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Contrarian: 40 Business-Related Things I Do
My Own Way

by Marcia Yudkin

For my 25th-year business anniversary in 2006, I published "Insights From 25 Years in Business." For my 30-year anniversary, I posted "My 30 Favorite Business Books." Now that Iím reaching 40 years in business, Iíve compiled a list of 40 ways in which I part company with received wisdom or common beliefs.

Part One


1. "Bigger is better." For many coaches and success gurus, progressing in your career means nonstop growing of the business and hiring a "team" to manage it. It also dictates running large programs with minimal personal help for participants. However, the biggest learning program Iíve ever run had just 12 people in it, and this size works best for me.

I have no need or want for a "team." When my business needs something I donít do well (like design), I delegate it to a short-term contractor. Furthermore, I feel the popular slogan "go big or go home" encourages grandiosity that serves no one and undeserved scorn for honorable small businesses.

2. "Fake it until you make it." Many coaches advise their mentorees to set their fees high right from the beginning, despite their lack of experience and know-how. Likewise, a cleverly written bio can disguise the fact that one is a novice. 

Of course you need to put your qualifications in the best possible light, but I donít believe you should act as if you know what youíre doing when you donít. Empty self-praise backfires by promoting self-doubt and self-sabotage. Donít let anyone talk you into puffing yourself up in a way that is untrue and doesnít match how you feel in your heart of hearts.

Book on marketing ethics by Marcia Yudkin

3. "Always get out of your comfort zone." People who say this sometimes add, "Life isnít meant to be comfortable, after all." I enjoy learning new things, which may feel frustrating, humbling and uncomfortable. But I also see huge benefit in finding and taking full advantage of your comfort zone.

For instance, if you write better at home than at the office, you should engineer your life so you have time and space at home for writing. If youíre more productive working alone than with others, you should pick a career path that maximizes your solitary work time.

4. "Keep the peace." Some people avoid any controversy, to an extent that surprises me. I spent four years in a graduate program that mandated disagreement and reasoned argument as the route to better beliefs.

As a result, it takes me aback when someone says they wonít publish my guest blog post or my blog comment because it would spark debate or because of a supposedly aggressive tone. They prefer sappy, relentlessly supportive exchanges so it looks like everyone visiting their site thinks as they do. Don't be afraid to take a stand when you feel it's important and relevant.

5. "So-and-so screwed me!" Before you go around blaming something or somebody for a problem youíre experiencing, stop and think: How did I contribute to the situation? What did I do (or fail to do) that at least partially accounts for the result that Iím not happy about?

In discussing such issues with clients, Iíve observed that most of the time, a flashing danger signal or a standard policy of theirs was ignored. When you hunt for what you did that helped set up the unpleasantness, you can learn something that makes similar setbacks less likely in the future.

6. "Intuition is woo-woo." When I talk with clients, Iíve had the experience of knowing things about their situation that I was never told. This isnít a psychic phenomenon. As explained in my book Inspired!, intuition involves inner knowledge based on real-world but non-conscious input over a long time.

We often know things without knowing how we know. Itís not a rare talent or anything other-worldly. Some people, including me, simply pay more attention than others to intuitive signals.

Inspired! paperback or digital book on creativity

7. "Change with the times." I have clients and contacts who have followed me for 30 years, partly because Iíve stayed true to my core talents instead of chasing fads, trends or fleeting opportunities.

When I lived in Boston, I watched a few people who attended the same networking events as I did change their business identity every few months. Silicon Valley approvingly calls this a "pivot," but it seemed to make others confused and mistrustful of the chameleons.

8. "Early adopters stay out front." Iíve achieved my share of firsts, including creating the first author website for Penguin USA and being published in the first issue of a new section of the New York Times. But I never buy or do anything because itís new and being buzzed about. Technologically, I avoid recommended upgrades as long as I can because I find them annoying and beneficial more for the companies than for users.


9. "Perfect is the enemy of good." You will never catch me following or recommending this popular maxim, which holds that itís better to finish something mediocrely than to take the time to do it right. On the contrary, for me professional excellence is always worth striving for.

When someone is paying me, they deserve my best effort. If something represents me, it should likewise be my best work. Thatís one reason why I donít have a blog. Where products are concerned, I donít believe in throwing out a sloppy mess with the excuse that itís a beta test.

10. "You must write fast to be productive." French novelist Gustave Flaubert, I once read, might spend all morning to decide to put in a comma - and in the afternoon would take it out. Iím not that poky, but Iím not sure Iíve ever written more than three pages in a day. So what? If you write consistently, day after day, pages pile up.

I talk a lot about this perspective in my audio course, "Become a More Productive Writer." Being a tortoise rather than a hare when it comes to writing has not had any negative impact on my career.

Overcome writer's block, beat procrastination

11. "Donít waste time." Since grade school Iíve been a champion daydreamer. And my studies of creative trailblazers confirmed that loafing around between stints of concentrated work boosts insights. After I finish a big project, I sometimes hole up somewhere with a random stack of books and a notebook. Ideas tumble out of me like gems from a newly dug-up Egyptian tomb.

Washing dishes, driving someplace alone and taking a very, very long shower are other activities that bring on breakthrough thoughts and fresh intentions for me.

12. "Just power through and do it." When it comes to tasks I dislike, Iím a wimp. Iíd much rather spend energy trying to find a way to make the task tolerable than to force myself to do it. After all, if a task comes up over and over again, like cleaning (one of my bugaboos), forcing yourself to do it can add up to a whole lot of unpleasantness.

One tactic that helps me a lot on this: Whenever I have a thought like "Yuck, I should really sweep my office floor," Iíll pick up a broom and attack the problem right then. That feels less onerous to me than looking at "clean up" on a to-do list.


13. "In college, learn an immediately marketable skill." Iím still grateful for my liberal arts education at Brown University, which allowed me to explore wherever my changing interests led me, with pass-fail grading for four years. Primarily I learned how to learn, how to reason, how to read critically and how to write a convincing argument.

This prepared me for life much better than if Iíd pursued seemingly more practical studies. I feel sad when I see affluent parents insist on narrowly job-related majors for their kids.

14. "You already know enough." Decades after college, Iím still learning. In the past year, Iíve delighted to learn things about the English language that I did not know, such as the origin of "the royal we" or why Shakespeare is easier than some other authors to translate into other languages.

I read widely, and it often happens that Iím able to incorporate something that seems wildly far from business into a marketing piece. Someone like Pete Buttigieg, who learned Norwegian just to be able to read a certain author in the original language, wins my keen admiration.

15. "Forget that outdated stuff!" Things change so fast in todayís world, how could something published five years ago, let alone 50 years ago, teach anything valuable? Well, I learned much of what I understand about marketing by listening to decade-old conferences on audiocassettes where marketing experts shared general advice and tackled someoneís real-world challenges during so-called "hot seats."

In addition, I could name half a dozen books from the 1930ís that contain valuable perspective for any ambitious marketer with an open mind. Certain principles of persuasion havenít changed since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

16. "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." George Bernard Shaw wrote this more than a century ago, and Iíve heard it recently quoted by people urging that we learn only from those who have achieved the success weíre aiming at. This doesnít fit my experience in the slightest.

No-hype marketing courses with Marcia Yudkin

Of my four best writing mentors, not one was a successful writer himself or herself. Two were magazine editors, one a radio producer and the other a college writing instructor. Many of my copywriting peers teach seminars or coach novices on the side because we enjoy it, not because weíre failures who canít find other paying work.

Client Relations

17. "Come one, come all." Should we accept every client who wants to work with us? Iím happier being choosy. I donít have enough patience for emotionally needy people or for situations where multiple people will be weighing in on a project.

In addition, when someone requires nagging to pay me I will rarely work with them again. On the other hand, I donít mind it when clients have beliefs or backgrounds quite different from mine. That often turns into an interesting learning experience.

18. "Be ultra-accessible." Being interrupted sabotages creativity and productivity. So Iím never just a phone call away, even for long-term or urgent-project clients. Instead, my phone calls are pre-arranged by email. Someone who canít make their peace with that simply isnít a good match with me.

19. "Bend over backwards to please." While building a business, your own sanity matters. Boundaries you set up, like no last-minute assignments, weekend work crushes or all-nighters, can keep you balanced and productive. Yes, you may lose some clients with such firm boundaries, but others will respect you and plan accordingly. Remember that itís impossible to do your best work when youíre exhausted or overstressed.

20. "Likeability is essential for success." Itís often said that people do business with people they like. I accept that. However, I do not accept that there is a quality one must have called "likeability." We all like different kinds of people! Some of us like chatty, friendly folks most. Others prefer to deal with those who can abide long silences and who speak only when they have something worth saying.

This fact gets overlooked in common advice to adopt a Ms. Popularity type of personality: someone chipper with small talk. Iím not a grump or curmudgeon, but thatís not me. And I have quite enough clients who are content with a minimum of palsy-walsy chitchat.

If youíve enjoyed reading so far, would you do me the favor of sending a like-minded friend or two a link to this page, or posting about it on social media? Thank you.

Read Part Two, with items on marketing, communication and money.


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