Know those long-copy sales letters promising you untold riches working in your pants on a sailboat in the Gulf of Mexico? Keith A. Trimels is the tech direct-response copywriter making a mint sitting in his pants on a sailboat in the Gulf of Mexico.
First, it’s provided massive practice with researching and supporting conclusions. So the proof points in persuasive copy are something I’ve never had to practise extensively. Beyond that natural crossover, however, that engineering background has been my secret weapon.
Because I spent decades designing, building and maintaining multimillion-dollar infrastructure projects, it’s honed my ability to see the big-picture view, then dive down into the details and execute. And that’s a huge benefit for clients when working on sales funnels, websites, launches or email campaigns.
What made you make the switch into copywriting?
It hasn’t been a switch in a true sense – more of an evolution over a 10-year period. It started as a way of marketing my technical-training company, where many of our clients are former colleagues.
Then, as major tech companies ‘discovered’ me, the copywriting ‘side gig’ started to take on a life of its own. I found out my math skills were a huge help for analysing the performance of a sales funnel or campaign, which helped temper some of my scepticism about being able to contribute.
But copywriting requires additional skillsets such as understanding human nature and buyer psychology to really be successful. And I found the skills I used when dealing with government officials, land-owners and the public translated well.
So as a copywriter, I get to use a lot of project-management and math skills from my engineering toolbox AND the human psychology that I love. But the order of precedence is reversed – and that makes this copywriting gig pretty damn fun!
Do you focus exclusively on tech copywriting?
Not at all. I’ve written copy and optimised sales funnels for financial and lifestyle publishers, business merger and acquisition specialists, real-estate investors, B2C companies and non-profits in three countries.
What’s a typical project and client for you?
That’s evolved as my skills and interests have evolved. I find I most enjoy working with six- and seven-figure businesses that are committed to raising their business to the next level.
With those clients, they naturally have many needs. So the work has great variety and a working day could include designing a sales-funnel strategy, then building out the copy, including websites, emails, landing pages or sales letters.
And because they haven’t yet reached corporate status, these clients have less bureaucratic overhead. In fact, I’m usually working with the owner – or a very small team. So meeting time is about 10% of what it was as an engineer.
Any career highlights?
A lot of highlights, actually… I’ve been very blessed.
One that stands out was with a large tech client – they had a $500 million-dollar contract with a global financial company. My tech client asked me to create a one-off dossier for the financial company’s new global CIO.
With no design template or expectation, I got to create the layout from scratch. And since it was directed to a single, high-profile individual, I was able to dive extremely deep into the CIO’s background and psychological profile.
The result – a from-scratch, 20+ page soft-sell document that transformed a new CIO into a huge fan of my client. And that made multiple VPs VERY happy.
Then a few years ago, I created a sales-proposal template for another tech client’s global sales force. When they launched their new server line, their sales force used that template to generate almost $1.0 billion dollars in sales. So helping put those kinds of dollars on the top line is the ultimate feedback.
Any low notes? You’re among friends here.
Yes, but it turned out to be a huge blessing. When I first started trying to apply these new copywriting skills I’d learned, I did some pro-bono work for a marketer in exchange for his mentoring.
He gave it his feedback… without reservation. I ended up in a fetal position on the couch crying like a baby. Well, almost. 😉
Because I was running a successful technical training company at the time (and still do today), I started second guessing everything – from my ability to write to what I thought I knew. It was almost existential in nature.
Long story short… the sales copy turned out well and converted. The marketer told me the going rate for my copy (I had NO idea) and that he wanted to do another project with me.
But the huge bonus was that, unbeknownst to me, his mentor, Mark Ford, had been doing the reviews and thought I had potential. So in the end, the ‘questioning life’ pain turned into an ego-boosting gain.
How do you keep up to date with developments in copywriting?
I read a lot of shorter articles on the web. And have mastermind-type chats with great friends like Bob Bly, Nick Usborne and Gordon Graham.
In fact, Nick just shared some amazing new technologies that I’m anxious to try with a current client who’s got the best Bloody Mary mix on the planet. So in a year I might have another highlight!
And in the tech world?
Same thing – I read a lot. And since I work from a variety of places throughout the year, I’m forced to be my own IT guy. So I have a selfish interest in staying current… it lets me deliver no matter what country I’m in.
You focus on sales funnels. Can you talk us through that for anyone who’s not sure what a sales funnel is?
Basically, it’s the entire sales sequence. It starts with lead generation, moves to building trust between the prospect and the client, then culminates in helping the prospect solve their challenge using the client’s product or service, and helping the client by generating sales.
Depending on the product or service, the process can take minutes or can take as long as several years. And everywhere in between.
Experienced marketers will also add the after-sale process into their sales-funnel strategy. And with good reason – the back end is where the real money’s at. This remains true even if the customer has bought everything a marketer or company currently offers.
Think about it this way… how do you react when a company or individual continues to treat you well even when there’s no more cash in it for them?
If you’re like me, you become one of their best sales reps – without being paid. The payoff for this long-term mindset is huge – ongoing revenue AND continual business growth.
What does a typical day look like?
Depends where I’m physically located. Usually, I’m awake by 5am and I start working after some prayer and journaling.
I then work until mid-morning before taking a break and going to the gym. After the gym, I do another couple hours of production-type work.
Afternoons are focused on administrivia such as emails, scheduling meetings and updating my project management and to-do lists. I also go through any research for projects that I’m working on.
I try to squeeze in at least one Wim Hof breathing session along with 4-5 small meals throughout the day. And unless I’m on a pressing client deadline, I’m usually asleep by 9:30pm.
Any books that have inspired you? Copywriting or otherwise?
I’m generally inspired by great biographies and autobiographies… I’m fascinated by what makes great people tick. And there’s always so much to learn from their life lessons.
About Face by Col. David Hackworth hit me deeply on many levels. Another is Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts.
Both have big human psychology and group-think lessons – which are valuable for any individuals but especially direct-response copywriters. And the latter book speaks to me because of my deep friendship with my business partner, Ilse van Goth, and our work together on her book Five Lives.
What do you have for breakfast?
I usually have a small amount of cottage cheese while journaling. Then, later in the morning, 1-2 hours before working out, I’ll have scrambled eggs and cheese.
What’s all this about writing on a boat? I’m getting a picture of one of those long-copy sales letters where we’re told we can make a million dollars by teatime sitting in our pants on the deck of our yachts.
That’s only partially true. Seriously, I work on a 39’ sailboat for about half the year, and hang-glide in the Rocky Mountains during the other half. In fact, I’m on the sailboat in La Paz, B.C.S., Mexico as we do this interview.
But even on the boat, my day isn’t much different than what most copywriters do from their homes. Except that I tend to move my home around and take it with me if I decide to run to the islands for the weekend.
And I’ve met some great people while working from the boat… including the Bloody Mary client!
Any tips for newbie copywriters?
Be a learner for life. Study human nature. It’s the foundation of copywriting and sales strategy, hasn’t changed in millennia, and won’t anytime soon.
Then read a lot and be an observer of patterns. Winning copy ideas are all around you if you’re paying attention… and taking notes.
Finally, practise – continually. The race is not to be the swiftest, but to be the runner who just keeps putting one foot in front of the other.
And tips for clients?
Don’t price-shop for your copywriter. If your copywriter understands you, your voice and your business, she can be worth her weight in gold. And I’m not exaggerating… here’s why.
Good copy is positive ROI and cashflow over time. For any business, those metrics mean success. And if a copywriter takes the time to understand you and your business at that level, he’ll likely spend the same effort with your prospects.
Beyond this financial benefit of not price-shopping, there’s the time and trust element. Spending the time to get a new copywriter up to speed is time you won’t be able to spend on improving other parts of your job or your business.
And that doesn’t even count the time and stress savings from knowing you can trust your copywriter to deliver what you want – when she said she would – and not blow up your editorial calendar.