I used to be absolutely terrified of selling virtually anything. But it wasn’t always that way. And it’s weird too, because I grew up in a very entrepreneurial household. As a kid, I would pick fruit off of the neighbors trees and sell it around the neighborhood. I would go door to door and offer to do yard work for $10, and then pay my friend Chad $5 to do the work. My school sent me home with a box of chocolates to sell around the neighborhood for $1 one time, and I realized I could sell them for $3 and keep the difference.
So what the hell happened between being a kid and me entering the adult world? Where did all of this mental blockage and anxiety kick in? Why was something that used to come so natural for me suddenly one of the hardest things in the world for me to do?
It took a lot of work, and a deep dive down the rabbit hole to discover the answer, and I’ll take you along on the journey with me.
When I tried to sell my first piece of software online, I was terrified
I wanted to make money with my software so bad. Not because money motivated me. Money never really came close to motivating me. But I was fresh out of highschool at the time, and I knew that if I could make money with something that I loved, I wouldn’t have to get one of those stupid things they call jobs. But it was seriously terrifying. And looking back I’m not 100% sure why.
I had been contributing a lot to a particular online community at the time, and I had made a few bigger contributions there. But this next project was a piece of software that would really change the way people made games back then. I wrote a piece of software that essentially acted as a middleman between artists/modeler and a certain drag and drop game engine. The problem with that game engine was that although it was drag and drop, it was only drag and drop for default assets that came with it. My program allowed anyone to load in any assets they wanted, set the specs/properties/actions etc and it would auto-magically show up in the engine ready to drag and drop.
It was one of the coolest (and most time-consuming) things I had ever built. I wanted to sell it, but at first I just couldn’t.
Selling made me feel so…dirty, guilty, and immoral
I knew logically that selling stuff online wasn’t wrong. And I knew that if I could do that, I wouldn’t have to get a job. But if it wasn’t wrong…why did it feel like it was? It was as if I thought the whole internet would frown upon me if I put something up for sale. Like everyone was watching me, waiting for me to mess up. I felt like if I released my software for sale, especially in this community, that all of these people would lash out and tell me how messed up it was that I wanted to charge money.
Isn’t that when they call you a sell out or something? When you get so good at something that you decide to start making money from it? I had no clue. All I remember was that I was confused as shit, thinking about all of the times I had shamelessly sold things and made money over and over. How was this any different? But this did feel very, very different.
The weird thing was I would watch other people sell their stuff online and I didn’t think badly about them. So why did I think that they would think badly of me?
It took me a long time to figure out why
I googled the issue, trying desperately to find a solution. I felt like my crazy ass emotions were literally holding me back from the future I wanted for myself. It was like being imprisoned by an irrational version of my mind. I picked up a series of books on selling and overcoming objections. Ironically, “overcoming objections” in sales actually has nothing to do with your own objections as the sales person, and everything to do with overcoming the buyer’s objections to sell them more shit. I was very confused when I found that out.
Sales books we’re not the answer for me. Reading some of them made me feel worse. They felt like do-it-yourself guides to human manipulation. I felt like every sales book I read was trying to convince me to milk every drop out of every customer I could find. Maximize the money I got out of them and minimize the time I spent on each sale. That was the so-called “way to a profitable business.”
I decided to look inside of myself. I did some soul-searching. I read a lot of self-improvement material.
I realized there were only 2 reasons possible reasons to feel this way
So this was not an overnight realization. Coming to this conclusion actually took me years. And although I did end up selling my software online, I never felt great about it. I still felt guilty, like I didn’t deserve the money. But it actually got worse before it got better.
When i started my marketing company a bit later, I realized I had stepped into a completely new realm of sales. Selling a client on marketing services was SO MUCH WORSE than selling a dinky little piece of software online. First off, for the first year or so I could only really handle sales over email. And as you can imagine, that didn’t work out too well. I eventually moved on to taking client calls. Got better at that. And from there I went to in-person meetings. Not long after, I conquered the Mount Everest of being terrified of sales. I completed my first cold call close.
My belief that selling was inherently bad, and my guilt from doing so eventually faded. Although it never fully went away. But I think it took several years of working on myself and conquering my fear to get to a point where I could reflect on myself and figure out what the hell was going on in my mind back then. In hindsight, I realized it was always one of two things that brought on the fear or guilt.
#1 – I did not believe in what I was selling
Sometimes, whether you like it or not, products are just shit. And the problem with trying to sell shitty products to people, is that you feel shitty. When you know that the person on the other end doesn’t need your product, or it will not really, truly 100% improve their life in some way, it can make you feel bad. It should make you feel bad. No one should sell shitty products. If you make shitty games and feel bad for selling them, I think that’s how it should be.
But think about it for a second…if you 100% believe without a shadow of a doubt that a person will LOVE your game, why would it be a bad thing to try your best to convince them to buy? They would likely thank you for letting them know about it. It is only when you have doubts about that outcome that you start to avoid the actual sales process.
The solution to this for me in my marketing company was to stop taking on products I didn’t believe in. Once or twice I took on a product to do some marketing for that I didn’t really believe in, and it never turned out well. Working with borderline-scam artists and shady supplements, even years alter as a professional, brought back my old feelings of guilt and shame. But this time, I realized they were perfectly valid.
But although they were the same feelings, something didn’t quite feel the same. I didn’t feel as shady as a scam artist trying to flip white-labeled products while selling my game. Why they hell did this bring up the same emotional response?
#2 – My self-esteem/self-worth was low
I never felt like I “deserved” financial success. Growing up poor I think does that to you. But that feeling of not deserving something came from a lack of self-confidence and low self-worth. I didn’t think highly of myself, how could I ever think highly of something I created? I felt guilty for charging for something I created because if I was worthless in my head, so was my creation.
It took a lot of work to build up my confidence and learn to love myself. As cheesy as that sounds, it was a huge factor in my ability to sell. And this is coming from a dude who has generated 7 figures in sales since. It took a lot of confidence in myself and in the products to push them out to that many people. And luckily, the confidence I had acquired in the real world seemed to carry over to my games and software that I sold online.
The more I genuinely thought highly of myself, the more value I placed on the things I created. And the more value that I felt my creations had, the more easily I could sell them. I think its always a struggle in the beginning, but I found that after I got a few sales and I got to hear people’s thoughts and read reviews, I would feel a whole lot better. Of course there are Negative Nancys, but hearing a few people praise your game after buying it really is heartwarming.
#3 (BONUS!) – Weirdly, sometimes, it was both
So the odd thing about these two things is that they are inherently connected. I found that sometimes, my self-worth was so low that I believed that my creation was shit. Even though my creation wasn’t really all that bad. When you have low self-esteem it is very hard to tell the difference between making a bad game, and the negative belief that you made a bad game. But the good news is, once you identify this issue, it is an easy fix.
First, improving yourself isn’t really that hard. It just takes consistency and effort. Guilt usually comes from the belief that you did something wrong. And making a profit off of something that you worked hard on to build is never wrong. Keep telling yourself that and make an effort to face the emotion head on. That, and educating myself on guilt and the fact that this is a common thing among humans is what worked best for me.
Second, if you think your game is bad, make sure that’s not an incorrect assumption on your part. Let people play it, get their feedback, their thoughts. And most importantly, make people pay for it. There is nothing as beautifully unbiased as a random paying customer you never heard of leaving a positive review. That’s the only way to tell for sure. If you realize your game does in fact suck, well then make a better game and try again! Quitting is the only actual way to fail.
Conclusion: selling is not evil
Despite what most people think, salespeople are not the bad guys. Pushing someone to buy something they don’t need or won’t enjoy is a shitty thing to do. But if you feel like that’s what you’re doing, make sure it’s not just your self-esteem making you feel that way. And if you turn out to actually be peddling a shitty product…well…you should stop.
Selling stuff is necessary. The more you can make from your games, the more games you can make. And the more games you can make, the better you get at making games. And the better you get at making games, the more the world benefits. But that whole benefit circle starts with sales. It is something that you have to master if you want to sustain yourself and make games for the long term.