STOP TRYING TO PLEASE EVERYBODY!!!
WTF do I mean by that? The sentence above is the best bit of advice I can ever give you, no matter what you do for a living. Take it to heart and make it part of your personal mantra.
Part I – Clearing Your Head
Too often we go about our lives trying to take the path of least resistance. Make people happy. Don’t offend anybody. Do good things and help others. Don’t rock the boat. You get what I’m talking about.
When it comes to wanting to stand out, be it a business, nonprofit, musician, artist, creative, writer or fundraiser – it helps to stand out of the crowd. It’s a one-two punch. First you have to do or say something noticeable, then you have to push it to the point where others are talking about it. That is how most anyone with an agenda moves forward, just think of anyone famous or well known for being very good at something. No painter was vaulted to fame for just doing pretty paintings that are considered average. Matisse astounded his contemporaries with shockingly bright colors and simplicity that was shocking in his day’s bland and gentle Impressionist style. No writer ever got famous for writing something that wasn’t controversial. Think of Dan Brown with The DaVinci Code. No business ever buried its competition without taking some major risks. Think what Amazon did to the entire bookstore industry.
These might be some big examples, but we can take it down to a more manageable example: Howard Stern. He got famous by being hated. The more people hated him, the more people listened to his show. (For the record, I’m a huge Howard Stern fan – love his stuff!) If he’d spent his time doing a regular corporate morning radio show, he would never have been heard outside of his first station’s broadcast FM range. How does he do this?
He doesn’t try to please everybody. He realized early on that his show would appeal to a smaller “niche” audience than the whole general population, and he not only gave them what they wanted, he also didn’t worry about rocking the boat or offending anyone.
Where do you come in? Think about your thing – be it a company, magazine, gallery, etc. How do YOU stand out? Why should I spend my hard earned money and limited time on what YOU are doing, especially when there are so many more just like you out there? Really think about that. That is probably the single most important question you can ask yourself regarding your endeavor.
Part II – Standing Out
Have you answered that last question? If not, then go back to the beginning of this article and reread it in its entirety. If you have, and have answered it honestly, then you are ready to continue reading.
It’s ok, we’ll wait… no pressure…..
Ok, great! Now you have an agenda, a purpose, a good head on your shoulders and now you need an audience (if you don’t already have one). Who is your audience? What kind of audience do you want? What kind of audience do you need? Compare that to the audience that you already have. Better still, check out your competition: what kind of audience do they have? Do you want those people’s attention, or do they even matter to you?
It’s easier to deal with percentages when it comes to your audience. Not that people equate to numbers because they don’t. Every person is unique and important as an individual, but when it comes down to business and trying to earn a living off your project/endeavor then we have to look at return on investment (ROI) and your time is part of that investment.
You are working hard on your project. You are constantly thinking about your project. You are telling everyone both in person and online about your project. You are going to find others that are either interested in what you are doing, or caught up in your enthusiasm and follow your project. Others will just follow because they like you and respect you. Others will just follow because everyone else is. Rarely will you lose this gradual accumulation of people who will “like” (as on Facebook) what you are doing, but how many of them will actually put money down on what you are doing? How many of them will buy and support what you are doing with real cash (and I don’t mean exposure or trades or promises)? Very few, and this is both normal and to be expected. What percentage of your followers will buy?
The first aim is to establish a starting point. What percentage of your followers should be your paying customer base? There is a number, and it varies wildly on what you are doing and what field you are working in. 1% is a good base number. If it goes up or closer to nothing, then it’s up to you. Depending on your profession, it should vary considerably. Talk to 100 people, make one sale. How many people can you reach in one week? If you are doing business honestly and with both talent and ability to get things done on time, you should be able to get an average percentage over the next few months (if you haven’t already). It might vary by time of the year too. This will also grow or decrease based on your head for business, ability to adapt to changing trends, and your competition.
I hate to say it, but nearly all of the people you talk to won’t buy a thing from you. But this all depends on how smart you are and the kinds of people you choose to talk to. You might be finding yourself spending so much time on social media and the phone or writing emails, but not making anything but the occasional sale. Here is where most people give up and quit.
Most of your followers are wasting your time. Almost all of your followers are non-paying filler. Not a nice thought, is it? But it’s true. They will never buy a thing from you and will always take the most time and energy from you. So you have followers that buy and followers who don’t. Is that to say that they aren’t worth taking the time to interact with? Of course not. The non-customers will give you new ideas, visit your website, maybe even share links. Maybe even become a friend, colleague, employee, or future buyer.
There is a third group that will make or break you. They are your fans. They are most of the buyers, and all of the non-buying followers who get what you are doing and that will tell others about you. These are the people who matter the most. They get you and what you are doing. They get your ideas and what you are working on. These are your core. The rest come and go. Some join your core, but most will just tag along or fall to the wayside. It’s all about finding your niche – it’s your area of expertise and specialization that you are better at than anyone else. Your core.
Spend your best time with your core – they will be the ones who will afford you to keep doing what you are doing.
Part III – Being You
Like I mentioned earlier, every one of us is a unique individual. We have our quirks, likes and dislikes, and behavior. We have loves and prejudices, and differing versions of what we think is important and good. As a result, we often are very concerned with how others perceive us. Almost to a fault. Sometimes.
Can you afford to be who you really are, and have people still like you? Yes and no. Will everyone like you? Hell no. Think of any person you know who is successful and try and find one without detractors. Can’t think of any? Me neither. Here’s the thing: a genuine person who is non-pretentious will always naturally find others whose thoughts and words resonate with theirs. Others will get detracted, perturbed or even offended – and this can be a good thing. Say what you really think, say what you really feel. Controversy invites conversation. Even negative conversation brings new outsiders into your sphere of influence. See where this is going? I never heard of Howard Stern until I heard people talking about “what a pig” he is. So I listened to his show on K-ROCK to see what all the fuss was about and was an everyday listener for many years as a result.
Stop trying to please everybody. You won’t impress or inspire everyone. You don’t need to, and it is probably very bad for business to try to do so. Keep doing what you are doing while growing and improving (without reinventing needlessly), then you will definitely start to see the road ahead more clearly. Your core audience will follow. They are the ones who matter most.
This is the third post I’ve written for Batrachomyomachy. If you are interested in this project or like what I have to say, then please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below. Feedback really helps me by letting me know if I’m reaching interested readers or just chucking words into the abyss.
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About Rich Leighton
pro photographer. writer. husband. dad. traveller. bad drawer. peripheral visionary.