Gateless by Sebastian Marshall & Kai Zau

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Gateless by Sebastian Marshall Summary

Book Review

Gateless by Sebastian Marshall and Kai Zau is sort of a self-development book. But unlike most books of that genre, this one is actually really interesting and very practical.

The authors came up with a simple yet brilliant framework to help you develop yourself professionally, financially, and socially. The framework is comprised of four elements, which they called currencies: Capacity. Network. Signal. Assets. And there is a final part called Meaning.

Capacity is about your general ability to get things done. And Capacity is comprised of four levers itself: The biochemical lever, which is about how what you consume affects your thoughts, emotions, and energy levels, and what you should do to optimize that aspect of your life.

The cognitive lever, which is about your philosophy and perspective. The authors advocate for deliberateness and initiative when it comes to these—most people wait until they’re in a really bad position before they start to rethink the way they see and think.

The Action lever. This is about the way you work and operate. You want to be highly strategic about what you spend your energy on and how you do it.

And the environmental lever, which is about creating an environment that facilitates your ability to be productive and make things happen.

Network, the second currency of the framework, is about building relationships with excellent people in order to excel yourself. It also delves into building character, which is the most important requirement for successful relationships. Again, the theme of deliberateness is strongly present and advocated.

Signal, the third currency, is about how you appear in the world and what you’re known for. You want to build credentials and artifacts that position your favorably in people’s minds. There are also some thoughts on how to deal with issues such as discrimination and stereotyping that some people might experience.

The fourth currency is Assets. This introduces different habits and strategies you should adopt to better manage your finances and assets.

The last part of the book is called Meaning, and it’s generally about finding and deciding on what you want to do in life.

Lots of examples, strategies, techniques, and mental models from all kinds of different fields were introduced throughout the entirety of the book to make it maximally practical.

There is a degree of redundancy in certain sections, but it’s really the type of book that you wish you read early on in your life.

Book Summary

The following summary of Gateless by Sebastian Marshall and Kai Zau is meant to be concise, reminding me of high-level concepts and not trying to recreate the whole book. This summary is basically a bunch of notes and lessons paraphrased or quoted directly from the book and does not contain my own thoughts. Some of the lessons are quotes by other people that the author chose to put in his book.

• The premise of Gateless is rather simple. It comes down to four points:

1. Traditionally, people inherited many of life’s resources — identities, skills, friends, credentials, livelihoods, and so on — from a mix of formal and informal institutions. Most of these are intangible but essential to having a thriving life.

Religious worship used to tie communities together, and it was where a lot of your friends and business contacts would come from. Alumni communities were closer-knit then, and the company you went to work for would provide more of your skill-development, pension fund, and so on. Within an industry, these standards were all clearly known and could be counted on.

Today, many of these institutions have entirely dissolved, many are in the process of dissolving, and the remaining ones are rapidly reinventing themselves to better fit into modern life.

You need to manage your own resources now. You can’t count on your educational institution, employer, or the social groups you happen to mix in with to take care of you.

2. After years of observations and hundreds of discussions with top performers, Kai and I converged on a universal framework for managing your resources. There are Four Currencies:

  1. Capacity: Your generalized ability to get results and make things happen. In this transitionary era where the lines between disciplines are blurred and opportunities are plentiful, everyone needs a generalized strategy for getting results.
  2. Network: The sum of your friendships, collaborations, and mutual regard with others. You absolutely do need to consciously ensure you have excellent people in your life. Being a helpful idealist isn’t enough, but the pseudo-sociopathic path certainly isn’t the answer either.
  3. Signal: How you appear to the outside world. We cover the most effective types of credentials in terms of opening doors and getting opportunities — the disparity between the various types is staggering. We also wade into some unpleasant territory about what to do if you’re judged or stereotyped — gender, age, nationality, etc.
  4. Assets: Your tangible resources (we primarily cover the financial ones). We cover the unintuitive and frequently-mistaken aspects of it — how to avoid the biggest, misery-causing blunders and strategies for spending money effectively so that you actually get what you want.

3. Deliberateness is a theme that recurs throughout the book. Most people leave all this stuff to chance, which is a terrible plan.

4. We also speak of ensuring that you’re consistently finding meaning in your life. In the end, we give some operational guidance if you already know what you want to do, and — just as importantly — ways to thrive and excel and keep going forward even if you don’t know what your plans are.

1. Capacity

• Modern theories about rational choice and information processing don’t adequately explain the weakness of the will. The older metaphors about controlling animals work beautifully.

The image that I came up with for myself, as I marveled at my weakness, was that I was a rider on the back of an elephant. I’m holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn’t have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I’m no match for him.

• Your consciousness is the same type of consciousness that led to our ancestors building this grand and glorious world we live in. It is a majestic power that operates inside your mind — and one that is often difficult to control.

• “Capacity” is your ability to consciously shape the effects you’re creating around you. You are creating effects, intentionally or not.

• To understand Capacity, imagine a large problem happening and different people you know saying, “I’ve got this under control.” There are people who, right away, you’d think: “Oh, phew, they’re on it. It’ll get fixed.” Those people have high Capacity; they can fix things.

There are other people who, once they’ve pledged to get it done, you’d think, “They said they’ve got it under control… hmm… there’s a 50/50 chance it’ll get done. I’ll have to pay attention.” Those people have a lower Capacity, but a decent one; they are unreliable in their results, but can sometimes produce. This is most of us.

And of course, there are people who, after promising to get it done, you’d feel no reassurance at all. You’d still be looking to get it fixed because you know they’re not going to get it done. Low Capacity.

• A lot of the things that go towards “Capacity” are things that wouldn’t normally get lumped together. A greater ability to function when stressed, fatigued, or in distress means higher Capacity. An ability to spot opportunities as they emerge — higher Capacity, again. Putting together novel connections to produce better results? That does it. So does being able to concentrate more. Being able to speak clearly helps; so does being able to understand the point another person is making. Being able to understand numbers well is often useful.

• In a world with less defined careers and less clear paths, the simple ability to get a job done is incredibly prized and valuable.

• A case could be made that this generalized effectiveness has become the most valuable trade. Specialist’s knowledge still reigns in medicine, law, and architecture, but even these very-established fields are seeing a greatly increased need for people who can learn quickly, adapt flexibly, and produce results; that is, people who can consciously make effects happen.

• Health, productivity, meaning, thinking, creating, consistency, training, thought processes, attitudes and affinities, beliefs, prejudices, skills, physical characteristics, mental characteristics, habits, knowledge, and so on — all of this goes into Capacity.

• Increasing your Capacity is similar — there’s an infinite many sets of levers to pull. There are tips and tricks for managing short term goals, best practices for dealing with in-the-moment emergencies, and long term training regimens for permanent gains. So, how do you improve your ability to affect results? We’ve divided these “levers” into four categories as a useful starting point — Biochemistry Cognition Action Environment

The Biochemical Lever

• Everything you consume affects your biochemistry to some extent; so do most environments and a great many of your own thoughts and actions.

• We separate out biochemistry as something you can adjust, but it’s worth noting that thinking (“cognition”) and your body’s biochemistry are not actually separate things. Your thoughts are transmitted through biochemistry, little electrochemical reactions rippling through your brain and body.

• No matter how smart, conscientious, brilliant, creative, ethical, friendly, cooperative, industrious you are in the “highest and best version of you” — if you go without food long enough, all your thoughts turn to food. It happens faster with water. Opiates — heroin included — can sometimes change a person’s perceptions and desires so incredibly much that they’re effectively different people.

• It’s rare for a person to accept too much personal responsibility. But it’s also naïve.

• There is something to mind over matter. We’ll talk about cognition next. But neglecting biochemistry is ignorant. A dehydrated athlete is literally incapable of the physical and mental performance of a hydrated athlete and is more likely to get injured.

• Many people neglect biochemical factors in their own life. If you’re dehydrated, you can’t run as well or as long or as fast. You can’t think as fast and you’re not as crisp mentally. Yet, many people don’t look at what’s going on with their own biochemistry if they find themselves unable to concentrate, if creativity isn’t coming, or if they feel unhappy.

• To hit the highest levels of performance, you need to manage biochemistry. If you’re dehydrated, performance suffers. If you have a bacterial infection, performance suffers. If you have shin splints from stress fractures in your lower legs, running will be much less pleasant, more painful, and more stressful. It will be harder to keep running. Mind over matter helps and it’s part of the puzzle, but not the whole part. You’d do well to stretch, strengthen, and hydrate.

• In the Industrial Age, there was not that much benefit to the average man to having a higher capacity to effect results. Of course, in theory there was a tremendous benefit. But if you had any “cog in the wheel” type job, extra levels of creativity or heightened concentration wouldn’t make a big difference.

• Nowadays, though, the vast majority of us benefit from a boost in thinking and deciding faster, being mentally tougher and more resilient, being able to withstand setbacks better. Professional sports players stand to gain millions of dollars by learning more about how their bodies and minds work. You stand to gain at least tens of thousands of dollars, perhaps much more, at a minimum.

• We’re leaving a time where higher mental and physical ability didn’t make a tremendous difference. Single-digit percentage points of concentration, creativity, or persistence can be worth immense amounts in breakthroughs.

• We call the sum total of your ability to affect results “Capacity,” and biochemistry plays a huge part of it. Schools don’t teach it — yet. We can look hopefully to a future where they will.

• Your body produces adenosine as a natural signal to you that you should start thinking about sleeping. Caffeine molecules are shaped similarly to adenosine and bind to the adenosine receptors without activating them. Thus, caffeine blocks out your body’s signal to get sleepy.

• Caffeine stop working so intensely over time because caffeine tolerance builds up rather quickly … that if you drink coffee regularly, pretty soon you start producing more adenosine in response; thus you need your caffeine dose just to get up to your normal level of brain activity, and you’re dopey if you don’t take it. That’s part of the process called homeostasis — the body tries to regulate itself.

Basically, simplifying, your body doesn’t want you to refrain from sleeping. So if you start having this adenosine-blocking caffeine thing regularly, your body stops having the novel dopamine/adrenalin reaction to caffeine (the situation doesn’t seem to be a big deal), and your body starts producing larger amounts of adenosine so that you get sleepy. Thus, you start needing caffeine to counteract the higher amounts of adenosine. That’s where the tolerance, addictiveness, and withdrawal — if you quit caffeine — come from.

• Dr. Narayanan writes of two ways to use caffeine — reinforcing usage and antagonistic usage. Again, caffeine works by suppressing adenosine (which normally makes you tired) and sets off a minor chain reaction of other hormones in the body.

• Let us examine the way that most people take caffeine — when they feel sleepy (I will call this antagonistic consumption.) This changes the attention level from the green line to the blue line (i.e, it smooths out the fluctuations.) This works great for many people (say, someone that has a data entry job) because maximum productivity is limited by external constraints. Other jobs where antagonistic consumption is essential include assembly line worker and truck driver, where mistakes can be disastrous but there is little to be gained from peak concentration.

• Alternatively, you can do “reinforcing caffeine usage” — which means taking caffeine when you’re most awake and alert already to maximize your alertness and try to make breakthroughs. Narayanan concludes, “But other jobs, often characterized by a low level of repetition, have a markedly different attention-productivity curve. Academic research, for instance, involves generating ideas that no one has come up with before. … [in these situations] reinforcing consumption helps maximize productivity. According to this strategy, the best time to drink coffee is when you are already very alert.”

• Over the long term, consistent caffeine consumption is as good for productivity as non-consumption, because of (you guessed it) tolerance. Is there a better strategy? Of course, there is. Periodic abstinence lets adenosine levels return to normal. With complete abstinence, it takes 5 days to reach adenosine normality; conservatively, and with imperfect abstinence, a week or 10 days may be required.

• Most people drink coffee, soda, tea, energy drinks, all sorts of stuff without knowing what it’s doing in their body. If they spent an hour or two learning what the stuff did, they could use it better and have better lives.

• Studying a little basic biology and chemistry is difficult at first; there is so much potential information. But over time, it becomes easier — and your life gets better.

• Most people follow the moral fashions of their day.

• It’s difficult for a person to abstain from doing harmful things when all of their neighbors smoke, eat sugary junk food, or get drunk regularly. Behaviors get copied; people follow the flock.

• The value of breaking free from your nation’s moral fashions in terms of consumption and biochemistry is enormous.

• If a drug came out that adversely affected over 1/3rd of people who took it, and the only payoff was a little bit of pleasant taste and a little sugar high, there is no chance it would be authorized to come onto the market. Yet, there are soft drinks. Meanwhile, if you mention that you were working with a performance-oriented doctor and he prescribed that you take ephedrine hydrochloride mixed with caffeine, that would seem like something “serious and scary” to someone… while they scarfed down a candy bar and drank a soda.

• You need to do research and learn how your body works, think critically, and not follow along with the masses. Soda is socially acceptable now, but it’s very likely that future generations will look back and see it as barbarically backwards.

Ephedrine hydrochloride is restricted right now; it’s very likely in the future that a great many people will carefully take it while working with their doctor for its performance benefits, metabolic boost, and other positive effects. Think critically. It’s how you gain advantages.

• Abstract and far-future benefits are generally bad at motivating people. “Good health 30 years from now” appeals to only the most long-term of thinkers, and even the most long-term of thinkers are still motivated by seeing progress right now.

• Map out what types of physical sensations and states you need in order to live and do the things that are important to you, and then recognize that you can, with practice, train and tune yourself for those states.

• Athletes have long trained to alter their biochemistry favorably for performance. Marathoners eat different meals, lift different weights, and do different training than boxers. But at any competitive level, both marathoners and boxers know they need to get their bodies’ chemistries as favorable to their endeavors as possible.

• Training and tuning your chemistry for athletes is nothing new, but it’s been much slower to transition to general life situations. Most work in medicine and biochemistry is built for people who are sick or deemed sick; healthy people wanting to be healthier, stronger, and more effective is relatively rare.

• An increase in your capacity to create effects makes a small gain or no gain when doing straightforward routine tasks, like working faster on assembly line or completing routine paperwork on an insurance policy. But if you’re on a path where you’re doing non-straightforward tasks to advance your life, then gradually building more Capacity produces huge gains, both economically and in turns of getting what you want in life.

• “Exercise” is too broad and bland of an admonition, it is a shame to prescribe it as a chore, and the far future benefits aren’t enough to entice most people. But the idea of being fiercely creative, being in a thriving peak state more often, having more endurance, being able to react faster and more decisively to crises — these are immeasurably valuable.

• When feeling lazy and indolent, “not getting heart disease later in life” might not get you off your butt — but knowing “if I go put my exercise reps in, I’m going to get smarter, more focused, sharper” — that might do it. Thus, the first prescription for you in regards to managing your biochemistry is to figure out the “what for.”

• Spend time thinking through what best serves you from the broad groupings of emotion, physical performance, and internal sensations and pressures.

Some workplaces, hobbies, and goals call for being more aggressive — and there is a mix of diet, physical training, structuring your environment, and possibly supplements and intentional and conservative pharmacology that will get you there.

Other workplaces, hobbies, and goals call for steady and enduring concentration — and there is, again, a mix of diet, training, environment, and possibly supplements and pharmacology that lead to having greater wells of concentration at your disposal.

• People who have RDS (Reward Deficiency Syndrome) are not able to feel pleasure as easily as others.… [They] are not as able as those who don’t have it to reap the pleasurable benefits of dopamine.

• People who have RDS are more apt to turn to both the good and the bad ways excessively, because moderate ways don’t produce as much pleasure as they do for other people.

• While someone more normal would feel good from putting in an honest day’s work and going home to enjoy time with family, the RDS’ed artist only gets satisfaction from creating masterful works — and the rest of the time, blunts the numbness and boredom with drugs, alcohol, over-eating, getting into arguments and fights and conflicts, and so on.

• This is why you need to study biochemistry and test with yourself. It is a long-term process. If you, dear reader, “can’t get no satisfaction” — well, it’s very good to know that in advance. In that case, you could start being aware of the origins of desperate cravings.

• How long does it take to discover how to fine-tune your unique mixes of genetics, chemistry, your body and its various advantages and damages you’ve sustained over the years? Well, here is the good and bad answer — A long time. It takes a long time. Perhaps a decade. Perhaps longer.

• It would, of course, be superior to have maxed out performance-optimal chemistry in two weeks if we could get it. But many interventions to tune one’s biochemistry take weeks or months, even years, to show the true depths of their effects.

• Most people have no idea of what their minds are capable of. The authors don’t know — but have seen rare glimpses through a mix of training, diet, meditation, and the occasional pharmacology.

• Thought is transmitted through the electricity and chemicals that make up our bodies; optimizing the electrochemical reactions taking place leads to a greater capacity for thought across the board.

• Different people store incoming nutrients as fat more readily than others — some people bank calories into fat more easily, some people burn it off and have more energy. A terribly unfair thing: with no difference in behavior, some people get chubbier and simultaneously have less energy.

• People that tend to have slow metabolisms tend to also eat more, and often eat more junk food, and thus build up “insulin resistance” — which also makes them store more fat! It’s a vicious cycle.

• The foods that make us fat also make us crave precisely the foods that make us fat. … The more fattening they are, and the more predisposed you are to get fat when you eat them, the greater the cravings. The cycle can be broken, although it requires fighting these cravings — just as alcoholics can quit drinking and smokers can quit smoking, but not without constant effort and vigilance.

• Most people don’t realize that biochemistry is one of the monarchs reigning the kingdom that is their body and mind. “I want cake” — who is this “I”? It is biochemical-you. Some deep animalistic part of you is transmitting its demand into your thoughts.

• If you’re in “I want cake” mode, some mix of the insulin levels you’re secreting, your muscles’ insulin sensitivity, your current feeling of your energy levels, your levels of glucose in your blood, how recently you’ve eaten, your brain’s reward center — all of this is working together to come up with King Biochemistry’s Commands.

• A cognitive bottleneck can only be overcome when the attention level exceeds a task-dependent, typically very high threshold. Clearly, then, antagonistic caffeine consumption results in worse-than-normal productivity, because it flattens the attention level curve and decreases the fraction of time spent at peak attention level. Instead, reinforcing consumption helps maximize productivity. According to this strategy, the best time to drink coffee is when you are already very alert.

• Committing to no coffee and no caffeine a week or two to reset tolerances sounds like hell to many people. You again have short-term vs. long-term considerations. Periodically cycling off caffeine gives you a more powerful tool to use for breakthroughs, but you’ll feel bad in the short term if you do so.

• One potential solution would be to research other stimulants that have low side effects and work well within your body. There are very many safe stimulants if taken with smart research beforehand and under a smart medical practitioner’s guidance.

• Fitness, stretching, hydration, everything you ingest, and much else about your environment affects your biochemistry. The temptation is almost always to do short term measures that are socially normal and morally fashionable, even if those measures are very stupid.

• Examine what states you want over the long term, start researching and testing ways to get there more often.

• At the end of the day, working on long-term biochemistry offers more advantages than just taking short-term biochemistry fixers. Interventions, training, diet, all the substances you ingest, pharmacology — the ones that give you higher baselines of performance permanently are usually superior to trying to get short term benefits from a quick hit of something. That might be appropriate from time to time, but even then, you’ll want to do research and figure out the most effective, cost-effective, and lowest-side-effect way to get your needs met.

• Committing crimes and eating huge amounts of milk chocolate are probably inferior ways of getting dopamine than fitness, healthy competitive endeavors, and an active love life with your partner. Crimes send you to jail and mass quantities of candy make you fat — but very few people think, “I’m feeling bored, listless, restless, and somewhat depressed — I wonder what’s going on in my biochemistry, and healthy ways to solve that instead of the stupid impulse I just had?”

The Cognitive Lever

• There’s no “gap” between biochemistry and cognition. This is a subtle, but important point. Your thoughts are transmitted through chemicals and electricity in your body; it would seem to be accurate to say your thoughts more-or-less are chemicals and electricity.

• There is no distinction between pulling a cognitive lever and pulling a biochemical lever.

• We break apart the pieces of the universe to study and understand them. But the universe knows no distinctions between “chemistry” and “thought.” These are human labels and boxes we draw to try to make sense of the world.

• Different mixes of chemicals in your body make you think differently. And thinking, like if you get quite afraid, changes your chemical mix.

• You’ll very likely operate most of your life without too much free-ranging active cognition. The periods of searching actively, intensively, desperately for answers to open questions are rare for most people. The default way is to find basic paths to walk, and then decisions become individual and tactical and not-too-leveraged.

• Most people do not begin actively seeking out answers to the deepest questions during good times. They tend not to dive deep into philosophy, challenge the doctrines they’ve been operating under, and look to re-architect their life when they’re thriving.

• Most people do not make dramatic life-altering shifts very often, and when they start searching for a dramatic life-altering shift, they’re usually in a bad place to be doing great thinking. Most deep investigations into a better life are only triggered by a built-up set of dissatisfaction and unhappiness, which is perhaps not the easiest or best place to make improvements from.

• To really pull cognitive levers — to really use your thinking to expand your ability to make an impact on the world — you must get into the reflective state. There have been many centuries when the ability to stop and think was such a rare and precious thing — you have the ability, and thus should seize it.

• Reflection is a luxury. It was tough then, but it’s easier now. Even still, it’s worth noting you have to carve out the time in your day to do it; it does not happen automatically.

• One of the most important and valuable mental states is something we call “Reflective Control” — a state where you’re reflective, but simultaneously not dissatisfied or beaten-down.

• “Reflective Control” can be seen as short of a control center of life. It’s when you’re fully activated in your conscious reasoning systems, and have largely turned off and tuned out the various autopilot patterns that become carved out in our lives.

• We’ve identified three characteristics of Reflective Control. It’s where a person is… firmly off autopilot, in a high-positive and high-willpower state, and is able to take action.

It happens automatically; conscious reasoned thinking is not activated. “Reflective Control” is being “off autopilot” — flying, so to speak, by really feeling the controls in your hands and observing the instruments yourself.

To be “reflective” is difficult enough, but being reflective while in solid control of your actions is something else. True Reflective Control lets you say, “I know I should exercise more… okay, what do I need to do to give myself the best chances of exercising more? … okay, let me get started with that.” And then, you start.

Hence, “able to take action” — there are many dreamlike reflective states, and these can be very informative about how to live. But it’s when you’re able to dream but then immediately go about building those dreams as you shift from thinking to action, this is where life is architected.

• It’s not always easy to become reflective. Like anything else, it improves with practice. The hardest is getting the first glimpses and tastes of it, if the ability has been buried for a while.

• One of the authors has a private theory that a lot of mid-life crises are actually people getting reflective for the first time in too long, and not liking what they see.

• It’s distasteful to us to think that, perhaps, there is a spectrum of how much in control we are, and sometimes it’s lower than others. If you’ve got biochemical deficiencies, you’re less in control. If you’re dehydrated, over-stressed, maximally fatigued, haven’t slept in 5 days straight — then you’re not going to be able to concentrate and will yourself to do difficult things.

• When the flashes of reflectiveness start coming, you need to start architecting and building and winning the control over. That means getting mental and biochemical things in order, as much as possible, searching and learning where they might be broken and improving them.

• It is not an exaggeration, it is not untrue, and it is not elitist to say that most people do not experience Reflective Control very often.

• If you are not regularly reaching Reflective Control, seek to reach it more often. Carve out space to be reflective and break free from autopilot, get yourself into places that naturally lead to more free thought and escape from routine, and work on your biochemistry so that you feel good, have energy, and can think clearly.

• “Short-term cognition” is about learning a series of techniques to think better. There is perhaps an infinite number of these. Some are specific to a particular domain, as the concept of using “personas” when doing design. Others are universal, techniques that benefit anyone trying to do anything.

• Certain inner states are known to strongly imperil goal attainment. For instance … desire-related thoughts (cravings) for unhealthy foodstuffs imperiled the goal of self-regulating eating behavior.

• A key factor in such self-regulatory failures is desire thoughts (cravings) for unhealthy foodstuffs that overwhelm people’s good intentions … The elaborated intrusion theory of desire … proposes that the intrusive effects of desire result from the interplay of automatic and deliberative processes. External cues trigger spontaneous thoughts about the target that are perceived as intrusive. These intrusive thoughts are the result of learned cue-target associations and place little demand on cognitive resources. However, when the intrusive thoughts elicit a strong affective reaction or provoke the experience of deprivation, then the thought will become elaborated, which requires controlled processes.

• Elaboration alters the prioritization of attentional and working memory processes, making it likely that additional internal/external cues are accessed and that further intrusive thoughts are generated. In other words, that first cue — “Maybe I want some cake” — isn’t what does the damage. It’s the repeated negotiation and fighting with yourself that takes over your thinking.

• The processing priority that is accorded to elaborating thoughts about the target explains why progress toward superordinate goals (e.g., the dieting goal) often is undermined during craving episodes.

• In a particular study, they had two groups each commit to cutting down on eating their favorite type of junk food. One group decided to cut down. The other group decided to cut down, and additionally were given the following instruction — ‘Please tell yourself: ‘And if I think about my chosen food, then I will ignore that thought!’ Please say this line to yourself three times and commit yourself to acting on it. When you have said the line to yourself three times, tick this box.’”

The group that was given the “if I think, then I will ignore it” had about double the reduction in eating junk food. They repeated the if/then style setup with tennis players. Half of the tennis players committed to playing well. The other half did that, but also sought out their specific worries or anxieties about performance, and created an “If (that negative thing), then I’ll (do positive thing)…” such as — “Participants were asked to choose those negative inner states from the list that occurred most frequently and had the most detrimental effect on their performance during tennis matches… [such as] negative cognitive (e.g., “not concentrating enough”), motivational (e.g., “feeling self-abandoned”), physiological (e.g., “feeling exhausted“), and emotional inner states (“feeling angry”).

Next, participants were asked to identify responses that were suitable for controlling the selected negative inner states [such as] “. . . then I will risk something and play courageously!”, “. . . then I will calm myself and tell myself ‘I will win!’” … By selecting negative inner states and coping behaviors on their own, participants could compose their if-then plans in an individualized manner … Altogether, each participant arrived at four individually chosen if-then plans that had to be written down on a sheet of paper.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, it worked. The players who constructed if/then statements to fight off common problems rated themselves as playing better, and were rated by objective tennis experts as playing better.

• Negative inner states can successfully be used as initiating conditions for goal-directed responses… The consequence is that goal-shielding responses can be triggered by internal cues and thereby increase performance in competition situations.

• Cognitive techniques like “if/then statements” can be installed, but only when you’re reflective enough to stop what you’re doing and analyze why things get off track.

• When you’re in your Reflective Control base, you might start asking yourself, “Why do I sometimes skip going to the gym?” You might answer, “Sometimes I feel kind of sore and have a little headache, and I talk myself out of going.”

You start thinking about how you can do better in that circumstance. You remember this “if/then statement” thing you learned. And you put down an if/then statement — “If I feel sore or have a headache, I’ll then take one Tylenol and go to the gym to at least do a warmup. I’m allowed to stop for the day after warming up if I still feel bad.”

How about if you rationalize and talk yourself out of going? You could if/then that, too, with something like, “If I start rationalizing myself out of going to the gym, then I’ll say to myself, ‘Shut up, I’m going to the gym’ — and I’ll immediately start heading towards the gym.” This will increase the frequency you go to the gym.

• A certain pragmatism is necessary when installing cognitive techniques. Short-term techniques like using if/then statements give significant boosts, but not magical always-works boosts. Instead, all of these factors work in harmony to each make you a bit more effective at doing what you find meaningful and important to do, and letting you consciously bring about effects in the world.

• The most useful short-term cognitive techniques are the ones that work broadly in many situations — ones to calm yourself down, or perhaps psyche yourself up, ones to evaluate situations clearly, ones to break through if struggling to get started working, ones to push your pace faster, ones to enjoy what you’re doing more, and so on.

• The goal with cognitive techniques is to periodically get to your base of Reflective Control and analyze what’s working or not out of what you want to be doing. Then, you note down areas where problems seem to be coming from. Then, you start searching.

Talking to elite performers is always a good idea, both in the specific field you’re trying to excel, and just elite performers in general. Searching the internet, and specifically looking for published research papers offers a wealth of techniques. This can be a bit unnatural to start; most people do not do this.

Once you start the process though, it becomes easy and effortless. You start getting hooks into the subject matter, and it becomes second nature. As you learn who is doing research on various types of techniques, you learn good sources to look for inspiration. As you start asking around about elite performance, you start building a better network of people that know these things and enjoy discussing them.

• Insulin plays many roles in the human body, but one critical role is to keep blood sugar under control. You’ll start secreting insulin (from the pancreas) even before you start eating — indeed, it’s stimulated just by thinking about eating.

• When dealing with precarious ground — people that have been in traumatic and dangerous situations — going back and getting exposure to the situation itself, in reality, isn’t a practical idea. But if you’ve got a negative association with cooking that’s holding your life back — something as simple as “I can’t cook” or “cooking isn’t for me” — that’s much easier to fix.

• It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that every time you think, your biochemistry shifts — sometimes mildly, with just a simple regular transmission of information — and other times radically, as is the case of someone running an event that was great or terrible in their mind.

• If you think of food, and especially sweets, you start producing insulin. Higher insulin has a chain reaction and affects the storage and metabolization of energy in your body.

• It’s harder to see that things “that we just sort of dislike” are often that way because of the cognition-biochemistry loop.

• Irrational dislikes don’t always link clearly to a particular event. There’s a lot of professions that start as “kind of sort of disreputable for civilized people like us” — to the great detriment of the United States, there’s been a broad trend that says upper-middle-class people shouldn’t get into skilled trades and become electricians or plumbers and the like.

A lot of kids from upper-middle-class families (and middle-class families looking upwards, and lower-middle-class families looking upwards, and…) that are working white-collar jobs stuck in cubicles that they hate, that are poorly paid and not adding so much value to the world — but they’re good with their hands and good at seeing connections between stuff, and hell, if the skilled trades aren’t an honorable and important profession, then what is?

• While these types of flaws will likely counteract themselves over decades and centuries, it behooves you to think through things faster. During reflective times, periodically investigate dislikes that might be irrational, and see if there might be something underpinning that.

• This is helpful in understanding why people will neglect to do behaviors obviously beneficial to them. If attempting to do something that you’ve got that kind of mental association with, you go through an intense series of biochemical reactions that come with its own attendant mix of oft-unpleasant emotions.

• Actively search out skills and skillsets you don’t have, and at least put a “mental asterisk” (*) by it. Instead of saying “I don’t care about the numbers” or “I’m not a numbers person — if we’ve got a great product and the customers are buying, the numbers will work anyways” — you shift that gradually to, “I haven’t been good at the numbers, but I see most successful entrepreneurs have some sense of them… let me put an asterisk by that in my thoughts, let me put a question mark by that.”

• When your thoughts are “Negotiating? Yuck” or “Numbers? Yuck” or “Cooking? Yuck” — you’ll almost automatically shut down new sources of information and opportunities to pick up those skills. Just searching out and putting that “mental asterisk” by the skill or activity opens you up to seeing opportunities in that space. That subtle mental shift from “I can’t, and it’s useless anyway” to “I’m not good at it, but maybe I could get better…” — it’s a huge gap.

• Unless you’ve found your true calling in life and have already immersed yourself in that, it’s very likely that you know absolutely nothing about some of the most impactful skills and abilities you could develop.

• You find these skills by seeking feedback from talented people in your field and in unrelated fields, by doing blue-sky type research (Google for random things like “engineers who built successful companies,” “how highly prolific artists do great work,” and so on), and reading biographies and case studies of successful people to extract what they did.

• You should regularly search for new skills and abilities to study and add to your life. If your life is going phenomenally well and you’re having an immense amount of development in your effectiveness, you should still do this at least annually, devoting a good chunk of time to identifying new skills and seeking out feedback.

• Search for new skills. Be very aware that your mind will try to shut you down from going into unfamiliar or unfashionable territory. Strike off into that territory anyways, identify things worth learning, and start learning them.

The Action Lever

• We must not fetishize all action; learning and being enriched by theoretical learning is good too. But then — once we wish to bring effects into the world, it is time to convert cognitive knowledge to conative, to go from theorist to practitioner, to enter the realm of action.

• Too many of us, having a fear of something bad in our life, immediately throw the entirety of our energies at it in a single sprint… without any plans, logistics, support, or structures to sustain a long march towards the goal.

• Many of the obstacles you’ll face can be easily overcome with a patient, attritional style of wearing down the obstacle and repeatedly taking small gains. In doing it this way, you gain morale, insight, small victories, and build up strategies and operations to sustain yourself.

• The mighty “DO IT NOW YOU CAN DO IT!!” might have value for animating a person, but how much better is it to measure that your capabilities are able to take on a task and succeed by overcoming every setback, adjusting as (inevitably) necessary, and letting the force of your will gradually overwhelm the various little roadblocks in the way.

• As you repeat patterns of action in your life, the thinking turns off.

• When you first reason and act your way through decisions, your brain is lit up with energy and attention, consciously thinking. But after you’ve repeatedly done something, you stop thinking through it. Thinking gradually turns off.

• Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often.

• The habit formation process is good because it means patterns can be built into your life, making a formerly very difficult task into an automatic one. It’s bad, because if you don’t pay attention, you’re living your life on autopilot far below what you’re capable of and not achieving the things you find meaningful.

• When we consider action, before we consider minor individual actions — getting yourself to make the right calls on a particular day — we need to first look at the longer-term campaigns of life. Choosing to learn a new skill, go into a particular line of work, and so on.

• The “thought going off” thing happens to every one of us, all of us. You will get into patterns and get onto autopilot. You can resist this to some extent, looking to hit a state of Reflective Control often, but even then it’s not undesirable for the thought to turn off.

Being able to show up at the gym and have the “thought turn off” for between 30 and 90 minutes and walking out feeling great, having had a fantastic workout — this is a good thing.

• When you’re in that off-autopilot, high-positive/high-will, action-capable state, you’ll want to very pragmatically assess your options. It’s during these times that you can break free from the worn footpaths of your life, and navigate to new ones.

• When you’re sitting there with your maps and guidebooks and research and you’re very positive and reflective and smart, you want to actually plan to make it onto worthwhile paths, but then to navigate them successfully. That means being deliberate about what you want, and being pragmatic as to what you need to get there.

• Don’t act before thinking. Take the time to come up with a game plan. Take at least a few hours to think through your plan. Those hours will be virtually nothing in relation to the amount of time that will be spent doing, and they will make the doing radically more effective.

• We’ve spoken of thinking in terms of how short-term thoughts affect your ability to do things, the feedback loop of thoughts turning into more thoughts, the feedback loop of thoughts affecting biochemistry, how biochemistry dictates thoughts to a great extent, how there is a rare valuable “Reflective Control” state of thinking and being that lets you make great changes, and how negative associations with a certain stimulus can shut you down from even considering certain worthwhile thoughts.

• Sometimes it might make sense to just “jump into action” — many people are far too risk-averse, and simultaneously they’re content to fritter away time on entertainment activities that they don’t even enjoy very much while being afraid of doing things that they might fail at.

• “TAKE ACTION NOW! YOU CAN DO IT! YOU WON’T DIE! REALLY, IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL AND YOU SHOULD TAKE SOME ACTION!” This is fine advice. It’s often correct advice. It’s worthwhile advice in many circumstances. For people with not-too-much going on, it is perhaps the most important advice and encouragement they could get.

But once you’re already on the path, really looking to excel and gain advantages and thrive and do things, once you’ve already got some good things going on, a base worth protecting and expanding — now it is time to set aside “You can do it” as an operating mantra, and integrate regular intense thinking/planning sessions into your life.

• You will be much more effective if you focus on diagnosis and design rather than jumping to solutions. It is a very common mistake for people to move directly from identifying a tough problem to a proposed solution in a nanosecond without spending the hours required to properly diagnose and design a solution. This typically yields bad decisions that don’t alleviate the problem. Diagnosing and designing are what spark strategic thinking.

• We should identify thinking and planning as a useful action to take at the start of any serious campaign. This is where you ask questions like:

  • What am I trying to achieve here?
  • Why am I trying to achieve it?
  • How will I know I’m successful?
  • When do I want this to be complete?
  • How much time do I estimate this will take?
  • What’s my budget in time and money for this?
  • What are the most likely pitfalls?
  • What key advantages can I build for myself early?
  • What scares me the most that would make me unlikely to finish?
  • How good am I at achieving and finishing things like this in the past?
  • When will I check-in and see how it’s going on waypoints?
  • Who can help me stay on track with this?
  • What other types of allies, friends, and support do I need?
  • If I hit major setbacks, what will I do?
  • Under what circumstances would I quit, abandon, or change this plan?
  • How much effort and time do I want to make under this plan before reviewing and considering changing it? And so on.

• Here is a question you need to answer honestly about yourself — “If you got a big new opportunity kickstarted in your life, do you have the operations, structure, and ability to sustain it, keep it going, and grow it?”

• Ray Dalio has billions of dollars in personal net worth, Bridgewater has expansive cashflows and profits and reserves, they’ve got amazing operational ability, and a veteran well-trained highly loyal and excellent staff. If Dalio or one of his top people discerns a new opportunity or new pattern in the world, they can charge after it rapidly after getting their plans together.

• Most young people — not all, but probably a majority — haven’t figured out their working cycles, don’t have great personal operations, don’t have much capital and finances to seize long-term developing opportunities, and don’t have a trusted cadre of staff, partners, and advisors to help them sustain great things they have going.

• If you have the ability to keep growing and expanding opportunities as you seize them in a sustainable way, then speed becomes paramount. If there’s no cost and no danger in taking new opportunities, speed of implementation basically determines the rate of your growth.

• If the advantages you’re gaining slot in nicely to your already well-running life and amplify and multiply and synergize with what you’re doing, you can seize those edges rapidly. But no-one is always in that position.

If you currently have somewhat shaky habits, have never yet thought about and consciously designed your workflows… and if you lack the physical resources to scale up opportunities as they come at you… then it really behooves you to slow down and make sure you can actually capture and benefit from the gains you’re trying to get.

• A rule: if you’ve recently been able to have great things happen (met wonderful new people, getting job offers or sales or clients in your career/company/contracting, have learned new things and started putting them into place, found new highly fulfilling hobbies, etc), but you find you keep abandoning plans that are working for no good reason, then you need to slow down and spend more time in planning, including figuring out how you are going to consolidate your gains.

If you’re in a place where you can rapidly add gains and scale-up without taxing your resources, then speed becomes the name of the game.

• When you know you’re going to succeed, motivation abounds. When you think you might not be able to accomplish a goal, then motivation suffers. Fail once, lose some confidence and motivation, try less, fail again, and repeat until there’s no hope left.

It’s easy to start sliding into this hole, you fall fast, and once you’re at the bottom, it seems as if there’s no light by which you start crawling back up to the surface…

• Success begets confidence and motivation, which begets more success, and pretty soon you’re fearless… And with a little planning and a lot of motivation, you can climb as high as you want.

• At this early stage, it’s worth getting a plan on paper that includes realistic targets. Many people recommend starting with small, very achievable targets and growing from there. You also need to analyze where things could go wrong and when you will re-assess.

• If you’ve not gotten great results in the past with the approach you’ve tried and you’re not sure why, it’s very worth researching what successful people do in that area and making plans to do that.

• If you’ve fallen off from a core thing you want to do in the past after getting success, now is the time to start planning if/then statements and mentally readying yourself for those things to happen.

• Picking specific “stake in the ground” dates is useful at this point — times when you’ll evaluate whether what you’re doing is working or not.

• If you’re looking to make a habit for more-or-less permanent, you want to set things up so that it can become one of those automatic just-happens-now-things that Charles Duhigg talks about in The Power of Habit — “This process [of habit building] in our brain is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if the particular loop is worth remembering for the future.

• You want your life to have pragmatic time slots that respect your biochemistry and cognition in what you want to do, and this is doubly true if you want to do something more-or-less forever.

• It’s worth being pragmatic about your biochemistry. Judgment is almost always compromised with fatigue, and people very rarely realize that their judgment is compromised. So if there’s anything you’re trying to do regularly, it’s a risky gamble to do after the 10th hour you’ve been awake, and once you’ve already done a lot of cognitively or physically demanding tasks in the time.

• The other type of key action-taking is large-scale once-off pushes to get gains — you can call them “campaigns” or “projects.”

• The world gets more project-heavy each and every year. Technologies and entire industries are being obsoleted rapidly. Established older industries have established processes and need less initiative, planning, dreaming up new projects, and getting them into place. But those industries are being disrupted now, and it’s largely project-driven.

• Most social circles (and project initiations) still get clustered in an unnecessarily close geographical area. This will change — oh, it will change. It has to change. The people that stick to linear close-by geography exclusively are going to get heavily disrupted. It’s already happening.

• You better get good at starting, managing, and concluding projects. It is a project-centered world we enter. Much of the very big opportunities available to you will be projects to complete.

• Marshall came up with a five-step model:

  1. Dream and Define
  2. Clarify, Assign, and Initiate
  3. Produce, Manage, and Police
  4. Finish
  5. Debrief and Consolidate

• If you’re doing something reasonably complex that’s going to take around 100 hours, spending 3-5 hours really planning it out well, or even longer, will almost always save you more time than it costs.

• It is a very common mistake for people to move directly from identifying a tough problem to a proposed solution in a nanosecond without spending the hours required to properly diagnose and design a solution.

• We all love action, but complex multi-week or multi-month projects almost always benefit from foresight, looking for solutions, clarifying exactly what you want to get out of it, and so on.

• When projects get near completing, pressure generally starts to mount, especially if it’s a project that hasn’t been done before. For whatever reason, a general weight starts to set in and “things start to go wrong” — in reality, “things starting to go wrong” are usually unforeseen problems or unplanned-for needed resources… but it feels like things regularly go wrong at the end. Hence the famous joking quote, “When you’re 90% done, you’re half-finished.”

• Perfectionism seems to be a defense mechanism that people use to protect themselves from a fear of rejection. When you release imperfect work into the world, people can judge you, which feels bad to most people, but specifically very, very, very bad to some people.

• It’s not clear exactly when a campaign moves into “finishing mode,” but at some point it’s time to start closing the loops, checking the boxes, getting the details cleaned up, compromising on some of the stuff that just ain’t happening in this version, and getting the thing out the door.

• Projects almost always fall short of the idealistic best-case scenario.

• A technique for finishing projects — an overwhelmingly useful, incredibly helpful, incredibly powerful technique, maybe the most powerful single technique in this book even though it sounds simple — is to bring in an expediter/finisher/ally with no preconceptions at the end of the project.

• All manner of athletes, executives, and increasingly high-performers in many fields have coaches and advisors. Someone that has enough domain experience to know what’s “good enough” and what isn’t, and with enough credibility and trust to say, “Shut up, you’re making a big deal about the wrong thing. Get it done.”

• Manage your biochemistry. Enough sleep, doing physical training, doing de-stressing activities, planning a vacation for immediately after the final push so you know you’ll be allowed to recover

• When it’s finishing time, it’s time to clear the decks. Postpone secondary projects, don’t open new threads, and give yourself enough space to push through and finish.

• Lastly, keep asking, “What’s the minimum standard we need to get this out the door? How do we get there as quickly as possible?” when the pressure is on. Study finishing, learn how to scope down, learn how to satisfice

• Completing a project shouldn’t be the end. Obviously, celebrate after winning. But then, don’t settle.

• Jeffrey Gitomer, an exceptional sales trainer, recommends regularly studying every successful sale, great account, and great client or customer you win over. He notes that salespeople brood and reflect over failures and think and ruminate when things are going badly, but that most of the biggest gains come from looking at what went well and ensuring that happens systematically. You want to explicitly debrief your successes.

• You want to extract noteworthy events and make the best practices repeatable. You’ll also want to consolidate the relevant gains in terms of network, signal, and assets.

• Explicitly make time not-so-long after a project concludes to harvest all the gains. Debrief it with smart people; they’re almost always happy to do so. Get feedback on how you can leverage the newfound success, and do it.

• What is “character”? It seems to be a feedback loop between a person’s long-term cognition, habits, and decision-making — people come to see themselves as “the kind of person who is reliable” by repeatedly being reliable, and suddenly decisions fall into place to always do the reliable thing.

• You can explicitly work on your character, and create projects to improve your character.

• Training in character traits means repeatedly making decisions and taking actions in support of that trait. Eventually, you don’t have to push yourself anymore.

• Occasionally think through what you’d benefit from installing, discuss it with others, and implement a training regime as a project. Pick a character virtue and explicitly focus on improving for a period of time.

• Character is expensive to train but then frees you from a thousand difficult decisions at weaker moments.

• There is one final piece of the puzzle of action: actually getting yourself to do, in the moment, what you want to do consciously.

• Buddhism does not have any sort of monopoly on this, but mindfulness meditation is one of the oldest, most known, most proven ways to get a better understanding and mastery of your thoughts and impulses.

• In traditional mindfulness meditation, you simply sit down, pick a single thing to focus on, and try to do nothing except focus on that thing. Focusing on your breath, for instance, is a common one.

• The best way to let go is to notice the thoughts as they come up and to acknowledge them. “Oh, yes, I’m doing that one again” — and without judging them, return to the clear experience of the present moment.

Just be patient. We might have to do it ten thousand times, but the value for our practice is the constant return of the mind into the present, over and over, and over.

Don’t look for some wonderful place where the thoughts won’t occur. Since the thoughts are basically not real, at some point get dimmer and less imperative and we will find there are periods where they tend to fade out because we see they are not real. They will just wither away in time without our quite knowing how it happened.

• Thoughts arise; sometimes they’re desirable, sometimes they’re unpleasant, but in the end, they’re just thoughts.

• Fatigue, injury, fear — or anything where you’re “punched in the face” — means potentially a loss of reflectiveness, and maybe even a loss of an ability to think clearly at all.

The Environment Lever

• Some of the largest short-term payoffs will come from better organizing your environment. This means reducing costs to getting things done, setting up positive multipliers and inspiration, setting things up so that good habits and best practices happen automatically, and otherwise reducing friction to doing what you want.

• Yes, being in a cloud of secondhand cigarette smoking with rock music blaring is not the most conducive environment to play Chess — but you can’t control what tournaments will be like, so you better be ready for when life throws curveballs at you.

Long-term biochemistry, long-term cognition, and excellent patterns of action come with you as you go through your life; environments, less so.

• Distractions sap cognition.

• In order to improve your environment, you need to recognize what stimuli are dangerous triggers for you.

• We all spend so much time on computers these days that it’s absolutely necessary to master the computer — so it doesn’t master you.

• Periodically analyze what distractions are setting you back, and set to fencing them in, or eliminating them temporarily or permanently.

• It’s worth being strategic picking where you live as well as temporary bases on vacations and other travels. If you can situate a healthy cheap restaurant and your gym on your normal daily walking path, the odds of eating healthy and doing fitness go up tremendously.

• If you have some activity you want to regularly do, consider “chaining” it into a routine, marked by physical locations where that activity always happens.

• There is an advantage to having a nearly infinite surplus of whatever basics you need. If you ever miss a gym session because your gym clothes are dirty, if you ever eat a poor quality meal at a restaurant because you were out of decent food at home, if you let your schedule get interrupted by demands to get new printer ink or printer paper or dealing with mundane concerns — this might be a sign to build a larger surplus of what you need.

• No matter how determined you are, it’s hard not to be influenced by the people around you. It’s not so much that you do whatever a city expects of you, but that you get discouraged when no one around you cares about the same things you do.

• Normative behavior means that if you’re around a place where most of the people don’t like to work too hard, don’t like to work too fast, and try to get maximum profit while putting in minimum effort — somewhere like Morocco, for instance — it makes you feel like that’s normal and acceptable behavior.

• The places you go and the people you associate with have dramatic effects on your behavior. It’ll sink into every ounce of your being, in many ways both overt and subtle. Choose this especially carefully.

• Start analyzing how you can improve your environment by removing costs, drains, and constraints — but simultaneously train your biochemistry, cognition, and patterns of action in order to not need a perfect environment to produce.

• Capacity — “the ability to consciously affect outcomes in the world.” This is, even just in the abstract, one of the most desirable skill sets, and one of the most highly paid ones.

• Your general Capacity determines how well you’ll be paid.

• Higher Capacity means being better at just about everything — not just work. It makes you more able to take up a fitness regime, take up a hobby, be a useful and effective figure in your community, deal with and get results in stressful situations, champion worthy causes, and perhaps even have more fun in the process.

• Capacity in the abstract is hard to build because there’s no set curriculum.

• There’s many general “best practices” and useful skills and tactics to be learned, but there’s no general curriculum on how to be able to affect results. It depends tremendously on your personal genetics, background, the skills you already have, your preferences for workflows, the types of things you’re doing, and so on.

• People who don’t believe they can evolve feel immense pressure to always succeed and not fail. It turns out to be a recipe for growing a lot less

• Children with a fixed mindset want to make sure they succeed. Smart people should always succeed. But for children with a growth mindset, success is about stretching themselves. It’s about becoming smarter.

• No one likes failure, especially failure for events we’ve trained for and worked hard to succeed at. But the ability to convert failure into motivation to grow more becomes an incredibly useful technique, something to focus on during dark times when feeling lost and afraid. Growth is possible, and more work in developing will pay off.

• Many people don’t like ambiguity and confusion and work. They like things wrapped in a neat little package that tells them precisely what to do. But, all our bodies respond slightly differently. The only way to know is to try different ways of living and working, and see what works for you.

• Measuring helps. Being precise helps. But even doing things informally and mentally checking in with how you feel can be huge. Playing with different technologies and different environments to see how that interacts with your workflow and production is obviously always smart. So is learning different disciplines and hobbies — meditating, trying different types of fitness and sports, trying different dietary modifications, reading about different systems of ethics and decision-making, and so on — and then trying them out.

• You must experiment and test different ways of living and working to find what works best for you. There are best practices and universal principles, but even these will differ in how much they affect you.

• It may take multiple attempts to establish something important in your life. If you think it’s likely worth it, keep at it. Results will come.

• There are skills and methodologies in the world that you do not know about yet, that will set you free the way the language broke through to Hellen Keller.

2. Network

• Don’t leave your network to chance.

• Networks are necessary for monumental tasks.

• We hurt when things are taken away from us. But the fact is, your life — right now — could have a lot of brilliant, exceptional, fantastic people, with great character, who can be greatly helpful to what you’re doing. And if you haven’t taken the time to go get those people into your life, your life — this very day, this very moment — is worse for it.

• The cost of not seeking out great people in your life is incredibly high.

• There are some basic prerequisites to being successful at expanding your network, but they all boil down to this: it’s a lot easier to meet people if you’re both likable and useful.

• You can automatically be likable and useful by building elements into your character of being magnanimous, kind, cheerful, forgiving, optimistic, and pragmatic.

• To really thrive in building fantastic relationships and an excellent, reliable network — you will have to develop your character. The following are a selection of mindsets and virtues worth developing:

  • Radical Personal Responsibility
  • Be Service Minded Without Being Servile
  • A Celebratory and Expansive Attitude
  • Sincerity
  • Preparation

Radical Personal Responsibility

• The victim sees himself or herself as acted on by outside forces. They say things like: “He didn’t give me the job. She’s unfair. I’m depressed because the weather is terrible. My boss is an idiot. I can’t put in good work when management doesn’t support me. I’m getting bad grades because the professor hates me.” And so on.

There are two problems with this way of thinking. The first is that it disempowers a person from being able to change anything. The second is that it’s incredibly unpleasant and unenjoyable for other people to listen to.

• Radical personal responsibility is a near-delusional worldview in which everything — from the idiot boss, to the hateful professor, and even the depressing weather — is your responsibility.

• Asserting personal responsibility to a radical extent creates options, but more importantly, it’s almost always appreciated.

• Most people complain to feel better about themselves and accept their lot; you don’t.

• Almost always in the first conversations with people you meet, you’ll be asked what you’re working on. In second conversations, if the person likes you, you’ll be asked what your current challenges are. This is where help is about to arrive — but what will you say?

• If you assert responsibility and refused to accept badness from a victim’s perspective, you’ll be a magnet for help.

Be Service Minded Without Being Servile

• A genuine desire to help other people goes a very long way. Being “service-minded” means thinking and scanning for ways you can help people, being genuinely interested in their deep concerns, being willing to go out of your way to help. This is key.

You likely have already heard it before. Most smart advice on networking says something like “give value first” — but the key here is, you must avoid being “servile.”

• Humans are pattern-matching animals. Once they match you to a pattern, they fall into a similar pattern of how they act in response to you.

• A very bad and common mistake made by people who are young or new to sales or entrepreneurship is coming across servile instead of helpful.

• You want to be service-oriented and genuinely aim to be helpful. But, to give you a mental picture — nothing in your tone or demeanor should suggest you’re on your knees holding up whatever service you’re doing as a gift that you’re begging to be accepted.

• There are a few good places service can come from that aren’t servile. One is from specialization and expertise in a particular area. If you have knowledge, skills, or experience that others consider valuable, you can present that as a trusted advisor to whoever you’re speaking with. Certainly, a business mogul’s attorney is lower in the hierarchy than the mogul, and yet the attorney speaks with knowledge and expert status about the law.

• Alan Weiss is one of the top-earning solo consultants in the United States, and he constantly emphasizes to young consultants that “peer status” with the client is critical. That means engaging who you’re speaking with as more-or-less an equal. It’s especially important when meeting with people whose time is especially in-demand.

• Note this because it’s important: if you act as a peer to people who are further along than you are, you will with 100% certainty alienate some people. Some people don’t want to be treated as a peer by someone they see as less established or more junior than them. The tradeoff is that you have the chance to become genuine friends with people when you do this, without the pretenses and hierarchy and nonsense that dominates most people’s interactions once they’ve reached a high level. It’s a tradeoff to make carefully, but worth considering.

• At times, taking a clear subordinate role is the way. If you do this, think in your mind of being a “most trusted lieutenant” or something along those lines. Someone’s right-hand-man is not someone who bows and scrapes; they act with dignity.

A Celebratory and Expansive Attitude

• The act of celebrating wins is a powerful, necessary, and yet, sometimes forgotten part of the journey. If someone helps us make the meal, they need to be invited to the feast. Take the time to share your victories with friends and collaborators — be generous with gratitude and respect when the wins happen.

• Follow-up news of recent victories with excitement and details about the next goal. This lets other people volunteer ways to continue helping, setting the stage for a virtuous cycle of growth and progress.

• The person who graciously shares credit and who always makes the people around him or her look good — that person is never short of friends or opportunities. The person who projects an exciting trajectory and an aura of inevitable success — that’s the kind of person other excellent, high-achieving people want to know and spend time around.

These things naturally make you more positive, optimistic, and almost certainly help you become more well-liked by others. Become celebratory and expansive in both your mind and conversation.


• Sincerity is rare and precious. Most people are, intentionally or not, insincere. They mix in with lots of people they “feel just okay” about, gossip about them behind their backs, complain, and then act nice to their face.

• A person with a love of gossip has something defective about them and can’t be trusted.

• The only way to be truly sincere is to work very hard and spend a lot of time making it so you’re around people who you’ll always benefit from being sincere with.

• A rule you could consider adopting — never ask for favors from someone you wouldn’t be happy to help equally as much. Again, it’s difficult. You might have opportunities to take a job or financing or something valuable from someone you genuinely dislike or don’t respect. Try not to.

• Your goal must be to associate with people for whom you have genuinely high regard, who know it, who trust you, who you trust, and to have such goodwill that if things do get into a situation of friction or conflict, you can talk about it openly without risk.


• Do not waste people’s time. This is a cardinal rule. It is especially important when meeting people who are busy, and the most talented and exceptional and best-intentioned people are very often busy.

• Before you meet anyone, take time to research them. Know the basics of what they stand for and what they’ve done. If it’s potentially an important meeting, call mutual acquaintances and ask about the person. Get to know them.

• If you’re in sales, freelancing, contracting, or looking for a job, you should learn the recent innovations at the company you’re talking to and get a rough idea of their culture and their numbers. If you’re working with people in academia, journalists, or others with public writing, read a few pieces — try to find some best-ofs and recent work.

• The less you waste of other people’s time, the more others become open to helping you.

• How much character improvement is enough? How do you know if it’s working? These are all good questions. Here is a topic that throws it into stark understanding — Introductions.

Introductions are one of the fastest and most consistent ways to building an excellent network. Excellent people tend to mix with other excellent people. If you meet and get along with a single person who is fantastic, the odds are they could introduce you to a lot of other people who could be excellent friends, colleagues, clients, and generally important people in your life.

But it’s not equally easy to get introductions for people. There are three basic thresholds of whether someone will introduce you or not, and it all comes down to a subtle assessment of character:

  1. People don’t want to introduce you: In this first tier, the person you’re meeting doesn’t like and trust you enough to make introductions. After all, every introduction is an implied “vouch” for you — if someone introduces you and you’re inconsiderate or the person you meet has a bad time, that reflects really poorly on the introducer. In this instance, you’ll see that it’s usually how the other person perceives your character and what you’re doing that potentially holds you back.
  2. People are willing to introduce you if there’s a good reason: This crosses an important threshold — once here, people will introduce you if there’s a particularly good reason. It means you come across like a decent person, trustworthy, considerate, with basic social graces, etc. But even here, your network grows slowly. Most people are in this place. They’ll get introduced if there’s a good reason to introduce people — and these are helpful — but the next threshold is very good to cross.
  3. People are excited to introduce you as much as they can: Once you cross this threshold, the amount of “work” you’ll have to do to meet new people when expanding your network starts to fall off dramatically. Once here, people will introduce more people to you than you can handle, and you’ll see exponential growth in the number of people you know. Why do people do this? Because you consistently — always — make them look good.

• If you’re always prepared, have smart things to say, and just come across as a standup guy or gal, it becomes easy to get introductions. And this is where working on your character (plus a few other considerations we’ll cover) makes all the difference.

• Types of people you need in your life:

  • Nearby Influences
  • Friends
  • Project Partners
  • Mentors
  • Exemplars
  • Connectors
  • Clients, Customers, Employers

Nearby Influences

• It’s practically unavoidable. The more time we spend with someone, the more we subtly become more similar to them.

• The top five people you spend time with have a disproportionate impact on your life. Note — these aren’t your five closest friends or your five most important contacts. These are just the people you happen to be spending a lot of time around — at the moment.

• If you admire someone’s character, spending more time with them means that their character will eventually rub off on you. If you genuinely dislike someone’s character, well, their character can still rub off on you.

• Periodically figure out who you would like to spend more time with, and look to find opportunities to spend that time. Simultaneously, if there are people that are making you a worse person by being around them, it is crucial to reduce the amount of time you spend with them.


• The key to turning “friends” who are actually just friendly acquaintances into actual, real, sincere friends — is mutual time and shared experiences.

• The person who isn’t deliberate in friendship winds up with fewer loyal friends and, overall, has a less enjoyable life.

• When you meet someone, ask yourself privately and in your own head and heart, “Do I want to be friends with this person?” If so, go out of your way to create possibilities for mutual time, shared experiences, and even shared burdens — “eating salt together” as Aristotle would say.

Project Partners

• It’s difficult to get things off the ground on your own. Having someone to partner with on a creative project, business idea, event, or other civic/community activity greatly increases the success rate.

• If you’re doing anything non-traditional in terms of career — any sort of freelancing, consulting, contracting, entrepreneurship, or creative endeavor — it’s incredibly valuable to establish a vetted set of people you can do projects with.

• The key here is to start small. When you’re young and inexperienced in business, everyone seems great. Most people are not, in fact, great people to work with. Only a small fraction of people are actually good at follow-through when not directed or pushed, which is why most people join other organizations and don’t self-generate their own projects, don’t self-study, and take minimum initiative to innovate within their organizations. That’s not a negative judgment; it’s a fact.

• Of that fraction of people who do naturally pioneer, innovate, invent, and take action — not all of them will be a good compliment to you or fit with your personality, goals, and working style. That’s why it’s key to start with a small project. You want to do something of a rather small scope, ideally something that can be finished quite quickly, with not so much money or importance tied up in it.

• To find good project partners and collaborators, look for someone who has a good history of finishing things. Look for a track record of good performance — in other words, investigate their Signal closely. Look for Artifacts of successful past performance, and third-party endorsements and references.


• A mentor is someone who is further ahead of you in an area you aspire to improve in and who takes an interest in helping you.

• Successful people regularly get asked for advice. However, very few people actually put aside their own preconceptions to listen to the advice. Even fewer people listen to the advice and execute on it promptly.

The number of people who listen, execute, and then follow-up with a gracious thank-you? It’s incredibly rare. And because of this, it’s actually relatively straightforward to meet mentors. Reach out or otherwise meet people who you admire. Ask for a small, relevant piece of advice. Then execute on it immediately, follow up, and say thank-you.

• Similar to a budding friendship, look for more opportunities to spend time together and do activities together. Establishing mentorship takes a while and is hit-or-miss, but is not fundamentally difficult.


• In your own life, you want to seek out and get involved with people who are exemplars of virtues you want to develop more of in yourself. A love of learning, loyalty, critical thinking, excellent communication skills, innovation, courage — these are all qualities that are absorbed by being around people that have them.

• Before you fill in any other aspects of your Network, look for people who are Exemplars of virtues you want in your own life. A good place to start is writing down who you want to be and the key parts of yourself that you’ll need to evolve to be that person, and then seeking out those who embody those characteristics.


• Skilled connectors usually have a mix of hyper-humanitarian idealism mixed with a sheer strict pragmatism.

• To get in with a connector, you want to mix the group ethos of being giving and socially savvy along with being genuinely useful.

• “Super connectors” are people that know dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of people well. They make lots of introductions and help many people. They’re incredibly useful to get in with, and once you meet a connector that you really admire, you should go out of your way to stay in touch and build a relationship with them.

• Most connectors naturally have a very strong humanitarian/helpful ethos. When you have a hyper-public reputation and strong social ties, you basically have to be a good person to maintain that. You’ll see that the vast majority of hyper-connected people are good people, and strongly weight being courteous, helpful, and humanitarian in turn.

• Paradoxically, connectors also have a firm mechanical understanding of human relationships. After someone like a Sorock or Roderick respects you, the next thing to remember is that they’ll be mentally classifying you by what you can do for other people. A journalist, a venture capitalist, or someone with a specific domain expertise all have obvious connotations and are easy to remember, but if your points are more subtle it’s important to point them out and demonstrate them.

• Hyper-connected people are busy. So be prepared and keep it to the point, while being a good person at the same time.

Clients, Customers, Employers

• If you’re traditionally employed, you want to be making relationships with other hiring managers, owners, and executives in your industry or that use your specialty regularly.

• Good work environments can turn into bad work environments with a single bad manager or external event. Sometimes jobs stagnate, or perhaps you master every skill you’re using there. Already knowing many people with a demand for your skills means you’re not going to be trapped.

• If you’re in an independent role where it wouldn’t be seen as a conflict of interest, it’s very useful to go in and offer to do something small for a company. Many people take lunch meetings, but offering to sit on a sales meeting, operations meeting, design session, or anything else — if you’re respected enough — is a great way to win trust and regard. In a session like that, mostly just listen and ask questions. Make any valuable suggestions or feedback that you can.

• You can do small projects with people in your industry/specialty but off of work time. If you meet someone at the local Chamber of Commerce, if your kids go to the same school, if you’re part of the same church — offer to do something jointly in one of those places,

• Tools and strategies:

  • Choose a Lens
  • Follow Up Systematically
  • Intimacy, Relevancy, Character
  • Online Surface Area
  • Going to Events
  • A Genesis Contact

Choose a Lens

• One of the biggest things that hold back young ambitious people is that they have nowhere to focus their efforts.

• A Lens is a core activity that you can filter everything you learn and do through.

• Your Lens doesn’t have to be directly related to your career — it could be a creative project while you’re just holding down a job to pay the bills. Again, it would give you a primary way to look for lessons and give you something to think about, and it would give you a reason to reach out to people.

• You can change your Lens; you’re not married to it. You might make your primary Lens being an officer at a club on campus or writing a nonfiction book for a year, and after that’s finished, make it something career-oriented or entrepreneurial.

• It is recommended that you present just one at a time, two at most. If you have only one thing you’re doing, it becomes easy to ask for and get introductions and establish a clear Signal to people you meet. If you have more than two, people are less likely to help since you’ve given them too much to think through, and the default is to just refrain from the thinking.

Follow Up Systematically

• Here is a system that Derek Sivers uses that he learned from a successful publicist: The publicist advises that you secretly give everyone in your phonebook an A, B, C, D, or F. That’s your A-list (call every 3 weeks), B-list, (every 5 weeks), C-list (every few months), D-list (twice a year), and Friends.

Sivers goes on to describe how there are many people he would have lost contact with had they not been diligent in following up, and recommends generally reaching out unselfishly and saying hello periodically.

• Human memory only goes so far, and using some kind of organization and deliberateness actually makes you more courteous and more sociable — it ensures you’re reaching out regularly and not losing touch with people that you’ve found meaningful in your life.

Intimacy, Relevancy, Character

• To figure out how well your network fits with what you want to do in the world, evaluate along three lines:

  1. How relevant each person in your network is to your goals and life.
  2. How intimate you are with each person.
  3. The character of each person.

• A “higher quality network” is one where you’re more intimate with people of excellent character who are relevant to what you want to do in the world. The model that Derek Sivers learned from the publicist does this implicitly — rating people A, B, C, D based on how often you ought to be in touch.

But for greater insight, you can break it down more precisely.

To start, write down on a piece of paper the 50 to 150 people you know most well. Then, write down next to their name how “Relevant” each person is to what your current core goals and purposes are on a scale of 1 to 50. Be sparing putting someone down as “Relevancy 5” — that might be only a few people who are real trailblazers and key people in the field you’re in.

• There’s a way to make ranking your contacts( in terms of intimacy) more objective. Try this:

  1. The person only vaguely knows who you are, and might or might not remember you.
  2. The person knows who you are, but won’t always take your phone call.
  3. The person will take your call every single time you call, and call you back if you miss each other.
  4. The person will actively help you if you ask, even if there’s nothing explicitly in it for them.
  5. They’ll “tell you where the bodies are buried.”

This maps from almost strangers at 1 to acquaintances at 2, then starting to become friends at 3 (they respect you enough to consistently take your calls), to friends at 4, and really close confidants and intimate friends at 5. It’s a pretty objective scale.

If you write down numbers 1 to 5 on Relevancy and Intimacy, you start to get a really good picture of your network. Ideally, you want to be close with lots of people who are very relevant to your life.

• If you take nothing else, remember this: Character is more important than anything else. The attitudes, habits, world views, politics, personality — even the way you speak and language you choose — this is hugely affected by the people you have in your life.

• You should be constantly looking to become closer only with people of excellent character.

• You’ll almost certainly have opportunities in your life to advance yourself by mixing in with someone of slightly bad character. Maybe they’re a little sloppy, or a little dishonest, or whatever else. Avoid it.

• Navigating relationships with people who are highly relevant to your life or are gatekeepers or stakeholders — but who have poor character — is an important skill. But be very careful not to nurture and develop those relationships with people with poor character. You become like the people you’re around.

Online Surface Area

• When you know what you want — make sure you’re passively broadcasting it on all your online profiles.

• Most websites give you the opportunity to do a short description of yourself or an “About” section, and most people waste it by listing: “I’ve been an HR professional for X years, blah blah blah.”

Much better to write, “I work as an HR professional, and lately I’ve been training in how to ensure a higher volume of highly qualified applicants come into the company automatically. If you’re in HR, a business owner, or have experience on the topic, message me and let’s compare notes.”

• It can be good to add to your email signature something like:

“Currently training in Project Management: Coordinating multiple people, resources, timetables, technology, communications, un-sticking things, setting requirements, managing inputs/outputs/deliverables, etc. If you’re performing at a high level in one of these areas, message me and let’s talk. If you know someone who is, forward this to them and I’ll be grateful.”

Going to Events

• There’s not much to be said about events that hasn’t been said elsewhere ad infinitum. Here are a few brief points if you’ve only rarely (or never) sought out events:

  1. It’s a skill like any other skill. If you haven’t gone to events before, you start just by looking up online or asking around what’s happening and showing up. You can largely figure the rest out. There’s usually no downside; if you don’t connect with anyone there, nothing is lost; if you make excellent friends, it’s worthwhile.
  2. Go with a friend or acquaintance of yours if you don’t want to go alone.
  3. Go to things that you genuinely enjoy and appreciate, and it’ll be easier and more enjoyable.
  4. Some events you’ll go to will be lame. Feel free to leave early. It’s not the end of the world.

A Genesis Contact

• A “Genesis Contact” is someone who helps set you up entirely in a city or industry. Some people, for a variety of reasons, become happy to take you under their wing and show you around to places.

• If you’re introduced at a number of events and to a number of people by someone and you do something impolitic, that reflects pretty badly on the person who took you under their wing.

• It’s not to say be cautious or inauthentic. But remember, when someone decides to take you to a variety of places and introduce you, especially if they do it multiple times, you become like an ambassador for them. You need to raise the bar on being gracious in this case.

3. Signal

• Being “salesy” means you’re doing sales wrong. Salesy feels inauthentic, disingenuous, insincere, inimical to real and meaningful dialog.

• People don’t trust salespeople, and salesy salespeople are the least trusted of all.

• A lot of the products and services in the economy are complex enough that they still are primarily sold through… sales. So what’s a salesperson to do?

Well, the good ones train themselves to not be salesy. The best salespeople almost universally genuinely regard their product or service as excellent, refrain from selling to someone who the product isn’t a good fit for, and conduct themselves in a way where they’re sharing useful education, getting to know a person’s goals who might want to be and helping that person evaluate if it would be a good fit for them.

• Your Signal is everything you’re consciously and unconsciously broadcasting about yourself. You are broadcasting an immense amount of things about yourself, as is everyone else who isn’t a hermit in the mountains. If you’re interacting with other people, they’re constantly forming opinions and judgments of you.

• The judgments and opinions people form of you are hugely important for everything you want to do in the world. Everything from simple things like how welcoming and friendly people are to you will be dictated by your signal, all the way to if you get a competitive job, are able to get a meeting with someone, and whether people will collaborate with you.

• Signal affects who will want to meet you, and who will come into your life without you looking for them. It has a huge impact on how easy or difficult is it to get resources or cooperation — the most effective people, and people that control a large amount of resources are almost always busy… before anyone introduces you, they’ll mentally check to themselves if you’ll be taken seriously.

The most desirable companies to work with look for people who have particular characteristics on display. And it subtly affects how much time someone allots if they go to meet you, how excited and prepared they are, and quite literally thousands of large and small factors… that are rarely explicit but always present.

• As you move through your life, everyone is matching you against patterns they already have in their mind. Do you seem trustworthy? Skilled? Competent? Like “their kind of person”? And so on.

People usually don’t give this much conscious thought, and these judgments are often snap judgments — and possibly quite unfair, often prejudiced, and always greatly simplified.

The totality of you is never examined; people’s minds are lazy and opinions do not shift easily once formed.

• You can think of your own Signal similar to building a new television channel. You’re broadcasting something all the time. The most prominent programs and events you run will affect your signal the most, but people won’t tune in equally.

2. Claims of what you can do: One of the lower credibility aspects of Signal. Better done with another method when possible. If needing to use claims, look to make them accurate and process-oriented rather than state-oriented. 3. Opinions of third parties on you: The most surprisingly credible and impactful aspect of Signal. Often underestimated by smart people, references and testimonials go incredibly far to build your Signal. Learn how to get these; it’s not that hard to learn and very useful. 4. Observations people make when seeing you: Hard to control, but given an extremely high weighting by most people. This can be obsessed over to your detriment — once it’s “Above the bar,” switch to building Character, Capacity, etc. Revisit and tweak occasionally, but this has the least bearing on your actual ability and is the least useful in isolation (and it’s the most over-invested in societally). 5. Context in which you first come across each other: Surprisingly confusingly important. Not entirely controllable, but look to get into contexts that the people who you want on your side are receptive, trusting, and open to connecting with people. Introductions rule here; so do organizations and events that just being there means being valuable. 6. Biases the other person brings to the table: Study which ones might apply to you. It’s hard to get people to be honest about these, because no one wants to admit they’re prejudiced. Get feedback, listen to stories from people with a similar background who found a way to thrive, and experiment to learn what works. Figure out how you can deal with what you’re up against in a way that harmonizes with your values. It can be uncomfortable, but try not to bury your head in the sand on this stuff. You should win at life, and there’s many ways to get there — you can find one that works for you.

• The Elements of Signal:

  1. Artifacts of what you’ve built and done: One of the highest credibility aspects of Signal. Use liberally. If you have claims to make, put them into action and get artifacts out of it.
  2. Claims of what you can do: One of the lower credibility aspects of Signal. Better done with another method when possible. If needing to use claims, look to make them accurate and process-oriented rather than state-oriented.
  3. 3rd Party Claims: The most surprisingly credible and impactful aspect of Signal. Often underestimated by smart people, references and testimonials go incredibly far to build your Signal. Learn how to get these; it’s not that hard to learn and very useful.
  4. Observations people make when seeing you: Hard to control, but given an extremely high weighting by most people. This can be obsessed over to your detriment — once it’s “Above the bar,” switch to building Character, Capacity, etc. Revisit and tweak occasionally, but this has the least bearing on your actual ability and is the least useful in isolation (and it’s the most over-invested in societally).
  5. Context in which you first come across each other: Surprisingly confusingly important. Not entirely controllable, but look to get into contexts that the people whom you want on your side are receptive, trusting, and open to connecting with people. Introductions rule here; so do organizations and events that just being there means being valuable.
  6. Prejudices and the biases the other person brings to the table: Study which ones might apply to you. It’s hard to get people to be honest about these because no one wants to admit they’re prejudiced. Get feedback, listen to stories from people with a similar background who found a way to thrive, and experiment to learn what works. Figure out how you can deal with what you’re up against in a way that harmonizes with your values. It can be uncomfortable, but try not to bury your head in the sand on this stuff. You should win at life, and there are many ways to get there — you can find one that works for you.


• People in the visual fields instinctively know the value of Artifacts. Portfolio, work samples, and the design of their own websites show off their aesthetics, taste, and judgments.

• Excellent case studies turn Claims into Artifacts. If a marketer sketches out precisely the cost, tools, and revenue growth from a campaign, it’s massively more powerful than just claiming to be a skilled marketer.

• Awards? Artifact. Before and after photos? Artifact. Sketches, blueprints, schematics? Artifacts. Something that shows your writing and editing process along with the finished product? Artifact. A copy of an operating manual you wrote? Artifact. Build and accumulate artifacts.


• There’s something funny about making empty Claims — they fool the people that aren’t worth fooling. Claiming to be a writer impresses people who don’t know better. People actually involved in writing, for real, are not so impressed by an empty Claim. What impresses them more? Making it accurate. “I’ve been daydreaming about being a writer, but not getting started yet” actually goes a much further way to winning over good allies. “I’m an entrepreneur” — by someone who is just halfway dabbling — goes over less well with people doing business than “I’ve been fascinated by entrepreneurship, I’m learning right now, experimenting a little bit, and looking for an opportunity I want to commit to.”

• In addition to being accurate, go for “process” more than “state.” “I am a writer” is likely to prompt, “What have you written?” That’s the other person saying, “Ok, show me the artifacts.” Don’t have any? Pfft. Saying “I’ve started writing 500 words per day minimum, and done it for 40 days straight now” potentially works better.

• Finally, don’t make Claims if you can just show what you can do. An easy way to win business as a consultant or freelancer is to occasionally hold 1 hour to 3-hour little mini-workshops or jam sessions with people who are potential clients. Get to know them, and deliver some real value to them in a few hours. If you can do good work with them right there, you have no need to make Claims. They did it with you, which is much better than hearing you can do it.

3rd Party Claims

• The opinions of credible third parties is one of the most valuable things in the world.

• A key skill to learn — and it’s simple and quick, but does need practice — is asking to get testimonials and feedback after work. This is possibly the single-most critically underused tool among people that have intangible work like management or back-end programming.

• Most people don’t like to write, and writing a testimonial or feedback feels both important (so it should be gotten right with lots of attention) and it feels like paperwork (because, well, it sort of is).

So ask for verbal feedback first — “How did the project go? How did work go? What’s it like working together?” Et cetera. Once you get feedback, then simply say, “Can I quote you on that?” Most people will say yes (a few people will say no for confidentiality or privacy reasons).

Then you write down what they said, and send it to them via email so they can double-check the quote.

• If you’re doing a good job, most people are happy to help, but it won’t occur to them unless you ask.

The absolute best time to ask is after you do an above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty job with a client, employer, or partner. Take something that isn’t in your scope or job description, block out time to do it clearly an extra, and do it collaboratively. Really deliver.

It’s a good practice anyway, but in the ebbs and flows of a working relationship, you’ll of course get better quotes if you ask during a flow of great and powerful work.

• If you have someone who is a massive advocate for you, a client you delivered the best work ever for, etc — they might be willing to help by sitting down with you and writing 10 or 20 variants of a testimonial that address every aspect of your work separately. For instance, getting something in both formal language and informal language goes a long way, as do aspects emphasizing personality or emphasizing work quality.

• You absolutely must work to harness third party opinions. Do good work, solicit opinions, and get them written down or permission to use them as a reference. This is not optional; it’s the single most under-invested thing for people whose work is hard to show off visually in Artifact form.


• There’s a hierarchy of what people tend to trust: they trust a biased party (your own opinions of you) the least, they trust a third party who seems objective more than that, and they trust their own intuitions and judgments the most.

• Most people don’t scrutinize or question their own thoughts much. If their first impression is that “you look professional” — they’re likely to stick with that unless something drastic changes.

• People form many snap judgments based on their observations. You can’t control their snap judgments, but you can control what they observe.

• Get feedback from others on how you appear and adjust accordingly.

• To a large extent, improving your Character helps more than tweaking these details. If you can generate results and don’t obviously “not look the part” of the role you want to be in the world, then you don’t need to obsess over the details. But it does make sense to solicit opinions from trusted neutral third parties at least once a year as to how you seem to them and adjusting if something isn’t serving you.


• The Context in you meet someone has huge ramifications for your first impression, and consequently, everything else about you.

• Align your interests in a way that you’ll be able to make friends, acquaintances, and meet important future colleagues and partners. This sounds obvious, but most people don’t do it.

If you’re new to a city and don’t know anything about the social clubs and organizations there, you’d do well to choose one that you gain standing with fellow members simply by being a member.

Some strict requirements to participate or annual fees might be worth paying if it demonstrates that everyone onboard is serious and the members start with higher regard for each other.

• You can’t entirely control where your work is shared and discussed, but you can choose to water some plants more than others. If you find your work was shared or forwarded by someone, reach out and thank them. If it shows up at an online community you like, go join in commenting there. If it shows up somewhere that you don’t really want to nurture, don’t spend any time.


• Biases and prejudices of other people are a huge part of your Signal.

• The fact is, certain aspects of people that should have no bearing on their performance are still weighted heavily by people. This isn’t even talking about political hot-issues like race and gender. Characteristics like being tall or “looking like a winner” will help a person get hired as a senior executive.

• It’s important to know the general stereotypes — potentially favorable and unfavorable — that you’re working with, to choose how to operate based on them.

• If you’re an anomaly in your field — an expat in another country, someone in a field dominated by the other gender, younger or older than the norm, or if there’s biases against you based on race — you’re best off aware of them, and acting on them to achieve your goals.

• If you were Nigerian and working on an e-commerce site, you might want to make light or make a joke of it, might want to explicitly explain that it hurts that this happened and what you do to work against it, it might make sense to write something explicitly explaining the good sides of the technology culture, or it might make sense to describe yourself as from “Western Africa” or register your corporation or address elsewhere nearby just to avoid the Signal.

• If you think you’re “pretty normal” for your field and don’t have to think about it, you might think again. People have assumptions of you, and by directly looking to understand them and either enhance or mitigate those assumptions, you make gains to Signal.

• If you’re in a position where you lack a degree from an elite university or a prestigious credential, or are lower in age than most people of the type of role you’re competing for, or aren’t from the normal background, you could emphasize, “I’m probably younger than anyone else who applied here. I understand that the burden is on me to demonstrate I can perform, not just equally, but even greater as a result of that. Commit more, win respect, and deliver real results. I don’t intend to make age an issue past this, but I do intend to win everyone’s respect with my work, service, and results.”

• Most people who aren’t deliberate don’t wind up on the beach surfing all the time; they wind up in relative poverty, high stress, and with things just not going the way they want.

• The questions to ask to get deliberate about Signal are, “What am I broadcasting about myself right now, intentionally and unintentionally? How are others perceiving me? How are the people I most want in my life responding to my Signal? How can I change what I’m broadcasting (and still in line with my values) so that the type of people I want in my life come into my life?”

• If you want publishing houses and acquiring editors interested in you, the Signal of “expert at marketing and connecting with an audience and has a big platform” goes further than “truly dedicated pure artist.”

If you don’t have a type of people in your life that you want in your life, it makes sense to study what characteristics they look for.

• Any signaling of victimhood invites criminals and exploitive people. People who broadcast victimhood announce two things, both harmful.

First, that they don’t feel personal responsibility for their own lives, and thus are able to be led astray by someone who says “I’ll save you, I have the answers”, etc — busy and successful people with fantastic personal responsibility don’t, as a rule, talk like that or have time to save people who don’t take responsibility.

Second, any talk or representation of victimhood shows that you accept bad conditions in your life and/or have allowed bad things into your life in the past.

• Keep analyzing what you want. Skilled designers will periodically redesign their portfolios to get a different type of client; ideally more interesting, nuanced, more meaningful, higher-paying, or with people they like and respect more.

Just like that, by tweaking the portfolio, their Signal changes. You can do that too — your Signal might be hard-working student with a serious interest in X for a while, rising star overachiever for a while, and then move into being highly involved civically in the local community — or whatever.

You’ll wear many hats in your life, and changing your Signal is part of that.

• Don’t forget to work especially hard to understand what you were unintentionally broadcasting.

• It’s useless to try to build a Signal that doesn’t rest firmly on solid character. Crowds are notoriously fickle, and all but your closest friends will gain and lose appreciation for you due to the tides of life rising and falling. If your have character flaws, they will almost certainly eventually get you.

• You can control all the resources in the world, but if you don’t control your character, it will unmake you. And if you build strong character, you have at least a chance to weather nearly any storm. Don’t try to look good; be good. Work on yourself constantly.

• Entrepreneurs and executives certainly fall in love with their own services, and overrate them. But you know what we overrate far more than products and services? Ourselves.

• You should operate with the assumption that you’re going to need to dramatically improve to get the kind of quality of life you want, and that the improvement will sometimes be painful, but always satisfying and worth it.

• You’re going to need to stop saying “Yeah, I’m a pretty good person” and patting yourself on the back, and start saying, “Okay, how can I be a better friend? How can I be more thoughtful? How can I deliver better results? How can I be more useful? Do I waste people’s time ever? How can I do less of that? How can I think more clearly, make decisions more effective, and use good judgment and goodwill towards other people more often. How do I do more and produce more?”

• Get the people who are the best at what you do to review your work and make suggestions. Get that friend of yours that’s blunt and will always say what he thinks with minimal tact (we all have one friend like that, right?) and ask what’s the most aggravating thing about you.

• You want your Signal to match the results you can deliver. One of the hardest things for young people who strike off on their own is they don’t know exactly what’s possible. Thus, it’s easy to wind up in a position where you’re trying to sell yourself on a role that you can’t perform.

• If you don’t know if you can do something, don’t market or advertise or brand or represent yourself as excellent at it. Instead, show people the Artifacts of what you’ve done in the past, and generalize from there.

• If you don’t have any skills you can deliver and don’t have interesting Artifacts under your belt, don’t worry. Billions of people — literally billions — have started from that position and overcome it. There are many ways, but the gist of it is to start doing projects or work of any sort and documenting the results into Artifacts and testimonials, with only the occasional process-oriented and modest claim. You can promote yourself more aggressively as you achieve more things.

• Set up your life and Signal so good things passively happen to you without active effort.

• At least once a year, go through and look at everything people are seeing when they check you out. This covers all the details and Building Blocks of Signal.

• If you’re evolving quickly, audit more often. Look for what you’ve done in the world; identify Artifacts that you can lead with instead of claims. Discard aspects of Signal and communication that no longer serve you and your goals. Add things that do.

It helps to do this with a friend, going through literally everything you can think of. Your away message on your Instant Messenger is the kind of thing no one thinks about but has a hint of a shadow of an influence on your Signal. Update it accordingly, and everything else.

• An excellent reputation and narrative make resources come to you easier and, at some points, effortlessly.

• If you really do genuinely start to feel stuck in a way where your skill is too low to do something, it’s painful not being able to do it, but genuinely would hurt to be seen by people who look up to you as bad at it — then you need to create some time and space for yourself to get trained and practice.

• But be careful, especially as you get praised and lauded for achievements, that you don’t implicitly promise things you can’t deliver. If people are making “Halo Effect” assumptions that you’re good at everything, set them straight and let them know what you can and can’t do well.

• When you can ground expectations of you firmly in the possible, you can deliver those and then some. If your promise is of something impossible, you can deliver something good and still run into people being disappointed.

• Don’t obsess over this. But give it some thought occasionally. Are amazing people coming into your life regularly? If not, could some aspect that’s constantly praised about you by some people actually be getting in the way?

• If you don’t know what you want, it’s not a problem. Pick something, anything, you know is good for you, and start going for that. Most people sit too long and let time pass. Preferences emerge from action, testing, and feedback loops. Pick anything, be deliberate, and get started.

4. Assets

• The Japanese have a proverb that goes: “Getting money is like digging with a needle. Spending it is like water soaking into sand.”

• As with any exhaustible resource, having money sitting around, ready to be deployed towards the goal of your choice is, well, good. But the real benefit of having money the bank is optionality. We like to call this measure “dry gunpowder.”

Stocking up on money means you can start turning down job and client offers you don’t want, hold a harder line in negotiations, and self-insure instead of paying a premium for insurance.

• Mistakes around money can be so sneaky: picking bad investments, being over-leveraged, rationalizing decisions, and the fact that people selling expensive things are not necessarily looking out for your best interests.

• A lot of being good with money comes down to not making some mistakes. We need to get good strategies in place based on our most important goals and priorities. But just as importantly, avoiding bad habits and common pitfalls gets you very far.

• Mistakes to Avoid:

  1. Trying to Buy Stuff That Money Is Bad At
  2. Being Afraid of Money
  3. Not Learning Money Management
  4. Undeliberate Autopilot
  5. Following the Class-Based Scripts
  6. Automatic Lifestyle Inflation
  7. Not Giving Drowning Enough Priority
  8. The “Monied Person” Identity
  9. Ignoring the Numbers
  10. Not Fighting Learned Helplessness
  11. Fighting off Symptoms Instead of Fixing Underlying Problems
  12. Purchase Relativity
  13. Not Respecting Tilt
  14. Making Bad Threshold of Misery Decisions
  15. Strategies That Only Work During Good Times
  16. Money as Endgame
  17. Not Making the Most of Your Current Situation

Trying to Buy Stuff That Money Is Bad At

• If someone loves you — in friendship or romance — only for the pleasure of being around you or the advantages you bestow, then your relationship is on shaky ground.

• Do not try to buy friendship or love with money; it’s inefficient and puts you on dangerous ground. Money buys some things very well and others poorly — know which is which and buy the former.

Being Afraid of Money

• If you’re afraid of getting your mind around your money situation, take actions where you progressively and slowly do that. The fear fades with time, and you can improve your situation.

Not Learning Money Management

• Study money management. Get good at it. Resist the temptation to think “I should know that” — just being around something doesn’t make you good at it without some study and practice.

Undeliberate Autopilot

• You could, quite literally, re-architect just about any aspect of your life to be more enjoyable, meaningful, and interesting for you. But to do this, you need to start observing and noticing changes. You need to “get off autopilot.”

Later, once you make decisions you really like, you can get back on autopilot… and live much healthier and happier.

But if you’ve never sat down and consciously looked at all the places your money goes, all the choices you’re making with it, then you’re shortchanging yourself and your life greatly.

Following the Class-Based Scripts

• The key to architecting a life that gets you what you want is to discard class-based scripts.

• If you’re following class scripts for your spending, you’re doing some insanely wasteful and harmful things to yourself. You’re overspending on stuff you don’t actually like and care about by a lot, and underspending on other stuff that could bring you much better results.

Automatic Lifestyle Inflation

• You should identify what spending, saving, and investing will best serve your life, and do that. Once you’ve done that, greater amounts of money shouldn’t just mean “slightly more of everything” — most people who start making more money just gradually upgrade everything a little bit in their lives without thinking about it.

It’s very likely that there are one or two areas in your life that would benefit overwhelmingly more than others to have your money deployed towards. This might be letting your money pool up in the bank and in financial investments. This might be buying higher quality tools you use regularly. It might be investing in some kind of credentialing or skill development to further grow income. It might be any number of things, but it’s unlikely to be “a little of everything.”

Not Giving Drowning Enough Priority

• When things are very bad, the mind’s inclination and bias are towards short-term activities.

• We could call a state where your finances are in the red and your cash flow is negative “beginning to drown.” If this happens, give every effort possible to making that the biggest priority for a while.

While drowning, it’s almost impossible to think clearly. It is similar to real-life drowning — many times, a potential victim of drowning grabs frantically at someone who tries to rescue them, causing even more problems.

• A good general rule would be to stabilize as quickly as possible. Certainly, the best time to do this is if you’re potentially on the verge of getting towards that drowning state. Then, if you can cut your expenses and focus on getting out of that, it would be a wise decision.

What does this look like practically? It would mean cutting all discretionary spending for a time that’s possible to cut, and looking to work part-time for any decent pay on the weekend or after work, and then taking most of that money to pay off debts and accumulate savings.

• Purchasing the clear-headedness that comes from having additional runway and breathing room is worth near infinitely more than any individual pleasure.

The “Monied Person” Identity

• As you get wealthier, stay modest. Buy public luxuries when the impression it gives will be useful for what you want to achieve. Look to get Assets and levels of wealth that suit you; in public, keep it more modest to suppress jealousy and unnecessary problems.

Ignoring the Numbers

• Understanding percentages, how compound interest works, and the general “basic math of money” is hugely important.

• Little tiny differences — the difference in something that costs 10% more or 10% less, add up to huge amounts. Most people don’t shop on their major purchases enough and wind up getting bad values on homes and automobiles. Most people haven’t gotten their mind around how a different interest rate pays hugely different amounts.

• The thing is, none of the math is hard. It just takes a gradual practice and getting-to-know it. Figuring out savings rates, cost of living, how tax rates affect you, and so on — none of this is incredibly interesting on the surface, but it gives you almost a set of superpowers.

Not Fighting Learned Helplessness

• It’s quite possible you’ll have setbacks even as you try to learn and apply the principles of money. If “the money seems to keep disappearing” even after you try really hard to manage it, it can be painful. Many people give up at this stage.

Fighting off Symptoms Instead of Fixing Underlying Problems

• Stop and ask yourself, “What do I keep spending on because of some underlying problem? How can I repair that problem?” If anything springs to mind, fix it. Fix underlying problems instead of spending on alleviating symptoms.

Purchase Relativity

• When you buy something like a house, every 1% cheaper you can negotiate stands to save you thousands of dollars in immediate equity and savings in future interest payments.

• People usually feel they’ve done well if they “pay 10% less than asking price.” But if you’re shopping for a home or a large-ticket purchase, getting an extra 1% off could be worth thousands of dollars. It might make sense to spend many, many extra hours to find the best possible deal that suits you and yours.

• Don’t “negotiate everything a little bit” out of a sense of a middle-class script. If thousands of dollars are at stake, treat it accordingly.

• Pay attention to absolute dollar amounts; it’s better to save 11% on the purchase of your house and 0% off your toothpaste than 10% of each.

Not Respecting Tilt

• There are times in your life when you’re on tilt. You’ve been embarrassed, frustrated, gotten bored, or whatever. You’ve got two choices — stabilize very quickly or get up and walk away.

• When you recognize you’re not in emotional control of yourself, minimize your exposure to money and decisions you’re making with money.

Making Bad Threshold of Misery Decisions

• After a certain amount of loss in poker, people stop caring about how much they’ve lost. They’ve crossed the “Threshold of Misery” where the pain doesn’t go up from losing. They’re so totally miserable that additional losses don’t hurt.

• You’ve got to remind yourself that even though things don’t seem to matter now, there will come a time when they do matter. So, make good decisions.

Strategies That Only Work During Good Times

• Whatever you’re doing in regards to cash, assets, investing, and spending, you want to make it a strategy that you can sustain when things go wrong. An exercise to help with this is to look at historical events and ask some “What if?” questions. “What if there’s a lot of inflation and cash becomes worth a lot less? What if there’s a real estate crash? What if this line of business is regulated? What if I can’t keep a position at this pay level? What if our investments lose half their value?”

Money as Endgame

• It would be unwise to cultivate and gear all of your life around the acquisition of money to the detriment of everything else because success at this goal would then render your own chief source of motivation and delight moot.

Not Making the Most of Your Current Situation

• Periodically, test whether the things you’re buying are actually adding value to your life.

• Multipliers are the areas where putting some money into them gives you greater impact in the world, making you more effective, and makes things easier, and more meaningful.

• Remember that multipliers multiply, and you have to conservatively calculate out your current impact and very conservatively calculate speculated impact to see what could make sense.

• You can always consider greatly minimizing certain categories of expected spend, down to your constraints, and pour what’s left into what matters to you.

• When considering where to put your spending and investing, and how to earn, it’s worth asking the question, “Does this make me more committed to what I’m currently doing, or less?’ It’s a surprisingly valuable question:

  • Long-term lease — more committed.
  • Recurring expenses on the top of your budget — more committed.
  • Develop skills where you can work remotely — more freedom.
  • Income is from labor that happens in one place — more committed.
  • Work full-time — more committed.
  • Income comes even partially from dividends (or rents managed by a good property management company) — more freedom.
  • Buy a full home surround system — more committed.
  • Lease a car — more committed.
  • Buy a car outright in cash at a good price that can be re-sold at a profit — more freedom than the leasing route.
  • Hire a virtual assistant who can take up some work for you — more freedom.
  • Get help putting together a useful portfolio and case studies — more freedom.
  • Buy physical stuff you need to store — more committed.
  • Have experiences that develop you as a person that you can take with you — more freedom.

The more things you own, the higher your overhead is, and the less job flexibility you have (or the more you love your work, or earn incredibly well from it but it’s the only option) — well, the more committed you are to one place.

• Being in one place means you can build a very deep social circle, probably somewhat deeper than the types of distributed social circles across cities and countries that people who travel a lot can build. To be sure, there’s lots of advantages to both. It’s harder to move around with a great set of knives to cook with, but those make a chef’s life go so much better.

5. Meaning

• You choose the meaning of your own life. Even if you had a path that you knew with complete certainty was the right path — serving as a member of your religion, or taking care of particular family members, of serving your nation or culture — even then, that rarely offers a complete answer to the question of meaning.

• You pick and choose the meaning of your life. Your religion, culture, family, or nation may shape this tremendously, but even then, you’ll choose what your expression of your devotion is.

• At the end of the day, all of your resource-getting and using resolves to meaning. There is some meaning itself in doing anything and doing it well, but it does behoove you to pick something meaningful to be doing.

Even if the meaning you’ve chosen is just “enjoying the journey,” it does make some sense to do this explicitly so you don’t have that gnawing sense of worry that something else ought to be happening.

• Getting serious? It’s when you pick something, you make it an overriding first priority, and you give it a long time horizon. Being an overriding first priority means that most of your time goes to this one thing and that its importance trumps everything else. You start turning down things that you’d like to do, just because it gives you more time for your first priority. Not direct schedule conflicts, just more time.

• Being serious is a way of living, not the following of a few steps. It’s easy to say you’ll stick with something for five years, but much harder to know that you’ll actually do it.

• Study the nature of what you are signing up for, and begin to cut things that don’t fit with it. For defined paths, you can usually see to some extent how much freedom and leisure you have, whereas for an inventor, artist, entrepreneur, scientist, statesman, or any role with potentially infinite challenge, it’s harder to know where the lines ought to be drawn.

• Pragmatism includes not assuming benevolence on the part of other people without proof and not assuming that good intentions will always produce good results.

• In more individualistic endeavors, it’s likewise key to look at all possible advantages and look to see how others who have succeeded in the field have done so.

• Study all the finer points, every place where an advantage can be had. Pragmatism is the way.

• A corollary of being pragmatic — You must search your own thinking and judgments to see if you’ve got any hidden parameters for your successes that could un-do you.

• Most people don’t realize they have hidden parameters. They just feel a lack of affinity or an aversion to activities that might be a required part of success in their chosen field. It would behoove you to study what successful people in your field have done, paying very close attention to the areas you’re not doing and asking why.

• Hidden parameters are especially dangerous because you can’t easily reason through a hidden requirement that you’re not consciously aware you have.

• Something you’re making active steps on every day has a chance of happening. If something is the most important thing to you, it’s worth making the time for almost every single day. Regular action is what ensures progress and wards against idle fantasizing.

• There are generally two ways to set up and approach clear-meaning-of-life type goals.

The first is to set things up so that you can’t lose, and to dig yourself in for the long haul. These are endeavors where you can fail repeatedly, learn, adjust, and keep going.

Looking to do breakthrough work in a particular field falls into this category — if your first research doesn’t lead to anything groundbreaking, you adjust, take your lessons, and keep going.

The second category is the “…or die trying” type activities, where you’ll either succeed or fail in a given period of time, and not have another shot at success in things in that particular way.

Looking to establish yourself as the premier athlete in your sport, for instance, is usually the “…or die trying” type of activity. You have your prime years in the sport, and if you don’t reach the top in those years, you can adjust and find something else meaningful, but you can’t just keep at it. If the meaning you’d set to your life was being an ace Major League Baseball pitcher and you’re 18 years old, you can’t just chip away at it for the next 30 years and eventually get there. It’s not pleasant to say and we all love stories that glorify the exception to this rule, but that type of goal — practically speaking — will have to be realized rather quickly, or will have failed.

• The ability to do things gracefully, slowly, and with no mess is not available if you’re actually committed to “…or die trying” type successes.

• It’s worth knowing what game you’re playing. If you’re in marathon mode, you’d do well to pace yourself, take good care of your health, lay an excellent foundation, and not take unnecessary catastrophic-downsides-possible type risks. You won’t need daring maneuvers as often, and might not have to go to the brink of your conscience and sanity to win. On the other hand, “…or die trying” type endeavors often do require that sort of action.

• Sometimes, you have a choice between staying in marathon mode, or making something a desperate win-or-die-trying type sprint. If you’re committed to entrepreneurial success, for instance, some business models, markets, and types of financing mean you can go at your own pace and gradually succeed. Other types become a desperate rush to succeed or die in the process.

There are times when taking venture capital means a technology company has now changed its parameters for success and needs to hold or increase its growth rate while running a deficit and losing money… and ensure it hits those growth numbers fast enough to get the next round of financing before the whole thing explodes.

Some companies have the option of not taking financing and looking to grow slower while controlling their own destinies. In this case, it’s an interesting question. What precisely do you want, and how do you want to play this out? Sometimes the choice is there.

• It’s easy and common for people to get lost and stall out if they’re intensely committed to a particular cause if that cause doesn’t dictate an exact path to walk. A path to meaning like “see that the oceans and marine life are protected and preserved” offers 10,000 different large-scale approaches that could be taken. Oftentimes, a person committed to a path like that will bounce around, not bringing enough endurance and effort to a single initiative to make a tangible difference.

• Everyone likes winners, and bringing wins to the table gets you more resources. Being broadly “interested” or “committed” — without any wins — usually doesn’t lead to an increasing accumulation of the ability to get the job done.

• Wins are important. Bringing any win to the table of a cause you care about gets you momentum and new resources. Even if the win you bring isn’t the biggest, bestest, most theoretically amazing possible win, it is a win. You can build on it. Thus, someone with a hazy path to meaning would do well to learn how to set proximate objectives.

• One of a leader’s most powerful tools is the creation of a good proximate objective — one that is close enough at hand to be feasible. A proximate objective names a target that the organization can reasonably be expected to hit, even overwhelm.

• You can’t look a big problem too directly in the eye. You have to approach it somewhat obliquely. But you have to adjust the angle just right: you have to be facing the big problem directly enough that you catch some of the excitement radiating from it, but not so much that it paralyzes you. You can tighten the angle once you get going, just as a sailboat can sail closer to the wind once it gets underway.

• If you want to work on big things, you seem to have to trick yourself into doing it. You have to work on small things that could grow into big things, or work on successively larger things, or split the moral load with collaborators. It’s not a sign of weakness to depend on such tricks. The very best work has been done this way.

• The number one thing you have to do before you set out on any other goal or course is to define your expectations. #1 thing. On the outset of any project, record, tour.

• Define your expectations. Everyone wants to make it, but the real question is how you would recognize making it. What is ‘making it’? What do you want to be? What does making it look like?

• Once your expectation — your objective — is set, it starts defining the things you have to do. If you want to sell two million albums in today’s climate, you basically have to keep the song shorter than four minutes, get to your chorus fast enough, be willing to compromise artistic stylistics with current demand, and in general — play the game.

• The magic of setting a proximate objective. When you set a precise objective, it starts dictating its own objectives to you. What to do becomes clear. The possible options go from innumerably infinite and unfathomable into manageable.

John Mayer’s expectation-setting, for example, transforms the vague unclear ‘be an artist’ path into the more-manageable ‘make music that can possibly become popular and sell many copies’ — which dictates its own constraints and requirements.

• Choose shorter rather than longer proximate objectives, if possible. Project success of any sort can be built on; people like wins, and support people who win. Set a shorter manageable goal and achieve it. If your premises or assumptions turn out to be wildly wrong, you’ll find out sooner.

• The planning fallacy shows that people consistently greatly underestimate the time it takes to do things. Basically, everything almost always takes longer than expected.

• You want to choose things with impact, but you’ll almost always underestimate how long it takes to do new tasks you don’t have experience doing. You’d thus do well to start small, picking a task with high impact you could complete reasonably quickly (by the standards of your field), and building on top of it.

• It’s possible to have no idea what you’re building towards, but yet to select intelligent things to do that are clearly wins, and to do them cheerfully, and to trust that when you do eventually find a sense of meaning (almost all people do, eventually) — you’ll then be better and more well-equipped for it for the cheerful actions you’ve done now.

• You don’t need to know what you’re doing early. Many people don’t. Even worse, many people who don’t know arbitrarily make bad decisions and commit hard to do them just so they can answer the question. A great alternative — Resource Mode.

Stack up useful resources. They will aid you greatly when you inevitably discover a great sense of precise meaning, which you don’t have to be in any hurry to do.

• When it comes to Resource Mode, the first thing to consider is areas where there are thresholds worth breaking through. Sometimes, by getting over a threshold just once in your life, it makes the entire rest of your life better.

Consider getting introductions. There are broadly three thresholds of introductions, as we discussed before:

  1. People don’t want to introduce you: In this first tier, the person you’re meeting doesn’t like and trust you enough to make introductions. Since every introduction is an implied “vouch,” if you seem like you’d be risky to vouch for, it’ll be hard to get introduced.
  2. People are willing to introduce you if there’s a good reason: This means you’ve crossed to a threshold where people will introduce you if you have a good reason. It means you come across like a decent person, trustworthy, considerate, with basic social graces, etc. Most people never get past here.
  3. People are excited to introduce you to as many people as they can: People will want to introduce you to as many people as they can if they’re 100% sure you’ll always represent them well, and the introduction will always be seen as a great favor to the person you got introduced to.

Once you hit that third threshold, you’re well on your way to having as many good people in your life as you can handle.

If you’re shy or introverted, it’s well worth studying the basic books and getting some guidance, mentorship, and practice around people to make it to threshold #2. We offered some guidelines in both the Network and Signal sections on this topic.

And then, it’s worth constantly reflecting on how well you come across to people and how valuable you seem. Once you break that third threshold, you suddenly have effectively an infinite number of people in your life you want to meet.

Now, even if you don’t know precisely what you want to do with your life, it makes immense sense to go through getting the sets of knowledge, attitude, behaviors, and traits that’ll take you up that threshold.

• Having “more than enough” very good friends you greatly admire is a very good place to be. Sometimes a person will have only a single very good friend, but that’s empirically a little bit dangerous. What if your friend is away? Loneliness ensues. And if you drift apart in values, it can be catastrophic.

Having enough good people that you can get multiple varied smart opinions on a course of action you’re thinking of taking is incredibly valuable, too. What’s the exact number? It’s hard to say. But you’ll know.

Once you’ve met more people that you really like and admire than you can even stay in touch with constantly, you’ve got more than enough great people in your life.

Still nurture those close one-on-one relationships and small groups, but it makes infinite sense — even if you don’t know precisely what you’re going to do with your life — to meet some high-character people that you really harmonize well with. This, by itself, is highly worth sorting out.

• Taking the time to learn about how your body works and what leads to peak performance with you gives you a lifelong roadmap. Even if you don’t know precisely what you want to do with your life, learning about that is great.

• You want to be confident in your ability to lead a project and keep it on track. Once you go from “umm… I don’t know… this is scary…” to “yeah, I’ve led projects before” — a great threshold is passed.

• There is a danger of not capturing possible resources when you feel like “it’s not your calling” — resist. Improve your Capacity, Network, Signal, and Assets. This makes it easier to get where you want to go when you inevitably eventually discover where that is.

• A very important rule: do not allow yourself to quit things that are 90% complete. A lot of people, at the finish line, realize that what they’re doing isn’t what they want to do. This is a bad time to stop and not finish. You must not self-destruct at the finish line. It creates a terribly bad habit.

• Even as late as 75% into completion of something, it might make sense to quit and abandon and change gears. But anything that’s on the verge of finishing must be finished. Do not allow yourself to go into “existential questioning mode” when almost complete.

• For many people in the Western world, “making a living” isn’t even the biggest risk or worry. For many Westerners, “making my life make sense to others and fitting in” seems to be the primary driver and function of work life.

• Winter offers a variety of his favorite goal-setting exercises. One of them is particularly novel — “Make a list of every crazy goal you can think of. Then rate each goal on three factors: how much the goal excites you, from one to ten; your probability of success if you tried as hard as you could; and how long it would take in hours. Then sort the goals by excitement times probability of success divided by the time required and pick some of the most efficient goals.”

In other words, Winter is saying that if you don’t know what to do, go after the things that are most exciting that can be done the quickest.

• A full-on search for what’s meaningful almost always includes some mix of theorizing and thinking about what could be good, and then trying it out.

• Flow happens when the Challenge Level and Skill Level of what you’re doing match up. If your skill is vastly greater than the challenge of what you’re doing, you’ll likely wind up bored (or at best, relaxed). If the challenge is considerably greater than your skill, it’s typically stressful.

• It’s not that Flow isn’t worth pursuing (it is) — but far more importantly, you can’t accurately gauge how much you truly like an activity until your skill level is high enough to actually get good feedback and grip with the interesting challenges in the field.

• Plenty of activities that are awful to learn the foundations of are incredibly stimulating and enjoyable once you reach higher levels of skill and take on real challenges. Likewise, many activities that are pleasurable enough to learn and participate in become drudgery once reached.

• If you’re searching, you’re actively placing bets that something might be meaningful, but you need to be aware that you might be wrong, and won’t know until you’ve reached some commensurate level of skill to actually see what it’s like truly being there.

• The following is an exercise somewhat commonly written which is uncommonly effective but rarely known outside the literature of goal-setting and personal development. It’s the “Player 1” exercise.

“Player 1” says this — imagine you got to take over someone else’s life, take an inventory of their skills, abilities, situation in the world, things they owned, and so on — and then could start doing whatever you wanted with their life. You woke up as them one day. You’re you, but you can do whatever you want.

In that case, if they’re doing something particularly dumb, you would just stop doing it. If you woke up as a career petty criminal always doing dumb things and getting arrested, you could just stop doing dumb petty crime. If dumb petty crime always happens when this person hangs out with Cousin Ernie, you just stop hanging out with Cousin Ernie.

Of course, you don’t actually get to wake up as someone else. But you can do this as yourself. You imagine that it wasn’t you that made the decisions that got you here today. You’re not even you. You’re Player 1. You just took over this person’s life. What dumb stuff are they doing that you can stop doing?

Sometimes people start overspending and going deeper into debt to impress people. They keep doing it because they’re afraid to lose the impression they set. You “Player 1” this scenario and realize that this debt thing is dumb and should be stopped immediately. You stop doing it. Done. If you, Player 1, need new friends afterward, you go make new friends. If you don’t have the skill, character, and life to get the kind of friends you want, you go make those friends.

It is a useful exercise. People attempt to be consistent with what they did in the past, at the expense of getting stuck doing things they dislike. “Player 1” exercises are worth exploring.

If you have an incredibly honest and thoughtful friend or mentor, you might also ask them to help you go through the Player 1 exercise. Their suggestions will probably point out the dumber things to stop doing, skills you should leverage more, and weaknesses you should fix.

• As a lower bound [to how much you should love your work before you settle on this as the thing you do], you have to like your work more than any unproductive pleasure.

You have to like what you do enough that the concept of “spare time” seems mistaken. Which is not to say you have to spend all your time working.

You can only work so much before you get tired and start to screw up. Then you want to do something else — even something mindless. But you don’t regard this time as the prize and the time you spend working is the pain you endure to earn it.

• If your work is not your favorite thing to do, you’ll have terrible problems with procrastination. You’ll have to force yourself to work, and when you resort to that, the results are distinctly inferior.

• Theorizing, studying the world, setting up experiments, doing science, reading, synergizing thought — this brings me the highest degree of pleasure and is a high-leverage activity for me.

• Sometimes I’ve inadvertently organized my days such that I have to go full-on with reasonably mundane and linear duties that perhaps allow for incremental improvement and exploration in that regard, but do not offer the opportunity to invent, create, think in a free and clear way, etc.

Thus, I think it is necessary to set up most of my days so that I may start by doing science, planning, controlling, and theory in the mornings.

Ideally, I do this with a particular lens at that moment, a focused campaign, and translate this into direct improvements.

• Towards the early-middle of the day, I need to shift into production mode to turn good ideas into good realities.

I do not wish to be a theorist or a pure scientist; I wish to make Planet Earth run better, improve people’s lives, and gain for myself and others the benefits of doing so. That means it should be relatively infrequent to spend a whole day doing pure theory or pure reading, without translating it into production.

• In the late-middle day, shift to taking care of habits and sustaining — especially if big things are happening that would make it beneficial to neglect those things!

Physical fitness, taking a walk, taking a nap, processing administrative tasks, etc. Calls should also be around this time, perhaps a little before or a little after, but not at the start of the day usually. It’s always tempting to neglect these habits during periods of expansion, but it is a fool’s bargain — things only go well because one is healthy and able to capitalize on this state of health.

• The late part of the day is a challenge — my judgment and assessment of my own abilities are usually flawed in the evening, and I’m prone to staying up too late doing things that are not useful nor proceeding quickly… yet, it’s also the most convenient time to get the (necessary) socializing with brilliant people like Kai. The end of days deserves some care and regular analysis to make sure I get what I need, but sleep early enough.

It’s unfortunate that staying up too late at night compromises the morning. There is perhaps no way around that — you either wake up later and lose morning-time, or you wake up with less sleep.

• Marshall likes to spend the morning just thinking, drawing up plans, and trying to figure out what’s possible in the world. After a few hours of that, shift to doing intense work with the sharpest of one’s mind. Then take care of admin and habits.

Try not to screw up the end of the day too badly. Marshall came upon this by studying his own life. He tended to make bad decisions in the evening (bad food choices, aimless web surfing, and just spinning his wheels while getting nothing done). This was never actually satisfying at the moment.

Likewise, he used to tear into his administrative work and necessary phone calls early. He doesn’t do that now — he found that he likes socializing and collaborating via telephone and meetings, but not first thing in the day, ever, if possible.

Everyone has different tastes. That’s one example. It took a lot of thinking and analyzing to figure out even that simple script for a day. It takes more effort to start living it.

• Remember the difference between cognitive knowledge — intellectual thinking knowledge — and the experiential knowledge that comes from firsthand doing things. Doing pure philosophy can let you cognitively reason yourself into what’s meaningful. It might be valuable, but anecdotally speaking, it seems that more people find what they find deeply meaningful through action and trying things than they do through pure philosophy.

• Pure philosophy can be good, but take it in dosages and keep healthy amounts of action up in the process.

• People sometimes take this “meaning” stuff way too seriously. Here is a good rule of thumb — if being stressed, anxious, or miserable is going to help you achieve what you want to achieve, then be stressed, anxious, or miserable.

But, generally speaking, these things are counterproductive to meaning. So, lighten up if you can! At least, add “lighten up” to your list of things worth trying. It’s perfectly acceptable to not know precisely what you want to do right now, and if so — going into research mode, going through the process of searching for meaning, or just ignoring the whole thing entirely and doing what you want to do — these are fine outcomes.


If you’ve enjoyed this summary of Gateless by Sebastian Marshall and Kai Zau, and you would like to get the full book, please do so using my link. You’ll help me out without spending an extra penny: Print, eBook, Audiobook

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Do The Work by Steven Pressfield

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Do The Work by Steven Pressfield

Book Review

Whereas The War of Art deals with the real enemy of work and creativity (i.e. Resistance), Do The Work by Steven Pressfield takes you through a step-by-step blueprint for how to defeat that Resistance and actually accomplish the work.

The book has a very simple structure. It starts with a short introductory section on Resistance—I assume it was written for people who haven’t read The War of Art—and presents a list of enemies that stand in the way of doing the work, as well as allies that actually help us in our endeavors and projects.

After the introduction, the book divides into three sections: Beginning, Middle, and End.

The Beginning section shows you how to start whatever work you’ve been dreaming of accomplishing (e.g. write a novel, direct a movie, start a charity, launch a business). It helps you clarify what your work is actually about and then shows you how to lay its foundation and structure.

The Middle section shows you how to take the structure and fill its gaps. It stresses the idea of working without any self-judgment or self-editing since that’s what kills creativity and momentum. The section also talks about the obstacles and challenges that you’ll inevitably face no matter what type of project you’re working on and shows you how to deal with them.

Many people get stuck in the end by falling for the trap of perfectionism, so the final section (End) is about the importance of shipping your final work no matter how imperfect you think it is. The section also stresses starting your next project as soon as possible.

Do The Work can really be described as a nice and short blueprint for getting things done, especially the things that truly matter to us.

Book Summary

The following summary of Do The Work by Steven Pressfield is meant to be concise, reminding me of high-level concepts and not trying to recreate the whole book. This summary is basically a bunch of notes and lessons paraphrased or quoted directly from the book and does not contain my own thoughts.

Orientation: Enemies & Allies

Our Enemies

• The following is a list of the forces arrayed against us as artists and entrepreneurs:

  • Resistance (i.e., fear, self-doubt, procrastination, addiction, distraction, timidity, ego and narcissism, self-loathing, perfectionism, etc.)
  • Rational thought
  • Friends and family

Resistance’s Greatest Hits

• The following is a list, in no particular order, of those activities that most commonly elicit Resistance:

  • The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional.
  • The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise.
  • Any diet or health regimen.
  • Any program of spiritual advancement.
  • Any activity whose aim is the acquisition of chiseled abdominals.
  • Any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction.
  • Education of every kind.
  • Any act of political, moral, or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves.
  • The undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others.
  • Any act that entails commitment of the heart—the decision to get married, to have a child, to weather a rocky patch in a relationship.
  • The taking of any principled stand in the face of adversity.

In other words, any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity.

Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these acts will elicit Resistance.

The Characteristics of Resistance

Resistance Is Invisible: Resistance cannot be seen, heard, touched, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential.

Resistance is a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.

Resistance Is Insidious: Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form if that’s what it takes to deceive you.

Resistance will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man.

Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get.

Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.

Resistance Is Impersonal: Resistance is not out to get you personally. It doesn’t know who you are and doesn’t care. Resistance is a force of nature. It acts objectively.

Though it feels malevolent, Resistance in fact operates with the indifference of rain and transits the heavens by the same laws as stars. When we marshal our forces to combat Resistance, we must remember this.

Resistance Is Infallible: Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North—meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing.

We can use this.

We can use it as a compass.

We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or purpose that we must follow before all others.

Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

Resistance Is Universal: We’re wrong if we think we’re the only ones struggling with Resistance. Everyone who has a body experiences Resistance.

Resistance Never Sleeps: Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five.

In other words, fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.

Resistance Plays for Keeps: Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable.

Resistance aims to kill.

Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on this earth to give and that no one else has but us. Resistance means business.

When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.

Rational Thought

• Next to Resistance, rational thought is the artist or entrepreneur’s worst enemy. Bad things happen when we employ rational thought because rational thought comes from the ego. Instead, we want to work from the Self, that is, from instinct and intuition, from the unconscious.

• When an artist says “Trust the soup,” she means let go of the need to control (which we can’t do anyway) and put your faith instead in the Source, the Mystery, the Quantum Soup. The deeper the source we work from, the better our stuff will be—and the more transformative it will be for us and for those we share it with.

Friends and Family

• The problem with friends and family is that they know us as we are. They are invested in maintaining us as we are. The last thing we want is to remain as we are.

• If you’re reading this book, it’s because you sense inside you a second self, an unlived you.

With some exceptions (God bless them), friends and family are the enemy of this unmanifested you, this unborn self, this future being.

Prepare yourself to make new friends. They will appear, trust me.

Our Allies

• Let’s consider the champions on our side:

  • Stupidity
  • Stubbornness
  • Blind faith
  • Passion
  • Assistance (the opposite of Resistance)
  • Friends and family

Stay Stupid

• Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur’s indispensable allies. She must be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult her enterprise is going to be—and cocky enough to believe she can pull it off anyway.

How do we achieve this state of mind? By staying stupid. By not allowing ourselves to think.

• A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate.

Don’t think. Act.

• We can always revise and revisit once we’ve acted. But we can accomplish nothing until we act.

Be Stubborn

• Once we commit to action, the worst thing we can do is to stop.

What will keep us from stopping? Plain old stubbornness.

• I like the idea of stubbornness because it’s less lofty than “tenacity” or “perseverance.” We don’t have to be heroes to be stubborn. We can just be pains in the butt.

Blind Faith

• Our mightiest ally (our indispensable ally) is belief in something we cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or feel.

Resistance wants to rattle that faith. Resistance wants to destroy it.


• Picasso painted with passion, Mozart composed with it. A child plays with it all day long.

You may think that you’ve lost your passion, or that you can’t identify it, or that you have so much of it, it threatens to overwhelm you. None of these is true.


• As Resistance is the shadow, its opposite—Assistance—is the sun.

Friends and Family

• When art and inspiration and success and fame and money have come and gone, who still loves us—and whom do we love?

Only two things will remain with us across the river: our inhering genius and the hearts we love.

In other words, what we do and whom we do it for.

1. Beginning

Start Before You’re Ready

• Don’t prepare. Begin.

• Remember, our enemy is not lack of preparation; it’s not the difficulty of the project or the state of the marketplace or the emptiness of our bank account.

The enemy is Resistance.

• The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications, and a million reasons why we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what we know we need to do.

• Start before you’re ready.

Good things happen when we start before we’re ready. For one thing, we show huevos. Our blood heats up. Courage begets more courage. The gods, witnessing our boldness, look on in approval.

• “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” Begin it now.” — W. H. Murray

A Research Diet

• Before we begin, you wanna do research? Uh-unh. I’m putting you on a diet.

You’re allowed to read three books on your subject. No more. No underlining, no highlighting, no thinking or talking about the documents later. Let the ideas percolate. Let the unconscious do its work.

• Research can become Resistance. We want to work, not prepare to work.

(Later we’ll come back and do serious, heavy-duty research. Later. Not now.)

• Two quick thoughts as we begin:

  1. Stay Primitive: The creative act is primitive. Its principles are of birth and genesis. Babies are born in blood and chaos; stars and galaxies come into being amid the release of massive primordial cataclysms. Conception occurs at the primal level. I’m not being facetious when I stress that it is better to be primitive than to be sophisticated, and better to be stupid than to be smart. The most highly cultured mother gives birth sweating and dislocated and cursing like a sailor. That’s the place we inhabit as artists and innovators. It’s the place we must become comfortable with. The hospital room may be spotless and sterile, but birth itself will always take place amid chaos, pain, and blood.
  2. Swing for the Seats: My first job was in advertising in New York. I used to bring ideas to my boss that were so tiny, they made him apoplectic. “This idea is the size of a postage stamp! If it were any more miniscule, I’d need an electron microscope just to see it! Go back to your cubicle and bring me something BIG!” If you and I want to do great stuff, we can’t let ourselves work small. A home-run swing that results in a strikeout is better than a successful bunt or even a line-drive single. Start playing from power. We can always dial it back later. If we don’t swing for the seats from the start, we’ll never be able to drive a fastball into the upper deck.

• Don’t overthink. Don’t overprepare. Don’t let research become Resistance. Don’t spend six months compiling a thousand-page tome detailing the emotional matrix and family history of every character in your book.

Outline it fast. Now. On instinct.

Discipline yourself to boil down your story/new business/philanthropic enterprise to a single page.

Three-Act Structure

• Break the sheet of foolscap into three parts: beginning, middle, and end.

This is how screenwriters and playwrights work. Act One, Act Two, Act Three.

That’s Why They Call It Rewriting

• The old saw says there’s no such thing as writing, only rewriting. This is true.

Better to have written a lousy ballet than to have composed no ballet at all.

Get your idea down on paper. You can always tweak it later.

Next question: How do you get it down?

Start at the End

• Here’s a trick that screenwriters use: work backwards. Begin at the finish.

If you’re writing a movie, solve the climax first. If you’re opening a restaurant, begin with the experience you want the diner to have when she walks in and enjoys a meal. If you’re preparing a seduction, determine the state of mind you want the process of romancing to bring your lover to.

Figure out where you want to go; then work backwards from there.

Yes, you say. “But how do I know where I want to go?”

Answer the Question “What Is This About?”

• Start with the theme. What is this project about?

What is the Eiffel Tower about? What is the space shuttle about? What is Nude Descending a Staircase about?

Your movie, your album, your new startup … what is it about? When you know that, you’ll know the end state. And when you know the end state, you’ll know the steps to take to get there.

• End first, then beginning and middle. That’s your startup, that’s your plan for competing in a triathlon, that’s your ballet.

Thoughts and Chatter

• When I say “Don’t think,” what I mean is: don’t listen to the chatter. Pay no attention to those rambling, disjointed images and notions that drift across the movie screen of your mind.

Those are not your thoughts. They are chatter.

They are Resistance.

• Chatter is your mother and father’s well-intentioned expressions of caution, seeking to shield you from hurting yourself. Chatter is your teachers’ equally well-meaning attempts at socialization, training you to follow the rules. Chatter is your friends’ regular-Joe buddy-talk, trying to make you like them and follow the rules of the pack.

Chatter is Resistance.

Its aim is to reconcile you to “the way it is,” to make you exactly like everyone else, to render you amenable to societal order and discipline.

Where do our own real thoughts come from? How can we access them? From what source does our true, authentic self speak?

Answering that is the work you and I will do for the rest of our lives.

Ready to Rock and Roll

• We’ve got our concept, we’ve got our theme. We know our start. We know where we want to finish. We’ve got our project in three acts on a single sheet of foolscap.

Ready to roll? We need only to remember our three mantras:

  1. Stay primitive.
  2. Trust the soup.
  3. Swing for the seats.

And our final-final precept: 4. Be ready for Resistance.

2. Middle

The Universe Is Not Indifferent

• When you and I set out to create anything—art, commerce, science, love—or to advance in the direction of a higher, nobler version of ourselves, we uncork from the universe, ineluctably, an equal and opposite reaction.

That reaction is Resistance. Resistance is an active, intelligent, protean, malign force—tireless, relentless, and inextinguishable—whose sole object is to stop us from becoming our best selves and from achieving our higher goals.

• The universe is not indifferent. It is actively hostile.

• The aim of every axiom set forth thus far is to outwit, outflank, outmaneuver Resistance.

• We can never eliminate Resistance. It will never go away. But we can outsmart it, and we can enlist allies that are as powerful as it is.

• One thing we can never, never permit ourselves to do is to take Resistance lightly, to underestimate it or to fail to take it into account.

Fill in the Gaps

• On our single sheet of foolscap we’ve got the Big Beats. Now what?

Fill in the gaps.

David Lean famously declared that a feature film should have seven or eight major sequences. That’s a pretty good guideline for our play, our album, our State of the Union address.

Do Research Now

• Now you can do your research. But stay on your diet.

Do research early or late. Don’t stop working. Never do research in prime working time.

• Never forget that research can become Resistance.

• Soak up what you need to fill in the gaps. Keep working.

• Any project or enterprise can be broken down into beginning, middle, and end. Fill in the gaps; then fill in the gaps between the gaps.

• When we’ve got David Lean’s eight sequences, we’re home except for one thing: The actual work.

Cover the Canvas

• One rule for first full working drafts: get them done ASAP.

Don’t worry about quality. Act, don’t reflect. Momentum is everything.

• Get the first version of your project done from A to Z as fast as you can. Don’t stop. Don’t look down. Don’t think.

Suspend All Self-Judgment

• Unless you’re building a sailboat or the Taj Mahal, I give you a free pass to screw up as much as you like.

The inner critic? His ass is not permitted in the building.

• Set forth without fear and without self-censorship. When you hear that voice in your head, blow it off.

This draft is not being graded. There will be no pop quiz.

Only one thing matters in this initial draft: get SOMETHING done, however flawed or imperfect.

You are not allowed to judge yourself.

The Crazier the Better

• Suspending self-judgment doesn’t just mean blowing off the “You suck” voice in our heads. It also means liberating ourselves from conventional expectations—from what we think our work “ought” to be or “should” look like.

Ideas Do Not Come Linearly

• Remember when we broke our concept down into beginning, middle, and end? Rational thought would tempt us to do our work in that order.


Ideas come according to their own logic. That logic is not rational. It’s not linear. We may get the middle before we get the end. We may get the end before we get the beginning. Be ready for this. Don’t resist it.

• Do you have a pocket tape recorder? I do. I keep it with me everywhere. (A notepad works, too.) Why do I record ideas the minute they come to me? Because if I don’t, I’ll forget them. You will, too.

Nothing is more fun than turning on the recorder and hearing your own voice telling you a fantastic idea that you had completely forgotten you had.

The Process

• Let’s talk about the actual process—the writing/composing/ idea generation process.

It progresses in two stages: action and reflection.

Act, reflect. Act, reflect.

NEVER act and reflect at the same time.

• “Reflection” means evaluating what we have on paper.

For this first draft, we’ll go light on reflection and heavy on action.

Spew. Let ’er rip. Launch into the void and soar wherever the wind takes you.

When we say “Trust the soup,” we mean the Muse, the unconscious, the Quantum Soup. The sailor hoists his canvas, trusting that the wind (which is invisible and which he can neither see nor control) will appear and power him upon his voyage.

You and I hoist our canvas to catch ideas.

When we say “Stay Stupid,” we mean don’t self-censor, don’t indulge in self-doubt, don’t permit self-judgment.

• Why does this purely instinctive, intuitive method work? Because our idea (our song, our ballet, our new Tex-Mex restaurant) is smarter than we are.

Our job is not to control our idea; our job is to figure out what our idea is (and wants to be)—and then bring it into being.

The Answer Is Always Yes

• When an idea pops into our head and we think, “No, this is too crazy,” … that’s the idea we want.

When we think, “This notion is completely off the wall … should I even take the time to work on this?” … the answer is yes.

Never doubt the soup. Never say no.

The answer is always yes.

The Opposite of Resistance

• I said a few chapters ago that the universe is not indifferent; it is actively hostile. This is true.

But behind every law of nature stands an equal and opposite law.

The universe is also actively benevolent. You should be feeling this now. You should be feeling a tailwind.

The opposite of Resistance is Assistance.

• A work-in-progress generates its own energy field. You, the artist or entrepreneur, are pouring love into the work; you are suffusing it with passion and intention and hope. This is serious juju. The universe responds to this. It has no choice.

• Your work-in-progress produces its own gravitational field, created by your will and your attention. This field attracts like-spirited entities into its orbit.

What entities?


You started with a few scraps of a song; now you’ve got half an opera. You began with the crazy notion to restore a neglected park; now the lot is cleared and you’ve got volunteers tweeting and phoning at all hours. Your will and vision initiated the process, but now the process has acquired a life and momentum of its own.

• The un-indifferent universe steps in to counter Resistance. It introduces a positive opposing force.

• Assistance is the universal, immutable force of creative manifestation, whose role since the Big Bang has been to translate potential into being, to convert dreams into reality.

Keep Working

• Stephen King has confessed that he works every day. Fourth of July, his birthday, Christmas.

I love that. Particularly at this stage—what Seth Godin calls “thrashing” (a very evocative term)—momentum is everything. Keep it going.

• How much time can you spare each day?

For that interval, close the door and—short of a family emergency or the outbreak of World War III—don’t let ANYBODY in.

Keep working. Keep working. Keep working.

• Sometimes on Wednesday, I’ll read something that I wrote on Tuesday and I’ll think, “This is crap. I hate it and I hate myself.” Then I’ll re-read the identical passage on Thursday. To my astonishment, it has become brilliant overnight.

Ignore false negatives. Ignore false positives. Both are Resistance.

Keep working.

• Did I forget to say?

Keep working.

Act/Reflect, Part Two

• Until now, our motto has been “Act, Don’t Reflect.” Now we revisit that notion.

Now that we’re rolling, we can start engaging the left brain as well as the right. Act, then reflect. Act, then reflect.

• Here’s how I do it:

At least twice a week, I pause in the rush of work and have a meeting with myself. (If I were part of a team, I’d call a team meeting.)

I ask myself, again, of the project: “What is this damn thing about?”

Keep refining your understanding of the theme; keep narrowing it down.

This is the thorniest nut of any creative endeavor—and the one that evokes the fiercest Resistance.

It is pure hell to answer this question.

• Paddy Chayefsky famously said, “As soon as I figure out the theme of my play, I write it down on a thin strip of paper and Scotch-tape it to the front of my typewriter. After that, nothing goes into that play that isn’t on-theme.”

Have that meeting twice a week. Pause and reflect. “What is this project about?” “What is its theme?” “Is every element serving that theme?”

Fill in the Gaps, Part Two

• Ask yourself, “What’s missing?”

Then fill that gap.

What’s missing in the menu of your new restaurant? What have we left out in planning our youth center in the slums of São Paulo?

Now We’re Rolling

• We’re weeks into the project now. Good things are happening. We’ve established habit and rhythm. We’ve achieved momentum.

Ideas are flowing. Our movie, our new business, our passage to freedom from addiction has acquired gravitational mass; it possesses energy; its field produces attraction. The law of self-ordering has kicked in. Despite all our self-doubt, the project is rounding into shape. It’s becoming itself.

People are responding to us differently. We’re making new friends. Our feet are under us; we’re starting to feel professional. We’re beginning to feel as if we know a secret that nobody else does. Or rather, that we’ve somehow become part of a select society. Other members recognize us and encourage us; unsolicited, they proffer assistance—and their aid, unfailingly, is exactly what we’ve needed.

Best of all, we’re having fun. The dread that had hamstrung us for years seems miraculously to have fallen away. The fog has lifted. It’s almost too good to be true.

And then …

The Wall

• And then we hit the wall.

Out of nowhere, terror strikes. Our fragile confidence collapses. Nighttime: we wake in a sweat.

That “You suck” voice is back, howling in our head.

Did we stand up to someone in authority over us? Now we crawl back and grovel to him. Did we face up to someone who was treating us with disrespect? Now we beg him without shame to take us back.

We’re poised at the brink of a creative breakthrough and we can’t stand it. The prospect of success looms. We freak. Why did we start this project? We must have been insane. Who encouraged us? We want to wring their necks. Where are they now? Why can’t they help us?

We’re halfway, two-thirds through. Far enough to have invested serious time and money, not to mention our hopes, our dreams, our identity even—but not far enough to have passed the crisis point, not far enough to glimpse the end.

We have turned round Cape Horn and the gales are shrieking; ice encases the masts; sails and sheets are frozen. The storm howls dead in our faces. There’s no way back and no way forward.

We know we’re panicking but we can’t stop; we can’t get a hold of ourselves. We have entered …

The Belly of the Beast

Welcome to Hell

• Now you’re in the shit.

Now you’re feeling the symptoms. Now you’re ready to listen.

The next ten chapters are the most important in this book.

They’re the movie within the movie, the dance within the dance. If you take away nothing else from this document, take this section.

It delineates the Seven Principles of Resistance and the two Tests.

These principles govern and underlie everything you’re experiencing now. These tests are being set for you.

This is your trial by fire.

What follows is what you need to know to get to the other side.

Principle Number One: There Is an Enemy

• The first principle of Resistance is that there is an enemy.

In our feel-good, social-safety-net, high-self-esteem world, you and I have been brainwashed to believe that there is no such thing as evil, that human nature is perfectible, that everyone and everything can be made nice.

We have been conditioned to imagine that the darkness that we see in the world and feel in our own hearts is only an illusion, which can be dispelled by the proper care, the proper love, the proper education, and the proper funding.

It can’t.

There is an enemy. There is an intelligent, active, malign force working against us.

Step one is to recognize this.

This recognition alone is enormously powerful. It saved my life, and it will save yours.

Principle Number Two: This Enemy Is Implacable

• The hostile, malicious force that we’re experiencing now is not a joke. It is not to be trifled with or taken lightly. It is for real.

This enemy is intelligent, protean, implacable, inextinguishable, and utterly ruthless and destructive.

Its aim is not to obstruct or to hamper or to impede. Its aim is to kill. This is the second principle of Resistance.

Principle Number Three: This Enemy Is Inside You

• Pat Riley, when he was coach of the Lakers, had a term for all those off-court forces, like fame and ego (not to mention crazed fans, the press, agents, sponsors, and ex-wives), that worked against the players’ chances for on-court success. He called these forces “peripheral opponents.”

Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. It does not arise from rivals, bosses, spouses, children, terrorists, lobbyists, or political adversaries.

It comes from us.

You can board a spaceship to Pluto and settle, all by yourself, into a perfect artist’s cottage ten zillion miles from Earth. Resistance will still be with you.

The enemy is inside you.

Principle Number Four: The Enemy Is Inside You, But It Is Not You

• The fourth axiom of Resistance is that the enemy is inside you, but it is not you.

What does that mean? It means you are not to blame for the voices of Resistance you hear in your head.

They are not your “fault.” You have done nothing “wrong.” You have committed no “sin.” I have that same voice in my head. So did Picasso and Einstein. So do Sarah Palin and Lady Gaga and Donald Trump.

Principle Number Five: The “Real You” Must Duel the “Resistance You”

• On the field of the Self stand a knight and a dragon.

You are the knight.

Resistance is the dragon.

There is no way to be nice to the dragon, or to reason with it or negotiate with it or beam a white light around it and make it your friend. The dragon belches fire and lives only to block you from reaching the gold of wisdom and freedom, which it has been charged to guard to its final breath.

The only intercourse possible between the knight and the dragon is battle.

The contest is life-and-death, mano a mano.

This is the fifth principle of Resistance.

Principle Number Six: Resistance Arises Second

• The sixth principle of Resistance (and the key to overcoming it) is that Resistance arises second.

What comes first is the idea, the passion, the dream of the work we are so excited to create that it scares the hell out of us.

Resistance is the response of the frightened, petty, small-time ego to the brave, generous, magnificent impulse of the creative self.

Resistance is the shadow cast by the innovative self’s sun.

What does this mean to us—the artists and entrepreneurs in the trenches?

It means that before the dragon of Resistance reared its ugly head and breathed fire into our faces, there existed within us a force so potent and life-affirming that it summoned this beast into being, perversely, to combat it.

It means that, at bottom, Resistance is not the towering, all-powerful monster before whom we are compelled to quake in terror. Resistance is more like the pain-in-the-ass schoolteacher who won’t let us climb that tree in the playground.

Principle Number Seven: The Opposite of Resistance Is Assistance

• In myths and legends, the knight is always aided in his quest to slay the dragon. Providence brings forth a champion whose role is to assist the hero. Theseus had Ariadne when he fought the Minotaur. Jason had Medea when he went after the Golden Fleece. Odysseus had the goddess Athena to guide him home.

In Native American myths, our totemic ally is often an animal—a magic raven, say, or a talking coyote. In Norse myths, an old crone sometimes assists the hero; in African legends, it’s often a bird. The three Wise Men were guided by a star.

All of these characters or forces represent Assistance. They are symbols for the unmanifested. They stand for a dream.

The dream is your project, your vision, your symphony, your startup. The love is the passion and enthusiasm that fill your heart when you envision your project’s completion.

Sometimes when Resistance is kicking my butt (which it does, all the time), I flash on Charles Lindbergh. What symphony of Resistance must have been playing in his head when he was struggling to raise the funding for his attempt to fly across the Atlantic solo?

“You’re too young, you’re too inexperienced; you’ve got no credentials, no credibility. Everyone who’s tried this has failed and you will, too. It can’t be done. Your plane will crash, you’re going to drown, you’re a madman who is attempting the impossible and you deserve whatever dire fate befalls you!”

What saw Lindy through?

It can only have been the dream.

Love of the idea.

The seventh principle of Resistance is that we can align ourselves with these universal forces of Assistance—this dream, this passion to make the unmanifest manifest—and ride them into battle against the dragon.

Resistance’s Two Tests

• Resistance puts two questions to each and all of us.

Each question has only one correct answer.

Test Number One

“How bad do you want it?”

This is Resistance’s first question. The scale below will help you answer. Mark the selection that corresponds to how you feel about your book/movie/ballet/new business/whatever.

Dabbling • Interested • Intrigued but Uncertain • Passionate • Totally Committed

If your answer is not the one on the far right, put this book down and throw it away.

Test Number Two

“Why do you want it?”

  1. For the babes (or the dudes)
  2. The money
  3. For fame
  4. Because I deserve it
  5. For power
  6. To prove my old man (or ex-spouse, mother, teacher, coach) wrong
  7. To serve my vision of how life/mankind ought to be
  8. For fun or beauty
  9. Because I have no choice

If you checked 8 or 9, you get to stay on the island. (I know I said there was only one correct answer. But 8 and 9 are really one.) If you checked any of the first seven, you can stay, too—but you must immediately check yourself into the Attitude Adjustment Chamber.

The Attitude Adjustment Chamber

• You don’t get to keep anything when you enter this space. You must check at the door:

  • Your ego
  • Your sense of entitlement
  • Your impatience
  • Your fear
  • Your hope
  • Your anger

You must also leave behind:

  • All grievances related to aspects of yourself dependent on the accident of birth, e.g., how neglected/abused/ mistreated/unloved/poor/ill-favored etc. you were when you were born.
  • All sense of personal exceptionalness dependent on the accident of birth, e.g., how rich/cute/tall/thin/smart/ charming/loveable you were when you were born.
  • All of the previous two, based on any subsequent (i.e., post-birth) acquisition of any of these qualities, however honorably or meritoriously earned.

The only items you get to keep are love for the work, will to finish, and passion to serve the ethical, creative Muse.

The Big Crash

• We were doing so great. Our project was in high gear, we were almost finished (maybe we actually were finished).

Then inevitably …

Everything crashes.

If our project is a movie, the star checks into rehab. If it’s a business venture, the bank pulls our financing. If it’s a rodeo, our star bull runs away with a heifer.

The Big Crash is so predictable, across all fields of enterprise, that we can practically set our watches by it.

Bank on it. It’s gonna happen.

The worst part of the Big Crash is that nothing can prepare us for it. Why? Because the crash arises organically, spawned by some act of commission or omission that we ourselves took or countenanced back at the project’s inception.

Ringing the Bell

• Navy SEAL training puts its candidates through probably the most intense physical ordeal in the U.S. military. The reason is they’re trying to break you. SEAL trainers want to see if the candidate will crack. Better that the aspiring warrior fails here—at Coronado Island in San Diego—than someplace where a real wartime mission and real lives are at stake.

In SEAL training, they have a bell. When a candidate can’t take the agony any longer—the 6-mile ocean swims or the 15-mile full-load runs or the physical and mental ordeals on no sleep and no food … when he’s had enough and he’s ready to quit, he walks up and rings the bell.

You and I have a bell hanging over us, too, here in the belly of the beast. Will we ring it?

There’s a difference between Navy SEAL training and what you and I are facing now.

Our ordeal is harder.

Because we’re alone.

We’ve got no trainers over us, shouting in our ears or kicking our butts to keep us going. We’ve got no friends, no fellow sufferers, no externally imposed structure. No one’s feeding us, housing us, or clothing us. We have no objective milestones or points of validation. We can’t tell whether we’re doing great or falling on our faces. When we finish, if we do, no one will be waiting to congratulate us. We’ll get no champagne, no beach party, no diploma, no insignia. The battle we’re fighting, we can’t explain to anybody or share with anybody or call in anybody to help.

The only thing we have in common with the SEAL candidates is the bell.

Crashes Are Good

• Crashes are hell, but in the end, they’re good for us.

A crash means we have failed. We gave it everything we had and we came up short. A crash does not mean we are losers.

A crash means we have to grow.

A crash means we’re at the threshold of learning something, which means we’re getting better, we’re acquiring the wisdom of our craft. A crash compels us to figure out what works and what doesn’t work—and to understand the difference.

We got ourselves into this mess by mistakes we made at the start. How? Were we lazy? Inattentive? Did we mean well but forget to factor in human nature? Did we assess reality incorrectly?

Whatever the cause, the Big Crash compels us to go back now and solve the problem that we either created directly or set into motion unwittingly at the outset.

Panic Is Good

• Creative panic is good. Here’s why:

Our greatest fear is fear of success.

When we are succeeding—that is, when we have begun to overcome our self-doubt and self-sabotage, when we are advancing in our craft and evolving to a higher level—that’s when panic strikes.

It did for me when my book crashed, and it was the best thing that happened to me all year.

When we experience panic, it means that we’re about to cross a threshold. We’re poised on the doorstep of a higher plane.

Have you ever watched a small child take a few bold steps away from its mother? The little boy or girl shows great courage. She ventures forth, feels exhilaration, and then … she realizes what she has done. She freaks. She bolts back to Mommy.

That’s you and me when we’re growing.

Next time, the child won’t run back to Mommy so fast. Next time, she’ll venture farther.

Her panic was momentary, a natural part of the process of growth.

That’s us as we rally and re-tackle the Big Crash. This time we’ll lick it. We’ll fix this jalopy and get it back on the road.

Panic is good. It’s a sign that we’re growing.

Back to Square One

• In the belly of the beast, we go back to our allies:

  • Stupidity
  • Stubbornness
  • Blind faith

We are too dumb to quit and too mulish to back off.

In the belly of the beast, we remind ourselves of two axioms:

  1. The problem is not us. The problem is the problem.
  2. Work the problem.

The Problem Is the Problem

• A professional does not take success or failure personally. That’s Priority Number One for us now.

That our project has crashed is not a reflection of our worth as human beings. It’s just a mistake. It’s a problem—and a problem can be solved.

Now we go back to our sheet of yellow foolscap.

Where did we go wrong? Where did this train go off the tracks?

Somewhere in the three sections on our sheet of foolscap—beginning, middle, and end—and in the final section, the summation of the theme … somewhere in there lies the answer. Why is it so hard to find? It’s hard because it’s hard.

I’m not trying to be cryptic or facetious. We went wrong at the start because the problem was so hard (and the act of solving it was so painful) that we ducked and dodged and bypassed. We hoped it would go away. We hoped it would solve itself. A little voice warned us then, but we were too smart to listen.

The bad news is, the problem is hell.

The good news is it’s just a problem.

• Work the problem.

That’s Why They Call It Rewriting, Part Two

• No matter how great a writer, artist, or entrepreneur, he is a mortal, he is fallible. He is not proof against Resistance. He will drop the ball; he will crash. That’s why they call it rewriting.

The Point for Us

• The point for you and me is that we have passed through hell. We have worked our problem. We have solved it. We have escaped from the belly of the beast.

3. End

Killer Instinct

• Finishing is the critical part of any project. If we can’t finish, all our work is for nothing.

When we ship, we declare our stuff ready for prime time. We pack it in a FedEx box and send it out into the world. Our movie hits the screens, our smartphone arrives in the stores, our musical opens on Broadway.

It takes balls of steel to ship.

Here’s a true nugget from The War of Art:

I had a good friend who had labored for years and had produced an excellent and deeply personal novel. It was done. He had it in its mailing box, complete with cover letter to his agent. But he couldn’t make himself send it off. Fear of rejection unmanned him.

Shipping is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart. It requires killer instinct. We’ve got the monster down; now we have to drive a stake through its heart.

• Resistance is strongest at the finish. You need to do what you have to do, no matter how nutty or unorthodox, to finish and be ready to ship.

Fear of Success

• I’ve never read anything better on the subject than this from Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

• When we’re offered a chance at heaven, what diabolically craven force makes us want to back off—just for now, we promise ourselves—and choose instead heaven’s pale reflection?

Fear of success is the essence of Resistance.

It’s silent, covert, invisible … but it permeates every aspect of our lives and poisons them in ways we’re either blind to or in denial about.


• In mountaineering, there’s a technical term called “exposure.” A climber is exposed when there is nothing but thin air beneath her.

When we ship, we’re exposed. That’s why we’re so afraid of it. When we ship, we’ll be judged. The real world will pronounce upon our work and upon us. When we ship, we can fail. When we ship, we can be humiliated.

• So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.

• That was when I realized I had become a pro. I had not yet had a success. But I had had a real failure.

• When we ship, we open ourselves to judgment in the real world. Nothing is more empowering, because it plants us solidly on Planet Earth and gets us out of our self-devouring, navel-centered fantasies and self-delusions.

One Thing I Can Promise You

• Here’s one thing I can tell you—and you can take this to the bank:

Slay that dragon once, and he will never have power over you again.

Yeah, he’ll still be there. Yeah, you’ll still have to duel him every morning. And yeah, he’ll still fight just as hard and use just as many nasty tricks as he ever did.

But you will have beaten him once, and you’ll know you can beat him again. That’s a game-changer. That will transform your life.

• From the day I finally finished something, I’ve never had trouble finishing anything again. I always deliver. I always ship.

Be Careful

• Just because you’ve shipped doesn’t mean Resistance is finished. Like the Terminator, it’s morphing into an even crueler and more diabolical form. It’ll be back.

Kudos to You

• I stand in awe of anyone who hatches a dream and who shows the guts to hang tough, all alone, and see it through to reality.

• You can be proud of yourself. You’ve done something that millions talk about but only a handful actually perform. And if you can do it once, you can do it again.

• I don’t care if you fail with this project. I don’t care if you fail a thousand times. You have done what only mothers and gods do: you have created new life.

Start (Again) Before You’re Ready

• I was living in a little town in northern California when I finally, after seventeen years of trying, finished my first novel. I drove over to my friend and mentor Paul Rink’s house and told him what I had done. “Good for you,” he said. “Now start the next one.”

That’s what I say now to you.

Take the rest of the day off. Take your wife or husband out to dinner. Pop some champagne. Give yourself a standing ovation.

Then get back to work. Begin the next one tomorrow.


If you’ve enjoyed this summary of Do The Work by Steven Pressfield, and you would like to get the full book, please do so using my link. You’ll help me out without spending an extra penny: Print, eBook, Audiobook

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The Art of Reading by Farnam Street

The Art of Reading by Farnam Street

Course Review:

The Art of Reading by Farnam Street is a step by step system for reading and fully absorbing books (although, you can use it for anything you’re studying) in an efficient manner.

The course starts by helping you find and decide on what books you should read. It gives you a funneling process where you take the books that you hear about or that are recommended to you, and you’ll take them through many filters so that you’re only left with books that are a good fit when it comes to your goals and interests.

The second phase is about determining whether a book (or whatever it is that you’ve decided to study) is worth your time or not. And you can do that by giving the book an inspectional read where you’ll scan and skim certain sections to determine what you’ll do. If you’ve decided that the book is worth your time, you’ll then need to determine whether you’ll read it in full or in part—you definitely want to skip the sections that aren’t aligned with your goals and interests.

The next phase or step is to actually start reading. Your goal here is to be actively engaged with the book. You want to read with a healthy dose of skepticism, connect and compare what you’re reading to what you already know, take notes and put comments on the margins, use post-it flags on pages you want to return to, underline, highlight, draw, and so on.

You also want to analyze what you’ve read by using The Feynman Technique where you’ll take something that you didn’t fully understand, write its name on a sheet of paper, write down the little that you understood about it, and then keep going back and forth between the book and your little sheet of paper to fill in the gaps in your understanding.

After you’re done reading, you’ll set down the book for a few days and pick it back up to review what you learned.

The last section in the course is about syntopical reading. This is for those who want to take their understanding of something to the next level. Basically, this is a type of deep and comparative reading where you compare two books (authors) simultaneously.

With that said, The Art of Reading system isn’t just about reading books. You can use for articles, essays, courses, and anything else you’re trying to fully understand in the shortest amount of time possible. This is definitely a course I wish I have discovered earlier in my life.

Course Notes:

The following notes from The Art of Reading by Farnam Street are meant to be concise, reminding me of high-level concepts and not trying to recreate the whole course. This summary is basically a bunch of notes and lessons paraphrased or quoted directly from the course and does not contain my own thoughts.

• You want to master the best of what other people have already figured out. There’s no better way to do that than to read.

• The way that we go about reading has a profound impact on not only our understanding but the time it takes us to get the relevant information that we want out of reading.

1. How to Read a Book

Effort is Important

• People rarely follow systems in part because they are not flexible. Prescriptions don’t tend to work.

This is why self-help continues to dominate the bookshelves. There’s all these “do these 5 things and you will be successful”, but it never really works that way.

You pick up the book, you do those 5 things and you come away doing no better than you were before.

• People need to come up with their own adaptations of whatever it is they’re trying to apply because it has to be context-dependent.

Make Conscious Decisions

• The core of the Farnam Street system for reading is to make conscious decisions when you’re reading every step of the way. This means you’re going to pick what you read consciously.

You’re going to choose why you’re reading something consciously, and you’re going to focus on what you’re reading.

The Farnam Street Ethos

• Here are the principles and the ethos that ground the system:

  1. You’re better off putting a lot of energy into a few amazing books than a little energy into many.
  2. Some books demand to be read in their entirety. Most don’t. It’s your job to decide.
  3. Active engagement is key to reading for understanding. Exactly how is less important.
  4. Always be skeptical. It’s okay (even good) to disagree with what you’re reading.
  5. Great leaps in understanding come from imagined conversations between authors.

• If you read a plethora of books so fast, you won’t really retain and connect and synthesize the information you want.

• If you’re selective about what you read, you can get 1 or 2 books and you can get a ton of information out of them.

• Focusing our efforts and putting more energy into fewer books or fewer online articles gives us the opportunity to go a little bit deeper and hone our understanding of key ideas rather than trying to understand everything, or rather than just reading to read.

• Some books demand to be read in their entirety but not all of them.

• You want to be really selective about what you’re reading really deep. You want to read books to achieve your goal and you don’t want to let it sit and interrupt your reading on other things.

• Taking notes is not an end to itself, and my notes look very different from book to book. I do different things with different books and I connect the ideas in different ways.

• It amazes me how many people accept the written word as truth. You can rebel against this and stay skeptical. You don’t have to agree with everything you’re reading. You want to question the author and the conclusions, and you can do this in a way that’s non-politically correct.

• You can go look up counter-arguments and you can deep dive into a subject and again, the goal is to go towards deep fluency.

• Consciously directed effort is the key to exponential rewards when it comes to reading books, and as I said, the system is simple but not easy.

2. Find Great Books

How Do We Find The Right Books

• The most important thing that we’re going to emphasize is that you really only get out of a book what you’re willing to put into it.

• Sitting and reading passively is a great experience. There’s nothing wrong with reading Harry Potter passively and enjoying it. With that said, you shouldn’t read a scholarly text on the history of the English language the same way you read Harry Potter.

• Reading on auto-pilot or getting lost in the book is great for entertainment, but it doesn’t work as well for learning and understanding. You have to keep your brain turned on.

The Funnel

• You want to use sort of a funneling process. You fill the top of the funnel with as many ideas as possible, then you focus on your curiosity and your goals. You focus on what you’re passionate about and what you want to learn about, and then you do your best to filter out bad books and stick to the great ones.

Farnam Street - The Art of Reading Funnel

• I want you to imagine that all of the book recommendations you get out of the Amazon browsing sections, the bookstore gazing, the bibliographies scanning and so on are throwing book ideas into the top of the funnel.

The other end of the funnel is what’s going to make it into your brain, so how do we decide what makes it through? The way we’re going to figure that out is by figuring out what we’re most curious about right now. We have to figure out what books will get us there most effectively.

Step 1: Fill Your Funnel

• To fill your funnel, you can solicit recommendations from friends or from your audience if you have a blog or something similar.

• Another thing you can do is to search on Google by your favorite smart person (e.g. author, professor, football coach, business leader). You can also pick books from a good book’s bibliography.

• Once you’ve got some great books in hand, the other thing you can do is check out the bibliography or the appendices. Figure out who it was that influenced the author and what sources he or she drew on. This is a very underrated source of book finds, and not many people take advantage of it.

• Finally, you always have the old-fashioned way, which is browsing. Go to the bookstore, go to the library, ask the clerk what their favorite book is on X, Y or Z. Gaze at the shelves, see what piques your curiosity.

Build an Anti-library

• The most valuable part of our library is not the books we’ve read, but the books we haven’t read. They’re a reminder of all the things that we don’t know yet, they’re inspiration. We call these the anti-library.

• Another purpose that an anti-library serves (besides inspiration) is serendipity. I can sort of walk over and browse my shelves to see what’s piquing my curiosity, or if my curiosity has already been piqued, I can see what books I’ve already got on that topic.

Step 2: Follow Your Goals and Curiosity

Choose What to Read

• The question is: Do I even care? That’s really the question I ask before committing time and energy to read a book. Do I care? Am I being pulled in by my curiosity? Right now, is this the thing I want to spend time on?

• Unless you have an actual project with a deadline that you’re working on, in which case you’re being forced by life to sort of feign interest in a topic, you need to follow your passions and your curiosities, follow your interests. That way, you’re going to enjoy the process of getting to know the material, so what goals are you really after? We call this answering your why, getting to know your why.

• Start by taking a second to figure out what it is you’re setting out to do. Did you see a documentary on the Civil War that made you want to dive into that topic, did you read a biography of George Washington that made you want to know something about the other founders, about the founding of the country, did you realize that you knew nothing about evolution and wanted to remedy that?

Did you see War and Peace in Barnes & Noble and decided that that was the time to pick up some Russian literature?

Find your why and focus on it.

• Now that you know what you want to read and you know why you want to read it, it’s time to sort of go through that stack at the top of your funnel to pick some books that can fit the profile.

Step 3: Apply Effective Filters

• It’s important to recognize that choosing to read a book carries an opportunity cost. This is right out of Econ 101. We can’t emphasize this point enough. Reading, like all of life, is filled with these opportunities costs. The weeks you spend on one book are the weeks you won’t spend on another.

• Don’t waste your time reading mediocre books unless you have to, there are too many good ones out there. One great book is worth ten or a hundred average ones.

• Some of this filtering is going to have to happen while you’re reading. It’s impossible to filter out bad books a hundred percent of the time before you start reading them, sometimes it’s hard to know.

• Filtering at a glance:

  • Trust from referrals: Personal or from afar.
  • Age: Old books that are still around have passed the test of time. Seeking fundamental truths. If no one is going to read it in 10 years, you can probably skip it.
  • Read reviews.
  • Google the author.

• When you’ve got a list of ten books that are satisfying your why, go ahead and
start with the one that comes the most highly recommended by the people you
trust the most.

• You can read reviews and read interviews with the author. Remember that reviews can be highly biased and sometimes they’re ridiculously nitpicky, so you need to tread carefully when you’re reading reviews.

• One quick question you can ask yourself is: Are books really the best way
to absorb this type of information? You could also be reading a series of articles or you could be talking it over with someone smart, you could do some original thinking.

3. Before We Read: Is It Worth Your Effort?

• Now that we’ve figured out what we’re going to read, let’s dig into how we’re going to read it. The question we want to spend our time figuring out is the following: is it worth my time to read this book in full, in part, or maybe not at all? This is called giving the book an inspectional read.

• The key to an inspectional read is to not try and grasp all the book has to offer right at first, not on the first go-round here. We will do that later if it’s worth it, but for now, we’re going to be doing what you might call an intelligent scanning process.

Create a Map of The Book

• We’re going to start by making a map of the book. There are a few points we want to tease out here:

  1. Concept
  2. Argument
  3. Interest

The first is the concept. What is the book about in whole or in part? What am I supposed to learn? You want to gain an understanding of what and how the book would teach you.

The second part is understanding the structure of the argument.

Remember, a nonfiction book seeks to persuade. There’s no such thing as zero bias.

The author has a point of view. He has to. This is not a bad thing, but you must be aware of it. How will he/she be making that argument to me as a reader?

What are the parts of the book and what are the parts of the parts? You’re creating a mental map of the book.

Lastly, we want to figure out which parts, if any, of those arguments are going to interest us as readers?

Do we want to read the whole chain of argument or only a specific piece? Is there only one area of knowledge that we’re looking to pick up here? If it’s a biography, do we want to know the whole life of the subject or just a certain period?

Step One: Identify The Concept

The First (very quick) Skim

• The first part is this quick skim. It really should only take 5 or 10 minutes realistically:

  • Start with the table of contents: How is the book structured? What kind of parts are there? What kind of chapters are there? What are the big concepts?
  • Read the dust jackets: What is the gist?
  • Skim through the intro.
  • Read the online reviews, either on Amazon or more professional ones if you haven’t done that yet, just to see what you’re getting yourself into.

The questions in the back of your mind are “Is this book worth pursuing?” and “What am I going to learn?”

This is just a basic first step towards an eventual better understanding. We’re basically just dipping our toe into the water at this point.

The Superficial Read

• The next thing we want to do is a superficial read of the whole book. This will take slightly longer but you really want to keep around 30 minutes if you can, more or less depending on the size of the book:

  • Read through the introduction in full.
  • Read the chapter titles and subtitles.
  • Read the first and last paragraphs: A great strategy is to go ahead and read the first and last paragraphs of any chapters that you think you’re going to want to read in full eventually. Obviously, if it’s a book with a narrative, you may want to be careful about what surprises and so on that you’re ruining for yourself. The average nonfiction book really doesn’t have any surprises. The end is not more important than the beginning. It’s just a series of arguments. You can begin absorbing it from the end; that’s okay.
  • Read the last chapter of the book: You can also go ahead and read the final chapter in its entirety, the conclusion or wrap-up to the book. This should sum up the author’s viewpoint in a pretty effective way.

At this point, we’ve spent less than an hour and we should have a fairly good idea of what the book is about and where the author wants to take us. We sort of read the guidebook. Now it’s time to take the tour.

Step 2: Understand The Argument’s Structure

• The way we’re going to do that is by trying to understand the structure of the argument. This is the next step of the inspectional process. At this point, we’re going to start having some thoughts on whether we agree with the author or not.

Don’t worry; we’re going to do a lot more of that later as we read more analytically and deeply, but it really starts here. We’re going to start engaging with the text, at least on a surface level.

Get the lay of the Land

• As we get the lay of the land, we sort of want to ask ourselves questions:

  • What is the book arguing and how?
  • Is this a relatively sensible argument? Do you agree with the idea in principle?
  • What are the author’s biases?
  • What do you already know about the topic?
  • What don’t you understand?
  • If there are parts of the book, what are the parts?
  • What are the sub-parts?

I can’t tell you how many books I’ve thought I wanted to read, only to discover on inspection that either:

  1. I didn’t care what the author was talking about or how he was structuring his argument. Or
  2. I could see too many flaws in the way he/she was going to do it. I simply knew that spending more time with the author was not going to benefit me. It wasn’t going to improve my understanding of the topic. It was either too surface or simply too wrong given what else I knew, or maybe I was just no longer interested in it when I looked more deeply.

• You don’t need to understand the full book yet. The goal is to determine if it has ideas worth exploring.

• We’ve outlined the book in our head. We know the structure of the work we’re going to tackle. We know the playbook. Ask yourself, “Can I state the basic argument of the book in one, or just a few sentences? Do I know the parts of the work? Do I know the structure of the parts?”

Step 3: Identify Areas of Interest/Focus

• If we’ve decided that we’re going to stick with the book at this point, and this is a big key, now we get to decide what parts of the book we’re going to read in a deep analytical way.

No one seems to tell you this when you’re in school, but you really don’t have to read the whole book cover to cover.

You’ve got a good book with six parts and you’re only interested in the arguments from parts one and four, which you’ve found out as you’ve been doing this inspectional reading process, then go ahead. Read parts one and four.

• If you’ve taken the half-hour or hour to do the intelligent skimming process, you know that in many cases, you can get 95% of the important knowledge into your head by reading 20 or 30% of the book.

If you’re reading for understanding, that may be your smartest strategy. It may not.

You need to find out, but it just really doesn’t take much time and in the long run, the time you spend doing this will save you so much more time later.

• Here it is. We’ve gone through the table of contents. We’ve read some paragraphs out of the chapters. We spent a few minutes understanding exactly how the book is structured, tried to figure out if we’re at the right level to continue reading more deeply, and if our interests remain even in doing so. Now we make the decision. What to read? All of it? None of it? Part of it? Go ahead.

• This process should really have taken you less than an hour. It’s not too much to ask, but the reward is that you will have avoided a lot of wasted effort in our next module, which is analytical reading.

4. Critical Thinking: Reading For Understanding

• So far we’ve spent some time wisely finding books and using our intelligent filters to decide what to read. Then we started by choosing our first book and doing an intelligent skim of the contents so that we have a mental map of a book in our head and a good idea of whether we want to read the book in whole or in part.

Now it’s time to get down to work and that means reading parts of or entire books in a way that enables deep learning and deep understanding.

• Try to figure out how to allocate more time to reading while maintaining your good habits.

Increasing Active Engagement

• The way we’re going to improve our yield is by increasing our active engagement with the text. Reading for understanding means having your brain turned on the entire time you read. If we can do this successfully we will be better readers.

• We figured out why we were reading this particular text and how it fits in with our goals and our curiosities. We took a small amount of time to get the structure and the argument of the book straight in our head before we dived right in. We’re already ahead of the curve and now we can take it another step.

Here’s how we’re going to do it:

  1. Engage: We’re going to engage with the text as we read.
  2. Analyze: We’re going to do a little bit of simple analysis after we’re done reading.
  3. Return: We’re going to return to the text later and engage with it again.

• One of the first steps toward becoming a great reader is developing your skepticism. You must, must, must learn to disagree with the author and to use your brain while you read.

The author is trying to convince you of something. Never forget that. It’s your job to see whether you agree.

Step 1: Be an Engaged Reader

Question Everything

• Separate reality from non-reality and try to understand what really works in the world versus simply accumulating red herrings that sound plausible.

The way that we do that as we read is to keep a sort of dialogue or argument going with the author as we go along. Do we agree with what’s being said? How does it fit in with what we know about this or other topics? How does it fit into our preexisting collection of mental models?

• If we’re having a mental dialogue with the author, agreeing, disagreeing, noting new or old information, we will remember what we’ve read, but we’ll also get way more than that. We’ll also be able to synthesize it with other information to create new ideas and understand the world more correctly.

• Your engagement with the text is crucial. We never want to take anything at face value.

Constantly Ask

Your next job, of course, would be to do your best to reconcile the conflicting facts. This is the essence of the learning process:

  • How does this fit with what I know?
  • How does it conflict with it?

Beware of The Great Writers and Anecdotal Stories

• One part of becoming a great reader is to recognize and be very afraid of great writing.

• You need to stay on guard of the great writer and the simple fact is that the better the writing, the harder it is to do this.

• Remember, too, the plural of anecdote is not data. Some authors string together anecdotes extremely well. A great anecdote can pound an idea into your brain very well, which is why teachers use them, but don’t forget to ask, is the idea really correct? Are there explanations that are more complete and more correct?

Take Notes When Moved

• Different books require different levels of effort and different levels of note-taking. Different books present information in very different ways. If we did our job correctly in the last module, we’re going to know how the information is being presented to us.

Trying to have one method used across all books has never seemed to work for me, and I don’t think it’s worked the same for Shane either. Most people we know are the same.

• The most important thing is that you’re doing something. Have a pen and pencil in hand. Use it periodically. Do this consistently and you’ll be ahead of the game.

• To be engaged and take notes, you’ll need to do things such as putting comments in the margins, putting little doodads next to concepts you thought were important, underlining, drawing boxes around phrases you really liked, using little post-it flags on a particular page because you knew that page was so good that you might come back to it later, writing page numbers on the front page of a book with short reminders of what was on the page that you were interested in (you might add even more page references on a second or third or fourth read).

Step 2: Analyze What You’ve Read

The Feynman Technique

• You’re reading and taking notes, you’re engaged and you want to connect this new information to what you already know, but what can you do to make sure you actually understand what you’ve learned? What can you do at the end of a chapter or a section or a book?

It’s fairly simple. When you want to test and improve your understanding of a topic, you need to teach it to yourself. Grab a piece of paper, write down the subject at the top and begin explaining in simple terms whatever it is you’re worried about that you don’t understand.

Let’s say that you’ve been reading Poor Charlie’s Almanac by Peter Kauffman. You finished Charlie Munger’s speech at the end of the book, called The Psychology of Human Misjudgment. You want to see what you recall.

Go ahead and write it out and see. How many examples of each particular misjudgment can you recall after you’ve finished reading and close the book? Is it way less than you thought? Go back to the text and relearn it.

This is very effective because it will quickly expose gaps in your understanding.

Actively Consider What You’ve Read (Spark Thinking, Not Memory)

• Step two is really just a continuation of step one as far as our engagement with what we’re reading. What we want to figure out is

  • What are the key ideas?
  • How does this relate to what I already knew?

Do I agree with the author?

  • Are the conclusions accurate?
  • Are the conclusions biased?
  • Is there something missing?
  • Do the facts support the conclusion?

Step 3: Set Down the Book

• Step 3 is a quick pause. When we’re done with our first major digestion, we put the book down. Shane and I usually find it’s about a week, and I would set that as a rough minimum.

You have to let your brain move on to other things before you come back to what you read before. That’ll help you make new connections when you come back.

Step 4: Pick The Book Back Up

• “Curiously enough, one cannot read a book; one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.” — Vladimir Nabokov

How Does it Hold Up?

• Now I want to know how it’s held up since I’ve put it down. I flip through and look at my notes. I read back a few sections I had read previously. I read any notes I took or Feynman sheets I put together.

This can be a short reflection or a long one. It depends on how much you enjoyed the first read, how much you remembered, and how much of the material you’ve decided you wanted to revisit.

• I have books that I’ve reread every single year since I read them the first time. Some of these books are approaching 7, 8, 9, 10 rereads at this point, but I’m still picking up new things.

5. Exponential Leaps: Reading Across a Topic

• To gain a deep fluency in anything, you need to read more than one opinion on it. To do this in an optimal way, we’ll need to learn how to read syntopically. Whether it’s an article or a book, there’s no one definitive source on all of the knowledge or all of the different arguments on that take.

• If analytical reading was a discussion between you and the author, syntopical reading is going to be you facilitating a discussion amongst several authors on the same topic.

• Because there’s an opportunity cost to reading, you should usually only do the deep and comparative reading on the general principles that stand the test of time. The mental models. Things like reciprocation, or Newton’s laws, or thermodynamics, and evolution. These are the ideas that you really want to understand deeply.

• In ‘How to Read a Book,” Adler outlines the five steps to syntopical reading. The first is to find the relevant passage.

  1. Figure out how much you want to read. You need to figure out do you want to read the whole book comparatively, or do you just want to read certain sections of it that you might be having trouble with or sections that you want to develop a deeper understanding of.
  2. Translate the vocabulary so you can understand what the author is saying. People use different terms and jargon and one of the main efforts involved in syntopical reading is to translate these into your own language. That’s a large part of understanding.
  3. You need to be clear about what questions you want answered. What are the keys to the author’s arguments? What are the propositions? How do they structure things? What do different people think about these? What are the facts?
  4. You need to define the issue. Most people are not going to see things in the same way. If they do, it’s kind of boring. It’s not really interesting. You want different takes on the same problem, the same idea. This helps you see it in a three-dimensional way.
  5. You want to analyze the discussion. When you’re reading these books, you want to make sure that you’ve read at least one or more sources on them. You need to have a good idea of what it is you’re reading and why you’re reading it. The only thing I personally want to go into this level of detail on is the general principles, the mental models, that hold up over time.


If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read, and you would like to get this course, you can do it here (this is not an affiliate link): The Art of Reading by Farnam Street

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The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns

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The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns Summary

Book Review:

The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns presents some very transformative ideas and guidelines to people and businesses who sell their thinking as a service.

The book is organized into twelve sections where each section dissects a proclamation that you must declare in your business. Its ultimate objective is to put you in a position where you don’t have to pitch (give your ideas away for free in order to win the sale).

The main focus here is to gain power in the client-business relationship where power usually rests with the client due to the many alternatives that he or she has. For example, by declaring that you will specialize and build expertise in a specific area (this is actually the first proclamation in the book), you eliminate much of the competition in the market place since most businesses are unwilling to specialize; this eliminates most of the alternatives available and gives you the ability to dictate the pricing and terms of engagement.

If you sell advice, ideas, services (especially creative services), then this book is an absolute must-read. It will completely change the way you work and think about your services.

Book Summary:

The following summary of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns is meant to be concise, reminding me of high-level concepts and not trying to recreate the whole book. This summary is basically a bunch of notes and lessons paraphrased or quoted directly from the book and does not contain my own thoughts.

• To pitch simply means to attempt to sell or win approval for one’s ideas by giving them away for free, usually within a competitive, buyer-driven process.

• The twelve proclamations:

  1. We Will Specialize
  2. We Will Replace Presentations With Conversations
  3. We Will Diagnose Before We Prescribe
  4. We Will Rethink What it Means to Sell
  5. We Will Do With Words What We Used to Do With Paper
  6. We Will Be Selective
  7. We Will Build Expertise Rapidly
  8. We Will Not Solve Problems Before We Are Paid
  9. We Will Address Issues of Money Early
  10. We Will Refuse to Work at a Loss
  11. We Will Charge More
  12. We Will Hold Our Heads High

1. We Will Specialize

We will acknowledge that it is the availability of substitutes – the legitimate alternatives to the offerings of our firm – that allows the client to ask, and compels us to give, our thinking away for free. If we are not seen as more expert than our competition then we will be viewed as one in a sea of many, and we will have little power in our relationships with our clients and prospects.

• Expertise is the only valid basis for differentiating ourselves from the competition. Not personality. Not process. Not price. It is expertise and expertise alone that will set us apart in a meaningful way and allow us to deal with our clients and prospects from a position of power.

• Power in the client-agency relationship usually rests with the client. His power comes from the alternatives that he sees to hiring us. When the client has few alternatives to our expertise then we can dictate pricing, we can set the terms of the engagement and we can take control in a manner that better ensures that our ideas and advice have the desired impact.

When the alternatives to hiring us are many, the client will dictate price. He will set the terms of the engagement. He will determine how many of our ideas and how much of our advice we need to part with, for free, in order to decide if he will choose to work with us.

• Positioning is the foundation of business development success, and of business success. If we fail on this front we face a long, costly uphill journey as owners of creative businesses.

The Purpose of Positioning

• Positioning is an exercise in relativity. Our goal when endeavoring to position ourselves against our competition is to reduce or outright eliminate them.

• When we drastically reduce the real alternatives to hiring our firm, we shift the power balance away from the client and toward us. This power shift allows us to affect the buying process and increase our ability to protect ourselves from having to part with our thinking for free, from having to respond to wasteful and inefficient tenders or requests for proposals (RFP), and to otherwise devalue our own offering or increase our cost of sale.

The Three Steps of Positioning

• Positioning is strategy articulated and then proven. These components of strategy, language and proof are laid out here as the three steps we must take to build deep expertise and meaningfully differentiate ourselves from others:

  1. We must choose a focus.
  2. Then articulate that focus via a consistent claim of expertise.
  3. And finally, we must work to add the missing skills, capabilities, and processes necessary to support our new claim.

• The first step – focus – is to answer the strategy question of “What business are we in?” Choosing the focus for our firm remains The Difficult Business Decision. Too often, we decide to not decide and so, in our minds, leave open the possibility that we may continue to do all things for all types of clients.

The Benefits of Positioning

• We can measure the success of our positioning by gauging our ability to command two things simultaneously: a sales advantage and a price premium.

A Sales Advantage → To possess a sales advantage means that when and where we choose to compete, we win more often than not.

A Price Premium → To command a price premium means that when we win, we do so not by cutting price, but while charging more.

Winning while charging more is the ultimate benefit and key indicator of effective positioning, for price elasticity is tied to the availability of substitutes. The more alternatives to our firm, the less power we have to command a premium over our competition.

If we do not win while charging more then it is likely we are attempting to run a business of ideas and advice from a position of weakness; or we are trying to compete outside of our area of focus; or we have avoided The Difficult Business Decision altogether and have chosen, by not choosing at all, to run a business without a focus or a fundamental business strategy.

• Control → Beyond the combined benefits of a sales advantage and a price premium, positioning brings us control in the form of increased ability to guide the engagement. We are hired for our expertise and not our service. It is a mistake to believe that the service sector mantra of “The customer is always right” applies to us.

Like any engagement of expertise, we often enter into ours with the client not truly knowing what he needs, let alone recognizing the route to a solution. For us to do our best work we need to leverage our outside perspective. We need to be allowed to lead the engagement. We need to take control.

Our ability to control the engagement diminishes with time. Sometimes we lose control slowly and other times quickly, but we always lose it. It is important, therefore, that we enter the engagement with as much control as possible.

The Cost of Creativity

• One of the hallmarks of creativity is a fascination with the new and the different. Properly harnessed, this fascination allows us to bring fresh thinking to old problems and ensure that our offerings to our clients are always evolving. Un-harnessed, our firm-wide desire for the new and the different can lead us to avoid The Difficult Business Decision. It can serve as a rationale for not having to choose a focus, for not having to eliminate competition.

• We can choose to let our fascinations and passions go unbridled. We can choose to remain a “full service” firm doing all things for all people. This lack of strategy will make us relevant to everyone with marketing or communication needs. It will indulge our desires to do something different every day and to make every engagement different from the previous ones. When we make this choice, however, we invite all kinds of undifferentiated competition as well as some highly differentiated, specialized competition.

• We must recognize that as individuals we are inclined against the narrow focus that drives deep expertise, but we must also recognize that our business must have this focus if it is to prosper. We must see our protestations, rationalizations, and justifications for not facing The Difficult Business Decision for what they are: excuses.

The Paradox of Choice

• There is no fun like making money because financial strength affords us all kinds of options in our business and personal lives. The path to financial strength begins with facing The Difficult Business Decision. There are some exceptions to the proclamation that we must specialize, but it is unlikely that we are one of them.

Until we make a brave decision, success will elude us and we will look at the market and complain about the economy or the clients, all the while knowing that it was us. The problem has always been us, and our struggle with focus. We are at the root of our free-pitching problem and we alone have the power to free ourselves from the pitch. The client will not free us. Our trade associations can do little to help us. Our competition will not cease to give their ideas away for free.

2. We Will Replace Presentations With Conversations

We will break free of our addiction to the big reveal and the adrenaline rush that comes from putting ourselves in the win-or-lose situation of the presentation. When we pitch, we are in part satisfying our craving for this adrenaline rush, and we understand that until we break ourselves of this addiction we will never be free of the pitch. Presentation, like pitch, is a word that we will leave behind as we seek conversation and collaboration in their place.

• To wean ourselves off our addiction, we must take the first step of changing our behavior with our existing clients. Once we have accomplished this, the second step – changing the way we behave with prospective clients in the buying cycle – becomes possible.

• Even when we pitch and win, we lose. We devalue what should be our most valuable offering and set up the wrong dynamics between the client and us.

• We must move away from the place where the client sits with arms crossed in the role of judge, and we take to the stage with song and dance in the role of auditioning talent. While both parties find the showmanship of our craft titillating, the practitioner’s is a stronger place than that of the performer. It is this practitioner’s position from which we must strive to operate. Practitioners do not present. Stars do not audition.

• A successful presentation requires surprise. It depends on a big reveal in the form of a key diagnostic finding, a dramatic strategic recommendation or a novel creative concept that is at odds with expectations or set against a backdrop of uncertainty. Preserving the surprise requires us to keep the client at arm’s length and let our knowledge pool up behind a dam that will only be opened at the presentation.

While we protest against the client’s selection process that keeps us at bay and asks us to begin to solve his problem without proper collaboration or compensation, we often acquiesce, in part, because his process allows us to meet our need to present. In this manner, we allow – or even deliberately create – an environment that leads to a higher likelihood of failure in order to preserve the dynamics of the presentation.

• At a time when we should be conversing, we are instead cloistered away preparing for the one-way conversation called the presentation. We behave this way in our engagements with existing clients, so when prospective clients ask us to bridge massive communication gaps by presenting to them instead of talking with them, it is only natural for us to agree.

Step One: Improving Collaboration with Existing Clients

• Making the big reveals small and reducing our dependency on the presentation requires us to work more closely with the client. This creates a challenge: how to invite him in without allowing him to drive? This delicate balancing act of bringing him closer without conceding control can only be achieved when we establish and communicate the rules of the engagement. Alas, another challenge: we’ve never been fond of rules.

• When we do not clearly spell out how we will work together we leave a void that the client is quick to fill. Thus begins the erosion of the power we worked so hard to obtain by following the first proclamation.

• In our firm, we will adopt the following policies that will allow us to bring the client closer without sacrificing control.

Strategy First → We will agree with the client on the strategy before any creative development begins. By including the client in our strategic development processes, we will help ensure we never find ourselves presenting creative rooted in ambiguous strategies. We will not develop, nor share with the client, creative of any kind before the challenge has been diagnosed and the strategy prescribed and agreed to.

Continuous Reference to Strategy → Immediately prior to presenting any creative, we will review the agreed-upon strategy with the client. In this way, we keep the discussion around the creative focused and measured against the strategy. Any time we come back to the client to share new ideas or concepts we will set the stage first by reviewing, once again, the strategy that guides us.

Freedom of Execution → We welcome the client’s input on the strategy and in exchange we ask him to grant us the freedom to explore various ways of executing it. This means we invite him to say, “That blue isn’t bold enough to deliver on our core value of strength.” But we explain that he is not invited to say, “Make it darker.” Suggestions on this front are always welcome, but dictates are not. We value our clients’ insight into marketing strategy, but we need the creative freedom to explore the destinations implied by the strategy. The client must ultimately approve of our recommendations, and be satisfied with the outcome, but he must also let us explore along the way.

Fewer Options of Better Quality → When we present creative options, we will strive to limit them to as few as practical. There is an inverse correlation between the quantity of creative options we present to the client and the confidence we have in their quality. When we present options, we will recognize our obligation to recommend one over the others. We will be careful not to cede our expertise by asking, “Which one do you like?” We will direct all discussions around the creative back to the strategy and ask if we are accomplishing our goals. It is an abdication of our responsibility and our expert position in the relationship to share all of our endeavors with the client and then ask him to choose.

Only We Present Our Work → Whenever our diagnostic findings, strategic recommendations or creative solutions are presented to anyone in our client companies, it will be personnel from our firm that does so. Our key client contacts may assist us, but our work does not get presented without our involvement. One of the benefits we bring to our clients is the advantage of an outside perspective, one that is not saddled with perceptions of bias or a hidden agenda. We will not allow proper guidance to be sacrificed at the altar of company politics.

• One of the costs of creativity is the abhorrence of routine – the dislike of systematic ways of thinking and behaving. This characteristic of our hardwiring that contributes to our creative problem-solving abilities keeps us from establishing policies on how we work. It causes us to perpetuate the process void, that by implication, we invite the client to fill.

• While we dislike routine, the client – and ultimately, any consistency of success – demands it. We must, therefore, reconcile ourselves with the fact that routine will be imposed. Once we accept this we can face the question, “Would we prefer to have routine imposed on us, or would we prefer to be the ones who take the lead and define the rules of the engagement?”

Step Two: Eliminating Big Reveals in the Buying Cycle

• Once we have eliminated our own need to present, the only reasons left to do so are the client’s. But on this, the client shall not have his way. He may not recognize it yet, but the presentation serves neither our interests nor his.

• Presenting is a tool of swaying while conversing is a tool of weighing. Through the former, we try to convince people to hire us. Through the latter, we try to determine if both parties would be well served by working together.

• The tone of a conversation, in which both parties endeavor to make an honest assessment of the fit between one’s need and the other’s expertise, is entirely different from the tone of a presentation, in which one party tries to convince the other to hire her. Presentations build buying resistance; conversations lower it.

• Let’s consider for a minute what we are trying to accomplish in the buying cycle, in this meeting with the prospect in which we once played the role of presenter.

Mission: Position → First, let us focus on our business development mission – our highest calling and purpose. Our mission is to position ourselves as the expert practitioner in the mind of the prospective client. We must resist the temptation to sacrifice our mission for money or other short-term gains. This mission should guide everything we do in the buy-sell relationship. It is a contravention of such a mission to try to sway someone to hire us through a presentation. This simple idea is radically at odds with what most of us have been taught. It is not our job to convince the client to hire us via presentation or any other means.

Objective: Determine Fit → While our mission is to position, our objective at each and every interaction in the buying cycle is simply to see if there is a fit between the client’s need and our expertise suitable enough to take a next step. That’s it. It is not our objective to sell, convince or persuade. It is simply to determine if there exists a fit suitable enough to merit a next step.

• The dynamics of the relationship with the client are shaped early, before he hires us. Here we establish the role that each will play throughout the engagement. Most selection processes set up an audition atmosphere where one party commands and the other complies.

We must never allow ourselves to be placed in this presenter/ complier role where the terms and next steps of the relationship are dictated to us. If we assume this lowly role that is offered to us early, we will never be able to exchange it for the loftier expert practitioner role that is required for us to do our best work.

• How we sell shapes what we sell. It impacts our likelihood of delivering a high-quality outcome and it affects the remuneration we are able to command for our work.

• Alas, you may have guessed that we will never be completely free of the presentation. That is not the goal of this, the second proclamation. The goal is to be free of our own need to present.

• To be truly free of the pitch we must change the tone of these meetings with our prospective clients and move from the presenter/ complier role to that of the expert practitioner. This we do as a doctor or lawyer would, through conversation and collaboration and not through presentation.

3. We Will Diagnose Before We Prescribe

We will take seriously our professional obligation to begin at the beginning, and we will never put our clients or ourselves in the position where we are prescribing solutions without first fully diagnosing the client’s challenge.

• There are four phases in our client engagements:

  1. Diagnose the problem/ opportunity
  2. Prescribe a therapy
  3. Apply the therapy
  4. Reapply the therapy as necessary

• While it is common practice in the creative professions to prescribe solutions without fully and accurately diagnosing the problem, in almost every other profession such a sequence would render the professional liable for malpractice. Too often we are guilty of this flawed process and our clients are guilty of trying to impose such a process on us through the pitch. We owe it to ourselves and our clients to stand firm on this most basic of professional practices and to never agree to begin working on a creative solution to a problem that we have not fully explored.

• In a process that pits multiple firms against each other and asks each to present solutions, the client does not have the time to invest in meaningful diagnostics with them all. So he abbreviates the diagnostic phase; he dictates the process, marginalizes it and proclaims that his self-diagnosis is valid enough for us to proceed.

• It is more likely that the client’s perspective will be wrong, or at least incomplete, than it is that it will be whole and accurate. We know this. Doctors know the same of their patients. Lawyers and accountants know the same of their clients.

The customer is not always right. More correctly, he usually has strong ideas and a strong sense that he is right, but is locked into a narrow view and weighed down by constraints that seem to him to be more immutable than they really are.

When the client comes to us self-diagnosed, our mindset must be the same as the doctor hearing his patient tell him what type of surgery he wants performed before any discussion of symptoms or diagnoses. Our reaction must be, “You may be correct, but let’s find out for sure.”

• One of the advantages the outside expert brings is perspective. And one of the hallmarks of creativity is the ability to see problems differently, and thus find solutions others cannot see. To bring our perspective and problem-solving skills to bear, we must be allowed time and freedom to diagnose the client’s challenges in our own manner.

• We let the client dictate and drive the diagnostic process, usually because we have not bothered to understand, formalize and explain our own. We have not taken control of this issue. We have not correlated our likelihood of high-quality outcomes to working from a defined and meaningful diagnostic process. We have not made this case in our own minds and we have not made it to the client. So the client intervenes and fills the void in our own working process by deciding how much information and access we will be allowed in the pitch. Lacking our own process, we have little means to push back and argue for a better way.

• The most successful clients, whether owners or executives, have achieved their success in part because of their ability to take control – their ability to rise above and orchestrate others. This is their strength; and even though it is not always in their best interest, it is in their nature.

• When we think back now on our worst client experiences we can see that most of them were rooted in this mistake of letting a dominant client direct the engagement, beginning with a self-diagnosis that we took at face value. Thinking we are in the same business as retail clerks, somehow convinced that there is truth, or even nobility, in the line, “The customer is always right,” we took the money and did as we were asked.

When these engagements go wrong we cannot understand how the client can possibly blame us. “We only did as we were told,” we rationalize. We see him as demanding and difficult. He sees us as irresponsible order-takers not worth the money he is paying. He responds with more angry demands and again we comply, giving him what he wants. The spiral continues until we finally part, each blaming the other.

If design truly is a process, then we will define and guard that process and we will walk away from those clients and situations, like the pitch, where the process is dictated to us, or where we are otherwise asked to propose solutions without a proper diagnosis.

• Throughout the buying cycle, we are constantly gauging whether or not the client recognizes and values our expertise to the extent that he is willing to grant us this control. Does he see us as the expert who merits the reins of the engagement, or does he see us as the order-taker supplier that needs to be directed?

• Possessing our own formalized diagnostic methods, whether they are proprietary to us or not, goes a long way to our positioning in this matter. Like any other competent professional, it is reasonable to expect that if we address similar problems on a regular basis then we would have a formalized way of beginning the engagement. It follows that we would demand to be allowed to follow our own process and not readily agree to use one developed by the client or his procurement people.

• A good client will begin to relinquish control once he has the confidence that the expert practitioner knows more than he does, or has the tools to learn more. Formalized diagnostic processes are such tools.

• From here forward, we will view the act of prescription without diagnosis for what it is: malpractice. We will assert the professional’s obligation to begin at the beginning and walk away from those that would have us proceed based on guesses or un-validated self-diagnoses.

4. We Will Rethink What it Means to Sell

We will acknowledge that our fear and misunderstanding of selling has contributed to our preference for the pitch. We will embrace sales as a basic business function that cannot be avoided and so we will learn to do it properly, as respectful facilitators.

• We recoil from the “s” word because we see selling as the distasteful act of talking others into things. We see it as the act of persuasion. And while we are comfortable with our role as persuaders in a marketing sense – putting our clients’ messages in front of groups of their desired customers – we bristle at such persuasion in the intimate setting of sales, where the interaction is more human and the product we are selling is us.

• Making things and selling things are the two basic functions in business. For our business to succeed we must succeed at both. It is true that if we are exceptional at the first we may experience times in the life of our business where merely being adequate at the second will carry us, but over time, all things will revert to the mean. No matter how good we are, there will be times when we are required to sell.

• We can hide behind the pitch and kid ourselves that as marketers we are taking a more noble path to the same goal; but the truth is that, until we embrace the fact that we are salespeople too, and we learn to master this craft as well, we will not achieve the success that we desire. We cannot be in business without embracing selling. We must, therefore, overcome the stereotypes and learn to do it properly – professionally.

• Selling, when done properly, has nothing to do with persuading. It is not our job to talk people into things. Selling is about determining a fit between the buyer’s need and the seller’s supply (our very objective) and then facilitating a next step. Sometimes the proper next step is to part ways, sending the client on to another provider who is better able to serve him.

• We might argue that the high-pressure salesperson is going to sell more stereos than the respectful facilitator, but it is not stereos that we sell. We sell ideas and advice – the very contents of our heads – and so how we sell impacts what we are able to deliver. We cannot disappear immediately after the transaction is concluded and leave the client to wallow in his buyer’s remorse. After the close, our clients are stuck with us for a long time.

• There is only one way we can afford to sell: the way of the respectful facilitator.

• If we have not specialized and set ourselves apart from our competition in a meaningful way then all we have left is convincing. Convince or pitch: these are the options of the undifferentiated firm.

• Our objective in each and every business development interaction is to determine if the fit between the client’s need and our expertise is suitable enough to take a next step. This in itself implies the subsequent job of determining and then facilitating that next step.

• Proper selling can be distilled into three steps, based on the client’s place in the buying cycle. These three steps replace the art of persuasion. To sell is to:

  1. Help the unaware.
  2. Inspire the interested.
  3. Reassure those who have formed intent.

• The first thing we must understand if we are to approach selling properly and respectfully is that the client’s motivation, and by necessity, our role as salesperson, evolves as he progresses through the buying cycle. He moves from unaware of his problem or opportunity, to being interested in considering the opportunity, and finally, to intent on acting on it. As he progresses in this manner, our role must change from one of helping, to inspiring, and ultimately to reassuring.

• The psychology of buying is the psychology of changing. Selling, therefore, is change management. The very best salespeople are respectful, selective facilitators of change. They help people move forward to solve their problems and capitalize on their opportunities. The rest talk people into things.

• The next steps in this model of facilitating change are driven by the client’s need to move forward to solve his problem, not by what we as salespeople have or have not done. The model does not ask, “Have we obtained a meeting?” It doesn’t ask, “Have we presented a proposal?” The focus is on the client and whether or not he has recognized and begun acting on his need.

Step One: Helping the Unaware

• If we are narrowly focused experts then we should be able to succinctly articulate our expertise, and concisely describe to the client who we help and how, over the phone. To request a meeting after the client has told us he does not see a fit is to admit that a) we need more time with him to explain what we do because we haven’t been able to capture and communicate it succinctly, or b) we’re looking to talk him into something.

• When we find ourselves saying, “I’m going to be in the area and I’d like to come by to see you…” we cringe at the words coming out of our mouths. Such behavior creates buying resistance that we will have to overcome later in the relationship. It causes us to sacrifice our mission (to position ourselves as experts), and it creates the dynamics for an expensive sale that will see us poorly positioned to lead the engagement once hired.

• For our future client, we must take the long road of helping him, over time, to see that perhaps he does have a problem. We do this primarily through the dissemination of our thought leadership – our writings on our area of expertise.

• Over time, true thought leadership positions us as experts in our field and creates the opportunity for some of our thinking to trigger in the client the idea that perhaps his performance in a certain area could be improved.

• The role of our thought leadership is to educate, not to persuade. The future client should be smarter for reading it, we should be smarter for writing it, and, one day, when the client does experience a problem in an area on which we’ve written, our guidance may be helpful to him in seeing the opportunity within his problem. Until that day, we continue to cement our position as leaders in our field through our writing. Experts write.

• When we sit down to write about our area of expertise, we will be confronted quickly with an assessment of our success in following the first proclamation. Are we adding to the millions of words that already exist on a subject? Are we retreading well-worn ground? (e.g.: A brand is a promise, or, Is your brand authentic?) Or, are we delving deeply into meaningful subjects for wisdom that truly helps?

• Writing our way forward is a long-term approach that requires the patience of a farmer versus that of a hunter. But it is the only effective, respectful way with the client who says no and does not see the fit between his need and our expertise.

• We can build a business with enough people saying no to us every week, provided many of them agree to subscribe to our thought leadership and we are diligent about future follow-up.

Step Two: Inspiring the Interested

• The unaware future client sits at his desk reading our thought leadership on an emerging media, technology or school of thought relative to his business. His awareness grows, and he begins to see that his organization is lagging in this area. He assesses his situation. He begins to gather more information. He considers the discomfort of falling behind. He looks to the future and now imagines the benefits of being out front. He considers the risks of taking action, weighing the pros and cons. He is interested in the opportunity in front of him but not yet intent on taking action.

• The interested future client looks for inspiration to move forward. This is where we as creative people excel. We are among humankind’s most natural inspirers. Our work is inspirational. Our skill in commanding and leading a room is inspirational. Our ability to come at problems from previously unconsidered angles and our passion for solving the problem not yet solved are both inspirational.

• Our goal with such a prospect is to inspire him to form the intent to solve his problem; it is not to inspire him to hire us. At this stage, hiring us is but a possible future consequence of his deciding to take action. Our focus needs to remain on the client, helping him to facilitate the change in himself that he is considering.

• Our portfolios are our best tools of inspiration. They show the client what could be. They show him what others have done. Our examples of our best work paint the picture of the beautiful world on the other side of his pain. Inspiration is the primary role of our website, our brochure, our sales collateral, and our in-person portfolio review. It need not even be our own work that we show here to inspire the interested, just inspirational outcomes.

• When we get ahead of ourselves and attempt to inspire the unaware, we create buying resistance and set up the wrong dynamics. Trying to inspire someone who does not recognize that he has a problem is a recipe for defensiveness and resentment. Inspiration is something we must save for the interested.

Step Three: Reassuring the Intent

• The interested prospective client sits across from us and, through our portfolio, views examples of organizations that have mastered the challenge he is now considering. Through our examples and our conversation, he begins to envision a future of wonderful possibilities. Inspired by what his company could become, he summons the resolve to commit to solving his problem.

• Our mistake is in thinking this is the last step. It is not. What goes up must come down. After only a few hours, the client’s euphoria wears off and he slips into a hangover of doubt called buyer’s remorse. Now he questions everything, including his decision to move forward. He considers all the things that could go wrong, all the reasons why this might not make sense.

As natural inspirers, our tendency is to do exactly the opposite of what is required at this moment. Playing to our strengths, we lean towards inspiration once again at a time when we should reassure.

• It is not in the nature of most creative people to offer the reassurance the client seeks here. We tend toward excitement at a time when he requires calm. We speak of an organic approach to problem-solving when the client would be soothed by the logic and consistency of hearing about our defined approach. We continue to talk big-picture when the client now needs to process sequentially and seeks to understand what the steps are that we would take together. He asks questions of the smallest detail – questions that seem meaningless and even odd to us but are of the utmost importance to him in his quest for assurance that he is not about to make a significant mistake.

• Closing – the last step in the buying cycle – is all about reassuring. Let us remember that when a future client has formed intent and asks us for a written proposal containing free recommendations or speculative creative, his primary motivation is fear of making a mistake. If we can keep this in mind and look past his request to his underlying motivation, then maybe we can find other ways to offer the reassurance he seeks.

Most creative firms take these requests at face value and simply comply. You need to offer alternative ways forward. Phased engagements, pilot projects, money-back guarantees and case studies framed in defined methodologies are among the many viable alternative forms of reassurance. The key is to respond to the motivation and not necessarily the request.

The Four Priorities of Winning New Business

• It is not our goal to replace the client’s rigid and often ridiculous selection process with one of equal rigidity and absurdity. Let us be guided by the following hierarchy of four priorities of winning new business that will ensure we do not become overly rigid in our approach. The goal is to win. The preferred means is to not pitch. A firm that does not win will not last.

The First Priority: Win Without Pitching → We first strive to secure the business before it gets to a defined, competitive selection process in which we are pitted against our peers and asked to give our thinking away for free. This is easiest when the client sees us as the expert and reaches out to us first. It is also easier when we reach out to the client at a time early in the buying cycle when he is unaware of any need; and we stay with him as he progresses through the buying cycle, at first helping over time, then inspiring when appropriate, and finally, reassuring at the end. To Win Without Pitching is the ideal, but it is not always possible.

The Second Priority: Derail the Pitch → We often do not become aware of opportunities until late in the buying cycle – when the client has already formed intent, has already put a selection process in place and has reached out to numerous firms. In these examples, our priority is to derail the pitch – to get the client to put his process aside and take an alternative first step with us.

The Third Priority: Gain The Inside Track → There will be times when, try as we might, we cannot derail the client’s selection process. Some organizations’ policies are too strong. Some clients are too unwilling – even when they do recognize and value our expertise. In these examples, we apply the same principles laid out here, but our priority is now to get an edge over the competition within the process.

When we do choose to participate in the client-directed selection process we should do so with the perspective that every competitive bid process has a preferred option. Somebody almost always has inside information or access to hard-to-reach decision-makers. Sometimes the outcome is predetermined and the process is but a veil of legitimacy. Our default assumption should be that somebody always has the inside track.

If we cannot Win Without Pitching, if we cannot derail the pitch, then we endeavor to be the one on the inside track. We begin to participate in the process but do so while constantly gauging whether the client recognizes and values our expertise. We ask for concessions. We ask for access to decision-makers. We negotiate what we will and will not write in a proposal or show in a presentation. We measure the client’s words, but more importantly, his behavior – his willingness to treat us differently – and if he grants us the inside track, then it may make sense for us to proceed.

The Fourth Priority: Walk Away → There will be many times when it makes sense to do so; but for those prospects that would otherwise meet the parameters of clients we can best help, walking away is the fourth priority. We walk away when we cannot Win Without Pitching, when we cannot derail the pitch and when we are unable to gain the inside track. Good prospective clients who recognize and value our expertise will grant us one of the above. The others are not worth sacrificing our mission on in a long-shot attempt to out-pitch others, one of whom almost certainly has gained the inside track ahead of us.

5. We Will Do With Words What We Used to Do With Paper

We will understand that the proposal is the words that come out of our mouths and that written documentation of these words is a contract – an item that we create only once an agreement has been reached. We will examine all the reasons we ask, and are asked, to write unpaid proposals and we will never again ask documents to propose for us what we ourselves should propose.

• When we look back at the proposals we have written and we consider the engagements we have won, we can easily conclude that it was rarely the written document that secured the business. Those engagements we won were the ones for which we were best suited. The suitability of the fit was apparent to both parties throughout the conversations in the buying cycle. The written document did little to sway the decision.

• Just as we are leaving behind the pitch, the presentation and persuasion, so too are we abandoning the written proposal and thereby freeing up the dozens or even hundreds of hours we previously devoted to it every year. We have long been conditioned to think that the written proposal is a necessary step in the buying cycle. It is not.

• The document that we write is the contract. It serves as public verification of an agreement we have already formed with the client in conversation. The agreement is an oral understanding that covers the scope of work, timeframe, budget and the basic terms of the engagement. While the agreement may be subject to minor details, all of these issues are addressed in conversation first. The paper is produced only once the agreement has been reached.

• The buying resistance that we engender in the client is partly a result of the obvious investment we have made in the sale. When we spend hours on a lengthy written proposal, one that diagnoses and prescribes for free, it sends the message that we need the client’s business. We clearly imply to him that he has the power in the relationship. Beyond giving him the upper hand, we also make it difficult for him to be honest with us.

Let’s face it, No is the second-best answer we can hear. If the client does not see a fit between his need and our expertise, we want to hear so as early in the buying cycle as possible. The more heavily invested we appear to be in the sale, the less likely the client will tell us what he is really thinking. When he thinks we cannot bear to hear no, he will simply stall or defer or deliver a string of maybes. Most of the time, he will do so behind the shield of a request for a written proposal.

• We want to operate from the practitioner’s position where we have not overinvested in the sale, where we are not trying to talk the client into hiring us, and where we invite him to say no early and often. In this environment, there is no room for the written proposal, which, like the presentation, is a tool of swaying.

• Let us explore the many reasons why the client asks for a written proposal and see how many of them are valid.

To Keep the Hordes at Bay → The over-supply of undifferentiated creative firms has necessitated a process that keeps the client from being overwhelmed. He uses the written proposal as a tool to help him. It allows him to keep the masses at arm’s length and still give him something upon which to determine a next step. If we have succeeded in following the first proclamation and we have built an obvious specialized expertise, then we make it easier for the client to let us in. Otherwise, he will use the written proposal to keep us out.

We must embrace the challenge implied by the request for proposal (RFP). If we see the RFP as a tool for keeping undifferentiated firms at arm’s length, then we will take up the challenge to break through the proposal process and gain validation that the client does indeed recognize and value our expertise. When he does not, he will use the proposal, and its supporting selection process, as a means of maintaining distance.

The better clients, when they do recognize expertise, will crack open the façade of the proposal process and agree to a proper conversation. The question is one of merit: is the expertise of our firm deserving of such access?

If the client does not recognize and value our expertise then we have failed – failed to build true expertise, failed to demonstrate that expertise or failed by pursuing an opportunity that is not properly aligned with our expertise. In most of these cases, it is appropriate for us to retreat. We can do so without having overinvested in the opportunity. We can do so with our integrity intact and with possible future business opportunities preserved.

To Compare → In sorting through many similar firms, the client seeks to grid out their likenesses and differences. Undifferentiated firms gladly participate in this process. By not following the first proclamation, these businesses operate from positions of little power. Thus, all they can hope for is to win based on service (as demonstrated by compliance to the client’s process), personality, price, or by beginning to solve the client’s problem within the proposal. The process itself is an exercise in homogenization that reduces each firm to samples of its work, ill-informed guesses at possible strategies and hourly rates. True differences do not shine through in written proposals.

To Measure Value → Value = Quality/Price. The client’s challenge in determining the value of our services is that the quality of an idea not yet delivered is difficult to measure. This leaves him with two options: he can over-weight the decision toward that which he can measure (price), or he can ask us to deliver the idea (for free) in an effort to determine its quality. By following the third proclamation (We will diagnose before we prescribe) we demonstrate that our ability to do our best work is rooted in the strength of our diagnostic and strategic development processes. A client asking for unpaid ideas in a written proposal is like a patient asking for a diagnosis and prescription from a doctor he refuses to visit or pay.

The flaws of the proposal process are one more reason we must see the request for a proposal as a challenge to be met. Either we leverage the power gained by our expertise to impact the client’s process and replace the proposal and accompanying presentation with conversation, or we walk away and leave this client to another firm.

To Gain Inspiration → The most common, and costly, business development mistake shared by creative firms around the world is that of mistaking interest for intent. Clients often ask creative firms for proposals before their intent to act on their problem has been formed. In these situations, we must recognize that while the client is simply seeking the inspiration to help move him forward, sending us away to write is not likely to achieve it.

We must learn to measure the client’s intent; if his decision to act on his opportunity has not yet been anchored to a future date or event (a decent indicator of intent), then the written proposal is not the tool to help propel him forward. If the engagement has not yet moved from his wishlist to his to-do list, then it is still inspiration he seeks.

We are better off in these cases exploring our previous work for examples of inspiration, or examining with him his competitor’s work or other best practices from further afield. Sometimes such explorations merit a small paid discovery engagement, and sometimes they are merely part of the conversations in the buying cycle, but we must not mistake the seeking of inspiration for the will to move forward.

To Stall → Sometimes the answer is no. Sometimes the answer is probably not. And if this is what the client is really thinking, then this is what we should be keen and able to hear. But when we push too hard – when we pitch, present and invest in a written proposal – we often make it difficult for the client to be honest with us. In these cases, he will use the written proposal and its supporting process to not say anything to us when he really would like to say no.

If the answer is no, we want to hear it; therefore, we want to make it easy for the client to say it. It serves neither of us when we lob a written proposal over the fence and wait patiently for a reply.

To Shop Around for a Better Price → We are under no obligation to provide the client with a reference of services, process and price just so that he can find someone else to do what we would do, the way we would do it, but cheaper. Res ipsa loquitur.

Getting Paid to Write Proposals

• One of our new mantras that we will repeat to ourselves and our potential clients is: We do not begin to solve our clients’ problems before we are engaged.

• Many times, the client’s situation, or the probable solutions, are so complex or technical that we need to better understand the challenges if we are to propose and quantify responsible solutions. Such engagements demand that we begin our diagnostic work in order to present a plan. But let us not make the mistake of doing this diagnostic work for free.

Understanding and diagnosing the client’s situation is vital to the success of any engagement, and it is our work here at the very front of the engagement that will largely determine whether we succeed or fail in our endeavors for the client. We must charge for this work.

• Doctors charge for MRIs. Accountants charge for audits. Lawyers charge for discovery. And we charge for our diagnostic work as well, whether it is a brand audit or discovery session that we conduct ourselves, or outside research that we commission.

• For these complex challenges in which we must diagnose before we can even begin to quantify a prescription, our clients pay us to write proposals via a phased sale that begins with a diagnostic. The outcome of the diagnostic phase is two parts: findings and recommendations.

In our findings, we deliver our diagnostic discoveries, and in our recommendations we include a plan to move forward, complete with timeline and budget. In this way, we get paid to craft the proposal those times when it is necessary to write one.

• Our proposal is indeed the words that come out of our mouths: “We propose to do X for you, over Y timeframe, for Z price.” Once we have agreement on the proposal, then we write up the contract for signature. Let us be clear to our clients and ourselves: we are not in the proposal writing business. And let us make a promise to ourselves that we will no longer ask a document to do what we ourselves should do: propose.

6. We Will Be Selective

Instead of seeking clients, we will selectively and respectfully pursue perfect fits – those targeted organizations that we can best help. We will say no early and often, and as such, weed out those that would be better served by others and those that cannot afford us. By saying no we will give power and credibility to our yes.

• Most of us do not suffer from having too few clients. The problem with our client roster is usually one of quality, not quantity. We sometimes attempt to compensate for the quality of our clients by adding more of them; but we know that having numerous small, unsophisticated or otherwise inappropriate clients is no reparation for having the right type and size of clients.

• If we are to build a lucrative expert firm then we must regain this balance of a small number of high-quality clients. Once regained, we must accept that our client base will turn over and we must understand that this churn is healthy. Our client relationships should not be life sentences.

• Clients hire us at times of need. We generally solve the most pressing problems at the beginning of our relationships, and over time, the nature of our work slides toward the tactical end of our offering. Thus, our positioning with the client changes. At some point, we become less of an outside advisor and more of a partner, and then, ultimately, a supplier. Eventually, we part ways. The transition is inevitable; the only variables are time and the point of departure.

• The optimal engagement length will differ from firm to firm and from client to client, but we must embrace the idea that turnover is healthy, and the subsequent idea that our business development goal is to manage such turnover. If it is our desire to grow our practice, then we accomplish this by ensuring that the new clients we take in represent increased opportunity over that of those departing.

• Selectivity is one of the defining characteristics of the expert. It builds credibility, reduces buying resistance and creates the conditions where it is possible to replace presentations with conversations.

• A clear understanding of our goals – a small number of slowly revolving high-quality clients – makes it easier for us to adopt this selective approach. We will not win every opportunity, nor do we need to. From this, we should take comfort and patiently go about finding those that we can best help in a manner that is more focused and less frantic.

• Clients can smell selectivity. It is one of the early cues that signal to them to drop their guard and participate in meaningful discussions of fit or raise it and retreat behind the protective cover of “the selection process” where they ask for credentials, proposals, and presentations.

• Buyers prefer to be politely vetted by a seller who has clearly defined parameters of the nature of the work he will do, the type of client he will take on, and the budgets with which he will and will not work. The client’s experience in dealing with the selective expert versus the enthusiastic generalist who barges headlong into every opportunity is night and day different. One invites him to advance; the other causes him to retreat.

• Selectivity begins with positioning – the very focus of our enterprise. Our public claim of expertise must describe who we help and how, and in this description, those that would be better served by others should be able to select out. The client should be able to determine from a sentence or two whether our expertise is likely to meet his needs.

• The narrower our claim of expertise, the more integrity we earn. By staking a narrow claim, we build the credibility for the client to assume we have capabilities beyond our claim, whereas a broad claim generates the opposite reaction. The client knows the great difficulty of amassing broad expertise, and when such a claim is made, he assumes our true expertise, if any, must be much smaller than what is declared.

• No is the second-best answer we can hear. If the answer is no, we want to hear it as soon as possible, before we and the client unnecessarily waste valuable resources. When an opportunity first arises, therefore, we try to see if we can kill it.

This is contrary to how we typically act, but it is a powerful approach that lets us weed out poor fits early and eliminate those opportunities where the client would not hire us in the end (or those where we would regret that he did).

If the opportunity is right and we retreat just a little, the client is likely to follow. The retreat-and-follow is an important test of how much the client recognizes and values our expertise. It tells us if he sees a fit and indicates to us the power we have to lead any engagement.

• There are many common reasons why an engagement might not make sense: money, the nature of the client’s need, his willingness to let us lead, geographic location, the depth of our experience. We want to develop the habit of putting on the table for early discussion these or any other concerns we, or the client, might have.

• The dynamics of objections are such that when one party raises them, it is incumbent on the other to address them. Our tendency is to avoid areas of potential objection, but they cannot be avoided forever. Eventually, the client raises them and we are forced to address them. Such dynamics are easily reversed when we learn to raise the objections first and place them on the table for the client to address.

Instead of waiting to hear, “You seem expensive,” we might say, “I’m a little concerned about the ability an organization of your size has to afford us.” In this manner, we want to learn to lean into potential objections. If the objection is going to kill the deal, then let’s kill it early.

• It is okay for us to accept work outside of our area of expertise, provided: we have the ability, we have the capacity, we can do it profitably and we are not deluded into thinking that such work immediately merits expanding our claim of expertise.

• If we are well-positioned then we will possess capabilities beyond – often well beyond – our declared expertise. When potential clients approach us with needs within our capabilities but outside of our central expertise, it is vital that we handle these enquiries with honesty. When our claim of expertise is broad, we are inclined to respond to such enquiries with what the client expects to hear: “We can do that!” This reply builds buying resistance and makes it difficult to replace presentations with conversations.

• The target is not the market. We take precise aim at the smaller target and are happy to hit the wider market. Our claim of expertise should be a lot narrower than the sum of our capabilities.

• When we encounter an opportunity within our capabilities but outside of our expertise, we owe it to the client to tell him that, yes, we can do this, but no, it is not why we are typically hired. We owe it to him to reiterate our claim and point out the gap between what he needs and what we do.

From there, the client can make the decision to bridge the gap or not. He can decide that our experience translates to his need and that he would rather work with someone who is honest about her strengths. Or, he can decide to look for someone whose expertise more closely aligns with his need. If the gap is to be bridged, it’s better if it is the client who does so. The dynamics of objections, and the need to reverse them, apply here, too.

• On this point of accepting work outside of our expertise, let us remember that we never want to be enticed into competing for it. If the client bridges the gap and says, “I think you can do this,” and it makes sense for us to do it, then we are within our rights to take the work. If his statement is followed by an invitation to compete for the work, however, then we are better to decline, point him in the direction of a firm better aligned with his need, and get back to looking for our next perfect fit.

• Passion can be a tiebreaker when the client believes the level of expertise to be equal among his considered options. When we play up the tiebreakers of price, chemistry, and passion, however, we tacitly imply that when it comes to measuring us on the most important variable – expertise – we are no better equipped than others in consideration.

We must be free to use our passion, without forgetting that it can easily become a liability. The client may view our display of passion as an invitation to take control and an admission that our expertise may be lacking. Let us use our passion but beware that we do not overuse it and allow the client to use it against us.

• As our expertise deepens, so too does our ability to be selective. Expertise forces selectivity. The generalist is drawn to the problem he has not yet solved. His curiosity trumps all else. He feels no discomfort in operating outside of his area of expertise because such an area is broad, shallow and loosely defined. He pursues with passion the new and the different. When the transition is made, however, and he becomes used to the benefits of deep expertise – when the client ceding control to someone deserving of such control becomes the norm – he will not be easily enticed back to operating from the powerless position of the generalist.

• When given a choice to operate from the position of power that comes with deep expertise or to pursue work outside that area for clients who will not allow him to lead, the expert will refuse.

He will refuse not because it is written here to do so, but because he will never want to retreat back to that place of generalist order-taker. He will be wary of situations in which he does not have confidence in his ability to find the best solution – in which the landscape and challenges are unfamiliar and he has to admit to his client, “I’ve never done this before.”

7. We Will Build Expertise Rapidly

We will view our claim of expertise as a beginning and as a rallying cry for perpetual progress. Once focused, we will work to add to and deepen the skills, capabilities, and processes from which we derive our expertise, and we will commit to the idea that continuous learning is mandatory.

• We address here the third of our three steps to positioning our firm. First we select a focus, we then articulate that focus via a claim of expertise, and finally, we work to quickly add proof to our claim.

• When we put our flag in the ground, heads turn. The competition, seemingly oblivious to us before, suddenly takes notice. Those that do not claim meaningful territory are rarely attacked. What is there to defend, after all? This is one of the indulgences of the generalist: it is an easier life. It is not as lucrative. It is not as fulfilling. It is, however, easier. Nobody attacks the unthreatening generalist.

• The truth about the average human being is that, regardless of what he claims to want, he will avoid the difficult decisions and the undesirable tasks, even if they represent the path to the outcome or future he desires. The proven reality is that most people will change their desires, even their values, before they will change their behavior.

• Putting one foot in front of the other, we begin by choosing a focus and articulating a claim (the first proclamation). Then we change the way we sell (proclamations two through five). We become selective about our new clients and the work we do for them (the sixth proclamation).

And now that we have momentum and we begin to taste the benefits of expertise, here in the seventh proclamation we make a promise to ourselves that we will see how far we can go. We commit to deepening our expertise, rapidly and forever, so that we can find out just how good we can become.

• From the moment we make the claim, we find ourselves in a race with no finish line. It is a race in which the greater our lead, the more we have to lose; therefore, the faster we feel we must run. This is not an easy path. Once we are on it, however, moving past the stationary generalists on the sideline, we realize we would not have it any other way. We would rather race to fulfill our potential than stagnate in unchallenged contentment.

• A claim is just a claim; anyone can make one. Our claim of expertise helps us break through the clutter of competition and gain attention at the very first interaction with the prospective client. But from then on, it is incumbent on us to prove our claim. The further we progress into the buying cycle, the more the proof of our expertise aids us. Without proof, we find ourselves having to pitch – having to begin to solve the client’s problem as proof of our ability to solve his problem.

• The proof that we desire to build, and that our future clients need to see, is rooted in our skills, capabilities, and processes. These are things that we must never cease to build – assets to which we must never stop adding.

• The good news is that the very act of focus is likely to build depth. When we narrow our field of thought we think deeper.

• We need not be smarter or more creative than our competition, only more focused. Focus is powerful, but it is just the first step in building deep expertise. Other steps follow.

• Writing gets us found. Writing helps to cement our position as experts. Most important of all, writing about what we do is the fastest way to deepen our knowledge. Writing at length on our expertise drives us into the deep crevices of our territory.

• As focused experts, we benefit from repeated observation of the same challenges. Writing is the tool that helps us formalize our thinking on these observations. It forces us to tighten our arguments and therefore our understanding.

• Writing might not come naturally to us, it might be painful at times, but the rewards are significant and the exercise is mandatory. If we are to be experts we must write.

• The skills we must possess or acquire in order to succeed in a differentiated creative enterprise are: consulting first, writing second, artistry third. The problem-seeing and problem-solving skills of the advisor, along with the ability to lead others through the engagement, trump everything else. Writing follows, for writing both proves and deepens our expertise. The artistry, increasingly, is the commodity. It is inexpensively acquired from those that neither have, nor attempt to cultivate, the first two skills. We must take control and we must write.

• If we want to build deep expertise we must take pains to document how we work, to define how we will work in the future and to continuously refine and improve our approach. Working from a defined process leads to the very consistency of quality that a potential client tries to discern late in the buying cycle, when our role is to reassure.

Nothing reassures the client more than him drawing the powerful inference that little variability in process equals little variability in outcomes. Every one of the firms he is considering can demonstrate an ability to do great work, but the question he wants answered before he buys is: “How do I know I’m going to get their best work?”

When we are able to demonstrate strong processes, the client can decide for himself the implications of our processes on the consistency of our quality.

• If we have no meaningfully defined processes, then there is not much to train our people on. But once we commit to defining and improving how we work, then we must commit to training our people on such methods.

• We must make the commitment that in our firm all our people will feel compelled to keep up with their associates and excel past our competitors. When our new employees come to work for us they must feel as though the learning never ends and the pace of learning never lessens. We race together.

• We build a culture of continuous learning by hiring for skill, by developing it through training, by empowering our people to form their own professional development plans that we will approve and fund, by holding them accountable to these plans, and, most importantly, by leading with our own example. We go first, and set the example of pace and determination required to be part of our enterprise.

• While creative people have a proclivity for generalist tendencies that allow them to explore the new and the different, most will select a path of deep expertise once it is shown to them and they have experienced the benefits. Without that experience, not all will be convinced to join us on our journey.

8. We Will Not Solve Problems Before We Are Paid

Our thinking is our highest value product; we will not part with it without appropriate compensation. If we demonstrate that we do not value our thinking, our clients and prospects will not. Our paying clients can rest assured that our best minds remain focused on solving their problems and not the problems of those who have yet to hire us.

• A pitch-based business development strategy devalues our thinking and emphasizes the more commoditized parts of our offering. If we do not value our thinking, the client will not. He uses many cues to try to ascertain our value. He looks for signs from us of how we value ourselves. How can we diagnose and prescribe for free one minute, and later ask for hundreds or thousands of dollars for similar thinking?

• This pervasive challenge of giving our thinking away for free is easily remedied. It is as simple as deciding we will no longer do it, writing this commitment into a policy statement, and then stating to the client with polite conviction, “It is our policy to not begin to solve our clients’ problems before we are engaged.”

• It is irresponsible of us to use our identity as artists as an excuse for not forming business standards and policies. Clients lay policies on us as though they were law and we respond with preferences and inclinations. No – we must respond with policies of our own. We encounter far less client resistance when we preface our requirement with the words, “It is our policy that…”

• “We don’t do speculative (spec) creative.” But our designs are merely the application of our strategy; and our strategy, when arrived at responsibly, is rooted in a thorough diagnosis. Each of the phases that precede design or any other application work has a value at least as high as the application. Like creative, this thinking that precedes it should not be given away for free.

• The line that separates proving our ability to solve the client’s problem from actually solving his problem begins at the diagnosis. We correctly collect preliminary diagnostic information in the buying cycle in order to assess the client’s situation and make a determination of our ability to help. But we should not progress so far as to share our diagnosis with the client before we are hired and appropriately paid. Beyond that, we certainly should not be prescribing strategy without proper diagnosis and compensation. Free pitching is free thinking, period.

• Our need to not begin work without appropriate compensation does not end once the client commits to working with us. The transition from intent prospect to new client takes place through a series of steps, each an escalation in his commitment. While we do not doubt his word when he speaks it, we must remember that he is not fully committed until he has parted with his money.

• The escalation of commitment begins with a private one, when he says to himself, “I’m going to do this.” From there he moves to shared commitment when he says aloud to us, “Let’s do this.” He then further escalates his commitment by signing his name to a legal document, be it a contract, letter of intent or memorandum of understanding. But even now he is not truly committed. It is not until he has parted with his money that he is fully committed to moving forward with us, and even then we will still have to reassure him through the inevitable period of buyer’s remorse.

• We must recognize this escalation of commitment as a natural series of steps, and simply ensure that we do not begin to solve the client’s problem until he has completed all of them, the most important being the last: payment. One third to one half of the fee portion of the engagement is appropriate, or even the entire fee for the first phase in a phased engagement.

• There is no need for us to be tentative about stating our requirement for a deposit before we begin working for the client. We simply say, “We’ll get started as soon as we receive the deposit, as is our policy for all new clients.” We need not apologize for being responsible business people.

9. We Will Address Issues of Money Early

We will resist putting ourselves in a position where we have overinvested in the buying cycle only to find the client cannot afford to pay us what we are worth. We will set a Minimum Level of Engagement and declare it early in conversations so that if the client cannot afford us, both parties will be able to walk away before wasting valuable resources.

• Let us commit to memory the Win Without Pitching rule of money: Those who cannot talk about it, do not make it.

• How often have we found ourselves deep into a business development opportunity, heavily invested in time and other resources, only to learn at the end that the client’s budget was far below what was required for us to do the job? How is it that we get so far with such a gap in vital information? How is it that we allow ourselves to do so much work without first having a meaningful conversation about the financial fit between both parties?

• The client has a budget, or at the very least, budget limitations, and we should have our own parameters that define our minimum client size. With each party having such criteria, it becomes easy to determine as early as practical if there is a financial fit. But for many of us, it is not easy: money conversations are a source of stress.

• The root of this money stress is not in the conversations themselves, but in not having them when we know we should. Overcoming this stress begins with deciding that from here forward we will talk about money early and often. As soon as the opportunity arises we will lean into the discomfort of the topic, deal with it immediately and eliminate the stress from the subject.

• When we commit to deliberately managing a slow, steady churn of a small number of clients, we commit equally to the idea that each new client must be of a certain size, representing a certain amount of fee income. We owe it to our prospective clients to share such fee expectations with them as soon as appropriate.

• The annual fee minimum that we require becomes our Minimum Level of Engagement. It is an approximate number (usually somewhere around 10% of our total target fee income for the year) that we use as a tool to quickly weed out poor financial fits, to escalate discussions of short term tactical projects into discussions of long term strategic engagements, and to help us begin the money conversation early.

• Soon after a need is initially determined, it is incumbent on us to let the prospect know that we only work with a small number of new clients every year and therefore can only add clients that will spend at or above our Minimum Level of Engagement.

We are not looking to the client for an iron-clad commitment on this point, we are simply saying, “This is the size of client it makes sense for us to work with, so if you decide at some point that you would like to work with us, we ask that you be prepared to commit to fees at or above this level over the year.”

• The Minimum Level of Engagement is a powerful tool that we want to commit to using often, but without being overly rigid in its application. There will be times when we choose to waive our minimum, but let us not confuse the prerogative to waive it with the necessity for using it in conversation. We want to develop the habit of routinely sharing our Minimum Level of Engagement in every first discussion of an opportunity with a new prospect, while always reserving the right to waive it, if appropriate. Waiving it without mentioning it doesn’t count. Such behavior is simply a failure to follow our own parameters of selectivity.

• As selective experts, it is not in our interest to pursue project work that is tactical in nature or well below our Minimum Level of Engagement. This does not mean we do not take on project work from time to time. Obviously, we undertake project work for existing clients with whom we have larger, more comprehensive and strategic relationships.

We may choose to take on new project work if it meets certain criteria, such as, if we have capacity, if we can do it profitably, if it does not impair our ability to obtain more appropriate strategic work from the client in the future and if we do not have to compete for it.

• Project work is a byproduct of pursuing a small number of more meaningful engagements. We use it to fill gaps in capacity, but it is not the mainstay of our practice. If we were to accept even half of the project work that comes to us, then we would find ourselves aimlessly building a tactical firm burdened by too many small clients and projects, with the commensurate challenges of poorer financial reward and less fulfillment.

We will refuse more project work than we accept, but from time to time we will accept it. It is here that we would waive our Minimum Level of Engagement.

• Delivering our Minimum Level of Engagement early teaches us of the client’s ability to afford us. If we find that the client does not meet our minimum, but for other reasons, may still represent a lucrative opportunity, we can simply follow up with language such as, “Before I say no, let me ask you a few questions.” This keeps the minimum in play and lets us continue to gather information to make an assessment of the fit. In this way, we better manage the dynamics of the buying cycle.

If we determine the fit is suitable and we decide we would take this client on as one of our few exceptions to our minimum requirement, we must ensure that removing the minimum is the last thing we do before accepting the engagement. We never want to be in a position where we agree to waive our minimum only to hear, “Great, we’ll send you an RFP,” or, “Now we need to meet with a few more firms.”

•  We use our Minimum Level of Engagement like any other objection that we raise early for the client to overcome. Like the others, we reserve the right to remove it. This is the power of no. When we use it, it helps us measure and improve our place in the relationship, and it’s only as permanent as we need it to be.

• One of the functions of business development is to keep bad clients or other poor fits out. Like the gatekeepers at our clients’ companies, we must establish who is allowed in for meaningful discussions and who should be gently guided away to a more appropriate relationship with our esteemed competitor.

The fastest way to efficiencies in our business development approach is to unabashedly uncover important information early and use that information to make an honest and practical assessment of a fit.

The answer to the question, “Can and will the client afford us?” is vital information that we must resolve to uncover as soon as possible. Walking away from those that cannot pay us what we are worth lowers our average cost of sale and preserves both our positioning and any future business opportunities with the client.

10. We Will Refuse to Work at a Loss

We will build our practice one profitable assignment at a time. Excepting our carefully selected pro bono engagements and the occasional favor to our best and longest standing clients, every project will generate a profit that recognizes our expertise and the value we bring to our clients’ businesses.

• We will strive to win while charging more and thus validate our expert positioning. If we are not accomplishing this feat, then we have not yet succeeded in implementing the earlier proclamations.

• We must dispossess ourselves of the notion that we can operate on thin profit margins at the beginning of a new client relationship and then work to increase those margins over time. We know that profit margin, like power, only diminishes with time.

• Like the medical professionals that our four-phase model of diagnose, prescribe, apply and reapply suggests, our highest value offering is our ability to bring new perspective and understanding to our clients’ problems. Success at each phase depends on getting the earlier ones correct.

The first two phases of diagnose and prescribe represent the strategic portion of the engagement – the thinking phases that precede the doing. Our strength in these first two phases is what sets us apart from our competition and keeps the commoditizing forces of the profession at bay.

The thinking that precedes and wraps our doing is our value-added differentiator. It is the basis of our deep expertise. Our opportunity for profit margin in the engagement is greatest in these first two phases and diminishes from there.

• No client will willingly allow us to reverse this natural trend and command more profit margin as time goes on. We must admit that an approach that sees us sacrifice significant margin to win business with hopes of making it up later is rooted either in naivety, a false agreement with a client who is telling us what we want to hear, or in our own dishonest intentions of hoping to find profit that is not visible to the client.

• A key test remains to win while charging more. When we win by charging less, price becomes our positioning that we wear like an albatross with that client forever: we become the price shop.

• In our enterprise, there will be no loss leaders. As experts, we will not discount with new clients today for the opportunity to make money tomorrow. We will save the use of discounts for our best and longest-serving clients at times when they need our support.

• Legitimate price negotiations are fair game. If, from time to time, we decide that it makes sense to cut price to win the engagement, we must ensure we never cut so deep as to jeopardize its profitability. By seeing that every engagement is profitable, we ensure that our firm is profitable.

• We may negotiate from time to time, but before we cut price we will ensure we have explored all the alternatives.

Guarantees → Clients may attempt to negotiate because they are unsure of the value of our services. In these situations, we can consider guarantees as alternatives to discounting. Not guarantees of return on investment – for too many variables remain out of our control. Not guarantees on our entire spectrum of offerings – for they may be used against us late in the engagement. It is appropriate to guarantee the first phase – diagnosis and prescription – of a phased engagement in order to reassure the client of the value of moving forward with us. There is far less risk in this guarantee than there is in pitching free ideas and hoping to get paid.

Terms → Clients may see the value of our offering but attempt to negotiate based on their inability to pay. In these situations, before we discount, we should consider offering favorable terms that let the client pay over time.

Holding Our Ground → Sometimes clients will see our value and will be able to afford us, but will negotiate to get a better price nonetheless. Often, negotiating success in these cases goes to the party most comfortable talking about money. The one with the least emotional baggage on the subject will do better at holding his ground. By following the ninth proclamation (We will address issues of money early), we work to ensure that that party is us.

• When we have explored the alternatives and still we choose to discount, we will adhere to two rules:

We Leave it to Last → First, we will ensure that cutting price is the last thing we do. We will search for and address all other objections before we agree to discount. In one final sweep before we agree to accept less, we will ask, “If we were to agree to this price, is there anything else to stop us from deciding to work together right now?” If no objections or next steps remain, then we can cut our price and take the engagement. If there remain steps to be taken or objections to address, then we will do so before we discount.

We Put it in Writing → Second, we must ensure that such discounts are clearly identified in all written documentation, including contracts, estimates, and invoices, in order to remind the client of the true value of our services. Our failure to abide by this rule will almost certainly cost us in the future as the client “forgets” this proper value and references only what he previously paid. By recording our discount in all price documentation in this way, we ensure that such a discount does not set a precedent for new pricing moving forward.

• In the early days of a firm, there can sometimes be little foundation on which to build expertise. Here, pro bono – or even deeply discounted work within the selected field of focus – might be required to build that expertise. In these cases, there is no shame in being upfront with a prospective client about working cheaply or for free to amass expertise. Such an approach is valid, for a period of time. If we truly are trading profit for expertise building, then we will be honest and direct with our client about it. To do it quietly is to employ the generalist tactic of competing on price.

11. We Will Charge More

As our expertise deepens and our impact on our clients’ businesses grows, we will increase our pricing to reflect that impact. We will recognize that, to our clients, the smallest invoices are the most annoying. Through charging more we will create more time to think on behalf of our clients and we will eliminate the need to invoice for changes and other surprises.

• By following the money proclamations – getting paid first (VIII), talking money early (IX), refusing to work at a loss (X), and now, charging more – we develop a confidence that attracts better clients and weeds out poor fits without wasting resources. Proper employment of our Minimum Level of Engagement helps in this regard: thrifty clients are repelled and quality clients are attracted.

• In boldly charging more than our competitors, we advertise to our prospective clients that we have confidence in our ability to deliver high-quality outcomes.

• As we get better we will charge even more, until we find that equilibrium that captures the appropriate remuneration for the value of our services. Our premium pricing will cost us clients from time to time; but if we are not losing business on price occasionally, then we are not charging enough. Conversely, if we need to win on price, we are not setting ourselves apart as experts.

• Like our competitors, we too will use pricing as a positioning tool; but unlike them, we will strive to demonstrate higher pricing and thus benefit from all its positioning implications. Where others talk of their “competitiveness” on this front we will march headlong into the subject, following the ninth proclamation (We will address issues of money early), and boldly explain that we are likely to be more expensive than other options under consideration.

• We will invite the client to tell us that he would prefer to work with a more affordable firm. We will not apologize for charging more; it is fair compensation for the increased value we deliver as experts. It lets us improve our offering by giving us the means to reinvest in ourselves and, most important of all, it almost certainly improves the outcome and the experience for the client.

• When we take on an engagement with thin margins and then we encounter a problem with the engagement – from our doing or not – we are left with little ability to fix the problem. Healthy margins give us the wherewithal to fix mistakes, earn trust and build loyalty with our clients. In this way, our most profitable clients get our best service. It does not happen the other way around. Superior service does not improve profit; profit improves service.

• When we look down and see the profitable client’s name, we are happy to pick up. When the unprofitable client calls, we cringe. Our clients know whether they are getting the best from us, but they rarely know why. Failing to charge enough leaves us little room to move and creates discordant dynamics with our clients. All of this affects the quality of our work and our reputations as reliable advisors.

• Healthy profit margin is vital, for sometimes the right thing to do is to give some of it back in order to correct a bad situation.

• The change order represents most of what is wrong with our business model and our client relationships. Firms like ours are not fired over the large invoices for strategic work; they are fired over the small invoices for tactical work. It is the change order that creates the resentment that builds until the relationship snaps.

• When the client allows the expert firm to take control of the engagement and charge more, he does away with the injustice of a new invoice every time a small tactical change is requested. Is this not a tradeoff that quality professionals and better clients would make?

• We sell our thinking but we do ourselves a gross disservice in selling it by the hour. The surest way to commoditize our own thinking is to sell it in units of doing: time. Later in the engagement, when the strategy work has been done and we are deep into implementation work, the client buys our time. It is our thinking, however, that separates us from our competition and forms the basis of our ability to premium price.

• When we charge for thinking by the hour, we undo much of the work of the previous proclamations. “How much an hour?” we hear the client think. “How many hours?” When we employ commodity pricing we invite commodity comparisons, regardless of the value we deliver. The defining characteristic of a commodity is an inability to support any price premium.

• If we cannot win while charging more, then we must face the reality that we are selling a commodity.

• While our engagements follow the four phases of diagnose, prescribe, apply and reapply, it is the outcomes of the third and fourth phases that are the deliverables the client seeks. Our strategy – diagnoses and prescription – is how we do what we do.

• The strength of our strategic processes, rooted in our deep experience and systematic thinking, is what ensures our high likelihood of a high-quality outcome. This is the basis of the premium we command, therefore we should not be charging for it in units of time.

• We must price our upfront work, right up to the first creative deliverable, in big round numbers that end in zeros, and thus clearly imply that our pricing for these services has little to do with the hours it takes to deliver them.

• For the reapplication work that follows, we are free to charge by the hour. When our clients buy our thinking, however, they need to understand they are not buying it in units of time. It is not until we cease to sell these strategic services by the hour that we can truly charge more.

• We never want our clients to be in situations where it is easy for them to decide to not take our advice. Any time someone hires an outside expert, the ultimate outcome he seeks is to move forward with confidence. What is the value of good advice not acted upon? It is our job to tell him what to do, but that is often the easy part. We are equally obliged to give him the strength to do it.

We are not meeting our full obligations to our clients when we make recommendations that they find easy to ignore. The price we charge for such guidance should be enough that our clients feel compelled to act, lest they experience a profound sense of wasted resources. There must be the appropriate amount of pain associated with our pricing. This implies the need for our pricing to change as the size of the client changes. Larger organizations need to pay more to ensure their commitment.

• Another reason larger clients must pay more is they derive greater financial value from similar work we would do for smaller organizations. To charge John Doe Chevrolet what we would charge General Motors for the same work would be irresponsible of us. The larger client pays more to ensure his commitment to solving his problem and to ensure his commitment to working with us – and he pays more because we are delivering a service that has a greater dollar value to him.

• Of all the investment opportunities we will face in our lives, few will yield returns greater than those opportunities to invest in ourselves. Price premiums give us the profit to reinvest in our people, our enterprise and ourselves. The corporations that we most admire are the ones that invest in research and development.

12. We Will Hold Our Heads High

We will see ourselves as professional practitioners who bring real solutions to our clients’ business problems. We will seek respect above money, for only when we are respected as experts will we be paid the money we seek. This money will allow us to reinvest in ourselves, become even better at what we do and deliver to our families and ourselves the abundance we deserve.

• Today, we in the creative professions find ourselves standing at a crossroads. On the one side, the process of design is finally being seen as the last great differentiator of businesses and economies; while on the other, the outputs are increasingly seen as commodities.

Technology and oversupply are combining to rapidly widen the gulf between the commoditized tacticians who now bid their services against each other online, and the expert practitioners who command significant fees for leading their clients to novel solutions to meaningful business challenges.

The middle is disappearing. The need to choose a path is being forced upon us. If we continue to choose not to choose, the decision will be made for us, and we will be pushed down the commodity road where we will reside with thousands of other order-taker suppliers who will never be free of the pitch.

• This is not a bad time to be forced into decision. The world is waking up to the idea that the challenges of both businesses and societies are challenges of design, creativity, and innovation. The opportunity for us to have a meaningful impact on the world has rarely been larger.

• When we express our resentment for the client who does not value us, we are really expressing our self-loathing for not being able to walk away from him. We must accept that the bad clients and the ridiculous selection processes are not going away. Those that expect us to work for free as a means of proving our worth are not suddenly going to disappear. It is, after all, the client’s money. He can employ any means he likes to select someone to help him, no matter how absurd or insulting. We can only control how we respond. The power we wield is the power to walk away.

• We possess something that most others do not. We see what others cannot. We can conceive what does not yet exist. At our very best, we have it within us to lay out the future and lead people to it. When we imagine ourselves at our best, we can see again the change we might bring to the world. We can see the power we have to move people and organizations.


If you’ve enjoyed this summary of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns, and you would like to get the full book, please do so using my link. You’ll help me out without spending an extra penny: Print, eBook, Audiobook

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Analytics & Data Mastery by DigitalMarketer

DigitalMarketer Analytics & Data Mastery Certification.

Course Review:

Analytics & Data Mastery by DigitalMarketer is a course about how to collect, organize, and analyze data in order to see how your business is doing and make informed decisions. If you don’t do this type of work, you’re essentially flying blind. It’s presented by Justin Rondeau who is the Director of Optimization at DM and John Grimshaw who is DM’s Senior Data Analyst.

You’ll learn things such as figuring out which blog topics are bringing you the most engagement and leads, finding out what are people saying about you online, where you should put your advertising budget to get the best results, etc.

The instructors listed different types of KPIs for every stage of the funnel since goals vary at different stages; this also simplifies identifying problems and opportunities in your business. The best part was suggesting which KPIs to focus on based on what type of company you’re running (e.g., solo-entrepreneur, service business, e-commerce companies).

There are instances when I wished the instructors explained things in more detail. Overall, it’s a really good course. And if you’re a marketer, I would say this one is essential.

Course Notes:

The following notes from Analytics & Data Mastery by DigitalMarketer are meant to be concise, reminding me of high-level concepts and not trying to recreate the whole course. This summary is basically a bunch of notes and lessons paraphrased or quoted directly from the course and does not contain my own thoughts.

Module 1. An Introduction to Data Analysis

• There are only 3-5 data points that you need to look at daily to assess the health of your campaign.

What Data Analysis Is (And What It Can Do for Your Business)

• True analysis is data with a plan. It’s not enough to know the numbers… you need to know what they mean.

• Analysis in four steps:

  1. Ask the right questions (creating scope): If you don’t know what you want to know, you want to know what to look for. This creates context and identifies the application of your findings.
  2. Know where to look (picking the data source): There is no use asking a question where you can’t find an answer. If you don’t know where to find information and make sure that it’s accurate, you won’t be able to answer your questions. The data sources will vary, and you need to pick the right one for the right job.
  3. Know what to look for (compiling data): Looking at the wrong data will hurt your business.
  4. Know how it applies (applying data): You need to apply the numbers to answer your questions—turn data into learnings that drive decisions.

Here’s an example of the four steps:

  1. How many orders do I get a month?
  2. Check your e-commerce provider—you can also look at GA, but there is likely a margin of error to consider.
  3. Find your sales totals, which can be done finding the yearly total and dividing it by # of months.
  4. Basic sales metric used for other calculations.

A tougher example of the four steps would be:

  1. Which traffic channels had the biggest impact on sales?
  2. Check your analytics provider—you’re looking for trends here, so you want to stay within your analytics provider.
  3. Identify your best traffic sources—if you’re looking at GA, then this report is done for you.
  4. This tells you the most successful channels and where you should allocate more budget.

• Averages lie. The more you can step in into your data and find what’s boosting conversions and what’s depressing them, the better and more detailed your decisions will be.

• The questions you come up with are based on your campaigns and business goals.

Why All Businesses Must Be Data-Driven

• A data-driven business can make decisions on more than a hunch. More often than not, what we think is going to work for our customers isn’t going to work because we’re not them, and so we need to dig deeper into how they’re interacting with our site and what makes them act by going through our data sets.

• A business without data simply can’t grow! It’ll lack scalability, detailed insights, and rely on its “best guesses”.

• There are only three ways to grow a business, and they’re not created equal:

  1. Increase new sales, which requires building trust with new traffic.
  2. Increase sale amount, which requires new products/services, bundles, or price points—there is more stuff in terms of production-side that has to go into increasing the average order value. If you can’t track these things, you’ll have no idea what to expand upon (e.g., if you don’t what your successful product lines are, you could start development on something that’s not going to appeal).
  3. Increase sale frequency, which requires getting previous customers to come back and purchase more.

• Averages don’t tell the whole story. You want to use averages as indicators and then dig deep to find explanations and opportunities.

• Everyone can profit from doing analysis. If you are:

  • Solo-entrepreneur/shop: Keep it simple, know you “need to know” metrics, and work from there.
  • Medium/large lead generation companies: Break out your KPIs by department.
  • Medium/large e-commerce companies: Break out your KPIs by department.
Analysis & The Funnel

• You need to use the funnel structure for analysis for a number of reasons:

  • Goals vary at different stages: When someone is a brand new visitor at the awareness stage, you want to get them to know you, make them interested, and/or make them aware of their problem. At the bottom, you want them to buy your stuff. So, you need to measure what success is differently at each stage.
  • Prospect location and behavior changes at each stage: The way that people interact with your business off and on the web is different depending on whether they’re at awareness, evaluation, or conversion stage. You want to know where people are and what stage they’re in, and by separating that out, you’ll have a better understanding of what’s working and what’s not—it doesn’t make sense to try to track someone’s behavior when they’re in your funnel trying to make a purchase and treat them like someone who’s brand new to your site.
  • You can diagnose your business health for each stage: It simplifies identifying problems and opportunities in your business.
What Data Matters to Your Business

• Businesses have different needs. A dentistry office is going to need to track completely different things than a brand new tech startup; therefore, you need to mold your metrics to fit what your business is doing.

• If you’re a small or new business, your challenges would be things like:

  • New unestablished properties: You need to build up digital assets (e.g., writing content for a blog, building a social profile where your audience hangs out). This requires a process of testing, honing, and figuring out what people respond to (e.g., some type of content that makes them purchase).
  • Limited budget: You’ll have to be extra cost-conscious in the early stages in terms of money, time, and energy. You want to make sure to make the most out of every dollar you spend—turn $1 into $2—otherwise, you won’t be around in a year.
  • Limited time: You won’t have a full-time employee dedicated to analysis.

Whereas your business goals would be things like:

  • High immediate profitability: Most businesses fail within the first year, so you’ll need to start generating revenue very quickly. Everything you’ll be doing needs to ROI pretty much immediately.
  • Efficient data processes: You need to be able to get meaningful insights that’ll help you figure out what you should do in your business without spending too much time on numbers. You want to look at 2-3 things that really move the needle for your business.
  • Build business assets: Your goal is to, through data, figure out what assets are worth spending your time and energy on. You’ll have to ensure that the data you’re tracking correlates with business growth.

• If you’re a digital, e-commerce, or membership business (i.e., you’re a business that lives entirely online), your challenges would be things like:

  • Funnels are the lifeblood of the business: When you live entirely online, your sales funnel conversion rate is critical. You want to make sure you’re performing well at each stage of the funnel.
  • Evaluating membership value: Knowing the value of a member is critical for estimating customer value—this is difficult when you also have many other products.
  • Lots of moving parts: When you have all kinds of different properties (e.g., offers, websites, product types), it’s really important for you to be able to track what’s working and what’s not, then put your time and energy in what’s working.

Whereas your business goals would be things like:

  • Master funnel conversion rates: You need to create a system to ensure your funnels are optimized.
  • Accurately evaluate customer value: This goes back to the membership. You need to determine the value of a new customer very accurately. This will let you know how much you can profitably spend.
  • Accurately value properties and products: This goes back to figuring out which of your assets/product lines are working well. You want to make sure you’re spending your time and energy on the stuff that’s making you the most money.

• If you’re a service or a brick & mortar business—these types of business have certain things in common such as a longer sales cycle and high-dollar offers—your challenges would be things like:

  • A mix of online and offline efforts: When you’re selling bigger-ticket items or working at a local level providing services, you’ll typically have online promotions and advertising, as well as offline things. You’ll need to evaluate the marketing efforts happening online and offline, and figure out what their value is.
  • Long sales cycle: People may not need the product or service you’re offering at the moment they land on your site. You have the added challenge of creating leads, then keeping them interested and aware of the business until the moment they decide to make a purchase; this means that you have to keep your costs low.
  • Evaluating performance is slow: There is a big gap between when you spend the money and when you’re able to find out how your campaign performed; therefore, you need to be careful about what you’re testing and not spend too much since you can’t figure out immediately how well you’re doing. Generating a lot of new leads after spending money on a campaign doesn’t make it a success because those leads might turn out to be bad quality leads after 6 months, for example.

Whereas your business goals would be things like:

  • Find leads with long-term ROI: With a long sales cycle, lead quality is critical. You don’t want to spend so much money acquiring a lead only to find out, a year later, that they’ll never purchase anything.
  • Evaluate diverse lead generation strategies: You want to compare the performance of your campaign across all kinds of mediums (online/offline).
  • Maintain strong relationships: You need to make sure you have a strong rapport with the leads you generate because it takes a while for them to become a customer. You want to make sure that you’re staying top-of-mind so that when it’s time for them to make a purchase, you’re there.
Data Analysis Building Blocks

• You need data! Without data, you can’t make strategic, business-building decisions; you’ll be making decisions based on ideas, hunches, and guesses, which is neither a scalable nor an effective way to grow your business.

• Data alone is not enough! Just having a spreadsheet with thousands of numbers on it is not going to help you run a better business, give your customers a better experience, or make meaningful changes to what you’re doing. You need to turn data into action through analysis.

• Analysis matters because it:

  • Turns data into actionable insights: Numbers become patterns that can be exploited or improved.
  • Eliminates biases and outliers: There’s going to be times in your business when you see things such as your average order value tripling or your conversion rate going through the roof, which could be the result of a mistake in your tracking, something broken on your website, a typo where you meant to type 10 but types 100, etc. Analysis ensures that odd data doesn’t skew your results.
  • Contextualizes your data: You might see something that’s going poorly in your business (e.g., your AOV has dropped, visits have dropped) in the middle of the summer, for example. Contextualizing your data will give you the insight to know that every summer in your business, you see a drop due to seasonality; this lets you prepare for lower sales during that time of the year. The analysis process will give you ways to contextualize things like seasonality, competitors going in or out of the market, etc. which lets you predict what change is going to happen and help you avoid making mistakes based on incorrect assumptions or decontextualized data.

• One of the tools you’ll use to do data analysis is the analytical decision-making process, which is an 8-step flow chart that will show you each of the different things you need to do in order to take your raw numbers and turn them into meaningful actions.

• The four parts of data analysis:

  1. Data: This is going to be used to identify anomalies (i.e., things that are going well or poorly in your business) and explain them.
  2. A question: This is something that you want to understand or explain, presented in a formal way. For example, if your AOV has doubled, you want to know why that happened.
  3. A hypothesis: A proposed explanation for your question that must be proved or disproved using the data you’ve collected.
  4. Analyst’s toolkit: This is a series of ways that you can use to question and break down the numbers that you’re seeing. It helps you contextualize your data.

Module 2. Data Collection Strategies

Introduction to Google Analytics

• Here are some Google Analytics terms that are essential to know:

  • Sessions: The time a visitor spends on a website. This is the uninterrupted session experience on your site where someone can hit multiple pages, but as long as they’re on your site without leaving it. A single user can have multiple sessions, and sessions will always be a much larger number than users because every user can have multiple sessions. If a user is inactive for more than 30 minutes, it defaults to a new session—inactivity will bulk this number up every now and then.
  • Users: Visitors with at least one session during a given time period.
  • Pageviews: An instance of a page being loaded (or reloaded) in a browser—they tell you how many pages were loaded during a time period. These will probably be the biggest number on your site.
  • Bounce: This measures the percentage of site visitors viewing only one page and triggering no events—the bounce rate is more than just getting on a page and leaving. It’s a good idea to get people to trigger an event by setting an adjusted bounce rate (e.g., you can do a time-triggered event where if people are on a page for more than 15 seconds, you cut them out of the bounce category).
  • Exit: This is the number of people that leave on a given page. Unlike a bounce rate where a page is actually the only one people have seen before they left and had triggered no events, an exit rate is where people have seen previous content (i.e., they’ve been on other pages or they’ve had an event occur). The exit rate isn’t inherently a big problem (e.g., you should expect a high exit rate on your thank you page).
  • Events: These are user interactions with content that can be tracked independently from a web page or a screen load—it’s about what happens and how people interact with a page after it loads. This makes sense within bounce rates; if people are on a page and they click something there or interact with a tab, they’ve now interacted with the page more so than someone who’ve just gone on the page and left.
  • Landing page: This is the first page a visitor views during a session; also known as the entrance page.
  • Filter: This is a configuration setting that allows you to add, remove or modify your data during processing before it is displayed in your reports. This is extremely useful when you’re trying to fix your data (e.g., filter out spam bots).
  • Segments: These are subsets of sessions or users that share a common attribute. Segments allow you to isolate and analyze groups of sessions or users for better analysis. These are extremely valuable since averages lie, and you need to know really what’s the depresser and what’s the booster.
  • Metrics: These are the quantitative measurements of your data. Metrics in Google Analytics can be sums or ratios.
  • Dimension: This is a descriptive attribute or characteristic of data. Browser, Landing Page and Campaign are all examples of default dimensions in Google Analytics.
  • Conversion: In terms of analytics, this means completing an activity on your site. Conversions are achieved when site visitors complete their end goal, like downloading a pdf, making a purchase, or submitting a form.
  • Goal: A configuration setting that allows you to track the valuable actions, or conversions, that happen on your site or mobile app.
  • E-commerce: A type of goal that tracks transactions in your analytics dashboard.
  • Campaigns: These are reports and groups your tagged traffic coming into your site.
Google Analytics Layout & Understanding

• The Audience tab tells you who your audience is—information about visitors. The Acquisition tab tells you where your audience comes from to your site. The Behavior tab gives you information about what people are doing on your site. Finally, the Conversions tab tells you whether people are taking the desired actions you want.

Tracking Site Visitors

• Tracking matters because it allows you to:

  • Understand user behavior: You can see how visitors get to your site and how they use it. This will give you deep insights into what channels work best for what purpose (e.g., you might find that Facebook produces the best leads, or email is what’s actually working best to create excitement about your products).
  • Segment and drill down: You want to be able to compare segments from different channels, campaigns, and creatives to see which ones work best for different purposes. You won’t only be sourcing by traffic source, you’ll be sorting by which emails work best, which promotional tactics work best, which ads work best, etc.
  • Evaluate marketing performance: You’re going to go beyond just saying “This campaign did well!” to really dig deeper in order to say “This campaign perform 10% better than this other one!” so that you know which type of promotion you should use in the future.

• The way you’ll be tracking where visitors come from is by using UTM parameters. UTM parameters is a tool that lets you take any link you’re sharing and add some text to the end; this lets you figure out where people came from.

• There are four main parts to UTM parameters:

  • Source: This is the referring sites and email segments that are sending the audiences there (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, sites where you have banner ads, sites that are sharing links to your content, an email segment for your promotions, an email segment for your content, etc.).
  • Medium: This tells you how visitors got to your site. This describes where the link that people are clicking is housed (e.g., email, banner ad, someone else’s site with an affiliate program you set up with them, etc.). Knowing the medium lets you drill down on what different things are driving clicks.
  • Content: This describes the actual creative that drove the click. You’ll be able to figure which ads are performing best, which videos on YouTube are getting people excited and getting them to click on annotations, which emails you send work best, etc.
  • Campaign: This describes the overarching promotion or strategy you’re leveraging. It lets you know what you’re doing in terms of email, Facebook, other people’s websites, and all the different things you’re using, all under the same umbrella of the UTM campaign; after that specific promotion is over, you can go back and find out which channels drove the most visits, which channels drove the highest converting visits, etc.

DigitalMarketer Analytics & Data Mastery UTM Parameters

Pulling CRM & E-commerce Data

• There are formulas that you’ll be using all the time to do your analysis, which will require knowing certain metrics. Some of these metrics include:

  • Unique visits: You’re going to look at this site wide and for specific product pages.
  • Number of sales: For this, you’ll be looking inside your e-commerce provider or your CRM. This is your raw number of sales for a given period or a given product, etc.
  • Total revenue: This will tell you how much you made during the time period within which you’re looking.
  • Total returns/refunds: This will help you figure how many times customers are unsatisfied. You’ll be able to track not only the number of refunds but the total value of the refunds.

• The formulas you’ll be using include:

  • Page Conversion Rate
  • Average Order Value
  • Revenue Per Visitor
  • Add-To-Cart Rate
  • Returns & Refunds

Page Conversion Rate 

  • Why: This matters because it allows you to see how individual pages are performing. Whether you’re looking at add-to-cart clicks, clicks on banners in your content, etc. your goal is to get people to take some additional action, and you’ll track that by looking at the page conversion rate.
  • Where to find it: Google analytics and e-commerce provider.
  • How to calculate it: Total # of sales (or of actions taken)/Total # of page visits

Average Order Value 

  • Why: This tells you how much your average customer is worth to your business. It’s important to look at this because raw numbers alone don’t let you know what the average take rate is for each different step of your funnel and what the end result, as far as revenue, is for your business.
  • Where to find it: Google Analytics & e-commerce provider.
  • How to calculate it (if you have e-commerce tracking set up in GA, you’ll be able to automatically see this without having to manually pull): Total revenue/Total # of orders

Revenue Per Visitor 

  • Why: This is great because not only it tells you how much your customers are worth but how much your site visitors are worth on average—it represents what someone visiting your site is going to spend on average.
  • Where to find it: Google Analytics & e-commerce provider.
  • How to calculate it: Total revenue/Total # of unique visitors (users)

Add-To-Cart Rate 

  • Why: This is great if you want to look at conversions at the bottom of your funnel. It lets you know what pages are having trouble making people take the action you want, and it helps you measure your cart abandonment rate.
  • Where to find it: Google Analytics.
  • How to calculate it: Total # of add-to-cart clicks (or the total number of purchases or conversions for the action you want them to take)/Total # of page visits

Returns & Refunds 

  • Why: This gives you deep insights into customer satisfaction, and it’s crucial for forecasting.
  • Where to find it: E-commerce provider or customer service.
  • How to calculate it (you can look at this for a specific time period or by a specific product): Total # of returns or refunds/Total # of sales

• There are additional metrics that don’t require a formula to calculate that you should look at:

  • Buyer Frequency: This metric represents how frequently visitors come back to your site and make additional purchases. People who purchase from you are more likely to come back and make additional purchases, so being able to track buyer frequency will give you powerful insights into which customer you have are more likely to become future buyers. You can find this in your e-commerce provider or CRM.
  • Leads Generated: This is an extremely important metric at the MOFU because it’s what the conversion is represented by at that stage. You’re going to look at the total number of leads generated within a time period or by different lead types. You can find this in your CRM.
  • Membership Length: If you have a membership site, understanding how long people stay members on average is one of the most important things you can do for your business. You’ll be able to estimate how much you can spend to acquire a customer and make revenue projections. You can find this in your e-commerce provider or CRM.
Pulling Paid Traffic Data

• Paid traffic can do many things for your business such as:

  • Interest generation: It gives you a way to put your message about a product/service in front of your target audience.
  • Targeting: It has very powerful targeting options.
  • Scale: It makes it easy to find new audiences to speak to.

• You’ll be using some base metrics from paid traffic that you’ll then use in your dashboards:

  • Paid Traffic Spend (how much you spend on each campaign): You can look at this on a total level for whatever channel (e.g., FB, Google AdWords, LinkedIn), or you can look at it at a campaign level. It’s recommended that you look at both.
  • Paid Traffic Revenue (how much you make from each campaign).
  • Retargeting List Size: This is an advanced tactic, but it’s a powerful way to track how your business is growing. You’ll create lists that allow you to segment your audience and track how many visitors you’re getting, how many visitors are interested in a specific topic on your site, how many people are moving down the funnel, etc.

• The formulas you’ll be using include:

  • Paid Traffic ROI
  • Paid Traffic EPC (Earnings Per Click)

Paid Traffic ROI 

  • Why: You have to diagnose the health of your paid traffic campaigns—you want to be ROI positive. Over time, you’ll likely to see that your paid traffic campaigns’ ROI starts to dip; this is because your ads are fatiguing (i.e., the audience your targeting has seen them too many times, the ones who are interested have opted-in, and your revenue starts to drop).
  • Where to find it: Paid traffic platform & e-commerce provider.
  • How to calculate it: (Paid traffic revenue – Paid traffic spend)/Paid traffic spend

Paid Traffic EPC (Earnings Per Click) 

  • Why: This is important because it tells you how much you can pay for clicks on your campaigns.
  • Where to find it: Paid traffic platform & e-commerce provider.
  • How to calculate it: Paid traffic revenue/Paid traffic clicks

• You’ll need additional paid traffic data such as retargeting lists. A retargeting list is basically a way that you can track how people have interacted with your site (e.g., you can go in and look at people who have visited your home page, but who’ve never visited a product page). Facebook and AdWords offer this capability, as well as some site popup programs where you can set the rules to be (everyone who’s visited a specific URL – everyone who’s not visited another URL).

• Retargeting lists size is a powerful way to figure out where the interest lies on your website and what kind of opportunity you’ve got (e.g., you might notice that the size of your FB Ad Templates blog post list is 180.000 people, whereas the size of your Blogging Templates blog post list is 100.000 people). In the previous example, the blogging audience is probably converting a little better, but there’s going to be less opportunity out there about your FB programs—by speaking to the larger audience, you can start to push people down the funnel.

• The reason you want to track your retargeting lists size is to look at the percentages of audiences throughout the funnel. For every given funnel, you’ll be tracking how many people have not opted-in, how many have opted-in, how many have opted-in but didn’t purchase, how many have purchased but didn’t buy the next high-dollar offer, etc. You’ll be able to understand, generally speaking, where people are getting stuck in every funnel and which parts of it are working very well.

• Generally speaking, you want retargeting lists for the following reasons:

  • Efficient audience tracking: They give you the ability to quantify site visitors very quickly. For example, you can jump into your paid traffic platform and figure out how many are in your FB Ad Templates funnel; you’ll get a list of all the different people who have hit certain steps but didn’t progress to the next step.
  • Audience segmentation: You can create audience lists that group visitors by interest. This lets you figure where opportunities are for pushing people down the funnel and lets you know what kind of content you should be creating because people are responding to it.
  • Pinpoint funnel opportunities and weaknesses: You can identify places where prospects are getting stuck and figure out ways to optimize that part of the funnel or figure out if that’s not a good funnel for you.
Creating and Naming Retargeting Lists

• The best way to take advantage of retargeting lists is by using a careful naming structure so that when you choose to go inside of your paid traffic platform, you can do a quick search and quickly diagnose everything.

• A great way to name your audiences is to use the term Media (i.e., something that you’re using for cold traffic). Media encompasses all the different ways to bring new visitors to your site, turn them into customers quickly by offering low-dollar offers, etc. as well as the term Monetization (i.e., something you’re using for leads and customers)—you can also use Cold, Warm, or Hot. You’ll then use a hyphen and name the specific offer (e.g., lead magnet, execution plan, product, up-sell). Lastly, you’ll use a short description to denote a particular step in the funnel (e.g., Lead Magnet Visitors/No Opt-in, Lead Magnet Opt-ins/No EP Purchase, Cart Visitors/No Purchase, Purchase/No Up-sell).

For example:

  • Media – Facebook Ad Templates – A: Facebook Blog Traffic
  • Media – Facebook Ad Templates – B: Lead Magnet Visitors/No Opt-in
  • Media – Facebook Ad Templates – C: Lead Magnet Opt-ins/No EP Purchase
  • Media – Facebook Ad Templates – D: Cart Visitors/No Purchase
  • Media – Facebook Ad Templates – E: Purchase/No Up-sell
  • Media – Facebook Ad Templates – F: Up-sell and Exit
Starting with Data

• When it comes to data, you want to collect first and analyze second. If you have a pre-conceived notion of how you want the data to look like, it will actually start looking like that.

• You must avoid biases by:

  • Pull your raw numbers.
  • Input them into your dashboard.
  • Analyze after you have everything.

• If you see a trend, don’t stop pulling the numbers! You need to keep pulling data in order to see the whole story because, otherwise, you’ll start seeing trends everywhere and start connecting them to other ones where you might have big issues with correlation and causation. We’re very good at finding patterns and wired to connect trends to causation.

• Just because you start seeing a trend, doesn’t mean that that’s the end all be all. You have to really dig into numbers and your key metrics.

Suppose that in Q1, you launched several discount promotions, and after looking at the success reports you saw that your sales went up each month of that quarter. You can’t just stop at this trend—keep doing this and have sales rising forever—you’ll need to look at things like your AOV and revenue gains for those months.

• When people are looking at their data, they have a tendency to dig deeper and react only to bad things (e.g., not getting enough sales, low site visits, low revenue per visitor) while taking good things at face value. It is far more dangerous to take good trends at face value because you might, for example, allocate budget somewhere that’s unfounded and set unrealistic expectations for yourself, which is incredibly wasteful—good numbers could be just as bad or worse.

• You always want to contextualize data, and never make assumptions without the whole picture.

• Anytime you see an odd figure, you need to apply Twyman’s Law, which states that any figure that looks interesting or different is usually wrong.

• You absolutely need to set baselines because if you don’t know what’s normal, you can’t start seeing what’s abnormal! This will take about 30, 60, to 90 days to do.

• Data without context is worthless. And overhyped numbers are overhyped—is you see an unaccounted for spike or dip, start digging around and you’ll find something.

Finding Outliers with Math

• You need to be able to identify outliers in your data. An outlier is a data point on a graph or in a set of results that is very much bigger or smaller than the next nearest data point.

• You could have a positive outlier or a negative outlier. When you have a positive outlier, it creates unrealistic performance expectations, which will make your team or boss really unhappy since they can’t see what they expect to see. When you have a negative outlier, it creates unnecessary fear about potential outcomes because when you keep seeing things that are outside the norm at the low end, you’re going to be worried about trying anything.

• When you do see an outlier, just omit it!

• You can set a baseline in three steps:

  1. Gather data for a set time period: Avoid any sort of ad hoc analysis. You want to pick a period such as 30 days where your data is trustworthy. You also want to make sure you’re not pulling data at times where you’re doing a lot of tweaking and testing—for DM, it’s from late October to the first week of November—since the data isn’t trustworthy.
  2. Calculate the average: Consider all relevant campaign metrics.
  3. Use the average as your baseline: If you run a campaign and see drastic differences, evaluate if it’s an outlier or a new trend by gathering more data.

• Avoid making decisions based on real-time data!

Module 3. Top of Funnel Analytics

Top of Funnel Goals & KPIs

• If you’re not paying attention to every stage of the funnel—in terms of metrics—you actually might miss the cause of a gain or a loss due to ripple effects.

Suppose that most people at the BOFU focus on sales metrics, a company that’s only focused on sales metrics and not making sure that they have a healthy amount of awareness and traffic coming in at the top might start seeing sales slip; similarly, if they have a bad experience at the MOFU and they’re not paying attention to that area, they won’t be able to find the problem at the BOFU.

• At the TOFU, the ultimate goal is awareness. You want to make sure that you have enough people becoming aware of your brand.

• Key metrics are metrics that dictate whether or not you need to evaluate a problem or celebrate a win (e.g., if your new visitor count drops down, you want to look into that). These are the indicator metrics that you report on daily and have baselines for.

• Deep-dive or drill-down metrics are metrics that you use to diagnose what you see happening with your core/key metrics (i.e., if you see changes with your key metrics, you use these to figure out what’s working and what’s not) and make improvements in your business. These are not things that you need to look at daily—it would be too overwhelming.

• The TOFU key metrics are:

  • New visitor count: You need a steady stream of new visitors to grow your business.
  • Direct visit count: The people who know your brand. Often, your most profitable organic traffic source.
  • Retargeting count: This is purely for segmentation purposes.
New Visitors

• You can find your New Visitors Count in GA. You’ll go to Audience, then Behavior, then New vs Returning—make sure you switch to New Users.

Direct Visitors

• You can find your Direct Visit Count GA. You’ll go to Acquisition, then All Traffic, then Channels, then you’ll click on Direct, then you’ll use the New Users number.

Total Visits

• You can find your Total Visits GA. You’ll go to Audience, then Overview, then you’ll take the Users number (not Sessions).

Top of Funnel Deep-Dive Metrics

• If you see something funky happening, those are your indicators to start diving deeper and digging into the data itself to find the problems.

• The TOFU deep-dive metrics are:

  • Channel split (content and home): How people get to your content. You want to know what sources people come from and what the best-performing (e.g., in terms of revenue) sources are, etc.
  • Bounce rate: How many people are leaving your content—people that leave and don’t interact with the content itself. You want to see if the bounces are actual bounces, and what’s happening from a message-match perspective (e.g., there might be something wrong from an ad scent problem).
  • Branded search volume: How many people come via branded search.
  • Share of search: How big a role search plays. You want to see all the different sources that are sending people to your site—you want to know how much does organic play, how much does paid play, and how much is that in relation to the other channels.
  • Total pixeled audience: How many people you can retarget.
  • Visits: How many people visit your site. This is really a base metric you need to see different percentages between bounce rates, etc.
Channel Splits

• In order to find the numbers for this, you’ll go to GA, Acquisition, All Traffic, then Channels—you can also go to Overview to get the graph for this. Doing this analysis will give you some useful bits about how each channel is functioning and where the problems are; so if you see a drop in new visitors, this will allow you to figure why.

Bounce Rate

• One of the reasons you want to dig into bounce rates is to figure out if people are hitting your site and just leaving, which could be caused by a message mismatch.

• You can find your bounce rate report in Audience, Overview. You can also dive deeper by going to Behavior, Site Content, then All Pages. If you see something that at 100% then it’s not really useful data; or if you see something at 0%, then it’s likely that something is broken.

Branded Search Volume

• This is more of an optional metric to look at. A great tool you can use to dig into this is SEMrush and Google Search Console.

Top of Funnel Pixeling

• The Total Pixeled Audience (whether on Facebook or AdWords) is basically tracking how many people visited your site in some number of days, so you’re looking at the entire aggregate of people who’ve come to your site and got pixeled, which is a great way to get a sense of how many unique users you’ve had for a given period of time—at DM, they track this for 180 days. The way you can do this is by creating a custom audience of people who’ve visited your entire website for a given period.

• Pixeled Segments is basically the number of people who’ve visited a particular page(s) at the very top of the funnel but not others (e.g., people who’ve visited a blog post about a certain topic but not the lead magnet page). At DM, they just do a search for (A:) since that’s how they name their segments (e.g., Media – Facebook Ad Templates – A: Facebook Blog Traffic).

• Tracking pixeled segments over time is a great way to track growth and to see how many visitors are coming and reading content but not converting. If you’re doing retargeting, tracking pixeled segments is incredibly useful to figure out where you need to be spending your time and energy as far as ad creation goes.


• You can find your Visits by going to GA, Audience, Overview, then take the Users (Total Visitors) number. This will help you figure out whether people are coming to your site. You’ll then want to look at your New Users (New Visitors), if you see a drop in Total Visitors but not in New Visitors, then you know it’s your returning visitors that aren’t coming back, which means that you have a much larger problem than something that just has to do with increasing budget for paid ads—you’re having a problem with keeping people interested in your brand.

Applying Top of Funnel Metrics

• Your TOFU goals are as follows:

  • Awareness: You want to reach new audiences, make them aware of your business and offerings, make them aware of the reasons why they need what you offer, and just start to connect with them in general.
  • Branding initiatives: This ties in with awareness—you want to spread your company’s name and mission.
  • Segmentation: This is a great time in the funnel to start breaking down your audience and figure out what they’re interested in so that you can start talking more about it. You want to categorize new visitors by interest.

• Each type of business will have slightly different key metrics.

• If you’re a small or new business, your metrics would include:

  • Retargeting lists (Key Metric): You need to track whether or not your audiences are growing and figure out what they’re interested in. Retargeting lists can be used to generally estimate how many new visitors you’ve added and how they’re interacting with your site (i.e., what they’re looking at and what they’re interested in).
  • Total and new visitors (Key Metrics): This is an alternative to retargeting lists. You want to be able to figure out how many people visit your site on a weekly basis, how many of them are new visitors, and what kind of content they’re interested in.
  • New visitors by content (Drill Down Metric): This goes hand in hand with the segmentation strategy. You want to know exactly what is your most popular content with new visitors so that you can understand what interests are driving new traffic—you want to push that more on the web.

• If you’re a digital business with diverse offerings, e-commerce, or membership business (i.e., you’re a business that lives entirely online), your metrics would include:

  • Retargeting lists (Key Metric): When you have a lot of diverse properties, you really want which ones are driving most of your visitors.
  • Total and new visitors (Key Metrics).
  • Brand search and share of search (Drill Down Metrics): Because you’re a big and more established company, you should be more interested in knowing how many people visit your site because of search. You also want to look at the share of search, which is a powerful metric since it allows you to compare what percentage of people interested in your topic are looking at your offering versus your competitors; you might be driving a lot of traffic to your site, but then realize that you only have 3% of the market, and so your scale is huge and your competitors are dominating—share gives you the ability to figure out where you sit in relation to all the other people in your industry.

• If you’re a service or a brick & mortar business—these types of business have certain things in common, such as a longer sales cycle and high-dollar offers—your metrics would include:

  • Direct visitors (Key Metric): Here we’re more interested in direct site visitors rather than retargeting lists and total site visitors. Direct visitors represent the performance of your offline branding campaigns.
  • Retargeting lists or total & new visitors: It’s definitely worth knowing what percentage of your visitors are new versus returning.
  • New visitors by content and branded research (Drill Down Metrics): New visitors by content gives you the ability to figure out what audiences are interested in—the segmentation that you do at the TOFU is very powerful because it allows you to categorize your site visitors and figure out what they want to get. Also, knowing how many people are looking for your specific brand by googling it, lets you know what percentage of the audience is aware of the brand because of its strength and the strategies that you’ve been using offline.

Module 4. Middle of Funnel Analytics

Middle of Funnel Goals & KPIs

• At the MOFU, the ultimate goal is evaluation. You want to get customers to begin evaluating your offerings (i.e., evaluating your content to see if it’s a good fit for their needs, evaluating your brand to see if they like the company, and evaluating your offers).

• Your key metrics at the MOFU—these will let you figure out whether or not you’re succeeding at this stage of the funnel—are:

  • Visitor recency: This one is critical because it tells you how quickly people are coming back to your site after visiting it the first time. If your goal is to get them to start evaluating your site and offers, you want to make sure that they’re coming back. Here, coming back means every day or every week because if it takes them two months to come back, your chances of converting them are very low.
  • Banner click %: This tells you how well is your content creating interest. You want as many people to click after they read a blog post or see a page where you make an offer, etc.
  • Leads generated: This is the first and most important step in making people prospects.
  • Returning direct visitor count: This tells you how many people are coming to your site by typing in the URL of it into their browser and who’ve already been there before. This one is very important because it tells you how many people have your brand at the top of their mind, and it tells you how many people are looking for what you’re offering because they’re coming back to evaluate your offer.
  • Retargeting lists: This, again, gives you the ability to track segments (i.e., how many people saw x but not y).
Visitor Recency

• You’re going to need to create a custom report in GA to get the data for visitor recency. You’ll name the report Visitor Recency, you’ll go with Flat Table in Report Content, you’ll choose Days Since Last Session in Dimensions and Users in Metrics, you’ll choose Exclude (User Type) in Filters then Exact (New Visitor), and you’ll save the report.

• You want to pay attention to Visitor Recency: 0 and Visitor Recency: 1-7. Make sure that when you add the numbers of these two that the percentage is high since that means that a good number of people are returning within a week, which really means that you’re really effective at getting people back to your site.

If you start to see any of those two periods (and even Visitor Recency: 8-30) dip, you’ll know that you need to be pushing more people back to the site faster, so you want to spend money on things like Facebook, consider writing more engaging content, send more emails with better content, etc.

• The more you can get people to come back to your site, the simpler it is to sell them new things, get them excited about your offerings, get them to use the products you’re selling in order to make sure they continue to be customers.

Banner Click %

• The Banner Click % lets you figure out the success rate of your different content pieces—how well your content is converting site visitors—by finding out how many Unique Events and Views you’ve had for a given period. To track this, you’ll need to create events (e.g., form submission, link clicks, etc.) in GTM.

• You’re going to need to get your Blog Visits and your Banner Click %.

• Getting your Blog Visits depends on the structure of your website’s URLs. If your blog posts include /blog/ in them, then it’s easy to pull the number of visits; you’ll go to GA, Behavior, Site Content, All Pages, and you’ll apply a filter where the page exactly matches /blog/.

If your posts don’t include /blog/ in them, you’ll need to set up an advanced filter that is based on exclusion. The filter will include these three conditions:

  • Exclude —> Page —> Matching RegExp —> The RegExp will include everything that you want to cut out separated by a vertical bar. For example, you’ll type in /lp/|/course/|/podcast/|/login/|/contact-us/, etc.
  • Exclude —> Page —> Exactly Matching —> Your website’s homepage URL.
  • Include —> Page —> Containing —> Your website’s homepage URL.

• To get your Banner Click %, you’ll go to GA, Behavior, Events, Pages, look for Event Action (this is where the destination URL is going to live), set a filter just like you did for the pages report since you only want the URLs—Event Action include button clicks, purchases, URLs, and many other actions—and hit apply. After you hit apply, you’ll be only looking at clicks that go to things that are blog CTAs (i.e., things that you know were banner clicks):

  • Include —> Event Action —> Matching RegExp —> The RegExp will include everything that you want to include (e.g., all the different landing pages that you have) separated by a vertical bar.
  • Include —> Page —> containing —> /blog/ (if all of your blog posts include that) OR Matching RegExp —>  whatever slugs you want to include separated by a vertical bar. This second condition will make sure that you’re looking only at clicks on blog posts, not clicks on the entire site.

• If you notice that your Banner Click % is going down, it means that you really want to drill down at the page level and look at what the click % is for an individual page and the CTAs in it. You can do this by adding on one final filter that includes the slug of that post. For example: Include —> Page —> Containing —> customer-value-optimization. Then, you’ll need to know many people visited that article during that given period. Now, you’ll calculate the percentage.

Leads Generated

• To find the number of leads generated for a given period, you’re going to need to look in your CRM.

• You can go to the next level expanding your tracking to include leads generated by your different lead magnets—you’ll need to modify the sheet to include this.

Tracking Middle of Funnel Retargeting Lists

• In the MOFU, we care about leads, so we want to look at our retargeting lists for lead magnet visitors who didn’t opt-in, as well as our sales letter visitors (i.e., people who opted-in for the lead magnet, saw the sales page but didn’t make a purchase).

At DM, they’ll do a search for B: in Facebook, since that’s how they name their segments (e.g., Media – Facebook Ad Templates – B: Lead Magnet Visitors/No Opt-in), and they add all the numbers of each list. They’ll do another one for sales letter visitors by typing in C: (e.g., Media – Facebook Ad Templates – C: Lead Magnet Opt-ins/No EP Purchase, Media – 10 Minute Social Media Audit – C: Lead Magnet Opt-ins/No Cart).

• Since you can’t track these numbers historically, you’re going to have to check on them on a weekly basis. Also, you can break things down by looking at how many visitors each lead magnet got if you want to go more complex.

Direct Visitor Count

• Direct Visitor Count will tell you how frequently people who have been on your site before are coming back to visit again by typing in the URL of your site.

• This is really about tracking the number of returning direct visits you get to your site. To do this, you’ll go to GA, Acquisition, All Traffic, Channels, then create a segment in order to exclude new visitors since you only want returning visitors—you can call it Returning Visitors: Filter —> Sessions —> Exclude —> User Type —> contains —> New Visitor. You’ll only take the number of the Direct channel since you’re only interested in Direct Visitor Count.

Middle of Funnel Deep Dive Metrics

• The MOFU deep-dive metrics are:

  • Social media followers: You’ll actually track and quantify the number of people who follow you on social media and track their growth over time. You can’t look at this historically, so you’ll have to keep an eye on it regularly.
  • Social shares: This one is less about the platform specifically and more about how the content that you create is dispersed around the web by others. You’ll look at where people are sharing your stuff and how many visits you’re driving to your site from people sharing your stuff.
  • # of comments: If you’re using this, then it’s a really powerful metric to track how people are engaging with your content. It’ll give you a sense of where the interest lies.
  • Banner click % at post level: It is extremely important to track, for any piece of content that you create, the number of times the specific offer in it was clicked! If you see that your average has dropped, you want to go back and see which posts are having really good performance and which are not. This will let you figure out whether your offers match your content, as well as how people are engaging with your website in general.
Social Media Followers

• The easiest way to track your followers is just to go pull the numbers directly from the respective platform.

• The general principle is you want to make sure that you’re getting consistent growth on the different social channels by repeating advertising strategies or avoiding frustration points with customers that cause them to unfollow you.

Banner Click % at the Post Level

• You’ll do this if you notice that your Banner Click % is lower than you wanted. You’ll dive deeper and look at some common pages to see if you can figure out which ones are under-performing, which in turn will let you know what content you need to change the offer you’re making. This is critical since your goal is to turn site visitors into leads and leads into buyers.

• Again, you’re going to look at your Blog Pages report, which will tell you how many visitors hit a specific blog page, as well as look at your CTA Clicks report, which will tell you how many people clicked on the CTAs you have on that page.

Number of Comments

• If you’re using WordPress, this will be easy to pull. Make sure you do it on a regular basis since you can’t track it historically.

Number of Social Shares

• To track the number of social shares you get, you’ll need a tool called BuzzSumo. You can use this to figure out why some piece of content’s CTA conversion might be low and what kind of content is resonating with your audience so you can produce more of it. When you use this in conjunction with your CTA report, you can start to figure out what pieces of content are actually creating leads and which ones are not necessarily transforming int what your ultimate goal is with content.

• If you want to produce content or diagnose how people are using and experiencing content on your site, using a tool like BuzzSumo lets you understand what platforms are people sharing it on.

Applying Middle of Funnel Metrics

• Your TOFU goals are as follows:

  • Evaluation: Transform visitors into leads and potential buyers. This involves a lot of evaluations on the customer’s part since they have to evaluate what they think about your business, the content you produce and they interact with, and the offers that you’re making.
  • Drive return visits: This is the process that you’ll use to make visitors into leads. You’ll take people who came to your site at TOFU and convince them to come back again. Once you get people to come back, your chances of turning them into leads are way higher.
  • Build social media channels: Social media channels are really important because they give you a low-pressure touchpoint with your site visitors. If someone is not quite ready to give their email address, this is a good alternative until that moment comes. It’s also a way to build social proof for your website, which helps people with evaluation.

• If you’re a small or new business, your metrics would include:

  • Returning direct visitors (Key Metric): This is the best measure of people who are actually evaluating your site. You know you did a great job if more people go from being casual visitors to potential buyers.
  • Leads generated (Key Metric): This is you counting how many times customers give you their contact information.
  • Social media followers (Drill Down Metric): A new business doesn’t have a lot of digital assets built up. In the early stage, growing your social profiles is an important step to strengthen the offers you’re making, which is a big trust signal that must be leveraged.

• If you’re a digital business with diverse offerings, e-commerce, or membership business (i.e., you’re a business that lives primarily online), your metrics would include:

  • Banner click % (Key Metric): This one is good for businesses with a lot of different kinds of content online because it tells you how many people are interested in what you offer.
  • Visitor recency (Key Metric): You want to know how quickly does someone who visits your site returns. The more frequently and quickly people come back, the more likely it is that they’re evaluating what you’re offering.
  • Leads generated (Key Metric): You want to know how many new leads you’re getting per week and what kind of things are turning them into leads.
  • Social media followers (Drill Down Metric).

• If you’re a service or a brick & mortar business—these types of business have certain things in common, such as a longer sales cycle and high-dollar offers—your metrics would include:

  • Returning direct visitors (Key Metric).
  • Visitor recency (Key Metric): This matters for the same reason it does for digital business—you want to know how fast it takes people to come back. The faster you can make them come back, the more likely they’ll convert.
  • Leads generated (Key Metric).
  • Social media followers (Drill Down Metric).

Module 5. Bottom of Funnel Analytics

Bottom of Funnel Goals & KPIs

• The main goal at the BOFU is conversion. And the key metrics here are:

  • Number of goods sold: This is about how many items are you selling.
  • Retargeting and segmenting: You want to know how does this affect sales and whether your retargeting lists actually turn people into profit.
  • Average order value: You want to know how much your orders are worth and whether you can get people to pay more. Remember that increasing frequency of purchase doesn’t necessarily mean increased revenue, so you want to make sure that your AOV stays up.
  • Revenue per visitor:  You want to know how much is a visitor to your site worth.
  • Days to conversion: Not everyone who visits your site will buy immediately, and so you want to know how long does it take to get the purchase.
Number of Goods Sold

• To get the raw number of goods sold, you’ll need to go to your e-commerce provider (e.g., Infusionsoft). You’ll put that in the Unit Types Sold in your sheet.

Retargeting & Segments

• What you’re going to look at here are audiences that have hit you cart, audiences that have made a tripwire purchase, and the audiences that have made a core offer purchase. Theoretically, you can go further down the funnel by tracking the number of people who’ve purchased profit maximizer 1, people who’ve purchased profit maximizer 2, etc. However, tracking gets a little shakier the further down the funnel you go because there are fewer people and the complexity of the rules that you set gets hard.

At DM, they do a search for the following—again, they have the option to group if they want to get more granular or sum the results they get:

  • D: Cart Visitors/No Purchase —> Cart Visitors (Non-TW Buyers)
  • E: Purchase/No Up-sell —> Tripwire Purchasers (Non-CO Buyers)
  • F: Up-sell Purchase and Exit —> Core Offer Purchasers (Non-PM Buyers)

• Tracking this gives you a general idea of how people are progressing through the funnel and whether you have problems in your funnel(s). If you see, for example, that cart visitors have increased but the number of purchasers drops, there might be a problem with your cart conversion optimization or a technical problem.

Average Order Value

• You’re going to pull the data for this from your CRM/e-commerce provider—you might have to do the math yourself. Your AOV equals your sales totals divided by the number of orders completed (Amt sold ÷ Num sold).

• If you have E-commerce set up in GA (Conversions, E-commerce, Overview), it will calculate this for you (Revenue ÷ Transactions).

Revenue Per Visitor

• For this, you need to know the amount of revenue you’ve made and the number of visitors to your site. For the number of visitors, you’ll go to GA, Audience, Overview, and Users would be the number of visitors. For the amount of revenue, you’ll go to GA, Conversions, E-commerce, Overview, and Revenue is what you’re looking for—if you don’t trust GA, you can pull this number from your e-commerce provider/CRM.

• Besides Revenue Per Visitor, it’s also recommended that you calculate your Revenue Per Visit—you’ll use Session instead of Users. These are great ways to know how much you can expect to make for every visitor and visit to your site.

Days to Conversion

• For this, you’ll go to GA, Conversions, Multi-Channel Funnels, Time Lag, then you’ll copy the numbers to the Days to Conversion Tracking section of your sheet.

Bottom of Funnel Deep-Dive Metrics

• The BOFU deep-dive metrics are:

  • Channel split (offers): You want to know how visitors got to the actual offer. We do channel splits at the top funnel level, which is looking at what channels are driving new visitors to the site. Here, we want to see what traffic is driving people to your offers and then converting them.
  • Bounce rate: This will tell you how many visitors leave the offer page.
  • Promo email metrics: This will show you how your internal campaigns are affecting sales.
  • Individual funnel conversions: This will show you at what level (e.g., lead magnet, tripwire, core offer, up-sells, etc.) things are breaking down in your funnel.
Channel Split (Offers)

• For this, you’ll go to GA, Acquisition, All Traffic, Channels, and you can see which channel(s) is providing you with the most revenue. You can dig deeper by the actual page and campaign level (e.g., what is working within paid search). If you notice abnormally low conversions on your funnel, you’ll start digging into channels, which will tell you how channel groups impact funnel activity.

Bounces (Offers)

• For this, you’ll go to GA, Behavior, Site Content, All Pages, then you’ll set an advanced filter where you only see cart pages. For DM, the filter is set like this:

  • Include —> Page —> Containing —> /secure/
  • Exclude —> Page —> Containing —> oto
  • Exclude —> Page —> Containing —> thank

You want to start finding which offers aren’t converting. From a checkout page perspective, the bounce rate is somewhat negligible; the exit rate is more telling because someone who has viewed a piece of content, added the product to cart but didn’t make it through the checkout stage is severely problematic. If you have a high exit rate on a cart page, you likely have a message-match issue.

• Expect the bounce rate on your cart pages to be really high.

• You can also see your bounce rate for order pages. At DM, they set the filter this way:

  • Include —> Page —> Containing —> /lp/
  • Exclude —> Page —> Containing —> /secure/ (if they didn’t see secure, then they almost certainly didn’t see oto or thank you)

If you have a high bounce rate on an offer page, then you want to dig into it because you likely have a product-message match between the source in that page.

• If your e-commerce provider gives you the ability to see your abandon-cart rate, you can ignore all of this stuff.

Promo Email Campaigns

• One of the ways to get this data is to go to GA, Acquisition, All Traffic, Channels, click on Email, then change the primary dimension to Campaign—you’ll have to use UTM parameters for your email campaigns to get this data. You want to take the data you get and compare it to what’s going on in your email service provider (e.g., open rates, click rates, etc.).

Funnel Evaluation (Individual Funnel Conversion Rate)

• You’ll start by looking up your lead magnet visitors for a given month by going to GA, Behavior, Site Content, All Pages, put the slug of your lead magnet in the search box (e.g., /lp/ultimate-social-media-swipe-file/), and then take out the number of Unique Pageviews.

Next, you’ll need to look up the lead magnet opt-ins. For this, you’ll need to go to your CRM and search the number of opt-ins for that particular month.

Next is the tripwire visitors for that month—assuming you don’t automatically show them your tripwire offer when they opt-in for your lead magnet. Go to GA, Behavior, Site Content, All Pages, put the slug of your tripwire in the search box (e.g., /lp/social-selling-ep), and then take out the number of Unique Pageviews. You might want to add a filter if you think the results are inflated:

  • Exclude —> Previous Page Path —> Containing —> (entrance)

Next is tripwire purchases. For this, you’ll go to your CRM and look for the number of purchases of that particular tripwire for that particular month. And you’ll just continue filling out the number in your sheet.

Applying Bottom of Funnel Metrics

• Your TOFU goals are as follows:

    • Conversion: You want to transform site visitors and leads into actual buyers. This is your primary goal.
    • Maximize funnel performance & order value: You want to optimize your funnels in order to maximize the amount of revenue you’re getting, increase the order value, optimize the experience for the customer so that they’re more likely to complete the process from visiting your site to making a purchase.

• If you’re a small or new business, your metrics would include:

  • Unit types sold (Key Metric): You want to know if you’re selling enough of the right products. This is useful because it allows you to track progress throughout the funnel. You can sell a lot of things, but if you’re not selling the right kind of units (e.g., core offers, profit maximizers), you’re never going to get the money that you need out of customers visiting your site.
  • Average order value (Key Metric): This tells you how much each sale is worth. This is similar to unit types sold but it’s more tied to revenue rather than looking at places where you can optimize the experience. You want to make sure that your AOV is high enough that you can afford to drive customers with paid traffic.
  • Promo email metrics (Drill Down Metric): Whereas content emails are focused on giving value (e.g., sharing blog posts with them), promotional emails are focused on monetization. You want to look at opens, clicks, and unsubscribes for these emails to figure out exactly how well they’re performing.

• Small and new business have different needs than other businesses. They need to be very lean, they need to minimize the number of things they’re tracking, they need to keep the costs down, and they need to make sure that they’re ROI-ing very quickly; therefore, this stage is incredibly important for them, they don’t have the time to wait 2, 3, 4 months for these customers they’re bringing in to turn into profitable customers. These businesses are just getting started and need all the help they can get to make it through their first year.

• If you’re a digital business with diverse offerings, e-commerce, or membership business (i.e., you’re a business that lives primarily online), your metrics would include:

  • Days to conversion (Key Metric): This tells you how quickly you can turn a site visitor into a customer. You want to make sure that as many people as possible are converting as quickly as possible.
  • Cumulative conversion rate (Key Metric): Since you have a lot of different properties, you’ll have many different funnels to track. It’s important to look at these on an individual level; however, to diagnose the overall health of the business (i.e., how well you’re taking a new visitor, put them into a sales funnel, and then turn them from a lead into a buyer), you just want to be able to take a quick glance and see how they’re all performing in aggregate. Knowing your aggregate funnel conversion rates should give you the information you need to figure out whether or not you can continue to push traffic, then you can always drill down and look at the individual rates once you know how the cumulative is doing.
  • Revenue per visitor (Key Metric): This tells you how much every visitor is worth to you.
  • Individual funnel conversion rate (Drill Down Metric): Looking at the cumulative conversion lets you get the high-level information that you need to know the general health of the business; however, when you want to do a deeper diagnosis, individual conversion rate will come in. Some of your funnels are going to be better than others, and this shows you the really high-value areas to go in and optimize your customer experience in the sales funnel.

These types of businesses need to be able to evaluate the value of each of their different properties (e.g., products/services, membership website) and figure out how much their customers are worth. They’re going to have additional long-term value, and because these are established businesses, they can pay a little bit more now to acquire the customer and know they’re going to make the revenue up later on.

• If you’re a service or a brick & mortar business—these types of business have certain things in common, such as a longer sales cycle and high-dollar offers—your metrics would include:

  • Days to conversion (Key Metric): Expect this to be a lot longer since you have a longer sales cycle. You want to watch how this changes over time; if it starts to trend earlier, that’s a really good sign that means you’re doing a good job of converting people.
  • Average order value (Key Metric): This one is really important since you’re spending so much on leads that take a while to convert. You need to know, roughly, how much the purchase is going to be worth to make it easy to estimate how much you can spend to drive visitors and acquire leads.
  • Promo email metrics (Drill Down Metric): These emails help you convert visitors into purchasers, so you’ll look at opens, clicks, and unsubscribes to see how effectively you can generate interest in the products/services you have. They are especially important if you’re trying to create new excited visitors, turn them into customers, and then come back and hit them with high-dollar offers.

These types of business are interested in tracking the value of both online and offline media campaigns, they’re looking to estimate the value of leads because they have a long sales cycle, and they want to make sure that they’re not testing anything too crazy because it takes so long to prove whether or not their leads are going to turn into good customers.

Module 6. Retention & Monetization Analytics

Retention & Monetization Goals & KPIs

• The Ultimate goal of this stage is monetization. This is going to come in two general forms:

  1. Sell our existing customers more things.
  2. Try to keep our existing customers happy and satisfied with what we’re offering so that they stay with us longer, keep buying from us, and don’t refund the products.

• The retention and monetization key metrics are:

  • Membership retention report: This will show you whether or not the membership program is growing.
  • Traffic ROI report: This will let you diagnose the health of your paid traffic campaigns. You’ll be able to figure out whether your ads are achieving ROI or fatiguing, as well as figure out how much you can spend for someone to click on one of your ads.
  • Refund report: This will let you know how customers are feeling about your products.
  • Monetization funnel conversion rates: The BOFU conversion rates come in when you’re trying to create new customers. Once someone becomes a customer, you’ll start targeting them with high-dollar offers, and you’ll want to know how those funnels are performing.
Membership Retention Report

• You can find the data for this in your CRM/e-commerce provider. Your membership retention report will look at how many people you’ve added to your membership, how many people you’ve lost, what your churn rate is, etc.

Traffic ROI Report

• EPC (lifetime) is a great metric that tells you how much you can spend on a click. If you’re getting $1.25 per click, it doesn’t make sense to pay $2 per click.

• EPC (past week) lets you figure out what was the amount of money you made per click. You’re going to have to calculate this yourself by tracking the difference between your previous Total Clicks and Revenue and your current ones, then using the difference in your calculation.

• You also want to track ROI, which is called engagement decay in the tracking sheet because the ROI of almost all campaigns start to drop off as more people from the audience have opted-in or decided they’re not interested, and the creative just gets old and used-up.

• Ad engagement decay (ROI), over the week-to-week period, is the best measure of when you should turn off a campaign. Sometimes, however, you might decide that you’d run campaigns with negative ROI because you know that the LTV of each customer is much higher. For example, if you’re running a campaign that’s just sending people to a blog post to put your content in front of them, it’s not very likely that you’ll see a positive ROI, which is fine since that works within a larger traffic system where you use paid traffic to distribute content, and then retarget those content viewers to turn them into leads and customers.

• DM has a rule of thumb about ROI which states that any campaign with a 75% ROI or more is a green light campaign (i.e., turn up the spend as much as possible). Campaigns that are between -30% and 74% are yellow (i.e., they could use some optimization, and they will be left as they are without increasing or decreasing spend). Anything that is below -30% ROI is a red light (i.e., you need to turn it off).

• If you run sequential campaigns (i.e., a campaign where you’re running people to a blog post, then a campaign that retargets those people with a low-dollar offer, then a campaign that retargets those people with your core offer, etc.), then you might want to lump the cost and revenue of all campaign into one since it’s a unified effort that you’re making. Breaking them out might be more helpful because you can get a really good sense of EPC for each individual one, but if you want to really simplify it, then it’s fine to lump them together.

• You want to update the data for every campaign each week, as well as keep track of what you had the previous week.

Refund Report

• This report will look at how much is being refunded and what the total value is. It’s important to track refunds in order to know how much money you’re walking away with. The other reason why you want to keep an eye on this is that you want to know what products people refund; if people keep refunding a certain product, there’s a good chance that the offer you’re making does not match the way you’re selling it. When someone becomes a customer, you want them to stay a customer; therefore, keeping an eye on refunds and ensuring that people are satisfied with what they’re purchasing is the best way to turn people into muli-buyers instead of one-time purchasers.

• You’ll find the data for this in your CRM/e-commerce provider. You’ll pull the data (refunds and their value) for each week. When you see climbing refund count or value, you want to figure out what exactly it is that people are choosing to refund; this will help you dig in and sculpt your offers a little bit better or realize that one offer or another is just not a good fit for the market anymore.

Monetization Funnel Conversion Rate

• Keeping a vigilant eye on the conversion rates of your monetization funnels gives you a good sense of what the natural flow is from one step to the other. You’ll be able to track the performance and figure out which funnels you should run more traffic to, which funnels need tweaking, and which ones you need to get rid of.

• Conversion rate tracking at the retention & monetization stage does not include tracking lead magnet performance since people at this stage are existing customers. Also, you can exclude tracking tripwire visits and opt-ins if you run monetization funnels straight to your core offer.

• You’ll either use the Conversion Rate Tracking section (you’ll pull the data for an entire week) of your Retention & Monetization sheet or use the Promotional Funnel Tracking sheet (you’ll use this every day) for more detailed tracking.

• You can find your tripwire visitors in GA, Behavior, Site Content, All Pages, paste the slug of your tripwire in the search box (e.g., /lp/get-social-listbuilding/), and you’ll pull the number of Unique Pageviews for that week.

The number of tripwire opt-ins for that particular week can be found in your CRM. This will automatically calculate the tripwire conversion rate—at DM, they shoot for 10% or more. And you’ll continue to do the same for the rest of the steps in your funnel.

• When you’re tracking granularly (on a daily basis) and you see variations, you might be able to explain them by many things. A possible reason is the natural fatigue of the campaign (e.g., you see that conversion rates move from 10% to 9 to 8 and so on), so many people saw the offer and they already have it, which means that it’s time to change it.

• Tracking the conversion rates of your monetization funnels is incredibly important because these are for people who are already your customers (i.e. they’ve already shown you that they care about what you do and offer). You want to make sure that these monetization funnels have good conversion rates—without forgetting about the general natural fatigue of funnels—because if they’re not, then it means that you’re not providing the best possible experience for your clients.

• You might also want to keep track of unit types sold. For tripwires as an example, that would be the total of tripwire opt-ins for a particular week.

• Always make sure to double-check yourself with data; it’s never a bad idea!

Retention & Monetization Deep-Dive Metrics

• The Retention & Monetization deep-dive metrics are:

  • Content email metrics: You want to figure out whether your content emails are driving engagement or not. These will include your open rates, click rates, and unsubscribe rates.
  • Cohort analysis: This one is important for businesses with a membership site. Basically, this will allow you to figure out what different months or weeks, depending on what your membership program is, are performing very well and which ones are a big drop off point where customers are leaving. This will not only show you where people are leaving, but also let you estimate the value of an average customer.
  • Reputation score: This is kind of your barometer for how people feel about you on social media.
  • Qualitative trend report: This will look beyond just the sentiment of people social media to figure out what kind of gaps exist, what information the people you’re speaking to are looking for, and what kind of products are they looking for.
  • Customer lifetime value: You want to figure out how much are different customer segments worth. This allows you to figure out which entry points are creating the best, most excited, and highest converting customers.
Content Email Metrics

• In your Email Tracking sheet, Type means whether the email you’re sending is a content email or a promotional email.

• In some ESPs, you’ll have to calculate the number of emails delivered (# Delivered) yourself since they don’t subtract the number of bounced emails from the number of emails sent (# Sent).

• When it comes to opens and clicks, you want to use the number of unique opens and unique clicks so that the numbers are not inflated.

• It’s hard to judge your email marketing performance against someone else’s because it could vary significantly by industry, by what kind of content you’re driving people to, by what kind of offers you’re making, etc. The best thing you can do is to get a benchmark of your own performance.

• When it comes to evaluating performance, you want to look at how the content emails perform together in aggregate, as well as how your promotional emails perform together in aggregate instead of comparing content to promotional stuff. Also, within each type, you want to look at the different categories; within content emails, you’ll find categories such as blog, podcast, etc. and tracking these together isn’t a good idea because it might make your overall CTR seem very high or low.

Cohort Analysis

• If you have a membership program, this is going to be a very powerful strategy for you to figure out no only where members are leaving your program, but also what is the average value of some who joins.

• Cohort analysis means breaking your members up into different cohorts (groups) based on when they joined your membership program; once you do that, you’ll figure out how long they stayed in it and what’s the average value of anyone who joined during that period.

• You can slice the data horizontally to figure out how each individual cohort performs to understand how your promotions perform, or vertically to understand what points in the membership period you should optimize in order to keep people in it longer and make sure they have a better experience.

• You might, for example, find out that there is a huge drop-off on the second payment, and if they make it through that part, they’re more likely to on the third, and the fourth, etc. In this case, you want to figure out a way to improve the customer experience before the drop-off happens.

Reputation Score

• This one is particularly important for large companies. Basically, you want to keep an eye on how much negative or positive feedback you’re getting, which you can use a tool like Mention to accomplish.

• Since this is a drill-down metric, you don’t have to track it every day. Mostly, you want to watch out for negative spikes. Anytime there is a big negative spike, something is going wrong.

Qualitative Trend Report

• For this, you’ll either use a social platform (e.g., Twitter) or you’ll use a tool like Mention. Also, it’s generally a good idea if people in your social media department keep an eye on this every day.

• The general idea is that you want to get a sense of what people are talking about. They might be talking about how some piece of content or product is missing from your catalog or from the industry in general. You also want to do this for your bigger competitors if you’re a small company—you might see people talking to them about writing or creating something.

Customer Lifetime Value

• This lets you figure out how much your different audience segments are worth and lets you estimate how much they’re going to be worth in the future.

• The goal with CLV is to dig in and figure out how much a specific subset of your audience (e.g., a group of people who downloaded a particular lead magnet) is worth over a period of time. You’ll find the data you need inside of your CRM/e-commerce provider. You’ll want to compare the performance of different lead magnets over the same period, over different periods, etc.

• Analyzing this gives you a good sense of which offers you’re making (e.g., lead magnets, tripwires) are converting people and turning them into customers that are going to generate the highest LTV.

Applying Retention & Monetization Metrics

• Your TOFU goals are as follows:

  • Turn buyers into multi-buyers: You want to take people who have become your customers and sell them additional products and services. There is an existing relationship there that you can leverage, customers know who you are and they like what you’re doing, so they’re more receptive to new purchases.
  • Reduce customer churn: You want to ensure that customers stay engaged and on your email list so that when you offer them other products, they’re still keeping an eye on what you’re talking about, they’re aware of what you’re doing, and they excited about it.
  • Maximize membership value: You want to ensure that your service and membership customers stay on as long as possible.

• If you’re a small or new business, your metrics would include:

  • Monetization funnel conversion rate (Key Metric): Once someone has already become a customer, your goal is to make them into multi-buyers, which means that you’ll need to try to sell more expensive products/services. You want to know how many customers bought higher-end offers.
  • Refund total value (Key Metric): It’s critical to know whether people are satisfied with what you’re offering or not.
  • Traffic ROI report (Key Metric): As a small business without much brand recognition if any, you’ll need to leverage paid traffic. You’ll need to look at your traffic ROI report to diagnose the health of the different campaigns you’re running, which will let you find out which campaigns are fatiguing and need to be turned off. By keeping an eye on this, you’ll make sure that the money you’re spending is turning into valuable dollars for your business.

• If you’re a digital business with diverse offerings, e-commerce, or membership business (i.e., you’re a business that lives entirely online), your metrics would include:

  • Membership retention report (Key Metric): This is a good way to figure out whether you’re adding more members than you’re losing, whether you’re effectively monetizing the members you have, and what are the reasons that make people leave. By keeping an eye on how the membership is growing or shrinking, you can pinpoint times when you have heightened exits and entrances, and you’ll be able to turn that into actionable data to grow your membership.
  • Monetization funnel conversion rate (key Metric): It’s really important to keep an eye on this because it’s how you turn existing customers into multi-buyers.
  • Traffic ROI report (Key Metric): Larger businesses can definitely spend more on traffic; they can give up more on the front-end, even take a negative ROI, knowing that they’re going to make up the money later on. However, even if you’re willing to take -10% or -15% on your traffic ROI, you still want to keep an eye on the health of your campaigns and figure out when it drops below that specific barrier.
  • Cohort analysis (Drill Down Metric): You’ll segment all the different members you have into groups, then figure out when they came in and when they left. Once you put this together, you’ll be able to pinpoint what months in your program are ones where people leave, as well as figure out what the average value is for the different people coming into your business, which is important in conjunction with leveraging paid traffic.

Since these businesses have many different properties, monetization will sometimes be through the form of selling people totally unrelated products from the initial one they bought. You’ll need to analyze the connection between all the different properties, and understanding which properties feed well into the other ones is a good way to leverage the connections you have.

• If you’re a service or a brick & mortar business—these types of business have certain things in common, such as a longer sales cycle and high-dollar offers—your metrics would include:

  • Monetization funnel conversion rate (Key Metric): Once you made someone a buyer, the ability to sell them additional products/services is one of the best things you can leverage; this is especially important for these types of businesses because of their longer sales cycles.
  • Membership retention report (Key Metric): Brick & mortar and service businesses rely on repeat business, which means they can benefit from analysis as a membership service.
  • Content email metrics (Drill Down Metric): You want to make sure that your content emails are keeping your business at the top of your customers’ minds.

Module 7. Running a Data-Driven Business

Analytic Decision Making

• Once you’ve collected your data and filled out your dashboards, you want to turn that data into insights that you can use to shape your business through the analytical process.

• Analyses require:

  • Asking the right questions: You need to find discrepancies in your data and start questioning what you’re seeing. You want to dig in and start asking questions like “why has my AOV dropped?”, “why am I seeing fewer new visitors come to my site in this quarter of the year?” and so on.
  • Generating hypotheses: This is where you take your questions and try to come to a conclusion about why what you’re seeing might be happening. Then you’ll test and evaluate the hypotheses.
  • Contextualizing data: You want to identify and recognize factors that could influence your data. There are all kinds of things that you need to think about and ask yourself before you come to a conclusion—data always lies! By contextualizing data, you’ll be able to see through the bumps that are just natural and understand real trends in your data.
  • Testing and evaluating: Once you’ve assumed something, you want to see if it’s true. You want to review your drill-down metrics and relevant information to prove or disprove your hypotheses.

• Take the example of a swimwear company. During their busiest season (Q2), they saw their AOV drop 13% where it went from $42.80 to 37.20. You’ll want to use the analytical decision-making process, which is an 8-step flowchart, to help you figure out what’s wrong.

Step 1. Choose Your Funnel Stage 

• This is where you choose the place you want to be optimizing. You might, for example, feel like you’re not driving enough new leads, or you’re not driving enough people to the middle and turning them into new leads, or you’re not driving enough people to the bottom and converting them, etc. For the swimwear company, the stage would be the BOFU.

Step 2. Review Key Metrics 

• Once you’ve decided where you want to focus your efforts, you’re going to go and look at the key metrics that you created that actually let you know what’s going on. When the swimwear company were reviewing their key metrics, they saw that the AOV had dropped 13% at a time when they were expecting people to buy more; however, when they were reviewing the key metrics, they also saw that the core offer conversion rate is down 5%. Often, you’ll see key metrics in the same stage dip as something has changed.

Step 3. Formulate Your Question   

• It’s not enough to just ask a simple question. You really need to think about what you’re trying to figure out, what changes you’re seeing in your key metrics, and how you can properly question them. The question you choose to ask is what sets the stage for the hypothesis you generate and ultimately tells you whether you’ll be able to test and improve your business with that testing.

For the swimwear company, they might ask the following question: What factors are driving down conversions and order value? Pinpointing the drop in conversions will help pinpoint the order value drop.

Step 4. Contextualize with the Analyst’s Toolkit 

• You’ll need to look at what might be influencing the data (e.g., changing the promotional strategy, spending less money on paid traffic, new competitors entering the market).

For the swimwear company:

  • They have no current sales promotions: During their busiest time of the year, they’re not worried about driving extra sales because they expect a lot of sales. So this can’t be influencing the AOV.
  • Seasonally, this is a profitable month: The order value should actually go up, not down, during this high-demand season.
  • There has been no significant change in audience volume: If they just saw fewer people coming into the site, that might be it; however, they had the same number of visitors as last year.

Step 5. Form a Hypothesis 

• This is where you take your question, which is trying to figure out what’s going on with the key metrics you’ve looked at, take the context you have, and form a hypothesis about what might be going on.

For the swimwear company, they see that one of their traffic channels is driving low-quality traffic to the site. The hypothesis could be: The drop in the quality of visitors would result in a decrease in buyer-ready visitors and sales. 

Step 6. Review Drill-Down Metrics  

• Key metrics act as flags, they indicate when you need to take a look at something. You have a baseline and you have a key metric, you see a big shift from what you’re expecting to see, and you decide that that’s a flag.

Drill-down metrics are the tools that you use to dig in and figure out what’s going on. This is where you’ll be looking at more minute things, such as what kind of traffic is coming to your site, what kind of actions they’re taking, whether people are visiting new content, who’s visiting and interacting with it, etc. You’ll look at conversions, drilling down, and seeing how each individual funnel is performing.

The swimwear company will look at the drill-down metrics in the BOFU since that’s where they’re seeing their conversions and AOV drop:

  • They notice that the conversion rate is down for all traffic channels: The hypothesis has been proven wrong since all channels are under-performing in terms of conversion and not just one.
  • While drilling down, they noticed that the traffic split heavily favors mobile: Mobile traffic took up an unusually high proportion of visitors (e.g. last year was 40%, but this year, it took 65%), and mobile was shown to have a lower conversion rate. They’ll now need to dive in and figure out what it is that might be dropping their performance.

Step 7. Prove or Disprove Your Hypothesis 

• The swimwear company now knows that:

  • The traffic channel split did not indicate any channel was under-performing: All of them were converting roughly the same, and they were all down, so the traffic channels aren’t the source of the problem.
  • The platform split showed mobile was converting lower: Once they look at the historical data, they saw that mobile had climbed 25%. Mobile traffic seems to be the problem area.

Step 8. Apply Insights 

• You now will go and look at the site through the lens of “how is mobile traffic doing?”. Are mobile visitors clicking? Are they seeing all the same stuff that the desktop visitors? and so on. The reason that the AOV and conversion rates dropped is that the mobile experience was not optimized to increase conversion. The mobile sales funnel had a page where people selected the swimsuits they wanted, but the elements of the page were overlapping and people couldn’t click on the button of the swimsuit they wanted very easily.

• In order to practice analytical decision making and analyze your business:

  • Watch your key metrics: You generally want to check in on these once a week whenever you’re updating the data, and see if you’ve seen any big changes from what your baseline is. They tip you off about areas for improvement or concerning performance.
  • Be prepared to be wrong: Find out that your hypothesis is incorrect in part of the process. Also, you’ll typically want to check multiple hypotheses even if your first one is right just to make sure that there isn’t some other factor influencing what’s going on.
  • Stay process-oriented: The analytical decision-making process is designed to prevent data overload.
Applying the Analyst’s Toolkit

• The analyst’s toolkit is a tool you use to understand exactly what’s happening with your data—simply looking at a spreadsheet isn’t going to give you the insights you need. Think of the toolkit as a series of lenses (questions) to understand your data.

• Data doesn’t start out perfect! There will be inherent flaws in the numbers you’re pulling, even if you follow the correct pulling processes to a T, you’re not going to have perfect data—there are numerous factors that influence your data.

• Sometimes numbers lie! For example, you might decide after looking at an increased conversion rate, to spend a lot of money to drive new visitors to your website; however, when you come back a month later, you realize that something about that strategy didn’t work, and it turns out later on that there was a flaw in what you were looking at as your conversion rate. This is neither the fault of the numbers nor it is your fault; it’s an incomplete picture of what’s happening in your data.

• Don’t give up on your numbers. Instead, you want to dive into the analytical process where you ask questions to help figure out what’s actually going on with your numbers.

• The analyst’s toolkit has four lenses that you need to use:

  1. Historical
  2. External
  3. Contextual
  4. Internal

The Historical Lens 

• The broad surface questions that you’re asking here are:

  • What does history tell us to expect?
  • Have we seen seasonal dips (i.e., do we know that in the summer, winter, or whatever season is better for us or worse)?
  • How have promotions performed in the past? You’re going to offer the same products again and again to your list—you’ll use different approaches and hooks to present them again. If you have a baseline for that, you’ll be able to figure out whether your new campaigns are performing well or not.

For example, suppose that you saw your average sessions dropped 22%. Without any context, this drop could be really concerning; however, when you actually go back and look at the historical data, you might see that you had the same dip the previous year, which is actually during the holiday season (i.e., a lot of people are less engaged with their work and less focused on business during this vacation time).

The External Lens   

• The broad surface questions that you’re asking here are:

  • What changes outside our control might influence our metrics? You’ll need to look at things such whether your audiences are using things differently, the tools you’re using, the way your website is hosted (e.g., your site breaking might fall into this category), etc.
  • Have referring sources changed?
  • Has technology changed?
  • What has changed with our competitors? This might include competitors entering the market, reducing the number of people visiting your site and making purchases or the opposite if competitors are leaving the market, etc.

For example, in 2015, more visitors moved to mobile for browsing. A higher proportion of visitors on mobile means big changes for business as usual, which will necessitate optimizing the experience on that medium.

The Internal Lens 

• This is where you look at what you’re doing inside of your own business. The broad surface questions that you’re asking here are:

  • Have we made changes to our strategy?
  • Have we made changes to our site?
  • Have we made changes to the offer?
  • Are we driving new audiences? Sometimes, new audiences don’t respond the way audiences have historically; you might see dips in conversion, higher bounce rates, etc. or you might tap into a really powerful market where you see people converting higher than usual.

For example, suppose that your pixeled site visitors (i.e., unique users who visited your site during a time period) more than doubled over four weeks. These numbers might be the result of accidentally adding a new tracking pixel to your site which will double-count site visitors.

The Contextual Lens  

• The broad surface questions that you’re asking here are:

  • Am I comparing raw numbers or percentages? If you’re looking at your raw number of new visitors to your site, comparing performance from last year to this year, you’ll likely think that you’re doing great; however, when you convert those numbers into percentages where you try to figure out what percentage of people come into your website are new versus old, you might actually see that it’s dipped a little bit. You want to talk a lot in ratios because it will allow you to compare data sets of different sizes and get a better understanding of what’s actually going on.
  • Are my baselines skewed by outliers? Some numbers, while they may be true, are so dramatic and heavily-weighted that you have to remove them in order to understand the general trends that you see.
  • Is my data correctly pulled? It’s always worth checking when you see an odd piece of data.

For example, suppose you were tracking improvements in customer experience. Two higher volume months (e.g., the number of tickets sharply declined) means that trend actually under-represents service improvement.

• Once you apply the lenses, you’re going to want to use the insights you get to clean your data. You’re going to segment and drill-down to more specific audiences (audiences that exclude the factors that are skewing it) and you analyze those. If you wrote a blog post that went viral but the visitors are of poor quality, you want to exclude that audience in order to get a better picture of what the actual baseline is that you’re looking at. Doing this will allow you to know what the true numbers are and how the health really is, then you can go back and optimize for other segments later.

Segments & Drilling Down

• Segments give you more information about your user base, and they answer very specific questions.

• By creating segments and drilling-down, you’ll contextualize your data a lot more and really dig into where some of the holes are for a particular segment.

• You want to figure out who are the people you want to get more information about, and then start digging into how they’re using your site, where they’re doing well, and where they’re dropping off.

Analytics Trends

• In order to spot analytics trends and deal with them, you’ll need to follow certain steps:

  • Step 1. Identify your Data Set
  • Step 2. Identify your KPIs

Step 1. Identify your Data Set  

• With the data set, you’ll be looking at:

  • Web analytics (web data): This is about what pages people are viewing, how they got there, how long they stay on the site, whether they click on anything or not, etc.
  • E-commerce (sales data): This is about whether they buy something, what they’re buying, how much they’re buying, etc.
  • Qualitative (user/usability data): Whereas web data and sales data show you the what, usability data shows you the why.

Step 2. Identify your KPIs 

• KPIs must measure your numbers and campaign goals—based on the area where you are in the funnel, refer back to the KPI sheet.

• KPIs come from your data sets:

  • Web analytics: Page level metrics (e.g., time on site, bounce rate, users, etc.).
  • E-commerce: Sales metrics (e.g., purchases, AOV, RPV, etc.).

For example, at DM, the content team measures unique pageviews (users), total CTA clicks, blog content traffic source, bounce rate, average page views.

• Web analytics trends: These tell you how your visitors are interacting with your site. Is there a trend of how they’re interacting throughout the site? Is there a trend of a drop-off?

• E-commerce trends: These reveal buyer behavior. They tell you what people are buying, how they’re buying, and how often.

• E-commerce and web data miss the why; all they tell you is that people acted a certain way or they bought. You need qualitative data to unpack this data.

• Qualitative data uses data sources like heatmaps, user surveys, and session recordings, which give your data context. These tools help you visualize and see whether people see what you’re offering or not—if you see in GA that very few people are clicking on your offer, the tools will help you with that.

• You should always remember that a trend is only an indicator! You have to contextualize the indicator by:

  • Asking the right questions: Data analysis is only as good as the questions you ask.
  • Have the appropriate data set: You can make data say anything! You need to make sure it says the right thing.
  • Evaluate if the set is a true representation.

• When you’re looking at trends, make sure they’re not imaginary, and that they fit within the context of your scope.

Business Analyses To Start Immediately

Small & New Businesses

• If you’re a small or new business, your number one priority is to maximize immediate ROI and reach profitability. And the best place to start is by evaluating your site’s traffic sources.

• You’ll evaluate your traffic sources by looking at three areas:

  • High traffic pages: This could be your homepage, your blog, etc.
  • Landing pages: This is where you’re pushing new visitors that you want to convert to.
  • The end of your sales funnel: This will give you insights into what sources are actually driving the most traffic and creating conversions for you.

And the key parameters you’ll use to evaluate are:

  • Source: This will tell you where these audiences are coming from.
  • Campaign: This will tell you which promotional efforts and strategies are actually working best.
  • Content: This will help you know which ads, creatives, emails, etc. are creating the most buyers.

• For the homepage, you want to look at all the sites (you’ll sort it by Source) that are referring traffic to you. You want to figure out which businesses should you build a relationship with since they’re already driving traffic to you—leverage the existing relationships further. You also want to look at the bounce rate of each source and fix it if it’s high.

• For landing pages, you want to take each sales funnel (you’ll sort it by Campaign) and then slice and dice the traffic that’s coming there. You want to find out what efforts you’re making are working pretty well to put people on a particular page and which ones are not working so well.

By looking at the different campaigns/promotional efforts/strategies, you can figure out who’s getting to your landing page and how they’re getting there. When you understand the split, you’ll know which offers are working well with which audience, and you can continue to push them there.

Digital Business with Diverse Offerings  

• Your number one priority here is to properly value your different properties and products. And the best place to start is to determine the average value of a new membership customer. You’ll need to do a cohort analysis.

Service and Brick & Mortar Businesses 

• Your number one priority here is to figure out how to properly value your offline media and leads to improve long-term performance. You’ll start by doing using your direct visitors to dig into offline media, and you’ll evaluate your customer lifetime value by lead to figure out which leads are turning into the most profitable customers.

• You’re going to have to look at your landing page visits to see how well your offline campaigns are performing.

• For the customer lifetime value, you want to:

  • Choose an old lead source (evaluate something where you’ll have enough data to approximate value): You don’t want to look at CLV as an aggregate, but as whatever the point of origin was for them—you’ll go to your CRM and search for all of the people who became leads at a specific touchpoint.
  • Pull your CLV metrics: You want to look at the total amount that each individual has paid, as well as the number of transactions for the customers that were created by that particular lead generation tactic.
  • Remove outliers and evaluate: Use this data to value promotional strategies and leads, as well as plan future ones.
Transitioning from Reactive to Proactive Analysis

• You need to think about your business holistically (i.e., as a whole living thing). The TOFU, MOFU, BOFU, and Retention & Monetization are all connected. Changes at one stage affect all the other stages. If you start putting more people in at the TOFU, you’ll see more people become customers at the BOFU. If you break something at the BOFU and conversion rate drops, It’s going to reduce the amount of money you have available to put people into the TOFU.

• The way to be proactive is by:

  • Considering how each funnel stage influences the other: Each stage’s success or failure is based upon the performance at every other stage—no funnel stage can be viewed at a vacuum.
  • Predicting the impact based on historical data: You want to look at and understand historical relationships to predict what’s going to happen. You should know that if you put a particular number of visitors into your site, it will turn into a particular number of leads, which will turn into a particular number of customer, etc. Every time you see a spike or a valley at any one stage, you know how that will ripple out through the entire funnel.
  • Adjusting behavior to compensate or capitalize on changes: If you see that you haven’t put as many people into the top as you do normally, you’ll need to come up with strategies to make sure that your business is going to hit its customer and revenue goals.

• You’ll start with goals. This is a critical shift where you go from trying to figure out what the metrics tell you and how you can use them to improve things to deciding what you want to happen in the future.

• Goals matter because:

  • They give you a measure of success: Starting with goals allows you to decide what success looks like.
  • Allow you to reverse engineer to the starting point: Knowing your desired end result lets you know what you need your audience to do at every step.


Suppose that your goal is to sell 100 core offers per month. The steps you need to take people through to reach that goal are as follows: Site visitor —> content reader —> banner clicker (you want them to see your offers and click on them) —> lead —> tripwire purchaser —> core offer purchaser.

You’ll have to start at the end by using your sales conversion rates to reverse engineer the number of banner clicks required. Suppose that your numbers look as follows:

  • Lead Magnet = 37.6%
  • Tripwire = 8.9%
  • Core Offer = 11.4%

Since you know that you need a particular number of people to click on a banner and you know the steps that they take to get to the 100 number that you’re aiming for, you’ll simply use the following equation:

100 = 0.114 × 0.089 × 0.376 ×

100/(0.114 × 0.089 × 0.376) = x

x = 26213

You need 26213 banner clicks in order to reach your goal of 100 core offers sold per month.

You’ll then move from the end to the MOFU. This is where the banner clicks are happening, so you want to know what your banner click % is, and then use that to determine how many unique visits to the content you need. Suppose that your banner click % is 9.07%, you’re going to use the same equation:

26213 = 0.907 × (the number of unique visits that you need)

26213/0.907 = y

= 289007

You need to have 289007 unique visits to your content in order to achieve your goal of selling 100 core offers per month.

Now, you’ll move to the TOFU. You want to know how frequently do new visitors become content readers. Let’s assume, for this simplified funnel that 80% of your visitors become content readers:

289007 = 0.8 × z

2989007/0.8 =

z = 361259

You need 361259 new visitors to come to your site every month to accomplish your goal.

Now, suppose that, for some reason, there is no way for you to drive 361259 new visitors every month to your site. In this case, you want to think about stages in the funnel you think you can optimize in order to improve overall performance and reduce the strain that you’re putting on TOFU. For example, you can work on your click banner % by doubling it, which will cut the weight you put on the TOFU in half—you’ll only need 180630 new visitors per month.

• Understand that to become a proactive business, you have to:

  • Understand the analyst’s funnel is connected: The analyst’s funnel and all funnels do not exist in a vacuum—all the parts work together.
  • Start with goals, then reverse engineer: Use your desired end result—this could be monetary or non-monetary—to map out what success looks like and to figure out what you need to do in each stage of the funnel.
  • Track and optimize along the way: You don’t want to just start with tracking and optimizing, you want to start with what you want to accomplish, then you can optimize.
Additional Notes

• For your Pixeled Audience Report, you’ll have to do it on a regular basis (e.g., John does it every Thursday morning) since you can’t pull the data historically.


If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read, and you would like to invest in this course, you can do it here (this is not an affiliate link): Analytics & Data Mastery by DigitalMarketer

You might also like:

Email Marketing Mastery by DigitalMarketer

DigitalMarketer Email Marketing Mastery Certification.

Course Review:

Email Marketing Mastery by DigitalMarketer is one of the many courses about email marketing that DM has. It’s presented by Richard Lindner, the President and Co-Founder of DigitalMarketer.

Richard starts by explaining the role email marketing can play in the different aspects of a business (e.g., branding, referrals, retention, engagement, acquisition, reactivation, direct sales, and traffic), and how email marketing is the best way to take people through the different phases of a marketing funnel.

DM uses five types of email campaigns (indoctrination, engagement, ascension, segmentation, and re-engagement) throughout the customer journey to move people from one stage to another as well as re-engage them when they no longer interact with your emails.

Next comes the different types of emails you need. Most businesses focus only on promoting their offers, completely ignoring relationship building.

Something that he really stressed was the necessity of thinking about how you’ll add value to and monetize a list before building it. In this way, you make sure that it won’t die since you’ll constantly be emailing and nurturing it. I made this mistake myself.

He then deals with the creation of copy from the subject line to the body copy as well as the layout of your emails. You’ll also find lots of great ideas here on how to get people to open your emails, read them, and take action.

Next, he lays out a plan for tracking and measuring your results. I really liked this one section. And the last section is on how to make sure your emails reach the inbox of your subscribers (deliverability).

Course Notes:

The following notes from Email Marketing Mastery by DigitalMarketer are meant to be concise, reminding me of high-level concepts and not trying to recreate the whole course. This summary is basically a bunch of notes and lessons paraphrased or quoted directly from the course and does not contain my own thoughts.

Module 1. The Role of Email Marketing

• Email is the channel generating the highest ROI for marketers. It yields an average of 4300% ROI for businesses in the United States. In fact, for every $1 spent on email marketing, the average ROI is about $44.

• Email marketing can be used in so many different aspects of your business; it can be used for branding, referrals, retention, engagement, acquisition, reactivation, direct sales, and traffic (e.g., to your landing pages, to your content, to your offers, to other people’s stuff).

• Email marketing is simply marketing… and hopefully, you’re already doing that. If you want to know where to focus email marketing efforts in your business, just start with what’s already working!

• Email, more than any other core discipline of digital marketing, has the ability to speed up the movement of prospects through the different steps of the customer journey.

• Typically, it takes more than one successful transaction with your brand for someone else to actually become a fan of your brand, which is why you need to get them to come back and offer them more products and services—email is a great way to do this.

• The role of email marketing in any business is to assist in moving a customer from one stage of the customer journey to the next!

• You’ll need different types of emails and email campaigns to move a customer through each stage of the lifecycle.

Three Different “Types” of Emails

• There are three different categories of email:

  1. Transactional
  2. Relational
  3. Promotional: This is the category that people focus most of their efforts on.

• The average revenue per transactional email is 2x-5x higher than standard bulk email. It also has higher open rates because you know exactly what they’re interested in.

• Types of transactional emails:

  • Order confirmations: If you’re offering things such as access to digital information, physical products, appointments, coupons, etc. you want to think of ways to optimize this.
  • Purchase receipts
  • Shipping notifications: People are the most engaged and excited at a couple of points in the buying process that most businesses completely ignore. People are reminded of those points (happy times) when they get a shipping notification, and they’re more open to purchasing something additional at this time.
  • Account creation: This is a great transactional email to re-affirm people’s decision to use your offering, keep them excited, and ask them to ascend.
  • Return confirmations: Most businesses completely ignore these because they want to minimize the contact since something negative has happened—they just retreat so as to not “offend” the customer more. Realize that if you’re honoring a return policy, you’re actually doing something positive and giving a good impression of the company, which makes this the perfect time to re-engage them in your customer journey.
  • Support tickets: These can be a great method of ascension.
  • Password reminders
  • Unsubscribe confirmations: In these, you want to give them additional ways to communicate with you and your brand. “Not an email person? Connect with us on X.”

• Companies using email to nurture leads generate 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost. This means that you have to continuously send out free, ungated content to your list. If you only live on the promotional side (you only ask), your subscribers will get tired of you at some point.

• Types of relational emails:

  • New subscriber email: This is probably the most important relational email.
  • Lead magnet delivery
  • Newsletter/blog article
  • Webinar confirmation
  • Surveys & review requests
  • Social updates: When Twitter wants people to know something about their platform, they don’t tweet it, they send them an email.
  • Contest announcements
  • Referral requests

• 66% of consumers have made a purchase online as a direct result of an email marketing message.

• Types of promotional emails—some of these are also relational in nature:

  • Promotional content: Content with the purpose of not only providing value first but also teeing up a sale.
  • New lead magnets
  • Sale announcements
  • New product release
  • Webinar announcements
  • Event announcements
  • Trial offers
  • Upgrade offers

• The primary goal of transactional emails is customer service (delivering the thing that the customer requested). The primary goal of relational emails is to increase engagement and nurture your subscriber base. As for the transactional emails, their primary goals is to generate sales, up-sells, and cross-sells. With that said, each type serves other goals.

Transactional emails can help you increase brand awareness if you put social sharing in them, as well as, gobble up additional percentages of these channels with your subscriber base so that you’re not just talking to them in one place. They can be used for lead generation where you ask people for referrals since they’re really excited at that moment—assuming that the transaction is successful. They can help you with retention and loyalty, as well as, engagement and nurturing where you link them to your best content. And obviously, they can be used for sales and up-sells.

Relational emails can be used for brand awareness especially if it’s free, ungated content. Free, ungated content gets the highest number of social shares. They’re great at lead generation since you’re sending people to free stuff that gets shared, and that should lead people into different campaigns. Retention and loyalty is an obvious one. Also, your content can seamlessly lead people and generate sales and up-sells.

Promotional emails can absolutely be used for lead generation just by adding some tweaks (e.g., social sharing icons), and also adding paid email drops to other people’s lists. Getting people to buy more and move along the customer journey makes them more loyal and increases retention. Engagement and nurturing happens when they enter in that value loop, so you’re sending emails whether relational or promotional, they’re valuable to them so they open them, click on the links, purchase, and it’s giving them equal or higher value than what you’re asking for in return.

Email Marketing Types.

Notice that the only type that hits every single box are transactional emails.

• Write down every type of transactional and relational emails you’re sending out. Next, you want to write down what you’re asking people to do outside of being informative (e.g., asking them to follow you on social media, asking them to refer a friend to you), and come up with ideas that you can implement to maximize these categories of emails. Something as simple as adding two or three sentences to your emails could have a dramatic effect on the growth of your social properties, the number of referrals you’re getting, and the sales that you make.

The TWO Send Types

• There are two ways to send emails to your subscriber base:

  1. Broadcast: These are emails that you’re sending to all of your subscribers or specific segments of your subscribers.
  2. Triggered Emails: These are emails that get sent automatically after certain actions have taken place.

• There are only two types of emails that should be broadcast to your entire database: promotions and newsletters—obviously, not every promotion should be sent out to your entire database! Everything else should be triggered by a specific action or behavior, so a subscriber does something and that triggers an email go out.

• Just because you can trigger something, doesn’t mean you should! Here are some triggered emails that should be used:

  • New subscriber welcome: This should be something that’s triggered for everyone, once. Even if people are re-opting in for engagement or ascension purposes, this should only be sent out once.
  • Lead magnet delivery
  • Registration confirmation
  • Purchase receipts
  • Segmented promos: If you’re sending out an email that is meant to segment someone by interest and trigger another promo, that second promo should happen seamlessly and immediately.
  • Referral requests: If someone gives you positive feedback, then you should instantly trigger a referral request—this is the most important time to ask someone to share your brand with others.
  • Cart abandonment: If someone starts to make a purchase, but then stops, you need to email them automatically and immediately to recoup that sale.
  • Re-engagement: If someone stops opening or clicking your emails, you should automatically trigger a campaign with the sole purpose of getting that lost subscriber back and re-engage them with your brand.
Email Marketing & List Building

• It’s a common mistake to think that since we’re talking about email, we need to start with list building. The phrase “The Money is in the List!” is right and wrong.

Most marketers focus on growing their email list and spend very little thought or effort on how they’re going to make money from that list once they have it.

Your job is to build an email list to add value and monetize it, and if you don’t know how you’ll do either of those, you shouldn’t start building a list. Figuring out how you’ll add value to and monetize a new lead is your number one priority.

An email list is a living thing; if you don’t know what you’ll do with a list, then you won’t do anything with it, and if you’re not emailing it, it will simply die. In fact, if you go days without sending any emails, your subscribers have already forgotten you, and by emailing them at this point, you’ll be perceived as interruptive, intrusive, and there’s a high probability that they’ll see you as spam and just unsubscribe.

• Two big mistakes most marketers make when they’re building their email list:

  1. They fail to follow up with their new subscribers: If you go days without following up with a new subscriber, then they’ve forgotten about you. You’re just not that important to them especially if you’ve just met—the same thing applies in traditional business and personal relationships.
  2. They send the exact same email everyone on their list: Business tend to send the same email to everyone on their list no matter how they found them, what they subscribed for, when they subscribed, or what they did after they subscribed.

Module 2. Creating Your Promo Calendar

Gathering Promotional Assets

• The number one asset that you as a marketer have at your disposal is the email list.

• The role of the promotional calendar in any business is to elicit action. You want your subscribers to do something whether it’s to purchase something, raise their hand to express interest in something, come into your store, call you, etc.

• Two vital assets for creating a winning marketing calendar:

  1. Your Product & Service Catalog (Product Asset Sheet): This will help you know what you have that you can sell.
  2. Your Goals & Planned Promos (Promotional Planning Worksheet): This will help you figure out when you’re going to sell it and who you’re going to sell it to.

Your Product & Service Catalog (Product Asset Sheet)

Most people skip this part (whether they’re bringing a new employee on, starting with a new company, or they themselves are responsible for the email marketing efforts of their company). They forget about products, services, or promotions that they’ve run successfully in the past.

The goal of this sheet is to aggregate every asset that you have to leverage on your marketing calendar. Before you can talk about what you should send, to whom, and when, you want to know what you have to send (this makes it easy to create a calendar).

You need to create a promotional asset sheet for every product and service in your catalog. It will contain:

  1. Name of the product or service.
  2. Price (full price and sale price if you use certain products for acquisition).
  3. Where does the buying transaction occur? You want to know what needs to happen for someone to go from aware to a promoter because as you start to put things together, you need to know your call-to-action(s); as you start to think past the promotional calendar and into the email copy, you want to know what the copy needs to do.
  4. Have you sold it via email before? And if yes, did it work? If the results were terrible (it didn’t work), then you want to know why (e.g., wrong segment, no opens or clicks, what you’re asking people to do was too much) so you can change your strategy.
  5. When did you promote it last?
  6. How many emails did you send? You need to know what the results were and how many emails you sent to get those results.
  7. Is it currently available to promote? If no, why not? Sometimes it’s unavailable because it’s seasonal or because your inventory is empty or because you ran out of seats for a live event, etc.

Your Goals & Planned Promos (Promotional Planning Worksheet)

This is about identifying your goals and leveraging your email list to achieve them.

There are 12 steps to creating a winning promotional calendar:

  1. Start with 12-month revenue goals (where do you want to be)? When you don’t have a target, you always win even if you lose.
  2. List non-revenue goals (e.g., launch blog, podcast, book, new location).
  3. Slot holiday promotions into the appropriate month. You want to participate in at least 5 traditional holiday promotions each year.
  4. Slot annual promotions into the appropriate month. What have you done year over year that’s done well (e.g., DigitalMarketer’s Traffic & Conversion Summit)?
  5. Denote seasonality (slow and busy months). When are your ideal prospects and your current buyers in a buying frenzy and when is trying to sell to them the hardest it’ll ever be?
  6. Slot non-revenue goals into the appropriate month.
  7. Break out revenue goals monthly (keep seasonality in mind).
  8. Add revenue projections (set promos plus rebills and subscriptions if you’re doing this not as an email channel only).
  9. Subtract “expected” from “target” and fill in “remaining” revenue needed.
  10. Brainstorm additional promo ideas (list in potential promotions). If you have time left on your calendar as a whole or on a particular month, you need to brainstorm ideas for new promos to fill that time even if you’ve hit your goal. Also, you’re going to need to adjust your goal because it’s too low.
  11. Spot-check and adjust (does it meet your goals? Is it achievable?).
  12. List additional needs (new product/service, sales presentation). This entire process is more than just calendar planning; it should set goals and initiatives for your company. If you have a goal and you’re leveraging a particular channel to achieve it, but you can’t achieve it, perhaps because you’re out of things to sell, then you need to create new products and services. If you have a fully developed product line, but there’s no way that you’ll achieve your goal with just a particular channel, then it’s time to look at adding other channels. The goals and the promotional planning worksheet should dictate what projects you tackle and when.
Creating Your 30 Day Calendar

• There are 4 types of promotions:

  1. Activation: The goal of this type of promotion or campaign is to take a large segment of prospects that have never become buyers and make them buyers—it’s typically deployed to sell a low-dollar entry item. It can also be deployed to prospects that haven’t purchased in a while.
  2. Monetization: The goal of this one is to make as much money from this campaign as possible. It’s best to run an activation campaign either a week or two weeks before a monetization campaign; if someone becomes a buyer (especially if they’ve never purchased from you before), and they have a good initial transaction, then they’re 5x more likely to buy another higher item from you.
  3. Segmentation: With this, you’re focusing mainly on interest-based segmentation. You want people to raise their hand if they’re interested and then you only talk to those people moving forward.
  4. Wildcard: This is where you try something new. Ideally, you want to leverage as many proven campaigns as you can, but you also want to try something entirely new. Typically, you’ll do this at the last week of the month but only if you’re actually at or above your goal. If you’re below your goal, you want to scrap the wildcard and run something that you know can help you catch up to your goal.

• Use the Monthly Planning Worksheet to help you plan the entire month—fill out one for every single promo you’re planning to run for that month. If you want to optimize your email list, you’ll mail at least one promotion per week (whether that promotion has 3, 5, or 7 emails is up to you).

If you’re not mailing at least once per week, then you’re not maintaining the highest level of engagement with your email list, and you’re not training them that you’re going to send them offers, which will result in lower deliverability, higher unsubscribes, and higher spam complaints.

You may be running 2, 3, 4, or more campaigns per week. It all depends on the size of your list.

The number of emails you send depends on the goal and the revenue target. For example, if you’re leveraging a proven campaign, you should know the number; if not, you’ll have to make a guess at some point.

And since you’re going to miss a few times (you can’t win all the time), you need to have a backup promo. Sometimes, on that very first email, you just know immediately that there is no way that a particular campaign for a particular segment is going to generate x amount of money or activate x number of buyers. Having a backup promotion can be the difference between hitting monthly, quarterly, and annual goals and falling flat on your face.

A backup promotion will be something that’s either going to hit the revenue target or it will allow you to hit a different target to rebound later in a particular month.

Again, make sure to spot-check all the way back. If everything as a target on the Monthly Planning Worksheet doesn’t add up to the target for a particular month in the Promotional Planning Worksheet (with not only these promos, but with any additional revenue that we put in that category of the expected revenue), then you’ve already missed. You need to go back and either move some promos around, add additional promos, add additional segments to do additional promos to, or lower your projections (it’s better to lower your projections ahead of time than to set projections and miss).

• A flash sale is a great example of activation campaigns.

• You want to relate this to the customer journey. For activation campaigns, you’ll be sending to low-dollar offers, lead magnets, webinars, etc., which can also be used for segmentation campaigns—while activation can also work as segmentation, segmentation involves no purchasing. For monetization campaigns, you’ll be focusing more on core offers and profit-maximizers.

It is very important to keep in mind that for monetization campaigns, you can’t just send people to a sales page to get people to buy a $5000 product/service/partnership; you’ll need more time with this type of campaign, which means that you might have to do something like a webinar, etc.

• With monthly planning, you’ll constantly be asking yourself the question: Who should get this?

Creating Your 90 Day Rolling Calendar

• What you have in your Promotional Planning Worksheet is kind of a guideline for the entire 12 months of the year. You’ve made some projections, some reasonable expectations, and some flat out guesses in some cases on the revenue that you expect to generate from promotions. Now, you want to take from that single sheet of paper and flesh it out one month at a time for three months.

• There is a reason why you want to stick to 90 days. It has to do with spacing:

  • Offer Spacing (60-90 days in between): This is about the product/service that you’re offering. If you can mask it to where they don’t know you’re offering the same thing, you can sell the same thing two months in a row.
  • Campaign Spacing (90 days in between): This is about the different ways you can use to sell something.
  • Promo Type Spacing (15-30 days in between): This is about the different types of promotions.

Offer is what you’re selling (product/service). Campaign is how you’re selling it. Promo is the different types of engagement mechanisms you’re leveraging.

Offer Spacing (60-90 days in between)

If you run an offer at the beginning of month one, then you don’t want to run that exact offer again (exact offer, exact campaign) for 60 days to 90 days—that is, until the third month.

Suppose you have a webinar (e.g., Creating an Unstoppable Agency), and the sole purpose of this webinar is to get people to become certified partners of your company. If you run this webinar on week2/month1, you want to wait at least 90 days before you run it again.

Campaign Spacing (90 days in between)

If you’re going to sell the same thing in the exact same way, then we’re talking definitively 90 days in between. If you have a diversified product line, this is would be easy; however, if you only have one or two products, then you may need to focus on how many different ways you can use to sell that one or two products without telling people on your list that you’re selling the same thing you’ve just tried to sell them before.

Promo Type Spacing (15-30 days in between)

Suppose you do a flash sale week1/month1, you would want to wait at least until week 3 (maybe week1/month2). You don’t want your list to only purchase when you’re running sales, and you don’t want your list to become blind because you run them so often.

• You want to mix things up! For example, you can have an activation campaign for the first week, a segmentation campaign for the second week, and monetization campaign for the third; this way for the third week, anyone who wasn’t segmented out by interest in the second and who was activated in the first, can go through a monetization campaign since these are very recent buyers.

• Do not forget that, at least once a week, you want to send valuable and ungated content to your subscribers in addition to your promos! If you only ask without giving anything in return, people will open your emails less, they’ll start to eventually delete your emails before even reading them, and finally, they’ll unsubscribe.

Module 3. Email Campaign Creation

Email Campaigns Explained

• There are five types of email campaigns:

  1. Indoctrination
  2. Engagement
  3. Ascension
  4. Segmentation
  5. Re-engagement: With this, you’ll be able to re-engage subscribers that otherwise would be worthless; and in fact, worse than worthless because once a subscriber truly becomes un-engaged, not only are they just inactive, they actually hurt the deliverability of your emails to your engaged subscribers.

• An indoctrination campaign is a triggered campaign sent immediately following an initial subscription that is designed to engender the brand to the new subscriber. This one is sent only once—the very first time someone subscribes.

• An engagement campaign is an interest-based, triggered campaign sent immediately following an action designed to make a relevant offer (and usually a sale) to your subscriber.

It doesn’t have to be a new subscriber; ideally, a brand new subscriber will receive an engagement campaign right after the indoctrination campaign because if they’ve opted-in based on something that’s specific (and this should be the case, in general), you’ll now be able to follow up with them on relevant information and offers.

• An ascension campaign is a triggered campaign sent immediately following purchase to start the “value loop” designed to turn ordinary buyers into multi-buyers. This comes right after a successful engagement campaign that made them buy.

The value loop is simply you sending them more valuable information, content, and offers.

• A segmentation campaign is a manual campaign sent to your entire database as a promotion that is designed to segment your subscribers by interest. If you want to get someone into an engagement campaign (an interest-based campaign), you’ll need to segment people who would be interested.

• A re-engagement campaign is a triggered campaign sent to any subscriber who has not opened or clicked an email in the last 30-60 days; it’s designed to re-engage the subscriber with the brand.

• All the different pieces of email marketing work to move your customer through the customer journey (from aware to promoter).

Storyboarding Your Indoctrination Campaign

• The role of the indoctrination campaign is to welcome by telling them what they can expect and what they need to do next to get the biggest benefit from you and your brand.

• Just because someone has subscribed to your email list doesn’t mean that they recognize your name in their inbox yet or look forward to hearing from you. This is why you need an indoctrination campaign.

• By storyboarding your indoctrination campaign, you’ll:

  • Welcome and introduce the new subscribers to your brand.
  • Restate the benefit of being a subscriber: You need to always remind people of why they were excited and why they took action.
  • Tell them what to expect as it relates to topic and frequency.
  • Tell them what to do next.
  • Encourage whitelisting.
  • Put your best foot forward: Think of this as your first date where you’ll have to wear your best clothes, tell your best stories and jokes… you need to show your best stuff right upfront.
  • The campaign will last 1-3 emails.

• The first email will be just a welcome email where you talk about who you are and what you stand for. If you have a company that’s built on a mission or a vision, now is the time to sell that and get them excited about being a part of what you’re doing. This is also the time to start sending them around to make them follow you on other social channels if they want more cool stuff. Make sure to end this email with a loop where you tell them to stay tuned because you’ll be sending them your best stuff.

The second email will be your best of #1. You send this the next day after they subscribe. Ideally, this should be content or press.

The third email will be you best of #2. This can be content (a good subject line for this is: This made me think of you).

By the way, you want to reference back the positive things that you did (you’ve sent) in the previous email, and talk them into going back to search for them in their inbox if they haven’t seen them.

And again, the job of these three emails is to build a relationship with the new subscriber—remember the customer journey.

Storyboarding Your Engagement Campaign

• The role of the engagement campaign is to turn subscribers into converts by prescribing the next logical step based on what you know they’re currently interested in. You want to move them from the subscribe phase to the convert phase in their customer journey.

• By storyboarding your engagement campaign, you’ll:

  • Turn subscribers into converts: You’ll need to determine what a conversion is for your business. Is it a sale? Is it printing out a coupon and bringing it to a physical location? Is it booking an appointment? Is it scheduling a 15-minute consultation?
  • Reference the previous positive action: You don’t want to talk about the things that your subscribers didn’t do that you wanted them to do, but when they do something that you did want them to do, you want to reference back.
  • Overcome (or inoculate against) known objections.
  • Prescribe the next logical step: You want to explain that if they did x and they’re interested in x then they need to do x.
  • Ask for the order.

• Now that your subscriber knows who you are and you know what they’re most interested in right now, you’ll need to answer two questions:

  1. What’s the next step I want them to take?
  2. Do I have any reason to believe they’re ready to take that next step? Just because you want them to take that step doesn’t mean they’re ready to take it. If you ask too much too soon, it can damage the relationship!

• If you’ve got nowhere to go but marriage (e.g., enterprise solutions, luxury items, mortgage, professional, services), then it’s time to deploy a nurture campaign. The reason these types of businesses need a nurture campaign is that, usually, they don’t have any small, entry-level sale.

The first email in a nurture campaign is a consumption email (you want them to consume whatever it is that they downloaded). A subject line might be: Did you get the report?

The second email would also be a consumption email, but you’re going to be really specific with this one. A subject line might be: Worried that your best employee is leaving? The email should be about something you know they’ve thought about or a conversation (big pain point) they’re actively having in their mind.

The third email is, again, a consumption email where you’ll ask them if there’s something you can help with. A subject line could be: How can I help? You might include a couple of testimonials from your best clients, too.

Then you would take a day off.

The fifth email would be a proof + CTA email. You want to focus on proof since you’re trying to walk them down a road of nurturing and relationship building; typically, it would be a testimonial or a case study. And you’ll add a call-to-action.

The sixth email will be just like the fifth.

The seventh email will be a CTA email.

• Now, if the next logical step is small, and you know they’re ready… you need an up-sell campaign (not a nurture campaign). You can have a goodwill campaign (not very aggressive) or a throat-grabber campaign (more aggressive).

Goodwill Campaign

The first email would be a consumption email. The subject might be: Did you get the report?

Take a day off.

The third email would be another consumption campaign that’s going to be specific to whatever is in the “report”.

Take another day off.

The fifth email is a proof + CTA email. Same thing for the sixth email.

The seventh would be a CTA email.

Throat-Grabber Campaign

The first email would be a gain email (this campaign uses the gain/fear/logic approach). The subject line could be: Get more sleep… TONIGHT!

Take a day off.

The third email is a logic email. The subject might be: 40% our best-selling mattresses.

Another day off.

The fifth email is a fear email. The subject would be something like: Sale ending soon!

The sixth is another fear email. Subject: SAVE 40%: Only 48 hours left!

And the seventh would be a final fear email. Subject: FINAL WARNING: Sale Ends at MIDNIGHT!

Storyboarding Your Ascension Campaign

• By storyboarding your ascension campaign, you’ll:

  • Reference the previous positive action.
  • Overcome (or inoculate against) known objections.
  • Prescribe the next logical step.
  • Turn ordinary buyers into multi-buyers.
  • Increase the trust and authority they feel for your brand.
  • Ascend them from a customer into a raving fan.

• For this campaign, you also want to answer the following questions:

  1. What is the next step I want them to take?
  2. Do I have any reason to believe they are ready to take that next step?
  3. Do I have anything else to sell them?
Crafting a Consumption Campaign

• Here we’re talking about you having just made a big sale (e.g., mortgage, enterprise solution, mattress), so the next logical step isn’t to make people another expensive offer, it’s for them to consume and get value in order for you to move them down the customer journey where they’ll passively (and later, actively) promote, defend, and refer you because they’ve had such a great relationship with you.

The first email in this campaign will be a consumption email; you want them to start consuming or implementing the major purchase they’ve just made, so you’ll have to make it as easy for them (4 or 5 quick wins) to begin as possible. Your subject here could be: Your employee quick start plan.

The second email will be another consumption email. If you offer enterprise solutions, for example, you want them to have a rep (at least a temporary onboarding rep) or a success agent. Your subject might be: Meet your new best friend!

The third will also be a consumption email.

Take a day off.

The fifth email will be a nurture email. Again, for enterprise solutions, it’s not just the person who bought (e.g., the manager), you’ll need to get the employees who are going to use the solution to buy in. The subject could be: Send this to your employees to get them excited!

The sixth is another nurture email.

And you’ll have a final email that’s also a nurture email.

You want to be fantastic, give a ton of value, and build a deep relationship and connection with your client. Really go out of your way to make sure they have everything they need to get value from that offer.

• Remember that you serve a market; you want to be market-centric and not product-centric. Keep asking yourself: What is the next logical thing that my customer needs or should buy or should want? And remove the constraint of it being your own product/service because you can, and sometimes should, offer other people’s stuff.

Crafting an Upsell Campaign

• Here we’re talking about the next step being small and you know they’re ready, in which case you shouldn’t focus on consumption and nurture, you should focus on up-selling.

Here’s an example of DigitalMarketer where they want to up-sell their Content Marketing Mastery Course to people who’ve purchased their Content Marketing Execution Plan.

The first email will be a content email where they share a blog article to get people to agree that they’re adding additional value over and above the execution plan they purchased, as well as, get them to understand that what’s in the execution plan is just a small part of a much bigger picture that they should want.

They take the second day off.

The third email is a hybrid, so it’s information/content plus a CTA.

They take another day off.

The fifth one is a pure CTA.

The sixth email is a logic email. The subject could be: Get certified for free!

The seventh email is a fear email. The subject might be: Last chance to save $100…

Storyboarding Your Segmentation Campaign

• The role of the segmentation campaign is to pique the interest of subscribers who got “stuck” on their journey and get them to segment themselves based on what they’re interested in right now.

• By storyboarding your segmentation campaign, you’ll:

  • Broadcast to your full database minus anyone who’s in an indoctrination, engagement, or ascension campaign—you don’t want to broadcast to people who are actively going through other campaigns.
  • Deliver value-in-advance to keep your list fresh and active.
  • Create demand in subscribers and customers who have fallen away or gotten stuck in the customer journey.
  • Put subscribers into a relevant engagement series to restart the journey wherever they left off.

• There are three methods for segmentation:

  1. Use content (blog posts and lead magnets): You want to see if they click to read your blog posts and if they re-subscribe to get your lead magnets.
  2. Use special offers (sales and coupons).
  3. Use events (webinars and meet-ups).

• A flash sale campaign is one of the best segmentation campaigns; what’s great about it is that you don’t need any excuse to run it.

In a flash sale campaign, there’s only one email type: CTA. It lasts three days (three emails).

• Another great segmentation campaign is the (Are You Still?) or the (Have You Yet?) campaign.

Suppose you offer HR management/Payroll SaaS. You get a bunch of subscribers that joined your list by downloading something or attending a webinar, but for some reason, they didn’t continue in the customer journey. You’ll need to restart that buying cycle and re-engage them.

Again, all of your emails are going to be CTA-based. A subject could be something like: Are you still losing good employees? or Have you picked a benefit package yet?

Your third and last email could be something like: How can I help? In this, you’ll just list all the ways you can help them.

• Another segmentation campaign you can use is a webinar campaign. Let’s take the example of the enterprise offering HR management/Payroll SaaS.

All of the email types in this campaign are going to be registration emails. If people register for the webinar it means that they’ve raised their hand and told you that you should put them in an engagement series where you’ll continue to talk to them about that subject.

Your first registration email could have a subject like: LIVE Training: 10 steps to attract and keep A+ talent.

The second could be: Join me LIVE, tomorrow at 2 PM.

The third would be something like: Don’t stand me up!

And you might have a fourth email saying: We’re all waiting on YOU!

Storyboarding Your Re-Engagement Campaign

• By storyboarding your re-engagement campaign, you’ll:

  • Call out “inactive” subscribers.
  • Encourage them to re-engage with your emails.
  • Remind them of the benefits of being a subscriber.
  • Tell them what they’ve missed.
  • Lower complaints.
  • Increase deliverability.

• Your email list is slowly dying. Email marketing databases naturally degrade by about 22.5% every year. Also, about 17% of Americans create a new email address every 6 months and 30% change email addresses annually. Furthermore, unengaged subscriber mark your emails as spam (the new unsubscribe) 9x more than engaged subscribers.

• There are many reasons that subscribers become unengaged:

  • Email frequency: This goes both ways (emailing too frequently or not emailing enough), and it’s actually the number one reason subscribers become unengaged. If you don’t indoctrinate your subscribers and you don’t email at least 3-5 times a week, there is a good chance that they’ve already forgotten about you.
  • Boring or repetitive content.
  • Irrelevant or dated content: This will not only cause people to become unengaged, but you’ll also lose authority and credibility.
  • Too many other emails: People become unengaged and discard their email addresses because too many people are emailing them.
  • Only wanted the freebie: People become unengaged with lists because they’ve never intended to become engaged in the first place, which is actually your fault! You need to indoctrinate people properly from the beginning; show them who you are, what you do, what you’re about, what you stand for and against, and the benefits of knowing you and your brand.
  • Changed email address.
  • Abandoned email address.
  • Engaged with your competition.

• The role of the re-engagement campaign is to call out inactive subscribers and get them to start engaging with your emails again… to get re-excited about you and your brand.

• The first step in launching a re-engagement campaign is to determine who has become unengaged with your emails. For DM, they determine this by looking at who hasn’t purchased in 6 months or who hasn’t opened/clicked an email in the last 60 days.

You might want to start with a year for purchases and 120 days for opens/clicks. And don’t be surprised if 30-50% of your list is unengaged (not opening/clicking, not moving through the customer journey, and costing you deliverability with your engaged subscribers).

• Here is DM’s re-engagement campaign structure:

The first email will be a re-engagement email. The subject is: Hey [FIRST NAME] is everything ok?

The second day is off.

The third is another re-engagement email. The subject is: is this still [FIRST NAME]’s email?

The fourth day is off.

The fifth email is, again, a re-engagement email. The subject is: Hey [FIRST NAME], what has you stuck? With this email, they want to remind them that they can help them! This simply a three-question survey to get them re-engaged.

The sixth day is also off.

If they still haven’t engaged, they’ll send a seventh re-engagement email. The subject is: [FIRST NAME], can you help? Please? In this one, again, they ask people to participate in a short survey (although, they’re not really interested in diving into what people say in the survey). Getting them to take the survey is more about re-engagement than analysis—it’s about generating a micro-commitment.

• If you send a re-engagement campaign but nothing happens, you now want to deploy a win-back campaign—the difference is the tone.

Remember that anytime they open or click at any point in these two campaigns, you’ve successfully re-engaged them, and there is no point in continuing with the rest of the emails.

Here is the structure of a win-back campaign:

The first email is a re-engagement email. The subject is: I want you back!

The second email is also a re-engagement email. The subject is: I’ve got a gift for you (sssshhhh, it’s a surprise 😉. Obviously, you want to make sure that it’s a really valuable gift.

The third email is another re-engagement email. The subject is: Am I still welcome in your inbox?

A fourth day off.

The fifth email is another re-engagement email, and the subject will be: Should I unsubscribe you?

The sixth day is off.

The seventh and last email is also a re-engagement email with the subject: Is this goodbye? If you’re planning to email them from time to time (but not so often), you might not want to use that subject line. If you do, however, plan to definitively not email them ever again, by all means, use it.

• If the re-engagement campaign and the win-back campaign don’t work, then stop emailing them!

• A well-thought-out re-engagement campaign, including the win-back campaign, should have a 3-5% conversion rate. The reason the conversion rate is low is simply that, for whatever reason, they are unengaged.

• You want to read every one of your emails and sales messages aloud. If something doesn’t flow correctly out loud, then there’s a good chance it’s not going to flow correctly in the mind of your customers when they’re reading it silently.

Module 4. Email Copywriting and Design

Harvesting Proven Sales Copy

• The first trick to writing really great email copy is to start with what’s currently working (i.e., generating leads and sales). If you’re brand new or you’re starting a new business or you’re not really versed in the business that you’re working for, it’s a good idea to see what copy your competitors are using.

• In repurposing winning copy (yours and your competitors’), you want to look at:

  1. Headlines
  2. Hooks and leads
  3. Lists and benefits
  4. Proof and stories
  5. CTAs

• You want to create a swipe file of controls, then you want to leverage and beat those controls down the road.

• After you have aggregated control copy, you now want to ask yourself the four “magic” email copywriting questions:

  1. Why now? You’re asking your subscribers to do something (e.g., print out a coupon, register for a webinar, come to your store, give you a call, schedule a demo, buy something), and since email is an interruptive medium, you’ll need to tell them why you’re asking now; is it because it’s new? Is it on sale? Is it limited or exclusive? Is it timely?
  2. Who Cares? Whether it’s new, on sale, timely, etc., you’ll need to determine what would make them care. You want to think about who would be affected the most (positively or negatively) by having or not having what you’re selling.
  3. Why should they care? You can’t expect people to connect the dots; it’s your job as a marketer to do that. If you know why it’s important to email them now and who should care, it’s time to start painting the picture of why they should care and helping them see how their life looks like now (before your product/service) and after. On another hand, you want to call them out (by segment) in the copy.
  4. How can you prove it? You want to prove that whatever it is you’re offering/talking about does what you say it does. This is why you need to aggregate proof (e.g., testimonials, case studies, new stories).
The Four Reasons People Buy

• There are only four reasons that make people buy (you need to keep these in mind when writing email copy):

  1. Personal gain.
  2. Logic and research: This is especially true when you’re going through a bigger purchase or bigger buying cycle. You have to understand that people are going to apply logic (e.g., timing, price) and research your brand, which is why you need to leverage these in your CTAs.
  3. Social proof or 3rd party influence.
  4. Fear of loss or missing out: This is why scarcity and time-based promotions are so effective.
Points of Belief

• You need to understand where people are now, where you need to take them for them to acknowledge that what you have is what they need, and what points of belief that you need to inoculate against or overcome. Here are five steps:

  1. Define the desired end result: You have to know what they really want, and more importantly, you have to be able to tell them how what you have will get them what they want. This is why testimonials and case studies are so important because even if people aren’t sure of what they truly want, they can see themselves in others; they can see someone on the other side who was where they are now and realize that that is what they want, too.
  2. Acknowledge where they are today (and why they are stuck): You have to acknowledge where they are, why they’re stuck, and why it’s not 100% their fault.
  3. List “the points of belief”: What are the new ideas or concepts that they need to understand or believe to be true/false? The points of belief not only inform what your email phrasing should be, but they also determine the length of the campaign or the customer journey.
  4. List the pain points: What are the known objections that you need to overcome or inoculate against?
  5. Establish a timeline: How many emails will it take to overcome all known objections and pain points? When you have multiple points of belief and things you need to overcome, you may need many emails.
Crafting Your Subject Lines

• The job of the subject line is to sell the open. The job of the body copy is to sell the click. The job of the landing page or the destination is to sell whatever you’re selling. Do not try to make any one of these do the job of the other.

• There are four types of subject lines:

  1. Blind or curiosity subject lines.
  2. Direct or benefit-based subject lines.
  3. Urgency or scarcity-based subject lines.
  4. Proof of results-based subject lines.

Blind/Curiosity Subject Lines

  • Less _________ = More Sales
  • Why he paid Google $524,838.71…
  • Kinda weird but VERY profitable
  • 7 business doubling “hacks”? 1,322,956 free clicks from…
  • 137% more sales with boomerang trick…
  • 9 “Oddball” Penny Traffic Sources

Direct/Benefit Subject Lines

  • [Facebook Ads] Get more clicks…
  • Create opt-in pages that convert like crazy
  • Generate traffic on demand
  • How To Write Bullets That Sell
  • Start building your list for just $1
  • A Native Ad in 60 Minutes or Less
  • Steal These Email Templates…

Urgency/Scarcity Subject Lines

  • 85% off sale ends at Midnight
  • No More Discounts on T&C
  • Closing Down Soon!
  • Last Chance to be a VIP
  • You’re about to miss out…
  • You’re going to miss this?!?
  • Final Notice (just hours left)

Proof/Results Subject Lines

  • [Case Study] $188,674 from a dead list
  • Mom of two “makes” $10K in 4 days
  • This guy makes 6 figures per month?
  • AZ shoe store owner 20X’s business by sending what?
  • 23,247 leads in less than 30 days
  • Swipe this $17,609.10 template (Download)
  • [Case Study] 259% ROI using new traffic source…

• You want to use and leverage all the different types of subject lines so that you give people different reasons to open an email.

Crafting Your Body Copy

• In order to craft body copy, it’s important that you remember the four magic questions.

• Just like subject lines, there are four body copy chunks that you can use:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Direct/Benefit
  3. Urgency/Scarcity
  4. Proof/Results

• Each email will have four sections:

  1. Intro
  2. Body
  3. Close
  4. P.S.

• The best time to use proof, curiosity, or credibility is in your intro.

The body copy is great for benefits or results.

The close is best for scarcity or social proof. The reason you want to use scarcity is that people have too many decisions to make each day, which means that everything they think of goes through a process where it’s either done immediately or delayed, and this is why you need to tell your subscriber when they need to make a decision.

As for the P.S., you want to use social proof or scarcity.

Leveraging this structure gives your subscribers many reasons to click instead of just one, which doesn’t work really well.

Queuing the Click

• Simply writing the body copy isn’t enough to make sure that people are clicking, you’ll need to queue the click. Think of this as the transitional copy in between the different body chunks or the different methods to get people to click your links. Here are a few of them:

  1. Pose a benefit-driven question. Example: How do our high-converting email templates work? Click here to find out.
  2. Connect proof with product. Example: The machine boosts conversion rates by 34% – Tomorrow! See how it works here: link
  3. Lead them to “Yes”! Example: Want to generate more sales from email? Use this: link
  4. Show them the after. Example: Once you have my templates, you’ll never have to write another email again… I will have already done it for you. Just copy – paste – send. Get my templates here: link
  5. Show them you’re human. Example: This is the only time I’ve ever cried as an adult. Find out why here: link
  6. The takeaway. Example: This is your last chance to get ________: link

Module 5. Optimizing Opens and Clicks

Getting More Opens

• You have just 3-4 seconds to grab your readers’ attention and interest them enough to open and read your email.

• 9 tricks to increase your email open rates:

  1. Timing is everything: Avoid the “inbox purge” by delivering your emails between 8:30-10:00 AM, 2:30-3:30 PM, or 8:00-midnight.
  2. Call them by name: Personalization in the subject line can increase open rates by 23%.
  3. Positive in the AM / Negative in the PM: People typically wake up in a positive mood, so you don’t want to send them anything negative in the morning. If you’re going to use a negative subject line, do it later in the day; however, you want to come back with a positive spin or at least offer a solution for positivity.
  4. Be provocative, controversial, or relevant: No one wants to read boring emails with dated information!
  5. Use odd or specific numbers: If you round up (or down), people think you’re lying. Not only do specific numbers catch our attention, but they’re also more credible.
  6. Keep it short: 6-10 words or 25 characters is the sweet spot for opens! The most important aspect here is to make sure that what’s readable sells the open.
  7. Use the second subject line: You’ve got another 6-10 words to tell your subscriber why they should open your email.
  8. Add symbols to stand out: Adding the right symbols to your subject line can increase opens by 10-15%. EmailStuff is a great resource for symbols, and here is another resource.
  9. Use your logo or your pic: Stand out in the “new” inbox by leveraging your brand!
Getting More Clicks

• Here are 6 ways you can increase the CTR of your emails:

  1. Press Play: It’s usually a picture with a play button inside the email. You’ll get an additional boost if you add the play button plus a description underneath it of the video.
  2. Your Thoughts?: This is sort of a survey where you ask a question, and all the “answers” to it take people to the same page. You want to make sure to ask a question that people care about and don’t—at least definitively—know the answer to. You also want to make sure to answer the question in whatever page you’re sending them to.
  3. Best of Both Worlds: This is a combination of both (a video and a survey); it’s really a video about a survey.
  4. Video in Email: This is really an animated GIF with a play button in the middle. They could be about everything from actual videos to just blog posts where you simply scroll through one.
  5. Final Countdown: When you build a closing email or a sale is ending, you can leverage the stopwatch icon in the subject line, and once they open the email, people find an animated countdown timer in the email that takes people (when they click it) to a page where there is a countdown timer. You’ll need to find a plugin for the countdown timer in the email.
  6. Flash Em: Flashing banners almost double the CTR of your emails.

Module 6. Tracking and Measuring Results

Benchmarking Your Results

• You simply cannot set realistic goals without benchmarking your current results! You need to benchmark to know whether you’re getting better.

• You have to answer the question: “How well is email working for you right now?”

  • How big is your list?
  • Are you mailing the entire list? You want to know the number of people that you’re emailing when you send a broadcast email.
  • How many people open your emails?
  • How many people click?
  • How many people unsubscribe?
  • How many people complain?

• 5 steps to benchmark email performance:

  1. Look back and chart every broadcast email for the past 3, 6, and 12 months—the process will involve a lot of manual data entry. This will give you a deep dive into the types of emails you’ve been sending (e.g., what’s working, what’s not, what people are engaging with, what people are repelled by, etc.).
  2. Establish averages for opens, clicks, unsubscribes, complaints, and forwards.
  3. Identify irregularities… any breakout good or bad! What emails have you sent that had double the unsubscribes average? What emails have you sent that had half the unsubscribes average? What emails have you sent that had double or triple the average click, open, or forward rates? And then, you’ll need to figure out why!
  4. Look for patterns (e.g., topic, day, time, from, etc.) that get either really good or really bad results. The goal is to look for seasonality as you go year over year; you want to know the times of the year where—historically—your email performance increases and where it dips.
  5. Set baseline numbers and goals for everything.
What to Track and When to Track it

• Here are the KPIs you want to monitor and when you should monitor them:

  • Review and spot check weekly: Every week, you’ll be looking for early indicators and green arrows. You’ll analyze opens, clicks, unsubscribes, and complaints.
  • Deep dive and correct monthly: Every month, you’ll be looking for emerging trends—good or bad. You’ll analyze email times, topics, and types.

• Ideally, you want to fill out your tracking sheet daily, even multiple times a day since this will allow you to see different benchmarks throughout the day (better understanding of good and bad times of the day).

• Whether you’re looking at the sheet weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually, you should be benchmarking your best and worst in every category simply because you want to duplicate the good results and avoid the negative ones.

• The tracking sheet is intended for use for broadcast emails only, not for triggered follow-up sequences. It’ll be used strictly for emails that you’re manually broadcasting to all or a segment of your email list.

• If you see that a lot more emails get sent that get delivered, you might want to focus on deliverability and email list hygiene—you want to have a delivery % in above 92-93. You can use services such as TowerData or BriteVerify.

Module 7. Email Deliverability

3 Ways to Prove You’re NOT a Spammer

• If your emails aren’t hitting in the inbox, then everything else you’re doing doesn’t matter!

• Worldwide, just 79% of commercial emails land in the inbox. This means that for every five emails sent, one never reaches the intended recipient—in reality, it’s more like two out of five emails never reach the recipient.

• 3 ways to prove you’re not a spammer:

  1. Mailer reputation: This is about how you look from a bulk-mailer standpoint.
  2. Sender infrastructure: This is about technically setting up things in a way that makes you look like you know what you’re doing.
  3. Subscriber engagement: This one is the most important, and it’s the one that you have the most control over.
Your Mailer Reputation

• The first thing that the ISPs look at when determining your reputation is:

  1. Message volume: This is not exactly about how much you’re sending, but how consistent are you with your volume. You don’t want to hit massive highs and then go for long periods of time with sending little to no emails; you want to have a nice and even flow.
  2. Delivery rate: Most of the emails you’re sending should get through to the inbox (94% or more delivery rate).
  3. Blacklist status: You need to be clear and clean of any blacklist for both your IP and domain for the last 6 months.

• You want to make sure you’re constantly monitoring those three things. You want to be aware of how many emails you’re sending (volume).

You want to monitor delivery by IP(s). When you send an email, you want to know your IP(s)’ delivery rate to Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, etc. And when you have a low delivery rate, make sure to know that it’s happening and, and then dive in to figure out why.

Blacklists are really about your list building; how you’re doing it, how you’re doing indoctrination, and more importantly, re-engagement. If you’re building lists appropriately, indoctrinating people, removing them from your list when they’re no longer engaged (of course, after deploying a re-engagement and win-back campaigns), then you shouldn’t have too many spam complaints and blacklist issues.

Your Sender Infrastructure

• If you’re not a technical person (you don’t know what things like DNS, FTP, domain registrar mean), you’ll need to get a specialist to work on this; however, you do need to know the things they should do.

• When it comes to sender infrastructure, you need to focus on these areas:

  1. SPF (Sender Policy Framework): This authorizes the IP addresses, as well as the domain addresses that send your email. So, if you have your domain in one place and your IP in another place (you’re using a third-party ESP), you’ll need to go into your domain registrar and set up these different records; for example, you’ll say that when an email from originates from these 9 IP addresses, it’s okay because that’s actually you—you’re verifying that the email that says it’s originating from your domain is actually yours, even though it’s hosted on a different IP.
  2. Sender ID: This validates the origin of email messages by verifying the IP addresses of the sender against the owner of the domain. When you set up your sender ID, you’ll be saying that you own x domain, which is hosted on x IP, and that when email originates from these IP addresses (even though it’s different from the IP on x), it’s actually coming from you.
  3. DKIM: This is an email authentication method through which emails are digitally signed on a domain basis.
  4. Feedback Loops (ESPs have this automatically set up): The way a feedback loop works is that if someone marks your message as spam in AOL, Yahoo, Gmail, etc., it triggers an action in that service to where it fires a post over and lets you know that (1) they marked spam, and (2) it actually removes them from your email list. Setting up feedback loops prevents ISPs from marking you as a spammer.

Basically, these are sender verifications; they are different ways to tell the ISPs that it is you who is actually sending the emails when you’re using an ESP. Different ISPs use different methods of verification; therefore, you want to make sure that you have all of them set up.

• Use MxToolbox to see whether your SPF and DKIM records have been set up.

Your Subscriber Engagement

• As long as you have the technical stuff set up, which is mostly just checking boxes, all the ISPs care about is how your people are reacting to your emails. If people don’t get engaged with your emails, and you’re still sending them, you’ll look like a spammer. Engagement has the highest effect on your deliverability.

• There are four factors that lead to engagement:

  1. Email open rate: You want to know the percentage, not the number, of your email opens. The higher the percentage, the higher the engagement, and the higher the engagement, the higher the deliverability.
  2. Lateral scroll rate: You want to know whether people scroll or not once they open your emails. This is the only way ISPs know whether or not people are engaging with your emails.
  3. Hard/Soft bounce rate: A hard bounce happens because an email address is not real (doesn’t exist), and a soft bounce happens for a number of reasons. If you continue to send emails to bad email addresses or addresses that reject them, you’ll look like a spammer.
  4. Unsubscribe and complaint rate.
Monitoring & Tracking Deliverability

• A tool that you want to use is MailMonitor. This service is strictly for inbox placement, not necessarily email deliverability as a whole.

If you take the seed addresses that they give and put them on your email list, it will break down your deliverability. Suppose you have four IP addresses and you send a broadcast email, it will tell you the deliverability of that message in Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc., by each IP address.

If you see that you’re having deliverability issues with one specific IP and one ISP (e.g., your IP 2 is being completely blocked by Yahoo), you know where to focus your efforts and contact your ESP to fix them.

• Another tool is Sender Score, which is free. It will allow you to monitor your sender reputation; you don’t want to see anything under 93%.

This tool will be predominantly used by people who have dedicated IP addresses. If you have a shared IP, you really can’t use it.

• The third tool is EmailReach. This allows you to set up tracking on domain and IP blacklisting, as well as set up proactive emails.


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The Unpublished David Ogilvy by David Ogilvy

Print | eBook

The Unpublished David Ogilvy by David Ogilvy Summary

Book Review:

The Unpublished David Ogilvy by David Ogilvy is a collection—made by some of David Ogilvy’s colleagues—of many things that he has said or written but never published. It’s actually a gift that was given on David’s seventy-fifth birthday in 1986 at a boat party in London. The collection includes things such as notes, memos, letters, speeches and papers, lists, and so on…

I thought that Ogilvy On Advertising, which I really loved, contained everything that David knows and believes about advertising; however, this one has things that he, for some reason, left out from the books he actually wrote—perhaps, he thought they weren’t that important. Furthermore, this one contains his thoughts on subjects other than advertising.

The first chapter, called Early Years, has an amazing guide that he once wrote for his fellow door-to-door salesmen when he was a salesman himself for the AGA AB (a Swedish industrial gas company). Fortune said that it is “probably the best sales manual ever written”.

I particularly enjoyed the third chapter called Lists. David was very systematic, and it seems that he created lists for almost everything in his company from the qualifications he looks for when it comes to choosing leaders to learning how to write to the most useful books he knows on the subject of advertising.

The book finished with an interview at David’s home in France, which lasted three and a half hours. Unfortunately, the book features only a few excerpts from it.

Book Summary:

The following summary of The Unpublished David Ogilvy by David Ogilvy is meant to be concise, reminding me of high-level concepts and not trying to recreate the whole book. This summary is basically a bunch of notes and lessons paraphrased or quoted directly from the book and does not contain my own thoughts.

Early Years

• Every advertisement must tell the whole sales story because the public does not read advertisements in series.

• The copy must be human and very simple, keyed right down to its market – a market in which self-conscious artwork and fine language serve only to make buyers wary.

• Every word in the copy must count. Concrete figures must be substituted for atmospheric claims; clichés must give way to facts, and empty exhortations to alluring offers.

• Facetiousness in advertising is a device dear to the amateur but anathema to the advertising agent who knows that permanent success has rarely been built on frivolity and that people do not buy from clowns.

• Superlatives belong to the marketplace and have no place in a serious advertisement; they lead readers to discount the realism of every claim.

• Apparent monotony of treatment must be tolerated because only the manufacturer reads all his own advertisements.

• Study the methods of your competitors and do the exact opposite.

• Find out all you can about your prospects before you call on them; their general living conditions, wealth, profession, hobbies, friends and so on. Every hour spent in this kind of research will help you and impress your prospect.

• Avoid standardization in your sales talk. If you find yourself one fine day saying the same things to a bishop and a trapezist, you are done for.

• When the prospect tries to bring the interview to a close, go gracefully. It can only hurt you to be kicked out.

• Develop your eccentricities while you’re young. That way, when you get old, people won’t think you’re going gaga.

Notes, Memos, and Letters

• One of the most priceless assets Ogilvy & Mather can have is the respect of our clients and the whole business community.

• It is not enough for an agency to be respected for its professional competence. Indeed, there isn’t much to choose between the competence of the big agencies.

What so often makes the difference is the character of the men and women who represent the agency at the top level, with clients and the business community. If they are respected as admirable people, the agency gets business – whether from present clients or prospective ones.

• Get people alongside you who make up for your weaknesses.

• Don’t compound your own weaknesses by employing people in key positions who have the same weakness.

• Most of the fashionable hotspots in the creative departments of other agencies are nomads, birds-of-passage. It is not unusual for them to have worked at six agencies before they are thirty-two. What a turbulent, unsettling, dangerous way to live. I have no stomach for recruiting these unprincipled adventurers.

• My work habits as a copywriter. They are appalling, as you are about to see:

  1. I have never written an advertisement in the office. Too many interruptions. I do all my writing at home.
  2. I spend a long time studying the precedents. I look at every advertisement which has appeared for competing products during the past 20 years.
  3. I am helpless without research material – and the more “motivational” the better.
  4. I write out a definition of the problem and a statement of the purpose which I wish the campaign to achieve. Then I go no further until that statement and its principles have been accepted by the client.
  5. Before actually writing the copy, I write down every conceivable fact and selling idea. Then I get them organized and relate them to research and the copy platform.
  6. Then I write the headline. As a matter of fact, I try to write 20 alternative headlines for every advertisement. And I never select the final headline without asking the opinions of other people in the agency. In some cases, I seek the help of the research department and get them to do a split-run on a battery of headlines.
  7. At this point, I can no longer postpone doing the actual copy. So I go home and sit down at my desk. I find myself entirely without ideas. I get bad-tempered. If my wife comes into the room I growl at her. (This has gotten worse since I gave up smoking.)
  8. I am terrified of producing a lousy advertisement. This causes me to throw away the first 20 attempts.
  9. If all else fails, I drink half a bottle of rum and play a Handel oratorio on the gramophone. This generally produces an uncontrollable gush of copy.
  10. Next morning I get up early and edit the gush.
  11. Then I take the train to New York and my secretary types a draft. (I cannot type, which is very inconvenient.)
  12. I am a lousy copywriter, but I am a good editor. So I go to work editing my own draft. After four or five editings, it looks good enough to show to the client. If the client changes the copy, I get angry—because I took a lot of trouble writing it, and what I wrote I wrote on purpose.


• The qualifications I look for in our leaders are these:

  1. High standards of personal ethics.
  2. Big people, without prettiness.
  3. Guts under pressure, resilience in defeat.
  4. Brilliant brains – not safe plodders.
  5. A capacity for hard work and midnight oil.
  6. Charisma – charm and persuasiveness.
  7. A streak of unorthodoxy – creative innovators.
  8. The courage to make tough decisions.
  9. Inspiring enthusiasts – with thrust and gusto.
  10. A sense of humor.

• A memo to the creative directors of Ogilvy & Mather offices worldwide (July 1, 1979): Are you the greatest?

  1. Are you creating the most remarkable advertising in your country?
  2. Is this generally recognized, inside and outside your agency?
  3. Can you show new-business prospects at least four campaigns which electrify them?
  4. Have you stopped overloading commercials?
  5. Have you stopped singing the sales pitch?
  6. Do all your commercials start with a visual grabber?
  7. Have you stopped using cartoon commercials when selling to adults?
  8. Do you show at least six Magic Lanterns to everyone who joins your staff?
  9. If they don’t understand English, have you had all the Lanterns translated into their language?
  10. Do you repeat the brand name several times in every commercial?
  11. Have you stopped using celebrity testimonials in television commercials?
  12. Have you got a list of red-hot creative people in other agencies, ready for the day when you can afford to hire them?
  13. Do all your campaigns execute an agreed positioning?
  14. Do they promise a benefit – which has been tested?
  15. Do you always super the promise at least twice in every commercial?
  16. Have you had at least three Big Ideas in the last six months?
  17. Do you always make the product the hero?
  18. Are you going to win more creative awards than any other agency this year?
  19. Do you use problem-solution, humor, relevant characters, slice-of-life?
  20. Do you eschew life-style commercials?
  21. Do your people gladly work nights and weekends?
  22. Are you good at injecting news into your campaign?
  23. Do you always show the product in use?
  24. Does your house reel include some commercials with irresistible charm?
  25. Do you always show the package at the end?
  26. Have you stopped using visual clichés – like sunsets and happy families at the dinner table? Do you use lots of visual surprises?
  27. Do the illustrations in your print advertisements contain story appeal?
  28. Are you phasing out addy layouts and moving to editorial layouts?
  29. Do you sometimes use visualized contrast?
  30. Do all your headlines contain the brand name – and the promise?
  31. Are all your illustrations photographs?
  32. Have you stopped setting copy ragged left and right?
  33. Have you stopped using more than forty characters in a line of copy?
  34. Have you stopped setting copy smaller than 10 points and bigger than 12 points?
  35. Do you always paste advertisements into magazines or newspapers before you OK them?
  36. Have you stopped setting body copy in sans-serif?
  37. Have you stopped beating your wife?

If you can answer YES to all these questions, you are the greatest Creative Director on the face of the earth.

• Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:

  1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
  2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
  3. Use short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs.
  4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
  5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
  6. Check your quotations.
  7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning – and then edit it.
  8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
  9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
  10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

• Somebody recently asked me for a list of the most useful books on advertising – the books that all our people should read. Here is what I sent her:

  1. Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins; Foreword by David Ogilvy. Crown Publishers.
  2. Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples; Foreword by David Ogilvy. Prentice-Hall.
  3. Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy. Atheneum Publishers.
  4. How to Advertise by Kenneth Roman and Jane Maas; Foreword by David Ogilvy. St Martin’s Press.
  5. Reality in Advertising by Rosser Reeves. Alfred Knopf.
  6. The Art of Writing Advertising by Bernbach, Burnett, Gribbin, Ogilvy & Reeves. Advertising Publications, Inc., Chicago.
  7. The 100 Best Advertisements by Julian Watkins. Dover Publications.

Speeches and Papers

• That is where research can help art directors. It can give you some indication as to the type of visual treatment which will deliver the most prospects per dollar

• Make it crystal clear to your agency that you aren’t looking for soft, gutless advertising. And that you aren’t looking for mere entertainment. Explain that you still want advertising with selling teeth in it. Honest teeth, but biting teeth.

• Every advertisement must be considered as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image – as part of the long-term investment in the reputation of the brand.

• I used to deride advertising men who talked about long-term effect. I used to accuse them of hiding behind long-term effect. I used to say that they used long-term effect as an alibi – to conceal their inability to make any single advertisement profitable. In those intolerant days, I believed that every advertisement must stand on its own two feet and sell goods at a profit on the cost of the space…

Today, I have come to believe, with Gardner and Levy, that every advertisement must be considered as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image.

• I find that most manufacturers are reluctant to accept any such limitation on the image and personality of their brands. They want to be all things to all people. They want their brand to be a male brand and a female brand. An upper-crust brand and a plebeian brand. And in their greed, they almost always end up with a brand which has no personality of any kind – a wishy-washy neuter brand.

• What would you think of a politician who changed his public personality every year? Have you noticed that Winston Churchill has been careful to wear the same ties and the same hats for fifty years – so as not to confuse us?

• I am astonished to find how many manufacturers, on both sides of the Atlantic, still believe that women can be persuaded by logic and argument to buy one brand in preference to another – even when the two brands are technically identical. The greater the similarity between products, the less part reason plays in brand selection.

• The manufacturer who dedicates his advertising to building the most favorable image, the most sharply defined personality, is the one who will get the largest share of the market at the highest profit – in the long run.

• In our agency, we take a long view of our creative responsibilities. We plan ten years ahead, on the assumption that our clients are not out for a fast buck, but intend to stay in business forever. We try to create sharply defined personalities for our brands. And we stick to those personalities, year after year.

• We have exercised care in selecting our clients. That is why our roster is such a remarkable one.

• We seek clients who manufacture a product which we can be proud to advertise – a product which we can recommend without reservation to our own families.

• We see clients whose basic attitudes to business are about the same as ours. The agency-client relationship is an intimate one, and it only works well when there is a strong ingredient of mutual respect on both sides.

• We seek accounts on which we can make a profit. Ten years’ experience with cost accounting has taught us which kind of accounts are likely to be unprofitable; we avoid them.

• We want Ogilvy & Mather to be the best agency. That is one reason why we exercise so much restraint in controlling the speed of our expansion. We must avoid growing so rapidly that our standards of service would have to be diluted.

• I want the newcomers to know what kind of behavior we admire, and what kind of behavior we deplore:

  1. First, we admire people who work hard. We dislike passengers who don’t pull their weight in the boat.
  2. We admire people with first-class brains because you cannot run a great advertising agency without brainy people.
  3. We admire people who avoid politics – office politics, I mean.
  4. We despise toadies who suck up to their bosses; they are generally the same people who bully their subordinates.
  5. We admire the great professionals, the craftsmen who do their jobs with superlative excellence. We notice that these people always respect the professional expertise of their colleagues in other departments.
  6. We admire people who hire subordinates who are good enough to succeed them. We pity people who are so insecure that they feel compelled to hire inferior specimens as their subordinates.
  7. We admire people who build up and develop their subordinates because this is the only way we can promote from within the ranks. We detest having to go outside to fill important jobs, and I look forward to the day when that will never be necessary.
  8. We admire people who practice delegation. The more you delegate, the more responsibility will be loaded upon you.
  9. We admire kindly people with gentle manners who treat other people as human beings – particularly the people who sell things to us. We abhor quarrelsome people. We abhor people who wage paper welfare. We abhor buck passers and people who don’t tell the truth.
  10. We admire well-organized people who keep their offices shipshape and deliver their work on time.
  11. We admire people who are good citizens in their communities – people who work for their local hospitals, their church, the PTA, the Community Chest and so on.

• Don’t overstaff your departments. People enjoy life most when they have the most work to do.

• Set exorbitant standards, and give your people hell when they don’t live up to them. There is nothing so demoralizing as a boss who tolerates second-rate work.

• When your people turn in an exceptional performance, make sure they know you admire them for it.

• Don’t let your people fall into a rut. Keep leading them along new paths, blazing new trails. Give them a sense of adventurous pioneering.

• Do your best to educate your people, so that they can be promoted as rapidly as possible.

• Delegate. Throw your people in over their heads. That is the only way to find out how good they are.

• Seek advice from your subordinates, and listen more than you talk.

• Make sure that you are getting the most out of all your people. Men and women are happiest when they know that they are giving everything they’ve got.

• I make no apology for having established a set of creative principles, but I cannot believe that they represent the last word. I am hungry for younger creative people to come along and enlarge our philosophies.

• There is no great trick to doing research. The problem is to get people to use it – particularly when the research reveals that you have been making mistakes. We all have a tendency to use research as a drunkard uses a lamppost – for support, not for illumination.

• A very large part of what students and teachers do in the best colleges and universities is sheer waste.

• The strength of a college can be measured by the number of subjects it refuses to teach.

• If you are going to be a businessman, you won’t get far unless you can write lucid reports

• Knowledge is useless unless you know how to communicate it – in writing.

• The harder your people work, the happier they will be. I believe in the Scottish proverb: “Hard work never killed a man.” Men die of boredom, psychological conflict, and disease. They never die of hard work.

• I am a stickler for meeting deadlines. I can do almost any job in one weekend. I think everyone can. The trouble is that most chaps are too lazy to burn the midnight oil. They are unwilling to rise to the occasion.

On the other hand, I believe in lots of vacations. When one of my partners gets abrasive, it is usually because he has worked too long without a vacation.

• When people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work. Kill grimness with laughter. Encourage exuberance. Get rid of sad dogs who spread gloom.

• In our kind of business, it is awfully difficult to evaluate people in terms of their performance. What criteria can we use? “Systematic employee performance ratings?” The evaluations are inevitably subjective. So how can we decide what to pay our senior people?

I am beginning to think that we should follow the example of Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts, the law firm. They pay all their partners the same, and they have been doing so since the 1880’s. They figure that the young partners need as much money as the old ones, and probably more.

By paying all the partners the same, they remove the major cause of that sibling rivalry which causes such hellish politics in a service business; they also eliminate the impossible chore of evaluating performance at the partner level.

• When a service business grows big, it becomes increasingly difficult to sustain high professional standards. You have to operate systems of quality control.

• If I were Chairman of American Express or head of one of your Divisions, I would keep asking myself eight questions:

  1. Do I encourage my people to bombard me with new ideas? Is the atmosphere around here creative and innovative, or dull and bureaucratic? Walter Wriston recently said, “There’s no reason you can’t have an innovative bureaucracy if you put out the word that fame and fortune come from rocking the boat.” Creativity and innovation function best in an atmosphere of fun and foment. Creativity hardly functions at all in an atmosphere of politics and fear.
  2. I would ask myself, “Are we operating as a team, as a band of brothers? Or are we competing with each other like silly babies?”
  3. Are we freewheeling entrepreneurs, ready to take risks in new ventures? Or are we too frightened of making mistakes? When the toy-buyer at Sears made a mistake which cost his company 10 million bucks, I asked the head of Sears, “Are you going to fire him?” “Hell no,” he replied, “I fire people who don’t make mistakes.”
  4. Are we devoting too much time and money to salvaging our flops, our dry holes – and not enough to exploiting our breakthroughs?
  5. Are we leaders or followers? Do our competitors imitate us, or do we imitate them? You may remember Kipling’s long poem about Sir Anthony Gloster, the old shipping tycoon. On his deathbed, he is telling his son about his competitors: “They copied all they could follow, But they couldn’t copy my mind. And I left ’em sweating and stealing, A year and a half behind.”
  6. Are we trying hard enough to create new products? How does our Research & Development compare with Merck, who invested $227 million in R&D last year? That’s about eight percent of their sales. IBM invests one billion dollars a year in R&D. In some companies, it is easier to get a hundred million for an acquisition than one million for a new product.
  7. How do we stand with our customers – present and prospective? As long as we are rated tops by the consumers of our products, our position in the marketplace is unassailable…
  8. What are the Japanese up to? If they can outperform us in electronics and steel and even automobiles, don’t be surprised if one day they become a major threat to your business. The Japanese have four advantages over us in the West: (A) They take more interest in their employees. They have a saying, “Man, not the bottom line, is the measure of all things.” It seems to work. (B) They don’t have so many lawyers – one lawyer for every 10,000 people in Japan compared with twenty lawyers for every 10,000 people in the U.S. (C) They don’t put their wise men out to pasture at the age of sixty-five—This particularly appeals to me. (D) They aren’t so obsessed with short-term profit. Short-term profits? What’s so great about short-term profits? I’ll tell you. They impress the jackasses on Wall Street. Ten years ago they valued your shares at $40. Today you are making five times as much profit, and they value your shares at $43. Can’t you find a way to emancipate your company from the stock market? There’s a challenge!

• As a copywriter, what I want from the researchers is to be told what kind of advertising will make the cash register ring. A creative person who knows nothing about plus and minus factors, and refuses to learn, may sometimes luck into a successful campaign. A blind pig may sometimes find truffles, but it helps to know that they grow under oak trees.

• Any damn fool can put on a deal, but it takes genius, faith, and perseverance to create a brand. The financial rewards do not always come in next quarter’s earnings per share but come they do.

• There used to be a prosperous brand of coffee called Chase & Sanborn. Then they started dealing. They became addicted to price-offs. Where is Chase & Sanborn today? In the cemetery. Dead as a doornail.

• The manufacturers who dedicate their advertising to building the most favorable image, the most sharply defined personality for their brand, are the ones who will get the largest share of market at the highest profit.

• Deals don’t build the kind of indestructible image which is the only thing that can make your brand part of the fabric of American life.

• Promotions cannot produce more than a temporary kink in the sales curve.

• A cut-price offer can induce people to try a brand, but they return to their habitual brands as if nothing had happened.

• Why are so many brand managers addicted to price-cutting deals? Because the men who employ them are more interested in next quarter’s earnings than in building their brands. Why are they so obsessed with next quarter’s earnings? Because they are more concerned with their stock options than the future of their company.

Principles of Management” and “Corporate Culture”

Principles of Management

• Ogilvy & Mather is not a mere holding company for a group of independent agencies in different countries. It is one agency indivisible. Our clients must see no basic differences of style between any of our offices. Ogilvy & Mather must never become a company of incompetent amateurs in one country, superb professionals in a second, waffling bumblers in a third.

• Ogilvy & Mather is dedicated to seven purposes:

  1. To serve our clients more effectively than any other agency.
  2. To earn an increased profit every year.
  3. To maintain high ethical standards.
  4. To run the agency with a sense of competitive urgency.
  5. To keep our services up-to-date.
  6. To make Ogilvy & Mather the most exciting agency to work in.
  7. To earn the respect of the community.

• Profit is not always synonymous with billing. We pursue profit – not billing. The chief opportunities for increasing our profit lie in:

  1. Increasing income from present clients.
  2. Getting new clients.
  3. Separating passengers without delay.
  4. Discontinuing boondoggles and obsolete services: To keep your ship moving through the water at maximum efficiency, you have to keep scraping the barnacles off its bottom. It is rare for a department head to recommend the abolition of a job or even the elimination of a man; the pressure from below is always for adding. If the initiative for barnacle-scraping does not come from Management, barnacles will never be scrapped.
  5. Avoiding duplication of function – two men doing a job which one can do.
  6. Increasing productivity.
  7. Reducing wheel-spinning in the creative area.
  8. Putting idle capital to work.

• Advertising agencies are fertile ground for office politics. You should work hard to minimize them because they take up energy which can better be devoted to our clients; some agencies have been destroyed by internal politics. Here are some ways to minimize them:

  1. Always be fair and honest in your own dealings; unfairness and dishonesty at the top can demoralize an agency.
  2. Never hire relatives or friends.
  3. Sack incurable politicians.
  4. Crusade against paper warfare. Encourage your people to air their disagreements face-to-face.
  5. Discourage secrecy.
  6. Discourage poaching.
  7. Compose sibling rivalries.

• I want all our people to believe that they are working in the best agency in the world. A sense of pride works wonders.

• The best way to “install a generator” in a man is to give him the greatest possible responsibility. Treat your subordinates as grown-ups – and they will grow up. Help them when they are in difficulty. Be affectionate and human, not cold and impersonal.

• It is vitally important to encourage free communication upward. Encourage your people to be candid with you. Ask their advice – and listen to it.

• Senior men and women have no monopoly on great ideas. Nor do Creative people. Some of the best ideas come from account executives, researchers and others. Encourage this; you need all the ideas you can get.

• Encourage innovation. Change is our lifeblood, stagnation our death knell.

• Do not summon people to your office – it frightens them. Instead, go to see them in their offices. This makes you visible throughout the agency. An office head who never wanders about the agency becomes a hermit, out of touch with the staff.

• The physical appearance of our offices is important because it says so much about Ogilvy & Mather. If they are decorated in bad taste, we are yahoos. If they look old-fashioned, we are fuddy-duddies. If they are too pretentious, we are stuffed shirts. If they are untidy, we are inefficient. Our offices must look efficient, contemporary, cheerful and functional.

• Security must be policed. Indiscretion in elevators and restaurants, premature use of typesetters and Photostat houses, premature display of new campaigns on bulletin boards and indiscreet gossip can do serious damage to our clients and even lose accounts.

• It is also the duty of our top people to sustain unremitting pressure on the professional standards of their staffs. They must not tolerate sloppy plans or mediocre creative work. In our competitive business, it is suicide to settle for second-rate performance.

• Training should not be confined to trainees. It should be a continuous process and should include the entire professional staff at the agency. The more our people learn, the more useful they can be to our clients.

• One of the most priceless assets Ogilvy & Mather can have is the respect of our clients and of the whole business community. This comes from the following:

  1. Our offices must always be headed by the kind of people who command respect. Not phonies, zeros or bastards.
  2. Always be honest in your dealings with clients. Tell them what you would do if you were in their shoes.
  3. If we do a good job for our clients, that will become known. We will smell of success, and that will bring us respect.
  4. If we treat our employees well, they will speak well of Ogilvy & Mather to their friends. Assuming that each employee has 100 friends, 250,000 people now have friends who work for Ogilvy & Mather. Among them are present and prospective clients.
  5. In meeting with clients, do not assume the posture of servants. They need you as much as you need them.
  6. While you are responsible to your clients for sales results, you are also responsible to consumers for the kind of advertising you bring into their homes. Your aim should be to create advertising that is in good taste. I abhor advertising that is blatant, dull, or dishonest. Agencies which transgress this principle are not widely respected.
  7. We must pull our weight as good citizens.

• The challenge is to recruit people who are able enough to do the difficult work our clients require from us.

  1. Make a conscious effort to avoid recruiting dull, pedestrian hacks.
  2. Create an atmosphere of ferment, innovation, and freedom. This will attract brilliant recruits.

• If you ever find a man who is better than you are – hire him. If necessary, pay him more than you pay yourself.

• Each Ogilvy & Mather office is a partnership of individual practitioners. Our growth depends on our ability to develop a large cadre of able partners.

• Each of our offices has a managing partner. The total responsibility for the office rests on his shoulders. However, if he is wise, he will treat his lieutenants as equals.

If he treats them as subordinates, they will be less effective in their jobs; they will come to resent their subordination – and leave. Only second-raters accept permanent subordination.

For this reason, our Top Management in each country should function as a round table, presided over by a managing partner who is big enough to be effective in the role of primus inter pares, without having to rely on the overt discipline of a military hierarchy – with its demeaning pecking order.

• Egalitarian structure encourages independence, responsibility, and loyalty. It reduces the agency’s dependence on ONE MAN, who is often fallible, sometimes absent and always mortal. It ensures continuity of style from generation to generation.

• No office in the Ogilvy & Mather group has a monopoly on brains. The more we bring the resources of our offices to bear on each other’s problems, the better. This requires close liaison at many levels; it also requires that each of our agencies conquer their chauvinism.

If we help each other, the sum of our individual parts will give us a competitive advantage over international agencies which allow iron curtains to separate their offices from each other.

• It is as difficult to sustain happy partnerships as it is to sustain happy marriages. The challenge can be met if those concerned practice these restraints:

  1. Have clear-cut divisions of responsibility.
  2. Don’t poach on the other fellow’s preserves.
  3. Live and let live; nobody is perfect.
  4. “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

• It is impossible for our office heads to carry the whole load of leadership single-handed. Their partners and department heads must be islands of leadership – inspiring, explaining, disciplining and counseling.

• In selecting heads of service departments, it is not always wise to select those whose professional qualifications are the best; outstanding professionals do not always turn out to be good leaders. It is often better to give management jobs on the basis of leadership ability, leaving the professionals to practice their profession.

This is particularly true in the creative area. Some of the best copywriters and art directors make poor Creative Directors. If you give them recognition in terms of salary and glory, you can persuade them to let others pass them on the administrative ladder, while they continue to create the campaigns on which the whole agency depends.

• The management of manpower resources is one of the most important duties of our office heads. It is particularly important for them to spot people of unusual promise

• There are five characteristics which suggest to me that a person has the potential for rapid promotion:

  1. He is ambitious.
  2. He works harder than his peers – and enjoys it.
  3. He has a brilliant brain – inventive and unorthodox.
  4. He has an engaging personality.
  5. He demonstrates respect for the creative function.

• If you fail to recognize, promote, and reward young people of exceptional promise, they will leave you; the loss of an exceptional man can be as damaging as the loss of an account.

• I think that the creative function is the most important of all. The heads of our offices should not relegate their key creative people to positions below the salt. They should pay them, house them, and respect them as indispensable Stars.

• Our Management Supervisors are equivalent to the partners in great law firms. They must be stable, courageous, persuasive, professional, and imaginative. They must work in fruitful partnership with our creative people – neither bullying them nor knuckling under to them.

• Intellectual snobbery towards clients is common – and dangerous. When a Management Supervisor comes to regard his client as a boob, he should be transferred to another account. While our clients may not always be good judges of advertising, their jobs are broader than ours; they have to encompass areas about which we are ignorant – research and development, production, logistics, sales management, labor relations, etc.

• I respect the importance of our Treasurers. They must carry the guns to make their voices heard in our management councils. They must be tough and unafraid. They must be privy to all our secrets – and they must be discreet.

• No agency has greater respect for the importance of the research function – particularly in the creative area. The most valuable quality in a Research Director is his scientific integrity. A dishonest Research Director can do appalling damage to any agency.

• It is also important that a Research Director be able to work sympathetically with our creative people. And he should be able to use research fast and cheaply.

• The most difficult next quarter’s earnings decisions which confront our managements are decisions as to which accounts to take and which to reject. The primary considerations should be:

  1. Does anyone in Top Management really want the account? We should never take an account unless at least one key man can approach it with enthusiasm.
  2. Can good advertising sell the product? It does not pay to take on terminal cases.
  3. Would it be a happy marriage? Unhappy marriages do not fructify – and do not last.
  4. Will the account contribute significantly to our profits? Has it a significant potential for growth?
  5. If we take this account, will it risk losing us another account – anywhere?
  6. Will the account involve heavy risks? An account that bills more than 30 percent of the total billing in an office places the whole office at risk, and this is irresponsible. (In the early days of a new office, it makes sense to accept this risk.)

• Try to avoid new business contests when the prospective client is going to publish the names of the contenders. Only one agency can win; the others will be publicly branded as failures. We like to succeed in public, to fail in private.

• The best way to get new accounts is to create for our present clients the kind of advertising that will attract prospective clients.

• The prime responsibility for new business must lie with heads of offices. They should not allow Management Supervisors to spend too much time in this area; their prime responsibility must always be to our present clients.

• We do not handle political party accounts. Our reasons are:

  1. They preempt too much of the time of our top men, thereby causing trouble with our permanent clients.
  2. When an agency espouses one party, it is unfair to those of our people who are rooting for the other party.
  3. By identifying the agency with one party, we would incur the enmity of important people in the other party; we cannot afford this.

• If you resign accounts every time you feel like doing so, you will empty your portfolio every year. However, there are two circumstances in which resignation is the wisest choice:

  1. When the agency would be more profitable without the account; this is uncommon.
  2. When the client bullies the agency to such an extent that the morale of your staff is seriously impaired and starts hurting their performance on other accounts.

• In all countries where it is legal, we offer clients a choice of fee or commission. Fees offer five advantages over commissions:

  1. The agency can be more objective in its recommendations; or so many clients believe.
  2. The agency has adequate incentive to provide non-commissionable services if needed.
  3. The agency’s income is stabilized. Unforeseen cuts in advertising expenditure do not result in red figures or temporary personnel layoffs.
  4. The fee enables the agency to make a fair profit on services rendered. The advertiser, in turn, pays for what he gets – no more, no less.
  5. Every fee account pays its own way. Unprofitable accounts do not ride on the coattails of profitable accounts.

Then there is the commission system, and some clients prefer it.

Both systems will continue for years to come. We should be open-minded about our use of them.

Corporate Culture

• The common characteristic of success is the deliberate creation of a corporate culture.

• Corporate culture is a compound of many things – tradition, mythology, ritual, customs, habits, heroes, peculiarities, and values.

• Some of our people spend their entire working lives in our agency. We do our damnedest to make it a happy experience. I put this first, believing that superior service to our clients and profits for our stockholders depend on it.

We treat our people as human beings. We help them when they are in trouble – with their jobs, with illness, with alcoholism, and so on.

We help our people make the best of their talents. We invest an awful lot of time and money in training – perhaps more than any of our competitors.

• If you always hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If, on the other hand, you always hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants.

• We don’t like hierarchical bureaucracy or rigid pecking orders.

• We abhor ruthlessness.

• We give our executives an extraordinary degree of freedom and independence.

• We like people with gentle manners. Our New York office goes so far as to give an annual award for “professionalism combined with civility.”

• We like people who are honest. Honest in argument, honest with clients, honest with suppliers, honest with the company – and above all, honest with consumers.

• We admire people who work hard, who are objective and thorough.

• We do not admire superficial people.

• We despise office politicians, toadies, bullies, and pompous asses.

• We discourage paper warfare. The way up the ladder is open to everybody. We are free from prejudice of any kind – religious prejudice, racial prejudice, or sexual prejudice.

• We detest nepotism and every other form of favoritism.

• In promoting people to top jobs, we are influenced as much by their character as anything else.

• Like all companies with a strong culture, we have our heroes– the Old Guard who have woven our culture. By no means have all of them been members of top management.

• The recommendations we make to clients are the recommendations we would make if we owned their companies, without regard to our own short-term interest. This earns their respect, which is the greatest asset an agency can have.

• What most clients want from agencies is superior creative work. We put the creative function at the top of our priorities.

• The line between pride in our work and neurotic obstinacy is a narrow one. We do not grudge clients the right to decide what advertising to run. It is their money.

• Many of our clients employ us in several countries. It is important for them to know that they can expect the same standards of behavior in all our offices. That is one reason why we want our culture to be more or less the same everywhere.

• We try to sell our clients’ products without offending the mores of the countries where we do business. And without cheating the consumer.

• We attach importance to discretion. Clients don’t appreciate agencies which leak their secrets. Nor do they like it when an agency takes credit for their success. To get between a client and the footlights is bad manners.

• We use the word partner in referring to each other. This says a mouthful.

• Through maddening repetition, some of my obiter dicta have been woven into our culture. Here are ten of them:

  1. Ogilvy & Mather – one agency indivisible.
  2. We sell – or else.
  3. You cannot bore people into buying your product; you can only interest them in buying it.
  4. Raise your sights! Blaze new trails!! Compete with the immortals!!!
  5. I prefer the discipline of knowledge to the anarchy of ignorance. We pursue knowledge the way a pig pursues truffles.
  6. We hire gentlemen with brains.
  7. The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Don’t insult her intelligence.
  8. Unless your campaign contains a Big Idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.
  9. Only First Class business, and that in a First Class way.
  10. Never run an advertisement you would not want your own family to see.

• I have discovered that when Ogilvy & Mather appoints good leaders to manage our offices, everything blossoms. When we appoint a poor leader, everything withers.

• For the last 24 years, I have had unique opportunities for observing the men who manage great corporations. Most of them are fine problem-solvers and decision-makers, but relatively few of them seem to be outstanding leaders. Some of them, far from inspiring their lieutenants, display a genius for castrating them.

• It is the consensus among the social scientists that success in leadership depends on the circumstances. For example, a man who has been an outstanding leader in an industrial company is sometimes a flop when he goes to Washington as Secretary of Commerce.

• The kind of leadership which works well in a young struggling company seldom works well in a large, mature company.

• There appears to be no correlation between industrial leadership and high academic achievement.

It appears that the motivation which makes a man a good student is not the kind of motivation which makes a man a good leader.

• I suggest that corporations should try to tolerate and encourage their mavericks. The best leaders are apt to be found among those executives who have a strong component of unorthodoxy in their characters. Instead of resisting innovation, they symbolize it – and companies seldom grow without innovation.

• Great leaders almost seem to exude self-confidence. They are never petty. They are big men. They are never buck passers. They are resilient, they pick themselves up after defeat

• Great industrial leaders are always fanatically committed to their jobs. They are not lazy or amateurs.

They do not suffer from the crippling need to be universally loved; they have the guts to make unpopular decisions – including the guts to fire non-performers.

• I have observed that some men are good at leading the multitude – whether it be the labor force in their company or the voting population in their country. They are inspiring demagogues, and that can be valuable. But these same men are often miserable leaders of their cabinet or their inside group of executives.

• Good leaders are decisive. They grasp nettles.

• I do not believe that fear is a component of good leadership. It has been my observation that executives do their best work, and certainly their most creative work, in a happy atmosphere. Ferment and innovation thrive in an atmosphere of joie de vivre.

• The most effective leader is the one who satisfies the psychological needs of his followers.

For example, it is one thing to be a good leader of Americans, who are raised in a tradition of democracy and have a high need for independence. But the American brand of democratic leadership doesn’t work so well in Europe. European executives are more dependent than Americans; they have a psychological need for autocratic leadership.

• It is usually wise for American corporations to appoint natives to lead their foreign subsidiaries – natives are more successful in leading other natives.

• In a situation of crisis, it is difficult to lead in a democratic way. When pressures are less urgent, it is easier for the leader to involve his subordinates in the decision-making process.

• It does a company no good when its leader never shares his leadership functions with his lieutenants. The more centers of leadership you find in a company, the stronger it will become.

• Leadership is out of fashion nowadays. As William Shirer said the other day, “the mass of people are skeptical of a great man, especially one with a great mind. They would rather vote for someone who is mediocre, like themselves.”

• I believe that it is more important for a leader in today’s world to be trained in psychiatry than in cybernetics. The head of a big company recently said to me, “I am no longer a Chairman. I have had to become a psychiatric nurse.” Today’s executive is under pressures which were unknown to the last generation.

• Most of the great leaders I have known had the ability to inspire people with their speeches. If you cannot write inspiring speeches yourself, use ghostwriters – but use good ones.

• Megalomaniacs make megamergers. The people who make megamergers are the people who want to be the head of the biggest goddamn advertising agency. That’s their ambition.

• Everybody’s equally lucky. I don’t believe in luck.


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The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

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The War of Art by Steven Pressfield Summary

Book Review:

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is the go-to book for getting yourself to work on the things you want to get done.

Steven Pressfield starts the book by defining the enemy. His thesis is that every single human being struggles with self-sabotage, and the reason is because of what he labeled Resistance.

Resistance is the dark force that gets in the way of you doing your most important work. It takes an infinite amount of forms (procrastination, sex, drugs, self-medication, self-doubt, victimhood, criticism, fear, and so on…)

In the second part of the book, he presents the best way of dealing with (not solving) Resistance because, as he explains in the first part, Resistance is an inherent aspect of human nature; you’ll be fighting it until you die, hence the title The War of Art.

Pressfield’s approach to deal with Resistance is to adopt the attitude of the professional. By professional, he doesn’t mean doctors and lawyers, those of “the professions.” He means the professional as an ideal. The professional in contrast to the amateur. He then proceeds to enlist all the ways that separate a professional from an amateur.

The third and last part of the book looks at inspiration. To Pressfield, the only way to be inspired is by actually working. If you wait for inspiration before you begin your work, you’ll be waiting forever.

This is definitely a book I’ll be reading at least twice each year. It’s truly life-changing!

Book Summary:

The following summary of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is meant to be concise, reminding me of high-level concepts and not trying to recreate the whole book. This summary is basically a bunch of notes and lessons paraphrased or quoted directly from the book and does not contain my own thoughts.

• Pressfield labels the enemy of creativity Resistance, his all-encompassing term for what Freud called the Death Wish—that destructive force inside human nature that rises whenever we consider a tough, long-term course of action that might do for us or others something that’s actually good.

• There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.

What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

• Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.

• Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be. If you believe in God (and I do) you must declare Resistance evil, for it prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed each of us with our own unique genius.

• Every sun casts a shadow, and genius’s shadow is Resistance. As powerful as is our soul’s call to realization, so potent are the forces of Resistance arrayed against it.

• If tomorrow morning by some stroke of magic every dazed and benighted soul woke up with the power to take the first step toward pursuing his or her dreams, every shrink in the directory would be out of business. Prisons would stand empty. The alcohol and tobacco industries would collapse, along with the junk food, cosmetic surgery, and infotainment businesses, not to mention pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and the medical profession from top to bottom. Domestic abuse would become extinct, as would addiction, obesity, migraine headaches, road rage, and dandruff.

• Look in your own heart. Unless I’m crazy, right now a still, small voice is piping up, telling you as it has ten thousand times before, the calling that is yours and yours alone. You know it. No one has to tell you. And unless I’m crazy, you’re no closer to taking action on it than you were yesterday or will be tomorrow. You think Resistance isn’t real? Resistance will bury you.

Book One. Resistance: Defining the Enemy

Resistance’s Greatest Hits

• The following is a list, in no particular order, of those activities that most commonly elicit Resistance:

  1. The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional.
  2. The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise.
  3. Any diet or health regimen.
  4. Any program of spiritual advancement.
  5. Any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals.
  6. Any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction.
  7. Education of every kind.
  8. Any act of political, moral, or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves.
  9. The undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others.
  10. Any act that entails commitment of the heart. The decision to get married, to have a child, to weather a rocky patch in a relationship.
  11. The taking of any principled stand in the face of adversity.

• Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these will elicit Resistance.

The Characteristics of Resistance

Resistance is Invisible: Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.

Resistance is Internal: Resistance seems to come from outside ourselves. We locate it in spouses, jobs, bosses, kids. “Peripheral opponents,” as Pat Riley used to say when he coached the Los Angeles Lakers.   Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.

Resistance is Insidious: Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man. Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.

Resistance is Implacable: Resistance is like the Alien or the Terminator or the shark in Jaws. It cannot be reasoned with. It understands nothing but power. It is an engine of destruction, programmed from the factory with one object only: to prevent us from doing our work. Resistance is implacable, intractable, indefatigable. Reduce it to a single cell and that cell will continue to attack.

Resistance is Impersonal: Resistance is not out to get you personally. It doesn’t know who you are and doesn’t care. Resistance is a force of nature. It acts objectively.

Resistance is Infallible: Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North—meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing. We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others.

Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

Resistance is Universal: We’re wrong if we think we’re the only ones struggling with Resistance. Everyone who has a body experiences Resistance.

Resistance Never Sleeps: Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five. In other words, fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.

Resistance Plays for Keeps: Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us. Resistance means business. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.

Resistance is Fueled by Fear: Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.

Resistance Only Opposes in One Direction: Resistance obstructs movement only from a lower sphere to a higher. It kicks in when we seek to pursue a calling in the arts, launch an innovative enterprise, or evolve to a higher station morally, ethically, or spiritually.

Resistance is Most Powerful at the Finish Line: Odysseus almost got home years before his actual homecoming. Ithaca was in sight, close enough that the sailors could see the smoke of their families’ fires on shore. Odysseus was so certain he was safe, he actually lay down for a snooze. It was then that his men, believing there was gold in an ox-hide sack among their commander’s possessions, snatched this prize and cut it open. The bag contained the adverse Winds, which King Aeolus had bottled up for Odysseus when the wanderer had touched earlier at his blessed isle. The winds burst forth now in one mad blow, driving Odysseus’ ships back across every league of ocean they had with such difficulty traversed, making him endure further trials and sufferings before, at last and alone, he reached home for good.

The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. At this point, Resistance knows we’re about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything it’s got.

The professional must be alert for this counterattack. Be wary at the end.

Resistance Recruits Allies: Resistance by definition is self-sabotage. But there’s a parallel peril that must also be guarded against: sabotage by others.

When a writer begins to overcome her Resistance—in other words, when she actually starts to write—she may find that those close to her begin acting strange. They may become moody or sullen, they may get sick; they may accuse the awakening writer of “changing,” of “not being the person she was.” The closer these people are to the awakening writer, the more bizarrely they will act and the more emotion they will put behind their actions. They are trying to sabotage her.

The reason is that they are struggling, consciously or unconsciously, against their own Resistance. The awakening writer’s success becomes a reproach to them. If she can beat these demons, why can’t they?

Often couples or close friends, even entire families, will enter into tacit compacts whereby each individual pledges (unconsciously) to remain mired in the same slough in which she and all her cronies have become so comfortable. The highest treason a crab can commit is to make a leap for the rim of the bucket.

The awakening artist must be ruthless, not only with herself but with others. Once you make your break, you can’t turn around for your buddy who catches his trouser leg on the barbed wire. The best thing you can do for that friend (and he’d tell you this himself if he really is your friend) is to get over the wall and keep motating.

The best and only thing that one artist can do for another is to serve as an example and an inspiration.

The Symptoms of Resistance

Resistance and Procrastination: Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead, we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”

The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.

Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.

• Resistance and Sex: Sometimes Resistance takes the form of sex or an obsessive preoccupation with sex. Sex provides immediate and powerful gratification. When someone sleeps with us, we feel validated and approved of, even loved. Resistance gets a big kick out of that. It knows it has distracted us with a cheap, easy fix and kept us from doing our work.

Of course, not all sex is a manifestation of Resistance. You can tell by the measure of hollowness you feel afterward. The more empty you feel, the more certain you can be that your true motivation was not love or even lust but Resistance.

It goes without saying that this principle applies to drugs, shopping, masturbation, TV, gossip, alcohol, and the consumption of all products containing fat, sugar, salt, or chocolate.

Resistance and Trouble: We get ourselves in trouble because it’s a cheap way to get attention. Trouble is a faux form of fame. It’s easier to get busted in the bedroom with the faculty chairman’s wife than it is to finish that dissertation on the metaphysics of motley in the novellas of Joseph Conrad.

Ill health is a form of trouble, as are alcoholism and drug addiction, proneness to accidents, all neurosis including compulsive screwing-up, and such seemingly benign foibles as jealousy, chronic lateness, and the blasting of rap music at 110 dB from your smoked-glass ’95 Supra. Anything that draws attention to ourselves through pain-free or artificial means is a manifestation of Resistance.

Cruelty to others is a form of Resistance, as is the willing endurance of cruelty from others.

The working artist will not tolerate trouble in her life because she knows trouble prevents her from doing her work. The working artist banishes from her world all sources of trouble. She harnesses the urge for trouble and transforms it in her work.

Resistance and Self-dramatization: Creating soap opera in our lives is a symptom of Resistance.

Resistance and Self-medication: Do you regularly ingest any substance, controlled or otherwise, whose aim is the alleviation of depression, anxiety, etc.?

Attention Deficit Disorder, Seasonal Affect Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder. These aren’t diseases, they’re marketing ploys. Doctors didn’t discover them, copywriters did. Marketing departments did. Drug companies did.

Depression and anxiety may be real. But they can also be Resistance.

• Resistance and Victimhood: Doctors estimate that seventy to eighty percent of their business is non-health-related. People aren’t sick, they’re self-dramatizing.

The acquisition of a condition lends significance to one’s existence. An illness, a cross to bear. Some people go from condition to condition; they cure one, and another pops up to take its place. The condition becomes a work of art in itself, a shadow version of the real creative act the victim is avoiding by expending so much care cultivating his condition.

Casting yourself as a victim is the antithesis of doing your work. Don’t do it. If you’re doing it, stop.

• Resistance and the Choice of a Mate: Sometimes, if we’re not conscious of our own Resistance, we’ll pick as a mate someone who has or is successfully overcoming Resistance. I’m not sure why.

Maybe it’s easier to endow our partner with the power that we, in fact, possess but are afraid to act upon. Maybe it’s less threatening to believe that our beloved spouse is worthy to live out his or her unlived life, while we are not. Or maybe we’re hoping to use our mate as a model. Maybe we believe (or wish we could) that some of our spouse’s power will rub off on us if we just hang around it long enough.

• Resistance and Unhappiness: What does Resistance feel like?

First, unhappiness. We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We’re bored, we’re restless. We can’t get any satisfaction. There’s guilt but we can’t put our finger on the source. We want to go back to bed; we want to get up and party. We feel unloved and unlovable. We’re disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves.

Unalleviated, Resistance mounts to a pitch that becomes unendurable. At this point, vices kick in. Dope, adultery, web surfing.

Beyond that, Resistance becomes clinical. Depression, aggression, dysfunction. Then, actual crime and physical self-destruction.

Sounds like life, I know. It isn’t. It’s Resistance.

What makes it tricky is that we live in a consumer culture that’s acutely aware of this unhappiness and has massed all its profit-seeking artillery to exploit it. By selling us a product, a drug, a distraction.

As artists and professionals, it is our obligation to enact our own internal revolution, a private insurrection inside our own skulls. In this uprising, we free ourselves from the tyranny of consumer culture. We overthrow the programming of advertising, movies, video games, magazines, TV, and MTV by which we have been hypnotized from the cradle. We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work.

• Resistance and Fundamentalism: The artist and the fundamentalist both confront the same issue, the mystery of their existence as individuals. Each asks the same questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life?

These are not easy questions. Who am I? Why am I here? They’re not easy because the human being isn’t wired to function as an individual.

We’re wired tribally, to act as part of a group. Our psyches are programmed by millions of years of hunter-gatherer evolution. We know what the clan is; we know how to fit into the band and the tribe. What we don’t know is how to be alone. We don’t know how to be free individuals.

The artist and the fundamentalist arise from societies at differing stages of development. The artist is the advanced model. His culture possesses affluence, stability, enough excess of resource to permit the luxury of self-examination. The artist is grounded in freedom. He is not afraid of it. He is lucky. He was born in the right place. He has a core of self-confidence, of hope for the future. He believes in progress and evolution. His faith is that humankind is advancing, however haltingly and imperfectly, toward a better world.

The fundamentalist entertains no such notion. In his view, humanity has fallen from a higher state. The truth is not out there awaiting revelation; it has already been revealed. The word of God has been spoken and recorded by His prophet, be he Jesus, Muhammad, or Karl Marx.

Fundamentalism is the philosophy of the powerless, the conquered, the displaced, and the dispossessed. Its spawning ground is the wreckage of political and military defeat, as Hebrew fundamentalism arose during the Babylonian captivity, as white Christian fundamentalism appeared in the American South during Reconstruction, as the notion of the Master Race evolved in Germany following World War I. In such desperate times, the vanquished race would perish without a doctrine that restored hope and pride. Islamic fundamentalism ascends from the same landscape of despair and possesses the same tremendous and potent appeal.

What exactly is this despair? It is the despair of freedom. The dislocation and emasculation experienced by the individual cut free from the familiar and comforting structures of the tribe and the clan, the village, and the family.

It is the state of modern life.

The fundamentalist (or, more accurately, the beleaguered individual who comes to embrace fundamentalism) cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past. He returns in imagination to the glory days of his race and seeks to reconstitute both them and himself in their purer, more virtuous light. He gets back to basics. To fundamentals.

Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as fundamentalist art. This does not mean that the fundamentalist is not creative. Rather, his creativity is inverted. He creates destruction. Even the structures he builds, his schools and networks of organization, are dedicated to annihilation, of his enemies and of himself.

The fundamentalist reserves his greatest creativity for the fashioning of Satan, the image of his foe, in opposition to which he defines and gives meaning to his own life. Like the artist, the fundamentalist experiences Resistance. He experiences it as temptation to sin.

To combat the call of sin, i.e., Resistance, the fundamentalist plunges either into action or into the study of sacred texts. He loses himself in these, much as the artist does in the process of creation. The difference is that while the one looks forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he and all have fallen.

The humanist believes that humankind, as individuals, is called upon to co-create the world with God. This is why he values human life so highly. In his view, things do progress, life does evolve; each individual has value, at least potentially, in advancing this cause. The fundamentalist cannot conceive of this. In his society, dissent is not just crime but apostasy; it is heresy, transgression against God Himself.

It may be that the human race is not ready for freedom. The air of liberty may be too rarefied for us to breathe. Certainly, I wouldn’t be writing this book, on this subject, if living with freedom were easy. The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.

• Resistance and Criticism: If you find yourself criticizing other people, you’re probably doing it out of Resistance. When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own.

Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others. If they speak at all, it is to offer encouragement.

Resistance and Self-doubt: Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are.

The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.

• Resistance and Fear: Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign.

Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.

Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the surer we can be that we have to do it.

The professional tackles the project that will make him stretch. He takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself.

Is he scared? Hell, yes. He’s petrified.

Conversely, the professional turns down roles that he’s done before. He’s not afraid of them anymore. Why waste his time?

So if you’re paralyzed with fear, it’s a good sign. It shows you what you have to do.

• Resistance and Love: Resistance is directly proportional to love. If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is, it means there’s tremendous love there too. If you didn’t love the project that is terrifying you, you wouldn’t feel anything. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.

• Resistance and Being a Star: Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They’re the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work.

The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.

• Resistance and Isolation: Sometimes we balk at embarking on an enterprise because we’re afraid of being alone. We feel comfortable with the tribe around us; it makes us nervous going off into the woods on our own.

Here’s the trick: We’re never alone. As soon as we step outside the campfire glow, our Muse lights on our shoulder like a butterfly. The act of courage calls forth infallibly that deeper part of ourselves that supports and sustains us.

• Resistance and Healing: Have you ever spent time in Santa Fe? There’s a subculture of “healing” there. The idea is that there’s something therapeutic in the atmosphere. A safe place to go and get yourself together. There are other places (Santa Barbara and Ojai, California, come to mind), usually populated by upper-middle-class people with more time and money than they know what to do with, in which a culture of healing also obtains. The concept in all these environments seems to be that one needs to complete his healing before he is ready to do his work.

This way of thinking (are you ahead of me?) is a form of Resistance.

What are we trying to heal, anyway? The athlete knows the day will never come when he wakes up pain-free. He has to play hurt.

Remember, the part of us that we imagine needs healing is not the part we create from; that part is far deeper and stronger. The part we create from can’t be touched by anything our parents did, or society did. That part is unsullied, uncorrupted; soundproof, waterproof, and bulletproof. In fact, the more troubles we’ve got, the better and richer that part becomes.

The part that needs healing is our personal life. Personal life has nothing to do with work. Besides, what better way of healing than to find our center of self-sovereignty? Isn’t that the whole point of healing?

• Resistance and Support: Have you ever been to a workshop? These boondoggles are colleges of Resistance. They ought to give out Ph.D.’s in Resistance. What better way of avoiding work than going to a workshop? But what I hate even worse is the word support.

Seeking support from friends and family is like having your people gathered around at your deathbed. It’s nice, but when the ship sails, all they can do is stand on the dock waving goodbye.

Any support we get from persons of flesh and blood is like Monopoly money; it’s not legal tender in that sphere where we have to do our work. In fact, the more energy we spend stoking up on support from colleagues and loved ones, the weaker we become and the less capable of handling our business.

• Resistance and Rationalization: Rationalization is Resistance’s right-hand man. Its job is to keep us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work.

Rationalization has its own sidekick. It’s that part of our psyche that actually believes what rationalization tells us.

It’s one thing to lie to ourselves. It’s another thing to believe it.

Resistance is fear. But Resistance is too cunning to show itself naked in this form because if it lets us see clearly that our own fear is preventing us from doing our work, we may feel shame at this. And shame may drive us to act in the face of fear.

Resistance doesn’t want us to do this. So it brings in Rationalization. Rationalization is Resistance’s spin doctor. It’s Resistance’s way of hiding the Big Stick behind its back. Instead of showing us our fear (which might shame us and impel us to do our work), Resistance presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn’t do our work.

What’s particularly insidious about the rationalizations that Resistance presents to us is that a lot of them are true. They’re legitimate. Our wife may really be in her eighth month of pregnancy; she may in truth need us at home. Our department may really be instituting a changeover that will eat up hours of our time. Indeed it may make sense to put off finishing our dissertation, at least till after the baby’s born.

What Resistance leaves out, of course, is that all this means diddly. Tolstoy had thirteen kids and wrote War and Peace. Lance Armstrong had cancer and won the Tour de France three years and counting.

• Resistance Can be Beaten: If Resistance couldn’t be beaten, there would be no Fifth Symphony, no Romeo and Juliet, no Golden Gate Bridge.

Book Two. Combating Resistance: Turning Pro

• Aspiring artists defeated by Resistance share one trait. They all think like amateurs. They have not yet turned pro.

• When I say professional, I don’t mean doctors and lawyers, those of “the professions.” I mean the Professional as an ideal. The professional in contrast to the amateur. Consider the differences.

The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps.

To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro, it’s his vocation.

The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time.

The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.

• The word amateur comes from the Latin root meaning “to love.” The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his “real” vocation.

The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time.

• Resistance hates it when we turn pro.

• Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

That’s a pro.

• I go to sleep content, but my final thought is of Resistance. I will wake up with it tomorrow.

• The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.

The artist must be like a Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey.

• All of us are pros in one area: our jobs.

We get a paycheck. We work for money. We are professionals.

Now: Are there principles we can take from what we’re already successfully doing in our workaday lives and apply to our artistic aspirations? What exactly are the qualities that define us as professionals?

  1. We show up every day. We might do it only because we have to, to keep from getting fired. But we do it. We show up every day.
  2. We show up no matter what. In sickness and in health, come hell or high water, we stagger in to the factory. We might do it only so as not to let down our co-workers, or for other, less noble reasons. But we do it.
  3. We stay on the job all day. Our minds may wander, but our bodies remain at the wheel. We pick up the phone when it rings, we assist the customer when he seeks our help. We don’t go home till the whistle blows.
  4. We are committed over the long haul. Next year we may go to another job, another company, another country. But we’ll still be working. Until we hit the lottery, we are part of the labor force.
  5. The stakes for us are high and real. This is about survival, feeding our families, educating our children. It’s about eating.
  6. We accept remuneration for our labor. We’re not here for fun. We work for money.
  7. We do not overidentify with our jobs. We may take pride in our work, we may stay late and come in on weekends, but we recognize that we are not our job descriptions. The amateur, on the other hand, overidentifies with his avocation, his artistic aspiration. He defines himself by it. He is a musician, a painter, a playwright. Resistance loves this. Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and over terrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him.
  8. We master the technique of our jobs.
  9. We have a sense of humor about our jobs.
  10. We receive praise or blame in the real world.

• Now consider the amateur: the aspiring painter, the wannabe playwright. How does he pursue his calling?

One, he doesn’t show up every day. Two, he doesn’t show up no matter what. Three, he doesn’t stay on the job all day. He is not committed over the long haul; the stakes for him are illusory and fake. He does not get money. And he overidentifies with his art. He does not have a sense of humor about failure. You don’t hear him bitching, “This fucking trilogy is killing me!” Instead, he doesn’t write his trilogy at all.

The amateur has not mastered the technique of his art. Nor does he expose himself to judgment in the real world. If we show our poem to our friend and our friend says, “It’s wonderful, I love it,” that’s not real-world feedback, that’s our friend being nice to us. Nothing is as empowering as real-world validation, even if it’s for failure.

• So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines.

• That was when I realized I had become a pro. I had not yet had a success. But I had had a real failure.

• The professional, though he accepts money, does his work out of love. He has to love it. Otherwise, he wouldn’t devote his life to it of his own free will.

• The professional has learned, however, that too much love can be a bad thing. Too much love can make him choke. The seeming detachment of the professional, the cold-blooded character to his demeanor, is a compensating device to keep him from loving the game so much that he freezes in action. Playing for money, or adopting the attitude of one who plays for money, lowers the fever.

• The more you love your art/calling/enterprise, the more important its accomplishment is to the evolution of your soul, the more you will fear it and the more Resistance you will experience facing it.

• The payoff of playing-the-game-for-money is not the money (which you may never see anyway, even after you turn pro). The payoff is that playing the game for money produces the proper professional attitude. It inculcates the lunch-pail mentality, the hard-core, hard-head, hard-hat state of mind that shows up for work despite rain or snow or dark of night and slugs it out day after day.

• The payoff of playing-the-game-for-money is not the money (which you may never see anyway, even after you turn pro). The payoff is that playing the game for money produces the proper professional attitude. It inculcates the lunch-pail mentality, the hard-core, hard-head, hard-hat state of mind that shows up for work despite rain or snow or dark of night and slugs it out day after day.

• Technically, the professional takes money. Technically, the pro plays for pay. But in the end, he does it for love.

The Aspects of the Professional

• A Professional is Patient: Resistance outwits the amateur with the oldest trick in the book: It uses his own enthusiasm against him. Resistance gets us to plunge into a project with an overambitious and unrealistic timetable for its completion. It knows we can’t sustain that level of intensity. We will hit the wall. We will crash.

The professional, on the other hand, understands delayed gratification. He is the ant, not the grasshopper; the tortoise, not the hare.

The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job, whether it’s a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much. He accepts that. He recognizes it as reality.

• A Professional Seeks Order: The professional is on a mission. He will not tolerate disorder. He eliminates chaos from his world in order to banish it from his mind. He wants the carpet vacuumed and the threshold swept, so the Muse may enter and not soil her gown.

• A Professional Demystified: A pro views her work as craft, not art. Not because she believes art is devoid of a mystical dimension. On the contrary. She understands that all creative endeavor is holy, but she doesn’t dwell on it. She knows if she thinks about that too much, it will paralyze her. So she concentrates on technique. The professional masters how, and leaves what and why to the gods. Like Somerset Maugham, she doesn’t wait for inspiration, she acts in the anticipation of its apparition.

The professional is acutely aware of the intangibles that go into inspiration. Out of respect for them, she lets them work. She grants them their sphere while she concentrates on hers.

The sign of the amateur is over-glorification of and preoccupation with the mystery.

The professional shuts up. She doesn’t talk about it. She does her work.

• A Professional Acts in the Face of Fear: The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.

• A Professional Accepts no Excuses: The amateur, underestimating Resistance’s cunning, permits the flu to keep him from his chapters; he believes the serpent’s voice in his head that says mailing off that manuscript is more important than doing the day’s work.

The professional has learned better. He respects Resistance. He knows if he caves in today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.

• A Professional Plays it as it Lays: The professional conducts his business in the real world. Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all comprise the ground over which the campaign must be waged. The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.

• A Professional is Prepared: I’m not talking about craft; that goes without saying. The professional is prepared at a deeper level. He is prepared, each day, to confront his own self-sabotage.

The professional understands that Resistance is fertile and ingenious. It will throw stuff at him that he’s never seen before.

• A Professional Does not Show Off: A professional’s work has style; it is distinctively his own. But he doesn’t let his signature grandstand for him. His style serves the material. He does not impose it as a means of drawing attention to himself.

• A Professional Dedicates Himself to Mastering Technique: The professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it. He recognizes the contributions of those who have gone before him. He apprentices himself to them.

The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come.

• A Professional Does not Hesitate to Ask for Help: Tiger Woods is the consummate professional. It would never occur to him, as it would to an amateur, that he knows everything, or can figure everything out on his own. On the contrary, he seeks out the most knowledgeable teacher and listens with both ears. The student of the game knows that the levels of revelation that can unfold in golf, as in any art, are inexhaustible.

• A Professional Distances Herself from her Instrument: The pro stands at one remove from her instrument— meaning her person, her body, her voice, her talent; the physical, mental, emotional, and psychological being she uses in her work. She does not identify with this instrument.

• A Professional Does not Take Failure (or Success) Personally: When people say an artist has a thick skin, what they mean is not that the person is dense or numb, but that he has seated his professional consciousness in a place other than his personal ego. It takes tremendous strength of character to do this because our deepest instincts run counter to it.

Evolution has programmed us to feel rejection in our guts. This is how the tribe enforced obedience, by wielding the threat of expulsion. Fear of rejection isn’t just psychological; it’s biological. It’s in our cells.

The professional cannot take rejection personally because to do so reinforces Resistance. Editors are not the enemy; critics are not the enemy. Resistance is the enemy. The battle is inside our own heads. We cannot let external criticism, even if it’s true, fortify our internal foe.

The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her. Her artistic self contains many works and many performances. Already the next is percolating inside her. The next will be better, and the one after that better still.

The professional self-validates. She is tough-minded. In the face of indifference or adulation, she assesses her stuff coldly and objectively. Where it fell short, she’ll improve it. Where it triumphed, she’ll make it better still. She’ll work harder. She’ll be back tomorrow.

The professional gives an ear to criticism, seeking to learn and grow. But she never forgets that Resistance is using criticism against her on a far more diabolical level.

• A Professional Endures Adversity: The professional cannot let himself take humiliation personally. Humiliation, like rejection and criticism, is the external reflection of internal Resistance.

The professional keeps his eye on the doughnut and not on the hole. He reminds himself it’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.

• A Professional Self-validates: An amateur lets the negative opinion of others unman him. He takes external criticism to heart, allowing it to trump his own belief in himself and his work. Resistance loves this.

The professional maintains his sovereignty over the moment. He understands that, no matter what blow befalls him from an outside agency, he himself still has his job to do.

A professional has tough-mindedness at a level most of us can’t comprehend, let alone emulate.

The professional cannot allow the actions of others to define his reality. Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page.

Resistance wants us to cede sovereignty to others. It wants us to stake our self-worth, our identity, our reason-for-being, on the response of others to our work. Resistance knows we can’t take this. No one can.

The professional blows critics off. He doesn’t even hear them. Critics, he reminds himself, are the unwitting mouthpieces of Resistance and as such can be truly cunning and pernicious. They can articulate in their reviews the same toxic venom that Resistance itself concocts inside our heads. That is their real evil. Not that we believe them, but that we believe the Resistance in our own minds, for which critics serve as unconscious spokespersons.

The professional learns to recognize envy-driven criticism and to take it for what it is: the supreme compliment. The critic hates most that which he would have done himself if he had had the guts.

• A Professional Recognizes her Limitations: She gets an agent, she gets a lawyer, she gets an accountant. She knows she can only be a professional at one thing. She brings in other pros and treats them with respect.

• A Professional Reinvents Himself: As artists, we serve the Muse, and the Muse may have more than one job for us over our lifetime.

The professional does not permit himself to become hidebound within one incarnation, however comfortable or successful. Like a transmigrating soul, he shucks his outworn body and dons a new one.

• A Professional is Recognized by other Professionals: The professional senses who has served his time and who hasn’t.

• For a writer to incorporate himself has certain tax and financial advantages. But what I love about it is the metaphor. I like the idea of being Myself, Inc. That way I can wear two hats. I can hire myself and fire myself.

• Making yourself a corporation (or just thinking of yourself in that way) reinforces the idea of professionalism because it separates the artist-doing-the-work from the will-and-consciousness-running-the-show. No matter how much abuse is heaped on the head of the former, the latter takes it in stride and keeps on trucking. Conversely with success: You-the-writer may get a swelled head, but you-the-boss remember how to take yourself down a peg.

• If we think of ourselves as a corporation, it gives us a healthy distance on ourselves. We’re less subjective. We don’t take blows as personally. We’re more cold-blooded; we can price our wares more realistically. Sometimes, as Joe Blow himself, I’m too mild-mannered to go out and sell. But as Joe Blow, Inc., I can pimp the hell out of myself. I’m not me anymore. I’m Me, Inc.

I’m a pro.

• The pro keeps coming on. He beats Resistance at its own game by being even more resolute and even more implacable than it is.

• There’s no mystery to turning pro. It’s a decision brought about by an act of will. We make up our minds to view ourselves as pros and we do it. Simple as that.

Book Three. Beyond Resistance: The Higher Realm

• Just as Resistance can be thought of as personal (I’ve said Resistance “loves” such-and-such or “hates” such-and-such), it can also be viewed as a force of nature as impersonal as entropy or molecular decay.

Similarly, the call to growth can be conceptualized as personal (a daimon or genius, an angel or a muse) or as impersonal, like the tides or the transiting of Venus. Either way works, as long as we’re comfortable with it. Or if extra-dimensionality doesn’t sit well with you in any form, think of it as “talent,” programmed into our genes by evolution.

The point, for the thesis I’m seeking to put forward, is that there are forces we can call our allies.

As Resistance works to keep us from becoming who we were born to be, equal and opposite powers are counterpoised against it. These are our allies and angels.

• Why have I stressed professionalism so heavily in the preceding chapters? Because the most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.

• When we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.

• This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.

• Next morning I went over to Paul’s for coffee and told him I had finished. “Good for you,” he said without looking up. “Start the next one today.”

• Clearly, some intelligence is at work, independent of our conscious mind and yet in alliance with it, processing our material for us and alongside us.

This is why artists are modest. They know they’re not doing the work; they’re just taking dictation. It’s also why “noncreative people” hate “creative people.” Because they’re jealous. They sense that artists and writers are tapped into some grid of energy and inspiration that they themselves cannot connect with.

Of course, this is nonsense. We’re all creative. We all have the same psyche. The same everyday miracles are happening in all our heads day by day, minute by minute.

• In the animal kingdom, individuals define themselves in one of two ways—by their rank within a hierarchy (a hen in a pecking order, a wolf in a pack) or by their connection to a territory (a home base, a hunting ground, a turf).

This is how individuals—humans as well as animals— achieve psychological security. They know where they stand. The world makes sense.

• Of the two orientations, the hierarchical seems to be the default setting. It’s the one that kicks in automatically when we’re kids. We run naturally in packs and cliques; without thinking about it, we know who’s the top dog and who’s the underdog. And we know our own place. We define ourselves, instinctively it seems, by our position within the schoolyard, the gang, the club.

Only later in life, usually after a stern education in the university of hard knocks, that we begin to explore the territorial alternative.

For some of us, this saves our lives.

• Most of us define ourselves hierarchically and don’t even know it. It’s hard not to. School, advertising, the entire materialist culture drills us from birth to define ourselves by others’ opinions. Drink this beer, get this job, look this way and everyone will love you.

• There’s a problem with the hierarchical orientation. When the numbers get too big, the thing breaks down. A pecking order can hold only so many chickens. In Massapequa High, you can find your place. Move to Manhattan and the trick no longer works. New York City is too big to function as a hierarchy. So is IBM. So is Michigan State. The individual in multitudes this vast feels overwhelmed, anonymous. He is submerged in the mass. He’s lost.

• We humans seem to have been wired by our evolutionary past to function most comfortably in a tribe of twenty to, say, eight hundred. We can push it maybe to a few thousand, even to five figures. But at some point, it maxes out. Our brains can’t file that many faces. We thrash around, flashing our badges of status (Hey, how do you like my Lincoln Navigator?) and wondering why nobody gives a shit.

• We have entered Mass Society. The hierarchy is too big. It doesn’t work anymore.

• For the artist to define himself hierarchically is fatal.

• An individual who defines himself by his place in a pecking order will:

  1. Compete against all others in the order, seeking to elevate his station by advancing against those above him, while defending his place against those beneath.
  2. Evaluate his happiness/success/achievement by his rank within the hierarchy, feeling most satisfied when he’s high and most miserable when he’s low.
  3. Act toward others based upon their rank in the hierarchy, to the exclusion of all other factors.
  4. Evaluate his every move solely by the effect it produces on others. He will act for others, dress for others, speak for others, think for others.

• The artist cannot look to others to validate his efforts or his calling. If you don’t believe me, ask Van Gogh, who produced masterpiece after masterpiece and never found a buyer in his whole life.

The artist must operate territorially. He must do his work for its own sake.

• In the hierarchy, the artist faces outward. Meeting someone new he asks himself, What can this person do for me? How can this person advance my standing?

• In the hierarchy, the artist looks up and looks down. The one place he can’t look is that place he must: within.

• There’s a three-legged coyote who lives up the hill from me. All the garbage cans in the neighborhood belong to him. It’s his territory. Every now and then some four-legged intruder tries to take over. They can’t do it. On his home turf, even a peg-leg critter is invincible. We humans have territories too. Ours are psychological.

• What are the qualities of a territory?

  1. A territory provides sustenance. Runners know what a territory is. So do rock climbers and kayakers and yogis. Artists and entrepreneurs know what a territory is. The swimmer who towels off after finishing her laps feels a helluva lot better than the tired, cranky person who dove into the pool thirty minutes earlier.
  2. A territory sustains us without any external input. A territory is a closed feedback loop. Our role is to put in effort and love; the territory absorbs this and gives it back to us in the form of well-being.   When experts tell us that exercise (or any other effort-requiring activity) banishes depression, this is what they mean.
  3. A territory can only be claimed alone. You can team with a partner, you can work out with a friend, but you only need yourself to soak up your territory’s juice.
  4. A territory can only be claimed by work. When Arnold Schwarzenegger hits the gym, he’s on his own turf. But what made it his own are the hours and years of sweat he put in to claim it. A territory doesn’t give, it gives back.
  5. A territory returns exactly what you put in. Territories are fair. Every erg of energy you put in goes infallibly into your account. A territory never devalues. A territory never crashes. What you deposited, you get back, dollar-for-dollar.   What’s your territory?

• One way we can tell if our orientation is territorial or hierarchical is to ask ourselves, If I were feeling really anxious, what would I do? If we would pick up the phone and call six friends, one after the other, with the aim of hearing their voices and reassuring ourselves that they still love us, we’re operating hierarchically.

We’re seeking the good opinion of others.

What would Arnold Schwarzenegger do on a freaky day? He wouldn’t phone his buddies; he’d head for the gym. He wouldn’t care if the place was empty, if he didn’t say a word to a soul. He knows that working out, all by itself, is enough to bring him back to his center.

His orientation is territorial.

• Here’s another test. Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?

If you’re all alone on the planet, a hierarchical orientation makes no sense. There’s no one to impress. So, if you’d still pursue that activity, congratulations. You’re doing it territorially.

• When Krishna instructed Arjuna that we have a right to our labor but not to the fruits of our labor, he was counseling the warrior to act territorially, not hierarchically. We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause.

• Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end, the question can only be answered by action.

• If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

• Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.


If you’ve enjoyed this summary of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and you would like to get the full book, please do so using my link. You’ll help me out without spending an extra penny: PrinteBook, Audiobook

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The Boron Letters by Gary Halbert

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The Boron Letters by Gary Halbert Symmary


Book Review:

The Boron Letters by Gary Halbert is a collection of 25 letters written in the ’80s by legendary copywriter Gary Halbert to his youngest son Bond Halbert. Gary was at a federal prison called Boron at the time hence the title The Boron Letters.

Since the book (letters) was written in the ’80s, Gary talked a lot about mail order and direct mail, so the book is outdated in that sense—Bond wrote an update after each letter to make it relevant for the digital age. However, you’ll find that the advice still applies since the medium doesn’t matter; Gary dealt with topics such as choosing a hot market, creating a good product, crafting an irresistible offer, testing and analyzing, all of which still matter and will continue to do so.

With all that said, I’m not really sure why everyone seems to rave about this book. Yes, I get that Gary was one of the best in the industry, but most of the advice in these letters is common knowledge by now. I would say that I actually liked his life advice and prison stories more than the copywriting advice.

Book Summary:

The following summary of The Boron Letters by Gary Halbert is meant to be concise, reminding me of high-level concepts and not trying to recreate the whole book. This summary is basically a bunch of notes and lessons paraphrased or quoted directly from the book and does not contain my own thoughts.

• Road work is walking, jogging and running. And, in my opinion, you should do about one hour of road work every day of the week except Sunday. I believe the best time to do your road work is right after you get out of bed.

• The best groove to get into is get out of bed, (early) wash your face, brush your teeth, use the bathroom, etc., and then, eat a piece of fruit (I think a banana is the best) and then hit the street! That’s it. Just get out that front door and start moving. Walk, run, jog. Keep moving for about 1/2 hour and then turn around and come back. You know, I really do believe this is the very best way in the world to start the day.

• Another little side note is my father felt people worked better hungry which is why he didn’t go for big breakfasts.

• Try things at least twice. Just the second attempt at anything hard will be much easier. Not a little bit but by a lot. It is true of almost everything, not just sports.

• All first attempts are sloppy and lame. Most people will quit after their first experience with things that don’t go so well, but if you are like my pop and me, then you know that the first attempt is almost destined to fail.

You will learn enough to get a better assessment of the whole picture and what it will really take to attain a goal on your second attempt. Just that much more effort will propel you ahead of 95% of everyone walking the earth.

• As people get older, they start to decide whether they like stuff based on their first experience. Maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks simply because if he doesn’t get it the first time, he gives up.

• Everyone wants to climb the mountain, but the big difference between those at the top and those still on the bottom is simply a matter of showing up tomorrow to give it just one more shot.

• I really think it would be good for you to fast one full day each week. When you fast, you begin to normalize your body functions and also, you develop a certain self-discipline that will help you in most other areas of your life.

• You should do very little (or no) athletic exercise on the days that you fast. You see, your “Fast Day” is the day you set aside to give your mind and body a rest. You don’t have to stay in bed all day or anything like that, but you really should take it easy both physically and mentally.

• I think you should do road work every morning to more or less “order your day” and fast every week in order to “order your week”.

• I believe that everybody who says breakfast is the most important meal of the day is dead wrong. In my opinion, all you should eat before lunch is a couple pieces of fruit.

• After your road work, in my judgment, what you should do is take a shower, clean up, and get dressed and get your day started. And then, sometime after that, before lunch, you should eat another piece of fruit.

Actually, you should eat three pieces of fruit every day (except when you fast) and I think you can’t miss with a banana, an apple or an orange. This way, you will get your potassium, your vitamin (and something called pectin, all of which is very good for you!).

• There is no justice. There is only power.

• In life, everyone must learn to deal with unnecessary grief from other people, but sometimes you are faced with a jerk who has the balance of power in their favor and the only way to survive, especially with your pride intact, is to develop a mental toughness as a form of mental armor and once you do…. that attitude is always there when you really need it.

• Most of the people in the world are nay-sayers. They say it is too hard to quit smoking or it is too tough to get rich or you will never make it. When it comes to accomplishing things, most people fail to even try.

There is no benefit in dealing with people who have nothing but negative things to say. When that someone amounts to just about everyone, just keep it to yourself.

• Sometimes there is no use wasting time and energy fighting established beliefs by arguing, and it is better to just silently go about proving or accomplishing your goal.

• What else should your daily diet consist of? Well, for one thing, you should eat a lot of vegetables. What I suggest is that you get yourself some kind of baggie or plastic container and every night before you go to sleep, I suggest you cut up a bunch of new veggies and put them in the container and then put the container in the refrigerator. Then, in the morning, when you are ready to leave the house, you can grab your raw veggies and take them with you to munch on them all day.

• By the way, don’t listen to all that garbage that says you should not eat between meals. You should eat between meals. In fact, six small meals is a lot better than three big ones.

Actually, what is best is to have a little nibble whenever you get hungry. And this is a good way to eat your vegetables. Just carry your container with you wherever you go and eat some whenever you get hungry.

• Don’t depend on your mother or anybody else to buy or cut up your vegetables for you. You should, instead, develop a tough independent attitude. You see, when you depend on others you give yourself an excuse for failure. “It’s not my fault if she forgot to buy my vegetables.” And so on. Don’t set yourself up like this. Depend on yourself.

• Well, one thing else I think you should do is to drink one large glass of non-fat milk every day. This will give you your calcium, some protein, and some other good stuff.

• You should also have at least one serving of some kind of lean meat or fowl. Hamburgers are fine too.

• Go easy on eggs. Two or three a week is plenty. They contain a lot of cholesterol and that’s the stuff (along with fats) that can clog up your arteries.

• Concentrate on developing your arms. All you really have to do are presses and curls. You know, I don’t think it is desirable to have a body builder’s body. Women, in general, are not attracted to to the exaggerated development of bodybuilders, and I personally don’t like this type of physique either.

• I do think it is a good idea to spend enough time to develop strong muscular arms. There are two reasons for this. First, of all, it is useful to be strong. Secondly, I think women are attracted to lean, hard men with strong muscular arms. And, thirdly, from a prison point of view, just having big arms can keep you out of a lot of trouble

• When most people tell others of any plan to make money, they are met with instant negativity. Once you set out to actually do something which may elevate your status many people will tell you it can’t be done, it isn’t worth it, or remind you of all the pitfalls they can think of.

• The idea of you getting rich makes most people around you feel sick!

• Most people judge how well they have done in life by comparing themselves to their peers and if one of their peers has become a multi-millionaire and could retire young and rich, then they will have to question their own choices.

• There is an irrational hatred of the rich and it is born out of spite. Terms like “filthy rich” and “born with a silver spoon in the mouth” are not compliments. You can worry about that when you are rich, but for now you need to worry about all those people who want to stop you from becoming rich.

• Surround yourself with people who have similar goals or who have already become great successes. These people are almost always hungry for people to appreciate what they have accomplished and like to be recognized for more than the size of their bank account.

• Our schools teach people how to work within businesses, but never how to start a business. Is it better to teach your kids how to change oil in the car or how to write an ad to bring in business? It is almost as if we have all been trained to accept capitalism, but only as part of the workforce.

• It is vital that you never let the bastards get you down and in this case, the bastards are almost everyone you meet.

• Going over and over plans is a good way to make sure everyone is on the same page and to remember small things.

• Write down your goals and go over them every day and not just once a year.

• A fat, sloppy or skinny and weak body tends to broadcast to the world that the owner of that body is lacking self-respect.

• Here is something to remember: Defensive behavior invites aggressive action!

What that means is that in life in general (and in prison in particular) there is very little sympathy for a weakling.

• It is far better to rely on your own strength instead of somebody else’s compassion! And, to make the obvious point, you’ve obviously first got to have some strength in order to be able to rely on it.

• When you “get tough” not only does your appearance change; your “signals” change also. The way you move, the way you hold yourself, your reactions to outside stimuli – all of that changes.

• I don’t want you to become a fighter in the physical sense as much as I want you to become a “Fight Avoider”. And I want you to be able to avoid fights without losing your dignity. And one of the best ways to avoid fights (I know this sounds kind of silly!) is to have big arms.

• Everyone knows a good group of folks behind you can be really helpful. Look at men of average skills who attain lofty positions for no better reason than the other people who help them out.

• Most people think the hard part is finding positive people, but that isn’t true. Go to any learning Annex workshop with Trump speaking and you will find positive people with hope. No, the real trick is to cut out those that hold you back.

• A support system is like a garden and you always need to be on the lookout for weeds to pull.

• Carry yourself with confidence (not arrogance) in everything you do and people will respond in a good way.

• Self-reliance is the most satisfying thing in the world and it is important to know that often self-reliance is the real motive of great businessmen and not money.

• The #1 big secret to making money is to get involved in whatever excites you the most.

This is good advice. Money, in my opinion, especially big money, is most often a by-product of enthusiasm. If a person, secretly in his heart, wants to be an architect, he shouldn’t go into selling real estate, for example, just because he has heard that that is where the money is.

• The money is where the enthusiasm is. Please remember this! Remember it also, when, in the future, you need to hire someone. Always look for the most enthusiastic person, not necessarily the most qualified.

• When it comes to making money, attitude is the most important thing of all.

• The very first thing you must come to realize is that you must become a “student of markets”. Not products. Not techniques. Not copywriting. Not how to buy space or whatever. Now, of course, all of these things are important and you must learn about them, but, the first and the most important thing you must learn is what people want to buy.

• The way to deduce what people want to buy is to simply observe what they DO buy!

• Be careful. You want to know what people actually DO buy, not what they SAY they buy.

• If you want to be a top-notch marketing man, you have to know how it is. How it really is. Not how people (or you) wish it was or how they think it is. No. You must become a “student of reality”.

• How do you find out what people actually buy? And, more particularly, how do you find out what they buy via direct response? The “SRDS Direct Mail List Book”. Then what you should do is turn to the consumer lists section and just start reading. It will be quite an adventure. You should pay special attention to the numbers involved and the descriptions of the lists.

• Always pay special attention to the average unit of sale – the higher the better!

• The SRDS is still a great tool and has an online division but I’d like to make the case that space ads and direct mail pieces enjoy little competition and great pricing.

• With everyone looking for free exposure and JVs, it’s often the guys who invest actual money who make the big bucks and they don’t brag about it either.

• Constantly be on the lookout for groups of people (markets) who have demonstrated that they are starving (or at least hungry!) for some particular product or service.

• For a variety of reasons, many lists that should work don’t. Who knows why? It really doesn’t matter why. What matters is that a list is or is not responsive. And the best way to know what lists are hot is to have a good relationship with a good honest broker. In fact, if you have a good relationship with a good broker, one of the things he will do (because it is to his financial advantage) is to keep an eye out for hot lists that are likely to work for your offers.

• The best list of all is your own customer list! All other things being equal, your own customers should respond far better than any other list you can get.

Of course, there is one caveat. They must be satisfied customers!

• It’s true you can get decent gains by tweaking various aspects of your sales funnel and even though little changes can lead to big profits, nothing will add to your bottom line as fast as selling something new to your existing customers and sourcing new prospects.

• Having something to upsell customers will always beat trying to make your website look fresh and upgrading to 3d buy buttons. The numbers show little tweaks do make a difference but they show there is far more money in adding to your product line and creating backend offers.

• As another general rule, there are three main guidelines you can rely on when you are picking lists to test. These three guidelines are recency, frequency, and unit of sale:

  1. Recency: The more recently a person has purchased (by mail) something similar to what you are selling, the more receptive he will be to your offer. Get ’em while they’re hot! In fact, always check to see if the list you are interested in has “hotline buyers” and see if you can rent them before anybody else. Hotline buyers are the most recent buyers of all. Sometimes they will be 90-day hotline buyers or even 30-day hotline buyers. These names are extremely good prospects!
  2. Frequency: The more often a person buys a particular item, the higher his desire for that type of production service. It just makes sense. If you are selling a book on skin diving and you can find a list of people who have purchased several other books on skin diving, then you know he is interested in the subject and will be a likely prospect to buy your book.
  3. Unit of sale: A person who recently paid $100.00 for a bottle of diet pills is probably a hotter prospect for diet type products than a person who has only paid $10.00 for a bottle of diet pills.

• People don’t always put their money where their mouths are, but they do nearly always put out their money where their true desires are.

• Let’s discuss some other ways of finding out what people like to purchase by mail. In addition to mailing lists, there are a number of so-called “hot” mail order publications. These are the newspapers and magazines that mail order companies advertise in over and over. You should make it a point to discover what these publications are and get copies of them and become very familiar with them. You should pay attention to their editorial content and pay special attention to the mail order ads they carry.

• Part of the reason I am in so much demand is that I am so hard headed. Clients, although they would never admit it, most often feel relieved with someone who takes a “don’t you dare mess with my copy” attitude.

• Even the good guys have trouble living up to their agreements when it comes to money. That’s one of the reasons I try to structure my deeds so that I get paid often. When there is big money involved, it is very hard for the clients to write those checks. And, what really makes it hard for the client is that he usually believes that he doesn’t need you anymore since he already has the ad.

• Sell people what they want to buy!

• You want to be on the lookout for ads and direct mail pieces that you see over and over. What this means is that whoever is running the ad has hit a nerve. And, a good way for you to make money is for you to hit that same nerve, only do it better.

• The most important thing to do first is to locate those hot buttons. You don’t have to guess. You don’t have to wonder. You don’t have to ask people or take surveys. All you have to do is observe! Observe the ads that keep repeating. Observe the size of the mailing lists available for rental on different product areas. Observe the direct mail pieces that keep getting mailed out month after month and sometimes year after year.

• Many people have said my father could sell ice to Eskimos and it’s meant to be a compliment but, that is the exact opposite of what he preached. Gary Halbert felt the smartest marketers offer all the Eskimos a great deal on heaters!

• You should try to get paid as often as possible and spell out simple agreements via email. You could save a good relationship as well as a lot of money.

• If you halt your forward progress every time you get a little tired or irritable or whatever; then you are suffering from a lack of discipline. On the other hand, if you keep pushing when you are chronically tired or really sick, then you are a fool. A lot of men do this because of a misplaced sense of macho. It’s not macho, it’s stupid.

• What I do when I don’t feel like working, is that I start working anyway and I pay attention to what signals my brain and body is sending me. Then, after working a while, if I honestly do start to feel worse I will stop and quit. However, if I just feel a little bit crummy I keep on plugging along.

• Most of the world’s work is done by people who didn’t feel much like getting out of bed.

• All of us, including thee and me, have a slightly shrewd idea of ourselves. We often try to convince others and ourselves that we are something we are not, something we have an idea we “should” be. Therefore, truth, my good son, can be determined not by how people use their mouth but rather how they use their wallet.

• Be skeptical of what people say. Be skeptical of surveys. Of questionnaires. Instead, believe in numbers. For example, if everybody you talk with says they like plays more than movies and yet the numbers say that 10,000 times more people buy movie tickets then you believe the numbers!

• Keep reading the “SRDS” book. Keep looking at hot mail order publications and repeat mail order ads. Get yourself on as many mail order lists as possible. (Get a P.O. Box.) Watch the offers you receive. Anything you are going to buy anyway, and you can purchase by mail – do so.

• It has long been my belief that a lot of money can be made by making offers to people who are at an emotional turning point in their lives. For example, when they have just had a baby, just gotten married, just lost a loved one, just gotten a raise, just filed bankruptcy, just purchased a new car, and so on.

• The ability to recognize reality apart from what people say is key to really understanding your prospects and how to turn them into customers.

• After the initial copy dump where I pound out all my thoughts for a sales letter on a keyboard, I re-read whatever I wrote and apply the so what test.

• From now on, a good part of your working life should be spent reading the “SRDS” list book and newspapers and magazines that carry a lot of MO advertising.

• As a general rule, the more “custom tailored” your promotion is the more successful it will be.

• When you get stuck or emotionally jammed up, one of the ways to get yourself unclogged and flowing again is just to keep moving. Run. Walk. Jog. Write. Do the dishes. Or whatever. But don’t sit around waiting for a flash from Heaven.

• Here’s how to create a DM promotion from scratch:

  • Step 1: Keep going through the “SRDS” book and looking at lists until you find one that you want to try to work.
  • Step 2: Let’s pretend you have chosen a list of people who have bought a book on how to make money in real estate. Now what you need to do is get three or four hot books in investing in real estate and read them and take notes.
  • Step 3: OK now, you should get as many DM pieces and space ads on real estate investing you can find. Read these and take notes.
  • Step 4: By now ideas will be churning around in your mind because you have fed your brain a lot of good stuff to work with. What you do at this point is go back and review your notes from “The Robert Collier Letter Book” and “Scientific Advertising” and read those headlines again.

By now, I can almost guarantee that a central selling idea will have emerged from your cunning little mind.

Now, I don’t know what that idea will be but let’s say you have figured out how to personalize and customize your real estate investment offer. And now, let’s say your idea is to promise your potential customer that you are going to tell him how to buy real estate in his area with no money down. Then, your letter might start something like this:

Dear Mr. X,

Did you know that there is now a way to buy L.A. real estate without making any down payment whatsoever? Etc., etc., blah, blah, blah.

Of course, that first sentence will be customized for every customer depending on where he lives. Note: In this example, I am assuming we are using computer letters. So, anyway, the letters would say “to buy L.A. real estate” or “to buy Detroit real estate” or “to buy Key West real estate”, etc.

Let’s examine a way to “double customize” this offer. Let’s say we have found a list of people in a specific occupation who like to invest such as cardiologists for example. Now, let’s start our letter like this:

Dear Dr. X,

Did you know that there is now a way for a cardiologist to buy L.A. real estate without making any down payment whatsoever? Etc., etc., blah, blah, blah.

Bullseye! O.K. Now we’ve got the list picked out, we’ve got an idea for a product and we’ve got our central selling idea and we are now ready for:

  • Step 5: What you do at this point is create your product and here is how you do it. First, you go back to those books on real estate investing and you extract in outline form all the good ideas in these books. Then you pick out the best of the ideas and overlay them with the ideas you will have by now come up with yourself. Next, you arrange these ideas in some logical form and you start writing. Please remember, what we are creating here is a report, not a book. I figure it should be something like 100 typewritten pages.

Now, please remember this: If you do this properly you will have created something of considerable value. After all, what you will have done (hopefully) is taken a few good books on real estate investing and stripped away the garbage and created a tight informative roadmap to real estate riches. Hey, how about that? Didn’t I tell you that if you just keep flowing that something of value will emerge? Just look at what has just slipped out of my mind! Did you catch it?

The Amazing L.A. Roadmap To Real Estate Riches!

Not bad, eh? Now, we’ve got the title for our report!

• With ebooks and the explosion in self-publishing it is much harder to stand out and this is where just a little work pays off big.

The market is saturated with information products merely rephrasing what most of the industry leaders say but… A little originality goes a long way in promoting your info products and is very easy to come by.

In fact, it’s nearly impossible to go through any learning curve and not wish you had known something right from the start or discovered a slightly better way of doing something.

These original ideas become your unique solution or hook!

• To peruse markets, I’d also suggest Clickbank, Amazon, The New York Times Non-Fiction Best Sellers list, but only pay attention to what stays on top without being free!!

There are a lot of $1 best sellers and people who climbed the ranks for a day or two by switching the book to free and then turning it back to charging.

These places will let you know what info markets are hot and sometimes you can see cross-over ideas others don’t because they are married to one subject.

• It is easier than ever to make money working with subjects you love because it is so much easier to target a lot of customers into very odd or strange things.

If your true passion in life was only shared with 1% of the people you run into. The USA alone has an estimated 315,000,000 people and 1% would leave you 3.15 million potential customers.

Let’s suppose you are into something really whack and only 1 in 1,000 people would buy your product. No, let’s pretend you are so vile and deviant only 1 in 10,000 people feel the same desire.

That’s still a potential pool of 31,500 people with the same crazy thinking you have and that’s just in the USA.

In fact, I bet it will be hard to find competition in such a highly-targeted and bizarre subject which means it will be even easier for you to dominate that market and finding those customers is easier than ever so work with a subject you love.

• To create the DM promotion, the first thing we are going to discuss is the outside envelope. This is where most mailers mess up first. What most mailers do is put so-called “teaser copy” on the outside envelope and, in general, design the envelope so that it is very obvious that it contains a sales pitch.

• It is my contention that everybody divides their mail every day into two piles. An “A-Pile” and a “B-Pile”. The “A” pile contains letters that appear to be personal. Like letters from friends, relatives, business associates, and so on.

On the other hand, the “B” pile contains those envelopes that, like the example above, obviously, contain a commercial message.

• Everybody always opens all of their “A” pile mail. And, for obvious reasons. After all, everybody wants to read their personal mail.

What happens to the “B” pile mail? Does it always get opened? No. It doesn’t. Sometimes it is thrown away immediately without the envelope ever being opened. Sometimes, if it looks interesting, “B” pile envelopes will be set aside for later examination. And, of course, sometimes… if the envelope looks interesting, or if the person receiving it has some idle time, or if the person is bored and has nothing else to do, then, maybe the “B” pile envelopes will be opened.

• Quite obviously, people aren’t getting to order from you unless they read your promotion and, also, quite obviously, they can’t read your promotion unless they open the envelope. And so, your first objective here, as you begin to design your DM promotion is to get your envelope into the “A” pile.

All you have to do is make the envelope look personal. (Or at least you will take pains so it doesn’t look commercial.)

• We must now get our potential customer to begin reading our sales letter.

How do we do that? Well, let’s start by getting his attention. And intriguing the heck out of him right from the start. Let’s try this: Let’s get a little plastic baggie and put some dirt in it and then attach it to the top of our letter.

• Here is what the letter will look like:

Gary Halbert The Boron Letters

• That little baggie filled with dirt just sort of reaches right out and grabs you, doesn’t it?

If you received this letter, wouldn’t you be wondering, “What’s in this baggie?” “Is that dirt in there?” “Why would somebody be sending me a baggie of dirt?”

And, consciously or unconsciously, you would be thinking, “I better read this and find out what it is all about.”

And, you see, we now have not only captured our reader’s attention, but we have also gotten his “focused” attention.

• It’s better to be in the spam box of a primary email address than to be in the primary box of a spam email address!

• Worry about getting a good address before worrying about deliverability and what words will get you labeled as spam.

• I want to comment on the part above the salutation, the part that tells the day of the week, the exact time, the day of the month and the year. Why is it important to put these specifics in the letter?

Well, it makes the letter a little more personal. I think this way of doing things bonds the writer and the reader closer together. It also gives our transmission the quality of immediacy.

Another additional way to achieve this bond of intimacy and immediacy in your letters is to describe where you are and what you are doing as you are writing the letter.

• When you tell the day of the week plus the exact time you are writing the letter, it makes it seem a more important communication—Sort of like a telegram.

• Notice that the salutation addresses our reader by name. “Dear Bond” gets a certain quality of focused attention that is not enjoyed by “Dear Sir” or “Dear Occupant” or “Dear Reader”.

When you read the words “Dear Bond”, you know my letter is for you personally. It’s not for Kevin. It’s not for whoever owns the house. Or anybody who lives at the address on the envelope. No. The words “Dear Bond” indicate that this letter is for you and you alone. And this makes you pay more attention.

• If you will look in the lower right-hand corner of the letter in my illustration and, also, in all of my other letters, you will see, in parenthesis, a tiny little instruction like this: (over) or like this: (go to page 7). What I am doing here is taking the reader by the hand and leading him exactly where I want him to go. It seems like a small point and, maybe it is, but it is little touches like this that keeps the letter flowing, the reader moving along, and, it relieves him of the burden of trying to figure out what he is supposed to do when he finishes reading a particular page.

• Quite often (most often) your letter will arrive when your prospect is busy—when his mind is on other things. Therefore, you need to work hard to make reading your letter pleasant, easy-read, interesting and unconfusing.

• What else goes inside the carrier envelope in addition to the letter? One thing for sure is that you must include a reply envelope. Now, when it comes to reply envelopes, you basically have two choices. The options are to make the reader pay the postage when he mails the envelope or for you to pay the postage for him.

• Just using a 3d looking buy button makes a small difference in sales, and reducing the number of steps required to order adds a lot.

• One key question every business owner should ask is “how can I make it so ordering is even easier.” Many great burger stands went out of business when the competition across the street added a drive-thru.

• When things are tough I have discovered that a very simple (but effective) thing to do is just keep moving in some sort of positive direction.

• If you can get a person who is not going to order to agree, in his mind, to write and tell you he is not going to, then you will get more orders.

What happens sometimes is that a person who is getting a pen or pencil and a piece of paper in order to write you and tell you “No” will sometimes start thinking like this: “Well, you jerk. I’d kind of like to get in on this deal anyway and now that I’ve got the pen and paper I may as well go ahead and order.”

• You have to keep on keeping on and here is a trick to doing so. Keep two task lists.

The first list is of every important thing you really should do while at your best. My distraction-free creative time is in the morning when I do most of my writing, editing or consulting because it’s when I am reliably at my best.

The second list is of all the important tasks which I can do equally well regardless of my mood. Whenever I get stuck in the morning or feel off, I simply take care of some of the important business which quickly puts me back into an uplifting and productive mood.

• While it is true that you must attract attention to your advertisements and sales letters, it is also true that your “attention grabber” should be relevant. It should tie in with your message. It should make sense.

• In most cases, we need more than a letter and a reply envelope. It is good to include an order card and some type of printed brochure. I like to include an order card and a brochure with my sales letters. However, I do not like to let my reader see my order card, etc. as soon as he opens the envelope. I don’t want him to realize that I want to sell him something until I am well into my pitch.

• Many people, when they see an ad, they read the headline first and then they go right to the order coupon.

The same is true with direct mail letters. If your reader sees your order card as soon as he opens your envelope, he will read it first to see what the deal is.

And, that’s not good for us. It is true, of course, that we do want him to read our order card but we want him to read it at the proper time! And the proper time is after he has read our letter.

• Although I like my letters to be personal, in most cases, I also like them to be “businesslike personal”. And, that’s why part of the package should be typeset and maybe contain some photographs. This adds an air of stability to your promotion. It makes you seem like a real business.

• In your attempts to stand out, try and fight any urge to sound like a cliché and use phrases which a reader could finish on their own.

You only want the reader or viewer to get that head-nodding “been there, done that” feeling when you already got the prospect’s attention.

One simple trick anyone can use is to replace the adjectives in their headlines and opening statements with words from a current power list.

• Just like diets, words come in and out of fashion.

Consider these words: Keen, Cool, Funky, Hip, Hot, and Epic. You can almost tell the age of the people who use them.

You can tailor your words to your reader’s average age but you want to do that during the bonding part of the copy/script.

• Go look at tabloids and make a list of the words in headlines that really suck you in.

• Divide your list of words into positive and negative, and peruse the list right before you begin the copy dump when you write the majority of your copy in one sitting.

You can do 40 edits but you want to write from start to finish in one sitting so your different moods on different days don’t seep into your copy and make it disjointed.

When you are finished with the copy dump, look for adjectives and things you can punch up on your list without sounding like a clown.

• Picture words mean phrases and terms which paint a picture like cherry red.

Describe what it looks like when happy customers receive the benefit of your product.

For example, phrases like “My clients wake up all excited and can’t wait for the morning because… they love to sip coffee while opening their email to see how much money they made while sleeping.”

If this was a first person story, I’d add parts about looking out the window as the neighbors left for work while I take a shower.

• Disguise your pitch until you want the prospect to know you are selling something and you can do this online to great effect.

Readers of snail mail do the same thing with websites and emails… they scroll right to the bottom.

Most marketers add a buy button to the bottom of their page but instead of saying BUY you might want to try adding my father’s text or simply use the word Next.

• The proper time to let people know you are pitching is after you have started seriously fueling their desire.

• Assemble a file that contains everything you can get your hands on that is relevant to your promotion. Here are some of the things that might be included in your file:

  1. List cards describing the lists you are going to test.
  2. A copy of the report you intend to sell.
  3. Copies of DM pieces that other people have used to sell products or services related to what you want to sell.
  4. Copies of space ads that other people have used to sell products or services related to what you want to sell.
  5. Copies of books and reports on real estate investing.
  6. Copies of exceptionally good ads and DM pieces, even if they are not related to real estate.
  7. A copy of that book I’m going to give you that contains hundreds of headlines.
  8. Anything else you can think of that might be an “idea generator”.

After you have assembled all this stuff, what you need to do is start reading and taking notes.

• Here are a few things you should always include. A complete description of your product including how many pages, how many words, how many photos, who wrote it, facts about the author (his age, background, success stories, etc.).

You should also take notes on what this product will do for you. Will it make you wealthy? How will more money help your customer? Will he be able to buy a better car? Take more vacations? Afford a better home? If so, put it down.

• Re-read the notes and the really good ones, put a star * beside them. And the ones that are even better put two stars ** next to them. And then, the red hot ones you put three *** or more stars beside them.

• At this point, what you need to do is stop working on this project. Let it go. Put it right out of your mind. Just go on about your other business for a day or two.

Often what happens during this time, is that an outstanding sales idea will occur to you.

Sometimes your breakthrough idea or “aha experience” will be a way to get attention like my baggie idea, or a new way to help the prospect visualize the benefits of owning what you have to sell, or a new order generating sales point or whatever.

At this point, you now need to begin writing your letter according to formula. By formula, I mean you should work within a proven sequential outline like AIDA.

• Keep a pen and paper with you at all times. Brainstorms come at the times when your brain is well nourished and the most relaxed which means the ideas come when you least expect them.

• The copy is only about you in so much as it proves how you can help the prospect solve their problems.

• Attention comes first. Naturally, we must get our readers attention before he can become interested in and desirous of our offer.

Getting attention is CRUCIAL. If you don’t get it, your letter or advertisement will never be read. That’s why I like to attach things to the top of my DM letters.

I have attached coins, dollar bills, 2-dollar bills, Japanese “pennies”, Mexican pesos, etc. and these gimmicks have always gotten a lot of attention.

• You must get the right kind of attention. If not, your reader will be insulted and angry and probably won’t become a customer. So, always remember that your attention grabber needs to be relevant.

• Next thing we need to do (after getting his attention) is to catch his interest. Start by feeding him interesting facts. Like how much money there is to be made by investing in Maui real estate. By telling how much sand (cubic tons) is on the beach where we got the sand in that baggie. By telling how this is one of the best beach front investment opportunities in Maui. By telling how many pretty girls there are around. By telling the specific kinds of fish you can catch right off the beach etc.

• After we have told him a lot of interesting facts, our AIDA formula now tells us we should now arouse his desire.

What we do to create desire is we describe the benefits our prospect gets if he buys our product or service. In the case of an investment orientated offer what we have to offer is the prospect of making money. At least this is our main attraction. Let’s help him to picture in his mind the benefits of having more money.

Don’t think it’s not necessary. Remember, you must always do even the obvious.

• Go back to our AIDA formula and you will see that that last “A” stands for action. And that’s just what we’ve got to get, action! Action in the form of him sending us an order.

You should pay very close attention to how I get action in my MD and DM pitches. I do this better than anybody. I am very thorough when it comes to closing a sale.

Here’s a little example of how I do it: “Would you like to get in on this great investment opportunity? Would you like to be one of the privileged few who actually own a piece of the finest beach in Maui? If so, it’s easy to order. All you have to do is fill out the order coupon and send it to me with your payment, etc., etc.”

• One thing I want to stress is that you must be very clear, very specific about what you want him to do. Lead him by the hand and take him exactly where you want him to go. Tell him where the order coupon is. Tell him to fill it out. Tell him to enclose the payment. Tell him how much to send. Tell him who the checks and money orders should be made out to. Tell him to use the envelope. Tell him the envelope doesn’t need a stamp. (If it doesn’t.) Tell him to put the envelope in the mail.

And, above all, tell him to do all this RIGHT NOW! TODAY! Tell him what he will get if he hurries and tell him what he will lose if he delays.

• Sometimes I devote 25% or more of the entire ad to closing.

• Another simple way to get a reader interested is to tell their story by telling your story with the problem your solution solves. The key is to switch to talking about them as soon as things get better in the story.

• As part of your nugget notes, describe the benefits emotionally. You may swap “you will be able to choose what to do with your day” with “you will have the freedom to choose what to do with your day.”

• Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to order things but you still want to do everything you can to make the process as smooth as humanly possible.

Online shopping carts should be pre-filled out as much as possible, business reply envelopes should be pre-addressed and you should spell out what the prospect will experience when they order.

• Unless you are using upselling, try to give prospects options for ordering without talking to other humans.

• You should test offering single vs. multiple ordering options. Sometimes, only being able to order by phone boost the performance of an ad and other times multiple payment options works better. You must test.

• What happens when you actually write out a good ad in your own handwriting is that the words and the flow and the sentence structure and the sequence of information and everything else about the writing of that ad becomes a part of you.

• Here is a short list of “killer” promotions to get you started:

  • Tova Ad
  • How To Burn Off Body Fat Hour By Hour
  • The Beverly Hills Diamond Ad
  • The Original Family Coat-Of-Arms Letter
  • How To Collect From Social Security At Any Age
  • How To Get What The U.S. Government Owes You
  • The Famous Dollar Bill Letter From The Robert Collier Letter Book
  • The Amazing Blackjack Secret Of A Las Vegas Mystery Man
  • The Original Astrology Today Ad Written By Ben Suarez

• Here are a few other tips on how to write good copy or, as a matter of fact, “good anything”:

  • Use simple common everyday words.
  • Use “get” instead of “procure.”
  • Write short sentences and short paragraphs.
  • Use “transition” words and phrases to make your writing flow smoothly.
  • Ask questions once in a while and then answer them yourself.

• A good writer is one who makes things perfectly clear. He makes it easy for the reader. Easy-to-understand what he is saying, easy to keep reading.

• The best way to become a good writer… is by… writing good writing!

• The very best writing goes unnoticed. You don’t want someone to read one of your ads and say “Gosh, that advertisement was sure well written!”

No. What you really want is for the reader to order from your ad. If you are writing for applause… you will go home with empty pockets! Write for money!

• It is a good idea to know “word pictures” that will help your reader vicariously experience the wonderful benefits of owning your product or service.

• You can make your copy easier to read by the judicious use of parentheses. For example, if you want to tell people that your offer is good anywhere in the U.S. (except Alaska) the proper use of parentheses, as I just did, makes the copy easier-to-read, easier to understand and provides a little “eye relief” for your reader.

• The concept of eye-relief is more important than ever because people just don’t read as much as they used to which doesn’t mean you can’t write long copy. It’s just that paragraphs and sentences need to be shorter.

• Go through many edits cutting everything out until cutting any more would be cutting something the customer would like to know.

Chop long sentences into two short ones. Short statements are more emphatic!

Break up paragraphs and if you’re writing for online, use one to two line paragraphs.

For print, try and match the style of the space you are running in.

• Your page of copy (be it a letter or space ad) should be laid out in such a manner as to be an attractive “eye treat” for the reader. This means wide margins, a certain amount of white space, double spacing between paragraphs, short words, short sentences, short paragraphs and an attractive, inviting layout.

• The layout of your advertisement should catch the attention of your reader but not in a way that causes him to “notice” the layout!

• In most publications, the editorial content gets 5 times as much readership as the advertising content. This means that your ads should, as much as possible, have an “editorial look” about them.

• Your ads should look “editorial”; however, they should not look like just any old editorial piece of writing. No. Your ads should look like an exciting piece of editorial material.

• Whenever you write an ad it should look, in so far as possible, exactly like a rave review written by a reporter. It should have the look of an exciting news flash.

• You can do a better selling job when at first it does not appear you are attempting to do a sales job.

• Ideally, you want to offer first-time buyers three price points.

• You either hook a reader or lose him when he very first looks at your ad or DM piece. Not when he reads it, but when he first looks at it.

• Most of the time a person will never alter his original impression. Most of the time he will simply “edit” all new info that comes to him and “process” it in such a way as to validate his original opinion.

This means that your ad or DM piece should give your prospect a life; should cause his pupils to dilate as soon as he sees it.

• I believe the “sale” or “no sale” decision is largely made the instant a prospect sees your ad and reads your headline.

I think that if your prospect gets an instant “lift” from just looking at your ad, then he will start reading it and looking for reasons to convince himself that the promise of your ad is true!

And, if you don’t disappoint him then you have a really good chance of closing the sale.

• One thing that helps give the reader a lift is if your promotion has a “crisp” look about it. In other words, the layout should be clean, there should be a lot of contrast, and it should look easy and inviting to read.

If you use pictures they should be, as a general rule, of an upbeat nature.

• Women like to see pictures of women in ads and men like to see pictures of men.

• Slightly higher production value than the competition applies to VSLs (video sales letters). Everyone now uses decent sound equipment and nice cameras so it’s the multi-camera and finely edited videos which stand out as professional.

• That little extra mile to add professionalism goes a long way in every aspect of marketing and the line keeps moving. Just stay one step ahead.

• Please remember this word: HALT. HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely and tired and you should never make a decision when you are any of those things.

• You don’t have to get it right… you just have to get it moving!

• Wait 72 hours after being emotional to make any important decisions. It is hard to stay emotional for 3 days, and if you still want to sue someone, leave your wife, or quit your job, start the process.

• Propositions are very important. They are the “deal” you are offering.

• A very important ingredient in making your propositions work is the “reason why”. In other words when you say in effect, “Have I got a deal for you!” you need an explanation as to why you are offering this good deal.

You see, if you don’t have an explanation, your “deal” won’t be believable and you may not get the sale.

• You can’t always control what happens to you in life but you do have a lot of control over your responses.

• Here is a formula for an effective excuse for a deal:

I Am Offering You This Deal Because You (By Virtue Of Some Unique Circumstance) Are So Special

• Offering special deals based on where your promos are listed works well too. You can offer facebook specials and deals just for subscribers of a certain website or maybe readers of The Miami Herald.

• You should also create a list of types of offers to consider and look them over when masterminding your next offer.

• A little trick that will improve your copywriting is to read your copy out loud. When you read your copy out loud, you will verbally stumble over all the places that are not smooth. Then, of course, what you do, is rewrite the rough spots and read the copy out loud again. And, what you do, is you keep repeating this process till your copy is completely smooth and you can read it without stumbling at all.

• Advertising writing needs to be the best writing of all. It needs to flow from start to finish without a bump or a bubble.

• Besides writing out, in your own handwriting, good ads and DM pieces written by other people, you should also read those same ads and DM pieces out loud. By doing this writing and reading aloud of good material you will find that the process of writing good ads will be internally imprinted on your nerves, muscle fibers, brain cells, and every fiber of your being.

• Here are the steps to direct mail success:

  1. Find a hot market (mailing list).
  2. Find or create a product (preferably paper and ink) to sell to that market.
  3. Create a direct mail promotion that describes the product (or service) and the benefits of owning the same.
  4. Make a test mailing (1,000 to 5,000 pieces).
  5. Analyze results.
  6. If results are good, mail 20,000 to 100,000 more letters.
  7. If results are still good, start rolling out and taking care of business

• The single most common mistake made by people who want to break into the MO business is finding or developing a product FIRST and then looking for a market to sell it to.

• You must always find a market first… and then concentrate on a product!

• Products are a dime a dozen. They are important but much less crucial to success than finding a hot market. I’ll tell you this: A guy with a new product cannot always find a hot market for that product but a guy who has uncovered a HOT MARKET can always find a product to fill the needs of that market.

• A big difference between people who make it in any field (including crime) and those who do not is awareness.

Most people (at least many) walk around with their heads in the sand.

They are lost in a fog. They go whichever way the current of the streams of their world happens to push them. They are sheep and they are regularly shorn.

• Mail order (and all other) fortunes are made by men and women who know what’s going on in their fields. These are the people who stay up to date. They read the trade journals, they make sure they are on everybody else’s mailing list so they know what the competition is doing, they read all the “HOT” mail order publications, they keep their “Swipe File” up to date, they read and reread the classic books written by the best people in the field, they have idea files that contain newspaper articles, notes of unusual info, hot new ideas, good layouts, unusual propositions, and so forth.

They also know who the leaders are in their respective fields and they communicate with these people on a regular basis.

• You know, quite often I am referred to as an advertising genius, the “best copywriter in the world” and so forth. I would be the 1st person in the world to deny these claims but if I really am so good, there is at least one reason for it that everybody misses. It is this:

I Work Like Crazy!

• Sweat the details. It’s an area I have been remiss in and I am working to correct this state of affairs.

• Believability is one of the top most important ingredients of good MO & DM promotions.

• One way to increase believability is to give exact details. Instead of “most car owners” write “77.6% of all car owners”. Instead of “you can lose lots of weight” write “and the average reported weight loss over a 31-day period was 37.5 pounds for men and 26.3 pounds for women”.

• Most people who are on top of things and “aware” usually know what time it is within a few minutes without looking at a clock or watch.

You should be able to guess the time with no more than a 7-minute margin of error either way.

• If I am more than 7-minutes off, I take a walk or do something else physical before I have any important discussions or make any important decisions.

• Now that it’s so inexpensive, video can often provide excellent proof of claims but I like to add a special twist.

In print, you can use the video’s existence as proof by saying our customers have taken to youtube to share their success stories.

I like to offer video testimonials whenever possible and I will write out the main thing I want them to hear in a quote directly below the video like so.




“… Bond’s advice doubled my profits!”

This way, readers don’t even have to look at the video to get the main point and the fact that the video is there adds more believability than static testimonials.

• Impact is the impression you or your promotion makes on its intended target.

• My favorite way in all the world to achieve impact with my DM promotions is attaching things to the top of my letters.

• Be careful. Whatever you attach to the top of your letters should tie in with the rest of your letter and what you are selling. It should make sense and fit into the promotion in a natural way.

• When anybody is off, it is communicated!

• Remember how I told you, you could sort of tell if you were off by how close you could guess what time it is? Well, another indicator is if you bump into things just a tiny bit or you are just a tiny bit clumsy.

• Another way I can tell I am stressed right is that my vision gets a little blurred.

• At the time in my life when I was making the most money, I followed the same procedure I am talking about here. Namely: I pay attention to myself and when I am off, I drop out of sight and do what is necessary to strengthen myself.

• People can smell it when you are weak. When you are vulnerable. They can smell success too.

They can sniff out a winner.

And you can’t fake it. Not for long. You’ve got to be it!

• Being off happens to all of us and it is super important to know when you are off.

• The brain is like any other human muscle. It needs proper nourishment and rest and can be exercised to work better.

• When you are on fire, rock and roll. Just keep pumping out copy, cutting deals and make the most out of that energy.

But, when you are down, work while you hide out.

Life really is like high school and despite what people say, nobody wants to help or be with the sulking kid.

By working alone, you will not only avoid allowing others to smell your weakness but you will cause an air of mystery.

• Unless the Hindus are right, we all get only one go-round in life and time is too precious to waste on people who undermine your confidence, hold petty grievances, and don’t add to your enjoyment of life.

• Your respect for others means a lot more when you have enough self-esteem to never respect those who don’t respect you.

• You can learn to respect yourself by creating your own moral code and standing by it.


If you’ve enjoyed this summary of The Boron Letters by Gary Halbert, and you would like to get the full book, please do so using my link. You’ll help me out without spending an extra penny: PrinteBook

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Courage Under Fire by James Stockdale

Print | eBook

Courage Under Fire by James Stockdale Summary

Book Review:

Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior by James Stockdale is the transcript of a speech given by fighter pilot James Bond Stockdale at the Great Hall, King’s College, London in 1993. It’s very short—about 21 pages long.

In this little book, Stockdale talks about how he was introduced to Stoicism and Epictetus while he was a student at Standford in 1962. He did a pretty good job of explaining Epictetus’s central teaching, that of understanding the difference between things that are within our control and things that are not.

In 1965, while flying in combat in North Vietnam, Stockdale was shot down, captured, imprisoned, and tortured for eight brutal years. And the teachings of Epictetus are what made him survive, even grow stronger and more resilient while in prison.

Book Summary:

The following summary of Courage Under Fire by James Stockdale is meant to be concise, reminding me of high-level concepts and not trying to recreate the whole book. This summary is basically a bunch of notes and lessons paraphrased or quoted directly from the book and does not contain my own thoughts.

• Epictetus was a very unusual man of intelligence and sensitivity, who gleaned wisdom rather than bitterness from his early firsthand exposure to extreme cruelty and firsthand observations of the abuse of power and self-indulgent debauchery.

• The Stoic viewpoint is often misunderstood because the casual reader misses the point that all talk is in reference to the “inner life” of man. Stoics belittle physical harm, but this is not braggadocio. They are speaking of it in comparison to the devastating agony of shame they fancied good men generating when they knew in their hearts that they had failed to do their duty vis-à-vis their fellow men or God.

• A man is responsible for his own “judgments, even in dreams, in drunkenness, and in melancholy madness.”

• Each individual brings about his own good and his own evil, his good fortune, his ill fortune, his happiness, and his wretchedness.

• It is unthinkable that one man’s error could cause another’s suffering. Suffering, like everything else in Stoicism, was all down here—remorse at destroying yourself.

• There can be no such thing as being the “victim” of another. You can only be a “victim” of yourself. It’s all in how you discipline your mind. Who is your master? “He who has authority over any of the things on which you have set your heart.” “What is the result at which all virtue aims? Serenity.”

• Show me a man who though sick is happy, who though in danger is happy, who though in prison is happy, and I’ll show you a Stoic.

• Do you not know that life is a soldier’s service? One must keep guard, another go out to reconnoiter, another take the field. If you neglect your responsibilities when some severe order is laid upon you, do you not understand to what a pitiful state you bring the army in so far as in you lies?

• If you regard yourself as a man and as a part of some whole, it is fitting for you now to be sick and now to make a voyage and run risks, and now to be in want, and on occasion to die before your time. Why, then are you vexed? Would you have someone else be sick of a fever now, someone else go on a voyage, someone else die? For it is impossible in such a body as ours, that is, in this universe that envelops us, among these fellow-creatures of ours, that such things should not happen, some to one man, some to another.

• A Stoic always kept separate files in his mind for (A) those things that are “up to him” and (B) those things that are “not up to him.” Another way of saying it is (A) those things that are “within his power” and (B) those things that are “beyond his power.” Still another way of saying it is (A) those things that are within the grasp of “his Will, his Free Will” and (B) those things that are beyond it.

• All in category B are “external,” beyond my control, ultimately dooming me to fear and anxiety if I covet them. All in category A are up to me, within my power, within my will, and properly subjects for my total concern and involvement. They include my opinions, my aims, my aversions, my own grief, my own joy, my judgments, my attitude about what is going on, my own good, and my own evil.

• Good and evil are not just abstractions you kick around and give lectures about and attribute to this person and that. The only good and evil that means anything is right in your own heart, within your will, within your power, where it’s up to you.

• Things that are not within our own power, not without our Will, can by no means be either good or evil.

• “Evil lies in the evil use of moral purpose, and good the opposite. The course of the Will determines good or bad fortune, and one’s balance of misery and happiness.” In short, what the Stoics say is “Work with what you have control of and you’ll have your hands full.”

• “Station in life” can be changed from that of a dignified and competent gentleman of culture to that of a panic-stricken, sobbing, self-loathing wreck in a matter of minutes.

• To live under the false pretense that you will forever have control of your station in life is to ride for a fall; you’re asking for disappointment. So make sure in your heart of hearts, in your inner self, that you treat your station in life with indifference, not with contempt, only with indifference. And so also with a long long list of things that some unreflective people assume they’re assured of controlling to the last instance: your body, property, wealth, health, life, death, pleasure, pain, reputation.

• He who craves or shuns things not under his control can neither be faithful nor free, but must himself be changed and tossed to and fro and must end by subordinating himself to others.

• A man’s master is he who is able to confer or remove whatever that man seeks or shuns. Whoever then would be free, let him wish nothing, let him decline nothing, which depends on others; else he must necessarily be a slave.

• “For it is better to die of hunger, exempt from fear and guilt than to live in affluence with perturbation.” Begging sets up a demand for quid pro quos, deals, agreements, reprisals, the pits.

• If you want to protect yourself from “fear and guilt,” and those are the crucial pincers, the real long-term destroyers of will, you have to get rid of all your instincts to compromise, to meet people halfway. You have to learn to stand aloof, never give openings for deals, never level with your adversaries.

• Lameness is an impediment to the leg, but not to the Will; and say this to yourself with regard to everything that happens. For you will find such things to be an impediment to something else, but not truly to yourself.

• Look not for any greater harm than this: destroying the trustworthy, self-respecting well-behaved man within you.

• For Epictetus, emotions were acts of will. Fear was not something that came out of the shadows of the night and enveloped you; he charged you with the total responsibility of starting it, stopping it, controlling it.

• Controlling your emotions is difficult but can be empowering. Epictetus: “For it is within you, that both your destruction and deliverance lie.”

• The judgment seat and a prison is each a place, the one high, the other low; but the attitude of your will can be kept the same, if you want to keep it the same, in either place.

• The lecture-room of the philosopher is a hospital; students ought not to walk out of it in pleasure but in pain.

• The thing that brings down a man is not pain but shame!

• Epictetus emphasizes time and again that a man who lays off the causes of his actions to third parties or forces is not leveling with himself. He must live with his own judgments if he is to be honest with himself.

• It is neither death, nor exile, nor toil, nor any such things that is the cause of your doing, or not doing, anything, but only your opinions and the decisions of your Will.

• “What is the fruit of your doctrines?” someone asked Epictetus. “Tranquility, fearlessness, and freedom,” he answered. You can have these only if you are honest and take responsibility for your own actions. You’ve got to get it straight! You are in charge of you.


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The Dip by Seth Godin

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The Dip by Seth Godin Summary

Book Review:

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin is an amazing little book about, as the title suggests, quitting.

Seth Godin’s main argument is that the mantra of “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” is just flat out wrong, and talks to a great length about why that is the case. He goes even further by arguing that quitting can be a smart strategy and lists out the benefits, as well, as the scenarios where you should absolutely quit.

The book could’ve actually been shorter as Seth tends to be repetitive at times, but it’s a really great read nonetheless.

Book Summary:

The following summary of The Dip by Seth Godin is meant to be concise, reminding me of high-level concepts and not trying to recreate the whole book. This summary is basically a bunch of notes and lessons paraphrased or quoted directly from the book and does not contain my own thoughts.

• “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” Bad advice. Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.

• Most people quit. They just don’t quit successfully. In fact, many professions and many marketplaces profit from quitters—society assumes you’re going to quit. In fact, businesses and organizations count on it.

• Extraordinary benefits accrue to the tiny minority of people who are able to push just a tiny bit longer than most.

Extraordinary benefits also accrue to the tiny majority with the guts to quit early and refocus their efforts on something new.

In both cases, it’s about being the best in the world. About getting through the hard stuff and coming out on the other side.

• Believe it or not, quitting is often a great strategy, a smart way to manage your life and your career. Sometimes, though, quitting is exactly the wrong thing to do.

• You really can’t try to do everything, especially if you intend to be the best in the world.

• Winners win big because the marketplace loves a winner.

• With limited time or opportunity to experiment, we intentionally narrow our choices to those at the top.

• The rewards for being first are enormous. It’s not a linear scale. It’s not a matter of getting a little more after giving a little more. It’s a curve and a steep one.

• Being at the top matters because there’s room at the top for only a few. Scarcity makes being at the top worth something.

• Where does the scarcity come from? It comes from the hurdles that the markets and our society set up. It comes from the fact that most competitors quit long before they’ve created something that makes it to the top. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. The system depends on it.

• Anyone who is going to hire you, buy from you, recommend you, vote for you, or do what you want them to do is going to wonder if you’re the best choice.

Best as in: best for them, right now, based on what they believe and what they know.

And in the world as in: their world, the world they have access to.

So if I’m looking for a freelance copy editor, I want the best copy editor in English, who’s available, who can find a way to work with me at a price I can afford. That’s my best in the world.

If I want a hernia doctor, I want the doctor who is best because she’s recommended by my friends or colleagues and because she fits my picture of what a great doctor is. That, and she has to be in my town and have a slot open.

So world is a pretty flexible term.

• The mass market is dying. There is no longer one best song or one best kind of coffee. Now there are a million micro markets, but each micro market still has a best. If your micro market is “organic markets in Tulsa,” then that’s your world. And being the best in that world is the place to be.

Best is subjective. I (the consumer) get to decide, not you. World is selfish. It’s my definition, not yours. It’s the world I define, based on my convenience or my preferences. Be the best in my world and you have me, at a premium, right now.

• The world is getting larger because I can now look everywhere when I want to find something (or someone). That means that the amount of variety is staggering, and it means I can define my world to be exactly what I have an interest in—and find my preferences anywhere on the planet.

At the same time, the world is getting smaller because the categories are getting more specialized. I can now find the best gluten-free bialys available by overnight shipping. I can find the best risk-management software for my industry, right now, online. I can find the best clothing-optional resort in North America with six clicks of a mouse.

So while it’s more important than ever to be the best in the world, it’s also easier—if you pick the right thing and do it all the way. More places to win and the stakes are higher, too.

• If you’re sold on being the best, but you’ve been frustrated in the route you’re taking to get there, then you need to start doing some quitting.

• In just about every market, the number of choices is approaching infinity. Faced with infinity, people panic. Sometimes they don’t buy anything. Sometimes they buy the cheapest one of whatever they’re shopping for. Faced with an infinite number of choices, many people pick the market leader.

• The number of job seekers is approaching infinity. So is the number of professional services firms, lawyers, manicure shops, coffee bars, and brands of soap. Better to be the best.

• People settle. They settle for less than they are capable of. Organizations settle too. For good enough instead of best in the world.

• If you’re not going to put in the effort to be my best possible choice, why bother?

Is “Well, no one better showed up” a valid strategy for success? Are you hoping to become a success because you’re the only one being considered?

• The reason that big companies almost always fail when they try to enter new markets is their willingness to compromise. They figure that because they are big and powerful, they can settle, do less, stop improving something before it is truly remarkable.

They compromise to avoid offending other divisions or to minimize their exposure. So they fail. They fail because they don’t know when to quit and when to refuse to settle.

• Just about everything you learned in school about life is wrong, but the wrongest thing might very well be this: Being well rounded is the secret to success.

• How often do you look for someone who is actually quite good at the things you don’t need her to do? How often do you hope that your accountant is a safe driver and a decent golfer?

• In a free market, we reward the exceptional. In school, we tell kids that once something gets too hard, move on and focus on the next thing.

The low-hanging fruit is there to be taken; no sense wasting time climbing the tree.

• From a test-taking book: “Skim through the questions and answer the easiest ones first, skipping ones you don’t know immediately.” Bad advice. Superstars can’t skip the ones they don’t know. In fact, the people who are the best in the world specialize at getting really good at the questions they don’t know. The people who skip the hard questions are in the majority, but they are not in demand.

• Many organizations make sure they’ve dotted all their i’s—they have customer service, a receptionist, a convenient location, a brochure, and on and on—and all of it is mediocre. More often than not, prospects choose someone else—their competition. Those competitors can’t perform in some areas, but they’re exceptional in the ones that matter.

• Most people will tell you that you need to persevere—to try harder, put in more hours, get more training, and work hard. “Don’t quit!” they implore. But if all you need to do to succeed is not quit, then why do organizations less motivated than yours succeed? Why do individuals less talented than you win?

• Strategic quitting is the secret of successful organizations. Reactive quitting and serial quitting are the bane of those that strive (and fail) to get what they want. And most people do just that. They quit when it’s painful and stick when they can’t be bothered to quit.

• There are two curves that define almost any type of situation facing you as you try to accomplish something. (A couple of minor curves cover the rest.) Understanding the different types of situations that lead you to quit—or that should cause you to quit—is the first step toward getting what you want.

Curve 1: The Dip

• Almost everything in life worth doing is controlled by the Dip.

• The Dip is the long slog between starting and mastery. A long slog that’s actually a shortcut, because it gets you where you want to go faster than any other path.

• The Dip is the combination of bureaucracy and busywork you must deal with in order to get certified in scuba diving.

• The Dip is the long stretch between beginner’s luck and real accomplishment.

• Successful people don’t just ride out the Dip. They don’t just buckle down and survive it. No, they lean into the Dip. They push harder, changing the rules as they go.

Just because you know you’re in the Dip doesn’t mean you have to live happily with it. Dips don’t last quite as long when you whittle at them.

Curve 2: The Cul-De-Sac

• The Cul-de-Sac (French for “dead end”) is a situation where you work and you work and you work and nothing much changes. It doesn’t get a lot better, it doesn’t get a lot worse. It just is. That’s why they call those jobs dead-end jobs.

• There’s not a lot to say about the Cul-de-Sac except to realize that it exists and to embrace the fact that when you find one, you need to get off it, fast. That’s because a dead end is keeping you from doing something else.

The opportunity cost of investing your life in something that’s not going to get better is just too high.

• Two big curves (a bonus, the Cliff, follows). Stick with the Dips that are likely to pan out, and quit the Cul-de-Sacs to focus your resources. That’s it.

Curve 3: The Cliff (Rare But Scary)

• The Cliff is a situation where you can’t quit until you fall off, and the whole thing falls apart (e.g.smoking).

• The thing is, a profession in selling isn’t like smoking cigarettes. Neither is making it as a singer or building a long-term relationship with someone you care about.

Most of the time, the other two curves are in force. The Dip and the Cul-de-Sac aren’t linear. They don’t spoon feed you with little bits of improvement every day. And they’re just waiting to trip you up.

• The Dip creates scarcity; scarcity creates value.

• The Cul-de-Sac and the Cliff are the curves that lead to failure. If you find yourself facing either of these two curves, you need to quit. Not soon, but right now. The biggest obstacle to success in life, as far as I can tell, is our inability to quit these curves soon enough.

Seth Godin, the Dip, the Cliff, and the Cul-De-Sac.

• When it comes right down to it, right down to the hard decisions, are you quitting any project that isn’t a Dip? Or is it just easier not to rock the boat, to hang in there, to avoid the short-term hassle of changing paths?

What’s the point of sticking it out if you’re not going to get the benefits of being the best in the world? Are you overinvesting (really significantly overinvesting) time and money so that you have a much greater chance of dominating a market? And if you don’t have enough time and money, do you have the guts to pick a different, smaller market to conquer?

Once you’re doing those things, then you get it.

• If you haven’t already realized it, the Dip is the secret to your success. The people who set out to make it through the Dip—the people who invest the time and the energy and the effort to power through the Dip—those are the ones who become the best in the world. They are breaking the system because, instead of moving on to the next thing, instead of doing slightly above average and settling for what they’ve got, they embrace the challenge.

• The brave thing to do is to tough it out and end up on the other side—getting all the benefits that come from scarcity. The mature thing is not even to bother starting to snowboard because you’re probably not going to make it through the Dip. And the stupid thing to do is to start, give it your best shot, waste a lot of time and money, and quit right in the middle of the Dip.

• A few people will choose to do the brave thing and end up the best in the world. Informed people will probably choose to do the mature thing and save their resources for a project they’re truly passionate about. Both are fine choices. It’s the last choice, the common choice, the choice to give it a shot and then quit that you must avoid if you want to succeed.

• In a competitive world, adversity is your ally. The harder it gets, the better chance you have of insulating yourself from the competition. If that adversity also causes you to quit, though, it’s all for nothing.

• The fact that it’s difficult and unpredictable works to your advantage. Because if it were any other way, there’d be no profit in it. The reason people bother to go windsurfing is that the challenge makes it interesting. The driving force that gets people to pay a specialist is that their disease is unpredictable or hard to diagnose. The reason we’re here is to solve the hard problems.

• The next time you’re tempted to vilify a particularly obnoxious customer or agency or search engine, realize that this failed interaction is the best thing that’s happened to you all day long. Without it, you’d be easily replaceable. The Dip is your very best friend.

• When faced with the Dip, many individuals and organizations diversify. If you can’t get to the next level, the thinking goes, invest your energy in learning to do something else.

• Hardworking, motivated people find diversification a natural outlet for their energy and drive. Diversification feels like the right thing to do. Enter a new market, apply for a job in a new area, start a new sport. Who knows? This might just be the one.

And yet the real success goes to those who obsess. The focus that leads you through the Dip to the other side is rewarded by a marketplace in search of the best in the world.

• A woodpecker can tap twenty times on a thousand trees and get nowhere, but stay busy. Or he can tap twenty-thousand times on one tree and get dinner.

Before you enter a new market, consider what would happen if you managed to get through the Dip and win in the market you’re already in.

• It’s easier to be mediocre than it is to confront reality and quit.

Quitting is difficult. Quitting requires you to acknowledge that you’re never going to be #1 in the world. At least not at this. So it’s easier just to put it off, not admit it, settle for mediocre.

• I’m angry at all the people who have wasted time and money trying to get through a Dip that they should have realized was too big and too deep to get through with the resources they had available.

• It’s human nature to quit when it hurts. But it’s that reflex that creates scarcity.

• If you can’t make it through the Dip, don’t start. If you can embrace that simple rule, you’ll be a lot choosier about which journeys you start.

• If you want to be a superstar, then you need to find a field with a steep Dip—a barrier between those who try and those who succeed. And you’ve got to get through that Dip to the other side. This isn’t for everyone. If it were, there’d be no superstars. If you choose this path, it’s because you realize that there’s a Dip, and you believe you can get through it.

• The Dip is actually your greatest ally because it makes the project worthwhile (and keeps others from competing with you).

• Not only do you need to find a Dip that you can conquer but you also need to quit all the Cul-de-Sacs that you’re currently idling your way through. You must quit the projects and investments and endeavors that don’t offer you the same opportunity. It’s difficult, but it’s vitally important.

• Being better than 98 percent of the competition used to be fine. In the world of Google, though, it’s useless. It’s useless because all of your competition is just a click away, whatever it is you do. The only position you can count on now is best in the world.

• Seven Reasons You Might Fail to Become the Best in the World:

  1. You run out of time (and quit).
  2. You run out of money (and quit).
  3. You get scared (and quit).
  4. You’re not serious about it (and quit).
  5. You lose interest or enthusiasm or settle for being mediocre (and quit).
  6. You focus on the short term instead of the long (and quit when the short term gets too hard).
  7. You pick the wrong thing at which to be the best in the world (because you don’t have the talent).

By “you” I mean your team, your company, or just plain you, the job seeker, the employee, or the entrepreneur. The important thing to remember about these seven things is that you can plan for them. You can know before you start whether or not you have the resources and the will to get to the end.

Most of the time, if you fail to become the best in the world, it’s either because you planned wrong or because you gave up before you reached your goal.

• Whatever you do for a living, or for fun, it’s probably somehow based on a system that’s based on quitting. Quitting creates scarcity; scarcity creates value.

Eight Dip Curves

• Here are a bunch of systems that are dependent on Dips. These Dips are in places where organizations and individuals are most likely to give up.

If you see these Dips coming, you’re more likely to make a choice. You can choose (in advance) to do whatever you need to do in order to get through the Dip, knowing it’s going to be difficult; or you can give up before you get there.

Quitting in the Dip, though, isn’t worth the journey.

  1. Manufacturing Dip: It’s easy and fun to start building something in your garage. It’s difficult and expensive to buy an injection mold, design an integrated circuit, or ramp up for large-scale production. The time and effort and cost of ramping up your operation create the Dip. The Dip keeps the supply of stuff down and insulates those brave enough to invest in scaling up their production.
  2. Sales Dip: Most ideas get their start when one person—you—starts selling them. Selling the idea to stores or to businesses or to consumers or even to voters. But the Dip hits when you need to upgrade to a professional sales force and scale it up. In almost every field, the competitor that’s first with a big, aggressive sales force has a huge advantage.
  3. Education Dip: A career gets started as soon as you leave school. But the Dip often hits when it’s time to go learn something new, to reinvent or rebuild your skills. A doctor who sacrifices a year of her life for a specialty reaps the rewards for decades afterward.
  4. Risk Dip: Bootstrappers learn the hard way that at some point they can’t pay for it all themselves, especially out of current income. It takes a risk to rent a bigger space or invest in new techniques. Successful entrepreneurs understand the difference between investing to get through the Dip (a smart move) or investing in something that’s actually a risky crapshoot.
  5. Relationship Dip: There are people and organizations that can help you later but only if you invest the time and effort to work with them now, even though now is not necessarily the easy time for you to do it. That kid who started in the mail room—who was always eager to do an errand for you or stay late to help out—she’s now the CEO. The relationships she built when it was difficult to do so paid off later. Those shortsighted people who are always eager for a favor or a break never manage to get through the relationship Dip, because they didn’t invest in relationships back when it was difficult (but not urgent).
  6. Conceptual Dip: You got this far operating under one set of assumptions. Abandoning those assumptions and embracing a new, bigger set may be exactly what you need to do to get to the next level.
  7. Ego Dip: When it’s all about you, it’s easier. Giving up control and leaning into the organization gives you leverage. Most people can’t do this; they can’t give up control or the spotlight. They get stuck in that Dip.
  8. Distribution Dip: Some retailers (local strip malls, the Web) make it easy for your product to get distribution, while others (Target) require an investment from your organization that may just pay off. Getting your product into Wal-Mart is far more likely to lead to huge sales than is putting it on the Web. Why? Scarcity. Everyone is on the Web, but getting into Wal-Mart is hard.

• It’s pretty easy to determine whether something is a Cul-de-Sac or a Dip. The hard part is finding the guts to do something about it. Optimistic entrepreneurs and employees who blithely wander into a serious business, totally out-gunned and unprepared to work their way through the Dip ahead, are in danger of building a space shuttle.

• There’s nothing wrong with optimism. The pain (and the waste) comes when the optimists have to make hard choices when they get stuck in the Dip.

• The space shuttle is a Cul-de-Sac, not a Dip. When pundits argue in favor of the shuttle, they don’t say, “We should keep doing this because it’s going to get safer/cheaper/more productive over time.”

The only reason the shuttle still exists is that no one has the guts to cancel it. There’s no reason to keep investing in something that is not going to get better.

• If we canceled the shuttle, we’d create an urgent need for a replacement. The lack of a way to get to space would force us to invent a new, better, cheaper alternative.

• The goal of any competitor: to create a Dip so long and so deep that the nascent competition can’t catch up.

• Make it through the competition’s barriers and you get to be king for a while.

• Focus on quitting (or not quitting) as a go-up opportunity. It’s not about avoiding the humiliation of failure. Even more important, you can realize that quitting the stuff you don’t care about or the stuff you’re mediocre at or better yet quitting the Cul-de-Sacs frees up your resources to obsess about the Dips that matter.

• If you’re going to quit, quit before you start. Reject the system. Don’t play the game if you realize you can’t be the best in the world.

• Quitting at the right time is difficult. Most of us don’t have the guts to quit. Worse, when faced with the Dip, sometimes we don’t quit. Instead, we get mediocre.

• The most common response to the Dip is to play it safe. To do ordinary work, blameless work, work that’s beyond reproach. When faced with the Dip, most people suck it up and try to average their way to success. Which is precisely why so few people end up as the best in the world.

• To be a superstar, you must do something exceptional. Not just survive the Dip, but use the Dip as an opportunity to create something so extraordinary that people can’t help but talk about it, recommend it, and, yes, choose it.

• The next time you catch yourself being average when you feel like quitting, realize that you have only two good choices: Quit or be exceptional. Average is for losers.

• Isn’t your time and your effort and your career and your reputation too valuable to squander on just being average? Average feels safe, but it’s not. It’s invisible. It’s the last choice—the path of least resistance. The temptation to be average is just another kind of quitting… the kind to be avoided.

• While starting up is thrilling, it’s not until you get through the Dip that your efforts pay off. Countless entrepreneurs have perfected the starting part, but give up long before they finish paying their dues.

The sad news is that when you start over, you get very little credit for how long you stood in line with your last great venture.

• Selling is about a transference of emotion, not a presentation of facts. If it were just a presentation of facts, then a PDF flyer or a Web site would be sufficient to make the phone ring.

• Prospects (that’s you if you’ve ever been sold something) are experts at sensing what’s on the salesperson’s mind. People have honed their salesperson radar—we’re really good at detecting sincerity (or the lack of it).

If a salesperson’s attitude is “Hey, if this person doesn’t buy, there’s someone right down the street I can call on,” what’s projected is “Hey, I’m not that serious about you having this product.” On the other hand, if a salesperson is there for the long run, committed to making a sale because it benefits the other person, that signal is sent loud and clear.

• Please understand this: If you’re not able to get through the Dip in an exceptional way, you must quit. And quit right now. Because if your order book is 80 percent filled with prospects where you just sort of show up, you’re not only wasting your time, you’re also stealing your energy from the 20 percent of the calls where you have a chance to create a breakthrough.

• Once again, getting through the Dip is a valid strategy. It isn’t a good strategy because successful salespeople are annoying—no, sticking through the Dip is a great strategy because it changes the entire dynamic of the salesperson’s day. It is not a moral choice. It’s a strategic one. “I’m getting through this Dip with you because it’s important to both of us” is the very best signal to send.

• Most consumers could care less about your idea or those fancy high-heeled shoes or some cutting-edge type of glue. Instead, they wait. They wait for something to be standardized, tested, inexpensive, and ready for prime time. Hence the Dip of market acceptance.

• The marketers who get rewarded are the ones who don’t quit. They hunker down through the Dip and galvanize and insulate and perfect their product while others keep looking for yet another quick hit.

• While one publisher runs from author to author looking for an instant best seller, another nurtures Dr. Seuss or Stephen King as he slowly builds an audience. While one nonprofit runs from grant maker to grant maker seeking funds for this project or that one, a successful nonprofit sticks with a consistent theme, showing up, paying its dues, focusing on just a few foundations until the money comes through.

• Job seekers face the Dip because human resources departments support it. HR doesn’t show up at your door and offer you a job. They set hurdles (like submitting a résumé or wearing a suit or flying to Cleveland) as a way of screening out the folks who aren’t actually serious about a job.

• Only a tiny portion of the audience is looking for the brand-new thing. Most people are waiting for the tested, the authenticated, and the proven.

• Yes, you should (you must) quit a product or a feature or a design—you need to do it regularly if you’re going to grow and have the resources to invest in the right businesses. But no, you mustn’t quit a market or a strategy or a niche. The businesses we think of as overnight successes weren’t. We just didn’t notice them until they were well baked.

• Don’t fall in love with a tactic and defend it forever. Instead, decide once and for all whether you’re in a market or not. And if you are, get through that Dip.

• The market wants to see you persist. It demands a signal from you that you’re serious, powerful, accepted, and safe. The bulk of the market, any market, is made up of those folks in the middle of the bell curve, the ones who want to buy something proven and valued.

• Following a product all the way through the Dip works because you’re reaching an ever larger part of the market. If your product isn’t working, if your service isn’t catching on, if you’re not even appealing to the crazy geeks who like the new stuff, you mustn’t persist with a tactic just because you feel stuck with it.

Your strategy—to be a trusted source in your chosen market—can survive even if your product is canceled.

• The opposite of quitting isn’t “waiting around”. No, the opposite of quitting is rededication. The opposite of quitting is an invigorated new strategy designed to break the problem apart.

• The Dip is flexible. It responds to the effort you put into it. In fact, it’s quite likely (in almost every case) that aggressive action on your part can make the Dip a lot worse. Or a lot better.

• When people quit, they are often focused on the short-term benefits. In other words, “If it hurts; stop!”

• Short-term pain has more impact on most people than long-term benefits do, which is why it’s so important for you to amplify the long-term benefits of not quitting. You need to remind yourself of life at the other end of the Dip because it’s easier to overcome the pain of yet another unsuccessful cold call if the reality of a successful sales career is more concrete.

• It’s easier to stick out a lousy class in college if you can picture graduation day. Even more vivid is the power of keeping score. If you can track your Alexa rank online or your class rank or your market share or your spot in the sales-team pecking order, working your way up to number one is daily feedback that helps you deal with the short-term hassles.

• Persistent people are able to visualize the idea of light at the end of the tunnel when others can’t see it. At the same time, the smartest people are realistic about not imagining light when there isn’t any.

• It’s okay to quit, sometimes. In fact, it’s okay to quit often. You should quit if you’re on a dead-end path. You should quit if you’re facing a Cliff. You should quit if the project you’re working on has a Dip that isn’t worth the reward at the end.

Quitting the projects that don’t go anywhere is essential if you want to stick out the right ones. You don’t have the time or the passion or the resources to be the best in the world at both.

• Our parents and grandparents believed you should stay at a job for five years, ten years, or even your whole life. But in a world where companies come and go—where they grow from nothing to the Fortune 500 and then disappear, all in a few years—that’s just not possible.

• The time to look for a new job is when you don’t need one. The time to switch jobs is before it feels comfortable. Go. Switch. Challenge yourself; get yourself a raise and a promotion. You owe it to your career and your skills.

• If your job is a Cul-de-Sac, you have to quit or accept the fact that your career is over.

• Strategic quitting is a conscious decision you make based on the choices that are available to you.

If you realize you’re at a dead end compared with what you could be investing in, quitting is not only a reasonable choice, it’s a smart one. Failing, on the other hand, means that your dream is over.

Failing happens when you give up, when there are no other options, or when you quit so often that you’ve used up all your time and resources.

• Pride is the enemy of a smart quitter. Richard Nixon sacrificed tens of thousands of innocent lives (on both sides) when he refused to quit the Vietnam war.

The only reason he didn’t quit sooner: pride.

The very same pride that keeps someone in the same career years after it has become unattractive and no fun. The very same pride that keeps a restaurant open long after it’s clear that business is just not going to pick up.

• If you’re thinking about quitting (or not quitting), then you’ve succeeded. Realizing that quitting is worth your focus and consideration is the first step to becoming the best in the world. The next step is to ask three questions:

  1. Am I panicking?
  2. Who am I trying to influence?
  3. What sort of measurable progress am I making?

Question 1: Am I panicking?

• Quitting when you’re panicked is dangerous and expensive. The best quitters, as we’ve seen, are the ones who decide in advance when they’re going to quit. You can always quit later—so wait until you’re done panicking to decide.

• When the pressure is greatest to compromise, to drop out, or to settle, your desire to quit should be at its lowest. The decision to quit is often made in the moment. But that’s exactly the wrong time to make such a critical decision. The reason so many of us quit in the Dip is that without a compass or a plan, the easiest thing to do is to give up. While that might be the easiest path, it’s also the least successful one.

Question 2: Who am I trying to influence?

• Are you trying to succeed in a market? Get a job? Train a muscle?

If you’re considering quitting, it’s almost certainly because you’re not being successful at your current attempt at influence. If you have called on a prospect a dozen times without success, you’re frustrated and considering giving up. If you’ve got a boss who just won’t let up, you’re considering quitting your job. And if you’re a marketer with a product that doesn’t seem to be catching on, you’re wondering if you should abandon this product and try another.

If you’re trying to influence just one person, persistence has its limits. It’s easy to cross the line between demonstrating your commitment and being a pest. If you haven’t influenced him yet, it may very well be time to quit.

One person or organization will behave differently than a market of people will. One person has a particular agenda and a single worldview. One person will make up his mind and if you’re going to succeed, you’ll have to change it. And changing someone’s mind is difficult, if not impossible.

If you’re trying to influence a market, though, the rules are different. Sure, some of the people in a market have considered you (and even rejected you). But most of the people in the market have never even heard of you. The market doesn’t have just one mind. Different people in the market are seeking different things.

Influencing one person is like scaling a wall. If you get over the wall the first few tries, you’re in. If you don’t, often you’ll find that the wall gets higher with each attempt.

Influencing a market, on the other hand, is more of a hill than a wall. You can make progress, one step at a time, and as you get higher, it actually gets easier. People in the market talk to each other. They are influenced by each other. So every step of progress you make actually gets amplified.

Question 3: What sort of measurable progress am I making?

• If you’re trying to succeed in a job or a relationship or at a task, you’re either moving forward, falling behind, or standing still. There are only three choices.

To succeed, to get to that light at the end of the tunnel, you’ve got to make some sort of forward progress, no matter how small. Too often, we get stuck in a situation where quitting seems too painful, so we just stay with it, choosing not to quit because it’s easier than quitting. That choice—to stick with it in the absence of forward progress—is a waste. It’s a waste because of the opportunity cost—you could be doing something far better, and far more pleasurable, with your time.

• Measurable progress doesn’t have to be a raise or a promotion. It can be more subtle than that, but it needs to be more than a mantra, more than just “surviving is succeeding.” The challenge, then, is to surface new milestones in areas where you have previously expected to find none.

If you’ve got a small business and you are keeping a few customers happy, it’s fine to keep on keeping on because, over time, those customers can get you new customers. You can measure your progress by referrals and sales growth. Your consistency and market presence, all by themselves, are enough to justify your efforts (sometimes). If, on the other hand, your business doesn’t generate word of mouth, doesn’t see new customers, and isn’t moving forward, why exactly are you sticking with it?

When you are trying to influence an entire market, the value of not quitting is quite high. Yes, you should probably be eager to quit a marketing tactic that isn’t paying for itself or even a particular product feature that isn’t appealing to your target audience. But your commitment to the market needs to be unquestioned—it’s much cheaper and easier to build your foundation in one market than to flit from one to another until you find a quick success.

Let’s slow down and think that through for a second. Quitting a job is not quitting your quest to make a living or a difference or an impact. Quitting a job doesn’t have to mean giving up. A job is just a tactic, a way to get to what you really want. As soon as your job hits a dead end, it makes sense to quit and take your quest to a bigger marketplace—because every day you wait puts your goal further away.

The same is true for an organization. You don’t define yourself by the tactics you use. Instead, your organization succeeds or fails in its efforts to reach its big goals. And the moment your tactics are no longer part of winning the Dip—the moment they are in a Cul-de-Sac—you are obligated to switch tactics at the same time you most definitely keep aiming for the bigger goal.

• The seduction of not quitting—and the source of all those stories about sticking it out—almost always comes from people moving through a market. When you hear about an author who got turned down thirty times before signing with a publisher or of an overnight sensation who paid her dues for a decade in coffee shops, you’re seeing how persistence pays off across a market.

On the other hand, when was the last time you heard about someone who stuck with a dead-end job or a dead-end relationship or a dead-end sales prospect until suddenly, one day, the person at the other end said, “Wow, I really admire your persistence; let’s change our relationship for the better”? It doesn’t happen.

• Here’s an assignment for you: Write it down. Write down under what circumstances you’re willing to quit. And when. And then stick with it.

• If quitting is going to be a strategic decision that enables you to make smart choices in the marketplace, then you should outline your quitting strategy before the discomfort sets in.

Just as a smart venture capitalist pressures the board of directors to have a plan in case they run out of money, every individual and every organization that wants to use quitting as a competitive tool ought to have a plan about when it’s time to quit.

• If quitting in the face of the Dip is a bad idea, then quitting when you’re facing a Cul-de-Sac is a great idea. The hard part is having the perspective to see this when you’re in pain, or frustrated, or stuck. That’s why setting your limits before you start is so powerful.

• If you enter a market that’s too big or too loud for the amount of resources you have available, your message is going to get lost. Your marketing disappears, your message fails to spread.

Think twice before launching a mass-market brand of chewing gum. Like adding just a few pounds of air to a flat tire, launching a product into too big of a market has little effect. You can’t create pressure and you never reach the Dip.

• Since few Americans have a Senseo, few talk about it. Few stores promote the pods. The word doesn’t spread and Senseo can’t reach critical mass—there are too many places for the message to go and not enough resources to get it there.

• Figure out how much pressure you’ve got available, then pick your tire. Not too big, not too small.

• You and your organization have the power to change everything. To create remarkable products and services. To over deliver. To be the best in the world. How dare you squander that resource by spreading it too thin. How dare you settle for mediocre just because you’re busy coping with too many things on your agenda, racing against the clock to get it all done.

• The lesson is simple: If you’ve got as much as you’ve got, use it. Use it to become the best in the world, to change the game, to set the agenda for everyone else. You can only do that by marshaling all of your resources to get through the biggest possible Dip. In order to get through that Dip, you’ll need to quit everything else. If it’s not going to put a dent in the world, quit. Right now. Quit and use that void to find the energy to assault the Dip that matters.

  • Is this a Dip, a Cliff, or a Cul-de-Sac?
  • If it’s a Cul-de-Sac, how can I change it into a Dip?
  • Is my persistence going to pay off in the long run?
  • Am I engaged with just one person (or organization), or do my actions in this situation spill over into the entire marketplace?
  • When should I quit? I need to decide now, not when I’m in the middle of it, and not when part of me is begging to quit.
  • If I quit this task, will it increase my ability to get through the Dip on something more important?
  • If I’m going to quit anyway, is there something dramatic I can do instead that might change the game?
  • Should I really be calling on IBM? Should I really be trying to get on Oprah?
  • What chance does this project have to be the best in the world?
  • Who decides what best is?
  • Can we make the world smaller?
  • Does it make sense to submit a résumé to every single ad on Craigslist, just to see what happens?
  • If I like my job, is it time to quit?
  • Is doing nothing better than planning on quitting and then doing something great?
  • Are you avoiding the remarkable as a way of quitting without quitting?

• It’s almost impossible to overinvest in becoming the market leader.

• All our successes are the same. All our failures, too. We succeed when we do something remarkable. We fail when we give up too soon. We succeed when we are the best in the world at what we do. We fail when we get distracted by tasks we don’t have the guts to quit.


If you’ve enjoyed this summary of The Dip by Seth Godin, and you would like to get the full book, please do so using my link. You’ll help me out without spending an extra penny: Print, eBook, Audiobook

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Content Marketing Mastery by DigitalMarketer

DigitalMarketer Content Marketing Mastery Certification.

Course Review:

Content Marketing Mastery by DigitalMarketer walks you through the entire process of content research, creation, and publishing—even hiring other content creators.

Presented by Russ Henneberry, the editorial director for DigitalMarketer, the course discusses what you would expect a content marketing course to discuss; one difference though is that it outlines a detailed plan of all the goals, content types, and metrics for each stage of the funnel, which makes the job of the content marketer much simpler. Russ also illustrates everything with a ton of diverse examples from DigitalMarketer and other companies.

I especially liked the list of the 212 blog post ideas and the editorial calendar—extremely useful if you’re a full-time content marketer. Overall, the course really covered a lot of ground. If you’re thinking about doing content marketing, this course might be all that you need.

Course Notes:

The following notes from Content Marketing Mastery by DigitalMarketer are meant to be concise, reminding me of high-level concepts and not trying to recreate the whole course. This summary is basically a bunch of notes and lessons paraphrased or quoted directly from the course and does not contain my own thoughts.

Module 1. Creating Your Customer Avatar

• Content marketing is the intersection of advertising and publishing. Traditionally—although, this model is still used—people create content, that content will develop an audience, and then around that content—if there’s an audience—advertising will be placed. Content is monetized through advertising. However, in the last 10 years or so, content and advertising have started to blend.

• You want to own the content and the products and services that are advertised. This has only become possible over the last 10-15 years for the average business owner because of the internet and technology. You need to start to think and run your company like a media company; this is the only way to survive.

• You not only need to produce content, but you also have to make it great content if you want a chance at building an audience. When you create an audience, you create the ability to advertise. Copyblogger is a software company, but it was built on the back of a blog—they created the audience and then started to advertise their software around the outside of their content to that audience. McDonald’s started to use content in order to guide the conversation around their brand—a lot of people blame them for the obesity problem in America.

• Media is anything that aggregates the attention of a definable market segment into a specific location at a predictable time. Harley-Davidson, for example, is media because they can turn the attention of their market to anything they would like to sell.

• Create avatars and give each avatar a descriptive name to identify it, and include their demographic information.

• You want to find what your avatar is interested in and wants from a content perspective—their goals and values.

You also want to add the places that they go to in order to get information because it’ll come really handy when you’re doing things like advertising. This is particularly important in B2B environments.

Challenges and pain points are big. This is helpful when you want to create content, as well as, creating offers.

Lastly, you want to know what their objections are and what their role in the purchasing process is. What would be their reason for not buying from you? And what is their role in the purchase process—are they just a decision influencer or do they actually make the decision to buy?

• If you google the word “funnel”, you’ll find many funnel models; some of them have 5 stages, some have 10, some have more. We’ll talk about just three stages that you need to move people through—with your content—in order to create a new customer:

  1. Awareness: This is where the person may or may not be even aware of a problem they have, and you need to make them aware of that. Or they aren’t aware of your solution, so you need to make them solution aware.
  2. Evaluation: People who go down into the evaluation stage are starting to look at the different solution available including the solution of “I’m not going to do anything about this!”, which is actually chosen quite often. But other things they can choose are your competitors or completely different solutions that you don’t even offer.
  3. Conversion: This is where you get a new customer, and this stage requires its own set of content where you’re going to move people from kicking tires into conversion.

Module 2. Top of Funnel Content

TOFU Goals

• At the top of the funnel, we’re using content to raise awareness. You’ll be talking to very cold prospects that may not be aware that they have a problem, they may not be aware of your brand, and certainly, they’re not aware of the solution that you have. This how your company can widen the net at the top of the funnel and bring in more cold prospects, and then warm them up through content as they move to the middle of the funnel and the bottom of the funnel.

• The following are the type of goals that can be met at the top of the funnel. This is not an exhaustive list; there might be other goals that for your particular business, could fit into a top of funnel goal:

  • Increase Offer Awareness: If you’ve ever said: “I have this great product/service; if people just could hear about it…”, then you need top of funnel offer awareness. By increasing offer awareness, we’re talking about people becoming more aware of the things that you sell. This is when people start Googling the name of your product or service. You’ll also see an increase in the number of new visits that come to your site.
  • Grow Retargeting Lists: Actually, at all the stages of the content lifecycle, we’ll be looking to grow retargeting lists. You need to have your own semi-owned media.
  • Increase Engagement: If you or your clients complain about people not re-tweeting, not sharing your stuff, not staying on the website long enough, or not visiting more pages per session, then this is where you want to look. If you’re creating great content, then you should see more social shares, more people commenting, lower bounce rates, higher page views per session, etc. but don’t at these “vanity metrics” when it comes to your content strategy. Vanity metrics are easily manipulated—if you ever decide to hire an agency, you need to be really careful—and do not necessarily correlate to the numbers that really matter.
  • Grow Website Traffic: If you want more traffic to a site, then you’re at the top of the funnel. However, traffic is also a type of vanity metric.
TOFU Content Types

• Top of funnel content types include:

  • Blogs
  • Social media updates
  • Infographics
  • Photographs
  • Digital magazines/books
  • Audio podcasts
  • Video/Video podcasts
  • Microsites
  • Print magazine/newsletter
  • Primary research
TOFU Metrics

• You need metrics to measure whether the top of funnel content is doing its job of raising awareness of your solutions or of the problems that your potential customer have.

• Top of funnel metrics include:

  • Offer Awareness: How many people are becoming aware of your offers?
  • Retargeting List Growth: Is your retargeting list growing or not?
  • Site Engagement Rates
  • # of Inbound Links
  • Traffic by Channel
TOFU Content Plan

• If you’re responsible for TOFU, you’ll be moving people from awareness to evaluation. You should tick the first box in the plan. Next, you need to choose your goal(s). After that, you’ll decide on the content types you want to use and the technology. The last thing is looking at the metrics you’ll need to measure at the top of the funnel.

Module 3. Middle of Funnel Content

MOFU Goals

• The middle of the funnel is the evaluation stage for your prospects and even existing customers who looking into migrating into different product lines or up-sells. Your content strategy should naturally change at this stage in order to push people from the middle down into the bottom of the funnel where they’ll convert. The ultimate goal in this phase is acquiring people’s contact information so you can follow up with them.

• The following are the type of goals that can be met at the middle of the funnel. This is not an exhaustive list; there might be other goals that for your particular business, could fit into a middle of funnel goal:

  • Email list / Lead Growth
  • Grow Retargeting Lists: This will be done differently at this stage.
  • Initial Customer Acquisition: A lot of funnels talk about how conversion happens only at the bottom of the funnel; however, at DigitalMarketer, they use a system that allows them to compress the time that people take when they go from awareness to evaluation to initial conversion.
MOFU Content Types

• Your content types have to change because your goals have changed. In order to get leads, you need a lead magnet.

• A lead is an irresistible bribe that gives a specific chunk of value to a prospect in exchange for their contact information.

• Middle of funnel content types include:

  • Educational resources
  • Useful resources
  • Software downloads: This is when they’re still evaluating. So you can offer them a free trial for 14 days, for example. This offer gets them to give you their contact information so you can follow up.
  • Discounts / Coupon club: You see people in the e-commerce or retail space offering promo codes in exchange for contact information. Secret sales is another one.
  • Quizzes / Surveys
  • Webinars / Events
MOFU Metrics

• We want to know if our MOFU is producing news leads and customers and growing our retargeting lists. Middle of funnel metrics include:

  • # of Leads / Email List Growth
  • Offer Conversion Rate: This is where you measure the rate of eyeballs who opt-in for your lead magnet or tripwire.
  • Retargeting List Growth: We want to retarget the people who visited the squeeze page but not the tripwire page—they didn’t opt-in for the lead magnet.
  • Newsletter Email Open / Click-Through Rate
MOFU Content Plan

• This works the same way the TOFU content plan works. Again, you may want to put your own goals—in the Goals section—that meet your organization’s needs.

Module 4. Content Marketing Metrics

BOFU Goals

• BOFU is the conversion stage. This is where we acquire customers, and customers are making higher-dollar purchases from us. We’ve come a long way from the top of the funnel where someone wasn’t even aware of our company and solutions, and may not even have been aware of their problem, so we used content up at the top of the funnel—blogs, social media, infographics, and so on—to educate the market and move them beyond the awareness stage into evaluating solutions that are available, including your competitors and the choice to do nothing about their problem.

Those that get down to the bottom of the funnel are the folks that are considering your flagship products and high-ticket stuff. At this stage, you need to think about how you’re going to take these people that you’ve been nurturing all the way through this funnel and convert them into higher-ticket sales.

• The following are the type of goals that can be met at the bottom of the funnel. Again, this is not an exhaustive list; there might be other goals that for your particular business, could fit into a bottom of funnel goal:

  • Lead / Customer Nurture
  • Grow Retargeting Lists: In this case, we’re looking for people that are visiting our high-ticket sales pages but are not buying.
  • Maximize Immediate Customer Value: You want to think about other offers you can make to increase customer value. If you’ve converted people from the top of the funnel into the middle of the funnel using a lead magnet, then converting them into clients, you want to convert them into higher-ticket products and services. You do this using content.
  • Increase Retention: This for companies that are doing anything that is more than a one-time purchase—subscription businesses, etc.
  • Increase buyer frequency
BOFU Content Types

• Top of funnel content types—to help you convert people into high-ticket buyers, multi-buyers, cross-sell buyers, and up-sell buyers, etc.—include:

  • Demos / Free trial
  • Customer stories: At the bottom of the funnel, people are aware, and they’re almost done evaluating. All you need now is that extra piece of content—a demo, free trial, or a relevant customer story can do wonders.
  • Comparison / Spec sheet
  • Webinars / Events: We used webinars and events in the middle of the funnel to gather leads; now, we’ll use them to convert those leads. The content of these will change from being educational to being a hybrid of education and a pitch.
  • Mini-class: A mini-class is a type of event that you can set up and teach someone about a particular topic Again, this is a hybrid of education and pitching for your high-dollar offers.
BOFU Metrics

• Bottom of funnel metrics include—again, you can add anything you want to this list that makes sense for your company:

  • # of Sales Qualified Leads
  • Offer Conversion Rate
  • Promo Email Open / Click-Through Rate: How many of your promo emails are being opened and clicked? Your promo emails will probably receive lower open and click-through rates than your newsletter emails at the MOFU.
  • Retargeting List Growth: Again, people who visited your sales page but didn’t buy. You might also create audiences out of people that visited your mini-classes or customer story pages or attended your webinar; these are great audiences to build at the BOFU and bring back to your offer sales page.
  • Average Customer Value
  • Retention Rate
  • Buyer Recency / Frequency
MOFU Content Plan

• This works the same way as the other content plans except that you’re now going to put a check mark on the technology that you’re going to use.

Module 5. Blog Marketing

• The content type of blog appears at the top of the funnel as a way to increase offer awareness, grow retargeting lists, increase engagement, and grow website traffic; it absolutely does all of these things. However, the blog is used at all the stages of the funnel. All of the content types, no matter what stage of the funnel they belong to, can live on the blog.

• The blog is such a useful tool throughout the entire content process that there’s almost no business that can’t benefit from having a blog.

• The Editorial Calendar (This about creating the content plan of the blog):

  1. Pick a date to publish your post.
  2. Decide who the creator is going to be.
  3. Choose the post type (there is a drop-down menu in the planner).
  4. Choose the vehicle or the format of the post.
  5. Choose the category of the post (this might help with custom audiences).
  6. Decide on an offer. You want to offer something that’ll move people to the MOFU.
  7. Finally, come up with a headline of your post.

• There probably isn’t a better use of your time as a content marketer than to learn the art of writing and science of writing great headlines. We live in a world of snippets —the social web has turned into a place where all people do is take a little snippet of something and put out there, whether it’s a tweet, Facebook status update, or a quick email. Whatever that snippet is, it needs to compel people to click on it in order to get the rest.

• You should be spending more time coming up with and thinking about headlines. Headlines are the first thing that people see, and if your headline is bad, then it doesn’t matter how great your content is.

• You need to start a headline swipe file. Create a Word document—you can name it Headline Swipe File, for example—and start saving good headlines that you come across in the document for later use.

• There are eight ways to quickly create outstanding viral content. In fact, most of these blog types can be written without you writing anything or writing very little, and they’ll do much better than the stuff you spend hours and hours on.

1. The Embed Reactor: You go and find a really popular video, infographic, article, SlideShare deck, etc. from an expert—you can search YouTube or any of the popular sites—that would be interesting to your audience. You embed that on your blog and react to it.

The reason you want to do this is that the content has already been proven. The content is from an authority figure and it has a ton of views. The person who created the content is usually happy that you’re sharing their stuff. You can use Buzzsumo to find popular stuff.

2. The Stat Roundup: You basically compile a list of stats and link to the source. If you can take some of them and turn them into charts and graphs, it’s even better. People love statistics. This is a great type of post to outsource to an outside writer.

3. The interview: The interview hijacks the authority of other people. While you can’t get authority figures to write blog posts for you, you would be surprised by who you can get to do an interview. Asking for interviews activates people’s egos.

4. The Quote Post: This is another type of post that can be outsourced. You basically compile interesting quotes and voila.

5. The Crowdsourced Post: Ask 3+ experts the same question and aggregate their answers. The nice thing about this type of post is that the people mentioned will actually share the content, and you don’t have to do anything except ask a question. Remember to always be cool and link back to people.

To find experts/authority figures to ask, you can google things like “most influential sales trainers” or “top blogs on selling”. You can also type in a particular keyword like “sales” on Amazon and see which books come on top; reach out to the authors and ask them. Here’s an email template that you can use:

Subj: Quick question

Hi [Name]

I just finished [reading/watching/listening to] your latest [book/article/podcast].


I run a blog called [Name of the Blog] and I’m putting together a post on [topic] and
I’d be honored to get a little blurb from you that I could put in the article.

My audience would absolutely love to get your take on this topic.

I’ve already received a quote for this article from [other influencer] and
I’d be so appreciative if you would participate as well.

Please reply if you are interested and I’ll shoot you the quick question. I only need
a 3 to 5 sentence response and, of course, I’ll link to your [book/blog/podcast].

I promise the whole thing will take less than 5 minutes.

[Your Name]

6. The Compilation: You can go out there and find lots and lots of content and compile it in one single post. Most of the time these will be lists. None of this will be your content; it’s 100% curated content that you summarize and link back to.

7. The YouTube Cut Up: Try to find top performing YouTube videos with millions of views, play the videos, take still screenshots, and then summarize all the steps. This is great for how-to posts. Again, be cool and link to the original video.

8. The Roundup List Post: Find the most viral stuff that works better than anything else and aggregate all together into a giant list post. You can also do the same for your own content.

• You have two things to trade a writer/content creator:

  1. Money
  2. Exposure

• If you have more exposure to trade—you can give people more access to an audience that they want—you can trade in less money. In fact, you can get to a point where you’re not spending any money on content. Most of the bigger blogs on the internet are not paying for articles.

• The best of the best writer out there are only interested in exposure; and since you have to build a large audience first in order to get them to write for you, you’ll have to start out by paying money to less famous writer until you build a large enough audience.

• It’s a good idea to over-invest in your content strategy at the beginning in order to get to the point where you’re not investing any money. Take your time to find the best content creators and pay them even more money than they ask for to create that large audience.

• If you make the mistake of building an average blog at the beginning, you’ll never reach the stage where you have enough of an audience that’ll make people approach you to give you content. And it’s actually more expensive to go that route because you’ll just continue to wallow in the averageness of the content you’re publishing and pay for content forever.

• You need to understand that just because you got someone to write you an article, for example, doesn’t mean that your work is done. When content is not good, you or your team will still have to read it and edit it. If you get low-quality writers, it’ll actually take more time, in aggregate, because you’ll constantly be fixing content pieces, going back to them for revisions, or going out to find other writers.

• You need to understand that your content not only needs to be good, but it also needs to be consumable. It needs to pull people through it so that they consume it and get value from it. The reason for this is that it’s the only way to get them to see your calls to action and move to the next stage of the funnel.

• It’s not necessarily about the volume of content that you create that’s going to dictate the success of your blog and content strategy; it’s more about figuring out what is working and doing more of it—repurposing what is already working.

• The first thing you want to do with content that’s doing well at the TOFU is to turn it into a MOFU offer. Think about how you can turn it into PDF resource, a template, a checklist, etc.

Module 6. Content Distribution

• Content distribution is about getting traffic through your content or putting your content out there on the social web or in other places through email, etc. in order to get exposure to your content.

• Organic traffic is traffic that is not directly paid for. Some people call it free traffic but it’s not really free because it costs you in terms of time and energy.

• It’s extremely critical to build an email list, which is why it’s built into your content strategy. The reason why it’s important is that email is still the most appropriate place for you to make offers and to send more content.

While it is acceptable to send content to places like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, it is less acceptable to make offers through them—unless you’re paying for ads in there.

• You want to make sure that your content is absolutely stellar, that you have your follow-up systems in place, and that you have your retargeting in place before you start investing in paid traffic.


If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read, and you would like to invest in this course, you can do it here (this is not an affiliate link): Content Marketing Mastery by DigitalMarketer

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The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

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The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius Summary

Book Review:

The Meditations: An Emperor’s Guide to Mastery by Marcus Aurelius is one of the three most famous stoicism books—the other two being The Manual by Epictetus (also known as The Enrichidion) and Letters from a Stoic by Seneca.

What differentiates this one from the other two is that this one was written by the most powerful man of his time; Marcus Aurelius was the emperor of Rome. Another thing that distinguishes it is that it is a collection of notes and lessons written by Marcus to himself, so it’s basically a journal.

There are many translations of this great book; this particular edition is a short and contemporary one made by Sam Torode of Ancient Renewal, which some might not like if they prefer classic translations.

Book Summary:

The following summary of The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is meant to be concise, reminding me of high-level concepts and not trying to recreate the whole book. This summary is basically a bunch of notes and lessons paraphrased or quoted directly from the book and does not contain my own thoughts.

• Alexander the Platonist taught me not to complain that I have no free time. Busyness is no excuse for neglecting our duties to family, friends, and community.

• Maximus exemplified self-government, steadiness of purpose, cheerfulness in all circumstances, and working without complaining. Everyone trusted his words as genuine and his intentions as good. He never showed surprise, haste, frustration, anger, or suspicion. He was eager to give and quick to forgive. He also had a wonderful sense of humor, kindhearted rather than caustic.

In Maximus’ presence, no one could feel small or worthless; neither could anyone feel superior.

• Begin each morning by saying to yourself: Today I will meet people who are nosy, ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, and unsocial. They can’t help it—they are ignorant of the difference between good and bad. But I, who know the difference, also know that I share the same human nature with them.

I can’t be angry with my fellow humans. We were made to work together, like pairs of hands, feet, eyelids, or rows of teeth. To hate each other is against the laws of nature.

No one can hurt me but myself, for no one else can make me forsake the good and embrace the bad.

• Don’t die bitterly, regretful of all the things you haven’t yet learned, all the books you haven’t yet read. Die serenely and content, with a heart full of gratitude.

• Don’t worry about what others think. Mind what you think. Watch the movements of your mind, and focus your thoughts on something worthy.

• Sins committed from desire are worse than sins committed from anger. Anger is a temporary lapse from reason, usually in reaction to pain—someone hurts you, so you become angry and strike back. But desire is self-generated and its appetite for pleasure is insatiable.

• Suppose you lived for a thousand years, or ten thousand years; would you have any more life than you have now? When you finally died, would you lose any more life than you’d lose if you died today?

This present moment is all the life we ever have. The longest life and the shortest converge on this same point. No matter how many years stretch behind or in front of us, the present moment remains the same.

The person who lives shortest owns the exact same amount of life as the one who lives longest. For the present is all we have and all we can lose. When we die, we don’t “lose” the past or future—we never owned them.

• Remember the words of Monimus the Cynic: “Everything is opinion.” This principle is not only true but beneficial—if you know how to use it.

• When you do anything insincere, halfhearted, or thoughtless, you harm yourself. Even the smallest action should be performed with a goal in mind.

• Life is a pilgrimage and a struggle. All we have of time is a moment, the universe is in constant flux, our bodies are fragile, our senses grasp so little, our souls are a mist, the future is a fog, and fame is fleeting.

The physical world is an ever-flowing stream, and the spiritual is an elusive vapor. Neither can be grasped and held.

What can guide us? Only one thing: philosophy.

Philosophy consists in keeping your inner spirit free, undisturbed, above pain and pleasure; acting with purpose in line with principle; embracing all that happens as coming from the same Source that gave you life; and accepting death as nothing more than a reconfiguration of the elements and particles that make up all things.

• Life is a voyage. You embark; you sail; and, when you reach the far shore, you get out of the boat. What is your destination? If the gods exist, you step into their divine realm. If there are no gods, you enter a state without thought or feeling, freed from the bonds of pain and pleasure that held you on the ship.

• Don’t waste the rest of your life worrying about what others think and do. Direct your thoughts to a useful end. When you dissipate your mental energy on things you can’t control, you lose the opportunity to accomplish something yourself.

• Cease all useless thoughts. Fretting about others—What is she doing? What is she thinking? What is she planning?—keeps you from exercising your own power. Endeavor to live such that, if someone were suddenly to ask, “What are you thinking about?” you could give a quick and confident reply, saying something simple, clear, and edifying—not something that would make you blush.

• Those who dwell on useful and uplifting thoughts—uncorrupted by pleasure, unharmed by pain, unprovoked by insult, standing up for justice, defending what is right, accepting their lot in life without complaint, and not prying into the minds of others—are the true ministers of the gods, for they’re exercising the spark of divinity within themselves.

They remember that every other person is their brother or sister, and treat them accordingly. They mind their own business, make sure their own actions are virtuous, and trust that whatever life gives them is for their benefit.

Those who live this way disregard both the praise and scorn of those who live otherwise.

• Put your whole heart and mind into your work, laboring not just for yourself but for the common good. Be a person of few words and a few projects, not busy and scattered.

• Stand on your own two feet without needing to be propped up by others. Stay at your post, do your work as best you can, and be ready to go when Fate calls you.

• Don’t imagine that something is good for you if, in pursuing it, you must break a promise, harm anyone else, lose self-respect, act hypocritically, or hide in shame.

Follow the light within—it will not lead you astray.

Those who follow the light within don’t lead tragic lives. They don’t wail, complain, and run from death. What do they care if their days are short or long? They do all things with excellence and efficiency. If Fate calls them, they leave in the same serene manner. They are not mere intelligent animals, but worthy members of a civil society.

• Cast aside all that is extraneous and superfluous, and cling to the few things that really matter.

Remember that you live only in the present moment—a single, indivisible point in time. The past is gone and the future is unknowable. Brief is the moment in which you live; small is the plot of earth beneath your feet.

Do you seek fame, so that you will live on in people’s memories after you’re dead? Remember that their days are short, too—they barely have time to know themselves, much less learn about those who died long ago. And even if they were to live ten thousand years and keep your memory—what good is that to you?

Life is for the living.

• People long to escape life’s struggles and relax in country houses, by the seaside, or in the mountains. But it is within your power to find solace at any time, by retreating into yourself. When your thoughts are orderly and tranquil, there’s no place quieter and more peaceful than your own soul. There, you are free. Take this retreat often to renew yourself. Let your principles be few and fundamental—sufficient to clear your mind and send you back into the world refreshed.

• If so much is transitory and fleeting, what is worth doing? Retreat into your inner sanctuary. Here, away from strain and distraction, you are free to observe the world and your reactions objectively. Nothing touches the soul; it can’t be harmed by anything external. When you are upset, it is your own opinion that upsets you. The universe is constantly in flux. Your experience of life is determined by how you look at it.

• To change your experience, change your opinion. Stop telling yourself that you’re a victim and the pain goes away. What truly hurts you is what makes you a worse person. Don’t say you’ve been harmed if your reason and character are untouched. And no one can muddy your reason and mar your character but yourself.

• Much trouble can be avoided by not worrying about what your neighbor thinks, says, or does. Be concerned only that your own thoughts, words, and actions are just and generous. In the race of life, stay in your own lane and focus on the finish line; don’t gawk at the missteps of others.

• In all times and places, consider how many people were born, made great efforts, and returned to the earth from which they came. Consider how many others whittled their time away on frivolous pursuits and idle distractions. This exercise will help you keep your own activities in perspective. Focus on what’s important. Give great attention to great matters, and little attention to little matters.

• All things pass away into the realm of memory, story, and finally into oblivion. (I’m speaking of those whose lives shine brightly. The majority of people aren’t celebrated in stories and legends—they’re forgotten as soon as they are buried.)

Even if it were possible for you to be remembered eternally, what is remembrance worth to you? Nothing.

What, then, should we strive for in life? Right thoughts, beneficial actions, honest speech, and a cheerful disposition. These things are in harmony with, and flow from, the eternal Source of all.

• Look around you and see that everything that happens is the result of change. The universe loves nothing more than to change things, rearranging their elements to create new things. Everything that exists now is a seed of what is to come. Nothing around you is in its final form.

• In evaluating a person, always look for their ruling principles. What do they pursue? What do they avoid?

Don’t judge others based on outward circumstances and appearances. Difficult circumstances can befall anyone—what is telling is how a person responds to their circumstances. Their body may be maimed, dirtied, and disfigured, while the light of reason burns bright within.

• Life is not disjointed but logical. Everything that happens is the consequence of what came before. Just as creatures in an ecosystem evolve in adaptation to each other, events are not random but arise and intertwine in harmony. When the day brings events that seem strange and unusual, remember: the universe is ruled by reason.

• Be the stone cliff against which the waves constantly break, standing firm against the fury of the sea.

Am I unhappy because of what happened to me? No. I remain happy because, regardless of circumstances, I am free—neither crushed by the present nor afraid of the future. Storms befall everyone, but not everyone can stand firm against them.

Why call this event unfortunate? From another perspective, it may be considered lucky. The only true misfortune is when a person leaves the path of wisdom, ignores reason, and violates the laws of nature.

Will this circumstance prevent you from being just, generous, honest, or prudent? Can it keep you from the free use of your reason? If not, don’t wallow in self-pity, bemoaning your misfortune.

• When it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning, remind yourself: I am rising to resume my life’s work. How can I be unhappy when I have another opportunity to do what I was born to do?

But it’s so comfortable here.

Were you born for this—lying in bed under a warm blanket? Life is meant for action and exertion. Consider the ants, bees, and birds, working to bring order to their corners of the universe. Are you unwilling to do the work of a human being?

But I worked yesterday; today I need to rest.

Rest is for recharging, not for indulgence. Take only what is sufficient for your health and vitality. Too much rest—like too much food or drink—defeats its purpose, weakening the body and dulling the spirit.

• Don’t let yourself be pulled off course by the insults or injuries of others. Let them go their way and you go yours, continuing on the path of reason. This is not selfish or antisocial on your part—far from it. Your individual reason is not opposed to the common good but in harmony with it.

• “People don’t find me a witty conversationalist,” you mope. So what? Focus on improving your character, not worrying about how others perceive you. It’s completely in your power to develop greater sincerity, generosity, persistence, strength, and contentment in all circumstances.

If your speaking skills need work, by all means, work on them. But it’s better to be honest and straightforward than mere witty and clever.

• When one sort of person does a good deed, they mark it down as a favor to be repaid. Another sort of person doesn’t seek a reward, but they take satisfaction in knowing that they’ve acted generously. A third sort of person doesn’t even know what they’ve done; they bear good deeds as a vine bears grapes—naturally, without thinking about it.

Like a horse after running a race, or a bee after making honey, a good person doesn’t stop and look around for applause or rewards. They go on to produce another good deed, as a vine produces more grapes in season.

• Fate prescribes events, but it’s up to you to accept and act upon that prescription. A doctor’s prescription may be distasteful, but you take it in hopes of building health. Accept everything that comes your way, trusting that it’s part of the universe’s grand design, for the greater good of all.

• Don’t be discouraged if you fail to live up to your principles all the time. When you stumble, get up and keep going. Return to philosophy gladly, out of love for wisdom; not with your head hung low, like a servant returning in fear to a harsh master. Philosophy seeks your highest good and asks only that you live according to your nature.

• Fate can’t give you a challenge that nature has not equipped you to bear. No matter what comes your way, you can find an example of someone who has gone through the same experience and stood strong, emerging with their spirit unharmed.

For events and circumstances don’t touch the soul—not in the least. Only the soul shapes the soul, as it responds to the things it encounters.

• Other people may try to impede your actions, but they can’t impede your thoughts and disposition. Using your reason and imagination, you can find a way to turn any impediment to your advantage. When you come upon a stumbling block, use it as a stepping stone.

• In the stream of life, nothing stands still. How quickly things arise, pass by, and disappear.

How foolish it is, then, to puff yourself up with pride or berate yourself with worry. Think of the boundless abyss of the past behind you and the infinite future stretching out ahead. From this perspective, how small are your achievements—and how petty your troubles.

Instead of boasting or moaning, rest content knowing that you are a small part of the universe, and treasure the moment of eternity that you have been given.

• Did someone do me wrong? That’s their problem—they harmed their own character, not mine. I will stay focused on my own thoughts and actions.

• In making decisions, rely on reason and refuse to be swayed by bodily sensations of pain or pleasure.

This isn’t to say that you should repress your feelings. Accept all sensations as part of nature—just remember that pleasure and pain reveal nothing about whether something is ultimately good or bad for you.

• Soon, you will be only ashes and a name—and a name is but a sound, an echo. The things people most value and pursue in this life are all passing away. All their acquiring, pursuing, and quarreling—it’s as pointless as dogs chasing each other.

• Don’t be swayed by how things appear. In the wake of a perceived loss, it’s easy to feel disappointed and discouraged. If your head is hanging low, you’ll miss the opportunities hidden in “misfortune.” But if you remain steady and unbowed, you’ll make your own fortune. For good fortune consists of a good attitude, good thoughts, and good actions.

• As long as you are doing your duty, pay no mind to whether you are comfortable or uncomfortable, well-rested or drowsy, praised or insulted, feeling pleasure or pain.

• What is the best way to avenge a wrong? If you retaliate in kind, returning evil for evil, your attacker succeeds in dragging you down to their level. Instead, take the insult or injury and transform it into a means of becoming a better person. This is the only true vengeance.

• Look past appearances to the core of things. At a lavish banquet, pause and think: “This is the dead body of a fish; this is the dead body of a pig; this fine wine is only fermented grape juice; my purple robe is sheep’s wool stained with the blood of a shellfish,” and so on.

Take the things that are so praised and prized, and strip them of the words by which they are exalted—then see what they really are. In this way, you will not be fooled into treasuring petty things.

• Change and motion continually renew the world. Things are hurrying into existence, and things are hurrying out of it. In the rushing stream of time, how can you attach yourself to some particular thing? It’s like falling in love with a certain sparrow as it flies by—now it’s already gone, never to return.

In breathing, we draw in air for a while, then give it back to the atmosphere. So with living—we draw in life for a while, then give it back to the universe.

• What is worth valuing in life? To be greeted with applause and cheers? This is nothing more than the slapping of hands and flapping of tongues.

When you give up the desire for fame, what remains? To live according to your nature. This is the worthy aim of all occupations, arts, and activities.

The horse master trains his horses to reach their full potential; at the same time, he is developing into his own full potential. The gardener cultivates her vines to reach their fruitful maturity; at the same time, she is growing into her own fruitful maturity.

All things find fulfillment in actualizing their nature. You needn’t seek anything else. If you pin your happiness on anything beyond this, you can’t be free—you will be a slave to that which you desire. When you don’t have the thing you want, you’ll be jealous of those who do; when you do have it, you’ll be suspicious of those who might take it away. At all times, you’ll be plotting to acquire it or to protect it. Your mind will never be at peace.

The way to peace is to be content with yourself, honor the light of reason within, live in harmony with others, and be grateful to the gods for the universe and your role in it.

• Desiring to be remembered and praised by generations after your death—how silly! Why wish for words you’ll never hear from people you’ll never see?

• Suppose, during a wrestling match, your opponent scratches you and slams your head against the mat. After the match, do you act upset and offended? Do you call him a traitor? No, you simply shake hands and walk away.

Apply this to every arena in life. Give it your best effort, respect the competition, and—whatever the outcome—walk away in peace.

• When a nightmare disturbs your sleep, it takes a few moments to return to your senses and realize it was only a dream. The same thing can happen during the day. When something scares you, it is really your beliefs about the thing that are scaring you. Release your beliefs, and the fear dissolves. Worries and troubles are nightmares that we entertain while awake.

• My soul has power over my body and mind—it controls my thoughts and actions. But it can’t control external events or the thoughts and actions of others. Moreover, my soul has power only in the present moment—it can’t change the past or know the future. So, it is indifferent to those things.

Exert your efforts within your sphere of power, and be indifferent to everything else. (By “indifferent,” I don’t mean apathetic, but accepting of all that Fate gives you.)

• Put all of your attention, care, and effort into your own actions. If you chase fame, you’re actually valuing the actions of others (their praise, blame, applause, or insults) above your own, denigrating and diminishing your sphere of power. Respect yourself.

• To the jaundiced, honey tastes bitter. To those bit by rabid animals, water is terrifying. To a child, it’s a great tragedy when a toy ball is lost.

Why am I angry? It must be I’m entertaining an opinion about something, or an interpretation of an event, that is disturbing my peace.

Things themselves don’t have the power to determine our opinions about them. We form opinions. And negative thinking warps our perceptions as much as jaundice or rabies.

• Principles can’t die; they can only be forgotten.

I resolve to remember my principles, to dwell upon them, and to fan my thoughts into a fire that will not be blown out by the winds of circumstance.

My thoughts, opinions, and interpretations are all in my power to choose. Why, then, am I continually entertaining worries and fears?

I will not allow things outside my mind to affect my mind. I will not let external events shake and shatter my inner peace. I will not waste my energy on things outside my control.

I will return to my principles and renew my life.

• If you trip and fall, your hands and knees will feel pain. Let them complain if they wish. But you are not injured unless you choose to view your fall as a terrible, unfair, unfortunate event inflicted upon you. Your opinions and interpretations are up to you.

• Does gold change to lead under pressure? Does an emerald turn from luminous green to dingy brown when it’s insulted?

Of course not. Neither can a virtuous person be sullied by stress or slander.

• Does change make you anxious?

Tell me, what would ever happen without change? How does nature work, except by changing things?

Can you digest food without changing it? Can you build a boat without changing a tree? Can anything useful be done without change?

It’s the nature of the universe—all things must change, including you. Embrace it.

• Love all people, including those who do wrong. They may be acting unintentionally, out of ignorance. Even if they are acting intentionally, they can’t harm you—that is, they can’t make you a worse person than before. Only you can harm yourself, by fanning the flames of hatred and resentment.

When someone wrongs you, identify the mistaken ideas that motivated their behavior. Then, instead of being angry, you’ll pity them.

• Don’t long for things you don’t have; instead, be grateful for the things you do have. Imagine how desirable they would seem if you didn’t already have them.

At the same time, don’t become so attached to your possessions that you would be upset if they were damaged or lost.

• Stop with your idle daydreaming. Focus on the present. Perform the task at hand. Separate reality from your opinions, or how things appear. Don’t carry grievances—leave them in the past where they belong.

• Look at those who strive for fame. It’s as if they’re competing to gather the largest pile of sand; tomorrow, the wind comes and blows it all away.

• Study the past and you will know the future. Political movements rise and fall in cycles, while human nature remains the same.

To experience human life for forty years is the same as to experience it for ten thousand. What more will you see?

• Everywhere and at all times, it is in your power to accept your present circumstances, be kind to those around you, and cultivate true and useful thoughts.

Stick to these ruling principles. Don’t look at how others behave and try to imitate them; look straight to where nature and reason lead you.

Don’t be pulled off course by the desires of your body, either. Reason was made to rule over the body—not the other way around.

• All that you’ve done before, or failed to do, is of no account. The past is dead and gone. Why carry yesterday’s regrets on your back?

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Live now according to your principles.

• Life is more like a wrestling match than a dance. Plant your feet and brace yourself for every sudden, unexpected challenge.

• Most pains are local and limited. Let the injured body part voice its displeasure, but don’t let it dominate your thoughts and become the center of your attention.

• Don’t treat inhumane people the way they treat others, lest you become inhumane.

• You have the power to be free and peaceful of mind, even while the whole world screams against you—yes, even while wild beasts tear your body apart.

For these externals can’t touch the mind. What upsets your mind is your opinion of what’s happening.

Use reason to see through all opinions, including your own.

• How ridiculous to despise others for their faults and failings while indulging and excusing your own.

• When you reach out to help another, once the other receives your help, the act is complete. Don’t seek a third thing—praise or a reward in return.

As a social being, it’s in your nature to help others. And living according to your nature is your purpose in life. That’s why helping others is its own reward.

• Happiness is found nowhere outside of living your philosophy. It’s not found in syllogisms, disputations, lectures, professorships, awards, or anything else.

Happiness is a byproduct of thinking and acting in ways that are just, generous, resolute, purposeful, and free.

• You could be angry until your head explodes, but it wouldn’t change how other people behave.

To cool down, remember: First, all things proceed from nature and fate.

Second, in a short while, the people you’re upset with will be gone—and so will you. Do you wish to spend these days stewing in anger?

Third, focus on your own work—to be a good person, which includes having a good disposition.

• When faced with a choice between following reason or pursuing a questionable pleasure, remember this: If you follow reason, you’ll never regret it in the morning.

• If something undesirable happens outside of your control, who do you blame—the universe or the gods? It’s foolish to blame either.

If there’s anything you can do to help, do it. If not, your anger is pointless. All of your thoughts and acts should be directed to a purpose.

• Everything that comes into being has a purpose, a role, a place in the web of existence. A horse, a tree, a stream, the grass, the sun…

What is your purpose—to enjoy pleasure? See what reason and common sense have to say about that.

Nature doesn’t just create and sustain things; it also directs them to their purpose.

• Stop thinking of everything that ever hurt you, and all that might yet hurt you, in your life. Take troubles as they arise—one at a time.

When you are disturbed, ask—is this pain unbearable and everlasting? Or is it manageable and temporary?

Remember—you can’t hurt in the past or future, only in the present moment. Limit your pain to that moment and it will be bearable.

• Focus your efforts on the needs of the present day. Those who strive for posthumous fame, erecting statues of themselves and such, don’t consider that the people of tomorrow will be exactly like the people of today—mortals.

What does it matter to you if someone a thousand years from now should utter your name, or have an opinion about you?

• However much my boat is tossed about on the seas of life, reason stands firmly and serenely at the helm.

• Is there an obstacle blocking your way? Make it part of your plan and turn it to your advantage.

But what if it kills you? Then you’ll leave this world contentedly, as someone who pursued a worthy goal to the end—not as a coward who gave up and stopped trying.

• See things as they are, and don’t let your imagination blow them out of proportion.

Suppose you hear that someone has spoken poorly of you. Are you hurt by this? It’s only a report about some words. Don’t let your imagination concoct a drama based upon it.

Suppose your child is sick. Do you fall into despair? Limit your thoughts to the illness and how to treat it—don’t let your imagination add anything more.

This cucumber tastes bitter. Throw it away.

There are thorns in my path. Walk around them.

That is enough. Don’t add, “Why do these things exist? Is the universe out to get me?”

Such thoughts betray an ignorance of nature’s works and ways.

• Others may insult you, injure you—even kill you and cut you to pieces—yet they are powerless to harm your character. Nothing can defile your mind or force you to be unjust, outside of your own will.

A person can stand by a mountain stream and insult it all day long—the stream remains pure. Even if they throw dirt into it, the dirt is quickly dispersed and carried away.

Let your soul be like that stream—flowing freely, simply, and contentedly.

• When others try to hurt you, they hurt themselves. When they cheat or steal from you, they impoverish their own character.

Leave wicked deeds where they happen. Don’t pick them up and carry them forward in the form of resentments.

• Today, I freed myself from trouble. Or rather, I wiped it out—for my trouble was caused by my opinion of things, so I changed the story I was telling myself.

• You have suffered infinite troubles and tragedies in your own imagination. Enough of worrying!

• Whenever you are offended by another’s shameless words or deeds, ask: Is it reasonable to demand a world with no brazen wrongdoers? Will my being upset help bring about utopia?

No. Don’t ask the impossible or get upset with the world as it exists. There are shameless people in the world; there are also hot-tempered, ignorant, and untrustworthy people. If you remember that these categories of people exist, you won’t be surprised and upset when you come across such an individual.

Besides, how have they harmed you? If you look, you’ll find they’ve done nothing to degrade your character or disturb your mind. When you meet a person who’s gone astray, either try to teach them or simply tolerate them.

It’s no wonder that someone has gone astray if they’ve never been taught to follow the right way. If you expect an ignorant person to act like a knowledgeable one, that’s your mistake.

• My soul, will you never be simple, serene, and satisfied? Will you never enjoy a kind, generous, sunny disposition? Will you never be happy with life as it is, desiring nothing more? Will you never stop seeking entertainment and longing for pleasure? Will you never be grateful for all that exists and occurs, knowing everything comes from nature and the gods? Will you never live in harmony with others, without finding fault in them?

• Remember, nature has endowed you with the strength to endure everything that happens by nature’s hand.

• Stop talking about what makes a person good. Be a good person.

• No matter how good a life you lead, you won’t please everyone. Someone will be glad to see you go.

• Remain calm in the face of those who try to hinder or harm you so you can think clearly and find a way forward. If you become angry and hateful, you focus on the obstacle and lose sight of your goal.

• Let your soul be at peace—neither pursuing nor running from anything.

• Suppose someone despises you. That’s their concern, not yours. Your concern is to live in harmony with nature and reason so that your actions won’t be worthy of contempt.

• Remember that who you are is separate from outside events and circumstances, worries about what might happen in the future, your bodily ills and pains, what others do or say, and even what you yourself have done and said in the past.

Freedom consists in detaching from all these things that are not you and letting them be whatever they will be.

• I often wonder how it is that most people value their own lives above others, yet value other’s opinions of them over their own self-opinion.

• Even if you despair of ever mastering a skill, keep practicing. Your left hand is clumsy at most things because you always favor the right. Yet look at how well your left hand controls the horse’s bridle—that’s because it’s the one task at which you’ve given it practice.

• Wield your principles like a wrestler, not a gladiator. A gladiator depends on his sword—when it’s knocked out of his hands, he’s finished. But a wrestler’s only tools are his hands—he needs nothing beyond himself. In other words, internalize your principles so they become part of you.

• How brief the time assigned to our lives, compared to eternity. How minuscule the amount of matter comprising our bodies. How tiny the plot of land we call home, compared to the whole Earth. How meager the portion of universal intelligence we access in our minds.

In light of all this smallness, what should we consider important? Only living according to our nature and accepting all that Fate gives us.

• When an actor is called to leave the stage, it would be ridiculous for him to complain, “But I want three more acts!” That’s up to the playwright, not the actor.

Our task is this: to play our role to the best of our ability, then depart in contentment and gratitude, praying only that the Playwright is pleased with our performance.


If you’ve enjoyed this summary of The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and you would like to get the full book, please do so using my link. You’ll help me out without spending an extra penny: PrinteBook, Audiobook

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The 22 Immutable Laws Of Marketing by Al Ries

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The 22 Immutable Laws Of Marketing by Al Ries Summary

Book Review:

The 22 Immutable Laws Of Marketing by Al Ries is a true marketing classic that was recommended to me by every marketer and their mother.

The central idea of the book is that people’s purchasing behavior follows certain patterns (laws) and that you have to align your marketing with those laws or risk failing. Al Ries’s line of thinking goes like this: There are laws of nature, so why shouldn’t there be laws of marketing? He then goes on to give many examples to illustrate the validity of the laws, as well as examples of companies that failed by ignoring them.

Book Summary:

The following summary of The 22 Immutable Laws Of Marketing by Al Ries is meant to be concise, reminding me of high-level concepts and not trying to recreate the whole book. This summary is basically a bunch of notes and lessons paraphrased or quoted directly from the book and does not contain my own thoughts.

• When a company makes a mistake today, footprints quickly show up on its back as competition runs off with its business. To get the business back, the company has to wait for others to make mistakes and then figure out how to exploit the situation.

• The way to avoid making mistakes in the first place is to make sure your programs are in tune with the laws of marketing.

• There are laws of nature, so why shouldn’t there be laws of marketing? You can build a great-looking airplane, but it’s not going to get off the ground unless it adheres to the laws of physics, especially the law of gravity. You can build an architectural masterpiece on a sand dune, but the first hurricane will undermine your creation. So it follows that you can build a brilliant marketing program only to have one of the immutable laws knock you flat if you don’t know what they are.

• Programs that work are almost always in tune with some fundamental force in the marketplace.

Law 1. The Law of Leadership

It’s better to be first than it is to be better.

• Many people believe that the basic issue in marketing is convincing prospects that you have a better product or service. Not true. If you have a small market share and you have to do battle with larger, better-financed competitors, then your marketing strategy was probably faulty in the first place. You violated the first law of marketing.

• The basic issue in marketing is creating a category you can be first in. It’s the law of leadership: It’s better to be first than it is to be better. It’s much easier to get into the mind first than to try to convince someone you have a better product than the one that did get there first.

• Most companies wait until a market develops, then they jump in with a better product, often with their corporate name attached. In today’s competitive environment, a me-too product with a line extension name has little hope of becoming a big, profitable brand.

• The leading brand in any category is almost always the first brand into the prospect’s mind.

• Not every first is going to become successful, however. Timing is an issue—your first could be too late. For example, USA Today is the first national newspaper, but it is unlikely to succeed. It has already lost $800 million and has never had a profitable year. In a television era, it may be too late for a national newspaper.

• Some firsts are just bad ideas that will never go anywhere. Frosty Paws, the first ice cream for dogs, is unlikely to make it. The dogs love it, but the owners are the ones who buy groceries, and they think that dogs don’t need an ice cream of their own. They should be happy just to lick the plates.

• The law of leadership applies to any product, any brand, any category. Let’s say you didn’t know the name of the first college founded in America. You can always make a good guess by substituting leading for first.

• No two products are any similar than twins are. Yet twins often complain that the first of the two whom a person meets always remains their favorite, even though the person also gets to know the other one. People tend to stick with what they’ve got. If you meet someone a little better than your wife or husband, it’s really not worth making the switch, what with attorneys’ fees and dividing up the house and kids.

• One reason the first brand tends to maintain its leadership is that the name often becomes generic. Xerox, the first plain-paper copier, became the name for all plain-paper copiers. People will stand in front of a Ricoh or a Sharp or a Kodak machine and say, “How do I make a Xerox copy?” They will ask for the Kleenex when the box clearly says Scott. They will offer you a Coke when all they have is Pepsi- Cola.

• If you’re introducing the first brand in a new category, you should always try to select a name that can work generically. Lawyers advise the opposite, but what do they know about the laws of marketing?

• Not only does the first brand usually become the leader, but also the sales order of follow-up brands often matches the order of their introductions. The best example is ibuprofen. Advil was first, Nuprin was second, Medipren was third. That’s exactly the sales order they now enjoy: Advil has 51 percent of the ibuprofen market, Nuprin has 10 percent, and Medipren has 1 percent.

• If the secret of success is getting into the prospect’s mind first, what strategy are most companies committed to? The better product strategy. The latest and hottest subject in the business management field is benchmarking. Touted as the “ultimate competitive strategy,” benchmarking is the process of comparing and evaluating your company’s products against the best in the industry. It’s an essential element in a process often called “total quality management.” Unfortunately, benchmarking doesn’t work. Regardless of reality, people perceive the first product into the mind as superior. Marketing is a battle of perceptions, not products.

Law 2. The Law of the Category

If you can’t be first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in.

• If you didn’t get into the prospect’s mind first, don’t give up hope. Find a new category you can be first

• When you launch a new product, the first question to ask yourself is not “How is this new product better than the competition?” but “First what?” In other words, what category is this new product first in?

• This is counter to classic marketing thinking, which is brand oriented: How do I get people to prefer my brand? Forget the brand. Think categories. Prospects are on the defensive when it comes to brands. Everyone talks about why their brand is better. But prospects have an open mind when it comes to categories. Everyone is interested in what’s new. Few people are interested in what’s better.

• When you’re the first in a new category, promote the category. In essence, you have no competition. DEC told its prospects why they ought to buy a minicomputer, not a DEC minicomputer.

Law 3. The Law of the Mind

It’s better to be first in the mind than it is to be first in the marketplace.

• Is something wrong with the law of leadership in chapter 1? No, but the law of the mind modifies it. Being first in the mind is everything in marketing. Being first in the marketplace is important only to the extent that it allows you to get in the mind first.

• IBM wasn’t first in the marketplace with the mainframe computer. Remington Rand was first, with UNIVAC. But thanks to a massive marketing effort, IBM got into the mind first and won the computer battle early.

• The law of the mind follows from the law of perception. If marketing is a battle of perception, not product, then the mind takes precedence over the marketplace.

• Thousands of would-be entrepreneurs are tripped up every year by this law. Someone has an idea or concept he or she believes will revolutionize an industry, as well it may. The problem is getting the idea or concept into the prospect’s mind.

The conventional solution to the problem is money. That is, the resources to design and build product or service organizations plus the resources to hold press conferences, attend trade shows, run advertisements, and conduct direct mail programs.

Unfortunately, this gives rise to the perception that the answer to all marketing questions is the same: money. Not true. More money is wasted in marketing than in any other human activity (outside of government activities, of course). You can’t change a mind once a mind is made up.

• Do you want to change something on a computer? Just type over or delete the existing material. Do you want to change something in a mind? Forget it. Once a mind is made up, it rarely, if ever, changes. The single most wasteful thing you can do in marketing is trying to change a mind.

• If you want to make a big impression on another person, you cannot worm your way into their mind and then slowly build up a favorable opinion over a period of time. The mind doesn’t work that way. You have to blast your way into the mind.

The reason you blast instead of worm is that people don’t like to change their minds. Once they perceive you one way, that’s it. They kind of file you away in their minds as a certain kind of person. You cannot become a different person in their minds.

• One of the mysteries of marketing is the role of money. One day a few dollars can work a major miracle. The next day millions of dollars can’t save a company from going under. When you have an open mind to work with, even a small amount of money can go a long way. Apple got off the computer ground with $91,000 contributed by Mike Markkula.

Law 4. The Law of Perception

Marketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perception.

• Marketing people are preoccupied with doing research and “getting the facts.” They analyze the situation to make sure that the truth is on their side. Then they sail confidently into the marketing arena, secure in the knowledge that they have the best product and that ultimately the best product will win.

• It’s an illusion. There is no objective reality. There are no facts. There are no best products. All that exists in the world of marketing are perceptions in the minds of the customer or prospect. The perception is the reality. Everything else is an illusion.

• Most people think they are better perceivers than others. They have a sense of personal infallibility. Their perceptions are always more accurate than those of their neighbors or friends. Truth and perception become fused in the mind, leaving no difference between the two.

• To cope with the terrifying reality of being alone in the universe, people project themselves on the outside world. They “live” in the arena of books, movies, television, newspapers, magazines. They “belong” to clubs, organizations, institutions. These outside representations of the world seem more real than the reality inside their own minds.

People cling firmly to the belief that reality is the world outside of the mind and that the individual is one small speck on a global spaceship. Actually, it’s the opposite. The only reality you can be sure about is in your own perceptions. If the universe exists, it exists inside your own mind and the minds of others. That’s the reality that marketing programs must deal with.

There may well be oceans, rivers, cities, towns, trees, and houses out there, but there just isn’t any way for us to know these things except through our own perceptions. Marketing is a manipulation of those perceptions.

• Most marketing mistakes stem from the assumption that you’re fighting a product battle rooted in reality. All the laws in this book are derived from the exact opposite point of view.

• What some marketing people see as the natural laws of marketing are based on a flawed premise that the product is the hero of the marketing program and that you’ll win or lose based on the merits of the product. Which is why the natural, logical way to market a product is invariably wrong.

Only by studying how perceptions are formed in the mind and focusing your marketing programs on those perceptions can you overcome your basically incorrect marketing instincts.

• Each of us (manufacturer, distributor, dealer, prospect, customer) looks at the world through a pair of eyes. If there is objective truth out there, how would we know it? Who would measure it? Who would tell us? It could only be another person looking at the same scene through a different pair of eye windows.

• Truth is nothing more or less than one expert’s perception. And who is the expert? It’s someone who is perceived to be an expert in the mind of somebody else.

• Marketing people focus on facts because they believe in objective reality. It’s also easy for marketing people to assume that truth is on their side. If you think you need the best product to win a marketing battle, then it’s easy to believe you have the best product. All that’s required is a minor modification of your own perceptions.

• Changing a prospect’s mind is another matter. Minds of customers or prospects are very difficult to change. With a modicum of experience in a product category, a consumer assumes that he or she is right. A perception that exists in the mind is often interpreted as a universal truth. People are seldom, if ever, wrong. At least in their own minds.

• You believe what you want to believe. You taste what you want to taste. Soft-drink marketing is a battle of perceptions, not a battle of taste.

• What makes the battle even more difficult is that customers frequently make buying decisions based on second-hand perceptions. Instead of using their own perceptions, they base their buying decisions on someone else’s perception of reality. This is the “everybody knows” principle.

• If you have had a bad experience with a Japanese car, you’ve just been unlucky, because everybody knows the Japanese make high-quality cars. Conversely, if you have had a good experience with an American car, you’ve just been lucky, because everybody knows that American cars are poorly made.

Law 5. The Law of Focus

The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect’s mind.

• A company can become incredibly successful if it can find a way to own a word in the mind of the prospect. Not a complicated word. Not an invented one. The simple words are best, words taken right out of the dictionary.

This is the law of focus. You “burn” your way into the mind by narrowing the focus to a single word or concept. It’s the ultimate marketing sacrifice.

Federal Express was able to put the word overnight into the minds of its prospects because it sacrificed its product line and focused on overnight package delivery only.

• In a way, the law of leadership—it’s better to be first than to be better—enables the first brand or company to own a word in the mind of the prospect. But the word the leader owns is so simple that it’s invisible.

The leader owns the word that stands for the category. For example, IBM owns computer. This is another way of saying that the brand becomes a generic name for the category. “We need an IBM machine.” Is there any doubt that a computer is being requested?

• An astute leader will go one step further to solidify its position. Heinz owns the word ketchup. But Heinz went on to isolate the most important ketchup attribute. “Slowest ketchup in the West” is how the company is preempting the thickness attribute. Owning the word slow helps Heinz maintain a 50 percent market share.

• If you’re not a leader, then your word has to have a narrow focus. Even more important, however, your word has to be “available” in your category. No one else can have a lock on it.

You don’t have to be a linguistic genius to find a winner. Prego went against leader Ragu in the spaghetti sauce market and captured a 27 percent share with an idea borrowed from Heinz. Prego’s word is thicker.

• The most effective words are simple and benefit-oriented. No matter how complicated the product, no matter how complicated the needs of the market, it’s always better to focus on one word or benefit rather than two or three or four.

• Also, there’s the halo effect. If you strongly establish one benefit, the prospect is likely to give you a lot of other benefits, too. A “thicker” spaghetti sauce implies quality, nourishing ingredients, value, and so on. A “safer” car implies better design and engineering.

• Words come in different varieties. They can be benefit related (cavity prevention), service related (home delivery), audience related (younger people), or sales related (preferred brand).

• Although we’ve been touting that words stick in the mind, nothing lasts forever. There comes a time when a company must change words. It’s not an easy task.

• What won’t work in marketing is leaving your own word in search of a word owned by others.

• The essence of marketing is narrowing the focus. You become stronger when you reduce the scope of your operations. You can’t stand for something if you chase after everything.

• Some companies accept the need to narrow the focus and try to accomplish this strategy in ways that are self-defeating. “We’ll focus on the quality end of the market. We won’t get into the low end where the emphasis is on price.” The problem is that customers don’t believe you unless you restrict your business to high-priced products only, like Mercedes-Benz or BMW.

• You can’t narrow the focus with quality or any other idea that doesn’t have proponents for the opposite point of view. You can’t position yourself as an honest politician, because nobody is willing to take the opposite position (although there are plenty of potential candidates). You can, however, position yourself as the pro-business candidate or the pro-labor candidate and be instantly accepted as such because there is support for the other side.

• When you develop your word to focus on, be prepared to fend off the lawyers. They want to trademark everything you publish. The trick is to get others to use your word. (To be a leader you have to have followers.) It would be helpful for Lotus to have other companies get into the groupware business. It would make the category more important and people would be even more impressed with Lotus’s leadership.

• Once you have your word, you have to go out of your way to protect it in the marketplace. The case of BMW illustrates this very well. For years, BMW was the ultimate “driving” machine. Then the company decided to broaden its product line and chase Mercedes-Benz with large, 700-series sedans. The problem is, how can a living room on wheels be the ultimate driving machine? Not only can you not feel the road, but you’ll also crush all the pylons in your driving commercials.

• The law of focus applies to whatever you’re selling, or even whatever you’re unselling. Like drugs, for example. The antidrug crusade on television and in magazines suffers from a lack of focus. There is no one word driven into the minds of drug users that could begin to unsell the drug concept.

• The law of focus, a marketing law, could help solve one of society’s biggest problems.

Law 6. The Law of Exclusivity

Two companies cannot own the same word in the prospect’s mind.

• When a competitor owns a word or position in the prospect’s mind, it is futile to attempt to own the same word. The Atari story shows the futility of attempting to move in on the home computer position against well-entrenched competitors. A variation called game computer might have been possible because it would have taken advantage of the perception of Atari as a creator of computer games. But that’s about it. The home computer position belonged to Apple, Commodore, and others.

• What often leads marketers down this booby-trapped lane is that wonderful stuff called research. Armies of researchers are employed, focus groups conducted, questionnaires tabulated—and what comes back in a three-pound report is a wish list of attributes that users want from a product or service. So if that’s what people want, that’s what we should give them.

What researchers never tell you is that some other company already owns the idea. They would rather encourage clients to mount massive marketing programs. The theory is that if you spend enough money, you can own the idea. Right? Wrong.

Law 7. The Law of the Ladder

The strategy to use depends on which rung you occupy on the ladder.

• While being first into the prospect’s mind ought to be your primary marketing objective, the battle isn’t lost if you fail in this endeavor. There are strategies to use for No. 2 and No. 3 brands.

• Your marketing strategy should depend on how soon you got into the mind and consequently which rung of the ladder you occupy. The higher the better, of course.

• The mind is selective. Prospects use their ladders in deciding which information to accept and which information to reject. In general, a mind accepts only new data that is consistent with its product ladder in that category. Everything else is ignored.

• What about your product’s ladder in the prospect’s mind? How many rungs are there on your ladder? It depends on whether your product is a high-interest or a low-interest product. Products you use every day (cigarettes, cola, beer, toothpaste, cereal) tend to be high-interest products with many rungs on their ladders. Products that are purchased infrequently (furniture, lawn mowers, luggage) usually have few rungs on their ladders.

• Products that involve a great deal of personal pride (automobiles, watches, cameras) are also high-interest products with many rungs on their ladders even though they are purchased infrequently.

• Products that are purchased infrequently and involve an unpleasant experience usually have very few rungs on their ladders. Automobile batteries, tires, and life insurance are three examples.

• The ultimate product that involves the least amount of pleasure and is purchased once in a lifetime has no rungs on its ladder. Ever hear of Batesville caskets? Probably not, although the brand has almost 50 percent of the market.

• There’s a relationship between market share and your position on the ladder in the prospect’s mind. You tend to have twice the market share of the brand below you and half the market share of the brand above you.

• Marketing people often talk about the “three leading brands” in a category as if it were a battle of equals. It almost never is. The leader inevitably dominates the No. 2 brand and the No. 2 brand inevitably smothers No. 3.

• What’s the maximum number of rungs on a ladder? There seems to be a rule of seven in the prospect’s mind. Ask someone to name all the brands he or she remembers in a given category. Rarely will anyone name more than seven. And that’s for a high-interest category.

• Sometimes your own ladder, or category, is too small. It might be better to be a small fish in a big pond than to be a big fish in a small pond. In other words, it’s sometimes better to be No. 3 on a big ladder than No. 1 on a small ladder.

• The top rung of the lemon-lime soda ladder was occupied by 7-Up. (Sprite was on the second rung.) In the soft-drink field, however, the cola ladder is much bigger than the lemon-lime ladder. (Almost two out of three soft drinks consumed in America are cola drinks.) So 7-Up climbed on the cola ladder with a marketing campaign called “The Uncola.”

As tea is to coffee, 7-Up became the alternative to a cola drink. And 7-Up sales climbed to where the brand was the third largest-selling soft drink in America.

• The ladder is a simple, but powerful, analogy that can help you deal with the critical issues in marketing. Before starting any marketing program, ask yourself the following questions: Where are we on the ladder in the prospect’s mind? On the top rung? On the second rung? Or maybe we’re not on the ladder at all. Then make sure your program deals realistically with your position on the ladder.

Law 8. The Law of Duality

In the long run, every market becomes a two-horse race.

• Early on, a new category is a ladder of many rungs. Gradually, the ladder becomes a two-rung affair.

• The law of duality suggests that the market shares of the top three brands are unstable. Furthermore, the law predicts that the leader will lose market share and No. 2 will gain.

• In a maturing industry, third place is a difficult position to be in.

• Time frames, however, can vary. The fast-moving video game market played itself out in two or three seasons. The long-distance telephone market might take two or three decades.

• When you’re a weak No. 3, like Royal Crown, you aren’t going to make much progress by going out and attacking the two strong leaders. What they could have done is carved out a profitable niche for themselves—The Law of Focus.

• Knowing that marketing is a two-horse race, in the long run, can help you plan strategy in the short run. It often happens that there is no clear-cut No. 2. What happens next depends upon how skillful the contenders are.

• Successful marketers concentrate on the top two rungs. Jack Welch, the legendary chairman and CEO of General Electric, said recently: “Only businesses that are No. 1 or No. 2 in their markets could win in the increasingly competitive global arena. Those that could not were fixed, closed, or sold.” It’s this kind of thinking that built companies like Procter & Gamble into the powerhouses they are. In 32 of its 44 product categories in the United States, P&G commands the No. 1 or No. 2 brands.

• Early on, in a developing market, the No. 3 or No. 4 positions look attractive. Sales are increasing. New, relatively unsophisticated customers are coming into the market. These customers don’t always know which brands are the leaders, so they pick ones that look interesting or attractive. Quite often, these turn out to be the No. 3 or No. 4 brands. As time goes on, however, these customers get educated. They want the leading brand, based on the naive assumption that the leading brand must be better.

Law 9. The Law of the Opposite

If you’re shooting for second place, your strategy is determined by the leader.

• In strength, there is weakness. Wherever the leader is strong, there is an opportunity for a would-be No. 2 to turn the tables. Much like a wrestler uses his opponent’s strength against him, a company should leverage the leader’s strength into a weakness.

• If you want to establish a firm foothold on the second rung of the ladder, study the firm above you. Where is it strong? And how do you turn that strength into a weakness? You must discover the essence of the leader and then present the prospect with the opposite. (In other words, don’t try to be better, try to be different.) It’s often the upstart versus old reliable.

• When you look at customers in a given product category, there seem to be two kinds of people. There are those who want to buy from the leader and there are those who don’t want to buy from the leader. A potential No. 2 has to appeal to the latter group. In other words, by positioning yourself against the leader, you take business away from all the other alternatives to No. 1. If old people drink Coke and young people drink Pepsi, there’s nobody left to drink Royal Crown cola.

• Don’t simply knock the competition. The law of the opposite is a two-edged sword. It requires honing in on a weakness that your prospect will quickly acknowledge. (One whiff of Listerine and you know that your mouth would smell like a hospital.) Then quickly twist the sword. (Scope is the good-tasting mouthwash that kills germs.)

• As a product gets old, it often accrues some negative baggage. This is especially true in the medical field.

• There has to be a ring of truth about the negative if it is to be effective.

• Marketing is often a battle for legitimacy. The first brand that captures the concept is often able to portray its competitors as illegitimate pretenders.

• A good No. 2 can’t afford to be timid. When you give up focusing on No. 1, you make yourself vulnerable not only to the leader but to the rest of the pack.

Burger King’s most successful years came when it was on the attack. It opened with “Have it your way,” which twitted McDonald’s mass-manufacturing approach to hamburgers. Then it hit McDonald’s with “Broiling, not frying” and “The Whopper beats the Big Mac.” All these programs reinforced the No. 2, alternative position.

Then, for some unknown reason, Burger King ignored the law of the opposite. It got timid and stopped attacking McDonald’s. The world was introduced to “Herb the nerd,” “The best food for fast times,” “We do it the way you do it,” “You’ve got to break the rules,” and on and on. It even started a program to attract little kids, the mainstay of McDonald’s strength.

Law 10. The Law of Division

Over time, a category will divide and become two or more categories.

• Like an amoeba dividing in a petri dish, the marketing arena can be viewed as an ever-expanding sea of categories. A category starts off as a single entity. Computers, for example. But over time, the category breaks up into other segments.

• The law of division even affects countries. (Witness the mess in Yugoslavia.) In 1776, there were about 35 empires, kingdoms, countries, and states in the world. By World War II, the number had doubled. By 1970, there were more than 130 countries. Today, some 190 countries are generally recognized as sovereign nations.

• Each segment is a separate, distinct entity. Each segment has its own reason for existence. And each segment has its own leader, which is rarely the same as the leader of the original category. IBM is the leader in mainframes, DEC in minis, Sun in workstations, and so on.

• Instead of understanding this concept of division, many corporate leaders hold the naive belief that categories are combining. Synergy and its kissing cousin the corporate alliance are the buzzwords in the boardrooms of America.

• In the future, according to the press, we won’t have banks, insurance companies, stockbrokers, or mortgage lenders. We’ll have financial services companies. It hasn’t happened yet.

Prudential, American Express, and others have fallen into the financial services trap. Customers don’t buy financial services. They buy stocks or life insurance or bank accounts. And they prefer to buy each service from a different company.

• The way for the leader to maintain its dominance is to address each emerging category with a different brand name, as General Motors did in the early days with Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac (and recently with Geo and Saturn).

• Companies make a mistake when they try to take a well-known brand name in one category and use the same brand name in another category.

• What keeps leaders from launching a different brand to cover a new category is a fear of what will happen to their existing brands. General Motors was slow to react to the superpremium category that Mercedes-Benz and BMW established. One reason was that a new brand on top of Cadillac would enrage GM’s Cadillac dealers.

Eventually, GM tried to take Cadillac up-market with the $54,000 Allante. It bombed. Why would anyone spend that kind of money on a so-called Cadillac, since their neighbors would probably think they paid only $30,000 or so? No prestige.

• Timing is also important. You can be too early to exploit a new category. Back in the fifties, the Nash Rambler was America’s first small car. But American Motors didn’t have either the courage or the money to hang in there long enough for the category to develop.

It’s better to be early than late. You can’t get into the prospect’s mind first unless you’re prepared to spend some time waiting for things to develop.

Law 11. The Law of Perspective

Marketing effects take place over an extended period of time.

• The long-term effects of marketing are often the exact opposite of its short-term effects.

• In the short term, a sale increases business. But there’s more and more evidence to show that sales decrease business in the long term by educating customers not to buy at “regular” prices.

Aside from the fact that you can buy something for less, what does a sale say to a prospect? It says that your regular prices are too high. After the sale is over, customers tend to avoid a store with a “sale” reputation.

To maintain volume, retail outlets find they have to run almost continuous sales.

• There is no evidence that couponing increases sales in the long run. Many companies find they need a quarterly dose of couponing to keep sales on an even keel. Once they stop couponing, sales drop off. In other words, you keep those coupons rolling out not to increase sales but to keep sales from falling off if you stop. Couponing is a drug. You continue to do it because the withdrawal symptoms are just too painful.

• Any sort of couponing, discounts, or sales tends to educate consumers to buy only when they can get a deal. What if a company never started couponing in the first place? In the retail field, the big winners are the companies that practice “every day low prices”— companies like Wal-Mart and K Mart and the rapidly growing warehouse outlets. Yet almost everywhere you look you see yo-yo pricing. The airlines and supermarkets are two examples.

• In the short term, line extension invariably increases sales. In the long term, it decreases sales.

• Unless you know what to look for, it’s hard to see the effects of line extension, especially for managers focused on their next quarterly report—if a bullet took five years to reach a target, very few criminals would be convicted of homicide.

Law 12. The Law of Line Extension

There’s an irresistible pressure to extend the equity of a brand.

• By far the most violated law in our book is the law of line extension. What’s even more diabolical is that line extension is a process that takes place continuously, with almost no conscious effort on the part of the corporation. It’s like a closet or a desk drawer that fills up with almost no effort on your part.

One day a company is tightly focused on a single product that is highly profitable. The next day the same company is spread thinly over many products and is losing money.

• When a company becomes incredibly successful, it invariably plants the seeds for its future problems.

• When you try to be all things to all people, you inevitably wind up in trouble. “I’d rather be strong somewhere,” said one manager, “than weak everywhere.”

• In a narrow sense, line extension involves taking the brand name of a successful product (e.g., A-1 steak sauce) and putting it on a new product you plan to introduce (e.g., A-1 poultry sauce).

It sounds so logical. “We make A-1, a great sauce that gets the dominant share of the steak business. But people are switching from beef to chicken, so let’s introduce a poultry product. And what better name to use than A-1. That way people will know the poultry sauce comes from the makers of that great steak sauce, A-1.”

But marketing is a battle of perception, not product. In the mind, A-1 is not the brand name, but the steak sauce itself. “Would you pass me the A-1?” asks the diner. Nobody replies: “A-1 what?”

• There are as many ways to line extend as there are galaxies in the universe. And new ways get invented every day. In the long run and in the presence of serious competition, line extensions almost never work.

• Creating flavors is a popular way to try to grab market share. More flavors, more share. Sounds right, but it doesn’t work.

• Invariably, the leader in any category is the brand that is not line extended.

• Why does top management believe that line extension works, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary? One reason is that while line extension is a loser in the long term, it can be a winner in the short term. Management is also blinded by an intense loyalty to the company or brand. Why else would PepsiCo have introduced Crystal Pepsi in spite of the failures of Pepsi Light and Pepsi AM?

• More is less. The more products, the more markets, the more alliances a company makes, the less money it makes. “Full-speed ahead in all directions” seems to be the call from the corporate bridge.

• Less is more. If you want to be successful today, you have to narrow the focus in order to build a position in the prospect’s mind.

• In the conventional view, a business strategy usually consists of developing an all-encompassing vision. In other words, what concept or idea is big enough to hold all of a company’s products and services on the market today as well as those that are planned for the future?

In the conventional view, strategy is a tent. You stake out a tent big enough so it can hold everything you might possibly want to get into.

IBM has erected an enormous computer tent. Nothing in the computer field, today or in the future, will fall outside the IBM tent. This is a recipe for disaster. As new companies, new products, new ideas invade the computer arena, IBM is going to get blown away. You can’t defend a rapidly growing market like computers even if you are a financial powerhouse like IBM. From a strategic point of view, you have to be much more selective, picking and choosing the area in which to pitch your tent.

• For many companies, line extension is the easy way out. Launching a new brand requires not only money but also an idea or concept. For a new brand to succeed, it ought to be first in a new category (chapter 1: The Law of Leadership). Or the new brand ought to be positioned as an alternative to the leader (chapter 9: The Law of the Opposite). Companies that wait until a new market has developed often find these two leadership positions already preempted. So they fall back on the old reliable line extension approach.

• The antidote for line extension is corporate courage, a commodity in short supply.

Law 13. The Law of Sacrifice

You have to give up something in order to get something.

• The law of sacrifice is the opposite of the law of line extension. If you want to be successful today, you should give something up.

• There are three things to sacrifice: product line, target market, and constant change.

Product Line

• The full line is a luxury for a loser. If you want to be successful, you have to reduce your product line, not expand it.

• Marketing is a game of mental warfare. It’s a battle of perceptions, not products or services.

• The world of business is populated by big, highly diversified generalists and small, narrowly focused specialists. If line extension and diversification were effective marketing strategies, you’d expect to see the generalists riding high. But they’re not. Most of them are in trouble.

Target Market

• In the early sixties, Pepsi-Cola finally developed a strategy based on the concept of sacrifice. The company sacrificed everything except the teenage market. Then it brilliantly exploited this market by hiring its icons: Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Don Johnson.

Within one generation, Pepsi closed the gap. Today it is only 10 percent behind Coca-Cola in total U.S. cola sales. (In the supermarket, Pepsi-Cola actually outsells Coca-Cola.)

• There seems to be an almost religious belief that the wider net catches more customers, in spite of many examples to the contrary.

• The target is not the market. That is, the apparent target of your marketing is not the same as the people who will actually buy your product. Even though Pepsi-Cola’s target was the teenager, the market was everybody. The 50-year-old guy who wants to think he’s 29 will drink the Pepsi.

The target of Marlboro advertising is the cowboy, but the market is everybody. Do you know how many cowboys are left in America? Very few. (They’ve all been smoking Marlboros.)

Constant Change

• If you try to follow the twists and turns of the market, you are bound to wind up off the road. The best way to maintain a consistent position is not to change it in the first place.

Law 14. The Law of Attributes

For every attribute, there is an opposite, effective attribute.

• Too often a company attempts to emulate the leader. “They must know what works,” goes the rationale, “so let’s do something similar.” Not good thinking. It’s much better to search for an opposite attribute that will allow you to play off against the leader. The key word here is oppositesimilar won’t do.

Coca-Cola was the original and thus the choice of older people. Pepsi successfully positioned itself as the choice of the younger generation.

Since Crest owned cavities, other toothpastes avoided cavities and jumped on other attributes like taste, whitening, breath protection, and, more recently, baking soda.

• Marketing is a battle of ideas. So if you are to succeed, you must have an idea or attribute of your own to focus your efforts around. Without one, you had better have a low price. A very low price.

• Some say all attributes are not created equal. Some attributes are more important to customers than others. You must try and own the most important attribute.

Cavity prevention is the most important attribute in toothpaste. It’s the one to own. But the law of exclusivity points to the simple truth that once an attribute is successfully taken by your competition, it’s gone. You must move on to a lesser attribute and live with a smaller share of the category. Your job is to seize a different attribute, dramatize the value of your attribute, and thus increase your share.

• You can’t predict the size of a new attribute’s share, so never laugh at it.

Law 15. The Law of Candor

When you admit a negative, the prospect will give you a positive.

• It goes against corporate and human nature to admit a problem. For years, the power of positive thinking has been drummed into us. “Think positive” has been the subject of endless books and articles. So it may come as a surprise to you that one of the most effective ways to get into a prospect’s mind is to first admit a negative and then twist it into a positive.

• Candor is very disarming. Every negative statement you make about yourself is instantly accepted as truth. Positive statements, on the other hand, are looked at as dubious at best. Especially in an advertisement.s mind is to first admit a negative and then twist it into a positive.

• Marketing is often a search for the obvious. Since you can’t change a mind once it’s made up, your marketing efforts have to be devoted to using ideas and concepts already installed in the brain. You have to use your marketing programs to “rub it in.” No program did this as brilliantly as the Avis No. 2 program.

• The explosive growth of communications in our society has made people defensive and cautious about companies trying to sell them anything. Admitting a problem is something that very few companies do.

• One final note: The law of candor must be used carefully and with great skill. First, your “negative” must be widely perceived as negative. It has to trigger an instant agreement with your prospect’s mind. If the negative doesn’t register quickly, your prospect will be confused and will wonder, “What’s this all about?”

Next, you have to shift quickly to the positive. The purpose of candor isn’t to apologize. The purpose of candor is to set up a benefit that will convince your prospect.

Law 16. The Law of Singularity

In each situation, only one move will produce substantial results.

• Many marketing people see success as the sum total of a lot of small efforts beautifully executed. They think they can pick and choose from a number of different strategies and still be successful as long as they put enough effort into the program. If they work for the leader in the category, they fritter away their resources on a number of different programs. They seem to think that the best way to grow is the puppy approach—get into everything.

If they’re not with the leader, they often end up trying to do the same as the leader, but a little better. Trying harder is not the secret of marketing success.

Whether you try hard or try easy, the differences are marginal. Furthermore, the bigger the company, the more the law of averages wipes out any real advantage of a trying-harder approach.

• History teaches that the only thing that works in marketing is the single, bold stroke. Furthermore, in any given situation there is only one move that will produce substantial results.

Most often there is only one place where a competitor is vulnerable. And that place should be the focus of the entire invading force.

• What works in marketing is the same as what works in the military: the unexpected.

• To find that singular idea or concept, marketing managers have to know what’s happening in the marketplace. They have to be down at the front in the mud of the battle. They have to know what’s working and what isn’t. They have to be involved. Because of the high cost of mistakes, management can’t afford to delegate important marketing decisions.

It’s hard to find that single move if you’re hanging around headquarters and not involved in the process.

Law 17. The Law of Unpredictability

Unless you write your competitors’ plans, you can’t predict the future.

• Implicit in most marketing plans is an assumption about the future. Yet marketing plans based on what will happen in the future are usually wrong.

With hundreds of computers and an army of meteorologists, no one can predict the weather three days in advance, so how do you expect to predict your market three years in advance?

• Failure to forecast competitive reaction is a major reason for marketing failures.

• There are those who would say that America’s big problem is the lack of the long view, that American management is too short term in its thinking. Won’t eliminating long-term plans make things even worse?

On the surface those concerns are real. But it’s important to understand what is meant by long term versus short term. Most of corporate America’s problems are not related to short-term marketing thinking. The problem is short-term financial thinking.

Most companies live from quarterly report to quarterly report. That’s a recipe for problems. Companies that live by the numbers die by the numbers.

• Good short-term planning is coming up with that angle or word that differentiates your product or company. Then you set up a coherent long-term marketing direction that builds a program to maximize that idea or angle. It’s not a long-term plan, it’s a long-term direction.

• Tom Monaghan’s short-term angle at Domino’s Pizza was to come up with that “home delivery” idea and build a system that delivered pizzas quickly and efficiently. His long-term direction was to build the first nationwide home delivery chain as rapidly as possible.

Monaghan couldn’t own the words home delivery until he had enough franchisees to afford national advertising. He accomplished both objectives, and today Domino’s is a $2.65 billion company with a 4 % share of the home delivery business. Monaghan did it all without a complex, 10-year plan.

• So what can you do? How can you best cope with unpredictability? While you can’t predict the future, you can get a handle on trends, which is a way to take advantage of change. One example of a trend is America’s growing orientation toward good health. This trend has opened the door for a number of new products, especially healthier foods.

• The danger in working with trends is extrapolation. Many companies jump to conclusions about how far a trend will go.

Equally as bad as extrapolating a trend is the common practice of assuming the future will be a replay of the present. When you assume that nothing will change, you are predicting the future just as surely as when you assume that something will change. Remember Peter’s Law: The unexpected always happens.

• While tracking trends can be a useful tool in dealing with the unpredictable future, market research can be more of a problem than a help. Research does best at measuring the past. New ideas and concepts are almost impossible to measure. No one has a frame of reference. People don’t know what they will do until they face an actual decision.

• One way to cope with an unpredictable world is to build an enormous amount of flexibility into your organization. As change comes sweeping through your category, you have to be willing to change and change quickly if you are to survive in the long term.

• A company must be flexible enough to attack itself with a new idea. Change isn’t easy, but it’s the only way to cope with an unpredictable future.

• There’s a difference between “predicting” the future and “taking a chance” on the future. Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popping Corn took a chance that people would pay twice as much for a high-end popcorn. Not a bad risk in today’s affluent society.

• No one can predict the future with any degree of certainty. Nor should marketing plans try to.

Law 18. The Law of Success

Success often leads to arrogance, and arrogance to failure.

• Ego is the enemy of successful marketing. Objectivity is what’s needed. When people become successful, they tend to become less objective. They often substitute their o