Creativity

What’s It Like Being a Working Writer?

The following is an automated transcript from The Water Cooler Hangout. You can listen to the podcast by clicking The Water Cooler Hangout or read it in its entirety (complete with automation glitches) below.

What’s It Like Being a Working Writer?

Bob Poole: [00:00:00] So you think he might like to get paid to be a writer? It’s creative, sounds like it could be fun. You can sit at a desk or on the beach or anywhere and get paid to put words on paper. Today, our guest is Phil Elmore, and he’s going to share with us the life of a working writer. Phil is a bestselling, commercially published author, technical writer, Internet marketing copywriter and content creator, living and working in upstate New York. He’s written hundreds of books, including two dozen action novels in the Gold Eagle Worldwide Library series, The Executioner for Harlequin. His bestselling nonfiction book is Ten Things Your Doctor Won’t Tell You About Your C Pap machine. He has contributed countless articles to various firearms, knives and martial arts publications. You can visit Bill online if you want and hire to write for you at w w w dot. Phil Elmore dot com.

Bob Poole: [00:00:59] Hi, this is Bob Poole. Welcome to The Water  Cooler Hang out. For over 40 years I’ve been helping people like you grow and prosper. Please join me and guests like Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Loren Cordain, Beverly and Tim Walden, Phil Elmore and more as we share real life stories about sales, marketing, leadership, creativity and current events. Need help in moving to the next level.

Bob Poole: [00:01:24] Find out how others have done it by listening to The Water Cooler Hangout.

Bob Poole: [00:01:37] Hey, good morning, Phil. And welcome to The Water Cooler Hangout. It’s good to have you here.

Phil Elmore: [00:01:44] It’s good to be here.

Bob Poole: [00:01:45] I’ve read somewhere where you refer to yourself as a working writer. Can you tell us what that means to you? How does that differ?

Phil Elmore: [00:01:53] Yes, I. I make a distinction between being an author and being a working writer. Literally, anyone these days can become an author. That’s not an insult. It’s not a criticism. The first book I ever published was a self-published book. I will say as an aside, that you only ever get one first novel and they’re all terrible. You must exorcise the poison. There’s no getting around it. Very few authors turn out a brilliant book the first time. Maybe J.K. Rowling is the exception. But even published authors – authors who do great and have wonderful careers. There’s an author named I think is an Australian named Matthew Riley, who’s written a series of adventure books, and he published his first novel after rewriting it after he had several commercial successes and says in the introduction that when he self-published it, it didn’t sell many copies and it wasn’t very good. And that’s because you simply don’t know what you don’t know. And most beginning writers don’t write well, and I’m no exception to that. So because we live in an era of self-publishing and there are no barriers to putting out a novel, anyone can put out a novel and become an author. And many of us who grew up enamored of the idea of being authors, it has a mystique associated with it. That’s understandable. There’s so many people who will write a book, if you like. I wrote a book and maybe they’ll write several. And if they’re just writing for an audience of friends and family and they’re not subjecting themselves to a high level of harsh criticism, they’re not going to improve. So those people are all authors.

Phil Elmore: [00:03:29] A working writer, by contrast, is somebody who is actually making money at the creative writing. And unlike being an author, being a working writer has no glamour associated with it. It has no cachet. You’re literally making a living off the sweat of your brain. And sometimes it’s quite undignified. I have had to write, I cannot tell you and I won’t tell you some of the things I’ve had to write to make a living. I have contributed hundreds of thousands of words of just debris to the Internet working for Internet marketers. That’s one of the one of the big categories of available work, if you are a working writer, is Internet marketing and people who write websites of the Web, copy your blog posts or, you know, various things along those lines. So when you get into the realm of content creation, which is an umbrella term for I write things for people when they tell me what they want, that can be anything from white papers to articles to even e-books for clients who want to offer e-book products, physical books, even. I have written countless books for clients. I have written novels for clients. I have rewritten novels for clients. There’s very, very few genres of writing I have not done for pay. But the exchange for that is, in many cases, as a working writer y ou don’t get credit for what you’re doing. That’s the gig. You get paid a flat fee and then the person does whatever they will do with what you produce and takes credit for it. Or you write material that isn’t a book and isn’t particularly glamorous. Might be a website, might be a series of blog posts, could be almost anything.

Phil Elmore: [00:05:02] And that too is not something you’ll take credit for. And hopefully you want to. In some cases you will pound the pavement and stand on virtual street corners. Used to be sites like Elance which got bought by Upwork. I’ve done work on those sites. I’ve met clients on sites like this that became years long clients who produce thousands and thousands of dollars of work for me. But doing that type of work is exactly like prostitution without all the dignity. You have to be willing to swallow your pride, get paid less than you think you’re worth, do work that you might find a little detestable, right? Write about topics that you find…ah let’s just say that you can’t afford to find things offensive when you’re trying to make a living that way. So when a client pays you to write a series of sleazy websites for products that you didn’t even know existed until you did, how you open your research then? That’s the gig. I had a client who has to do a series of websites like that for all kinds of adult products we’ll call them. And then one day he’s like, yeah, I need you to give me ten thousand words on costumes. And I’m like, what? What manner of vile things? No man costumes, Batman. Superman. I’m like, what? It doesn’t have disgusting sex stuff. How can I write that now? So, you know, it really there are some writers who would look at that and go, oh no, I’m destroying my writing talent, writing things that are beneath me and it’s going to harm my writing abilities.

Phil Elmore: [00:06:32] I don’t see it that way. A working writer has to be able to (garbled audio). So you’re just learning different genres in your work and overall, I would say that all that experience is beneficial because the more you learn to write, the better you become. It is helpful. Like if you spend your week after week writing your copy for websites on topics that don’t personally interest you, which is probably the case, then it’s helpful to write on the side and work on your pet novel or work on something else that you find intellectually stimulating just to keep your hand in, but in all your copious amounts of free time. And I often say that you’re not a working writer until you want to go to bed, but you can’t because you have to finish what you write. And a lot of authors live a life of work where they never have to confront that. Oh, I don’t feel like writing today. So I’m not going to almost I wrote an entire chapter today and aren’t I proud of myself, and that’s nice. But only when you’ve been up until 3:00 in the morning because you need to Grind out ten thousand words of Web copy because you live on deadline, which I’m not saying that (garbled). I’m just saying that that’s what the job can be like. It can be very difficult. But the opposite part of that, the other side of the coin is that it can be very fulfilling. It also gives you the ability to make money all the time. I can always make extra money if I’m willing to exchange sleep for it. The hard part is just finding the client willing to spend a fair amount of money.

Phil Elmore: [00:08:06] I’m so sorry you pressed the button that is “talk about writing. right, and I just…

Bob Poole: [00:08:12] No, no, that’s a great description of what you call a working writer, but how many books have you written? Have you kept track?

Phil Elmore: [00:08:20] I have the luxury of not being able to remember how many books I’ve written.

Phil Elmore: [00:08:24] I wrote a dozen books for Harlequin alone, the romance novel company. They had a men’s adventure in print that they didn’t like to admit to having for the longest time and over several years, I wrote two dozen books in their Executioner Adventure series. If you heard of The Punisher, you’ve heard of a similar property. The comic book The Punisher was widely acknowledged to be sort of inspired by a rip off from the executioner. Their stories about a man whose family is killed by criminals, who makes the entirely logical decision to kill all the criminals. So he does over the course of (in the case of The Executioner) of hundreds of books that those have been ghostwritten by a staff of writers of whom I am only one of dozens of people probably. I’ve never known exactly how many authors worked on that series. But when the original author wrote like 40 of the books and then sold the property to (audio garbled), which was the imprint of Harlequin, put those out to people like me, wrote those books to the tune of I think they were churning them out, like four every few months, for a while. So there are six or seven hundred books in that series at this point. I’ve done those written books for other clients. I’ve written a number of science fiction novels for an IP company. I’ve done ghost written fiction for other people I’ve edited and heavily rewritten books for clients. So those aren’t I don’t I wouldn’t say that I wrote those books, but I definitely co-wrote them by the time they were done and then I have non-fiction books that I’ve written years ago, I wrote a couple of martial arts books for Paladin Press before they went out of business later. And my best selling book, because life is not about a sense of irony, is a book about C-PAP machines because, yes, as a as a starry eyed youth, I thought I was going to be famous for writing books about martial arts and how to beat people up and use weapons and know I’m a best selling author because I wrote a book on machines to stop you from dying in your sleep.

Bob Poole: [00:10:24] And now how did that come about?

Phil Elmore: [00:10:30] Well, I actually went on an adventure where that’s concerned I, I got really sick and then I had pneumonia and then I had bronchitis. And then I went to my doctor and said, hey, when I go up a flight of stairs, I feel like I’m going to die. And I feel like it’s worse than just being overweight. It’s like, well, it could be your heart. And I said What! So they did a bunch of tests and determined that I had untreated sleep apnea that had probably damaged my heart. I did sleep study. They gave me a C-PAP machine and adjusting that machine turned out to be extremely difficult. And I finally did make the adjustment and the machine saved my life. And I’m much better today and I have to do more testing yet. But they think maybe my my heart has has improved as well. It’s it’s hard to say without doing so.

Bob Poole: [00:11:20] That’s good.

Phil Elmore: [00:11:21] Very elaborate tests. But the first thing is it’s put me on medication to make it easier for my heart to beat. And I sat down at my desk one morning and I thought to myself, what’s different? Oh, I don’t hate everyone, because it turns out that when your heart is trying to compensate for the fact that it’s not pushing up blood, it’s hammering away at about 110 beats per minute at rest, and it makes you extremely irritable.

Phil Elmore: [00:11:46] So I thought to myself, there are all these things I wish I did know when I started to this that would have made making adjustments easier because the hard part was not I now have this machine I have to mask with a hose that I have to wear when I sleep. That wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was feeling like I was never again going to get a decent night’s sleep because I couldn’t sleep with the mask on at first. And I went about three days without sleeping at all. And you would be amazed how quickly you mentally unravel when you haven’t slept in three days. I was just out of my mind, so I wrote the book after I made the adjustments and basically explaining what I’ve gone through in the hopes that other people who have that same transition would find it as useful.

Phil Elmore: [00:12:35] And I was thinking in terms of as I wrote it, I was thinking in terms of relatives who I knew probably had the same problem and how would I convince them that they needed to take the problem seriously?

Phil Elmore: [00:12:45] And for whatever reason, the book, which is just 99 cents on the Amazon, it became a bestseller. It was in double digits and Amazon’s self-help category itself. To this day, Amazon continues to turn out a significant amount of…

Bob Poole: [00:13:04] What’s the title of the book.

Phil Elmore: [00:13:08] It’s called 10 Things Doctors Won’t Tell You About Your CPAP Machine.

Bob Poole: [00:13:10] In that case, people that are listening and are having problems with CPAP machines.

Phil Elmore: [00:13:18] It’s a it’s a much more extensive problem than I ever. What else does a working writer do? Because I’ve seen on your website I looked over it looks like you also do some work in audio or video.

Phil Elmore: [00:13:30] Well, I was blessed with a fairly decent speaking voice, so I’ve had the opportunity to do audio work. I’ve read books for the audiobook versions. That can be very difficult because a long book it takes. You can always work faster, you can always write faster. You can’t talk faster. So as a matter of fact, when you’re doing audio work, you have to you have to go slower because you have to allow for making mistakes and reading an audio book means it’s not your conversational speaking voice, you’re speaking slower. For example, if you listening to Ben Shapiro talk in front of the speaking, which is very, very fast, almost too fast, if you listen to one of his audio books, it almost doesn’t sound like him because he’s reading much slower because you have to when you do an audio book. So the the process of doing audio is fun. And I do enjoy listening to the sound of it so that that part has always been enjoyable. But when it’s a long project, it can be very difficult. Audio book recording and doing voiceovers, because most of the clients are not people who want their books written. There are people who want voiceovers for videos and for little promos. I am the voice of a parking system somewhere in the Midwest somewhere.

Phil Elmore: [00:14:56] Get a bunch of a bunch of phrases for this like this zone cannot be parked in right now.

Phil Elmore: [00:15:01] Right now your credit card is invalid, stuff like that. And it’s always weird when every once in a while I’ll stumble across like a YouTube video that I did voices for. I have an Internet marketing friend who bought a book on Internet marketing and called me and said, You’ll never guess whose voice on this article. So it was me reading the audio book on Internet marketing that another Internet client of mine purchased.

Bob Poole: [00:15:26] A great, great story.

Phil Elmore: [00:15:28] So, you know, this the fun. I do a little bit of video editing.

Phil Elmore: [00:15:32] I have a client who has a series of seminars every year about his products that would pay me to edit it together. These videos, those are just little things that I picked up here and there to sort of pay the bills. I even have the ability to do transcription because as a as a writer and as a prolific writer, I typed very quickly. So the transcription is relatively easy to do. The problem is, again, you can’t listen faster. Yes, you can turn up the speed on the audio, but often that makes it more difficult to make out what’s being said. So doing transcription work can be just as frustrating as recording audio that you are limited to each time progress.

Bob Poole: [00:16:12] So what let me ask you, what advice would you give to someone who may be listening right now and is thinking they’d like to maybe do a little side hustle or maybe they’re getting close to retiring and they’re thinking they might like to do some writing and get paid for it? Well, the research suggests where do they start?

Phil Elmore: [00:16:33] The best way to start would be to sign up with a site like Upwork or maybe Fiverr offering editing or copywriting, or something related to one of the many functions that they can do. The primary purpose of sites like Upwork is to connect people who want the work done with people who offer the work done. But even though you’re not supposed to go outside of the system, invariably if you end up doing good work for somebody. They’ll find ways to get a hold of you outside of the framework of that of that freelance and using sites like that. Like I said, I developed clients and I ended up providing work for many years into the tens of thousands of dollars of networking is also extremely important. So if you’re not on LinkedIn you need to be on LinkedIn so that people can find you, most people don’t use LinkedIn socially, but they use it when they need work done. I just recently got a message from a former co-worker of mine who said, hey, this guy is looking for a writer and he has a public post on LinkedIn about it. You should go over and comment. So I did and may very well end up arranging a call to talk about the work that he’s done.

Phil Elmore: [00:17:46] Networking is extremely important, but it’s a lot like losing weight. You can’t just say, OK, step one, lose one hundred pounds like it’s a slow process. So you can’t just say, OK, today I will network with all the people I need to network. You know, you have to build those over time. And I have had the luxury of years in this business to meet people and meet clients with other people sometimes referred to me. So if you do good work and maintain positive relationships with the people that you work with and you stay connected to them online sites like LinkedIn that helps with the networking process. But it takes time, so you should be prepared to start small. Start with, like I said, one of freelance sites like Upwork, do the jobs, fill out your profile, put up a nice portfolio of work when and if you have it, and then just be willing to take some grind it. You have to get to work on it over time. It’s not going to happen overnight and you’re not going to make a ton of money on it.

Phil Elmore: [00:18:44] At first I first started and created my very first website where I sort of hung out my shingle as a writer.

Phil Elmore: [00:18:55] Twenty, twenty five years ago, and it took a lot of years for me to get comfortable calling it a side income, these days, I make my entire living writing things, different things for people. I like to say that my life is a series of desks and I’m not this desk. I’m at a different desk somewhere else.

Phil Elmore: [00:19:13] And it’s amazing the adventures you can have from behind a desk. I have written things that that were financially successful.

Phil Elmore: [00:19:22] I have written things for clients that turned out to be best selling products for them that made tons and tons of money. I have written things that offended people and made lifelong enemies. So certain types of journalism I don’t do anymore. It can be very fulfilling and then being a very adventurous life from behind a desk at a keyboard.

Bob Poole: [00:19:43] One of the questions I get from people who are trying to start out in what used to be photography all the time, I started as a professional photographer many, many years ago. And so people will ask me, you know, I’d like to do photography and get paid for it. What do I charge? So the same thing I’m sure is true about people who want to write for a living or at least write for money. How do you figure out what to charge on these sites the year like Fiverr.

Phil Elmore: [00:20:10] That can be very difficult.

Phil Elmore: [00:20:12] The person who specifies a price first usually loses.

Phil Elmore: [00:20:17] And especially in these freelance sites, you’re up against people who are doing work from other nations like India and working very cheaply. Now, a lot of the time, you get what you pay for. But the fact is, it’s very easy to get undercut what I normally do when I’m not working within the framework of a of a freelance system, like in the freelance systems like Upwork, there’s usually a rate that was probably specified by the client or the range. You can usually tell what do I bid in order to be a price that I can live with, but under what other people are offering. So there’s some calculation based on context that happens there. If I’m just talking to a client out in the real world, then I usually ask them, well, what’s your budget for this product project? What are you comfortable paying to have this done? And usually clients who know what they’re doing usually have an idea of what they’re willing to pay. And then your decision is, can I can I operate within that framework? If you don’t have that, if they’re not willing to specify, well, then you’ve got to make a shot in the dark. So basically, you do the mental math of how many hours is this likely to take me? Which can be a real guess, but it’s not always easy to know.

Phil Elmore: [00:21:32] And then what would my hourly rate likely be over time? The more you do this, the more it will develop, sort of an arbitrary system of rates that is flexible and we all charge different amounts based on the clients. The clients that we like usually get that I like you discount. And then if it’s a project that seems like a real pain and you don’t care if you don’t get it, then you’ll at a higher price because you don’t really want to do it. And sometimes they’ll meet that. So you end up making the money and then you have to grin and bear it. But most of the time my go to is what’s your budget for this project? And then I determine, can I afford to do the work at that price? And by that I don’t mean is it enough money to be worth my while. What I mean is whenever you do work, you’re spending time that cannot be spent on anything else. Every project has a time cost associated with it. So if I know that I’m doing this project is going to take 20 hours out of my week and that 20 hours is going to generate X dollars, I have to say to myself, can I afford to spend 20 hours to get that amount of money based on the amount of money that I need to make overall? So being a working writer involves a lot of a lot of hustling, a lot of calculations, a lot of constant looking for money.

Phil Elmore: [00:22:49] All of my clients know that I’m always in need of money it’s never not the case, because it’s all about cash flow. When your rent is due three days from now, it doesn’t matter if you’re going to get five thousand dollars for a project ten days from now that doesn’t do any good. So you’re constantly sort of on the prowl for ways to keep the cash flow coming in that would keep you afloat. It can be difficult. And I don’t mean I’m not trying to discourage anyone by describing it as difficult. This is just the reality of doing this job. Again, the upside is I have the ability to generate income simply sitting at a desk. I’m not working in a coal mine, so I’m not going out running a cash register. I literally have the luxury of making money sitting at a desk.

Phil Elmore: [00:23:35] It’s a wonderful way to be able to make money if you can do it.

Bob Poole: [00:23:38] Have you had to adjust how you work during this whole Covid-19 pandemic thing?

Phil Elmore: [00:23:43] Not for the most part.

Phil Elmore: [00:23:46] I do some technical writing and that often involves having to go on site to look at machines and take pictures of them and get information about them. And so the pandemic has made that more challenging. But the fact is, like I said, my life is a series of desks. So as long as the desk I’m at allows me to operate the computer that I need to operate, it doesn’t matter. So it has not changed my lifestyle a whole lot. If anything, it’s actually made easier because you don’t have to budget as much time for not being in the office, because where would you go? So overall, this is one of those professions that is sort of pandemic proof. However, the one downside to the pandemic is a lot of clients who were paying for this became unable to do so or didn’t need to do so, or my income definitely contracted over the course of the pandemic, it was it was not easy and it’s still not at the moment

Phil Elmore: [00:24:49] So those are just the things that you come to terms with.

Bob Poole: [00:24:53] One last question. What’s one bit of advice you would give to someone who may be listening and thinking, all right, I want to give this a try. What’s the one thing you tell them to do first?

Phil Elmore: [00:25:04] Well, again, as I said before, the first thing they need to do is sign up for one of those freelance sites, fill out their profile, dot all the I’s, cross all the T’s. But that’s the mechanical advice for how to get started. Emotionally and mentally as far as how to get started. The one thing that has been of most benefit to me in my career is the ability not to take criticism personally. If you’re not improving as a writer, then you’re not writing that you should always be able to look back on your past work ago. That is not as good as I can do now. It was as good as I was capable of doing at the time, but I have since improved and the only way to improve as a writer is being willing to accept harsh criticism. I worked for an IP development company that was probably the single best writing workshop period of my life and that the folks who ran that company were not shy about telling me when my work was not good enough or where they thought I could improve. And early in my career, the single fastest way to make me angry was to criticize my writing because I felt that that was unfair and that I was a good writer.

Phil Elmore: [00:26:11] Well, I was wrong, you have to be willing to accept criticism and not take it personally and see it as an opportunity to do better and improve rather than getting personally affronted or upset or feel that it’s unfair when you’re writing nonfiction and people criticize your work. It’s very easy to say, well, they just don’t like my opinion. So they’re making unfair criticism. When you write fiction and people criticize your work, it’s it cuts much deeper because now they’re attacking you. Now they’re attacking what you do and how you see how a story is written. And being able to learn to accept criticism on both of those fronts really help me and help me to become a better writer. So it it can be it can batter your ego down. There are days when you just feel like I’m just not good at this and that self-doubt is normal. You have to be willing to fight back against that. Do better, be better. So it’s there are times when it’s an emotional battle, not every day. But if you look up writers quotes about writing, which I did one time when I was putting together a manual on how to write a novel, but I still haven’t finished the side project.

Phil Elmore: [00:27:20] When I looked up a bunch of famous quotes from writers to put on the facing pages of the chapters, they were all unhappy. Writing does not make people happy. It is not a source of joy. And part of that might be this sort of masochistic desire to be a martyr and that writers tend to be a self-indulgent lot if you leave us to our own devices, we will do things that are not in our best interest, which is why the writer is only as good as his editor. And you’ll see a lot of especially amateur writers who blog about writing. And when they’re writing about writing, they’re not getting any writing done, ironically. So there are a lot of pitfalls emotionally and mentally. It requires a lot of strength. So the single piece of advice I would give anyone who wants to embark on this is a way to make money or even just if they want to write a book, is that be willing to be told that this isn’t that good and then get better? It can be hard. It can be very difficult, but it is absolutely necessary to the process.

 

My Next Ten Years

Networked Brains

I decided it is time for me to make a new plan. The Chinese have their 100 year plans. I like the idea but having turned 62 a couple of months ago, I thought 100 years might be bit too optimistic. So, I am working on my ten-year plan.

Now the truth is that while I’ve always been a goal setter, I don’t recall ever setting a life plan for myself. I’m fascinated by people who do it and even more fascinated when they actually follow the plan but I’m just too interested in too many things and I always wanted to keep my options open. Yeah, I’ve always suffered from shiny object syndrome. It’s worked for me. I’ve had a fascinating and rich life and while there are things I might like to do-over, I’ve learned not to dwell on the past and to focus on today.

I’ve been writing a new book for the last couple of months. It was focused on sales for small business. I say was because I’ve decided not to write it. And, the story of why I made that decision is what led to putting together the ten-year plan. Let me tell you the story of what happened.

Part of writing the book involved interviewing small business owners, entrepreneurs, and freelancers. One of the things that kept coming up was the expressed need for a better way to sell despite all the amazing amount of content available in books, DVD’s, video, online, etc. It seems like these things just aren’t enough to give people the combination of skills and confidence necessary to sell when selling isn’t your primary job description.

All of the people I talked with share a couple of characteristics. The first one is they are in business because they love and are passionate about what they are doing. The second one that most of them share is they have almost no direct selling experience and, for the most part, are anxious about selling to someone.

That got me to thinking about how I learned how to sell. The first formal training occurred when I was in my mid-twenties and working my first job for someone other than myself. I got a sales job with 3M Company and they put me through an extensive two-week program followed up by time working in the field with a supervisor, followed up by more classroom training, which was followed up by more follow-up. It was an awesome program.

When I later formed my own sales and marketing consulting company, I put together my own sales training that was three full days of workshops followed by six to eight weeks of continuing on-site follow-up including working with the salespeople on actual sales calls where we not only observed but interacted with the customers and prospects so the person undergoing the training could learn to model us. It too was very successful but it was designed for people who wanted to be sales professionals and were motivated to participate and learn.

Suddenly during my interviews with these small business owners a light bulb went off and I realized that it was always going to be exceptionally hard for them to learn how to sell and value the sales process from reading a book or watching a video. Selling is an experiential process. Books are great but most people need to actually experience the sales process in order to own it – especially people who view selling as something they know they have to do for their business to survive but don’t particularly appreciate having to engage in it.

It was at that moment that I decided the world doesn’t need another book about how to sell.

But, now I’m faced with a really difficult question. “How do you help non-sales type people be successful in selling without the long-term training and follow-up? How do you let them experience selling for themselves without being with them?”

I’ve got some ideas but I can’t do it alone. It’s going to take a tribe of us to make it happen. We’re going to have to network our brains for exponential growth. If there is one thing I do know it is that there are lots of you out there that want and need to be able to sell but you don’t want the process to feel manipulative and you don’t need all the rah-rah and sneaky sales tactics. You want selling to be a win-win relationship that happens naturally and gently.

I’m with you on all this and I’m proof that you don’t need any of the slimy tactics to sell. I broke every sales record possible with 3M and continued to have remarkable success in selling my entire life. Manipulation and creepy tactics just don’t work for me and they don’t work for most people who are in business because they love what they do and not because they love the sales part of it.

So the 10-year plan is focused on delivering a realistic, first-hand, you’re part of the sales process experience while still allowing you to run your business. The first change you’re going to see in this 10-year plan is my blog is going to be very different. I’m going to give you something that I hope will be a way to keep you in tune with gentle selling. I call it The Daily Doughnut and you’ll be hearing more about what a treat it will be right here very soon. I know you don’t have a lot of time to spend on learning and maintaining your selling skills when you’re running your business so The Doughnut will give you some bite size chunks that I hope will be one way to help you.

In order to make the experience more real for you, I’m going to invite readers to share their sales challenges and we will use the power of stories to recreate them along with solutions that you all can use in your own business. You’ll see more videos, hear more podcasts, experience more webinars and be an actual part of all this yourself. I may even show up at your place of business and we’ll do this together.

If you only come away with one thing from this post I want you to remember this. In order to learn how to sell, to become better at sales – you have got to experience it! You just can’t sit on the sidelines watching. I don’t have all the answers and this plan is a journey for all of us. More ideas of how to turn this into an experience are in development now. I’m talking to several companies about doing real interactive long-distance training as one example. I’ll continue to write about leadership and creativity but I hope to even make that experience more real for all of you. Between technology, storytelling and working together as a tribe I hope we can accomplish these things.

I hope you’ll join me on the trip. It should be one heck of a ride!

Best App Ever – Well At Least Up Until Now!

My plan was to publish a post today about all the tools I use in my business. Then I started making a list and realized I really need to use one of my favorite tools to make this post. That would be video. I’ll do it over this weekend and we’ll have it up for Monday.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I want to quickly share with you my favorite iPad app. As many of you know, I began my career at the age of 7 as a professional photographer. (Just teasing about the age and seeing if you’re paying attention. I was actually 11.)

Sophisticated Clematis

My very favorite app at this moment is one called Instagram. It’s free and over 7 million people are using it. That’s a lot of people just in case your mind is totally boggled by the recent US debt numbers and you don’t know a million from a trillion. (I don’t.)

It works with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. I use it on the iPad most of the time. Apparently if you have made a stupid decision to go with a phone using the Android operating system you’re out of luck. Just kidding again – about the stupid part. You’re not stupid if you picked an Android OS based phone. I’m sure you bought it because you researched it and know that it is the absolute best possible phone OS for your needs. I mean Apple is evil. We all know that. I’m the one who got sucked in by their gorgeous design, engineering, service and apps.

I’m pretty sure the Android folks have left by now and are writing nasty things about me on Google +1. Oh wait a minute. I just got a note from someone named “IAMDROID” who wants me to know there are similar apps like Instagram running under the Android OS. Even my hero Robert Scoble has written about it here and on Quora. Robert knows his shi*t so you really ought to read these articles.

All done reading. Okay. So, go forth and prosper my Android friends. Make lots of Instagram photos (well sort of but not quite as good as Instagram but who cares it’s only the Internet and nobody is paying attention anyway.)

Instagram. That’s where we started. Go try it out. Have fun. Take new photos and use the filters and play, play, play. It’s fun and you’ll get some very interesting images. I’m using it for both new photos and some old images I’m having fun in making into Instagrams. The photo here is one I took with my iPhone of my grandson, Michael, as he sat behind the wheel of a firetruck a couple of months ago. You could see him dreaming. And, also looking for a way to blow the siren!

Dreaming of Being a Fireman!

 

Who Knew Back in 1986?


Let’s say that in 1986 you had walked into my home (and after having me turn down the volume on my stereo playing last year’s best selling album from Bruce Springsteen) you told me that in twenty-five years I would find myself watching a television show hosted by a guy named Stephen Colbert and Colbert would be interviewing a neuroscientist by the name of David Eagleman, I probably would have shrugged and said something profound like, “Really?” I would have had some inkling of exactly what a neuroscientist does back then which is about the same as I actually have in 2011.

However, if you had told me that Colbert is a comedian and that he hosts an award-winning satirical program that lampoons idiotic, political, pundits (of which there are many in 2011) by portraying one of the idiots himself, I would have said something like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

But, if you had then told me that the interview was to discuss David Eagleman’s new book, “Incognito – The Secret Lives of the Brain” and that I’d enjoy the description of the book so much that I’d reach out and pick up a shining piece of metal and glass weighing only a little over a pound with the look of a skinny photo frame and by using my finger I’d touch the screen and in seconds I would have not only purchased the book but it would be delivered to that same device and I’d be reading it – I would have laughed and asked you, “What have you been smoking?”

Can you imagine today what kinds of new devices you’ll be using twenty-five years from now? Can you see in your mind’s eye something that could change the way we view not only symbols like words but also the way we view something as simple as eating or sleeping or as complicated as hitting a golf ball?

The pieces are already here right now.

Word processors, touchscreens and the Internet had all been around for years before 1986. But, we had libraries and book stores for our books. In 1986 we would have asked why anyone would ever want to read a book on a piece of glass and aluminum? Today, we know the answer to that question.

What questions aren’t you asking right now – what actions aren’t you taking today that will change your world (or maybe even the world) twenty-five years or even only two years from today?

Kids photo compliments of crol1373

There’s a New Sheriff in Town

A little over five years ago, I signed up for a merchant account with my business bank to process credit cards. I had resisted getting one as I had bad memories of fees and rules that turned me off when I first had one over 35 years ago. I had managed to do without it for years by only accepting cash and checks. But, the world changed. I tried PayPal for a while but they were still in their early days and had too many problems. I do believe a lot of that has changed and they are not a bad option these days.

But, there’s a new sheriff in town and I think this one is going to clean up the mess the payments industry has made of itself. It is called the Square. You may have already seen it advertised or even run into it as it has been in the market for a year. Yesterday Square launched a new update to their app that is available on the iPad and comes with new features that makes it easier for customers to buy from small businesses and for small businesses to sell to their customers. You can read more about it here.

Let’s get back to my merchant account experience. My bank happens to be PNC which is no worse than most and better than many of the giants. But, when it comes to merchant accounts all banks act like loan sharks or clueless simpletons dependent upon which role suits them when you try to get answers to questions about your account.

I was paying three different fees each month plus a lease fee for the POS terminal from First Data Global Leasing. First Data Global Leasing seems to be managed by the worst customer centric people on the planet. Don’t ever do business with them unless you want one of the worst experiences possible when it comes to service and communication. Sadly you won’t have a choice if you have a bank merchant account as nearly all of them seem to use First Data (the parent company) as an entity whose name must not be spoken based on the fear they seem to strike into the hearts of bankers. But  it is unlikely you’ll ever deal with them directly. They, along with your bank, will take a piece of every dollar you’re paid by your clients that goes through a credit card payment.

With the merchant account, it was almost impossible to determine what rate my total fee would be in any given month including the hated and totally not understood interchange fee. There was even a higher rate fee if I processed a payment without adding in sales tax. However, in PA customers don’t pay sales tax on everything including some of my services. But, that didn’t matter to the bank, Visa, or the company whose name must not be spoken. I got charged more for following the tax laws! If I asked the bank about the fees they blamed Visa or that nebulous entity.

In short the entire experience and payments processing industry is in FAIL mode. Square means to change that. Not only with its square dongle device where you can swipe a card or input the card numbers without the card being present but with a feature called Tab where you can open a virtual tab (like a bar tab) at businesses so you don’t even need to bring your credit card. Your information including your photo can be stored with your permission so future purchases are one touch.

Businesses can enroll for to become a participating merchant. That’s what I just did and it didn’t cost me any fees for enrollment, etc. And, I pay a flat 2.75% transaction fee. I’ll also get great analytics. I’m so happy right now I want to jump up and click my heels but I’d probably break something.

The bottom line is Square wants to transform the entire payments industry to make is friendly and simple. Visa is running to catch-up with their own virtual wallet.

Want to bet it isn’t as simple or friendly for businesses?

Do yourself a favor and check out Square and the new Card Case.

Start Moving – Stop Idling

Free is often a very good thing.

Not always but I promise that if you take advantage of downloading two free books today (or no later than May 20th) you won’t be disappointed. One is a PDF eBook and the other a digital copy of a hard copy work.

But, first, I want to tell you a story. Did you happen to see the movie, “The Legend of Bagger Vance?” It came out in 2000 and had an all-star cast of Will Smith, Matt Damon, Charlize Theron and was directed by Robert Redford. It also had Jack Lemmon as the narrator. It turned out to be the last movie Jack was in before his death.

It is a golf movie set during the depression and is based on the novel of the same name by Steven Pressfield. When I watched the movie I thought Pressfield was using golf as a metaphor for life. If you have played the game you probably can appreciate that. Later I learned that is what Pressfield had in mind and that he has loosely based the book on the Bhagavad Gita which is considered one of the most important texts ever written.

Steven Pressfield has written eleven books including his first non-fiction work “The War of Art” in 2002. Nine years later it is still ranked #3 in Self-Help, Creativity books on Amazon. If you haven’t read it go to Amazon and pick up a copy. It will explain why your stuck, don’t have enough time to do what you want, and show you how to get moving. You’re going to want to read it after you get your two free eBooks.

Steven has a brand new book called “Do the Work” which is the follow-up to “The War of Art” and is currently #5 in the same Amazon category. You can download a free digital copy of it right now and until May 20th so you don’t have much time left. Don’t put it off. Do it now. You can thank me later.

And, you can also download a copy of “No Idling” a PDF eBook produced by the Domino Project Street Team. It is a collection of personal stories written by 30 people who were inspired by “Do the Work.” It has only been available for a couple of days now so you can be one of the first to read it. Hopefully the stories will add value to your life and inspire you to move forward, to change, and to turn dreaming into action. Some of the contributors I personally know and have written about because they inspire me. Others are new to me and I found their stories to be amazing. One of the 30 is yours truly and I’m humbled to be included in this group. It will be available after the 20th but why wait.

Again, here is where you go to download the books. Click here to download “No Idling.” And, Click here to download “Do the Work.”

I’ve given you links to download two great books that won’t cost you anything – unless you don’t read them. And, then we won’t ever really know what they’ve cost will we?

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.

The Business of Creativity

Do you love your clients? You should. We do here because we know that they could have gone to thousands of other consulting firms and sales and marketing coaches. I get all excited when a client chooses us because I know they found something out before they invested in our services that made them love us too. And, so we do our absolute best to deliver really great results and value to them.

If you’re in any kind of service – especially creative services – then you know that a client relationship has many of the same elements as a marriage. You may not always agree on everything and there will be times when you want to stomp out of the room and sulk but ultimately you come together as a team for your mutual benefit. And, when you do work as a team and also share respect and caring about each other then most often magic happens in the creative fields. That’s when you shift into feeling and creating and forget about contracts and fees and all the stuff that all business owners face.

Often I talk to sole-practitioners or freelancers who find themselves always worried about being successful. They worry constantly about the business side of their business because they have identified that’s their weakness. This worrying and fear ends up taking away from the creative side which then affects the business side and round and round we go – usually in a downward spiral.

The truth is that not everyone who lives a life of creativity can be a successful business person too.

But, you can partner or team up with someone who has the business skills. You can find someone who already understands the business side and make them your partner. You can hire someone who specializes in what you need and make them a permanent part of your team. They’ll make you money because you can now focus on the creative side.

The same thing goes for client development which is a euphemism for selling. You have to sell yourself, your company and your services. And, you have to put yourself in front of enough people who are interested in purchasing services like you offer so you can tell your story. That means spending a lot of time marketing, prospecting, and selling. Once again, not everyone can do that. You may be the best animator or designer or copywriter in the country. But, if you can’t market, prospect and sell it won’t matter unless you plan on working for the man all your life and even then you’ll be expected to do a fair share of all three of these jobs.

The solution is the same as above. Why be a lone wolf when you can be the leader of a pack? Almost all the creatives I meet that tell me their story of going it alone and struggling or failing are not the types of people who would prefer to live in a cave by themselves. Most of us humans have a deep need to belong to a community, team, or tribe.

Why be a lone wolf when you can be a leader of a pack? Build a team. Build a family.

Photo compliments of Brandon Carpenter

A Safe Alternative to Facebook

It was just a matter of time before scammers, serial killers and pedophiles discovered the soft underbelly of the internet. Like con men throughout history they recognized that people are at their most vulnerable when they don’t understand what they’re doing or what the risks of something are. Many adults and kids use the internet for entertainment and socializing and don’t always understand the risks and how easily their privacy is invaded or compromised.

If you don’t know enough to set your privacy settings on Facebook, or don’t know that Facebook can and does change them at will as they “improve” the site, you can end up broadcasting very private and personal information to the world.

If you aren’t very tech-savvy, meaning you are just now feeling confident about sending and receiving email, or attaching or sizing a photo, then welcome to the world of 80% of those of us on the net!

That’s the bad news. The good news is that more and more developers are creating what are called “social media management sites.” That’s the long version of “private social networking sites.” These sites allow true friends – not just people you randomly meet on the internet – to interact and share files, photos and information in a private “room” online. Unlike chat rooms, these sites are more controlled and not visible to anyone who hasn’t been sent the link and invited and admitted to the room by the creator of the room.

Sites like YapTime, Posterous, Fridge, and other social media management sites are rolling out new features and new possibilities every day. They offer the privacy that Facebook doesn’t (unless you’re a genius at figuring out Facebook groups), and are easy enough for a child, or a non-tech savvy adult of any age to operate. I belong to all the top sites, and even pay for professional sites like Basecamp because I like having a place to store files, photos and videos my clients can access without having to master a lot of complex dashboards.

The most aggravating thing for me has been the time it takes to set up sites on Google, Ning or Weebly (usually days or hours). I wasn’t crazy about the fact you had to learn something about websites or understand how they work before you can create your own site. That’s why I love YapTime the most. It’s easy enough a kid or a grandparent with no real computer experience can set it up in 30 seconds and start adding files, sharing photos and inviting family members to join them. I like YapTime primarily because I use it the most with clients and friends (you can set up as many rooms as you want and each one is separate and private). I was so impressed with it I opted to work a few hours a month with the founder while it’s in beta  to help develop it into a site that’s even more parent, kid and internet safe. Robert Kapela, the founder of YapTime created the site because, as he says, “Teens don’t email. Grandparents don’t text.” So, YapTime is a great way for both generations to share photos and news.

Advantages:

Yaptime is a free site – most of these sites are. They’re supported by ads, or you have the option of being ad free for a small price.

They’re fast and easy to set-up. Most require only an email and a password.

They’re private. You control who has access to the content because no one even knows the room exists unless you personally email them the link to join and approve their joining (one click simple!). You don’t get requests to “be pseudo friends” with someone who knows someone who knows someone you met in a chat room!

On YapTime you can upload photos (and they’re working on a photo album feature as well), word files, videos and just comment, tweet or chat like you do on Facebook. No complex controls – all very intuitive.

These private sites are a great way to help deter or even stop online bullying. If your kids have been bullied in the past – it won’t happen on YapTime. Parents control the invites and if your child is too shy, afraid or unable to say “No,” to friends or pseudo-friends they can put the blame on the parent for the control of the room. If your child wants to have a place they can go to talk to their friends without worrying about anyone else from school or the neighborhood seeing their posts – this is the place.

If you wanted to post videos and photos of your kids to your real friends and family and not to the whole internet (accidentally or intentionally) – private sites beat Facebook. When you want to delete your photos and files it’s easy to do too.

YapTime also has a calendar where anyone in your invited room may add events. There’s even a link to Google maps so you can print off directions to the event.

I hope you’ll join us there while it’s in beta so we can benefit from your input. Visit YapTime Now!

Stop The Small Business Financial Roller Coaster

A recent call from a friend needing help to generate some new business to fill in for a delayed contract got me to thinking of how to help him from this happening again. One of the challenges of being a small business or solo entrepreneur is the cyclical nature of the business. It seems like you’re always either delivering or creating your products or services or you’re trying to drum up business. By the way, the term drum up business came about because the earliest traveling salesmen were called drummers.

Photo courtesy eschipul

I suggested getting a drum and beating it on a street corner to my friend. I’ll spare you his response as I don’t want to engage in profanity. Shame on him.

I then discussed the following process with him. It has worked for me for many years so maybe it can be of value to you too. It might even help you get off the financial roller coaster of running a small business.

  1. First write down all the benefits that you deliver to your clients. Give this some serious thought. Do you save them money, make their lives better, help them increase their company’s value, allow them to live the life they want, find them more customers, etc., etc. You should be able to make a pretty long list.
  2. Next write down why your clients choose you over all the other choices they have in the world. Don’t be shy here. I want you to have the courage to face the truth and write down why you’re different and better than your competition.
  3. Now make a list of companies that you know could use your services. They may be in the same market as your other clients or you’ve already seen that they use a competitors products or services.
  4. Here comes the fun part! Do whatever it is that puts you in your most creative mode and pretend you are now the CEO of the company you want to sell. I want you to put together a plan that will help your company (not YOUR company – remember you’re pretending to be the CEO of the company you want have as a client) be more successful. Successful should tie back to what you wrote in Step #1 and #2.
  5. Since you’re using the reasons you listed in the first two steps to help define the plan that means that your plan will use the services of someone like YOU.
  6. Now go make an appointment to see the actual CEO of that company. Tell them you have an idea that will help them (back to the Steps again).
  7. Present your plan. Create a new client.

Sound too simple or too complicated? Here’s a scenario. You’re a professional studio photographer. You do most any kind of photography and you’re good. But, you’re stuck trying to find consistent business. So, you apply the process above.

You write down all the benefits you bring to your clients along with all the reasons why they should buy from you. (By the way, this is the most difficult part of the process.)

You see that a local community bank is spending lots of dollars advertising how they are different than the big banks. They are saying things like:

  • They are local.
  • They are more in touch with their customers.
  • They know their customers.

So you go see the CEO and you tell her that you have created a marketing campaign for them that increases their community visibility while driving home their core message. It’s called “Faces of Our Town.” You’ll go out into the community where you will take candid portraits of people working, playing, learning, praying, etc. You’ll get all the necessary releases for the images and then you will create large prints for a gallery that will be hung in the bank. For the next 90 days all the banks advertising will be focused on the gallery. After spending the first 30 days in the bank the gallery will travel to other local business, schools and churches to be hung in their buildings. You’ll take care of all those details too. At the end of the campaign the photos will go into a permanent display in the bank and the people in the photos will get a nice sized copy for themselves.

The CEO is thrilled at the idea. You’ve just made her job easier and you are taking care of all the details.  It’s a win-win. And, they are already spending lots of dollars on trying to create the very perception you are going to enhance and strengthen. You are offering so much value that the investment in you and your services will not be a factor. She will ask how much. This is where you look her straight in the eye and give her the price. And, this is where you also remember the things you wrote down in Steps 1 and 2. You’ll get the contract.

And, guess what? Your name is attached to all the images, the gallery and the permanent display. Thousands of people all of whom are potential customers will see your work. You’ll be getting some of the best advertising and public relations possible.

And, you’ll be getting paid for it too.

What’s stopping you? Put away the drum and start with Step #1. You can adapt this process to any type of business.

Let me know how it works out and don’t hesitate to ask questions.

Photo courtesy eschipul

Who Is Bob Poole Video

Well, if you’re reading this then you’re on my brand new site. It was time to get my blog and website in the same place. I’m excited about it and I hope you find it useful. I’d love your feedback and feel free to poke around and make sure we didn’t leave construction debris or tools lying about.

I also decided it might be fun to do a little different “About” page. I mean they are usually boring or too much or not enough. So, I asked a bunch of friends to answer the question, “Who is Bob Poole?” and create a short video as an answer. Then the brilliant Paul Durban mashed them up. We put it on the main page for now for you to see. I’m also going to put it below.

But first – here is the list of the guilty parties who contributed. They did a wonderful job and I thank them very much.

In order of appearance:
Johnny B. Truant
Charlie Gilkey
Jodi Kaplan
Anonymous Landscaper
Martin Whitmore
Rolly Brown
Anonymous Bartender
Pace Smith
Rob Plotkin
Megan Elizabeth Morris
Seth Godin
Paul Durban
Joann Scully Poole
Michael Tapp Jr.
Tom Bentley
Two Creative People
Tim Brownson

Now on with show!

People do business with people that they know, like, and trust. Since we can’t pick or choose the “type” of person we are most likely to trust and like right away, we need to learn how to effectively with everyone’s personality style.” Learn how in this report and start increasing your sales right away!

Selling To The Four Personality Types

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