Monday Spark: Stretch Yourself.

Here is a story from when I was about 11 years old.

At my school, in England, we used to put on a full-length play by Shakespeare once a year.

I was a hopelessly timid kid, but somehow landed the part of Cassius in the play, Julius Caesar. I didn’t think I could learn hundreds of lines for the play, and I didn’t think I could get up on the stage in front of an audience.

But I did. And playing that part changed my life.

My teacher gave me the opportunity to really stretch myself, and to discover what I was truly capable of.

Now we fast-forward a generation to when my children were at school at about the same age. When I went to see their school “plays”, my kids were asked to learn maybe ten lines.

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Your new site visitors and subscribers don’t know who you are, yet. [TIMELINE]

Yesterday I was reading an excellent post by Chris Brogan, Start Fresh.

In his post he talks about how while you move forward with your career, many of your readers have stepped in half way through the narrative. They may not know where you “came from” or how and why you do what you are doing today.

Very good point.

For myself, I have been earning my living as a writer for 30 years now, and I have been publishing my online newsletter for over 10 years.

I guess a small proportion of my current newsletter readers have been with me from the beginning. But I’m sure most haven’t.

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The key to writing anything well is to look your reader in the eye.

always maintain eye contact with your audience

always maintain eye contact with your audienceLet’s start with an analogy.

You are giving a presentation to a group of people in a meeting room. You have a PowerPoint presentation on the screen.

During the course of that presentation, part of the time you will be facing your audience, looking them in the eye, and talking directly to them.

At other points, you will turn your back on the audience and speak to a slide on the screen. You might be pointing to some figures, a chart, or some bullet points.

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Are your freelance copywriting services perceived as an expense, or as an investment?

cash registerMaybe you don’t think about your services in this way.

But your clients and prospects do.

As a prospective client looks at your estimate, she will perceive it in one of two ways.

“This is going to take a chunk out of my budget for this quarter. I wonder if this is really the best use of my dollars.”

Or…

“This is going to cost me a few bucks, but it’s going to generate a truck load of extra sales.”

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Compare 2 hours spent on social media with 2 hours having lunch with a client, peer or colleague.

Let me preface this by saying I am a big fan of social media as a business tool for freelancers, or for any other kind of solopreneur or business.

The smart use of social media can be a great way to connect with people in your industry and reach out to potential customers, clients or partners.

However…

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Next time you write an online sales page, put a pea under the mattress.

adding a real pea to a direct mail letter

adding a real pea to a direct mail letter

Before we get to the point I want to make with this article, let’s look at using a real pea to grab people’s attention.

The image above shows a mailing I wrote back in the early 1980’s. It was for a company that sold company formation services. That’s not a very exciting topic, so we scratched our heads and came up with an idea that would make the mailing stand out.

Our thinking was that most of our client’s prospects were probably fairly happy with the company formation services they already had, but there were probably one or two things about the service that niggled away at them and annoyed them – a bit like the princess trying to sleep with a pea under her mattress.

So that was our starting point.

Yes, that’s a real pea. Yes, we asked a lot from our printer and mailing house: a custom window in the envelope, a real dried pea in a bag, which had to be glued to the letter, and then each mailing had to be hand-inserted.

Expensive, but worthwhile, because we got a response rate of over 17%. (Without the pea it would probably have been closer to 1% or 2%.)

In the world of writing for the web, it’s a little harder to insert a real pea into people’s monitors. But we do need to find some ways to put a pea under the mattress. We need to find a way to make our sales copy hook our readers, and keep them engaged.

There are billions of sales pages online. Most are bad, a few are good. But almost all are simply a rewrite of what everyone else has written. Many follow a formula or a template.

So how can we put a pea under the mattress when we are trying to sell online?

First, get away from the old, offline concept that every sales page has to open with a headline, followed by 500 or 5,000 words of sales text with the occasional sub-head.

Instead of hoping the text will do all the work, why not use a video, slide show, infographic or social media to do the heavy lifting?

No, I’m not talking about those irritating squeeze pages which offer to show a video in return for your contact information. I’m talking about replacing or at least adding to traditional text-based sales pages with multimedia.

You can communicate your value proposition with a video.

You can describe the benefits of your product or service with an infographic.

You can show proof with a slide-show of images, or a second video.

You can replace the usual, barely-credible testimonials with captures of tweets or Facebook updates which praise your product or service.

Or how about communicating your guarantee with a face-to-face video clip?

What I am seeing so far is the occasional use of video and images on sales pages.

What I am suggesting is that you go further, disrupt the traditional sales format, and use multimedia to better capture and engage your readers.

It may not be the same as sticking a pea in an envelope, but it should be enough to separate your sales pages from the billions of others which all seem much the same, and are decidedly old-school and offline in their approach to making sales.