I had the pleasure of interviewing Stefan Georgi. A serial entrepreneur with multiple companies under his belt, Stefan mentors numerous entrepreneurs and freelancers and through his program, Copy Accelerator, and his business, Turtle Peak.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Today I’m considered a top grossing direct response copywriter. I also serve as a mentor and trainer to numerous freelancers and business owners, and I’ve launched and grown several companies in a variety of verticals. But it didn’t start out that way. In the spring of 2011, I was living in a double-wide trailer in Marble Falls, Texas and working as an instructor at a place called The Outdoor School. Essentially, I was an outdoor Ed Instructor, but I really loved the job and thought maybe it was my calling.
Then in early May of 2011 I found out that my dad had an advanced form of liver cancer and didn’t have long to live. It was a total shock to me. So I finished out the remaining few weeks at The Outdoor School and then went back to San Diego to be with my family during this difficult time.
My dad died five months later, in October of 2011. About six weeks after he died, I took a trip to Las Vegas to blow off some steam and “get away.” While there, I met a girl at a poker table who said she was a “copywriter.” I had no idea what that meant, but I wanted to talk with her, so I Googled “what’s a copywriter” into my iPhone I. The girl and I hit it off and ended up spending several days straight together. And when I moved to South Florida a few months later to take a corporate outside sales job, she came with me and we moved in together. Crazy, I know.
Even though the sales job was a really solid opportunity for a young man in his mid-twenties, I still wasn’t satisfied. I’d spend all day in the hot Florida sun to make $200, and I’d come home and “the girl” had made $800 by writing sales copy for clients. So at a certain point I said ‘hey do you think I could be a copywriter too?” and she said “yes.”
So I put up an ad on a website called Warrior Forum where I offered to write sales copy for people at $149 per project. The next morning when I woke up, I had $298 in my PayPal account and it might as well have been a million. Everything in my life changed at that moment. For the first time in my life I realized that I could make money on my own, doing what I loved, without a boss. It wasn’t very long after this happened that I quit that corporate job — and that was the last job I ever had.
Of course, it wasn’t all roses though, especially in the beginning. Freelancing can be a very feast or famine cycle. There were times where I felt secure and times where I had to sell my Xbox to GameStop just to pay rent.
Over time though, by focusing obsessively on my craft, I got better and better. And because I got better, I started getting more referrals. This led to several higher profile clients, who were doing significant scale in the world of digital marketing.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
This is prior to me discovering copywriting, but it has a great copy lesson in it. After graduating from the University of West Florida in 2010, I was desperate to find a job in the area. The problem was that Pensacola, Florida isn’t exactly a hotbed of economic activity during the best of times, and coming out of The Great Recession things were especially rough. At that time my biggest goal in life was to get hired by Enterprise Rental Cars, because they paid well and had a lot of mobility. I applied multiple times for a job there, and for the most part got rebuffed. Then after the third or fourth attempt, I did get an interview. And after the initial interview, I got a second one with the branch manager.
During the interview, the manager asked me to talk about some of my experience, and for some reason I immediately went to my time volunteering as a college campus coordinator campaign for the Obama Campaign in 2008. Then he asked me about a person I really admired, and I answered with Obama again.
I still remember the look on the manager’s face as I was going on about Obama. It was the look of “you dummy, you’re in the Deep South and I’m a 50 year old white male. I certainly didn’t vote for Obama.”
I’m not saying that every white male in the South is/was Republican. Plenty aren’t. It just was pretty clear that this guy was not a big Obama fan, and so I have no idea why I thought going on and on about how great our 44th president is would be a good idea.
So the lesson there is that when it comes to speaking, communicating, writing, and selling…
You really need to know your audience. It doesn’t matter how good your points are if they fall on ears that are unwilling to hear them.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I’m a big lover of books so there are many that have served as paper-mentors for me over the years. One recent book that’s had a huge impact on me though is Skin In The Game by Nassim Taleb. One of his core arguments is that in order to make the best decisions we must be grounded in reality, not detached from it. In other words, problems arise when we become detached from the consequences of our actions. If you aren’t at any risk of experiencing the downside of your actions — generally those decisions will be of poorer quality than if you could. It resonates with me a lot as an entrepreneur and business owner.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
My “Why” is to show people that they can make an incredible living, experience tremendous freedom, and impact the lives of an exponential amount of people while doing what they truly love.
The big lie or myth is that we need to play it safe.
For some people the stability of a 9–5 job is what they truly want, and that’s fine. But it kills me knowing there are people stuck in jobs they hate, simply because they don’t realize how easy it is to switch to freelancing or entrepreneurship. I want to help those people make the leap.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
When you obsessively focus on being the best at whatever it is you do, everything else tends to follow.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The biggest adjustment for me has been working at home, especially as someone with ADD. Before COVID-19 and the lockdown, I could go to my office and do my deep work in relative isolation. Now that I’m working from home, there are more regular distractions. My two-year-old daughter runs up to my office and wants to play, my wife has questions about something, a package gets delivered to our front door, etc. There are more sources of stimulation all competing for my attention.
The way I’ve addressed this challenge is primarily by adapting my scheduling and being willing to go with the flow. I always woke up early, but now I’m getting up at 5 am as that gives me 3 hours of “quiet time” in the morning. Then most days I’ll go get my daughter up with my wife, and play with her for thirty minutes before returning to work. Then around nap time I stop working, and spend another 30–40 minutes playing with my daughter upstairs before putting her down. And I stop working at around 4 pm or 5 pm each day to spend another 3 hours of uninterrupted family time.
I’ve found that by adapting my schedule around family time, I’m able to get more done, and everyone seems happier. Even though my daughter is young, she isn’t trying to kick down my office door when I’m working. I think the reason why is because now she has a routine now too, and she knows she’s going to get to see plenty of her daddy throughout the day.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
When the lockdown first started, there was definitely a concern for our Copy Accelerator mastermind. Of about 110 mastermind members, around half of them are freelancers. Right away maybe 10 or so of those freelancers lost retainer clients or had big gigs fall through, and they were scared about not being able to pay their bills.
The way my partner Justin and I addressed this is as follows:
First, we leveraged our personal networks to make a list of all the eCommerce entrepreneurs we knew who were doing well during the lockdown. It turned out a lot of those folks were, especially people in the health space (supplements, at home fitness), survival space (think preppers), financial space (investment opportunities during a crisis), pet space (dog adoptions are through the roof and people need pet supplies), and even recreational space (most golf courses have remained open, so people who sell golf products have done great during the lockdown).
Then we reached out to those entrepreneurs and explained how we had an army of freelancers who were extremely well trained, had great track records, and available for work. That helped the freelancers get numerous jobs.
In addition to that, we kept publicizing the ability of our freelancers to our email lists and Facebook Group too (it’s a group for direct response marketers that has several thousand members) and that brought even more job opportunities…
And finally, we assigned a team member to be in constant contact with the freelancers, to find out if they were getting those jobs, and if so, how they were going. Then we had weekly calls where we went down a checklist of freelancers one-by-one to see how they were doing, and if they were in good shape or needed our help finding work.
The result of this is that not only did we not lose a single member, but almost every single one of these freelancers went on to have their best month ever in April. It’s been remarkable, they went from worried about not paying rent to doubling or tripling their income. I have countless screenshots and messages from folks telling us this too — I’m truly not exaggerating.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
It’s challenging because telling someone “well only 1 out of 100 people dies” isn’t all that comforting, right? Plus I don’t know if that’s true — you see compelling arguments that the death rate is actually even lower, and other arguments that it’s even higher. So it’s tough.
From an economic standpoint though, I just focus on the message that there are a TON of people who are winning right now. Businesses are growing. Freelancers are having their best months ever. There’s actually a TON of opportunity right now, and that’s exciting.
And on the more personal side, a big focus is the fact that this too shall pass. It sucks, and it’s annoying to be on lockdown, and it’s scary knowing there’s a disease spreading, and it’s tragic that people are dying. But humans are incredibly resilient. Throughout history we have risen to daunting challenges and we have overcome them. There is zero reason to think that COVID-19 won’t be the same.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I think the shift to eCommerce that’s taken place is here to stay. It sounds funny saying “shift to eCommerce” since it was already here well before COVID-19. But now, due to the lockdown, an unprecedented number of people are buying things online. And not just clothes — everything.
Everyone from grandparents to teenagers are now using DoorDash or PostMates to get meals delivered. People who love Home Depot are now getting on Amazon to get hardware sent to their house. Folks are utilizing curbside pickup and grocery delivery services. And they’re finding that it’s incredibly convenient. So I think doing all of this is creating new habits in consumers that’s going to stick.
Additionally, I think that remote work is going to become a lot more common and socially accepted in the post-COVID-19 world. This doesn’t mean that offices will cease to exist. But you’ve seen an incredible social experiment play out, one where massive corporations who probably didn’t like the idea of “remote work” were forced to test it out. And a lot of them have been surprised to find that you can actually get a lot done just by leveraging technology. So I think workers and employees will have more optionality going forward.
And related to the previous point, I think you’re going to see that a lot of managers and employees become much more effective communicators moving forward.
Before COVID-19 you could read body-language and know how someone was feeling. It’s harder to do that through email, or even during a Zoom call. And think about it from a corporate training perspective — you’ve got all of these HR people and training folks who are hiring and onboarding dozens, sometimes hundreds, of employees virtually. In order to really get those people doing their job effectively, you’ve got to be damn good at communication. So I think that’ll be really cool to see.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I know this isn’t a sexy answer, but it’s really hard to say. If I had to guess though, I think you’ll see that people “nest” more in general. I don’t think folks will be in such a hurry to leave the house and take unnecessary trips until a vaccine is created. This makes me worry that retail will continue to suffer well into the future, but I hope I’m wrong.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
A lot of enrollment for my Copywriting training program is through live events. We had one towards the end of February and added 30 new members. Our plan was to do another one in September, but we’ve postponed it.
Now in September we’re doing a virtual event instead, and eyeing November for our next live event. I look forward to getting back to doing those events though once it’s safe, because I really enjoy the in-person interactions with my tribe.
SO once COVID-19 is over, one of the goals will be growing the live-event arm of my business.
And then for my Call Center, the really cool thing is that we’ve grown by over 30% during the lockdown. We were at under 70 employees pre lockdown, and we’re at close to 100 now. We’re in talks with another large client too that is looking promising and, if it works out, will push our team to at least 120. So the big focus there will be how do we integrate all of these people, including all of our new hires, back into an office setting safely and effectively. It’s one thing when everyone is working remotely and another when they’re all in a physical space together. That’s going to be a big focus once COVID-19 ends and it’s safe for our employees to return to work.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
For one thing, start planning now. Because no matter how bad things seem, this won’t last forever. We’ll beat the virus and the lockdown will be lifted. People will go back to work. Consumers will go out to spend money again. People will take trips and travel. Eventually, this will all fade away. So even though things might be bleak now, you need to be planning for what the future will hold.
I’m a big fan of History, so one person I look to for inspiration is Winston Churchill. Even in 1940 and 1941, he was constantly planning for an offensive operation in Europe that would drive into Germany and throw Hitler from power. This is remarkable given that during this same time, almost nobody thought Britain would survive more than six months. Yet his planning and obsession not only kept him going, but paid dividends when the offensive finally came.
You get the chance to be your own Churchill right now. To plan your victory march. And to rise to greatness.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s cliché but true: “when you fail to plan you plan to fail.” This doesn’t just apply to business though, I think it even applies to visualization. It’s important to visualize the person you want to be, the things you want to do, and the outcomes you want to achieve. It sounds hokey to some — and yet then you realize that pretty much every top performer on planet earth does this. For me personally, almost everything I’ve achieved started out as a vision in my head. So I’d say embrace planning and visualizing and it’ll pay dividends for you.
How can our readers further follow your work?
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