“I’m a long gone daddy in the USA…” (Bruce.)
For most folks in America, July 4th is about picnics, blowing shit up, and toasting the gutsy nature of our country.
Born in defiance and battle, prickly and belligerent and idealistic, with built-in endless (and often absurd) political arguments…
… we’ve somehow made the grand experiment last a couple of centuries and a half.
For me, though, the real victory of the joint isn’t in the details of elections or legislation, or the question of how exceptional we are or aren’t as a culture.
Nope. My own pursuit of life and liberty has always balanced on the First Amendment…
… particularly the parts about freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
That’s the beating heart of this place. That’s the saving grace.
For every writer here… novelist, copywriter, journalist, blogger or disgruntled “letter to the editor” ranter…
… there is a long, gruesome pedigree of ancestor writers who were prosecuted or erased or bullied into silence, stretching back as far as history goes.
We’re so spoiled here with freedom of speech, that many naively believe it’s an essential privilege that, of course, is the rule and not the exception.
Yet, the opposite is true.
It’s time for another orgy of graduation rites across the land…
… and, in honor of it all, I am re-posting my now globally-notorious big damn rant on the subject. This was one of the more popular posts I’ve written, so it deserves an annual rediscovery.
So, without further ado… here’s the sixth redux of that post:
Nobody’s ever asked me to give the commencement speech for a graduating class.
That’s probably a good thing. I’m pretty pissed off at the education system these days, and I might cause a small riot with the rant I’d surely deliver.
See, I have a university “education”. A BA in psychology. (The BA stands for, I believe, “bullshit amassed”.) I earned it several decades ago…
… and while I had a good time in college (height of the sex revolution, you know, with a soundtrack that is now called “classic rock”), made some lifelong friends, and got a good look at higher learning from the inside…
… that degree provided zilch preparation for the real world. Didn’t beef me up for any job, didn’t give me insight to how things worked, didn’t do squat for me as an adult.
I waltzed off-campus and straight into the teeth of the worst recession since the Great Depression (offering us Nixon’s wage-freeze, record unemployment, an oil embargo, and near-total economic turmoil)…
… so, hey, I should have a little empathy for today’s grads, right?
While today’s graduates are facing similar grim economic times, there’s been a significant change in the concept behind a college education. Somehow, over the years, a bizarre mantra has taken hold in kids minds: “Get a degree, and it’s a ticket to the Good Life.”
A job is expected to be offered to you before the ink is dry on your diploma.
And it really, really matters WHICH school you get that diploma from.
You know what I say?
“Nothing is impossible for a man who refuses to listen to reason.” (Gary Halbert)
I learned a lot from Gary Halbert, but the lesson that most affected my life had nothing to do with copywriting.
Rather, it was about living well.
I began my freelance copywriting career back in the “dark ages” of the mid-eighties, when direct response advertising had gone out of fashion and there were just a handful of us “true believers” in the game, devouring the ancient (and often out-of-print) books on advertising while doing the hard work of becoming masters at old school salesmanship…
… so we could relentlessly obliterate our clueless competition in every market we went after.
I was fortunate to live in Los Angeles at the time… because multiple large agencies had just opened up branches there and were starved for competent copywriters. I quickly became the guy the creative directors snuck in the back door to do the work their house staff couldn’t pull off (because none of them studied the craft).
Then the large mailers back east caught wind of my work, and I found myself moving in the “A List” crowd of now-legendary copywriters like Gary Bencivenga and Jim Rutz (who I ghost-wrote for).
However, the corporate world bored me to tears. It was primarily financial and health newsletters with the large mailers, and insurance and equipment sales with the agencies. Yawn.
That’s when I met Gary, at Jay Abraham’s house. He was the most arrogant, vain and outrageous person I’d ever met in the business world…
… and I liked him immediately.
“Do the least damage possible to the client.” (Me.)
Recently, a good pal (and damn fine copywriter) had a bit of a meltdown…
… because Life inserted some truly cruel and unusual shit into his day, and he was in danger of missing a deadline. (That’s a photo of a deadline, above. Nasty thing.)
This is a no-no among most top professionals of all persuasions. You don’t miss deadlines.
People are counting on you. As a freelancer, entire businesses may be counting on you.
Back when I wrote for the largest direct mailing outfits in the world, a missed deadline might mean tens of thousands of bucks wasted, as printing presses sat idle. If my piece was meant for a print ad, even more money could potentially go down the tubes — my deadline was attached to a publication deadline, and no magazine or newspaper waits for you to get your shit together.
You don’t get your ad in on time, you don’t go into the publication. And you still have to pay (at least a penalty, and maybe the whole ad cost).
It’s serious stuff.
… because we’re all humans living in an essentially hostile world (full of danger, unpredictable risks, and lots of other gruesome horrors)…
… you need a plan.
A plan for that day (which hopefully never comes) when… shudder… you may be forced to miss a deadline.
My colleague is a true pro. He understands that clients and printing presses and budgets and biz plans are counting on him to meet his deadlines…
… and over a decade as a freelance copywriter, has never to my knowledge missed one.
And yet, here he was…
… cornered by Life, and needing some advice on what to do.
So, I whipped out a short list of options.
And it was so good, I thought I’d share it here.
For you to use NEVER… unless there is absolutely no other choice.
So, ONLY for your deep Bag O’ Tricks-Maybe-Needed-Down-The-Line (and never for regular use), here’s that advice:
How to get out of a deadline…
… when you absolutely have to (cuz you’re faint from loss of blood, or space aliens kept you locked up all night doing anal probes, or your eyes fell out…
… which, by the way, are the ONLY real excuses a true professional would ever let get in the way of a deadline. Other than life-or-death emergencies.)
Let’s begin with the stark fact that I, for one, have never missed a deadline. Never. In a 30-year writing career.
A few colleagues have expressed shock over that. Cuz, from the complaints I’ve fielded over the years about my cohorts, the average copywriter misses approximately half his deadlines. From rookie to top dog. It’s appalling.
But it also opens up a huge opportunity for writers who want to stand out (as all the “A Listers” do). One of the reasons I earned the global reputation I enjoy, in fact… is by meeting my deadlines.
Deadlines are sacred. I made a vow early in my career, “biz before pleasure”, and I stuck to it.
Without that attitude, I would be just another run-of-the-mill copywriter. No fame. No fortune. Not worth much.
In fact, the whole notion of meeting ALL your deadlines caused me to create what I call “The Professional’s Code”. It’s good for anyone in any kind of job where people count on you.
Here’s that code: You are where you said you’d be… when you said you’d be there… having done what you said you’d do.
It’s just that simple. In biz, romance, hobbies, getting your hair cut, everything you do… you follow the code.
If you crave the respect (and rewards) of BEING a true pro…
… you move heaven and earth to make this code REAL in your life.
You become That Guy who can be counted on. Who follows through. Who you can trust with your life. Or the life of your business.
… nevertheless, there may come a time in your career when life interferes so drastically…
… that you are forced to miss a deadline.
If that happens, here are your options:
Option #1: Arrange for an extension. You do not reveal details of your emergency. You’re not looking for sympathy. You’re a professional who is admitting that you cannot meet the current deadline…
… and something else needs to be arranged.
If they refuse your request for an extension, then: (a) return whatever fee you’ve already been paid, and deal with the professional shame of missing a deadline…
… or (b) hand in whatever you’ve completed up to this moment (if it’s even close to being what the client needs)…
… or (c) combine (a) and (b).
You may lose the client if what you give them isn’t something they can use… but then, who needs clients who don’t respect the fact that — once in a while — life hands you a bummer? (And, to be fair, what client needs a writer who misses deadlines?)
This is assuming you haven’t made a habit of missing deadlines. You may have earned some slack, IF your rep is clean up to now.
If missing the deadline causes a huge problem for the client, then your reputation has taken a massive hit…
… and your job, for the next few years, will be to try to repair your reputation. It will be hard. And dependent on you never missing another deadline.
If you take the hit, face up to it. It’s a setback. You’ll have to work to fix it.
It is what is. (Good Zen advice for living imperfectly in a rough world.)
Getting an extension is the best possible option.
But it only works if it works for your client, too.
If you must face the reality that you will not meet the deadline…
… then own up to it as soon as possible. Do not try to keep a fee you haven’t earned.
And — most important — do not vanish on the client.
The WORST thing you can do is go radio silent, leaving your client in the dark… just because you’re too embarrassed to admit you’re missing a deadline.
This compounds the error, essentially tossing your reputation into the toilet.
Own up to the situation. Again, you do not need to share details — what’s important to the client is not what’s happening to you, but what’s to become of his campaign. He paid you to do a job, and you’re not doing it. There are no “good” excuses for missing a deadline…
… but there are missed deadlines, even the most perfect of worlds.
Option #2: Gear up, do the best job possible in the time you can give to the gig, working overnight if you must, and meet the deadline with something resembling a complete ad. Meet the deadline despite the crises.
Schedule time to get at least some sleep, and to deal with the interfering emergency…
… but give the rest of your available time to the job. Make it happen.
I’ve even resorted to jamming out an ad in a couple of hours, to meet a deadline. Normally, I want weeks to carefully craft an ad… to research it, edit it, come up with multiple headlines, carefully craft the whole thing. However, I’m also capable of writing quickly, without the days of obsession and editing.
I prefer to have time to do it right.
But when time is not available, I do the best job I can inside of the small block of time I do have.
When you jam stuff out… what you end up with is what it is.
Just know that a top writer working at 70% is worth a lesser writer at peak output — which means, if you’re a veteran writer, this rushing to meet the deadline at the last minute can still produce “good enough” copy.
If you’re not a veteran writer… then you’ve got to make the call: Can you craft a complete ad — even an inferior one — in the time you do have available?
If you can’t, then this isn’t a good option for you.
Side note: The great Gary Halbert used to routinely finish ads, writing by hand on a legal pad, in the passenger seat of a car speeding to the client’s office. I’ve written speeches in the airplane, flying to the event I’d be speaking at. I know writers who’ve recorded themselves talking out copy while in the shower, and editing the transcription in the lobby of the client’s biz.
And I’ve written ads (and made major biz decisions on the phone) in hospitals, taking a break from attending to the loved one I was there to see. I never neglected my duties as part of the support team. But there was always time to break away for 20 minutes or an hour (when they were sleeping).
You do NOT need your usual “safe space” to create good copy, once you become a true professional. You use what you have.
Especially today, with modern technology. I’ve written ads on my iPhone, typing with thumbs.
Option #3: If you have even a day to spare, hire a ghost writer, and meet the deadline.
If the emergency forcing you to miss the deadline is also taking you away from your ability to do ANY work at all…
… but there is still time for SOMEONE to do it…
… then this is the best option.
Early in my career, I worked for copywriting legends like Jim Rutz (inventor of the magalog), Jay Abraham and Gary Halbert in these exact situations. Sometimes, even for my very first jobs with them…
… so we had no history, and they had no idea of I could deliver quality or not. But they hired me, because I was willing to throw myself into the fire, work all night (for several nights, if needed), and move heaven and earth to help them meet their sacred deadline. And they’d heard from other marketers that I met my deadlines…
… even when they were unreasonably short.
It was a great way to kickstart my reputation as a writer you could count on. And it got me inside their operations, where I soon held high-status positions.
If you need to hire a ghost writer, hit up your network and pay what you need to pay to meet the deadline. It might be all of your fee…
… which is acceptable, because this is an emergency situation.
Oh, wait. You don’t have a network yet?
Well, why not?
One of your priorities in life should be to cultivate and nurture a network of colleagues who are in your biz. If you’re a writer, then that network should be full of your writing peers — the sort of professionals you can hit up when you’re forced to hire a ghost writer.
And those are your options.
Bottom line: Do not be bullied or guilt-tripped by the client — for your own peace of mind. Rest on your laurels if you have to — if your reputation is clean (because you’ve made meeting deadlines a professional habit), then this one time missing a deadline or returning the fee won’t harm you much.
Recite: “It is what it is. Under normal conditions, meeting this deadline wouldn’t be an issue. It is an issue, however, this time.”
Then make your decision on the best option, and engage the client in conversation if you’re backing out of the gig. The sooner he knows, the more he can mitigate the problems you’ve caused.
Seek the least damage to the client.
Side note: The best way to AVOID this travesty, of course, is to avoid agreeing to hard deadlines in the first place. Smart clients pad their deadlines, so they’re not actually “hard”, in the sense that missing it creates a disaster.
A “soft” deadline means there is still time after you turn in your manuscript before the ad runs, or gets printed, or the project starts. You’re not turning in your copy the day before the launch or the print date.
That doesn’t mean you can miss soft deadlines with impunity, though. The extra time is usually reserved for your copy being reviewed, fact-checked, and proofed. All very necessary stuff.
Top pro’s who’ve had experiences with deadlines prefer this arrangement. If there’s a problem — especially one in miscommunication between client and writer (including bad info, incorrect facts, and totally misunderstanding some essential part) — it can be caught early, during one of the multiple soft deadlines in the funnel.
It gets complicated, when writers don’t want early drafts of their work seen by the client. I certainly do not want this.
However, it’s very smart to insert soft deadlines where the client must get all info to you (so you can start writing)… where all facts (from phone numbers to links to research info) are double-checked… and where you float your hook (especially if it’s outrageous) or sale-closing angles (including guarantees).
This saves everyone a lot of problems.
It also forces the writer not to wait until the last minute to start writing (which is why sudden emergencies cause such havoc). If you’ve got all the info double-checked, and you’re sure of the facts you’re working with, AND you’ve cleared your hook with the client…
… then having to finish up in a hurry (when unexpected shit hits your fan) becomes much, much easier.
Top writers know how to navigate life and business at a level far above how regular civilians operate.
Because people are counting on you.
Hope this helps.
P.S. Want more good advice like this, specifically for copywriters and consultants?
The “Freelance Course” is crammed with it.
Go here to check it out.
Many top working writers used this course to break away from the pack, and start earning the Big Bucks as their reputation grew by leaps and bounds.
Take your career seriously. This is a great place to start.
12:37pm, Christmas Day
“You’ll shoot your eye out!” (Ralphie’s Mom, “A Christmas Story”)
Hope you’re having a great holiday, and all your dreams have come true.
If you’re here after grabbing your FREE copy of the book that Dean Jackson and I just released, welcome. Our gift to you took just 90 minutes to create, per Dean’s brilliant “90-Minute Book” magic. Well, 90 minutes, plus the four years since I first proposed the book to Dean…
… but since we dawdled away those years never actually writing any of it, this sudden burst of creativity for 90 minutes actually represents a Christmas miracle.
I’m stunned we got it out.
Sure, it’s in need of some editing, which we’ll do later (when the book is sold on Amazon), because it’s a transcription, and my brain-to-mouth process works much differently than my usual brain-to-keyboard process. But for now, today at least, this somewhat raw first edition is your free gift from us.
Get your free copy at www.3or4problems.com… if you missed the announcement of it on Facebook last night.
And welcome to the blog. Be sure to sign up for alerts, top right. Right there. No, your other right. Yeah, right there, inside the little box. Just type in your email address — the good one you always check, not the fake oaddresse you use to throw folks off your trail. You want to hear from me. I won’t deluge you with email, and I swear you’ll love every message you do get from me. (I’ll never share it, either.)
PLUS — you get a cool free special report when you sign up, jammed with info you can put to use right away to make yourself and your biz glow with profits. Yet another freebie gift for you. The goodies are just piling up.
There are tons of great posts for you here on the blog — over a decade’s worth of advice, tips, strategies, insight and pro-level marketing secrets… all in the archives. Which you can access in the lower right column. Yes, just below where you left your email address.
Also, check out the books I offer, the great deals on the courses, all of it.
Oh, and just for now, I’ve slashed my normal Skype consults (where I personally solve your entrepreneurial biz problems, and even critique your copy if you want, in real time, digitally face-to-face). Right now, you can get a full-on consult for $999 — which includes your hour on Skype with me, personally, plus an email exchange for anything you want me to look at. I normally charge $2,500 for these. But I’m feeling the holiday spirit, big time.
To get the details, just email my assistant Diane at email@example.com. Write “I want to know how to get a personal consult with John” in the subject line. We’ll get right back to you with the details. And get you on the schedule fast.
The new year is right around the corner. How rich and happy you get over the course of 2017 depends on how you approach the opportunities and problems you have in front of you now.
One of the best ways to kick it up a notch is to get your sticking points unstuck, your problems solved, and your plan for the year double-checked by a respected, well-known pro. I’ve been doing this stuff for over 30 years now, and the list of folks who owe their wealth and happiness to me is long (and full of some very famous people).
But enough of that.
If you’re ready to goose your fortunes for the coming year, great. I can help you in ways you can barely imagine right now.
Today, just enjoy your Christmas gift from Dean and me.
Hope you and yours are having a great day.
“Let’s make the most of every second we can borrow…” (“Let It Ride”, BTO)
I was going through the archives here, found this bitchin’ post from last September…
… and decided to re-post it. Cuz it’s so good.
Reality checks have been a major tool in my life and career. And believe me, I’ve needed every single one. I started out so clueless, so lost, so desperate for guidance, that my head was filled with all kinds of muddy thinking and dumb-ass notions.
So, if you’re game, here’s a few of the best I’ve gone through myself.
Here’s the post:
Almost everything you encounter today is conspiring to waste your time. Lots of it. Most of it, in fact.
For eons, the distractions of life were put on hold by the sheer requirements of subsistence living. The party animals starved when winter hit.
So we gathered in villages in order to share the burdens of eating every day. There was a time to sow, a time to reap, and so on. The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker started specializing, so the rancher, the farmer and the night owls could get on with their end of the game.
Complications were instantaneous, of course. Humans are hard-wired to screw things up, especially once we get into a good groove. (The Primary Rule Of Entrepreneurship, which should never be forgotten, is: The first thing most entrepreneurs do, once they’re successful with a simple idea they’ve turned into a biz, is try to complicate the shit out of it. And ruin it. It’s unconscious, because their lizard brain can’t stand the drudgery of management, and craves the excitement of new ventures. I’ve seen this rule demolish more success arcs than divorce, embezzlement and incompetence combined.)
So, over the long arc of history, the smart alecks started figuring ways to have others do the hard work for them… allowing them more leisure time. Becoming royalty was a good way to get out of the unpleasantly-sweaty parts of life. Concocting empires and war (from afar) was an excellent way to amass wealth and power… which translated to lots of servants, soldiers and lackeys scurrying around doing your bidding. It’s the ultimate con game.
And, voila! Boredom was invented.
Too much time, too little to do.
It’s pretty much a given that most folks, stripped of fulfilling duty, will find a way to wile away the time. Prisoners dig tunnels, trophy spouses shop and have affairs, bosses gamble away the payroll, students hack into Pentagon computers, and so on. We’re just busy little beavers when we latch onto something to do.
In the modern world (and I hope you’ve noticed) the “what to do with your free time” trends have been heavy on entertainment, though, and a little weak on substance.
And, from this old codger’s perspective (after many, many trips around the block)… most folks are squandering a truly great life, by going after what they’ve been sold as a “good” life.
And I say this as one of the guys who has helped feed this travesty, though excellent advertising.
Thus, it may be time for a little Reality Check session here.
On how not to waste your life chasing bullshit.
Reality Check #1: You only get one ticket for a life. There is no “do over” button, no replays, and no options on more game time.
Sure, I know you know this. Like, duh, right?
So why are you living as if you had unlimited time to waste? You’re treating your life the same way you treat your lack of exercise, your refusal to quit bad habits, your putting off of all that critical stuff you need to get after.
Oh, I know. Eventually, you’ll get around to it. Yeah, life’s short, whatever. You’re not gonna die in the next couple of months, at least, so why freak out over missing opportunities and all that crap?
Here’s where your own bullshit blinds you: Your “real” life doesn’t start down the line, after you’ve accomplished that thing you’re putting off. The college degree, the marriage to a hot mate, the new car, the new haircut, the signing of your band… none of that “starts” your life.
No, your life is going on RIGHT FREAKING NOW. Who you are today is pretty much the foundation of who’ll you be tomorrow, even if you win the lottery and can tell your boss to shove it.
And if winning the lottery is your entire plan for a better life, then you’re deep in the dreaded Delusional Swamp. Time to start wading back to dry land, and re-establish a relationship with the reality of your situation.
Reality Check #2: If you don’t change anything, then the next 5 years are probably going to look pretty much like the last 5 years.
And if that makes your skin crawl, then you must face up to a brutal fact of life: If anything is going to change, you’re gonna have to take responsibility for it.
Hey, I’ve known people who were wrenched from their life, drafted into the Army, and shoved into foreign cultures and terrifying situations rife with challenges to their belief systems.
And they came back pretty much the same person. They were so set in “who they were”, that new experiences just bounced off without much effect. They returned to the same job, same neighborhood, same desires.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. If that’s what you want.
However, as a consultant and coach, I don’t usually encounter folks who are ecstatic with the way their lives are going.
No. The folks I deal with have made the fateful decision to CHANGE. They’re open to it, they crave it, they’re willing (they hope) to suffer to attain their goals.
They just need a little help doing it right.
To change, you have to actually draw a line in the sand. Up to this second, I was this person. From now forward, I am going to change the way I do things.
You can’t just promise to do this, by the way. Nope. You gotta form some goals to aim for, and implement your plan to go after them. You gotta make a (probably long) list of the attributes you need to nurture or create… like discipline, dedication, firm resolve, follow-through, and a professional’s code of behavior (“You show up where you said you’d be, when you said you’d be there, having done what you said you’d do… every time, with no excuses allowed.”).
If you need help, you find it and start implementing what you learn. Mentors, coaching, courses, whatever it takes to get you past your sticking points.
If you need to get the biz working, you start today. Not tomorrow. Today. You set up a schedule and a plan, and you follow it. Even when you’re tired, even when there’s SO MUCH ELSE you’d rather do, even when you have to say “nope” to fun.
In fact, “fun” becomes a reward, not a primary pursuit. The old adage “business before pleasure” is the precursor to “work hard, play hard”. We’ve lost that sense of proportion, as a culture. Too many folks just want to play hard… and maybe squeeze in a little duty on the side.
And success doesn’t function like that. Fucking around is the way you eventually fuck up. (And I say this as a primo fuck up, for much of my pre-career life. I know how fuck-ups operate, the ways they spin excuses and avoid responsibility for mucking things over. I was a master at it. And I had to murder that part of me in order to move forward.)
Today, I have as much fun in my life as I do hard work. But the work is fulfilling, and the fun feeds my soul. And vice versa.
I got to this point by sacrificing long-held beliefs about what I was capable of, what the world would “allow” me to do, and how far I could push into unchartered territory when I set my mind to it.
Reality Check #3: … most of your limitations in life are self-inflicted.
And a lot of it has to do with time. As in, how you spend it.
My line in the sand was drawn one evening while I was sleeping on a friend’s couch, homeless after losing my job, girlfriend and place to live all in a short span. I had driven around the west coast for several months, aimless, clueless and directionless, hoping for some kind of sign on what my next move was going to be.
No sign arrived. What did arrive was a rather abrupt realization that I was standing in my own way. My entire life to that point was full of scattershot, ill-thought-out decisions that happened only when I was forced to choose or suffer another catastrophe. It occurred to me, that fateful evening, that maybe I should start considering my decisions more carefully. And add some actual data and info.
It was a start. I knew that just deciding to be decisive was worthless without good reasons to follow up on a decision. Being decisive, in and of itself, isn’t a good thing. It just means you act quickly. Thinking through the consequences, and including a little research, suddenly meant my decisions had some teeth.
No longer was it “what the hell, let’s do this and see what happens”. Suddenly (literally overnight) it was “let’s examine the options here, and make the call based on something more than just a hunch.”
That meant changing a lot of my habits. I love science fiction, and always had a novel with me. However, during this period of decision-making, I needed to put the sci-fi on the back burner for a while, and read up on stuff like biz, advertising, marketing, salesmanship, and all the other skills and tactics I might need to explore in a freelance career. (Remember: I’d never met a freelancer before I became one, and had only a vague idea of what they did. There were no books on freelancing at the time, no mentors, no seminars, no nothing. I’d have to wing it… but I was still going to put as much info on my side as possible before wandering out there in the cruel advertising world.)
In a very short time — because I was obsessed with this “remake my bad self into something productive” project — I read nearly everything in the library on these subjects. Raced through an Evelyn Woods speed-reading course, figured out I had just enough money to keep me from starving for a few weeks, and dove in. No distractions. Business before pleasure became my mantra, and because I’d drawn that line in the sand, there was not gonna be much pleasure while I loaded up my brain with relevant stuff.
No TV. No visits to the pub. (They wondered where I was.) No long romantic calls with old girlfriends, trying to stir up a little action. No nothing. For a few weeks, I was a monk.
And holy shit, did I ever get stuff done.
The punch line to this story is that, on my very first interview with an ad agency for some freelance work, I walked in thinking my weeks of research had maybe prepared me to not sound like an idiot. However, what I discovered is that I knew much, much more about the history, application and use of advertising and marketing than any of the full-time professionals at the agency. My research made me a freakin’ Ph.D. in the subject, better-read than even the creative director.
They were impressed, and I got the job. I was stunned, and took their fee in a daze. How the hell do you work at an agency, and NOT know about John Caples’ groundbreaking ads from the sixties, Claude Hopkins’ revolutionary work in the 1920s, and all the current heroes of direct response in the print and broadcast games?
So, yes, you cynical jerks out there. The library is your friend, just like Miss Adams told you in the third grade. Knowledge is king. Accessing resources, like libraries or Google or experts (especially experts), gives you an edge… and no matter how “naturally” gifted the next writer you go against may be, you’ll still scorch him with better research every time. Every. Time.
Which, of course, brings us back to time.
How are you spending your time?
If you’re not where you want to be in life… and you’re watching ANY TV at all during the week… then you’re a fucking moron. Sorry, but that’s the truth.
If you’re still partying like a college boy (or girl), you’re the reason you’re not succeeding yet.
And if you aren’t topping off your brain-tank with info, knowledge, skill sets, and insights… relentlessly and with clear goals on how to use all this stuff… then maybe it’s time to just admit you’re not cut out for a successful life.
No shame in that. The world needs ditch diggers, too, just as Judge Smails said. (Caddy Shack. No need to Google it.)
… if you DO crave success, then start with your own bad self. Do a reality-based checkup on how serious you are about moving up a level or two. Are there good biz books on your shelf, sitting there all lonely and forgotten, that you should be reading? Are you still following 3 different sports every season, spending more time on the sports pages than the financial section? Do you have people in your world you haven’t bothered to bond with, cuz it’s “too hard”, and thus you aren’t reaping the benefits of networking? Are you ignoring the opportunities spread out before you?
Are you, in short, still kinda believing that someday, maybe soon, magic will happen and your “real life” will begin in earnest?
You know, like when you were 8 years old and still believed in Santa? (Spoiler Alert: He ain’t real.)
There is plenty of time in your future for binge-watching The Walking Dead… drinking yourself into misadventures with your wayward pals… obsessing on your fantasy leagues… and chasing Susie Q around. No career requires total immersion for the rest of your life.
Still, until you get up to speed, and kickstart your new life as a knowledgeable, decisive, skilled and effective professional…
… time is your main resource. You hold yourself back by squandering it. You want someone to blame for the shitstorms swirling around your head? It’s you.
There. Settled that.
Now, it’s time for assessing your current state — what skills you lack, what attributes you need to adopt, what vacuums exist between your ears that need to be filled with good stuff.
You’ll be astonished what you can put together in just a few weeks. Yes, your buddies at the pub and everyone in your fantasy league will hate you for abandoning them (not to mention Susie Q, wondering why you aren’t harassing her anymore). Don’t look to them for support — they want you to fail, so your “old self” will come back and stop making them feel bad about being unsuccessful themselves. (And, in truth, they’ll get over it when you finally break through your limitations, and start proudly calling you “the guy who got it done”.) (Though, they’ll still try to force Jello-shots on you every time you visit.)
You think you got oodles of it.
Growing up and putting aside the time-wasting pleasures of your youth is just another stage. Doesn’t mean the next stage won’t be even more exciting, entertaining and full of adventures. It’ll just be different.
Okay, scolding over.
What time is it, anyway?
P.S. And when you’re ready to start finding and exploiting the expert-level resources around you…
… there’s no better place to start than the Marketing Rebel Insider’s Club. It’s the one online joint where you can access most of the best material I’ve ever created to help entrepreneurs and copywriters.
It’s a one-stop resource where you can get fast expert feedback on any biz, marketing or advertising question you have…
… including the opportunity for ad critiques from me, personally (in the Marketing Brain Cleanse show I host on the site with my longtime biz partner Stan Dahl).
And, I maintain an active online “office” there, where I interact with folks regularly. With specific advice on sales funnels, career moves, and the problems holding you up. It’s like having a direct line to me and the support staff.
Plus, I’ve stashed my entire “swipe file” of ads there (they’re on constant rotation) – which include my commentary and side notes on why they worked (and how to use them as a template for your own ads). Along with the notorious interview series I did with my colleagues like Gary Halbert and Dan Kennedy, and my breakthrough email marketing course…
… and a ton more. It’s a huge payload of courses, coaching and shortcuts I’ve created to boost the bottom line for entrepreneurs and freelancers. Augmented with a full-time team of experts in the tech, strategies, tools and advice that’s working now in the fast-changing biz world out there.
What’s more, it’s a ridiculous bargain to get immediate access to everything. You’ve spent more on lunch.
Go here to see if this honest “insider’s” resource is for you. It’ll take you less than 3 minutes to understand the full impact of this awesome site.
And I’ll see you there.
The completely updated — and packed with new features and info and bonuses — Simple Writing System program is now available.
And I’m personally teaching the first session. I taught the very first class, which was live (and put on video, which became the core of the original course). This is the first time I’ve taught one of the online classes, however.
Why? Because we’ve had no shortage of “A List” copywriter legends asking to teach the SWS sessions we’ve hosted for over 8 years now. I oversaw the programs, and backed up the teachers… but I never handled an entire class myself.
Now, after spending all of January re-shooting the SWS… and stuffing it with every new thing and update we’ve learned in those 8 years… we’re ready to release the SWS 2.0.
And I want to teach the very first class.
This means you’ll get my full attention, as a mentor and coach, for the entire 8 weeks of the program. I’ll be your personal teacher…
… just me and you and a handful of other classmates.
I rarely do mentoring anymore, and when I do it’s outrageously expensive. Here, you get me for just the price of this one-time special session. Which is around two entire months long.
You get a lot more, too…
… and I’ve explained everything on the main SWS site: www.simplewritingsystem.com.
Go there now, and take 5 minutes to read up on this very awesome, very limited one-time offer.
I’m inviting you in. But you have to follow through, and sign up. Compared to what full-price coaching from me directly costs, this is a drop-dead bargain.
Don’t let this opportunity slip by.
I’ll see you in class.
“I love, I love, I love my calendar girl…” (icky pop song from last century)
Every December, I like to root through my Facebook posts for the ones that triggered high readership (or pissed people off) and got a slew of responses.
I had a good time in social media this year, I will not lie to you. It was a raucous blast interacting with the 5,000 “friends” and 3,900 followers to my Facebook page. (I’ve quit Twitter, mostly — the longer posts available on FB fit my style better… and, anyway, Twitter mostly sucks.)
I hope you’re one of the folks I get to hear from and interact with on social media. You whacky person, you. If not, follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/john.carlton. And keep this blog bookmarked.
Below, I’ve assembled a nice little “taste” of what I like to post over on Zuckerberg’s world. (The photo up top, by the way, is from a post earlier this month — my favorite kitchen magnet. Got something like 115 likes and 16 shares. Figure one “like” equals about 40-100 eyeballs — cuz most folks are too lazy to hit the “like” button no matter how enlightened or entertained they are by the post. The fun stuff generates as much or more response than the serious stuff… as it should. Social media gets a bum rap as a source of bad news and harsh anger… but that’s only if you stay entangled with mean people. Just stop doing that.)
Anyway, here’s some samples of recent posts:
First, some actual advice for writers and entrepreneurs:
Chicken, Head-Cut-Off Departmental Memo #437: Sometimes, I like the way deadlines scrunch-up time and make life vivid. Each hour becomes critical, and the looming specifics of delivering promised goods or climbing onto a plane or just making a final-final decision gives you a bright focus like little else in your day.
It’s worthwhile, too, to try to capture that vividness, understand how it’s viscerally created through hormone dumps and brain burps, and how you might generate it at will later (minus the deadline or freak out).
In the higher levels of biz, when you do it right, a kind of active Zen calm settles in no matter what chaos is swirling around you. Experience, tested skills and a solid philosophy of doing the right thing the best way you’re capable (at all times) fuels your power.
You may still get your butt stomped, things may go sideways, and the universe is guaranteed to never make it too easy for you… and that’s okay. That’s what brings us back to the office every morning, the challenges and the mysteries of real life.
… it’d also be nice if the universe stopped piling up shit like it’s trash day during a garbage truck strike, and gave me a breather once in a while.
Is that too much to ask?
The main concerns of an entrepreneur eventually become:
Main Concern #1: How does all the hard work fit into a lifestyle you enjoy having? Nobody minds slaving away in the early stages of a biz adventure, cuz it’s fun. And nobody wants to get locked into forced labor indefinitely, with no end in sight. That old “work-life balance” thing can be a pesky bugger.
Main Concern #2: Are you maximizing the easier ways to bring in money through multiple streams (so your cash register is pounding away even when you’re asleep, on vacation, or missing in action)? Most entrepreneurs and freelancers leave massive piles of moolah on the table, never realizing the potential windfall just itching to fall into their laps.
Main Concern #3: When do you decide to chuck the original model, and grow? To complicate the hell out of everything, bringing in new staff or putting yourself in debt to investors, just because you think that’s how “growth” happens, is silly.
When you’re ready to play in the Big Kids sandbox, you need a better game plan, higher quality skills, more powerful network connections, and a much, much deeper bag of tricks if you intend to thrive.
You don’t get this stuff from a book.
You tap into the experience and savvy of mentors and experts and colleagues willing to share.
That’s where masterminds come in. One-stop resource for all the idea vetting, implementation strategies, and high-end reality checks you need to goose your mojo (and bring in the Major Bucks).
If you’ve never looked into the mastermind I’ve hosted for 7 years now, you’re just being your own biggest impediment to growth.
I can’t force you to see what’s up. But I can remind you of the time (and wonderful lifestyle) you’re squandering by delaying this simplest of hard-core growth tactics.
Silly rabbit. (Check out the mastermind here.)
Writer’s Hack #47: Most folks have two vocabularies — the one they understand when they read or listen to others…
… and the functional one they use when communicating.
The first one is, on average, that of a very bright high school freshman.
The second is, on average, equal to a foul-mouthed fifth grader with a comic book fetish.
To become a more influential writer, simply converge your two vocabularies into one… so the words available to you when communicating expand outside your usual half-assed choices.
Yes, it requires effort. If it was easy, then everyone would be a damn good writer.
What’s So Funny?
One of the main decision points in my career has always been who to trust and hang with, and who to avoid. Early on, as a rising “A List” copywriter working in the financial newsletter market (where all the money is), I had resigned myself to getting gigs where I had to muffle my sense of humor.
I just smiled and grinned, and felt like a spy in the midst of the enemy at times.
Then I met Gary Halbert, and realized there was a whole other part of the biz world, where I could let my freak flag fly. I turned my back on a fortune in the financial field, and gleefully jumped into the entrepreneurial swamp, where I found many clients, colleagues and weirdos who loved a raucous good time (with belly laughs that left you breathless) as much as I did.
And I made my fortune there. And dabbled in the more conservative markets (including the financial fields) every so often, just to remind myself how much fun it can be to call your own shots in a career. (Yes, I retained my old chops.)
The bright dividing line, for me, has always been what folks find funny. A staggering percentage of biz denizens have zero sense of humor, and I avoid them like the plague. Some like puns, which is worse. (What’s worse than the plague? Hang out with a punner for a while, and you’ll know.) Some confuse the act of laughing while being offensive as “humor”, but they’re really just bullies being passive-aggressive with social cues.
Not all funny folks are trustworthy. However, I’ve found that most trustworthy folks are funny, or at least appreciate real humor. I think it has something to do with accepting the tragic-comedic absurdity of reality, and I know from gruesome personal experience that laughing through my tears has helped me live a long and prosperous life. Laughter can dissolve stress like nothing else.
There’s no crime in not having a solid, well-developed sense of humor. More than half the population is thusly disabled.
However, you need to know where you are in this measurement. Halbert and I had many hangers-on who never got the jokes, who cringed at stuff that had us doubled over laughing, and who in general were the folks we tried to usher away from the room so we could get down to biz.
The humor-under-achievers were never a good fit in our world. Those who realized it drifted away to more staid markets, and were happy. Those who refused to self-identify as humorless bastards were angry, confused and resentful when faced with funny shit. Bad fit.
Nothing profound here. But something you need to consider as you move through your life. I’ve found humor mis-matches to be the primary friction in most biz, family, and life-style situations. And it’s rarely addressed.
From my perch — after a long life of observation, experimentation, and deep experience — the world is terrifying, hilarious, brutal and wonderful, all at the same time. And then you die.
Without laughter, it would be a slow, humiliating slog to the grave. With laugher, it’s a joyous (if scary) long, strange trip well worth the ride.
Thinkin’ about you, Gary. Your huge laugh still resonates in the ether…
Department Of “Sez Who?”, Memo #33: For years, I was told by experts that nearly everything I do on stage at seminars is wrong. These were accomplished masters of the craft, who earned big bucks grooming and training people to be killer presenters, and I believe them when they said they could turn a neophyte stutterer into a bigger-than-life celebrity who dominates every room they enter.
It’s not for me, though. Fuck being a calculated control-freak over my “image”. I don’t own a suit or a tie (okay, except for two Jerry Garcia ties from 20 years ago) (is thin still in?), I have no pyrotechnic gimmicks, I often engage with the audience in unscripted conversation, and my PPTs are gruesome examples of a creative mind gone berserk.
Plus — egad! — I haul my beat-up backpack with me (a no-no for the experts) and work off of a small explosion of notes.
And yet, I routinely have been one of the top rated (and top selling) speakers at most of the events I’ve been to. Not always. But to crowds that have even a minimal expectation of what to expect, I tend to do well.
The secret: I just honestly like people, and am not impressed or intimidated by anyone else on the planet. I go onstage with the intent of kicking some butt, forcing some folks to face their fears (and hopefully change their self-ruining BS)…
… and, most importantly, having a good time. I’m an introvert’s introvert, yes — but when I’ve got to drag my ass onto a stage, I commit to doing the best I can up there. If I reach just one person in the audience, I’ve had a good day.
I’ve had a stupendously-successful career for over 3 decades. I’m now intent on fulfilling a promise I made to myself as a scared, clueless rookie: “If I pull this freelance thing off, I will help others do it, too, minus all the grief, blunders and excruciating lesson-learning I have to endure.”
I could never pretend to be the guy to show others how to present from stage, though. I’m too eclectic, too idiosyncratic, too much of a knee-jerk rebel. (I mean, 95% of the other speakers I’ve known are HORRIFIED that I often engage with an audience, free-form and off the script. Heresy!) (I think they’re just afraid of what might happen.)
However, I am a good example of the “exception to the rule” thing. And I urge you to explore that notion in your own life, as often as possible.
Control-freak experts are relentlessly trying to manipulate you. Sometimes, they have a point. But sometimes, it’s all just glossy bullshit. The most successful folks I know are all total individuals, and the LAST thing they care about is what others think of them.
And yet, somehow, they end up as highly likable, morally sound, top-shelf people. Who deliver some of the best, and most unique, presentations you’ve ever witnessed.
More than one way to skin a cat, I guess, is the message. Go your own way…
There was some productivity advice:
I like to trick myself into working. Been doing it for decades, and you’d think I would catch on to my evil tactics at some point.
Faced with a daunting task, I promise myself I’m just gonna peek at it. Read just one page, one email, one video, whatever… and write down a small notecard’s worth of ideas.
Works every time. My lazy-ass brain says “Sure, why not, if you insist“, and then opens the door of my internal “work room”… and once inside, we’re off to the races. Just focusing on one small thing fires up the entire engine, and once started, it likes to work.
I am so gullible to my own tricks.
It’s embarrassing, really…
And, there was a little “straight from experience” life advice:
Department of Spiritual Measurements: Happiness based on what you have can be taken from you. It’s shallow and begs the universe to fuck with your bad ass.
Happiness based on who you are cannot easily be wrecked. You’re not invulnerable to trauma, but neither are you trapped in a constant accounting cycle.
We all get just one ticket in life, and the ride is breathtakingly short. It’s good to enjoy it, not so good to gloat over possessions.
Jeez Louise, the stuff you start to realize after a few times around the block is just relentlessly humbling…
Department of Weird Ruminations, #34: At some point in your life — unless you get squashed by a bus or some other sudden disruption of your wiring cancels your ticket — you’re gonna be faced with a moment where the stark question “what’s it all mean?” slams you in the gut.
There’s a lot of pre-packaged answers out there, and if those comfort you, great. Rock on.
For deeper thinkers, though, it’s a more thorny issue. And most folks avoid considering it as long as possible.
The thing is, there’s no clever around it, once you breach the topic. What, indeed, has your life been about? What has motivated you, what battles did you choose, where have you made a difference…
… and, most critically, was any of it worth the struggle?
Some say “do what you love” is the way to go. For others, duty calls. For far too many, the acquisition of toys and wealth rules.
But the worst state of all is to have never questioned your existence. Who are you, really, and what the hell have you been doing with this amazing gift of life in modern times?
We can only answer for ourselves, when it comes to crunch time.
Heavy, yes. But it’s also one of the simmering unconscious bugaboos that feeds the vague fears behind missing out on a truly good life.
Be bold. Ask the big questions. Even on a busy Monday, with so much going on…
The town I grew up in (Cucamonga, a block off Route 66) is now largely gone, buried under developments and the refusal of west coast newcomers to respect old shit.
But I still “see” the original joint when I drive around. The ghostly images of long-gone hamburger stands, orchards, outlier roadhouses and ballparks shimmer in my peripheral vision, vanished yet still vital in my mind.
There is no decent way to pass along the wonder of your youthful adventures except in stories.
So make ’em good. Your wild ass yarns may not be better than anyone else’s, but they’re still important. I love hearing old folks reveal the stark truth of life in a time completely alien to me. And I hope I’m entertaining the young folks willing to tolerate my rollicking tales.
Otherwise, all those moments will be lost… like tears in rain. (Yeah, that’s a Blade Runner quote…)
“Seems To Me” Department of Conflicted Opinion, Item No. 336b: Seems to me the Big Problem we face, as a consequence of our success in colonizing this tiny planet, is not the myriad details of dealing with “whose ox is getting gored”…
… but rather the meta-battle of innate human stupidity versus rational critical thinking.
And the problem is, the truly stupid all think they’re pretty smart.
Irrational dumbfuckedness is like a relentless tide, oblivious to everything but the need to breed and feed (and keep “our” ox from getting gored, while gleefully goring everyone else’s).
How I long for the tranquility of the unplugged mind, free of clear thought and unconcerned with consequence or fealty to promises. Must be nice, never imagining you’re actually a bug up the ass of the universe…
And, a question for you (in the theme of finding out more about my readers):
We have a “reading room” in the house. Five bookshelves along one wall crammed with tomes and a few chunks of offbeat ceramic art (plus some Art Deco toys and an ancient stereo). And a small rain forest-worth of plants.
I have a favorite couch with good light where I can read with the dog curled up next to me. I like the look and company of the books — some of them have been hauled all over the west coast in boxes since I was a kid. Even when I was poor and living out of my car, I always had books nearby.
Younger writers I know have no piles of books, nor stacks of records, cassettes and CDs. This is a simple and logical generational shift into digital storage. I can’t really tell you why I keep books I read decades ago and likely will never open again. They’re trophies, I suppose. Reminders of the guy I used to be. Benchmarks of a long life heavily influenced by published works.
Or maybe they’re talismans against the curse of anti-intellectualism I’ve fought against so long.
Do you like books, as a physical manifestation of knowledge and culture?
Or do you prefer a more sparse living arrangement, uncluttered by dusty pages?
There’s no right answer, of course. Just curious…
There was some timely stuff, too:
Department of “I Don’t Even Freaking Care Anymore”, memo #33: So I caved and bought a new iPhone…
… AND connected to the cloud. That big, mystery-laden, scary-ass cloud up there somewhere.
I hate having to trust shit I can’t see. No actual clouds in the sky today. Sunny. Faint glinting of distant satellites and space-alien aircraft, but that’s it. A few drones buzzing here and there.
Where ARE you, oh great and powerful Cloud?
So, anyway… I’m talking to my 3rd #Apple rep (because, of course, set up = calling Apple reps sooner or later)… and she casually mentions that she’s looking at my iCloud stuff along with me.
Key phrase: “Along with me”.
Low level Apple employee traipsing around in my goodies.
And I just gave up. That’s it, I fucking surrender.
Privacy, gone in this world. I have given up resisting and just welcomed The Man into my life. I am connected to The Grid now, six ways from Sunday, and I imagine It’s watching me this very minute from the camera on my iMac — cuz I removed the Post-It note formerly covering the lens.
That was the OLD me, the paranoid guy trying to lay low and stay under the radar. Ha! Poor fool. Much better to give up and give in, and just connect. Connect! Be at One with The Grid! Hallelujah! Tin foil hat, gone! It’s so liberating! I’m free! Free, do you hear me?!?
I. Give. Up.
Hold on, there’s someone at the door…
This is fun: Tidy little test on whether you’re a narcissist or not. (Most actual narcissists will not appreciate being outed, by the way.)
Go ahead and guess my score. (I’ll bet you’re wrong.)
I’ve hung out with plenty of narcissists in my time. Also sociopaths and really fucking dumb people who believe they are smart (the Dunning-Kruger effect).
In fact, the more you get behind the scenes in biz (into the closed meetings, the green rooms, the big offices) the more variety of crazy/evil you encounter.
Back when I worked the worst jobs in the world — in restaurant kitchens, construction, commercial fishing, corporate advertising — I noticed most of the folks causing trouble fit into just a few personality categories: Really dumb and seeking more power or money, and really smart and seeking more power or money. But the truly evil ones got outed pretty quickly, probably because there was so little room to maneuver (and everyone knew a malingerer or an asshole when they saw one).
In the back rooms of biz, though, there’s a LOT of room to maneuver… and the folks who sell their soul to the devil can stay camouflaged for years (sometimes forever).
One of the most painful discoveries I made, while growing up, was what made someone a “real” friend. It seems simple now, but for a long time it was confusing. Many people will be your “friend” as long as they can use you and your resources. They’re charming, fun to hang out with… but once you need something, or once you dry up as a resource, they’re gone.
Real friends are hard to come by. They may be a bit crazy, have messy lives, and exhibit pure undiluted stupidity at times… but you can count on them. And they make your life better, in large and small ways.
I have pals who are beyond whacky (including being mirror-addicted narcissists), and I never expect them to act out of character — which saves our friendship. I know what to expect, I don’t try to change them, and we do what we do well together. Sometimes it’s just work stuff, other times it’s just friend stuff, occasionally it’s both (like my long-time best pal and biz partner Stan Dahl, one of the smartest and most unique people I’ve ever met).
If you severely judge everyone around you, and refuse to tolerate non-average behavior or personalities, you’re gonna be a very, very lonely dude or dudette. Take stock of your current crop of pals, colleagues and clients. I’ll bet they’re a mob of weirdos, slackers, goofballs and cray-cray’s. Just like most of the world…
Here’s that test (discovered by my very, very whacky pal Chris Haddad):
I love learning new stuff, always have. And, I get bored easily, which meant I was always jostling against The Man’s plan to funnel me into a regular job and lifestyle.
However, I also hate being a putz, hurting other people and mucking up anything I’m responsible for.
This created a perfect little storm for my career. While young and bumbling about looking for fresh adventure, I made just about every mistake possible — in social situations, at work, managing money, dealing with problems, I botched it all up. Often spectacularly.
At first, I felt ashamed that I was somehow “inadequate” for living amongst my fellow humans. Then, I had an epiphany: We ALL screw up, often. But it’s how we HANDLE the consequences that puts us on different paths.
So I packaged up my shame and buried it. Useless. I replaced it with actionable remorse — when I did something wrong, I did my best to clean it up or fix it (or replace it, at my cost)… and, more critically, I then examined WHY I bollocked it up, figured out where I was lacking skill, info or experience…
… and then proceeded to fill in those gaps. And then climb back into the ring to practice doing it right.
It’s the only way I’ve been able to learn any of the good lessons in life. Reading about them helped me understand where I lacked skills or info… but the lessons never really “took” until I used them in real life.
The result has been a life filled with gloriously awful misadventures, followed by fabulously great adventures… plus a ton of solid friends (who’ve had to forgive me at times), biz success, and even a bit of real wisdom.
The books I write all feature personal stories, because that’s how I figured out how to get stuff done. A lot of folks bristle at this biographical style of teaching, which is fine. Everyone brings their own strange views of “how things ought to be done” to the game.
But my main question for anyone claiming to have expertise in anything (especially the tough biz and personal behavior questions that define a well-lived life) is simply:
“Have you actually gone through this situation yourself?”
Most, it turns out, have not. They “learned” their self-proclaimed expertise without having to sully their hands in the dirty details of real life. And maybe that’s enough for them, that their innate genius allows them special powers to grok how stuff gets done minus the experience of actually doing it.
I’m skeptical. Reading a thousand books on how to hit a baseball won’t match your learning curve of standing in a batter’s box one time, while someone throws fastballs high and tight as you try to hit them.
And the visceral thrill of receiving your first dollar from a transaction you negotiated yourself offers deep-tissue revelations you’ll never get from completing an MBA.
That’s my experience, anyway.
And that’s why I position the lessons I share within personal stories. I’m not TELLING you what to do — rather, I’m sharing what I learned by screwing up, learning my lesson, filling in the gaps, and then going back in to do it right the next time.
It’s the most ancient, and still most effective way to hand off a real piece of advice that has teeth. Take it or leave it, it’s advice that worked.
You can see how it’s done in any of my books, which of course you already own.
Wait — you don’t own them? Are you insane?
Okay, fine. I’ve put the links to two of them in the first comments below. The others you can find at the blog (john-carlton dot com). [Editor’s Note: You’re already on the blog. Just click on the icons in the far right column to find out more about anything I offer.]
Meanwhile, I’m off to more blundering about in the world, where I’m pretty sure I’ll learn something new today…
I like worn, well-used stuff. My favorite guitar is fifty years old (she wears it well). My San Francisco Giants cap is thrashed from all those pre-World Series years when I’d toss it in disgust. But I wear it proudly now, the tatters a tribute to true fandom.
New clothes bug me. If you can’t be faithful to a coat that’s served you well, what can you be faithful to?
This archaeophilia has been a huge advantage as a writer. Them fads come and go, and every new hotshot writer believes he invented copywriting yesterday…
… but the tried-and-true humbly saunters on, nailing the tough jobs and keeping the wheels of civilization greased.
Respect is earned, moment by moment, and truth often looks a bit ratty. This is still one of the primary lessons to grok in this chaotic universe…
Consider your life as an ongoing novel or movie. This particular chapter may be slow, but plot points you put into play now will trigger fresh adventure soon.
There are good folks who’ve been dealt a worse hand than you, who would trade up to your situation in a heartbeat. You owe it to them to chew up some scenery and murder all whining…
Back in my twenties (before you were born), I could party until they threw us out of the pub at gunpoint, grab a few hours of snooze time, and be at the job the next morning shaved, showered, shirt tucked and hair combed, ready for my 8-hour slog at whatever grind I was employed at.
That’s not a skill. That’s just an abundance of hormones, energy, and wasted youth.
For a recent 10-year period, I was flying off somewhere almost every month to speak on the circuit. Dubai, Sydney, NYC, Cleveland, didn’t matter — I could pack with my eyes closed, in an hour, get all documents printed and sorted while brushing my teeth, and cram enough gear, snacks and clothes into a single carry-on to last me a week. Then finish up the PPT on the plane between naps. No problem.
That’s a skill.
What folks get wrong about Free Speech in this country is that just cuz it’s free, it don’t mean it’s true.
You hear a guy say something on the radio or the teevee or the Interwebs that is so outrageous, for sure he wouldn’t be “allowed” to get away with it if it weren’t the gosh-darned truth. And he gets away with it, so ha!… You believe you’ve been let in on a solid piece of info.
And all your deluded friends who think they’re so smart can’t handle it. All of which gives you a warm feeling, despite the awfulness of the subject.
Welcome to the Great American Befuddlement Over Truth. It’s the painful part of the freedom to speak and think without gummit interference — not everyone comes equipped with the necessary critical thinking to discern the bullshit from truth.
A healthy dose of skepticism goes a long way. If your smart friends disagree with you, maybe your resources getting away with all that outrageous stuff aren’t the beacon of truth you think they are.
How much have road trips played a role in your life? Solo, with a pal or a small mob, you pack up the car and take off to parts unknown, wind whistling through the open window, history and life itself rushing by outside.
In high school, getting my driver’s license was like securing a pass to a bustling new world of adventure, terror and delight. My buddy Art and I would just hop into his ’56 Buick and drive for hours, seeking some scenery to chew up. Later, Tim and I drove across the south in a battered Pinto, all the way from Cape Canaveral to SF for a wild half summer.
I’ve driven up and down the west coast so many times it feels like my old neighborhood.
Maybe growing up a block from Route 66 instilled the love of the road in me. Just having that endless path to somewhere else was a relentless temptation to take off.
Every autumn, I itch for another road trip. I can’t handle the hours at the wheel like I used to, and it’s not quite the same when you’re never out of reach of a radio station (I cannot explain to the uninitiated the bliss of finally dialing in a distant DJ after a stretch of musing on the ambient noise of cruising)…
… but the essence of the road trip is, I think, part of our modern DNA.
On the road again, indeed…
And finally… a taste of the rants we like to share on my FB page:
Let’s get straight on this: I love people, and am humbly grateful for everything.
That said, would you fuckers please stop driving like brain-dead zombies while around me?
Thanks. ‘Preciate it.
And that’s it for this edition.
Love to hear your thoughts in the comments section (where I hang out a lot).
Happy holidays to you and yours, and…
“Hey, you bastards, I’m still here!” (Steve McQueen, “Papillon”)
I was talking to a colleague the other day, and he asked me how I liked retirement.
Uh, what retirement is that, I asked.
Well, he said, I thought you’d pretty much left the biz.
I guess I need to address this now. I mean, seeing as how I’m speaking next week to a seething crowd of 500 copywriters at one of the biggest bootcamps of the year (the sold-out AWAI gargantuan event in Florida). AND, the following week, hosting our autumn Platinum Mastermind meeting (now in it’s 7th year). While, you know, handling multiple calls from colleagues looking for advice, plus paid consulting gigs, writing a new book, monitoring the next Simple Writing System classroom, and…
If this is “retirement”, it sure looks an awful lot like a regular workweek.
But, yes, there has been a rumor floating around that I’m retired (or “semi-retired”), not traveling anymore, not taking clients, etc.
And, in a word, it’s all bullshit.
What happened was, a couple of years ago, I decided I sucked as a manager, and sold the Marketing Rebel corporation to my longtime business partner, Stan Dahl. Who has been handling it quite nicely ever since. The Insider’s Club membership site is cooking on high heat… the Simple Writing System just had another All-Star Teachers session (with A-Listers like David Garfinkel, Mike Morgan, Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero, and former Gary Halbert sidekick Scott Haines all hosting classes)… and all the good work we’ve always done in the advertising and marketing worlds has continued without a hitch.
It’s working so well now, because I realized what a bottleneck I was as a manager. Once I got out of the way, things blossomed.
Jeez Louise, that’s humbling. But it’s all worked out great.
And I got back to what I do best: Writing, consulting and being one of the most notorious bad-ass creative advisors in the game.
This is a VERY common entrepreneurial blunder, by the way. You get a biz going by handling almost everything personally… the ideas, the planning, the implementation, the writing, the schmoozing and networking, and all the hiring of tech help and support teams and lawyers and contracts and…
… and pretty soon, you’re working 70 hours a week, the biz is thriving, but you aren’t doing the creative stuff you’re good at.
For me, the calls and meetings with lawyers and accountants and affiliate managers and everyone else’s lawyers and biz operatives just crushed my spirit and will to live.
I was unhappy.
And so I sold the biz, and moved back into my old role as writer, creative dude, and consultant extraordinaire. The “wheelhouse” of my talent and skill-set, where I’ve always made the most impact.
And, I was happy again. While working around 20 hours a week, just like the first decades of my career. A 20-hour workweek is just about perfect, and because I know all the productivity hacks allowable for humans, I get more done in that 20-hours than most folks do in the 60 hours they slave at.
So, I’m in my “bliss groove” again. Good writing requires lots of down time, so your brain can cogitate on the crap you’ve stuffed in there, cook it up in a fresh batch, and make it all accessible when you sit down to actually write. Reading lots of books on different subjects, including gruesome fiction and light articles on diverse (even dumb) subjects, is also part of a well-lived writer’s lifestyle. Plus engaging in the adventures, pleasures, misadventures and bumbling horrors of modern life.
In fact, without immersing yourself in the culture and the Zeitgeist, you quickly become stiff and boring as a writer.
But I don’t count the cool, fun stuff as “working”. I love the process of being a complete, well-rounded writer with his pulse on the culture. It’s what makes this the best damn gig on the planet (for introverts or wannabe introverts seeking influence, wealth and happiness).
In the 1990s, I both wrote most of the ads for which I’m now infamous (all the screamingly successful golf, self-defense, health, music and small-biz ads that changed the way entire industries approached marketing)…
… while ALSO taking off three-to-six months a year to go do something else. I was following Travis McGee’s advice (from the “you gotta read ’em” novels by John D. MacDonald) of “taking your retirement while you’re young, in pieces, and returning to work when you need to replenish the coffers”. For me, that meant indulging in exciting mid-life crises (I’ve had six so far, and loved every single one) like when I disappeared from the business world for half a year, formed a 3-piece rock band, and played all the biker bars in Northern Nevada. What a blast.
I also took time off to write some novels, and dip a toe in the world of writing fiction for a living. It was enormous fun, but the pay was dismal. Most of the working novelists I met made less in half a decade than I did for writing a couple of winning ads in a good market (and it only took me a few weeks to write those ads). I decided to keep fiction as a side hobby, and came back to my old clients to write a string of ads that doubled their bottom line.
And then, just after the turn of the century, I decided to get serious for a few years. And write a monthly newsletter (the notorious “Marketing Rebel Rant” that mailed for 6 years to the most influential marketers alive), while maintaining a client list that required me to be available the entire year. No more taking off massive chunks of time. I loved the whole process, which happened to coincide with the explosion of the Web as a viable marketing vehicle…
… and I hung out in a very insider network of movers-and-shakers that included Frank Kern, Jeff Walker, Eben Pagan, Joe Polish, Dean Jackson, Tony Robbins, Jon Benson, Joe Sugarman, Ed Dale, and of course my best friend in the biz, Gary Halbert.
It was FUN. And thrilling, because we were inventing the marketing models that would become the STANDARDS for all online marketers for a generation. My first website, which I designed on a napkin, was a go-to template for many businesses for a long while. I recorded one of the first ever podcasts in the marketing section of iTunes (with help from Dean Jackson)… became one of the hottest speakers on the global seminar circuit (hosted by Armand Morin, Dan Kennedy, Rich Schefren, Kern and others)… and of course our Simple Writing System has pumped over a thousand entrepreneurs and copywriters through the process of creating killer ads on demand.
While some old-school marketers fought the Web and resisted new technology, I was an early adopter. I grabbed many of the first generation gizmo’s, created early video sales letters (before the term was even invented), hosted some of the first online webinars and membership sites, and in general surfed the new wave of modern possibilities right at the crest.
I’m not bragging. I’m just as amazed at the way things have turned out as anyone else. I happened to write “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” at the precise time a vast mob of newbie marketers were becoming online entrepreneurs… and it was the perfect fit for them.
But it also led almost directly to those 60-hour weeks that eventually started to fry my brain.
I’ve counseled biz owners against burning out a lot in my career as a consultant. It’s common, it’s horrific, it can ruin your life…
… and, it’s completely avoidable.
But you have to act FAST when you sniff the burning rubber coming off your brain.
For me, it meant backing away from the reins of a business I’d nurtured for a decade… and sliding back into the more comfortable position I knew so well, of being a writer-consultant. Working a fraction of the hours required of a manager.
To some folks, this somehow meant I’d “retired”.
Nope. Just moved back into my former career lifestyle.
Like I said — I suck at management. I’m not built to argue with lawyers, or proofread contracts, or get deep into the weeds of making the day-to-day details of running a biz work. I KNOW what needs to be done, and I can spell it out for you in precise steps.
But that doesn’t mean I’m the guy who should be doing it.
A big part of happiness is finding out where you fit. And then sliding your bad ass into that position, away from the drudgery and angst of doing stuff you’re NOT built to do.
And let’s set the damn record straight: I’m NOT retired.
I love this biz too much to leave. I’m traveling as much as I ever have (though being more picky about which gigs I travel for). I’m flying out to Florida next week, as I said, to speak in front of 500 folks who rightfully expect to have their cages rattled by me from the stage. I’m flying to Los Angeles both for our mastermind, AND to hang out with Jon Benson at another biz gathering (including James Schramko from Oz).
And we’ll be in Vegas in January for another mastermind, in Phoenix for secret tapings of a new show, I’ll continue co-hosting the rollicking (and still free) Psych Insights For Modern Marketers podcast with Kevin Rogers…
… and I still maintain a full-time desk in the Marketing Rebel Insider’s Club… where I personally answer questions from members, do monthly “Hot Seat” consultations (free, for members) alongside Stan Dahl, and generally act as the community’s resident copywriting expert.
Okay, I’m not putting the old rock band back together, though. It was fun, but I’m kinda done with the bar scene. And I get bored on cruises and tourist-trap trips. I like to travel with a purpose.
I’m built to handle the advanced, high-level workload of a top copywriter and business consultant. So that’s what I’m concentrating on these days. While flying out to speak at seminars, networking with my pals, and staying rooted on the pulse of the modern business environment.
It’s a wild time to be alive, and to be an active member of the hottest entrepreneurial movement the world has ever seen.
I ain’t retiring for a long, long time. Baring getting hit by the occasional city bus while jaywalking, I should say. Nothing’s guaranteed in life, is it.
If you, like so many of the best (and happiest) marketers and writers around, value the input, savvy, advice and experience of a guy like me…
… who’s been around the block a few times, and knows the game inside and out…
… then check out some of the stuff we’ve got for you all over this blog page. Including a deep, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-down-to-work consultation.
It’s only going to get more exciting out there in the big, bad biz world… with more opportunities to either thrive or get lost in the weeds than you can imagine. If you’re in biz, you need a resource like me watching your back.
Why not make 2016 (coming up fast) the best damn year of your life? Put your team together now, and see if including me and Stan and the rest of the gang here doesn’t make so much sense you can’t stand it.
P.S. The photo, by the way, is from another huge event this past year where I was a featured speaker. And got to hang with my buds (from left) Kevin Halbert (Gary’s son), A-List copywriting legend Clayton Makepeace, marketing legend Dan Kennedy, me, former CEO of Boardroom Brian Kurtz, and A-List copywriter (and my podcast partner) Kevin Rogers.
Quite the little braintrust right there…
“You’re so vain…” (Carly Simon, dissing Warren Beatty)
I’ve been meaning to explain some things to y’all for a while, and there’s no better time than now to do it.
Cuz, huzzah, my latest ebook just zoomed to the top of the pile in multiple categories on Amazon last week. “Simple Success Secrets No One Told You About” is the first (of several) “best of” compilations from the archives of this blog… and anyone who’s enjoyed reading my drivel should probably pony up the $2.99 and grab it. (Here’s the link.)
Great for you brain. Great for your motivation. Great for your bottom line (if you’re after wealth and happiness). Great all the way around, I gotta say.
… I still feel the need to warn folks that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. Long-time readers of my rantings know what to expect, of course — deliberately mangled grammar, lots of cussing and outrageousness, and absolutely no quarter given to bullshit at any time. This is hard-core biz and living-well advice, tactics and solutions.
… most of my stories revolve around my misadventures out there in the cold, cruel world.
This is not because I’m some rabid egomaniac. (I actually advocate murdering your ego, because it does more harm than good in anyone’s life. Including mine. At the beginning of my seminars, I always spend some time theatrically having people “toss” their ego, so the event can progress without folks getting offended, feeling personally attacked, or just getting their panties in a twist because their ox got gored. Ego sucks.)
No. The reason my books and lessons usually feature a look inside my head is simply because that’s how I learned everything I know about life and business. Since the very first days of my career, I have tried to live an “examined life”, just like Aristotle advised. (Or was it Socrates? Never mind.) I reconsidered my life as an ongoing movie, and I had input to how the script played out…
… so I strove to understand what happened to me each day. And then I deconstructed each event — what the facts were, how I reacted, what I did that was okay, what I did that was clearly a dumb-ass blunder, and what the other “actors” did or didn’t do to contribute to the scene.
This is how I managed to find the great lessons of life and biz. You do something, things cook or explode or simmer, and consequences ensue. And then you study every shred of it.
I was a one-man living laboratory for testing out the theories and advice and tactics I encountered. Because my freelance career kept me busy with a now-uncountable number of fresh clients (all with unique businesses and situations and neuroses and problems), I had a front-row seat for the biggest show around: How things get either done or botched-up in reality.
If I read a biz book that offered advice on negotiating with clients, for example, I could often put it to use the very next day. If it worked, I used it again and kept refining it. If it didn’t work, I tried to see how I could have screwed it up… or how it was bullshit advice in the first place. (This happened a lot, by the way. Books are essential to learning, but theories that do not actually WORK in the real world are useless. And yet, maybe half the biz books out there are just spring-loaded bullshit dispensers.)
Same with all the tactics I picked up from other writers and mentors, or observed during biz transactions. And also with all the advice for how to prosper, or live healthier, or reduce stress, or a thousand other nuggets of insight (or drivel) that could affect the quality of my life.
I was relentless, too. I wanted to figure out what created success, and what triggered failure. There were HUGE lessons no matter what happened — in fact, I learned more from failing than I ever did from accidentally doing anything correctly…
… as long as I dissected what happened, and learned from it.
I’ve often said that — because I was so freakin’ clueless when I started out — I made most of the mistakes possible in the first decade of my career (and throughout my private life). And… I learned SO MUCH from those mistakes, that I’m sorry I didn’t make EVERY mistake possible. It simply would have expanded my self-education even further.
… when I write about a lesson in biz or life in general… it’s a lesson I’ve learned personally. Usually by making a mess, and immediately cleaning it up, examining every detail of what went down, deconstructing the good and bad points… and figuring out what I could have done differently.
THEN… and this is important… I went back out (often the very next day) and DID IT RIGHT. Whether it was negotiating with a client, using naps to organize my thoughts (like David Ogilvy), writing better bullets, dealing with a disgruntled customer on the phone, finding the best lists to mail, or whatever…
… I learned my lesson, and re-engaged with the world to see if what I learned was spot-on, or needed refinement, or was part of that “nuanced” arsenal of biz tactics that require focus, new skills and multiple decision points to put into action.
So, yes, I’m the dude in the center of the story. I’m not discussing theory here, or something I’ve heard about from some wonderful source.
Nope. My stories are about me, out there in the jungle, chewing up scenery and knocking stuff over and making huge messes…
… and then figuring out how to do better, and then DOING better almost immediately.
The charge I sometimes hear –that I’m an egomaniac who is arrogant about giving advice –is just pure bullshit. I’m a total introvert, and prefer to spend the majority of my life away from crowds. My books seem autobiographical simply because sharing the best lessons require giving you a peek into my life… and so that’s what I do. I share what I’ve learned (the hard way) as a copywriter, as a business owner, as a consultant, as a regular person just trying to do the right thing out there.
I’ve lived a great life, crammed with adventure, heartache, stark terror, love, and more success than I’ve ever felt I deserved. I’m humbled that others consider me a resource for learning, and proud that my career of blunders and missteps can serve as a shortcut for others. So you don’t have to spend decades making every mistake out there, just to figure out what the good lessons are. I’ve already done that. I’m bruised, scarred, and grizzled from the process, but happy to share.
In truth, you’ll still want to learn some of the really juicy lessons yourself anyway. Like “money doesn’t buy happiness”. It’s just more effective (and often more fun) to discover that for your own bad self… though, having a little foreknowledge from a trusted dude like me will at least prepare you when Reality smacks you in the face (and wallet, and soul, and heart) later.
I knew NONE of the essential lessons when I started out. I was like a babe in the forest, blundering along with nothing but a small amount of skills, a huge amount of chutzpah, and a raw determination to get it right (based on my flimsy plan, which didn’t have an alternative to making freelancing work as a new career.) I literally had no idea what I’d do if I failed — a situation I do NOT advise anyone else to attempt, though the motivation was pretty spectacular (if scary as hell).
There is plenty of real arrogance and “full of yourself” attitudes in the biz world. I’ve dealt with a vast mob of clients, colleagues, customers, prospects, looky-loo’s, rubber-neckers, jerks, heroes, lovers, haters, n’eer-do-well’s and basket cases…
… and I’ve spent a lifetime figuring out what makes them tick. And buy. And flee, and get mad, and go off the deep end, and melt down, and everything else this crazy human race is capable of.
I love it all. And I love my fans and readers dearly, and really care about making this process of learning fun, funny and memorable.
So that’s why I write my stories from a personal point-of-view.
And it’s why those tales are so vivid, and crammed with twists and turns. It’s real life. I want the freakin’ pain I experienced getting educated to have had a purpose.
Again — I’m honored that you find my blog, my books, my courses and speeches worthwhile. I get chills when I hear from someone who had a breakthrough, or a sudden success, or even just started on a better path because of a lesson I shared.
Get the latest ebook, or don’t. (Just click on the icon at the top of the right hand column here.) You can wander through the archives on this blog for free, of course, and track the posts down in their original form. That’s why we priced this ebook so low (it’s just $2.99), because it’s all from the blog. But it’s edited, and organized, and in a pretty awesome presentation. Easy to read, nice to have on your Kindle or iPad or whatever, a damn good kick in the butt for any entrepreneur or freelancer wanting to take your game up a few levels.
If you don’t mind, if you DO purchase the ebook, go back to the Amazon page (here) and leave a review. No matter what you thought of the stories and advice, other potential readers rely on reviews like yours to help decide whether to invest some time in the ebook or not.
Some of the reviews I’ve had for other books have been outraged at my language, at the raw honesty, and at what they perceive as my “arrogance” in writing from a personal point of view.
Doesn’t matter. For every person who is insulted or angered, I know that multiple other folks were relieved to have found a nutcase like me who tells it like it is, and has the experience, savvy and track record to help out.
Stay frosty, my friend.
P.S. Love to hear your thoughts on the subject in the comments section. I’ll wander in there to see what kind of ruckus you’re causing.