Shenee Howard was a talented brand strategist who was proud of her work. But in 2011, she was also broke and clientless. Unsure of what she was doing wrong, she decided to start talking to people. At first she pursued the usual course of action, asking for advice from people she thought of as mentors.
Then she had a different, better idea.
Instead of talking to experts in hopes of obtaining wisdom and advice, Shenee decided to turn the tables and talk to 100 regular people, asking them about their problems, with the goal of using her unique skills to find solutions for them. Using social media and email, she offered unlimited 15-minute strategy sessions by phone to anyone who had questions about branding — for free.
The sessions weren’t just a teaser for a paid service; she really wanted to know what people’s problems were, in hopes of coming up with ideas for how she could help solve them. As time went by (she did two or more 15-minute calls a day for several months), she gained experience and got better at finding helpful ideas in a short amount of time.
Some of the calls did lead to paid work, with the free clients liking her advice so much that they wanted to delve into a deeper set of problems. But even when the calls didn’t end with a direct business connection, they often led to strong relationships. These people became an unofficial advisory committee or sounding board. They even gave her testimonials. They wrote about the project on their blogs. And when Shenee later developed paid products, they became her most loyal customers.
Shenee went from “broke and client-less” to product launch for her first course less than four months after embarking on what she called the 100 Person Project. It sold out at a good price, and as she tells the story, “the rest is history” — history in this case meaning that she now earns a good, reliable living and works on her own terms.
Shenee’s success story is inspiring, but the greater point is that you can tap into the wisdom of 100 people to help you get closer to figuring out the work you were born to do. The key is to use the experiment not to drum up business but to get feedback on which of your skills and talents are most valued — and maybe even test out how much demand there is for the product or service you think you can offer.
Even if you think you don’t know 100 people, once you start counting your Facebook friends and anyone you haven’t talked to in a while, I bet you do know at least that many, one way or another. Just as important, the people you know are connected to many other people who can also help you along.
Here’s how you can create your own 100 Person Project.
1. List five problems you’ve been able to solve for someone.
Do this in brainstorm mode, where you don’t edit or censor yourself. Ask: “What are the things people come to me for help with? What are the things I know but other people struggle with?”
As I’ve traveled and met with groups all over the world, I’ve never stopped being amazed by all the different business ideas hatched and new careers created simply by finding ways to be helpful. From the woman who started a specialty blog about cooking brown rice ($100,000+ annual income) to the professional dog walker ($80,000 annual income) and many more, thinking about problems and solutions is critical to finding work you love that people will actually pay you for.
2. Decide on the name of your 15-minute, 100-person session.
If you’re going to convince 100 people to get on the phone with you and talk about their challenges and problems, it helps to have a creative or clever name for your fact-finding project. Even though your session is essentially a coaching call or consultation, don’t call it that. Call it something fun! A few interesting names that I heard from Shenee were “Love Intervention,” “Power-Up Pow-Wow,” and “Clarity Chat.” Don’t get hung up on these examples, though. If you prefer something more business-like, that’s fine. And if you’re still trying to iron out the details of what your session is about, don’t spend all your time trying to get the perfect name. Always do what feels most authentic to you.
3. Create a short description and an offer for your session.
Shenee’s project was successful because it had a clear offer and a defined set of outcomes (provide 15-minute brand strategy sessions to 100 people). As usual, the more specific, the better. One person who Shenee worked with was good with technology and had identified a need among new entrepreneurs who were struggling with all the different options for online services. He labeled the 15-minute call a “tech intervention session” and promised to help people gain greater understanding of devices and software in a short period of time.
Figure out what skills or services of yours you want to test out, and design the goals and outcomes of your “free trial” accordingly.
4. Create a quick and easy sign-up process, and invite people to sign up.
In addition to name, email address, and phone number (the most important things), it also helps to collect a bit of info from people in advance. What’s each person’s biggest problem, and what’s the biggest thing each person is trying to achieve?
Start with people you trust, and ask them to participate. Once you have a list of people on board, go ahead and schedule the meetings or calls. Chances are you may find all the referrals you need this way. If not, though, don’t hesitate to send the message around more widely by posting it online or asking more people to share it. This is a valuable service that you’re offering for free. If you can reach people with a real problem you know you can solve for them (or at least point them in the right direction), they will want it.
5. Facilitate the calls.
Use your phone, Skype, or whatever service you prefer to call people at the appointed time. Be friendly, but also keep them on topic. You may be tempted to talk more than the 15 minutes, and if it’s going well, you can do that — but make sure it’s okay with the other person, too.
6. Follow up after the call (critical).
After you finish each session, be sure to send a follow-up note. If you have the other person’s permission, you can record the call using free software and give him or her access to it. Another option is to send a quick recap of the chat along with your suggested action items. Mostly you just want to say thank you. Remember that these people may become your unofficial advisory board, so it’s important to nurture the connections.
For best results, repeat 100 times.
The 100 Person Project helps you to discover what you can offer. Remember, the whole point is learning what you’re good at that other people want to pay for. This is hugely important! As Shenee put it:
No matter what type of work you currently do — whether you’re an entrepreneur, a self-employed consultant, or an employee who’s looking for a way to bring in extra cash on the side — if you’re struggling to figure out what it is that you do well and that others will also pay you for, consider giving the 100 Person Project a try. You now have both the reasons and the tools you need to launch one.
This is an adapted excerpt from Born for This, available today.