Are you interested in developing and selling products? Seems almost silly to ask, right?
Seems like everyone I talk to wants to make a product and leave the world of client work behind. Designers, writers, and other freelancers, but also lawyers, realtors, consultants … you name it.
Even those who love working with clients wouldn’t mind that more passive revenue stream. Who wouldn’t want to supplement income and pick and choose from among the best clients and projects?
So what’s the secret? Well, it’s no secret at all.
In this 13-minute episode you’ll hear:
- The simple (but not easy) key to products
- Why “create and pray” is a fail
- How Steve Jobs and Henry Ford are misunderstood
- Why problems and desires rule
- The audience-first approach to product development
- How “know, like, and trust” works like magic
- Our first listener question answered!
The Show Notes
- The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
- Unlabel: Selling You Without Selling Out
- Life is Good
- Ask a question for the show
- Register for the free webinar series
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Welcome to Unemployable, the show for people who can get a job, they are just not inclined to take one, and that’s putting it gently. If you’re a freelancer, or solopreneur, Unemployable is the place to get actionable advice for growing your business, improving your processes, and enjoying greater freedom, day to day.
To get the full experience, register at no charge, at Unemployable.com. You’ll get access to upcoming webinars and more. That’s Unemployable.com.
Brian Clark: Welcome to Unemployable, a podcast about the freedom to choose your own path outside of the more traditional confines of a job. I’m your host, Brian Clark.
As always, thank you for spending a few minutes of your day with me, and I’ll once again try my best to make it worth your while by adding a spark of insight that moves you toward the next level.
So, here’s the gist of today’s show … are you interested in developing and selling products? Seems almost silly to ask, right?
Everyone I talk to wants to make a product and leave the world of client work behind. Designers, writers, and other freelancers, but also lawyers, realtors, consultants … you name it.
Even those who love working with clients wouldn’t mind that more passive revenue stream. Who wouldn’t want to supplement their income and pick and choose from among the best clients and projects?
So what’s the secret? Well, it’s no secret at all. The key to creating a successful product is simple – make something people want to buy.
The Simple (but Not Easy) Key to Products
May be simple, but apparently not easy, right? In fact you may be thinking I’m copping out on you with this.
I promise you I’m not. I mean, why is it that so many people fail to create compelling products when that’s ultimately all there is?
It’s because the standard approach to product development is flawed. Most people come up with an idea, create the product, try to sell it, and then they realize that it’s not something people actually want to buy.
How Steve Jobs and Henry Ford are Misunderstood
Steve Jobs famously said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
And then of course there’s the Henry Ford quote – “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Now, these two statements are hugely misunderstood. We hear these things, and our ego wants to send us right back to the fast path to failure … start in your head, create something, and try to sell it. Oops.
Why Problems and Desires Rule
It’s true that people don’t always know what they want, so that’s not the type of question I’ve never asked. What I’ve historically focused on, is the expression of problems and desires, and then I try to solve the problem or satisfy the desire.
You can do that with research … in fact I believe social media is the greatest unfiltered marketing research platform ever … it’s just like drinking from a firehose though.
The Audience-First Approach to Product Development
My preferred approach is to create an audience by providing valuable content that addresses problems and desires you figured out. You’re then working with a real group of people who are giving you feedback of various types, which makes creating the right product a lot more likely work.
Plus, they’re there to contact when you introduce the product. That’s a very handy thing. Trust me.
In the last several years, the whole lean startup and minimum viable product approach has helped steer people away from the “create and pray” approach. The next wave is gaining a lot of momentum right now, and that focuses on building an audience before you even begin the process of thinking about product.
It boils down to this … you succeed by creating a product that provides the only way to solve the problem, or a cheaper way to solve the problem, or a more effective way to solve the problem.
How “Know, Like, and Trust” Works Like Magic
But given that we like to do business with people we know, like, and trust… another way is to create a product that solves the problem that is sold by you.
It sounds counterintuitive but people prefer to do business with you, as someone who’s already been providing value to them, and that’s the driver. And that’s truly why audience-first is the smartest way to get into the product game.
Okay, more on that in the future. Let’s now turn to our very first Unemployable listener question. I’ll flip the switch here and we’ll see who we’ve got and what the question is.
Our First Listener Question Answered!
Jim Fisher:: Hey, Brian. It’s Jim Fisher from Estes Park, Colorado. I’m starting a new business marketing t-shirts online, primarily with TeeSpring.com but I’ve also opened a Shopify store that I want to get going. And I’ve got a brand new podcast called Tee Biz Cast. It’s all about the t-shirt marketing business, and I’m going to be interviewing lots of key players in the industry.
So I just wanted your best piece of advice on how to get all that going and look forward to hearing more about your Unemployable.com advice. Thanks.
Brian Clark: Hey there Jim, from Estes Park. That’s right up the road from me here on the beautiful Colorado front range. Thanks for the question.
So, I’ve always loved the idea of a t-shirt business … making up cool or funny sayings, selling them, and having people walk around with your work on their body. What’s not to love?
A few things leapt out at me as I was listening to your question. The first thing is your podcast or your content strategy. It seems from what you’ve said that it’s aimed at people who are in the business of t-shirts, and not people who buy t-shirts. I think that may be the first thing we need to look at.
Here’s an example that brought to mind.
Back in the early days, lawyer blogging and real estate blogging, you would have attorneys and realtors, who were basically blogging to their peers. Talking about industry things or esoteric points of law, and they weren’t creating content to attract the people they were actually going to take on as clients.
So, some people did that and they just were like, “Well, this blogging thing didn’t work.” Other people who did that were a little more savvy.
They were engaging in this industry conversation with other bloggers, which attracted links, which strengthened the domain authority they had, so that the client focused parts of the site ranked better in search engines, and because realtors and most lawyers are geographically based, some of them were actually kind of cooperating with each other in that thing.
Remember, people used to do the link exchange thing and link directories, and then Google said, “You can’t do that anymore.” This was the next thing.
That’s a little inside baseball for you. By the way, that doesn’t work anymore with Google, so try something else.
So Jim, you are talking about podcasting, which is another thing that wouldn’t really make that approach work.
Let me tell you about content strategy related to selling this type of stuff. Especially clothing and things like that.
Along time ago in 2007, I wrote about something I called catablogging. It’s the intersection of catalogue copy and blogging. I’m very good at making up crazy esoteric words, clearly. But it was basically based on this.
Catalogue copy, the best catalogue companies like J. Peterman. They write about the lifestyle and/or what a person aspires to be or identify with, more than they write about the features of the sweater or whatever, itself. And that’s very powerful because you are really selling a lifestyle, more than you are selling t-shirts.
So that is the type of content that you would create to reach end users. You’d have to create a podcast that appeals to the lifestyle that is exemplified by the type of t-shirts you are selling. So that sounds kind of complicated and it can be, but a great book on this topic is called Unlabel by Marc Ecko. If you don’t know who Ecko is, he is the founder and Chief Creative Officer of a billion-dollar global fashion and lifestyle company. There’s that word again … lifestyle.
It’s kind of a must read I think for anyone trying to create a lifestyle brand in 09:40 the related kind of content. It’s also a great read for anyone. I mean, it’s just really good. If you are trying to create something that’s based on the authentic you, at least the best version of you.
It’s been a while since I read it, so I grabbed it off the shelf, opened it up and ended up at the beginning of Chapter 8, and sitting right there was this quote.
In any business, at the most basic level, you’re making stuff. But more important than what you make— whether it’s a product or a service, physical or digital— is how that stuff makes people feel.
So, this is a great book for unemployable types. I would highly recommend picking it up.
Which brings me to the final thing your question brought to mind, which is the story of the Life is Good brand. Many of you are probably familiar with this company. They started out with t-shirts that say, “Life is Good” and now they sell all sorts of clothing and other accessories, all built around that brand.
The story of how that brand came to be is really interesting. Basically, in 1989, two brothers Bert and John Jacobs designed their first t-shirt. They knew nothing about the t-shirt business, or business in general.
For five years they created t-shirts and sold them in the streets of Boston and even sold them door-to-door in college dormitories.
Here’s a great quote directly from their website about that period of time:
They collected some good stories, but were not very prosperous. They lived on peanut butter and jelly, slept in their van, and showered when they could. Chicks were not impressed.
Fast-forward to the Fall of 1994 … these two brothers are frustrated … they have several ideas hanging on the wall of their apartment. They invited friends over. They got feedback on their ideas, and everyone seemed to gravitate to this drawing of just a face. It was a character they had called Jake, and it just had three words … Life is Good.
Everyone said, “We like that the best.” So, they had some feedback, they printed up 48 of these Jake t-shirts for a local street fair in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and by noon all 48 were gone. A complete lifestyle brand was born.
So think about that. People resonated with that because that is how they wanted to feel. That was their identity. They are positive thinkers. They are optimistic. Pretty powerful.
More importantly, that is a perfect example of what we now call the minimum viable product approach and it was pre-internet. This is it boiled down. They had several ideas. They got outside feedback to test one of them, they made a low economic commitment to see if it was something that people wanted to buy, and they did. They went all in on it and they built much more than a successful t-shirt, they built an entire company out of it.
The internet and the minimum viable product approach is even way more powerful, as you might imagine. In fact, let’s save that for the next episode because there’s more time than we have left today.
All right. So, again, thank you for that first question.
If you would like to submit a question to the show, all you have to do is go to Unemployable.com/ask. You do have to be a registered member to use the recording software but registration is free, and if you register you’ll get a bunch of other goodies, including our upcoming webinar series. So, head over and do that if you have got a question for me, otherwise thanks a lot for tuning in. I’ll talk to you very soon, and if you have a moment, I’d love it if you could leave a review over at iTunes telling me what you think of the show so far.
That’s it. Talk to you next time, and keep going.