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.