For the 49th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast, Sean D’Souza is here to talk about about the psychological tactics that get people to respond to your sales message. Kira and Rob go deep with Sean asking about how he started his business and what he wants from it today. Sean talks about:
• how he got into copywriting, then out, then back in.
• how a short presentation inspired by Jay Abraham inspired The Brain Audit
• the seven “red bags” of The Brain Audit and how they work together
• the questions he asks when creating a sales page
• the “x-ray vision” problem that books and courses suffer from
• why teaching is the best kind of selling
• how to establish yourself as an expert
• what kind of testimonials you should have on your sales pages (would you believe they should be 1500 words?)
• and more…
Perhaps most importantly for overworked copywriters, we asked Sean how he manages to take three months of vacation every year and how his morning routine helps him maintain his energy and effectiveness. These are ideas we need to try. Click the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript.
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The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
Good to Great by Jim Collins
The Brain Audit
Article Writing Course
Six questions for testimonials
The Three Month Vacation Podcast
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
The Copywriter Club Podcast is sponsored by Airstory, the writing platform for professional writers who want to get more done in half the time. Learn more at Airstory.co/club.
Rob: What if you could hangout with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Kira and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Kira: You’re invited to join the club for Episode 49 as we chat with author, speaker, cartoonist, and copywriter Sean D’Souza about psychological triggers that get customers to say yes, creating brand fanatics, how to become an expert in any field, and why he takes so much time off to recharge.
Welcome, Sean. Thanks for joining us.
Rob: Hey, Sean.
Sean: It’s a pleasure to speak to both of you.
Kira: Well, we’ve love to start with your story. How did you end up as a copywriter and a business owner?
Sean: I always wanted to be a copywriter. When I was in university, that’s what I wanted to do. I had this goal, when I was going to be 30, I was going to be in this agency. I was going to be creative director of that agency. So it was very clear to me, which is why in university when I was studying accounting and stuff, my grades started to go down for the first time in my life. As soon as I left university, I went to Leo Burnett, which is the … I lived in Mumbai, India, and the kind of branch of Leo Burnett that was there. I went and spoke to the creative director, and she said, “You know you’re just a cartoonist. You’re not a copywriter.”
I said, “Yes, I know that, but here’s what I’ll do. I’ll work with you a month and at the end of the month, you decide whether you want me to stay, and then you pay me. Or you know if I don’t like you after a month, then I’ll leave.”
So it was pretty brash, but they took me on and that was the start of working with several advertising agencies. We’re going back now to 1995, I think, so it’s a long time ago. So I worked in a couple of agencies, and then, at some point, I started thinking, “Well, this is not what I want to do,” and I went back to cartooning. At that point, I was drawing cartoons for these magazines, but also for these organizations. What I found was their copy was really bad, and that my cartoons were getting kind of mutilated or defaced or destroyed because of their bad copy. That’s when I got back into copywriting and I started enjoying myself. I didn’t think I would enjoy myself as much as just drawing cartoons, but I started enjoying myself.
Then, once again, I just started doing that for a living, and I left the country. I left India and I came to New Zealand in the year 2000. At that point, I had no interest in copywriting. I had no interest in anything, but cartooning again. So it’s been pretty much a rollercoaster ride before we started up with Psychotactics.
Kira: Why did you leave copywriting twice? It sounds like twice, or maybe more than that, and go back to cartooning. Was it burnout or were you just kind of tired of it and wanted a change? What triggered those changes for you?
Sean: I always follow the things that make me happy and I’ve always had that deep within me. That I need to do the things that make me happy, not that makes everybody else happy. In the first agency, I just jumped ships really. I just went to the second job because it paid more.
But in the second agency, the reason I left was because I had went through this workshop and this guy said, “You can write TV commercials and you can do it very quickly,” and he was showing us this stuff. I thought, “You know really this is what I want to do,” and then I joined him and I started writing TV commercials. I did that for nine months, and then I was sitting on a beach one day and thinking, “Well, if I were to die this weekend,” this is without reading any self-help book, by the way. “If I were to die this weekend, what would I rather be doing?” The answer was, “I would rather be drawing cartoons,” so I went back into cartoons.
Then, just as easily, I’ve been jumping back and forth. But it’s not like I leave it. It’s almost like I went for a great meal, now I’m going to take a break, and then I’m going to go back to that great meal. There wasn’t any specific strategy. I don’t think you have that kind of mentality when you’re just out of university and stuff. You don’t have that, “Oh, what’s the long-term strategy here?”
Rob: So it sounds like it was sort of serendipitous, following your bliss. How did you come to start your own business?
Sean: So we got to New Zealand and I read a book by Jim Collins called Good to Great. He said, “What can you be the best in the world at?” I thought, “You know what? What I’m the best in the world at is retaining clients. I’m very good at getting a client and then keeping that client for literally for life.” But then, I didn’t have a very long life back then.
That’s what I decided to do. So I called, and this is the whole kind of thing that comes to haunt me every time. The first company was called Million Bucks. It shows you my mindset. Right? Because now I am so far away from that point, as in, that’s not my goal. It’s just happens to be that we earn more than enough, but the point is that that’s not the mindset. So I started that company, and I was wondering why nobody seemed to sign up, obviously. From there on, we started up Psychotactics.
Now Psychotactics was literally a presentation. It had nothing beyond that. I sat down one day and trying to figure out how am I going to get this message across? How am I going to write this copy? Why is it that I struggle every single time I sit down? Why is it that I’m struggling? By that point in time, I bought a lot of stuff from Jay Abraham, and he used to sell enormous amounts of stuff. The internet was just barely started at that point in time, so it was all direct mail. So I’d go through his sales letters, and I’d buy a lot of his stuff. We bought probably $15,000 to $20,000, maybe even more … $15,000, $20,000 worth of stuff from him.
So it would come in these big boxes, and I’d go, “Why do I get so excited with these boxes? Why do I get so excited with all these sales letters?” So I started to deconstruct everything and when I deconstructed it, I realized that there were just a few things that were really pushing all those buttons. When I put those few things down and gave a presentation, and at the end of the presentation, someone came up to me and go, “Can I have the notes to that presentation?”
I said, “No, I don’t have any notes. It’s just a presentation.”
She said, “I can’t remember what you just said.”
So I sat down. I wrote it in a PDF. Gave her 16 pages. That was the start of The Brain Audit. Today that’s sold well over a half a million dollars worth of just The Brain Audit.
Rob: So without going into too much detail about The Brain Audit, what are some of the things that you had deconstructed, that you shared in the presentation, that were so impressive to people who heard it?
Sean: I was trying to find how your brain goes through the decision-making process. That’s really what I was trying to do. I was trying to say, “What are the steps?” If I could freeze-frame those steps and they’re really: the problem, the solution, the target profile, the objections, the risk reversal, testimonial, and uniqueness. Essentially, what happens is the first half or the first half of this brain audit is all about getting the client’s attention. The second half is just mitigating or reducing or eliminating the risk, and then that final little box is, “Why you?” I said halves, but let’s say thirds. So getting the client’s attention, getting rid of the risk, and then saying, “Now that I know this stuff, why should I pick you?”
Rob: Obviously, you’ve done a lot of work in developing The Brain Audit since then, and a lot of other products. Are there other psychological triggers that you like to talk about or write about that get customers to say yes, when you’re selling a product or a service?
Sean: There are lots of things that actually end up causing the customer to buy. My goal is to find out how … See the thing that crosses my mind a lot is that as a copywriter, as a marketer, I want my stuff to be redundant, like they should not really feel like they’re being marketed to. That’s the genius of marketing, where people say, “Which part of the sales letter do you read?”
They go, “I didn’t read the sales letter.”
So a lot of the work that we put in is what I call the pre-sell, and that is, several weeks or months, there is this drip of information, of goodies, of stuff that comes your way so that by the time you’re ready to buy, you’ve already bought in your brain. You’ve already gone through all the steps: You’ve gone through how much it costs. You’ve gone through how much effort you need to put in if you’re buying a course or buying some stuff like that. What happens is when you get to Psychotactics, you’ll find that some of the very high priced courses sell out in 20 minutes. People go, “Oh, that’s the sales letter.” Yes, it is the sales letter, but not quite. It’s all the stuff that you do before.
If you want to think about it, you have to think about it as a wedding. What you’ll realize is that when someone gets married, almost the whole family shows up. Why do they show up? What is this thing? What you recognize is that it’s an event. Copywriting or the sales letter or whatever is an event, and everything preceding that event — all the announcements, all the showers, and whatever it is that comes before that — that is the buildup to the event. That’s why everybody shows up to the event. That why that event goes the way it is.
So when you look at it from just a sales letter point of view, then you’re not really understanding the whole system of sales. Then, past the whatever people buy, that’s what I look at as well. But that’s probably going down another rabbit hole.
Kira: So, specifically, in speaking to a launch, what are some of those triggers early on? Like you said a wedding, the invitation that would go out for a wedding, what does that look like on an actual launch that copywriters are probably, maybe even doing wrong right now?
Sean: First, you start off with a target profile. So what copywriters tend to do is they tend to write their own copy. I gave up writing my own copy for a long time. What I do is interview the client. I go to one client, someone that I feel needs this product or service, can afford it, and very importantly, I need to like that client. If I don’t like that client, I don’t care how much money they’re throwing at me. So when I do that, that client will tell me why, for instance, they want to buy this microphone. Or why they want to buy this course. They will put it in words and in language and in a tone that I cannot do sitting at my computer. It’s different when you’re writing advertising copy, like say the advertising agencies used to do before. This is a completely different world. A lot of it goes through the internet. A lot of it is something where you have to hit that emotional trigger and you trying to figure out what they’re thinking is very difficult.
So what I try to do is I try … I don’t try. I call up the client. I go out to lunch with them. I have a recorder. I literally transcribe what they say. I ask them the questions. I call these the target profile questions. I say, “What is the biggest problem that you’re having? Why is it a problem? What are the consequences of this problem?” Then they just rattle it out, and it’s on tape, and then I transcribe it. I edit it a bit. I don’t translate it. I don’t change their words. What we have then is the problem, we have the solution, they come up with their own objections, how I could destroy those objections. They come up with what risk they feel. So, essentially, we’re going down to the brain audit, but all of it is coming from the client. When people say, “What kind of triggers are you using?” Well, I’m using the client’s words, the client’s emotions, the client’s thoughts.
Kira: I’d love to hear more of the questions that you’re asking when you’re sitting down with them because I’m always trying to integrate new and better questions when I jump into interviews. Then, the second part is what are you looking for when you are digging through the transcriptions?
Sean: The questions I’m asking them they mostly relate to the brain audit because that’s the way the page is going to roll out. It’s going to roll out with the problem, with the solution, with the consequences. It’s going to roll out almost exactly the way the brain audit is laid out. That’s how we’ve written our sales pages for … I don’t know now, 15, 20 years now and it works. I’m really doing what a good interviewer does, which is they go down a path and I follow that path. I can’t say there is a formula for editing it, but I can say that usually what there is is this rank of importance.
So say a mother wants to buy a car and she has six reasons to buy a specific type of car. What I’m trying to get at is really, “What is the biggest reason that you want to buy this kind of car?”
She goes, “The kids. In the other car, they do this. In this car, it’s so much easier because of this reason.”
That’s what I’m looking for. So instead of trying to sell to 10 different benefits or features, I’m just honing in on one thing and then driving that one thing. Then after a while, the one thing becomes so important that clients start to focus on that one thing. That’s the only one thing that they want from that product or service.
Rob: Sean, do you take the same approach when you’re developing products as you do when you’re writing about them? So when you’re trying to decide if you’re going to do a new workshop or a new home study course or a new book, are you doing this based on customer research or is it just something that you think is a good idea and so you run with it?
Sean: The customer research is always for the sales pages, it’s not for a product or a service. I write the product and service or I create stuff for me, but I do have what I would call a uniqueness. I call it the x-ray vision kind of problem, and that is if you went to a workshop or you bought a book or you bought a course and at the start of the course they said, “You pay your $500, and we’ll give you x-ray vision.” So what do you want at the end of the course?
Rob: I want to make sure I have x-ray vision.
Sean: Exactly. But that’s not what happens online. That’s not what happens in a book. That’s not what happens in a course. What you get is information about x-ray vision. There is a very big chasm between wanting x-ray vision and information about x-ray vision. So when I set out to create a course, if I set out to create a course on copywriting or on article writing or cartooning, the result is that in X number of weeks or days or months or whatever, you will have that skill. Not information, but skill.
Kira: Interesting. Let’s see, so I have to circle back, and I’m going to jump back to you mentioned that you are the best at getting a client and keeping the client for life, and that’s powerful. That’s a powerful statement, and I know that’s something that a lot of copywriters would love to be able to say. So how are you able to do that? Can you offer any tips that we can use?
Sean: To start with I’m an extrovert, so I like people. I don’t get drained by people, which always helps. But I would say that I’m really interested. I got to the stage where I could tell you your anniversary and your birthday without the use of any Facebook. I knew what kind of chocolate you ate. I know what kind of pets you had. It was a CRM system in my head.
I think that really people are interested, and to this day, we send out … When people join 5000bc, which is our membership, we send them a bar of chocolate. They don’t get anything in the mail. They get only bills in the mail, if anything, and to get a chocolate from New Zealand, and we don’t send it through a system. We actually write their address. We write a note to them.
We recently went on a trip and we had a meetup. We just all sat around and had a lot of beers, and we had went for dinner and stuff. I’m not trying to get money out of the clients. I’m trying to just be a friend, and they’re trying to be friends, and I think that was the very core of it. This is why it was very important to be able to pick the client. That’s why having the right testimonials on the website then attracts those clients. Now this is from a business owner’s point of view. This is not from a copywriter’s point of view, writing for somebody else. But from a business owner’s point of view, we specifically put photographs on the website of people that we like. We specifically put testimonials with the tone that appeals to us. In return, we get dozens or hundreds of those clients. So people go, “How do you get these clients?” Well, this is how we get them and then it’s not very hard to stay in touch with them because essentially they’re friends.
Rob: It sounds like a process for creating fanatics for your own brand, which is something that you’ve written quite a lot about.
Sean: Yes, and what happens online and what has happened through time is that no one bothers too much with the person who’s saying, “I’m having a great time.” What a magazine is interested in is, how many millions did you make? The point is that you can create fanatics. You can get clients to come back repeatedly, if you do a really good job. If you set out to say, “This is x-ray vision. This is what I want the clients to get.” Then they come back for x-ray vision, for flight, for everything that Superman has, really. All the super powers, so you don’t have to sell.
So this is what I’m trying to say when I’m saying … Well I’m trying to make myself redundant. I’m trying to give them all the super powers that I have, and so I have to sit down and work that out and as a result we’re not really selling.
Rob: Yeah, that’s really interesting to me because I think a lot of people, experts, even copywriters think, “Well, I can’t share my secrets with my clients because then they’ll be able to do the work, and why would they hire me?”
Sean: That’s not how it works. I mean your car mechanic can show you all their secrets, and you’re not going to.
Rob: Yeah, no, yeah there’s no way I’m going to. Or even if I tried, I would fail.
Sean: Yeah, and that’s only one kind of level of understanding. I used to think like that. So The Brain Audit, when I first started presenting it, I would only present three of the bags. So I call them bags — seven red bags. I think, “Well, I can’t tell them all the seven red bags,” but every time I presented, they would always ask me, “What are the bags?” I felt like I was giving away a big secret by just listing the bags.
So, anyway, I wrote the book. People read the book. The Brain Audit is in version 3.2 now. I treat books or courses like software, I keep fixing them. So they read version 1, they read version 2, and then people came to a course. Then they did online consulting, and then they did group consulting, and today, if I were to hold a Brain Audit workshop, pretty much the same people are coming in. So suddenly you realize, wait a second, what we have here is a factor of depth. As long as you’re able to give them value, as long as you’re able to give them the x-ray vision, to improve their skills as copywriters, as business owners, it’s limitless. We’re not even talking about multiple skills. I’m just talking about this one book. It boggles the mind now, but when I started out I would think just like everybody else, which is, “Once I give it away, what’s left for me?”
Kira: Well, Sean, you know I have to ask. What are the seven bags? Now, I’m intrigued and I want to know.
Sean: This is the core of selling, so I learned this a long time ago. So understand this one thing, and you’ve pretty much got it sussed because sales is a transfer of enthusiasm from one person to another.
Kira: I like that.
Sean: That’s it. That’s it. Because then you don’t have to take bad products and bad service and do bad courses and stuff. It’s a transfer of enthusiasm. If you’re enthusiastic about it or someone is going to go, “I want to know more about this stuff,” so anyway I already told you the seven red bags, but we’ll go over it again.
The first three bags were: the problem, the solution, and the target profile. You start off always with target profile because they come up with all the problems and the solution and everything else. So that’s what attracts the client. Then you get to the risk factor, and as soon you say, “I’ve got your attention. You love this microphone.”
They go, “Yes, but … “
So, you come up with the objections. Then, from the objections, you go to the testimonials. It’s like who else has bought this stuff, and testimonials have their own kind of universe where you have to understand that it’s not just good testimonials, but what I call reverse testimonials — skeptical testimonials. So you construct those testimonials, and it’s all there in the brain audit anyway. So it’s objections, testimonials, then risk reversal.
Now risk reversal is not just a money back guarantee. A risk is something that I feel, so maybe I feel that if I unwrap this product, then I won’t get the money back. So you’ve got to understand what is that risk that people are feeling, and then remove that risk. Money back is just one form of risk reversal. So you’ve started out with getting attention with the problem, the solution, and the target profile. Then you go after the risk, which is objections, risk reversal, and testimonials. Finally, the client is going, “Why you?” Because once you’ve gone through those six bags, they’re going, “We’re really well-educated, let’s go to your competitor.” You have to say, “Why me.”
So, for instance, to give you an example there are courses online. I know, you’re probably going to ask this question, we charge a lot for our courses. Say the Article Writing course, it’s $3,300 US something. You can go online and you can find article writing courses that are half the price, one-fifth the price. So why does this course fill up like sometimes six months in advance, in 20 minutes? The answer is that we work out that uniqueness.
So what we say is, “When you finish the Article Writing course, you will be able to write a magazine-quality article in 90 minutes or less.” So it’s very clear. If you start out trying to sell any product or any service with the endpoint, which is what is the result, what is the x-ray vision, the client doesn’t … I mean everything leads up to that point, and they go, “This is what I want.”
Kira: It seems like the mistake a lot of business owners and copywriters make is that they start with the bottom and they start with you, talking about themselves. They lead with that, rather than your approach, which works. You know finishing the page with the uniqueness and the about me, about our team, about our product section.
Sean: But it’s not even about your team. I’m really just interested in the endpoint: What am I going to get? How precise can you be? So when we do like a Headline course, we say that, “People say that headlines are quite hard to write. Well, we’ll show you how to write eight headlines in 10 minutes. Eight curiosity-driven headlines in 10 minutes.” So it’s still going to take you eight weeks to learn this stuff, but at the end of eight weeks, you will be able to write eight of these headlines. Eight different type of headlines in 10 minutes. So there’s a very clear benchmark at the end of it. Because if you can write only six of them, then we have a problem.
Kira: So you’re really specific about the end goal and that’s what you’ve seen, or I’ve seen as well, is missing from a lot of sales pages. They’re not specific enough about that end goal and what you can accomplish.
Sean: Imagine you get on a train today and they say, “Well we’re going to get to the endpoint sooner or later.”
You go, “Where’s this train going? What time is it going to reach … ?”
All the things that we take for granted in real life. We want a specific. Once we get to a sales page or to sales or to marketing, we forget that. But in reality, we want to know. What time is this flight taking off? Where is it going to go? What are we going to get to eat? Right? Specifics.
Kira: Right. Are they serving food or not?
Sean: It’s pretty important if you’re on a 12-hour flight with no food.
Rob: Yeah, or to know what it is. Exactly.
So, Sean, I want to shift gears just a little bit. I think last year or maybe a couple years ago, you gave away one of your programs, Brain Alchemy. I was listening to that and in one of the modules, one of the sections of that training, you spent a lot of time talking about how to become an expert in your field. My sense is that, especially with copywriters who are choosing a niche or maybe choosing not to niche, there’s a real struggle sometimes to be seen as an expert in their field. Would you mind sharing some of those ideas that you shared in that training about the types of things that you have to do in order for your best customers to recognize you as an expert?
Sean: Essentially, to become an expert in your field, you have to go down a very narrow segment. So what I try to do is, whether I’m writing an article or I’m writing a book or I’m creating a presentation or doing anything or just trying to become who I am, I’m trying to say, “Well, this is the main topic.” Right? “Okay, we’re going to be talking about photography. Then, under photography, it’s aperture. Under aperture, it’s something else.” So the beauty of becoming an expert is to go down that narrow little cubbyhole, as it were, and then to find out what is it that people are struggling with and how to fix that? People go, “But wait, then I will get into that typecast. I will get stuck into that hole.” You won’t. You just start there.
So when we started out, we didn’t see this big journey of Psychotactics. The only thing I wanted to do was solve my own problem, and my own problem was how do I not slave over a sales page for days on end trying to just figure it out? What are the things that I see? So I sat down, I wrote these steps, which later I called The Brain Audit, and that was it. That was what other people saw, what other copywriters saw, what other business owners saw, and they go, “Wait. There is a system.” If you want to become an expert in your field, go to a sub-sub-section or if you want, stay with a broad section, but then write down that system and then share that system. Because once you share that system, people ask you a million questions, which then refines the system. You’re constantly improving that system, they’re getting better results. You could technically be an expert in one subsection, but you don’t have to stay there.
So just to take the brain audit, itself. The brain audit has seven red bags. One of them is uniqueness. We did a three-day workshop on uniqueness alone. You look at the bag on testimonials. Now if you read The Brain Audit, it already covers enough about testimonials. But one day, I needed to write a book on it, so I wrote a 120 or 130 pages on testimonials. You go, “What’s 130 pages on testimonials? What do you have to say that’s going to span 130 pages?” Essentially, what I’m saying is that you create a system and then you sell that system, and that makes you an expert. That’s the short version of it. You give away the ideas, you sell the system.
Kira: So it sounds like you just you go deep, you go very deep down that rabbit hole. Like you said, 130 pages on testimonials. I can’t imagine I’m going down that rabbit hole. Can you share a little bit about what type of testimonials copywriters should be using on the page? You know you mentioned a couple as you were describing the seven bags. That one is the skeptical testimonial. You know there are multiple types of testimonials, but a lot of copywriters aren’t using them as strategically and are just kind of throwing them up there randomly.
Sean: Yes, so testimonials are probably the reason why you have good customers or bad customers. That’s the core understanding that I need to get across. That is if you have great testimonials, you’ll continue to have great clients on a consistent basis. What I talk about is, first of all, the photograph. Now you get a lot of grumpy people and you put them on your page, what you’re going to end up with is, not surprisingly, grumpy clients. You get a lot of people that talk about how they got rich, how they doubled their income, how they did that kind of stuff, that’s the kind of expectations you’re going to get from your clients.
Think of a testimonial as a mirror and when you look in that mirror, people look at … You might not think that people are looking at it, but we’ve done this test in live workshops where we show someone just a photograph of a guy and the logo, and we say, “What do you think of this guy? What do you think of this company?” And there’s no information about that company, and they go, “He looks very trustworthy. It looks like they’ve been in business a long time.” This is a diamond company and they have no information about this company. This guy’s not even looking at the camera. He’s looking away from the camera. He’s like, “Don’t take a picture of me.” So people are getting these images, these messages from just the photograph. They’re getting the messages from the tone.
So when you take the client’s testimonial like, for instance, when we first started out for this master class that we gave away, someone paid $1,500 to get there. Her testimonial started with, “I had to get to this class. I had to drive 150 miles to get there. I had to leave my son behind. I can tell you that I didn’t want to come to this workshop.” That’s the story. Now you want to know what is it that caused her to leave her son behind and go to this workshop? Essentially, the testimonial can be a very short testimonial that really gives the gist of it. But most of the time, what we do is we …
And this is what copywriters should do. They should get really long testimonials, like 1,500 word testimonials, and you can do this by asking the six questions. You can find them online, just “six questions Sean D’Souza,” or you can find them in The Brain Audit. If you record them, then people speak the 180 words in a minute. In 10 minutes, it’s 1,800 words. That’s how much you can get from a client once they start speaking, and you put that in a PDF. We’ve done this for a lot of our courses. The Article Writing course one, so it has 75 pages of testimonials. So we just send that document across to clients, they look at like five pages, seven pages. They start flipping through it, and then, they don’t even look at the sales page.
Rob: Cool. I want to shift gears again a little bit, Sean. I’ve heard you talk about your business and the fact that you don’t really have a desire to grow beyond where you are today. Will you tell us a little bit about what you think about your business? Having enough and how you take a significant amount of time off every year and just sort of having a lifestyle business and what that means?
Sean: When we got to New Zealand, one thing was very clear to me and that was that I wanted to be paid in advance. The second thing was that I wanted to take three months off. But the third thing that came along was that there is depth to everything, and I wasn’t interested in just doing stuff. I was interested in doing great stuff. So that was Good to Great. It was “what can you be the best in the world at?” That’s the goal at all times. We take three months off. So we work for 12 weeks, and then we take a month off. Then we work for another 12 weeks and take a month off. So it goes on in that cycle. We’ve been doing this, not now, you know so many years later, but when we started out in 2002. By 2004, we took our first break, and we’ve been doing it ever since.
However, I’ve not been taking breaks on weekends until maybe 2015. Then, on the weekends, I stopped working. So when I say, we’re going on vacation, that means we’re not checking email. Everything gets dealt with by somebody else. If you have great clients, eventually what happens is, they don’t bug you on vacations. They don’t send you stuff. In fact, if they find out from say whoever is responding to your email that you’re on vacation, they go, “Oh, no problem. We’ll wait till he gets back.” What you’re really doing is you’re setting up their business. You’re setting their business so that your clients like you. You like them. They don’t bother when you’re on vacation, and you get this downtime. Before I went on vacation, I was pretty tired. When I get back, I’m like, “Oh, I want to do this. I want to do this,” and so I have all this energy when I get back. This is not different from your day-to-day life.
You work for 16 hours maybe and then you need that eight hours of downtime. But we don’t plan our lives like that. What Renuka, my wife, and I do is at the end of the year, we sit down and we first work out all the breaks. So we say, “We’re going to do this break and this break and this break and this break,” and then we put the work in-between. Now people go, “I can’t actually take three months off,” and it’s possibly true.
There are people that are struggling at some point and they can’t take three months off. But you have to reverse the question as well, and you go, “Okay, supposing you wanted to earn say $100,000 or $50,000 or $70,000, whatever you wanted to earn. If you only had nine months to achieve that, could you do that?” Surprisingly, most people say yes. So if they took 12 months to achieve $70,000, most people say, “I can do that in nine months as well.” So then, why not do it?
Kira: So when is your next vacation?
Sean: We just got back from one, so my wife freaks out-
Kira: You just got back.
Sean: … Yeah, we were five weeks in Scandinavia and stuff. We just got back two weeks ago. The next big one is in end of November, so it’s not that far away. It’s about 12 weeks away. We go to Sri Lanka and then India and then we get back in January.
Kira: Okay, that’s not the big three-month vacation, that’s more…
Sean: No, that’s the whole point. We take three months off, but not three months together.
Kira: … Gotcha. Okay, I was thinking three consecutive months.
Sean: No, no, that’s … we tried that. It’s…
Kira: I was like that impressive. That would be challenging. Okay.
Sean: … it’s actually not impressive, it’s actually frustrating because after a while on vacation … You don’t realize it, but when you’re on vacation, you have to eat three meals a day somewhere. So you have to eat 90 meals somewhere, in one month, and then it’s the second month, so 270 meals. That’s a lot of decision making: Where we going to go? What we going to do today? Unless you’re just sitting on the beach doing absolutely nothing for three months, it’s very hard going being on vacation.
Kira: Yeah, so I am just intrigued by the vacation and how strategic you are about that because ideally I want to do that, too. So I’d like to hear more about what you do when you’re on vacation. So you’re eating your three meals. What else are you doing on your vacation, so that it’s rejuvenating?
Sean: So what we do is, a lot of people say, “Well, we don’t spend much time in the room.” Well, we’re the opposite, we spend a lot of time in the room, so we want to pick really good hotel rooms or really good houses. So we rent out the whole house, so that Renuka can sleep longer, if she needs to and I can just wander through the house or take a walk. Because when I’m in a hotel room, I always end up on the street or in the lobby, which is very not to my liking.
So I’ll paint. I do a painting every day in watercolors. I’ll read. I paint anyway every day, but during the vacations probably it’ll step up. I’ll sleep. I’ll read. We’ll eat. We’ll drink. That’s approximately what we do. I mean we could go to Rome and not see the Colosseum, but that’s how we are. We call ourselves the “five monument people,” we see five monuments, then we’re done.
Rob: It might be a good approach to vacationing.
So what would you say, Sean, to people who say, “Well, if you only took two months off a year, you could earn another $100,000 a year.” What’s that trade-off worth to you?
Sean: It’s not worth it. So here’s what we found. We found that we could very easily earn three times as much as we needed. So let’s say you needed say $50,000 a year, we earn far more than that and you already know the figure because I went on Andrew Warner’s The Mixergy Presentation, and he was very confused because he was like, “But you’re earning half a million, aren’t you going to make a million next year?”
And I go, “No, no, we’ve earned half a million for the last 10 years. Try and spend half a million. It’s very difficult.” Do you know how much half a million is in one … I mean if you get down to one day, I think it’s like $3,000 or something a day.
Rob: Yeah, it’s a lot.
But that conversation was really interesting because Andrew was completely baffled by your desire to not grow.
Sean: Yes, but when I say “not grow,” I’m talking about intellectually. Intellectually, I’m digging so deep into all the products. Like we just rewrote the Article Writing course to version 2.0, and it’s dramatic. The change is so amazing, not for just for me, but for clients because that’s what they come back and they … you know? So the people who buy version 1, also buy version 2. So they’re spending money all over again to buy the same product. We just decided, “Okay, we’re not going to do any live courses or anything online, in terms of courses, which is it takes about eight to 12 weeks, for the next year.” So we just dropped all that what you call revenue. That is because I want to write a book on talent, how you acquire talent, and that it’s not really inborn, as most people think.
I want to write a book called Teacher vs. Preacher. So there are all these things. This is the depth that you’re going in. At the same time, we’re still generating the same income. Here’s a little line that I have: We go and stay in good hotels. We eat out twice or thrice a week. Here in Auckland, we have a good house, we have a good life, everything. When I travel, we only travel business class. All these internet marketers that are making millions of dollars, I don’t see them in business class, so what are they doing? They’re in first class? I don’t get it. They’re making so much money, why are they flying economy?
Rob:Maybe they’re not making money, yeah.
Kira: I didn’t know that.
Kira: Okay, so I want to ask you a question that bugs me a bit. We have a lot of conversations in our Facebook group for copywriters about how much everyone’s making, and I think it’s good for everyone to talk about money, but there’s an obsession about hitting the six figures, especially as copywriters. A lot of them are struggling just to get their business started. So I’m just interested to hear what you would say to those copywriters, who are kind of obsessed with the number and six figures and that that’s what success equals. I mean that kind of alludes to what you were just saying, but it just keeps coming up in these online conversations.
Sean: As I told you, the name of my first company, the marketing company, was Million Bucks. Okay? So I don’t see anything wrong with it. I know there is a mindset, and usually, it’s what you could loosely define as a scarcity mindset. It’s somehow that if I get there, I’ll be fine. I can tell you from our own experience that when you get to a million, it doesn’t feel any different from a hundred thousand. If you sit down and you work out, let me do the things that I really want to do. Let me be able to buy the things that I really want to buy, if it makes me so happy, and you sit down and you work out how much you need from life, and then you multiply that by three. What is going to happen is, at least in countries like New Zealand, one-third of that is going to go to the government as taxes because we’re okay with taxes. One-third of it is going to go into savings or investments, and one-third is going to go to you.
Now let’s start out with just the one-third. What is that one-third? Here’s the answer. Most people don’t know that answer. They don’t know what is that one-third that they want to live a comfortable life, and so, if you don’t know what that one-third is, then any figure will do. It’s like if you don’t know where you’re going, any place will do. So the million, you can’t spend a million dollars. I mean try spending a million dollars. If you give someone … That’s why these guys who win lotto and win lotteries, they can’t cope with it because they don’t know how to spend a million dollars. You have to spend at an enormous rate to spend a million dollars. It’s more a factor of insecurity, and I’m speaking for myself here. That I felt that I somehow I would have a status that I could say that I have a million dollars, and it’s not a reality. You can’t actually spend a million dollars, contrary to what you think.
Rob: So, Sean, before we run out of time, we know that you’re enormously productive, even though you take three months off a year. I think a big part of that may have to do with your morning routine. Will you tell us a little bit about what you do to get your day started?
Sean: What I started out thinking was: Imagine you could end the day with approximately the same energy that you had at the start of the day.
Rob: Yeah, I’d sign up for that.
Kira: I want that.
Sean: Yeah. My car does that. It’s an electric car and sometimes you go for a drive and you say, “Okay, I’m going to go for a seven kilometer drive.” Say you started out with 90 kilometers worth of electric power. When you come back, you should 83, right?
Sean: But sometimes you end up as the gauge showing 91, so you ended up with more technical power. You can go another 91 kilometers, and that is by the way you drive the car. The electric car drives completely different from a petrol car. It’s just a dream to drive it. You take your foot off the accelerator and it starts to break. So anticipation, the way you drive, the way you accelerate — all of that is very much like how a human being works. One of the things that the car works on is a battery system, and that means that once the battery is dead, you have to tow it away. It’s just a human being. Once your battery is dead for the day, it can be 6 o’clock in the morning or 9 o’clock in the morning and if you’re completely exhausted or drained, that’s the end of the day.
What I tried to do was to find a spare battery and what I found was meditation. Now I know you’ve heard this probably a million times before, but I wake up every day at 4 o’clock, and I used to get to work and I used to be all, “Ugh, I have to get to work.” Now, I work very quickly. I mean 4:02 or 4:03, I can write a book. I don’t need coffee. I don’t need anything. But instead of speeding up my day, I decided to slow it down. What I found was that if I meditated for like 15 minutes, it gave me a battery charge of 15 minutes. If I went for 30 minutes, it gave me a battery charge of 30 minutes. It sounded like such a waste of time. I already have a busy day, why am I going to put in another 30 minutes or 45 minutes on meditation? But then, I’m focused totally on results and I’m looking at the end of the day. How do I feel at the end of the day? At the end of the day, I’m feeling, “Wow! This is amazing.”
I heard Seinfeld. Seinfeld was talking about this like I don’t know six, 10 years ago, and I go, “Yeah, yeah. Sure.” I came from India. I mean I know meditation and stuff, but it was a big struggle. Today, I had to get on this call at 4:45, and I can tell you that I would have rather meditated for another half an hour than get on the call. Not personally, you guys, but-
Kira: We won’t take it personally.
Sean: … Yeah, but the point is that when you’re starting out it’s very hard, and then it gets … it still stays hard for a while, and then after a while, you start to go, “Wow! This is amazing. I want to stay in this spot.” But what it does is it prevents you from depleting energy. If you look at your whole life as I am this mass of energy and as I go through the day, it’s like a rechargeable battery. It’s going down and down and down and down, and what if I could keep it going at that high level, continuously? Now there are many ways to do that, but one of the ways that I found is meditation.
So then I get to work. I’ll do some email. I’ll check through our membership site, 5000bc, answer questions. Often, I’ll record a podcast at 4:00 in the morning because at 7 or 8 o’clock, you’ll have lawnmowers going and stuff like that. So that’s kind of how I start the day. I go for a walk. I’ll listen to podcasts, audiobooks. I’ll have a coffee, come back, 8 o’clock I’ll cook breakfast. Every day we cook meals, so that’s another change that we made last year. We don’t have anything in the fridge anymore, we cook just for that meal.
Again, you want to say, “Well, how’s that possible? We don’t have enough time in the day?” This is the battle that everybody has, by the way. Everybody has the same problem, which is, “I don’t have enough time in the day. I don’t have enough energy in the day.” What I’m saying to you is it’s possible to cook, to paint, to write, to do all the stuff, and on top of that make the revenue that you want, and take three months off. It’s a completely impossible reality.
Kira: Wow, that’s just helpful to hear because as I mentioned before we recorded, I wake up at 4:30 most days, but I can’t say that I feel charged the entire day, and I definitely don’t end the day feeling charged. But I’m not meditating and I’ve struggled with it, so I will give it another try. But I’m curious to know what time you go to bed at night.
Sean: Usually, 10 o’clock, so I-
Sean: … I’m getting about six hours of sleep; however, I still treat the body as a car, as an electric car. When you need to charge … It’s like a phone. If your phone is depleted at 10:30 in the morning, what are you going to do? Just let it be?
Rob: No, you plug it in.
Sean: Exactly. So plug it in. So go for a nap for an hour because when you’re depleted, everything is taking twice as much time, thrice as much time. You’re getting things wrong. So why bother?
Sean: Why bother keep on going on? You wouldn’t do that for your phone, why would you do that for your brain?
Kira: Sean, I want to ask one final question before we wrap. What advice would you offer to new business owners? We have a lot of copywriters who just started.
Sean: The best advice you can get is to find a good coach or someone that gets you to that endpoint. Because it’s not that you’re not talented, it’s that you haven’t got good teachers. You know you look at Michael Phelps, and he’s the most decorated swimmer on the planet today and probably will be forever considering what he’s done. But you look behind that and there’s Bob Bowman, and Bob Bowman has made Michael Phelps. Michael Phelps, you can read all of Michael Phelps’ books, and he goes, “I didn’t want to get into the pool.” So when you think about someone that doesn’t want to get into the pool and becomes the most decorated swimmer of all time, there is something in-between and that is the teacher. Find the teacher and then you’ve kind of … Then you have to put in the work.
Rob: Great advice. Really good advice and something that I think both Kira and I have found true in our own careers and that we’re seeing with a lot of people that we’re working with in the club, so thanks for that. We appreciate it.
Sean, if somebody wanted to connect with you online or follow you or learn about your next vacation, where would they go?
Sean: Well, we have a podcast, it’s called The Three-Month Vacation. Very hard to forget, but if you want to just check out The Brain Audit, I think that’s a good start. Just go to: psychotactics.com/xbrain and you can get an excerpt, the first chapter of it, and you’ll find that it’s very readable. So that’s psychotactics.com/xbrain.
Kira: Thank you, Sean.