Rogue Ink

October 7, 2008

Stupid Fear and Smart Fear and Stupidity That’s Smart

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 3:28 am
Tags: , ,

All right, here’s why I’m scared of marketing, are you ready?

First of all, marketing beat me up in first grade. He shoved me into a mud puddle and he stole my lunch money and he said mean things about my ponytail holder. Also, he used to smell faintly of brimstone. If that’s not enough to maintain a healthy fear of marketing on into adulthood, I don’t know what is.

There’s another reason, though. Totally irrelevant. We don’t really even need to talk about it. Much, anyway. I mean, if we didn’t talk about it you probably wouldn’t get a post today and I’d be that loser all over again, so. Well.

I’m Afraid of Looking Stupid

Which is, let us confess, one of the most idiotic fears a freelancer can have. We all have it though. We figure out somewhere around age five that someone doesn’t like the way we run or the way we dress or the way we pick our nose, and forever after we are aware that there are stupid ways of doing things, and non-stupid ways of doing things. We are pretty certain that most of the time, everyone else knows what the stupid ways are, and they’re not telling us until we’ve already done them. Then they point and laugh and won’t share their fruit roll-ups. Or their company’s money.

This is my fear. Speaking of stupid, this fear personifies that quality quite well. There are stupid and non-stupid ways of being afraid. Being so afraid of appearing stupid that you never do anything to draw attention to yourself (like, you know – marketing) for fear that someone will notice your stupidity = the stupid kind of fear.

Fear of big angry bear mama whose cub you have recently bopped in the nose = smart kind of fear. Pay attention to that fear. It will steer you down the right course. Through the blackberry bushes and into the rushing river.

So How Do We Get Rid of the Stupid Kind of Fear?

I am fearful of an awful lot of things. A long-winded example for you: I used to be afraid of going to martial arts classes, because I was afraid I would throw a punch like a girl and then everyone would point and laugh. (My father used to do this. I’d punch him on the shoulder after he punched me on the shoulder, and he’d chuckle, because I looped my punches and wasn’t getting any kind of power behind it. Just wait till my dad’s old. I’ll get him then. Though he’s been talking about getting a big stick when he’s old, so maybe not. Weren’t we talking about something else? Martial arts. Right.)

So I didn’t take martial arts for a long time, even though I really, really wanted to be Ziyi Zhang or Summer Glau and destroy everyone with the sheer power of my awesome awesomeness.

Then I took my first martial arts class and discovered that, while there are indeed guys who fly through the air with the greatest of ease and can crack your jawbone out of the rest of your skull while they’re up there – there are also guys who go through class looking like spastic upright turtles. They’re awkward. They’re uncomfortable to watch. They are much, much worse than you, but you do not point and laugh. No. Because you’re an adult now, and you really don’t have the inclination.

You do, however, take a strange schadenfreudic pleasure in the fact that you are better than they are.

That’s how you get over the fear.

There is Always Someone Worse Than You

Seriously, if you ever want to feel better about the quality of your skills, go browse around the web for awhile and look at the websites of people in your city, people who post on freelance job sites, people who blog, people all over the place. I’m not advocating getting all sneery and superior. I’m saying look at the quality of their work, and then look at yours, honestly.

Is it just as good?

Is it – dare I utter the word – BETTER?

I did this for a bit of today. I found a successful freelance writer who had written for companies I really want to work for – she had so many misspellings and grammar problems with her blog that I had to look away for fear of damage to my retinas. I found a freelance copywriter who wrote that he had too much work to handle, but his website was poorly written and his samples were more awkward than a fourteen-year-old putting on his first jockstrap. And as I sorted through these writers – whose work wasn’t bad so much as mediocre – that fear of being stupid started to dissolve into something worse:

The fear that I already was stupid. Because I hadn’t gotten off my rear and put on my shiny superman cape and marketed myself. Maybe nobody was pointing and laughing at this particular stupidity, but that’s because I work at home and no one sees my shame but me and the spider that has taken over dining room chandelier. But I know. I hung my head when I passed by a mirror. Of course, then I couldn’t see myself hanging my head, so the shame inducement may have been mitigated, but the PRINCIPLE STANDS.

The Intelligence of Stupidity

Now, these people whose work I was pleased to note came far short of mine? They clearly had no idea their work wasn’t great. Or at the very least, their copy and their self-promotion showed no such weakness. They thought they were awesome. They were psyched about ‘there’ new clients. They had tips for better writing, even though one of those tips may have been ‘use corect spelling and grammar’. They were totally oblivious to the notion that they were not the best damn copywriter to come down the pipe.

Children are stupid like this before the finger-pointing starts. They run stupid. They talk stupid. They do stupid things. They pull their shirts over their heads in public and stare open-mouthed at bald people wondering where all the hair went. But they don’t care, because as far as they’re concerned, they’re awesome. And we, as adults, we buy it. They’re children. They ARE awesome. What else could they be?

Remember the cool kid in high school? Not the popular one, not the handsome football player guy. The COOL guy. Or the COOL girl. The one I’m thinking of was named Sofia. She had about every attribute that could make her goth – the clothes, the makeup, the dyed hair. She ought to have been a cliche, like all the other goth kids. But she was so beatific, so haloed in her own gloriousness, that she was nothing of the kind.

She dyed her hair in mermaid colors and designed her own tattoos. Other goth kids were trying, like they knew you might catch them, like they knew what they were doing might possibly be stupid. You could never in this world have pointed and laughed and said Sofia was stupid. It wouldn’t have occurred to her that she could be. So it wouldn’t have occurred to you, either.

If you’re unaware of your potential for stupidity, so will everyone else be.

Unless you fall over a small Pomeranian and fall nosefirst into a vat of custard. There’s really no cure for that one.

Subscribe. Tomorrow I’ll talk about confidence, which means James’ll be making an appearance.

P.S. Addendum. It occurs to me that I never thought sales guy was stupid. I thought he was underhanded and a shyster, but I never once thought he was stupid. There was no room for that. You can’t be a sales guy and think that you’re stupid. So let this be a lesson to you – stupidity is not necessarily doing something stupid. It’s thinking you’re doing something stupid.


October 6, 2008

Why Sales Patter Kind of Sucks

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 5:22 am
Tags: , , , ,

So I’m joining a leads group in my local Chamber of Commerce. This is very cool, because it makes me feel like a grown-up. I’ll explain what a leads group is in some other post when I’ve got a better handle on what goes on and I can figure out whether I’m for them or against them. At which point I shall take a righteous stance on one side or the other and woe betide those who dissent.

Trouble is, I don’t know if a leads group is a worthy investment of your time. Because I apparently was not at the leads group meeting that Thursday. Instead, I found myself in the middle of a sales pitch for a ‘success’ seminar lead by a dude named Brian Tracy, who is apparently (according to the always-helpful Wikipedia) from Canada, so be it known I am holding that illustrious nation responsible for the following story.

Don’t fret, James. You don’t want to KNOW all the stuff I hold the U.S. of A. responsible for. Paris Hilton, for a start. Oh, and Australia is responsible for Crocs. Just so everyone keeps track here.

So this guy walks into a room . . .

He’s short. Notably so. I might not have noted the short (being as we were all sitting down, he was standing, and heights tend to get a little skewed in that situation) except that he was so obviously compromising for it by being well-groomed, and well-dressed, and holding his chest about four inches out from his sternum. There is a relaxed quality that most people who don’t much think about their appearance have, and this guy lacks it. Now, I’ll grant you he didn’t go the alternate route of getting all shy, but over-confidence is equally unnerving. It lets us know you’re compensating for something, and then we simply must find out what. (Low sex drive? Secret garage full of old Star Wars memorabilia? Third nipple?)

This is also true for guys in nice cars. You can tell the sort of guy who has a nice car because he’s just really into cars, as opposed to the kind of guy who has a nice car because he thinks everyone else is into cars. Even if you have never consciously had this thought, you know exactly what I’m talking about. This guy had the physical appearance equivalent of a midlife-crisis car draped all over him.

He was also, just so I’m not ragging on him all the way through, quite good-looking. Nice jawline.

And starts to ask us about our small businesses.

Which is kind of nice. We go around the room, we give the ten-second version of the elevator speech, everyone smiles at everyone. We feel congenial, banded together, pleased with ourselves for not accidentally saying ‘like’ when we have repeatedly told ourselves to do no such thing (what? I’m young, and my generation says ‘like’ a lot. It’s a horrible habit, I’m working on it. YOUR generation probably smoked, and that’s way worse for you).

So that’s all good. He asks us whether we need to improve anything in our small business running, and we of course all confess that we do, except for a very tall grumpy guy looking put upon directly across the aisle from me, who maintained an expression throughout this session that is probably best described as ‘smells something foul in his sister-in-law’s house and is waiting for the right moment to undercut her by drawing attention to it’.

As it turns out, he had the right idea.

Presentation guy asks us about our strengths and weaknesses.

He’s got a little chart. We write things down gamely, rating our ability to do certain things from 1 to 10. If you’re interested, the stuff I suck at is prospecting and procrastination (even in my faults, I am alliterative). Everything else I’m fantastic at. No, really. I rock at everything else.

There might’ve been some sevens in there, but whatever. Seven’s a lucky number.

He gets motivational.

Fear is the mind-killer, he says. No, he doesn’t, because most people aren’t dorky enough to get a Dune reference. Instead he uses some handy acronyms – False Evidence Appearing Real and Forget Everything and Run. Fear is a bad thing. We get it. Stop being afraid. Get out there and do your business up right. Awesome. We’re all feeling motivated and groovy, like we can conquer the world.

Then he name-drops.

He picks up a book from the table and starts talking about how it changed his life.

Now, all the way through this whole presentation, this guy has had a patter going. He’s gotten us to finish sentences with him – “How do you eat an elephant?” – “One bite at a time.” Stuff we know, stuff that gets us involved with him. I can hear the patter, it sounds like patter, it sounds like the sort of voice a frat boy puts on when he’s read The Game one too many times and thinks he can pick up Madeleine Albright if he wanted to. I knew it was coming.

But I still felt like a jackass when it did.

He sells.

He sells us the book, the man who wrote it, the man whose seminar he’s hawking. We all like him by now – of course we do, he’s likeable, he’s used all the techniques sales people use to endear themselves to their audience. I watched him do it. I know what’s up. When he asked us to spend $500 to see a day-long seminar – go now, we won’t be back through Denver for another two years! (OFFER ENDS NOW!) – I was not at all surprised.

And I still felt kind of used.

The problem with sales of this kind.

Sales copy does more or less the same thing. You’ve seen websites and ads like this all over the web – “I made over $1,000,000 with this technique and so can you. This book shows you step-by-step everything you need to get a great career going in a new field. In just one week, people who have read this book got an average of five new clients. Start your new career today.”

“Oh. Cost? Right. Um. Tell you what. I’ll patter at you for another eight pages, get you really psyched about this new career of yours, and then tell you the cost, okay? At which point one of two things will happen. Either you’ll get really pissed at me for dragging you along for all that time, building up your hopes only to discover it’s $120 for the package, which is way too much of an investment for a book that’s probably going to wind up to be a scam, OR you’ll be in such despair you’ll think, well, I guess I’ll buy it anyway. Maybe this one is for real.”

I saw people at this seminar have the exact same thought process. Words are words whether spoken or written, and sales patter is the same throughout the kingdom of communication. The way that these guys make money is through those people who feel guilty. They’ve come this far, they might as well take the chance. Maybe it’s for real. Maybe it will work. Those are the people who buy.

Which is good for them. But it sucks for you.

Sales patter is very, very rarely the prelude to a product you want. Sales patter is there to disguise the product itself. Good products don’t need patter – they stand by themselves, you don’t need to be convinced that you want them because you really, really want them. You can tell that they’re worth hiring because their statements are straightforward and unambiguous. They don’t need to say things like, “And one guy who bought this product came home and found an elephant just waiting for him in his front yard! He’d always wanted an elephant, ever since he was a boy! A childhood dream came true because of this product! Also there was cotton candy! And acrobats! And a fire-breathing dragon that unfortunately set a small community alight but OUR GUY WHO BOUGHT THE PRODUCT WAS UNHARMED! HA!”

Companies who have something worth selling have statements that usually run something like, “I’m very good at this. You should hire me to do it for you.”

The Difference Between Buyers and Clients

Sales patter gets a lot of admiration because sales copy and sales patter tend to get buyers. I’m not denying this. They definitely get buyers. However – and this is a big however – they don’t get clients. If you actually go through with buying the book and it’s the same drivel you’ve heard a million times before for free on blogs, you’re never going to buy from them again. That’s okay – they’ve got your hundred bucks. And there’s a lot of people out there just waiting to be lulled by patter.

Getting a client – one who will stick with you for years to come, who feels loyalty for you, who is grateful to you for always being exactly what they needed – is far, far different from getting a buyer.

People who are seeking buyers are like the people who run Vegas. They only need you to come once. They’ll show you a good time, they’ll make you feel special for a bit. You’re taking a chance, going crazy – WHOO! But then, at the end of it all, you’ll feel kind of used and you won’t know why. You signed up for it, after all.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas because you’d be too ashamed to admit you did it anywhere else. If I’d signed up for the day-long $500 seminar the guy wanted me to sign up for, I’d never admit it to anyone. Because I would have been had, and I would know that this was my own secret shame, to be confessed to a priest and maybe a bartender immediately after.

Don’t fall for sales patter, seriously. It’ll make you get that old-vodka taste in your mouth and an empty wallet, and you won’t have anyone to blame but yourself.

And the short guy. And Canada.

Subscribe. I will denounce more people tomorrow, I’m sure. Maybe weasels. The weasels totally have it coming.

April 22, 2008

Bragging Rights: I Am the Greatest

Filed under: Entrepreneurship — Tei @ 4:46 am
Tags: , , ,

I admit it. I am completely and utterly addicted to Naomi’s blog. I know, deep in my heart, that after reading every single blog post she’s ever written, I will still wind up emailing her and hiring her for her two-hour doppio espresso marketing shot, because it is quite possibly the best deal I have seen, anywhere, and yet I cannot help myself. I read this whole series. And it was fucking amazing. Every single post got me thinking about something I do or do not do (note: when I don’t do it, it is usually because I am being an idiot) for my business. Let us discuss one of these idiotic things.

For those of you who are interested, this is the blog post that got me thinking about this particular idiotic thing that I do. It will not help you, because it only makes sense in the associative game that is my head. (If you play The Game and continually lose, go here. It will make everything better. If you have never heard of The Game, I am very, very sorry. Go to the link, it’ll fix it.)

The big thing that I should do, that I do not do:


I should brag WAY more often. Not in an annoying way, not in a ‘check out these big guns’ kind of way. I find, however, that when I discuss what I do for a living, very infrequently do I append “and I’m AWESOME at it” to the end of my explanation.

Why is that?

I AM awesome at it. I have customers who tell me so. In fact, I have never once had a customer who was less than excited about working with me again, nor have I ever had one who was remotely unhappy with my writing. By and large, they actually thank me for going above and beyond their expectations.

Now, this is great. But already, I feel like kind of a jackass, telling you people this (hi, you people). Already I feel like some dip at a party who can’t be quiet about whatever thing it is that they do (you make widgets? I don’t care. Actually, if you make WordPress widgets and you can fix whatever’s wrong with my RSS feed, I want to know all about it). Why is this? Why do we feel like jerks for stating the facts about our skills? I’m certainly not claiming anything that isn’t true. I don’t pretend that I generate more sales than Bob Bly, because I don’t. In fact, I don’t do sales copy very well at all.

I’m great at telling people what I suck at.

This? This blog? This is largely me, discussing what I suck at. I am very comfortable talking about what I suck at. I could tell you all day long how I can’t get my website up and running, and why I was an idiot to think I could design it myself, how much time and money I wasted, and how I don’t know anything about running a business. Why IS that? Why am I so at ease telling people about the things I cannot do, and completely uncomfortable telling them what I’m good at?

A reference guide, for those of you who do not know me in person:

Things I am good at:

  1. Writing
  2. Stealthy displays of affection
  3. Pretending to be calm while secretly panicking
  4. Making chocolate cake
  5. Sex. (What? Like you wouldn’t put that down on your list.)

Things I suck at:

  1. Drawing
  2. Introducing myself to strangers over the phone
  3. Following a budget
  4. Breakdancing
  5. Pretending to find ugly babies adorable

The stuff on my list of things I’m good at? A lot of those things are relevant to my clients (not the last one, no. I don’t have THOSE kinds of clients. I would make a lot more money if I did). I have clients who love working with me simply because they know that when they call up, freaking out because they need five pages of web copy in the next twelve hours, that I will put my soothing voice on, tell them everything is going to be just fine, and panic quietly to myself while I pull an all-nighter to get the thing done.

I never tell new clients that I’m willing to pull an all-nighter for their benefit. WHY?

Assignment for everyone: think of something completely awesome that you do in your business that you never tell anyone about, and think of a non-assholish way to communicate it all the time. It can be silly. “I am not shy about cursing.” It can be relevant. “I am a grammar Nazi.” It can be a little freakish. “I get so paranoid that my clients won’t like me that I will go through a real-life version of level 7 of Super Mario Bros., with the spiked turtles and all, to get their copy to them on time.”

That last one? TRUE. Also the second and first. But seriously, if anyone knows where I can go through a real life version of Super Mario Bros, I will give you my firstborn.

Go forth. Brag. Hell, brag in the comments. Tell me what you’re good at. It feels pretty good, after the initial self-asshole check.

Want to hear me brag some more? Subscribe. I’ll be back tomorrow.

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