Get unstuck by asking smaller questions

Have you delayed your business progress, or felt stuck, because of big questions such as:

  • “What is my niche?”
  • “Who is my ideal client?”
  • “What should my offering be?”
  • “What’s my marketing message?”
  • “What’s my Calling in life?!”

These questions carry a finality that can overwhelm. It’s like once you answer it, you lose your flexibility. “The decision would affect so many little things!” you say. No wonder we procrastinate before moving on such an important question. It can keep us stuck for years.

Many years ago, a wise mentor said to me that our Calling can only be understood looking backward.

As we observe the twists and turns of our life, we can then start to connect the dots… to see the pattern of our opportunities, the people we happened to meet, our successes and “failures” and what we learned from each major experience.

We start to understand our Calling.

Yet, Life is lived forward. And it’s easy to be afraid of future future, afraid of going in the “wrong” direction. We know that planning helps prevent mistakes, but when it comes to something as complex and continually evolving as our authentic business, there are too many factors we will never fully understand, for which we cannot plan.

“We plan, and God laughs…” — Yiddish proverb.

We don’t know how we will personally evolve, nor how society’s changes may affect us. This means 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 this playful perspective, let’s 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, a few years ago, I noticed that I was often answering questions for my audience and clients 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 for another audience. They loved it too. And now, my Facebook Marketing Course is what many people know me for. In other words, for them, this is my “niche”. (I don’t care how people define me — as long as they find benefit from my work.)

Another example: 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 my articles on that topic have received lackluster response. 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 without much response. However, for my business, I’d rather focus on other ideas that find a better market response.

“Who’s my ideal audience?”

…can be reframed as:

“Who has recently been responding to my authentic content?”

or…

“What group of people will I try advertising my content to next?”

This is why I preach the message of Authentic Content Marketing: in your content, be yourself (without having to pretend to be like anyone else). Talk about your passions, talk about what has really helped you and others, and then observe who responds to your authenticity.

You can also experiment 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.

Back in 2009 when I started my business, I imagined that my ideal audience looked like me: male in his 30’s, 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, and mostly without business degrees.

That taught me an important lesson: Instead of trying to define my ideal audience, let it become obvious over time.

“What’s should my product/service be?”

…can be reframed as:

“What have I already been helping people with?”

or…

“What will I try helping people with next?”

Oftentimes, we take for granted the skills we use to help others.

What we do skillfully is so “obvious” or “normal” to us, that we don’t appreciate how valuable it is for other people.

It’s like a fish teaching a monkey to swim: it’s no big deal for the fish, so obvious and easy, but it’s a huge revelation for the monkey!

If you observe or journal about the skills you use to help others, you’ll find clues for what your next experimental offering (product/service) might be.

“What’s my marketing message?”

…can be reframed as:

“What headline would I like to test next?”

or…

“What sales/web page shall I draft next?”

It’s intimidating (even for marketing experts like me) to think of a single “marketing message”.

Truthfully, you don’t have just “one” marketing message. Every product/service you offer 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.

Until then, just focus on experimenting in your content, and testing the marketing message of your next offering.

Until it becomes obvious, stay flexible.

As we live forward in time, our information (about ourselves, society, and our audience) gets more and more updated. 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.

Instead, it is more realistic and true (to our understanding of ourselves) to just get clarity about the next thing. Your future direction may change dramatically.

Allow your Calling in life to be understood backward, and simply live forward with playful experimentation, and the curiosity of a scientist or artist.

To make progress now, ask yourself a smaller question:

“What’s the next thing I’d like to try?”

Originally published at www.georgekao.com.

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