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Transcript, edited for readability:
Over the course of this year, I’ve noticed something happening with a lot of small business owners like you. Even I haven’t been immune from this problem as my business has grown and grown.
That problem… is overcomplicating things on the path to success.
This problem shows up in a lot of different ways:
You might be stuck in analysis paralysis… not sure which way to go.
You might feel spread thin… trying to do a little bit of everything to figure out what is going to stick.
You might be nearing burn out and just trying to keep it together.
Or, you might be excitedly planning for the next phase of your business and oblivious to how difficult you’re making things for yourself.
There are 2 main reasons this problem crops up in the first place:
1) You work forwards instead of backward.
You’ve got a new goal and you’re ready to build on the success you’ve already had (whether that’s the decision to start your business in the first place or a long track record of making things happen). You start with what you’ve already got and look to add on to that.
And you add and add until your goal is in sight.
That’s working forwards. And it makes sense… but…
When you word forwards toward your goal, you layer idea on top of idea, or solution on top of solution.
You say, “I’ll work with 10 private coaching clients. Then I need to sell 100 courses. Then I’ll sell 500 books.”
You just keep adding things on until you reach your goal.
This creates a complicated and nearly impossible-to-follow plan.
When you work backward, you start with a goal and ask yourself, “What’s the fastest, simplest way I could reach my goal?”
You might discover that it’s by simply taking on 15 private coaching clients with a 50% price increase, which people will happily pay because your attention isn’t divided between them and trying to make your complicated plan happen.
Or, you might discover that it’s by simply selling 200 courses and putting all your attention on making your sales process as effective as possible, something you have time to do because you aren’t also seeing 10 private clients.
That’s not to say that multiple streams of revenue are bad or wrong. It’s just that layer upon layer, complication upon complication, in the service of hitting some far off goal isn’t going to get you where you want to go.
Focus your plan by working backward from what you want to achieve and keep it as simple as possible.
The other reason this problem occurs is:
2) You set incremental goals instead of exponential goals.
And that brings me to a personal story:
When my partner 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, 2015.
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.
He could have forced himself to sit and work on character development and tiny plot points a few more hours a week, hoping that the extra work would eventually see his novel finished.
But that would have never worked.
It’s the same way with your business.
When you set a goal that’s just incrementally higher (maybe 10%, 20%, or even 50%), your brain automatically thinks that doing more will get you there. You’ll add photographing one more wedding to your schedule, you’ll work harder at building your list, you’ll pump out 2 more websites, you’ll sell a few more courses…
How long will you be able to keep that up?
How tired are you already?
The only way past this is to set a goal so much higher than what you’ve done before that you’re forced to consider an entirely new way of doing things, just like Sean.
You stop adding more clients, you stop building new content upgrades, you stop jamming more webinars into your schedule, and you look at the way your business is fundamentally structured.
Then, you can work backward and find the fastest, simplest way to this amazing new goal.
Now, let’s tackle two listener questions and apply this to their situation.
First up is Yvonne Radley.
Yvonne has a niche publicity and coaching practice for fitness and wellness business owners. She’s found success with a small email list but she’s looking to ramp up and break into new markets next year. Her best list-builder to date has been an email challenge she’s been running for 4 years.
So now she wants to know:
“What else can I do to grow my email list and break into new markets?”
Yvonne’s question is one that I’m sure is on a lot of minds for next year.
And our “fastest, simplest way” philosophy is going to come in handy.
First, realize that “list-building” has become a monster as a marketing mantra.
About 2 years ago, once every finally realized they weren’t going to be able to build their businesses with social media alone, the gurus started talking about list-building.
List-building, list-building, list-building.
And… everyone forgot that the goal isn’t to build your list.
The goal is to find the right people to become customers of your business.
You heard me: the goal isn’t to build your list.
Instead, you need to be 100% focused on finding the right people to become customers.
You don’t need to have tens or hundreds of thousands of people on your list to have a million dollar business.
So… what’s the fastest, simplest way to find the right people to become customers of your business?
It sounds like Yvonne already knows: it’s this challenge that she’s been running for 4 years.
I would look for ways to amplify that, to spread that challenge into new segments of her market. And I would do that 2 main ways:
1) By tapping into the people who have already gone through the challenge and asking them to share.
Her existing list is going to be a huge help in growing her audience. Craft a campaign specifically around re-engaging these people and asking them to share the wealth with their friends and family.
At this point, I’d also look for technology that can help to simplify this: a referral system, viral marketing campaign software, etc… She should be rewarding people (even if it’s just with a “thank you” email) as people refer their friends and she should be making it as easy as possible for them to do it.
2) Paid Advertising
When you have something that you know works to turn interested people into buyers, it’s time to invest in advertising and then look for ways to scale the campaign once it’s working. Plus, since Yvonne has her customer defined soooooo well, she’ll be able to target them easily and speak to them directly—which makes any advertising campaign much more effective.
I’d start by advertising some really great content related to the challenge: a video, a blog post, even a few photos. Build general awareness about your brand and the value it provides.
Then, I’d advertise the challenge itself.
You can even run a concurrent ad to the people who have done it in the past asking them to share it with their friends!
Finally, I’d use advertising to ensure the people who are signed up are actually consuming the content you’re sending them and following up on your pitch!
If Yvonne invests all her audience-growing energy into that 2-fold strategy, she should have a great chance at both building her list and finding the right people to buy.
Our second question comes from Michael, who’s just starting his business and wants to know how to set goals.
“As a new business owner, at what interval should I be setting goals and how often should I be reevaluating them?”
At Quiet Power Strategy, we do goal setting a little differently—and you guessed it, one of the big reasons is because I like to simplify and keep things focused.
So I ask clients to choose a Chief Initiative—the main driver of their activity for a period of time, generally 3, 6, or 12 months. That Chief Initiative is the core focus and single goal for that length of time. It’s the 1 thing you want to have created or accomplished in that time frame.
For a new business owner or even an established business owner who is looking to make some big changes, I recommend a 3-month Chief Initiative.
For Michael, that might mean securing 4 client contracts in the first 3 months of next year.
In order to do that, he’ll need to accomplish some supporting things as well. I call these Projects. Your Chief Initiative might have 3 Projects, it might have 10.
Michael will identify each of these Projects, things like completing his website, contacting warm leads, or creating a proposal template. Then, he’ll make a list of the actions he needs to complete for each Project.
Each of those Projects needs to have a definitive milestone or metric associated with them so you can measure their completion.
Finally, Michael should complete a pre-mortem for his Chief Initiative. All that means is brainstorming all the ways his plan could go wrong… and putting new actions or safeguards in his plan to keep those things from happening.
He can then work in 3-month blocks throughout the year to keep the business growing and keep him and Elizabeth feeling focused and productive.
If you’d like to dive deeper into this goal-setting technique and the idea of working backward instead of forwards, check out Episode 47 of Profit Power Pursuit, called Lead Yourself Backwards.
Plus, there’s more good goal-setting advice in Episode 28 Microplanning for Success with Natalie MacNeil and Episode 25 How to Focus & Get Stuff Done with Pam Slim.
That’ll do it for this episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit. Remember to keep things simple, work backward, and set exponentially higher goals as you plan for next year.
Next week, I’ll be back with another listener-inspired episode so keep your questions coming! Simply write or record your question and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember to include your name, what you do, and where we can find you online so that I can give you a shout out!
If you loved this episode or any of the 60 deep dives we’ve done with successful small business owners over the last year, please subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.
On Saturday night, I sold two copies of my new book, Quiet Power Strategy.
And it was one of the single best experiences of my life.
Before starting my company, I managed a Borders Books & Music store. Though that company is now defunct, at the time, they were the 2nd largest bookstore chain in the United States. I managed a store with a $5 million volume and a team of 30-40 employees.
My role as Sales Manager had me overseeing merchandising, human resources, our coffee shop, and the local books & events category. It was my job to purchase books from local authors and plan book signings. While I was working 50-60 hour weeks for $28,000 per year, I dreamed of the day I could be the author instead of the bookseller.
Filling out purchase orders and accounts payable records, I daydreamed about when it would be my book on invoice instead of my signature on the purchaser line.
Saturday, those day dreams came true.
My friend Lisa Reid, who owns Lucy’s Books here in Astoria, Oregon, asked me if I would be the March Author Spotlight when she heard about the impending release of Quiet Power Strategy. When 4:45pm rolled around on Saturday, I gathered up some books and headed downtown.
After about 6 weeks of warm weather and brilliant sunshine, the Pacific Northwest got some “normal weather” for March. It was about 52 degrees and ranging from drizzle to downpour all day. Even though ArtWalk is generally a well-attended event here, noone was overly optimistic.
I sat down at the author’s table and watched about 5 or 6 people walk through the door in the 3 hours I was there. Lisa apologized. It was wholly unnecessary. My dream had come true. I was an author, at an event, at a bookstore. The two books we sold Saturday night represented one of the greatest victories of my career so far.
Well over 1300 books are out there in the world since the books was released last month (thank you!). And those 2 sales still represent something new and incredibly fulfilling to me.
As the above photo wracked up more & more likes on Facebook and Instagram, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much clear vision, purposeful action, and focused direction helps a business stand out.
It’s not about how loud you shout or what promotional tactics you master. Your voice will get hoarse. The algorithms will change.
Knowing where you’re headed, what you want to create, and how you want to connect with other people leads you to take action that helps your business stand out.
Perhaps more so, each step you take on the path toward those things earns you and your business more respect, visibility, and attention.
If your business is struggling to earn that respect, visibility, or attention… if you’re feeling pulled in a million directions and far from focused or purposeful with your actions… my next CreativeLive workshop can help.
We’ll spend a whole week identifying your vision, declaring your Chief Initiative, and defining the metrics by which you can track your progress.
Here’s what you’ll learn in 25 FREE lessons over 5 weeks in Build a Standout Business:
- The 8 questions you need to answers as a foundation for standing out naturally.
- The 2 languages you use to communicate naturally and how you can use them to create more compelling messages.
- The specific conditions you need to successfully connect with others and what marketing channels to try based on those conditions.
- How to create a business bio you can be proud of and use to differentiate what you do from everyone else in the market
- And much, much more…
Again, this bootcamp is completely FREE to watch live and, when you RSVP, you’ll get access to the exclusive course worksheets as soon as they’re available.
I hope you’ll join me starting March 23!
“What habits did you pick up from working with Ira [Glass]?” asked Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek and host of The Tim Ferriss show.
“There’s a certain level of ‘comfort with crisis’ that wore off on me,” replied Alex Blumberg, former producer for This American Life and co-founder of Gimlet Media.
Blumberg thought this might be a bad habit, this regular bumping into crisis motivated by high standards. I had other thoughts.
As an entrepreneur, crisis is part of my life. Even when things are well-systematized, edited into something beautiful, and leveraged, there are times when you need to push yourself harder, work longer, or expend more energy to raise the bar.
With a brand new book launch, a rebranded business coaching program now open for new clients, 2 keynote addresses, and a 30-day CreativeLive workshop to prepare for in the next 6 weeks, I’m in that mode right now. While there are many months of the year that my business works like a well-oiled machine during which I regularly work 25-30 hours per week, right now I’m at the brink of crisis.
Great opportunities create points of near-crisis.
Raising the bar takes risk.
You’re never completely ready. They never come at exactly the right time. They never exactly fit in that plan you hammered out 3 years ago.
So you push yourself. You make the tough decision and you say “yes” knowing that it’s going to push you to your edge–and a little past.
You do it in the name of service, you do it in the name of excellence, you do it for a challenge. You do it so that you know your ideas are represented in the best way possible. Whatever reason motivates you, you do it. You allow yourself to creep up to the point of crisis and you get more and more comfortable with that point.
I’m not suggesting that you enter true crisis. The brink of crisis–the point with which you get comfortable as an entrepreneur–is a place you can push yourself to in the name of [fill in your personal values here] and float for a few days, a week, maybe a month at most.
As I thought about it more, I came to believe there is a continuum of high-level creative work that leads to comfort with crisis, and ends, potentially in burnout.
The continuum begins with Boredom. We are all people who hate to be bored. The only thing we might hate more than being bored is the kind of busyness that’s more mind-numbing and less purposeful than truly having nothing to do. Then there is Busywork. It’s the stuff that you do just to get done. Hypothetically it serves a purpose, but you’re not exactly sure what that purpose is.
As you move closer to your zone of genius, you get to a stage of Productivity. This is where most of us want to be most of the time. You have a purpose, you’re doing great work, you’re getting things accomplished.
If you push further, if you challenge yourself harder, if you bump up against every edge or deadline you have, you get to the brink of Crisis. The more you get comfortable with this feeling, the more facility you have in pushing yourself there when you want to.
Of course, “when you want to” is key.
In my own experience, it’s when I’ve intentionally pushed myself into a “comfortable” Crisis–one bred from opportunity and high standards–that I am accessing my zone of genius, even entering a state of flow. I solve problems, find creative insights, get stuff done, and raise the bar on my own expectations.
I’m not encouraging you to constantly live in this state, so please don’t email me with your concerns about my dangerous lifestyle. What I’m saying is that we all find ourselves in this state from time to time, and, when we better understand it, we can make it a choice not a necessity.
We can become proactive about crisis instead of reactive.
On Tuesday, I hosted a webinar for over 900 people on how to create focus in their businesses using a technique called the Chief Initiative. One of the benefits of focusing your business on a Chief Initiative is that it creates intense drive toward a thrilling (and ideally lucrative) destination.
Maybe it’s publishing a book, landing a big fish wholesale client, or transforming your speaking career. Those things don’t happen without quite a few stars aligning. But to make your stars align, need to push yourself out of your comfort zone a bit. You need to do things you haven’t done before in the name of achieving something that’s really important to you and the long-term health of your business.
Most likely, raising the bar is going to require getting at least a little comfortable with the brink of crisis. Whether it’s the Terror Lite that comes in the run up to doing something for the very first time, or the crunch of multiple projects being birthed at the same time, it’s going to happen. Growing pains and all that. Will you risk temporary discomfort for impeccable output?
When you stay in Crisis mode for too long or when that Crisis lacks a clear purpose or isn’t motivated by your personal values, you end up in Burnout. That’s the far end of the continuum and that’s a place none of us want to be.
Of course, you can “achieve” Burnout without the benefits of edging up to Crisis. You can skip all of the middle stages and go from Boredom or Busywork right to Burnout. I fear that’s where you might be at.
If you’re working yourself to the bone but without a clear purpose and destination, you don’t know which edges need to be pushed, which bar to raise. You can’t say “yes” to opportunity and you can’t plan for growth. All you can do is try to keep all the balls in the air.
…people fixate on execution (‘doing what’s required’) instead of finishing up strategy (‘choosing the direction’) because it’s easier to see progress during execution than during strategy formation and development.”
— Nilofer Merchant, The New How
This is when you need to rely on Focus more than ever. Your strategy must be to bring attention to one achievement (your Chief Initiative) that would change the game for your business. Then, you reverse engineer—making tough decisions all the way down—the action plan so that you can immediately recognize what’s important and what’s not.
That’s how you raise the bar without burning out. That’s how you align your day-to-day actions with your vision. That’s how you actually achieve the things that move your business forward.
We left the paved path around Mile 4 and stepped onto a leaf-covered trail that led to a wildlife viewing platform. We took about 10 paces forward and veered off onto a “nondescript” path leading into the brush and trees. I counted 18 paces and watched the little blue circle on my phone get closer to the green target. I stopped and looked around. Sean trudged on a few paces more. We bent down, poking at the ground, lifting branches, looking for something that seemed just a little off. Nothing. Again. I declared the mission hopeless. But just to be sure, I picked up a stick, turned around, and parted the brush in a few other spots. Wait! What was that?! I thought. There, about a foot off the ground, was a small, brown, hand-carved deer figure. It had a small cap sticking out of its side. The cache! Sean and I started geocaching last Fall. What amazes me time and time again is just what I’m willing to do in the name of locating my target. Climb over a fence? Sure. Stick my hand into cobwebs? No problem. Inspect every inch of a guardrail at rush hour? Of course. The craziest thing I’ve done so far is leave a path and venture into a heavily wooded area about 300 feet to find a fire hydrant someone had hauled into the middle of nowhere. While none of these things may sound too crazy to my heartier readers, I am what you call “a city girl.” I’m a city girl who’s attached to a mountain man trudging through the woods. I don’t do outdoorsy things. Not because I don’t want to or because I don’t like to but just because I generally don’t think about it! In fact, we snapped this picture of us after one find and Sean remarked, “I love how I actually look like I’m out in the woods and you look like you just stepped out of an Uber.” I told him that I would forever refer to these earrings as my “geocaching earrings.” My point is this: the thrill of the hunt for my chosen target encourages me to step out of my comfort zone, push through my edges (and sometimes through a bush), and get me doing things I otherwise wouldn’t proactively choose to do. What does this have to do with your business? Easy.
You need a target and intense focus.
You need to know where you’re headed. When you don’t know where you’re headed—or when you have too many goals—you will struggle with prioritization, motivation, and pushing yourself. Having a target, an intense focus, not only transforms the way you work but the way others perceive your business. Many entrepreneurs come to me saying they don’t know what to focus on, they don’t know how to avoid Shiny Object Syndrome, or they struggle with what to prioritize. My theory is that these problems all stem from not knowing what your target is. Your target is the most important thing. If you don’t know your target, you don’t know what’s important. And if you don’t know what’s most important, it’s only because you haven’t chosen what’s most important. You have to choose because you’re in charge. When you know your target, you can figure out how you’re going to get there, what you’re going to need to accomplish along the way, and what new things you’ll need to learn or experiment with. Until then, you’re going to keep flailing around. In Quiet Power Strategy, your target is your “Chief Initiative.” It’s the one and only goal you’re focused on for the next 12 months or so. When I tell clients they can only have one goal, the first reaction is paralyzing fear. What do I pick?! Then, there’s relief. They decide on something that’s going to keep them motivated, prioritized, and focused and suddenly they relax and start having fun with pushing themselves. Other people perceive their business differently because now it’s focused and on-target. When you have one goal, you start to see how everything else in your business either supports that goal or is droppable. You can:
- Understand the conditions of your success and start bringing them into your daily life now.
- Create sub-goals that act as mile markers on your path.
- Leverage systems to make the day-to-day journey easier.
- And rally a team of supporters to keep your motivated, producing, and on track.
One of the Quiet Power Strategies that I shared on CreativeLive a few weeks ago was: Know where you’re headed.
Are you playing a game of leap frog from good idea to good idea without knowing exactly where you’re going to land in the end?
If you are, you’re not alone.
I’ve talked to a lot of business owners lately, everywhere from San Francisco to Philadelphia to right here in Astoria, and I’ve heard that same story. You’re building a business, you’re crafting great offers, you’re even putting together good marketing campaigns.
But to what end?
Until you know where you’re headed, you can’t create a plan.
And what’s more, you end up reinventing the wheel each time you embark on a new project.
When I work with clients, my goal is to help them establish the single thing they’re driving toward overall. It’s that spark of motivation that can lead to an inferno of action. It’s focus. And it’s quite powerful.
We call that their Chief Initiative.
Do you know what your Chief Initiative is? It’s the one goal that is the destination for all the navigational decisions you need to make in the next year.
- Release your new product?
- Get a book deal?
- Bring on a business partner?
- Attend your first wholesale show?
- Do a quarter-million in revenue?
Everything else you do in your business revolves around that one goal. You build other goals, systems for growth, marketing campaigns, product development, team-building moves–everything–around that one goal.
Because then you know WHY.
You know where you’re headed.
And you can lead your business that direction.
Knowing where you’re headed is the biggest shift you can make between being reactive and being proactive.
And being proactive instead of reactive can make a huge difference in your energy level, creative capacity, and confidence in your business.
Instead of feeling like you’re spinning your wheels, you feel like you’re in the driver’s seat.
Do you like how many metaphors I’ve squeezed into this blog post?
If you’re ready to feel more in the driver’s seat of your business–and reclaim your energy level, creative capacity, and confidence, choose a Chief Initiative to serve you the next 12 months and focus all your activity on reaching that goal.
And if you want support on choosing that goal and creating the systems that serve it, I invite you to join us in 10ThousandFeet this Fall. We’ve got 5 spots left and I don’t expect them to last long.
Click here to learn more and apply.