How to Start Your Sales Letter With a Bang

start sales letter
If you’re writing a marketing letter (or an email) the most important thing is to get the reader to open the envelope or the email.

But how do you start your sales letter? What do you do to make sure your headline grabs attention and your letter gets read, instead of being tossed in the trash?

Read on to find out.

Speak directly to your readers

Words like “you” and “your” send the message that you’re addressing the reader’s problems and concerns, rather than talking at them. It creates the feeling that you’re having a conversation, unlike “I” (which is more like a speech).

Keep the sentences and paragraphs short, so they’re easy to read and digest. Use that first sentence to introduce the conversation you’d like to have, and explain why the reader should keep reading.

Ignite curiosity

20 Ways to Market Your Business For Free

“Free” is a powerful attractor.  Nearly everyone likes to get something without paying for it, especially something valuable.  In this case, the only way to find out how to get the valuable information (free ways to market your business) is to keep reading.

Ask a question that you know your reader will agree with

Are you tired of spending money on IT support that leaves your wallet empty and your computer full of viruses?

Many people, and companies, have spent money on IT consultants who were unreliable, or left their systems in worse shape than they were when they started (I know this personally, since my brother is an IT consultant who frequently has to swoop in and clean up other IT guys’ messes).

Malfunctioning computers can make it nearly impossible for your business to run properly, so your readers will be eager to learn what they can do to make sure this doesn’t happen to them again.

Start with “because”

Because you’ve been a cardmember for 10 years, we’d like to reward you with a free gift.

“Free” is great, but sometimes people are skeptical.  They wonder why you are offering them something, out of the blue.  Using a word like “because” gives them a reason for your generosity.  You want to reward their loyalty and their business with a gift. They will keep reading because they want to find out what the gift is, and how to get one.

Address skepticism about your product

f  you’re selling something that people may have negative feelings about (such as email marketing), often the best approach is to address the issue head on.  Admit up front that there is a problem.  Then, agree with the problem (which your readers won’t expect).

Email marketing is just junk and a waste of time.  The truth is, I agree with you. The problem with most marketing is……What makes this different is…..

If most email marketing products are hard to use, explain why yours is easy. If other SEOs rely on underhanded “black hat” tricks to get links, show how your methods are completely above-board (and loved by Google).

Use memories and imagination

Conjure up a picture in the reader’s mind and tell a story:

It was 1945, the war was over and my dad, Ed Cushman, had just opened a small store and fruit packaging plant here in West Palm Beach. One night (a night never to be forgotten by anyone in our family), everyone was waiting for a truck load of grapefruit. When it finally arrived, my dad took one look and said, “What the devil is this?”

[They were Honeybell oranges; and when I tasted my first one, I said pretty much the same thing…what was that??!. It was sweet, juicy, and unlike any other orange I ever ate!].

To sum up:

Speak to your readers directly

Give reasons why you’re making the offer.

Address any bad feelings your readers may have about your service

Tell an interesting story.

Photo: mandj98

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107 Online Marketing Tools for Freelancers

Many colored pens

Image via Wikipedia

I’m always on the lookout for cool tools that can make my life easier, save time, or help me help my clients.

Here, all in one place (!), are 107 free or low cost online marketing tools  that will help you improve your SEO, find photos and icons, for your web site, publish ebooks, hold webinars, and choose the right theme for your blog.


  1. Google Trends – type in your keywords and check trends – Is the US election trending up or down? Have there been a lot of recent searches for images of parrots?  You can check words or images.
  2. DuckDuckGo -search without your personal preferences and history (which affect the rankings and results you see)
  3. Web Site Grader – analyzes your site and grades your keyword effectiveness (too many? not enough?)
  4. Website Optimizer – a Google app that helps you test landing pages and increase your sales
  5. Google Keyword Tool – plug in search terms and find out how popular they are; a good way to do some quick market research before you invest in Adwords
  6. Backlink Watch – this backlink checker shows who’s linking to your website or blog.
  7. SEO Book – free Firefox plugin with page ranking, link checking, and keyword research tools


  1. Quantcast –  estimates the demographics for your site (so you know who’s looking) or at any registered site you choose
  2. Page speed – analyzes your site and tells you how to make it faster (hint: faster sites do better in Google rankings)
  3. Chartbeat – real-time analytics for your site (free trial)
  4. Analytics tracker – track clicks back to your site from your ebooks or articles

Webinar Software

  1. Zipcast Instant meeting – turn a slideshare presentation into an online discussion
  2. Free conference – free conferencing, playback, and recording.
  3. Google Hangouts – limited to 10 people, but it’s free and works pretty well. You’ll need a Google account to use it, but that’s free too.


  1. Audacity – record your podcast, interview, or music; then edit, remix, and upload the result. Works on Macs, Linux, and Windows, and it’s free.
  2. Garage Band – a mini-recording studio right inside your Mac (or ipad). Works for music or podcasts.

making and sharing videos

  1. You Tube Live Streaming – now you can have live feeds – watch out Ustream.
  2. Video Playbook – ebook with tips on creating, editing and sharing videos
  3. Camtasia – screen recording software (great for tutorials)
  4. Jing – free screen capture software for short (5-minute videos); basic version is free, more advanced version costs $15


  1. Anatomy of a WordPress Theme –  infographic explains all the bits and pieces of wordpress themes (so you know where to look if you need to fiddle with something).
  2. Scribefire – Firefox plugin that lets you drag and drop text directly to your blog

Free WordPress Themes

  1. free theme directory – Lots of options here, including the WordPress Twenty Eleven theme created by wordpress itself. Choose by most popular, most recent, or do a more detailed search by features, columns, and colors
  2. Smashing magazine free themes – 2011 roundup
  3. Free premium themes – A collection of free themes gathered from all over the web

Paid WordPress Themes

  1. Elegant themes – unlimited access to all their themes for $39
  2. Headway themes – a base framework, with drag and drop functions; currently it’s do-it-yourself (just the base), but templates are coming
  3. Woo themes – (they also have some freebie promotions) – $70 for a single theme, plus two free bonus themes with  purchase
  4. Genesis themes from Studio Press – like Headway, Genesis is a framework for building themes; you can buy just the framework, or individual themes they’ve already created
  5. Theme Forest– themes as low as $1, with user ratings, the ability to search by category (corporate, creative, etc.).


  1. Akisemt – stops nearly all comment spam in its tracks; easier than asking for a CAPTCHA (which slows people down)
  2. Google Analytics for wordpress – integrates page tracking, clicks, and e-commerce
  3. No self-pings– If you link to another post on your site, wordpress will automatically ping you (saying you have a trackback). If you find that annoying (as I do), use this plugin to stop it
  4. Post post –  add custom content before or after your posts (such as an offer or contact information)
  5. WordPress database backup– Automatically backs up your database and emails it to you (you can set how often)
  6. Yet another related posts plugin–  finds older posts on similar topics and adds them to the bottom of your new posts (more clicks and time on your site)
  7. WordPress SEO – checks your keywords and allows you to rewrite your post titles to make them more SEO friendly
  8. Feedburner – RSS feed plugin
  9. XML site map generator – creates a site map to help index your content for search engines
  10. Sexy Bookmarks – add social sharing tools (like twitter and facebook) to your posts
  11. Broken Link Checker – checks your links and notifies you when something breaks\
  12. Contact Form7 – easy-to-use customizable contact form
  13. Theme Test Drive – test out a new theme before you go live
  14. Facebook Like – adds a facebook “like” button to your posts
  15. Zemanta – add images to your posts directly from your editing screen
  16. NextGen Gallery – puts a sliding gallery of featured posts at the top of your blog
  17. WP E-commerce plugin – sell digital products or create coupons
  18. Use Google Libraries – fixes the visual editor that broke (for me) when I upgraded to WordPress 3.3


  1. Thinkmap– a visual thesaurus that shows you the relationships between wordsJott – transcribes voice messages from your friends or yourself (no typing) and emails them to you
  2. – mind mapping software to help you track and visualize ideas (and the connections between them)
  3. Scrivener – designed just for writing books, you can make an online “corkboard” and map out your story (think mindmapping meets writing)

eBOOK or printed book DESIGN tools

  1. Pages – a full-featured word processor and a beautiful design tool all in one. Comes with templates or design your own (Mac only)
  2. InDesign–  the gold standard (and priced accordingly), if you’ve got the time to learn it and don’t mind the investment, then try it. Or, hire a pro.
  3. Book Design Basics – a series of blog posts about book design; starting with tips on margins and leading
  4. Non-Designer’s Design Book, The (3rd Edition)(affiliate link) – a clearly-written guide to design


  1. Calibre – free conversion software; supports lit, mobi, epub, text, and pdf formats. It reads the pdf, mobi file, etc. and saves it to epub format
  2. Sigil – a free WYSIWIG epub editor. Works on different platforms, lets you edit without making a mess
  3. Create ebooks for free – a  detailed (and somewhat techie) how-to article
  4. Anthologize  – turn your blog content into an ebook (free tool from the National Endowment for the Humanities).


  1. Lulu – print-on-demand and ebook publishing packages. Pay to have your book formatted, published, and printed. Or, publish as an ebook and share the revenue with Lulu. Physical book publishing packages include purchase of ISBN (bookstore catalog number)
  2. Amazon Ebook Publishing – format and publish your book for Kindle readers
  3. Smashwords – publish your ebook and distribute it to the Apple, Barnes&Noble, and Sony E-readers store (as well as Smashwords’ own site); includes ISBN number
  4. ISBN numbers – a unique identifier that helps bookstores and libraries catalog and sell books. You won’t need this to sell directly or on Amazon.  You will need it if you are going to sell your book in retail stores, or on other platforms (like ibooks).

create your own BOOK COVERS

  1. Create Ebook covers with Photoshop – a complete tutorial with templates
  2. BoxShot 3D –  create your own book covers, CD covers, and brochure covers


  1. Digital Color Meter – Mac-only color identification tool
  2. Firefox Colorzilla plugin – identifies colors on web pages (not documents though)
  3. Color Scheme Designer – choose complementary colors for your site or ebook
  4. Color Hunter – color palettes generated from images
  5. – color palettes with HTML codes and color search (find schemes that include a particular color)
  6. ColourLovers Palettes – over 1,000,000 user-generated color schemes (includes web codes and RGB codes for printing)

Free Website Icons

  1. Dryicons – free blog or website icons: social sharing, flowers, e-commerce, sports, and holidays
  2. Icon Archive – icons of all shapes and sizes, plus a really cool sliding search feature
  3. Iconfinder – free icons for your blog or web site
  4. Stock icons – free and royalty-free stock icons
  5. Icon dock – free icons, from shiny to origami, and holidays
  6. Chocolate obsession icons – icons that look like chocolate!

Web Font Finders

  1. Linotype font finder – font identification (answer a few questions and voila!); I used this to match my brother’s wedding invitation font
  2. Font Factory – choose the right font based on what you want to do with it (brochure, business card, website, etc).
  3. My Fonts – find a font, choose one by type of project, or just try one out before you buy it

Website buttons

  1. How to make buttons in Photoshop – step-by-step instructions for making website buttons
  2. Button Maker – free tool for making your own call to action buttons (choice of colors, fonts, and shapes)


  1. Bounceapp – use this for website design changes, editing suggestions, and feedback
  2. Instant Website Review – are you making these common web marketing mistakes?
  3. Web launch checklist – fill in the blanks on the form and see if you’ve missed anything
  4. We-we calculator – focusing on yourself too much? or just enough?
  5. Unbounce – easily design and test different landing pages. Free 30-day trial


  1. NASA – photos of space
  2. The National Forest Service – free nature photos
  3. NOAA – US weather agency nature photos
  4. Flickr Commons – public domain photos from libraries and universities
  5. Freefoto – beautiful free stock photos of nature, cities, food, and holidays (email to clarify usage; the terms are a bit confusing)
  6.  PixelPerfect – use as you like, except for logos, and you can’t sell the image itself.
  7. Public domain images – sorted by type (nature, food, computers, flags, etc.)
  8. Digifeld – a collection of flowers, plants, fish, buildings, and vintage cars
  9. Compfight –  Flickr search, by license, and by size


  1. Veer – more quirky and interesting than standard stock, with prices starting at $1
  2. Shutterstock – royalty-free photos (pay once and keep using them)
  3. Dreamstime – stock photography (royalty-free, meaning you pay once and you’re done)


  1. Basecamp – keep track of each stage of your project, make edits, and keep files all in one place
  2. Dropbox – share large files too big to send through email; you can also use this for cloud backup, but don’t rely entirely on it (just in case someone else is cheating, e.g., the Megaupload debacle)
  3. Trello – virtual project”bulletin board”, looks like a good tool for people (like me) who think visually (sure beats spreadsheets)
  4. Mockingbird – web-based program that lets you quickly create application mock-ups and share them
  5. Balsamiq – create and modify web and app designs in real time


  1. Wordoid – create a name for your site, product, or service
  2. Nameboy – domain name generator

Miscellaneous Tools

  1. Email on Acid – preview your HTML email in multiple email apps
  2. Infographic generator – infographics are hot; make them without fussing
  3. Timeline – easy interactive timeline generator
  4. One share – email that self-destructs (if you have to send passwords or other sensitive information) – my friend John Furst calls it the “Mission Impossible” tool.

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Getting Raving Fans for Your Business

Inferno fans

Image via Wikipedia

I was listening to a webinar the other day with Peter Shankman of HARO (Help a Reporter Out).  Peter’s got 188,000 people on his email list, and mails three times a day.  He said he had an open rate of over 70% (pretty phenomenal for such a frequent mailer). His fans love his emails.

All creative types (and bloggers) want fans.  We want people to like us, to leave comments, and eagerly await what we write.  We want editors who never, ever kill our darling, favorite phrases. Clients who love our web designs, and never, ever spend an hour arguing over whether a design should be predominantly red or blue.

But, we know that may not happen.  Certainly not all the time.

What we can do

We can’t all be Peter (darn), but is there anything we can do? What makes readers (and potential clients) respond?

  • Random rewards?
  • Giveaways?
  • Personal stories about successes (or even failures)?
  • Shoutouts?
  • Something else?

What other techniques can you think of?  What have you tried? And which of them worked?

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A Simple Headline Writing Tip That Gets More Readers

numbers in headlines
Want to hear a simple headline writing tip? It’s become extraordinarily popular recently, but the truth is that this headline secret has been used since the days of Claude Hopkins in the 1920s to get readers to stop and take notice.

It’s really easy too. And, it doesn’t even involve using words.

So, try these headlines on for size:

“8 Habits of Highly Effective Copywriters”

This works because it promises something short (only eight items to remember) and offers a big promise.  Learn a few new habits and your writing will be far more effective. The unspoken payoff is that you’ll then earn more and get more clients.

“How to Write a Blog Post in 15 Minutes”

This headline offers to help you do something hard (write a blog post) and cut the time needed to a fraction of what you probably expected it to take.

“Increase Your Blog Subscription Rate by 153%”

This promises specific, definite results.  Not just 150%, but 153. The exact number makes the claim far more credible.

“103 Ways to Get Top Bloggers to Link to You”

We want more links because links can bring more traffic and more clicks.  Offering over a hundred different ways to do it, and telling us that we can not only get those links, but receive them from top bloggers is a compelling promise.

15 Marketing Terms You Need to Know

What do these headlines all have in common? They have numbers in them. I know, everyone “hates” list posts, but they do get people to stop and look. And, the secret to successful marketing isn’t what you personally prefer. It’s what works.

Why numbers work

Numbers work because they force us to focus – and because they give us a finite, concrete sounding example of something; only 15 minutes to write a great post, or 103 ways to get noticed by blogging superstars.  Spend a few minutes reading these tips and you’ll get something concrete and important when you’re finished.

The more specific the number, the better.  For example, if you increased your subscription rate by 153%, don’t round it down to 150%, the “odd’ number looks more believable.

Lists and checklists

Lists help us process information and tell our brains that we’re getting a reward. A short list tells us that we can find out something useful in just a few minutes. A longer one shouts that it’s definitive and comprehensive.

A list called “five steps to getting clients on Facebook” tells us that if we just do five things, we’ll be able to turn our Facebook efforts into a powerful marketing tool. “101” Copywriting Tricks” promises information that will make our writing better and more effective, all in an easy-to-follow format.  Just go through the list and you’ve accomplished something big.

Bullet points and lists may be the “fast food” equivalent of post writing, but they’re easier to read (and finish) than a gourmet meal of long paragraphs.

Just follow the list! You’re now a better writer, a twitter guru, or irresistible to reporters.
And, who can resist something that will make you irresistible?

Image by Daniel Ullrich via Flickr

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How to Write Copy That Fascinates Your Readers

fascinating bullet points

Are your bullet points so fascinating they can keep a baby’s attention?

There’s a little-known fascinating copywriting trick used by top copywriters and direct marketers such as Mel Martin, Eugene Schwartz, Boardroom, and Agora.

Direct mail may be considered old-fashioned by some, but the writing techniques developed decades ago by top copywriters still work. And, they also work online.

One of these old tricks is fascinations.  They’re called “fascinations” because you just can’t resist reading them.

What’s so fascinating about fascinations?

Fascinations are simply little bullet points. Bullet points by themselves are not particularly interesting, but these are different.  They’re specially constructed to make you curious, to tease, and to tempt you to read more (much more).

The key to writing a successful fascination bullet is to state a fact and then add a benefit. Sounds simple, right?

It is simple.

how to write Fascinating copy

First, keep your bullet points short.  Just write a single line, or two at most.  The goal is to make the bullets quick and easy to read.  You don’t want to slow people down or confuse them.  Don’t use subheadings or run-on sentences with lots of commas.  Edit them ruthlessly.

The bullet points don’t even have to be complete sentences.  You want your copy to be easy to read and easy to scan.

Think of them as “mini-headlines”: short, attention-grabbing, and so compelling that your visitors can’t stop themselves from reading further.

Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • bills it’s OK to pay late
  • the one thing you should never eat on an airplane
  • try this weird old (________) tip*
  • how to quit sending queries and have business come to you
  • the decades-old copywriting technique that still works today

*fill in the blank with the topic of your ad, such as retirement planning, IT management, etc. and yes, it’s been abused in the age of BuzzFeed, but that’s because it works.

All of these promise inside information that will make your life easier.

First they make a statement, and then they add a surprising twist the reader wasn’t expecting.

Two great practitioners of this art were Mel Martin and Bill Jayme.  They’re both gone, but there are two places you can see examples of their work:

Mel Martin swipe file

Bill Jayme swipe file (this one asks you to buy a CD collection, but you don’t have to, just read the page).

Why Fascinations work

They arouse your curiosity.  They almost tell you something – but not quite.  The only way to find out what those bills are, or the secret weird tip is to click the link, subscribe to the newsletter, or open the envelope.

What do you think about fascinations?  Have you ever tried them?

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