Q&A with Rebecca Smith of WordPlenty
Rebecca and I crossed paths at a brand workshop I ran for Hook + Ladder (formerly, OnlinePresentz). Rebecca also participated in the website workshop I created for Hook + Ladder, she was enthusiastic about the process, providing valuable feedback on the customer journey, thinking of creative names for the blog section and providing relevant calls to action.
I didn’t know it then, but she was in the depths of her own creative writing process for H+L, which consisted of video client interviews, client surveys and in-depth online research where she hunts down your target audiences online and scours through platforms to read their actual feedback on services that your business provides. She does all this to create copy using language that your audience actually uses themselves. Breaking through the typical industry specific mumbo-jumbo. I loved her work so much, I had her run her process for my business and am excited about all the valuable insights she discovered for my brand. In this Q&A, I dive deeper into her background and how she ended up as a solopreneur.
What is your background? Where are you from? What brought you to Calgary?
I grew up mainly in Banff but my family moved around a lot all over Canada. I ended up in Calgary to study film and acting. Between that and waiting tables for years, I gathered a lot of transferable skills I never imagined would help me as much as they do today in running a business like client facing work, scene/story structure and hitting all sorts of different tones.
How did you get into copywriting? Specifically, what do you enjoy about conversion copywriting?
I still can’t believe I get paid for what I do. All the stuff that I used to think was a disadvantage like seeing things differently is really an asset that big brands pay big money for. All the strange culture and knowledge I’ve absorbed like a sponge my whole life actually has a purpose. I’m super curious and love learning about weird things, new things – and then communicating that learning to a specific audience in a language and way that they understand and connect to. It’s challenging and rewarding. I’m grateful I found a thing that puts me in that flow state – time kinda stops and I get in the zone of ideating and writing and whittling down edits for hours. I like conversion copy because it’s more measurable than a lot of content. I geek out on all the psychology and persuasion techniques.
What services do you provide? What types of copy do you prefer to write?
Lots of marketing funnel copy and brand copy. Basically, every word that’s required on a website and the strategy behind that. Along with all the words that keep people coming back across different channels. My favorite is email copy. So many sign-ups don’t even have an automated welcome sequence. Businesses have these lists they only blast with sales when there’s such an opportunity to nurture and build a relationship there. The average $1 investment in email marketing returns $44! That’s some crazy ROI. Yet it’s one of the most neglected channels.
How do you develop content for your clients?
I have some tried and true metrics and templates as a starting point, but basically the content strategy comes from bigger overall goals. I get on the same page with sales and marketing and discuss what we’re looking to push this month/quarter, what people need to know about etc. and reverse engineer content themes and benchmarks from there. It has to tie into bigger objectives to keep a company moving forward and connecting with a larger audience.
How does conversion copy tie into a client’s overall marketing strategy?
I think websites are tasked with too much – expecting visitors to ever return, nevermind regularly to read content is crazy. That’s why I love email marketing, showing up steadily where someone already is – delivering valuable information and building trust over time really works wonders. Email marketing copy can tie into overall marketing strategies in many ways, from nurturing leads into customers, onboarding and welcoming those customers, and retaining them long-term reducing churn rate and increasing overall brand awareness and loyalty.
What is funnel copy? An email drip campaign?
Funnel copy can be anything written along the entire process of customer acquisition. From least aware to most aware. I love crafting lead magnets for those top of funnel customers that really aren’t invested yet and have the shortest attention span, it’s challenging and fun to get them in and then take them along this journey of awareness.
I see a lot of businesses make the mistake of talking to a customer at the wrong stage of that journey, assuming a prospect knows more than they do. Oftentimes, they don’t even know they have a problem let alone that your specific product or service is the best to fix it. It’s like proposing marriage on a first date.
Email drips are automated sequences that drip out typically a few days apart for a given campaign. Must-haves for any business are a basic welcome sequence when someone signs-up to your list. And then there are all sorts from trial ending freemium drips to course launches and re-engagement campaigns.
How quickly can you turn a project around?
There’s typically a waitlist of 1-3 months for full projects but Day Rates have been selling like hot cakes lately. Especially with agencies, they’ve done a lot of the foundational brand work already and just need to plug someone in asap and hit the ground running. I keep one day a week open for Day Rates.
How big is your team? Do you plan to grow your team?
I’ve subcontracted work out in the past and never been satisfied with it. At the end of the day it’s my name and business reputation so I like to keep a pretty close focus on everything personally. Scaling for me, looks like more solo specializing – doing less but better. Offering expertise in niche areas versus generalizing, saying yes to everything and outsourcing.
What are your biggest challenges for growth?
Balancing the biz dev portion of a business while simultaneously running it can be tough. It’s the old – finding future work while getting the current work done. I’ve been really lucky with great referrals and built off word of mouth momentum. My focus this year is on more of a concerted effort to market myself – and automate a lot of my systems more efficiently.
Growth happens as I continue to study my craft. I’m forever enrolling in courses and deconstructing what my peers are doing. Joining different professional groups like Communo has helped as well in honing my confidence and business chops. There’s the work I do, but then there’s the work on the business end – the better I understand both the better I can communicate my value and crush it.
Do you have a size of business that you like to work with?
As an solopreneur myself, I have a soft spot for fellow boot-strappers and small biz owners but I also sympathize with there not being a lot of budget in the early days. I cringe when I see new business owners dump so much into marketing and branding when they don’t even know what’s viable or who they are or who their audience is yet.
I like working with brands and businesses who are a little more seasoned, have been through their first few iterations, have some idea of what’s working and what hasn’t and who they’re talking to. In the early days, it’s really a game of competitive research – what’s out there and what can I do differently. I like to come in after that first attempt has some legs, but I do sometimes start with a business from the ground up if it’s a good fit.
I just hate to see smaller biz owners starting out and pouring money into stuff they don’t need yet. Like the business cards and website perfectionism – nobody will find you. Get out there, build relationships, get clients in the door, get money, then refine.
What industries do you like to work with?
There isn’t an industry I’ve said no to yet – I was trying to think of an indisputable evil industry example the other day. I guess the NRA? Monsanto? I don’t specialize in industry niche but I do specialize in service offering – emails and web copy primarily. And every industry needs those.
How do you measure your results?
It’s getting easier and easier to prove ROI on copy. I love teaming up with an analytics crew to dig in on the backend and really see what’s working. Heat maps with UX designers to figure out why people are jumping from this page to that one and falling off – it’s fun detective work.
It’s still the wild west when it comes to brand copy – there’s no longer a clear path to measure oh this consumer saw that ad, then went to this location and purchased X. It’s the zero moment of truth stuff Google talks about. So we have 10+ brand impressions happening at immeasurable touchpoints. For building longer term brand loyalty, there’s no quick fix or benchmark. But showing up often and providing value just like you would in any real life relationship is best.
For direct conversions, most platforms have easy metrics to measure. Recently I was able to go back to an email marketing client and show that out of their past 75 campaigns, the one they brought me in to write had the highest open rate and most engaged subject line. Having data to back up work like that is a win.
Most memorable project you’ve worked on?
I was contracted on a 24 hour marketing experiment with WestJet to promote their direct flights to Hawaii. It was a team of writers, videographers, and social media managers. We were tasked with turning 250+ consumer tweets into jingles that staff then sang live in front of a green screen. I think it’s the closest I’ll ever get to a writer’s room on late night tv. I was bleary eyed at 5am looking up tropical words in a rhyming dictionary. It felt impossible but we pulled it off and it was so much fun. Reminded me of making up poems and songs as a kid to make my friends laugh. Words are awesome.
What qualities do you value most in your clients/vendors/partners?
I like clients that are good at what they do and let me focus on what I’m good at. There is such a thing as too many cooks – I’ve seen great concepts get so watered down. I want to do work I’m proud of, that doesn’t always mean it’s the most risky or creative but it has to be good. And being good means it impacts who we want it to – not if it has every word preference a certain stakeholder signs off on. People have weird associations with certain words. The more I can back up my research and frame the type of feedback I’m looking for, the easier the whole process goes.
Short answer – Shannon. I like working with people like Shannon. If you’re subscribed to her newsletter you likely know her even a little bit. And are in awe like me at her get shit done attitude and work ethic. I mean she’s got this newsletter going out regularly which is more than you’re likely doing isn’t it? So it’s people like that – who just keep stepping.
What are the biggest challenges of being a solopreneur?
I know at some point (like yesterday) I have to let go of the reins and outsource some tasks to a VA at least, it’s just that hurdle of onboarding someone new and trusting them to do the job. The trap is thinking it’s just faster if I do everything myself, which may be true short term but isn’t sustainable or that beautiful buzzword scalable. My focus this year is to prioritize more of my time as a business owner and not a freelancer. To be more intentional with where I invest my time and concentrate on the most valuable and essential activities.
I noticed you have a business book club. How often do you meet? Can new members apply?
Yes! If you’re reading this you can join book club! We read one business book based on sales and marketing every two-ish months and meet to discuss it. It’s a chill form of concentrated networking where you can sit and eat and there are already talking points established. It’s kind of reverse networking – nobody wears nametags or does an intro spiel. If you say something interesting enough at a club meeting people single you out after like who are you? What do you do? A lot of what members do for a living just comes up organically and it’s often communications majors, lots of marketers, graphic designers, videographers and almost everyone owns their business or has a side hustle.
We all love reading, learning, and wish we read more – so it’s nice to have a timeline and some accountability. It’s like an in-depth book report for me, I work hard on the content that goes out to the membership and the talking points to keep meetings moving along. I’m amazed by the growing membership - so many smart, weird, brilliant creatives mixed with crazy big CEO’s I couldn’t get a meeting with but suddenly they get my emails and show up to these events. I’m excited for the next club meeting in June because we’ve got the author doing a live video Q&A!
More info on the Better Business Baller Bookclub here.
What is your biggest dream for the future? What do you want to do in retirement?
I feel lucky and grateful to be moving in the right direction so I’d say just more of what I’m up to now – more freedom, more creativity, more purpose and fulfilling work and relationships. There are so many great products and services out there that can truly help people but there’s such a disconnect in communicating that. It’s a pretty great feeling when a client exclaims YES! THAT’S WHAT I’VE BEEN TRYING TO SAY! I don’t see giving that kind of thing up any time soon. But I do feel like I’m already semi-retired because I have a lot of freedom and choice and peace. In retirement, I’ll likely read, write, and travel – like I do now just with fewer to-do’s. But life is short, I’m all for enjoying it today. If past 5 year old me would be impressed with where I’m at that’s always a good measuring stick – like wow people pay you for crazy ideas and you get to sleep-in and read and write and work pantless most days? Way to go man.