The Importance of Positioning

I just saw a commercial for Just for Men Beard and Brows.

This is mascara. But Just for Men knows that men (especially men concerned with grey in their beard) won’t buy mascara because it’s not masculine, so they’ve positioned it as a totally new product to help you hide grey without dying your hair.

This is this power of positioning.


How My Toddler Taught Me to Sell Results not Features

Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.

Yoda, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

That quote is from Master Yoda, as he’s trying to help Obi-Wan Kenobi try to find a missing planet. Obi-Wan let his assumption (“that’s impossible because only Jedi can access this data”) get in the way of the actual answer — which was given to him by a young Padawan.

Similarly, my son Louis, who’s 2 and can only say a few words and sentences, helped reinforce a very important sales lesson for me:

Don’t sell features. Sell the results.

See, I was trying to get my son to abandon the wide-open world of the front yard (and active road), for the safer, albeit less exciting back yard. First, I ask my son if he wanted to go to the backyard (or the platform/product). He said no. What can the backyard offer him that the front yard can’t?

So then I ask if he wanted to go on the trampoline (a unique feature of the platform). Again, he said no. Perhaps he didn’t realize what the trampoline was, or what it can do for him.

Finally, I asked him if he wanted to bounce (the results of using the feature), and he said yes.

Don’t sell your product or service by talking about features (or worse, how you made it). Sell what your product or services can do for your customers.


What Every Small Business Owner Needs to Know About Understanding Their Customers

My daughter is 4 years old and loves Rita’s “Water” Ice1. In the beginning of the school year, we’d celebrate making it to Friday by going there and getting a treat. Of the times we went, there were two that really stand out.

See, usually I come with my son Lou (15 months) in my arms, holding Teresa’s hand, up to the register. I order 3 “water” ices: a kid’s for Lou, a small for T, and a medium, sugar-free, for me.

The first time that sticks out in my mind, the younger woman (I’d guess college) hands me all 3, no tray, no lids, 2 kids in tow. I ask her for a cup holder. She gets it. I ask her for lids. She gets me 2 that don’t fit on the 3 “water” ices. So I struggle holding everything, trying not spill it as I make my way back to my car. I left pretty annoyed because I thought it was clear that carrying literally anything else would be a struggle.

The second time it’s the same situation, except the woman who took my order is around my age or older. She hands me all three in a cup holder, with lids securely fastened to the cups. Getting to the car was MUCH easier this time. I left much happier, because the woman took the time to make sure I wouldn’t struggle.

Understanding Your Customers

If I had to guess, I’d say the second woman was a parent. She’s likely taken her kids to get Rita’s, or ice cream, or anything else, with full hands and little margin for error. She understood what I was experiencing and solved my potential problems.

The first did not, and just handed me the “water” ice as she’d want it: ready to eat, likely with her friends2 at the table dangerously close to both parking spots, and the road.

It made me think about how many people, including myself, might run their business or launch new products and services — without really understanding their customers.

“By Me, For Me” Products Don’t Work

I know this much for sure: certain popular business owners made “dog-fooding” their products so popular that many (again, including myself) internalize this fact: “If I build something for myself, surely other people will want it too.”

Dog fooding products built "by me, for me" may have worked in the early 2000s. They don't work anymore. Click To Tweet

But that’s usually not the case, except for when you’re literally the first to market.

Making a product for you, where you write the copy for you, where you’re talking to people just like you, gives you one customer: you.

How to Learn About Your Customers

There are folks a lot more qualified than me who can tell you how to learn about customers through user interviews, surveys, etc. But I know one way to understand what your potential customers want: create content.

Creating content is a great way to attract an audience who will ask you questions and help you understand their struggles. Click To Tweet

If you create good content, you will attract an audience. And when you do that, the audience will ask questions through comments and email. They’ll join your mailing list. Then you can ask them more direct questions.

You can ask them what they are struggling with and what a win for them looks like. Then you can use that language in your copy. You can use the actual words your audience uses to sell your product or service.

WIIFM: What’s In It For Me

I saw my friend Ben use the acronym WIIFM in a tweet recently and had to look it up. It means, “what’s in it for me.” This is what people want to know when they read your marketing copy, press releases, and product/service/partnership announcements. Why should they fork over their hard earned cash to you? What will you do for them?

It’s easy to talk about how you made it, and why you made it, and everything that’s “planned,” and why you want them to give you money. But most people won’t care about any of that. They’ll want to know WIIFM.

When asking for money, you need to answer the main question your customers will ask: "What's in it for me?" Click To Tweet

So instead of selling features or promises, sell solutions. Sell outcomes. Tell them their struggles today won’t be struggles once they hire you or buy your product.

Then deliver on the promise.

And the only way you can know how to deliver, how to know what’s in it for them, is by understanding your customers. If their hands are full, give them cup holders and secure lids.

They’ll happily give you their money.

  1. Near Philly they call it water ice when everyone knows it’s actually called Italian Ice, but I’ll use my daughter’s nomenclature here. ?
  2. I’m not really faulting her for this, but also, read the room! ?

Do we REALLY Need to Own Our Platform?

Last week’s Facebook outage brought the onslaught of common takes we hear when something like that happens. Calls to go outside, read, achieve world peace — you know, the standard responds. But in the WordPress space, there was also the predictable platitudes about how you should own your own platform. But my question for those people, and something to consider: do we really need to own our own platform?

Imagine Living in a Cabin in the Woods

A few years ago, my wife and I went to visit her uncle in Colorado, near Denver. As we drove from the airport to his house, he pointed out a concept I didn’t think actually existed in the USA: unincorporated land1.

It’s easy for many to think it would be great living completely outside society. Living by your own rules, making it on your own. And I have no doubt some could do it.

But most (myself included) can’t. And if you need schools, running water, roads, and a nearby hospital, you shouldn’t build a house in the middle of nowhere because the power went out in your apartment.

You won’t suddenly be able to completely survive off the grid because of what’s, in most cases, a short lived inconvenience.

Your Business Can’t Survive off the Grid Either

Now imagine you open up a store next to your cabin in the woods. There are no roads to your store, and people need to exert some effort to get there. But what you offer isn’t wholly unique. Most people can get what you offer at the local mall.

Your own platform is great. But you need to be where your audience is. Click To Tweet

See, owning your platform is great, but you need to be where your audience is. The truth is, most won’t follow you to whatever place you want them to be. Or at least, they won’t stay there.

There are places they hang out already – things that are part of their routines and habits. Facebook is one, perhaps Slack is another. Adding a place where they don’t already go, and don’t really have to go, just isn’t going to jive with them.

Plus, There’s the Maintenance.

Earlier this year, I launched a community on Circle, and got a lot of questions as to why I didn’t roll my own2. Now, with enough time, I could have gotten bbPress or some other WordPress tools where I wanted it. I have that skill.

Not every one has the time, money, or skill to build their own platform. Click To Tweet

And that’s the problem with a lot of people flying the “own your own platform” flag: they have the skill. There are a lot of tech people in the WordPress community3. But in the wider business community, many aren’t tech savvy. They know it enough to get by. And the truth is:

  1. Not everyone can build their own platform.
  2. Those who do might not have the time to build and support one.
  3. Not everyone has the money to have one developed.

And like I said earlier, if most of your audience is already on Facebook, or YouTube, or Twitch, there’s no reason to think they will follow you wherever you want them to. That means your own platform is a waste of time and money.

Not to mention, owning your own platform won’t save you from these outages. It just means when they happen, you have to get them fixed instead of dunking on Facebook, on Twitter.

And Facebook going down is proof: They own every aspect of their presence, from servers to email. And one issue took literally everything down.

Remember: Facebook does own its own platform. It didn't save them from losing millions of dollars, and maybe even more trust. Click To Tweet

What do we Take Away from #FacebookDown?

The lesson to take away from #FacebookDown isn’t to rebuild your business somewhere else. Don’t build a cabin off the grid because your power went out for a few hours.

Don’t make your audience follow you into the great unknown. Go to where your audience is.

But you should also make sure you can reach your audience if/when that platform goes down (or disappears). Stay on Facebook, and build your email list. Because even if your ESP disappears, or gets bought by a company you hate, a CSV of email addresses is something you can take anywhere.

The lesson from #FacebookDown isn't build your own platform. It's be where your audience is, but also build your email list. Click To Tweet
  1. What? I’m from the east coast. ?
  2. The short answer is I try not to inflict mind-numbing pain on myself. ?
  3. I think there’s still too much of a focus on developers, but that’s a post for another day. ?

How Skip the Grind Showed Me to Focus my Business

A common question I get is, “What exactly do you do?” Generally when I answer, I get a response of, “Wow! You do a lot.” Even my wife says, “I’m not really sure how to answer when people ask me what you do.” That is awful for a business owner.

It’s easy to think doing more = more revenue. But that’s usually not the case. It’s usually the opposite. You’re not focused, you’re trying to promote too many things, and you lose prospects because they aren’t sure you really know how to solve their problem.

This is why I knew I needed to focus my business, and why I signed up for Skip the Grind. I was not disappointed.

Creating Clear Definitions

In order for this event to have the most impact, Chris Lema made sure to get a good group of business and product owners together so that we could all brainstorm together.

Once we were together, he provided a framework to help us define our audience and offerings. We’d work on that — actually work — over 3 days. After each session, we’d get together and each of us would be in the hot seat to share our ideas and get feedback.

The result is that we’d come home with some very clear action items to bring to our team or start implementing ourselves. Heck, I starting implementing some of it the same day we discussed it.

Simplifying my initial offer based on brainstorming at Skip the Grind.

Achievement Unlocked: Focus

Skip the Grind was by far the most helpful event I’ve gone to with respects to defining my audience. Chris’ framework, along with the group’s feedback, helped me get specific enough to create impactful offers. Then I was able to define and position them in a way I never have before. Like I said, parts of my website changed mid-event.

On top of that, I know there are lots of things I’m working on that I’m going to stop…at least for a while. Course updates no one is asking for, services I thought would be quick wins but made more work for me, etc.

I also have a great direction for my community. While I might lose some folks who aren’t focused on the customers I’m serving, the people who do sign up (or stay) will get much more value because we’ll have a clear set of goals in mind.

Do I Recommend Skip the Grind? Heck Yes.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I first heard about Skip the Grind. But I spoke to Chris and he told me I’d benefit. Boy did I. In fact, every time I go to one of his events, my business grows1.

  1. Plus, as usual, there was a pool. ?

Serve Your Customers to Help Yourself

I’m a big fan of automations. Generally, they are “set it and forget,” and I don’t have to worry about them working. When they break, I spend a fraction of the time troubleshooting that I would performing the task manually. A great, easy automation for anyone is post new content to Twitter. And while there are a TON of WordPress plugins for this, I thought the simplest solution would be an IFTTT1 integration. But when something didn’t work, they decided they’d rather use the opportunity to advertise themselves instead of serve the customer.

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Why Your Contract Should Have a Project Kill Switch

A lot happened between 2019 and 2021. I launched a new service that I originally called “Ship Your Podcast” – a done-for-you Podcasting service. I’ve since folded it under the Podcast Liftoff brand. But I also started doing a lot more video work…and that was the bell of the ball when I met with people at WordCamp US 2019.

I signed on clients to both services. Contracts signed. Deposits deposited. Then the pandemic hit. Two clients completely disappeared. One seems to have completely moved on. The other came back 14 months later…

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Design Pickle and Cotton Bureau: The Easiest Way to Create a T-Shirt Shop

Back when I was in college, making t-shirts was all the rage. College kids, like conference goers, love t-shirts. I figured I could get in on the action and make some money. But my only semi-successful t-shirt was one friends and I made for Scranton’s Parade Day. So why did I fail every time I’ve tried to sell t-shirts? There are a few reasons, but the main one is if you don’t have the 5 skills needed to make and sell shirts, it’s too hard. Luckily, those days are over.

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What Prepared Plumbers Can Teach You About Winning Business

Recently, my wife and I noticed our faucet was leaking. Now, I’m not a DIY guy. I’m thankful that computers exist because I can’t do anything with my hands. But I decided to try to fix it myself. Long story short…it didn’t work. I brought the faucet neck to Home Depot and they were less than helpful. So we called two plumbers. One was the clear winner, and here’s why (and what you can learn from them).

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When You Should Own the Platform vs. Paying for a Service

Quick note! Subscribers to my newsletter, Build Something Weekly, got a sneak preview of this post earlier this week. I don’t always publish what I write there here though, so for my best thoughts you should totally subscribe.

My favorite episode of Looney Toons is Baseball Bugs. Bugs Bunny is heckling the Gashouse Gorillas and when they hear him, they make him play every position against them. He makes the winning catch by taking a cab out of the ball part, all the way to the Statute of Liberty.

While this is a funny cartoon, it’s no way to run a business. Playing every position (owner, accountant, sales, customer service, etc) can take a lot out of you, and prevent you from properly growing your business. One role that should require heavy consideration is tech support: when it comes to using your own tool vs. paying for a service, what should you do?

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