Reptile Dysfunction

The other day, after hearing me describe how independent and self-assured my 11-year-old son Jonathan is, my friend Debbie asked whether I wish I had been more like him when I was his age.

I said, “Are you kidding? I wish I were more like him now.”

When I’m in the supermarket express lane, for example, I repeatedly count my items and check the sign overhead, to make sure I won’t get yelled at by the manager for being over the limit.

Jonathan, by contrast, wouldn’t break a sweat if you handcuffed him and tossed him in the back of a squad car. He’d probably just ask for a cigarette and tell them to turn the radio up.

Jonathan knows what he wants and when he sets his mind to something, he usually finds a way to get it. And so about two years ago, when he informed us that he wanted a “leopard gecko” for his 10th birthday, my wife Linda and I pretty much knew from the start that he would find a way to make it happen.

Sure enough, when the big day arrived, Leona the Leopard Gecko arrived too.

As creepy, mealworm-eating reptiles go, leopard geckos are actually kind of charming. They’re multi-colored, grow to be about six inches long and, should you be idiotic enough to allow it, are happy to crawl up your arm and sit on your shoulder.

Lots of fun … for about a year. At that point, Jonathan had moved on to other things, leaving Linda and me to care for said reptile.

And so last month, having had enough, we decided to put Leona up for sale. We’ve had terrific luck getting rid of snowblowers, lawnmowers, bicycles and other household items on craigslist, so it seemed an obvious solution.

One problem … you’re not allowed to sell “household pets of any kind” on craigslist. You can give them away, but you can’t sell them. Given that we were at least $150 into the great reptile experiment, we weren’t too keen to walk away with nothing.

Luckily, Linda had an idea. We’d sell the habitat – tank, lights, bowls, etc. – and, as an added bonus, give Leo away for free to whomever made the purchase. One week later, the nice people came to pick up Leona; by lunchtime, we were gecko-free.

Later that evening, it occurred to me that e-mail newsletters in particular (and content marketing in general) work the same way:

As the content creator, the thing you’re trying to sell (i.e., your leopard gecko) are your services. The potential buyers, however, generally don’t show up wanting to hire you (at least not initially). They just want the free content.

What happens though, is that over time, and if your content is valuable, the people who receive it begin to see you as the trustworthy, insightful expert that you are. Before long, some of them ask to see your lizard (insert your own off-color joke here).

Here’s the bottom line. I know you want to promote your business and sell your services (me too). But if the majority of what you put out into the world is nothing but that, you’ll never get enough people to hang around long enough to hire you.

This year, commit to creating and giving away lots and lots of no-strings-attached, useful content. That gecko will be out of the house before you know it.

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