I grow even more convinced of this by the day…
About a month ago, I wrote an article about a concept called “pay to play”.
The most basic description of this idea is that you benefit by paying for expertise. Sure, you get a lot from reading my free daily email. But you’d probably get even more benefit if you paid me for it.
Why? Because you put money on the line, and you have to make it worth it.
In that article, I explained how I’ve seen this come up with really high achievers. Those who are successful, more often than not, are willing to invest in experts.
Sure, it gets to be easier to do when you have money. But most of them did it before they were successful — and you could argue it’s what made them successful.
Most have their own version of the “AMEX Gamble” story, a term I stole from my friend Dan Meredith.
Invest the money now, and make a commitment to make it back and then some before your credit card bill comes due.
Dan did this when he was literally deciding between bread and gas for the car. And since then he’s become a HUGE success in copywriting and beyond.
When I went to my first AWAI Bootcamp, I definitely had this mindset. I wasn’t yet a full-time freelance copywriter, so I couldn’t just pull it out of business funds. I had to make sure I got ROI, and fast, to justify the expense.
In fact, every time I go to a big conference, I still use the same mindset. I don’t have to make it pay back for financial reasons, but I still do so for psychological reasons.
I’ve had two separate and totally unrelated experiences that have only furthered my belief in this principle…
The first has nothing to do with business and marketing, although it’s illustrative.
If you’ve been a reader for a while, you probably know that I’m into DJing and electronic music. I bought a set of turntables in 2000, and played very actively in the Midwest through about 2005. I’ve continued off and on throughout the years, with a couple gear upgrades, including a brand new USB DJ controller last year.
At the same time, I’ve produced electronic music on my computer.
And yet, the music I made has always felt at least one step below the music I’ve played as a DJ.
The worst, most horrible experience was one night when I was playing in a local club, around 2004. I was playing vinyl, but they had a set of CD turntables I could use. So I burned a CD of a track I’d made, and proceeded to mix it into my set.
As soon as my track came on, I knew it was bad news. My mix levels were off, the bass was on overkill, the speakers turned to mud, and the dance floor emptied.
The speakers I had at home — 15” Cerwin Vega MX-400s — sounded great. But they were horrible for mixing and mastering my music. They made bass sound good that would sound good on literally no other systems.
I recognized in that moment that there was a huge gap between my skill and that of the producers whose music I played.
I knew how to structure a song, which was very important. But I still struggled in translating good song structure into a polished final production.
Now, it’s always been a hobby, so progress has come slow. But over the years I’ve done training here and there, and am getting really close to professional-level production work. My mixing levels are pretty good — good enough, at least, that they sound good on pretty much any system where they are played.
And yet, something was still bugging me. This time it wasn’t the mixing and levels. It was genre.
I’ve always been a “House Head” — I love house music. But the kind of house music I buy to DJ with just sounds a little bit different than the house music I make on my computer. The misfit is small, but big enough such that I wouldn’t buy my own music to play in my DJ sets.
So when I got news recently that Toolroom Records, my favorite label, would be releasing a training series called “Toolroom Academy,” I was all over it. Some of their top artists would be teaching how to create the Toolroom sound.
I’ve been through two of three courses, and I can’t wait to carve out some time in my busy work and family schedule to produce my next track, because I know EXACTLY what the differences are between what I’ve been doing and what I want to do to make the music I want to make.
And yet, I wanted to take it one step further. And this is a work in progress, but I think it illustrates exactly the kind of thinking you need to apply here.
I actually reached out to the label manager for Toolroom Records.
The subject of my email: “An unconventional request: can I PAY YOU to skype with me?”
I explained my position. I explained how I wanted to make records at the level that they release. But that I knew my work was not quite there yet.
I told him I wanted him to tell me what was missing. Specifically, what’s wrong with my sound that makes it NOT a Toolroom-quality house record.
(Not a lot of people are willing to pay an expert to tell them what’s wrong — but it’s one of the fastest ways to improve your work.)
I know I’m close, but I wanted a 3rd-party expert without emotional ties to my work to weigh in and tell me what I would need to fix in future productions.
Since he’s literally the gatekeeper at Toolroom, I thought he’d be a good target.
What’s the saying? “Shoot for the moon and at least you’ll end up among the stars.”
Well, he did pay attention. He listened to my music. And he responded to my email.
Unfortunately he didn’t take me up on my proposition.
But he did give me at least one really strong pointer for what I need to do. And it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t asked with the confidence of someone who was willing to pay him for his expertise.
But alas, I haven’t given up.
I’m actually going to wait to try this again until after my next song, incorporating what I learned in the training I’ve been watching. And then I plan to reach out directly to one of the artists who did the training, with the hope of him taking me up on my offer.
Although it plays second fiddle to my main business pursuits, I’m absolutely dedicated to creating world-class house music at a level that the best labels in the world would be happy to release my music. And “paying to play” to get access to experts is a critical tool in helping me move to that next level.
My second story, on the other hand, comes straight out of the marketing and business world…
I have to keep this anonymous for now, because the relationship is new and I want to respect it by being careful not to talk out of place.
One of Australia’s top marketing experts — who I’d met in person once, very briefly — reached out to me the other day.
And what you’re about to hear is a perfect example of how the biggest winners apply “pay to play.”
“I want to give you money.” That’s all his message to me said.
“Umm… Okay. That’s usually a good idea.” I replied.
Then I went into the takeaway spiel. I’m expensive. I’m booked out for months. And I only really want to work with clients who present a very compelling opportunity. I’m happy with the direction my business is taking, and I don’t want to derail that by chasing inferior opportunities.
Then he explained.
He values ideas. Insights. Perspectives. From EXPERTS.
And because of my insight, experience, and place in the direct marketing world, he thought I’d be a good source of ideas, insights, and perspectives.
Basically, he wanted to pay me a monthly retainer to keep him in the back of my mind, and when a relevant thought or recommendation came up, send it his way.
At his level, the right idea could be worth $10,000, $100,000, even $1,000,000 or more. So it’s smart to tap into a steady stream of them.
So he wanted to pay me to be one of his sources of ideas. A curator, of sorts.
We did a little song and dance. Although I know this is close to what Dan Kennedy has done as part of his Private Client Group, I hadn’t established a structure in my business for this kind of service. So I didn’t have a fee to quote. He also wasn’t sure how expensive or cheap this should be, so he didn’t want to give me a number. Eventually, with the help of my coach (ANOTHER pay to play success story), I came up with a number for a 1-month test run.
I quoted it, and the reply was, “What’s your PayPal address?”
Money in the bank (of PayPal).
As part of the deal, I offered him the audio recordings of my Advanced Direct Response Copywriting workshop, which currently are not available for sale to the public.
As soon as I sent those, he spotted another opportunity. He wanted to pay for the right to share them with a small private mastermind group he runs. On a “per head” basis.
I asked him to quote a price, as — yet again — he was asking for something outside of my standard offerings. It seemed fair and reasonable, and I had even more money sent by PayPal within an hour or so.
Turns out he’s doing this with at least one other well-known marketing expert, and my bet is he has a list of people who are licensing content to him and who he’s paying to send him ideas.
He’s doing it on terms that work well for me. And yet, I’m sure that he has a way to make my ideas and insights even more valuable. By turning around and applying them to his business, teaching them, and using them to help clients.
And by doing this, he is able to charge more and justify those higher fees, because of what all he can deliver that he wouldn’t be able to without his pay to play arrangements in place.
I’ve been looking at where all I can apply this, for small and large items…
For example, I just had a call with a client, that resulted in some really good ideas and statements that will form the backbone of some copy work I’m doing.
I’m turning around and paying someone to transcribe that. I can then take that transcription, and cut it up, rearrange, and edit it into a substantial portion of my first draft.
I have other areas of my business that I’m looking to turn to outsiders to help with. Willing to pay well for their expertise, because I can leverage it to create even more value for myself and clients.
Plus there’s the coach and assistant, which together make up a small investment financially, but are leading to creating more momentum and a much bigger future going forward.
So, what can you apply the pay to play principle to in order to accelerate your success?
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,