Why your clients will never understand you until they walk through The Magic Door


Magic door in the forest with stars
The Magic Door!

I remember the first time I talked to my tax accountant Kyle Durand about automating my finances and organizing my paperwork. He said something like:

“Managing your finances can be really fun, Pam! Before you know it, you will look forward to checking your Quickbooks every week!”

Trying to be polite, I probably said something like “Yes, I am sure that accounting is really fun!,” muttering under my breath “about as much as stabbing myself in the eye with a pencil.”

At that point, “accounting” paired with”fun” was an oxymoron.

But plod along I did, with Kyle’s help, getting all of my banking and reporting automated.

And then a weird thing would happen — I would reach out to him with proactive questions about my taxes. With interest. And enthusiasm.

And, (don’t tell him, I hate to admit it) checking my Quickbooks became downright FUN!

What was the radical change that happened that turned me around?

I walked through The Magic Door.

The same thing happened to my clients, in the early days of Escape from Cubicle Nation.

Talking to them before they had left their corporate job to start a business, I would say:

Nailah Blades I swear, it is possible to get up in the morning and love what you do! You can earn a living doing totally meaningful work, and have time for your family.”

I am sure she said something like “Yes, Pam, I am sure that is really possible!” while mumbling under her breath “as long as I live in a van down by the river.”

But then after she quit her job at a big corporation, and started her successful consulting practice, a weird thing happened  – she would reach out to me and say things like “I really love what I am doing! Work is fun!”

She walked through The Magic Door.

So what, exactly, is The Magic Door?

Last year, I was having a conversation with my friend Michael Margolis of Get Storied who reflected: “one reason why we reject formulas and quick fixes is that you are taking your clients on a deeply transformational journey. It is not something that everyone is willing to do, but for those who choose it, their lives will never be the same.”

Before they have had the experience, they are rooted in their reality like:

  • Losing weight is hard and it sucks
  • People don’t change, so working on my relationship is a waste of time
  • I don’t have a “business head,” so anything finance or accounting related is painful, punitive and restrictive
  • Selling is awkward and slimy
  • All organizations are screwed up and all leaders are manipulative

When they are rooted in this place, when you say things like:

“Losing weight can be a fun and empowering experience!”

“Relationships and families can radically transform and end generations of dysfunctional behavior.”

“Everyone can have a head for business, once you learn a few key principles and put the right systems in place.”

“Selling can be collaborative and ethical.”

“Organizations can flourish with leaders who are deeply rooted in integrity.”

They will think you are crazy.

The Magic Door is the threshold they pass through when they do the hard work with you, over time, and begin to get transformative results.

Before they pass through, they rightfully feel cynical and cautious about promises made.

God knows that many business people promise things that are not possible, or real.

But there are a lot of other people out there, like you perhaps, who do deeply transformative and ethical work that radically changes the world view of the clients who are willing to take the journey with you.

Why knowing about The Magic Door is important as a service provider

Because we have done our work with so many people, and seen deep transformations, we can forget that for many people, our perspective feels very far-fetched.

Like “loving accounting” was for me, the first time that Kyle talked to me about it.

Or, like the “loving your work and not having to sell your soul to achieve it” was for Nailah Blades.

It wasn’t even a promise that I felt like making.

In order to start doing the work, you have to acknowledge and work on challenges they are facing today. And slowly, through time and reflection, begin to show them how they are transforming their perspective and beliefs. Once they are through The Magic Door, it is hard to even remember what life was like before they (took control of their health)/(managed their finances well)/(had a healthy marriage)/(had fulfilling work)/etc.

Connect with where people are today

My friend Susan Baier is passionate about a problem-focused marketing approach. She encourages her clients to speak to customer problems in the language they use, not fluffy, promise-filled “beyond The Magic Door” language.

I just saw a good example of this, in the form of a humorous advertising campaign by Citibank, called Let’s Face Money, showing this page to start:


They don’t try to sell the benefits of having financial savvy, and being comfortable having conversations about money. The start with where people are before people go through The Magic Door.

People are much more likely to engage with you when you acknowledge the reality of where they are, before introducing all the great things that will happen once they gain new skills or learn new behaviors.

Before The Magic Door checklist

When you first connect with prospects or clients, be sure to:

  1. Focus on their current and near future problems
  2. Not get ahead of yourself, explaining how things will be different 2, 3 or 5 years in the future
  3. Remain empathetic with how it feels before you go through The Magic Door
  4. Use accessible language, not jargon
  5. Don’t assume they know anything you are talking about
  6. Set expectations that the work is a journey, which will require mutual effort to see results
  7. Celebrate early results, and reinforce effective behavior change

My biggest Magic Door experience was starting my blog at Escape from Cubicle Nation and implementing a virtual business model. In 2004, if you had told me that I would write books, travel the world speaking and coach entrepreneurs around the globe from the comfort of my office through this thing called The Internet, I would never have believed you.

But now that I have been on the other side of The Magic Door, I know that radically transformed lives and careers are possible, including mine. And I am willing to go on new journeys now, since I know that so many things are possible beyond the limited scope of my experience.

Do you have a memory of before and after The Magic Door as a client? (for example, maybe before and after you got active and healthy, or changed your leadership style, or learned about strengths?)

How do you work with new clients in light of The Magic Door?

Please share!

Reader Interactions


  1. Lawrence Fox says


    Love the “Magic Door” checklist (especially given the name of my company!). I’m going to try to do some work on getting some of that into my practice, especially when dealing with new or potential clients.

    …and speaking as an accountant, I’d LOVE to know how yours managed to make accounting “fun” for you. (For most of my clients it’s “OH God, Lawrence, PLEASE do this for me instead! I’d rather shove a pencil through my eye”.

  2. Sara Korn says

    Thanks Pam for sharing this! It is really important when crafting marketing language to speak to where people are now, and it can be hard not to get ahead of yourself to talk about all the places they can go down the road. This takes discipline to implement because we naturally want to get to the big stuff beyond the Magic Door.

    The challenge I sometimes run into is getting my clients to believe me when I’m like “No, we need to speak to where the customer is now,” and yet the client insists on beyond-the-magic-door messaging that they’re sure is what people want. And it’s hard to argue that people don’t want it, because they do… but it’s a matter of good timing.

  3. Becky Blanton says

    I DID live in a van down by the river, literally! Homeless for 18 months, although working full-time, I could not shake poverty until I started my own business. I was living in a Walmart parking lot, and in a roadside pull-off by a river in Colorado for awhile, but could not get past minimum wage. I became homeless in 2006, but by 2009 was speaking at TED Global about my experience. A year later I started freelancing as a ghostwriter, and last year three of the books I ghosted ended up on FOX News. Not under my name of course, but the folks I wrote them for were very happy. My best friend at the time I was homeless told me that “It would get better” because she could see through that magic door….sadly, she died of breast cancer before seeing it happen… But if you’d told ME at the time I was living in the van that my life would be what it is today? Never would have believed it. I also started the Suitcase to Briefcase project this year – teaching homeless people how to become entrepreneurs. http://thehomelessentrepreneur.com We graduated 7 of the 10 who signed up. We have five major sponsors, including Staples, Woodforest National Bank, Dollar Shave Club and Best Western Hotels. Hope always finds a way! Great post Pam…and so, so true!

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