This letter might be for you. I can’t know, because the response to an email sent to a list is always a probability distribution, never a certainty. I reckon this email lands in a meaningful way for 4% of you. It is audacious that I should want anything specific for you, other than a nice, warm, up-and-to-the-right curve for your happiness and achievement; a general and sincere well-wishing for your life. You should plot your own course. And yet I persist in wanting specific things for you. Unreasonable things. (Audio version of this essay: /consulting-pipeline-podcast/cpp-145-i-want-unreasonable-things-for-you-in-2021/) I want some of you, even if you’re not the swearing type, to say “fuck this” in 2021. To reject the business you have inherited and to start building the business you want. As you do, I want you to design that business for the best 20% of the best 20% of the market. The 4%. I want you to use direct response marketing tools to bootstrap that business, but I do not want you to use them mindlessly. This is partially because the “I’ve just opened up a few more seats because the response was so overwhelming” emails, the “Does this sound familiar?” sales pages, the countdown timers, and the “last chance, and I’m not sure when we’ll open the doors again” emails are this close to making me projectile vomit immediately and uncontrollably on sight. You can use these tools with subtlety – with customization and honesty – as an extension of your unique voice and perspective. Or you can use them like a lazy franchisee who thinks their customers are easily-manipulated rubes. I want you to commit to the emotional labor of the former. Really though, I want you to go further; I want you to build a brand that has positive impact on your 4%. I want your presence with the market to be inescapable to those you are trying to serve, and I want them to hear your name and immediately feel a warm, trust-ey glow spreading through their body, and in their mind I want your name to evoke the vision — an achievable but aspirational dream — of being lucky enough to get to work with you. Those sales pages and countdown timer emails will get you started in this direction, and eventually they will become a roadblock to you achieving the needed level of trust in the market. I want you to see that trust ceiling coming and surpass it gracefully when it arrives. I’ve seen some of you do this in 2020, and I know thousands more will in the coming years. I am your fellow traveler in this journey.
I agree with Ryan Holiday that there is no such thing as normal, so stop waiting for it. 2020 was uniquely terrible in some ways. It also brought out the best in so many of us. It seems crass and disrespectful to focus on the latter and gloss over the death and darkness of the former. And yet, if I’m honest with myself, I want you to be a little excited — a little turned on, even — by the danger you survived in 2020. If unearned privilege led to a comfortable 2020 for you, I want you to say, “Good; I’m on a lucky streak here. How can I gamble that privilege budget more powerfully, even a bit recklessly, for the good of those I love and serve?” We are both cursed and blessed to live in truly interesting times. Let us respond with interesting, daring choices.
I want you to befriend your market’s uncertainty and answer it with leadership. I want you to find the places where your market harbors the kind of uncertainty and fear we all felt quite intensely around March, 2020 and befriend it. Be curious about it. Probe it. And then start a conversation with it, where your part of the conversation proceeds from curiosity to a humble, genuine, assertive effort to help. And then, I want you to lead. Maybe your leadership looks like small-scale research. Maybe it looks like making sense of change. Maybe it looks like reducing risk. Or maybe it looks like taking out the trash and putting away the folding chairs after what feels like an AA meeting for your 4%. You can work for decades building a brand and earn your leadership position that way. Or, you can find and befriend your market’s uncertainty and start leading in 2021. I want you to choose the latter.
Finally, I want you to get yourself on a stage more in 2021. I want you to practice the art of the presentation in the presence of groups of people. If you have even the smallest willingness to do this, you have no excuses. None. Technology has destroyed them. The tools are there. They are as close to free as you can get. To very loosely paraphrase, where two or three are gathered to witness your presentation… that is all you need. That is enough to start.
Yes, honor your commitments to family, health, and a broad enjoyment of life. We are not here for long, and the world we inhabit is generous and full of so much to enjoy beyond our work. But for God’s sake, if 2020 scared you a little bit — or if it turned you on a little bit — please do not let that crisis go to waste in 2021. Build for the 4%. Invest in building a brand, not just a database of email addresses. Befriend your market’s uncertainty. Answer it with leadership. And practice the art of the presentation. See you next year, -P