After years of selling door to door, Steve Harrison partnered with his brother, Bill, to found Bradley Communications after he discovered how to help over 12,000 people bring their books to market. Steve’s Quantum Leap mentors people through the publishing process and in addition to pairs them with media outlets such as MSNBC, CNN, FOX, and other major networks. Steve also runs the yearly National Publicity Summit where hundreds of press people come to hear about what his clients are working on.
Steve Harrison On The Value Of An Idea
When someone tells me they have appeared on Oprah, Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel as well as many major print publications and radio and TV shows, I always wonder if it’s true. Yet, when that same person in the next breath tells me he works regularly with people like Jack Canfield and Guy Kawasaki, then I listen. My friends, you are in for a treat. Our guest is Steve Harrison who along with his brother and partner, Bill, runs Bradley Communications out of Philadelphia. Bradley Communications and Steve in particular are experts at helping people bring their books to market. In fact, he has helped 12,000 people do just that. Steve, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Mitch. Great to be with you.
Steve and I worked together several years ago on a project and we had a lot of fun. I was out to Jack Canfield’s house as Steve’s guest. Meeting Jack and working with Steve, it was one of the highlights in my life. Steve, I can’t wait to ask you about the business and have you share your wisdom with some of the things that you’ve done to really build a company.
I love your whole concept of the First Thousand Customers. I think that’s great. I’m looking forward to chatting with you as well.
What we want to do to help all those awesome entrepreneurs who are listening to the show is we want to go back in time. First, everyone finds their way somehow, someway whatever that was. I’d love to explore those parts of people’s stories because there are clues, there are hints. Success starts and leaves trails. Let’s go back to the cookie crumb trail and find the clues to success. Tell us about your beginning?
My very first job in high school, I’d written for the local newspaper so I’ve had some media experience and I worked for a law firm right out of college. In college, I actually heard about this crazy summer job opportunity that was working for a company that trained you to sell educational books door-to-door. I just thought it sounded like a completely crazy thing to do for the summer to work straight commission, 80 hours a week, and I signed up for this job. The company is called The Southwestern Company based on Nashville, Tennessee. They work just with college students and they’re very good at training students to be effective but to come from a real place of ethically presenting what you do and it ended up being one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but actually one of the best experiences I ever had.
It turns out that those early experiences clearly shaped not only just our direction but in many ways our future mindset of what success looks like. What did success look like when you were on that job?
In that job, they would tout that their training was so good that only 30% of the people would quit so they’d have 70% and that actually sounded pretty good. The first criteria was just to survive. To be able to make it through the summer and pay your bills but then of course, you wanted to at least save some money so you wanted to hit what their average results were for a college student. I did above average. I was fortunate because I was actually mentored by somebody who had done it for seven summers. I would go out and struggle and nobody would let me in the house and then I followed him and it was like words would just fall like butter. He had so much fun with everybody and he didn’t take it personally when people were skeptical or weren’t interested. He just spread joy wherever he went. That really made a very lasting impression on me. He was really playing what I call the higher game which he was just coming from a place of real service and joy. He made sales look fun and personable and authentic. I think that was a massive, massive lesson.
What a gift to have gotten the chance to work with somebody that talented. It must have been great. I bet you loved that summer. Did you have a good time that summer?
I did. I had such a good time that I ended up doing it again and I ended up actually doing it for five summers. I think one thing that really appealed to me was I believed in the product, but I think the thing I believed even more in was the opportunity to train other college students to go out and do that crazy thing again. In my view, it was like Outward Bound. It was the idea that if you could take a kid from a college campus and go have them run their own business for the summer and have them face their fears and set goals, I found it really, really gratifying.
Those are the sort of experiences I think we have as kids and they could either make you or break you. Also it depends on the way you take failure. Would you mind telling us a little bit about possibly some of the failures you’ve had during that first five years?
One of the great things about the training is they really trained you to look at failure as the necessary thing to get to the success. They would emphasize make 30 demonstrations a day. Focus on that. Focus on what you can control. Typically, you might get two people to buy. You would even sometimes say to people, “Thanks for saying no. Because you’ve said, no, the next person is going to say, no but the next person is going to be a yes, because that’s how the law of averages work.” Some of these people would say, “I don’t want to be a no.” They might actually buy. You factor in that it’s really necessary. I know though that’s easy to say intellectually but when you’ve gone about a day or two days and haven’t sold anything, you do emotionally just say, “I’m just not sure anybody is ever going to buy again.”
The big emphasis was sticking to a schedule. In fact, if you boil the whole experience down, it was staying on schedule. Pretty much, if you worked the schedule which was 8 AM until about 9:30 at night, if you work that schedule and you just kept going, you would succeed. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t and it was very black and white in that way. It’s interesting when you ask about failure. My fourth summer, I was really good but I started to think that, “I don’t have to be on the schedule,” and I got off schedule. I started taking long breaks and going on little side trips and things and it was brutal. Because now, I didn’t have the habit of regularly doing the job so now it always just became an issue of, “Am I going to do it or not?” and then you feel so guilty. That was actually a massive failure that I wasn’t really doing the basics and I felt so embarrassed about that. In that culture, that was a real big thing. You’re on schedule, you’re doing the work and in this case, I felt very much the hypocrite because I was a hypocrite. I wasn’t really carrying my end of the bargain.
When you say schedule, I’m going to assume you also mean the exact script as well? You learned the script, you had to stick to that, didn’t you?
You learned the script but of course, you do start learning how to do it on your own and apply certain basics but you have to be putting in the time. You’d be reporting your number of demonstrations and everything. If you’re not working and especially in my case, I was a leader and here I was standing in front of other people. It’s not good. It’s a very downhill spiral. If you get off-track, it’s very hard to get back on. I gave myself credit for at least finishing the summer and then I went back the next year. That was really my goal, “Can I stay on schedule?” That was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do because once you’ve broken the streak so to speak, there’s always the temptation. I was really proud how I finished up.
I have to say, this is a lot like life and I bet you learned all of that during that time. I think of all kinds of things like the gym membership, that we start at the gym and we’re real consistent and everything is going great and then we take along weekend off and how hard is it to get back on, right?
It’s so true.
What you did which again was literally prove it even though you get to see it now from I would call it a 10,000-foot viewpoint. The idea behind everything what you’re saying is that if you have the discipline to do what you know you need to do everyday, that success in the sense is a bit of a formula applied. You apply these items or these techniques to what you’re doing. You do it everyday and you stay on schedule, then the success element of it is just there. It’s not a risk anymore. Is that right?
Yeah, that’s exactly right. You could have confidence on that. That you’re laying the foundation that makes success inevitable.
As people get older and as people have families and as we all get responsibilities, I would imagine that means that it’s harder to stay on that same schedule. I think for a lot of us, we may struggle with that. Maybe you could just tell us what happened to you as you progressed in your career. How did that worked out for you?
I think what I did find was that at one level, it’s easier to be on that schedule when you’re a college student with nothing else going on. It’s all consuming 80 hours a week, there is nothing else. There’s no family, children, interruptions. It’s just like you do that thing, so that may be a success principle. Just block out everything and do that one thing. We used to have a saying that selling is based on your attitude and your attitude is based on your schedule, and that does really hold. A lot of times I have seen where just, “What is my schedule? What is my routine?” Writing it out, thinking through, “When am I going to the gym? When am I going to be doing my consultation days?” Just really looking at how one is spending their time and to the best of your ability, to have things already decided. I went to the gym this morning because that’s when I workout. That’s when I do it.
The more that types of decisions can be made ahead of time and you can have a routine and really form a habit, that’s huge. You and I both know and people heard it takes 21 days to form a habit. I would say that I’ve really seen that to be the case. Sometimes, when I’m getting a little down I’ll say, “Hold it. What’s my schedule been like? No wonder. I’ve been travelling. I’m off schedule. Let me just get back to a routine here.” Certainly, making a commitment. One of the things that I do now as you know is I help authors sell books and I help entrepreneurs get more business and publicity. It’s very interesting, Mitch, how many people get so focused on creating their content and that’s important, but they spend almost no time proactively reaching out to people who could give them money.
There’s a reason for that I think though. The reason people don’t spend the time on that is because they do not believe it’s their skill set and they are either afraid to do it, it’s uncomfortable for them to do it or they would rather be doing something else.
I totally agree plus they think they’re bothering people. They don’t want to hear about rejection or they email or they call and then they don’t hear anything back and then they assume from the silence that that person just isn’t interested. That silence means, no. I’d actually seen over and over and over that silence just means silence. It means that maybe the person just has been busy. You’re just not top of mind but they haven’t formally decided. I often say and this is one thing I really learned from the bookselling experience is that in my view, I really believe that marketing is love when you go about it the right way. What I mean by that is whatever you’re marketing, it’s because you have something you know can help people. If you can help people and you love people, you want to at least have them hear about it, consider it and be committed to that. Even though you might be nervous knocking on that door so to speak, if you say, “What I have is really worth considering and I really want to share it with you because just in the sharing of the idea or the concept, there’ll be value for you. Even though I’m a little bit nervous reaching out, I’m going to reach out and share this with you.” I find that that shifts everything.
I’ll go back into my own history. I remember as a young man, I was involved in a sales organization and there was this one guy who was better than everybody else. I knew him from afar, I didn’t know him personally. I wasn’t doing as well as I would like. I was making sales but it was hard and I was miserable. I went to him and I asked for a little help. I said, “I just want to find out. I see you’re just doing it everyday and everything is going great. Do you have a secret? Is there something you do?” He goes, “I’ve got to explain this to you. I think it’s really about how you think about it.” I say, “What do you mean?” He goes, “It takes about a hundred phone calls to close one sale to generate $10,000.” I said, “I didn’t realize it’s that much or that little.” He goes, “Think about it this way. Every time you make a phone call and if someone says no, you’re getting paid $100.” I said, “Interesting.” That completely shifted it for me. All of a sudden now I said, “Okay.” What it did is it got me to emotionally detach from the outcome and that was a huge benefit. After that, I just went along my way thinking to myself, “I’ve got to get my hundred phone calls.” Just like your scheduling situation, right?
Yes, totally. The other thing I find too is that just first, to sell the conversation. Your first step is to approach somebody rather than saying, “Would you buy this or would you be interested in this?” say, “Would you be willing to at least have a ten-minute conversation about this concept,” about how you can help them? It’s like, “I’ve got an idea. I’ve got something that could easily double your business. Could we chat for ten minutes?” Now, you’re really selling the conversation.
Let’s go back again into time and let’s say that we’re now at the end of the fifth year of you selling door-to-door, what was your next move? Where did you go next?
I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I was an English major in college and obviously here I’d sold these books. It so happened that I’ve been having this long-distance relationship with this girl that I had been dating ever since I was a sophomore in college. She lived in the Philadelphia area. My brother, Bill, was starting a company. He was actually starting a magazine for radio and TV talk show producers and it was a magazine that they would read to find authors they could interview for their programs. I figured, “I’ve had the sales experience. Bill is doing this all by himself. I’ll join him for a few months. We’ll room together.” We had a little two-bedroom apartment together and I’ll just work with him for a few months. All my friends had corporate jobs. My mother thought that I should get a corporate job and here I was straight commission basically. I remember I had a little mattress on the floor and I would have to make phone calls and I would just get up and I would put a tie on just so I felt like I had a real job as I made phone calls from my bedroom.
Of course, it put you in a different mindset, right?
Yeah. Wearing the tie it felt like, “I’m a professional.” We had to come up with a name. Bill came up with this name. He felt it was so small time to say, “I’m Bill Harrison, I’m Steve Harrison with Harrison Communications.” He wanted to sound bigger. He was always a fan of Omar Bradley and even Bill Bradley, the senator at the time and so he said, “I’m Bradley Communications.” Then we could call and say, “Hi, I’m Steve Harrison with Bradley Communications.” Now, we wished we had just called it Harrison Communications because it becomes this whole explanation of who is Bradley.
The other thing about that is that you go with your gut and your instinct. I have a friend who has a software company called Window Book Corporation and it has nothing to do with windows or books. Here you are, you’re now working from the mattress and your brother Bill is in the next room and he is working on the magazine. How did that go in the first year?
It was tough. It was a real struggle. The idea would be essentially like a having a catalog of guests for the radio producers and the TV producers. To get publishers and PR people to pay for ads because that’s essentially what the revenue model would be is for a few hundred dollars each ad, they could list their authors and we would go out to over 4,000 producers. A couple of things that we learned that probably are useful for anybody who is trying to grow their business is the first question we asked was, “Who could run with us every month if they were happy? Who are the people that could just run every month?” We figured that was PR firms and publishers. We then went to them with an irresistible offer and we said, “We have a way for you to get additional publicity for your authors and it’s so effective. We want to prove to you that it will work. In the future, we would usually charge you X but we’ll give you this ad just to prove that it works, but all we ask is that you let us write the copy.” That was really important because what’s interesting is what we found was even when people when they paid to run ads with us, if they were authors a lot of times they would write the copy and often they would not get very many interviews. When we wrote the copy, they would do very well and get a lot of interviews.
I have to say, in personal experience, I find this exactly the same way. I cannot write my own marketing materials and I hire a marketing person to do it for me, but I could write other people’s marketing materials with no trouble.
From that experience, we ended up getting business and referrals. We would have people get 10, 20, 30 interviews from our magazine. We got really good word of mouth. Then we gradually increased our rates. We got a phone call, these two guys or speakers and their credit cards were maxed out and they had written this book that nobody had heard of called Chicken Soup for the Soul. We began running ads for them and copy and they started getting all these interviews. They hit the New York Times bestseller list and they started referring all their friends to us. We’ve been doing different things with Jack Canfield especially even to this day. It’s been really cool to see people hit it big, become New York Times Bestsellers like the Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus book and Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad. They’ve given us a lot of credit for their success. I think for me what’s also been fun is just seeing the value of an idea or just how one piece of copy or a concept can just really get somebody. I had once a nutritionist for example who wasn’t getting calls. Nutritionists are tough because there are so many different nutritionists out there. Then finally, we came up with Ten Foods You Should Never Eat. He got over 50 interviews. He’s still using that hook and he’s built a $60-million business doing it. It’s just cool to see how a good hook or a good headline can really grab people’s interest.
I totally agree with you about finding that magic. I want to make sure that you are given yourself the credit here as well because it’s not just a hook. There’s an enormous amount of creativity that goes into understanding someone and seeing them for what they really are and then finding the best way to explain that. That’s really I think what you’re saying you do and that’s talent. That is true talent.
It’s a good point too that we found that a lot of times people are thinking about promoting their book and we’re like, “Let’s look at who you are and what you’ve done,” and we would sell the actual author as a person to the media. That’s really in all different ways what we do today with folks.
I want to take you back to the time when you are now starting to get successful. You are attracting some good people, your business was just about to shift I think. You’re about to explain that your business had shifted from really running ads in a magazine to helping people like Jack Canfield to publicize a book. Tell us about that shift?
One thing we’ve done pretty well, I find a lot of times when people have something that works, they’re so creative, they’re always doing new things. We’re very creative but we’ve been pretty good at keeping ourselves to repeat whatever is working which is maybe like staying on schedule which we talked about. Here we have this magazine. Even when we are tired of it, it’s benefiting people. We’re getting more and more clients and we improved our processes and whatnot. Actually one of the things that happened was that right after 9/11, there was a lull in the economy up and we had a lot of overhead and people just weren’t buying anything. After about 90 days, our credit line was maxed out. Literally, Bill said to me, “You go to this event, you’ve got to come back from this conference where you’re speaking with at least $20,000 or we’re out of business.” I’m thinking, “That’s easy for you to say. I’ve been there three times before and I was lucky if I brought $800 in business.”
It was a time when I was really doing two things and I give these two things real credit. I was praying a lot, and I mean that very sincerely, and I was studying more about how to give a talk that was valuable and at the same time would enroll people in whatever we would offer. I got on stage and I was more prepared. I made a few adjustments in my talk and one of those was that I said, “I’ve got this program and one of the things you will get is you will get consulting with me. I will consult with you,” and I never really owned that. I’d always thought of myself as just somebody who has this magazine. To walk in to saying, “I’m a consultant,” because I had truly consulted with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people but I just hadn’t charged them. I offered that and I made a very direct offer that people could say yes or no to. I actually handed out an order form.
I think the combination of all these things that I’ve mentioned, it was like a business miracle really. I brought in $67,000 from that one talk. To me, that became a huge shift because we ended up from that doing our own events. I started doing more speaking, doing more coaching, more consulting and we looked at ourselves not just for offering services but offering training. I think a lot of times when your back is against the wall and you’re feeling like you don’t know where to go, a lot of times you’re on the precipice of a huge breakthrough.
It’s at that moment when everything looks the darkest that the very next thing potentially could break you wide open and be the success that you’ve been waiting for, and that’s exactly what happened to you. What a great story. Here you are and now at this point, you discovered this new process if you will that number one, you owned it, you acknowledged that you are a consultant and that you will be doing consulting whether you like it or not. I bet you had a little bit of that impostor feeling going on, “What am I a consultant on?” I think we all go through that. Once you got past that and you just owned it, it then became real to you. What would be the lesson here for listeners? How would you phrase what you went through that would make an impact on others?
I’d been at this conference before and the people had not bought what I was offering. I blamed them. When I really look back, I said, “Why are they not buying?” I reflected on conversations I had. I think one thing we all need to do is interview people who don’t buy and ask them why. It’s always amazed me. When I say, “I’ll be brutally candid. I’ll give you the product for free just tell me why you didn’t buy?” In this case, there were all these assumptions I was making. I realized that many of them didn’t even have their books out and they needed consulting before they needed my service. That’s I think one thing. The other is you will feel like a fraud in the beginning, the first time you do anything. When you are thinking about speaking or thinking about being a consultant or an author, there is going to be this voice in your head saying, “You’ve never done that.” You’re right, you haven’t done it but you want to do it and you’re committed to do it. You can say, “This is what I’m willing to do for you. I will work with you.” Even if we have to practice in the mirror saying that over and over, “I’m a consultant.”
I often teach my clients, you’ve got to own your expertise and you know more than the average person driving up and down the highway about your topic. I will say I do see it and you don’t read about it much in business books but I just absolutely, people can tell me that I did a better job in my talk and I did. I do think the power of prayer I think. I fervently believe that God can help us when we surrender to that. I just really powerfully saw that in this instance and have seen it in many other instances as well.
I would call it faith and of course, that’s God and I would call it Spirit and I’d call it the universe and you can call it anything you like but the concept is the same. You basically surrender at that moment when you need assistance and ask for it. The thing is that you don’t get to control the timeframe but by asking, it becomes possible. I love the way you put that before about just basically making that part of the process to prepare yourself for getting on stage. That was beautiful.
To echo what you said too, I’m very convinced that if the money hadn’t come in and our business had folded, I really believe God would have brought something else out of it. You’re very right about the timing. It’s a wonderful, powerful blend of being focused and doing your best. Here I’d gotten some new training, I’d learned how to do something new. I was doing something different. I was trying but at the same time, I was also surrendered to, “I can’t do this all on my own. Help me.” I had found that prayer gets answered.
Now, you’ve basically taken that idea, that concept from that moment in time when your brother told you to come back with some business and you’ve parlayed that. Maybe that’s a word that sounds like a gambler might do this but in a sense it’s true. You’ve parlayed that small gain into a very, very successful business. I want you to tell me more about what you’re doing for your clients.
What we do now is we have a number of different programs that really help people to get the message out about what they’re doing by owning their expertise and becoming known as authors, speakers, consultants. We have a program where we work with people over the course of at least a year called Quantum Leap in which we really give them access to almost everything we do in terms of consulting and services. We help people write books. We help people get publicity. We help people with their messaging and so that’s been wonderful. We also do an event in New York called the National Publicity Summit. That’s where we actually bring over a hundred of my media friends together. These are producers from shows like Today Show, Good Morning America, The View and radio shows and magazines. We actually make it so people can meet them face-to-face and have one-on-one time to connect with them. We train them ahead of time on how to pitch what they’re doing and it’s become a real breakthrough way for people to get on national TV who had never been on and to get interviews on radio shows and podcasts like we’re doing here. It’s just been really rewarding to help people to give them the training, the connections, help them with their messaging, to get the word out about what they’re doing.
It sounds like an amazing event and I don’t know why I am not there when you run these things. I have to join. You have to send me the form. I want to sign up. I love that and I want to be part of that. I also wanted to point out something here and this is very important. I believe that as a business owner today, we have a responsibility to highlight our skills, our talents, and the unique element of what it is that we’ve created. I don’t know a better way to do that than to write a book and that’s what you do.
I think the other thing that’s wonderful too about what I found in getting your message out there is the more you can give value before they give you money. The more you can come from a place of value and service whether you’re doing a free talk or a free consultation, send someone a book, do a free webinar, a tele-seminar, Facebook Live or whatever it is, now they are experiencing you, they’re benefiting from your advice. Many people send me letters saying I changed their life and I’ve never met them and they’ve never even become clients. It’s very rewarding to just have that reach and to know that a certain percentage are going to end up choosing to do business with you.
Here I am and let’s say I’m listening to this podcast and I listen to Steve talk about this. Here you are Steve telling me these things and inside there’s a voice that says, “No one wants to hear from me.” How would you coach that person who has that voice saying, “What I do isn’t that unique, nobody really wants to hear from me. It would be just me bothering them to even get on a radio.”
It’s funny I was doing a coaching session with a lady who wanted to work with nurses. I said, “Why don’t you go to the VP of Nursing and say that you’d be happy to do a free workshop for the nurses.” She said, “Why would she book me when she can book Jack Canfield?” I said, “Let’s think about that. Why would she book you?” She said, “I’m not as expensive.” I said, “That’s right. Jack Canfield gets paid up to $60,000 to speak so you’re going to be less expensive. That’s true but still there are lots of other people out there. Why should she book you? If you’re talking to her and you’ve got something good, why should she book you?” She said, “Because I’m here and I’m willing to do it” and I said, “Exactly.”
The fact to the matter is that if you’re listening to this podcast, you know something, that you probably have more knowledge about that area than the average person. Your perspective, your stories, your life experience is something that people can value if you first value it enough to share it with people. John Gray was a Buddhist Monk and he actually got out of that lifestyle, started dating women and was learning all these interesting things. He just wanted to start sharing what he was learning about relationships. His very first seminar was in his home and he just began teaching. Do you have something to teach? I’ve got to believe the average person listening to you, Mitch, does and while they may have trouble seeing themselves as an author or as even an “expert” if you know more, as Harvey Brody said, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” If you know a little bit more than the average person, you have something to share. You don’t have to claim to know everything. You just have something to really share. I encourage you to start sharing it with people. Even for free because you’ll start to realize how much you do know, how much they value it, and you will have earned the place to then be able to charge them.
That’s so inspiring. I have to tell you, Steve, this is just making me feel like, “I could do this. I really can.” By the way, I do do this but I love the way you communicate it. If there are people out there who would like to work with you and maybe even figure out if they could work with you in this Quantum Leap fashion, how might they get in touch?
They go to www.SteveHarrison.com. If they simply mention your podcast, I’d be happy to make sure they get a free consultation with one of my marketing consultants and we can take them through. We have something we call Seven Pieces of the Puzzle, which are really key things to maximizing your income and your influence. We’ll be happy to really just give them a free consultation and if that leads to them deciding to work with us, great. If not, no problem. They’ll get a lot of value from that consultation and that’s at SteveHarrison.com.
Steve, we’re at the point in the conversation now where you shared so much and I so appreciate that. I do have a couple of quick questions for you and these are entertaining questions I love to ask because it makes people think. Who, in all of space and time, would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch or maybe an intense conversation with?
I would probably say if it’s not going to be Jesus, I’d say Saint Paul because I think tremendous focus, tremendous man of faith and love and often widely misinterpreted or controversial in our days. It will be fascinating.
I think he is going to be thrilled to hear that because nobody has chosen him yet. I have a feeling that he is going step right up and just take a look next time you’re walking down the street and he just might be there right next to you.
It’s hard to think of people who are more massively influential and actually not talked about very much in society, which is interesting.
He does have that very cool Cathedral named after him. That’s worth something, right?
That’s absolutely right.
Steve, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show. You’ve delivered a ton of value to everybody who is listening in and of course, I just love talking to you. Thanks for coming on the show. I hope we get to meet up in person at your Publicity Summit real soon.
Thanks so much, Mitch. I really appreciate it. This is wonderful.
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