“Guru” is a four-letter word

Dear Business-Builder,

I’m getting a little bit worried
about this whole “copywriting guru” thing

Seems like every time I open my browser and Google “copywriting” or “marketing,” my b.s. detector begins screaming like a banshee these days.

You can’t throw a rock on the Web without hitting a self-proclaimed marketing or copywriting expert …

  • Guys and gals nobody ever heard of preening as “legendary” marketers or copywriters without presenting even a shred of evidence that any client ever even hired them — let alone that they’ve ever created a single winner …
  • Folks who have never promoted anything but their own products who pass themselves off as authorities …
  • “C” and “D” level copywriters who really should shut the hell up, go to school themselves and hit a few out of the park before sharing their “pearls of wisdom” …
  • Folks who don’t even DO marketing and couldn’t tell you what’s working and what isn’t — right now, today — if you held a gun to their heads.

And — surprise, surprise — every blessed one of them has something to sell you.  And more often than not, they charge truly outrageous prices for their products.

“Those who can do, DO.  Those who can’t do … TEACH.”

So goes the old saw about college professors.  Until recently, it was NOT true about most online marketing and copywriting coaches.  Most of the names you know spent decades producing legendary winners for their clients in heads-up competition with other top writers.

But now, I’m seeing ‘way too many wolves in sheep’s clothing online:  Self-proclaimed “experts” who evidently can’t make it in the real world, so they hang out their shingles as authorities.

Is that bad?

Not necessarily …

And absolutely.

On the one hand, most of the materials the poseurs sell are little more than advice they’ve “borrowed” from real experts.  So, truthfully, although I cringe at deceptive self-promotion and plagiarism, it’s only on rare occasions that I feel even the biggest frauds out there are passing out advice that could really hurt you.

On the other hand, money is a scarce resource for most — especially for copywriters and marketers just beginning their careers.  You can only buy so many books, courses and other training aids.  So it just makes sense to buy only the best.

After all — when you buy these things, you are investing in yourself — your career.  And like any other investment, your mission is to get the greatest return on investment possible.

So how do you get the biggest bang for your buck?

Here’s some stuff to think about BEFORE you unlimber your checkbook or credit card for any copywriting or marketing advice …

Ask yourself:  “Am I ready?”

Call me an old tightwad, but in my not-so-humble opinion, it’s idiotic to spend good money on training until you have devoured — even memorized — the massive volume of free advice from true masters of marketing and copywriting that’s available online and in your local library for free. 

Want a great place to start without spending a red cent?

Get thee to a library!

Check out Caples … Hopkins … Ogilvy … Schwab … Schwartz … Collier … anything by Drayton Bird and the other books on the recommended reading list we’ve included in our FAQ.

A great second step would be to get your name on every mailing list in the market niches in which you want to work.  This will cost you — you’ll have to buy something from each of the companies with which you ultimately want to work — but it’ll fill your mailbox and inbox with great copy and studying those promotions will teach you volumes. 

(Hey — did you think Bencivenga, Rutz, Halbert, Kennedy or Makepeace ever took a copywriting course?  HAH — the one thing ALL of us have in common is that we learned our craft by reading the masters, studying each others’ promotions and then going to work!)

Another great free resource: Click here.  And when you’re done reading and re-reading those articles, check out the archives at other copywriting sites.  Legendary Gary’s Bencivenga Bullets, Drayton Bird’s Bird Droppings and the late, great Gary Halbert’s site come to mind.

Come to think of it, since there’s so much great copywriting and marketing guidance online for free, it would probably make more sense for young writers to invest in a course on speed reading than on anything else!

What’s that you say?  You’re doing all of this?

Congratulations — you are wise.

So now, maybe a great course on copywriting would be a prudent investment.

Which ones should you buy? 

Well, I’ve often recommended Michael Masterson’s course and I still do.  And — although I’m admittedly biased — I think Quick-Start Copywriting System is tops.  And frankly, there are probably other copywriting courses I’d be happy to recommend if I knew about them.

Plus, there are books, courses and seminars on just about everything else you’ll do as a marketer:  Direct mail and e-mail marketing … PPC and SEO … even on basic direct response theory and product positioning and branding.

So how do you know which ones will be worth the money to you?

How to Separate the Sheep from the Goats

So now, you want to take your career to the next level with a book, a course, maybe even a live seminar.

But with so many gurus online, how do you know which ones will help you the most?

Here’s some stuff I’d do …

  • Give the marketing for the product a reality check.  This is crucial, so I’m going to say it loud:

    The simple truth is, neither I nor anybody else can make you a million-dollar copywriter or marketer.  You have to do that yourself. 

    It takes time.  It takes intense study and more intense work.  And it takes patience and the guts to stick to it when every brain cell is screaming that you should quit.

    All any of us can hope to do for you is to help you shorten your learning curve — help you get bigger winners sooner and hopefully, shave a few years off the time it takes you to get to the big bucks.

    Anyone who tells you different — especially anyone who claims copywriting or marketing are a “lazy man’s way to riches” is a lying sack of excrement in a suit. 

    If they’ll lie to you about this, they’re also perfectly capable of lying to you about their product, their testimonials, their guarantee and refund policy, everything.

  • Check out the guru who created the product.  Does he/she have plenty of testimonials about his/her expertise from companies or other experts you know and respect?  Do they say he/she has created winners for them in the real world?
  • Search the copywriting and marketing boards.  Do others speak highly of the expert and recommend his/her products?  Do other experts and customers recommend the product you’re contemplating buying right now?
  • Scan the Web.  When you Google the expert’s name or the product title, do you see only glowing references?  Or do you find red flags that suggest the expert and/or the product are not all they’re cracked up to be?
  • Check out the company.  Does the company you’re buying the product from offer a money-back guarantee and a spotless record for honoring their guarantee and issuing refunds promptly?  (A quick check of the Better Business Bureau and/or other online consumer sites could give you the answer.)

The best investment you’ll ever make

I gotta admit it — there’s a lot I love about helping marketers and copywriters accelerate their careers.  The testimonials we get — especially the ones that include details on how we’ve improved their response and/or income — give me no end of personal satisfaction.

But there’s something I do NOT enjoy:  The sad fact so many folks who buy self-help products never really USE those products.  It breaks my heart to hear about people who spent hundreds, even thousands of dollars on training but have never put that training to work — or worse, who have never studied the materials they paid for.

Do NOT be that guy! 

Put what you’ve learned to work right away.  And if it helps you, send a nice testimonial to the person you bought it from.  Or better yet, hop on the copywriting and marketing blogs and forums and tell the world about it.

So here’s your assignment for this week …

Post a comment below to tell us the very best marketing and/or copywriting products you’ve bought — and the worst?

Your review will help thousands of your fellow marketers and copywriters discover the things that really helped you — and they’ll also help us all avoid products that overpromise and/or underperform.

Hope this helps …

Yours for Bigger Winners, More Often,
Clayton Makepeace Signature
Clayton Makepeace
Publisher & Editor

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17 Responses to “Guru” is a four-letter word

  1. John Newtson says:

    Hey Clayton – there you go again, telling it like it is.

    The top tools I’ve invested in I can count on the fingers of one hand.

    1.Your power marketing summit (obviously ).
    2.The Easy Writer’s Marketing Club – -the webinars your produced were pure gold. Your $50 million campaign strategy where you broke down the entire contact strategy of a $20 million launch… the “Makepeace Multiplier” webinar… how to write financial winners, and on and on.

    3.The Steal these Secrets Swipe Files – one of the top collections of proven winners to study and breakdown.

    Maybe I’m biased but every time I turn around and realize my income doubled AGAIN, I say a few “Hail Makepeace’s” under my breath.

    As to what products I’ve bought that turned out to be duds… well, I’ll just say the amount of rehashed junk out there is amazing. The easiest way to tell if something’s junk in my opinion is: if the guru’s free content is really just a rehash of what the greats have said – there’s probably not many new, useful ideas in the products either.

    Anyone who reads your stuff, Gary Bencivenga’s articles, Gary Halbert’s articles, etc instantly sees mountains of original, valuable and profitable insights.

    And re: Copywriting as the Lazy way to riches. You remind me of something Claude Hopkins said about how he worked twice as many hours as his contemporaries so he had TWO LIFETIMES worth of experience to draw on.

    Hope everything’s going great on your end Clayton; you’ll have to let me take you out for sushi now!


  2. John Twohig says:

    I have to agree with you about the amount of people claiming to be experts in their fields.The two I keep coming back to are Drayton Bird and yourself.The advise is straight and honest.The amount of information is great and neither of you over egg the pud when trying to sell items.I find your use of english colourful and like myself neither of you suffer fools gladly.Keep the info coming it is a great help to my wife and I’s business.Which in the present circumstances in Ireland is not pretty. Our government has screwed up beyond belief but it has been the most educational twelve months in business EVER.

  3. Sean says:


    You really should let your feelings on the subject out…not hold these things in.

    Well anyway, here are my top favorites:

    Scientific advertising AND My life in Advertising by Claude Hopkins (I actually learned as much or more from My life in Advertising as the much talked about Scientific Advertising)

    AWAI’s course brought me into the business of copywriting and it is a good course. The real value for me was the spec assignments from the course and the bootcamp job fair. (I’m now working full time for a major marketer thanks to AWAI’s job fair and boot camp.)

    Steve Slaunwhite’s books on setting up your business and getting to work are also good.

    I think infomarketingblog.com is also a great resource of old ads and insights into those ads.

    And because I came out of owning my own small business and sales…any thing on sales by Gittomer, is good stuff. But I have a shelf full ideas from sales books that I am still learning to work into my copy.

    And I’ve begun studying psychology by reading books by Caldini.

    As far as writing, Strunk and White – The Elements of Style and Writing Well by Zinsser… these have cleaned up my writing and made it easier to read.(This post should not be used as a sign of the quality of these books)

    Finally, On Writing by Stephen King looks at the life of a writer and the very hard work required…where a good idea comes from… and several other great writing instructions.

    Oh yeah, I have decided to start reading a little fiction here and there by James Patterson. Turns out he was a very successful ad man before he went into fiction.

    Hope this helps…

    I’d love to stick around and talk some more but gotta get back to the 3 R’s…readin’, ritin’ and research.

  4. Ryan says:

    Dead on. I’ve been swindled by more than my share of “gurus” and, after a few burns, once even vowed to never buy another “course”, “product” or “system” again. I’ve also found most of the big name “gurus” leave you wanting if you have any experience at all. I am a doer and find that my own action and results teach me more than anything.

    However… Anyone that doesn’t recognize the leverage and acceleration that solid information can provide needs to pull their head out of the sand. The reason to find, purchase and use a good course is to jump ahead by taking advantage of another persons experience. It’s like using a great mentor – you just need to make sure you have a good mentor.

    This is the only problem I see with your advice, Clayton. There is too much information online that simply is either too disjointed or too diffused. I have to consume it all and then derive my own framework for “putting it all together” into a system that will work consistently. Getting there by sifting information online is like open pit mining to get an ounce of gold. I’d rather go and buy the ounce of gold and get to work.

    This is the reason I bit on your recent offer for the Quick-Start Copywriting System. The money is worth it to me to get the “straight dope”. I’m consuming it, taking lots of notes, and applying what I’m learning to current projects. This is worth 100X what I’d spend in time and brain cells to try to get the same benefit by picking up the few and far between nuggets online (although I love this site and Bencivenga’s Bullets). I’ve become extremely choosy about buying anything because when I get a course, I commit to it and exclude other information inputs – otherwise, it just becomes more information overload.


  5. Alex says:

    Funny that I find it much easier to specify the worst course I came across (something by one Jeff Paul, sure you’ve heard of him :-) ) than the best.

    Martin Ling and Brian Johnston stand out as marketers who have influenced me in positive way. They are both honest and very straight and they simply show their students what they actually do to make money.

    Why is that rare?

  6. Bogdan Irimia says:

    How you can check now for great testimonials with the new FTC rule? I think it leaves room for more scammers now then ever

  7. I’m watching in amusement as the prices of these “guru’s” programs are dropping down…down…down… All for the benefit of the reader, of course, and it COULDN’T have anything to do with the fact that people are getting wise to the junk. I will never buy one of these programs because all I have to do is read their shoddy email messages to know they are not all they’ve cracked themselves up to be.

    On the other hand — I’m still blessin’ my stars that you put Copywriter Quickstart on sale. Your emails are among the first I open each day, and when I saw that sale pop into my inbox, I whipped out that order so fast the form glowed red!

    I have numerous books/info products, but they come from only a few authors — the old greats, and copywriters/marketers like yourself, Bob Bly, Gary B. and a few others — because I know these are references that will make a real difference in my bottom line.

    As an aside — a HUGE “THANK YOU!” for a fantastic presentation at the AWAI Bootcamp. Once again, you plied us with rubber-meets-the-road advice, packing more information into a single session than others managed in two or three. And best of all, it was a REAL presentation. Not a thinly veiled seminar sales pitch. VERY much appreciated!

  8. Clarke Echols (Resident scientist and rabble-rouser) says:

    “You da MAN!”

    I was the top learning products engineer out of a department of about 50 at a large computer company when I retired 10 years ago. Then after getting scammed by Wall Street “brokers” (remember their job is to make you broker), I faced the necessity of finding an income source. 20 years as a writer, I figured it’d be a cake walk to pick up the AWAI 6-figure course and start writing.

    Yeah, right.

    Then I started running into names like Makepeace, Bly, Levis, Schefren, Carlton, Forde, Hauptman, and others
    you mentioned. And it was like drinking out of a firehose.
    Desktop Copy Coach. 5R system. A bunch of goodies from Bly who is a class act — pricing good stuff so ordinary folks can afford it. And Schefren’s $5K Business Accelerator that I got in a scratch-and-dent for a tenth of that (with not a scratch anywhere I could find). The first DVD was worth the cost of the entire package!

    And the stuff from StomperNet — not cheap, but good if you need to know SEO. And the Net Effect they produce monthly is crammed with great advice for running your business (not cheap).

    Signed up for a “List Building Club” thing with a $300 package and ended up with an inbox full of garbage from 8 or more mailing lists. Took a week to get the refunds straightened out. Wonder how long before the FTC shuts him down… Got an email this morning from another who’s bailing thanks to the new FTC rules.

    A powerful bunch of good stuff from Michael Stelzner at a very decent price. Perry Marshall too (it’s scary how many similarities there are in our background and experience).

    There are some others who seem to be very decent people who have a track record. But I don’t see any of them acting like they’re full of themselves (except for a small few who really are quite good — you just have to overlook the bluster :-) ).

    There are some “big names” out there that I once thought were credible, but no more. One had telemarketers trying to talk me into a $20K coaching program without even asking me what I wanted to accomplish. Blowhards…

    The ones you mention and my list are ample to keep anyone learning for a very long time. I’ve been at it 4 years now and I’m just now starting to feel a little bit competent. ADHD-like symptoms doesn’t help when there’s a lot to learn and do.

    But I set a high standard because I’ve been taught by the best, and I expect the best from myself. And catching up with a Makepeace who started copywriting when I was early in my tech writing days ain’t going to happen unless he slows down which he obviously isn’t going to do.

    It’s an honor to have you as a teacher, instead of some over-educated fool with a PhD from some fancy-wancy university who’s never done a bloomin’ thing in his life outside of academia and hasn’t a clue about how the real world works. I’ve had some good profs, and some not worth
    a flyin’ flip.

    And some of the morons those clowns produce end up running the country. Yuk!



  9. Certainly some of my best advice – specifically Claytons advice on 6 figure email campaigns – comes from The Total Package and it’s free.

    I am also a big “Legendary Gary” (Bencivenga)student and read and re-read his bullets and sales letters.

    I have just invested in his program and based on the knowledge he gives away for free, I think it will be one of the most valuable investments I make for myself and my families financial independence.

    It arrives next week – I am as excited as a little kid at Christmas! :)

    Thanks for the the thought provoking post Clayton.


  10. Sharon A. says:

    Hi Clayton–
    The best stuff by far comes from AWAI, you, H.G.Lewis, Bob Bly, Dan Kennedy, etc. You guys are the real deal. I can take whatever you all give out and actually put it to work.
    A few years back I picked up one of those crap courses that promised the moon but delivered squat. The whole thing could have been summed up in one sentence, (“Tell your buyers whatever they want to hear even if it’s a lie.”) and it took the “writer” 200 pages to say it. (Alex—that wasn’t Jeff Paul, was it?) I waded through a lot of garbage before I found AWAI. Now that I know the real stuff, I don’t go near anything else.

  11. Fellow Copywriters:
    If you want to be on the same page as your prospect…read Eugene Schwartz’s Breakthrough Advertising.

    If you dream of a six-figure copywriting career…sign up for the Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting.

    Take care.


  12. Tim says:

    The best? Drayton Bird’s Commonsense Direct Marketing.
    If I hadn’t read that book 5 years ago, I wouldn’t have my 6 figure publishing business now.
    Just one piece of advice from it (that almost no-one follows) increased sales by 60% – AND made my customers think I’m the bees knees.

    To top it all, the book’s a riveting read. Everyone: Buy it. Read it. Many times. But not in public – people will look at you funny when you laugh.

    The worst? “How to Market Books” by Alison Baverstock. Especially the chapter on direct mail – clueless.

  13. Shanika Journey says:

    My first major investment in studying and practicing copywriting was Micheal Masterson’s

    “Accelerated Program For Six-Figure Copywriting”

    My second major investment into learning the art copywriting career was Yanik Silver’s

    “Ultimate ‘At-Home’ Internet Copywriting Workshop”

    When I was writing for the major assignment in Masterson’s course, I didn’t understand structuring it into a readable format for the sale — no matter how many times I did the other assignments in it.

    So I invested in Yanik’s program to get a better, more detailed idea on structuring copy. As I learned from both a bit more, I started to write my own copy and see what happens — both online and offline.

    I tested from selling small things I owned but couldn’t get rid of to writing small advertisements, newsletters, business letters, and flyers for entrepreneurs.

    Over time, I transitioned into a freelance copywriting and animation career. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been rewarding.

    The old master and current masters are a blast to continue my education from. But, the best lessons you will ever get are out in the field. Hope this helps

  14. Tony Seymour says:

    Hi Clayton,

    The best marketing courses I’ve studied are :
    - Mass Control by Frank Kern, that taught me email marketing and is the basis for my face-to-face and seminar selling,
    - Product Launch Formula by Jeff Walker, that made me more money in a week the first time I used it, than I had made the whole year before.

    With these two courses, and hard work, one can’t lose.

    The worst :
    anything I’ve bought from “C” and “D” level marketers on the Warrior special offer section. The cheap $27 ebooks that are written by someone who probably has experienced so far less success at this game than I am… yuck.

    Thanks again for the quality of your blog,

  15. James says:

    Hi Clayton,

    It is always the job of the consumer to verify any claims made by the sellers.

    Since most consumers are too lazy to confirm if someone is a guru or not, then they will continue to be rip off.

    What a pity!

    James Abugah

  16. Dave says:

    Hey Clayton,

    Your Two Hours to More Profitable Sales Copy wins the “great things come in small packages” award.

    I figured it was going to be a collection of helpful hints. But damn — it’s a whole copywriting course squeezed into one little book.


  17. Hi Clayton,

    I have to agree with Dave. Two Hours to More Profitable Sales Copy is tops! … Especially if you combine it with all the free advice on The Total Package.

    The same goes for the Steal These Secrets swipe files.

    In MY case though, it all started with ‘Insider Secrets to Marketing Your Business on the Internet’ – first by Corey Rudl, then with Derek Gehl. I got that when my first online attempts failed dismally. I’ve never looked back.

    For all things small business related, I like Pete Curruthers uniquely South African take on handling the challenges of running a business. (http://www.petercarruthers.com/)

    All these resources have allowed me to run and market a few internet-based businesses, and now I’m helping some ‘micro-enterprises’ with their online and offline efforts. So far these have included:
    An independent software developer
    A photographer
    A martial arts teacher
    A media conversion specialist

    Besides this, my writing skills have improved. This has allowed me to move more easily between departments at my “day job”, negotiate increases, get free stuff, and ‘work email magic’ with difficult customers and suppliers, …

    … And it’s all thanks to the resources and advice from the real stars!

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