Having made his fortune in an almost invisible niche (teaching carpet cleaners how to crush the competition and turn their small local businesses into money-churning machines), Joe Polish is now among the most well-known and respected marketers in the world. His unique mix of real-world experience and stunning financial success has earned him a spot among the most trusted experts alive.

A self-made millionaire, Joe has organized products, people, intelligence, and hundreds of joint ventures and strategic alliances that have led not only to great personal success, but also to success for thousands of others affiliated with him or influenced by him. Most of that success is the result of his discovery and application of direct-response marketing. Joe’s passions today are developing his high-level Genius Network Mastermind group, a marketing brainstorming group for highly successful entrepreneurs, and his charitable fundraising Centurion Mastermind, which the past year has donated a half million dollars to Virgin Unite.

JOE POLISH: It’s nice to be here, and I’m looking forward to sharing anything I can to help everyone who’s listening.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Let’s plunge right into it, then. Joe, I think you know the title of this series is Passions of Real Life Legends, so share with us how your passions, the things you care most about, have led you to what you’re doing today.

JOE POLISH: It’s an interesting question because a lot of times I sit and wonder if I really even know deep down inside where a lot of my drive comes from. I guess in a lot of ways the reason I became a business owner and so interested in entrepreneurs, helping entrepreneurs, and being part of the entrepreneurial community is, I think, in a lot of ways what I really wanted when I first started in business.

I was struggling, didn’t really know what the heck I was doing, and was going through a lot of the same adversities that most entrepreneurs go through. I wanted money. Once I figured out how to make money, what really became clear to me is that I wanted what money represented. Money represents freedom, and freedom is probably the ultimate pursuit. I don’t mean just financial freedom but freedom with relationships and walk-away power.

I’m talking about freedom to develop my skills and abilities, freedom of contributing to people I want to contribute to, and fun. I teach ELF marketing, which is easy, lucrative, and fun. You can have a HALF business, which is hard, annoying, lame, and frustrating; or you can have an ELF business, which is easy, lucrative, and fun. I’m very much about being a goofball and making jokes.

Just to be completely contrarian, I absolutely despise corporate America-type cultures where everyone is so darn professional and uptight. I’m very much about fun. Obviously, there’s one quality I admire and have tried to develop in myself. There are many qualities about myself that I don’t always like and work hard to not develop. The one I do have is an unquenchable thirst for self-improvement, personal development, getting an edge, growth, enhancing myself, and evolving in all kinds of different ways.

Another passion-and I don’t know if a lot of people talk about it-is to escape from the normal. I looked at a lot of people’s lives. I always have been looking at others. Most people don’t enjoy their relationships. They endure them. I never wanted to endure anything. I didn’t want mediocrity. I didn’t want to just have an average business or life. I wanted to have something that was absolutely phenomenal. It’s not that it always is. Like anyone else, I deal with a lot of the same issues and problems that most people deal with.

I’m just always shooting for the moon. It takes the same amount of energy to pursue something big as it does to pursue something smaller and just stay in the comfort zone. I’m very passionate about getting out of my own comfort zone and helping others do that. When you look at the hierarchy of needs, I think one of the greatest ones is for people to stay within their comfort zones. I’m definitely passionate about freedom, fun, growth, and all that sort of stuff. That’s what drives me, I think.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Years ago when I was partnered with Robert Allen and Mark Victor Hansen, I remember Bob gave me one of your interview series. I think it was an early one. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of it now, but you interviewed many great people, including Robert Allen, but also people like Gary Halbert and others. It sounded like you had done this interview series pretty early in your career.

I really had the sense while you made it available as a product, and I know that thousands and thousands of people bought it and benefitted from it, it really sounded like you were doing the interviews mostly because you wanted to talk to these guys and pick their brains.

JOE POLISH: Absolutely. One of the coolest ways of looking at business is not only what you can do that you love doing, but what you can do and get paid for that you would actually pay other people for. Let me kind of rephrase that so I’m clear to the listeners. This came out of a conversation with Tim Ferriss. I talked to Tim, who’s the author of The 4-Hour Workweek. I’ve known him pretty well for a few years.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: That’s a great book.

JOE POLISH: Yes, it’s a great book. I’ve interviewed Tim a couple of times, had him speak at my conferences, gone on vacation with him, and all kinds of stuff. We’ve had lots of conversation about this sort of topic. I also work with Dr. Edward Hallowell who wrote CrazyBusy: Overworked, Overstretched, and About to Snap! Strategies for Coping in a World Gone ADD. I have a lot of conversations about how you have to find a kind of work you love, and the money will follow.

That’s true to a certain degree. You have to live in the real world. You have to have a strategy and sell products, services, and experiences that people want, need, and desire and that will help them. There’s a whole lot to it. I do the Genius Network Interview Series, which when we had cassette tapes was called the Joe Polish Superstar Audio Tape of the Month Program. I don’t know if people can still remember audio cassettes.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: That program I was talking about was audio cassettes.

JOE POLISH: Absolutely. I still miss tapes. I like that you can just pull them out and they stay in the same spot. It doesn’t quite happen with CDs or clicking off an Internet link. Nonetheless, I did it for myself. I wanted to pick the brains of people who had knowledge that I wanted, and I, lo and behold, turned it into a knowledge product. I found that if I came from the standpoint of just asking genuine questions I wanted to know the answers to, a lot of people wanted to know those same answers.

I developed a unique way of pulling great wisdom out of very smart people, packaging it, and delivering it to people so they could get the footnotes of some of these individuals’ best knowledge, skills, strategies, and capabilities delivered in the form of an interview. It’s way more than just an interview series. It’s about capturing wisdom. Data is everywhere. There’s a lot of data to sift through.

I’m always looking for wisdom, and it was a great way for me to do it. I personally would pay for the majority of the stuff I sell to other people. It’s kind of a great business model, and I think a lot of people would be well-served to think about that, not pursuing things just to make money, pursuing things you can make money for from a business standpoint, but also that you would actually pay other people to do.

How would that shift what you spend your time and energy on? It’s really hard to have a profitable business doing something you despise that gives you no juice or energy. That’s how I tried to develop my business endeavors.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: I have to tell you that you’ve just shared what I’d consider one of the great diamonds of business knowledge. If you look at some of the greatest products that have been created in our world, they’ve come out of people trying to solve a problem or fill a gap that they wanted to take advantage of but nobody was doing it. In fact, I know that you and I have both had the good fortune to listen to Richard Branson.

We’ve both spent some time with him. As he described his businesses, oftentimes he was looking for something he wanted to do that nobody was doing as well as it needed to be done. He was looking for that gap.

JOE POLISH: Exactly. That’s how he started Virgin Atlantic, his original airline company. I won’t tell the whole story. You can read about it in his books and hear about it in the interview I did with him. The airline industry is dismal, and one of the things I heard Dan Sullivan, the founder of Strategic Coach, say is that the slogan for the airline industry is, We’re not happy until you’re not happy.

He noticed that the way that they ran it was dismal, and he thought he could do it better. That’s kind of how he approaches all the hundreds of different Virgin companies that exist. The real number no one really knows. He has between 200 and 300 different Virgin companies, and they have 50,000-plus employees collectively and do $25 billion a year in revenue, approximately. Within all of it, their motto is, What can we do a better job at than someone who’s dropped the ball? or like you said, Chris, a gap. That’s their model.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: It’s very cool. One of the biggest questions we get from our listeners is, How do I make the transition from a job I absolutely hate to doing what I love? I think you made that transition, if I recall correctly. Will you tell us the story of how you got started and how it all unfolded?

JOE POLISH: Yes. I did a lot of things growing up, from cutting lawns to painting curbs with addresses on them to delivering newspapers to selling newspaper subscriptions door to door. I was an incredibly shy kid growing up.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: That’s hard to believe.

JOE POLISH: I’m still an introvert. I’m naturally an introverted person. I’ve just learned that in order to get checks and go out and get what you want in life, you actually have to talk to people and interact with people. I’m not one of those people who would go to a party and feel comfortable going up to people I don’t know. I do it. There’s one thing I’ve learned, and it’s that which you fear in life that you don’t face controls you.

That which you fear in life that you take efforts to face, you can control or make more manageable. One of the first real businesses I got into was the carpet and upholstery cleaning business. I had a friend from high school talk me into starting this business with him with some savings I had from delivering newspapers and various other things growing up.

I invested $1,500 in some chemicals, equipment, business cards that said, Professional carpet cleaner. Residential, commercial, and listed our phone number. All of a sudden I was a business owner. That partnership with him lasted about two months, because he was more interested in getting wasted and drunk and doing drugs every night than he was in helping me build and grow this business.

That’s unfortunate because it’s an addict thing, but nonetheless, here I was stuck with these chemicals, equipment, machines, and business cards that said I was a business owner, but I had no real skills or anything. I happened to get into a business I really knew nothing about. For the first two years of that business, I struggled. I begged jobs from friends and family. I knocked on doors and lived off credit cards.

I wasn’t even bringing in enough money to pay my bills. There are different ways that a person can go bankrupt or go broke. I never went bankrupt. I was just broke for the entire two years. It took me that long to figure out that my biggest problem wasn’t that I didn’t know how to clean carpets, because I went and got certified and got training. There is actual training. Like any industry, there are skills you need to know.

It took me two years, though, of being clueless. Thankfully, I had credit cards where I could keep charging a little bit of money every month and keep going deeper and deeper in debt. I was about $35,000 in debt on credit cards and various other debts I’d accumulated when I ran across my first marketing newsletter, which was The Gary Halbert Letter that a friend gave me.

That’s what opened my eyes to this whole subject of marketing and, more importantly, direct response marketing. Image advertising, the typical marketing that most people are taught in a college, would be based on large companies, name recognition, and brand building. The type of marketing I learned-and to this day still utilize, have taught to thousands of people, and is responsible for millions of dollars-is direct response.

It isn’t just designed to get your name out there like image advertising does. It’s designed to get your name out there and get a response back. I started looking at all the different ways I was promoting my carpet cleaning services. I really didn’t have a compelling message. I was good at cleaning carpets. I knew what I was doing. I treated clients well. I didn’t use bait-and-switch advertising like many companies do.

They’ll advertise a really low price, and then they get into the home and do some form of high-pressure selling in order to increase the price. I didn’t do any of that stuff. I simply didn’t know what I was doing. I learned that you can change the message on a business card, the side of a van, a flyer, postcard, letter, and today, the Internet. When I first learned marketing, web pages didn’t even exist.

There was no Internet, at least in business. I’m sure some military people-or however the original purpose of the Internet was designed-were using it, but it certainly wasn’t used in business. Today, the Internet is obviously a huge part of it. I learned that by simply changing the message, you can change the response. All of a sudden I started using headlines and powerful, compelling sales copy. I put together things like a consumer awareness guide on how to choose a carpet cleaner.

I started teaching prospects seven carpet cleaning rip-offs, mistakes to avoid when choosing a carpet cleaner, the difference between value and price, and questions to ask a carpet cleaner before you invite him into your home. I started educating them using education-based marking. These are things that any great marketing trainer would use, from Gary Halbert to Jay Abraham to Dan Kennedy to all the marketers who are out there.

They use education-based marketing with a heavy emphasis on sales copy and persuasive, compelling words. I figured out how to set it up so it was robotic. I put together one of my very first successful marketing strategies. It was a free recorded message on how to choose a carpet cleaner. By putting that information out there, people would call and listen to a 10-minute recording that would teach them how to choose a carpet cleaner.

By the time they called my office, they were ready to do business with my carpet cleaning company versus calling up and getting everything I got before I used any of this marketing, which was this. If they called me at all, the first question out of their mouth was, How much do you charge? I didn’t have any way to attract people other than price. That was my first start in learning how I got started in business. What was your question?

CHRIS ATTWOOD: How do you get out of a job that you hate and into doing something that you love doing?

JOE POLISH: That requires someone being either heavily inspired in thinking accurately or so sick and tired of what they’re doing that they’re absolutely willing to sever their safety net and, maybe, take some risks. I don’t want to send someone off in a stupid direction. There are lots of intelligent ways to get out of something you hate doing. One thing I’d recommend is for people to write this down and put on their mirror, computer screen, screensaver, or in their wallet, and then read it.

Be willing to destroy anything in your life or your business that is not excellent. A lot of times, it is that. You just simply need to get to the point where you’re not okay with things sucking anymore, and you want them to be better. The best piece of advice that I would know how to give is the one thing that changed it all around for me, which was learning marketing. Dan Kennedy used to write a lot of my sales copy.

For nine years, I had Dan write a lot of sales copy for me. I’ve owned four different niche businesses with Dan. I’ve spent a lot of time with Dan, and people either love him or they hate him. He’s a smart marketer, and he’s also very arrogant in a lot of people’s eyes. What he does say that’s kind of funny is that he used to drive around with copies of Think and Grow Rich in his trunk when he was totally dead broke.

He learned that there’s no difference between the world’s greatest positive mental attitude and the worst when it comes to money. You can be a very positive and happy broke person. I was the same way. I was reading a lot of self-help and personal development. That’s all extremely valuable. The challenge was that I didn’t have a methodology on how to actually sell what it was that I was trying to make a living doing, which in this case was a carpet cleaning business.

Let me also interject early on that if there are people out there listening who have a business that’s different from carpet cleaning, that’s not what I do today. It’s one of the industries we market to, and we teach them and give them templates, training, and strategies. This applies to anything.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: If we didn’t make it clear in your introduction, Joe, I hope that all of our listeners realize that you are generally recognized as one of the great direct response marketers living today. Your accomplishments should certainly speak to that. I don’t want to interrupt too much where you were going, but I would appreciate if you’d talk a little bit more about what you mentioned of this education-based marketing.

I’m not sure everyone listening knows exactly what that is, and you mentioned some powerful things that you did when you were getting started. What exactly is education-based marketing?

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For more information about Joe Polish and his work, please go to www.JoePolish.com.