Among those who feel called to start entrepreneurial projects, there seems to be a near-universal phenomenon which I’ve dubbed “dislike-o-phobia.”
The fearful thought pattern goes something like this:
“What if I go to all this trouble to put together a blog, or a course, or a coaching program, and it turns out that people don’t like it?”
If you identify with that struggle, consider this a spoiler alert: I know how the story ends.
It will turn out that people don’t like your thing. The chances of that happening are virtually 100%.
But will it be some people, or all people?
Let’s be rational here: Is there really any attribute or preference that can reasonably be ascribed to all seven billion people on the face of the planet?
If it stands to reason that some people will definitely not like your thing, it’s just as reasonable to think that other people will.
After all, you like it. You wouldn’t have created it if you didn’t. And, as there is nothing new under the sun, logic would suggest that there have to be more than zero people on this planet who share your interests, personality, and/or preferences.
(And actually, you don’t need a whole lot more than zero of those to build something great. One entrepreneur recently made $5,000 in one month with a 6-person subscriber list. Kevin Kelly has made a convincing argument that it only takes 1,000 true fans to make a living.)
So, with that relatively useless question affirmatively answered, let’s turn to a more constructive one:
Once you discover who doesn’t like what you create (and why), what are you going to learn from that?
In my entrepreneurial efforts as well as in my personal life, the feedback of those who don’t like me has ultimately led me to a deep understanding of the type of person who would like me – if only I could find them.
Since none of us can be all things to all people, these folks’ insight is priceless.
And for that, I love them.
Here are three great insights I gained about my ideal customer as a result of getting negative feedback:
Insight #1: My ideal customer is not plagued by “comparison-itis”
One key component of my customer sleuthing method is doing systematic research on your peers (a term I prefer to “competitors”). This has many benefits: you can quickly find the language that your potential customers use to describe their pain points, you get immediate ideas for topics to address, and you can figure out how to uniquely position yourself.
My method involves automating the posts that your peers make and sending them directly to an archived folder so you have them all in one place. Then you can look at them all at once, at your leisure, and start to analyze and draw conclusions.
As I tested this method with my first clients and students, I found that some loved it…and some really, really didn’t.
Those who weren’t fans of it confessed that the process gave them “comparison-itis” – that setting up the tracking system made them constantly worried about what everyone else was doing, rather than focusing on their own ideas and projects.
But those who loved the method said that it was a way of keeping information tucked away and organized until they were ready to see and analyze it, rather than constantly clicking all over the place, trying to keep up, and getting distracted. They assured me that the method actually discouraged comparison-itis – which was my intent when I first developed it.
I found it fascinating that these two groups were reacting in completely opposite ways to the very same process. And since I was understandably biased about my own process, I found myself really wanting to get to the bottom of the negative feedback. I wanted to question those people, to probe, to analyze how they could possibly get comparison-itis from an archived folder, away from their inbox, that they didn’t even have to check until they were ready. At the very least, that should be better than proactively stalking the competition daily, right?
But I realized that it would be pointless to go down that road. Clearly, they felt what they felt, whether or not it seemed logical to me. The real question was: What could I learn from what they felt?
In truth, someone who struggles with “comparison-itis” will probably struggle with it no matter what, unless and until they address the underlying issues that are causing it. Ultimately, it’s a mindset thing and a worldview thing.
So my takeaway from this experience was that my ideal client has pretty much overcome that particular struggle. We all have our moments, but generally speaking, people have either made this mindset shift or they haven’t. My ideal client, at least on an average day, is more or less convinced that she is a unique and unrepeatable human being who has something unique and unrepeatable to offer the world. She’s excited, not depressed, to look at what others are doing, because it gives her so many ideas and actually reassures her that she and her methods are unique.
And so it happened that, by facing the negative feedback head-on, I learned something new about my ideal client. In the process of defining who your stuff is not for, you invariably discover who it is for.
Insight #2: My ideal customer doesn’t mind that I get philosophical – in fact, she kind of likes it, because she’s the same way
Once, I was dumped by a guy who cited the fact that I was “too intellectual” as the reason for the breakup. He said it really annoyed him when I wanted to talk about books, philosophy, or other high-minded topics. (Never mind that I can also do hip-hop dance, make a darn good margarita, take adorable posed pictures with stuffed cows, and generally goof off with the best of ’em – when the situation calls for it.)
At first I was really hurt by his comments, and wondered if I really was some kind of freak who needed to tone down my intellectual tendencies. But I started to re-think that during my next relationship. That guy loved the fact that I could have philosophical discussions with him. He found most women to be superficial conversationalists, and it bored him.
That was a watershed moment for me. In hindsight it seems like the most obvious thing in the world, but I should have recognized the earlier breakup for what it was: an education in the type of man who’d be a good match for me. Some men prefer conversations about simpler topics and/or aren’t that interested in exploring new ideas. And there’s nothing wrong with that. They’re just not the guy for me.
On the other hand, someone who sees any personality difference as a flaw that should be changed (as the previous guy did with me) has issues of their own to deal with. But that’s not for us to worry about. Sometimes, no matter how hard they may try, two people just don’t match well. And that’s not a bad thing, nor is it anyone’s fault. It’s just the way things are.
As I’ve become more and more visible with my ideas in the virtual world of the Internet, the exact same dynamic has emerged: some people like the philosophical bent in my writing and speaking, and some definitely don’t. Either way, it’s cool. I now know that the right clients will like that about me.
Insight #3: My ideal customer wants to make profound changes in her life and is not looking for a “quick fix”
I used to speak and write primarily about communication – specifically, how to make difficult conversations more pleasant and productive. (I guess I still do teach communication, but in the context of deeply understanding and attracting ideal clients!)
My teaching involved both mindset tips – knowing how to interpret others’ communication, as well as knowing when not to have a conversation – and tactical tips – suggested words and phrases to use for maximum effect during a conversation. I always started out talking about mindset before going into the tactical stuff, because I’ve found that people are most successful if they understand the “why” behind the “how-to.”
Well, as you might have anticipated, some in my audience liked that approach and some didn’t. For every person who loved the mindset stuff, there was someone who was impatient for me to just get to the point and tell them what to say.
This frustrated me at first. Again, I found myself wanting to get the impatient folks to realize that they needed the general stuff first, before I could give them the specific stuff. But ultimately, it was better to learn from their feelings than to try to change them.
The takeaway here was that, even though I don’t teach this topic anymore, I will always be a better match for the “mindset shifter” than someone who is looking for a “quick fix.” The mindset shifter is already primed to receive what I have to offer, because she wants to understand things deeply in preparation for making an important change in her life. She knows that will take longer than a “quick fix” type of solution, but she honors the process and deeply values all that she’ll get in return.
I never could have discovered that if I hadn’t been willing to listen to my critics.
Back to You
What’s one thing you’ve learned about your ideal client from someone who didn’t like you?