UK Freelancer Uses Articles (AND Attitude…) to Land $38K Direct Mail Gigs…

So, there’s this commercial writing bloke in the UK named Jon McCulloch who first contacted me shortly after The Well-Fed Writer came out in 2000. We’ve kept in touch over the years and I’ve had a front-row seat to his at-times painful struggles through myriad challenges – personal and professional. But, those times are long in the past. To say this erstwhile technical writer has found his niche would an understatement of biblical proportions. We’ll get to that niche in a moment…

One of Jon’s key business-building tools is writing free articles for small local publications. After viewing one of his pieces (details below) and commenting on it to him, he pointed out, “Notice how in the article, I tell them what they need to do, but not how to do it.” By way of good, though somewhat elusive content, he’s a master at building the intrigue and curiosity about his services. And according to him, each column he writes brings him roughly a dozen leads.

Leads for what? His different lead-generation packages. But check this out; here’s how he works: His phone is answered by voice mail. His assistant will then set up a complimentary 15-minute chat with the prospective client, just to decide if HE wants to work with them. If that goes well, he’ll let them pay him $697 for a one-hour consultation to get the parameters of the project. If they both agree there’s a fit, he takes them on as a client.

While his different packages vary in their scope, these days, he’s more than likely to push AND land his full-featured direct mail campaign. Which, incidentally, sells for $37,997. No negotiation. No discounts. The components? A direct mail letter, postcards, lead-generation advertising in offline media, press releases, articles, email-responders, squeeze pages, and, he says, “all the advice they can eat… and anything else that really comes up.” It takes him roughly six weeks to execute.

He reportedly has people lined up to do business with him. Talk about building a mystique around what you do. He knows he’s a good writer, but is convinced that his success is as much, if not more, about mindset as it is about talent.

Click here for a blog post of his strategy. Later on in the piece, click on the link that reads: “here’s a copy of April’s column in the local paper I write for every month” to see one of those pieces.

Do you write free articles to generate business and if so, what have your results been?

What role does mindset – about your abilities and the fees you deserve – play in your success?

13 replies
  1. Star
    Star says:

    Yup, reporters love people who write free content. I do admire his
    nerve, though–we all need to decide what we are worth and stick to it.
    If the client hems and haws, then maybe–maybe–we deduct a service or two
    to accept the offered price (if we want to accept the offered price). I
    never just say, “Oh, you can’t afford $2500, well sure, $1500 is fine.”

  2. Jon McCulloch
    Jon McCulloch says:


    Funny you should say that about “nerve”. I was talking to a new client just last Thursday (a guy who’d seen my piece in the paper), and one thing he said he “envied” was my “ability” to pick and choose and be somewhat aloof with prospects and clients.

    He was disappointed and I suspect a little disbelieving to discover I started doing this before I could really “afford” to and there is no magic or arcane knowledge involved, just a determination to run my business on my terms and not to work with anyone I don’t want to work with, no matter how much I “need” the money. No possible fee is worth the pain and emotional torture of working with bad clients.

    Some people, of course, hate it and don’t want to know. That’s cool, because they’re not people I would or could work with. I’ve found if I attract exactly the people I want, then I can charge higher fees AND get better results (because they like me and they tend to follow my advice).

    So it’s not so much “nerve” I have as an aversion to the pain of working with clients I don’t want and can’t get on with! My days of sitting on the end of the line waiting for clients to deign to call me and telling me to give them my “best price” are long since gone.

    Besides, try and be all things to all men (and women) and you end up being nuffink to no-one. I’ve found, overwhelmingly, people actually LIKE being given clear boundaries.

    — Jon

  3. Tom Welsh
    Tom Welsh says:

    Peter, thanks for bringing JM to my attention. I followed the links and read both his own blog posting and the referenced article in his local paper. Ain’t it amazing how universal this stuff is? In my neighborhood business district (in SE Portland, OR, USA) I see the same revolving door syndrome: storefront vacated/”for lease” sign up/new business buildout/”grand opening!” banner (replete with balloons, giant airfilled puppet, dinky ad in local paper, etc.)/vacant shop. In my ramblings I have gotten to know some of these entrepreneurs and it is heartbreaking to see.

    Jon has really mastered that “simple” art of writing as he speaks, and I for one would love the chance to sit down and have a pint with him! (Actually, I feel like I already have….)

    Tom Welsh

  4. Mike Klassen
    Mike Klassen says:

    Along the same “mindset” lines, copywriter Richard Armstrong wrote a 7 page article called, “Make More By Writing Less – Or How I Went from Charging $2,500 for a Direct-Mail Letter to $22,500 by Turning Business Away.”

    If you scroll down a bit, you’ll see a link to the article which is a PDF. You don’t have to buy anything to get it or even give him any contact information.

    Always interesting how it comes back to mindset and having a healthy respect for your talents and time, huh?. I think it was a quote from one of the Well-Fed books that I’ve used over and over again in talking with people. This isn’t exact but… “There are things you can control and things you can’t control. If you just take care of the things you can control, that’s more than enough to be successful.”

    Your mindset is the ultimate thing that you can control.

    (Sorry if I misquoted or mis-attributed that to you, PB.)

  5. Jon McCulloch
    Jon McCulloch says:


    Thanks for the kind words.

    It’s hardly surpising things are the same wherever you go, because we’re all pretty much the same — we all run similar software on similar hardware, and more often than not the reason of the neocortex is overridden by the emotion of the limbic system. And that’s normal – for the vast majority of our history, hominids who stopped to think about the species of wild creature about to eat them… were known by the name of “dinner”.

    Unfortunately, business owners go into business high on the emotion of possibility and pay scant regard to the reason of reality. And so it goes.

    As for a pint: I don’t know where you are in the US, but I’m in North Carolina next week, coincidentally giving a presentation aimed at teaching people how to write as they speak. You’ll be pleased to know my MasterMind members on actually meeting me for the first time told me I was exactly as expected (I fool myself into thinking that was a compliment…).

    Mike: Jim Rohn frequently points out you can’t change the weather, the economy, the government, taxes, or other people… so all you have left is to change yourself.

    I add to that, “it behooves us to deal with the world as it IS, not how we WANT it to be, THINK it is, or BELIEVE it OUGHT to be”.



  6. Tom Welsh
    Tom Welsh says:


    While I have been known to go to extremes for a nice pint, I live on the other coast and a trip of that length would be a bit much even for me!

    Your comments about the limbic system vs. neocortex echo a book I am in the middle of reading: “A General Theory of Love.” It’s about 8 years old and written by three guys with lots of initials after their names. Highly recommended! I got onto it from Michael Masterson’s blog.

    Thanks again, and best of luck to you in NC.


  7. Jon McCulloch
    Jon McCulloch says:


    Thanks for the book recommendation. Just bought it from Amazon (and anyone who’s serious about their business and doesn’t have Amazon’s “buy with one click” turned on is… not really serious about their business).

    I’ll return the favour:

    1. “Quirkology”, by Richard Wiseman
    2. “The Mind of the Market”, Michael Shermer
    3. “Did you spot the Gorilla”, by Richard Wiseman
    4. “The Luck Factor”, by Richard Wiseman

    They’re all science-based and delve into human psychology and evolution. Awesome.


  8. Devon Ellington
    Devon Ellington says:

    I think that’s a great example of what a bunch of freelancers have been talking about in the blogosphere for awhile — that when you have enough respect for your work to set a healthy fee (and avoid these crap employers who want $1/article for 20 articles/week), you wind up with a better pay rate AND clients with whom you want to work. And your clients get quality content at a fair price. Everyone wins.

    Good for you, Jon! You’re setting a great example.

    And it’s true — when you say “no” — they want you more.

    I don’t have that kind of fee schedule yet — but I do have the phone shut off most of the time when I’m working. I loathe the telephone, especially during writing time. While I have designated hours to check messages and return calls, I do not allow the telephone to interrupt my workday!

  9. Jenny Burr
    Jenny Burr says:

    Thank you for this post. Wow, who would have thought that an article written for free could generate so many possibilites. You have given me a lot to ponder.

  10. Jon McCulloch
    Jon McCulloch says:


    There’s a BIG conceptual gap here. This was NOT an article I “wrote for free”; rather this was $4,000 in advertising I GOT for free.

    Can you see the difference?

    Reward does not have to come in the form of a cheque. I agree writing on spec or genuinely for free is daft — because I’m a professional and I demand fair reward for my services. For example, had the paper said I couldn’t put my blurb at the end of the article, there’s no way I’d write this column.

    What this column does is position me as the expert and gives people the opportunity to contact me for help (and they have already — walked out of the guy’s office last week with a $5,000 retainer in my hand).

    — Jon

  11. Jon McCulloch
    Jon McCulloch says:


    Just an update on this: after submitting an Action Plan (NEVER a “proposal”, because a “proposal” needs thinking about whereas an Action Plan needs a decision to take action), this has converted into a 12-month €30,000 ($46,600) contract for copywriting and consulting.

    I’m not telling you this to brag — it’s to impress upon you the power of this kind of marketing. Consider: my client saw my article and the information in it — the promise of what marketing can do for his business, if you like — resonated with his immediate need: increased business in these troubled times.

    It’s a whole world away from cold-calling, direct-mail to cold lists, and even overt lead-generation advertising.

    — Jon

  12. vona
    vona says:


    You have givin me so much hope. Im an american living in london and i’ve been really scared that you cant make alot of money in the UK as a freelance writer. Especilly because i’ve learnt from all the american gurus. But now im gonna go for it. im just starting but now i know whats possible. thanks


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Optionally add an image