hamster wheel

Hourly work. Salaried work. You know that these are not the paths to financial freedom, cuz the minute you stop working, you stop earning. You’re stuck on the hamster wheel, running as fast as your little legs can take you… and getting nowhere. And it sucks.

You know that the best way to get the kind of income & freedom you want is to HAVE SOMETHING TO SELL. Not selling your time – but a thing, that you can create once and sell over & over.

You could take that creative skill and use it to cut out the middleman, right? After all, you’re a creator – people pay you to create things for them, it’s what you do. People pay you for your time, to create things that make them money.

If they can make money off your work, why can’t you?

You could create something yourself, and sell it yourself. Yep, you know it. You could.

But you’re not doing it. Something’s stopping you. There’s a big fat boulder blocking your Road to Awesome and you’re sitting there, chin in hand, staring at it.

You’re not alone. We’ve talked to thousands of would-be entrepreneurs and heard the same concerns, worries, & excuses over and over again. Heck, I’m intimately familiar with them myself.

Here are 5 of the biggest, nastiest, and most pernicious misconceptions standing between you and a product that earns you a sweet little income… and what you can do to overcome them.

It’s time to kiss your hamster wheel goodbye.

1. “I don’t have the time to make a product… or the money.”

This is the #1 fob-off I hear over and over. Let me be clear: This is an excuse.

When we don’t have any better excuses handy, time and money are the good ol’ standby we reach for. Time and money are the cozy batting we wrap around our ambitions to dull them.

You’re a creator – you don’t need money to create a product. It’s what you do all day long, for other people. You make something from nothing. All you really need is your computer, software, the interwebs, and an infinite supply of coffee. Don’t set yourself up to fail by thinking you need fancy fonts, a copyeditor, a designer or developer, a print-on-demand contract, or a fancy ecommerce platform.

As for time… you know what I’m gonna say. Make time. Toss out your TV. Put aside the cheesy vampire novel habit, for now.

Charge your existing clients a higher hourly rate, and work fewer hours. Negotiate a 4-day work week with your employer. Take some time off. Schedule regular hack days (or hack nights) as if it were something critical that you absolutely cannot miss… because they are.

You can absolutely create and launch a successful product with a part-time effort. You have to be willing to make every hour count, to make decisions that get you to your goal as fast as possible, to design a product that will work with a part-time effort, make sure you don’t waste precious time puttering around with “big ideas” that won’t help you reach your goals in the short-term… but it can absolutely be done.

Thomas and I designed & developed our first subscription web app, wrote our javascript performance ebook, and built training and courses all while living off client work.

Repeat: it can be done.

Do everything you can to set yourself up to succeed, make decisions that reflect your real-world circumstances from the very outset, and keep on truckin’.

2. “What if I make something and it doesn’t sell?”

This is the most natural fear in the world. We all have it. I have it. Every time I launch something… and during the whole process of creating it, too. For me, it’s a pendulum, swinging back and forth between “People will LOVE this!” and a small voice that quivers, “But what if I’m wrong?”

And, if you know me, you know I’ve got several successful products under my belt, today collectively bringing in nearly a million dollars in revenue per year. I’ve only launched one flop, and it wasn’t even a big one… but I still worry every single time.

There are two important strategies to dealing with a fear like this one:

First: Do everything you can to ensure it can’t happen. How can you make sure people will buy what you make? Make something that people already want to buy. Start with a need, and then fill it. Don’t fool around with “cool” ideas, always keep your focus on what will get you what you want.

Second: Realize that that fear is totally normal & doesn’t mean anything. Most of us tend to believe that our fears tell us something valuable. Well, sometimes they don’t. There’s no sabertooth tiger lying in wait behind your “Launch” button. You are not in any danger.

Everybody has this fear before launching – whether or not they admit it. Even people who’ve launched success after success. Putting something you made – a little bit of yourself – out there is scary, and always will be, no matter how much experience you have.

Acknowledge the fear, remind yourself gently that fear usually exists to keep you safe but, in this case, it’s merely an evolutionary holdover that doesn’t help you in any way.

And move on.

3. “What could I possibly make that people will want?” Ugh, self-doubt is the worst. Luckily, your prognosis is good!

First, let’s get clear about the facts:

If somebody out there will pay you hourly to do what you do, then you can make & sell a product.

Yep, that’s right. If you can get somebody to pay you hourly to do what you do, you absolutely can create a product that will sell.

If you get paid to design, you can create a product. If you get paid to build software, you can create a product. If you get paid to communicate, to write, plan, market, or teach, you can make a product.

When you get paid to do a thing, you’ve already got three built-in markets to tap:

  1. People who would want to hire you – including those who want to, but can’t
  2. People who are like you & do what you do
  3. People who want to be like you & do what you do

For group #1, you can create products which help the potential client get their shit done. Tools and teaching that helps them get a better deal, or better results, from people they hire. Figure out who to hire and when. Give them the advice those clients always seem to need. Help them help themselves, especially for the ones who can’t afford you.

For group #2, look at your workflow and your business. What stinks? What could be better? What tools or processes do you use – or would you love to have? How can you work more efficiently, better, and earn more money?

For group #3, it’s all about the aspiration. Create education, tools, processes, and premade bits that help newbs do better work, up their game, earn more, charge more, learn.

By the way: the “if people pay you, you can make a product” rule goes double for designers, developers, & writers. Because not only do you create things – design, code, writing – you have the expertise needed to create tools to create those things easier, faster, more efficient, better. You don’t just know how to create widgets, you can create systems for creating widgets.

You own the means of production… and carry it around with you, in your head!

And yet you’re worried that you can’t make something people will buy? Marx is rolling over in his grave right now.

4. “I’m not an expert. I don’t have the knowledge or the skills.”

This fear takes two different forms:

  1. Aw shucks, I’m just me. Nobody wants to buy from me. Heck, I wouldn’t buy from me!
  2. Gee, I need to have a fancy video logo, and a theme song, and a copy editor, and my code has to be perfect and the design must be gorgeous, and… I don’t know how to do half of this shit.

Let’s tackle ‘em both:

Heck, I wouldn’t buy from me! That’s great, nobody’s asking you to. Get over yourself! The answer to Not An Expert #1 is to recognize that you’re plagued by The Curse of Knowledge, and adjust your expectations accordingly.

You know all your fears, weaknesses, foibles, and mistakes. You know how much doubt you feel. Nobody else does. You’re feeling trapped in your own skull, but hey, selling products isn’t about you… it’s about your customers. What you think about what your customers want doesn’t matter — only what they think.

Does somebody pay you for your skills? Are you employed, or do you freelance? You’re more than capable of making and selling something people want. That is all the proof you need.

You don’t need to be a big fancypants expert…you just need to know more, or do better, than some. Not “more than most people,” or even “more than a lot of people” — just some.

You don’t have to try to revolutionize an entire market, or disrupt anything. You just have to be able to help a handful people here and there. That’s all you need to be able to do to make a pretty damn good living.

Plus there’s a lot of value in being a non-expert. You’re closer to the pain that your customers will have.

Now, if your major worry is a bunch of skills you don’t have— design, development, copywriting, or a slaveboy to peel grapes for you…stop right there! Cliché though it is, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was any big company you look up to, or any product that inspires you.

The solution to Not an Expert #2 is simple: Work with what you’ve got.

Craft a product around what you can do, not what you can’t do. You have skills, so use them. Don’t sit around planning to fail. And make no mistake: falling in love with a product concept that requires skills you don’t have is planning to fail.

If you’re a developer with lousy visual design skills, create a product that doesn’t have to be beautiful — and sell to people who are insensitive to design. If you’re a designer who doesn’t know a SQL statement from the sound a pig makes, stay away from trying to build the world’s shiniest new web app.

Flex your already buff skills and put them to work.

Speaking of building things by yourself…what if you suck at finishing?

5. “I’m terrible at finishing projects. I’ll start, but I won’t finish…why would this be different?”

This is a nasty, nasty fear. It whispers poison in your ear: “Who are you kidding? You’ll never do it, because you’ve never done it. The proof is in…you’re a flake and a loser. And you’ll always be one.”

This fear is the one that hit me the hardest. For years, I had grand plans and dreams, even started a few of them, but they always withered on the vine. I felt like finishing was something beyond the scope of my power, almost like I had no choice in the matter. I felt, in short, like a victim.

Until one day, I had a choir-of-angels, light-splitting-the-cloud revelation…and I got over it.

What triggered that special moment where everything changed? In 2007, I had an idea — an idea that I added to every day, that grew bigger & more ambitious in scope. I pitched to a company, hoping they’d hire me to build it — but they didn’t want it. So far, this was par for the course.

One morning a couple months after their rejection, I woke up and the first thought that popped into my head was, “I’m a hypocrite.” No joke. (Usually I wake up with a head full of terrible pop music, so this was quite a change.) I realized: I could build this thing that I wanted to see live. Why exactly was I waiting for somebody to hire me to do it?

So I took the idea, stripped it naked and hacked chunks off it, til it was a tiny little atom of what I had envisioned. I called it an atom because it was the smallest building block I could think of… indivisible.

And then I tackled it with everything I had. And shipped!

Now, it’s still been a lot of sweat, blood, tears, wailing, and gnashing of teeth to learn to reliably ship stuff on my own — by which I mean, without a boss or a client to hold me accountable.

But it all changed the moment I decided that I wasn’t going to wait any longer to live my life. And felt how incredibly fucking awesome it was to ship something under my own steam.

These are some of the lessons I’ve learned about shipping — and as far as I can tell, they’re pretty universal:

  1. Get real about what you can really ship and when. Grind your big idea down until it’s a fine and indivisible atom of an idea. Realize that only you see the big picture when you look at your tiny atom of a product…other folks aren’t privy to your plans, and won’t feel like it’s “unfinished.”

  2. Plan effectively…always keep a vivid image of the end result in mind, and the reasons you’re doing it (freedom! money! respect!). Make it so you can reach your first success as soon as possible. Make your product “the closest thing to a paycheck.”

  3. Create a system that makes it easier to work than not to work. Most of us don’t work on our own projects because it’s easier to do other things. By “system” I mean scheduling hack days, setting up your workspace for the next time before you close down, always know exactly what you will be working on so you don’t fiddle around in indecision, and doing postmortems on your work and estimates, etc.

  4. Treat your “side project” like real work. Have you been fired lately for not shipping for your boss or client? No? Then you are perfectly capable of finishing and shipping a product.

There’s more to it, of course — cuz these days, we act as if “productivity” is the path to salvation, and so we tend to feel guilty and beat ourselves up when we fail. And guilt, of course, causes avoidance, and avoidance is another way to spell “procrastination.” (And then blame our failure on what’s-your-greatest-weakness-oh-it’s-that-I’m-too-awesome excuses like “perfectionism,” which is really a symptom and not a cause.)

But these 4 steps are the biggest part of the solution.

Trust me, if I can do it, you can do it. I’ve still got notes from 2002 and 2003 on the big web apps I was going to build, and never. even. started…but today, I’m a shipping machine.

Shipping is a skill like any other. If you aren’t practicing, no wonder you feel like you can’t do it. Start an organized workout system for your shipping muscles and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.

So… do you want to ship? (Say yes!)

Then muzzle that little whispering bastard in the back of your mind and get to work.

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