What I Learned at the #VanFUNDING 2015 Crowdfunding Conference

Last week a potential client called me up and asked what I knew about crowdfunding.

“A little bit,” I said. “My son is running a GoFundMe campaign.”

He then invited me to attend the VanFUNDING 2015 Crowdfunding conference as his guest. I could hardly refuse…

In May of this year, six Canadian provinces, including BC adopted new exemptions for startup companies to raise up to $500,000 per calendar year through online funding portals. My client’s company happens to fit within the guidelines and is eligible for this exemption.

This opens some big doors for startup companies who can figure out how to use crowdfunding as a way to raise capital.

When we think about crowdfunding, most of us see the Kickstarter model. A person or company has brilliant idea for a product. They put up a campaign on any of the platforms and hope to raise enough money to turn the idea into an actual product they can ship.

If the company raises the required money, the campaign is a success and the person/company can then manufacture the product.

In return for their donation, the donor receives the product when it launches. This model is known as the Reward model of crowdfunding.

Pretty straightforward. And lots of companies have been started this way.

But, that’s only ONE model for crowdfunding. There are three others:

  • Donations: You see these a lot on GoFundMe and other platforms. Someone has a crisis in their life. Anything from an ill child to a fire that destroys everything. A family member or close friend starts a campaign asking for money to cover expenses. These kinds of campaigns appeal to our desire to help others and can raise a lot of money in a short period of time. The campaign doesn’t have to be about crisis, I’ve seen lots of campaigns for people who want to give back in some way. Generally, these are for individuals, not companies. Sometimes called, “pass the hat” funding.
  • Debt: This is a takeoff from the traditional model of debt financing where the company would go to a bank where they borrow a certain amount of money and pay it back with interest over a certain term. With crowdfunding, the borrower goes to a platform which expressly raises capital through crowdfunding. Usually the terms are stricter (higher interest rate and shorter repayment schedule) but they are more willing to look at true startups who have no proven track record.
  • Equity: This is where the new exemptions will have the biggest impact. Companies seeking funding are no longer limited to asking for money from accredited investors – that is investors who have an annual income over $250,000 and a net worth of $2,000,000 or more. That limits companies to less than 3% of potential investors. The startup exemption allows companies to now seek funding from what are called the “Mass Affluents” – those who earn $150,000 and have a net worth over $500,000. This is a huge, untapped market for many companies seeking investment. At the same time, the exemption limits individual investment to a maximum $1500 per round at two rounds per year. This is to protect the investor. The company can only raise a maximum of $500,000 through this channel.

Here are some other things about crowdfunding I bet you didn’t know…

  1. Crowdfunding is a relatively new phenomenon. Especially in the equity sector. Many of the platforms we spoke with at the conference were in their own startup phase. In fact, one company has only put together two deals so far. Since it’s so new, there is a lot of opportunity to learn and grow in this market.
  2. It’s critical to have your legal paperwork done correctly. Shareholder agreements, Memorandums of Understanding and everything else you need. While the startup exemption does reduce the number of documents you need, it does not release you from your obligation to follow the law.
  3. Investors still need to do their due diligence.
  4. Set realistic targets. If you go into a campaign with an outrageous goal and don’t meet it, you may not get anything. It is better to set a lower target and oversubscribe than to have an unsuccessful campaign.
  5. Successful campaigns are all about good marketing. No one wakes up in the morning and says, “Gee, I think I’ll invest in a startup today.” Companies are SOLD, not bought.

And finally, your best chance at success is having a great story and a large audience. A good copywriter helps you tell your story in such a way that it engages your audience, compels them to take action and can help with the rest of your marketing – everything from case studies and brochure to boosting your social media presence to attract more investors.

That touches the basics of crowdfunding.

After the conference my client and I spoke with a few of the speakers about an idea we had come up with while attending. It’s something none of them had thought of, but they all thought it was brilliant and a great way to get exposure AND capital without giving up too much equity. If it works for his company, it may work for yours too. But it’s too early to share it yet.

What Yogi Berra and Copywriting have in Common

I was listening to sports radio last night – it helps me unwind and recalibrate my brain after a full day of writing – when I heard the news that Yogi Berra had passed away.

While I’m old enough to remember WHO he was, I’m not quite old enough to remember seeing him play.

But I got to thinking about what a legend such as Yogi Berra and copywriting might have in common. And, surprisingly, I came up with several different thoughts.

First, whether on purpose or just because he had a quirky personality, he made himself stand out. His wacky quotes, his small stature and his ability to play the game he loved so much all set him apart from other baseball players of his era – even his more talented teammates.

Good copywriting stands out – but in a way that supports the sales process just as Yogi supported his team.

Second, he quietly went about his job. And what a job he did. 18 seasons as a catcher for the New York Yankees, 10 World Series rings, 14 Series appearances, 15 All-Star Games and three most valuable player awards. There’s never been a career like it, before or since. He was humble, did his job and let the stats do the talking for his work.

The same could be said about copywriting. Make the product the star – the writing should be able to tell the story without being the center of attention.

Third, he didn’t take himself too seriously. His “yogisms” were always delivered with a twinkle in his eye – like he was letting us in on the joke. His easygoing ways made him instantly likeable – and forever remembered.

Copywriting that talks conversationally, lets the reader peek behind the curtain a bit and get to know, like and most importantly TRUST the writer is exactly like that.

I guess for me, I’m a bit nostalgic for a by-gone era. An era that seemed so much more innocent. Happily the legend of Yogi Berra can live on forever.

My favorite Yogi-isms:

  • You don’t have to swing hard to hit a home run. If you got the timing, it’ll go.
  • I never said most of the things I said.
  • I tell the kids, somebody’s gotta win, somebody’s gotta lose. Just don’t fight about it. Just try to get better.
  • It ain’t over till it’s over.

RIP Yogi

What a Copywriter Does

If you’ve ever wondered exactly what a copywriter does, this post will give you some insight…

You could start with the physical aspect. Copywriters write.

But there’s much more to it than that.

Before we can write, we have to know a few things. Such as WHOM we’re writing for.

That means having a client. So, unless we’re writing for our own products or to promote our services, we have to become good at the fine art of prospecting. We spend a lot of time on the phone, or sending out emails or direct mail to get people to hire us.

Once we have a client, there’s the act of negotiating a fee. Quote too high and you likely won’t get the client. Quote too low and you’ll end up working your butt off for minimum wage or less. Knowing what you’re worth is an important part of copywriting.

OK, now we’ve got the client, have a proper fee and it’s time to start writing, right?

Nope, not yet, grasshopper…

First research, then write.

Know your product. What are you selling? If it’s information, consume the product. (Read it, watch the video, listen to the audio, etc.) MORE THAN ONE TIME. The first time you go through an info product, you’ll only get surface details. Take notes. Ask yourself questions. Jot down your answers.

The second time through, you start to get a real understanding of the information. That’s when you can go back to your client and ask questions that confuse you.

While you’re doing this, you also need to be researching WHO consumes your client’s product. Discover your target market. Many times the client can help you with that – especially if they have previous sales and track their demographics. But it’s still up to you do dig deep into the client psyche and figure out what makes them tick.

So far, no writing – except for notes. Lots of notes.

I use Evernote to store all the notes, links, data, charts, and any other materials I come across. It keeps me organized and lets me quickly access my reference material when I need it. I find it easy to grab a link when I need to footnote my reference material.

By now you’ve spent a few hours working on the project and haven’t written a single word. You’ve got your information organized. While you’ve been doing your research, you start to formulate a couple directions you could take your promotion.

This is where I start my writing process.

I write headlines. LOTS of headlines. As many as 100. Usually at least 50.

I’ve narrowed down my ideas to just two. (Unless my research suggests that one is way more interesting to my market, then I’ll narrow it down to just one.)

I’ll take my two best compelling ideas and write what’s called a “lead.” That’s the headline and the first few paragraphs of the promotion.

I have all these headlines. I’ll choose what I believe is the strongest one and craft the lead.

I’ll do that again for the second “big idea.”

Now I have two leads. It’s time to get the client involved again.

I send them to the client for feedback. They usually have experience in their market and can provide insight and feedback. Once they choose one direction over the other, I start to put together the rest of the elements of the copy.

Within a short timeframe, the first draft goes to the client. Once again, we tweak until everything is good. At that point, the client has a sales letter they can test.

That’s a rough look at what a copywriter does – or at least what I do when writing copy for a client.

There’s more to the process. Thinking time. I read a lot. Not necessarily in the same niche I’m writing for because good ideas can come from anywhere. Magazines. Novels.

But the real key is to follow the process every day. Good copywriters don’t wait for the muse to hit. They don’t have writer’s block because they have done their research.

And good research leads to good writing.

Nine Signs You Need Help With Your Copy

Is your copy converting the way it should? Are you getting people to take action? Do you see upticks in your sales when you send out a promotion? If so, GREAT! You’re doing it right.

However, not every promo is going to work the first time. And even if you’ve written tons of copy about your product or service and are used to seeing a decent response, sometimes your promos will bomb.

And if you’re a “jack-of-all-trades” business owner who tries to do everything yourself, this will probably happen to you more often than not. Not because you can’t write good copy – you probably can – but because you just haven’t looked at the high leverage spots where you can improve your copy.

Let’s look at the nine signs you need help with your copy…

The first sign your copy sucks starts before you write your first word.

  1. Have you done your research? 

    Do you know the product inside and out? Can you rattle off the features and benefits in your sleep?  If you can’t answer a resounding “yes” to those questions, it’s a sign you need help. (Hint: do more research before you put pen to paper!)

  2. Do you know your target market?

    Can you “get inside their heads” and think like they think? Do you understand what keeps them up at night – and why your product is the best solution to their problem?
  3. Do you have a headline?Your readers are busy, busy people. They need to know immediately whether it’s worth their time to read your sales page. The best way to do that is to make your headline engaging, compelling and RELEVANT. Dr. Flint McGlaughlan of market research leader, MECLABS states regularly “Clarity Trumps Persuasion.” Believe it when it comes to your headline. That’s why I’ll write as many as 100 before I start writing the body of the copy.
  4. Does your opening paragraph make your reader want to continue reading?

    It doesn’t have to be Dickens, but it does need to grab the reader by the eyeballs and make them wonder where you’re taking them. If your readers are dropping off after the first paragraph, it’s probably a sign you need help with your copy.
  5. Are you talking TO your reader – or AT them?Imagine you’re on a first date. Your date drones on and on about all the things that are going on in their life. They don’t care to know anything about you – it’s all about them. Every other sentence starts with “I…”
    “I did this thing.”
    “I can’t believe they did that to me.”
    “I’m going to blah blah blah…”What are your odds of going out on a second date with that person? No matter how attractive they may be, any time you’re stuck with someone who just goes on and on about themselves, you want to get out of there as soon as you can.

    Your reader is the same way. Make your document all about you and you won’t have many clients. Make it about THEM and how your product or service can HELP them and you’re attracting people who want to do business with you.

  6. Let’s take a different approach now… Do you HATE writing copy?Would you rather get your eyelids glued shut? Or walk a rope bridge over a 200 ft. canyon, blindfolded? That’s an indicator that no matter how hard you focus – how much blood you drip on the page – or how many headlines you conjure up, you’re going to need help with your copywriting. Just sayin’.
  7. Do you envision your Ninth Grade English teacher throwing chalk at you for handing in an essay with errors?Believe it or not, mine did. Well, actually it was the math teacher – and he would throw chalk or textbooks or erasers or anything he could get his hands on when we students were being particularly dense. (Which was often – after all, ninth grade was the year boys and girls discovered each other!)It could have scarred me for life. Maybe something similar happened to you in your past and you have a visceral reaction to writing. Many people do.
  8. Your copy just doesn’t convert.You put heart and soul into writing a piece of sales copy. You send it out, or put it up on the web and drive traffic to it. You watch for clicks. Watch for people showing up to your cart. Watch for those dollars to flow back into your account – but nothing happens. NOTHING. No sales. Or maybe a few – after all some people will buy almost anything that’s offered to them. But not what you were expecting.
  9. It takes you FOREVER to write your copy. 

    Business moves quickly. There’s a constant need for good quality, high converting copy in many businesses. But it takes you weeks to put together a strong sales argument and get the wording just right. Time your competitors can beat you to market – taking sales you could have made if you had just got the damn thing written.No matter how good your writing is, if it’s not out there producing, it’s not good enough. Perfection is the enemy of speed. Money loves speed. Do the math…Good enough is good enough. And no matter HOW perfect the copy is, it can always be better. That’s why good marketers are always testing. Then tweaking. Then testing again.

So, if you resonate with ANY of these points, maybe it’s time to hand off your copywriting assignments to someone who lives, breathes and EATS copy for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (Figuratively – not literally.)

Five Things You Might Not Know About Copywriting

Five Things You Might Not Know About Copywriting

Writing copy is easy, right? I mean after all, most of us completed at least high school English and can string together coherent sentences. Even properly structured ones with nouns and verbs and such.

But writing copy has its own set of “rules” if it’s going to be effective.

But before I tell you about those rules, let me just remind you the goal of good copy is to get the reader to take some sort of action. Now, that action is usually to get them to purchase what you’re offering, but it could be to just get them to put their hand up and let you know they’re actual prospects for you.

Here are five things you might not know about copywriting…

  1. Write conversationally. People want to deal with people. They don’t want to read “missives from the ivory tower,” they want to hear your voice – feel your personality and get to know, like and trust you. If you write like a sophomore trying to impress your professor, you’ll lose your audience. Personally, I try to keep my copy at or below the Eighth Grade level. That way almost anyone can understand it. And believe me; you won’t offend more educated people by writing at that level. We’re all busy and even great readers appreciate easy reading. (This article scores 6.1 on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level.)
  2. Keep the reader reading. Use hooks, curiosity and open loops to keep the reader following your copy and wondering what the payoff is. Don’t give away your “secrets” in the first paragraph or the reader has no reason to finish the piece. A favorite tactic of mine is to open a loop (i.e. start a story or make a claim) near the beginning of the copy and keep it open. Think “Storage Wars,” the TV show where the door slams shut just after the big discovery and go to commercial.
  3. Use sub-headlines to tell your story. No matter how good your copy is – or how compelling every word is, some readers (well… most) will just skim that work that took you hours to create. Make it easy for those to understand your offer by letting the subheads tell your story in a more succinct fashion. Many times I’ll write out my sales argument then craft a series of subheads which lead down the same path. Each section underneath the subhead can fill in the details for those who will actually read everything. This way the people who need every bit of info to make a buying decision get answers to all their questions.
  4. Use the active voice as much as possible. Copywriting is about getting people to take action. If your writing is dull, passive or boring, the only action a reader will take is to not read it and go on to something else. My trusty grammar checker tells me what percentage of sentences are passive. Then I can hunt them down and rewrite them. Or sometimes delete them. Whatever it takes to keep people reading so they can see my offer and make an informed decision to buy.
  5. Tell people exactly what you want them to do. Don’t be subtle. Don’t leave it to chance. If you want them to buy, tell them how. If you want them to fill out your form, then tell them that. People are busy and really don’t have time to solve riddles or guess what you want them to do. Make it obvious.

These are five things you might not know about copywriting I always keep in mind when writing copy for clients. Of course they’re not the ONLY things that make copy persuasive or successful. They’re just part of a much larger process to effective copywriting.