From Being 'Unemployable' To Starting My Own $144K/Year Business Writing Funny Copy

Published: November 14th, 2022
Punchline Convers...
from Austin, TX, USA
started March 2008
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

OH HAY, NEW FRIENDS. I’m Lianna Patch, and I run Punchline Copy — a one-woman copywriting agency specializing in funny copy that sells.

These days, I’ve niched so deep that you’d need one of those rescue trucks that winch people out of wells to find me. I mainly write websites, email flows, and landing pages for eCommerce stores and bootstrapped software businesses.

I knew I’d “made it” when other copywriters started plagiarizing my website copy. Also, when I no longer had to worry about paying the rent. (Now it’s a mortgage! Do not recommend!)

Live footage of me wondering how I can get you to like me.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Well, apparently, I’m unemployable. My first full-time boss told me (as I was being let go for refusing to redirect my shitty website to her shitty website) that my “work was excellent,” but “it just seems like you want to work for yourself.”

Well, Judy, you were right. You were a god-awful boss, but you were right.

The short version of how Punchline came to be was that in 2015, I was doing standup comedy open mics, and getting into improv and sketch.

Here’s me telling some jokes about my own body. If you zoom in, you can see a man in the audience questioning the life choices that brought him to this comedy show.

I was also suuuuuper unhappy with my copywriting business — because instead of writing copy, I was mostly doing publications editing work. I felt trapped into doing something I was very good at, but no longer liked.

I was burned out AF and decided to take another agency job with another terrible boss for whom I rapidly lost all respect. (Guess how long that job lasted!! Now add one month to account for me getting T-boned by a pickup truck. I had to run meetings from my couch with three broken bones.)

But THEN! I joined Joanna Wiebe’s very first The Copywriter Mastermind. Probably the best move I ever made. Within a month or two, Jo gave me the push I needed to rebrand my business and focus on writing funny.

Thanks to my impostor syndrome, I soon started looking for empirical data that humor was beneficial to business. And hoo boy, is it out there. The more I researched, the more I fell in love with the psychology of comedy and the way humans use humor to react to social situations, deal with stress, and build relationships.

Turns out clients were dying to try comedy in their copy, too. And that’s how I started speaking, teaching, and writing funny copy.

The “10,000” balloons refer to the number of times I made the audience laugh.

Take us through the process of designing your services.

As anyone running a single-person consultancy knows, your client capacity is limited. So you have to make the most of your time. Ideally, that involves dropkicking any obstacles between you and your potential clients’ bank accounts.

I’ve productized my services into a few different offers to make it easier to work with me, since, like Freddie Mercury, I do better under pressure.

Among those productized services is the Buy My Day, which is exactly what it sounds like. Clients reserve a day of my time and create a “hitlist” of copy, messaging, and strategy ideas that they need help with. Then on our reserved day, I go HAM. (That’s a medical term.)

I also do landing page rewrites, AKA Uppercuts, and heuristic recorded audits, AKA Knockouts.

If you hate writing copy, don’t write it! Instead, record a conversation with a friend and talk about your product or service. Then transcribe the recording and BOOM, you’ve got a rough draft.

(Basically, I was like, “What boxing lingo can I co-opt for my business, even though I have taken exactly 3 boxing lessons in my life and am softer than a pile of marshmallows on a Texas summer sidewalk? OK, I’ll name my services after those.”)

If any consulting or service business folks are reading this, ask yourself how you can make it even easier for the right people to give you money for the things you do best. For me, productized services were the answer.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Pivoting from my old copywriting business — which was awfully named The English Maven, and was mostly a copy-editing business by its demise — was a slow process that involved a few different stages and more than a few bottles of Jameson. A brand that I no longer drink, because I respect myself now.

Gosh, I wonder why I was surprised to be running an editing business after publishing THIS gem of a website.

One of those stages was firing all my retainer clients, moving into project-based work, and going to Bali for 2.5 weeks with Hacker Paradise. (That was my first and last digital nomad experience because while I may look like a ~free spirit~, I am highly uptight.)

After nearly drowning, crying while trying not to drown, and then finally successfully surfing my way to shore in Bali

Next, I put together a 7-minute lightning talk on the importance of being funny for the Business of Software conference in 2017. That talk turned into a 35-minute keynote speech that I started giving at events all over.

By 2019, I was mostly writing funny copy for online stores and software businesses. These are my two favorite verticals to work with because the people are a) tops, and b) very good at testing and measuring the effectiveness of new copy and any other conversion optimization-related changes I might suggest.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

In the long and arduous process of getting to know all my own worst traits, I’ve discovered that the thing that motivates me most is the fear of letting others down. (Healthy! Well-adapted! Not taking questions at this time!)

So, against the express wishes of my wonderful coach Charlie Gilkey, I proceeded to design my business in a way that puts my lil chicken neck squarely on the chopping block.

The productized services I mentioned earlier help tie copywriting deliverables and client expectations to time-sensitive actual calendar dates. The conference talks and MC gigs are their own pressure cooker. Turns out the prospect of bombing in front of 200 potential clients is a great way to get yourself to sit down and work.

And when I decided to launch a comedy copywriting course, I opened applications for the first round before I’d finished the course material — so I HAD to finish it.

I think these are what the experts call “forcing functions.” While I wish I could be motivated more by tasty carrots than sharp sticks, it’s what works for me at this point in my life.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Here at the tail end of 2022, I’ve mostly succeeded in shifting my Punchline work to the productized services I know I’m like, totally excellent at. I've enjoyed a couple of $25k+ months here and there, and I now average 20-25 hours a week on Punchline client work.

In theory, this leaves me more room to work on my other two businesses, SNAP Copy and Paramount Pet Health. In practice, this leaves me more room to go on bike rides, pet my cats, and lie around shoveling pita chips into my face hole.

And despite [gestures widely at this interview], I’m delighted to report that a large percentage of first-time clients come back to work with me again.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

It’s such a cliché that I’m gagging just thinking about it, but it is better to laser-focus on the thing you do well and enjoy doing — rather than trying to be everything to everyone. I ignored my gut on this a few times and ended up unhappily working with clients who I should have turned away.

I also had to ditch the scarcity mindset, and (as long as we’re shopping for clichés) acknowledge that a rising tide lifts all boats. If every copywriter I know is doing great work and getting paid well for it, then we’re all gonna benefit.

Oh, and I learned that paying for smart people’s guidance when I’m stuck is a shortcut. Mentorships, masterminds, and business coaching got me further faster than I suspect I’d ever have gotten on my own.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

My site is built on WordPress, using WooCommerce. I also use QuickBooks Online (it’s the worst, but it’s what my bookkeeper likes), and Zapier to duct-tape all that ish together. Every 3,000 years when I send an email, I use ActiveCampaign. Here’s some of my favorite software.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Any book, blog, or podcast that helps me get around my head trash to create the things smashing around inside my skull is worth more than gold to me. Those resources include:

  • The Psychology of Humor, by R.A. Martin — the textbook that started my nerdy slip-n-slide into the hows and whys of comedy
  • Start Finishing, by Charlie Gilkey — a book written by my business coach/friend/personal attacker for “Creative Giants” who struggle to ship
  • Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin — one of the first books on the science of habits I came across
  • The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, and Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert — two more funny and honest looks into what keeps us from doing the work we so desperately want to do
  • More that I can’t remember because my brain is held together by barbecue chips and wood glue
  • Here’s my recommended comedy reading list!

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

HMMM. What do I know? Not a lot, but here’s what comes to mind in those sweet and creamy “advice” flavors:

  • The agony of indecision is worse than any wrong decision.
  • If a few people don’t like you, it’s not the end of the world (also, do you even like them?). If a lot of people don’t like you, you’re probably the problem.
  • New Year’s resolutions are a crock of shit. When and if you want to make a change, you’ll get tired of your excuses and finally do it. (If you’re me, this process will take several agonizing years and a lot of whining.)
  • Small consistent efforts over radical changes, yadda yadda. OR just add pressure and public accountability to your goals. When you have to complete work on your product before midnight every Monday — otherwise you’ll be forced to donate to Trump and then tweet about it — the work gets done. (This was a real deal I had with my coach, and yowza, did it work.)

  • If you hate writing copy, don’t write it! Instead, record a conversation with a friend and talk about your product or service. Then transcribe the recording and BOOM, you’ve got a rough draft. If you have no friends, record yourself talking and consider making some friends when you’re done.

Where can we go to learn more?