The alchemist and the marketer

It was one of those dreams that you know are a dream, but it doesn’t matter.

I’m standing in a dark cool tent in the middle of a desert with the simoom wind outside petulantly flinging hot sand against the tent flaps.

The tent is full of fascinating glassware and alembics and crucibles and other things I have no names for. I’m facing the alchemist as she stirs a fiercely glowing metal gloop.

Look into her eyes and you’ll believe those that claim the alchemist is eight hundred and fifty-three years old. Look at her smile and the stories that she’s younger than the morning’s dew become clear. She’s wearing folded robes and rainbow suspenders; I would kill an archangel for her dark hair.

She smiles in twenty-three dimensions and speaks. You know why you’re here.

I sadly admit that I do.

She stirs and says Tell me why you are here.

I clear my throat, both in the dream and in my sleeping body, and I say, “I accept work I know won’t be my best by working with people who aren’t quite right.”

Do you do this for the money?

No! Well, sometimes. But mostly I do it from love.

You love people, so you give them less than your best?

Yes. No. I want to help!

But you also crave magnificence. For yourself and the people you work with.

I do. (My sleeping forehead is crumpled and pinched and rigid. Uncomfortable.)

Do you know how the Elixir of Life is created? How the Philosopher’s Stone is made?

(Resist the Harry Potter joke, Catherine.) They’re made by removing all the impurities from a special mixture until only a liquid and solid remain. The liquid is the Elixir of Life, which grants immortality. The solid part is the Philosopher’s Stone, which will turn any metal into gold.

Do you know how to identify an alchemist?


She smiles across five wavelengths of light and rolls back her sleeves. Her hands and forearms are pitted with burn on top of burn. In a few, I wincingly note, it appears that liquid metal has actually bonded with the skin. My sleeping hands twitch in sympathetic pain.

It is an easy thing to say, to remove all impurities. But what it means is to suffer and to strive and to breathe painful fumes and to burn and to burn and to burn. One of the ingredients in this mixture is a hundred times the mixture’s volume in the tears of its creator.

My sleeping eyes sneak tears onto my red pillow. “So I must suffer to create magnificence. I accept that.”

Oh, it is worse. You must accept that other people will suffer because of your desire for magnificence. I have scars, but I am not in the crucible. It is the metal which suffers most.

O no no. I love my almost-right people. I don’t want to make them suffer.

What, then? Will you continue to work with people who cannot get the most from what you offer? Perhaps now, perhaps forever?

That’s not fair to them either! Or to me. (My sleeping body draws in on itself, knees almost grazing nipples in a tense fetal ring.)

You wished to be an alchemist. To create money and lasting change, your cash and joy. Money is the province of the Philosopher’s Stone. Lasting change is simply immortality with different pants on, your Elixir of Life.

This is the alchemist’s master work. And it is painful.

But it’s not like they’re bad people. They’re amazing!

Yes, they are. Silver is a beautiful metal, costly and delightful… but if I added it to this crucible, the mixture would fail. This is not a judgement about value, this is a recipe. And with receipes no is much more important than yes.

I say yes a lot.

You do. And so now you must say, “I’m sorry, but…”

(The tears spread across my pillow as I beseech my dream.) Is there any way around this no don’t tell me I know there isn’t. My heart feels like it’s breaking.

That is another ingredient in the alchemist’s master work. Your heart must break so it can regrow larger.

Please, is this worth it?

Only you can tell. But I think it’s pretty kick-ass.

The alchemist crafts a smile that is both a wave and a particle, and I wake to a damp pillow and a dreaded to-do list.

More stories each week when you sign up to Mo’Cash, Mo’Joy. I promise most of them don’t make me cry the way this one did.

Creative Commons License photo credit: h.koppdelaney

Barefoot cobblers and unknown marketers

Give me those prepubescent secret lies, I'll hold them and I promise I won't share.

Bebri made rainbow-coloured glitter.

Understand: I do not mean that she made glitter in every colour of the rainbow. I mean that the glitter she made ran giggling through the spectrum of light, every single tiny flake eye-catching and mesmerising. Each fleck was a red-hot button wired to the inner three-year-old in every soul; an awe-machine the size of a grain of sand.

Bebri took her darkest shirt and pants and shoes and gloves and woollen cap and dipped them all into her glitter. Attired like the Aurora Borealis on disco night, she walked out into the world to sell her glitter.

Her first sale closed even before she left her driveway. Her entire stock was cleaned out within thirty minutes. Pleased and rich, she returned home to make more glitter for tomorrow.

Multi-faceted light-prisming glitter is not easy to create, and she could never make enough to keep up with demand. Every single grain she made was delivered to her buyers, who flocked to her stall every time they saw her glimmering self arrive.

But her attire glimmered a little less every day. Some glitter fell off, and some was slyly picked off her clothes when she wasn’t paying attention. Soon she wasn’t a supernova of light, but a shimmer. And far too quickly, all her glitter had worn off and she was dressed in drab black.

The stall lost its lustre – literally. Business evaporated. And Bebri said, “Oh! If I give all my glitter to others to illuminate themselves, then there is none left for me. And when there is none for me, then no-one can know what I have to offer. By giving all of my work to others, I impoverish myself. Shitballs!

A new container was created in Bebri’s workshop, labelled Me. And this container was always the first to be refilled, so that Bebri could shine brightly at all times.

All the rest is glittering technicolour history.

The moral of the story

It’s far too easy to give all your best and juiciest inspiration to your clients until your work for yourself starves to death. (And then, more literally, so do you.) There are plenty of web designers with outdated sites, VAs with every client’s work 100% complete but three stacks of their own paperwork to go through, and marketers who never promote their own work because they’re too busy putting all their inspiration into their clients.

Congratulations, you now have a new client: it’s called Your Business.

Your Business is your most important client and should be treated accordingly. Your Business is on retainer and requires at least as much time as any of your other clients; book time in your calendar every week – maybe every day – to thoughtfully consider Your Business’s needs and implement amazing work for Your Business on a consistent basis.

Do NOT use the time in your calendar for any other client. You wouldn’t treat any of your other clients so shabbily, because they would leave you. Your Business deserves respect, focus and as much of the zingy amazing best work you deliver to your other clients.

This new addition to your workload may require you to let another client go. Long-term, this is the best solution: Your Business will, if neglected, take the whole client list down in a fit of spite. Treat Your Business well and it will stay with you for many years to come, rewarding you more handsomely than any other client could.

Shine on, my lovelies.

P.S. Are you ready to strap the fuck in and commit to only doing your best work? Because if you are, you need to be signed up to the Mo’Cash Mo’Joy newsletter. It’s here to help!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Julija Felajn

Stop branding like a dating profile

billboard bachelor

Amir was tired of being lonely, and his friends-of-friends network was tapped out. It was time… for the Dating Sites. (Dun dun dunnnnn.)

So Amir wrote his profile:

I’m an early 30s professional, attractive and well-dressed, with money in the bank and a good future.

I’ve been focused on my career for a few years, but now I’ve realised it’s time to find someone special to share it all with. Is that you?

In three days he received a dozen invitations. Four of the women sounded really fascinating, and drinks were scheduled. Amir polished his shoes and counted the days.

First there was Hannah.

According to her profile, Hannah was a “vivacious architect who loved barefoot running and old Westerns”. She arrived, dark curls bobbing, and ended the date within seven minutes.

First she said hello.

Then she agreed that the weather had turned very nice, the slight chill in the air was rather pleasant.

Then she asked, “So what profession are you in?” and Amir, entranced by her eyes, replied, “Oh, I’m a physiotherapist.”

Staring at her as he was, it was impossible to miss the tiny recoil and the aggrieved forehead. She said, “But you said you were a professional! Not a… health care practitioner.”

Amir explained that it was a profession, and then Hannah said she had somewhere else she needed to be, and that was that.

Then there was Lin.

Lin was “an old-fashioned girl. I love to cook Szechuan – I enjoy the spices!” They were to meet at the botanical gardens, and Amir found himself there far too early.

So he was sitting down, watching the ducks demonstrate their mastery of social engineering, when Lin arrived. He bounded up, said, “Hi there, you must be Lin!” and instantly he knew the date was over.

Clearly Lin had described herself accurately when she said she was an old-fashioned girl, at least in the sense that old-fashioned girls like to have the man they’re with be considerably taller than they are. Lin was a modest 5’3, and was visibly shocked that Amir was only two inches taller.

They went for a walk, they fed the ducks, but it never went anywhere.

So then there was Katy.

Katy was “ambitious, in love with quality, and a huge console gaming fan”. She was charming and upbeat, and the date had gotten to the second course before it foundered on the rocks.

It started with Katy saying, “Oh, by the way, I LOVE your car. That blue always does it for me.”

Amir looked confused. “My car is white. Oh, you mean Mike’s car! Yeah, I liked that picture.”

Over the salmon, it became clear that in his profile Amir had used a photo of himself in front of his friend’s Mercedes Benz C-Class, and that Amir himself drove a white Commodore.

It became clear also that Amir’s definition of “money in the bank” did not match Katy’s definition of “money in the bank”.

Amir ate the dessert by himself.

And then there was Sandra.

Sandra thought that the name Amir and the words “good future” and “well-dressed” were code for “Saudi oil prince”.

Sandra was just crazy, so she’s not really relevant to the story.

Clearly, this profile didn’t work.

So Amir wrote and rewrote and ended up with this:

Do you want someone who will look you right in the eye?
I will. Because I respect women as equals,
but mostly because I’m not much taller than you – I’m 5’5.
(Maybe I’m shorter than you? I’m okay with that if you are.)

I’m a hard-working and successful physio who is resisting making a good-with-his hands joke.
My sisters say I’m not bad looking.
I’m looking for a partner and a friend, someone to laugh with. Is that you?

This time Amir only got four responses – and one of them was from Sandra.

But the third answer was completely intriguing…

So finally there was Tessa.

Tessa was “a vet by day, crimefighter by night, looking for love without crazy drama” and they decided to meet at the bowling alley.

He looked at her. She looked at him. They both grinned goofily.

In the lane-supplied flat shoes she was still slightly taller than Amir, but neither of them minded. They bowled three sets, ate horribly undercooked fries, and talked about everything.

The wedding’s in June and Tessa will be wearing heels. Amir is joking that he’ll be wearing a milk-crate on his feet.

It would be nauseating if they weren’t so charming.

The moral of the story

When you’re deciding on your brand, it’s tempting to make yourself look as good as possible – that’s the way to attract people, right?

There’s a couple of major problems with the SHINY SHINY EVERYTHING IS PERFECT approach:

  1. Pretty much everyone will call bullshit on you and you won’t stand out.
  2. You set yourself up to be a disappointment.

The first is not as big a problem because it’s pretty universal: almost everyone lies their ass off in their dating profiles, and almost everyone puts Vaseline on the lens of their brand. It’s standard to put yourself in the best possible light in situations like this.

But the second problem is a killer. If you say that you are 100% punctual, then you are screwed if you’re thirty seconds late for anything, ever.

If you claim to be a hilarious raconteur when you’re more of an occasional wit, you’ll be a let-down.

If you talk like a premium service but deliver good service, expect enraged customers.

If you expand a passing interest into a core value, oh lordy are you riding for a fall.

This is all about expectations.

Set them too high and you will always, always be a disappointment. Even if you are super-duper-amazingsauce, I was expecting super-duper-amazingsauce and am unimpressed.

But if you brand yourself as competent, professional and interesting, then you give the impression of real and believable. And when you deliver super-duper-amazingsauce you will blow me the hell away.

Since you don’t want to be completely unimpressive, here’s a recipe:

  • talk up the things you can do amazingly well every time
  • admit to a few (non-dealbreaker) flaws
  • leave at least one ace up your sleeve to dazzle with

Bonus tip: keep a sense of humour about the whole thing. No-one likes someone who clearly takes themselves too seriously.

Is your brand as authentic as a dating profile? If you’re ready to get real, DIY Magnificence can help you break out of airbrushed and unsatisfying fiction into attractive and exciting reality.

Creative Commons License photo credit: numberstumper

Extraordinary is made out of boring

Jenna was seventeen and she wanted more than anything, more than anything to be an artist.

She read and re-read biographies of artists, she studied and re-studied art books, she watched and re-watched movies about artists, and she repeatedly comforted herself and her artistic ambitions with the knowledge that her uncle Graham was a painter, and a good painter too, an Archibald finalist painter, so she would be a great artist too

The day arrived! Jenna set up her easel and said, “Today… I make art!”

Three hours later Graham’s phone rang, and Jenna asked if she could come over.

“You live four hours away!” said Graham.

“…yes? Pleeeease…”

“Oh sure, as long as you tell your mum where you’re going.”

Late that afternoon, Jenna’s car pulled up outside her uncle’s house, and her uncle pottered out in paint-bedaubed pants and shirt to meet her.

“Oh, you’re painting!” said Jenna. “I’m sorry!”

“Nah, it’s okay,” said Graham. “I was nearly done for the day. There’s roast beef for dinner, I’ll just go clean up then you can tell me what’s so urgent.”

Jenna spent an exquisite half-hour browsing through the art books in Graham’s library until he reappeared with two cups of tea and some gingernut snaps.

“So, what’s the…”


“Woah there! Slower.”

“Umm, this is really embarassing, but you know I always wanted to be an artist well I finally set up my easel and started to sketch out a figure and I spent an hour getting the proportions on the arm right and I realised that this was very boring and I don’t know does that mean I can’t be an artist?”

Graham sorted out her words in his head and said, “So you’re worried that because the work was boring that you’re not cut out to be an artist?”

“Yes! Oh my god I’m doooomed aren’t I just tell me quickly so I can go mourn all my hopes I mean I’ve wanted this my whole life but obviously it wasn’t mean to beeee…”

Graham observed kindly, “You sure are a dramatic one. Jen, what made you think that art was interesting all the time?”

“Well, people talk about how amazing it is and how engaged they are and in the books and all…”

“Hmmm. Well, if you can stay tomorrow I’ll show you what it’s like. Would that help?”

“Yes, that would be amazing, thank you Uncle Graham, you’re so wonderful…”

“Yeah. Well, you’re welcome, I guess. Did you know that you’re just like your mother when she was your age?”

The next day Jenna followed Graham out to the back shed where his studio was. It was an organised explosion of paints and stretched canvases and propped-open books and photos and rags and pedestal fans. Two large easels were set up: one with a large photo of an outback paddock, and another with a landscape-sized canvas with outlines pencilled on and a half-painted sky.

Conversationally, Graham said, “I’ve been working on this one for three weeks now, it’s a commission piece for the owner of that station. I went out there and took these photos, there’s some great light out there. Okay, I’m going to start. You can talk, but I don’t promise to answer.”

Graham took twenty minutes to mix four colours of blue. He daubed a bit on a scrap of newspaper, frowned, then spent another ten minutes adjusting the colours.

He added a small bit of blue to the canvas, scraped back some of yesterday’s still-tacky colour, built up the blue again, scraped off another bit, added a touch of pink to the mix, used the smaller brush to add in an invisible streak of tinted blue, stood back from the easel and stared for a minute, scraped off another bit of blue, repainted a few more times, stood back to look at the canvas while he stretched (back popping grotequely), then back to daub for another hour while humming under his breath.

Then Graham shook his head and blew his nose. He picked up his brushes and palette knife and spent fourteen minutes rinsing the brushes and soaking them in turpentine. He turned to Jenna. “So, that’s the morning of an artist. What do you think?”

“Umm… well, I mean no offense, right, but it looks kind of ordinary.”

“Yep, that’s it exactly.” He looked at her woebegone face. “But it’s still great, though. It can be both, you know.”

He laughed: now she looked confused and woebegone. “Close your eyes for a second, wouldya?”

Jenna closed her eyes and reopened them when directed. At arms length there was another painting on the easel.

It was… an overwhelming explosion of sunset colours that nature was surely too classy to put on display. A neon-darkness corona against old old trees. A gobsmacking extravaganza of life and how it always pulls your pants down when you least expect it.

Jenna gaped, eyes wandering. “It’s… wow. Amazing.”

“Well, thanks. But I made it the exact same way I’m painting that one over there. One quiet morning after another of scraping and building colour with the occasional cuppa tea. With lots of paintbrush-cleaning and other jobs I don’t particularly care for.”

“I guess, but…”

But you’ve seen too many movies, pet. In the movies everything is done in montages that skip all the boring parts. And in books they write that it took so-and-so eight years to paint that portrait, but that’s just one line. It doesn’t describe every single one of those days, because most of those days are the same, and all of them involve quite a bit of very boring stuff: artist went for two-hour walk with dog, that kind of thing.”

“I guess I just thought it would all be magical.”

“Oh, don’t get me wrong, it still kind of is. Painting is the most fun you can have by yourself – don’ttellyourmotherIsaidthat – I mean, I forgot you were there for an hour or so. I don’t even mind the boringness of it all.”

“Why not?”

“The boring tasks… they let me think. They stop me from getting full of myself. And because you just have to do them, that’s all. To make roast beef you have to get a bit of blood on your hands, to make art you have to do a lot of boring ordinary work over and over. Still want to be an artist?”

“Umm, yes?”

“Good. I’m glad. Now get out of here, you have to be home before dark and we both know how your mum worries.”

The moral of the story

Here is a lesson it took me many years to learn; a lesson many people have not learned, especially about their marketing.

Doing magical work often feels the same as doing prosaic work.

Planning is entirely magical. Results are often pretty magical, too.

But doing the work is still doing the work: enjoyable, but very ordinary.

Here’s the important bit:

This doesn’t mean anything is wrong; it doesn’t mean that you need to make changes.

In regards to your marketing, the point where you start thinking, “Ho hum, I’m talking about this again, yawn” corresponds very closely to the point where people are starting to know you and remember you. (If you change your marketing so it feels bright and new and special, you reset the clock on memorability. Beware.)

Said another way:

How you feel about the work while you’re doing it isn’t a useful measurement of whether it’s any good.

Want to know about some measurements that are useful? Sign up for the Mo’Cash, Mo’Joy weekly newsletter and stay on the inside track!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Wallula Junction