This is What Facebook Did to My Business

One of my best friends back home recently said, “Looks like business is great.”

I asked him why he would say that. “Oh I saw on Facebook.”

My business hasn’t been great, which is why his comment surprised me. It seems like every endeavor I’ve pursued recently has fallen short. The 5% that went well is what he saw, which is a very poor representation of what “success” or “killing it” looks like.

Here are some of the “low-lights” of my business from the past year. The things no one saw or heard about:

– I failed to sell my course to 30 warm leads in a row. Do you know how much it sucks to have someone tell you about their biggest problem for an hour, begging for the exact solution you created for them… and they still turn you down? Now, go experience that frustration for 30 hours.

– I spent two months creating a course that I threw away. My team and I tried to edit the six hours of content I’d created into a cohesive video course, and when we finished, I freaked out. It was a complete mess. I knew people would hate it, so I threw out everything (and probably really pissed off the one guy who worked super hard on making it as usable as possible). I started over from scratch, which meant another month of work.

– I spent at least four months last year pitching my services to universities, and got exactly ZERO paying clients. When I delivered the opening keynote at a big student government conference, several dozen people in the audience wrote down they wanted to talk to me and bring me to their school. Keep in mind that all of these people were BUYERS. They had the power to hire me. Many even said they would to my face. I followed up with over three dozen of them, spoke to many of them on the phone, had countless conversations… and none of it lead to paid work. (I had some great things happen, though, like getting to spend 4 free days in Guadalajara speaking with awesome people).

– I pitched over two dozen universities that I could reduce their dropout rates. This is one of the biggest costs for large universities — they lose millions of dollars a year because of mental health issues. Most of the dropouts are due to anxiety and depression, which students almost never seek help for. Solution: Give students a free book with simple solutions to ease anxiety, along with information about the campus’ health services. I write and publish the book, students get a useful gift, and the school lowers the dropout rate and saves a bunch of money. Win, win, win. Not one university seriously entertained this, or wanted to push the conversation forward. I still think this is a really good idea, but no one seems to agree that it’s worth testing.

– I spoke at several military bases and a TEDx event. These were all fun, but it was 100% volunteer work. Facebook photos might lead you to believe I’m killing it in speaking. All I’ve really learned is that a speaking business is a lot more challenging than I thought, and trying to sell services to volunteer college students and unenthused soldiers is not an easy way to make a living.

These are just some of the things that have made my “successful business” hard. Hindsight is 20-20, so you might be thinking all of these things:

– “Why not hire a sales team!”

– “Why not go the corporate route!”

– “Why not raise money to do your ideas well!”

I agree with all of those things, which is why I DID THEM. Guess what? They have learning curves, too. They have walls guarding entry to success. Good ideas are easy. It’s the execution that’s a struggle. There’s no cake walk to the million dollar mark.

Recently, a reader sent me this message: “If you just gave away your cure [to anxiety] for free, you’d make more money than you’d ever imagine.”

I used to believe this, too, which is why I’ve given away thousands of copies of my book, dozens of articles and podcast interviews, Youtube videos, and live speeches. I make a living, but my imagination is not impressed.

All I’m trying to say is that I’ve made costly, time-consuming mistakes. Many of which no one has heard about, such as:

The 250-page book I wrote three years ago and never published because most of it was written when I was a complete mess…

The book marketing business I shut down a few months after my friends dubbed me the CEO, because we were doing such an awful job…

And the 100 other things I could probably list off here if I really sat down and put more thought into this.

All this has been humbling, frustrating, and occasionally rewarding. Sort of like gambling. I honestly don’t know sometimes if what I’m doing is brilliant or idiotic. I am 100% serious when I say that. I can’t always tell. I’ve had the exact same amount of enthusiasm for ideas that worked brilliantly, and ideas that failed miserably. I try to learn from each one, but the lessons are slow, and they don’t always stick with me.

Anyway. Facebook lies. A small part of the truth lives there. The rest is what we don’t like about ourselves, so we edit it out.

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Charlie Hoehn is the author of Play It Away, Play for a Living and Recession Proof Graduate. His work has been featured on NPR's TED Radio Hour, Forbes, Fast Company, and Harvard Business Review. Previously, he was the Director of Special Projects for Tim Ferriss. Currently, he is the Head of Video at Book In A Box. He lives with his wife and daughter in Austin, Texas.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Michael

    Everyone goes thru failure. Most people just cover up their failures while promoting their successes online.

    Thanks for the honesty Charlie

  2. Chris

    Yeah, sorry to say, but I don’t think your ‘write an anxiety book, then sell it to universities, who will then give it away to their students for free’ idea is very good.

    Not trying to be a jerk by saying that, just to give realistic feedback.

    The concept of having colleges give students an ‘innnoculating’ mental health information package is sensible. However, any university that wanted to do that could easily put together their own simple package. They’d never need to buy thousands of ‘real’ books from an outside author.

    I worked at a university’s counseling center. We did stuff like that all the time, just not on the scale of preemptively handing something out to every student.

    The counselors there were all sharp and knew all the standard, evidence-based strategies for dealing with anxiety, or depression, or exam stress, or roommate conflicts, or what have you. If the counseling center needed a new handout or pamphlet on a topic one of them would whip it up themselves. It wouldn’t take much to write a longer booklet, or just out together a package of existing handouts.

    The other thing is that while you wrote a nice little ebook on anxiety, you’re not a ‘real’ authority on the topic, especially in the eyes of many of the people who, if they did decide to buy an anxiety book for every student, would make the purchasing decision. They’d probably go for some PhD therapist author who has already published a treatment guide or two.

    Not saying no university would ever, ever be open to your idea, just that there are factors in place that make it unlikely.

    1. Charlie Hoehn

      You’re 100% right. This is something that two friends of mine actually broke down for me after I’d spent too long pitching the concept. Totally agree on the “real authority” angle, which was a frustrating reality I had to swallow. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  3. Craig

    Hang in there Charlie. I bought a copy of your book and a copy for my office – it’s amazing. Your idea and approach is insightful, informative and inspiring – keep believing!

  4. Tom

    Release the book you wrote when you were a ‘complete mess’. People will see themselves in your ‘mess’ and connect.

    Beat poetry, rock-n-roll, rap: the ‘quality’ of the message is often less important than the authenticity in which it’s wrapped. It’s the stealth delivery system, gets the audience to sit w/your content. You did it with this post and it provoked me, enough to say ‘hang in there Charlie, it sounds like you’re just about to find your holy pivot’.

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