Episode #149 – Kim Schwalm On Control-Busting Secrets To Freelance Copywriting Freedom
She worked her way up inside a marketing company…
Using what she calls the “stair-step” approach.
After working on shorter copy projects she was finally given
She broke through when she defeated a direct-response legend.
Then she defeated a titan from the copywriting Mount Rushmore and his 7-year control.
She has become known as a control-busting force and one of the best copywriters on the planet.
All that and raising a family too!
Her story is amazing and she delivers on this episode.
So sit-down…plug in…
And shorten your learning curve for getting to the very top of the profession.
In this episode, you’ll discover:
- The “Godzilla” start to her long-form copy career and how to put yourself in the way of opportunity.
- How she defeated two copywriting legends and sent her stock through the roof. (After previous Boardroom brush-offs!)
- The one book NOBODY told her about when she worked at Phillips Publishing. (If you haven’t read it yet – get on it)
- One tip for freelancers that could rescue you from your parents basement while you get paid.
- The illegal lengths she went to in acquiring the absolute best knowledge. She was actually in the room when this legend gave his famous presentation.
Intro and outro backing music: Forever More by CREO
David Allan: Hey Everybody We’re back with another exciting edition of the podcast and we have a very special guest today. One of the A-list copywriters in the entire world. She’s the first female to ever get to control at Boardroom. And I’m really excited to talk to her about the new things she’s developing right now as well as all her control busting secrets. Kim Schwalm How are you?
Kim Schwalm: I’m doing great, David. Good to see you.
David Allan: Awesome awesome to have you on the show. So I guess the first thing we like to do on the show is we like to go back to how you got yourself all wrapped up in this mess – your superhero origin story if you will – give us what you were involved in before and then up to the present. How ever you wanna tell it.
Kim Schwalm: Sure. Well I always knew I wanted to get into marketing but I kind of took some detours along the way and ended up working at a health insurance company pretty much right out of college and I was actually in the actuarial department because I was a math major of all things and finally got an opportunity to apply for a marketing job in a new division or newly created division of the company. That was I had always been there had been this money losing dog you know with you know being a nonprofit insurance company they had to offer insurance to everybody and even the bad risk but they brought this guy in who had a really strong direct marketing background and he saw a huge opportunity and he hired me. And you know being such a small department we know I got to wear every sort of hat you know from building a marketing database to learning how to write copy. And we ended up within three years. We turned that into the most profitable division of the company and actually split off into a for profit subsidiary. So I got exposed to a whole whole lot of direct marketing then and then I after some other detours there I ended up at Philips publishing which I don’t know if you know of Philllips publishing It’s no longer called that but it’s for several years it was considered one of the you know direct marketing powerhouses and has 100 million dollar company just built on newsletters you know selling very all sorts of niche oriented newsletters and direct to consumer newsletters all had personalities or gurus behind them. So I got in there in the early 90s and it was just when alternative health was taking off. They had launched a hugely successful newsletter at the right time that quickly grew to more than 300,000 subscribers partly due to Clayton Makepeace writing a kick ass launch promo and they brought me in to help scout out and you know market products the inserts to the back end because they knew there was this you know huge audience that wanted to follow his advice to make a long story short after six months what we found is that they really wanted his vitamins. And so I launched a supplement subsidiary called healthy directions. Actually came up with the name – wrote all the copy to launch it you know worked with a team of people within three months we had a business within three years it was $23 million in sales just going to the backend. And so you know so. So I’ve been in marketing jobs you know at least 13 years of marketing spring and I want a few other areas of the company but then I launched my first child and then I came back and it’s another part of the company but at that point I was really starting to think you know these copywriters have a pretty nice life. I mean we were you know the company worked with the very best you know A-level copywriters back when you know Clayton Makepeace, Gary Bencivenga when he was writing, Jim Rutz when he was still alive you know and I actually worked with some people when they were up and coming writers like Parris Lampropoulous and David Deutsch – you know kind of it’s kind of funny to think they were up and coming. Yeah. So anyway you know I just I remember having a conversation with my father I was like just a few months along in my pregnancy and unfortunately he was he had been diagnosed with with cancer which you know passing away a few months later that he was like you know maybe you should think about given that copwriting thing to try and so I took the leap. And here I am 19 years later.
David Allan: Wow, that’s a great story. Working alongside up and coming people of the caliber you mentioned – that should be good for people to hear – because everybody starts somewhere…
Kim Schwalm: Everybody starts somewhere and you know one thing I learned early on you should like working at Philips is like even the successful copywriters will have promo’s they write that either don’t work well or they don’t – You know they don’t beat the control me going have one control typically right. So you know people lose. And it’s OK. I mean no one bats a thousand and so that made me not feel like I totally sucked. You know when you know I did something to beat that control I mean you know it happens it happens to seasoned copywriters sometimes it has nothing to do with the copy but sometimes it’s just not the right approach.
David Allan: So you’ve come renowned for beating controls. You were the first female to have a control at Boardroom, so maybe tell us a little bit a bout that and how exciting that was for you.
Kim Schwalm: Yeah so I mean so you know I think I just told the story yesterday of somebody but you know I left Phillips and I had a you know I’d already established a good reputation within the company as being able to write copy. But I had to work my way up to getting to the point that I could write the you know the more high dollar royalty potential promotions I didn’t just walk into that because I always had written shorter length promos. And it’s actually something I highly recommend. Most people do. I mean I think it’s kind of unrealistic to think that you’re going to go from you know not writing copy at all or you know you know and then just suddenly you’re going to write this like you know full you know full blown you know long form copy and expect to get royalties out of the gate. I mean that’s that’s kind of a pipe dream. You know I kind of have to work. It’s just like anything you don’t just go to college and become like you know Vice President you know. So the reality is even with my seasoned career you know at Philips and my many successes I had to figure out what how do you do this long form copy and you know there wasn’t like an AWAI back then and there wasn’t you know people who would take me under their wing and coach me or you know so you know I had that just kind of figure it out and I had – So I had plenty of work right out of the gate. You know doing a lot of short copy renewals you know you name it I did a lot of work with former employer and finally I got a chance with working with KCI which was a big publisher of financial investment newsletters. I heard some very successful renewal campaigns and other types of backend campaigns. So they gave me a whack at writing a promo. I know you’re asking about Boardroom but I want to get to that. So because it’s funny because I also knew Brian Kurtz from boardroom you know just when I worked for said I had run into him around that time at a conference and I was like hey you know I’m a copywriter now and he was like OK whatever and kinda brushed it off until I was like, oh well… and you know that’s bad enough like I was at that awkward likeI was pregnant with a second child and I was like four months along. So it’s kind of like well if you’re pregnant or is she fat? you know you just kind of be you know the guy I like and what I really am. You’re feel like a big you know big L your forehead right. And so anyway my good friends at KCI said hey we’ll give you a whack at you know our flagship newsletter you know writing long form promos so I’m cool. You know let me give it a try. Rookie mistake. I am like yeah I kind of think outside the box I’ve got this crazy. You know it’s going to be brilliant right. Breakthrough idea and I convinced them to let me put like a big Godzilla like right on the front cover with this you know the monster that ate the economy or something and it actually didn’t do terrible. I mean I don’t think it did very well and it certainly did not beat the control and guess who had the control right then? Jim Rutz had the control. He had a killer control, alright. So I’m like OK well you know who beats Jim Rutz first time out. So like six seven months later though KCI said hey you know give you another whack at that. So like OK let’s take a little more conservative approach here. You know really like some of the other stuff that’s working out there. I ended up doing more of like an issue log and was just like looks kind of like an issue. Looks like valuable stuff doesn’t look like junk mail. You know but all you know is all direct response copy. And then that package beat Jim Rutz and I was like. Yes I was. That was like my big thing right. So then the marketing director I worked with at KCI shortly after that went to a financial roundtable meeting where all the publishers and marketers meet up and you know trade secrets and stuff. And Brian Kurtz runs and it was like well who’s got your personal finance control and he’s like Kim Krause-Schwalm and he’s like Brian could not call me fast enough so he get me dialed up on my cell phone and I’m like who you know say do you want to come write for Boardroom. I’m like sure you know.
Finally – And so then I was when I got a chance to write a promo for Tax Hotline and Parris Lampropoulos had had the control for seven years and I beat that. And so that’s how I got to be the first female copywriter to get a Boardroom control that is you know get it’s all stepladder approach it’s like you don’t take that first job out of college thinking OK that’s going to be the dream job you like. You know what did those three or four things I need to do to get to that dream job right. So that’s how I got to that point.
David Allan: That’s a very good story and you know those are some legendary people that you put down along the way – so to speak…
Kim Schwalm: We all write so many promos and you know and there are and there’s and I will say and I’ve had people now who say I beat Kim Krause’s control you know and that’s you know and that’s all good. And you know sometimes you beat it when they’re fairly fresh and you know still mailing strong sometimes you beat them when they’ve been old and out there and fatigued you know. So much which habit they are you know they’re all you know people copywriters that I highly highly respect. And so it’s just it’s nice. And people always like to focus on that. But you know I think I think it is important for women to see that they can compete in this same arena and there are many women who are right now. I mean it’s…which is great.
David Allan: Now you stated that you didn’t really have someone to take you under their winglike a lot of people do have now – and of course there’s people teaching copywriting all over the place. Probably much to some people’s demise, in some cases. For you, what sort of approach did you take to learn and get better when you were just learning yourself. Read the old books? Wrote out stuff by hand? Some of the things people say to do – what was your approach?
Kim Schwalm: Well I didn’t know about writing out things by hand that probably would have been a pretty cool thing. I did study and read. You know things that were in the mail and back then when I got started it was mostly direct mail. I mean I did do some online thing is that there wasn’t anything like today you know. It was I got myself on as many mailing lists as possible and as soon as I just meant you had to order something through the mail like I would buy supplements which was fine of always took a ton of supplements anyway and I’ll get the latest love going out to my mailbox and just ooh look at all the stuff you know and I still have detailed files you know with all sorts of samples that you know that was always great to see what’s out there mailing what’s working reading and studying s – if I was writing a joint promo looking at getting some ideas inspiration. You know just you know just kind of learn. Know I knew enough about it having you know all those years of marketing and I also know working with writing copy and doing marketing at Philips and healthy directions so I knew enough to like. Oh ok. Like I get that now like I know why they went out on the front cover or whatever. So you know just you know constantly looking at what was working. The other thing you know I’m almost embarrassed to say but you know in all my years of working at Phillips like no one said you know you really ought to read Claude Hopkins…Really? So I literally I think it was like the first week that I started my freelance career I got and I still have it on my bookshelf. You know scientific advertising in my life in advertising and I read that and I was like wow this just now I know why I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing. Now I can understand you know why this work and that didn’t work and that you I mean it just put it all together. And then one of my first clients get to about Breakthrough Advertising by Gene Schwartz.
Now I had actually been in the room when Gene Schwartz visited Phillips publishing and you’ve heard about this legendary talk that he gave I think some people sell it. Like I don’t know. For $1000. Yes. I was actually in the room before smartphones and I would love to have recorded it. There were only about 30 or 40 of us in it making all the people in marketing and management at Philips and you know Gene Schwartz came out and he spent this whole day heard the Butte Montana story – the timer with the 33 minutes and all that stuff if you’ve ever seen that Gene Schwartz transcript . I knew who Gene Schwartz is. So my client was like oh this is a great book but it’s been out of print for a while and I mean it was like silent for nine hundred ninety seven dollars on line I’m not going to pay that. So I literally took and this is illegal and I don’t Brian Kurtz can shoot me or arrest me. But I took I still have like I took the book and I literally photocopied every page. And I still have it. You know and I had like five or six copies now with the book you know from going to different things. But I when I when I go sit down to write copy and I want to refer to it I love my marked up post you know my little white my illegal copy my bootleg copy of Breakthrough Advertising. So that’s my you know I love that so. So you know there were some books that I just found incredibly valuable and just looking at the copy that was working. And then there were some few things that I did go to when I get a few things out like something to the direct marketing association on copywriting. Luckily it’s back when Herschell Gordon Lewis was teaching some of that and he was an amazing person to learn from you know just early on just some of the copy stuff. And you know words he’s such a wordsmith I mean he you know he passed away last fall as you may know. But you know you know that’s how I learn and I did have a few people who were very generous that you know looked at my copy. There was a guy Bob Hutchinson looked look at some copy that I wrote for a client gave me my ideas for a new approach that ended up netting me a controlled mail for 10 plus years. And then Don Houptman who was with profer write for Phillips and other major companies I’m sure he has retired by now but a few times he looked at my promos and he always refused to take any money so I would just ply him with you know nice food baskets and gifts and stuff like that. But you know some people did help out but there wasn’t. You know like I said that wasn’t like mentoring programs or you know things that I knew about anyway.
David Allan: Well that’s great. Now. That’s you know people listen to this. That’s an excellent. Those books you mention of course are the – Be all and end all that people recommend. That’s an amazing story about your photocopying…that’s great. You know for you personally that you you know talk about Gene Schwartz he sort of had that rigid way of sitting down and setting the egg timer and doing oh I kind of think for 33 minutes and 33 seconds or whatever that you have to have a structure to the way you approached it like was it a daily sort of slight edge thing where you went out every day sort of you know keeping yourself fresh or was it more haphazard you know. All over the place.
Kim Schwalm: I’d say it’s somewhere in between. What I found is I tend to have my most productive writing time in the morning. So that’s why I tend to schedule things like this podcast or other meetings or calls in the afternoon. But I’m finding too sometimes you know afternoon to be really good. I mean my life used to be a bit different. You know I. I one of the reasons I decide aside from loving copywriting and wanting the financial opportunity that it affords. You know I got into this right around the time I started having kids so I have and I always had childcare. You know when they were younger they did you know preschool and of course they did school. I didn’t home school them for crying out because you know I mean nothing wrong with that but I mean you know you can’t do two full time jobs at once right. So. So my schedule was often dictated by my family responsibilities in getting people up in the morning getting them off to school getting the dog walked you know etc. etc.. And I finally can get to my desk. I mean if it is up to me I would literally roll up if I could do it. I would roll out of bed. Probably just walk 20 feet to my upstairs you know spare bedroom office and I would just start writing because I do just kind of wake up in the morning and if I could get up an hour or two earlier I would do that except I always stay up too late. So you know so I would just say that it’s kind of has depended on that but that’s come down more in the last few years because my oldest is off to college. My other child is a junior in high school and she’s very independent except you know she still likes me to drive her to school but we’re working on that with the driver’s license. And just right to ask computer except for my dog should be looking at me like you’re going to walk me first you know.
David Allan: That’s great. Now for people just getting into this first year or so into their freelance career. Lots of things you know we talk about things you did Did you think she should be helped you get to work. Maybe a little bit differently. Are there any sort of steps something people take now to sort of set them in a direction and cut that learning curve. Cut that time – maybe you wasted some time. Certain things weren’t productive or whatever. Just some tips for people.
Kim Schwalm: Well I mean you know depends on where people are in their lives and their careers. If you’re just starting out if you can work or if you don’t mind the idea of working for somebody else you don’t work for a company that’s like a powerhouse direct marketing company you’re going to you’re going to just get paid to learn you’re going to learn so much. And when you leave. Oh you used to work and that could be let me hire you you know because that’s kind of the advantage I got coming out of Phillips publishing and Healthy Directions was wow you know. A) I learned a ton B) I had so many connections mostly not enough people outside the company that I dealt with the people in the company because they would know people who needed somebody and refer me or they would leave the company and go somewhere else and hire me etc. etc.. So that was huge. Now I realize nobody wants to do that but I had one young man who was I was coaching who helped me out and who still live in his parents basement and you know very good copywriter good potential. But I certainly couldn’t spend full time trying to teach him you know everything that he needed to know. And I said you know why well you know as much as I love working with you maybe you want to look into one of these companies so you ended up getting a job at Agora and he’s learning a ton and he’s getting paid to do it and he’s got his own place. He does have to live with mom and dad any more it’s all good. It’s Yeah his parents probably owe me a thank you letter for getting him out of their basement…You know we’re talking about freelancers who want to be successful and you know there are many many many more resources now. You know there are courses you can take. I mean I’ve heard the accelerated six-figure copywriting course from AWAI is pretty good. I think there are a few others out there that people are coming out with. But just being a good self you don’t necessarily have to spend several hundred dollars. I mean and again several hundred dollars is not a huge investment. But when you think about the potential payback. But you know like I said these books and studying what’s out there and you know that can teach you a lot and then just start taking on some work. I mean I personally never did spec work and I kind of. I don’t really recommend it. I’ve yet to hear of why. Well I did spec and it worked out great. I don’t I mean maybe there’s stories like that and I’m sure you know but to me it’s like why would you give them give it away for free.
I don’t think …it kind of devalues you in the eye of somebody. So I would say you know even if it’s local stuff go to your local DMA chapter you know a direct marketing assistant here in the U.S. and I’m sure there are some other ones in Australia and other places and just network get some samples. Number one get your samples right. It doesn’t matter if people want to see have you actually written them before. And then you have something to show. So like one way that I broke into getting my first long form magalog you know I you know royalty type deal was. I had one client who he actually wrote all his own stuff and he actually had he’d studied under Ted Nicholas. I mean he was you not a bad copywriter and so he had a novella package she was using. And so I said you know this really might work well as a magalog and I can convert your copy and rework it and you know got all these ideas will turn into a magalog. And I just did it for a very low flat fee the you know no royalty but I got my sample right. And it actually did work better for him but more importantly I had a freakin’ printed magalog. So then someone called me from a supplement company in Florida and he’s like hey you know can I see your samples and I had my one little lowly sample but I sent it off. He hires me I got three times as much for that job plus royalties. This is one that ended up going on mailing for almost 10 years I wrote a promo for him. And so you know again step ladder approach
David Allan: So if people want to get in touch with you – you’ve given a lot of people a lot of stuff to think about – things I consider the absolute fundamentals – advancing their copywriting career, I think you’re an excellent template, so how do people get a hold of you personally and how do these women connect with you and obviously the Girl’s Club is a good way…
Kim Schwalm: OK so I have a website which I haven’t updated in like seven years but it does what’s my background info and my samples. And there is a way to contact me that way. Its kimschwalm.com. It’s k i m s c h w a l m dot com. And I also have like a little quick and dirty landing page. Put up a few months back and it’s at themarketingsuperpower.com. And if you go there I’ve got a free report and it’s for guys and gals. And you also get on my list and then you also will get an email within a day or two that will for the women you know invite them to join the Girl’s Club. Which is why I have a direct link to the Facebook page where you can go right to Facebook and you can look for the Girls Club. But just make sure you go to the right one because I know there are some out there actually up what they’re doing to me so but it’s the GirlsClub.club is sort of identifier on the Facebook page. And so but I would recommend go to the marketing super power dot com you’ll get a report called the A-list copywriters manifesto 7 success principles for creating winning promotions and has a real nice boiled down template for you know everything that you should do when you are sitting down to create a new promotion.
David Allan: Awesome. Well that’s very good thanks. Thanks for that Kim, you’ve given us a lot to think about today – some excellent stories and I really want to thank you for coming on the show.
Kim Schwalm: You’re welcome. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you, Dave.
David Allan: Everybody else – that was very good, you should go back and listen to it twice, if not more. Some of thing things she said in there are so important and we’ll be back with another exciting episode next week.