How one copywriter used LinkedIn to reach his financial goal

If you’re not sure how to use LinkedIn to get the clients you want, this episode is for you.

In it, Vivek Shankar, a copywriter focused on fintech (financial technology) shares the not-so-secret strategy he used to reach his ambitious financial goal, while traveling the world to boot!

Vivek has worked hard to achieve his goals but it is paying off and it didn’t take all that long.

So how can you apply what he’s doing to your own situation and achieve your goals, financial and otherwise?

His advice is to keep showing up and learning, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Whatever clicks, double down on it and go all in.

If you like Vivek's approach, here is a baby step you can take:

Spend at least 10 minutes a day, more if possible, showing up on LinkedIn. Don’t worry about posting – that takes longer. Simply read, make thoughtful comments and share.

And do it “daily-ish” – to take a bit of the pressure off.

Want to learn more?

Listen here (and below) and/or scroll down to read the transcript.

 

And if you like what you hear, we’d love it if you write a review, subscribe on Apple Podcasts and sign up for Quick Tips from Marketing Mentor.

Transcript of Marketing Mentor Podcast Episode #447 with Vivek Shankar

Hi there. This is ilise benun, your Marketing Mentor. And this is the podcast for you if, and only if, you are ready to leave the feast or famine syndrome behind, and I mean for good.

What's the best strategy to use on LinkedIn to get “better clients with bigger budgets,” as I like to say? And should you pay for LinkedIn? And if so, which plan? Or maybe you're wondering about FinTech as a niche and its sub-niches. How important is it to have a niche, anyway, really? 

These are just a few of the questions answered by my guest this week, Vivek Shankar, a relatively new FinTech copywriter—that's financial technology—who's already achieved his financial goal and can now afford to get picky about who he works with. To me, this is the point of being self-employed, and yes, it takes time, patience, practice, and above all, experimentation. That's how Vivek built his confidence and his business. And you can, too. So, listen and learn.

Hello, Vivek. Welcome to the podcast.

Vivek Shankar

Hey, ilise. Thank you so much.

ilise benun

You're welcome. Please introduce yourself.

Vivek Shankar

So, my name is Vivek Shankar, and I help B2B FinTech companies generate more leads and sales through content marketing. I create content, written content, obviously. And I'm also a content strategist. So that's the gist of what I do.

ilise benun

Beautiful. And talk a little bit about the market that you work in, FinTech, financial technology, as if nobody knows about that market. If a listener is not familiar with that market, what is it?

Vivek Shankar

Well, the name is kind of self-explanatory. It's financial technology, and basically technology that powers modern-day financial applications. Broadly speaking, there are two, you could say, pillars in the market. One is the institutional finance side, which is used on trading desks and that kind of stuff. And then there's a consumer side, which powers expense management and even personal budgeting apps—that's FinTech, as well. So I operate in the B2B side of things, which deals with backend systems for a bunch of financial companies, such as banks, insurance companies, asset management platforms. That's where I operate. So that's the very broad overview of the industry, as well.

ilise benun

Excellent. And so tell us a little bit about your background and the short version of your story as a copywriter.

Vivek Shankar

Sure. So my background … I was born in India and I left for the States when I was 17, attended college there at Ohio State. And once I graduated, I worked in the financial industry. I worked as a data analyst. I worked on … this was in the financial sector, so I was in New York on Wall Street. Yeah, I mean, data analysis was just getting started up back then, and I got to play around with some pretty interesting stuff. And I worked there for a while and the lifestyle didn't really suit me. 

So, I moved back to India and I did a bunch of things. And eventually I moved to Dubai. I actually fell into writing for businesses in a kind of weird way because I've always written creatively, just for myself, since I was a kid. I never really knew that you could get paid to write. So, when I discovered that content marketing was “a thing,” I was super happy with it. And I started writing for businesses. I started writing mostly financial stuff. I wasn't getting paid very much in the beginning, but that's just a normal part of the journey, I suppose.

And yeah, just things grew from there. I actually specialize more in content, as opposed to copy. So for those who aren't aware, it just means that I write more long-form stuff, as opposed to copy for websites and sales letters—that's a minority portion of my work.

ilise benun

And why is that, Vivek?

Vivek Shankar

I just feel more comfortable because the long-form content usually requires a little more research. I get to dig into a lot of stuff. Copy is more sales oriented. So it's just a personal preference of mine.

ilise benun

And would you say that in the FinTech niche or world, there is plenty of work on both sides for copywriters?

Vivek Shankar

Oh, absolutely. The sector itself is growing massively, and not just B2B, but even B2C. I mean, we're seeing so many apps come up, just that help you with your shopping and this and that. So it's not just websites, it's even apps. There's a new sort of, well, I wouldn't call it a trend, but it's a new job role that I've been seeing, that's been growing. So it's called a UX writer, which is, it combines the elements of what a graphic designer would do with what a copywriter does. So it's just one person who does the design as well as the copy all together and ties everything together. So, pretty interesting, in that sense.

ilise benun

That's interesting. So you're saying a UX copywriter, part of their job, from what you can see, is to do the design of the copy as well?

Vivek Shankar

It's not the entire design. It's more about designing the experience that the customer receives. So what they do is they wireframe. For example, if you have a FinTech app, they would wireframe like what the app's first screen introduction screen would look like, how that would lead into the second screen, where they would place the buttons, and what have you. What would the copy on those buttons be? What would the error messages look like?

So, it's still evolving. I know someone who, she used to be a graphic designer exclusively, and then she moved into this UX role and she now kind of, she does everything, really. She's a freelancer as well. So, she is an example of someone who does both design and copy. But there are other UX writers who do just the copy. So it's kind of a spectrum. Yeah, on the copy side of things, it's pretty interesting to see how things are evolving. So, yeah.

ilise benun

And how long have you been freelancing?

Vivek Shankar

I got started in February 2019, so it's not that long. A little … three years and a few months, really.

ilise benun

And what was your goal when you started, and have you achieved it, and how has that process been, that evolution been?

Vivek Shankar

Ah, well, it's an interesting question, because my goals evolved as my understanding of the field grew. So as I said, I didn't really know anything about content marketing back in 2019. And when I first started writing, my goal was to just cover my rent. 

I was like, “If I can just write enough and get paid to cover my rent, that's a success.” And then I found that writing came pretty naturally to me, especially financial writing, and there was a demand for it. So I thought, “Okay, why can't I extend this to maybe cover all my monthly expenses?” So I did that, and then I found that I could cover that easily.

That's when I would say I really thought about scaling up, and just ran some calculations in my head and then on an Excel spreadsheet. I was like, “Okay, my goal is I would like to make $7,000 USD a month.” I'm based in Dubai, so I don't pay taxes, which is a huge advantage for me. And that was my goal. And I achieved that, I think, four to five months back, or maybe a little before that. 

So yeah, my goal now is to just focus on the quality of work that I do, not necessarily the financial aspect of it because that's kind of taken care of. It's more just the quality of work I do, who I work with, that kind of stuff. So I've been pretty fortunate in that regard to actually just be in a position where I can hit my goals and evolve with it. So yeah, super thankful for that.

ilise benun

And it sounds like you are able to become more selective about who you work with and what you do. And I'm wondering if you can give us the difference between what you might think of as the lower quality that you started with, toward more the higher quality that you're aiming for and getting more of now. What exactly is that kind of project or kind of client?

Vivek Shankar

So, when I started off, I started like every other writer. I was at a content mill, and I was getting paid less than one cent per word, as you know. We've had a lot of conversations about this. Yeah, that's kind of where I started. And the emphasis from those clients, I found, is a lot on just the volumes. There isn't as much focus on the quality itself. It's more about just delivering, churning out words at a deadline. And then you move on to the next project and that's it.

So with the better clients, what I found is that there is a lot of planning involved beforehand, before you actually write. So the content mill projects that I was doing before I started, I would just dive right into them. I wouldn't really plan, nor was there any demand for planning how the structure would be or whatever. 30,000-word project … I would just dive right into it. And I just started writing, basically, I don't want to say “vomiting words onto a page,” but pretty close to it.

This is not to say that I was writing a bunch of rubbish. I mean, I was still producing a certain level of quality. But these days, the planning that I do with my clients, and the planning that even the clients demand, is much more than the output itself. 

So, for instance, I write for clients who need, say two articles a month, about 1,500 words each thereabout, but planning that one article takes much longer. It takes about a week, at least, for me to get the outline in place, for me to figure out who they want to speak to, which points they wish to hit, how their product should be highlighted, which language to use. There's a lot more emphasis on the planning and the strategy side of things.

Something else I would like to add and this is probably … this isn't the most PC thing to say, I suppose, but it exists in the industry. As you can tell, I'm not a native speaker. And I found that the lower-quality clients almost always ask for a native English speaker, whereas the high-quality clients don't. They just focus on the quality of your work. So, any non-native speakers listening, if you see that “native speakers only” tag, just run away, because they're not going to pay you much and they're going to demand unrealistic things. And they probably won't have any idea what they're talking about.

ilise benun

And actually, let me ask you another probably not so PC question, which is when people see that you're Indian, from your name, do they expect to pay less?

Vivek Shankar

Yes. I would say it also depends on the industry, which I found quite interesting. If I get any inquiries from the New Age sort of blockchain, DeFi [decentralized finance] crypto world, it's almost always people offering anywhere between one to 10 cents a word. And I think they purposely target non-native writers because they feel that they can get away with lower rates.

To be honest, within the FinTech side of things, I have not had that experience at all. Neither has that been the case in the institutional finance side of things. Whoever has reached out to me has always been very transparent in that they looked at my work, they researched me, and then they reached out to me. So yeah, that's been the pattern, I would say.

ilise benun

So let's talk a little bit about, you're kind of segueing into it already, how you get the clients, what marketing tools do you use, which of them find you and how, versus you finding them? How does all that work?

Vivek Shankar

So, my primary tool of choice is LinkedIn, and that's my platform, really. And the way I landed on LinkedIn was just I experimented with a bunch of stuff and LinkedIn worked. So I just doubled down on it. And yeah, the ROI on LinkedIn is absolutely massive for me. The techniques that I've used on LinkedIn have varied. I tend to experiment a lot, and I'm not really afraid of making an ass of myself. 

ilise benun

Why not, Vivek?

Vivek Shankar

I'm just not afraid of it. 

(Laughter). 

I've done many things in my life, and yeah, I guess, you know this, but I travel a lot, and location dependent. I'm always in unfamiliar situations. So I'm kind of used to making a fool of myself. So it just, it's water off my back really.

ilise benun

And it sounds like it helps in your marketing.

Vivek Shankar

It does. Yeah. It certainly helps with the experimentation. And I guess I'm also a very curious guy. I don't really mind experimenting, like digging into stuff. I'm still figuring out LinkedIn. I'm not a master at it. And I don't want to give the wrong impression here. It's not as if I'm some celebrity on LinkedIn. 

My engagement rates are quite low, but what I found is that LinkedIn is excellent at keyword optimization. That is something that I believe my profile has absolutely nailed because I find that I have peppered my profile with a lot of industry-specific words, for example, PayTech or RegTech or InsurTech which are industry specific phrases, which only a FinTech writer, especially in B2B, would be using. And I've found that prospective clients from these sectors within the FinTech industry have reached out to me. Not all of them have worked out, but it's a nice way …  LinkedIn does a great job of just, I guess, presenting my profile to these people based on how my keyword optimization looks like.

Another thing I liked about LinkedIn is that the jobs board is actually a great way of locating who's hiring. So one of my clients recently, the way I sort of signed up with them was they had advertised for a full-time position as a writer, sorry, they were looking for a writer, and this is an institutional finance firm. They produce articles about private equity and all that stuff.

So, it's kind of hard to find that sort of talent. And they were looking for someone full time. They didn't really find anyone. So I reached out to them and I was like, “I can't work full  time for you. I'd be more than willing to freelance.” And eventually they got back to me because they didn't find anyone. So that kind of outreach also helps from LinkedIn, I've found.

ilise benun

And the point I just want to emphasize there is it sounds like you reached out to them because you are perfect for what they need and there aren't many people who are.

Vivek Shankar

Yeah, exactly. They were a perfect fit, niche-wise. Exactly, as you said.

ilise benun

And I also know that you've been using Sales Navigator. I guess that's the most expensive version of LinkedIn. Can you talk about how that works and how it's been helping you?

Vivek Shankar

Sure. Just to clarify, I mean, I've always viewed my freelancing as a business. I guess it's because I've run other businesses in the past. So I've always been able to figure out what is an expense and what is an investment. Sales Navigator, for me, was always an investment. It was something that I really wanted to try, but I didn't pull the trigger on it until recently, because I really wanted to optimize my profile, get my portfolio optimized so that I have a good track record at this and that, just present a good profile, really—a good brand image, if you will.

So, Sales Navigator is about $1,200 per year, which for me really isn't that expensive, considering the ROI. I recovered the ROI in about I think a month or less than a month, just by signing so many clients. 

The way I use it is I know who my customer is, my prospects / customers. I know who they are. I know which sort of companies that I'm targeting, and Sales Navigator, the UI has all those filters built in. So, stuff like: Have they been recently funded? Are they hiring? What sort of job growth in terms of postings? What has that trend been like? Have there been any top management changes? All those kinds of things. And Sales Navigator makes it very easy to find those kinds of companies, and the odds of them needing someone like me is just higher.

So, I create lists and everything within Sales Navigator. And then I just start reaching out to them. I engage with their content. I engage with the company pages. I leave thoughtful comments as much as possible. I'll admit, there are times when I just tried some very BS-ey like, “Thank you for sharing,” kind of thing, because I can't think of anything else. But the point is, I show up. And it's like you said: when they have a need, they reach out to me.

And the thing I found is that these people are very willing to refer me to others. So this is an interesting story. There was actually a client that I signed, that I onboarded through Sales Navigator. I found them on the Sales Navigator platform and then did some work for them. It didn't work out, but they recommended me to somebody else and that person got in touch with me. So, it kind of works well. That's kind of how it's been working for me and I'm quite happy with it.

ilise benun

And those are all such really helpful specifics. Also, I have a couple more questions. You also have a website, Vivek. And I'm curious, how does your LinkedIn profile and your website work together? How important is it to have that website also?

Vivek Shankar

I think having a website is, it's a basic thing these days, because it's just your digital identity, and you should own your name. That's the way I see it. It doesn't matter if you don't rank or anything, you should just own that domain. Speaking as a writer or even as a creative, it's a good place to just host your portfolio.

So, it just looks professional. It shows that you are a serious person, and at the very least, I think you should have a professional-looking email. If you're sending stuff out of Gmail or whatever, it just doesn't look very good, especially if you're approaching organizations that employ more than 500 people and millions in revenue. I mean, something from a Gmail account is probably, it's just going to get redirected to spam, right? So it's not going to help you that way.

ilise benun

Or, perceived as amateurish.

Vivek Shankar

Exactly. In terms of tying the two together, I publish content on my website and then I share that on a LinkedIn post. And I also republish that on LinkedIn. You know, I don't have really any stats that I can give you as to how effective that is, but it's just a way of showing that I'm active on my website. I am active in regards to SEO, at least on the planning side of things. The writing, I don't have time to write for myself, unfortunately, but that's a good problem to have.

ilise benun

Indeed. And so just to tie this to the Simplest Marketing Plan, you're basically using targeted outreach on LinkedIn, and content marketing both on your website and on LinkedIn, and the two of those together, focused on the FinTech market and the little sub-niches within FinTech, is what's working for you. Is that accurate?

Vivek Shankar

Yeah, pretty much. That's, yeah, I have nothing else to add. That's it. 

(Laughter)

ilise benun

All right. Then one more question for you. What advice would you give a new copywriter who is just starting out and maybe doesn't have a niche yet, or doesn't want to have a niche, also? There are a lot of those.

Vivek Shankar

Ah, that's a broad question. It's a bit like asking how a watch works. I mean, there's a lot going on.

ilise benun

Pick anything, Vivek.

Vivek Shankar

For the niche thing, whether should you niche or not niche, personally, I have always niched. Being generalist has never appealed to me, but I do know people who are quite successful not generalizing. I will say that if you're a copywriter, you can get away with not having an issue because industry-specific knowledge is not that important in copy as it is in long form content.

ilise benun

So okay, let me just translate that. So you're saying, because you're a content writer, the fact that your background is in the financial world is a tremendous asset to you, but if you were doing copywriting, it wouldn't matter as much.

Vivek Shankar

It really wouldn't, no, because I've had a lot of people reach out to me to write copy in industries that are completely unrelated. And yeah, and I also think …

ilise benun

They don't care.

Vivek Shankar

Yeah. It's not so much about not caring. It's just that it's a different skill set. You know, you don't have to use as much jargon, I've found, in copy. You don't need to dive as deeply into issues. Your primary objective with copy is to sell, whereas with content it's to explain and tell a story. So you automatically need to know a bit more with long-form content.

Other pieces of advice, I would say, is definitely have a professional-looking website. Even if it's one page, just have a web presence of some sort. Definitely be on LinkedIn. Network a lot. You know, when I started off, I had absolutely no idea how marketing works or anything. And I was in content marketing. So, it's like a content marketer who doesn't know how content marketing works. (Laughter). Despite that, it seems very intimidating at first, but just keep showing up and just keep learning, I guess. And yeah, don't be afraid to experiment. Eventually, whatever clicks, just double down on that and go all in. And that's what works.

ilise benun

Awesome. That is beautiful. Thank you so much, Vivek. Tell the people where they can find you online.

Vivek Shankar

You can reach out to me on my LinkedIn.

ilise benun

I'll share the link in the show notes.

Vivek Shankar

Okay, awesome. You can reach out to me on LinkedIn or you can reach out to me on my website, which is just my name, vivekshankar.net. So yeah, feel free to say hi.

ilise benun

Beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing what you've learned, Vivek.

Vivek Shankar

Thank you. Thank you very much.

ilise benun

Vivek has worked hard to achieve his goals, but it is paying off and it didn't take all that long. So how can you apply what he's doing to your own situation and achieve your goals, financial or otherwise? His advice was to just keep showing up and learning, and I totally agree. And don't be afraid to experiment. Whatever clicks, double down on it and go all in. 

So here's a baby step you can take to start moving in that direction. Spend at least 10 minutes a day, more if possible, showing up on LinkedIn. Don't worry about posting. That takes longer. Simply read, make thoughtful comments, and share. And do it daily-ish, to take a bit of the pressure off.

So, did you learn a little something? I hope so, because that's how this works, one baby step at a time. Before you know it, you'll have better clients with bigger budgets. Speaking of better clients, you know they're probably not going to fall in your lap, right? That's why I keep hawking my Simplest Marketing Plan. If you want to build a thriving business on your own terms, you need the 4.0 version for 2022. It is packed with all new content, including six new case studies and six new lessons. You also get three different planners, plus access to the free monthly Office Hours group coaching session, where you'll meet other creative pros who are practicing what I preach and taking control over their business and their life.

You can find it all in the Marketing Mentor shop at marketing-mentor.com. I'll be back soon with more conversations with creative professionals who are doing what it takes to ditch the feast or famine syndrome. See you next time.