Sell Your Idea Before It’s Ready

Published by Nela Dunato on in ADHD, Business, Productivity, Tips for creatives

Sell Your Idea Before It's Ready

A few weeks ago my friend dragged me out of my house for some “networking” (read: drinks) with a few young developers that were in town. One was from Italy and the other one from London, and they came here for a local start-up event.

I asked them what they were pitching, and one of them pulled out a phone and showed me an app mockup made using Prototyping on Paper. Being a sketching freak, I was amazed with the app (and downloaded it right then and there), and that they made a somewhat functional interface using only rough paper sketches. They were pitching a product that they basically made up in the train on the way here.

“This is all we have, but we’re launching next week”, he said.

A few days later a photo popped up in my Facebook feed — the two of them, with a caption saying they won the first prize on the event.

With only a few sketches in hand, they managed to convince the judges that their app will be amazing, and now they’re building it.

And what do most of us do?

We wait until we build it — no actually, we wait until we perfect it — and then we show it to the world.

Sometimes the world loves it.
Sometimes we hear crickets.

We don’t know what people will say, or if will they like it and buy it until we launch it.

In the start-up world people often present early concepts of their work because they don’t want to put thousands of hours of work and boatloads of money into something that isn’t even interesting or useful to other people.

It’s not just for start-ups

A few years ago I was talking to an artist friend, and she told me she’s really busy these days because she’s painting for the exhibition that’s in less than two weeks.

“Wait, you’re having a show, and you don’t even have all your paintings done yet?” I asked.

“Yes” she answered, “that’s how it’s done in the art world. You book the show date a year or two ahead, and you paint in the meantime.”

I was young and naïve, and that concept was totally new to me. But in the art world, you often need to book a venue a year in advance. Professional artists arrange all the details of the show with the gallery first, and then paint in the months leading to the show.

A few months ago, I finally decided to try it out. There was an open call for solo exhibitions of young artists in a gallery in a different city.

At first I thought “No way, I can’t pitch a solo show with only 5 or 6 paintings ready”.
But this year was my year of failing. I decided to give it all, and try no matter how bad my chances were. I sent in my application, and crossed my fingers.

One day an e-mail came out of the blue, asking what my preferred date for the show was. That was the first time I heard I got in!

I asked for September, because there was no way I could have all the paintings ready before that. It’s mid-June now and the date is getting closer — need I say I’ll be frantically painting all summer long?

But if I didn’t have that show coming up, who knows when for how long I’d be putting it off.

My favorite productivity trick: light a fire under your butt

If you’re a procrastinator, hard deadlines will probably help you get more things done. I find that when I have a hard deadline, my productivity skyrockets and I’m able to do in a week what I seemingly couldn’t do in 3 months before that.

Self-imposed (or tentative) deadlines just don’t work that well for me. Even committing to my mastermind buddies doesn’t work. There’s not enough at stake, because it isn’t going to seriously disappoint anybody if I fail to do it.

But when somebody else depends on me to produce something, and they’re counting on me to do it in the time-frame we agreed on, that’s when I buckle up and do it.

I’ll probably start way too late and end up working all day and night, putting finishing touches just moments before presenting the work to the other party, but I’ll do it.

(I often send things into print around 6 AM after I’ve spent the night working. And one time I was finishing up my painting just moments before getting dressed and heading to the event.)

Do I hate myself later for the stress I caused myself? Of course I do. It takes a few days to a week just to recover from it.

But I get stuff done. Stuff I otherwise wouldn’t have.

Isn’t “selling” something you don’t have dishonest?

Not necessarily.

Those developers didn’t lie about the state of their product. They pitched an idea sketched on paper, and people didn’t seem to mind.

When I pitched my exhibition to that venue, I told them several paintings are “still in the making” and sent them the photos of the ones I had.

It’s like a pre-order. People know they won’t be getting the thing before a certain date, but they still want to have it because they believe in it.

Caveat: it usually only works if you have a proven track record

Sometimes your idea may be so brilliant that people will eat it up no matter who you are and what you did (or didn’t do) in the past.

But having past work that displays what you’re capable of will make them more comfortable giving you a chance.

If you’ve been blogging weekly for 3 years and have a decent following, you may pitch your book to a publisher, or let your blog readers pre-order it the moment you start writing it.

If you’re a great illustrator that published awesome work in the past, your Kickstarter (or Patreon) campaign for a comic will go much better, than if you were just a beginner.

Of course just pitching around without doing any real work beforehand won’t give results. There’s no easy money here. This is not the tactic for people who are lazy all of the time. But it sure as hell works for those of us who are lazy most of the time.

So what can you sell today?

Stop sitting on your brilliant idea. Go forth and sell it. [Tweet this!]

Thinking about writing that book? Why not change your process?

Instead of waiting until the last moment before launch to publish the details, figure out a working title, make (or commission) a cover and create a landing page with an opt-in form and start sending people to it. That way you can see if there’s any interest before you’ve spent months writing it.

Have something else in mind? Figure out a way to commit to someone who will really hold you to it. I’m not talking friends, mastermind buddies or a coach.

I’m talking someone you really wouldn’t want to disappoint.

Your clients.
Event organizers.
Venue owners.
Joint venture partners.

Do it, and witness yourself being magically transformed into a creative powerhouse.


Some blog articles contain affiliate links to products on Amazon. I’ll get paid a few cents if you buy something using my link, and there’s no extra charge to you.

19 responses to “Sell Your Idea Before It’s Ready”

  1. I am the EXACT same way when it comes to deadlines and procrastination. Self-imposed ones don’t work for me, either. Congrats on your art show, Nela!

  2. Thank you, Beth! :D
    Glad to hear I’m not the only one :) I’d really love to be more accountable to myself, though.

  3. Congrats on your art show, Nela! I wholeheartedly agree with this. Too many people let perfectionism steal their dreams. At the same time, I do think it’s possible for us to become more accountable to ourselves. All it takes is keeping yourself motivated by constantly reinforcing your goal in your mind.

  4. Thank you, Laura! :)

    I’ve done some reading on the topic of motivation and there are different researches done on the topic.

    One in particular found that keeping your goal in mind is very important when starting, but once you’re under way, thinking of the end goal is actually counter productive and you need to focus on enjoying the process. Here’s the link to the article:

    I think that for us “grasshoppers” it’s a challenge to remain focused enough on a single goal and on the enjoyment it brings us because of the shiny object syndrome.

  5. I completely agree when it is a package/product that you know you can handle in the timeframe without taking yourself into extreme or unethical behavior. One beneficial bi-product of taking this approach is that it can even force the person to focus on what really matters to create a viable and effective product rather than developing all sorts of unnecessary features or coaching/product “busy-work”. Having someone else that you are truly accountable to (as you defined) seems to help focus the attention to what’s most necessary.

    I actually do this in stages. I work with one client at a very low cost to develop the bones of my product so that I know the *most* necessary pieces are the foundation and that they work. Then I open it up for sale and add the beautifying and inspiring bells and whistles. This two-stage process actually makes it more fun to work on because I get the pressure of accountability without overwhelm and I get feeling some measure of success/completion before I make the bigger sale.

    One issue that I have with some products or packages that people sell ahead of completion is that the marketing and promotions end up being for a different product than what they end up offering, or the seller is over-confident or over-promising. Of course everyone make mistakes sometimes, but this is something to be aware of. We can learn how to be honest with ourselves and our abilities when we are charging clients, and be careful to follow-through to honor everything that was promised or throw in a valuable bonus to make up for any hiccups.

    Great post! And best wishes with your art show. I hope you enjoy every minute of it!

  6. Jessica, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, there’s so many important points you touched on! We really need to keep these things in mind.

    Your model sounds great, it hasn’t occurred to me to do it in such a way, but it totally makes sense. I might actually try your approach with my next offering :)

    Thank you!

  7. Super post, stvarno volim citati tvoje postove.
    Ja stalno mislim kako nemam dovoljno radova da ih saljem izdavacima (htjela bi ilustrirat slikovnicu), htjela bi imat svoju izložbu…, ali sve mi to stoji u zraku, a ja samo radim i radim i nikako da se pokrenem u ostvarivanju svojih ciljeva.

  8. Hvala ti puno, Martina, tako mi je drago to čuti! :)

    Jao kako mi to poznato zvuči…

    Ne mogu procijeniti ovako sa strane je li to istina, ali vjerojatno nije. Imam dojam da jako puno radiš i da je vrijeme da počneš kucati na vrata i tražiti prilike.

    Dovoljno je da izabereš 5-10 najboljih radova koje si napravila u zadnje vrijeme i pošalješ to izdavačima. Tvoj stil je već lijepo formiran i super za slikovnice.

    Što se tiče izložbe, kreni s malim stvarima, lokalno, bitno da počneš! Sigurno u VŽ ima neki kulturni centar ili nešto slično gdje bi rado održali tvoju izložbu.

  9. I so downloaded POP. Such an awesome app. The worst thing is spending so much time and money into something no one wants.

    The other suggestion I would make is to keep on improving your product. Maybe there is a need, but folk aren’t marketing it correctly or the copy isn’t it’s best. I have so been there.

    I agree, procrastination is the #1 killer of getting an idea out along with perfection and fear. I like to just try my best over and over again rather than regret I didn’t try at all.

  10. Ah! So good! You just actually changed my mind on something. It had been suggested to me to start promoting the Workbook I’m working on before it’s finished and the thought was so stressful that I wasn’t even considering it. But NO — it totally makes sense to start testing the response while I’m working on it. Thanks for that:)

  11. @Siedah: Your advice is so true, it doesn’t mean that because it flops initially, it’s not a good product. But people’s feedback can help you with that, and unless you launch – you won’t get that feedback.
    That’s a really healthy mindset you have, it took me a while to learn it :)

    @Nicole: Yaaay, I’m so glad this helped push you over the edge! Go for it!! :D

  12. Loved this! Yes! Once I have a firm date in mind IT WILL HAPPEN

    Recently I made an outline for a course to sell. I didn’t do too much promoting but I just went out and sold….I wasn’t sure it would sell but it did. Then I had to go and create that course!

    It totally works!

  13. Farideh, wow! That’s such a great example and I’m so glad it worked out great for you!
    I’ll totally do that for my first digital offering :)

  14. Awesome article. Awesome point you made. Awesome App too lol. Really, this post touches a very important point in a creative way. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Nela,

    Great post! It’s got me thinking, because I have an idea for an e-book (and a potential client base that I’m building right now), and it had not occurred to start talking about the book right now, at the beginning.

    I keep thinking that I need to refine what, exactly, the book is going to be and how I’m going to pull it off, so talking about it seems premature. What I’m realizing now, though, is that while I don’t know exactly what the book is going to be, I know what I want it to do for readers, and that is something I can start talking about right now.

    Anyway, thank you for the thought-provoking post. And congrats on your upcoming art show!

  16. This post is great! I’m also bad about self-imposed deadlines. It’s not that I don’t work hard, it’s just that I let myself get into other ideas that might be cool when I don’t HAVE to get something done. I have big dreams for a fitness membership site and was thinking just today that it would be cool to test out the idea by doing a live event to demo it before I have everything ironed out to get more realistic feedback. This was just the blog post I needed to read-it’s like a sign! Thanks for sharing :)

  17. Great post Nela! I can certainly identify with most of it especially the perfectionism and wanting something to be perfect before launching!

    It’s also good to know that the approach works and that others have done it. I’ve heard about doing it previously and was a bit sceptical but I’ve come round! I’ve a few ideas for things I’m toying with at the moment so I’ll definitely give it a shot!

  18. You are preaching to the choir! Great post. This reminds me of an article I read from another startup where they suggested we “ship before we’re ready”. This is another great reminder for me.

    Thanks :)

  19. You guys, I am so glad this post resonated with you and some are outright inspired t take their next step and do it!

    I’m so grateful to have had the chance to share this with so many you.

    @Hope: You can start mentioning your book casually, and then as your concept gets more clear, put on an opt in with a bit more information :) Go gradually, but still push yourself a bit!

    @Catherine: I’m like that too! I get distracted by other ideas easily, so when something is not urgent I get tempted to run for the next shiny object.
    That’s a great idea!
    I was actually thinking to do the same thing for a video-workshop I’m planning, test it with a beta group personally, get feedback and refine it until I turn it into a self-study course.
    Go for it and good luck! :)

    @Stacey: I hear you on being skeptical! There is a fine line between laying off the perfectionism and creating a crappy product :) You can trust your own judgement on this one.
    I was surprised how well this works for so many people too.

    @Thea: Yes this message is often shared in the start-up world, where speed is super important. I got out of the tech start-up arena and wouldn’t want to go back in there, but there’s a lot we can learn from them :)

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