Archive Monthly Archives: April 2005

My Big Insight… Stolen!

Thank God the Trump show is almost over.

It’s like a zombie that keeps rising from the grave, after everyone was sure it was dead. Last season, I would have bet it had officially jumped the shark… but then they did the “Book Smarts vs. Street Smarts” concept, and damn if that didn’t hook me all over again.

However, once I realized that NONE of the apprentices were ever going to tell Trump to go screw himself, I vowed I was done after this season.

Couldn’t someone have stood up and at least flipped the bastard off?

But now I hear that, next season, they’re promising to have “Old Farts” against “Young Bucks”… and that’s just too damned fascinating a concept to ignore.

The bitter and arrogant versus the attitude-challenged arrogant. Gramps against the whippersnappers.

Should be quite a show.

I’ll bet the producers are having a field day lining up borderline personalities that explode under stress.

Maybe there’ll be fights!

Anyway, the “hidden” marketing wisdom in this last episode just screamed out to me, and I thought I had a great theme for this blog… until Alex, the guy who got fired, stole my punch line.

And then he put dessert topping on it.

Great stuff. Maybe he deserved to get the axe, maybe not. But here’s the twin observations that, I believe, made the show worthwhile:

1. Of COURSE the product was art, and not just a tee shirt. (I have already started next month’s Rant newsletter, and my theme is “find the real product”. Coincidence? Or eerie interference from forces beyond our reckoning?)

The winners understood the nature of what they were selling — a famous (though obscure) artist’s limited edition. So they emailed several thousand of his rabid fans, and went to town selling these tee shirts as art.

(By the way… for my money, Haines makes the WORST tee shirts available. They shrink, they’re thin, they rat-out fast, and fit like they were sewed by monkeys.)

This is what the USP is all about — your unique sales position. The average mall-rat may or may not care about your special edition tee. The art will either excite him on a primitive level, or leave him cold. He may just rather have a retro-AC/DC “Highway To Hell” logo.

And, this may be my imagination, but after age 30, you don’t get a lot of people buying “show” tees. The occasional Grateful Dead tie-dye from the ’87 world tour, sure. But only to work out or sleep in. Or maybe to put under your sweater, as a secret bit of rebellion.

I believe art is important. I like all kinds of art.

This tee shirt was art.

2. For me, though, the winning comment (may I have the envelope, please)was what Alex said during his dreaded “farewell taxi ride”: Before the show, he’d thought it took months and months to plan out a business project.

Now, he realized that was bunk.

You can plan, create product, and roll out profitable ventures in a weekend. In an evening, even, once you get your stride.

That’s huge. Most people tentatively entering the entrepreneurial world overplan their first few projects… and often suffer from that overplanning. They spend too much time outside of Operation MoneySuck, screwing with stuff that will be irrelevant unless they find a good market and create killer advertising.

I just covered this in the updates to “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets” — you can test for markets in a very short time, for spare change now.

And finding the right product, especially your first time into a particular market, is more a matter of giving people what they already want. Not what you think they “need”.

The basics of killer marketing are, and always have been, pretty simple.

So — two great lessons in one show.

I’m sure both went right over The Donald’s head.

Can you imagine what he would do, if forced to come up with a product and marketing plan for a tee shirt all on his lonesome? After freaking out because his toadies weren’t there to suck up, he’d have a big “speak to truth” meeting with the vapid wasteland inside his own head.

Panic would set in quickly.

I find that image extemely entertaining.

What do you think?

John Carlton

Server’s Up

I feel like I’m married to the damn server.

Last night — total freeze out. Couldn’t send outgoing email about the updated Freelance Course, couldn’t figure out the problem, and no, I didn’t sleep well. The whole thing just left me in a bad mood.

This morning, I had to drop the car off at the dealer’s (recall notice, which I may blog about later) (geez, the bullshit never ends), so I gave my little email project another college try.

And everything went smoothly. As if there hadn’t been any problem last night at all.

I’m pleased but… confused.

I’m also pretty sure all the guys reading this will immediately understand what I’m referring to.

And, I’m sorry ladies, but… well, there’s just some spooky familiarity about this behavior…

John Carlton (who’s in for it, now)

Server’s Down…

To everyone waiting for that “Sneak Peek” of the Freelance Course pitch…

My outgoing mail server is pulling a hissy fit. A few emails got out, and then the pipeline choked up like a python trying to swallow an Amtrak dining car.

After two hours of talking with various “tech support” experts, I’m giving up for the night. Tomorrow, if it’s still screwed up, I’ll probably post the pitch in a hidden page, and announce it on this blog. I’ll make the call around noon or so, west coast time.

Gawd, I hate technology…

John Carlton (unless that’s gone dark, too…)

John Does His Job… Finally!

All righty, then. Sleeves rolled up, notes in front of me, the dog snoring…

Time to answer those questions people sent me last month. Heck, I solicited ’em in the first place, and then ignored my duty.

Bad John.

There were essentially four questions, and I shall tackle them in no particular order:

1. What’s the value of having a real “expert” be your go-to guy in your copy, as opposed to a “nobody”?

Answer: There’s no real inherent value to either. As a copywriter, you work with what you have. If I’m on a job with a real expert involved, I focus on him. If the main talent is a cipher, unknown to the rest of the world, then I use that.

It’s all about salesmanship.

An expert offers “insider” advice and tactics. He’s an accepted “know it all” (in a good way, hopefully) in a small community of people who are very, very good at what they do… and are recognized for it. You have testimonials from other famous experts and celebrities.

The guy has pedigree.

And what he brings to your pitch is “authoritative” credibility. He has it, can prove it with a track record, and his name may be well known. His name may even have attained verb status, as in “you need to Carltonize your bullets.” (I heard someone say that at a seminar, and felt so proud.)

An example: You’re selling health stuff, and you have Jack LaLane as an involved spokesperson. (Okay… you don’t remember Jack? How about Arnold Schwartzenegger then.) The reader trusts the word of the expert, because his word has weight — he’s known for knowing his stuff… and if he says this new product is great, then by God it’s probably great.

A nobody , on the other hand, offers secrets that — if you’re lucky — either contradicts the common wisdom, or eclipses it with results. He’s an outsider, but can prove what he says through testimonials from regular people (and maybe even a few brave famous ones), and has a track record that may be hidden from most people… but is so startling that you are forced to pay attention.

If you’re really lucky, this nobody will actually have a bit of notoriety to him.

What he brings to your pitch is a well-deserved “screw you” to the status quo. Of all the hundred and something golf instruction products I’ve written copy for, all but ONE featured nobodies. (The one expert we used was a nightmare to write for, because he was terrified that my “outrageous” copy might tarnish his precious “reputation”. Result: The ad bombed. Too timid.)

I love working with nobodies who have a story. “How A Skinny Kid From Fresno Accidentally Started Hitting 400-Yard Drives”, or “The Amazing Secrets Of A Champioship One-Legged Golfer”, etc.

What you want, while doing your Sales Detective work, is to flush out the story that will delight that part of your market who DISTRUSTS experts.

In golf, that’s a big damn slice of the market. Because almost every golfer out there has been abused by an “expert” teacher who FUBARed his game for years.

There ARE secrets to playing great golf… but you seldom learn them from the guys who call themselves experts. (No golfer I know really believes that Tiger Woods would ever share anything really good in a magazine article, either. What does Tiger know about the frailties and foibles of the average overweight, nearsighted, arthritic old golfer?)

Instead, the best ads I wrote offered another view — here’s a guy unknown to most of the golfing world, who nevertheless is booked as a teacher for the next five years from word-of-mouth, because he has a single lesson he can teach you that will instantly slice 30 strokes off your horrible game, and have you hitting long, straight, gorgeous drives literally overnight… etc.

The biggest mistake people make when using experts in their ads is to assume they can shortcut the selling process. Because, gee, this guy’s an expert. You should fall down at his feet or something.

Doesn’t work. All the expert does is provide with a shorter path to establishing some credibility. But you can’t sell on creditility alone — that only sets up the meatier parts of your pitch. It moves the reader past the doubting stage.

That is, it will if your reader trusts the experts. I don’t know about you, but most of the self-annointed experts I know are fools.

Nobodies can use the experts arrogance against them. “Why Almost All The Experts Are Dead Wrong About…” is a great standard headline. We all tend to distrust snotty experts. Sure, they’re successful and all that, but we have a healthy suspicion they aren’t ever gonna reveal everything they know. They’ll keep the really good stuff for themselves, and toss us crumbs.

And you know what? Often, that’s the truth.

Nobodies HAVE to share it all. Because they’re up against the giants, without awards or fame or recognition from the academy.

It’s easy to understand, as a reader, why a nobody might go overboard to prove to you he really had the goods. And it would be a secret between the two of you — an ongoing “up yours” to the establishment.

This works with almost all markets. Sometimes you want a real doctor to back up your pitch. Other times, you want a nobody to explain why all doctors are wrong.

In the end, you work with what you have to create a killer sales pitch.

2. Why is the first paragraph so damn hard to write?

Answer: Because, after the headline, your opening lines are the hardest part of the pitch.

It’s supposed to be hard.

If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

(The first person to identify that movie quote gets a free personal email question with me, on anything you want.)

Your headline grabs. The guts of your pitch delivers mounting evidence, both emotional and rational, that your reader must have what you offer, and have it right friggin’ now.

But those guts flow from your opening.

Think of this way: The headline stops your reader. The guts of your pitch is like a greased slide, rushing him toward that wonderful finale where he pulls out his wallet.

The opening, then, is you sitting him down at the top of the slide. And giving him a good shove.

I have a few fall-back openings I use when I can’t think of anything original. (Big secret: These “fall back” lines often perform better than original prose anyway.)

The easiest: The “If/Then” sentence. “If you’re ever wanted to smell like a handsome man and make the ladies faint with desire… then this is gonna be the most exciting message you ever read.”

Shove. Have fun on the slide, Mr. Reader!

Most rookies falter here because they get all caught up in being cute. Cute don’t sell. Selling sells.

Worse, they think they have “time” to go off on a tangent. “In a moment, I’m going to tell you about an exciting opportunity. But first, I want you to get comfortable, because I’m going to talk about my childhood…”

Yawn. Goodbye, Mr. Reader!

Great copy gets delivered in a breathless rush. You don’t want your reader lazing on the chaise lounge, leisurely examining your copy as if it were a tantalizing Pinot Noir, with breezes of blackberry and licorice, joustled by hints of oak and just a kiss of chocolate…

No way. You want him on the edge of his chair, or even pacing the room, about to burst with curiosity and excitement.

A great pitch blows the reader away. Takes him into another world, where he’s lost in his own fantasy of a new and better life, dragged helplessly through ever-increasing reasons-to-buy-now.

When he comes to your take-away, you want him to feel a shiver of sheer terror at the thought of missing out or being denied.

Cuz Reader WANTS. You give Reader. You give to Reader NOW.

(Ah, Mary Shelly would be proud.)

Basically, make sure you’re getting across the notion that you have somethng for your reader. Don’t give away the game, or blow your pitch by letting the air out of your implied secrets.

Just tease him a little. Or, okay, tease him a LOT. Get him so wound up, that he willingly plops down on your greased slide, and begins his wild ride.

(You know, of course, that I cover ALL of this in excruciating detail in my course “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel”, right? I am constantly amazed that otherwise intelligent people, off on the marketing adventure of their lives, neglect to arm themselves with this world-famous shortcut course on writing killer copy and getting Operation MoneySuck in order. Shame on you if you’re neglecting your success this awful way! Shame!)

3. Does Q&A type copy work?

Answer: I dunno. Seems to be working here.

But then, this ain’t a sales piece (regardless of that last rant).

Actually, I have not used “Question and Answer” copy exclusively in any sales piece I can remember. Just haven’t felt the urge to.

The reason is this: Good Q&A covers what are, essentially, the features and benefits of your product or service.

And I prefer to cover those things in a good round of intense bullets.

But sure, you could substitute questions, with answers, for bullets. Just be sure to stay on target. “Q: Will this help me, since I don’t like people? A: Absolutely! We’ve found that this works even for sociopaths living in caves. Q: Can I use what you teach to trick my co-worker into sleeping with me? A: You betcha! Just follow the easy directions on page 357…”

And so on.

I don’t specifically teach this style, because there’s an easy trap to fall into — you start to assume you “know what the reader is thinking.”

This is bad. Common mistake, and very, very bad. You do NOT know what the reader is thinking. The questions you answer may or may not be foremost in his mind.

If you imply that you are reading his mind, he will distrust you. Hard to complete the sale when your reader is insulted at your insolence and assumptions.

With bullets, no such assumptions are ever made, or implied.

4. What was the speed reading course you took?

Answer: This is in reference to my oft-told story about “reading the entire Torrance Library stacks from Dewey Decimal 400 to 700”. (I may have those Dewey’s wrong, after all these years. What I plowed through was everything in the marketing, sales, advertising and writing sections.)

Of course, I didn’t actually read the entire library, or even those sections. What I did was take an Evelyn Woods course. I never did learn to read really fast, however. My retention stayed abyssmally low. So I would roar through a book, but remember almost nothing.

What the hell good was that?

However, that course had another tactic I picked up that was worth its weight in gold.

Basically, it taught me how to “consume” any single subject at the library. Most people — me included — naturally loathe doing too much research. So we take one or two books that we “think” are good on the subject, and read them. And that’s it — that’s our research.

Bad habit. Much better to haul down EVERY book on the shelves that is even remotely connected with your subject… and go through each one.

You don’t read every word. Just scan (this much I did learn from the Woods’ course) the contents pages, the index, and then blow through the pages. Take three minutes or so. Then make a snap decision (blink!) as to the “value” of that book, and move to the next one. After half an hour, you should have three piles: Really bad books that won’t help you, books you aren’t sure about, and books you know are worth looking at again.

What begins to leap out at you are repeated terms, names, places, etc. that the writers who know what they’re talking about repeat.

In this manner, I found Frank Bettger’s exellent book on selling, for example. I also learned that anyone who praised Claude Hopkins was good, and anyone who doubted classic direct response (long copy, requests for action, coupons, etc) was a moron.

Again… I go through ALL this in the course.

Are you people taking advantage of me in this blog? Sucking up, so I’ll answer all your questions and “accidentally” teach you how to be a killer copywriter?

To quote Super Nanny: You’re being very, very naughty.

Okay, I’m done. Job finished, for tonight. Hope you learned something. Glad I could help. Thanks for reading.

And y’all come back, now, you hear?

John Carlton (whose brain is starting to fritz out on cliches)

PS: Last chance to request info on the new Freelance Course. I’m sending out “sneak peak” pdf.s tomorrow. After that, I’ll be referring you to the site (which WILL be up, right Dave?). And the special offer is gone.

Trump Is A Total Prick

Sorry. Please forgive my French.

I’m just enjoying a little smidgen of righteous outrage over this last Apprentice show. I don’t watch much network TV — terrified of brain rot — but this show hasn’t yet jumped the shark.

It’s still riveting, for both the business aspects, and (sigh) the Jerry Springer-style interpersonal shit.

For me, it’s like watching a horror show. I’m taken back to my days in the corporate womb, where I slowly got sucked into the games and back-biting and gossip… just like the show… until, finally…

I got fired.

Good God, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I took the fall for a screw-up by the marketing vice president. Somebody had to go, and it was me. This, after I’d been booted into a no-win middle management position, without sufficient staff, without support by other departments, without a net.

For three months, I worked like a dog, up at dawn, swimming as fast as I could all day long, and collapsing late at night into bed, further behind than when the day had started.

Weekends — gone. Social life — gone.

Self-respect — gone.

I left the corporate world shaken at what I’d seen. All the qualities I valued — working my way through problems on my own schedule, taking a few well-thought-out risks here and there, questioning the wisdom of my “superiors” when that wisdom clearly sucked, sharing the glory — were huge liabilities in the office.

My last three months were like a slow-motion train wreck. I’m sure I was fabulous entertainment for my colleagues… and toward the end, I even stopped eating lunch with those people who had been my buddies the previous two years.

They could smell the death on me.

Again, however, getting canned was a huge relief. I took a few months off, travelled up and down the California coast, slept in my car and on couches and beaches, and eventually wound up in LA, where my freelance career began in earnest.

Watching the Apprentice helps me relive the horror of those years in that Silicon Valley office. But I get to relive it from a safe distance, which makes it a rather pleasurable thrill. Like I’d escaped the dragon’s lair, and lived to tell about it.

And I’ll say it again: Trump is a total prick.

His cover is blown by his sheer glee at pouncing on wounded ducks. You gotta be ruthless, he implies. You gotta crush people who attack you. You gotta take huge risks.

Blah, blah, blah.

The world he lives in is a zero-sum game. For him to win, somebody else has to lose. That’s bullshit. If you’ve ever participated in a joint venture or affiliate program, you KNOW that business can be win-win, easily.

Only a sociopath believes in crushing people while earning a buck. That’s starvation-thinking, acting like we’re all in a rowboat adrift in the ocean, and there’s not enough sustenance for everybody.

Should you actually find yourself in a rowboat, adrift, you may have to decide if you’re gonna eat the weakest to survive. But until then, enjoy the bounty of the world as it really is.

There’s plenty for everybody. There’s even enough for you and your colleagues to get filthy, stupid rich.

The worst part is, Trump encourages back-stabbing and disloyalty. He loves it… like he’s watching a cockfight. The only apprentice, so far, who’s shown any backbone is the one who got the axe tonight. He’s a bit of a putz himself, but he had a dollop of the one thing Trump had previously claimed was important: Loyalty. He just refused to trash his colleague, even though his neck was on the block.

And it got him canned.

It’s been twenty-five years since I last worked for a corporation… and it’s only tonight that I finally see where the real horror there came from — the utter lack of humanity.

People run scared too easily in the office. Their precious “job”, with all the warmth and benefits and security it’s supposed to provide, becomes thier identity and reason for existing.

One of my big problems was always showing up at eight a.m. sharp, with tie cinched up. What was the point? I often worked hours later than everyone else, focused on deadlines instead of some imaginary daily scorecard.

I mean, wasn’t the deadline the thing we were supposed to be focused on?

And that was wrong. That attitude violated an integral rule of the corporate beast: Though shalt obey mindless authority without question.

Reminds me of the time I pulled up behind some cars at a traffic light that was obviously on the fritz, stuck on red. We waited, and waited… and then I pulled around, bumped up briefly on the curb, and went on my way. The red light, so obviously broken, no longer represented authority.

It was BROKEN.

And defying the taboo of running it doesn’t automatically qualify as anarchy. You take turns, you go slow, you watch out for the other guy and show a little common courtesy.

But you get on with it.

Yet, as I motored away, I could see those other cars still sitting there, waiting for permission to proceed from a light that wasn’t gonna change.

And you know what? It wouldn’t surprise me if one of those drivers had hopped on their cell phone to “turn me in” for running the light.

How DARE I defy the rules?

Thank God we live in this country, where entrepreneurism thrives.

Most of the entrepreneurs I know well don’t “do” back-stabbing. (There are those who engage in this practice, but they never become my friends. Nor do they last long in the biz.)

In fact, it’s just the opposite.

The generosity and help you receive from fellow entrepreneurs can take your breath away. Metaphorically speaking, many would chew their own arm off, it you needed one.

It’s the Golden Rule. I just recently had someone do a job for me, and screw it up royally. And you know what? I took the blame. The client never heard about the failings, or the drama… and he never heard an excuse.

I took a hit, financially, and we just got on with setting things right. The error was understandable, and certainly not a firing offense. As we say: All errors made from enthusiasm are forgivable.

It never even occurred to me to waste time assigning blame.

Long ago, Gary Halbert took a hit for me. He could have easily stepped aside, pointed out my error, and come out smelling like a rose. But he didn’t. He absorbed the blame, and we moved on.

Bob Pierce, my longtime client and friend, has also done this many times when people he trusted with projects did a FUBAR.

Heck, I could fill pages with examples like this. I learned long ago that finding someone to take the blame was a loser’s game. (Hey, that rhymes.)

Who cares if someone is to blame for some mistake? Identify the problem, fix it, and make sure it doesn’t happen again. In business, there’s actually a fair chance it WILL happen again, anyway. But if you’re making progress, the problems are ususally less of a challenge the next time.

You may have to fire someone at some point. It happens. In the entrepreneurial fields, we thrive on being self-starters, and responsible finishers. Anyone who sits around waiting for micro-management needs to go drop some resumes off at Trump, Inc.

Where you can perform cage-fights for The Donald, ripping off your colleagues’ heads vying for the badge of Biggest Bully.

You can have it.

Or, am I way off base here?

What do you think? I know you bastards are reading this blog, because of the email I get. Don’t email me — share your wisdom here, in the comments section. Some of the stuff you send me is brilliant, but if you don’t post it, it never goes anywhere.

David, Phil, Scott, John… Gary… and both of you mega-talented redheads. You know who you are. And everyone else, whether I know you personally or not.

Share the love, guys.

John Carlton

P.S. Okay, it looks like the Website for the updated Freelance Course has been cursed, and won’t be up for… I dunno how long. It’s in the hands of my tech guy, who swears it’s close.

But I’ve lost patience.

So… starting on Tuesday, I am going to laboriously email each and every one of you who has emailed me about the course, and send you a PDF.

And, because you were among the first to contact me, you’ll get a special deal. I’ll honor this deal for anyone else who cares to email me before I start sending out the PDF next week.

Consider it a “sneak peek”. With special privileges no one else will ever get.

Have a great weekend. I hope, if you work during it, you’re working on your own projects, and not for the Man…

Okay, I Lied…

I’m not gonna get to those questions, like I promised, in this post.

I just pulled a long working weekend — don’t ask, but even us lazy-as-cats writers get behind now and again — and I’m fried. Just the thought of trying to tackle a simple marketing question makes me near-homicidal.

Still, I have one coherent thought I want to share with you before I go see what sort of new dreams Mr. Id has to taunt me with tonight.

See, I was chatting with one of my friends who is a civil servant the other night… and it made me wonder: What is it, exactly, that allows someone to tell the “normal” world to shove it, and go become an entrepreneur?

I’d always assumed it was a combination of tolerance of risk, and a severe dislike of working for someone else.

But I may be wrong.

Lifer civil servants are on the other end of the spectrum, of course. At any stage of their career with the bureaucracy, they can tell you exactly how many days they have left before they can retire at near-full pay (and full benefits). They hate their jobs, working for the Man, just like everyone else… but that carrot of a pampered retirement keeps them shackled.

Most of the hard-core entrepreneurs I know would go postal after a week in a bureaucracy. It would be cruel Kafkaesque punishment knowing exactly what your future was, and ticking off the calendar one day at a time waiting for recess.

So, on the one hand, you have people who seemingly have zero tolerance of risk, and who gladly trade in their soul for a guaranteed retirement. And, on the other hand, you have people who seem to be addicted to risk, and who gladly soar without a safety net.

But, lately, I’ve noticed the entrepreneur ranks swelling with people who abhor risk. And I’ve seen rebels suddenly go meek at the offer of a steady job, and melt into a cubicle for the rest of their lives like they were settling into a hot tub.

What gives?

I think I’ve figured it out: The rules have changed.

While I wasn’t paying attention, someone slipped the world “what the hell” pills, and now it’s all topsy turvy.

This clarified itself in my head as I blew past an Errol Flynn western last night while channel surfing.

We’re re-experiencing the old pioneer spirit here.

And it’s being fueled by the economy.

Back during the nineteenth-century westward expansion of the U.S., the first people to hit the frontier were risk takers. But that didn’t last. War, and an increasingly vicious ecomony started forcing “better safe than sorry” types into the wilderness, too. They didn’t necessarily want to go. But west was where the opportunity was.

In many cases, it was the ONLY opportunity happening.

So the choice wasn’t really to risk or not to risk… but rather to take a shot at the unknown, or get crushed by the status quo. The notorious Donner Party (who snacked on each other after getting caught in a Sierra storm a few miles from here) were not hardy pioneer types.

They were the equivalent of Homer and Marge Simpson. With Ned Flanders as their guide. Forced into the new world by circumstances.

The economy is going gangbusters in certain areas, but going cold in others. And not in some cancel-each-other-out way, either — it’s more like a big storm that some ships are weathering just fine, while all sorts of smaller craft are getting sunk or beached.

And suddenly, like no other time since the Depression, the entrepreneurial ranks are becoming engorged with reluctant entrepreneurs.

I unconsciously began to notice this last year, when I found myself getting increasingly impatient with more and more people who came to me for advice. They asked for clear directions on what to do next, as entrepreneurs, and I told them.

Not brain surgery, as I always say. There are proven paths to making a venture work, and all you gotta do is provide the elbow grease. It’s really so friggin’ easy these days, many hardened rebel-types are just quitting, and getting day jobs. There’s no fun in being a rebel if it’s EASY. So they earn a regular wage, and go start painting or reading philosophy.

Leaving the new game to the nervous types, for whom mild risk is a shock to the system.

But many entrepreneur wannabe’s resist that first step. Like they’re frozen at the edge of the pool, terrified of jumping in… but needing to. Desperately needing to.

I can get a little pissy around timid people. I eat risk for breakfast, and learned long ago that it isn’t bad for you and has few unpleasant side effects. And the rewards are legion.

Finally, however, tonight, I’m beginning to understand what’s going on.

And you know what?

It’s okay to be scared.

Taking those first few steps on your own can be terrifying, if you’re not used to it.

But you still have to make the decision: Are you gonna do this, go out on your own? Or are you gonna turn around and go back the way you came?

There’s no shame in turning back. But you’ll screw up your insides just standing there, frozen, refusing to make the decision.

I used to think I had the answer: Just dabble in being an entrepreneur. It’s not hard. Especially now, when you can launch a website in ten minutes. I teach people all the time how to create a product from thin air, for free, in a long weekend. No big deal.

You just gotta do it. Don’t quit your day job. Just jump into the shallow end of the pool, and dog paddle around a little bit.

For many, even that mild decision is too much. They fear it will be like heroin — take one hit, and you wake up six years later in jail.

But it’s not like that at all.

This is an odd confluence of opportunity and information happening right now. The Web is there, cheap and easy and stocked with vast targeted markets waiting to be plundered. And the guru’s are out there, flogging their courses and inside scuttlebutt… much of it very, very good stuff. (Not all, but enough.)

Hey — you don’t like your chances of seeing that long-awaited retirement and pension, after slaving away for the Man for most of your life?

Well, then, fund your own damn retirement. If you found this blog, you must be wired into other entrepreneurial-helping sites. You know the potential is out there, and you know this is one of those rare times in history when wealth and fame are easily gotten…

… if you can stomach just a little bit of risk.

Again, carpe diem, dude.

You’re not alone, no matter how scared you are.

John Carlton

Can I Deduct This From My Taxes?


If I’m, say, checking out a vintage 60s stub-neck Rickenbocker at Bobo’s Guitar Shop, and have this totally bitchin’ insight to making millions with some brilliant new marketing scheme… and I share it on my blog here… do I get to deduct the guitar?

Somebody get back to me on this, will ya?

Okay, I didn’t buy the guitar. I just held it reverently and then let the salesman pry it from my grasp. Then I got back in the cab and continued my journey toward Hell.

See, I’d had the taxi stop at the guitar shop on the way to the airport. Just to put off the pain a little longer. The hotel clerk who called the cab had regarded me with a look of “You are so screwed”, after I’d casually mentioned I was headed for Los Angeles International Hellport.

I had two and a half hours before my plane left. In the world I used to live in, that was plenty of time. Now, you need more than three hours lead-time to catch a fifty-minute flight to Reno?

The cab driver gave the same pitying look, and then shook his head sadly. Like he was taking me to the friggin’ Bridge of Sighs or something.

So I asked him to stop at a guitar store first, just so I could touch something precious before descending into the Abyss of LAX.

You think I’m being melodramatic?

LAX has officially become the nation’s worst airport for long lines and tortuous waits. The worst. Dallas-Ft. Worth, La Guardia, even the Third-World embarrassment that is Miami International all have SHORTER LINES than Los Angeles.

That must be humiliating.

I’d heard about this. Fine. I used to live near LAX, in a nice little beach cottage, and I used that airport frequently. It was always big and nasty and ungovernable, but how bad could it have gotten since I’d left the city ten years ago, really?

Answer: Really, really, really bad.

The cab driver, apparently in an effort to shave two or three minutes off the ride, ripped through red lights, weaved like a drunken sailor between lanes, and even popped up onto the sidewalk for half a block in his mad dash down La Cienega.

Slams up to the curb outside the Southwest terminal, and all the doors and the trunk fly open before I can pry my face off the seatback in front of me. I pay him, grab my bag, and stagger to the terminal.

Oh, man. Imagine emptying an English soccer stadium during a World Cup qualifier, and having everyone stand in single file. That was the line just to see an agent. The look of despair on people’s faces was wrenching.

Fortunately, being a modern kinda guy (although I’ve had in the ear before), I know how to game the system. Just pop over to the computer terminal, type in my reservation code (Apple, Yankee, Memphis, Foxtrot, y’all), grab my “skip the lines” boarding pass and…

… and…

… and the five bodies in front of me aren’t moving. On closer inspection, I see that the computer terminal is DOWN. People, dazed, are just standing there, staring at the cold blank screen.

Not me. I start prowling the area. There’s always another computer somewhere. This America, for God’s sake.

Find one, get my pass printed, and I am…

… facing a security line that goes down the length of the terminal, out the door to the sidewalk outside… and all the way into the horizon toward the next terminal.

There are four security points, with four pissed-off guards slapping people around, tossing luggage back into the x-ray machine, wanding little old ladies who look embarrassed to be standing there in their stockings getting prodded.

This line ain’t moving, either. I estimate 400 people. I time how long it takes the line to inch forward the space of one person — two minutes. That’s 2,100 minutes wait time to get through security. Two and half hours.

I’m gonna miss my plane. By an hour.

This is nuts. Suddenly, though, like an angel fluttering down to save us, an agent with a bullhorn starts accosting the line. Hard to make out what he says. I sidle up close, and ask him to lower the frigging horn and speak slowly.

Southwest, it turns out, has sent a bus over to the next terminal, a city block away. The security line there is only eight people deep, and the guards are bored. We can pop through security in a breeze, meet the bus at the first gate, and they’ll drive us back over to the Southwest terminal.

It’s an opportunity.

I’m off. A dozen other people peel out of line and follow me.

Everyone else eyes us anxiously, but doesn’t budge. Sounds too risky, I guess.

I blast through security at the far terminal, scoot down to the first gate and… there’s the bus waiting. I hop on. A breathless group of other escapees pile in behind me, the bus roars off, and suddenly… we’re all strolling down the Southwest inner terminal.

Took fifteen minutes, total. I have time to sit and eat a leisurely sandwich, read a magazine, and make a few phone calls before my plane starts boarding.

I am smug with self-satisfaction for, again, gaming the system.

Just to further my joy, I stroll back toward the security log-jam, to see how the scaredy-cats who refused to leave the line are faring. Not well. The human fence still goes outside and waaaaay down the block.

Most of them will be outside the terminal, waiting, as their plane taxis away on the tarmac.

I think about them, on the flight home. About the people in front of and behind me in that death-march line, wilting in the hot sun and exhaust fumes, the ones who refused to grab the opportunity offered by the agent with the bull horn.

From what I could see of the remaining line, there couldn’t have been all that many buses arranged for. It was like scooping a bucketful of water from a lake — they bused maybe twenty of us, max, and nearly all of us were near the end of the queue. The snake stayed long and hopeless after we’d bolted.

There are many things in life for which this is a metaphor.

It’s like that scene in the great movie “Sideways”, when it’s obvious (OBVIOUS, you friggin’ idiot!) that she wants to be kissed… and the guy stammers and frets and fiddles… and the moment passes.

The moment passes.


But more relevant, here, is the way it applies to business.

For many marketers, the entire wad of energy and persuasion and “take it or leave it” cutthroat salesmanship happens at the very front of the sales funnel.

They create, in essence, a moment for the prospect. A moment that must be grabbed… (for God’s sake, man, can’t you see how URGENT this is!?!)

And that’s it.

Wad shot.

Allow my little story to sink in.

Most people out there are incabable of grabbing a moment. Any moment. Our entire species is wired to miss out, it seems.

That’s why movies and novels and fables where the protagonist DOES grab the moment are so inspiring.

Cuz, normally, we seldom do it.

Your prospects out there may desperately desire what you offer. The future of their happiness and the safety of their loved ones may even hang in the balance. Entire civilizations may collapse from a failure to act.

And yet, they will demure.

In most situations, most of the time, people are terrified of decisive action.


Remember this, as you gloat about your oh-so-fine results. Whatever those results are… if you’re not going BACK to your list or market (once you’ve broken the code on creating sales)… then you’re leaving a fortune on the table.

If you get 1,000 sales with a direct mail piece on the first mailing… you will get approximately half that on the next mailing (I recommend you wait 3 weeks before going out again).

This isn’t science… it’s experience. I let the euphoria of a winning piece die slowly, and then urge the client to mail the piece again. To the same list.

With no changes. (Or, at most, a bright red “Second Notice” stamp either on the envelope or at the top of the first page.)

But… but… we already hit them with the pitch! Why in the world would we need to mail again?

Because it works that way. Pull out the names of the ones who bought, and mail the cleaned list again. Just do it.

You want a reason why?

You’re giving them another chance at grasping the moment.

Carpe diem, dude.

John Carlton

P.S. Anyone catch the Iggy Pop reference?

P.P.S. Next post, I swear I’ll answer the questions that were posted in the comments section a few weeks ago. My bad.

P.P.P.S. The site for the revised and updated Freelance Course has been delayed, again. I am not doing this on purpose. Rather, I set aside my aversion to weird new technology and recorded important elements of the newified course on my new Olympus DM-1… and, apparently, there is a digital demon inside the one I have. It’s taken me a week to finally get reasonably decent recordings finished. And this has pushed back the launch date, again.

Seriously — probably ten days. Be patient. You will be rewarded.

Side Note: All Insiders will be able to deduct their entire club membership if they pop for the Freelance package. I’ll be sending out an email about it soon. Watch for the usual subject line from me, so you don’t delete it by accident. This is important, since it may be coming from aWeber or some other source than



Now, go seize something.

The Apprentice Rat Cage

Great example of life imitating blogs on The Apprentice tonight.

Last post, I talked about stress. Lo and behold, stress is exactly what knocked what’s-her-name off the show. Under time pressure, and faced with having to think on her feet, she choked (to use The Donald’s term).

I don’t think she understands the term herself. It is clearly what she did. Her sticking point (she denied choking over and over again in the post-firing taxi interview) was not being able to fit her self-image into that of a “choker”. Actually, if you watched the program — and if you’re in biz, you need to, as great homework — she was called a loser first, then a choker.

Trump is such a schoolyard bully.

She’s young. You gotta get over it. Everybody chokes at some point — the game of life has been rigged against you. If you venture out your front door, you’re going to encounter a situation that overwhelms your tools.

And you’re gonna choke.

In fact, you really can’t succeed without experiencing it, and coming to grips with it.

How are you gonna act in a situation where you are on the spot, and you absolutely draw a blank on what to do? Most people just refuse to imagine the scenario — too potentially damaging to their ego.

I know this territory well. I was a cocky young guy with a big mouth for a long time… and I’m happy I encountered someone early on who showed me the way to trump that cockiness — he knocked me out.

Okay, I’m still cocky, and I’ve still got a big mouth… but I watch my back more closely. Lesson learned. There are times to reign it in. There are gonna be situations in your life when you gotta just suck it up and walk away, if you can. Not even Clint Eastwood acts like Clint Eastwood in real life.

I know exactly what that poor woman was feeling, tonight, facing a critical audience who held her future in their hands, and not knowing what to do. She was in charge of the presentation, and it was 100% FUBARed. She kept searching her notes, hoping to find a groove that wasn’t there.

I have been on the spot, on stage, in around three dozen seminar situations. Most of my early experience is one of anxiety and cluelessness, moving down to sheer terror and helplessness. I didn’t understand the “game” of how seminars worked for a long time. Didn’t understand what was expected of me, what was needed from me, what I had to offer.

Fortunately, the guy I shared the stage with in the first dozen or so seminars was Gary Halbert. Who loved the spotlight, and particularly loved the chaos of not quite knowing what was going to happen next.

It took me forever to “break the code” on this game… and when I did, I had to ask myself what the big deal had been.

Basically, when you stand up in front of people, they expect a few things from you. First, they expect you to have earned your right to be there. Next, they expect you to know your shit.

And lastly… they expect you to engage them at a satisfying level.

None of this is hard to do when you’re dealing with something you know something about.

The audience doesn’t give a rat’s ass if you’re nervous. Saying you are does not endear you to them — rather, they roll their eyes, and sigh. Because they know they’re now in for a period of excruciating awkwardness, and you’re the perpetrator.

They don’t care if your throat is dry, or if you’re having trouble speaking, or if your notes are in disarray.

You have mounted the stage. You have accepted the responsiblities of that stage, which require you to deliver.

It’s just that simple.

Once I “got” that simple rule, all the anxiety vanished. No amount of raw fear or shyness was going to win over the audience. What they demanded from me was, once I stepped up and the lights focused, to simply act like someone who belonged there.

During one of our early seminars, Halbert had some horrilble illness creep up on him. And he asked me if I thought I could handle the rest of the event. I turned so pale, he decided not to risk it.

But you know what? I had all the necessary knowledge, experience and savvy to pull off the entire seminar. What I lacked was the realization that I possessed all of this.

These days, I’m so relaxed on stage that I often toss my notes (which I only follow loosely anyway) and wing it. Four hundred people in the audience, waiting for brilliance, and I get bored with the “safe” route… so I just go off on a rant or a tangent.

Why do I do this? Because I lose focus with rote speeches. There’s just no fun in it. But also because I now know — from experience — that I can wing it and survive, just fine. Because when I’m up there, talking about marketing and advertising, you’re in MY house.

Yet, failure can still happen. Even being a twenty-year veteran of seminars and the marketing industry won’t always save you. I still occassionally put together bands and play in rowdy bars here in Northern Nevada. Sometimes, it’s just great fun. Other times, something ain’t clicking, and it’s a nightmare up there on the stage. The drummer’s on drugs and can’t hold the beat, the bass player is out of tune, the PA melts down… a LOT of things can go wrong, and you can count on at least some problems every gig.

That’s the risk you take mounting the stage. It may not go as planned, dude.

So, maybe even a long history of working the stage wouldn’t have saved that woman tonight on The Apprentice.

But from what I saw, her failure was mostly from not being comfortable winging it. Just decide on two or three points that are your USP, the main points you’re going to try to get across… and stay in that pocket. If the notes aren’t working, you gotta toss ’em fast. (I’ve walked on stage before and realized that half my notes are missing.)

Essentially, have a Plan B, which can be a simple 2-step delivery: This is the problem as we saw it, and here is how we solved it.

Drop all metaphors and fancy verbal dancing.

However, you cannot pull anything off if you let stress get you. Stress invades when you allow it to. You give your body permission to drop a nasty payload of too much adrenaline and other hormones that whack out your brain… and it’s hard to catch your breath.

One trick: Just say “screw it”. If you fail, you fail. You know you’re going to come away with a good lesson, and you’re never going to let this happen again. Even if you have to refuse to go on stage unprepared in the future. (Though, I personally only want to hang with people who understand that the show must go on.)

Get simple. Tell the truth. Don’t try to bullshit the audience, or win them over with weakness — it will never work.

Tonight, she lost sight of the simple elements of her job. She only had a few things that needed saying, really, to introduce the presentation. No one was going to shoot her if she failed. But she let her internal chemical dump overload her system, and she choked.

Again, no shame in that. Anyone who steps up to the plate will do it, or has done it already.

Life is all about brutal lessons that can give you nightmares. A successful life is all about dealing with that reality, and using the available tools of navigating these events to learn your lesson and move on with minimal damage.

I laugh at my nightmares now.

Being the “go to” guy just isn’t that hard, once you understand the simple basics. And remind yourself that even if you fail, you’re gonna get back up on the horse and do it again. And overwhelm the nightmares with success.

Do you agree?

John Carlton

P.S. I want to apologize to everyone who has been patiently waiting for info on the Freelance Course. Everything is done, and has been done for some time. I expect the website explaining everything to be up in the next few days… and we’ll get this show on the road.

I’ll announce the site here, when it’s ready. Thanks.

Rats ‘n’ Us

I just finished a long phone call with Gary Halbert.

We talked about rats. And then we talked about his decision to quit writing his newsletter.

This was a fairly typical conversation, as our chats go. During all those years I served as his right-hand man, we often spent half our time on-stage at seminars whispering and gossiping like schoolgirls. People in the audience were driven nuts, wondering what the heck we were talking about so urgently, and would do all sorts of sneaky shit to find out. Like “accidentally” leaving a tape recorder on the floor near us, or buying “remote listening” contraptions from the Spy Shop.

As far as I know, no one ever succeeded. At least I hope not.

See, we seldom talked about anything relevant to the business at hand during seminars. We’d been doing Hot Seats and such for so long, and knew the process so thoroughly, that we usually had the answer to anyone’s problem before they finished asking it. So we got bored.

One particular seminar, Gary leans over to me and says “Hey, John. I can see up the dress of that woman in the second row!” I spit up a mouthful of coffee — the bastard had timed that comment just right.

I got him back later, of course. But that’s a story for another time.

Right now, unless you’ve been hiding in a cave, you must know that Gary recently sent out email announcing the end of his newsletter. The last issue is now up at

He’s going to explain, in due time, what he means by “retiring” the newsletter… but I can say with some authority that he himself is not retiring from the scene.

So don’t panic.

I cannot imagine a world with the guy.

Gary and I have been close friends for over 18 years now. I met him at a private party at Jay Abraham’s house just after he had begun writing his newsletter, and we hit it off pretty much right away. I gave up a lot to go work with him — I’d already established myself as a freelancer with major LA agencies, had controls with several of the large financial mailers, was ghost-writing with top copywriters like Jim Rutz. (And even did some fullfilment writing for Gary Bencivenga.)

I was trying hard to fit into the “normal” freelance scene, but I often felt restricted. And bored. Gary offered immediate relief — he was funny, irreverent, and liked to stir shit up. He loathed being bored even more than I did.

Plus, of course, he knew more about the true art of writing killer ads than everyone else combined. He was fresh out of Boron, had put his life back together, and was licking his chops at all the opportunity out there for a street-smart writer with a deep, deep bag of tricks.

I walked away from a prime spot near the center of the “normal” direct response world, without a glance back, when Gary asked me to come work for him. His first year’s worth of newsletters had given me more ammo for my own bag of tricks than everything else I’d read or learned to that point. And I was one of those guys who devoured the library, stalked out-of-print books, and worked for free for Jay just to be able to hang out in his offices.

Working with Halbert was the wildest ride of my life. I saw a dozen other people try it while I was there, and they all flamed out from stimulus overload. I hung in through good times — where we made a lot of money — and bad times — where we squandered opportunities and life seemed like one long slow-motion train wreck.

It was all a continuous lesson, in business, in writing, in life. I learned from him, he learned a bit from me, and we both learned super-advanced stuff neither of us had imagined was out there.

We long ago went our separate ways in business, but remained good friends and confidants. I know I can pick up the phone anytime I need to rant and he will make time for me. And I do the same for him.

And yeah, we still spend a lot of time gossiping and savaging the political and social sides of our culture. But we manage to squeeze in a few tidbits, here and there, about marketing and making money. Every phone call is worth a whole new mini-education.

It’s been a good friendship, worth millions in earthly riches and priceless in intellectual sustenance.

What’s odd is that we have remained friends despite being opposites in many ways. I prefer quiet, calm environments with occasional bursts of excitement. Gary likes to kick the beehive every day.

However, we share a basic world-view: There ain’t nothing inherently noble about being human. You gotta work through a jungle-full of liability to attain even a small amount of grace.

There are a couple of famous rat studies we both find relevant to our lives. Researchers use rats a lot because the little rodents share our basic nervous system. What irritates or pleases a rat, also irritates or pleases most humans.

Get over it.

In one study, scientists put what they knew to be a “sustainable” number of rats into one large cage. They functioned well in this environment, mating normally, rearing little baby rats, getting along with each other.

Then, the lab coats began to add more rats. Just a few more. To see what happened. Quickly, the large cage became Chaos Central. Result: Cannibalism, buggery, murder, rape, and lots of eating the young.

All because of overcrowding.

In the other study, the coats introduced alcohol to a normal society of rats. Most of them avoided it, some used it as “Miller Time”, and a percentage just went overboard. The stats mirrored what we know of alcohol use in normal human environments.

Then the researchers, always happy to screw things up, raised the stress level of the rats. Loud noises, cage jarring, unpredictable electric shocks, all sorts of disorienting stuff.

Result: The tea-totalling rats started guzzling booze. The Miller Time crowd became 24-7 lushes. And the alcoholic rats literally drowned themselves in the liquor.

What does all this mean? Well, besides revealing how sadistic the guys in lab coast can be, it at least makes you think about modern life, and our place in it.

Humans like to think of ourselves as above the animal world — cleaner, smarter, better suited to rule the planet.

We are, of course, none of these things. We make a mess of everything we touch, and there’s some strong evidence that we’re killing the surface of the earth.

Plus, we make people like Britney Spears rich and famous. Could Hell have noises any worse than what she produces?

We’re more like shaved apes who stumbled a few feet away from the jungle than we want to admit. Our biggest survival asset, in fact, is our denial system. Something bad coming our way? No problem. Ignore it.

But most of all… we are vulnerable to stress in ways that sneak up on us.

Both Gary and I have been around for a long time. We don’t feel old, don’t look our ages, and we’re actually healthier than a lot of the younger guys in this biz.

But we’ve absorbing stress for decades. When things go well, you ignore the stress because you’re having fun. When things go south, the stress starts to eat you alive.

Over time, it all adds up.

And you know what? Sometimes, we just want to go away and watch waves crash on the beach… for a very, very long time.

Burn-out is common in advertising. I have a theory that writing sales copy actually ignites a different part of your brain, and it’s a very vulnerable part that can get trashed easily.

Guys like Gary, and me, have put our ass on the line for you. Yes, we can be self-aggrandizing fools, and yes, we have been rewarded for annointing ourselves guru’s.

But I can tell, after years on the inside of the “expert world”, that we wouldn’t expose ourselves this way, for any amount of money, if we didn’t love to teach.

My first big thrill as a copywriter was getting that first check for a job. Then, seeing one of my pieces succeed like crazy. Then, finding out I actually had a reputation, and that people were seeking me out.

But the BIGGEST thrill I’ve ever gotten… is that first pile of testimonials from people I’d given advice to when I started

If you have experience teaching, you understand. Making money is one thing, and I like it. But helping other people is a rare event in most people’s lives. It does something to you, deep inside.

And you fall in love with what you do all over again.

I know Gary. Maybe as well as anyone else around, except for his family and girlfriend.

And I can tell you — the guy has teaching in his blood. If he’s decided that a monthly newsletter is nudging his “stress meter” too high, I’m the first friend to tell him to give it a rest.

But you haven’t seen the last of him. The stress comes and goes, and even the most dedicated need to take a friggin’ break once in a while. Cut him some slack. He’s poured his heart out to you guys for almost twenty years now, and has made many of you millionaires.

This has been a true Golden Age of information, and Gary was one of the guys who started the ball rolling. There are a ton of other “experts” out there, and many of them are worth following.

But there’s only one Gary Halbert.

There will always be only one Gary Halbert.

And he’s still here, still full of piss and vinegar, and if my intuition is any good, he’s gonna remain on the scene.

Kickin’ beehives.

John Carlton

Just Checkin’ In

I have a longtime client who keeps having to learn the same lesson over and over again.

It’s simple: Don’t mail to people who aren’t home.

There’s a critcial “response frame” for direct response mail. After the first day, if you take phone calls, you should be able to guess at how well the mailing will do. If you’re mailing to a qualified list, or a house list, you should be able to nail final response numbers within a percentage point or so.

But that’s only for around 40 weeks out of the year. There are certain times where almost all markets are “down” — holidays, severe storms that interupt mail service, the beginning of wars. Some of these bad mailing periods are unpredictable, so you cannot plan around them. You just take your best shot.

But holidays… dude, you got a calendar, you know what’s coming up. People are distracted by the big holidays, at best, and just plain gone, at worst.

We just passed a big one, spring break. Next up is Memorial Day, then Fourth of July. In your particular market, there may be other bad mailing times — if you’re marketing to Harley owners, forget about August. They’re all headed to Hollister to raise hell.

Online, it’s similar. Logically, you might think that “old” email, checked days after received, would still pull. But it doesn’t always work that way. Especially when you have deadlines for responding.

It’s a small lesson, yes, but one that will murder your bottom line if you make a habit of trying to contact your list while they ain’t home.

But you don’t have to just sit on your hands, either. These down times are great for doing something “extra” for your house list. Tending to the herd, so to speak. Send out real content, for free, either by posting it and emailing an alert, or dropping something in the snail-mail.

Don’t ask for a sale. Just reach out and touch your best customers with a real gift. No ulterior motives. No hidden catches.

That kind of contact is still good even if they get it long after you’ve sent it. It leaves a good taste in the mouth, too. After hitting them up for multiple pitches, pull your punch a few times every year and just give ’em a little kiss. Free stuff.

It might help to think of your list as a difficult spouse. A little romance is required now and then, with no expectations.

Keeps the fire burning.

You know what I mean?

John Carlton