Making a mess of asking

“You might as well just ask” / “Just go for it?” / “What’s the worst they could say? ‘No’? That’s not so bad!”

Worm's personal purposeI have read and given this advice a hundred times. It’s good advice. Mostly.

We don’t even think to ask for what we want, because a lot of times, we feel like if we ask, we’ll get turned down. There’s something else we need to do first: There’s some credential we need to get; we need to shoot some photos first; we have to put together the pitch or the catalog first.

There’s a window of opportunity and we aren’t prepared to go through it just yet.

So the advice is to just go through it anyways — barge in there with who you are, let them tell you “no,” and maybe let them tell you “yes.”

Is this advice any good? Should you prepare? Or should you just wing it?

When we first started the business, I would reach out to press and retail shops hoping to get coverage or make sales. I look back on these awkward messages now and I cringe: Did I really send those crappy photos? Did I really spend so much time talking about the our business, and so little time talking about the products? Couldn’t I have spent a little more time crafting our offering so we didn’t seem like such amateurs?

These bridges are probably behind me. I can’t reach out to them again even though our pitch is much more refined and optimal.

I went for it anyways, and because of that, I have a whole bunch of cringe-worthy pitches to companies who were, frankly, out of our league at that time in our business.

Having done that – the thing most of us are not willing to do – I lived, and I’m here to share the results with you.

90% of those pitches went unanswered.
Of the 10% who got back to us, probably 8% said something nice like “No, thanks. We’re focusing on [xyz other thing] right now.”
Of the 2% who didn’t politely decline, we’ve had mixed results:

  1. One was our first wholesale account, Marion & Rose’s Workshop, in Oakland, California
  2. One was Cowboys & Indians Magazine, who featured us and opened a whole new channel for us (the cowboy crowd)
  3. One was UNFI, the largest natural food distributor in the US, who started carrying us

Not one said “Get your fucking act together, you amateurs!”

That’s our worst fear, right? Well, that or the silent dismissal of people who think we aren’t even worth responding to… which arguably, that 90% could be interpreted as (it sure feels that way) — though it’s important to remember that it actually isn’t that way, we just imagine it is.

And of those 90% of people who didn’t respond, we are free to follow up again once we’ve got ourselves differently positioned. In fact, that different positioning gives us a great excuse to follow up: “Howdy! I thought I’d reach out since we have this new product line / set of photos / because I saw you recently posted about [subject that is related] and found your post very insightful.” Be nice, but be persistent.

I can tell you from experience, it is non-fatal to act before you’re ready, and you might even get some great contacts and results out of it!

How to sell to 122,000 times as many people as you do today (and totally not worry about the competition)

I was trying to make an infographic to show how many more people you could reach by making your online presence stronger, and I came up with this:

(see bottom of article for numbers used)

I was trying to show the relative size of your market if you’re selling in each of these places. Pretty neat idea, right?

Except the size of the customer base of “friends and family” and “farmer’s market” were so small that they don’t even register on the infographic.

Why confine yourself and your business to such a small pond?

If you’re like most makers, you didn’t start your business to become an internationally distributed power-brand. You enjoyed making something, you made it well, and people loved it, so they bought it from you.

Eventually, some switch flipped and you thought, “You know what? I could do this for a living.” And – VOILA! – you started a business!

And you started dealing with things like costs, and the economies of scale, and your business grew and grew, and then you had to sell a certain amount now that you’re depending on the income and you’ve made all this investment…

… and then someone local moves in a couple booths down from you, and you see other people going to their booth at the farmer’s market, and GAH HOW COULD THEY?

It bothers you, of course, because there’s scarcity.

There are only so many people coming to your market, and so many dollars to go around. So if someone spends money over there, they’re not spending money with you.

Online, people are spending $294 billion. That’s what the new-age gurus might call “limitless abundance”

In 2015, 200 million digital shoppers spent an average of $1,700/person.[3]

If you’re feeling frustrated with your local sales, don’t just feel frustrated and rue your competition, walk yourself to a bigger pond.

And this particular pond doesn’t require any schlepping at all. Heck, you don’t even have to change out of your pajamas on most days.

Consider these stats (provided by this source):

Only 28% of U.S. small businesses are selling their products online.

60% of adult Americans are happy to know they won’t have to shop in a crowded mall or store.

Almost 20% of U.S. retail sales come during the Christmas shopping season.

The average U.S. shopper expects to spend $718 on holiday gifts.

41% of independent retailers rate social media as a “very effective” marketing tactic.

44% of online shoppers begin their product search using a search engine. (find out how to best show up in search engines in my “6 Weeks to Search Engine Superstar” class)

91% of eCommerce retailers saw a lift in their search engine rank thanks to social referrals.

(As a side note, your success on Amazon will be greatly bolstered by your search engine optimization skills, since Amazon is pretty much just a gigantic product search engine).

Whether you’re online already or are just getting started, you can build your business with some quick and easy online marketing. Sign up for my newsletter to get updates about classes, tools, and more.

cup of awesome skills

Potential Customers:
Friends and Family: 700
Farmer’s Market: 20,000 (generously)
Etsy Shoppers: 25,000,000 [1]
Shopify Shoppers: 35,000,000 (guess)
Amazon Shoppers: 244,000,000 [2]

[1] Source:
[2] Source:
[3] Source:

Lots of people supported me and said they loved my product, but where’s the $$?

“I don’t get it! All my friends said they thought my idea was great, but I launched and I’ve had basically no sales. WTF?” – Countless discouraged entrepreneurs

Any new venture is terrifying, and those of us who have the blessings of supportive friends and family often make the mistake of believing friends and family will become paying customers.

Sometimes friends and family do become customers, and that’s great (because birds of a feather flock together, and people want to be supportive, God bless ’em), but it puts incredible strain on friendships if you expect (and maybe even kind of demand) that your friends support your venture.

I have seen it, and it isn’t pretty.

That’s why things like marketing, press, and search engine optimization are so critically important to start right away

If you hope to have a business, you absolutely can’t lean on your friends and family to be your customers. You can make it available to them, but availability and pressure are very different energy.

The key is to cultivate a relationship with customers

If you’ve done your market research and you know the customers are out there, you have to set your business up in a way that will reach your (future) customers. You have to find people who love your product not just because they love you, but because they truly just love your product.

In fact, Facebook even penalizes businesses whose posts don’t get a lot of click-throughs and comments, so if you just beg your friends for a ton of page “likes” without any strategy, that can actually hinder your marketing efforts.

The world is mindblowingly vast, and millions upon millions of people are searching for products, services, and experiences that resonate with them. Is yours one of them? You have to get in front of those people so they can find you!

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” – Chinese Proverb

All these things take time, money, or both. But you have to start somewhere, and sometime.

If you’re a new business just getting started, you may not have yet traversed the muddy bog of getting strangers to buy your products. It isn’t as difficult as you might think. Stay tuned for my small business marketing tips.