Today I’ve chosen Copy Writer Craig Clemens for today’s post of “Case of the Fridays“. Craig works wherever his laptop can travel with him, and is based out of NYC. His work is structured in a residual income format along with associate marketing sales, so he has basically created a job where he is his own boss – and is forever giving himself a raise.
I chose Craig because of the lifestyle he’s created for himself, and the kind of freedom he expresses in his online social media. A lot of people worry about what employers might think about certain posts or whether it might affect client relationships – however Craig expresses a personality purely candid, and honest. While he’s not a crazy partier getting drunk every night, he post photos of fun celebrations during nights out with friends, adventures to burning man, and some pretty personal sentiments from his private life. It’s refreshing to see that kind of candor, and I’m happy to have him featured on today’s interview.
We met up during my recent trip to NYC, and the interview took place at a French Restaurant L’Ecole in his neighborhood on the lower east side of Manhattan.
Here’s an image to give you a visual for the conversation taking place.
What is your name/age?
Craig Clemens – 33
What is your occupation?
I’m a partner in a digital marketing company in which I am the copywriter. That means I write the sales and marketing material that gets people to invest in our products
Where did you grow up?
Thousand Oaks, CA
How long have you been doing what you currently do?
I started off in sales when I was 21, and bounced around various boilerroom-esq phone sales jobs – mortgage broker, I sold credit card merchant accounts, Direct TV, you name it.
Then I found myself 24 years old living in San Diego broke as a joke. I remember one month I had to sell my TV for $50 to make rent, and I used to go to McDonalds with coupons to get the $1 off the value meal for lunch.
But I had a friend, his name was Eben, and he had just written a book on how to meet women that he was selling online as an “eBook”. It was called, “Double Your Dating” and he was doing really well with it. Like REALLY freakin well. I told him I wanted to come to work for him doing ANYTHING to figure out how he was making so much money. I think he was pulling in 70K a month at this time. But he didn’t see a place where I would fit in.
One of the parts of his business was an email newsletter where he would write dating tips. He told me every time he would send out a newsletter he would make 4K in sales. I got on the list and started reading them and thought, “I can write this stuff”… so I wrote one and sent it to him. I hoped he would like it and offer me 10% – $400 – to write them for him. If remember thinking if he said yes and I could write one a week that would be life-changing money!
We get on the phone and he does offer me a job… but FULL TIME and at 3K a month. That was a lot of money for my broke McDonald’s eating ass at the time and I was STOKED.
I started off with him working as a customer service-response team member, and managing the affiliate program. Eventually I got into buying media and other various things – I probably did 5 or 6 different things before I found my sweet spot – writing the sales copy.
Eben had been writing all the sales copy himself at the time – as converting eyes to buyers is critical to a new business. But as he created more and more products – an online dating program, a program for women on how to land a great man called, “Catch Him & Keep Him”, etc – the company needed more writing firepower, so he began training me.
After about 6 months of training, listening to marketing experts while I drove everywhere in my car, and studying what the experts wrote, and writing a whole lot of TERRIBLE copy, I finally got to the point where I could write something Eben thought was good enough to send to the mailing list.
The first thing I wrote got sent out to over a million people, and it was the most exciting thing ever hitting “refresh” and watching the sales in our shopping cart increase.
Soon Eben and I were working as a team, creating all the copy together. Eventually the business grew to 20 million a year… with 80 employees and they were all virtual. They all had the ability to travel if they wanted so long as they achieved RESULTS, which everyone of course loved. We all worked really hard yet still had great lifestyles – it was an exciting time and I’ll always be thankful for the experience.
While some of the other positions in that company – if you were working for a more traditional firm, usually do require you to be in an office, copywriting is one where if you are good you can set your own terms. Most companies won’t care so long as you are consistently producing awesome stuff. So it’s worth it to put the work in to become good.
Plus it’s recession-proof – every company needs sales so the demand for great writers stays high no matter what the economy. You may have to shift from selling yachts to selling economical cars, but there will always be companies needing your service! A great writer can charge 25K or more plus royalties for a single package and smart entrepreneurs will happily pay it… as they know the right sales letter can turn their idea into gold.
You mentioned you had another way you were making money online?
Yes, around 2006 my brother and I started an Affiliate Marketing company. Affiliate Marketing means marketing other people’s products on commission… so say someone has an Anti-Virus program they sell for $50. If I send them a customer who buys it, they will gladly pay me a commission out of that… usually 50-75%. So you are essentially an online traffic broker.
Back in the day this was very easy. I remember my first month doing this I made $330, and thinking that now I could eat Baja Fresh every day for lunch instead of McDonald’s just on that money alone!
In those days we were buying keywords on Google and sending them directly to the merchant sites, which Google doesn’t allow any more. My brother Curt turned out to be a real genius at it and mostly due to his awesomeness this company soon started doing MASSIVE numbers. The best part with these campaigns is if you found a winner you could set it up and it would pretty much run itself… literally a money-making machine. So when Eben and I parted ways I shifted focus to that.
These days the game is very different, so if someone is looking to get into affiliate marketing I recommend trying SEO (getting free traffic) versus buying it. My friend Kelly Felix has an awesome course called www.BringTheFresh.com where he shows people how to do this, and some of his students are making very big money.
Did you have a 9-5 job before that?
All my sales jobs were commission aside from one. But one of them definitely expected us to show up everyday.
I had a sales job for Direct TV that was pretty much 8-5 and that was terrible. I remember walking out of that job feeling like so much of my day was gone. Didn’t have enough energy to go to the gym afterwards, and if I did – my day was gone at that point.
What kind of business do you currently have now?
The Affiliate company lead to Curt and I forming a partnership with our other brother Mark and a 4th business partner, Josh, where we started creating our own brands. We focus on men’s health and nutrition, and organic cosmetics for women. We have a beautiful office in Woodland Hills and are always hiring, so if someone is interested in learning marketing while working at an exciting company definitely have them get in touch with me. The parent company is called Golden Hippo Media and they can learn more at our website, www.GoldenHippoMedia.com
How much longer do you envision yourself working in the field that you’re in?
Forever. I’ll always be doing some kind of marketing or consulting, for my own brands or others I find exciting.
What level of schooling have you completed?
Went to junior college for like a year and then dropped out. My main schooling was driving around listening to the old marketing masters – there was a good 3 year period when I listened to ONLY marketing programs, never the radio. And learning from Eben – he’s one of the best copywriters in the game so getting to learn directly from him was invaluable.
What is it that you love about your work?
There’s a lot of different ways I could answer that question – we get 20-30 emails a day from customers telling us how our products have changed their lives. Those are some of the most rewarding emails to read – where your job is really making a difference in someone’s life.
I’ve recognized some of our limited edition products while I’ve been out and that’s awesome to see. Seeing something you’ve worked on to help develop or promote being used or consumed in public by someone you don’t know – that’s a pretty unique feeling.
I also love split-testing – putting 2 pieces of sales copy up and seeing which converts the best. It’s fascinating because it’s often NOT what you think! We do that on the internet all day and it’s fun and educational
What is your least favorite thing about your work?
You never really know what’s gonna win in a split-test. No matter how much you study or how much research you do – you’re never know what’s gonna win.
I recently spent a good month writing what I thought was an incredible sales package for a new fitness product. I was pre-celebrating because I thought people were gonna love it… and it totally bombed.
Is there anything you miss about life back home?
The thing I miss the most – is the bars closing at 2 am. Several reasons – if you go out and have an enjoyable night, you’re in bed by 2:15. In NYC, the bars really get going around 1…so if you’re going out – YOU’RE GOING OUT. I guess that’s why I’m more of a homebody these days.
What are some of the advantages of your job compared with the regular corporate career?
If you’re a copywriter vs a corporate career, you have the opportunity to create a massive home run. One of my marketing mentors, Gary Bencivenga, bought a house in the Hamptons off the earnings of just ONE sales package he wrote! But as I mentioned earlier, sometimes you spend a few weeks writing something that bombs, so there is a trade-off, but you gotta love that home run potential.
What are some of the disadvantages compared with the regular corporate career?
You’re directly responsible for your own income as far as finding clients, which some people have a hard time with. Also, if your clients aren’t making big money, it’s hard for you to make big money – which depends on their skills marketing and running their businesses, and many other factors besides the sales copy. So my advice for new writers coming up is to align yourself with a company that either already has big earnings (and knows the value of great copy – many don’t), or has great potential.
How different is the dating scene for you? Is it easier/harder to make time to be with your significant other?
Way easier. I can do an extended lunch date or take a long weekend off… I even ALMOST pulled off a long-distance relationship! (don’t try that at home). When it does become difficult though is when a girl has her own career that requires her to work crazy amounts of hours. A woman with her own thing going on is VERY attractive, but if she is putting in 50 hour weeks or can’t take vaca time, we can’t take as many trips as I would like, etc
Do you tend to prefer to live paycheck to paycheck or with a savings plan accounted for? Is your income predictable and regular, or entirely dependent on what you produce?
I don’t ever gamble at casinos, but when it comes to income – I’d rather swing for the fences rather than have a steady income. Even days when I was in commission sales – I was always geared on having a paycheck based off what I produced vs. how many hours I spent in the office.
Along these lines, I’m currently looking to invest in small businesses, online or otherwise, that require up to 250K in start-up capital. Rather than investing in real estate or whatever I want to plant a few “seeds” this way in the hopes one blows up! So if any of your readers have concepts they want to launch have them get in touch with me. Doesn’t have to be a new idea either (for example I want one of them to be a juice bar.)
I’m also a firm believer in investing in your own continued education. I still read at least one copywriting book a month and I recently started working with a $500 per hour executive coach who has helped me increase my productivity tremendously. When I was working for Eben, he paid $5000 for me to go to Gary Benivenga’s copywriting seminar. And that cost benefited him 10-fold in terms of the work that I produced after coming back.
Right now I’m re-reading the classic double-book, “My Life In Advertising” and “Scientific Advertising”, by Claude Hopkins. David Oglivy (founder of legendary ad agency Oglivy & Mather) says no one has any business being in advertising in any sense unless they’ve read it 7 times… well I’m on number 2! If you want to get started in copy writing – read those. You can probably find it in a free PDF download by Googling around, or just get on on amazon for 10 bucks or whatever. I’m having my whole company re-read it right now including my business partners and we are getting new nuggets of wisdom even though it’s written about marketing campaigns that are almost 100 years old! (Hopkins launched many famous brands like Pepsodent toothpaste, Goodyear tires, etc)
How do you imagine your retirement, or lifestyle past 60?
It’s funny – whenever my accountant calls and asks if I want to contribute to my IRA…”well shit – if I’m 59 years old and that little $49,000 of security means anything – that’ll be a bad sign.” I don’t see myself ever totally retiring as I truly love writing and see myself doing it til my time here is done (though doing creative writing, not writing copy, that DOES get old!)
Do you see your career facilitating a lifestyle suitable for a family, or do you have the desire to have a family?
Yes and yes.
What are your top priorities in the ‘big picture’?
Everything combined. It’s equally important to excel in all areas as I feel they all affect each other. It all goes together – I always try to live a balanced lifestyle. When I create a family, I’ll try to have all the values gain equal amounts of attention.
If you had any advice to someone just graduating college or thinking about switching careers, what would it be?
Now’s the time to try new things and do what you like. You can always make more money and you can always have a steady job as a fall-back.
If someone wanted to do your job, what is important to maintain a position?
You have to be dedicated to educating yourself and have the thick skin to know that a lot of the writing you do is going to suck. That’ll be in the first 6 months – your work wont be usable or at the level suitable to sell. A lot of the writing you’ll do in your career wont be sellable.
Also interesting to note is that most English majors actually have a problem getting into sales copy writing, as it ignores a lot of the traditional rules of ‘correct’ writing. What matters more is being a good SALESPERSON. If someone has a 6th grade reading/writing level but is a great salesperson, I’ll hire them over a screenwriter or novelist. So just because you don’t THINK you are a good writer doesn’t mean you can’t be a copywriter. I’m pretty sure I failed at least one English class on my way up!
Who inspires you?
Tim King. Haha, but really you inspire me to travel that’s for damn sure.
My greatest marketing mentor in the world is Gary Halbert.
Michael Masterson – he’s started several amazing direct marketing companie… love his books and he was kind enough to meet with us and give us some advice which helped us tremendously. “Ready, Fire, Aim” – is the book that introduced him to me and, “Great Leads”, one of his many copywriting books, is also a must-read.
What did you get into the most trouble for when you were young?
I guess I’ve always had a real problem doing homework – which is funny because I have a passion for studying copy writing.
What did you want to be when you want to be when you grew up?
A circus ringmaster.
What are some of your favorite sounds?
Jack Johnson. I used to go to his concerts. The boom of the dynamite exploding inside the wooden man at burning man.
What’s your favorite curse word?
What’s your favorite memory from your past?
Necker island when Richard Branson was there. Will always be a great memory. Bungee jumped the Macua tower which is the highest bungee jump in the world. Had to do a lot of prep for that and I did it extremely well. Was really happy with myself.
If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be, and why?
I think I’d be an owl. Because owls rely more on their wisdom to survive in life that hard physical exertion. I see an owl as a guy that hangs out in a tree and just sits back, letting other birds come ask him for advice, people asking about tootsie rolls…and if he feels like getting a mouse he’ll go down and do it.
What are some of your favorite smells?
I mean women just smell very good. I actually like the smell of gasoline and tires. Sandlewood candles. You know Victoria’s Secret really just kills it with the perfumes. You also can’t compare to having an apartment on the sand.
If you were a character in a famous movie, who’s role would you play?
Doc Holliday in the movie Tombstone.
If you could go back to any point in history for a month, what time period would you visit?
I’d go back to Scandinavian origin to see one of my own ancestors in their own element doing some badass shit, ideally some viking shit!
If there was one celebrity you’d like to punch in the face, who would it be?
If you had to obtain $1m illegally, how would you do it?
Sell my anal virginity. Wait not sure if anyone would pay for that. I’d kidnap Ryan Seacrest and sell his! Oh wait, he’s probably not an anal virgin. Shit. Next question…
Which long lost childhood object would you most like to find?
I think it’d be amazing to have every favorite shirt you’ve ever had throughout the different times in your life. Just to look at them all.
What age do people become “old”, what’s the secret to staying young?
When they stop having sex.
What’s your favorite quotation?
“Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd” by my best friend Phil.
If someone wanted to get in touch with you and ask you more about what it takes to get involved in your career, would you be open to it?
I would if they had FIRST read the Claude Hopkins books, then visited www.TheGaryHalbertLetter.com and read every piece of marketing info on it. Those are the 2 best resources for up and coming writers so unless someone does that they probably aren’t serious about it.
My company is also looking for new writers right now. You are required to work in our LA office, as we feel it’s the best environment to learn. After you prove yourself we are open to you working remotely, but we don’t start anyone remotely… we have to see that they want it. And you can’t beat being surrounded by he team of world-class marketers we’ve assembled. Our new writers get good FAST… my favorite part of my job right now is working with them to improve their skills.
Do you currently do consulting for other businesses?
I consult for non-competitive businesses at the rate of $1000/hr, previous to which I go over all of your marketing materials so the entire 60 minutes is value. I don’t really take on outside copywriting projects anymore.
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