Category Archives: small business marketing

Buzz And Awe, Redux

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Tuesday, 2:08 a.m.
Reno, NV
Is there gas in the car? Yeah, there’s gas in the car…” (Steely Dan, “Kid Charlemagne”)

Howdy…

Those of you in the loop know we’ve re-launched the coaching program of the Simple Writing System again.

We rarely offer this hand-holding, personalized, one-on-one mentoring (by coaches who are also successful copywriters). The last session was a couple of years ago.

No idea when another session will come around… if it even does.

We take this one program at a time. It’s notorious among marketing insiders, because of how effectively we’re able to transform almost anyone into a sales-message-producing machine… quickly and efficiently. It’s life-changing, and business-changing mojo…

… and that’s why the top marketers in the game have demanded that the folks in their organization responsible for marketing TAKE this course.

The personalized coaching in the SWS is extremely interactive Perfect for anyone who knows that hands-on mentoring is the best way to learn the simplest possible system (crammed with short-cuts) for creating all the sales messages needed for a profitable business…

… including all your ads, websites, video scripts, emails, AdWords, blogs and other social media broadsides…

everything that pumps eager prospects into your Sales Funnel.

So you can close the heck out them.  And get filthy rich and happy, and become the most successful entrepreneur or biz owner possible… because without killer, persuasive copy, you’re not going to find, nor close very many prospects.

Most marketers wander through the wasteland of Bad Business Practices their entire career…

… and never figure out how to SELL anything.

So, no matter how totally hot and good and righteous your product or service might be…Continue Reading

How To Force Me To Personally Advise You On Your Business… For Cheap.

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Friday 8:09pm
Reno, NV
“Just move on up now…” (Curtis Mayfield)

Howdy.

Quick post here to help you figure out when you should probably consider consulting with a respected, proven veteran marketing expert…

… and what your perfect consulting option is, once you’ve decided it’s time to kick your biz or career into high gear.

Step One: As a small business owner or entrepreneur (especially if you’ve been going at it alone, or mostly alone)… if you have any kind of success at all… there will come a time when you’re simply overwhelmed and need a little help. Or a lot of help.

For example:

[] It may be time for you to move up a level in your marketing… and you know that having a veteran marketing expert comb over your new plans can shortcut your path to increased wealth, while jumping over the unseen pitfalls that ruin so many other biz owners trying to expand.

[] Or, you may have a problem that needs serious attention… like sales going into the toilet, or new competitors chewing you up, or sudden changes in the marketplace that crush your bottom line (like a Google slap, or adverse rule changes at Clickbank, or the obsolescence of your product, or technological left-turns that disrupt your sales process). Even worse, what was working before suddenly isn’t working anymore, and you don’t see a clear reason why.

[] Or, you’re just working harder and harder, but sales are stagnant. Time, perhaps, to bring in an objective, experienced marketing whiz who can help you restructure your biz plan… so you maximize results, and get your life back (by working less, not more.)

[] Or, you may want high-end professional advice on your current sales funnel… just to make sure you’re not hemorrhaging money somewhere, or murdering potential sales through marketing blunders you can’t even see.

[] Or, you may be ready to start a new business adventure, and just want to be positive you’ve got your ducks lined up and you aren’t forgetting something critical.

[] Or, you have copy that may or may not be working, which you know could jack up your bottom line if a professional copywriter helped you with a total make-over.

Step Two: The best reasons to seek professional help from a veteran dude like me always have one main goal: To fix problems, and goose your bottom line into obscene levels of newfound wealth.

When your situation is urgent, the cost of hiring a consultant who can provide solutions is almost always “cheap”, because you’re extracting yourself out of a dangerous reality that threatens your business and peace-of-mind.

And it’s a screaming bargain when that consultant can offer you simple fixes inside of a plan you can put into action immediately…Continue Reading

How To Lose Friends & Persuade People To Hate You

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Tuesday, 8:54pm
Reno, NV
“You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave…” (Eagles, “Hotel California”)

Howdy…

Today, let’s explore a little-discussed part of running a biz…

… using a couple of enlightening (and very brief) anecdotes from my recent (and continuing) “Adventures With Hotels”.

Let’s call this lesson: The Faded Lady and the Trump.

With all due apologies to Disney’s classic dog-romance movie, of course.

See if you can spot how the following short story applies to YOUR business…

Ahem.

Each of the last two weekends found me in different cities, staying in hotels I booked online, sight-unseen.

In Sin City, it was the splendiferous Trump International Hotel Las Vegas.

In San Francisco, the once-famous, now-infamous Cathedral Hill Hotel.

Now, the Trump joint was built with luxury in mind.  Shiny, tall, imposing building with huge well-apportioned rooms and super-modern equipment like elevators and art.

As a “product”, the building was great. (Though it seems idiotic not to have any gambling on the premises, as a wanna-be “player” in the Las Vegas scene.  I heard that Trump got skunked on getting his gambling license, but that’s not the spin the staff offered.  “We just didn’t want gambling here,” is what they said, unconvincingly.)

Great price for the rooms, too.  (Most likely because of the lack of casino amenities and dearth of unit sales, which turned it from condo to hotel.)

I have complaints about the joint… but not because of the room, the rate, or the basic delivery of stuff like air conditioning, clean water, nice beds, etc.  (In fact, their pillow-top beds are amazing to sleep in.  Like being cuddled by angels.)

Now, back in SF, it was a completely different situation.

We hosted a gathering of writers, affiliates, and other mucky-mucks at the Cathedral Hill Hotel because we wanted to treat everyone to an evening with the world-renown “Beer Chef“, who puts on fabulous dinners there once a month.  (You can read more about Bruce Paton’s unique meals at www.beer-chef.com. )

You want the “Beer Chef”, you deal with Cathedral Hill. (And yes, we very much wanted his magic.  He creates these shockingly-tasty gourmet meals there, with each course matched by a local micro-brew beer instead of boring old wine.  It’ll knock your socks off, even if you aren’t well-versed in pilsners, ales and lagers.)

We also started the day off with an afternoon-long brainstorm session in the hotel’s main meeting room.  (I’m sure you caught some of the updates on Twitter from the luminaries and stars in attendance.)

However…

… none of us had ever stayed at the hotel.

And while it has a storied past (well-chronicled in San Francisco lore), it has, alas,  fallen on hard times.

Culminating in being bought out a short time ago and scheduled for the wrecking ball.

Ouch.

We made the most of it.  The stories and jokes we all shared about our rooms and experiences in the hotel are howlingly funny…

… but still, as a “product”, there’s no getting around the fact that the building was in serious disrepair.

Sort of like a once-beautiful lady who has fallen on hard times, and ended up sacked-out in a filthy alley, soused with cheap booze and a reputation heading south at light speed.

The price was actually a red flag: You cannot stay in the city, in a decent room, for anywhere near the rate Cathedral Hill was asking.

Kind of like seeing an ad for a luxury Caribbean Cruise in the paper for five bucks.  It sort of sets off your early-warning alarm.  (Five bucks and your kidney, maybe.)

So… while no one got robbed, or found a dead hooker in their room… Continue Reading

[Quiz] Okay, So What’s Your NEXT Step?

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Saturday, 8:42pm
Reno, NV
“Look Dave, I can see you’re really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over. (HAL to astronaut Dave in “2001″)

Howdy…

Okay, let’s do a quickie quiz, what d’ya say?

It’s Saturday evening, after all… and I just got my ass whupped by Michele at Scrabble (her first win, ever, in 10 years of trying) (and I don’t expect to ever hear the last of it anytime soon).

(What’s the time limit on doing the “Ass Whup” dance, mocking your partner, anyway?)

So, to keep my mind off the misery of such a wrenching loss (she accidentally used all 7 letters in her third turn, and that bonus 50 points is what beat me), I’m hiding in my office.

I’ve got maybe 10 minutes before I have to come out and face more taunting and jublilation.

Thus, a quick blog post.  (“Get out of here!  I gotta work…”)

I’m giving a prize away, of course.

Let’s se… how about a fresh copy of “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” to the first right answer.

I’ve got a nice new one burning a hole on the shelf across from my desk.  It’s got your name on it, Mr/Ms Winner.  I’ll sign it, and have Diane ship it out asap.

Sound good?

Okay.  Here’s the quiz:

The most common question I get from entrepreneurs who are stuck on some part of their marketing…Continue Reading

C’mere… I Wanna Take You Somewhere Cool…

Wednesday, 7:35pm
Reno, NV

Howdy…

Can you do me a favor?

Actually, two favors:

1. Just forgive me for not paying close attention to this blog over the next week or so.

… and…

2. Please hop over to www.simplewritingsystem.com/blog/ and indulge yourself.

Am I forgiven?

Great.

I’ll be back here with a vengence soon enough.

Right now, however…

… we’re launching the Simple Writing System, and it’s taking all my time.

No, seriously, I mean ALL my time.

I haven’t slept much this week… and when I do, I’m dreaming about the damn launch.

I was going to give you a blow-by-blow, “behind the scenes” commentary on the process in this blog…

… but it turns out I was deluded.

Launches are consuming events. Especially when — like us — you defy the standard “rules” and just boldly march into the process with as little preparation as possible.

Gotta love the entrepreneur spirit. Damn the torpedoes and all that.

The best part of a launch, of course…

… is that it’s over when it’s done. Sort of like a short jail sentence, where you’re chained to your desk… but you get cut loose when the curtain goes up, and all sins are erased.

“Curtain Up” day is coming up fast, too.

And that means the cool, deeply insightful webinar/interviews on the SWS blog go away, too. Not gonna leave ‘em up for very long.

You definitely need to see them. We just posted Mike Filsaime, who revealed (for the FIRST time ever) his private mentoring notes from his intense learning days as a salesman…

… and Rich Schefren, who allowed me to expose all his secrets about making mere blog posts bring in massive fortunes (shocking revelation, by the way)…

… and Eben Pagan, who just unloaded on the specifics of his million-dollar marketing tactics (especially how he wrote to sell and influence so successfully)…

… and Frank Kern, who… well, who was so totally Frank in this interview, that I may bottle his webinar and turn it into rocket fuel.

These things are crammed with risky, maddeningly real-world revelations and insight these guys have rarely (if ever — Mike’s salesmanship notes, for example, are a total exclusive) shared in public.

I grilled ‘em.

Now you get to feast.

So…

… again, I’m gonna be a ghost here on this blog. But only for a few more days… while I concentrate on the Simple Writing System blog.

Lots of great stuff posted over there, and more coming.

Go check it out.

As always, your comments are welcome, helpful and encouraged.

Back to the grind…

Stay frosty,

John

Hey, I Need Your Help Here…

Thursday, 8:25pm
Reno, NV
“What’s keeping YOU up at night?”

Howdy,

Quick post here, I swear.

I have a small problem…

… and I could sure use your help.

It’ll take you, like, two minutes or so.

And yet… it will be of tremendous value to me. If I’ve ever given you something of value before — a piece of advice, a tip, a hint on direction, a good belly laugh, whatever — then I’m calling in the chit.

I want you to comment here.

Here’s what’s up: Among smart marketers — those who have their money-making act together — my core message is a well-known commodity.

“Nothing good will ever happen in your biz… until the copy gets written. And… the best person to write the most important stuff… is you.”

This message is unquestioned among the top marketers I hang out with.

They even eagerly tell anyone who will listen, to listen to me.

Many of the best (like Eben Pagan, Frank Kern, Rich Schefren and others) almost never talk about copy without mentioning my impact on their own learning curves… and they help spread the message.

The heavy hitters all know — without a shred of doubt — that copywriting is the foundation of all things profitable in business.

But here’s the rub: Outside that group of “in-the-know” marketers…

… I often run into a brick wall trying to get entrepreneurs and biz owners to truly understand the importance of writing.

I feel like the first guy to see the aliens land in a sci-fi movie… and the townspeople all ignore my dire warnings of Armegeddon. They smile and nod, and agree that it certainly WOULD be nasty-bad if evil aliens were coming, but…

And their minds wander off in total distraction.

If you’re in business…

… and you’re ignoring the role of great copy in your quest for success and wealth (and your need to learn HOW to write that great copy)…

… then, like the oblivious townsfolk, you’re risking becoming TOAST.

Especially in the economic melt-down happening now.

It’s really pretty simple: Those who know how to write killer ads, emails, video scripts and everything else…

… are going to thrive.

And those who don’t…

… well, it ain’t pretty.

And that’s my dilemna: I’m very good at reaching the “insiders” in business. They immediately “get” how critical and how totally cool it is to know how to write sales copy.

As for the people who are “un-initiated” in direct response?

Not so much.

The message seems to take a while to sink in.

So here’s what I would love to hear from you: What is your NUMBER ONE problem with writing ads right now?

Are you frustrated with the process of trying to write? Do you see it as hard work or — worse — as a big voodoo mystery you’ll never figure out?

Do you avoid learning the essentials of writing for any conscious reason? Or is there something personally difficult about writing that makes you just want to skip the whole concept?

Or what?

I am seriously looking for input here.

If you’re an entrepreneur… or small biz owner… or even a rookie… and you don’t know how to write what you need written…

… could you please look inside your own brain…

… and honestly share with me what the problem is? What is your Number One constraint holding you back from digging into this skill?

I’d appreciate it.

Thanks, in advance.

Hey — let’s make it a little contest.

The person who most succinctly and clearly helps me see what I’m missing here…

… will win a free copy of the freshly updated “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” — the course that launched so many of the online marketers now dominating the virtual landscape.

Does that make it worth your time to look inside… and give me some insight as to why it’s so hard to break through the resistance so many people have on this mega-important subject?

C’mon. It’ll take you a couple of minutes. You may even learn something about yourself.

And…

… if you’re already writing your own stuff, successfully… you can get in the competition, too.

Just remember back to what held you up from getting started learning the skill.

What was your biggest obstacle? The cost of getting help? Not knowing where to turn or who to trust? Not having the time? What?

Let’s give it until Monday to decide on the winner, what do you say?

The competition begins now…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

Your Tip For The Week

Monday, 7:51pm
Reno, NV
You know everybody is ignorant… just on different subjects.” Will Rogers

Howdy…

I’ve been meaning to give you some tips you can use, like, immediately to help your business boost its mojo.

So here’s a specific tactic that will absolutely pump your copy full of good energy the first time you even dabble in it.

It’s advanced copywriting voodoo from deep in my bag of tricks… yet very simple to pull off.

My favorite kind of tool.

Before I just dump this tactic into your lap, though…

… I think I’ll explain where it came from.

Might give you some context. And make you feel more confident using it.

Here’s the story: I am not a naturally-gifted writer…

… though I loved the act of writing as soon as I learned the alphabet. It was just so cool to be able to scratch out symbols with my big pencil (tongue firmly stuck out the side of my mouth) and make people laugh when they read it.

Or squirm.

Or respond in any old way at all.

I wish I could say my Inner Salesman was tickled awake by this discovery, but he was still fast asleep… even as I got sucked into the world of great fiction, and created a hobby of trying to mimic what I was reading.

I wrote a terrifically horrible little novella in the sixth grade based on the “Mars Attacks!” bubble gum card series. (You may remember the mid-nineties movie they made about that series, starring Jack Nicholson. Great fun.)

At age 13, I wrote several short stories based on my own fevered post-adolescent twist on James Bond. Just brutally awful stuff.

I mean, what the hell does a 13-year-old know about drinking vodka and slaying women with a wink?

Not a damn thing.

Still, the entire English class once skipped lunch to hear me read one of those absurd tales.

I may have almost flunked, because my knowledge of basic grammar sucked… but I had an inkling on how to tell a story.

And yet, the more I “tried” to write, the worse I got. Right into and past college, the stories became more and more bloated with tangents and flowery language that would have choked a Victorian.

You know what the turning point was, for me, in my quest to become a decent writer?

Advertising.

Saved my ass.

All my heroes — Claude Hopkins, John Caples, David Ogilvy — wrote in a similar manner. Very sparse, very on-target, very no-bullshit-allowed.

And I had my epiphany about five minutes into writing my very first ad.

You see, most rookies try to goose the power of their writing with adjectives. And no matter how deep your adjective vocabulary becomes, your writing will forever be variations of a vapid Valley Girl trying to explain an experience:

“It was so, you know, like, amazing. Really, really amazing and fabulous beyond belief. It just… it just rocked, you know?…”

Adjectives, I quickly learned, are a tool for the communication-challenged.

They actually hurt your writing, more than help it.

No matter how cool you believe your precious adjective is.

Oh, go look it up, if you can’t remember what an adjective is. Good grief, man, it’s a fundamental element of the language you use everyday.

I’ll wait while you do a wiki search…

Okay, back?

Good.

Here’s your tip for the week: Strip ALL adjectives from your next attempt at sales copy.

Every last buggery one.

And write only in simple, unadorned sentences. Make zero effort to “fluff up” your meaning with adjectives.

And… guess what?

You have just automatically made your writing more readable, and probably more powerfully communicative.

Now, yes, all the top writers do occasionally use adjectives. Often in headlines. (Where would I be today without the word “amazing”?)

However… a pro makes sure his sentence can thrive even without any adjectives… before inserting one.

That nasty thing must EARN its way into your pitch.

Your sentence must scream for it. The foundation of your story must teeter and begin to crumble… before you give in and insert a single, tasty, mojo-laced adjective.

Treat them like nitroglycerin. Use sparingly and only when absolutely called for.

However, your time will be BETTER SPENT looking for action verbs instead.

That’s what separates the killer writer from the hack and the wannabe: Verbs.

My rule: No verb is repeated on any manuscript page of copy.

You know what that means? When I’m writing at fever pitch, I’m letting verbs drive the narrative.

And I can only use words like “get” once a page.

That’ll make you reach for the ginko and the Thesaurus. (Just never, ever use a word you know is not commonly understood by your reader. Don’t get too fancy, or you’ll lose him, and lose the sale.)

Quick example: The word “walk”.

As in, “he walked down the street”. How about “he staggered down the street”? Different image.

And what about “he lurched down the street”? Sober, healthy people don’t lurch. Drunk, hurt or zombified people do.

He bolted down the street. He raced down the street in a blind panic…

First time though, you just write. Use boring verbs, and don’t fuss with them.

When you’re done, let the copy get cold (at least 12 hours, if you can).

Then, go back… and edit viciously.

Challenge every verb you’ve used. You’ll be embarrassed by the number of times you’ve used “get” and “got” and other sleep-inducing deadwood verbs. Over and over and over, as if you’d never heard of another verb choice in your life.

Don’t get cute. Don’t get clever.

Just beef up your writing with good word selection. Mostly your verbs.

You’ll know you’ve reached Buddha-hood when you stop using adjectives altogether.

No matter how amazing they may seem at first blush…

Love to hear your experience with writing — especially harrowing tales of struggle and breakthrough and redemption.

Plus any input you have from using this tip.

Interact away, guys.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. BTW, I have been successfully brainwashed into finally joining the Twitter cult (by my pal Eric, who remains the ONLY marketer I know who can demonstrate he’s actually earned cash moolah using it).

I’ll be sending out invitations to join me in Twitterland.

It’s actually pretty fucking cool, once you engage.

Assuming, of course, that the people you tweet with are interesting, deranged, or drunk.

More as events unfurl…

Shakin’ All Over

Thursday, 5:31pm
Reno, NV
“Quivers down my kneebone… I got the shakes in my thighbone…” Guess Who (“Shakin’ All Over”)

Howdy,

Have you ever been so freakin’ nervous you almost lost control of bodily functions?

Two things made me suddenly think about this unseemly subject.

First Thing: We have an Afghan hound in the house with a bark that rattles windows four blocks away… and he has come thisclose to eating the mailman, the Fed Ex guy, three neighbors, and a flock of Jehovah’s Witnesses who dared knock on the door.

And that’s just over the past month or so.

But here’s the kicker: He will break down into a sobbing lump of useless self-pity if Michele or I so much as look at him cross-eyed.

His bark is a mask for the social vulnerability he suffers.

He doesn’t really want to rip out your throat.

Deep inside, he’s just a confused, awkward puppy, trapped in an adult dog’s body. Scared shitless of the world. (Literally shitless, whenever fireworks or lightning are nearby.) (Yeah, it’s a mess.)

Second Thing: I was recently advising someone about “getting his ass out in the marketplace as an expert”… and the guy actually started shaking.

Just the thought of stepping onto the metaphorical stage of life, and performing… sent this poor guy into a stuttering implosion.

He not only had no “bark”… he had no cojones, either.

This got me thinking about my own journey from stuttering fear-meister to swaggering bluster-bomb.

It’s relevant… because, in business, my line is: If you truly have a great product that your prospect should own… then shame on you if you don’t step forward confidently and BE that guy he needs you to be… so he can feel good about buying.

You can’t sell from your heels, people.

(I love to trot out the old quote by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones: “It’s not that I’m all that great of a guitar player, you know. It’s just that I can step out in front of ten thousand people and DO it.”)

(Talent comes in WAY behind cojones when it comes to carving out your niche.)

Anyway, back to me…

I am not an extrovert by any stretch.

In fact, I chart pretty heavily toward “total thumb-sucking, light-avoiding, cave-dwelling introvert” in basic personality tests.

You can tell an introvert from an extrovert pretty easily: When the extro is around people, like at a party, he gets energized. The introvert finds it a chore, and leaves the event drained.

It’s all about energy transference.

Now, I was lucky to grow up with a sizeable contingent of good friends — who I went all the way from kindergarten through high school with — which saved me from having to “make” new friends until I hustled off to college.

And, in college, for whatever reason, I was immediately taken in by a group of goofballs who somehow saw my potential for furthering their goofball yearnings.

However, it took me a long time to get to “know” most of these people.

Seriously. It was decades before I finally felt comfortable around most of them.

Nearly all of the people I’m close to, I’ve been close to for half my life. (I’ve known my business partner, Stan, for 25 years, and our contract writer, Mark, since we were nineteen.)

I tell you this to illustrate how ill-equiped I was to become a guru.

I stuttered as a kid… and frequently found myself getting stuck on words as an adult whenever I encountered uncomfortable situations.

Meaning, any new situation where people I didn’t know were looking at me.

In grade school — back when I was convinced that everybody else knew things they weren’t sharing with me (and that’s why life seemed like such a mystery) — I even burst into tears in class math competitions. (One little girl — Peggy The Bitch, I call her — repeatedly tripped me up with the question “What’s 5 times 0?” I nearly always said “5!” before realizing my blunder and being told to sit down while the rest of the class continued the competition.)

(Ah, childhood humiliation. What a concept.)

As a teen, a good (longtime) friend convinced me to learn guitar so we could start playing in bands. He wanted the excitement and recognition of being on stage. I just got a thrill from playing music.

So he fronted the many bands we formed, happily, from center-stage… and I happily lurked near the far edge, out of the limelight, content to concentrate on the tunes.

I was kinda like Garth, from Wayne’s World. Thrust into the action on the coattails of a raging extrovert.

Freelancing was a natural for me. It required long, lonely hours inside your head… and you were excused from looking like the regular “suits” in the agencies because, as a writer, the more outrageous you appeared, the more they believed you must possess the “goods”.

Idiots.

Halbert, of course, was THE uber-extrovert. He publicly listed his main hobby as “finding new methods of self-aggrandizement”.

I stayed behind the scenes as much as possible. My main job, in fact, during seminars was to handle everything but the actual delivery of the action onstage.

It was Halbert’s show, and I liked it that way.

I had defined myself as an introvert, and never considered it could be any other way.

I even had a “defining moment” — back in college, when I was introduced to my first “real” girlfriend’s beloved sister, I started laughing uncontrollably. Not because anything was funny… but because my body betrayed me, and just went off in an inappropriate spasm.

I was humiliated, because after lamely stuttering about why I had burst out with guffaws (I could come with nothing good to explain myself), the awkwardness just got deeper and deeper. My girlfriend forgave me (and even sorta found it endearing — I was her “bad boy” artistic-type boyfriend, so weirdness was expected).

But her sister forever thought I was an A-Number One Doofus Jerk-Off.

Rightly so, I might add.

Around uncomfortable situations, I was that guy.

However…

After, oh, around thirty gazillion private consultations and Hot Seats and meetings with clients once I became a sought-after pro… all of whom initially tried to “alpha male” me into submission, because they wanted the writer (me) to be their slave…

… I started to think that maybe I had unwisely “defined” myself.

As anyone who has gotten freelance advice from me knows, I quickly learned to walk into a new client’s life and OWN the bastard. I knew that I held all the cards — he needed copy, couldn’t produce it himself to save his life, and thus was in zero position to be dictating terms to me.

I ain’t shy, professionally.

Now, my technique may or may not help others. (I developed a “stage personality” for these consultations I called Dr. Smooth… and let this “alternative John” take over.)

(And damn, but that Doctor was good at taking control and bullying clients.)

It’s a standard tactic, adapted from acting. No big deal, nothing revelatory about it.

However…

What it did for me was immediately obliterate that old “defining moment” that I had regarded as my “fate”.

I wasn’t really a socially-retarded loser.

I just played one in life.

Cuz I thought I’d been… assigned… the role.

If you’ve ever seen me speak at seminars, you know I’m no wallflower these days. I’m totally comfy in front of any size crowd, because the “mystery” of what’s going on has been solved in my mind.

It’s not about me.

It’s about the content of what I share.

(Plus, of course, I know so much about the people in the audience nowadays… from all those decades of delving into the psychology of salesmanship… that I don’t even need to imagine anyone naked to be calm.)

(It’s just us folks in the room. Good people looking for good info, plus maybe a little entertainment along the way. And a speaker line-up of “just-plain-dudes” having fun in the limelight.)

My point: You can do what you need to do.

If your market is crying out for someone to stand up and be the go-to-guy… you really can do it.

Like Keith Richards, you can get your chops honed to a degree that gives you enough confidence to be “onstage” (however you define the stage — it can be your website, an actual stage, or infomercials or any other media)… where you will deliver what the folks paid to see.

There are vast armies of “experts” out there (especially online) with no more real skill or insight or knowledge than you have.

Often, they have less.

What they DO have, that so many others refuse to cultivate, are the cojones to step up and BE that guy the audience needs you to be.

I can tell you this with absolute certainty (because I personally know it’s true): Most of the top guru’s in the entrepreneurial world — especially online — are former dweebs, stutterers, social outcasts and semi-dangerous nutcases.

They are, essentially, gawky and lonely and scared little kids trapped inside an adult’s body.

What they have done, however…

… is to re-define WHO they are when it counts.

Everyone, at some time or another, feels the urge to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over their head. Life is tough, business tougher. Hamlet’s slings and arrows constantly rain on everyone’s parade, and NO ONE gets a pass.

However…

… the winners define themselves.

I’m still an introvert. I still have my awkward social moments. I still occasionally stutter.

But those things do not define me.

Long ago, I threw away the role “assigned” to me… and just created my own new one. Which allows me to do whatever needs doing to further my goals… including climbing up on stage alone and engaging a thousand people as a ringleader.

Life sucks when you’re crawling around under the weight of unnecessary self-loathing, self-pity and self-expectations you can never meet.

Life rocks when you re-cut the jigsaw of your personality, and make something new according to who YOU want to be.

Just food for thought.

Love to hear your experiences with self-defining moments.

It’s heartening to hear so many commenters in past blogs finally come to grips with internal battles they’ve sometimes struggled with for years.

Hey — it’s fun when this stuff starts working.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton
www.carltoncoaching.com

P.S. We are very close to finishing up a new venture here that — if you crave rollicking adventure in your business life — will absolutely light up many people’s worlds.

It’s a limited opportunity… but the folks who truly know, in your heart, that one of the spots was meant for you… will instantly understand what has to happen to get involved.

Just a few more days…

The Moment Your Life Changed Forever

Thursday, 9:35pm
Reno, NV
“Are you a good witch… or a bad witch?” Glenda, The Good Witch of North Oz

Howdy…

I’m hot on a deadline here, writing a new pitch (I’ll let you know when you’re allowed to hear it)…

… and, as always with selling crap…

… there comes a moment when the concept of “opportunity” must be broached.

Now, never mind the pitch. That’s something for another post.

However… it occurs to me that, as human beings, one of our primary relationships…

… is with opportunity.

How’s your relationship going?

There are good opportunities, and bad ones. They almost never reveal their true nature until long after they’ve passed, though, so you never quite know what you’re dealing with when you need to deal with it.

Thus, you are left with relying on your instincts.

And your instincts about opportunity will absolutely suck, unless you’ve been busy exercising them.

You do this by recognizing opportunity when it knocks… and reacting to the choices in front of you. As you gain experience, you will note (and you really should be taking lots of notes along the way, so you can study your results) that you’ve jumped on a few bad opportunities, which either didn’t pan out as expected, or led you someplace you didn’t want to be.

And there will be good opportunities you passed up for excellent (excellent!) reasons… which later turn out to exactly what you really did want after all.

And vice versa. And versa vice.

The first rule, of course, is to learn to recognize opportunity. It will almost never announce itself, while arriving with shocking irregularity and without any warning whatsoever.

The only way to prepare for it… is to engage it, in as many forms as possible, and hone your chops in dealing with it.

Everyone has an uncountable number of opportunities that present themselves each and every day. You know you’re dealing with a zombie when they tell you their lives are opportunity-starved. It simply isn’t true. (More painfully, if you sit back at this point and have to mentally squint to remember the last opportunity that tapped you on the shoulder… well, you done been zombified. Time to sit back more often, and reflect on what’s going on around you.)

Consider: Tomorrow morning, you have an opportunity to wake up an hour earlier, and start writing that novel that’s been burning up inside you for years. Or start excercising before you get to work, slough off some of that unwanted beef. Or spend the hour googling job offerings in Paris, while getting your resume in order.

Nothing’s stopping you. Those opportunities, and a bazillion more, hover just outside your grasp… available, ready to cooperate, plump with promise.

If you were but to grasp for them.

Or, you could wake up early — say, just before dawn — dress in black, drive downtown with a bunch of tools, and break into the bank. Or murder your business rival. Or set a building on fire.

You laugh?

Here in Reno, just in the past year or so, all of those opportunties occured to certain people, who gleefully jumped on them. (Among them were a multi-millionaire, a lady with multiple suitors, and a college student.) (Sounds like a Gilligan’s Island reunion, doesn’t it?)

There are good opportunities… and bad opportunities.

Now, most folks have a weak (at best) relationship with opportunity. They quickly lose sight of the role of “choice” in every action they take. Caught up in the panic, or the enthusiasm, or their own sense of inevitability (“I didn’t have a choice” is a common refrain), they abandon critical thought… and do some truly stupid shit.

Again — how’s your relationship with opportunity?

Copywriters know they’re supposed to mention opportunity in every sales pitch they create. But most of the time, it’s a desultory wave as they roar by the subject on the way to the close.

Yet, if you study salesmanship… you’ll see that even if the word itself is never mentioned… the concept of opportunity plays a huge role in the best and most effective pitches.

But hey — let’s forget about potential opportunities for right now. Never mind thinking about what might or could happen tomorrow.

Think, instead, about what has already happened in your life.

How has opportunity shaped who you are… and you aren’t today?

Pick any period of your life. There aren’t really any hard categories here. I often look back on my own life as being cataloged depending on which city I was living in at the time. But then, I’ve moved around a lot.

For you, a period may be nothing more than the standard “ages” — childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, etc. All the way to geezerhood.

What matters is that you remember, and consider, how your relationship with opportunity sent you off in one or another direction. You jumped on some, avoided others. Mangled many, smoothly surfed a precious few.

Like Sinatra, we all have regrets. Some more than others.

It’s relative, of course. I have vast numbers of regrets… but as a percentage of regret-versus-”glad I did it”, I’m way ahead.

And that’s because I had an opportunity, late in my teens, to sort of wake up and “see” how my choices were affecting my life’s direction.

The details of this are rather grisly: I was a passenger in an off-road jeep that rolled near the top of a very steep mountainside. Because I wasn’t strapped in, I was thrown clear — sort of, anyway. The jeep actually rolled over me, and the roll bar hit my head with enough force to shatter my glasses… but not crush my head. The driver was buckled in, and after rolling the length of three football fields down into a gulley, was minutes from dying when we finally reached him.

It was my first brush with death — both my own, and the passing of a friend.

The shock wore off right about when school started, a few weeks later. It was my senior year of high school, and I was slated to be a student body officer, and a low-ranking member of the football team. These “jobs” had seemed inevitable, because I had never considered the idea that I had chosen a path that included them.

I was a zombie. I felt like life was something that happened TO you. I honestly felt I had been assigned a role to play. Nothing had ever been stated outright — there was no overt pressure from anyone.

But simply considering — for the first time as a teenager — what I wanted to do, rather than what I believed was “expected” of me, changed my life forever.

I mean… I had been inches away from death just weeks before. Life suddenly took on new angles, as if the lights had been turned on suddenly.

I didn’t feel good drifting anymore. I wanted a say in how it played out.

I quit the team. Like a good wannabe athlete, I hadn’t allowed “quit” into my vocabulary before. I thought the stress of struggling to attain status among jocks was something I was supposed to want to do.

And I had no idea what the consequences of just quitting would be. I’d never known anyone who’d quit a team before. (Cut, sure… but never quit of their own free will.)

Yet, instead of lightning bolts from the sky, I felt this enormous relief wash over me.

I felt… there’s no other way to describe it… free. Free to make a choice, and live with the consequences.

Giddy with newfound power, I then blew off my “duties” as a student body officer. Hey — it was 1969, and there were more… pleasant… opportunities presenting themselves, if you know what I mean.

I had ended my junior year, just months prior, as one of the “nice” kids in school. Full of respect for authority, good grades, a solid citizen.

And then, three months into my senior year, I was publishing an underground newspaper that ridiculed and challenged school rules… got expelled for refusing to cut my hair… got jettisoned from the short list for homecoming king (and earned the wrath of the socially-blessed set) by not playing by the “rules” when I hooked up with one of the cheerleader-types… and (best of all) nearly got into a fist fight with one of the athletic department mucky-mucks.

The coach had hate in his eyes. He saw my rebellion as a personal affront. It got ugly, too. I was that-close to getting permanently expelled. (Which would have meant instantly being gobbled up by the draft board, and hustled over to Viet Nam.)

The disasterous date with the cheerleader should have been humiliating, under “normal” circumstances. Instead, somehow, I weathered it just fine.

There were too many other opportunities popping up, all over the place, to care about a public dissing, no matter how hot she was.

There were, in fact, hotter ones on the horizon. (Non-social types, too.)

Anyway…

Sorry for the lapse into personal stuff.

My point is that when you look back on your life, there will be moments that were like crossroads — you either went one way, or the other.

And the rest of your life floated on the consequences.

I regret much of the open rebellion I manifested during the two or three years it took for me to work out what was making me so pissed off at authority. (And regret can be a good thing, too — I long ago worked hard to re-earn the respect and love of the people who got caught in the whirlwind of my “Rebel Without A Cause” period. I had the opportunity to punt on the “face up to the damage” stuff, and decided instead to suck it up and make amends. That decision, too, shaped me greatly.)

But I do not regret for a second jumping on what I saw as my first opportunity to live life on my terms.

I was pathetically bad at it, at first. I broke hearts, I insulted people who were only doing their jobs, I taunted danger. I flamed out, spectacularly.

Looking back, it’s what I had to do to get on the path that eventually led me here.

And, as I said, in the final tally, I enjoyed many more “good” adventures and experiences than I did “bad” ones. I was like a bull in the china shop of life, but eventually I started to appreciate the artisty of good china.

I had many friends, however, who were appalled at my willingness to dive into every adventure that presented itself. Only much later did I realize that their relationship with opportunity was fearful and stubbornly rooted in the status quo.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Some of those guys are still friends. They don’t have a lot of stories to share about wrestling life into submission… but they’re good people.

The road less traveled is less traveled because it’s a hard trek.

If everyone jumped on every opportunity that peeked over their shoulder, the world would be total chaos. Somebody’s gotta drive the bus.

We all have a love/hate thing going with opportunity.

But the reason it resonates so powerfully in a good sales pitch… is that most people have never come to grips with their personal relationship with it.

I get to hang out with many of the top entrepreneur marketers online. And if you listen to their stories carefully, you’ll notice that their success started with a single, simple opportunity taken.

It might have been a book. Or a decision to attend a seminar. Or — no kidding — it might have been a simple decision to get up an hour earlier, and create their own opportunity by devoting some time to learning the ropes of self-employment.

Of course, the reason I know so many of these guys… is that I started teaching writing skills, and wrote “Kick Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel”, which fell into their hands at some point.

And I wrote that damn book by relying on my very polished relationship with opportunity to help me out. I was at a period in my career where I craved new challenges.

However, I also had an opportunity to go hang out in Holland for a long stretch at the same time.

Back when I had a haphazard acquaintance with opportunity, I would have been torn over those options — slave over writing a book on copywriting and marketing… or go soak up another culture, deeply? How the hell do you decide?

But I felt comfy with opportunity, after a lifetime of looking for it, entangling with it, and studying it.

And it was easy to choose between those options.

Easy.

Holland is still there, as is the rest of the world and all its wonders. And writing that book has allowed me to see much more of the world, than I would have without it.

Look back on your own life.

Spend a little time cataloging the moments that changed things forever for you. Not just the biggies, like divorce and getting drafted and earning your first bundle.

Much more critical are the opportunities that almost slipped by, and maybe went unnoticed even when you took advantage of them.

The little decisions. To do this, and not that anymore. To say yes, or no, with wildly diverging paths leading from each utterance.

Sometimes opportunity knocks.

And sometimes you roust it from the ether yourself, and create opportunity where none existed before.

We all have a relationship with opportunity. Good, bad or indifferent.

How’s yours?

Love to hear about one of the defining moments in your life.

Hearing how other people embrace, shun or just deal with opportunity is always a learning experience. The horror stories are often just as instructive as the happy endings.

The comment section is waiting for y’all…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Don’t forget that the notorious “Bag of Tricks” offering at www.marketingrebel.com is going away soon. (We had it slated for demolition around now, but it’s gotten a slight reprieve because the replacement package is still being edited.)

No penalty for jumping on that sweet offer now. You can always upgrade, for cheap.

The “Bag of Tricks” was just too generous.

But it IS an opportunity…

Jerks, Genius, and Juice

Monday, 9:43pm
Reno, NV
“I’ll tell you what matters most in life: @#&*, %&*#@, and #@%&*. And if there’s any money left after that, more @#&*.” The Big Ugly Guy

Howdy.

Let’s talk more about Halbert’s legacy, what d’ya say?

His name keeps cropping up, both in praise and in confusion.

I’m thinking this is gonna be the case for a long time to come, too. The guy both intrigued and mystified people. While he was still around, he didn’t need anyone to speak for him, because he loved to engage in dialog about his theories, his lessons, and his own legacy.

And once he had your phone number, you could expect frequent late-night calls on every important subject under the sun.

(One thing I’m fairly proud of is realizing, years ago, how valuable and precious those calls were. It was never lost on me that I was privy to the intimate thoughts and ruminations of a towering figure in the game.)

Now that he’s causing trouble in another realm somewhere, it’s fallen to his old pals to metaphorically watch Halbert’s back.

It’s an interesting situation. When I first began my career, advertising legends like Claude Hopkins and Robert Collier had fallen off the face of the earth. Their books were out-of-print, and if you mentioned their names — even in a hard-crowd of marketers — you’d get blank stares.

Life’s like that. Some of the greatest groups in rock (if you count influence as a sign of greatness) spent their entire existence in near-obscurity. (Good example is The Flying Burrito Bros. Founder Gram Parsons’ voice has buckled the knees of many a now-famous musician — U2′s “Joshua Tree” album is a tribute to the dude, just for starters — and he’s an honored guest in the Rock Hall of Fame. But they were pretty much ignored during their brief glory days. Same with Arthur Lee and his band Love. Yet… whenever I urge some young musician to seek this music out — and I’m not alone in doing this — the result is always the same: No one who finally discovers this stuff can understand why it’s been overlooked, and remains nearly hidden except for small pockets of rabid fans.)

When Gary and I first met, we bonded because we were like “advertising geeks” sharing a respect for the forgotten genius of guys who died before we were born.

When I found out he had a thrashed photocopy of The Robert Collier Letter Book… and was willing to let me copy it… it was like discovering buried treasure.

It’s kinda hard to understand, now that you can find copies of nearly everything ever published online. And a whole fresh generation of guru’s are making sure that their students, at least, don’t forget about the past again.

There’s juice in the old stuff. While most of the rest of the world sinks into myopic delusion (believing that nothing old can possibly have value), the savvy few know better.

And continue to profit from this vast stash of overlooked swag.

Anyway…

I refuse to look at Gary’s stuff as “old”. Some of his references are dated, sure — especially in the 20-year-old newsletters. His genius was forged in the gnarly and complex world of direct mail and direct response print ads.

And yet he was hip to the ways marketing was morphing online. No one would mistake him for a tech-geek, but he was pointing out profit opportunities on the Web right up to the end.

No moss growing on that boy.

And because the fundamentals will never change — it all comes down to killer salesmanship, whether you’re marketing online, in the mail, on TV, or bouncing signals off satellites for passing UFO’s — his teachings will never become obsolete. No matter how dated you find some of his references.

He remains a primary source of what I call “the good stuff”. Not a secondary source, but a PRIMARY one.

A whole bunch of the guru’s out there would be mute without Gary’s influence, inspiration, and specific teachings.

Nevertheless…

… virgin mobs of rookies are crowding into the online marketing game every day.

And their first obstacle is to wade through the bullshit out there… and find trustworthy resources for info, tactics, and tools. And there are endless minefields of misinformation, wrong directions, and evil intentions looking to suck them in.

I do not envy anyone arriving in the online marketing world without friends or at least a clue.

But I do try to steer as many as I can reach straight, whenever possible.

Last week, a rookie posted something interesting on Michel Fortin’s “Copywriter’s Board” (a free online gathering place for freelancers of all stripes and persuasions).

Title: “Are all copywriters jerks?”

The entire thread includes input from a lot of smart writers, and it’s a fun read.

Usually, I just lurk in those forums (cuz, you know, I’m a little pressed for time). But this “jerk” post was right in my wheelhouse — the subject was Gary’s writing “style” (and also mine and a few other guru’s) and how… offensive… it was.

The writer was genuinely disturbed by the attitude and tone of “this guy Halbert”. It was exactly the sort of post that Gary would have loved to respectfully engage with… and I figured I’d chime in, since he couldn’t.

Respectfully, but with a heavy emphasis on reality.

Not that Gary (or any of us) needs defending. We’re all happy to let our stuff speak for itself.

But something in my gut was telling me that newbies were not getting good introductions to some of “the good stuff”… and might wander away never giving it the chance it deserves.

So here’s my post in that thread, below.

It’s a message that may bear repeating a few times, as “ancient history” online increasingly gets defined as anything older than last week…

Here’s my post:

Hey –

I’ll have you know I’m not a jerk… I’m a curmudgeon.

Seriously, though, the posters here who mention the importance of “real world” knowledge about how biz gets done are right on. I know ALL the copywriters mentioned in this thread, on a personal level. And I’ll share a secret: Behind the scenes, it’s a locker room out there.

Top writers are nearly always wicked smart, and they devour life in large chunks.

They have no fear of any subject… and (key point here) they respect language in all forms. Especially slang and the way people actually speak to each other.

Still, I totally understand why some folks think many of us cross a line with our ribald writing and outrageous public attitudes.

However, none of us do it just for shock value. In fact, my SOP is to emphasize to fresh prospects that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, and I mean it. We never schedule consultations with anyone who isn’t hip to my teaching tactics (which are, admittedly, brutal and in-your-face). You gotta walk in with your eyes wide open. (You’re allowed to blush, but we’ll be merciless regardless.)

Halbert, in fact, has a very specific warning on the first page of his website. I won’t quote it here, cuz I don’t to give anyone a conniption fit. But it’s VERY specific.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with demanding a certain behavior code from the people you learn from.

There’s also absolutely nothing wrong with putting up an “adults only” sign, and getting on with things in an aggressive, , uncensored, no-holds-barred way.

Choose your poison.

And be happy in your work.

God bless the First Amendment.

John Carlton

PS: When I write for joints like Rodale, BTW, I am Mr. Nice Guy to a nauseating degree. That’s because my copy has to reach an almost ridiculously large audience… and you’re right to believe that, once you’re outside specific niches with identifiable language preferences, the Zeitgeist tends to skew socially conservative. (It’s like network TV versus cable.)

In the pieces I’ve done for Rodale in the “sex info” market, I believe I dance around the inherent voyeuristic and naughty details in a way that sneaks past people’s internal censors with the best of them.

Let me tell ya, that is tough to pull off, too. You must have total command of the language… combined with a street-level savvy of buyer psychology. (And yes, the majority of these “better sex” DVDs go to your neighbors, co-workers, and other people who are completely and boringly normal.)

Another interesting fact: Halbert’s most famous ads are also squeaky clean, language-wise. Do not confuse his newsletters — a teaching vehicle to hard-core business people — with his ads aimede at buying audiences. Very different animals.

Our first seminars together were also models of propiety and professionalism. Miss Manners would have been proud. (Later on, we got a little raunchy, of course. Attendees loved it, demanded more of it, and wore their experience like a badge of honor.)

The great revolution in teaching now playing out has centered around the idea of offering people (who self-select themselves, voluntarily) the opportunity to see behind the curtain… and experience how business actually gets done. For folks without access to real back rooms, this is a priceless glimpse into the world of movers and shakers. Putting up with a little bad-boy behavior seems, to me, to be a small price to pay for such a valuable resource.

Over my career, I’ve encountered countless business situations where we had to wait for the fussy folks to leave the room before we could get down to the “real” business at hand.

Yes, it can be shocking to move beyond surface-level observations of how people behave, especially in positions of authority and responsibility.

It’s also the only way to learn how things get done. (Listen to the Nixon tapes from the White House to get a taste of how people in power talk about you when they don’t think you’re in earshot.)

Final observation I’ll share here: Some of rowdiest and most obscene-joke-loving business people I’ve ever encountered… were self-identified as strictly religious, hard-core conservatives.

My first experiences with “back room” business kinda shocked me, too. Soon, though, I learned to love it. It’s not a place for idealists or party poopers. But for writers who crave action and adventure and fun, it’s the only game in town.

Anyway, just thought I’d pass on my insights from the front lines.

Again — everyone is COMPLETELY justified in setting limits and boundaries. And there are lots of markets where rough-and-tumble attitudes don’t cut it. You don’t have to hang out with anyone you consider a jerk, ever.

That’s what’s great about this brave new online world: There’s a place for everyone.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

Okay, we’re back to the blog here, and I’m signing off.

P.S. By the way… we got our Yankee tickets for New York. I can’t wait.

Also: When I get back from this crazy trip that starts next week (Vegas with the Walkers, South Carolina for Ron LeGrand’s seminar — which is shaping up to be THE event of the summer — and then our Hot Seat “flash mob” in NYC) we’ll be scheduling consultations for the rest of the season.

We’ve been putting people on “hold”, because our schedule has been so nuts… but we’ve got a handle on it now, and if you want to explore getting private “hands on” consulting from me (or, even better, me and Stan in tandem), pop over to www.carltoncoaching.com and get busy.

There are VERY few spots open for the “Launching Pad” option. Get in touch with my assistant Diane if you’re finally ready to make your move…


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