Getting Shit Done: Momentum Edition

Suburban Construction

You have a seven pallets of bricks that need to be moved from the driveway into the backyard. Your resources are your arms (flex!) and a wheelbarrow.

There are a few ways this can go.

The very stupid way

You stack sixty-three bricks on the wheelbarrow, making a tottering ziggurat of baked clay. The wheelbarrow is now so heavy that you must use all of your strength to get it off the ground, and you don’t push the handles as much as you shove them wildly in the direction of the backyard. You get two metres before your wrists give way and the wheelbarrow clunks to the ground.

You pant and wrench the handles up again and shove, to hit a hidden rock which creates a death-wobble and dumps the entire load on the ground. Your back aches once you’ve gotten all the bricks into the barrow, and your hands feel raw and sulky. It continues: lift/grunt, shoveshove, drop, rub hands, sigh deeply, lift/grunt, repeat. You get to the destination and unload the sixty-three bricks. The strangely light wheelbarrow is shoved back to the driveway where you do some math.

You’ve moved 63 bricks, leaving 469 on that pallet. With another six untouched pallets, you still have 3661 bricks to move. That’s another 58 loads of back-sproinging misery.

You burst into tears, rub your much-abuséd hands, and quit for the day.

The very smart way

You load twelve bricks, pick up the handles, wriggle experimentally, and put it down. You remove four bricks, leaving eight. Now the wheelbarrow feels like it has no weight in it at all. You walk at a jaunty pace toward the backyard. You hit a small rock and the wheel bounces, making the bricks clatter. You stop, remove the rock, and merrily push the rest of the way.

You jog back – healthy! – and load up with another eight bricks. The weight is completely negligible, and you know you can walk all day if you need to.

After you stop for a glass of lemonade, you try ten bricks in the barrow. It feels pretty much the same as eight. (Are you getting stronger? It appears so!) By now, you have the path smoothed out, and the effort required to get started on each load is almost unnoticeable.

By the end of the day, you’ve moved eight hundred-odd bricks, and you’re ready to do it again tomorrow. Your hands are a bit chafed, but they’ll be okay. And you think you might be able to start on fourteen bricks soon!

The moral of the story

If you want to build anything big, you’re going to need momentum.

When moving things, the most effective way to build momentum is to push them downhill. Objects want to go that way; gravity is on your side instead of working against you.

When moving ourselves, the most effective way to build momentum is to start with something much less challenging than our capabilities. We want to succeed; our mind is on our side instead of working against us.

Start insultingly small and simple. If you need to tidy the house, put away the shoes near the front door. If you’re creating a magnificent website, start with the contact page. If you’re starting a business, buy a box to put the money in. Make your first task something you can’t possibly fail at.

When you start with the easiest possible work, there’s almost no friction. Confidence is sky-high – I can’t possibly fail at this, tra la la la! – and your energy seems limitless. So you expend your energy with no strain, no tiredness, and no injury. Strike that off the to-do list!

Everything is so easy that you keep on working. (More easy success! your brain says. Gimme gimme!)  Without even noticing you build your muscles, and your definition of this-is-easy-peasy work grows without announcing itself.

Eventually, when you have to start really pushing, you have the muscles, the experience, the confidence and the momentum to push a thousand times harder than you could on your first day.

It’s always easier to move something that’s already in motion. And when you’re starting, the easiest things to move are the tiny ones.

Go take care of a teensy thing and report back!

Want to make a tiny change that will get some momentum happening in your business? How about signing up for Rise and Shine, the weekly newsletter? It’s pretty awesome.

Creative Commons License photo credit: TheGiantVermin

Vital numbers: the Real Bare Minimum Price

All that's left !

This is another story about Jonah, the man haunted by mailboxes, and his quest to be magnificent. Go read it first if you don’t know that story. Also, “sparky” is Aussie/New Zealand slang for an electrician. Many of you have quietly told me that you missed my lessons in Aussie slang, so this is just for you.

Jonah was ludicrously happy for the first three months when he quit his job as a sparky and started building mailboxes full time. He built the one like a Kodiak bear, and one like a reverse Jack-in-the-box. (He heard the postman giggling on the day he tested that one.) He danced around the house with the boys, and packed loving lunches for Marie-Claire as she went off to work at the law firm.

He and Marie-Claire had prepared as thoroughly as they could for Jonah’s career change. All of the profit from the sales of his earlier mailboxes had gone into savings, with her end-of-year bonuses and any left over from the monthly budget. They could live for a year off the savings (but they really didn’t want to).

So when Jonah sat down with Marie-Claire to complete their three-month review, he did so with a light heart and a plate of scones.

The smile disappeared as they put the numbers into the spreadsheet.

The scones were absent-mindedly scoffed while checking the receipts.

It must be admitted that Jonah looked very sulky by the end.

It was left to Marie-Claire to say the words.

“The business is running at a loss, and we’re only getting by because we’re dipping into the savings. At this rate, they’ll be gone in fifteen months. Awww, crap.”

“What do we do, sweetheart?”

“I don’t know. We could get some advice from Jim?”

Jim was an accountant and the dad of Harry’s best friend; he’d become a good mate after he got divorced and kept the kids. For the price of roast lamb and two slices of pavlova – never to be sniffed at by a man who couldn’t cook – he agreed to have a look at the numbers.

He thoughtfully sucked a bit of rogue lamb out of his teeth and said, “Okay, I see the problem. Your model is stuffed.”

He elaborated: “So Jonah, you take roughly how long to make a mailbox? About six weeks?”

“Yeah. I thought it’d be less, but with getting the kids from school and things, it’s never going to get down below five even when everything is going well.”

“And you need to make how much every month?”

Marie-Claire jumped in. “Well, it’s $5,000 for his share of the bills because we want to pay off the mortgage as soon as possible. And another $2,000 for the workshop he has to rent because we don’t have enough space here.”

“And how much do you pay in materials for every piece?”

“Jeez, I let me check. Right now I’m building a lot of the stocks from scratch, I’d be surprised if it was less than a grand for each.”

“And how much have you sold the mailboxes for before now?”

“Well, I wanted $10,000, but one guy talked me down to eight.”

“How did you reach that number?”

“I… guessed? There’s not a lot of call for artisan mailboxes.”

Jim grabbed a pen and wrote in big numbers. “You need to make $7,000 a month, right?” They nodded. “And it takes six weeks at least to build a mailbox, plus $1,000 of materials.” Nod again. “And you’re charging $8-10,000 per mailbox.” Marie-Claire looked pale and bit her lip. “You see the problem?” She nodded ruefully.

Jonah said, “I don’t get it.”

Jim showed him the notepad. “For neatness, I’m saying it takes two months to build a mailbox. Because you get sick sometimes, and you probably take at least a week off between mailboxes to think about the new one and you’re not including that.”

“Oh shit, I do too…”

“Okay. So if it takes two months to make a mailbox, then each mailbox needs to be sold for the cost of materials AND two months’ worth of the money you need to make AND a third again for taxes AND any extra money to buy more equipment.”

“But… that’s like… $25,000 or something!”

“Yeah, pretty close.”

“I can’t imagine that ANYONE would pay $25,000 for a mailbox!”

“Look, there are probably some, but not many, yeah.”

Oh, bugger.

Jonah looked like he’d been kicked in the unmentionables. Marie-Claire looked very alone.

Jim hastily said, “But there are things you can do! It could work out!”

As they stared at him intently, he kept going. “You could change your business model.”


“Right now, you’re working one-to-one, but what if you made prototypes for mailboxes that could be mass-produced?”

I won’t make crap!

“Yeah, okay, not crap – defensive artists, sheesh – but licenced to someone who could make thirty instead of one, and you get paid $500 for each. And you could make sure that standards of quality were in the agreement.”

“But I really like making one-of-a-kind ones…”

“And if there’s someone who values that as much as you do and happens to have $25,000 laying around, then they should have it. But you have to start with the amount you want to make each month and do the math from there.”

Both Marie-Claire and Jonah were silent for a long moment.

“You’re right, damn your eyes. Have some more pavlova.”

It worked out, eventually, although at one stage Jonah and Marie-Claire were down to two months worth of savings and were talking about selling the car. A year after, they were making so much money that Marie-Claire could quit her job if she wanted to (she didn’t, but she appreciated the option when it came to salary review time).

And Jim claimed his share: lamb roast and three slices of pavlova, at least once a month. He said it was the least he deserved for saving them from bankruptcy.

The moral of the story

This is a marketing story, really.

You need to choose a market that can afford to pay you AND values your work enough to want to.

The market of “people who have $25,000 to spend on mailboxes, and want to” is pretty small.

The market of “people who have $2,500 to spend on mailboxes, and want to” is much much bigger.

This doesn’t mean you always have to go for the cheaper solution – it’s easier to sell two copies of a $1,000 artwork than to sell a thousand copies of a $2 artwork, or a hundred copies of a $20 artwork.

But to start choosing the right market, you need to know your real bare minimum price.

If you’re selling something with hard limits, like your time or your handiwork (which essentially comes down to time, anyway) – then you have to sanity-check this math:

Amount I want to make each month ÷ average number I can produce + (average number x production cost per item) + other costs like taxes and admin and business development + 10% for all the stuff you’ve forgotten = the absolute bare minimum price.

Here’s a pretty version!

bare minimum price

If the bare minimum price is very high (I love woollen bobble hats, but it had better be a damn special one if it costs $300… at that price it should make me look like Eliza Dushku and quietly tidy up the house when I’m away), then you must either change your business model dramatically, or have an audience to whom your price looks completely reasonable.

Doing this math the other way around leads to insanity and bankruptcy, as you realise that charging $50 for a hat but needing to make $5,000 a month Does Not Work.

What’s your bare minimum?

P.S. If you want to start making profitable magnificence of your own, I created the world’s awesomest resource to help you get all the tangles (like this one) unknotted. It’s called DIY Magnificence.

Creative Commons License photo credit: pfala

Much better copywriting with one simple dollhouse. I mean exercise.

Dollhouse for a dollhouse!!
A dollhouse for a dollhouse. META.

Harry wrote an ad:

Dollhouse for sale.

He got two calls, both of which ended very abruptly when he told them the price. So he wrote another. And when that one failed, another. And four more. Ten more.

He’d heard of split testing, so he mixed it up a bit:

Teak dollhouse for sale.

Hand-crafted dollhouse for sale. 15 rooms. Furnished.

Dollhouse, 1 metre x 0.8 metres. For sale.

For sale, well-made dollhouse with fittings.

Et cetera. Et cetera.

Eventually, Harry admitted to himself that while he was a champ at building dollhouses, he was pretty crap at talking about them.

So he hired Tara, a copywriter. Tara came over to his house to look at the dollhouse.

Tara’s mouth stayed open for the entire forty minutes she spent with the dollhouse. Tara told Harry to get some professional photography done, and she’d get the ad written. As she left, Tara said, “Thank you for letting me play with it.”

The final ad started like this:

This is the dollhouse you dreamed of when you were young, the one that only seemed to exist in Hollywood. It is incredible.

All fifteen rooms are furnished, with small-scale versions of the real thing. Tiny woven rugs, a tiny bath with tiny taps that produce warm water – use the tiny bottle of bubble bath, if you like. Perfectly carved wardrobes full of hand-stitched clothes for the residents, with a tiny clothes brush in case they get dirty playing with the chests of fascinating junk in the attic. A hundred tiny books in the tiny library, every one of them readable if you have a magnifying glass.

You can claim you’re buying this for your children if you like. But no-one would dare say that it’s inappropriate to play with this dollhouse. This place is the purest source of delight and wonder you will find this side of heaven.

Look, the tiny doorknobs turn!

The moral of the story

It doesn’t matter how magnificent you make something if you don’t market it competently. Because no-one will know, and so no-one will care.

That’s horrible, you say. Tell me how I can avoid this trap!

We all know the basics (know your niche, only talk to your Bestest People), so here’s a tip you’ve maybe never heard before.

Talk about abstract products in concrete language, and concrete products in abstract language.

When I’m working with service providers (especially coaches) I make them describe their benefits as if someone was trailing the client with a video camera. So instead of saying, “They feel more confident,” – ‘cos the camera can’t see that – they describe the results as, “They offer their opinion more readily and without apologising. They stand up straighter and make better eye contact. They initiate conversations with strangers.”

And when I’m working with crafters, copywriters, web designers and artists – all of whom produce a physical result; electrons count – I get them to talk about their results in terms of feeling and meaning. So instead of describing their work by saying, “It’s a 17″ x 11″ oil painting of two girls swimming” they describe the piece as “It’s that perfect moment with a friend that you don’t think is important at the time, but it becomes the way you think of them for the rest of your life.”

Of course, what everyone ends up with is a bit of both. And that’s the point! I want to know precisely what I’m buying (three hour-long consulting sessions/a home page redesign with two revisions) AND I need to know why I care (I will quit smoking for real/I will have the feeling of power and possibility that comes from a great-looking website).

Is your description entirely abstract, entirely concrete, or both? Tell me in the comments!

Want more nifty tricks to better sell your dollhouse? Check out I Love Sales Pages.

You and I talk about niches. (And penguins.)

Penguin Ornaments
Hey sweetie, we need to have a talk. (That came out sounding a bit ominous, didn’t it? Don’t worry, it’s cool.)

A talk about what? you say.

It’s about your niche… and how you don’t really have one.

I do too! you say.

Oh really? What is it?

Well, my website is about penguins, and so it’s for anyone who is interested in penguins.

Isn’t everyone kinda interested in penguins? They’re a part of the human experience.

Yeah, I think everyone has a need for penguins, deep down. And that’s why I want to make this work, because so many people would benefit from it!

I know. And that’s your problem.


Look, if I took a hundred random people off the street – some businesswomen, and a grumpy guy from the post office, a few gothy teens and little old ladies and a muscle-bound dude headed to the gym, and lots of others – and put them in a room… could you rock their world? Create big shifts in their attitudes about penguins? Get them taking action?

I could educate them!

Does that matter? Is it important that they know more about penguins, or that they change their life to create more penguin-y goodness?

Well, if they knew more then they could take the action…

Really? Are you saying they don’t already know pretty much everything they need to about penguins? Because most people do, the same way they know that smoking will kill you and that multi-level marketing is Satan’s toilet paper.

I guess you’re right. But I really want to help them take action! I know how much penguins could improve their lives!

The problem is that unless you chain the doors closed and kidnap your audience – and I’m pretty sure that’s illegal – you can’t force anyone to change.

I know, but…

…but you really wish you could.


I know, sweetheart. It’s tough, but it’s the way things are. Since you’re not going to resort to Stockholm Syndrome, you need to stop trying to convince everyone that they need more penguins, and start talking only to the people who are ready to take penguin action.

Why can’t I talk to both?

Remember that room with a hundred random people in it? Tell me one phrase that will inspire every single person in that group.

Umm… penguins are great! The more you get them into your life then more your life will improve!

Can you imagine the politely skeptical faces?


Okay, what if you were talking to Bulgy McMuscles over there? What would you say to just him?

If you get more penguins in your life, you will have more energy, and a much faster recovery time from muscle strain!

And the goth triplets up the back?

You know those moments when you really connect with the music you’re listening to? Your whole life is more emotionally intense when you’re connected to your penguins!

And the little old ladies?

Penguins make you feel twenty years younger!

Okay, now swap those statements. Do the little old ladies care about building up their lats and delts? Do the goth triplets want to feel twenty years younger?


So if you try to talk to everyone, you talk to no-one. If you choose one specific group to talk to, you can rock their world.

But the other people still neeeeed meeee…

That’s your opinion, not theirs. You can’t change anyone who doesn’t want to change. You can have sorta-kinda success talking to people who are sorta-kinda ready to change. Or you could create massive and transformative change for the people who want more penguins, value more penguins, and believe they can achieve more penguins.

I look really pouty, don’t I?

You really do. I have some good news for you, though.


Imagine that you focus on Bulgy McMuscles – and people like him – and ignore everyone else. As a result of that focus and personalisation, you bring an exponential number of penguins into his life. How does he feel?

He’s never felt so good in his life.

And so what does he do next?

He… tells everyone about it?

Indeed he does. He tells all of his buddies at the gym…

…and that leads to lots more clients for me.

It does, but it’s better than that. He also tells his girlfriend, and his work buddies, and his little sister the goth, and his grandma. He spends hours telling them how penguins would rock their world, too.

Oh, and maybe Grandma decides that she could use a bit more penguinosity in her life!


And I can help her get it!



Sorry, duckling, but you have to choose one group to serve. But you CAN send Granny to another penguin wrangler you know who specialises in people over 60.

So how do I choose which group to work with?

That’s easy. Who do you love the most?

Why does that matter?

You’ll be spending a lot of time working with these people, creating penguin products for them, answering their penguin-related questions… you need to know this group intensely, be able to speak with them intimately, and to identify their hidden problems and objections and fears. It’s much easier to do that with people you know and love. Also, it’s more fun for you.

I’m pro-fun.

Me too. So are you gonna do it?

I have to, don’t I?


Okay, I will. And stop looking so smug.


The moral of the story

For maximum impact, you need to get specific. Diluting your message to reach as many people as possible – or even everyone who you know would benefit from it – leads to homeopathy-strength communication. (Take one drop of your message, and a big bucket of water…)

When you commit to serving one niche, and only that niche, your message becomes a 10cc syringe of impact right to the brain. Here’s the big caveat: your niche must value the benefit you are offering. (Not the solution, necessarily. That’s a magical pink donkey, remember?)


Make the decision to choose a small group: gym junkies, geeks, perkygoths, world-changers, horse-riders, marine biologists, Mythbusters fans. Note that they aren’t demographics. (Because demographics suck.) This is about something much more powerful: identity. We choose our identities, we value them, and we make decisions informed by them.

So choose an identity group that you love. You already know how to move them, delight them, and make them cry. You know how to make them feel welcome, and special. You know how to rock their world.

And why would you settle for less?

If you want to know more about how to choose the right niche for you, then Goddamn Radiant is here to help.