It was the mid 70s. “Free Bird” was our Middle School anthem. We gouged the lyrics into the backs of wooden auditorium chairs, on desks, into lockers. We learned how to French kiss. Everyone carried pen knives and a comb in their back pocket. The “convenient comb” my father called it. I wore tight polyester shirts with swirly seagull designs, feathered my dirty blond hair. Went out with a cute boy named Tommy Jones whose stunty red-headed sidekick delivered all his messages to me. TJ was the hottest guy in my class and dumb as a dung beetle. We didn’t last long. The stunty redhead told me when it was over. Come to think of it, he might’ve said TJ and I were going out in the first place.
Anyway. This didn’t bother me much. I was ambitious. Weighing my career options. I’d just come in second place in the Annual Cupcake Eat-a-Thon and I was full of myself. I didn’t think I was cut out for business, but I figured I should find out for sure. So I joined Junior Achievement with my friend Wanda Chin.
There were only a few of us from 7th grade. We formed a company. A trivet company. It wasn’t my idea. We made wooden trivets with ceramic tile centers. Maybe the tiles were made at a prison, or an asylum. They looked that way, painted with sloppy yet somehow menacing puke-colored daisies. The wooden frame was often glued improperly, the trivets misshapen. They were butt ugly. Heinous, really. I was not proud to sell them. But I tried, because Wanda Chin sold 72 in the first week.
I went door to door in my neighborhood there in Small Town, New Jersey. People answered the door with hesitation. Warily.
“Hi! Want to buy a trivet today?!”
They’d raise an eyebrow. Look quizzical. Even pained. Never mind. I’d show them a trivet. Then they’d look seriously doubtful. Some scowled. They’d cross their arms and say,
“That trivet doesn’t look so sturdy.”
That’s when it would happen.
“I agree!” I’d shout, giddy with relief. “They are shoddy! You’re right. They’re ugly too. I wouldn’t buy one either!”
Then we’d laugh, and the people would invite me in for a soda. We’d talk and talk. I made lots of new friends, but I didn’t sell much. So I crossed business off my list of possible careers and went back to driving my English teachers crazy with imaginative if silly essays about bickering cocktail ingredients and talking trees.
Now, many years later, as I launch a new business venture, Above The Hum, alongside Writers On Fire, I realize something. The trouble with trivets is that I couldn’t stand behind the product. How could I sell something I didn’t believe in? I thought I sucked at business. The truth was, I could only succeed in business — if I believed in the product or service. Same goes for story.
Do you believe in what you’re selling or telling?
You are a ROCK STAR. Your post took me back in time to my high school days and the cute blond boy with the 1/2 shirt (those were the thing in my day), comb in back pocket and piercing blue eyes that always managed to ignore me. But I digress. Let’s talk about the dreaded four letter word SELL. Yes, it turns many off and if you are only trying to SELL it will turn your potential clients off. The think about business and marketing is they are all about relationships NOT selling. People use the buzz word SELL to get attention because many are struggling with the same issues you mentioned in your eloquent Facebook post to get me here. You wrote “Do you believe in what you’re selling or telling? Does it make you sick I’m even mentioning “selling” in the same breath as “telling? I’m struggling with my own attitude toward selling, toward money, toward business — how it jibes or doesn’t with the creative process, with writing, storytelling. I tell you what — it’s fulla tension which is always good for drama. Internal, external.” To that I say YES. AND I also say when we start approaching business from a relationship based perspective things change. When we’re not selling but adding TRUE value people are drawn to us. When we have some significant to say (a story perhaps) people want more.
I’m passionate about this because my business is marketing. It’s crafting the words to help people sell (except I don’t like that word either — after all it’s a four letter word). People can be turned off by marketing because of some of the techniques being taught… especially in the copywriting arena. I’m on a BIG mission to change that with my philosophies. In a nut shell I challenge the age old industry adage that “Copy is King.” I’ve found that copy is actually QUEEN and content strategy is KING and together they are the key to creating strong and effective results. Even the best copy in the world won’t work if you don’t have a strategy in place. Think of strategy as masculine energy and copy as feminine energy –both are vital but if they are not working together it’s a struggle. I’ve also found that the traditional copywriting formula of “Problem. Agitate. Solve.” isn’t resonating with women. Women are looking for solutions to their challenges. What’s really working is the new copywriting formula of “Challenge. Solution. Invitation.” In the traditional formula we highlight the issue, we agitate that issue to focus on the pain points and then we solve the problem. I believe people are in enough pain. We don’t need to be agitated to make a decision. In fact, especially for women, when someone acknowledges our challenges (and really understands where we’re coming from), provides a helpful solution and extends a friendly invitation, we’re more likely to take action. Nothing truly flows when it comes from a place of pain and fear.
With that being said the truth of the matter is, as businesswomen, we must embrace that fact that we have to tell to sell but moreover we have to shift our perspective about selling. Remove the visceral reaction and redefine it as a relationship building tool to be of service, help more people and make a BIG impact in the world.
You’re doing GREAT work.