What You Can Learn from My Biggest Blunder

Fail to Learn podcast

They say experience is the best teacher
That’s what they teach us in school
I say experience is the teacher of fools
‘Cause a wise man will learn from another man’s errors
Then apply that to determine what he shall choose
~ Da T.R.U.T.H., Click (No Regrets)

No, my biggest mistake wasn’t trying to become a rapper, although the idea did appeal to me for a few years in high school.

It’s not often that I talk about the time when my copywriting business nearly suffocated under the weight of my own stupidity. But Matt Fox got me to open up and dive into the details on an episode of his shiny new show, the Fail to Learn podcast.

I’m not going to give away the juicy details here. If you’re interested to hear about the attitude that nearly put me in the poorhouse, the advice I didn’t listen to — even though I tell other entrepreneurs not to do this all the time — and the steps I took to make my comeback, click over to Matt’s site and listen to Freelance Copywriter Painfully Discovers What Happens When You Neglect Your Own Marketing.

There are a couple other great interviews on the site you should check out, too.

As Da T.R.U.T.H said, there’s no need to learn things the hard way, in many cases. Learn from the mistakes of others…find out what warning signs you need to watch out for and how to avoid the pitfalls that may await you.

In the interview, I also talk about

  • a book that had a big impact on me in 2015
  • why my voicemail greeting offends a LOT of people (and why I’m happy about that)
  • the importance of proactive scheduling
  • a tool most freelancers don’t use enough that could help them close a lot more of the right kinds of deals
  • my worst habits
  • …and a whole lot more.

Another cool thing about the Fail to Learn site: Matt’s giving away How A Business Fails, a very helpful PDF report that outlines the 5 stages you go through when failing and give yourself a fighting chance to thrive. This is something you’re going to want to download and perform some self-analysis.

I had a lot of fun recording this interview and I hope you have a blast listening and learning.

One more thing: A couple years ago, I had a conversation with Matt about how to communicate more persuasively. He hands out some great gems in this interview.



Marketing Lessons from a Snowstorm

We had our first real snowstorm in the Chicagoland area yesterday.

While I was outside removing snow from the sidewalk and driveway this morning, I felt a little pride. Shoveling is not my favorite activity, but I think I did a pretty good job. I took care of it early so that the kids waiting on school buses wouldn’t have snow invading their shoes, making their Monday morning socks cold and wet. (Mondays are tough enough on school kids anyway, right?) The walkways are well-cleaned and salted to prevent slippery ice patches.

Yeah, I did a pretty good job. I don’t like to brag, but I might even be the best on the block.

Despite the high quality of my work historically, no one’s walked up to me and offered to pay me to shovel the sidewalk in front of his house. I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen, either.

The same is true for your business. No matter how great what you offer is, having a customer randomly approach you with cash in hand is not very likely. Your product or service may even be the “best on the block.

This is why marketing is so important. You have to tell people who you are, what you do and how choosing you will improve their lives. They need to know why they should do business with you.

A few other thoughts popped into my freezing cranium while I was taking care of my winter duties this morning:

  1. There’s never a shortage of people willing to pay to avoid pain. I can’t think of any surer way to position yourself to win in the marketing game. I mean, who likes to have people ringing their door bells early in the morning? But when he’s offering to relieve you of the necessity to face frostbitten toes, he’s a pretty welcome sight. Think of ways to solve problems or erase pain for your prospects, and you’re well on your way to success.
  2. You don’t have to be the best. You don’t have to be the only person who does what you do, either. How many industrious individuals are out there making money cleaning up snow for other people? Quite a few. There’s plenty of action to go around. Don’t let the fact that you’re not one of the “big dogs” stop you. Davids beat Goliaths every day. Even if they don’t wipe them out completely, lots of them get big enough pieces of the pie to make it worth their while. Never let competition scare you off from chasing your aspirations. Find a chink in their armor, and go for it.
  3. Finding a “hot” market is the best way to go. A snowstorm like this one produces all the ingredients of a hot market. There’s a large group of people facing an ugly problem. Almost no one wants to deal with this problem (who doesn’t hate shoveling snow or scraping ice?), but it has to be resolved. The few people willing and equipped to take on the task have an immense potential to profit. Do you provide an solution to a pain, problem or fear that your core audience feels acutely? Are there enough people in that group for you to generate the kind of revenue you are looking to earn? If so, you have a very solid foundation.

December is a funny time of year. Depending on your seasonality, this could be the busiest time of year or your slowest. But no matter what, targeted marketing gives you opportunities to gain ground as a business, even if it’s just planting seeds that will begin sprouting a few months down the line. Keep at it.


Six Business Lessons from the Book of Ecclesiastes

The holiday season is upon us!

Many of your business will make a large chunk of your annual revenue between now and the end of the year. And quite a few of us spend a large chunk of our annual income on gifts, decorations, food, and the like.

Paradoxically, we’re told that November and December are also months in which discontentment and depression skyrocket. Add in the rotten state of the economy (what a terrible time to be unemployed or broke), and there are plenty of people feeling gloomy these days.

I had a moment not a couple of weeks ago where I felt as if I knew exactly how King Solomon felt when he wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes. The invisible part of me exclaimed “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!

But rather than submitting to despair, I found encouragement and inspiration reflecting on this book of wisdom. Now I’d like to distill some of that inspiration to you, if you don’t mind. I’ve pulled out six lessons which I believe will really benefit you as you strive to finish 2011 strong.

This is not a meant to be an exposition of the Biblical text, nor is it intended to be religious instruction. You can drop in on my weekly Bible study class if you’re interested in that. This newsletter is designed to help you build your business, and that’s what we’re going to do today.

Lesson 1: Enjoy What You Do

“A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.” Ecclesiastes 2:24 New International Version

Who told you that work shouldn’t be enjoyable? The truth of the matter is that many Americans do not enjoy their jobs. Results released at the beginning of the year from a poll taken by the Conference Board indicate that only 45% of us are satisfied with our jobs. That’s the lowest level since they started taking the poll 22 years ago.

There are many factors that go into being satisfied with the work you do. There should be some level of enjoyment. Ideally, each of us would work in areas we’re gifted in, doing things we love to do.  Thomas Edison is quoted as saying “I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.

Satisfaction also implies that your work means something to you. Your inner drives and passions should match with your work. If you’ve been hanging around me for long, you know that I’m a quote nut, so here’s another for you: Malcolm Forbes said that “the biggest mistake people make in life is not trying to make a living at doing what they most enjoy.” You don’t have to go to work just to get a paycheck or earn a living. In fact, you’re really robbing yourself if you think about business that way. You have something special to offer the world. Something great. You just have to figure out what that is.

If you’re in a position you’re not crazy about, I bet you can still find something about it to enjoy or to be satisfied about. There’s nothing better than to enjoy your work while you work toward your dream, whether it be a job or an entrepreneurial opportunity.

One more note here. The New American Standard phrases Ecclesiastes 2:24 a little differently. It says that “there is nothing better than for a man to…tell himself that his labor is good.” You should only be doing work you can feel good about. What good is money if you have to sell your soul and beat down your conscience to earn it?

Lesson 2: Give It All You’ve Got

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” Ecclesiastes 9:10 New International Version

This is related to the first lesson. It’s worth saying, though.

To keep it simple, never give less than 100% in your work. Whether you run a Fortune 500 company or a neighborhood shop that’s been in the family for generations, work as smart and as hard as you can every day.

There are times when “coasting” seems like a good idea, You know the feeling. “I worked my butt off yesterday, so I think I’ll take it easy today.” This is especially easy to do when you aren’t finding satisfaction in what you’re doing.

You don’t need me to tell you that this mentality is appealing to all of us every once in a while. But giving into it is dangerous. Giving your best effort will bring success faster. You’ll experience breakthroughs that you’d have never come across just drifting along. And you’ll have a chance to gain mastery that comes with going all out. Anyone who wants to get to the top of their game and be recognized as an expert or superstar will have to put all their might behind their work.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t take vacations or enjoy your leisure time. You absolutely have to do that. But when you’re working, give it all you’ve got.

I’ve often noted that “success is never accidental.” If you insist on coasting or working half-heartedly, don’t hold your breath waiting on it. On the other hand, success can be coincidental. It tends to happen while you’re working hard.

Lesson 3: Live Up to Your Claims

“It is better to say nothing than to promise something that you don’t follow through on.” Ecclesiastes 5:5 New Living Translation

This lesson is simple enough, but so many businesses screw up at this point.

In a recent post on my blog, I put up a video of an old television commercial for Cash4Gold. I don’t have any issue with the concept of sending in jewelry in exchange for money. It’s a good idea: people need money, Cash4Gold and its counterparts are getting ultra-high rates for precious metals, so no one is really getting robbed, as far as I know.

The problem is how the commercial is set up. The claim is that you can end your “personal recession” by dealing with this company. Crazy, huh? A bit insulting, too. Do I look like an idiot? (Don’t answer that)

Jerry Della Famina says that “there is a great deal of advertising that is much better than the product. When that happens, all the good advertising will do is put you out of business faster.”

And Bill Bernbach: “Advertising doesn’t create a product advantage. It can only convey it.”

Many businesspeople and marketers feel the need to use hype and exaggerated claims to get attention for their product or service. Salespeople often overpromise to close the deal. This is no good. Your customers will find you out. And then, all your credibility is gone. The negative publicity you’ll receive often more than undoes the positive contributions gained by the dishonesty.

Don’t say you can do anything you can’t. Don’t promise to do anything that you won’t do.

If you say it, you better do it!

Having said that, never shy away from making big claims if you can back them up. Sometimes we are scared to make the bold statements about how great our product or service is. But if it’s true, tell the world. Otherwise you’re selling yourself short and robbing your potential customers of an opportunity to have a great experience.

Lesson 4: Pay Attention to the Seasons

“There is a time for everything.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 New Living Translation

In this passage, Solomon describes one of life’s great truths. There is a time for everything. Then he lists several of them: there’s a time to be born, to die, to plant and harvest, to cry and laugh.

So where am I going with this? Two things.

First, don’t let economic cycles destroy your confidence or courage. These cycles occur on a macro (nation- or even worldwide) level, as well as on a micro level (pertaining to you and your business personally). You will have to be smart to figure out how to thrive in both good times and bad, but don’t throw in the towel just because we’re in a recession. Don’t mentally give up, like so many of your colleagues and competitors already have. This is a season. It will pass sooner or later.

Second, I want to focus on Ecclesiastes 3:6, which says there is a “time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.”

Specifically, I’m thinking about clients and customers here. There is a time when your business needs to be on the look out for new and more customers. For some businesses and industries, that may be all the time. For others, clients stick around longer and the need to get new or more is much less urgent.

Every business has to balance their customer acquisition efforts with their retention efforts. Some customers you want to keep. But there are times that you’ll want to cast some of them away and get new ones to replace them. If you have “bad” customers or clients, ones that take up too much of your time, pay you too little, or who just don’t work well with you, it may be time to lose those individuals.

Lesson 5: Protect Your Good Name

“A good reputation is more valuable than the most expensive perfume.” Ecclesiastes 7:1 New Living Translation

Lesson 4 is an important part of Lesson 5.

You build your reputation by doing good work, providing value, treating people well, etc. You can ruin your reputation by doing crappy jobs, disrespecting people or making them feel ripped off. I don’t know that there’s any more effective way to demolish your chances at business success than to allow your good name to be ill spoken of.

There are a million ways to build a solid reputation. Here’s a start:

  • Always provide all the value you possibly can
  • Never leave a job done in a way that you wouldn’t want God to inspect
  • Treat your customers the way you would want to be treated. You know what? Do better than that. Treat them the way THEY want to be treated
  • Meet your deadlines
  • Be consistent
  • Don’t overpromise
  • Overdeliver as much as you can
  • Be the expert

Warren Buffett teaches that “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” I don’t think it takes 20 years to build a good name (at least not any more), but what he’s saying is true. You have to work hard to obtain good standing in your industry or locality. It is incredibly easy to undo all of that hard work. Be diligent in protecting what you’ve built.

Lesson 6: Three Is Better Than One

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12 New International Version

I know this has been a long newsletter, so I’ll make this point brief.

Develop intelligent strategic alliances. Partner with other businesses and business people who you can work with in a mutually beneficial manner.

A good example of this is the home inspector I used when I purchased my house. He had an alliance with a sales representative for a home security company. Whenever he would inspect a home for a customer, he’d present an offer from his buddy with the security system. Both knew that new home buyers are ripe for these kinds of offers. They worked together to compliment each other’s business.

Look for ways you can do the same thing.

I also advise people to get a strong personal network in place. Family, loved ones and friends are an important part of life. Who wants to be lonely? When we go through hard times, it’s nice to have people to comfort us. When things are going better than we could have imagined, we want people to celebrate with.

There’s an African proverb that says “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Think about it.

In Conclusion

The road we’re traveling on can get rough. You may feel like crying, like quitting. You may lament with Solomon that “all is vanity;” it feels that way sometimes. I beg you, take heart, refocus on the goals you’ve set before you, and keep pushing. Mediocrity is not what you want. So don’t let it happen to you.


A Man of Extremes

I found this short article by Chris Chase to be interesting.

As a former track star (in my mind), Carl Lewis was a big hero of mine. Now it looks like he’s running for Senator. No comment.

Here’s an excerpt of the article, the part that I’d like to stress.

Carl Lewis is a man of extremes. When he’s good at something, like sprinting or jumping, he’s the best in the world. When he’s not good at something…his awefulness is astonishing.”

I’ve made this point a few times. It’s better to be world class at a limited number of things and horrible at everything else than it is to be decent at everything but not great at anything.

What are you extremely good at? Live and work in such a way that your extreme strengths are so noticeable, so impressive that no one minds your weaknesses.

Being well-rounded sucks.

While you’re at it, you might as well look at the Chase’s whole article. There’s a cool throwback video of Carl Lewis setting a world record. Oh, and one of him singing (one of his aweful failures).


Two Fatal Flaws: Fix These or Fail

Real quick,

Let me mention 2 dispositions that will KILL your ability to succeed in any area of your life, from relationships to football (go Bears!) to business.

1. Lack of motion. If you’re not willing to get off your butt and do something, you will fail. Period. We humans are so stuck in our comfort zones. Gary Halbert told Joe Polish that he’s convinced that people will work harder to stay in their comfort zones more than they will to save their own lives. Although I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say that (although I’m a huge fan of  this kind of exaggeration), you get the idea.

There’s nothing to fear but fear itself. We certainly let that baseless fear hold us back, don’t we? Time to shake that off your shoulder pads. You have to take action. Gary Halbert also told Joe Polish that the difference between losers and winners is motion.

2. Unwillingness to learn. There’s plenty to learn in every part of life. Get the foundational knowledge you need to get where you want to go. Find a map, if you will. As you move forward, you have to be willing to learn even more.

Always be teachable. Learn from your experiences, both victories and failures. Learn from the experience of others.

If you won’t take action of if you refuse to be a continual learner, don’t count on achieving your loftiest goals, My money is on the other guy.



Improve Your Marketing by Playing Board Games

Maybe I’m crazy, but it seems like you can find marketing lessons everywhere. I’m not talking about learning from the hundreds of sales messages that harass our eyes and ears daily.

You can gain marketing insight in what seems like most unlikely places…

Last night, my lovely wife and I had a great time playing Scrabble. After having the crap beaten out of me for most of the game, I had an epiphany.  Scrabble can help you be a better marketer!

I won’t take up all your time going trough all the details, but observe some of the benefits that you get from playing this classic game:

  • You’re constantly being exposed to new words. And advanced vocabulary (one that you actually put to use) is a key to the game. It will also help you with writing copy and content for your sales letters, website, articles, etc.
  • Scrabble is all about finding connections. Your brain can do a lot of exercise during competitive matches. Marketing is all about connections, too. Gotta find a way to bring your customers and your product or service together.
  • You’ll improve your ability to analyze details. A critical eye can do wonders for your advertising efforts.

The key lesson that I took away from my epiphany is that what’s on the board is more important than the letters on your rack. If you spend all your time looking at your own letters, you’ll get trounced (a word I am now quite familiar with). No matter what you have in your possession, if you can’t get it on the board, it’s worthless. Contrariwise, even if your assortment of letters is really sorry, you might still be able to create a huge word based on what’s already been played.

This is crucial with marketing as well. It is essential to understand your market. Understanding your audience is the most important part of marketing. Probably the most important aspect of running a successful business.

Short version: don’t spend all your time and effort looking at you. Look at your target, find out what they want, and figure out how to use that intimate knowledge to elevate your marketing to a higher plane.

Oh, and I’m selling my Scrabble Marketing Training Manual for $49. Give me a ring if you’re interested.

(Yes, that’s a joke!)