Rethinking Business

Most speed bumps are well intentioned – a way to slow motorists down in school zones, parking lots, and anywhere else keeping a low speed is safer.

In business though a speed bump is deadly. Ask a customer to wait too long to try on a pair of shoes and they’ll walk away. Add unnecessary fields to an order form and they’ll click (or tap) away.

The most detrimental speed bumps are the ones that occur at the bottom of the sales funnel. The ones that happen when the lead is demonstrating an interest in becoming a customer. Wait too long to return their call and they’ll forget you, make the buy button too hard to find and they won’t.

Some speed bumps are strategic. If you get too many leads, making the conversion process more complicated is a way only to get the most excited. Especially when you sell enterprise software or high-end consulting services that require dedicating n on behalf of the customer). If that isn’t your case, focus on removing speed bumps.

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How many mistakes and shortfalls a user will tolerate varies widely on your business and the clients themselves.

Large enterprise software has a higher margin of error because once the customer is invested it’s hard to leave and move on.

The same goes for products that leverage networks – like Facebook. Because all my contacts are there, it’s hard to pack up and leave.

Not impossible of course, but difficult.

Compare that to the small local food delivery app with limited network effects. On small delivery error can cost you a customer for life. Same goes for a commodity product like detergent.

The trick then is knowing what you’re aiming for and optimizing for that. If you want to leverage a network, seek to build it before anything else. If you’re a commodity, your priority is to reduce error.

WARNING: it’s easier today to overthrow enterprise software and commodities than ever. So your margin of error might not be as significant as you think.

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From time to time, the commuter train I take to get to work is delayed and gets pretty crowded, making it hard to write.

That was the case when I wrote this. So I shared this post:

Continue reading Mass transit

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If starting a project is the hardest part, restarting is not far behind. When a project first starts, success is largely dependent on if it can gain momentum and inertia.

In theory, an object (and a project) that achieves inertia will never stop because there is no friction to slow it down. In reality, however, there is always resistance. There’s always a wall, a force (a meeting, a boss, a teacher, a critic) that will cause a project to stop and derail.

So it’s dangerous to assume that once you get going things will go smoothly. It’s that type of thinking that will cause you to be less resilient when friction derails the whole thing.

Better accept up front that your project will go through waves of inertia and friction. So when you do hit a wall, it won’t entirely derail you. It will just take all the energy in the world to get it rolling again.

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Seth Godin often says that the only business or freelancer that stands the chance is the one who is remarkable.

Q: How do you know if you’re remarkable?
A: When you choose not to hide behind contract terms or unanswered emails; when you decide not to ignore the client once they’ve paid, or act like the buck stops with you.

When you’re exceptional, you don’t hesitate to be part of the community, to put yourself out there, to publish your thoughts, to be the frontman. It doesn’t mean there won’t be criticism or naysayers (quite the opposite in fact), but it does mean you won’t be deterred.

When you choose to hide no longer, it means you’ve decided to be remarkable.

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Starting is tough. A plane burns most of its fuel when taking off. Similarly, a car uses more gas in the city than in the highway because of all the stop-and-go from stop signs and red lights.

Getting the ball rolling is harder than to keep it running. That’s why starting a new project is difficult. Just as hard is picking up a paused project. I’ve started writing on weekdays again and Monday morning is much harder than Friday morning.

Starting is key. Most shy away from the pain of beginning something new, so the first big differentiator is to start.

The second key differentiator is to keep the inertia going when roadblocks happen.

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For marketers, work that matters takes time. Work that’s done to make a difference – no matter how big or small – is not an overnight thing. It’s a slow, consistent process (only to be sometimes sprinkled with big bursts).

The analogy often given is “how does water cut through rock? One drip at a time.”

Of course working at it drip by drip is frustrating. It tests out limits. It triggers our fear responses. It invites the lizard brain in to play the doubt game:
“Do you have what it takes?
Do you have the resources to continue?
This will probably fail.
Who do you even think you are to try this?
Look how others are so much better than you at this…
You are a fake, a cheat and an impostor just waiting to be found out.
You should stop…”

So it’s tempting to jump the fence. Forget the drip, open the floodgates. Let’s put some fuel on that fire. And that’s usually where we get in trouble.

In the frantic effort to fan the flame, we tend to blow it out. We spend all the energy on efforts that don’t matter.

Sure it feels good: “We’re doing something!”

But the only thing that does is please the lizard brain. Lot’s of fuss to do nothing much.

Growth matters. We need to move forward. We need to thrive for progress. But not at the detriment of the consitent drip.

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The issue with many consultants stems from alignment (or misalignment). Some come and demo big and fancy tools while others, small and cheap ones. Which is fine in and of itself. The thing is, these are presented regardless of the priorities, promises and business model set out by the client.

Now of course big and fancy is exciting and small and cheap is appealing, but that’s not what matters. What good is the fancy tool if you’ve built your business on low margins? What impact will cheap have of you’ve promised uniqueness? The equation, of course, isn’t always that simple.

Thorny issues surrounding agency/client relations almost always stem from misalignment. As the service provider, you’re the expert, you need the courage to notice when your offer is misaligned with your client’s needs. No one wants to be the square peg being jammed in a round hole.

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Not long ago, it used to be that your website was the only way to live on the world wide web. So it made sense to hire a plethora of developers and designers to make it.

WordPress, Squarespace, Wix and all that came before stated that the website, although vital, was no longer what it used to be. In a world of Facebook, LinkedIn, Etsy, Pinterest where clusters can find each other and regroup, your site becomes something different.

Your site becomes a part of the story, not the destination. It becomes one of the places we can go to learn about who you are if we happen to be searching Google or Bing.

So while it used to make sense to pay to get the site taken care of, it seems irrelevant today. There are some for whom the site is what matters – Facebook, your online banking site, Google – but for the rest of us, the time, energy and money must be spent elsewhere: Creating content that resonates, interact in ways that matter, be part of the group…

Only invest if your site is the destination.

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Rituals are automatisms we develop to make room for what matters. If you automate your mornings, the way you write your blog posts, your lunch hour, you decrease the energy it takes to make these things happen. The flip side of course is that it leaves more energy available for what matters: the work you need to do, the content you need to write and the art you need to create.

Rituals remove the “I’m too busy/I don’t have the time” excuse.

Rituals that lose their purpose become traditions. We do them because that’s how it’s done. We add fine print because we need fine print, we send registered mail because we need to register it, we set up a Facebook page for our brand because everyone is on Facebook and so on. They don’t free up energy, in fact they often take more up (apply the process, hire people to do it, document the steps) and leave less room for the work that matters.

Traditions are a shelter. They allow us to hide from what matters because what matters requires pushing the limit, poking the box and challenging what is. Traditions force us to do the opposite – work within the frame, within the box and accept what is.

A well setup ritual however allows us to achieve inertia and shed the platitudes so that all that is left is work that matters.

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