Steve Jobs on Stories

steve_jobsSteve Jobs strolls into the Apple break room one day in 1994 and starts making himself a bagel.

The staff chew warily.

Suddenly, Jobs addresses the room:

“Who is the most powerful person in the world?”

Silence. A few names are proposed. Bill Clinton? Nelson Mandela?

Then, Jobs erupts:

“NO! You are ALL wrong. The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come and Disney has a monopoly on the storyteller business.”

He continues:

“You know what? I am tired of that bullshit, I am going to be the next storyteller”

And out he walks with his bagel.

I got this story on a long Quora thread about chance encounters with Steve Jobs. I saved it because I think Jobs was right – stories give you power.

I mean, look at how you’re still reading this. There was nothing clever or unusual about how I wrote any of this. You’re here purely because I captured your attention with a story.

I try to use stories in everything I write.

Maybe it doesn’t make me the most powerful person in the world, but for the last 30 seconds you weren’t paying attention to anybody else!

I know storytelling is a very wooly and confusing term, but one thing that will always be true is that when you kick off your writing with a story people find it very hard to stop reading.

If you’d like to know how to find and use good stories in your writing, you can watch the talk I did on this at Google Campus.

For email, Fibonacci is your friend

The fibonacci number is found throughout nature. It's also a useful rule of thumb for how often to contact your audience.
The fibonacci number is found throughout nature. It’s also a useful rule of thumb for how often to contact your audience.

How often should you email people?

People sometimes ask me this.

A great default is to use the Fibonaci sequence.

The Fibonacci number is a naturally occurring phenomenon. It appears throughout nature. Apparently lots of things conform to it, like the spirals of seashells, the spacing of sunflower seeds and the branches of trees.

Here’s the Fibonacci sequence:


0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55 89 144


Notice the pattern? You take the first two numbers, add them together and that gives you the next number. Then repeat.

Each number represents the interval (in days) between your messages.

So when a customer gives you her email address, you send a welcome message after 0 days (i.e. instantly). Then, another 1 day later. Then another the next day. Then another 2 days later. Then another 3 days after that. And so on.

What’s so special about that? Well, when you’re trying to develop a lasting relationship with leads, you don’t want to come on too strong. That’s why I sometimes use the Fibonaci sequence to time my emails.

It’s a smart way to keep your lead from being overwhelmed with messages.

Usually uhen people sign up for something, they’re more interested at first and less interested later. So it makes sense to bunch up messages at the start of your sequence, and then gradually ease off.

People are keener to hear from you in the days right after they sign up for your content, so you want to communicate more often while they’re ‘hot’. Then, you can gradually scale down.

This sequence mirrors that behaviour – tailing off the frequency as time goes on.

The Fibonacci sequences isn’t the only way to schedule an autoresponder, and I don’t use it all the time. But it’s a good start.

Once you get to 34 (i.e by the 7th email) I usually abandon the Fibonacci method and switch into a weekly message. Otherwise, pretty soon they’re only hearing from me once a decade.

If you want to get really pro at this you can break subscribers out into separate high and low frequency lists, based on how often they open your emails and click on the links.

But for most people, the Fibonacci sequence works out fine.

Attraction or Seduction? The Tale of Two £100K Clients

HandshakingLife’s good when customers chase you.

Recently, a company I help to run won two big clients. Both are worth about £100K in annual revenue.

But while winning the first client took weeks of toil, focus and hard negotiation, the second client reached out to us and hired us on a handshake.

There’s an important business lesson here that I’d like to share.

First though, let me explain how it went down these two clients.

It all kicked off with the first client when they sent us an RFP inviting us to pitch for a big contract.

This RFP came with 9 pages of instructions:

  • Please provide CVs and biographies of your entire team – including any contractors you’ll use
  • Please tell us how your costs break down (i.e. how much profit are you making?)
  • Please invest the best part of two weeks creating concepts, mock-ups and writing proposals – with no guarantee of pay-off at all

Right off the bat, it was a ‘parent / child’ relationship. Still, we eventually won the business.

Now, here’s how the second client went down.

One Saturday evening I got a message on LinkedIn from somebody I didn’t know called Alastair. He said: “Ian, I have a project I’d like to discuss with you.”

We set up a phone call. The phone call led to a meeting, where he told us about his project. We listened, and gave him a price. “That’s fine” he nodded, and we shook hands.

And that was it. We were done in an hour. No bidding for the work. No beauty parade of competitors.

What happened? Why was the second client so much easier?

Although I’d never heard of Alastair before, when I looked at his records he’d been on our email warm-up sequence for about a year, after he entered his email address to download an industry report that we publish (one of several ‘lead magnets’ that we’ve placed around our market.)

Every week since then he’d heard from us via a drip-fed email sequence:

Drip. An interesting story.

Drip. A piece of helpful advice.

Drip. Another story about our industry.

Over the course of a few months, a relationship was established. Trust was built. So when he reached out to me on LinkedIn that Saturday evening, he’d already picked us. Alastair – and his £100K contract – were ours to lose.

Life’s way easier when clients approach you.

Furthermore, when you work with clients who approach you they’re generally much better clients than ones that you’ve had to chase. For example the RFP client haggled the bill, changed the brief and rushed the work. In contrast, the ‘easy client’ was a peach.

Ultimately, yes – both clients were worth having. I won’t pretend otherwise for the sake of making a point. But all things being equal, isn’t it wiser to optimise your business to attract clients who’ve already decided that you’re the one for them?

I’ve outlined how I do this here. It’s something I’m passionate about.

If you’re interested in taking this further and doing this too, I have a book coming out soon that will help you.

I hope that you’re able to apply this to your own business.

“Oh, I got money for THAT”

People always have money when it’s something they want.

I learned this reading a funny story in a poker book by Doyle Brunson.

One day, a guy named ‘Lowball Pete’ goes over to his friend Shorty’s house.

“Shorty, I’ve got to have some money. The baby don’t have any food, the rent’s due and they’re going to throw me out of my house.”

Shorty, who’s a good friend of Pete’s says: “Well, I understand. Here’s $100.”

“Thanks Shorty. I’ll pay you back as soon as I can.”
“No problem Pete. Where are you going now?”
“I’m going over to Al’s house, they have a big poker game going right now.”
“Well Pete, what difference does that make? How are you going to play?”

Pete’s answer: “Oh… I’ve got money for THAT.”

You find this all the time in business.

I used to have a video marketing business. I was in negotiations with a financial firm to create and manage their YouTube channel.

I invested hours consulting with them: researching the opportunity, writing proposals, meeting with stakeholders.

I knew they needed it.

They told me they need it.

“No budget.”

Except, it wasn’t true:

  • I saw Facebook pictures of the marketing team at a £450 a head charity ball
  • I find a Tweet about a new pool table for the office
  • I even knew they’d been paying £300 a month for a fancy satellite broadband system, when the actual dish was still in its box

People always have money when it’s something they want.

That’s never going to change. The question is: for you, is this a problem – or is there a way to make it a competitive advantage?

[box type=”info”]I’m writing a book on how to make people want you. Get it free when it’s released in October.[/box]

I sent people coconuts and got 50% conversion

One day in 2009 I conducted a marketing experiment: I went to the post office and sent 20 coconuts through the mail.

IMG_2092I’d read somewhere that you could send weird objects through the Royal Mail. If you can stick a stamp on it, the law says that have to deliver it. Or something like that.

People claim to have posted watermelons, teddy bears, and even £20 notes – all ‘naked’ through the post.

So, I decided to try sending something unusual through the mail to promote a small marketing agency I was running at the time.

I decided to send coconuts.

The campaign went like this:

  • I picked 20 marketing directors in my industry (online gambling) who I’d like to work with
  • They would come into to work one day and find a strange coconut sitting on their desk
  • This big, hairy coconut would have my agency’s logo stuck to the side – and URL to download an ebook I’d written
  • Hopefully they’d get the coconut, download the ebook, read about my agency – and hire me to work for them.

That was my campaign.

One lunchtime, I went to Tesco and bought 20 coconuts. I took them back to the office, printed out some labels and superglued them to the side of each coconut. Sticking paper to a hairy coconut is really tricky. I had to go back out and buy three different types of glue until I found one that would stick well.

Finally, I was ready.

I hauled the coconuts down to the post office, stood in line and approached the counter.

Remember that I’d read the post office would deliver almost anything?

Turns out, nobody had told my branch.

“They’ll kick them around like a football”

“They’ll crack them open and eat them”

“They’ll get stolen”

Nobody there thought very much of my marketing campaign. Or the integrity of the postal system, come to that.

Still, they let me take my chances and mail them.

Here’s the cashier processing the coconuts:


I even had to fill in a customs declaration form and glue it to the shell:

Package contents: COCONUT.

Done. I retuned to the office and waited, not very hopeful.

Amazingly, it worked.

Within a few days, I started seeing sign-ups in AWeber. People were getting the coconuts, and they were signing up for my newsletter.

Within a week exactly half (10 people) had responded.

I slowly followed up with the rest of the folks – the 10 who I didn’t hear from. Those who I was able to reach told me they never received the coconut. One guy in Gibraltar just got a clear plastic bag with a smashed up husk, so I guess some did end up in a mailroom kick-about.

As far as I can tell, everybody who got a coconut did what I asked them to – signed up for my newsletter. That’s a 50% delivery rate, but a 100% response rate. Not bad.

Out of the 10 who signed up, one person became a client about six weeks later.

The cool part is, for a long time after wherever I went to industry events people would come up to me and say:

“Oh, you’re the guy who sent Jim / Janet the coconut!”

Word really spread.

Back when I did this, I would have only recommended this approach for VIP targets. The cost of the coconut and the mailing came to about £2.50 each. But with rising PPC costs, I think it’s worth exploring with a wider audience.

For example, LinkedIn’s minimum bid to reach the same people online is £2.14. Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 14.15.36And that’s just for a click – not to put a big-ass coconut on their desk.

Let know if you try it.

You’d be nuts to miss out.




How to make people like you

Do you know the marketing theory KLT?

It stands for Know / Like / Trust.

It says that people buy from you when:

  • They know you
  • They like you
  • They trust you

This is definitely true in B2B. You normally need a relationship – an ‘in’ with a company – before you can do business with them.

The problem is, building these relationships takes time. It’s hard work. And usually it leads nowhere. So at some point, it makes sense to wonder: can you automate relationship building?

Well, my experience is that you can.

And what’s more, you can do it using basic, text-only emails.

I’m sure there are plenty of ways to do this, but here’s my way:

First of all you create an auto-responder email sequence of between 5 and 10 emails.

This is called an auto-responder sequence. It’s a series of pre-programmed emails designed to make people like you. (I thought twice about writing that, but it’s honestly the best way to describe it.)

Here’s the auto-responder sequence for one market I work in:

follow up sequence

These emails get drip-fed to subscribers in sequence when they sign up to my newsletter. Every week, people move steadily through the sequence – one email after another.

Each email always follows the same formula:

  • Opens with a quick story (200 words)
  • Bridge into what you actually want to talk about (10 words)
  • Tell them what you want them to do (30 words)

Here’s an example:


It’s very straightforward.

There’s a quick story (the NASA story), a bridge (“I love this story because…”) and a pitch (“Hit reply if you’d like the brochure”).

If you send your subscribers a simple email like this once or twice a week, people will start to look forward to them.

A lot of marketers think that the work inbox is a fairly hostile place.

In fact, my experience is that people will look forward to anything that takes them away from their work for a while.

With these emails, you can take a stranger, and create a relationship where they look forward to hearing from you.

The open rates are pretty consistent – 30-40%. (The open rates are probably slightly higher, because subscribers who don’t have images enabled can’t be tracked.)

open rates

If you do this once or twice a week, after three or four emails people are hooked.

That’s because each email in your warm-up sequence has one main objective: to get them to open the next one. It trains people to open the next one.

It’s amazing how powerful this is.

Sometimes I attend conferences and social functions in the industry I work in.

Every time, it’s almost embarrassing how many people approach me and tell me they like the emails. “Oh, you’re the Ian Harris who sends me those emails!”

It’s not that the emails are delightfully written – they’re actually very straightforward. It’s just that they’re better than the usual marketing emails everybody gets – plus they’ve been trained to read them.

Hope this helps – to be honest I’m so close to this topic that I’m not sure what to tell you about it. Ask me a question if you’d like to know more about anything.

My new book Content Empire covers a lot of this material. Get your free copy if you like this kind of stuff.

How to See Everybody’s Email Address on LinkedIn

You can get the email address of anybody you're connected with on LinkedIn
You can get the email address of anybody you’re connected with on LinkedIn

Did you know that LinkedIn will give you the email address of everybody you’re connected to?

The feature is tucked away – but it’s there. And it’s really useful if you’re in B2B marketing like me.

It’s great because tracking down the right email address for people you want to reach can be a time-consuming puzzle. Part guesswork, part detective work. Now though, all you need to do is connect with them on LinkedIn and – boom – there’s their email address.

Here’s how you do it…

Step 1: In LinkedIn, click on Connections and click the little settings icon:

linkedin export contactsStep 2: Now, click ‘Export LinkedIn Connections':

export connections

Step 3: It’ll give you a few options to choose from – it doesn’t really matter which one you choose. I normally choose Microsoft Outlook.Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 14.59.15Step 4: LinkedIn will generate a file that looks like this:

find linkedin email address

Step 5: Ugh. Don’t worry, open it up in Excel and it looks like this:

Bingo! Now you have all the email addresses of your LinkedIn contacts.

Next, Add Them To Your Newsletter

At risk of stating the obvious: don’t start mass-emailing these people.

Besides being unethical, there’s no email delivery platform that will just let you start emailing people who haven’t opted-in to anything.

Instead, what you can do is approach everybody individually to ask if you can subscribe them to your newsletter.

Here’s an example of an approach I’ve used successfully:

reaching out

I use the straightforward subject line: ‘LinkedIn’. (‘Reaching out’ is another good one.)

Usually, people reply with a simple: “Yep, go ahead!”. I’ve been too lazy to keep hard stats, but I’d estimate that I get a positive reply around 75% of the time. I don’t think anybody has ever said “No thanks”.

When they reply “Yes”, I manually add them to my newsletter and send them a quick note so they know to expect a confirmation link.

Plus  – You Can Also Advertise to These People Using Facebook Custom Audiences

Another thing you can do is advertise to these people on Facebook.

You use your contacts list to create a Facebook Ads campaign that’s only shown to them.

Go to and create a new advert

facebook adsFollow the steps to create an advert:

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 15.15.29

Now, where it says ‘audience’ click ‘create custom audience‘ and upload the file you just downloaded:

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 14.49.05Facebook will inspect your list of email addresses to see who it recognises. Each one it recognises as a Facebook user, it will show them your advert. There should be plenty of matches, since people tend to use the same email address for Facebook and LinkedIn.

Hope you find this useful.

Final thought

If you want to find somebody’s email address, connecting with them on LinkedIn is probably the easiest way to get it.

People are – in general – not terribly fussy about who they ‘link in’. If you know somebody – even vaguely through a group – the chances are very high that they’ll agree to connect with you on LinkedIn.

If you’d like more stuff like this, please subscribe to my email newsletter.

NASA’s $1.5M Pen

NASA hit a problem during the 1960s Space Race.

Astronauts couldn’t write in space, because ordinary pens wouldn’t work in zero gravity.

So NASA hired Paul Fisher to design a pen that would write in space.

Months later, after $1.5 million of research, he came up with a solution.

At last, NASA had a state-of-the-art pen that:

  • Worked in zero gravity
  • Performed in a vacuum
  • Could cope with drastic temperature range

Of course, the Russian cosmonauts had the same problem.

So they used a pencil.

I love this story, because it illustrates how smart people often waste time creating elaborate solutions to problems when a simple answer is right under their nose.

This happens all the time in content marketing.

When you’re faced with a big challenge, try to look for the simplest solution.

How to Stop a Lion with a Chair

Clyde Beatty was the word’s first celebrity lion tamer.

He climbed into cages filled with lions, tigers and hyenas – delighting crowds in the 1930s.

Everybody thought it was his whip and pistol that kept the beasts at bay.

In fact, it was his chair.

Beatty discovered that when you thrust a chair towards a snarling lion, it tries to focus on all four legs at once. Overloaded with options, the animal chooses to freeze instead of fight. (Hopefully.)

So often, you’re the lion faced with the chair.

With so many channels, so many platforms, you try to focus on everything at once. You end up getting nothing much done.

For example, look at what comes up when you Google ‘content marketing strategy':

content marketing strategy


I prefer a content marketing strategy with fewer moving parts. Where you’re building something that will last.

If you’re interested in this approach, my book might help you.

Next time you’re struggling to get anything significant done, ask yourself whether you’re dangling a chair in front of your own face – and think what you can do to swipe it away.

Release As You Build

Prince has 50 fully completed music videos locked away in a vault.

He shoots videos with costumes, sets, dancers – and then never lets anyone see them.

One of Prince’s assistants told Kevin Smith why:

“I produced 50 music videos for him” she said. “50 fully-produced music videos with costumes and sets.”
“And they’ve never been seen on MTV or anything?” he asked.
“No. He just puts them in the vault… that’s just the way Prince is.”

In a weird way, I can relate to this.

Not that I’m comparing myself to Prince. (Okay, I’m comparing myself to Prince.)

What I mean is that the bigger the project, the less chance I have of finishing it.

I work on it, work on it, and by the time I’ve finished I’ve completely lost interest in it.

Or I’m so sick of seeing it I can’t imagine anybody else enjoying it. In the vault it goes.

Increasingly, I’m finding the solution is to release stuff as you go.

For example, right now I’m working on a book.

What I’ve done is broken it down in to roughly 100 chunks. I’m writing two or three chunks a week, and posting them here on this blog.

I’m doing this for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it’s very motivating. I have the constant satisfaction of getting something done. But more importantly, I think it will make the end product more engaging.

Hopefully my book will hold the readers attention well because it’s assembled from 100 separate blog posts. It should naturally ‘recapture’ the reader’s attention every 300 words or so.

If you’re working on a big project of your own, resist the temptation to release it in one ‘big bang’.

Release as you write. I think that’s the way to go.