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My Rules For Selling Authentically (Even When You’re Terrified)

Wandering Aimfully Through Selling

My Rules For Selling Authentically (Even When You’re Terrified)

Caroline ZookCaroline Zook Caroline ZookCaroline Zook

Written by

Caroline Zook

When Jason and I decided to combine forces and offer all of our courses and products under one big “BuyOurFuture” launch earlier in 2017, that sales process required me to do more “promoting” than I have ever done in my career as a business owner.

I’ll admit, even three years into my business, that process was not entirely comfortable to me. There were still plenty of moments before I hit send on a sales email or posted an announcement to social media when I thought to myself: Is this too much? Am I being too “salesy”? (Whatever that means.)

My guess is you’ve been there too with a product or service you’ve tried to sell. Maybe it felt weird. Maybe it STILL feels weird.

Well this week I wanted to share with you how I’ve learned to push past those fears and sell in a way that feels authentic to who I am and in a way that feels aligned with Made Vibrant as a brand.

A few reasons why selling feels icky sometimes.

1 | It requires vulnerability.

At its core, selling is an ASK. It’s going out on a limb. It’s putting yourself in a position of potential rejection, and the truth is that we’re hard-wired to avoid rejection. My bet is, if you’re afraid to sell something you’ve made or promote it more, the #1 thing holding you back is this feeling of vulnerability.

You’re worried someone will judge you for trying, or that someone will call you a “sellout,” or maybe you’re worried no one will buy so deep down you’d rather protect your ego by not really trying to promote at all.

I’m certainly not immune to this. I told Jason when he came to me with the idea of combining forces for BuyOurFuture that I didn’t think anyone from the Made Vibrant audience would buy. In fact, I told him I felt incredibly uncomfortable making a $2,000 ask to my audience, especially when my products normally range from $20 to $400.

Where was all this self-doubt coming from? The truth is, I was afraid. Afraid of putting myself out there and being rejected. Using the rules I outline in this article below, I was able to push past that fear, and boy am I glad I did because the Made Vibrant crew actually brought in 25% of our BOF sales (THANK YOU for that, by the way.) 35% of sales were attributed to Jason’s audience, 35% attributed to sources outside our audiences, and 5% were attributed to both of us. That outcome just goes to show you that challenging our assumptions about ourselves and risking that vulnerability can actually pay off.

2 | We’ve experienced bad selling.

We’ve all had that awful feeling when someone is making a “hard sell” to us in a situation that feels unwelcomed. Maybe it’s a sleazy car salesman trying to “close the deal” when you’re only browsing or one of those mall kiosk people chasing you down to rub “life-changing” lotion on the back of your hand or even an internet marketer pulling the old bait and switch on a webinar that they’ve insisted is information only. Ew, right? Those feelings usually feel extremely dissonant to us and conjure up feelings of dishonesty and unease.

That’s why when it comes to selling ourselves, we’re acutely aware of NOT creating those feelings for other people. As sensitive humans interested in living authentically, we’ll do anything to avoid being lumped in with those kind of promoters in the world, the pushy ones, the chasers, the bait-and-switchers.

3 | Persuasion can feel inauthentic.

It would be fantastic if we all made our amazing products and the amazing-ness was enough for people to find them, buy them, and love them. But, unfortunately, in this attention-fragmented world, that’s just not the case.

There are SO many messages people are getting every day, and in order to make a purchasing decision, sometimes they need a bit of convincing.

When I said that word convincing just then, did it make your gut wince a bit?

My guess is it did because you don’t want to “convince anyone of anything.” Am I right? I know this because that’s exactly how I felt too. Until I realized that even the most eager customers want some level convincing.

Heck, even I, headed to Madewell to purchase a replacement pair of my FAVORITE black skinny jeans (because my other ones that I wear every single day wore a hole right in the crotch ), even I want a little convincing while I’m in that darn store. And I drove to the mall with the intention of buying! Even in that scenario, a sales associate telling me that those are her favorite pair too or that the wash looks great on me — those are sales messages I welcome because I want to WANT to buy those jeans. Know what I mean?

The point is: People want to feel good about the money they spend and the purchases they make. So persuasion doesn’t have to mean manipulation; it can simply mean offering up as much honest information as you can about your product/service and its benefits so that the person purchasing feels great about spending their hard-earned money on your stuff.

My 5 rules for selling authentically

So by now you might be thinking… yeah, yeah… I already KNOW why I hate the idea of selling, but what the heck do I do about it?! Great question.

Fresh off of the BuyOurFuture launch window, a time when I’ve done more “selling” than any other project in my life, I thought I’d offer up my personal five rules for selling authentically. These are the ways that I’ve developed over the years to overcome some of the hangups listed above, while still feeling true to who I am in the process.

1 | Give value before you make an ask.

This should be Online Business 101 stuff here, but it begs repeating. For any of you out there who haven’t come across this basic tenant of digital marketing, here’s the first foundational key of building an audience that trusts you enough to pay for your products or services (especially as an infopreneur or freelancer) — GIVE before you ask to take.

In business as it is in friendships, it’s about trust. Every time you deliver value to someone without asking them for anything in return, you’re making deposits in a trust bank. You’re showing them that your primary focus is not to squeeze every last cent out of them, it’s primarily to HELP and secondarily to earn your living.

Now, the downside of this giving model is that in a world where we have free YouTube tutorials and free blog posts and free email courses and free ebooks… the reality is that there will be an expectation among certain followers that they can get everything from you for free. These people might be especially enraged when, after weeks and weeks of, say, helpful Mondaymorning emails and free workshops, you release something with a price tag on it.

That’s okay. That’s the cost of doing business, and you can’t worry about a small faction of your audience that has no intention of helping you support yourself.

That group of people, however, is different from the group who may never buy from you but who love and appreciate every ounce of free value that you offer. In order to make this give-then-ask approach feel sincere and not like a transactional way to guilt people into buying from me, I’ve mentally made the decision that if someone stays on my email list for the entire life of my business, signs up for every free workshop and downloads every free worksheet, and never buys a single thing — the genuine truth is that I care about that person as a member of Made Vibrant too. I make that decision in my mind because then delivering value does not become about trying to create some sort of power dynamic where you expect something in return.

Finally, notice I said give before you ask, not “give before you take.” In order for selling to feel authentic, you have to remember that it’s an ask, not a demand. Framing it that way in your head will help you write language that separates you from the mall kiosk salesmen that you’re trying to so hard to distance yourself from.

2 | Think permission, not interruption.

Now let’s talk about the context under which you’re promoting yourself or selling a product.

In those examples I listed of times you and I have been sold to when it felt icky, it’s not necessarily because of the selling exclusively (hello, we humans like to BUY stuff in case you haven’t noticed.) It was likely the context under which you were being sold that made you feel uneasy. It was likely in a scenario where you were being interrupted. You never raised your hand or provided permission for that person to peddle their wares to you, so it probably felt especially abrupt to be pulled out of your current objective and state of mind to listen to a sales pitch.

Instead of providing an interruption for people, try providing an invitation for permission. Seth Godin talks about this a lot, but it goes back to what we discussed in the last point: trust.

Someone could offer you permission in the form of signing up for your newsletter, or making a previous purchase from you, or clicking through an email or even following you on social media. They have said, “Hey, I’m interested in what you have to say,” therefore you’re no longer interrupting them without prior context.

(This is why private Facebook messages from your college friends trying to sell you Rodan + Fields or [insert other product here] feel weird to you. You haven’t given permission to be sold to so it feels out of context.)

3 | Build an amazing product and price it fairly. (Note: this doesn’t necessarily mean “price it cheaply.”)

The first two points are helpful basics for selling authentically, but this point is the ultimate key to not feeling gross when you’re promoting: Make sure the thing you’re promoting is GREAT.

It becomes SO much easier to sell to your audience when you believe sincerely in the benefit that your product or service offers. When you focus on that and re-frame selling as a way to help improve the lives of people with your kick-ass product, then it becomes a HECK of a lot easier.

Think of it this way: someone, somewhere is desperately looking for the awesome thing you’re offering. (If they’re not, you may want to rethink your product or service concept.) How happy will they be if they’re able to find your product? But, that’s not going to happen if you don’t tell anyone it exists.

4 | Remember that the alternative to making money is NOT making money.

AKA it’s perfectly okay to not want to be broke. There’s no shame in the earning-a-living game.

Whenever I feel uneasy or scared about putting myself out there and promoting my projects, I remind myself WHY I’m doing it in the first place. Not only do I believe in the things I create and the value they offer, but I have no problem admitting the life I want for myself includes being my own boss. I can’t maintain that life if I don’t earn money, so when it comes time to launch something or promote it, I remind myself of the two choices I have: 1) avoid the fear of selling but risk not making any money OR 2) put myself out there so I can keep doing this work that I love.

We don’t get mad when the plumber sends us the bill for fixing the toilet. Not if it’s fairly priced and he did a good job. That’s because we understand he’s using his skills to support his lifestyle and his family. So, remember, you’re doing the same.

5 | Talk like a human.

Mostly I’ve found that what makes selling easier is by simply talking like a REAL person, a person who has a thing they sincerely believe can help another person.

It’s about being honest, and it’s about being earnest.

If I lead with transparency and sincerity, ultimately I feel  people can sense that. And if my product isn’t a match for what they need, at least they know I’m not trying to swindle them into something.

Bonus: Don’t define yourself by the numbers

Here’s the last caveat that I’ll add to all of this: Remember that you are MORE than your sales. Or your bank account. Or your social media followers.

Sometimes you’re going to create things that no one buys and you’re going to wonder WHY. You’re going to feel like you went out on a limb, you overcame all the fears I listed out above, and you tried to sell in a way that felt true to you. And YET — you’re still going to feel like you did something wrong.

Please don’t let that feeling stop you. Take a look at your plan and view it as an experiment. What can you change? Can you provide more value or context up front to earn trust before you make the ask? Can you tweak your product so it’s even more amazing and a no-brainer? Can you adjust the language in your sales pitch to be more honest and authentic to who you are?

Selling is not easy, but it does get more comfortable the more that you do it. You gain confidence every time you shimmy out on that limb and you make the ask.

People can’t buy what they don’t know about, and people WON’T buy what they don’t care about.

“People can’t buy what they don’t know about, and people WON’T buy what they don’t care about.”

Do it in a way that feels honest and contextually relevant. Lead with value. Communicate in a way that sounds like YOU.

THAT is how you earn a living while making the world a better place with your creative gifts. And there’s certainly no shame in that.

My Rules For Selling Authentically (Even When You’re Terrified)

(Big Fat Takeaway)


This article written by

Caroline Zook

She/Her | Artist, designer + writer passionate about helping soulful creatives grow into their brightest selves. Lover of bright colors + even brighter people! One half of the crazy duo running these parts!

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