It’s Harder When You’re the Sales Team

I once had a consulting call with a marketer in the magic space. He helped popular magicians sell prop cards, card decks, and other gadgets.

He was good at what he did, but he had recently discovered Medium and found some success on it. A few of his articles did well, and he was earning a few hundred bucks per month. Looking for a job that allowed him to fully embrace his creativity, he asked me: “I’m making around $80,000 per year now. How long do you think it’ll take me to make the same money on Medium? Should I quit and go all-in?”

I gave him the honest answer: “Absolutely not. You will most likely never make that kind of money on Medium, and if you do, it’ll take several years at least.” That year, I actually did make around that amount on the platform — but I did so after six years of writing, four years of writing for Medium’s Partner Program specifically, and it would also not happen again.

The next year, the algorithm changed, and so did the payouts. My lifetime earnings would go on to look like a perfect bell curve, and while I didn’t know that yet, I did know my client likely wouldn’t be able to replicate my best year quickly, let alone indefinitely.

Entrepreneurship teaches you a wonderful lesson most employees will forever miss: how hard it is to make a dollar. If a company pays you a fixed yearly amount to sell magic gadgets, that money seems to indeed appear out of nowhere. What’s more, you don’t care where it comes from. You only care that it ends up in your account.

But how many card decks do you have to sell to justify your $80,000 paycheck? Let’s say the cards are $20 a pop. That’s 4,000 card decks, just for your salary. Do you know where to find 4,000 people who’ll fork over that kind of money for some paper? What story will you tell them? How would you sell 4,000 sets of playing cards without incurring any additional expenses?

My client had an intuitive understanding of this. Given his experience, devising a campaign to sell that number of card decks was easy for him. At his company, he could easily justify his cost. Convincing strangers to read your work and then get paid based on a black-box algorithm? That was an entirely different task. Thankfully, he stuck to his firm — and later became the CEO! Phew. I’m glad I didn’t tell him to quit.

If you work at Microsoft and get paid $100,000 per year, Microsoft has to sell 1,000 licenses of their Office package at $100 a piece to keep you on. If you work in automotive, it might be just one car, but cars are not something we buy every day, nor very easily.

Companies are efficient because some folks bring in the money, and others focus on making the product. As an entrepreneur or a freelancer, you have to do both. How much harder would it be to make your salary if you also had to sell every dollar worth of product that funds it? Chances are, you couldn’t do it on your own — at least not at first, and not to the scale of payment you are used to.

Remember that every dollar you make is a dollar that someone had to convince someone else to spend. Just because you didn’t do that convincing doesn’t mean you didn’t earn it, but it sure puts money into perspective. Making the big bucks gets a lot harder when you’re the sales team, and whether we are on it or not, the magic of making a sale sure is worth appreciating.