People-Pleasing & Product Development As A Small Business Owner

Would all the people-pleasers please stand up?

All of you? Oh, wow.

Okay, whether you really identify as a people-pleaser or not, I’m sure you recognize that entrepreneurship & the internet has a tendency to bring out the people-pleasing tendencies in even the most self-actualized of us.

I was listening to an episode of The Ezra Klein Show yesterday while I was out for my morning run. The guest was Jia Tolentino, who wrote a great book on the internet and our relationship to it called Trick Mirror. Something she said made me stop in my tracks.

She said, “A functional identity on the internet is a person who can be all things to all people at any time.”

I felt that deep down in my gut.

When I examine all the places that I feel like I’m falling short as a leader, as an “internet personality,” as a content creator…

…I constantly come back to the idea that I’m not doing enough of this or that to charm, woo, or wow all of the people I could be charming, wooing, or wowing.

I haven’t taken all of the needs and preferences of all the potential customers into account.

I haven’t built the perfect product that bends and molds itself into the exact right thing for each person who comes across it (or even buys it).

I haven’t posted often enough. I haven’t made my message digestible enough. I haven’t yet earned enough trust.

What’s funny about this is that I’m not really lacking in confidence.

I’m pretty comfortable with my abilities and I feel great about the value I create & deliver on a daily basis—whether on social media, in this newsletter, in our community, or in our masterminds.

But instead of doubling down on that, the internet and the particular entrepreneurial culture it has created makes me want to further contort myself until, as Tolentino put it, I implode on myself like a black hole.

It’s not my job to be all things to all people. 

It’s not my job to create things that meet everyone’s needs in precisely the way they’d like them met.

It ​is my job to figure out who I am and who I’m for and then connect to them in a deep and human way, even if I never know their names or faces because the internet is such a vast land.

This month on the podcast, we’re talking about creating value and how we bring products or services into the world. 

The urge to try to be all things for all people at any time is incredibly strong any time we’re considering building something new or even just improving what we’ve already built. And so we have to be aware of that urge and intentionally work against it as we create the blueprints, packages, and containers of our great work.

Instead of giving in to every impulse we have to delay finishing our thing until we’ve taken every possibility into account, we can take a stand for how we’re creating value and why it matters.

Instead of contorting our time and energy to every request for personalization, we can create a process that works and hold firm.

Instead of pleasing all the people we can, we can decide exactly who the work is for and how it benefits them.

The best part is that this ​isn’t​ a liability when it comes to building a business and a loyal customer base.

Just the opposite: it’s a strength.

Cover of What Works book by Tara McMullin

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What Type of Goal-Setter Are You?

What Type of Goal-Setter Are You?

I've explored goal-setting and planning with small business owners, creatives, and independent workers for over 12 years now. That means I've observed many different types of goal-setters. Some confidently choose a new goal and get to work. Others rebel against...

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