micro case study: author gives sample of his writing.

IMG 7839 768x1024 micro case study: author gives sample of his writing.I was just picking up an order of books from Audrey’s Books (an independent local bookstore in Edmonton) and I saw this little ‘book preview’.

And I thought it was a great example of a pink spoon in their marketing. Giving people a free sample of what you do. A taster. I’d heard of previews online or in magazines but never a mini book excerpt I could take with me. And it was right there on the counter where I was paying, so easy for me to see it.

For more thoughts on book publishing read these.

Four Thoughts About Email Subject Lines in Marketing


engaging subject lines1 300x251 Four Thoughts About Email Subject Lines in MarketingFirst of all, this is not a blog post about how to write email subject lines that sell (though it may help you do that).

It’s also not a blog post about how to write good sales copy. I’ve got nine thoughts on how to do that here.  

When you get an email, there is, like the title of a book or a chapter, the subject line. 

It is, in many ways, the headline to your email.

My mentor Robert Middleton said this recently, “I agonize over subject lines. It’s kind of an art.”

I think that’s the right attitude to have.

This blog post came from an email that myself and many colleagues received from someone in our industry (you’ll hear more about it in Though #2). This inspired a lot of big conversations about it, and tactics like it, in a private facebook group. And that all inspired this blog post. 


Thought #1: The subject line is not the most important factor in an email being opened.

Not by a long shot. It’s not that they aren’t important, it’s just that they’re a distant number two from the most important reason – who it’s from. If the email is from someone they deeply love and trust, they’re almost guaranteed to notice it and far more likely to open it. There is so much attention given to the subject line but it’s just not the most important thing. 

Two things this means:

1) Having your message delivered by key influencers and hubs will have a lot of impact.

2) If you are not trusted, it doesn’t matter how good your subject line is. So, if you do things that break trust with your followers, your emails will be ignored. This leads neatly into thought #2…

A colleague of mine Kathy Mallary said this, “Another thing that rarely gets mentioned is that if you are doing a good job of building a meaningful, value-based relationship with the people on your list (a first step might be to refer to them AS people, rather than “my list”!), then your subject lines will probably get better results no matter what — even if they, shall we say, ‘suck‘.  For instance, if Mark Silver or Robert Middleton were to send me an email that said “Sorry, but I have to move on…” I would DEFINITELY open it, and even if inside they were to (accidentally, I’m sure) say something silly like “I’m really sorry that I have failed to communicate the value this program could create for you and that now we are leaving you behind!” I would most definitely email them back and check to see what the heck is going on, because that kind of message affects our relationship. Because both Mark and Robert have consistently taken the trouble to build a relationship with their audience, and as one of their tribe, I trust them and care about what they’re up to. So if you’re the marketer, I encourage you to get up to speed on relationship marketing — it’s actually a “thing”. And getting good at it might actually create the space and forgiveness you need so you can afford to make a silly mistake once in a while (who doesn’t?!).”


Thought #2: Your subject line is a promise that the email fulfills (or not).

Whatever you write in the subject line is a promise to them.

The email is where you fulfill that promise.

If you consistently make good on your promises (and maybe even over deliver) people will trust you.

If you consistently break your promises, people will trust you less.

Here’s the story about how this blog post came to be (it includes an epic rant).

One of my colleagues got an email from another colleague which had a subject line that she felt (and I agree) was misleading. 

The subject line was, “Here’s my phone number”.

But the email she gave in it, was not her personal cell phone number. It was a conference bridge line. This is a part of the email.

“I’ve never done this before – so TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ME! 

Here are the details:

Primary dial in number: (425) 440-5100 
Secondary dial in number: (513) 233-7881
Guest pin code: 834536#

Give Me a Call … I’d LOVE to Meet You!!!”

My colleague was upset and ranted, “Oh for the LOVE of all that is HOLY – do not EVER EVER EVER send an email to your list with the subject line “here’s my phone number” and then give a motherfucking conference bridge line. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? DO YOU THINK I AM A COMPLETE MORON?? WHAT THE WHAT?!?!?! She’s never done this before? What? Given out a bridge line? Who suggested to her she do this? Has she lost her mind. This is the most disingenuous, insidious and offensive marketing email I have ever gotten. She was trying to like dupe the reader into believing it was her personal number…. Just say you are having a Q&A call and you will stay on to answer any question – TERRIFIC – AMAZING – I LOVE IT – I DO IT – I ENDORSE IT…. but pretend you are giving out your personal phone number?!?!? Just a douchey move on my part. Way way way douchey and bad for the entire industry. My point is – say that – “I’m having a Q&A call and I’ll stay on the line until every question is answered.” But don’t pretend we are friends and you are giving me ‘your’ phone number and that it’s something you’ve ‘never done before.’ That’s the dirty creepy gross part – to me. I think we can all still make lots of money and make a huge difference without lying or manipulating people into it. In my personal gut, heart and soul, I believe that they wrote that subject line to get me to think that inside there would be a personal number – maybe a cell phone, maybe a google number but not a bridge line. I have never used the phrase “here’s my phone number” to refer to a group call. It also implies – TO ME – in my interpretation — a personal call between me and the sender. So my vet just sent me an email with his number and I’m going to call him. I believe they wanted the reader to think they were going to have a private call with her before they opened the email.”

And I agree with her rant. I think it’s how more and more of us are feeling these days.

The email subject line made a promise.

The email broke it. 

You must deliver on what you promise.

Of course, it’s not always so blatant.

I’ve seen many email subject lines that I felt were misleading to me.

Here are the usual suspects that are just so clearly hyped up and disingenuous.

  • “The World’s Best ________” – In the world? Amazing. I know a donair shop that is the best in the world too! The sign says so!
  • “You can make a million dollars too – using my system” – Somehow I suspect this system will involve me sending emails to others with the headline, “You can make a million dollars too – using my system”…
  • “Meet the woman of your dreams – simply read this book” – Phew! I was scared I might have to actually start a conversation and risk something. 
  • “I saw what this ____ did with this ____ and I can’t believe it!”- Really? You couldn’t believe it? Were you actually that shocked? 
  • “You can lose/get _______ with this one weird trick” – Really? That’s all it takes? One thing? And, real talk, how weird is it actually?
  • “I’m a Nigerian Prince and I’d like to help you” – For once, I’d like to meet an actual Nigerian prince. I bet he’d be charming as hell. We’d go on adventures. It’d be the best.
  • “I Have No Secrets <- (Open BEFORE 3pm Pacific Today!)” Really? Or will the content of this email be annoying and all baiting. 
  • “This amazing product for you for such a low price, but I have to take it down forever after ______ date.” – You have to? HAVE to?
  • “This is the best thing you’ve read all day!” – How do you know? Creeper. 
  • “‘Secret’ Leaked Video: Watch Here Tad!”- Whoa! What an exclusive scoop! Thank you for secretly leaking the video and then totally leaking it and secretly announcing it to your list of thousands. I’m so glad this isn’t some marketing ploy to make the video seem more valuable!
  • “watch this movie 3 times/week and watch your in…come go up by at least 10K, mine did” – If this worked, a dear friend of mine would be a horse whisperer by now. And I’d be travelling space and time in a TARDIS.

  • “This REVOLUTIONARY training” – Move over Che Guevera! THIS is what a revolution is all about! Packing old ideas in a new way and selling them for millions!

  • “Board Update” –  My colleague, Toronto based copy writer and social media strategist, Rachel Foster sent me this appalling gem. “I can’t recall where I saw your post on bad email subject lines. I just got one that said “board update”. The mailer was targeting executives and assumed that most of them are on boards. Sneaky jerks.”

All of the above, could be legit. If they’re legit and sincere.

As one of my friends said, “a red flag is anything that promises to blow me away, blow my mind, blow up my sales, etc. Just talk like a normal person already.”

You must deliver on what you promise.

Here are ten more examples of email subject lines that are often subtly misleading…

EXAMPLE #1: “I’ve never been so vulnerable!”:  Subject lines like, “This is the most vulnerable thing I’ve ever shared” or “I’m really scared to share this with you . . .” only to read it and have the vulnerable thing be something salesy that is clearly not very vulnerable at all. They used my caring of them as a hook to get me to open the email. That didn’t feel good. As another colleague of mine, Teray, shared, “When someone sends too many “vulnerable”, “embarrassing” subject headings in a row…it starts to feel like me me me me.”

EXAMPLE #2: Using Family Photos: My dear colleague Morgana Rae expressed her discomfort at marketers using truly heartfelt things as bait, “I heard about a colleague who recently shared pictures of her newborn baby, then tied that into a marketing campaign. At the end of the day, be a person.

EXAMPLE #3: Feigning Vulnerable Stories: My colleague David Jurasek expressed how, “The ones I get fooled into opening and annoy me most are when folks I generally trust pretend to get all up close and personal about their own story and then I find out in the email they are being quite superficial and linking me to their “good friend” who helped them once and is now selling a program.

EXAMPLE #4: re: Other colleagues of mine pointed out how much disdain they had for emails that began with “re:”. Kim Page Gluckie said,  “I don’t like the new trend to start with “Re: ……” It implies we have had a personal conversation or exchanged a 1:1 email. When it shows up in the subject line it feels overly familiar and contrived. Because it is. It happens on the lists I’m sure I never actually subscribed to.”

EXAMPLE #5: provocatively misleading: Kathy Mallary shared, ” I think the worst I’ve gotten from an “expert” started off with this subject: ‘Sorry, but I have to move on…’ and then went on to say: ‘I’m really sorry that I have failed to communicate the value this program could create for you and that now we are leaving you behind!'”

EXAMPLE #6: “I’m puzzled.”: I-ching worker Hilary Barrett of the UK was not too impressed when she opened an email with the subject line “Hilary, I’m puzzled.” and how the email went on to explain how puzzling it was that she hadn’t signed up for whatever-it-is. “I think these are generally the last one in an auto responder series, sent with the thought, ‘Well, if she unsubscribes now it’s fine, because she’s not buying anyway.'” I’ve gotten a few of these and felt like, ‘I’m puzzled why you feel entitled to my business…’ Another colleague sent out an email with the headline, “So… What gives?” and a different colleague, Thea, commented on it, “I know you agree with me, but I just had to vent. Why do people use guilt to try to get clients?!!! Pisses me off. Just received this email with the headline, “I thought building a business was important to you. I thought having the freedom to live life exactly the way you wanted was your dream. And I surely thought if I gave you the fastest path I know to big money … and made it absolutely free … you’d jump at the chance. I’ve done all that for you … and you still haven’t signed up for the FINAL encore of ….” And my colleague Rachel had this to say, “Ahhhhh!!! This happened to me a few months ago…where when I decided to opt out of doing a program, I was told that I *clearly* didn’t care enough and I preferred to just sit back and let my dreams and goals pass me by. UH…WHAT??!?! You were just trying to SELL something? Buh bye.” And Robert Middleton insightfully noted, “I’ll admit it. I want to send that kind of email all the time. But I restrain myself! Instead, I try to find an inspiring reason for them to take action. Sure works better. We need to remember that people do things for their reasons, not your reasons. The more you understand those reasons, the better results you’ll get.” Fact.

EXAMPLE #7: “I’m about to explode!” Or the Jay Abraham classic headline, “I’ve got to get this off my chest before I explode”. If you have something you feel that intense about, then sure, use that headline, but many of the times I’ve seen it used it felt like a contrivance. Like they knew that was a winning headline and then sort of reverse engineered it to try and come up with something they needed to get off their chest that might possibly relate to what they’re selling.

EXAMPLE #8: The False Promise of Info: Another colleague of mine shared this, “I can’t stand when a title implies there will be info in an email, and they try to redirect me somewhere else to get said info. I usually find this with business newsletters. They bait you about finding out about some incredible opportunity and inside there’s a link to a promo video on a website, trying to sell you access to the info you were interested in.” Again, the promise implied one thing but the reality was another. A friend of mine shared with me, “I  just foolishly clicked on one a few minutes ago, thinking I was going to read some research: “Surprising ways to reduce neuropathy” with a picture of a woman rubbing her foot. The ‘article’ an add for some kind of supplement.” The photo seems to have been used to imply that massaging your foot could do it when the real intent was to sell a supplement. Another colleague of mine vented about someone she used to love, “Dr. Mercola (who I LOVE for his pioneering on alternative healthcare) now clearly has a copy/article writing staff and they’ve been using an article summary gimmick in his newsletter that contains 5-6 articles. It’s a complete turn off the last couple of years. Something like “This food will give you Alzheimers and your won’t believe what it is!!” And then the article never actually mentions a specific food. I’ve gotten so I won’t read any article with that kind of sensational come on. When you grow to have a staff, you have to watch their brilliant marketing ideas!”

EXAMPLE #9: “Help!”: A few of my colleague vented about the subject line, “I really need your help!” Really? You actually need my help? Or is this just a sales ploy. I love helping if I can. But I don’t like being used. One colleague of mine shared how he opened an email with such a subject line and saw that what was meant by all that was, “I really want to help you be successful but I need your help to do it. ” followed by an offering or invitation. Boo. 
EXAMPLE #10:  “Can you meet/call/”hang out with” me today?”: This is designed to sound like a very personal message. Why? So you’ll open the email. It’s designed to make you feel important and like you’re getting invited to an exclusive opportunity? Why? So you’ll open the email. But it’s not. Another one I saw was the “Tad (Personal Email)” – is this REALLY her personal email? or an email just to me? Let me check! Oh. Wait. It’s not. 
EXAMPLE #11: “I want your opinion on this…”: I just got an email from a colleague of mine with this as the subject line. So I opened it, busy as I was, because I like this colleague. And nowhere in the email was there ever an invitation for me to share my opinion. Nothing. My time was wasted. Here was the email below…
Hi Tad,

Here’s a quick POP QUIZ …


What do the billionaire Michael Dell, talk-show host Conan O’Brien, his Holiness the Dalai Lama and U.S. President Obama have in common?


They all conduct Google Hangouts to get more media EXPOSURE.

Even CNN’s Anderson Cooper is on the Google Hangout bandwagon to conduct live social commentary for the millions in his audience.

What am I telling you this?

Because on November 20th, you’ll get a rare opportunity to learn from  the “Larry King” of Google Hangouts.

It’s true! I’ve made a very special arrangement to get you access to a live, private interview on how G+ Hangouts can and will MAXIMIZE the EXPOSURE of your message.

Even if the date and time listed on the page below is inconvenient, get registered to access the replay.

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Check him out here.

Watch the brief video, register and then forward this email invitation to a friend or colleague who could also benefit from attending this Hangout!

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To Be Continued,

PS. Hangouts are a joint venture between the two most important websites on the planet – Google and YouTube – so don’t you want to strategically align with them? G+ Hangouts are ideal for tech-

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Cate Richards shared with me, “One interesting thing Tad is that they teach this stuff in copy school saying they work. What no one ever quantifies is how many ideal customers are switching off because they feel manipulated.”
So true.
Even so, all of those could be great subject lines if…
They really meant it.
If it really was a vulnerable thing they were sharing (and they weren’t using it as a pitch). If they wanted to share the joy of their new child and leave it at that people would be thrilled and loyalty and connection would increase. Do you really need to get something off your chest in a big way? Awesome. Use that headline or something like. If they were really puzzled about something and needed feedback, that might be a great subject line. If you really need help from your list, by all means ask for it. It can be dangerous to demonize a tactic and write it off entirely. 
The key idea here: You must deliver on what you promise.

My colleague Nick Pfennigwerth wrote this, “In the past two months my best email subject that received a 33% open rate was: ‘90% of Your Business Problems are Solved with This Change'” That’s a big promise. If he delivers a solid answer to it in his email that makes sense to people, he will build a huge amount of trust. But if it was something like, “Think more positive” without much of a unique take on it… he will lose trust and followers fast. 

You must deliver on what you promise.

My colleague Steve Mattus of Heart of Business wrote that the subject line should, “sincerely represent the subject of the email”. Truth.

What’s the point of enticing people to open gifts from you if the gifts are always disappointing. That will hurt your reputation.

Another important reason to avoid sneaky subject lines that has nothing to do with you…

But it’s more than that, and this is important, it hurts the reputation of the industry. My dear colleague George Kao speaks beautiful of the notion of sustainable marketing. He urges people to look at any marketing tactic through the lense of “if everyone in my industry marketed like this, what would the impact be?”

And, I put it to you, if you knew that every email you got from a marketing coach like myself was a lie, what would you do?

I tell you what I would stop doing – opening the emails. 

One colleague put it this way, “To further prove your point, I know exactly which email you’re referring to in your friend’s rant of Point #2, because i received it, too. Up until that email, I’d appreciated the value in what that particular person/company had to offer, even if the emails they sent weren’t totally my style. I am a good listener so I can make allowance for communication style. But that particular email tipped me over the edge and made me ask if that person/company had now dipped into the “dark side” of marketing. I thought of unsubscribing, haven’t decided yet. Even more interesting, though, is that it got me wondering about all of the other people in the industry who sometimes forward me that company’s programs as affiliates. They were sort of tainted by associate n. (sorr y, I think that might mean you too, Tad, but by now you know I’m a devoted fan of your stuff :) So, your friend’s point about it casting a shadow over the whole industry is well-taken. I guess the other very practical thing that occurs to me is that poor subject lines mean that, as a small business owner, you are much more likely to have people identify your email as spam, which will hurt your ability to spread the word in future.”

The way we conduct ourselves in business doesn’t just impact us, it impacts our colleagues, our industry and the level of trust in the marketplace as a whole. Using unethical marketing approaches, no matter how successful they are, is, ultimately, a very selfish act.

And one could legitimately raise the case that, “Everyone does this!” Sure. That’s true. But old man Hargrave asks you, “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?” Yes. Newspaper and internet headlines are full of hype. But is that the world we want where our word means nothing anymore? Where we assume everyone is lying to us?

Ask yourself, “Based on the subject line… Will people feel satisfied with this email or disappointed?”

This matters, because, especially in the seminar industry, we often see a pattern of broken promises. The subject line promises something that the email doesn’t deliver because the email is promising those answers can be found in a free live workshop. But the free live workshop leader tells you that, of course, those questions are too big to be answered in a single evening so you should sign up for the full weekend… Which turns out to just be a weekend of being sold into a high end coaching program. And yet, at no point was much value delivered.  

Be wary of over promising. Sure, it will fill up your workshops. But with people who quickly wither on the vine and become bitter towards you.

I’m not arguing that these tactics don’t work. They do… in the short term. But they erode trust in the long term. Simon Sinek makes this point brilliantly here

Are we impeccable with our word or not? This is the real question.

You must deliver on what you promise.


Thought #3: The point of the subject line is not to get people to open the email.

This is a bit of tricky wisdom.

Yes you want your email opened. But not by ‘people’. ‘People’ is code for everyone. And you do not want everyone on your list to open every email you send. Whaaaa??? 

I’ve been thinking about this for a while. 

If I really wanted to get people on my email list to open an email, if that was my only goal, the subject line would be something like, “I”m dying and this is my last email to you.” That would go gangbusters. Except for the small peccadillo that it’s not true at all (beyond the dying bit which I’m hoping is a very, very long ways away). But you feel me. If the point was just to get them to open up your email, surely we could come up with more compelling things! “I’m pregnant!”, “I’m getting married!”, “This simple trick could double your profits overnight! Actually! No Hype.” etc.

But then we become the boy who cried wolf. And people come to learn, “Oh. Their subject lines are always provocative but the content is just the usual.” 

And then there’s the whole ‘using-people’s-names-in-the-subject-line-thing’. Like a friend shared with me, “I recently got an email where the email subject line was, “We’re meeting today, right, Brenda?” And then it was a teleclass promo. I hate it when it’s made to look like it’s an individual email specifically for me.” I am also not a fan. It is insincere. It’s trying to give the impression that this email is just for me. Why? So you’re more likely to open it. But it’s not just for you. As my friend Craig Martin put it, “When I see my name in the subject line, 99% of the time it’s a Constant Contact user trying to appear more personal while sending out mass emails that have nothing to do with.me. If it’s something useful, tell me what it’s about and let me decide. Don’t pretend to be my buddy.”

I don’t think the purpose of the email subject line is there to somehow, by any means necessary, get everyone on your list to open every email. The point of the subject line should be to help people know if this email in particular is one that would be relevant to them and to state that in the most compelling way possible.

To state it another way: the purpose of the subject line is to get the right people to open the email (and make sure people the email isn’t a fit for don’t). 

I just got an email from my dear colleague Bill Baren, “SF Bay Area Peeps Only: In-Person talk with Bill Baren”. What was in promoting? An in-person talk he was leading in San Francisco. So clear. No one’s time gets wasted. 

To give a specific example. I recently sent out an email with the subject line ‘Do you lead workshops (or are you thinking of leading them)? It got a 22% open rate (my average these days is around 20%). Some people saw that headline and thought, ‘I don’t lead workshops and I don’t ever intend to. This email is clearly not for me.’ and they didn’t open it. 

In my mind, that’s a success. 

The goal of marketing isn’t to get people to say ‘yes’. There are three roles. First, to get their attention. Second,  to filter and establish, as quickly as possible, if there is a fit at all between what you’re offering and what they’re wanting and needing. And third, to lower the risk of taking the first step.

Ideally your subject line does as much of the following as possible.

It lets them know what to expect in the email, who it’s for and what the benefit of that all is. It explains the value in the email. It helps them, in seconds, decide whether or not to open it. 

It gives them a compelling sneak peak inside. A teaser. A micro summary. It piques their interest. Intrigue, engage, and intoxicate with the promise of real value (and then the email must deliver on what was promised).

What’s the point of getting them to open the email, if it, even in a small way, breaks trust with them?

It has the right people say, as my colleague Leslie Nipps put it, “Well crap! I gotta open this!” Rather than “Oh, one of my five bazillion emails in my inbox. Delete.” It’s got to give the right people a good reason to read more. 

An important, and perhaps obvious note: the purpose of the subject line isn’t to get them to open the email. People who aren’t a fit deciding not to open your emails because of the subject line is a big success. But, you do enough of the right people opening up your emails to sustain yourself. So the key is to be focused on making sure you’re sending out the right things to your list rather than focused on the subject lines. And I suspect that this is a sticking point for many entrepreneurs with email lists, they haven’t really settled on a niche and so their emails are a bit all over the place. If someone had a laser focused niche and sends out emails that are 100% on topic for the people in their niche with compelling subject lines… they’ll do very well. The subject lines are the lipstick. The email is the pig. Pigs do not look good in lipstick.

You must deliver on what you promise.

But you also need to be promising things that are relevant to your people.

And, of course, this means that you need to know who your people are. Which most entrepreneurs don’t.  If you can’t articulate what you do clearly, no fancy subject line will save you. 


Thought  #4: The subject line should be as clear and compelling as possible.

You might be thinking that I mean email subject lines should just be literal, factual and to the point. 

But that’s not what I’m saying.

Toronto based copywriter Rachel Sparacio-Foster points out “anything that says something like “Latest Newsletter” is boring. It should tell me more about what’s in the newsletter.”

A blog reader, Monica O’Rourke backed this up with her words, “I recently unsubscribed from a recipe email list because every single time the subject line was “Check out our new recipes.” I bit once or twice, and the content was equally boring. So, ummm, no thanks. You can’t take a moment to highlight an interesting recipe to get me to open your email (as every other list I’m on does)? Then I’m not interested.”

So, I’m not arguing for being boring. As author Derrick Jensen says of the central rule of writing, “Don’t bore your reader.”

I’m saying that your subject line should be making it clear if the email is a fit for them to open and to do that in the most clear and compelling way possible. And we will all have a different style in doing this. Some of us will be very direct, some more coy and evocative. It’s all good as long as it’s working for you. My colleague Leslie Nipps said, “My most opened email ever had the subject line: ‘for two who slipped away almost entirely…’ It was the title of a poem by Alice Walker that I quoted in my article. I usually average 18-22%. This one was almost 40%. I’ve been trying to find that special vibration ever since. Gotta hand it to the poets…” That’s a subject line that was evocative and, my guess is that the email delivered on speaking to what was evoked. But that’s the key. Are you actually speaking to what you lifted up in the subject line?

But, as Robert Middleton pointed out, it’s an art. 

I remember hearing a story about three different headlines created for the same public speaking course. The first one, that got an okay response, was, “Public Speaking Course”. That’s very clear. Their second attempt was, “Learn how to speak confidently in public.” That feels a bit closer to the bone. That’s a bit closer to what people are actually craving. They don’t just want to learn the technicalities of speaking. They want to not feel so scared to do it. The third headline was the most successful, “How to Get Rousing Applause, Even a Standing Ovation, Every Time You Speak”. This spoke to what people were craving at the core. The response. Now, we can have a meaningful debate about whether feeding people’s egos like this is a good thing to do but that is a better way of saying the same thing and likely something they can deliver on (as long as their marketing also filters out people who wouldn’t stand a chance of succeeding) and the rest of their marketing clarified the promise.

Don’t bore your reader.

But there is something even more important here and I am underlining it so you get it.

Do. Not. Waste. My. Time.

Do not trick me into opening an email that isn’t actually useful or relevant to for me.

Do not bait and switch me. 

That doesn’t turn annoy me. It angers me. It speaks to a level of disrespect that I have zero time for. 

I am unspeakably busy with things that matter to me. Do not steal my time. 

Be direct. Read this important piece about the relationship between directness and clarity in marketing by Lynn Serafinn.

Do. Not. Waste. My. Time.

And this post isn’t about how to write a compelling subject line.

Although here are a few simple tips:

  • Geography: If you’re promoting a workshop in a certain city, tell me that in the title. Don’t raise my hopes and make me spend 30 seconds opening and reading your email to find out the workshop is happening on the other side of the planet.
  • Dates: Is it time sensitive? Tell me in the subject line.
  • Problem/Result: Can you let me know what issue this email will help me with? What result it will help me get?

Basically, just help me understand what’s in the email.


Want to know how to do write more compelling subject lines?

Here are a few posts to get you started:

Megan Mars wrote a fine post called The 9 Best Email Subject Line Styles to Increase Your Open Rates. Affilorama had some good pointers here. Entrepreneur magazine share their thoughts here.

But my favourite post I found on this was from Copyblogger – read it here.  


There are a number of examples of how I’ve done this with clients in my case studies and sales letter makeovers




Seven Lessons that Daily Dance Can Teach You About Making Better Offers

Screen Shot 2014 10 13 at 5.04.15 PM Seven Lessons that Daily Dance Can Teach You About Making Better OffersIf you’re thinking of creating online programs (or are super into dance) check this out.
My dear friend, colleague and client Erica Ross and her partner in crime Vanya Laporte has just co-created a wonderful new online program that I think nails things from a marketing perspective. I’ve known Erica for many years. We met when she came to one of my first ever weekend workshops in Toronto and she’s done nothing but flourish since. I hope to one day come up with an offering as simple and good as this. 
Her new offering is called Daily Dance. You can check it out on her brand new website designed by one of my favourite web designers, Kim Tanasichuk.
This is the deal: for 21 days you get an email with a video explaining a new ‘dance of the day’ and a song (approx. 4-6 min.) to use to dance to it.  
You also get suggestions to explore the intention behind the dance further, a playlist of additional songs, and a link to a private Daily Dance Facebook group where you can share your experiences.
Note: I am not an affiliate of this program. Just a fan of Erica Ross and thought her offer would be a great way to talk about offers in general. 
Here’s why this works so well (and the four lessons you can learn from it):
OFFER-MAKING LESSON #1: The offer is simple and easy to understand. 
I can’t overstate the importance of this.
If marketing were like baseball, then first base would be clarity. That people get what it is you’re offering to them. It is amazing how seldom businesses even get to first base. There is no clear understanding of the problem they’re solving, the results they’re offering or even… what they’re offering. 
And the confused mind says ‘no’. 
The name is simple (and alliterative which is helpful for remembering it): Daily Dance. The name tells you what it is.
Such a simple idea. 21 days where you get a new dance video every day. Easy. I get that. I can picture that. Is there more to it? Sure. But that’s the core of it.
Want more examples?
How about FedEx? The idea is simple: overnight delivery. Easy to understand. Or clearasil (not that I am, in any way endorsing clearasil). In seven words, they state what they’re offering, ‘visibly clearer skin in three days. guaranteed.’ Simple. Easy to understand. 
In Edmonton, we have Origami Accounting which offers a flat monthly rate for book keeping. Their website is a delight to go to because it makes it so simple. 
And, of course, there’s Dollar Shave club known for its edgy online commercials. You pay them one dollar per month and they mail you the razors you need for that month. 
And there’s Panty by Post where for about $15 per month you get a pretty panty mailed to you.
Calgary’s Bava juice makes cleansing easy because they just mail you the bottles of (extremely delicious) fresh pressed juices. 
These ideas are winners because they’re so simple. And that means people can talk about them. And, for word of mouth marketing (which is the basis of all marketing) that is a must. 
It’s a good question to ask yourself, ‘How easy to understand is my offer?’
If you’re struggling with articulating your offer, here are sixteen questions you can ask yourself to hone in. And if you generally struggle to articulate what you do then I strongly recommend you get and read this
OFFER-MAKING LESSON #2: It’s offered at a clear and incredibly affordable price.
Daily Dance is $21. That’s their launch price so it will go up, but that’s a bargain. If you can set your price at a level that makes you a fair profit but is also a no-brainer for people, your business is likely to do very well. 
People don’t like to be confused and it amazes me how many people’s pricing structures are mind numbingly confusing. 
And clear pricing is critical. 
First, it makes it more likely that those who want to buy will buy. But, far more importantly, it avoids the number one thing that people hate around pricing: surprises. To be quoted one price and then invoiced for a higher price makes people cranky. If you can develop a straightforward and easy to understand pricing structure, people are a lot more likely to buy.
Regardless of how much you charge, people must feel as though they are getting a bargain for the money. They need to believe that they are going to get back at least as much if not more than what they’re putting out in terms of money. There must be a clear and solid return on investment.
OFFER-MAKING LESSON #3: It’s a great example of basing your niche on what you do vs. picking one target market.
Some niches are based on a very particular target market (e.g. single dads, divorce lawyers, yoga teachers etc) but other niches aren’t so much based on who as ‘what’ is being offered. In this case, they have a very clear offering – 21 days of dance. In a general sense, their ‘who’ is going to be people who are drawn to bringing more dance into their lives. Their ideal clients are the kinds of people who would see this offer and get excited. That may seem obvious, but it’s a critical distinction between two different paths of niching. 
What follows is an excerpt from my upcoming book The Niching Spiral.

This is something I’ve come aware of over the years and my colleague George Kao stumbled upon a similar awareness.

One path is that of the Artist. The other is the path of the Entrepreneur. 

The Artist creates from the inside out.

The Entrepreneur creates from the outside in.  

On the Entrepreneur Path You start with identifying an explicit, consciously chosen hungry crowd and you bring them food. 

The explicit niche means you say, “I want to work with this group of people who are struggling with these kinds of problems or craving these kind of results”. A burning problem, demographics, psychographics – you’ve got it all laid out.

You find the target market and then you figure out what to offer them. At its extreme, the Yang style of business is the cynical-business-man, Donald Trump school of thought. It’s very cynical, follows fads, and doesn’t tend to have much heart in it. It’s all about going for the money. And, honestly, is often more successful at creating money quickly. 

The upside of this path is that you can move very quickly. The clarity about who you’re reaching makes designing your offers and figuring our where to find them so easy. The goal is clear and it’s an exciting process.

The challenge is that what’s trending now may change, and if you’re not that excited about it anyway, you’re likely to jump to something else soon. If you need a whole new business and niche every time you do that, that can be a whole lot of work.

At its extreme, as exciting as it can be as a game – it can feel so empty. There’s not much heart to it, and so there’s not a lot of creativity involved, which often leads to a lack of sustainability and satisfaction. Also, when people choose a niche based on what’s popular or trending at a particular time, there’s not much connection from their own life or much experience they have with the problem they’re solving, and so there can be a huge, steep learning curve.

The Artists Spiral of niching is about going inside, asking yourself what it is you want to create and then giving that to the world. This inside-out approach often is a better fit for life coaches, holistic practitioners, permaculture practitioners, etc. It’s where you start with who you are, and what you most want to give to the world, and then you look at who might need that. The extreme version of this style of niching is like Vincent Van Gogh. Amazing art is produced and the world is made more beautiful, but you die broke and unappreciated.  

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” 

Andy Warhol

What the artist is always looking for is the mode of existence in which soul and body are one.” 

- Oscar Wilde

The challenge here is that there’s no explicit who here. And that can make marketing feel impossible. Where do you start?

In the end, it’s not really an either/or. We all end up needing to dance back and forth between these two. There’s a looking at what we want to give, and then a looking at what’s needed. Then we design the thing that we think can meet that need, and trust our taste and aesthetics around it all. 

If you want more meaning – lean towards the Artist’s Spiral.

If you want more money – lean towards the Entrepreneur Spiral.

If you’re really clear about the exact target market you want to serve, the precise problems they’re struggling with and the result they are craving, you’re likely on the Entrepreneur Spiral.

If you’re really clear about what you want to offer (e.g. massage, reiki, life coaching, permaculture) but you haven’t figured out exactly how or to whom, then you’re likely on the Artists Spiral.

 Seven Lessons that Daily Dance Can Teach You About Making Better OffersOFFER-MAKING LESSON #4: They offer a three day trial.
I love it when people offer free trials. It’s simultaneously a very smart and strategic thing to do but also a very generous thing to do. 
I won’t write much about it here, but if you’re interested in why creating free ways to sample your work is so vital click here. If you want to know how to do it click here
OFFER MAKING LESSON #5:  It’s a very well thought through and well put together offer that people actually want. 
There are many aspects to this that are very well thought out. First of all, only 21 days. That’s not too overwhelming.
Second, an online offering for people who feel too busy or intimidated to follow their interest in dance. They don’t have to go to a big class and risk embarrassment. They can start small.
Each day is scalable. There’s a video. There’s a song and, if they want more? There’s an extended playlist to explore. 
OFFER-MAKING LESSON #6: It’s visually beautiful, polished and professional. 
The most important thing is that the core offer is good. I’d rather have a solid offer with a rough presentation than a bad offer with a beautiful presentation. In terms of sales, if the core idea works, it can still fly in spite of bad design. But a bad idea with beautiful design? It’ll never last. If you have to spend your money on a good copywriter or a good designer, there is no doubt in my mind it should go, in almost all cases, to the copywriter. 
However, having said that, I’m a big believer in making things as beautiful as possible. Or, to be more accurate, making sure the design captures the vibe of the business. Knowing Erica as I do, the website as a whole and the sales page for the offer nail it. 
I see so many websites that make me wince. They don’t look professional and it hurts the credibility of the site. It has me trust the offers a little less. 
OFFER-MAKING LESSON #7: It is a heart and soul-based offering at it’s purist.
Kim Tanasichuk had this to say, “It’s fun, it had so much depth and beauty, it reflects the care and love they put into all that they do, and it reflects them and their sacred life’s work. And it’s setup in a way where it allows people to unfold themselves – their emotions, their hearts, their being and feel nurtured while doing this. The offer matches the creator. Because of this primarily — it is an “Offer” at it’s finest.”

Sales Letter Case Study: Mission Traction

Screen Shot 2014 10 13 at 6.33.58 PM Sales Letter Case Study: Mission TractionOne of my favourite things to do for clients is to help them redo their salesletters. 

Your sales letter is your marketing dojo. It’s where we start to find out how clear you are. 

Marketing is about translation. You’re trying to communicate something you know intimately well from the inside to people on the outside. And that’s not always as easy as it seems. 

The following piece is a sales letter I did with my clients Daniel and Cecile of Round Sky Solutions for a seven week course they were running called Mission Traction.

What you’ll read first is the original letter with which they came to me. Indented, you will read my comments on the letter. Then you’ll read a redo of the letter with my commentary as to why I made the changes I did. 

You can read of my thoughts on writing a good sales letter (including more examples of sales letter make overs) here

I hope reading this will help give you some insights onto how to articulate your own work with more clarity. And if you want help to write your sales letter, I can’t recommend anything more highly than Carrie Klassen’s ebook on the subject. 

An important note: writing sales letters is incredibly difficult. We are so close to what we do and, after a few drafts of it, it is virtually impossible to see it clearly. Most of us, myself included, can benefit immensely from some outside, considered and thoughtful feedback from someone who knows what they’re talking about (if you’d like me to look over your sales letter, my rates are here). My feedback may seem terse, sassy and mocking at times but what I’m trying to convey is my honest reaction upon reading it and what I imagine will be the visceral reaction of their ideal client reading it. It’s so incredibly important that we are real with ourselves about how our marketing is received. I go over the top to make a point. Daniel and Cecile are two of the loveliest and most sincere good hearted people. But, I suppose this proves the point: we can be such good people and our marketing can still miss the mark. 

Also, the new draft we came up with isn’t perfect. There is still work to be done – but we did the best we could given the time constraints with which we were working. But the progress is enough that it makes an excellent case study in two areas in particular: 1) how much jargon can create confusion and 2) the power of a good metaphor in your marketing. 


Original Sales Letter:



Mission Traction:

Build Skillful Means to Drive Effective Change


So, here is problem number one. The headline confuses me. What does ‘Mission Traction’ mean? I have no idea… And then ‘Build Skillful Means to Drive Effective Change’. This sounds so wordsmithed. So polished. But I have no idea if this is relevant to me. And this is the very, very, very, very, very first thing that needs to be established in a sales letter – relevance. Can this help me with a problem I’m facing? Or help me get a result I want? I have no idea. 

Join us for this 7-week online course for change makers who are looking to increase their effectiveness and develop the skills for working adeptly with widespread resistance to change.

A 7 week online course! Ok! I know what it is! But who are change makers? Am I one? I don’t know. It promises I’ll be better at working with ‘widespread resistance to change’ which would be amazing… if I had any idea at all what they were talking about. What kind of change? What kind of resistance? #fuzzinessisnotyourfriend

At our best, we feel energized and curious, creative and open. Our work in the world is an expression of our highest values, and it sustains and inspires us.

At our best? Who’s best? We still haven’t established who this letter is to so I have no idea what that means. Or the rest of that line. Because I don’t know this, it sounds jargony. And sure, that might be true in a generic sense but why do I care?

We show up fully in our working relationships and respond effectively to challenges, and as a result, we see ourselves making a positive impact on the world around us.

 Who is we, again?

When our way of being and working is generative, we can feel ourselves learning and see our core competencies increasing. We can handle more complexity, we display greater wisdom, and we meet and exceed our highest priority milestones.

 And here comes the jargon. What does generative mean? And ‘way of being’ for that matter. At this point, the confusion is building and it’s a downward spiral. Core competencies? Highest priority milestones? This is a lot of industry jargon – words that mean so much to the person writing the sales letter and next to nothing for the person reading it. Remember: the confused mind says ‘no’.

Our working relationships are more rewarding, and as a result, our engagements are more collaborative and more productive.

Engagements with whom? And who am I again?…

At our best, we wake up every day with a sense of momentum that grows because we can see ourselves making real, tangible and meaningful progress.

 I do? But I don’t even know who I ammmmmmm… Tell me who I am, I beg of you kind sir. You can’t keep me shackled in this Dungeon of Confusion forever you monster!

When we marry our vision and values with a demonstrated ability to make lasting and effective change in the world, we get to experience the unparalleled fulfillment of having TRACTION.

Was that phrase generated by the Dilbert industry-speak jargon generator? This sounds so wordsmithed again. A good sales letter is conversational. It should read at a 12 year old level. Simple words. 

What makes a change leader effective?

Aha! I’m a change leader! … whatisthat?

When your personal and organizational systems are optimized to remove process obstacles, your creativity, strategic thinking and capacity to magnify key leverage points increases.

 (brain explodes from jargon overload)

What makes a team collaborative?

 (please. whatever it is. find it. i beg of you. you’ll need a team to put my brains back in my head).

When you and your team are liberated from inefficiencies and bureaucratic inertia, you feel empowered by a clear sense of purpose and direction, your confidence increases, and you have more energy available to focus on highest leverage priorities.

(he stared vacantly into the distance. his torturers attempts to inflict more confusion and pain had no effect. he could feel his soul slowly drifting from his body as the sun set outside the centuries old dungeon window. it wouldn’t be long now. he smelled toast).  

Can an organization become a source of energy and inspiration for its members?

I no longer care.

When the system you’re working in is set up to support fluidity and agility, it allows you to be clearer and more centered in your intentions, more organized in your approach, and lets you increase the time you spend on the projects that matter most.

(sound of a heart monitor flatlining)I recommended they cut the whole section above out of the next draft of the sales letter which, blessedly, they did. Nothing in that section did anything to establish relevance. And, this is the key bit, I really have no idea who I am as the reader. I don’t know who it’s for and so I don’t really understand the overall context. 

How can we respond better to complexity?

Of this sales letter? I hope you’ll tell me.  Some other complexity? I really, genuinely have no idea. 

When the human dimension of your work life is fine tuned for greater flow, you get along better—and making better mission-aligned decisions—with your business partners and colleagues.

 Jargon: human dimension, greater flow, mission-aligned decisions. 29 words in that sentence and 7 of them were jargon. If your sales letters are 25% jargon then stick a fork in it because it. is. done. (but like, not ‘good done’. Bad done). 

Liberated from bottlenecks and inefficient bureaucracies, we feel more appreciated for the work we do. We can trust that others are going to follow through on their commitments and depend on the systems around us to set us up for success.

 Jargon: Liberated from bottlenecks and inefficient bureaucracies (such as what? give me details that help me understand), depend on the systems around us to set us up for success (which system? what kind of success?)

Traction is a deeply fulfilling and effective alignment between your personal vision, approach, your behavior, and your environment.

When your working environment is organized in service of your highest priorities, you experience a “virtuous cycle” of effectiveness. As you see yourself gaining traction, you gain energy and your capacity and skillfulness grows exponentially.

“And the award for most jargon in a salesletter goes to…. ROUND SKY SOLUTIONS!!! Oh my god! Get up here!” (swelling theme music ensues).

You may be a director, organizer, facilitator, advocate, intra/entrepreneur, coach, or consultant. But no matter where you find yourself, what defines your work is that you are mission-driven. You are committed to creating a sustainable, healthy, and socially just planet.

Now I know who I am!!! Why didn’t you tell me this sooner you sadistic bastards… The words above would have made so much more sense. They do a really good job here of giving very specific names to the kinds of people their work is for. This is critical: your marketing must make clear, immediately, who it’s for. When you name them precisely, you don’t to hype things up. You don’t need jargon. You can whisper your message and people hear it. So, in a sales letter, these kinds of words should be very, very near the top (if not in the headline). 

You have an inspiring vision and hard-working, well-developed talent. Yet, like so many change catalysts, you face a unique struggle: the path can be painfully hard to walk.

Okay. You’re winning me over a bit. It can be hard.

In spite of your efforts, you feel like you continue to struggle to bridge the gap between the overwhelming need you see, and vision you’re trying to bring to life.

I think I understand from your sort of confusing words that you’re empathizing with me.  

Chances are, you’ve struggled to deal with inefficient processes and procedures that can’t change, or leaders who bottleneck team operations. And it’s likely that you’ve been frustrated by decision-making processes that don’t seek enough input or are dominated by strong personalities.

Again, your strange words confuse me but I think you’re meaning to say that my organization could work a lot better than it does. Agreed.  

You’ve probably noticed interpersonal conflict consuming more than it’s fair share of attention and impacting deliverables. And it’s very likely that you’ve endured lengthy meetings plagued by misunderstanding and inefficiency that ultimately don’t generate any clear outcomes.

Jargon: interpersonal conflict, impacting deliverables, inefficiency, clear outcomes. But I loved this: “you’ve endured lengthy meetings plagued by misunderstanding and inefficiency”. YES! This is the first thing I’ve read that I can absolutely connect with. I have fully been there and done that. This is what we want sales letters to do – speak to people’s lived experience, what they are actually going through, not to speak in abstract terms. Being real will draw people in. Being abstract will lose people. 

Time and again, you’ve seen a lot of talk and no action. You’ve watched organizations falter, unable to keep up with rapidly changing operating landscapes. You’ve suffered with siloed teams, finger pointing, workplace politicking and lack of follow-through.

Okay. Again, this is drawing me in. I’ve totally seen this. Yes!  

And you’ve probably felt disheartened by the tendency you see towards institutional conservatism and bureaucracy.

Jargon: institutional conservatism and bureaucracy. But I think I get it and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this. 

Regardless of what organizational context you find yourself in, you also probably feel like you’re always struggling to keep up.

Jargon: organizational context.

  • You feel like you take on too much, yet you’re not doing enough. You keep trying to put yourself out there, yet you struggle not to become overwhelmed.
  • You strive to be more organized, yet you always feel short on time, and want to be more adept and sorting out priorities for highest impact.

Totally true. You feel me! 

Sometimes, uncertainty hits and you question the path you’re on. The loneliness of being one of the few people who sees how things aren’t working can make you question whether there’s anything you can do and yearn to figure out how to make a bigger impact.

  • You long for support and maturity in your community and your organizations, and you work hard to take care of yourself, maintain gratitude, positivity, and keep your sights set on the solutions.
  • You’re willing to keep going, but sometimes it feels like despite your best intentions, we’re all taking one step forward, and two steps back.

Often it feels as if there’s no end in sight— you have growing questions about how to ramp up your traction and increase your personal resilience as you move forward.

Jargon: traction, personal resilience. But overall, yes. You’re speaking for me.  

What the world needs from us

It doesn’t take much looking around at our world’s social, economic and environmental state to recognize that collectively, we face unprecedented challenges as a species. Widespread change is coming—whether we’ve chosen it, or like it, or not. And in many areas of life and for much of the world’s population, calamity isn’t a distant possibility, but a living reality.

We live in a surreal age where we have the information and tools to change course for a new and different future—yet we struggle to do so.

Around the world, there are a great many ideas available to us, and many amazing people devoting their days and nights to creating positive outcomes.

Right. I already get that. I’m a changemaker. Why are you telling me this?

So why aren’t our efforts yielding more results?

Ohhhhh. I see what you did there. Good question! When I read this I thought, “Ah! There’s the heart of this sales letter. That question.” This is what I’m always looking for in a sales letter… the heart of it. What’s it about? What’s the point of it?

Our story, our mission

Over more than 25 years of devoting ourselves to bringing about this kind of change, we’ve researched and experientially studied this question in depth. Not only have we passionately worked towards a healthy planet, we’ve actively studied the forces of inertia in ourselves and in our society.

Jargon: forces of inertia. But your credibility is growing. 25 years is a long time. I feel a bit more connected to you now. 

Together, we have:

  • Started and run an organic farm,
  • Been outdoor educators and studied team building and adventure education,
  • Served as members and leaders of intentional communities, where we made and grew everything we needed to sustain ourselves,
  • Explored the world’s esoteric traditions on a path of personal growth and spiritual curiosity.

As entrepreneurs, we have 

  • Started and successfully ran an ecological landscaping and design business,
  • Studied adult development, systems thinking, power dynamics, cultural evolution and Integral Theory.
  • Worked with internet startups and progressive organizational design thinkers.
  • Explored every single organizational process and decision making system we could find, looking for the best tools, skills and principles that could liberate and elevate the innate creativity of groups and organizations.

 Whoa. That’s all cool stuff. You’re way more legit to me now.

We’ve struggled to get traction, struggled to balance the demands on our time and energy, and fought against “burnout.”

BUT, we’ve never stopped valuing the importance of succeeding—even though it’s been a long road to figure out how to bring success within reach in the face of widespread system inertia.

Ok. This was another place it hit me. What they’re really offering is to help change makers actually succeed in making change. This is what they’re most craving. It’s amazing to me that innocuously buried here in the midst of the sales letter, in the middle of a sentence is the white hot center of this sales letter. It should be in the headline.  

Our journey has lead us to focus on one the most often overlooked, yet essential keys to sustainable change making: the human dimension.

Ok. I’m intrigued…. Tell me more. 

Instead of simply struggling harder, we want to liberate human creativity from the forces of inertia that erode our effectiveness and enthusiasm for a better world.

… wut? Your strange language has returned… I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Now, our mission is to share what we’ve found—so that we can help change makers everywhere gain traction.

What do you mean by gaining traction?… And what did you find? I’m still not clear. Something about the dimensions of humans?

So we’ve created this 7-week course as an intensive specifically designed for change catalysts who are hungry for mission traction and ready to roll up their sleeves and make it happen.

What is mission traction? I saw this near the top and it gave me a headache. Then I almost died. Then you won me over. Then I liked you. Now I’m confused again. Our relationship has certainly been a roller coaster… 

Introducing Mission Traction: Skillful Means for Effective Change Makers

After working with leaders, individuals, teams and organizations of all shapes and sizes, we developed our 7-week Mission Traction course to give change makers the core skills, tools and processes they need. 

Based on our extensive experience as coaches, consultants, managers, entrepreneurs and transformative educators, we’ve taken everything we’ve learned about effective organization, leadership and collaboration, and synthesized it into a targeted learning sequence for change makers.

Mission Traction is a live, highly-interactive course that includes balanced and integrated focus on both individual skills and organizational process.

Okay. I think I get it… The title confuses me but I think I basically get it…

As a learner, you will:

  • Develop and refine your own suite of personal development practices that will re-shape the way you work, collaborate and lead.
  • Apply your learning and get hands-on practice through carefully-crafted meeting and decision making simulations.
  • Be able to share your experiences and get support and feedback from a rigorous, confidential community of fellow change makers who really understand your struggle from the inside.
  • Receive individualized attention, coaching, feedback and guidance from our highly skilled and experienced team.
  • Be supported to expand your understanding of what causes effective change
  • Gain a suite of new tools, capacities and techniques that will empower you to better bring your mission to life each and every day.

A bit jargony but I basically get it. That sounds good. 

We expect all participants to achieve the following Learning Outcomes:

  • Insightful understanding of what causes inertia
  • Increased skillfulness in transforming individual and collective resistance to change
  • Improved ability to deliver on intended goals
  • Increased agility and effectiveness in group decision making
  • Increased personal enthusiasm and energy
  • Greater coherence, fun, focus, and collaboration in your efforts
  • Improved capacity to drive peer-based accountability towards the intended mission
  • Capacity to use efficient, democratic, transparent means to adjust roles and responsibilities
  • More engaged, productive, enjoyable meetings with your teams
  • A robust framework for measuring progress in yourself and your teams
  • More powerful ability to set and maintain your priorities in the face of multiple competing demands

Jargon: learning outcomes, coherence, capacity to drive peer-based accountability towards the intended mission, capacity to use efficient, democratic, transparent means to adjust roles and responsibilities.But overall, this sounds good.

Now. their sales letter continued with some more logistical pieces about the course but we’ll stop here. 



Redone Sales Letter:



stock footage car stuck in the mud2 Sales Letter Case Study: Mission TractionAttention Change Makers:
Ever feel like you’re spinning your tires trying to do good?

Why is it so hard to make positive change in your organization and the world when everybody seems to want it?

So, as with all sales letters, we start with the headlines. The headlines need to capture people’s attention and quickly move to establish relevance. They need to read it and immediately know if they should read further. I think of the headline as the great filterer. The goal of the headline is not to sell people or convince people. It’s to filter people. If what you’re offering is a fit for them, it should powerfully draw them in closer and fill them with curiousity. If it’s not a fit? They should lose interest. So, we named the generic group immediately, ‘change makers’. Honestly, this is not a super useful marketing term. It’s fairly broad and generic, but it’s better than what was there which was the name of the course. This lifts up a larger point: the headline isn’t about you and your name. It’s about them. Whose name should be at the top of your sales letters, homepages, sales pages, brochures etc? Theirs. Not yours. They don’t care about your name until they know you can help them. Then we address the ‘traction’ piece. While I was reading their sales letter, it finally hit me what it was about . “Oh!” I thought. “Traction! They mean that most change makers feel like they can’t get it. Like they’re spinning their tires!” And there are few things in marketing more powerful than identifying your core metaphor. Once that clicked, it all made sense. If you can start your sales letter with a solid, clear metaphor they can relate to, it allows them to make sense of everything that follows. It’s like it gives them a way to organize all of the info. Then we jumped straight to the big question which we know these people are struggling with, ‘why is it so hard to make change?’. If you can articulate a question that keeps your people up at night, and articulate it better than they can, you will immediately gain relevance and credibility. 

Mission Traction: Skillful Means for Effective Change Makers

Okay. So now we introduce the name of the program. I’m still not a huge fan of it (I think they may eventually find an even better name) but now, with the tire spinning metaphor the notion of traction makes a tonne of sense. Now it’s just the name of the program. Before it was the headline and was trying to bear an unfair load. The headline has to carry everything, but the title and tagline might not be able to.

A 7-week online course to help people who want to do good be more skillful and effective in dealing with people’s often unexplainable, illogical and irrational resistance to change. 

So, here we tweaked the one sentence description of the program. Honestly, I think we could come up with something better but this will do. 

Hey there!If you’re reading this, then you’re someone who is working hard to make the world a better place.You might be a director, organizer, facilitator, advocate, intra/entrepreneur, coach, or consultant. But no matter where you find yourself, what defines your work is that you are mission-driven. You are committed to creating a sustainable, healthy, and socially just planet.

As soon as possible, we are naming them as clearly as we can. We’re letting them know, ‘You’re in the right place! Keep reading.’ If you are using a generic term like, ‘change maker’ or ‘conscious entrepreneur’ or ‘cultural creative’ I highly encourage you to, as soon as possible, throw in some more specific target markets. Give them examples of what a change maker might be – which kinds are you most wanting to speak to? Name them explicitly. 

You have an inspiring vision and hard-working, well-developed talent. Yet, like so many change catalysts, in spite of your best efforts, you feel like you continue to struggle to bridge the gap between the overwhelming need you see, and vision you’re trying to bring to life – the gap between what you know is possible and what you’re able to make happen.In short, it’s like your organization is a truck and you’ve sunk into the mud and, no matter how hard you step on the gas, you feel like you’re just spinning your tires and getting nowhere. You’re getting no traction at all and you’re running out of gas.

Here we name and explicitly explore how the metaphor relates to them. 

Chances are, you’ve struggled to deal with…

  • the disheartening feeling of inefficient processes and procedures that can’t change due to institutional conservatism and bureaucracy.
  • other inept leaders who bottleneck team operations
  • crappy decision-making processes that don’t seek enough input or are dominated by strong personalities.
  • interpersonal conflicts that are like black holes which take over everything and mean the job doesn’t get done
  • lengthy, useless, time wasting meetings plagued by misunderstanding and inefficiency that produce nothing. Nada. Zilch.
  • siloed teams, finger pointing, workplace politicking. Boo.
  • a total lack of follow-through
  • having to watch good organizations full of good people, falter, unable to keep up with rapidly changing operating landscapes.


Okay. So here, I went through their sales letter and pulled out all of the problems I could see named that would be frustrating to a change maker. These are what I call Island A in my work. Business exists to solve a problem. Period. If you can’t name the problem your clients have or the result they’re craving then you don’t have a business. You have a hobby. And you want to be able to name their experience (whether what they don’t want anymore or what they do – either works) as clearly as possible. You want to speak about it in such a way that they’re sitting there reading your sales letter saying, ‘Wow. That’s so totally me.’ So, when I gathered and rewrote these problems I did my best to write them in a way I imagined they might. Conversationally. Normal person language. So, instead of saying something like, ‘inefficient decision making processes’ I just say ‘crappy decision making processes’. And I tried to not only name the problem but the impact of those problems (e.g. “interpersonal conflicts that are like black holes which take over everything and mean the job doesn’t get done.”)

Time and again, you’ve seen a lot of talk and no action. Regardless of what kind of work you do, you also probably feel like you’re always struggling to keep up. Many of the clients we work with have, for years, felt like they take on too much, and yet, somehow, that they’re not doing enough. They strive to be more organized, yet they always feel short on time, and want to be more adept at sorting out priorities for highest impact. It can feel overwhelming. Eventually, for some of them, uncertainty hits and they question the path they’re on. The loneliness of being one of the few people who sees how things aren’t working makes them question whether there’s anything they actually can do. They yearn to figure out how to make a bigger impact and yet, over the years, begin to doubt that they ever really will. It often feels like one step forward and then two steps back. They fall asleep each night wondering how they can get more results in what they do but without burning out like they have seen so many others do.

Here, we’re just furthering the empathy to let them know that we get it. We’re continuing to paint the picture of what it’s like to be them so they can keep saying, ‘That’s me’ not ‘so what?’ It’s a powerful exercise to see if you can tell their story. I gave myself this challenge once for holistic practitioners – could I tell the typical story of what it was like to be them? I wrote it up here and many practitioners have told me how eerily accurate it is.  

Honest Question: Why Aren’t Your Efforts Getting Better Results?

I hope we can be candid with you here.

I really wanted to just cut to the chase and address the reader directly with a question they’ve been secretly wondering for years. I wanted to talk to them like an adult. Enough empathy now. Now, let’s get down to business. 

Here’s what you know better than most: collectively, we face unprecedented challenges as a species. Widespread change is coming—whether we’ve chosen it, or like it, or not. And in many areas of life and for much of the world’s population, calamity isn’t a distant possibility, but a living reality.We live in a surreal age where we have the information and tools to change course for a new and different future—yet we struggle to do so.Around the world, there are a so many incredible ideas available to us, and millions of amazing people are devoting their days and nights to creating positive outcomes.So why aren’t your efforts yielding more results?We’ve asked this question to dozens of changemakers over the years. Here’s a sampling of the answers we get…

  • “I just can’t seem to get and stay organized.”
  • “I’m too busy, distracted and scattered with all the projects to which I’ve committed.”
  • “I work with people who have varying schedules, mental and emotional needs, and working styles.”
  • “I don’t manage my time strategically and end up spending time on projects that aren’t consistent with what I think is really important.”
  • “The general overwhelm of life just keeps getting in my way.”
  • “I constantly feel disempowered and manipulated at work, I just need to find a better place to work.”
  • “I don’t know enough people in enough politically powerful positions to make a change.”
  • “I need to have a steady income for my family, and so I’m stuck in a career that isn’t aligned with my values.”

I can guarantee that their ideal client will read those and identify with at least two of those statements. Again, this is how people begin to know if we’re a fit for them or not. This is how the logic in their mind goes, ‘If they understand my problem that well, then I can trust their solution too’. 

And while we think all of those are a factor, we have found that they aren’t the most important element.So what is that most important piece?We’ll tell you in just a moment, but first, we’d like to tell you who are we and how we come up to the answer we did.

Here I wanted to use the old story telling trick of hooking people in and then saying, ‘We’ll come back to that later’.  

Our story, our mission

img cecile and daniel1 Sales Letter Case Study: Mission TractionLet us introduce ourselves. We are Daniel Little and Cecile Green and we’ve been social entrepreneurs since we were in our early twenties. We love to dance, grow awe inspiring veggie gardens and concoct great food, we can get lost in the woods for hours bushwhacking in the gorgeous mountains around our home, and we have passionate discussions around big ideas!Over more than 25 years of devoting ourselves to bringing about real change, we’ve researched and experientially studied this question in depth. Not only have we passionately worked towards a healthy planet, we’ve actively studied why making change is so hard.Together, we have:

  • Started and run an organic farm,
  • Been outdoor educators and studied team building and adventure education,
  • Served as members and leaders of intentional communities, where we made and grew everything we needed to sustain ourselves,
  • Explored the world’s esoteric traditions on a path of personal growth and spiritual curiosity.

As entrepreneurs, we have:

  • Started and successfully ran an ecological landscaping and design business,
  • Studied adult development, systems thinking, power dynamics, cultural evolution and Integral Theory.
  • Worked with internet startups and progressive organizational design thinkers.
  • Explored every single organizational process and decision making system we could find, looking for the best tools, skills and principles that could liberate and elevate the innate creativity of groups and organizations.

We’ve struggled to get traction, struggled to balance the demands on our time and energy, and fought against “burnout.”BUT, we’ve never stopped valuing the importance of actually succeeding.What’s the point of working for a better world if our efforts don’t make any difference?What’s the point of spinning our tires? Unless we get traction, there is none.

Here, I just hit home the message of the importance of success a little bit harder and more directly. 

Our journey has lead us to focus on one the most often overlooked, yet essential keys to sustainable change making: the human dimension.

This may sound obvious, but, in our experience, this soft stuff of the human elements of making change can either be the smooth road we drive on or the mud that sucks us deeper down the harder we try. When it’s handled really poorly, it is 100% quicksand.Instead of simply struggling harder which can have you sink faster we need to deal with the mud directly.

Again, using the spinning the tires metaphor. Having a core metaphor makes writing a sales letter so much easier. 

So what we’ve discovered through our research and experiential application is that at the heart of all individual and collective inertia is a lack of understanding and capacity for generative power. Now, power means a lot of different things to different people and that’s part of the problem. We aren’t talking the same language. It’s the tower of Babel, which we all know didn’t end well.

They snuck in the word ‘generative’ again. I think that’s jargon and would use something simpler. I think that last paragraph is a bit confusing. 

But that’s not the whole of the problem.

As individuals our power gets derailed when we aren’t clear about what key forces in ourselves we are wrestling with and most importantly when we can’t see, understand, value, and move beyond the hidden assumptions and competing commitments that are getting in our way.

That paragraph begins to lose me too. 

Getting a handle on this for ourselves is like opening up the trunk of our stuck car and finding some boards in there that we can get under our wheels and get moving again under our own power.

Tying it back to the metaphor gives me a way to be able to picture it that makes sense. 

In organizations, power is frequently frozen in structures that are outmoded and no longer serving a healthy mission. Sometimes this is explicit and other times its implicit, making it even harder to get a handle on. And one of the most significant breakthroughs we’ve engineered in the human dimension, is understanding that we can’t change how power is used one person at a time… we have to change the group mind.And we can’t change how we all think about it just thorough better rhetoric or new principles. All to often at workshops we get bombarded with new information and injunctions to “do it better” and are somehow expected to walk out of the room using power differently!Changing power use as an organization needs to be done through a new set of practices, an organizational operating system, that delivers generative results in action every day, whether or not the individuals involved ‘get it’ immediately or it takes them years…that’s what a practice is all about.

That sentence loses me again.

We become like a disaster response team, whose truck, stuck in the mudslide on the way to the village, jumps into action. We know right where the tow rope, the chains, the shovels are stowed and can immediately put them to good use for ourselves and others we are serving, because we’ve trained for this over time, and we know how to move!

I think this could be said more clearly, but it keeps expanding on a metaphor they understand, so that’s good. This is on the right track.

Sooooo exciting!We can start this training and get powerful results and effectiveness immediately. We no longer have to be held back by individuals who don’t want to participate, can’t stop talking, or who yank power for their own purposes regardless of consequences to the whole, instead we include the value in everyone’s perspective and roll that into powerful, compelling traction for our mission.

I think that could be tightened and said with a bit more clarity but I basically get it. 

This is big stuff! And despite it’s deeply researched theoretical grounding, it’s application is 100% practical and embodied. Which is what we feel the people and planet need most right now.

Jargon: embodied.

Now, our mission is to share what we’ve found—so that we can help change makers everywhere gain traction.

Great! Clear!

So we’ve created this 7-week Mission Traction course as an intensive specifically designed for people like you.You might be a perfect fit for our Mission Traction Program if you also …

  • long for support and maturity in your community and your organizations
  • work hard to take care of yourself, maintain gratitude, and positivity
  • face the hard facts of our multiple crises and keep your sights set on the solutions
  • know this world needs your talents and yearn for more meaningful impact
  • have done a lot of work on yourself already, know you’ve got more work to do, but are also aware that it’s about changing the collective too
  • are fed up with big egos running the show
  • are ready to get laser focused on your priorities to make a difference and are ready to roll up your sleeves and make it happen.

This program is likely not a fit for you if…

  • find the thrill of power more valuable than the results
  • don’t want to be uncomfortable with the stretch of new ideas and practical steps you can take right now
  • are in the midst of multiple major personal changes like moving, finding a new job, health crises, divorce, or other. The emphasis being multiple, one may be fine. We’ve been here, we know what it’s like, and we wish you grace and flow through the eye of the needle. This program requires some bandwidth, take it for best results when you can breathe and think. We’ll be here.
  • find using your mind in addition to your heart and body untasteful or distracting for where you are at

 The above addition of ‘This might be a fit for you if…’ and ‘This might not be a fit for you if…’ is something I think should be in every single sales letter ever. Super critical for this to be clear.


Introducing Mission Traction: Skillful Means for Effective Change Makers

Tuesdays from October 14th to November 25th
6:30pm to 9pm Eastern Time

After working with leaders, individuals, teams and organizations of all shapes and sizes, we developed a highly interactive, step by step, 7-week Mission Traction course to give you the core skills, tools and processes you need to have the impact you crave.


As a learner, you will:

  • Develop and refine your own suite of personal development practices that will re-shape the way you work, collaborate and lead.
  • Apply your learning and get hands-on practice through carefully-crafted meeting and decision making simulations.
  • Be able to share your experiences and get support and feedback from a rigorous, confidential community of fellow change makers who really understand your struggle from the inside.
  • Receive individualized attention, coaching, feedback and guidance from our highly skilled and experienced team.
  • Be supported to expand your understanding of what causes effective change
  • Gain a suite of new tools, capacities and techniques that will empower you to better bring your mission to life each and every day.

We expect all participants to achieve the following:

  • Learning Outcomes: Insightful understanding of why you’ve been so stuck in the mud for so long
  • Increased skillfulness in transforming individual and collective resistance to change (you’ll feel like you learned Jedi skills from Obi Wan himself “this is not the drama you’re looking for…:”)
  • Improved ability to deliver on intended goals (which will have you walk taller and feel more bad ass with every passing week).
  • Increased agility and effectiveness in group decision making which create more engaged, productive, enjoyable meetings with your teams (no more useless meetings!). Imagine having your team actively look forward to going to meetings because so much gets done!
  • Increased personal enthusiasm and energy (because you’ll be getting better results and nothing is more motivating than that).
  • Improved capacity to obtain collaborative accountability (you know what top down accountability looks and feels like, but what about an effective means of being accountable to each other?)
  • Capacity to use efficient, democratic, transparent means to adjust roles and responsibilities so that you can keep your teams running smoothly even when you realize that people have totally been given the wrong job
  • A robust framework for measuring progress in yourself and your teams. No more leaving it to chance that you move forward.
  • More powerful ability to set and maintain your priorities in the face of multiple competing demands. With each passing week, you’ll feel your spine getting stronger and stronger and your gut instinct being more and more finely tunes. All while staying limber and flexible.

Again, I’ve reworded the bulleted points here to speak a bit more to the impact and benefit of all of these things (e.g. “Increased skillfulness in transforming individual and collective resistance to change (you’ll feel like you learned Jedi skills from Obi Wan himself “this is not the drama you’re looking for…:”)). This is really important. It’s an old sales idea of the distinction between features and benefits. The feature is what you are offering them, but the benefit is what it means to them. People are infinitely more interested in the benefits. 

You can learn more about their good work by reading their sales letter in full here or listening to a replay of an hour long interview I did with them about their Mission Traction program. 





Inviting Business – What to Do Before You Do and Two Simple Case Studies

striped welcome mat Inviting Business   What to Do Before You Do and Two Simple Case StudiesSo, how do you make the offer without awkwardness?
How do we invite people to do business with us without being pushy?
How do we make it feel like a warm invitation where it feels like an open door with a welcome mat without the pressure to enter.
We’ve all been in the boat where we have something to offer and we want to bring it up but we don’t want it to be pushy, gross or awkward. 
Often this results in us not bringing it up at all.
Which results in us being broke.
It’s an important question, but, I want to suggest that, hidden inside this question, are a number of assumptions.
The biggest assumption is that we are meeting someone for the first time. And that is the wrong time to make any kind of offer.
Offers work best when they come from a place of real connection and some form of relationship. It might just be a few minutes if the vibe is right but there needs to be some connection present before we make any kind of offer. Another way to say it is that people must feel that we get them. They need to feel that we genuinely empathize with them and their experience. 
A simple way to do this, which I learned from my colleague Sharla Jacobs, is this: after someone has shared a struggle that you could help them with… don’t give them advice. Just say something like, “Wow. How is that for you?” and let them vent a bit more. Empathize. Hear them. Try to get what it must be like to be in their shoes. Let them feel really ‘gotten’. This will have them relax and feel much more open to you and anything you might have to offer. A little empathy goes a long, long way.
Secondly, you can ask them, “How do you want it to be instead?” and, again, really listen. You’re just getting a sense of your context. 
Thirdly, you might ask them, “If I had something that I thought might be able to help that, would you want to hear about it right now?” They might say yes. They might say no. But it’s good to get permission if you have any doubt about their openness. Sometimes that can open beautifully into a conversation about what you do. Other times, you’re at a cocktail party and it’s not the right space to go into it.
But we often misunderstand how long it can take for a genuine sense of safety and trust to be built between us and a potential client. We secretly hope it will happen with minutes but, sometimes it can take weeks to years. That’s the reality. And, if you make an offer to someone who doesn’t feel safe with you or trust you… well… that likely won’t go well.
There are a number of steps we need to go through to get from being a total stranger to someone being excited to work with us. Robert Middleton brilliantly speaks about this in his analogy of how marketing is like baseball. You just can’t skip bases. These things take time. 
What can build safety and trust dramatically faster is working with hubs (i.e. being endorsed by those who your potential clients already love and respect). If you’re at a party and you meet someone by the punch bowl and get to talking, that’s great. But if the host of the party then comes over and says, “Oh my god! Tad is the best person ever! I’m so glad you’re finally meeting him!” and then raves about you… that’s better. That person will instantly relax and feel more safe around you because someone they respect respects you. This seems obvious but most of us don’t weave this principle into our marketing. And you can read my best blog posts about that here
So,  working strategically with hubs is a key way to build trust quickly.
How do you approach and connect with these hubs? In a low key and classy way.
Another approach to to make sure you have a thoughtfully designed business model or sales funnel. My colleague Mark Silver speaks a lot about how the first journey of marketing is about us giving to them. This often takes the form of giving them free samples of our work so they can feel if it’s a fit or not
After someone has expressed their struggles and you’ve made space for them to share how that’s been for them and what they want instead you can start by offering them something free. Maybe you email them a blog post, a link to a video. Sometimes I’ll just give people a free copy of an ebook I sell. The key is to start with giving, not selling. If they like that, then you can take a next step. And, if your sales funnel is well designed enough, that may not take a lot of effort.

But safety and trust is not always enough.

And this is really my point.
You can build the coziest vibe in the world, and have people want to spend money on you and work with you and still be broke.
At some point, you need to make an offer. At some point, you need to invite them to work with you. This might seem obvious but I have seen countless people become incredibly well known and loved in a community and yet secretly be broke (when everyone assumes they’re thriving) because they would never make any meaningful offers. There’s so much collapsing that happens.
How to craft a good offer? That’s a topic for another time (though you can read related blog posts here).
But, whether it’s via email or in person, we need to put ourselves out there and risk rejection. Which is hard because the whole notion of marketing feels so gross to most people. 
Luckily, there are ways we can invite people to work with us that are very low key, down to earth and non-pressurey. Marketing can feel good.
The main idea here is to just invite people to work with you. Simple as that sometimes. 
But how? What words do you say? 
What I’ve found is that when there’s connection and trust built and we’re coming from a centered and composed place, the words find themselves. And they’re usually fairly direct. Nothing fancy.
CASE STUDY #1: Workshop Invitation
I wrote about an actual example of this that happened to me recently in a blog post about how to invite people to your workshops. The personal invite is so often missed (because we don’t want to come across as pushy).
CASE STUDY #2: Meet Up Group Follow Up
My colleague and client (and dear friend) Russell Scott and I were chatting about it recently and he was feeling a bit flummoxed with how to create more business from a regular living room get together he hosts called his Wisdom Circles. It was such a beautiful, intimate and warm event and the last thing he wanted to do was to turn it into a pitch fest. So, we spoke about it and realized there was a specific approach he could use that would likely result in many people working with him that would also feel good to everyone involved. You can read more about that here.
Sometimes it’s just this simple: a direct invitation.
No funny business. No tricks. No stealth marketing tactics. No hard closes. We can make this more complicated than it needs to be. First we create connection and safety and then we just open up a conversation to see if there might be a fit. It’s really just that. Objections tend to show up when people are feeling pressured by us.
The Heart of Selling 3D Ebook Cover JPG Inviting Business   What to Do Before You Do and Two Simple Case StudiesIf you have any stories of this in your work, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.
And if you’re looking for more help with how to invite people to work with you, I commend checking out my Heart of Selling product where you can learn the basics of how to invite people to work with you (and rebook with you if they already have) without any of the awkwardness. 

Case Study: Making The Offer

Russell Touched Up 1 Case Study: Making The OfferOne of my favourite clients and colleagues is Russell Scott in Guelph (the handsome fellow pictured here). He is kind, gentle, genuine and just the realest deal when it comes to spiritual mentorship for those with allergies to gurus and dogma. If you’re an independent spiritual seeker, I can’t commend him highly enough. A genuine elder. 

But, it’s also a challenge. For someone with such an aversion to selling, how does one sell?

He spoke about his regular living room Wisdom Circles that he hosts for past clients and community members. He has 6-12 people at them every week or so. The evenings sound really lovely. Sharing circles and gentle partner work. And, of course, he has services he’d like to offer them. But how, and when, to do that without it feeling pushy, awkward of gross? How indeed.

For those of us who hate the pitch, how do we share what we do in a way that isn’t pushy but also not apologetic… and yet still effective. After all, what’s the point of having these wonderful offers if no one knows about them?

It can be a sticky wicket.

As we spoke, a thought came to me about how he might do it that could avoid a feeling of pressure in his his living room.

What he doesn’t want is to end a lovely, intimate evening with people feeling like he was trying to ‘hard close’ them to sign up for his workshops or mentoring. That would be the worst. And turn everyone off. But to not ever mention his work would be a betrayal of himself and a sure expression of collapsing

But, as we spoke, I was remembering how many people I’ve gotten to sign up in my workshops and coaching simply by inviting them directly

I recall once hosting a party at a loft in London, England. It was filled with local hubs, past clients and their friends. I met four people at the party who I’d not known before who I really wanted at my workshop. They seemed like the coolest people.

So I said, “Can you come to my workshop this weekend?’

‘What workshop?’ they would ask.

‘It’s a marketing workshop for hippies. It’s pay what you can. I would love to have you there! I can email you the info if you like.’ And I did. And I think all of them signed up. There was no clever technique. I just felt a connection. Expressed that. Was sincere in my expression of wanting them to be at the workshop. Was unattached to that happening. And it happened. 

I’ve had other moments of sitting with someone as they described their marketing woes and said to them, ‘Hire me. Let me help you with this.’ and they said ‘Yes’. No games. No leading questions. No tricky business. Just a sincere expression of the desire to help. And yet so effective. 

So, I said to Russell, “Here’s what I would do… First of all, mention your workshops after the break in the middle or at the end. No pressure. No pitch. Just, ‘Here’s what I’ve got coming up if anyone is interested.’. But then, because you only have 6-12 people I would send them a follow up email after they’ve left. And I would sit and meditate on each name and ask yourself what you might have to share with them. Perhaps it’s just an email that says, “I really heard your struggle tonight about what to do with your marriage and it touched me. Thanks for coming.’ or maybe he’d send a link to an article that he or someone else wrote. Or a youtube video. Part of the idea of slow marketing is to take a pause and sit with things for a bit to see what really feels right. I remember a moment where the right thing for me to say to someone was, ‘Don’t be an asshole. Sign up for this thing. You need it.’ and they totally relaxed, laughed, signed up and were so glad they did. Being conscious and coming from our heart in our relationship to sales doesn’t mean we always speak in hushed, new agey tones. Your style can be much more in your face and still totally authentic.

Or maybe he’d say, ‘I really heard your struggle tonight about what to do with your life and that lost feeling and I would love to have you at my upcoming retreat. I’m not sure it’s a fit but I think it could be just perfect for where you’re at. Would you be open to chatting about it?’ Or something like that. It can be done with no pressure. No guile. Just a heartfelt, considered offer. They might say ‘yes’ and they might say ‘no’. Both are okay. The role of marketing isn’t about convincing people of anything.  It’s about giving people the information they need to make a clear choice and see if what you’re offering is a fit for them. 

In truth, he might invite them not to come back to the circle if it’s really not a fit.

But each offer would come from a prayerful place, holding their best interests in mind and sensing for what, if anything, he might offer that would be a fit for helping them.

Selling can be about closing deals. But it can also be about opening conversations.

It doesn’t have to be a high pressure, powerful presentation from the front of the room. It can be a personal email after the workshop too. It’s good to be mindful of our context. Were it an intro workshop, I would urge him to make a direct offer and invite people to sign up then and there if it felt right. But this is a lovely living room, drop in session. Context matters. 

You can read another example of this kind of thing in action in another post I wrote recently. 

Getting new clients doesn’t have to be sneaky or hard. Sometimes you just have to ask. 


Chat Transcript: Asking People to Come to Your Workshops

invitation envelope Chat Transcript: Asking People to Come to Your WorkshopsA few weeks ago, I was trying to fill up a marketing workshop I was hosting in Edmonton with my colleague Mark Silver.

Numbers were lower than I wanted and so, instead of just relying on the facebook event, email lists and such, I decided to do some personal outreach to key people I thought might want to come. Honestly, I tend to avoid this because it can take so much time. If I can fill a workshop by sending out a few emails, I’d rather do that. But, in this case, it wasn’t happening. One of the people I messaged on facebook was someone we’ll call Jane Doe. I wanted to share the conversation we had (irrelevant bits deleted) because I thought it was telling. It shows how a very direct approach to marketing and sales can actually feel really good.

Sometimes an old fashioned, personal invitation goes a long way.

Tad: Jane, can you come to this? i think you might dig it and I would personally love it if you were there. not 100% sure its a fit for your situation but i think it might be. https://marketingforhippies.com/mrx/ – The Mr. X Experience a one time only, three part experience for conscious entrepreneurs serious about growing their businesses Hey there, On Sept 23-24th, 2014 in Edmonton, I will be hosting the most unusual marketing workshop I’ve ever hosted. And, before you decide if you want to come, I’m go…

Jane: you might be right…i will have a look

Tad: coooool

Jane: it’s s tuesday-wednesday thing? I’m just checking to see if i can get someone else to get my kid to footballtues-wed are practice days

Tad: Mr. X is Mark Silver. Have you heard of him?

Jane: no but even his name feels good and i feel good about you, Tad. one of my friends took one of your marketing for hippies courses and really liked where you were coming from she said you were very real and it was a great workshop

Tad: so glad check out his site! i think you’d love him so much

Jane: thanks Tad, I’m going to recommend this to my co-workers one of them is just starting her business so its perfect timing

Tad: thanks so much!

Jane: k. i signed up. thanks for the heads up. see. this is what i like about you…you can send a message selling something…and it doesn’t feel like pressure…it feels like you are doing mefavourvor…thats how i want my marketing to feel

Tad: I’m glad it felt good. and so happy you can make it. is there anyone else you can think of who should be there? i feel like i’ve invited all of the usual suspects but i know there are scenes within scenes i know nothing about.

Jane: i will spread the word to ppl i know will be interested

Tad: thank you so much! huge help. oh boy. so excited. it’s mark and my first time meeting in person. so many skypes. and now i get to introduce him to my community who i love so much.

Jane: by the sounds of it…the community loves you back

Tad: #mutualadmirationsociety

Jane: :-)

Sales Letter Case Study: Permanomics

1623499 10154654352970230 3741222619418861514 n Sales Letter Case Study: PermanomicsI was just chatting with my colleague and dear friend Javan Bernakevitch of Permaculture BC. He dropped me a line of facebook asking for help in spreading the word on a course he was doing. It’s a course he’s told me about and that I know is brilliant. 

Javan: Hey bud, I’m offering the core of the personal niche course and, personal function finding course as a stream cast on October 8th with Nicole. Would you be willing to post the below? My bud Javan is offering an elegant process on how to understand your skills, function and niche… what you need to consider before your business model on October 8th and you can stream it from your house for $10, this is $100 deal for $10. Check it out. http://bit.ly/1CurpfO

PERMANOMICS! Right Livelihood: Using Permaculture and Holistic Management to design a profitable and high quality life permaculturebc.com TICKETS for IN-PERSON attendance OR, ON-LINE Live Streamed Broadcast attendance here: http://permanomics.eventbrite.ca/Living the new Economy-Victoria, BC, Education in Action Series Presents: 

Tad: the word ‘function’… i don’t think anyone will understand it

Javan: Function in the ad copy?

Tad: yeah. i’d cut that word or find another way to say it. i think it’s a permie word that permies would get but will totally lose other people. like why would would someone want to ‘My bud Javan is offering an elegant process on how to understand your skills, function and niche’ – what would that give them? What’s the impact of that? What are they wanting from that? I even think ‘niche’ may be too jargony without a certain context around it

Javan: Thanks for that feedbacK. Would something like, “My bud Javan is offering an elegant process on how to interpret the intersection your skills, future goals and the local world problems that make you grit your teeth as potential to discover the reason you’re on this planet.”?

Tad: better! or “Ever look at the world and wonder what you can do to make it better? My friend Javan has a special genius is helping people identify their best skills, local problems in their communities, their goals and interests and turn them into projects that can get them moving (and maybe even make them some income or turn into a business. If you feel like there’s something you want to do but feel stuck in terms of what that might look like, you should check out…”

Javan: You could do this for a living.

Tad: I don’t know… I’m not sure how i’d articulate it… HAYoh!

Guest Post: The Essential Guide to Pay What You Want Pricing

Tom Morkes headshot3 Guest Post: The Essential Guide to Pay What You Want Pricing


The Essential Guide to Pay What You Want Pricing

- Tom Morkes

In April of 2013, I did something a bit mad, and it’s changed the way I view business (and life) forever.

Before I explain, here’s some background for context:

I started building my personal website www.tommorkes.com in the fall of 2012. For the first 5 or 6 months I gave everything away for free.

No price tag – just take it.

In that time, I created a lot of content too: several blog posts a week, an 80 page book, a bunch of mini-guides and workbooks, a podcast, etc.

All for free.

In this time, I’d built of a list of about 150 readers.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2013, and I’m in my car listening to a podcast featuring the Vennare brothers of Thehybridathlete.com. They were telling a story about their successful fitness business, which was bringing in 6 figures a year. 

Cool, but no big deal, right?

But then they said something that blew my mind: 

They were making this money in a completely unconventional way: by letting their customers CHOOSE their price.

In other words: Pay What You Want (PWYW) pricing. 

I let the idea float around my brain for a bit and realize this is the technique I needed to use for my writing.

I still wanted as many people as possible to have access to my work, but also wanted to validate the worth of my writing (as in, I wanted to know if my writing was good enough to pay for).

My next book was a small ebook – a compilation of notes from a Seth Godin conference. After getting permission from Seth to share the book with my audience, I created a simple splash page on my website, uploaded the file to Gumroad.com, and let my 150 subscribers know I had a new, free eBook for them…
With one catch: for the first time ever, I gave them the opportunity to contribute to my creative work
??as much or as little as they’d like.

I expected to make nothing, but why not try, right?
The next day, I had $80 in my bank account.

“Wow – very cool…”
By the end of the week, $340.

“This is incredible…”
At the end of the month, I was closing in on $500.
“All for something I gave away for free. Amazing…”

Was it Just Luck?

Trust me, I get it.

This seems like a one off anomaly. As a random success story that doesn’t prove it can be repeated.

Normally, I would create a long list of examples to disprove this; to show it’s been done many, many times before in much bigger ways than what I did (including examples like Disconnect.me, Humblebundle.com, Radiohead’s In Rainbows album, Joost van Dongen’s $20k PWYW video game, Panera Bread’s PWYW based cafes, Perlin Winery in Berlins, and many others)…

But instead, I’d like to share a couple new ways I’ve personally used the pricing technique this year and the results.

How Pay What You Want Pricing Can Work for In Person Events with Expensive Overhead

In the spring of 2014, I co-launched a new business called TheFlightFormula.com.

The Flight Formula is a heart-centered business incubation program – it’s a 1 week, live, in-person training event to help you launch a heart-centered business from scratch.

I initially came on as a pricing consultant (and then latter as a cofounding partner) because of my work in Pay What You Want pricing.

My suggestion: let’s take Pay What You Want pricing to it’s edge.

In other words: let’s remove price altogether.

Now – to give a clear context for how crazy this is – The Flight Formula in person even had about $15,000 – $20,000 in overhead (housing, catered food, mentors and coaches, etc.). 

Removing price would be an insane proposition, right?

The results prove otherwise.

We were able to raise over $40,000 in commitments for the event. I write all about that experience here.

How Pay What You Want Pricing Works Even Better for Services Than Digital Products

A lot of people who happen upon Pay What You Want pricing immediately think it can only work for digital products.

What they’re unconsciously recognizing is that low marginal cost ought to make Pay What You Want more successful and lower your overall risk.

While this isn’t untrue, it misses a bigger point:

Pay What You Want pricing works best when there’s a personal connection.

To prove this, I tested Pay What You Want consulting this past year. After consulting with over a dozen people in March of 2014, from Argentina tourism companies, to African Telecom companies, to solopreneurs, to artists, here are the results:

The lowest contribution per hour of my time: $28.53

The highest contribution per hour of my time: $250.00

Average consulting rate per hour: $182.26

That means, on average, I was making more per hour than the average doctor or lawyer (here’s an article where I show the experiment and the results in more depth).

How (and why) Does Pay What You Want Pricing Work?

These results may seem incredible, but the reality is – it’s the result of basic principles in psychology and human interaction.

There are four primary reasons Pay What You Want pricing works:

1. Pay What You Want pricing removes the barrier to entry

Fixed-price products by their nature create a barrier to entry for consumers. By lowering the price to zero (or close to zero), you remove the barrier to entry.

Yet, while free destroys revenue, PWYW does not??people still contribute, and often more generously than you’d imagine.

2. Pay What You Want pricing removes the price ceiling

In an eye-opening interview I did with Ryan Delk of Gumroad.com, I found out something incredible:

Based on the results of multiple uses of Pay What You Want, Ryan discovered that the top 1-3% of our audiences contribute way over the average??so much so that they often more than make up for those who contribute the minimum.

“The interesting thing about Pay What You Want is that people fundamentally underestimate how engaged and excited the top 1 to 3% of their audience is about the things that they do…”

I found this to be true in my case.

When I released my first book as PWYW, the majority of my income came from the top 3% of my audience who contributed $50-$100 per download.

3. Pay What You Want pricing encourages impulse buying

The majority of buyers on the planet are looking for a deal.

When something is discounted – even if we don’t need the product or service – we often buy.

That’s an impulse buy and it happens to varying degrees for different people.

With PWYW, because we’ve lowered the barrier to entry, we can inspire the same impulse buying (ESPECIALLY when we make our PWYW offers limited time events).

4. Pay What You Want inspires generosity

Contrary to popular belief, people are not self-serving by nature.

The title from a Harvard Business Review article says it best:

“When the Rule Is “Pay What You Want,” Almost Everyone Pays Something”

The study goes on to explain that 95.95% of customers contribute money when paying is optional. The question is…how MUCH do those 95.95% actually contribute. Matt Homann of LexThink is a consultant for lawyers, accountants and large corporations like Microsoft. 

He switched from fixed price invoicing to what he calls You Decide Invoicing.

Here’s what he had to say about his results:

“Since I’ve been doing this, my sense of the value I give my clients has increased. I’ve recognized that my clients don’t care about the time I spend working for them, but rather the results they get from working with me. Quantitatively, my income has doubled in the past year, because clients pay me more on my blank invoices than I would have charged them. I’ve also increased my per-engagement price (when I’m asked to give one). I know charge roughly three times what I would have quoted before my pricing experiment began.” Source: You Decide Invoicing

Double your fixed rate price…

How’s that for generous?

How to Apply Pay What You Want Pricing to Your Product or Service

Now it’s time to apply the Pay What You Want pricing to your products or services.

This is the framework I use and teach all my clients: what I call The 6 Step Perfect Pitch Framework

This framework will show you HOW to offer your product or service so people not only contribute, but contribute GENEROUSLY to your offer.  And at the end of the day, that’s what we want, right? 

So let’s get to it:

1. Clarify the Offer

The same rules apply to fixed priced products and services as they do to PWYW products and services.

If people don’t know what you’re offering, how can you expect them to contribute (let alone contribute generously).

2. Show the Customer You’re Human

We don’t give to corporations. We give to people.

If Applebees rolled out a line of PWYW appetizers, why would anyone pay extra?

But if the artisan baker down the street, who you’ve known personally for years, is offering his hand-crafted baked goods as Pay What You Want, now all of a sudden there’s a reason to contribute (and generously).

A couple ways to show people you’re human online:

add your picture to the website and sales page

write casually and passionately (i.e. not like a robot)

3. Appeal to Idealism

Pay What You Want pricing is all about giving people a reason to contribute generously.

We do this by appealing to virtue, generosity, karma, and any other ideal that encourages giving. Sometimes, just mentioning the word is good enough. Other times, we need to elaborate on what and why we’re using PWYW.

Remember: people buy stories.  So give them a good story that appeals to their idealism (they’ll be more willing to contribute and to spread the word).

4. Anchor the Price

If you’re selling a premium product as PWYW, you need to anchor a premium price in the buyers mind.

Price anchoring is a psychological technique marketers use to get you ready to buy expensive stuff, like iPads – a $500 iPad by itself is ridiculously expensive compared to a laptop (it doesn’t even do as much)…

But if we compare it to more expensive iPads – up to $800 or more – it’s not so expensive.  This is price anchoring (showing really expensive alternatives so your original product doesn’t seem so expensive).

With Pay What You Want pricing, since the price is up to the buyer, we need to anchor our product or service to similar but premium fixed priced products.

5. Steer the Customer to the Right Choice

Once you’ve price anchored the product, you need to actually steer the customer to the right choice.

PWYW is ambiguous in some ways, and ambiguity scares people.  We need to be clear not only with our offer (see above), but with what an average contribution would look like, and, even better, what a generous contribution would look like.

6. Rally around a Purpose

When people see a Pay What You Want item, they’re going to ask themselves (either out loud or subconsciously):

Why let me choose the price?

Is this a trick / ploy / ruse?

That’s why it’s so important to rally your PWYW pricing around a purpose – to explain the purpose behind the pricing, which is just as important as explaining clearly the product or service.


Explain why you’re using the pricing technique; show your customers why the pricing technique is important (to them and to their community)

7. (BONUS) Add Charity to the Mix

While it’s true that a simple PWYW offer can increase revenue compared to fixed-pricing, it’s statistically proven to be more effective when you add charity to the mix. This ties into the ‘appeal to idealism’ I mentioned earlier but creates an even greater incentive to give and to give generously.

Of course, you need to integrate charity authentically, honestly, and congruently with your message, otherwise it comes off shady or forced and people won’t contribute.

No, you can’t ‘game’ the system with charity, so only use it if it fits.

Next Steps

So that wraps up a brief overview of Pay What You Want pricing.

If you’re interested in learning more, I created a free 7 part email series to go into each of these topics in more depth, including case studies, copy-and-paste PWYW pricing copy (for your sales page) and more.

Join the free 7 Day Pay What You Want Pricing Crash Course here.

Other than that, let us know in the comments below what questions you have or if you’ve tried out PWYW pricing – what your results have been.

Thanks and see you in the comments!

80 Minute Video: Conversation on Transparent Marketing with Simon on the Sofa


Screen Shot 2014 09 17 at 3.13.27 PM 300x175 80 Minute Video: Conversation on Transparent Marketing with Simon on the SofaI just had an 80 minute google hangout with a dear friend and colleague in the UK who’s known as Simon on the Sofa

We spoke about how marketing often feels ‘off’ even, sometime especially, when it’s called ‘conscious marketing’. 

We spoke about how dating and marketing were intimately connected and about the importance of vulnerability in both.

I really enjoyed our conversation a lot and I hope you will too.