When Adam gave me the opportunity to write for Lean Marketing, I started thinking about the topic right away. What can I write that would offer some value while staying within the “lean” theme? Well, it just so happened that I’ve been having some major personal insights lately and they fit very well within the tone of this site. With that in mind, I’ll try not to make this too much about me and focus as much as I can on the insights themselves.
Much like in Adam’s personal story, when I left my job at an SEO consulting company, I intended to make gobs of internet monies for myself without having a boss take 70% of what I brought in. After all, I was an experienced internet marketer already – all I had to do was implement my skills and I’d be on my way. Right?
The catch was, I was starting from zero. No income, no clients, no staff to service future clients, no real reputation with which to hook new clients. And besides, I didn’t even really want clients. I wanted to do affiliate marketing. That way, I wouldn’t have to deal with pesky social interactions – clients demanding ridiculous things, making sales calls, putting on fake smiles at networking events, and so on.
But I had to pay the bills. Like, now.
So at the beginning, I was open to just about anything that came along. No, I didn’t start selling Gmail accounts. My chosen niche was article writing. I found a writer on Fiverr, offered him 50% more than he was making, and put up a sales thread on Wickedfire. Just like that, I was in business. This venture took off and within a month or two, I was managing several writers and making sales daily.
Meanwhile, I had gotten some consulting gigs, a couple clients, a local marketing agency who wanted me as their part-time director of search marketing, and I was building niche MFA sites. I had made it up to over $100/mo on AdSense, about as much on Amazon, some Clickbank sales were coming in and I was getting ready to merge with 2 other content providers to form an LLC.
You can probably see where I’m going with this. I had 20 different projects going on, all going in different directions. I was hustling, the money was coming in, but that’s not the point (I now realize).
Key insight: Work is not progress. You can be working hard and succeeding at what you’re doing, but you’re not making progress toward your goal if you are not going in a clear direction. Set a goal for the future – whether it’s to be a kickass affiliate marketer, a serial entrepreneur, an investor, whatever – and take on the projects that help you progress in the direction of that goal. Everything else, even if it brings in good money, is ultimately an obstacle.
Focus and direction are closely related. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you should focus on being productive. But without the key insight of direction, you could be focusing on the wrong things. If you have 20 side projects going on at the same time, it is impossible to focus. Even if all your side projects are somehow contributing to your progress in the direction you have chosen, you need to also figure out how to focus narrowly rather than spread your efforts broadly.
Let’s say your goal is to make a niche site empire. You want to have 1,000 niche sites and make money from AdSense and affiliate sales. If you’ve ever attempted this, you know how easy it is to find opportunities. You could be listening to the radio and someone mentions they were looking for black velvet prom dresses. And you make a mental note – find keyword volume and competition for “black velvet prom dresses”. You go home and find that you can rank a site for that keyword with minimal effort and make a few dollars a day from AdSense. Great.
But this happens constantly. Before long, you’re working on 10 or 20 different sites – finding domains, writing/sourcing content, getting backlinks. Every time another “good” opportunity comes to mind, you spring into action. This is common. But it’s a lack of focus. In this case, you end up taking much longer to complete the work for each site, if you ever get around to completing it at all. And if you’re really serious, the work is never complete. You can always make more content and links.
Key insight: Focus on a single task or small, closely related set of tasks, until it is complete. Even when all your projects are part of your desired direction, they become obstacles when you spread yourself too thin.
Most people who work for themselves struggle with a common issue: motivation. It often seems irrational, but it’s incredibly difficult to motivate yourself to do meaningful, productive work consistently. You would think that the knowledge that our work is directly tied to our personal success and to reaching our goals would motivate us. You would think that the prospect of more money would motivate us. And it does, but not as much as you would think. In fact, self-motivation is often even more difficult when you’re already doing pretty well. When you lose the urgency and necessity and excitement of “just starting out” you always have a safety net in the back of your mind telling you that if you don’t work quite as hard today, everything will still be okay.
You may know that inertia is the tendency of an object to stay in its current state of motion. If it’s stationary, inertia helps keep it that way. And if it’s moving, inertia helps to keep it moving. This applies in physics, but it also applies to our minds.
Ever notice how hard it is to stop watching random videos on YouTube once you’ve started? Ever notice 2 hours slip by like 2 minutes when you’re working, even though you were reluctant to start working in the first place? Inertia.
It’s not a huge insight, but the point is, start moving and it’ll be much easier to keep moving. Putting off writing that blog post? Tell yourself to just start for 5 minutes – you won’t want to stop. Reluctant to start coding the next feature of your web app? Just start it and you’ll quickly get into the zone.
There is a catch here. Have you ever spent the whole day working, but didn’t really get anything done? This happens to me all the time. I sit down and do work-related things until I realize the day has passed by, but when I think about it, I have made zero progress on the main projects and client work I currently have going on. What happened?
Remember focus? If you’re not focused on the right things, inertia will keep you away from making progress even if you’re being productive.
What’s so “lean” about all this?
Your work accumulates “bloat” when you’re going in multiple directions at once, juggling many simultaneous business ventures or projects, and letting inertia keep you on a path that keeps you busy but doesn’t help you progress toward your goal.
But when you’re on the path to success, you probably do have a lot of things going on. Staying true to these principles will help you to stay lean, and vice vera. This may mean hiring an operations manager to manage your outsourced staff so you could focus on sales, or bringing on a developer to make progress on your SaaS while you woo investors. Staying your direction, staying focused, utilizing inertia and staying lean are principles that are very much aligned.
So there you go – really master Direction, Focus and Inertia, including the way they affect each other, and success is almost inevitable.
- Evaluate your ambitions and choose a specific goal. From now on, all your efforts should take you in the direction of progressing toward that goal.
- Focus on small batches of tasks that are aligned with the direction you have chosen.
- Harness the power of inertia to keep your momentum, rather than letting it drain your motivation.
Thanks for reading. I’m looking forward to your thoughts and additional success principles from all you smart folks who read Lean Marketing.