When the Wheels Fall Off

One of the true tests of a business’ strength is how you handle problems.
What do you do when things go sideways and customers are disappointed?
Your answer to that question will likely decide your overall success. For in these moments of disappointment, your future with that customer hangs in the balance.
Falter and you’ll lose them forever.
Act wisely and not only can you save the situation, you’ll fortify their relationship with you.
What does that look like in real life?
I’ll give you an example.
I was running an online store. There was a product that we had run out of, but I forgot to mark it as “sold out” and someone bought two of them. The easy way to deal with it would have been to send a short email saying “sorry we’re out” and refund them. But a question tickled my curiosity.
Could I get them to let me keep their money and give them something else that I did have in stock?
This email followed.
“Hi Stanley,
First and foremost thank you so much for shopping with us! The fact that you ordered an absolutely unique item from us AND got one for your friend makes me like you instantly.
And that’s what makes this next part even harder.
I have to deliver some upsetting news. (Dang it Stanley. Why do you have to be so likable!)
I’m missing a key component for the kits you ordered, which means I don’t have any kits available to send you right now. ☹
I know! This is super disappointing for both of us.
No matter how much I’ve begged our supplier over the last two days since your order, they haven’t budged. It’s going to be a couple MORE months before the parts are in.
So, what do we do?
I’ve got some options I’d like to present to you.
Option 1: You cancel you order, we both feel disappointed, Mike never gets awesome stuff, and our budding friendship takes a turn for the worst. (Just when I found an awesome person like you.) I mean, we’ll still be on good terms. It just gets awkward when we see each other at parties and stuff.
Option 2: Like a gallant Knight you rise above obstacles. Your giving spirit won’t be shaken. So you decide to order something else from our store instead. Mike gets cool gear. (Plus, you get something nice for yourself.) I name my firstborn after you and people cheer your name in the streets because you heroically save the day.
Option 3: You and I get some torches and pitchforks. We rouse a rabble of angry peasants, equip them with the aforementioned torches and pitchforks, and storm the factory of the dread “supplier.” After defeating their champion, we demand for immediate delivery the parts needed to build the kits. And our friendship is cemented in the bonds of victory and conquest.
Let me know which option sounds best to you.”

You’re probably not surprised to hear that Stanley chose option 2.
And not only did he let us keep his money this time, he also came back again and again for more orders in the future.
Here are the two takeaways.
1.     Be honest.
2.     Be ridiculous.
First, don’t skirt the issue. Say what’s wrong and own it. When you do, people will often “jump behind the counter” so to speak, and invest themselves into helping you find a solution. Make them part of the problem solving.
Second, recognize that, for the majority, any potential disappointment is based on something silly. Which means – in the grand scheme of life, the universe, and everything – the thing that’s causing the disappointment is relatively trivial. So, without telling them the problem is trivial, use a light dose of ridiculousness to help them feel the triviality.
Once you’ve got things in context like this, keeping the sale and making a lifelong ally are easy.

– Zac Smith, VC

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Acts of The Writers

13 “For every business wants customers.”
14 However, how will the customers buy from you if they don’t know you exist? How, in turn, will they know you exist if they have not heard of you? How, in turn, will they hear about you if you have not advertised? 15 How, in turn, will you advertise if you have nothing to say? Just as it is written: “How beautiful are the words of those who know how to write!” – 1 Commercialisms 10:13-15
The lesson from the good book? Time invested in honing your craft of writing will be well spent.
– Zac Smith, VC

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Elephants Are Smart

Perhaps you’ve heard about how they train circus elephants.
When the baby elephant is little, they drive a sturdy stake in the ground and chain its leg to it.
The little elephant yanks and tugs and struggles against the chain, but it can’t pull it out. Eventually, it comes to the conclusion that it can’t defeat the restraint and stops fighting it.
Because elephants are so smart, they remember this lesson and carry it with them on into adulthood. Which is why, even though a full-grown elephant could easily snatch the stake out of the ground, they don’t even try.
I’m not here to talk about the morality of these training methods.
I’m here to talk about you.
You are that baby elephant.
How so?
If you’re running your own business, there were things you struggled against when you were first starting out. Maybe it was cash flow and inventory turn, employee satisfaction, customer retention, marketing, or something else. Whatever it was, I have one question.
When was the last time you “pushed” against that problem?
What was once your little business has likely grown larger and stronger. You probably have resources now you didn’t before. So if you’re reading this, take it as your sign to revisit some old hurdles.
Who knows, you might just be able to snatch them right out of the ground.
– Zac Smith, VC

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267-Ton Toothpicks

As soon as I board the plane, I start scanning for the seat I want. (If you can’t tell, I’m flying Southwest) If at all possible, I’m looking for a window seat that isn’t right above the wings.

A window seat so that I can lean away from the unfortunate passenger that ended up in the middle, giving us both a little more room.

Not above the wings so that I can gaze out to the land below and get an entirely different perspective of this world we live in. 

It doesn’t matter if you take off from JFK in New York City or LAX in Los Angeles, I’m always amazed that within minutes you are flying over sparsely populated country. 

Most of this country is…country. And that is a perspective that most of us don’t get a chance to see very often.

As I look out the window, I see windmills that look like frilly topped toothpicks stuck into a cheese and veggie platter. Those small little toothpicks are about 262 feet tall with 148 foot long blades with a total weight of 267 tons.

Perspective is incredible.

Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh is where two rivers converge to form a third. There’s a 841-foot-high skyscraper on one side of the rivers, and a football and baseball stadium on the other side. This is the city.

A Fifty-eight-minute drive from downtown Pittsburgh will get you to where my parents live; a little 70-acre plot of ground. I say little because their neighbors have nearly 600 acres (Pittsburgh is 410 acres).

Perspective is amazing.

My parent’s friends think they live on a massively large plot of ground, and compared to their quarter acre lot, that’s true. But ask the airline pilot about a 70-acre piece of ground and he will say it’s a postage stamp.

Perspective is invaluable.

You’re not seeing your business as others do. You see it close up and it looks big to you. You see it every day and so many of the daily tasks look important to you.

Your friends don’t see your business the way you do.

Your neighbors don’t see your business the way you do.

The person with a 30,000-foot view, most certainly, does not see your business the way you do.

Does it matter?


You are likely addressing concerns that your customer does not have. And your customer may be frustrated by things in your business that you can’t see.

There is a solution to this problem. 

You need outside eyes on your business. Usually, the people these eyes belong to are called consultants. And one of the biggest values a consultant brings to the table is that they aren’t you.

That’s part of the usefulness of taking a class at Wizard Academy; perspective.

And if you get outside eyes on your business to give you perspective, trust them when they tell you those are 267-ton windmills, not toothpicks. 

– Zac Smith, VC

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Enlarged to Show Texture

When you look at a box of cereal and you see the larger-than-life photo of the fruity-frosted-chocolate-honey-crunchy-tasty-o’s, you’ll always find a disclaimer in small print.
“Enlarged to show texture.”
Of course, the photo is enlarged. I wasn’t expecting to eat a four-inch disk of sugary goodness. Then why bother with the blown-up photos?
It romanticizes the cereal. It uses inaccuracy to convey an accurate experience.
After all, how many times has your tongue felt a huge obstruction in between your teeth, only to find out it’s tiny on the tip of your finger.
So yeah, intellectually you know you’re eating teeny cereal shapes. But your tongue tastes what’s pictured on the box.
The cereal makers know to romanticize an aspect of their product in order to accurately convey the experience.
Here’s another example. Very rudimentary. Look at this RV. (The three small dots at the bottom don’t do anything. It’s not a carousel, it’s just a screen shot.)

A Class A RV

Is that fancy or what!
Intellectually, you know that RV doesn’t come with the plants, the perfect LED show lighting, or the three concentric half circle steps. Which means, technically, it’s an inaccurate representation of what it’ll look like when you own this RV.
But visually, it accurately represents what it feels like to own this RV. It subtly romanticizes the level of prestige owning this motorhome gives you. It enlarges the texture.
Is this limited to visual mediums? Not at all. You can do the same thing with words. The J. Peterman Company comes to mind. Here’s an example of theirs:
“When a man puts on this authentic French farmer’s shirt he may very well find that his hands look bigger. He will become sturdier and more forthright; either that, or more canny, only time will tell. At the dinner table, people will automatically start to offer him seconds and thirds. French Farmer’s Shirt (No. 1953), different and good-looking.”
You don’t actually expect wearing this shirt will make your hands look bigger. It’s technically inaccurate. But it’s also romanticizedly accurate. It’s enlarging the texture.
Is it wrong to fluff your products and services like this? Is it dishonest?
Absolutely not. No one actually expects a four-inch disk of cereal, perfect LED show lighting, or that their hands will grow.
So go ahead. Romanticize an aspect of your product. You’ll be accurately conveying the experience and feeling of owning it. You’ll be enlarging the texture. 
And in so doing you’ll make it easy for your customers to buy.
– Zac Smith, VC

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The Turn of a Card

Life is a balance of the bold and strong on one side and the quiet and delicate on the other. 

Within one week we had a new member of the family come into this world noisily and triumphantly while just days before a longtime friend of the family quietly passed away much too early. 

You have probably experienced similar situations in life. It magnifies the point that so much of what we call “our life” is left to the roll of the dice and the turn of a card.

I’ve been thinking about this lately and it reminded me of a story that illustrates, in a small way, the role chance plays in our lives.

My grandfather grew up, for the most part, in a small farming community on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. Picture a dry, sandy, sunny place, that’s very much not Seattle.

Wenatchee Heights is in the Columbia River basin. Local propaganda says they get 300 days a year of sunshine. (It’s really closer to 200.) It is classified as a desert with only 9 inches of rain fall per year.

In this climate, on this land, my grandfather grew up on an orchard in a house that was roughly one third the size of their small barn. It was chance, in this case the turn of a card, that determined that my grandfather grew up in this particular house. 

A turn of a card that said he would spend his grade school years in the local one-room school house, with a teacher that let him read all the books he wanted. A turn of a card that let him win a scholarship to college. (The first person to ever go in his family.) A turn of a card that gave him the chance to meet my grandmother.

Many more turns of a card later and here I am today. 

I don’t know how or if my life would be any different had the cards been played differently. All I know is that my grandfather’s dad raised his family in that small farmhouse in Wenatchee Heights because he won a card game. 

It’s an incredible dance of chance that got you and I where we are today…the roll of the dice…the turn of a card. This is the quiet and delicate influence chance has on our life. Often overlooked until we stop and ponder its far-reaching effect.

These kinds of musings could easily lead you to throw your hands up and say, “Why bother trying? Chance is too inevitable.  Let the winds of fortune decide my fate.” But you mustn’t do that. Remember, life’s a balance.

On the other side is the bold and strong. Those are the choices you make. So be intentional. Plot a course and sail it. All while being flexible enough to appreciate when life turns a card. 

– Zac Smith, VC 

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I Shouldn’t Have Said That

I can’t teach you how to be vulnerable.
All I can do is tell you about how powerful it is, and attempt to point you in the right direction. But even there I’ll fall short. I know less about it than I’d like to admit.
Vulnerability makes us approachable. It makes us likable. It makes us trustworthy. It’s one of the quickest ways to connect with someone you’ve never met before.
And isn’t that the goal of advertising? To talk to someone who’s never met you and make them instantly like and trust you.
So, yes, being vulnerable is powerful. But it’s also hard to do. It can take many subtle forms not inherently obvious. While the obvious tactics tend to land a little short.
For example, self-deprecation, in itself, is not the same thing as Vulnerability. Anyone who thinks you can be vulnerable just by saying something like, “I’m such an idiot,” probably is one.
Sorry. That was harsh. I shouldn’t have said that. I say those kinds of things sometimes to emphasize a point. I’ll be kinder going forward.
My point was, self-deprecation can be an aspect of vulnerability, but it’s not the whole thing.
See what I mean about subtlety?
So, while I can’t comment on the width and breadth of vulnerability, here are some ways I’ve found to be vulnerable:
1 Talk about your limits. What can’t you do or what aren’t you good at?
2 Reveal failings and weaknesses. What makes you human?
3 Explain your thinking behind the decisions you make.
These are not the only ways to be vulnerable, but they’re a good start. If you need examples then start at the top and read this post again.
– Zac Smith, VC

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Beware The Small Blanket

“In Brazil, we say that ‘You need to be careful of the small blanket.’ When you are cold and you have a small blanket, you cover your head and your feet are cold, you cover your feet and your head is cold. This is pretty much how we play with our budget. Usually, the core declines faster than your new innovation will grow, and that can really hurt your business in the long run. In the small blanket case, make sure that your core is warm.” – FERNANDO MACHADO, CMO OF BURGER KING
What, exactly, is Fernando saying?
Let me ask you, what is your core product or offering? What is your bread and butter? What brings people in the door? Have you been doing it a while? Are you getting bored of it? Would you rather talk about something else? Do you assume your customer base is getting bored of it, like you? Would you rather talk about the new and exciting products you’re developing?
Mr. Machado had this to say.
“The more successful you are, the more you feel tempted to expand on the brand further and you may risk leaving your core exposed. You cannot be addicted to innovation.”
If you have a small marketing budget, you must carefully decide how to deploy it.
But you already knew that. So, why am I telling you this?
Because innovation is good, but you must not be addicted to innovation. And…to give you some perspective.
Burger King, who most of us would consider a major company, whose 2021 U.S. marketing budget was $225 million, carefully allocates their budget to keep their core offering, the Whopper, top of mind.
I don’t know your situation exactly, but I’m guessing $225MM is a tad more than your annual marketing spend. That being the case, I say this out of love.
You’re marketing budget is a small blanket.
You can’t cover everything at once.
So, what will you keep warm?
– Zac Smith, VC

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This One’s for You

I’ve been reviewing the history of Wizard Academy this week. 
Pouring through the archives. Sifting through old photos. Reading the stories of the people who built this place. People who have been a part of it. And do you know what I’ve found?
You lot are the craziest, kindest, most creative, fun-loving, hardworking, innovative, generous, do-gooding ne’er-do-wells I’ve ever come across. And I’m proud to be among you.
The alumni of this school are truly remarkable. You push the bounds of business innovation. You think outside the box. You solve problems.
And you’re not just idea people either. No, no. You’re doers. You implement. You experiment. You refine. You improve.
And do you know what else I love about you? You’re not afraid to make money. Big old heaping gobs of it. And do you know why that’s so great? Because you put all that success to good use.
Your companies are the living breathing lifeblood of a healthy society. You create jobs. You enrich the lives of the people who work for you and their families. And that wealth spills over into your communities and it makes them all around better places too.
Whatever drink you have at hand – be it coffee, tea, wine, or whiskey – raise it up on behalf of yourself and your fellow alumni. This is for you. The few who would dare to change the world.
And may we love every minute of it. 
– Zac Smith, VC 

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My AI Generated Masterpiece

Like many, I’ve been playing with ChatGPT.
Can it actually handle copywriting? Could it at least write an email? Or perhaps a “Help Wanted” ad?
What, realistically, can and can’t you use it for?
I think I’ve cracked the code.
I proudly present my prompt and its output.
Prompt: Write about analytical vs. imaginative thinking as if you were Robert Frost.
Two ways of thinking, diverging in a wood,
Analytical and imaginative, both equally good,
One follows reason, data, and facts,
The other intuition, creativity, and abstracts.
The analytical path is clear and concise,
With methods that are proven, it seeks to suffice,
It values precision, accuracy, and proof,
And its logical approach can seem aloof.
The imaginative path, on the other hand,
Is a journey into a wonderland,
Where ideas and concepts are free to roam,
And new ways of thinking find their home.
Each path has its merits, and each has its place,
But which one to take, is an individual’s own grace,
For some, it’s the road less traveled, imaginative and wild,
For others, the straight and narrow, analytical and mild.
And yet, in the end, it’s not the path that we choose,
But how we navigate it, that makes the news,
For it’s in the journey, the twists and turns,
That we find our purpose, and the lessons we learn.

Ok, maybe “Masterpiece” was overselling it a little. But you’ve got to admit, while the rhymes are hackneyed, it makes some good points.
Speaking of points, what point am I trying to make? I’ll tell you.
I’ve been hanging around some people who are way smarter than me and who deeply understand how AI works. They’ve been showing me some really cool things that you can actually do with it. And we’re talking about building a class around it.
So, my question to you is, if you were going to take a class on how best to utilize AI writing, what would you most want to learn?
Anything is fair game, but here are some of the topics we’re thinking about:
– Sales Letters
– Writing a Book
– Content Marketing
– Newsletters
– Email Correspondence
– Product Descriptions
– Professional Bios
– Video Scripts
– Digital Ad Copy
– Headlines/Email Subject Lines
– Creating Social Media Content
This is your chance to decide what we teach. Visit our Contact Us Page and tell me your top 1-3 ways you’re most interested in learning how to use AI.
The only wrong answers are “everything” or “all of the above.”
Why am I limiting your choices? Because different types of content require different sets of prompts and techniques. And we can’t teach everything all at once. (At least, not in the initial class.)
So, what do you most want to learn first?
– Zac Smith, VC
P.S. If you send in your response HERE, then I’ll share my real AI masterpiece with you. The prompt was: Write a dark poem about puppies in the style of Robert Frost. You’re curious, aren’t you? Let’s just say it does not begin or end the way you’d expect it to.

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The Math That Maths

I have a ritual.
Every week, when I sit down to write this silly little column, I close my eyes and ask myself a question.
What helpful thing can I share this week?
And then, for a moment, I silently wait for my wordless right brain to answer.
When it does, a gentle tornado of faces, places, things, and thoughts swirl before my mind’s eye. A tangled toss of pots. From each one a related thread extends and connects to the rest. And thus, the common theme emerges.
This week? The answer was you.
Don’t ask me how, but I saw it. That moment of doubt. That thing that stressed you that you feel shouldn’t have. That situation that didn’t go the way you hoped and caused disappointment.
Ugh, akk, and phooey that stuff sucks.
I’m not here to tell you the world is sunshine and daisies. We all know it’s not. However, I am here to tell you that, despite minor failings and disappointments, you are inherently good. You are a force for good. And you make better the lives of those around you.
The frustrations of life stick out like one yellow dandelion on a perfectly green lawn. Like one muddy boot print on a perfectly clean floor. Sometimes it feels like that’s all you can see.
But it is, in fact, their fewness that makes them so noticeable. Because for each lone dandelion, there are countless good blades of grass. For each boot print, there is an almost entirely clean floor. And for each frustration, there are a hundred joys because of you.
I’m not a woo-woo positive thinking kind of guy. It’s just simple facts.
The good outnumbers the bad and that math maths.
– Zac Smith, VC

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Not All Truths Are Powerful

What does it mean to be bold?
Not that dictionary definition of boldness. I’m talking about that quality of leadership many want but few find. That thing most can’t put their finger on. That charismatic gravity. That original thought.
What is THAT and how do you get it?
I’ve not completely reverse-engineered it yet. But I have cracked open some interesting finds.
In part, it’s speaking Truth with a capital “T” regardless of its popularity.
First, speak about universally true principles. Then, connect the dots to practical application and people won’t be able to help but follow you.
Now, the mark of the inexperienced is to confuse saying true things with speaking Truth. “To be BOLD I must tell the truth! And only the truth will do!”
Someone might have a bad haircut, and it would be telling the truth to say so, but that’s not the kind of truth I’m talking about. Not all truths are powerful.
So how do you know if you’re saying true things versus speaking Truth?
This is my Truth checklist:

  • Is it true?
  • Is it important?
  • Is it meaningful?
  • Can this truth change the course of your life?

Found a Truth that checks the list? Careful. They’ve killed a lot of people over the years for saying these kinds of things.
Two reasons.

  1. If you’re saying something powerful not everyone will be moved in the same direction. Which means, if it actually matters, you’re going to get some hate.
  2. “The opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.” – Niels Bohr. Which means if you’re right, then your staunchest opponent might also be right.
    This is why knowing Truth is only an aspect of boldness.
    Sure, you might know a truth, but are you willing to say it out loud?
    – Zac Smith, VC

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