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Hiring a copywriter – A surprising insight from the CopyHackers book

Yesterday I wrote a quick review of the Copy Hacker’s books.  Today I found myself contemplating either writing the copy myself on the eventual main site for Profit Awareness, or hiring a copywriter.  I was surprised because the Copy Hacker’s books do a great job of telling you how to write copy – and I am a cheap do it yourself-er.

Another printing press at villa d

Showing the importance of copywriting

I thought a bit more about it, and I realized that (prior to reading the book) I had not even thought about the copywriting, and had assumed that the words would just appear on the page.  After all, a product page should describe the product, right?  The thought of hiring a copywriter was as foreign as hiring an alchemist.

I did not consider the copy a separate part of the process, and something to be crafted, but rather an offshoot of the site’s conceptual theme.

After reading the book(s) I now understand these important things:

  1. Your website needs a message
  2. Messages need to be crafted
  3. Copywriting is essential to crafting that message
  4. I can probably write adequate copy
  5. Copywriting can be a lot of work for me
  6. I can identify a good copywriter
  7. I can manage a good copywriter tolerably well.

Doing it myself or hiring a copywriter

My innate stinginess will probably win, and I will write the copy for ProfitAwareness.com myself, but at the moment I am split on hiring a copywriter or not.  I am now convinced of how important copywriting is.   In either case, there will be some copywriting going on.

Giving it away

The important thing I learned is that if you give away your methods, people will see the value of your craft, and they see how essential it is.

By convincing the potential buyer (in this case, me) of the value of the whatever it is you’re selling, your craft transforms from an unknown element to an essential element.  Giving away the secrets of your craft is the best way to show how essential your craft is, which creates demand.

Now I want to write my own book on the bundle of services I provide and it to potential clients.


Editor’s Note

This blog post originally appeared on the Profit Awareness Blog – as that app is up for sale, it has been consolidated into the main Digital Tool Factory blog.

Nov 11

Written By Steve French


Copy Hackers book review – go get it now

Short Version of the Copy Hackers Book Review

These books rock – go buy them now.  They will pay for themselves in an hour or so.  That is all you need to get from this copy hackers book review.

Long Version of the Copy Hackers Book Review

Copy Hackers at work

ep66mnl © by Ed Passi ©

I heard Joanna Wiebe’s interview on TechZing and I was intrigued.  A good friend recently suggested that I consult a branding expert to refine my offerings.   I liked that idea.

However I’ve never met a branding expert (and I’ve met many) who was anything other than a talented high end salesman.   Their “branding” efforts consist largely of repeating what you say back to you and ending it with an impassioned plea to “make the hard choices”, which only you can do.   The choices are just as hard as they were before you met the expert, but this way you’re out an hourly fee.

But I digress – a book on copy writing (which is not branding, I know, but something is better than nothing), seemed like an ideal middle ground between doing nothing and finding an expert.   And what a happy middle ground it is!

I bought the first book in the series “Where Stellar Messages Come From” and was thrilled to discover that it met the three golden criteria of work-related reading

  1. It was short
  2. It was well written, and on-topic
  3. It was actionable

The third point is the hardest to find.   I would put this book on par with the Start Small Stay Small by Rob Walling in terms of actionability.

In this book you will find both general strategy and specific worksheets for the specific things you will be doing while you read this book.  Did I mention you can do specific things after you read this book?  Things like determining which of your customers you are writing for, or splitting out benefits and features, or doing keyword research, or doing a content audit.  This book leaves you in a better spot than you were in before you read it, which is rare these days.

So anyway, this is the only Copy Hackers book review you need.  Go buy them now.


Editor’s Note

This blog post originally appeared on the Profit Awareness Blog – as that app is up for sale, it has been consolidated into the main Digital Tool Factory blog.

Nov 11

Written By Steve French


Profitable Non-Web Projects

Profitable Hobbies © by Liz Henry

So, you’re in the web development business, can you have profitable non-web projects?.  I have.   While my bread and butter has always been web application development on the .net platform  over the years around  30% of my income has come from non-web projects.  There are a substantial number of profitable non-web projects out there, if done in the right amount.  Here are my top three profitable non-web projects:


The web hosting industry has created a wide variety of tools that help you resell your services to your clients.  You just set up a reseller account with the end host, create the account yourself and then bill the client whatever you like.


  1. You get to customize your clients web hosting to play to your strengths
  2. You get to charge a premium for the minor chore of setting up the account.
  3. Clients appreciate an expert setting up their hosting instead of doing it themselves.
  4. Recurring revenue is nice, especially since you don’t have to do anything after you set up the hosting
  5. You always have a reason to contact clients.


  1. You become their tech support for anything computer related
  2. You also become their internet security officer
  3. You have to bill them, and do collections, people dislike paying their hosting bills for some reason
  4. Server problems become your problem, and you have to drop everything until you fix it


If you can build a website, you can figure out other software, and train the less adept at how to use it.  People love being trained in how to use their content management system (for one example)


  1. Lots of close contact with your clients
  2. You are saving them them confusion and frustration, so they will happily pay you a high rate (You do need to charge a high rate, training never lasts for that long)
  3. Your presentation skills will improve a hundredfold


  1. Lots of close contact with your clients
  2. Intellectually draining
  3. You cannot scale your training time

Text Manipulation and One-off Data Processing

Established companies accumulate a mountain of text files and files of obscure types.  Long time employees will always have ideas on what they could do if only some of their old data were in their current system.  Most of them will have spent a couple hours trying to migrate the data manually only to do the math and conclude that if they did it would take them 100 years.

Enter your programming skills.  I have written inefficient, ugly command line programs that loop through text files from 1989, fixed casing problems, found a match in a dbase file from 1993, and inserted the combined record in a modern database.  It took three days to run, but the client was thrilled.


  1. Ecstatic clients
  2. As they have nothing to compare the new program to, people are happy with whatever you give them
  3. The coding is interesting


  1. You will never have the opportunity to reuse what you learn
  2. The projects are difficult to estimate
There you have it – those are some of the profitable non-web projects I’ve done as  a web developer.

Editor’s Note

This blog post originally appeared on the Profit Awareness Blog – as that app is up for sale, it has been consolidated into the main Digital Tool Factory blog.

Oct 11

Written By Steve French


Internal Projects – What are the good ones and how much time should you spend on them?

Internal Project Intro

As part of my series on simple business metrics, here is an elaboration on metric #4 – External vs Internal Projects. What are those? As I (and most people) define them, external projects are paying projects for other people and internal projects are projects that help you land external projects (like a marketing campaign or software upgrade).  Please note,  internal projects do not include routine tasks like accounting or business development.

Internal Projects – The list

That being said – here a non-definitive list of what I consider to be worthwhile internal projects for a web development firm

  1. Short- term custom software – anything that speeds up data entry for example
  2. An Intanet (for your people)
  3. An Extranet (for your clients)
  4. Your website
  5. SEO campaigns
  6. Marketing honeypot sites that can be used for publicity – like eNormicon was for 37 Signals.
  7. Projects that allow you to learn and explore a new technology at your own pace – that was how I learned ASP.net MVC 3 and Silverlight.
  8. Explicit learning of new technologies and techniques.
  9. Short- term collaborations with other firms that allow some “code bonding”
  10. Prestige projects that you do for free to meet people – sites for symphonies or influential charities woudl fall in this category.
  11. Genuine pro bono work for kind hearted reasons – it sharpens your skills and you feel good at the same time.
One thing to bear in mind – any project like this that goes on for more than, say six months becomes:
  1. A hobby
  2. A vested interest – there will be internal constituencies both for and against it (nobody likes change)
  3. Difficult to modify in your workflow
  4. An entitlement to clients or the public if they’ve become used to it
  5. Psychologically difficult to remove – it’s like giving a way a puppy you’ve had for six months

And now for the big question – how much time should you spend on internal projects?

In my experience, you reach the point of diminishing returns if you spend more than 30% of your time on internal projects.  30% is just a general rule I have arrived at over many years in the business.  Your mileage may vary.

Why measure the time you spend on internal projects?

Internal projects are way more fun than external projects.  No one to tell you to make the logo bigger, no exact specification to match, no conference calls, no rush deadlines – just a lot of doing what got you into the industry in the first place.  You get to do things YOUR WAY.

I’ve found that the internal work can come in the way of paying work in some circumstances, and (unless precautions are taken) it gets in the way of unpleasant but necessary routine work in most circumstances.  Isn’t working on the SEO campaign more fun than doing accounting?  Isn’t coding up that new app for the animal rescue more fun than prospecting new business?  It’s way more fun, and you deserve the fun, but just keep it to 30% of your total work.  If you measure your time via some sort of time tracking service, and then analyze your time – you can see the true cost of that new app.


Editor’s Note

This blog post originally appeared on the Profit Awareness Blog – as that app is up for sale, it has been consolidated into the main Digital Tool Factory blog.

Oct 11

Written By Steve French


What having a daughter taught me about business – Part I

My wife and I (mostly her) had out first child (a girl) five months ago.   For various reasons we take her to lots of doctors, including four specialists, I thought I would share a bit of what I’ve learned on the topic of doctors and specialization by having a daughter.


  1. You have to wait every time
  2. Doctors do only medical work
  3. Doctors only do a small percentage of the medical work, the majority of the work (blood pressure, measurements, samples, etc) is done by nurses and PAs.
  4. If it can be measured, a doctor does not do it.  They make determinations, not observations
  5. Specialization is advertised,
  6. Generalization is practiced, but not advertised
  7. Everyone is perfectly content to treat you like cattle UNTIL you see the doctor.  Then you are special.  Once the doctor leaves you’re back to being cattle
  8. Everyone we’ve encountered got there via a referral from some other doctor
  9. The dress code (white lab coat) is universally followed
  10. People love going to the best person in the building/city/state/country

What have I learned from the above observations?

  1. Being the best, and being known as the best is the crucial thing, even is what you are the best at is a very narrow field.
  2. Being known as the best requires maintenance, and constant attention to detail.
  3. Your client should only see you in your area of expertise, nothing else, let other people be seen doing the boilerplate work

Much, much more to come..


Editor’s Note

This blog post originally appeared on the Profit Awareness Blog – as that app is up for sale, it has been consolidated into the main Digital Tool Factory blog.

Jul 11

Written By Steve French


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