Monthly Archives: January 2009

The Number One Rule For Screwing Up Your Life

Thursday, 9:19pm
Reno, NV
“Wait — I’ll change!” (Last thing every guy says as she slams the door, never to give him “that” look again…)

Howdy…

Has this ever happened to you:

You’re minding your own damn business, slogging through another day (which seems suspiciously similar to yesterday and the day before and the day before that…)…

… and — wham! — out of the blue, something NEW jumps out and scares the bejesus out of you.

You’re not scared because it’s something scary.

No.

You’re scared because it’s… new.

You weren’t expecting it.

And you were all cozy and snug in your ho-hum predictable life…

… safe from the gnarly dangers of new stuff.

In your brain — slowly turning to sludge from boredom — the equation is simple:

New = Change = DANGER!

Climbing off the merry-go-round of a predictable, safe life is, frankly…

… an adventure that threatens almost everyone.

You ever been in that situation?

I sure have.

I’ll cop to it.

Growing up, the message from parents, school, and the culture at large was simple: True contentment could only be found by conforming to the straight-and-narrow.

Don’t think too hard about it, either, boy. You’ll just get upset.

Adventure was for movie heroes and astronauts… and you’re no astronaut.

I really thought my main task in life was to find a groove where everything was predictable.

Which translated, for me, to “boring”.

Mostly, I violated this demand from society to conform. I cultivated an appetite for adventure, and took some collosally stupid risks with life and limb.

The key word there, however, is “mostly”.

When it came to the ultimate adventures, I nearly always balked.

What is the “ultimate adventure”, you ask?

Well, I’ll tell you: There are two fundamental types of choices you will be faced with in life…

1. The easy choices…

2. And, the hard choices.

Many opportunities for adventure are easy to accept. Go out partying — again — with your buddies… get sloshed, and see what happens.

Or… agree to join the company bowling league. What the hell. Live dangerously.

Or… change your hair style. Go for that promotion. Buy that hot new car.

Heck, even get married. Slide into a mortgage.

I’m not saying marriage is easy, mind you.

But for most, it’s not really a desperately hard choice to make. When you live in the groove the culture has laid out for you, the job/marriage/kids/mortgage route is well greased.

And I’m not picking on this choice. No value judgements here.

It’s just, as I say, an example of an easy choice.

For some… especially those folks who eventually become successful entrepreneurs and biz owners…

… the marriage/kids/mortgage part is fine. Great, even.

But that “job” part…

… not so much.

And so they make the hard decision to enter a world of unpredictable risk levels. Where adventure of some magnitude is pretty much guaranteed.

No safety net. Huge blowback for failing. Ego, self-respect and bank account on the line.

That…

… is a hard decision to make.

The payoff, of course, can be spectacular.

But you can’t get there without first making that hard initial decision to get started.

And oh, the pain of making a hard decision can melt your brain.

Especially when it’s triggered not by slow, logical thought and planning…

… but rather by the sudden, rude appearance of an OPPORTUNITY.

Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

I’ve been learning this lesson my entire life.

Somehow, as a kid, it wasn’t such a problem. The Jones’s were driving to the beach, and did I wanna come along?

Sure. What else could possibly be more important today?

But then, the ponderous overthrow of my brain by young adulthood introduced second thoughts and paranoia.

Suddenly, my standard reply became “Gee, I dunno.”

And I really didn’t know. Didn’t know what I wanted, didn’t know how to navigate the possible adventure looming, didn’t know what to do.

I was frozen, more often than not, by choice.

Especially when real — real and dangerous – opportunity presented itself.

I’ll give you just a single example… which should echo similar experiences in anyone who also grew up shy and clueless:

During the painful early years when I was desperate to enter the hormone-soaked world of romance… I was sorta fine when I had lots and lots of time to decide which girl I should obsess on or pursue (in my usual ineffectual and hopeless way).

However… I would occasionally be surprised by a girl showing sudden, intense interest in doing something with me. Just coming in from left field, and shattering my belief that I was invisible to most females.

God, I was such a loser.

I almost always balked. I wanted to pursue things… I ached to get involved.

And if she was persistent, and not as crippled by doubt as I was… things sometimes actually worked out.

Even losers occasionally win.

But you’re a fool to bet on it.

Because most of the time, that invitation was nothing more than a whisper of a suggestion.

A flitting, quickly disappearing moment in time where — if I knew how to make the hard decision to just go for it — the door was ajar just enough to allow me fast entrance to an adventure that might change the trajectory of the rest of my life.

It’s The One That Got Away that will haunt you.

And this, more than any other story I could relate, defines “opportunity”.

In business, as in those fragile early experiments with romance, the most important opportunities will not often announce themselves ahead of time.

There will be no warning.

And there will be precious little time to consider your choices.

As a young man, I balked a lot. I hesitated.

And — even worse — I consoled myself with the notion that other, maybe even better, opportunities would always be just around the corner.

So making any hard decision could be put off. Indefinitely.

This was a stupid way to live.

And this had to change, once I vowed to pursue success without excuses.

I learned to spot opportunity… learned to hear the whispers of it that few others heard or paid attention to… and I leaned to quickly gauge the value of saying “yes”.

I became, essentially, a Player in the game of grabbing opportunities… and riding the adventure that ensued for all it was worth.

This is how I met ALL of my mentors, and secured long-lasting relationships with them.

This is how I mastered the freelance game faster — and with greater rewards — than anyone else in the game.

And this is how I’ve attained every shred of success I can lay claim to.

By recognizing… correctly judging… and grabbing onto opportunities that most people missed.

The vast majority of opportunities you will encounter in your life will never be repeated.

It’s often a matter of being in the right place, at the right time…

… armed with the right skills to take advantage of what has been laid before you.

It’s a hard decision to make, to become that guy who is always alert for chances to engage with life on a higher level. To hear what others refuse to hear. To murder your ego and crush your natural skepticism and stubborn reluctance.

To finally take huge bites of life and chew with gusto.

But once you do… you’ll never go back to being afraid of change.

You’ll never again be daunted by even risky adventure… because part of being open to opportunity is being PREPARED for opportunity.

Out of nowhere, the lovely and enchanting Suzie Q may ask you to dance.

And, once you’ve embraced being that guy who grabs opportunity, you’ll say “sure.”

And you’ll know how to dance well.

Ah, it brings tears to my eyes to remember the journey. Tears of joy, because learning to see and gobble up opportunity launched me on adventures it will take 3 biographies to adequately chart.

And so, here we are.

And here YOU are.

Staring at perhaps one of the last great opportunities in business today: A chance to share a room with me and a staggering gang of other experts for 2 solid days of ripping deep into every detail of killer marketing and advanced money-making strategies.

In San Francisco, the most gorgeous city this side of Paris.

At probably the last-ever full-weekend Hot Seat Seminar I’ll ever host.

And, since nobody else knows how to offer Hot Seat marketing interventions… this truly qualifies as an opportunity that needs to be jumped on.

Or missed forever.

It’s not the last opportunity you’ll ever have in your life to move forward with your quest for business success.

But it very well may be the last one you’ll ever have that includes having me and a mob of proven, rich veteran experts obsessing on you and your business.

Solving all your problems, opening up fresh avenues for profit, sharing killer new strategies, and giving you an Action Plan to get everything moving as soon as you get home.

So go ahead — ignore it.

Don’t even glance at the website explaining the event.

It’s February 21 through the 22nd. Coming up fast.

You wait any longer, and it’ll zoom past you. Just like all the other opportunities you’ve missed.

However… if you’re finally ready to take a chance, and to let the biggest adventure of your life begin…

… then go here now:

www.carlton-workshop.com

There are a few seats available.

And the door to the rest of your life is open… just a crack… and waiting for you to bust through.

And waiting.

And waiting…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

The Answer

Saturday, 10:34am
Reno, NV
“Seek, and ye shall find…”

Howdy.

Well. That was obviously a great little exercise in critical thinking.

I hope you had a chance to read all the responses to the question I taunted folks with in the Thursday post. Right now, there are 115 answers, most of them excellence little nuggets of wisdom and insight.

However… almost every single one was far off-base.

Good stuff. But not the right answer.

There was one response that came close… and one other that pretty much hit it dead-on.

So I’m awarding two prizes, instead of the one I promised. I’ll call ‘em out in a moment.

First, though…

… I think it’s worth going over the right answer, and exploring where everyone went wrong.

Most comments centered on how you should deal with your market and your mindset. How to get prospects riled up, how to ignite your own passion, how to deliver more and thus deserve more.

This is good advice, but it’s not functional for the situation.

Consider how I framed this exercise: People come to me for consultation. They pay a pretty penny for the best advice I can offer.

These are, often, already-successful biz owners who have hit a rought spot — sales have tanked, ads aren’t working, competition is eating them alive…

… and they don’t know why, and they don’t know what to do next.

At some point, they have reached a state of relative helplessness. These are smart, strong, successful people… and admitting they’re stumped is a difficult realization to make.

However, it’s still an act of courage… and the right thing to do.

If they DON’T have that moment of awareness (that they’re toast without some help)… they risk freezing up in denial, and coasting into bankruptcy.

It’s a sad, common tale. Confused biz owners will pump every last drop of their net worth into a marketing plan in freefall, and not be able to face reality until — like an out-of-control drunk — they hit bottom.

Smart marketers know two things that save them from this fate:

1. The moment where you need a reality-check… and where you should be making decisions that will affect the rest of your life… comes LONG before you hit bottom.

2. And (big surprise to rookies)… it’s okay to fail.

You just need a better definition of the word “fail”.

To a good marketer, it doesn’t mean “bankruptcy”.

No. It means “This isn’t working. Time to change course.”

The most obvious (and heart-wrenching) example of this is with family owned restaurants. It’s the most common type of brick-n-mortar biz started by first-time entrepreneurs… and the most likely to fail.

If you’re blinded by your dreams — and I’ve recently seen this happen just in this town several times — you will be tempted to believe you’re on some kind of ride controlled by Fate. Which is a delusion that feeds on itself… so you get fatalistic, and resort to the only thing you do still control: Your ability to get up every day and grind it out as certain Doom approaches.

You don’t ask for help, because you don’t believe anyone can help. You gotta do it yourself. You staked out your spot, and now you’re gritting your teeth and taking the oncoming storm full-face.

This is what we call “The False Hero” kind of thinking.

To a smart marketer, the reality checks would have started before the doors opened.

Essentials like location, competition, traffic flow, and even future city plans to tear up streets would have been sweated over.

And even more important… where gaps in knowledge or expertise glared, help would have been sought out.

And even more important than that… if unexpected disasters happen anyway, then expert input becomes a Number One Priority. (I know one expert, for example, who made a mint helping small pizza joints demolish the bigger chain pizzerias… and another who specializes in helping boutiques thrive after Wal-Mart moves in next door.)

Wait — this isn’t the specific answer to the question yet. I’m not pushing random consultations.

Because, if you waltz blindly into the World of Experts, you’re gonna get mauled.

Using the same example from above: I’ve met oodles of rookies who latched onto an expert, and blindly followed their advice… without double-checking, and without doing reality-checks along the way.

I’ve said this before: Entering business can be compared to taking a bus downtown to the rastiest part of the slum… and walking into the first dark alley you come across.

If you’re not prepared, you’re going to be the evening’s entertainment for sharks you won’t even see coming.

However, the “right” way to do this isn’t hard to figure out. You prep by collecting every shred of info and insight you can muster. Google maps, crime reports, a clear understanding of the laws affecting your right to defend yourself when trouble rears.

That’s step one. Do a reality check on what you’re getting yourself into.

This is also as far as most rookies take it. Though this is a super-simple step, and can be done quickly… it exhausts the thinking of most folks.

Smarter marketers keep going.

Step two: Get hip to both self-defensive and offensive maneuvers. (Yes, we’re still talking about both physically walking into an alley, and also about entering a market.)

At this stage, most people will cling to the do-it-yourself program… and that’s fine. You can learn a ton by studing and practicing on your own.

However…

If you take the reality of the situation seriously… you’re gonna want to go deeper into preparation.

This is step three.

And it’s where the Very Successful take a different path than the Also-Ran’s.

Have you guessed yet what this advanced step is?

Think about it before reading on.

Take a minute — seriously.

I’ll wait…

Okay. Did you think about an answer?

It’s something I’ve done, personally, in my own biz.

Gary Halbert did it, multiple times. Jay Abraham does it. Rich Schefren recently did it.

And every top marketer you know of, both online and offline, has done it… or is busy getting it done.

And it’s what I advise smart-but-struggling clients to do: Hook up with someone who knows their shit… who you’re compatible with.

No matter how smart you are… you’re gonna face problems, sticking points, and disasters that are beyond your knowledge, your ability, and even your burning desires to succeed.

In the “downtown alley” analogy… you know what I’d do before boarding that bus?

I’d spend some serious time with someone who knows how to fight, and learn every trick in the book. I’d spar, risking a little blood to get these skills down. I’d put in the time and energy to reach a level of “save my life” confidence.

But I wouldn’t stop there.

When I got off that bus… I wouldn’t be alone.

Depending on what I suspected or knew I was gonna face… I would surround myself with proven, vetted experts who were clearly motivated to watch my back.

I’d be an 800 pound gorilla, flanked by other 800 pound gorillas.

Do you understand how this applies to business?

This “hook up” advice is pliable. It might mean hiring a freelance writer you can develop a great long-term relationship with.

Or it might mean finding an expert you can do regular consultations with (not just one-off random consults)… who will commit to understanding your situation at the deepest possible level, and use every possible resource to fix what’s keeping you up at night.

Or it might mean finding a partner.

Or a killer personal assistant.

Or just someone who is proactive, honest, effective, and lives by a professional code.

You won’t find the people you need easily.

You’ll have to apply the same steps as you would for doing anything else that mattered — get info, get advice, test the waters… and (as always when dealing with humans) kiss however many frogs you gotta kiss to find the right one.

Quick example: Halbert busted onto the “guru” scene completely on his own. He had the chops, the energy, and the plan to go several years… before he realized he needed help.

He hired a BUNCH of freelancers. I was one of them. Sometimes quickly, sometimes over a period of months, the others ran screaming from the gig.

I stayed. I figured it out.

And, as soon as he was ready, he asked me to partner up on certain projects.

A lotta frogs got smooched in that process. We both learned massive lessons along the way that I’m still using every single time I deal with people.

Here’s the thing: Even the most brilliant entrepreneur can “do it all” for only a short part of the ride.

This is basic “E-Myth” stuff.

When you’re hyper-aware of your situation, you will know when the time has come to get help.

Most folks wait a little past the right time… which is okay, as long as you DO get hip to what you need.

The top marketers all intermingle with behind-the-scene brainstorms. We call each other mercilessly for in-depth advice and specific help (like on copy).

I stalked Stan for two years, knowing he was the right guy to partner-up with. The drawn-out process was well worth it — we get along, he’s ridiculously smart, and we’re both having fun while making money and reinventing Marketing Rebel from the ground up.

For clients who come to me with pain and leaks in their sales funnel and mysterious blind alleys in front of them…

… I have always suggested that they secure long-term (or even permanent) professional-level help.

Now, with the economy presenting unique challenges across the board…

… this is the FIRST piece of advice I explore with everyone.

Sometimes it’s just finding a good freelancer who’ll hang around. Sometimes it’s finding a good group to brainstorm with. Sometimes it’s hiring someone to handle the grief-parts of your biz.

Sometimes, it’s a full-on partner.

The main thing is to get another mind obsessing on your biz. Get some “out of the box” thinking. Have your assumptions challenged, and your bullshit called out. (This is critical, if you want to get anywhere good in life.)

With the right help, you’ll advance quicker…

… your results will multiply (not just double)…

… and, when you find the right people to watch your back, the synchronicity will provide fresh energy, verve, nerve, and sheer raw enjoyment.

Look.

I went solo as a freelancer determined to make it work… on my own.

Which was the right decision at the time… because back then there WEREN’T any resources to watch my back. I didn’t know any other freelancers. There were no books, or courses, or consultants, or anything else that would help.

I had a few clues, and a burning desire.

However, my “do it myself” program quickly succeeded to the point where I plateaued.

I could go no futher without help.

So I hooked up with an agent, who introduced me to other writers and marketers. My network expaned, and I started hooking up with compatible souls.

And when those hook-ups didn’t pan out, I moved on.

It IS a process.

But it’s not difficult, once you step back from fatalistic thinking, and start being proactive about it.

Going it alone is great…

… until it’s not anymore.

When your reality check reveals that you need help…

… dude, get the help.

The winners are Yoda, who almost blew it by being obtuse in his comment… but saved it with a smart-ass “Yoda” style quote: “Smart enough alone, you are not.”

And Matt Desmet, who pretty much nailed it several hours later (minus the obtuseness) with: “The answer, I believe, is to find people who have the wisdom and the knowledge to buckle down and make it through no matter what the circumstances or economy are doing.”

Guys, I’ll have either Diane or Anne get in touch with you, and ship your prize out.

Good work.

Everyone, good work.

This was a great exercise.

I’m sure we’ll be talking more about this process later on.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. In case anyone was thinking this was some sneaky way to pitch the upcoming Hot Seat Seminar…

… it’s not.

I’m not that clever.

Plus, there are only a few seats available at this event. It’s not a large enough venue to accomodate everyone who needs the kind of help I’m talking about.

It is, though, a tremendous opportunity for the right person. The first step, for most of us, in finding good resources and experts who won’t screw you over…

… is to hang out with a bunch of them first.

The networking is always a major appeal for any event. The other biz owners you meet may become the best brain-storming partners you ever find.

And getting an up-close-and-personal taste of the experts can change your life.

That’s why the Hot Seat events always generate such over-the-top testimonials, each of the few times we’ve held one.

This is totally unlike the large seminars, where you can remain anonymous the entire time, and it’s almost impossible to get any quality “face time” with the movers-and-shakers.

In a Hot Seat event, there are just a handful of folks involved — a small number of lucky attendees, and a seething crop of experts I’ve hand-picked to go deep with every single attendee’s situation.

The relationships that occur are profound.

So, yeah, if you know in your heart that you should be attending this Hot Seat event in San Francisco (Feb 21-22), then you better hurry and check it out:

www.carlton-workshop.com

It WILL be the most shocking and worthwhile reality check you’ve ever experienced.

Again, though — it’s very limited, and not for everyone.

Your journey may take you in other directions.

What’s important is that you TAKE that journey.

We’re here to help, if we fit what you need right now.

Like I said, I’ll be posting more on this subject later.

[Quiz] The Single Most Important Slice O’ Biz Advice

Thursday, 8:41pm
Reno, NV
What you want, baby I got it…” (‘Retha)

Howdy.

Let me warn you up front here: This is not a trick question.

It’s totally on the level.

Still, I bet most folks botch it.

So, before I even ask…

… let’s sweeten up the stakes a bit.

The first person to answer correctly… will be shipped a free copy of the “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” course (text and CDs). (Or, if you already own that notorious course… you can ask instead for a copy of the currently unavailable “Freelance Course” — the manual that launched a generation of mercenary writers into the Web.)

(The Kick-Ass course currently goes for $299, by the way. And the Freelance manual, when sporadically released, goes for even more.)

(So, yeah… nice prizes.)

But you gotta be first…

… and you gotta be right.

Okay?

Okay.

Here’s the question:

(Quick set-up): Just 3 months ago, I was offering consulting clients a small menu’s-worth of specific advice on how to deal with economy-caused business problems.

All of that advice still holds true. Biz owners who have followed any of it have seen results “hot” enough for them to chase me down (through email or by phone) to demand that I hear their success story. And use it in my “Wall O’ Testimonials”.

However…

(Tease): Just ONE of those specific pieces of advice has stood out from all the others.

It is, in fact, now the single most important thing I make sure EVERY new consulting client hears. And hears clearly, without any ambiguity.

So…

(Ta-daaa!): What do you think that one piece of advice IS?

Do you think it is, perhaps…

Get hip to Twitter?

Buy a new computer? Move up to a Mac, or sideways to a hot-rodded PC?

Learn a new application? To maybe boost your SEO, or your PPC… or to evaluate your data?

Read some new books?

Attend a bunch of seminars?

Buy new gear, like video equipment?

Or what?

If you’ve been reading my drivel for any length of time, you SHOULD have the answer tripping lightly off your tongue already.

Hint: It’s not learning how to write copy.

Oh, sorry. That just bolluxed a whole bunch of incoming answers, didn’t it.

Okay. No more hints.

Send in your answer through the comment section, below.

It will automatically be time-stamped, so the winner will not be in doubt.

C’mon.

It’s the end of the week.

An exciting, wild ride of a week, too.

But you’ve still got at least eight brain-cells left today — plenty to cogitate on this question, and give me your answer (before boogy-boogy-ing out to TGIF Land).

You could win that nifty prize. I’ll sign whichever prize you choose, too. I never sign anything anymore. That’ll make it rare and valuable and cool.

Let’s give this little quiz a time limit of…

… oh, how about 27 hours and six minutes.

That means midnight, west coast time, Friday is the cut-off.

It’s a worthy question to ponder.

Remember: I am (blush) one of the most sought-after advice-givers in the direct response marketing/advertising game.

There’s a reason for that.

And there’s a reason why — after a very long time of having many pieces of advice in my “first response” to any client — a single marching order now dominates every consultation I agree to.

Okay, one more hint: It’s because of the economy that I’ve narrowed my “menu” down to one screaming suggestion.

Can’t stop — one last hint: It works like crazy to nail every single goal, wish and target you have.

Okay.

Let’s hear your answer.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

Friday Afternoon Update:

Wow. Some really great stuff coming in.

In fact, answers were coming in so hot and heavy, the “comment accepting process” jammed at some point late last night… and some folks had to email my assistant Diane. (It’s working fine now.)

And, as more than one person observed… even though the answers aren’t the one I’m looking for… this is one hell of a nice list of ideas, tactics and strategies. An education in and of itself.

Great work. From everyone.

Now, about the prize…

So far, there is just ONE person who’s close enough to win.

He could still be trumped by a more precise statement of the advice I’m talking about. But if (by midnight tonight) no one nails it exactly, then we have a “Close Enough” winner already.

However, the contest is still very much wide open.

I’m happy to see so much solid thinking going on. That’s good. You win by forcing your brain to work this way, you know.

It’s also wicked-good fun to torture everyone like this.

And… I’m frankly a little surprised this wasn’t answered quickly last night.

It’s not rocket science.

It IS, I’m now seeing, slightly out-of-the-box for most small biz owners and entrepreneurs, though.

I should add: Every client I’ve laid this advice on has taken it, eagerly.

I’ll post the answer — and the name of the winner — early tomorrow.

Go get ‘em.

Butt-Saving 101a

Monday, 7:34pm
Reno, NV
He’s a well respected man about town, doing the best things so conservative…ly..” (Kinks)

Howdy…

Well, that was fun.

My last post (on the mojo-sucking power of missing deadlines) seems to have caused much gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes…

… plus a lot of self-reflection that may even lead to behavior changes amongst the professional class.

That would be so cool.

However, I know from shameful experience that merely vowing to do better ain’t enough. Human behavior is inherently stubborn and our brains insubordinate.

It’s freakin’ HARD to change… even when change is in your best interest.

No, wait — especially when it’s in your best interest.

So…

… let’s look at a “brain tool” you can borrow to help you change.

I call it…

“The Miracle of Soft Deadlines.”

Here’s what it’s all about: Meeting hard deadlines pretty much defines you as a professional in advertising or marketing. (As well as everywhere else in life.)

This is especially true if you’re part of the team creating the ad — either writing the words, or delivering the tech side (including graphics and all the other details required for finished product).

Early in my own freelance career, I pledged (to myself) that I would commit fully to the professional’s code: Be where I said I’d be, when I said I’d be there… having done what I said I’d do.

Though painful at times… adopting that creed has helped me to never miss a hard deadline.

However…

… I have missed oodles of “soft” deadlines.

In fact, I’d be doing it wrong if I HAD met all those softies.

Let me explain the tool: One of my most memorable quotes (from an early Rant newsletter) has got to be “Deadlines are the world’s greatest invention — without them, nothing would ever get done.”

For a guy like me… a full-bred slacker addicted to easy ways out… the discovery of the POWER of a deadline, taken to heart, was mind-blowing.

Suddenly, I was getting all this stuff… done.

Amazing.

However, I quickly learned that JUST setting a main, hard deadline was dangerous.

Why?

Because it was arbitrary.

Just plucking a date from thin air, and making that your deadline… is asking for trouble.

You can really get your butt in a sling that way.

The much better path…

… is to use the same tactics smart folks use to solve ANY problem: Break it down… and attack the pieces.

This is the main secret behind Hot Seats, of course. What can seem like a single, monolithic problem that defies fixing…

… is really just a puzzle that needs to be taken apart, and examined in detail…

… which (ta-daaaa!) always deconstructs that monolithic capital-P Problem, and gives us bite-sized chunks that are easily dealt with.

Often, what seems like The Problem (“Not making enough sales”) is really just a symptom. As in: fresh competition is undercutting your prices, beating you at PR and pay-per-click, and/or winning hearts and minds with better copy.

Trying to get more sales without understanding the elements of the situation will leave you dazed and confused. And going broke.

But figuring out it all stems from a price thing… or an SEO thing… or (even better) simply a matter of re-establishing your go-to-guy position with a copy overhaul…

… well, all that is EASY to put into action.

“Break it down.”

Keys to the universe, my friend.

With deadlines, I learned to lay out a functional, extremely practical time-line for any new project… and set up multiple soft deadlines to support the hard final deadline.

A soft deadline would be, for example, receipt of the “Care Package” from the client, containing all the research materials I’d requested to get started.

Or the date I wanted to have all interviews with the client and his minions done.

Or (for myself) the day I had a big batch of headlines and USPs written out, so I could choose the best and get moving to bullets and offer.

Or… and this is a biggie… the arrival of the first payment for the gig.

Listen closely: Soft deadlines are SUPPOSED to be missed, much of the time.

They’re like red flags to alert you when the project is behind schedule…

… or (for freelancers) that your client is going to passive-aggressively blow your hard deadline.

And when that happens… no amount of “proof” from you that he never sent the info you requested, or never allowed you to interview his staff, or never provided testimonials…

… will change the emotionally-charged subject line in your clients brain: “Writer Misses Hard Deadline, Causes Grief And Anguish!”

Bottom line: If you take the job, you accept the fact of a hard deadline.

And if you’re a true pro, you will meet that deadline…

… no matter what.

There are no excuses.

But here’s the kicker: If you discover you WON’T be able to meet a hard deadline… you are responsible for finding another way for the deadline to still be met.

The easiest way to do that… is to not accept the job in the first place.

I’ve turned down more jobs in my career than I’ve accepted, by nearly a 9-to-1 ratio. And the main reason I refuse a job… is because I don’t believe the client has his shit together.

And when he doesn’t have his shit together, I will be the one taking the blame when the project dies a gruesome death.

This is where soft deadlines come in big-time.

I have, over the years, figured out how long it “should” take me to write copy for a given job. The actual tapping of keys (creating the final draft of the manuscript for the ad, website, or whatever) is not difficult to judge.

A few days, maybe a week or so. (Tip: Most “A List” writers produce around two pages of copy a day. No matter how many hours they spend “writing” — at the end of the day, they’ve got two pages, max. This is superb-level copy, though… not hack work. I’m not putting down hacks, either — I can go into Hack Mode myself, and ram out 8 pages a day of schlock. Sometimes, schlocky copy is all that’s needed to make a sale. Keep that in mind when learning to judge your own capacity for production.)

(So, if I estimate a Website, for example, will end up needing around 12 pages of “A Level” manuscript copy, I know I’ll need to set aside at least 6 days of writing. Or two days for Hack Mode stuff.)

(Side Note: This skill was easier for us to learn back in the Old Days of direct response. The average long-copy direct mail letter was either 8 or 12 pages. Never 9 or 10 or 13… because the letter would be printed in “signatures of 4 pages each. That’s how the printing process worked. So you wrote final copy to “fit” — which is something no Web-oriented writer can get his brain around, because it doesn’t matter how long copy is online — there’s no printing, and thus no physical limits.)

(And more’s the pity, to my mind. Too many writers online today are needlessly verbose, and waste reader’s time with repititious, tangent-infested copy that takes forever to cover short distances of a pitch.)

Now, for me to figure I needed, say, 5 days to “write” an ad was just the beginning.

Next, I’d break down the process required BEFORE I sat my butt down to tap keys.

The first payment, of course, is first on the list. (I was as ruthless about this with huge clients as I was with entrepreneurs… and with old friends. I refused to even waste a single brain cell on the project until the check cleared the bank… and every day that check was late, I pushed back the hard deadline for final copy. This caused a ruckus at places like Rodale, who faced printing penalties in the 6-figure range… and I’m pretty sure I’m still the only writer they’ve ever dealt with who had Marketing VPs hand-carrying checks from accounting to be Fed Exed overnight… to a writer.)

(That really frosted them, too. The natural tendency of all VPs, everywhere, is to regard a copywriter as a lower life-form, unworthy of common respect. This is true even in ad agencies, ironically. So I delighted in rubbing executives noses in the fact that the copy really was driving the bus…)

(No wonder I was blacklisted at Rodale, before that first piece became a control that mailed for 5 years… and became a First Choice for jobs there.)

(But that’s how a professional SHOULD work. As the hired pro, you are The Adult In The Room. The client will want to dick around, and put you on a 60-day payment arrangement because “that’s the way our accounting is set up”… as if that’s YOUR fault.)

(Well, screw that. I work for money. I have zero qualms about sharing a “Get Paid First” professional ethic with hookers, mercenaries and lawyers. If you’re gonna trade services for moolah, make sure your client understands that the moolah must be delivered, on time, as agreed… or we shoot the deadline.)

Also in my contract were dates for delivery of information… interviews… testimonials… etc.

The check, and the final copy were quasi-hard deadlines. I could be reasoned with, but never compromised.

The rest of my demands were SOFT deadlines. I fully expected the client to miss some or all of them… because I purposely padded the time between these soft deadlines to allow for the very human tendency of clients to MISS EVERY IMPORTANT DATE PUT IN FRONT OF THEM.

And the first soft deadline a client missed triggered a very pissed-off call from me, making it clear that HE was creating a situation that threatened the final, hard deadline.

So get those materials together, right now, and Fed Ex them to me.

Jerk.

Okay… I didn’t spend my career calling clients jerks, or screaming into phones at them.

But it did happen occasionally.

I took my job as The Adult In The Room very seriously.

And laying out soft deadlines helped me keep the pressure on the client to get me what I needed.

Cuz I couldn’t even start those 5 days of writing until I had my USP-creation research done… my lists of features/benefits ready for bulletizing… my hooks discovered… the offer nailed down… and all the rest. (For further study, please refer to the Simple Writing System.)

Thus…

… soft deadlines are like the pillars of support for any real hard deadline. They’re the teeth in the beast’s mouth.

And there IS an art to “breaking stuff down” into bite-sized chunks… both for problem-solving (in Hot Seats and consulting), and for figuring out the reality of hard deadlines.

Maybe we’ll get around to explaining that part of Butt-Saving 101 later on.

What do you think?

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Of course, the BEST way for you to get a quick education in how professionals break stuff down for problem-solving…

… would be to attend my new Hot Seat Event in San Francisco this coming February 21-22.

I’ve packed the room with a jaw-dropping list of professionals and experts in makiing money through wicked-good marketing. In any economic situation.

And you are guaranteed a Hot Seat when you attend. That means everyone will focus every available resource on you and your situation… resolving every problem you can bring up, and delivering an Action Plan you can put to use as soon as you get home.

In 20 years of doing Hot Seats, I have yet to come across a biz problem that couldn’t be resolved… quickly, and in detail. With a specific path to moving forward, and getting the results you want.

This event is a no-pitch zone — there will be no lectures, no pitches for other products of any kind, no fluff whatsoever.

Just two solid days of hard-core marketing wizardy… focused entirely on you and the handfull of other attendees allowed in.

Spots are just ridiculously limited. We can only do around 6 Hot Seats a day. There are just 2 days.

So yeah, if you’re interested, you better get a move on.

Here’s the link:

http://www.carlton-workshop.com

All will be explained there.

The Reason You Screwed Up

Thursday, 8:26pm
Reno, NV
“Na na… na na na na… hey, hey, hey… goodbye…” (Steam)

Howdy…

Hey, let me know if this post strikes a nerve for ya.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about: One of the reasons we old fuckers are so valuable in business…

… is that we’ve been around the block so many times, we’re on a first-name basis with many of the life situations that — when you first encounter them — are discombobulating disasters that cause ruin and despair.

However, by your third or fourth go-round…

… what was once a crisis is now pretty much a (yawn) simple and easy fix.

And you know what?

It’s a good thing to have people in your corner packing hard-core life experience to help you through the tough spots.

A good percentage of this life-experience stuff makes its way into my consulting and teaching.

Making money isn’t always about technique, you know.

A huge part of being successful is all about mastering the game of interpersonal relationships with people who are vying to control your Fate.

Some of these people are doing this consciously. This is where the high-end game of Alpha Males and Sociopath Success Freaks and Power-Hungry Sharks is played out.

And the old poker rule is in effect: If you sit down at the table… and you don’t who the sucker is…

… then YOU’RE the sucker.

It can take half a lifetime to learn even the rudimentary rules of how things get done in the smoky backrooms of elite power.

And no, you aren’t even a little bit hip to how it’s really played… no matter how many Hollywood movies about Wall Street you’ve devoured. Or how many times you’ve read Sun Tzu.

The only way to survive the Big Game… is with a little bit of guts, a dash of luck, and a whole big steaming pile of proven skill.

Consider what you’d have to do — actually do, over the next year — to be able to walk into a cage fight with a top UFC champ.

And not have your head torn off.

You better have your chops honed and tested, Bucko. A lucky punch ain’t gonna do it for you.

You better find someone with the necessary experience to help you learn, too, and hold on tight.

But I don’t wanna talk about that high-end game today.

Naw.

Today, I want to dig into the OTHER group of people who are trying to control you.

The ones who are doing it unconsciously.

This should sound familiar to anyone with even a single employee.

Let’s call it the “Don’t Have A Cow” attitude problem. (Think of Bart shrugging off his destruction of someone’s life work.)

Here’s how it works: Several generations of Americans have now graduated from the education system…

… believing that a good excuse is a Get Out Of Jail Free card.

Flunked a test? Forgot to finish your essay on time? Late for class?

No problem… IF you have a great excuse.

I knew a girl in college who killed off her grandmother three times in three semesters. Got her out of taking a final (didn’t study), out of being penalized for skipping a week of class (rock concert), out of not having a paper written on time (didn’t even try).

Granny never found out. And lived a good many more years.

And this girl went on to the Dean’s List, grad school, and a Ph.D.

The lesson learned: You can be instantly forgiven… and even felt sorry for… if you just deliver a good enough excuse for screwing up.

That’s a really, really, really bad lesson to absorb.

Because once you get out in the real world, you have a very rude discovery to make: No one gives a rat’s ass about WHY you screwed up.

The fact you DID screw up is all that matters.

Your excuse will comfort no one but you, as you lick your wounds and look for another job.

This is not a mild problem out there. (I know every biz owner with staff is nodding like crazy right now.)

The hardest thing, I’ve found, to teach budding freelancers…

… is the “Professional’s Code”.

It’s very simple: You show up where you’re supposed to be…

… when you said you’d be there…

… having done what you said you’d do.

That’s it. (This is the way I have translated it, for myself and anyone who’ll listen to me. You may have heard it in other forms. I’ve never come across a better way to say it than this, though.)

The phrase “show up” includes the physical act of appearing where you’re supposed to be… as well as the virtual act of meeting your deadlines.

I did NOT grow up with this Code.

I was a victim of the school system, where few consequences couldn’t be negotiated. (Hell — the cops back then even poured out your beer and sent you home after pulling you over. I knew dozens of guys who’d been nabbed while driving with a bottle of Schlitz in one hand, and not a one of them ever suffered a DUI. Right or wrong, that’s how my corner of the generation grew up.) (I remain unconvinced that too-harsh punishment is better… but SOME punishment is called for. I mean, good grief…)

As a low-level employee with no skills — my standard gig for the first decade or so of my adult life — half the job really was just showing up on time.

However, once the idea of going solo as a freelancer took hold, I started looking seriously at how the really successful dudes were conducting themselves in business.

I vowed, going in, that I would meet all deadlines, no matter what. And BE that guy who could be trusted with delivering the goods to anyone who paid me.

I saw what the alternative is, in gruesome detail, during my time in a catalog art department. There were multiple deadlines for photo separations, camera-ready art boards, and every word of copy… and anything that wasn’t done by the printing deadline…

… wasn’t gonna make it into the catalog.

The printing presses were in Nashville. They ran 365 days a year, and you booked your slot 6 months in advance. You missed your deadline, too bad. You paid anyway for the time and manpower.

And you didn’t get your catalog to mail.

This happened to another catalog in the area… and they simply vanished soon after.

Missing a hard deadline literally was a mortal wound to their ability to continue doing business. They had nothing to mail. No money came in. Clients wandered away. Banks were not nice about outstanding loans coming due.

Wow.

That’ll sober you up.

In 25 years of writing for clients, I have never missed a hard deadline for copy.

Let me repeat that: 25 years, zero violations on my deadline record.

My dearly-missed pal, Gary Halbert, used to consider that criminal… cuz it made guys like him look bad. (He didn’t make a habit of it, but he did miss some very important deadlines on occasion. The chaos that ensued was often costly.)

This concept of never missing a deadline is the hardest thing to teach rookie freelancers.

It’s almost like you gotta experience disaster first… and it’s gotta make a deep impression on you… before your mind can shift into Professional Gear.

This is why surgeons endure such rigorous training. Saying “Sorry, I was distracted” after botching an operation doesn’t cut it.

Pilots, too. Accountants. Snipers. Astronauts. Film editors. Lead singers.

You screw up… you disembowel the entire gig.

And your fabulous excuse doesn’t fix anything.

No one wants to hear it.

Because of you, other people now have an emergency on their hands.

Entire kingdoms have crumbled from screw-ups by people who thought they had a great excuse. (“I had that 3-penny nail right here, sir… I dunno, it must have slipped from my hand back there. My arthritis has been really bad, you know, and…”)

In school, a well-crafted excuse will get you sympathy and a do-over.

In real life… not so much.

And yet… I am NEVER surprised when confronted with a fresh case of someone I’ve put massive trust in… screwing up.

And offering an excuse.

It’s the default brain setting of almost everyone out there.

And yet… it’s really not that tough to adopt the Pro Code. It takes a committment, and requires the skill to tell others “no” when faced with tough choices.

And to tell yourself “no”, when your very natural urge to flake out and bail on your responsibilities flares up.

Everyone would rather party, or even veg out… instead of buckling down and finishing the job you signed up for. That’s the easy path.

Being a true rebel, nowadays, means embracing responsibility with gusto and energy.

The last rebellious act in business, really, is to commit to success.

No matter what.

Your social life will suffer. The family will get mad at you. No one will understand, and you will toil without immediate gratification from outside sources. (Your rewards must come from your own heart and sense of self-respect.)

And it all rests on a simple foundation.

If you take on a job, you do it.

You kill the whiny beasts in your head, wrestle your ADD into submission, push through pain and grief and disaster to do what you promised you’d do.

That’s how that US Airways pilot saved all 150 passengers and crew in that emergency landing in the Hudson River today.

That’s how all professionals worthy of the title treat every responsibility they have.

It’s hard to do. It’s kinda lonely at times.

But committing to it will instantly change your life forever.

And remember: It’s no crime not to have this code already in your bag.

But once you’re made aware of it, you lose big by choosing to ignore it. (So, yeah, it’s a dirty trick on my part to throw it in front of you like this.)

Today — in business, and in conquering the mounting ills of the world — we need professionals more than ever.

The hardest and most rewarding jobs will not get done through excuses.

What do you think?

Love to hear your comments, below.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. I do not yet have a site to send you to…

… but I’m letting slip the news that, at the end of February, we’re hosting a small, super-intense Hot Seat event in San Francisco. I’ve packed the room with experts and know-it-all wizards.

If your business needs a “marketing intervention” because of falling sales, new competition, or any other problems interfering with your pursuit of fat profits and happiness…

… then you need to seriously consider this event.

The seats will go fast. We only have room for a handful of folks, because of the intense personal attention given to each attendee.

Details soon.

So seriously — stay frosty.

Update: Mostly Out Of The Woods

Tuesday, 1:40pm
Reno, NV
“I’ve got all my life to live, I’ve got all my love to give, and I’ll survive…” Gloria Gaynor

Howdy…

First, as always (and for the gazillionth time), I want to deeply thank everyone who sent us good vibes, prayers, and well wishes.

Much appreciated. And very humbling.

Thank you. It really helped get us through this dark journey.

Second: As promised, I hope I am delivering here the last update necessary for friends, family and colleagues looking for news on Michele’s health.

We just got back from the surgeon’s office.

And he carefully worded some very good news.

The surgery went spectacularly well. He removed a tumor beneath her breastplate that had been classified as “of unknown behavior”… and pathology confirmed it as a thymoma. A very rare tumor, with no symptoms, which we caught totally by accident (during screening for something else entirely).

We snagged it early.

For those of you who have been down this (or a similar) path, you will know how happy we were to hear it was entirely encased, with clean margins, when removed.

Michele is healing with amazing speed — typical Type A Scorpio, right down to her cellular level. Impatiently forcing things to regenerate and get healthy as fast as possible, damn it.

The surgery was 90% of the worry, and it’s behind us. (She looks fabulous, by the way — no hint at all of the traumatic surgery and recovery she went through just a week ago.)

Now, we face a much simpler, and much rosier future with possibly some management, and certainly a lot of watchfulness.

We will see a few more docs, just to get opinions from all the right branches of modern medicine (including some alternative stuff).

But it really feels like we finally emerged from the scary darkness of a thick forest, into the bright welcoming light of a beautiful day.

As other survivors will attest, we will never again be incautious or careless with any health matter. We have tatooed “Ever Vigilant” into our memories, and while we’ll celebrate, we’ll also clearly hear what the second opinion docs have to say.

We have a new mission: Pursue health, gleefully.

This type of “Bad Boy” thymus cell isn’t like other cancers. In more common form of cancers, the nasty cells arrive looking like apes dressed in clown suits at a formal dinner — they stand out.

Thymoma cells, however, are like spies in our midst. They look like normal cells, and can only be identified by experienced detectives who know how to recognize the slight clues they give off in context with the surrounding regular cells. And you’re never quite positive.

In other words — there’s some gray area here.

However, the fact that the activity was completely contained inside the tumor — locked doors and windows, so no one got out — is the news we were yearning to hear.

Whew.

There is still some healing left to get through, but we’re handling that easily.

We are carefully happy. Not gloating, not taunting Fate, not going back to carefree obliviousness.

And I hope I never have to give another update.

Thanks again for all the support, guys.

Live well. Hug your loved ones.

And stay frosty.

John

P.S. We really lucked out with the surgeon, Dr. Gomez. Head of trauma, just a gem of a guy to have discovered in our little city.

One of the nurses at the hospital revealed that he’d treated her without cost, with perfect care and follow-up. When she begged him for a way to repay him, he said: “Just follow your dreams.”

That’s a special guy.

Here’s to ya, doc. Thanks.

Best advice I’ve ever heard.

The Rest Of Your Freakin’ Life

Friday, 2:39pm
Reno, NV
“Hey, you bastards, I’m still here!” Steve McQueen as Papillon, floating away to freedom…

Howdy…

Two things today:

1. I want to thank, again, everyone who sent prayers, good vibes, and thoughtful notes to us. It’s been a stressful time, but if you’ve been following me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/johncarlton007) then you’re as up-to-date as anyone on Michele’s recovery.

We’re not out of the woods yet, but the first trials have been met, and conquered.

2. This being a new year, I’ve been mercilessly going through my usual self-reflection and goal setting rituals.

Cleaned the office.

Dragged out those pesky unfinished novels and started making fresh notes. (When the pages of a manuscript get dusty, it’s time to either finish the damn thing or toss it.)

And combed through old business files, looking for buried treasure.

This file-combing often — often – produces shockingly valuable stuff.

My pal Jeff Walker has just been Tweeting on this very subject… and reminded me to go foraging in the archiveal boxes one more time.

And guess what?

I stumbled across something I want to share with you.

It’s very relevant, if you’re considering ways to change or begin to really live your life with fresh gusto.

What I’m pasting in here, below, is the manuscript from a newsletter I wrote (and mailed to my list) back in February of 2005. Issue Number 33, to be precise.

The “Rant” newsletter was a monthly exercise for me, for six full years starting in ’02.

I stopped publishing it exactly one year ago… putting my energies into this blog instead.

Still, there’s just an amazing amount of timeless advice and insight in those older newsletters.

Treasure, for anyone paying attention.

So, with just a quick intro, I’ll let you sample this special re-issue of one of the most talked-about Rants I ever wrote.

Quick Intro: I had just had a skin cancer lesion removed from my chest when I wrote this issue. Skin cancer is rife in my family, and was no surprise.

Still, it was serious enough to get my full attention.

And a visit with a surgeon.

That’s the set-up.

What follows in this newsletter could be — if you’re like the many others who found it life-changing — the exact tool you’ve been hoping for to help you finally take control of your reality.

So you can usher in the Grand Adventure your life was meant to be.

Ready?

Here’s the copy from the newsletter. Yeah, it’s long… but you’ll understand as you read why I’ve posted it:

Dear Friend and Subscriber,

Despite the gray overcast outside, life is bright and shiny for me today.

Because I’m alive… and not just kickin’, but given official orders to kick as long and hard as I can for many years to come.

See, I just got back from going under the surgeon’s knife again — second outpatient surgery in a month, all because I got sunburned too many times as a kid. (We started our tans every summer by getting burnt to a crisp. Then we’d slough off dead skin like a molting snake, and voila! Nice brown tan underneath. Apparently that was a bad idea, and now everyone my age is paying the price.)

I’m fine, and don’t expect further problems, though I will be watchful. It didn’t even seem like that big of a deal to me — nothing I couldn’t handle myself with a mirror, a rusty razor blade, and a shot of whiskey. (Or, as my friend Renae suggested, just taking the car cigarette lighter to the offending spot till I burned down to bone.)

But no, the doc insisted on all this sterile crap, shots of numb-o-caine, expert stitching, the works. Leave no scar, he said.

Hey, I wanted the scar. Make a good story about surviving a knife fight or something.

I’m joking about this because I know how much of a bullet I dodged. I can’t count the number of friends I have suffering more serious problems, but I do count my blessings.

If I’m still ridiculously healthy (in spite of this one minor setback) it isn’t because of anything I’ve ever done to create health. In fact, I’ve logged many, many years in a self-destructive daze, daring the worst.

That’s why I suspect I’m being spared horrible illness only if I agree to continue to help others — which is why starting this issue of the Rant seems like a front-burner project, even while the bandages are still on. I actually crave the privilege of telling you another story with a lesson. Of all the desires that crossed my mind on the ride home, doing this was astonishingly high on the list.

You may not be aware of it, but there’s a spiritual fulfillment on my end when I write this swill. I normally ignore it myself… but today, it’s loud and clear.

Mark Twain famously suggested that even the most responsible man, having died and then given another day to spend on earth, would immediately secure a bottle of rot-gut and a hooker.

I’m not ruling those options out if things ever get worse, but for now I’m enjoying the lure of my work. (It’s like I’ve been poisoned with a sudden dose of maturity, late in life.)

If you’ve ever been swabbed and butchered on an examining table, you know it’s true there are no atheists in foxholes or doctor’s offices.

You just get the feeling there’s something… more… going on. And big damn mysterious reasons behind it all.

It’s as close as I ever get to feeling religious.

But that’s not why I bring this up. (Is there anything more boring than a conversation that begins “I just had surgery, and…”?)

No. What’s more relevant here is the feeling of aliveness I’m experiencing. It’s better than drugs or sex. Everything I see is a visual delight, every sound a symphony, every surface a tactile wonderland. Those shadowy mountains are just stunningly gorgeous. The hum of traffic is as soothing as spring bees attending their flowers. My mutt terrier’s bristly fur feels like mink.

Mind you, this was not a near-death experience I had. Routine stuff, and the doctor and I joked and discussed art and movies throughout the procedure.

I was, however, still more or less lying on a slab. Being filleted like a fish. My jokes were a little forced, more bravura than wit.

It’s not a pretty view, having people with surgical splatter-guards bending over your chest, fussing with blades and needles and bloody gauze. (I had flashbacks to Ken Burns-style scenes of Civil War era field hospitals, long before the niceties of anesthesia and antibacterial agents. We got nothing to complain about today.)

And, simple procedure or not, I still experienced the amazing “second chance” thrill that is so familiar to anyone who’s brushed up against their own mortality.

One of my long-term goals is to live in this bright state most of the time, and not just on special occasions. It’s a Zen thing, and doable.

But I have to want it, and I have to do the things required in order to attain it.

And this — short drum roll — is the perfect segue into what I wanted to talk about this issue. I call it…

“Goal Setting 101 And
The January 15th Letter”

Yeah, yeah, I know a chat about goals can quickly turn into a boring, pedantic lecture. But then, so can a chat about space flight.

And, in reality, both space flight and your goals are VERY exciting things.

Or should be.

It’s all in the telling.

What I’m not going to discuss are “resolutions”. Those are bogus pseudo-goals that have the staying power of pudding in a microwave.

No. It’s merely a coincidence that I’m suggesting a review of your goals in January, just after the New Year’s supposed fresh start.

I mean… there’s not much else to do, so why not sit down and plan out the rest of your life.
This is, of course, a very damp, cold, and bleak time of year.

The depths of winter and discontent.

A good percentage of the population suffers fleeting depression because of lack of sunlight… thanks to the geniuses behind Daylight Savings Time, who arrange for dusk to arrive around 2:30 in the afternoon in these parts.

We also just got slammed with back-to-back-to-back “Storms of the Century”, each one dumping a record load of snow on us. I sent photos to friends, and many emailed back wondering when I’d gone to Antarctica to live.

We had a little cabin fever brewing. Didn’t help when the local PBS channel ran a special on the Donner Party, either. Three feet of snow drifting down, the lights flickering, enough ice on the road to make the SUV sidle like a Red Wing goon slamming someone into the boards.

The safest place was home… but man, the walls start to close in after a few days.

I’m telling you, I had excuses up the yin-yang for allowing my senses to get a little dulled. The natural response is to turn your mind off, and hibernate until March.

And I succumbed, until the surgery. Started moping around, watching CSI: Miami reruns instead of reading a book, surfing the Net for stuff I didn’t care about… you know the drill.
I’m sure you’ve done your own version of it now and again.

And I’m also sure you already know that no amount of “buck up” happy talk will mitigate the gloom.

In fact, there are a few enlightened health pro’s who say we should let our bodies wind down every year or so. Get a full system-flush type of cold, crawl under the covers for a few days and let the demons and other bad stuff bubble to the surface.

So you can purge the crud. Evacuate the used-up bacteria and tube-clogs out of your pipes, physically. And shoo the whispering monsters out of your head.

We’re not perfect creatures. We need to sleep, we need to recharge our batteries, and we need to stop and get our bearings. At least once a year.

So don’t beat yourself up for the occasional down period. We all have them, and the healthiest folks just roll with it. It’s not good to repress this stuff.

It only becomes a problem when you sink into clinical depression. That’s the cold, empty state where nothing looks good, and hope is an absurd memory.

I’ve been there. Several times. The year I turned 30 (for example) I lost my job, my girlfriend and my place to live all within a 45-day stretch.

That shit can wear you down.

Now, I have two things to say about this:

Thing Numero Uno: If you think you’re losing a grip on your mental state, seek professional help. Don’t head straight for pharmaceutical land, though — give “talk therapy” a try with a real, qualified psychotherapist.

Choose this therapist carefully. You’re going to dump every secret you have on him.
Keep in mind the fact that everyone goes through bumpy emotional states. And that the percentage of people who actually do lose it every year is rather small.

That’s why talking about your problems with someone who has perspective can be so beneficial — the first thing you learn is that you aren’t alone.

And what you’re going through is not abnormal.

Most of the time, you’re gonna be fine. Even when your problems seem overwhelming.

There are tools available to help cope. You don’t often come across these tools on your own.

This is one of the few times that the “science” of psychology earns its keep — finding out how others successfully dealt with the same nonsense you’re suffering through can change everything.

A good book to read (while you’re waiting for the spring thaw) is “Learned Optimism” by Martin Seligman. I’ve recommended it before, and it deserves another nod. (The blurb on the back cover, from the New York Times Book Review, starts with “Vaulted me out of my funk…”)

I haven’t read the book in ten years, but I remember the main lesson well. A study, explained up front, stands out: Someone tested the “happiness” quotient of a vast sample of people, including Holocaust survivors.

And it turns out that, at some point in your life, Abraham Lincoln was right — you are as happy as you decide to be.

This is startling news to anyone lost in despair. Because it seems like you’ve been forced to feel that way. With no choice.

But it’s not the case. The happiness study revealed that you can not tell from a person’s current attitude what sort of trauma they had gone through earlier in life. People who had suffered horribly could be happy as larks, while silver-spoon never-stubbed-a-toe folks were miserable.

The difference? Attitude. Optimistic people work through setbacks and trauma… while pessimists settle into a funk that can’t be budged.

And it’s a CHOICE. At some point in your life, you choose to either live in gloom or sunlight.
This realization rocks many folk’s boat. Especially the pessimists. They dominate society, politics, business, everything. And they are very protective of their gloom and doom outlook. Invested, heavily, in proving themselves right about the inherent nastiness of life.

Maybe you’re one of ‘em.

If you are, you’re killing yourself, dude.

Current studies show that heart disease rates are HALF for optimists over pessimists. So, even if you doubt the ability to measure “happiness” — it is a rather rocky science — you still can’t deny the stats on dropping dead from a gloomy ticker.

Now, I am most assuredly NOT a clear-eyed optimist. I get creepy feelings around people who are too happy all the time.

But I do prefer having a good time, and appreciating the finer things in life (like a deep breath of cold alpine air, or the salty whip of an ocean wave around my ankles, or a secret smile from the wonderful woman I live with).

I’m just good at balancing out the bad with the good.

Being in direct response helps. Lord knows, there’s a LOT of bad with every piece of good news in this wacky biz.

Gary Halbert and I have a term we’ve used for years now: We’re “pessimistic optimists”. (Or maybe we’re optimistic pessimists. I forget.)

How does that work? Easy.

We expect horrible atrocities at every turn… and rejoice when we defy Fate and unreasonable success rains down on our undeserving heads.

We groove on the good stuff in life… and just nod sagely at the bad stuff and move past it as quickly as possible.

If you focus on the bad things that can go wrong, you’ll never crawl out of bed in the morning.
When you finally realize that — not counting health problems — pretty much everything bad that business, or relationships, or politics can throw at you will not kill you… then you relax.
And eagerly court the Unknown by starting another project.

Have you ever had your heart broken? Hurts like hell, doesn’t it. Feels like your life is over.
Well, from my perspective, sitting here at “just past 50” and pretty darned happy, all those women who broke my heart long ago look just plain silly now. And my resulting deep depressions — where I was sure life was over — are just tiresome lessons I had to get through.

Not a one of those ladies was worth a burp of angst. They were fine people, I’ll agree to that. A few were exceptional (and very skilled at certain man-pleasing arts).

But worth a Shakespearean suicide?

No way.

It’s taken me a while, but I’m now a certified realist. My youthful idealism has drained away, and my brushes with hate-everything dogma never took.

And guess what? Contrary to what an embarrassing huge number of self-righteous folks would have you believe… being a realist has not dented my passion for life one little bit.

In fact, it has opened up a whole new world of unexplainable spirituality (which cannot be contained within any formal religion).

I’m not against religion. Let’s have no “save my soul” emails here. One of my best friends is an ordained minister with a doctorate in theology. And I have other friends committed to various belief systems ranging from fundamentalist to Buddhist to humanist.

We get along because, on a deep level, we understand that true spirituality transcends whatever way you choose to express it or appreciate it.

I loathe black-and-white views of the world. It’s a shame that our great country has descended to this “you’re nuts if you don’t agree with me” mentality… but it’s part of the pendulum that’s been swinging back and forth ever since we left the jungle.

The far edges of our institutions — political, religious, cultural, all of it — are in spiritual and emotional “lock down”. They’re sure they’re right, they’re positive you’re wrong, and neither facts nor logic will sway their position.

Mushy liberals seem astonished that anyone would ever not love us, or want to destroy our culture. Repressed conservatives seem intent on crushing everyone who pisses them off (and that’s a lot of people).

It’s “whatever” versus “blind obedience”. And neither works so hot in the real world.

I have no use for dogma, or idealism, or punishingly-harsh rules that have been cooked up by hypocrites.

Hey — I’m in no position to tell anyone how to live their life. I’ve screwed up plenty, and if I have any wisdom at all, it’s only because I’ve survived some truly hairy situations.

But I don’t believe anyone else is in a position to tell you how to live, either. That’s gotta be your decision.

And it’s a damn hard one to make.

Fortunately, while I can’t tell you how to live, I can move some smooth (and proven) advice in your direction. Take it or leave it… but give it a listen anyway, cuz my track record on successful advice-giving is fairly impressive.

And I’m telling you that having a hateful, brooding attitude will stunt your growth. It will make you a smaller person, a less-wise person, an older and feebler person.

And you won’t grow. Not spiritually, not physically, not emotionally. Not in your business life, either.

Most people don’t want to grow, anyway. Growth only comes from movement and change… and the vast majority of the folks walking the earth with us today are terrified of change.
You can’t blame them, really. Change is a form of death. Whatever was before, dies. And whatever comes next must be nurtured with devotion and sacrifice.

That’s hard. That’s a hard way to live, always dying and being reborn.

And because it’s hard, it’s avoided.

Well, screw that.

I suspect, if you’re reading this, you are not afraid of change.

After all, you had to change your bank account by a few bucks in order to subscribe — you took a shot, and gave me the opportunity to prove to you that I could change your bottom line. And make the pittance you shelled out for your subscription a small detail, as you get paid back many times over with results.

But you may not yet understand the power that REALLY giving yourself to change offers.

And that brings us to…

Thing Numero Dos: Goals are all about change.

That’s a subtle point many people gloss over. Rookie goal-setters often get stuck on stuff like quitting smoking, or vague concepts like “become a better person”.

Or “get rich”.

That seldom works. Goals need to be specific… and they need to involve profound change in order to take hold.

Halbert often talks about “image suicide” — the necessity of killing and burying the “self” you are so heavily invested in, before you can move to a new level of success.

I see this all the time in my consultations. Biz owners refuse to do even slightly risky marketing, for fear of damaging their “reputations.”

And my question to them is: What reputation?

Unless you’re the top dog in your niche, no one gives a rat’s ass about what you think or do. No one is looking at your marketing for inspiration or condemnation, because you aren’t the guy to look at.

No. What these scaredy-cats are talking about when they say “reputation” is what their family and friends think of them.

And that’s a sure sign of a losing attitude. That ain’t Operation MoneySuck.

My friend Ron LeGrand, the real estate guru, is one of the best natural salesmen I’ve ever met. The guy understands the fundamental motivating psychology of a prospect at a master’s level.
And he knows that one of the major obstacles he faces in every sale… is what the prospect’s spouse (usually the wife) will say.

She can nix the sale with a sneer. Or she can nix it in the prospect’s head, as he imagines that sneer.

Ron counters both sides of the objection expertly. He encourages the prospect to get his spouse involved in the decision, so she becomes invested in it.

Or, he suggests waiting until the first big check comes in… and letting the money explain to her about what you’re up to.

This is the reality of most people’s lives. As much as they want what you offer… they are terrified of making a mistake. Cuz they’ll pay dearly for it at home.

It’s a huge deal-nixer.

That’s why you include lots of “reason why” copy in your pitch — to give your buyer ammunition for explaining his decision to the doubters in his life.

However, as Ron knows, the best (and simplest) “reason why” is results.

Money, as they say, talks.

The top marketers seldom give a moment’s thought to what a risky tactic might do to their “reputation”. They don’t really care what people think about them.

You can’t bank criticism.

I know many marketers who are involved in projects they are passionate about… but which bore their spouses to tears. Some (like Howard Stern’s former wife) are even deeply embarrassed.

But they don’t complain much. Because the money’s so good.

Aw, heck. I could go on and on about this. The story of Rodale’s shock and dismay at the brutally-honest ad I wrote for their timid “sex book” is a great example. They refused to mail it, because of their “reputation”.

Yet, after it accidentally did mail, and became a wildly-successful control for 5 years, they suddenly decided their reputation could handle it after all.

The people who get the most done in life are all extreme risk-takers. They embrace change, because growth is impossible without it.

But you don’t go out and start changing things willy-nilly.

You need a plan.

You need goals.

Now, there are lots of books out there that tell you how to set goals. I recently found, in a moldy banker’s box, the ad for Joe Karbo’s book “The Lazy Man’s Way To Riches” that I’d responded to back in 1982. The exact ad! With the order form torn out… it was the first direct mail pitch I’d ever encountered, and it changed my life forever. Joe’s book was essentially a treatise on setting goals. And it’s good.

It was a wake-up call for me.

I’m having that crinkly old ad framed. Can’t imagine why I kept it, but I did. Pack-rat riches.
If you can’t find that particular book, there are dozens of newer goal-setting guides on the shelves. But they’re all based on the same formula: Decide what you want. Write it down, and be specific. Read the list often, imaging as you read that you have already achieved each goal.

What this does is alter the underpinnings of your unconscious. When one of your goals is to earn a million bucks this year, and that goal burns bright in the back of your mind, each decision you make will be influenced.

So, for example, you won’t accept a permanent job somewhere that pays $50,000 a year. Cuz that isn’t going to help you attain your goal.

The problem is, to earn a mil in a year, you need to average around $50,000 every two weeks. This is why it can take a while to get your goal-setting chops honed. As I’ve said many times, most folks don’t know what they want.

And they aren’t prepared for the changes necessary to get what they want, once they do decide on a goal.

What kind of guy earns $50,000 every two weeks, like clockwork? It takes a certain level of business savvy to create that kind of steady wealth. It doesn’t fall into your lap.

What kind of guy makes a windfall of a million bucks in one chunk? That’s another kind of savvy altogether.

In that same moldy banker’s box, I also found a bunch of my early goal lists. And I’m shocked at how modest my aims were.

At the time — I was in the first months of going out on my own, a totally pathetic and clueless rookie — I couldn’t even imagine earning fifty K a year.

My first goal was $24,000 as a freelancer. And to score a better rental to live in. Find a date for New Year’s. Maybe buy a new used car.

Listen carefully: I met those goals. As modest as they were, it would have been hard not to. I needed them to be modest, because I was just getting my goal-setting chops together.
And I wasn’t sure if I was wasting my time even bothering to set goals.

Let me assure you, it was NOT a waste of time.

The lists I found covered several later years, too. And what’s fascinating is that many of the more specific goals I set down were crossed out — I wanted those goals, but didn’t feel confident about obtaining them.

So I crossed them out, and forgot about them.

A couple of decades later, I realize that I’ve attained every single one of those “forgotten” goals. The big damn house, the love of my life, the professional success, even the hobbies and the guitars and the sports car.

I’m stunned. This is powerful voodoo here.

The universe works in mysterious ways, and you don’t have to belong to a religion to realize this. The whole concept of “ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened” was well-known by successful people long before Luke and Matthew wrote it down.

The keys are action. Movement.

Ask, seek, knock.

These simple actions will change your life forever.

Back to making a million in a year: Some guys know what they need to do to make this goal real. They’ve done it before, or they’ve come close.

Setting the goal is serious business for them… because they are well aware of the tasks they’ve assigned themselves. Take on partners, put on seminars, create ad campaigns, build new products. Get moving on that familiar path.

I’ve known many people who started the year with such a goal… who quickly modified it downward as the reality of the task became a burden. Turns out they didn’t really want the whole million after all.

Half of that would suffice just fine.

To hell with the work required for the full bag of swag.

Other guys don’t know what they need to do to earn a mil. So their goal really is: Find out what I need to do to earn a million bucks.

Their initial tasks are to ask, seek, and knock like crazy.

And change the way they move and act in the world. Because they must transform themselves into the kind of guy who earns a million bucks in one year.

Right now, they aren’t that guy.

So, for example, reading “The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” suddenly becomes an “A” task, while remodeling the kitchen gets moved to the back of the burner. Sharpening your ability to craft a killer sales pitch becomes more important than test-driving the new Porsche.
More important, even, than dating Little Miss Perfect. And test-driving her new accessories.
Tough choice? Nope. When you get hip to the glory of focused change, you never lament leaving the “old” you behind.

It will be hard, sometimes, no doubt about it. Especially when you discover your old gang no longer understands you, or mocks your ambition. They liked the old, non-threatening you. They want him to come back.

But you’ve changed. And hot new adventures are going to take up a lot more of your time now.
My trick to setting goals is very simple. Every January 15th, I sit down and write myself a letter, dated exactly one year ahead.

And I describe, in that letter, what my life is like a year hence. (So, in 2004, I dated the letter to myself as January 15, 2005.)

It’s a subtle difference to the way other people set goals. Took me a long time to figure it out, too.

For many years, I wrote out goals like “I live in a house on the ocean”, and “I earn $24,000 a year”. And that worked. But it was like pushing my goals.

Writing this letter to myself is more like pulling my goals. For me, this works even better. Every decision I make throughout the year is unconsciously influenced, as I move toward becoming the person I’ve described.

But here’s where I do it very differently: My goals are deliberately in the “whew” to “no friggin’ way” range. Mega-ambitious, to downright greedy.

There’s a sweet spot in there — doable, if I commit myself, but not so outrageous that I lose interest because the required change is too radical.

I’m pretty happy with myself these days. Took me a long, hard slog to get here, and I earned every step.

And I want to continue changing, because I enjoy change. But I don’t need to reinvent myself entirely anymore.

So here’s what makes this ambitious goal-setting so effective: I don’t expect to REACH most of them.

In fact, I’m happy to get half of what I wanted.

There’s a ton of psychology at work there. The person I describe a year away often resembles James Bond more than the real me. Suave, debonair, flush, famous, well-traveled… and in peak health. I hit all the big ones.

However, long ago I realized that trying to be perfect was a sure way to sabotage any goal I set. Perfectionists rarely attain anything, because they get hung up on the first detail that doesn’t go right.

Being a good goal-setter is more like successful boxing — you learn to roll with the punches, cuz you’re gonna get hit.

You just stay focused on the Big Goal. And you get there however you can.
I’m looking at last year’s letter. I was a greedy bastard when I wrote it, and I didn’t come close to earning the income figure I set down.

Yet, I still had my best year ever.

And — here’s the kicker — I would NOT have had such a great year, if I wasn’t being pulled ahead by that letter. There were numerous small and grand decisions I made that would have gone another way without the influence of what I had set down.

I didn’t travel to the places I had listed. But I did travel to other, equally-fun places. I didn’t finish that third novel. But I did position it in my head, and found the voice I want for narration. That’s a biggie. That was a sticking point that would have kept the novel from ever getting finished.

Now, it’s on power-glide.

There’s another “hidden” benefit to doing this year-ahead letter: It forces you to look into the future.

A lot of people make their living peering ahead and telling everyone else what to expect. Most do a piss-poor job of it — weathermen are notorious for getting it wrong, as are stock market analysts, wannabe trend-setters, and political prognosticators.

Yet, they stay in business. Why? Because the rest of the population is terrified of looking into the future. That would require some sincere honesty about their current actions… since what the future holds is often the consequence of what you’re doing right now.

If you’re chain-smoking, chasing street hookers, and living on doughnuts, your future isn’t pretty. For example.

Or if you’ve maxed out all your credit cards, and haven’t done your due diligence to start bringing in moolah, your future isn’t nice, either.

No one can “see” into the future for real. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
In fact, it’s easy, when you have a little experience in life.

Things you do today will have consequences tomorrow. If you put up a website today for a product, and you do everything you can to bring traffic to it and capture orders… your consequence can be pretty and nice.

Sure, you may get hit by a bus while fetching the morning paper… but letting that possibility scare you off of trying for something better is for pessimists (who are scheduled for early checkout).

You have enormous control over your future.

And once you realize that, you can set out to start shaping it.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. I may reformat and reframe the best of the Rant newsletters into a couple of books.

Would you be interested in seeing something like that? That newsletter, during the 6 years years it went out monthly, was read on every continent on the planet by many of the top marketers and players in direct response marketing.

Many movers-and-shakers admitted to me it was the only newsletter they read immediately upon receiving it.

Biggest compliment I’ve ever gotten.

Anyway, love to hear your comments.

Let’s get this show back on the road, what d’ya say?


All testimonials and case studies within this website are, to the best of our ability to determine, true and accurate. They were provided willingly, without any compensation offered in return.

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