Step 30

The title of this entry, “Step 30” refers to something many, many otherwise smart marketers hate to do.

Finish stuff.

“30” is typesetter short-hand for “The End”. When I worked in the newsroom of my college newspaper, we all wrote “30” on the bottom of the last page of copy. That let the typesetter know we were done. If there was no “30”, that meant a page was missing.

It was just a college rag, but we took this stuff very seriously. Pretended we were at the New York Times.

Well, actually, since I was the staff cartoonist, I didn’t take all of it very seriously, and I sometimes heard reporters grumble about all the column inches my cartoons were taking up each issue. Few writers enjoy being edited due to space, and I caused a boatload of copy to hit the newsroom floor when I went to a four-panel strip.

But that’s another story.

From my catbird seat here, where piles of ads and project ideas cross my desk for critique (or to pitch me on getting involved), I now see that there are two main problems affecting a majority of entrepreneurs:

1. Getting started… and…

2. Finishing the necessary details.

I’ve talked about letting the curtain go up on your project, or your life, many times before in the RANT. There are ingenious ways to fool yourself into thinking you’re moving ahead when, in truth, you’re just dawdling. Stalling, so you don’t have to change your sleep-walking habits and begin the movement required for anything new and scary.

Not being able to get past the inner demons that resist action will keep your life in a holding pattern forever.

And maybe that’s okay with you. The risks and lifestyle of an entrepreneur aren’t for everyone. Some folks just don’t have the juice to crawl so far out on the limb, without a net or guarantee of success… and that’s what you gotta do to make most projects work.

However… just as bad is the resistance to FINISHING a project.

I see a lot of people do everything necessary to launch their baby… right down to having the Web site up and ready for visitors, or stacks of stamped mail ready to be taken to the post office.

And yet, somehow, they just cannot pull the trigger. They do one more edit of the copy, make minute changes in the plan, hire another consultant and ask really picky questions. I often get asked stuff like “What do you think the conversion rate will be?” Or “How many people will like the product, do you think?”

These are questions that can only be answered through action. You need to put your pitch in front of cold prospects and see what happens. Everything else is just theory, idle guesswork and stalling.

Look… I think it’s a mistake to “major in the minors”, as some marketers like to say. When you’re running the show, you need to be focusing on Operation MoneySuck, and bring in the moolah. That requires “majoring in the majors“, or having a large overview of what’s going on. In music, it’s called “having a Big Ear” — because you hear the band as a whole, rather than just your small contribution against the backdrop of the larger sound.

However, to get any project in shape for launch, there are tons of “minor” things that need tending. And somebody’s gotta do them all.

Yes, it’s onerous stuff, and makes your head hurt.

But this is the moment of truth. If your project is going to crawl out into the sun, you need to just buck up and finish all the details.

Decide on the typeface and point size of the copy. Decide on colors, if any. Decide on how the order taking process is going to work, and decide on the way the Order Form is going to look.

Decide on price, on the USP, the guarantee, everything.

Just do it.

You cannot make a perfect decision. So don’t ignite an anxiety attack over these decisions. Just do the best you can, with what you have available.

But really do the best you can. Don’t be lazy at this step, or you’ll pay dearly.

If you have a lot of experience, you have a secret weapon. But it’s not infallible. If you have consultants, or friends in the biz, you can get other opinions. But they can screw up, too.

It’s not their ass on the line. It’s yours.

So YOU make the important decisions, even if your decision is simply to agree with what someone else suggested. If you leave the look of the ad to a graphic artist, that’s fine… but it’s your decision. Make that decision, be conscious of making that decision… and know that consequences will result. Good, bad, indifferent, you’ll soon find out. Just be aware.

There are a vast number of details in even a small ad that can affect response. Some are not of monumental importance. Others can murder results. A typo won’t sink you most of the time. Unless it’s in the phone number. Or the price.

Proof-reading can be nerve-wracking. I have been the last person to see hundreds of ads. And knowing that you have just released something that is about to be seen and acted on by an entire market… or not… can make your brain melt.

You’ll get over it, though. Just take final responsibility for the success of the project. There are things that must be attended to if success is going to happen. Those are all your job, to finish up and finalize.

All the other stuff can be delegated.

There’s a huge moment of relief during “Step 30”. You okay the ad for the last time, and it either gets printed, mailed, or posted… and that’s it for now. You can relax. If there are errors, you will find out soon enough.

Give it some air, see if results start coming in… and then go back and RE-read everything one more time. Look for problems, typos, dropped blocks of copy, everything that may be affecting response.

I’ve had direct mail go out missing 4 entire pages of the letter. Had clients who sent out blank videos for months at a time without noticing. Had newspaper ads run with a phone number that rang in some little old lady’s house two states away.

Had Websites refuse to accept opt-ins or money, due to a tech glitch.

Oh, it goes on and on. You know the drill firsthand, I’m sure.

As humans, we are not wired to naturally want to finish stuff. We enjoy starting things… but find excuses not to do the detail stuff that gets the project up on its own feet.

It’s what separates the winners from the whiners.

So… Step One is to begin something. And Step 30, no matter where it comes, is finishing it.

Finish something from your in-box today. Get in the habit.

John Carlton

P.S. Are there any subjects you’d like to see covered in this blog? Let me know in the comments section. Here’s your chance to get on the soapbox.

P.P.S. I am gone all next week. On a four-day golf trip with my longtime buddy Stan, if you must know. We’re going to golf two world-class courses, twice each… even if we have to do it in the rain. These trips are sacred. If you don’t golf, you will never understand the pure Zen appeal of the game. If you do golf, nothing more needs to be said.

This little trip is going to recharge my entire system.

So, for my Insiders… I won’t be answering email all week long. Don’t panic. But I’ll be back, and full of new piss and vinegar, a week from Monday.

Try not to burn the joint down while I’m gone.

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"11 Really Stupid Blunders You're Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now."

  • Hey, listen to my golf CD’s before you go and spare yourself some embarrasment on the tee.

    4 days of golf? You’ll be exhausted when you come back.

    We’re waiting for you to post your scores. (LOL)

    Is OHP sending a crew to follow you around and shoot a video?

  • Michael Platt says:

    Hi John,

    Here’s something I’m hoping you can share your opinion on…

    The “average guy” vs. “the expert”.

    In many ads in my swipe file….the “main character” of the sales letter is portrayed as an everyday human being…….as in…

    “desperate nerd from ohio”….
    “one-legged golfer”….

    …and the ad typically goes on to share something amazing discored by ordinary Joe.

    And yet, one of the most powerful elements of persuasion is “Authority”.

    My niche market has no well known “Authority”. I have the opportunity to come in and claim that spot as the “expert” in my niche (and back it up with the secrets I know). My knowledge is not based on any formal education…..just from my own years of experience and research.

    ..but I can also just be the average Joe who is sharing an amazing discovery.

    It’s kinda like choosing to be the “Butch Harmon” of my market….vs. the “One Legged Golfer” of my market.

    It “seems” like it’s a no-brainer. I’d rather be the expert…..but sometimes I feel too close to my project and need the perspective of someone else. (And of course…testing will answer all questions)


  • Steve Hogan says:

    Hey John,
    Love your new blog. Thanks for sharing.

    Something I’m noticing more and more (particularly in print) is Question & Answer copy. Instead of a standard salesletter, or advertorial, the copy is more of an “interview” that ends with information on how to “find out more” or “get a copy” or whatever. Can you comment on this type of copy?

    Particularly, can you share any experiences with this type of copy? Any likes or dislikes about it?

    Would you ever use this type of copy in direct mail, or just magazines/newpapers?

    Cheers, and hit ’em straight!

    Steve Hogan

  • Matt Gallant says:

    This post is worth 10 million dollars to anyone who applies it…

    Driving to completion… action over perfection… Those are 2 of the most powerful mindsets for success in marketing.

    Matt G

  • Mike Crimmins says:

    Hi John, Something I wonder if you would comment on: I read that you took a speed-reading course when you got started and it seemed to give you a big advantage in the beginning. Do you still use this? How much of a factor would you say it is/was in your success? Thanks, Mike

  • John Ritskowitz says:

    Mr. Carlton,

    Thanks for sharing your ideas on this blog. I’ve just started reading it, and I have to say it seems packed full of million dollar ideas and advice. Dr. Kilstein recommended this site on the AWAI Students’ Forum, and I’m still trying to learn from all of the big players in copywriting.

    That being said, I must say that you’ve touched on a subject I’ve often had trouble with. That is, I have so many different projects going on at any given moment, it seems overwhelming at times to finish any one of them.

    I’ve got several Web sites under development (I’ve designed quite a few from an “engine” perspective..that is, the back-end database engine and the code to make it all work). It comes down to the point where the site is fully functional, except for the majority of the copy and layout.

    Bottom line is I need to focus my efforts on the other side: selling the site and it’s product/service. You could have the best service in the world, but if nobody knows about it or just aren’t convinced (or even if they are convinced but still don’t purchase it), then all that work was for nothing.

    I don’t take this challenge lightly, but I do intend to make a good return on my investments.

    Your post has inspired me to take some time off from tweaking the code or database optimization and work on my copy to get some of these things finished.

    After all, every day I delay is another day of lost profits!

    Warm regards,

  • Jerry Bonetti says:

    Hello John. Without fail, nearly every time I write a sales letter, I am unhappy with the first paragraph or two. I just never seem to be happy with it, no matter how well the rest of the piece turned out.

    What are the common mistakes you see novice copywriters make with the first paragraph or two? And what advice would you give?

    All The Best. Jerry.

  • mark grove says:

    Yeah, I’m bad for not editing to the hilt. Gotta get my head outta my arse.

    What would I like to see covered in the blog?

    Some basics on approaching major trade mags to write for them. I’m in the music and sports fields.

    Thanks John


  • Jesus Miguel says:

    That’s why your advice on deadlines, is so right on point.

    Treating them as sacred events. We can only do our absolute best during that time. Not a single second more.

    Thank you John

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