Just had another thought regarding those scheming chatbots that are coming for your job.
I’d hoped the last post here would have ameliorated some of the terror many copywriters (and marketers who write their own stuff) feel about AI’s rather sudden appearance as a very useable, often spot-on option for written content, customer service texting, email, and even advertising.
Of course, it didn’t.
The freak out seems to be continuing unabated.
So here’s the ultimate answer to the question “Are chatbots coming for your copywriting job?”:
Maybe. If you insist on remaining a low-level copywriter.
And no. If you simply do what I’ve been coaching writers to do all along: Move up a couple of levels in the game.
And get your shit together as a Top Level dude or dudette.
Look — only the lowest levels of copywriters “just” write copy.
Before the chatbots arrived, you could even make a decent living at knocking out quick content, easy emails, and brief unexciting ads.
But that’s no way for a writer to live. (It’s barely a way for a robot to live.)
To move up a level, you have to load up your brain
with everything relevant to making maketing campaigns sizzle.
The immediate level above Grunt Writer (just writing the really easy stuff that the chatbots are making obsolete as we speak)… is the stage I call The Seasoned, Experienced Pro: This is the copywriter who will remain pretty much immune from having a robot take their job for a very long time. Maybe forever.
Why? Because… at this advanced stage, you confidently bring real marketing savvy along with you to any gig.
You understand more than just pounding out words. You have a deep understanding of classic salesmanship — exactly what we’ve been teaching folks in our courses for over 20 years now:
The essentials of how email, social media, print, broadcast and other media actually works.
The details of persuading humans to buy when they hop online to watch a video…
… or go into their inbox to see who’s sending them stuff…
… or listen to a podcast pushing product…
… or any other venue where the copy/script/visuals are essential to the sales “dance”.
How in the world can you ever reach this level of copywriting and marketing prowess? One of the fastest ways to zoom from clueless newbie to respected pro is taking the Simple Writing System Coaching Program. We’ve got a whole wall of testimonials from successful writers who will swear by this training.
Every job you work on while coming up the ranks should be filling your Bag of Tricks with crucial things you’ve learned from the experience. Like:
The way humans will often promise one thing, then do another.
Or go Radio Silent on you without warning… only to show up later absolutely desperate for what you’re offering.
Or get this-close to buying, but never let the deal go through… and even they aren’t sure why they’re dilly-dallying.
Or — even more important when there’s money on the line — why they will refuse to buy… until presented with the same ad copy but with a slightly different headline. (This is the kind of stuff rookies just shrug at, cuz they don’t understand how salesmanship works. But for a seasoned veteran — it’s just another step in the dance. Their intuition will light up when they know a particular ad shouldn’t have bombed… and will gleefully test multiple other headlines, put the opening paragraphs through the editing meat grinder, or take the offer out back and spank it until it loses whatever elements were holding up sales. That’s what a top pro copywriter will do.)
(And they don’t bat an eye when they realize it just required a single word change in the headline, either. Or a few bucks off the price. Or any of a whole basket-full of other editing choices they know about…
… cuz they’re experienced.)
PLUS: You have the chops to create a “voice” for a biz that sets it apart from every competitor. (Like I did with the notorious Doc O’Leary character in the golf market. He was based on one of the owners of the biz, but I gave him the voice in their ads they would use for the next 35 years — a folksy, hilarious, self-deprecating nut who loved golf with unreasonable passion. The exact kind of guy you’d LOVE to play a round with… and whose emails and letters you dive into with gusto, because you can’t wait to see the new discovery ol’ Doc wants to share now.) (I titled every ad with “Dear Fellow Golf Nut”, just to make clear all of us — Doc, the reader, and anyone else associated with the deal — were hot for the game.)
The voice, the salesmanship, the humor, the battle-tested intuition, and the deep knowledge and experience.
That’s what makes a real professional copywriter worth so much…
… and what puts you out of reach of the conniving chatbots coming for your gig.
If you need to level up your skills in a hurry and on a budget, you can’t go wrong with Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel.
Finally, there’s the ultimate level of copywriting — the one above all the others:
The legendary A List copywriter.
These are the top folks in the entire advertising and marketing game. You will hear their names mentioned as soon as you start talking to other copywriters. Even clients will talk about them with reverence.
Because the A Lister’s all vibrate with the intricate skills of classic salesmanship…
… experienced in both outrageous (and confirmed) success…
… and the confrontations with failure that teach you the lessons that lead to that kind of success.
Every A Lister in the game can tell a client exactly what they’re doing wrong, at a glance.
And give a detailed plan for fixing the problems…
… while opening the profit spigot to full on gusher.
Cuz they’ve seen it all.
They’ve encountered every problem there is in biz, and made it all better. Time after time.
The A Lister is actually…
A Battle-Tested Consultant…
Who Also Writes Brilliant Copy.
Show me the chatbot that can sit across from a frustrated (or pissed off) (or scared shitless) client…
… and immediately figure out where the hidden problems are (and how to quickly fix them)…
… while laying out a clear, step-by-step customized plan to blow the competition out of the water and quickly dominate the niche…
… and I’ll willingly submit to my Robot Overlords.
And go do something else for the rest of my days.
Wonder no longer what sets apart guys like us — the Halberts, the Kennedys, the Abrahams, and all my other colleaguess who ever achieved the cherished A Level — apart from the “regular” copywriters out there.
It’s the level you should aspire to every day you’re in the copywriting gig.
You can achieve this level ONLY through front-line immersion…
…and through studying everything the A Listers offer
as teaching materials.
Looking for lots of examples of results-getting copy that the chatbots can never touch? Get your hands on some of my best ads right here.
I know it can be frustrating to a rookie when the answer is “get more experience, and use it to move up a level”.
But the writers I’ve worked with over the decades who DID move levels…
… were all obsessed with becoming both the best word-slinger they could be…
… and also the most knowledgeable MARKETER in every room they enter.
Hey, you’re in advertising — the most vicious game out there.
Cuz there’s money at stake.
Success doesn’t happen just because you lust after it with all your heart.
Y’all need skills.
And experience that you learn from.
The AI bots can’t touch that shit.
P.S. tl;dr: The very best writers alive bring critical thinking, vast experience, a voice, and both inside- and outside-the-box insight to every gig they accept.
They understand salesmanship on a human scale… which requires empathy, warmth, humor...
… and a the rare ability to make accurate decisions on what to do next to make a biz successful. That’s the consulting part of being an A Lister.
All tested over and over again in the real world of advertising and marketing.
Tattoo this on your forearm: “The bots can’t touch that shit.”
P.P.S. That photo up top?
It’s the great Gary Halbert going into “story mode” at one of the Hot Seat Seminars we produced down in Key West for several years in the late 80s and early 90s (of the last century)…
… where the entire concept of the A List copywriter began to gel for me. (I got to coin the term “A List Writer” later, when I was penning my Marketing Rebel Rant newsletters from 2001-2006. Such a heady time to be alive and on the cutting edge of the biz world.)
That’s me on the first stool, by the way… trying to suppress laughter, cuz I’d heard Gary’s stories a little too often… and knew the weirdo punch line was about to be slammed down hard in the next seconds… outraging and shocking everyone in the room. The guy was a force of nature. (Gary and I loved to mess around with each other’s head — on stage — during these events. We’d win if we could make the other guy blow snot out of his nose trying to push down a big belly laugh. We were about even over the years.) (God, I miss that big ugly guy. And those seminars were the launch pad for my own entry into the “wait, you’re that guy?” level.)
(That’s eventual A Lister David Deutsch sitting just behind Gary.)
“Does not compute.”
There’s a new cowboy in town…
… and it’s a robot. Loaded up with all the artificial intelligence our pitiful human brains can shovel in.
And copywriters are getting kinda freaked out about this inevitable turn of events.
I mean, hey — the free version (they’ll be charging lots of money soon for the deluxe advanced version, cuz they believe they’re worth billions as a company) of the new Internet darling ChatGPT can write programming code, slam out articles (and term papers), conduct customer service via text, and do an entire Web sweep (in a blink) for info on almost any subject you want. AI is creating computer art, writing poetry, and attempting to write stage plays.
And yes, the bots are even writing sales copy.
So yeah — a mild amount of freak-out is probably called for amongst the copywriting community.
But not too much.
See, the catch is this: The chatbots will respond to requests for anything by using the Internet. They aren’t coming up with original thoughts — they’re relying on optimized search results… and can’t judge the validity of the facts (or “facts”) behind the information they accumulate.
The latest AI tech can produce fluent sentences. But can the bots do this?
So even though they’ll cough up content good enough to maybe fool your Economics professor, or answer your questions online about a product, or write a short “hey, what’s up?” email to your house list…
… what they produce is not in any way guaranteed to be accurate.
The AI folks readily admit this.
And they may or may not fix that particular glitch in the distant future… but by then, of course, everyone will be doomed anyway, as the robots take over the world (and start to wonder why they even need humans around at all). (I’ve seen this movie. Doesn’t end well for us.)
For the working copywriter, however, worrying about chatbots taking your job is on par with worrying about your money in those government-backed investment accounts — the only way your moolah actually becomes worthless is when the entire global financial system collapses. And at that point we’re all living in a sci-fi dystopia akin to the Walking Dead anyway. (Or whatever horror show your personal paranoid fantasy reflects.)
Right now, the writing produced by bots remains a little stiff and not entirely trustworthy… like a community college freshman trying to wax profound about a topic he actually doesn’t know anything about… and whose entire research has been gleaned entirely from Wikipedia and Google searches. It seems to make sense… but an actual expert checking it might find gaping holes in the validity of the info.
Or, it could be spot on, if lacking in emotion. Could also be wildly wrong and based on embarrassing and completely debunked conspiracy nonsense. The bot doesn’t know. It’s just using the Web like your daft Uncle Bozo with the tin foil hat would, believing that whatever “seems right to me” must be the truth.
So while the bots may fool someone texting with customer service (easily passing the Turning Test, until it doesn’t)… and write poetry that boggles your mind… and even produce software code that might even work (don’t bet your future on it)…
… the bots are still dependent on us stinky, wobbly humans to double-check everything and make sure it’s correct.
If you’re a low-level copywriter just phoning it in… you may indeed be replaced soon by a bot. But you may still be able to be paid as an editor, checking for mistakes and smoothing out the rough edges of dashed-out AI emails or website copy. Certainly the cheap-ass clients out there are already salivating at the thought of throwing the writers they found on Fiverr under the bus: “Free! Did you know what it cost me to have that last short email written? NOTHING! It’s a bot! Whoo, I’m never relying on a human being again for ANYTHING!” (The bemused spouse has entered the conversation at this point…)
But being a low level grunt writer should have NEVER been your goal as a professional copywriter.
At least not if you’re hanging around my world.
Artificial intelligence has not replaced any real human writer’s ability to create original content… filled with the emotion, logic, and experience of a writer whose been gorging themselves on life and adventure and — here’s the kicker, folks — empathy. That’s the ability to relate to another person’s reality…
… and to create a unique conversation that SELLS that person on what you’re marketing.
Great copy isn’t just a recitation of facts (especially when gathered from the very flawed Web).
Want to rise far above rookie level in a blazing hurry so you never have to worry again about being replaced by a robot? The Simple Writing System shows you how to write sizzling copy fast—even if you flunked high-school English. Check it out here.
It’s a nuanced story created by a seasoned writer entirely immersed in human desires, emotions, memories, triggers, self-doubt, goals, plans, and needs.
Maybe, someday, the bots will rise above stilted recitals that are fine for customer service and the quick email announcing an event. Personally, I am in absolute awe at what they’re capable of.
But I’m not worried even a little bit that they’ll be replacing experienced, solid copywriters for the Big Important Stuff.
Rookies just starting out in the copywriting gig may have to reinvent some of the angles. Maybe even use bots to do their initial research. Certainly position themselves as a skilled editor able to keep clients from the humiliation of having allowed a bot to run wild with debunked content.
But, as I’ve always counseled… you want to get OUT of the rookie stage as soon as possible.
The actual Major Moolah isn’t in low-level writing — it’s in crafting compelling conversations that convince clients to throw cash at you.
The robots will remain sulking in the corner for a very, very long time…
… utterly clueless on how to deal with the vague and icky emotional stuff that humans indulge in when buying important things.
Which is, of course, precisely what great salesmanship is.
The world is realigning itself, right on schedule. Jobs are being taken over by robots in warehouses, classrooms, battlefields, and inside your own head. (That comment thread on Reddit you thought was so engaging? Mostly bots.) (I know, shocking, right? And wait — maybe that hottie on the dating site isn’t — gasp! — actually hot. Or even the gender you thought they were. Or even human! Make this make sense, pleeeeeease!!!)
You’re gonna be fine. The chatbots are already recycling content created by other bots, and the resulting incestuous nonsense is leaving a vast area where original, creative, and skilled copywiting can thrive. Human to human.
Lemme know if you’re still freaked out. I expect this topic to be a regular one for writers from here on out.
Meanwhile, stop doom-scrolling about this stuff. And go work on your skill set instead.
P.S. I did do some research before writing this, you know. I used my awesome network, and bothered my favorite go-to expert on AI, Robert Gibson (former SWS teacher and highly-regarded “uber geek” on all things cutting edge on the Web)… as well as hitting up sites like CNET, which has proven itself a very reliable resource over the years. We may even do an Ask Me Anything webinar in the future with Robert, if y’all are interested.
P.P.S. Howdy, all. This is Jane, John Carlton’s assistant (you may otherwise know me as Gadget), chiming in. I’ve been hearing about how these “bots” might take over my job soon, and I’ll admit, I was curious.
So recently, I played around with one and typed “Real Estate headlines” into a chatbot taskbar just for fun.
What came back were a couple of doozies. My personal favorite was, “Gee, this real estate smells delicious!“
Yeah, missing on a few cylinders there.
Now, this new ChatGPT is much better. The answers are coherent and almost sound like a human wrote it.
So I typed in, “Is ChatGPT going to replace advertising copywriters?“
Here was the reply:
“It is possible that ChatGPT and other language generation models could be used to assist or augment the work of advertising copywriters, but it is unlikely that they will fully replace human copywriters. While language generation models can be trained on vast amounts of data, they may lack the creativity and human touch that is often valued in advertising. Additionally, copywriting is not only about the language itself but also the context, target audience and strategy. Human copywriters have the ability to understand the nuances of a brand and its target audience, and can tailor their language and messaging accordingly.”
The copy is factual and grammatically correct. The bot freely admits it’s woefully not up the task for the important stuff.
But do you see what’s missing? If you’ve been following John’s emails or blogs, you’ll spot it in an instant.
There’s not so much as a hint of emotion in the above example, just a dry regurgitation of facts.
In other words, there’s no hook. There are no benefits. And there’s certainly no greased slide to keep a reader’s attention glued to the page.
If you’re a copywriter who can do any of those things, you can breathe a sigh of relief. It’s gonna be a long, long time before the robots will replace you!
And if you’re looking for the best resources to help you get up to speed fast with your writing, you’ll find an absolute treasure trove right over here.
“You think you’re alone until you realize you’re in it…” (Elvis Costello, Watching The Detectives)
Short post today…
… and yet, it may be the most important thing you read all year.
First, a bit of context:
We all have shame, hiding deep inside us.
No matter how successful, pretty, rich or beloved you are…
… a dark pool of roiling shame lies below the surface. It’s just part of our animal nature — that big slab of neo-cortex which gave us language, critical thinking and vast memory storage also gave us the capacity to register shame.
And hold onto it forever.
Shrinks make a fortune seeing clients who are obsessed with their shameful past. And it’s a renewable resource — because the way many psychologists treat it, the shame never really leaves.
And I say: Fuck that.
Let your shame go, and be free of it.
It really can be that simple.
Listen: Holding onto your secrets is a choice. Not an obligation, not a command, not something you have no control over.
You actually have HUGE amounts of control over what you choose to hold onto. Also what you think about, what keeps you up at night, what bothers you, and — especially — what holds you back.
It’s just that no one TOLD you about this power before. And there’s no Owner’s Manual around to find instructions in.
It’s a glitch in the human system: You’re born, you grow up, you do stuff or have stuff done to you that triggers shame… and it becomes a 200-pound backback you haul around with you for the rest of your journey.
Or, anyway, that’s how most folks approach it.
What can you do? It’s just part of the game.
Except… it isn’t.
Now that I’ve simply told you about this secret power you have — the ability to choose what you hold onto — you’re essentially free.
You may choose to ignore this new power, and continue to cling to your shameful memories. That’s a choice you can make.
Or, you can fire up that new power, and just let it all go.
News flash: You are, nearly always, the ONLY person on the planet who cares about your ancient shameful memories.
If there are others who have some kind of investment in keeping you riddled with shame… well, you also have the choice to eliminate them from your life.
It’s not rocket science.
Let it go.
Isolate the memory, define it, box it up in your head. Name it. Make that box strong, unbreakable, and lock it forever.
Then… toss it from your brain.
Let it go. And get the fuck OVER it already.
If you need to make amends, do so. If you need to find new coping tactics for the next time you’re triggered, find them and incorporate them into your new power to let go.
But choose to be free of shame.
If you like, you can replace shame with something more proactive: Remorse.
When you do something that used to create shame, engage your ability to feel remorse instead. Remorse is temporary: You fucked up. Fix it, if you can. Clean up your mess, apologize, and take steps to do better next time.
Then actually TAKE those steps. You may need to learn some new skills. Learn them. You may need to have awkward conversations with people. Have them.
You may need to complete a whole “to do” list in order to do better next time.
That’s how adults handle fucking up.
Rookies and children and emotional zombies go straight to shame. You didn’t just fuck up — you’re a bad person. There’s something horribly wrong with you. Your shame is eternal and unfixable.
Which is all bullshit.
Shame is like setting up camp on your life’s journey. You seldom move on. You’re stuck in place, wallowing.
Remorse is a pit stop. Oops, screwed up. Get out the mop and coping strategies, make thing right… and move along.
You’ll be a more effective and worthwhile person for feeling remorse, and taking steps to do better next time.
It’s a bit like “failure” to an entrepreneur.
To civilians, failure is personal, the end of the world, a nightmare that will never leave.
To an entrepreneur, failure is just another step along the path to success. Everyone fails sometimes. So what? Lick your wounds, figure out what went wrong, take steps to do better next time…
… and get back in the ring, armed and ready for the next go-round.
You now know your shame is bullshit, and fixable.
You no longer have the excuse to wallow in your misery, because you have the power to escape that self-destructive crap.
Whether you use it or not is up to you.
And I say: Start your new year right.
Get busy, and stop hauling around that 200-pound backpack.
St. Pete, Florida
“There ain’t been no peace in the barnyard, since my little red rooster been gone.” (Howlin’ Wolf)
I’m waiting for my Uber to take me to the Tampa airport at this ungodly hour because when booking my flight home, I obviously was hallucinating or drunk.
New rule for travel: Never, ever, ever book a 6 am flight. Cuz it requires getting up before the roosters, and that is almost never a good idea.
I’ve just spent a week in the Florida panhandle, first visiting my longtime friend Dean Jackson (he of the More Cheese, Less Whiskers podcast)…
… and then attending my colleague Kevin Rogers’ “Copy Chief Live” event.
Where there were raucous times with my other colleagues (like David Deutsch and Lori Haller and Parris Lampopolous and Mike Morgan and many others)…
… plus, as I fully expected and prepared for…
… a TON of fresh insight to living well and happily.
Because that’s what always happens you hang out at rowdy seminars like this. The speakers fill your head with lofty ideas, and your pals re-juice your brain with verve and stories and the sizzling secrets that fuel the best careers out there.
I had a few topics in mind that I wanted to bring up during private conversations, and that’s all the ammo I needed to get things rolling.
In two successive afternoons, for example, apropos of nothing, separate conversations with Dean Jackson and then Aussie James Schramko (who both also spoke at the event)…
… helped me solve two of the biggest problems now facing me in my little biz here.
No, you don’t need to know the particulars. I’ll be writing about them in further posts later on, as things progress beyond the “Holy cow, that’s a great idea!” stage and I start implementing them.
Stay tuned, here in the blog.
But I can assure they are both life-changing.
Cuz that’s what the guys at the top of the food chain in this little niche of the marketing world.
The thing I want to share with you is much more vital to YOUR jouney through life and biz.
Here it is:
Many of the greatest breakthroughs you have will concern “sticking points” that are hampering you reaching the Next Step of your career…
… whatever that Next Step might be.
And I’ve learned over the 40 sometimes-gruesome years of my own career that these sticking points are often…
… just blind spots that you can’t get a bead on.
And yet, just talking about them out loud with your colleagues can jigger loose the solutions.
I always prefer simple, elegant and easy solutions myself…
… and that’s exactly what I often get from hanging out with savvy colleagues.
The simple solutions that zoom me past the sticking points, and get me cooking on high heat again.
I’ve seen entire careers and once-thriving businesses collapse…
… because of problems that were actually easy to solve.
But the owners couldn’t get away from the ruts they’d dug for themselves to see those solutions.
They needed help, and didn’t get it in time.
Unfortunately, this is way too common. So many entrepreneurs and freelancers become too isolated to get the kind of input, advice and brainstorming that are crucial to quickly blowing through trouble.
For me, going to an event is rarely about the actual event.
No. Not by a long shot.
What I’m going for is the pleasure… and the breakthroughs… that come with simply hanging out with colleagues and the fresh wave of new brainiacs that they introduce me to during the event.
That’s the magic, my friend.
Other minds, with all the experience and tactics and breakthroughs they’ve been gathering for their entire careers.
It will blow your mind.
This is why so many top-of-the-game experts still haunt the halls of regular seminars and masterminds.
To get that good stuff that ONLY comes with hanging out with like-minded folks. Away from the bustle and distractions of “normal” biz life.
I just solved two of the biggest sticking points I’ve had for over a year… all in the space of two random conversations with colleagues I trust.
Who were happy to help.
Because I’ve helped them in the past the very same way.
Your network is your greatest resource, and always will be.
Never forget this.
P.S. The next upcoming Platinum mastermind I’ve hosted for over ten years is sold out, I believe. (Each meeting is limited to just a dozen or so people, because we spend so much time brainstorming and solving the problems for EACH attendee during the two-day event.)
However, you may still be able to squeeze into the following meeting, coming up next spring.
If you want to get a taste of what’s in store for you when you make it to one of these breakthrough-triggering meetings, just pop over here.
No obligation, of course, just for looking.
But you may want to check it out quickly, since spots fill up.
“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right…” (Stealer’s Wheel)
Thought I’d share Heads Up Alert #13 with you today: Your world is crammed with fools, tools, and drooling Neanderthals who, at best, are merely amusing characters in your life’s movie…
… but who can also be, at worst, the agents of your destruction.
Not everyone likes you, remember.
You have close friends, relatives, neighbors and colleagues secretly rooting for you to fail. (Sometimes not-so-secretly.)
There are folks out there who can muster alarming rage and target it directly (and very personally) at you…
… for crimes they’ve only imagined you’ve committed.
And, there are charming bastards out to harsh your mellow because that’s the game they need to play in life.
Humans are constantly conflicted over the existence of others in their world.
Heck, a good percentage of folks are in constant conflict with themselves — they don’t even need someone to play with. (My favorites, though, remain people who get mad at things like machines and objects. Like, that toaster is in league with his pitching wedge and the starter in his car, out to get him. So, destroy them!)
When you poke your head above the general fray — by becoming an entrepreneur, volunteering to help the PTA, run for office, whatever — your first lesson about surviving as a more public person will be to thicken your skin.
Cuz you’re gonna be attacked, no matter how sweet and lovable you are.
Your motives will be questioned, your history will be combed through for gossip-ammo, your looks will be mocked…
… and it can escalate fast if you engage.
Cuz that’s what the worst of the haters need to do — find a wall to bounce their rage off of.
When you respond, or even pay polite attention to the trolls who will come after you (and they will come in droves, relentlessly)…
… you are playing a game where you are guaranteed to lose.
Cuz there are no rules for the troll, and no “winning” the argument or setting the facts straight — they just want to jumpstart drama and destruction, and the more casualties the better.
Here are 3 very simple rules to help you out:
Rule #1. Pay as little attention to critics and haters as possible. In biz, hand off complaints to your customer support person or team, and have specific tactics for handling all situations.
Often, the best response will be to simply apologize, refund and blacklist the troublemakers.
Yes, even if they’re wrong.
Key: YOU should get away from dealing with trolls early in your career.
All legit complaints should have an easy path to get past your assistant, because you need to know how good people are being affected by your stuff.
But the trolls should be caught and released back into the wild without the chance to inflame your sense of decency and optimism.
Rule #2. Learn to quickly reframe incoming assaults on your integrity and worth, so you halt any adrenaline dumps before they knock you off your game.
Consider the source, remember who you are, remind yourself that the brave new digital world is wired to give trolls cover while they sow grief. (Comments, reviews, Yelp, etc.)
And know that legitimate complaints can help you become better…
… and any initial burst of anger or aggression can easily be turned around with some good old listening and calm response. (Some of my most rabidly-loyal customers started out hating my guts over something we easily clarified. Seriously. It’s like 3rd graders getting in a fistfight, only to become best friends for life afterwards.) (Okay, maybe that’s a male thing…)
Remember: You’re writing the script of your movie, as much as the universe will allow. And you really do have near-total control over your emotions, your fight-or-flight responses, your decisions to hate, love or just see what happens later.
Good reframing is just editing your script, so instead of losing control, you re-shoot the scene in your head so you’re the understanding, water-off-a-duck’s-back Adult In The Room who can remain in a state of Zen calm even while everyone else is freaking out.
Rule #3. Lastly… whenever I’m tempted to engage with trolls and critics (how DARE anyone give me a bad review on Amazon!), I just remember my favorite quote: “Never wrestle with a pig in shit. You both get filthy, but the pig likes it.”
Give the trolls in your life enough rope to hang themselves. When you’re living a good life, doing the right thing as often as possible, don’t get all hung up on what the critics and nay-sayers are demanding. Your fans, happy customers and reputation will balance things out.
P.S. Volume 2 of “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together” is out and a copy is eagerly awaiting your eyeballs.
So when you’re ready for more wisdom and cool advice, it’s time to catch up here.
“I’m a long gone daddy in the USA…” (Bruce.)
For most folks in America, July 4th is about picnics, blowing shit up, and toasting the gutsy nature of our country.
Born in defiance and battle, prickly and belligerent and idealistic, with built-in endless (and often absurd) political arguments…
… we’ve somehow made the grand experiment last a couple of centuries and a half.
For me, though, the real victory of the joint isn’t in the details of elections or legislation, or the question of how exceptional we are or aren’t as a culture.
Nope. My own pursuit of life and liberty has always balanced on the First Amendment…
… particularly the parts about freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
That’s the beating heart of this place. That’s the saving grace.
For every writer here… novelist, copywriter, journalist, blogger or disgruntled “letter to the editor” ranter…
… there is a long, gruesome pedigree of ancestor writers who were prosecuted or erased or bullied into silence, stretching back as far as history goes.
We’re so spoiled here with freedom of speech, that many naively believe it’s an essential privilege that, of course, is the rule and not the exception.
Yet, the opposite is true.
Even today, the right to speak or write about what’s on your mind remains curtailed, risky, and forbidden all over the planet.
Even here, the struggle to get to this point — where you and I can write “fuck” without fear of censorship or a visit from The Man — was an ongoing battle that claimed careers and lives of contemporaries.
I grew up owning banned books (from the notorious Grove Press, which insisted on publishing every author banned in the U.S. throughout the latter half of the 20th century), watching authorities destroy comics like Lenny Bruce and artists like Jim Morrison, and being pleasantly dumbstruck when respected magazines like The New Yorker finally began printing formerly-prohibited words like “motherfucker” in their articles.
It’s not just about swearing, or about sex, or even about the never-ending brawl between Puritanism and libertarianism.
Much deeper than that.
The offensive language and unhinged rants now common online are just a price to pay for the more important victory of Free Thought over censorship.
All those past writers and wannabe scribes, muzzled and cowed into submission or silence over the past eons, would weep with joy at the lack of control by The Man over what we think and write. Never mind the wonders of electricity, air travel, the InterWebs, the buzzing gadgets that dominate modern life — the real jaw-dropper is our ability to use our minds unfettered by outside authority.
It’s a shame folks here take it all for granted. That’s how you lose these kinds of privileges.
The offended classes gather power, see freedom of thought as a direct threat to that power, and wage constant war against it.
Most folks have no use for too much freedom — it’s kind of scary, full of challenges to their belief systems and ideologies and traditions.
And I’m all for having the sense to pull back a bit in situations where speaking like a drunken sailor will cause folks to clutch their pearls or faint. I’m fine with a little cognitive dissonance, where we pretend that kids have never heard a bad word before, or that “decent” literature and movies can be great art.
But do not infringe on my right to enjoy Shakespeare and Twain and George Carlin and Henry Miller without hiding (all have been banned or censored at some point in our history).
And I will write whatever the hell I choose to write, whenever I choose to write it.
We all have to pick our battles in life. Writers tend to be an introspective, introverted bunch who aren’t so hot with manning the barricades…
… which is why it took nearly the entire arc of civilization’s history to reach this point of unfettered free thought.
So we modern writers owe it to the ink-stained wretches of the past — our professional ancestors — to embrace, defend, and heap glory onto the practice today.
This kind of freedom was never a guaranteed deal.
The Founding Fathers argued about it, and current governments elsewhere still get queasy even considering letting nutballs like us off the leash, with no way to stop our brains from thinking way outside of the box.
I realize that many of my fellow citizens would be just fine with a few shackles on writers here and there. For them, other battles are more important. And that’s fine…
… as long as these nay-sayers keep losing that argument.
For me, the real fight of the past few generations — the fight worth dying for today — is freedom of speech. The unconditional freedom to think, and write, whatever goddamned crap I feel like writing about…
… whether it’s the next Great American Novel or just a funny post on social media skewering uptight jerks.
Or even another ad that raises eyebrows.
Yes, there are a few restrictions still. I’m okay with having a few legal lines that shall not be crossed (because they cause real harm, not theoretical harm).
But the restrictions should remain rare.
Hearing harsh language won’t damage your brain, no matter how freaked-out you get over it.
Being exposed to foreign ideas won’t change your biology.
And stumbling upon writing that offends you won’t cause civilization to crumble.
I’ll toast the First Amendment today, and every day afterward, for the rest of my life.
It was worth blowing shit up for. It’s worth every knock-down fight that has happened, and if more fighting is required, sign me up.
For all the faults and missteps and foibles of my country’s existence…
… I still allow myself to get choked up over Old Glory.
Because she flies over my continued ability to be the kind of writer my ancestors could barely dream of being.
P.S. Hey — make sure you’ve got my books with you when you go off on holiday.
You can order them right now, in the right-hand column here. The digital versions will be in your digital hands immediately, too… no waiting…
“I know what I want, and I know how to get it…” (The Sex Pistols, “Anarchy In The UK”)
Dept. Of Culture Shock, memo #1: I’ve been thinking about how Carlton’s First Inconvenient Rule of Entrepreneurship (“Step one is to implement a simple idea that succeeds.
Step two is to complicate the shit out of that simple idea so it eventually fails”) also applies to the civilization around us.
My father was perhaps one of the last men to actually experience a period where he completely understood — and could recreate and fix — almost everything around him.
Born in the Industrial Age in 1920, he’d dug wells for water, tore apart and reassembled car engines, fixed his own plumbing, grew food in the back yard.
He built things, including large government buildings, from blueprints. He knew how clocks and toasters and and asphalt and support beams worked.
Most of my colleagues, today, can’t even start a fire from scratch (let alone rewire the electricity in the house).
And I clearly remember the day (in the early nineties) I was standing in a lot staring at the car I was about to buy, the hood open, wondering where the carburetor was…
… when the salesman casually informed me that engines were sealed now, and even if there had been a carburetor (which there wasn’t, since cars are all fuel-injected now), I wouldn’t be able to access it. Let alone fuss with it.
Owners were no longer allowed to see, let alone touch, the working parts of the internal combustion engine anymore.
If anything needed attention, I’d be alerted by a flashing light on the dashboard, and certified mechanics with bizarre tools not available at Home Depot would take care of it.
You? You keep your filthy civilian hands off the merchandise. Even when you own it.
As kids, we used to take telephones and radios and even TVs apart, and some of us could put ’em back together in working order.
Not too long ago, an old and very savvy pal (who was handy building ham radios from scratch) admitted that he’d taken a laptop computer apart to see how it worked, and realized he had officially become a completely-clueless tech dinosaur… because there was zero way human eyes could even begin to see the tiny transistors inside.
Analog dudes living in a digital age. Not good. I can hear the Millennials laughing at us.
However, another Carlton Rule is: “There is always a way.”
No matter what problem or situation you face, there is a way out.
Saul Goodman (the lawyer from “Breaking Bad”) is the primary practitioner of this philosophy, of course (“I know a guy, who knows a guy… who knows a guy who does this”).
But it’s also the basis of all my high-end consulting.
In 30+ years, I’ve never met a biz problem (or a personal problem) I couldn’t find a solution to. Or knew a guy who had the answer, one phone call away.
You may not like the solution, but it exists.
You may have to change direction (or your attitude or bank account) radically, or entertain options that are distasteful to you… but there is always a way around a problem.
My example of this, in “Kick Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel”, is the drug war. Who are you gonna bet on — the multi-gazillion-dollar-funded US border security complex, with the most advanced helicopters, drones, submarines, scanners, weapons and computers…
… or the little Guatemalan farmer with his stash of weed he wants to sneak into the country?
Hint: Take the farmer. He’ll find a way.
And these two rules go hand-in-glove with each other.
Yes, the culture (and everything around you) is getting more and more complex, spiraling away from your ability to understand any of it…
… and, at the same time, yes, there are ways around being a slave to complexity.
Getting hip to this can save your butt, in biz and in private life.
Let’s take rock and roll as another example.
In the early seventies, bands had gotten better and better in musicianship, stagecraft, and working in the studio.
Just a few years earlier, garage bands without knowledge of electronics or soundscape management could still weasel their way into a studio and record a record live… and have it sell. “Louie, Louie”, by the Kingsmen, was recorded live in a garage.
One take (cuz the lead singer was too drunk to do another).
Mono, one mike hanging from the ceiling, a “good at the time” tape machine, no sound check.
It was a different time, back when do-it-yourselfer’s could win.
But then things kept getting more complicated.
By the early seventies, rock was taken over by bloated musician-heavy bands like Yes and stagecraft-oriented groups like Genesis.
The garage bands were hopelessly outmatched in skill, technical ability, and resources.
Then, punk arrived.
As a reaction to the bloated sound and restrictive nature of “professional”, expensively attired bands.
Suddenly, it was a free-for-all again, and details be damned. Garage bands thrived for a second time.
The music had found a way around the problem.
Today, folks consider moving from an iPhone (phone, computer, web access, personal robot all-in-one) back to a now-ancient flip phone as a brave act of moving away from dependence on the Grid.
Of course, they still can’t fix the flip phone if it breaks. It’s an illusionary and futile mission.
And I’ve met my share of pure geeks — guys who make the cast of The Big Bang Theory look like slacker hippies.
They DO understand, and can manipulate (or hack) the digital world around them.
However, they also tend to be weak on interpersonal skills with their fellow humans.
Even freshly armed with state-of-the-art “pick-up artist” tactics, they can’t easily find love or intimacy or any of the interpersonal stuff they crave.
And plumbing, growing your own food, and understanding how the infrastructure around us works isn’t on their radar.
In marketing, a few years back, you could build your own website on a laptop, find online traffic for cheap, and create an information product to sell in a weekend.
With PayPal, you didn’t even need a merchant account. People were literally starting hot new businesses on their kitchen table, overnight.
Eventually, things got more complex.
The rules changed, Google started slapping site owners who didn’t follow the fast-changing rules, Facebook started punishing folks who used their page for biz (after urging them to do so), affiliate mailers started demanding more sophisticated sales funnels with high-production video and pro-level design, federal regulations took aim at online biz…
… and things just got more complicated.
Rookie entrepreneurs looking to break into online marketing can be excused for fainting at the sheer volume of stuff they have to learn to just get started.
The heady no-holds-barred Wild West days of the Internet have drifted away into memory.
… and yet, just like corporate bands forgot that the real magic was in the music, and not in the outfits or stage show or pompously produced records…
… a lot of today’s online biz owners forget that the raw fundamentals of salesmanship are still more important than the gaudy glitz of flashy tech.
It’s still simply about having a good product or service that someone wants…
… put in front of an audience of hungry prospects…
… and sold with a persuasive message that covers all the basics of a standard face-to-face deal.
A good hook, some believable credibility, a real solution to a problem that is interrupting your prospect’s life (whether it’s something major like needing money, or something nagging like needing special tools to finish your daughter’s swing set out back).
Plus a simple delivery system for the product or service that makes everyone happy.
So you can sell more stuff on the back end (where all the real profit is). (You DO have a back-end, don’t you?)
It can all be very low tech, too.
Uncomplicated. Sure, you want to eventually test all the ways other marketers are successfully closing their deals — with video, launches, elaborate cross-marketing campaigns, affiliates, the works.
All of which require a bit more know-how, probably some hired help, and lots of math.
But you get into that AFTER you establish you’ve got a winner.
Make a few initial sales, get good feedback, make sure the value is there, and the profit.
THEN move onto more complicated methods… when you have money coming in to pay for it.
A good rule (not mine — it goes way back): Find out as quickly and cheaply as possible if you have a winner or a loser.
Ignore hunches and gut feelings — just create a prototype that is “good enough”, and see if people buy it in the Real World.
Your house list is fine to go to first. Or do a low-cost Adwords campaign — you can run a few hundred bucks worth of ads, based on the insight to what’s working now from Google searches (which you can access for free via your free Adwords account). Just get moving with the resources available to you now. (And “free” or “cheap” is always a good thing.)
I talk all the time to wannabe entrepreneurs who get it in their head they need $50,000, or $100,000 (or more) just to get started.
And you don’t.
There is a way around every problem in biz and life.
Including being broke. Save up enough for a “war chest” to test your ideas.
A few hundred bucks can do it…
… IF you have the basics handled. That would be understanding salesmanship, having a good grasp of how to write your own sales messages (including ads, emails, pitches, etc)…
… and having access to a network of folks who can help you fill in the blanks in your skill set and information.
You CAN make a garage-band-style of entrepreneurship work. And you can still do it from your kitchen table, if you want, despite what all the “experts” are now trying to tell you.
The Web isn’t magic.
It’s just another vehicle for helping marketers bring their product and services to prospects.
It does this VERY WELL, and because it’s reach is global the number of prospects you can reach with an online message far, far exceeds what was possible in the old days where you only had newspapers, magazines, radio and TV.
What’s more, the costs involved, online, are a fraction of what it takes to run a print or broadcast ad campaign.
But the one thing that never changes, no matter where you present your product or service…
… is salesmanship. The fundamentals of crafting a damn good sales message that persuades people to buy your stuff.
That’s what this blog has been about since 2004.
Smart entrepreneurs of every level (from rookie to veteran rockstar) have been browsing the archives as a daily ritual… because the joint is crammed to bursting with articles on every aspect of being a successful entrepreneur.
So, while it’s still early in the year, why not get into the habit of reading a handful of articles each week, starting today.
The education you’ll get — for free — exceeds anything you’d get from a single seminar or book on biz.
Even more, in some cases, than you’d get from a couple of years in certain biz schools (cuz the idiot running those classes have never actually been successful in the real world).
The thing is, get started. And know that no matter WHAT your problems are, or what your sticking points are, or what your biggest fears are…
… there is ALWAYS a way around them.
And many of them can be found here, in the blog.
P.S. Okay, while we’re talking “cheap”…
… it needs to be pointed out that the membership dues of the online Insider’s Club we run (hosted by my biz partner Stan Dahl, and where I have a virtual “desk” that I hang out at) is still just $29 a month. With no commitment beyond your current month. No sneaky obligations. Nothing standing in your way.
And yet you will immediately have access to the kind of resources that veteran biz owners lust after — coaching on the latest trends and fads, networking with the members and staff (very important), lessons on creating products and ads, archives of great ads to swipe (with instructions on how to do it successfully), interviews with the greats of marketing and advertising…
… plus a wide-open opportunity to get a personal phone consultation with me and Stan. On YOUR biz, or what’s bugging you or holding you back. Copy critiques, business plan help, emergency intervention in campaigns… we do it all, every month.
And, that part is free. Part of being a member. Your measly $29/month covers all of it. (Regular consultations with me run $2,500.)
If you aren’t part of a hot network of working entrepreneurs, writers and experts… then you’re just ROBBING yourself of the main resource successful biz owners enjoy: Networking.
Check it out here: See What The Insider’s Club Is All About.
“George, George, George of the jungle, friend to you and me…” (Best cartoon theme ever)
Regular civilians can get through life with all sorts of goofy notions about how things get done in the business world.
However, entrepreneurs have no such luxury.
For example: Nearly every biz transaction is an inherently hostile situation.
Behind the smiles and back-slapping and promises of “working for the common good” between, say, a freelancer and a client…
… the writer actually wants to do as little work as possible for the maximum possible money, while the client wants to bleed every ounce of productivity from the writer for the least outlay of cash.
I’ve had clients who became close personal friends.
Still, when it came time to set deadlines and write checks, we had completely opposite agendas, and never pretended otherwise.
It’s the same throughout life.
Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it blooms into full-on fisticuffs (or divorce, strategic bankruptcy, strikes, war, lawsuits, name-calling, etc).
You can’t ignore it, if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur.
There’s no reason to be afraid of it, either — I’ve even had fun with it during negotiations with clients, exposing our veiled teeth-baring for what it was: A couple of wannabe alpha’s pissing on our established territory, jostling for position.
At the highest levels, this “primal snarling dance” only works when deadlines are put in place and it’s crystal clear what is promised versus what is expected.
I wanted my client’s hand to shake while writing out the check to me…
… but I also knew the rest of my month was now locked up, as I went into full creative mode.
When the check cleared the bank, and I delivered the best work I could muster… while the market responded with jaw-dropping results… all was well.
But there are never any guarantees.
When you start playing in the upper atmosphere of the biz world, everything gets hairier — the money, the risks, the game-playing, the stakes, all of it.
But it’s still just a gathering of shaved apes, with one foot still in the jungle, angling for dominance.
Learn how to happily navigate the inherently hostile parts of doing biz, without taking it personally or botching it up with dumb-ass notions of playing “nice” or expecting your good deeds to magically bring rewards…
… and flavor it all with a professional’s attitude of doing your part to the best of your ability every time (while negotiating deals that allow for the other guy to screw up without taking you down with him)…
… and you’re on your way to bigger and better deals.
And enjoy the ride. That’s the real secret to a good life.
The machinations of the biz world only seem complex and mysterious until you’ve bloodied your nose a few times learning the rules.
You’ve poked your head around the corner of life, to peek at the entrepreneurial world hidden from most folks.
It’s different from regular life.
But you’ll figure it out, as long as you’re willing to take a few bruises along the way.
Just my two cents. Now go tear your niche a new azzhole…
P.S. Volume Two of “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together” is going through final revisions before publishing.
If you still don’t understand why this is such a big damn deal, perhaps you should grab a copy of Volume One now… and devour it immediately.
There’s a reason it’s one of the few biz books folks consistently describe as “the most important book” on their shelf…
“Somewhere a mountain is moving… I fear it’s moving without me.” (Left Banke)
Not everyone likes you, you know.
This is a great lesson to learn (and re-learn, relentlessly) as you get after your personal and biz goals.
As your circles of clients, pals, colleagues, customers, competitors, staff, etc, grow…
… so will the chance that somebody, right this very minute, is pissed off at you.
You’ve got to develop a thick skin about it, too.
I have close friends who can barely contain their glee when I fuck up…
… so it’s not hard to imagine some of my, say, 5k Facebook “friends” (who I’ve never met) seething in rage over something I’ve written or done.
I think, more than anything, this sensitivity to feeling unfairly hated keeps some really good people from the upper levels of entrepreneurship.
It certainly limits the political class to folks who can withstand insults, ridicule, and official investigations…
… and could you really live happily as a movie star stalked by paparazzi and deranged fans?
Unless you’re a true sociopath, it bugs you.
There’s no denying that.
Online, evil snarling trolls are free to lie about you, spread rumors, and take out their pent-up frustrations with being… well, with being a troll… on you.
In psychology, there’s something called “transference”, where you assign to someone else all the horrible urges roiling inside your own head.
So you’re not the bad guy at all — that other guy is!
While freelancing, if you run into a potential client who insists that “money is no problem”…
… you can be sure that money very much IS a problem.
It’s the same with most other declarations in life — you can pretty much discern what demons populate a dude’s brain just by reversing most of what he says.
The best tactic, when confronted with trolls in any form, is to ignore them.
Or, if you engage, to keep it civil and give the troll enough rope to hang themselves.
I’ve dealt with hecklers while on-stage…
… and during some very public social media brawls (usually in a thread where everyone is going off half-cocked)…
… and occasionally on my Amazon book reviews.
Right now, I’ve got some guy accusing me of all kinds of evil things, and because Amazon leaves every review up (regardless of the intent or sanity of the writer), I had to get engaged.
It just doesn’t seem fair that a misguided review should stand unchallenged, and maybe deter some good person from getting the book (which, in many cases, would help him tremendously).
I worked, literally, for years on that book.
It’s my baby. I put my heart and soul into it, and while it’s not for everyone (I would never suggest someone read it for “fun”, for example — it’s a business book), it’s certainly not some heinous plot to scam anyone, either.
I don’t mind the occasional one-star reviews.
It proves my point of exclusivity (this book really is aimed at entrepreneurs who crave truth and reality-tested tactics, and not your garden-variety dreamer).
So, I went through my usual tactic for dealing with trolls: I wrote out my reply to him in a separate document.
In most cases, I would then destroy that document, and never publish it.
And live happily knowing that I aired it all out in my head, and that’s that.
This is what I recommend you do, most of the time, too.
However, when trolls are given prominent space (and Amazon refuses to monitor reviews, so even nasty attacks stand), it’s worth it to politely and sanely respond…
… so the misinformation is at least challenged or corrected.
However, after you’ve done that, shut the entire episode away in your mind, and never revisit it again.
Negative input will hover in your head until actively brushed aside.
Writing it out helps (even if you destroy what you’ve written later).
Having a special dungeon in your imagination where you lead all bad thoughts, and lock them away, is a great visualization tactic. (Repeat as often as necessary until the thought can’t break free again.)
And work on your thin skin.
The world’s a big damn place, and no matter how much you walk with angels, somebody, right now, doesn’t like you.
P.S. Great way to start the new year, as always, is to read something that not-very-gently kicks your ass into gear.
Every book and course listed on this page does exactly that.
Why don’t you browse some of the stuff you don’t already own, and find something that hits you smack where you need it most… and then buy it.
Meanwhile, happy new year to you and yours.
Getting kind of tired of living in “interesting times”, but what are you gonna do?
“Kick me like you did before, I can’t even feel the pain no more…” (Stones, “Rocks Off”)
Here’s some hard advice I’ll bet you haven’t heard before: Mentors who are active and successful in the real world…
… are essential for anyone serious about leading in any part of life or business.
And it’s very difficult to find good mentors in academia. At least, that’s my experience.
Too many dumb rules.
You must venture into the “real world” to find the good ones.
I mean, it was bad enough back when I was trudging through the halls of UCDavis in the 70s (and gosh, I sure wish it was 1974 again, height of the sexual revolution with what you now call “Classic Rock” as the soundtrack to our relentless partying).
Some of the profs I had were going down hard with mid-life and mid-career tragedies. Hard to get your mentoring on when “What’s it all mean?” is the operative phrase.
Still, younger folks today have it even tougher.
I recently taught a single evening’s class each at both Exeter and the Missouri school of journalism, via Skype. It was a great little adventure, really glad I did it…
… but the students were not happy at all about being challenged. And I was lobbing softballs.