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I started my first business back in 1982. I was a passionate and driven 7-year-old from Arkansas, and I just knew I could make a small fortune selling worms to the local fishermen. My plan was to charge less than the bait shop down the road. These fishermen would be so excited, and I’d finally have enough to buy a stable for my My Little Pony collection.

On the morning of my grand opening, I woke up early so I could dig up all the worms I could find. It was hard work digging up so many worms. Turns out those little bastards don’t like to be caught!

I finally got a dozen or so, put them in a jar with some dirt, and hung a sign up on my worm stand. WORMS CHEAP, it read.

I sat. And sat. Aaaand sat. Do you know how many worms I sold?

ZERO.

At the time, I was confused. Why didn’t anyone want my worms? What was I doing wrong?

Looking back now, I realize that my mistake was that I jumped head first into this business idea, with no real idea who my market was, or if there even was a market for worms. I just assumed there was, because the bait shop down the road carried them.

Learning from my previous mistakes

Fortunately my failure didn’t discourage me. It didn’t take long for my next idea to take shape.

It was August. In case you didn’t know, August in Arkansas is f-ing hot. Like fry an egg on the sidewalk hot. Like Bradley Cooper hot.

A new duplex was being built on my street, and I noticed that everyone on the construction crew was all sweaty. I thought, “I bet they’d like some Kool-Aid.” So I walked over and asked a couple guys if they might want some.

The yeses were unanimous. And although some people might argue that it had more to do with the fact that I was a cute kid than the fact that they actually wanted some sugar water with Red No. 10, I beg to differ. They were thirsty and the drinks were cold.

This time, I validated my niche by asking if they’d buy before I wasted my time on something no one wanted.

I made $13.50 selling Kool-Aid that day for a quarter a cup. That’s 54 sales.

In fact, so many of them wanted to buy from me that I ran out of cups. And rather than calling it quits until I got more cups, I struck while the iron was hot.

I ran to my house, grabbed a few glasses from our kitchen and served drinks in those, telling each customer to drink fast so I could reuse the same glass for the next person! To be honest, I didn’t even rinse them between uses, but they didn’t even care!

You see, I wasn’t selling Kool-Aid. I was selling ice-cold relief from the heat.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: Don’t sell products. Sell solutions.

If I had changed my sign for the worms to “FAT, JUICY WORMS… CATCH MORE FISH THAN YOU CAN EAT!” I might have sold more. Because fishermen don’t want worms. They want to catch fish.

So if you’ve got a product, program, or service that you know people need, but they’re not buying… ask yourself if you’re focusing on the product… or the solution.

Business Lessons Recap

  1. Figure out what your customers desperately need
  2. Validate your idea
  3. Deliver the solution to them on a silver platter (or in a paper cup)

Once you nail this business lesson, your audience will happily snatch up anything you’re selling and they won’t care about the price…

…or if it comes in a used glass.

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