Fights, card tricks, and popcorn (oh, my!)

May 26, 2022

Every once in a while I have one of my Fast Track to A-List copywriting mentees take over the helm and write a guest issue.

And today we’re hearing from Cain Smith… a copywriter from Manchester, England. He’s been freelancing for more than 3 years and earlier this year also started a dream gig writing financial copy for a major publisher in the UK.

Cain’s demonstrated he’s a quick study and writes copy that packs a punch, while being a natural-born storyteller. And he’s got some great stories to share with you today… inspired by his everyday life and the interesting cast of characters he’s come into contact with.

I think you’re going to find some valuable lessons from reading it. So without further ado, Cain, you’re on!



Yep — copywriters have had to grapple with many things over these past couple of years…

The “rise of the machines” being just one of them.

But perhaps the biggest threat to our livelihoods that’s appeared during this time has been our very own four walls…

And the increasing tendency for some of us to avoid contact with other human beings!

Now, many of you reading this may have been working from home for a long, long time…

So if you fall into that category, I suppose the lonely furrow you plow at your home desk may be nothing new.

However, there’s a chance the normalization of staying indoors — even when heading “back out there” is a viable option, now — may be keeping some of us trapped inside our own bubbles.

And that, of course, ain’t a good thing at all…

Because too much time indoors surely leads to a gradual erosion of the soul (I have no research studies to back that up, but who’s gonna argue…?)

And the copywriter’s soul is inextricably linked to our pen (or, more likely — our cookie crumb-littered keyboard!).

There was a period earlier this year, where I found myself getting uncomfortably comfortable with staying indoors a lot — and I consequently found the ideas in my brain running dry, like water evaporating from a well on a hot summer’s day.

Frankly — I knew I needed to get out more.

I work in the ideas business, after all.  Without ideas, my livelihood is threatened!

So I started getting out more again.  And it got me thinking about my “former life” — a time where walking out the door every day and interacting with all kinds of characters filled my life with creative fodder (before I was a copywriter and knew what to do with it!)

My home city — Manchester, UK —  is a cornucopia of chancers and dancers, duckers and divers, crackpots and crack addicts…

In other words, it’s nirvana for a creative person!

The salesmanship lessons we can learn from pounding the pavement and “getting out there” beat anything we can get from sitting at our kitchen tables all day…

So, with that in mind, , I’ll share with you three simple “tales from the crypt”, if you will.

Lessons that have made me a better salesperson and helped me gain a more solid understanding of human psychology…

Lessons I learned by leaving my house and getting out there!

Lesson #1: We fear what we stand to lose, more than we desire what we stand to gain

Before I even knew what copywriting was, I worked as a facilities manager at a public hospital.

On just my second day on the job — while a senior manager was giving me a tour of the hospital wards — I heard raised voices and the sound of someone gasping.

I turned the corner, and two porters — who apparently were members of my staff  (I just hadn’t had the honor of meeting them yet) — were tussling with each other next to a patient’s hospital bed.  The gasp I’d heard had been made by the shell-shocked patient.

Stepping between them, I told them to get into a “back of house” corridor immediately, which they did…

And as they continued to argue — and I sensed the fight could REALLY get started here — I laughed and shook my head.

“Bloody hell, lads…I don’t want to get torn apart standing in between you two…will you please tell me what’s going on?!”

I knew the moment I complimented them both on their “strength”,  I had diffused the tension.  By NOT fighting, they still got to keep their pride — because I’d just honored them both by commenting on their toughness.

They were a$$holes.  But, still…

They didn’t fight.  I didn’t rip my suit.  And it’s a lesson I continue to remember whenever I write copy where someone’s “Pride” may be on the line (especially when you’re writing to men, in a niche like financial or survival).  Never make someone feel small when they want to feel big — if they lose their pride, you’ll lose your sale.

Lesson #2: If you want to sell something in print, think about how you’d sell it in person first

A Saturday afternoon in a city centre bar.

I’m drinking with three pals, when I spot a guy weaving his way through the pub tables with one of the simplest — but slickest — sales funnels I’ve ever seen.

He stopped by our table — a good-looking guy wearing a flat-cap and colorful shirt — and offered to show us some card tricks for free.  Eagerly, we all agreed.

As he dazzled us with his skill (and I’m not saying he wasn’t good — but it’s easy to dazzle someone with a card trick when they’ve had a few drinks!) I noticed groups of people at other tables watching us intently.  Already, I could tell they were eager to be his next audience.

When he finished his tricks, he took off his hat and offered it to us.

“Now, remember what I said, I don’t expect a penny from any of you. I was just happy to entertain you guys tonight. Of course, if one of you fancies dropping whatever you can spare into my hat, I just want you to know you’re a total legend…”

I gave him £10.  My friend Jimmy — the tight-fisted one of the group — also eagerly gave him a tenner.

And as this card sharp breezed on to the next table, I already saw one of the men reaching into his pocket for his wallet…

This funnel was easily converting at 50%.  And making the card sharp £20 (around $25) every five minutes…

That’s about $800 an hour.

How’s that for a high-converting sales funnel?

The power of demonstration…social proof…giving value up front…meeting your prospects where they are…

No one does it quite as good as a street hustler.

Lesson #3: When in doubt, bring it all back to self-preservation

Maybe you’ve seen someone like this at a movie theater or music venue near you…

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the cinema with my family and noticed a woman sitting alone, a row down from us.

She seemed like a nervous wreck.  Any time someone else walked into the theater, she would watch them closely and I could literally see her body tense up — until she realized they’d be sitting nowhere near her.  Then her body would relax..

As more people entered the theater, her instinct to protect her own personal space reached fever pitch.  She took off her coat and put it on the seat to her right, then she placed her box of popcorn on the seat to her left to create her own little island.

Eventually, it happened…

A family ended up sitting on her row, a couple of seats away from her.  The two kids were arguing with each other, to boot.

I saw the woman’s shoulders visibly hunch! She scooped up her coat, grabbed her popcorn and trotted down the steps to a new seat, several rows down — with no other human beings within her immediate vicinity.

Now, the lesson from this may not be clear…

But I was intrigued by her story.

What was the root cause of her anxiety in this situation? How and why was she feeling this problem so keenly?

The physical act of placing objects on seats either side of her was a blatant act of self-preservation.

Ultimately, this primal instinct is the driver behind every emotion we experience, and every action we take as a consequence.

I’m not sure what products could have helped the woman in this situation (a pop-up screen you slot in between the arm-rests?).  I haven’t given it that much thought…

But if we’re struggling to understand our prospects — sometimes the best thing to do is zoom out and ask ourselves how their behavior is guiding them toward self-preservation.

What are people in our market actually doing? How are they behaving?

From there we can extrapolate the problems…the fears…the desires…

And it all stems from the primal urge to preserve ourselves.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — –

So, there you have it!

Hopefully, you’ve finished reading this mammoth email with a desire to check out that cafe or co-working space you’ve had your eye on for a while.

Here’s to breakthrough ideas — by spending time observing the people we write for!



Now, that was HIGHLY entertaining… and eye-opening. Thank you so much, Cain!

Before I sign off, if you’d like to find out more about Cain, you can check out his website at

And if you’re interested in getting on the wait list for my next mentoring group, you can go here.

Yours for smarter marketing,


P.S. Well, there’s a pic of a real-life Manchester pub… just to put you right in the scene. Think that guy’s about to do a card trick? Watch out for that “funnel”…