I Paid Some “Stupid” Tax, So You Won’t Have To

I Paid Some “Stupid” Tax, So You Won’t Have To

You guys know what “stupid” tax is?

It is something you pay – financially, emotionally, professionally – to learn a life lesson the hard way.  Up close and personal.

I attended a local small business summit this past Friday.  Let me just say, right off the bat, I made several very good connections there, and met some people really doing great things.  In fact, these were the reasons I decided to go in the first place.  So, conference cost = money well spent.

The “stupid” tax came a little later in the morning.

For anyone that ever attends a conference with professional speakers, here’s the scam “business model.”  Successful, highly acclaimed motivational speaker speaks, provides video where he has spoken before, provides testimonial to the fact that he / she knew nothing, came from nothing, and became a jillionaire.

You with me so far?

At the end, they make a pitch for their book / work book / two day seminar / exclusive access to their sole ownership of the “secret” (fill in whatever secret you wish to learn here).

I’ve been around in business for 25 years, and the only thing that changes is the names on the fliers and the flavor of the secret (E-Myth, Tony Robbins, Ogg Mandino, Robert Schuler, Rich De Voss, … like I said, pick your flavor).

I generally avoid such things like the plague.  However, at the urging and invitation of a friend who put this together, I decided to attend because I recognized it as a great opportunity to plug back into a professional community that I had been physically absent from (and it was).

Like a good attendee I picked what break out sessions I would attend.  I chose one on marketing in a slow economy.  Hey – could be useful, right?

The session was led by Tony.  His talk was the same talk I’ve heard a few hundred times before, but he did grab my interest when he started talking about things that I knew to be true; that you had to capture attention, capture a person’s time, and be authentic.

He also used real world examples from his personal life in his examples during the talk: meeting Gene Simmons, how his kids got cards from one of the local eateries, yada yada.  How he had to do so many of these speeches to keep the animals fed back home (pets, too, not just the wife and kids).  You know – that authenticity thing.

What engaged me was that I could relate to having to work hard – and let me be honest here.  Tony wasn’t the greatest speaker in the world.  Not the worst, but I bet almost everyone reading knows someone in their organization that could give a better presentation.  But I could appreciate someone trying to make it in this business (events, event speaking, hawking your wares) and he seemed like an authentic guy.  Maybe he is.  Maybe he isn’t.  I don’t know.

Anyway, he must have interested me enough to decide to buy a book.

So, after he finished, I start walking up to say thanks for the session, but the guy had sprinted to the vendor hall across the foyer to start selling his books.  OK.  He’s here to sell books.  So, I follow him to his booth, say thanks I’d like to buy a book… and he asks me if I’d mind going back across the hall to pick up his bag containing his DVDs or CDs or whatever.

Sure.  No skin off my nose and I can definitely use the exercise.

I come back and buy the book.  Twenty bucks.  Signed with a smiley face.  I shit you not.

What did I expect?  A reduced rate?  A free book?  No.  Maybe some engagement beyond a freakin’ smiley face perhaps.  Anyway, this neither broke the bank or really got my nose outta joint.  I stuffed the book into my swag bag and went on to have really a great day making contacts, listening to a couple of other people talk about how they have the unique secret to business success, and had a beer at the end of the day.

So – where did the “stupid” tax come in?

When I got home to start reading the book – his latest, apparently – the first 26 pages are testimonials and “About the Author.”  Hmm.  I thought this book was about “saving me time and money and from being a marketing victim”?  This wasn’t looking good.  I was hoping to find “proven ways to crank up sales immediately and make your marketing sizzle” but I was seemingly spending a lot of time getting to page 1 of content.

OK… enough “About the Author”… what’s next? “Testimonials Capture Minds!”  Shit.  Another testimonial?  Three more pages of crap I care nothing about.

What’s next? “A Note to the Reader.”  Are you freakin’ KIDDING me?  Four more pages telling me what a great guy Tony is.  So far, Tony has only blown a lot of smoke up my ass – for twenty dollars – and I’m beginning to get this sneaking suspicion that the only thing that I am about to learn this afternoon is that even old hands can get roped in by a good story.

Not wanting to think the worst… I read on.  Four pages of Acknowledgments.  You know, I’ve actually read Anna Karena a couple of times – no mean feat – and Tolstoy didn’t have four pages of acknowledgments.  I knew I was in trouble.

Just beyond the acknowledgments was a three page in-your-face hard sell of buy crap from Tony.  Dan Brown and Patricia Cromwell at least have the good sense to at least let me READ what they wrote  before asking me to buy the next thing from me – at the END of the book.  It was then, I knew I had been had.

So, 42 pages later I get to the cover page of what I thought to be the beginning of “content.”

Instead, ten pages of “what this book is and what this book is not”, some stats from the SBA, and a quote on page 7 (page 49 for the math challenged who actually counted the unnumbered pages) that “Filler is not permitted.”  WTF was the preceding 48 pages?  The only “authenticity” I was feeling was the authentic sense that I had taken one to the shorts.

Needless to say, I decided at this point that I had just basically paid some “stupid” tax.  Or, as they say in the Marketing Game, the “one time sale.”

Now, gentle reader who has stayed with me so far, let me give you some REAL marketing gold:

  • Do what you say you will, how you say you will, when you say you will.

Tony isn’t the first bullshit artist I’ve ever met, nor the worst, nor the last.

He is simply in the bullshit business and was good enough on his game on a particular day to get me to buy $20 worth of his bullshit.  Congratulations.

So, in order to turn this into a positive learning moment, I offer up the following:

  • If you say Filler is not allowed, don’t offer up filler as the first thing your reader sees for 48 pages.
  • Nobody gives a shit who you are.  They care about what have you done.  About what you can you.  About how is that applicable to me / the people you wish to reach.
  • Authenticity comes with being authentic.  It is not a patina to be put on, but a state of being conferred by others upon us by how we act and are.  It comes by relationship and not by proclamation.

I offer up one last story, not related to this petty little transaction, but pertinent to the conversation.

Years ago, my father in law who was from a very small town in Southern Illinois, traveled to Chicago for perhaps the first time ever.  Almost immediately he was sold three pairs of socks from a guy on the street.  When he got back to where he was staying, he found that what he had indeed bought was only the TOPS of three pairs of socks.  And to this day – seventy years later – he still jokingly (?) refers to “Dirty Chicagoans.”

Tony may be a marketing genius.  I’ll never know, because I feel like I just bought the tops of three pairs of socks from a guy on the street, when I should know better.

A short follow up word: Seth Godin’s book “The Dip” is 70 pages – soaking wet, cover to cover – and is 1000 times more substantive than the time waster I bought.

Google it, go buy it, read it (easy to do in one sitting).  You will prosper more than I did Friday.  That is my final gift to you guys on this beautiful Sunday.

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