The Blue Fairy learns how to make the ask

The Blue Fairy got laid off in the latest round of budget cuts.

Her friend and fellow fairy godmother, The Institutional Green Fairy, said, “Why don’t you start an online business? You love making that exercise clothing, and there’s totally a market for it.”

The Blue Fairy thought about it and decided to give it a try. She created a product line, called it Glitterrific, and built an online store and website and Pinterest and Twitter and alla dat.

Then she sat back and waited for the money to roll in.

Instead, she got a trickle of orders. Her buyers were wildly enthusiastic, but there weren’t enough of them. “Nuts!” squeaked The Blue Fairy.

She went to The Pinstripe Grey Fairy for advice. The Pinstripe Grey Fairy had retired from fairy godmothering after numerous customer complaints about “boring” wishes – like excellent liver function and perfect parallel parking skills – and was now a business advisor.

The Pinstripe Grey Fairy looked over the records and approved of The Blue Fairy’s costings and price per unit.

The Pinstripe Grey Fairy examined the business model and found it to be competitive with the industry.

The Pinstripe Grey Fairy looked at the marketing and made a small “Ah-ha!” noise.

The Blue Fairy squeaked, “What is it? What’s wrong?”

The Pinstripe Grey Fairy replied, “It’s a classic problem when fairy godmothers go into business. You don’t know how to make the ask.”

“Make the what?”

The Pinstripe Grey Fairy said, slowly and calmly and rationally, “You pushed the wand for, what, six hundred years? Except for that side gig in the 40s. Thousands upon thousands of times of going to the innocent-and-the-deserving-and-the-children-of-destiny, as per section 43, and granting their heart’s desire.”

“I sure did!” squeaked The Blue Fairy.

“And those innocent-and-the-deserving-and-the-children-of-destiny customers, they always asked for something. “Will you give me hair white as snow, skin black as coal, marry the prince, slay the dragon, open the franchise.” Always they ask for something.”

“No-one ever asked me about franchises…”

“Really? But my point stands. Fairy godmothers are excellent at answering questions. They get no practice in asking them.”

“Oh!” squeaked The Blue Fairy.

“And that’s a problem, because I’m in business now!”

“Yes. For example, you have a sales page for your glitter sweatbands. You list all the qualities of the sweatband, you tell them how much it is, and then you have a sparkly Buy Now button. But you never actually ask them to buy.”

“I see!” squeaked The Blue Fairy. “It’s like those innocent-and-the-deserving-and-the-children-of-destiny customers who don’t actually make a wish! They say, “My stepmother is cruel and I think she’s planning to have me imprisoned.” but they don’t actually ask us, “Could you turn my stepmother into a melon?” They were so frustrating!”

“Precisely. Well put. The same applies to your Weekly Sparkletasticness newsletter. You tell people it is, ah, “Full of glittery wonderfulness!” but you don’t actually invite them to sign up. I’m guessing you also don’t ever ask people to look at your website, or ask them if they would like to buy your products.”

“I don’t believe I do!” squeaked The Blue Fairy. “How do I begin?”

How To Make The Ask

On sales pages

A sales page is, in essence, one big question: Do you want to buy this thing I am offering? It is amazing how many people fail to ask any kind of question on their sales pages.

Easy fix! Before the Buy Now button, ask a question.

The simplest is “Are you ready for [outcome]?” The Blue Fairy’s question might be “Are you ready for the most glitterrific Pilates session of your life?”

In your marketing

Whenever there is an action you want your readers to take, ask them to take it.

Want comments? Ask for them. Want people to sign up to your newsletter? Ask them to do it. Want people to read your new, asking-a-question sales page? Yeah, you know.

In networking

Instead of refining your elevator pitch, work on your Golden Question. That’s the question you ask when you’ve met someone who you think could be a great fit for your offering, and you’d like to open a conversation on that topic.

Example: “Do you think that exercise clothes should have glitter?”

Then you listen to them talk. You have a conversation about the thing you do. And if the conversation goes the right way, you get new clients.

If it’s this simple, why don’t we do it?

Because 50% of the possible answers to the question are, “No.”

We are setting ourselves up to the possibility of failure and rejection, and if your pulse does not elevate slightly at that prospect then you are a cyborg.

What your rejection-adverse brain often fails to remember is that not all “No”s are the same. For example, when you invite someone over for dinner and feed them ten delightful courses, if their response to offered cake is, “No, I couldn’t possibly fit any more food in.” then you won’t run crying from the house feeling rejected.

There are “No”s which are a rejection of you as a person, and they never fail to sting. You can get better at dealing with it, but that does seem to be one of those things we’re hard-wired to find painful.

But most of the “No”s you receive as a business person are not about you. They’re about the person saying them: what they want, how much money they have, whether they prefer a different colour/style/size/aesthetic/method, how busy they are right now. (Or how much roast beef they ate earlier.)

The better you get at that internal distance (“They aren’t saying “No” about me, they’re saying “No” to the offer.”) the more your business will flourish. Because 90% of your competitors are still too scared to ask.

So how do you get learn to make the ask?

The only method I know of that will create that internal distance is practice. Lots and lots of practice.

I think there are stages of the ask. The first stage is the implied question, “Would you be willing to pay $x for this?” which a lot of starting biz owners struggle mightily with. (Again, mostly because they’re conflating “What this doodad is worth to you” with “What I am worth”.)

Then there is learning to make the ask in your own safe places, like your website.

Then there’s learning to make the ask in external, but still pretty safe places, like networking events and Twitter circles of friends.

Then there is learning to make the ask without any of those safety nets.

I have no idea what the ask after that one is, ’cos I still find that last one really difficult. I’m working on it.

A challenge!

I challenged a client to try this, and then realised that I needed to refresh my skills in it, too. (It appears that a long dose of depression reduces your confidence in ways that you might not even notice for some time. WHO KNEW.)

Anyway, so we are making one ask, every day. It is extremely uncomfortable, and we’re glad to be doing it.

Want to join us? Make one ask, every day. It can be small or big, to a friend or a client. Just step a smidgen outside your comfort zone and build your marketing muscles.

Then, tweet us with the hashtag #maketheask so we know, and can applaud you.

Do you have trouble making the ask? Have any tips to share? Tell us in the comments!

(Nope, that ask didn’t count. That one is easy-peasy for me. Watch the hashtag to find out what my ask is today!)

Announcing: Catherine’s Second Theorem Of Work Versus Rest

I wish to announce that I have completed Catherine’s Second Theorem Of Work Versus Rest.

Catherine’s First Theorem Of Work Versus Rest was stated thus:

There are three categories of work versus rest:

  • Working hard
  • Taking it easy
  • Taking a day off

The practice:

Since you have so much to do, taking it easy is preferable to taking a day off. Working hard is best.

But those classifications are inaccurate.

After extensive further testing, I have created a much more accurate model with its own corollaries. I am confident that this model is both more reflective of reality and more useful to the practical scientist.

Catherine’s Second Theorem Of Work Versus Rest

There are two categories of work, two of rest and one amalgam. They are:

Creative labour

High-end creative output, including writing, design, research, innovation, strategy, performance, development.

This work requires incubation, percolation and time.

(Credit to my colleague Lewis Hyde for his exploration of the difference between “creative labour” and “work”.)


All of the other tasks of one’s business, from pressing seams to answering emails to marketing to customer maintenance.


A mixture of work and rest. This phenomenon is actually two similar events:

Sorta-Working, where the subject attempts to get work done but with constant distraction and attention drift to pleasure activities.

Sorta-Resting, where the subject attempts to relax but with constant distraction and attention drift back to work tasks.


Naps, sleep, play, dance, light exercise, social exchanges, and pleasurable activities of all kinds.


Time spent without creating and without consuming, including meditation, walks (without headphones), cloud/fish/train-watching, swimming in the ocean, playing with the dog, and snuggling.

The implications of this new model

1. Unsuitability of the Sorta-Kinda activities for practical use.

The Sorta-Kinda category is not, as previously theorised, a clever way to get work done while conserving energy. It has become clear that it is actually ineffectual at both tasks – getting very little work done, while also delivering very little rest.

With prolonged use, subjects have reported the following symptoms:

  • restlessness
  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • lack of creativity
  • lack of focus
  • reduced pleasure in their work
  • continual fatigue
  • difficulty in problem-solving
  • reduced ability to persevere
  • missing deadlines
  • declining work standards
  • irritation

I have experienced many of these symptoms myself. Thus, I am now experimenting with removing this category entirely. I will either work (creative labour and work included here) or I will rest (unplugging and rest included here). Sorta-Working and Sorta-Resting will be discontinued.

I will document my results in a paper to be published later.

2. How to resolve problems in work and creative labour.

Work and creative labour (henceforth referred to collectively as “work activities”) both require energy – prodigious amounts, especially in the case of creative labour. Work activities burn this energy inefficiently, resulting in an overall decrease in the energy put into the system.

This shortfall in energy must be obtained from other sources, most notably rest and unplugging (henceforth referred to collectively as “rest activities”).

Thus, if one is experiencing a decline in output of work activities that is due to insufficient energy levels, attempting to do more work activities will only increase the problem. Under such circumstances, rest activities are the only logical solution.

Put succinctly: if you can’t work, you must rest.

3. Additional notes regarding creative labour.

It has been documented by other studies that a regular output of creative labour requires a regular input of unplugging.

This is logical, as unplugging is a time – for some subjects, the only time while awake – where the subject is not absorbing more data, and the mind is allowed to be fallow, contemplative, and make its own connections. These connections are vital to the formation of truly creative thought, and are considerably less likely to occur in a subject whose brain is constantly stimulated.

Thus, a regular practice of unplugging is as vital as regular rest for the maintenance of creative labour. I mention this to highlight a part of the model: rest and unplugging are separate activities. Some hyper-efficient subjects have attempted to combine them, but thus far all attempts have reduced the output of one – or both – of the desired activities.

I look forward to your peer review of this model. I am confident you will find it accurate and applicable.

Doer of Science

Status anxiety (and my internal voices find deerstalkers)

Yesterday, I spent an hour wrestling with cognitive dissonance.

One internal voice – let’s call her Sally – said, “Dyana Valentine is not that great.” The other – Bianca – said, “Dyana Valentine is pretty amazing, actually, I can see why she gets so much praise.”

Dyana and I had just spent twenty minutes chatting, as a result of me finally getting past the someday-I-would-like-to-chat-with-these-amazing-people-I-haven’t-talked-to-except-in-my-twitter-stream inertia, and starting to Make The Ask.

Bianca kept bringing up these delightful pings that were sparking in my head after Dyana had said something unexpected and insightful. Sally mostly just rumbled and muttered words like “disappointed”.

Why was Sally trying to convince me that Dyana wasn’t as good as she was supposed to be? I asked myself. The answer floated down: Because you weren’t as good as you were supposed to be, and it’s less painful to blame someone else. It’s called transference, or something.

At this point Sally and Bianca stopped arguing and put on deerstalker hats. “What do you mean when you say that you weren’t as good as you were supposed to be?”

“I… well, I said some dumb things. Of the kind that I winced about after, but she probably doesn’t even remember. I came across as unprepared, even though I had done some prep. And I was just kind of… flat. Not my bestest, light-yet-intense self.”

“Hmmm…” mused Sally. “Let’s find the culprit, shall we?”

Suspect number 1: The internet connection

Bianca noted that the connection was a smidgen laggy at my end, which resulted in not being able to hear some words and phrases. “Sometimes, you took too long to respond because you had to piece together what she said with the gaps.”

True, plus it was video instead of just audio, which I am never as comfortable with. But I don’t think that was all of it. I’ve been flat-out amazing over much dodgier connections than this.

Conclusion: accessory before the fact, but not the culprit.

Suspect number 2: Caffeine

Sally said, “I have it! We quit caffeinated soft drink on the weekend, after a decade of too much pseudo-sugar. This is day three without caffeine. Case closed!”

True, but I wasn’t having the big-time withdrawal symptoms. I was a little tired, and my concentration was definitely less than optimal, but I don’t think that was all of it. I’ve been fine during calls when I was on day four of a five-day flu. And besides, I’d done a client call an hour beforehand and that went pretty well.

Conclusion: accessory before the fact, but not the culprit.

Suspect number 3: Status anxiety

“Wait,” Sally said. “Hold up a second. Do you think we actually got a small dose of status anxiety? It’s been a while since that happened, but it could fit.”

Bianca and I pondered. I said, “Well, we do see Dyana as more important than us.”

“Did you just say more important?”

“Holy crispy crap, I did. I meant her business is more well-known and she charges more than we do.”

“Dude, we know what you really meant. You meant that she is more important than you. Wow, we totally have a bit of compare-and-feel-tiny going on.”

Bianca chipped in. “Admit it. We have been feeling pretty small lately. Look at all those top-minds-in-the-industry collaborations that have been going on and we haven’t been invited to be part of any of them. In a few ways we are actually smaller than we were a couple of years ago. No wonder we’re feeling insecure.”

“Right. And remember that neuroscience book we just read? That kind of threatened feeling plays all kind of merry hell with your limbic system, and completely messes with your ability to think lucidly, make connections, retrieve information – all the things you rely on to be your usual insightful self.”

Sally made a skeptical face.

“It must have been a subtle-ass amount we’re talking here. I mean, you didn’t pick up on it, and neither did Dyana. And both of you are good at that kinda thing.”

“That’s the funny part. It really doesn’t take much feeling of threat, like threat of rejection, to get the system running. It uses the same wiring as physical threat, and how long does it take for us to chill after hearing a strange noise in the night?”

“So it was small enough that you couldn’t notice it and fix it, and subtle enough that Dyana couldn’t notice it and assist, but big enough to drop you from 100% awesome to 85% awesome?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“That makes sense. It’s funny, I can’t think of the last time it’s gotten in the way.”

“Well, some of that is – problematically – due to how safe we’ve been playing it for awhile. But the rest of it is probably due to it being too subtle for us to use our usual response systems.”

“Ah well. It wasn’t that bad.”

“Nope, I learned a lot. That Dyana is pretty amazing, actually, I can see why she gets so much praise.”

At this point, Sally conceded defeat and agreed with Bianca and me.

So what do I normally do when I’m feeling status anxiety?

Any mix of the following:

  • take a few deep breaths
  • tell myself it’s normal to be nervous when talking to someone new
  • remind myself that they’re a human being, just like me
  • tell them, “It’s funny, but I’m feeling nervous talking to you.”
  • find something to laugh at
  • focus on making the other person comfortable and relaxed
  • review my words before I say them
  • get them talking
  • ask a question
  • make sure my shoulders are low and back

Usually that makes it go away well enough or long enough for me to build a genuine connection to the person I’m talking to.

And what do I normally do when I get the impression that someone is feeling that way toward me?

I deliberately drop my status.

I do this a lot anyway, as evidenced by this long-ass article about my brain and its wacky ways. Sometimes I still need to pull out the pants-on-one-leg-at-a-time moves to help whoever I’m talking to chill out.

Also, I make sure I’m staying calm, ‘cos nervousness is infectious and then everything goes to hell.

Right now I need to give myself applause, and a stern look.

Because this kind of will-she-like-me-I’ll-die-if-she-doesn’t-like-me fear used to kick my ass, but has not been a part of my life for some time. And there are two big reasons for this, one good and one very worrying.

Good: look at all the tools I have to deal with this when it arises! Booyah!

Bad: look at the tiny safe nest I have built for myself where I am not required to take any risks! Crap!

So there will be more conversations with people my brain has decided are More Important Than Me, a thorough exploration of that concept with my coach, and more articles like this one.

Has status anxiety caused you biz problems? Any tips for rocking on anyway? Share them in the comments!

photo by: w0arz

Why aren’t you specialising in special?

Dear online biz owner,

Your market is anyone with an Internet connection, the capacity to obtain currency, and a fluency in your language. If your language is English, you have at least five hundred million potential buyers.

It’s okay to be very specific about who you’re attracting.

More than that, it is vital that you are very specific about who you’re attracting.

’Cos those five hundred million people have a lot of options. There don’t have to settle for pretty-good or sorta-kinda. They can hold out until they find an offering that is specifically and enchantingly designed just for them.

Why would I choose a website for “car owners” over one that is for “owners of the Ford Falcon GT”?

(I just Googled. There is one. Of course.)

When we are buyers, we want to feel special.

To feel understood. To be welcomed and catered for and handled by experts.

And generic, I-can-work-with-anybody websites have zero chance of creating that experience.

Welcoming, specialness and expertise all require specificity.

So, since you have to be specific to shine online, why not specialise in the people who will most appreciate your work?

There are people who have the sense of humour, the values, the smarts, the perspective and the character to squeeze every single drop of juice from your work.

Why the everliving fuck wouldn’t you want to sell to them and only them?

Remember, you’re working from a pool of five hundred million potentials. There are enough ideal clients in the world to fill your business twenty thousand times over.

Why aren’t you specialising in special yet?

(If the answer is: “Because I have no idea who would squeeze the most juice out of my work!” then you should check out Goddamn Radiant. That’s a very fixable problem.)

Are there any other reasons you haven’t gotten specific about your best audience yet? Tell us in the comments!

photo by: pjan vandaele