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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 podcast@taragentile.com. 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.

 

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