What if I Can’t Guarantee a Result?

GuaranteeThis is a blog post I’ve been meaning to write for years.

Fairly often, in workshops, the question (and it’s a very good one) comes up: “What if I can’t guarantee a result?”

That question usually emerges from the shiny palace of conversations about creating guarantees, and better than risk free guarantees, doing clever and bold risk reversals etc. But, of course, not all kinds of work are suited for these kinds of marketing manoeuvres.

Recently, in the Meantime Program I’m leading, someone shared the following comment which contains this same admirable problem.

“It’s difficult/impossible to predict an outcome from Reiki treatments. There are 2 reasons for this: 1. If I did identify a specific condition that Reiki could help people with I probably couldn’t advertise the fact due to the Advertising Standards Agency not accepting that Reiki is effective for any medical condition (without the ‘robust’ research to back it up they say it’s not acceptable). 2. Probably the stronger reason is that what happens as a result of Reiki treatment is not predicable because it’s not under my control: what the Reiki energy does for each individual depends on their sub-conscious need on that particular day. I cannot, in all integrity, promise any specific result, because I don’t know what it will be. I know that I can offer a compassionate, non-judgemental healing space where change is possible, but nothing can be guaranteed.  There’s a more predictable outcome for people I teach Reiki to: that they will have healing in their own hands. So should I focus on this instead? However that doesn’t really work in terms of the funnel because most people need to receive treatment first.”
So, you can see the sticky wicket here.
 
Let’s retrace our steps a bit.
 
Your business is like a boat that can take people from Island A (where they’re suffering from some problem) to Island B (where they have some result they are craving). These are the basics I delve into in the Marketing for Hippies 101 program.
 
That’s the essence of a business, that journey.
 
Stated another way: without the journey, there’s not much of a business. There’s just a boat.
 
Stated another way: every business exists to solve a problem. If there’s no problem to be solved, there’s no business.
 

Stated yet another way: if there’s no result being offered, then it begs the question if there is a problem or if what one is offering is, in fact, a solution in search of one.So, in this case, she can’t advertise to treat a specific condition because a) it’s illegal and b) it’s unpredictable.

What to do?
 
Consider this, as it is always vital to do, from the side of the customer and imagine how it might feel to them for someone to say, “Pay me money. Then you’ll lie down. I’ll do some things on you. You may or may not notice anything. It can be very subtle. But, if, in the next few weeks, something good happens, then I’ll take credit for that. If nothing happens or something bad, I’ll say it’s either so subtle and powerful you can’t notice it or that your fear is getting in the way.”
 
Consider how that might sound less than accountable or desirable to most people.
 
So, what does that tell us? First of all, that her ideal client is not going to be most people. That her ideal clients are going to need to be people who are already open to, at worst, and irresistibly drawn to, at best, energy work – in particular, Reiki. These are people who will understand the idea that energy work is unpredictable and not be bothered by it.
 
That’s distinction number one.
 
Tied to that, fundamentally, her target market is going to need to be people who want to get on her boat (even just to sail around). They will need to be people who want a reiki session and be happy to pay for it. They need to be people who wouldn’t need or even want any kind of guarantee. People who want to enjoy a “a compassionate, non-judgemental healing space.” And she will absolutely get clients based on this alone. There will be people who want those things. There will be people who meet her and think she’s so lovely and want to hire her. She will meet people who have been dying to try out reiki and say ‘yes’ to her. That will all happen.
 
The only question is, will it be enough to sustain her. If it is, then I would encourage her to just enjoy that.
 
But if not, it’s likely got something to do with what we’re left with in her scenario. We’re left with someone saying, “My boat is beautiful. I can’t promise to take you anywhere, but it’s cozy inside. And everyone is welcome.”
 
Which isn’t bad (truly). But it’s not great (double truly).
 
That offer is the offer of a “generic healer.” Of which there are likely hundreds, if not thousands, within 50 miles of where she lives. And more and more every year.
 
Of course, the immediate response is often going to be something like, “But this can heal anyone! That’s the best part of this modality! It’s for everyone!”
 
It’s for everyone? Maybe so. But you could make the same case for yoga and I could give you a lot of examples of different niches people have found in that world. Or permaculture. Or Traditional Chinese Medicine.
 
The ‘it’s for everyone!’ approach will work if you want to do reiki as a hobby for friends, but you are unlikely to build much of a business out of it. To continue the boat analogy, it would be like someone going down to the harbour and seeing thousands of identical boats. How are they supposed to choose? I’ll tell you how . . . price. They will go for the cheapest one.
 
In terms of the Four Stages of Business Growth, this is classic stage one.
 
What that means is that, as it stands, her marketing plan needs to be geared towards finding people who want “a compassionate, non-judgemental healing space.”
 
Huh.
 
And where would you find those people? Is it possible that this is actually code for every human on the planet? And why would they want it from her vs. someone else? And, if they want that but haven’t tried reiki yet, how do you get them to try?
 
It could also be that her target market, a bit more narrowly, could be those who just want a straight up reiki session. But, again, many of the same questions arise. Where do you find them? What makes her different than the thousands of others who do reiki?
 
You see the marketing questions that immediately arise.
 
So, what’s clear is that, to make the marketing planning easier, a bit more focus and definition in her niche could be useful.
 
There are, fundamentally, two different approaches to this. The Artistic approach and the Entrepreneurial approach. I got into these in much more depth in my book The Niching Nest.
 

The Artistic Approach: I would encourage her to clarify what it is she most wants to give and how. I’d encourage her to look in the marketplace and notice what she sees is missing that she’d like to offer. I’d want her to clarify her point of view, find her voice, bring her personality more to the forefront, tell her story and speak about why this work matters to her so much. And I’d want to know all about what kind of lifestyle she might want. I’d be so curious about which parts of her work she loves the most and which parts she wouldn’t mind losing. I’d want to know which conversations come up between herself and clients that she’d love to explore more. I’d want to see her try to sum up her platform in a page. And then to weave that together into the most clear and beautifully offering she can manage. It would end up looking something like these. Then, the basic pitch is, “Here’s the art I make. If you like it, great. If not, I bless and release you.”

And, once she was done that, I’d invite her to consider who might be most interested in that.
 
Thomas Leonard, the grandfather of the modern life coaching movement operated in this way. And he was a business coach. People would ask him what results he would guarantee and he’d tell them he didn’t guarantee anything but that he was pretty sure they’d be happy with the results. They’d ask him why on earth they should hire him at his high rates then. He’d tell them, “You probably shouldn’t.” And often they’d hire him anyway. He refused to get caught in the trap of promising something that was out of his control.
 
But, and this is an enormously important part of it, he had the skills and competence to back that swagger up. He was incredibly good.
 
The Entrepreneurial Approach: I would encourage her to hone in on one particular target market (i.e. a particular group of people struggling with a particular problem). She might ask herself, “who needs a compassionate, non-judgmental healing space who I most want to help?” and then focus her marketing efforts on them. Then, the basic pitch is, “I’ve created this thing to help you solve your problem and here’s why it’s so good.” It would end up looking something like these.

And, once she was done that, I’d invite her to create the most wonderful and creative offer she could.But, for this to become a solid business, one of those needs to move.

Until one has a solid niche, it’s difficult for much to happen. I can promise that, as her niche gets clear, many of these questions will answer themselves.
 
You can find a lot of free help on your niche at NichingSpiral.com
 
Seven Things to Look at When You’re Struggling With “But I Can’t Guarantee my Offers!”
 
When people say, “But I can’t guarantee anything.” It’s often code for:
  • competency: real talk. This is the big one. It’s very easy to hide incompetence underneath a blanket of jargon and bullshit and claims that the process is unknowable. Facilitators, consultants and healers do it all the time. But, as shaman Martin Prechtel said, and I’m paraphrasing, “If people don’t get better, don’t call yourself a shaman.” Not that it’s controllable but, if there’s never any measurable or noticeabable result, then who are you kidding? The truth is that if you help people get better, if you help them produce a measurable, noticeable, and meaningful result in their life that they’ve been craving but could not produce on their own, you won’t need to worry much about marketing or worrying about not being able to guarantee your offers because the word of mouth will be so strong. If people come to you with back pain and leave without it, if they come to you suspecting an emotional cause to their physical ailment and you help them solve it, if they come to you with heartbreak and you help them find some meaning or peace in it, if they come to you struggling with their finances and you help them find clarity . . . they will tell everyone they know about you and, because the recommendation is coming from a friend, asking for guarantees are likely to be the last thing in their mind.
  • niche: as you can see above, the lack of a niche means there’s no particular journey being offered. This makes it impossible to guarantee anything. Because there’s no “thing” to guarantee. After reading a draft of this post, the Meantime participant who had emailed me about the issue with reiki wrote me the following:

Wow thanks for writing the blog about my question Tad. Yes I understand your points. I think my issues are 1) not wanting to opt for a niche in the past, still lingering a bit – because yes Reiki can help anyone with anything if they are up for it 2) Not being clear enough about the niche I want to serve – and perhaps not daring to 3) Not having clear packages/free stuff/funnel although this started to evolve at the beginning of this year and I think more clarity on this will help. Perhaps a shift from seeing what I offer as just Reiki and more as a wider ‘package’ – something about self care and self honoring perhaps. Healing seems too vague as an offering, so I know I have to try to get down to who I really love to help.”

  • your map: If you’re taking people on a journey from Island A to Island B, they may not need a guarantee if they trust your map and the route you have plotted out. Sometimes them just knowing you’ve got a clear plan, process, perspective, approach, philosophy or set of principles on which you base your work is enough to eliminate any need for a solid guarantee. Not sure how to do that? Here are Five Steps to Identify Your Point of View.
  • how safe your clients are feeling: fundamentally what’s being hinted at here is the sense that people perceive some risk in spending their time and money with her. And so, to address it, we offer guarantees. What’s important not to lose sight of is the fact that the guarantees are just a tactics to address the underlying issue of fear. They’re a tactic to help people feel more confident in their investment. And they’re one of many tactics. Other ways to reduce risk include testimonials, online video, writing blogs, certifications, public speaking and leading workshops etc. Any kind of free sample you can create will be a huge help. Creating compelling packages is another way to reduce risk. All of these tactics will do ten times more for you with less effort if you have a clear sense of your niche.
  • are the results you’re offering big and vague?: if you’re making vague they will come across as untrustworthy. If you claim to be able to help everyone with everything, you will absolutely come across as a charlatan. It’s such an unbelievable claim. Sometimes the result we’re offering is too big. And sometimes while we’re not guaranteeing any particular big result, we’re implying it with phrases like, “this can help anyone with anything.” And when people feel uncertain they’re going to want more reassurances from you (such as guarantees). I recall being at a networking meeting in Calgary where everyone introduced themselves. One lady shared her work which was so incredibly vague, new agey and ungrounded and, when she was done there was silence and everyone sat there in an uncomfortable trance of trying to understand what she’d said and also not wanting to make eye contact with her at all. Then my friend Adrian Buckley shared about his incredible permaculture work where they’d do permablitzes and install an entire permacultured landscape in a day and the room broke out into applause. People knew something real when they heard it.
  • what can be guaranteed: you can’t guarantee everything, but there are often parts of it that you can. The whole conversation around guarantees is bigger than this blog post can handle but, in this context she might be able to guarantee that she’ll do everything in her power to make the space as compassion, non-judgmental and healing as possible. She could even get specific about how she does that. She could set agreements between herself and her client that would have them feel safe. She could guarantee her part of the process (e.g. “I commit to spending 30 minute in meditation at the start of each day and showing up to sessions well rested. I commit to continuing to grow in healing my own life. I commit to continuing education”).
  • what your clients can guarantee: sometimes we can’t guarantee things because our clients actions are out of our control. You can make it clear what you need from them for the results to happen as promised and, if they’re unwilling or unable to do that, that you are free from any promises you made. That could look like committing to some basic health and stress relieving tactics everyday. It could look like showing up to sessions on time. Being willing to do some reading.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this below in the comments.

 

About Tad

  • Wow Tad, you’ve touched on so much. This could be a mini-book in itself and warrants a longer comment. Plus, I tend to be long-winded ;)

    Ok, so what really stood out for me (other than how excellent your breakdown was) is the competency part, actually, also the intangible results part too.

    As a healing professional/coach I speak from experience when I say that my industry is absolutely plagued with this problem. I’ve struggled with it myself and tried to cure it with more training, which helps a little, but the competency piece is really only solved by gaining more experience and by focusing on what you already do well, your natural strengths, and doing them even better–whether that’s offering a particular experience (like a great, spa-type, relaxing environment for example) or just being a really great listener (niche stuff).

    Under the surface though, I think that the guarantee issue is really about this eternal problem that we helping professionals have with over-giving. We tend to take a lot on. We empathize with our clients and want to heal them because it makes us feel better, and because well, that’s what we do! But we have to remember that every person is on their own journey and we can’t rush their process no matter how much we may want to. And as I’ve learned the hard way, breaking your back to try and please someone isn’t coming from a place of true service, it’s coming from a place of graspy-ego and trying to fill some hole within yourself, and it’s also going to attract the wrong clients. You touched on this as well (attracting the right people). If you’re a helping professional, you don’t want to attract people who are looking for a guarantee, period! That’s a big flashing neon sign on someone’s forehead that says “I don’t want to be responsible for my own actions and choices.”

    So instead of taking on our client’s problems, their pain and struggles, and trying to heal our own deficiencies by meeting their (possibly highbrow) needs, it’s much better to focus on your strategies above. It’s not a bypass, it’s just good business. And by putting these strategies into action, gaining more clients and helping more people, you will travel further up that artist’s spiral and learn more about what you’re good at and what people really come to you for and how you can build on your own natural ability.

    Honestly, ANY one of the solutions that you offered is a huge step in solving the “no-guaranteed-results” problem and all of them combined, well that’s an entire business model right there!

    This is a very, VERY valuable post for anyone willing to apply it to their own business or practice. Absolutely solid gold.

  • lisamanyon

    Great post. I think it’s important to be able to keep the promise of your specific deliverable and often the results are up to the capabilities of the individual clients. I always emphasize that results vary based on the action taken and the desire to succeed (based on individual definitions of success).

  • Pamela

    Genius. Nailed it. ‘Nuff said.

  • Deirdre

    Flippin’ amazing – so much relevance and information in one post. All the things I have grappled with and never knew quite how to address them. Much gratitude

  • This is such a comprehensive post – thank you! I mostly work with clients using “The Artistic Approach” as you described – I think most people overlook the process of finding clarity about their vision, passion, point of view, and what I like to call, their superpowers. I think stepping up and owning all these are very powerful and also give people the confidence to “guarantee” what is fair to guarantee and also the confidence to say no to guaranteeing something that is not in their control.

  • Another great post! I love your direct, no-nonsense approach and do it in a way that makes truth non-threatening. Thank you.

    I do agree that my business and my offers took shape by feedback, questions and requests from my clients. I could easily go, “No, this is what I have. Buy it or leave it”. But the clients were helping me extract more specific juice from my background. And now, when someone asks me, “Does email coaching really work?” I can say,” Yes it does and I have many happy clients who have gotten results in 1-2 months” without shaking like a little rat. I also state that can’t guarantee anything that the client isn’t willing to work for – that includes being open and staying open. I use the example of how a personal trainer cannot loose the weight for the client, even if she wanted to.

    When I practiced as a therapist, I was holding the client’s both hands. As a coach, I hold the client by one hand. They do the other half. It is not that different than reiki because like the reiki person stated, it depends on how ready, willing and able the client is to receive as well. That can be facilitated and expanded by the coach/healer but it can’t be fully controlled. I noticed that when I have confidence in what I am offering, the person who is willing to do the work hears it. It works as an invisible “guarantee”.

    I think that the question of guarantees reflects the client’s fear story and it can be addressed from that angle.

    All of this came out because of your post. Always, great topics, Tad!

    xo
    Banu

  • Marcia Yudkin

    Clarity is a hugely important result, and one that you can absolutely guarantee if you are good at what you do.

    – Marcia Yudkin

  • Adrianna Muñoz

    Wow. I had so many aha moments reading this. I felt like this was written directly for me. A big aha i would like to share: vague marketing = appearing untrustworthy. I had never thought of it in that way. Im currently in the process of identifying my niche market, because like the rekei practitioner you mentioned, I too use modalities that “can help everyone”. Thank you.

  • Adrianna, I’m so glad to know this post is still out there and being of some use and that its words have earned their keep with you.

  • Adrianna Muñoz

    Thanks for responding! Nice to know you’re there :)