freelance copywriter

Laura Belgray: “Email Is the Engine of My Business”

Where do you begin to introduce a copywriting powerhouse like Laura Belgray? The founder of Talking Shrimp and co-creator of The Copy Cure talks business growth, the secret to awesome copy, and her favorite marketing channel – email.

We’re thrilled to have her!

Laura Belgray talks copywriting, email, and growing a successful business

When did you first realize that the words you write can persuade people? 

The words one writes, or the words I write? I’ll go with the latter. Because I always knew in theory: the right words persuade. But I think it was when I first sold B-School as an affiliate that I realized, “Holy shit, it works!”

I knew that the words on my website got people to sign up for my services and that my work for them helped them persuade their buyers, but this was direct, hard (cold cash) proof.

What made you give up client work when you were making $1,450 an hour? Who gives that up? Are the courses you’re offering enough to pay for your overpriced raspberries? 😉 

Ha! Today’s overpriced raspberries were disappointing, they’re going back to the store.

Yes, between my mini-courses, my group program Shrimp Club, and affiliate launches, I easily make up for the client income. (The Copy Cure, I try to put aside as savings.)

Honestly, I was only taking clients on Wednesday by the end, anyway. And when I had a full day of them booked back to back, I hated it.

I know it sounds weird, but it wasn’t the experience of taking clients back to back so much as the look of my calendar on those days. It looked like a junk drawer you don’t want to deal with.

Laura Belgray was charging $1,450/hour when she decided to give up client work.

There are so many copywriters out there still dreaming of success and financial freedom. If you could sum up your strategy or formula, how would it sound?

It’s a big mix of things, but I’ll try to sum it up in 3 parts. 

Validation: Yes, you should get validation from inside yourself! But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about social proof.

Use testimonials.

Showcase anything nice that people say about you shamelessly. Instagram is good for that. So are high prices.

The more I charged, the more it seemed to prove I was worth.

And don’t be afraid to brag about your wins. (But do add in some humility, please.) Humans are so basic. We like what’s hot!

Volume: It pays to be prolific. My business and public perception really took off when I started emailing my list more. So did creativity. So did sales. 

Visibility: This one can be uncomfortable to go for, but it makes the biggest difference.

Be seen.

Be everywhere.

Pitch to media

Be a podcast whore.

And yeah, you think no one wants to see your selfies, but they do. Show your face. It keeps you top of mind and builds the know, like, trust and stalk factor. Stalk might be the most important. 

What did you struggle with the most while growing your brand?

List size. I still do. I know I should do FB ads, but for some reason, I’m still resistant. 

sending marketing emails
Laura sends awesome emails every week – go subscribe!

Let’s talk email: how much has it helped you grow your business?

Um. Infinitely? It’s the engine of my business.

Not only is it what people now know me for (because I keep bragging about it), but it’s how I’ve managed to get to the top of affiliate launch leaderboards when I’m up against partners with lists 100x the size.

It’s how I’ve gotten people to spread the love when I have a piece out in Money or Business Insider. Also, it’s how I’ve developed all the relationships with strangers who, otherwise, would see me as just another copywriter on Facebook and Instagram. It’s how I cement the connection with people who found me from The Copy Cure. 

Not only that, it keeps me excited about my business, which is everything. When you lose that spark, you head for burnout and then you flame out.

I love writing emails. Always have, and used to fantasize that I’d make a living writing them.

When it comes to email marketing, what are your do’s and dont’s?

That’s a whole course. I’ll give you my top ones (they all boil down to making your email feel like an EFAB, an Email From A Bestie, as opposed to a “newsletter”):

  • Write conversationally, as if you’re writing to ONE friend — not formally, to a group.
  • Put effort into the subject line, making it intriguing and also informal, as if it’s from a friend.
  • Pay attention to the preview text. There’s easy html code to put in so those first few lines they see in their inbox can be different from the first few lines of the email. That can make all the difference in whether someone opens the email. 

How often do you clean your list?

Once a year? I should probably do it more. 

What’s the secret to awesome copy, Laura?

I think this is from Elmore Leonard: If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.

Laura Belgray
How do you turn strangers into friends and friends into customers, as Seth Godin says? Laura’s first answer is email.

What is the one thing you do every day that helps you be a better copywriter?

Write! It’s not a unique answer, but it’s true.

What advice do you have for small business owners who can’t afford a copywriter?

Learn to write copy. Study what works on you, more than anything. What makes you open an email? What makes you buy a course?

Keep notes. Practice. You might be better at your own copy than you think.

You’ve been writing your book lately — what’s it going to be about?

It’s going to be about….ME! I mean, relatable, universal life experiences. It’s personal essays. 

Is it going to be out next year?

I don’t know the timelines of publishing, but my birthday goal is to have the proposal finished. I’d love for it to come out next year, too. 

What do you most like to do when you don’t have to do anything?

Watch TV. Either peak TV series like Succession, or peak garbage like Real Housewives.

How would you like your life to be in 10 years?

Like it is now, but with less work and more money. 

I’d like “bestselling author” after my name, and to be a highly-paid speaker who only speaks a few times a year. 

Laura Belgray copywriter
Future “bestselling author” Laura Belgray, at home in New York.

Wait, there’s more! Q&A with Laura Belgray

Your No. 1 writing pet peeve:

Unnecessary formality. And “Your welcome.”

The words and phrases a business should never use in its copy:

“Live your best life.” (Unless you’re Oprah.) “Solutions.”

A brand email you always open:

There’s truly none I always open. Not even Seth Godin’s. Goop has gotten me a couple of times when I wasn’t going to open it. Colleagues: Ash Ambirge, Michelle Martello, Matthew Kimberley. They all use personal stories.

The word more marketers should use in their copy:

Snurge. (That’s the word for someone who sniffs bicycle seats.) 

A grammar rule you love breaking:

The one about not using sentence fragments. And I think ending in a preposition is nothing to be afraid of.

A grammar rule you always stick to:

I never use the subject pronoun when it’s supposed to be an object pronoun. Meaning, you’ll never hear me say “between you and I.” 

Your favorite place to work:

At home, my couch, TV on. Outside home, a hotel restaurant at breakfast. I love bringing my laptop to breakfast. 

The best way to grow your email list:

Go on podcasts and offer a freebie.

The no. 1 distraction that causes you to procrastinate:

1) Insecurity.

2) A notification dot on any social media app. 

The most surprising thing that’s ever happened to you:

This is such a loser marketing nerd answer: Being number 1 on an affiliate sales leaderboard. My list is tiny compared to the other top affiliates.

Otherwise, I just realized nothing surprising happens in my life. I have to get out more.

Laura Belgray

How to write better copy: listen to Laura Belgray

I discovered Laura a couple of years ago, when I was researching ways to write better copy. Email list validation was growing as an industry, but I couldn’t seem to find the best words to capture its value and make it exciting for people. Talking Shrimp turned out to be a copywriting goldmine. It felt as if Laura had read my mind and knew exactly what answers I was looking for.

Laura Belgray has been writing for more than 20 years – first, for SPY Magazine and New York Magazine. Then, she started writing promos for VH1 and continued to create content for brands such as NBC, HBO, Lifetime or Oxygen.

A few years back, she spoke about her craft at Marie Forleo’s first live event, and several entrepreneurs noticed her. And started hiring her. Over the past few years, her brand, Talking Shrimp, became a go-to copywriting source for both marketers and entrepreneurs.

You’re also going to love:

Joanna Wiebe: “Without Email, We’d Have No Business”

Steph Taylor: “Email Is the Highest ROI Marketing Channel for My Business”

David Meerman Scott: “No One Cares About Your Products and Services – Except You”

writing copy

Need help with your writing? Get “The Copy Cure”

In 2015, Laura Belgray and Marie Forleo – who’ve been longtime friends – partnered and created The Copy Cure. They call it “the ultimate copywriting course,” and it is, indeed, the best way to describe it. I bought it last year and it’s been helping me so much when writing copy for ZeroBounce. Hands down, the best investment I’ve made since I switched from journalism to marketing!

Apart from The Copy Cure, Laura Belgray offers two other courses:

Want to book Laura Belgray to speak at your event? Check out this page. And don’t forget to get on her email list and follow her on Instagram for amazingly useful – and free! – copywriting tips.

Photos by Eric Michael Pearson.