If you’re not familiar with it, Uber is the $50 Billion company that allows people to become, in essence, cab drivers without having to buy an expensive cab license or renting a cab from someone who does. It’s the AirBnB of cars.
If you wanted to buy a license for a new cab in Edmonton from the city it would cost you $250,000 or so right now. In Vancouver, about a million. In New York? God knows how much. What this means is that no one new is getting into the cab game. If you want to drive a cab, you have to drive for a company who, years ago when they were affordable, bought the licenses.
I was suspicious when I first heard of Uber but after years of terrible experiences with cabs (e.g. not showing up or waiting for me, card machines that broke, drivers who had no idea where they were going, showing up late etc.) I was willing to try something new. This willingness was only expanded when I heard stories from cab drivers about how poorly they were often treated by the cab companies for whom they worked and how little they got from them.
Uber offers benefits to its drivers and passengers that local cab companies, for the most part, do not. Here are a few that come to mind that Uber offers that most local cab companies do):
- you book the car on your phone, using their app. No need to call in and wait on hold for 15 minutes to order. You type in the address (or it can just direct people to where it knows you to be using the phones locator/GPS service thing) and the first available driver nearby grabs the order and they show up at your house. My local cab companies do this but Uber’s interface is better and easier.
- you can cancel with the app as well. This is huge. No waiting on hold for 15 minutes with the cab company to cancel the cab. Why am I being punished for trying to do the right thing? Again, my local cab companies offer this with the app.
- you can see, on the app, where the car is in relation to you. No more waiting in a cold porch or risking not waiting in said porch and having them show up and drive off without you. My local cab apps do this too, but Uber’s is much more accurate.
- paying with credit card. No cash exchanged. No card machine needed. You get out and walk away and the app charges your card for the amount of the trip. I’ve had a few times catching a cab where their card machine wasn’t working so they drove me to the nearest convenience store to take out cash at an ATM adding 15 minutes to my trip. Ugh.
- rating system. This is, I think, my favourite aspect of Uber. At the end of each trip, you have the chance to rate your driver from 1 to 5 stars. This seems to turn into much better customer service from drivers. And they get to rate you as a passenger. This means, as a passenger, you can avoid bad drivers and, as a driver, you can avoid picking up abusive passengers.
- ability to give feedback. Not only can I rate the drivers, I can give direct feedback they’ll make sure the driver hears. Good or bad.
- they’re on social media. Edmonton’s two cab companies, no doubt wanting to avoid the complaints and hassles (and possibly still mired in the 20th century) were not on Twitter. For the modern company, Twitter is the frontlines of customer service. Uber is incredibly fast in responding to tweets.
- cheaper. Uber is just not as expensive as cabs.
- more flexible driving schedules. Many uber drivers have told me that what they love most about Uber is the flexibility of when they can drive. If they book a cab, they have it for a block of time and pay for that time. So, if they pay $500 for a 12 hour chunk of time, they make no money for themselves until they pass $500 in revenue. This means no time for breaks. Uber drivers can start and stop whenever they want.
Uber: A Case of Value vs. Values
In my experience, Uber deliver more value than cab companies do.
But, it falls short on the values proposition in my mind. Before I delve into why I think that, let me share an excerpt from The Way of the Radical Business which breaks down the difference between the value and the values propositions –
The Values Propositions and The Value Proposition:
This is where we start talking about the results that we’re promising people. Something I want to lift up for all of us here that’s so important is that a lot of it is we’re conscious businesses. We’re green. We’re eco-friendly. We’re community minded and it’s really important to distinguish here between a value proposition and a values proposition.
The values proposition is your values. You know, “We’re green. We’re eco-friendly. Every year we do an ecological footprint on our business. We use only recycled products. We’re fair trade, living wage. We give 10% of our profits to a charity.”
And it’s important to create one. I was recently at the launch of Calgary’s new green business network, www.reapcalgary.com and the founder pointed to a monster.ca survey that had been done where 78% of Canadian employees would leave their current job for a more conscious, green job. And 81% of 1275 surveyed agreed that their employer was either polluting, ignoring the need to become greener or needed help in moving in that direction.
All things being equal, companies with a solid and compelling values proposition enjoy: more customers, more loyal customers, more leeway when they screw up, more loyal employees and more credibility in the marketplace.
In case, you don’t care about these and are thinking of ignoring it (or you’ve got a great values proposition and are too lazy to tell people) you might be interested to know that not only are more companies joining this green revolution. More companies are reporting it to their investors, board, employees and customers. Out of the top 250 companies in the world, 35% created sustainability reports in 1999. In 2005, it almost doubled to 64%. 45 of the top 100 American companies do. 87 of the top 100 European companies do.
But, this is a vital point. It’s not just enough to identify your values proposition – you must then embody and communicate it to your staff, your customers and anyone else important. And you must be specific.
What codes of conduct do you hold?
What values based certifications do you have? (e.g. certified organic, fair trade etc).
Have you been endorsed by any significant non-profits?
Are you a part of any local, green business initiatives? etc.
So, your values proposition is vital. But, it’s not going to be the only reason why people buy. There’s a small chunk of the population that’s why they’ll buy. They’re hard core. They’re just going to buy because of that even if they have to spend a lot more.
Even those people, there’s still fundamentally this question of a return on the investment which is the value proposition. So there’s the values proposition which is your values, and then there’s a value proposition; What is the value they get out of it? What’s the return on investment?
I see this and it breaks my heart so much because I see so many great, good-hearted green conscious cool entrepreneurs who are really frustrated with why they’re not getting more business.
It’s so clear to me when I look at it because they focus all their efforts on their values but not on the value the customer’s getting. It’s a super tragic mistake, so just to notice where you’re oriented.
It’s not that the values don’t play a role. They can be very, very powerful as an augmentation to the value that people are getting from your business. But it can’t be the whole thing.
For different target markets there’s probably going to be a different ratio but consider both of them.
Here’s a great example: your car breaks down and just as you pull off the road you magically pull into an autobody shop. Amazing. What luck! And not just any shop. It’s a ‘green/ecofriendly’ shop. They greet you warmly, serve you organic snacks and delicious fair trade coffee while you wait and read cool, progressive magazines. You get a free buspass just for doing business with them and they encourage you to drive less. Amazing. You leave in such a wonderful mood and then – a block later – your car breaks down with the same problem. They embodied their values but didn’t deliver on the value.
If you have great values but don’t deliver value and then someone else does, you will likely be ditched hard and fast.
Where Uber falls short, in my mind, is on its values proposition:
Uber has cracked the value proposition of what I actually want from a cab. They understand what is most important to me as a customer, but they don’t understand what matters most to me as a community member. There are two main ways this shows up.
- Shopping local matters: Uber is not local. Therefore a certain amount of money leaves the economy every time I spend money with Uber. The Sharing Economy (of which Uber and Airbnb are poster children) may not be so sharing as we thought.
- Safety: Uber has had a checkered past in terms of its safety for female passengers and concerns about how it vets its drivers.
So, many people I’ve known have felt caught.
Do we support the local cab companies where the money stays local and drivers are screened better? Or do we spend out money with a company where some of our money leaves our communities forever to line some executives pockets but where the value proposition is so much stronger?
Honestly? From a values standpoint, I’d rather spend my money locally but, these days, I don’t as much when it comes to cabs.
Here are five ways my local cab companies could win me back:
Local cab companies already have stronger safety and the built in benefit of being inherently local companies. But, most of them have become incredibly lazy about customer service and offering value because they have had a monopoly for decades and no reason to care. Here’s what they could do…
- Be on Twitter: Get on Twitter and respond to people’s tweets immediately. Will most of the tweets be about frustrating experiences? Yes. But that’s where you can show the world publicly how good you are at customer service.
- Allow me to give anonymous feedback on my drivers: Waiting for 15 minutes on hold on my phone to give feedback on a frustrating experience only makes me more frustrated. Doing this after I’ve already spent ten minutes looking for some email or customer service form on your website with no success? Even more so. Let me just type it in on my phone, send it and be done with it. And then let me know that you actually value that feedback by personally replying to it and offering me a discount on my next ride if it was truly horrific. Uber does this.
- Use any of these five ways to show you give a shit about your customer service: If your drivers were being rated, maybe that accountability would have them actually want to do a good job. Here are some simple things any driver can do to impress their clients that nobody seems to: 1) Have a box of tissue in the car. 2) Offer a bottle or carton of water to your fares. 3) Offer gum (a driver recently did this and I was so grateful). 4) Have a way for me to charge my phone during the ride. 5) Have a copy of today’s paper. 5) Ask me if I want to listen to music and what kind.
- Let me pay with credit card like Uber does: Man. I am tired of machines breaking down or feeling rushed to get out of the cab because traffic is piling up behind and I’m trying to use my debit machine or fishing money out of my pockets and waiting for you to count the change.
- Treat your drivers better: I’ve heard so many horror stories from cab drivers or neglect from the owners who simply collect their money every month. Why not offer profit sharing? Why not find ways to take such good care of your employees that they’re constantly glowing about you?
If one of my local cab companies did all of those things, I would be more than thrilled to bring my business back to them.
Until then, I am going to continue my love/hate relationship with Uber. While I ride in their cars.
Written by: Michael Margolis Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco
If you’re a designer, entrepreneur, or creative — you probably haven’t been asked for your resume in a long time. Instead, people Google you — and quickly assess your talents based on your website, portfolio, and social media profiles.
Do they resonate with what you’re sharing? Do they identify with your story? Are you even giving them a story to wrap their head around?
Gone are the days of “Just the facts, Ma’am.” Instead we’re all trying to suss each other out in the relationship economy. Do I share something in common with you? How do we relate to each other? Are you relevant to my work?
That’s why the resume is on the out, and the bio is on the rise.
People work with people they can relate to and identify with. Trust comes from personal disclosure. And that kind of sharing is hard to convey in a resume. Your bio needs to tell the bigger story. Especially, when you’re in business for yourself, or in the business of relationships. It’s your bio that’s read first.
To help you with this, your bio should address the following five questions:
- Who am I?
- How can I help you?
- How did I get here (i.e. know what I know)?
- Why can you trust me?
- What do we share in common?
Your bio is the linchpin for expanding your thought leadership and recognition, especially online. It frames the conversation and sets the tone. It’s your job to reveal a bit about yourself and how you see the world. Do this well, and people will eagerly want to engage with you further.
Here’s the challenge: who taught you how to write your bio?
Admittedly, most of us never got a lesson in this essential task. You’re not alone. Even the most skilled communicators get tongue-tied and twisted when trying to represent themselves in writing. We fear the two extremes: obnoxious self-importance or boring earnestness.
It gets further complicated when you’re in the midst of a career or business reinvention. You have to reconcile the different twists and turns of your past into a coherent professional storyline.
The personal branding industry has only muddied the waters. It’s easy to feel turned off by the heavy-handed acts of self-promotion that the various gurus out there say you’re supposed to do. We’ve been told to carefully construct a persona that will differentiate and trademark our skills into a unique value proposition.
That’s mostly a bunch of buzzword bingo bullshit.
Instead, share more of what you really care about.
And then write your bio in service to your reader, not just ego validation.
Imagine that: A compelling reason to tell your story beyond bragging to the world that you’re “kind of a big deal.” Embrace the holy-grail of storytelling: tell a story that people can identify with as their own – and the need to persuade, convince, or sell them on anything disappears.
With all this in mind, here’s a few key pointers for reinventing your bio as a story:
1. Share a Point of View.
You’re a creative. Having something to say is the ultimate proof. What’s missing from the larger conversation? Speak to that. Don’t be afraid to tell the bigger story. We want to know how you see the world. Show us that you have a unique perspective or fresh vantage point on the things that matter most.
2. Create a Backstory.
Explain the origin for how you came to see the world in this way. Maybe it was something that happened to you as a kid or early in your career. Consider your superhero origins. How did you come into these powers? What set you off on this quest or journey? What’s the riddle or mystery you are still trying to solve? When you tell the story of who you were meant to be, it becomes an undeniable story. Natural authority is speaking from the place of what you know and have lived.
3. Incorporate External Validators.
Think frugally here. To paraphrase the artist De La Vega, we spend too much time trying to convince others, instead of believing in ourselves. Nonetheless, if you’re doing something new, different, or innovative — you have to anchor it into the familiar. Help people see that your novel ideas are connected to things they recognize and trust. That might be your notable clients, press, publications, or things you’ve created. Just enough to show people your story is for real.
4. Invite people into relationship.
Now that you’ve established you’ve got something to share, remind people you’re not so different from them. Vulnerability is the new black. Share some guilty pleasures. Describe what you like to geek out on. Reveal a couple things you obsess about as hobbies or interests. This will make you more approachable and relatable. You’re human, too. Help people find the invisible lines of connection.
To revamp your bio, start with these simple storytelling principles and questions above.
In the process, you’ll discover a greater potential to shift how you see yourself and how the world sees you. Your story sets the boundaries for everything else that follows.
If you’re having trouble being heard, recognized, or understood, it’s probably an issue related to your story and identity.
SAMPLE COPY ADDED to promote webinar:
The good news? I want to help you tell your story.
Join my friend Michael for his new FREE webinar called, RE-STORY YOURSELF: How to Attract Your Future with a Better Bio.
This webinar will teach you simple storytelling shortcuts to creating a standout yet authentic bio that attracts more of what you want. Discover the right tone, structure, and how to craft an interesting point of view. You’ll learn how to use story to position your work, attract opportunities, and get paid for being the real you.
It’s never too late to reinvent your story.
This blog post is the first in a series of posts exploring the connection between marketing and The Work of Byron Katie.
Frankly, I’m tired of hearing people talk about the importance of working on your ‘inner game’ in business. Because most of what I hear feels like self pressuring bullshit to constantly do more, be more positive, be better and keep persisting no matter what. Most of it feels like what John Kenneth Galbraith was speaking about when he said, “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”
Most of it seems to have no interest in seeing anything except the possibility of closing the sale and growing our business.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about perseverance. But I’m more about awareness and being real about our situations. As P.T. Barnum put it, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. But, if you still don’t succeed, quit. Don’t be a damned fool.”
Most of the inner game work feels bereft of much that I’d call real learning which is, by its nature expensive. Sometimes we just have to quit or drop a certain perspective. Which can be hard. Hard to find it and harder to question it until it loses its grip on us.
And there’s something there. There’s something about the way we are seeing our business problems that actually is the problem.
For years, I’ve delved deep into The Work of Byron Katie and, more than any other tool, it has been a source of incredible insight, genuine learning, deep and unsought humility and humiliation and a profound sense of peace.
And, in business there is one thought I’ve seen which seems to cause more stress than just about any other. But it comes in disguise. It often sounds like, “Why aren’t people buying from me?” asked in a frustrated tone.
But hidden just underneath it, like a tortoise hides in its shell, is often the thought, “People should buy from me.”
This is crucial to understand because it’s a place too many people get stuck. Before you read further or inquire into this on your own… remember: learning is expensive. Really doing the work means encountering unsought and often unwelcome things and it requires you to pay with the thing you can least afford. You pay for learning with what you think you know.
So let’s explore this idea that people should buy from us and see if it can earn its keep as a worthy and useful idea.
Question #1: Is it true?
This is the first question in The Work. We’re asked to inquire if the thought, in this case, “People should buy from me.” is true.
When I sit with it, I realize it’s not true. I want them to but they don’t need to. Busted. I can skip…
Question #2: Can I absolutely know this is true?
I absolutely can’t.
Question #3: What happens and how do I react when I think this thought?
If you find yourself frustrated and annoyed with Life and the marketplace because you’re not making it and no one is responding to your offerings… pause and see if you can spot that thought that “People should buy from me.” See if you can notice it. Then see if you can sit with that thought and see how it’s affecting you. Almost like you’re watching some never before seen animal for the first time in the wild to see what kind of a creature it is and how it affects its environment.
I know when this thought arises for me I immediately feel bitter. I feel resentful of people. I feel powerless and angry. I am jealous of anyone who seems more successful than me. “Why do they buy from that person and not me? I’m a good person!” But then I begin to wonder, “Maybe there’s something wrong with me… Maybe I’m broken.” If they aren’t buying, there’s an urge to push them harder to buy. In a panic, I want to add more hype or pressure. I want to cut my price down. And, at the bottom of it, I feel utterly confused. They should be buying but they aren’t. What’s wrong with this universe? Why don’t I understand it? And, if I’m honest, when looking at my world through the lense of this thought, I am deeply angry with the universe for encouraging me to start a business that will not sustain me. It’s like it tricked me and lied to me.
I’ve met people who are deep in the thrall of this thought. They are not fun to be around. The energy is heavy around them. They are desperate. Their sense of other people’s boundaries are poor. Their desperation makes them incredibly vulnerable to manipulations of anyone promising them an easy path to wealth and sales.
If I think this thought I will either collapse or I will apply pressure in selling situations without even meaning to. Sales pressure comes from the agenda to get the sale. If I believe you should buy from me and you aren’t, then of course I will try to make sure we correct this and this will occur as pressure to you.
The tragedy is that they do everything except the thing they need to do. They are utterly blind to what’s required of them because the problem lays out in the world and not with them. If ‘those’ people would just get their heads out of their asses and see what a good person I am and what high quality work I do then every thing would be okay. Damnit.
When I think this thought, I feel superior to everyone. Everyone else is stupid and blind that they can’t see how awesome I am. WTF is wrong with them anyway?
So this thought lays heavy on us.
But, and this is truly the heavy lifting, if we are able to set that thought aside for even a moment and see our same situation without it, a miraculous thing happens. Imagine it. Nothing has changed in the outer world. No one is buying from you. That’s the same, but you are not able to think the thought that they should be buying from you. It’s as if a sieve went through your brain and removed all traces of it. Utterly gone. And yet you’re looking at the same evidence.
When I do this I suddenly feel at peace. Right, they’re just doing what they do. They’re buying what they want to buy. They don’t see that what I’m doing is a fit for them or a priority. And right! That’s my job. That’s marketing. Marketing is about establishing the value beyond the immediately apparent. And, apparently, it’s not immediately apparent how valuable our work is. Or, maybe, I might even be able to see, as humbling as it is to see it, that I’m not as good at what I do as I thought I was.
When you can let go of the thought that they should buy you are freed up to see the real reasons why they don’t buy.
This is so vital.
Underneath the question, “Why aren’t people buying from me?” asked in a curious tone is never the thought, “People should buy from me.”
Without this thought, I am filled with an easy sense of wondering and an openness to learning the truth of why people aren’t spending money with me. I’m open to asking people directly and getting feedback. I’m vulnerable in the best of ways. I’m at peace. I see the evidence of people not buying as just a chance to learn something about life and the market place.
Wow. When people feel this openness from you, they relax. They begin to tell you the truth. You stop getting objections and you get real questions. Or you get a real ‘no’ that you can trust because there’s no long anything in you trying to convince anyone to buy from you – and that makes you more trustworthy.
It might seem like I’m overstating the impact of questioning one thought but I’m not. If people aren’t buying from you and this is causing you emotional stress and frustration and anger at the marketplace, there’s a good chance you’re buying into this idea that they should be buying from you.
This last part of The Work is all about twisting the initial stressful thought around and looking at it from different angles. We’re not trying to find the new, true thought, we’re just trying to see more.
Turnaround #1: “People should not buy from me.”
Try that one on for size.
Consider if this might be just as true, if not more true, than the idea “People should be buying from me.” If you really sit with this one, what opens up is the possibility to see all of the parts of your business that, frankly, need work. I will likely see all of the ways that I’ve been pressuring people and… wow. God bless these people for not rewarding my desperate and pressuring ways with their business.
Who are these honest angels who have so consistently and kindly not pretended to be okay with my confused behaviour?
I am suddenly open to seeing clearly. I am able to look at the holes in my marketing, business model, customer service, quality of work, and packages and see all of the reasons why it’s so true that they should not be spending money with me.
This can be a vulnerable but life changing moment for an entrepreneur. Looking through this lense, I am able to see my business through the eyes of those not buying and I learn so much.
Turnaround #2: “I should buying from me.”
Honestly, I don’t get much from this turnaround though I’m sure there’s something there.
Turnaround #3: “People should buy more from whoever the hell they want.”
This one feels humbling to me. When I look for reasons this is true, I am suddenly brought back to the reality that my potential customers are other, autonomous human beings who exist for reasons other than taking care of my ass. I’m realizing that I want that freedom to buy from whoever for myself. I’d never want to be pressured to buy something I didn’t really want to buy so why on Earth would I put that on anyone else?
Turnaround #4: “I should buy from people.”
I should be buying the advice they’re giving me in their not buying. I should be be believing their feedback. They’re not interested or, for some reason, it’s not a fit and yet I’m not buying it. Huh. What if I was willing to take it at face value? I’ve been making them wrong for years for not buying what I have to offer and yet not making my self wrong for not buying the honest reflections they keep giving me. And they’re so persistently generous! They never seem to buckle and buy from me just to be nice. They really want me to get this feedback. How kind of them!
One of the hugest stumbling blocks I see in business is arrogance. This thought people have that they already know what people need. They already know that their product or service is amazing. And that blinds them to ever seeing that maybe they don’t know and maybe what they’re offering isn’t actually that great. Humility and not knowing, the being open to feedback and curious to know what clients really think, being a safe place to share this will grow your business faster than almost anything I know.
When I am done this, I notice that the thought, “They should be buying from me.” doesn’t hold the same purchase it did in the beginning. I’m free to see a bit more clearly and that seeing allows me the freedom to make the kinds of changes that might actually have them want to buy (whether I think they should or not).
Where does this all leave us?
I have no idea. There’s no empowering belief we’re trying to get to here. We’re just trying to see more. In business, there’s nothing we’re supposed to do or that we need to do, we just need to see more. And, when we see more, we often, intuitively, know exactly what to do. When we stop insisting that our map is right and take a look at the actual territory in which we find ourselves we make better decisions.
When we stop making the marketplace wrong for how it’s responding to our business we have a chance to actually learn something useful from it that might show us the path to grow our business.
But very few people will ever do that.
But many of us, often without knowing we’re doing it, try to manipulate and seduce our clients.
If you’re reading this, then my guess is that you hate that option two. So, if bullying is out and manipulating is out… what’s left?
I want to lift up another option: courting them.
Simon Sinek lays the groundwork for this notion in his brilliant book Start With Why.
Typical manipulations include: dropping the price; running a promotion; using fear, peer pressure or aspirational messages; and promising innovation to influence behaviour – be it a purchase, a vote or support. When companies or organizations do not have a clear sense of why their customers are their customers, they tend to rely on a disproportionate number of manipulations to get what they need. It’s because manipulations work.
If fear motivates us to move away from something horrible, aspirational messages tempt us toward something desirable. Marketers often talk about the importance of being aspirational, offering someone something they desire to achieve and the ability to get their more easily with a particular product or service.
Six steps to a happier life!
Work those abs to your dream dress size!
In six short weeks you can be rich!
All these messages manipulate.
They tempt us with the things we want to have or to be the person we wish we were.
I cannot dispute that manipulations work.
Every one of them can indeed help influence behaviour and every one of them can help a company become quite succesful. But there are trade offs.
Not a single one of them breeds loyalty.
Over the course of time, they cost more and more. The gains are only short term. And they increase the level of stress for both the buyer and the seller. If you have exceptionally deep pockets or are looking to achieve only a short term gain with no consideration for the long term, then these strategies and tactics are perfect.
Beyond the business world, manipulations are the norm in politics today as well. Just as manipulations can drive a sale but not create loyalty, so too can they help a candidate get elected, but they don’t create a foundation for leadership. Leadership requires people to stick with you through thick and thin. Leadership is the ability to rally people not for a single event, but for years. [Manipulative] tactics win elections, but they do not seed loyalties among the voters.
In business, leadership means that customers will continue to support your company even when you slip up. If manipulation is the only strategy, what happens the next time a purchase decision is required. What happens after the election is won?
There is a big difference between repeat business and loyalty. Repeat business is when people do business with you multiple times. Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you. Loyal customers don’t often bother to research to the competition or entertain other options. Loyalty is not easily won. Repeat business, however, is. All it takes is more manipulations.
Manipulations lead to transactions, not loyalty.
So, if manipulations don’t work to create loyalty, what does? If manipulating and seducing people ultimately doesn’t feel good, what does?
A True Story About Courting
While at a party to support Reakash Walters, a young and inspiring woman of colour running to be the Federal MP for City Centre in Edmonton, Ron Walker, the program coordinator at the Native Friendship Centre in Edmonton shared a story that speaks so beautifully to this notion of courting.
I won’t attempt to share the story in full but I share this abridged version with his kind permission here:
A long time ago, there was once a young man in love with a woman in his village who did not return his affections. Unable to deal with the pain of this rejection he left the village and went far, far away into the woods, where he was guided to a beautifully carved flute and told to go and listen to the sounds the animals there made there and to learn how to play them on the flute. They were sounds that neither himself nor anyone in his village had heard before. Once he had done this, he was told to take them back. And so he did. And, when he returned to his village, he climbed up a hill, pulled out his flute and began to play. The people of the village sat up in notice of this beautiful and strange music they’d never heard before. And the woman who’d had no interest in him before, found her way up the hill and sat next to him signifying her desire to be with him.
It’s a good and true story.
In the story, he isn’t told that, by learning this music, he’d win her back. It wasn’t a tool of seduction. It was a gift for his community and the learning and sharing of it had, I’m sure, made him more beautiful in the process. When he returned, his own heart had been healed. He wasn’t grasping at the woman anymore and so she felt safe to come towards him.
It’s a strange truth I’ve found in life and marketing: if you try to strong arm a particular person into doing business with you, it rarely works but if you bring something good, unique and beautiful to a community and give it in service to that community, many of the people you would have been chasing actually come towards you of their own accord. I have experienced this so many times.
And, of course, the Western Mind wants to turn that story into a formula: That if I go out into nature, find something beautiful and bring it back to the community, if I go on some walk about or pilgrimage then I’ll be guaranteed some clarity and then, when I come back, I’ll get the girl or the clients or whatever.
But I don’t think that’s what the story is saying.
I don’t think that story is making any promises at all.
A Tale of Two Bookstores
Marianne Williamson once spoke about working in a bookstore. She saw it as her job to love the people who came in. And she did. And they loved her for it and came back over and over because it just felt so good to be there. Once in a while people would come in and offer her business advice and the tactics she could be using to get customers to come back. The tactics never made sense to her and then one day she realized, “Oh! They think this is a bookstore!” But for her, it had always been her church and a chance to minister to people. She was courting people, not seducing them.
There’s another new age bookstore I’ve been to where every time I walk in, I feel anything but a sense of serenity. I feel on edge and I am immediately assaulted with offers to join their email list and FB group. I’m being sold from the second I walk in. If I’m going to buy something, the owner is so loving and full of smiles, but the second it becomes clear I’m just browsing? The love shuts off entirely and she goes cold and I feel like my presence there is an imposition on her time and space. I’ve talked with dozens of others who feel the same way about this place. I genuinely have no idea how she’s still in business.
Seduction vs. Courtship
Elder Stephen Jenkinson distinguishes between seduction and courting, “Seduction sounds like the quiet padding of the thief’s feet on the path as they run away into the night having stolen from you something very precious you won’t even know is missing until you reach for it next.”
Seduction is polish and charm.
Courting is the deep insistence of being of some use to the thing you love whether or not it benefits you at all.
It is a combination of being observant, deep listening and earnest craftmanship to bring the one you love something that they need without ever once having had to ask.
And maybe this is the heart of courting – generosity. That courting begins and ends with giving whereas seduction begins and ends with taking (and any giving which is done is used itself as misdirection to distract you from the taking).
Seduction is the buying of votes and the false ‘i love you’s’, it’s the playing on people’s hopes… to get something we want from them without them knowing we took it. Seduction is a beautiful, carefully stitched bag emptied of all respect and regard for the other so that it can hold the very thing the one you love might have given you freely, even if in a different form than you had hoped, had you courted them well. The things seduction throws aside are the very things that might have inspired the giving. The cost of walking the path of seduction, which we all, if we are honest, know intimately, is that we are constantly scared of being caught. Seduction requires stealth where stealth shouldn’t be.
The worst of salesmanship is seduction, not courting. It’s ninja tactics, secret linguistic tricks, and ‘closing techniques’. Seduction is about sitting across from someone and trying to get people to see things your way (e.g. see how valuable what’s your offering is, see what a great person you are etc.) but courting begins with sitting down next to them and trying to see what they see.
The worst of dating advice is seduction, pick up tricks and sneaking.
The worst of parenting advice is seduction, bribery and bullying. It’s us standing toe to toe with our child trying to get them to see things our way instead of sitting beside them and trying to see what they see.
Seduction is, in short, trying to get away with something.
Courting is trying to give to something. Trying, often futilely and often failing, to give something worthy and beautiful to that which we love. But even in the most disastrous attempts to give where we fail extravagantly, there’s something in the extravagance itself that feeds something. Courting is about leaving space so that the one you are courting has room to move towards you of their own volition, leaving room for them to come closer to you.
If you’re treated poorly in dating, you make someone more human by letting them know your feelings and not letting them behave so poorly in your presence.
And we don’t share our feelings about people’s behaviour in order that they will love us for being so wise and helpful. If we’re doing it to get their approval then we’ve already begun to slide down the hill of seduction without noticing it.
We can share the impact their actions had on us and then a let go gracefully of the need for them to do anything in particular with that information. I think the not being attached to a result from them is central to courtesy.
The Soft Handshake
I recall receiving a handshake from a Blackfoot activist in Alberta. It was the limpest handshake I’ve ever received and it felt incredibly gross. Like I was shaking hands with a dead fish. Didn’t he know about the importance of making a good first impression on someone?
And then, many years later, I heard Stephen Jenkinson talking about this. He explained that it was a very old style of handshake that meant to express the utmost consideration and respect. It was saying, “I’m not going to try and make any big impression on you. I’m not going to assume we’re going to get along. Let’s just take out time and get to know each other and see how it goes.” No assumptions. No burdens placed.
I think it’s a good thing to take into our interactions with clients. Not carrying in this urgent need to impress them right away. Not having the focus be on how they see us and our reputation. That approach is guided by the mirror of narcissism and self concern and it’s hard to move forward skillfully while looking into a mirror. Instead we are guided by our love of and concern for them.
Courting is not collapsing.
None of this means you collapse and give away the store.
It doesn’t mean you work for free.
It doesn’t mean that you aren’t strategic and thoughtful in how you plan your marketing.
It doesn’t mean you don’t out a lot of time into thinking out your sales funnels and business model.
It doesn’t mean you don’t track and measure your numbers and results and change your strategy accordingly.
It doesn’t mean that your tone has to be gentle and you can’t be outrageous or have fun. It doesn’t mean you throw out your edginess and sass. None of that.
No no no.
It means you might do all of those things but that you take care of yourself well while you do them.
It means you build a thoughtful and well considered business plan. It means you get really clear on your niche. It means you write the best sales letters anyone had every seen. It means that you get really good at having conversations with interested people that help you both decide if there’s a fit there or not.
It actually means that you need to raise your game as an entrepreneur substantially.
If you want to court your clients graciously, then consider creating free things for them that could be useful to them before they spend money with you to let them know that you have their needs in mind first and foremost.
Find a way for them to get to know you from a distance and to approach you as it feels safe so you can both see if you resonate with each other.
You business is a house. Your customers can’t relax in a collapsing house.
It’s like this. You build the house of your business solidly like a house instead of having it always at the point of collapse. If you build it strong, then people walk in and just enjoy the beauty in it. They notice how good it feels to be there. I remember once being in Fairfield, Iowa where I did one of my first workshops ever. I went to house that was build according to vedic design principles even older than feng shui. It was a thing of beauty. Timbre framed. Rammed earth floors. Big windows. It felt so good to just be in the thing. We were just there as a part of a tour but didn’t no one want to leave it when it was time to go.
Here’s what no one felt while in the home – pressure to hold that house up.
Could you imagine the tour in the framing was weak. “So as you can see here in the kitchen… Shit. Sorry. Could you hold this beam? It’s about to collapse. Thanks. So, this kitchen was built with… shit! Could you two hold up that wall? Must not have nailed that in right and FUCK! Everyone else hold up the roof!”
That’s how it feels to be in a poorly constructed business. Like you’ve been giving the job of saving them and holding it all up. So, the first responsibility in courting is to build your business well so it’s not relying on them to hold it up.
And also, how can you ever leave your home to invite anyone to it if it’s going to collapse if you leave it? If you’re always patching it together in a constant crisis, how can you give out invitations to the wonderful parties you want to throw? How can you be present to your guests, have empathy and put yourself in their shoes when you’re in a crisis?
It seems to me that we move to seduction out of the desperation of a house falling apart with a leaky roof. The key is not to get better at seducing. The key is to find ourselves some simple and stable place to live so we can have the time and space we need to practice our courting of who and what matters to us.
Perhaps, the central and unspoken fear that drives seduction is the belief that the other person has something without which you can’t survive and that you simply couldn’t get on your own. This fear creates desperation – it makes these situations into life or death matters.
We come to believe, in a confused sort of way, that we need to get a sale from this particular person or that we need sex from that person, love and acceptance from this person and attention from that person. If we believe this, then we will seduce at best or simply steal at worst. If we believe this, then we will be unable to let go gracefully.
I think a first step to even being able to consider courting anyone or anything is to see more widely, to see that our needs can be met in many ways rather than making one person responsible for them.
Sometimes what this all means, and no one wants to hear this, is that you need to live somewhere else while you build this dream home. Or that you need to build a tiny home and add extensions as you can. Sometimes you need to have a job to earn your income while you build your dream business. Or that you need to start really small and grow your business as you can.
What Are You Feeding?
Courting acknowledges that there are things that matter beyond us and our businesses bottom line.
It acknowledges that the way we engage with others not only has consequences for us (do we get the sale or not) but also for the other (do they feel honoured or violated).
But there is something else that is profoundly missing in most the marketing material I see. The understanding that our actions impact anything bigger than ourselves.
Certainly, it has consequences for the marketplace at large. If everyone used seduction and manipulation, the marketplace would feel even worse than it does – trust would be at an all time low. But, perhaps there’s something even bigger, something that is fed by the beauty we make and that is starved when we don’t. The way we proceed with each other is not free of consequence.
And, looked at from another angle, I think that courting has big consequences for the kind of person we become. And the kind of person we become has big consequences for the world. When we move through the world trying to seduce people I think we become, increasingly, the embodiment of the absence of the thing we were seducing from the practice of using our hands and words to grasp at and trap what was never ours in the first place. When we move through the world trying to court people, I think we become, increasingly, the embodiment of the presence of the thing we have been courting from the practice of using our hands and words to craft gifts for what we love. Somehow the practice of crafting gifts transforms us into a gift as well.
“…the rental rate for this gift of being allowed to flourish and reside in this continuum with the rest of the world is that we do everything possible to be indigenously beautiful, promising that we make ourselves spiritually full and delicious so as to feed the next ones to appear in the ongoing river on the occasion of our passing.” – Martin Prechtel, The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic
The notion of permission marketing was coined, so far as I know, in Seth Godin’s blog post Permission Marketing. His notion was that we need people’s permission to market to them. Without permission, our marketing is spam.
Susan Hyatt wrote of this dynamic in the coaching world in her piece Unsolicited Coaching. Please. Make it stop and it’s a thread I wove into my extensive blog post on Empathy in Marketing. Unasked for advice is the spam of social relationships.
When it’s missing, it feels like a keen violation.
Years ago I hosted, as I often do, a potluck. A fellow came, I think brought by a friend. He was a fitness trainer keen to build his business. Clearly, somewhere along the way he learned that building your email list is the most important thing you can do these days. And so, he spoke to all twenty five or so people at the potluck and invited them to sign up for his email list and get a free, healthy recipe for a chocolate and peanut butter dessert.
It was so blatant, so hijacking of my party and using the trust in the space for his own purposes. Most people, I am sure, signed up because it felt incredibly awkward to say ‘no’ to his face. I imagine most of them thought, “I’ll just sign up and then unsubscribe or ignore him.”
The approach was forceful. It didn’t authentically grow out of the conversation. It was smuggled into every conversation.
Another example: I was recently in Kelowna where I led a day long workshop. When I got back from lunch I saw that one of the participants, a realtor, had left his business card and a pen (with his contact info on it) on every seat. I went up to him and let him know I felt uncomfortable with it and would appreciate it if he removed them, which he then did. On one hand, there’s something commendable here – hustle. He’s not just sitting back and hoping people call him. He’s being active.
And, the way he’s doing it isn’t, in my mind, gracious.
I am the one who brought everyone together. It was my efforts and the trust I’d built with people that had created that room full of people and by not asking me if it was alright, he was hijacking those efforts and using them for himself. But he certainly doesn’t need my permission to market himself at my event. The real permission he needed was from the people to whom he was marketing. They didn’t ask to find the pen and business card on their chair. What are they going to do with it? He spammed them.
If the realtor had wanted my endorsement, he could have courted it by showing up early and helping to set up and paying attention to how he could be useful to me. He could have bought everyone lunch at the workshop. He could have brought a gift for everyone at the workshop. He could have reached out to me in advance and shared his appreciation of my work and some useful links to things. He could have honoured the incredible time and effort it took me to get the people there and build my business.
The nonchalantness of trying to benefit from other people’s labours without acknowledging those labours is being a parasite, not a guest.
In short, he could have built a relationship with me based on giving and generosity first which would have, almost certainly, been reciprocated.
Antoine Palmer is one of the finest men I know. I met him at a large picnic I was hosting. He helped carry tables into the community centre afterwards. He was just incredibly helpful without being asked. It’s a fine way to introduce yourself to someone, not by trying to impress them but by paying attention to what’s needed and trying to be helpful to them.
I remember meeting Julia Butterfly Hill, who was on her book tour for her book The Legacy of Luna about her two year tree sit, with my friend Michele at Bookshop Santa Cruz and really hoping to impress her because we thought she was kind of the coolest and we were hoping she might come to an event we were organizing. So we just helped out with her book signing. The next night, she was in Berkeley. I showed up and learned that she was mostly raw vegan and went grocery shopping to salad supplies figuring that she might be hungry after the event. She was and her face lit up with delight in seeing what I’d done. We’ve been friends since. And she came to the event.
While I was staying at my friend Sean’s in Vancouver, I noticed they had an empty, large jar of coconut oil. So I picked up a new one for them. I asked them casually if they’d ever tried Hendrix Gin (the best gin of all times) and when they said ‘no’ I knew to pick up a bottle of it the next day for a dinner we were having.
This can look so many different ways. I’m sure you’ve had your own experiences of both sides of this coin.
The bottom line: When you are gracious in your marketing, then your marketing doesn’t seem like marketing, it occurs to people for what it really is: a generous spirit building relationships – which is what all marketing should be.
Further Suggested Reading:
Groundhog Day – Take Two – Vicki Robin
I’ve known Dan Blank (pictured here) over a number of years and he has become my go to resource for clients who are aspiring authors. Dan brings and incredibly down to earth, brass tacks and honest approach to business building.
Recently, he hold me that he’d now branched into the broader field of helping people find and market their creative work (i.e. they’re worried that their career isn’t going anywhere; that they need to build a following; that they want to learn how to market their art) so I asked if I could interview him about it all and his new program Fearless Work for my blog. He graciously accepted. I think you’ll be glad of it.
What’s this new project you’ve got on the go?
It’s a program called Fearless Work, which is a course to help creative professionals find more time and energy to work on their art or craft. It focuses on helping people prioritize what matters most, work smarter, make creative habits stick, and manage their fear around big risks and a packed schedule.
Who would you say are the top three groups of people it’s for?
Anyone who is trying to find more time to do creative work amidst life’s many professional and personal demands.These could be artists, writers, designers, photographers, entrepreneurs, illustrators, musicians, and many others.
Working creative professionals. People who are entrepreneurial around their art and craft, and have turned it into a business.
They are finding success, but also finding barriers, and looking to break through to the next level.
Those who have dabbled with turning their art & work into a career, but want to now take it seriously.
Why did you create it? What need did you see? What’s the story?
After spending my entire life surrounded by those doing meaningful creative work, I always hear about their challenges — the things that prevent them from practicing the work they care the most about. In the past five years, I have run my own company helping these people, really being in the trenches with them as they strive for their goals.
Fearless Work is my way of creating a resource to re-shift aspects of one’s life to allow for more creative work.
What are the top three aspects of life that seem to get in the way?
- Yourself. What is most astounding is how many of the barriers that stand between someone and their creative work is often their own internal boundaries. They refuse to give themselves permission, or they are driven by narratives that kill their work before they can create it.
- Reacting to the demands of others and things external to you. This could be your day job, but it can also be the everyday demands of laundry and dishes.
- Being a parent. While most people I meet who are any age, whether they have kids or not, are very busy, I find that becoming a parent offers unique challenges. When you have kids, many of the process you have honed for yourself go off the rails because you are now fully responsible for other human beings. It’s impossible to overstate how much work this is: you literally have to wipe their asses. And, while this is a responsibility done with the deepest levels of love, that is also why it can be taxing in ways we never quite imagined before having children.
Fearless Work is also about ways to establish habits that allow for more creative work to be done each day. It is the culmination of everything I have learned in working with hundreds of creative professionals, as well as my own company.
I hear from people every single week, about how profound their struggles are. They feel they work more hours, give more of themselves, only to feel as though they are treading water, their dreams unfulfilled. The course delves into the practical actions that one can take (both internally and externally) to not only feel more fulfilled, but focus on what matters most in their creative endeavours.
Everyone feels overwhelmed, and 99% of the time, the only thing holding you back is yourself.
Everyone has challenges, and some of them are breath taking in their complexity: the person who is coping with a debilitating illness; someone who has suffered through a traumatic event; the single parent of 5 kids; the sole caregiver for ailing parents. Yet, I always speak to people who, despite these very real responsibilities, can manage to also find room for their own identity, and their own work. That all of these things are a part of who they are, and that even serious responsibilities don’t have to sidetrack who you want to be.
There are others who do a similar type of thing, what did you see was missing in it all that had you want to create this?
I love the various resources that are out there, and how inspiring each can be in their own way.
For my own experience working with creative professionals though…
I find that the business side of creative work is overwhelming for many people. While I always put the art first, I have deep experience in turning one’s creative vision into a viable business. It’s an obsession, really.
When I look back on both my professional and personal experience, it is across a wide range of arts. When I was a kid, I went to art school, and growing up, I did illustration, photography, poetry, sculpture, pop-up books, music, writing, a newspaper cartoon, trained to be a radio DJ, published a zine, did design work, and eventually I became an entrepreneur working with writers and creative professionals.
I hear these challenges everyday because of how many people/orgs I work with. I have to address them because these are the relationships that fill my life. None of this is theory, I am in the trenches with these people every single day.
I suppose, I see the “productivity” and “inspiration” side of this focused on a lot by others, but things such as mental health are often not being address. For example, I am the last person who will ever tell you to do more creative work by giving up some sleep. The idea of robbing someone of sleep in order to gain “productivity” is offensive. It cuts away at the foundations of their physical and mental health — that is NOT progress to me!
My company is five years old and I have established processes that I think others can find value in.
Why is this such a struggle for artists to take on the business side of things?
The answers vary, but one phrase that comes up often is “permission.”
Meaning, that after the artist goes through the struggle of creating work that matters deeply to them, they are confronted with the fear of permission, “Who am I to now ask people to pay for this?” Which is why many creatives wait to be “discovered.” For others to validate their work by sheer magic — without the artist having to proactively put their work out there. I suppose core to this is a fear of judgement, but also anxiety that many artists feel around their identity. Impostor syndrome is pervasive across professions, but I see it crop up often in creative fields. All of this is part of the stew that makes the business side of the arts extraordinarily complex for creative people.
I’d be curious to hear what other terrible advice you see out there for artists and creative types.
Most of the advice I see that turns my stomach are versions of get rich quick schemes. For the arts, it may not focus on money alone as the goal, but on the validation that many creative people seek. So yes it could be, “Make a million dollars with your art!” but it can also be “The world is just waiting for your message!” As many creative professionals will tell you, when they released their work publicly, it was received to dead silence. The distinction between the amateur and the professional in this context is that they took efforts to ensure it found an audience, and that this was truly work that takes time and pushed them passed boundaries.
What are the three top blunders that you see people make in addressing these issues?
Goodness, only three? How about six:
- Looking for a tool that will magically fix everything. The real value comes in establishing good habits and new processes. Are tools a part of this? Sure, but they serve the habits and processes, not the other way around.
- Thinking it is all in or not at all. Consider how many people start and fail at diets. They are either “on” the diet or “off” the diet, and change of this caliber needs has more layers to the gradient than this. This is about tiny changes a little at a time.
- Seeking productivity tips that adds more stuff to their already packed life. You can’t get clarity by adding and adding to your life — you have to SUBTRACT what doesn’t matter in order to find more resources to do the work that truly matters.
- Focusing on only time, not energy. Energy is a renewable resource that affects all areas of your life.
- Seeking “balance.” To be honest, I don’t believe in balance when it comes to how people traditionally talk about “work/life balance.” Balance is a lovely concept, but if you listed out all of your personal and professional obligations, I think the idea of “balance” gets in the way. Instead, I believe in clarity and priorities. The term I tend to use is this: OBSESSIONS. Making hard choices about what matters most.
- Managing their work life separate from their personal needs and goals. You have a single life, and a 24 hours in a day, you have to manage it as a whole.
What are the main good habits you feel like creative folks need most? Could you share a story or example of of a habit you’ve developed that’s paid off?
The habits that most creative people need to establish is taking small actions in a consistent basis. I mean, that is what a habit is, right? Break down a larger creative vision into tiny component parts that you can control. An example would be how I wrote the first draft of the book I am working on. I reserved the first hour of the day to write, with the goal of at least 1,000 words per day.
Now, a distinction I made is that this was about quantity, not quality. I wasn’t judging if my writing was good or not, I just focused on getting words on the page. Within less than 40 days, I had hit my goal of a 65,000 word first draft. Before I put the restraints on the habit (1 hour, 1,000+ words each day), the idea of writing a book was nearly incomprehensible. All I saw where challenges.
Also, I find boundaries to be extraordinarily useful in the creative process, and that they are useful in how we work as well. For instance: I don’t fly. I won’t be shy here: it scares me. So when I created my business, I put a simple rule in place, “No flying for work.” Now, this meant I put a severe limitation on potential revenue streams. I have done a lot of speaking, and this limitation meant that I could never truly seek out a highly paid speaking career, seeking out keynotes and the like. Revenue stream #1 in the toilet. I also do come consulting for organizations, and this limitation meant that I couldn’t seek out large clients outside of those in area around New York City. Any large organization client would likely want a series of in-person meetings, and since I don’t fly, that meant I couldn’t say yes to that. Revenue stream #2 in the toilet.
And yet, 5 years in, my business is doing fine. These limitations allowed me to OBSESS over other areas I am passionate about, such as developing online courses that could reach people anywhere in the world, and be created from my home. For the Fearless
Work course, my team and I have worked on it for months, through an incredible amount of OBSESSIVE research. For much of that time, we had to ignore other potential opportunities to grow my audience or my business. We are all in on this course, and it feels extraordinary to so fully devote yourself to something.
What are the top three things people could do on their own to address these issues effectively?
When approaching the idea of Fearless Work — to do more of the creative work that matters most to you, I find these three things can help you find greater success in working through the process:
- Make it social. Surround yourself with like minds. Don’t struggle by yourself.
- Focus on clarity, especially around your goals. It is astounding to me how vague people’s goals often are when you scratch the surface. Oftentimes, you find that there is nothing there, just a vague idea. Why? Because they were too afraid of the obligation that comes with truly tackling their dreams.
- I would rather see you focus all of your energy on establish a single TINY positive new habit than create some complex system that fools you into thinking you have solved it all. Start small.
For more info on Dan’s program Fearless Work click on the image below.
It’s not having more resources, it’s resourcefulness.
When people are driven and committed they so often find a way to make things work while those who aren’t committed find a lot of excuses (which they will list as ‘reasons it didn’t work’).
This may not seem like a very hippy idea. It’s not a very ‘go with the flow, man’ idea. But, real talk, The Grateful Dead had hustle.
In the fall, my friends and I are launching a project in Edmonton called The Social Yogi (basically, we’ll be hosting a monthly social event for local yogis). Last year, I found a local fellow to take on organizing it. He was excited. And I gave him literally everything he needed to make it work. He had all of the resources he needed. And yet he bailed on or no showed our first three meetings. I told him it was over. But, he took that feedback so well that I decided to give him one more chance.
We had a great meeting and then, when we didn’t get an enthusiastic response from Edmonton’s busiest local, young yoga hubs, he bailed on the project entirely because he didn’t want to do it alone.
Did it cross his mind that other people might have been interested? Or that, as the local hubs told me, that they were just extraordinarily busy and had been waiting for him to actually do something? I don’t know.
He just lacked hustle.
To be clear: I’m not saying he should have hustled or even wanted to. I’m not saying him walking away was wrong or an aspersion on his character. He’s a very fine fellow. But, for whatever reason, the hustle vanished. And when the capacity to hustle goes, the success of your enterprise isn’t far behind it.
When people have hustle, they make incredible things happen on a shoestring.
And I wish I knew how to teach hustle or impart it into people.
It’s not having more resources, it’s resourcefulness.
Do you have a clear niche? Are you sure?
I’d like to give you a simple and fun way to find out for sure (and it might put $100 in your pocket).
Many entrepreneurs I work with believe they do in fact have a clear, solid and effective niche for their business.
Until I begin to ask a few questions.
In my experience, 90% of entrepreneurs have an extremely fuzzy niche (and don’t realize it). But that’s just my opinion. And it occurred to me that you might be curious about how clear your niche is. So, I’ve arranged a quick and fun way for you to get some direct and candid feedback from me and also dozens of other people. In my experience, honest feedback can be hard to get.
For the past two years now I have run a contest I called So You Think You Can Niche? where people submitted their niche and there were some really good submissions.
2013: You can see the top forty winners from 2013 here.
2014: You can see the winners from 2014 here.
I created a fascinating and really useful, searchable collection of case studies from the 2014 entries, which you can find here.
And, since I’m launching my new Niching Spiral Homestudy Course soon, I thought I would run this contest again.
So here it is, it’s totally free to enter. But it’s only for the brave . . .
Submitting Your Niche:
Click the SUBMIT button below and it will take you to a submission form that explains all. But here are the rules:
- you must write your niche in 140 characters or less (say wha?!). That’s the length of a tweet.
- if you submit a niche, you must rate at least five other peoples’ niches (it’s only fair) but please do more if you can. Be honest and constructive in your feedback.
- your photo meme must include your 140 character niche text, your website (if you have one) and the hashtag #sytycn2015. Here’s a great example from 2014:
Don’t know how to make a meme? You’re not alone! There are all sorts of apps for both Apple and Android phones and computers – here’s an article with some choices listed. Download one to your phone or computer to make your meme. Or get help from a friend! We happen to use Diptic and Over, but all these apps are a bit different and it depends what platform you’re working on which one will be the best for you.
You are totally welcome to email your friends and rope them into voting for you as long as you ask them to be honest.
Once you submit, your photo will be posted in this album on my facebook page. You can then select your photo and copy the link and share it as you like.
In fact, here’s a facebook post and a tweet below:
How to Rate Other People’s Niches:
To be clear on the rating system:
1 = Not clear at all. I have no idea what they’re talking about or what problem they solve for people.
10 = I can totally picture specific people I could send to them and I know for sure whether I’m in their niche or not. I clearly understand the problem they are solving.
You’re welcome to write some feedback too – in fact, please do! But let’s remember to be gentle, uncompromising truth but also unconditional love as this is a vulnerable thing for people.
There is a prize for the person who gives the best and most insightful comments (read more at the bottom).
Examples of Niches I’d Rate a 10 in Clarity:
- I help holistic practitioners attract more of their kinds of clients they want without doing anything that feels pushy.
- I lead yoga classes for people with “round bodies” who don’t enjoy going to regular yoga classes.
- Therapists who need an outlet to anonymously share all the secrets they have to keep from sessions with clients.
- MD’s who are burning out or can see they’re heading to burn out if they don’t slow down and make changes.
Thirteen Chances to Win a Prize.
What’s in it for you?
How to win: the winner will be the person with the highest total score. In the case of a tie, the one with the most people rating them wins. So get your friends involved if you want to be sure to win – but remember, they need to rate you honestly!
1st Place: 90-minute coaching session with me ($450 value) + you’ll be featured on my blog + $100 gift certificate at your favourite locally owned restaurant + free hard copy and ebook versions of my book The Niching Nest + a free copy of Niching Spiral Homestudy Course to give to a friend (you don’t need it ’cause you’re so smart).
2nd & 3rd Place: 30-minute coaching session with me ($150 value) + a free hard copy and ebook copy of The Niching Nest.
Best Photo: Your creativity and quality of presentation will be rewarded, even if your niche isn’t. You win $100 off my upcoming Niching Spiral Homestudy course!
The Best Comments Prize: the person who gives the best feedback to others gets 50% off my upcoming Niching Spiral Homestudy course because that’s the kind of person I want in it.
Good Comments Award: Anyone who gives at least five quality pieces of feedback (beyond just a number) will get $100 off my upcoming Niching Spiral Homestudy course.
But, every person who enters a niche will receive a rating from me personally (from 1-10) and some direct feedback and questions to help you dig a bit deeper.
Every person who enters gets to see a tonne of examples of how others articulate their niches in clear and fuzzy ways. And you’ll get feedback from (hopefully) dozens of others.
(on Monday, August 17th, 2015)
Years ago, I got an email from a client that said something to the effect of, “I feel like the sales letter kind of hyped this up and it wasn’t what you said it was. I went back and read the sales letter and there was nothing inaccurate but… it just felt like it wasn’t what was promised. I need a refund.”
Those aren’t the kinds of words I’d wanted to wake up to in my email that morning for my newly launched ebook on niching. It was a slim 30 pager, nowhere near as large or comprehensive as it would eventually become in the form of my book The Niching Nest, and she just wasn’t impressed with it.
And I had to wonder if I should refund her or not.
Once you’ve been in business for a while, eventually, someone is going to ask you for a refund.
And how you respond to that moment has everything to do with the growth of your business.
On one hand, you may have been on the receiving end of a stingy refund policy and felt terrible about it or had the refund freely given and felt incredible relief and gratitude. On the other hand, does it make sense to have no boundaries on when and where refunds will be given? Probably not.
But it’s an important thing to figure out because word of mouth is the dominant force in the marketing word. And enough upset customers venting about the terrible experience they had with you because you refused to give them your money and that you’re a big, unfair meanie can do serious damage to your marketing.
But it’s also true that developing a reputation of being a push-over who they can use and then disregard once they’ve received the benefit is also unfair.
So, what you say in the moment (and I promise I will give you some words) is actually the least important part of the conversation.
The first thing is to make sure you’ve got a clear and fair refund policy spelled out and that the customer knows this policy when they buy. This is crucial.
It’s a similar dynamic to the ‘no shows’ I wrote about in my blog post Don’t Mess With Their Rice Bowl in that it’s crucial to have standards that protect yourself as a business.
Simply having a clear policy will handle 90% of the upset. You’ll never handle the remaining 10% because there’s no policy to handle crazy.
The second thing is to understand why they’re even asking for a refund in the first place.
It might be that they’re in crisis or sudden financial desperation. They had the money when they signed up but they don’t now.
It could be that they’ve had a change in what matters. They signed up for a workshop on dating and then met the woman of their dreams. They no longer need it. They signed up to learn how to make money from Donald Trump but then became an anarchist.
But, often, it’s that what they bought isn’t giving them the benefits they’d hoped it would (or they don’t trust that it will).
This is the one I want to focus on.
Back to the woman wanting a refund on the niching ebook.
I immediately refunded her money (as I think we should if there’s any chance that the fault was in a lack of clarity in our marketing).
I sat with her words for a while. I felt awful. Here I am, teaching authentic marketing and she felt mislead. Ugh. Worst.
So, I went to look at the sales page to see just how wrong she was and to be able to point out that she hadn’t really read the sales letter. I mean, sure she had. But not really really.
But, as I read it, I began to see what she was saying. It was a bit hyped up. I could see that I’d given the impression that it did more than it could actually do and was for a broader group than it actually was. It was humbling to see it. I’d put a list of “This ebook could be for you if…” but I’d not made a similar list of, “This ebook might not be for you if…”
I realized that this ebook was actually not for people who already knew niching was crucial and the ebook was making the case for it. It also wasn’t for people who wanted a nuts and bolts how-to guide on niching. It was a primer for people who were considering niching but feeling hesitant about it.
I took an hour, rewrote the sales page so it felt more true to what it was and sent her an email asking what she thought.
“This is great!” she replied. “I wouldn’t have bought it!”
If we see the role of marketing as being about getting people to say ‘yes’ then the result of someone saying, ‘perfect! I wouldn’t have bought!’ is a failure. This is how so many people view marketing. Even in writing emails they try to write a sexy subject line that gets people to open an email that might not even be of any use to them.
But if we know that one of the main roles of marketing is about filtering people so that only the right people buy, it’s a huge success. We can actually tone down the hype in our sales copy and get more sales to the right people.
But what do you do when, despite your best efforts, they’re asking for a refund because it wasn’t what they thought it would be?
But, what exactly do you say?
I suggest the first thing you say is, “I’ll absolutely refund your order.”
If there’s any chance that your marketing was to blame for them buying something that wasn’t a fit, refund the money and consider it a business expenses in market research. Because it is.
The second thing you say is something along the lines of, “Thank you for letting me know my marketing wasn’t as clear as I would like it to be.”
Honestly, when people tell us this, we should be getting down on the ground and bowing to them in gratitude.
The second thing we should say is something like, “Would you be willing to let me know what I could change on the sales page so that you would have known for sure it wasn’t a fit for you?”
That question might seem simple, but it’s actually huge, it will, over time help you hone and refine your sales copy until no one who isn’t a fit buys at all. That’s the goal. And, often, the feedback won’t even be that big. Just a little change here and there but a small change in wording or emphasis or order can make a huge difference.
If the refund request is for some other reason, I don’t have much advice other than to have clear policies, sit with it, do what feels right to you and always err on the side of generosity, not stinginess. And, regardless of the reason, see if there’s something you can learn, some business system that would make it less likely that it would ever happen again.
Years ago, a woman attended a pay what you can, weekend workshop I was running. She paid a $100 deposit to attend and then she paid $500 at the end of the workshop based on the value she’d received. A month or so later she sent me an email saying she’d received no value at all and demanding her money back. She was also someone I’d give two hours of free coaching to because she’d gotten locked out of the building by accident. There’s more to the story, but the whole thing felt off. I didn’t feel like I wanted to refund her money but eventually gave back half just to get her out of my hair. If I’d had more money at the time, I might have just given it all back. Who needs the drama?
Refunds can also help you hone your niche…
One of the beautiful benefits of people asking for refunds is that you start to see who is a fit for you and who isn’t. Your sense of who your ideal client is comes into clearer relief. Your sense of what you want to do and how becomes more focused. If you will choose to over-respond (vs. over-reacting) to each request for a refund and use it as a chance to narrow in on your role in the community and the niche you want to fill you might be amazed at how much faster your business becomes what it wanted to become all along.
Bonus Thought: Check Boxes
If there are certain catches and conditions of buying from you, it can also be good to list them as boxes to check in the order form. For example, for a weekend, pay what you want, marketing course I might have one for:
DEPOSIT: I understand that my space is not confirmed until I’ve paid my non-refundable $100 deposit.
PYWY: I understand that the deposit is just to hold my space and, at the very end of the workshop, I’ll be given a chance to contribute more based on a mix of what the workshop was worth and what I can afford.
Having these as boxes they have to check off help to ensure that important conditions are not accidentally missed by someone skimming over your sales letter (which 95% of people will).