Unlike all those shyster content marketers, I’m going to be completely transparent by telling you the story behind the headline first. After that, I’ll give you some advice you probably don’t want to hear and then take a few more shots at the dishonesty of snake oil salesmen.
How’s that sound? Well, like it or not, here it comes.
After working for almost 10 years as a production artist and graphic designer I got my first taste of copywriting almost by accident.
Back in 1999, the first client of my newly-formed ad agency involved creating a new brand for a family-run bakery that had been a neighborhood institution in Venice, California since 1908.
When we took home fresh samples, including the baguettes the company made for high-end restaurants and cafes, my wife said it was the closest thing to a French baguette she had tasted in the U.S.
These guys were the real thing.
The clients had sold the national licensing rights for Pioneer French Bakery to a Canadian conglomerate with the agreement that the company could only sell sourdough bread under the Pioneer French Bakery brand in a small territory around L.A, county.
Because of this, they developed a name for a new brand, so they could sell their bread to long-time customers from Sand Diego to Santa Barbara.
The clients named their new brand Breads of Venice, but the logo and packaging made the bread look like the generic, low-quality products that supermarkets promote in their stores.
We were given the following creative directions:
- Old world quality — the family had been baking bread in the Basque country of France for over 300 years.¹
- Give it a cool factor since the bakery is near the beach.
- Communicate natural and fresh — sourdough bread has no added chemicals or artificial flavors.
- Make sure people understand the brand is based in Venice, California, not Venice, Italy.
Part of the budget for designing their branding and packaging was to develop a tagline. We hired a professional copywriter for $500.
Our writer worked for a day and then sent over initial concepts.
After going back and forth on his ideas, he sent us his final taglines for the new brand but I didn’t like any of his ideas.
I worked late into the night trying to come up with a tagline that was both creative but also was specific to the company’s business.
By 3:00 a.m., I was in that state of fatigue where you get the giggles and everything seems funny.
Somehow, I don’t know how or why, I kept grinding away at this creative problem and I finally wrote this sentence on my computer:
So Good it Makes the French Jealous.
As soon as I wrote it, I knew it was a winner. My partner agreed and eventually the client bought the tagline.
Even though we still paid the copywriter $500 for his work, I realized that I could write professionally, and that I belonged in the ad industry.
The reason that one sentence was worth way more than $500 was because it helped us win the client’s trust and started a business relationship with them that led to years of steady work with good budgets.
The final brand became this:
if you’re interested in the story of how we developed the company’s brand, please check out this article on the creative process:
Unlike the shyster content marketer who brags about how much money you can supposedly make through blogging, I’m going to give you some advice that works in the real world.
If you’re looking for the usual get-rich-quick bullshit, then stop reading now.
I’m not going to tell you that you can do it, too.
Honestly, if I weren’t lucky enough to be in the right situations, with the right salesmen and the right clients at the right time, I could have been Ernest Hemingway and it wouldn’t have mattered.
Millions and millions of super-talented artists — far more talented than me and, most likely, you — have lived and died in poverty and anonymity.
The other problem is that without the right salesmen, making $5,000 or $10,000 from a single sentence will still mean you’d be living in poverty in any First World country.
All I’m saying is don’t quit your day job just because you hit a single.
Even writers who have hit home runs (like one woman on this site who pissed away a six-figure book deal), can’t afford to quit their day jobs, or live like nouveau riche.
Learn how to save money and live a simple life because the world is made of One-Hit Wonders who end up selling insurance (which is actually a very good gig because of the residual commissions and passive income you can generate if you’re good with people, but that’s another story).
Lesson #1: There are always hidden costs.
Remember our client, Breads of Venice?
My partner had been trying to win their business for 8 years.
Everything has hidden costs, or, at the very least, requires a lot more work to get where you want to go before reaching the final result.
When someone says they make $5000 from a blog post, it’s the worst kind of click bait.
There are countless hours of prep time, training, or additional work to hit the big time: the actor who becomes an overnight success after struggling to make it for 20 years; the doctor who goes to school and then interns for 12 years before they can charge $200 for a ten minute consultation; and our sports heroes, who dedicate their entire childhood in order to get a shot at the big time.
In the article I was mocking, the author never explains how to make $5,000 from a blog post.
Instead he explains that it’s “your decision” where the money comes from, that you get to choose “how the money makes it into your bank account.”
I know what my choice is: a Paypal transfer from his account to each one of your accounts.
Not only do we have a self-proclaimed “bad writer” whose “ideas can suck” write the worst kind of click bait headline, but he does the worst kind of bait and switch.
Not one method of making this magical amount of money for a blog post actually comes from writing the blog post.
It leads you to a potential audience that you can build through your email newsletter so you can market the shit out of yourself and whatever product or service you’re trying to sell: an eBook, an online course, a Medium Partner Program article,² a published piece for a magazine, coaching services, or using your audience to find new customers for your side business.
To me, this is the worst kind of dishonesty.
Lesson #2: When the easy money is gone, the smart guys try to sell people their secrets.
When something is revolutionary, nobody knows about, a few early adapters find the new market and make good money until the rest of the world catches up.
It happened for me during the digital publishing revolution, as a generation of trained fine artists and craftsmen were replaced by snot-nosed young punks who had some design sense plus computer skills (okay, I wasn’t that young, but I still needed to blow my nose often enough).
It happened during the internet revolution, where people made tons of money for a crappy one page website with a spinning, bit-mapped cube.
It happens in EVERY downturn of the real estate market, where the people who bought up all the property during the crash try to sell suckers how to buy property with no money down in a hot market with stringent loan underwriting rules.
And it happened in blogging.
Do a search for “is blogging dead?”
You’ll find tons of articles on the subject dating as far back as 2015.
The only way someone makes thousands of dollars on a blog post is if it’s built on a massive pyramid of dollar bills contributed by desperate people who want to learn how they can sell the same unoriginal, regurgitated self-help gruel.
No one ever tells you the simple truth about those magical $5,000 blog posts: you need to find 5,000 new suckers who will throw a buck at you to dispense whatever it is that Mr. Shyster calls “actionable content.”
If you want to be a writer, master your craft, learn to become a great marketer, and develop as a person.
Without maturity and experience, those personal confessions won’t help the vast majority of bloggers earn as much as the therapists they should be seeing.
Lesson #3: The top three job skills are reliability, treating a job like you own the company, and getting along with other people.
I won’t try to sell you a bag of nothing by pointing out the example of some asshole who supposedly got rich by writing about “Not Giving a Fuck.”
It gives people the wrong idea about millennials.³
The problems begin when people feel desperate and recognize the system is rigged against them.
The response is to search for an easy way out and waste time and money on the snake oil du jour.
I can’t tell you if you can still make a living as a blogger, but I will tell you that the more people there are who try to find the easy way out, the less effort they put into those jobs they hate.
That means there are fewer reliable, proactive, people-oriented workers.
Smart business owners would hive their right arm for someone who has the three attributes I described.
Smart companies know that most jobs can be learned; it’s the people doing the job who count.
If you hate your job or your boss, keep looking for a new gig until you find someone that appreciates what you do and sees your potential.⁴
Being the go-to guy or gal at your company is the only personal brand you will need to develop until you start thinking about starting your own company.
Usually, I would try to cut this down to fit into one of my 500-word rants.
They are concise and funny looks at various parts of the human condition.
THE 500-WORD RANT
A collection of bite-sized essays on any subjects. No one is safe, including me.
There was no way to contain my reaction to this latest example of terrible click bait bullshit that continues to take up space that should be given to more deserving writers.
Here’s to better writing.
¹The great-grandfathers of our clients took their sourdough starter — the fermented dough filled with natural, wild yeast and a lactobacillli bacteria — with them and made the voyage from France to New York. To keep the starter alive, they had to bake new bread every couple of days.
This was done during the voyage from Paris to New York and then during the train ride from New York to Los Angeles.
²Medium’s monthly update includes the most money made for a single article, and it is often over $5000. The author’s statement that anyone can make $5000 for a blog post seems to ignore the fact that only one of the thousands of other writers on the site actually make a lot of money.
Here’s a quote from Medium’s announcement about the new system:
In 2017, we launched the Medium Partner Program to fairly compensate writers for their quality stories, with unlimited potential to earn. Since then, we’ve paid more than $6 million to over 30,000 writers, increasing payouts year over year.
$6 million to over 30,000 writers since 2017 translates to a monthly pot of $230,769.
Just do the math. Only 46 writers could make the magical $5000 post, leaving the other 29, 954 writer without a penny.
³Millennials are going to one day become known as the Greatest Generation of the 21st century.
No generation since the children of the Great Depression have gone through as much shit as millennials: 9/11, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the Great Recession, outrageous college debt, social media addiction, #MeToo, Fake News, Voter Suppression, climate change, and, of course, Genghis Tang.
The vast majority of young people are hard working, socially conscious, and want to make the world a better place — a far cry from the Baby Boomers who either escaped the world as hippies or became the self-absorbed Me Generation of the 70s that brought you Gordon Gekko and “greed is good.”
⁴There is no such thing as a “self-made” man.
Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate who eventually became better known as a philanthropist than the ruthless monopolist who crushed the working man, had the great fortune of finding a mentor at an early formative stage of his life.