“I am not a product of my circumstances, I am a product of my decisions.”
– Stephen Covey
Our guest today is business legend, Jay Abraham.
As Founder / CEO of The Abraham Group, Jay has spent his career solving complex problems, fixing underperforming businesses, and identifying massive opportunities. He has dealt with virtually every type of business scenario and solved almost every type of business question and challenge, signiﬁcantly increasing the bottom lines of 10,000+ clients in 1,000+ industries.
Jay has worked with globally recognized organizations, including AT&T, Baskin Robbins, Microsoft, FedEx, and Merrill Lynch, as well as renowned individuals like Brian Tracy, Daymond John, and Tony Robbins, and small businesses all over the world.
Throughout his career, Jay has maintained an ongoing presence in mainstream media, including USA Today, The New York Times, and Entrepreneur Magazine.
In this episode:
- The most memorable moments from Jay’s acclaimed career
- How he became the most renowned business consultant in the world
- Why most entrepreneurs fail to break through to the next level; and
- What you can do to unlock the potential and profitability in your business
Before we begin, the right bit of inspiration can completely change the trajectory of someone’s life, so if there’s a friend or loved one who needs to hear this episode or could use some help to Win the Day, share it with them right now.
Let’s WIN THE DAY with Jay Abraham!
Jay, great to see you! I know you're a super busy guy – and it's a bit surreal having you here in the studio, so I really appreciate it. Thanks for coming on the Win the Day podcast.
Thank you, and I loved your prelude. I wish my wife heard that because she wouldn't yell at me for not taking garbage out!
We'll send her the footage as soon as the episode is live.
Good, thank you!
To kick things off, who was the very first person to believe in you?
The very first person that believed in me was the man that I worked with for the product, Icy Hot. He gave me a desk and a phone – no money, but a lot of instruction and a lot of encouragement. And he spent evenings after he was done with his job, working with me to make sure that I didn't go awry.
He showed me that you could create a vision that didn't exist and – if you believed in it enough, you kept course-correcting, you were vigilant, and you were passionately committed to evolving your ability – you could make anything happen. He took an idea and he ended up selling his businesses for hundreds of millions of dollars. I'm talking about in the '70s when that was a lot of money.
And he started from scratch. He worked for a pest control company. He was just an operator, and he realized that pest control operators got taken advantage of by the big company. So he started a company just to service basically pest control operators who were beleaguered and being unrecognized, and he did all kinds of wonderful things nobody else did.
He gained almost all the market. He went to the next market, which were automobile detail shops. And then he just owned niches where he felt that audience was underserved and wasn't getting the best service or respect or support.
He was a very interesting man and he taught me a lot.
So you developed a love for helping businesses because you developed a passion for the people that were running the businesses. Is that right?
I realized early in my life, James, that an entrepreneur is a remarkable person. They’re somebody who, in the purest sense, has a passion for creating value for a segment of a market, and they work their heart and soul out. They commit their time, their effort, their passion, their resources – or their hopes, their dreams, their income expectation, their satisfaction, gratification, psychic reward, expectation. It's their hope for the future.
I gained great empathy and a very great sadness because so many of them work so much harder than they have to for so much less. And they just didn't understand how to make their investment pay off more, first and foremost, for their audience because that's where you get the reward.
But yeah, I was always taken with how passionate entrepreneurs were over what I would call basically ‘corporate’ types.
Yeah, people in a corporate career don't really understand the value of having every weekend off and not being bothered so much after hours.
Well, I think big corporations, they stimulate, not mediocrity, but almost an ambivalent attitude and a disconnect to the end. You're so far removed from the end game, which is serving the consumer that it becomes very, very abstract.
But I think an entrepreneur, he or she is playing right on the front lines of capitalism – their decisions, their efforts produce either success or failure, income or not, and it's just a very different game. They aren't as prosperous, they're not billion dollar entities, but they're so much more fascinating, they're so much more dimensional, they're so much more authentic, and they have so much more joy, I think.
Because a lot of people in corporate America, they're not that happy. They're ambivalent, apathetic. They're going through the motions because they get paid a lot. A lot of entrepreneurs don't get paid as much, but they have more joy and more happiness.
Happiness is correlated to the fulfillment you get out of what you do, who you do it for, and the feedback loop.
You're all about Win the Day. Many years ago I was in Mumbai, which is a huge, huge city in India, and on a weekend we all went up into the mountains to see the biggest temple. And at the temple in the back were all these people from, I can't remember what Third World country, working. They were the workers.
And in the back next to the river were these two little naked little boys, about four, carrying their little naked brothers and sisters who were maybe nine months playing games and smiling and they had nothing. They had nothing and they were happy.
Really, I'm introducing this because I know what you're all about, but I think people don't realize that happiness isn't really correlated to making money. It really isn't correlated to how prestigious, it isn't correlated to whether you have a Ferrari or you have a big mansion or you've got the hottest looking woman wife.
It's correlated to the fulfillment you get out of what you do, who you do it for, and the feedback loop you get. And I always was able to understand and appreciate that and how that drove entrepreneurs.
You talk about having three midlife crises and I think it's really interesting that someone who focuses so much on business where profitability is obviously a significant part of that, but on the flip side, making sure that people are happy in the present.
What can people do to make sure they're connected with that happiness a little bit more without having to go through things like divorce or burnout in their careers?
First, realize that no two people are ever having the same reality because they don't come from the same exact background. Their values aren't the same. They didn't have the same hour day as one another unless they're inextricably conjoined twins sitting in the same room all their life. So you have to give respect that what somebody else's perspective is, even if it doesn't conform to yours, that's their reality. And until you appreciate it, you can't really connect.
I learned very early that your job in life is to examine, explore, evaluate, appreciate, understand, acknowledge, and respect how other people see life, even if you don't agree with it. Because that freeze frame moment in time is their reality and you have to deal with it, whether it's your spouse, your lover, your child, your coworker, your boss, your vendor. And when you appreciate it, that's being a human being. If we all saw it the same way we'd be Stepford people. That's the first thing.
The second, and you talked about, I'm not going to go through all the machinations, but I spent over half a million dollars on therapy and most of it was a waste. I'm not demeaning the therapist. I'm demeaning the fact that you get into very meaningful discussion and they look at their watch and it's been 50 minutes and right at the precipice of a breakthrough, the session's over and they go, "Okay, we'll pick up on this next week, James." And you're sitting the rest of the week until next week, you're neurotic, you've gotten not benefit, you've gotten more frustrated and you've gotten teased.
So when I did it, I bought mine for a full week. I just bought them for a week. And if I couldn't come, I'd send every colleague, friend, coworker that was screwy. But when I'd go, I would talk through until I came to conclusions. I got one thing for half a million dollars, which I believe is priceless, and I'll share it…
Most people are deluded to think that the end result is the answer.
It’s that most people are deluded to think that the end result is the answer. That when you make a million dollars, when you get to be the executive vice president, when you get that beach house, when you get that Ferrari or you get that gorgeous wife or you've got the fastest growing business or anything, that that alone is going to forever liberate your life. That the heavens are going to open, the angels are going to come out and trumpet, that nirvana will bestow, that you'll never have another problem, that you'll just be perpetually and permanently joyous and happy.
That's bullshit. The truth is that the process is all we've got. This conversation, interesting and hopefully impactful to others. This is as good as it gets. We were talking before to the gentleman that owns the studio. I thought that was fascinating. It was intriguing to see his perspective. It was very fascinating. I'll talk to anybody.
When I used to travel extensively, particularly in countries that didn't speak English, I had a protocol. I would always go first class on a glorious airline so I would drink a lot, because they had great wines and great liquors and liqueurs. When I'd get to my hotel, I'd sleep for 15 hours and hydrate, but then the next day I would sit in the lobby for four hours smiling at people until they smiled back. I would then ride the elevator for about two hours standing at the door, facing in and smiling. And after people couldn't look down enough, they would look at me and smile.
And then I would also get off on every floor and endeavor to talk and engage the staff, the housekeeper, the servers. And you could see when somebody smiled at you or even when they tried to engage you and acknowledge you, those people's body posture would change, they'd smile. I believe every human being wants to be acknowledged. They want to feel relevant. They want to be heard. They want to feel like they are understood.
And of all the times you've done that all over the world, was there ever anything significant that you received back not long after? Which I know definitely wasn't your intention. I'm just curious.
I've gotten so much back, but it's never my intent. I've gotten invitations to join people at massive events or meetings because I would just engage them sitting somewhere. I've gotten to meet people's families. They take me to their home for dinner and I would go, because I thought it was a giggle.
I've gotten all kinds of just these free meals, but it was never my intention. And probably more than that is I've gotten a sense of inner joy and fulfillment and satisfaction and gratification that was exhilarating. It was intoxicating.
A lot of people have low self-esteem or have adopted a mediocrity mindset. Do you feel a big part of that is that they've attached their validation and self-worth to something externally?
Yeah, that's a great question.
I think first of all, we’re deluded. We think that our worth comes from the outside and it doesn't. I mean, it's great if you like my perspectives. It's great if your audience appreciates it. It's fine. But whether they do or not, I have confidence that my beliefs for me are very, very righteous. They're very meaningful.
I think we have to like ourselves. If we don't like ourselves, it's very hard to think anyone else can like us. And we have to like ourselves for the quality of human being we are. Not for our stature, not for our body, not for our significance, but just that we're good human being. We love, we laugh, we care, we empathize, we respect, we appreciate, we love to love the fact that we are a meaningful human being. And the human condition, it's a remarkable thing.
If we don't like ourselves, it's very hard to think anyone else can like us.
So I’ve traveled to so many places and I realized something profound: whether you go to China, whether you go to Japan, whether you go to Indonesia, whether you go to Vietnam, everyone's the same. Parents want better lives for their children. They want to work less. They want to have more happiness and joy. They don't want their families to have to suffer.
And if you understand that every human being pretty much is the same. It's unfortunate that there's communists, socialists, there's political angst. But deep down human beings are fundamentally good people and they get awry because they get maligned in their values because they are deluded to think that what the world thinks of them is who they are.
When you try to live for others, you'll never live for yourself.
Out of all the travel that you have done and different stages that you've had in your career, is there a particularly dark day that stands out you'd be open to sharing about?
Sure. I have so many. I can share many of them because it's just part of life.
I’ve been married three times. I'm not recommending it, but I have. And the good news is I have seven wonderful children, most all are grown. But I got married the first time at age 18 and we eloped at the county courthouse. We were forced to live with my parents, but on the way home, we were in the middle of a three-car accident and I got taken to my mother's with my then-wife in the cab of the wrecker, of the tow truck, and we had this undrivable car in the driveway. And we were only able to buy a car that wouldn't start when it rained. So my then-wife had to get this car that you couldn't drive, but it was not legally drivable, but you could use it enough to push the other car down the street to start it, and I had to do that.
Then I got my first good job and we saved to get our apartment. And the day we moved in, I was having to take three buses to go to work, and I lost my job and I was too embarrassed, and so I didn't go home until the last bus. And that same week I left our pathetic used car open and someone stole the car seat and I couldn't afford another one for two months.
Most people get maligned because they mistakenly believe that what the world thinks of them is who they are. So, if you want to live for others, live for yourself first.
When I was young, I was in Dallas for a job that I thought was going to be my dream job, and it turned out I didn't perform due diligence and I was selling things and putting all my expenses on my credit card and then getting reimbursed, but they went bankrupt when I had $10,000 worth of charges, which back then was a lot. And I was taking someone to lunch and in front of them, they cut my credit card out and I didn't have a penny to pay for it. That was very difficult.
When I made a lot of money, I had one client only and they were paying me a lot, $200,000 on average a month. It was profit sharing, and this was in the '70s, a lot of money. And they were my only client, and I just bought with my then-wife a new house, and we put every dime into fixing it. And the business we were in, which was the commodities business, had a very bad setback and they got in trouble, and in one day I got a call that I was their biggest expense and they cut me off and I had no money at all, no other clients at all, spent everything. That was pretty traumatic.
I got more. I mean, I got plenty more!
Did that teach you about the importance of not putting all your eggs in one basket?
Yes, that's why I have many sources of income, many different clients. It’s also why I always live below my means.
You came to my home, it's a beautiful home, but I could have afforded a house five times as nice when I bought it. And I realized there's always going to be someone that has a bigger house. But I had a lot of clients that would buy $20 million houses and the first time they got in trouble, they lost everything. I never cared about that.
But I had fabulous setbacks. I mean, it's a funny... It's probably an oxymoron, a fabulous setback.
That's a good attitude to failure!
Well, it's very interesting. I went through a divorce I didn't expect to, and I was making tens of million dollars and I ended up owing tens of million when I was out. And I had an unexpected custody suit, and right at the end, I was so broke, I had to sell my wife's Mercedes to pay that month's legal fee.
And because I needed to pay another $200,000 and didn't have it, I had to do somebody else's seminar and the only date they could do, it conflicted with the court date when they adjudicated my custody. And because I didn't even look like I could go to the thing, I didn't get custody or even partial custody. That was pretty painful.
I had a business partner who I paid about $10 million to run my business, and he ran it in the ground and we had to really regroup the whole thing after getting caught in an unexpected $25 million partnership dissolution litigation that I'd never planned for, and I lost all the money that I had then.
You want me to go on?
What's so interesting about all of those things that you shared there is just before that you spoke about connecting to happiness, enjoying the journey, and that true joy is in the present. I think that's really profound.
Well, life is about accepting surprises, because somebody said something else to me. They said, "Life isn't always fun and life is not always fair, but it's always fascinating." What are you going to do? Are you going to sit there?
I mean, if you think about it, somebody also said, you're either going to be a victor or a victim in life. And external, sort of what you said, but I'm not as articulate, the external factors aren't what are going to determine. If you want to see who the cause of either of those outcomes will be, go in the mirror and point. That's who he or she is.
Yeah, it's like that Stephen Covey quote from the start of the episode.
And Stephen was a great friend and a mentor of mine, and his son is, too, Stephen M. R., who's the leading authority on business trust building, which is quite a profound area to explore. Probably not appropriate for right now, but it's a really fascinating area.
My mother used to say, "If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger." But somebody once said to me, "How do you know when you are progressing?" And I said, "You're always progressing. You just may not recognize it." Every experience, if you learn what to do more of or less of, you're progressing. What you do with it, you may not act on it, but you're progressing with every minute of every day. Everything that happens, every word you say.
When I have a conversation with anybody, an experience like this, when I'm done and I'm by myself, I will spend 10 or 15 minutes reflecting on a number of things. What just happened? What did you say that I was really profoundly impacted by? How did you deliver in a way that I really found appealing that I might want to appropriate? What did I not like about you? What did I disagree with? What did I say that I really felt was very, very impactful, that I'm very happy I said? What did I say that I didn't like? What should I have said? What did I learn? How can I be better from all this integration?
If you want to see who is responsible for the outcome you end up with, look in the mirror and point.
Most people, James, they go through life. If you ask somebody, "What'd you do today?" they can't really tell you. "What was each segment of your day like?" they don't know because it's just a big hazy amorphous. It's just opaque sort of an existence. I don't think most people really live. They're voyeurs in the outer periphery, like the little boy with his nose against the glass of the candy store. And if life is a candy store, most of us just have our little noses pressed against it, when there's no one keeping us from walking in.
We have a very good friend, his name is Perry Marshall, and he talks about four quadrants of a life, and he says most people operate about three quarters of their time doing just wasteful things. They're checking their emails, they're prepping for doing nothing. And he said, very few people do what he calls renaissance time, which is where you elevate yourself to this elevated and rarefied state where you're really, you're creative, you're cleansing, you're regenerating, you're clarifying, you're invigorating, you're intoxicating, you're refueling your psyche.
What was the tipping point for you to get so well-known around the world? Was there a particular moment or action or a decision that you made?
I'm the accidental marketing expert. So I always was active in helping companies grow their business. That's what I did in the beginning. And no one would've known me other than a couple of industries. I was operating in the background. But I went through a divorce and I had to stop doing it, and I decided I wanted to get back on the horse because when I did it, I was great. I was making tens of millions of dollars. And I'm talking about in the '70s and early '80s.
But when I started thinking, "Well, how did I do it?" I had done it pretty intuitively. I had a methodology, but it was automatic and it was conjured up here [in my mind]. I needed to figure out how to do it again, because I lost the momentum. And I'd helped 40 or 50 newsletters, I'd helped Tony Robbins, I'd helped Success Magazine, I'd helped Entrepreneur Magazine, I'd helped all these influencers that back when they were really, they had followers and it was very, very tight bond and I'd made them hundreds of millions of dollars.
I asked if they would be willing to endorse a small, little event that I was going to do that was going to be very audacious. And they all said yes, because they knew my ability to be rather remarkable and my intention to be the betterment of everybody. I decided I was going to do a $15,000 event – back then the average event was about $1,000. And I was probably going to get 10 or 15 people, but it would force me to codify what had made me great so I could remember it, so I could start doing it again.
They were willing to say really remarkable things about me, which were flattering. But instead of getting 10 people, we got 350 people the first time at $15,000, and I was shocked. And I accidentally became a seminar giver. It was never my intent. And I started doing programs. I did Entrepreneur Magazine and we grew it 900% in a year. I did Icy Hot. We grew it 20,000% in 15 months. I did the investment firm. We grew it from $300,000 to $500 million in two years. So I had lots of profound, big success stories. But when I started doing the seminars, we got something like a hundred thousand success stories and we were able to really just tell the story, and I was that good at that time.
I got very frustrated teaching people when most of them didn't do anything with it, and I liked working with private clients that did things.
Back then, I had an advantage over everybody because I understood things. Today there’s so much disseminated knowledge that that kind of advantage is a little bit less, it's far more difficult to achieve. But I had such an advantage over everybody and I was so committed externally. And I understood because I was always trying to understand the drivers of everything, so I understood it at such a seminal level that people had been benefited. I helped tons of people very honestly make tens of millions of dollars. So they were very willing to do what they'd never done, which is go way out on the line and say, "This guy is way better than sliced bread. This guy made me all this money. This guy can help you..."
So as they were willing to say that, I just put it into formats and my reputation took off. And because I was able to not just teach theoreticism, but I was able to help people see the implications, the applications, how to adapt and adopt it. Basically correlated to however they needed to apply it in their own business life. I just started getting testimonial after testimonial, and it became really easy.
The only reason that I stopped doing it, I guess, is because I got burnt out being intellectual entertainment. I got very frustrated teaching people when most of them didn't do anything with it, and I liked working with private clients that did things.
You've helped so many people all over the world. Who has helped you the most and what's the biggest lesson that you've got from it?
People ask me a variation of that and they think I'm avoiding it, but it's the opposite. So I've had more mentors than you can imagine. I was mentored by the man I told you about. I was mentored by the founder of Entrepreneur Magazine. I was mentored by the number one direct response copywriter in the world. I was mentored by a man who was a billionaire in the mail order business. I was mentored by a billionaire barter magnate. I've been mentored by a famous private equity firm executive. I mean, I've been very blessed because people have found me interesting enough that they would share.
Also, I've guided the positioning for about 300 world-class experts. You talk about the Tony Robbins and the Stephen Coveys, but I’ve helped every kind imaginable, and none of them came to me for help with their methodology. They came for help commanding the value of what their methodology should mean to somebody, so people would be eager to avail themselves of it, to go to their seminar or to retain their advisory help.
But I had to get a compression education first. So I got educated at 300 different... I mean, talk about sales. I mean, I helped, as an example, the world's largest multi-variable testing organization, and I looked at $2 billion worth of variations. People don't realize you do something one way, it produces X. You shift a little bit, it could be 10X.
I worked with the organization for the person who discovered process improvement optimization, highest and best use theory. I worked with the world's largest strategic litigation consulting firm. They had 150 PhD, sociologists, and psychologists, and they would look at everything from venue for litigation to jury selection to how to position the case. They had a graphics department, and it was very much like a forensic accountant. They would say, "Well, are we trying to depict pain and suffering or minimize it?" And they can do that with a graphic.
And I did hundreds of experts and I learned all these things and sort of became a mishmash. But I've been very blessed to associate with a very... I think probably the biggest thing is I have either self-selected, been very fortunate or sought after people who had enormous integrity, an unimaginable moral compass, enormous, enormous ethos, and that's rubbed off on me.
Is there an enduring lesson that you think about every day or something that you've incorporated into your life more than others?
Yeah, but it's a little different because at my age I wake up and the first lesson is, “Thank you for waking up.” Because when you get older, you don't know if you will wake up.
But you realize as you get older, your wisdom level. I mean, your body may not be as good, but your wisdom, your humanity, your humility, your compassion, your curiosity, your fascination with everything, with life, with colors, with greenery, with flowers and birds and little children and things that are fascinating, achievement, bridges that span an enormous amount, skyscrapers, pharmaceutical breakthroughs. You become more just fascinated.
I think that innocent, childlike curiosity is very important. Humor is very important. You can't laugh and stay depressed. You can't laugh and stay negative. You can't. We used to talk about the three Ps: passion, purpose and possibility. But if you don't have passion for something, someone, you can't have a meaningful purpose. If you have passion behind a purpose, then you have to be able to see the possibility and believe you can manifest it.
They came for help commanding the value of what their methodology should mean to somebody, so people would be eager to avail themselves of it, to go to their seminar or to retain their advisory help.
There's a great quote, "If you set your sights on the moon and the stars, one thing is certain, you won't end up with a handful of mud." You may not hit that, but you're not going to end up down there.
And I've been exposed to remarkable people, achievers, humanitarians. One of my clients was the Ayurvedic physician to the Dalai Lama. So I've just had fascinating experiences on a worldwide basis, and it's made me not arrogant or egotistical or condescending or feel like I'm any better than anyone.
I feel that I'm just an ordinary human being and everyone else has the same relative value, worth. It doesn't matter if they're the housekeeper or they're the billionaire's scion. They all are just human beings.
What about walking into those rooms? Did you ever feel a little bit nervous walking into a room with so many of these other people? What was your mindset and self-talk entering some of those environments where the world’s most influential people would be?
I've never been intimidated by anybody, but not because I felt I was special. I felt I was irrelevant, but I don't mean that in terms of a denigrating self-esteem.
I felt like I was more interested in them, rather than trying to impress them with me. I was just trying to learn about them. I just found everybody fascinating. And my self-worth wasn't offended if somebody rejected me. Although with all truth, very few people have because my intention is totally external. I think when you put your focus external, there's a great quote, "The most selfish thing you can do is be selfless." We are so limiting in the fulfillment we get when we're all consumed with ourselves, when it's not even as important.
Whether you believe in karma or energy or any kind of spiritual bet, there is a correlation between externally focused people and the richness they have in life and internally focused people and the sadness they have in life.
You are the personification of the Dale Carnegie quote where he talks about it's much better to be interested than interesting. I feel like you being able to carry that through the different stages of your career has enabled you to absorb so much of the greatness from the other people that you've seen and connect with them. And I'm sure they've been able to teach you a lot of great things along the way as you've continued to level up in every way.
Yeah, it's always been a natural facet of my being or my psyche, but I had an experience coincidentally in Sydney, Australia, 40 years ago that really reinforced what you're sort of saying, and I'll crystallize it and maybe contextualize it a little bit.
So when I started out, it was rather remarkable. I was earning at my seminars more money than most seminar givers were earning in a lifetime. For one, we were so very significant and I was traveling the world and selling out. When I'd go to Australia, we would do three seminars, three main ones, Sydney, Melbourne, Queensland, and then those were $5,000 in the '80s. And then we would do a $25,000 one at Sanctuary Cove on Surfers at the Gold Coast.
And we flew to Sydney one time and my family was tired and they went back to the Sheraton Hotel we were staying in, which was one of the very top ones downtown. They went to bed and I couldn't sleep, and I went to the concierge floor, which was the top, and there was one man there, and I was always curious. He was the only one there. And I sat down and said, "Do you mind if I sit here?" He goes, "No." And I told him two things about myself, both of which were totally immaterial. I was from the United States and I was there on business. That was the only thing I told him.
The rest of the hour and a half, we were talking and I asked him questions. I found out he was from Germany. He traveled the world. He represented the largest pharmaceutical company. He called on Third World health ministers. He sold population control systems. I was fascinated by what a population control system entailed. I asked him how he got a cold call with the Third World health minister. I asked what they cost. I asked what the population thought about being controlled. I asked him about the process. I asked him then about life in Germany. I wanted to know lifestyle, cost of living, education, where he went on holiday, what the political system, the retirement system.
I realized if you want to be interesting, all you have to do is be interested. If you want to be loved, you just have to love. If you want to be respected, you just have to respect.
I didn't pay any attention, but they're all these security people. It was the location of the largest worldwide confab, a convention or conference of world health ministers, not just Third World, but everybody. And he was a key speaker, which fascinated me. Then I found out some other things about him, and all along I was drinking cognacs and I was getting drunk, and I started feeling giddy, and I stood up and thanked him for the time and started walking away. And he stopped me and he said, "I've got to tell you, you are one of the most interesting people I have ever met."
Now I told him two things, neither one of which had any material relevancy, nothing. I didn't say we're commanding more money per seminar than most people made in a year or a lifetime. I didn't tell him that I was selling out. I didn't tell him I was renowned in my niche in the entrepreneurial world. I just told him I was there on business.
But I realized something when I got to the elevator. I remember leaning on the elevator frame and praying, because I was pretty drunk by then, that when the door opened, there was an elevator, not a hole because I would fall in! But I remember thinking it was life-defining, it was perspective-altering, it was really profoundly paradigm-shifting that what had just happened.
I realized if you want to be interesting, all you have to do is be interested. If you want to be loved, you just have to love. If you want to be respected, you just have to respect. It's almost scarily just the polar opposite, and it was profound, and that shifted my life for the next 40 years.
Do you have a process for your own personal goal-setting?
The answer is intangibly and an unstructured yes. I have very vivid pictures in my mind of what I'm trying to accomplish, and it's a fait accompli. It's already happened and the people I'm going to accomplish don't know it.
But I don't set written goals. I don't have a journal. I'm not saying that isn't wonderful.
And I think this is so good because what I'm really getting at is how do you manifest things in your life? That's really what it is.
Well, it's gotten easier and easier because, I mean, I created 40 years ago, a concept. It's called “funnel vision” versus “tunnel vision.” And the premise is that breakthrough thinking comes from outside your comfort zone and your reality. Most people live a life in a band. That's not their fault, but pretty much their jobs are in the same field. Their life is in the same field. But if you've been blessed, like I have, to travel literally and figuratively around not just the world geographically, but the world of businesses, it expands your perspective on what is possible.
We're here, as most people know, filming in Los Angeles. Almost everybody in Los Angeles has traveled outside of Los Angeles. Certainly outside of California. Probably outside of the United States. Probably half outside of North America. Probably a good portion outside of this continent.
I have very vivid pictures in my mind of what I'm trying to accomplish, and it's a fait accompli. It's already happened and the people I'm going to accomplish don't know it.
So each time you travel a broader spectrum, you see other realities you hadn't contended with, geography, culture, religion, morality, topography, food, clothing, beliefs. And if you're open-minded, you take that all in and you expand it to what's called your worldview.
Well, I have had so much expansion. I've been around the world, figuratively, probably 80 times. I've been to Japan, 20, 30 times, China, 20, 30 times, Vietnam, five or seven times, Singapore, Bali, London, Rome, Switzerland, Amsterdam, Rotterdam.
I hope you don't have to learn all the languages!
Unfortunately I haven't! I get translation.
So when you've done all that, your worldview is broadened beyond comprehension. Most people don't realize that if they would force themselves to travel outside their comfort zone, it would be enriching in ways they can't imagine.
When we used to do our biggest seminars, I had a process that was laughably fun. When we had bookstores, which are very rare now, I would go to the bookstore and we'd buy a thousand copies of either closeout books or magazines that were on non-fiction things: business strategy, hobbies, skill sets. After the first couple of days of a seminar, we'd learn a little bit about each participant. All my staff would do it. And let's say that your hobby is... Do you have a hobby?
Yeah, I got plenty of hobbies.
What is it? What's your biggest?
It's hard with the two young kids right now. I'd say going to the beach. It's one of my favorite things to do.
Okay, well, if going to the beach is one of your favorite things, we might give you a book or a magazine about desert plants. If you like cooking, we might give you a book or a magazine on motorcycle repair. But whatever it was, it would be the total opposite that you absolutely in all of your life would never have even considered even reading, studying, thinking about.
And we would send you away for two hours, if you had a hotel, in your room or in the lobby and read two chapters or two articles and come back to the group and present to them two really amazing insights you had, you never thought about, that were actually fascinating and even some you could use in your life or business. And everybody did, and they were shocked.
I would make different people stand up, so people saw all the vastness that different people got out of it, and it shifted people's recognition that there's all this discovery outside of their little insular world.
What do you feel are the biggest mistakes that small business owners are making today? And how uniquely different is the time we’re in?
I mean, it's uniquely different in the marketing context because marketing is different. A lot of it is digital. But the biggest mistakes are most people are not building a business, they're just promoters.
I had a discussion this morning with a friend, and so I'll share with you the essence. When I got started, I was known as a marketing wizard, and I was quite good at it, and I was way ahead of everybody else. And that's all I did was marketing and advertising. But as I got more and more into understanding the difference between a short-lived, I'll call it an enterprise, and enduring ever-growing business, I saw this big gap and I realized that marketing, it's a driver of significant short-term revenue. It is that, but it's an ever-diminishing resource. It's like a gas in a tank, but worse.
You have an enormous number of external factors you can't control that could compromise your marketing. One, you could saturate your market. Two, you could have competitors that are emulating you, plagiarizing you, or worse innovating you. Three, you can have a new alternative to what your product, service or category does come into the market. Three, you can saturate, as already said, that saturate the media. Four, you can have, or 5, 6, 7, whatever it is, external factors you can't control, like COVID. So now you can't go to the conventions and the conferences where you exhibit it. You can't do the dinner meetings. You can't keep your retail open. You can't get in the car and go call on a business.
So I realized that the real denominators of constantly improving, compounding, sustainable, enduring success are having a killer strategy. It's far more strategic than anyone else. Having a really superior business model. Having a value proposition that is irresistible. Having a distribution channel or many ones that are so broad and enduring. Having strategic alliances, partnerships, endorsement relationships, being the recommended provider. Having a referral network.
Also, having not just a competitive advantage, but a preemptive one that is so powerful, no one can even come close. And finally, knowing how to reclaim sunk costs, leads that don't buy, inactive buyers that stop buying, buyers that are buying but could buy a lot more things.
Sales channels, you could do a lot more with. Put other products through a brand you're only using for one thing. Salespeople, where there's a lot of variation, one does very well, one doesn't, and you don't really try to improve them. And if you do all those things, then having great marketing is the cherry on the icing on the cake.
When most people talk about competition, they're not really thinking with a nuclear vision for this. They're thinking in terms of the marketing. They're looking at your external superficial veneer part of the business.
Also, I created years ago, something called a revenue system optimization. Everybody has a revenue system. They don't always know what it is, and they literally don't even understand all the interconnected levers that drive it. If you think about our personal life, James, it has been enhanced and elevated over the years or the centuries by levers, screwdrivers, wheelbarrows, light switches, brooms, push buttons that open your car door, cranks that open a window, pop-top cans. Those are all levers. But in business, there are 97 categories of levers that I've identified that give you the same kind of almost exponential propellant in your performance, and most people don't do that.
Another thing is almost every small and medium business is tactical. They don't have a great operating strategy. It would take me a long time to give you examples of this. And they don't really try to optimize. I learned that you can change a headline or the equivalent. The equivalent is what you say the first time you interact with somebody. It's the subject line. It's the headline on your landing page. It's the first paragraph of a sales letter. And you can get 50%, 500%, as much as 2,100% difference. You can change the positioning and get a 50 to 100% difference. You can add or enhance a risk reversal and get another 50 or 100.You could add certain credibility and proof, testimonials, endorsements, measurable comparability that shows your superiorities. All these are separate and get 50-100%. You can add a bonus. And most people don't even do any of that. We tested one time for a very large furniture store, 33 different ways of greeting people at the front door and one of them tripled conversion. Same amount of money spent to bring the leads in. No more time, just three times more revenue. And I learned all those things, and most people don't learn that.
A true entrepreneur is a person who's created a business that's adding supreme value experientially in the market.
And one more thing, which is really tragic. When we had bookstores, you'd walk in a bookstore and there would be vertical walls lined with books in a category: psychology, relationship, parenting, sexuality, self-worth. Over here, it might be skills. And then you walk and there's this teeny-tiny end part that had business books, strategy, marketing, advertising, selling, things like that. Because most entrepreneurs didn't get into business to really build something epic. They didn't get into business to be preeminent. They didn't get into business to really maximize and optimize everything they did. They got it to escape either working for somebody or as a reactive result to a life trauma. They got fired, they got divorced, they were an alcoholic, a druggie, whatever.
So they don't seem to see the correlation between superior expertise and higher performance. But I've helped so many experts that I'm obsessed with that. For example, there is one woman who is the expert in how you are seen. She can show you that by being seen more fascinating, you can triple the impact you have as a salesperson, as a leader. Stephen M. R. Covey has shown that if you can master the 13 characteristics of ultimate trust building, it will triple your sales, it'll shorten your sales cycle, it'll increase your impact as a leader. A man named Roger Love has proven that you can quadruple your impact by what he calls strategic communication, tonality, inflection, pausing. I'm doing it right now. And there's hundreds of these.
A true entrepreneur is a person who's created a business that's adding supreme value experientially in the market. Most small, medium businesses are proprietors. They're just one of, then they're commodities or they're marginalized and they're just taking economic oxygen out of the world, but they're not adding a supreme value.
With so many things that you mentioned there, when you go into a business, what is the first thing that you are looking for in terms of being able to diagnose the problem or give them the one or two things they need to focus on?
If you were going to be a client of mine, the first thing I would do is give you a 200-question assessment that you probably couldn't answer. But ask questions. You should be asking yourself constantly about correlations, about implications, about quantifying performance. What's a lead cost you? How many does it take to convert? How many buyers buy the first time? How many buy this? What's the performance of this? And then it shifts and ask questions that almost nobody can answer them, like tell me everything you know about all your direct and indirect competition.
So I try to see where you are, what's driving you, what's your strategy? Can you even tell me how are you executing or how are your different sources? What are their sources? How many products? What do you do when somebody doesn't buy? What do you do when they stop buying? What do you do while they're buying? I guess all kinds of questions. How many distribution channels? Things like that.
Then what we do is we divide and conquer. I usually divide an advisory relationship into two parts. The first is called maximizing. The second is called multiplying. Maximizing says that you are doing activities right now to generate revenue. They may be dumb activities. You're not dumb. It’s just the activities are suboptimal. Let me put it that way. But they're driving the business.
So rather than taking it away and having the business stop, we try to make them much more profitable, even if I would ultimately replace them with far more sophisticated or higher yielding or lower risk or faster producing alternatives. But then after we've gone through all of that, we then use the additional cashflow it normally produces to start doing what we call the additive stuff, the replacement stuff, the stuff that you have to experiment with and you need to play around with some expenses.
So we do those two things right away, and then I get more sophisticated. After I've gone through that cycle, we may recycle because you'll be in a different place, and then we start being very sophisticated. I start with the three ways to grow a business. We increase your sources of getting buyers. We increase the revenue size you do every time you do a transaction ethically, so you get a lot more profit per transaction. We figure out how to extend the frequency and the lifetime value of a buyer or find more utility ways to utilize and monetize ethically that buyer.
Then when we've done all of that, we then go to the advanced three ways. We help you penetrate a new market every year. We help you introduce, acquire, or create a new product or service every year. Then we start looking at what businesses, products, services, or intangible things we can buy. It might be a whole company that's competitive that you bring together. It might be a product or service people buy before, during, after. It might be competing with yourself, buying what they would buy if they don't buy yours.
Then when we've done that, we start working on your strategy first, your business model second, your marketing third, your process system procedure. I got about nine things and we just keep doing things like that.
Is there a certain client transformation that means the most to you?
There's so many. We had the number nine candy company in China that became the number one and sold, whatever legally you can, 49% to Hershey's. We had a little cosmetic surgery group in Japan that ended up having 87 offices using a strategy of mine. We have a company that was a small player in the timeshare cancellation market, and they became the number one, and they grew many times over. We had the number one company in the gold brokerage firm. We had a co-founder of Federal Express that used a concept of ours. I had the co-CEO of Keller Williams Real Estate. We had the guy who started Planet Fitness.
I mean, Bulletproof Coffee, Daymond John, all kinds of people.
What are you focused on to get a yes in the most important conversations of your life?
The most important way to do it is not to try to force anything. It's to try to get that person to come to the decision themselves, because you help them understand what their alternatives are. I mean, Tony Robbins calls it a Dickens pattern. What's going on yesterday, what's happening now, and what'll be happening tomorrow if nothing changes, versus if you change and re-articulating it.
For example, I have a client that has a very large medical products business in the Caribbean. They're very successful, but they wanted to buy somebody's business that has a product line they wanted. There are two owners. One is retired and the other one is younger and running. The younger one is the managing director, and he summarily rejected the overture. He wouldn't even talk about it. And the retired one is about my age and I'm over 70.
We looked at the numbers and we realized that the most each was making, because it's a very small niche, is about $150,000 a year. We would've paid a couple million dollars. Divide that in half, that would've been six or seven years worth of income to both of the partners, and we could've added one of the partners to manage the workforce. But I had them go back and remind the partner that was running it, what he was really saying. He was saying that for the probable life expectancy, that the retired one, who's my age, maybe has five or seven years left to live, on average.
So what the managing partner was saying is he denied that person twice the quality of life, which he would've made because we would've given him enough that he had two times what his lifestyle was being now. So instead of $150,000, it would be $300,000 a year for the next five or seven years. And making sure he understood what he was really saying when he said no.
When I work or try to work or try to get a yes for anything, buy in, doing something, I don't try to tell them what to do. I give them historic examples, case studies, and then I tell them what their current attitude is telling me they're really saying to themselves they've never heard. And see, not my life. I'm not the one who's dedicated my entire life, my hopes, my dream, my capital, my economic fulfillment, my financial fulfillment, my retirement expectations, my lifestyle, my kids' education to this business. You are. I'm just the one trying to help you. If you don't want to do it that way, you're the one. I don't need this.
And I have one more advantage. My life is like a bus stop. I have more opportunities, deals that come to me in a day than most people would see, frankly, in a lifetime. And if I don't, I can go to anybody and I have a track record. So I don't need anything, if that makes sense.
When you don't need anything, but instead you want something for the opportunity to contribute, your posture is very different. People are used to people that are going to sell them.
You're in a much better negotiating position.
Yeah, because you don't care.
You're not in the convincing game as well.
I said, "Don't do it. I don't care." And then just pray. The concept is pray I don't go to work for your competitor.
I love that.
And I would say that, not in a threat, but just from the heart.
Yeah. The reality is they're going to be disrupted by someone if they don't have the attitude and willingness to invest and grow.
And most of them need dramatically to extricate themselves from a commodity type existence. But yeah, it's not a problem for me.
But I have probably evolved to a point, just not evolved because I'm so bright, it's just I have... The power force behind my posture is a little bit different than most people, I think.
On your best day, what's an affirmation that you would write on a flashcard that you could show yourself on your worst day?
I don't know that I would even have that answer. I mean, I believe that we make our reality. Tony Robbins probably said it better, but I believe you can change your reality in a heartbeat. I believe that there are solutions. The only thing we can't solve is being dead. But most business reversals, most economic reversals, most relationship reversals can be solved.
When you meet people that don't like their job, don't like their lot in life, don't like their marriage, don't like their body, with exceptions of acts of God or birth defects or mental infirmary or hormonal problems that can't be medically adjusted. If you don't like something, guess what? You can change it. If you're willing to pay the price.
We have for years done massively informative educational webinars and we do it because most people can't possibly afford my fees. But I can afford to freely share because I think that if you're going to be in business, you might as well get and give the most out of it. And people will sign up. And then you probably know this, this historic show-up rates about 20%. So 80% of the people who purportedly are lamenting constantly, they wish their business was more successful.
They wish their profits were bigger. They wished it was easier. They wished it was more satisfying. They wish they weren't stressed. They wished they could have the things they want. It's all they, they, they. It's not, "I wish I could contribute more." They can't even find two hours to commit. So the point is you don't like anything, you can fix it. I mean, the only thing you can't fix is death.
Now, there are physical ailments. As we get older, unfortunately things go wrong in our body. But the majority, not all, can be managed if we are willing to take the precautions. If you're willing to do the physicals, take the test, alter your nutrition. But how badly do you want it?
This is going to sound a little bit direct, but I don't have as much compassion for people who spend more time lamenting than progressing. I'm saying it as somebody who's had more setbacks than I ever thought possible. I mean, I gave you this much. It doesn't really matter. But I have here, I almost lost my leg. I had a medical injury and I had to get emergency operations. Shit happens. I mean, without shit happening, life wouldn't be real. But how do you proactively deal with it?
And in my opinion, most people, they embrace realizations more as intellectual entertainment. They go, "Yeah, that's so cool. That makes total sense." When we do events, I don't even use the testimonials you get at the end of an event, because that's affirmational. It's like what I'm going to do. I only want to use the ones when people did something, because there's a big disconnect between knowing and doing.
If you think about security, it's a very, very misunderstood construct. All security in life is the faith, the confidence, the trust you have in yourself and your ability to perform, your ability to extricate, your ability to circumnavigate, your ability to bounce back, your ability to rebound, your ability to be resilient, your ability to be a victor instead of a victim.
And that's a private discussion you have to have with yourself.
People think they need to manufacture extra time to make these favorable circumstances. Yet, the exact same amount of energy that you are using to complain about what you don't have can actually be transmuted to create the circumstances that you want. Stop complaining about it. Start fixing it.
Yeah. There's research that I saw. Something like three times the energy is expended, procrastinating, equivocating, contemplating than doing. And something like an even greater correlation, negative correlation of negative energy. I mean, you have to realize progress is the most exhilarating thing – even little progress. Because when you look back, there's an edge. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a step. But most people don't have the wherewithal.
There's one more thing, which is an actual... It's a little bit sad, but maybe I can give some solace to this and a reframe. So the people that decide to do things, the majority of them have never done anything like that in their life. And what happens is the first time they try, they do not get a great outcome. Now you have two little children. I have seven. They're now adults.
Anybody watching, listening, if they think about when they had little children at the age of about one and they were learning to eat, sleep, poop, speak, walk, they were terrible at the beginning. They would fall over. They would miss the toilet. They would put the spoon in their eye. And only because somebody who cared deeply – a champion, a fan, a parent – would keep helping them progress a little more.
Most people when they endeavor, when they break through the morass and they extricate themselves from the mental miasma of constraint to say, "Okay, I'm going to do it. I'm going to do it. James and Jay said. Finally, I'm not just going to think about it and intellectualize it. I'm going to transactionalize it." The first time they try, they do shitty, terrible, and then they retreat right back to status quo. "See, I can't do it."
They think that they should be world-class, gold medal pole vaulters the first time they ever pick up a pole! When they've never worked out, they have weak shoulder muscles. I mean, it's dumb, isn't it?
Final question: what's one thing you do to Win the Day?
I make sure that every day I connect with somebody and make them know that they are relevant, but not by saying you're relevant. By being interested, by contributing, by adding perspective, by listening.
Most people don't know how to listen.
Jay, what a pleasure. Thanks so much for coming on the show.
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