I initially heard of Ryan Holiday a few years ago, when he was one of the first guests on the now very popular Tim Ferriss podcast. I also knew about his books, even have two of them on my Amazon wish list. Then, by coincidence, I found myself at Savannah airport in Georgia, USA at the end of last month, looking to get a few books and magazines for my 20-hour flight home.
At the bookstore, my attention was quickly drawn to Perennial Seller and it was not the author that caught my attention but the title. The word PERENNIAL just hypnotized me, reminding me of a timeless piece by Aldous Huxley titled “Perennial Philosophy”.
Holiday is spot on when he talks about first impressions and book covers:
“Of course you can judge a book by its cover—that’s why books have covers.”
Combined with the word seller, the book brought up mixed feelings, as I am not a big fan of “how to sell” books, teaching you to close deals, use the right tactics, etc. Thankfully, this is not one of those books, though there are great books out there about being a great seller as a person or as a company.
Perennial Seller is about creating work that has meaning and lasts longer than a lifetime with the potential to become a classic. It is about perdurance, not a quick viral hit.
“People claim to want to do something that matters, yet they measure themselves against things that don’t, and track their progress not in years but in microseconds. They want to make something timeless, but they focus instead on immediate payoffs and instant gratification.”
Holiday has done extensive research for the book and goes into details and examples about how to create something that really lasts, e.g. a business, a service or a product. In addition to the effort you need to put into creating a classic, he outlines the importance of the right positioning and marketing, as well as building a platform for continued success.
“Crappy work does not last.”
This is not a quick’n’dirty self help, get-rich-over night book! Holiday does not claim that the process guarantees you a perennial seller, but it does increase your odds. It is a long and arduous process. Here are some notes on that process:
“It starts by wanting to create a classic.” – Robert Greene
But wanting and creating are not the same thing. Creating involves courage to step into the unknown at times, getting actually started, hard work, failing, and getting back up again – a lot more that many of us are willing to endure.
“From sacrifice comes meaning. From struggle comes purpose. If you’re to create something powerful and important, you must at the very least be driven by an equally powerful inner force.”
“A critical test of any product: Does it have a purpose? Does it add value to the world? How will it improve the lives of the people who buy it?”
Positioning and audience!
“You must be able to explicitly say who you are building your thing for. You must know what you are aiming for—you’ll miss otherwise. You need to know this so you can make the decisions that go into properly positioning the project for them.”
You should not say the project is for “everyone”, “smart people”…. etc. For example: This is a ____ that does ____ for. This helps people_____.
Stop being a crowd pleaser!
Polarizing is good!
“If you put out a record and half the people who hear it absolutely love it and half the people who hear it absolutely hate it, you’ve done well.”
“Customers will not come just because you build it. You have to make that happen and it’s harder than it looks.” —Peter Thiel
The competition is not with the work created in recent times, but against centuries of great art. Think of books and music.
“Each new work competes for customers with everything that came before it and everything that will come after.”
There is great power in word of mouth and give-away materials.
Find your influencers. If a real person that the audience trusts talks greatly about your product, this is something no sponsored ad can give you.
When using paid media it is good to know your cost per acquisition (CPA) and customer lifetime value (LVT).
In the world of big ad campaigns, this is a good reminder:
“Advertising can add fuel to a fire, but rarely is it sufficient to start one.”
“Not only should you be testing your project as you create it, you must most seriously test your creation as it begins to resemble a final product. So you know what you have—so you can improve it. So you know what you have—so that you might figure out what to do with it. So you know what you have—so you can adjust your expectations.”
Build a platform with a fanbase
“… a platform is the combination of the tools, relationships, access, and audience that you have to bear on spreading your creative work – not just once, but over the course of a career. So a platform is your social media and the stage you stand on, but it also includes your friends, your body of work, the community your work exists in, the media outlets and influencers who appreciate what you do, your email list, the trust you’ve built….”
Build an e-mail list. Social media changes fast, from a dropping engagement rate to different platforms. Some are already faded into history books, some are likely to follow soon…
Focus on things that don’t change or change little
Trends and fads come and go, yet there are some things that change very little. Reading Seneca’s stoic wisdom from 2,000 years ago is still relevant today and will be relevant a 1,000 years from now.
Even if you are not looking to create a timeless classic, the book is a good reminder that great work lasts longer than all the instant fads. The timeless wisdom in it has all the potential for the book to be a bestseller in 2017 and years to come.
If you have read it, please let me know what you thought of the book.