How to Sell ANYTHING — Including Your Ideas and Yourself

It doesn’t matter whether you are writing an invitation, an e-mail asking for something, a memo outlining a proposal, a speech presenting your ideas, or a note to your sweetheart asking for forgiveness, the basic rules apply: The message is about the reader and his interests, needs, and desires, not you and your wants. It should contain some significant promise of benefits (again to the reader), implicit or stated.

The benefits should be concrete — easy for your reader to imagine. Any claims you make should be supported by facts. Difficult concepts should be included only if you can clearly illustrate them with examples and analogies. Simple is better. One overriding idea presented repeatedly in different ways and with building evidence is much stronger than a string of related but distinct ideas. If you can remember to put these rules into play in all your communications, you’ll notice an amazing change in your life.

Suddenly, doors that have been long closed to you will start to open. People who seemed resistant or remote will become friendly. Problems you couldn’t resolve will get fixed quickly. And you’ll make a lot more money too. A small example is on my desk in the form of a letter written to AWAI by a student. After finishing just the first section of the copywriting course, she had written two ads — one that sold an antique trailer on eBay for seven times what she had paid for it and one that sold a mediocre home, in a single week, for 20% more than she had paid for it five months earlier. (And this was at “the wrong time of the year in a slowing housing market.”)

Another example: Yesterday, I had lunch with Paul. He and I have two decent-sized properties together, and they’re throwing off some good income — but he has been reluctant to do any more deals with me because of various concerns he has about the market. I wanted to persuade Paul to make a positive decision, because I felt sure he would not only make a lot of money but also have a lot of fun with it. So, to prepare myself for our lunch conversation, I read over some recent ETR messages in which Justin Ford had recounted various real-estate deals that he’d taken part in during the last several months.

I also made a mental list of some good deals I’d done that Paul didn’t yet know about and a few done by other, mutual friends. I was armed with a plethora of real-estate success stories, all of which I hit him with during the course of our meal. I wanted Paul to picture himself in a new, less troubling, more fun and financially rewarding business in a year’s time — and I repeated this single “big” idea over and over again during our conversation.

By the time he was done with his salad, I could see in his eyes that the message had taken root. I didn’t dwell on all the problems and hurdles we’d face. Instead, I tried to help him imagine the benefits this new business would bring him by presenting him with concrete details. Here’s some of what I told him: You won’t be tied down to the office for eight or 10 hours a day. You’ll work like Peter (a friend), driving around in your convertible, looking at homes, and enjoying the fresh air. You won’t have to hassle with all those faceless government regulators you deal with now.

As a local real-estate guy, you’d get to know all the bureaucrats — and you’ll soon have them charmed and bending over backward to help you out and invite you to ball games. Before you know it, you’ll be making a fortune. Look at the money Frank McKinney (an extremely successful Florida real-estate developer) has made. You’re as smart as or smarter than he is. I can see you surpassing him in two or three years and being on the cover of the Miami Herald (“South Florida’s New Land Baron!”).

You get the idea. I was doing the basics: Presenting Paul with a simple, powerful idea — that he could transform his life in a short time by getting into real estate. Talking about his benefits, not mine. Making the benefits concrete. Supporting my claims with facts. I wanted Paul to get more involved with real estate and, since I knew he was naturally resistant to the idea, I took the time to plan what I was going to say. What I said was right out of the AWAI textbook. And it worked.