Are you thinking of starting or quiting something in 2024? If so, this is the perfect story of creativity, belief, resilience, and endurance.
As I use these days between Christmas and January to wonder when the bin men will come, and what day of the week it is, I have also been reflecting on my favourite episodes of The Six Sells Podcast.
The episode with John Kearon from System 1 is right up there, for so many reasons. John and I hit it off immediately, which led to a wonderfully long and inspiring lunch afterwards, but the conversation itself is a story of creativity, belief, resilience, and endurance. It should be both an inspiration, and a cautionary tale for anybody who has, or is thinking of starting something new.
John told me about a talk he gave to a group of young business students at Disneyland Paris. When three quarters of the audience raised their hands when asked if they wanted to start their own business one day, John told them a story which he describes as 'a love letter to failure'. John explained that to do anything new or original you will fail, so you better get comfortable with the feeling of failing. We talked about each failure being a footstep forwards towards eventual success, or at least that is what is hoped.
John revealed to that audience of future entrepreneurs that his current business had been open for 12 months. At the time of speaking to them, he had not managed to sign a single client. John talked about living hand-to-mouth, and doing little consulting jobs here and there to 'keep the wolves from the door' while he continued to work on his business.
12 months is a very long time to try and launch something new, without winning a single client. Looking back, I know we were lucky with Six Sells, because we found a few clients early on that believed in us, and our unique new offer. Had I gone 12 months with no clients, I would have almost certainly concluded that this business was not going to work, and done something else.
John didn't throw in the towel though. He kept on, and after 18 months, still no clients. After 21 months, still no clients. In fact it was on month 22, after 21 consecutive months without signing a single client that he signed his first client. That first client was Nike, and the business has gone from strength to strength.
Are you struck by the same thoughts that I was? What if John had given up earlier? Nobody could have blamed him, because when the market aren't buying, and you are struggling to make ends meet, the pressure is huge.
Another thought that has stayed with me since this conversation is how many businesses give up too early?
Behavioural science tells us that two powerful motivators of human decision making are : What did I do last time? And, and what is everyone else doing? With something new and unique, neither of these powerful heuristics apply, so it takes time. Six Sells is 5 years old, and I would say that because our approach was new, and unique in our industry, it has taken all of those 5 years to get to the point where we are starting to get real traction. When the early iteration of System 1 was new, the same applied. We haven't done this before, and nobody else is doing it.
If you are launching something that is familiar, and a recognised service then it is easier, because people already ‘sort of’ understand it, and can picture who in their organisation should use it and which budget it would come out of. When something is completely new and unique, it takes time for familiarity, and therefore trust, and the confidence to work with you to build.
I plan to get John back on the podcast again in 2024, and want to really dig deeper on how we decide if we should persevere with a project, or if it is time to call it a day.
I can't stop thinking about the number of entrepreneurs who may have given up too early.
I hope you enjoy this episode - if you do, I would be grateful if you would follow The Six Sells Podcast on Spotify, and give us the star rating you feel we deserve.
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Six Sells is a B2B communications agency.
The two directors, Karen and Mike Nicholson, have a combined 60 years experience in media, advertising, publishing and consulting businesses, and in sales, business development and marketing roles.
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