The Answer (and Winners) Revealed…

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


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

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

Crowd-sourcing at its finest.

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

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

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

There may indeed be many other problems troubling folks…

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

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

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

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

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

… and me.

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

Think you have the answer yet?

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

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

Got the answer now?

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

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

In short… we were an informal “straight from the source” network.

We didn’t operate in isolation.

We, in fact, reveled in the shared knowledge, wisdom, experience and mojo that only comes from plugging your ass into the universe-wide collective consciousness of like-minded professionals.

And that’s the answer to the quiz: The biggest problem I’ve seen…

… is entrepreneurs trying to do everything on their own.

And pretending they (or just they and their one partner or spouse or pal) can replicate, in dire isolation, what the real success stories know requires small armies of colleagues, advisors, teachers, mentors and competitors.

  • In isolation, you can get stuck for YEARS on a problem that can be solved in SECONDS by someone who’s already gone through the same situation.
  • In isolation, your brain acts like an echo chamber, and new ideas have trouble getting recognized in the din.
  • In isolation, you can burn out in weeks trying to reinvent a wheel that is working just fine for others, unbeknownst to you.
  • In isolation, the tough love of good Reality Checks never happens.

By the time many entrepreneurs come to me for an hour (or more) of specific advice, they’ve often spun their wheels in the same place, stuck, for years.

They think they need more leads, when they really need to be upselling their current customers. They think their ads are the problem, when it’s actually the price or offer that’s stinking up results. They think they need to expand operations, when what they really need to do is fire their lawyer, sell the biz and start over.

And so on.

Operation Money$uck is a big part of this, but it’s not the entire story. To GET to Op$uck (where you’re primarily expending energy on the things only you can do to bring home the moolah), you still need to manage a myriad of other details and jobs.

You CAN “do it all on your own”… for a time. Many entrepreneurs start at home, on the kitchen table, doing everything from the tech, to the writing, to the customer service and putting the product packages together.

But that will fry your little brain fast.

One of the WORST things people believe about business is the old, ass-backwards saying: “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door”.

NOT! The marketing graveyard is crammed to bursting with superior, great products that died an early death…

… because no one figured out how to SELL them. The entrepreneur believed all that was required was some good inventin’ and polishing off the edges… and, magically, profits would appear and a business would be born.

And it doesn’t work that way.

You need a good product, sure. (Though, shamefully, even crappy products can do very well with brilliant marketing.)

And you need a good target market, who lusts after your product.

And you need a way to reach that market, and a way to transfer their money to you in a sales transaction.

And you need to craft your message to that market, and keep customers happy, and affiliates happy, and the taxman happy, and employees happy…

And on and on.

I’m not trying to scare you away from becoming an entrepreneur. Far from it — there isn’t a better gig in the universe for anyone who craves independence and a great lifestyle.

But trying to do all the detail work on your own will doom your future.

And especially trying to do all the BIG THINKING yourself will lead you down blind alleys and valleys of death.

You can cleave the entrepreneurial world in two halves: One half is the bulk of mostly dead-broke dudes and dudettes trying to do everything themselves…

… and the other half is the successful, happy, well-networked folks getting oodles of help from masterminds, consultants, hired guns, seminars and mentoring.

The best plan is to focus on your strengths… what you do best… and still be confident the payroll is being met, taxes paid, appointments scheduled…

… and your BIG IDEAS are getting vetted, critiqued, run through gauntlets and reality-checked by people who are qualified to share what they know from experience.

In fact, here is the winning post for the second prize (best response):

I have been through this. A few years ago, I was a partner in a quick-serve restaurant franchise with 12 locations. Today, I am broke, bankrupt, and trying to get my shit together. The biggest thing that doomed my partner and I was the arrogance of believing that we knew it all. After all, we had 40 years experience between us, surely we could figure things out.

What we needed was an outside expert. An objective viewpoint with broader experience than we had. We needed to hook up with someone that knew his shit. And we needed to listen and heed his advice. We needed to ask for help, before it was too late.

That took guts to share in this thread… but because his “been there, done that” warning may help a number of other entrepreneurs from making a similar mistake, he becomes a truth-telling hero by laying it out like that.

When you go back through the thread, you’ll see dozens of similar responses… by freelancers, entrepreneurs, veteran biz owners, corporate honcho’s, Mom-and-Pop stores and more… all of whom now realize that going it alone is a sure way to end up alone.

We live in a great period for entrepreneurs, where finding masterminds… networking with colleagues… scoring proven-and-tested advice from trustworthy sources… and getting real help from real professionals, experts and visionaries is super easy.

The Web has set us free, and provides a tidy universe that exists solely for the betterment of biz owners.

So, the winners:

Brent got the answer right early on Night One. He was answer #9.

Congrats, Brent.

And the best response, which I quoted above, was from Scott Worthington on Day Two.

Again, sharing his story is exactly what many entrepreneurs need to hear today. Thanks, Scott.

Both dudes get a fresh copy of “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together“, personally signed by me. We’ll ship as soon as Diane gets ahold of you guys, and we have an address.

This was a great quiz.

The idea is to get your brain squirming, thinking both inside and outside of the box, to allow the question to tease and intrigue… and to reward a speedy response.

Everyone who participated wins, of course — the simple act of taking your brain out for a romp like this helps beef up your critical thinking chops.

And better prepares you for other problems headed down the pike your way.

We’ll have to do this again soon, no?

Stay frosty,


P.S. The fundamental model for the most practical kind of specific networking — the mastermind group — was best described in the classic book ‘Think And Grow Rich”, by Napoleon Hill.

There are a lot of masterminds out there, and you should explore what’s available. There may be one in your town, even. You’re certainly capable of starting your own, if that’s the best choice to make.

I’ve hosted a very small mastermind group for four years now. We generally turn down one or more folks wanting in, for every person we accept… and we can only handle new members when a space opens up. However, we look for the quality of the person, as well as the breadth of experience — so we have longtime mega-successful members as well as folks just earning their first fortune, a couple of “about to bust out” rooks, and both online and offline biz owners… all with valuable advice, experience and insight to share.

I’m not everybody’s best option for mentoring or brainstorming like this. The group is not cheap, and while we have wicked-good fun during the meetings, we’re also deadly serious about proactively solving problems and creating higher levels of wealth and happiness.

(I’ve had guests sit in during meetings to help us brainstorm… like Dean Jackson, Joe Sugarman, Jay Abraham, Rich Schefren, and Joe Polish. All networking pals of mine, and now networking pals of the mastermind members…)

When I began my freelance career, decades ago, there were NO groups like this anywhere, at any price. Today, you have several excellent options on great masterminds.

If you’d like to know more about the very elite mastermind I personally host, go here:

Details on John’s Platinum Mastermind Group.

We have a meeting coming up in January, in fact. And there are a couple of open slots, last I looked.

That opportunity may slam shut very quickly (sometimes it’s simply the most obvious choice, and people snap up the open seats), so if you’re at all interested, see what’s up on the link.

Regardless, my best advice for struggling entrepreneurs is to start expanding your network of colleagues right away. Attend a seminar, go out of your way to meet folks and start networking relationships with them, go as slow or as fast as you’re comfortable in creating an expanding group of people you can go to for advice, reality checks, consulting and brainstorming.






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

  • Jonahan Dune says:

    G’day John – just a small question mate… we were both in attendance at the “Bencivenga 100″…” Right?

    Anyways… took a moment to look through my pics from the event. Awesome people.

    As always, a good write.

    ~ Jonathan Dune
    word morphologist (ole school marketer/copywriter)
    Two COmma Copy Pty Ltd

    • John Carlton says:

      New York City, St. Regis hotel (first time I had a real butler assigned to me)… seems like ages ago… it was an event crammed to the rafters with the best in the biz…

  • Marcin says:

    Thanks John,

    I had a lot of fun with the quiz and with reading all the answers.

    Good stuff!

  • John Q says:

    I have never seen anything like that quiz ever!
    Over 400 driven responses.
    Are there quizzes as thought provoking as this was
    in existence that I’m not aware of? so valuable.
    Thanks so much John

  • Vince Lin says:

    Heard about you from Andre “ARM 2.0” Chaperon 😉

  • mark says:

    Yeah, it made me put on what’s left of my thinking cap. Sometimes I think I’m sharing a brain cell with that lout down the street who I always think is a mensch.

    Anyway, you’re right John, I don’t go to anyone for advice and I should be cultivating a mentor and a mastermind group for my offline service biz.

    Many thanks to you and your tribe man.


    • John Carlton says:

      Never too late to get on the right path, Mark. (And look up “mensch” — I think you think it means the opposite of what it does mean. But don’t be alarmed — nearly all writers (even the highly educated ones) routinely get words wrong. Writers are notorious for mispronouncing words — because while they use them in writing, they rarely use them in conversation, so they can go for years believing, as I did, that “adamant” was pronounced “a-damn-nant”… which is embarrassing when you get busted in a social setting. I also have hazy internal definitions of words like “nonplussed” and “sanguine” and “bemused”… and need to constantly look them up, over and over again, to battle that freakin’ neuron in my brain that keeps redefining them wrongly. It’s a quirk of using language, and you just gotta learn to accept being corrected once in a while, even though it pisses you off.)

      Thanks for the note, Mark. Glad I got you thinking about change…

  • Oliver says:

    Guilty as charged here.

    Always on the “If it needs to be done right, I have to do it myself” grind, but hell, what else to do when you try to bootstrap things. Been that way for as long as I can remember, except for a couple of times when things just snapped in place and I got the right things done with the right people, which is a real relief.

    Certainly keeping this lesson in mind though for that fine day when the engines are built, and the pistons start roaring, finally getting me to the promised land. I’ve been at it for 3 years now (feels like an eternity), and I’m not sure when that day will come.

    A month ago it looked like things are coming together, three weeks ago I fell out with my co-founder, when I smashed his porcelain elephant ego to itsy bitsy pieces, but that elephant in the room had to be addressed. He’s currently badmouthing me as far as I know, but I don’t know for sure because he doesn’t talk with me anymore.

    It’s that kind of stuff that makes you feel like you’ve got to tackle Goliath with two sticks and a half eaten pack of gum, because your best option for a partnership is an egocentric maniac unwilling to admit to his own narcissism, thank you very much.

    Technically I don’t have much to say about this, but it feels good to vent sometimes. Apologies for the inconvenience.

  • Eddie P says:

    Congratulations, Brent! Good answer!

  • 陈可礼 says:

    I am a Chinese young man, very fond of Gary’s communication. But data are limited. I am glad to meet you today. I heard you in Gary’s newsletter.

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