Ian Brodie is an author, noodler, advisor, and coach. He works with consultants, coaches, and other professionals to help them win more high-paying clients and make a real impact in the world. Brodie was named as one of the “Top 50 Global Thought Leaders in Marketing and Sales” by Top Sales World magazine and as one of the “Resources of the Decade” for professional services marketing by Raintoday.com. And his book Email Persuasion has been the #1 selling book on email marketing on Amazon globally.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in a small town in the North East of England and was a teenager in the early 80s. Both my parents were teachers so we were distinctly middle class, but those times saw a lot of unemployment and hardship for many people around us and I’ve never forgotten the importance of community and of helping those around you.
They were exciting times too – people were just beginning to get computers in their homes and when we eventually got one I managed to borrow an old acoustic coupler to connect to the world. I learned about personal responsibility too when the first phone bill came in and my long-distance calls had 10xd our bill. My mum marched me off to the local bank to empty the savings account my Grandad has set up for me to pay the bill. I was a bit more careful after that!
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
This is going to sound strange, but the idea of setting up your own business and doing your own thing was just never on the agenda. Everyone I knew at school or at university had parents in “normal” jobs. Running your own business was something people on TV or in the newspapers did. When I eventually took the plunge and set up my own business I was 41 years old. I had a lot of experience by then that was really helpful – but it’s something I wish I’d done a decade earlier.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I’m not sure if it’s quite in my profession but I think the worst advice I see given is to encourage people to borrow money or load up on their credit cards in order to “fund their dreams”.
Usually, you hear this from people who have high priced training programs to sell who claim it’ll change your life and they tell you stories about how they were in terrible debt and then they loaded up their credit cards to buy a program and now they’re millionaires – so you should too (by buying their program of course).
This is really terrible advice, and hugely exploitative. They’re not telling you it because it’s good advice and they want to help you. They’re telling you it because they want your money in their pocket.
Far better is to tighten your belt, work extra hours and save up until you can buy that program from your savings (ie money you can afford to lose if it doesn’t work out, not money that will throw you into huge debt). In fact, even better is not to buy that program if those are the tactics they’re using to sell it, but instead to go with someone more ethical.
Personally, I always tell people that if money is tight they should use my free material to get themselves into a better position financially before investing in any of my paid programs.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I’m lucky enough not to have experienced any really dark periods. I’m always amazingly optimistic and positive and I put that down to my upbringing so I guess the first lesson is to make sure you instill self-confidence in your kids.
There were a couple of times very early on in my business where the clients dried up for a bit and the finances were looking a bit ropey. In one case I got through it by knuckling down and doing some well-paid contracting work in an area I wasn’t so excited about. On the other, I worked like crazy for a few weeks to launch my first online product in record time to get us back on track.
I think what I learned is that sometimes you’ve just got to do what you need to do and work really hard to get yourself through a situation. Have faith in yourself, but also recognize that in the short term you might need to deviate from your plan to get yourself on track.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I think it’s my ability to learn, experiment, and adapt. I’m a voracious reader of books and online material and I’ll put what I’ve learned into practice quickly which allows me to speak from experience and know what really works rather than what just sounds good in theory.
What is your morning routine?
I’m really a night owl so my most productive hours are late at night after midnight after everyone else has gone to bed. Often I’ll work to 2 or 3 or 4 am and then sleep in until 10 or 11 am which I know sounds terrible as everyone says you should get up early, but my routine works for me.
While I don’t get up early, I do make sure that I start my day well. I have a weekly and daily planning routine where I look at my big projects and to-do list and roughly plan out the week every Monday morning. Then each day of the week I plan out the day including the main goal I want to achieve along with other important tasks. I then block out time during the day to work on my main priorities and ensure the time doesn’t get eaten into by reactive activities or time drains like email or social media. I’ll also plan in my regular routines like reading, writing, and exercise.
I do this planning “offline” away from my computer in a relaxed environment. Pre-pandemic I would walk to a local coffee shop to do my Monday planning there. Today I grab a nice coffee from my fancy bean-to-cup machine instead and sit down in a comfy chair. I recommend hand-writing your plan – it really makes a difference. Either use paper or an e-ink device like the Remarkable or the one I use these days, the Boox Note Air.
I then make sure my daily plan and priorities are visible on my desk during the day while I’m working – that way I can keep referring to them and if I have some time free I can quickly glance over and see what to focus on next. It’s amazing how doing your planning by hand really sticks it in your brain, and keeping the plan visible keeps you on track vs having it buried in your computer somewhere.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I am relentlessly positive. I don’t mean the kind of happy-clappy “everything is wonderful” type of positive where you ignore reality. I mean that I have huge confidence in my abilities to achieve what I want to achieve. I don’t moan or grumble about things that don’t go well or dwell on them, I quickly figure out how to fix them. I don’t waste time worrying about things that might not happen and I don’t moan or complain about people who don’t do things the way I would do them. And if I mess something up don’t beat myself up. I have a good laugh at my own stupidity and move on to fixing it. I look for the best in people and understand that in their world, they’re trying to do the best they can even if from my perspective it seems wrong. And I smile and laugh a lot.
I’m not sure if that’s a habit or behavior, it’s more an attitude. At some point, I just decided I was going to be happy and see the best in things. I think it was when I was visiting London once and walking across town and so many people just had glum or angry looks on their faces. Yet the few that were smiling made me feel good. So I decided to walk around smiling that day – and I felt better for it. Over time I realized that for most of us, happiness is a choice. Of course for some, their situation is really bad and it’s not an option for them. But the vast majority of us can be much happier just by how we choose to see and react to events.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
The big one is the morning planning I talked about earlier. That plan sets the framework for the day and keeps me focused on my big important tasks and long-term goals.
The other biggie is to avoid distracting yourself. A lot of what I do is creative work. Thinking, writing, making videos. And the biggest thing that slows that down is distracting yourself. When you’re writing and you’re struggling to think of the next thing, it’s oh so easy to think you’ll just check email or Facebook to see if there are any important messages and come back to the writing. But the reality is that checking email or social media flips your frame of mind away from creative mode into reactive and when you do get back to writing it takes you a good 15 minutes to warm up again and it becomes a slow, painful process.
The best thing to do instead is just to pause and collect your thoughts and keep going. Or maybe sketch some ideas on paper. Anything but check email and social media! Knowing this helps instill some discipline, as does practice. But you can help yourself by doing stuff like removing the social media apps from your phone or scheduling times during the day to check email and social.
The final thing I’d say is avoiding overscheduling. If you try to cram too much into your schedule with unrealistic timelines you’ll spend half your time having to replan and feeling guilty you haven’t hit your goals. Be ambitious but realistic about what you can achieve in a day and leave yourself some time to relax and have fun too. A happier you will be more productive.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Honestly, there are too many to mention – literally hundreds. I first started seriously reading in my mid-20s and it really shifted my perspective on a whole series of things. This was pre-Amazon so I seemed to spend half my life in bookshops and still love them. If there’s one piece of advice I’d give it would be to read a lot and read widely. Don’t just restrict yourself to your own specialist field. Some of your biggest breakthroughs will come from new ideas from outside.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
No, I’m not a big quotes person. I tend to think they oversimplify.