Over the years I have really enjoyed attending educational seminars, workshops and networking events. It’s not just about the presenter and the topic of the event. Often it’s about the individuals I meet, the relationships that are developed and the conversations had in the hallways, over coffee or on the phone that develop after the event itself. I attend these events because I want to surround myself with likeminded people, but also I make sure to choose events where I will surround myself with people who are further along than I am at the moment.
I can’t tell you how many times I have spent an extra 30 minutes or even a couple of hours and performed some surgical brain-picking, getting loads of outstanding advice and ideas in empty hotel ballrooms or convention center parking lots after an event. It’s one of the greatest opportunities to be able to hang out with people who have more than 10 times my level of experience and knowledge in some specific area. Learning from these people is a major shortcut to success in any endeavor.
I used this same approach when I decided I wanted to make a full-time living from coaching back in 1999. At the time I was making only about $1,000/month from doing coaching part time for another company, but I needed to be making a minimum of 10x that amount to leave my full time position DJing in NYC if I was going to sustain my lifestyle at the time. So I started attending events and signing up for courses where I identified people who seemed to be making at least $50-100K per year from selling coaching. Then I proceeded to pick their brains as much as possible, mostly by engaging in email dialogs.
But I also realized if nobody knows who you are, then you’re not going to get much good advice from successful people. So I became part of the board of directors of an organization that promoted events for personal and professional development and helped them found a 501c3 non-profit. Before long I was vice-president of the organization and soon after that president. I ended up having more influence, people began to know who I was and that created even more opportunities to spend time with successful people. I also started leading other meetings and speaking in front of small organizations and I built a reputation as a contributor, not a leech. If you are looking to gain knowledge from someone, it has to be a game of “pith and catch”. You can’t just pick people’s brains if you don’t give them a piece of yours in return. But as my knowledge and influence grew, the net result was that I could very easily solicit advice from people whose coaching income was 10x higher than mine and more.
I just kept going from there, soon hitting six figures a year in my coaching business, always identifying people who were already making my target level of income. But I also applied the same principle in my other businesses and other areas of my life. If I wanted to learn about health, I learned from the best. If I wanted to learn about speaking and selling from the stage, I learned from the best. If I wanted to learn about any specific subject, I sought out and learned from the best.
A big mistake people make when trying to increase their success in some area is that they’ll ask advice from people who aren’t getting the right results. For example, let’s say you’re making $60K per year right now, and you want to be earning twice that amount. Most people will seek advice from all their friends who are making $50-90K per year. And they’ll get lots of advice. But it will be essentially worthless. It’s far better to talk for 15 minutes to a person who’s making $150K per year than it is to spend a full day seeking advice from people who aren’t at that level yet. This might sound like an exaggeration or cold, but I honestly don’t believe it is. I’d rather get answers to just one or two questions from someone who’s far more successful than me in some area than to chat all day with people who are roughly at my own level.
One strange paradox is that advice from people who are at your level often sounds very good and sensible. But it’s often bad advice because although it “sounds good”, it may be a far more difficult path to success, and often it just won’t work at all. On the other hand, advice from people who are far ahead of you will often initially sound bad or reckless, but if you actually apply it with a bit of faith, it often works wonderfully. And the reason is… because that is the path they already walked to success. They’re not sharing what they “think” will work. They KNOW it works!
Here’s a simple example:
When I started a training company in mid-1999, I wanted to build it up fast. So I asked advice from a number of people on how to do this. People who were making $3,000 or less per month doing small seminars almost invariably gave me ideas about ways I could improve the program itself. So they focused on the “product” and on essentially creating more work. But one person I asked who was earning around $10K per month told me to stop that and spend 80% of my work time just marketing the product I had for the next several months. He said to market it every single day — and learn more about marketing every single day. I took his advice because he was already getting the results I wanted, and I knew he was being sincere. So for the next six months I did little else but learn marketing and do marketing. And it worked. It didn’t feel right at first to spend so little time working on the program, but I couldn’t complain about the monthly increases in cash and clients.
If I had followed the advice of my peers, I understand now that I would have only gotten minimal results, even though their advice sounded good to me at the time. Focusing on the product would have been the wrong strategy — I would have invested a lot of time and energy and gotten very little out of it. Focusing on marketing was harder for me, and it wasn’t initially the kind of answer I wanted to hear because I wasn’t yet too skilled in that area, but it was the thing for me to focus on in order to achieve the level of success I wanted.
When many people start a new business, they’re likely to miss the importance of marketing. It’s not at all obvious just how important marketing is, especially if you’re in love with developing new products or services. The product is important, but without enough time and energy spent on marketing, hardly anyone will know about your product. Jay Abraham says that marketing is the single greatest way to gain leverage when you want to increase your sales. Now having over 33 years under my belt as an entrepreneur and 21 years as a business consultant I can tell you with absolute certainty he’s right. I’ve failed in business and I have succeeded. And the key difference has been in marketing.
Unless your product or service has serious flaws, you can often get much greater leverage from a full day, week, or month invested in marketing than you can in tweaking and improving the product/service itself. The fact that this is fairly unintuitive may help to explain why so many new businesses fail or plateau.
But going a little deeper, I think there are other reasons people fail to seek advice from those that are doing much better than they are in some area. For one, there may be a degree of intimidation. The only thing I can suggest in that situation is to go ahead… feel intimidated and ask anyway.
But an even deeper issue may be that people don’t want to hear the kind of advice that will make them face their own fears and weaknesses. For example, if you aren’t good at marketing or don’t like marketing, then hearing someone say that this is the key to greater success may not be what you want to hear. So it’s easier to listen to people who tell you to tweak your product or service, especially if that’s already your strength. But if you take that easier approach, you’ll always be denied greater results. After a few years of that, you’ll feel like you’re stuck on a treadmill, doing all this work that just doesn’t get you anywhere. You’ll have gotten a lot done, but it just won’t produce very strong bottom-line results. And the reason this happens is often that you’re unconsciously modeling people who are stagnating too.
Seeking and applying advice from those who are already getting the results you want sounds like common sense. Yet actually doing this consistently is anything but common. So why not choose to be uncommon if it will get you to where you want?
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