Saturday, June 04, 2022

All Games in Business are "The Long Game"

 I was re-listening to Mitch Joel's book Six Pixels of Separation recently (via Audible). Early on, he throws out an important statement and then scurries on to make a bigger point. But the key statement really struck a chord with me: Effective marketing takes time.

Okay. I know that sounds obvious. So why did it stand out to me?

Well . . . A lot of people come to me for advice. And very often they have one thing in common: They're in a hurry.

- How do I get a new client today?

- Where can I spending marketing dollars to make the phone ring today?

- How can I buy ads that get fast results?

- How do I turn around my company right now, because we've been losing money for years?

Similarly, I ask people why they invest in SEO schemes that cannot possible lead to sales (see The Truth about SEO). The answer is that they want to get people to click on their site or visit their web page . . . and the assumption is that those people will magically become clients.

I know everyone's in a hurry all the time. It's the way of the world. But success ultimately consists of consistent behavior repeated forever. With rare exceptions, no one becomes "suddenly successful." Success takes skill and experience. Both of those take time.

You may have heard the advice:

The best time to start building your marketing program is five years ago.
The second best time is right now!

And it's not just true for marketing. Building a successful business takes time. Building a good culture takes time. Building a brand takes time. Building good client relationships takes time. Building a great team takes time. 

The really great news is - It's never too late to start. Here are a few things to remember as you proceed.

First, plan for the long haul. In other words, plan for years of work ahead. Some people find that overwhelming or even depressing. But it's reality. You have to do what you can do today and this week. But you also have to have the long view. 

This is literally what a vision and mission are about. What will your successful future look like? That's your vision. How will you get there? That's your mission.

Most businesses can survive without a vision or mission. In fact, most do. But there's a big difference between survive and thrive. Very few businesses thrive without a vision or mission. And that brings us back to the long haul: The sooner you start working on the long-term goals, the sooner they can come true.

Second, do not treat exceptions like the rule. Time and time again, people like to argue about everything by pointing to some example that's far from normal. I often hear small business owners argue that they have to answer their phone at all hours of the day and night because a system might fail at midnight on Sunday. My answer is always, "If you build systems that fail all the time, you are probably in the wrong business." 

In reality, any given business-class system might have one important problem in a year. With luck, it's less. But you should not operate your entire business as if the world is about to end.

The same is true with marketing. Some one at some event told the story of advertising on Google or Twitter or Facebook and getting three new clients in a month. First of all, that story was probably a vast exaggeration. But, second, it was at least exceptional. Yes, in a normal distribution, someone is in the top one percent of performers. But 99% are not! In fact, by definition, 98% are within two standard deviations from the middle.

Third, the best way to approach the long haul is with a wide angle lens. In other words, consider "marketing" or "team building" very broadly. You can do a large variety of things for team building. You can give your team opportunities to get to know each other; you can create a working environment that enhances the team aspect of work; you can put out an internal newsletter. But if you something all the time, you will eventually have a team with self identity.

The same is true with marketing. You might do some email campaigns, some postal campaigns, hold in-person events, or sponsor a local recycling drive. Each of these is different, but they all contribute to doing something to promote your business.

Big corporations can spend hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars on each of these. And they might even be able to measure short-term results. But small companies can't do either of those things. The programs are smaller, they take lots of time, and the results are only measures after years of consistent effort.

Fourth, everything takes time. Lots of time. You need to be patient with yourself, your team, your marketing, etc. Be glad with positive results, but remember that "the game" is a lot more like Cricket than miniature golf: It takes a LONG time, and no one really understands the rules.

The reality is, we all know that it takes years to build great clientele, great businesses, great marketing, etc. That is, we know it intellectually, but we often act as if we'll suddenly have everything we need. The way I look at it is:

Yes, you might win the lottery,
but you should have a retirement fund just in case.

Personally, I enjoy the never-ending planning that comes with business. I enjoy trying new things. I keep what works and discard what doesn't. I constantly push forward on marketing, sales, team building, and client relationships. With luck, none of these will ever end.

The bottom line is: Relax - and start building your future today. You need to set and maintain a sustainable pace. You cannot run a series of non-stop marathons. You physically cannot. But you can walk, jog, or run for an hour every day. For some of you that's a mile or two and for some it's ten miles. In either case, your pace will be sustainable for years.

The tortoise wins the race because it goes at a sustainable pace.


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