What are you really selling?

“Albatross! Gannet on a stick!” – John Cleese, Monty Python.

What are you selling?

What do you sell on a day to day basis? If you say nothing, you’re probably wrong. If you say anything else you’re probably still wrong, unless you already know what I’m about to say. (In which case, feel free to hop in on the comments and leave some tips.)

It doesn’t matter if you have your own business, you’re self-employed, a contractor or an employee. You’re selling something to someone, and it’s not what you think.

Think about what it is that you provide, what it is you’re paid for then follow it through to the benefits, and from the benefits to the positive change in the recipient. That’s really what is being sold.

If you’re in finance, you’re selling security and protection (I hope!). Training courses aren’t about what they teach, they’re about the life-changes they bring about in the students.

Yeah, maybe I believe you. So what?

Once you know what you’re really selling you can sell it better.

If you’re looking for a job: figure out what the person hiring needs and sell it to them. It’s probably not a cashier, or an illustrator, or a health and safety manager. They want to be sold reliability, inspiration or a good night’s sleep.

If you have a product you’re selling you might already focus on the benefits rather than the features, but what comes next after the benefits? That’s the bit you’re selling, even if neither you nor the buyer knows it.

In our everyday lives we’re always selling and buying; time is a precious resource we spend on every conversation, movie, webinar, or blog post we indulge in. Know what you’re selling ahead of time and make it easier on everyone.

The best person to talk to might not exist, and that’s okay

“I never knew anyone who went crazy before, except for my imaginary friend Captain Sprock!” – Chris Griffin, Family Guy

Here’s a quick tip: when you’re struggling to reach a decision, imagine that a friend is asking you the question you want answered. You can use a real friend for this but I prefer to use an imaginary friend as they generally come with less luggage. Sometimes this helps change your mindset, and distance yourself just enough from the problem, that you can come up with a solution.

Keep It Simpler Stupid

That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run.” – Forrest Gump

Keep It Simple Stupid
A safety warning. Step away from the precipice, don’t over-complicate the matter. Meant to prevent wasted time and effort on over-engineered solutions.

Keep It Simpler Stupid
A call to look for the smallest possible increment in value. How tiny can we make this change and still ensure someone will benefit from it? Instead of just avoiding the costs of over-complication we’re now exploring the rewards of flirting with over-simplifying.

The thing you’re doing right now, could it be simpler or smaller? If so, you’ve potentially got a shorter route to generating value. And once you’re done you can just do it again: another tiny step in the right direction.

Pull from the right

“If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly.” – Macbeth, Shakespeare

Most tasks provide the bulk of their value when they’re complete – that’s when you hit the awesome sauce. It can often be tempting to start something new. Sometimes that’s the right thing to do, other times it’s just a distraction.

When you start something new are you doing it because it’s the right choice or to avoid finishing something difficult or risky?

Systems, rituals and warm-ups.

“Wax on, wax off” – Miyagi, The Karate Kid

Last week, I spoke about giving up. Today, I had a bit of a crappy day. Nothing serious, just a bunch of conjoined annoyances. After a rubbish day the last thing I really want to do is slave over a hot laptop to eke out a blog post. Fortunately, I’ve got some tools to help me get back on track.

I’ve discovered (read: learned from others) three ways of making life easier. If you read the blog title you may have an inkling what they might be. Each is a combination of simplification and mind-hacks. Here they are in reverse order:


A warm-up in this context is an activity that takes you closer to your desired goal while being far less taxing than the full task itself. A couple of examples are getting changed into a gym kit or pasting some text into a blogging site (more on that later). It’s relatively easy to change into exercise clothes. Once you’re in them, you might feel more inclined to exercise. Once I’ve pasted some text into a blank blog post the page is no longer blank and it’s a hell of a lot easier to write when the page isn’t blank. It doesn’t matter that the words on the page are going to be replaced.


A ritual is a fixed task or series of tasks that mentally prepare you for the job ahead. Unlike a warm-up they aren’t usually steps that are part of the process proper, they just help smooth the journey. My ritual for this blog is to wait until the nippers are in bed, grab a cup of tea and settle into my home office. I don’t need the tea. I don’t really need to be in my office. But following these steps each time I write a blog post helps settle me into a rhythm.


A system is a set of check-lists and flows for achieving a particular goal or change. They help take the uncertainty out of a large task by splitting it into a series of smaller, more palatable tasks. I’ve shared the system I’m developing for blogging below. Notice how the tasks start incredibly easy. In fact, they are so simple they don’t really even need to be recorded. These first few steps of the system are my warm-up; they help me ease into the harder stuff.

Your Turn

What tools do you use to help get through tricky moments and challenging tasks? Let me know in the comments.

Blogging in 23 steps

  1. Open up Blogger
  2. Click New Post
  3. Fill in working title
  4. Paste/write this (“quote goes here” – someone) at the top of the page
  5. Brain splurge – write down all the things I think I might want to say – no real effort to have stuff in the right order or in proper sentences
  6. Start writing from the start of the post at the top of the page & stick a few new-lines in to separate from the earlier splurge – at this point still going for quantity of words over quality
  7. Tidy up, removing last of splurge
  8. Fill in quote
  9. Finalise title
  10. Preview the post
  11. Add formatting
  12. Read through
  13. Edit for correctness – spelling and grammar
  14. Read through
  15. Edit for completeness – have I missed anything glaring out?
  16. Read through
  17. Edit for clarity – e.g. tweak word choices, rearrange sentences
  18. Read through
  19. Cut the darlings – remove anything I can without hurting the message
  20. Publish
  21. Share to G+
  22. Share to Buffer
  23. Update my Trello board with any new blog ideas or thoughts
   23a. Reward myself, but that’s a topic for another day

Don’t give up.

“The road is long, with many a winding turn.” – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, The Hollies

Do you ever feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew? That perhaps, you’ve taken a step too far? That you don’t have what it takes? I know I’ve felt like that on more than one occasion.

It’s easy to give up.

There can be minor or temporary upsets. Maybe the conditions aren’t quite right. You’re tired or you’ve got a cold. The car broke down again.

Then there are bigger worries: strains on loved ones and family ties, money concerns.

Maybe you’re wondering what the point is. All this extra effort, is it worth it?

Don’t give up.

Starting something new, creating something valuable and amazing can be really hard. Seeing it through can be harder still.

I’ve barely started this blog and already there have been times of self-doubt. There nearly wasn’t a post today.

I’ve thought about giving up but I’m not going to, because I don’t want you to give up. I don’t yet know who exactly you are, but if my suspicions are right you want to do big things; things that a part of your brain tells you can’t be done, at least by you.

I know those feelings. I’m still having them. Let’s get through it together.

Here are some things that have helped me:

  • Aspire to the works and results of others, but don’t be put off by their success; you cannot know what they have done to get where they are, nor do you know where you can get to if you persevere.
  • Ride the wave. Recognise and harness momentum when it comes, ease into the uphill slogs.
  • Draw strength from those around you. Find the people who understand what you’re doing and will support you.
  • Focus on the outcomes. Remember why you started this in the first place. 
  • Act as if you’ve already succeeded, at least in the short term. Act this way and failure becomes less of a choice. (For one example, see immediately below)

Next week I’ll share a tip or two for bolstering willpower (see what I did there?). Until then, please leave a comment if you’ve got a tip to share for pushing on, or if you just want a few words of encouragement from someone who’s also in the middle of their journey.

What’s the APR on happiness?

“Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy bacon/tea/beer/chocolate/… and that’s kind of the same thing.” — the internet

We make decisions all the time, choices that affect our future. The problem is we don’t always realise what we’re deciding, or even that we are at all.

Sometimes the decisions are simple. Buy this or buy that. Spend vs save. With money it’s relatively obvious what our choices are. But what about our other resources? What about our energy or attention?

Happiness has to be bought. It has to be purchased with love, attention, energy, and yes, cold hard cash.

You can save money or take out a loan but you can’t borrow happiness or success.

Just remember that sometimes to find happiness, the real long-term fulfilment stuff, it means saving money and sometimes it means spending it.

Reduce stock and win

“This is heavy” – Marty McFly, Back to the Future

Stock drags.

Stock could mean actual stock of products or components. It could mean incomplete projects, untold stories, or ideas not yet recorded. Anything that has value only as part of a greater process or transaction can be considered stock.

Unsold goods require storage. Unfinished projects take care and attention. Ideas can be distracting until they’ve been noted. Some stories want and need to get out so much it can hurt to keep them in.

There are costs in each of these things. Reduce the stock and reduce the costs.

Phase 1: trying

“Sometimes you just gotta roll the dice.” – Paul (the alien), Paul (the movie)

Things have going smoothly for the last week or so; I’ve made a couple of blog posts and a couple of awesome people have commented. Good times.

I thought it was about time for me to ‘fess up. I don’t know what I’m doing. Most bloggers I’ve come across seem to know what they are doing. I don’t. I didn’t want to wait until I was good – it could have been a damn long wait – so I’ve started now.

I’m in phase 1 right now, and that means trying. In this case I’m trying to do four things:

Write. A bit obvious this one. I like to write. Now I’m writing. Go me! 

Work towards my top-level goals. More on what they might be another time.

Tease out a process. I’m gathering some thoughts around a process I’ve had rattling away in the back of my head for some time. It’s part-Agile, part-Lean, and part wisdom accumulated from a decade or so working as a project manager. I’m not sure what the process is yet but I know it starts with trying and has the aim of small, repeated steps of improvement, moving gently up and to the right.

Finally, and this is the one that surprised me: 

Make the world more awesome

I realised something recently. Naive and simple I might be, but I want the world to be awesome. Not just good, but awesome. Not just for some people but for everybody.

I don’t see myself as being revolutionary material but that’s kind of the point. We could rely on the actions of the powerful few to make the world a better place or we mere peons could band together and do it. The technology exists now to make a motivated few a force to be reckoned with. Get enough people working together, taking baby steps in the right direction, and the cumulative effect could be surprising.

I don’t think I’m going to get very far. I’m unlikely to change anything. But the thing I’ve realised is that there is precisely no reason not to try.

Why Yoda needs a slap

“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

In case you haven’t heard this oft-repeated phrase, or you just want to see it again:

I love Yoda. He’s a cute ball of Jedi-awesome. But this phrase really gets my dander up.

There is no try. Translation: if you know you can succeed, great. If you’re unsure, better go home buddy, coz failure ain’t holding no truck here.

How do we stretch, how do we learn, grow or develop when we don’t dare to do anything we’re not certain we’ll succeed at? Was Picasso perfect with his first brush strokes? Did Einstein produce the Theory of Relativity without so much as a typo? Did Cruise flash a flawless smile for his first photo-op? Okay, probably he did.

Failure isn’t just an option. It’s a privilege.

What do you think? Am I being too hard on the little emerald imp? Or should someone deliver a very respectful slap to his wrinkled green face?

Or try anyway.