Make what you can sell, don’t sell what you can make

A few months ago I went to a seminar on Lean Startups which was aimed at tech firms looking for some startup ideas etc. While there the speaker threw out the phrase “Make what you can sell, don’t sell what you can make“. And this got me thinking (when I got to grips with what he actually meant).

You see, one of the biggest curses when you’re an entrepreneur is that you’re normally flooded with ideas for projects and products. I always have more ideas than I could possibly implement in amongst all that I’m currently working on. If you’re in business you may be able to relate to this.

So, I’d like to tell you a bit of a story with this in mind.

Sinclair C5 is a classic case of 'Sell what you can make' and not 'Make what you can sell'
Sinclair C5 is a classic case of ‘Sell what you can make’ and not ‘Make what you can sell’

A few years ago I ran a training business. We offered a variety of training products and I was doing a lot of talks at business networking groups to highlight how good we were etc.

One of my talk topics was ‘Low-cost and no-cost marketing techniques for small businesses’ and it was very popular.

So, based on that, we developed an e-product of the same name. It was an e-book and MP3 seminar. And, as you could imagine, I was really excited about it. We spent nearly a whole week putting this thing together. We did loads of research into useful stuff that would benefit the intended buyers.

The problem was: I had no idea if anyone would be interested in buying it. In my naive enthusiasm I made the assumption that because the talk was popular then it’s obvious that my target market wouldn’t mind spending £20 buying something along the same lines.

We put loads of effort into the product, spent time and effort on email marketing and promoting it at events and we sold just one copy. ‘Make what you can sell, don’t sell what you can make’ didn’t even come into my consciousness. And, because of the failure of our efforts, we lost heart and dropped the product.

The big mistake was that we spent no time at all thinking about whether anyone would actually buy the new product. The audience that wanted low-cost and no-cost really wanted ‘no-cost’.

And if you launch a product or service that nobody wants to buy then it’s been a thorough waste of time, effort and money.

Another mistake was to rely on only 2 real marketing channels but we’ll get onto that in another article.

But what should you do about this kind of thing? What should you do with these great ideas? How can you strive to ‘Make what you can sell’?

In my view, the first thing is to ask yourself: “Despite the fact that I’m excited about this idea, will I be able to get other people excited enough to buy it?”

This means starting with a bit of research in your target market. Why not ask a handful of folks you know in the target market if they think it’s a good idea and (more importantly) whether they’d be inc lined to buy it. You could also write a blog post on your website about the planned product and post it out on Twitter to try and get some feedback (Twitter didn’t exist when we launched our doomed product).

You also need to look at whether anyone else is successfully selling such a thing. If they are then it means that there is a market. You could then examine how your competition approaches the market and emulate some of what they do. Don’t copy them but if they have a good idea then look ways to adapt it to your own style and approach.

It could be possible that there is a gap in the market and your research then becomes ever more important since you’ll be blazing a trail for other entrants if they latch onto this gap when you’ve stepped into it.

I hope that help but a huge caveat with this is that you shouldn’t spend too long researching. If the feedback shows that the idea is good then get on and launch it and do it quickly. It’s better to fail quickly for reasons we’ll discuss elsewhere.

If you have thoughts on this or have similar experiences then we’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

4 thoughts on “Make what you can sell, don’t sell what you can make”

  1. Good points Karl

    I have made a few products that have sold well … And I know they could help even more people…all I have to do is market them more to the target markets that have a proven track record of buying similar … I.e. weight loss, confidence, stop smoking, sports performance and business performance

    However as did make a overcome your fear of flying CD which resulted in just one sale! I realise I’d pitched it at the incorrect market place, however with a tweak or two it could raise its sales more … Me thinks sending a copy to the airlines offering special rates for bulk or maybe offering a download version via a special link would be a step forward

    With regards to new products, I’ll keep your words in mind



    1. Thanks for the response Gary,

      But you’ve hit a good point about targeted marketing, which I’ll be covering in a later post.


  2. Thank you Karl.

    This is a very good point that I will keep in pocket as will be starting my own business soon.

    Best Regards

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