Tag Archives for " Marketing "

What Shrinks Know That You Don’t Yet

Saturday, 1:25pm
Reno, NV
“It’s game over, man, game over!” (Corporeal Hudson, “Aliens”)

Howdy.

Folks who’ve followed my ramblings and rants for a while know that I’ve had a healthy, life-long love of psychology. Both the academic discoveries, and the street-level revelations that only savvy, old school salesmen ever discover.

And that’s the useable stuff. The insights and tactics that work in marketing, for example. And in dealing with people (who, as you well know, can be whacky and illogical at the worse times).

So here’s one piece of what I call Psych Insights that may help you at a very fundamental level.

Dig: I’ve hung out with — and learned a lot from — a number of professional psychologists.

Most are whacked (with personal lives in complete disarray)…

… but it’s like knowing an insane plumber who can nevertheless fix any pipe problem you have.

You don’t judge the guy you let into your brain’s plumbing by his whackiness, but by his ability to help you.

Anyway, Gary Halbert also shared my fascination with shrinks, and even had one in his inner circle for a few years. (We tried, and tried, and tried to help him get an entrepreneurial project going… but, you know, he was just too caught up in the academic mindset to “get” marketing.)

This particular shrink really understood the territory of human behavior and belief, though. (He’d spent so much time inside people’s heads, he could recognize your particular neuroses before you opened your mouth.) (Yes, you’re neurotic. Get over it. We all are.)

What I learned from him (and other shrinks, both the good ones and the close-to-being-committed-themselves ones) gave me awesome persuasion tools to work with in ads.

But I also learned a lot about living well, too.

Here’s just one example: Generally, you can divide everyone you meet into two main camps:

  1. They either believe the world is mostly safe…
  2. … or mostly unsafe.

This seems obvious until you start realizing how this belief is the foundation of just about every decision people make in their lives.

Experience will affect your outlook over time, of course…

… but that fundamental belief usually remains.

I grew up considering the world mostly safe… with lots of caveats.

This meant we were fearless about getting ourselves into tough spots as kids, as we tested and retested our boundaries and abilities to deal with dangerous (and often idiotic) situations. I discovered there really are lots of unsafe corners in the world…

… but I also discovered that you can build new skill sets that help you deal with the danger.

The kids who were too terrified to follow us into adventures never learned much about avoiding getting hurt. They missed out on both the skinned knees and the confidence of having survived yet another brouhaha.

The bruised-but-better-equipped kids went off in one direction in life, and the scaredy cats went off in the other direction. Forever.

In marketing, there are many audiences who fall into one or the other of these two camps…

and realizing this can make your communication with them massively more effective.

The self-defense market loves paranoia, for example. Golfers who buy lessons are often positive the game hates them and course designers personally created sand traps to gobble up their shots. (Seriously.) And the “find romance” markets are full of folks who, usually out of fear, delayed their entry into the mating game.

Some markets — like guitar lessons — don’t fall into either camp.

Other markets may need a bit of research first to figure out this “first step” in understanding them…

but knowing where the majority are helps you start your copywriting journey off in the right direction. (Diet markets, for example — most prospects have been burned over and over again by fads and BS, which makes them distrustful. However, workout markets are inherently more positive about change.)

You don’t bully the fearful, and you don’t coddle the fearless, basically. Just this insight alone will help you go deep into closing pitches that work shockingly better, simply because you’re speaking directly to your prospect’s main belief system. 

Never assume anything about your market, without researching and garnering enough real info so you would bet your ass on being correct.

Safe.

Unsafe.

Two completely different directions in attitude, communication and influence.

Hope you’re having a great summer…

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. Most of my books are filled with insight on how to deal with your fellow humans out there in the gnarly biz world.

“The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together” is an excellent place to start. Grab your copy here.

Real Wealth’s Best Friend

Friday, 12:30pm
Reno, NV
I’m handy with the love and I’m no fool, I fix broken hearts, I know I really can…” (“Handyman”, Jimmy Jones)

Howdy.

There’s a lesson here somewhere: I use a certain well-known phone company for my Interwebs access, and over the years I’ve learned…

not to trust them.

Their customer service is all talk and no action. Everything I’ve wanted done has required multiple calls to agents who sound nice, promise immediate action, apologize profusely for past transgressions…

… and who then proceed to fuck up the simplest of transactions.

I gotta believe some of them are doing it for spite, just because they’re bored.

The others are simply incompetent fools.

Anyway, the better customer I prove to be, the worst it gets.

I pay my bills on time, and never bother to try gaming the system. Which means I occasionally get mired into obsolete billing models, where I’m paying more for less.

And when it’s discovered by some agent while she’s trying to un-fuck whatever the most recent mess is, they act like it’s my fault I’ve been ignored and abused.

In their world, any customer who does not obsess over their phone bill, constantly fussing with the options and sucking up the deals, is complicit in any bad deal that develops.

Sigh.

I just want the phones and Web to work.

So, you know, I can do my job, and help civilization progress another iota along the slow crawl to oblivion.

I don’t buy things on sale, because that’s a sucker’s game — I buy what I need, when I need it, and happily pay more for a fair value.

In other words…

… I’m a high-end, diamond-plated, near perfect customer.

Which, in the phone company’s eyes, makes me a chump to be exploited, over and over.

Shame on me, I know.

I toss everything they send me, except the bill. I don’t trust them to do the right thing in any deal they offer, and I will bolt for the first hint of a competitor who has better customer service…

… when and if such a competitor arrives. No luck so far.

I went through this in the 90s with first Gateway computers, and then Dell. I’ve bought a couple dozen computers in my time, and I always get the most hot-rodded model possible. Add on every gewgaw and dangling option they’ve got (and then add some of my own).

But I require good customer service. At first, Gateway rocked. Nurtured me through every new computer buy, and were there for me when the occasional problem rose.

Then they did some finagling with their model, and thought “Hey, why are we paying so much to staff the customer service division? Let’s cut ’em all loose. That’s the FIRST place to save real money.” And they ditched their super-excellent customer service department. Sent it all overseas, where non-English-speaking folks struggled to even answer the damn phone when you called.

After a lengthy battle to get them to fix the shoddy-ass new computer I’d purchased, I was done.

Went over to Dell, their main competitor. And, for a few years, I got great service again.

Then, some shit-for-brains MBA weaseled his way into the hierarchy and gutted their customer service.

Not “cost effective”, you know.

With a monopoly — like the cable company (which I hope is swallowed up by a passing black hole soon) — you can get away with Soviet-style customer service (or lack thereof). At least, until other options appear (like abandoning cable altogether and just finding shows elsewhere online) (or, God forbid, finding something better to do with your limited time on earth, and eschew TV altogether).

Meanwhile, don’t you DARE treat your customers like the Big Dogs do. Entrepreneurs are closer to the action, and should know that finding ways to keep that sliver of a percentage of your best customers happy can bring in a fortune.

Chasing the mobs of looky-lou’s who are dead broke and prefer stealing your content anyway is a fool’s errand (which is all too common in biz today).

Know where your real wealth comes from. Hint: It’s quality, not quantity.

Some of the more successful entrepreneurs I know have the tiniest lists imaginable…

… but those lists are stuffed with the best customers any biz could wish for.

And they trust each other.

They’ve earned it.

Just think about it, as you ignore customer service for another day.

That sudden draft of cold wind is another opportunity leaving your world for better prospects elsewhere…

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. For more insight to making customers get all excited about giving you money…

… be sure you’re armed with the right info. Start here

P.P.S. Yeah, the photo above is me, back at the beginning of my freelance career. First big computer buy. This was in the mid-80s, way before Gateway or Dell’s computer-shipping concept was even viable.

I had this computer put together piece by piece — a bulky monitor (orange dots on a black screen only as the interface), two IBM floppy disc drives stacked (and we’re talking REAL floppy discs, 5-1/4″), and a slooooooow dot matrix printer. I had to load DOS, then load the word processing software (MultiMate, now extinct)…

… and then load up a blank floppy to work on.

It was like being on the flight deck of the starship Enterprise, though. Just amazing technology. The prior day, I’d been writing my ads on an IBM Selectric typewriter. If I wanted copies made, I had to drive to the “copy making place”, usually a small printer. Nobody had Xeroxes in their home office at that time.

You laugh, now — but back then, this was the height of computerized entrepreneurialism.

I’ve been around the block a few times. It’s been a blast, but also very disorienting at times. I mean, my iPhone has more computing power than NASA used for the moon shots in ’69. Stunning…

How To Weasel Out Of A Deadline (When You Seriously Must)

Saturday 3:08pm
Reno, NV
Do the least damage possible to the client.” (Me.)

Howdy.

Recently, a good pal (and damn fine copywriter) had a bit of a meltdown…

… because Life inserted some truly cruel and unusual shit into his day, and he was in danger of missing a deadline. (That’s a photo of a deadline, above. Nasty thing.)

This is a no-no among most top professionals of all persuasions. You don’t miss deadlines.

People are counting on you. As a freelancer, entire businesses may be counting on you.

Back when I wrote for the largest direct mailing outfits in the world, a missed deadline might mean tens of thousands of bucks wasted, as printing presses sat idle. If my piece was meant for a print ad, even more money could potentially go down the tubes — my deadline was attached to a publication deadline, and no magazine or newspaper waits for you to get your shit together.

You don’t get your ad in on time, you don’t go into the publication. And you still have to pay (at least a penalty, and maybe the whole ad cost).

It’s serious stuff.

Still…

… because we’re all humans living in an essentially hostile world (full of danger, unpredictable risks, and lots of other gruesome horrors)…

you need a plan.

A plan for that day (which hopefully never comes) when… shudder… you may be forced to miss a deadline.

My colleague is a true pro. He understands that clients and printing presses and budgets and biz plans are counting on him to meet his deadlines…

… and over a decade as a freelance copywriter, has never to my knowledge missed one.

And yet, here he was…

… cornered by Life, and needing some advice on what to do.

So, I whipped out a short list of options.

And it was so good, I thought I’d share it here.

For you to use NEVER… unless there is absolutely no other choice.

So, ONLY for your deep Bag O’ Tricks-Maybe-Needed-Down-The-Line (and never for regular use), here’s that advice:

How to get out of a deadline…

… when you absolutely have to (cuz you’re faint from loss of blood, or space aliens kept you locked up all night doing anal probes, or your eyes fell out…

… which, by the way, are the ONLY real excuses a true professional would ever let get in the way of a deadline. Other than life-or-death emergencies.)

Let’s begin with the stark fact that I, for one, have never missed a deadline. Never. In a 30-year writing career.

A few colleagues have expressed shock over that. Cuz, from the complaints I’ve fielded over the years about my cohorts, the average copywriter misses approximately half his deadlines. From rookie to top dog. It’s appalling.

But it also opens up a huge opportunity for writers who want to stand out (as all the “A Listers” do). One of the reasons I earned the global reputation I enjoy, in fact… is by meeting my deadlines.

Deadlines are sacred. I made a vow early in my career, “biz before pleasure”, and I stuck to it.

Without that attitude, I would be just another run-of-the-mill copywriter. No fame. No fortune. Not worth much.

In fact, the whole notion of meeting ALL your deadlines caused me to create what I call “The Professional’s Code”. It’s good for anyone in any kind of job where people count on you.

Here’s that code: You are where you said you’d be… when you said you’d be there… having done what you said you’d do.

It’s just that simple. In biz, romance, hobbies, getting your hair cut, everything you do… you follow the code.

If you crave the respect (and rewards) of BEING a true pro…

… you move heaven and earth to make this code REAL in your life.

You become That Guy who can be counted on. Who follows through. Who you can trust with your life. Or the life of your business.

Still…

… nevertheless, there may come a time in your career when life interferes so drastically…

… that you are forced to miss a deadline.

If that happens, here are your options:

Option #1: Arrange for an extension. You do not reveal details of your emergency. You’re not looking for sympathy. You’re a professional who is admitting that you cannot meet the current deadline…

… and something else needs to be arranged.

If they refuse your request for an extension, then: (a) return whatever fee you’ve already been paid, and deal with the professional shame of missing a deadline…

… or (b) hand in whatever you’ve completed up to this moment (if it’s even close to being what the client needs)…

… or (c) combine (a) and (b).

You may lose the client if what you give them isn’t something they can use… but then, who needs clients who don’t respect the fact that — once in a while — life hands you a bummer? (And, to be fair, what client needs a writer who misses deadlines?)

This is assuming you haven’t made a habit of missing deadlines. You may have earned some slack, IF your rep is clean up to now.

If missing the deadline causes a huge problem for the client, then your reputation has taken a massive hit…

… and your job, for the next few years, will be to try to repair your reputation. It will be hard. And dependent on you never missing another deadline.

If you take the hit, face up to it. It’s a setback. You’ll have to work to fix it.

It is what is. (Good Zen advice for living imperfectly in a rough world.)

Getting an extension is the best possible option.

But it only works if it works for your client, too. 

If you must face the reality that you will not meet the deadline…

then own up to it as soon as possible. Do not try to keep a fee you haven’t earned.

And — most important — do not vanish on the client.

The WORST thing you can do is go radio silent, leaving your client in the dark… just because you’re too embarrassed to admit you’re missing a deadline.

This compounds the error, essentially tossing your reputation into the toilet.

Own up to the situation. Again, you do not need to share details — what’s important to the client is not what’s happening to you, but what’s to become of his campaign. He paid you to do a job, and you’re not doing it. There are no “good” excuses for missing a deadline…

… but there are missed deadlines, even the most perfect of worlds.

Option #2: Gear up, do the best job possible in the time you can give to the gig, working overnight if you must, and meet the deadline with something resembling a complete ad. Meet the deadline despite the crises. 

Schedule time to get at least some sleep, and to deal with the interfering emergency…

… but give the rest of your available time to the job. Make it happen.

I’ve even resorted to jamming out an ad in a couple of hours, to meet a deadline. Normally, I want weeks to carefully craft an ad… to research it, edit it, come up with multiple headlines, carefully craft the whole thing. However, I’m also capable of writing quickly, without the days of obsession and editing.

I prefer to have time to do it right.

But when time is not available, I do the best job I can inside of the small block of time I do have.

When you jam stuff out… what you end up with is what it is.

Just know that a top writer working at 70% is worth a lesser writer at peak output — which means, if you’re a veteran writer, this rushing to meet the deadline at the last minute can still produce “good enough” copy.

If you’re not a veteran writer… then you’ve got to make the call: Can you craft a complete ad — even an inferior one — in the time you do have available?

If you can’t, then this isn’t a good option for you.

Side note: The great Gary Halbert used to routinely finish ads, writing by hand on a legal pad, in the passenger seat of a car speeding to the client’s office. I’ve written speeches in the airplane, flying to the event I’d be speaking at. I know writers who’ve recorded themselves talking out copy while in the shower, and editing the transcription in the lobby of the client’s biz.

And I’ve written ads (and made major biz decisions on the phone) in hospitals, taking a break from attending to the loved one I was there to see. I never neglected my duties as part of the support team. But there was always time to break away for 20 minutes or an hour (when they were sleeping).

You do NOT need your usual “safe space” to create good copy, once you become a true professional. You use what you have.

Especially today, with modern technology. I’ve written ads on my iPhone, typing with thumbs.

No excuses.

Option #3: If you have even a day to spare, hire a ghost writer, and meet the deadline.

If the emergency forcing you to miss the deadline is also taking you away from your ability to do ANY work at all…

… but there is still time for SOMEONE to do it…

… then this is the best option.

Early in my career, I worked for copywriting legends like Jim Rutz (inventor of the magalog), Jay Abraham and Gary Halbert in these exact situations. Sometimes, even for my very first jobs with them…

… so we had no history, and they had no idea of I could deliver quality or not. But they hired me, because I was willing to throw myself into the fire, work all night (for several nights, if needed), and move heaven and earth to help them meet their sacred deadline. And they’d heard from other marketers that I met my deadlines…

… even when they were unreasonably short.

It was a great way to kickstart my reputation as a writer you could count on. And it got me inside their operations, where I soon held high-status positions.

If you need to hire a ghost writer, hit up your network and pay what you need to pay to meet the deadline. It might be all of your fee…

… which is acceptable, because this is an emergency situation.

Oh, wait. You don’t have a network yet?

Well, why not?

One of your priorities in life should be to cultivate and nurture a network of colleagues who are in your biz. If you’re a writer, then that network should be full of your writing peers — the sort of professionals you can hit up when you’re forced to hire a ghost writer.

And those are your options.

Bottom line: Do not be bullied or guilt-tripped by the client — for your own peace of mind. Rest on your laurels if you have to — if your reputation is clean (because you’ve made meeting deadlines a professional habit), then this one time missing a deadline or returning the fee won’t harm you much.

Recite: “It is what it is. Under normal conditions, meeting this deadline wouldn’t be an issue. It is an issue, however, this time.”

Then make your decision on the best option, and engage the client in conversation if you’re backing out of the gig. The sooner he knows, the more he can mitigate the problems you’ve caused.

Seek the least damage to the client.

Side note: The best way to AVOID this travesty, of course, is to avoid agreeing to hard deadlines in the first place. Smart clients pad their deadlines, so they’re not actually “hard”, in the sense that missing it creates a disaster.

A “soft” deadline means there is still time after you turn in your manuscript before the ad runs, or gets printed, or the project starts. You’re not turning in your copy the day before the launch or the print date.

That doesn’t mean you can miss soft deadlines with impunity, though. The extra time is usually reserved for your copy being reviewed, fact-checked, and proofed. All very necessary stuff.

Top pro’s who’ve had experiences with deadlines prefer this arrangement. If there’s a problem — especially one in miscommunication between client and writer (including bad info, incorrect facts, and totally misunderstanding some essential part) — it can be caught early, during one of the multiple soft deadlines in the funnel.

It gets complicated, when writers don’t want early drafts of their work seen by the client. I certainly do not want this.

However, it’s very smart to insert soft deadlines where the client must get all info to you (so you can start writing)… where all facts (from phone numbers to links to research info) are double-checked… and where you float your hook (especially if it’s outrageous) or sale-closing angles (including guarantees).

This saves everyone a lot of problems.

It also forces the writer not to wait until the last minute to start writing (which is why sudden emergencies cause such havoc). If you’ve got all the info double-checked, and you’re sure of the facts you’re working with, AND you’ve cleared your hook with the client…

… then having to finish up in a hurry (when unexpected shit hits your fan) becomes much, much easier.

Top writers know how to navigate life and business at a level far above how regular civilians operate.

Because people are counting on you.

Hope this helps.

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. Want more good advice like this, specifically for copywriters and consultants?

The “Freelance Course” is crammed with it.

Go here to check it out.

Many top working writers used this course to break away from the pack, and start earning the Big Bucks as their reputation grew by leaps and bounds.

Take your career seriously. This is a great place to start.

Did You Enjoy Your Free Copy Of “There Are Only 3 (or 4) Marketing Problems In The Entire Universe”?

 

3or4marketingmistakes

12:37pm, Christmas Day
Reno, NV
You’ll shoot your eye out!” (Ralphie’s Mom, “A Christmas Story”)

Howdy.

Hope you’re having a great holiday, and all your dreams have come true.

If you’re here after grabbing your FREE copy of the book that Dean Jackson and I just released, welcome. Our gift to you took just 90 minutes to create, per Dean’s brilliant “90-Minute Book” magic. Well, 90 minutes, plus the four years since I first proposed the book to Dean…

… but since we dawdled away those years never actually writing any of it, this sudden burst of creativity for 90 minutes actually represents a Christmas miracle.

I’m stunned we got it out.

Sure, it’s in need of some editing, which we’ll do later (when the book is sold on Amazon), because it’s a transcription, and my brain-to-mouth process works much differently than my usual brain-to-keyboard process. But for now, today at least, this somewhat raw first edition is your free gift from us.

Get your free copy at www.3or4problems.com… if you missed the announcement of it on Facebook last night.

And welcome to the blog. Be sure to sign up for alerts, top right. Right there. No, your other right. Yeah, right there, inside the little box. Just type in your email address — the good one you always check, not the fake oaddresse you use to throw folks off your trail. You want to hear from me. I won’t deluge you with email, and I swear you’ll love every message you do get from me. (I’ll never share it, either.)

PLUS — you get a cool free special report when you sign up, jammed with info you can put to use right away to make yourself and your biz glow with profits. Yet another freebie gift for you. The goodies are just piling up.

There are tons of great posts for you here on the blog — over a decade’s worth of advice, tips, strategies, insight and pro-level marketing secrets… all in the archives. Which you can access in the lower right column. Yes, just below where you left your email address.

Also, check out the books I offer, the great deals on the courses, all of it.

Oh, and just for now, I’ve slashed my normal Skype consults (where I personally solve your entrepreneurial biz problems, and even critique your copy if you want, in real time, digitally face-to-face). Right now, you can get a full-on consult for $999 — which includes your hour on Skype with me, personally, plus an email exchange for anything you want me to look at. I normally charge $2,500 for these. But I’m feeling the holiday spirit, big time.

To get the details, just email my assistant Diane at diane@john-carlton.com. Write “I want to know how to get a personal consult with John” in the subject line. We’ll get right back to you with the details. And get you on the schedule fast.

The new year is right around the corner. How rich and happy you get over the course of 2017 depends on how you approach the opportunities and problems you have in front of you now.

One of the best ways to kick it up a notch is to get your sticking points unstuck, your problems solved, and your plan for the year double-checked by a respected, well-known pro. I’ve been doing this stuff for over 30 years now, and the list of folks who owe their wealth and happiness to me is long (and full of some very famous people).

But enough of that.

If you’re ready to goose your fortunes for the coming year, great. I can help you in ways you can barely imagine right now.

Today, just enjoy your Christmas gift from Dean and me.

Hope you and yours are having a great day.

Stay frosty,

John

Gratitude, Schmatitude

images
Friday, 2:22pm
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones…” (Bob Dylan)

Howdy…

Lots of talk about gratitude these days. There are entire movements (run by schmaltzy guru’s in nice suits) centered on getting folks to feel the gratitude, to embrace and become it.

Like it’s magic or something.

It ain’t.

Knowing how to appreciate the important stuff in your life is a good thing, of course. Being grateful for what you have should be a daily moment, part of being mindful about what’s going on around you and within you (and around and within those you love, deal with, oppose and haven’t met yet).

Early in my career, while devouring self-help books — I read one Og Mandino for every biz book I read for awhile, just to keep my heart and soul moving forward along with my brain — I even went so far as to acknowledge the non-living things around me. I would thank a keyboard, for example, for serving me so well when I replaced it. And mean it. Give it a decent burial in the trash, introduce myself to the new keyboard and get back to work. Same with my shoes, my thrashed car (which needed the encouragement, I can assure you), my favorite pens, and so on. It doesn’t even seem silly now… it makes sense to be mindful of the tools that help us do what we do. Astronauts name their shuttles, sailors name their ships, and I assign my beat-up leather coat a personality.

So I’m an old hand at thanking the universe and the things and people around me as I move along.

But a little perspective, please.

For too many business people, there’s no real thought given to the notion of gratitude. They act like just saying the word creates a magical forcefield of wonderment and power.

So we get airline flight attendants urgently crooning over the intercom that if there is ANYTHING they can do to make our flight more comfortable, just ask.

Which is, of course, pure bullshit.

The things that would make me more comfy — like more leg room, wider and plusher seats, and maybe a mickey in the drunk’s beer next to me so he’ll shut up — are not within their toolkit. I mean, a foot massage would be nice, too, but even mentioning it would have the air marshals on your butt in a heartbeat.

So why do they even say it?

Sometimes it’s just habit, from the old scripts they used to read. The job requirements included big smiles, friendly demeanor even in the face of rudeness, and a steady stream of patter to calm folks down while the jet screamed through the heavens eight miles high.

So even in towns like Reno, you still get the pilots schmoozing about “we know you have a choice when you fly”… when we absolutely do NOT. And every passenger on the plane knows it. If you’re headed anywhere on the beaten track, it’s Southwest or the highway.

And AT&T robots love to drone while you’re on hold, about how grateful they are to have you as a customer. It’s all please and thank you and yes, sir. The gratitude practically drips from the phone…

but they aren’t grateful enough to hire more operators to handle your complaint. I mean, c’mon, people. Get real. Those 30-minute hold times are planned… to cull the mob down. Just part of the biz strategy created by evil fuckers with big smiles all bubbly with gratitude for your business.

Yeah, get real. Which is what I always advise entrepreneurs and biz owners to do when crafting their business plans and operating scripts. Don’t use the drivel doled out by big corporations when you’re creating pitches to your prospect and customer bases. Be real, tell the truth, and don’t make promises your ass can’t fulfill.

The worst are businesses that hire some PR firm to write up a “mission statement”. This is all the rage every so often, as the MBA schools recycle old tropes on doing biz. Not understanding what a USP is, and possessing no clue on how to actually deal with a prospect or customer, dazed biz owners will spend a lot of time and money positioning a statement out that is supposed to “define” the “culture” of the joint.

So we get lots of vague “the customer is king” and “you’re the boss” crap… which sounds great, but is just blabbering babble if not put into action.

Just like your old drinking buddy who would swear on his mother’s grave to pay you back for the ten-spot he borrows when he needs it… but, of course, has no ability to bring that promise along with him into the future, because he spends every dollar he makes, can’t plan to save his life, and gets offended when you become that asshole who wants his money back. Being true to your word is a vague concept without real meaning. Stop bugging me, man.

If you decide you want to shine at customer service, then DO IT. Don’t talk about it. Don’t slime me with your bullshit sincerity and grandiose promises. Just be really fucking good at customer service. The word will get out, trust me.

Think about this, and about your relationship with gratitude.

Yes, you’re VERY thankful to the grubby dude from the garage who drove out to fix your car in the rain. At the time he’s getting things done, and you’re sensing you’re gonna get out of this ordeal after all, you want to hug him. And you say, over and over again, how grateful you are that he exists.

Yeah, yeah, whatever. You’re not grateful enough to invite him over for Thanksgiving dinner, are you? You gonna help him move to a new apartment next weekend? Go watch the big game with him at the garage?

No, you’re not. Your main tool is expressing your gratitude, by saying it over and over. But once you’re off on your way, he’s a distant memory.

A nice twenty buck tip gets oodles more mileage than another heartfelt handshake. He may even go out of his way to rescue you the next time you run into a tree, remembering how monetarily grateful you were.

On the other hand, he may demure and not come at all, if he’s all creeped out over your slobbering hugs of impotent gratitude.

Lying is lying. The small lies in life set up the big ones. Nobody trusts nobody these days, for good reason — trust is and always has been earned, one act at a time. You can’t just announce that you’re trustworthy and have it mean anything.

In fact, one of the old street maxims is: Take whatever the guy says, and figure the opposite is true.

In biz, the client who brags about money not being a problem… has a cash flow problem. The colleague who talks big about trust is screwing your spouse. The accountant who has a mission statement centered on “serving the client” is embezzling. The joint is filled with liars.

This means there is always one darn good way to stand out in even the most crowded, cutthroat market out there. Just be honest, without making a big damn deal about it. In fact, don’t even bring it up. Don’t bullshit your audience, and don’t try to front-load your reputation with promises you can’t fulfill.

Your audience will let you know what your reputation is, soon enough.

Don’t be like that pilot blabbing about choices when there aren’t any. He is announcing to everyone that he is, at best, a mindless corporate shill. And if he wanders into the cabin during the flight and tells you something about not worrying, everything’s just dandy…

… you will be excused if your next act is to look for a parachute.

Consequences matter. Stop lying to yourself, to others, and to your business. Yes, to your business — it may not be a living, breathing thing, but it still operates in the corporeal world, just like the rest of us.

Don’t turn yourself into a lying shit heel, just because you want to sound all corporate-like.

It matters. Real gratitude has teeth, and is connected at the hip with action. Not bluster.

Thanks.

No, really, thanks.

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. Make sure you check out all the goodies available in the right hand column here. My books and courses make excellent Christmas gifts, you know…

The Entrepreneur’s Checklist

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Friday, 2:15pm
Reno, NV
I read the news today, oh boy…” (John Lennon, “A Day In The Life”)

Howdy…

One of my favorite quotes from the legendary Gary Halbert: “There is nothing that cannot be accomplished by a man who refuses to face reality.”

You laugh, but he was dead serious. One of the reasons we became fast friends was our mutual outlook on life – whenever reality was inconvenient to our goals, we just ignored the facts, lowered our head, and bulled forward.

That photo, above, is me in high school (from the yearbook), taking a jump shot. I’m the guy in the thick glasses. I loved basketball, and was good enough to become the captain of the “B” squad my junior year…

… however, as should be evident in this photo, I ran into a brick wall trying out for the varsity a year later.

The guy guarding me as I took that jumper is taller than me by a foot. I was the smallest guy on the squad…

… and really, at some point a caring coach probably should have taken me aside and said “John, I know you love the game… but look at your family. No one is taller than 5’10”, and basketball is a sport for tall folks. You’re not going to magically grow into the size they want on the varsity team…

I wouldn’t have listened, anyway. I’m like a Jack Russell terrier – a big dog trapped in a small dog’s body. Tell me I can’t do something, and you get a prolonged snarl (and maybe a quick nip).

Eventually, in sports, my poor eyesight and lack of height stopped me…

… but I had fun for a couple of years in the meantime.

Later on, as I was gathering my courage to try copywriting, an actual professional copywriter earnestly informed me that I should not even try.

“It’s too hard,” she said. “You’ll never be a pro writer.”

That was, of course, the BEST thing she could have ever told me. I doubt I could have survived the first years without that internal motivation of needing to prove her wrong. It fueled me during the tough early years.

I call it “negative motivation”… and it’s actually one of the most powerful forces available for getting stuff done. I never saw that writer again, and don’t even remember her name…

… so it wasn’t a need to flaunt my success in her face. It was all internal for me – I used her as the “face” of the obstacles in front of me, and I even laughed when I later realized I was in a position to tell her “Fuck you, I made it anyway.

Yes, my internal ego is an immature twerp sometimes. Chip on the shoulder, testy underdog attitude, and an almost stupidly-aggressive and irrational refusal to face reality.

I am so grateful for it, too.

(By the way… I nailed that shot in the photo, above… and ended up with 20 points while also hitting the winning basket. Easily my finest moment in a futile, doomed effort to be a “real” basketball player. A has-been at 16.)

Now, you do not need to be a belligerent rebel to be a good entrepreneur…

… but it can help sometimes.

Certainly, given the choice of sitting down to dinner with the business types in suits, who are uber-polite and careful in their conversations…

… or the rowdy crowd of rule-breaking ne’er-do-well whack-job entrepreneurs who may easily get kicked OUT of the restaurant….

… well, you know which group I’d pick.

I was Halbert’s sidekick for a very long time, and one of the most enjoyable parts of the gig was strutting into a new client’s offices and creating massive chaos. In a rational world, none of the buttoned-up biz owners we dealt with would have tolerated us for more than a few minutes…

… but, because we brought the “magic” of ads that worked, they HAD to not just tolerate us, but sometimes coddle us and even pay us more than they were going to earn themselves in the project.

We weren’t mean. Perhaps arrogant at times. But both Gary and I had wandered into the entrepreneurial world precisely because we didn’t “fit” in the normal corporate environments. We were outlaws by nature, outrageous by temperament, and adventurers who ate risk for breakfast by choice.

Again – you do not NEED to be a half-crazed rebellious lunkhead to succeed in biz…

… though, I’ve noticed that a great number of the dudes and dudettes at the top of the entrepreneurial game don’t easily fit into nice, tidy molds. They don’t behave themselves in polite company. (Y’all know who you are.)

So I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about what you DO need to be a successful entrepreneur. In my mastermind, there have been many members who were unclear on what it “meant” to be an entrepreneur…

… and we’ve helped every one of them get over their fears, stop obsessing on the wrong things, and become much more confident (and successful) marketers. Mostly, they are stunned by the magnitude of profit that comes from doing things right.

It’s all a matter of hanging out with veterans who can commiserate with your stumbles, help you correct the damage, and reveal the secrets of getting into a solid success-groove, and riding it all the way to wealth and happiness.

My goal is to, eventually, have a comprehensive menu of things you can do at every step of your business life. That’s gonna take a while, though…

… so, for now, I have a starter checklist here you might find helpful.

Let’s just get into it. Here (in no particular order) are the main things you’ll need in your “toolkit” as an entrepreneur:

[] Survival resources. This includes books (both the ones you read for general knowledge and put on your shelf… and the ones that stay on your desk, dog-eared, because they are tools that help in your day-to-day work)…

… an ever-expanding network of experts, mentors, colleagues and go-to-guys (including tech geeks, hosting services, spies, friendly competitors, and helpmates in your quest for animal-level contentment)…

… and whatever courses, seminars, and tutorials you need to attain a mastery of the details of whatever biz you’re in.

[] Goal-setting skills. You need to understand, clearly, where you’re headed and what you want from both your journey and your final destination.

It’s okay, early on, to not be clear on you ultimate goals. Sometimes, you work hard to attain something, and only then realize it wasn’t what you wanted after all. That’s how life works when you decide to swim in the dangerous part of the pool. You will constantly re-adjust your long-term goals as you go.

Short-term, however, you need to get good at breaking down the best path to your target, while also learning how to fix problems and deal with unexpected emergencies.

[] Thick skin. You simply need to put your ego aside when entering the entrepreneurial world…

… cuz you’re gonna get stomped, bullied, abused, insulted and assaulted. Often. In new and fascinating ways that your civilian pals will never believe possible.

Your motto must be “eyes on the prize”, at all times. There will be setbacks, disasters and breathtaking failures.

You know you’ve “arrived” as a true entrepreneur when all of this becomes just part of the process, and you even enjoy the constant challenges raining down on you. (You’ll have the best stories at the bar during seminars, too.)

[] Risk tolerance. This is what sets most entrepreneurs apart from civilians. Against the advice of your drinking buddies (who really do not want you to succeed, because that will destroy their own belief that the little guy can’t win)… and contrary to the fears of your family (who are terrified that your wild-ass biz plans will bankrupt the joint)… and in utter defiance of your own Red Flag danger alarms…

… you’re going to have to lay your reputation on the line, and climb into a fight with the forces of capitalism armed only with your wit, meager skill sets, and raw determination.

And no one else except other entrepreneurs will even vaguely understand what you’re going through. Working without a net. Daring the universe to slap you down. Going into situations, over and over again, where you’re a complete rookie, apt to make embarrassing mistakes.

In short, living with risk. And the consequences of risk, which can include failure.

Of course, a true entrepreneur regards “failure” as just another step on the rocky path to breakthrough success. It’s a process. Few get it right the first time.

So, you need to assess your capacity to accept, and deal with risk. If the very notion of taking a risk terrifies you into inaction, it’s probably a sign from God that you need to get a job somewhere safe.

[] Your basic bag of tricks. You may have to learn the basics from books at first, or by observation… but no matter how you learn them, you need to understand the fundamentals of a sales funnel (qualified leads are captured and closed)…

… the details of fulfillment and customer management…

… and how to craft a sales message that can be easily communicated to prospects.

It’s not rocket science, but you’re an idiot if you think you can “fake it” as you begin marketing your biz for real.

Fortunately, there are a lot of courses out there to shortcut your efforts…

… or, you can dive into the many books out there on these subjects. In a weekend, you can begin your self-education by reading one on marketing, one on sales, and one on writing copy.

Your first choices may be the wrong ones to read, but that doesn’t matter — because you’ll have started the process, and that’s the critical part of this step. Next weekend, read three different books on the same subjects. Rinse and repeat until you feel you have a toe-hold in each subject, at least.

The longest journey begins with a single step. Just try not to fall on your face immediately, all right? Read critically and intelligently, and continually seek out authors you can trust and identify with.

[] A budget, or war chest. You will need cash in your biz adventures. No getting around that.

I’m not a great role model. I started my freelance career with one last tank of gas in a rattle-trap car, one month’s rent paid, and enough spare change to feed myself for a couple of weeks. I had no Plan B.

Much better to have a planned budget, and the money to meet it for at least a few months. If you’re already in business, and you want to expand or get into a new project…

… then have a “war chest” of cash you can invest in the adventure. Don’t go in broke, or clueless about what you may need to pull out of your existing biz.

Most entrepreneurs hate budgets and planning.

Do it anyway. There are plenty of misadventures awaiting you in biz — don’t stumble on stuff like budgets, which you have control over and can figure out easily.

[] Ability to judge what’s worth doing, and what’s going to hold you back.

This is a biggie. You may suck at it right now, but one of your goals must be to get pro-level good at judging client requests, job offers, new projects, partner assessment (in both biz and love), and all the little and big decisions that will cascade upon your head every single day.

One tactic: Use the 1-10 “pain scale” measurement many doctors use in assessing patients. Use it on yourself: What level is the value… the risk… the reward… and the danger of any decision you encounter?

Is it a big deal, or a little deal of no lasting consequence?

Get good at this, as fast as possible. One of the main failure points of unsuccessful biz owners is a lack of prompt, good decisions.

[] Stress management. You’re going to encounter stress as an entrepreneur. That’s a given.

Ignoring this stress is a very, very, very bad idea. It will never leave, it will build up, and in due time it will fry your brain like an egg in a skillet.

You are not a superman. Your body and mind are vulnerable to the ravages of poor diet, lack of exercise, and constant hormone dumps of adrenaline and other bad chemicals.

Massage, meditation, lots of vacations, reading good books (not biz books) to relax, having “safety zones” in your week where you are free from the tentacles of your biz (no phone, no email, no nothing)…

… the tactics for battling stress are easy to find and experiment with. Find what works for you, and give it PRIORITY status in your life.

For example, I began getting weekly massages early in my career… long before I started buying better clothes, a newer car, or eating out more often. Massage “re-set” my physical stress levels, and I’m convinced it has saved me from ulcers and worse. And kept me mega-productive for decades.

I started out with a “business before pleasure” mindset… but included in “business” was de-stressing and being a good animal (loose, strong, well-fed, lots of restorative sleep, etc).

And finally (for this short “starter list”)…

[] Have an exit plan. Go after your goals like a terrier after a squirrel, with total focus and commitment.

However, realize that sometimes your goals need to adjusted, or even abandoned.

When the facts and circumstances change, your goals change. (This includes sudden changes in technology, like Google slaps… booming new opportunities that didn’t exist earlier… even realizing you no longer crave what motivated you so desperately before.)

I’m not suggesting you have an easy “bail out” plan, that you can take whenever things get dicey. Like Cortez burning his ships upon his conquest of Mexico, a lot of entrepreneurs do better when there is no turning back.

Rather, I’m talking about visualizing your life after success. Many entrepreneurs, right after “making it”, immediately begin to sabotage the biz. Because the fun is in the building up of the thing, the adventures of tackling challenges and working without a net.

Once you’ve been successful, you either need to pivot to management of the biz (yawn)…

… or consider the consequences of cashing out, selling your biz, moving into something else, or just becoming an “intrapreneur” like Steve Jobs did at Apple.

At least consider what your life will be like when you succeed. And consider lots of options for yourself.

Okay. That’s the starter list. Not a bad checklist to have on the wall above your desk as you move forward, either.

One last thought on reality: Yes, I ignored the reality of who I was, and what I brought to the game, as I plowed through life going after unrealistic goals.

However, there is ONE reality I never ignore.

That would be the reality of results. I love seeing how ads and tactics work, or don’t work, through actual sales numbers (and click-through and open rates, and so on).

However, I look at these results CRITICALLY. I don’t accept them blindly. They are tools for moving forward. Where did, or where could the ad have failed? Can we fix it? What other things can be done to navigate a sales problem? Where IS the main problem, anyway?

My stupidly-aggressive and irrational refusal to face certain realities has served me well over the years. If I’d listened to the nay-sayers, or even my own fears, my life would have been much less exciting and happy. And rich, in every respect.

Still, all vices in moderation. That’s my motto.

Find out what works for you.

I hope this list is a good starting point.

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. Did I leave anything off the list that should have been on there?

Love to hear your take on the matter, in the comments section below…

P.P.S. Need a good suggestion for a book to jump-start your quest for the Big Bucks?

Start right here on the blog, in the far right column. Grab “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together” right now on Amazon. Or order “Success Secrets No One Told You About”, also available digitally (and it costs just a couple of bucks).

And when you’re ready to join the best mastermind operating, check out the Platinum Mastermind. I’ve personally been hosting this notorious group for over 8 years now.

Don’t be that guy who refuses to help himself, with opportunity staring you in the face. I’ve been transforming the lives of entrepreneurs for over 30 years now… to conquer obstacles, earn massive success, and start enjoying life on all levels…

… and the FASTEST way to make it real for YOU, is to take advantage of the help I offer.

You’ll figure everything out so much faster (and with so much less grief) when you get some honest mentoring from a grizzled pro who knows his shit.

Again — love to hear from you in the comments. I hang out there often…

Gratitude, Schmatitude

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Friday, 2:22pm
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones…” (Bob Dylan)

Howdy…

Lots of talk about gratitude these days. There are entire movements (run by schmaltzy guru’s in nice suits) centered on getting folks to feel the gratitude, to embrace and become it.

Like it’s magic or something.

It ain’t.

Knowing how to appreciate the important stuff in your life is a good thing, of course. Being grateful for what you have should be a daily moment, part of being mindful about what’s going on around you and within you (and around and within those you love, deal with, oppose and haven’t met yet).

Early in my career, while devouring self-help books — I read one Og Mandino for every biz book I read for awhile, just to keep my heart and soul moving forward along with my brain — I even went so far as to acknowledge the non-living things around me. I would thank a keyboard, for example, for serving me so well when I replaced it. And mean it. Give it a decent burial in the trash, introduce myself to the new keyboard and get back to work. Same with my shoes, my thrashed car (which needed the encouragement, I can assure you), my favorite pens, and so on. It doesn’t even seem silly now… it makes sense to be mindful of the tools that help us do what we do. Astronauts name their shuttles, sailors name their ships, and I assign my beat-up leather coat a personality.

So I’m an old hand at thanking the universe and the things and people around me as I move along.

But a little perspective, please.

For too many business people, there’s no real thought given to the notion of gratitude. They act like just saying the word creates a magical forcefield of wonderment and power.

So we get airline flight attendants urgently crooning over the intercom that if there is ANYTHING they can do to make our flight more comfortable, just ask.

Which is, of course, pure bullshit.

The things that would make me more comfy — like more leg room, wider and plusher seats, and maybe a mickey in the drunk’s beer next to me so he’ll shut up — are not within their toolkit. I mean, a foot massage would be nice, too, but even mentioning it would have the air marshals on your butt in a heartbeat.

So why do they even say it?

Sometimes it’s just habit, from the old scripts they used to read. The job requirements included big smiles, friendly demeanor even in the face of rudeness, and a steady stream of patter to calm folks down while the jet screamed through the heavens eight miles up.

So even in towns like Reno, you still get the pilots schmoozing about “we know you have a choice when you fly”… when we absolutely do NOT. And every passenger on the plane knows it. If you’re headed anywhere on the beaten track, it’s Southwest or the highway.

And AT&T robots love to drone while you’re on hold, about how grateful they are to have you as a customer. It’s all please and thank you and yes, sir. The gratitude practically drips from the phone…

… but they aren’t grateful enough to hire more operators to handle your complaint. I mean, c’mon, people. Get real. Those 30-minute hold times are planned. By evil fuckers with big smiles all bubbly with gratitude for your business.

Yeah, get real. Which is what I always advise entrepreneurs and biz owners to do when crafting their business plans and operating scripts. Don’t use the drivel doled out by big corporations when you’re creating pitches to your prospect and customer bases. Be real, tell the truth, and don’t make promises your ass can’t fulfill.

The worst are businesses that hire some PR firm to write up a “mission statement”. This is all the rage every so often, as the MBA schools recycle old tropes on doing biz. Not understanding what a USP is, and possessing no clue on how to actually deal with a prospect or customer, dazed biz owners will spend a lot of time and money positioning a statement out that is supposed to “define” the “culture” of the joint.

So we get lots of vague “the customer is king” and “you’re the boss” crap… which sounds great, but is just blabbering babble if not put into action.

Just like your old drinking buddy who would swear on his mother’s grave to pay you back for the ten-spot he borrows when he needs it… but, of course, has no ability to bring that promise along with him into the future, because he spends every dollar he makes, can’t plan to save his life, and gets offended when you become that asshole who wants his money back. Being true to your word is a vague concept without real meaning. Stop bugging me, man.

If you decide you want to shine at customer service, then DO IT. Don’t talk about it. Don’t slime me with your bullshit sincerity and grandiose promises. Just be really fucking good at customer service. The word will get out, trust me.

Think about this, and about your relationship with gratitude.

Yes, you’re VERY thankful to the grubby dude from the garage who drove out to fix your car in the rain. At the time he’s getting things done, and you’re sensing you’re gonna get out of this ordeal after all, you want to hug him. And you say, over and over again, how grateful you are that he exists.

Yeah, yeah, whatever. You’re not grateful enough to invite him over for Thanksgiving dinner, are you? You gonna help him move to a new apartment next weekend? Go watch the big game with him at the garage?

No, you’re not. Your main tool is expressing your gratitude, by saying it over and over. But once you’re off on your way, he’s a distant memory.

A nice twenty buck tip gets oodles more mileage than another heartfelt handshake. He may even go out of his way to rescue you the next time you run into a tree, remembering how monetarily grateful you were.

On the other hand, he may demure and not come at all, if he’s all creeped out over your slobbering hugs of impotent gratitude.

Lying is lying. The small lies in life set up the big ones. Nobody trusts nobody these days, for good reason — trust is and always has been earned, one act at a time. You can’t just announce that you’re trustworthy and have it mean anything.

In fact, one of the old street maxims is: Take whatever the guy says, and figure the opposite is true.

In biz, the client who brags about money not being a problem… has a cash flow problem. The colleague who talks big about trust is screwing your spouse. The accountant who has a mission statement centered on “serving the client” is embezzling. The joint is filled with liars.

This means there is always one darn good way to stand out in even the most crowded, cutthroat market out there. Just be honest. Don’t bullshit your audience, and don’t try to front-load your reputation with promises you can’t fulfill.

Your audience will let you know what your reputation is, soon enough.

Don’t be like that pilot blabbing about choices when there aren’t any. He is announcing to everyone that he is, at best, a mindless corporate shill. And if he wanders into the cabin during the flight and tells you something about not worrying, everything’s just dandy…

… you will be excused if your next act is to look for a parachute.

Consequences matter. Stop lying to yourself, to others, and to your business. Yes, to your business — it may not be a living, breathing thing, but it still operates in the corporeal world, just like the rest of us.

Don’t turn it into a lying shit heel, just because you want to sound all corporate-like.

It matters. Real gratitude has teeth, and is connected at the hip with action. Not bluster.

Thanks.

No, really, thanks.

Stay frosty,

John

 

Rumors Of My Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

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Monday, 12:45pm
Reno, NV
Hey, you bastards, I’m still here!” (Steve McQueen, “Papillon”)

Howdy…

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.

Sigh.

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.

Yuck.

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.

Will I see you in Florida… or at one my upcoming other seminar appearances? Or, gasp, at my Platinum Mastermind? (Got a seat waiting for you, and there’s still time to grab it. Go here for details.)

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.

Meanwhile…

Stay frosty,

John

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…

That’s Not Funny, Part One

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Wednesday, 8:59 pm
Reno, NV
What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?” (Nick Lowe)

Howdy…

One of the first things you hear, when you’re learning about fundamental copywriting and ad creation…

… is to avoid humor like the plague. The great David Ogilvy said “People do not buy from clowns.” This pre-dated Jack-In-The-Box’s latest commercial model (where they’re so obviously going after the stoner market with late-night “Munchie Meal” take-out boxes that it’s funny on multiple levels)…

… yet, overall, most high-end marketers still agree with it.

Even the funniest copywriters I know (and let me assure you that many of the best bust-your-gut-laughing humans alive are, indeed, copywriters) (weirdo bunch, totally) almost never insert humor into their sales copy. Almost. Occasionally, when it’s absolutely safe (like writing to your own house list, full of folks proven to have the EXACT same sense of humor you have, right down to the Animal House reruns and Adult Swim shows you all watch)… they may go off the reservation and aim for making readers spit up their morning coffee over an email.

But it’s rare. More likely, the funny-guy guru’s you follow have a “meta-text personality” that includes some risky guffaw moments here and there, just to position them in their market as too-cool-for-school (and thus intellectually superior to their competition)…

… which they’ll jettison at the point of closing any sale.

Cuz money is serious biz. And most buyers (not looky-loo’s, but buyers) aren’t keen on being the butt of a joke, and tend to distrust salesmen who seem a bit too… funny. (Even the word “funny” means both being humorous, and also being weird, brain-damaged and untrustworthy.)

Now, I’m a fairly humorous fella. (And any brain damage I’ve sustained is all better now.) I’ve made a colleague snort coffee through their nose as recently as… well, yesterday, on the phone. Other writers collect my private emails, and read them to family and friends. (Part of that may be a self-defense strategy against their spouse’s assessment of a life in advertising as being “boring”.) I’ve also caused entire ballrooms to laugh so hard, some attendees almost wet themselves. And I’ve even used “okay, you got me” sarcasm to get my point across to a reluctant client during consulting.

Of all the things I value the most in life… laughter and humor rank in the top five. (Just below sex, In ‘N Out hamburgers, craft IPA beer, and the NBA.) (Oh, and my Jack Russell terrorist dog. Sorry, girl. Almost forgot you…) (And my ’64 Stratocaster. And Turner Classic Movies. And…)

Okay, whatever. It ranks high, anyway. It’s a big part of who I am, and what I bring to the table as a friend, colleague, writer and consultant.

And yet, when a sales process gets down to the shorthairs…

… I’m as serious as a mortician.

Losing a sale because you screwed around is NOT funny. It is, rather, a fucking tragedy.

So all the top writers I know have a strict rule against tickling the funny bone of a prospect… at least, when things get to “that point”.

However, we also really, really, really want to find exceptions to this rule. We figure there’s GOT to be an exception, somewhere.

Which means we’ve all become minor experts on the topic of humor. Because, it turns out, while everyone believes they own a “great” sense of humor… the truth is, few (if any) civilians understand humor at all.

So, I thought I’d share some of the research I (and some of my colleagues) (including writers like Kevin Rogers, who spent a decade as a stand-up comic before getting into advertising) have dug up…

… in no particular order…

… just as a starter guide to why we mostly don’t (but sometimes do) use humor in our marketing:

The Joke’s On Us #1: In the last few decades, Ivy League universities have started studying humor, trying to get a baseline understanding of what’s funny to most people, and why.

And their first biggest discovery was that many people have no sense of humor at all. None.

However, while these funny-challenged folks have no idea why you’re bent over laughing at a certain joke or situation…

… they are often very astute to the social cues of humor, and will be holding their bellies right along with you, laughing out loud.

They’re faking it. Or, more precisely, they wait a beat after observing other people laughing, and join in as a social “bonding” routine. They’re supporting the good vibes that mass laughter brings to any social setting… kinda like nodding in agreement, or applauding.

Researchers figured this out by tricking people in studies — seeding a small crowd with actors who laughed on cue at non-funny things, and recording the actions of study participants. Folks with actual senses of humor would smile in a bewildered way, wondering why they weren’t getting the joke. But the fakers had no such objective judgments — the crowd laughed, so they laughed, too.

Reading about these findings blew my mind. I’d suspected something like this was going on, because I had friends who laughed a bit too hard, or who seemed to mainly use loud guffaws as a way to show dominance in a conversation. So I did some of my own testing, watching closely when fakers actually began laughing (a beat behind everyone else).

If you ask, most people will say they have a great sense of humor. Insider their world, they do. Whatever they find funny (or socially acceptable to laugh at, as a bonding process) is what’s funny. This is how humans operate. All measurements of behavior begin with what you’re doing as the universal standard for normal, or moral, or just “the right way”… and if others don’t agree, then they’re just wrong.

Marketer’s Insight: While no one is sure what percentage of the population is actually humor-challenged, it IS a large chunk of your fellow citizens. So when you’re creating marketing aimed at a large group of prospects, you cannot assume that ANY of them will grok your sense of humor.

Just like half or more will reject your politics (and yes, I know you have a superior understanding of politics to everyone else on the planet). And your religious views.

The rule in bars is “no talking about politics or religion”… because it leads to fights.

For marketers, you can add “no funny stuff” to that list. You simply cannot predict what any list will find funny, or not find funny, or be offended or baffled.

The Joke’s On Us #2: One of the first challenges the researchers found was agreeing on how to “measure” what’s funny.

Turns out it’s not a simple thing at all. In fact, the commercial uses of humor is relatively recent — the stand-up comic was invented during vaudeville, which required between-act ring-leaders to keep the audience happy. Shakespeare and Mozart and other post-Enlightenment entertainers made liberal use of what we now call slap-stick (the term literally refers to Medieval clowns using a paddle on each other) and “low brow” humor to delight certain audiences… and more intellectual mockery and sarcasm to make the sophisticated elites titter.

So the people creating entertainment, or trying to influence public opinion or sway a vote, might know how to get a response… but it was an inexact science. Making one part of the audience laugh might offend another part.

The researchers have gotten lost in the weeds trying to define humor. (Some studies have claimed to be able to determine your socio-economic status by what you laugh at, in fact. Fart jokes and pratfalls for the working class, existential stories based on willful misinterpretations of esoteric knowledge for the elites.) (The flaw in this kind of study, of course, is that semi-illiterate yahoo entrepreneur’s can make buckets of moolah with a good biz, and over-educated snobs may be dead-broke slackers.)

It’s gonna take a while for researchers to get it all straight (if they ever do).

The thing is, humor is complicated.

But it’s also a major element of business and social life, so thinking critically about it gives you an edge.

Here’s how I’ve broken it down (through a long life of observing):

  • There are two basic “professional” uses of humor (in biz settings) — as a weapon to establish a better status position… or as a bonding tool (which can be an innocent way of forming friendships, which may later become alliances). All of my close longtime friends have wicked senses of humor, for example. Others who I consider good people, but whose funny-bone isn’t so funny to me, never penetrate the Inner Circle. This has not been done consciously — it’s just the way things sift out. But it’s very interesting to note, isn’t it?
  • The weaponized use of humor employs mockery, sarcasm, and crude jokes that seek to identify “winners” and “losers” (or “The Other”). It’s very risky when you don’t know your audience (and that political or racist joke falls flat), but it can be nastily effective when dealing with the home crowd (so your insinuation that all Yankee fans are slobbering Neanderthals goes over big in Boston every time). (It’s true, by the way, that all Yankee fans are slobbering Neanderthals, but that’s another issue.)
  • There are a few broad divisions in the way humor is used that matter to marketers. The first is shock vs. bonding — you get a laugh by purposely violating some social norm (which can delight or offend, depending on your audience)… or you cozy up to everyone’s comfort zone, and we all laugh while agreeing on what’s being discussed. Do not try to use shock humor unless you are very, very experienced with it. Backfires are common. On the other hand, mild bonding humor can go a long way to establishing relationships… or bore the bejesus out of everyone.
  • The second main division is wit vs. jokes. Have you ever been with a group of folks who just toss zingers at each other, piling up the wit like stacking wood? It’s a joy to behold, if you’re witty. There is no preparation beforehand — you’ve got to live by your ability to quickly counter, support or twist whatever is said. It’s freeform funny conversation… which is the opposite of telling memorized jokes. Someone with an arsenal of jokes can quickly take over a conversation (often with the support of the less witty folks who prefer a more stable environment). I’ve seen many high-flying conversations completely gutted by a series of jokes (which require, by design, that everyone remain quiet and respectful while the joke is told).
  • Don’t get me wrong — I like jokes. But I have none memorized, because I prefer free-form wit. I used to know a lot of jokes, though — so many that a couple of friends and I can simply smile at each other and mention a portion of the punch line (not even the whole line), say “Joke number 37”, and get the SAME laugh that telling the entire joke would have generated. (Example: “Well, maybe it’s not like a river…”. Funny, right?)

Marketer’s Insight: Just understanding the fundamentals of how humor is delivered and consumed can help you immensely. If you’re not a witty dude, don’t try to fake it. You can’t. If you like jokes, go ahead and memorize some… and use them when you’re in a situation where everyone is yukking it up over memorized jokes.

But consider the audience, always. Don’t shock when it will offend. Never assume your audience shares your religious or political views (and triple-check your perception of this before wandering down the very dark alley of potentially-offensive jokes). And it’s fine to just be part of the audience, to laugh and enjoy the wit or the prepared humor — you’re actually bonding with your supporting laughter.

Quick Story: A well-known colleague of mine — a really nice guy, liked by everyone, and a killer marketer — once took me aside and asked how he could develop a more interesting personality. He was lost in witty conversations, had no jokes memorized, and didn’t understand why some folks found some stuff so fucking funny.

I took the challenge, and with my pal Kevin Rogers (the former stand-up-turned-copywriter), we gave him a list of things that might help (which included watching George Carlin routines critically — figuring out how each story unwound, and when the laugh points popped up… memorizing a handful of jokes from the Playboy jokes page and also from Reader’s Digest — so he had something a tad ribald, and something very middle-of-the-road… and critically reading witty authors like P.J. O’Rourke or Molly Ivins — one conservative, one liberal.)

It didn’t work. I know you can develop real wit, because I’ve progressed myself from a joke-telling kid (sharing stuff from Mad magazine or jokes my drunk uncles used to shock the aunts), to a rookie good conversationalist, to a high-end witty dude who can hold his own in any crowd. On any subject.

But I think you need to start with a basis sense of humor… which we’ve discovered is not default equipment with all humans.

Still, by all means, learn how to tell a joke properly. Find them written out, and memorize them, right down to the exact words used. It’s like memorizing scripted lines for a play. Some advanced actors may wing it occasionally… but if you can’t do that, don’t wreck the scene by trying. Study the process, if it interests you, but otherwise just follow the path already laid out.

Another Quick Story: Gary Halbert and I loved to mess with each other’s minds on stage at seminars. The ultimate prize was getting the other guy to lose his cool by laughing too hard to speak (or come back with a wittier line). Spitting coffee through your nose was a bonus point.

We’d get vicious, too… using insults, practical jokes, rumors, everything was fair play. It kept us loose and happy during long weekends of Hot Seats.

But it also taught us a good lesson in the limits of humor. During one break, Gary and I were chatting at the side of the stage… and an attendee walked up and leveled a gross, tasteless insult my way. Then he laughed heartily. In his mind, he was inserting himself in the Inner Circle — he’d thought, “Hey, I’m a funny guy, too”, and figured insulting me was an easy way to get special attention.

Cuz, you know, Gary and I were so vicious with each other.

It doesn’t work that way, of course. Neither Gary nor I laughed. We just stared at the guy until he slinked away, humiliated.

Hey — I can call my friend a fuckhead and get away with it. Because that’s how we roll.

But YOU call him a fuckhead, and I’m in your face in a heartbeat. You’re not allowed that privilege.

If you have to ask whether you’re in the Inner Circle or not… you’re not in it. This is pretty much universal in human experience. You can loudly berate your bowling buddies and get a laugh back… but that goofy yahoo on the other team says the same thing, and them’s fighting words.

It’s stunning how often people don’t grok how this simple social paradigm works. And it can ruin business situations for you, handled poorly.

Just a word to the wise…

The Joke’s On Us #3: Finally, for this primer on the subject, never underestimate how much some people value humor…

… while an equal number are threatened by it.

Look critically at long Facebook threads for evidence. You’ll find in-jokes that you cannot possibly understand, because you’re aren’t privy to the back story. You’ll find other people gleefully trying to keep up with the witty back-and-forth’s, who miss the point entirely. (You can get real-world examples of how different people find different stuff funny… and keep in mind the research claiming to predict status by what you laugh at.)

And you’ll find many examples of people trying desperately to disrupt funny threads. Every time someone inserts comments like “First-world problems”, they’re trying to kill the conversation. Ask yourself why they’d want to do that. Often, it’s simply being uncomfortable with the discussion, and yet feeling desperate to comment. Just as often, though, it’s a crude attempt to establish dominance. (It’s the same with comments like “Bang! for the win”, which attempts to control through judgment.)

I consider these kinds of disruption offensive, because they can murder a good thread. Hard to continue laughing about some modern situation when reminded that kids are starving in India. It’s Debbie Downer on steroids.

It’s the same with sarcasm. Shielding cynical comments by claiming “you’re just joking” is a blatant cop-out, and a failure to take responsibility for the consequences of your statements. It works, unfortunately, in politics and personal grievance. “Can’t you take a joke” is the icing on the insult.

Humor evolves on a society-wide level. What was hilarious a decade ago in a movie is now a cringe-inducing example of obliviousness. Outside the US and Britain, stand-up tends to be joke-oriented… whereas our comics and cartoons careen toward the absurd, employing more long-form stories than standard punch-lines.

Humor is very important to some people. It’s my main defense against a heartless universe obviously out to get me.

And at the same time, humor is a very foreign and scary thing to others.

This is why it doesn’t mix well (usually) with serious sales pitches, where money is on the line.

Make sense?

I may do another post on this, if folks are still wanting more.

Meanwhile, love to hear your take and experience with humor in biz situations, in the comments section below…

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. One last tactic: If you’re going to use humor in biz settings… it’s a good idea to make yourself the butt of any joke. It’s called “self-deprecating” humor, and it allows you to use every shred of your wit, sarcasm and sharp humor to make a point… you simply make yourself the target, rather than risk offending or insulting anyone else.

I make sure my audiences at events understand that I know the answers to so many problems… because I personally failed or got waylaid by nearly every problem possible in life and biz myself. It’s absolutely true… but a less forthright speaker might avoid spoiling his reputation with confessions like that.

If I nail an attendee with some shocking assessments (like calling him an idiot)… I make sure he understands, first, that I’ve been the biggest idiot in the universe myself. Many times. And making mistakes, learning my lessons, and then using those lessons the next time is how I became successful.

In fact, I don’t know of any other way to progress in life and biz.

Do you?

P.P.S. By the way…

… if you’re a victim of what my colleague David Garfinkel calls “intellectual loneliness” (where you’re withering away because you lack witty, funny, smart-as-whips pals… who also happen to share your passion for business, copywriting, marketing and the entrepreneurial lifestyle)…

… then it might be time for you to seriously explore my Platinum Mastermind group.

It’s a small (under 20 members) group that meets four times a year… where we do Hot Seat-style consults on each member’s situation (problems, biz plans, ad copy, anything at all that’s bugging them)… with a focus on GETTING SHIT DONE. No vague philosophy. Just hard-core, detailed, specific brainstorming and sharing of experience that leads to actual things you can do to unclog the moolah spigot, and get your biz and life back on the fast track.

We also have guest experts who come by just because they like the way I operate. And they share, and help brainstorm, and just pour themselves into the weekend. Recent guests: Joe Sugarman… Gary Halbert’s sons (Bond and Kevin)… Jay Abraham… Brian Kurtz (former CEO of Boardroom, Inc)… Dean Jackson (marketing superstar)… Joe Polish… and many more.

Just see what’s up, for cryin’ out loud. The site won’t bite you: Carlton’s Platinum Mastermind.

Oh, yes. This could be the day you remember forever, where everything changed for you…

 

 

Magic And Reality Walk Into A Bar. Only One Comes Out Alive…

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Friday, 1:46pm
Reno, NV
You want it, you take it… you pay the price.” (Bruuuuuuce Springsteen, “Prove It All Night”)

Howdy…

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.

Stay frosty,

John

 

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