On a sunny morning in 1979, a bunch of 10-year-old boys got ready for a cross country race.

It was a big deal, this race – the start of school sports day. Okay, there was no prize as such, but honour was at stake!

They lined up, as their teacher set out the route. But too excited to listen, they talked among themselves. Chattering on about their sporting prowess and their chances of winning.

But 30 minutes later, their confidence turned to disbelief.

They were dumbfounded. Because no-one in their wildest dreams would have predicted the outcome…

See, the winner was a smallish boy who’d never come first in his life. Over any distance, he usually finished just ahead of the fat boys and the pale wheezy kid with the inhaler.

But never, ever first.

If someone had opened a book on the race, he was the 200-1 shot.

And yet, he did it. Stunned the whole field – breaking the finishing tape, with no-one else in sight.

How did he do it?

Well, not by running faster, that’s for sure! Technically, at least two dozen boys ran a better time that day.

No, this boy won for one simple reason:

Everyone else went the wrong way!

Be more like the other type: the one who looks before leaping

Their fate was sealed back at the starting line, when they were too busy talking to listen to the teacher.

Within a minute of setting off, they’d taken a wrong turn. The Alpha Male leading the pack, with the other boys following – just assuming that their leader knew where he was going!

Only the smallish boy thought to ignore the pack, and doggedly stuck to the designated route.

So, the faster boys were left stranded out in the open, looking for the finish line…while the unlikely hero plodded on and stole the glory.

Now, as you’ve probably guessed…

Yes, the boy in question was me.

I was no great shakes as an athlete. I could bowl a decent cricket ball, and hold a tennis racquet the right way up. But as a runner, I had no power at all.

I only won by staying on track.

But never mind me. For a moment, just imagine you’re one of those other boys.

You’ve given it your all. Run your hardest, till your lungs could burst. Pummelled your legs till they turned to jelly. But still pushed on, determined that you’ll sweep to victory…

…Only to find out, right at the end – it was a duff mission. Doomed to fail from the start.

As a 10-year-old, who thinks this stuff matters, you’d be devastated – right?

Hell, yeah.

And you know what?

This happens in marketing every single day

The masses won’t pay attention to detail, because they’re too distracted…too impatient…at the start. They just want to tear off and do it.

So they set off without a plan. Or with a flawed notion of where they’re headed, based on a few words they remember from the latest “Marketing Ninja”.

Then they follow each other blindly. All using the same half-baked tactics – and assuming there’s someone out in front who knows what the hell they’re doing.

Result: an epic fail. No matter how much promise or talent they show, it all goes south very quickly.

But you don’t have to go that way.

You could be more like the other type: the one who looks before leaping. Who quietly sets out with a clear route, and follows it.

I’m living proof – even a lesser talent succeeds with this approach!

Of course, this is not exciting. I’m urging you to be more tortoise than hare, and I know that’s deadly dull. Not as sexy as yelling “JFDI!” and charging right on in there.

But I’m sorry, it’s essential. If you want to break the finishing tape, there’s no other way.

That’s where my new book is coming from

It’s an antidote to the massively over-used phrase “JFDI”.

I’ve seen this coming. As a sales and marketing guy with a 20-year pedigree, I’ve seen the rise of “JFDI” from its early days.

It used to be a call to arms, to gee up procrastinators. Telling them to shake a leg and finally get started.

It was a pretty good thing. Back in those distant days.

But in the digital age, the self-styled gurus have claimed “JFDI” as their own. It’s come to mean, “Don’t think – just do”. As if there’s time for thinking later.

Nope – the time for thinking is now.

Unless you like the idea of strapping on a blindfold and hoping for a bullseye.

So here’s the deal…

I’m not suggesting for one second that you dedicate months – or even weeks – to the planning stage. Whether you’re starting a whole new venture, or a new campaign, you’ve got targets to meet and bills to pay…you’ve got to step up and take action.

But I am saying, there’s a balance: a happy medium, where you ask yourself a few vital questions…make a plan, write a brief…Before You JFDI.

Trust me, it’ll be time well spent.

For the last 13 years, I’ve worked solely as a copywriter and strategist. And I see people taking the wrong route every day.

It starts when they approach someone like me, asking – for example – “How much to write a sales letter?”

It might seem like a sensible question. But in truth, the decision to send a letter has come way too soon. They’ve jumped straight into a tactic, without considering strategy.

Meaning, they don’t know yet if a letter is their best option.

And it might not be. Think about it – with some digging, we could discover all sorts of issues. Like:

…For their chosen audience, an online campaign would be better.

…Or they’re right to use direct mail, but they’re targeting the wrong list.

…Or they’re making the wrong offer.

…Or they’re mailing at the wrong time.

…Or maybe there are underlying problems that need fixing first. It happens…

Example: a few years ago, a client hired me to write a letter that would generate leads for a call centre. But during the research phase, I unearthed a few gremlins:

  • Their call handling process was dreadful – so leads were getting lost in the system.
  • Their lead conversion was poor, because agents were working from a dud script.
  • Their follow-up was non-existent. If they didn’t close the deal on the phone, the prospect would never hear from them again.
  • Their sales tracking was weak. They didn’t know which marketing channels generated leads – so they couldn’t focus money and effort on the stuff that worked.
  • Plus, they had no testing process. No way to run one message against another, and declare a winner. So they’d never find the best possible versions of their letters and emails.

When I took this back to the client, we had to conclude that the whole sales funnel was broken…so it would have been crazy to refill it with expensive leads.

We needed to fix things first: work through the whole snag list before we’d deem it safe to invest in a new mailshot.

It delayed things, of course. But it was one step back to take two forward… a sensible move, you’d agree.

So – I’m asking you to do the same before you dive into a new project. To take some time at the start, to ask a few questions and make a few plans. And I hope my new book is going to help you through that process.

Of course, I don’t know you, and how much you know about this already – so you’ll have to forgive me if you feel I’m teaching you to suck eggs here and there!

That’s unavoidable, sorry, if we want to cover all bases.

So, the book starts with the much-debated question: what is marketing anyway? In this section, we quickly run through a dummy campaign to show you the thinking behind a decent strategy.

Then, we’ll work through the 7 major decisions you’ll need to make at the start: your target audience, your offer, your route to market, and more.

Then finally, we’ll turn it all into a watertight brief. We’ll go through a set of questions that will give your copywriter all the facts and emotional hooks they’re going to need.

Work through the whole thing, and you’ll have a sound basis for your next campaign.

If you like the sound of that, you can claim a free copy via the link below.

Then do your planning – make your decisions – before you start the race.

I promise, it’ll save you the misery of running at full pelt… only to realise you’ve been hurtling down the wrong track.

For a free copy of James’ new book Before You JFDI, go to www.jamesthecopywriter.co.uk.