The Psychotactics Story: Why We Stopped The Hugely Profitable Protege Program :Episode 74

Three Month Vacation:Online Business Podcast

Imagine you had a program that generated over $150,000 a year

Let’s also imagine that this program always had a waiting list and that clients loved it. Would you stop the program, or let it run? In 2006, we started the Protege Program and by 2009, it came to an abrupt halt. But was it abrupt? And why did it stop in the first place?

Get ready for this action-packed podcast—full of lessons for your own small business.


Right click here and ‘save as’ to download this episode to your computer.

Psychotactics Workshop Story: Part 2

“This transcript hasn’t been checked for typos, so you may well find some. If you do, let us know and we’ll be sure to fix them.”


It was February 2006

I’d just started a crazy venture called the Protege. Well it was crazy for me at least. I’d written a sales letter promising that I would teach six courses in one year. The courses were Article Writing, Copy Writing, Information Product Strategy, Website Strategy, Core Marketing Strategy and  PR (Public Relations). And no sooner than the Protege sessions started up when I had this idea of holding a workshop for the Proteges in California.

There was only one problem

This workshop was not part of what I’d promised. It was an extra workshop of five days. For the first three days we’d be working on Website Strategy and the next two days would be closed-door Protege sessions. So the problem that arose instantly was one of scheduling, money, effort and a few dozen assorted issues. For me it meant that I had to book a room somewhere in the U.S., book flights and do an entire workshop in slides in less than eight weeks. What’s more interesting is that the workshop didn’t exist. Notes didn’t exist and neither did the slides.

This was compounded by a few interesting facts

The Protege year was something that was just dreamed up in a salesletter. No material existed for any of the six courses (today they all exist in audio/text, but back then I was creating it as the courses rolled along). So I had this cute little challenge of hosting live teleclasses (training calls), creating content on the fly, managing a forum with 15 proteges and preparing for a workshop all at once.

Admittedly those were problems that were pretty rough but that was the least of my problems

I also had a bit of a mutiny on my hands. I hadn’t made the workshop a compulsory attendance issue (you could attend if you like to) but I sure stressed it was important. I also required each of the proteges to cough up an additional $500 for the workshop (it was just to cover the costs of the venue etc.) This additional payment didn’t go down well. What made it worse was they had to travel to Campbell, California, stay in a hotel and had all of this additional expenditure—not to mention they all had to take at least a week off from work. They were not happy in the least. It was almost like a bit of bait and switch.

But in my mind it wasn’t bait and switch at all
I really felt that those five days would be of immense help to the Proteges. For one there was the factor of learning in a compressed state (over five days). There was also the factor of connecting with each other because when people connect, they work better after the connection. To me it seemed quite sensible to have a meeting like this totally out of the blue (just kidding). But this sudden move kicked up a ton of dust and I then spent a fair bit of time on the phone, and via the forums and email sorting things out.

Once things were sorted out the real work began

We had to find a venue and get on with the job of getting the show on the road. Because Renuka’s sister, Audrey lived in Campbell, she did some scouting around for us and we soon located a meeting room at the adorable Pruneyard Plaza just 5 minutes away from Audrey’s house. And unlike the earlier workshops there was absolutely no drama at all this time around.

All we had to do was land in San Francisco, and we were picked up from the airport. We were chauffeured around from Kinko’s (where we got our binders and notes photocopied) to Costco and just about everywhere. In fact the hotel even picked us up at 7am from the house every morning and dropped us back every evening (I bet no one has ever done that before or since). And the workshop went like a dream. Oh I forgot to tell you how we made a profit on the workshop.  :whistle:

So here’s how we made a profit

$500 per Protege wasn’t even barely going to cover the airfares and costs of the workshops, and if you’re going to do a workshop might as well make a profit. That’s only part of the issue. When you’re doing a workshop, you want to make sure you have a full house. Having just ten or fifteen people in a room is nice, but having about 25-30 people in the room really creates enormous energy in the room. So we decided to sell 15 -18 seats (we only ever take 33-35 attendees—never more). And the good thing was that we had already “sold” 15 seats because  all the Proteges decided to show up. This created an instant urgency because 50% of the seats were taken. Bear in mind this workshop was selling at $2200 per head or thereabouts, so it wasn’t an easy sell. Even so, the workshop was soon filled. The Campbell workshop was well on its way.

The Campbell workshops and the Protege Program went on till the year 2008

The Protege Program was a reasonably profitable program generating anything between $100,000-$150,000 a year. And year after year we’d have the workshop in Campbell, CA and there were never any hitches. And it became part of the Prot’g’ Program. What was even cooler was we started speaking at the System Seminar in Chicago, which was often held around the same time as ourProtege sessions, and so we’d finish the Protege and head to Chicago, do a speaking engagement and head for a well deserved break either within the US or to Europe.

But then in 2008 we decided to pull the Protege Program

As I said, the Protege Program was a reasonable sum of guaranteed income year after year. But to my mind it wasn’t good for consumption. Expecting a client to learn five or six new skills in a year was like learning five or six new languages a year. It wasn’t just bad for consumption, but it wasn’t (in my mind at least) doing the customer any good. So we pulled the Program. And people often asked me what I would replace the program with. And I didn’t plan to replace it with anything. As far as I was concerned, I was more interested in teaching and getting the clients to learn and implement. To me the Protege Program, wonderful as it was, wasn’t achieving exactly what I set out to do. And so when we pulled the Prot’g’ Program, we pulled the workshops as well.

Not all workshops of course

We’d still do some workshops in Auckland, where we live in New Zealand. One or two a year if at all. But the workshops held locally didn’t require the same level of planning and precision as the international workshops. Plus there were no travel costs, hotel costs or any fancy costs. Even our core costs of the room hire and expenses were lower here (There’s no gratuity or tipping required in New Zealand and all costs are inclusive of taxes, so there are no surprises whatsoever).

And then the year 2009 rolled along. It was the first year we’d didn’t do any workshops. Not in the US. Not in New Zealand. And I hadn’t really planned to do any in 2010. In fact I was pretty much happy to be back in New Zealand after a three week vacation in Argentina and Uruguay. And we were sitting at our favourite cafe when Renuka suggested we do the US/Canada trip.

In every situation, I have an idea and Renuka says no

In this situation, I was saying no and Renuka wanted me to go ahead.
And we had a lead time of just four weeks. In four weeks we had to get at least 35 people to sign up at two venues: Vancouver and Washington D.C. And I wasn’t even keen on doing the trip. But Renuka said we had to do it.

Um did I say 35 people? I meant 70 people (35 at both venues).

It was a start of a mini nightmare.

The nightmare wasn’t so much getting the sign ups for the workshop

The nightmare was getting the venue for the event. You see, all those years of California sun had made us pretty complacent. Getting a venue for the workshop simply meant that we fixed a date, called the hotel and got our room. And bear in mind the booking is always temporary. Even though our workshops have always been solidly booked, we still will always make a temporary booking—just in case.

This time around there was no temporary booking to be had

Unlike the usual California venue, we were looking for places in Washington D.C. and Vancouver, Canada. And two instant problems cropped up. One was the obvious one: we’d never had a workshop in any of these places, so we were totally unfamiliar with the territory. The second one was that we had no relationship with the hotel—and hence not a clue of what to expect.

But at first it all seemed simple enough

I went online, and looked up hotel meeting rooms and there they were—dozens of options just waiting to be picked. What surprised me was that most of them were costing as little as $200 + taxes per day. I was astounded—truly astounded, because these were hotels in prime areas. Some of them were within walking distance of downtown areas, even the White House. But hey, I wasn’t going to complain. I now had a pick of hotels and I was going to do my cherry picking all right.

So I did what any sensible person would do

I emailed half a dozen hotels and asked them if they would be willing to book a meeting room for the dates we’d decided upon. And with that job done and dusted, I moved along to making sure I had the sales pages ready, because we needed to get participants to sign up as well. And the first email that went out was pretty darned heartening. Over 50% of the seats got taken in just a few days. This was looking better than I thought, until I checked my email.

The inbox was swamped with responses to my queries

But the common question I kept getting was: How many rooms can we block for your guests? Hmm, I figured 35 people were going to show up, so I told them we’d have at least 15-20 rooms taken up by the guests. But I couldn’t be sure, I admitted. After all, the guest may choose to stay at the hotel or elsewhere. So I asked them to block a temporary 15-20 rooms and as we signed up participants, we’d direct them to the hotel and they could sign up. Of course there would be a cut off date, so the hotel wouldn’t have to keep the rooms booked forever.

But the hotels didn’t want to play ball

They wanted us to guarantee the rooms. And guarantee at least 80% of the rooms. So if you consider 35 participants, then 80% is about 28 rooms. Consider that every guest stays 3 nights, and that’s about 84 bookings. Each room may be in the range of $100-$200. You get the idea, don’t you? The hotels were asking us to guarantee between $8500-$17,000 worth of bookings. And if the guests didn’t show up, we’d have to foot the bill.

So I changed the question.

I asked: If I don’t guarantee the rooms, what will you charge for the meeting rooms? $6016 came the answer from one of the hotels. That’s $6,016 per day. A lot better than paying $17,000, you’ll agree, but still not a risk worth taking. And now we were in a real soup. Most of the participants who’d signed up were told that we’d have the workshop in Washington D.C. and Vancouver, Canada, but the exact details were going to be revealed later. Now we had sign ups but not a meeting room in sight.

It was time to fill in every hotel form we could find

I don’t know how many forms I filled up, but I hated every one of them. It was the same boring set of questions over and over again, and because they’re all forms, both Renuka and I were cutting and pasting endlessly. And then the responses started coming in by the truckload. Every time we’d check our email there was a whole bunch of emails with counter questions: How many rooms will you book? Will catering be involved? What is the minimum catering you’d require. The answer was none, no and nothing. But it still took up hours and more hours every day. I was feeling like a zombie dealing with what seemed like an endless barrage of queries.

That wasn’t the only problem

The other problem was they were so many hotels (some with similar brand names) that they all started merging into one in my head. It was at this point that three saviours stepped right up. In Vancouver, Leanne asked if she could help. In Washington D.C., Marina and Natalya volunteered as well. By this point we were exhausted, but we’d managed to get a few hotels to agree to our terms. So yes, we’d do a temporary booking. And no, there’s no need of any fancy catering. And no we can’t guarantee the rooms. And some agreed. So now it was a matter of creating a shortlist.

Excel and me aren’t the best of friends

In fact we hardly know of each other. In all my year on a computer—and I’ve been on computers since around the early 1990s, I’ve never so much as opened up Excel, let alone do a spreadsheet. But as I said, I was desperate. Someone (I forget who) created a Google docs spreadsheet and we started to fill in whatever details were available. And things were starting to look good. The sign-ups had slowed down considerably since the early burst, but to be fair we’d only sent out one or two emails. Now that the hotels were kinda falling in place, we could have the luxury of filling in the rest of the seats.

Actually things were looking better than good

We’d settled on hotels that were in great areas: In Georgetown, Washington D.C and downtown Vancouver. At which point Marina and Natalya volunteered to look up the hotels. Natalya was in Washington with her husband and kids, so she jumped on the metro and very magnanimously checked out the hotels we’d shortlisted. And she came back with a “F” on the hotels. She wasn’t impressed. The one we’d set our hearts on, was in the basement, very squeezed and with a distinct odour of mildew.

But Natalya wasn’t giving up

Right at the start she’d hinted about a hotel called Hampton Inn, located near the Reagan National Airport. Now she set about checking it out as an alternative. And yes, the “shoe” fit. She approved of the meeting rooms and the hotel accommodation. But this close miss had set our hearts racing. What if we’d made the same mistake in Vancouver? This time it was Leann’s turn. She made the long drive from Whistler to downtown Vancouver just to recce the various options. And yes, lightning does strike twice. The one we’d originally chosen was a bit of a dump. Slightly tacky. Not so hot.

But just like Natalya’s story there was a happy ending

The Listel on Robson Street, Vancouver was actually happy with our crazy terms. And they were ready to make a booking for those meeting rooms. That Excel spreadsheet was finally down to two choices, one in D.C and one in Vancouver. But it’s not like the emails stopped. You see we’d contacted (I don’t know) maybe 40-50 hotels (maybe some twice, even). And they were all writing in asking to confirm. We even had some long distance calls to top up the emails. For a change it was nice to say NO. And yes, our trip was finally getting underway.

And not a moment too soon

Participants had to fly in—and some from tiny airports, so they needed to know quickly which airport to fly into. By this point we knew the answers. Luckily from that moment on, nothing much went wrong, but that week or two was pure misery. I’d go to bed completely drained—even frustrated. To have those rooms booked and the event underway was such a relief. All I had to do was make sure that the rest of the seats were filled and I got down to the business of making sure we got the blog rolling (to create a factor of excitement and anticipation) and the slides and the music for the event.

The Brain Audit workshops were kinda unusual

For one it wasn’t just a workshop. Every four years, we have a Cave Party + workshop. At this Caver Party, we not only learn, but we go out on a day trip, do a treasure hunt, sample the wines in wineries and spend lots of time over lunch and dinner. But I was still a bit apprehensive. Some of the participants had been with Psychotactics and 5000bc for a long time. And some of them had read The Brain Audit in Version 1, Version 2 and also Version 3. They were members. They’d been on our courses. And there I was, talking about The Brain Audit. I was afraid it would be super boring for them. I mean we’d gone over this stuff before in the books, audio and video. How could I straddle the expectations of those who’d just read the last version of The Brain Audit vs. those who’d read every version.

Sleep wasn’t easy to come by

And it wasn’t because of jet-lag either. Sure we’d flown in from New Zealand to California, woken up at 4am and got onto a flight bound for Washington DC. Sure we were tired and crossing squillions of time zones. But exhausted as I was, I couldn’t sleep. I’d wake up at 2am to practice my presentation and go over it again and again, making dozens of changes. Even the second day (which was the day off) had me a little perturbed. I wasn’t sure how we’d go about the treasure hunt. Were we going to play dodge ball? How would people react to having to spend an extra day for no apparent learning? These things bothered me a lot. And it wasn’t till Day 3 that I truly started to relax just that tiny bit.

I wasn’t well either

I was definitely very exhausted. Not sleeping well. Apprehensive. And yes, I had a reasonably irritating acidity problem as well. This meant instead of gorging everything in sight, I had to restrict myself to “baby food”. Anything that was bland, non-oily—as I said, baby food. Alcohol, chocolates, coffee, icecream: they were all off the menu. Of course I wasn’t paying much attention at first. So I went out. I ate Ethiopian food, then Mexican, then Italian—yes, back to back meals.

And I was in more than slight discomfort. That didn’t help me overall. And now I’m sounding like a real wus, but I managed to stiffen my shoulder and neck as well. So why am I telling you all this? Well there’s sympathy (ha, ha) but more because you need to know that these things happen. That you’re not going to get this free ride into everything turning out just hunky dory. And yet if you listened to the recording of the workshops or were there at the workshop itself, you’d notice little or nothing unless I told you about it.

The last night in D.C.

We’re all packed and ready to catch an 8am flight the next day to Vancouver, Canada. It’s an international flight, so we have to be at the airport by 5 am or so. And so we make sure we get to bed before 10pm. Then at 10:30pm, the fire alarm goes off. There’s this insistent beeping, and we’re roused from a deep, tired sleep racing around the room madly. I tried to call the reception, but the phone seemed dead.

Renuka ran barefoot into the corridor only to find it completely peaceful (Folks were coming back from dinner, and seeing Renuka barefoot, another woman took off her shoes). No one seemed slightly disturbed. It was like we were the only ones panicking. Then I looked at our bags. They were sitting right under the sprinkler. And I thought it was a good idea to move the bags before the sprinklers went off and soaked all the equipment.

As I moved the bag, the sound of the fire alarm shifted

Aaaagh! It was our travel clock. There was no fire. Somehow the travel clock had shifted and an alarm had been set for 10:30pm. And that’s what was going off. I know it seems funny to you. And it was funny too us. We enjoyed the madness for five minutes and then hopped back to bed and dozed off immediately.

By the time we got to Vancouver, my diet was doing really well.

The workshops were far more relaxing for me. I smiled a lot more. And then, after a few days in Vancouver, we were ready to go back to San Jose, California for a week, before heading back to New Zealand. The original plan was to have three workshops. One in Vancouver, Canada. One in Washington D.C. and one in London, UK. Thank goodness we stopped at two. I was exhausted. I was ready to see sheep and head back on my Air New Zealand flight back home. And we did. We had a little hiccup or two (the flight was delayed by 12 hours; I acted like an idiot and ate spicy Indian food and re-started up the acidity) but all in all it was just part of the game.

Workshops are stressful

There’s so much to do. So little time. It involves pre-selling, getting venues, making sure everyone’s comfortable, getting great content and running a tight ship in terms of budgets—amongst other things. Things go crazy in workshops. And not so crazy. And these experiences may intimidate you a bit. Believe me, you should have workshops. They’re what helps you connect with your audience in a way that no Internet browser can do.

They’re what help you become a better teacher, presenter and consultant.

And it forges a bond that causes clients to become friends. We went with Marcus Stout for sushi. Stew Walton spent close to 6 hours to come and say hello, join us for dinner, and then went back the next day (another six hour journey). Greg Lee brought his daughter, Rabia and his wife Penelope along to meet us for dinner. Marina Brito took us to lunch, showed us around, and hosted another lunch for several of us. Steve Washer helped us with the video shooting, production and editing. Tom Clifford helped us by being the perfect interrogator.

Karen Tiede and Warren Hayford made sure I ate sensibly at the workshops. The list goes on and on and these are just folks I’m mentioning from the D.C. Workshop. Everyone plays a massive role—way more than you can imagine. This isn’t just some passive “show up and learn” workshop. Everyone gets “goodies” from their hometown. Everyone takes pictures. They have long chats. Dinners. This is like Thanksgiving or Christmas lunch (without all the tension ;)). It’s magical. Often even very emotional. And yes it’s a moment in time that you can’t recreate by just being a speaker at some event. You have to wade in and it’s not always pretty, but it’s always exciting and memorable. And so far, it’s always had a happy ending.

These are events you can’t recreate sitting at your desk in the comfort of your office. You have to be a little brave. A little scared. A lot hassled. And you’ll find rich rewards in hosting workshops.

So there you have it. A glimpse into just some of the episode into our workshops. Let’s head off to the next chapter: the story of 5000bc.

Footnote: You always want enough people in the room, and it’s not because of cost and profit factors alone. There’s also the factor of having enough people in a room. If there are too few participants, it’s much harder for both the presenter and the audience. For the presenter, having a group size of between 20-30 ensures a high level of energy in the room. You get all sorts of folks when you have about 30 of them in the room, and invariably you get introverts, extroverts, funny folks, more serious folks. In short you get a good mix. This is critical for a presenter, because not only does it assist in the actual presentation, but also in group sessions where a good mix is pretty darned essential.

Still reading? Don’t miss the Psychotactics Workshop Story: Part 1

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The Psychotactics Story-Part 1: The Craziness of The Very First US Workshop:Episode 73

Three Month Vacation:Online Business Podcast

Imagine being a hostage at your own workshop!

Imagine not having access to your own venue; having to take permission from someone else just to conduct your event. This is the crazy story of the very first Psychotactics U.S. Workshop. And while it’s an entertaining story all by itself, there’s a lot to learn as well for any small business owner.

Let’s go on this on part one of this crazy roller coaster ride into Psychotactics land.

In this episode Sean talks about

Part 1: What went wrong with the strategic alliance?
Part 2: What did we do when the credit card company went bust?
Part 3: And how did a hurricane come to our rescue?
Right click here and ‘save as’ to download this episode to your computer.

Useful Resources

The Brain Audit: Why Clients Buy (And Why They Don’t)
Another Psychotactics Story: The Early Years-Psychotactics-Moving to New Zealand
The Power of Enough: And Why It’s Critical To Your 

Psychotactics Workshop Story: Part 1

“This transcript hasn’t been checked for typos, so you may well find some. If you do, let us know and we’ll be sure to fix them.”

“You want a room for 150 people? Is that correct?”
“Yes that’s correct,” I said. “150 people.”
And then I put down the phone.

That was the booking I was making for our first ever Psychotactics workshop in the US.

And I did some quick calculations. I had watched other marketers fill up rooms with 1500-2000 people. And I figured, naively of course, that I could easily manage to sign up at least a hundred and fifty folks. And if you know anything about workshops, you’ll get to know one thing quickly: You don’t have a workshop unless you have a room. Because that’s the first thing a client will ask. They always ask you where you’re going to host your workshop, and ask for the dates.

And those dates need to be set in stone long weeks, sometimes month in advance. But hey, it wasn’t like we weren’t prepared.

We were so nervous about this event, that it was critical we planned about six months in advance.

It didn’t help that I had never been to the U.S. before. It sure as heck was scary that I had an Indian passport. Now it’s not like I wasn’t already a permanent resident in New Zealand. I was, but you don’t get New Zealand citizenship for five years, and so I was stuck with the Indian passport. And the passport matters. With an NZ passport I can just jump on a plane at five minutes notice. With the Indian passport, I needed a visa.

I was petrified because I was selling seats at a workshop, and wasn’t even sure I’d get a visa

It’s not for want of trying. I got in touch with the American embassy a few months in advance. They didn’t process visas that much in advance, they told me. All I could do was buy my ticket, get the requisite paperwork and book an appointment to get the visa. There was only one glitch. They would let me know about the visa a week before I was due to travel.

And that was only part of the “problem”…

On the other front we had the issue of signing up clients for the workshop. This as you can tell, was no easy task. The price of the workshop was $1500 per person. That didn’t include any meals, stay or travel costs. If a client was to agree to come to the workshop, they’d have to fly or drive to get to Los Angeles. And it’s safe to say that you’d end up spending another $500-$750 on top of the price tag of the workshop itself. I somehow had to make this workshop too hard to miss. I had to make it enticing enough so that people would somehow decide they just had to be there.

And so we did the Free 16-Week training course in advance.

In case you didn’t work it out, that’s four months of training week after week (kinda of tells you how much in advance we were getting prepared). And every week we’d have an hour’s worth of teleconferences. Each of the teleconferences had their own agenda. And their own set of complications.

The complications arose from not knowing how many people would show up on the call

It was the year 2004. And back then, if you had a teleconference, you had a lot of no-shows, but still a heck of a lot of people would show up. And when we announced the 16-Week Course we got over 2000 people signing up to the free course. Should we book 500 teleconference lines? Or 300? Or 150? It was not only difficult to take a decision on the numbers but it also cost a fair packet to reserve those many lines at a time. And don’t forget, we were just getting started at Psychotactics. Every dollar was extremely precious to us. Throwing dollars on excess conference lines wasn’t my idea of fun at all.

Reluctantly, very reluctantly, I booked 500 lines

And roughly 150 people showed up for the first call. I instantly slashed the number of teleconference lines down to 150. Sometimes the call was packed to the brim. Sometimes not. But I figured I wanted 150 people and the most interested of the lot would show up anyway. And yes we were recording all the calls as well, so the number of downloads were still reasonably impressive. If you looked at the operation from the outside, it looked like a well-oiled machine.

Yet it was rough for us at Psychotactics

We were putting out fires on many fronts. One big front was the content that had to be drummed up week after week. On most weeks, I had no clue what we were going to cover the following week. And despite the fact that it was free, customer expectations were sky high. We’d get dozens of emails asking for the topics for all the calls. We’d get emails asking for the agenda of each call. People even asked for transcripts. And creating content week after week was only part of the problem.

The other problem was our “alliances”

As I said: I was scared. This was our first trip to the US. I had no idea where to go, what to do, and whom to trust. So I created some sort of alliance with some US based marketers. And in doing so, created a bit of quicksand for myself. I asked them to book the conference room, and the hotels on my behalf. Bing! Another mistake. When you book the room, the hotel only deals with the person who’s booked the place. Any changes you need to make have to be routed through the person who’s made the booking. As you would expect the hotel was dealing with the alliance. I was paying the bill but they were taking the decisions and calling the shots.

The workshop hadn’t even started, and the alliance was starting to go pretty sour

And it was all my mistake in a way. I didn’t do my homework. I got into a discussion with another marketer in the US and told him of our ‘newbie in the US’ predicament. And he assured us that he’d help. In fact, he wanted to be part of our workshop. He would actually market it to his list as well, and he wasn’t really interested in making any money.

I didn’t think it was fair

If he was going to put in time, fly to the venue, market it and even do some public relations then in my opinion he deserved to be paid. I told him we’d pay him a percentage of profits. I forget how much it was: something like 20% or 30%. And so we got off to what seemed a decent start.

But looks can be deceiving

We were in trouble almost right away when deciding the number of teleconference lines. I wanted to have fewer and then ramp up the number if a lot of people showed up. He was adamant we needed to have more lines, seeing how many people had signed up. And while I could see both sides of the picture, there was a hitch. He wasn’t paying for anything. So if we had twice as many lines, I would end up paying twice as much.

The trouble should have stopped there, but it didn’t

The room was booked in his name, even though I was paying the bill. At first I thought I’d be able to attract huge numbers, but it soon became apparent that we’d only ever get to about 20-30 people. So I called up the hotel and asked them to change the room to a smaller size. Makes sense, doesn’t it? You don’t pay for a massive room if you’ve got a smaller group. That didn’t sit well with our alliance. He was furious that I’d changed the room without consulting him first.

The tough part was that I had to tread carefully

For all practical purposes, the room was booked in his name. If he decided to prevent me from having the room (for whatever reason), I’d be in big trouble. I’d be at the venue (if I ever got my visa) with all those attendees, and he could effectively lock me out. The pressure was building on all sides and it wasn’t hard to see a worst-case scenario for everything.

Just when you think the worst is going to happen, it doesn’t

Well it didn’t for us at least. We managed to sign up about 25 people. And the alliance brought along about six-seven of his clients (they didn’t pay, and I was OK with that. I’ll explain why later). And so we had a potential 30 or so people coming to the workshop. And a week before our visit, we went (nervously) to the American Embassy, and walked out with 10-Year business and tourist visas.

And then something completely unexpected happened

PaySystems went bust. You see PaySystems was the merchant account we were dealing with. And normally we didn’t have a large amount due to us. Our clients would pay through the website, and the payment would go to PaySystems, who would in turn settle most of the bill by depositing it in our bank account. There was always a fifteen day lag between the collection of the money by PaySystems and the deposit. So for fifteen days we were in limbo. As it happened, in the last two weeks before the workshop, many clients paid their amounts and their “food coupons” through PaySystems.

The fortnight we were collecting a huge chunk of money, they decided to go bust.

I don’t know how much we lost. It may have been about $6000 or more. It wasn’t just the money accumulated in those two weeks. Merchant account routinely keep a small percentage of every transaction as a “security” in case there’s a chargeback of sorts. Well, guess what? They keep that percentage amount for several months. So not only did we lose the money collected in that fortnight, but also a decent chunk of “change” collected over the months.

This was proving to be a regular rollercoaster ride…

And while it was at points very frustrating, it was also hugely exciting. There was nothing to do but stay on the rollercoaster and make the best of the ride. In fact, to reduce the stress we took a few extraordinary measures. One of those measures was to take all the three-ring binders with us, along with the printed covers.

I know it sounds insane

Imagine trying to put 30+ two-ring binders in a suitcase. Because it doesn’t fit in one suitcase :) It takes two whole suitcases. And though a binder doesn’t weigh much by itself, it really starts to add up once you put thirty or more of them in suitcases. And so off we went, on our epic workshop trip to the US of A non-stop to San Francisco.

Why San Francisco and not Los Angeles?

Because Renuka’s sister lived near Campbell (a town near San Jose) at the time. We needed some time to get used to things. And get over whatever jet lag were were going to run into. Besides we still had to do a fair number of things before the workshop began. Some of these things included getting the notes printed, making sure the audio guy knew what to do etc. But at least by that point we were ready to tuck into a nice lamb roast on board, Kiwi wine and good ol’ Kapiti ice-cream on Flight NZ8 to San Francisco.

It’s nice to arrive in a place where you have someone waiting for you

Having Audrey (Renuka’s sister) and Mangesh (her husband) around was a real blessing for us. We walked into a ‘chauffeur-driven’ set up. If we wanted to go here, there or anywhere, we would be willingly ferried around. We didn’t have to work out how to get an internet connection. We just walked into their home and connected our computer to their wi-fi. The fridge was loaded with more food than we could possibly eat (though we did give it our best shot). And as we settled into the California lifestyle, our days were filled with endless wine, rum, margaritas and massively-sized chip packets (all food was jumbo-sized, at least by New Zealand standards).

Once the partying slowed down it was time to get back to work

We didn’t know what to expect in Los Angeles. After all we were arriving there just days before the event. So we decided to print out all the sets of notes at a local Kinko’s (Kinko is a stationery chain in the US). Remember we had two-ring binders? Well it seems that the US had mostly three-ring binders. And while we got Kinkos to photocopy the set of notes, we forgot to tell them that they would go in two-ring binders. As you can imagine, they had to work out some additional costs, but hey at least they got the notes to fit in our “Kiwi” two-ring binders.

We also had to make sure we recorded the event

So we managed to hire a professional sound guy (he was from Oakland). And after some cordial chats we were able to get him to understand what we needed. It was still going to cost us about $3500 or so to record and edit the audio, but hey let’s face it: In the workshop we were talking about recording what you do (the three prong system). There was no way we were going to goof up on the recording. We just had to get it right.

Our alliances wanted to get it more right than us, as you would expect

They demanded three microphones. One for me, and two for them. They wanted massive speakers in a room, when in fact a room for thirty people isn’t that large at all and even computer speakers do the trick. We were beyond arguing at this stage, so we gave in to the demands no matter how crazy. We had bigger fish to fry.

Remember the stuff we printed at Kinko’s?

We printed about 35 sets of notes. Each set consisted of about 100+ pages or so. And the math is easy. That’s 3500-4000 pages. Ever tried stuffing about four thousand pages into suitcases? It makes me laugh now thinking about moving that much paper around (and let’s not forget the three-ring binders). What we did next was even more nutty.

We decided to get on a Greyhound bus Why Greyhound?

Why not hire a nice car and drive to Los Angeles? Or at least take a flight? I don’t know what possessed me, but as a child I had brochures and booklets about Greyhound. And for some weird reason I wanted to get on a Greyhound. This presented a whole bunch of new, unwanted problems. The trip itself was fine. It was getting to a Greyhound station and then from the Greyhound station that was a bit of drama in itself.

The Greyhound bus station was far away from everything

Of course at the San Jose side of things, it was easy enough. Audrey dropped us off. And the trip was very pleasant (despite everyone asking us why on earth we were going by Greyhound). By the time we got to Los Angeles, we were quite edgy. I went off to get a cab or shuttle and some guy kept pestering Renuka. Nothing too dramatic, but she was glad when I got back. I can’t exactly remember how we got to the hotel, but it was some crazy circuitous route that involved Los Angeles airport. I know this because I reckon I saw LA airport about five or six times while we were in that city.

I can tell you I was nervous

I’d done workshops in New Zealand. Yet somehow I expected Americans to be different. I can’t explain what I expected. But I was nervous despite the fact that no one could see it. I wasn’t sure how things would turn out, and where we’d run into our next hurdle. We found our room, and it was absolutely wonderful. Clean, neat. Very nice bed. And as we opened the drapes, there it was: The most welcoming sign of all.

It said: Air New Zealand

Our room was facing what seemed to be some sort of Air New Zealand building. And instantly a smile crept onto my face. I could see that things were really going to swing our way from here on. It’s funny eh? Little things calm you down. Under different circumstances, I could have seen that sign, and not be in the slightest bit interested. And here it was, a mere sign, acting like a lighthouse on what I perceived to be a stormy night.

Stormy? It was balmy…

From then on almost nothing went wrong. The biggest drama of the next few days was the Atkins diet. Apparently this new diet was out, and people were gobbling “protein” instead of “carbohydrates.” Apparently the hotel’s breakfast was too “carb-based”. But it really wasn’t my problem. It was the hotel’s problem. You see we used to serve some sort of meals at our workshop. At least a muffin at breakfast and some lunch and then coffees through the day. And you may never realise it till you do a workshop, but these meals eat into your bottom line like you can’t imagine.

What’s worse is that the feedback forms then switch to food

When you cater, and ask someone about the workshop, they invariably have something to say about the food. If the food isn’t up to their mark, or they’re on some crazy yo yo diet, they’ll find all sorts of holes to pick. What you’ve gone and done is reduced the impact of their workshop experience, because you catered. So long story short: No catering. This was the last workshop we ever catered for. Truly speaking it wasn’t catering. The participants had bought “meal coupons” and they were using them accordingly, but we were still being told about catering issues.

Other than food we had some minor hiccups


It’s easy to run up a coffee bill of $1000 or more for a three day workshop

And small additions of meals or cookies can all add up considerably. It may sound petty to worry about expenses and you have to remember why you’re in business. You’re in business to make a profit. You don’t spend months ramping up to a workshop, then do the workshop and then hoof it back home—only to find you’ve lost money on “catering”. Catering can absolutely eat into your profit and leave you in the “red”. And that’s not a pretty sight. Or a nice feeling.

So the simple solution is no food. Find a venue which has plenty of food around it and then let the participants find their own food. They don’t overeat (and hence stay awake) and there’s no grumbling. And you don’t go home broke. Now that’s a happy story, isn’t it?

The aftermath of the Workshop

So we were done with our workshop in Los Angeles. And we’d planned to go east heading to Chicago where we were scheduled to do some speaking engagements. And then off to New York, Florida, New Orleans before heading back to California. Chicago was a good stop because we got to see the city for the first time—and liked it too. Except that the speaking engagements were all over the place. One engagement was to a group of business owners. The other was to some folks in real estate investing. Both went incredibly well, but only one paid any dividends. And there’s a lesson here, of course.

If you want to do free speaking engagements, pick them carefully

It may seem all very obvious to you that you need to speak to the right audience, but when you’re starting out you’ll clutch at any straws. And in the process you’ll speak to audiences that simply have no need for your product or service. Now this isn’t a waste by any stretch of the imagination. Every speaking engagement is worth its weight in gold. You know how some idiot coined up that term “people fear speaking more than death”. Well the big reason for the fear is just a lack of practice speaking to all kinds of audiences. If you keep speaking on a consistent basis, the fear does go away (And if it doesn’t go away, there are EFT techniques that will help you relax yourself and make the fear go away). But I digress…

So there we were headed east and then onto this grand tour of the US till a hurricane stopped us in our tracks

We did our sightseeing in New York, taking a nice break in New Jersey and then planned to head to Florida. And when we looked around, we were the only ones heading in that direction. Everyone else was headed away from Florida. So prudently we changed our plans, did a little detour to meet an old acquaintance in Washington DC and then headed back to California.

And good thing too, because we’d have been in a lot of trouble if we hadn’t turned around

You see we’d recorded the workshop in California. And we’d promised there’d be a recording for those who’d paid for the recording. Well all hell broke loose when we got back. We found the sound guy (we had this professional sound guy, remember?) was editing the workshop audio to exclude all ums and ahs from the recording.

Today I have barely a few ums and ahs but back then there were hundreds of them.

And as he edited he kept track of the time, inflating the editing bill considerably. At one point he also decided to put in some opening music to each audio. No problem there till we realised he wanted to charge a royalty on every copy we ever sold (yes, in perpetuity). It was time to pick up the credit card, buy some royalty-free audio and put it into the audio. And at least that fire was put out.

But there was still the issue of listening to every audio file

This activity had to be done because we had to put the content details and the time stamp on the CD. So we needed to know which files were going on which CD, do the design of the CD and blah, blah, blah. There was also the “tiny” issue of paying our strategic alliances what we’d promised. Which was all very fine, except they insisted on an item by item costing.

So there we were having to dig up every single cost to present to the “alliances”, when in fact we were paying them from our profits (They hadn’t brought in a single paying customer, so we were paying them from the profits made as a result of selling to our own list). Anyway, Renuka is a bit of a maniac when it comes to storing even the cost of a single staple. So we had the information needed, but it was still galling (and very frustrating) to have to give this silly account when we shouldn’t have had to do anything like that at all.

And the months ticked by. We ate, we worked. We did a few trips. And then we ate and drank some more. Till it was time to leave. And get back to New Zealand. No Greyhound this time :) Just good ol’ Air New Zealand—and almost in time for summer too!

So what’s the moral of this story?

Every workshop has three core components. The pre-sell. The workshop itself and at least a week of post-workshop stuff (if you sell products/services or recordings of the workshop). Taking into consideration all of these factors is pretty important because it takes the stress off you. We got lucky with that hurricane. If we’d not turned round and gone back, we’d have dragged all the work back to New Zealand and been a lot more stressed. Because we worked in “vacation time”, we were able to simply tidy up the good, bad and nasty bits with minimal effort.

And that was International workshop No.1. There wasn’t going to be Workshop No.2 till the year 2006. Amazing as it may sound, that workshop wasn’t even planned. It was just something I thought up on fine day in February. And yeah, there’s a story in that too. And you’ll find out soon enough…

Coming Up Next: The Psychotactics Story—Part 2
Another Interesting Psychotactics Story: The Early Years-Psychotactics-Moving to New Zealand

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