When I started as a copywriter in the late 1970s, there were almost no gurus offering training of any kind in copywriting, freelancing, or marketing.
Now the Internet is lousy with people offering you expensive courses in how to write killer copy, how to make six figures as a freelance copywriter, and how to make a million dollars in Internet marketing.
My concern is that because many of these teachers are unqualified and their programs worthless and overpriced, you will waste a lot of time and money on them unless I stop you.
So with that goal in mind, here are some guidelines for evaluating gurus and their programs in copywriting, freelancing, and Internet marketing.
1. Ask what products he or she has sold.
If the Internet teacher has only sold information and worse, only information on how to make money selling information online, run.
You want a teacher who has experience selling real, physical products as well as electrons.
2. Is he or she active in the field?
I talk to a lot of hotshot young copywriters who run coaching groups where they teach their followers to write “killer” copy.
When I ask these young pseudo-gurus who they write for, they invariably reply, “Oh, I don’t work with clients any more. I just write for my own products.”
You get and stay good as a copywriter by constantly writing for a wide range of clients, products, and offers. If the guru no longer writes for clients, I submit that he is becoming stale and losing value.
Ask the copy guru to name some of his current clients and promotions. If they say “I don’t write for clients,” move on.
3. Does he or she offer low-cost/no-cost advice and materials?
If the only product available is a $3,000 big box course or a $2,000 a month coaching club with a 6-month minimum, this guru’s primary passion is extracting as much money as he can from unwary newbies, not education.
There’s nothing wrong with selling expensive info products; I recently did a $2,500-a-head weekend seminar and plan a couple more for 2015. But you can buy my 350-page paperback book on copywriting for $15 and read dozens of my marketing articles for free on my site.
A good strategy for you if you are on a shoestring budget is to go to the websites of multiple gurus and download and read the ton of content that awaits you there. Often the free stuff is as good or better than the paid stuff.
4. Is he an egomaniac…and would that bother you?
One copy and marketing guru stares angrily from the screen wearing dark glasses and a do-wrap, looking tediously groovy. He also brags about using the f-word in his writing and speeches, which apparently he thinks makes him look like a cool rebel.
A lot of gurus today cultivate a deliberate image, usually one of rebellious hipster, and if you like that, fine, but if you don’t, steer clear.
“I sometimes wonder where this whole notion of marketing rebel, kick-ass copywriting, take-no-prisoners copy, killer, ninja, guerilla, warrior foolishness began in the first place,” says ace copywriter Rich Armstrong.
“Some of these Internet guys have put together a small community who seem to like this writing, and if they can make a living doing this, more power to them.
“But if they aspire to be a freelance copywriter working for the nation’s biggest and best direct-response marketing clients…well, that’s my world, and I can tell you for a fact these guys wouldn’t survive 5 minutes there.”
5. Is he or she accessible?
If you send me an e-mail, I respond. If you call, I pick up my own phone.
This is in sharp contrast to many Internet and copy gurus who have an impenetrable wall of caller ID and autoresponders to keep their fans at a distance.
I would be very hesitant to spend a lot of money with a teacher who makes me jump through hoops to ask him a simple question or two.
6. What is the guarantee?
Do not buy from gurus with conditional guarantees on their products.
A conditional guarantee is one where you have to demonstrate that you used the system correctly before the seller will grant you a refund.
The problem with conditional guarantees is the seller invariably says you didn’t do something correctly and therefore cannot get a refund.
Only buy from gurus who offer unconditional guarantees, meaning you can return the product for any reason or even no reason at all and get a full and prompt refund, no questions asked.
Bob Bly is the author of “World’s Best Copywriting Secrets” and has written copy for more than 100 companies including IBM, Boardroom, Medical Economics and AT&T. He is the author of more than 75 books and a columnist for Target Marketing, Early To Rise and The Writer. McGraw-Hill calls him “America’s top copywriter”.