[quote style=”boxed”]Business is the art of thinking on your feet, and it’s really important to be able to adjust when things don’t go as planned.[/quote]
Matthew Goldfarb is a professional copywriter who has been working in the industry for more than 13 years. His first big break was a gig writing television commercials for Mr. T. Since then, he has worked in every realm of advertising and copy communications. He has created award-winning television and print ads; crafted email and web banner campaigns; written websites, brochures, and direct marketing pieces; and helped launch new brands.
Goldfarb has worked for companies of every size, from large corporations to businesses of one. He has a keen ability to understand his clients’ marketing goals, connect to their specific and unique messages, and then translate them into language and copy that helps promote their brands and stories. In addition, he talks about writing through his company, Corporate Renegade. He believes that everyone has the ability to write; people simply need to undo the “rules” they were taught long ago (and the fears that come along with those rules).
What are you working on right now?
I’m developing and launching a copywriters’ training program. When I first started my business, I had no idea how important writing great copy was for businesses. Copy is in high demand, yet I’ve only found a handful of writers I feel confident recommending to colleagues.
I’m also working on my second book, “The Year One Manifesto.” As a creative person, I need to have a project that’s strictly for me. This book, which supports entrepreneurs working through their first year in business, is my passion project.
Where did the idea for Corporate Renegade come from?
I’ve never been what we call a “normal” person. I’ve always been a little weird. As kids, we want to fit in and be like everyone else, so I hid my quirks and became very agreeable to other people. I always had a different sensibility about myself, seeing things differently than others, and despite my notions of “fitting in,” my creativity came out in my work and my writing.
Working in the corporate advertising world was frustrating because you had to play by the rules to get noticed by the right people and move up. I always felt that I didn’t belong in that world, but it was all that I knew. As my ad career grew, I felt like I’d lost myself in an attempt to play nice, keep my job, and collect my paycheck.
One day, my mentor asked me why I wanted to be in business. I started to realize that most of my life, I had been trying to fit in when everything pointed to the fact that I did best when I stood out. As we were talking, I said, “Yeah, I guess I’m a corporate renegade.” In that moment, the skies cleared, the angels sang, and we both sat in silence as it hit us. The idea of Corporate Renegade is that we don’t have to play by anyone else’s rules. If that makes us renegades, so be it.
What does your typical day look like?
I usually get up around 6:45 a.m. (not by choice — our 6-month-old wakes us up) and spend time with Nathan and my wife, Amanda. I do the usual dad things and try to get to the office before my team arrives. I start every day by either reading for 20 minutes or writing three pages longhand. From there, I’ll have a quick check-in with my team and jump into client work. I take a walk with Amanda and Nathan over lunch and then do more writing or consulting calls. I try to leave around 6 p.m. or so to get a bit more time with Nathan before he goes to bed. At night, I usually check emails and, if I’m on deadline, head back to the computer.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The secret to bringing any idea to life is to see it in the larger context of what you’re trying to accomplish. I always ask myself, “What’s unique about the project we are working on? What’s the fascinating angle?” Is there something from popular culture we can borrow upon? Is there a commonly used phrase, expression, or conventional wisdom we can use to connect with our audience and turn it on its head?
The most powerful writing and ideas have an element of familiarity, yet at the same time, bring something new to the table. When something has a familiar sense about it, you aren’t as protected in hearing what is being said. That’s why we listen to friends and are wary of strangers.
I bring ideas to life by trying to speak to human truths. In the end, that’s what we’re looking for: people who are brave enough to be straight with us and are genuinely trying to help.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Storytelling is taking center stage in marketing. Telling stories has always been a secret weapon of effective writing, but it’s only recently become widely accepted that connecting emotionally with your audience is just as important as what you sell to them. As a writer, this makes my job much easier (and more interesting) because we get to tell stories that our audience can relate to.
It’s part of a larger trend of just getting real. As people lose faith in large companies, telling more personal stories and becoming more vulnerable with our audience has allowed us to drop the pretense. When working with clients, we mine their experiences to share the stories that will resonate best with their audiences.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I worked in pharmaceutical advertising. I had been laid off from my first job, and I was desperate. I thought I would be writing television commercials for drugs, but it turned out that I was writing the medical materials that sales reps took into doctors’ offices. No one liked the work, but they liked the money, and that was the problem. It showed me that really talented people were willing to compromise what they wanted for a good paycheck.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I’d have hired an assistant sooner. I was afraid to spend money on another person, but I didn’t realize my time was more valuable when I was being paid by a client than when I was doing admin and scheduling. I’d also have hired a bookkeeper sooner. Unless you have experience with money when you start, it’s easy to get lost in all the intricacies of keeping track of money, receipts, taxes, etc. However, you should not rely on a bookkeeper to make money decisions.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Take improvisation classes. Business is the art of thinking on your feet, and it’s really important to be able to adjust when things don’t go as planned. Improv classes teach you how to “say yes” and work with what you’re given.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Don’t focus solely on what you do for your clients. Be sure to focus on why you’re doing it. In a world of commoditization, with so many people offering products and services, you need a way to separate yourself and get noticed. You need a way to stand out. Telling others why you do what you do — and what you actually care about — helps connect people beyond the service or product. Tell people what you care about. Be okay that some people won’t like what you have to say. Adopt this idea, and watch your business explode.
Tell us a secret.
My wife makes me get pedicures.
What are your three favorite online tools and what do you love about them?
I have two:
Harvest: I love it because it allows me to track time from anywhere (for myself and my team), create timelines, project budgets, and invoice clients.
Evernote: It’s an idea person’s dream. Basically, it allows me to record everything. I have a lot of ideas and a lot of projects going on at once, and it’s easy for things to get lost. With Evernote, I can create notebooks and throw ideas into them. I also love it for books, as I can take photos or screenshots of things I read and keep them organized for future use.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’d recommend “Becoming a Category of One” by Joe Calloway. At its core, the author speaks about what separates companies that can be considered commodities and those that become their own categories. When you offer killer service and focus on having a point of view, it helps make you the only choice out there.
What’s on your playlist?
The entire Fun. album is on my playlist. I’m also digging Macklemore these days. The rest I’ll take to my grave.
If you weren’t working on Corporate Renegade, what would you be working on?
I’d be getting healthy; I realize that when we take care of ourselves, we do better work.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
@austinkleon: A fellow writer who makes you think.
@azizansari: What can I say? The dude is funny.
@gapingvoid: Hugh Macleod is one smart guy.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
This morning, I laughed when I walked into the office and my pants were completely wet due to my son spitting up on me. My team thought I had peed myself.
Who is your hero?
From a writing standpoint, it’s Kurt Vonnegut. He taught me that writing has no true rules and your imagination grants you permission to create language as it most makes sense for you.
If you could start over, would you have skipped working in corporate America and gone straight into business for yourself?
No. I think my experiences happened exactly as they were supposed to. Part of my insight and the way I run my business came about precisely because of what I learned in my previous life. I actually think there’s a lot of benefit in working in a structured environment for a short amount of time; you can see how larger companies work as well as pick up some great skill sets. It’s just a matter of not staying there so long that you lose your edge.
When you’re not writing or working for clients, what are your favorite activities?
I’m reading, watching movies, and hiking outside. I recently moved to western Massachusetts, and we are surrounded by mountains. I’ve never been an outdoorsy person, but lately, I have really enjoyed getting outdoors and trying to make my life a bit quieter and listen to nature.
Matthew Goldfarb on Twitter: @mattsgoldfarb
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