Every now and then, someone will complain to me about not enough people signing up for their event.
Or that they only have 47 registrants on their webinar.
Or only 13 people in their first program.
Recently, a doctor sent me his marketing sequence and wanted me to tell him (for free) how to get 35 more people to his very first day-long retreat next week. Only 9 had signed up so far and that was just embarrassing.
Here’s what I want to tell these people:
I want to tell them that the first time I launched an online program, 12 people paid me.
I also want to share that the first time I did a workshop, about 10 people came.
I want to remind them that my first webinars didn’t have even close to the thousands of participants like they do now.
But when I say these things, people look at me like I’m lying. Their eyes glaze over and they say things like, “Okay. But what should my next email say?”
So instead, I tell them about Jim.
You may not know this, but the first business I built was being a musician, making CD’s, touring and managing my own music career.
I met Jim at my very first show on my very first tour. I’d just been signed by an agent who got me actual paying gigs on college campuses. I was officially a professional musician.
I hit the road, drove two days and arrived on the campus of Jacksonville University an hour before my show time for my first big show.
There was a young woman waiting for me on the steps of the student center. She had a folder and a check. She walked me to the makeshift stage and waited robotically as I did a sound check. She double-checked about the start time and end time. She paid me. And she left. That was the last I saw of her.
After that, I sat in the student center waiting for the throngs to show up. It smelled like stale french fries.
The start time came. And there was exactly one person in the back of the room. The janitor.
I thought of a line I had just heard from The Bhagavad Gita. “Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward.” The author of that line, I decided, had never sat in an empty student center faced with the prospect of playing her tunes for the janitor.
But I took a deep breath. And I got up. I told myself that this janitor was going to get a great show, even if he had to feel embarrassed for this pathetic person on stage.
During my first song, he was pushing a broom across the back of the room. By the time I began my third song, he sat down at one of the tables in the front of the room. Since he was my only audience, I started talking with him between songs.
His name was Jim. Jim was from Jacksonville his whole life. He worked odd jobs all over campus. I told him this was my first show on my first tour. That made him happy. He asked for a Fleetwood Mac song. I played it.
Jim did not seem embarrassed that there was no audience. So I kept playing, and he kept listening. When my show ended, exactly no one else had joined us. Jim bought my CD.
So, here’s the thing.
We think that businesses and careers are all about the one moment. The event with hundreds of people. The podcast that’ll make us famous. The big release that everyone raves about.
I went on to make 7 CD’s and a DVD that won a big award. I shared stages with stars like John Mayer, Nanci Griffith, the Beach Boys and Los Lobos. Two dance companies choreographed ballets to my music and took me on the road with them.
But no single event made me successful. Success, I learned, was showing up fully again and again, giving my heart and soul, learning, marketing and doing better each time.
When hardly anyone comes to your thing, whatever your thing is…my advice is the same. Get better at marketing. And then give the ones who show up the very best you have. You don’t have to fake it. But you do have to be there, talk to them and teach them as if they are the most important people in the world. Because they are.
And you never know how your energy and presence will ripple out into their lives and then back into yours.
Honestly, I didn’t think about Jim after that show…
…until a year or so later when I went back to Jacksonville for a CD release show at a coffeehouse.
Jim was there. He brought six people with him. He introduced me to each one of them, and we joked about the time he was the only one in my audience. His friends all bought both my CD’s.
After that, every time I played in Jacksonville, Jim was there with a new group of people who all bought CD’s.
Once he even came to another city and waited with his friends in a line of people to have me sign his CD. With a flourish, he told everyone around us about that night when it was just me and him. “Now look,” he smiled and let his hands sweep across the theatre lobby.
So I tell Jim’s story.
Because yes, it sucks when you’re building your business. It always seems to take slower than the internet gurus say it will. And even when you do have a big night or the best sales ever or a jillion comments – you still have to get back to work and keep doing your thing.
Whether your business is coaching, design, real estate, speaking, training, or writing, you won’t always get the numbers you want. Your ego will say bad things to you. Your ego will say, “Why should I even bother?”
My short answer to that question is something that my own puffy, grandiose, easily bruised ego had to learn over my years as a touring musician:
Keep doing your thing. Because no one is a janitor. And everyone is Jim.
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