This story originally appeared on Business Insider.
Before I knew it, I had destroyed my life. I was a rail-thin 19-year-old, and I was so poor, I spent every morning walking through fast food drive-thrus so I could collect enough change to buy a candy bar and a soda to hold me over for the day.
I got a job at In-N-Out Burger, and after a year of working there, I asked my boss for a raise. He told me instead that I should join the morning crew. Little did I know that meant I would be scrubbing toilets at 5 a.m. and waiting for the Arizona sun to come up so I could clean the parking lot.
The author when he was working at In-N-Out Burger. Courtesy of Michael Clendenen
I found myself scrubbing concrete by day and doing punk-rock shows by night. Meanwhile, my friends were graduating college, getting married, and having kids.
By 22, my life was even worse. I was living out of a single motel room with five other people and a chihuahua to save money. I didn’t even have an internet connection — let alone a smartphone, a computer, or a car.
But I turned it all around, and I’m now a six-figure copywriter and direct-response marketer who’s worked with Fortune 100 companies, USA BMX, political campaigns, and more, strategizing marketing and copy. Here’s how I did it by teaching myself and sending out letters.
In 2017, a friend asked me to write an ad selling his Mustang in exchange for 10% of the sale
I’d never written an ad before, so I borrowed my friend’s phone and Googled “how to write a good advertisement.” I discovered a newsletter called “The Gary Halbert Letter.” I read one of the newsletters, in which he said he could charge a client $15,000 for a letter he wrote in his underwear at his kitchen table.
That was when I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
I read every newsletter Halbert had. When I was done with those, I’d sit on the floor at Barnes & Noble and read all the marketing books in the store because I couldn’t afford to buy them.
Next, I had to figure out how to find clients.
Sending letters changed everything
The No. 1 strategy I learned from Halbert was to send letters in the mail to businesses to land clients. But it wasn’t that easy in the beginning because I didn’t have many resources.
I started writing copy at the library. One friend would drop me off in the morning, and another would help me get home. I was writing my letters by hand, and when I ran out of paper, the kind librarian would give me printer paper to write on.
I used the Reference USA database — now known as Data Axle — that the library had to find the addresses of businesses I wanted to work with. I landed my first client through a letter. I decided I would work on commission only, and only with businesses that I had a personal vested interest in.
My letters were so effective, I didn’t feel the need to jump on the social-media train
In a world of content creators but without consistent internet access at my disposal, letters were my only option, which worked in my favor and made me stand out.
One of the first groups of people I started working with was chiropractors because I felt strongly about the work they did. When I was younger, I’d been in several car accidents, and I had scoliosis. My treatment from a chiropractor helped me heal, and that’s how I opened my letter.
I didn’t talk about all of the things that I could do for them — I told chiropractors in my area why I was passionate about their work and why I was emotionally invested in them, and I gave them the opportunity to explore working together. It was honest and built instant rapport.
These are the same principles that I use in my clients’ copy now. I still work with chiropractors, but I’ve expanded to working with relationship coaches, data scientists, and anxiety coaches. I also coach other copywriters on both their copywriting skills and obtaining clients using letters.
I now make between $8,000 and $17,000 per month in profit
I work around 35 hours a week, and my income has increased as I’ve brought on more clients. My work brings in between $40,000 and $100,000 per month on average for my clients.
I now have my own place filled with furniture that I bought. I have a successful business without spending all of my time on social media, and I just turned 27.
Even to this day, when I want to bring on new clients, I send out a new batch of letters. Snail mail saved my life and completely changed my future.