Red Velvet Ropes (plus a side helping of Mr. Spouse)

Apr 07

I think I was 2 years or more ago that I tried to lead a peer-group discussion around Michael Port’s idea of “red velvet rope” I was branded an elistist! Ok, really, it was more like a temporary tattoo, but even more temporary.policies.

Surprisingly,  the subject was a total non-starter – 2/3rds of the group branded the concept as elitist, exclusionary, snobby, and hurtful. At the time, I just changed the topic, and moved on, but I’ve never forgotten, and it’s been bothering me ever since.

Why? Because my own “red velvet rope” policies helped me shape the very peer group that now objected so strongly to the idea! The resulting paradox was more confounding than anything Marty McFly ever dealt with.

Plus, it gave me a headache.  I hate headaches.

But I may have found a  way to resolve the paradox, cure the headache, prove that “red velvet ropes” aren’t inherently elitist, and maybe even make you laugh at the absurdity that is my life.

Ready to hear about it? First, I’d better make sure we’re all on the same page …

Just What Is A Red
Velvet Rope Policy?

It’s pretty much what it sounds like… a policy that guides the right people inside your venue, and guides the wrong people away from your venue, so that neither of you waste your time, money or energy on something that’s not suitable.

Of course, before you can put a policy for that in place, you’ll need to figure out which people should be on which side of the rope. That means identifying not only your ideal audience, but also your wrong audience — the clients and customers who won’t be a good match, won’t inspire your best work, and won’t really get their desired benefit from your work, either.

That  second group?

They’re what Michael Port calls “dud clients” – not because they are duds as human beings, but because your business/creative relationship with them will be a dud.  A strong creative partnership between you and your ideal audience, customers or clients? That relationship should light both sides on fire – your work together should be electric, energizing, inspiring… the very opposite of a “dud”.

Dud Clients Are Dud CLIENTS,
Not Dud People.

Armed with that understanding, I tackled the “Dud Client” exercises in the illustrated edition of Michael Port’s book.  Which totally rocks, by the way, and you should check it out, even if you don’t do “client” work.  Most of the exercises and concepts can be adapted for other business models.

I started off by Identifying the least productive, most frustrating creative and business relationships I’ve had over the last 20 or so years – and let me tell you, there’ve been a lot of frustrations!  I was surprised at how easy it was to identify the projects that had resisted my charms, and refused to be lit on creative fire.

Next, I listed the specific frustrations common to those situations,  creating a profile of a fictional client who, based on past experiences, would be the sum of everything I found frustrating and unproductive in my creative work.

When I was done, I sat back, took a deep breath and reviewed the resulting profile.

And I Started Laughing.

And not a little laugh, either – this was no chuckle, but rather a full bodied laugh worthy of the best rolling-on-the-floor acronym you can think of.


My Dud Client profile? It TOTALLY  described MY HUSBAND!

Yes, you read that right… Mr.Spouse is my dud client. Seriously.

It's time for the newest hit game show... Dude or Dud!?!I can’t begin to explain how funny this is to me.

Mind you, he’s got lots of great qualities (including great taste in women, obviously). But beyond that, he’s genius level smart, incredibly loyal, open minded, ethical, honest, brilliantly funny, etc, yadda, going on for years.

But when I’ve tried to involve him in my projects and business? We both wind up frustrated, angry, and exhausted. Everything about how we work – the way we approach problem solving, our work patterns, our creative process and basic expectations of partnerships? They’re are just too different. He really is the poster boy for my dud clients, a living breathing avatar for the sort of customer that I need a red velvet rope policy for.

Obviously, this says nothing about his value as a person, and nothing about his value to ME.  I married him, and I’ve stayed married to him for 25 years. Obviously, I find value in our relationship.

But we don’t have a work/creative relationship. We will probably never have work/creative relationship, and that’s ok.

For my thinking, this pretty much disproves the whole “elitist” thing.  Red Velvet Rope Policies  really aren’t about judging clients, customers or audiences as “worthy or worthless”. They don’t say a thing about the potential of the individuals, but rather, they reveal the potential of our working relationship with them.

Outside of that creative working relationship, the “dud client” profile is irrelevant to my marriage, to my family relationships, to my friendships, even to some of my relationships with business peers.

Well, irrelevant except for one thing:  if I can identify a family or a friend as someone who belongs on the “other side of the rope” from my creative endeavors? I can stop expecting them to really understand what I do, much less be able to give meaningful feedback on marketing or offers.  It means I’m free to disregard, shrug off, or giggle about their attempts at advice or judgment, because they are NEVER going to grok that part of what I do… and that’s ok!

Because the really neat thing about my red velvet rope? It doesn’t keep me from crossing that velvet boundary and giving someone a hug. Or marrying them. Which Mr.Spouse is very grateful for.

Now if you’ll pardon me, I need to go show this post to him, so I can giggle affectionately at the confused look on his face while he reads it.

A Red Velvet Rope ala Michael Port -- Pretty. Not Scary.


P.S. Speaking of Michael Port, he’s going to be the introductory speaker at Jennifer Lee’s virtual Right Brain Biz Summit this year!  The first segment starts… erm.. IN TWO HOURS FROM THE TIME OF THIS POST?

Sheesh I am so behind.  Anyway, you should totally sign up and attend, because it’s an incredible experience.  The energy levels and insights fly, plus, it’s Jennifer Lee and a whole bunch of other guests BESIDES the awesome Michael Port.

Also,  It’s FREE –>  Right Brain Biz Summit <—see you there!


  1. I believe I remember that particular session, but I remember being on the pro-velvet rope side of things. It was a great exercise for what I was going for.

    That’s hilarious that your husband is the ideal wrong client: a true case of opposites attracting at work? And excellent insight with the not expecting dud “clients” (including family) not to grok what you’re doing!

  2. Interesting the reaction some people had to the Michael Port’s Velvet Rope. I love the concept and have found it to be a wonderful tool in business.

    The fact that your spouse is your Dud Client is hilarious. I can’t think of a better example to show there is nothing negative or elitist about using a velvet rope. The illustrated version of Book Yourself Solid ROCKS.

    I’m excited for Jennifer Lee’s telesummit. They are always a wonderful experience.

  3. This is so funny. I don’t remember having a problem with the velvet rope. I know there are people that don’t grok what I do and I shouldn’t be trying to work with. I’m still not doing well with my velvet ropes and wrong people are all that seem to want to work with me. I’m not sure how this is happening, other than they got something for free so they did it even though it wouldn’t be very helpful to them. lol.

  4. Tori Deaux /

    I’m so glad you all got the humor in this… I’m STILL giggling at it, and it’s been a few months since I had the realization 🙂

    The chat group was fairly large when we tried the RVR discussion, so I don’t remember who objected, and I’m glad for that… I just remember thinking, huh, this pushes a LOT of hot buttons! One thing I’ve learned over the past few years, is that we’ve got to deal with those buttons. If we try too hard not to exclude people, we’ll really wind up serving no one.

    I’m still working on that. 🙂