Guest Post: The One Copywriting Secret Tool We All Have

by Ling Wong |

This article is adapted from Ling’s new book on Copywriting for Coaches, Consultants, Solopreneurs & Small Businesses – How To Turn Your Personal Brand into Powerful Marketing Communications.

People buy from people, not a faceless company.

People trust people, not a website with fancy sliders.

Especially for coaching, consulting and professional services, clients want to work with those they trust. They’re willing to pay a premium for that.

How do you cultivate that trust when you’re leveraging online channels to generate leads and get in front of potential clients?

How can you stand out from a sea of competition without being a loud-mouthed promoter saying or doing things that aren’t in alignment with your values and personality?

Answer is actually pretty simple…


Your copy and content needs to boldly and unapologetically reflect your personal brand and present you as a HUMAN BEING. (It sounded kind of funny the first time I wrote it. Then I looked at it again, and it’s so true. Metrics and stats can be generalizing and dehumanizing.)

Unfortunately so many people hide behind the façade of a logo or a company instead of showing their true colors to connect with their audience.

Being human is about making the connection and creating the resonance, a winning combo that builds trust and credibility to make conversion simply the natural next step.

Being human is about opening up, having the courage to share your story and being vulnerable. Purposeful storytelling and responsible vulnerability is not a whine fest, nor is it manipulative.

You can only be truly vulnerable when you know you’re strong enough to show up to whatever shows up to you.

When you own your vulnerability, you’re also demonstrating your confidence — the confidence your audience wants to experience to know that they can trust you.

Unfortunately, there are many people who throw around vulnerability because it’s “hot.”

Vulnerability is the window to your HUMANITY, so show some respect.

Airing out your dirty laundry without connecting it with your bigger message from a place of service is self-gratuitous.

Don’t toss around emotions just to make a sale.

Be genuine. Share your emotions with the utmost intentionality to communicate your values, convictions, skills, life experiences, and talents.

Congruence and integrity build trust. Trust brings clients.


11-truly-vulnerableBeing human is about having a two-way conversation with your audience, because they’re human beings too.

It’s not about having the latest marketing automation system, or the newest bright shiny objects.

Interact and connect, instead of squeezing your peeps through some marketing conveyor belt that does little to distinguish you from a sea of competition that’s doing the same thing.

Don’t let a piece of software dictate how you communicate with your audience.

Let’s put the horse in front of the cart by first designing a user experience that reflects your brand personality and points-of-view, and delivers value in a way that taps into your strength.

How do you want your audience to experience YOU? What kind of interaction would make them feel connected to you?

Based on this user experience, which (surprise!) puts the user first, you can choose the right tools with clear intention and discernment.

Make sure your decision to set up any technology is not driven by fears. Burying yourself in technology without clear intention can make your brand experience confusing — and the confused mind says “no.”

You don’t want your peeps to experience you as a compilation of the latest marketing software. You don’t want your personality to be buried so deep that nobody can experience it underneath all the bells and whistles.

Don’t fear that “YOU being YOU” is not enough so you need to hide behind some fancy convoluted sequence.

Don’t let the fear of being judged drive you to follow what everyone else is doing — regardless whether the tactics suit your business model and serve to highlight your strength, or not.

Don’t fear that if you don’t look like everyone else or have some “polished” looking sales funnel you’re not “professional.”

Don’t be afraid that if you’re not selling some $67 information product you’re losing out — everything has an opportunity cost.

Don’t let the fear of missing out drive you to purchase a boatload of software and tools before you’re clear on how you can design a user experience that best suits your brand personality and serve to drive home your message.

Remember, at the end of the day, sales and marketing is about one human being on one end, communicating with another human being at the other end.

img_3672-199x300About Ling

Ling Wong :: Intuitive Brainiac | Copywriting Alchemist. Through her unique blend of marketing coaching, content strategy and copywriting process, she helps the maverick-preneurs uncover, articulate & transform their WHY into content that connects, resonates and converts  – by way of an intuitive yet rigorous iterative process born out of her Harvard Design School training and 10 years experience in the online marketing industry.

Get her brand new book Copywriting Alchemy: Secrets To Turning a Powerful Personal Brand Into Content That Sells here.

Be More Repulsive


47721390 - mother feeding a picky eater son


A simple, counter-intuitive idea for you today.

You’ve likely been told the importance of niche in marketing. Likely you’ve heard this from myself. You’ve likely heard about the importance of honing in on who you want to reach, to identify your ideal client, chosen audience or target market and maybe even to create a client avatar.

And those are all fine ideas.

But I want to suggest something you might not have considered doing before.

And, until the other day, I hadn’t either.

One of the central roles of marketing is to not just get the attention of your ideal clients but also to make sure you filter out the clients for whom your work will not be a fit in the same way that a window screen allows fresh air in but keeps out the flies.

And so we’re told to write all of our marketing material with our ideal clients in mind. We’re told to write our marketing materials as a sort of letter to them and only them.

And I think that’s good advice. I think it handles 95% of the issue of filtering.

But I’d like to give you an approach to writing sales copy that is the icing on the cake.

Step One: Identify your nightmare client. Get clear on who you never want to work with. Think about all of the worst clients you’ve ever had all rolled into one. Take 20 minutes to map this out a bit.

Step Two: Pick a sales letter or your homepage.

Step Three: Read the sales letter as if you were that Nightmare Client and ask yourself, “Would reading this repel me?” and, if not, rewrite the sales letter so that this person would never even think to call you. Make your materials repulsive to your Nightmare Client, not just attractive to your Ideal Client.

If you’re tired of emotionally needy clients, you might decide to say, “I’m not your mother. I’m not your best-friend. If you’re looking for someone who is touchy feely and who will hold you while you cry for hours and listen to your stories, I’m not it.” Or you might say the opposite, “If you’re looking for a nuts and bolts tactician, that’s not me. I’m here to hold space for your emotional process.”

You might say, “I’m a fundamentalist Christian and so, if my speaking Jesus’ name offends you, then you should stay away.”

You might say, “If you a building a business in the mining, tobacco or oil and gas industry, don’t come to my marketing workshop. This is not for you. I don’t want your business to succeed.”

And you might say all of that less directly but in a more implied manner. I’m not suggesting you intentionally be rude or offensive, but I am inviting you to consider a new level of candour that your ideal clients would love and that your less than ideal clients would be actively repulsed by.

You’ll figure out how but, I can promise you that this will make your sales copy better.

Additional Reading:

Get Rejected Faster

Play the Long Game with Your Sales Copy (and get more clients)

Guest Post by Ling Wong

How do you feel when you come across pushy sales pages with big red headlines, yellow highlighters and blinking arrows pointing to the “buy now” buttons?

(You know what I’m talking about . . . the “if you don’t buy you’re an idiot” kind of energy.)

40544993 - abstract geometric background. abstract geometric pattern on green background.A one-way conversation? A trapped audience to a monologue by a narcissist? Being yelled at? Being talked down to? A 7-year-old who can’t make a sound decision on her own?

You wonder if these “persuasion mechanisms” are truly effective. You surely don’t like being talked to that way . . .

Then you look around and see all those “internet marketers” who gloat about 6 or 7-figure launches using these tactics. Hmm, they must be effective, right?

(What they didn’t tell you is the refund rate, and the burn and churn . . .)

We’ve been told to twist the knife, add salt, and make the pain more urgent than a tornado warning; to pull the triggers of fears and scarcity; to stir up a sense of inadequacy; to make the potential buyers feel like crap.

We’ve been told that people are indecisive. They don’t understand their problems. We need to push them into making a decision we *think* is the best for them. (What a big ego!)

Deploying some sneaky “persuasion” techniques may get you one sale, but it’s not going to win you friends.

How many “info products” are sitting on your hard drive collecting dust because you were pressured into purchasing by sales materials that pulled some fears and scarcity triggers?

How does that make you feel? If you didn’t use the product because it doesn’t resonate with you, then you didn’t get results. Would you go back to the same business to buy more stuff?

Moreover, if you had a bad experience with these high-pressure tactics, you probably don’t believe in them whole-heartedly.

If you don’t have 120% conviction in what you say and do, how can you expect others to be convinced?

Now you’re Tad’s peeps, I assume you’re not selling some once-and-done cantaloupe widget to make a quick buck.

“Selling” deep, transformational work requires that we build trust and credibility with our community. It’s about connection and relationship.

It’s a long game. Pushy burn-and-churn tactics won’t get you there.

On top of that, I want to think my peeps aren’t stupid.

I prefer to give my clients some credit and trust that they have the ability make a decision that best serve their interest.

Let’s start by changing the assumption:

What if indecisiveness is NOT our nature?

What if indecisiveness is our reaction to what’s presented to us?

What if indecisiveness is an indication of insufficient relevant information?

What if indecisiveness is just one way of saying “I’m not fully convinced about the value of the product or service, and its relevance to my circumstances”?

Would you make a major decision without first gathering information and educating yourself on the subject matter?

Imagine you’re a caveman and you want to grind up some mammoth meat… Someone tries to sell you a food processor without any context, explanation or demo. You scratch your head and continue to pound the meat with a stone.

Sure, the food processor is the right tool that’ll give you faster and better results. But if you couldn’t link the problem with the solution, the solution is not relevant from your perspective.

I know, we’re all complaining about “information overload” and you’d wonder if feeding people more information is going to make them buy.

The answer is, yes and no.

No – they don’t need more “raw data” that’ll further confuse the hell out of them and throw them into analysis-paralysis.

Yes – they need a curated, logically presented set of information that links their problem to a proposed solution, from a perspective that resonates with their worldview.

This is particularly important if you’re delivering “deep” benefits and profound transformations.

You’ve to connect the “symptoms” – what triggers your potential clients to look for a solution and therefore land on your materials – with your services.

There are probably some intermediate steps between their complaining about the problems, to understanding the cause of their challenges, to connecting their problems to your modality.

They may need to be “initiated” into your world, learn a few new terms or concepts to interpret and articulate their challenges, before they can fully grasp the value and transformation you deliver.

Bridging this “knowledge gap” can make your sales materials more convincing while winning hearts and minds without being “pushy.”

Essentially, you’re incorporating the premise of Inbound and content marketing into the sales materials with a laser focus on connecting the dots between the symptoms and the solution (aka what you’re selling.)

It doesn’t have to be complicated. A few paragraphs of “educational” content on your sales page can make a world of a difference.

While providing valuable information, your content should answer these questions:

What do your readers need to know about themselves/their problems/you/your approach etc. before they can decide, one way or the other, whether your products and services are of value to them?

Is there any misconception or disinformation you need to address, so they’d stop shooting in the dark and get support from an expert (you)? 

Do you need to alleviate any fear about following a new process or around the changes working with you may cause?

How can you help them fill in the blanks and make a decision so everyone can move on? (Loose ends = energy drains, no bueno. 

Remember, “decision” can mean a yes, or a no. We’re presenting one side of the story to trick people into saying yes. Our responsibility is to help them take the action that best serves them at this moment in time.

Here’re a few extra tips when writing this content:

  • Keep it short, simple and focused. Don’t navel-gaze, don’t launch into your entire 6-years of Reiki training or turn it into a self-gratuitous spiel on gluten-free eating. Make sure everything contributes to helping the readers make an informed decision. (Informed decision = less buyers’ remorse = less refund + happier customers).
  • Understand where your audience is in relation to your area of expertise. E.g. you don’t have to dumb down the content if your ideal audience already has some basic knowledge. They’d think your products or services are not for them if your content is too “basic.” Educational content doesn’t mean beginner level knowledge. You could be addressing misconception or highlighting what they don’t know, which leads to poor or inconsistent results.
  • Incorporate your own point-of-view and convictions – they probably resonate with those of your ideal clients’. We all develop shorthand and make assumptions about the world based on our beliefs and experiences. If you could tap into them and use them as a common starting point, then you don’t have to start from zero and build more resonance right off the bat.
  • Tap into your ideal audience’s identity and inkling. Speak to an identity they’re already aspired to. Affirm what they believe to be true (of course, only if it’s in alignment with your approach,) rather than trying to strong-arm them into being a different person in just a few paragraphs (hint: you’d lose.)

If you ever found transitioning from talking about the readers’ pain to talking about your products or services to be somewhat awkward, I’ve good news for you.

This piece of educational content is also great material to transition from the “I hear you and I identify with you” piece to “here is my stuff – benefits and features” portion of the sales copy.

It changes the energy behind the conversation to one of providing value. You’ll feel good about it. When you feel good about how you sell, you sell more because you’re putting the right energy behind the act of “selling.”

Contact Ling Wong at: ling (at) business-soulwork (dot) com

Ling Wongimg_3672-199x300 : Intuitive Brainiac | Copywriting Alchemist. Through her unique blend of Business + Marketing coaching/consulting with a Mindset + Psychic Twist, she helps the maverick-preneurs uncover, articulate & transform their WHY into content that connects, resonates and converts – by way of an intuitive yet rigorous iterative process born out of her Harvard Design School training and 10 years experience in the online marketing industry.  

Get her brand new WEBSITE COPY ALCHEMY video here.

A 16-Point Outline of a Solid Sales Letter

13285456_sSales letters get a bad rap.

They are often avoided by good-hearted people because they have the appearance of bad things they’ve seen and with which they never want to be associated.

But here’s my take: a sales letter is actually an integrity check.

It’s a dojo.

Sales letters force clarity on what might otherwise remain fuzzy.

Sales letters are like very curious potential customers who are insistent on getting answers to all of their detail-oriented and big picture questions before they buy. And you will either have the answers to their questions or you won’t.

Sales letters are faithful friends who refuse to broker fuzziness. They don’t put up with your generic and nebulous offerings. They are mercifully merciless.

Sales letters work or they don’t. They get a response or they don’t. They are so incredibly honest with you.

Sales letters are a living document. They aren’t something you write once and forget. They are something you update as you get feedback from customers to ensure that they are as clear, clean and honest as possible. They’re things you look at, a year after you’ve written them, like you look at High School photos and think, “Gah! What was I thinking!” and totally rewrite them.

A sales letter is one-on-one conversation with your ideal client in which you do your best to authentically play both sides of the conversation. It’s a letter you’re writing to your ideal client in which you’re anticipating their questions and answering them.

A sales letter does the heavy lifting of playing translator. It takes what you’re offering and translates it into what it might mean for that client in their own context.

The best and simplest guide I know for writing sales letters is Carrie Klassen’s beautiful workbook How to Write a Sales Page With Sweetness.

For this post, I also owe a debt of thanks to Brendan Burchard for his 10 Steps to a Good Sales Message which inspired the rough outline for this.

Sales letters are a chance to bring your own unique style to bear. And everyone has their own style and voice in writing sales letters. So, this post isn’t a definitive set of rules. This isn’t an ironclad structure but a suggested outline and set of elements worthy of consideration when you write your next sales letter.


A 16-Point Outline of a Solid Sales Letter

1. The Headline: The purpose of the headline is to make them a promise of certain results or benefits that they are craving. It’s got to be something that your ideal clients would read and say, “I want that!” The headline could also speak directly to the particular symptoms they are experiencing that you help them with.

2. Introduction: Here you’ll give potential clients an overview of the particular results they will get if they buy. It’s more specific than the headline but it’s not rich in detail yet. If the headline is the 30,000 foot view, this is the 10,000 foot view. Again, you can speak to the problem but it’s good to weave it into the solution and result you’re offering. This can take the form of a sub-headline and/or introductory paragraph. I also am a fan of naming the basics of the offer here. No details, but, if it’s a teleseminar, then say that. If it’s a five-day retreat in Maui, then say that. If it’s a 30-Day Challenge, say that. Give your prospective clients enough context to understand what it is you’re talking about.

3. The Story: This is the heart of any good sales letter. The story is where you get to flesh out the symptoms and cravings your ideal clients are experiencing. This is the place you can introduce yourself and explain your credibility in addressing these issues. Without a solid story, sales letters will read like infomercials full “Are you tired of _____ problem and want ______ result?” In my experience, too much “you” can feel like a pitch whereas storytelling can get across the same points more subtly. This is where you share:

  • The personal struggles you have faced and overcome that relate to what you’re offering, or how it was you came to learn what you’re sharing. You get to share all of the things you tried that didn’t work before discovering what it is that you’re offering and what it meant to you, in real, tangible ways, when you did.
  • The struggles you witnessed in friends, colleagues, loved ones or others and how it felt for you to see that.

4. Your Point of View: Here you briefly and concisely state your core premise, perspective, and philosophy that you have arrived at for solving the problem. This can be woven into the story, though it’s not a bad idea to make it explicit.

5. Your Offer: This is where you spell out the offer you’re putting forth and name it, if you haven’t already. You give the who, what, where, when, and how.

6. Who It’s For: The goal of the sales letter is not to have everyone say “yes.” It’s to make it easy for the right people to say “yes.” The goal of the sales letter should be about helping people sort out if your offer is a fit or not for them. This section should likely be presented via bullet points. Avoid generic statements such as, “This could be a fit for you if you’re willing to take responsibility for your life.” Boo. Go for specifics like, “This is for restaurant owners in Chicago,” or “This is for life coaches who are wanting more clients,” or “You’ll need to be on Facebook to use this.” Ask yourself, “What would need to be true of someone for this product or service to be a perfect fit for them?”

7. Who It’s Not For: This section should likely employ bullet points as well. This is such an important part of the sales letter. If there are certain things that would disqualify people from using this, name them clearly. If there is a certain worldview that isn’t a fit for what you’re offering, name that. Again, avoid banal statements like, “This isn’t a fit for you if you’re not someone who is willing to look honestly at their life.” Boo. Say something specific like, “This isn’t a fit for you if you don’t currently have 5 hours per week to put into this work.”

BONUS TIP: Whenever someone asks for a refund, ask them, “What was missing from my salesletter that could have let you known in advance that this wasn’t a fit for you?” Genuinely consider the client’s response and use it to clarify or flesh out this section.

8. Testimonials & Case Studies: It’s important to make sure people know that this didn’t only work for you, but for others as well. It’s important for potential clients to see that not only have you gotten the results, but you have helped others to achieve the same results with some degree of success and consistency. Of course, this assumes that you have. If you haven’t, this might be a good time to re-evaluate the integrity of what you are offering.

9. Paint the Picture: Tell your prospective clients the story of what it will be like to use your product, avail themselves of your service, or attend your workshop. Put them in the experience. Use vivid, sensory, rich descriptive words. “You walk into the cozy room and see all the friendly people.” Or, “You set down a cup on your favourite coffee on your kitchen table and open your laptop.” Don’t leave it to your potential clients to imagine what it might be like to work with you (or use your product), tell them. Put them in the driver’s seat of the car that they’re thinking of buying through your words.

10. Reasons to Buy Now: This is the section where you break down the core features and benefits of what you’re offering. This is where you paint the potential client a picture of how it might look, sound, and feel for them to go through your program and enjoy the results it’s offering. You tell them what’s included in the program and what it could mean for their life. If there are only so many copies or spaces, name that.

Really sit with this one and ask yourself, “What are all of the real and compelling reasons why someone for whom this is a fit might want to strongly consider buying this now?” This will include all of the facets of the program but might also include early bird specials.

11. Contextualize the Price: This can be the trickiest bit. This is where you name the price and help a potential client see the value they’re getting for their money. Of course, this assumes you are offering them value that is equal to, if not greater than, the cost. This can be done by contrasting the price of a group program to the price of working with you individually. You can speak to what you have charged for it in the past.

12. Bonuses: Once you have established the value of what you’re offering, it can be a wise idea to offering an additional bonus to lower the risk of signing up for those prospective clients and sweeten the deal.

13. Lower the Wall of Risk: There they are, your potential clients, wanting to walk over to you now and hand you their money, but there is this wall of risk in between you. That risk can look like a lot of things. It can look like, “Will this be worth it?” or “What if it breaks or doesn’t work?” or “What if it makes things worse?” or “What will others think if they hear I’ve spent money on this?”

At this point in the sales letter, it’s important to name those risks and directly address them. Now, if you’ve written the rest of the sales letter well, you’ve been subtly assuaging these as you’ve gone along. But now it’s time to be very blunt about it. This is typically where you would put a strong guarantee. This is where you say, “Hey. I know you’re not sure about this. I know it’s a risk for you, so here’s what I’m going to do to reduce the risk/eliminate the risk/take the risk off of you and onto myself.”

14. Call To Action: Here’s where you let those potential clients know how to order and remind them of any important and time-sensitive reasons to do so. Make sure this is very clear and unmissable. I’ve read sales pages where, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out where to buy. Not good. Note: on my sales letters, when they click on the “Buy Now” button, they aren’t taken to the payment page. They are taken to what I call my “Are You Sure?” page. It’s a practice I commend to you for your consideration.

15. The Downsell: Maybe this offer will be too rich for a prospective client, but you’ve got a cheaper something you could offer them which would still help. If you’re promoting a seven-day retreat, you might offer a video homestudy series. If you’re selling a video homestudy series and they can’t afford that, you could offer them an eBook. If you’re offering one-on-one coaching and that’s too rich for them, maybe you’ve got some group programs you could offer. The point is that you are likely losing money on your sales letters from people who might have actually wanted to spend money on you but didn’t because they had no idea what other options were available to them.

16. The P.S.: The two most read parts of any sales letter will be the beginning and ending, the top of the page and the bottom. So make sure that, in the very end, you remind them of the most important points of why they might want to sign up now.

Suggested Additional Reading:

Nine Thoughts on CopyWriting for Hippies

Blog Posts I’ve Written About Sales Letters

My Sales Letter for The Meantime 30 Day Cashflow Challenge

My Sales Letter for my Marketing for Hippies 101 Program

My Sales Letter for my Niching Spiral 90-Day Homestudy Program

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 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.


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.

Sales Letter Case Study: My Hollyhock Retreat Problems

11665645_10155895850875195_2282314407417899631_nI recently sent an email out to about a quarter of my list.

It went to people who had opened previous emails about my upcoming, five day retreat at Hollyhock.

The situation that prompted the sales letter wasn’t great but I thought the sales letter was solid and, after receiving replies from a number of colleagues commending me on it, I thought it might be a worthy case study of a certain style of sales letter that I honestly hope you never have to use.

I heard about this style of sales letter first from Jay Abraham. The headline, and core thrust of the sales letter was, “My Problem is Your Opportunity”.

Here’s the unfortunate reality is business: not all of your offers are going to work out as you planned. That’s just how it is. Sometimes it will be because your offer wasn’t good and sometimes it will be due to factors outside of your control. There will be times in your business where you find yourself a bit stuck.

It can be easy, during those times, to want to just give up and throw in the towel.

The provocative premise here is to look at whatever you’re problem is and ask yourself, “How could my problem be an opportunity for my clients?” You often don’t have to dig very deep to find it. And, once you find it, you tell your clients the honest truth of the situation and offer them a deal.

And, if there’s a benefit to the clients, then that’s good for you. What if your problem was actually a chance to make some money where you thought there was none to be made and build goodwill and connection regardless?

What I like about this approach is that it is very direct and candid. It’s not resorting to hype. It’s just making an honest offer and giving the rational behind it. It’s telling the truth (even if the truth is a bit embarrassing). As the old saying goes, “If you can’t fix it, feature it.”

It could be that you’re a holistic practitioner who booked off two weeks to go on vacation but then a volcano erupted where you were going and you can’t get your money back because the hotel you already paid was swallowed by lava and you had to cancel the trip and now you’ve got two totally open weeks that you need to fill with clients pronto. That’s your problem and maybe it could become an opportunity for your clients when you offer a discount on those sessions because you’d rather make some money than nothing.

Maybe you’re a furniture store who ordered in a bunch of new stock but then there was an illness in the family and you had to shut your business down and weren’t able to get rid of the old stock in time and the shipment of new things is coming in in a month but you don’t have room for it all so you need to get rid of the old stock. That’s your problem and maybe it’s an opportunity for your clients because it means you need to have a fire sale to get rid of stock at steeply discounted prices rather than paying to put it all in storage. If someone is going to benefit, why not your clients?

Maybe you showed up in a town to lead a weekend workshop and, by the time you get there, no one has signed up at all but you do have 16 people coming to an intro. That’s your problem. And maybe it can be turned into an opportunity for your clients when you decide to not charge money for it but to offer the weekend on a pay what you can basis because you might as well make some money on your visit rather than nothing.

Or… maybe you’ve got a five day retreat coming up at Hollyhock but you’ve not had a lot of people signing up for it. That’s my problem. And this letter below is where I articulate where I see the opportunity for my clients…

So this is a fairly classic, “My Problem Is Your Opportunity” sales letter. I invite you to consider where in the past you might have used this and if there are any problems you’re experiencing right now for which this kind by an approach might be useful.

Hey there,

I’ve got a big, fat problem.

But it might just be to your extreme and selfish benefit.

In this introduction, I’m wanting to hook the reader. I’m about to tell them a story that may not seem relevant to them and that could lose them. I so I want to hook them with the promise of something I’ll come back to later that could be to their benefit.

It’s about my retreat coming up at Hollyhock at the end of September.

Months ago, I committed to leading a retreat at Hollyhock.

I couldn’t have been more excited. I’ve attended so many events there and read through their calendar every year wishing I could go to even more. Hollyhock is one of Canada’s best kept secrets and also a hub of Western Canada’s positive change making scene. I can’t even imagine how many collaborations have been started there that have made this world a better place.

So, to be featured in the catalogue had a real feeling of having ‘made it’.

My plan was to host a gathering of my favourite colleagues. I sent our a preliminary email and got excited responses of ‘of course we’ll come!’.

“Do you think you’ll be able to fill it?” asked the staff at Hollyhock.

I was almost offended they even asked. “I’m going to have no issues filling it.” I teach marketing. I have an email list of 11,000 people. I’ve got a strong following on the West Coast. I’ve been in business almost 15 years. Filling one, very special workshop? Easy.

Boy. Was I Ever Wrong.

One by one, my colleagues sent their regrets that the timing wasn’t going to work for them this year. Even ones who’d expressed an excitement and commitment to go ended up needing to change their plans.

This happens in business. You come up with an offer you’re really excited about and then it flops. Not much response. It happens to the best of us.

But then it leaves you needing to pivot.

And with a Spring and Summer that had me travelling and then utterly burned out and in need of replenishment I wasn’t able to pivot as fast as I would have liked to.

The idea came finally: I’d turn it into a regular workshop/retreat for folks on my list. I’d open it up wide.

And so out went the emails but, still, the response wasn’t as large as I was needing.

Again, this happens in business. Things don’t work as well as you would hope.

And so this is my problem.

It’s looking like I’ll have about ten folks or so at my Hollyhock retreat at the end of September. I was hoping for 30-50 people.

So, the above is my best articulation of the problem. I’m a fan of telling things in a storied way. I could have said the above in a single sentence like, “My Hollyhock event isn’t filling up like I’d like.” but, for me, that doesn’t have the powerful, relatability or strength of a story.

Whenever you can share honestly about a way you screwed up, misjudged something or made some mistake I recommend it. It doesn’t have you lose credibility. If you’re able to share it without shame and, ideally, with what you learned from it, you will not only gain credibility but, more importantly, connection with the reader. You’ll seem more human. Which will have people trust you more. It’s hard to trust someone who seems infallible. It’s hard to relate to them.

Here’s why my problem could be your opportunity…

I made this a sub-headline because I wanted the reader to know I hadn’t forgotten about them. I’m not writing this letter to share my sob story. I’m sharing it with them because the problem lays the groundwork to understand the opportunity (which is what they really care about here). Whenever someone is reading a salesletter, we need to be mindful that their mind is constantly filtering everything with the question, “What’s in it for me? Is this relevant? Is there any benefit to me for reading this?”

If we lose sight of that central truth for too long, we will lose people.

The main complaint I get for any workshop I do is that people wish it were longer and had less people in it so that they could get more individual attention.

Of course, while that’s understandable, it’s not always feasible or sustainable on my end.

But, in this case, it looks like it’s what is exactly what’s going to happen.

And so, here, I name the opportunity, “This thing you always want when you go to a program? It’s here! This is it!”

Think of the previous examples:

You’ve wanted a massage but it was too much? You can finally afford it with this deal.

You’ve wanted a new couch but couldn’t afford it? Now you can due to this sale.

You’ve wanted to go to a marketing training but never had the money? Come to mine and pay whatever you want at the end.

You’ve always wanted an intimate, small numbered retreat with a teacher you’ve admired for a while? Here’s your chance.

Here’s what my problem could mean for you if you come to Hollyhock:

  • you get five days of my undivided attention on your business. Fifteen years of my experience, working with hundreds of conscious entrepreneurs just like you… and it’s all yours
  • you get all of your important questions answered in depth instead of being one person in a group of fifty who maybe gets to ask one question each day. Most people really only have so many important questions before the well runs dry for a bit.
  • you get solutions that are custom tailored to your situation instead of generic principles you’re encouraged to adapt and translate to your own situation
  • for five days, you’ll have strong access to my personal brain space (and everyone else’s). This is important: in a group of 50+ people the chances of your remembering everyone’s names by the end of five days is almost nil. The chance of you remembering what they do and what their particular issues are? Non-existent. But that means that you’re more or less on your own. But, when the group is this small, you’ve got everyone’s awareness and attention. You’re issues are sitting their in the back of their mind the whole time and waking them up in the middle of the night with an idea they just have to tell you first thing in the morning when they see you
  • there’s a very good chance your business will get hot seated at some point and receive feedback from the entire group (which is small but full of people with a lot to offer).

In the above section I do something that I think it really important. I explain the benefits of the feature I just told them. The feature of this training is that it will have smaller numbers. But still, they’re sitting there thinking, “So what? What does that mean for me? How do I benefit from that?” And, as marketers, it’s easy to assume that it’s totally obvious what the benefits of a feature are. But that assumption is wrong. It’s our job to make that translation as capably and honestly as we can. It’s our job to help lift up what might be in it, selfishly, for them. It’s our job to help them see how the unique facets of our work could benefit their lives in a real and tangible way.

Here’s how I plan to make it even better for you (and I can’t believe I’m offering this).

If you come and join me at Hollyhock, you will also get a 60 minute, private coaching session with me. You would normally pay $300 for this. This coaching session can be used at any point in the future.

This offer came to me in the writing of the letter and I honestly cringed at including it initially. But, when I sat with it, it felt right. And, if it made the offer compelling enough that even one or two more people signed up, it would be worth it.

In this case, I couldn’t offer a discount. And a discount is not always the best way to go. Often times, it’s much better to offer some add on that will add value to the proposition for them without costing you too much. In my case, I went for the very generous end of giving my personal time. But, I could have offered a series of follow up group calls. Or a free product. In this case, the offer of one on one coaching time felt right because I know that I’ll fall in love with these folks by the end of the five days and I’ll be excited to catch up with them after.

But, if you’re going to add something free as a bonus it’s vital that you give a reason why you’re doing it. Without a reason, people will devalue it in their mind. With a reason, the value can be maintained. Certainly people make up reasons that aren’t legitimate all the time but when you actually have a real reason to do so, by all means use it and share it.

The forces of the universe have conspired to create something that will be fabulously unprofitable for me but that could be incredibly impactful, transformative and profitable for your business.

I can’t imagine another time where I will…

  • be running a five day retreat (this is the first I have ever done)
  • for a group so small (even most of my day long events are bigger than this)
  • in such a beautiful location

This may, legitimately, be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

To be crystal clear: I would never have set it up this way on my own. I would never, on my own, create an event that takes so much time and effort with so little financial return for me.

If you’ve ever wanted to attend a live event of mine, I can’t imagine creating one ever again that will be so tailor made for you to get value from.

This felt important. To emphasize that this is legitimately likely to be a once in a lifetime situation. It’s rare in marketing that this is said with any candour. But, in this case, I actually get to say it and mean it. I didn’t realize the truth of it until I was writing this letter. If you ever get to say this yourself, I recommend it. It’s immensely satisfying.

So that’s my big problem.

I am hoping that you will take advantage of it.

For more info or to sign up go to:


And there’s the call to action.

p.s. What will your time there be like? Let me paint a picture…

Imagine eating delicious, organic meals grown right there in the Hollyhock garden while sitting in the sun on the wooden deck and looking over the ocean and feeling all of your stress melting away.

Imagine having five days, in paradise, away from it all with a small but might group of perhaps ten entrepreneurs and finally having time to reflect on and do actually work on your business.

Imagine sitting with your laptop over lunch and having a new colleague walk you through redoing your homepage or sales page or taking a walk on the beach while you get feedback on an offer you’ve been thinking up. Or perhaps helping you rework your whole social media strategy.

Imagine sitting in a hot tub under the stars with your new friends with a glass of wine and being inspired by the creative marketing approaches they use in their business and feeling possibilities open up again as big as the sky.

I hope you’ll join us.

This came to me to add when I let the letter sit for a few hours and came back to it (note: always let things sit for at least a few hours and, ideally, overnight before sending them out. You will always see more and make things better). What I’m doing above it doing my best to put them inside the experience. I’m trying to paint a sensory rich experience of what it will be like for them if they come. This is something I’ve written about in my blog post Tell Them A Story.

Sometimes it’s really hard for people to picture what an experience might be like for them. It feels abstract and theoretical. If you can paint the picture and put them it that picture you help them better understand what it might be like.

So, again: whenever you run into a problem as a business owner, ask yourself, “Where might this actually be an opportunity for myself as well as my customer?” You might be surprised with what you find. And try sending out an email like this and see what happens. The best case is that you get some more sales. The worst case is that you build some good will.

Exactly What To Say If Someone Asks for a Refund

refund (1)

Years ago, I got an email from a client that said something to the effect of, “I feel like the sales letter kind of hyped this up and it wasn’t what you said it was. I went back and read the sales letter and there was nothing inaccurate but . . . it just felt like it wasn’t what was promised. I need a refund.”

Those aren’t the kinds of words I’d wanted to wake up to in my email that morning for my newly launched ebook on niching. It was a slim 30 pager, nowhere near as large or comprehensive as it would eventually become in the form of my book The Niching Nest, and she just wasn’t impressed with it.

And I had to wonder if I should refund her or not.


Once you’ve been in business for a while, eventually, someone is going to ask you for a refund.

And how you respond to that moment has everything to do with the growth of your business.

On one hand, you may have been on the receiving end of a stingy refund policy and felt terrible about it or had the refund freely given and felt incredible relief and gratitude. On the other hand, does it make sense to have no boundaries on when and where refunds will be given? Probably not.

But it’s an important thing to figure out because word of mouth is the dominant force in the marketing word. And enough upset customers venting about the terrible experience they had with you because you refused to give them your money and that you’re a big, unfair meanie can do serious damage to your marketing.

But it’s also true that developing a reputation of being a push-over who they can use and then disregard once they’ve received the benefit is also unfair.

So, what you say in the moment (and I promise I will give you some words) is actually the least important part of the conversation.

The first thing is to make sure you’ve got a clear and fair refund policy spelled out and that the customer knows this policy when they buy. This is crucial.

It’s a similar dynamic to the “no shows” I wrote about in my blog post Don’t Mess With Their Rice Bowl in that it’s crucial to have standards that protect yourself as a business.

Simply having a clear policy will handle 90% of the upset. You’ll never handle the remaining 10% because there’s no policy to handle crazy.

The second thing is to understand why they’re even asking for a refund in the first place.

It might be that they’re in crisis or sudden financial desperation. They had the money when they signed up but they don’t now.

It could be that they’ve had a change in what matters. They signed up for a workshop on dating and then met the woman of their dreams. They no longer need it. They signed up to learn how to make money from Donald Trump but then became an anarchist.

But, often, it’s that what they bought isn’t giving them the benefits they’d hoped it would (or they don’t trust that it will).

This is the one I want to focus on.


Back to the woman wanting a refund on the niching ebook.

I immediately refunded her money (as I think we should if there’s any chance that the fault was in a lack of clarity in our marketing).

I sat with her words for a while. I felt awful. Here I am, teaching authentic marketing and she felt mislead. Ugh. Worst. 

So, I went to look at the sales page to see just how wrong she was and to be able to point out that she hadn’t really read the sales letter. I mean, sure she had. But not really really. 

But, as I read it, I began to see what she was saying. It was a bit hyped up. I could see that I’d given the impression that it did more than it could actually do and was for a broader group than it actually was. It was humbling to see it. I’d put a list of “This ebook could be for you if . . .” but I’d not made a similar list of, “This ebook might not be for you if . . .” 

I realized that this ebook was actually not for people who already knew niching was crucial and the ebook was making the case for it. It also wasn’t for people who wanted a nuts and bolts how-to guide on niching. It was a primer for people who were considering niching but feeling hesitant about it. 

I took an hour, rewrote the sales page so it felt more true to what it was and sent her an email asking what she thought.

“This is great!” she replied. “I wouldn’t have bought it!”

If we see the role of marketing as being about getting people to say “yes” then the result of someone saying, “perfect! I wouldn’t have bought!” is a failure. This is how so many people view marketing. Even in writing emails they try to write a sexy subject line that gets people to open an email that might not even be of any use to them. 

But if we know that one of the main roles of marketing is about filtering people so that only the right people buy, it’s a huge success. We can actually tone down the hype in our sales copy and get more sales to the right people. 

But what do you do when, despite your best efforts, they’re asking for a refund because it wasn’t what they thought it would be?

But, what exactly do you say?

I suggest the first thing you say is, “I’ll absolutely refund your order.”

If there’s any chance that your marketing was to blame for them buying something that wasn’t a fit, refund the money and consider it a business expenses in market research. Because it is.

The second thing you say is something along the lines of, “Thank you for letting me know my marketing wasn’t as clear as I would like it to be.”

Honestly, when people tell us this, we should be getting down on the ground and bowing to them in gratitude. 

The second thing we should say is something like, “Would you be willing to let me know what I could change on the sales page so that you would have known for sure it wasn’t a fit for you?”

That question might seem simple, but it’s actually huge, it will, over time help you hone and refine your sales copy until no one who isn’t a fit buys at all. That’s the goal. And, often, the feedback won’t even be that big. Just a little change here and there but a small change in wording or emphasis or order can make a huge difference. 

If the refund request is for some other reason, I don’t have much advice other than to have clear policies, sit with it, do what feels right to you and always err on the side of generosity, not stinginess. And, regardless of the reason, see if there’s something you can learn, some business system that would make it less likely that it would ever happen again.

Years ago, a woman attended a pay what you can, weekend workshop I was running. She paid a $100 deposit to attend and then she paid $500 at the end of the workshop based on the value she’d received. A month or so later she sent me an email saying she’d received no value at all and demanding her money back. She was also someone I’d give two hours of free coaching to because she’d gotten locked out of the building by accident. There’s more to the story, but the whole thing felt off. I didn’t feel like I wanted to refund her money but eventually gave back half just to get her out of my hair. If I’d had more money at the time, I might have just given it all back. Who needs the drama?

Refunds can also help you hone your niche . . .

One of the beautiful benefits of people asking for refunds is that you start to see who is a fit for you and who isn’t. Your sense of who your ideal client is comes into clearer relief. Your sense of what you want to do and how becomes more focused. If you will choose to over-respond (vs. over-reacting) to each request for a refund and use it as a chance to narrow in on your role in the community and the niche you want to fill you might be amazed at how much faster your business becomes what it wanted to become all along.

Bonus Thought: Check Boxes

If there are certain catches and conditions of buying from you, it can also be good to list them as boxes to check in the order form. For example, for a weekend, pay what you want, marketing course I might have one for:

DEPOSIT: I understand that my space is not confirmed until I’ve paid my non-refundable $100 deposit. 

PYWY: I understand that the deposit is just to hold my space and, at the very end of the workshop, I’ll be given a chance to contribute more based on a mix of what the workshop was worth and what I can afford. 

Having these as boxes they have to check off help to ensure that important conditions are not accidentally missed by someone skimming over your sales letter (which 95% of people will). 


Give me your grossest headlines!

blog2I’ve got a theory I’m testing and I’d love to have your help.

All you need to do is post the most cringeworthy headlines of promotions that you’ve seen or received. Ideally, to keep things consistent I’d love it if they were from other business coaches (myself included). Any headline that has made you wince, cringe or feel icky inside. Maybe it was full on repulsion or maybe it was just that it felt a little ‘off’.

No need to put who it’s from.

Just post them in the comments below.

Four Thoughts About Email Subject Lines in Marketing

First of all, this is not a blog post about how to write email subject lines that sell (though it may help you do that).

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

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

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

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

I think that’s the right attitude to have.

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


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

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

Two things this means:

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

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

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


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

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

The email is where you fulfill that promise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the details:

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

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

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

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

The email subject line made a promise.

The email broke it.

You must deliver on what you promise.

Of course, it’s not always so blatant.

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

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

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

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

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

You must deliver on what you promise.

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

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

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

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

One of my colleagues Brenda shared this recently on Facebook: “I have a confession to make… I am so TIRED of seeing that as a subject line!!! I just got one in my inbox. You know what the energy of that is? More like this: I have a confession to make. I think you’re such a sucker that you’ll open my email with baited breath, see how “authentic” I am with my paint by number marketing and jump at my offer, begging to buy from poor little me who just made a “confession” to you.  You know what? Come back to me when you have a REAL confession that means something, and when it isn’t just a ploy to get me to open your email and buy your shit. End rant. #TruthbyBrendamcintyre

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

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

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

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

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

EXAMPLE #9: “Help!”: A few of my colleague vented about the subject line, “I really need your help!” Really? You actually need my help? Or is this just a sales ploy. I love helping if I can. But I don’t like being used. One colleague of mine shared how he opened an email with such a subject line and saw that what was meant by all that was, “I really want to help you be successful but I need your help to do it. ” followed by an offering or invitation. Boo.
EXAMPLE #10:  “Can you meet/call/”hang out with” me today?”: This is designed to sound like a very personal message. Why? So you’ll open the email. It’s designed to make you feel important and like you’re getting invited to an exclusive opportunity? Why? So you’ll open the email. But it’s not. Another one I saw was the “Tad (Personal Email)” – is this REALLY her personal email? or an email just to me? Let me check! Oh. Wait. It’s not. 

EXAMPLE #11: “I want your opinion on this…”: I just got an email from a colleague of mine with this as the subject line. So I opened it, busy as I was, because I like this colleague. And nowhere in the email was there ever an invitation for me to share my opinion. Nothing. My time was wasted. Here was the email below…


Hi Tad, Here’s a quick POP QUIZ …


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


They all conduct Google Hangouts to get more media EXPOSURE.

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

What am I telling you this?

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

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

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

Who is the “Larry King” of Google Hangouts?

Check him out here.

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

The 5 key lessons you’ll learn and your surprise bonus gift awaits you after you register for this event.

To Be Continued,

PS. Hangouts are a joint venture between the two most important websites on the planet – Google and YouTube – so don’t you want to strategically align with them? G+ Hangouts are ideal for tech-dummies who want to become #1 on Google without SEO skills.You’re ONE click away right here.


Cate Richards shared with me, “One interesting thing Tad is that they teach this stuff in copy school saying they work. What no one ever quantifies is how many ideal customers are switching off because they feel manipulated.”

So true.

Even so, all of those could be great subject lines if…

They really meant it.

If it really was a vulnerable thing they were sharing (and they weren’t using it as a pitch). If they wanted to share the joy of their new child and leave it at that people would be thrilled and loyalty and connection would increase. Do you really need to get something off your chest in a big way? Awesome. Use that headline or something like. If they were really puzzled about something and needed feedback, that might be a great subject line. If you really need help from your list, by all means ask for it. It can be dangerous to demonize a tactic and write it off entirely.

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

You must deliver on what you promise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You must deliver on what you promise.

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

This is a bit of tricky wisdom.

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

I’ve been thinking about this for a while.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In my mind, that’s a success.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You must deliver on what you promise.

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

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

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

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

But that’s not what I’m saying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t bore your reader.

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

Do. Not. Waste. My. Time.

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

Do not bait and switch me.

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

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

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

Do. Not. Waste. My. Time.

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

Although here are a few simple tips:

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

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

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

Here are a few posts to get you started:

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

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

Also, from read “57 Email Marketing Tips That Will Get You More Opens, Clicks & Sales.”

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

Sales Letter Case Study: Mission Traction

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 6.33.58 PMOne of my favourite things to do for clients is to help them redo their salesletters. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Original Sales Letter:



Mission Traction:

Build Skillful Means to Drive Effective Change


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

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

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

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

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

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

 Who is we, again?

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

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

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

Engagements with whom? And who am I again?…

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

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

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

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

What makes a change leader effective?

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

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

 (brain explodes from jargon overload)

What makes a team collaborative?

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

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

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

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

I no longer care.

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

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

How can we respond better to complexity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jargon: organizational context.

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

Totally true. You feel me! 

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

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

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

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

What the world needs from us

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

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

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

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

So why aren’t our efforts yielding more results?

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

Our story, our mission

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

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

Together, we have:

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

As entrepreneurs, we have 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ok. I’m intrigued…. Tell me more. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing Mission Traction: Skillful Means for Effective Change Makers

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

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

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

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

As a learner, you will:

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

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

We expect all participants to achieve the following Learning Outcomes:

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

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

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



Redone Sales Letter:



stock-footage-car-stuck-in-the-mud2Attention Change Makers:
Ever feel like you’re spinning your tires trying to do good?

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

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

Mission Traction: Skillful Means for Effective Change Makers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chances are, you’ve struggled to deal with…

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


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

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

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

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

I hope we can be candid with you here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our story, our mission

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

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

As entrepreneurs, we have:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s not the whole of the problem.

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

That paragraph begins to lose me too. 

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

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

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

That sentence loses me again.

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

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

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

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

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

Jargon: embodied.

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

Great! Clear!

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

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

This program is likely not a fit for you if…

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

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


Introducing Mission Traction: Skillful Means for Effective Change Makers

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

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


As a learner, you will:

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

We expect all participants to achieve the following:

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

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

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