Know Yourself: You’re Either Building or Selling


Take stock of yourself professionally. What’s your job? What’s your business? To borrow from Naval Ravikant, you’re either building or selling. You need to know which one you are or you’ll be unnecessarily frustrated when your work isn’t going where you want.

You’re a builder if you’re an:

  • Engineer
  • Writer
  • Painter
  • Designer
  • Machinist

Think of builder as a stand-in for “laborer”. I prefer the word builder because it’s indicative of creation. It describes how you’re adding to the world. Plus, I don’t like when people are static. IF you’re growing, you’re building something.

You’re selling if you’re:

  • A marketer
  • In sales
  • An influencer
  • Run a distribution network (e.g. own a platform)
  • An aggregator of other people’s work (like a magazine editor)

Selling just means you’re putting the thing in front of other people. It may or may not be the actual point of sale.

Selling is just as necessary as building. There is no selling without building, so you could argue that building is slightly more necessary, but anyone who has ever run a real business understands the importance of marketing—even if it’s just implicit, organic marketing through channels they’ve built for a few years via social media or just their old-fashioned reputation.

Building and Selling in a Small Business

If you’re running a small business by yourself, you’re wearing both hats yourself. You still need to know which is which.

If you’re running an e-commerce business and you have the BEST product in history, but you never market it, no one will ever know or care. Where’s your blog, social media, or just plain-old ads?

“But I hate doing those things.” Then find someone who can do it for you. It’s worth spending money on something you’re bad at because it will pay for itself (if you do it right).

If your business isn’t at a place where you can hire someone to do this yet, can you contract someone part-time? Or if it’s not for a full task, then at least partly?

E.g. if you’re writing a blog, but you have terrible spelling and grammar, hire a ghostwriter (even just for half of your articles). You send them a rough outline of what you want, or even just bullet points. They’ll write it well, find sources, make it pretty.

I don’t know what your business is, but odds are you have something you can outsource. If it’s something you’re particularly bad at or takes forever to do, then outsourcing it will pay for itself.

Even if it’s “free” for you to do it yourself, it’s not. Your time has a value per hour. If your time is worth $100/hour, and you spend three hours designing a graphic, it was worth paying someone else $150 to do it even if it only takes them half an hour.

Leaders Sell More Than They Build

This is a classic problem for people who are new to management or executive leadership. They have been building their whole career, so their instinct is to build when their employee encounters a problem. Sometimes that’s necessary. More often, their job needs to be building the employee to handle it themselves or even just convincing the employee they can handle it themselves.

Convincing = selling.

The higher you go, the more often you’ll be selling instead of building. You are selling the team on your vision (since they’re the ones executing). You’re selling prospective hires to join your team. You’re selling the other decision-makers in your organization to allocate resources to your department or ideas (even if they’re you’re underlings).

If you’re not a fan of this, you’ll call it politicking.

If you like and excel at this, you’ll call it leadership.

Both are true.

Leaders will do both building and selling, just at different levels. They are legitimately building the organization, but they do it by selling internally. That’s why it’s hard to be a leader. You have to do both.

That’s also why it’s easy to end up with a bad leader. You have someone who is really good at selling internally but lacks the ability to see the big picture and build something worthwhile.

Everyone Sells

Engineers hate sales, which is why they usually get paid less than they’re worth. They don’t like hearing or saying no. Meanwhile, the classic sales guy is a bro-jock for a reason: they don’t fear conflict.

Is this actually true/ I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m just trying to get a point across.

No matter what job you’re in or what business you own, you need to learn how to sell. If you want a higher salary, more days off, or a big new client, you need to learn to sell.

I was frustrated in my engineering job because I wanted to be in sales. Not literally (maybe?) but I wanted to have a say in what we were doing and suggest some new ideas for us to work on. For the most part, our work was simply handed down from on high. That was a mismatch for who I was (or wanted to be). It was time to learn to sell.

Recognizing which skill you’re lacking, which one you’re expected to have, and which one you’re good at is critical. Maybe you’re a great builder but get passed over for leadership—that means you need to learn to sell. Maybe you’re brim-full of ideas but don’t know where to start—time to become a builder.

No matter what, you’ll end up either doing both or relying on someone to do your weaker one.

Know who you are and where you need to grow next.

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