When you’re in the room with a billionaire, you pay attention…
Now, I’m not sure he was a billionaire, at that moment. He might of simply been well on his way. But by the time I was listening to Bill Bonner’s speech, he was running a company that was easily making multiple hundreds of millions of dollars per year in revenue. With the fat margins of an online publisher.
Shortly afterward, a sales letter would be written that called him a billionaire. Between his castle in France, his historic mansions in Baltimore, his ranch in Argentina, his many properties, and his business empire, he’s worth a solid 10-figures. (He’s managed to stay secretive enough, though, that his actual net worth is not public.)
And, he started as a copywriter.
And, he thinks (and often talks) like a philosopher.
He was onstage, waxing poetic about descriptive versus prescriptive grammar…
Probably 90% of the room hated the talk. If not more.
It was AWAI’s Bootcamp. Which is, from one perspective, a business opportunity seminar. A large number of attendees don’t care about descriptive versus prescriptive grammar, and what that means to a copywriter-turned-billionaire.
They’re too caught up in trying to retire next year and still make as much as most doctors. They’re just waiting for this old guy to finish talking, and for the start of the next “magic pill” pitch. (Hint: There is no magic pill.)
But he didn’t care. He was asked to talk about whatever he wanted to talk about. And because the entire company putting on the event probably wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for him, he was allowed to speak about whatever the heck he wanted to talk about.
I sat with rapt attention…
Prescriptive grammar, he explained, was what you learned in 7th grade. (It’s also the grammar that I’ve since forgotten — to the astonishment of academic writers who hear I make a great living as a writer.) It’s the grammar that says, “write this, not that.”
Descriptive grammar, on the other hand, is simply the attempt to describe how people actually use language. A descriptive grammarian will suggest including LOL and U in the dictionary, because it’s the language used by real people, in real digital conversations.
For all his education and experience, Bill explained how he’d ended up on the side of the descriptive grammarians. And how that’s relevant to copywriting.
Because good copywriting isn’t necessarily what should work. It’s simple what does work.
And the more you try to impose a sense of should on it, with a thousand rules, the harder it is to actually get it to work.
You’re far better off reading 100 pieces of copy that actually work, or reading 100 pieces of any kind of writing that really resonates on a human level, and then starting to write.
Your unconscious mind will identify 5,000 rules or patterns that you’ll never recognize consciously. And from that, your writing will be much better. Even if you’ve never studied the kind of “Rules of Writing Copy” that a prescriptive grammarian turned half-rate copywriter would package up in ebook form and sell to you for $19.95.
This is a deeper lesson than you might imagine…
I’ll bring it together in a minute here — because it may not make sense at first. But I’m thinking about this in relation to the question below.
And remember, today is Monday, so it’s Mailbox Monday. Which is the weekly issue of Breakthrough Marketing Secrets dedicated to answering YOUR questions. If you have a question you’d like me to answer, submit it here.
Here’s the question for today…
First of all, thanks for the wonderful insights you provide through your emails. I do have a question…
As you mentioned, Gary Bencivenga’s goal was to improve his skillset by 1% every single week. And in the 1st year, it’s not 52 % but its 68%, and so on.
Can you help me with analyzing this? Do you have any frameworks or tools to keep track of this? And how do I improve my skillset 1% every single week?
What the heck does this have to do with the descriptive versus prescriptive grammar I wrote about above?
Everything, when you analyze it from a principles level (as opposed to anything on a technique or tactical basis).
Before I get into that, it is worth noting that Gary Bencivenga and Bill Bonner are professional friends and colleagues. Bill hired Gary at various points in his career. They both were at the very top of the direct response copywriting world for careers that overlapped by quite a bit. And they’re both two of the smartest minds in direct response you’d ever hope to learn from.
I’ve studied (and met, and had brief conversations with) both, and I don’t think either would disagree with what I’m about to tell you.
Getting 1% better per week is an intention, it’s not something you measure…
Most people accept mediocrity.
They get to the “good enough” spot in their life and career, and don’t really try to improve.
They sure would like a raise at work, but they’re not really fighting to make themselves 10%, 25%, or 50% more valuable as a worker, to justify that raise.
Instead, they’re mostly happy with cost-of-living adjustments, preferably with a little extra generosity sprinkled on top.
And if they’re not particularly focused on money — if they’ve oriented their happiness around an independence from financial considerations — that’s great for them.
But we do live in a world dominated by money and what it can get you, and I’m pretty sure if you’re a Breakthrough Marketing Secrets reader you’re probably even more directed than the average individual toward building your wealth.
And so you don’t want mediocrity.
You don’t want “good enough.”
You want to DESERVE the raise, through the value you create (for employers, clients, the market, whomever).
And so you’re always looking for ways to raise your value.
The question is, how often do you consider this?
Are you trying to become better every year? Every month? Ever week? Every day?
That’s the purpose of thinking about 1% per week.
The calculations that tell you that grows exponentially — to 68% in a year, 181% better in two years, 17,565% better in ten years, and 97 billion percent better in four decades — that’s all a thought experiment.
Fun, yes. Effective at making a point, also yes.
But practical to track? Heck no!
Instead, it’s about how you direct your will, your attention, your focus, your effort, and your mindset.
And thinking about getting 1% per better every week feels both achievable and profound, versus doing it every month or year.
The person who wishes to improve 1% per week will quickly rise to the top of their field…
Assuming, of course, the wish is turned into ACTION and HABIT.
It really is not about figuring out how specifically you will improve 1% this week. Or how you did improve 1% last week.
Skill is a nominalization of an intangible noun. In other words, it’s a name for something you can’t touch. It’s hard to even measure, in any meaningful terms.
Even IQ tests, perfected for decades, have countless flaws.
How are you supposed to measure a direct response copywriter’s weekly development over 5 or 10 years, much less 40?
Money is one way, but even that is hard to measure from week to week. And the improvement you make this week may not materialize into cash flow until royalty checks hit a few months down the line.
If you’re going to measure, measure the habits…
One habit you can measure is practice. By that, I include the time actually spent working, which is the best practice of all. A true master is always practicing. Measure the words written, or the time spent actively writing, or the number of promotions tested.
Another habit to measure is active learning. Did you do something every day to learn, independent of the actual work to be done? This is a habit I recently started tracking daily, with a simply yes or no. Nearly every single day of the week I do SOMETHING to learn. Sometimes directly related to copy and marketing, but often more indirect (knowing that makes my writing richer than being laser-focused only on marketing).
Another habit, previously hinted at, but one I think I’d like to do more, is testing short copy. I’m talking at the level of Facebook or Google Ads, or perhaps emails and advertorial pages. If you wrote one of these per week and tracked the results, you’d be getting better every week even if this week’s test was a failure.
Another habit is any kind of personal growth. Reading outside of marketing. Meditation. Journaling. Therapy. Spiritual growth. Anything you do to grow as a person will help with your 1%.
Finally, get in the habit of tracking your money. It’s not a leading indicator. Everything else will go up first, before the money does. But if you track your income and net worth, you should see the 1% weekly improvement start to add up through time.
Back to descriptive versus prescriptive…
While the above is a bit of a prescription, remember that it’s mostly about intent.
I can’t tell you, this week, what you need to do to get 1% better.
But if you aim your mind and heart toward that goal, you will do SOMETHING that feels right for you.
And if you’re constantly doing something, you will be successful, faster.
You’ll find what’s working for you. You’ll find the habits that contribute. You’ll find the best way for you to measure your habits.
And the breakthroughs will grow exponentially.
Yours for (exponentially) bigger breakthroughs,