Dressed in her favourite morning coat – portwine silk with brass buttons – Katie stood outside of her stall to attract new customers.
She addressed the passing crowd about the history of the garment, from Persia to the Earl of Spencer (who is reputed to have torn the tails off his coat because they kept getting caught in brambles while he was hunting, thereby starting a new fashion).
She talked about the materials of an excellent coat, of lustre and wear and bias and the trade-offs between shape and drape.
She elaborated on the darts and French seams and weights sewn into the hems and all the other tricks of the trade used to create the perfect fit.
She discussed the vital choice of notions, and their power to make or break a coat.
Most people gave her half a look and kept walking, their minds untouched by talk of standing collars. But many listened, and were fascinated.
A crowd gathered.
They applauded at the end of Katie’s impromptu lecture, and when she asked, “Do you want to see my work?” many of them cheered and surged past the tent flaps.
Half of them swiftly marched back out again looking angry and betrayed.
Quite a few stood in the tent, looking quizzical.
One woman major-generaled her way over to Katie and poked her in the brass buttons. “How dare you, young woman?”
Katie swallowed. “How dare I what? What did I do?”
“What did you DO? You lied to us!”
“I what? I didn’t!”
“Oh yes you did, young lady. You wore THAT tame and inoffensive lovely coat, but that’s not what you’re selling. Look at that man over there!”
In the corner, a silver-haired retirement fun manager was bemusedly trying on a dress coat that could only be described as the deranged love-child of a movie pimp and a ringmaster.
Katie made the determined-not-to-laugh face.
“It’s not funny, missy! Every coat in here has feathered epaulets, chains AND leopard print cuffs – and that’s the ordinary coats! LOOK at what you put on the one over there! Shame on you for misleading us.”
All humour plummeted from Katie’s face. “I didn’t want to mislead you. I’m sorry! I just thought that… I want my coats to find lots of new owners, and I thought it would be better if you got to know me a bit before you saw my work.”
“Well that’s stupid.”
“Because if we like you, but we don’t like your work, then we both end up feeling bad.”
“That man over there really liked you, and so now he’s trying very hard to make that ridiculous coat work for him. And two things can happen: he won’t buy it, and then feel bad about letting you down, or he will, and then you both feel horrible about him owning something he doesn’t truly want.”
Katie’s lower lip started wobbling. “S-o what do I do-hoo?”
“Stop crying. And decide what you want your customers to reject – you, or your work.”
The next day, the same stall…
Katie dressed in her other favourite coat – a confection of satin, lace and feathers that would make an Edwardian dandy faint with jealousy – and stood outside her stall to attract new customers.
Her speech was the same as last time, but the crowd that gathered was much smaller. (Although… Katie was fairly sure she’d seen that girl around. But she’d never wandered over to the stall before.)
Katie quashed her worry at the small audience, finished the lecture, and offered to show her wares. The tiny crowd surged in and squealed with delight. “O. M. Geeeeee I love this! Do you have it in my size? And in maybe some extra colours? It’s amazing! Do you take credit cards?”
The girl that Katie had noticed before tried on six coats and made plans to buy one after payday. Katie took her chance and asked, “I’ve seen you around here before, right?”
The girl replied, “Oh sure, I work over in the food court. I totally would have been in here sooner if I knew you sold THESE.”
Befuddled, newly rich, happy, angry and overwhelmed, Katie closed the stall at the end of her day and went home to have a good cry.
But then she started making plans to wear her OTHER other favourite coat tomorrow – the one she made during a marathon rewatching of Rocky Horror Picture Show…
The moral of the story
Displaying your work without dilution gives people a chance to reject it much faster. And that is the most loving way to serve you AND them.
It serves the people who are flat-out wrong for your offerings.
They only need half a second to say, “Nope. Not for me.” and move on. Their time is precious, and you respect that. Thanks, see ya later.
There’s almost no sting in that rejection for you. They looked, it wasn’t for them, that’s cool.
(As a small sidenote, this is why I love websites so much. You never even know you were rejected unless you look at your bounce rates. And it’s just a number, it doesn’t hurt.)
It serves the people who aren’t QUITE right for your offerings.
These are the heart-breakers.
It’s almost perfect for them. If only you had it in blue, or worked with couples, or were less introverted, or more introverted…
Such a tiny difference! It doesn’t really matter.
The amount of effort that you both have to put in to adapt or adjust or put up with the not-quite-right part saps some of the energy from your interaction. It’s small, but that energy makes the difference between pretty good and completely fucking amazing.
Due to that extra friction, you will never be able to deliver completely fucking amazing to the not-quite-right people.
No-one wins here. You don’t love the work, because you know that you’re capable of better. Your client doesn’t love it, because they can tell that they didn’t make the grade. (If only I didn’t want it in blue! If only I wasn’t in a couple!)
Remember: you aren’t the only person who does what you do. Somewhere else, someone has an offering that will tick every single box for these not-quite-right people.
So you have two choices:
- Insist on making it work, resulting in suboptimal outcomes for both of you.
- Let them go to find that perfect offering that suits them best.
If you truly want to serve these people, you want to make that second choice happen as quickly as possible.
Don’t wait until they’ve invested their emotional, financial and mental energy before you tell them that this isn’t going to be perfect for them. They will feel betrayed, and rightly so.
Make it easy for them to reject you early.
Your offerings, your style, and your YOU – everything that goes into my calculations on whether your work is right for me – needs to be upfront and unapologetic.
If I discover, in the first instant I encounter your work, that you never do blue (or only work with newborns, or use deep intuitive techniques), then I can make a much better decision on whether your work is for me. I am much less likely to settle for not-quite-right in that first encounter, before I get emotionally invested in you and your work.
The later on I find out, the more disappointment and betrayal I will feel. I’ve wasted time and energy and maybe money on you, because I thought we were a perfect fit, but we’re not! That stings.
So love them and let them go. If you can point them to the 100% Correct Fit offering, then do so. But you’ll still serve them best by saying, “I am not for you, lovely. Keep searching.”
And you avoid the gut-wrenching hurt of disappointing people who adore you. This is not a small benefit.
It serves the people who are absolutely perfect for your offerings.
They want your best work.
Just as importantly, they want to be proud of owning your best work.
If you are hiding it in the back room and sheepishly mentioning it, (“Oh, well, I kinda like this. I think it’s pretty good.”) then you send the message that you’re somehow ashamed of what you’re offering.
Often, your potential customers will pick up on that and also feel a wee bit ashamed of owning your work. So they won’t buy, or will buy with such mixed feelings that they don’t get the most out of it.
If you’re presenting your offerings loudly, with love and no apologies (“Buy this! It is amazingpants!”) then you make it easy for them to find your offerings amidst the sea of not-quite-rights, to adore your work, and to proudly buy and use it.
A quick sidenote to your fear
Most resistance to this idea has two shapes.
“But I want to serve as many people as possible! My work is important, and it could help so many people!”
My counter is this: there is an exponential difference in the results between pretty good and completely fucking amazing. If your pretty good work delivers ten units of amazingness, your completely fucking amazing work will deliver anywhere between seventy-five and fifteen hundred units of amazingness.
In my best work, I can revolutionise a business in one hour. Completely revolutionise – new focus, new power, new direction, and all the energy required to get there.
In my pretty good work, which I try quite hard to never do anymore, I can make a noticeable difference in one aspect of a businesses’ marketing. A better homepage, an improved social media presence. Which is, you know, pretty good.
I help many many more people by only aiming to do my best work. I’m much more efficient, and I have so much more leverage.
It’s not just getting your work into people’s hands that matters. Our hard drives are full of pretty-good resources, and our wardrobes contain plenty of pretty-good shoes. They don’t really matter, or change anything.
But there are a few resources and shoes that DO matter, and those are the ones that truly serve us.
“But what if there aren’t enough of the right people?”
In a seriously low-balled number, there are at least 200,000,000 people who have an internet connection and speak your language. (The real number is way higher.)
Two. Hundred. Million. People.
How many do you need to support your business? A few hundred, if they’re the right people. Maybe a thousand.
There are enough people, sweetie. And when you are loud and proud about your offerings, they will come.
Say it with me: Two. Hundred. Million. People.
What to do next
- List all the requirements of your best work and your best clients.
- See how quickly you can convey that information to new visitors – through your business name, website header and tagline, elevator speech, business card, social media interactions…
- Once people have made it through the filters, pretend there is no-one else in the room. Talk about your work and how much you adore it and why it is amazingpants.
If you want more assistance with figuring out who your best people are, and what your best work is, then I have a new resource to help: Cash and Joy Foundations. Buy it! It is amazingpants!