CL, my yoga teacher, needs to make a good living. She is a single mom with a three-year-old daughter and no financial help from the father. She is a really good yogi — a master of that complex skill. But that’s not enough to make her business work. To earn the income she needs, she has to master another art: the very specialized art of selling (and reselling) yoga.
This is a point that one of my Jiu Jitsu instructors fails to understand. “Michael,” he says. “You are a black belt in business. I am a black belt in Jiu Jitsu. Show me how to get rich selling videos and CDs of my techniques.”
“I can explain basic business principles to you,” I tell him. “I can even tell you when I think you are making some fundamental mistakes. But I can’t teach you how to sell martial-arts knowledge. It’s not something I’ve done, so I know very little about it.”
“But you know selling,” he says. It’s clear he thinks I’m putting him off.
“I know how to sell a lot of things,” I tell him. “But each thing I know how to sell I had to learn. You have to learn this for yourself.”
It’s true. You can’t avoid the process and the hardship of learning for yourself. By investing your time and money into promotions that are probably going to fail. By modifying your expectations so that when they fail you don’t lose hope. By going to sleep every night and dreaming about new ways to sell your product . . . and waking up every morning with the energy and the commitment to try something new.
I’m making two points here:
1. To convert a hobby, sport, skill, or passion into a thriving, profitable business, you must master two things. First, you must master your hobby, sport, skill, or passion. Second, you must master the art of selling that hobby, sport, skill, or passion.
2. The art of selling is unique to its circumstances. Yes, there are many fundamental selling principles that apply to any kind of selling. But those are not enough to guarantee success in any particular venture. To make a particular business work, you have to discover how to create sales of your particular product or service in your particular market.
In past messages, I’ve talked about how long it takes to master a skill. I’ve suggested 5,000 hours as a fair approximation — and that goes for mastering the skill of selling too. So when you are planning your success and figuring out how much time you need to devote to what activities, don’t lose sight of the many hours you need to spend to learn how to sell your particular product to your particular market.
In CL’s case, she has already mastered the art of yoga. But to sell yoga — whether by selling private instruction, group lessons, or instructional videos and CDs — she must be great not just in yoga itself but also in the pedagogy (see “Word to the Wise,” below) of yoga. It happens that she’s been teaching for a long time and her teaching skills are very good. She will need to learn new things about teaching — and she’ll learn them faster if she realizes that. But her real challenge will be learning how to sell her teaching skills. Here, she is a relative beginner — having thus far put in less than 100 hours to that effort.
I told her what I tell everyone in her situation:
“You must be prepared to work full-time on making your business work.” Full-time to me means about 50 hours a week. For CL to spend 50 hours a work doing business, she’ll have to make some significant sacrifices in terms of how much time she can spend with her daughter. But that’s the reality of her situation. And there’s no point in pretending otherwise. I advised her to create a chart with 1,000 boxes in it. To cross off 100 boxes for the 100 hours she’s already devoted to selling herself — and then to spend all her non-teaching work time (50 hours minus the time she’s actually giving classes) to the 900 additional hours that she has to put into it.
“I can’t tell you the exact combination of local advertising, personal public relations, and networking that will make you successful,” I told CL. “I can only tell you that it will probably be some combination of these three efforts that will create the momentum your business needs. I can tell you, too, that it may take a full year and maybe two before things start rolling your way. Until then, it will be a struggle in which most of the things you try will fail . . . and there will be times when you’ll feel like giving up.
“But if you manage your resources carefully, making sure never to bankrupt yourself by putting too much time and money into any one marketing scheme, you’ll eventually find a way to bring in a good, steady flow of new customers. And once that happens, all the rest of the details will be worked out in an orderly way.”[Ed. Note. Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]