Steve Gordon: Welcome to The Unstoppable CEO Podcast. I’m your host Steve Gordon and today, I got to tell you, this is an interview I have been looking forward to for a long time now. I think you’re going to really enjoy this one. I’ve got John Jantsch with me, who is a marketing consultant, speaker, and probably most famously, author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine, SEO for Growth, and The Referral Engine.
He is the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network. And his latest book, which is absolutely fantastic, The Self-Reliant Entrepreneur: 366 Daily Meditations to Feed Your Soul and Grow Your Business is out, and we’re going to talk about it today. And it really is a daily reminder to entrepreneurs that when you make a better you, you make a better business. I love that sentiment. John, welcome to The Unstoppable CEO.
John Jantsch: No, thanks for having me, Steve.
Steve: So most of the people, I think, who are listening, probably have heard of you and have heard of your work. But would you just give everybody just a quick little bit of context? How did you get to this point where you are the Duct Tape Marketing guy?
John: Well, so I started my own marketing consulting practice thirty years ago, and it really, like a lot of people, no plan, no, you know, ideal client in mind or anything, just hustled some work. And, you know, at one point a couple years into it, I really had gotten a couple small business clients kind of mixed in with all the other projects I had acquired. And I found I really loved working with them.
But they were pretty tough. I mean, they had the same… My training was working in an ad agency. So I kind of, that was my model to work with businesses. And, you know, small businesses have the same needs and challenges as much larger ones, but certainly never the same budgets or, you know, even attention spans.
So I decided that if I was going to work with small businesses, I was going to have to create a systematic way where I could walk in and say, “Here’s what I’m going to do. Here’s what you’re going to do. Here are the results we hope to get. Here’s what it costs.”
And what I discovered pretty quickly was in trying to solve my frustration, I tapped into what is still today one of the greatest frustrations for small business owners. It’s gotten increasingly hard to buy marketing services because there are so many pieces and so many people selling individual pieces.
And so I think somebody that said, “We’re going to do this and this and here’s what it’s going to cost and then we’re going to start with strategy and install a marketing system” was kind of music to their ears and I decided I needed to brand that approach and start writing about it. And so I came up with the name Duct Tape Marketing, really to kind of act as a metaphor for what I think it’s like working in a small business and, you know, started writing about that, turned into a book, turned into a podcast, turned into a network of independent marketing consultants around the world who license our methodology and, you know, we just keep rocking and rolling, trying to work. We work really on any given day with thousands of small business owners installing the Duct Tape Marketing system.
Steve: That’s fantastic. And you do great work. And for those who haven’t plugged into it, they definitely need to go start with Duct Tape Marketing and then when you get that, get a copy of the book we’re going to talk about today, which is The Self Reliant Entrepreneur.
But I’m really curious, John, you’ve been doing this, as you said, for thirty years. That takes a particular kind of persistence that normal human beings don’t always possess. What has kept you pushing forward and kind of kept you unstoppable in the pursuit of building this business?
John: Well, I think it’s probably a bit of a mindset of always growing. My, you know, journey over thirty years has been an evolution. You know, I didn’t start a business and it looks the same today. In fact, you know, I’m embarking in 2020 on a pretty–I was going to use the word radical, that might be too big–but it was a pretty significant innovation that we hope to bring to the market.
And I think that that’s… I love new, I love inventing, I love innovating. And I think it’s, you know, that kind of, you know, looking at both my business and my life as a work in progress is probably the greatest thing I would point to as any measure of being unstoppable.
The Morning Ritual for Entrepreneurs
Steve: It’s so interesting, when I ask that question, I get all kinds of different answers from all the entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed. But the common thread there is that, more than anything, it’s just sort of that mindset, that determination to keep pushing forward and keep growing.
And I’ve been sitting with your new book, The Self Reliant Entrepreneur, now for most of the year, and for those who haven’t seen it yet, you need to go get it. It is on the cover, it says “366 Daily Meditations to Feed Your Soul and Grow Your Business.” So it’s a great book that you sort of sit with for a few minutes every day.
I sit with it every morning. It’s just a fascinating kind of, I think, reflection tool to kind of go back and challenge your own thinking day-by-day. How did you come up with the idea to write this book?
John: Well, it’s something that I’ve practiced as well. I’ve probably had a morning ritual, you know, for twenty years now, that involves some sort of meditation, quiet time journaling, and always reading something that I felt was very positive and uplifting. You know, let’s face it, when we go out every day as entrepreneurs, some days are better than others, some days are mentally, physically, and spiritually challenging.
So I think that it’s a great practice to kind of center yourself and, you know, make sure that you’re touching in with why you do what you do. And so this book, in a lot of ways, kind of fit my own practice. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I wrote this for me, but it certainly fit into my practice.
And I think a lot of, you know, as I’ve spoken with a lot of entrepreneurs and authors, I mean, I don’t know about you, Steve, but I’ve got, you know, a stack of eight books that, you know, showed up at my office this week, all of which I’m sure are great, but many of which I’m just not gonna have the time to probably get through.
And so this daily format, you know, it’s kind of like a, you read it for ninety seconds, two minutes a day, and then you know, you put it down and, you know, you’re not kind of like thinking, “Oh, I’m gonna get to that book someday.” So the book as a, you know, mini practice was another reason for this format.
Steve: And I think it’s really effective at that. And one of the things I love that you’ve done here is you’ve got the challenge question in there. So, folks, kind of picture each page has got a date at the top, so you would come back to it every year. And then kind of an idea. And then a really great quote from all kinds of places that you probably aren’t plugging into on a regular basis.
So I’m looking at, I just happened to open up to February 15 and 16th. And there’s a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson on one page and Oliver Wendell Holmes on the other page, and then John’s written kind of a synopsis there. And then at the bottom, there’s a challenge question and some room for you to write something.
And John, I’ve actually been doing that these days. And, you know, it’s gonna be interesting when I come back around next year to check in with that thinking, yeah, see what’s changed.
John: Yeah, it’s funny, you know, some people of course, it’s against their religion to write in a book. But we put those in there because I could envision people doing just what you did and I know others, you know, kind of keep a journal with it. And so then they scribble in there. It’s kind of funny, one of my daughters gave my wife and I a book that asks a question every day, and it’s meant to be a three-year book.
And so you write in your answers, you know, every day, and we probably got a couple months left on our three years with the book, and it’s really been kind of funny to, as you said, look at what you wrote, you know, last year and the year before, but I, you know, the question part, as you mentioned, there’s really three parts.
And so the first one is a quote of some literature that I curated from the mid-19th century. And then some reflection by me based on my experience, and let’s face it, kind of what I believe. And then a question and, it’s funny, as I’ve spoken with a lot of folks, you know, people seem to gravitate towards a certain part, you know, some people love the question, some people love getting into the literature. I’ve had people tell me that, you know, they felt like the, you know, my experience was so valid compared to theirs.
And so it’s really been fun to kind of see how people interact with the book, and in fact, some people, you know, you’ve been reading it day-by-day. I hear from people all the time. That’s the logical way of course, right? But I hear from people all the time that said, “I just like to flip open to a page or I read, you know, in one week.” And so there’s really no right or wrong way to do it.
Steve: It’s really interesting to flip through, and you mentioned that you’ve pulled all of this sort of from the mid-19th century literature, that stuff that I’ve read parts of, you know, I’ve read some Mark Twain, I’ve read some Emerson.
It looks like you’ve spent a lot of time with all of these thinkers and all of these authors, because for you to pull out the bits that you have and then make them relevant… I can’t imagine, as an author, what that was like. This had to be really challenging.
John: So it took me about a year to write the book, and really the first six months were just in the research phase probably. And, you know, it’s funny, we’ve all read this. I mean, we’re all assigned, you know, The Scarlet Letter and Moby Dick and Little Women and obviously, you know, Thoreau, work in high school and college or maybe you’ve gone back to it since, but like, it’s always fun to take works that, I mean, none of those books were written for entrepreneurs.
I mean, that was not the audience for those books. But I think it’s really fun to take works and realize and find in them context, that certainly can be applied to not only the entrepreneurial situation, but to today. There were so many times when I would be reading something and think, wow, that, you know, that is so applicable for today.
It was written 150 years ago, but the human condition hasn’t changed. So it was a fun journey. It was a hard journey. I, you know, I kind of felt like it was almost a luxury. You know, I felt like I was going back to school, you know, but had my day job, too. But to me, what I found there was probably the richest vein of entrepreneurial writing maybe that’s ever occurred.
And if you think about what was going on at that period in the 1850s, we were on the cusp of the Civil War, women were marching in the streets to get the right to vote, we were trying to abolish the legal act of human slavery. It was probably the first major countercultural period in American history.
And so all of the writings, you know, either overtly reflected, “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t be following our, you know, what our parents said, or our elders or our preachers or teachers, maybe we should start thinking for ourselves and making our own decisions that we have that ability to do so.”
Even the fiction from that period, you know, I mentioned Moby Dick and The Scarlet Letter and Little Women. In those, you know, it was the first time you started seeing protagonists who were basically saying, “Look, this may cost me everything, but I have to follow my heart.” And I think that there’s probably no truer advice for entrepreneurs.
Steve: I couldn’t agree more. As you were putting this together, were there common themes or threads that you found in the thoughts that were shared by these authors?
John: Yes, absolutely. You know, probably the biggest one: self trust. It’s, I think, you know, a required element. I mean, if you’re going to stay true to your dreams, you’re gonna let go of the things that you can’t control, you better trust yourself, you know, pretty thoroughly. But I would say, you know, courage, curiosity, mindfulness, you know, non-judgement, resilience, gratitude. I mean, those are just a handful of themes that come up time and again.
A lot of the writers from this period were also kind of sharing some of the first ideas, particularly Emerson and Thoreau, for the first time in American literature, this idea that there is an interconnectedness. And so it’s funny because a lot of people read the title, you know, self-reliance, and think, “Oh, I have to go out on my own and, you know, build my own furniture and, you know, be completely self-existent.”
And it’s really just the opposite. It’s saying, you know, you have to trust yourself so thoroughly that you do follow your own path, but realize that, you know, we need each other and that other people, you know, should be allowed to follow their own path as well. So it’s, you know, it’s more about self-trust and empathy, I think, together. And I think those are great qualities for entrepreneurs.
Steve: I think those are kind of fundamental. I mean, you’ve got to trust yourself because you’ve got this idea, you’re gonna go and impact the world in a certain way. I believe that takes a certain level of courage to sort of step out and say, “I’m going to, you know, leave the comfort of a guaranteed paycheck every other week. And I’m going to go out and create this.”
And so I think it takes a kind of a unique amount of courage and self-reliance and selfbelief. But at the same time, if you’re not really empathetic, particularly with the people that you want to serve, it’s not going to work very well. I think those are two great qualities.
John: And it’s funny as I hear you describe that, you know, that leaving the corporate, you know, environment or the steady paycheck, you know, there’s probably plenty of people telling you you’re crazy. But it’s also that voice in your head that is telling you you’re crazy and causing a fair amount of stress that you have to deal with as well.
Why You Should Reframe Your Failures
Steve: Well, that’s one of the things I like about a book like this. And I think you’ve done it very, very well here, is that, you know, for those of us who are stepping out, we’ve done that, and we’re buffeted by the world on a regular basis.
I mean, that’s one of the main themes of our podcast is being unstoppable. Well, how do you go about doing that? Part of that is, I think being able to create some space for yourself and reflect a little bit about what’s happened. And adjust.
Steve: Sounds like you’ve had that practice for a long time. How has that kind of guided you through your entrepreneurial journey?
John: Well, I think a lot of entrepreneurs… I mean, every month has a theme. And one of the themes you’re going to encounter later this year is resilience. And I think that entrepreneurs who succeed who, you know, survive, who ultimately thrive, you know, have this ability to be resilient, not in the sense of, I’m just going to push through no matter what happens. But it has the ability, I think, to kind of reframe what happens.
I think where we get in trouble is when everything’s looked at as, “I failed, this failed.” You know, kind of globally, you know, failing. And I think that entrepreneurs that are very resilient and stick around are able to kind of look at it and say, “Okay, this thing, you know, didn’t work, or this client group didn’t want it this way.”
You know, how do I learn from that? How do I take that and use that as opposed to, “Oh, this thing failed.” And I think that ability to reframe things is an important entrepreneurial trait, but it’s something that I think if you look at anybody that has survived or thrived, I mean, some of the greatest successes, you know, were three and four times, you know, in before they found their, you know, the right, you know, connection or combination of things.
And I think we, a lot of times, when we look at successful businesses, we either don’t know or forget that. That wasn’t something that happened overnight.
Steve: Well, I mean, there has yet to be a company that’s lasted forever, right?
Steve: So they’re all a failure. It’s just a matter to what degree.
Steve: And how do we judge it. And what I do enjoy about this is it gives you that opportunity to sort of spend some time with yourself and reflect and collect that.
We all have great experiences and we all have challenging experiences that, I mean, it’s one thing when we, you know, when we have a podcast called The Unstoppable CEO, people tend to focus on all of the negative things that happened that they had to overcome. But, you know, sometimes it’s also a matter of placing the great successes in context as well, right?
John: Yep. Yeah, absolutely. You know, I have an idea, Steve, why don’t we read an entry? Why don’t I read an entry because–
Steve: That would be great.
John: We’ve been talking all about this in a conceptual way, but people will get a real sense. So I’m going to, I just opened my book up, I’m gonna read February 27. That’s depending upon when you are listening to this. That’s the date of this one. So they have a title and then the reading from literature and then my hundred, hundred-and-fifty words and then the challenge question.
So February 27: Unfinished Business.
“It was plain that I worked myself out, pumped myself dry, so I knocked off and went to playing billiards for a change. I haven’t had an idea or a fancy for two days now. An excellent time to write to friends who have plenty of ideas and fancies on their own, and so will prefer the offerings of the heart before those of the head.” From Mark Twain’s letters from 1917.
“Here’s a known fact about entrepreneurs: they’re more commonly starters than finishers. The dream gives way to the work once begun, and that’s where boredom begins and interest wanes. And this often gets worse the closer to completion. How many things have you let languish in your life for want of the final 10%?
Twain admits later in this letter that “My interest in the work dies a sudden and violent death when the work is done.” The self-reliant entrepreneur is a finisher. Today, close something out that’s been hanging around waiting for you to revisit it. Get it off your plate, and you’ll find yourself filling back up again with ideas and fantasies of your own.
Your challenge question: what’s one unfinished piece of business you should bring to a close?”
Steve: So I read that. So as we’re recording this, that was yesterday’s entry, and I read that. I wrote my one unfinished piece of business. And at about eight o’clock last night, I got that thing closed. And I gotta tell you, it feels fantastic.
John: You know, it’s funny, there’s another quote from Hawthorne, from The Scarlet Letter, about something like, “She hadn’t known the weight of the thing until it had been lifted,” or something like that. And I think we do spend a lot of time, when something’s weighing on us, we don’t realize, you know, how much that’s causing resistance, and then we get that thing off your plate. We’re like, wow, I feel amazing. I feel that way every year with taxes, right?
Steve: Absolutely. Well, that looks fantastic. I, again, I can’t imagine what this must have taken to put together, the amount of reading that you must have done in the years leading up to this to have all of this catalogued. Can you give us just a glimpse into the process?
John: Yeah, yeah, sure. I would say the toughest thing about it is, turns out, Steve, it’s much harder to write short passages than to write long ones. That’s the tough thing. You know, having been confined to 100 to 150 words on a page actually was the hardest part. But I will tell you, when I first got this idea, I was familiar with Thoreau and Emerson’s work probably the most, you know, from the era.
But so I first started going out and just kind of researching other authors and figuring out, you know, who else was around then. Before I probably even realized how rich this vein was, I started by just kind of reading things and highlighting and, you know, maybe a week or two in, I was like this is gonna be an immense project. How am I gonna pull this together?
And so I wrote a blog post about four years ago just reflecting on my entrepreneurial journey, I guess, at the time. I called it “The Changing Seasons of the Entrepreneur.” And in that, I kind of talked about how we start out with an idea. And we’re kind of wrestling with it, we’re starting to like it, you know, and trust it, and then we go out and kind of do a bit of discovery and we find out, hey, other people think it’s a good idea.
And, you know, maybe we start building it and then we get a little momentum. And usually, that’s kind of when, you know, we start realizing the cracks that are a little bit, that’s when that failure starts showing up. We eventually push through that and we get to a place where we’re thinking about the impact that this thing is having.
And I have, in my entrepreneurial journey, kind of experienced that evolution of seasons numerous times. And I think, you know, in now talking to lots of entrepreneurs, that idea resonates as well, and so I broke the book up into seasons, obviously, that metaphor, you know, was there for the taking for a calendar book, and then inside of each season, gave each month a theme.
And when I did that structure, now all of a sudden, I could go out and say, what did, you know, Thoreau have to say about freedom, security, resilience, trust, love. And those are some of the one word themes that I gave to each month. And that actually turned it into, you know, once I had all the authors I wanted to source, I kind of turned it into a spreadsheet project, because I then was collecting quotes for particular months based on those themes.
And that actually made the research go a little better, a little faster. And then I just sat down and literally started, okay, here’s my January spreadsheet, here’s January 1 to January 3, and just kind of went through and every day, you know, I would read the passage I’d chosen and, in some cases, you know, reflect for quite some time on the idea I wanted to bring forth.
And, you know, I will say that, I think my record was maybe nine pages in a day. And I’m talking about, like, all day Saturday. I spent more time, you know, physical time in front of the keyboard for this book than any of my five previously written books.
Steve: Yeah, I can imagine, and for folks listening, nine pages in a book is not a lot of progress in a day. But I’m glad you did it. It’s a great book, and where can folks find a copy? What’s the best place for them to go?
John: So really anywhere you purchase books, obviously, all the online sellers have it as well. As you know, the local bookstore, if you’ve got one of those, they can get it for you. It does come in the e-book format or the Kindle format, as well as audiobook.
Steve: Very good. Well, John, we’ll link up to all the kind of common places where folks can get it, the bookstores, and if they want to connect with you, what’s the best place for them to go?
John: So if you want to find out more about the book, I’ve started a companion site just to talk a little bit more about the concepts, like we’ve talked about the pillars of self reliance. And that is just selfreliance.site. If you want to learn anything about what I’ve been up to for the last couple decades, you can find that at ducttapemarketing.com.
Steve: Very good. Well, John, thanks for investing some time with me today. Thanks for the book. I’m glad I’ve got a copy. And I’ve been reading it every morning. And folks, go get a copy of The Self Reliant Entrepreneur yourself. I promise you it will make a difference.
John: I appreciate it, Steve.
Steve: This episode of The Unstoppable CEO Podcast is sponsored by The Unstoppable Agency. That is the agency part of our business where we work with professional service firms and create a done-for-you marketing program. And what that looks like is we actually sit down with you, we come together and define your ideal client with you.
We go build a list of those people and then we begin reaching out to them on your behalf to book them as guests on your podcast. We call it podcast prospecting. And it’s a fantastic way to connect with potential clients and influencers that can refer you, and it’s end-to-end a done-for-you system.
And so if that’s something that you think might be the right fit for your business, go to our website, go to unstoppableceo.net. You can find there on the homepage a link to a video presentation that explains how it all works. And if you’d like, let’s get together and have a quick twenty-minute conversation and see if we’re a fit. Again, that’s unstoppableceo.net. Right on the homepage, look for a link to the video that explains how it all works.