I received my first lesson on the fundamentals of economics when sailing down the Mekong Delta in Vietnam at age 22. I was working as a tour leader, accompanying groups through Vietnam and Cambodia. Our local Vietnamese tour guide, who I’d hired to accompany our Mekong trip, was talking about the area.
“The Mekong Delta is very fertile,” he explained. “It produces lots of fruit, vegetables, and its foods supply the whole country and are shipped around the world.”
“The people here are very poor,” he added.
I was lost. “How can they be poor if there’s an abundance of food?” I asked him. This was my first lesson in supply versus demand – having a surplus of something doesn’t make you wealthy (though you may be well fed).
While this is simple economics, I was a naive Arts students, with a major in religious studies. To me, it was a revelation.
I credit the Vietnamese with the majority of my entrepreneurial acumen. Two years of living and working in Vietnam and Cambodia showed me up-close-and-personal how entrepreneurism works. Not in the white-man-dominated business ‘incubators’ that Sydney is stuffed with, where children of privilege focus on raising funds from investors, but on the streets of Ho Chi Minh city, Hue and Hoi An.
Most importantly, they taught me how important perspective, beliefs and attitudes are when you’re earning a crust under your own banner.
People can’t afford you
I suffered this one for years. I presumed that people couldn’t afford me and I lowered my prices to accommodate. Oftentimes, I wouldn’t quote what people needed because I wanted to make cash flow easier on them – I’d first secure a little piece of work and then attempt to sell them the next small thing that I saw they needed.
The result? Clients wouldn’t get a big result from a little piece of digital marketing, which undermined their confidence in me. They didn’t understand the bigger picture that I was seeing, and not selling to them.
On the one hand, I was trying to make my services affordable and approachable, but from another perspective, I was taking away people’s right to choose for themselves and hiding from the opportunity to position myself as an expert who saw a bigger, long-term plan for their business growth.
You’re in charge of choosing your price. You’ve spent energy worrying about whether or not people could afford you, whether or not you were “good enough” to charge this, and whether or not people would think you were “full of yourself” for charging what you charge. Now you can now channel this into useful purposes, including communicating the value of your price, measuring your effectiveness through questioning, surveys and follow up, and ensuring your marketing and branding reflects your positioning.
If you’re truly good, you wouldn’t need to do marketing
This old chestnut has endured across industries, countries and business types, no matter how often it’s proven wrong. Does Apple advertise? What about Nike? Think that your favourite bands or artists doing do marketing?
When you dig a little, this perspective reveals far more: vulnerability of being visible, and snobbery. It’s not cool to be seen to be marketing. Instead, our genius should be self-evident which makes people flock to us.
Marketing can feel incredibly vulnerable, especially if you’re a consultant or sole trader who’s the face of your business. Feeling uncomfortable or awkward is not a sign that you shouldn’t do something – that’s a convenient excuse to justify staying (broke) in your comfort zone.
Think about marketing as an opportunity to meet new people, which often feels awkward, and introduce them to something that could potentially change their lives for the better. We all feel a little self-conscious about communicating with strangers sometimes. It’s just par for the course.
Marketing is pushy
No doubt, you’ve had a bad experience with someone who was incredibly pushy and, perhaps, led you to make a purchase that you later regretted. Most probably, you’ve been in someone’s email sales funnel or watched someone on social media go through a campaign where you’ve felt hounded to make a decision and buy from them. And so you’ve concluded that to be effective at marketing, you need to be pushy.
Sometimes marketing involves talking about your personal story, or your credentials, experience and expertise. Sometimes marketing is promotions or discounts.
But marketing that’s constantly self-referral, or that only runs discounts and promotions, isn’t likely the kind of business you’re in, anyway. What I teach – and what I attract – are business owners focusing on content marketing which, when done well, is generous. It’s not about continuous self-promotion, but attraction marketing through being of service to people – regardless of whether or not they buy.
At the end of the day, you can’t convince anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. But I daresay, you’re not the kind of person who would attempt to strong-arm anyone, anyway.
I don’t know enough
This is a perspective that knows no bounds. We could always learn more and know more about our particular topic. And, the more you know, the more you realise what you don’t yet know and understand. It’s a truism that those with the most knowledge and experience in a field are oftentimes the most humble because they see the limits of their expertise.
If you’re fairly inexperienced in your field, you’re still needed: there are beginner clients looking to dip their toes in, who don’t want and need an expert. So long as you understand your target market, the limits of your knowledge, and you have a referral network when you need to refer a client on, you do know enough right now and there’s plenty of people who need what you’ve got.
Everyone knows what they’re doing, except me
It is a sad fact of life that those who aren’t plagued with self-doubt, sensitivity or self-awareness tend to go further, faster. And those sincere souls who think deeply, who worry on behalf of other people, who are sensitive to their surrounds, and who are dedicated to their craft, are often last to the finishing line. This breaks my heart.
Self-doubt doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing. It simply means you’re human. The more you know on your particular subject of expertise, the more aware you are of your shortfalls. So what to do?
Or you can stay stuck and small and let the amateurs take over.
Whenever I’m plagued with self-doubt, I go looking for people in the same field who are giving insensitive, overly-simplistic advice. (It doesn’t take long.) The worse my competitors are, the more motivated I am to provide a quality alternative.
Business is hard
It’s very possible that you’re making business far harder for yourself than it needs to be. Every day, we walk around seeing the world through the lens of our perspective, which includes your beliefs, attitude, assumptions, and the sum total of our past experiences.
Business is hard because it’s a juggling act, requiring many more skills that you probably first appreciated when you started your own gig. It can provoke immense amounts of stress and uncertainty, and demands adaptability, diverse viewpoints, stamina and grit.
Business is actually pretty simple: you exchange value for cash. Your profit is the difference between your expenses being less than your revenue. Your key focus as a business owner are sales and marketing. You only need to identify a group of people who are most suited to work with you and love them hard. By obsessing over their problems and how these can be overcome, your clients will return, bring their friends, and refer other like-minded folk to you. You likely take your strengths for granted because they come naturally to you. Other people will likely see your strengths more than you do, and are willing to pay excellent money for them. If you’re getting paid well for something that feels easy and fun to do, say thank you and take the cash. You’ve found the holy grail.
In business, our perspective can be a burden which saps our joy and costs us cash, or it can help attract enviable opportunities, buoy our joy, and fill our bank account.
Ultimately, your sustainability and success in business is determined by your willingness to reach outside your personal life to make an impact in the lives of others.