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Are You Asking Too Much of People?

I stared at the ticket website on my phone.  Then called out to my husband – “I absolutely cannot make one more decision.”

We had arrived in Oslo, Norway, and pulled up to our Airbnb in a rental car.  We wanted to go downtown to see an art museum, so I found the public transit page. 

Oh good, there’s a ticket app!  Wait, the app only accepts Scandinavian credit cards. 

OK, paper tickets are $2.60 more apiece more if you buy on board.  Let’s get them in advance.  Only sold at major train stops – shoot, we had to drive in.  Wait, you can also buy them at convenience stores.

Shoot, the convenience store ones are only the reloadable kind that cost $6 for the card alone.  We’ll only be here 2 days, wait, how many rides do we need?  Oh good grief.  How much is parking at the museum?  All the parking garage info is in Norwegian, gotta pull up Google Translate.

This sort of dilemma is par for the course on international travel.  You get into a new city or country and navigate languages, websites, currencies, and logistics to get where you’re going.  It’s not really a big deal most of the time – you just have to step into the flow of how that place runs.

Except that this was Day 13 of the trip.  We had faced dilemmas like this every single day, sometimes multiple times per day.  My brain had been in constant “is it better to get the day pass or pay for each ride?” mode for nearly two weeks straight.

You can only price-and-time-optimize so many things in the course of two weeks, and I absolutely could not choose one more thing.  I didn’t care how much it cost.  I didn’t even care if we stayed in the Airbnb and did nothing.  I. Could. Not. Make. One. More. Optimizing. Choice.

There’s something you need to know:

When a potential client arrives at your doorstep, it’s sort of like they’re arriving in a new city and new country.

They see a new system for doing things.  New information to sift through.  Even a new language – “What is a wall print versus a wall portrait?  What is the ‘Swept Away Session’ versus the ‘Sail Into The Sunset Session?'” This is all before they even hire you and have to decide other things (wardrobes, color schemes, priorities, locations, gallery wraps versus metal prints, etc).

No matter how intuitive you think your site and offerings are, it will require some translation and decision-making skills.

And the ability to sort through info and make decisions is absolutely limited.

What I experienced in Norway is not unlike what we experience every day:  Decision fatigue.  It’s real.  Mental energy is limited, and you make withdrawals from that tank every time you expend effort of deciding what you want and weighing the merits of available options.

(They’ve even found that judges are more likely to grant parole to prisoners who appeared in court first thing in the morning or right after a refreshing lunch break, rather than late in the day when the judge was tired from studying complex decisions.  Yikes.  Decision fatigue is real and has life-changing consequences.)

John Tierney wrote:

“You can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price….The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless…The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing.”

A mission critical piece of information:  Potential clients DO NOT arrive on your virtual doorstep with a full mental tank.

First of all, if this is the end of the day after chasing kids, working, and dealing with a difficult neighbor  – they’ve already expended most of their mental energy.

Then they had to make several decisions just to land on your site:  What to search for, which result to select.  Maybe yours is even the third site they’re comparing.

If you then require them to figure out a site, switch between poorly labeled pages, try to compare too many options, and type everything in a small light grey font – you’re taxing them too much.

Most small business owners whose sites I browse have far too much faith in the mental energy of the average visitor.

There are two ways you can help people (and yourself) though:

#1: Shift as much of the work and decision-making load to you as possible.

Simple ways to do that include:

  • Make your website fascinating and nigh-brainless to navigate.  Yes it is work to change your website.  Do that work so clients don’t have to.
  • When you sell, don’t present them with a million possibilities.  Find out the outcome they hope to have, and then give them a specific proposal to start with.
  • Always remember:  Humans can answer the question “Do you want A or B?” infinitely more easily than “Do you want A, B, C, D, E, F, G, or H?”

#2: Give them the ultimate shortcut:  Let them get to know you.

Remember the part about people not arriving with a full tank?  You can actually use that fact to your advantage.

It’s no coincidence that we tend to hire people we already know.  Rather than expend our last 10% of mental energy casting a net into Google and seeing what we pull up – it’s much much easier to say “Jane is a nice person and I’ve seen her work.  I’ll see if she’s available.

People are much faster to get on board with the familiar than the unfamiliar.  So – make yourself familiar!  Pick a channel where your ideal clients hang out and share valuable things regularly.  And let them get to know you. 

By the way:  If you have an email list or other group of followers but aren’t sharing with them – you’re wasting a big opportunity because those folks expressly said they’d love to know more about you!

Creatives love to hate their newsletters:  “I never know what to say, I never know what people want to hear.”  These are excuses that do little other than keep you outside others’ circle of familiarity, and therefore off their go-to list of people to hire.

(If figuring out what to say frustrates you, take this straightforward class and get the Never Ending Content Generator.  I use this myself and have yet to run out of specific options – in fact I always have 50+ drafts and sketches of emails and blog posts at the ready.)

If it’s been awhile since you sent something out, just start.  Pick a single recent photo or piece of work, say “Hey I thought you might want to see this,” and tell a short story of how it came to be.  That’s it.  That’s all you have to do to start.  Go from there.

When you simplify what you offer and connect with someone on a personal level, you will actually become the shortcut that decision-fatigued people look to.  Neat, huh?

Go be the shortcut to what your people want.


P.S.  Do not let this post discourage you from visiting Norway.  😉  Loved it!  Also, I’m obsessed with Airbnb, especially now that I travel with a toddler.  Feel free to use my referral link to get yourself $40 off your first stay.


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  1. Jeff Dean on June 21, 2017 at 1:22 pm

    Wow that realy hit home. I just finished my website after 3 years working on it. I haven’t liked it but could not figure out why. Now i know why! Its not simple. Thanks for the help!!!

    • Jenika on June 29, 2017 at 10:02 pm

      My pleasure Jeff!

  2. Dave on June 21, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    Sometimes figuring out the optimal isn’t worth the delta from the less favorable choice. If it takes you 10 minutes to figure out that you’d save $2 on the best ticket option, after spending $3000 to get to the place… Maybe it’s better to just get the easiest ticket and go about enjoying the trip.

    • Jenika on June 29, 2017 at 10:12 pm

      If that were the situation, then I’d agree since I’m not one to quibble over $2. But daily sum total margins of error of $20-70 or more on a 2.5-week trip add up fast. Thankfully I didn’t spend $3k getting there, I used points. Smart travel = more travel. 😉 But at any rate, lots of the hurdles faced weren’t really about the money but the pure logistics of tickets and buses and trains and parking, all in translation on the fly, creating a cumulative situation. And that is a lesson well-applied when we want people to make decisions favorable to us. Thanks for reading!

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