Gary Halbert and Me

You probably already know the story of how I became a copywriter, but I’ll bet the part I’m about to reveal today you DON’T know. The reason I think you don’t know is because I haven’t told very many people. But before I launch into the new stuff, let me review the old stuff briefly, okay? Okay, here it goes –

In 1999 I took a leap of faith and left my corporate job as a secretary to stay home and raise my two young sons. (One of them was learning disabled and both missed me very much.) So I hung out my shingle as a freelance writer in the virtual assistance world. Leaving a steady paycheck was a huge financial strain. I wasn’t really sure how to get clients or build a business at all – just a devoted mom.

Fortunately I landed a client right away who introduced me to the world of copywriting. He had a successful network marketing business but he hated to write. So he sort of talked me through what he wanted and showed me some templates. Copywriting was like nothing I had ever seen before. (Well, I had seen it, but I didn’t realize people actually got PAID to do it.)

Because I was so passionate about it, I kept getting better and better very quickly. But soon my client didn’t need anymore writing – and I didn’t have anyone else lined up. Bummer. So my family started living off credit cards. My husband and I fought like cats and dogs. It sucked.

Thanks for your patience – this is the NEW part

Under the weight of our circumstances I reluctantly started looking for a new daytime job. In 2002 I found a listing on CraigsList to write copy for a stock company. (I knew nothing about stocks.) They were looking for someone to write in “Gary Halbert’s style”. “Who?” I asked. That was the first time I had heard Gary’s name.

I didn’t get the job. They claimed to love my samples but sensed I just didn’t want another “office job.” That was their excuse. I think it might have been my confession about Gary. But their decision saved my life. I couldn’t have gone on to get my feet under me and really grow Red Hot Copy if I had gone done that road.

So thank you, Gary. That was the first life-changing moment you were responsible for in my life. There were many others to come.

As soon as I got home after that interview, I did a search on “Gary Halbert” and absolutely fell in love. Every carefully chosen word drew me into his copy deeper. I couldn’t stop reading! His copy was so raw and full of personality. He was like an old, salty dog not caring what you think, while driving you like a speeding car toward the call to action. So in-your-face. So irreverent. So testosteronal. And I wanted to write JUST LIKE HIM.

What you’re used to reading from me is a departure from his style but trust me, even though I’m no Gary Halbert, I learned to write in a similar tone. How do I know? He called me a few years later on the phone and told me so. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

When I first met Gary at a seminar in 2003 it was like meeting a rock star! I was so in awe of him. He was with his gorgeous girlfriend, Sirian, who is truly one of the most genuinely sweet women I’ve ever met. Gary was different than his brash persona. You could tell he had that side, yet he had such a vulnerability and honesty to him.

Over the years we’ve had sporadic contact. I wouldn’t go as far as to say we were close but he offered me advice semi-regularly via email and phone. I would occasionally show him sales copy. He would give me honest feedback (which was surprisingly more gentle than his buddy, and one of my favorite mentors, John Carlton – you lovingly brutal beast, you).

The last time I saw Gary in person was in 2005 at his Root Canal Seminar. He was brilliant, naturally. But somewhat of a lost lamb since his trusted assistant Teresa had retired. Poor guy even got lost on his way to the bathroom – but he had enough sense to ask for someone to find him through his mike, which he hadn’t turned off. I met his two sons Kevin and Bond there too – really cool guys.

At the end of the first night’s event, I invited him to have dinner. He declined saying he was tired. Frankly he looked as if he were ready to crash and I know how much throwing an event can sap out of you. Then about 20 minutes later he surprised us by joining a few of us in the bar. He said he had changed his mind about being tired. He gave up booze long ago but had a couple of cokes and shared our pizza. I wish I could have recorded that night. Some of it I’ll NEVER share. But he was so open and candid, I felt like I’d known him for years. That is one of the lessons I got from Gary. Be vulnerable and be yourself. Because there is nothing worse in life than being BORING or inauthentic.

Gary, you were never boring. You have secured your place in history as one of the greatest marketers of ALL TIME. You lived life right. Give ’em hell, Gary. You were one in a billion.

In closing

I’d like to quote an excerpt from his online newsletter about his Halbert Index: “The Halbert Index is a totally unique way of classifying people. To be at the top of the Index you must have the following:

  1. You must have a life, and
  2. You must have a sense of humor, and
  3. You must have intelligence and be an independent thinker, and
  4. You must be a generous and giving person but… at the same time…
  5. You must refuse to take sh!t from anyone who doesn’t have a gun to your head, and
  6. You must be willing to take chances and cheerfully accept losses, and
  7. You must have the capacity and courage for true intimacy with your loved ones, friends… and sometimes… even your associates and strangers, and
  8. You must be wealthy always in your mind… and therefore… very often… in your pocket, and
  9. You must be honest and have integrity not defined by laws but rather, by the inner-core of your being, and finally
  10. You must have a relationship with a higher power (nicknamed “God”) that does not necessarily include and/or often transcends any association with an organized religion.”