I finally got ahold of my pal Halbert, down in Miami, after listening to a busy signal for two days. Hurricane Wilma did a number on the town, and I’ve been worried about him and a number of other friends in the area.
Harlan, John, Dean, Rich… if you read this, drop me an email or call, just to let me know you’re okay, will you?
Unlike the previous two hurricanes that ripped into the continent, there’s not much real news to be found about this one. Just rumors and sound bites, as the easily-bored media move along to other news.
And yet, you can feel that vague sense of dread steadily build across the land.
Most of the country is jittery. (If you’re not nervous, you haven’t been paying attention.) I remember this feeling well — I was in that generation forced to do “Duck and Cover” drills in the third grade during the Cold War. The school assigned us all local houses to go to during a nuclear attack. “Why can’t I just go home?” I asked, naively. “Because the bombs will be here too quickly,” was the patient reply.
Silly little boy. The Russians want us dead.
I’m a history buff. And I can tell you with some certainty that there have been precious few periods without major threats hanging over our collective heads. Huns, plagues, revolutions… natural disasters.
Long list of troubles.
Short list of times when you could really relax.
As a culture, we tend to look at events as isolated spots of unwelcome and unpredictable discomfort. Hurricanes hitting Florida? Who’d have thought it? Earthquakes in California? You’re kidding me. Tornadoes in Kansas? Is that what the cellar is for?
Denial is a basic part of our make-up as humans. Without it, our ancestors would have never strayed from the comfort of the jungle into wetter, snowier and more hostile lands.
In modern times, denial causes a lot of problems, though. Light up another cig, have another affair, write another check that can’t be covered… and maybe worry about it tomorrow.
Right now, everything seems fine. Life’s all about living in the moment, anyway, isn’t it?
This is where many people get confused. Your denial system is there to help you get through emergencies and prolonged crisis. If you keep it turned on all the time, though, it’s a narcotic that will keep you half-asleep.
As one of the masses, being a zombie is a tradition. It has ever been thus, throughout history.
However, if you want to compete as an entrepreneur, you need to wake up.
To dominate your market, you need to be the most awake person available. You need to be the “go to guy”. And that requires a sometimes painful awareness level that keeps denial locked away in a closet.
There are many paths to full awareness… some are difficult and complex, others more like getting slapped upside the head and having an “a-ha!” experience.
Here’s a quick one: Stop resisting what’s happening.
Just that simple. In business, if the market is telling you it doesn’t want your product, stop throwing money into the project. Don’t get mad at your prospects for not realizing how great your stuff really is, don’t rail at the gods for torturing you, don’t try to twist reality with the power of your ability to fret and obsess.
Just realize that business and life is a maze, and you wandered down a blind alley. Stop, turn around, and go find another path.
People in deep denial find it tough to roll with the punches. Especially since most of the folks they know are acting in the same resistant manner. Remember that two of the three little Piggies were in denial about the abilities of the Wolf to huff, puff and set up his own Bubba’s Bar-B-Que.
Years ago, some friends of mine had their beautiful house burn down. They lived in a part of the country where this happened with regularity — canyons that acted like wind tunnels during wildfires, wildfires that erupted nearly every year.
Still, it is and always has been a stunningly-gorgeous place to live.
My friends reacted quite differently to the disaster. Both lost everything, including photos and other evidence of their life. For one, this was devastation almost beyond enduring… an event that rocked her world to the core.
I completely understand that reaction. If I were home during a fire, I’d probably try to save photos and mementos (right after the Missus and the dogs). I’ve never been without some of these things my entire life. Losing them would be jarring.
The other friend, however, reacted quite differently. He immediately referred to his lost accumlations as “just things”. Those which cannot be replaced are still committed to memory. And anything that can be replaced… was. Quickly.
They built a new house, on the same spot. It’s magnificent, and life goes on. They weren’t hurt, and their lives are filled with new evidence of living well.
I’ve been in both situations. I’ve suffered loss and crumpled under the weight. And, as I grew up and realized that loss would always be nearby, I began to look at events with stark realism.
I can tell you this: It’s a choice. You are not doomed to any particular way of handling trauma. You can learn to deal with it.
You can — if you choose — learn to wake up, and make decisions based on refusing to allow bad things to crush your spirit and ruin your life.
And when you start making proactive decisions… you become a “go to guy”. You become someone to be relied on. In life, you become the friend we all need. In business, you become the marketer we trust.
It’s not always comfortable seeing life as it is. You have to guard against becoming cynical, and you have to allow your heart to grow along with your awareness.
It’s not always comfortable… but it is invigorating.
Seize the day.
And stay frosty.
For those of you keeping score, I did not offer a seminar this year.
I lectured at four or five seminars put on by other people… but there’s a huge difference between what I can do with a typical 90-minute slot at a crowded event… and what I have accomplished in the two past seminars I put on all by my lonesome.
When I hold a seminar, it’s just me and the audience, for two or three days. No other speakers, zero product pitching, no distractions at all.
Just hard-core teaching. The kind of hands-on, in-your-face, explosive-learning-curve teaching that can change your life.
I like to roll up my sleeves and get to work. The first event I held was the Copywriting Sweatshop, and I tore into the copy of every attendee, personally and in front of everybody. At the second event, The License To Steal seminar, I showed everyone exactly how to take proven ads and letters… and quickly turn them into your own vicious profit-makers.
Sometimes, it’s all about the shortcuts.
That’s been it, however. I’ve offered my courses and critiques and other materials for almost five years now… and there are just those two seminars.
And because I did so much personal work with each attendee, I was forced to severely limit the number of people who got in. I turned down a number of people who thought they could bribe their way in after the last seat was sold. Turning them down was necessary, but it was also good practice.
You know you’re in the groove when you can say “no” to someone waving thousands of dollars in your face without even considering caving in.
And, as much as I enjoyed the look of astonishment on their faces — you’d be surprised how often people actually get (and expect) special treatment just by throwing money around — it was simply a matter of limitations. If I were just yapping away about theory and concepts and bullshit like that, I could let everyone in who wanted a seat.
But that’s not what I do.
There’s a place for lecturing and theory and stroking the dreams of avarice… but there’s also a need for real meat. And there’s precious little of that at most events.
So I try to fill the gaps. I don’t want passive attendees. I like to make you sweat, and even work a bit — it’s the only way to actually learn, and the best way to retain new skills.
By doing. Not just listening and twiddlig your thumbs.
Anyway, after a full year off, I’m getting itchy again to hold another brutal learning seminar. There’s no thrill on earth like watching raw rookies finally have that “a-ha!” experience that opens up the vaults for them… or like watching the smug grin fade on the know-it-alls when they finally realize they’ve been cheating themselves all along, and (a-ha, again) they can start to taste the fortune waiting for them when they get back to the office and put what they’ve discovered to work.
That’s what makes teaching such a kick. The transformation from “whaaaa?” to “Ah, now I get it!”
I’m looking at March right now. Here in Reno. Won’t be cheap. Will be worth it.
I’m also already planning it out. Won’t be like anything else you’ve ever seen before. As generous as I am in revealing everything I know about writing killer advertising… and I defy you to find another teacher who shares as freely and deeply as I do… there’s still only so much I can do without locking eyes with you to make sure you “get” it.
Over the years, I’ve trained and mentored a vast parade of writers. But it’s ones who score a little personal time and targeted advice who do the best.
And I don’t have to tell you what being one of the “best” writers entitles you to, do I?
Let’s just say the wealth potential will buckle your knees.
The problem, of course, has always been getting that personal access. I simply do not have the time to mentor anyone one-on-one any more.
So that leaves these super-rare, “just me and you in a room” occasionaly seminars as the only time you’ll ever get this kind of “forced growth” attention.
I have no other details for you at this time. I cannot accept reservations yet, even.
Just consider this a shot across your bow. Early warning. It will sell out, fast. So, if you are at all inclined to even consider attending… don’t commit to anything else in March yet.
For the few who get in, it will launch the new year like a howitzer. No matter what other high tech gimmicks or tricks you use… your bottom line will always rest on your copy.
All-the-bells-and-whistles site, with bad copy… equals miserable results.
Basic, stripped-down site, with killer copy… equals massive sales, in any market.
Nothing happens until the copy gets written. All the techno-bling-whiz-bang available won’t do your selling for you. It takes copy.
And once you learn — really get-your-hands-dirty learn — the inside secrets of the best, the cash pipeline just bursts open.
Something to think about, don’t you think?
Okay, I’m not the young buck on the scene anymore.
No longer the smart-mouthed kid, or even the too-hip-to-live aging-well culture warrior.
I’m not even officially “middle aged”, unless I live to be 100.
I’m now… gasp… the grizzled veteran who’s not just seen it all… but maybe seen too much.
When the hell did that happen?
I was talking with one the true young bucks of the Web age today, a brilliant guy in his early thirties. Because of the timing of the Web’s maturation into a viable marketing vehicle, I get to talk to a LOT of people in their late twenties-to-mid-thirties these days. They were born at the right time.
Now, I can get along with almost anyone. My range of close, intimate friends goes from certified senior citizens all the way down to kids just getting started as adults. I’ve never put shallow age limits on who I call a friend — I rate the substantial stuff higher.
Still, when I’m talking with someone twenty years younger than I am about a joint venture to an online market… it’s just weird. I find myself wondering just what, exactly, I’m bringing to the table.
After all, they’re the Web-head techies. And they’ve studied marketing and advertising for years… most of them started early, at ages where I was still a wet-behind-the-ears party-hearty moron.
I guess the fact that it was sometimes my work they were studying brings a small bit of ironic balance to the scene.
So they’re sort of “going to the source”. I don’t enjoy being a “source” necessarily, since that reminds me how long ago it was I was a vibrant young rookie, ready to choose off the world with one hand tied behind my back.
But there you have it.
And, to be fair to myself (and all the other veterans out there still slugging it out on the advertising front lines)… I also bring the sometimes heavy hand of EXPERIENCE to every discussion.
Talent is a good thing.
But, push come to shove… honest experience can take you further. You gotta hone talent. With experience, all you gotta do is remember the lessons.
And believe me, there are lessons to be learned from every scrap of adventure that happens to you.
I’m a walking encyclopedia.
So… how would you like to hear a bit of insight from “The Voice o’ Experience”?
Here it is: A long, long time ago, I had my heart broken in two. I was right out of college, and everything I was and ever thought I’d be was tied up in a girl I’d been living with and loving for several years.
Things went south in a hurry and in a blur. If you need details, you’ll have to get me drunk… and you’ll need an hour to hear the short version.
If you’ve ever had your heart broken, you know the drill.
If you haven’t… count your blessings. And stop taking love for granted, you fathead. Most people plow through relationships just daring life to snarl back.
Trust me on this: The bite is worse than the bark.
The pain I felt is unlike anything else I had ever experienced, or ever would experience. My heart still pumped blood, but it felt ice-cold. There was an emptiness in my gut that radiated out to my toes… so I felt like a walking zombie, wading through a dream.
I really thought the pain would kill me. It was that intense.
When, a couple of years later, I realized I wasn’t gonna die from the heartbreak… I considered doing a Kurt Cobain. There were some truly grisly moments… but mostly I just descended into a lifestyle of debauchery and risk and flipping off Fate. Daring it to bring the axe down.
It was Existential City to the max. I kept journals that read like someone peering into Hell. I wrote poetry and songs that caused listeners to wince and ask me if I was all right.
I was cold. Lost. Alone. And clearly depressed.
It went on for almost two years. And after than, the ragged edges of my state-of-mind still weren’t quite right. I had nightmares for a decade, off and on.
And you know what?
Tonight, driving home from an errand, I heard a depressing love song from that time. (“What A Fool Believes”, by the Doobie Bros, if you must know.)
Music often lights up my memory banks to the point of physical sensations. I went right back to those damaged years, and remember viserally how I felt, the emptiness in my gut, the sense of hopeless loss.
And I smiled.
After a couple of decades of perspective, I no longer see that period of youthful grieving as a depressed mess.
In truth… between the mini-bouts of self-pity and loathing… I was still enjoying life back then. There was a twinge of sadness that hung over me like a bad odor — people often said I was the most brooding friend they had… and yet those same people, most of the time, were laughing with me during our adventures.
I smiled tonight… because I remembered not only the pain… but also the LIFE. That staggering joy of breathing deep and digging into the feast as best I could.
I ate big chunks of life back then. In retrospect, I wish I’d had an uncle like the “me” of today to offer guidance and reassurance and some decent frigging advice… but I wouldn’t BE “me” today without having travelled that long, grueling journey alone and clueless.
You’ll hear successful people speak ruefully of the best times of their lives being the struggle, and not the reward. It’s the years of working against adversity, risking it all, standing elbow-to-elbow with your comrades as the sparks fly that make you feel so wonderfully and urgently alive.
Somewhere along the line, I learned to enjoy the ride, despite the hurt and uncertainty. My time here on earth has been far from perfect, but I have been blessed. I don’t really believe in angels… but if there is one hovering over my shoulder, I’d like to publicly thank her for getting me through all those close calls.
I hope she doesn’t take it personal that I doubt she’s even there.
And here’s the main point: Dude, what I went through almost killed me. And yet, my only regret is that those times are gone.
If I live as long as some of my luckier relatives, I’ve maybe got 10,000 days left. It isn’t enough, but I’ll take ’em. Every single one, with all the hurt and grief that are sure to arrive with many of them.
If you’re young, and you’re wondering when the fun starts… stop wondering.
You’re in it. This is your movie, running right now.
Take a deep breath. Feel the machinery purring beneath your breastbone, and go outside, right after you log off, to feel the blush of autumn on your cheek.
Listen to some music, closely, before you go to bed.
Taste something sweet. Kiss someone sweeter.
Let me be a Voice of Experience for you, just this once. Whatever you’re going through will pass. Things will go good, and then bad. Good. Bad. Good, bad, good, bad…
And the roller coaster will just go on. Be happy you still have a role to play. Maybe there’s reason behind everything, maybe not. At the end of the day, it doesn’t much matter.
If you’re not having the grand adventure you desire, there are ways to put some new drama, comedy and tragedy in motion in your life. I can personally tell you a dozen ways to shake out the jams tonight.
But that’s advice for another time.
Right now, I’ve still got an ancient movie reel whirring in my head, starring a much younger, much sillier, and much more lost John than the one you currently have the pleasure of knowing.
I love the guy.
And I’m real happy he decided to hang around to see how Act Two developed.
Stay frosty, y’all.
Lovely blog software I’ve got here. If I don’t post for six days, it goes into a sulk and serves up a blank page.
That’s just rude.
So, I’m leaving a quick note here to let people know I’m not dead yet.
I also know that the notification for posts is not working for most of you, either. Mostly, I’m happy with this blog set-up, and I’ve got someone looking into a little online surgery to fix the annoying aspects.
It’s always something.
I’ll have a more substantial post here soon…
Love the weather here in Northern Nevada. Fall’s my favorite time of year — a sense of renewal just as strong as spring, but with a different urgency to it. I’ve always made the major changes in my life in autumn…
I’ll be on the horn with Armand Morin in just a few hours — 6 pm west coast time, tonight, Tuesday the 4th — talking about copywriting.
It’s a free call. If you’d like to eavesdrop, bop over to this link:
Just leave your name and email, and you’ll be sent the relevant details. (I explained more about this call in the previous post.)
I’m already pacing the floor, getting prepared.
Have you ever watched a cat stalk birds?
I wasn’t raised on a farm, but I did grow up near one of the last edges of American civilization — specifically, a far-flung suburban outpost in pre-densely-populated Southern California, long before the tsumani of pavement washed in and covered up all the vineyards, orchards, and xeriscape foothills.
When the sun went down, it got real dark, cuz there weren’t any streetlights. And since it was a working class neighborhood, people crashed early. Late at night, the only sounds of man you could hear were the distant ka-chunk-ka-chunk and wail of trains.
And coyotes ate your pets if you left ’em out.
We weren’t exactly pioneers… but we were butted snug against an uncowered and unforgiving Nature.
So we learned a lot from animals. (Though I’m not so sure that watching the pained look on my dog’s face as he hopped around still attached by his Johnson to the bitch he’d just inseminated was the best way to learn about sex.) (Kinda explains some of my early adventures in the back seat of the Impala at the drive in, though… but that’s another story.)
Humans have lost most of our natural hunting instincts. We’re impatient, unskilled even with the opposing-thumb advantage, and easily grossed out. At least until we re-learn the Zen of stalking.
Watching cats go after Tweetie was a favorite past-time. (This was before X-box, you understand.)
If you’ve never seen the show, allow me to explain why it made such am impression: Fluffy sees bird, and immediately goes into kill mode. This is entirely different than any other mode she ever adopted. Playing with yarn, batting the cat-nip ball around, attacking an unsuspecting foot tapping out a beat to the radio… all these behaviors are clearly NOT total hunting mode.
You see that when you finally catch her getting serious.
She doesn’t tense up, and launch on the target, either. No. She zeroes in on it, and patiently goes to school on every move it makes. Knowing her own abilities, she judges distance, marks obstacles, gauges the awareness level of her prey.
No Attention Deficit going on here.
If she needs to get closer, it’s an almost imperceptible creep. Muscles will hold a pose frozen for long minutes to avoid detection.
Finally, after digesting every scrap of available information… and unable to close the distance any further without detection… she pounces.
Every fiber of her being is focused on taking Tweetie down.
And if she misses… fine. She returns to her hidey-spot and waits for the next opportunity. Just a little more prepared this time. A little looser.
All grown up now, I still remember watching Fluffy work.
Because what I learned from her is still amazingly relevant in business.
Don’t scoff. Now that I’ve pointed it out to you, the concept of being a cat becomes obvious when you observe savvy, experienced businessmen operate.
It’s the opposite of the impatient, grabby rookie.
The veteran doesn’t rush into any opportunity. No way. He stalks it first.
Studies the market, the demographics, the competition. (Especially the competition.)
Even more relevant… he gauges his own skills against what is necessary to win. Fluffy could have caught Manfred the big lazy beagle much more easily than any bird in the neighborhood… but winning involved more than just catching the prey. Winning meant conquering.
Rookies come to me all the time, hopping up and down with excitement about getting into, oh, the diet market. They heard how much money can be made there, and they can’t wait to dive in.
Until, of course, they discover that while it’s easy to get into that swampy pool… it ain’t so easy to stay afloat. Lots of nasty federal agencies hiding in there, with big teeth and no mercy. Lots of vicious competitors unemcumbered with ethics or a sense of fair play.
You don’t know what you’re doing, you’re gonna get your lunch eaten.
The first advice I give rookies who are looking at a new market… is to simply study it first.
That’s what the pro’s do.
Study whatever you lust after like a cat.
Now, as a freelance copywriter, I have stalked so many different markets, I’ve lost track of them all. When I take on a new client, I don’t just sit down and knock off a brilliant ad. I need to get neck-deep in the details of the market first. Learn what makes the customers tick… what triggers their buying decisions… what the competition is up to (and what they’re doing better than my client).
After, oh, twenty-five years of getting hip to various markets, it’s no longer a big deal to me. All markets have certain things in common, and the differences are often very similar, too.
It’s kind of like being a major league pitcher. At first, you gotta study each new batter with all your might — you ask other pitchers and catchers what they know, you agonize over film, you gather and absorb as much info as possible.
And then, after a little experience, you realize you can shortcut the process a bit. Cuz there are only so many variables involved. Those variables look daunting to a rookie… but become familiar to the pro.
Eventually, you begin to “read” opposing batters with great skill, more easily.
You still ask around, you still watch the film… but you don’t need to agonize so much anymore. You’ve been there before.
You can’t get jaded about it, of course.
But you can — and need to — use the available shortcuts.
This never-ending process of learning and conquering so many different markets is what makes veteran copywriters such “total” marketers.
I’ve been exposed to every kind of marketing tactic and strategy there is. Seen some of ’em work like crazy, seen others crumble like a mud hut in a storm.
I’ve tried every angle of salesmanship, too. From the basic and fundamental forms of “just sell the damn thing”… to the advanced and psychologically-complex techniques that establish long-term relationships between seller and buyer.
And everything in between.
So… when you deal with a veteran freelance copywriter, you’re actually getting access to almost every aspect of business. Selling, yeah… but also positioning within a market, creating good product from scratch, finding new target audiences, avoiding pitfalls that swallow up rookies, and on and on.
Heck, I even have experience with hiring the right kind of people to staff your joint. I can look at your plans and tell you about the warehouse you’re gonna need to lease, the parade of employees who will pass through your scrolls, even how your life will look three months down the road.
I’m not psychic.
I’ve just been around the block a few times.
I like to think of my skills set as a Bag of Tricks. There are several bags within the main bag, too.
There’s a bag of marketing tricks. Strategies and plans I’ve tested out and seen others work, plus all the ways I know to reach prospects with a sales message (including the Web, direct mail, print ads, seminars, all of it). It’s a pretty impressive bag of goodies.
Then, there’s a smaller bag full of insight into running a business. Essentially, Operation MoneySuck at full tilt. I’ve worked closely with large corporations and small entrepreneurs… and each has their foibles and habits and ways of making it happen (and, too often, ways of making it not happen). Knowing this stuff can shortcut years of failure, and speed up success like crazy.
Then, there’s the bag of salesman’s tricks. This also is a very deep bag… because I’ve studied salesmanship like a groupie. And I’ve been lucky about finding “old school” mentors who know how to sell face-to-face as well as how to reach crowds with copy. Everyone has an Inner Salesman… but most of the time (even with experienced marketers) he’s fast asleep. Your first order of business, if you crave success, is to kick that bad boy awake and put him to work for you.
Finally, of course, is the big damn bag with all my copywriting skills. All the secrets and shortcuts and tested methods of delivering a world-class written sales pitch that have kept me at the top of the game for so long.
When I talk to you about business, I’m not pulling this stuff out of thin air.
I’m just reaching into my bag, and showing you what I KNOW to be true.
Copywriting is critical to the success of any business. Nothing happens until the copy gets written, in fact.
However… there’s copy… and then there’s pro-level copy, written by a veteran with a cat’s sense of stalking the prey. Taking it ALL in, every detail and nuance of your business and market… and delivering the most killer sales message possible straight into the tender emotional sweet-spot of your prospect.
You know — the sweet spot that’s connected to his wallet.
Anyway, if you’ve never heard me talk about this process in person… and you’d like to (cuz it’s the best way I’ve ever discovered to learn fast)… I’m about to deliver my last scheduled in-person speech for the forseeable future.
The event is The Big Seminar, Armand Morin’s amazing three-day blow-out focused entirely on selling online. My fellow speakers are a “Who’s Who” of Internet marketing, and I can guarantee you that when I’m not onstage, I’ll be in the audience taking serious notes.
If you’ve never heard of The Big Seminar, you need to get hip right now. It’s happening November 4, 5, and 6, so you need to act fast, too.
Here’s the first — and easiest — thing to do right now: I’m talking, on a free teleconference call, with Armand this Tuesday, October 4th, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time. (That’s 9 p.m. East Coast Time.)
I’ll be going over some of the things I want to cover at the seminar… including filling up your own Bag of Tricks. Should be a killer call, and if you’d like to listen in, it’s easy to do.
Just leave your email at this link:
Armand will email you with the details of the call — the phone number, and your code that lets you listen in.
Do this even if you have no intention of attending any damn seminar, for any damn reason.
Why? Because… Armand is a MASTER at Internet marketing… and just experiencing how well he treats people through email, and moves along the process of creating and holding such a massive event… is an education in itself.
Watch this guy work. Be a cat. Show a little patience, and study how the very, very good do their thing.
It’s a free call. You’ll get an email or two urging you to attend the seminar… and again, even if you have not the slightest inclination to go, you need to see how the process happens.
Stalk this process. Have some fun with it. It’s one of the ways the smartest marketers online make a LOT of money.
And hey — you also get to enjoy listening to me rant on some very interesting — and profitable — subjects.
Again, you gotta hurry, though.