📖 Book Chapter - Selling the Product of You (Issue #30)
Treating your career like a business
This is a draft of Chapter 19 of the book I’m writing, Building the Invincible You. In it, I share a framework and strategies for:
Amplifying your power in your work and life.
Regaining your freedom to spend more of your time the way you wish you could.
Building the future you want for yourself and your loved ones.
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In Chapter 8, I talked about two meta-level strategies that will help you be successful in your professional life:
Treat your career like a business.
View yourself as a product.
When you apply a business model to your career, you think more objectively about revenue streams, expenses, competition, marketing, and selling. If you’re self-employed, this won’t be a stretch. You’ve already focused your professional career on making your business successful.
However, I know most people reading this book are not self-employed. You work for an employer of some sort. But, you can also benefit from being more objective when you view yourself as the “product” your business (i.e., your career) sells to employers.
This chapter is most useful for employees and business owners who sell their services because what you are ultimately selling is you and what you can do for the customer. There are two sides to the selling equation mediated by the transaction of offering a service and receiving compensation in return.
You are on the selling side and essentially offering yourself to a buyer. You need to be clear about the value of that product.
The customer or employer is on the buying side, looking for a solution to their problems. They are seeking a product that is the answer to their wants and needs.
So, let’s start with this “product” you plan on offering.
The Product of You
I hope you’re not offended by the concept of being a product. It has helped me, and others, take a bit of the pain out of working and operating in the business world. When you take things personally, you sometimes get your feelings hurt when business decisions impact you. For example, you think things like this:
I didn’t get a raise because my boss hates me and likes someone else more.
I deserve a promotion because I’ve been in the company longer than my colleague.
That employer should have made me a better offer because I really need the money.
My company put me on a layoff list, and I lost my job. Now I’ve lost my confidence and feel worthless.
A prospective client didn’t hire me. I guess they didn’t like me.
Yes, sometimes other people let feelings and personal opinions influence how they behave in the business world. But that doesn’t mean you do that, too. And, there are many times you think things were personal, but they absolutely were not.
Business is business.
I know there are times I had to lay people off that were perfectly competent and nice. It wasn’t personal. A change in corporate strategy can sometimes eliminate hundreds or thousands of jobs. We’ve seen a lot of that over the past few years.
I also know there were times I hired one candidate instead of another. That’s how it works. Even if all the candidates are great people, very talented, and could do the job well, you still have to pick one person to hire. The slightest variable can influence that business decision (e.g., one candidate recently worked on a product similar to the one your company offers).
Getting hired by an employer or a customer is sales, whether you like it or not. And, the sales process requires having a great product to offer prospective customers. No one is going to hire you just because you want them to. No customer is going to pay you simply because you need money.
You must have a great product, and you must be able to show how great that product is. If you aren’t comfortable talking about it, how do you expect people to know about it? They can’t read your mind.
If you’re an employee, there is a quick way to start defining the product of you. Use your current job description and turn it into a product description.
What services do you provide?
What do you do at your job every day and every week?
What tasks are you good at performing?
What problems do you solve for your employer?
How do you help the business succeed?
If your employer is hiring more people to do what you do (e.g., more designers, accountants, engineers, salespeople, writers, etc.), you may find a literal job description for what you do. The responsibilities and qualifications have much of the information you need.
Another useful approach is to think about what you would require from a consultant or contractor the company would hire to do exactly what you do. How would you define the requirements for that gig? Capture all the details. If you’re a business owner who offers your services to clients, I bet you’ve already completed this exercise to create your sales and marketing material and web pages.
Make sure you capture the parts of your job that go beyond the job description. I’m sure you’re doing all kinds of work that don’t fit into the few bullets your employer put in the job requirements. As you make this long list, you'll soon discover this “product of you” is even more valuable than you—or your employer—think. Like many people, you’re probably underpaid for everything you make possible at work.
It’s also important to break everything down into the fundamental building blocks of what you do. A high-level description rarely captures the full value of what you deliver. For example, I work with many software designers. So, some will include a bullet on their resume that states, “Designing engaging and usable mobile applications.” Wow, do you know how many subtasks fall into that simple sentence? There are hundreds of valuable tasks and activities buried under it. Pull them all out and list them!
What’s exciting about these "building blocks" is you get to assemble them in all new ways to create variations of the product of you. For example, I reassembled the skills I used as a corporate manager and leader to help me define the product that I offer as a leadership and career coach with my business. I’m sure the same is true for you. Intelligent, talented people can learn almost anything, do almost anything, and succeed at nearly anything they put their minds to achieving.
You are more flexible and adaptable than you think. Once you recognize this, a world of professional possibilities opens up to you. You’ll be able to create numerous strategies that tap into different versions of the product of you that can help you achieve your goals and reach your life vision.
So, even though you could define your product to be identical to the job you currently perform (e.g., you’re an accountant, so you define an “accounting product”), maybe you want to tweak things a little or take your professional future in a new direction. Now is the time to emphasize more of the product features you love doing, are great at doing, and want to keep doing in the future. And, you can remove or de-emphasize stuff you just don’t want to do anymore.
If you’re an employee, I have some bad news. Your boss is rarely going to do this exercise for you. They want you to keep doing what you’ve been doing because that’s the work that needs to be done. In most cases—unless you have a great boss—they will not proactively look for ways to remove work activities you don’t enjoy doing. You must look out for yourself and define the future career you want.
If you’re a business owner, you sometimes feel trapped in a cycle of continuing to offer the services you’ve always offered. This is especially true if you have happy customers who want to keep paying you for those services. But, if you’re no longer enjoying that kind of work, no one else is going to fix the problem for you. This exercise is how you define what you’d prefer to be doing and start guiding your business in that new direction, slowly but surely.
I was just talking about this with a member of my Career Accelerator last night. They mentioned they had been working on a web design project and discovered they had lost their interest in doing more web design in the future. We said, “Then, don’t! Take your services in a new direction that focuses on the strategic work you prefer to do.”
Before moving on to the buying side of the sales equation, take the time to document some details about the product of you. Yes, I’m intentionally using language to make this feel more objective and less personal. Remember, businesses make decisions that are good for the business.
What does your product do (e.g., what kind of work do you do)?
What is your product great at doing (e.g., you have demonstrated talent, skills, knowledge, and experience)?
What do you wish your product was doing (e.g., the kinds of work you’d prefer to do)?
What do you wish your product did not do (e.g., the kinds of work you want to stop doing)?
Why is your product better at doing this than other products (e.g., why someone should hire you instead of someone else)?
What can you offer that your competitors do not (e.g., what makes you unique)?
What problem does your product solve (e.g., what job does your potential customer need done)?
How are customers solving this problem now (e.g., using other employees or contractors, or maybe they aren’t solving it all now)?
What “pain” does your product eliminate (i.e., another way to think about the problem)?
Why would your approach be different, better, and appreciated by potential customers?
This is your chance to redefine the product of you to be what you wish it could be. You don’t need to settle for a professional life that makes you stressed and unhappy.
Buying side of the equation
The best salespeople know it’s all about the customer. If you don’t understand your customer, who they are, what they want, what they need, and how they’re feeling, you will struggle with selling yourself and your services.
Your goal is to draw the connection between your product and what the customer needs. You need to understand how they think about the problem, how they describe it, and what they think they are seeking as a solution.
If you say you offer X, but they think they need Y, they will not buy your product (i.e., hire you).
Let me be clear about something. You do not need to be—nor can you be—all things to all customers. Some customers will think you’re amazing and the answer to all their problems. Some will be completely wrong for you. They won’t appreciate you, what you do, or treat you well.
So, be very clear with your customer definition. You don’t want to waste your time trying to sell yourself to the wrong employer or client. Heck, you may even successfully close a deal and sell your product (i.e., yourself) to someone, only to discover later that working for and with them makes you absolutely miserable.
Choose your buyer wisely!
Successful selling is about helping people, not pushing something they don’t want or need. Ugh, I spend too much time every day scrolling through spammy sales messages from people who haven’t bothered doing their homework and learning more about who I am and what I might need.
Selling doesn’t have to be some mysterious, uncomfortable, or spammy process. It’s simply a conversation between two people. One person has a problem. The other person has the solution to that problem. But, they need to talk with each other to discover that potential match.
Before moving on to the selling side of the equation, take a moment to document some details about your ideal customer or employer. If you’re a business owner, I hope you’ve already worked on this. I recently talked about this very exercise with my Invincible Solopreneur subscribers.
If you’re an employee, I want you to view a potential employer as a prospective buyer of the product of you. I spend a lot of time working through an “ideal employer exercise” with my career clients. You’ll crush your future job interviews if you understand employers more deeply, the problems they are facing, and the problems they need you to solve for them.
Who is the customer that is facing the problem your product solves (e.g., type of company, size of the company, industry, the individual making the buying decision, etc.)?
How do they describe this problem in their own words (i.e., pay special attention to the language they use)?
What do they think they want, which might be different from what they really need (e.g., market to their want, but solve their problem with what they need)?
Who is suffering the most (i.e., most eager to hire you, most willing to pay you)?
When you think about these people, who do you care about the most (e.g., specific types of people, companies, etc.)?
Who do you not want to help (e.g., maybe you don’t enjoy working for large corporations)?
Who do you not want to work with (e.g., rude, demanding people)?
Who do you think would benefit the most from your product or service (e.g., small tech startups, brick-and-mortar retailers)?
Who do you most want to work with and help (e.g., small business owners vs. billionaires)?
Why do you care so much about helping them (e.g., maybe your parent was a small business owner)?
Why are these people not being helped by your competitors (e.g., your competitors are focused on bigger fish)?
What can you offer these people that your competitors do not (e.g., maybe you have a unique background experience)?
Why would your approach be different, better, and appreciated by these people (e.g., you’re a different type of leader, consultant, or partner)?
Of the people you most want to work with and help, who can most afford your product or service (i.e., you still need to make money and pay your bills)?
Where can you best reach the people who need your solution the most and are willing to pay for it to solve their problems (e.g., networking, referrals, advertising, social media, LinkedIn)?
The more you understand your potential buyer, ideal customer, and ideal employer, the better you can position yourself to be the solution to their problems. So, let’s dive into how you can best sell yourself to get the outcome you desire (e.g., being hired, or selling your services).
Selling side of the equation
No offense to all the traditional salespeople out there, but I hate the way you’ve been trained to sell. I run into this almost every day in my email, on social media, and in my LinkedIn inbox.
Unwanted cold emails, messages, texts, and calls.
Aggressive tactics trying to force me to make a decision too quickly.
Mocking my online performance and promising to be my savior.
Making inflated, fake promises about what they can do for me.
Creating artificial deadlines by which I need to buy, or I will lose out.
Canned scripts that feel so forced and artificial.
Not really understanding me and my needs, so trying to sell me things I don’t want at all.
Sounding exactly like every other pushy, shallow salesperson out there.
I used to be a software designer. Then, I became a Design manager and leader, and later I became a Product executive. You’ll notice I never mentioned the words salesperson or sales. I had no real experience with sales, other than joining salespeople on customer calls to demo software and prototypes I had created.
So, when I launched my tech startup, I knew I should learn more about sales. I took some courses, joined a business community, and started learning more about sales strategies, tactics, and methods. One of the recommendations was to follow a specific type of script during discovery calls with potential customers.
Some of the suggestions were quite useful. Ask lots of questions, listen to what the other person is saying, and explain how you can help if they sign up. The part I hated was the aggressive sales pitch at the end. You were supposed to tell the prospective customer that your offer was only available for a limited time, the great deal you were going to give them would disappear later, and they only had a few minutes, hours, or days to decide.
Yuck. It just didn’t fit my personality. I hated pushing people into buying something when they weren’t sure they wanted it yet. I didn’t like being a sales bully.
I threw that script away and started doing something completely new that was aligned with my personality and values. It’s really quite simple:
I help people as much as I possibly can during their first free call with me.
That’s it. I just help people. I have a short questionnaire that folks complete when they schedule time with me. It helps me prepare for our call so I can be as helpful as possible. I want to know who they are, the problems they are facing, and how they think I can help. Then, in our live call, I do my best to address their problems, give them recommendations, offer potential solutions, and describe exercises they can try on their own to solve their own problems—for free.
Do you know what I don’t do? I don’t make a pitch, and I don’t try to sell them anything. I don’t even bring up my coaching services at all.
Do you know what happens 98% of the time? People proactively ask me how they can keep working with me. They ask me for more help.
So, I write up a short proposal and send it to them after the call. Again, no pressure. They can review the proposal and get back to me with questions. I may follow up by email a few days later to see if they have questions. If they don’t respond, I drop it. I don’t push them to hire me. But, if they are ready and interested, we start working together.
It’s that simple. Selling is helping people. You’re not begging someone to hire you, pay you, or buy your stuff. You are helping people. And, when you demonstrate that you’re not a jerk and you really can help them, they want more from you.
If you’re an employee trying to get hired by a potential employer, get in the driver’s seat and treat the interview process the same way. That potential employer has a problem they’re trying to hire someone to solve. Ask questions, suggest ways to help, share your brilliant ideas, and give them a taste of how amazing you are. Let them see how great life will be if they hire you.
Great job interviews are conversations, not one-way interrogation sessions. You should be asking interviewers as many questions as they are asking you, right? They’re trying to decide if they want to hire you, but you are trying to decide if you even want to work for that employer. Treat it like a 50-50 conversation and retain your power! If you’re building the invincible version of yourself, this will feel more and more natural for you.
Let me leave you with some final points that will help you get better at selling yourself or your services.
Create a short elevator pitch
Prepare a few sentences that describe who you are, what you do, who you do it for, how you do it, and why you’re unique and special. Refine and rehearse your pitch until you can say it in the most natural and confident manner possible.
Always be selling
If you’re a business owner, almost everything you do online (and maybe even in person), is a selling opportunity. If you follow my sales strategy, it won’t feel smarmy, sleazy, or spammy. You are simply helping people. Always.
Always be looking
If you’re an employee, you should always be looking for your next opportunity. You should always be interviewing, even if it’s on simmer mode. Always. I don’t care how happy you are with your current job. It doesn’t hurt to look around, keep your network fresh, and know what’s out there. You never have to say yes to a job offer, but you never know what you might discover. The sad truth is that people who stay in jobs too long limit their lifetime earning potential. My biggest promotions and compensation bumps came with new jobs.
Job interviews are sales calls
You’ll be more successful in your job interviews when you treat them like a sales call with a potential customer. You are selling the product of you to a prospective buyer. It’s not personal: it’s business. If they aren’t buying what you’re selling, move on and try again.
Solopreneurship is the ultimate freedom
If you’re an employee, you should know that you can sell the product of you directly to customers as a solopreneur or entrepreneur. While it’s not true in 100% of the professions out there, you can often cut out the middleman (i.e., an employer), sell direct to buyers, and make more money. Most people are surprised and delighted to see how much more they make when they control the selling process. Recently, one person I follow on Twitter was sharing how their income now as an entrepreneur is 3x higher than it was as an employee being underpaid by some company.
Sales isn’t a dirty word
I hope you can see that if you use my model, you can sell without “feeling dirty.” You have a great product that can really help people. You want to help them, and you’re not trying to push some BS service on them. Offer value, solve problems, and people will want more of what you have. It can really be that easy.
I know it may feel strange at first, but treating your career like a business is an incredibly powerful model. It opens up a whole new world of leveraging successful business practices to help you achieve what you want most for your career.
Similarly, viewing yourself as a product may feel weird at first. But, it does remind you that business is business, and decisions shouldn’t be made for personal reasons. Position yourself as the best solution for someone’s problems, and you will always be in demand.
You will become an opportunity magnet for the rest of your professional life.
A business that sells goods is seeking customers who will see their products as the answer to their wants and needs.
With a services business, you are selling yourself to a buyer (i.e., what you can do for them).
Employees are also selling themselves to buyers — otherwise known as potential employers.
Thinking of yourself as a product that the business of your career sells helps you view transactions more objectively (e.g., being hired, promoted, etc.).
A quick way to define the product of you is to transform your current job description into a product or service description.
Break down your work activities into fundamental building blocks that can be assembled in all new ways to create new and interesting variations of the product of you.
The most successful salespeople start with selecting, defining, and understanding their most valuable customers.
The best sales strategy is to have a conversation with your target customers and really try to help them (i.e., avoid aggressive and unpleasant tactics).
I’m looking forward to sharing more of my book with you this year! Become a subscriber today to keep reading the draft chapters as I complete them.
Hi, I’m Larry Cornett, a Personal Coach who can work with you to optimize your career, life, or business. My mission is to help you take complete control of your life so you can become a more “Invincible You.” I currently live in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with my wife and our Great Dane. We went for our first trail run of the year last weekend. The lake was gorgeous!