The Inner Critic’s Martyr Mask

No matter how long you have been working creatively, it’s tempting to take the hook of possibility.

It's well-designed, but it's still a hook.

It’s well-designed, but it’s still a hook.

Sometimes that hook lands a big opportunity. Sometimes it pulls up a discarded, decomposing piece of junk. Almost always, it’s hard to tell the difference.

I’ve written about those “great exposure for you” false opportunities. A promoter wants you to donate your time, energy, artwork, writing and dresses it up like an opportunity. Choose carefully, make sure it is a real opportunity for you.

So when the woman called from a town three hours away and asked me to teach a class in her town rather than have her drive to Phoenix for the class, it was understandable. When she promised she would bring her friends to fill up the class, the warning bell clanged in my head. But my Inner Critic stepped up and whispered “opportunity” sweetly and seductively. The Inner Critic pointed out that asking someone to drive three hours was too much for them (but not for me), and I needed exposure, and getting in that market would help the new book sales.

Instead of pointing out that exposure is what kills people if they go out unprotected, or listening to Pema Chodron’s wisdom that we keep learning the same lesson until we understand what we need to learn, I took the hook. And the line and sinker while I was swallowing.

Yes, I did. Instead of calling on my “You are Enough” Inner Hero, I chose the Martyr Mask of the Inner Critic. Two hours and five phone calls later, I had arranged a class and a demo, rented a hotel room, spoken to the marketing manager and created the to-do list for the class. After hotel, gas, demo time there was no profit, but who cares? It was an “opportunity.” (You may now start to snicker).

From the website:

From the website:

I proudly emailed the woman who wanted to take the class–it was scheduled. I sent her the date and time, and gave her registration details. (You may now slap my forehead and ask, “What were you thinking?”)

No reply. You already know what happened. You are smarter than I am. The next day I got an email telling me the day really wasn’t good for her or any of her friends, and I should email her next time I was in town. You see, she had good resistance to the hook.

Learning from my mistake (again), step-by-step:

1. When talking to a prospect, find out exactly what they want–a class close to their location? Attention? Conversation? Mention a price range to see if it changes their interest level. If they mention friends who will be brought along, ignore it. That phrase is very similar to “I’ll call you” after a first date or “How are you today?” when your boss comes into your office. It’s something polite to say. No offers or interest are implied.

2. Compare what they want to what you have to offer and what you need. Travel is expensive, so your class price might have to increase. Would you go to that town to teach without the call? What real opportunity exists for you? Is there interest? Is there a client base? Consider this before taking any action.

An excellent counter-offer on my part would have been to ask her to gather her friends, agree to a location, and have me come to teach a custom class at a price that made me a modest profit. Don’t take the hook until you have something you need, too.

3. Do not make a commitment to please a prospect. A prospect is an unknown quantity. A prospect is not yet a client. Every company, business, and freelancer has to weigh the conversion cost of prospect to client. If you lose money occasionally, it’s part of doing business. If you lose money frequently, you need to look at how you are doing business.

4. Avoid needy puppy behavior. Needy puppies don’t get the business.

From the WordPress blog The Transfer

From the WordPress blog The Transfer

Worse, they don’t get respect. Think about what you have to offer. That’s enough. Do not offer to jump through burning hoops to prove your worth. That will just get you burned.

5. Create a marketing plan and stick to it. Set a time in the future to evaluate it. Changing it based on the last thing you heard (“Squirrel!”) is not a good business plan.

—Quinn McDonald wishes she had stopped, looked and listened to herself before lighting the hoop on fire and jumping through it.

11 thoughts on “The Inner Critic’s Martyr Mask

  1. It’s a fine line between deciding to go above and beyond what you feel is comfortable and going the extra mile to accommodate someone or a certain situation. I have one magician friend who has out-priced himself out of the market. He insists on the end user paying for EVERYTHING, thus only getting rare bookings. There’s a balance and I think it’s a constant juggling act.

    Sorry you feel like you got taken hook, line and sinker but you still learned something valuable and are sharing it with the world (we appreciate it). Better to make mistakes and learn from them than the alternative. Don’t beat yourself up. Brush off the aggravation, flip the inner critic the bird and tuck the lesson into a corner of your brain for next time.

    Thanks for including us in your journey!

    • You are right. . .again. But I did *not* get taken–that’s what made it painful. I took that hook, and the line, and the sinker all by myself. That’s what made me cranky. I’ve made this mistake before and I’m making it again. What triggers the mistake is my thinking that I am not enough when I hold a class at one place, I must accommodate every single person all the time. That’s a big mistake that needs some more soaking in your wisdom. Again! I often tell my clients that if they have too many requests, too many clients, not enough money to raise their prices. That settles everything into the right mix.

  2. When I get asked to go somewhere else I ask for the money up front for X amount of people. That will usually tell you if they are interested or not. 🙂

  3. I wonder if a “kickstarter-esque” approach might work for cases like this. Your offer: you’ll bring your class to any location requested when:
    – a “class fund” is created and reaches a given amount that gets you a profit. The fund goes into escrow; if the goal isn’t met by a date, everybody gets their money back. There are probably “stretch goals”, enabling more attendees.
    – a venue is provided
    – a date is agreed (maybe part of the fundraising effort)

    Your role, other than doing the class, would just be to provide some sort of “how to” guide to the organizers; THEY are the ones who do the fundraising and etc. Kickstarter itself, or one of the similar services popping up, might even be a way to do this.

    Amanda Palmer did this to crowdfund her recent (or current maybe) tour. There were funding levels from getting a ticket to the nearest concert (and I think she picked locations somehow based on funding) to a private house concert for you and your friends.

    • Depends on how many artists in a given place are interested in learning what I teach. I think you have to be famous to make it work. Or at least have a widespread, loyal following.

      • You DO have a widespread, loyal following.

        There have been over 44,000 successfully funded Kickstarter projects. They can’t all be famous! Besides, it would give you a simple answer when somebody calls: “Sure, I’d love to bring my seminar to your area. To see how to make it happen, go to“. I look forward to meeting you later this year! *BYE*”

        Even if nobody ever pulls it together, it makes it clearer who wants what and whose responsibility it is. And it’s an easy answer both at first and later on — “I’m sorry, but that’s the way it works; if you weren’t able to put together attendees and funding then my Phoenix class still has some open slots.”

        • Ohhhhhh, I read your first answer too early in the morning and without coffee (and your thinking requires my brain to be caffeinated). THEY do the kickstarter work. I get it now. Well, now, isn’t that just delicious. . .

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