In this week’s “From the Ground Up” interview, we sit down with author, founder of Duct Tape Marketing, and longtime partner of UpCity, John Jantsch. Below we discuss how the idea for Duct Tape Marketing came about, the release of his sixth book, what Transcendental literature can teach us about modern entrepreneurship, and more!
Q: So John, you’ve been a friend of UpCity for quite a long time, but let’s start by having you give our readers a bit of background about yourself and your company, Duct Tape Marketing.
A: Sure! I’m John Jantsch and I’m the founder of a company called Duct Tape Marketing. My journey as an entrepreneur is really a 30-year journey. Right out of college, I worked for an ad agency for about five years and, like a typical young adult, decided that any dummy can run a business. I went out and just kind of hustled project work and it turned out I was pretty good at selling things. So my business was built in the kind of pre-Internet world and I was doing a lot of marketing consulting, design, and things of that nature.
I landed a few small business clients during that first period and I discovered my love for working with small business owners. It can be challenging to work with the little guys because they have a lot of the same needs as larger companies but certainly never have the same budgets or attention spans. I realized I needed to create a very systematic approach to marketing where I could walk in and say, “Alright, here’s what I’m going to do. Here’s what you’re going to do. Here are the results we should hope to see. Oh, and by the way, here’s what it costs.”
For small business owners, it’s really hard to buy marketing services and it gets harder every day. Everybody is selling a piece of the puzzle, a tactic, a new thing of the week. The idea that I could walk in with a proven marketing system that starts with strategy before tactics and then integrates everything into one whole system was music to most small businesses’ ears. And that’s how I’ve built and filled my entire consulting practice.
I started writing about my system online and put out a course called Duct Tape Marketing (I couldn’t just call it John’s Great Marketing System). My system is simple, effective, affordable, and has very practical applications, just like duct tape; as a brand, it worked and it just stuck (no pun intended).
Once that started to take off, independent marketing consultants started to approach me and say, “Hey, we want to work with small business owners and use your approach. It makes a lot of sense.” So I created the Duct Tape Marketing consultant network and that experience led me to my first book (can you guess the name?): Duct Tape Marketing. Now, our network consists of about 150 marketing consultants all over the world that use the Duct Tape Marketing system and service thousands of small businesses in every vertical you can imagine. I’ve written five books now on marketing and this month my sixth book will be released which takes somewhat of a dramatic turn for me. This next book is called The Self-Reliant Entrepreneur and it’s really a distillation of the lessons I’ve learned over my 30 years of being an entrepreneur.
Q: Thanks for that brief recap of your career so far, John. I’d love to chat about your books today, especially your soon to be released sixth book. When does it release?
A: October 22nd, 2019.
Q: So soon! Tell us a bit about your upcoming release, The Self-Reliant Entrepreneur, and how it differs from your other books.
A: Well, my other books are pretty heavily focused on marketing. The Self-Reliant Entrepreneur combines many of the insights and lessons I’ve learned over my 30-year career with passages from some of my favorite Transcendental authors. Each day starts with a reading from a Transcendental author, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Willa Cather, Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau, followed by a short reflection and application for today’s entrepreneur.
Q: I studied literature in college so I already have somewhat of a familiarity with those authors, but can you give our readers a summary of that period and who the Transcendentalists were?
A: The Transcendentalist period was, at its heart, a countercultural movement, one of the first in America. It took place in the mid-19th century (the 1840s-1860s, roughly), so you have to consider what was going on socially and politically at that time: the country was coming to grips with the abolishment of slavery, the women’s suffrage movement was gaining steam, at the beginning of that period we were on the cusp of civil war. It was a time when there were a lot of upheavals and social reform taking place and the literature of the time reflected this pretty clearly.
The title of my book is taken from a famous essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson called Self-Reliance. The main idea behind it was that you don’t have to listen to your government, your political party, or even your peers; you should make decisions for yourself. You have everything you need to make decisions that are right for you and developing a certain level of self-trust is the most important thing that you can do.
As you can imagine, these ideas were revolutionary at the time. These sentiments were echoed in essays, novels, sermons, really anywhere that people were sharing messages. When you think of some of the great novels of that era, you think of Little Women, The Scarlet Letter, Moby Dick, etc. and those all feature very self-reliant characters.
Today, these ideas still hold a lot of sway, which is why these writings still feel so fresh. I’ve found that it’s also some of the best entrepreneurial advice that’s ever been written, bar none. I wanted to bring out great passages from works that people might not be familiar with, and I thought daily entries were a great way to accomplish that.
There are 366 entries, each with its own literary passage followed by a reflection and a thought-provoking question. The whole book is organized to follow the way an entrepreneur evolves, so you know, there are seasons that play out in the book.
Q: Awesome. Can you give us a bit of a teaser of what one of those entries is like?
A: I’ll go one step further. Why don’t I open up the book and read a full entry? If you like this reading, then there are 365 more waiting for you in my new book. So first comes the title and the Transcendental reading.
September 13th: True Potential
Every person has at times in their mind the ideal of what they should be but are not. This ideal may be high and complete or it may be quite low and insufficient, yet in all that really seeks to improve it is better than the actual character. Perhaps no one is satisfied with themselves, so they never wished to be wiser, better, and more holy. No one ever falls so low that they can see nothing higher than themselves.
Theodore Parker, A New Lesson for the Day in 1856
And now my thoughts.
What is the measure of one’s true potential? Now there’s a word charged with emotion. Oh, and it’s easy to know our potential because plenty of people have opinions about ours or lack of it, but you already know who the biggest critic of your potential is, don’t you? It’s you. Or more appropriately, it’s a limited mindset about your potential. You are limitless. We all are. If we allow it, nobody said it was going to be easy, but it might be worth the effort. Consider this idea about the mindset from Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. When people change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge and be judged framework to a learn and help learn framework. Are you operating from a judge and be judged? Train, work. Don’t waste the energy it takes to beat yourself up because you think you’re not living up to your full potential right now. Don’t wish things were different. See them for what they are and resolve to learn from them. Stop judging others. And you may find you ease up on judging yourself and your challenge.
Question for today: can you think of a moment of joyfulness from the past week or so? What was it? Why did it happen?
Q: That’s great and I think really applicable to the way things are today. We live in a society where it’s easy to feel judged, to feel boxed in, all encompassed and surrounded by media and voices that aren’t yours. It’s great how you’re taking these great literary passages and applying them to insights people can use today. You mentioned that the book also has seasons or different phases throughout. Can you expand on that?
A: It goes back to the evolution of a self-reliant entrepreneur. The first season I call planning, and in planning, we think about creating a business plan, but the first step is self-trust. If you can’t come to trust that you no longer need to be controlled by what others say or think, and then you also come to trust that you don’t need to control the outcome of everything that goes on in your business, you can start to move to a level of creativity and freedom that will allow you to actually discover, your purpose. That’s the second phase.
There’s so much content out there in business about how you have to start with a purpose and lead with your why; the problem is that most people can’t discover what their purpose is because they don’t trust themselves enough. When you develop that level of self-trust, you’re saying, “I’m on the right path. I need to do what’s in my heart, my truth, and not listen to what others say I should be doing.” That type of mindset will help you discover your purpose and passion, or rather, it will discover you.
That leads to the third phase, which is evolving. A lot of times people make out this map of what success looks like. Most successful entrepreneurs get to that level of success from practicing resilience, from sticking with it and getting back up again. Not only that, but they marry that resilience with congruence; in other words, their actions and their words are aligned.
Once you get to that point, I think a lot of entrepreneurs naturally move into the fourth stage that I call growing. Now you start to think about questions like, “What impact am I having? Whose lives are being made better by me and my business? What’s my mark? This phase isn’t just about growing your business but growing personally.
Working on making yourself a better you is ultimately always going to lead to a better business.
Q: So would you consider this a book about mindfulness and self-improvement more so than an entrepreneurial book?
A: I’ve had more than one person say that this book was improperly titled and it should just be called the self-reliant person. Ultimately, that’s true. No matter who you are and what you do, finding your purpose and your passion is going to help you. There’s no kind of business lesson in that. It’s a lot more about knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing. Mindfulness is certainly a theme of the big, but I think a better categorization would be that it’s about self-growth or self-improvement.
Q: Interesting. Would you say that it’s been a changing of seasons for you and your career as you’ve pivoted to write this book rather than the more practical, marketing books you’ve written in the past?
A: That’s certainly an element, but I’ve been thinking about this book and my lasting impact for years. I love that I’ve helped so many small businesses, but I wanted to leave something that was more universal. I hope that people who don’t know anything about me and might not be familiar with Duct Tape Marketing can pick up this book and use it as a way to practice working on themselves. That’s one of the nice things about the daily format: it takes only a few minutes to read, then you can set it aside on your nightstand or wherever you do your thing in the morning and you pick it up the next day.
Q: Or maybe even on your desk at work!
Q: Let’s end things off on a slightly lighter note. Of all the Transcendental authors you’ve quoted in this book, who would you say is your favorite?
A: I would say it has to be Henry David Thoreau, but I wouldn’t have necessarily said that at the start of this project. I read Walden and Civil Disobedience like many of us had to in high school or college, but when I got into some of his journals and lesser-known essays, I really kind of fell in love.
Q: Thanks so much for your time, John. Can you tell our readers when and where they’ll be able to pick up a copy of The Self-Reliant Entrepreneur?
A: Absolutely! The book will be available anywhere books are sold online as well as in some independent bookstores nationwide on October 22, 2019. You can also visit selfreliantentrepreneur.com to find more samples, audio readings, and additional information about the book.
John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker, and author of Duct Tape Marketing, The Referral Engine, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine, and SEO for Growth.
His newest work, The Self-Reliant Entrepreneur: 366 Daily Meditations to Feed Your Soul and Grow Your Business taps into the wisdom of 19th-century Transcendentalist literature and the author’s own 30-year entrepreneurial journey to challenge today’s entrepreneur to remain fiercely self-reliant while chasing their own version of success.
In addition to his own writing, speaking and consulting career, Jantsch is a podcasting pioneer with a continuous string of weekly podcast episodes dating back to the summer of 2005. He has interviewed thousands of guests and appeared on the other side of the mic, as a guest, hundreds of times.