Why Your Sales Copy Isn’t The Problem

Stella Orange (Business Heroine Magazine)

“Stella, my copy isn’t working!”

If I had a nickel for every time I heard a business owner say this.

But here’s the thing: copy is important, but it’s not the only thing.

Copy is like frosting.

You can eat it straight out of the tub if you want.

But it really wants to be put on a cake.

Your marketing message is the cake in this analogy.

There’s a recipe to follow, more or less.

And then when you know how to bake a cake, then you can improvise and experiment a bit, and maybe put a layer of sliced strawberries between cake layers, or chopped pecans in the batter.

(When you know the basic recipe for frosting, same thing.)

But if you start getting artistic and experimental before you know how to bake a cake, it’s not going to taste very good. And no one will eat it.

Now, something a lot of smart people used to moving fast tend to miss is the question: Where am I serving this cake?

This is about strategy. If your copy is the frosting, and your marketing message is the cake, it’s wise to think about what you want them to do for your business.

In other words, most people don’t have a frosting problem – they have a cake problem or a serving the cake problem.

While their copy may not be great, the reason they aren’t getting the results they want is that their cake recipe stinks or they just started tossing flour, butter, and eggs in a bowl, took it to the bus station and said “who wants cake?!”

Now, before this analogy becomes too ridiculous, let’s take a look at how this works in a real life example.

Why Sending More Emails Is NOT the Solution

Take a woman I talked to recently. We’ll call her Penelope. Penelope came to me because she thought she was having a copy problem. She was sending emails to promote a group program.

The problem was, no one was buying from her emails.

Now, Penelope had a business coach. So she went back to her business coach and said, “my emails aren’t working. Now what do I do?”

And her business coach told her, “Send more emails.”

Side bar: not everyone who calls herself a Business Coach actually is one.

Beware the life coach with Business Coach printed on her business cards.

But back to our story. Penelope followed the advice of her life coach marketing herself as a business coach.

She sent more emails to her list, which was not responding, buying, or even opening the emails she had already sent.

A friend of hers, on her list, emailed Penelope to beg for email mercy.

“I love you,” the friend said, “But it’s too much!”

That’s when Penelope called me.

When I asked her what the problem was, she said, “it’s my copy! I’m writing all these emails, but no one is buying. Can you teach me how to write copy?”

Here’s the thing—sure, I could give her some tips for how to make her frosting tastier, but my hunch was that she had a bigger problem on her hands.

She was down at the proverbial bus station, trying to hand out spoonfuls of cake batter.

That’s A Strategy Problem, Not a Copy Problem

I asked Penelope, “How many people are on your list?”

“One hundred twenty,” she replied. Here’s what followed:

Stella: And if this project worked beautifully, what’s your goal?

Penelope: To fill my group program with 10 people.

S: Do you already have a full roster of private clients?

P: No. I need more of those, too.

S: This isn’t a copy problem.

P: It’s not?

S: Nope. It’s a strategy problem.

Here’s the thing about writing copy – if you pick the wrong project, it doesn’t matter if you write its pants off. It’s not going to work.

In Penelope’s case, her first problem was strategic because she was using the wrong strategy to fill a group program.

Writing sales copy is a skill. Like any skill, it takes study, practice and repetition to develop. It’s really difficult for someone who is in their first 2-3 years of business to write emails that are so good, they move people to buy.

She would have been much better off picking up the phone and calling people, one at a time.

The personal touch always outperforms online marketing, up to the point your business is filled with private clients and are looking for ways to reach more people and impact more lives.

But Penelope’s real problem was that she was focusing on filling a low-price point group program, instead of filling out her one-on-one client load.

This is a mistake is deadly because it sabotages her monthly income. She’s basically setting herself up for feast-or-famine mode.

This is when I felt myself get hot and mama bear angry at the life coach marketing herself as a business coach. Her advice was bad, and worse, it defied common sense, which would tells us to focus on getting private clients through one on one sales conversations, not throwing someone who’s still building her client base into the shark-infested sales-email ocean.  (Also, telling someone with 120 people on her list that she can successfully put 10 people in a program through emails isn’t optimism; it’s false hope. Sure, it can happen. But not to a beginner.)

Sure, You May Still Have a Copy Problem

The point is, if you think your writing isn’t working, make sure that you’ve ruled out that it’s a strategy or message problem first.

In other words, are you down at the bus station handing out spoonfuls of cake batter?

This isn’t to say there’s no such thing as a copy problem. It’s quite the opposite. From overcoming perfectionism, to streamlining your writing time, to making sure you stay creative and on your own growing edge so the audience you’ve built keeps paying attention… to how to actually up your email open and click rates… all of those are copy problems. And common ones, too!

But don’t let copy be your scapegoat.


Stella Orange (Business Heroine Magazine)

Business Heroine Magazine


We’d love to hear from YOU…

Do you have a copy problem, or a strategy problem? What’s one thing you can do to address your strategy? Leave your answer in the comments below! 



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