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Seth Godin has written 18 bestsellers that have been translated into 35 languages

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An intensive, 4-week online workshop designed to accelerate leaders to become change agents for the future. Designed by Seth Godin, for you.

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Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

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The practical sequel to Purple Cow

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Linchpin

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Why the internet works (and doesn't) for your business. And vice versa.

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The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.

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Small is the New Big

A long book filled with short pieces from Fast Company and the blog. Guaranteed to make you think.

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Survival is Not Enough

Seth's worst seller and personal favorite. Change. How it works (and doesn't).

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The Big Moo

All for charity. Includes original work from Malcolm Gladwell, Tom Peters and Promise Phelon.

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The Big Red Fez

Top 5 Amazon ebestseller for a year. All about web sites that work.

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The Dip

A short book about quitting and being the best in the world. It's about life, not just marketing.

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The Icarus Deception

Seth's most personal book, a look at the end of the industrial economy and what happens next.

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Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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Self-starters, needed

The self starter creates a spark, turning nothing, or what certainly appears to everyone else as nothing, into something.

The self starter doesn't see it that way. That 'nothingness' was actually an opportunity, a chance to make a connection, to do something a little better than the status quo, to get things moving.

Has there ever been a project, an institution or a community that hasn't needed that?

 

Big company advertising

American Airlines doesn't know what to say.

And they're having a lot of trouble saying it.

They're making a fortune this year due to low oil prices, and one way to manage shareholder expectations for the future is to put some of that profit into brand advertising. And so, they hired a fancy ad agency and started to run full-page, two-sided, glossy inserts in newspapers. The single ad I'm looking at cost at least $100,000. And I might be one of a hundred people who are actually reading it.

The copy-dense ad includes references to babies, red-eyes, noise, middle seats, lessons learned, 'relinquish', making the best of the situation and the ability to sleep anywhere. All told in an odd third-person, referring to the hero as "they" not "you." 

With a layout that's so confusing that there's a big arrow that says "start here".

Some things worth remembering:

  • Ads can still work, especially ads with consistent budgets, excellent copywriting, smart frequency and a thoughtful strategy. Easier said than done.
  • Great products work far better than great ads do. And the key part of a great service-based product is service, which is totally up to you, the marketer.
  • Direct marketing is measured, brand marketing is long-term and aspirational.
  • Simple test for brand marketing: If I can substitute one company for another and have the ad still make sense, it's not a good ad.

For thirty years, the airlines have relentlessly trained travelers to spend as little as possible on a seat, offering generic alternatives and contemptuous, confusing pricing policies. To blame the state of travel on the passenger ("Let's move that conversation from us and turn it onto them..." said Fernand Fernandez, VP of global marketing at AA) doesn't feel like the foundation for a great marketing campaign, does it?

The lesson for anyone spending money on ads: it pays to be consistent, generous and thoughtful when you build an ad campaign.

[Posted from LGA. /rant]

Features and marginal cost in the digital age

Good, better and best were the three price points.

Organizations had an easy way to distinguish between their various products. Adding more features cost more money, and so the Cadillac cost more than the Chevy.

Customers learned to associate more features with more expense with more luxury and exclusivity. And manufacturers were always on the lookout to add a feature that consumers valued more than the marginal cost of adding that feature.

In the digital age, all of this thinking goes out the window.

How much does it cost a car company to display the temperature outside? Well, it used to mean wiring a circuit, adding a sensor, creating a display. Now, it might cost them $1 (if that) to add that feature to a $40,000 car.

Even more radically, the marginal cost of just about every feature on a website or an app is precisely zero. Program it once and you can give it to everyone. The 'good' version is merely the 'best' version with some software turned off, which is fine if you don't have any competition.

Good, better, best is going to have to start being based on something else.

Most projects end with a whimper

That means you have a choice:

Spend a lot of your time in whimpering moments.

or

Be prepared to blow things up, declare victory/failure, walk away—even if it feels easier in the moment to timidly and slowly fade away, whimpering.

Prematurely giving up is a huge problem. A more draining problem is not knowing when to quit.

Speed is relative

If you moved to Norway or Haiti or Bolivia, you'd notice something immediately: People don't move at the same speed you do.

The same thing is true about different organizations and different pockets of the internet. Or months of the year, for that matter.

There's not an absolute speed, a correct velocity, a posted limit or minimum for all of us. It's relative.

Given that, how does your speed match your goals and your strategy? Not compared to everyone else, but compared to the one and only thing you have control over?

Passing the slow cars on the road is an illusion, a chance to fool yourself into thinking you're making good progress. To a sloth, even a loris is a speedster.

Pick your own pace.

Expectation is the brand killer

There's a difference between speed and acceleration. This is hard for novice physics students to grasp. Velocity ( sometimes confused with speed) is how fast you're going in a given direction. Acceleration is a measure of how quickly you're getting faster (or slower) on your way.

Brands today are built on relationships, and relationships of all kinds work solely because of expectation. That thing we're confidently hoping we're going to get from that next encounter.

The shift we're facing is that expectation isn't the speed (the quality, the value, the repeatability of an interaction), it's now become more like the acceleration of it, the change in what we expect.

And so advertisers and fashion houses and singles bars and Hallmark cards are built on promises. The promise of what to expect next.

The challenge: Expectations change. A few good encounters and we begin to hope for (and expect) great encounters. Sooner or later, our expectation for a politician or a motorcycle company or a service we regularly engage in goes up so much it can't be met.

When the economy is racing forward, people are engaged and satisfied. When it slows, when the good news slows down, people are even less satisfied than they were when they had fewer resources.

A common ridiculous expression is, "expect the unexpected." Of course, once you do that, it's not unexpected any more, is it?

Expectation is in the eye of the beholder, but expectation is often enhanced and hyped by the marketer hoping for a quick win. And there lies the self-defeating dead end of something that would serve everyone if it were a persistent positive cycle instead.

Demand guardrails

It's tempting to believe that left to our own devices, we'll all maximize our health, make smart investment decisions and generally follow our instincts on the road to happiness.

But it turns out that cigarettes are addictive, that financial distress causes people to make short-term decisions that are damaging, and that we even have trouble doing smart and easy things with a 401(k). 

Culture is powerful. Marketing makes it even more powerful. Financial interests are powerful, too.

If peer pressure and short-term urgencies set us up to do things we regret, we come out ahead when we support cultural changes that remove that peer pressure and lessen those short-term urgencies.

We know that wearing a bicycle helmet can save us from years in the hospital, but some people feel awkward being the only one in a group to do so. A helmet law, then, takes away that problem and we come out ahead. Same for seat belts. One less decision to make.

One of the biggest contributors to decreased cigarette usage is a tax. A tax on sugary drinks has a huge impact on people's health. Is this the encroachment of the dreaded nanny state? It's better than being sick, or dead. It's hard to imagine being a parent and being opposed to these boundaries and disincentives.

Banks have a ton of policies designed to remove the temptation of their officers to engage in any sort of graft or corruption. The policies reduce the cognitive load, eliminate temptation and let people get back to work.

Guard rails always seem like an unwanted intrusion on personal freedom. Until we get used to them. Then we wonder how we lived without them.

Economics was built on a flawed assumption: That we are rational, profit-seeking, long-term players, with access to information and the time and inclination to process it. If all that were true, we'd be living in a very different world.

Instead, the humans among us can benefit from realizing that in fact, we're deeply incompetent at making certain kinds of decisions, that well-funded marketers are working overtime to confuse and deceive us, and that cultural guardrails not only help us avoid pitfalls, but give us the reinforcements we need to get back to productive work and healthy lives.

In pursuit of cheap

The race to the bottom is unforgiving and relentless.

I ordered some straw hats for a small party. The shipper sent them in a plastic bag, with no box, because it was cheaper. Of course, they were crushed and worthless.

I wrote a note to the company's customer service address, but they merely sent an autoreply, because it was cheaper.

And they don't answer the phone... you guessed it, because it's cheaper.

Of course, you have competition. But the big companies that are winning the price war aren't winning because they've eliminated customer service and common sense. They're winning because of significant advances in scale and process, advances that aren't available to you.

Organizations panic in the face of the floor falling out from under their price foundation, and they often respond by becoming a shell of their former selves. Once you decide to become a cheap commodity, all of the choices you made to be a non-commodity fall victim to your pursuit of cheap.

Cheap is the last refuge for the marketer who can't figure out how to be better.

The alternative is to choose to be worth it, remarkable, reliable, a good neighbor, a worthy citizen, leading edge, comfortable, trusted, funny, easy, cutting edge or just about anything except, "the cheapest at any cost."

Graceful degradation

Stuff's going to break.

Then what?

Air conditioners, for example, gradually lose their charge. When they do, icing can occur. When that happens, the drain pans overflow and water seeps away.

The smart builder, then, anticipates all this and has the pan connected to some sort of drain, as opposed to having it rot the beams or collapse a ceiling. 

Most failures aren't shocking surprises. The law of large numbers is too strong for that. Instead, they are predictable events that smart designers plan for, instead of wishing them away as rare unpredictable accidents.

Lastpass is a popular password manager. (You should have a password manager. And tenants' insurance. And you should backup your data, too. You'll thank me one day for the reminder.)

It's inevitable that people will forget their master password. It's inevitable that a network glitch or other unforeseen event will cause the software to forget. Sooner or later. Then what? 

Blaming a significant hassle and frustrating data loss on an unlikely accident is bad design. Instead, Lastpass built in a 'revert' feature will allows them to roll back a password without ever compromising security.

When the glitch happens, does your design fail?

The most hackneyed line in design is, "first, do no harm." A more useful adage is, "when weird stuff happens, make sure it doesn't cause harm you didn't expect or plan for."

For work where the outcome matters, consider the immortal words of the Smith System, "Always leave yourself an out."

Temperament is a skill

Throwing tantrums, calling names, not doing the reading, making things up, demonizing the other, impulsivity, egomaniacal narcissism, breaking big promises...

Waiting your turn, asking hard questions, thinking about others, slowing down in key moments...

Telling the truth, taking responsibility...

Giving others a chance to share their ideas, attracting and trusting talented people, trusting the right things and being skeptical of the others...

These are all skills (or the lack thereof).

Somewhere along the way, we accepted the baked-in, unchanging, what-you-see-is-what-you-get view of the world. It lets us off the hook, of course, because if this is the way we are, it's certainly not our fault.

The bravest and most optimistic thing we can do, though, is see that each of us has the opportunity to do precisely the opposite. We have far more choices, far more control and far more responsibility than we give ourselves (and others) credit for.

Temperament matters. A lot.

"The main topic that's been on everybody's mind"

Is almost never the one that's worth talking about.

The urgency of the day, today's celebrity crisis, the thing of the moment... that's what the media wants, that's what creates urgency, and that's what is most definitely not important.

We now follow that same path at work.

No excuses for the reporter (and editor) that pursue a story merely because it's on everybody's mind. Or the boss or the VC, either. That's not a good enough reason to waste our attention on it.

Step by step, drip by drip, you carve your path by focusing on what matters, not what's on everybody's mind. By the time you try to chase the urgent thing, it's too late.

Marketing in four steps

The first step is to invent a thing worth making, a story worth telling, a contribution worth talking about.

The second step is to design and build it in a way that people will actually benefit from and care about.

The third one is the one everyone gets all excited about. This is the step where you tell the story to the right people in the right way.

The last step is so often overlooked: The part where you show up, regularly, consistently and generously, for years and years, to organize and lead and build confidence in the change you seek to make.

Joint ownership

Before you create intellectual property (a book, a song, a patent, the words on a website, a design) with someone else, agree in writing about who owns what, who can exploit it, what happens to the earnings, who can control its destiny.

This is sometimes an uncomfortable conversation to have, but it's far worse to have it later, after the thing you've created has been shown to have value.

It's almost impossible to efficiently split a soup dumpling after it's been cooked...

Pattern matching as a shortcut to growth

You have two choices when you want to move forward (grow a business, sell an idea, get a 'yes'):

  1. Have such an insight and deliver such innovation that people will choose to make a new decision, adopt a new habit or otherwise get smarter.
  2. Provide an option that matches a decision they've already made. No new decisions, merely new information.

Ms. Investor, you already invested in companies A, B, and C. We match that pattern.

Movie executive, you made a lot of money on three comedies for the young adult audience. We match that pattern.

Hey kid, you love to buy new flavors of chocolate bars, here's a new flavor.

You're used to taking pharmaceuticals, and this placebo looks just like one. 

Most of the time, we look for patterns that match our habits. When we find a pattern match, we can embrace it without re-evaluating our beliefs.

On the other hand, moving all your data to the cloud, or staying at an Airbnb, these are new decisions, new ways of being in the world. Trying to get a book publisher to fund your magazine or your web app might make sense to you, but without the benefit of a pattern to match, the publisher who has built a career around one pattern might get cold feet.

Human beings are pattern-matching machines. Changing our beliefs, though, is something we rarely do. It's far easier to sell someone on a new kind of fruit than it is to get them to eat crickets, regardless of the data you bring to the table.

It's tempting (and important) to improve the world by creating new beliefs. But it's far more reliable to match them.

Bureaucracy, success and the status quo

Every organization or project that succeeds begins to erect a bureaucracy around that success, because keeping success from going away is a basic need.

When you show up offering change, understand that the status quo isn't the enemy of the bureaucracy, it is their entire reason for being.

At some point, successful organizations stay successful by fighting off their instinct to support the bureaucracy. But far more often, people associate the bureaucracy with the organization's success, as though they are one and the same, and work overtime to protect it from anything that feels threatening.

Function (and the dysfunctional organization)

Here's how you end up with a bully in a position of authority at an organization:

Someone points out that the bully is a real problem. And the boss says, "I know he's a bully, but he's really productive and we can't afford to replace him."

And here's how you end up with a naysayer, or a toxic co-worker:

Someone points out that people are afraid to work with this person. And the boss says, "I know, but we really need her expertise."

And, person by person, trait by trait, we build a broken organization because we believe that function trumps cooperation, inspiration and care.

Until it doesn't, and then, all we've got left is a mess.

The negative people who do nothing functional are an easy decision. It's the little compromises around people who seem to add value that corrupt what we seek to create.

Build a team of people who work together, who care and who learn and you'll end up with the organization you deserve. Build the opposite and you also get what you deserve.

Function is never an excuse for a dysfunctional organization, because we get the organization we compromise for.

Don't argue about belief, argue about arguments

The essence of a belief is that we own it, regardless of what's happening around us. If you can be easily swayed by data, then it's not much of a belief.

On the other hand, the key to making a rational argument is that your assertions must be falsifiable.

"I believe A because of B and C." If someone can show you that "C" isn't actually true, then it's not okay to persist in arguing "A".

The statement, "All swans are white" is falsifiable, because if I can find even one black swan, we're done.

On the other hand, "The martians are about to take over our city with 2,000 flying saucers," is not, because there's nothing I can do or demonstrate that would satisfy the person who might respond, "well, they're just very well hidden, and they're waiting us out."

If belief in "A" is important to someone's story, people usually pile up a large number of arguments that are either not testable, or matters of opinion and taste. There's nothing wrong with believing "A", but it's counterproductive to engage with someone in a discussion about whether you're right or not. It's a belief, or an opinion, both of which are fine things to have, but it's not a logical conclusion or a coherent argument, because those require asserting something we can actually test.

The key question is, "is there something I can prove or demonstrate that would make you stop believing in 'A'?" If the honest answer is 'no', then we're not having an argument, are we?

Before we waste a lot of time arguing about something that appears to be a rational, logical conclusion, let's be sure we are both having the same sort of discussion.

The lottery winners (a secret of unhappiness)

You're going to have to fight for every single thing, forever and ever. It's really unlikely that they will pick you, anoint you or hand you the audience and support you seek.

No one will ever realize just how extraordinary you are, how generous, charismatic, or caring. 
 
That pretty much doesn't happen, except for just a handful of people who win some sort of cosmic lottery, who get 'discovered' at a drug store and made a movie star, who are on the fast track to CEO of the Fortune 500, who get the big label deal and the gold records, merely for being in the right place at the right time.
 
Those people, it turns out, those few, end up unhappy. You might imagine that you'd like to be in their shoes, but they spend every day feeling both entitled and fraudulent.
 
You, on the other hand, get the privilege of the struggle, of working your ass off to make a difference. 

Without training wheels

If you'd like to teach a kid to ride a bike, training wheels are a bad idea. You're much better off with a small bike with no pedals. 

All training wheels do is confuse, distract or stall.

The same thing is true for marketing. You don't need to go to school for four years. You need to do marketing. Find a worthy charity and do a promotional event to raise money for them (you don't even need to ask first). Start a micro business. Sell things on eBay.

And the same thing is true for leadership. Find something worth doing, find others to join in. 

Merely begin.

Uniquely unique

Of course, each of us is different. Different histories, different narratives. You have an appendix, she doesn't. You are different from everyone else, from your DNA to the kind of morning you had today.

No one can possibly understand you completely.

The same thing is true for your organization, but multiplied by (or even raised to the power of) the number of people who work there. 

Such complexity. Originality. Unique uniqueness.

And yet...

And yet we can go to the same doctors.

And yet we can read the same books.

And yet it's possible our organizations can benefit from the same interventions and insights.

Because, while we're each unique, we have far more in common than we're comfortable admitting. Amplifying our differences may make us feel special, but it's not particularly useful when it comes to getting better.

Being unique is a great way to hide from the change we need when someone offers us a better future. Learning from the patterns and the people who have come before, though, is the only way any of us advance.

Three things about good jobs in a new economy

The reason that Uber drivers will always struggle

They don't have a relationship with the customer. It turns out that finding a customer and knowing where he wants to go is almost as valuable as having a car and knowing how to drive it. Because Uber and other middlemen are earning permission to connect with their customers, the driver will always get the short end of the stick.

They can easily replace the driver, but the driver can't easily replace Uber.

It's clearly difficult to gain the trust and attention of customers. Which is precisely why it's the best way to build an asset.

The world is here, knocking at our door

The Almond range extender is a pretty cool wifi device. Mine had a hiccup, so I called tech support. In just a few minutes on a toll free line, Maan Thapa graciously identified and fixed my problem, throwing in a few suggestions as well. Maan is from Nepal and he works in India. The Almond is manufactured in Taipei and their marketing is done in Dubai. 

Proximity is overrated.

If the boss can write it down, she can find someone cheaper than you to do the work

Probably a robot. The best jobs are jobs where we don't await instructions, where using good judgment and taking initiative are far more important than obedience.

The economy is now powered by connection, not industry. Connection and innovation and the instant movement of data means that the rules most of us grew up with are quickly becoming obsolete.

In Linchpin and Icarus, I laid out the math of our future at work. All the demagoguery doesn't matter, because those old-fashioned, well-paid common factory jobs, powered by a steam engine or an assembly line—they're not coming back.

Instead, we have a chance to invent something extraordinary in their place.

I knew it!

Sometimes, news comes along that confirms something we've wanted to believe all along.

It usually amplifies our skepticism.

But sometimes, it reinforces our trust.

The goal is to build a brand with a story that, when you do the work you most want to do, people say, "I knew it." And when something untoward happens, people say, "that must have been an accident, they'll fix it."

Is patience a skill?

Of course it is. You can learn to be more patient.

What about good judgment and maturity?

Yes, also skills.

A parody of yourself

A simple test for brands, organizations and individuals:

When you exaggerate the things that people associate with you, your presence and your contribution, does it make you a better version of yourself?

The two risk mistakes

Risk mistake number one: Risk means failure.

This worldview equates any risk, no matter how slim, with a certainty. If the chances of hurting yourself skydiving are 1%, it's easy to ignore the 99% likelihood that it will go beautifully.

If you carry this worldview around, you're not going to take many risks, because your fundamental misunderstanding is that whatever is uncertain is bad.

Risk mistake number two: Low risk events don't happen.

This is the stock investor who freaks out when the market doesn't go up the way he and everyone else expected it to. The reason that some investments offer higher returns is that they're not guaranteed to work. Implicit in that high return, then, is the clear warning that sometimes, you won't get what you're hoping for.

I'm not distinguishing between optimism and pessimism. The optimist is well aware of risks, but deep down, she believes that things are going to get better. The risk-blind individual, though, is willfully (or perhaps ignorantly) unaware of what risk actually is.

Most of the things that we do have two possible outcomes: they might work or they might not. Being able to live with the possibility of either is essential if we're going to move forward.

It happens around the edges

At any gathering of people, from a high school assembly to the General Assembly at the UN, from a conference to a rehearsal at the orchestra, the really interesting conversations and actions almost always happen around the edges.

If you could eavesdrop on the homecoming queen or the sitting prime minister, you'd hear very little of value. These folks think they have too much to lose to do something that feels risky, and everything that's interesting is risky.

Change almost always starts at the edges and moves toward the center.

Scientist, Engineer and Operations Manager

A career is often based on one of these three stances:

The Scientist does experiments. Sometimes they work, sometimes they fail. She takes good notes. Comes up with a theory. Works to disprove it. Publishes the work. Moves on to more experiments.

The Engineer builds things that work. Take existing practices, weave them together and create a bridge that won't fall down, write code that won't crash, design an HR department that's efficient and effective.

The Operations Manager takes the handbook and executes on it. Brilliantly. Promises, kept. Hands on, full communications, on time.

The scientist invents the train. The engineer builds it out. The operations manager makes it run on time.

Operations managers shouldn't do experiments. Scientists shouldn't ask for instructions on what to do next. Engineers shouldn't make stuff up...

Which hat do you wear?

Hint: you can change hats as often as you want. but be clear about the task at hand.

[Update: Joe reminds me I missed a critical fourth hat: The salesperson. She's the one who provides the vital last step, the bridge to the customer...]

Conservation and concentration of effort

The woman sitting next to me on the plane is successful by any measure--she's happy, engaged, making a difference.

And she confessed that she doesn't buy anything from Amazon, doesn't use Facebook, rarely connects online.

How is this possible?

I think it's because true effort multipliers are rare indeed. Without a doubt, a good tool helps us do a task better, but often, particularly online, there's so much effort and overhead and fear associated with the tools we use that sometimes they don't leverage our work as much as we give them credit for.

It might be that time spent knitting, reading, being introspective and digging deep is more productive than checking a Twitter feed just one more time.

There isn't a magic formula, the perfect combination of tools to use or to avoid. What matters more is the decision to matter.

Enough small moments

Shortcuts taken, corners cut, compromises made.

By degrees, inch by inch, each justifiable (or justified) moment adds up to become a brand, a reputation, a life.

"I think we are an outfit headed for extinction"

(So said Hemingway on seeing fake books in his fancy hotel room.)

Of course we are. We always are. We're always headed down for the count. It's unsustainable. We corrupt our best stuff, don't take good enough care of each other, ignore the truth, make short-term decisions and generally screw it up.

But even though we're headed for extinction, or perhaps precisely because we are, that doesn't mean we can't do our best. It doesn't mean we can't set an example, raise the bar and try mightily to do the work that we're capable of.

It might not work. But at least we tried.

Reviewing a contract

A deal, whether in writing or orally, is not to be considered lightly, because you fully expect to keep your end of the bargain. Three things to consider before saying, "yes":

What happens now: Who owes who what? What, precisely, does each side promise to do, and what does each side get? It can't hurt to write this out in English and add it to the agreement, just to be sure you both agree.

What happens if things don't work out: If you don't do what you say you'll do, what happens? If the other person can't pay or can't deliver, or wants to walk away, then what? When you leave yourself (and the other person) an out, you're almost certainly investing in a better future, because you know in advance what the options are.

What happens if things do work out: If everyone's wildest dreams come true, then what? Does that person who gave you three days of advice end up owning half your gourmet foods business that you've worked on for twenty years? Describe the hypotheticals, and plan them out together, because today's hypothetical is tomorrow's unfair reality.

The fine print is there for a reason, and if you don't like it or can't live with it, cross it out or walk away. There's no better time than this very moment to be clear, to be honest and to have a difficult conversation.