John Peterman

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.

When I came across the obituary of Milton Levine, it struck a chord deep within me.

Here was a 43-year-old salesman of toys and novelties watching some ants at a July 4, 1956 picnic when he suddenly saw his future—the ant farm—a 6” x 9” two-sided plastic frame with sand, tunnels and live ants busily doing their thing as mesmerized kids watch and learn.

A half-century later, kids are still enthralled with ant farms. The basic model sells for $10.99.

Last year, Levine sold his business for $20 million. His website, UncleMilton.com has a slew of wonderful scientific gadgets for kids.

Milton Levine—described by one magazine writer as “anty-establishment”―gave pleasure (and inspiration) to millions of kids, made pots of money, obviously had great fun and went to the great beyond at 97.

Life doesn’t get any better than that!

So what does a fledgling entrepreneur do following a “eureka moment?”

How do you translate an idea into a profitable business?

My suggestion: go the dry test route.

I spent 15 years creating dry tests for clients and my own little business—the WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter and archive service—started out life as a dry test.

Technically the dry test is illegal, but many years ago I discovered a possible loophole.

When I saw that the 2008 rate for a speech by Larry Summers was $45,000 to $135,000, I got to thinking.

Out of curiosity, I started prowling the various Web sites of speakers' bureaus and came to six conclusions:

  1. It seems everybody in the world is available for speeches. Included are political and show business stars, second and third bananas, and hundreds upon hundreds of people I never heard of.
  2. All of these people—luminaries and nobodies—get fees from $1,000 to $1 million, plus expenses.
  3. I used to make a lot of speeches, and all I ever got was expenses and a plaque with my name engraved on it.
  4. I was a damned fool. I was as much a nobody as anybody else and could've picked up some dough if I'd just asked.
  5. If someone invites you to make a speech, think about asking for an honorarium at the very least, if not a fat fee, plus expenses. For Colin Powell, expenses include a private jet along with his $100,000 fee.
  6. The worst that can happen is that no money in the budget exists for fees or expenses. If you refuse, someone will replace you.

Welcome to the Toughest Business on Earth April 11, 2006: Vol. 2, Issue No. 28 IN THE NEWS AMAZING TUGS by the Crowley Corporation Every once in a while a book comes along that captures the imagination of kids and adults who are young at heart. The Crowley Corporate Communications group has published a children's book about tugboats entitled AMAZING TUGS. —MarEx Newsletter, April 7, 2006 According to publishing guru Dan Poynter, a survey by the Gallup Organization found that 82 percent of the population believe they have a book inside them. Six million people have already written a manuscript. That

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