The Day James Altucher Gave Me Life-Changing Marketing Advice
And why it took me two years to implement it
It started with a text.
I found a blog post where James Altucher listed his cell phone number. How weird, I thought. How edgy. What kind of famous person does something like that?
He did. And he said it was OK to text him. I had the idea that there was some way I could help him with something he’d written about wanting to do.
So I texted an offer. I didn’t expect much. In fact, I didn’t expect anything. There’s a big difference between offering your phone number publicly and actually responding to the people who use it.
But he texted back.
And for a hot minute, we connected. I mean, maybe I felt the connection more strongly than he did. But that’s OK, it was thrilling. And at some point, I asked him for advice.
I wanted to take my business, Ninja Writers, to the next level. What did he think I should do?
He asked for my email address and sent me a thoughtful, idea-filled response. In a nutshell, he told me that I should quit selling courses and start a subscription newsletter, based around a theme.
That was in 2017.
My business was about 18 months old and I was still wandering around in shock that Ninja Writers had become this incredible thing that I could actually do for real work.
I thanked him. I’m afraid I may have also told him that his idea was brilliant, but it wouldn’t work for me. For reasons. There are always reasons.
There’s too much free info out there for writers. No one would buy a newsletter from me. I earn my entire living selling courses. I can’t just stop selling them, I’ll lose my business. And my students love my courses.
But really: I don’t want to have to get a day job again.
I Went Back Today and Looked at That Email and My Response to It, and My Face Burned
“Excuses are leaks in a boat. When you cover one, another pops up, and it’s even bigger. It’s hard to keep the boat repaired and get safely to shore if you have an excuse mind-set.”— James Altucher
Excuses are one of those things that separate people who are successful from people who aren’t. Especially the kind of excuses that are all about why we’re such special cases that we don’t even have to try. We already know that the advice doesn’t apply to us.
I try really hard to avoid doing that, and I dropped the ball that day. What I thought might happen, I guess, is that he’d read my obviously special circumstances and come back with another idea just for me.
I never heard from James Altucher again.
I don’t blame him. For one thing, we’d run the course of our interaction. That’s just the way things go. But also — there’s nothing worse than offering someone good, heartfelt advice and then having them tell you all the reasons why you’re wrong. Especially when you’re not wrong.
My work ethic is something I pride myself on. I do the work. I always do the work.
And I’ve changed my life in the last four years by looking for smart people who are doing amazing things, taking their advice, and actually implementing it. Experimenting. Basically, doing what other people don’t.
While they’re busy making excuses about why they can’t, I just dig in and do the thing.
My Entire Life Is Built Around Just Seeing What Happens
Since 2016, I’ve gone from a seriously crappy $9 an hour job to earning six-figures a year as a writer. I’ve started a business I love. I’ve sold novels to major publishers. And I did those things because when I got advice from someone smart, I actually took it and did the work.
It’s just that I’m usually given small advice that I’m excited about. Or, I pick and choose the advice I follow from books and blog posts. This was advice meant just for me, offered directly, and following it would shift the entire core of my business.
So it took me a while to get past things like resistance and fear. But I kept thinking about that email. And then looking around me and realizing that the model I’d built my business on — selling expensive online courses during launches once or twice a year — had lost some of its shine.
People weren’t responding to the idea of buying my course the way they had in the beginning. I had a much, much larger audience, but it was harder to earn the same amount of money in my third year as I did in my first.
It occurred to me that the landscape was shifting. People don’t really want online courses anymore. Not like they did even just the year before. And one of the smartest people I know had given me a heads up.
It took some effort to wrap my head around it, but I took the advice James gave me.
I Did the Work
Which included working through my own excuses. Also my fear — I supported my family selling those courses, after all. Giving that up was terrifying.
That took about 18 months. I had a couple of false starts in that time. I tried launching a subscription-based program, but the effort didn’t do what I needed it to.
What I needed it to do was attract a base of subscribers and then grow at a nice, slow, steady rate. What happened was — almost nothing.
And it was frustrating. It would have been so easy to give up. Seth Godin calls that the dip. The rough spot in every endeavor when it’s easy to quit. Actually, when most people quit.
“Stick with the Dips that are likely to pan out, and quit the Cul-de-Sacs to focus your resources. That’s it.” ― Seth Godin, “The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit”
So I had this very specific advice from James Altucher. And the advice from Seth Godin that was available to anyone who read The Dip.
Figuring out what to quit and what to stick with (even though it’s scary to keep doing something that’s not working the way you want it to) is hard. It’s like juggling all the delicate things that are important to you and hoping that the things that you drop aren’t the wrong things.
I Had to Figure Out How to Quit the Efforts That Didn’t Work So That I Could Focus My Efforts on the Things That Did
I realized that what I had to do first was find a way to bridge the income gap giving up selling courses would create, so that I wouldn’t wind up back in a day job.
I launched my course one last time in May 2018, which gave me enough income to spend a year figuring out how to make a subscription model work.
I also had to figure out how to increase the amount of money I had coming in from other income streams, to bridge the gap when I stopped selling my course.
Specifically, I focused on earning more money directly from writing. In November 2018, I earned $185 via blogging. In September 2019, I earned $6700.
In the spring of 2019, I hired someone to help me figure out what I was doing wrong with my subscription model. I knew the idea was good, but I struggled to make it stick. I couldn’t figure out how to make all the parts come together.
Hiring a coach was a massive gamble. It cost more than I’ve paid for almost anything in my life. But it worked. In the last six months, the Ninja Writer’s Club has grown to about 350 subscribers who pay $25 a month each. My income has nearly doubled, even though I haven’t launched a course sale in more than a year.
And, most importantly, it grows a little every day.
Not only did I increase the amount of money I earn directly from writing — which is my first love, after all — but I’m earning nearly twice as much teaching via a subscription model than I did selling expensive courses.
Taking James Altucher’s Advice Was a Complete Leap of Faith
But it kept me ahead of the curve, because today, closing in on 2020, most of the smart people who taught me (directly and indirectly) how to create and sell my course aren’t doing it anymore.
In fact, in 2016, just after my first course launch, I hired a different coach to help me figure out how to make that business model work. He’s shifted his own business so much in the last year that he’s moved away from teaching almost entirely.
It shouldn’t surprise me that James Altucher saw what was coming. Or that listening to him and applying his advice turned out to be a good idea. He’s got an uncanny ability to see into the future.
To take his advice, I had to figure out how to trust that I could offer something for $25 that would replace the income I earned from selling something that cost $500.
What got me there was realizing that A) online courses really were losing steam in the marketplace, B) if I didn’t change, I was going to be left behind anyway, and C) regardless, I didn’t want to sell pre-written lessons anymore.
This Is My Favorite James Altucher Quote
It’s from his book “The Power of No.”
“Time it takes to reinvent yourself: five years.
Here’s a description of the five years:
Year One: You’re flailing and reading everything and just starting to do.
Year Two: You know who you need to talk to and network with. You’re doing every day. You finally know what the Monopoly board looks like in your new endeavors.
Year Three: You’re good enough to start making money. It might not be a living yet.
Year Four: You’re making a good living, and you can quit your day job.
Year Five: You’re making wealth.
Sometimes you get frustrated in years one through four. You say, ‘Why isn’t it happening yet?’ That’s okay. Just keep going. Or stop and pick a new field.”
And you know what? That’s basically the trajectory of my life right now. I started Ninja Writers in 2016. I made some money, but boy was I flailing. I had no idea what I was doing. I quit my job, but only because it paid so little and I hated it so much and I have a high tolerance for that kind of risk.
In 2017, I had some network and connections. I was more settled and my business was more stable. Far less failing.
In 2018, I was making a real living. I sold a novel, I finished school, and I made the decision to shift gears away from selling courses and take the advice to move to a subscription model. I also started to increase other income streams by the end of the year.
And 2019, year four, has been the most successful year I’ve ever had. Ever.
I can’t wait to see what happens in year five.
Here’s What I’ve Learned in the Last Two Years
If you ask for advice, do everything you can to block the voice in your head that starts shooting off all the reasons why that advice might be fine and dandy for a regular person, but it won’t ever work for someone as special as you.
If someone smart is doing something you want to do, find their advice (it’s probably out there somewhere) and do what most people won’t. Implement it. Do the work. Keep doing the work.
It’s OK if success doesn’t happen super fast. Trust yourself to recognize a good idea when you see it.
Ask for help and be willing to pay for it, even if you don’t know for sure that it will pay off.
If James Altucher ever tells you what to do — listen closely.