The hardest part of a journey is the first step, and why you might want to skip it for now.

By  •  Updated: 02/06/22 •  8 min read

There’s a famous Irish joke about a tourist trying to find his way to Dublin.

He comes across a farmer, idling by a gate and asks if he knows the way.

The farmer thinks for a while, then replies:

“I do, but I wouldn’t start from here.”

Your prospects are just like that tourist. You can get them to their destination form anywhere, but their journey would be a lot easier if they started from the right place.

There are 3 types of prospects, and 3 types of “stuck”:

  1. Ones who haven’t started, have seen too many directions, and are stuck.
  2. Ones who started, but in the wrong direction, and are stuck.
  3. Ones who started in the right direction, but hit a hurdle, and are stuck.

As a content creator, your job is to get these people unstuck, but if you’re doing it on your own, you can only cover so many scenarios with your content, so you need to pick one.

Our job is to start the ones who haven’t started in the right direction, to pull the ones on the wrong path back to the right path, and to pick up the others along the way.

The flaw in human nature that starts us down the wrong path

There’s a problem…

Nobody wants to start from the “right” place, when there’s a fast-looking path in front of them.

Imagine there are two roads on a 10 mile journey.

One starts with a farm track, but turns into a motorway after a while.

The other starts with a motorway, but fizzles out into a farm-track after a mile.

Your prospects have no idea what lies ahead, so they’ll pick the one that starts with the motorway, every single time, even though it turns to mud and grass and is the slowest route overall.

When it looks like a shortcut, it’s probably the wrong way.

In the world of building an online business, the fast-start road is the quick hack that everyone tries at the beginning.

Lazy tactics like giveaways for getting new email signups. Befriending people in Facebook groups and immediately pitching them. Buying software that promises to grow your business “on autopilot”.

But they fall foul of a natural law of business that I’ve seen play out again and again.

The easier it is to start, the faster you hit a wall.

The ones who succeed though, take the harder start. Providing real value, making genuine connections, building businesses that are simple, but consistent in what they produce.

No one does this first time round though.

I’ll be honest with you, my first attempts in email marketing were pretty grubby affairs.

Prize-draws, “viral” give aways and even some names that were scraped from forums in the days before GDPR.

None of them built relationships worth having.

Somewhere amongst my many email accounts is one with over 100,000 names on it that I don’t mail any more. It was built from freebie hunters, and getting a single cent out of them does nothing but trigger screams of self entitlement. The juice isn’t worth the squeeze.

When I started again and focussed on using value to attract people of value, the results were like night and day.

By going back to first principles and thinking about the kind of customers I wanted, where they wanted to get to, and what it would take to get them there, built a “road” that would get us both there. And it would do it faster in the long run and be useful to more people.

I had to fail on the wrong road before I could commit to the right one.

That failure is like a set of blinkers now. It stops me from getting distracted by shiny objects and helps me keep focussed on the road ahead. Without having tried that path I wouldn’t know it was the wrong one, and there are SO many people trying to tempt you down the quick-fix path, it’s really hard to ignore.

This is a frustrating pattern for instructors, but one they have to recognise and work with if they’re going to get success for their students.

How to go about finding the content that your customer is looking for:

You need a “quick fix” as your first step or you’ll never get your students onto the right road for the long term.

The gym instructor doesn’t get to talk about nutrition, mobility and improved immunity, before they talk about how to “drop a dress size in 2 weeks”.

The marketer doesn’t get to talk about creating products that are good enough to get testimonials, until they talk about quick traffic fixes.

When I ran campaigns for rapid learning courses, we never talked about “memory management” in public, even though it’s a critical skill. We talked about speed reading and memory feats. Then we changed gears once we’d given our students a couple of quick wins.

We attracted them like moths to a flame, but we were careful not to burn them before we showed them a better way.

Look through the steps of the process you teach. Ignore the “foundations” that iI’m guessing you start with. Instead, look for the first place you get your students to apply any learning.

Find the first worksheet or the first thing you ask them to create. Find a place where the rubber hits the road.

This is what your students are really looking for.

They want to take action, but they also want their hand held while they do it.

You can’t hold everyone’s hand once your business grows, especially not on a relatively cheap first product, but you can give them a step-by step guide through those first actions.

Give them something useful, then get them to take a step back to admire their work, and while they’re at it, tell them where they should start from.

It’ll feel just like the next step, and when they get back to this step that they already did, they’ll feel like geniuses for being ahead of the game, instead of feeling bad about not keeping up.

How to keep them on the right path

At some point you’re going to need to get your students to do the more foundational work that will give them long term results, and help them avoid the snake-oil salesman along the way.

Realistically, very few will do this on their own, unless they’re highly motivated (which usually means in acute and chronic pain).

Actually thinking deeply about a topic is something most people don’t do, but you might not recognise this. As someone who is considering making a course to teach others you’ve probable spent weeks. months or even years worth of brainpower unpicking how success in your chosen field happens.

So the theory work needs to be done in an environment where there’s a little pressure to overcome our resistance to thinking hard.

Typically this means some or all of:

  1. Having the instructor present
  2. Having the support of others students
  3. Having higher personal motivation to succeed (very hard for you to affect)
  4. Paying a higher price for the product – has some impact on early commitment
  5. Having failed with “shortcuts” before

Most of these need a degree of 1:1 contact in both the sales and the delivery of the course, so they’re far less scalable than an information-only product.

What this leads us to is a limited number of courses with any significant student interaction, probably a single signature product, surrounded by as many tactical courses as your market thinks there are first steps.

If you have a half decent social media following (or you can lean on someone who does), ask a question about “what’s stopping you from…[the result you offer]”. You’ll get plenty of responses. and I can guarantee that LOTS of them will be simple tactical issues that you could solve in under an hour.

These smaller products can be a good revenue stream in their own right, but more importantly they’re a great filter to find people who really want to solve a problem and aren’t just “interested” in some more free content to distract them from what they should really be doing.


Ask your audience what’s stopping them from getting the result they want

Use their answers to create your lead magnet and low-priced products even if it wont get them all the way to their goal.

Keep the heavy theory parts, and mindset hurdles, for your signature courses where you can give more support

Stephen Pratley

I build email lists, that grow into one-man businesses.