Admit Your Limitations

– By Tad Hargrave –

Come and learn the possibilities (and the limitations) of holistic nutrition.”

These remain one of my favourite sentences ever penned in marketing.

I remember reading it, on a poster for a workshop on holistic nutrition at an organic grocery store in town, and being struck at how much more credible and trustworthy the workshop it was describing seemed to me. Such a simple notion: admitting that there are limitations to what you have to offer.

We all know it’s true anyway. Nothing works 100% of the time. And, when people claim it or imply that it does, we trust them less, not more. When people tell us that their modality can help everyone, we take a step back.

Unless we’re desperate. Then we tend to grasp onto anything. Even the heavy stone that false hope becomes in stormy waters. Anything. This is part of the responsibility of marketing: don’t fuck with people. Don’t give them false hopes. Be real with them. Be real about everything that’s possible and that could happen. Be real with them about the limitations of what you can do.

This is why niching matters. When you choose a niche, you’re saying to people, “I can’t do everything. But I have some skill in this area.” That is credible. That is believable.

If you’re real like this then there are plenty of sales you won’t make. But there are enough sales that you will make. And, if you avoid over promising, you also won’t have to deal with people wanting refunds, complaining about you, calling you a fraud, or suing you. So there’s that.

I’ll always remember Billy Blanks in his Tae Bo infomercials telling people how much hard work his programs were and making sure people knew that it wouldn’t be easy and not to buy it if they were looking for a quick fix.

If your natural nutritional approach can help people with their cancer treatment but not replace it, tell your potential clients that.

If your work can help a client find meaning in heartbreak but not remove the pain of that heartbreak, tell them that.

If your work can help clients save money but it won’t make them rich, tell them that.

If your work can help a prospective client feel at home in this world, but won’t deliver on the spiritual pyrotechnics they might hope for, tell them that.

Here’s a worthy exercise to try:

  • Take two pieces of paper.
  • On the top of one piece of paper, write the word “Can”
  • On top of the other piece of paper , write the word “Can’t.”
  • Now take 15 minutes going back and forth between writing out what you feel confident your approach can do and what you know it cannot do.

Ask yourself, “What are people hoping my work with them might accomplish that just isn’t realistic?” – and then write about that.

Your first answers will be obvious but, as you keep digging and sifting, you’ll find more subtle things. You might do this for your business as a whole. You might try it for a particular workshop, product, or service. You will come across to clients as much more trustworthy and comfortable in your own skin than if you are full of inflated promises.

Finally, put this list of “cans” and “can’ts” on your website wherever it fits best. You might add it to your “Are You Sure?” page. You might put it in your sales letters, or even on your homepage.

Try telling the truth about your limits. Try telling the truth about your weaknesses.

Try considering the possibilities and the limitations of your own work and then sharing what you find.

You might be surprised by how much it ends up crediting you.

Additional Resources: 

What’s an “Are You Sure?” Page?:

Choosing a niche:

Endorse Your Weaknesses:


Tad Hargrave

Tad Hargrave

Tad Hargrave is a hippy who developed a knack for marketing (and then learned how to be a hippy again). Despite years in the non-profit and activist world, he finally had to admit he was a marketing nerd and, in the end, he became a marketing coach for hippies. Maybe it was because he couldn’t stand seeing his hippy friends struggle to promote their amazing, green and holistic projects. Maybe it was because he couldn’t keep a 9-5 job to save his life. Whatever the reason, for almost a decade, he has been touring his marketing workshops around Canada, bringing refreshing and unorthodox ideas to conscious entrepreneurs and green businesses that help them grow their organizations and businesses (without selling their souls). He has also offered most of his workshops on a modified pay what you can basis (a small deposit to attend and then people choose the amount they want to pay at the very end). This all feels like a minor miracle as Tad spent his early marketing days learning and applying some very inauthentic, high pressure, extremely gross and pushy marketing approaches. This has made him suuuuper allergic to these kinds of approaches because he discovered they made him feel slimy (even in personal friendships), he didn’t sleep well and he’s very sorry to all those people he spoke with back in the day. After a decade of unlearning and unpacking that whole scene – he now feels ready and able to help other people find ways to market that feel wonderful.
Tad Hargrave
Tad Hargrave

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