The Shortcut, Please

The voice on the phone could have been any business call I get in the course of a day.
“I’m an artist, and a coach, and I teach business communications.”
“Great,” I say, and almost always, I know what’s coming.
“I’ve noticed on your website that you teach journaling classes, even incorporate them in business seminars,” the eager voice says.
“You are right,” I say waiting for the next question.
“Well, I’m having trouble getting a lot of people in my class. And you’ve had this up on your site for a while. So you must be doing something right. Can you give me some tips and shortcuts so I can be successful?”
It’s seldom that I am at a loss for words, but this is a sure way to make me speechless. Lacking understanding, I aim for clarity.
“I’m not sure what you want me to tell you,” I ask, although I’m beginning to think I do.
“I want you to give me shortcuts and tips to be successful,” the voice says.
“What are you doing now that works?” I ask.
“Well, I’ve been a coach for about six months and word of mouth isn’t working,” she says.
“Word of mouth is a method that comes after there are enough happy mouths to talk about your work. Word of mouth takes about four years to work,” I say.
“What? That can’t be. Look at all those people on the internet, and their sites, and all the ones that get thousands of orders overnight,” she says, what about them?
“I don’t know about them,” I answer honestly, “Here’s what I can tell you about my success. I work 120 hours a week, divided over 7 days. I make mistakes, I fail, I figure out what went wrong. I do something else. I advertise, I use every opportunity I can find, some work better than others. I don’t have a secret, and I don’t know any shortcuts.”
The voice at the other end of the phone is quiet.
“You won’t help me. Women are supposed to help each other,” she says.
“I am helping you. I’m telling you from my experience that there is no shortcut. I can give you tips, though.”
“OK, she says, GO.”roadwork ahead
“Keep track of what works.
Listen more than talk.
Ask questions.
Go “huh?” a lot and wonder why.
Advertising takes longer to work than you think it should.
Run ads at least 7 times before you expect them to work.
Have a clear idea of what your business is about.
Know why what you do is different from what other people in the same line of work do.
Know what your features and benefits are, be ready to explain them.
Most people know features really well, but explaining the benefits of your service is the key to success.
Don’t ever undervalue yourself, but understand that value is a relative thing.
Don’t think everyone in your audience is rich, and don’t plan on having just rich people for an audience.”

Those are the best tips I know.
“Oh.” She sounded disappointed. “So you won’t share shortcuts.”
“I can’t,” I say, wishing I had some myself. I’m not pushing 50, I’m dragging it, and I wish I had discovered some shortcuts.
“Can I ask you another question?” the voice asks.
“Sure, go ahead. If I know the answer, I’ll tell you.”
“Do you know someone else, maybe someone famous, who’ll share their shortcuts with me?”

Note: Every coaching school, as part of its curriculum, should teach marketing. The one I attended has an optional brown-bag lunch session in two courses, but it wasn’t part of the training. There was a separate marketing course, with a separate fee. Coaching students are often other-directed, focused on spirituality, and believe that “sales” and “marketing” are bad words, that selling your service is somehow tainted. These good people often think  they will attract the right people to them just because they are ready to work.

From what I’ve read, a large number of people go through coaches training and then can’t create a business. Part of every educational course that teaches a skill should be a lesson on how to apply it, how to market it and how to create a life doing it. My husband, who is a personal chef, discovered the same thing in his training. Luckily, we both came from marketing backgrounds. For those who don’t, and are planning on taking any skill-set education, it’s an important question to ask, “Do you offer marketing as part of the course?”

–(c) Quinn McDonald, 2007. All rights reserved.

16 thoughts on “The Shortcut, Please

  1. Andy–Thanks for thinking the post is useful. Here are your tips that I love, from the same article:
    These are the shortcuts I know:

    * Work your ass off
    * Try everything. You never know.
    * Repeat what works. Stop doing what doesn’t work.
    * Make lots and lots of friends. You never know who can help you someday, so help them first.
    * Read everything you can get your hands on, from people who aren’t like you.

  2. Susan–One person’s secrets are another person’s helpful tips. What she (and so many others who call) were looking for was shortcuts. And that’s very different from tips and helpful hints.

  3. There may not be any “secrets” as such, but I’ve received a great deal of help from competitors, and I try to give at least as much back.

    The idea that, say, Coke’s or McDonalds’ success depends on “the formula” is, I think, just more magical thinking. There is no “the formula” except at a given point in time. Imagine that someone DID obtain the “formula” for Coke; would that make them able to replicate all the other factors that make Coke a success? How to get good placement in stores, where to put vending machines, how to do advertising, how to run a worldwide network of bottlers and distributors? And yet, if you worked for another company in logistics and met someone from Coke, you would each probably be willing to share what you know about solving logistics problems.

    Quinn is helping “competitors” (do artists consider one another to be in competition, by the way?). In the open source software community, there’s a tremendous drive to do things very well because you know you’re going to give away the things you do along with showing exactly how you do them. There too, there’s no “formula” — just “how we did that this time”.

    On the other hand, I’m standing on somewhat shaky ground for some of this, as my employer patents some of the things I create and I’m not allowed to share everything, although if it was up to me I would do that differently.

  4. Pingback: Andy Sernovitz's Damn, I Wish I'd Thought of That!

  5. I am stunned that anyone would have the nerve to call and ask for your “secrets”. I mean, that would be like one competitor calling another and asking for help.

    “Hi, Ronald? This is Jack. Can you give me the recipe for the secret sauce on your Big Macs?”

    It was amazing that you stayed on the phone as long as you did.

  6. Mari–That’s not a secret I coughed up, it’s a hairball! Art marketing “secrets” are sort of like gold at the end of the rainbow–if only.

    Foxhollow–marketing, which I learned in various ad agencies and marketing departments as a writer, has always served me well. I am so glad you are finding it applicable, too. I love the idea of a studio in an office building! May you reap praise and money and store many secrets!

  7. Hahahahahahahahahahahahha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    This was great! I come from a sales and marketing background and I am finding it VERY useful for my new business adventure in jewelry…Matter of fact, I have to tone it down a bit so I can make sure I can fill orders…but I am remedying that. I just signed a month to month lease for a space of my own in downtown Chattanooga. A dedicated place to work and a very interested audience via all the people in the office building. This is a great post…and one of the reasons I love reading what you are up to…thanks!

  8. It’s the “Magic Bullet” theory of thinking…if you get sick, you go to the doctor for a magic bullet to make you well…if you are fat, same thing…prevention, exercising, hard work, persistence are bad words…just give me the secret, the magic bullet. Quinn, you know you have it, cough it up 🙂

  9. Actually, if she read your blog for awhile, she would know that you give out lots of free and helpful advice. Thanks for always having thoughtful posts!

  10. Hey, Robyn, it’s great to see you here! It’s less about patience (ask my son how patient I was as a mother!) and more about perspective. Luckily, I don’t have to live in the caller’s reality–where there are secrets to ferret out, without which you are lost. In my reality, if I flail around long enough, I’ll find a solution. –Q

  11. Because sharing a secret sounds more fun than failing, trying, and otherwise working your brains out.
    In fairness, though, I blame the education system. In high school I had 4 years of literature, philosophy, Latin, math, science, a foreign Language besides Latin, History, Art and Gym. It was an 8-hour day and we were exposed to a lot of different kinds of thinking. Nowadays kids are trained for a career path–and take tests that focus on answers, not how to solve problems. You get out of school and if you change your mind about that career, you are lost. So you need a ‘secret.’

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