Interviews Kim Krause Schwalm

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Q1. Where are you from?

Maryland (Washington, DC area)

Q2. How did you discover copywriting?

In my first job as a marketer for health insurance company, one of the many hats I wore was to write copy for brochures and sales letters. There was one freelance copywriter—a ponytailed surfer dude named Bill Hebden, a great copywriter who has since passed—who we worked with on larger direct mail and newspaper/TV campaigns. But I never thought about doing copywriting for a living. I was a marketing/brand manager with an MBA, and I was busy climbing the corporate ladder. Then I went to work for Phillips Publishing, the biggest direct response publisher at the time (financial newsletters and the first alternative health newsletter), as a marketer. The company worked with top copywriters like Gene Schwartz, Gary Bencivenga, Clayton Makepeace, and many others… and I saw the kind of earnings and lifestyle they were able to enjoy as a result of freelancing (and being really good!) After 6 years with Phillips Publishing—where I wrote copy as one of my various responsibilities, plus launched and grew their Healthy Directions supplement business to today’s equivalent of $40 million in sales within the first 3 years—I decided to take the leap to freelance copywriting. And I’ve never looked back!

Q3. What forms of copy do you write?

Most of the copy I’ve written over the years has been in the supplement niche, as a result of my experience with running the Healthy Directions business. I’ve also written successful promos in the financial/retirement/tax newsletter niche. Plus I’ve created successful promos for skin care, fitness equipment, yoga programs, National Geographic books, air purifiers, and other niches. My first few years freelancing I wrote mostly short-form, flat-fee copy like inserts that mailed with newsletters or emails. Then I broke into long-form direct mail (i.e., magalogs, etc.) and started earning much higher fees plus royalties. Many of these direct mail promos have been used (or are currently being used) word-for-word as online sales pages and VSLs (and I collect royalties on them, too). Over the past several years though, almost all of my work has been for online sales pages and on occasion, email campaigns… although these days I mostly only write email copy for myself for my Copy Insiders list.

Q4. What are your favorite niches to write in?

I love writing supplement and skin care copy, from the standpoint that I take supplements (and use natural skin care products) myself, and I’m kind of a geek when it comes to drilling down and doing the research. It has to be a product that I can get excited about though… with quality ingredients backed by studies that show they work, ideally with something new and different that makes it exciting. I used to love writing financial copy, too… I often would think of my late father, who used to do a lot of his own investing and subscribed to several newsletters. But financial newsletter controls require a lot more work to keep running and aren’t nearly as “evergreen” as supplement controls—some of which have been paying me royalties for 11 straight years and counting since I last worked on them. And I really love writing for health newsletters and books, because I’m interested in these topics and I’m not constrained like I am with supplements as to what I can say.

Q5. What is the #1 lesson you've learned as a copywriter?

To produce high-performing copy that can generate sales for years, it doesn’t just take talent and skills… it takes a disciplined (and thorough) process for research as well as a dedication to constant improvement/revising until it’s “ready”. I prefer to do much of my research myself (on top of whatever I get from my client), because it often leads me to ideas I wouldn’t have come across otherwise. And I constantly edit and perfect my headlines, leads, and other copy a gazillion-million times before a client sees it. And then as we work through finalizing the promotion, even in the design phase, we’re still perfecting every single word. It’s what it takes to get big winners!

Q6. Who is your favorite copywriter & why?

This is a tough one, because I’ve been fortunate to know or work with so many great copywriters over the years. And many are friends to this day. But if I have to pick one, I’m going to say Gary Bencivenga. He’s probably impacted the way I write copy more than anyone else. I attended his “retirement” copywriting seminar at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City back in 2005. It was invitation-only and I was thrilled to receive an invite. Picking up and leaving my young kids at home with my husband and shelling out $5k just to attend was a big deal for me back then, but it was well worth it. Bonus: Gary is also one of the absolute nicest people you could ever hope to meet… and we still keep in touch to this day. I subscribe to his olive oil club, too, and it’s the best!

Q7. Do you have any recent wins to share?

When I was just breaking into long-form, royalty-paying copy, I went up against the late, legendary Jim Rutz and beat his control. I then beat him again a few years later for the same financial newsletter. Around the same time, I beat Parris Lampropoulus’ 7-year “unbeatable” control for a tax newsletter—making me the first female copywriter to get a Boardroom control! (Boardroom, now called Bottom Line, was considered the best direct marketing publisher at the time… so that was a big deal.) These two big wins definitely helped put me on the map as a copywriter, but for years I stayed “under-the-radar” and just cranked out more controls while raising my kids.  

A more recent win was having a long-time client tell me a month or so ago that 2 of my multiple sales page controls are the only ones out of 4 that are also working well as front-ends (the other two were written by 70+ year-old copywriting legends who no longer want to write copy)… and that all the other stuff they’ve tested from newer “hot” copywriters isn’t working. So maybe us “old direct mail dogs” know a thing or two about what works online!

Q8. What would you say to a prospective client who wants to hire you?

From a client standpoint, I think the best working relationships are truly partnerships. I love picking the brains of my clients and getting their input, but also want to be able to run with ideas that I’m passionate about. If it’s their idea and I’m not crazy about it, I’m not going to do my best work. They need to trust me to run with things and deliver them a big winner. But the right client can also bring a lot to the table as far as the success of a promo. It also is essential that it’s a win/win arrangement… which is why I like to do royalty deals or similar performance incentives. If I deliver a big control that can run for years and make us both lots of money, that’s great. If/when it starts to fatigue or it’s not performing as well as it could, I’m there to do additional testing to get it where it needs to be… and keep it performing optimally. You don’t get that with one-off copywriters who aren’t invested in your success.  

And for copywriters, business owners, and others who want to learn from me or have me copy chief their work, I think I bring a unique blend of experience as a copywriter, a marketer on the client side who’s also run a business, and a track record of mentoring some of the best, up-and-coming copywriters today. My courses and trainings also distill my past few decades’ worth of expertise gained from writing copy at the highest levels in the most competitive niches. So I like to think I’m a good person to learn from, maybe one of the better ones out there today. There are others, too, who are my friends and that I greatly respect, who also offer their training and mentoring. It’s a great time to be a copywriter when there are so many top experts you can learn from. It wasn’t like that when I was starting out!

Q9. What is a good email address for prospective clients to contact you?

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