On last week’s post about why it’s so hard to sell stuff right now, Linda left a terrific note in the comments:
“I spent a lot of time figuring out reasonable prices for my services, and eventually offered my best skills for free, and there were no takers. I feel defeated, and this makes it hard to write any more. Perhaps you know others who feel this way.”
This is the part that business and marketing blogs usually spend very little time on. Probably because it’s a bummer, and not “inspiring.”
As it happens, this morning in my inbox I got an email from Stephen Guise (I like his newsletter a lot), with this excellent observation:
If life is always imperfect, that means it’s not wrong to have bad days. It’s not unusual to have significant problems spring up out of nowhere. It’s not unexpected for life to punch you in the mouth, and for you to feel it. This is not pessimism, it is the path to freedom, the key to thrive and be happy in any situation.
– Stephen Guise
If you want to do weird things that normal people don’t do, like start businesses or take control of your life, you might as well make peace with this now:
Some days are going to feel like crap.
(Of course, normal people have days that feel like crap. The difference is, normal people don’t make peace with it.)
Now, as someone who wants to encourage you to do all that stuff you’re not sure you can do, I might choose to shake my pom-poms and tell you to Never Give Up! And that You Got This!
But you and I both know that isn’t terribly helpful.
If you’re moving in a direction that makes sense, you have good evidence that it will work, and you’re not shutting your eyes to important information, then it’s smart not to give up. (Although you might want to stay open to changing your direction on how you’ll get there.)
But you have to check those things first. Despite what a lot of business advice would try to tell you, moving forcefully in the wrong direction will not get you to a good place.
And it might be true that You’ve Got This. Or you might need some additional resources. There might be a piece that you’re missing, that you’ll need to figure out a way to fill in. Until you do, all the happy self-talk in the world won’t make your project work.
I have much experience in Stuck
Not only do I know people who feel the way Linda has described, I’ve faced it myself.
When I first started my business (way back around 2008) I ran through a whole bunch of business models before I found one that got traction. The business advice bros call it failing fast. That makes it sound fun or cool, but it sucks, and it makes it really hard to keep going emotionally.
I had two advantages. One, I couldn’t give up, since my “day job” was going through round after round of layoffs. I knew I had to jump or I’d get pushed, so I jumped.
Two, I had met some wonderful people who helped me to keep going. I had a kind coach (who was willing to push me the right amount of hard), smart teachers, and friends who were wrestling with the same stuff.
Since those days, I’ve launched some wildly successful projects. I’ve also launched a few frustrating bombs. I’ve tried hard to learn from both.
Here are some things I’ve learned from projects that just didn’t work at all.
Assuming you’ve been taking consistent action (if not, that’s the thing to fix), projects typically bomb for one of three reasons:
1. The audience just doesn’t want what you’re offering
They might need it, they might benefit from it, it might make their lives better. But they don’t want it. So everything is an uphill battle. They don’t look at your content, they don’t sign up for your email list, they don’t buy when you ask them to.
To fix it: Ask your audience what they’re actually struggling with. What’s been really hard for them? What’s been frustrating, or even painful?
Look for patterns in the answers that you get. Pay special attention to the folks who leave detailed responses. Then shape your content and your product or service toward solving those issues.
There are a million business ideas that make a ton of sense. They should work. But they don’t, because for whatever reason, the audience just doesn’t want it. Figure out what your people do want, and offer them that instead.
2. You don’t have enough people in your audience
Sometimes, the problem isn’t the offer, it’s that you’re not getting it in front of enough people.
If you had 1000 people on the list, you might get a reasonable number of buyers, but you have 100 people. That’s usually not enough to run a meaningful experiment.
(By the way, every new business or project, even if you have lots of experience, is an experiment.)
How to fix it: Traffic always matters, but it matters more when you’re starting out.
One of your first challenges is to find out where the people are hanging out who might like you. It could be social media, it could be a “content amplifier” like Medium or LinkedIn. (Let me know if you want to hear more about those.)
You might find more of the People Who Dig You by guest posting. You might fire up a Facebook group. You might hang out in communities. (And give value, please — don’t be that guy who just loiters in communities to try to find people to sell to.)
Or you might (judiciously) pay for a small amount of traffic to get the ball rolling. If you pick this one, please please please go slowly. Spend little tiny amounts of money until you have something that works. (“Works” means “they buy something that at least covers your ad expenses.”)
We digital business folks often neglect the value of one-on-one outreach at this point. If there’s a version of your product or service you could create for just one person, try to sell that first. This is often some kind of coaching or consulting.
Try selling to 10 or 20 individuals before you put together a product intended for a group. You’ll learn amazing things that you’ll be able to use for a long time.
3. The message is off
Sometimes the offer is sound and you have the right audience (including enough people), but you explained it in a way that doesn’t resonate.
This is the least common of the three, but it absolutely happens. You might have chosen a metaphor or analogy that didn’t turn your audience on. Or your sales copy might be overly complicated or confusing.
And always double-check to make sure your buying process works. Sometimes we get no sales because the Buy button is broken.
How to fix it:
This is where marketing and copywriting advice start to come in handy. Could your audience be confused? Have you spelled out the benefits? Did you let “cleverness” get in the way of clarity, particularly with your headline? Do you have a clear, direct call to action?
If you can, try to talk to someone who saw the offer but didn’t say Yes. They may be able to tell you where you went off track. Be sure you check your defensiveness at the door. It’s not the time to explain to them why they should have wanted it. It’s the time to listen to why they didn’t.
How about you?
Any hard-won lessons from the trenches? Any patterns you’ve observed that made the difference between the ones that worked and the other ones?
Let us know in the comments!
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