Encourage Your Employees to Become Rock Stars

Over the last 20 years, I have worked for (and known people who worked for) bosses who did not want their employees to become prominent names in their industry. Whether they felt threatened, thought it distracted them from their “real” work, or thought it was a waste of time and resources, these managers didn’t like employees who had name recognition

Lindsay Manfredi plays bass. She's one of the true rock stars in music AND personal branding.

Lindsay Manfredi. My good friend and bassist for the band Cold. She really IS a rock star, both in music and personal branding.

One friend — let’s call him Burt O’Higgins — went to work for a software company after spending years developing his own personal brand, becoming one of his industry’s top thought leaders. The company considered it a real coup to get my friend to work there. “But,” they said, “you can’t speak at any more conference events as yourself. You can’t be “Burt O’Higgins from Big Software,” you have to be “I’m from Big Software, my name is Burt.”

They couldn’t give any logical reason why they didn’t like it, but the message was clear: you’re more popular than us and we don’t like it.

So Burt left, started his own company, and worked for Big Software as a freelance contractor, charging more than his old salary and working fewer hours. And he got to speak at as many conferences as he wanted, which boosted his own popularity and increased his client base.

Big Software might have benefited more if they had just let Burt be Burt, do his thing under his own name, and still attract plenty of attention for his employer.

There’s nothing wrong with letting your employees be industry rock stars, becoming one of the popular thought leaders that others look to for new ways of thinking. In fact, there are a few benefits your company will see by helping your employees become those leaders.

1) It makes them effective communicators

Every job description I see requires “effective oral and written communication skills.” Speaking at 4 – 6 conferences a year is going to build up effective oral communication skills. Writing articles for trade journals and blogs is going to develop effective written communication skills.

And if your people don’t have those skills, send them to Toastmasters. Pay for books and training courses. Send them on seminars where they can hone those skills. Pay for memberships in professional associations. And give them an outlet to express all this newfound knowledge.

Then unleash them on industry and allied conferences. Encourage them to write articles for trade journals or the company blog. Ask them to speak at conferences. Make sure people see your rock stars at different industry happenings, so they know your company is serious about thought leadership in that field.

But best of all, think about how much better your rock stars will be at communicating fpr your company as well. Not only will they be better at communicating internally, but they’ll be doing some great marketing and brand awareness building for your company too.

2) Your company looks like a great company for hiring them

One thing GE was known for during the Jack Welch years was for turning out great CEOs for other corporations. Partly because Jack wasn’t going to leave short of a military coup, but also because when GE executives reached the VP level, they were so good at their jobs that other corporations wanted them to run their own companies.

The same thing happened to the Oakland A’s in the early 2000s. (Read Moneyball by Michael Lewis. It’s not just a baseball book, it’s a primer on unorthodox-but-effective corporate management.) The A’s scooped up baseball players who didn’t fit the traditional baseball mode, helped them develop their best skills, and turned them into the kinds of ballplayers that other teams wanted badly. And the Oakland A’s became a stellar baseball team to boot, because they built the team around their players’ strengths.

So how cool will your company look when you start churning out superstar after superstar? How many CMOs can you create? Or HR directors? Or CFOs? Or national sales managers? Your company can be seen as an incubator for some of your industry’s leading talent if you just help them develop.

3) It’s free marketing

My friend Burt would go to 6 –10 conferences every year and share his knowledge. He used his clients as case studies, but he never made sales pitches. Instead, he just shared stories and ideas with a rapt audience for an hour — an audience filled with people who hired experts like him.

Now, imagine your sales and marketing people speaking at conferences, demonstrating their knowledge and skills about the problems your company solves. Imagine a water filter company educating coffee shop managers and brewers about pure water at a national coffee or craft brewery conference. You can educate people about the importance of pure water without ever talking about your product, but when people read the name in the bio, they can put two and two together.

When I speak at conferences, I talk about how to improve your writing, or the future of content marketing, or how to use novel writing techniques in business writing. I never do a sales pitch, but my expertise clearly speaks for itself. And I’ve gotten clients just by speaking at industry conferences.

So what happens if your marketing director speaks at an industry conference, or your HR director, or your operations manager, or even your CEO? You can have a big influence on hundreds of people without once mentioning your product or company just by sharing your knowledge. Now, what if you could unleash 10 rock stars on the different conferences of the industries you serve.

4) You’re creating rock stars for your company

“But people will improve their skills and they’ll want to leave our company,” is a common refrain among managers.

Seriously? You don’t want people to improve their skills? You’d be happy that average people with average skills are staying at your company for ten or fifteen years? That’s the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard.

Let’s face two facts. First, people are going to leave your company. No one stays at a company very long anymore. That’s how employment works these days. So train them, help them develop, and wish them well when they leave, knowing you taught them enough that someone else wants them. And you’ll get their best work out of them while they’re there.

Second, the people who leave will become decision makers and influencers in other companies. What if your marketing manager leaves to become a VP of Marketing at one of your clients? What do you think she’ll tell her new colleagues if she leaves with bad feelings? Conversely, what will she tell her new colleagues if she leaves with your full support and gratitude?

(This is also why it’s not a bad idea to hire people in their 50s and 60s. Rather than turning them down because “they’re only going to be here for a few years,” recognize that no one says in their same position for 30 years anymore. Hire older workers and get some of the very best, most experienced people you’ll ever find. But that’s for another article.)

Developing rock stars for your company has many upsides and very few downsides. You’ll create top talent for your company, which means they’ll do their best work for you. They’ll be out promoting themselves (and thus, your company) with their speaking and writing. And they’ll moving up to positions of influence and decision making, which means you’ll have allies in other companies.

The only downside is that you may have people who are more well-known than you. But you can turn that around and become known as the company (or manager) who produces rock star after rock star. So start writing and speaking about how to create rock stars within your company, and guess what you can become. . .

Why I Left Social Media Marketing

I used to be somebody. I was kind of a big deal. Well, almost a big deal. I would sometimes go to social media conferences and hear my name whispered as I walked by.

“Hey, that’s Erik Deckers.”

And unlike high school, it was never followed by “LET’S KICK HIS ASS!”

I did book signings. I spoke around the country. I even got paid for it. It was pretty cool.

I was one of the early digital and social media marketing pioneers. I started blogging in 1997. I started doing digital marketing in 1998. I joined Twitter in 2007. And I wrote some of the first books on personal branding and social media marketing.

I’ve been blessed that a lot of people have used my books to make big changes to their companies and to their lives. I’ve heard from people who followed just a few of the steps in Branding Yourself and landed an internship or even a new job. A woman who has since become a very good friend first got in touch with Kyle Lacy and me to say she had followed our LinkedIn chapter and gotten three job interviews in three weeks.

I’ve heard from others who used No Bullshit Social Media to convince their bosses to let them start doing social media marketing for their company, and now they’re heading up the company’s entire social media efforts.

But social media got crowded. It got filled up with newbies, fakes, and charlatans who thought they were social media marketers because they used Facebook, or bought thousands of Twitter followers.

The industry was overrun by rampaging hordes of ex-bartenders and college interns who didn’t have years of marketing experience. And I spent so much time trying to convince people of the importance of it that my client work was slipping.

So I stopped doing social media marketing, and focused on content marketing. It was a hard decision, but I could see social media was about to be completely ruined by marketers, who were taking it over like the killer ant scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

[Seriously. Launch any new social media tool, and the marketers swarm all over it like that Russian dude at the end. Don’t believe me? Google “Snapchat for marketers.”]

At the time, content marketing was still fairly new, because most of the practitioners were still professional writers, videographers, photographers, and podcasters. We hadn’t yet been taken over by scribblers who thought “literally” meant the opposite of literally.

I miss the good old days.
Google Results of Snapchat for Marketers
I worked to hone my skills as a writer. My partner, Paul, handled the social media marketing for our clients, and I read, studied, trained, and practiced to produce the best work we were capable of.

During this time, I co-authored a new book on content marketing, ghostwrote a book with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and even started ghostwriting the autobiography of a former U.S. Congressman.

For the last three years, I’ve kept my head down, and focused on my craft. I’ve studied several favorite authors. I’m revisiting my speechwriting roots, and learning how slam poetry can influence my work. I even spent three months as the Writer-In-Residence at the Jack Kerouac House here in Orlando, beating out nearly 300 people from around the world for the coveted spot.

It’s paying off. I’ve written several short stories, made it halfway through my novel, participated in several literary readings around Central Florida, spoken at a number of writing conferences, and contributed to different literary publications and events.

My efforts have also helped my clients. The content marketing work we do is bringing them more traffic and leads, and we do it by offering some of the best business writing available. We’re writing stuff people like to read, and getting people to share it online. Rather than churn out as much mediocre content as we can, we focus on high-quality writing.

I won’t lie though. I’ve missed being in front of an audience. I’ve missed meeting new people in new cities. So I’ve decided to shake the dust off my shoulders, rub the sand from my eyes, and re-enter the world of personal branding and public promotion.

Starting in August, I’ll write more frequently on this blog again, and booking more conference speaking slots, especially around my new home state, Florida. I hope to see you around.

Louisville Digital Association’s 6th Annual Digital Media Summit Schedule

I’m very proud to be one of the speakers at the 6th annual Digital Media Summit in Louisville on October 16. it’s a single day event held in Frazier Hall at Bellarmine University, and it’s sponsored by the fine fols at Brown-Forman and Bellarmine University’s School of Communication. You can get tickets here.

With the tagline, Improve your business and marketing through technology, several of us will be talking about how to do social media marketing better, including my two co-authors, Jason Falls and Kyle Lacy.

2014 Louisville Digital Media Summit

Tentative Agenda for Louisville Digital Media Summit

8 – 8:30 a.m. Networking, Breakfast, Setup

8:30 a.m. Introductions Jason Falls

8:40 a.m. Opening Keynote A Decade of Chasing What’s Next
Rick Murray, former president of Edelman Digital

9:30 a.m. 10 Professional Writing Secrets
Erik Deckers, Pro Blog Service

10:10 a.m. Break

10:20 a.m. The Mobile Commerce Revolution
Tim Hayden & Tom Webster, Edison Research

11:10 a.m. Paid Advertising In Facebook, How PPC Ninja’s Really Work Founder
Jason Brown, SERPWoo

12:00 p.m. Lunch

1:00 p.m. Bellarmine School of Communication
Dr. Lara Needham, Bellarmine University

1:20 p.m. 5 Technology Trends Disrupting Behavior
Kyle Lacy, Exact Target Marketing Cloud

2:10 p.m. Communicating at the right time, right channel and right situation in a crisis
Dr. Karen Freberg, University of Louisville

3:00 p.m. Break

3:10 p.m. Your Brand, Your Brain
Julia Roy, CoFounder, Workhacks

4:00 p.m. What Didn’t We Learn? Speaker Panel
Jason Falls, Moderator

4:30 p.m. Closing

You can register for the event here. By the way, if you’re interested in going, I’ve got a special discount code you can use. Just email me — erik at problogservice dot com — and I’ll give it to you.

Five Ways for Creative Writers to Make Money (And Two That Don’t Work)

I had a great discussion with a new friend, @SarahSuksiri, about creative writing, poetry — I learned a lot about poetry and poets from her — and how writers try to make money while pretending they don’t associate themselves with filthy lucre.

This attitude is especially prevalent with poets, who think they should only do poetry for their art. If this is your attitude, repeat after me:

Hello, welcome to Starbucks

For those writers who want to earn a living from your creative writing degree or MFA, here are five ways to actually make some money from writing that does not involve freelancing. Or you can at least show your parents that your 4 – 7 years of higher education were not a complete exercise in navel gazing.

1. Sell ebooks

Jim Kukral is the master of promoting self-published books. He’s made his name helping new authors and. . . let’s say, “niche” authors find an audience and sell their books. Even the unusual ones. (Books, not authors. Well, authors too.)

The numbers in self-publishing make sense. Without going too much into the entire “traditional publishing versus self-publishing debate,” let me tell you what Kukral and others say about the economics: If you sell a traditionally-published book for $20, you’ll make $1 – $1.40 per book in royalties, after you pay back your advance. If you sell a self-published e-book for $2.99, you’ll make $2. Sell it for $9.99, and you’ll make $7.

Now, you may sell more books in bookstores with a traditional publisher (plus it’s awesome to have your book on a bookstore shelf), but you have to sell 5 – 7 trad-pub books to make $7, versus selling one $10 ebook. Sell 1,000 books, and you get either $1,400 or $7,000. If all you sold is 1,000 books, you won’t get that $1,400 from your publisher; that’s all payback for your advance. But that $7,000 is yours off the bat. (Warning: this takes a lot of social media marketing and promotion.)

2. Become a speaker

Erik Deckers speaking in public

Doing this taught me to be a better writer.

Professional speakers command a fee. If you’re a nonfiction B2B writer like me, you have a system or knowledge that you can parlay into a one to six hour teaching session, and people will pay for that (see #5 below). If you write about important social issues, whether fiction or nonfiction, you may be able to get a gig as a keynote speaker. Keynotes make anywhere from $500 to $3,000, and even more. (Of course, you need to almost be a professional keynote speaker and that takes a few years. You’ll know when you’re ready for that.)

Build up your stage legs by giving readings, teaching small classes, and doing small talks around town for free. Join Toastmasters if you’re not comfortable with speaking. Promote yourself with a blog and become active on social media.

3. Give readings or host organized events

Slam poets earn money through their readings (Slammings? Happenings?), because they treat their work like a musician or a theatre troupe. They sell tickets or have a cover charge, and they sell books in the back of the room. Depending on the size of your audience and your rates, you could make a couple hundred dollars in a single night. Not enough to pay the rent, but you’re certainly earning more in one night than working three shifts at High-Priced Boots And Pants in the mall.

Promote the bejeezus out of these events, and get a big crowd. If you don’t like marketing, you’d better learn to real quick. You want a big crowd that’s interested in what you have to say. Even if you want to be a purist who never accepts money for their work (do your events for free then), you still want a big crowd of people who clap for you (or snap. Do they still snap at poetry slams?), and run up to you afterward, gushing and stumbling over their words. Promote these events with social media and old school marketing techniques to draw that crowd.

4. Combine your work with another passion and travel

Writer Chris Guillebeau, who wrote The Art of Nonconformity, has the kind of job that lets him work anywhere. So he does it while he travels to different parts of the globe in an attempt to visit every single country around the world.

As a writer, you have the flexibility to work anywhere you want, and on any kind of project you want. In some cases, you can even work in strange new locales, like the African Bush, the Canadian wilderness, or Iowa. If you can leverage your writing skills into a real money-earner, like a freelance copywriter, go where the work is, or just work from your favorite coffee shop. If you can get a nonprofit to hire you for six months, rent a short-term apartment in that city, and go to work.

5. Teach classes and seminars

Writing coach Jeff Goins is making his name not only as a writer, but as a writing coach. He’s built his reputation and living by offering several online webinars and ongoing classes per year, as well as selling educational materials to budding writers. One of his multi-week classes can cost a few hundred dollars per student. Similarly, I’ve begun teaching classes for the Indiana Writers Center, and I was happily surprised when I was handed a check at the end of the first class. I had forgotten all about it.

So what if you charged $200 for a 4 week online class and got 15 students to sign up? That’s $3,000 a month. It’s not downtown-penthouse money, but for a young writer who has a roommate or spouse-with-a-job, it’s a significant contribution to the household income. And what if you could repeat that model every month, or even run it twice a month on different days, but only did it a few times a year?

Further, if you have an MFA, you’re qualified to teach writing and English at a local college or university. (Actually, if you have a master’s degree in anything, you’re qualified to teach undergraduates in that field.) It’s not great pay — I get anywhere from $700 – $1,000 a month for a single public speaking class. And you certainly don’t want to build a career on being an adjunct. But if you’re looking for beer money, or a little something to boost your income, this is a great way to use your degree and your passion.

And now for the two don’ts: I’ve seen other people try this, and it’s rough. A lot of people have started down one of these two paths only to realize the numbers don’t work, and they’re out all that time and expense.

1. Start a website or journal that relies on banner advertising

Ad sales are a hard, scary way to make money. Even big city newspapers aren’t making a ton of money from them. Advertisers only want to pay per thousand displayed ads (some even only want to pay per click). These advertisers will only pay between $10 – $20 per thousand visitors, which works out to $.01 – $.02 per view).

So if you want to earn $50 for a single article, you have to generate between 2,500 – 5,000 visitors to that one page page. But if the advertiser is paying by the click, you may get $.20 per click, but if you want $50, you need 250 clicks. And if the click-through rate on an ad is 1% (which is actually kind of high), you need 25,000 visitors to see that ad. If you could bring in 25,000 visitors a month to your website, you need to sell ebooks, not display ads.

2. Traditional publishing

(Otherwise known as “my editor is going to hate me now!”)

While everyone wants to have that big blockbuster that makes them more money than J.K. Rowling and John Grisham combined, seriously, what are the odds of that happening? I’ve written three books and ghostwritten half of another. If I tried to live on the royalties of those books, I’d have a very fancy cardboard box under a bridge.

No Bullshit Social Media in New Release Shelf

When I saw this photo, it was one of the proudest days of my life. My mom, not so much.

Even if you’re lucky enough to get a publishing deal, you need to sell hundreds of thousands of books in order to get rich; several tens of thousand per year to earn a salary. Let’s say you get $1.20 in royalties for every published book you sell. If you want to earn $48,000 a year in royalties, you need to sell 40,000 books every single year.

Don’t get me wrong. Traditional publishing is great. I owe Que Biz-Tech and Pearson Publishing a lot. So much of what I’ve been able to do has happened because they took a chance on me. I love knowing that my books have been printed, occupy a physical space in the world, and I got a thrill knowing that No Bullshit Social Media was seen by hundreds, if not thousands, of impressionable children walking into a Barnes & Noble. I encourage many writers to try to get their books published by a real publishing house before they take up the self-publishing baton.

But — and this is the point I want to stress — traditional publishing is not how you’re going to make a long-term living. The numbers just aren’t there anymore. Not at $1.40 royalties per book. You’re going to push, promote, and shout about your book to as many people as you can, whether you self-publish, or you go the traditional route. Either method involves the same amount of work. The only difference is there’s a bigger payoff in the self-pub route than in trad-pub. (On the other hand, you’ll never see a self-published book in a Barnes & Noble.)

Having said that, having a traditionally published book is an excellent way to build your reputation, which makes numbers 2 – 5 that much easier to accomplish.

Now that I’ve crapped on your dreams or given you a great idea, what are some other ideas you have for writers who want to make money? If you’re making money from your writing, what are you doing that earns a steady (or at least significant) income? Leave a note in the comments.

Don’t Stick Your Finger In the Rat Cage – A Convocation Speech

I was invited to give the convocation speech at Ivy Tech in Warsaw, Indiana, during the honors ceremony the week before graduation. I was an adjunct faculty member there in Speech Communication for two years while I lived up in Syracuse, Indiana, so I was invited back to campus to share my words of wisdom. While it’s not Neil Gaiman’s Create Good Art speech, I think I did a pretty good job.

This is the text of my speech given to the students receiving honors and recognition, and their families.


I’m very pleased to be here. And a little surprised too. 30 years ago, I was not the guy you would expect to be asked to speak to a group like this. According to my high school grades and SAT scores, I was not even the guy you’d expect to be sitting out there with you.

But life gives us second chances. Second chances, third chances, fourth chances. I used all of those, and learned something each time. Eventually I got smart, and tried not to learn from my mistakes so much, but to start learning from other people’s mistakes instead. I learned how other people failed, so I could avoid doing that. And I learned how they succeeded, so I could do more of that.

So I want to talk about things I’ve learned in the last 5, 10, 20 years. Some of the knocks I’ve taken and seen other people take. I want to tell you what I learned in finding my way so you can find your own.

If I were really clever, like Neil Gaiman, the British science fiction writer, I’d tell you to “make good art,” and how you’re allowed to make glorious and fantastic mistakes. He didn’t say how many though, and I’m still trying to find the limit.

If I were David Foster Wallace, the American novelist, I’d tell you the story about the three fish, how “this is water,” and how it relates to the importance of being well-adjusted.” Well, I know what water is, but I haven’t been well-adjusted in years.

There are three lessons I want to share with you tonight, in the hopes that you can learn them now, rather than learning them yourself the hard way.


Lesson 1: Help Others Achieve Their Goals

The first is to help others achieve their goals.

When you do a lot of networking, you meet people who need something. They don’t necessarily need something from you. They just need something.

One day, you meet a Realtor who wants to fix up a rundown house to sell. The next, you meet a retired contractor who’s looking for something to do. You introduce them, and in a few months, he becomes her go-to-guy on all her fixer-uppers.

Or, your friend from high school is now a wedding planner. Two months later, your cousin opens a specialty cake business. And her best friend is a wedding photographer. You send a couple quick emails, and they’re having lunch and have passed enough business between themselves to book their entire summer.

Or your chiropractor tells you he’s trying to grow his practice. Three days later, a friend complains about her back pains. You refer her to your chiropractor, and she’s feeling much better, and is very grateful.

I have a friend who’s a professional photographer, focusing mostly on commercial and corporate work. He’s got another photographer friend who focuses on family portrait work. So the two of them trade leads constantly. Paul tells me he gets anywhere from 2 to 6 inquiries a month directly from Kristeen.

Why should you do this? What’s in it for you? You’re helping all these people, but what should you expect return?

Nothing. You should expect nothing. And that’s as it should be.

Because a little-known secret to success is first to help other people achieve their goals, their dreams, and their wins.

You don’t have to give up on your own goals. But in the course of your day, as you’re working on your own thing, you’re going to have a chance to help other people find the things they need. Introduce them to people they should meet. Share opportunities that don’t fit your own plans, and plug your friends in.

But — and here’s the kicker — don’t ask for a return favor.

That’s right, don’t ask for anything back. Nobody owes you one, you don’t have a favor coming to you. You don’t get a finder’s fee, a commission, or a free lunch.

If they insist on returning the favor, tell them about the people you’d like to meet or the opportunities you’re looking for. But explain that you’re not doing this so they’ll pay you back. You’re doing it to be helpful, because you hope they’ll do it for someone else some day.

Don’t keep track, don’t call in favors, and never call them and say, “Remember that one time I introduced you to that guy who did that thing with the stuff at the place?”

Because keeping track is petty and mean. Keeping track is lonely. Because people know when you keep track. They remember when you call in favors, and they know you keep an exact count of who owes what. And when they’ve paid you back, they’ll stop accepting your help because they know it comes with strings.

But if you’re the kind of person who just helps, they’ll remember you forever. If you do it enough times for a enough people, good things will happen for you.

Call it Karma, blessings, God’s favor, “The Secret,” or the universe doing you a solid. Whatever you call it, if you help enough people, your generosity will be returned to you in ways much, much bigger than if you kept track.


Lesson 2: Create Your Own Luck

By creating opportunities for other people, and helping them reach their goals, you’re going to accomplish my second lesson: create your own luck. You are going to create your own opportunities and your own lucky breaks.

Most people don’t like to do this is because it’s hard work, and the payoff is slow. Any time you try something new, like searching for a job, you won’t see success right away.

It’s very rare to try something for the first time and win a contest, get published, get recognized, or close a sale. There are no brand new singers who go on American Idol or The Voice and win the entire thing. Very rarely do we get that lucky. If you do, you’d better hope it’s because you bought a lottery ticket.

But you can create your own luck. You can create the circumstances where you get the thing you want, and the things you’ve worked for.

Maybe it’s getting that first job interview. Or the job offer. Or landing a sale with a big client. Or even running a 5K race. Trying out for a play. Publishing a magazine article.

But it’s not just blind luck. That didn’t happen the first time you ever tried to accomplish your goal. It happened after you applied to 50, 100, or even 200 jobs. Ten years ago, I applied for over 400 jobs in a single year before I got one.

Creating your own luck is not a matter of rubbing a rabbit’s foot, or having a four-leaf clover, or not changing your socks until your hitting streak ends.

Creating your luck is a matter of doing the thing you want over and over. It means applying for as many jobs as you can find. It means meeting as many people for coffee as you have time and a bladder for. It means making as many sales calls as you can, or sending as many emails.

Because the law of averages says someone is eventually going to pay attention to you. The hiring manager will call you. Or the purchasing manager will finally buy something. Or the newspaper or magazine will publish your article.

Lorraine Ball, Kyle Lacy, and Me

Me, Lorraine Ball, and Kyle Lacy. Lorraine introduced me to Kyle, and we started writing books shortly thereafter.

Or, if you’re like my friends Kyle and Lorraine, meeting someone will set off a long chain of events that lead you somewhere else. Kyle met Lorraine when they both attended the same networking group.

Kyle ended up working for Lorraine as an intern, and she taught him about marketing and networking. He left after a year and started his own business. I met them both through the same networking group, and Kyle and I eventually wrote a couple books together. Lorraine became my mentor and taught me about business, and I learned enough to eventually own my small company.

Now Lorraine’s business is the biggest it has ever been, I’ve written four books, and Kyle is a high up muckity-muck at ExactTarget in Indianapolis.

Our accomplishments all happened because we met someone who introduced us to someone else who introduced us to a third person, who introduced us to a fourth person who did something awesome. We constantly refer people to each other — “Oh, you need to meet Kyle,” or “you should really talk to my friend Lorraine.”

Sometimes those introductions pay off, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, they pay off five years later when someone calls one of us and says “we met a few years ago, and I just had something come across my desk that you would be perfect for.”

This isn’t just luck, this is serendipity. Being in the right place at the right time to meet the right person holding the right opportunity. This happens all the time in all our lives, we just have to be willing to be open to the idea, and pursue the people and opportunities that come our way.

It’s a direct reflection of the amount of energy and effort you put into other people and into the work you want to do. And the more people you meet, and the more energy you put in, the more successful you’ll be.

There’s an old saying that if you want to split a rock, you need to hit it 1,000 times. When it breaks, it’s not the thousandth strike that did it, it’s the 999 times before it.

When I was a kid, whenever I lost something, my dad always said, “It will always be in the last place you look.” I never understood exactly what he meant, so one day, when I was trying to find my basketball, I tried to shortcut the system.

I stood in my bedroom and declared, “The last place I’m going to look is my closet!” Then I looked in the closet and. . . no basketball.

I was so annoyed. I had told God and the universe that this was the last place I was going to look, but that didn’t put the basketball there, which meant this wasn’t true. It also meant I had to keep looking, which meant it really wasn’t the last place I looked. (It was in my toy box out in the garage.)

Your goals don’t work that way. You can’t stand over the rock and declare your first strike to be the thousandth. You can’t declare your first job application to be “the one.” If things worked that way, I’d be filthy rich.

Instead, you have to stand over the rock, sweat in your eyes, shoulders aching, swinging that stupid hammer over and over again. When you want to quit, you take a little break, get a drink, switch arms, and swing some more.

Just when you think you’ve had enough, and your arms are going to fall off, that’s when that last strike comes. You hit the rock and there’s a different sound. It’s deeper, and you feel it in the ground. That’s when everything starts to change and all your work starts paying off.

Not only do you get one phone call for a job interview, you get four. Not only did you close the sale, you got a year-long contract. Not only did you land the part in the play, you got the lead. Not only did you run the 5K, you won your age group.

It happened because you kept hitting the rock. You worked hard, you practiced, kept writing, rehearsing, running, and calling. And that’s why you succeeded.

None of this is going to happen for you every time. Just like every economy has an up and down, and every civilization has a high and low, our own lives have their own ups and downs. It’s what you do during the ups that prepare you for the downs. And it’s what you do when you’re down that makes your ups higher and longer.


Lesson 3: Don’t Take NO For An Answer

One of the reasons you have to keep trying? One of the reasons it’s going to be hard? Because you’re going to hear NO a lot. Which brings me to my third lesson, don’t take NO for an answer.

I was a troublemaker when I was a kid. I was constantly causing trouble, getting into trouble, and making trouble, and my teachers and parents were worried that I wasn’t going to do much with my life. I had “a lot of potential,” but so did every other kid. Turns out making trouble was the best thing I could have done for my future.

There are people who study this kind of thing. One interesting thing they found about troublemakers is that we make the best entrepreneurs and artists, because we never take NO for an answer.

“NO” is not the final word. It’s not even “No, dammit, now cut it out!”

We hold out for “Fine, do whatever you want.” Because in our minds, “See, I told you so” is our final word. We never want to end something on someone else’s terms, we end them on our own. If you tell us NO, we’re going to push and push until we get to our version of Yes, with or without you.

Lab ratIt reminds me of the time my dad made me get my finger bitten by a lab rat.

My dad was a psychology professor at Ball State for 45 years (in fact, today is his last day; he finally retired). When I was four, he did a lot of work doing behavioral testing on lab rats. One day, he took me to the rat lab so I could see where he worked. He bent down, looked me straight in the eye, and told me the one thing guaranteed to get me to stick my finger in a rat’s cage.

He said, “Don’t stick your finger in the rat cage.”

We spent the next few hours at Ball Memorial Hospital where I got a shot in my butt and a bandage on my finger.

Troublemakers never do what we’re told. In fact, we do the opposite of what we’re told. That’s what makes us such good entrepreneurs. People tell us to forget about a problem, or to just live with it, but we can’t. In fact, the best way to get us to fix a problem is to tell us it can’t be solved.

But we’re going to hear a lot of NO while we do it. We’re going to spend a lot of our life hearing NO over and over.

No, you can’t go to this college. Fine, I’ll go to another one.

No, you can’t take those classes. Fine, I didn’t want to take your stupid classes anyway.

No, you can’t have a job here. Fine, I’ll start my own job. And then you’ll contract with my company to do that job better than the person you hired.

This also means that life is going to knock you down. A lot. Many of us have been knocked down a few times already. That’s life’s way of saying NO.

But to the troublemakers and the entrepreneurs, that’s not the end. It’s a dare. That’s life pointing at its chin and saying, “come on, give me your best shot.”

The troublemaker will get up again and again and again. Eventually we’ll stop getting knocked down. We’ll be the ones knocking life on its backside for a while.

Many of you have already done something that 60% of the people in this country will never do — you went to school. And many of you are planning on going on to something bigger. A new job, more opportunities, maybe even more school.

And you are already — as motivational speaker Les Brown says — blessed and highly favored. I hope you all realize that, because I think all of you can do great things. All of you, not just our graduates.

And it really all will just come down to doing the three things I’ve discussed tonight: Help others achieve their goals; Create your own luck; Don’t take NO for an answer.

It’s that simple, but it’s not that easy. It’s hard work. It means doing a little more every day. Doing a little more than the person next to you. Working a little longer. Watching less TV and reading more books. It means getting up 30 minutes earlier, or staying up 30 minutes later.

I can tell you that even though this is common sense advice, it’s not as common as you might think. Because no matter how many times “the experts” tell people this is what it takes, most people won’t do it. They don’t want to put in the extra effort. But you can, and the payoffs will be huge.

Even if you do just 30 minutes more per day than anyone else — 30 minutes more practice, 30 minutes more sales calls, 30 minutes more job searching — you’ll be 2.5 hours ahead of the game at the end of the week.

That’s 10 hours in a month. That’s 120 hours in a year. That’s three extra weeks of work in reaching for your own goals. And if you can put in that three extra weeks of reaching for your dreams, you’re going to be miles ahead of those people who show up at 8 or 9 and go home at 4 or 5.

Because when you get down to it, by helping others, creating your own luck, and never taking NO for an answer, you too will be blessed and highly favored, and you’ll be in a position to do awesome things for yourself and your family.

Thank you, congratulations, and good luck.

After the ceremony, a woman came to me and said her grandson was a fellow troublemaker, and she wished she had a copy of the speech she could show her daughter. I happened to have a hard copy of the speech, which I gave to her. She was so pleased with that. Best. Thank you. Ever.


Photo credit: Erik, Lorraine, Kyle Toni Deckers Lab rat, Rick, Eh? (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Three Unrelated Skills to Make You a Better Writer

Every writer gets the same advice when they’re starting out — write every day, read a lot, practice writing exercises — but that can only get you so far. There are other skills to develop.

It’s like a baseball player who only practices hitting and catching. Yes, those are important skills that he needs to practice over and over. But there are other skills he can practice that will also improve his playing ability: lifting weights, sprint workouts, and even off-season work like chopping wood and playing basketball, will improve his ability to swing a bat.

Erik Deckers speaking in public

Doing this taught me to be a better writer.

For writers, there are related skills they can develop, through other activities that exercise their writing muscles, but don’t actually have them writing the same same stuff over and over. These other activities can improve your communication skills, which will ultimately improve your writing.


I always thought I was good at concise writing, until I fell in love with Twitter. After using it for a year, and learning how to fit a single thought into 140 characters, I realized I was doing that in my regular writing. When I went back and compared my work to the previous year, I could see how everything was tighter, and how I expressed ideas more fully with fewer, better words.

Twitter has especially helped my humor writing, because I’ve learned how to set up a joke and deliver the punchline in a single tweet. This has had a huge impact on my humor column writing, because I’ve been able to squeeze more jokes into the same number of column inches.

To learn how to tweet effectively:

  • Distill your thoughts into the most expressive nouns and verbs.
  • Cut the adverbs.
  • Use adjectives sparingly.
  • Avoid first person references. Instead of saying “I had lunch at @BoogieBurger,” say “Had lunch at @BoogieBurger” or even “Ate at @BoogieBurger.”

(This last one is more of a space saver, but it also teaches you how to write with greater punch.)

Want to make it a real challenge? Avoid abbreviations if possible, and never, ever use text speak. Then, make your thoughts fit into the required space. That’s the best training you can ever do for yourself.

Public Speaking

If you speak in public, you already know how to deliver information clearly and directly, making it easy for your audience to understand and be interested in it. If you’ve been doing it for a while, you’ve already got a speaking style. (And if you don’t, find your local Toastmasters club, and learn to speak in public.)

As you develop that speaking style, try to tailor your writing style to match it. As you’re reading, imagine yourself delivering the material to your audience. If you speak with strong declarative statements, write them. If you’re funny in person, be funny on paper. If you’re calming to your audience, be calming to your reader. Basically, your spoken word choice and delivery should affect your written word choice and style. And as more people hear you speak, the more they’ll hear your voice when they read your work. Match the one to the other in tone, word choice, and even rhythm.


I don’t mean become the kind of storytellers you see at festivals or hear on The Moth, although that helps. Rather, focus on telling stories to friends over dinner. The story should have a beginning, middle, and end. It should create suspense, and have an interesting payoff at the end.

If you can easily tell those kinds of stories out loud, you’ll learn how to tell those stories on paper. Any story or blog post you write should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It needs to have an interesting payoff. (Of course, with blogging and journalism, the payoff comes at the beginning, so you’ll need to learn how to deliver the punchline first, and turn the setup into its own a-ha! moment.)

As you’re writing your articles, write it as if you were going to deliver it in public, but as a five-minute story. If you can shift the storytelling architecture to your writing, that makes your work easier to follow. You learn how to keep people involved from a post or article from beginning to end.

These are the three skills I have worked on over the last several years, and they have made a big difference in what, how, and how well I write. And I’m always looking for the next new challenge or skill to master to make it even better.

How about you? What challenges are you taking on yourself to become a better writer?

Erik Deckers to Speak at Revenue North Indy on March 21st, Free Passes Available

I’ll be speaking at the Revenue North Indianapolis conference on March 21, 2013 at the Wyndham Indianapolis West Hotel. It starts at 8:00 am and runs until 5:00 pm, and they’re expecting close to 1000 people.

Erik Deckers speaking in public

I might even wear this shirt when I speak.

Passes are normally $99 for individuals and $299 for companies sending up to 5 people. But if you use my special promo code, A28LG7, you can get the individual pass for FREE.

You can see the full conference schedule here. Some of the speakers will include Doug Karr speaking about the Dangers of SEO; Kyle Lacy’s dad Dan speaking on Transforming Your Business; networking specialist Jamar Cobb-Denard will tell you to Stop Wasting Time Networking; my mentor Lorraine Ball of Roundpeg will tell you Why People Hate Your Website; and, I’m speaking about your 10 Professional Branding Secrets.

There are nearly 100 breakout sessions throughout the day, so you’re going to get your head crammed with a lot of great information.