Archive Monthly Archives: May 2005

The Best Investment You’ll Ever Make

This one may be worth printing off and tacking up on your wall.

Here in Northern Nevada, and across the Sierras in California, real estate prices are going nuts. To my jaded eyes, of course it’s a bubble. When anything doubles in price for no logical reason, there are weird and highly-suspicious market factors in play.

I mean, jeez — didn’t we just see this with the Dot-Com bubble only a few nervous years back?

This time out, at least, there are some traceable reasons for the explosion. Ridiculously low mortgage rates, for example. Less logcial: The fiddling with adjustable rate mortgages and seconds, essentially gambling a bit to put yourself into a bigger house than you would have thought you could afford.

Everybody likes a bigger house. Status. More room. There are always excuses for having more.

However, much of this sky-rocketing rise in prices just leaves me cold. Why is a house that was “worth” $210,000 a year ago now “worth” $490,000? Did God come down and give everybody on the West Coast a raise in take-home pay or something?

If so, I missed hearing about it.

In 2000, people were seduced by “easy” profits in the stock market, and got burned. Today, people who cannot tell you how much is in their 401-K accounts are buying second and third and fourth properties, using refinancing to get the down payments, and becoming landlords. Of course, finding renters who can cover the mortgage payments will be tough (or impossible), so it’s all negative cash-flow.

No new job, no big sudden raise in pay, no rich uncle dying and leaving a fortune. Nothing has changed for many of these people… except that they see prices going through the roof (literally), hear about friends getting filthy “rich” slinging real estate deals right and left, and don’t wanna miss out on the “easy pickings”.

I, of course, sound like Mr. Piss-On-The-Fun. No one caught in the fever wants to hear anything about caution. Or reality.

Hey, I won’t feel bad if I’m proven wrong, and the market just sustains itself forever. Good for everyone making a killing. Maybe a new race of people from Mars will move into town, eager to pay for houses, and everyone will get what their real estate holdings are “worth” when they’re ready to sell.

Go for it.

Personally, I loathe that kind of risk. It’s not just hard work, doing all the looking and figuring out insurance and inspections and researching city codes and sewer assessments and writing all those humongous checks.

I first got nervous when, after closing the deal on my current abode, the mortgage broker brought out a bottle of champagne to “toast” our little deal.

Were we celebrating my purchase, or her commission?

There’s a ton of money in real estate. I know the quotes: Every billionaire on the Forbes list has most of their holdings in real estate. Everybody needs a place to live. A house is your best investment. Yadda yadda yadda.

I just don’t like going through the gut check.

Instead, long ago I realized I was sitting on something that returned a MUCH better return-on-investment, and the risk was pretty much zilch.

Well, okay, not “sitting” on it.

It’s my brain. It’s what I know, what I’ve experienced and learned, and what I can do. All the useful marketing and advertising stuff I’ve loaded into my noggin.

In my head, I can solve all sorts of problems for businesses, and they will pay me to do so. Stripped down, I could do all this with a broken pencil and scraps of paper. I prefer the computer, cell phone, fax, printer and all that. But I choose to have these gadgets around.

Basically, I can generate beau-coup cash simply by talking. Those of you who bother to read my ever-expanding testimonial files know that a single idea, taken to heart and acted on, has dumped piles of cash into my clients and subscribers laps.

And I get a piece of all of it.

I sometimes lose sight of this.

I am in the investment game.

It’s just that I don’t deal in real estate, or stocks or bonds, or anything else “physical”. I deal in brain power. Giving advice, and writing copy that changes lives and alters the future.

The pen is mightier than the option.

So, you know how I invest in my “pen”?

Here’s one way: I don’t hesitate to attend crucial events like Gary Bencivenga’s big damn “tell all” seminar last week in New York City.

Cost me a small fortune. The attendance fee was five grand, just to put my butt in a seat. The St. Regis hotel, where the seminar was held, is where David Letterman puts up his guests — rooms go up to $750 a night, and toast and eggs will set you back $30.

I had a butler assigned to my floor, for crying out loud.

Nothing but the best, Gary said.

All told, I’ve easily dropped ten large ones for an event that lasted approximately a day and a half.

Worth it?

Get a grip. I earned my money back, with interest, in the first 30 minutes. Because I KNOW I can put what Gary shared to work for me, immediately.

I quadrupled my investment by the end of the first afternoon. And will easily — easily — see a ten-fold return when all is said and done. Minimum.

The connections and networking I did alone is worth all that. Getting my Bag of Tricks stuffed with all those new tools and tactics and insight just makes the future ROI downright obscene.

And you know what’s odd?

This seminar wasn’t a secret. There wasn’t any conspiracy to keep anyone out.

It sold out in days, of course… but I’m astonished Gary didn’t get enough of a waiting list to fill another six seminars. Just astonished.

Because investing in these kinds of information-sharing events is NOT a “cost” to anyone. Hell, it’s only barely an investment… because you’d have to be brain-dead not to be able to make it all back in short order.

I’m not being cranky. I’m telling you one of the big damn secrets of massive wealth in this economy: Get the goods from the experts, and run with it.

It’s that simple.

Ten grand wouldn’t have bought me a closet in a house here in Reno.

Yet, in just a short, wonderful (and fun) weekend, I loaded up with enough useable ammo to open my own vault at Fort Knox.

Stop thinking about the “cost” of getting the info and materials you need. Instead, concentrate on the value.

Don’t go into debt, now — I never tell anyone to mortgage grandma’s farm to get anything. Instead, set up a savings account, and work hard at whatever you’re doing now to shove cash into it. Pay your way as you go — it won’t take long, and it’ll teach you about deferred gratification.

That’s one of the critical missing links in goal attainment, you know.

Anyway, in case anyone was wondering why so many already-established professionals (like me, Halbert, David Deutsch, Jim Punkre, Joe Polish, Carl Galletti, Perry Marshall, all the honchos at Boardroom, Phillips and Agora, and a continuing list of notables that would take me ten minutes to write out) spend good money to attend a seminar like this… now you know.

You invest, you learn, you go out and take what you want.

That’s life at the top.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

Good Grief… Now What?

This is not an actual entry.

I just dragged my jet-lagged ass in the door from the cross-country flight back from Bencivenga’s awesome seminar in New York, and discovered by blog was… well, blank. Not good.

So, in the interest of squelching rumors about my untimely demise, before they start, I’m just posting to have something here.

Witty brilliance to come. My brain is still buzzing from the event and all the ideas and connections and reinvigoration. I mean, New York, man.


Right now, though… off to the exhausted sleep of the jet set…

John Carlton

Update City

Update #1: I’ll be out of the office until Tuesday, May 24th. Diane will be checking email and dumping water on whatever crises occur during that time, but there will be no critiques done and no personal communication with me.

Why? Glad you asked. I’m off to Noo Yawk City for the big damn Gary Bencivenga seminar, which will be a veritable “who’s who” of the upper edge of the direct response marketing world. I don’t know how he found a room big enough to hold all those ego’s… but I expect giddy fun and high levels of “wow” pizazz.

Plus, I suspect there will be some serious pissing on the walls, as a couple dozen of the best copywriters on the planet stake out their place in the hierarchy.

God, it’s gonna be a sizzling weekend. I hope there’s a fight.

Personally, I would pay to hear Gary Bencivenga mumble in his sleep. He’s been a legend among copywriters for a very long time, and the secrets he holds in his brain are worth fortunes. I haven’t shelled out good money to attend a seminar in decades… but I was the FIRST guy to mail Gary a check for five grand (mere hours after he posted his intentions for the event) just to put my butt in a seat there.

No way was I missing this gig.

I’m sacrificing to be there, too. Flying out on the Red Eye (first class, but it’s still the friggin’ Red Eye), paying ransom-like room rates at whatever gilded Upper East Side dump the seminar is being held at, and trying to figure out how to parcel out my time.

I already have enough cocktail meetings promised to give an elephant a hangover. But that’s okay. Occasionally, I enjoy being overwhelmed.

I talked my longtime buddy (and master copywriter) David Deutsch into showing me part of the town after the seminar (he started his career as a writer for Ogilvy and Mather in NYC). I haven’t been to the Big Apple in fifteen years — and when I did go, I stayed with beatnik friends near the Village, and walked everywhere. Very low-rent vacation, heavy on bars, strip clubs and late-night parties behind the scenes. I expect something much more civilized this round.

Gary Halbert, one of my oldest and closest friends, is even coming. That should give you an idea of the magnitude of the event. All the significant honchos from Rodale, Boardroom, Philllips and other top mailers will also be swarming the halls. My old agent, John Finn, a great guy and a super-smart insider, will be there with his son. My pal Harlan Kilstein is attending (one of my first freelance students to break $300,000 a year). Carl Galletti, who I haven’t talked to since the old Key West seminar days. And, jeez, I better stop here or I’ll leave someone out and get in trouble. The attendee list is, after all, a secret.

Rumors abound.

It’s the event of the year, and I’m going early and staying late (just like I used to do at college parties). I hate to leave the little lady and the dogs behind, but I gotta do it. I’ll muddle through, somehow.

New York City. What a concept.

Update #2: Big apology to everyone who missed the “Sneak Peek” at the newly-revised Freelance Course pitch. But deadlines are deadlines, and I have to respect them. (Deadlines are my life, actually.)

The site is ready to be launched. A friggin’ month late, but it’s ready. However, I don’t want to break the champagne until I get back from NYC, so I’ve told my geek to shove a sock in the domain hole for another week or so.

I’ll announce it on this blog. Just keep checking in.

And, I gotta say… this updated Freelance Course just the most amazing insider’s guide that’s ever been put together on this subject. It’s a whole new world out there, since the Web has finally come of age, and the money to be made freelancing will take your breath away. (I can no longer count the rookies now raking in $15,000-plus a month following my advice. Makes me proud.)

And all you need… are a handful of secrets to getting started. Finding clients, bending them to your will, getting paid, delivering the goods. It’s simple, once you see how it’s done.

Anyway, as long as I don’t get sucked into some black hole on the flight over and back across the country, I’ll put a rush on getting the site up when I return. Prepare to be amazed.

Update #3: As I mentioned in earlier posts, things are heating up on several other fronts, too. I’ll be speaking at some seminars, and I’m considering holding another one of my own, throughout the summer.

While the clueless marketers are taking the season off, the smart mice will continue to play all summer long. There’s just too much opportunity right now, especially on the Web, and it won’t last. So pay attention to this blog, even if you have to sneak back from the beach to check in.

Things are popping, and your fortune awaits.

You snooze this summer, and you lose big. Don’t let your biz go blank — the next six-to-eighteen months are going to make a LOT of people very, very filthy rich.

Don’t risk being one of the whiners left behind.

If I fly over your state on the trip to Yankee-Land, I’ll wave.

Keep looking up.

John Carlton

Why Everyone Is Almost Always Wrong

One of the critical tools that will serve you well throughout your career as an entrepreneur… is being a contrarian.

The term “contrarian” came from the financial markets, initially. It means, basically, that when everyone else is going right, you go left. It’s an investment strategy that assumes the “crowd” is almost always acting mindlessly, and following everyone else like skittish sheep. And, therefore, the cooler head should always — always — check for opportunitiies in the opposite direction first.

This philosophy was made clear to me back in the 1980s, when “everyone” suddenly developed gold fever. The price of gold shot up to over $800 an ounce… and more gold traded hands at that bloated price than at any other time in the previous decade.

People just went nuts.

And lost their shorts, when the price finally stabilized back around $300. The whole panic took just a few weeks. (Confession: I own two Krueggerands, which I purchased for $450 each.) (I have learned most of the major lessons in my life by getting burned first. Pain is a damn good teacher.)

Contrarians, watching the panic and not seeing any good reason for it, were happy to sell their own gold at super-inflated prices, go short on gold stocks… and then buy it all back, at a bargain, after the fever broke.

Anyway, in business, a contrarian attitude gives you a different way of looking at markets. You WANT to find markets crowded with people all more or less doing the same thing. Because you can then waltz in and — armed with your knowledge of what the market truly wants — offer something outrageously different. Twice the guarantee, twice the info at half the price, better service, a whole new paradigm, whatever.

A big market means there are people with needs supporting it. But it doesn’t mean the businesses doing the supplying are any good at giving people what they want.

As a contrarian, you say “Why would I sell hamburgers just like everyone else, for the same price? I’ll sell gourmet burgers for twice the normal amount!” It’s the same with music: Everybody’s doing techno-pop? I’ll bring back punk ska.

Or with reaching customers. Everyone’s going online? I’ll go back to direct mail and radio.

Everybody’s suddenly moving to the beach? I’ll go find a bargain in the mountains.

Every time “everybody” is doing something… it’s a pretty safe bet it’s because the “sheep instinct” has kicked in. At that point, following the herd is NOT the prudent or safe thing to do.

You offer more, you offer better, you offer faster, cleaner, easier, simpler, more risk-free or more guaranteed. You look for the ignored need, the overlooked opportunity, the hidden goldmine.

Your path is clear — you’re doing what everyone else is NOT doing.

Contrarianism has a practical benefit, too — in a crowded theatre that’s on fire, you never rush with the crowd for the exits… but rather wait calmly and look for the way out no one else has noticed. Just assume the crowd is wrong, most of the time. Gives you all sorts of amazing options in life.

Side note: Contrary to “common wisdom”, you do not have to be a curmedgeon or spoil-sport to be a good contrarian. I, myself, am a nice contrarian, with a lively sense of humor and lots of friends who find me entertaining (or irritating, when I’m right). I find that the simple act of refusing to be bullied by majority rule gives me a nice patina of danger. I don’t need to mash anyone’s face in it.

Many people are uncomfortable around contrarians, because they’re uncomfortable with independent thought.

That’s not your problem. It’s theirs.

And yes, it’s true that civilization as we know it might collapse if “everyone” became a contrarian. But that will never happen. There’s a very strong urge to follow the crowd in all of us. It takes effort to break free of that urge.

We’ll always be in the minority. Snug, smug, and raking it in from the niches ignored by the mainstream marketers.

So here’s to us — you, me, and every other bastard out there making their own way in a world that despises independence.

John Carlton

Finishing the Thought…

I’ve been thinking about movement again.

What stops many people is just the enormity of the task ahead of them. They know the old saying “every journey begins with a single step”… but they can’t take that first step because they’re frozen in awe of the entire adventure ahead.

Yet the wisdom of taking each step as it comes, and ignoring the larger picture, is critical if you’re gonna accomplish anything.

The key, of course, is to map out your journey as best you can first. You don’t want to just wander off without any idea of where you’re going. You’ll walk around in circles.

Forget, even, about your main goals for right now. Sure, you wanna be a big success, with fame and fortune and all that.

But if you’re one of the many (actually most) people who can’t seem to initiate any sort of action… start out with some small stuff.

Let’s take two examples:

Example #1: Read a book. Sure, you’ve got a stack of about twenty books you “should” be reading… but you can’t read ’em all at once.

So pick up one. And read a few pages.

In fact… read for an hour. That’s all — one measly hour.

Tomorrow, do it again.

And the next day.

Even a slow reader can polish off a dozen pages or so in an hour. At the end of three days, you’ve read close to forty pages. End of the week, if it’s a two-hundred page book, you’re more than half done.

Shorter book, you’re done already. So, on to the next one.

Too slow for you? The feeling of being frozen comes from inaction. Last week, you looked at your pile of books and despaired. It was so daunting a task, you couldn’t even think about it. So you went and did somethng else.

Yet, if you’d only picked one of them up — giving no further thought to the others — and read for an hour a day… you’d well into it by now. Maybe even into the second book in the stack.

Next week, the frozen guy will still have that same mountain of books mocking him from across the room. He won’t have read a word.

Next month, he’ll still be in the same place. Getting nowhere.

You, however, will be on to another project. With a belly full of new knowledge, and the motivational fuel that comes from just getting something done.

And all it took was one hour a day.

Heck, even if you’re so booked up you swear you can’t spare that hour… just wake up an hour earlier. Or go to bed an hour later. Just for a while — see how it works out.

Or, break that hour up. I don’t recommend this, but if that’s what it takes, do it. Read while you’re shaving. While you’re eating. While you’re waiting at a stop light.

Just figure it out.

Example #2: My Rant newsletters are eight pages long. Dense with two columns of copy. No graphics, no “air”. Nothing but writing.

It takes me between three and five writing sessions to get one issue written. I never expect to finish during the first one or two sessions, so there’s no pressure on me. I’m just plowing through the thoughts in my head and the notes on my desk.

The notes are mega-important. To just sit down and say “Okey dokey, let’s write eight pages on something here” would tend to freeze me up. So I map out what subjects I’m going to cover.

Simple notes are all it takes. I like 3×5 notepads — one thought to a note. Sometimes, an entire newsletter can spring forth from a single note. Other times, I have a little stack of notes to work from.

Once I have a general idea of where I’m going, I can concentrate on just writing up one part of the newsletter each session. I actually go in a linear mode — I start with the first paragraph, and write through to the final thought. But I dould just as easily write the newsletter in sections, back to front. It’s a choice.

Then, I go back and edit. Smooth out the rough edges, fix bad sentences, double-check to be sure it all makes sense.

From experience, I know that many people would rather slit their wrists than write eight pages on anything.

But look at this way: Spend an hour mapping out your thoughts. At first, you won’t know how many notes or thoughts are required for eight pages.

Doesn’t matter. You’ll get better at gauging your note-to-copy ration later on.

Right now, you just want to get into the groove of writing. So you’re starting by jotting down some notes.

Once you have some ideas mapped out, dedicate an hour each day to writing.

Just an hour.

Experienced writers can knock out two to four finished pages in an hour. Rookies are much, much slower.

Still, if you only get one page done, you’ve still got that page.

In a week, you’ll be done. Having invested just a single hour a day.

Consider this: The average direct mail letter is around eight pages long. A full page ad in a magazine is around two pages of manuscript. With air, and graphics, and photos… eight pages can easily translate to the twelve page (and longer) ads you see so often online.

However long it takes you to get those pages written… once they are written, you’re in business.

Heck… so what if it takes you two weeks to get those pages finished? If you just sit around and tremble at the task of writing, you’ll never get anywhere.

Break it down. Put a single hour of effort into it. And let it add up, like money in the bank.

Small increments of movement equal, eventually, huge distances covered.

Just get over the nagging voice in your head that says “You should have done this last month!” Screw that voice. It’s not trying to help, it’s trying to keep you from changing.

If you’ve been wasting two hours a night in front of the tube or the X-box, you’re in luck, dude. Take HALF that time, and get moving.

Good luck.

John Carlton

Dope Vs. Movement

I came of age during a particularly fertile time in American history.

Things were jumping on all fronts. The Sexual Revolution, the Vietnam War, and my own awareness of adult life were all peaking during the years I went to college (1970 to 1975). Everything I had accepted as “normal” and “good” while growing up, was now up for total re-examination.

I slept on a mattress on the floor. Went barefoot for an entire year (including trudging through snow, no less — you’d be astonished how tough your feet can get). Let my hair grow to the middle of my back. Lived in sin.

It was occasionally more fun than it had a right to be… sometimes scary… often confusing. My goals — what there were of them — were beyond simple: I intended to party until the draft board got me (which was a certainty, since I had a very low number in the draft lottery).

So, yeah — I was an Easy Rider kinda guy.

I graduated just as the draft ended and the war was winding down. That startled me. I hadn’t planned on living past age 25… and suddenly, there I was. Twenty-five, still a civilian, and clueless.

Took me a few more years to get my act together, and I don’t regret the difficult path I took. It’s made me a better teacher, and I appreciate the “little things” of a good, capitalistic business with more enthusiasm.

However, I could have shortcut that agonizing process of going from clueless to wise professional by several years… if only I had learned a single, simple lesson earlier.

And that lesson is: Get off your butt.

Humans are hard-wired to resist movement at all costs. Falling into a rut is a constant danger… and most of the world lives in one.

And yet we dream of better things. We lust after the rewards of action… without acknowlegding the necessity of actually engaging in action to get those rewards.

This became very clear to me about ten years ago, when I took a sabbatical from advertising and started attending fiction writing workshops. I was gonna be the next Jack Kerouac.

The workshops were a huge disappointment (and these were internationally respected events, at Squaw Valley, California and Sewannee, Tennessee). They were actually just “shops”, because there wasn’t much “work” going on.

I realized something important: Most people didn’t want to BE a writer. They wanted to have already written something, so they could bask in the glow of achievement.

And so they paid thousands of dollars to go to week-long workshops, and read piles of books on writing, and listened eagerly to publishers and agents and teachers on the details of becoming a writer… but they wouldn’t put ANY serious time into actually writing.

Any samples they had, sucked. For many, ten years of dicking around had produced maybe one badly-written manuscript. A pathetic output.

Worse — most of these wannabe writers complained endlessly of the travails of “the writing life”. They all firmly believed in “writer’s block”, because it confirmed their belief that it wasn’t their fault their books weren’t getting written.

And it’s all bullshit.

You cannot “want” to become a writer. You cannot “plan” to become a writer. And you cannot become a writer by whining about how “hard” it is to get started.

You become a writer ONLY by writing.

That’s it. The simple action of writing.

But even that won’t make you a GOOD writer. You gotta pour some sweat into it. You gotta learn the secrets of the working writers, and apply them to your own writing. And do it until you get it right.

There are shortcuts. That’s what my entire teaching method is about.

But even the shortcuts require movement.

Magic word there: Movement.

I started this blog talking about my glory years as a confused hippie, because all that fun and chaos almost permanently waylaid me. It’s my own personal cautionary tale. I have many friends who didn’t survive — they DID check out by age 25 or so. Partied hardy, left a good-looking corpse.

And many others did the “walking wounded” equivalent. Found a rut they liked, and burrowed in. And they’ve been slumbering there ever since, shocked that so many years have passed so uneventfully.

I can tell you that the worst rut involves dope. And not just the kind you smoke, either.

Someone arriving here from another planet would see little or no difference between someone toking up every day and getting high… and someone welded to the couch absorbing vapid television shows for six hours a night.

No difference between logging multiple evenings at the local watering hole getting sloshed… and being shackled to an X-box shooter game until dawn for days at a time.

Don’t get me wrong. A life without fun isn’t worth living. Work hard, play hard, etc. I caution people to avoid the workaholic trap, and not to risk becoming a dull boy.

But if you truly want to get somewhere, and do something with this precious life you’ve been given… you need to put things in perspective.

And you need to understand the absolute necessity of movement. Of action. Of working toward a goal.

If you don’t like the way the last five years have played out, you need to change. Or, the next five years will probably be a repeat.

And if you want to change, you’ve got to get hip to movement. Which doesn’t happen when you lose five evenings a week to Seinfeld reruns, or to Quake, or to the smoky womb of your local Cheers joint.

For most people, there will be endless delay in initiating any movement. It’s just too easy to put off movement, and slip comfortably into the rut each night. It’s cozy there, predictable, and familiar. It’s lulling, soothing, relaxing.

Light up a doobie, turn on the cable, pull out the joystick, call a shot. And you’ve just lost another chance to change.

Hernando Cortez famously brought his army together on the beaches of the New World, and made them watch as he had their ships torched and sunk. No turning back. And that small army conquered a continent, because they had been force-fed motivation.

Just “wanting” to succeed wouldn’t be enough, Cortez knew. He needed drastic movement, based, literally, on burnt bridges.

You wouldn’t be reading blogs like this one if you weren’t after something better in your life. Guys like me aren’t happy with the status quo, and we’re out to rile things up.

I’m not sharing what I know about succeeding in business because I want you to be comfortable.

No way. The only people who will ever get anything out of what I teach… are the ones who are finally fed up with the way things are. And, somehow, they found inner motivation to begin to change.

I’m just an enabler. I’ve never dragged anyone kicking and screaming into success. I have, however, been happy to provide a shortcut or two, along with a healthy shove when necessary… but only when the other person was already moving.

It’s not a risk-free way to live, and you have to endure discomfort and unfamiliar territory. You may have to learn how to fail, and keep moving. I got very good at dusting myself off.

You may even have to say goodbye to your loser friends, who are appalled that you are daring to change.

But you know what? Real fun almost always involves serious change. And once you get past the uncomfortable periods, your movement becomes the most exhilarating ride of your life.

And the thought of sinking back into a rut becomes a joke.

Nobody’s gonna invest themselves in your change. It’s up to you to get moving, first.

Once you’re a rolling stone (gathering no moss), a lot more than just the scenery changes.

Turn off the tube, just for tonight. Stay sober. And go plow through a book, or dig into a course and learn something.

Just for tonight.

The rut will be there, if you need to retreat. The rut will always be there. And it will never, ever help you escape, or cheer you on.

There’s a lot of cool, intense learning opportunities coming up this summer and fall, for entrepreneurs who are ready to get their show on the road.

Maybe it’s time you joined the club.

Them’s my thoughts, on this late evening.

John Carlton