Ever read one of those books? You know, the ones where you want to reach through the pages and accost the characters:
FOR THE LOVE OF INTERROBANGS, WHY DON’T YOU JUST TALK TO EACH OTHER!?
You know, one of those books where the central drama is caused by Character A misinterpreting, misunderstanding, or wrongly anticipating the actions of Character B…
Which, of course, causes Character B to think wrong things about Character A, and/or to proceed, utterly oblivious, while Bad Things Happen right under his nose.
The misunderstandings just pile up, and pile up, and pile up… and the only reason the story doesn’t culminate in a cataclysmic disaster — death, destruction, or true love lost — is that somehow, the conversational standoff is ended.
Like in every Harry Potter book. And every hackneyed romantic comedy ever.
I hate this f#!(king plot device.
It’s just so LAZY. It screams “I can’t do any better.” Authors use it to manufacture drama when they can’t think of anything better. (Guys… YOU HAD ONE JOB!)
And what’s really super extra aggravating is that this stupid trope gets played out over & over in real life, too.
Over & over, I have to watch this happen. And the law says I can shake my Kindle til the cows come home, but I am not allowed to shake a person who’s committing this crime against narrative.
So, since I can’t touch, I use my words, and I cry:
Where’s the evidence??
That’s a phrase I use on my students every single day.
It’s my favorite all-around multi-purpose Swiss Army Knife phrase. It will shred every immobilizing doubt and fear you could possibly have.
Oh, and its scissoring powers also work anytime you feel CERTAIN, deep in your bones, you can’t explain it but you just KNOW.
Wait, weren’t we talking about two characters not communicating?
Yes, and in this cheesy romance novel, you’re Character A… and Character B is Reality.
This dynamic can wreck your dreams and prevent you from ever even starting.
But I’m here to help you see them for the BS they are, and overcome them.
Here are some of the most common myths I see, based on real emails I get over and over and over:
MYTH: “I’m not an expert, I’m just a newb, why would anyone want to hear from me…?”
This is the saddest myth.
You probably don’t know this, but a decade ago I really built up a reputation in the web dev world. How? By blogging about how much of a newb I was. I wrote about my experiences as I started to learn Rails and Ruby, warts and all! I reported both what I learned, and shared my fixes to the pains I uncovered and experienced. This led to me getting job offers, consulting clients, speaking engagements, even a book deal.
And I wasn’t an innovative genius — I was simply following the recipe of thousands of people who are now considered experts.
Here are the hard and fast rules for success:
- If you’re ahead of someone, you can help them.
- If you’ve done things they want to do, you can help them.
- If you know something they don’t know, you can help them.
- If you’ve experienced something they’re experiencing, you can help them.
- If you’ve overcome a problem they will face, you can help them.
And from the school of “if you can’t be an inspiration, you can at least serve as a terrible warning”… if you can show someone what not to do, you can help them. A lot.
Bottom line: The proof of the pudding is in the eating… and the proof of expertise is in the experience of the person who benefits from your help.
MYTH: “I’ve tried this before. I put up a teaser page for my product idea and 2 days in, I could already tell it won’t work. It’s best to cut my losses and move on…”
This one kills me. And it’s probably killed more potential businesses than any mistake other than “not trying at all.”
First question: Did your product idea come from researching what people wanted and needed first? If not — why are you doing that to yourself? That’s the career equivalent of one of those famous comments on every internet recipe ever: “Well I substituted sugar for salt, flax for flour, and ketchup for tomato sauce… and it didn’t turn out! This recipe suxxx!!” Don’t do that to yourself. That’s not a fight with reality you will ever win.
And if your product idea did come from research — if you did do your homework — why give into doubt in just 48 hours? You do the research not only to know what to do, but also to be sure that your actions are sound. They’re not any less sound for having not taken off overnight. Nothing good happens overnight. Nothing! Not even the things we take most for granted…
When you were a little baby and you tried to stand up, you fell down. You stood, you fell. You reached, you fell. You took a step, you fell. But you didn’t throw in the towel and cry, “FINE! IT’S IMPOSSIBLE!” You knew the Reality: you saw the adults around you walking. You saw the older kids in your family walking. You knew it was possible; you weren’t crazy. So you didn’t give up. You just kept falling down and getting back up.
Til one day, you didn’t fall at all. You made it! And you got better at it every day.
Bottom line: Study reality — figure out what actually works, what people in your audience need and want and will buy. Then, buckle down and work at it. When you feel doubt, look at Reality, not your feelings. Success comes with time… and effort.
MYTH: “It’s easy for you to say, Amy… you’re famous. Nobody knows who the hell I am. Nobody will trust me enough to read or buy…”
This is the vicious corollary of “I’m a newb” but often told to me by folks who are seriously accomplished, and yet are still afraid they’re not good enough.
But, the reality is… read any biography of any business ever and you’ll see that the vast majority of famous business people grew in reputation because of their business activity, not before it.
Designers, you’ve heard of Dan Norman, right? …why? Because he wrote a couple of great books. How about Luke W, or Paula Scher, or whoever’s famous in your little slice of the industry today? You know them because of their work. They’re famous for what they do.
Devs, you’ve heard of DHH, right? …why? Because of Rails. Ryan Dahl? Because of Node. Sandi Metz? Because she’s always giving a fantastic talk somewhere, and writing, and writing some more. Who’s well-known in your little section of the dev universe? Whoever they are, they’re not a Kardashian.
And here’s the key… they didn’t start off famous, they did and made and designed and built and sold things that made them famous. Which means that people read, shared, listened, watched, used, and bought from them… BEFORE they were famous.
So you’re not famous. So what? Nobody is, until they are… and it doesn’t matter, anyway!
MYTH: “My competitors have the market sewn up. It’s saturated. I can’t break in.”
Ahhh, yes… no underdog product has ever come out and taken marketshare away from a large incumbent. That’s why we’re still all using IBM PCs, Nokia phones, Friendster and ICQ, coding in vim, and designing in Photoshop, and planning in Microsoft Project.
Every one of these categories has become BIGGER and more fragmented over time, with more opportunity, and more businesses sustaining themselves doing the same kind of product. In a world where literally billions of people are online where you can launch a product quickly and cheaply, and run a global biz from your kitchen table — there’s more opportunity every day, not less.
And hey, somebody else spent the money to train your audience to pay for things. Great!
Lastly, when a big product serves thousands, tens of thousands, or even millions of customers? You have to know it doesn’t serve them all equally well. Widespread products create new pain. More users = more pain. Pain you can mine… and kill with your new product. And charge for it.
That’s how my SaaS, Noko Time Tracking, has made me millions since I launched it in January 2009. It’s a “boring” problem. It’s a “boring” business, just tootling along, making hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. We’re not #1, we’re not even big… and we’re not spending all our revenue covering the web with our ads.
We’re just a small fish in a huge pond full of money and pain. And that’s plenty good enough for an extremely comfortable living.
Bottom line: Saturation is largely a myth, to break in, all you have to do is identify your audience’s pain points and tackle one or two of them. AND, you don’t need to conquer a market to live large.
MYTH: “Developers don’t buy things.”
Weirdly, I never hear this about designers, writers, or other professional audiences. Just developers. And I hear this every damn week, it seems.
Then I started teaching devs how to build businesses (hi!). They came. They signed up. They paid. They learned. They repeated the virtuous cycle of helping people like them, and making money for it.
Now, 30x500 is open to anyone — and designed to be applied in many industries — but devs have always been my core audience. Always. And they have paid, gladly and often.
But still, this myth persists, because it sounds so true. It feels true. We know it’s true, in our bones.
Even though Reality is awash in evidence to the contrary. If you just talk to it! Just look around you!
Bottom line: Just TALK to Reality. Please. She’s got so much to tell you. And it’s all to your benefit.
Doubt and fear don’t hold a monopoly on bad plot
Self-confidence is often just as faulty and navel-gazey.
Several emails like this have landed in my inbox every week for nearly the past decade:
“I’m building this product for schoolteachers / universities / music venues / hobbyist cooks / local business centers / restaurants… and I’m confident it’ll sell! They clearly need it!”
To one person, I wrote back:
“There’s a problem: Every one of those groups is famous for being broke and / or incredibly resistant to buying things, or the person you’d be able to reach who has a problem is not the one allowed to make the decision.”
And in reply, the guy wrote:
“Ha, I hadn’t even thought of that. I have experience working with all of them, and you are 100% correct that they don’t like paying for anything.”
Are you skimming? Pause for a second. Read that paragraph again.
It’s right there. He knew it. But he didn’t know it.
He was trusting his biochemicals which vibrated in resonance with the “idea,” IT FELT SO RIGHT, despite clear evidence that it was soooo so wrong. And he knew it! If only he would dial down the chemistry and ask himself and the universe…
Where’s the evidence?
Ask it before every major life decision.
Don’t use your biochemicals when you should be using your brain.
When you want to effect a major change in your life…
And when it comes to your business, or business dreams…
When you want to create a product to sell to people, and you don’t have extra months or years to spend flailing purposelessly…
Don’t fall back on the world’s crappiest plot device. Don’t let a Fiction Writing 101 cliché wreck your chances.
Open a dialog with Reality. Start with the evidence first.
Well, simply put: When in doubt, or certainty, put the brakes on the biochemicals… seek out evidence. Observe & learn how people like you achieve what you want to achieve.
Hit the books. Hit the forums.
Figure out who you might serve, and then research them — go observe them, ‘in the wild’ online — and study what pains, problems, fears, and hopes they have.
Learn Sales Safari.
Learn how to help people, and use that to help yourself build a reputation, an email list, a group of buyers who love you and can’t wait to spend money.
Learn how to come up with a million product ideas — not just one — and screen them with Reality’s ban hammer before you put in the effort to build something.
Don’t try to build your future on hearsay. Don’t give up on building your future because of your imagination’s machinations. Don’t be a cliché.
Build your future on solid footing.