Episode #150 – Bnonn Tennant On Going Backwards To Move Your Copy Skills Forward

by John McIntyre

He started by building a website for his friend.

Realizing that “something” needed to actually fill the design he created…

He started cracking the old copy books.

You’ve read ’em, right?

Claude Hopkins – John Caples – the classics.

In learning the traditional way and attempting to teach it to others…

He found that students struggled and faltered.

So he set about creating a different way to expose people to
the world of writing copy.

What he discovered was more than a little backward.

So crumple up your preconceptions and toss ’em away.

It can take a new perspective to create continued growth.

In this episode, you’ll discover:

  • How to avoid the many problems of copy-writing with this simple alternative. (Same thing taught by email superstar Matt Furey)
  • How to pull off the hardest aspect of any copy project by changing where you start.
  • The one freelance copywriting tip you can use to stop problem clients dead in their tracks.
  • 5 red flags that should keep you from working with 97.5% of bad clients.
  • Ferret out this one thing clients want and save yourself hours of frustration.

Email Marketing Podcast Episode 150


Intro and outro backing music: Forever More by CREO

David Allan: Hey everybody, back for another edition of a podcast interview for you I think this is going to be good because we’re actually talking to somebody who’s in the future and that is because of the time difference between here in California and New Zealand is so great that he’s actually on I guess it would be Friday already. Is that right now are you going to have to tell me how to pronounce your name before I give a crack at it.

Bnonn Tennant: Fair enough. So my name Bnonn (pronounced Non).

David Allan: You know that’s what I was going to say. So I feel very good about myself. Excellent Bnonn Tennant, you’re in New Zealand and you’re a marketing specialist. We sort of met through a circuitous route, a person we have in common and it’s been a while I had you pegged for a guest a long time ago. But like anything of course we get caught up and those lists go missing and you know you sort of weave your way back around because I don’t really know that much about you either. Maybe we’ll start with your sort of superhero origin story you can tell us how you got this whole marketing thing that brings you up to today.

Bnonn Tennant: Sure. Well my origins story starts in the pit of hell. An IT department. It’s where I had been working for seven or eight years and it got to the point that it was going to be some kind of postal or rooftop incident if I kept working that great at that time I had a good friend who runs a business to run the business is doing data recovery and he was complaining to me about the price of getting any website done and I had been dabbling in web design and I’d been writing as a hobby for a long time and I said to him you know I can do that website cheaply. And so I did. And then I thought to myself you know if I can pay for the website and he’ll pay for it like they do it for other people. And that was what happened. And of course I started out with design but as soon as I got into it I got clients I was like. So do you have any copy to put into this design that I made you and they would kind of look at me like what. No idea what they what I was about any of them that they would need to be some kind of and come to you and so I thought hey you know I been writing for ages I can do this I can do this. And so I I bought you know Ogilvy on Advertising and Tested Advertising Methods and taught myself copywriting and moved on from the great old copywriters to the great new copywriters – a lot of Ben Settle’s work influenced me quite a lot. Just looking at what people do as well you are getting on a lot of email lists as well. And that’s where I am now.

David Allan: So you basically self-taught you didn’t really have a mentor you didn’t have anybody that you didn’t like…

Bnonn Tennant: I didn’t no, I’ve always been it’s kind of my greatest strength and my greatest weakness. In fact just yesterday or the day before I realized that my insistence on teaching myself everything is what is holding me back at this point because I have a really good not to blow my own trumpet but it’s really good online course on copywriting I’m like in this process of trying to teach myself how to create online courses and sell them really successfully. And I’m in the process of also helping Danny Iny with his course builders laboratory launch. And I watched his webinar and he is a really good salesman. But his webinar was so good and I thought you know what he’s saying here is absolutely right. I’ve tried to teach myself to be an expert in something I don’t even want to be an expert in. Why don’t I just hire him to do it for me. So I joined I joined the program and I was proposing.

David Allan: That’s great. I think that’s an important topic to bring up. It’s like just as you were saying that I felt some kinship with you because I think I’m one of those people too. I much prefer. And whether it’s for me it might even be arrogance or whatever to think I should be able to learn this. And I’m just being naturally curious which is why I got into copywriting in the first place. I think it’s just I’m a professional magician too. So the psychological aspects of magic really made me more aware of how people act differently usually helpful for any kind of psychology of this persuasion stuff hey you really really get a backstage pass to how the world really works. And then it got me interested in copywriting because I actually found out that something I had bought was written by someone who was actually famous in copywriting Gary Halbert, and that sort of put me down the dark rabbit hole of marketing copy writing which I’ve yet to recover from. So you started building these web sites and then you didn’t realize they had to put actual stuff on there that would actually persuade people to do what they wanted. So you started studying some of these classic books and were just sort of take it from there that you go out and use these web site clients to start to copy business. Or did you go strictly freelance you know and just copywriting and leave the website stuff behind?

Bnonn Tennant: I kind of combined it really became something of my selling point for a while because there are a lot of copywriters who can do web design as well and well the ones that I’ve seen don’t do it very well. And the same is true of design as you know there’s a lot of web designers who can create good content for your site and understand the principles of you know this is. This is one of my big gripes with most web designers is that they’re not all that a website is a business asset. It’s more like a billboard to say my website is just something that has kind of looked pretty to impress people whereas I was always even before I got copywriting I understood that in a website has to actually make clients and said I want it to pay for itself.

David Allan: It seems like a strange concept to some people. I’ve had that same conversation many times myself

Bnonn Tennant: So for quite a while I would I would focus on both web design and copy and people would come to me for that. People still do have people that sometimes just recently ended up working for a guy in real estate but also being moving more into the copy side of things because of the fact that I want to teach my dad to teacher and my mom’s a librarian so I got it in the blood I guess I really want to be able to help people do it themselves because obviously there’s only so much that I can do for people. And actually our mutual friend is what really got me into that because she was kind of the first student that I had. And so that was how things moved and because I found that web design was really difficult to teach the average solopreneur which is who I wanted to help. Most of them just don’t have the inclination and the ability to do it that most people can write copy if you give them some good pointers because writing copy is not fundamentally different from cooking.

David Allan: It’s a very very important point. People just getting into it like I got into copywriting through email marketing and you mentioned off air before we started this Ben Settle has been a big influence on you and it was on me as well and he was on the show here just recently.

David Allan: But I got started with a course put out by Matt Furey and Matt Furey one of the things that I always sort of stuck with me was he would say you write-Talk. Talk-write. You know and I remember thinking that that’s just you know and there has been occasions where I have just dictated stuff into a recorder and then written it.

Bnonn Tennant: That’s actually what I recommend to my clients when they first start copywriting is if you’ve got this kind of mental hurdle that school has instilled in you over the course of like 12 years that writing is this really difficult thing that requires special rules and you going to fail in the write…Just talk and then write down to this yeah and then write it down afterwards.

David Allan: Yeah, transcribe it, exactly. No, that’s it’s a very good tip. But I think especially I think you may have a different opinion on this than I do. But for me e-mail was like a very easy inroad into copywriting because I think when I first learned about email marketing and I was like I can do this like this. So you know especially after Matt Furey made it so awesomely simple and just straightforward and was just a great teacher in that regard. So I thought man this is pretty I don’t know very very simple and it just clicked with me very easily whereas you look at copywriting books and stuff. Sure some of the older ones I mean aside from the arcane language and so forth they can make it seem like a very overwhelming and difficult thing

Bnonn Tennant: You could kill a man with Drayton Bird’s Commonsense Digital Marketing. .

David Allan: Oh yeah exactly. I have a book sitting not far from me right now is like Direct Response Marketing That Works by Joan Strockmorton or something and I mean that’s a book you could kill somebody with. So it can. I mean I have seen this through podcasting about copywriting and having people contact me thusly, people do experience a degree of overwhelm when they’re trying to get into copywriting and sort of get their head around copywriting.

Bnonn Tennant: Well let me tell you one of the main reasons that happens is because most copywriting training starts with the headline because that’s the logical place to start at the top of the page. And what’s the hardest part to write on any piece, Dave?

David Allan: Yes, the headline [laughter]

Bnonn Tennant: So why get your students to do the hardest thing. So they don’t even know what they’re doing yet, that’s crazy. So I actually teach my students to start with a call to action. ‘Cause call to action shares about 80% of it’s DNA with a headline but it’s a very simple thing to understand compared to a headline. And there are so many ways you can do it compared to the millions of headline formulas out there. And I kind of move backwards through the piece and they get to the headline and by that stage they usually pretty much can do a much better job.

David Allan: Right then they probably have a good idea what it is by then too.

Bnonn Tennant: Yeah exactly.

David Allan: You know I think for me I think the first sort of “course”you know I stumbled across was Ken McCarthy’s course and what he had you do is start with bullets. Which is a headline essentially. So you know that was a good way I think for me to go and I was used to writing bullet points from email and stuff to it but not to the not to the degree. So that was sort of how I stair-stepped my way up into writing copy but call to action That’s a great way to do it. That’s a very you want to make it as easy as possible to get people not to feel that overwhelm.

Bnonn Tennant: Yeah, and to feel like they’ve made some kind of success early on as well otherwise there’s a high degree of probability they’re going to give up and probably one of my big bugbears is that there are a lot of great copywriters out there and they want to teach what they’re doing but they haven’t bothered to learn how people learn. And so they just teach the way that they teach themselves which unfortunately they are well-past the point of being able to know what to do.
David Allan: Yeah. Oh yeah. No I think that’s why I’ve come across that in interviewing all different copywriters and stuff too. I’ve really come across that they are they’ve taken some really interesting routes and sort of. So if you feel like that’s the way to do it which everyone of course does then yeah you can make it difficult because that’s their personal story. I mean that doesn’t necessarily have to be your story and certainly isnt’t necessarily the best way. I’m a big fan of one of your fellow countrymen Sean D’Souza and he has a lot of ideas and stuff. Well you know I’m sure came from elsewhere as well. But I first heard about the way people consume things you know and how you move somebody through products so that they actually use them. Those are big you know big things I think when you take some a standard do you know the most famous copywriting courses are a real pain in the ass because it’s hard to move through some of them and I found myself it was difficult to move through some of those courses for me it’s got to be difficult for pretty much everybody. And I’ve heard that from other people. So for you or you know were doing the website thing and then you got these copywriting to put in there. What are some of the ways that you read some of these books you mentioned when you taught yourself was sort of a backwards way if you want to call it. That’s a term we’re going to use to look backwards when you teach people now is that something you used to teach yourself or did you figure that out later kind of thing that later.

Bnonn Tennant: Kind of figured it out later – I honestly don’t remember exactly how I taught myself and as much as I was just devouring a lot of content and just trying to practice. I’m just you know writing as much as I could. And what I found was I had to say I’m a Christian and I’m really into theology and world views and apologetics that kind of thing. And I have a blog for that which I started several years before. And what I had discovered in the process of writing that blog was that when you write about stuff and try to teach it to other people you gain a way better understanding of it yourself. And so that was really what got me into the idea of teaching the first place. But as I was as I was learning this stuff I was trying to figure out how do I teach this back to someone because that was just the kind of mental model that I had put in place through that blog originally and that was just my work. And so I always try to bring everything back down to one of the fundamental principles of the fundamental principles fit together what are the connections here. And I get to decide – I have an analytical mind, I guess. And so I’m always trying to systemize stuff. So that was kind of how I moved in the direction of starting with the call to action. But my first attempt at teaching were not that way. My first attempts were pretty much the standard method which I see other people using because that was what I knew. And so once I started seeing the results that my students were getting and I realized that they were having issues early on – then I started thinking what am I missing here. Why. Why. Why all of these copywriting courses doing this if its not really effective. And so that was what moved me into learning about psychology and learning psychology actions. How did people actually absorb information what motivates them when they’re doing without learning how to teach them better. So on that kind of thing.

David Allan: Right. That’s excellent. I think that’s a good way of going about it. I thought about what I would do differently too of offering you know copywriting training or training to people to help them facilitate their way through whatever it is that maybe they’re trying to learn or whatever course they have already. So I looked at a number of them or been through quite a few of them. But yeah it’s it’s interesting the way people consume information. It’s interesting when you get down to sort of the the utopia of what you’d like to have happen and then what happens in the real world.

Bnonn Tennaant: You know they can write these amazing bullets and then they come back with this stuff that is super vague and you don’t even know what it’s talking about. It’s just getting that bad. You don’t want to break theirspirit. You don’t want to tell them that it’s terrible.

David Allan: Yeah. And I think to that that’s part of become part of – and this is a part of a lot of things. This is not just copywriting this is just anything you’re trying to learn is that there’s some of this you know some suffrage or something that goes on where people need to suffer in order to become good. Yeah and that’s become you know sort of a classic school model I guess that we grew up with and then it’s been applied to other things other courses and stuff where people get beaten up and beaten down before they go actually learn something and see people learn things very quickly and I have to go through that in other fields and so forth. So there’s got to be ways like you are attempting here to smooth that process that maximum effectiveness is reached.

Bnonn Tennant: I think that you’re right there is a certain amount of suffering that you have to go through. Yeah but adults tend to learn quite well. Through positive reinforcement as well. Do they actually want to do it. Right. So you know they really don’t need a lot of negative reinforcement.

David Allan: Yeah. You see you seem to hear that. I mean there’s a lot of people who say you know maybe it’s the sensitivity of the people because you know when I got criticism and stuff and still receive criticism from people who’ve been doing this longer than I have I always look at it as an opportunity to get better.

Bnonn Tennant: Definitely yeah. And I guess I would just I would just one obvious distinction between criticism and negative reinforcement. I think that the whole idea the whole mindset that criticism can be negative reinforcement is kind of pathological really. I’m so offended that somebody didn’t like what I wrote – it hurts me – grow up. Are you a kid? Take it as an opportunity to grow and get better.

Bnonn Tennant: Exactly. I don’t know who said it but you know there’s a quote out there somewhere about the that not being a failure it’s just a learning you know success or a learning experience.

Bnonn Tennant: Isn’t that Edison. I’ve learned 99 ways how not to make a lightbulb.

David Allan: He learned one way to steal it, though.

Bnonn Tennant: Always stealing from Tesla…

David Allan: Whole other topic but you know you’ve worked now of course because you’ve been in this for quite a while you’ve worked with a number of clients and so forth that’s something we get into a lot of the shows is working with clients and how to smooth that process how to protect yourself for us. A lot of our audience are freelance copywriters getting into it. I’m sure as I do and everyone is basically welcome to the show we’ve got some horror stories about things that have gone really sour.

Bnonn Tennant: One really comes to mind right away. So we get our horror stories. But if I had one tip that I would give freelancers and this would’ve prevented my horror story I think it’s this – don’t give free quotes. If someone wants to talk to you you’re the expert. So charge them to talk to you.
So what I do is when someone called me and says hey I’m interested in doing this project I reply back and I say that sounds really interesting the way I work is I charge $299 for a strategy session and that makes me evaluate exactly what you’re doing. See what’s working whats not what you want to be achieving and that is make recommendations that shooting from the hip and just assuming that everything that you say is exactly as it is. If that’s cool with you lets book a time and very seldom do I get someone saying no I don’t want to do that. When I do. It doesn’t bother me because I know that they weren’t going to be a good client and before I was doing that I would get “clients” who would get on the phone with me for an hour and a half talk strategy discuss everything under the sun and then they would get off the phone and I wouldn’t hear from them again and I would e-mail them and say hey you know what were you interested in going into this product. Ahead with this project you seem really keen and they’re like, no we’re going to get our guys in-house to do it. Thanks. So I basically just given them an hour and a half of free consulting on how to get their guys to solve the problem. So that’s just not a good business model.

David Allan: No it’s not. I think I think for me too. I mean I got into this through the conduit of Gary Halbert and so there was which I still didn’t adhere to stupidly of course too much my own regret is that he was very adamant about – and John Carlton being as you know a compatriot in some of these seminars I was able to watch the you know – all clients suck.

Bnonn Tennant: You know that’s John Carlton’s motto isn’t it?

David Allan: And John Carlton even in his one of his books I think I don’t remember which one but one of his books he says the best thing you can do if you’re going to do consulting is to be a dick. And I was like which is fine for me because I’m kind of a dick already. So I was kind of like OK I get a license to be a dick but really what he’s saying is exactly what you just said is you got to protect yourself because people will take advantage of you.

Bnonn Tennant: I mean you want to be someone who turns off the wrong kinds of prospects and turns on the right kind. And if you don’t know what the wrong kind of prospect is well you just just bottle around until you figure it out because they’ll figure it out sooner rather than later you will find that there are a lot of them out there that people don’t like to pay the people who micromanage the people who like to pay in really small installments. People who like to get free advice. You know those kinds of people. People who are never hapy.

David Allan: People who try to mark up your copy and send it back to you.

Bnonn Tennant: Oh my goodness.

David Allan: All those sort of classic because you come across and that’s all and it’s all those things and more when you’re operating at the level that Gary Halbert and John Carlton are operating at and it’s magnetised because it’s now or it’s magnified because now there’s so much money involved that people get really crazy. We had Ben Settle show not long ago when he mentioned the fact that Michael Senoff he had done some deals with early in his career and said to him I’m going to do a contract and you’re going to make you sign this Ben because I’m going to try and protect you even though you know it’s us in the partnership because when the money gets big people get weird.

Bnonn Tennant: Yeah that’s right.

David Allan: So I thought that was very good advice and yeah. So if people are – that’s the first thing you said was we want to set it up so that you’re paid for your time slot. None of this great information you’re letting on anybody who’s serious goes unpaid for. So what’s the next step?

Bnonn Tennant: Well the next step is that you actually have a strategy session. If so what would you want to call it. It doesn’t have to be a strategy session but you have your initial call and you work through what they’re doing and you just kind of take it from beginning to end and see what needs work and often people will contact you and they’ll say for example a copy for a new home page and your impulse is to write back and say sounds right that’ll be x y z dollars. Let’s get started. If you do that a good percentage of the time more often than not you’ll get halfway through the project and you realize this guy didn’t actually need a new home page. What he needed was this outcome and he thought that knew he was going to achieve it. So what are you doing in your initial call is to make sure that that doesn’t happen. You’re know finding out what is the outcome. He actually wants. And then because you’re the expert you say all right this is the way that I recommend we go and get this outcome. And often it’s not the way that they thought and often that’s actually to your advantage because not only does it help them to understand the problem but it shows that you are more than just a peddler of a commodity. You’re actually an adviser to them.

Bnonn Tennant: Well I’ve got an online course called Learn Copywriting Backwards and I’m actually working with as I mentioned, Danny Iny, in his course builders laboratory – every one of the problems that I’ve had to think about running back is that it’s just long. And a lot of people don’t want to learn everything that I teach and it’s kind of in that unhappy medium between being an advanced course that someone like you would want to take – It would be kind of a good refresher for someone like you a good perspective change. Maybe but it’s not going to teach you anything drastically new. And it’s also not really a total beginner course for someone who just wants to try to write copy because it’s too long. It’s four months. And basically I find people peter out after the first month. I want to break it up into something smaller where they can learn a key skill like email copywriting for example and they’ll get good results from that. And then if they want to come back to another module they can pay for that separately and they can pick up say sales page writing and this how to do that. So that’s it a moment but the actual cost itself is really good. I say my I haven’t got a lot of reviews – I’ve got ten up there at the moment for students that I haven’t had that many students through it. But the problem that I have with the reviews is that they look doctored because they’re all so positive. . I kind of wish I had a disgruntled student through there just to have like a two star view up there to show you that I actually do publish all the reviews. But you know that’s a good problem to have.

David Allan: Yeah absolutely – so where can people find that?

Bnonn Tennant: learnopywritingbackwards.com. Well it’s not exactly the shortest url but it’s simple enough. And of course you do that it’s kind of a pun because you do it actually backwards. You start with a call to action and you can run through the first five lessons on a call to action for free at the moment.

David Allan: Awesome That sounds very good. Yeah. And where else could people get a hold of you if they want to talk to you personally or they want to see some other things you are into.

Bnonn Tennant: We’ve mentioned informationhighwayman.com – that’s my ancient old business website and attentionthievery.com and just plain old Bnonn.com

David Allan: Nice. Excellent. I’m sure we’ll get some people contact you because your personality and then your straightforwardness

Bnonn Tennat: There is one other one if you’re a Christian and you’re into marketing I have biblicalmarketing.com which has been a very tough nut to crack as it turns out it’s something that I’ve kind of passionate about because I think that there is actually a biblical model for marketing which a lot of Christians find difficult because they feel like marketing is always sleazy and difficult and that kind of works against what they believe in. So that’s really to help people like that.

David Allan: So you learn to market like Jesus, basically?

Bnonn Tennant: Yeah pretty much.

David Allan: That’s awesome. Well it’s been a great pleasure having you on the show Bnonn. I mean that’s just a lot of good information here that came here and your frank and forthrightness about the copywriting industry and clientele and so this could be a huge huge boon to all our listeners.

Bnonn Tennant: It has been wonderful to be here, thank you very much.

David Allan: Awesome, and for everybody else listening to us of course will be back with another exciting guest next week hopefully as informative and fun to talk to as Bnonn. We’ll talk to everybody then. For people who want to get a hold of me David Allan go to make words pay.

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