The power of less-than-perfect

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Let’s take a virtual walk-n-talk, eh? I have a little exercise I think you’ll like.

It’s about how you can really connect with the people you’re trying to reach.

But first, I’d like to tell you about a couple copywriting origin stories.

Once upon a time, there was a copywriter who grew up in a blue collar, working class family in South Texas.

This copywriter kicked ass and took names throughout school, eventually earning a Master’s degree from a prestigious university.

This copywriter went on to take great jobs with big name companies, make great connections with top marketers, and ultimately learned how to sell millions of dollars in product.

One story down, one to go. Stick with me.

Another copywriter was working toward landing the dream job and was suddenly laid off.

This copywriter turned to a skill that could be sold immediately – writing. It didn’t go smoothly, not by a longshot.

This copywriter eventually lost the apartment, lost everything, and had to move in with generous friends who had a couch to spare.

This copywriter took all the crappy jobs from eLance and Guru, eventually learning through trial and error (and sheer bullheaded refusal to give up) how to sell millions of dollars in product.

Quick question: can you figure out which one is me?

Now don’t be too upset with me, because that was kind of a trick question…

Those stories are actually both me.

There’s a reason for my deception, I promise.

It’s to open a dialog about origin stories and damaging admissions.

Over the years, I’ve told both stories – the pedigree and the struggle.

The story of my struggle is the most effective, hands down. Every. Single. Time.

I found this fascinating – it’s the opposite of conventional business wisdom, where you put your best foot forward all the time.

Share your impressive stats, include the big names for social proof. When someone asks you to share an area where you could do better, you give ‘em the tried-and-true “I’m a perfectionist” schtick.


Here’s the thing – this ain’t Facebook.

This isn’t vacation photos and 24/7 news feed of shiny, happy people.

It’s business.

People resonate with the struggle. They resonate with the flaws.

They’ve been there themselves, or they’re close to someone who has.

Whether you’re selling a biz op, a cooking course, or a state of zen…

…you’re dealing with flawed human beings.

That struggle?

They may not vocalize it (conventional wisdom and/or Stepford Facebook strikes again), but it’s there with them in their heads as they’re experiencing your pitch and going through your funnel.

The pedigree is all well and good, but it could cause them to say, “well, I don’t have that kind of experience – this probably won’t work for me”.

That less-than-perfect past or your slightly imperfect product makes you more relatable, helps you connect. And most importantly, it helps your clients and prospects BELIEVE.

And it may seem magical, but it’s really just a tactic like any other you’d use to connect, build trust, and eventually make a sale. It’s known as the damaging admission.

So how do you find it, and how do you use it?

I’ve always used my gut – when it’s something that starts to make me feel squeamish, like I would be super embarrassed to share, I know I’m onto something.

I know that someone else out there has struggled with that exact same feeling in a nearly identical situation.

And that by sharing my less-than-perfect experience, I could potentially help them make it through too.

Have you used a damaging admission in your origin story or sales materials? Was it gut instinct to share, or a conscious tactical decision? I’m curious to hear your story.

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Angie Colee
Angie Colee
Angie Colee is a Senior Copywriter in retail by day and rockstar blues vocalist by night. She is obsessed with marketing strategy, simplifying complex ideas, and making her cat the next internet sensation. Life goals include trademarking her awesomely red hair and figuring out how to drink hot coffee without burning herself. If you’re ever in the San Francisco bay area, look her up.
Showing 4 comments
  • Zain

    I would think this would be a huge turn off for clients. But a copywriter still working a corporate gig, of someone asks, of course you’re honest and let them know, but isn’t that too much of a damaging admission?

    The obvious question that comes up in my head thinking like the prospect is – if you’re not good enough to do this full time, why should I pay you too dollar?

    I’ve still gotten clients who’ve paid me thousands and fortunately produced some great results, but that’s one admission that scares me.

  • Reply

    Let me see if I’m understanding –

    So in your mind, is the formerly homeless damaging admission a turn off, or the fact that I’m full time in retail?

    My clients have never had a problem with either, but of course there’s always different strokes for different folks.

    As far as homelessness is concerned, I don’t think it’s too much of a damaging admission – frankly it shows I was hungry, still am hungry. Everything I learned from those early days was largely self taught because of a lack of resources. And that self education worked well enough that I’m full time with a known brand.

    If we are talking damaging admission in terms of telling clients I have a day job, sure it’ll cost me some business. You know and I know that there are a lot of reasons a moonlighter won’t work – quick deadlines, meetings, accessibility. Those guys tend to appreciate that I tell them my availability up front so they can find someone that better meets their needs.

    But for others who need a skilled copywriter familiar with juggling multiple projects and meeting tight deadlines with little hand-holding? I fit that bill pretty well. And I’m constantly adding direct response principles and campaigns into my company’s marketing, so I still have the numbers to back it up.

    Of course, part of the reason all of this works is that I DO have the knowledge to back it up.

    But this works for beginners too – it becomes sort of a filtering mechanism. There are a LOT of clients out there willing to work with newer, hungrier freelancers. It really just depends on your needs and the connection.

    Personally, I prefer the honesty.

  • Tim Woo

    I shared this idea with a lead just the other day.

    His story unfolds with his current credentials and how his father helped him learn to produce music at a young age… he was shown him the ropes to analog music production, which gave him a tremendous head start in the digital age. As he told me about his audience (young guys who are just getting into producing music), I started to see a disconnect…

    While his story is incredible at first, he loses touch with a majority of his audience by continuously putting himself on the pedestal later on in his funnel. Towards the end of the call, I sold him on the idea of sprinkling his struggles in music production in his funnel…moments where he was stuck at a “plateau”… unhappy with his success in music production…hopeless without his dad. He’d never thought about this this way before, but I could tell he liked the sound of it. Let’s see how this goes!

    There’s a tremendous amount of pulling power when you share your struggle…it’s oddly satisfying when I read them. Great post, Angie – thanks for sharing.

    • Reply

      Yeah, there’s a definite art to using yourself as an example – and it usually starts with a slice of humble pie to tempt the reader into indulging in your story. Self-deprecating humor is still a pretty powerful tool.

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