Have you ever felt stuck trying to answer big questions such as…
These questions carry a finality that can overwhelm us… it’s like once you answer it, you lose your flexibility.
“The decision would affect so many little things!”
“Therefore I can’t move forward until I’ve figured it all out!”
It’s no wonder that many of us procrastinate on growing our business. These big questions can keep us stuck for years…
A wise mentor once said to me:
Our calling can only be understood when looking backward.
Observing the twists and turns of your life, you can start to connect the dots… to see the pattern of your previous opportunities, the people you happened to meet, your successes, and what you learned from your so-called “failures”.
By connecting the dots of our past, we start to understand our Calling.
And yet, Life is lived forward.
Are we going in the “right” direction? Yes, planning helps prevent mistakes, but when it’s something complex (and ever-evolving) such as our authentic business, there are too many factors we aren’t aware of, for which we cannot plan.
“We plan, and God laughs…” — Yiddish proverb
We don’t really know how we will personally evolve… nor how society’s surprising changes may affect our future decisions. Therefore, the wisest way to build an authentic business, and to discover our calling, is to take the stance of experimentation.
“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” ―Ralph Waldo Emerson
From a more playful perspective, let us reframe those big intimidating questions…
“What’s my niche?”…can be reframed as:
“What’s the next niche I’d like to explore, through experimentation?”
Instead of the false finality of “defining” my niche, I always am testing new ideas… while doubling-down on recent ideas that got traction.
For example, years ago I noticed that I was answering many questions from my audience about Facebook Ads. So I decided to test out that niche by teaching a single 2-hour workshop on that topic.
People loved it!
So I repeated it, this time for a colleague’s audience. They loved it too.
Now, my Facebook Marketing Course is what many people know me for. In the minds of those people, that’s George Kao’s “niche”.
(I don’t care how people define me — as long as they find benefit from my work. In fact, I don’t mind being pigeonholed.)
I was interested in the topic of healthy money (relating to money in a wiser way) so I tried writing some articles about it. Most of those received lackluster responses. Therefore, it’s not a niche that I’ll be putting much effort into. If it were a hobby, I might keep writing about it — I guess that’s why I kept it up so long. However, for business, I’d rather focus on ideas that get a better market response!
“Who’s my ideal audience?”…can be reframed as:
“Who has recently been responding to my authentic content?”
“What group of people will I try advertising my content to next?”
This is why I preach the message of creating authentic content: in your content, be yourself (don’t try to be like anyone else.) Talk about your passions, talk about what has helped you and others you know, and then observe who responds to your authenticity.
You can also make experiments by running Facebook Ads to different audiences and see if they like your content.
Then, as you start offering your products and services, observe who buys. That’s the beginning of your true ideal audience. Study who your buyers are.
When I started my business more than 10 years ago, I imagined that my ideal audience looked like me: 30’s male, business school graduate. Yet as I created content and started to enroll clients, I was surprised: my audience was mostly women, and many of them were in their 50’s, mostly without business degrees.
That taught me an important lesson: Instead of trying to define my ideal audience, let them become obvious over time.
“What should my product/service be?”…can be reframed as:
“What have I already been helping people with?”
“What will I try helping people with next?”
We often take for granted the skills we use to help others.
Whatever we do skillfully is so “obvious” or “normal” to us, that we don’t appreciate the value it brings to others.
It’s like a fish teaching a monkey to swim: it’s no big deal for the fish, but it’s a huge revelation for the monkey!
If you start noticing the skills you use to help others, you’ll find clues for your next experimental product or service. (Start keeping track of what problems others ask your advice on, and what you’re spending time helping others with.)
“What’s my marketing message?”…can be reframed as…
“What headline would I like to test next?”
“What sales page shall I draft next?”
It’s intimidating (even for marketing experts like me) to think of a single unifying marketing message.
Truthfully, you don’t have just “one” message.
Every single product/service has its own marketing message.
Over time, as you create content and observe the reactions of your audience, your overarching Core Message will become clearer to you.
Until then, just focus on experimenting in your content, playing with the various passions you have, sharing what’s on your mind, and testing the message of your next offering.
Until it becomes obvious, stay flexible.
As we live (move forward in time), our information about ourselves, society, and our audience gets updated, at an increasingly faster pace.
Building our authentic business is a highly complex project, and it is fantasy to try to plan far into the future and still remain authentic to the moment.
It is both more realistic, and authentic, to just experiment with the next thing.
Your future direction is beyond your current understanding.
Allow your Calling to be understood backward, and simply live forward with playful experimentation… the curiosity of a scientist or artist!
To make progress now, ask yourself a small question:
“What’s the next thing I’d like to try?”
Originally written in 2018, updated for 2020.
George Kao is a Marketing Coach for small business owners, especially solopreneurs such as Coaches and Mentors. He focuses on ethical & effective ways to grow one's platform and build true livelihood.
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