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That was Josh Garofalo and let me tell you: I loved this conversation. He’s a marketer and research and we dig deep into the latter. He tells us how important it is to do your research when you’re writing copy for you website. You want to solve your customers problems, and there are a few ways Josh talks about to help us communicate that.
Josh Gorofolo: A lot will say that a specific type of person is their customer, but then when I take a look at their website and their emails and their strategy and their customer base, you would see that they’re pretending that everybody is their customer. They’re afraid to close a door on any one segment of what they were building, but they can’t say “No” to the money. They don’t realize, though, by not choosing they’re saying “No” to a lot more money. It’s just it’s hard to see it that way.
Joe Casabona: That was Josh Gorofolo, and let me tell you, I loved this conversation. He’s a marketer and researcher, and we dig deep into the latter. He tells us how important it is to do your research when you’re writing copy for your website because you want to solve your customer’s problems. There’s a few ways Josh talks about to help us communicate that. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I’ll say that if you make a product and you are not targeting the right person or your copy doesn’t communicate the kind of person you’re targeting, then you are leaving money on the table. With that, I’ll let Josh get into the rest of it. But first, a word from our sponsors.
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Joe: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is Josh Gorofolo, the owner of Sway Copy. Josh, how are you today?
Josh: I’m doing pretty good, and yourself?
Joe: I’m doing very well. Thanks so much for coming on the show. I’m excited to talk to you because I know I’ve had content strategists on the show before, but we never really dug deep into coming up with copy, and I feel like that is one of the hardest things to do well. Why don’t we start off, before we get into this big discussion of copy, with who you are and what you do?
Josh: Yes. I started SwayCopy.com about four years ago, after finishing up at a startup in town. I was the one and only marketer there. We were a company of six, and I realized that I didn’t love all of my job, but I love the part where I had to do customer research, market research, positioning, copywriting and all of that. While I was there, I learned that this was its own discipline and that a lot of companies are willing to pay quite well for someone who can do a good job of it. Once I was done at the startup, I started this company, and since starting that company, I’ve had the good fortune of working with some pretty awesome companies like HubSpot and Hotjar and Cisco, AWeber. I work primarily with SaaS companies, as you can tell from those logos. In the early days, it started with taking orders a lot, so people would come to me, and they’d say, “I need a new home page.” I would create a new home page. In recent years it’s transitioned more to strategy. People will still come to me thinking they know exactly what they need, but usually, my process now starts with an in-depth audit where I take apart their entire business, their whole customer journey and I find opportunities to improve and scope out a project from there. That’s where I’m at right now.
Joe: That sounds cool. You mentioned that you are working mostly with service companies. When you dig in to one of these companies– Before we start talking about general strategy or examples of strategies you’ve put in place, what’s it like in the beginning? I am guessing that you probably need to understand their target customer, or maybe even help them understand their target customer, is that accurate?
Josh: That’s right. Often it’s a case of helping them understand their target customer better and also helping them understand the types of customers that they can do without. Most SaaS companies except for the ones who are far ahead, like HubSpot for example, most SaaS companies are just trying to get all the customers that they can get. You end up with a smorgasbord of customers and when you really dig in, you find out that it’s a specific type of customer that really gets the most value from your product, is happy to pay for it, is looking for more opportunities for you to add features and capabilities that they’re willing to pay even more money for. The rest are tire kickers, and they’re taking up your support. They’re complaining about having to pay $9 a month for your product. It’s definitely helping them understand their customer and helping them understand who their customer isn’t. That process is a lengthy one. We can talk about that if you want, is that something you want to talk about?
Joe: Yeah. I think that’s interesting and I do want to ask you about your research process. I am curious, before we get to that, about how many companies come to you and when you ask who their target customer is, how many say, “Everybody”? Or are people far along enough that they don’t say that?
Josh: Many are further along with that, but a lot will say that a specific type of person is their customer, but then when I take a look at their website and their emails and their strategy and their customer base, you would see that they’re pretending that everybody is their customer. They’re afraid to close a door on any one segment of the market. A lot of my job is just holding people accountable to staying true to that mission. They started knowing that this is the best proposal software for accountants, for example. But when you look at their customer base and their marketing, they’re afraid to commit to that and say, “We are proposal software for accountants.” Their customer base will be 60% accountants, but then there’s digital marketing agencies in there and lawyers and doctors, and etc. So they’re not staying true to that mission. They started out knowing what they were building, but they can’t say “No” to the money. They don’t realize, though, by not choosing they’re saying “No” to a lot more money. It’s just it’s hard to see it that way.
Joe: Yeah. I think that’s one of the scary parts about niching down. As a freelancer, people are told that they need to niche down, but it’s really hard. If I do construction websites, and a restaurant comes to me and says “I want to give you some cash to do this,” it’s hard to say no to that, but I could charge the construction companies more because I understand who they are and what their site needs and I can be more efficient. Whereas with a restaurant, I’m like “Should I have a PDF of the menu, or what should I do?”
Josh: Yeah, that’s how I always explain it too. With choosing a niche, a lot of it is you should because you’re focused, you should be better at the thing than a lot of other people. But that’s not what the price premium comes from entirely, it’s also, as you said, it’s like an insurance policy. Say you’re in the market for construction or as I’m in the business for SaaS when they come to us and they see that we do exactly what they need, by choosing us you’re willing to pay a little bit extra because it’s an insurance policy. They know that we know what we’re doing. We’ve done it a million times before. We solve this problem for companies just like theirs multiple times in the past. Paying an extra, I don’t know how much other markets get, but I know in SaaS for example, by focusing I’m probably charging double what a lot of other generalists would charge at least. It’s an insurance policy, it’s a lot of money to me, but to a SaaS company that’s raised $20 million dollars what is it to pay a little bit extra to not have to handhold and to get what you’re looking for?
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. It’s like any specialist. I’m not going to buy sushi from a gas station, I’m going to go to a sushi joint, and I’m going to pay a lot more for that, but I probably won’t pay a lot more later with stomach issues. This is great, that’s a great introduction to set up what we’re talking about today. Usually, when I ask my guests, “What research did you do?” It’s their own research based on their own product or their own company. In your case, though, you are doing research for essentially every client or customer that you get. What is your process like?
Josh: Yes. It’s lengthy, and I’m sure I’ll leave some steps out because they don’t have a checklist open right now. But I can talk fairly broadly. Basically what I’m doing in the research phase is I am uncovering as much as I can about the customer, the market, the competitor landscape, their product, how it’s different from the others, how it’s better from the others, who their customer is, who their customer isn’t. Those activities range from just going through and digesting all the resources that they’ve created over the past year or so, white papers, articles, videos. It’s talking to the sales team and getting a demo and listening to their sales calls as well, so I can see what is and isn’t working. If there’s opportunities for them to improve their sales calls. It’s speaking to anybody who touches a customer, so marketing, customer success, product, anyone who’s interviewing customers, caring about the customer. I’m trying to understand the customer through their eyes. Then, of course, I’m hopping on calls with customers, and once we’ve identified who that 20% is, that top customer, the one that they would love to multiply over and over again, I’m getting on calls, sometimes dozens of calls with customers. Understanding– It goes beyond this, but at a basic level it’s understanding their state of mind, the way they were thinking and talking about their problems before they found a solution. What they might have been using at that time, what they were searching for when they were looking for a solution. How your product, or my client’s product, in this case, is resonating with the customer. What caused them to buy? What caused them to almost not buy? Then, now their customers, what are they able to achieve? When they explain it to other people, or they refer customers, how are they talking about the product? That’s where I’m getting a lot of the messaging from. A lot of people think that a copywriter is a madman sitting there with some whiskey, coming up with creative ideas. Maybe some people do it that way, but I think the smartest way to do it is to understand the customer inside and out so you’re like them and then you can build that bridge between the client’s product, or your product if you’re the owner, and the customer themselves. There’s other ways of doing that, too. If you can’t get on calls, you can do surveys. You can message mine, that’s looking at reviews and how people are talking about it on Twitter and Facebook. It’s completely digesting the market, and the product, and the customer and looking for opportunities for, in my case, the client to stand out. Because in most spaces and especially in SaaS, there is no shortage of competitors and most people are not putting an effort in to show how they’re different. They’re just trying to show that we’re also part of this giant club of companies that solve this problem. If you go in there and you’re intentional, you can find little opportunities to show how your product is definitely the better choice for a specific customer. That’s really what a lot of my job comes down to, and the writing part is the part that everybody sees, but it’s the research behind that stands out. I guess the other piece that I missed there was analytics, so I spent a lot of time in Hotjar. I’m spending a lot of time watching recorded sessions and heat maps and things like that and taking a look at chat logs that come in and survey results from website polls. It’s a giant spreadsheet with a lot of resources and links, that kicks off that research and audit phase. I charge separately for that, as well.
Joe: Actually, that’s a question I was going to get to, is this is the work before the work. A lot of freelance– I speak mostly from a freelancing background. I’m just getting into products, which I have learned is a very different animal. A lot of freelancers, myself included, will do a lot of research to put together a proposal. In the last few years, especially since I was working at an agency for a few years, I heard the idea of charging for a discovery phase. It sounds like what you’re doing is very akin to that. The research essentially helps you do your job more efficiently.
Josh: Exactly, yeah. When I first started out as well, I baked research into my projects. If I were ultimately working on a website with three pages, I would bake the research in as work that was required in order to get those three pages done. Over the years, especially as I’ve amassed a lot more experience and I’ve been behind the scenes of a lot of different companies now, I realize the copy is important. That’s what a lot of people want. This research phase that I do, it’s definitely the most valuable thing that I do, because I go in there and I can help people with their sales calls, their sales process, their marketing strategy. I can help them figure out the types of articles and resources that customer success and support needs to come up with, and it’s all very valuable stuff. I can help position you in the market. This is all foundational stuff where the copy comes a little bit later. I think a lot of freelancers bake in the research and by doing that they can’t give it the time and space that’s required to do it properly, to do it as well as possible. Once you start charging for it, as its own deliverable, you’re free to go in– I’m about to kick off on Monday, an eight-week research project for a company. They’re paying accordingly. By doing that, there’s no way that a copywriter who’s baking the research into their copywriting fees is going to be able to match the types of insights that I’m going to deliver for this company, it’s really important. I’m just curious, who did you hear that from? The whole idea of charging for your proposal, you remember where that came from?
Joe: I used to work at an agency called Crowd Favorite, where we started doing discovery projects, essentially. Where we would, instead of building out part of the project, we would figure out how we would implement the project and what needs to be done. Then that itself, much like your research, is its own deliverable. I just recently read a book called Dealing with Problem Clients by Nathan Ingram. It’s a catchy title, but I mean, he talks about how to talk to and avoid problems with your clients. In it, he talks about a client who will ask you all sorts of questions in the kickoff meeting, and you need to be aware of when you’re answering what questions vs. how questions.
Josh: I answered a lot of how questions early on, for sure. I lost clients because of it.
Joe: Yeah, that’s exactly right. In a recent call I had, I was very mindful, and they’re like “How would you do this?” I’m like “The things that we need to think about are this. I’m not going to tell you exactly how I would do it, though, because that’s what you’re going to pay me for.” I think that’s a great point to make, is we always want to be– People are helpful, and we want to be helpful, but when people are paying for your expertise, make sure you get paid for your expertise.
Josh: Yeah. The funny thing is too, and you’re not doing them a favor when you tell them the how, because you fooled them into thinking they now actually know how to do it because you told them how. So they go off and do a terrible job when they would have been much better off paying you to do it properly.
Joe: They’re not going to blame themselves for that, probably they’re going to be like “That guy gave me bad advice.”
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Joe: You’ve done the research, the analytics, you’ve hopped on calls with customers. Another thing that I’ve learned from doing this podcast is you want to use the words that the potential customers are using because now you’re speaking directly to them. You have all of this information. Let’s start with “How do you put together a plan for the copy, and then how do you implement that plan?”
Josh: Yes. After the research phase, the deliverable basically is a– It’s not a huge document, so a lot of people think that because you’re charging good money for research that you must deliver a 100-page report that nobody’s going to read, but it’s not a huge document. It’s a few pages, oftentimes. It’s a prioritized list of the deliverables. The way I’m prioritizing that is based on the expected outcome. My confidence in my ability to get that outcome and the effort, I think that’s called the ICE Strategy, I can’t remember who came up with that. It’s not of my own making, so it’s just a prioritized list. Then the next step is just deciding “What are we going to knock off that list? Are we going to do the whole list? Are we going to start with the first few things?” Then once we do that, we’re getting into copywriting. What’s happened during that research phase that I’m not usually delivering because most clients won’t be able to make good use of it, I have giant spreadsheets with a lot of voice customer data, and it’s tagged for things like “This is a pain point. I’m talking about this problem. This is an outcome from using this capability.” Then what I’m doing with what this is, I’m able to now pull from the spreadsheet actual words that customers are using to talk about specific things. If on the home page, for example, I want to come up with the number one value proposition, the headline, and the subheadline. I’m taking a look at what people are saying they value the most about the product and the outcomes that they’re getting. I’m pulling those words in, and that’s how I’m coming up with my headline and sub-headline sometimes verbatim, honestly. Someone will say something like “Wow, that’s the headline. Thank you for that.” Other times, it’s just synthesizing what 30 people said about the product and finding the common threads through there. The more granular you get with this spreadsheet and when we’re digging in to specific features and sub-features, then when I’m writing the copy, I’m just pulling this in. Sometimes the other nice thing is, when you have it organized this way, is you’re able to use social proof contextually. What a lot of people will do is they’ll have a testimonial section on their website, and it’s just going to be a carousel of testimonials scrolling through that say “This product is great, or this person is great.” But when you get specific with your interviews and your surveys and your message mining, I’m able to say something like “This product is going to– Don’t ever just say this like this, but like “This product saves you time.” But say that in a more specific way, using your customer’s language. Then, the reader might be like “Does it? Everyone says their product is going to save me time. Often they don’t, and they create more work.” Then you insert a testimonial that talks about how “We saved 80% of our time on this task, ever since we switched.” You have their name, picture, and then all of a sudden you’re training the prospect to believe what you say, because every time you say something that could easily be doubted, you’re backing it up with social proof. Either directly, like the testimonials there, or indirectly by showing that you understand and empathize with their problem and that you speak just like them, by using words that they would use.
Joe: Yeah, that’s a fantastic point. You’re baking testimonials directly into the narrative that you’re trying to tell. In a bit of good timing, I recently finished reading Building a Story Brand by Don Miller.
Josh: I haven’t read that one yet.
Joe: OK. I was going to say, “I’m curious to know what you think of that.” In general, it’s like the hero’s journey is the overall idea. Your customer is your hero, and you are the guide, and the villain is the pain point that you’re trying to identify. The social proof is testimonials and identifying their language and showing that you can empathize. It sounds like you’re advocating or something very similar because it’s a little noisy out there on the internet now and people want to feel like they’re being spoken to. Is that accurate?
Josh: 100% accurate, for sure. Everyone’s looking for a shortcut. There’s no shortage of competitors, and if you can do something to show that you’re above the others and you really understand them, you have a solution, you can back it up with proof, rather than be like, “Maybe I should evaluate these dozen other people who also claim to do the same thing, but this guy looks like he knows what he’s doing.” So they’ll choose you. It’s a no-brainer.
Joe: Nice. That’s great. Let’s talk a little bit about implementation, then. You mentioned that early on, people would come to you and say, “Build me a new home page.” You do a little something different. Are there things in your arsenal that you’ll always use on a home page? Or is there a certain structure to help drive your message home? I’ve read that a home page should have ten sentences or fewer on it because people don’t like to read. Are there little tips like that? Or maybe you disagree with that one.
Josh: I do.
Joe: Awesome. Let’s dig into that, then. I’ve heard that a lot of people skim pages. Your experience, it sounds like it’s a little bit different.
Josh: People do skim pages, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. What I will say is that customers will often read your page. The people who convert, when you watch recordings, you’ll see they spend quite a bit of time evaluating what you’re saying. The other thing is that people do skim pages and it’s important to, at least, consider this by making it easy for people to quickly find the types of information they’re going to latch onto and go deeper. That’s where your headlines will come into play. I don’t think that you should be scared of copy, of putting a lot of words on the page. We’re talking about the home page, specifically. It can depend on the job of the home page. For example, when I did some work for a smaller company called Tom’s Planner, it’s a single product. It’s a pretty simple product to understand. Their home page is basically like a short sales page. It’s got one call to action. You’re either going to sign up for the free trial, or you’re not. I’m not trying to point you in a bunch of different directions. Whereas, if you’re working with something like HubSpot, for example, you can scale back the copy a little bit if you want, because there’s so many different ways that HubSpot serves people. So you want to get them to the place that they want to get to fastest. If they’re interested in the marketing suite, there should be a link early on that lets them navigate towards that. You’re not necessarily hiding that at the very bottom like you would on a sales page. It comes down to the job. I think that is one of the biggest misconceptions in copywriting, is that there are these hard and fast rules without an understanding of the principles behind it. I don’t want to get into long vs. short copy too much. The important distinction there is “There is no such thing as a rule there, where long copy is always better, short copy is always better.” It always comes down to the job. For example, if I wanted to sell you Kleenex, you know what Kleenex is, you know the job that it does. All I need to do is “Here’s Kleenex, it’s 50% off today.” That is going to sell you if you need Kleenex. But if I’m trying to sell you a new artificial intelligence solution for a problem that most people don’t even really know that they have, I need to start by convincing you that you even have this problem, helping you spot it in your life. Then I need to show what this problem is costing you. I need to prove it. Then I need to show that I have a solution to that problem. You’re still going to be skeptical because you’ve never seen anything like this and you’ve never heard of me. So I need to prove that I can do what I say I can do. You’re going to have questions at the end of that I need to address and objections I need to address. That page is going to be huge. It’s not because long copy is better, it’s just a job that required more words. That’s how I would settle that, so the ten sentences, sometimes perfect, that’s what you need. But I would never subscribe to a hard and fast rule.
Joe: Gotcha. That’s a very important distinction, I think. To be transparent, that was a hard and fast rule that I got from building a story brand. However, that’s not the first thing he said, that’s the last thing he said. Now that you know what you need to say and who you’re talking to, “Help people get there, don’t just throw words at them.” That was the overall message.
Josh: That’s the main point. Sorry, your other question there was, “Are there things that I always include on a website?” To that, I don’t have a template. I wish I did that I had a magical template that I could fill in that would make my work so much easier. If we’re talking about a home page, some of these specifics that I want on there is I want anyone who lands on that page, who has never heard of me before to at least know what I do, who I do it for, how I am better or different than some of the other solutions they might be looking for, and introduce some proof. Whether that’s logos, testimonials, contextual testimonials throughout the home page. Those are the main things I want people to walk away with. How that looks is going to very much depend on the customer and the products and all of that. But those are the elements that you want to get into.
Joe: Gotcha. I like that. I think that jives pretty well with what I’ve learned as a web developer. That, and “Try not to make it confusing, make it very clear, let people know who this is for and the action that they should take.” Let’s say that I’m sitting down to write my own copy. Maybe I am a small business, and I don’t necessarily have the budget to hire somebody to do an 8-week research project. I’m probably not your target audience anyway. What are some things that I can do, or some tools that you think are good for someone like me to start on this journey? I know you mentioned Hotjar, I know they have a free account. I’m using that right now on my brand new home page to see what people are doing on it.
Josh: It’s amazing, isn’t it? I love watching– Are you watching any recorded sessions? Are you doing that, at all?
Joe: Yeah. That’s the primary thing I’m doing. It’s so crazy because– What I love seeing is the mouse movement, and people will move their cursor under every line of text and read it. Some people get there and scroll to the bottom and leave. That doesn’t help me at all, they must be looking for something they didn’t see, or they just wanted to see what the page looked like. It’s incredible to see how people are using it, and I’m keeping a log of “All right, I need to fix this. People are reading this, and then they’re not doing anything. Maybe this isn’t resonating with them and stuff like that.”
Josh: Yeah. Just on the Hotjar topic, that client that I mentioned that I’m starting with on Monday, I’ve got Hotjar set up on their site right now. I’ve just peeked in a couple of times, and I’m already seeing things that I’m so excited to show them. They have this pricing table where you have to click on each of the tiers to see all the differences. I’m watching people click back and forth, and you can see they’re just furiously trying to compare them, but they can’t see them all the same time. It’s going to be the easiest one ever.
Joe: Yeah, that’s awesome. I know you mentioned analytics, and spreadsheets, and things like that. Let’s say I’m starting– I just tried building a story brand. My story brand is I’m talking to site builders, or whatever. How do I figure out what to say to them?
Josh: Yeah. The first thing that I would say is, and I think you’ve spoken about this on some previous episodes so I won’t go into it too much, but if you’re small, and you want to make life easier on yourself make sure you really define who it is you’re trying to serve and how you’re serving them. If you launch as a generalist, pretty much anything I tell you is not going to help you. Your life is going to be difficult as a generalist. Narrow down on who you’re talking to. From there, everything else branches off. Once you know exactly who you’re talking to and what you’re trying to do for them, you don’t have to be a master of interviews to get on a call with your customer or your prospective customer and ask them questions “What kind of pain points are you experiencing right now? What’s your life like? What problems are you having? When we did that project together, what was better about it? What about working with me did you like?” You have conversations with your ideal customer, record it, get it transcribed on something like Rev.com. Start pulling in some of those common threads. You don’t need to be a copywriter to do a lot of these things at a very basic level. Inject that stuff into your site, making sure that people understand what you do, who you do it for, why they should believe you, what an outcome looks like, what it’s like to work with you. Don’t try to get too clever and don’t get in your own way. Be concise and accurate and empathetic with your customer. I guess the other thing that you should do if you can avoid it, don’t design your website before you’ve started to write the copy. In the early days I would do this because, when you’re first starting out, you’ve got to get business where ever you can get it. So I would take on a project where it’s like “We’ve got the website designed. We need someone to inject some copy.” Then I would take that project, but those projects are nightmares because they don’t end up well. The reason for that is if you start with a template and this section says, “Here’s where you’re going to put your three best points.” Well, what if there’s five? Then you’re trying to trim it down, to make it fit, and then you’re putting three there, but really, you needed to have all five. Start out with the copy, wireframe it in something like Balsamiq, if you’re like me and you and you like a simple tool, Balsamiq is super simple. Wireframe in Balsamiq and then start designing your website or finding a template that you can tweak to match. You’re not going to have time to do the market research that I would do. But you can still get on a call. You can still send out a survey to people. You can ask questions on Twitter, ask an open-ended question on Twitter, that you want more information about. It’s just getting friendly with the people that you’re trying to serve. Understand what they want and reflecting that back to them on the website. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.
Joe: That’s fantastic advice. I love that. I’m a very extroverted person, but I’ve always been afraid to get on the call with the client because I’m worried that they’re going to say something that will hurt my feelings. The short-term hurt feelings is going to be worth it when the sales increase, and then my feelings will not be hurt very much.
Josh: No. Usually, most people are decent people, and they are not out there to hurt your feelings. If you’re talking to people who are happy with your work, the types of people they want more of, they’re probably going to have nice things to say about you.
Joe: See, that’s another great point. If you’re talking to your ideal customer, you’ve already served them well. You’re not talking to the person who was annoyed that they signed up for a free PDF and then you emailed them a newsletter and then were mean about it.
Josh: Yeah. Don’t talk to those people. Unless you want to figure out what you need to change, so you don’t get more of them. That’s valid.
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Joe: My last question for you, before we get to my favorite question, is there’s a– I’m in a Mastermind group with a couple of friends, and we’ve all been talking about “We think this is our ideal customer. We think this is the market we want to be in.” I know we didn’t talk a whole lot about market research. You’re talking to people who already know the market they’re in and the customer they’re trying to talk to, but have you ever had a situation where you’ve worked with a company, and you’re like “You need to pivot your customer, because this customer is not who you want to talk to, or this market generally does not spend the kind of money you want them to spend.” If you have, what was that experience like?
Josh: Let me think if there’s one where there was a hard pivot. I can’t think of a hard pivot, because usually when a company is in that sort of situation, they don’t have the finances to hire somebody on, so it’s a catch 22. Definitely helping them focus. Someone who would start broad and then going deeper into that space. Tom’s Planner is top of mind right now because I worked with them a few months ago. What I found when I was doing the research is there’s lots of different people using them for different reasons. The trend that came up over and over again, when I asked “What was going on in your business, when you decided to look for a solution like Tom’s planner.” Two things came up over and over again. Oftentimes people were saying the exact same way, despite not knowing each other, and that was that they had outgrown project planning and spreadsheets. Their projects got too complicated, and updating that was chaos. The word “Chaos” came up multiple times, so you’ll see that now in the subheadline. Faced with that challenge they didn’t want to use what they saw as the next step, which was an MS Project, which is a very big project planning software that’s complicated, has a huge manual and costs a lot of money. So they were looking for something in the middle, and so that’s exactly how we positioned the product. “It’s your project learning tool, or chart creation tool when planning and spreadsheets is chaos and when products like MS Project are overkill.” That was how we positioned it. Sign-ups went through the roof. Some of the stats that you would think that are poor indicators of quality, such as time on site, went way down. The reason it went way down is because people immediately saw themselves in the headline and sub-headline like “Yes, this is exactly what I need. It’s the middle. It’s in between these two things that I don’t want to deal with anymore.” A lot of people land on the website, see the headline, sub-headline, a few bullet points, and boom sign up, because it’s exactly what they wanted. That would be, it’s not a hard pivot, it was always there, but it was a case of really digging in and just leaning into it and not being afraid of saying “We are the thing in the middle. If you want something complicated, use this other thing. If you’re happy with free and chaotic, keep using spreadsheets. But if you’re somewhere in the middle, which is a lot of people and this market is by no means small, then that’s what Tom’s Planner is for.” It’s a case of, a little side there, often the people that you want to compete with are not your direct competitors. You want to frame your product or your services as an alternative to two extremes that aren’t your direct competitors. In this case, Tom’s Planner. There’s other companies that are just like Tom’s Planner, comparing yourself to them won’t do you any good, because, on paper, you guys are very similar. Instead, try to capture all the people that are trying to make this decision between spreadsheets and bloated software, it’s much easier. That’s a specific example, but you can generalize that to pretty much anything.
Joe: Yeah, that’s fantastic. When I was trying to position my own online courses, I basically position them as– WP 101 is the number one online membership for learning how to use WordPress. My friend Brian runs WP Sessions, which is for developers. I’m like, “I am right in the middle. You already know how to use WordPress. You’re not quite a developer yet. Let me show you how to make websites with WordPress.”
Josh: Exactly, there you go. You did it, the middle way.
Joe: Awesome. I love that. This is fantastic. It’s been information-packed, and I love that. You’ve given us a ton of great advice already. But I do need to ask, do you have any trade secrets for us?
Josh: Trade secrets? I listen to your podcast, and I wasn’t sure if this was something that you come up with every single time. Trade secrets that I haven’t shared so far? I don’t know.
Joe: As you think about that, I will say that in my notes for this episode, whenever somebody says the word “Trade secret,” I write ding. I want to make a compilation of every time somebody says it because it’s like people go “Trade secrets” and then they start thinking about it just like you did.
Josh: That’s something I’m going to have to think about here. Just because I’ve shared so much already. I don’t know, it comes down to the research and pulling in the customer. Maybe I shouldn’t have shared so much earlier on, and I would have more juice at the end here.
Joe: Reiterating what you’ve already said is perfect because I think that you want to drive home one of the points you made. That could be the takeaway that people are listening for.
Josh: I’m on a crusade right now when it comes to my market, which is SaaS. That is it’s digging into the foundational stuff. In my market, I’m sure it’s similar, it probably takes a different form in other markets. It’s technical people that are creating these products. Marketing isn’t their number one thing, and neither is sales. So they lean into the product and then everything else, they’re looking for shortcuts and hacks, to try to do good enough and they’re copying. I’m on a bit of crusade right now to focus on the foundational stuff, positioning. That’s not just messaging, but it’s knowing how you stack up against the competitors, feature, and capability wise. Where you shine and who values those differences. It’s customer research, but not in the way that I’m typically hired to do it right now, where people don’t talk to their customers for three years, and then they want a new website, and now we talk to their customers. It’s having a process where you’re consistently talking to and surveying and evaluating customers and feeding that to the right channels. Whether that’s sales, support, marketing, product. It’s pulling this in and testing smaller changes vs. completely stripping everything every three or four years and starting from scratch. That would be my main takeaway there. You probably don’t have any copywriters that you have on this podcast, right? Is it mostly WordPress developers?
Joe: Yeah. There’s a lot of WordPress developers and small business owners.
Josh: OK. So yeah, that would be that. Then the other thing, like I said before, it’s going to be tempting because you’re designers and developers to start with the design and then inject the copy, but really try to think about that messaging and positioning first and then design around it. The design is meant to portray your words, in the most logical and compelling way. It’s really hard to start with the design first.
Joe: Yeah, I think that’s truly fantastic advice. As somebody who is more the technical person, who is bad at marketing and sales. I always took the Field of Dreams approach. “If I build it, they will come.”
Josh: Yeah, it happens sometimes, but it’s hard.
Joe: Yeah, it worked for Google, and it worked for Facebook, to an extent. But Facebook had that false scarcity anyway.
Josh: Yeah, exactly. If you build world-changing technology at the exact right time, they will come. For the rest of us, if we’re being really honest, we’re mostly building things that are “Nice to haves,” and they are nice to have, but you can get by without it. When that’s the case, you can’t just build it, and they won’t just come, because there’s other people building it as well.
Joe: Yeah, right. Most of my ideas come from frustration with some other thing that almost did what I wanted.
Josh: Yes, exactly.
Joe: That’s great. Josh, thank you so much for your time today. Where can people find you?
Josh: You can find me at SwayCopy.com. My site is mostly geared towards my client base, but at the very top, you’ll see a little “Hello” bar. If positioning your services, choosing a niche, however you want to say it, is something that you care about. I have a free email series on there, and it’s 9,000 words on the topic because I got tired of answering the same questions over and over again in Facebook groups. It’s completely free, and there’s not even a sale at the end. I do not have anything for sale to service providers and freelancers, you’ll get it, and then I publish the odd email after that. Social media-wise, the best place to find me is on Twitter, @swaycopy.
Joe: Awesome. I will link that and everything else we talked about. Building a story brand in Hotjar, Rev.com. Anything that has a link, I will link to in the show notes, which you could find over at HowIBuilt.it. Josh, thanks again for joining me today. I appreciate your time.
Josh: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Joe: Thanks so much to Josh for joining us today. Again I loved everything about this conversation, but the big things to reiterate is “Use the language that your customers are using.” If that means you need to talk to them, then, by all means, talk to them. Definitely check out his work and take his advice. I love that he’s competent enough in his services to say, “Not anybody can hire him.” He works for the very, like he says, a specific type of company because of the level of value that he provides. You should try to provide that value or communicate that you provide that value, as well. Thanks so much to our sponsors this week, Ahoy! Pantheon and Gusto. They make this show possible. If you liked this episode, be sure to subscribe over at HowIBuilt.it/Subscribe. There you can grab either the RSS feed or links to all sorts of services from Apple Podcasts to Overcast, my favorite service. If you want to launch your own podcast, head over to PodcastLiftoff.com to get a free workbook. If you want to make a show like the one that I make every week, I have a free workbook and checklist over there for you to download for free. So again, head over to PodcastLiftoff.com and thanks so much for listening. Until next time, get out there and build something.