How Do I Measure The Success of What I’m Working On? (Part 2)

How Do I Measure The Success of What I’m Working On? (Part 2)

(This is Part 2 in a short series on how to measure your marketing campaign’s success. You can check out Part 1 here.)

You have to talk to your customers and ask them how they found you. I’m going to repeat that because while it may seem obvious, we kind of suck at doing it. You have to talk to your customers. Full stop. And then, if you’re running some marketing or PR campaign, you have to ask those customers how they found you; Because your customers will tell you if they found you through whatever campaign you’re running. Getting people to share something they’re excited by is easy. You just have to make that effort and ask.

Sadly, for the MBAs and tech people, getting them to talk to their customers is like pulling teeth. They don’t want to do it, so they’ve come up with this excuse that I’m sure you’ve heard me mock over the years, “That doesn’t scale.” Fuck you. Talk to your customers.

And this is true, by the way, regardless of anything you’re trying to sell or how you try to sell it. Online. Offline. It doesn’t matter: You better be best friends with the first 100 people who buy your shit. And then the next 900? You have to make a good faith effort to get to know them; Even if it’s tangential like you have an event and they’re there, and you get some face time together. And then! Then you have to follow-up with them in some way. Get their mailing address, send them a postcard (thanks, Phil), give them a call, send them an email. Don’t try to sell them anything.

If it sounds like common sense, good! Then why aren’t you doing it? You’re going to hear me say this a lot: There is no secret to marketing. None. Just act like a person interacting with another person and leave aside all the other bullshit. It’s the same deal with sales. You know what the “trick” is to being a great salesman? Including the person, you’re trying to sell something to into the process Day 1 and empowering them to lead the charge within their organization going forward. Not you. Them. Nobody cares about you. You’re an outsider. But people very much are about themselves and what others think of themselves. So assuming your product isn’t shit, and the person within the organization you’re working with is leading the charge and advocating for it, the odds are much, much higher that the deal will close because it’s their reputation and credibility on the line. Not yours.

I’m not kidding when I talk about getting to know your first 1,000 fans well. If you make time to get to know three of them each day for one year, you’ll get to know all of them. And you shouldn’t stop at the first thousand either. As more come in, you should make an effort to get to know three of them each day. That’s your responsibility as someone trying to sell and promote something. You have to know who your customers are and learn everything you can about them. The better that you can do that, the better your marketing campaigns and offerings will be.

So, you have to talk to your customers and get to know them. AND you have to ask them these two important questions:

1. What can we do better?

2. How did you hear about us?

You WOULD NOT believe how little that second question gets asked. The first one is a no brainer. Of course, you’re going to ask that question because you should always be tweaking and looking for ways to improve what you’re doing. But that second question? It seems so simple, but it often gets forgotten.

Regardless of the industry. Regardless of the profession. Over the past four years, I have rarely encountered people and companies that ask their customer how they found them. And I don’t mean like in a survey. I mean the company CEO or owner, or whoever is running the marketing, personally reaching out to the customer and having that brief conversation with them that I’m talking about. And in that conversation, asking their customers how they discovered their company. It’s just not getting done. Usually for the lame excuse of, “That doesn’t scale.”

How do you know what you’re doing works regarding marketing, PR, and advertising? ASK YOUR CUSTOMER HOW THEY FOUND YOU!!!!

I don’t care that it doesn’t scale because if that’s your attitude, I’m afraid to ask you about your customer service. And if your customer service sucks? Forget it. Nothing you do is going to matter because your customers aren’t going to be advocating for you. It’s your responsibility to make it work.

You have to get out there and in person, talk to your customers whenever possible. You will learn so much. What works regarding reaching them, what doesn’t, what they think about your product, where they first learned about you. That information is gold, and if you’re looking for answers as to whether or not your initiatives are working, this is how you find out.

Customer Personas are nice, but they are not an acceptable substitute for the real deal.

But ultimately, the responsibility is yours. People like metrics because it’s easy. There’s less work involved than actually making an effort to talk to other people. I’m asking you to do something hard. Your customers will tell you if your marketing efforts are working. They’ll also tell you when they’re not working. But that’s hard to quantify, so we’ve let the wrong people, who get bent out of shape at the thought of any human interaction, mislead us and push us away from doing the obvious thing.

I believe there’s a simpler way to do this. One anyone can practice that’s practical and useful. And this is the way to do it. The online stuff? All those bullshit numbers and metrics? I’m not saying to dismiss these figures entirely, but I’ll take an actual person over a view any day of the week, and I hope I can convince you to do the same.

How Do I Measure The Success of What I’m Working On? (Part 1)

How Do I Measure The Success of What I’m Working On? (Part 1)

I like to mock the MBAs and startup people for their obsession with useless metrics. So the question I usually get then is, “OK smart ass, what should I measure instead?”

Some people may not like my answer, but I’m going to give it to you anyway:

1.You have to decide the metric(s) that matter most to you.
2.You have to talk to your customers.
3.You have to look at volume and velocity surrounding your metric(s) of choice.
4.You have to give it 90 days. Anything less is dumb and irresponsible.

Let’s start with that first one today …

1. You have to decide the metric(s) that matter most to you.

For me, I love the offline stuff. There’s nothing better. The sin of our time is that we continue to push further and further away from it, and for what? Because you can’t measure the offline stuff? We’ve allowed more than a few multibillion dollar industries to form around what is, basically, an elaborate dick measuring contest.

“My metrics are better than your metrics!”

It’s bullshit.

So I’m proposing something counterintuitive. You pick the obvious metric: Money. Specifically, profit, as in “Did you make a profit during this campaign?” That’s one we can all agree on because regardless of who you are and what you’re doing, you need to be bringing in the cash. Bands got to eat. Not-for-profits need donations. Small businesses need to turn a profit to keep the lights on. Big companies need to please their shareholders, and all those shareholders care about is the bottom line.

But for some people, this metric isn’t good enough on its own. (Seriously. I’ve had this conversation more than once over the years.)

So what OTHER metrics should you pick to determine whether or not a campaign was successful? Well, what matters the most to you?

Let me give you an example. When someone who has read Social Media is Bullshit calls me at 518-832-9844, I’m excited. I almost always call them back as long as they leave a voicemail.

(If you don’t leave a voicemail, I won’t call you back. That’s because I live in an area that has terrible Verizon reception, so it’s often hard for me to answer when you call. Plus, so many people call me that it’s hard to keep track, so if you leave a voice mail, I’ll know who I’m calling back.)

I tell you this because one of the metrics I used to measure success for Social Media is Bullshit was the volume and velocity of the phone calls I received from readers.

Does that scale? No. But is that metric relevant to me? Yes. Why? Because why I do what I do is because I want to make everyone on the planet laugh. So if someone from Australia calls me to tell me they had a great time reading the book, then I feel like I’m accomplishing what I’ve set out to do.

You might have an entirely different project with totally different goals than my own. So the particular metric may differ, but the point is, aside from looking to see whether or not you made any money, you have to pick the metric(s) that matter to you. You can’t get hung up on shit like Instagram followers.

Other metrics I like are new, validated email addresses. I also think RETURNING unique visitors IN CONJUNCTION with high time spent on-site is also important. But again, this is something you need to determine with your stakeholders.

Just one thing on “time spent on your website.” The car dealers I’ve presented this to have pushed back on this specific metric. So I want to expand on it before we move on:

The car dealers said that people could spend a lot of time on the website because they’re lost and confused. Therefore, it’s a bad metric to use.

Don’t Make Me Think

I disagree. As long as the website is optimized regarding the user experience, then there’s nothing wrong with this metric.

Because if the website IS optimized and tweaked to provide the best user experience, meaning it’s dead simple for them to figure out where they need to go without thinking about it, then there shouldn’t be a problem.

This is easier said than done because let’s face it, a lot of websites are not well designed. So here’s a simple trick for those of you looking to get your website redesigned or have a new one built to solve this problem: Ask your designer if they know who Steve Krug is. If they say no, don’t hire them. If they say yes, but haven’t read Krug’s book, “Don’t Make Me Think,” don’t hire them.

You should read that book as well. It’s pretty great, but you get the idea: Only hire designers that are familiar with Krug’s work and understand the importance of usability.

Another way to solve your website usability issues: Get a tablet, load up your website, and go to a bar. Some of the startup people reading this will know what I’m going to suggest next since this has been floating around Silicon Valley as a trick for a while now. Find someone who looks like your ideal customer and by them a drink. Then ask them, after they’ve finished the drink, to use your website to find something you asked them to look for. Then watch them do it. You’ll learn a lot. (This is also true for apps, by the way.) Why? Because the way a drunk person uses the internet is the same as a sober person.

It’s true. With all the distractions we have bombarding us as we use the web, it’s easy to get lost and confused. The same way a drunk or buzzed person might.

That aside, yes, I think time spent on-site, particularly for returning visitors, is a valuable metric for you to consider.

(Returning visitors are more valuable than one-time visitors, especially these days where we celebrate places like Buzzfeed for all the traffic they get, but say little about the traffic they send their advertisers who quickly bounce from the site they’re going to and never return.)

All that said, Ray Kroc best summed up my attitude on what metrics matter in describing his fight with people within McDonald’s that were against advertising. Kroc said that any money that they spent on marketing, things that were in the short term intangible, he’d make back in the long run regarding increased customer traffic and satisfaction.

This is hearsay today because we’re obsessed with data and have allowed short-term thinking shareholders, MBAs, and tech people to pollute our culture. So I’m going to suggest something controversial and tell you that Ray Kroc was right, and these people today are wrong.

While there ARE metrics you can measure NOW; I think the real test of any marketing / PR / advertising campaign comes down to one simple question: Did you see an increase in the number of customers during the time of this campaign?

If yes, and assuming you read the next point here tomorrow and don’t just storm away because you’ve fallen into the trap of our metrics-driven, “Big Data” obsessed culture, then you can say the campaign worked.

One Last Thing To Consider

Did you see an increase in current, and new, customer satisfaction during the time of the campaign? Because people don’t realize this, but your current customers are your best advocates. So sometimes you do a new campaign not necessarily to attract new customers, but to make the current customers feel like they’re part of something, and that in turn empowers them to tell others about you.

This isn’t rocket science or rocket surgery as Krug likes to joke. Marketing isn’t bullshit, but it is easy enough for your dog to understand and act on. The problem is that we make it seem so much more complicated than it is.

So pick the metric that matters to you, in addition to whether or not you’ve made money from the campaign, and rest easy. The rest is just noise made up by people looking to justify their existence. And in some cases, by people seeking to exert control over something they don’t understand for selfish reasons.

I believe we need to move past all that. If we’re going to empower people to succeed in selling whatever it is they want to sell, then we need to throw away years of garbage and nonsense and focus on the basics. Did you make money? Did the metrics you care about most increase as a result of the campaign?

Then awesome! On to step two tomorrow …

Consistency Is Key

Consistency Is Key

If you decide that you’re playing the game, the first thing you should know is that consistency is key. The person you are at 7:30 in the morning, writing a blog post in bed with an old cat curled up next to you, is the person you are on your internet platform of choice, and the person you are when you’re out in the world interacting with your fellow humans. Whether that interaction is for business or fun is irrelevant. What’s relevant is that you’re the same person, and have the same presentation, across all those different instances.

So to put it in words of marketing bullshit, your “personal brand” has no off switch.

That … might sound terrifying, so let’s back up for a second.

If I ask you, “What does success look like?” I know from experience that the most common answer is, “I don’t know.” We get so caught up in our day to day shit that it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.

For me, I have a very simple guiding principle: I want to entertain everyone on the planet and make them laugh. Why? Because life is short. It sucks. It’s cruel, and it’s unfair. If I can do something to amuse my fellow humans, even if it’s just for a few moments, and help take some of that pain away? That’s what I’m going to do. That’s why I do what I do.

Luckily, I’ve now had my presentations and work translated across multiple languages, and each time without fail, regardless of where I am in the world and what language the audience speaks, everyone laughs right where they’re supposed to. So this is a guiding principle backed up by data and fact. I am very good at what I do. Unfortunately, I’ve always had more of a cult following than a mass audience, so at the moment, not enough people know I exist where I can do this routinely and get paid to do it.

I mention this because if you’re guiding principle in life is, “I want to be the next Lebron James” you might be in for a rude awakening. You should find your strengths and play into them. Or, if you want to be strong in an area you’re not, relentlessly pursue developing those strengths. Then, you should get your efforts validated, whether through data or experience. Preferably both.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to be the next Lebron, it’s just not likely. Besides, you never want to be the next anything. I spent most of my life wanting to be the next George Carlin, but I realize that I’m just as happy, if not happier, being the first B.J. Mendelson.

So, what does success look like? Well if you can figure out why you do what you do (shoutout to “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek, whose book will be getting the book notes treatment on this website shortly), then you can start to figure out the answer to that question.

I’m not the first person to suggest this, but a typical consulting trick is to ask the client to imagine what success looks like. “Take us 10 years into the future; you have everything you ever wanted. How did you get there?”

Then once the client has an answer to that question, you ask them to break down the process of how they got there into smaller, actionable steps. Those are then the steps you’re supposed to follow. Will things go smoothly? Maybe. Maybe not. Are you better off for following those steps then you are just randomly doing shit? Absolutely. So it’s dumb not to do this.

You should ask yourself right now what success for you looks like, and then ask yourself how you got there. Do it. Take like a minute or two and jot it down. “What does success look like for me?” And then ask, “Ok. How did I get there?” And if you get stuck, ask, “How do I think I got there?” It’s the same question, but there’s less pressure involved.

Because what you’re going to find is that consistency is important across all those steps. You, your product, you are both who you are at 7:30am with the cat, at 10am with your boss, and at 8:30pm with your pretty / handsome date. There is no off switch.

Dale Carnegie talked about this in the ‘30s, Simon Sinek said this in the late ‘00s. I’m pretty sure there’s at least one reference to it in “Meditations.” My point is, I’m not telling you anything new here.

The challenge is just following through on what you’re hearing and being consistent in your efforts. More often than not, we don’t do this. We have excuses. For the startup and tech people, it’s that obnoxious “That doesn’t scale” response, or their tiny little brains blow a gasket when you ask them to do something they can’t measure. For others, we’re afraid of taking risks and looking dumb. “What if we fail?”

Well, shit, you probably will, but even if you do, you’ll be better off for having to take steps to pursue the thing you want to pursue. For one thing, any and all bitterness and resentment for not having done so would never have a chance to take root in your mind. For another, even if you don’t get where you’re going, you may find you like where you wind up just the same. But you won’t know that until you make some effort.

That’s on you, though. I mean that’s the big joke with marketing and PR. The reason every marketing book sounds the same is that, after a certain point, it’s up to you to do shit. There’s only so much they can say. Not much has changed regarding how we communicate with each other. And I mean really communicate, not this superficial social media shit we’ve been obsessed with since 2008. So after a certain point, you need to put the advice that does exist to good use. Or don’t. That’s why I’m talking about all this to begin with. I can easily write a blueprint for you to follow, and I will, but if you’re not clear on why you’re doing what you’re doing and whether or not you want to do what it takes to win, what’s the point? You’re either playing the game or you’re not.

So if you’re me, and your vision is to make everyone on the planet laugh, you work on being funny, and you make sure everything you put out to the world is funny and entertaining. Everything. I wear funny t-shirts that don’t use a lot if any, words so that they’re funny to people of all backgrounds and languages. I try to write and speak in as concise a way as possible so that what I’m saying is clear and easy to understand. This is as true in my personal life as it is in my professional life because the two are one and the same. There is no off switch.

I don’t believe in the off switch. There’s no difference between you and your “personal brand.” You are who you want the world to believe you are, and you can’t achieve that unless you’re consistent about it.

Do You Want To Play The Game?

Do You Want To Play The Game?

I don’t believe in the whole work-life balance thing. I know. That’s not the most popular position. Everyone these days wants to tell you that you can have it all. Me? I almost died not long after I turned 30. One minute I was in Wales with a whole bunch of strangers wishing me happy birthday, and then the next I fell ill, and that was (almost) that.

So I have a different outlook on things.

My attitude is this: Life is short. You’re going to die. So, if you want something bad enough, you have to spend every minute you can trying to get it.

That doesn’t mean to be a neglectful asshole. If you have other obligations, you should live up to them. But in the time that you have that’s not otherwise committed, you should be working toward the thing that you want.

Because you either want it, or you don’t. And if you don’t, you’re wasting everyone’s time. Yours included.

This all sounds easier said than done, but you would not believe the number of people I’ve encountered over the years where you ask them what they want, and they don’t have an answer. Small businesses. Individuals. Not-for-profits. The heads of large corporations. More often than not, they don’t have an answer to that question. And because they don’t, nothing gets done. Employees are unhappy. Projects fail. Shareholders revolt. Nobody donates. The media rips you up.

I’m not saying you need to have an answer right now, but you should soon. And then you need to decide if that’s the thing you want to go after or not. Because if it’s not, you have to get out of the way. Other people are trying to get through.

And then if you do decide you want that thing, you have to ask yourself whether or not you want to play the game to get to it.

Because that’s all marketing is. It’s a game.

There’s no trick or secret to marketing, PR, advertising, or any of these industries where you have to promote something (yourself included). There’s a specific, repeatable formula that you follow.

It’s a game. You guide your character by following the formula, and you do your best to get to the end. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes obstacles get in the way, and sometimes other players have ways they can cheat to get ahead.

But here’s the catch: I’m convinced that once you start playing, you can’t stop. Or only play it half-way. You have this thing that you want, you commit yourself to getting it, and part of that commitment comes in the form of spending every free second you have playing the game and getting better at it.

You can take a break when it’s over. Ideally, after you’ve obtained the thing you’re after, but there’s no shame in quitting or stopping, as long as you know that’s what you want to do.

For me, this is an important framework for a lot of what I talk to people about. If you’re committed to playing the game, then I know you’ll follow each step of the process to promote something successfully and give it your best shot. If you’re not committed, that’s where bullshit happens.

And you all know how I feel about that.

So ask yourself this:

  1. What do I want?
  2. Do I want it bad enough to spend every waking moment trying to obtain it?

If the answer is no to the second question, then you’re wasting your time. If the answer is yes, then you have to learn how to play the game.

Fun with OCD

Fun with OCD

You wouldn’t know it unless I told you, but I’ve written over five thousand words today and deleted all of it. I’d like to think that makes me a great writer. Like Ernest Hemingway who once said, “I write one page of masterpiece to 91 pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.” But that’s not the case with me. I take the shit, and the masterpiece, to the nearest incinerator and watch it burn. You see, I have OCD.

And because I have this wonderfully annoying condition, I have a lot of anxiety and the kind of crippling self-doubt I wouldn’t wish on anyone. So I delete what I’m working on and try again. And again. And again. And maybe, I produce something worth sharing. But more often than not I don’t think so, and the cycle repeats until I lose interest and go and do something else.

If you’re wondering why it’s taking me so long to write another book, now you know.

Well, technically, I DID write another book, but it was a ghostwritten thing, so it doesn’t count. It’s good. You should read it. I’m convinced you’ll hear about it in the not too distant future if the release isn’t botched, but that’s not in my hands.

Anyway, for years I’ve joked about having OCD, but it was never officially diagnosed, and I didn’t want to do anything to treat it out of fear it’d keep me from being funny. Because make no mistake, there’s no secret to writing jokes. You just keep sharpening the idea that you have until it’s just right and then you go test it out, tweaking what you need to until it’s gold. OCD is handy there.

But OCD isn’t handy for much else, and my personal life has been a mess for an extraordinarily long time. Definitely since 2012 when I got divorced and used traveling around the world and living out of hotel rooms as an excuse to not deal with my shit, but if I’m honest, my personal life has been a disaster since forever.

Put me in a professional setting, whether it’s onstage talking to thousands of people or in a conference room with one, and I’m awesome. Put me out on a date, or with someone that I don’t need to sell anything to? Forget it. Can’t do it. I’m completely withdrawn.

This year (March 2016 to now) has not been good. Some of it is my fault, some of it is not, but in life one of the things you figure out real fast is that you can’t waste time thinking about things beyond your control. You can work to mitigate potential problems or engineer things to increase the odds of your success, but after a certain point, you can only do so much, and it’s up to other people. And other people can be dumb and irrational.

So, I’ve decided to work on the things I can control.

I’ve been using Talkspace for almost six months now. It’s an app that lets you text a therapist and even do a weekly video chat with them depending on what plan you have. The video chat feature is nice, except it immediately cuts you and your therapist off at 30 minutes, even if something important is going on. So that can be deeply frustrating because you’re spending as much time talking and listening as you are watching the clock and hoping it won’t cut you off. A good therapist won’t do that to you in person. They’ll know when to stop the session, but they’ll at least finish the thought or discussion before closing things down. The Talkspace app doesn’t do that because it was built by “tech people” and tech people don’t care about how we interact with each other as humans. They only care about scale and efficiency.

Despite that technical annoyance, I like the therapist I have, and honestly, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to have health insurance, so TalkSpace is a pretty good solution for me at the moment. Even if I think I need to see someone in person regularly (and I think I do. So does the therapist.)

So at the therapist’s urging, I finally did make an in-person appointment with a psychiatrist just recently. She confirmed that I do in fact have OCD, so it’s no longer just a running joke. She also recommended I take something for it, which I’ve been doing. It’s been a week, and I know it takes like a month to see a difference, so I’m optimistic. I’m not so thrilled about the side effects, but given that dating is off the table while I’m stranded in upstate New York, that’s fine. I’m not going to sweat it.

Why am I telling you all this?

I believe that talking about depression and mental health is important. The odds are good that someone you know is affected by it in some way.

But I also think this has been a huge problem for me over the years. This condition has harmed my writing and ability to produce a much-demanded follow-up to “Social Media is Bullshit,” and my relationships with a lot of people. So, you should know what the deal is.

I’m not going to lie to you. I was at a Barnes & Noble in Union Square on Thursday, and I saw multiple books from people who had released their first book after mine came out in 2012. This was deeply frustrating. I’d like to write more, but I’ve got this problem I’m trying to solve.

I also had wanted to write about depression and startups here on this blog, but I’m honestly not feeling so hot about startups and tech people these days. It’s going to take an extreme amount of convincing to get me even to consider working with another tech company again.

That means if I want to talk about depression and OCD, talking from the perspective of startups or a startup founder isn’t something that appeals to me anymore.

But talking about it from the viewpoint of someone whose new book leans hard into self-help / self-guidance while giving marketing advice, then it does make sense to share all this here with you. Because we’re now at the point where I’m going to (attempt) to write and post ideas and concepts found in the new book so I can test them out and see what sticks.

I also believe that posting about this stuff could be helpful to you, because if I can, with help, get past whatever obstacles I’m facing and put out the second book, given the complete and total lack of resources that I have at my disposal presently, then there’s no excuse for you, you know? You can do the same.

So, let’s do it together.

Need To Focus? Try This One Simple Trick

Need To Focus? Try This One Simple Trick

There are a lot of things I’m pretty bad at. Dating is one of them. Making sure I stay focused and on task is another. But wouldn’t you know it, while out on a date with this awesome woman, I learned something from her that’s gone a long way to keeping me focused and on task.

Now, fair warning, there are a ton of tips out there about how to be better at getting things done. It’s the best kind of click bait. Who doesn’t want to believe that by adjusting the order in which you do certain tasks or waking up one hour earlier you could quadruple your income or guarantee yourself a date with Ryan Reynolds?

We’ve all fallen under the spell of the productivity content genre. I have! Do you have any idea how many Tim Ferriss and Ryan Holiday books I’ve read? (Spoiler alert: All of them.) So for that reason, I’m not going to bore you with a lot of that sort of content here at Roosterly. I also don’t want you to take this advice as anything more than something cool I observed in the wild that I thought was smart and useful to my fellow mammals. Results may vary. Buyer beware. Yadda yadda yadda.

So What’s The Trick?

The productivity tip that has helped me most is simply remembering to be productive — with the aid of a regular productivity alarm. I know, I know. Something else to beep at you and make you crazy throughout the day, but hear me out.

On my date, I noticed that at the top of each hour, her phone would go off. The first time it happened I didn’t think anything of it because when you’re out with someone who checks every box on your future partner wish list, you’re oblivious to everything. The second time though I made a joke and asked if that was her escape from bad dates. She laughed and told me that it was an alarm that she has on her phone, set for the top of every hour that serves as a reminder to keep her productive.

That is genius.

Think about how often throughout the day you get sidetracked by something not related to what you’re supposed to be doing. Or something you want to be doing, but then complain later that you don’t have time to get to it. It happens to all of us. That’s the world we live in now. It’s nobody’s fault, but in the rush of notifications and things to distract ourselves with, there isn’t often something set up to remind us, “Hey, you probably should be productive right now and not watch six more hours of “The Shield” on Hulu.”

After the date, I went home and tried it out.

The Productivity Alarm

If you have a smartphone, and the odds are good you do if you’re visiting us at Roosterly, all you need is the default clock app that comes with your phone. Using the alarm feature on my iPhone’s Clock app; I then set the alarm for the top of the hour from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (I’m usually in bed around 11 and like the last two hours of the day to be completely unstructured, so I don’t set the hourly alarm for 9 p.m., 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.)

The real power of the alarm is that it helps build a habit of following through and doing what you say you will. It got you out of your head and focused on tasks by providing a friendly little shove when you need it most. Of course, you have to let it work. It’s one thing to set all those alarms and then flake on them and not follow through on what the alarm is reminding you to do, but I encourage you to give this a try and see how it works.

I’ve already seen the results. In addition to my work for Roosterly, I’m also writing a comic book and working on a fiction novel. There’s no way I’d be able to do all three, let alone trying to find Wife #2 and read the disgusting mountain of unread books that’s slowly beginning to take over my room if I didn’t have something keeping me on task. And since I have trouble with people telling me what to do, the phone isn’t a person. In a lot of ways, our smartphones have become extensions of ourselves, so I don’t greet its alarms and reminders to stay on task the same way I would if it was another person. (You might not want to admit it, but I suspect this may be true for a lot of us reading this.)

15 Minutes with B.J. Mendelson: Mike Sacks

15 Minutes with B.J. Mendelson: Mike Sacks

Hey

 

The podcast took a week off because I was in Chicago, but we’re back today with Mike Sacks. Mike is one of my favorite writers on the Internet, a fellow author, and an editor over at Vanity Fair. Naturally, we didn’t talk about any of that, because this podcast is 15 Minutes or less and we only focus on the best advice someone has ever received (and the best advice they want to share.)

So, hopefully you’ll enjoy it regardless. There are three more episodes in the works and then I’ll start recording the next batch soon. Given that I’m currently out of work, I have nothing but time on my hands.

Show Notes

One major thing to point out: The sound quality via Skype is not great. So at some point I’m going to upgrade back to Zoom.Us and record these, but for now, hang with me since these first six episodes are meant to be an experiment. And when you experiment, you tend not to want to spend a bunch of money on things. (Also: I recorded them all already so … too late now to fix it.)

You can listen to previous episodes of the podcast here. 

You can also check out Mike here over on his website and here on Twitter at @MichaelBSacks

Mike is responsible for the creation of two books I absolutely love, “And Here’s The Kicker” and “Poking the Dead Frog”. I think you should buy both and I hope you get as much value from them as I did in learning from all the comedy legends Mike interviews in both books. The first book, “And Here’s The Kicker” is one of very few books I kept from my old life back in Glens Falls, New Yorker. I must have donated a couple of hundred books, if not more, and “And Here’s The Kicker” was one of very few I retained.

Mike Sacks on the Importance of Showing Up On Time

B.J. Mendelson: What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever gotten?

Mike Sacks: Well, I would say two pieces of advice. One is, I used to work at a record store for in suburban Maryland and Virginia calledKemp Mill Records. It was a small chain, a local chain, in that area. And I worked there for when I was, from 15 to 25 off and on for Christmases, holiday, summer vacation, and such. And the best boss I ever had was someone whom I worked with there. His name is, is Bruce Lee. He was not Asian, he was a black man and he later became a very good friend.

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs)

Mike Sacks: But he was the best boss I ever had. He gave me a lot of incredible advice that I later used when I went outside of retail into the professional world. And one piece of advice that he gave me that I thought in retrospect, I wasn’t happy about it at the time, but in retrospect I thought was great was that I … He was a stickler for people arriving on time. And the store opened at 10 o’clock and he wanted you there at 9:55. And I got there, I … Literally at 9:56 or 9:57 and he said, “You’re late.” And I said “No. I, I’m here on time.”

He, he said, “I asked you to come here at 9:55. It’s 9:57 right now.” And I said, “Yeah, but Bruce, that’s only two minutes.” He goes, “That may be the case but you’re late, and I don’t want it to happen again.” But, so what he was doing and showing me was that the respect you have to show for others and the respect you have to show for yourself and for your job is such that, even if it is a retail job in Maryland, you need to show up on time and you need to do what is necessary for the job.

And that’s something that I’ve, I hopefully have brought to writing and to everything else. If something is due on September 1st, I’m not gonna hand it in on September 2nd. I’m gonna hand it in on, either on August 31st or on September 1st. So it’s just showing people that you work with, and even now extending out to readers a respect that I think, I don’t wanna say it’s missing necessarily in a lot of jobs, but I do think that any job deserves respect. And by showing respect to the jobs and to yourself, that’s really the only way you’re going to grow and improve yourself in your position in employment and in a working world.

B.J. Mendelson: Now, let me ask you. Is that, is that hard to apply as a writer? Do you find sometimes that there’s, there’s either writer’s block or just a struggle that takes place where it’s kinda like, “Oh, I can, I could just write whenever”? So, do you …

Mike Sacks: Right, well that’s a good point. I mean, I, I do think that a common mistake among writers is, they look at themselves as being sort of like Emily Dickinson where they can work on a poem or a piece for as long as they want until it’s right.

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs) Right.

Mike Sacks: But if you, if you’re writing professionally, you have to pull the trigger. And it’s, it’s never gonna be perfect. It’s never gonna be as good as you want it, but at a certain point, you have to turn that in. Someone is waiting for that piece. And I think that’s a good lesson in not only putting through that piece, but then moving onto another piece. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked with in writing where I haven’t seen them in a year or so. I ask them about what they’re working on, they’re working on the same exact thing that I had heard about the last time I was with them. I think it’s very important if you want to make a career in writing, to produce and to move forward, and not to stagnate and circle the drain.

Full Transcript

(You can listen to the whole show by clicking play. The transcript below has been lightly edited for readability purposes.)

B.J. Mendelson: Hey Mike, how you doing?

Mike Sacks: Hello?

B.J. Mendelson: Hey, can you hear me?

Mike Sacks: I can, yes.

B.J. Mendelson: Okay. (laughs) I just get a little nervous with Skype, you know. There’s always, like, that, is it gonna work this time feeling that I have. Uh, but so far, so good. (laughs)

Mike Sacks: Yeah, there’s always a wrinkle with Skype.

B.J. Mendelson: You know, it, it gets the job done and it’s cheap. So … (laughs)

Mike Sacks: Yeah, that’s my motto.

B.J. Mendelson: So, hey, why don’t you introduce yourself to our audience and tell us a little about yourself?

Mike Sacks: All right. My name is Mike Sacks. I work at Vanity Fair full time and I write books, articles. I have my own podcast called Doin’ it with Mike Sacks. That can be found on iTunes, Spotify, and most places where you can find podcasts. My last book is Poking a Dead Frog, Interviews with Comedy Writers. And my next book will be out in about two months. It’s a humor book.

B.J. Mendelson: That’s fantastic. What’s the title of that book?

Mike Sacks: I’d rather not say just yet, actually.

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs)

Mike Sacks: But it, it’s sort of a … it takes place in the 1970s. I can say that.

B.J. Mendelson: That’s awesome. Are you of any … So this is, this is a tangent but, like, I’m sort of struggling right now with naming my next book.

Mike Sacks: Yeah.
B.J. Mendelson: I want to call it The Internet is Magic. But I’m having trouble, like … You know, I, I feel like a better title’s going to come along. Is at that sort of situation? Or are you just, are you using his title as, like, a PR thing?

Mike Sacks: No, it … The, the title’s definitely what it is.

B.J. Mendelson: Cool.

Mike Sacks: But I think the title would sort of give it away, and … I mean, I guess I could say it, but I- I’d rather just wait until the two months release. What’s your book about?

B.J. Mendelson: So, I’ve been traveling around for about five years and I keep getting the same two questions which is, “Okay, smart ass. Now what do I do?” And then other is where it’s like, “All right, well let’s say I work for a large magazine or I, I work for a radio station, and my boss loves social media and I have to use it. What should I do then?” So its just stuff that’s kinda been lingering in the back of my head and, keeps coming up. But, enough about me-

Mike Sacks: Well, do you find that a lot of people who aren’t familiar with media feel they have to use it just because it’s the in thing?

B.J. Mendelson: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I mean, I had this lady come up to me at a book signing, like, in tears because she opened a small business in Burlington and she put all of her money in social media.

Mike Sacks: Oh, no.

B.J. Mendelson: Yeah, because she thought that was the thing and so she was like, “You know, I’m really happy that you’re here ’cause I, I had all these doubts and everyone kept telling me this is the thing to do, and now you’re telling me I was right.” You know, so it was kinda bittersweet. But, I get that a lot. Like, it’s not just-

Mike Sacks: Well how, how does she put all her money in social me-, how does that work?

B.J. Mendelson: Well, that’s a good question. But, she decided that all of her dollars that she was gonna spend on advertising and promotion went to Facebook and Twitter and all that, and just didn’t, did not go well. But that, that story’s incredibly common. Like, I encounter that quite a bit on the road.

Mike Sacks: I encounter it all the time, too. And I hear about it from a lot of marketing types, publishers that, that are always saying, “You need to push on, on social media,” or say, “I won’t accept anyone as a client who doesn’t have 10,000 followers on Twitter.”
But it really doesn’t it doesn’t really break through for you as a writer, you know. It … Just because you have 10,000 followers doesn’t mean you’re gonna have 10,000 sales.

B.J. Mendelson: Right. Well, you know, I always give, I always give this example. I have about 700,000 Twitter followers, and I did a test when my first book came out. I wanted to see how many of them would actually buy the book through, through a direct link on Twitter. And the answer is 28.

Mike Sacks: Oh my god.

B.J. Mendelson: So …

Mike Sacks: That is horrifying. I mean, the-, what percentage is that, .02?

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs) Just, something a little, a little less than zero is how I like to describe it. But, yeah. No, so I, I use that example all the time, where it’s like, you know, ’cause I hear that. I hear a lot of friends of mine who are musicians who won’t get signed because they don’t have x amount of followers on, like, Snapchat and Instagram. And it’s just, it’s insane. But, let me, I mean, we could always, we could always chat about this a little later. I want to focus on you and some of the great advice that you might have. So, let me ask you, it’s the same three questions I ask everyone else.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever gotten?

Mike Sacks: Well, I would say two pieces of advice. One is, I used to work at a record store for in suburban Maryland and Virginia called Kentmo Records. It was a small chain, a local chain, in that area. And I worked there for when I was, from 15 to 25 off and on for Christmases, holiday, summer vacation, and such. And the best boss I ever had was someone whom I worked with there. His name is, is Bruce Lee. He was not Asian, he was a black man and he later became a very good friend.

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs)

Mike Sacks: But he was the best boss I ever had. He gave me a lot of incredible advice that I later used when I went outside of retail into the professional world. And one piece of advice that he gave me that I thought in retrospect, I wasn’t happy about it at the time, but in retrospect I thought was great was that I … He was a stickler for people arriving on time. And the store opened at 10 o’clock and he wanted you there at 9:55. And I got there, I … Literally at 9:56 or 9:57 and he said, “You’re late.” And I said “No. I, I’m here on time.”
He, he said, “I asked you to come here at 9:55. It’s 9:57 right now.” And I said, “Yeah, but Bruce, that’s only two minutes.” He goes, “That may be the case but you’re late, and I don’t want it to happen again.” But, so what he was doing and showing me was that the respect you have to show for others and the respect you have to show for yourself and for your job is such that, even if it is a retail job in Maryland, you need to show up on time and you need to do what is necessary for the job.

And that’s something that I’ve, I hopefully have brought to writing and to everything else. If something is due on September 1st, I’m not gonna hand it in on September 2nd. I’m gonna hand it in on, either on August 31st or on September 1st. So it’s just showing people that you work with, and even now extending out to readers a respect that I think, I don’t wanna say it’s missing necessarily in a lot of jobs, but I do think that any job deserves respect. And by showing respect to the jobs and to yourself, that’s really the only way you’re going to grow and improve yourself in your position in employment and in a working world.

B.J. Mendelson: Now, let me ask you. Is that, is that hard to apply as a writer? Do you find sometimes that there’s, there’s either writer’s block or just a struggle that takes place where it’s kinda like, “Oh, I can, I could just write whenever”? So, do you …

Mike Sacks: Right, well that’s a good point. I mean, I, I do think that a common mistake among writers is, they look at themselves as being sort of like Emily Dickinson where they can work on a poem or a piece for as long as they want until it’s right.

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs) Right.

Mike Sacks: But if you, if you’re writing professionally, you have to pull the trigger. And it’s, it’s never gonna be perfect. It’s never gonna be as good as you want it, but at a certain point, you have to turn that in. Someone is waiting for that piece. And I think that’s a good lesson in not only putting through that piece, but then moving onto another piece. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked with in writing where I haven’t seen them in a year or so. I ask them about what they’re working on, they’re working on the same exact thing that I had heard about the last time I was with them. I think it’s very important if you want to make a career in writing, to produce and to move forward, and not to stagnate and circle the drain.

B.J. Mendelson: I agree. I mean, it’s something that I really struggled with over the years. So that’s, you know, 2017 I was kind of like, “Alright. I’m recommitted. We’re, we’re getting this book out and it’s, it’s happening.” (laughs) So, that’s, that’s fantastic advice. Now, let me ask you, so, if you had one thing you wanted to impart on the people listening to this, what would it be? What would be the advice you’d want to share with them?

Mike Sacks: Well, this is something I taught myself and that is what I would want to tell others is that in the end, you have to, you rely on no one but yourself. There’s gonna be no teachers who are going to walk you through life. In the end, you have to teach yourself, and you have to improve yourself. And there’s no rule book, there’s no writing book, there’s no course. There’s no online course, there’s nothing that is as important as you teaching yourself what works and what doesn’t work. Both in business and in the creative aspect of writing. And it really comes down to just sitting down and doing it, and experiencing as much life as possible. Because all these rules that you see about certain writers, like Hemingway would only write from 6:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and then go for a swim, then come back.

That worked for him. That’s not going to work for you, necessarily. There’s no magic elixir that’s going to make you a better writer, except figuring out and wending your way through this world by yourself. And it, it’s hard to do. It’s hard to create and forge your own path, but only you can do it. You cannot rely on anyone else. It’s a lonely feeling in a sense, but at the same time, you’re not relying on others and there is a freedom. You don’t have to rely on a boss. You don’t have to rely on this person or that person. It’s all on you, which is … There is a lot of pressure in that, but there’s also a lot of freedom in that it’s a valuable position to be in, and not everyone gets to be in that position.

B.J. Mendelson: I think it’s great, and it’s fantastic advice for writers. I mean, the thing I’m … The thing I struggle with right now is I’m looking at Tools of Titans from Tim Ferriss, and I’m just … And it’s exactly that. It’s like, all these different rules and things that these people have done, and I’m just thinking this, yeah. It, it works for you but it’s insane to, to say to someone, “Oh yeah, you should just ditch everything and go hiking through the mountains of Peru.” (laughs) You know, like, that’s …

Mike Sacks: Well, I think usually, if someone is teaching you that, it’s usually someone who can’t make a career of what they’re teaching. You know, I, I took a lot of lessons, courses right after college, taught by writers who couldn’t make a living at what they were teaching, whether it was TV writing or comedy writing or what have you. So you have to be very leery about taking advice. And in the end, what you’ll hear from successful writers across the board is, “Well, I don’t know what’ll work for you, but this worked for me.” And basically, what’s that, what that’s saying is that I had to figure this out on my own. No one else could tell me it. And in the end, you’re going to have to figure it out on your own. No one is going to give you … This is not a math equation where A plus B is going to equal C. It’s very murky and very nebulous, and you have to sort of wend your way through it.

B.J. Mendelson: I think that’s, I think that’s perfect. I think that’s great advice for us to kind of leave it there. So let me ask you, where can we find you online?

Mike Sacks: Okay, mikesacks.com, and then on Twitter, michaelbsacks, I think. And then Facebook, and I guess, anywhere that social media is used, and used for absolutely no reason.

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs) All right, I love it. Thank you so much, Mike.
Mike Sacks: All right. Well, thank you. I really appreciate it.

B.J. Mendelson: Yep. Catch you soon. Bye bye.

Mike Sacks: Thank you.