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Market less, sell more?

It’s Monday, and a tiny Bob Bly and a tiny Merlin Mann are having breakfast at a tiny dinette set inside the tiny breakfast nook inside my head.

Bob Bly prefers to drink his coffee back in his wood-paneled executive home office, but Merlin Mann insisted they have a real breakfast with fresh orange juice, fried chicken, and waffles. Bob is indulging Merlin, but he’s just itching to get back to work.

They’re having another one of their non-argument arguments, where no one is talking and yet a great deal is said by the way one asks for the syrup and the other passes it. Bob Bly is reading the Wall Street Journal, and Merlin Mann is making up limericks. He likes limericks.

They’ve been having this argument for a while now, here in my head’s dinette. I just can’t tolerate another unpleasant breakfast, so I’ve decided to air things out. Here’s what they have to say for themselves.

The World According to Bob Bly

Bob Bly says, “Write more, sell more.”

He wrote the book on it. It’s a good book. I read it back in 2002, and still think about it today.

Bob Bly’s worldview, as represented in engineer-friendly, bullet-point fashion:

  • Apply nalgas to chair: the proven formula for inspiration.
  • Get wife to bring meals to home office.
  • Write more to sell more. Don’t kill yourself trying to perfect every word.
  • Stick to a schedule and discipline yourself to achieve success. At every moment, ask yourself, “What’s the most important thing I could be doing right now?”
  • Work more by cutting out everything that isn’t billable. Outsource so you can work more and earn more. Don’t do anything yourself unless it’s billable or could bring you business.

The World According to Merlin Mann

The Merlin Mann in my head says, “Write less, say more.”

He wrote a blog post on it. It was such a good post that I invited Merlin Mann over for breakfast with Bob Bly, and they’ve been living together as The Odd Couple ever since.

Merlin Mann’s worldview, as interpreted by me: Don’t be a webcock. Protect your time. And if you’re going to Tweet, post, or write, have something inspirational, meaningful, or wildly entertaining to say.

So, after listening to these two go at it every morning over breakfast, and after giving the Bly Worldview several good tries, I’m thinking of marrying them–to each other.

The Odd-Couple-Get-Married Worldview:

  • Go running and tramp before applying nalgas to chair. It’s much more fun than willpower–and effective, too.
  • Have breakfast by the window, at an actual breakfast table.
  • Take out my own trash and do my own dishes and laundry. Yay, chores!
  • Every once in a while, take a pointless, unbillable WALK with my dog.
  • Follow own internal schedule. Do things when I have the energy to do them—while still meeting deadlines, of course. See Productive Flourishing’s awesome heatmap.
  • Be as kind to myself as I would be to others. If I feel like stopping for the day, stop.
  • Work less by focusing on the really important stuff. Accomplish more because I’m working on projects that FEED energy instead of projects that TAKE it away.

Maybe the “write more, sell more” model’s time has passed.

If everyone is writing and marketing as fast as they can, does everyone really need to market more, sell more?

Is it possible that it’s actually market LESS, sell MORE?

When I think about the businesses I LOVE, they don’t send too many marketing emails.

They do less “marketing” marketing—and more Fried-Chicken-and-Waffles Marketing.

Hanging out, being of use. People like Andy Wibbels, Mark Silver, Daphne Gray Grant, and the Communicatrix market less, but I’m positive they sell more. I recommend them with more passion than an affiliate–and the return I get is knowing I’ve linked another person to their awesomeness.

They’re just that helpful.

3 questions for your consideration over breakfast:

  1. What would happen if you put your business on a Marketing Diet?
  2. Do you think your business would improve if you sent out FEWER messages, and made each message count?
  3. Have you actually TRIED this, and how did it work?

Image by via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Psst. Can you keep a secret? Then you’ll fit right in with the rest of the Secret Discount Scouts. Secrets! Discounts! Adventure! Just don’t tell anyone. Coming soon…a new product that will take you by the hand up Website Copywriting Mountain. Join today–but quietly. Quietly.

16 Responses to Market less, sell more?

  1. How awesome would that be to actually witness in real life. Any chance you kept the limericks? 😉

    For me/my business, I’ve found it works best in cycles–some cycles of less marketing with more to say, and other cycles of more marketing in smaller bites… I think part of that is because I don’t find it sustainable to always have something Very Deep to say (because I am not a deep thinker, I suppose), but I also wonder if our audiences don’t like having a mix of both from us–the easy-to-apply candy stuff that they can take from our newsletters or smaller products and put to work immediately and the heartier meal stuff that takes more time and attention on their end to actually use. I think the answer is deliberate consideration of which cycle you’re in and whether that’s best serving your audience instead of just blindly following a set formula. So, in other words, know when to shut up and know when just filling the silence has value (because sometimes, it does, but sometimes silence is really, really wonderful). Basically like your list :-).

    I bet Harley will appreciate the walks, even if they are unbillable!

  2. Kelly says:

    Jessica, you want limericks? Hey, all you had to do was ask.

    Said the Old Man in the kitchen
    Who was terribly bored and itchin’
    “When can I get to work
    It’s not right that we lurk”
    Merlin said “Pass the syrup. I’m not even ABOUT to use that word.”

  3. I’m not sure if there’s a right or a wrong, but I know I fall in the Merlin-and-waffles camp.

    Which leaves me covered in syrup, but what the hell, right?

    Thanks for the sweet words. Pun intended.

  4. Kelly says:

    I knew it! Colleen, you’re definitely a Merlin-and-waffles kind of lady. In fact, maybe that’s just what these two need to break the tension. From now on, they’re going to have to eat breakfast with a tiny Communicatrix as well. Deal with it, fellas!

  5. You’ve officially made this my favorite blog post of the week, Kelly :-). I mean, it was already good, but the limerick pushed it right over the top.

  6. Joely Black says:

    This is a really interesting idea. I like marketing by hanging out and being there and just doing. It’s laid-back, non-threatening marketing.

    And the waffles look gorgeous!

  7. Kelly says:

    Hi Joely,
    I know, right? Waffles look scrrrrupmtcheeeeeous.

    So much depends upon a hot waffle
    Glazed with syrup
    Beside the fried chicken

  8. Adam Kayce says:

    Yep, loving this post: limericks and waffles, Merlin and the Communicatrix? How could you possibly go wrong?

  9. Mark Silver says:

    Thanks for passing the syrup! Sometimes I wonder if we send fewer marketing emails simply because we don’t have our stuff together. 😉

    I think one of the keys to being able to do the fried chicken and waffle type of marketing is segmenting. The problem with blogs and RSS is that segmenting is a challenging thing- everyone sees the same thing.

    But, with our email list, we can carry on three or four different campaigns simultaneously to different people who are at different stages, without using up too much marketing bandwidth. I like it, because it does keep our frequency down.

    If you’re ever in Portland, you’re invited to breakfast.

  10. Kelly says:

    @Adam Thanks! Now, I just hope you saved room for coconuts.

    @Mark Segmenting! Yes, of course! The syrup that holds the whole operation together. I had no idea I was only on one list, being segmented and stuff. Man, you are smooove. (BTW, I am L-O-V-I-N-G “Growing a Business” by Paul Hawken. Just recommended it to someone, in fact. I can’t believe how timely this book is; it reads like it was written at this exact moment in history… so thanks!)

  11. Mark Silver says:

    You’re welcome, Kelly. You know, I’ve been thinking about your post since yesterday. I’m going to contradict what I said- I think that perhaps those “other people” do sell more. The question is- at what cost? In the nine years we’ve been in business, we’ve had hardly any returns. The people who do buy tend to be really happy and passionate about our work.

    I like to slow down the selling process, and make as sure as I can that the people who buy really want to buy. That translates not only into happier customers and increased word of mouth, but lower admin and customer service costs.

    It may be funny talking about customer service costs in the realm of micro-business, but for every return it takes us time and costs us money in transaction fees and lost money on postage. Besides, it would feel gross to have money from people who didn’t really want us to have that money.

    So, that’s a slight addition. When you market more, and market well, you can sell more. But, at what cost to your business and your soul?

  12. Lorraine says:

    My first time here. What a wonderful post and blog.

    I really think you’ve nailed a balanced approach to writing/life.

    I have another perspective on the Bly-Mann breakfast “conversation.” I see it as a spin on the old debate between “commercial” and “creative” writing.

    It’s pleasant to think these two scriveners’ threads can intertwine, but I’m not sure—at least for me.

    Interestingly, years ago I took one of Bob’s seminars. It was called something like “If You Can Write a Simple Stream-of-Consciousness Poem, You Too Can Make 200K!”)

    The seminar targeted “creative writers,” premise being, if you can write ANYTHING at all—poems, plays, novels—you can write copy and make money.


    I admire Bob’s work ethic and professionalism. I’ve benefited a lot from disciplined work hours, GTD, et al. (Isn’t Merlin Mann’s conversion to Slow Writing a new phenomenon?)

    I must confess I am often glued to my laptop for very long hours. I find it’s the best way to make money writing and—as a fulltime freelancer and mother of three—I need to make money from my writing.

    Confession: I find it hard–nearly impossible–to write without the prod/carrot of a deadline and paycheck.

    And yet…

    My favorite writing mentor is William Zinsser. He of the “good writing is rewriting” and “a good sentence is no accident” school.

    I’ll take the New Yorker over almost any blog post—present company excluded. I love the idea of slow blogging.

    But I digress…so I’ll answer your questions quickly.

    1. What would happen if you put your business on a Marketing Diet? I’d be out of work within weeks, homeless–and my eldest son would have to come home in shame from his semester in Berlin.

    2. Do you think your business would improve if you sent out FEWER messages, and made each message count? No. I think be out of work within weeks, homeless…The truth: I don’t do mass mailings, just try to stay in touch, stay credible and yes, prove I “provide value.”

    3. Have you actually TRIED this, and how did it work? No–and don’t plan to in the current economy. (Yes, I know–Attitude of Scarcity. But I’ve been freelancing through a few economic cycles.)

    P. S. One last thing: I love your point about the wife bringing down meals to the single-minded, copy-churning writer. I’ve often wondered how many successful male copywriters acted as primary caregivers in raising their children. I’m not making excuses. I’m just sayin’.

  13. Kelly says:

    @ Mark Wow, yes, that’s so true. The other thing is if you’re marketing to the right people, they never really feel like you’re marketing to them if you’re doing it with this intention of helping them. Which is why every time I get an email from you, I think, OH, good! Another mind-reading email from Mark Silver telling me exactly what problem I’ve just been having that he’s going to help me solve! I don’t even notice if it’s marketing — it’s just helping me. But really helping me, not fake helping me. I can always spot the difference.

    @ Lorraine Hi! Can I just say I LOVE your blog and have printed out your frugal shopping list? I can’t tell you how long I have been looking for something like this! It speaks to me, all of your manifesto!

    I do the same thing with staying in touch, sending people articles. It sounds like you’re already on a marketing diet, since you’re not spamming people with daily email blasts and mass mailing everyone. You’re living within your marketing means already, cooking up your marketing from scratch at home, as it were.

    Oh, and I actually didn’t mean to make any point about wives bringing meals. Because then I’d have to fully disclose that, sometimes, I do have a certain someone who likes to make me breakfast & bring it to me. But that’s only because I don’t know how to cook. Which, of course, your blog is soon to remedy!

  14. Awesome post Kelly. Love the limerick! LOVE IT!

    It beats my old fav:

    “Spider, spider, on the wall
    Ain’t you got no smarts at all?
    Don’t you know that wall is fresh plastered?
    Get off that wall you dirty… spider.”


    I first heard the spider limerick in a Roy H. Williams workshop. Which brings me to the point of your post: Roy has actually solved the Bob Bly vs Merlin Mann conundrum.

    He gives us a formula:
    Memory / Branding = Impact * Frequency

    So… if you make your writing more impactful – it requires a lower frequency. Lesser writing!

  15. Ankesh, Thanks for your valuable contribution to our wall of limericks here. Very nice. Love the strict adherence to the ancient limerick form. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around that formula, (math + jetlag = major brain freeze), but “more impactful requires less frequency” makes a lot of sense!

  16. […] I found this awesome quote from Kelly at Copylicious.   “Work less by focusing on the really important stuff. […]

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