I’m pretty lucky that my job isn’t just to build my business but to watch businesses being built. And from my perch in the online business market, I see a lot of lies about building businesses.
Some are obvious. Others… are more pernicious.
Many lies are distortions of truths that have been passed along in a sort of entrepreneurial game of telephone. These are the ones I find most damaging.
What you’ll find below are 4 of the lies–most definitely grounded in some truth–that are stifling the prospects of businesses left and right.
Lie #1: Your most important goal is to build your list.
A few years ago, there was a major shift in the community of people building businesses in the wake of the rise of social media.
They realized that social media—on its own—wasn’t going to produce the financial results they were looking for. The platforms got more crowded, it got harder to earn attention, and followers became elusive.
There was no way to predict whether anyone would see your message—let alone click or buy.
What was working was email marketing—as it has since it was created—and savvier new marketers started to put more and more energy into ushering new people onto their email lists.
They found people who were interested in what they were offering, signed them up to “the list” for free, nurtured their blossoming relationships with content, and then made an offer.
Money was made.
A mantra was born: The money is in the list.
By the way: I’ve been–unintentionally–as guilty as almost anyone of perpetuating this lie.
Soon, everyone was talking about list-building. List-building, list-building, list-building.
There were list-building challenges, courses on how to get your first 1,000 subscribers, webinars on how to turn Instagram followers into email subscribers…
Everywhere you looked, someone had an answer for your list-building problem.
Only… you never had a list-building problem.
List-building isn’t the real goal of any business.
Finding customers is the goal.
Attracting people who want to buy from you is the goal.
List-building be damned.
As you think about your email list moving forward, remember that your goal is to fill it with potential customers, not just to add to the numbers on MailChimp or ConvertKit or Infusionsoft.
There might be a hot new “list-building” tactic out there and it may potentially add hundreds or thousands to your list but that doesn’t mean it will add new customers.
Be intentional, think socially, and grow your audience with purpose this year.
Lie #2: If you can’t scale, you can’t succeed.
Tech startups, software-as-a-service companies, and of course, online education businesses are all the rage.
All around you, you hear about the promise of scale: serving hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people with the same amount of work you use to serve one.
Scale is awesome. And, yes, the internet makes scale more accessible than ever before. But it’s not the end game for every business.
Businesses have been succeeding and making their owners millions of dollars without scale for the entire history of capitalism. Think about advertising agencies, construction companies, hospitals, and architecture firms.
Certainly, building this type of business is a challenge in and of itself. But if you have strong values for personalized service, bespoke results, and deep experiences, this is the growth path you should be on.
You don’t need to build an online course to grow a successful business. You don’t need to create an app. You don’t need to build a media site that tallies their visits in the millions. Those are all viable models—but they’re not the only model.
Lie #3: You have to work harder to make more money.
Now, this is a tricky one. Because it’s a lie that seems to have been debunked early in the rise of the New Economy.
However, for those of us with working class upbringings or ingrained Protestant work ethic (and I’m sure for many others too), this lie dies hard.
In a virtual planning retreat, I facilitated last week, several of participants expressed concern that their new, bigger goals would mean that they’d have to work really hard to reach them.
They were signed up for this event specifically to create a plan that would allow them to work less and earn more. And yet, they still struggled to get past this mental block.
As I’ve written many times this year, the main difference between a business that earns 5 or 6 figures and a business that earns 7 figures is not the work ethic or schedule of the owner. It’s a matter of design.
Design your business to produce more with the effort you’re already giving it. Change your behavior, don’t do more of the same. Build creative solutions instead of working harder. Adjust what you’re offering to produce the results you want, don’t pile on more, more, more.
Lie #4: Learn first, then do.
Having access to a wealth of information both free and paid is fantastic.
My pre-2003 self is still amazed at how effortlessly I can access news, opinion, education, and tutorials on any subject.
This wealth of information at our fingertips has created a strong culture of learning and exploration online. In many ways, this is extremely positive.
However, that learning and exploration culture can also prevent many people from taking action. There’s extreme FOMO when it comes to new ideas, new tactics, and new trends:
If you don’t learn something because you’re off doing something, someone else might learn it first.
The truth is that learning doesn’t actually happen until you do something.
All those courses you’ve taken, blog posts you’ve read, podcasts you’ve listened to, and coaches you’ve hired haven’t actually taught you anything until you put their teaching to use.
That’s just how learning works.
Keep investing your time and money in learning, but take action before you’re ready and as part of the learning process—not something that happens later.
(This 4th lie inspired by Mary Ann Clements, founder of Jijaze.)
The most important truth you can take with you into 2017:
Critically examining what you perceive to be your limitations never fails.
If you bump up against an obstacle time and time again, it will always pay to ask yourself why you’re bumping up against it and how you can get around it or over it instead of pushing through it.
When I asked Melanie Duncan what she thought separated 6-figure businesses from being 7-figure businesses, she said:
“When you have a seven-figure business, you are not just in love with your products, you are not just in love with your services, you are in love with your customers, because to have a seven-figure business, you’re serving your customers or you’re serving your clients in more lateral directions.”
I would like to give this a big ol’ HELL YES.
And, it’s the key to one of my favorite business design hacks: The Customer Journey.
Are you in love with your customers?
Now, I know you: you love your work. You love the service you offer or the product you’ve created. You love the ideas you get to play with on a daily basis and the conversations you get to have.
And… I know you love your customers too.
But, your customer love probably isn’t what’s driving your business development. That’s how you miss opportunities to design your business to earn magnitudes more.
Instead, all your cool ideas are driven by your passion for the work you do and the concepts you get to play with.
I know this because I’ve been there too.
I’ve been in love with a new idea. I’ve been obsessed with why my customers need it. And… I’ve often been foggy on why they would ever care about it.
As a result, those ideas were hard to communicate, even harder to sell, and ultimately, winded up in the waste basket of my business.
When you fall in love with your customers and get obsessed with their needs, you see a different way to design your business–one that makes it much easier to design a business that can generate the 6 or 7-figure revenue you’re looking for.
Here’s how to use The Customer Journey to get started:
First, determine when and why your best customers start looking for something like what you do.
Usually, this starts with a Google search: Natural ways to boost my energy, How to get divorced and stay friends, How to start a business, Why aren’t I getting promoted, etc… Don’t overthink it. If you need to, ask your best customers what they were googling when they started down the path they’re on.
This gives you the context for their motivation to buy. Not your motivation for them to buy. Their motivation for them to buy.
Next, figure out where your customers ultimately want to end up.
This is usually a brand new identity they’re looking to assume: Highly productive mom, Independent woman, Confident business owner, High-powered executive, etc…
Your customers want to know you’re taking them in the right direction. Using a clear goal is a great way to rally them and help them know they’re in the right place. Every offer you make can point back to this ultimate goal and that helps keep your business focused in the mind of your customer.
Finally, consider what frustrations, goals, and questions come up for your customer on his journey from initial Google search to ultimate goal.
As your customer learns more, experiences more, and creates changes, his frustrations, goals, and questions will change. After all, when you learn something new, it often just sparks a new question, right?
These are your opportunities. A business that’s designed to produce more revenue guides customers through these changes. It anticipates what customers need next and provides it.
Sometimes that’s with another offer, sometimes it’s with content marketing, sometimes it’s with an affiliate offer, and sometimes it’s just with goodwill. But the business is always there, providing an answer or easing a frustration.
The business becomes a partner for the customer on her journey.
That’s what Melanie means when she says a 7-figure business is serving the customer in more “lateral directions.” Your high-producing business is on the journey, meeting customer needs before they come up.
Give it a try. Plot out your Customer Journey and see what opportunities you spot for redesigning your business to earn more.
And, if you missed this week’s episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit., click here to listen to my conversation with Melanie Duncan or read the transcript.
When Sean and I moved back to Pennsylvania a year ago, he quit his job to pursue his creative interests including fiction writing.
He’d dabbled in writing for quite some time, working on character development or penning short vignettes, but he’d never devoted himself to it. He couldn’t find the discipline to take a single idea from start to finish.
And he knew that no matter how many days he worked on character development or short vignettes, he wasn’t going to end up with a completed novel until he changed the way he was approaching the whole pursuit.
So he gave himself a massive challenge…
…he decided to tackle NaNoWriMo.
If you’re not familiar, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month and it happens every November, right alongside No Shave November (for which he is also a faithful participant). The goal is to write approximately 1650 words every day of the month so that you end the month with a 50,000-word manuscript.
You do it knowing full well that the manuscript will likely be terrible…
…but at least it will be done.
This was going to be a real test: going from a scant 100-200 words per day to 1650 words per day? How could he manage it?
Well, he did. He actually finished early and proudly printed off the entire 50,000+ word manuscript on November 30.
The reason he accomplished it was simple…
He made structural changes to the way he approached writing. He was no longer just trying to get in some writing 100-200 words at a time, he structured his day around achieving the necessary 1600 words.
It wasn’t a matter of time or hustle. It was a matter of design:
- He stopped writing in a notebook and started writing in a Google Doc.
- He stopped writing at the pub and started writing in an office.
- He stopped putting it off til the end of the day and started prioritizing the action first thing.
- He stopped second-guessing every artistic choice he made and started moving through the plot bit by bit.
These 4 simple changes meant that he octupled his production in largely the same amount of time he was spending on writing before. Not only that, but he actually set a goal and reached it.
Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with the difference between a 6-figure business and a 7-figure business.
Just like with Sean’s success and NaNoWriMo, what separates a 6-figure business from a 7-figure business is a matter of design.
A business that generates 6-figure revenue is rarely an underperforming 7-figure business.
Just like Sean wasn’t really an underperforming novelist before he tackled NaNoWriMo.
A business that generates 6-figure revenue is one that’s designed to generate 6-figure revenue. A business that generates 7-figure revenue is one that’s designed to generate 7-figure revenue.
Of course, it’s also true that a 5-figure business is rarely an underperforming 6-figure business. A 5-figure business is most often designed to earn 5-figures.
No matter how much you hustle, no matter how much time you devote to it, no matter how many new skills you learn, if your business isn’t designed to reach your goal, it won’t.
What exactly do I mean when I say the “design” of your business?
- Your prices
- Your business model
- The structure of your offers
- The way you nurture prospects and customers
- Your campaigns
- Your team
- Your brand
- Your time management
- Your project management
It all has to work together and be aligned with your goal–no matter what that might be.
There’s a good chance–whether you realize it right now or not–that your business design has had more in common with Sean’s 100-200 words per day than it does with the NaNoWriMo guideline of 1650 words per day.
You’ve been putting in time and energy… but it hasn’t been in the pursuit of a clear objective.
The reason NaNoWriMo’s 50,000-word goal works so well is that it’s easy to figure out exactly what you need to do to hit it. You take 50,000 and divide it by the 30 days in November. Then you make the structural changes to your routine to allow you to accomplish it day in and day out until the goal is met.
Your business works the same way. You choose a goal and the adjust the design of your business accordingly.
If you don’t choose, you’ll keep just getting by. If you don’t adjust, you’ll get down on yourself for never even getting close to where you want to be.
Choose a goal (maybe your next goal is a 7-figure year) and adjust your design.
…just because you haven’t reached a previous goal (say $150,000/yr) doesn’t mean you can’t set a new goal (say $750,000/yr).
Your past performance doesn’t change your worthiness. Nor does it change your ability to design your business to reach a higher goal now that you understand what your effort fell short. When you decide to set that new goal, go big.