I want to talk about “ripple effects” today… or more specifically – how little actions can lead to bigger and ongoing opportunities.
If you can truly understand how “ripple effects” work (especially in your favor)… you can rise meteorically in your career, business or whatever ladder you’re climbing.
This is something I experienced myself… and it’s a particular set of skills I didn’t know I had until I was forced to use it.
After getting laid off from my corporate job in 2009… and within the first two years of my copywriting career, I had managed to go from a nobody with no experience and no network1 to…
Someone who had written copy for some of the biggest direct response giants in my little industry.
Today, after a decade of this whole “business of writing for money”…
I can add several other 8-to-9 figure direct response companies to my client list.
What’s more – these days I get paid to hire, train, mentor, copy chief, and coach copywriters for my clients as well.
So, What’s My “Secret”?
Well, the pat answer would be for me to humble-brag about how good I am at my job. But that’s not useful, nor is it completely true.
Fact is – the business of copywriting is just as important as being able to write copy that converts. Or for that matter… ANY type of freelance or service work: web design, photography, dentistry, whatever it is that lawyers do, you get the point.
So the real secret to “leapfrogging” (that is, “laddering up” from one tier of client up to the next one quickly… and to “bigger and ongoing opportunities” if you will)… has a lot to do with your ability to “network upwards”.
What Does “Networking Upwards” Mean?
Well, the answer is both simple… and complex. I wish it was just the former. But as homage to Freddie Mercury… unfortunately, this is the real life.
Over the next four blog posts, I will attempt to unravel how I did what I did into some semblance of an actionable plan for you… something anyone with a little perseverance can do… along with cool spreadsheets, copy-and-paste templates, and useful tips you can take to the bank.
(I’d like to think I know what I’m doing. After all, I’ve mentored a few other copywriters to six-figure careers now.)
So let’s dig in.
Here’s My Plan For the Next Four Posts:
First, this post…
I’m going to talk to you about the “little actions” that open up opportunities for you when you network upwards.
I put “little actions” in quotation marks because while they are simple, quick and easy-to-do… and can make a huge impact in your business… each and every “little action” is preloaded with three key ingredients you can’t fake.
More on that later.
I’ll share the three metrics you need to track meticulously as a freelancer. It’s not income. It’s not the number of gigs you got in a year. It’s not expenses.
If you want a long-term successful career… and you want to ladder up to your next tier of clientele… you need to hyperfocus on these three metrics instead.
Post after that…
I’m going to share “The First Rule of Freelancing” with you. (This applies to business networking too). It involves me talking about ancient Rome, the Mafia, “subconscious hellos”… and how they’re all related.
You’ll quickly see why this odd insight is relevant to you and the business of networking though.
Finally, for the finale…
I’m going to actually take a little side trip and talk about mentors.
You’ve probably been told countless times that getting a mentor is the single, most important thing you can do for your career or business. “It’s life changing! You’ll triple… no, quadruple your income!"
Personally, I’ve had five mentors in my career. And while, yes, they are life-changing… and they’ve multiplied my income several-fold… I’ll say this: not all mentors are made the same.
I want to spend some time and share my experiences with you on the ones I’ve worked with… and draw distinctions on what you should look for when (and if) you decide to take that path.
Now, I’m ending my 4-part series on mentors not because I’ve run out of stuff to talk about in regards to “the ripple effect” (I can probably create a full-on course on this theme)…
But I want to talk about mentors because what I’m about to share with you… all these strategies and tools and resources… they’re useless in the wrong hands. Literally.
They will NOT help you network upwards. They will NOT land you bigger clients. They will NOT increase your income… if the person using what I teach simply isn’t ready.
One of the most crucial things a mentor can do for you is to get you ready… and through long-term daily or weekly work… keep you ready.
But What Does Being “Ready” Mean?
Well, to be quite honest, that’s a “rabbit hole” question I can talk about for hours and hours. In fact, I’ll probably blog about this vast topic later in The Cave.
But we can start scratching the surface today. It’s all woven together into lesson #1. So let’s dive in…
I’m going to start with a Tarantino flash-forward opening. That is, I’m going to give you the ending first and then we’ll work backwards. I’m going to do this because the “little actions” I’m about to reveal to you are shockingly obvious.
Some people reading it will immediately go, “That’s it?! Sounds too simple," and dismiss it. These people are not “ready”.
Others will read it and go, “I know this stuff already. What else you got?" These people are also not “ready”.
A few clever ones will go, “Why can’t I automate this into a system?" These people have missed the point entirely and are not “ready”.
Here’s the deal:
People who aren’t “ready” only see the surface. They see strategies, tactics, steps, tips and tricks. They don’t realize these are just tools. Tools can be used well, or devastatingly wrong. When tools are wielded by the right person… they can craft masterpieces and make magic.
Furthermore, it’s not just how you use the tool. There’s also the why… the timing… and some woo-woo stuff behind it. I’ll explain more later.
The point is – the tool in and of itself, is not powerful. In fact, have you ever looked at a screwdriver? It’s not much to look at.
In other words, “how-to”, “one weird trick” and “7 steps to” stuff is useless in the wrong hands.
Anyway, with that said –
Here’s a list of “little actions” I’ve personally used to leapfrog to higher-level clients… and as a result, grow quickly from charging $2000 - $3000 flat fee per project… to earning $15,000 - $50,000+ per project (when royalties are included).
Ten “Little Actions” That Can Double Your Income Over The Next Twelve Months
- Say “Thank you”. A lot.
- Send handwritten thank you notes
- Send thank you gifts
- Send meaningful holiday cards
- Send gifts… just because
- Forward useful articles
- Forward inspirational quotes
- Share eureka ideas
- Make introductions to your network
- Fight to pick up the check
What did I tell you? Simple, right? You may even be thinking “is this it?” right now. But your next thought might be… Wait. How can these actions lead to bigger clients who pay more? Surely, mailing a few cards and sharing articles online won’t close bigger projects, right?
And here is where I lift the veil and share the magic underneath it all. Because, no, these actions in and of themselves don’t do it. There’s something else here that goes much deeper.
First, let me tell you a story…
During a dry spell in 2013, I hit up my network. Over the years, I’ve developed relationships with influencers, gurus in my space, publishers, sideways contacts, fellow copywriters and the like. (I’ll talk more about how to do this next time).
Anyway, an ole skool copywriter reaches out and has a referral for me. We jump on the phone and talk. I do my thing. Which is mostly shut up, listen and ask good follow-up questions. Listening and subtly asking for weird little personal details has become one of my best superpowers.
Sometime on the call, he’s talking about his favorite whiskey, Oban Single Malt. Noted.
You can guess where this is going. After I hung up, I Googled a liquor store near his place, called, asked them to hold a bottle of it for him and gave them my credit card number. The next day, he got a phone call informing him of a surprise gift.
The referral he sent over wasn’t a good fit, and I didn’t get a project out of it. But if did, I would’ve sent him an additional 10% of the upfront fee. (That’s on top of the whiskey.) However, this was still a huge win for me. But how?
You may be asking what this “little action” did exactly… and how it snowballed to future business. Oh, let me count the ways…
First, remember, this is an influencer. Guess what influencers do? They hang out with other influencers. (Surprise!)
Is this one gesture of gratitude… that went slightly above and beyond… going to create a memorable experience for him? You bet it will. In fact, I can bet you that he’s never received a free bottle of whiskey from a fellow copywriter like this before. Maybe as a gift for a birthday or Christmas. But for a referral in the middle of February? Nope.
It’s a gesture that stands out. And what happens with experiences like this? We share them.
This influencer is going to mention it at masterminds, networking events, talk about it with his peers. And oh, guess what? I’ve hit up his peers too with some similar form of treatment. They’re going to reminisce and go, “Oh, that Colin. Such class."
I know this happens because they’ve told me.
Now, of course, if you don’t do good work, this is pointless. Nobody’s going to refer you if (in my case) you can’t write copy that converts. But if you have the skills (for whatever it is you do), now you’re more likely to get talked about.
I’ve sent chocolates. Board games. Books on niche passions like jazz. Hot chocolate that you can only get at one place in NYC. DVDs back when before people streamed everything.
The key here is to ASK interesting questions and LISTEN intently.
And it’s not just thank you’s for referrals. I’ve sent gifts to influencers who were willing to give me an hour of their time on the phone. I’ve sent gifts to the accounting team for sending my royalty check (this one is huge in ways I can’t expand on here). I’ve sent gifts to my own virtual assistants when I ask them to go out of their way for something. Oh and the Amazon gift certificates. I’ve lost count.
I’ve even preempted gifts. At one conference, I was talking to someone who could get me an “in” with an influencer. After I went home, I sent him a handwritten card along with chocolates saying how much I appreciated this… even though he hadn’t done it yet. After the chocolates though, you bet that I got an introductory email.
But wait Colin, isn’t this just bribery?
I’m Chinese. I say “bribery”, you say “lobbying”. No seriously… racial joke aside, no, this is where we need to talk about the “deep stuff”. I promised I’d get woo woo with you and here it is.
To a degree, you could call it bribery. But that’s if you’re negative and cynical. To me… this is just a slight edge I’m using that most other freelancers on planet earth won’t. And I feel totally justified saying this because behind each of these actions are three key ingredients.
I’ll call them “The 3 C’s”. Behind each of these actions is a sense of caring, connection and commitment.
When I get on the phone with you and we talk… and we develop a rapport, I genuinely care for you. I’m listening to you intently and deeply. I want to find out what I can do to make you comfortable. I want to know what I can do to make you feel cared for. I’m looking for every possible strand of connection I can create, reinforce and grow.
Call me a dreamer or a lover or whatever… but yeah, I’m a sensitive guy and I fall “in care” with people when we connect. I am thinking of ways to show that I do care. BECAUSE I FREAKING DO. I’m not faking this.
Let me put this another way…
You can’t perform these gestures in a mercenary way. It’s like the guy who pays for dinner and expects to get laid. You can’t do that. You can’t expect them to send referrals. You can’t expect them to talk about you. You can’t expect them to go out of their way to do things for you. You can’t expect them to feel indebted to you and return favors. You just can’t.
You do these “little actions” because it’s a part of WHO you are. That’s the third C. The commitment to being “that guy” (or gal). That person who takes the time to write a handwritten thank you note, that points out a specific detail of how they helped you, licking a stamp and walking to the damn mailbox to ship it out. That shows an effort of caring and commitment.
SIDE RANT: Do not use SendoutCards. I swear to whatever deity you pray to… I will hunt you down. SendOutCards is the worst thing you can do. It doesn’t show care. It shows you can upload your stupid Excel file to a website. It doesn’t show effort… everyone got the same message. It doesn’t show thoughtfulness… you didn’t write about something unique to your relationship with this person. Don’t do it.
I’ve only just talked about the EXTERNAL benefits here. Yes, you’ll get mentioned, you’ll get referrals and jobs and buzz and all that jazz. But something else happens INTERNALLY.
If you can commit to BEING this sort of person… and actually innately feel this sense of gratitude in your life and exude it in “little actions” like this… guess what? You end up happier. You end up feeling like you’re “in the game” more. You end up with a sense of better well-being.
I’ve covered 1-5 of my “little actions” now. I’ll talk about 6-9 in my next post. I hope you’re starting to see how foundational these “little actions” are… and how they can build the very character of your career, business or heck, your life…
But before we wrap this up… let me talk about #10: Fight to pick up the check.
I promise you, I’m not saying this because I’m Asian2. Picking up the check at a restaurant is one of those “little actions” that grants you both the external and internal benefits I just wrote about.
To me, it’s also about positioning. You’re not just a vendor they pay to get work done when you start taking these little actions (with all 3 Cs as the engine underneath). You’re also broadcasting that you’re a partner who chooses to work with them on projects. You’re saying I’m playing at your level. I’m not begging for work here. It tells the world, I’m in this game for the long run and I’m here to seed, build and maintain relationships.
OK. Whew. That was super long, but I hope you got a lot out of it.
Next post, I’ll show you another layer beneath these “little actions” and how they’re not as simple as they would appear at first. Plus, while this post was a little woo-woo… I’m going to show you how this is all actually very quantifiable in the next post.
With warmest regards,
P.S. As I had mentioned, this is the first of four parts in a blog series on business networking and connecting with influencers. Go here for Part 2.
This is not a copywriting trick. In 2008, I was working as a contact center supervisor, plus a brief stint as a project manager. I was 27. I seriously had no network and no experience in the direct response world… or any consulting or freelance experience either. I was literally a blank slate here. ↩︎
In case you come from a place where you’re not exposed to Chinese people… it’s a tradition of ours to fight for the restaurant bill. It’s like melodramatic theatre. If you don’t make a show of it, or pout when you lose… you just have bad manners. Personally, I don’t like drama. My M.O. is to sneak off to “the washroom” and just pay the bill. ↩︎