How Tasty Are Your Chips and Salsa?

chips and salsa

One of the great things about going out for Mexican food is getting that free chips and salsa. Of course, it isn’t really free. The cost gets folded into the price you pay for your carnitas tacos or the killer chicken enchiladas. But it feels like a great free gift, which is part of what makes it so enjoyable.

Good content marketing uses free content in the same way. Really great free content whets the appetite and it shows off your talent at creating something tasty. Whatever your regular “main course” product is, a nice appetizer of chips and salsa can strengthen your relationships and boost your business.

Chips and Salsa Get You Ready for the Meal

Have you ever been ravenously hungry, but you didn’t quite realize it until you put the first bite into your mouth?

When you start out with some chips and salsa, you get your tastebuds in the mood for a great dinner. You get started down a path and realize you want to keep going. A few bites of something really yummy leave you primed to enjoy the full meal that’s to come.

In the same way, free content like email newsletters, blogs and autoresponder content are tasty appetizers that make your prospects hungry for something more substantial. They create an enjoyable early experience of consuming your stuff, and set up the right conditions for a great, enduring relationship.

Great Salsa Shows a Great Cook

Salsa isn’t actually very hard to make. You chop up some decent ingredients, put them together in the right ratios, and there you have it, delicious salsa.

But customers don’t know that. The assumption is that if the free salsa is out of this world, the paid main course will be even better. Free salsa is a relatively inexpensive, low-work way to make a great impression on the customer and sell her on the exceptional quality of the main course.

A great email autoresponder works the same way. When you deliver knockout content for free, your reader can’t help but ask herself, “If this is the free stuff, how amazing is the paid product going to be?”

To make free content work, be smart about it. Use the salsa model: create a PDF, an autoresponder, or another vehicle that doesn’t cost too much money or work to send out. Save free consultations, physical samples and other more expensive or labor-intensive freebies for later-stage prospects.

Salsa-and-chips content should, like their namesake, be zesty and not too filling. You want to tease the appetite, not satiate it. Which leads us to . . .

Don’t Wait Too Long to Serve the Meal

If you fill up on chips and salsa while you wait 40 minutes for the meal, what happens? Your needs have already been met. You aren’t hungry any more. You don’t devour your delicious dinner, your experience isn’t completely satisfying, and you’re not as likely to come back.

If you have something to sell, try to make an offer quickly after you put the chips and salsa on the table. You can literally offer a paid product right on the page that thanks your reader for confirming her email subscription. Or you may want to put an offer in your first message, along with that valuable chips-and-salsa content that’s got your reader’s appetite going.

If you deliver nothing but free chips and salsa for months on end, you run the risk of training your customers to expect that everything you offer will be free. Those customers can still build your business—a cheapskate who raves about you all over town is well worth cultivating—but obviously it’s better business to get as many customers as possible paying their way.

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Beatrix Kiddo’s Guide to Making It Happen


Did you happen to see Kill Bill? Quentin Tarantino, in his infinite wisdom, swirled two good and completely incompatible movies together to create a pair of interesting but confused train wrecks. I happen to like the slow-moving parts, because I’m weird. People hacking each other up with swords bores me, but I really like long conversations where we Find Out About Everything.

I hadn’t thought about this pair of movies since they came out, but lately Beatrix Kiddo, the triumphant and sometimes reluctant heroine, keeps springing to mind. I can see her calm, determined face as she sets herself to the task in front of her and starts methodically punching.

One, two, three . . . one billion and one, one billion and two, one billion and three . . .

Whether she’s recovering from a four-year coma or punching her way out of a six-foot-deep living grave, Beatrix Kiddo’s got something I need . . . focus.

Punching through to the next level

That image of Beatrix methodically punching had been flashing itself into my consciousness for weeks before I figured it out.

Now the complete flake’s way of getting things done has been working extremely well for me for years now. It’s brought me a terrific life. Great job, the world’s most wonderful kid, happy marriage, beautiful garden, and a little blog I love to death.

But I’ve been feeling a call to take it up a notch. The Men with Pens have issued a challenge as they’ve been working on my blog re-design. Do I want to stay little and comfortable, or do I want this blog to really convey something remarkable?


It’s so nice, so comfortable to just stay here where I am. To stick with what works pretty well. If I want to really grow, I have to do things I don’t yet know how to do. I have to try stuff that freaks me out. God forbid, I even have to make embarrassing mistakes.

So how do I do all that?

Punch punch punch punch punch.

Knowing Why You Want What You Want

Quentin Tarantino gave Beatrix a pretty strong (some might say cartoonishly strong) reason for moving forward. On her wedding day, when she was 9 months pregnant, the villain (that would be Bill) shot up her wedding, killed her bridegroom, shot Beatrix in the head and put her in a coma, and stole her unborn child. Getting revenge on all that is pretty good motivation.

I’m pretty glad I don’t have that kind of motivator. But I do have two forces that drive me to work nights and weekends, get up early and go to bed late, and focus my naturally flaky mind on getting my projects done and pushing through to the next level.

The first is the freedom of self-reliance. When I was 17, I went on an extended wander around Europe. I was 100% responsible for my own well-being. If I needed more cash, I scrounged a job. I went where I wanted, how I wanted, when I wanted. Ireland looked cool, so I made my way over there and spent about two months hitchhiking the circumference of the island. (Note to 17-year-olds reading this, don’t hitchhike, it’s a terrible idea. Besides, this was about 1,000 years ago, it’s more dangerous now.)

I still remember what it felt like to make my own circumstances. When you rely completely on yourself, you actually become more secure, not less so. You’ll always be able to take better care of yourself than someone else will.

I lost that habit along the way, but I’m taking it back again with a vengeance. Punch punch punch punch punch. I’m creating my own wealth, my own opportunities, my own (and my family’s) destiny.

My second motivator is the millions of little kids around the world who desperately need some help. They can’t make their own destinies. They’re too little, and there’s nothing to make a destiny out of. AIDS orphans, disfigured kids whose parents can’t afford to fix their cleft palates, kids who are just plain hungry because there’s no way to grow enough food.

I contribute 10% of my remarkable communication income to helping kids in bad circumstances. My two favorite groups right now are World Vision and Smiletrain. The more money I make, the more kids I can help. I have some pretty optimistic financial goals, fueled by the idea of helping hundreds and eventually thousands of kids.

Steve Pavlina has a pretty neat exercise to discover your life’s purpose: keep writing down possible answers until you write one that makes you cry. This one’s mine. It helps me think big–not playing the game for “comfortable” or “good enough,” but playing to win on a big scale.

Practice, Man, Practice

You don’t learn the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique in an afternoon, you know. If you want to get really good, you’ve got to practice.

I’ve been writing for a long time. I’ve written plenty of stuff that’s no good. I’ve written blog posts I thought would be popular, that ended up fizzling out. And on the other side, I’ve written stuff that got an amazing response far beyond my expectations.

If you want to get good, you’ve got to keep training yourself. Punch punch punch punch punch. You train when you’re tired. You train when you’re in a bad mood. You train when you’re short on time. You train when you have no ideas left in your head.

I’ve written pretty close to every day for about 20 years. (OK, I did take four days off for the C-section.) Writing comes more easily to me than it does to some, because my instincts are bone-deep at this point. But I also put more time and effort in than a lot of writers, because I care more.

Don’t let any of this freak you out or scare you off. Just know that it’s all about showing up. Keep showing up and you’ll start to get really good. Time’s going to pass anyway, so you might as well spend it working toward something remarkable.

At the End of the Day, Connect

One of the things I like about Beatrix Kiddo’s character is she’s not cold. Sure, she’s a ruthless assassin who can win a fight by tearing out her opponent’s (remaining) eye, but that doesn’t mean she’s not a warm person.

It doesn’t really work in the movie, but it works for me. There’s a dopiness and a humanity about Beatrix that shines through the kung fu cliches and Tarantino’s giddy affection for violence. Underneath it all, even if she is the deadliest woman in the world, she’s just a mom with a mission.

Beatrix’s happily-ever-after doesn’t come from killing everyone. (Although it does come after killing everyone. That’s the difference between Beatrix and me. I’m destroyed by guilt if I squish a spider.) It comes from finally making the connection with the human being who matters most to her. So go ahead and strap on that Hattori Hanzo katana sword, smite your enemies and triumph over the evildoers. But then make those connections. That’s where your real success will come from.

Punch punch punch punch punch. Wish me luck.

Happy Birthday To Me


Please join me in wishing Remarkable Communication a happy birthday! I started the blog exactly a year ago, on August 11, 2007.

You’ll get a real post later this week, but today I hope you’ll indulge me as I look back over the year. I’m not one whose blog rocketed out of the ground–I’ve build traffic slowly and steadily, and I’m just now rounding the bend of 1,000 subscribers. (Welcome and thank you to all!)

Growth online is rarely linear, and I have some ambitious expectations for the year to come. (Along those lines, I want to start posting somewhat more frequently again as soon as my mysterious project X is completed. I’m thinking Septemberish, but stay tuned.)

Early days

On August 15, I wrote a post called Setting the Table, in which I said “It’s been kind of eerie in here as I’m working on providing a reasonable baseline of content before I try to drive any traffic in. It’s a little like setting the table before a big party. Who’s going to show up? Will everyone get along and have a fabulous time? How drunk are they going to get?”

The next day, Seth Godin was my first commenter, on a post called The Joys of Eclectic Blogging. I will confess that this cheered me up quite a bit.

(By the way, Seth, if you’d like to make that an annual tradition and say howdy in the comments, that would be just fantastic. Let’s see, how can I set some bait that might make that happen . . . umm, Triiibes, otaku, permission, Squidoo and Little MissMatched. OK, it’s a cheap trick, but it’s done with love.)

On September 6, Brian Clark showed up in the comments on a post called Make Something for Its Own Sake, getting me all flustered and pleased. Copyblogger linked to that post on the 9th, which was even nicer.

Since Brian was nice enough to link to me, I thought the least I could do was to follow his advice and try to think of at least one decent headline. So I wrote a post called 5 Editor’s Secrets to Help You Write Like a Pro, which was the first post I wrote to get any significant StumbleUpon traffic (it still does).

The now-infamous Naomi Dunford found Remarkable Communication right around the middle of September and showed up for the first time in my comments. She proceeded to start a little blog on home business marketing that instantly trounced mine for traffic and subscribers, but I love her anyway.

On September 20, without making any effort to do so, I wrote my first post that got any significant amount of Google traffic, called How to Tell a Story. This one still ranks very nicely for “how to tell a story” on Google, and still sees traffic every day from that search.

On October 5, Seth Godin linked to a post that I had written to try to attract his attention, so I guess that worked pretty well. It was called Transparency and the Meatball Sundae and it brought me a nice whomp of traffic and picked up a few hundred subscribers for remarkable communication.

I’d walk you through the rest of the year, but I’m fairly sure that violates the Geneva Convention’s rules on torture. Here are just a few more highlights:

Slow and steady growth

A post called We Are Not Powerless revealed to the world just how big a bleeding heart I actually am. Helping kids who are in bad situations is a big part of what drives me, and it actually provides me with a lot of fuel to grow my business. I try to keep the do-goodery to a minimum here, but I’m kind of leaning toward creating a post along these lines every September 17 to keep it real and remember what I’m doing it for.

My relationship marketing series has slowly grown a nice following. This post, written in November, was the first: Create a Human Connection.

The Ten Commandments of New Social Media was pure social media bait, and it worked–I got a great flow of Stumble traffic for this, as well some nice links. I also happen to think it was a pretty decent post.

Life since Copyblogger

In March, I screwed up my courage and sent Brian Clark a tweet to ask if he might maybe some day, if he got sick or broke his fingers or something, maybe want a guest post? To my happy shock, he asked me if I’d be willing to write for Copyblogger regularly. More cheer. My first post there was 3 Sure-Fire Steps for Beating the Boring Content Blues. Writing for 40,000 readers was lots of fun.

I’ve done a post every week for Copyblogger since then; you can see the whole collection at Sadly, it also introduced the era of “1-2 posts a week for remarkable communication, if you’re lucky.” I’m hoping to improve on that later this year.

I wrote What a Toddler Easter Egg Hunt Can Teach You About Success shortly after I got back from SOBCon, inspired by communicatrix’s advice to go ahead and get a little more personal with the blog. It got great traffic and lots of love, so I guess she was right. She’s pretty smart about these things. That advice, combined with taking some extra care to produce the best I could do, since I wasn’t posting as often as I’d like, led directly to posts like How to Take a Punch, The Nice Guy’s Guide to Authority, and The Complete Flake’s Guide to Getting Things Done.

Probably my biggest linkbait of the year was 50 Things Your Customers Wish You Knew, which was inspired by Copyblogger’s Cosmo Headline technique. (I think the Cosmo original was something like 50 Things Guys Wish You Knew.) Lots of folks loved that post and shared that love with their friends. I actually re-read it myself every once in awhile, it’s the kind of advice we know but keep forgetting.

So what’s up next?

There it is, your guide to a year of remarkable communication. For the second year, as I said, I’m going to try to post somewhat more frequently, but my first priority is to keep up post quality, rather than posting a lot of fluff or filler. Since my posts in the past months have been doing well with traffic, social media referrals and comments, I’m going to assume that’s still what you want!

I also want to start making better connections with the hundreds of amazing blogs and bloggers that I haven’t been making time for lately. So look for more links and pointers to the amazing variety of terrific stories on the Web (and not just at Seth’s site).

And I’d love to create a survey for my peeps here, to get a better idea of who you are and the stuff that interests you.

Thank you to the three people who are still reading this post. You are a dear for indulging my reminiscences. I’ve got a “real” post cooking for you that I think you will like–with a little luck, I’ll get that for you later this week.

Thank you to every one of my fantastic readers, you are an amazing bunch and you have taught me so much. Let’s go kick another ten miles of ass together in the next year, ok? I think that remarkable communication is going to see some pretty cool stuff in the next few months.

And if you don’t subscribe now, go ahead and do that. I only post about once a week, you don’t want to miss it!

Relationship Marketing Series #6, Connect With One Person


Even though (with any luck) you’re marketing to lots and lots of people, no one wants to be a faceless speck in a crowd.

Maybe it’s a result of the industrial age. Yes, we like to be in tribes, but tribes are small, intimate things. A tribe might be 8 people or 80, but it’s not 80,000. The greater the scale we have to deal with in our jobs, our commutes, our grocery stores, or even our churches, the more we look for one-to-one relationships.

We’re born alone. (Even twins can’t manage that one side-by-side.) And we all secretly think we have problems that no one else has. We want someone who really gets us. Someone who speaks to us, and just to us. Someone who listens to our problems and fears, and then makes those go away.

Know Who You’re Talking To

Marketing 101 tells you to know your market. Too many marketers confuse that with demographics. “My customers are married women 26-40 with one or two children, who subscribe to Redbook and Parenting, and carry a MasterCard.”

Demographics are collections of traits. They come in real handy if you’re buying a mailing list or deciding where to advertise, but demographics aren’t people. They’re just a collection of patterns.

If you have something to sell to that demographic, you need to be thinking about Cynthia (who hates to be called Cindy), who’s 33 and a little bored at work, has a four-year-old named Ben and a six-year-old named Ruby, reads Parenting even though it makes her feel guilty and her mom got her a subscription to Redbook but all she reads are the dessert recipes and articles about dieting, and yes she knows that makes no sense but she does it anyway, and yeah she has a MasterCard, because she got mad at the bank that issued her Visa so she cut it up.

Talk to One Person

Whether you’re writing a blog or an email newsletter or a set of postcards or a yellow pages ad, you need to be thinking about Cynthia.

What can you help her out with? Why is your stuff the perfect match for her problems? Does your gym offer really great childcare, so she doesn’t feel like a rat for parking her kids there for an hour? Does your product respect the fact that she’s pulled in 20 directions as a working mother, and help clarify her choices so she can focus on what she needs to do? Does your carpet-cleaning service use nontoxic solvents, so she can quit worrying about poisoning her kids and the dog just so her mother-in-law will quit making that face when she comes over?

What’s not working for Cynthia right now? How can you make that work better?

To get started on that conversation, I found a nice resource on a copywriters’ forum [note: now moved to Michel Fortin's blog, the link's been updated] called the 60-minute naked truth sales letter. Even if you never intend to use any kind of sales letter, the things you’ll discover with this exercise will help you find the right messages for Cynthia. You’ll get a good, high-level grasp on what you really need to let her know about.

How Do You Find Cynthia?

You’ll be able to find Cynthia by paying attention.

First, make sure Cynthia loves your stuff. She’s your perfect customer. She’ll buy anything and everything you have, because your solutions line up exactly with her problems.

If you realized you’ve imagined a Cynthia who’s just not that into you, start from scratch. Your Cynthia needs to be the person who loves what you do and how you do it, can afford your products and services, and is someone you can figure out how to reach. (In other words, you could buy a mailing list of Cynthias, or you can find a joint venture partner who’s got an email list of Cynthias.)

Talk to the customers you have, especially the ones who love you. (You also want to pay close attention to the ones who hate you, but that’s another exercise.) What’s going on with them? What’s freaking them out right now? How do they feel about the economic situation? What’s going on in their personal relationships? Is this election a big deal for them? Do they think it’s going to change things, and if so, is that good or bad, from their point of view?

If you’ve got a bricks and mortar operation, spend a lot of time on the floor hanging out with customers. Watch them. Listen to them talk to one another. Ask them questions.

If you’re online, go to forums where your customers hang out, and listen to what they gripe about. Set up Google alerts about the kinds of problems you solve. Send out surveys, to both existing customers and potential customers.

Make it very easy to give you feedback, and pay close attention. Look for patterns. Try to figure out the underlying problems and worries that are beneath people’s words.

Speak Her Language

One great thing about all this paying attention is that it lets you discover the language of your customers. Maybe they talk like Katharine Hepburn, and maybe they talk like Roseanne Barr. You’ve got to listen before you can find that out.

Use the phrases, metaphors and examples that your customers use. Describe their problems the way they do. When they give you testimonials, don’t clean up little grammar errors or odd turns of phrase. Keep as much of the original language as you can. A little imperfection shows that it’s real.

Obviously, to make this work, you have to get to a point where that language is natural to you. Parody makes for lousy advertising. If you’re Roseanne and your customer is Katharine, find someone who’s more like your customer to read through your stuff and help with the tone. You can’t make a real connection in a language that’s utterly foreign to you.

One giant advantage you have over Coca-Cola or Johnson & Johnson is that you can create a true sense of personal connection with your customers. Not every customer wants that, but you can find the ones who do.

The worst mistake small-business marketers make is thinking their market is anyone with a pulse. Find your Cynthia, and just write for her. (Even the non-Cynthias will respond to this, because your tone will be personal and genuinely friendly.) Have a cup of coffee with Cynthia when you sit down to write a blog post or an email newsletter article. Let her know what you can help her with today.

When you spend your time thinking about what else you could be doing to make Cynthia’s life better, you’ll start to see some very exciting things happen in your marketing.

So who’s your Cynthia? Let us know in the comments . . .

The Relationship Marketing Series

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Flickr Creative Commons image by geeknerd99