SkillsforFreedom: Hello, and welcome. In this edition of the show, we're chatting with Rob Cuesta, and if you stay listening, you'll find out how Rob learned a very sobering lesson that almost cost him everything. He also tells us how setbacks can actually be a good thing in business, and why he thinks writing a book really can make a different to your life.
SkillsforFreedom: Rob Cuesta, welcome to the show.
Rob Cuesta: Hello!
SkillsforFreedom: Great to speak with you, Rob. Now, I have to say, your resume is incredibly impressive. So, I wanted to start by asking, how did you start in marketing?
Rob Cuesta: Back in 1997, I caught the coaching bug, when coaching was an industry that hadn't even just started. I attended an NLP, a neurolinguistics programming course. At the time, I was working for one of the big consulting firms, in London. I thought, this would be a great thing, we should be building coaching into what we do. Of course, nobody agreed with me.
A few years later, I decided this is it, coaching is the way ahead, I'm going to set out on my own. With that impressive resume that you mentioned just then, of course the world would be my oyster, and everybody would be beating a path to my door. In 2002, I walked out what, at the time, was a $140,000 a year job, not realizing that I had just become a $14,000 a year coach. Because predictably, nobody knew how I was, and nobody wanted to hire me.
That was how I got started, by making the mistake a lot of entrepreneurs make, which is not thinking about what my market was going to be, or what I was going to be offering, and just taking a great idea, that I thought the world needed, and deciding that I was going to go out and offer it. It took me a few years to figure out that I'd make that mistake, literally until about 2005. So, three years of earning very small amounts, and the only reason that I can say it was $14,000 a year was because in the first year, I actually made about three times that. In the following two years, I made virtually nothing.
It wasn't until 2005 that I got ... what I always call my Lost Days. I'd got to the beginning of 2005, and I realized, I've got not clients, I've got no money, and I was very rapidly heading towards bankruptcy. I spent two days being mad at the world, being mad at my prospective clients for not hiring me, being mad at myself for being so stupid. At the end of those two days, I sat down and I did something that I should have done in the very first place, which was I actually sat down and started setting some goals. The first goal I set myself was that, by the end of the year, I'd be making 100,000 Sterling which, at the time, was about $160,000 US.
I made it, by the end of 2005, to something like $96,000, so I fell $4000 short of my goal, but I let myself off for the extra $4000, I'd gotten close to the intent. But, I'd managed to turn it around in that year.
SkillsforFreedom: It sounds like you learned a really sobering lesson as well, off the back of that. That's quite a story, in terms of ... I just say, sometimes it's the false security, isn't it? You're in a job, you're being paid, and you think, if I leave, I'll take all these clients with me. But of course, it doesn't always work like that?
Rob Cuesta: No, it really doesn't work like that, a lot of the time. I always say, if you want to make God laugh, show him your business plan. But, I hadn't even gotten to the point of having a business plan, it was literally I'd decided one day that I'd had enough, and that I was going to go and set the world on fire.
Instead of doing it the sensible way, by tapering in, and doing some work on the side, and building up the business in my own time, I went cold turkey. I literally walked into my boss' office and said, "Hey, I quit." Yes, as you say, it was a sobering lesson.
SkillsforFreedom: I was going to say, in terms of once you'd done that, and you'd gone through that process yourself, I guess that also gave you an insight, if you'd like, into how not to do it. If you train other people, this is like, "Don't follow this advice, do the complete opposite."
Rob Cuesta: Well exactly, because I'd got to 2005 and I'd three years of, basically, treading water. It was only in 2005 that I thought, well, I don't have a client base. So, I need to find a way of building clients, very quickly. Quite by chance, I started doing joint ventures. That was, literally, what saved the business, and saved me, was finding ...the first joint venture I tried wasn't as successful.
I can remember, I'd arranged a ... it wasn't even a webinar, it was a teleconference, with a competitor/peer/JV partner in North America. I remember dialing in from a hotel in Newcastle. Dialing in, in hotels, on an international line, was ridiculously expensive. So we were on the line for however long, for an hour or whatever, doing this teleconference. Of course, at that point, I still hadn't learned my lesson. We got to the end of the webinar, and I suddenly realized, I hadn't really thought about the call-to-action. I very quickly came up with a call-to-action, and that joint venture netted me something like $100, which didn't even cover the cost of the phone call.
So I went back to the drawing board, set up another joint venture with a joint venture partner that was a better match for me, and for my skill set, which was personal branding, which is ironic. That joint venture got me up to a few thousand. And then, at the end of that year, what literally got me to the $100,000 mark was that, during that year, I found a partner that was perfectly aligned, and I had the right offer for their audience. They were desperately in need of what I was offering. By the end of that year, that had turned into almost a six-figure, in Sterling, business partner. It was around $160,000 of business, in US dollars.
But, it was just finding that one partnership, which is something that I say to people now, is if you can find the right partners, and the right alliances to make, that can be the difference between having a very expensive hobby, or having a viable, and valid, and successful business.
SkillsforFreedom: That's really true. I guess, the really interesting part in this, is it's almost like you went from ... As you say, you quit a well-paid job, a relatively well-paid job, so it was riches to rags. And then, almost back to riches again, from the joint ventures that you started to develop in that time.
Rob Cuesta: Yeah!
SkillsforFreedom: Can we just put a time frame on this, Rob? You mentioned that you quit your job in the early 2000s. Then, how long was it before ... You say, three years before you realized you had almost a failing business? Then, off the back of that, how quickly was it before you started to turn the corner, and see that actually, this now is moving in the right direction?
Rob Cuesta: That was literally a 12-month shift. At the start of January 2005, I thought, this is it, everything has failed. I'm going to have to go back and get a job, and I'm going to have to eat humble pie, maybe, to my old employer and things. But literally, by the end of that year, that big joint venture had delivered the big payoff.
SkillsforFreedom: That was the turnaround year, I guess?
Rob Cuesta: That was the turnaround, yeah.
SkillsforFreedom: Then, in the last 16 years, things have really gone from great to stratospheric I guess, in terms of what you've achieved. I know we talked about the books that you've written so far, and also that you've moved into more of the personal branding side of things. Can you just walk me through the process of that, Rob? What made you want to, first of all, turn what you were doing into the books, first of all?
Rob Cuesta: Yeah. Well, let's go back to that 2005 transformation. By the end of 2008, I'd then built a very successful, one-man business. I was traveling all over the world, I was working with big corporations, I was coaching senior partners in big, professional services firms. You probably remember, 2008 is memorable for one, big thing which is that in October 2008, the world collapsed.
October 2008, I was literally packing to jump on a plane to New York to go and coach one of my clients, and I get a phone call saying, "Hey, you're supposed to be with us next week, but we've decided we're not going to go ahead, the market has collapsed, so don't bother getting on the plane." That was the start of having gone riches, to rags, to riches, literally 2008, I was facing going back to rags again.
This time, it didn't take me three and a half years to figure out what I was doing wrong. And so I very quickly started to get things moving again, to turn it around. Again, going with ... initially, my first, gut reaction was joint ventures is what's kept me going, joint ventures will help me, and they did.
The other thing I did, which I hadn't done before at that point, was I joined a Mastermind group. I suddenly realized, "Hey, I need other smart people around me." That was the point at which I joined my first Mastermind group, which some people would think was insane, when all your clients are disappearing, to go and spend $10,000, $15,000, $20,000, $25,000, being in a room with other people, might seem ridiculous. But, I needed to be around people whose businesses were successful, and learn from them, so that was the point at which I discovered the power of Masterminding.
It very quickly turned around again. So, end of 2008, the business was facing collapse. By the end of 2009, I'd got it back up to $200,000, and beyond. Then, around 2010, I started to get people who hadn't recovered from the crash saying, "How did you do that? Can you teach me?" That was how I went from running a business, to then being asked to teach people how to grow their business for themselves.
I ended up building a business that, in some respects, I didn't much enjoy, because I ended up running a business where I was managing outsourcers. I'd built a business where we would build the marketing platform for our clients, we would help them to build their website, we would help them to create their products, we would help them to write their book. Well, in fact, we didn't help them to write their book, and that was the mistake that I made, was we told them that they needed a book, as part of their marketing platform, but we were literally just saying, "You need to write a book. Here's some hints, and some guidelines. By the end of the year, hopefully you'll have done it."
So, I was running a bunch of website developers, and I was running a bunch of email copywriters, and things like that. I realized, after a few years, that wasn't what I liked my role to be. I'm not a project manager by nature, I'm a strategist, I'm a thinker, and I love being out and delivering. I love going out and presenting, and I love writing, but I do not like checking boxes off on an Excel spreadsheet, and looking at project plans, and things.
So, in 2014 when we moved to Canada, I took the opportunity and I thought, well, if I don't like the business that I'm running, what business do I want to be running? I thought, the very first thing that we tell our clients to do, is that they need a book. There's a big difference between the clients that we had who had written a book, and the ones who hadn't. The ones who had written a book were going great guns, and they were very successful, and they were getting clients, and they were making money. The ones who hadn't written their book didn't have that level of success.
So I thought right, I like writing, I know the value of a book as a marketing tool, and I know how to build marketing campaigns around a book. So we got rid of everything, and focused on the book. I built a team of writers, and graphic designers because I thought, right, if the problem is if I just tell people to write a book, some of them do, and some of them don't. Let's take that away, and let's just write the book for them.
That become BrightFlame Books, the company that I run now. It was born out of the realization that if you just tell someone, "Hey, a book is really useful in marketing, you need to write one," the chances are that you'll see them again, two years down the line, and they still won't have written it.
Whereas, if we took all of that hassle away, then we could say to them, "Right, let's write the book. Now, let's build the marketing campaigns around that book." Then, they at least had a fighting chance of being successful with it.
SkillsforFreedom: It's really interesting. Also, I think one of the key takeaways from what you've just been talking about, Rob, is that sometimes the trajectory of your business can be like that proverbial roller coaster. It can go up, it can do down, it can come back up again, it can go back down again. I think a lot of people believe that, as you set off in business, that it should all be rainbows, and butterflies, and everything should go swimmingly well, and that line of growth should just continue up, that steep line going up. But, it doesn't always work out like that.
It's great to hear that, not only have you overcome those setbacks, but also it's almost driven you, in a way to almost reevaluate yourself, and where you are at that time. Instead of just giving up, you've actually gone, "No, this is an opportunity for me to reevaluate, and work out where have things gone wrong, and what do I need to do now? How can I invest in myself, and in my business, to be able to get back on the right track?" That's really interesting to read.
Now, you mentioned that you have your publishing company, BrightFlame Books. Could you just maybe talk to me a little bit more about that, and the process that you take people through in order to create their own book?
Rob Cuesta: Sure. The big problem most professionals have got ... Let's make one thing clear about books. A lot of people think books only work for consultants, and accountants, and lawyers, and people who are selling their knowledge. Books actually work in any industry, I'll take the word virtually out. They work in any industry. I've even seen a company that does basement remodeling using a book in their marketing campaigns.
The reason is because most professionals, most businesses, struggle with a number of things. First of all, they struggle to stand out from thousands of competitors who are offering the same basic product or service. They struggle to explain exactly what they're going to do for their customer. And, they struggle to justify their fees. I very quickly discovered that a book was a great way of achieving all of those three things, before you even walk in the room.
When I do presentations, I always tell the story of what I call the world's shortest sales meeting, which is where I'd had a call from a prospective client. They'd read one of my books that they'd picked up on Amazon. I said, "Come in and talk to us, and we'll see whether we're a good match."
So, I drove up to London, and I walked into the boardroom, expecting to meet just the person who'd called me. Instead, I found their entire Board of Directors. Everyone of them had a copy of the book in front of them, the CEO had actually bought a copy for each of them, and made them read it. As we started the sales meeting he said, "We want you to turn us into the natural expert in our industry."
The natural expert is a term that I'd created, and introduced in that book. So at that point, I knew a couple of things. First of all, there's only one person in the world who could make them the natural expert, because I'd literally written the book about it. They couldn't call anybody else and say, "Can you make us the natural expert in our industry?" Because whoever they called would go, "What's that?"
Secondly, if they'd gone through the trouble of making everybody else in the room read my book, one, all of their objections have already been handled. Two, they already know what I'm going to talk about. And three, this wasn't a sales meeting, it was, effectively, a kick off meeting for the assignment, we'd just hadn't agreed a fee yet. That's exactly how it worked out.
It was never a case of, "Oh, put together a proposal, and let us know. Then, we'll go away, we're talking to various other people." It was a kick off meeting, we were already planning the stages. Then, at the end of it they said, "Could you just send us a note with your fee?"
That's a very long winded way to say books work in any industry. The mistake a lot of professionals make when they start to write a book for their marketing is they don't think about how it's going to fit into their business. A book is a great idea, but we don't approach it as, oh, everybody should have a book. We approach it as, everybody should have a really successful marketing campaign, and let's build that campaign around a book that positions you in the top of your industry, that explains what you're going to do for your customers, and explains why your fees are as high as they are, and handles all of their objections before you've even walked in the room.
The first step of our process is planning all of that out. It's, what is it that we want the customer to do, after they've read the book? How are they going to get the book, in the first place? Are we going to be giving it away on our website, are we going to be sending it to our prospects, are we going to be selling it on Amazon, how are they going to get it? And if that's what we want them to do, what do we need to put in the book, in order to make them do that? What's the content that will make them want to take that obvious action?
Then, we can build the book around it. At that point, we hand off to a ghostwriter, whose job is to get all of the stuff out of their head, and onto paper. Typically, we end up creating a few hundred questions that become an interview guide. I'll backtrack a little bit.
The whole process was born out of the realization that most people will struggle to write about what they do, but they can talk for hours about what they do, because that's what they do all day long. They talk to prospective clients, they talk to suppliers, they talk to their business partners, they talk to their team, so they know how to talk about what they do. We use an interview based process where we get people to talk to us, and the writer's job is to turn that conversation into a book.
I'd like to think we do it very successfully, given that we've had books that have won awards in book competitions, we've had books that have been featured in book review magazines, that would not normally be considered because they are not from a major publishing house. There's a company called Kirkus that has a magazine that reviews books from major publishers, you can't get into it normally, unless you're from a major publisher. One of our clients managed to get their book in there.
We aim to create a book that would look good if it were on the bookshelves of a normal bookstore, and we aim to write one that would be worthy of a major publisher, for our clients. So we're not aiming to do the 20 page, extended sales letter type of books, we're creating 150, 200, 300 page books that are about positioning. Effectively, I call them a sales meeting in a box. Typically, 120 to 160 pages is just right. It's short enough that people will read it, and long enough that it actually gives an idea of the person's level of authority and knowledge.
We create it by interview, and then we give it to our book designers, who make it look like a professionally published book. Then, the capstone of everything is that we do a bestseller launch. We engineer a lot of activity, to make sure that the book becomes a bestseller, which then creates a lot of buzz in the market, and we've had clients have parties in their office, and invite everybody around. It's a great excuse to get all of your best prospects into the room, and a lot of sales conversations start in that room. We've had other clients who have run book signing parties, at bookstores, or in retail stores that would be a good joint venture partner for them, and so on.
The key to it all is that everything is built into a marketing campaign. We're not just writing a book for the sake of it, it's design a campaign and now, let's write the book that will make that campaign work.
SkillsforFreedom: It's fascinating, in terms of the process that you go through. I guess, one of the key things here is that this isn't just a way of opening the door, it's almost like it's a way of kicking the door open, for most people. That's really important, these days.
Rob Cuesta: Yeah. I was going to say, we actually had a client ... In fact, it's that client with the world's shortest sales meeting. When we actually did their book, they wanted to work with big hotel chains. They were working with a lot of independent hotels, but they couldn't get through the door with some of the big hotel chains.
One in particular, they'd been trying to get a meeting with, for something like three years. They wouldn't return their calls, they wouldn't return their emails, they wouldn't return their letters, there was nothing coming out of them. So we wrote the book, started this campaign, started an outrageous, multi-step marketing campaign that involved lots of 3D mail, we had a number of steps. There were 3D mail, there were phone calls, there were a series of follow-up letters and postcards. But, it all started off with the book.
About a week after the book went out, and just as they were getting ready to start the follow-up calls, an email came back from that company saying, "Hey, I've read your book, we need to talk." Three years of door stepping them, emailing, phone calls, letters, nothing. We send them a book and within a week, they're coming back and saying, "We need to talk."
One of the other hotel chains that they've spoken to, they actually got an email back from one of the gatekeepers saying, "Oh hi, we've got your book. You actually sent it to the wrong person. I've forwarded it to so-and-so, who is the assistant to our Operations Director, whose name is this. They'll be calling you in the next few days to set up a meeting." I always say to people, when was the last time that a gatekeeper called you up, or emailed to say, "Hey, you sent your sales brochure to the wrong person, but it's okay. I've forwarded it to the person who should have had it." Sales brochures and sales letters end up in the trash a lot of the time, particularly with gatekeepers. Yet, the book actually had this person going out of their way, to make sure it got to the right person.
SkillsforFreedom: I mean, we've all heard the phrase that "a book is the ultimate business card," I guess, but this takes it one stage further than that, I guess?
Rob Cuesta: As you say, it is a door knocker downer, it's a battering ram. And nothing else will work.
SkillsforFreedom: Well, your new book, Rob, is co-written with a previous guest of this show, Bill Glazer.
Rob Cuesta: Yes!
SkillsforFreedom: You alluded to the title just a few moments ago, The Outrageous Marketing: Multi-Step Marketing Campaigns, Volume Two, if I'm not mistaken.
Rob Cuesta: Yes.
SkillsforFreedom: Can you just tell me a little bit more about that as well, and how you ended up working with Bill on that project?
Rob Cuesta: Yeah. I was referred to Bill Glazer, by a good friend and a very well known marketer called Mike Hanicks. Bill has known Mike for many years. After Bill had a stroke, about four years ago now, he took it easy for a while. Then, Bill being Bill decided, after a while, that he wanted to write a book. He contacted Mike Hanicks and said, "Hey, I want to write a book, I need somebody to help me write it. Who do you suggest?" Mike said, "Talk to Rob Cuesta."
So, I get a text from Mike saying, "Do you know who Bill Glazer is?" I said, "Yes, of course I do. He's the G of GKIC." He said, "Would you like to work with him?" I edited down my response to something that was publishable, but it effectively was, "Yes, of course I would." So, we arranged a call, and Bill and I hit it off immediately, and now is our fourth year working together.
I helped him write the first volume of Outrageous Campaigns. That turned into a live event, and then at the end of the live event he said, "No more live events, not more books." Then, within a few weeks he said, "Let's do another book." I said, "Okay." I said, "Let's do it, let's run a virtual summit." I said, "We'll interview the people who are going to be featured in the book, turn that into a virtual summit, which will be a product. And then, we can take that virtual summit, and also turn it into the book," so that became the second volume.
In the first book, we had 49 campaigns. In the second one, we've got 42 campaigns, from people like Ryan Dice, Yannick Silver, we've got Mick James in there. We've got Marisa Murgatroyd, we've got 42 marketers. Some very well known, some less well known, but that doesn't mean they're any less successful, it just means that they're market isn't other Internet marketers, so in the Internet marketing industry they're not so well known. But, if you go into the fitness industry, you'll hear some of their names. Or, if you go into the ... I'm trying to think. Into the speaking industry, you'll hear their names, and so on.
That virtual summit became the second book. Now, we're turning it into another live event. Yeah, four years working together, and it's been a lot of fun. Outrageous fun, you could say. And still going strong, and we're already talking about a third book. But that probably shouldn't go into the article.
SkillsforFreedom: You know, as somebody that was part of that virtual summit, I actually attended the virtual summit, I remember just thinking the amount of information, and the amount of brainpower that's being presented here is just incredible. All kudos to you and Bill, for putting that together. Bill spoke very warmly about you on the show previously, and how much he enjoys working with you, which is why I'm so delighted that you agreed to come on the show as well, Rob.
I guess, one of the burning questions I have for you is after everything that you've been through, and everything that you're doing right now, what is the one thing you'd say you're the most proud of?
Rob Cuesta: The most proud? One thing is still being in business, 18 years in, because we hear all kinds of statistics about how many businesses collapse in their first year, and how many then make it through the five years, and collapse. But I've been in business, now, for 18 years. Despite that roller coaster, as you said, I've never let it get in the way. Whatever the world has thrown at me, I've always thought to myself, this is what I want to be doing. I can either give up on what I want to be doing, or I can keep going. Giving up isn't an option. That is one of the things I'm most proud of.
The other is the books. Outrageous Marketing Campaigns, Volume Two is a fantastic book, so was the first volume of Outrageous Campaigns. I remember the time I published my first big book. I had written a number of smaller books, around the 30, 40, 50 pages, and then I wrote Premium back in 2010. Yeah, 2011 in fact, it was published, which was my first full sized book. Even now, I will look through these books, and it's almost like somebody else wrote them. I look at them, and I still find stuff that even I've forgotten. They have pride of placement on my bookshelf, all the time, because I'm incredibly proud of the books that I've created. And the team that I've built around me, to help me and my clients with their books.
SkillsforFreedom: Yeah. Having a book is an amazing legacy as well, isn't it? Because, of course, it's something that you can hand down, as well, to future generations as well, to say, "Here's where I was, and this is what was in my mind at the time. Here it is, for you now to take forward." To have a book is an incredibly achievement in itself, but to have as many as you've got, Rob, is taking it to the extreme. Wow! What's next for you? Obviously, you've achieved so much so far, but what's next for you?
Rob Cuesta: We've got the live event coming up very soon with Bill, as I mentioned, that's in March. Actually, that's the other thing I forgot. On the back of the virtual summit and the book, we then launched a membership program, with Mara, Bill's daughter, Bill, and myself. So, Mara is part of the team, for the live event as well. We've got that live event coming up.
We're also launching as a Mastermind program. As I said, I'm a big believer in the power of Masterminds. One thing I've noticed, ever since joining that first Mastermind, is the years in which I've been part of a Mastermind program have always been my most successful. A couple of years ago, I didn't join one. Just after we moved to Canada, when we first moved over, I hadn't got a Mastermind here, in Canada. I very quickly realized I needed to be in another one. So, I'm a big believer in the power of Masterminds, so we're launching a Mastermind in the spring, as well.
Then, on the book side of things, one of the things that I realized was that there are people who want a book, but can't necessarily afford to have a book written for them, one on one, the way that we do. So, we'll be launching a group program, that's basically a book retreat, where you can come in, and we lock you in the room until you have written your book. Because if we send you away, I know the chances of you actually finishing it are slim, so we're just going to lock you in a room, and teach you how to write a book, and not let you out until you've written it. Or, at least by the end of the week.
SkillsforFreedom: You will give people food and water in that time as well, won't you, Rob?
Rob Cuesta: No, no. That's part of the encouragement to finish the book, is you don't eat until the book is finished. Yeah, there will be food, and water, and maybe even some sleep as well.
SkillsforFreedom: I'm pleased to hear it. Rob, it's been great chatting with you. Thank you again for being so generous with your time. How can we find out more about you, and your services, and what you offer?
Rob Cuesta: Well, the first place to go is Outrageous Marketers Live, to find out about that live event. It's going to be a lot of fun. Bill, and Mara, and I, and we also have a guest speaker, Ed Rush, we're all going to be dressed up as pirates. You'll understand the reason for the pirate theme, if you attend. But, it's a great opportunity to be in the room with hundreds of potential customers, potential suppliers, potential joint venture partners, and just to find out about outrageous marketing, and how to make your marketing fun and successful, at the same time. That's the first place to go, is OutrageousMarketersLive.com.
To find out about the books, then it's BrightFlameBooks.com, which is a nice, simple URL as well.
SkillsforFreedom: That sounds great. Well, Rob Cuesta, thank you so much for your time. I've really enjoyed chatting with you, and good luck with all your future ventures, as well.
Rob Cuesta: Thank you for taking time to interview me.