Lately I've talked with a lot of friends from all different walks of life, and all at different points in their lives and careers, about how they can start to sell a product or service on their blog, or make money from their existing lifestyle blog.
Now, granted, if you and I spoke in person the conversation would eventually turn to two things:
- My undying love of all things Joss Whedon.
- How frustrated I get when I see talented makers, artists, and coaches pouring their hearts into their blogs without being able to make a full or part-time career for their efforts.
If you're new to my blog, you might not know that I started freelancing when I was twenty-three years old, I left my cubicle for good at twenty-five, and this year I'm turning thirty.
I'm incredibly passionate about this because I vividly remember how big and unknown it all felt when I was starting out. I remember feeling like the only way I could make a normal job work was by putting a “realistic” ceiling on what I wanted my life to feel like.
Being on the other side of that, I know that it's not as hard or complicated as I assumed it was. And working for yourself can feel just as certain as a day job – but you have to start out to get there right.
And that's worth talking about.
So what's the first step when you want to add a product or service to your blog?
It's a lot like learning a new skill or adopting a new pet.
This summer one of my best friends, horror writer, and editor for hire J.H. Moncrieff, let me know that an abandoned hedgehog was on our Humane Society's website. Being a crazy animal lady, I was ready to scoop her up for my own before I even saw her.
When I brought her home, Ramona needed some special TLC and wasn't quiet about it! Being naturally shy critters, she was on high alert and everything panicked her. Any sound around her cage, movement or new scents and she would go into a ball and make distressed chirping noises to warn off predators.
I didn't know anything about hedgehogs, let alone how to help one who needed special care. But I had great resources to draw on, so I didn't have to guess.
I needed to know what she ate, so I asked the staff at the Humane Society. (High protein cat food! That was easy.)
I wasn't sure what kind of habitat they like, so I searched online for “hedgehog habitat pictures”. (They love places to hide and tunnel, and guinea pig cages and accessories are a perfect fit.)
If you break it down:
- I had a conversation with an expert;
- Searched online for cages or habitats so I had context for what other people use;
- I became a careful observer of her behaviour so I could respond to her better;
- Then I put in a lot of time with her, and;
- I consistently demonstrated that I was reliable and trustworthy in many small ways.
What does this have to do with your hustle? First of all, it means that you already have the skills to succeed. (Woo!) And second, that's a small-scale version of how you can learn how to help the people you want to serve with your offering, and then how you build trust them.
I bet you never thought you could tweet this: “My last business lesson was from a hedgehog on the internet.” (click to tweet it!)
Often when we create a new product or service that people might buy, we approach them with less real-world information than we do when we problem solve in other areas of our lives.
That's a little crazy, right?
There's a lot of expensive training out there that backs this idea up and encourages you to imagine your ideal client.
Tara Gentile's Quiet Power Strategy program helped me have a complete breakthrough around this. She teaches that when your ideal client isn't a real person, you're relying on yourself to fully know and understand the problem that our customers need solved.
That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on yourself to come up with all the answers on our own, and if you get it wrong there's no safety net. No wonder we feel confused about our direction. Of course, you do understand a corner of what your people struggle with, but you also have assumptions and biases that get in your way. Your perspective is naturally limited, and your solutions will be too.
Find real people, ask them about their frustrations, questions, and beliefs about what you offer, and suddenly you don't need to have all answers. You just need to listen.
That's a lot less pressure, isn't it?
The best thing about this is you can actually speak with them, but you can listen and learn from them based on conversations they're already having online in forums, on Facebook groups, and wherever else they hang out online.
Your Challenge: Start a discovery conversation this week.
- Find a real person who fits the description of someone you'd like to help. Someone you know and are comfortable with is a great place to start. Yours might be a woman over 25 years old, or maybe mom's with children under ten years old.
- Ask them if you can ask them a few questions over the phone or by instant messenger.
- Now start using those great communication skills you've got to prep some questions, and get ready to listen!
- Ask what frustrations they have around the kind of work that you do. Where they feel like things, get hard, or they would rather avoid a project than getting through it.
- Ask them if they've ever considered getting help from a freelancer, or purchasing an eCourse. Can they think of any other places they might try to get help?
Your goal is to be open, encouraging, and to talk less than they do. Make notes on phrases that they use, and how they speak about these things.
Do they ask these questions differently than you do? Do they see the same problem that you do? Is there another issue they have around this idea that's more pressing for them?
How much more helpful and ingenious could your next big thing be if you had 10, 20, 50 or 100 discovery conversations before you started creating it?
With all that information on what a diverse group of real people are actually struggling with, you're stacking the deck in favour of creating something that's profoundly helpful. It's a great way to refine what you already offer, or start out strong.
Keep listening, putting in the time, and feeding it – and soon the results you create for your clients will make sure your business loves you back!
Maybe not with the cuteness of a sweet little hedgehog, but it's a start.
What do you think? Have you done any discovery conversations before? Do they seem too intimidating, or like a waste of time? Share your take in the comments below!