Ambushing and Bait and Switches

Small_Biz_HR_Bait_Switch-235x300The other day, I got the following message on Facebook:

Hey Tad, just want to say how much I love you work and continue to follow your blog and content all the time.”

These kinds of messages always find a good home in my world. It’s easy to think that people like me are constantly told how much they are appreciated, but it’s not always the case. You put things out in the world and, sometimes, have no real idea how they land.

So, when someone takes the time to express their appreciation, it means a great deal even if I don’t always have time to respond personally.

Oh you.” I replied. “Thank you.”

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And then the conversation took a turn for the worse. 

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I’d love to tell you more about a really conscious company that offered me a great detox. It’s a 10 day transformation cleanse.
May I share a video with you?

I sighed, “Let’s slow this conversation down just a little bit.” I was already feeling exhausted for having to have this conversation with someone again. I already had a sense of where it was going. “Is this a company with which you are personally involved? Is this a MLM type company (even if it might prefer another term) and, were I to sign up for this cleanse, would you receive any financial compensation?

I wasn’t feeling upset, or at least not that feeling alone and not really towards the woman who was writing to me. It was an upset about how this culture fails us and how the sales training of MLM companies utterly fails people. I was sad that this conversation needed to happen still. Though, given where I began in sales myself and how aggressive and pushy I was, I am in no position to point fingers at anyone.

It’s a network marketing company that supports sustainability and offers non GMO, organic foods and products.” she said. “I offer the product as part of my nutritional services. I prefer these than the past retail products I used to recommend.

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I paused for a moment to decide how candid I wanted to be with her. I decided to be as direct as I could.

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Thanks for clarifying. This isn’t something I’m interested in right now. And… ” I paused for a moment to decide how candid I wanted to be with her and decided to be as direct as I could be. “Here’s what felt off for me with this. It felt like a mini ambush a bit. You opened with a sincere compliment and then, suddenly, I was being pitched. It felt like the conversation was opened in one way and then, immediately, became about something else. A woman I used to date met a woman at a cafe. They had a great conversation. The woman invited her out for coffee and she agreed because the interaction had been so nice. When she got there, the woman began to pitch her on Amway and her heart broke a little bit. Her head was swirling in wondering how sincere the compliments and good connection had been at all. I don’t doubt that your words to me are sincere and I’m grateful for them and… there’s a beauty to directness too. I’m sitting with what might have felt better for me as an approach here. Here’s one I’m imagining

You: “Tad, you came to mind today and I wanted to reach out to you about two things. The first was that I just read _____ blog post recently and I loved it and I love your work and wanted to tell you. And then, as I thought about you and knowing that you’re into health and wellness, I thought you might, or might not, be interested in something I’ve been involved in. Do you ever do cleanses? I don’t know if that sort of things is something you’re interested in.”

Tad: “Sometimes. I should probably do it more.”

You: “I know the feeling. Well, to put it out there, there’s a ten day cleanse I’ve come across and it’s the best one I’ve found. I wasn’t sure if you’d want to know more about it or not but there’s a video I can send you about it. No pressure on this. And a disclaimer, it’s an MLM company so, if you signed up I would make some money but there’s also a direct link I could give you where you could buy it directly and I wouldn’t get any money. I just think it’s a great thing. Again, no pressure, I know you’re busy.

That sort of direct conversation, with context given as to why you thought it might be relevant to me, with the disclaimer about the profit motive might have felt a bit better. It just suddenly went into a pitch. And I appreciate very much that you asked permission to share the video. That feels good. How does that all land for you?” I asked hoping this had not been too much for her but also aware that I had not asked for her pitch at all and it had found me in a Facebook message on my personal profile and leveraged that connection and opportunity for her business.

I reflected on the incredible importance of Permission Marketing in which you don’t market to people without having their permission to do so first.

She replied, “That’s very good. Thank you for for offering that suggestion. Sorry if it felt intrusive. I’m a bit excited about it and what I experienced. I definitely will apply this as it does feel better. My appreciation for your work is authentic and sorry of that felt otherwise.”

It was a relief to feel her openness to my words. I have had to cut off relations with colleagues in the past because they couldn’t hear my feedback on similar issues. “I think part of it is that Facebook is such a personal medium for me and so I assume messages I receive here are in that vein. MLM is a very tricky situation because the level of stigma around it is large (and not unearned). What that means is that, if people even get a sniff that it is MLM there will be pressure present because now they will see you in a particular way. And if they smell it and get the sense that it’s being hidden, all of the alarms go off. This is all true in sales in general but it’s extra true in MLM. There’s a need to be direct but also to keep focused on constantly diffusing pressure.

The-Heart-of-Selling-3D-Ebook-Cover-JPGThe best person I know around this is Ari Galper of Unlock the Game whose work is based in how to constantly be diffusing pressure so that an authentic conversation can unfold. It’s something I also explore in depth in my ebook The Heart of Selling: An Interview with Mark Silver.

Another approach that could feel really good would be to simply message me and say, “Tad, can I pitch you on something?”

I’d likely say, “Ha. Sure. What you got?”

“And then you could give me your best pitch for your cleanse with all of the disclaimers and ‘no pressures’ etc. And then I’d be able to sit with it and see if it felt like a fit. There would be no suspicion about intentions. I think sometimes people think it’s not very ‘hippy’ or ‘conscious’ to be that blunt and direct but it’s actually deeply appreciated if it’s balanced with a detachment, a lack of assumption that this is going to be a fit etc. A hard pill to swallow is that our natural enthusiasm, unchecked, will often read as sales pressure. On your end, if feels like you’re being authentic and effusive and, on the receiving end, it comes across as pushy. It can be hard to tone down our vibe. It can be hard to be chill about these conversations but it’s important to remember that most people have an incredibly hard time saying ‘no’ and so our passion can actually be something that bullies someone into doing something that doesn’t feel right for them. It can have us want to move the conversation faster than is right for the other person. There is a deep need to keep slowing ourselves and the conversation down.”

I reflected on how my colleagues Jesse and Sharla often speak about the importance of surfacing the concerns the others might have before signing any documents. They suggest that you literally stop the conversation and say, “Are there any concerns you have that might stop you from moving forward on this?” and then to really, really listen.

It had me think about my recent practice of creating an ‘are you sure?’ page that interrupts and slows down the buying process.

It had me think about how selling and marketing feel so unnatural to so many of us and how brave people are to even try, like this good woman did, to extend herself and take the risk of offering something she believed in.

It reminded me of how many people have had some version of the following experience:

“I went to a 1/2 day workshop about envisioning your future and I liked the information and the presenter. The women then offered free 1 hour consultation to go deeper and see if we could work together. During the 1 hour consolation I told her something pretty vulnerable (I don’t do vulnerable easy but she seemed like she was genuine) and then later in the call she used that information in a way that made me feel bad about myself and like pressure to work with her. I will never work with her. Now if someone offers free time, I say upfront I just want to know more about your ability to support me but if you are going to do a hard sell I will not waste your time. I really felt like she had no integrity – I’m sure it’s something she learned from her coaching course – but it felt very mean. (Feel free to post this anonymously if you are sharing this with others).”

It reminded me of the heart of my work and my commitment to the idea that marketing can feel good.

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The real work in selling, for most of us, is not about learning how to be more convincing, it’s about learning how to identify and remove sources of pressure so that we can have a human conversation with people instead of giving them a pitch.

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Additional Reading:

To read more thoughts on my notions of how to approach people with graciousness I recommend reading The Classy Cold Approach.

I also recommend reading A Client Says I’d Love to Work With You… And Then You Never Hear From Them Again by Rich Litvin in which he explores the notion of “Questioning their ‘yes'”. Brilliant stuff.

And, again, Ari Galper’s work at Unlock the Game is brilliant here as is Mark Silver’s Heart of Selling program.

Interview with Stephen Jenkinson – Am I Ready to Teach?

In February of 2015, I sat down to write a blog post that it felt ridiculous for me to be writing. It was entitled, 36 Reflections on “Who am I to teach and charge for it?”.

Being 39 years young at the time, and an elder in training at the very best, it felt like a strange thing to even presume to have an opinion on and yet, it was a question that rankled in the hearts of so many of my friends and clients – a silent torture of feeling called to teach on one hand but question their credibility to do it on the other. One on hand there is the call to proceed as if they might be needed, and on the other hand wondering what the best manner of proceeding might be.

And, so I found myself wondering what Stephen Jenkinson, author, speaker and founder of the Orphan Wisdom School, might have to say about it. I had interviewed him on the related topic of Right Livelihood in May of 2015 and hoped he might be willing to have another conversation. The request was made and sat on the heaping pile of the considerations of the days of Stephen and his wife Nathalie until a moment was found.

The conversation was sprawling and braided together the topics of teaching, culture, elderhood, globalization and cultural appropriation. The word ‘patience’ kept recurring like a caution in it all and reminded me of Wendell Berry’s line, “To be patient in an emergency is a terrible trial”. He implored us to see our cultural poverty and the woundedness that emerged from it but to ask that woundeness to earn its keep before giving it the megaphone and spotlight it might crave.

I hope these words are food for you and might enable you to provide food for others and all those yet to come.

You can listen to or download the audio version here.

stephen

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“From whence comes the, let’s be frank, demand for more teachers?”

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Tad: Greetings, everybody. This is Tad Hargrave with “Marketing for Hippies,” and I am joined by Stephen Jenkinson (pictured above). Stephen is a teacher, author, storyteller, spiritual activist, farmer, and founder of the Orphan Wisdom School, a teaching house and learning house for the skills of deep living and making of human culture.

It’s rooted in knowing history, being claimed by ancestry, and working for a time yet to come. Welcome, Stephen.

Stephen:  Thank you, Tad.

Tad:  It’s good to have you here. Months ago, as  a result of being in the Orphan Wisdom School, this question started to emerge, this wondering about being a teacher, coming from a lot of my clients wrestling with this, feeling like they’re looking at the world, and feeling like more teachers are needed, and feeling called into that.

And yet also feeling cautioned and not sure whether people asking them for wisdom or saying, “You should be a teacher,” is something that they should follow, or a temptation to avoid.

That, meshed with things I’ve seen in this scene of “In a weekend, you can become a reiki master,” people becoming life coaches in a year or two years. We just have this situation of people wondering, “Am I ready to be a teacher?”

A while ago I emailed you about this, and your reply was, “Who needs more teachers?”

Stephen:  [laughs] Yeah, a measured response.

Tad: Yeah. I guess I wanted to open it up to you to see what thoughts you had and reflections you had on this for people who are wrestling with these questions.

Stephen:  How about give me a located and concrete question to start with?

Tad:  Sure. There are people who are — and to think of people, I mean in the Orphan Wisdom School who I know people have come to and started saying, “You should teach what you’re learning here at the Orphan Wisdom School. You should be a teacher of that.”

Or people who are studying with various shamans or medicine people around the world. Their friends are coming to them and saying, “Oh hey, you’ve been studying this, and you know more than we know anyways, so why don’t you do a workshop or host something, and why don’t you teach a bit of what you’ve learned.”

They don’t know what to do with that. I think, from what I’ve heard from some of them, their wrestling with that. “Should I respond to that, and share some of what I’ve learned? Or should I demure and engage in some other way?”

I don’t know if that’s any better…

Stephen:  No, no better, [laughs] but let me not put you through it a third time.

One question, one place to begin is to wonder this. From whence comes this request? Not your request to me, but the request that you’re relating to me now? From whence comes the request/demand — let’s be frank — demand for more teachers, which I’m not sure that’s what it’s a demand for, but let’s start there.

The people who are asking for this, their request comes from? And the answer most certainly would be a combination of a proliferation of teachers already. Somehow that breeds the demand for yet more, on the one side. And on the other side, it comes from a fairly telling lack of familiarity with that thing that they’re requesting.

So the first thing to wonder about is whether this request is what it sounds like. I’m not inferring anything nefarious in here. I’m talking about something subtle, and the subtlety of a demand or an expectation for there to be more teachers is frankly a demand for what? It’s a demand for greater access to this thing that people are demanding.

That’s my first hesitation, is, “Look where this demand or expectation is coming from, and ask yourself whether or not it is to be served in that raw, frankly naked — and I might as well go the whole route and say — adolescent and uninitiated form.

Because any deep contact with a — let’s call it, in generic sense, a wisdom tradition, that’s really rooted somewhere, and at some place amongst some people in some particular time… I believe the first consequence of some kind of deep encounter with this is a more or less humble refusal to uproot it, to tear it from its home place and to insist that it proliferate where you live, where it has no kin, no homeland, no tradition, no history, no anything.

I don’t know if you can smell it… What I smell is something in the order of a kind of a conversion mentality, that most people who are making these kinds of requests or demands are ancestrally derived from them, and the conversion mentality — and I’m not just referring to Christianity, although it seems to take the biggest hit in this regard — but all of those religious traditions, and those traditions that claim not to be religious, who are engaged in some kind of transplantation, missionizing, almost across the board what you see there is it’s a kind of low-grade and maybe unintended assault on time, the specifics, the diversities, the rootedness of various times, of various places, and peoples and cultures.

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“this expectation or demand for more teachers strikes me as utterly in keeping with the globalization mind that many people who are requesting it would understand themselves to be categorically opposed to.”

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By which I’m saying that to my mind, this expectation — this is a bit of a leap here now, but this expectation or demand for more teachers strikes me as utterly in keeping with the globalization mind that many people who are requesting it would understand themselves to be categorically opposed to. Do you see what I’m saying?

This is a great dilemma, no? We fancy ourselves to be opposed to NAFTA, and because of that, we imagine ourselves to be free of the instinct to globalize.

Well, I’ll tell you. I see it everywhere, the assumption, for example. You can’t imagine how many times I’m approached on the road and elsewhere, usually in a kind of a conspiratorial fashion, as if I would be on the inside, obviously, of what they’re about to ask me, and very, very kindly disposed to it.

They’ll start talking about ayahuasca. That’s the big one, especially the further west I go on the continent. The general thing is, the tone of it is, “But ayahuasca’s cool, right? Me using it,” and then they go into detail about how Mr. Shaman took them aside in the Amazon, or maybe not the Amazon. Maybe the Fraser River, in BC, and because it was Mr. Shaman and he comes from x place, or she comes from y place, this all legitimizes the whole enterprise.

I think the underlying assumption of the whole thing is, “Well if it’s in the world, then it’s for everyone, right?”

Tad:  Mm-hmm.

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The real learning of these things, in the places where they’re actually learned, means that you don’t have an undisturbed life, that the willingness to learn these things rules your days, and that your daily life is enthralled to this learning.

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Stephen: I don’t think so. I think that these things are specifically in specific parts of the world for specific reasons, and why don’t we learn that instead? Why don’t we learn about diversity and locality, instead of generalized ability based on the extremities of bereavement, culturally speaking? That most people who are making these kind of requests are living in day in and day out, generally unawares.

So the old adage, food makes hunger, is absolutely accurate. It’s not just true in the kitchen, but of course, it’s true culturally, spiritually, and the rest. When you are in the presence of something that seems bonified, legitimate, rooted, planted, ongoing, and that it’s earned its keep, the instinct in there somewhere is, “Where do I sign?”, without any willingness to realize that the labor of preservation of learning, of memorizing, and more learning, of losing and learning, of being entrusted at too young an age because of cultural mayhem and learning. All of that goes by the wayside.

And if it’s in the world, and it can be reduced to a weekend — oh, let’s be fairer than that — it can be reduced to a two-year program, once a month and… whatever it is, my point is that the real learning of these things is not something that your undisturbed life would be amenable to.

The real learning of these things, in the places where they’re actually learned, means that you don’t have an undisturbed life, that the willingness to learn these things rules your days, and that your daily life is enthralled to this learning.

Maybe you know people who are willing to go that route. I, myself, given the travails and the slings and arrows of normal life in urban North America, I don’t know that many of them. But I’m sure that the people you’re referring to who are making these requests and demands don’t fall into that narrow and devoted category that I just described.

I’m not saying that they should. I’m simply trying to observe a dilemma that I think underlies this expectation, so there’s the first consideration, is ‘from whence comes the request or the demand?’, and the answer is it comes from a place where the things that are sought do not live. There’s the first one.

The second one is something in the order of the machinery of teaching. This is something I’ve thought a lot about myself, and for what it’s worth, at least to get it started, I’d offer this up to you.

Teaching can be distinguished from other kinds of activity which would nominally, at first blush, might look like the same thing, but I don’t think they are. Teachers — and I have to generalize to say anything at all, so before anybody’s ready to take me down in flames, let’s just consider, before we vote, because I’m not voting. I’ve just been asked to consider out loud here, too, so let me see if I can do it.

Teaching as a function is a metaphoric function, by which I mean this. Teachers, even the best teachers, are conduit. I don’t know how to say it, plural of conduit — conduii, I suppose it is. They’re a pipe, and the things entrusted to them more or less flow unimpeded either to the next generation or the next semester, or whatever the arrangement is. That’s what the root meaning of the word “metaphor” is. It’s something in the order of to carry across, to transmit, if you will, this kind of thing.

There’s absolutely room in the world for that faithful function. Absolutely, that’s true. I think what’s missing in the function is a kind of discipline, if you will. Let’s start with a little etymology on this one. You’ve heard me talk about this one before, I know.

Discipline, the same etymologically rooted in the word “disciple,” and vice versa. People don’t like the word disciple in North America. They prefer teacher and student, I suppose, but disciple’s a little strong. It sounds a little mindless, right? A little abandoned, and the rest, a little slavish, and we’re not big on that thing.

The thrust of these two words happens something like this. It infers the following, that kind of quixotic combination of acquired habit and reigned in inspiration that you are willing to take upon yourself, for the sake of the — love is usually the word that is used here, but if that seems too strong, for the sake of the…OK, I’ll say it differently. Sorry.

That what discipline and disciple infer is that because of what you seek, in the name of what you seek, and from whom you seek it, you will take upon yourself a degree of studied, purposeful habit, and restraint, and all that goes with that, in the name of the devotion you have for the person you propose to learn from. That’s the kind of matrix of the thing.

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The truth of the matter is that we are bereft of the institution of apprenticeship, really, and that’s to our deep, deep detriment, I think. We have workshopitis,

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I don’t see the proliferation of teaching that goes on now as having, frankly, the patience and the belief in time in that such an arrangement, I think, probably requires. The truth of the matter is that we are bereft of the institution of apprenticeship, really, and that’s to our deep, deep detriment, I think. We have workshopitis, God knows, and we have weekend warrior syndromes and all the rest, but the idea of a long, unrewarded, unrecognized, unspectacular, ordinary, mundane, not-on-a-website kind of learning where there’s no sign that you are, in fact, learning, and the willingness to find the deep patience required in proceeding, minus any sign that what you seek is what’s happening.

That’s what’s missing, and that what I think the proliferation of teachers actually aids and abets, the unwillingness to slow down, to be an amateur, and to never graduate from that status.

So if anybody’s been in the Orphan Wisdom School and is presuming to turn it around, if you will — I’m not talking about the motivation now. I’m talking about the mechanics and the consequence. They’ve done so without ever asking me what I think about it, I could tell you that, because I’ve never been asked about what I think about that, or what my take on it might be. But you’re hearing it now.

Do people really imagine that as a consequence of one or two years, which amounts to between 10 and 20 days of sitting in the Orphan Wisdom School, that this is tantamount to the years that was required of me to be able to distill what I try to make available in those 10 or 20 days.

I don’t think anybody, when pressed, would ever say that they’re somehow similar, but yet the willingness to go ahead and teach this stuff after, frankly, nominal exposure to it, whispers that it is.

Or it whispers that the times are so desperate, that we don’t have time for time. [laughs] That could be true, too, and I would say to you, if that’s the sentiment, I understand it, but I would say, [breathes in] “It smells like more of the same to me.”

Does that get us started now?

Tad:  It’s, I suppose, a question that comes up for me is, given the incredible poverty that we see in our culture, the lack of elders, the lack of initiation, the lack of apprenticeship, the lack of culture, in any meaningful sense…I just finished reading “The Sibling Society” by Robert Bly, so it’s sort of the absence of that whole vertical structure. What might we better be asking for instead of more teachers?

Stephen: How about this, Tad? How about investigating this instinct of asking for? How about coming to that with more hesitation and less resolve than we’re accustomed to?

That would be my instinct first, not to, “Hey, here’s the new boss. Here’s the new thing. Here’s what’s going to replace the poorly sought other thing.” You know what I’m saying.

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“I’m saying that the instinct to get it, to have it, to be it, to wear it, to eat it, to snort it, to festoon yourself with it, to bewitch yourself with it, to feather yourself, and fur yourself with it, that’s the thing to be wondered about, because I don’t see those instincts, to do all those things, informed by a real willingness to learn them. I see them as informed by a demand to have them.”

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I’m saying that the instinct to get it, to have it, to be it, to wear it, to eat it, to snort it, to festoon yourself with it, to bewitch yourself with it, to feather yourself, and fur yourself with it, that’s the thing to be wondered about, because I don’t see those instincts, to do all those things, informed by a real willingness to learn them.

I see them as informed by a demand to have them. That’s the first thing.

It’s that demand that perpetuates this witheredness that you alluded to earlier, I think, and it’s not just delayed gratification. It’s, “Is the world really here, materially and in its spirited form? Is the world really here to enhance our sense of well-being? Is that the fundamental dynamic? Is that what’s granted to us?” It sounds awfully like Genesis to me.

“You name everything. It’s yours, baby,” kind of thing. If some shaman looks you in the eye and says, “You’ll do,” why should you take that as it’s your turn?” [laughs] What if they’re wrong about you?

  There’s a wonderful story that, I know it in a kind of Buddhist iteration, but I’m sure there’s other iterations of it. The gist of it goes like this. Somebody, let’s say, who’s Catholic or Jewish — it doesn’t matter what his ancestral affirmation was, and he’s seeking a path, the path, some path, and maybe he’s in an ashram, I don’t know, something.

  At some point, he asked the guy in the robes how can he, he — the young guy — get to the status of the fellow with the robes. The fellow with the robes says to him, “You’re Catholic, aren’t you?”, and the guy said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well, be a good Catholic, that’s how.”

  It’s so dispiriting, because what merit is there in being a good Catholic? Now, I’m not saying there is. I’m not saying there isn’t. I’m trying to say something else, which is…Well, maybe this is the heart of the beast. I see a lot of people who come to things that I do, and five minutes into any verbal encounter with them, you quickly discover that they’ve taken up all manner of traditions from the world upon themselves, either formal conversion or times in the wilderness, or whatever it is, whatever the compound fracture is. 

  They have it, and the thought that seems never to have occurred to anyone who’s done these things, when they speak at least with me about it, is this. Is there such a thing as real ancestry? Number one. If there is, is ancestry instantly and forever obviated, neutralized, withered, and rendered irrelevant as a consequence of dying? 

If the answer’s no, it means your ancestors, present tense, are cultured, and that part of them being the dead, as an honorific title, part of them being your ancestral dead is that they have not graduated from the ancestry that they themselves knew in life.

  I think this is very possible. Take all that and then wonder about the hordes of generic North American people who are seeking an affirmation from a religious, or spiritual, or cultural tradition that’s not their own, and ask yourself whether or not there’s any consequence at all that accrues to their ancestors who they so readily abandoned in the name of being from somewhere.

  And is it not possible, if any of these things are true, that the desire to seek out and seek out and demand yet again from the Amazon jungle, or from the Himalayas, or anywhere in between, doesn’t actually deepen the cultural misery and void that has animated, I think, a lot of what you’ve been doing in your life, and certainly has animated what I’ve been doing in mine.

  I think the answer’s yes. I think the solution that poverty whispers is, “More poverty.”

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“Well, the Dalai Lama and a lot of other people know very well the old history of Tibetan Buddhism, and it’s not glorious.”

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Tad: It strikes me, sitting with this that what I see, and I’m sure experienced in myself often is this. I’ve been looking at wisdom traditions. It feels like there are two impulses that it’s coming from.

One is this, “How can this help my life today?” I’ll actually read from something I saw online recently. It said, “What is shamanism? How can I learn from these ancient indigenous practices and incorporate them into my modern life? How can I embody a balanced relationship in all of my relationships?”

  But just that framing of it, of how can this help you in your life today… So, I feel like that’s one of the thrusts of ‘how do we use it?’, and I’ve heard it talked about as these ‘spiritual technologies’, in our modern life, and then this other thrust is something more about, “Yes, I’m critical about this culture, and so I want to get out of this culture,” because yes, North American culture, you’re right. It’s impoverished, it’s terrible. It’s destroying everything, and so I…

Stephen:  Count me out.

Tad:  Yeah, right.

Stephen:  Count me out, right? Sorry. I’m sorry to interrupt. Yeah, go ahead.

Tad: Yeah, there’s that, “I don’t want to be a part of it, and I see that the religions, whether spiritual or the religion of progress of capitalism, I see that that’s all bankrupt,” and so there’s this deep hunger and desire for a direction to get out of it.

Stephen:  Sure.

Tad:  So either it feels like these get used either to get me out, or help me get deeper in and be more successful in it, yeah.

Stephen:  Sure. Look, man. I don’t say these things out of any joy or malice. I say them with lament, with great sorrow, that so many of the solutions that we craft turn into more of the same.

  But how the hell could it be otherwise, though? If we are following our own bliss…I just hacked a fur ball to say that, but I risked it. If that’s what we’re doing, from whence comes this bliss?

  For 50 or more years now, there’s a segment in North America that’s believed, that has consistently believed that this idea of bliss, personal bliss, is somehow above the fray, is somehow and in no way tainted or touched by the malaise that you’ve just read from, that people are trying to escape, that somehow bliss is…Or your personal path, or personal truth — it doesn’t matter how you describe it, you understand the thrust of the reference.

  The idea that there could actually be a part of you that’s not impoverished, that’s deeply informed, and that would know the real thing when it saw it, and would know how to behave in the presence of the real thing. That’s absolutely breath-taking in its naiveté. To me, it is. That’s number one.

Here’s number two. The various traditions that respond most favorably to their search engines on the Internet, [laughs] ask yourself whether the old history of these traditions is known by these people who are seeking them out. I can promise you that each one of these traditions is very likely to have a degree of historical darkness, or enslavement, or cultural imperialism, that is has inflicted as well as been on the receiving end of, but man, who knows about those?

  Who knows about that part of things? Well, the Dalai Lama and a lot of other people know very well the old history of Tibetan Buddhism, and it’s not glorious, just to take one example, no?

So these things that we seek out more or less uncritically, hoping, believing, imagining, requiring that they are a kind of pollution-free zone, that they’re above the things that we ourselves are trying to get away from, that’s a very naive thing, man, because they’re there. That stuff’s there.

  I don’t say this, I hope it’s clear… I don’t say this to discredit any particular tradition. I’m saying the real, the deep practitioners of these are, I’m sure, doing their best to live this stuff out, to wrangle it as best they can in their devotions and in their daily lives. I’m sure they are, but I’m sure they’re not doing this, believing that they’re somehow on the other side of all that stuff.

  Think about this. There are a lot of religious traditions, spiritual traditions, or cultural, ancestral ones, that have a practice when people — mainly men — return from armed conflict, war, and the rest, that they don’t let them into the villages, that they have to go through a rather prolonged ceremonial sequence to, at one level, the obvious level, detoxify them from what they’ve seen and what they’ve been obliged to do. Yes, that’s true.

  But the deeper realization is none of these things are undertaken for the sole or even primary sake of the returning war veteran. They’re undertaken, a) for the sake of the village they’re trying to re-enter, and b) for the sake of the people that they killed and made homeless and all the rest, and orphaned, and… All of that, and the ancestors of all of those people, and the descendants of all of those people.

  You see, there’s a lot hanging in the balance, when you take a life, and the deep practitioners of real human culture understand that if you’re okay with it, [laughs] that’s nothing.

  If you get on the other side to your PTSD, that’s nothing, man, because the real root of PTSD is the kind of, you could say, ripple of consequence that you didn’t intend, but that ensued, nonetheless.

  Well, this is one little iteration of what I’m talking about when I say “when we seek out a tradition as if it’s pristine.” These traditions internally understand themselves to be otherwise. I’m sure of it.

  This is a degree of torment that perhaps when you thought about talking about this, [laughs] it didn’t seem it was necessary to visit, but here we are.

Tad:  It has me think about purity, and I think especially in the New Age, for lack of a better term, scene, there’s this idea of purity, and that that’s kind of the point of life, whether through our raw vegan diets that we eat, or the spirituality as pristine, and that pristine seems to mean a lack of culture, that it’s pure, in a way, and that this is cross-cultural, that this is just from a more evolved spiritual level, where everything is pure, and everything is untainted and intact, and…

Stephen:  It may be not really humanly derived. Maybe not really a product of human endeavor, but somehow granted from the forehead of Zeus or the equivalent.

Tad:  Yeah, and then there can’t be any cultural appropriation of that, because there’s no culture.

Stephen:  Because there’s no culture to appropriate, exactly, because it’s there for everybody. I can’t make a distinction between that and fir trees, or oaks, or anything that the people who are the MacMillan Bloedells of the world, see these things as a renewable resource.

  Tell me the difference between that and what you just described. I’ve never seen the difference. I think it’s the same orientation. The grandchild of the MacMillan Bloedel executive is the ayuhuasca king.

*

“My heart is broken. I never want it to mend.”

*

Tad:  One of the things you speak a lot about in the school is heartbreak and poverty, and it seems like the…I’ve noticed in myself, when there’s that inclination to — which I’ve had in various points and various forms in my life — that instinct to teach, that instinct to want to be in that role. I can also feel like there’s a way of avoiding the heartbreak and the poverty, and getting…

Stephen: By teaching?

Tad:  Yeah, because then I know something, or I’m trying to help people get out of that, and it’s something I just see a lot, I suppose particularly in the New Age scene, but I guess I could imagine in other religions, too.

  If the instinct for more teachers is driven by this poverty and heartbreak, in part, of where we’re at, and yet what’s being taught is the getting over the heartbreak, and replacing that poverty with some new fancy information. It just strikes me that there’s not a lot of room on the altar for the heartbreak or the poverty.

Stephen:  Who that you know seeks out heartbreak? I’ve told you a story about a guy I knew who prayed for it, remember?

Tad:  Sure.

Stephen:  When he and I watched the film “The Elephant Man,” that’s what came out of his mouth at the end of it. He said, literally, to me, “My heart is broken. I never want it to mend.” He was not seeking a pristine sort of post-morbid restoration of his self-esteem or something. No, man. 

  He was seeking memory, and he realized, I think, that his capacity to remember the deep things that he was born to and that were entrusted to him at some point in his life, required that his memory be engaged, active, and informed by the realities of his time.

  And from him, although this image is not his, but the understanding is, I’ve taken this in the last year or so…I fancy — I even have an envy where the practice of rosary is concerned. I didn’t grow up with anything like that. I didn’t grow up with anything to speak of. I sure didn’t grow up with that, and I think it’s cool beyond measure, and here’s why.

  It is a kind of choreographed memory. You might — not you, personally, but someone might find this inauthentic or contrived. Well, okay, then you try to remember on your own.

[laughter]

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*
“… you become recognizable to them the instant that you begin to resemble the time that you were born to.”

*

Stephen:  It ain’t easy, man, and all the heavy hitters, and all the heavy cultures in the world know very well how hard it is to remember how to be a human being while you’re out in the field trying to be one.

  Often it’s the first casualty. Your memory of how to be one is the first casualty of your renewed efforts to try to be one, so these rituals of all kinds are fundamentally, in part, a way of choreographing your memory without leaving it up to you. In other words, the distinction would be your being reminded instead of being expected to remember. Different function.

  The rosary is in that realm. I think it’s as funky as it gets, but here’s what I think. I don’t know that our time is any more fraught than other aspects of our time, but I don’t know that it isn’t. I would suggest this, that…

  Man, there’s an eagle right in front of my house, just diving into the water. That’s amazing. Just as we speak, right now. Literally, right in front of the house, over the river.

  I’m sorry, I got distracted, as I was watching there. [laughs] It’s a sign, baby.

  [laughter]

But I’m not going to say of what. I don’t know.

Okay.  So now, those beads. It seems to me that the particular afflictions of our time have to appear on those rosary beads, that in fact the beads are not a way of not being in the time that you’re in or solving the time that you’re in, or give you an alternative to the time that you’re in.

  I think that they must be an incarnation of the time that you’re in, and the way I’ve taken to say it is those beads have to be engraved with the nature, including the poverties of your time, etched into every bead, and when you feel them, your times, your contemplations, your yearnings, your strivings, your happiness, your deep satisfactions as well as your heartbreaks, all of those things have to, I think, bear the mark of your time.

  And this is what renders upon you the possibility of being a reliable human being, reliable to other people, reliable to the non-human world, which is, frankly, most of the world, reliable to everything that had granted us our days, which may not be overly visible, and maybe particularly reliable to those ancestors who have you in mind, who find that you become recognizable to them the instant that you begin to resemble the time that you were born to.

  Now I’ve never said anything that good in my life, I don’t think. That last sentence, that last sentence, if I die tonight, that’ll stick. I think that’s as true as anything that’s ever occurred to me. I’m very lucky that I heard myself say that.

*

“For what it’s worth. No elder wants to be one.”

*

Tad:  [laughs] It strikes me so much how that doesn’t get a chance to show up in a manner of understanding the world, or teaching, or wisdom. That’s the sort of universal “It’s always been true.”

  I supposed I find myself wondering…Gosh, I suppose a whole other thing, but in so many traditional societies it seems like teaching — and I don’t even know if teaching is the right word, but the elders who are the ones doing that, and that there’s so many people today who are drawn to that idea of being an elder, and then self-appointing themselves elders.

  I’m curious, to your understanding of from maybe a more traditional standpoint, it feels connected to this teaching piece of how does one know when they are one? How does one know when they are ready? How does one not get prematurely out of the gate and do damage as a result? Nobody wants to be Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Stephen:  Okay, are you ready?

Tad:  Yeah.

Stephen:  For what it’s worth. No elder wants to be one.

Tad:  Yeah.

Stephen:  The desire to be an elder is the particular purview of those who are not. It’s very counter-intuitive — crazy idea. Not that welcome an idea, but “how do you know if you’re an elder?”

“Hey man, that’s not an elder question?”

“Well, wait a second. You’d have to know in order to be one.”

“No, no. That’s what it looks like from here.”

  Here might be a good parallel. I used to work in the death trade quite a long time, and it became very, very sexy during that time to take upon yourself the self-appointed task, generally, of crafting a living will or advanced directive declaration. 

For those who are not entirely sure what it is, it basically means that when you’re no longer able to operate or articulate or what have you, that the caregivers around you and the loved ones are guided by what you would have wanted for yourself should you have been able to direct them in that moment.

It sounds very good. Here’s the dilemma. “Who wrote that thing?”  

“Well, I did.”

“Yeah, but where were you when you wrote it?”

“Well, I was able to write it, so that’s obvious, I was able to articulate it.” [laughs] “I was able to consistently express my wish over time,” which is one of the hallmarks of being sane, apparently in our culture.

“Yeah, but you weren’t at the time that you were instructing people about, were you?”

  “No.”

  “No, you weren’t, were you?”

  “No.”

  “In fact, you’d never been there, had you?”

  “No.”

*

“…The real skill of elderhood in a time as demented as our is, the real skill of elderhood is the skill of being able to have elders in your midst, not the skill of being able to be one of those people, you see?

*

  And so all the articulation came from is an artifact of never having been there, which means you were engaged in a very volatile and probably useful fantasy about what “enough already” would look like, and you know what happened more often than not?

  When people got there, it bore almost no resemblance to what they imagined. This goes right back to the patience thing I was talking about at the beginning. The people who are longing for personal elderhood are the people who’ve never been there, because elders are not people.

  Elder is a function. It’s not an identity. It’s not, in that sense, an achievement. It’s being achieved by not being sought. It’s functionally servitude. That’s what elderhood is, functionally. It’s servitude. It’s mis-apprehended leadership. Our understanding of leadership is, to some degree, above the fray. Those are the people you trust, that kind of thing.

  The elders bear the thumbprint of the makers of their time, and they’re wrought by that. Let’s go further and say overwrought by that, and it weighs heavily in a time like ours, to be an elder in a time that allegedly seeks it, but has no use for it when it’s present.

  The real skill of elderhood in a time as demented as our is, the real skill of elderhood is the skill of being able to have elders in your midst, not the skill of being able to be one of those people, you see? Because if elders are not sustained in their function, in their trouble-making function, they will never be there for you when you seek them, and there will be no elderhood for you to take upon yourself.

  The only way to become an elder is to seek them out, in that sense, to employ them, to recognize them and to give them something to do. How are you going to do that if you, yourself, want to be that elder that you seek? That you want the confirmation.

  I’ve said, using the word “pushback” these days, but I prefer the more authentic rendering of hostility, which I think is what happens. You can’t imagine how much pushback I get if I ever have the kind of marred judgment of talking about these things out loud. You can’t imagine the degree of offense that people beyond a certain age take upon themselves, and it basically comes back, Tad, to this.

  “When is it my bloody turn? When do I finally get to cash in? When does it…?”

  You understand what I’m saying.

Tad:  Yeah.

Stephen:  It’s so sad. The answer is, “Man, as long as you’re asking that, you ain’t never going to get there.” It’s an exercise in controlled futility masquerading as a pilgrimage. 

  These things are mysteries. They’re not strategies. They’re mysteries, even now, in a blighted time like ours. We have blighted mysteries, but we’re not bereft of mystery. One of the mysteries about elderhood is, “Well if you’re seeking elderhood for yourself, then this is an uninitiated understanding of what it means.” So then you have to go back to the drawing board.

  “Okay, so I’ll go get myself some initiation.”

  “Man, you’re 48 years old. What are you talking about?”

  “Yeah, but it’s not too late.”

  “No, it bloody is too late for what you’re talking about.”

  Do you know why it doesn’t work for people at 47 years old? Or 52, [laughs] or 29, or 21? Here’s why it doesn’t work, because they can put your ass out on the top of a mountain, they can freeze you to kingdom come, they can not feed you, they can expose you to the torments of the age, they can threaten you with the oncomingness of the demons of the dark, all of that shit, but, somewhere in there you’re going to be able to say, “I’m cool. I’m out of this shit on Monday. I’m cool. I can get in there. I can imagine myself on the other side of this shit right here.”

  Now here’s the thing. A 12-year old can’t, and that’s why these things, in certain fashion, are timed when they’re timed. There’s lots of other reasons, too, but that’s one. So you see, you get to a certain age, that the machinery of the deep molecular conversion to a deep humanity can not have its way with you, because you become too clever.

  Something like this, I was superintending the death of kids for a while. It was a pretty rough ride, and of course the parents were, needless to say, out of their minds with all of this and the great lament that the parents had, if you really obliged them to verbalize it.

  It was not so much that the kid was dying, but that the fundamental, the epic rip-off of this was that the kids were not going to get to have a full life. That was the operative phrase, “full life.” You’ll see why I think this is pertinent now.

  So I would usually say, “Well, why don’t we just go ask the kid?” Seven years old, dying of leukemia in the hospital, but let’s ask him anyway, and the parents would be horrified that you’d even think of it, and then they ask you to go ask him, because they couldn’t bear it, and properly so, they couldn’t bear to go and ask their kid, so I would literally do so.

  I did it many times, and I can tell you that kids, up to a certain age are absolutely mystified by this question of whether or not they are being deprived of a full life. It simply does not compute, as they used to say. Do you know why?

  Because they have no capacity for the understanding of potential life, that’s why. Because the only life they’ve ever known is the life under their fingernails. In other words, their life is a lived life, not a hypothetical life, not a possible life, not a “if” life. The life that they’ve inhabited is entire, and — maybe the word “complete” is not right — whole. That’s the word I’m looking for. Their life is whole.

Up to a certain age, which it looks to me to be somewhere between 9 and 11 is when they learn how to be crazy like the rest of us, when they learn how to nurse a grievance about not getting their allotment, their hypothetical allotment. When they open up The Book of “Supposed To” and start reading from it, when somebody at school looks at them between the eyes and says, “You’re not living up to your potential,” and they take that inside themselves as an authentic rendering of their lives, that their real life is yet to be.

  Something happens, and we seem to have to learn that. The big dilemma now for that is that the capacity to inhabit the functions of elderhood, or to be inhabited by them require your understanding of yourself not to be one of…You’re like a human in waiting, or you’re some kind of potential something, or if you just fill in the blank, then you will just fill in the blank.

  The plea I’m making, I suppose, is that the degree of patience that I’m talking about approaches the primordial. It’s not some delayed gratification strategy by another name. The patience I’m talking about is the likelihood of you getting what you want. Your want being informed so deeply by your bereavement, because of the troubled time you were born in, guarantees that the troubled time will continue in its current iteration.

  The willingness to forgo being delivered from it so that you might be of some use in it is the patience that I’m pleading for and kind of a secret intonation of that is that might be at the very least, a proto elder function. The willingness to forgo the payday that you were certain that enough feathers and enough ayahuasca and enough being approved of by a smaller browner person than you was going to give you.

*

“Sit at the door and see if you can discern the sound of knocking when it happens, instead of flinging it wide open and saying, ‘I’m here. Any dangerous work for me to do?’, or things of that kind.”

*

Tad:  Do you have time for one more question?

Stephen:  One more boss.

Tad:  Sure. In the school, you make the distinction sometimes between the teaching and being a practitioner.

Stephen:  Yes.

Tad:  And that feels relevant to this whole conversation.

Stephen:  That’s the part I left out at the very beginning. I was going to come back to it, so thank you for prompting me. Did you want to ask something about it, or do you want me to just speak to that?

Tad:  I notice when I said, “How do you know when you’re ready to be a teacher?”, and in the email you replied, “Who needs more teachers?” That’s the place my mind went to, was the, “Do we need more people at the front of rooms imparting information, or do we need people living this and weaving it into their everyday living, and practicing the arts of hospitality, and practicing courtesy, in whatever they end up doing?” I suppose that’s where my mind went with it.

Stephen:  Sure, and a fair response would be to say, “Well, we don’t have to choose between those things, do we?” It is possible that somebody could be a deep practitioner of human life and then on occasion have a breakdown of good judgment and talk to people about it.

[laughter]

*

“I think that’s what friendship is, and I think that’s what these practitioners, as a function among us, are, is they make the world somehow worth the trouble.”

*

Stephen:  You’d like to believe that those two things are possible, and I suppose they are, but I think what I’m saying is that teaching shouldn’t be a time out from what you’re teaching about, and too often, way too often, it is.

  So if you’re really have been entrusted with something that you’re absolutely persuaded is the stuff of the ages, let the world let you know that. Sit at the door and see if you can discern the sound of knocking when it happens, instead of flinging it wide open and saying, “I’m here. Any dangerous work for me to do?”, or things of that kind.

  It’s enormously seductive now. There are so many people willing, very temporarily, to listen to you, that the seduction is, “This must be the sign, that you should be talking.”

  Bob Dylan always said, when he was a young, young man, in one of his songs, he said, “I know my song well before I start singing it.” But he also said, “To live outside the law, you must be honest,” and that’s very compelling to me, because our normal understanding of law-abiding citizen is that you are honest, that you tell the truth, that there’s this faithful orientation to think, “Nothing of the kind, baby.”

  If you’re a law-abiding citizen, you don’t even need a conscience. You need a capacity for basic obedience, and that’s what the law requires of you, and that’s all it requires of you. It doesn’t require discernment. The enforcers of the law don’t say to you, “Now, Tad, which of these laws do you propose to obey today, because you know, it’s really up to you.” No, there’s no discernment at all.

  There’s no discernment at all. One thing only — “Obey,” and there’s no honesty in that, because there’s no discernment in the rest.

  On the other hand, if you propose to find yourself, or you do find yourself on the outside of the thing that you wish you could have been able to change, that outsider status, that’s the beginning of the possibility of you wrangling something that’s more authentic than obedience, and that, in his lyric, he called it honesty.

  So, yes, I think that the proper alternative to the multiplying of teachers is that if we had people practicing life instead of coaching somebody else in it…Let’s go one step further and say I propose to you that it is not a function of human being to teach human being to provisional human beings. I don’t think it is.

  I think that you have to take upon yourself as best as you’re able to a degree of humility that might be in the realm of…I think it was Rumi, but it might have been one of his cohorts over there, who regularly in his poetic kind of ramblings pleaded with people to wake up, and the way he often said it is he would end a particular iteration or plea or something with the phrase “like this,” and of course, you’re reading it on the page. You’re not exactly sure what the reference might be.

  But I think this is as close as a practitioner might get to teaching, is to, just in case you’re missing it, that practitioner might look up from the page or the spoon that he or she’s carving, or the shoe that he or she’s making, or whatever it is, and say, “Well, it’s like this,” and then look back down and keep going, because maybe you missed it, and they break form.

  So it’s not an orthodoxy I’m talking about here. It’s not the new ten steps or anything of the kind. It’s a kind of nuance, I guess, and the idea of being a practitioner, that’s the way I crafted an alternative that I thought might be available just with a phrase, that the mind could think something else, other than, “How do I impart this thing?”

  You don’t impart it. You practice it, and in so doing, see to it that it’s still in the architecture, and this means you have to rely on witnesses, not shanghai students, not…What’s that thing they used to say when they…Pressed. Not pressed students. That’s the old thing that they, when they would gather drunken guys off the wharf and turn them into sailors for the royal navy during the bad old days.

  So the press gangs of ashrams and the rest, maybe we could set that aside for a while, and entertain the subtler possibility that if there’s a real good practitioner, that if we’re willing to find practice and not inspiration, if we’re willing to find somebody who, in a much less spectacular way than we counted on, is seeing to it that the thing we’re seeking is in the world without them writing a book about it, or having a website for it, and that that way of seeing to it that it’s in the world is the thing that we’re seeking.

  To know it’s in the world…Okay, maybe I’ll end with this. I have a friend. I’m going to name him. His name’s Peter von Tiesenhausen. Quite a handle. Peter von Tiesenhausen’s one of the most accomplished sculptors in this country now. He lives in rural Alberta, up in the north in the Peace River area.

  I just called him my friend. We virtually never see each other, and somebody could say, “What kind of friendship’s that?”, and I say to you, “Well, here’s what kind of friendship it is, that on occasion, if I’m writing to him or something, I’ll say to him the equivalent of,” and he’ll say something similar, “You know, as long as I know that you’re in the world, then it’s a good world to be in. And I don’t need, much as I’d love it, but I don’t need the ongoing hit of visits and flowers, much as I’d love it. But if I have to choose between, I’d rather know that you’re in the world,” and then I’ll say to him, “so you’ve got to let me know when you’re not, because then what binds me to this place would become a little looser than it was.”

  I think that’s what friendship is, and I think that’s what these practitioners, as a function among us, are, is they make the world somehow worth the trouble.

Tad:  Stephen, thank you so much for taking the time. I know you’re in the midst of a lot of things going on right now.

Stephen:  That’s very true.

Tad:   And I don’t feel like a very good interviewer, but somehow you have wrangled something wonderful out of my stumbles and attempts and my questions, and so I’m grateful for that, and so grateful for your time, and for all the time that you’ve put in to be able to make something of this conversation, and for all the time that people put into you to deliver you to our doorstep. I’m just grateful for all of it.

Stephen:  It’s a great heredity we’re in, isn’t it?

Tad:  Mm-hmm.

Stephen:  None of this happens, Tad, and I’m not blowing smoke up your kiester when I say this, and I appreciate what you just said to me, but none of this happens if you don’t ask and you don’t proceed as if maybe, maybe, I might have something that’s been entrusted to me that’s worth hearing. If you don’t proceed that way, who knows, including me, who knows?

  But when you ask, I’ve got something to live up to, and that living up to seems to me to be…That’s the partnership. You ask, which means…I’m not naive about it. I’m sure that some place in your life, you’re being hit up all the time to do these very things that I’ve been talking about, and probably slandering during the last hour or so.

  I’m sure you are, so I wasn’t talking about something that you’re vaguely interested in, but doesn’t really touch your days, and I know that’s a risk for you to wonder about these things, because people who are in on what you’re doing are probably looking to you for the very same thing.

  So we really both took a chance, and we’re both hoping that there might be some merit in having done so for somebody who might, by accident, come across this rambling enterprise that was our conversation, and if we both kept up our ends, maybe there is.

Stephen J

Guest Post: How to Create a Retreat

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Most of the people I work with, at some point, consider hosting a retreat.

You know, get everyone out of town so they can focus on getting some real work done.

I have some thoughts on running retreats, having hosted a number and attended some too, but my colleague Tova Payne (pictured here) has released a new 12 step course called Build Your Own Retreat and so I thought I’d do a blog interview with her about her thoughts on the matter because there are a lot of places that it can go wrong.

Note: all of the links for this program are affiliate links which means I am paid something if you sign up for his program. If that sits funny with you or feels off for any reason but you’d still like to check it out, you can do that here and nothing will be tracked back to me.

Why did you come up with this? And why are you credible to speak on it?

I’ve hosted my own retreats since 2007.

You see since 2001 I’ve been a big time traveller: from going solo-backpacking in Central America – boarding a plane to Costa Rica without an ounce of Spanish on my tongue to hitchhiking across Canada, to travelling across the USA. Travel has been a profound healer: helping me discover freedom, while deepening my understanding of the world and myself. Then in 2005 when Yoga came into my life, it had the same effect: creating a sense of inner freedom and deepening my connection to the world around me and within myself. I saw yoga and travel as divine partners in helping people feel free, connect, and get away from the everyday to gain a wider perspective on what they want in life and how to live with deeper fulfillment.

So in 2007 I decided to start Adventure Yoga – my first business: pairing adventure travel with yoga on weekend retreats. I’ll tell you: I’m a person who jumps into things, and things always worked out fine….but had I known what I wish I’d known at my first retreat, things would have been smoother!  You know, just little details that you may not think of…..like the weather not always being on your side especially in rainy British Columbia! It’s all the little details that make up a retreat…Anyways, despite my shortcomings on that first retreat, I learned a lot, and continued to host retreats every summer for the next few years, each time learning more and refining my retreat plans.

There came a point where I helped another yoga studio organize and set up their retreat, and then I found myself helping colleagues with their retreats!

Then in 2013 it hit me – what if this knowledge that I’d accumulated over years of hosting and helping others host retreats was something that other holistic entrepreneurs needed and wanted to know?

So I did a little survey out of sheer curiosity, and the response was overwhelming. I took that as my cue and started mapping out a course that would give a comprehensive, detailed step-by-step plan to help holistic entrepreneurs plan and host their own retreat with confidence.

What’s the difference between a retreat and a seminar or workshop?

A retreat is set up in such that there are a few seminars or workshops within the context of the retreat.

The difference is the immersion-quality: that a relatively small number of people come together in an intense experience. Basically living together for a weekend or a week (or even more!) and through this kind of intensive experience, often great friendships and alliances are formed: something that often does not get to happen within the short time of a 3-hour or even day-long workshop.

Retreats tend to be more experiential–often focusing on hands-on activities versus a traditional seminar or workshop, which could be more of a ‘sit and listen’ type of event.

Plus–retreats have a magical ability to bring people together due to the environment. Since retreats tend to happen at gorgeous, relaxing locations, it creates a much deeper inner change, and profound relaxation, even if it’s just for a weekend! Plus, during a retreat there is time to integrate the information that’s taught and be around other like-minded people to talk further and have support around you beyond what a typical workshop allows for.

I just want to add that some people host a one-day urban retreat which is sort of like a long-workshop, the difference is likely the setting: people who do this likely take their guests out to a serene location, and that kind of experience also has a deeper impact than a regular workshop or seminar.

Why should people not host a retreat?

You should not host a retreat if you’re just in it for the money.

That may be my bias: I don’t think you should do anything if you’re just in it for the money – especially when it comes to something like a retreat. A retreat is a heart-centered experience: so first of all your heart needs to be in it– wanting to make a great impact with the tools that you share. Besides – the planning for a retreat is a lot of work. Likely the toughest part is the planning and marketing of the retreat, so if your heart’s not in it, it won’t be worth the work.

I also think you should not host a retreat if you’ve either: never travelled/never taught a group or never been in this kind of experience yourself. Some people like to travel, but this kind of travel is work travel. Which means, it is fun, and in a way it feels like vacation – but it’s not the same as vacation. You are there to support a group of people, and you need to make sure that you have the energy and desire to host a group of people.

Also – you’re teaching within the context of a group, so you need to make sure that you have the confidence and experience to teach in that way. Teaching to a group is different than teaching or coaching one-on-one, so you should be aware of that, and I do recommend that you have some experience teaching or leading a group so that you can proceed with confidence. Even if you’re experience is teaching a one-hour group yoga class, or a 1-hour group presentation: I’d say that’s enough to know how you feel about working within the context of a group.

What are the top three downsides?

Downside #1 – Recognizing that it’s all on you: What I mean is: you’re not just the teacher or coach sharing knowledge like you would in your business. All of a sudden you become everything else: making sure that people are paired up with a good fit for accommodations, making sure that meals fit to everybody’s dietary needs, making sure people are comfortable. If anything goes wrong: if anyone shows up late, those kinds of things will be on your mind. So you need to make sure to have clear structures in place, clear terms and conditions and expectations, and be prepared for the unexpected.

Downside #2 – Marketing a retreat: Marketing a retreat is not the same as marketing the rest of your services.

Often clients who love your digital programs, and local work may not have the financial or time-freedom to invest in a retreat. It’s important to understand that the ideal client for a retreat can be very different than your typical ideal client. It’s like all of a sudden there’s a new niche of people you’re marketing to, and you need to understand this and be really clear about this.

I know people who have leveraged every marketing avenue possible and still had trouble filling up to their goal. However, merely understanding this–you’ll be smarter in what your goal is when it comes to how many people to expect to come to your retreat.  Plus, be mindful about where and who you’re marketing your retreat too. The marketing outlets that work for your regular business, may not work as great for your retreat. Know this in advance, and you’ll have a higher likelihood of filling your retreat

Downside #3 – It takes a lot of energy: Again, I’ve found the energy output is in all the details leading up to the retreat, and that the actual event tends to be the funnest part! But do recognize, that leading up to the retreat there is a lot to organize and be responsible for. Especially when it comes to those minor details, of waivers, clear terms and conditions, and being mindful of anyone who’s attending from out-of-country – make sure they are responsible to have all necessary medical and travel insurance and anything else they may need. Actually that’s the wonderful part about retreats: you truly are reaching for a global market!

Why would someone want to host a retreat?

Because retreats are one of the most transformative experiences you can give to someone.

Retreats are the types of events people hold in their hearts and memories for a lifetime.

I’ve been on retreats that have changed my life, and to this day – people I’ve met are still good friends! If you’re a heart-centered entrepreneur who wants to make a major impact on transforming people’s lives, and teaching and sharing information in a way that will lead to massive-change: a retreat is THE place to do it.

Plus, the truth is, if you get the right number of attendees, retreats are extremely profitable. It’s a way to add a stream of income into your business that gives you a big return in a short amount of time. But again – the best reason to host a retreat is a desire to share your gifts and teachings with others in an environment that’s set up to create profound change. And retreats – by virtue of being a getaway from the everyday naturally do that. That’s why I say retreats are magical!

What are the top three upsides?

Upside #1 – You get to be the facilitator of massive change and growth: that’s what I call fulfillment

Upside #2 – You get to bring a group of like-minded people together and watch the friendships bloom in front of your eyes

Upside #3 – You, as the facilitator inevitably grow as a leader and teacher. And often people who attend your retreat will want to continue working with you or return to future retreats

What are the top three mistakes people make when hosting a retreat?

Mistake #1 – Aiming too high in the numbers.

I’ve seen this one too many times.

I remember a colleague who asked me to help with their retreat. They told me they were aiming for 50 people. I instantly said “Without sounding too rude, what makes you think you can get 50 people?” (I was honestly curious!) And their response was that they had attended a retreat with that many people, so figured it couldn’t be that hard! Well let me tell you – it is! Anybody who hosts a retreat with 50+ people have a massive following, and a wait-list of people waiting for their next retreat. Honestly – this is the biggest mistake I see, assuming that just because you saw someone else get 20-50 people that it will be a no-brainer for you to even get 15! So, the business mantra of “start small” is very true when it comes to retreats.

Mistake #2 – Booking the first facility they lay their eyes on.

Most people who book their first retreat (and likely their first anything in business) are very excited. And it’s good to be excited. But don’t be naïve or fall for the first place you see. I’ve been naïve in the past, so I’m also talking from experience! Know that retreat facilities, and really – any facility you rent is in the real-estate industry: they want to sell their space to you. So know that they will sway you to put down a deposit. My suggestion is to scope out a few places, and get the best deal you can: I mean the best deal when it comes to how much money you put down to hold the retreat space.

Mistake #3 – Not marketing hard enough.

Many people will post their retreat on their website, and perhaps make a small notice on social media. Well, for most people that won’t cut it. You need to leverage as many outlets as you can. I recommend writing people individually, and reaching out to your network. And be so excited by your retreat that you can’t help but tell everyone you meet. Look – my first retreat I had no official marketing knowledge but I was so excited I told everybody, and that was enough to fill my first retreat. So don’t forget: despite the awesome capabilities of the internet–word of mouth and person to person is an important marketing tool, Yes- use the internet too, but don’t forget about the power of personal relationships.

What are three simple things people can do to make their next/first retreat a success?

Simple Thing #1 – Get really clear on what your retreat is about.

The power of focus is super important when it comes to retreats. The last thing you want is to overwhelm your participants and if you’re not focused, it will come out in your marketing: leaving people confused about what your retreat is even about!

Simple Thing #2 – Start your planning early.

After all your planning will take the most time. So – get clear on your schedule, what your workshops or activities will be about, and start spreading the word early.

Simple Thing #3 – Be fully present on your retreat.

Make sure that you’re not procrastinating things at the last minute, and that you’re well rested before the retreat so that you can give your participants your 100% That can include little things: like get to your destination a day or two before participants arrive so that you’ve had some much needed downtime before you’re expected to be fully-on for the duration of your retreat experience. Plus it’s more fun that way!

Can you share a success and a failure story from the retreat world?

Well, for a success, my first retreat, I’d call it a success.

I’m not kidding when I say I had zero business knowledge at the time. I didn’t know anything about marketing. I just made a poster on word (yup – using Times New Roman!) and put the retreat up on my website, and told students after my local classes that I was hosting a retreat. There was no e-mail marketing campaign (I didn’t even know that existed back then) and no social media or press or formal advertising. But I leveraged my real life relationships and told everyone I knew about it and got 10 people to attend my first retreat.

I can tell you from experience – that getting 10 people is actually quite good. A failure I’ve seen is lack of promoting, which ends up in a phenomenal retreat that needs to be canceled. I know an incredible retreat teacher who does not follow up with people, and doesn’t do any promotion asides for having her retreat on her website and advertising a listing for it. And sadly this has led to many canceled retreats.

If you sit back and say, “Whatever destiny wants – so be it” I’m sorry to say that has a low probability of working out. You need to, at the very least, follow up with every lead, and make sure that there is an easy direct way to pay for your retreat. If you make things complicated, like people having to call in with their credit card, or things like that, you’re basically turning business away. Make everything easy and clear for prospects, and think about their experience every step of the way.

Plus–take an active approach to marketing, and follow up with every person who shows interest in your retreat!

Want to learn more from Tova?

Tova’s a writer, teacher and consultant based out of Vancouver BC and is the creator of The Build Your Own Retreat digital home-study course.

Halfway Out of the Dark: Reflections on These Times, 38 Bits of Good News and Thirteen Inspiring Videos You’ll Want to Share

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We are in dark times these days, children of a toxic economy that is slowly but surely removing all of the conditions which allow life to thrive. But today is the Solstice and that means that we are halfway out of the dark and, as the days grow longer, it can be helpful to have some Sun towards which to turn our faces.

And so, this little blog post is my attempt to be a faithful reporter of some of the good news our times. Heaven knows there’s enough bad news out there right now. And it’s not that the bad news isn’t real. It’s not that the good news is more real. It’s just that we get so precious little of it and, if we’re not careful, we’ll fall under the sway of believing that it doesn’t exist. And to ignore the good things happening is to deeply dishonour the Herculean efforts taken on by a few for the good of so many. So this blog post is some small measure of celebration for them and for you and all of the good things you’re trying to make happen in the places you are coming to know as home.

When times are dark, it can be good to remember the advice Mr. Rogers received from his mother,

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

It’s fine wisdom for a troubled time.

And a troubled time we are in. It is a time that whispers to us the end of many things. It is a time where it can be easy to fall into deep despair.

“When the end seems near, ancient and lasting things are also close and waiting to be discovered… What we find at the end are both last things and things that last. The meaning of the word “end” might seem obvious and conclusive; yet root meanings reveal “tailings” and “remnants” and “that which is left over”… [it] carries the sense that the current state cannot continue and that it is too late for things to simply be repaired. As archetype of radical change, [it] presents a pattern in which a shattering of forms occurs before the world as we know it can be reconstituted. When the end seems near, ancient and lasting things are also close and waiting to be discovered… What we find at the end are both last things and things that last…” – Michael Meade, Why The World Doesn’t End 

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“Cha chaillear na thèid an cunnart/All is not lost that is in peril” – Scottish Gaelic Proverb

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winterIn times like this, out attention can draw inward into self concern, but, here we are the Solstice and the world is beckoning us to consider some sort of outward movement again. The world is beckoning us to begin thinking of brighter days and to allow our mind to begin it’s planning for them. The world is reminding us that we will all be coming together again in the Spring and Summer – clans from miles away, separated by the long winters, rejoining together. We’re not there yet, and food is scarce but as my ancestors would say,

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“Is ann an uair as gainn’ am biadh as còir a roinn/‘Tis when food is scarcest it should be divided”. – Scottish Gaelic Proverb

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I was recently at a workshop with the good Kenton Zerbin about Permaculture and Community. I share these thoughts, inspired by that workshop and other things here.

What is community? I think that, in this day and age, we see community to be one of two things.

One way it is seen is to be simply a collection of individuals. And so the health of the community is then about making sure each individual is healthy. Somehow, the invisible hand will use all of our selfish motivations in service to some greater good that we hope exists. This kind of community is driven by a focus on each person getting what they want (at the most shallow level) or getting their needs met (at a deeper level). But, even if everyone works to get their individual needs met, and does, it doesn’t necessarily mean the community will be healthy.

The other way it’s held, often in new age and holistic communities is to mean the same thing as unity. A sort of hallelujah chorus of “we’re all one.” This is often driven by an ignoring and denying of our own and other’s needs.

But neither of these seem to work. Neither of these seem functional or satisfying.

It is instructive, though, if we look at the etymology of the word community. Its Latin roots ‘communitatem’ tell us something important.

koala‘Com’ Means with or together.

‘Munis’ means the exchanges that link.

‘Tats’ means small or local.

And so, taken together they tell us something about the many small, local exchanges and sharings that link us together. The word whispers something to us about relationships.

Community, in this way of understanding it, is about the fostering of good and strong relationships between the members of the community. It tells us that the health of the community can be found in how well things are connected like the myscellial networks, and roots under the ground and unseen that keep the forests and grasslands alive and support the sharing of food and information. And that the root ‘tats’ is in there is telling as well. Small connections. Many of them. Not just one connection to tend to.

It speaks all of our obligations (a word hinged around the root word ‘lig’ which suggests something that connects things and brings them into temporary alignment (again with the ‘lig’) like a ligament (again – lig) does with our bones so they can work together better. It suggests that health will be found, not so much in taking care of ourselves (like dots on a connect the dots page) or by trying to unify everything (like mashing all those dots together into one ‘superdot’) but rather by drawing the lines of connection between them to see the picture of health and resilience that emerges.

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corn-21Community whispers to us wealth is a collective thing, as this story of the corn farmer by Stephen Kaczor reminds us,

“There was a farmer who grew excellent quality corn. Every year he won the award for the best grown corn. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it. The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbours. “How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbours when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.

“Why sir,” said the farmer, “Didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbours grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbours grow good corn.”

So is with our lives… Those who want to live meaningfully and well must help enrich the lives of others, for the value of a life is measured by the lives it touches. And those who choose to be happy must help others find happiness, for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all…”

Of course, it’s easy to talk about the need for generosity, but hard to do in a dark time. It’s hard to want to extend a helping hand when you feel you don’t have enough. It’s hard to feel generous when the times feel so poor.

And so, for you, I have gathered, like so many hopeful seeds, some small portion of the good news of the last few months that might lift your spirits and fill your cup a bit. May the coming year bring you good news. May your existence continue to be good news to others. May the best day of your past year be the worst day of the year to come. May the mercies gather at your door.

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38 Bits of Good News

Solar:

spain_solar_powerThe solar road in the Netherlands is working even better than expected

Solar panels help Devon become new kind of energy town

Landmark Solar Project Powers Bloomberg Headquarters in Manhattan

Community Solar Brings Renewable Energy ‘To The Masses’: For the three-quarters of U.S. households that can’t install their own rooftop solar, a powerful alternative is emerging.

Skies clear for Alberta’s solar-energy industry

Solar Powered ‘Farm from a Box’: Everything You Need to Run an Off-Grid Farm

How Africa’s fastest solar power project is lighting up Rwanda – East African plant is completed in less than a year – creating jobs and setting the country on the path to providing half its population with electricity by 2017

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Alternative Energy:

wind-turbines17Germany’s wind farms are now producing so much electricity they are paying users to take it

The Good News Ripple Effect Impacting the World of Green Energy

Sweden is challenging the world to go fossil fuel-free – “We are aiming to be one of the world’s first welfare nations to show that living without fossil fuels is not only necessary, but also sought-after”

Saskatchewan energy to be 50 per cent renewable by 2030.

Wind and solar keep getting cheaper and cheaper

Wind energy is now as cheap as natural gas, and solar is getting close. And it’s only getting cheaper.

Uruguay makes dramatic shift to nearly 95% electricity from clean energy – In less than 10 years the country has slashed its carbon footprint and lowered electricity costs, without government subsidies. Delegates at the Paris summit can learn much from its success

Burlington, Vermont Becomes First U.S. City to Run On 100% Renewable Electricity

Adelaide joins race to become world’s first carbon neutral city – South Australia aims to attract $10bn in low-carbon investment as part of ambitious new strategy and will seek to attend UN climate talks in Paris

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Chemicals:

Target Expands List of Chemicals It Wants Out of Consumer Goods

California Just Announced It Will Label Monsanto’s Roundup as Cancer Causing

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downloadPlastic:

It’s Official, Montreal Is Banning Plastic Bags

Forget Tokens: Commuters Can Now Pay Subway Fare By Recycling

Scotland bans plastic bags, spares landfill 650 million bags in just one year

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Animals:

5195At Long Last, Testing on Chimps to End in the United States – and the World

US and China Agree to Halt Ivory Trade

Wolves return to Poland more than 50 years after being
out
 – National park outside Warsaw says several of the animals seem to have settled there again after government cull in the 1960s

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Business:

tomsToms Founder Blake Mycoskie announces a new fund for social good startups. The company has given away nearly 50 million shoes. Now with a cash windfall from Bain, it’s investing to support other companies making a difference.

McDonald’s Franchise Owners Confirm: Fast Food Giant “Facing Its Final Days”

Sweden Introduces a Six Hour Work Day

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Oceans:

Underwater Vertical Seaweed Farm Restores Our Oceans While Providing Food and Fuel Source

Southern Ocean showing ‘remarkable’ revival in carbon absorption ability
Unexpected findings show oceans’ potential to absorb CO2 fluctuates more over time than previously thought, researchers say

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Soil

France’s Plan to Increase it’s Soil Carbon is an Inspiration to the World

Carbon Farming Gets A Nod At Paris Climate Conference

Soil can reverse climate change.“For the first time a real solution to climate change has emerged. Studies from around the world are clearly showing that restoring the health of soil harmed by industrial farming techniques can not only sequester enough carbon to halt climate change, but has the potential to actually reverse it in our lifetime, all while feeding us abundant and healthy food. It’s literally a shovel-ready solution to the biggest crisis facing humanity.”

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Food:

Agrihoods’ Provide Suburban Living Built Around Community Farms – Not Golf Courses

10431457_778490188850355_6648242150374244291_nPastor Turns Food Desert into Garden of Eden for the Poor

Free Lots Angeles: Transforming Vacant Lots into Neighbourhood Assets

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Heartwarming Things:

Korean Artist Beautifully Illustrates What True Love Is All About

Someone Record Crickets and Slowed Down the Track. You Won’t Believe What it Sounds Like.

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Thirteen Videos You’ll Want to Watch and Share

Blog for Clients: An Interview with Corrina Gordon-Barnes

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 5.21.53 PMI’ve known Corrina Gordon-Barnes for a few years now and my respect and affection for her have only deepened. She coaches, consults and runs a very fine blog for conscious service providers. She’s got a lot of thoughts worth hearing about how to create a blog for yourself and how to do it in such a way that it actually gets you clients rather than wasting your time (In fact, she’s made her popular Blog for Clients course available as a self-study training course).

Blogging is something I know a bit about, having written 600+ blog posts myself. However, I can tell you that I’ve written precisely zero of them with any sense of strategy. It’s been a way for me to get clear on my own thoughts. What Corrina is offering here is a far more strategic, wise and profitable investment of time than anything I’ve done.

So, I thought I would invite her to share her thoughts on the matter.

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 5.27.36 PMTad: What is the difference between blogging and blogging for clients?

Corrina: I like to use the analogy of cooking.

Scenario one: I’m by myself. I’m cooking a soup. Yum, I’m going to really enjoy this soup. I’ll just cook according to my taste, I won’t consider quantities, I’ll just focus completely for myself; my and my soup is what I’m all about.

Scenario two: I want to feed my friends. They’re hungry. They’re coming over in two hours. I think about their allergies, their taste preferences. I plan out my cooking so I have enough provision for all of them and so that it’s ready on time for them.

This is the difference. Blogging is for me; blogging for clients is when I focus on others, think about their needs, think about how I can serve them, and then work backwards, getting strategic? about how to meet their needs through what I’m offering.

When we’re blogging for clients, we blog in such a way that it gives potential clients a taste of our approach, plus – importantly – what we have to offer through our paid-for products and services. When we blog, we give our potential clients an opportunity to fall in love with us, to feel safe with us, to feel that somehow we’re aligned and belong together. We’re in the same resonance.

Blogging might be fun in and of itself, but blogging for clients actually leads to clients, increased credibility and increased income. Blogging for clients is not about writing as a hobby; it’s about blogging as your key marketing activity. It actually works for you, supporting your business to grow and flourish and become profitable. AND it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

Why do most people’s blogs get so little engagement and no clients for them? What are they missing?

They don’t first decide what they’re selling and then work backwards from there. They don’t reverse engineer their blogs. In my self-study training course, Blog for Clients, we start with the product or service you want to sell more of, or have people hire you more frequently for, and then we choose blog topics and structure the blogs with this end in mind.

Wow. That’s so simple. Totally.

People at first worry about being strategic or having structure, they worry it’s going to limit their freedom or creativity, but here’s the truth: the writing of the blog actually can be more creative and free-flowing, once you’re writing from strategy and structure.

Another thing people miss is that they don’t give blogging enough of a chance. They give up too soon. And they don’t learn how to do it properly, from people who’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t. They stumble along, trying to figure it out themselves, rather than giving themselves the chance to invest in a learning journey with this incredible marketing approach.

Blogging is the #1 way I built my business over the decade I’ve been self-employed. People look at the word “blogging” and think it looks like something teenagers do, or people who have too much time on their hands. They don’t realize the power at their finger-tips!

What are the top three blunders people make when blogging for clients? And what should they be doing differently?

Blunder #1: They try to speak to everyone, a “spray and pray” kind of approach, rather than honing in on ONE ideal client and writing every blog for them.

Solution: Write each blog to ONE person. I actually start my blogs, “Hey Hannah”, picture my ideal client, write the blog, and then delete the greeting at the end!

Blunder #2: They don’t blog consistently. It’s sporadic, impulsive; they’ll write a flurry and then go awol for months. Think about your favourite TV show or magazine; we love that feeling of regularity, of being able to expect something will show up in our inbox or letter box or screen. We come to trust the producers.

Solution: Commit to an editorial calendar; hold yourself accountable for contributing great value regularly to your community. Be in it for the long-game.

Blunder #3: They forget that a blog is a conversation. We have a whole module in Blog for Clients about how to inspire more comments and what to do about them (because people worry about spam and trolls and negative comments).

Solution: In the way you write, and in your encouragement of comments, remember that a blog is powerful because it’s a heart-to-heart two-way conversation.

Any last advice of thoughts to people who are building their blogs to get clients?

We’re not born knowing how to do marketing.

Likewise, we’re not born knowing how to do blogging.

I often hear from people after they’ve taken Blog for Clients, they say something like: “I nearly didn’t take this course. I knew how to write. I liked writing. I didn’t realize there was actually an art and science to blogging; I thought I could just figure it out” – and they’re so grateful that they learned how to do it so it actually WORKS for them, business-wise. Otherwise, we can enjoy blogging but we won’t see the fruits of our labour. And our business won’t reach the level it can go to, with blogging as the catalyst.

About Corrina:

Corrina Gordon-Barnes wants to live in a world where marketing is fun, clients turn up easily, and money flows to those who do work that helps and heals.

As a certified coach, marketing teacher and self-employment champion, she’s been featured on MindBodyGreen, The Daily Muse, LifeByMe and MarketingForHippies and published in The Ecologist, OM Yoga, Diva, and The London Paper. She’s author of Turn Your Passion to Profit: a step-by-step guide to getting your business off the ground.

When she’s not writing blogs and teaching courses, you can find her reading chick-lit, making vegan blueberry cheesecake, and trying to catch her niece and nephew on the monkey bars.

Take her self-study training course – Blog for Clients – and read her book – Turn Your Passion to Profit – to discover how to stay happy and profitable on the self-employment path at http://youinspireme.co.uk

Guest Post: The Background of Your Website That No One Talks About But Everyone Feels

I’ve connected with Tim Gray a few times over the years, and always gotten the loveliest vibe from him. We got into a conversation about websites and it turned out he had some things to say which I thought were important enough that I wanted to share them with you all.

This notion of the unspoken messages dominating the conversation is so important. It’s what underwrites my recent posts Stop Wasting People’s Time: The Incredible Cost of Being Fuzzy and How to Approach Hubs and Potential Clients Cold.

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macbook-2What do you see as the purpose of having a website?

It’s the hub of your online world. All your social media and whatnot connect to it. And it’s the only online place where you can completely control what you say and how it’s presented.

This feels key. Especially in a time where people are getting increasingly frustrated with Facebook and other social media outlets for constantly changing their rules and making it harder to reach people (without paying money to them to boost your posts or pay for ads). We’re just not in control of what Facebook or other tools do but we are in control of our website.

Exactly. So the website’s purpose is to be your representative. When you’re not there in person, it shows people who you are and what you do, and acts as the concierge showing them where your stuff is.

It’s a place for your community to come back to and feel on familiar ground. It’s also a non-scary way for people to see if they’re interested in you before they break cover.

Websites = Safety

I think that’s so important. The notion of safety in marketing is often ignored or overlooked. People often push harder, shout louder and try to generate more hype when they might actually be better served in making it safer to approach them. And I think you’re right. The website plays this function perhaps more than anything else in your business.

What do you see as the top three mistakes people make with their website?

  1. Not showing up, or showing up but not giving out the right authentic message.
  2. Not taking account of the perspective of their audience, so they don’t give people what they want and need to engage with the site.
  3. Not putting attention into the practicalities of writing and design – which are what give your visitors whatever impressions they get.

You say that, “a lot of websites don’t pay attention to these ideas. Even sites that are counted successful, by people who ought to know what they’re doing. They miss out on connection with visitors that they could have had”. Could you say more about that?

People come to your site genuinely interested in something they think you might have. But they know to protect their time and processing capacity by not spending too long on wrong turnings, so they’re alert for alarm signals. If it seems like they have to put a lot of work in and not get much back, they’ll be off.

If you want them to stay and build a connection, you have to pay attention to the psychology and the user experience.

But our minds love to take shortcuts. People get caught in their own perspective, start taking things for granted, and bits of serving their audience get lost. We get caught up in doing things and forget to make reality checks.

Sites with a high profile are still run by humans. It’s easy to get enthusiastic about shiny whizzy things and forget the basics.

Look at your website through their eyes. 

What do you see as the most common ‘shiny whizzy things’ on websites?

Things like image sliders that take up most of the first screenful. Autoplaying videos. Festooning a page with ads, and having things popping up while the visitor is trying to read. Or just filling the page with lots of blocks of information. Floating social media sharing bars that cover the article text. It’s the old ‘interruption marketing’ mindset that won’t let go.

So, you visit their site and get frustrated because parts of the experience are bad or you can’t find answers to your questions. And that frustration becomes part of their brand for you.

Don’t let ‘they have a frustrating website’ be what you’re known for. 

That’s so real.

What I’m saying is that everyone has the opportunity to avoid those problems by understanding the foundations. That isn’t even techy stuff: it’s about how you plan your site and set it out so that you serve your users.

You speak about people having a message. What is a message in your mind?

It became one of my big building block terms after clicking together with my long-ago physics education. It was probably in the shower!

In physics there are vectors, which are quantities with direction, like velocity. A message is information with direction. It’s a story with places to go and people to see.

I like that.

You’re not just saying it: you want it to do something. That means just sitting in a corner for reference isn’t enough. You care about it reaching people and having an effect when it does.

We often talk about a message as a person’s unique contribution to the world, grown from their experiences and insights. It bubbles together and makes connections and eventually wants to come out.

It makes me think of seeds and how they are the condensed information of the lifetime of not only the plant they came from but all of the ancestors of that plant. And that information doesn’t just want to lie dormant in the seed and rot but to be planted and grow. It wants to do something very particular.

Yes, that relates to everything from personal story work to the hero’s journey to the idea of what you’re born to do. You can put it in different ways. You know, being a giant so people can stand on your shoulders rather than having to work it all out from scratch.

You can also talk about messages in a smaller way, as signals people pick up and process.

One of the ideas I talk about is foreground and background messages. Foreground messages are the things you think you’re telling people, like: “My yoga classes have these five health benefits.”

Background messages are what they’re picking up about you, usually more quickly and powerfully. Like, ‘Friendly person who takes people as they are’ or ‘Expert who pushes people to technical mastery’. It’s important to take charge of those background messages and recognise that they’re part of what you’re saying to people. You can’t choose not to project anything!

background > foreground

Right. So if you went on a date, the foreground messages you give off might be, “Yes, I’m a very successful business man and I make lots of money. Did I tell you the funny story about that time Barack Obama and I went fishing?” but the sub communications might be, “I’m insecure and desperately needing your approval.” And you’re suggesting that those implicit, unspoken messages might actually have more impact than the ones you’re trying so hard to explicitly lay out.

Yes. That’s the more familiar version of how it works face to face. I think those subconscious detective processes are still working when we read your writing.

You say, “Too often these messages get lost in the background noise and don’t make the difference they could have”. Lost in the background noise of the marketplace? Their own website? Both?

The world, actually. It frustrates me that humanity isn’t further on in making a better world. Why are we still looking at the same problems as twenty years ago?

I’m gradually understanding more about the reasons for that. And one big part of it is that people who have the jigsaw pieces of the good stuff have not been good at communicating and persuading. We haven’t had the skills. In the meantime, the people with the bad old messages have done pretty well by being loud and persistent.

Yes. Instead of us helping green things seem normal, they’ve been better at making normal things seem green.

But you’re right, part of that is the marketplace and part of it is their own website. It’s easy to not be visible even when people are looking in your direction.

Huh. Good point.

It’s about knowing what you want to say, and who you want to show yourself to be, and how to use words and visual design to make that happen. Because then you can connect with your audience and make a difference.

Goodness knows, this can be hard, with obstacles inside yourself and in the practicalities. It’s certainly an ongoing journey for me.  

Earlier you spoke about the importance of showing up “in person on your site”. What is this and why does it matter so much?

This is the whole big piece about the way marketing has changed and is changing. Terms fly around like ‘relationship marketing’ and ‘personal branding’ and ‘story’.

People want to connect with people. I’ll buy my soy milk from the supermarket, but for coaching or training I want to know who I’m dealing with. What sort of person are they? What are their values? Will we get on? Will their style be a good fit?

People want to connect with people. 

This is everything to me. I think people tend to see marketing as being about convincing people to ‘say yes’ but I see it as about getting to the truth of if there’s a good fit. But this asks a lot of us. It asks us to be vulnerable and open ourselves to a lot of rejection.

It certainly means there are different skills involved: maybe not what we used to think marketing was. And it means personal development is part of it.

But you can turn this around too. It means people with different skills come to the forefront: people who have done the personal development and are good at connecting with people and building community can make a big difference. Sometimes those people have significant internal obstacle that they need to work through so they can show up.

It’s become a bit of a cliche, but still true: we’re within a few clicks of lots of people who can offer your product, service or ideas. So we choose based on who we think we like most.

Right. Or trust the most. Respect the most. Feel the most aligned with.

Exactly. When people visit your site, they want to see you there. The most obvious example is to have a good ‘About’ page where they can learn a bit about you. But you also want to show up in the way you write, the way you present it, the things you choose to talk about.

Too often, people hide out. This may be a particular problem in a culture like we’ve got here in Britain, where people are trained to fit in and not make a fuss. And most people have seen examples of marketing that’s shouty and in your face, and they don’t want to be like that.

And you don’t have to be shouty. But it’s also a bit off if people come round to see you and you’re hiding in the cupboard. You can be politely brilliant!

Make yourself visible on your website.

Ha. I like that. I speak about this a lot in my marketing workshops. This dynamic of either collapsing or posturing.

So, what are three simple things that people can do to make their websites better right away?

Well, these are three things to check, because if you’re getting them wrong you’ll be turning people off.

  1. As we’ve just been talking about it, have an ‘About’ page that visitors can find easily. Use it to introduce yourself as a human being. What’s important to you, what do you like to spend time doing, what has been the journey of your life? Just a few paragraphs about key points, with a nice photo.
  1. On your home page, on the first screenful a new visitor sees, can they tell what the site’s about? It sounds silly, but people get it wrong often, and it’s because they don’t put themselves in the visitor’s shoes.
  1. A pleasant reading experience depends on lots of things about layout, colour and how to write for the web. But for a specific part of it, one of my bugbears is that so many sites have text that’s too small to read comfortably. So check yours, ideally on a couple of different devices. Maybe get opinions from people with different eyesight. If necessary, change your design or theme.

I should say, getting your site really good is a learning process. It certainly is for me. I sometimes say it changes at the speed of perspective, as I try different things and later see more clearly what’s good or bad about them.

Can you give three examples of websites you love and say a bit about why you love them so much?

I find this one difficult, because my brain insists on telling me how things could be better. Let me give examples of sites getting particular things right that I’ve looked at recently.

Henneke Duistermaat’s enchantingmarketing.com made a big impression on me the other day for the freebie sign-up on the home page. The more I look at it, the stronger it is.

I quite like heartofbusiness.com by your friends Mark Silver & co. They’ve got the language and the visuals working together, for a feel of hearth and home and simplicity. Though the design has that American magazine feel – probably comforting to a US audience but niggles my European sensibilities!

Lisa Barber’s site at rootsandwings.biz is great for the graphics (by Lisa McLoughlin – I know both of them from t’internet) and the way she talks to the reader. It creates a really cohesive vibe of specialist marketing knowledge delivered in a sensitive and understanding way for small helping businesses.

Those are great examples. I’d add Carrie Klassen of www.PinkElephantCommunications.com for her very clear visual aesthetic and clear voice in how she writes. It’s charming and kind. I also love Michael Margolis’ site http://www.getstoried.com/ because it’s so clean and clear. You know exactly what it’s about when you arrive. And Rebecca Tracey has done an incredible thing with her site http://www.theuncagedlife.com/. At the very top of the site she invites you to choose from one of four boxes to immediately direct you to whatever services are most likely to be of use to you.

Those are good too. I noticed Get Storied had a redesign recently, and the vibe made a huge shift from home-grown to professional, bordering on corporate.

Uncaged’s filtering visitors to different content is well done. People will arrive with different questions in mind. But also, the whole front page is a strong audience filter: smart-talking, occasionally sweary, zappy visuals. Most people will know whether they’re drawn in or put off. (That “no pants” thing is different over here, you know…)

Pink Elephant is almost the opposite, with a more traditional and ‘quieter’ design, but covering similar topics.

When you’re browsing the web and sites or pages make you feel a certain way, it’s worth thinking about why that is. It’s not magic. You can learn to get better at it, a step at a time.

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Tim Gray 8728 2x3in web 200Tim Gray is a writer, finer world advocate and geek living in Nottingham, UK.

He helps people who are working on their corner of a better world to connect with their audience through their writing and how they present it in channels like websites, documents and ebooks.

You can find Tim at wordsthatchangetheworld.com.

There’s a short free guide about writing for the web to turn visitors into readers.

If you’d like to follow up the issues in this interview, take a look at Tim’s e-course ‘Website Foundations for Stories in Action’.

 

 

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Interview with Loolwa Khazzoom: Penetrating the Mainstream

Mainstream-MediaThere’s no word with greater sting to it for progressives and radicals than ‘sell out’. And yet we want to reach as many people as possible with our message. This creates an inner conflict of wanting to ‘get the word out there’ and then the fear of what it might mean if we do. Not to mention the fact that the world of PR seems to be utterly inaccessible. How on Earth would you ever book yourself an interview on NPR?

It seems unreasonable.

So, with all of this in mind, I dropped a line to Loolwa Khazoom who had interviewed me years ago to get her thoughts on this all.

Tad: You talk about helping alternative types penetrate the mainstream. What do you mean by that?

Loolwa: Many progressive types, especially activists, have an antagonistic relationship with the media, which is discussed as The Media, with a knowing scoff and roll of the eyes. Activists are especially frustrated, and rightly so, with the kinds of mind-numbing garbage that often passes as stories in the press. Among other issues, there are a lot of lazy journalists out there, who are basically serving as mouthpieces for the representatives of corporations and government bodies.

Reporting is often a she-said, he-said assembly of quotes, instead of an in-depth investigation into a particular matter. Journalists often do not want to do the work necessary – ie, to go out of their way — to get the facts on various issues and challenge the people being interviewed. As an upshot, activists end up pulling out their hair over the kinds of reporting that goes on in the news. Not understanding how the media operates, and feeling powerless to change the way things go down in the press, activists end up protesting or boycotting the media itself, in addition to fighting the good fight on a cause of choice.

Rather than opposing the media – which doesn’t do anything for the cause, whatever the cause may be – I am a proponent of studying and mastering the media, so that we put it to work for us instead of letting it be used against us.

And what do you mean by alternative businesses and projects? Who exactly are we talking about here?

It’s really the gamut of anyone who is rocking the foundation of “the system.” The central issue is that paradigm-shifting visionaries are working to change the very system in which the media is entrenched. So without understanding how the media works, said visionaries find themselves constantly frustrated by and on the outskirts of media coverage.

This might seem obvious but . . . why would someone want to penetrate the mainstream? What’s the problem you are seeing that you’re trying to address through your work with clients?

If we want to change the world, we need to reach it. Yes indie media is a fabulous platform for us to find and communicate with each other, but therein lies the limitation: We communicate with each other. We need to communicate with the people who are not already touched by and part of our little revolution, in order to grow said revolution. The key is learning how to communicate in language that our target audience understands.

Bringing it to the “duh” level: If I am speaking in English to someone who only speaks Spanish, I am not doing an effective job of communicating, am I? It is incumbent upon me to learn Spanish, so as to get across my message. Just about anything can get through the mainstream press, if it is communicated in the language of the press. Activists just need to learn that language.

Are there any downsides to penetrating the mainstream?

Not if you know what you’re doing.

I could imagine some people might have a big fear about “selling out” – that to “go mainstream,” you’ve got to compromise your core values, lie.

They don’t understand how media works. Editors and producers work off a very formulaic template. Once you know the formula, you can put it to work for you. The very same laziness that makes a reporter serve as a mouthpiece for the government can make a reporter serve as a mouthpiece for you.

Why do so many “alternative” businesses fail to penetrate the mainstream? What would you say are the three biggest blunders you see?

First, they think they can just go straight to the biggest and baddest press, without having any previous media exposure. Instead, they need to work their way up the media hierarchy, starting with the local and independent press, then proactively leveraging that to get increasingly mainstream exposure.

Second, they don’t understand the inter-connected, dare I say holistic, nature of a media, marketing, and PR campaign. Starting with whatever and whoever is in your immediate access, you work your way up the ladder in three places: venues (speaking on your topic of expertise), VIPs (collaborating with experts in your field), and media (print, tv, radio, and blogs). You leverage one to get the other, and each time you climb another rung in the ladder, you add it to your bio and flash your bling. It’s a game of perception, and you need to work it.

Third, they don’t understand the difference between advertising in media and getting featured in media. The first is asking the media to speak your language – ie, promote your business. The second is speaking the media’s language – ie, creating a story out of your business. Everyone and their dog wants to get their business into the media. You need to give the media a reason to write about you – for example, by creating a community event.

Let’s say you run a green cleaning business. During one of the national cancer awareness months, you can partner with the local chapter of a national cancer association, a local integrative medicine oncologist, and the local natural foods store that sells green cleaning products. Together, you can put on a program that educates people about the hazards of chemical cleaning products. As part of this program, you can share statistics of how environmental toxins are linked to the increased rates of cancer, and you can discuss the alternatives out there.

Through this program, you position yourself as the expert, the go-to person, on the best natural cleaning products for the home. What products do you use in your service, and why? What should people look for, and look out for, when selecting a green cleaning product? You pitch the event to local television, radio, and print media – including the local affiliates of ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and NPR.

What you’re doing in this example is piling on your news hooks – ie, reasons for media to cover you: First, you have the national holiday. Second, you have the local chapter of a name-recognized cancer association. Third, you have a local doctor. Fourth, you have a local market, where people can go and get the products you’ll be discussing. Fifth, you have a business that people can hire to implement what they learn.

You are spoon-feeding the media what it needs to generate compelling content for their programs. The upshot is that you, and therefore your business, get featured in the top local press, which in turn can be leveraged to generate coverage from top national press.

If you were sitting with someone who wanted to penetrate the mainstream – what would be the three biggest pieces of advice you’d give them?

You need to get crystal clear on these two questions: What do you do, and who the hell cares? Those two basic questions lead to a whole slew of other questions. In a nutshell, you need to do some soul searching about what you do, why you do it, how you do it, how you are similar enough to others doing it that there is a point of reference, and how you are different enough to others doing it that there is a reason to work with you in particular.  

Then you need to get clear on what’s out there and what’s not out there. What are the intersecting fields of your work? What kinds of services are other people offering in these fields? What do they bring to the table? What do they not bring to the table? What is an unmet need that you are filling? What do you, and you alone, have to offer that is going to rock the foundation of this planet? You need to get super clear on the answers to all these questions, before you have any business showing your face to the world.

Once you have all that in order, you need to figure out the language to use in representing yourself. Keep in mind that the language you use for one person, organization, or media outlet will be different than the language you use for another. To simplify my point: If you are communicating with a young child about something, you need to use different language than if you are communicating with a middle-aged adult.

Before you approach a media outlet, study it. Who do they feature? What do they talk about? How do they talk about it? It is your job to fit your message into that media outlet’s format. It is not the media outlet’s job to rework its format to fit your message.

Can you share three stories or case studies of fringe dwellers who have, somehow, penetrated into a broader appeal than just their own immediate networks? And maybe some examples of projects or businesses that tried and failed to bridge that gap?

The bottom line is this: If you want to get into media, you need to do the work of getting yourself media-ready. You need to nail down your brand, target audience, and message. You need to apply that message to your online presence, through compelling website and social media content. You need to establish a name for yourself by speaking at numerous venues, collaborating with VIPs and bringing them into your network, and pursuing media coverage from local and indie, then increasingly more mainstream outlets. You cannot skip over any step of this process, or it won’t work. You cannot demand that the media conform to your way of doing things, or it won’t work.

I had a raw organic vegan restaurant as a client. When I first discovered this restaurant, they had one of these free blogging sites as their “website,” and they did not come up in the search engines when I typed in “raw organic vegan” with the name of the city where they were located. Actually I had been looking for a raw organic vegan restaurant in this town for well over a year before someone told me they existed. So it was evident they sorely needed my services.

The first step was interviewing the restaurant owner/chef about all the questions I mentioned previously – getting crystal clear on the brand, target audience, and message. The second step was hiring a web designer to create a professional site. The third step was writing compelling content that embodied the spirit of the restaurant in language that would interest the average reader. For example, in the “about” section, I included the amazing personal story of how the chef herself struggled with health challenges – leading her to transition to an organic raw foods diet. Everyone loves a good personal anecdote and an individual to whom they can relate. I also included the science behind why an organic raw foods diet has helped so many people heal naturally from the spectrum of diseases. Our society values science, so give them the damn science.

Once the website was ready, I launched a social media campaign – targeting the kinds of communities that would naturally gravitate toward organic raw vegan food . Then, and only then, I launched the mainstream media campaign – ie, once the restaurant had its game face on. I guided the owner on creating special dishes for calendar holidays and on creating community events and special promotions around those dishes.

For Mother’s Day, I advised the chef to create an organic raw vegan pie specially designed for expectant mothers, incorporating ingredients that support the pregnancy and birth process. I also called it a funky name that would grab people’s attention. I had the chef announce that the pie would be rolled out (as it were) in the restaurant on Mother’s Day and that the restaurant would offer a discount to all the pregnant women ordering the pie on that day. I also advised the chef to teach a class on how to make the pie, the week before Mother’s Day.

In effect, I established multiple time and news hooks, customized for the media: a new dish at a local restaurant — specifically, a pie, and who doesn’t love a good pie; a tie-in to a calendar holiday celebration; a unique health angle for the barrage of stories on Mother’s Day; a feel-good special for moms celebrating with their families on the big day; and a community event gearing up for the holiday. We used the same formula for Father’s Day, and both stories were a hit.

The chef was featured on all the local morning shows on the affiliates of ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, as well as in the daily paper, weekly paper, and the local magazine – in several cases, twice over. In addition, the restaurant website shot up to the #1 result for any variation of a search on the words “raw,” “organic,” “vegan,” and the name of the city.

As a side note, media is critical not only for getting the word out to the universe but also for generating high-profile incoming links to your website. Google likes all the major media networks and will give you extra love if you have those networks pointing to your site.

Getting into media is entirely doable if you have the goods, if you know how to work a story, and if you are willing to put in the time and energy to make it happen. Make no mistake: It’s a lot of work. When you get a clip in a mainstream outlet, however, you can reference it for the rest of your life. It becomes the foundation upon which you can build your entire career. And that is priceless.

If people want to learn more about you and your work, where can they go to get more info?

My website is www.loolwa.com, because, hey, there were not a whole lot of competitors for that domain name. In addition to offering public relations management, I offer coaching and consulting services, and I am developing a series of multimedia programs designed for paradigm-shifting, thought-leading, pot-stirring, let’s-change-the-world-with-our-awesomeness, social entrepreneur types. As part of these programs, I will pass on all the tricks and tips I have developed over the years, for nailing the mainstream spotlight.

 

headshotAbout Loolwa Khazzoom:

Loolwa Khazzoom is experienced in managing successful media, marketing, and public relations campaigns, through 25 years of work as a media and public relations specialist, business owner, community organizer, and/or holistic health specialist:

  • She has placed her clients in prestigious media, including Rolling Stone, The Huffington Post, Forbes, and CNN.
  • She herself has been featured in top media, including The New York Times, Fox News, ABC News, and PBS’s “American Health Journal.”
  • She has written articles, including numerous cover stories, for leading periodicals including The Washington Post, Marie Claire, Self, and AARP.

In addition, wearing her various hats, she has worked with and/or connected her clients with top medical professionals – including Andrew Weil, MD, Mehmet Oz, MD, David Simon, MD, and Martin Rossman, MD.

Guest Post: From Information to Transformation: Reimagining Online Education

If you’re thinking of creating an online product but have no idea how yours will stand out, this blog may be just what you need right now.

I’ve known Brad Morris for a number of years now. He’s been a guest blogger twice before here with his 7 Top Lessons I learned from Creating my Online Product and Seven Lessons from my Marketing Vision Quest. He’s one of the most genuine and creative people I know. He and his friend Andy (who has been helping me design my Niching Spiral Homestudy Course) just launched a new course called the Great eCourse Adventure and I thought it was such a creative approach to doing an eCourse that it might inspire you. 

In this guest post you’ll read of the six big challenges facing the online education world today but also twenty hard won lessons that Brad and Andy have wrestled from their pursuits of doing something that’s very different from other things out there.

Note: all of the links below are affiliate links which means I am paid something if you sign up for his program. If that sits funny with you or feels off for any reason but you’d still like to check it out, you can do that here and nothing will be tracked back to me.

By Bradley Morris & Andy Freist

eCourse Adventure Guides at The Great eCourse Adventure

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 5.20.50 PMSo you’ve been thinking about creating an eCourse huh?

Of course you have. Who hasn’t?

Creating a freedom lifestyle by teaching what you love (and living off the passive income from eCourse sales) is a pretty wicked dream… and a doable one at that.

There’s a bit of a Gold Rush happening right now as the online education industry surpasses the $100 billion mark this year.

With massive growth comes some big challenges.

One challenge is, everyone’s hunting for gold in the same river and the river is getting crowded.

What happens when the river gets too crowded?

Challenge #1: Everything Starts Looking the Same

In this sea of sameness, it can be hard to differentiate yourself and stand out from the crowd.

If your intended audience can’t tell you apart from the rest of the eCourses and offerings like you because you’ve taken the cookie-cutter approach, how will they find you?

Yes, it is important that you come up with your own unique way of sharing, teaching or saying what everyone else in your market is doing.

And, what can you do to innovate the online learning experience for your customers that sets you apart from everyone else doing what you do?

Challenge #2: Over Promises, Under Delivery

Because everyone is trying to stand out as the expert of all experts, many are creating promises they can’t or have no intention of keeping.

Titles like, “The Six Figure this,” “The Everything Blueprint,” “The Make More Money Formula,” and “The Seven Steps to You Name It” are definitely thrown around a lot these days.

The problem with trying to fit in with the status quo is there is so much noise. Everyone is yelling over top of each other and they’re all essentially shouting the same thing.

How does this show up? Lots of hype and false promises in order to “get noticed” and make the sale. The eCourse Industry is quickly becoming a sort of breeding grounds for what feels annoyingly similar to the modern day car salesman.

You can sure feel it when the teacher’s main motives are driven by an undercurrent of financial gain, rather than being driven by the authentic desire of truly wanting to serve their students.

How can we create digital experiences for our tribes that are so transformational, unique and service-focused that they sell themselves without ever needing to “sell” anything?

Challenge #3: Information Overload

Let’s be honest, we’re all a little overwhelmed from information these days. It’s easy to impress people with knowledge, but that does not always guarantee results.

The typical formula for eCourses is to create a series of videos that dump an indigestible amount of information on the student, mixed with an overwhelming number of action steps or to-do’s, and then a PDF that rarely ever gets printed out and worked on.

This strategy has worked in the past, however people are becoming less inspired and more numb by the formula. It’s quickly losing it’s effectiveness.

There’s nothing wrong with videos and PDF’s. We use them too and they are an important tool in the digital learning experience.

We have found that delivering the lessons in bite-sized, digestible amounts, with a clear call to action results in a higher engagement rate.

The key is giving our students the right amount of information at the right time, in the right order.  Then to come up with creative ways to deliver the lessons and support your customer to actually integrate the lesson into their life or business. (we have examples later in this article)

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” – Aristotle

How can we as teachers and coaches, craft highly engaging multi-media educational processes that focus on the experience, rather than just relaying information?

Challenge #4: High Customer Failure Rate

The whole purpose of creating eCourses is to improve people’s lives. However, that’s not the message or approach that’s being practiced across the board. Many eCourse creators out there are more focused on “making sales” rather than creating the ultimate customer experience.

There is a kind of desperation in the air, when you really look at what’s being said on many of the sales pages we get sent to. When there’s not a desperation, there is a “holier than thou” complex that these internet gurus hold in order to posture themselves as the savior.

We believe the focus should be on providing massive value and a transformational experience for the customer.

If we do this, then we don’t have to hype ourselves up like the Inflatable Tube Man because our customers will do the talking for us.

What happens a lot of the time though, is people sign up for an eCourse that seems promising due to a free give-away and great sales copy.

They start off excited, but when it comes time to “do the work”, they don’t feel genuine support from the teacher or they get disinterested with the content. Many unfortunately leave the experience beating themselves up and feeling discouraged because they didn’t fulfill their intention.

This has been a huge frustration of our’s with the different courses we’ve created. All we want is for our participants to achieve the transformation they signed up for. When they don’t, we do everything in our power to find out what happened and make improvements accordingly.

With eCourses generally being self paced, it’s common for participants to feel overwhelmed with the huge amount of resistance that surfaces from doing this big new thing.

If the eCourse does not have the right support systems in place or the content isn’t engaging enough, participants will find it hard to follow through… unless they’re incredibly motivated or passionate about the topic.

If customer engagement drops, so does retention. Customer retention is what keeps the business alive and growing.

How can we facilitate the ultimate experience that supports our customers through their resistance, fear and the necessary growth that’s required to succeed with your course?

Challenge #5: Trust is Declining

I’ve personally become a bit jaded in the whole online learning world. I honestly don’t trust much of what I see because of all the dis-honesty and sleazy marketing gimmicks that try to push people into buying.

Being jaded sucks. I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of great teachers and amazing opportunities to learn and grow due to my silly paranoia.

I also know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I talk to more people all the time who are tired of being flushed down sales funnels and slammed with high pressure emails like inbox tsunamis.

In business, trust is our most valuable asset with our customers. It’s also something that is earned over time. This means we have to be in it for the long haul, rather than the quick sale approach.

How can we create rich, authentic experiences for our customers that build a strong foundation of trust?

Challenge #6: The Homogenization of our Industry

Basically, what’s happening is the teachers at the top of the food chain in the eCourse industry set the standard for how eCourses are created, marketed, priced and presented.

Everyone else is stepping into the mold that those leaders have created for them, usually without even realizing it.

This keeps the cycle of sameness going and delays the inevitable change that’s coming…

How can we break away from the mold and come up with innovative, new ways to educate, market and inspire?

The Good News?

With Big Challenges, Come Big Opportunities

If you caught yourself cringing or nodding in agreement while reading the problems we listed above, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

These are the problems most eCourse Creators are facing right now and it seems that nobody really knows what to do to break the cycle of sameness.

The entire eCourse industry is ripe for a massive shift. The tools that are available to us now for creating incredible online experiences, compared to five years ago, are incomparably better. All of the “problems” we’ve mentioned up above are perfect and fine.

They’ve served their purpose up to here and they’re now becoming outdated.

What’s awesome about this is, there is an opportunity to decide where we go next in the eCourse Frontier.

Rather than feeding people information, we believe (Andy and I), the challenge and solution lies in our ability to inspire and lead people to achieve lasting transformation. We know we’re not the only ones who think this way.

“With transformations, the economic offering of a company is the individual person or company changed as the result of what the company does. With transformations, the customer is the product! The individual buyer of the transformation essentially says, ‘change me’.” – The Experience Economy (Pine and Gilmore)

The transformation can be learning a new skill, overcoming an illness or struggle, even gaining a new perspective on life or a situation. It can even be learning to create an incredible eCourse that aligns with your truth. The key is that it is a deep, meaningful and lasting change. If the student “loses” the transformation after the training, it wasn’t a true transformation.

Going through a transformational process can often be extremely uncomfortable for our customer. This is true even when they have a high desire for the change.

It is our instinctual human nature to resist what causes us to grow and change.

For example: A lot of the people when starting out on the eCourse Creation journey come to us thinking it’s going to be as easy as writing a few PDF’s, shooting some videos and slapping a $1,000-2,000 price tag on their course. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

When the reality sets in and they realize the massive investment of time, creativity and energy it takes to build something remarkable, professional and transformational, most people tend to get overwhelmed or experience a mega-ton of resistance…

If your motivations aren’t clear enough, then the resistance can be bigger than your WHY, causing you to give up, seek out an easier opportunity or cop out and create something that doesn’t live up to your potential (or heart’s desire).

Resistance is a natural part of the process when we set out to achieve something big and awesome.

Why? Because we have to step up, show up and become the person we need to be in order to achieve that goal.

This requires growth, learning and change. A few things the good ol’ ego hates.

eCourse Mastery happens when we can guide people on a deeply transformative process in a way that supports them to overcome their resistance, internal obstacles and achieve the original promise you made that inspired them to sign up for your eCourse.

Our primary duty as eCourse Creators and guides is to do whatever it takes to facilitate that transformational process for our tribe.

If we can not do this, then we have failed. We’re only successful when our students or customers are successful.

From Information to Transformation

When coming up with the idea for our latest project, the Great eCourse Adventure, our number one priority was to create an experience that keeps our customers engaged and excited for all the steps they have to take and hard work that lies ahead.

We also wanted to find a way to incorporate all of our passions and creative gifts into the creation of our eCourse. Mostly because what we were doing before with our previous courses still felt like “work”. They weren’t fully stoking our creative fun fire.

The other question we pondered was, “how do we actually create something that stands apart from anything else in the industry?”  We wanted to build something original for our tribe.

We were extremely clear that whatever our next eCourse was going to be, it had to be fun (for us to create and for our participants to go through) and it had to be transformational. The days of sitting in front of a camera and talking at our participants about our step-by-step blueprint were over. Hallelujah!

These intentions and the questions we asked ourselves led to some of the biggest breakthroughs of our lives.

We said goodbye to “the box” and hello to stoking the flame of possibility that lives within all our imaginations.

Are you ready to hear what we did?

So how did we create our ultimate eCourse experience?

Before you read what we did, I will tell you how we did it…

It wasn’t until we got crystal clear on our WHY – our key motivations for creating this eCourse, that the puzzle pieces came together.

Disclaimer: if you’re getting into building transformational eCourses, you can’t make your motivations about money or your own personal freedom. It is 100% about your customer’s experience. Not yours.

Now that we’ve got that little piece out of the way, here’s what we did…

We have combined our love for entertainment, skit comedy, gamification, education, transformation, art, business, marketing, and being over the top creative to fuel “The Great eCourse Adventure.”

Here are the ways we utilized the power of media to create a truly unique, creative and transformational learning experience:

We decided that our eCourse is a work of art. The true underlying motivation for creating our course is to craft a masterpiece. By plugging in our innate talents and passions, the entire process has been an absolute joy. It is no different than a painter immersed in the act of placing paint on a canvas. This is our art.

We built a virtual world and storyline about our eCourse participants climbing a mountain to the peaks of “Launch Summit”. We bring this world to life through every single aspect of how we facilitate the course (videos, sound effects, online platform, languaging, community, emails, etc). It’s all about the adventure!

We made our video lessons entertaining, fun and engaging. Some of the lessons are even taught by mystical creatures and outlandish characters. Participants never know what surprise we have in store next. ?Hello engagement and fun!

We gamified the entire journey to make action-taking an even more enjoyable, rewarding experience for participants. Let’s face it, we all love games. Our commitment is to bring more play to the business world. ?

We got super creative with our auto-responder emails, making it a fun and exciting experience for our adventurers to open their inbox.?

We created an amazing journaling system that goes above and beyond the standard PDF, allowing participants to plan, build and organize their entire eCourse in one location. We’ve never seen any other courses use the system we’ve created.?

We’re growing an immersive online community that inspires the kind of intimacy amongst participants that you’d experience if you were going to summer camp. We called this magical place for conversation and connection, “The Campfire.” ?

We understand the need for support on adventures like this, which is why we built into the community experience opportunities for Adventurers to do spontaneous masterminds together (at no extra cost), pair up with an Adventure Buddy for accountability purposes and all sorts of other incredible things that pack on the support to help our tribe succeed.

We also give our participants an Adventure Map instead of a to-do list. This little map will help them track their progress and get a sweet visual of what excitement lies ahead. It’s also an extremely fulfilling way to cross off the steps you’ve taken.

With all these moving parts working together, we believe we’ve found a solution that will make “doing the work” more enjoyable than binge-watching Netflix.

What we’ve built is just the beginning of this new style of digital learning experiences and we’re excited to see the wild, magical courses that our work inspires in the world.

What we’ve created could never be duplicated or copied by anyone. It is 100% unique and has never been done (as far as we know). Yet the process of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it is entirely teachable!

Twenty Lessons

Here are 20 lessons we’ve learned from building The Great eCourse Adventure:

  1. Rather than creating an eCourse, create an entire world that immerses your participants in the learning experience. ?This can be done easier than one might think.
  2. Facilitating a transformation has nothing to do with the information you present. It’s all about the experiences and journey you take your customer through. ?
  3. The ‘Ultimate Transformation’ your eCourse or brand promises does not happen all at once. It happens over a series of carefully planned and facilitated experiences.? This is why the power of eCourses is only beginning to be understood. With a workshop or coaching experience, you can support a breakthrough. With eCourses, you can facilitate multiple breakthroughs and help them be fully integrated into your customer’s life.
  4. Building a successful eCourse is not about making a million dollars in sales, it’s about transforming the lives of those who need your course.?
  5. Information is less valuable than tangible Transformations. ?
  6. It’s important that you dig deep and find your own creative flavor. This is what brings your eCourse to life and gives it personality. ?
  7. Don’t ever try to be like everybody else. Otherwise you’ll miss all the people looking for you.?
  8. Build a team that you love, trust and enjoy working with. If you want to build something that is wildly unique and awesome, then it’s going to require more people being involved than just you alone.
  9. Don’t make an eCourse to create quick cash. Take your time, be methodical and when inspiration strikes take tons of action.?
  10. Focus on building a community and culture around your creation.
  11. If you’re planning on building a successful online business, be prepared to spend exorbitant numbers of hours in front of a computer screen. Be sure to balance that with plenty of exercise, nature time and by doing things you love on your breaks.
  12. Don’t try to get it perfect the first time. There is always time to improve and refine once you’ve created the first version of your idea. ?Perfect is a verb.You are Perfect’ing!
  13. Keep it fun. If you’re unable to have fun doing the thing you apparently love, then why the hell are you doing it? Honestly.?
  14. There’s no need to get lost in the hustle or the hype. If you create an experience that is truly transformational and unique, your customer will know if your thing is for them or not and they’ll be excited to spread the word.  
  15. Pricing your eCourse is one of the hardest parts of the process. Deep down inside though, you’ll know what to charge. Don’t sell it for more than what you would honestly buy it for.
  16. Gratitude for the journey. Take your time and enjoy each step along the way. This is not a race, it is an adventure. Enjoy it.
  17. Until your WHY is clear, your WHAT will remain a mystery.
  18. When dreaming into your WHAT, take the shackles of limitation off of yourself. Anything is possible in the digital Universe. Dream it, then find the people (hopefully friends) to create it with. If you can’t find them right away, then create your first version as best as you can with the resources you have available.
  19. ABC = Always Be Creating. If you want to create your freedom lifestyle building transformational eCourses, then start creating today and never stop. Learn from doing.
  20. Value yourself. There are people who are waiting for your truth, wisdom and experience. If don’t create the ways for them to hear your voice and find you, then you’re doing them a disservice. All voices, all stories, all people matter. Honour and value the gifts you have to share by sharing them.

We recognize that the experience we’ve created with the Great eCourse Adventure is just one example of what’s possible. Since embarking on this creative journey, we’ve thought of so many other awesome eCourse ideas that we’ll never have time to build, but hope others will.

Here’s a few questions to journal about:

  1. What do you imagine this next chapter of online learning and eCourse creation looking like?
  2. What lessons can you take from this article and apply to your business or eCourses immediately?
  3. What is your motivating WHY to invest the necessary time and energy required to craft a highly engaging, transformational experience for others?

Want to experience the Great eCourse Adventure?

Join the first three checkpoints on the mountain for FREE -or- get the full Launch Summit Trail Pass for our $299 Beta Launch.
http://thegreatecourseadventure.com

*Registration closes at 11:59pm PST January 9th. 150 full Trail Passes available.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about what we’ve shared in this article. Let’s imagine what’s possible for the world of online learning together. Join the conversation below.

About The Authors:

Bradley T Morris

Inspired by freedom, fun and a dream to sponsor himself to play Professional Golf, Bradley dropped out of college at the age of 21 to start his first online business. Skip forward after a decade of entrepreneurial adventures and he now makes his living creating transformational eCourses and coaching adventurous entrepreneurs to develop engaging, unique and creatively inspired eCourses that transform people’s lives. His various eCourses have now supported thousands of customers in more than 30 countries across the globe.  More about Bradley at BradleyTMorris.com

Andy Freist:

Part tech geek, part musician, part entrepreneur, and part artist. When he’s not out playing music and producing dance events, Andy spends his days channeling his love for technology and artistry into the online space. He supports visionary entrepreneurs in creating powerful eCourse platforms and potent customer experiences.? His specialty is online design, brand architecture and crafting engaging customer experiences from websites, eCourses to in person events and beyond.? More about Andy at ZenTeach.com

Get Rejected Faster

sales-rejectionSo many people are scared of getting rejected in business.

I get it.

But the fear of rejection comes from the idea that there’s a way to move through this world without being rejected which isn’t true. What’s really going on in those cases is that the people have figured out only how to delay the inevitable rejection and make it more painful for everyone. This is often a case of collapsing.

10891915_10155030152215195_5181246007325511849_nImagine you romantically like someone but, rather than telling them and making it clear at some point early on in the proceedings, your fear of rejection highjacks you and you pretend that all you want is to be their friend. And so you pine away and suffer in their presence until one day you finally speak up and… are either rejected or embraced. The rejection (or embrace) was coming anyway. You were only delaying it.

The strategy to delay rejection is all about being neutral.

It’s about evoking a maybe response from people. We never ask for the business so they can’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. We never really put out our point of view so we’re always seen as a ‘maybe’ candidate but no one ever hires us. We live in the land of fuzziness but what we don’t see is the cost of this. What we don’t see is that people might actually be rejecting us for our mediocrity. The idea that you can be everything to everyone is a myth. There are those who won’t like you because you’re such a generalist. There’s no way to win the entire marketplace. And so, given that there’s no way to avoid being rejected, given its inevitability…

I recommend the fine art of getting rejected faster.

10891943_10155030148285195_5263621552349272916_nTo be clear, I’m not suggesting your court rejection or seek it out.

But I am suggesting that you take risks that could result in your being rejected.

This means seeing marketing not as being about convincing anyone to say ‘yes’ to you but rather about filtering people out as efficiently and artfully as possible.

In practical terms, this could look like many things.

It could mean that, you start off your cold calls by cutting right to the chase of the problem you help people solve to see if they’re needing help at all.

It could mean that you get really clear about your point of view and clearly communicate it in all of your marketing material.

It could mean tightening up your home page so that people who aren’t a fit leave faster and stop wasting your time.

It could mean being much clearer about what it looks like to work with you.

It could mean creating an Are You Sure? Page that people visit after your sales page so that anyone who isn’t a fit doesn’t sign up.

It could mean letting loose and writing a really good rant.

It could mean saying to someone, “You know… I think I might be able to help you with this issue. Would you be open to hiring me?” and seeing what kinds of conversations it opens or closes.

It likely means getting clearer about your niche.

And it always means being vulnerable. It means having your outcome being to get to the truth of if it’s a fit as directly as possible.

Here’s what else getting rejected faster means.

Less wasted time.

Less suffering.

The end of ‘hope’ being used as a drug as you convince yourself that ‘there’s so much potential business in the pipeline’.

Time freed up to find and work with people who are a better fit.

Freedom.

10411121_10155030158520195_4221505816239814050_n

Stop Wasting People’s Time: The Incredible Cost of Being Fuzzy

2198b27This is a blog post I’ve wanted to write for a while.

It’s about the incredible costs to you and others of being fuzzy in your marketing and sales communications.

I’m writing this to share the other side of the story of marketing – how it’s received. We spend so much time working on our business and our marketing that we rarely stop to consider how our marketing is landing for the person receiving it.

There are two issues here: Laziness and Fuzziness.

For latter is inevitable, the former isn’t. The latter carries no shame, but the the former might.

I want to lift up an exploration around where laziness might be creeping into your marketing and share the impact that fuzziness, despite the best of efforts and intentions, might have. I want to lift up that clarity in your marketing might require more work from you than you initially thought – that when you think you’re done, you likely aren’t.

I don’t even know where to start on this. It happens so often.

It happens, in a beautiful way, whenever a client hires me to look over their sales letter. When Daniel and Cecile of Roundsky Communications reached out to me, it was a blessing to be able to help them redo their sales letter to help them say what they were wanting to say better, or when Carmen Spagnola asked for my help with hers as she launched her Numinous School, or when Russell Scott asked me to helped him articulate his Coming Home retreat.

But often people come to me not knowing how unclear their materials are. Sometimes it’s laziness on their end and sometimes they just don’t know how fuzzy it all is.

I want to own that some of my responses below are petty. I’m not trying to hide that. In fact, I want to lift it up because it’s how people often feel when confronted with fuzziness (and almost always feel when it’s a lazy fuzziness). Are the reactions petty? Likely. Are they common? Yes. And it’s important to be real about that.

I know that most of the people in the examples below are not trying to be rude or waste my time. And I’m aware that my reactions are about me and my own triggers. That’s all true.

And I invite you to step into my world where this happens a lot.

It happens with friends and colleagues who ask me to share their websites. When I look at them I literally have no idea what the hell I’m looking at or what it’s about. And I sit there for five minutes wanting to support my friend but having literally no idea what to write as a description or context for why I’m posting it. What the website needs is an overhaul. What they need, I tell myself, is to actually figure out their niche and what the hell they’re up to. They have no idea what it’s like to be me, wanting to help them and feeling baffled by their project. When I get the sense they’re still learning and growing, this doesn’t bother me, but when I get the sense that they’ve just decided to be lazy about it, it does.

It happens when colleagues come to Edmonton and want my help in spreading the word about their workshop. I look at the marketing materials and my heart sinks. This is shit. This is all useless. It’s full of jargon and platitudes and they have no idea how bad it is. I happen to know about their work and so I spend hours rewriting their materials so that I can share it up without causing confusion to my friends. I’ll be emailing them about it and I don’t want to have them sitting there for five minutes trying to understand what this is and why I sent it to them. I don’t want to spend my social capital and trust and their fighting their way through a confusing sales letter. So, I redo it and send that out. After the workshop is done with them, I sit them down and explain to them that I’ll never do that again for them and neither will anyone else. I tell them about how frustrating it is to want to spread the word for them and to have to redo everything in order to do that. They seem to get it and express their gratitude. That feels good. It’s my responsibility that I took on the heavy lifting of redoing their work for no payment. That’s on me. And it’s what your friends might do for you.

It happens when an old friend and colleague emails me over the years with various workshops and initiatives that I don’t understand. Because I care for her, I actually open the emails and read her words. Because I care for her, I slog through the confusing text hoping that the next line will illuminate what this is for me only to be let down every time. My answers get more and more curt with her. She feels unsupported and it ends our friendship. True story.

It happens when a friend of mine sends me a message of Facebook asking my help in sharing up his crowd funding campaign for a comedy tour. He doesn’t tell me who’s on the bill, where they’re going, how many stops, why this matters enough to get funded or anything that might help me do more than simply paste the link to his gofundme.com page. I know that me simply posting a link will do literally nothing for him. Hell, even my writing my most impassioned plea probably won’t do anything for him. So I ask him to send me a pre-written Facebook post that says it all perfectly so I can get this right for him.

Here’s the conversation:

My friend: Hey Tad! What’s up man? I’m loving your Harper Has to Go Campaign and am behind ya 100%!! Just want to reach out to you about The comedy tour that I’m producing. 4 budding easy coast comics hit the road to perform everywhere they can; a camera rolls & a documentary is made. Please check out our Kickstarter campaign as we’re trying to get funding to make this thing a reality and have some dope rewards. If you can’t toss any $$$ our way and still want to help out you totally can by spreading the word via social media or face to face with people; it’s just as good as $$$. The link is below, thanks for any help in advance and enjoy the rest of your summer! Much love.

Me: hey man! so good to hear from you. You are missed here in e-town. I can’t give money right now but would love to spread the word. Can you send me a prewritten FB post saying it just the way you want with the link in it? I’ll share it up.

My friend: Hey dude! Thanks, it feels nice to be missed :-) Here is the link and just say what you’d like about the idea of helping 4 DIY stand up comedians trying to go on tour and that your friend is one of them :-) Thanks again!!

Me: here’s what i’d write now. but we can do better, “4 DIY stand up comedians are trying to go on tour and my friend John Doe is one of them. Support if you can.”  If you can add where the tour is going, the dates, how much money you’re trying to raise and by when.

My friend: Right. Not sure where we are going yet. Will know in the next week or so. The dates are Sept 27th to October 16th ; we are trying to raise $20,000. We are almost 25% of the way there. :-)

Me: any clearer sense of tour dates? And, if you’re able to give me exact wording that i can cut and paste it would be a big help. I want to get this as good as possible for you.

My friend: Tour dates will be announced tomorrow and I can send you a link to all that stuff. Have a great night.

I don’t hear from him again.

Ten minutes of my life wasted.

This doesn’t seem like a big deal until it’s ten minutes here and ten minutes there.

It’s death by a thousand cuts. I’m not even talking about responding to any of it. I’m talking about reading the stuff. I’m talking about long emails I have to slog through to figure out whether or not the email is even relevant to me.

It happens when I get hired for consultations with people whose projects are so vague and fuzzy and who either refuse or are legally unable to get any clearer and I sit there for an hour wondering, “Why the hell am I here?”

It happens when I get an email invitation about a possibility of collaborating on a Farmer’s Market presentation and, after twenty minutes, it turns out that this collaboration couldn’t pay me anything and that, in fact, they were just wanting to get the contact info of the person who hired me for my last gig and, maybe, to get my endorsement but then, in the end, the endorsement doesn’t even seem to matter. They could have asked me that in a one sentence email and not wasted my time.

It happens when I host a party and a woman stands up and, over dramatically and heavily, starts spinning a seductive but insubstantial web about a project she’s working on that could pay everyone incredibly well to do their work and a client of mine says, “Wow. That sounds really good!” and I turn to him and say, “You stay the fuck away from her. Or… better yet. Go and talk with her to find out what she’s up to because there’s nothing there.” Only to have him come up to me an hour later and confirm that twenty minutes of digging had yielded him nothing but a headache.

These are all such wonderful people.

And I still get cranky.

It happens all the time.

It happens when people ask me to spread the word for something on Facebook and I have no idea what it is, for whom it might be relevant or even, often, what city it’s happening in.

It happens to women when men ask them to go for coffee just to ‘hang out’ and their intentions are nebulous. They’re not interested in the man romantically but… it’s just coffee, right?

It happens when you meet someone who asks you to go for coffee and it ends up being AMWAY (called whatever the hell they’re calling it these days).

It happens when a known funder is schmoozed by people who are really friendly and asking all sorts of personal questions to ‘get to know’ the funder (who can feel the ask coming).

When people are writing promo material for their programs, products and projects, they often get lazy. They’re so excited to just get it out there and spread the word that they don’t pause and look at what they’ve written through the eyes of the person on the receiving end. What this means is that, often times, you have something that’s fabulously unclear.

This is about you and your friends and colleagues. The ones who love you and want to see you succeed. This is about bringing more beauty and ease to their lives and not draining away their minutes and hours with confusion and annoyance.

 

Out of friendship and good will people will give you their attention once or twice. But, if you keep being fuzzy, then they will resent it.

Why?

Because they love you.

They care about you.

They think you’re amazing and they want to support you but they have no idea what the hell you’re doing.

It’s a frustrating place to be in. They open your emails hoping for something they’ll understand enough to put their encouragement behind, only to be lost in a sea of words. Sure, there’s a link they could click, but, after years of this, they’re not convinced it will be any clearer. They’ll open your emails out of love for you but soon they’re opening them out of a sense of guilt and obligation. Or they’re ignoring them. Or, possibly worse, they’re putting smiling faces and ‘Congrats!’ on your Facebook posts because they love you. What they’re not telling you is that they never clicked the link and they actually have no idea what you do.

Writing a good headline or email subject line isn’t about selling people. Writing good copy isn’t about selling people. It’s about being as clear as you humanly can about what this is and isn’t and who it’s for and who it’s not for. It’s about cutting to the chase as quickly, artfully and clearly as possible. When you don’t take the time to articulate what you do well, that shows me is that you don’t see to care enough about me to take the time to make things clear.

Please don’t waste their time.

Please don’t make them fight to understand what you’re up to. Please don’t confuse them. Please don’t use the leverage of their love for you against them as they spend so much of their precious time trying to sort through the confusion of what you do to understand. And, please don’t take it personally or be offended when they candidly tell you that they are confused by what you do. The truth: they love you and they are trying to give you the gift of their candour which most of your friends aren’t. They love you so much that they are willing to risk the friendship to support the friend. And know that people have their limit of how much ‘fuzziness’ they’re willing to accept from you.

Eventually you will be ignored. People won’t even bother to read the subject lines of your email. They won’t even look at what you tagged them in on Facebook or Twitter. And the whole time they’re ignoring it they are frustrated because they want to help you and feel guilty for not being more supportive but they don’t trust you to respect their time. It’s an awful place to put people. I’ve been put in this situation more times that I wish I had. Eventually that resentment towards you will build into frustration.

Don’t highjack their love.

Writing good sales copy is an act of love and respect for the time and emotional well being of others. Taking the time to write thoughtful copy is an act of kindness. It is consideration. A good sales letter is a pleasure to read. If you claim to love your friends and those on your list, be clear with them. Don’t waste their time. Don’t highjack their love.

I deal with this all the time. Colleagues whose promo stuff is so terrible. It is such shit. It’s the worst. Like they couldn’t be bothered to actually craft something. No. They send me their rough draft. They send me some vague pile of words to figure out and so they are saying, in essence, ‘your time is less valuable than mine’.

Don’t waste my time.

One of my colleagues expressed this to me a few weeks ago, “I recently asked a few people to to give me a bullet point about their business so that I could include them on an email newsletter I am sending to my list that is highlighting other people’s amazing work (just for the hell of it bc their work is awesome). My clients all followed directions. The two friends who I wanted to include both sent me vague responses so it felt doubly unrespectful because I was actually offering to promote them. There’s no way I’m putting other people’s vagueness out there.

“You mugged me with words.”

As I wrote this blog post I recalled some words Derrick Jensen had written in his book Walking on Water. He speaks of receiving a critique from an elder storyteller Milbre Burch.

At one point I used the wrong word to describe something – I called a trowel a spade – and when she corrected me I said (the forty-two-year-old me is horrified to remember these words come out of the twenty-six-year-old me’s mouth), ‘It’s just a word.’

‘Just a word,’ she replied. ‘No. You mugged me, as surely as if you had taken my wallet. You mugged me with words, stole a moment of my life. Every time you’re on stage, or every time you write something for someone else to read, all the people in the audience, all the people who read your writing, are giving you the honour of time they could be spending elsewhere. You are responsible for every second they give you. You need to give them gifts – including the truth as you understand it to be – commensurate with that every moment.’

Cut to the chase.

If you’re interested in a woman, tell her and ask her out on a date. Don’t lie about your interest or attraction. If she’s not interested, she’ll tell you. And that’s fine. They’ll be grateful for you not wasting their time.

If you’re with an MLM company, don’t feign friendship with people to seduce them into your pitch. Tell them you have a business proposition for them and could you have five minutes of their time to give them the pitch? They’ll be grateful for you not wasting their time.

If you meet a funder whose financial support you want, tell him that. Say, “Can I bend your ear for 60 seconds about a project we’re working on that I think you might want to fund?” They’ll be so grateful and almost always say yes. They’ll be grateful for you not wasting their time.

Who came to who?

Remember, you came to me for support not the other way around. I didn’t approach you curious if I could spread the word on your project. You came to me.

If you are approaching someone, the central question in your mind must be, “How can I make this all as clear, quick, easy and worthwhile for them as possible?” You’re in their house. You are a guest. Don’t waste their time.

Now, if you’re doing what you do and not reaching out to anyone and people are just stumbling across your work then be as fuzzy as you want. Whatever. I don’t care. Maybe people will get it and love you. If they complain about how fuzzy you are, tell them to go to hell. It’s your life. Do what you want.

But if you come to them? That kind of laziness and fuzziness will not fly.

And remember, the bigger a hub they are, the busier they are, the more thought you’ll need to put into this. If you blow it with a major hub once you might not get a second chance.

And, this is so important: If you’ve been fuzzy for a while, expect people to be extra touchy and critical. That’s the price you pay for having wasted their time before. There’s an old adage. It says, “the confused mind says ‘no'”. And I am coming to see the deeper levels of this. At first it says ‘no’ gently but eventually that ‘no’ becomes more and more assertive.

And please know this, the greatest pain of someone who is well connected is not having enough time to help everyone they want to help. The more connected and respected you become, the more skills you gain, the more you realize that you can help more people. But you don’t have the time or energy to help everyone. So you have to choose because, soon enough, people start sending you emails, texts and Facebook messages all wanting ‘just five minutes of your time’ or wondering if they couldn’t pick your brain for a bit or if you might know someone who does a certain thing or direct them on who to talk to. And, as a hub, it’s one of your greatest pleasures to be able to help these people and save them hours if not years of frustration. But it’s overwhelming and helpless making too.

So, when you come to them with your fuzziness, you make them feel even more helpless than they already do. And the amount of time and energy they have to spend trying to understand your request takes directly away from the time they have to help others. Don’t think for a second that any of us have limitless amounts of mental focus to spare.

So, if you consistently get feedback that your work is fuzzy, please take it to heart and get help.

Don’t blame the world for not getting you. Don’t blame your colleagues for being frustrated in their desire to help you. Don’t blame your friends for resenting the time they keep investing in reading your work only to find out, after far too much time spent, that it’s not a fit.

To be crystal clear: I have the choice of whether or not to read or respond to things people send me. That’s the truth. Their fuzziness is not my burden unless I make it so. But, because I love these people, I do open the emails and it means the world to me to feel like they’ve done everything they can to make it as clear as possible.

But, most of all, don’t blame yourself either.

Again, there’s no shame in fuzziness. There’s no shame in not hitting a bullseye every time.

But there is some shame in not learning from it when it happens and bringing a rigour to your clarity.

Getting clear about what you do, how you do it and for whom you do is one of the hardest things you will ever do in business. If you struggle with it, you aren’t alone. This is the heavy lifting in business that many avoid and most don’t even know is there for them to do.

And the chances are that whatever education you got in doing what you do now did not include the marketing of that thing. Chances are that you didn’t go through a formal apprenticeship training with an elder that would have you be ready to speak with immense clarity about what you do and with a village of people to take care of who would take care of you too. You are likely self taught in marketing and find it an uneasy proposition at the best of times. You’re in a toxic economic system and may have been promised six figures fast by someone who should have known better and there’s a chance this has left you feeling desperate. So, this is bigger than you. It’s not you.

It’s not your fault that your work may yet be fuzzier than you want. If you’re fuzzy there’s a good chance you’re still at Stage One of your business’ growth. And that’s a beautiful place to be, if you know that you’re there. No one minds someone at Stage One. But they do mind people at Stage One walking around with Stage Four swagger. If you’re just starting, you’re going to need to experiment and try a lot of things to see what works for you. And, while you’re experimenting, it means you’re going to be learning on other people’s backs in the same ways that we all grow up in front of each other in community. There’s no avoiding it and there’s nothing wrong with it.

You’ll be forgiven for fuzziness, but you might not be forgiven for laziness. 

Just be mindful that it is costing people something to mentor you. And don’t expect the mentorship. Don’t bring your entitlement there. If you get the gift of someone’s candour and encouragement… it’s a wonderful thing. I enjoy mentoring people. I love the work that I do. But when people send me something fuzzy, despite my attempts to let them know how fuzzy it is, it’s as if they’re asking me to work for free. Some people seem willfully fuzzy. They resist figuring out their niche and yet keep asking for help having no idea the burden this is for those who care about them. And they have no idea how many others there are out there like them who they are now being lumped in with.

Work to be better.

If someone comes to me with something nebulous and I tell them it’s to vague to share and they work hard and bring back something finer and clearer, I feel good in my heart and happy to help them.

You could do a lot worse than approaching this all with a humble spirit.

If you’re getting feedback that you’re confusing people, it’s okay. It might take a while to get there but you’ll get there – if you make it a priority and focus on it.

What you might do to get more clear. 

Consider asking friends for feedback before putting it out officially.

Consider posting it on Facebook and inviting people’s candid commentary before approaching a hub with it.

Consider hiring a copywriter to look at it if it’s an important piece for your business.

Consider learning about how to write a good sales letter. Consider learning how to create a compelling and clear package.

You can get clearer more quickly than you might think possible.

Before sending an email to someone important, consider what it is you want them to do. Is the email as clear as it could be? Is it direct and to the point?

If you have an important meeting, really think through what you want to cover with them and how it can be of use to them.

Right now you may not be clear but make sure you take the advice or Ira Glass in this video below.

Suggested Resources for the DeFuzzification of Your Business:

The Classy Cold Approach: How to approach hubs in a direct and respectful way.

Nine Thoughts on Copywriting for Hippies

Crystal Clear: Five Simple and Proven Ways to Articulate What You Do (Even if it Seems Hopeless)

The Niching Nest: my book on how to figure out your niche.

Hey! Nice Package: How to develop packages of your products and services that people actually want to buy.

Selling Sweetly: How to write a sales page with sweetness.