Category Archives for small business marketing

How To Communicate Incoherently

Monday, 6:56pm
Reno, NV
“When we remember we are all nuts, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.” Mark Twain (sorta)


Have you seen my partner Stan’s first information video?

I think you need to see it, if you’re interested in mastering communication (which is the life-blood of selling lots and lots of stuff).

Personally, I find his video fascinating. He’s getting a ton of feedback on it, and we just spent an hour on the phone talking about it. One guy sent him such a personal email that Stan called him… not to argue, but to get the background story on why the guy had the opinion he had.

It was a calm conversation, Stan tells me… yet, at first, it was like sharing a bench on the fourth floor of the Tower of Babel. Each person was saying something important, but mere words didn’t seem to be able to get any points across.

I’m laughing my ass off over this as Stan tells the tale.

Cuz this is all about communication… and for the 25 years I’ve known Stan, we are constantly bickering about who said (or didn’t say) what, and who’s right and who’s a miserable toad for being so wrong.

It’s the foundation of our friendship.

Remember Star Trek? Stan’s like Spock, only with a sense of humor (and a taste for jazz and good beer). Very, VERY logical, and impatient with people who process info in illogical ways.

Like, oh… me, for instance.

Drives him frigging bonkers.

And I’d have to say I’m like Captain Kirk… not a Read more…

Sex, Fun, Money, aaaaaaaand… More Sex

Monday, 9:27pm
Reno, NV
“Things will have to get more clear before I can even say I’m confused…”


I’m gonna need your feedback on this.

See, I’ve always been a wave or two out of the mainstream… and that’s actually helped me be a better business dude, because I have to pay extra attention to what’s going on (so I can understand who I’m writing my ads to).

This extra focus means I’ve never taken anything for granted — especially not those weird emotional/rational triggers firing off in a prospect’s head while I’m wooing him on a sale.

And trust me on this: Most folks out there truly have some WEIRD shit going on in their heads, most of the time.

It can get spooky, climbing into the psyche of your market.

Still, though, it is, ultimately, exquisite fun. This gig — figuring out how to Read more…

Something To Chew On While You Suffer

Thursday, 7:55pm
Reno, NV
Waitin’ for the guaifenesin to kick in…


I seriously want to hear from you on this.

It’s kinda driving me nuts.

Here’s the situation: Just around a year ago, my partner Stan and I hoisted the curtain on the Marketing Rebel Radio Rant Coaching Club.

The format is simple and elegant. There is a feisty Forum where members can post ANY question they have, on any subject they believe we (the grizzled pro’s) might have an answer (or insight) to.

And twice a month, Stan and I record a call answering and offering insight on all those questions. It’s a mini-seminar, delivered in the balls-to-the-wall conversational style you would expect from successful guys who’ve been around the block a few times.

But hold on.

There’s moreRead more…

Walk A Mile In A Jerk’s Shoes…

Sunday, 9:17 pm
Reno, NV
Methinks she doth protest too much…


Without the insights of good pop psychology, I cannot fathom how my neighbor isn’t wracked with shame every second of his miserable life.

Because he truly is a Grade A asshole.

It’s not just me. Six other neighbors, on all sides, hate this guy’s guts with varying levels of passion (cuz he harshes everyone’s mellow and disrupts the groove of the cul-de-sac). The Homeowner’s Association regularly slams him with fines (cuz he thinks he’s above the rules). And I’m never surprised to see cop cars parked in his driveway.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

The dude’s obviously a low-life scum, living among people who just want peace and quiet.

If I was him, I’d immediately sign up for industrial-strength therapy, and maybe start a brisk program of frequent self-flagellation as punishment.

But I’m not him.

I’m someone else, looking at him with utter bafflement, because I cannot understand how he can live with himself, being such an asshole.

Yet, using the simplest basics of psychology… I “get” it.

And “getting” it makes me both a better story-teller, and a better marketer.

It’s really very straightforward: In Mr. A-hole’s mind, he’s a great guy. Misunderstood, prone to accidents that could happen to anyone, a smidgen too quick to get angry about stuff that anyone would get pissed off about.

He has a whole menu of excellent reasons that — in his mind — explain everything he does in a way that makes him either totally forgiven and excused… or the victim of unpreventable circumstances.

He has rationalized his behavior so that he’s the good guy at the center of his world.

And no amount of incoming data that challenges that rationalization will change anything.

The dude is bottled up tight. Certain of his own righteousness.

Serial killers think like this. Politicians, too. Also thieves, social outcasts, actors, perverts and scamsters.

And you, too. And me. And everyone you market to.

It’s part of being human.

Now, you and I may also have some redeeming traits, like a code of behavior that prevents us from hurting other people or avoiding doing the right thing (or parking half on a neighbor’s lawn).

We are, in fact, a roiling pot of conflicting and battling emotions, urges, habits, learned behaviors and unconscious drives.

Every day, if we’re lucky, the mixture remains mostly balanced and doesn’t explode or morph into something toxic.

But it’s all in there. And it’s all fighting for supremacy.

The book ‘How To Win Friends And Influence People”, by Dale Carnegie, is called the salesman’s bible because of a simple tactic that works like crazy.

That tactic: Learn to walk a mile in another man’s shoes before judging him.

Or sizing him up.

This tactic does NOT come with our default settings as humans. You gotta learn it.

Once you’ve been around very small children, you realize how deeply ingrained our selfish desires are. We excuse them in kids, but strive to civilize the little terrors by corraling those desires into submission.

Takes a while.

People who grow up without that kind of mentoring can be hard to deal with. Some special cases — those blessed with an endless supply of sociopathic charm — can still make it work, and live lives of selfish abandon. Good for them.

But most of us realize that we gotta share the sandbox with others, and that means sublimating our greedy ape-urges most of the time.

Still, if you’re gonna be a great salesman, you gotta become a great student of human nature… and notice, catalog, understand, and USE insights like this.

So when you tell a story, it’s easy to figure out what the listener needs to hear to stay interested. When you sell something, it’s easy to know how to incite desire, because you know what people want (which is almost always NOT what you want them to want).

And when you’re approaching prospects cold — cuz they don’t know who you are — you are able to quickly discern who THEY are, and adjust your tactics accordingly.

But you cannot attain this state of understanding human behavior… without experiencing all the different parts of human behavior out there.

Okay, you don’t want to experience everything. People do some truly disgusting and repulsive stuff that is beyond the boudaries of acceptable experience for the rest of us.

But within reason, you at least need to learn how to walk in another person’s shoes for a mile. (That’s supposed to be an old American-Indian saying, a take-off on the Judeo-Christian “golden rule” of treating others as you would be treated yourself.)

It helps to understand basic psychology. It’s probably out of print, but the old best seller “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” (which is about transactional psychology, but never mind that part) lays out a pretty good start for rookies. Once you see a few examples of how your thinking on a matter may not jive with the other guy’s thinking… you’ll have the seeds of understanding how to delineate what those differences are, and how they affect your relationship.

It’s really not that tough, once you get wet.

Basically, the bottom line of understanding human behavior is all about accepting the reality of the situation.

Yes, he’s an asshole, according to your rules. But in his rule book, you’re probably the asshole. If you insist on not allowing his viewpoint to exist, there will be blood.

In marketing, if you don’t learn to understand how other people see you and your efforts to sell, there will be no sale.

It’s tough to walk in another dude’s shoes even if you LIKE him. Think of your best friend. His taste in clothes is abysmal, he insists on wearing his hair in a stupid style, he watches bad television shows, and eats horrible crap.

Yet, somehow you overlook these things, and get along.

The challenge, as a marketer, is to suck up your distaste for people who don’t share your worldview… and be a chameleon. That’s the lizard that blends in with any background (except plaid — we used to try to make the little lizards explode by placing psychedelic prints on the bottom of their cage). (Doesn’t work, in case you’re wondering.)

You don’t have to compromise your cherished beliefs, or alter your own worldview. (Unless you discover you should.)

Just understand that there are more complex personality tweaks in the people around you than there are stars in the sky.

And your job, as a marketer, is to understand that the person you’re selling stuff to may need all sorts of weird, twisted info or soothing advice or whatever to make a buying decision.

It’s not hard, once you learn how to walk a mile in other people’s shoes… and then DO it, on a regular basis.

And you gotta do it even with the assholes around you.

I still loathe my neighbor, but I can’t really hate him. He’s infuriating, but the real reason he pisses everyone off… is that he’s just not good at social interaction. HE cannot walk three feet in someone else’s shoes, has no clue what that would accomplish anyway, and lives in such a tight little box that he’s really just a walking prison of discomfort and exitential anguish.

I still wish he’d move, though.


Here’s a little task for you: Identify a trait in someone around you… that irks you no end. (Maybe humming off-key, or always being late, or telling boring stories.)

And spend a few minutes seeing that behavior from the inside.

Become, for a moment, that guy. Walk a mile in his shoes, and rationalize how you feel.

You don’t need to adopt the trait, or learn to “like” it.

Just understand it. Get hip to the way the other guy has come to terms with himself.

This is powerful knowledge.

This is how top marketers move through the world, with deep personal insight to how other humans get through their day.

I’d love to hear, in the comments section, what you discover when you do this task.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

How To Survive Excessive Recession Hand-Wringing

Thursday, 10:03pm
Reno, NV
Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of economic nastiness…


I’m gonna want your opinion here in a minute.

But first, I have a very relevant question for you: Has the looming recession got you scared yet?

The mainstream media sure hopes so. Sells more newspapers, boosts cable ratings on CNN and Fox and MSNBC, makes the populace hyper-aware (like jittery squirrels gathering nuts in a dog park), and gives advertisers a tidy little narrative to help position product.

An audience with frayed nerves is an audience paying attention.

They like that.

Entrepreneurs and small biz owners can be especially vulnerable to economic downturns.

Or even talk of an economic downturn.

Frequent news stories about financial doom tend to bring on the “Yikes, we’re all gonna die!” response. Even in people who should know better.

My pal Perry Marshall reminded me of the “should know better” part today, when he sent out a blog-alert email titled “My rant about this so-called recession”. Damn good rant, too.

Basically, he noticed that his list seemed to self-select themselves into two distinct categories: (1) The whiny 95%, who seem to almost welcome economic disaster (as definitive relief from the anxiety of waiting for the hammer, so they can blame any pending failure on “outside circumstances”)… and (2) the “Alpha Warriors”, who barely acknowledge anything the mainstream media say about the economy.

Perry thought the Alpha Warrior segment of his list hovered around 5%. After I called him (to congratulate him on an insightful post), we both immediately agreed that it’s really probably closer to 1%.

In other words, in a room of 100 people, the folks ready to latch onto recession fears as an excuse to crawl into a fetal position and suck their thumb would dominate the discussion, the physical space, and the mindset.

There would be one lone dude, in the corner, ignoring them and getting on with business.

This is an important observation.

The narrative of your world-view can deeply affect how you act.

I hear from entrepreneurs all the time who were shocked, saddened, and even discouraged by the cacophony of negative voices around them when they decided to try their hand at marketing. If the opinion of your family, friends, co-workers and even future colleagues matters to you… just skip starting your own biz.

Cuz you will rarely hear an encouraging word. Most folks don’t like change, and resent the turbulence you cause by ignoring obstacles and overcoming problems to go after a goal.

Consider how many people around you base their world-view on the idea that “you can’t fight city hall”, or “The Man controls everything”, or “The little guy doesn’t stand a chance”. No dream of independence or getting rich can survive that kind of negativity. If they HAD a dream, it’s gone now.

And you’re kind of throwing that sad fact back in their face by going after your dream.

Not everyone is like that. But do not be shocked when you hear about even close friends secretly rooting for your collapse, or taking delight in the struggles you encounter. If you fail, they are proven right — you never really stood a chance. What a fool you were for even trying.

Worse, if you succeed, you very likely will drift away from the slacker world they are so comfy residing in. You’ll force them to come up with new excuses for their own lack of movement.

And that’s a horrible thing to do to friends. You naughty person, you.

The media loves a recession, because it means no slow news days for a while. Every utterance from the Fed is a headline, weekly columns write themselves (just pick two recession cliches from your cliche file and rub ’em together), and “man in the street” interviews will always yield some nice emotional sound bites.

Great marketers see a recession as something else: An economic burp that may or may not affect them. If it does, then you adjust accordingly. If it doesn’t, then it’s full speed ahead.

No hand-wringing allowed.

As Perry pointed out, it’s now a global market, dude. The dollar’s fade is the euro’s goose (and, if you’re exporting, the best news you could ever hear). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs doesn’t vanish just because the Gross Domestic Product does a prat fall.

People still need to eat, still need a roof over their heads, still demand luxury.

And still need advice. Maybe more than ever.

Many will need new jobs. A recession isn’t fun by any means, and neither is it a joke.

However, neither is it an excuse to fold up shop and go hide.

I happen to know the number one real estate broker in town here. The Reno market went from being one of the top five hottest housing booms just a year or so ago… to becoming one of the worst in the nation. Prices, values and capital are plummeting.

Yet, people still need houses. They move away, or move here from somewhere else. Or move up, or down, as the nest requires more or less space. Many still see the cheap loans (as the Fed lowers rates to almost ridiculous levels) and distressed sales available as excellent reasons to buy or sell, or both.

Sure, the easy days of the boom are gone. Have a good cry, wipe your nose, and get back to the job at hand. Adjust your strategy to meet the challenge.

This guy was the top realtor during the boom, and he’s the top realtor now that the market has lapsed into a fever. He just adjusted.

It’s the same with every other market I have hooks in. The smart guys note the nuances of how things have changed, and redirect their energies to what works NOW.

The not-so-smart guys shriek and lose sleep and curse cruel Fate. And pine for the good old days, when their limited bag of tactics was effective.

There’s a saying in the financial world: Never confuse genius with a bull market.

That concept holds for everything else, too. I remember an obscure comedy show where Gilbert Gottfried (the shrimpy little guy with the scrunched-up face) asked a couple of buffed-out GQ male models for tips on picking up women. Their first piece of advice: Never acknowledge a woman the first time she approaches you and begs for your attention. Just keep talking to all the women who come up to you and…

“Wait a minute,” yells Gottfried. “I’ve never had a woman approach me in my life.”

The two studs looked baffled. And had no further advice.

Dan Kennedy and I have often joked with each other about what will happen to the youngest part of the online entrepreneurial world the first time the economy has a fit. There are gazillionaires out there (Mark Cuban comes to mind) who barely sweated earning their mint, because they stumbled blindly into virgin groves of low-hanging fruit, and gorged without effort or competition (sometimes for years).

Taking advice from them would be like asking a Vanderbilt how to cook a steak. (“Just ring for the downstairs maid”, of course.)

Take it from a guy who’s weathered multiple recessions, the collapse of entire financial institutions (I was a rookie copywriter writing financial direct mail packages when the S&L crisis lopped an entire arm from the banking community), and the meltdown of more hot markets than I can count (from Pet Rocks to McMansions).

Ignore the doomsayers. Focus on the fundamentals — good product, good value in your offer, good traffic generation, and the dedicated nurturing of your list. If it feels right to downsize (either in your life, by living debt-free, or in your biz, by trimming the fat), then do so. If your old way of doing things isn’t producing the results you need, try something else. Test more diligently. Study your market for pain that needs attention, and attend to it.

I like that term of Perry’s, “Alpha Warriors”.

But in my mind, you’re really just the Adult In The Room when you continue to take care of biz when everyone else is freaking out.

You may be the only adult in the room, too… and you may be trashed for your refusal to panic… but when you know a fresh game is afoot, you gather your resources and engage anyway. To succeed as an entrepreneur, you gotta be your own best friend.

Seems like obvious advice, doesn’t it.


Takes a little courage, a little faith in your skills and ability to face unpredictable obstacles and overcome them, and a lot of M*A*S*H style humor. Because things can get gruesome, and the media will make sure everyone feels the pain from every obscure corner of the economy.

I actually increase my charitable donations during downturns, even when my income may be flat-lining a bit.

Just to remind myself that true success is the ability to make a difference. In your own life, and in the lives of people you share this hunk of wet rock with.

So please don’t panic. Take a deep breath, and know that the media will continue to treat things like an ongoing George Romero “Night Of The Living Dead” sequel.

And I’d really like to know…

What do YOU think about the talk of recession?

Are you doing anything differently? Are you losing sleep?

Any additional advice, either from experience or from a mentor or advisor?

Blogs like this are the “antidote” to the ravings of the mainstream media, you know. If you’ve got insight to living through roller coaster Dow rides and market busts, let’s hear it.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Over half-way to the 21-day habit challenge finish line.

I’m holding my own. How’re you doing?

What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

Sunday, 6:09pm
Reno, NV


Here’s a question for you.

It’s something that — once you know the answer — you sorta want to smack yourself upside your head, cuz it’s so obvious.

However, it’s NOT so obvious until someone with experience reveals the answer to you. It’s simple, but most folks never “stumble” upon it on their own.

I hate these kinds of questions, myself. Except for, like, situations where I’m the one holding the big damn secret, and I get to do all the teasing and torturing. It’s fun being the one in control. All humans have at least a small sociopathic sadist hiding deep inside, you know…

But never mind about that.

What’s interesting here — and very, very important to marketers looking to earn the Big Bucks — is that despite the “obviousness” of the answer (which you’re very close to discovering)… fewer than one professional copywriter in a hundred has a clue to the solution.

And that’s the pro’s — the guys making a living at this.

For rookie entrepreneurs and flustered small biz owners… it’s like the Holy Grail of advertising. They’ve maybe heard rumors about it, but harbor little hope of ever finding the answer without some serious help.

Still, it’s worth wracking your brain about, because (as top marketers know) all the really good wealth-producing secrets are hidden from most people.

This is the advanced stuff, folks.

So here’s the question… and I want you to really try to answer it for yourself before you peek at the answer:


“What can a marketer do… when he desperately needs a money-making ad fast… and yet finds the ‘formal’ process of writing a ‘real’ sales pitch (or getting one written by others) too daunting to complete?”

In other words, you need to post, print or mail something (with wolves at the door)… and no way is a ‘real’ looking ad gonna get completed in time. So what do you do?

I’ll give you a hint: The answer is NOT “do nothing.” Or “crawl back into bed and curl into a sobbing fetal position.” (A very common response, by the way, to this very common problem. It’s why so many new businesses wither and die every year, too.)

The key words in this question are “desperately”… “money-making”… “fast”… and “real”.

Consider those words as you try to figure out the answer.

The need for results-getting ads is never-ending for all business owners… and most never adequately solve the problem of getting “real” ads created (either by using agencies or freelancers)… even when deadlines are loose and money’s no object.

Worse, though, is that neither entrepreneurs nor small biz owners ever come close to solving the problem of giving birth to “emergency” ads that need to get posted or published or mailed right friggin’ NOW… especially when there’s no agency or freelancer available to help, or no money to hire them.

So what do you think the answer is?

Wracked with anxiety, under a cash crunch, with the hammer coming down… and no time or resources available to pay someone else to do it… or to create a “real” ad, with superscript, headline, subhead, bullets, guarantees, graphics, etc, yourself… what do you DO?

I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments section. I promise not to make fun of anyone… especially rookies who just want to give a stab at the answer.

Again, the question (re-phrased): “What do you do, when you’re under the gun to create a money-making sales piece… and you simply don’t know how to create (or are overwhelmed by the requirements of) a ‘formal’ type ad with all the bells and whistles?”

I’ll post the veteran’s short, elegant solution Tuesday evening.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. C’mon. Give it a go — leave a suggestion in the comments section here…

How Professional Writers Procrastinate

Thursday, 10:54pm
Reno, NV


I was gonna write this post last week, but I put it off and forgot about it.

Okay, that’s a bad joke.

But it could have been the truth. Humans have a lot of belligerent, wicked-clever demons lurking inside… and procrastination is one of the nastiest.

Often, during one of my ridiculously expensive consultations, I’ll hear all kinds of excuses from the client concering why he can’t “get” anywhere in business.

Disorganization and time management get the blame a lot… but really, I know it’s nearly always just a virulent case of procrastination.

Oh, it’s bad stuff. People have all kind of different names for it — writer’s block, stress-induced catatonia, frozen nerves, lack of inspiration…

But it all really just comes down to being a lazy S.O.B.

We choose to

The Dark Side of Passion

Thursday, 10:15am
Reno, NV


Sometimes marketers like to pretend they exist outside the “real” world of politics, war and social upheaval.

This attitude is especially evident in certain commercials and ad-heavy publications that reveal a thick-headed cluelessness about life outside the box of privilege. In the past months, I’ve seen TV ads mimicking revolution in the street for a frivolous product… and read articles on celebrities that used references to famine and actual murder cases, trying to be ironic and hip.

These efforts are clunky and embarrassing. Yet, they never abate. (Mind you, I adore irreverent humor and M*A*S*H-style commentary… but you can’t accomplish this kind of wit from the sidelines. Cluelessness makes knowledgeable people cringe.)

I first noticed this disconnect between pain and fun as a teenager waiting for my draft notice during the Vietnam war. The evening news was dominated by combat zone film bringing the war right into America’s homes (something The Man has since realized should never happen again, if he wants to continue blowing people up for vague and unsupportable campaigns)… so for half an hour between typical fluff like “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Gilligan’s Island”, we were treated to glimpses of Hell, half a world away. Guys just a few months older than me crouched behind shattered walls, bullets zinging into the stucco while swaying palm trees burned under distant napalm assaults. And the wounded were evacuated, swathed in bloody bandages, the stretcher-bearers ducking and weaving.

And then, during the break, here comes this bright and cheerful commercial for laundry soap… with a pretty housewife flying a WWI-era bi-plane, dropping tablets like bombs from the sky. The slogan — and all TV ads back then were centered on slogans — was some bullshit reference to “blowing up” germs in your dirty clothes with this new, improved way of keeping your family clean.

Seconds away from the grime and gore of a real battlefield, here’s Read more…

The Naughty List For Businesses

Sunday, 11:59pm
Reno, NV


Quickie post here, cuz I’m a walking petri dish of germs. There’s a slug of Nyquil sitting here with my name on it, and I’ll be worthless about three minutes after I slam it.



Here’s the post (while I can still type): One of the grand traditions of year-end journalism is the round-up of “worst” lists.

I love ’em all.

In truth, 2007 had some totally bitchin’ highlights for me and my colleagues. The gloom-and-doom mainstream media would prefer that we all become quivering masses of hysterical anxiety… but after you’ve been around the block as many times as I have, you get some perspective.

Things have been worse. And they’ve been better.

That’s kinds how the world works.

Still… there are all these wonderful lists to enjoy.

So here’s a good one, in case you missed it. Not your standard “celebrity eats own head” kind of material, either.

It’s literally a “worst of biz” 2007 list. By Fortune magazine.

Read, enjoy, discuss:

Stay frosty… and don’t catch what I have…

John Carlton

Your Ignored “Call To Activate” Cash Account

Thursday, 7:54pm
Reno, NV


A colleague of mine recently shared an interesting tactic for instantly increasing cash flow.

It’s very low tech.

It’s the phone. And no, it’s not telemarketing.

Here’s what he did: During an afternoon lull in the workday not too long ago, my friend (let’s call him “Joe”) realized he had nothing urgent on his plate that required immediate attention.

So he picked up the phone and called a long-time customer who he’d been playing phone tag with over some minor matter. It was a “B” list kinda task.

During the chat that ensued, however, Joe happened to mention another project he was involved in… and his client expressed immediate interest.

Joe wasn’t pitching the event. Just bringing it up in conversation.

But it triggered a sale.


Very interesting.

So Joe made another call, out of the blue, to another long-time customer… and after some brief small talk, brought up the project. That client, too, wanted in, at full price.

No pitch. No hard sell.

Just a casual mention of something coming up.

Joe sat back and considered things. Both of these clients should have already heard about this project… and should have had ample opportunity to sign up previously. There had been email, direct mail, blog postings, etc.

In fact, before the phone calls, Joe had taken it for granted that all his best clients had of course already heard about this upcoming project. He was very thorough with his marketing.

But no. The project hadn’t entered their attention span. Until he brought it up in a friendly phone call.


So Joe picked up the phone again…

Long story short… Joe spent the next couple of hours calling random numbers on his “hot list” of best customers… and grossed something like $51,000 Read more…