Paul Jarvis' Sunday Dispatch
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Sales advice from the world’s crappiest salesperson (aka: me)

Sales Advice

Most of us creatives suck at selling. 

And this is probably part of the reason why we write or draw or create instead of selling cars or condos. There’s nothing wrong with selling cars or condos, but I doubt many of us would be able to sell even one.

If you put me in a room and told me, “OK, Paul. Listen here. You’ve gotta sell this nice, cool glass of lemonade to these thirsty and overheating people,” I doubt I could do it. 

There’d be a lot of umm’s and hand-wringing. I would probably ask to borrow a computer so I could make a website for the drink instead.

A lot of us feel that selling is “icky”. And for the most part, it can be if we do it in a way that doesn’t suit us.

The Internet feels a lot like The National Inquirer, edited by a statistician, who’s also just dropped acid.

(FYI: this is something I’d LOVE to see happen.)

With their flashy sales pages (which are clearly fully optimized for hyper-improved conversions), the blinking pixels send out their covert (or sometimes, not-so-covert) messages:

You’d better be afraid, because your life will suck forever… unless you act now and BUY my product! Look at all this social proof! All the cool kids are doing it! Wanna know the 15 ways to achieve X that no one (but me) knows about? Hack the system to unlock your hidden wealth with these 3 easy steps! Stats, oh glorious stats!

I feel like I’m in the lemonade room, feeling the skin-tightening pressure to sell, all the time. 

When I create a new book and want people to buy it. When I want a blurb from another author whose name has serious clout. When my band plays shows and we want to sell t-shirts and CDs. 

Hell, even if someone asks me why they should hire me to create their website, my answer is often akin to, “Drink?… Now?… Lemons!?”

It seems silly to write about selling when I fully admit that I’m probably the world’s crappiest seller. But here’s what I do know: people need to feel like they know who you are before they’ll give you any money

If they don’t feel like they know you, it’s going to be a much more uphill battle to get them to open their wallets.

So how do you get people to know who you are?

Be really good at what you do. Like, the best—while always learning and improving. That’s a no brainer, right? 

Oh, and did I mention that “good” takes years, not weeks or months, especially if it’s creative work?

Want to have a popular blog? Write on it every week for 5 years. Want to sell out coaching sessions? Get your credentials and then work hard with any clients that come your way, for a very long time.

Focusing on a specific group people is another important point, because it’s next to impossible to get to know every person on the planet. It’s better to pick a tiny group that you can easily interact with. 

Social media, message boards, even networking events—the more focused they are on a specific niche/industry, the better for you. That way, when you start offering your opinion, offering suggestions or sharing your expertise, you can build awareness and value specifically for that small group’s needs. You don’t even have to sell/pitch/be icky to these people. Just talk to them.

I have been very deliberately chosen the niche my web design work focuses on because I know how much easier it is to get clients when I work at a single, tiny niche. 

Sure, I’ve switched niches a few times, but it’s only ever been one at a time. That’s because once I do a few websites in a niche, I don’t need to do any hard sells (which I’m awful at) to book clients. I become “that guy who designs websites for these type of people”. And being the go-to guy for a tiny niche pretty much guarantees steady work. 

This kind of focus means less people need to get to know you, and because their community is so small, they’ll talk to each other about you, essentially becoming your own word-of-mouth marketing street team. 

Next, once you’ve figured out your focus, get super duper, laserBEAM clear on what you’re offering these people and why. 

Can you explain what you do in one sentence? If not, get to work on that. 

On your website, is it immediately clear to the right people why what you're selling is beneficial? I’m not talking about bullet points that list a metric ton of features. I’m talking about using plain, easy-to-understand language to tell the story of why what you’ve got will give someone value in return for their money. Clarity works.

I’ve seen far too many websites fail, because (even after a few minutes of prowling around) most people can’t tell what’s being sold or why they should buy it. 

Often, this boils down to the way you told your product’s story.

If you’re using language that you, the expert, are comfortable with, will someone who’s not an expert yet (since they haven’t bought what you’re selling) understand it? If not, revise it. 

The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to ask someone who’s bought what I sell (books, in my case) to describe the book back to me. I then steal part of their language for my sales copy (with permission, of course).

The other side of the clarity coin is checking that you’re not making your sales copy all about you and your product. It may seem counter-intuitive, but selling is about the other person. 

What’s in it for them? How will they benefit? Why should they be interested? What need is this product filling in their lives? Why does it make their life better (since it’s making them slightly poorer)?

So, there you have it. 

That’s my big reveal about sales: people need to know you to give you their money. So be good, be focused and be clear.

Good thing I didn’t package this as a $7,623 e-course, because the punch-line isn’t super sexy or “OMG NOW I CAN BE RICH”.

If selling isn’t your jam, that’s ok. Play to your creative strengths instead - you’ve got those in spades.  

You already know how much hard work is required to make a go at being creative for a living. 

It’s easier to focus on a smaller group of people to work for. And creativity is about communicating, so be clear about what you’ve made and why it’s going to help people.

And most importantly of all...

Enquiring minds need to know: what would you do in that room, holding a glass of lemonade?

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Forgot who I am? That's ok, I'm Paul Jarvis, I write best selling books and articles on design, creativity, freelancing and life.

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