For its whole existence, I’ve been vaguely wanting my business to grow. For a while, it did, but for the most part, it hasn’t. I wrote last post about how I have increasing amounts of motivation to grow it, but motivation towards something isn’t enough to make it happen. You also need to not have other motivations away from it.
My understanding of how motivation & cognition works is that any inner resistance is a sign of something going unaccounted for in making the plan. Sometimes it’s just a feeling of wishing it were easier or simpler, that needs to be honored & welcomed in order for it to release… other times the resistance is carrying meaningful wisdom about myself or the world, and integrating it is necessary to have an adequate plan.
In either case, if the resistance isn’t welcomed, it’s like driving with the handbrake on: constant source of friction which means more energy is required for a worse result.
Months ago, I did a 5 sessions of being coached by friends of mine as part of Coherence Coaching training we were all doing. Mostly fellow Goal-Crafting Intensive coaches. My main target of change with this coaching was to untangle my resistance to growing Complice. I think it loosened a lot of it up but I still have work to do to really integrate it.
In this post, I’m going to share some of the elements I noticed, as part of that integration as well as working with the garage door up and sharing my process of becoming skilled at non-coercive marketing. Coercion is quite relevant to some (but not all!) of the resistance I’ve found so far.
I’m going to do my best to be more in a think-out-loud, summarize-for-my-own-purposes mode here, rather than a mode of presenting it to you. Roughly in chronological order by session, which happens to mostly start by looking at money and end by looking at marketing…
This isn’t one I have very strongly, but it did arise a little bit. There was a sense of I don’t want to have too much money because then people will want my money. (Interestingly, time doesn’t work like this since it’s not so fungible in most cases!) But overall I like being generous and I expect that if I suddenly had a bunch of people trying to get me to contribute to their things, I’d do a good job of figuring out how to manage that. And frankly probably lots of people I know have likely assumed that I have more money than I do and I haven’t received the slightest pressure related to that (although a couple people over the years asking if I’d angel invest, which is the kind of message I’d like to get from friends anyway!)
Overall I feel like I’m broadly pretty stoked about the idea of having more money, especially once I reframed saving as buying more freedom in the future, which made me less worried that having more money would just raise my standard of living and thereby decrease my freedom.
But that’s having money—it turns out I still had resistance to making money.
As far as I could tell, if I imagined Complice’s revenue increasing substantially without me doing anything in particular (eg it gets picked up by a huge blogger or podcaster) then I felt good about that… apparently part of me just wanted to get lucky. The resistance was more to the idea that I would have a good enough grip on the relevant levers that I’d be able to intentionally make the number go up.
I explored that in the second session. I found the very peculiar schema I seemed to be operating by: “if I know a way to make more money, then I have to do it.” Implied here is that it’s some way that I’m open to doing, but yeah. What makes it feel mandatory? I asked myself that question and got a memory of my summers in high school when I was supposed to make money to help my parents pay to send me to boarding school—they could afford to send their kids to a school where we actually had academic peers, but not comfortably. The arrangement, though, was that everything I made from summer jobs had to go to pay for school. How motivated would you be to make more money if you had a 100% tax rate?
Thus I found another schema: It doesn’t matter how much money I make; there will always be enough, and there will never be more than enough. My parents were going to find a way to pay for school one way or another, it seemed, they just wanted my help. And… I wanted to help them, but apparently not in a way that actually plugged my motivation in, in practice. I think it just didn’t feel really. It didn’t feel like it mattered for me to make more money. Maybe it would have helped if I’d had a better picture of my parents’ financial situation? If I’d actually seen the inflows and outflows of the money pile I was contributing too, rather than just having money flow from my employer (or web design clients) directly to my parents and vanish.
All of which gave me a sense that making money isn’t actually about having or using money, it’s just about “contributing”. And I couldn’t consciously choose to not make money, but it seemed overall to be okay to just nebulously not get around to it, or to be apparently trying but to have various gigs fall through or whatever.
Oh huh—in fact, I just noticed while writing this that the summer before grade 12 might actually have been the first time that I was ever trying to market myself as a web designer so that I could make more money. I’d had a few clients before, but they’d all kind of shown up incidentally. So maybe my first association with marketing was in this situation where it didn’t matter since it would just all go to school.
In the third session, we opened with an overt statement combining several of the previous items around paying for school: if I know a way to make money, I would have to do it even though I don‘t (get to) keep it. I started laughing when I said that—laughter is often a sign of spontaneous juxtaposition and realization that a schema is outdated and doesn’t apply to the situation you’ve been unconsciously applying it to. Although in this case there was still deeper to go—I was seeing the absurdity of it as applied to my current situation, but hadn’t fully seen why it had seemed so important at the time.
One aspect of that was apparently a worry about how my sisters would react if I didn’t try to make money, since they’d been working quite a bit to contribute to their school tuition.
This interacted with another construct, that’s much more general—and waaay more common: “if I have to, then I don’t want to.”
We realized that it’s really important for me to be plugged into my own why for making money, not just a general sense that it would be good to do. What does making more money make possible, that I want?
Separate from the money, another point of resistance I’ve had is around the prospect of having more users and customers to handle—an issue that wouldn’t be present if I simply raised my prices and nobody left. This was both in relation to technical concerns around scaling the server, as well as in relation to handling customer support inquiries. I’d already talked about most of these earlier with George, a friend of mine who has been working on some Complice projects over the last year and helping me prototype the self-energizing meta-team.
These are real concerns—especially since I care about Complice actually liberating my time and attention, not just about it making me money—but it seems to me that as long as growth isn’t so fast that it causes some sort of system overwhelm or breakdown, increased money will allow new ways to solve those problems if necessary, including hiring other people to handle aspects of them. And if growth is too fast, we can always raise prices for new customers until it slows down to a manageable rate.
I’m mad at people who are good at marketing, I realized. I feel like they’re winning some sort of game that I can’t win or I can’t even play at because it feels wrong to play at. Some part of me feels like marketing is a zero-sum game, a competitive game for people’s attention and goodwill. I think once again here I’m kind of conceiving of coercive marketing, or the way that advertising dollars compete with each other. And yes, ultimately people only have so much time and attention, but there’s nothing problematic about people spending time looking at what they’re interested in and find useful. The issue comes if I think of my marketing as something other than useful to people right now.
Looking at Tad Hargrave’s Marketing For Hippies resources has been helpful here, as he keeps emphasizing that good marketing is about seeing who resonates with what you’re offering, not trying to convince people of anything. It’s so obvious once stated, but I think I’ve been assuming otherwise. So the puzzle then becomes “how do I put enough of myself out there that people can get a taste and find out if they resonate?”
He talks a lot about offering a “pink spoon“, a metaphor from how many ice cream shops offer free samples so you can figure out what cone to buy (and not buy at all if the ice cream isn’t tasty). I’m realizing that for me a lot of that is going to be writing and videos that help people get a taste of the Complice philosophy. After all, in some sense what I’m selling is an app that is the best answer to “how do I follow a workflow based on this philosophy, on a computer?”
And maybe I could even build a simple free app that would serve as a taster as well, although for customer support reasons I’m wary of that. But the coworking rooms can be used as a guest, and that definitely functions as another pink spoon for the overall system.
Back in January when I had the session that was exploring my anger towards people who are good at marketing, my friend Eric who was coaching me at the time asked, “if you made a bunch of videos and the number [of customers] went up, how would that feel?” I responded, “that feels pretty cool. I’d feel good about that.” Moments later I added, “but if I was trying to make the videos to make the numbers go up, I’d feel bad!”
Let’s check how that sits now—first of all, has it shifted on its own since that session? Second, does it feel different depending on which concept of marketing I orient to?
If I just imagine I’m making videos about Complice and the reason I’m making them is to make the number of customers go up… well, the main thing I imagine is feeling sad because they don’t work. But that’s a separate issue which we’ll get to below. If I imagine I’m making videos to make the numbers go up, and they do… I mean I’m excited that the numbers are going up! How do I feel about the videos? Do I feel like I’m winning at some zero-sum game, and desecrating the commons? (a phrase that showed up in that session). Hmm… if the video felt spammy or salesy in some way that I didn’t like, then kind of. But I mostly don’t want to make videos like that, and the pink spoon concept helps a lot with that. People need to somehow find out about Complice—it’s no good to hand out free ice cream samples in a park where there’s clearly no ice cream cones available for sale. But overall I can just be aiming to create videos that help people have more satisfying experiences of orienting to their days, regardless of what system(s) they use, if any.
So maybe I haven’t been feeling the connection between making videos like that and having the number actually go up. And that’s probably not inaccurate. I’ve made a few videos like that, and as far as I know they haven’t produced much. Maybe it’s partially a matter of quantity. Or relevance—I’ve made some videos that are sort of relevant to intentionality, but not directly. They’re not like… free samplers of the magic you get from using Complice.
I’ve at various points done things that I’ve hoped will bring in new customers or increase the conversion rate of visitors to new users—gone on podcasts, wrote articles, pitched writing to popular sites, rewrote or redesigned the landing page. These have brought in non-zero people overall, but it’s almost nothing. So there’s a kind of learned helplessness around the prospect of being able to grow Complice. Part of that is I didn’t really do anything for an extended period of time, and some of these results are kind of like rolling double sixes on two dice: it’ll absolutely happen if you keep rolling, but probably not the first 3 times.
Part of the challenge though has been that I don’t have good feedback loops on whether my situation is more like a 1/36 chance of a big hit, or a 1/1000 or 1/1M chance. This is incredibly unsatisfying, since ultimately I’m wasting my time with 1-in-a-million shots unless I can somehow take hundreds of thousands of them. So I’ve had a kind of learned helplessness around the whole thing.
This isn’t an outdated emotional schema, it’s sorta just true of how I’ve been approaching things. I have a few ideas for how to improve things there, but to some extent one of my plans—now that growth is a more serious priority not just a vague wish—is just to start doing dozens of attempts, which will start to reveal if what I’m trying isn’t 1/36 odds. And meanwhile maybe some of the attempts will ultimately bear fruit when combined with something else. Eg maybe I write dozens of articles for the site about different facets of the philosophy, and those on their own don’t do much, but then when I turn them into an ebook or an email course or a bunch of tweetstorms or something, they start to get traction. Or maybe I realize that nobody was reading them but that I can buy ads that get people to read them and then those convert to paying customers.
I’ve also been reading a book called Good Strategy / Bad Strategy, which I suspect will help me develop better models for what I’m missing here.
This was slightly more general, just like, wanting people to not think I have money I don’t deserve. And some people just think that people don’t deserve money, or that they don’t deserve money unless they suffered to get it. But I’m mostly not concerned about those. The concerning reason that I wouldn’t deserve it would be because I tricked people out of it by getting them to buy something that’s not actually good for them. Which is not something I’d be doing intentionally, but it relates to…
This is another schema I found. To be honest, there’s straightforwardly some truth to this. When something is awesome enough, word of mouth is sufficient. But Complice has improved majorly as a product in the last 7 years, and I don’t think the word of mouth R value has particularly increased, and to the extent that it has increased, my guess is that it comes in part from improving the articulations of what Complice is doing, such as by adding the Complice philosophy page or the new intentionality, not productivity article. Those writings help people with the word of mouth part by helping them understand how Complice makes a difference for them.
As far as I know, I basically coined the concept of “staleness” as a problem that productivity systems run into when they build up old stuff that is no longer important or relevant and feels aversive because it’s been left not-done for so long. And this has had some success as a meme—definitely Complice users repeat it back to me when I ask them about why they love Complice or why they switched from some more organizey system. So they potentially also use the phrase when talking with friends who they’re telling about Complice. And maybe they’d use it even more if I had a dedicated page for explaining the staleness problem, that they could link to.
All of this is part of marketing, I’m realizing, even if I literally think of it as just improving the product by helping people understand the philosophy so they can use the product better, whether existing users or newcomers who are about to sign up either way. Will those articles also potentially cause some other people to find out about Complice? Also yes.
One new metaphor I’ve been finding for thinking about Complice is something like “increasing surface area”. Creating more opportunities for prospective customers to make contact with something from the extended Complice universe and explore more.
Part of what has discouraged me from working more on growth is how aware I am of various ways in which the product could be improved, and as a one-man company (approximately) I’ve sometimes felt like maybe I need to work on those first. But there are lots of people who love the app as it is, and fewer than 15k who’ve ever tried it, so clearly there’s lots of room for finding and onboarding more customers without major changes to the system.
I’ve covered some of this above, but there’s another angle. There’s actually two kinds of fakeness. One of them I’m not that worried about is the overt cringey fakeness of the used car salesman or the over-the-top charade of a late-night infomercial.
But the other kind of fakeness is much more insidious—it’s when someone has an overt pretense of an intention, but actually they’re motivated by something else, and they’re hiding the other motivation. The classic example is a person being a nice friend to someone when what they actually want is to sleep with them.
Huh, I actually talk about both of these situations in a blog post I wrote in 2016: Selling to friends (and telling crushes you like them). And the solution I found there basically applies: be explicit, direct, clear… and make it about information.
If I’m grasping onto the idea that someone should buy (or even just try) Complice, then whether I’m explicit about that or not, it’ll create a weird pressure. By contrast, if I’m able to see the interaction (or the role of a piece of writing I create) as intended to:
…then there’s not any pressure there for something else to happen than what does happen. Ultimately if nobody wants to buy, maybe I’ve got to figure out a different offering, but on the level of each individual, I’m open to however they respond.
I think there’s a nasty reinforcing feedback loop here though where if I don’t trust that my existing materials have really adequately conveyed what Complice is, then I’m more likely to be like “but wait, you don’t get it!” if someone isn’t interested. Which then makes me more graspy, which makes the communication less open, which makes it more manipulative, which makes it harder for the other person to actually figure out if Complice is good for them, which makes it harder for me to trust that my message has come through clearly.
It might be a weird or anti-helpful metaphor for some people, but for me it feels helpful to reframe marketing in terms of seduction: I know I want to draw people in to using Complice, but I also know that I can’t be attached to that outcome, today or with a given person. Instead I need to dance a creative, open, playful dance, that invites them into wanting what I want while respecting what they want. It takes courage, but it can be done with deep integrity, and I know how to do it.
One of the things that’s been relieving about the coherence-based approach I’ve been taking is that I’ve been increasingly able to allow my resistance to enact its wisdom: if I don’t know how to market in a way that feels right for me, I simply don’t have to do it. Now, there’s a cost to that and I don’t want to ignore the cost—insofar as I want to make more money, I do have to figure this out (or find another plan). But I really don’t fundamentally have to. I’ve found that really tapping this is a huge relief, and allows the resistance to function as a top-level motivation.
What do I mean by “top-level motivation”? I guess I mean something like instead of having “do marketing to grow Complice” as my top aim, and then some resistance is apparently blocking it, I can have “don’t do marketing, just hope to get lucky, so I don’t inadvertently manipulate people or whatever” as my top aim, and then there’s some resistance coming from another part that’s saying “hey, but there’s money to make here!”
Switching roles loosens up the motivations and allows them to see each other more clearly so they can dialogue and ultimately find a win-win. And I feel that happening increasingly.
As I’ve written this all out, I’ve been feeling into the extent to which I’ve integrated all of these schemas or not. It definitely feels like I have somewhat. I also have the sense they haven’t been totally transformed. I’m just going to pause for a moment here and feel into the whole thing—everything I wrote here and my intentions to do more growth stuff.
The first main thing I notice is a sense of feeling like many of the things I’ve named here still represent concerns, but those concerns are now participating in the design process for my marketing strategy, rather than just throwing sand in the gears. So whether that’s about non-coercive vibes or about having better feedback loops so I can tell if what I’m doing is working, those are all important considerations that I’m glad to incorporate.
So. There may be more dimensions of resistance, but I certainly feel ready to move with the current phase I’ve gotten to. I’ve been feeling that already—and in fact have been working on marketing over the last 6 months in a way I hadn’t been before—but it was helpful to review all of these old schemas, both for further integration and to verify that things have in fact shifted. It’s also helped I think that I’ve started imagining in more detail what my future would actually look like with kids, and so that’s reorganized a bunch of things around what it means to make money. And that was probably made easier or more effective by having surfaced all of this already.
If you feel inspired to explore your own resistances to marketing or something else that matters to you, share some thoughts in the comments! Or join our goal-crafting intensive workshops in Dec & Jan and get some hands-on help going through some of these sorts of introspective processes, from me or the other coaches.
Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Complice, a system for improvisationally & creatively staying in touch with what's most important to you, and taking action towards it.
brian » 29 Nov 2022 »
great post 🤗
my own particular blockage is a variation on “making money on purpose is bad” – something along the lines of “if your product/service helps other people make more money, and they do bad things with that money, you’re complicit”
ripe for overthinking
Shane » 6 Dec 2022 »
Excellent post. So many things here resonate. Some other “schemas” that I felt coming up for me as I was reading:
1. No matter what people pay me, I don’t deserve it
2. I say I can help people do things when I can’t do them for myself
Andrew Blevins » 29 Nov 2022 »
definitely noticing in myself a resentment of marketers similar to the “i could never win at that” feeling you describe. very clarifying.
think you might get some mileage out of finishing out the referrals system!