“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…
“Let’s make the most of every second we can borrow…” (“Let It Ride”, BTO)
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 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 Ray Donovan… 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.
“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.
“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.
Even today, the right to speak or write about what’s on your mind remains curtailed, risky, and forbidden all over the planet. Even here, the struggle to get to this point — where you and I can write “fuck” without fear of censorship or a visit from The Man — was an ongoing battle that claimed careers and lives of contemporaries. I grew up owning banned books (from the notorious Grove Press, which insisted on publishing every author banned in the U.S. throughout the latter half of the 20th century), watching authorities destroy comics like Lenny Bruce and artists like Jim Morrison, and being pleasantly dumbstruck when respected magazines like The New Yorker finally began printing formerly-prohibited words like “motherfucker” in their articles.
It’s not just about swearing, or about sex, or even about the never-ending brawl between Puritanism and libertarianism.
Much deeper than that. The offensive language and unhinged rants now common online are just a price to pay for the more important victory of Free Thought over censorship. All those past writers and wannabe scribes, muzzled and cowed into submission or silence over the past eons, would weep with joy at the lack of control by The Man over what we think and write. Never mind the wonders of electricity, air travel, the InterWebs, the buzzing gadgets that dominate modern life — the real jaw-dropper is our ability to use our minds unfettered by outside authority.
It’s a shame folks here take it all for granted. That’s how you lose these kinds of privileges. The offended classes gather power, see freedom of thought as a direct threat to that power, and wage constant war against it. Most folks have no use for too much freedom — it’s kind of scary, full of challenges to their belief systems and ideologies and traditions. I’m all for having the sense to pull back a bit in situations where speaking like a drunken sailor will cause folks to clutch their pearls or faint. I’m fine with a little cognitive dissonance, where we pretend that kids have never heard a bad word before, or that “decent” literature and movies can be great art. But do not infringe on my right to enjoy Shakespeare and Twain and George Carlin and Henry Miller without hiding (all banned or censored at some point in our history). And I will write whatever the hell I choose to write, whenever I choose to write it.
We all have to pick our battles in life. Writers tend to be an introspective, introverted bunch who aren’t so hot with manning the barricades… which is why it took nearly the entire arc of civilization’s history to reach this point of unfettered free thought.
So we modern writers owe it to the ink-stained wretches of the past — our professional ancestors — to embrace, defend, and heap glory onto the practice today. This kind of freedom was never a guaranteed deal. The Founding Fathers argued about it, and current governments elsewhere still get queasy even considering letting nutballs like us off the leash, with no way to stop our brains from thinking way outside of the box. Dangerous stuff.
I realize that many of my fellow citizens would be just fine with a few shackles on writers here and there. For them, other battles are more important. And that’s fine… as long as these nay-sayers keep losing that argument.
For me, the real fight of the past few generations — the fight worth dying for today — is freedom of speech. The unconditional freedom to think, and write, whatever goddamned crap I feel like writing about… whether it’s the next Great American Novel or just a funny post on social media skewering uptight jerks. Or even another ad that raises eyebrows.
Yes, there are a few restrictions still. I’m okay with having a few legal lines that shall not be crossed (because they cause real harm, not theoretical harm). But the restrictions should remain rare. Hearing harsh language won’t damage your brain, no matter how freaked-out you get over it. Being exposed to foreign ideas won’t change your biology. And stumbling upon writing that offends you won’t cause civilization to crumble.
I’ll toast the First Amendment today, and every day afterward, for the rest of my life. It was worth blowing shit up for. It’s worth every knock-down fight that has happened, and if more fighting is required, sign me up.
For all the faults and missteps and foibles of my country’s existence… I still allow myself to get choked up over Old Glory. Because she flies over my continued ability to be the kind of writer my ancestors could barely dream of being. Free.
Fuckin’ A. Play ball.
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 fifth 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?
Bullshit. Okay, maybe if you go to Yale or Harvard, you can make the connections on Wall Street and in Washington to get your game on. Maybe. (More likely, those connections are already available, if you’re gonna get ’em, through family bloodlines… and the Ivy’s are just playing up their famous track records in a classic sleight-of-hand. And good luck to you if you’re not an insider.)
Put aside the advancement opportunities offered to spawn of the oligarchy, though… and the realities of life-outside-of-academia do not jive at all with the propaganda doled out by the university systems.
Many of the richest guys I know are drop-outs. Some are HIGH SCHOOL drop-outs. The few friends who did go to the kind of school whose name causes eyebrows to rise…
… are ALL working far outside their major. To the point that nothing they learned has proven to be even remotely useful to their adult life. (Unless they stumble upon another over-educated dweeb at a cocktail party and get into a bare-knuckle Trivial Pursuit marathon.)
Too many people get all confused and bewildered about “education” as opposed to “going to college”.
It’s not the same thing, folks.
Some of the most clueless individuals I’ve ever met have impressive diplomas… while nearly all of the most savvy (and wealthy) individuals I know done got educated all on their lonesomes.
I learned more about history, business and psychology in 2 weeks of serious pre-Web library surfing (with a speed reading course under my belt) than I did in 4 years of college.
And I learned more about life in 3 months of hanging out with street-wise salesmen than I did from ANY source, anywhere, up to that time.
By all means, go to college if that’s part of your Master Plan to having a great life. You’ll meet interesting people, and it’s a Rite Of Passage for many Americans these days.
But don’t do it blindly. Just cuz The Man says it’s what you’re “supposed” to do.
Do some critical thinking before you jump in.
And if you really want that degree in Russian literature, or women’s studies, or political science, or whatever… then fine. Go get ’em. Grrr.
Just KNOW that you can probably educate your own damn self on those subjects… and even get a deeper understanding of it all… by reading every book written about it, and interviewing a few experts. And if you can get private mentoring from someone, even better.
This can all take place during evenings and weekends, over the course of a few months, while you hold down a day job. Even if you buy the books, instead of hitting up libraries, you’ll have spent less on this specialized education than you’d pay for a single semester in “real” school.
And, unless you’re the laziest screw-up ever, you’ll actually learn MORE in those few months of intense immersion… than you would with a full-on degree.
You know how I can make this bold claim with a straight face?
Because this is what I’ve been doing as a freelancer for decades. Every time I wrote for a new market, I spent weeks immersing myself in it… learning everything I could about it from the inside-out. And this process often made me more of an expert than the client himself.
And I did it over and over and over again.
It was just part of the job. All top freelancers do this.
Once you lose your fear of self-education…
… you can finally let it sink in that WE LIVE IN THE FREAKIN’ INFORMATION AGE. The joint is crammed to bursting with books, ebooks, videos, websites, courses…
… the whole world is CRAZY well-stocked. There are teachers and coaches and mentors available if you need supervision. (I’ve partaken of this opportunity frequently over my life.) Boards and fan-zines and forums and membership sites abound (for bitching and moaning, as well as for networking with peers).
It’s a cornucopia of knowledge, experience and adventure out there.
Yes, there are blind alleys and pitfalls and wrong turns…
… but once you’re committed to learning something, these are just brief excursions off the main drag… and you can use even your failures as advanced learning tools as you gain expert status. (In fact, it’s really required that you screw up at least a little bit. Otherwise, you never get perspective.)
And best of all…
… you can engage with life as you go. And skip the jarring nonsense of the Ivory Tower bubble.
(One caveat to self-education: You must, early on, read up on how debates are actually taught. Or join a debate club.
I’m serious. Best thing I’ve ever done. As you sample debating, you should demand that you get to defend the OPPOSITE viewpoint that you currently hold for any subject. This forces you to look beyond your petty biases, and open your mind to other points of view.
This is a HUGE advantage to have in your toolkit throughout life. Everyone else will be hobbled with un-examined party-line nonsense and indoctrinated crap they can’t even begin to defend when challenged…
… while you — with your rare ability to walk in anyone’s shoes, and to feel the pain or glory of alien thought patterns — will forever more see beyond the sound bites and cliches. And be able to eloquently explain anything, to anyone.
You will actually begin to sense vestiges of “truth” in the wreckage of our modern culture.
I don’t have to tell you how that might apply to marketing, do I?)
Most people will not go this route of self-examination and immersion-learning, of course. The concept of taking control of your own education seems kinda threatening and foreign to the majority out there.
We spend the first years of our lives sitting quietly in classrooms, being brainwashed to believe we don’t know shit (and that Teacher knows everything). That’s excellent training for hitting a groove in college and post-grad pursuits…
… but it’s piss-poor preparation for Life In The Concrete Jungle.
Again, nothing wrong about going with the status quo. No shame.
Just don’t expect to learn much about the way the world works. You’re learning how academia works. Different animal.
Wanna hear my short speech on how to prepare yourself for life? (I’ve edited this from a recent post I wrote for the Simple Writing System mentoring program. Lots of great stuff keeps coming out of that gig…)
(Okay, quick plug: Check out www.simplewritingsystem.com to start your own adventure as a high-end sales master, if you’re so inclined…)
Here’s my mini-rant: I’m extremely prejudiced about this subject, of course. If I ran the world, everyone would get at least a taste of being an entrepreneur, during their formative years.
It will taste bitter to most people. And that’s fine. No harm, no foul. Move on to getting that job with The Man.
But for some… it will be sweet nectar. A thrill like nothing else they’ve ever experienced before.
Being an entrepreneur takes balls.
But you don’t have to “be” a ballsy kind of person.
You just have to understand how to implement your goals… which requires a little savvy about getting stuff done in the face of opposition and obstacles. Which is the definition of “ballsy”. Most folks who are successful at achieving goals were not born with the necessary attitude.
They learned the skill of living life with guts, just like they learned every other important skill associated with the gig.
I OFTEN intervene even with long-time professionals (like freelance writers, or veteran biz owners) who are screwing up their efforts to be successful.
My main advice: “Stop being a wuss. Everyone is scared. The successful ones acknowledge that fear, put it aside, and just get busy taking care of business.”
It really is that simple.
Life beyond childhood is for grown-ups. If you’re scared, you can take a regular job somewhere, and stay far away from the risks and realities of being your own boss.
On the other hand… if you’ve got entrepreneur’s blood in your veins… and you really DO want to be your own boss…
… then allow the reality of doing so to wash over you, and embrace it.
Everyone is unsure of themselves out there. There are no guarantees in life for anything… and getting into biz is among the riskiest things of all to do.
A tiny percentage of skydivers will die each year while jumping… but a vast chunk of rookie business owners will fail.
This is why you pursue the skills of salesmanship. Learning how to create a wicked-good sales message, how to close a deal, and how to bond with a target market is the PRIMARY weapon you want walking into ANY business environment.
Will you still fail? Maybe.
But you will NOT fail because you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. If knowing how to persuade and influence can make your business sizzle, then learning salesmanship means you’re armed to the teeth. Like everything else in life, having the right tools for the job at hand is the best way to put the odds in your favor.
MOST people are not meant to be their own boss. The world needs followers, too.
Here’s what I tell students in the Simple Writing System, when doubts about their future bubble up: “Just by diving into the SWS, you have shown that there is something different burning inside you. No one held a gun to your head and forced you to come here to learn these skills. You decided to join all on your own.
“Even if you’re not yet sure why you’ve joined us here… you need to understand that MOST people would never even consider doing anything like this.
“Independence freaks most people out. The thought of standing up and taking responsibility for the birth and success of a business is terrifying… and most will refuse to even entertain the thought.
“This is, by the way, why you should always enter the entrepreneurial world WITHOUT relying on your current crop of friends for support.
“They will not applaud your efforts. They think you’re batshit crazy for daring to even consider being your own boss. They will (consciously or unconsciously) sabotage your progress if they can, and rejoice in your failures… because if you DO succeed, that kills their main excuse for not succeeding themselves. Most folks believe success is all about luck and magic. When you dig in and actually do the work necessary to succeed, you piss all over their world view that The Little Guy Can’t Win.
“If you’ve made friends or started a network of fellow travelers here in the SWS, great. Most entrepreneurs have to operate alone (until they stumble on places like this, where they can find help, advice and coaching). That loneliness just intensifies the fear and sense of risk.
“But I’ll tell you the truth: As scary as being independent is…
“… once you’ve tasted it, you’ll be hooked.”
Most entrepreneurs who enjoy even a little success instantly become “unemployable”. After thinking for yourself, after taking responsibility for your success or failure, after engaging the world fully aware and experiencing the thrill of living large…
… you’re worthless to a boss. He can’t use anyone who thinks for themselves.
Are you wracked with doubt?
That voice you hear — the one knocking you down, digging a knife into your gut and highlighting your worst fears — is JUST A VOICE.
In psychoanalytic talk, it’s your “Super Ego”… the scolding parent’s voice, the doubter of your abilities, the whiny little bastard bent on keeping you down.
And it can easily be sent packing.
Most people allow others to rule their lives. Rules and bad advice and grim experiences dating back to childhood somehow become “the way it is”…
… and regardless of any proof otherwise, they will obey that voice until they die.
And yet, all you have to do…
… is acknowledge the voice (“Yes, I hear you, you little shit”), realize it’s not your friend… and lock it in a dungeon deep in your brain, where you can’t hear it anymore.
I speak from experience on this subject. I was ruled by The Voice Of Doom for the first half of my life. I didn’t even try to take responsibility for my success, because The Voice told me it was hopeless. That I was hopeless. That Fate had nothing but failure in store for me.
Then, I realized that The Voice was actually full of it. I proved it, slowly at first, by setting a goal outside The Voice’s warnings… and then achieving it. And then doing it again.
It’s like superstition. I used to be the most superstitious guy you’ve ever met. Literally, my life was dominated by superstitions.
Then, one day, I just decided to see how real those superstitions were. So I violated every single one of them. On purpose. If I had previously thought some action was “bad luck”, I would do it, blatantly, just to see what kind of bad luck occurred.
And, of course, no bad luck ever appeared.
The human brain is crammed with nonsense like this. Superstitions, bad rules, dumb beliefs, unfounded fears and ridiculous feelings of guilt and shame.
Especially guilt and shame.
You know what a fully functioning adult does? They don’t approach life believing it should be a certain way, or wish that life was a certain way.
No. They engage with life the way it really is. You make your own luck. Rules sometimes make good sense, but deserve to be broken when they’re clearly stupid. Belief systems often have nothing to do with reality. (You can “believe” you’re gonna win the lottery with all your heart and soul… and it won’t change reality one tiny bit.)
Fear is a natural part of our defense system… and it can get out of hand in modern times.
So you need to dig in and get to know your fears. Some are fine — don’t walk down that dark alley if you’re not prepared to deal with the things that happen in dark alleys.
Others are counter-productive — you had a bad experience once when you were 12, and so what? Get over it, put on your Big Boy or Big Girls Pants, and re-engage with life.
And shame? Guilt and shame are useless. On the road of life, feeling guilty about something is like setting up camp and refusing to move or progress any further.
Instead, try “remorse” — recognize when you’ve done something wrong, clean up the mess, fix what you’ve broken as best you can, and make amends to people you’ve hurt.
And don’t “vow” to do better next time.
Instead, actually DO something to change your behavior or habits. Promises are bullshit. Action is the only way to move through life in a positive way.
Don’t promise to do better. Just do better. This will probably involve learning something new — a new skill, a new way of dealing with life, a new set of behaviors.
Doing this will set you apart from the majority of other people out there, too.
The modern Renaissance Man or Woman is something awesome to behold. While the rest of the world increasingly sinks into a snoozing Zombie-state — indoctrinated, fooled, manipulated and played– you have the option of becoming MORE aware, more awake, more alert and ready to live life with gusto.
However, no one is going to force you to do this.
If you want to join the Feast of Life, you have to step up and earn your seat at the table. You will not be invited in. You will not stumble in by accident, or stroke of luck.
Nope. You must take responsibility for your own life… figure out what you want… and then go get it.
It’s a daunting task for most folks… too daunting to even contemplate.
For the few who know it’s what they want, however… it’s all just a matter of movement and action.
Yes, it can be scary. Life is terrifying, at times.
It’s also only worth living, for many people, when you go after it with all your heart.
There are no replays on this game. No second tickets for the ride.
You’re allowed to sleep through all of it. Most folks do.
If that’s not good enough for you any more, then welcome to the rarefied air of the entrepreneur world.
It’s fun, it’s thrilling, it’s scary, and there’s no safety net below you.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
And that’s the commencement speech I’d give.
Put you to sleep, didn’t it.
Okay, my work is done here.
What would YOU tell new grads? Lay it out in the comments, below…
John “The Prof” Carlton
Those of you in the loop know we’re re-launching the coaching program of the Simple Writing System again… starting with the free “Express Course” first lesson all this week. (Go here to jump in on that killer experience.)
We rarely offer this hand-holding, personalized, one-on-one mentoring (by coaches who are also successful copywriters). The last session was a year 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. (Literally thousands have been through the system already.) 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 deliriously 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…
… you still struggle. Or go under.
ALL the top marketers you know about, online and offline, know how to write their own sales messages.
And when it’s really, really, really freaking important that it gets done right…
… they almost always actually DO it themselves.
Now, yeah, sure, they also hire out some of the writing, too. But not because they are clueless about what needs to go into a killer sales message.
In fact, the top guys are the WORST clients a freelancer can have. Because you can’t bullshit them. They know EXACTLY what a good ad looks like.
The really good marketers are armed to the teeth with salesmanship chops. A freelance copywriter cannot lollygag around with those guys, or he’ll get thrown to the dogs. He’s got to deliver the best work possible, because the client who understands what great ad copy looks like will not accept mediocre crap.
You know what the BEST client is for a freelance copywriter?
It’s the fool who hasn’t got Clue One about what goes into a decent sales message.
The freelancer can toss off the laziest piece of garbage possible… something that barely resembles advertising… and still collect his fee.
And when it fails and dies a horrible death? Well, who’s to say why it happened.
The clueless client sure doesn’t know.
And consider this: Say you somehow manage to hire the most promising copywriter in the universe to come work for you.
Exclusively. He becomes a member of your team. And you teach him all the secrets of your biz, right down to the specs of your product.
I’ve seen this soap opera go down often.
Here’s how it plays out: Once that brilliant young writer gets some experience with you… and learns all your secrets…
… yep. He leaves.
And either starts working for the competition…
… or BECOMES your competition.
And let’s see. Hmmm. You had the biz first. It was your baby. Your product.
But he knows how to create the sales messages that sell it. And you just taught him all your secrets.
Who do you think wins in that match-up?
People… you MUST learn how to create a decent sales message, if you are to survive and prosper in business today.
Otherwise… you’re toast.
And this is why we’re hauling out the Simple Writing System personalized, one-on-one coaching program again. The very deep, yet easily-understood online quick-learning program where recognized, veteran, professional copywriting experts personally coach you through the SWS. Which will finally trick your brain into being able to create killer, persuasive ads and marketing materials…
… whenever you need them.
Is this program for you?
Here’s a simple way to find out: Go here and watch this FREE video. (It’s just me on the video, explaining the details of the Simple Writing System, plus the beginning FREE lessons to you, and it’s not outrageously long. Just the facts.)
This first video (and the couple that follow) is a great “first taste” of what’s in store for you when you follow through. And, these first videos are free. My gift to you — real, honest, simple tactics you can use immediately to create your first killer ad. All on your lonesome, just with a little coaching from me.
Big Bonus: I’ve corralled my closest colleagues into helping out, too… which means you could get personal, interactive feedback from A-List writers like David Garfinkel, Harlan Kilstein, Mike Morgan, Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero, Jim Curley, David Deutsch and others. For FREE. Just by jumping on this opportunity. (A point I can’t make enough: The last time we offered this was a year ago… and before that, several years passed without offering it at all. This is a very RARE opportunity… and it’ll pass quickly.)
Soon — if you join us — you’ll get the full story… how you can go through the ENTIRE program at your own pace, on your own schedule… and have a veteran copywriter watching your back the entire way, with personal advice and coaching. And no one is “too busy” to take this course right now — jettisoning a single TV program you watch each week, for a few weeks, is more than enough “found time” to do everything.
And when you come out the other side of this coaching… you’ll have finally learned how to create, from scratch, all the ads and marketing materials you will ever need. The stuff that sells, and pumps up your bottom line, and brings you massive success on a silver platter.
Are you ready for a ride that can change your life forever?
We’re gunning the engine, holding the door open for you…
… but you gotta take that first step on your own. Start here.
It’s more fun around crazy writers who know how teach you the secrets of excellent salesmanship…
… and it’s time you got started on your exciting new life, isn’t it?
P.S. I almost forgot…
… you can only watch this video for the next week or so.
This new SWS sessions starts very soon. (No, you do not need to “plan” or “prepare” to get involved — you can really can go through the entire program in your spare time, at your own pace… and still get all the personalized coaching from your teacher you need.)
So you need to get over here now… while we’re still accepting students.
I have no idea if we’ll offer another SWS session ever again. It’s been over a year since the last one — it is VERY hard to corral top writers like this.
So take nothing for granted here. Go watch my video now…
“You want it, you take it… you pay the price.” (Bruuuuuuce Springsteen, “Prove It All Night”)
One afternoon when I was around 9, I found a $2 bill laying in the parking lot of the local plunge (where we’d just spent the day trying to drown ourselves and trick each other into doing belly-flops off the high dive).
I was as ecstatic as Sinbad when he discovered the Cyclops’ treasure cave. The rarity of the bill just added to the sense of forbidden loot and mysterious swag. Bought us a lot of candy back then.
However, it also changed me. I spent years looking under cars in parking lots after that, obsessed with the notion that vast caches of moolah were laying around, waiting to be found. It was magical thinking at its finest. I was half-convinced it might be a way to fund my childhood, just harvesting the cash laying around.
I mean, Santa had already been outed as “not real”. And Zorro, when I met him at a supermarket opening, was shorter than he looked on TV (and smelled like beer). I had these gaping holes in my belief system of “how things worked”, and since no one was offering better ideas, I just picked up on whatever silly notion entered my head and ran with it.
Later, when we realized The Monkees weren’t a real band, and Rock Hudson was gay, and Nixon lied to us, and…
It was HARD keeping a bullshit myth-laden belief system operating. You had to really dig in and ignore facts, and even get burned a lot.
Finally, when I became a freelance copywriter and there was real money on the line (and not just opinions or hurt feelings)… I saw the light.
And it remains one of the Big Revelations I had, early in my career: The role of reality in becoming a world-class salesman.
In order to persuade large groups of people to buy, act now, or even just begin to see your side of things… you have to see the world as it is.
Not as you wish it was. Not as you believe it should be. Not as you were told it was.
As it is. The stark, cold reality of how things actually work, and how people actually behave.
This is often scary, at first. It requires you to look behind your go-to belief systems (which you may have had since you were a kid)… to challenge authority’s version of what’s going on… and — most important — you must willingly exit the shared delusion among the majority of your fellow humans that what they say they’ll do is more important than what they actually do.
This kind of critical thinking, of looking behind the curtain and not being lulled into false promises, drags you away from the main party… and can seem lonely. Folks will even get hostile at times, because you’re no longer playing along. (I had multiple occasions, before I learned to just let it go, of ending a family argument by pulling out a dictionary or encyclopedia… and later, hoping onto Google. Thus ruining everyone’s mood, because no one enjoys having their bullshit beliefs challenged.)
This sense of becoming alienated from friends and family sometimes keeps copywriters from tossing their myth-based belief systems, and diving deep into the murky waters of reality. They’re afraid it will change them for the worst. Make them azzholes and doubters and unpleasant realists.
But that’s not how it needs to work. Here are a few Starter Rules to help you get going:
Starter Rule #1: Observing how people act, versus what they say they’ll do, just gives you a tool to avoid being bamboozled. In its simplest form, you’ll notice that the folks who are most emphatic in their promises (“I will absolutely be there on time. No excuses…”) are the ones who will chronically let you down.
In the advanced form, your Bullshit Detector will start buzzing whenever a client says “money isn’t a problem”… because, much of the time, that means money is very much a problem. (Resist the urge to automatically assume the opposite of everything anyone says… even when your experience shows you it will often be the case. Don’t get into the habit of making rash decisions, based on what you’ve seen before. But DO put your instincts and experience into the mix.)
Starter Rule #2: And for God’s sake, don’t let this make you cynical. It’s not your job to call folks out on the inconsistency of their actions, versus what they insist is their intention. You can, however, quietly understand that the rare individuals who DO fulfill their promises are the ones you want around you professionally (and probably romantically, too).
Personally, I’ve found that you start to attract professionally-minded colleagues quickly, once your reality-based modus operandi kicks in.
When money, results and the success of a biz venture is on the line, promises count for nothing. The cold hard reality of how the market reacts to your ads is all that matters.. and you must react accordingly.
Starter Rule #3: Keep your ego out of it. At first, you’ll need to monitor your own bad habits of not following up on your promises… and this will change you fundamentally as a person. Don’t announce that you’re suddenly a “new man”. Instead, just start acting as if your word really does mean something.
Early on, I developed my version of a “professional’s code”: You are where you said you’d be, when you said you’d be there, having done what you said you’d do.
This means you meet all deadlines, no matter what (even if it means staying up all night working, missing the big party, disappointing Susie Q, defying the insults and demands of your old pals who hate the idea of you becoming a pro and leaving their slacker butts in the dust). You honor your contracts, even if it’s just something you said (and could, if you weren’t such a pro, weasel out of).
You become “that guy” who can be trusted… not because you say you can be trusted, but because you really can be trusted.
Huge difference that requires behavioral changes at your cellular level. It’s hard to pull off, but you can do it.
Starter Rule #4: When you first start living in reality, there is a danger of becoming cynical and angry. Just move past it — your goal is to become a world-class persuader and provider of actual results.
You may become a quieter person… because all that time you once spent trying to convince someone you were going to do something is no longer required. You simply agree to do it, and then do it. On time. With all the expertise you can muster.
You never, ever need to explain yourself. You become a Dude Of Action. This becomes your reputation over time — not because you’ve announced it, but because this is who you’ve become. You’ve got to be patient, and hold yourself accountable for everything you do.
And yes, I’m serious when I say “everything”. Stop lying, pretending, wishing and cheating. It’s stunningly easy to do, but it requires a commitment.
Starter Rule #5: There is never a need to argue. As a rookie copywriter, I realized (after meeting my twentieth VP of Marketing or CEO or entrepreneur) that incompetence is the RULE, not the exception, in business.
Most bosses — no matter how good-hearted they are, or how smart they are, or even how experienced they are — simply cannot know all there is to know about every part of running a biz. So they’ll insist on using certain (dumb) sales angles, demand that offers be presented in specific (dumb) ways, and — worst of all — have their niece with the degree in English Lit edit your work.
Early in your career, this is not a problem to worry about. Get your money up front, with any other royalties or payments in written form, and just keep moving. Most of your clients will suck, and not follow through, and botch the marketing up. That’s just the way it goes.
As you gain experience, and especially as your reputation allows you to have more of a voice in what goes down, you’ll eventually be in the position of forcing every client to do what you tell them to do. But that doesn’t happen right away.
(For more on these high-end freelance tactics, including details on how to get paid, check out The Freelance Manual, available here.)
When you work through reality, the mysteries of the world play less and less a part of how you proceed. If you don’t know something, you don’t pretend that saying you know it makes it so. You go learn it. Or hire someone who’s proficient at it to do it for you. You research, you comparison shop, you do whatever is necessary to achieve your goal.
You say “I don’t know. I’ll find out,” a lot.
You are relieved from the task of keeping your lies and boasts and pretend-knowledge straight.
And suddenly, you’re spending your time honing your chops, filling in the gaps with actual skills and know-how, and getting shit done.
Most folks prefer the world to remain full of mystery. It’s that childhood thrill of simply deciding that something is so, and then never questioning it again, even as evidence mounts that it’s bullshit. (I never did find another $2 bill on the ground. And I missed a few rainbows along the way, because I was always looking down…)
Reality is unforgiving, and requires you to be responsible, take action, and stop pretending. But it’s really the only way to go. I found that, rather than making me more cynical about people, I actually loved them more. I instantly forgive them their bullshit promises, even while fulfilling all of my own. I also never allow someone to steal time from me, or ruin my day with a failed promise — I give them a reasonable window, and when they’ve failed, I go to Plan B.
You always have a Plan B (and Plan C, and Plan D) when you live in reality. Sometimes you find yourself saying goodbye to unreliable friends and fun-but-sketchy colleagues… and you have to be okay with that. You’re going after long-term and short-term goals, and it takes commitment and sweat to reach them. If your old crowd still believes that success comes from luck (like finding a $2 bill on the ground), you may have to find a new crowd.
There will always be a little mystery in life. You encounter new stuff all the time, in business and in relationships and in everything you do.
But each mystery can be broken down into knowable parts, and figured out, and solved. Every time. Eventually, after you’ve worked with a lot of clients in a lot of markets, you realize you are never stumped by the obstacles that freeze most entrepreneurs up. There is always a reason why sales are down, or returns are up, or something that used to work ain’t working no more.
When the reality of business and life become second-nature to you… you become That Consultant Every Biz Owner Wants To Hire. And the top copywriting experts are all consultants first, solving the mysteries with reality-based solutions. The writing comes later.
Does this make sense to you?
This entire subject is often the main entree at our masterminds, and in every Hot Seat consultation I do.
Living in reality is a much better way to go, every time. And it really can make you a happier, more fun and pleasant person… who just happens to get a lot done.
Love to hear what you think, in the comment section below.
“Hey, you bastards, I’m still here!” (Steve McQueen as Papillon, floating away to freedom…)
I’m re-publishing — for what has become a very popular tradition on this blog — one of the more influential posts I’ve ever written.
It’s a good one, worth rereading even if you read it before.
What you’re about to encounter is a slightly tweaked way of looking at the best way to start your new year…
… but this tweak makes all the difference in the world. I’ve heard from many folks that this particular technique finally helped them get a perspective on where they’re at, where they’re going…
… and why they care about getting there.
So, even if you’ve read this post before… it’s worth another look. Especially now, as you gaze down the yawning gullet of 2013, trying to wrap your brain around a plan to make the year your bitch.
This is a critical step for entering any new period of your life. To keep your life moving ahead, you need to set some goals, dude. And most goal-setting tactics, I’ve found, are useless. Worst among them is the traditional New Year’s resolutions (which seldom last through January).
This tactic I’m sharing with you (again) is something I’ve used, very successfully, for decades…
… to reach goals, to clarify the direction of my life, and to change habits. I first shared it in the old Rant newsletter a few years back, and I’ve hauled it out here in the blog on a regular basis. It’s timeless, classic stuff that will never let you down.
So let’s dive in. Here’s the relevant part of the post (slightly edited):
“Goal Setting 101 And
The January 15th Letter”
Yeah, yeah, I know a chat about goals can quickly turn into a boring, pedantic lecture. But then, so can a chat about space flight.
And, in reality, both space flight and your goals are VERY exciting things.
Or should be.
It’s all in the telling.
What I’m not going to discuss are “resolutions”. Those are bogus pseudo-goals that have the staying power of pudding in a microwave.
No. It’s merely a coincidence that I’m suggesting a review of your goals in January, just after the New Year’s supposed fresh start.
I mean… there’s not much else to do, so why not sit down and plan out the rest of your life.
This is, of course, a very damp, cold, and bleak time of year. The depths of winter and discontent.
A good percentage of the population suffers fleeting depression because of lack of sunlight… thanks to the geniuses behind Daylight Savings Time, who arrange for dusk to arrive around 2:30 in the afternoon in these parts.
We also just got slammed with back-to-back-to-back “Storms of the Century”, each one dumping a record load of snow on us. I sent photos to friends, and many emailed back wondering when I’d gone to Antarctica to live.
We had a little cabin fever brewing. Didn’t help when the local PBS channel ran a special on the Donner Party, either. Three feet of snow drifting down, the lights flickering, enough ice on the road to make the SUV sidle like a Red Wing goon slamming someone into the boards.
The safest place was home… but man, the walls start to close in after a few days.
I’m telling you, I had excuses up the yin-yang for allowing my senses to get a little dulled. The natural response is to turn your mind off, and hibernate until March. And I succumbed. Started moping around, watching CSI: Miami reruns instead of reading a book, surfing the Net for stuff I didn’t care about… you know the drill.
I’m sure you’ve done your own version of it now and again.
And I’m also sure you already know that no amount of “buck up” happy talk will mitigate the gloom.
In fact, there are a few enlightened health pro’s who say we should let our bodies wind down every year or so. Get a full system-flush type of cold, crawl under the covers for a few days and let the demons and other bad stuff bubble to the surface. So you can purge the crud. Evacuate the used-up bacteria and tube-clogs out of your pipes, physically. And shoo the whispering monsters out of your head.
We’re not perfect creatures. We need to sleep, we need to recharge our batteries, and we need to stop and get our bearings. At least once a year. So don’t beat yourself up for the occasional down period. We all have them, and the healthiest folks just roll with it. It’s not good to repress this stuff.
It only becomes a problem when you sink into clinical depression. That’s the cold, empty state where nothing looks good, and hope is an absurd memory.
I’ve been there. Several times. The year I turned 30 (for example) I lost my job, my girlfriend and my place to live all within a 45-day stretch.
That shit can wear you down.
Now, I have two things to say about this:Continue reading
“Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now…” (Bob Dylan, “My Back Pages”)
A lot of my social media focus lately has been on Facebook. As much as I distrust and mildly despise The Zuck, I have to hand it to the little sociopath for figuring out a dynamic that allows for real interaction with folks…
… which lasts, on average, around one to three days. Then, even the most viral post disappears down the social media rathole and is gone forever.
So I like to rescue some of the better posts I’ve carved into the FB newsfeed, and stack ’em up here on the blog… where they’ll survive in the archives for as long as this rickety thing exists. (We’re officially at the decade mark, by the way. Ten years of posting monthly… except for January of 2012, where I inadvertently didn’t publish an intended article in time, so the archives have that single hole in them. That’s pretty freakin’ awesome.)
Anyway, no need for context here. If you’d enjoy seeing the comment threads on any of these posts, just hop over to my FB page (where you should already be following me, anyway, what are you thinking?). It’s www.facebook.com/john.carlton.
And, as always, I love to hear what you’re thinking in the comments here (where I often hang out and interact).
By the way… that photo up top is from the big damn AWAI seminar I was a featured speaker at, back in October. Everything about the photo (and yes, that’s Dan Kennedy sitting with us) is explained in the Psych Insights For Modern Marketers podcast I link to below (in one of the posts) (and yes, this is a tease to get you to read this entire thing).
Enjoy the year-end Facebook roundup:
Take This To The Bank, Part 11: Most people’s daily actions (eating, buying, loving, hating, grooming, working, all of it) are based on beliefs… which they regard as “true”.
You better grok this, if you want to communicate with, sell to, or persuade folks in any way.
As irrational and unfounded in reality as these belief systems can be, they become unshakeable foundations for all behavior, thought and decisions.
Rookie copywriters like to bowl readers over with facts and data and science. Yawn. These are humans you’re writing to. Reality is very subjective, and by the time perception gets past the internal obstacle course of flawed senses, emotional distress, and knee-jerk denial… your facts will get ambushed and slaughtered as efficiently as a 30’s-era mob hit.
Real persuasion occurs in the murky soup of people’s ancient, mostly-unconscious belief systems. Timid efforts ain’t gonna cut it.
Bold, and even spectacularly whacky beliefs trump crunchy facts every time.
Just something to keep in mind as you explore persuasion expertise…
A life well-lived will be roiling with stories. Seems pretty obvious.
But it’s the same with a business well-run. And a career with lofty goals. Even a project you’ve thrown yourself into. Or a single day of enthusiastic productivity.
The world spins in the greased grooves of stories. All around you, and deeply intertwined with your very existence, are stories of romance, harrowing adventure, small and large heroic episodes, and the fascinating history of your impact on everything you touch. Yes, you.
Your stories swirl and crash into the stories of your friends, colleagues, lovers, clients, family, enemies and random encounters.
Recognizing these stories, and molding them into snarling tales with a set-up, a point, and a punchline or lesson, can kick you into a higher level of conscious living. The slumbering masses ignore, deny and deflate their stories… and yet, the hunger in all of us for well-told tales is never sated.
There’s no big secret to success. It’s not the moolah or power you accumulate… it’s the wealth of experience, feelings, brain stimulation, and your impact on others generated by living large.
It’s hard to become, and stay conscious. Your stories help you catalog the good stuff, and keep you enmeshed with all the other actors in your life’s movie.
The best marketing is alive with stories, because it’s all just an extension of life well-lived.
Go chew up some scenery. The only real crime in the universe is squandering this unique, scary and wonderful existence you woke up with today…