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

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

 

The Essential Guide to Pay What You Want Pricing

- Tom Morkes

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

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

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

No price tag – just take it.

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

All for free.

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

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

Cool, but no big deal, right?

But then they said something that blew my mind: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was it Just Luck?

Trust me, I get it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words: let’s remove price altogether.

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

Removing price would be an insane proposition, right?

The results prove otherwise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lowest contribution per hour of my time: $28.53

The highest contribution per hour of my time: $250.00

Average consulting rate per hour: $182.26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Pay What You Want pricing removes the price ceiling

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

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

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

I found this to be true in my case.

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

3. Pay What You Want pricing encourages impulse buying

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

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

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

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

4. Pay What You Want inspires generosity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double your fixed rate price…

How’s that for generous?

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

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

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

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

So let’s get to it:

1. Clarify the Offer

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

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

2. Show the Customer You’re Human

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

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

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

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

add your picture to the website and sales page

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

3. Appeal to Idealism

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

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

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

4. Anchor the Price

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

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

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

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

5. Steer the Customer to the Right Choice

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

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

6. Rally around a Purpose

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

Why let me choose the price?

Is this a trick / ploy / ruse?

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

How?

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

7. (BONUS) Add Charity to the Mix

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

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

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

Next Steps

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

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

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

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

Thanks and see you in the comments!

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Guest Post: Are You More Comfortable Being “Salesy” Or “Subtle”

friendlyprofessor1 300x201 Guest Post: Are You More Comfortable Being “Salesy” Or “Subtle”A few months ago, Joseph Riggio (pictured here) sent me an article he’d written about marketing and sales. I finally sat down to review it and wanted to share it with you (with my comments woven in) because I think it lifts up a very important conversation in marketing and sales. My comments will be indented.

  

Are You More Comfortable Being “Salesy” Or “Subtle”

by Joseph Riggio

I want to expose and clarify a great lie in the world of marketing, that might make a critical difference in your business.

Here’s the lie: No one likes being sold anything … sometimes followed up with, … they would rather be allowed to buy what they want.”

Sorry, but to put it bluntly … that simply not true of everyone.

In fact there are many people I’ve worked with who love being sold, and tons of clients I’ve trained, coached and mentored who love selling, even hard ball selling after I taught them the ins and outs of how to do it with true empathy and compassion.

To some folks that just sounds crazy … “Hard ball selling with empathy and compassion.” It sounds like an oxymoron, like they can’t possibly go together. But, please believe me it can really work when it’s done properly!

This is an important distinction and one I’ve found to be true in my life too. How could it be that someone is being salesy and I’m loving it? I’ve met a number of people who were shameless sales people which, you’d think, be against everything I teach and yet I find myself charmed and engaged. There’s no guile to them. There’s nothing hidden. And I have no doubt that they have my best interests in mind. This speaks to what Lynn Serafinn speaks about of in her work on the Seven Graces of Marketing – the importance of being direct. And, regardless of the style, people love people who are straight with them. Some people are direct in a charming and sweet way (e.g. Carrie Klassen of PinkElephantCommunications.com who is the Audrey Hepburn of the marketing world) and others, like Joseph are direct in a more New Jersey kind of way. My pal Joey Hundert of Sustainival.com used to work the Edmonton farmer’s market selling hemp oil and he would have crowds surrounding him as he threw down his engaging. loud, Coney Island style spiel for the benefits of hemp. He would educate, harass and love people up in a very big energy way. people loved it. I loved it. I could never do what he does. So, finding your style and trusting that voice is critical.

The caveat I’d add is that no one wants to be pressured. Sales pressure is a universal bad. There’s a fine line between challenging someone and them feeling as though their feelings and needs are fundamentally not being respected.

Now it’s not my intention here to sell you on hard ball selling, even with empathy and compassion. What I want to do instead is share that it’s vital to you to figure out your selling style and go with it, whatever it is that fits for you.

There’s an old saying that goes like this: “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” and that old saw is just as true for online businesses as for brick and mortar ones.

The great management guru from the Harvard School of Business, Peter Drucker, said that … the purpose of business is not creating profits, it’s creating customers.”.

This is a hard truth of business even if I might take exception with the wording a bit. I see many people who have great products and services but no one is buying them. And it’s a bit tragic. Your business should be there to support you. It should be a sustainable venture not one that’s constantly draining you. Many of the people I work with need a real reality check around what people want and what it takes to get enough people to say yes that they can breathe easy again.

I’ve trained, coached and mentored thousands of folks on how to sell professionally … not market, sell. To me this distinction is critical, if a bit subtle at times.

Marketing is getting someone to raise their hand and say, Hey, I’m interested.” and in business, that means “Tell me more about how we make this happen.”

In some schools of marketing “How we make this happen” is called the offer … but in my book, that’s where selling begins, i.e.: right after they raise their hand and say, “Okay, I’m interested.”

Just to make things really clear before I base jump off the marketing cliff and into the ravine of selling, the distinction I’m making is that selling begins when you’re talking to someone who’s crossed the line over from interested in learning more, to interested in making something happen.

Mark Silver speaks about this at length in my Heart of Selling interview with him. He makes the distinction between the first journey (marketing) and the second journey (selling). At some point, there may need to be a real, honest to goodness, face to face human conversation with someone. And there’s absolutely an art to that. It’s not something I do very much as my business is increasingly online. Though I’m a fan of another Peter Drucker quote too which is that, “The purpose of marketing is to make selling redundant.” The idea that, if your marketing is good enough, you really don’t need to sell anyone because people just buy. Because I’m lazy, this is the approach I’m drawn to and why I’m a fan of the Three Roles of Marketing

This is also a critical distinction in writing copy for the Internet and online business marketing and selling.

Okay … Time To Pick A Horse To Ride

I’m no cowboy, just a kid from New Jersey, so I claim no great riding skills, but I’ve been around horses since I was a kid. One thing I do know is how different horses’ temperaments can be, and how important it is to pick one that suits your personality if you’re going to attempt to ride it.

In marketing and selling it’s often the same thing, i.e.: you must pick a style that suits you … and ideally one that suits your customers and clients too, or at least pick customers and clients that are suited to your style.

Some folks just naturally like selling and they do it with gusto!

Other folks are really reticent about it and shy away from anything that sounds or feels like direct selling.

Either way works just fine, as long as it’s a match for you.

This is a very important distinction. Central is marketing is the business of filtering for who is a fit for you (and, ipso facto, the people for whom you would be a fit). Like puzzle pieces, you both need to fit together. And some people won’t want to work with you just because of who you are and your style. And most people are scared to really be themselves because it might scare some people away. They are scared because they believe it is possible and desirable to attract everyone when it is neither. The truth is that by being fully yourself, unapologetically, you will get a more polarized response. And that’s okay.

I’m more of the first kind of guy, I like a spirited horse with lots of fire and challenge in him or her. I want to go toe to toe, find out where we stand early on and then once we’ve agreed to some basic rules of relationship get on with it. Cantering is my trot, and it’s only to get to somewhere we can gallop together. Once we’ve come to trust one another I give my horse the reins. When we’re there I let my horse run with it.

My wife and daughter though preferred more contained horses when they rode, sure and stable was their pick of preference. My daughter especially liked a horse that was gentle and accepting, and she can actually ride well … English or Western, doesn’t matter. She’s happy in the saddle and the horses she’s ridden seem happy to have her there – but, she wants to know she can stop the ride anytime and get off when she’s ready, or on those days when the sun and wind are just right ride for hours.

I may not be the easiest horse to ride when it comes to selling or working with after the fact. I like challenging my customers and clients, telling them right up front … Hey I want to sell you something that I think has great value! But, I add the “if” to my sales process at the same time.

Like this, Hey I want to sell you something that I think has great value … if you are struggling converting prospects into customers and clients.”

I usually add something like, And, if your doing just fine already, or you are not ready to take a leap to next to the next level in your business, what I have probably isn’t going to be for you.”

I do this process at the start of things, and qualify prospects in three ways, a) we’re both clear about what I’m doing and why, b) they are a fit for me and what I do, and c) they are interested in making something happen together if my offer is a fit for them.

It’s amazing what a refreshing difference directness can make. It’s one of the reasons I’ve long been a fan of Jay Abrahams approach to marketing. His sales letters are unerringly direct. He tells you his selfish motives upfront and that he wants to convince you of something. And this puts people at ease because they no longer need to look out for any sneaky tactics. And we need to remember that people want solutions to their problems and want to be able to trust your approach and perspective in the way you would go about helping them to solve those problems. So, if you say, “Okay. Check it out. Let me make my pitch.” people will often sit back, relax and take it in as if to say, “Okay. Go ahead. Gimme whatchu got.” The key here is whether or not you’re willing to let go if you realize it’s not a fit. 

But there’s also something else too. The upfront, brash and in your face approach can actually feel good. The sensitive approach can feel good. That’s clear. Here’s where it gets gross – when someone is pretending to be one when they’re the other. When someone is pretending that they’re not attached to you buying and that they’re coming from a heart centered place but, really, they’re secretly trying to sell you. When someone claims to be doing conscious marketing but their marketing feels more hyped up than regular marketing. The gap between how they’re posturing to be and how they are will feel even worse than regular gross selling approaches. 

Again, it’s okay to directly make your case. It’s okay to just come out with it… as long as they know you’re primary commitment is really to the truth of if it’s a fit and that you are sharing your pitch so that they can make a more informed, educated and considered choice themselves. 

My style is to build the outcome early on and I make my business relationships about delivering on those outcomes. If we don’t have an outcome we agree on wanting to create together we aren’t going to have a relationship. So the first thing I do with prospective customers and clients is state my intentions right up front, and make sure I get theirs out in the open as soon as possible.

If I’m writing copy I’ll usually step back a bit after I’ve announced my intentions and spend some time with them to make sure we’d be good together.

Here’s a typical process I’ll follow:

Give them some reasons to remain really interested …

  • Explain to them why my offer might make good sense for them
  • Take the time to tell them who it’s not for and why not
  • If it’s useful and appropriate let them know why I think I’m the right person to be making the offer

Then I make sure they know:

  • What the surface level benefits are, i.e.: the obvious ones that most people will see quickly, and
  • The deep level benefits are too, i.e.: the ones that are usually impossible to see from the outside looking in, but are unavoidably obvious and desirable to anyone on the inside.

I would add to this list the importance of also letting people know your selfish motive for making any special deals (e.g. “My hope is that you’ll like my free stuff so much, you’ll come back and buy more and be a lifetime customer.”) Imagine being able to be that honest in your marketing. 

Only after I do all that do I present the offer to actually sell them what I have for them, and I tell them how to get it for themselves – what it will take, how it will happen and what to do to make it happen.

But the critical distinction is that I let them know right up front that I’m selling them something, I tend to come on strong and ask them to join me for the ride. For some people this works great and they really like the experience of someone out in front taking control.

This makes great sense for me right from the beginning, because these kinds of clients fit for me all the way through our relationship.

This is huge. Joseph is comfortable in his own skin. He knows that the way he is in selling is the way he is in everything. So, if they don’t like his approach to selling, they’re not going to like his approach to anything else. Him being himself helps to polarize the response and act as a filter. 

They want someone to challenge and provoke them, someone who will push them a bit even when it may feel uncomfortable to do so. The caveat is they want to know that person has their best interests in mind all the time, even when it gets a bit edgy – and I do, or we wouldn’t be working together in the first place.

Customers and clients who need and want hand holding, to be coddled and cuddled aren’t a great match for me. My kind of customer or client wants to run fast, will implement what we discuss as we’re discussing it, and like Dickens’ Oliver they’ll come back and ask for more.

Another important distinction here: Joseph has just named a key criteria of his ideal client! They want to be challenged. Some people are there to comfort the afflicted and others are there to afflict the comfortable. I’m more in the comforting arena. It’s good to know which you are at different times for your clients.

My customers and clients most often point out that they love my integrity, my authenticity and genuineness … and how I am constantly provoking them, pushing them to step up, and demanding more from them then they would ask of themselves in the same situation.

What I hear most often from my clients is, With Joseph what you see is what you get, whether that’s in the office, out for a bite to eat or at his home with his family, he’s the same guy everywhere with everyone.” That’s about the greatest compliment someone can give me by the way.

However, that doesn’t make what I do the right thing to do, or the right way to do it. What it does mean is that while I may be perfect for some customers and clients, I’m not right for every customer or client out there, and they aren’t necessarily right for me either.

Getting Settled In The Saddle

I have close friends in business who are almost the exact opposite of me. They make relationship precede outcome and then, because of the relationship they’ve built, they deliver on the outcomes they promise. They are incredibly gentle and laid back with their customers and clients. They take as much time as their customers and clients need to feel comfortable before they even begin to talk about selling or what they have to sell.

These friends of mine know they prefer to go more slowly up front, to take the time to connect before they jump too far ahead into the heavy stuff. The key to their success is that they know themselves. Instead of putting their attention on outcomes up front, they put their attention on relationships. They allow their customers and clients to lead and then when the timing is right they ask for permission to do their thing and help their customers and clients get what they want and need.

I have seen the marketing and sales processes of these friends of mine up close, sometimes I’ve helped them build or refine their processes and often I’ve asked them to help me build and refine mine. The key isn’t that we try to replicate what one another do in style, but the basic premises of great marketing and selling are consistent inside of any style you choose to use … as long as you make sure you do it in a way that suits you!

When you know you like starting out a bit more slowly, comfortably … walking before you trot, and trotting a while before you canter … heck, maybe you won’t even get up to a full gallop on this ride together, and that’s okay … then you know something critical about yourself, and the kind of clients you are likely to most want to work with and who would be happiest working with you.

Either way … whether you’re an all out thoroughbred racehorse leaving the gate at a gallop, or a beautiful dressage champion taking each step with the utmost care and precision, the choice is yours to make in how you present yourself. My only intention and advice here has been that the best choice is most likely the one that’s a match and fit for who you are at your core.

If you really do like being the salesy type then go for it, shout it from the roof tops early on and as loudly as you like, if however you prefer subtlety and are more comfortable engaging in a dialogue that builds up to something special, take your time and work wonders with it just the way you like.

If you go back take a look at the bullet points of my structure for writing copy for what I do and sell that I outlined above you’ll see they are generalized enough to fit anyone’s process or style. It’s the way you choose to implement that makes all the difference.

 

 

Top Twelve Blog Posts on Hub Marketing

Screen Shot 2014 08 24 at 5.20.35 PM Top Twelve Blog Posts on Hub MarketingA few weeks ago, I wrote you with a collection of over 77 pages of carefully curated blog posts around the topic of how to identify your platform (what you’re known for). If you missed that, you can read it here
 

I’m really excited to write today’s post because it’s about one of my favourite topics in marketing: hubs.
 
What are hubs?
 
A hub is a place you’d find your ideal clients. 
 
This image of the old wagon wheel has a lot to teach us about marketing because the ‘hub’ in the center of it is where all of the spokes connect. This is a good model for how we can set up our marketing. 
 
I’ve written a lot about this topic on my blog and plan on creating a product on just this topic later this winter. When I do, I’ll be taking down some of these posts but, for now, these Top Twelve Blog Posts on Hub Marketing are free and available for you to check out. 
 
Blog Post #1: The Most Important Shift in Marketing in the Last 100 Years: Over the past 15 years, marketing has gone through a huge change. Not in its essence but in the way it’s done and the tools that are used. Understanding this shift is vital to your success. You can read about that here.
 
Blog Post #2: The Three Levels of Your Marketing Strategy: The basic idea here is that most people work too hard in their marketing because everything they do ends up being ‘cold marketing’. They’re approaching every potential client as a stranger. That’s hard. However, there is also a warm (where you identify hubs who could help you grow your business) and a hot level of marketing (where you become a hub) which are much easier and more effective. You can read about that here
 
Blog Post #3: The Seven Kinds of Hubs: When people first hear the idea of hubs, they usually get very excited. Until they try to think about what those hubs would be for them. I’ve found it’s helpful to know what the seven main categories of hubs might be so that you can tackle them one at a time. You can read about that here.
 
 
Blog Post #5: Nine Qualities of a Good Hub: Once people get this idea that identifying hubs is important, they can quickly become overwhelmed when they realize how many hubs there are. Here are nine pieces of criteria I encourage you to have in the back of your mind as you go about connecting with them. You can read more about that here
 
Blog Post #6: Finding Hubs: So, you get that finding hubs is important. You get a sense of who they could be and how to sort the good fits from the bad. But where do you find them? This brilliant post from Callan Rush shares one of the simplest approaches to this of which I know. You can read that here
 
Blog Post #8: How to Approach Hubs: At this point you know who your hubs are. You’ve got a list. But how specifically do you approach them? This epic and sprawling blog post is packed with real life examples of how to approach a hub and how not to (in a way that feels totally organic, comfortable and natural). You can read more about that here
 
Blog Post #9: How to Get Hubs to Promote You: So, you have now approached them and started a conversation, but how can you make it most appealing to them to promote you? My colleagues Jesse and Sharla share three brilliant ideas. You can read more about that here
 
Blog Post #10: How to Not Engage Hubs: In this post, my colleague Jaime Almond spells out a common tactic that people use which completely turn off their potential hubs: hijacking. You can read more about that here
 
Blog Post #11: Eight Key Benefits of Becoming a Hub: The hot level of marketing is all about you becoming a hub. Most people hear this idea and it makes good sense to them but I don’t think they really get the full implications of what this could mean to their business. I lay out my logic in this post. You can read more about that here
 
Blog Post #12: The Five Biggest Mistakes That Will Stop You From Being Seen As a Hub: Once people get how important this orientation is, they want to act. But, before you do, I urge you to read this post about the common blunders to which too many entrepreneurs fall prey on their way to becoming a trusted advisor in their community. You can read more about that here
 
Still wanting more help? Well you can watch some free videos on my site about how to identify your hubs and one on how to use parties and events to become a hub
 

Robin Williams, Suicide and The Stone of Loss

robin williams 300x168 Robin Williams, Suicide and The Stone of LossThere is an audio-cassette I remember listening to over and over. 

By the time I’d outgrown it or lost it I knew much of it by heart. My brother as well.

It was Robin Williams Live at the Met. 

My brother and I must have watched every single episode of Live at the Improv (a stand up comedy showcase). In the end, I went into improv semi-professionally and my brother Toby went into stand-up comedy. 

Mork and Mindy was one of my favourite shows growing up. And Good Will Hunting, The Fisher King and Dead Poets are three of my favourite movies of all time. 

In short, I was a big fan of Robin Williams. And somehow, yesterday, it seems that after decades of struggling with depression and addiction, he took his life. 

It’s heartbreaking. 

And heartbreaking how common suicide is becoming. 

And of course, there are ways we could easily connect the increase of suicide very directly with marketing.

Much marketing is predicated on creating a feeling of inadequacy (often obliquely, elegantly and subtly) and then selling the thing that (they tell you) will fill that hole (which didn’t exist until they created it). We receive thousands of marketing messages every day. Many of them designed to create this feeling that we’re missing something. And so it is not surprising that many of us grow up feeling inadequate and unworthy. Much of marketing ties into the story of scarcity we tell ourselves while simultaneously crafting the story that we should have no limits at all and that limits are a bad thing. Marketing is all too often the charming ambassador of the worst aspects of capitalism and the modern world.

At a deeper level, it’s not just the ads and TV commercials. It’s the TV shows themselves that market a certain lifestyle. When television is introduced into traditional communities, they often quickly fall apart. Not usually because the ads make them want to buy but because the shows themselves often portray a lifestyle different than theirs and gives them the implied message that what they see on Friends is normal. They think to themselves, ‘my apartment doesn’t look that nice…’, ‘ my wife isn’t that attractive…’, ‘ my husband is so muscular and successful…’ 

I could further make the connection that marketing is connected to suicide in pointing out that if all of the 10,000 or so people on this email list (healers, life coaches and permaculture practitioners alike) were to have robust, sustainable businesses that there would be a more beautiful world and less suicide. And if we extended that to everyone in the world who is up to good things being successful (the missing component of which is often marketing) that we would see healthier and happier communities and less people choosing to take their own lives. 

But, of course, while there is truth in that, it’s a cheap and oversimplified approach that doesn’t honour the depth of what challenges lie before us.

So, this is not a post about marketing.

Marketing all too often is in collusion with all of the forces that can make us feel terrible about ourselves (often, tragically, by giving us the message that we shouldn’t ever feel terrible).

I was first touched by suicide with the loss of one of my dearest friends, Tooker Gomberg who took his life just over 10 years ago and whose birthday was yesterday. Like Robin Williams, he was one of the most powerful forces of creativity I’ve ever met. And in the past few years, so many dear ones have gone the same way – Kylen Groeneveld, Logan Symington, Alex Thomas Haug, Desiree, Louise. They all made this world so much brighter and they are all gone now. As Robin Williams put it, ‘You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” But so many do. And when they do, we all do. 

And then, on March 11th on this year, I was witness to a dear man, Mark Carlson, who, after four minutes of conversation on the High Level Bridge, let go and fell as I watched helplessly. Caitlin Klingbeil wrote a very thoughtful article about the experience and the epidemic of suicide here

Many of us have been touched by friends and family making attempts at their lives. 

And we are all left with a wondering of what we can do to make things different in the future. Certainly, there is much we can do to be more gracious and kind to each other. And there is much we need to do move beyond a focus of self care into community care. There are things we can learn about how to be with someone who has just attempted. And we can learn what the warning signs are and the basics of what to say and do if we suspect a friend might be considering taking their life or hurting themselves.

This past year has been the most intense and trying year or my life where much was almost lost as a result of decisions I made. It’s been a year of growing up for me that has left me deeply depleted, suffering occasional anxiety attacks and with a body more full of stress than I had thought. I feel, most often in the evenings when I am tired, the deep effects of the trauma of this past year sitting deep in my bones and feel daunted by the amount of work I know it will take to bring meaningful healing to it. I am exhausted. This year took me to a point where I felt I would truly break and where, for the first time, suicide or hurting myself became, briefly, a possibility. And going there terrified me but also filled me with a deep sense of, ‘I get it now.’ Sometimes the emotional or physical pain is just too much. 

So, of course, this is a much larger conversation that just ‘marketing’. There are so many larger things that need to be changed to make any meaningful difference in the rates of suicide. And I’m not just talking about suicide prevention programs, netting and barriers on bridges, addiction treatment programs or peer support programs in schools. Those are all vital but what is fundamentally needed, and is becoming increasingly clear to many, is the tearing down of a culture and economy that makes suicide the likely, if not inevitable, for so many and the rebuilding of a society that feeds the deepest recesses of the human soul and honours our need to die to our old, smaller selves and be born again as adults who can contribute meaningfully to the community. And we need guidance in understanding how our deepest wounds might actually be the most certain doorway into understanding our truest role in the community. 

We live in a culture where the soil of the Earth is depleted and so is the soil of our culture. The monoculture of our crops, languages and actual cultures is leaving us more poor. Instead of real sources of strength and nurturance, we are left with toxic mimics: refined sugar, refined salt and processed food instead of real food, pornography instead of a meaningful expression of the erotic impulse, working for the man instead of meaningful work and right livelihood, box stores instead of locally owned businesses. With only the most cursory of examinations, we discover that our lives are full of these toxic mimics. And we see that a culture devoid of myths and genuine heroes will, inevitably, create Hollywood and celebrities. 

It is easy to have compassion for the poor, but the rich are just as trapped as anyone by this. Any form of activism that doesn’t also work to redeem the oppressor is ultimately, in my mind, doomed to fail and simply replace them with a dictator of slightly different political stripes – less and opposite and more an opposame. Caroline Casey speaks of this more beautifully than anyone I know. 

Yes. we need to move towards a green economy where our marketing makes green things seem normal rather than making normal things ‘seem’ green… but then beyond it

We so desperately need to move away from empire and back towards the village. We need elders giving medicine, not olders on drugs. We need rituals and markers of initiation from childhood into adulthood. We need places that can hold and encourage the deep levels of grieving that are called for in these times. In short, we need a much different, deeper and more resilient cosmology than the one we currently have. One that tells more accurate and life affirming stories about society and life and one that encourages a deeper collaboration. What is clear is that the distractions and entertainments of our modern day media circus are not making us happy and that something deeper and more sacred would. 

 

“The truth is there are losses you never get over. They break you to pieces and you can never go back to the original shape you once were, and so you will grieve your own death with that of your beloved lost. Your grief is your love, turned inside-out. That is why it is so deep. That is why it is so consuming. When your sadness seems bottomless, it is because your love knows no bounds. Grief teaches us about who we are, and any attempt to crush it, to bury it with the body is an act of vengeance against your own nature. If everyone felt, honoured, respected and trusted their true feelings, this world would be a different place. Instead of reacting, we would respond. Instead of judging, we would see ourselves in everyone. Instead of consuming, we would notice that we cannot fill the gaping wounds inside of us with trinkets.” – Alison Nappi

 

We need to acknowledge the role that marketing often plays in the propping up of a dying culture and the crippling of our self esteem and yet also become the most eloquent, persuasive and effective storytellers of a different way of living. We need to become as inspiring as Mr. Keating was to his students to urge everyone to give their gifts now. Instead of a marketing based on creating shame, we need a marketing that feeds people the messages that let them know they aren’t alone. We need a marketing based on empathy not exploitation of people’s hot buttons and pain points. 

 

 

In Edmonton, I have been working to foster as much conscious community as I can by hosting potlucks and with the creation of The Local Good, Indigo Drinks, The Good Hundred Experiment and, in January, The Social Yogi. There is a deep need for spaces where good people can come together. Bill McKibben, in his book Deep Community, points to the studies done that show that ten times more conversations happen at a Farmer’s Market than at a Safeway. Conversations, community and connections are not luxuries, they’re what keep us human. As Alistair MacLeod said, ‘We’re all better when we’re loved.’

I find myself diving deeper into understanding what it means to move back towards the village idea and diving into the work of Stephen Jenkinson and attending The Art of Mentoring in a few weeks in Ontario. I find myself drawn to reading mythology and old stories for food for my own soul and in hopes that I might find food and medicine worthy of sharing with others (and the ways to share it).

 

“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 

 

Robin Williams death, and every other death, reminds us that life is so incredibly short and yet so many of us die with regrets. Many of us live our lives vacilating between the collapsing of self pity or the over-confident posturing of self importance and so seldom find any real comfort in our own skin. And, for some, that discomfort of being alive becomes far too much and they feel a sort of pain that many of us will never know and the most we will be able to do is believe them when they say it hurts and respect it. Life will break all of us even if we choose not to take our lives. Not everything is going to be okay. But maybe being heartbroken is the only real way to live. Maybe being heartbroken is a blessing. Maybe the only mistake we make is to try to fill the crack in our hearts rather than letting medicine sorely needed for others to flow out of it. 

Maybe what is most needed is to come to trust ourselves again. I think this society fosters so much secret self loathing where we are ashamed of everything that is real about us – our bodies, our gender, our sexual orientation, our feelings, our needs and our desires. And I think there are other ways we can look at life that are more real and life affirming.

And perhaps, by speaking of our own struggles, we can make it more normal to do so and thus help people feel less alone. 

Perhaps what is most needed is some deep compassion for ourselves and how flawed even our best efforts inevitably are

Of all the things that feel true about the world today (and many of our personal lives) is that we, our communities and our planet are being pushed right to the edge and watching, helplessly, as so much comes apart and to an end. In his remarkable book Why the World Doesn’t End: Tales of Renewal for Times of Loss, Michael Meade speaks eloquently to the importance of the these intense times where it feels like everything is falling apart and ending in our lives, 

 

‘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. In order for things to change in a meaningful way, many things must come to and end. 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. In the cosmic turn around if enough endings can be found, things can begin again… 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… Chaos not only describes the way that things fall apart at the end, but also the original state from which all creation continually arises… In the end, all we can offer the world is the life we came here to live and the gifts our soul would have us give. When the end seems near, genuine security can only be found in taking the kind of risks that lead to a greater sense of life and a more encompassing way of being in the world… Great crises and impossible demands often provoke hidden resources and reveal hints of the hidden wholeness and unity of life. The threat of collapse and utter loss can provoke a deeper sense of wholeness where nothing but total involvement and whole-heartedness will work… this capacity for great vision and imagination tends to awaken only after other approaches have failed.”

  

 What follows is a piece I wrote on suicide a few months ago.

 

The Shattered Stone of Loss & The Terrible Gift of Suicide

 Our community has experienced so many suicides recently. 

And, like most people, I find myself at a complete loss of what to do about it but with a desire to talk about it. 
 
These are the thoughts that have come to me over the past week. I hope they are of use to you.
 
When people commit suicide it is, in an important way, a terrible gift to the community. 
 
The trouble is, I think, that we don’t know what to do with it. 
 
But, to understand suicide as a gift, I think we need to have a very different lens on not only suicide but struggle and illness of all kinds. 
 
In her book, Entering the Ghost River, Deena Metzer contrasts indigenous and western perspectives of healing. 
 
In a Western view, if someone gets cancer, it’s an isolated, biological event.
 
From a holistic point of view, if someone gets cancer, it’s an isolated mind, body and spirit event. 
 
From an Indigenous point of view, if someone gets cancer, it is more likely to be seen as a symptom not only of what’s going on in the mind, body and spirit of the one with the disease, but a deeper issue in the community.  
 
What if cancer wasn’t just seen as something going on for the person in the hospital but that the whole community had cancer? What if we considered the way that environmental toxins, a polluted food chain and the stresses of our modern lifestyle contributed to it? What if we looked, metaphorically, at cancer and considered how the way it operates in the body might be exactly how our society has become (e.g. over consumptive, greedy etc.) What if cancer was a sort of spirit that had entered the community and manifests itself through the most vulnerable link in community? That the cancer is everywhere but it just happens to be showing up through certain people?
 
And what if this was true about suicide too?
 
What if the trouble is not only that we are losing so many beautiful, bright and young ones to suicide but that our whole culture is infected with this spirit of suicide. What if our culture is a suicidal one? It doesn’t take much digging to see where this might be true. What does it say of a culture that it is actively destroying its landbase, the oceans and constantly increasing its speed? David Korten calls our current economy ‘the Suicide Economy’ for a reason. It’s not the quick suicide of an overdose or a jump from a bridge… but what if our culture was in the midst of a slow suicide – following some poorly understood pull towards death?
 
What if reckless behaviour was a sign that we were no longer valuing life? And this is, perhaps, a critical point. Not just that we don’t seem to value our own lives as deeply as we could but that we don’t value Life itself. And what if this lack of valuing life was at the heart of the suicidal pull?
 
How do we not value our lives?
 
We eat food we know is terrible for us, drink too much, do too many drugs, work in jobs we hate, stay in relationships where we know we’re settling, we let others walk over us (or we walk all over others). We make pleasing our boss, family of friends more important than following our heart and being true to ourselves. Most of us, if we’re really honest, don’t value ourselves. We don’t make time to take care of ourselves or others in the ways we feel we should. 
 
How do we not value Life?
 
Look at our economy. As a culture, we clearly value economic growth over everything. Money matters so much more to us than Life. 
 
And this brings us to the terrible gift of suicide – it is the reminder of how little we, as a culture, value life. And it is expressing itself through these poor people – the canaries in the mineshaft of our culture – the first to be killed by the effluence of our toxic culture.
 
This is the gift – the wake up call meant not just for the family and closest friends – but for all of us.
 
When someone chooses to kill themselves, they give us this terrible gift.
 
But it’s not a very good gift. It is terrible in a few ways. The first way it’s terrible is the most obvious – we have lost someone we deeply care about and our hearts are broken wide open. The second way it’s terrible is not as obvious. 

When people suffer, it is like a stone in their heart. And, over time, this stone grows and grows. Every kind word, from themselves or others, washes some of it away. And every unkind word, from themselves or others, makes it grow. By the time people take their lives, the stone has become so impossibly heavy that they can’t carry it anymore. This is the stone of their unexpressed grief.

And this is  culture that has no real idea of how to deal with the inevitable, unstoppable and overwhelming force of grief.

 

“You will lose everything. Your money, your power, your fame, your success, perhaps even your memories. Your looks will go. Loved ones will die. Your body will fall apart. Everything that seems permanent is impermanent and will be smashed. Experience will gradually, or not so gradually, strip away everything that it can strip away. Waking up means facing this reality with open eyes and no longer turning away. But right now, we stand on sacred and holy ground, for that which will be lost has not yet been lost, and realizing this is the key to unspeakable joy. Whoever or whatever is in your life right now has not yet been taken away from you. This may sound trivial, obvious, like nothing, but really it is the key to everything, the why and how and wherefore of existence. Impermanence has already rendered everything and everyone around you so deeply holy and significant and worthy of your heartbreaking gratitude. Loss has already transfigured your life into an altar.” – Jeff Foster

 

The following video, the first part of an audio recording of Martin Prechtel’s speech on Grief & Praise can be watched below. You can also watch Part 2 and Part 3
 

 
When someone kills themselves, it is as if their spirit takes this stone of their unexpressed grief and breaks it into pieces. One piece for everyone it has known. The more love there was between them, the bigger the piece of that stone. And then, it carries all of those stones to those people. 
 
And these stones are heavy. Where there was the most love, there is the most weight. 
 
And this weight is what we are all left with. And, when you are given a big stone like this, you start to realize how many others are also carrying around these stones too. You learn empathy for people. And that’s part of the gift of any tragedy. 
 
But this weight can drag us down and exhaust us as we carry this stone throughout the rest of our life. And for some, if they are given too much weight, break. They simply can’t bear the weight of too many stones or even one stone that is too heavy. 
 
This is why it is such a terrible gift to leave behind to others. When someone chooses to kill themselves they aren’t, of course, thinking of this. They don’t know what their spirit is about to do to the ones they love most. They think, mistakenly, that they are the burden on their loved ones. But the real burden is the one their spirits are going to deposit in the hearts of their loved ones when they die. 
 
And there are two very important things here.
 
The first is to know that, if you are thinking of taking your life, there is another alternative. You think removing yourself from the world so you are no longer a burden to others (and, sometimes we are burdens to others, lets be real) is the best gift we can give. But there is a better gift. A much greater and more beautiful gift. And the gift is to collect all of those stones, the stones that represent our struggles and pain that are so heavy to carry, and to build something beautiful with them. Instead of jumping off of a bridge, you could use the stones of your own struggle to build a bridge with your life so that, when you die a good death later on, the bridge will be left behind and allow others to cross over some treacherous part of the river of life. That is a good gift. Instead of killing yourself with pills because life feels so pointless, you could build a beautiful temple to something you find beautiful that will be left behind for the community when you go.  That is a good gift. 
 
When you die, these stones will be what is left behind in your community. Your gift will either be a terrible or a wonderful one. 
 
But here is the second important thing.
 
That we are left to carry this heavy stone when someone kills themselves is obvious. 
 
What is not so obvious is that we have no idea what to do with them as a culture. And the lack of knowledge about how to deal with this is another expression of how far gone our culture has become. That we don’t know what to do with it is deeply connected to the high prevalence of it in the first place. If we were a culture who knew how to grieve well (and thus were full of the praise of Life), we would not see the rates of suicide we have today. 
 
The call of loss and grief is to become more eloquent, outspoken and passionate in our praise of life. To praise what we have not yet lost. To grieve well what we have lost. The soil of death giving birth to life. The grief of loss gives birth to a greater capacity to celebrate what’s alive. The cradle of our appreciation of our lives and they lives of others is the knowledge that they will end one day too. 
 
We don’t know what to do with these stones. 
 
Or rather, we think we do, but we are mistaken.
 
We think we are supposed to carry them alone for the rest of our lives. And this is a part of the sickness of our culture. The same individualism that has us think we need to carry them ourselves in some stoic, quiet, long suffering way is the very same individualism that has us see illness as an isolated event. 
 
What we’re meant to do is to come together again as a community to build something beautiful in the praise of life with these stones of our loss. The heaviest stones are the foundation. They are the corner stones and hold the place of most honour. We are supposed to come together to build something so beautiful that others see it and the love of life is sparked in them again. We are not supposed to carry them around by ourselves for the rest of our lives. No one is strong enough for that.

And what we so profoundly lack as a culture are rituals and understandings of how to do that. 

This is the healing. The tragedy borne of isolation and our silo’d off lives is the terrible gift we are given that is supposed to prompt us to reweave our community together and to weave it in more closely with the larger community of life. These stones are not there to drive us deeper into our caves but to bring us together to build something that not only honours who has been lost but Life itself. 
 
If you are able to build something beautiful with the stones of your suffering with your life, it is a gift to the community.
 
If we are able to build something beautiful with the stones of the loss of others, it is a gift to the community. And a gift to our Ancestors. I think that when we build something beautiful from the stones of the loss of them, we give them a home they can inhabit. I think they still need us very much for their own healing. Their ghosts don’t linger to haunt us, but to be healed by us. They don’t linger to pull us down but to urge us to come together to build something beautiful that can help heal the collective illness that afflicted them.
 
So many of us talk about the need to create a new culture. And what do we build it from? These stones of grief and loss. They are the same stones with which we can build good things full of the praise of life. Their spirit brings us these pieces to build something new out of them. 
 
Their inability to resolve their pain before death is not them turning on the future . . . but , rather, turning to the future in search of what they could not find on their own. They pass on their most burdensome scars of pain to the future not to cause harm, but to bring about the healing that they could not accomplish themselves. We heal it in our own hearts and by coming together as a community. 
 
Suicide is a terrible gift. But it is still a gift. My prayer is that, as a culture, we learn to understand the call of it. May all of our lives build something of lasting beauty, may all of our words be full of the praise of Life, may everything we do pour honey into the hearts of others.
 
“There will be much celebration, in the coming weeks and months, of Robin Williams’ life and career. But perhaps the best tribute to him would be if we all reached out to the troubled people in our lives and let them know that we are here for them. Because Robin Williams was there for us.” – Paul F. Tompkins