Quick take: The skills you’ve honed as an entrepreneur may be well suited for taking your talents in-house for a corporate gig. Find out why a J-O-B might actually be a perfect move for you.
Each week I sit down with incredible entrepreneurs and marketing minds to bring you inspiring and actionable lessons you can use to start and grow your coaching, consulting, or service-based business. If you love the show, be sure to subscribe above so you don’t miss an episode.
Today’s episode is a bit of a counter-punch to our usual conversation on entrepreneurship. This week I’m bringing you part 1 of a 2-part interview with Michel Fortin, a legendary copywriter and full-stack marketer who currently serves as the director of marketing for a medical clinic in Ottawa, Canada.
In this first part of my interview with Michel, we dig into his choice to take on a dedicated role inside a company, the principles of kaizen that he brings to his leadership style, and how he is still able to scratch his entrepreneurial itch.
Coming up in Part 2, Michel reveals his approach to copywriting that yields 7-figure results.
Transcripts, resources, and top-takeaways are below.
Michel Fortin has turned words into significant revenues for companies of all sizes. He gained internet marketing fame as the copywriter behind John Reese’s Traffic Secrets launch in 2004, which is believed to be the first time an information product earned $1 million in a single day. He’s a powerlifter, drummer, actor, philanthropist, and a leading voice in copywriting.
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If you’re short on time, here are a few golden nuggets from our conversation and the resources mentioned.
- Your experience matters. Companies in growth mode look for experienced marketers to help them get to the next level.
- You can always say no. Taking on a role with a company can be on your terms, including keeping your business going on a low burner.
- Diversify your sources of inspiration. Stay involved in varied activities and find ideas across industries and spectrums.
- Collaborate for better ideas. Running your business may be a 1-person show when it comes to decision making, but inside a team, the best ideas can come from anyone.
Get to know Michel
Bob: Michel, thank you so much for joining me for today’s episode of The Lead Generation. It’s so great to have you on.
Michel: It’s my pleasure Bob, thank you for having me on.
Bob: We’re going to get into some really cool stuff today. It’s a little different conversation than what we usually have on this podcast about entrepreneurship and so forth. You went the opposite direction, and there’s some nuance to that, that we’ll talk about in a moment.
Bob: When it comes to you in general, the journey that you’ve been on for the last, I don’t know, 30 some years, how would you say people are impacted by the work that you do, whether it was as a copy guy or as an in-house director of marketing, et cetera? What do you think people take away from being able to work with you?
Michel: The one thing that I do believe that I have in me, and as you are, Bob The teacher, you could probably relate to this, is that I have a teaching gene. And I love doing what I do because I love not only making results happen for a client, whether it’s copy, whether it’s consulting, whether it’s actually working for an employer or working for a client. At the same time, I like to walk away looking at whoever I have helped grow, and grow on their own, and learn what I’ve given them and then take that.
And even, I can learn from them, because a lot of times, especially in the digital marketing world, the IT industry is evolving at such a lightning speed. Right now I am actually very, very interested in the whole process called digital transformation. IOT, Internet of Things, big data, cloud computing and whatnot. Being a digital marketer and a geek since I, I used to browse the internet when I was 11 years old on a 300 baud modem, on a dial up modem. Calling bulletin boards, of course this is before the [web].
So the geek in me loves to grow, and that’s why the constant challenge, because it is a bit of a challenge, to look at how I can take it to the next level. For me it’s not necessarily about titles, or even jobs or industries. It’s about where I go from here for myself and how I feel that I have grown from that. And teaching is a big part of that. Looking at people who have grown and become millionaires in their own businesses through my help or if I played some small part in it, for me it’s phenomenal.
Bob: I love that. And one of the things that I’ve always appreciated about you is that you are as in love with the results of people you work with as you are in your own results, right?
Michel: Oh, yeah. The thing is that a lot of people who know me, know that, first of all, I’m a competitive powerlifter, right? As a competitive powerlifter, a lot of people say, “Well, you know, I’m not a competitive powerlifter.” There’s no actual competition, because I do powerlifting meets, but I do also want to break my own records. That is the goal in powerlifting. It is always to do better the next time you compete. It’s always upping your one rep max is what they say. So basically I do a squat, bench, and deadlift.
And that pervades my philosophy and my mentality in business, and the way I work with clients is, I could always try to do better. I always try to outdo myself. Looking at clients growing, and that’s a big part of that. That nature, that self-competitive nature comes out, and it also pervades in business and it pervades also with my clients and employers now.
Diversifying your sources of inspiration
Bob: That’s really good. There’s so much really juicy stuff to talk about today. I’m glad you already brought up the power lifting thing, because one of the things I was going to ask you about is this concept of Michel Fortin as a Renaissance man. You drum, you act, you power lift, you write copy, you dabble in about 15 different channels of marketing.
What would you say is the reason behind that? What drives you to explore and keep being better for yourself in these disparate areas?
Michel: The power lifting thing is indicative of just my thought process. I just love to be better. I love to always outdo myself, always improving, always excelling. I think the one thing that I hate the most is being bored. You know my history, and you know that I’ve gone through a bit of a dark time in my life. And during that time, keeping myself busy was critical. And so I’m constantly taking courses, I have several certifications, and I’m still taking some more courses right now online to do my MBA.
I’m also working with my current employer, but also have a few side hustles. My business is still expanding in that sense, and hopefully not taking too much time, because I like to breathe sometimes. And I do the acting. Also, I’m a musician in several bands, because I hate being bored, but at the same time, it’s not about being busy, busy, busy. Because of course, one can be busy in just one thing. I just love to do different things, and I love to taste different things. I think I’ll finish with this.
There’s a creative brain in me, and the scientific brain in me. The analyst and the artist. And it’s a great thing, because the artist in me loves to come up with new ideas, brainstorming and Sherlocking problems and finding solutions and workarounds, and coming up with new headlines, new copy ideas, new offers. And then the scientist in me is a geek. I love IT, I love digital marketing, and I love the whole mathematical side of marketing, especially when it comes to split testing, making sure that things are actually tested and proven to work. I’m very evidence based and scientific based and data driven.
So sometimes they clash, and how those two brains meet, they’re clashing. But it’s a great balance, because one keeps the other one in check. In marketing especially, and being a marketer at heart, you get, or you can find some of the best marketing ideas from completely, totally different fields and industries. And that’s why you need to test everything. I think it was Gary V. that said that it’s really a holistic thing. You need to know enough about everything to be dangerous. But not enough to commit murder.
By that I mean, if I hire people, if I’ve actually worked with a client that’s in a different industry, I can look at it knowing that I have a bit of experience in that sense. So a part of me, I will find things, like I do acting as well. We do some marketing campaigns, or I will do something in my local theater. I do murder mysteries here in Ottawa. And I’ll realize there’s some things that we do in that, that we can actually apply into this computer consulting company. that is completely different, so unrelated, but it’s a great way to find seeds of new marketing ideas and copy ideas and campaign ideas. And so those two sides of me that are constantly working me at full tilt.
Bob: Thanks a lot. I do want to get to some really good copy tips here in a little bit, because you are a master of that.
Michel: Thank you.
Taking your talents in-house
Bob: One of the cool reasons that I love this call is because you took an opportunity to take your talents into a company, and most of the time we’re talking about entrepreneurship and being a DIY marketer, to explore the pursuits of some form of great idea for a business. And you were what I like to call a reverse entrepreneur in this way.
So I’d love to get into that a little bit, because I’m sure that there’s a ton of people who listen to this call who might think to themselves, “Hey, maybe I should actually go in-house to a company and take everything I’ve learned and work with a company instead of doing this all on my own.” What were some of the thought processes you went through for this journey to happen that made it a really great choice for where you were in this part of your life?
Michel: Sure. And just a little bit of a side note, when you connected with me and asking me to be on this call today, I received at exact same time an email from somebody asking me, “Why would you want to do that? Why are you going to work for a company? I thought you were a very successful entrepreneur, and so on and so forth. I can also see a little bit of the rudeness in this email, but anyways, that’s not an issue.
Let me explain a little bit about the situation. And also understanding everything that I just told you about the fact that I always want to excel. I always want to grow, and I always want to be challenged. I hate being bored. And I think I’ve reached a point in my entrepreneurial life where… and I think that I’m always going to be an entrepreneur.
But at the same time, you know what? Today we are in a gig economy. A lot of companies would rather hire somebody who has an entrepreneurial mind. Who can come in and help them grow. In fact, being an entrepreneur with 30 years of experience in marketing, a lot of these companies who hire these young studs coming out of college are not necessarily looking for that. They want, especially startups in the IT and the software industry, or in the startup phase of their businesses, and they’re looking at becoming an IPO, or taking their businesses to the next level. And now they’ve got all these, I don’t want to call them kids, because they all have university degrees and all of them are in their 20s but now they’ve got the opportunity to hire somebody like me, and that’s why we have, there’s a few marketing executives who come into these companies and help them take it to the next level. And so it’s a great opportunity for some of these companies, and that’s why a lot of them do look at people like myself.
So with that, I want to take a couple steps back and put a frame around the situation. I was an entrepreneur and I was doing very well. As you probably know, I’ve been a copywriter for almost 30 years now, and 10 years ago I met my wife who became my business partner. She was diagnosed with cancer, and then when she was going through the final terminal stages of her cancer, a lot of things happened to me, not just her in general, but my father passed away, my mom passed away from cancer herself, and after my wife passed away, my only sister passed away. I literally lost my entire family just in a few short years.
I can also say that it was a catalyst. It was a tremendous experience for me. My mom passing away, we set up a hospice in our house. She literally passed away in front of my eyes. I look at it as a blessing and a gift, because I knew at that time that my wife Sylvie at that time was terminal. It helped me be prepared in knowing what’s going to come. Then shortly thereafter, my father passed away, and then she passed away, and then my sister passed away. I decided, you know what? I’ve taken all this time to focus on them, and my business took a backseat. It was on the back burner. It was still okay. It was not growing as much as I wanted it to.
Of course, taking all that time to go to chemotherapy and radiation and back and forth hospital visits. I didn’t have the time to dedicate to the business as much as I did. So when she did pass away I was at a point, after I’d done my initial grieving, I had a decision to make. Should I go back into my business and bring it back to the level that I really wanted to, or do I package my skills and look at maybe aligning myself with a company that wants to… like I said, there’s a lot of companies out there that’s willing to hire somebody with my experience and my dedication. At that time, I really was, I love being busy. Of course I had every reason to be busy, because it kept me thinking, my clarity.
Whenever I just have to hang my shingle, the opportunity presented itself where a marketing agency wanted to hire me. And not only that, they also became co-owners in the company that I had. They not only hired me, and I was an employee, but they also became partners in my own company that still exists to this day, which is Supportibles. And that’s the company I built together with my wife. That is sort of the story in a nutshell. Hopefully, I didn’t mean to go into some deep, dark stuff.
But I think that a lot of times when people do a career pivot, there’s a lot of reasons for that. Mine was specifically because I really needed a change of focus. I needed to look at a new challenge to keep myself clear and focused, and to keep myself busy. And that’s what I decided to do.
Bob: Really appreciate you sharing the story.
Michel: Thank you.
Laddering up in the corporate world
Bob: I can only imagine what time that was like for you. I want to talk now about how you did go from that one initial job, and then you explored some other opportunities that came along the way. Still having this opportunity, if you ever want to just do your own business, you are now director of marketing at a company. Talk to us a little bit about what your thought process has been as you continue to better yourself, I guess is a good situation, for each of these situations that come along? Because I think it’s been a great laddering up that you’ve done over the last couple of years.
Michel: Thank you. Yes. I’ve been at this agency for three and a half years. I reached a plateau and I decided, you know what? I’m going to see if there’s anything out there. And I left on good terms. In fact, to this day, even though I moved on from that company, I’m still doing work as a contractor on the side. I do have a lot of side hustles that one of them is them, I’m still working with them. Now I’m director of marketing at the medical clinic who decided to take their clinic to the next level, which has been a new challenge for me.
If you remember, the very beginning of my career as a copywriter, I specialized only in doctors. My company was called The Success Doctor. That’s because when I did copywriting, I specialized in, or I did most of my work with, cosmetic surgeons. It was a natural transition to something I really was aware of and all that, but it was also something new, because this is not a cosmetic surgeon per se, it was more of a chronic pain clinic.
I like that fact that they were quite innovative, they do a stem cell therapy, they did a lot of things that was alluring for me. It’s a new challenge. That being said, the entrepreneur part of my past has creeped up on me. So I have clients from that, the past, who said, “I really need to work with you, Michel. I need you to do this. I need you to do that. I need to work with you,” and sometimes they made offers that I just could not refuse. Not just because of the financial aspect, but sometimes they did stuff that I really wanted to be a part of.
So that is still growing. I’m doing a lot of work right now with Ricky Breslin, Breslin Media Group. He and Marquetta own Million Dollar Stylist, they also have a number of partnerships with other gurus and authors and so on so forth. And of course they use Leadpages very profusively. That’s where I am. So I have a nine to five job like most people. I work a lot of hours in the evening and weekend just doing this stuff. It’s stuff that I love to do. So where do I find the time? That’s a magic trick, but I do.
Bob: There’s two things I want to tease out, for just a little further down this pathway. One is, you’ve got this position, you’ve got the opportunity for people that come knocking on your door. You mentioned data driven and evidence based stuff. Do you have a rubric, or some internal matrix that you go though in your mind of saying yes and no as these opportunities are coming up, and what does that look like?
Michel: There’s a couple things that I do. Because the fact that I’ve done this for so long, a lot of it is just gut intuition. If I want to test a new thing, a new approach, a new title, a new headline, a new copy element. Whatever the case is. Now that said, I look at my experience, and I do a bit of subjective, look at it and say, okay, is this something I want, is this viable?
And the reason I do that is, because one of my skills, and that’s probably what makes me I guess a good copywriter is, I can take a few steps back and look at it as if I was a client. If I look at this, is it com that’s going to interest me? Is it something that’s going to spark my attention, get me engaged in the website, the copy, whatever the case is? And more important, take action.
And so if I’m testing your stuff, and I have that gut feeling, then I’ll go out and test it. I’m humble enough to know that my assumptions are never good assumptions until they’re proven. That’s why I’m a split testing fanatic. I will always use a split testing tool, whether it’s Optimizely, Visual Optimizer, or Google Optimize, and I’ll try to make sure that what I’m coming up with is really, truly converting. It’s really selling, it’s really pulling in the numbers that I wanted to pull in.
And I’ll finish with this. We talk about the powerlifter inside of me, where I constantly try to one up my one rep max. Give you an example, a couple years ago, I’ve actually broken the record for dead lifting in my age class, it was 455 pounds. And the next year I did 465, and then the next year I did 470. That is the constant improvement in me. And that relates a bit to copywriting and testing. Always coming up with better ideas because, once you’ve written up the idea, or when you come up with a new idea, stagnation is the worst, it’s the killer of good marketing. It’s always going to evolve. You just have to go to trends.google.com and see how things just go up and down, and sometimes like a big trajectory. Nothing stays the same.
When I come up with an idea, I might include a different headline, and I will have a 2.3% increase in sales. Then I’ll try to do something else, I might have a 0.1%, but still a 0.1%. Then the next thing I’ll try, it might be a different color background. Oh, I get a 2.2% lift in sales. Then I try something else, and I get a decrease. Okay, so dump that, that didn’t work. I go on and on while looking at it from a few other standpoints. I’ve just doubled, tripled, quadruple, quintupled my sales over a period of time. It might not have been overnight. It may not have been a dramatic increase. Sometimes that happens, you hit a home run the moment you test something brand new.
And I do have aha moments like that, but they’re very rare. The point is, always try to better yourself. Always try to improve, the kaizen theory as they say. And that is applicable in marketing as much as it is in everything. And I think that when I come up with a new idea, the gut feeling is first, based on my experience. Based on how I look at him and see a human being. I think that people react really well to this. Sometimes I come up with ideas and I’ll sit on it, and the next day, and think that was a really crappy idea. “I’m just going to, okay.” Or sometimes I have doubts.
Guess what? As Claude Hopkins said in Scientific Advertising, go to the court of last resort, which is your audience, your market. They will be the ones telling you if it’s actually a good idea or not. So testing is one of the ultimate ways to really know if something works really well. The scientist in me is always making sure that the creative side of me is in check. That’s part of the process, right?
Bob: Yeah. Indeed, I love that.
Letting go of having all the answers
Bob: The other thing I wanted to tease out of this part of our conversation is, you’re now the director of marketing of this company. I imagine you have a team of people that are also doing marketing along side of you. How do you take on this leadership role, knowing what you know about copy, and then having people on your team maybe execute on things that if you were micromanaging it and doing it all yourself you might do it differently. But giving the chance for these other folks to learn the trade or do things on their own with your guidance as opposed to some type of a hammer or something like that.
Michel: That’s a great point because one of the fundamental leadership qualities that I have found in my experience working in my own company, and I had multiple junior copywriters working for me. I had staff working in Sylvie’s company where we do customer support and I have a staff of about 11 people. Then now working with companies, at the previous agency I used to have eight people that were working for me in multiple departments. It was a cross functional process, I had people in web development, graphic design, content development, and market analysts.
And then right now with my current employment where I have a marketing coordinator and assistant working for me. I believe there’s a fundamental leadership quality, which is all about the culture. Culture for me is an incredibly important thing. And a big part of that is something that Ronald Reagan said to Gorbachev, “Trust, but verify.” And I love that. That’s a great motto to follow in leadership.
I give all the latitude to my staff. I give them the structure to work from. For example, if I come up with a particular plan of a campaign that I want to work, I would rather give it to them and let them come up with their ideas, have the creative juice and the creative wherewithal to come up with a different plan of attack. They can come back to me telling me how they would want to test this. What headlines did they come up with? I’ll never be a fool to think that I have all the answers. Some of them find stuff, they come up with ideas that blow me away. And if I micromanage too much, I stifle that. I don’t want that.
And it’s the same thing with problem solving. If you have problems in your team… so of course, dealing with people, especially now that I’m going from entrepreneur to an employee, there’s always going to be issues with coworkers. That’s a natural thing at any job is the ability to let people come up with their own solutions, and be trusting enough to allow them to come up with their own solutions. To come up with their own ideas to marketing challenges. To come up with different ways that they want to apply a certain marketing plan. I can come up with the plan, but the tactics, the granular stuff, I’d rather give it to them. I’d rather not dictate.
And they can come back to me, and I will tell them, I say maybe a yes or no. Again, maybe some of that is intuition, maybe it’s gut feeling and experience, and I tell you, you know what? I’ve tried that in this industry in this particular case, and it didn’t really work out. Or, “Oh, maybe that’s a good idea, but then again, test it. Come back to me without full numbers. Give me the data, show me that…” And that way when they hit their own home run, guess who’s going to be the most proud? I am going to be proud, of course, but they’re going to be proud of themselves. And they’re going to be willing to come up with better ideas next time, and they’re going to have that kaizen philosophy in their own job, in their own position.
But if you micromanage too much, and you always hit them with a hammer, and you’ve now stifled that creative juice, that creative energy. And to me, creativity is everything. Culture and creativity and collaboration. Those three C’s, I guess you can call them. I don’t know, I’m a big pneumonic fan as you probably know.
I think those are the three fundamental qualities in a job or in an organization. And in the marketing department, they want to look at from a departmental standpoint. It’s collaboration, creativity, and culture. And those are the three legs of the tripod of a great standing leadership, not leadership, but great working department that works well that always excels and becomes better.
Why working with a team is reinvigorating
Bob: That’s really good. And my last question about entrepreneurial upside downness, and I take this approach in part because I have a similar journey towards employment when I used to be an entrepreneur. That’s the people, you just mentioned the culture, what’s it meant to you to have collaborative partners that you get to work with on a regular basis as opposed to ad hoc VAs or ad hoc JV partners, or anything like that? Because entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey. Talk just for a moment about this team collaboration aspect. What has that done for you?
Michel: I talk about the fact that there’s a scientist in me that loves to test stuff, that loves to always make sure that something is proven to actually be successful before I jump to any conclusions. When you’re an entrepreneur and you’re a lone wolf, it’s hard sometimes, you know? It’s hard to come up with this, yes the love of having more control over marketing campaigns is fantastic, I’m sure. But at the same time, working with a team and collaborating with a team is nice. It’s nice to have the ability to let go of it, and to have them come up with different ideas.
Again, because of the fact that I am data driven, I would then make sure that what they come up with is proven. See, that’s the point is that I’m not making the decision. I’m not the one saying, I’m controlling over what they’re coming up with, or dictating what they should do. They will tell me based on actual numbers. It’s a nice thing to actually let go a little bit. That’s what I wanted when I was going through that dark time in my life. When I wanted to align myself with a company, I loved the challenge of working in the company, but at the same time I loved being in a place where I have a team that can can then fill in different parts in the beautiful, well-oiled machine. That is the part of the process that I enjoy, the journey that I enjoy.
Now, granted, and I’m going to finish with this. It was a little tough, working from being an entrepreneur, working with a remote staff to working in an office cubicle. Some people say a soul sucking cubicle, although mine was pretty fun. And working with teams in different departments, and also having the ability to not only work with other people, but great ideas come from those team collaborative situations, blew me away. Some of them come up with ideas that, I’ve done… I’ll give an example.
I have a client I worked in an agency where, we had some major challenges with the website. And so we did some tests and we looked at the analytics. Something wasn’t right, and we didn’t know what to do. And then one team member came up with an idea to add a heat map, and or adding Google Tag Manager with some event tracking, we can find out where are people actually doing this thing that is causing this challenge, this problem. And lo and behold, we found it. We re-jigged the whole thing, and we went from 240K a month to 700K a month. We tripled that client’s sales. Just because this one person had this idea that I would have not have come up with. And I owe it to that person.
And I think that working in an environment like that where there’s collaboration, and being humble. I think there’s a great deal of humility when… because whenever people look at me and they say, “Oh, you’re the guy that you’re the big copywriter guy who comes up with all these multi-million dollar ideas.” Now I can say, “No, I am part of a team that comes up with multi-million dollar ideas.”
Coming up in Part 2
Coming up in Part 2, Michel reveals his approach to copywriting that yields 7-figure results. This includes his OATH formula, what he does before typing the first word of a sales letter, and where he finds the golden words to convert visitors into eager buyers.
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