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Desperate or Determined? Why One Will Kill Your Biz and the Other Will Catapult It

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Can you tell the difference between a savvy strategy and frantic over-selling?

Most audiences can. But there’s a good change if you’re the one doing the selling, you’re blind to the distinction. And that blindness can kill your business often before you even get started!

When you’re behind the product, it’s really challenging (maybe even impossible) to clearly see the vibe you’re giving off. Because of this, many smart entrepreneurs find themselves stuck between two extremes: pitching too much and not pitching at all… and in both cases, not selling anything.

About a year go, I had a conversation with a client about the potential dangers of excessive selling to her list. I pointed out that constantly flooding her subscribers with sales emails could turn them off to what she’s selling (or worse, make them unsubscribe).

Unfortunately, she read more deeply into the message than I intended. She stopped emailing her list altogether and shied away from all other marketing tactics.

Uh-oh. That was not what I meant.

At first, I wasn’t sure why she had such a strong, knee-jerk reaction to the email. Then it hit me: she wasn’t versed in the fine distinction between desperation and determination.

It’s a hard nuance to pinpoint. And while it’s critically important, it’s easily missed.

Realizing what I needed to do, I clarified the distinction for my client and got her back on track. And this important success concept is exactly what I want to share with you today.

The Difference Between Strategic Promotion and Pushing People Away

When an entrepreneur is desperate for sales, you can feel the graspy energy surrounding their launch. Everything feels off, from the sales page to emails to social media posts.

You probably know what I’m talking about. You can almost hear them sitting at their laptop whispering at their inbox, “Please, oh please, the rent is due tomorrow. The power bill is past due. My dog needs to visit the vet… Please hire me! Please pay me! Please buy my stuff!”

Why does this energy manifest in the first place? Sure they may have rent to pay or a dog to take to the vet. We all have to deal with what I call “the reality of being human,” meaning we have bills to pay and obligations to fulfill simply because this is the world we live in.

Secondarily, however, when someone buys our stuff, we feel a certain way. Specifically, we feel good enough. And like things are going to be okay.

Yes, many entrepreneurs hope to change lives with their work. They want to make a good living. They want to support their families.

They also want money, approval, fame, or other confirmation that they’re good enough.

When they feel desperate, their strategy isn’t mapped out from a calm, collected mindset, and their tone is focused on how much they need to sell, sell, sell in order to validate themselves, not how much they can change someone’s life!

The problem with being in an approval-seeking headspace is that almost everyone can feel it a mile away. And they run the other direction.

However, it’s important to note that the frantic selling activities that push people away have less to do with the number of emails or posts flying around and more to do with the way the seller comes across (or the energy they transmit, even if it’s unintentional).

You can take massive action, send an email every day, and have seven backup plans to get the sales you want without pushing people away. But it will not happen if desperation is what’s driving the action.

I Was Desperate 

When I first quit my job to launch my career as a life coach for people stuck in bad jobs, I was full of optimism. I figured I’d just say, “I trained with Martha Beck and Byron Katie,” and people would jump out of their chairs to hire me, forking over their hard-earned money.

The reality, however, was far from that.

I went to weekly networking events. I blogged twice a week and sent regular newsletters. I offered classes, workshops, and products. I put posters up around town and even joined Facebook.

For all of my activity, I wasn’t getting many clients.

Why? You guessed it, I was desperate. With my fat corporate salary gone and my stinking thinking telling me I’d look like a failure if I went back to my job, I was as graspy and needy as they came.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I ran out of savings, had my back against a wall, and seriously had to think about going back to work that my determination kicked in. I doubled-down, learned about marketing, looked at my business with a business-mindset, and things started to turn around.

Since then, I’ve learned a lot about how to be determined without being desperate (and have reaped the rewards along with it).

I Was Determined

When I launched Make It Work, I was determined to fill all 12 spots. I knew the precise steps I was going to take, and if my first ideas didn’t work, I had plans B, C, all the way through G outlined and ready to go.

Sure, some colleagues thought that filling it would be drop-dead easy, but honestly, I wasn’t so sure. It was my first high-priced group program, it involved a retreat, and I would be sharing my work in a new way.

To handle the uncertainty, I’d consciously and consistently reminded myself that I didn’t need to fill the program. I didn’t need to fill it to feel good about myself. I didn’t need it to prove that I’m good at what I do. I didn’t need it to prove I can create great results for my clients.

I told myself that it was an experiment. It was something I put my whole heart into and was committed to delivering, but if it didn’t work out, I could troubleshoot like a scientist. I would execute all of my backup plans if I had to.

Yes, I wanted to fill it. Yes, it would make finances easier. Yes, I really wanted to try this new way of working — it seemed so fun!! And the retreat made my heart sing! And the hotel was so amazing! And the lives I could change! And having two of my favorite people join me in teaching at the retreat! I wanted to do this thing so much!! (See how my excitement could quickly become desperation if I didn’t keep myself in check?)

I wanted it and accepted that I would still be okay if it didn’t work out.

I danced on the determined side of the line, mindfully keeping myself away from the black hole of desperation. In the end, the program sold out in 6 days with only one email to my list.

Want to Dance on the Right Side of the Line? Keep These in Mind

Now that you see how desperation can kill your business and determination can catapult it, I want to share four simple but necessary tips for keeping yourself on the right side of the desperation-determination line. This way you can sell more and stress less!

Tip #1 – Start with a scientist’s mindset

I know from a ton of experience as a coach and entrepreneur that unless you’re already firmly established, a first launch likely won’t be a homerun. It’s not because your work isn’t valuable or because you’re not good enough! Failed first launches do not mean you are a failure!

Remember to use your scientist’s mindset when diving into anything new. This ensures you can focus on learning instead of allowing your ego to ride solely on your monetary outcome.

Tip #2 – Set a solid strategy and several backup plans  

Your chances of success skyrocket when you have a clear mind, a clear plan, and seven back-up plans.

Knowing what you’re going to do, in what order, and on what dates, allows you to streamline and prepare your marketing ahead of time. You won’t be reactively marketing. Instead, you’ll know if and when you need take the next step in your marketing or execute a backup plan.

If you don’t have all of this laid out in advance, you risk inconsistent messaging, confusing marketing, and mixed energies going out into the world. Set yourself up right by getting these ducks in a row before you launch.

Tip #3 – Get comfortable with adjusting on-the-fly

In addition to knowing what your strategy is and having backup plans ready to execute, you also want to remain open to what’s happening real-time.

If something isn’t going as you expect, don’t respond from a place of panic (“Why don’t they like me!?”). Instead, remain calm. Refinement is an essential to perfecting any strategy. Sometimes our backup plans won’t feel right when it’s time to execute them, so it’s okay to adjust on-the-fly… as long as you’re doing so from a clean headspace.

Making adjustments on-the-fly may be a skill you need to develop, and that’s okay. If this is a growth area for you, just know that as you practice selling and launching, you can practice this skillset too!

Tip #4 – Keep your stinking thinking in check

Not only do you want to start out your new experiment with the right mindset, you must keep checking it throughout the whole sales experience, from idea inception through execution.

As you sell or don’t sell, as you send another email or hold a phone consult, and as you move from beginning to end, there are ample opportunities for your stinking thinking to creep in and beat you down.

Recall the client I mentioned in the beginning? She had two modes: desperate over-selling and freaked-out not-selling. Neither will serve you. You can borrow my mantra if you need to, using it as a frequent, conscious reminder to stay on the right side of the line:

Success or failure doesn’t define me as a person. All I can do is put my best out there. Tweet that!

Remind yourself that you don’t need something to work to feel good about yourself. You don’t need to prove you’re good at what you do. You don’t need any particular win to feel good enough. (Because you already are.)

Tip #5 – When it’s over, analyze your results

In the end, whether you hit your goal or didn’t, look at the process and the results with a scientist’s mindset. Remember that the results aren’t a reflection of you as a person. They are simply data that you can use to repeat your success or troubleshoot your failure next time around.

Your Turn  

Now, as always, I want to hear from you!

What examples do you have where you’ve been desperate and determined in your business?

From where you stand now, what observations do you have about those experiences?

How do you deal with desperation when you really are desperate? How do you stay focused on determination instead?

What other insights, ideas, tips, and experiences do you have to share on this topic?

 I can’t wait to hear your stories, experience and insights in the comments below!

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Teri

Hey Jenny GREAT post! I remember back when I was starting out I was SO desperate to get started and bringing in clients that I got no where! I sat and spun my wheels because of the desperation, which turned to overwhelm, and then doubt… Then doing nothing. It wasn’t until I took a few steps back, set everything down and got my determination back. Then picked up one piece at a time and starting “building”. Small steps moving forward got me going and that determination got stronger as I started to see clearly, what it was I really wanted. I feel that negative pull sometimes but stepping back usually puts things into perspective, (along with your awesome weekly blogs!) Thank you!


2 Jenny Shih

I love that you can see that you did that and learned how to course-correct. It can be really hard in the moment, especially when we really need money!

Sounds like you’ve found a great way to keep your perspective and focus on what you want to create (instead of *needing* it). Nice job!


3 Leah

So I definitely notice when people are emitting a desperate energy, but I definitely don’t know when I’m doing it.

Can someone set up a “communications exchange” to share content (especially of the promotional variety), and search out desperate vs. determined feelings? Kind of joking, kind of serious, haha :)


4 Jenny Shih

That’s definitely not a silly request, Leah! :-)

Here’s some ideas…
1. Think to a time when you felt that desperate energy from someone else. How does it feel in your body? Act like a scientist and see if you can feel where that energy is and what exactly it feels like. I know this may sound strange, but if you can pinpoint that feeling when other people are desperate, you’ll be able to better know when you’re doing it, too.

2. A mastermind group totally helps! If they’re an honest one! My group totally will call one another on desperation or when we’re acting not from a pure place. It doesn’t happen immediately, but as the relationship deepens, they’ll totally help you out.

Give those two a go and see what happens! (And keep rockin’ your amazing, growing biz!! So so fun to watch!)


5 Leah

I’ll definitely try to put on my scientist hat when I notice the desperate energy from someone else. I tend to sense desperation in others when I just *know* that they’re feeling like they’re not quite *something* enough in their request. I will definitely try to put that under a microscope this year though. A worthy goal indeed.

Also, I’ve been thinking somewhat seriously about joining a mastermind group, but I don’t know where to go to begin. The problem is, I don’t know any online business owners that I feel are in the same place as me (either they’re WAY farther along than me, or they have a way different business model–i.e. all the PF bloggers who work for ad revenue and not clients). Any recommendations?


6 Jenny Shih

Hmmm… great question. First, get clear on what you want to get out of a group and what you have to contribute to a group. See what you want to be similar in your style and theirs and what you want to be different.

Then, start by trying to find one person online, whether that’s through FB groups you’re in (like B-School or my private client group). Find one person you click with, then see who else they know.

It took awhile for my mastermind group to have the right people and for us to really click, but the searching’s totally worth it!


7 Stephanie

Great Post Jenny – It’s such a fine line that it is easy to slip into desperation without even noticing that determination was left behind. Your post is actually an eye opener, people can definitely sense desperation from a mile away.


8 Jenny Shih

Thank you, Stephanie! It is a fun line for sure, and one we always need to watch for when marketing our business!


9 Gail Kenny

Perfect timing Jenny! Thank you.


10 Shana Yao

That was the best post I’ve ever read. Thank you jenny! As someone who has watched your success grow in the past few years, I take your advice to heart.

I am exactly in that place of straddling the line of desperation and determination – but got some grata advice yesterday similar to yours. For me, it was seeing that each potential customer is not my salvation but a part of the big picture. So I don’t have to view each person as a win or loss but as part of the process.

Thank you again. You are a great role model for many!


11 Jenny Shih

So well put, Shana! “Each potential customer is not my salvation but a part of the big picture.” LOVE THAT! What a great mantra, and thanks for sharing!


12 Marsha from

I’m in the process of launching something (my first ever free info call), so this is PERFECT timing. As I read this post, I did a little internal check-in, reminding myself it’s an experiment and that if it doesn’t work, it’s not because I’m a failure, and asking myself what my back-up plans are.

Thank you!!


13 Jenny Shih

You got it, Marsha!


14 Lina

Exactly what I needed to read Jenny, I’m right in that space bouncing back and forth between desperation & determination.

First I felt so confused why nothing seemed to be working and then I started to feel that there was something off about everything. And I plummeted into a feeling of nothing about my business – not frustration, not irritation, not joy, just a gray massive nothing. So scary!

I see I have a pattern in setting up deadlines that are way too tight. I think “two weeks will be enough time to do market X” but when that first week rolls around I panic. I have this pressure in getting my business “off the ground”, it’s taking longer than I anticipated.

Beautiful post Jenny and very helpful indeed!


15 Jenny Shih

So glad you’re seeing how and where you’re getting yourself stuck, Lina! That sort of insight can be really powerful for making changes. Keep at it!


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