energy figuring out what the hell they’re doing, how the hell they do it.

I did this on my lunch breaks in my last job, and I wasn’t working a cash register at McDonald’s. I was working for a big investment firm, the VP of Investment Research for a $36 billion real estate fund. And my day job was very stressful, very long days but I had about an hour of lunch time where I could just break off and do my own thing. So I’d go to cafes and eat salad for lunch and hand write sales letters, and I did this for about six months.  

And at that time, I was going through a bunch of changes in my life and I ended up leaving that career.  I started telling everyone I knew I was learning direct response copywriting and it was fun. I ended up getting my first gig because a friend of mine who works for a marketing agency needed help selling guitar lesson DVDs to their email list. So that was my first gig, I sold guitar lesson DVDs.

Lawrence: That is so interesting. I remember the emphasis on direct response copywriting, and how surprising it was.  You know, we think in terms of the Internet and this is some ancient skill. People did this shit in the 30’s, right? The 1930s, not 2030s.

Eric: Yeah.  

Lawrence: I remember doing those exercises and I didn’t take it as seriously as you took it. But just the activity of taking these legendary copywriters and their long sales letters. I mean, people probably don’t even see these anymore, they’re too long.  

Eric: Yeah.  

Lawrence: People read with limited time, they just don’t have it, in fact. But these letters are still highly effective. I remember Dane and Andy saying, okay, you’ve got to do this repeatedly. Read and copy this and do it by hand, no typing it.

Eric: Yeah.  

Lawrence: Through that you witnessed the flow of ideas and the psychological underpinnings of each word and every sentence and how they were placed. It was very subtle but the main thing was the psychology…why were they saying that right there? Why? And if you read about how they wrote and how long it took to write one of these sales letters, they spent like three months on it. And they’re perfecting it and perfecting it because they were worth millions and millions of dollars back in the day for like a company like Sears, for a mailer. Woolworths, you know.  But they still work today in a different medium. The concepts still work today.

Types of Direct Response Copywriting

Lawrence:  The next question I have, what types of copywriting do you do now?

Eric: So I started learning copy because I wanted to start and grow a business. Now my entire business is writing copy for clients and developing strategies to reach their leads, reach their prospects, and reach their existing customers, so that they can serve these different groups of people more deeply. Whether it’s someone that just signed up to their email list, or someone they just met in a conference and got their contact info, or someone that has been a customer for 10 years. I work with my clients to figure out how we can help those different types of… different buckets, I’d say, of categories.

Someone that’s been on their list for six months versus someone who’s been a customer for 10 years… their needs and problems may be truly different. So we get clearer on what those are, what those could be. And we come up with offers to sell more of their products and services.

That’s the end result, the end result of good copy is always… it’s always measurable… either in terms of sales or more email subscribers or more people to show up on a webinar. I get people to hit like on a Facebook ads, if that’s what they’re interested in. I get people to get referrals from their existing clients. It’s always action-oriented. It’s always results-focused, and we sort of reverse engineer what the best strategy is to get there.   

Lawrence: So really going back to the direct response thing?

Eric: Yeah, exactly. Some people talk about copywriting in terms of blog writing, or content writing, or journalistic writing, or nonfiction writing, or fiction writing. Direct response copywriting is really its own unique beast. It’s really… it can take any form. It can be in an email, it can be a script in a video, it can be a letter you sent through the mail. It’s 1:1 content marketing, basically. But it has a purpose of getting the reader to take some action and ultimately you want that action to be, you know, useful and meaningful to your business. But yeah, it’s always action-focused.  

Direct Response Copywriting Results (5X Case Study)

Lawrence:  Can you give me some examples of what kind of impact or results that your copywriting has been able to achieve for some of your clients?  

Eric: Great. So one example, I can give you a couple. I have one client who has a service where he finds really good airfares out of different airports around the world. And it’s a unique kind of service.  

He had a budget set aside for Facebook ads. So people would see a Facebook ad, sign up to his free list and then hopefully they would sign up to his paid subscriber list at some point in the future, and he would monetize it that way.

Before he met me, he said he would break even in the Facebook ad spend within about six months on average. So anytime he spent a thousand dollars on Facebook ads, he would get a thousand dollars on profit within six months. He met with me and he’s like, “This is what I’m working with. What can you do for me?” And I said, “Well, let’s get that down a lot, to a lot shorter timeline. Let’s get you profitable on your ad spend much sooner.”  

Lawrence: Yeah, that six months is quite a j-hook for cash flow.

Eric: Right, exactly. So he’s putting it on credit cards, he’s using small business loans, you know, using other people’s money essentially but he’s paying interest. And then, once they subscribe, it’s profitable after that. His service is very low overhead.

So I looked at his Facebook ads, looked at his Facebook ad targeting and came up with a few different ad versions. And then, once people signed up to his list from the Facebook ad, I put together a whole new initial email sequence. They would get emails every day for about 10 days. And at the end of the 10 days, they got an offer to sign up to his paid list.

For about a month we tested this. He put 2 grand of ad spend into his previous funnel. He put 2 grand of ad spend into the new test funnel that I created for him. And he ran the test for 2 weeks then we looked at the results. And from his version to my version, I actually got him profitable within a month. So he was making money on that 2 grand of ad spend, he was profiting on those leads.   

Lawrence: If my math is right, that’s five times faster.  

Eric: Yeah, that’s correct. So just that little test, it’s small scale, it’s only 2 grand on ad spend. But it was actually pretty significant for his business. That means he could put money into his business and within a month, he could make profit on that investment. So now, he can take that and scale it and that’s what he is doing right now. He is growing exponentially from where he was a year ago before that.  

Lawrence: If you had to wait six months to get cash back on your ad spend, that’s just a very slow moving growth business, right?

Eric: Especially if you had constraints on your capital… like he had maxed out his credit cards already, you know.  

Lawrence: He had to wait six months to run ads again.  

Eric: Exactly. For big companies that have deep pockets and investors that’s not a problem. Facebook didn’t make any money on their business for the first few years, right, but most businesses owners don’t have that kind of luxury. They need to be profitable in the shortest amount of time.  

Lawrence: Right. They have to be self-funding.

Eric: Exactly.   

Lawrence: They can’t play the 5% margin game.  

Eric: Right, exactly.   

Continue to Part 2 >