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Build Relationships: The First of Four (Self-Revealing) Case Studies on Growth and Success

Aaron Orendorff

A little over a month ago, I fired off this bombshell of a post …

How I Wrote for Fast Company, Copyblogger, MarketingProfs, and Entrepreneur and Landed My First Nearly $20,000, Three-Month Client … in Less than 120 Days

Despite how outlandishly prideful that headline sounds at first, the point of the post — its secret sauce — came down to three words: “Let’s get rejected.” Naturally, that’s counterintuitive, but check out the post.

Since then, the streak has continued … mostly.

To start, I had another article go up on Copyblogger — “The Ultimate Copy Checklist: 51 Questions to Optimize Every Element of Your Online Copy.” Currently, it’s number two on their most-popular-posts list thanks in large part to the printable poster their awesome design team put together.

In addition, I had a second article accepted to MarketingProfs that’ll be published in a week or two and my first for Unbounce just hit the digital presses a few weeks ago: “4 Steps to Writing Emails with Drastically Higher Open and Click-Through Rates.” On top of all that, I’m looking at a a follow up articles for both Fast Company and Unbounce in January.

But, best of all …

I got rejected.

Yep! How perfect is that?

The story goes like this … over the summer, I wrote an article on storytelling and presenting that Fast Company was kind enough to pick up after I submitted it via cold email.

The waters being warmer, last month I wrote a piece on responsive email, complete with compelling data and these super slick display shots of six of my favorite responsive email newsletters on different devices.

Here’s a couple of ‘em.

Cool, right?

Well, after a week of waiting … it came:

Dear Aaron,

Thank you for submitting this article for Fast Company’s consideration. Unfortunately, while interesting, this piece is not a right fit for us. I encourage you, however, to place it somewhere else. Please feel free to continue submitting work for our future consideration.


Some Lady

You know the drill …

Enter pain. Enter fear. Enter shame. Enter defensiveness. And, of course, enter those inevitable, manic swings between the land of “how dare they not recognize someone of my literary caliber by immediately publishing my work and renaming their site in my honor” and “of course they didn’t publish it … I can barely string together words, much less justify my existence as a person.”

Like a friend of mine likes to say, “My brain’s constantly telling me I’m either hot s*** or a piece of s***.”

But enough about my existential angst. Pain, fear, shame, defensiveness, and manic swings aside, I eventually picked myself up, dusted off, and reworked the thing for another blog.

More to the point, back some thirty-plus days ago, I promised a more lengthy explanation of how those massive wins — namely writing for Fast Company, Copyblogger, MarketingProfs, Entrepreneur, and now Unbounce — came together.

So today I present the first of four case studies on growth and success:

Build Relationships.

Cliches are cliche for a reason. Because they’re true.

“It’s not about what you know. It’s about who you know.”

At the beginning of last summer, when I finally decided to make a go of this whole “freelance writing” thing, I identified a handful of people who — number one — I liked and respected and — number two — mattered.

Demian Farnworth, Copyblogger’s chief copywriter, was at the very top of that list.

I’ve loved Copyblogger (who doesn’t?) for years and dreamed of writing for them.

A few months ago, I noticed Demian’s name kept popping up and always in connection with absolutely stellar content. The first one I really loved was “13 Good Ideas from 13 Dead Copywriters.” And, of course, his “11 Essential Ingredients Every Blog Post Needs” is on just about everybody’s list of the best content of 2014.

So I tracked Demian down, digitally speaking, and found out not only did he run a personal copywriting site — theCopyBot — he also ran an even more personal “personal” site — Fallen + Flawed.

What I found on the second floored me.

Fallen + Flawed is not a marketing site. It isn’t about improving your CTRs, optimizing your headlines, telling your story, or getting your emails opened. In fact, it’s not really about writing at all — although there are posts about blogging.

Fallen + Flawed is about the gospel. It’s about faith and life and struggling and books and marriage and kids and Mexican wrestlers.

It is creative. It is original. It is authentic. And it is phenomenal.

On top of all that, the theological overlaps were deep.

Even within the (for lack of a better word) “evangelical” Christian community (with which I self-identify), there are camps, especially theological camps. And every camp has its patron saints. For the young, reformed community (the camp I belong to), folks like John Piper, D. A. Carson, and Tim Keller are rockstars.

And that’s exactly who Demian was writing about.

I nearly lost my mind.

I was so excited that I started tweeting anything I could get ahold of.

I tweeted his Copyblogger stuff. I tweeted his CopyBot stuff. I tweeted his theological stuff. I even tweeted lines from his fantastic ebook The Messiah | Eleven Meditations from the Book of Mark.

And … I tagged him each and every time.

By now you’ve probably picked up that I’m a little biased, but let me just say that Demian is a super decent dude. I don’t think there’s been a single tweet I tagged him in that he didn’t favorite. Plus, right around the time I started tweeting stuff from his book on Mark, he tweeted back.

Mind = blown.

We threw a few notes around, mostly just polite niceties, and then … I found his coaching page.

This time, I emailed. And — gasp — he emailed back.

I won’t go into detail here about what an amazing coach Demian has been (after all, I’ve probably gushed enough).

Here’s the point …

When it finally came time to submit a guest post to Copyblogger, I did so both through their online submission process as well as a direct email to Demian himself.

From the first — their online process — all I got back was a “Thanks for submitting … but we aren’t accepting unsolicited articles at this time.”

It was the second route — the relationship route — that opened the door.

Now, of course, you gotta have the goods as well as the relationship. I mean, no one’s gonna publish junk. In fact, I’m gonna say a lot more about having “the goods” in the second case study — “Write [bleeping] amazing content” — but for now it’s vitally important to see how central that relationship was.

What made the difference was not first and foremost the words themselves.

What made the difference was that relationship — that authentic, genuine, giving (not just taking) relationship.

A similar situation has developed with Joanna Wiebe of CopyHackers. She and her team — including her awesome copywriting compadre Jen Havice — have been incredibly supportive of both my personal blog and guest posts. I remember the day she signed up for my email list … again: mind = blown.

The same is true of Ann Handley, who after quoting a post of mine in her most recent book, has also been amazing.

So, let me ask you …

Who do you look up to? Who do you admire? Who would you want to connect with? Who do you respect? Who matters in your industry?

Alright … what’s stopping you from reaching out?

Track ‘em down. Share their content. Tag ‘em. Be warm and be personal. Write meaningful comments on their blog. Ask insightful questions. And above all, be real.

Over the next month, I’ll be sharing three more case studies on growth and success. Here’s a preview …

2. Write [bleeping] amazing content.

3. Be a decent freakin’ person.

4. Go after it … again, and again, and again.

Let’s save the world from bad content