Around the time when I first broke into copywriting, I was reading a book about what life was like for average joes in Ancient Rome. I like learning about the quotidian versus the “great deeds of great men”. I feel like you get a better sense of history when we talk about how people in different times used to eat, live, love and raise a family… as opposed to how a long string of psychopaths convinced millions of people to die in a war. (amirite???)
Anyway – one thing especially stuck out for me about the Romans.
They had no police.
There was no state issued enforcers who stopped folks from murdering or robbing each other. Instead, what you had were patron-client relationships. A close-knit network that kept you alive. So, if you weren’t part of a family, you were basically dead.
From Florence Dupont’s “Daily Life in Ancient Rome” (pg. 19):
“The state did not take care of individuals, particularly humble ones. Every Roman had to belong to a group — a family, a professional guild, a village, a district — and via such a group to a clientele, otherwise he stood no chance of survival. He would be subject to assault and robbery. If he went away, his land would be occupied, his goods pillaged, his wife abducted. Group solidarity, on the other hand, provided him not only with security but also with help should misfortune befall him. He would be lent money, his daughter would be provided with a dowry, there would be a collection to pay for his funeral.”
It was extremely timely when I read this (at the beginning of my freelancer career) because…
For most of my youth, I was a loner and an outsider. The school nerd… who took care of the group’s project and got everyone an A. The passive-aggressive rebel… who stopped going to church, started smoking and joined a rock band after discovering The Doors and Nietzsche. That weird kid… who went out of his way to be different just to feel special about himself.
(Frankly, I was not pleasant to be around. Some would argue I’m still not.)
The short of it is — I never needed anyone, I did my own thing and… I hated authority, structure and mostly, groups.
I never felt like I belonged in one.
And here’s the thing… when you’re growing up and you have decent parents to take care of you… and you’ve got a structure in school, church and the office to catch you… You can get away with this sort of behavior without a lot of consequences.
But then… you cut ties with the normal 9-to-5 world and become a freelancer. And as a one-man-band outside all these systems, you quickly realize…
The First Rule of Freelancing Is… There Are No Rules
There are no teachers, preachers or management ready to rein you in, settle your fights and serve as a moral compass.
If you get in trouble, they don’t save you. If you make mistakes, they don’t step in to correct you. If a someone stiffs you, there’s no collections department and team of lawyers backing you.
Nope. It’s all you and you alone. You are utterly alone, floating in an ocean, wearing every fricken’ hat of a business.
In other words, if you get ripped off, if you land a client who turns out to be a sociopath, if you take on too many projects (because you have no boundaries), if you can’t close business, if you screw up and clients are mad at you…
You are 100% fully responsible and personally accountable.
But — if you’re smart, you also quickly realize… there are tribes out there. Inner circles. Networks. Families. Or as the mob would say, famiglia.
People who will take care of you. Give you moral support. Pass you jobs when you need it. Help you work through problems. Connect you to your next tier of clients. Offer you opportunities.
And that’s what we’re going to talk about today… how the freelancing life is like Ancient Rome. Sort of. Because…
The Second Rule of Freelancing Is… Find Your Family
To me, there are two kinds of networks you can join when you become a freelancer: premade and custom ones.
Most people will join a premade one… they might go to the Chamber of Commerce, BNI, Rotary, Kiwanis, SBA, SCORE, Meetup… whatever. These never worked out for me for several reasons.
The core reason being… I knew exactly what I wanted to be as a copywriter. I wanted to write direct response copy. Stuff that had quantifiable metrics and paid me royalties. The stuff I read about when I discovered Carlton, Halbert, and Makepeace.
And frankly, most small brick & mortar businesses (which is what you got at these local networking events)… didn’t even have the faintest idea what “copywriting” was. (Maybe it’s different now, but “copy” took a lot of explaining back in 2008-2009.)
So it simply wasn’t my market.
Secondly, I found a lot of these events to be mind-numbingly frustrating because the average business intelligence in the room was so… primitive and all over the place. But, I mean — what did you expect when you get 15-20 random businesses together, half of which don’t know what they’re doing? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Listen, maybe you’ve had a better experience than me. Maybe you’re not as big of an elitist snob as I am. Maybe you’re getting business there. Good for you.
But long story short — for me, this was not my tribe.
What worked for me was paying a lot of money (that I didn’t have at the time) to join a mastermind run by an A-list marketer. John Carlton, if you must know. This worked on several levels for me.
- I got facetime with one of my heroes. In our very first session, during my hot seat, I nervously put my copy up on the projector. John said, “wow, Tony, you can actually write.” I don’t know how much more validation I needed than that as a newbie.
- I knew I was guaranteed to meet and connect with other direct response driven businesses and copywriters… who also paid thousands of dollars to be in this group… so I knew they were serious and committed too. This was the “seed” of my network.
- Oh and, of course, you also get business advice at a mastermind. But you’ll notice that I put this as number 3 in importance, because…
To me, the right mastermind is like getting into Stanford, Harvard or some other Ivy League school. The learning is the last thing that matters there. What’s most important are the connections you’re going to make. I mean, would Eduardo Saverin be worth $11 billion today if he didn’t meet Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard?
If it’s not obvious to you by now, after reading my stuff for three posts now… CONNECTION is my core business philosophy. Not “networking” — which is swapping business cards (stupid), referring leads to people you barely know who you met last week (dumb), and mindlessly meeting strangers (waste of time).
The Third Rule of Freelancing Is… Feed Your Family
What CONNECTION means is…
Taking the time to get to really know a hyper-targeted group of people… and investing the energy, care and love into nurturing those relationships… and strengthening your network with powerful, memorable introductions.
And that last thing is the homework for this week.
Let’s break out the old Excel spreadsheet (or Google Sheets) again. Just like last week, I want you to list out your top 20-30 connections in column A. In the top row… we’re going to list out those connections again, but horizontally. Like this:
By the way, don’t type out every name again. That’s just silly.
In GoogleSheets: Highlight the list of names in column A and hit CTRL-C to copy it. Then highlight cell A:2. Finally, go to Edit > Paste > Paste Transposed. Voila!
In Excel: Same deal, but Edit > Paste Special > click on the “Transpose” checkbox.
OK, next, you’ll want to add a diagonal line of black from the top-left down, like this:
Now, you’re going to go through each empty cell and ask yourself… have I introduced person X in my network to person Y? Is there a good match there? Can they help each other out?
So let’s say I feel like Tina Fey can really help Alexander Hamilton turn his life story into a comedic sitcom (since the musical did so well). I’d write an email introducing the two of them and put an “X” in those two respective cells. Like this:
Or maybe I can ask Jason Bourne to train Hamilton to notice when somebody’s about to freaking shoot him in a duel. I’ll write an introduction email and the chart would look like this:
Or I can introduce Nabokov to Keira so he can write a book where Keira is actually a pirate, but also plays one in a film franchise… OK, you get the point.
The key here is to revisit this spreadsheet once in a while and review your network. Who’s connected to who and who can help each other out?
The benefits here are enormous. You are spreading goodwill by introducing cool people to cool people, you are increasing your reputation amongst your network, and you become the nexus of your network.
This is, in case you’ve forgotten, “little action” #9 from my first guest post. This is also… one of my most powerful tools in growing my reputation and creating tons of value for the peeps in my network. And it takes very little work. You just have to add a pinch of caring and a dash of genuine connection.
OK – to wrap this up, two things…
One – some people reading this might be saying, “But Tony, I don’t have thousands of dollars lying around to join some expensive mastermind!”
I get that. Like I said, I didn’t have the money either. I put it on a line of credit and was betting on myself to pay it off before the year was out. (I did.)
But you don’t have to do what I did. There were a lot of phone calls I had with influencers where it was simply sending a “fan mail” saying how much I admired their work and asked if I could have an hour of their time.
Now, quick caveat, I didn’t do this with the gurus with a very public persona who probably get millions of emails a day. I went after the “hidden influencers”. For example, a lot of A-list copywriters don’t blog and aren’t very public. Another example, I heard this interview Perry Marshall did with a list broker everyone used in the late-90s. Very discreet person. I reached out to him.
Or you go “sideways”. Find the product launch managers, the web designers and the tech team behind big launches. Those people are not public. They, like me, are happy to make their money and stay in the shadows. We do not get millions of emails a day… and if a well-crafted, well-intentioned email arrives in our inbox, we do respond.
Two – I keep talking about these awesome introduction emails I write. (I know they’re awesome because I’ve been told they are.) Some of you may be asking, “Can I see a few examples?” Yes. Yes you can.
You can get them by subscribing below…
Photo by Eva Blue on Unsplash