Tag Archives: masterminding

The Grizzled Pro Speaks

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Friday, 2:29pm
Reno, NV
Ch-ch-changes, oh look out, you rock and rollers…” (David Bowie, “Changes”)

Howdy.

All last week, on Facebook, I opened myself up to the mob…

… and promised to answer the best 5 questions posed in an experimental “Bug The Grizzled Pro” post. I just wanted to see what was bothering folks, holding them up, disrupting sleep and profits and happiness.

I was pretty damned impressed with the level of questions that poured in, too. Finding 5 good ones was easy. Answering them required my full focus… and the stuff is good.

So, just to make sure this advanced Q&A isn’t lost in the mire of Facebook (where stuff fades away forever), I’ve posted the entire exchange here. (If you want to see the comments, you’ll have to go to my Facebook page and root around in the posts for the week of November 9-14. And while you’re there, thrilling to the banter, trolling, and fevered debate, sign up to follow me, why don’tcha?)

Here’s the relevant posts. Enjoy:

Post #1:

Bug The Grizzled Pro: Anything you’d like to ask me about, or see me rant about here or on the blog?

I’ll never run out of my own ideas (you oughta see the cluster-mess of untapped stories, advice, epiphanies and general bullshit roiling around in my head)…

… (just be happy you aren’t experiencing this kind of internal chaos yourself)…

… but I’m always happy to see what folks are curious about.

I mean, really — how often do you get a chance to strafe the deck of a veteran, seen-it-all professional like this?

Give it a shot. The worst that can happen is public humiliation, or accidental enlightenment that forces you to change your life (or something in-between).

Don’t be a coward. Ask.

I’ll answer the first… um… five good questions during the week. But they gotta be good…

Post #2:

The Grizzled Pro Speaks, Part One: Hey, some really good questions came out of Sunday’s FB post “Bug The Grizzled Pro”. I promised to answer the best 5 during the week, and I shall. (You can continue to post more questions, to your heart’s content.)

Right off the bat, we got some killer subjects to dive into. David Ayad posts: “Share your opinion about the changes in the marketing world from the 90s compared to today? Marketing changes, copy changes, changes in the marketing community. Better now or then?…why?”

Actually, he cheated by mushing 7 questions into one… but the general idea is coherent.

Yes, there are massive changes to marketing that arrived with the viability of the Web as a way to find, sell and manage prospects. The main explosion came around 2002, when banks began offering online merchant accounts… and especially when my 90-year-old Pop mentioned he was getting certain medications from overseas, online, using his credit card. That was as major an announcement as I could ask for, that buying crap on the Web had gained legitimacy amongst the greater public.

Two major advantages were like an earthquake in the biz world: (1) If you had a pitch that worked to existing targeted lists (direct mail and magazine)… you now could reach nearly every single prospect who existed, globally. Instead of only being able to reach those who’d already bought or become a lead on a house list, or who subscribed to a particular magazine.

Your market, overnight, blew up from thousands to millions. It was so dramatic, it took a while for old-school marketers to even realize the implications.

(2) You could now test IN REAL TIME. Direct mail tests could take months, and magazine ad tests half a year to play out. Suddenly, especially with Adwords, you could direct enough traffic to a site to get statistically-significant results in an evening… and do A/B split tests seconds apart.

All over the planet, old-school marketers heads exploded. They were often like folks back at the beginning of air travel — the possibilities didn’t quite sink in immediately.

This meant there was a long period where younger, more tech-savvy entrepreneurs could thrive, often in hot markets with little or no competition. Low-hanging fruit, we called it. You could actually be the ONLY marketer in many highly-profitable markets…

… which meant that sloppy advertising worked like magic. You just needed to have a site that didn’t crash, with an easy way for folks to order. It was just like The Wild West, with few rules, no oversight, no regulations.

So a lot of people became experts simply by announcing they were. Tech savvy was often more critical than marketing savvy… until the competition got heavier. Slowly, the half-assed “I read one book on writing ads and made a gazillion bucks” online Wonder Kids had to either get better at the salesmanship part, or find freelancers who could jack up the quality of their pitches.

Understanding tech then began to segment out… so online marketing again resembled the advertising world of the nineties and earlier — there were media experts who couldn’t write copy, managers who didn’t understand salesmanship (but could wrangle a huge staff), and writers who could barely turn on a computer (but who could blast out killer ads that worked in every different medium used).

Joe Sugarman, back in the early nineties, could run an entire infomercial juggernaut (with his BluBlocker sunglasses) with a two-person shop — writing, filming, buying late-night cable spots, doing everything but actually producing the sunglasses — for several years. Today, countless entrepreneurs can create a deep biz model and write everything, build all the sites themselves, self-manage lists, and outsource what they don’t want (or need) to handle.

In general ways, it’s not that different. VSLs (video sales letters) are really just infomercials in a different format. Many old-school marketers (like Dan Kennedy), in fact, create all their VSLs using the identical models of writing and producing they used FOR informercials a decade ago.

I have many ads I wrote for direct mail and magazines back in the nineties now running as spoken-word, low-production-value VSLs… with minimal editing. Twenty-year-old copy, working just fine in a new vehicle.

So, the more things change, the more they evolve into very similar models. Not exactly, of course. But I witnessed online ads from the very beginning (and I was fooling around on the Web before it was even called the World Wide Web, as a hippie in Silicon Valley in the late seventies)…

… and while it may appear that many marketing tactics and techniques are “new”, it’s all really just a reboot of good salesmanship, taking full advantage of the larger markets and faster testing times.

In other words, it’s still just one human communicating with another human, negotiating a deal. The fundamentals of the conversation haven’t changed since the dawn of time. The details, however, have changed. Dramatically.

I like it, personally. I’d never sold anything to a Brazilian or a Chinese citizen or an African entrepreneur before the Web widened the audience for my crap to the entire globe.

I do think things have calmed down a bit — we won’t see model-morphing changes like Google, email, streaming video, or even social media, happening at such a rapid clip for a while. The Wild West has settled down, and it’s becoming a game of regulation, managing the competition, and learning how to operate a real business (something most entrepreneurs suck at, by the way).

There’s still a ton of disruption going on, and no one can predict what civilization will look like in ten years. (Wm Gibson, who predicted a lot of current online wonders in cyberpunk books like Neuromancer, for example, admits he never saw something like Facebook happening.)

But it’s more like the years after the revolution now — still different, still not settled, but the upheaval from pre-Enlightenment to post-Enlightenment thinking is over. It’s a brave new world… which just happens to echo much of the goofy old world world.

It’s significant that old-school dudes like Halbert, Kennedy, Makepeace and even my own scrawny ass have remained go-to advisors, marketing mentors, and top writers amidst all the technology changes.

The Web is freakin’ amazing. But it’s still just another vehicle for humans to do their thang. The vehicle — whether it’s television, drone delivery, direct mail, or brain implants — is still just the delivery system for your message.

And the fundamental message of selling hasn’t changed at all.

Jeez… can I even post something this long on FB? Will Zuck allow it?

Side note: If you like this kind of deep insight, advice and sharing, you may want to check out the ways to reach me (and even hang out) personally. Just go here — it’ll take you all of five minutes to see what’s up.

Okay. Continuing with the Facebook posts…

Post #3:

The Grizzled Pro Speaks, Part Two: Hope you liked “Part One”, just below this post.

Feel free to chime in, in the comments — we’re always open to new sub-threads around here. Don’t ask why — it’s complicated.

Anyway… the next question I’ve chosen is from our old pal Harlan Kilstein… who asks: “Since Facebook copy is similar to catalog copy, I’ve never seen you write about forced short copy. What are the critical elements in short copy that will drive people to long copy?”

Very interesting question. I hear it put different ways, but it all squeegies down to a basic writer’s problem: How do you distill larger ideas into tasty, bite-sized tidbits…

… that persuade the reader to continue reading elsewhere. Or to start reading a much more involved piece.

This is right in the wheelhouse of a grizzled, old-school veteran copywriter. In the Bad Old Days (before the Web) (yes, this time existed, and it wasn’t that freakin’ long ago, so shut up) there were almost always strict limits on the amount of copy you could write.

In newspapers, you could only shrink the typeface so far down, until it became unreadable… so if you wrote more copy than the space ad you bought could hold, you had to edit. And edit. And finagle and fuss and cram to make everything fit.

Key word there: “Fit.” Take a look at some older newspaper or magazine direct response ads — they’re dense with copy, to the point of making readers squint.

In direct mail, extra words could end up costing you massive wads of money. You had to keep first class mail (still do) under an ounce to avoid having to put extra stamps on your envelopes. (Go ask your Mom what a “stamp” is.)

Even third-class mail has weight limits. So writers who wanted controls were VERY concerned with the weight of the paper, the envelope, even the microscopic density of the ink used… because it took real engineering skill to make a standard 8-page letter, with reply coupon and BRE, lift note, and any other gew-gah the client demanded be tossed into the envelope come in under an ounce.

Failure meant huge stacks of printed, stamped envelopes being returned by the Post Office for “insufficient postage”. More stamps had to put on, making everyone very, very cranky… and instantly increasing the cost of your project by a whole bunch.

Good way to get fired, doing that.

On infomercials and radio spots, we could speed up the vocals to fit in more copy, but there was a sonic limit. Even chipmunks have to be clearly heard, to have your message get across.

So…

… old-school copywriters were inherently masters at writing within limits. I actually cut my teeth on catalog copy, which had character counts per “copy area” that could not be violated. The photos were often more important, and there was a lot of default copy already in each space (for order numbers, guarantees, etc.)

When Adwords appeared, with strict character counts for each line, newbie writers who had only known the vast, unlimited wasted space of Websites, freaked the hell out. Us grizzled pro’s just shrugged, and got into what I call “essential copy”.

Everything you write in an ad — the headline, subhead, photo caption, opening paragraphs, bullets, guarantee copy, close, P.S., testimonials, all of it — has a “hook” or fundamental element that is the beating heart of that section.

When you’ve got to start condensing things… especially when you’re writing “teaser” copy meant to incite further action (like clicking on a link where a longer piece is laid out for you)… you go into a different mode of thinking.

Yes, you’re imparting information, but it’s more like appetizers of the main meal. You’re whetting the appetite of your reader… by teasing out the highlights of what is more leisurely expanded upon on the main page.

Look for the defining hooks of each section of your main piece. Spot the word or phrase or imagery that nails the essence of that hook. You may not use them all… but this is Step One. Gather your ammo.

In Adwords, you usually abandon adjectives and good grammar first, when boiling down a good teaser. You find shorter, possibly more descriptive words to replace the bloviation you’re used to expanding on.

And a whole lot of important stuff will have to be left out entirely. Stuff your client may think is critical. Stuff you would include, if you could. But there simply isn’t room — somebody’s gotta stay behind, while the reconnaissance patrol heads out.

On Facebook, you actually aren’t limited anywhere as severely as in Adwords. These posts prove that — this is several pages of copy.

However, at a certain point, your message will automatically be clipped by FB robots, and a “Continue reading…” link arbitrarily slapped in.

So, you must make sure the copy that DOES get on the newsfeed works to incite further action. You may even use the first part of your copy to get readers to click on the “Continue reading…” link and continue reading… where they’ll be further persuaded to click on yet another link, leading to your main website.

This all sounds complicated, but it’s not. Most of the sponsored ads you see on FB right now are not well-written — be wary of using them as models.

Adwords (or FB ads) penned by experienced pro copywriters will read like focused blasts of brain dynamite — pricking your curiosity, challenging your reality, waking you up and demanding that you click to find out more.

Ask yourself, when writing condensed copy: What are the emotional, financial, possibly spiritual, certainly success-targeted fundamental hooks of your message? You can tease, or be direct… use curiosity or just state plain facts… depending on how unique, valuable, and critical your message is to your audience.

Free is always a good word, when applicable. Pattern interrupts are good — challenging standard thinking, using images that wake folks up.

Just don’t worry about grammar. Imagine having half a matchbook cover and a broken pencil stub, and you have to scribble a message that alerts your rescuers to where you are, and what they must be ready for. No room for last will and testaments, no room for teary requests for forgiveness, no room for unnecessary words.

Keep considering the essence of what you’re saying. Know what the hooks are in your message. Study the art of teasing readers into action.

WARNING: Rookies are often tempted to lie, or exaggerate, or try to trick readers into clicking on a link. This is a loser’s game — the second the game is up, and your reader sees he’s been duped, he’s gone.

If you have something your reader needs, or wants, or SHOULD want… inside of a damn good deal, with risk reversed and lots of testament to your awesomeness…

… then you’re front-loaded with excellent hooks targeted to his sweet spot of need.

All right?

All right.

That was fun…

Side note: If you like this kind of deep insight, advice and sharing, you may want to check out the ways to reach me (and even hang out) personally. Just go here — it’ll take you all of five minutes to see what’s up.

Post #4:

The Grizzled Pro Speaks, Part Three: Are we having fun yet?

I am. I love having the chance to air out some good, specific questions here… especially knowing they matter to folks right now.

Tonight, an easy one (the 3rd of 5 I promised)… and a chance to highlight another resource for good, free, veteran-level advice.

Mitch Miller writes: “John, our stories are nearly identical personality and life situation wise. I am 31, and have just started to blast off into success land (thanks to you and Halbert and understanding that I am only one good sales letter away from a fortune). My question would be:

How can I limit the amount of damage I will surely do to myself by all of a sudden making a pile of money? My time has come, and I feel I am finally about to peak – I do not want to blow it all on lamborghinis and dinners, though I know that could happen to me.

It is inevitable that I am about to “get rich” so to speak – how does a kid who grew up poor, not kill himself with all that angst when I finally make it?

Love yah man.”

Well. First, thanks for the kind words, Mitch.

Second… it just so happens that the podcast I co-host with Kevin Rogers — “Psych Insights For Modern Marketers” — did an entire show on this very subject not too long ago.

So rather than re-hash what we shared, just follow the link below to the podcast, and get hip. (Be sure to sign up for alerts on future shows, too, if you like the podcast. Remember: All free.)

Let me add: What Mitch asks about is a very real, very pervasive, and very stubborn problem for anyone… in any gig… who gets good, gets rewarded, and suddenly has to face dramatic financial, emotional and intellectual change.

The old saying “Money can’t buy happiness” is true… though, most folks would prefer to learn it for themselves, rather than just be lectured about it. So, I know from experience that nothing I say can make anyone pause — even for a moment — when they climb on the roller coaster of rapid wealth.

Still, once the consequences of moving up a level (or more) in raw wealth and prestige start to settle in… and they will, and it will be painful (especially if you started out in modest circumstances) (like living out of your car, as I did)…

… it’s CRITICAL that you know these tactics for dealing with the burn-out and lifestyle changes descending on your ill-equipped ass.

So go here, and feast your ears: http://pi4mm.com/show07-burnout/

Side note: If you like this kind of deep insight, advice and sharing, you may want to check out the ways to reach me (and even hang out) personally. Just go here — it’ll take you all of five minutes to see what’s up.

Post #5:

The Grizzled Pro Speaks, Part 4:

Here’s an answer I gave last night, in the comments of the last post. It qualifies as one of the 5 I’m ranting on this week. Alex Ramirez is in a real fix, having blown his initial investment in becoming an entrepreneur, and now down to his final pennies…

… and, worse, paralyzed into inaction because of it. My colleague David Raybould chimed in first, with some good advice, and then I went off on my own answer. First, David:

“Alex I’m a buddy of John’s and a former mentee, so I know he won’t mind me jumping in. The ugly truth is that starting out in such a pressurized situation probably isn’t going to lead to the instant success it seems you’re hoping for. But that’s okay. That’s why it’s called starting out. You will fail until you don’t. But don’t have an “event” mentality about it. Success isn’t an event. It’s a process. Perfect the process, trust the process, and rewards will follow. It’s just traffic and conversions. Anything else is extraneous. Also be wary of feeling like you need to answer to family members in regard to your business. The two should be very separate. The only way for you to succeed from here Alex is to take some action. So get off Facebook and go do it.

Now, my added comments… relevant to ALL entrepreneurs, at all stages of the roller coaster:

“Excellent response, David. All entrepreneurs face failure, constantly. Put as many odds in your favor as possible, and when you have to grind, grind. Alex, everyone here feels for your situation. Many have been in some version of it themselves. There are no magic answers, however. It’s business — your plan, your marketing, your advertising, all the pieces are put into action, and you do all you can to get the results you seek.

But plans fail, circumstances outside your control interfere, and sometimes even great ads stop working. Nothing in biz is guaranteed. Every top marketer you know of has had projects fail. You need to learn when to stop throwing good money after bad, when to regroup and start over, when to call it a loss and try something new.

The gun-to–the-head attitude is just a reminder to make the best possible decision at all times. It’s not a guarantee you’ll always be right, or that things will work out. The gun isn’t real — it’s a metaphor. So you don’t do things on a whim, and you do the things with the greatest chance of winning.

The problems you likely encountered happened long ago. The time to regroup is not at the end of your resources. Learn from this. Get a job, if you must, to restock your bank acc’t. Work out a repayment plan. Keep learning how to make a project work.

Money is not a finite resource in the world. You can earn more, work your way into a better-position on your next project — so you’re not hemorrhaging money in a losing campaign.

Again — there’s no magic to successful projects. Large amounts of money upfront doesn’t mean you’ll succeed, big staffs don’t mean you’ll succeed, and great ideas don’t mean you’ll succeed. It isn’t the end of the world to fail, when you can muster new opportunities after recovering.

You sound young. That means you have time on your side. You are not forbidden to try again with a new project, if you fail. You can take a job, and focus on learning how to fix what you did wrong while repaying loans and starting a new war chest for the next project down the road.

Again — there are no magic answers. But there are other projects, other opportunities, and other ways to both learn from failure, and do better next time.

Good luck. And don’t call me “pops”. Plus, all I ever asked for from that first copywriter I met was a clue. A bit of info. Which is what I’ve been pouring into the world, through my free blog, this free Facebook page, my free podcasts. I’ve never asked anyone to save me. Just info.

You have massive lessons to learn here. It may take you years to learn them, and get back in the game. You may never be a successful entrepreneur — you must live in reality, and be honest about your situation at every stage.

You may also make it all work the next time around. It depends on you, and how you apply the lessons you learn. Every biz owner alive faces the same risk of failure. It’s a process, not an event, as David said above.”

Side note: If you like this kind of deep insight, advice and sharing, you may want to check out the ways to reach me (and even hang out) personally. Just go here — it’ll take you all of five minutes to see what’s up.

Post #6:

The Grizzled Pro Speaks, Part 5 (last one, folks):

Well, this has been quite the education. In how Facebook treats entrepreneurs just trying to connect with folks, in how people react to a pro offering free advice, and in how much crap is simmering on a low-flame in my mind, just waiting to be tapped.

Okay, last one. Christopher Chia posts: “John, I’d love to see you rant about what’s really important to you now, after a long and successful career, after you’ve gone in cahoots with the world’s best marketers… Lessons learnt, things you wish you knew starting out, the advice you’d give out to the young buggers of today, etc. Thanks!”

My answer: First, just go traipse through the (free) archives at the blog — www.john-carlton.com. I’ve been writing pretty much entirely on this subject for over a decade now.

What’s important to me has remained the same for many years — I love to teach, through writing, via my own experiences. So it’s like an ongoing biography, focused on biz. I love to shuck and jive, and my career has reached a point where I can do whatever I want… and what I want to do is live fully (chewing up large chunks of scenery along the way, as I always have) and write with verve and gusto.

I’m not the off-the-rails wild man I was as a young punkster, but I still crave enlightenment and raw knowledge. Which, you should knock on wood, I hone by sharing. Here, on the blog, in books.

My unusual style of teaching sometimes connects with folks in a big way. I got to where I am today by making almost every mistake possible in a copywriting career. Literally — I was like the bull in the china shop in my early years, with a rapacious appetite for learning, and a sense there was no time to lose in getting on the path to success.

This meant I bit off more than I could chew at times. And encountered situations where I stumbled, and even failed. But it didn’t matter…

… because I was after the long-term goal — securing a place for me in the hierarchy of the business world. That’s all I wanted.

So the mistakes weren’t stopping points, or even obstacles. They were LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES. I never vowed to “do better next time”…

… instead, I actually logged the time and effort (and expense) filling in the gaps in my knowledge/skill base, and worked at my chops until I would actually DO better next time. No promises. Vows and promises aren’t worth anything in the real world. Actually coming back with a fresh set of better skills IS worth something in the real world.

So my teaching method just naturally plays off my personal stories. I’m not teaching you a lesson I read in a book somewhere, or got schooled on in a seminar.

Nope. I’m relating how I got into the mess… how I got OUT of the mess… what I learned… and how I fixed things so I did better next time. This means you get to hear the rollicking war stories plucked directly from my life…

… and see how the lessons played out in reality. (Reality — what a concept. Rather than viewing the world as you wish it was, or think it ought to be… you view the world AS IT REALLY IS, and adjust accordingly.) (The first thing I jettisoned, when I became a professional, was my youthful idealism. Belief systems are fine, but piss-poor ways to run a biz on. Get away from what people SAY they’ll do, and focus instead on what they actually DO. It’s often as different as night and day.)

Some folks don’t do well with this teaching method. They’re used to just having the steps spelled out, one, two, three… and the idea of going the long way around the block… through stories… to get to the point of the lesson just drives them nuts.

Plus, as a real kinda guy, I can be mouthy and let my bad attitude off the leash a bit too often. I use slang a lot, I swear like a drunken sailor on shore leave, and I don’t pull punches in verbal brawls.

This is because, as a rookie, I discovered I learned best when taught by someone with the same outlook on life that I had. Conservative, uptight, formal mentors are fine for some folks — preferable, in fact, if that’s your personal style.

But I’ve always been engaged with life further out on the edges. I’m not interested in living and breathing business — I’ve got too many other interests, hobbies, skill sets and passions. Often, I’ll work these outside passions into lessons — because biz IS life, on a slightly more intense scale. Money’s at stake, and failure.

Still, I’ve been able to parlay my days playing in rock bands, in biker bars across the West, into excellent biz lessons. Cuz biz lessons and life lessons… and rock and roll lessons… all overlap and intertwine. My dearly-missed mentor Gary Halbert knew this well, and that’s why we got along so famously.

I’m a shy, introverted dude. But you’re not gonna be successful as a freelancer hiding and avoiding people. So I learned the ways of the extrovert, and was stunned to learn that most of the top speakers in the seminars are introverts, too. We just adopt the extrovert’s tactics for the length of the gig… and collapse in our rooms later, exhausted but successful.

The world is an amazing, dangerous, wonderful and scary place. There are few other gigs that drill deep into every part of life like copywriting — you have to be a detective, a shrink, a circus handler, a money man, a debate expert and maybe a dozen other things, all at once.

And that’s just to handle clients. Creating product, running a biz, kick-starting entrepreneurial projects… all require critical thinking way beyond what “civilians” (what I call everyone who isn’t a direct response-savvy marketer) can even imagine.

Freelancers go behind the curtains, backstage, into the dark secret places of biz, and clients’ lives, and even into the dungeons of capitalism itself. It requires the nerves of a mercenary, the balls of a Bezerker, the steel-trap mind of an Enlightenment philosopher, the courage of a Jack Russell terrier going after squirrels. Through traffic. Halfway up trees. With little thought to survival, and total unwavering focus on the goal at hand.

Cops have a gig somewhat like ours. With more real danger added. Firefighters share our requirement for focus. Sailboat fools and some skateboarders know what I’m talking about regarding eating risk for breakfast.

I was a total slacker when I hit my early thirties, and that had to change immediately if I was going to taste even mild success in the biz world. So I transformed myself — with books when raw knowledge was needed, with experience at every opportunity (unafraid to fail), with mentoring whenever possible, at whatever price was asked.

You can live an entire life half-asleep, snoozing away and never accomplishing anything. Many people choose this path. You’ll have a lot of company if you decide the bruises, occasional humiliations and nerve-wracking risk of the entrepreneurial world is too much to bear.

Those of us who live here love it all, though. It’s a decision, not a default setting in your system. Every move is up to you… and most of the time, it will be ENTIRELY up to you. Cuz no one else gives a shit, not really, about you in the long run. I mean, they “care”, but not enough to sacrifice themselves for your happiness.

If you need unqualified love, get a dog. (I did.) The biz world ain’t about coddling or nurturing… it’s about grappling with reality and capitalism, fully aware and hungry for knowledge, challenges and rewards.

For more like this — again — go haunt the freakin’ blog. It’s filled to the rafters with rants just like this… www.john-carlton.com

And that’s the lot of them. I’ve bought big, thick biz books that didn’t have a fraction of the solid advice in them you’ve just read here.

Seriously. Use this blog — the archives are gold.

And check out the other opportunities available to connect with me (and even hang out): www.carltoncoaching.com

Stay frosty,

John

Staying Out Of “The Lonely Hearts” Club

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Monday, 5:55pm
Reno, NV
“Train whistle blows, lost on its own track…” (Dwight Yoakum, “Long White Cadillac”)

Howdy…

I thought you’d want to see this.

I first posted it on Facebook, and it generated an avalanche of “likes” and comments… which always means I’ve hit a nerve. And since many of the nice folks on my main list are curmudgeons who refuse to participate in social media (“Facebook, bah, humbug!”)…

… I’m reprinting it here. So you don’t have to sully yourself by dropping by Facebook. (Bonus: The post below actually trashes large swaths of the Web.)

The cold, dark days of December are, traditionally, a breeding ground for both regret over mistakes in the past year…

… and (more happily) for bold new plans in the coming year.

So, in the spirit of helping you end the year on a positive note… while also teeing up 2014 as possibly your best new year ever…

… let’s see if this advice (which has transformed so many entrepreneurial adventures into something amazing) will have any effect on you. Maybe get a head-start on wading through the mounting piles of nonsense out there, and snuggling up closer to the reality-checks and truths that can help you attain your wildest goals and dreams.

Here’s the post:

Warning (and your brain may curdle if you ignore this): I’ve been paying close attention to human behavior for longer than many of my readers have been alive. And because I felt so clueless, even as a kid, I devoured every available source of “spying” on how everyone else managed to exist in such a strange world…

… which included reading advice columns (street-level psychology at work with Ann Landers and sis Abbey), monitoring adult conversations, and stalking older kids (who were navigating life just a few hormones ahead of me).

So I’ve been a one-man research center for decades. I still haunt multiple advice columns online, see what the trolls are up to in the comment sections of NYT opinion pages, and (here’s the important part) discuss human behavior with a wide selection of colleagues both online and in person.

The discussions are critical… because there is a FLOOD of bullshit cascading down on us from every direction in the culture. It’s impossible for one individual to keep track of the spin, urban myths, misinformation campaigns…

… and (especially) the really, really, really awful investigative reporting that passes for news organizations today.

My colleagues are biz owners and pro writers well-trained in applying high-level skepticism to incoming data, and following through on research when necessary. We represent every age group of functioning adults in the culture, from all over the world (including the US hinterlands, Canucks, Limeys and other uncivilized joints), specializing in all kinds of different markets, hobbies, lifestyles and professional goals.

So when — for example — the media gets looped into a meme on how millennials (the generation of kids just now emerging from college) are bringing their parents to job interviews, and are incapable of critical thought (because of helicopter parenting) and just generally not becoming adults at all…

… we can look behind the glib stories and anecdotes and see a deeper truth.

Such as how all of us, from every living generation, have oodles of friends and family who meet every single detail of the problems now being assigned to millennials. The lack of independence, the living at home until late 30s, the whining and narcissism and sense of entitlement…

… all of it. And when you get a broader view, from older and younger colleagues, you quickly see how DEEP the bullshit can get in a media firestorm.

I hunt down photos and resumes of the reporters, and sigh. They’re like, twelve (or 32 going on 12) — insulated, given vast unearned attention through posts and stories, and dishing out accusations based on minuscule life experience.

And yet the stories stick, and become “common wisdom”.

As a marketer, you need to immerse your bad self into the culture, and understand what your prospects know and — very critical — THINK they know. And what they suspect they don’t know, or feel paranoid about not knowing.

That means you’ve got to go deep, all the time, and have resources you trust to bounce incoming data and ideas off of.

Masterminds have always been my #1 tool for this. I’m in multiple free ones, have paid for membership in others…Continue Reading

The Answer (and Winners) Revealed…

photo-1Thursday, 2:30pm
Reno, NV
Every time they were sure you were caught, you were quicker than they thought…” (Bob Seger, “Still The Same”)

Howdy…

Well, we do have a couple of winners to announce here.

It was a hell of a quiz, wasn’t it. Over 400 responses (and still climbing)… and, as several posters noted, just reading the thread was an enlightening experience (with dozens of great stories and insight shared).

Crowd-sourcing at its finest.

Before I give the two winners their moment in the sun, however (and ship out their signed copies of “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together“)…

… let’s get straight on the answer to this one-question quiz.

Recall: I asked what — in my 30 years consulting with biz owners, freelancers, entrepreneurs, inventors and dreamers — was the Number One problem I saw folks encountering in their quest for wealth and happiness.

There may indeed be many other problems troubling folks…

… but in my experience, there is only one Big Kahuna problem.

And solving this big one also solves vast chunks of other problems in your life and career. Just like that.

The last great clue (no, I’m not gonna just roll over and tell you the answer without preamble) is in the photo up top here: That’s (from left) Joe Polish, the marketing whiz-kid who wrote the forward to my book…

Gary Halbert, my uber-infamous mentor, biz partner and close pal…

Gary Bencivenga, whose controls I stalked and whose teaser copy inspired me to rewrite my own bullets 30 times for every ad I penned (and who I actually wrote some stuff for in the late 80s)…

… and me.

Bencivenga loved this photo. We’d all known each other and worked in the same part of the direct response world for years… but we’d never all been in the same room together. (This was in NYC, at Gary’s legendary “Bencivenga 100″ seminar.)

Think you have the answer yet?

Consider: Just from these four guys, you’ve got generations of successful copywriters and marketers who owe their “breakthrough moment” to one of us. Ads that brought in gazillions, and created empires. Advice that transformed a moribund business plan, or a headline, or a career. An entire revolution in biz attitudes, success strategies and persuasion methods…

… all emanating out like rocket-fire from just these guys.

Got the answer now?

We leaned on each other, borrowed from each other, learned from each other, watched each other’s back, traded war stories and admired each other’s skills…

… and, in general, shared often large parts of our professional lives in the thin, rarefied air of world-class movin’-and-shakin’.

In short… Continue Reading

3 Old School Rules That Can Ruin Your Plans To Remain Poor And Miserable.

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Monday, 3:33pm
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
One way or another, I’ll gitcha, I’ll gitcha, I’ll gitcha gitcha gitcha…” (Blondie)

Howdy.

Okay, quick post today… aimed at ruining your life by prying open the profit floodgates with a few simple rules even grizzled old veterans seldom learn.

We’ll discuss later how to deal with all the extra moolah (so you can salvage an excellent life once the realities of being richer sink in).

(Tee hee.)

First, let’s make sure you understand these 3 basic (and mostly ignored or botched) rules from our Operation MoneySuck manual.

Ready? Okay, release the life-changing stuff:

Op$uck Rule #1: Get an assistant.

Hey, I totally understand the “go it alone” mindset of the average entrepreneur. I was a one-man-band for the first 5 years of my career — if you got a letter or phone call from my office (in my collapsing beach house in Hermosa), it was from me.

However, once I decided to start teaching and offering courses and coaching, I took to heart the Prime Operation MoneySuck Directive: “If you’re the dude responsible for bringing in the big bucks, then that’s your #1 job. And your #2 job, and #3 job, etc. Hire out or delegate everything else.

I brought on a part-time assistant for 10 hours a week, who worked out of her house (so we communicated mostly by email, phone and only occasional visits). She was smart, had biz experience, and was thrilled to have a part-time gig with totally flexible hours, with a generous and savvy boss (me) so she could work from home and raise her kid.

When I realized those 10 hours were INSTANTLY gobbled up by random stuff like scheduling consultations, dealing with refunds and printers and non-essential client requests…

… it became obvious that I’d been STEALING 10 hours of energy/time/thinking/effort from my biz. Which I could have been force-feeding back into the money-making part of that same biz.

Total WTF moment.Continue Reading

K.I.S.S.

Sunday, 3:09pm
Reno, NV
“The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, unless you’ve got a black hole handy.”

Howdy.

Nice, short post here today. In keeping with the theme “KISS.”

Veteran entrepreneurs recognize this, of course, as an acronym of “Keep It Simple, Stupid“… easily some of the best biz advice I ever received in my long career. I carefully printed this slogan out, by hand, on a big notecard and had it taped above my desk for years (though, my sign was even more direct and vicious: Keep It Simple, Shithead. I wanted to get my own attention.)

I made good use of slogans during the early days. “Business before pleasure” was also huge for me, since I’d squandered my youth as a party-hardy slacker… and simply re-directing my energy first to biz (and having evil fun afterward, if I still had any juice left) instantly changed my entire existence. I made a vow to myself — my first real vow that I took deadly seriously — to follow that self-administered advice without hesitation or complaint… and to never apologize for basing my career on a hackneyed phrase that few people ever thought twice about. And that’s when things started popping for me, success-wise.

That was a key realization: All those dog-eared rickety slogans, as mocked as they are, have earned their way into the culture…

… because they Continue Reading

Brain Tempest (Downgraded From A Storm)

Saturday, 2:23pm
Reno, NV
Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?” (Travis Bickle, “Taxi Driver”)

Howdy. Sorry about being such a potty mouth right off the bat there… but that Taxi Driver quote is just too perfect for setting the stage.

Here’s what’s up: I’ve been involved in high-end, professional-level brainstorming and masterminding for, oh, around 30 years now. I think I’m starting to get a handle on it, too.

Okay, I’m joking. After spending half my career butting heads, arguing and mentally-wrasslin’ with legendary thinkers like Gary Halbert… with a LOT of money, reputation and consequences on the line…

… I actually DO know a little something about working over an idea, ripping away the bullshit, and uncovering the overlooked, ignored, and spot-on nuggets of truth and success-potential most people miss.

The process is very much like sausage-making: Not pretty, and not for the weak-kneed.

However, if you truly desire to run an idea, project or plan through the gauntlet of REAL brainstorming…

… it’s still the fastest way to load up your war-chest with tactics, strategies and solid creative mojo. So you can get moving on conquering the world (or your niche, whichever).

But here’s the kicker: Hardly any veteran marketers have a clue how to brainstorm effectively.

Folks just naturally suck at it. And recoil in horror when confronted with the real thing in action. (“No!“, they cry. “It just CAN’T be that brutal!“)

At least… Continue Reading

Have a seat… I’ll be back in a bit…

Wednesday, 9:05pm
Baltimore, MD
She’d drag me through the streets of Baltimore…” (Gram Parsons)

Howdy.

Quick note to let you know I’m still kickin’.

I’m just taking a little time off here to split the home-dive… meet up with some biz pals in Maryland (including Rich Schefren, Bill Glazer, and Perry Marshall)… and ponder the wonders of life.  (Okay, and maybe catch an Orioles game).

I’ve got several blog posts almost ready for publication, so I’ll continue with my prodigious outpouring of voodoo and shinola (in equal parts) when I get back to Nevada.

Meantime, why don’t you slip into the archives over in the right-hand column (right there, see ‘em, inches from your right hand), and dig into some of the stored posts.  I’ve been laboring over this damn blog for years… and the joint is awash in treasure for writers, marketers, and bohemians of all stripes.

All free.

Also, I see all new comments when I’m doing admin stuff here, so if you care to leave a note on an older post, I’ll likely see it.  The most popular articles here still generate some nice outrage and fresh insight from new readers.

The comment section is half the fun of this blog.

Anyway, I’ll be back next week.  There’s beer in the fridge if you want some…

Stay frosty,

John

 

 

Who’s Watching Your Back?

eye

Thursday, 7:41pm
Reno, NV
Please allow me to introduce myself…” (Stones, Sympathy For The Devil)

Howdy…

This is one of those lessons that arrived accidentally…

… and I had to stop and ruminate about it for a while before it made sense.

I’m lucky I learned it early, too.

It’s provided me with a home base of sanity when the chaos has reached shuddering crescendos and it was hard to think straight (let alone make snap decisions when crisis loomed).

You may find it obvious.

That’s fine.  Just don’t go thinking it’s obvious to the rest of the mean ol’ world out there… cuz it ain’t.

Here’s the story: One of my first jobs working for Gary Halbert was to fly to Detroit… and interview a guy who’d just lost 750 pounds.

Yeah, you read that right.Continue Reading


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

These testimonials and case studies do not represent typical or average results. Most customers do not contact me or offer share to their results, nor are they required or expected to. Therefore, I have no way to determine what typical or average results might have been.

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