Inventor?

All Posts by Ben Hunt
My job is to look at the world and wonder... "How can we make things better?"

What’s Wrong with Information Marketing?

Published a few days ago - 26 Comments

Everybody knows that information marketing can be super-profitable. And while it isn’t my intention to piss on anyone’s salad, I have a feeling deep down that something isn’t quite right.

Why is info-marketing so profitable? It’s simply because any digital product that is delivered electronically has practically no cost of production or cost of delivery. So the only cost of sale only comes from advertising, meaning that gross profit = sale price – advertising costs.

These days you don’t even have to burn and mail a DVD. So whether you sell two units or twenty thousand, each one is just one more record on your membership area database.

No wonder so many people are drawn to this “easy money” and there are so many courses on the market (themselves info products) promising to show you how you can tap into it, with new ones coming out all the time.

My issues are twofold:

  • First, in my heart I believe that information that costs practically nothing and that can help people should be free.
  • Second, in order to sell information to another person, you have to create the impression that what you’re selling is particularly scarce, powerful, or otherwise magical. That creates a massive temptation to be selective with, embellish and inflate the facts to make the product seem more beneficial than it probably will turn out to be.

I’ve written about the second point at length before (including “Internet Marketing is Broken“) so let’s focus on the first point.

Why Isn’t Information Free?

I’d like to compare what goes on in “info marketing” with established sectors like science, medicine, and academia.

There you get very smart people, who’ve spent a lifetime studying their particular niche. They come up with an idea, verify and validate it, get it reviewed by peers, and then finally publish it for the benefit of the whole world.

Here’s an example, taken from the Lancet (a UK-based medical journal).

Now, I don’t claim to understand exactly what this article is about, but just look at the number of professors and doctors who have been involved in the study! You can get a feel for the level of sheer excellence that has gone into this work — literally months or possibly years of research, testing, validation, and review.

There is a cost to access this report via the Lancet. A year’s single online access currently costs £151 (US$187). That’s for everything they produce – a whole library of potentially life-saving knowledge that has been rigorously tested before publication. I would argue that £3 per week is a fair price to justify the costs of maintaining the online library, making the information practically free.

Now, let’s compare something taken randomly from the info marketing space. Eben Pagan’s “Digital Product Blueprint” (sales page) costs $1997, over 1000% the cost of a subscription to an entire library of potentially life-saving knowledge.

Now, I’m sure that Eben’s product can deliver the goods. I’m sure it will take me step-by-step to creating a digital product in 90 days. (I’m not sure that will also guarantee my life is taken to the next level, but let’s let that slide.)

How and why can Eben’s 90-day programme possibly be worth ten times a Lancet subscription?!

Has DBP taken more work? Looking at the list of contributors to the Lancet article, I would say not, and certainly not 10x the work.

More expertise? No way.

Originality? Well, I’m sure DPB is based on many marketers’ previous work, probably including Brian Clark’s “Teaching Sells” (2009), Product Launch Formula, and many more.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with building on prior art! In fact, the vast majority of science, medicine, and technology necessarily does the same. That’s how we have made so much progress as a species!

The Lancet report will certainly reference a lot of previous work (although probably in a totally transparent way, as it’s very bad form to pass off any previous study as your own).

So let’s be generous and say there’s little difference between the two products in terms of originality. Both are built on decades of prior art, and have had taken at least months of original work to put together.

No case for a 10x price tag so far.

In fact, let’s cut to the chase and say that the ONLY case you can make for DPB’s $2000 price tag is… The promise to make you more money.

That’s the crux of the whole argument. The cost is justified by the promise… no, the implication, that you’ll make so much more money that it will “take your life to the next level”.

Is it true? It may well be true. It may well be the case that, if you follow Eben’s 90-day plan, and you have the prerequisite assets and skills at your disposal, you could get more than your $1997 investment back.

Is it guaranteed? No! Here’s Eben’s guarantee.

This marketer will guarantee that you get a digital product done in 3 months. That’s it. Not launched, not sold, not one penny made.

In fact, if you want to get really picky, the guarantee requires that you present your homework for the entire program, which I’ll bet actually necessitates that you’ll have actually created the product in order to reach the end. So in reality this could be no guarantee at all.

Buyer Beware

So Eben isn’t promising you’ll see your $1997 again. And why should he? He can’t drag you through to commercial success by the hair, ultimately it’s down to you to apply what he teaches you. That’s a fact.

BUT… We still come back to $1997. We still come back to TEN TIMES THE COST of a whole library of potentially life-saving knowledge of the highest calibre.

The copy says, “Why would I offer a guarantee this strong and let you go through the entire course at my risk?” (my italics). But how much is the provider actually risking here? The cost of sale, that’s all, which as we’ve seen should be minimal.

So, unless I’ve missed something, the fact is that the buyer is taking 100% of the risk here.

Note that I’m not setting out to say that Eben Pagan is doing anything wrong, or dishonest. Rather, this is the pattern across the entire information marketing sector.

Stop Bitching, Ben!

Several people have accused me in comments of being jealous of “successful” Internet marketers.

I’m not. I have nothing against people making lots of money, and I myself have made lots of money in the past (six figures) selling information. So these articles are as much a journal of my personal journey as anything else.

Others will come out and accuse me of lacking “abundance mentality“.

I don’t think that charging exorbitant prices for digital information IS abundance mentality. In fact, I thin the contrary is true. It’s scarcity mentality, and it’s unnatural.

Consider the Lilies

If you ever want to know how things can work optimally, just look to Nature. Nature is abundant. Flowers release their scent freely. Trees and bushes produce nuts and fruit freely. Yes, plants actually “trade” nectar for pollination and produce fruit in order to procreate, but here’s the difference…

In Nature, the giving is not tied to an up-front cost. Sure, a flower expects bees to carry its pollen to another flower, but it offers up its nectar anyway, in the hope of the reward. It does not require the bee to commit massively up-front in the transaction.

In fact, you could say it is the flower that takes the risk.

So why, in information marketing, should it be the buyer that takes all the risk?

My Proposal

I believe it is possible to give away practically all our information, and still make a good living. In fact, I’m proving this by giving away all products (that are all my own work) for free via Open Source Marketing and other channels.

I’m still at the early stages of these ideas, but here are a few thoughts to digest:

And that’s the crux, really. As I said at the start, if knowledge can be used to benefit others, why charge for it? Why follow scarcity thinking?

If you have specialised, advanced knowledge — if you’re the best — why not make your money by applying that knowledge? Here are some ideas for you.

  1. Teach others live, either one-to-one or in groups.
  2. Present live at conferences and seminars.
  3. Deliver consulting to clients who need the highest level of expertise and are prepared to pay.
  4. Go on retreats to amazing locations where you can work with groups who want to learn from the best.
  5. Run an inner circle or mastermind group where you coach others directly.
  6. Create an association or guild of other practitioners who want to become the best.

There are plenty of ways to get paid for your knowledge by actually applying it in the real world.

What? You think that by refusing to share your knowledge with anyone unless they can pay makes you more valuable?

I disagree. When I look at the world, I see the very best sharing freely, creating abundance AND profiting well, while those who are stingy with their know-how are not among the best. They’re shysters and penny-pinchers who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

So I guess what I’m saying is that, in terms of The Stack, the “DIY Paid” level should ideally be incorporated into “DIY Free”. That’s the way I’m running my business now, and I hope to show you how great it can be to follow the natural, divine model and to share freely. Want to join me?

Can Software Write Your Copy?

Published last week - 15 Comments

It has been a while since I felt compelled to write one of these reviews calling out Internet Marketing bullshit.

(I honestly don’t like doing it, and would prefer not to.)

But then it has been a while since I saw anything quite like this email I received today from Internet Marketing guru Russell Brunson, with the subject “want ME to write YOUR copy?”

Here’s the subject line.

And here’s the body of the email.

Now I’m not guessing that this email was spat out by the magic software. It’s well written.

The subject line makes you think, “Hey, really? Russ is gonna write my copy?” which gives you a reason to open the message.

And it gives you the familiar market trader patter of setting up the usual massive price, before saying, “But wait. Now you don’t have to pay a fortune!” plus “Usually this would be out of reach, but not anymore!” All good, tried and tested sales copy.

I don’t have a problem with any of that.

I don’t have a problem with the fact that Russell is claiming that someone had to give him equity in order to write copy for them. I’m sure that happened, although in reality it was probably far more of a happy joint venture.

No, my problem is with the proposition itself. The idea that ANY software can actually WRITE COPY.

It’s bullshit of the highest order. The only way I can really describe the supremacy of this bullshit is to borrow a line from Pulp Fiction.

Pulp Fiction Vince Lance

But when you shoot it, you’ll know where that extra money went. Nothing wrong with the first two. It’s real, real, real, good shit. But this one’s a fuckin’ madman.

It’s not just bullshit. It’s fuckin’ batshit-crazy madman bullshit.

Why? Because anyone who’s written copy, whether it’s good or bad, knows how hard it is, how complex, and subtle it is. And how every piece is a brand new challenge.

The process is as human as things get! There is NO SOFTWARE that can WRITE good copy, period!

Good copy means fully and intimately understanding the audience, the product, the offer, the feeling you want to create, how to generate curiosity or intrigue or whatever hooks you’re going to use to get people to keep reading. It is really, REALLY difficult.

Red Smith was asked if turning out a daily column wasn’t quite a chore. …”Why, no,” dead-panned Red. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

So the idea that software can WRITE even basic copy effectively is preposterous. Why? Because there’s no software anywhere that can empathise with human emotions. End of story, goodnight, sweet prince.

So for Russell to say “THIS is the next best thing to having ME actually sitting in your office writing copy for you!” is not just hyperbole; it’s a blatant LIE. I bet my ass that ANY moderately talented copywriter can out-perform Russ’s machine.

So What CAN Software Do?

I’m not saying Russell hasn’t created something that can churn out words. Clearly he has.

(And he isn’t the first. Black-hat SEOs have been using software to chew up content and vomit it back out over the web for years. The bastards.)

But that’s not the same as copy. “Copy” is the result of a creative process. Humans can create things that elegantly balance the super-complex factors of psychology, emotion, imagination, and legal responsibility. Computers can’t, and won’t be able to for a while.

Let me predict what this magical “mechanical Turk” will turn out to be. It will be a template system that asks you a bunch of questions, then spins out some familiar-sounding wordage using your responses. And will miss the mark, by a long way.

If you’re going to go to the effort of answering all the questions you need, and you really don’t have the writing gene, you would be better off taking that time to put your answers down on a brief and giving it to a third-rate copywriter on Fiverr. I promise you you’ll get better results.

What Else is Out There?

A quick search revealed this article by Bob Bly that talks about an alternative software solution called Persado, which had just (July 2015) raised $21 million to take their product to market.

Persado seems to be far closer to the kind of AI copy-writing software that you might be expecting. It uses algorithms to help it compose a range of copy, but even then it can’t actually write.

From the article…

But, as it turns out, the WSJ misinterprets what Persado’s software is really doing. So let me set the record straight, based on a recent interview I conducted with Persado CMO David Atlas.

First, the software does not write copy in the sense that you or I might write a sales letter, ad, landing page or brochure. It cannot do what we copywriters do — yet.

Atlas explained that the Persado algorithm is limited to creating persuasive sentences with a maximum length of 600 characters.

So far, Persado is mostly used to write email subject lines, Facebook ads, text messaging for mobile marketing and short-form landing pages.

“Persado solves a mathematical word puzzle to figure out the best sentence,” says Atlas. “It automates the creation of small sentences optimized for persuasion in digital marketing that drives action.”

What’s Your Problem, Ben?

I love to see people innovating, solving problems in new ways, and making money selling those solutions. Bravo to every entrepreneur and inventor out there who does that.

But when I see people peddling so-called “solutions” that promise to solve problems that are as challenging — and as important — as marketing, when those “solutions” are merely patterns that have proved effective in a few cases, and pitching them as UNIVERSALLY effective, that’s where I lose my shit.

This is me about to lose my shit and turn green.

I’ve railed against cookie-cutter marketing solutions in the past, and I’ll keep doing it as long as people are losing money on them.

For example, I literally just got off a call today with a group of people who are promoting a technology that could transform the world. They invested time in studying (wait for it) Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula, and followed the system thoroughly.

No sales. Not one. The previous 2 times they sold this product, they sold over ten units (it’s a fairly high-priced training). This time, after months of work to follow PLF, zilch.

Why? Because Product Launch Formula doesn’t always work! There is NO FORMULA, there is no special sauce, no cure-all, no magic fucking beans, no answer to YOUR marketing challenge… because YOUR marketing challenge is UNIQUE!

Anyone who says there is a one-size-fits-all solution to marketing is
a) lying, and
b) about to try to sell you one.

So yes, Russell Brunson’s team have created some software. It is probably the result of months of cutting up previously successful copy from a wide range of campaigns. It has probably taken months of programming. It will certainly spit out copy in response to what you give it.

And it will fail.

Disclaimer

I would like to see this software in action. If it really can write great copy, I will eat my hat, retract this post, and will go on record proclaiming Russell Brunson as the saviour of marketing.

(Update: I’ve now seen it in action, and it cannot create great copy. My hat is safe, hooray!)

p.s.

Image from Russell’s G+ page: https://plus.google.com/+RussellBrunsonHQ

I’ve got nothing against Russ as a person. The first time I came across him was a couple of years ago when I saw a video of a presentation he gave, and I found him immediately likeable and authentic.

I can’t remember the details of what he was talking about, but I remember sharing it with my group at the time saying, “I think this guy could be one of the good guys” because it definitely struck me with its integrity. And I know Russ has worked very closely with Dan Kennedy, who’s one of the smartest marketing minds alive.

So, before the trolls are released (as they always are) let me say this isn’t an attack on Russ, it’s a comment on the prevailing habit that many Internet marketers exhibit to extrapolate a product or service’s ability that works in some cases and claim that it could work for everyone. It can’t. Marketing isn’t like that. Sorry.

Update

I’ve just been through a previous recording of Russ’s sales webinar where the product is actually demonstrated, which I found with a quick web search.

It’s called “Funnel Scripts“, costs $297 (at least that’s the “buy it now before it disappears” price offered at the end of the webinar), and it does exactly what I thought it would…

You enter a few details (main benefit 1, main benefit 2, main obstacle, etc.) and it spits out basically a document that slots your words into many combinations of boilerplate text (along with a bunch of other outputs like webinar presentations). So it’s basically a “fill-in-the-gaps” copy spinner.

My Conclusions

For what it is, Funnel Scripts seems very good. But the problem is, what it is is not what it is being pitched in this email. It cannot replace a skilled copywriter.

The makers do not promise that Funnel Scripts will produce your final copy. In the webinar, they stress that all copy needs to be edited and tweaked, so you should expect to rework it to some extent.

If all you want is basic, generic, shallow, and narrow sales copy, this product WILL spit that out for you more quickly than writing it yourself, and probably more cheaply than hiring someone to write it for you.

If your market is relatively naive and dumb, that may be cost-effective, so go for it. If your market is sophisticated enough to have seen a range of similar generic sales copy before, it may not work so well.

If you know beyond doubt that your offer does not deserve its own custom strategy, this will work for you. But I can’t think of any offer I’ve worked on recently that fits that description. Even if you need to do something as basic as tell your offering’s origin story in an original way, you’re way beyond the scope of Funnel Scripts.

If your product and/or your market require particular insight (beyond the basic, brash, bold claim aimed at the unsophisticated impulse buyer), that will require close attention and the software can’t help you.

The end result will never be as good as copy that has been expertly crafted. The reason is that this software solution provides, by its nature, what is basically a relatively dumb process. As I’ve said, nobody can write software that can actually write copy, make it fit-for-purpose. All it can do (at least at this price) is automate a fill-in-the-gaps template.

To propose that this software means you don’t need to be a good copywriter or hire a good copywriter, or that it’s anything LIKE having a good copywriter write your stuff is disingenuous beyond measure, at least for 99% of us.

In other words, if you’re selling magic beans, go for it.

The Path Program: Week Four

Published a couple of months ago - 1 Comment

Here’s the final week of free videos for “The Path Program” where we start to put one foot in front of the other on the Path you choose for yourself.

Don’t watch these unless you’ve already worked through Week OneWeek Two, and Week Three.

Week Four Day One: Your definition of success

What does success mean to you? You don’t have to use anyone else’s measure. Choose your own!

Week Four Day Two: Break it down

Turn your big goal into smaller, manageable steps, and put a timescale on them. What resources can we call on?

Week Four Day Three: Resources

What do you need in order to walk your Path? What will help you? Which resources do you have access to now? Which do you not now?

Week Four Day Four: ASK

Who can best help you take the next steps on your path right now? Contact them! Be okay with “no”.

Week Four Day Five: Enrol others

What kind of team could help you along the way? Build it.

Week Four Day Six: Set up your support structure

What will help you keep taking the steps forward? What support would you like to have? Set it up.

Week Four Day Seven: Close

What do you need to get go of? Whose permission don’t you need? JFDI.


And here’s the wonderfully inspiring video of Pavi Mehta’s talk.

The Path Program: Week Three

Published a couple of months ago - 0 Comments

The videos for week three of “The Path Program” — a short course designed to help you get what you want most in life (really want most).

In this week we move into some serious head-work, clearing out the bullshit that keeps you standing in your own way.

Don’t watch these unless you’ve already worked through Week One and Week Two.

Week Three Day One: Constraints

Go through your list of reasons why you’re not enjoying your Path right now. Which ones are REAL?

Week Three Day Two: The Garden of Eden

Go through a list of stuff and mark it Right or Wrong. Then consider there is NO absolute right / wrong??

Week Three Day Three: FEAR

What’s the worst that could happen? Literally, write it down.

Week Three Day Four: Responsibilities and Masters

Write down all your responsibilities. Then go through and either choose each one or not. Be clear about the nature and limits of the resp. you choose.

Week Three Day Five: Verify and Choose

Is it true / false / unknown? What do you choose to do with those false or unknown constraints? Is it powerful to use your Word to embrace your real constraints??

Week Three Day Six: Getting Free from Judgement

Freeing yourself from the fruit of the tree enables you to choose with power.

Week Three Day Seven: What Would You Like to Have Happen?

Pick a few things you can do in the next week.

The Path Program: Week Two

Published a couple of months ago - 1 Comment

Here’s week two of four of “The Path Program”, which I’m making available for free. Why? Simply because I want you to have it, and I don’t want any reason for you to say no.

Don’t watch these unless you’ve already worked through Week One.

Week Two Day One:Your Path

Thread: Write down the times in your life where your Path has poked through (like a thread through cloth). What is it about those things? What is the thread?

Week Two Day Two:Your Vision

Describe the world you would like to see. (No one is right or wrong. The world you live in is the world you choose to live in.)

Week Two Day Three: Your Values

YOU get to choose. Write six words that are meaningful to you. (Or you may choose a different number.) “X is important to me, because I say X is important to me.”

Week Two Day Four:Money & Resources

What represents survival > security > comfort > ease > luxury? What do you choose to earn?

Week Two Day Five: Other People

How does your vision involve others? Who needs to be enrolled in this vision? Who will benefit from it? What’s in it for them?

Week Two Day Six: One Thing

Just pick one thing that you can BE right now, in this moment. Practice being the master of WHO YOU ARE.

Week Two Day Seven: What Keeps Us Trapped?

List all the reasons why you haven’t got the life you would like right now.

The Path Program: Week One

Published a couple of months ago - 3 Comments

In the summer of 2016, I got together with a couple of other coaches or facilitators to put on a course on “whatever you most want in life” and called it “The Path Program”.

We ran the course for four weeks, and I made one short video per day over that time, building from some basic principles through to putting your big plan for your life into action.

Now I’m sharing my videos with you for free. I hope you get as much out of this material as I did making it. I certainly discovered a massive amount about what I’m doing here. Enjoy!

Week One Day One: Introduction & Signposts

Week One Day Two: Who Are You?

Week One Day Three: Your Place in Space

Week One Day Four: Your Place in Time

Week One Day Five: WORD

Week One Day Six: Be, Do, Have

Week One Day Seven: Get Out of Your Own Way


And here’s the “Stop It” sketch I refer to.

A Business Proposal For You

Published a few months ago - 6 Comments

I’ve been mulling on this idea for a few months, and I guess it’s just time to put it out there.

In brief, I’m looking to partner with a few people who want to take advantage of my online marketing platform in return for some compensation (fee / share of revenues / etc.). Specifically, I want to know YOUR ideas for how YOU would partner with me.

Here are the facts as I see them…

1. Incredible Potential

Webdesignfromscratch.com is a kick-ass domain! Here are the top traffic keywords from Google Analytics over the past four weeks.

Webdesignfromscratch.com top traffic terms (past 4 weeks)

Webdesignfromscratch.com top traffic terms (past month)

That’s only what I could fit on the screen, but Analytics shows 38,313 visits to the domain in the past month, of which 29,766 came from organic search.

WDFS Traffic

I also have a mailing list with over 8000 contacts that has grown by 4000 in the past year.

My mailing list growth over the past two years

My mailing list growth over the past two years

Bottom line: If YOU were to post your high-quality content on my website, it has a great chance of ranking well. Plus we can instantly promote it to thousands of people who are interested in web design, marketing, copywriting etc..

2. Seriously Under-Utilized

When I was in the agency business, I ran a five-figure monthly business with several staff with zero marketing work, other than posting on Web Design from Scratch.

Here’s what I learned early on…

Sharing what works and telling people how you get great results for clients is the perfect advertisement for your business!

While I am still working in web marketing, design, development, I don’t have the time to continue to develop new courses, books, and other products.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll have seen the evolution away from web design, SEO, CRO etc. and through ethical marketing and the open-source movement.

These days my professional focus is more on innovation for companies, and my personal passion is in the area of sustainability and green living.

So I’m not posting enough on WDFS, and I’m not mailing my list enough. These are amazing resources that are simply not being used optimally. That means there’s a huge amount of business — and money — sitting on the table.

3. You Need More Business, I Want to Help.

I’m looking for a few partners who share my values, who have big ideas, and who are keen to build something cool.

This opportunity may be for you if…

  • You’re not a dick.
    • This is super-important. I promise everyone who signs up to my mailing list that I won’t sell them out, so anything I promote must be legitimate, useful, interesting, and honest.
    • Plus, if we’re going to work together long-term, we need similar values or it isn’t going to work.
    • Of course, you need to be good at what you do, and passionate about it.
  • You like to share what works.
    • The whole purpose of Web Design from Scratch has always been to share information about how to market online the right way.
    • So I only want content that’s generous and genuinely helpful.
    • That doesn’t mean you can’t blow your own trumpet. On the contrary, I’m specifically looking for your case studies about how you get traffic, get conversions, solve problems, win customers, retain business, make money, increase profits (whether for your own business or for clients).
  • You’ve got big ideas.
    • When it comes to the difference you’re making in the world, the bigger the better. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a large agency or a big product/service company, or you’re just one person. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got lots of money in the bank or none. I am interested in hearing what you’d like to change.
    • I love innovation, I love passion, and I love ideas that will improve the way we live. Making money is important, but it should come as a result of making a positive difference.

Your specialist area could be almost anything, as long as it’s interesting and helpful to my audience (people who do web design, web development, or online marketing).

You may be interested in WordPress, graphic design, copywriting, email marketing, web security, search engine optimisation, pay-per-click marketing, social media, conversion rate optimisation, or pretty much any area of online marketing and tech.

The Deal

I’m offering you:

  • Licence to publish your content on webdesignfromscratch.com.
    • This may be your own work, or joint interviews etc.
    • It is subject to my editorial quality control (must be top-quality stuff), and also subject to fair use (you can’t spam the site, we need to keep balance).
  • Ability to promote certain top-quality content to my mailing list.
  • This may include genuine offers and deals.
  • Plus any connections, collaboration, ideas, or coaching I may be able to offer (in limited time!)

What I’m asking from you is your ideas for trade.

  • Could be a partnership fee (suggested $500/month).
  • Or possibly a revenue-share arrangement (need to be clear how this would be monitored).
  • Or… something else. What kind of win-win scenario can you think up?

To take the next step, simply email me with your proposal! (I promise to reply to any genuine proposal that isn’t fucking stupid.)

Your pal,
Ben

 

Spend an Hour in the Company of a Great Teacher

Published 6 months ago - 6 Comments

Today I learned that my friend and mentor Alistair Smith passed over into “whatever happens next”.

Our history is relatively short. Alistair contacted me around a year ago to discuss his visions for reconnecting the spiritual and business realms, and his ideas for bringing a new creative vitality into entrepreneurship. We struck up a friendship.

Alistair also told me that he was living with late-stage cancer, but, far from being a death sentence, for him it was an embodiment of his relationship with life. Alistair had a lot to say about his insights with this experience, and I know there will be books published about it.

I feel extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to interview Alistair about life, the universe, and everything, just a few weeks ago (as a bonus for my course “The Path” that I ran recently).

While he was physically very sick on the day we spoke, he felt energised and was able to talk for an hour.

I would love to share that interview with you.

Now, please don’t think this is about marketing or making money, although we do go into the ethics of wealth (which is fascinating). This is an opportunity to walk alongside a phenomenally wise human being on the last stage of his “earthwalk”.

I learned a huge amount from this short time with Alistair. I hope you will too.

God speed, my friend!

Download MP3 Version

Bowing Out

Published 8 months ago - 5 Comments

Friends,

This is something that has been brewing for some time, and probably won’t come as a big surprise if you’ve been following me for a while.

Basically, I have decided to retire from the business of online marketing / web design.

Why? Because it is no longer a complete expression of who I AM, and there is an urge to do something more that I just can’t shake off.

I’ll explain the reasons more below, but first let me give you an outline of what’s going to happen from here:

  1. I’ve asked my good friend and colleague Brian McFarlane to take over the management of Web Design from Scratch.com. Brian is an outstanding marketer who really *gets it*, and he will help build the site’s presence in a way that it deserves. WDFS is a great asset, but I have not given it the attention it has needed (that’s a sign in itself). You can expect to hear some exciting news from Brian and other great marketers in the near future.
  2. I have taken down the WDFS Premium restrictions, because that also didn’t get the attention it needed, so that content is now freely accessible. Anyone who has been subscribing… please go ahead and cancel your subscription now. (However, watch out for my next thing, as I’ll offer you a discount on that as a thank you for your support.)
  3. I will still be writing, and I’ll remain on hand as editor-in-chief, to provide what support I can to WDFS and Open Source Marketing.

More on why…

For several years, I have been bashing my head against a wall, trying to make something happen that I thought I should do… Some kind of ethical and fair reinvention of the online marketing model that could involve a flexible network of specialists using a new profit-sharing model.

Great in principle, but (as my inner circle friends will be only too aware) never managed to see the light of day.

For a while, I told myself that the reason why I never realized that new business model was because I was either too lazy, or lacked the ability to manage.

But I now know that’s bullshit.

I now believe the real reason it never happened is because it wasn’t supposed to. Without getting too woo-woo on you, it feels like a voice has been getting louder in me, pushing me in a different direction.

As my “Finding Your Why” essay suggests, that true path or calling has always been there, and has been expressing itself through various projects and achievements…

Web design, copywriting, usability, conversion optimization, branding and positioning, ethical marketing… ALL this stuff is an expression of what I’m REALLY about… which is

“to explore and to share ways we can do things better together”

Lying beneath all those symptoms and expressions there has always been something deeper. And the truth is that none of those things has been a true, full expression of that one thing.

So I have decided to take the plunge into the one thing. If I don’t, I’ll keep going round the same carousel ride, ignoring the increasingly loud messages from (the Universe?)

Next question: What is my ultimate expression (right now) of exploring and sharing ways we can do things better??

Right now.. it’s this! It’s what I’m doing myself. It’s what I’m writing to you about in this letter..

If you go through my Circuit Questionnaire, you’ll pick up that the essence of what I want to help people or brands discover is their magnificent and unique gift that they can offer the world. (And, to be totally honest, I get a lot more excited about doing that exploration with people than with brands!)

That’s what this is… It’s the process of discovering and manifesting the BEST that we can be. Stepping into our true calling, which will not only be what will deliver personal fulfilment and happiness, but will also allow us to give the most we can to the world.

Now that I write it down, I can see how everything has been pointing this way.

Do I know exactly how it is going to pan out? No, of course not! If I did, I wouldn’t be on my edge, I’d be playing it safe!

Am I scared? Yes.

But I’m excited too.. and right now I know that some of you guys on my list will share that excitement…

Because you may be one of those folks who have felt this gnawing doubt, probably for several years, that there’s something more that you’re supposed to do… But you don’t know what it is!

So that’s where I’m going to invest my energy next. With pride and humility I’m handing over other areas of my business to people who have more drive and commitment than I can offer, so that I can create something to try to help other people (like you) to step into the life you truly want.

Briefly, I’m sketching out a program to deliver exactly that, in partnership with two other amazing facilitators. I don’t know exactly what form it will take, but I know it will be unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced, and I know it will be an experiment, a step into the unknown. If you’re interested to know more, please email me back.

There will be more to follow in the next few days. If you’ve read this far, thank you! I don’t take your attention for granted, and I truly hope I can continue to serve you in new ways.

With love, your friend,
Ben

Time To Take My Own Medicine

Published last year - 15 Comments

This is an open letter to my tribe, my friends in the marketing world.

You already know if you’re one of them, because you’re going to keep reading, because you care about making a real difference, you care about integrity, and you believe that marketing can be a force for good.

First, let me start with a confession. I know that, over the years, I have written too many posts about new business models, models which I have never implemented.

Although I’ve been in the online marketing business for over twenty years, I guess I’ve always felt like a bit of a lost soul, restlessly looking for something that I could never find.

It wasn’t visual design, it wasn’t conversion, it wasn’t niche marketing or application development or SEO or copywriting… or any of the other things I’ve turned my hand to.

Big Realizations

I’d like to share with you some very important insights that have led to the big change I’m about to announce.

1. Genius

My first big realization from the last year was discovering my Genius (what you might call my why, my path, missioncalling, dharma, or ikigai).

I have understood that I’m not really a web designer or a marketer. My own genius is…

To explore and share ideas for how we can collectively make a better world.

Maybe that’s why I have never been able to manifest a marketing business? Because that would not be a true reflection of my own calling. What really gets me bouncing out of bed on a Monday morning is idea exploration. I’m a person who needs to be at the edge of new ideas. And managing a business does not fit easily with that.

2. ONE Thing

The second big insight that has come my way this week is from this book: “The ONE Thing” by Gary Keller.

The book starts with a movie reference that I love. It’s the scene in City Slickers where Billy Crystal’s character asks Curly, the crusty old cowboy played by Jack Palance, what the meaning of life is. Curly raises one index finger, leaving Crystal’s character puzzled. For the wizened old cowboy, life is about “one thing” and we each need to find our one thing.

I’m only halfway through this book, but it is all making perfect sense to me, and it’s helping me to crystallize a bunch of thoughts, many of which I’ve been preaching for years — but have consistently failed to apply to my own business!

Stuff like…

  • The middle ground is not safe. It’s the path to poor results.
  • Risky is the new safe. Safe is the new risky.
  • Find your niche and immerse yourself in it.
  • Massive success does not come from a sequence of small improvements, but from tackling massive goals.
  • Figuring out what to say “no” to is a far more important factor in success than what you say “yes” to.
  • It all starts with being something remarkable. The rest flows from there.

All this points to my “one thing” — which right now is clearly marketing strategy. To be more specific, we could say it’s cracking the code of marketing strategy.

(So I know I need to stop things like developing web applications, designing websites, and writing extensive copy for clients. More on that below..)

3. Coaching

Realization #3 is that I have not been following my own advice!

I constantly find myself telling clients and prospects how hard it is consistently to apply what you know to your own life and business, which is why the strategy services I provide can be so valuable.

But yours truly has constantly tried to walk my road solo, without asking for help or guidance from others!

So I have arranged to get an experienced coach, who I’m hoping can help keep me pointed in my right direction.

I know that, if I’m going to make a real difference, I have to focus in a way that I have not done before. That will mean saying “no” to a lot of the stuff I have let distract me in the past, and to throw myself completely into cracking my BHAG (“big hairy-arsed goal”).

Change of Focus — “The Marketing Strategist”

So, from today, I have taken on a new role. I’ve changed the tagline on this website to “The Marketing Strategist.” I think adopting that title has the right mix of inspiration and fear. To step into our full powerful potential should feel like going out on a limb.

My big goal now, my ONE thing, is to pick up the original objective of Open Source Marketing, which is to try and crack the code of marketing strategy.

I think there is a desperate need for this in the world right now. We’re inundated with “how-to” marketing advice, but what’s missing is “WHAT-TO” do!

Who should use Facebook? Not everyone, certainly!

Who should use webinars / content marketing / PR / Instagram / squeeze pages / SEO / email follow-up sequences / pay-per-click / product launches / podcasts / YouTube videos / marketing automation..?

The answer is always the same: Not everyone. If we were to try every option, we would quickly exhaust our resources (time, money, energy)!

I think the biggest marketing challenge facing businesses today is simply being unable to see the forest for the trees.

The 80:20 rule applies in full force here. 20% of the things you could do will deliver 80% of the benefits. So it’s essential to know what those bottom-80% activities are, so that we can avoid them.

If we’re going to achieve our potential, we need guidance on WHAT to focus on, what to learn, what to practise, what to become an experts in.

And there is surely logic behind those decisions. That’s what marketing strategy is about. And that’s what I’m going to try to solve.

Here’s how it will work:

  1. Take a bunch of real-world case studies and figure out what the “right” marketing strategy is.
  2. Then figure out why that strategy is the right one. This step is about breaking down the factors that combine to make X the right way forward.
  3. Identify a set of questions that, when answered, would give us the raw material to identify possible positive strategies (or at least to identify approaches that are unlikely to be helpful). That working set of questions is The Circuit.
  4. Then find ways to make that logic more accessible. This could possibly even be an online wizard, which could take all your Circuit responses and give you practical guidance on what your strategy could be!

To my knowledge, nobody has done this before, or possibly even attempted it. It is certainly a mammoth task!

Case Study: Skin of Gold

I am working with one client right now who has two businesses. One of these is an artisan skin cream, which sounds amazing. (It has genuine skin-healing properties, combining pure gold and silver with a selection of carefully-selected essential oils. So it literally promotes the skin’s own healing powers, and has repeatedly caused unsightly marks and skin conditions to disappear.)

The client currently only sells a few dozen units per month, and realistically only has capacity to produce around a hundred bottles per month, as things stand.

When I worked through the strategy, it became clear to me that this product should have a significantly higher price tag than it is now, and that we should try a risk-free “Challenge” tactic, backed up with a 100% money-back guarantee.

The second step is to try to get customers onto a continuity program, where they get a new bottle of the cream every month, in return for a significantly discounted subscription.

Using lean thinking, if that initial small-scale campaign proves profitable, we would then expand production, possibly using a few hand-picked affiliates (beauty bloggers or magazines).

The question is, why? WHY is the “30-day Challenge” a viable strategy?

So my next step is to break down and sort through the factors, to determine which would apply in every similar case. For example, here are some I have identified already…

  • an unknown “challenger” brand
  • a market that already has incumbent products that people use regularly
  • proof of mobility, i.e. customers are open to trying better alternatives
  • decent profit margin (important for money-back guarantee, helped by raising the prices)
  • genuine, demonstrable benefits for the majority of users

Once I have figured out what rules seem to apply, I can then record that logic in some fashion, so that next time we get a client whose business environment matches these same factors, we can apply the same logic, and ideally learn and optimize the system.

A New Marketing Strategy “Agency”

Clearly, I need to devote my time to figuring out as many marketing strategies as I can.

That’s why from today I will now offer only one service: marketing strategy consulting.

The details are not yet finalized, but I anticipate that could start an hourly basis (i.e. the consulting offer I put out in December, which is working great!) but could also ideally grow into a profit-sharing partnership.

For now, my agency will just consist of me. I may build a consortium of other strategists over time. Clearly, the world needs many marketing strategists!

With that in mind, I’m open to running a weekly hangout for people who know that marketing strategy is the way for them too. If you’re interested in being part of this, please let me know.

Book?

It would also make sense to write a book on marketing strategy. I don’t yet know what this will look like, but I do know it needs to be based on real-world case studies, not just logic.

Some Business Opportunities

This refocusing of my business creates a range of opportunities:

1. Have Me Work on Your Strategy

First, if you know you need clarity in your marketing, work with me! I’m looking for a few businesses with great potential. The only catch is that you need to be willing for me to publish some details of your business in case studies!

2. Join My Marketing Strategists’ Working Group

If you know you were born to be a marketing strategist, if this idea inspires you, please email me and we’ll think about creating a working group.

3. Help Me Launch a Ground-breaking PHP App

I also need a PHP / MySQL developer to take on the development of a very exciting web-based application I’m building for one of my clients. I have developed a prototype myself, and now it’s time to take it to market. If you’re a serious PHP developer, based anywhere in the world, and you’re looking for a long-term project, let me know!

4. Manage “Web Design from Scratch Premium”

The plan with WDFS+ was always to bring on more trainers who could contribute to building the best, most current, most comprehensive guide to creating effective websites (in a post-Web-Design-is-Dead world). I have a revenue-sharing model in place, ready to bring on more great content.

If you have ideas for material you would like to share with a larger audience, please get in touch. Alternatively, if you would be willing to manage the growth of the platform, please let me know (I’m offering 25% of all revenues).

Watch this space as we try to crack the marketing strategy code!!!

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