Tag Archives for " core story "

September 27, 2018

Core Story 18: Neonatal Copywriting Breakthrough

I started this series with a story about my son Hugo. That’s where we’ll end the series too.

Hugo was born on 6th February 2018, six weeks ahead of schedule. Linzi had been ‘incarcerated’ (her words) in hospital for 21 days with pre-eclampsia. So when I got the phone call at 3PM the day before, it wasn’t a shock. But at the same time, you’re never ready.

I stopped at a shop on the way home to buy size zero nappies and maternity pads. I didn’t even know what a ‘maternity pad’ was. I later found out it’s something you never want to ask about…

Hugo spent the first two weeks of his life in an incubator. Even though he was small, Hugo wasn’t the smallest or most critical baby in the neonatal unit, by a long stretch. Alarms constantly beeped on other incubators, while nurses bustling around us holding clipboards.

Then twice a day, at 7AM and 7PM, something interesting happened. Handover.

New nurses arrived for the next shift. Each baby was discussed, and notes shared. Then a new set of heroics were performed for the next 12 hours, by a completely different set of people.

I sat there watching, thinking ‘DING DING DINGThis is how copywriting should work too…’

  • Nobody was ‘winging’ it, or making stuff up as they went along
  • Training and education was a prerequisite
  • Clear rules and procedures were followed
  • An escalation hierarchy was in place, should a problem occur

When you hire a copywriter, you don’t actually care who is doing the writing. But you want them to be trained, knowledgeable and following procedure. You want them to truly understand your needs. You want to feel reassured by them. You want an escalation procedure, in case of emergency, sickness or absence.

And most importantly of all, you want results quickly.

Because let’s face it – generating more leads is no longer the solution to every marketing problem. Click prices are going up, across all platforms. You can’t just throw more money at lead generation. You need the leads you’re generating to stick around for a while…

Sure, you can still get people to opt in from Facebook or wherever by pushing emotional hot buttons. But when you do this, most people opt in out of curiosity. They often won’t confirm their email. They leave as fast as they arrived, perhaps via clicking the ‘this is spam’ button.

I’ve seen this with my own cold Facebook ads, and had to scale them back. High opt-in rates do not necessarily equate to more business. A person who completes an opt-in form isn’t yet a lead.

If you sell knowledge or expertise, the real problem is getting people to actually engage with you – across all the platforms that are available.

Most people under-estimate how much content they need to do this. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but you have to be prolific. Most people are not prolific enough with email; let alone social media, direct mail and other formats.

You have to ask: where do your customers spend most of their time? They spend some of it on email, for sure. But they spend a lot more time on social media. And if you really want their attention, you still can’t go wrong with snail mail.

My vision is for True Story Selling to be a place where you can get the copywriting support you need to both grow your audience and build real connection. Usually that starts with knowing yourself, and knowing your core story.

We’re at the end of my own core story – or at least my current version of it. Let me tell you, I’ve had a blast writing it – but it’s been hard. It’s always hard to work on your own story.

I’m holding a webinar this afternoon for my paid group Story Selling Insider, where I’ll talk about the process I followed to create this series. I’ll talk about the challenges I’ve run into, and how I plan to use these emails in other parts of my marketing. Creating the emails is only the beginning.

If you need to communicate your expertise to more people, I’d love to have you in the group. You’ll get a recording of this afternoon’s session if you can’t join us live.

This is a limited-time invite. Story Selling Insider Membership closes on Sunday, and won’t be open again until 7th January. I’ll only be taking on a limited number of new members after that.

Read more here

There’s no long term commitment – and no risk. I only expect you to stay as long as you’re getting value from the group.

September 26, 2018

Core Story 17: Sobbing in the toilets at work

I’ve ended up back in full time employment twice in the time I’ve had my own business.

In May last year we had just returned from two months in Italy. To be honest, business wasn’t great. Despite the time away I was lacking clarity on how to move forwards, and needed to buy myself some time.

Whenever I spoke to Linzi about work, we ended up having that conversation. You know, the conversation that ends with ‘so when are you going to get a real job??

One day I opened a web browser. I don’t know what compelled me to check LinkedIn, but I did.

I hardly ever check LinkedIn. I think the whole platform is full of posturing, not real connection. I had a message in my inbox from a recruiter. I have no idea why I opened it, let alone respond. But I did.

A short phone call later I discovered the company was looking for help with Infusionsoft, and based nearby. The salary was good. They sold high-end property investment training courses, and were looking for someone to craft their customer journey.

The company was small but growing, with money available to invest in ads and systems. There would be scope to work from home. Their website was terrible, but there was an aspirational aspect to the message I liked.

In my head I was like… “ummmmm, where’s the snag?” I had been after a single big client for a while, so perhaps this was it?

Two weeks later I started work as ‘CRM manager’… a title that in hindsight barely reflected the scope of the work.

I remember my first day in the office. The mixed emotions. Sad at being committed to a daytime role. Pleased that I had found an opportunity this good so close to home. Worried I would delay progress on True Story Selling. Starting any new job is a culture shock for a few days. The company had ambitions to take over property education both here and in America. Big plans, big goals, aggressive timescales.

You could tell at the outset that the company was very… busy. You could see the busyness etched into people’s faces.

I have no problem with being busy. I like the ‘let’s make stuff happen’ attitude. But I also like time to reflect and think. As a creative person your output is only as good as your input.

I’ve since realised that the busyness stemmed from the company owners, who almost never took a day off (including on vacation), and wouldn’t be told something is impossible. If you talk yourself into a senior management role for people who never take time off, and won’t accept you can’t do something, guess what happens?

You breakdown – that’s what happens.

I was been promoted to ‘Head of Marketing’ in November. I knew at the time it was a risky move, for only a modest increase in pay. For a while I had managed to stay away from the office, and maintain a sort-of ‘CRM expert’ or ‘consultant’ status. Those perks quickly evaporated, along with a pound of flesh.

Things really unravelled in January this year…

I had just run my own Big Story Workshop, which was a success. At the same time, Linzi was in hospital for more than two weeks with pre-eclampsia. And at the same time, the day job had gone into crazy-insane-overdrive. At one point we were running three live webinars per week, which I was responsible for organising and promoting.

I remember sitting at my desk one Friday afternoon. I had about seven reports to prepare. I had a very novice member of staff to manage. Plus four webinars to plan, and write copy for. I remember just going blank, or vacant. Having the feeling of letting go of the steering wheel, regardless of the consequences.

I’m not really an emotional breakdown kind of person. You won’t find me sobbing in the toilets – although I heard other people. But the breakdown definitely happened.

I was up front with work about what happened. Told them they needed to find a new Head of Marketing. I’d lose another pound of flesh before managing to extract myself fully, but I got out in the end.

There were some good outcomes from this stint back in employment. My copywriting definitely improved – mostly because we ran so many damn webinars. At one point I was outlining and copy editing seven or eight emails per day, plus managing an in-house copywriter.

I did some things right. I worked from home very early on. I set a precedent of travelling to the office after the morning rush hour – if I even went in at all. I rejected the offer of a work mobile (haha – no thanks!)

When you do these things from the beginning, nobody questions them too much later on. Showing up regularly is not a good way to make yourself valuable. All that happens is you become a part of the furniture.

I’ve also questioned myself a lot. I’ve questioned whether I pushed back on management enough. I have to be pretty certain of my opinions before I’ll shout up, but sometimes I should have trusted my gut more.

I learned a lot about myself too. I learned I’m about as managerial as a brush. I’m also too prone to disappear on long walks for conventional office life. Too attached to my own eccentricity.

Oh, and I learned (again) that I can’t do everything and beat the world all by myself.

More on that in tomorrow’s final core story email, when I’ll bring you up to date.

September 25, 2018

Core Story 16: Off You Go… Write Me an Email

As I was telling you yesterday, I came away from Infusionsoft’s ICON conference with a burning desire to focus on one specific thing.

That thing was storytelling…

Ever since I was small I’ve written stories that keep people’s attention. I’ve always written emails that tell some kind of story. I’ve even told primitive stories in Google ads.

I’ve seen that stories work, in different ways and across different media…

But I always thought storytelling was a dark art; not something I could systematise or teach. Plus I don’t have a background in story. Beyond A-level literature I never studied it formally. Whenever you’re about to pivot into a new area, a small inner voice ALWAYS pops up to question your credentials.

What qualifies you to teach that?” the voice demands.

As usual, it turns out that didn’t matter…

I had been following Sean D’Souza for a few years. I would listen to his Three Month Vacation podcasts on my walks around Sheffield. One week Sean announced he was running a storytelling workshop in Amsterdam, so I booked to go.

Within five minutes of arriving at the venue, Sean gave me this sideways look. “So… you’re an introvert, right?” he asked.

‘Oh man. Is it that obvious?’ I thought, completely taken aback.

There were around twenty delegates at the workshop. We mostly arrived as writers in some capacity. What became obvious was that Sean had a process he was able to teach, and it wouldn’t have mattered if we had arrived as physicists or mathematicians. We’d all have made the same mistakes, and left with the same skill.

A few things really struck me about those three days. The workshop itself was carefully structured; but also fun. There was music. We had breakout time. We went out for lunch, and dinner in the evening. There was a good mix of learning, doing, and space to just work stuff out.

Most importantly, you came away with a skill. One of Sean’s goals, he told us, was for us to teach what we had learned.

When I got home I combined Sean’s storytelling process with some of my own ideas. I scoped out a seven-week email storytelling course. I put up a basic sales page. This wasn’t a big, flashy launch. I just needed to work through the process with a small group, and three students signed up.

Each week we met online to work through a particular aspect of storytelling technique. Halfway through the course I said to the group: “off you go… write me an email…”

… And virtual tumbleweed blew across my screen.

I could see furrowed brows and worried expressions through grainy webcam images. All three students were overwhelmed.

I thought about this for a few days. Eventually we created an extra step called the Speedy First Draft. Later on we added a second draft stage. We ended up with seven steps in the process rather than five, but now nobody was stuck or overwhelmed.

I had broken down the process of writing a story-based email to a series of doable steps, but still something was missing. Some connection or insight I had missed.

In my head I was like, “I know this matters. I know I’m onto something. But I can’t see the full picture…”

Shortly after that a friend recommended Christopher Booker’s book The Seven Basic Plots. In the final part of the book, Booker explains that great stories are always about a broken or flawed character becoming whole, by undergoing some kind of personal transformation.

As I read those words, a penny dropped…

Most of my clients deliver some kind of transformation that is difficult to explain.

Perhaps story was the missing ingredient.

We’re all broken or flawed, in some way. You can use that to build connection. Or you can ignore it, and pretend you’re perfect.

More tomorrow.

September 25, 2018

Core Story 16: Off you go, write me an email…

As I was telling you yesterday, I came away from Infusionsoft’s ICON conference with a burning desire to focus on one specific thing.

That thing was storytelling…

Ever since I was small I’ve written stories that keep people’s attention. I’ve always written emails that tell some kind of story. I’ve even told primitive stories in Google ads.

I’ve seen that stories work, in different ways and across different media…

But I always thought storytelling was a dark art; not something I could systematise or teach. Plus I don’t have a background in story. Beyond A-level literature I never studied it formally. Whenever you’re about to pivot into a new area, a small inner voice ALWAYS pops up to question your credentials.

What qualifies you to teach that?” the voice demands.

As usual, it turns out that didn’t matter…

I had been following Sean D’Souza for a few years. I would listen to his Three Month Vacation podcasts on my walks around Sheffield. One week Sean announced he was running a storytelling workshop in Amsterdam, so I booked to go.

Within five minutes of arriving at the venue, Sean gave me this sideways look. “So… you’re an introvert, right?” he asked.

‘Oh man. Is it that obvious?’ I thought, completely taken aback.

There were around twenty delegates at the workshop. We mostly arrived as writers in some capacity. What became obvious was that Sean had a process he was able to teach, and it wouldn’t have mattered if we had arrived as physicists or mathematicians. We’d all have made the same mistakes, and left with the same skill.

A few things really struck me about those three days. The workshop itself was carefully structured; but also fun. There was music. We had breakout time. We went out for lunch, and dinner in the evening. There was a good mix of learning, doing, and space to just work stuff out.

Most importantly, you came away with a skill. One of Sean’s goals, he told us, was for us to teach what we had learned.

When I got home I combined Sean’s storytelling process with some of my own ideas. I scoped out a seven-week email storytelling course. I put up a basic sales page. This wasn’t a big, flashy launch. I just needed to work through the process with a small group, and three students signed up.

Each week we met online to work through a particular aspect of storytelling technique. Halfway through the course I said to the group: “off you go… write me an email…”

… And virtual tumbleweed blew across my screen.

I could see furrowed brows and worried expressions through grainy webcam images. All three students were overwhelmed.

I thought about this for a few days. Eventually we created an extra step called the Speedy First Draft. Later on we added a second draft stage. We ended up with seven steps in the process rather than five, but now nobody was stuck or overwhelmed.

I had broken down the process of writing a story-based email to a series of doable steps, but still something was missing. Some connection or insight I had missed.

In my head I was like, “I know this matters. I know I’m onto something. But I can’t see the full picture…”

Shortly after that a friend recommended Christopher Booker’s book The Seven Basic Plots. In the final part of the book, Booker explains that great stories are always about a broken or flawed character becoming whole, by undergoing some kind of personal transformation.

As I read those words, a penny dropped…

Most of my clients deliver some kind of transformation that is difficult to explain.

Perhaps story was the missing ingredient.

We’re all broken or flawed, in some way. You can use that to build connection. Or you can ignore it, and pretend you’re perfect.

More tomorrow.

September 24, 2018

Core Story 15: Pick ONE… and Start Winning

I was telling you last time about my snap decision to switch from AWeber to Infusionsoft…

I’m the sort of person who jumps into things with both feet, if it feels right. I didn’t just tack Infusionsoft onto my AdWords business; I became an Infusionsoft consultant. As part of my kickstart I negotiated access to the 2013 and 2014 presentations from Infusionsoft’s annual user conference, ICON.

I knew I needed to really learn the system, and put out a message on Perry Marshall’s forum asking if anyone would like pro bono support with their Infusionsoft account.

Fortunately a few people responded, and over the next few months I did just about every job you can imagine in Infusionsoft. I built campaigns. I created sales pipelines. I wrote copy. I created referral tracking systems. Eventually I went and completed my Infusionsoft partner certification.

Meanwhile, my AdWords business wasn’t going so well – probably because I was focused on seven other things. The lead flow from my free report had dried up. I had gone from having a simple offer (“I’ll help fix your AdWords account”), to a more complicated offer. I was now part AdWords consultant, part Infusionsoft consultant, part email copywriter.

I tried to combine all of these things under a single brand, called Rear End PPC: Pay Per Click for Back End Profits. Which didn’t make it any easier to understand.

Fundamentally I was confused, and too close to the business to see my confusion.

In 2016 I booked to go to the ICON conference in Phoenix. It was an act of desperation – I needed more clients, so hanging around three thousand other Infusionsoft users seemed like a sensible thing to do.

As I sat on the plane I knew I was in trouble. I knew people would ask what I did. And I knew I didn’t have a solid answer, besides yawning and asking what they would like to hear about.

There were three turning points…

On the second day of the conference I attended a talk about Infusionsoft’s action planning process, which is a project management methodology. Running an AdWords agency is ALL about project management, so I thought this would help me scale things up.

The presenter explained how he meticulously breaks down objectives into strategies, tactics and assets, and tracks progress towards project goals.

The following slide is an example of this methodology, where all of the assets, content, tools and skills are listed to create a video landing page. An hours estimate is applied, as is a forecast of project costs and predicted revenue.

I sat there feeling numb on the inside. I had no interest in this level of planning and organisation. I was trying to grow a business that relied on good project management, and here I was left cold at the thought of managing a big project.

Later that evening I was at the bar talking to another Infusionsoft partner. Still numb from my project management experience, I had told her I was an ‘email copywriter’.

“You’re an email copywriter,” she replied, “and you don’t send a daily email?”

“No, I send weekly,” I managed to reply. On the inside, I knew she was right.

On the final day of the conference, Gary Vaynerchuk was the final speaker. Something he said slapped me around the face.

“All of you who are sitting there trying to do seven different things,” he started, “should just stop. Pick ONE, and start winning…”

I knew instantly what that thing was.

September 21, 2018

Core Story 14: How I generated AdWords leads

I was telling you yesterday how I accidentally became a Google AdWords consultant…

My first project was for a local office supplies firm: a difficult project in a market dominated by big competitors. The only keywords we could profitably bid on were niche long tail keywords. I also randomly remember that Tipp-ex used to sell well.

My early AdWords projects were good learning experiences. In most cases it was possible to deliver a quick improvement just by knowing what you were doing.

I did a few things to improve my skills. I attended a training day in London, with Drayton Bird and Howie Jacobson; the original author of Google AdWords for Dummies. Howie taught that AdWords was primarily a message testing laboratory, besides a source of customers.

I devoured Brad Geddes’ book Advanced Google AdWords, and hired UK AdWords consultant David Rothwell to help me. David didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know, but it gave me a degree of internal validation.

To get clients, I created a lead magnet called How to Waste Thousands on AdWords, in No Time Flat. On the thank you page I offered a printed ‘AdWords Account Setup Cheat Sheet’, which I printed at home and sent out in the mail to people who requested it.

Roughly half of the people who opted in requested the printed guide. On the cheat sheet request form I also asked people what their biggest AdWords frustration was, and logged these in a spreadsheet.

I added everyone who opted in to an AWeber email sequence with perhaps 13 emails, which were a mixture of story and content. Both the cheat sheet and the email series finished with a simple call to action: contact me to get help.

Back in 2012 you could still affordably bid on ‘Google AdWords’ related keywords. I created the ad you can see below. I tested dozens of ads against this one, and never managed to beat it.

I had clearly done something right, because by mid 2012 I was spending just £20 per day on AdWords, getting 5 or 6 opt-ins, half of which would request the cheat sheet. About one in ten would make a serious enquiry.

I’ve since advertised all sorts of things on Google. Solicitor services. Ink toners. Stairlifts (which was a total nightmare – see this story). Employer DBS checks. Window cleaning. Infidelity counselling. Nitrile gloves. Ergonomic beds (seriously). Elderly care at home. Yoga classes. Financial training. Vending machines. Telecoms solutions. Cloud hosting. Wedding marquees. Painting and decorating. Building maintenance. And many more.

In 2013 I read Sam Carpenter’s book Work the System, and began systematising my regular AdWords procedures. Based on that I employed an assistant to help with the projects, and created a training product called The AdWords Survival Guide. Which I was told later was like ‘doing a masters in AdWords’.

I’m sometimes asked… why didn’t I carry on with the AdWords business? Why didn’t I build an agency? I was good at it; especially the ad creation part.

There are a few answers to that question.

I mostly worked with companies that generated leads, rather than sold online. To my eyes things would be going well… conversions would be up, cost per conversion would be okay.

Then one day my phone would ring. “I’m sorry Rob,” the client would say, “but these leads haven’t led to any work. We’re going to have to end the project.”

“Uhh, did you try calling them?” I would reply. But it was too late.

In 2014 I noticed that two of my most interesting clients used the CRM system Infusionsoft. I had been aware of Infusionsoft for a long time, and knew that a number of big name marketers relied on it. One day I watched a presentation by a guy called Jermaine Griggs. Jermaine had won Infusionsoft marketer of the year, and ran a business called Hear and Play.

Jermaine explained how he ran a multi-million dollar business with a handful of employees, and an Infusionsoft account. He had systems in place to sort customers by engagement, with concrete measures for recency, frequency and money. As Jermaine pulled back the curtain on his campaigns, my jaw hit the floor.

I made an emotional decision that day to re-orientate my business around Infusionsoft. I couldn’t really afford Infusionsoft at the time, but it was a direction I felt compelled to follow.

More next week…

September 20, 2018

Core Story 13: First Paying Client

I was telling you yesterday about my early business ventures…

After the hair salon incident I decided to hang my shingle as a web designer. I had been following Ben Hunt through my System Seminar recordings, and decided to join his online Pro Web Design Course. Which at the time was the most comprehensive web design course on the internet, by a mile.

I created a basic website about my work (using a template – not my own design!), and a basic Google AdWords campaign targeting local ‘web design’ keywords. One evening my phone rang.

“Hello, I’m AD” said the caller. “Do you do websites?”

Yes, yes I did do websites.

“Could you add a membership site?”

Yes, I probably could.

“Would you come over for a meeting to discuss it?”

Yes, yes I would!

I was relieved to get off the phone without AD asking whether he could see any of the websites I had created. Which in a roundabout way, was zero. We arranged to meet the following evening at his house.

AD shared his house with his wife, parents, and about thirteen small children. We perched on office chairs in his attic, surrounded by piles of strewn paper.

AD did most of the talking. I did most of the listening. We mapped out roughly what his new website was going to look like. Eventually, the subject of payment came up.

“How much is this going to cost?” AD asked.

I thought back to my experience with Emile. I was careful not to let it show, but I badly needed the cash.

“Four hundred pounds. Two hundred up front, two hundred on completion.”

“That sounds fair enough.” AD said, without blinking.

Damn, I should have asked for more!‘ I thought darkly.

Still, a part of me was relieved. After spending weeks trooping around shops speaking to people who would rather I went away, it was good to have someone who wanted to engage my services and pay me money.

He paid me the £200 outside his house in cash, on his doorstep.

I sent AD an invoice later as a receipt for the £200. I had no invoice template, and at the time had no accounting system. My first ever invoice was set out crudely in Microsoft Word, with ‘RJD Consulting’ at the top as my business name. I copied the layout from an invoice I had received from a supplier, and set the invoice number at random. I didn’t want AD to know it was my first ever invoice!

There were a number of problems with AD’s website. Firstly, AD had no idea what he was actually trying to achieve. The scope of the project was changed abruptly a number of times.

Secondly, the website took me WAY longer to prepare than I anticipated. The more intricate membership elements of the site didn’t work fully, but AD eventually signed the site off.

While this was happening I still desperately needed clients with real businesses. A friend recommended I try local networking. After a little research online, I came across the High Wycombe Business Network. I sent an enquiry to see if they needed a web designer.

The message back was that the group already had an incumbent web designer, but if I wanted to come along in another capacity I would be more than welcome. I yawned nonchalantly, and asked what they might like to hear about.

“Getting ranked on Google,” was the reply.

I hurriedly designed and ordered new business cards from Vistaprint, and booked to go along as ‘Rob Drummond: PPC Consultant’. I had no pay per click clients of course, but my experience with AD had proven this didn’t really matter.

The Network was a two-hour breakfast meeting, running from 7-9 AM every Thursday. I went along and spoke about my non-existent Google AdWords services.

The first time I went I remember everyone seeming so assured. The financial advisors huddled in a corner to speak in their own special finance language.

On the inside I was in turmoil. “WHAT IF THEY FIND OUT I’M A FRAUD?” a voice screamed in my head.

And then a little quieter, “What if this is the day you stammer again?”

I really, really hated that little voice.

As the weeks slipped by, I became more assured. Speaking to people every week forced me to think about who I was trying to work with, and how I structured my projects. One week a guy with an office supplies business approached me after the meeting.

“I’m spending money with Google,” he said, “and I’ve tried calling them. And I think it made things worse. Can you help?”

I stretched nonchalantly to hide my inner nerves, and said ‘sure…’

Pay per click client No.1 was on board!

More on which tomorrow.

September 18, 2018

My early business failures (part 1)

When I got back from South America I immediately started work again at the CRM (Customer Relationship Management) company near London, where I did my placement year.

I hired a room in a shared house, in a town called High Wycombe. Two of my new housemates turned out to be crack addicts, which is a story for another day…

I look back on those years as being paid to learn. I bought and studied the recordings of Ken McCarthy’s System Seminar. A deep thinker with a keen eye for historical trends, Ken showcased less flashy internet marketing experts. I discovered Perry Marshall through Ken’s recordings, as well as Gary Halbert, Ben Hunt and Glenn Livingston.

I’d listen to the audios on a little battery-powered 125mb capacity MP3 player on my way to work. I was accumulating a lot of marketing knowledge, but I didn’t really understand the part in the middle… me.

While I was at the CRM company I did a few ‘intrapreneurial’ things. The company had just launched an email marketing service, partnering with a company called Communigator. Communigator was a sophisticated but complex email marketing platform that none of our customers could really use.

I would go to the customer’s site and attempt to teach the basics of sending an email. There’s only so much you can achieve in a day, especially when you’re working with someone who lifts their mouse up and down to make the cursor move. Often I would arrive with a solid training plan, only to spend half the morning teaching someone how to turn their computer on.

I remember going to one especially traumatic meeting in London, where the customer locked me in a room for two hours while they aired their laundry list of all the issues they had with the CRM system. I wouldn’t blink twice now, but it overawed me at the time.

Towards the end of my time there I created a beta ‘web marketing’ service, which involved billing out my time to do pay per click and SEO work.

We only managed to sell one web marketing project. I’d go to meetings at the client’s site where the alpha male M.D would animatedly insist they needed more traffic, or ‘footfall’ as he called it.

I would insist he needed more conversions, although nobody could tell me what conversions they really wanted. They wanted more direct enquiries, without pissing off their network of distributors. Despite what I thought at the time, I wasn’t able to give them that.

The web marketing service I had created eventually wasn’t scalable enough. Looking back I think it was too much of a departure from the company’s core business of software development. My manager eventually insinuated that I could go and do it for myself, but they weren’t going to support it.

I was busy prototyping my own endeavours while this was going on. From Ken’s seminar recordings I had also started to follow Kim Dushinski. Kim wrote one of the original books on mobile marketing: The Mobile Marketing Handbook. Kim argued that simple SMS text messaging was still the main tool to use.

(As an aside, the situation hasn’t changed so much today. SMS is still a VERY effective tool, even though everyone is obsessed with messenger bots).

I would head to a pub after work, and create different ‘packages’ for my new SMS text messaging service. The route to financial freedom was all mine, I told myself.

Or not, as it turned out…

We’ll pick this up tomorrow.

This is really the first story about how I moved into my current line of work. It’s a ‘feeling your way story’, that sets the groundwork for a turning point that’ll come tomorrow.

There are two other insights that are obvious to me, reflecting on this story. One is that I’ve always been able to learn stuff very quickly; whether that’s been email, SMS, AdWords or otherwise. This is both a blessing and curse, because for years it has muddied the water about what work I really should be doing.

I’ve also never been able to follow someone else’s system when creating a business. I tried to implement Kim’s system, and failed (more on this tomorrow). It’s like the difference between following a path, and discovering the path for yourself.

I’m much better at the latter, and I suspect you are too…

September 17, 2018

Core Story 10: Colombian Bus Fiasco

I was telling you last time about arriving in Argentina, and the challenges of travelling alone…

As the weeks ticked past I spent a lot of time in hostels and cheap hotels. You would hear stories through the grapevine about travellers being robbed – held at gunpoint even.

The closest I came to being robbed was entirely of my own doing…

Towards the end of my trip I was travelling in Colombia with two friends I had met. We were on a bus between the Caribbean cities of Cartagena and Santa Marta. From Santa Marta we were planning to do a three day hike up into the Andes to La Ciudad Perdida – The Lost City.

It was a stiflingly hot day in December. I had relaxed on the bus as we travelled through beautiful countryside. After about two hours the bus ground to a halt in the city of Barranquilla, where a guard got on.

“Cambio! Cambio! Cambio!” he shouted quickly. Change buses. I gathered up my belongings in a panic and hurried off the bus.

As I stood at the roadside watching the bus drive away, I instinctively patted my tummy where my money belt usually was. There was nothing there. A cold feeling of dread swept over me; one of those moments where blood somehow runs to your feet.

I was due to fly home in a week, and my moneybelt contained everything: my passport, bank cards, and decent amount of money.

Our next bus was about to depart. “Sube!” urged the female conductor, urging us to get aboard. I explained as best I could, in broken stuttering Spanish, that I had left my passport on the previous bus.

‘Get on,’ she replied in Spanish. ‘We’ll make some calls.’

The bus journey to Santa Marta was two hours of pure internal despair. I sat there mulling over my own stupidity. Should I have got on the bus? Should I have left to track down the previous one?

“It’ll be okay,” encouraged Jenny, one of my companions.

“Yeah,” continued Allan, “if you need to get back to the embassy we’ll lend you the money.”

Great,’ I thought sulkily. ‘Just what I need. A twenty-hour bus ride back to Bogotà, to beg for a passport…

Despite the promises when we got on, I couldn’t see a whole lot of calling going on from the conductor. I sat there contemplating my forthcoming trip to Bogotà, watching the still-beautiful countryside fly by like forbidden fruit. Every passing second meant travelling further away from my passport. I reflected moodily that I shouldn’t have got on.

The sun set over the horizon as we passed into the suburbs of Santa Marta. More and more people got off the bus. South American buses stop anywhere for anyone, regardless of how much time has passed since the previous stop. Every minute someone would call out “A la esquina, por favor! At the corner please.Even if there actually was no corner.

Finally, we pulled into the Santa Marta bus terminal and shuddered to a halt. The driver switched off the engine, and everyone else got off. “Come on guys,” I said resignedly, standing up to get off.

Espera…” the bus conductor said to me, blocking my path. Wait. She disappeared off the bus for a moment.

Two long minutes later she reappeared… holding my money belt.

I’ve honestly never felt such a wave of relief, before or since. I gave her what I can only describe as a bear hug – something I don’t do lightly! She explained in Spanish that the original bus company had searched the bus, found my belt, and passed it to another Santa Marta-bound bus. Some of the money was missing, which didn’t matter. My passport was there, and my bank cards.

Despite all the stories you hear of tourists being robbed in South America, my own experience was overwhelmingly positive. I suspect looking back that being robbed and receiving unbelievable levels of trust were both never far away.

Often you had to trust your gut… and trust other people.

I tell this story in my Nurture Email Mastery course, and ask students to tell me what they think the story is about. More often than not they say ‘trust’.

The whole point of telling your core selling story is also to build trust. We often think of attention as being the ultimate form of marketing currency, but attention without trust rarely leads to a sale. I once heard this called the ‘emotional bank account’ you have with your list. If you sell based on trust, you first need to have made sufficient regular deposits.

The real outcome for me of the moneybelt incident was learning to trust my gut a little more, and learning to place trust in other people based on that feeling. This idea will reappear later in the series…

September 14, 2018

Core Story 09: Fumbling Around in Spanish

When I finished university I immediately boarded a plane to South America. The plan was to fly into Argentina in June, and fly back from Ecuador in December.

As I sat on the plane I had no idea what to expect. I had studied Spanish… a little. After 18 hours and a thorough interrogation halfway at US border control, I arrived bleary eyed at Ezeiza airport in Buenos Aires…

And realised I knew nothing.

“You’ll be met at the airport,” I was told by the travel company. I looked around at the congregation of taxi drivers holding name cards. Mine wasn’t there.

Other people around me were embracing friends and family, exchanging sharp excited “holas!” I felt decidedly alone.

I put my bags down in a corner and rustled through my paperwork, eventually locating the emergency phone number I had been given. I switched my phone on, and nothing happened. No service, no bars.

I glanced over at the public pay phones where people were excitedly talking in rapid-fire Spanish, hands flying. I had no Argentinian pesos, and no real willingness to decode the instructions on the telephone.

I wanted to sleep, not problem-solve. “No tengo las ganas,” I complained in my head. It was one of the few phrases I had memorised, and roughly translates as ‘I don’t have the gusto’. I still love the word ganas; we don’t really have an equivalent word in English.

I puffed out my chest, and summoned the courage to approach one of the taxi companies. The man behind the desk spoke no English, but I gave him the address I had been given. “Cincuenta dolares,” he told me with a smile. “Okay,” I said, recognising the number. Get me out of here.

As I sat in the taxi we passed through the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Billboards at the side of the road advertised different political candidates. The outsides of some buildings were painted blue and yellow; the colours of the Boca Juniors football team. Clothes hung from anywhere and everywhere.

I was welcomed by Gustavo, my host for the next two weeks. Gustavo worked from home as a music teacher, and spoke a little English. His living room contained at least a thousand books, cassettes and records. While I slept he made us some empanadas; small pastries filled with meat and onions. I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful.

The next day I started language school in the centre of Buenos Aires. Gustavo lived in a suburb called Caballito, which I later learned was pronounced ‘Cabashito’. I had to board the metro to the Cinco de Mayo stop.

When you arrive in a new country where you don’t speak the language, everything is an ordeal. Gustavo had told me to ask for “diez viajes” – ten journeys. At the moment it came to buy my tickets, the word ‘viajes’ evaporated from my brain. I stood at the counter gawping for a few moments, while people queued up behind me.

At Caballito the train wouldn’t be too busy. By a few stops down the line, you were rammed in like sardines. Many people clutched a gourd of Yerba Mate, which they would sip through a metal bombilla and top up from a plastic thermos. A few had face masks on – this was the time of the SARS epidemic.

I fell off the train at Cinco de Mayo, and emerged onto the street. I tried to remember Gustavo’s instructions. Where the hell was I supposed to go? I was already slightly late. I hate being late.

After wandering around for ten minutes, I plucked up the courage to ask for directions. I lodged the question in my head, and stopped a man in a suit. He understood the question okay, and responded in Spanish, pointing. The trouble with asking for directions in Spanish was I had to ask three times as many people, because I only understood one third of the responses.

The guy I had stopped walked with me for a few blocks, and continued to question me. “De que pais?” he asked.

I stared back at him, dumbfounded. ‘De que pais… I should know what that means,’ I thought, hesitating. It was the first of about a thousand times I would be asked where I was from over the next six months.

Things didn’t get easier once I made it to language school. I was put in the bottom class, with two other students. Our teacher was a patient young lady, who would only speak to us in English as an absolute last resort.

Each day we would study grammar for two hours, followed by ‘conversation’ for two hours. Which a lot of the time meant fumbling for words you had been told, but couldn’t recall. After class we would go for lunch, which meant no let up. You had to carry on speaking Spanish.

When I tell people about my South America trip, I often hear “oh wow, that must have been life changing.” And it was life changing, but really because of the never-ending struggle to get around and be understood.

Suddenly nothing was straightforward; whether that was catching the metro or going to the laundrette.

I went with the learned belief that I wasn’t a ‘language person’. I quickly realised that I could learn a language with sufficient practice and motivation to do so.

There are all sorts of segues I could use with this story, for example being understood; or speaking your customer’s language. For me the key lesson was that learning the fundamentals of grammar really, really helped.

I did four weeks of language class in total, and it propped up the rest of my trip. Travelling alone means you HAVE to talk to people all the time, however introverted you feel, whether you like it or not.

I’ve since reflected that nothing forces you to grow as a person more than independent travel. More on this next week.

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