How I conned my English teacher into believing in me

Once upon a time I was 11. I was a couple of terms into secondary school and I hated it. I despised it with a passion. I didn’t see the point of being there. And I was a complete brat to my teachers, the kids around me and my parents.

I wasn’t happy being there, I didn’t like my appearance, I had terrible acne, braces, and I didn’t really have many friends. I liked being in my own world, and working on my own projects and playing games like SimCity and Railroad Tycoon. Paul Graham talks a lot about why nerdy kids aren’t popular here (set aside 30 minutes to read that article – it’s worth it)

I had an English teacher called Mrs G. And she hated me. Some teachers just don’t take a liking to you. They make a snap first impression, and that colours the rest of all their judgements about you.

Because of her viewpoint of me, all my work always got Cs an Ds… and ‘see me’ scribbled in red ink. Even if I thought it was pretty good.

Then one day, I thought… “I can change her mind.” I just need to be resourceful.

So we had a task called Escape From Kraznir. There was a beginning we’d been given. And we had to write the end.

So I was resourceful.

I Googled Escape from Kraznir.

Found another student’s story.

Find&Replaced the names to fit my own characters.

Cut a bit out. Wrote a small amount more, in the same style.

And then I handed it in.

She was amazed at how good it was. She wrote A all over it – and was bowled over. And that completely changed her opinion of me.

She believed in me. She was spurring me on.

And from that point, I had that confidence behind me so I was writing well, and feeling good about it. I was also being recognised for it.

She was seeing me through a different lens now.

I’d faked it, until I made it.

Now I’m making a decent living from writing.

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Sometimes the best selling is not to sell at all

Sometimes when you’re selling something, it’s not right to sell something.

Like, if you don’t think the person is going to benefit from your service enough to warrant the cost.

I got an enquiry through Odesk the other day from somebody who was creating a tech startup. He’d built his product (an e-commerce analytics platform) and he was looking for somebody to create content and do PR for it.

Given my experience with Virally, this would be an ideal project for me.

So we Skyped, and I asked him a lot about it, and his story.

I asked him what the main selling points of his product were. And he talked about this and that.

But I delved deeper and it emerged that he hasn’t spoken to many (if any) e-commerce sites yet. Therefore he didn’t know what features customers valued the most.

I said that he shouldn’t  spend any money on marketing yet. And not to hire me because he doesn’t know the main reasons why people would buy his software. He shouldn’t spend money on marketing until he’s spoken to some e-commerce sites, they can critique it, and find the most valuable features to them.

I also sent him an excellent video about early-stage customer development and sales.

He was surprised that I wasn’t trying to sell myself on him. I don’t think he’d get much value from me if I don’t know why his market would buy it. It’s amazing how much trust not selling yourself brings.

Now in a couple of weeks, or a few months, he’ll have had those conversations and then be ready to hit the market. He’ll know the value that his product brings. And then he’ll still want some marketing and PR.

At which point, guess who he’ll come back to?

He’ll be an ideal client. He trusts me. He won’t try and reduce my rate. He won’t be pinickity about little details.

It just goes to show that if you can offer something valuable like content marketing or really useful advice, you attract the best people towards you.

Sometimes the best selling is not to sell at all.

Why university/college is a waste of time and money

University and college, is largely a waste of time.*

*The exception being people who are dead set on being doctors/laywers/neuroscientists, have done work experience in those fields, and know that it’s certainly for them.

Why?

Most people graduate not knowing much relevant stuff about the real world.

Not being able to sell themselves.

Being socially awkward.

Struggling to find a job, and being horrendously in debt.

I mean let’s look at the cost.

In the UK – it costs £9,000 a year to go to university. Plus about £6,000 a year in living expenses for rent, food and books etc.

So an average 3 year course costs £45,000 total.

Then you have the time element. 3 whole years.

£45,000 and 3 years is a lot of resources.

Especially if it’s not going to lead anywhere.

Let’s start with the youth unemployment issue.

Everyone blames the economy, there are no jobs… yada yada.

Rubbish.

If you know how to sell, there’s a million and one sales jobs out there.

And if your “dream job” doesn’t exist, create it.

And if it does exist. Start doing it. Unpaid, and sending your work to people. If you want to be a writer start, writing stuff and sending it to magazines. For example.

Don’t wait for other people’s permission to start doing your dream job. Just do. When you start doing, they see you can do the work for them.

And you make it easy for them to say yes.

Or just turn up in a company’s reception. Know who you want to meet. And sit there until you get to meet them.

If they shoo you out. So what? Loads of small businesses would be impressed with your initiative and tenacity.

Then we have the issue of time.

3 years is an awful lots of time.

Especially if you’re getting something silly like 7 hours a week of lectures or less.

There’s so much blank space. What are you paying for?

And for the lectures themselves. You’re taught to write an horribly academic language, about impractical knowledge and outdated theories.

Where is the content?

If you were in a job and they wanted 1500 words on a subject. They wouldn’t give you 2 months. They’d give you a day maximum.

If you were in a job, they wouldn’t give you textbooks. They’d give you a couple of modern, interesting books, and ask you to find everything else out on Google.

Copying another student is called plagiarism. Copying a colleague is called collaboration.

If you were in a job, they’d pay you. At university you pay them.

Then there’s socialising and networking.

It’s all very well talking about alumni networks and all the people you meet at university. etc. But most of the time you’re surrounded by students who are the same as you.

They know the same stuff. They’re the same age. They’re impoverished. And they don’t really know anybody.

You gain little from being around them.

Plonk yourself in London, San Francisco or any big city however, go to meetups and networking events. You’ll start tapping into things.

Market-leading expertise. Brilliance. People with money. People with businesses.

And if you start making friends with them, you’ll find job opportunities and career progression really rather quickly.

OK, OK. Maybe you’re not enamoured by finding a job, or setting up a business. Fine.

Maybe you want to travel the world, or go volunteering or something.

Well, £45,000 is a lot of money, and 3 years is a lot of time.

You could travel the world for several years with that kind of money… without having to work.

The point I’m trying to make is – it’s really hard to find the value that university adds for most people.

University education is ripe for change, and for programs like the Uncollege gap year which I’m going on next year.

Finance and marketing

The financial industry is like a money creating machine.

Let’s say you create a business which brings in $10 million profit a year, regularly.

Then that company might be worth $120 million, on something like that. Valued on a price/earnings ratio of 12x.

That’s $120 million of new wealth that’s created, simply by financification.

In a world without the stock market, that company’s worth a lot less. One company might be willing to pay 3 or 4x it’s value.

But the thing is, if you look at senior marketing people in companies – they’re often what makes or breaks a company.

They decide how to spend their budgets.

They’re responsible for getting ROI on that.

They know how to make awesome content, jump up Google, or they know agencies who can do a fantastic job.

But let’s say you have a brilliant marketing director in a new company. And her strategy and team, build the company that makes $10 million profit a year.

She’s created much more value than what the numbers show.

In fact, she’s created $120 million of wealth.

But the bulk of that goes to the owner. And not to the marketer, and the salespeople who made that happen.

That’s why people who are exceptional at sales and marketing don’t stay in a certain job.

They’ll either become a consultants, and charge a lot because they can show the value they can add.

Or they’ll set up their own businesses, and take their majority cut of the spoils when the company gets an exit.

So here’s maybe a crazy idea. You get some venture capital funding. You find some of the smartest marketers in the world.

Super SEO experts. Content strategists/ex-journalists who love what they do. PR people who can get coverage inside-out. Paid search geniuses. Salespeople who love selling. Copywriters who wow.

Get them or people in their industry, to brainstorm some wacky software or business ideas. Make it.

You give the marketers and salespeople a chunky equity stake.

Then they sell it.

Financification will make that company worth many times the profit it’s generating.

And these marketers take home most of the spoils.

Most top marketers don’t get paid anywhere near the amount of value they create.

And this would ensure you got the best people in the world, and made those businesses powerhouses and amazing places to work.

Minimalism

There’s so much crap nowadays.

Tat you buy. Crap TV. Crap food and drink. Time-wasting work.

That’s why I’ve grown to like minimalism recently.

Like applying it through everything.

Cutting down 80% of everything, and making space for things that matter.

I got rid of 5 boxes of clutter in my room the other day.

Things like postcards. Big ben in a glass crystal. Old school books. God knows why you keep them!

Things which you’re never going to use again. All thrown out, or donated to charity.

And put sentimental old notepads, and photos, in a box which will be in my autobiography one day.

The thing is, we all carry so much junk about.

Things which we move around all the time, and hoard. But never question the value of.

Next year, I’m going to be travelling around the world with a small suitcase.

I don’t need all that tat. I can’t carry it on long-haul flights. So it went.

Same with TV. Get discerning about what you watch. I saw the Apprentice Final last week, and some documentaries on BBC iPlayer. That was it.

Same with writing here. Cutting out all the unnecessary words. And things which pad out a paragraph. So I get maximum meaning quickly.

Same with work. Picking projects which you enjoy, with great clients and great pay.

You don’t need a traditional 9-5 job.

Since I’ve gone freelance, I’m doing a quarter of the hours, on average. For the same money. Plus you can pick your clients.

Likewise for food. Really taste food, is it good? Does it feel healthy and nutritious. Get rid of the chocolate bars and crisps. And think about what you eat.

Same with exercise. You don’t to spend forever driving to a gym. Changing. Doing weights. Changing. Showing. Driving home. That probably takes a good hour and bit overall.

Just do some intense exercises in your living room to Youtube videos. Like this 5 minute fat burning for abs and this chest work out for pecs and upper body.

Once you start doing these things you trim back the crap.  You laser-target what really excites you. You feel healthy. And you have more time, more money and more freedom.

That’s amazing.

Hire a copywriter. Not an MBA.

It occured to me recently, that there’s something about copywriters.

They’re business savvy.

Like, really business savvy.

They know exactly what makes people tick.

They know exactly what will sell a product.

They spot niches.

They persuade.

They sell.

And it’s a skill they refine.

And a decent one will sell several million worth of stuff over a lifetime.

And the best will sell billions, over a lifetime.

With just words.

Isn’t that amazing?

That the most savvy business brains often don’t have prestigious educations.

And letters after their names.

Or faff about with the corporate ladder.

They just write stuff. And sell.

It’s made me think.

Surely big businesses should hire more copywriters.

Doing vs. Competing

There’s often too much focus on competing, rather than doing things.

What do I mean by this?

Well in school, it’s all about fighting for university places.

With the assumption is that once you’re in, you’re set for life.

Likewise in jobs.

Elbow your place at an interview.

Answer the questions. Tick the boxes.

Then once you’re in, you’re set for life in the corporation.

It’s like: work hard now. Then you can be lazy for the rest of your life.

But this all puts too much emphasis on the run-up, rather than the end goal.

The doing.

The making.

The coding/managing/creating/selling.

Schools train people to think that the competing is important.

Winning at the admissions process.

Answering the questions, the way the HR/admissions tutor wants them answered.

But that’s not important at all.

It’s the doing which counts.

Like the young aspiring filmmaker who’ll make films regardless of whether other people approve of them or not.

She’s not looking to check off a mark scheme. She’s doing.

In contrast you have people who brown-nose the boss to get a promotion.

Well, if you want to get on good terms with him, be an outsider. And email them out for a coffee/lunch. Teach him something.

It’s easier to win favour with someone when you’re not competing for his job.

Being able to do, is far more important than being good at competing.