I watched with horror, almost in slow motion, as my fist collided with the side of my Sifu’s face.
Fortunately I’m still very new to the martial art of Wing Tsun, so I don’t pack enough power for a Paak Sau — a blocking technique — to hurt.
… Which is probably why my instructor Sifu Ethan immediately started laughing as I frantically began to apologize for my wobbling punch.
Ethan is the extremely patient, extremely awesome teacher at Brooklyn Wing Tsun. He’s skilled at his craft, passionate about his work, terrifyingly fast, and (in that moment) wholly determined to drill into my skull one very important detail:
“OK. Think back. What did we learn last week?”
“Uhhh….” I mumbled, stuffing my hands into the pockets of my uniform, still recovering from my split second of humiliation.
He pointed down to my flat black Wing Tsun shoes.
“Oh! Right!” I cried. “Feet! Arrow step!”
(This is the foundational move of any Wing Tsun practitioner. It allows you to move quickly toward your opponent without losing your fighting stance, or letting your feet too far off the ground — which prevents an aggressor from sweeping your legs out from under you.)
“Yes!” He threw his hands in the air victoriously. “Footwork. Do that and everything else falls into place.”
I practiced the step again, shuffling forward.
“Good.” he confirmed. “You wanna go faster? Footwork. You wanna hit harder? Footwork. OK. Let’s try again…”
That’s one one of the biggest things martial arts has taught me, much in the same way dance did in middle and high school:
It’s easy to get distracted by what’s immediately in front of you — your arms and fists, your opponent and competition, and your visions for what you can do— but in reality?
The most powerful tool you have is your foundation. Your footwork.
I thought about this moment a few weeks later as I watched, in shock, as my sales totals passed $10,000 after the launch of my first course, The Wordshops.
The cart had been open for just under a week.
I’d launched on Friday, and the live version of my course had sold out by Tuesday.
Now it was Thursday, and the D.I.Y. versions were continuing to sell.
While a part of me was completely elated, a noisier, squirmier part of me was completely confused and a little alarmed.
My email list was tiny. I’d spent a whopping $35 on Facebook ads for the blog writing challenge that led up to the launch — which ended up attracting close to 350 awesome participants almost entirely organically! — but none for the course itself.
I’d intended this to be more of a “soft launch” to test concepts, while the big ad push would rain down later this winter. (Not to mention I’d realized all too late that I was launching parallel to one of the biggest copywriting courses in my industry.)
So… how was this happening right now?!
While I work my ass off and have been blessed with a lot of incredible luck in my 6 years of business — I’m also a realist.
First product launches are incredibly challenging. I’ve seen countless gifted people invest thousands, only to have their initial push deliver so-so results, or none at all.
Reason being? There’s a huge difference between people liking you (even loving you!), and wanting to give you their money. Let alone a lot of their money.
Yet there I was, standing in my kitchen in my PJ’s, pouring whipped cream into my coffee because we were out of half and half, staring in shock at my little Shopify Sales graph.
The first thing I said out loud, before I could even consider celebrating, was: “Why?”
Sure, I’d done my homework. I’d talked to my audience first, and tested everything.
Sure, I’d done a decent job drumming up excitement with a blog writing challenge, and talking about the launch before it happened.
But I’d seen a lot of crazy smart people do that and flop. In fact I was almost certain I’d be one of them.
Maybe I just had a lot of beginner’s luck?
I’m sure luck was part of it. But maybe there was something else…
That’s when I remembered the words my Sifu used:
“Footwork! Do that and everything else falls into place.”
During the official launch of The Wordshops, I was constantly distracted by what was in front of me — and boy, was there a lot in front of me.
There were emails to write, creatives to pay out, messaging to nail, and final course components to QA.
But what I was forgetting about in that moment of shock at the money coming in was everything that came before — and all of the work that had gone into my building my reputation and tribe before a single logo was designed, or photo taken.
I was forgetting that the two beta rounds I’d run of the course that had turned a few students into raving fans.
I was forgetting the hours spent on free coaching calls, podcasts, and on stages.
I was forgetting spending far too long in my Facebook and Twitter PM’s helping other writers and entrepreneurs however I could.
We talk a lot in the industry about how to market yourself; or how to come up with your concept, how to attract leads and nurture them into buyers, how to muscle through the challenges…
But what we don’t talk about enough is the foundation we need to lay beforewe offer something to the world .
It’s not sexy, it requires a ton of effort, and there’s little you can do to quantify it while it’s happening.
But if you lose sight of it, or think you can move forward without it? You might find that none of your punches end up landing.
I’ve come to realize: Building stuff for the world requires a combination of work: headwork + heartwork + (most importantly) footwork.
First, the headwork: You must come up with an idea people want to invest in.
This is the heaviest mental lifting piece. You’ve gotta ask around, find out what people are looking for — and then you’ve gotta build that dang thing.
That means pouring the best of your most desirable expertise into what you create, while finding ways to make it unique-to-you and original. That means finding out how to translate what you instinctively do onto paper, and into simple steps.
So I did hours of customer interviews and created pages upon pages of shorthand notes in Google Docs detailing my own mental processes. It’s also the reason I ran the two beta test rounds so I could get complete 360 feedback from my students.
(I talk a little about how I built The Wordshops here, and don’t worry: I’ll bore you all to tears with even more info on my process soon.)
Then comes heartwork: You’ve gotta learn how to talk about what you’re selling to the people who’ll want to buy it.
If only you were as simple as throwing a sales page at people and watching money roll in.
But nope! Today’s consumers aren’t just smart, they’re incredibly discerning.
If you wanna get results? You’ve gotta throw your heart into the way you share your ideas. You need to make sure your concept is something your audience will understand and jive with — so you have to find a way to pull the curtain back on all the soul you poured into it, the value your customers can get, and exactly what results you can help them create.
It’s the reason I decided to start with the blogging challenge to make sure the tribe I wanted to serve connected with everything I could do for them. No smoke, no mirrors, just tools and help from my end, and a little dedication on theirs to make things happen.
Then, when it came time to write my promo emails? I stripped the gimmicks and formulas and shot for honesty.
While future campaigns promoting The Wordshops may lean a little heavier on the persuasion side of things? For this one I just put my heart on the table and told the story of how and why I built ’em.
And why did all that headwork and heartwork pan out? I’m willing to bet it was because of the final (or perhaps first) piece of the puzzle: my footwork.
My clients and colleagues would tease me mercilessly about the fact I hadn’t put out my course yet after 3 years of talking about it.
But what they maybe didn’t know?
I was perfecting my foundation — my footwork.
I’ve been in this field for long enough now to understand: You can have the flashiest branding, the best concept, the fanciest special guests and bonuses — but if no one knows you from boo? You’re screwed.
So you’ve gotta pound the digital pavement. You’ve gotta put yourself out there, over and over, until people start to take notice and recognize you. You’ve gotta build trust. You have to show, instead of just tell, why people should invest in you long before you offer them anything for purchase.
That’s why I spent the 18 months before launch teaching wherever, whenever, and however I could. I was making friends and cementing relationships with potential future students and dropping hints about the course to build excitement. When someone approached me to ask me a question (in person, on Facebook or Twitter, or in my inbox), I tried to give them every bit of help I could — not because I was secretly hoping they’d buy my future course, but because I love to teach and share what I know, and I love having the kind of expertise that can really make a difference for entrepreneurs across the planet. That’s what I’d really dig being known for, and a huge part of the reason I built The Wordshops.
So, sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously, and universally imperfectly: I was doing the slow burn work of establishing myself as a visible writer and writing coach. I was practicing my footwork.
But hey, let’s make no bones about it: You can have all your headwork, heartwork, and footwork in place and it’s still easy to get overwhelmed by a first launch.
Scratch that: It’s easy to get completely crushed by the weight of the conceptual freight train you’re trying to push along, the punches you have to throw and the obstacles flying at you along the way. (Thanks for nothing, tech gremlins.) It almost happened to me, too.
And I won’t pretend that there wasn’t a huge chance the first Wordshops launch could have tanked.
But if it had? I was prepared to dust myself off, drape my dignity around myself, and march on, determined to do better on the next round — because that’s just business.
Fortunately, it didn’t pan out that way. And I thank my footwork for being the biggest force carrying me through to the success I saw.
Is it possible to launch first, and then focus on footwork? Absolutely.
(After all, your course may give you the material and focus you need to build up your foundation in the first place.)
But it’s like perfecting punches before you move across the mat while throwing them: it’s a different way of learning — and you may suddenly realize you have to re-learn how to throw your fists once you start to incorporate the rest of your body.
… And you also might end up accidentally punching your teacher in the face.
So I want to remind you, whether you’re about to launch a new concept, or whether you’re dreaming up one right now:
Don’t get so lost in your visions for the future ahead that you forget to pay attention to what’s beneath your feet, and the platform you’re building for yourself, right now.
If you’re choosing visibility, you can’t lose sight of how you’re standing and moving through the world in your chosen field.
“You wanna go faster? Footwork. You wanna hit harder? Footwork.”
And if you flub it anyway?
Square your shoulders, fix your stance, get back on the mat and… go another round.
Photo by Jeff Weller