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.

About Tad

  • Julia Yanker

    But how has it turned out?!?

  • Vladi Jordan

    Thank you for this thoughtful post Tad.

    But how did you knew which bullet points to write in the section: “Here’s what my problem could mean for you if you come to Hollyhock:”
    and what story to tell in the section: “p.s. What will your time there be like? Let me paint a picture…”?

  • Leslie Fell

    With “the work” I’ve been doing (Byron Katie) I don’t see a problem. I strongly feel that whoever is meant to be there will be, including you! When reading your post and seeing how you felt burned out after the summer of traveling and not being able to pivot as quickly as usual it feels to me that all is good – what is important is taking good care of yourself (lol – I’m certainly learning more about the need to take good care of myself) and then we have more to offer others. I’m hosting a Mayan man from Guatemala later Sept and ticket sales have been going slow for an evening close to my heart – funds going to such a good cause. I too have been wondering “why aren’t more people signing up?” – and so goes the testing to do “the work”, which you are familiar with too. May the events – at your retreat, at the talk and events I’m hosting in Toronto, and whatever people are putting out with such good intent, unfold with grace.

  • Clover

    You are such an inspiring teacher/facilitator that we (in the Diamond Valley/Foothills south west of Calgary) still use ideas from the program you taught here – long ago.
    I can’t be at Hollyhock but I continue to admire your work and I’m looking forward to the day you will be hailed as an “overnight success’. Thank You for your Good Work!
    Clover Slusar, Black Diamond

  • Well. Ten folks so far. A few more in the wings. Might just hit 15! Fingers crossed.

  • Good questions! I’m not sure. I just sort of say down and wrote them based on the headline. I put the first things that came to mind and came back later and added the things which seemed most true. Ha. I wish I had a better answer for you.

  • Leslie, it’s interesting. For myself, I actually wasn’t stressed about numbers at all. If there’d been five people that would have been fine. I wasn’t counting on Hollyhock for money. I was doing it because I wanted to. BUT for Hollyhock? I care. I made a commitment to them to put on this workshop. I told them I could get 25 people. I was hoping to get more. So, if i had five people, that means that they make so much less money than they were counting on. Damn. So, for them I feel committed to keep hustling.

  • clover! thank you so much for your kind words. All my love to all of you there. Please have a burger at the Chuckwagon for me :-)

  • aSmilingWorld

    Beautifully crafted letter. Gave me food for thought for how to fill our 2 day workshops that we’re delivering on our aSmilingWorld Empowerment Roadshow, currently touring the USA. Interesting to see Leslie Fell’s comment about low take-up of his event too. Getting enrollment in our small & intimate workshops feels like pulling teeth sometimes too! The conscious and awake community is very aware of the cosmic changes predicted for this month (some good predictions, some bad). Could people be waiting to see what happens? Is the threat of economic collapse causing people to hold onto their money? I don’t know. On a separate note, I want to thank you for leading me to the concept of the gift economy. I had asked the Universe how to set up the financial model for aSmilingWorld and I was led to you via Simon on the Sofa, and from you to Charles Eisenstein’s book ‘Sacred Economics’. We now operate our events on an initial gift and a “love offering” at the end.

  • So wonderful to hear about how you heard of my work through Simon. Love that fellow. And Charles. You may find this of use:

  • aSmilingWorld

    Thanks for the great info Tad. Appreciate the suggestions. :-)

  • Leslie Fell

    Yes – I understand. It’s great you are so committed. All the best.

  • Iris P. Weaver

    Thanks for this really interesting post Tad. Boy, do I wish I had the money to come, I’m sold! I really appreciate you giving us the anatomy of taking a potential fail and making it into something helpful for both the business and the customer.

  • thanks Iris! Maybe next time :-)

  • I feel for ya man! I very much appreciate your recommendation to be transparent — to reveal without shame and include the lesson learned. Thank you. I’ll make it to one of your workshops one of these days!