Market Like a Fisherman Fishes

Pick a fish, any fish.

If I go fishing and have no idea what fish I’m going after, what are my chances of success? What rod should I take, what bait or lure will work? Where will I fish? Without knowing which fish, it’s all random hope. Welcome to the most common small business marketing practices.

He who aims at nothing, hits it every time.

Small businesses have one over-riding fear – there is a customer out there that I might not get. I need them all and can’t afford to miss even one. That fear is the basis for the worst, most common marketing practices – going after every kind of fish at once in the hope that I might catch one.

As the old Russian proverb says, “A man who chases two rabbits catches none.” We fish wide, when marketing success comes from fishing in a very narrow, specific way for a narrow, specific customer.

Which Fish?
A good fisherman decides which kind of fish they are going after. It’s the FIRST thing they do. We think we do that, but we we’re really doing is deciding to go after all fish that are wet. A realtor will go after anyone who MIGHT buy a house ANYWHERE within an hour’s drive of their house. A financial planner will go after ANYBODY with two nickels to rub together. A photographer will go after businesses, families, pets, weddings, events, and landscapes.

Why? Because if we don’t go after every fish that is wet, we might miss one. And we’re hungry. We need every fish we can get. We’ll guess what? The best way to ensure you won’t go hungry is to PICK ONE fish and only one, and pursue it with relentless focus.

Once a fisherman chooses one very specific fish (not just “bass” in general, but “small-mouth pond bass”, they then study that one type of fish thoroughly – what they look like, where they live, when they eat. They study what they need, what they want, and what they like (sometimes all three are different). They know everything about that fish, and as a result, they set up their entire strategy and all their equipment to find that one fish.

Contrast that with the local business owner who aimlessly throws money at advertising, direct marketing, and public relations just to see what happens. And they advertise all over the place to everyone who is a possible client.

A successful business owner picks ONE very specific type of client, and builds their entire marketing strategy around that very narrow niche. The rest of us go hungry.

A woodworking guy. . . . . . . . . . The stair rail guy
A financial planner. . . . . . . . . . .Focus on teachers.
A realtor.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . To a specific niche.
A contractor. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .I do bathrooms; nothing else.
A photographer. . . . . . . . . . . . . .I shoot pets, period.
An insurance agent. . . . . . . . . . .For single women.
A travel agent. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Cruises – period.
A computer tech. . . . . . . . . . . . . Mac and only Mac.
A bookkeeper. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . For doctors only.

A Meaningful Specific or?…
Every one of the above are real business owners who are highly successful because they know who their fish are – a VERY narrow niche. I could also name a thousand I know who don’t focus like this. They are all violating Zig Zigler’s question – “Are you a wandering generality or a meaningful specific?” All of the generalists are struggling, and all of them are spending more money on marketing than any of the above specialists.

Probable vs. Possible
The key? Don’t go after POSSIBLE clients, people who MIGHT buy. Focus on PROBABLE clients and people who WILL buy, and do it in the smallest pond you can define. It will make the fish much easier to catch.

The Business Owner’s Primary Game

More in Less.

Every business owner should have a big vision for where they are going and a clear mission statement for building a great result for their clients. Behind both of these is a single game that every business owner should be playing to accomplish them. It’s called “More Money in Less Time.” It’s the central game we need to play to build a successful business.

It’s a very serious game and it will transform your business and your lifestyle. Everything we do should be filtered through this one question, “How do I make more money in less time?”

Most of us started out as employees, who make more money in more time. We then transferred that bad habit to owning our business. Stop it. An employee thinks that way, but a stakeholder won’t (employees are obsolete – I’ll suggest in a future post why this is a bad habit for staff and stakeholders, not just owners). If you as a business owner want to build a successful business, you can’t afford to employ this old Industrial Age habit, either.

So the central game you play to realize your vision and accomplish your mission (and to get a life) is:
a) continually increasing the revenue of your company while
b) continually reducing the time you have to spend on bringing in that revenue.

Every successful business owner at every size of company, small to large, plays this as their main game.

All of us probably put together a spreadsheet at the beginning of every year that shows how you intend to make more money that year. It shows a graph with a line going up. How many of you also put together a similar spreadsheet with a line going down that shows how much less time you intend to invest in your business in those 12 months? See my recent post about two partners THE URL HERE who, after 20 years in a $40 million business decided to do this, and ended up getting five and a half months a year off.

There are two questions you need to ask regularly in order to play the game of “More Money in Less Time”:

1) Is this (whatever I’m doing right now), the highest and best use of my time? The answer to 75-90% of what we’re doing will be no. It’s rarely the highest and best us of our time – we’ve just been doing it since starting the business and haven’t bothered to get it off our plate.

If the answer is no, then the second question is:

2) How do I do this for the last time? If you are serious about getting things off your plate, you’ll come up with 1-10 ways to get things off your plate that don’t belong there. You only need one. If you’re afraid, distracted, have a big ego (nobody is as good as me at this), or dozen other excuses, you will find 1,000 ways to not get this off your plate. There is always a way to get it off our plate, but if you’re looking for ways to not do it, you’ll find them.

This is the most important game a business owner (and their management staff) can play. We waste more time and money doing things others should be doing than just about any other way. And if you want to get off the treadmill, this is THE game you must play above all others.

If you apply these two simple questions to everything you do for one month, it will change your business and begin to give you the answers that will allow you to make more money in less time, get off the treadmill and get a life.

If you think your situation is unique and you can’t do this, please share it below and we’ll help you see you can do it, too.

The business owners in my post from last week are going to take five and half months off every year now. I take every Friday off, every other Monday, the last week of every month, and one month a year, which allows me to work in Africa to solve poverty. Our (not my) business grew by 41% last year and is projected to grow by 50%+ this year.

You can do this – just play the game, “How do I make more money in less time?”

How to Get Five and a Half Months Off Every Year

After 15 years of not.

Two partners I’m working with are doing $40 million a year with 35 employees. For years they’ve had 2-4 weeks of distracted annual vacation, filled with Crackberry emails and calls, while the family was having fun. Now they’re both going to get five and a half months every year. How?

They haven’t changed who they are. They aren’t smarter, better educated or more enlightened than they were for the last 15 years. But somehow they’re going from a lousy lifestyle to a great lifestyle in just 15 months.

You get what you intend, not what you hope for.

For years they intended two things and hoped for one. See if you can relate:
Their two intentions for 15 years:
1) To work really hard.
2) To make some money.

Their one big hope for 15 years:
1) …and we hope it all works out.

They got exactly what they intended – hard work and some money, but not what they hoped for – a life. The fatal assumption coming out of the Industrial Age is that if we just have money, we’ll somehow get a life, too. These guys are living proof that money doesn’t equate to a great life.

So how did they make such a life-changing transformation of their business in such a short period of time? Simple. They changed their intentions.

1) They no longer intended to work hard. Why in the world would you make that an intention? But we all do.

2) They intended to get a life, not just hoped for one, then started making all their decisions to accomplish that objective.

3) And they intend grow the business and make more money in less time.

Peter Arnell wrote a book called “Shift” where he described how he went from being a 406lb man to a 150lb man. The first step – “I decided to do it.” The strength of that initial decision determines the outcome. If you are tired enough of the treadmill, you will intend to get a life. The partners in this business made a clear and final decision that things were going to change, and change radically. If you’re not at the end of yourself yet, you won’t make this decision.

The second thing Peter did to go from 406lbs to 150lbs was even more important. He said “from that moment on [after making the clear and final decision], I saw myself as a 150lb man.” He even went out that week and fired some clients who he felt were the clients of a 406lb man. He wasn’t hoping, he had clear intention to get to 150lbs and saw himself already there. And every decision he made going forward was filtered through the question “Is this the decision of a 150lb man or a 406lb man?”

My clients have done the same thing. Once they decided to both take five and a half months a year off, they started making all their decisions in light of what they needed to do to begin to take five and a half months off per year, while still growing their revenue. Their intention changed from working really hard to working really effectively, distributing the workload, finding geniuses already in their business to take over things, and a long list of other actions designed to get them off the treadmill.

You get what you intend, not what you hope for. The biggest reason this is working for them is because they changed their intentions, and decided they could make more money in less time.

They got what they intended.

You Only Need One
By the way, they’re not special or unique, and neither are you. Every business owner can do this – every single one. As Henry Ford said, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” Intention. There may be 1,000 ways to keep you from doing this and only five ways that it might work for you. How many do you need? Just one, and the sold-out intention to make it happen.

What are your primary intentions? Are you intending to work hard and make money, or are you intending to get a life as a result of owning a business?

What’s the one way off the treadmill that will work for you? Stop focusing on the 1,000 ways to keep you from doing it and focus on the one way off.

Intend to get a life, then make every decision intending to make more money in less time. You’ll get what you intend, not what you hope for.

Then go public here and declare your intentions. I look forward to hearing how you’re doing it.

Only The Lazy Rely On Marketing

A better chair, delivered better.

We fixate on marketing. With my fancy marketing background, I could make big money selling people complex marketing strategies. The best marketing isn’t marketing, but is much more effective and costs a lot less money, too. The problem is it’s work. We don’t like work. Even when it makes us successful. We’d rather do marketing.

Clever Marketing 101 – Not Sustainable
People buy great marketing once. If the product isn’t great, they’re out.

There are a myriad of marketing firms out there showing you how to get someone to give you more than the three-second glance at a trade show or on your website and how to take them deeper and deeper through a series of bigger and bigger commitments until they finally buy something from you at the bottom of the website.

People tell me this is great marketing, but I believe that by itself, it’s terrible marketing and does more damage than good in the long run. It’s also the lazy man’s approach and because of that, not sustainable.

Recency & Frequency
The two main tenants of good marketing are “recency” and “frequency”. If you talked to me recently, but only once, I’m not likely to buy. If you talked to me often a year ago but not since, I’m not likely to buy. You must do both all the time.

This costs a lot of money if you’re doing it via traditional print, radio or TV advertising. One of my clients spends $2million a year in one mid-sized market alone just to stay in the recency/frequency game. If you’re going to use money to do marketing, you usually have to have a lot of it to make enough noise to drown out the other guy with only $250,000.

Then there is the clever website approach, that gets people to go deeper and deeper down the page and finally click on $27.77 (clever marketing says your price should always end in 7). What if people finally respond to your clever website or your $2 million in advertising? Neither of these are your best marketing – not even close.

Future Clients Come From…
Where do the overwhelming majority of your future customers come from? When I ask this question to live audiences, almost every person will say – “from existing clients and existing friends/relationships.” Then why are we investing so much time in cool logos, tortured websites that lead me down a clever spiral path to a commitment, and advertising to find people you’ve never met?

One of my clients has a company called “Jungle Quest”, a ropes and repelling environment for kids, that is franchising nationally now. In the early days he had $1,000/ mth in profit to reinvest in the company. His first instinct was to buy $1,000/mth in advertising. He decided instead that he would use the $1,000 each month to do something to make the customer experience more “Jungle-icious” as he describes it.

It was a brilliant move. He improved the look and feel of the environment, added new experiences, improved the clothing on the staff and trained them better, and instituted a customer satisfaction program to stay in touch (recency and frequency). Today virtually all of his future clients come from his existing clients because he has done such a good job delivering a better product. It was hard work, but with a sustainable result – a better product and better relationships with customers.

Better Marketing? Absolutely.
Most people would say he didn’t improve his marketing, only his product. But in fact he did both because the best marketing you can do is to make a better chair, deliver it with flair, and apply “recency and frequency” to staying in touch with your existing customers and friends. It’s lot less expensive and more effective than chasing people you’ve never met.

The problem is that it takes work. We have to constantly work at our craft and get better and better at it. And we have to regularly find a way to touch our existing clients, say hello, and let them know we care. All of that sounds too much like work. We’d rather put together a clever website or marketing campaign that does this for us.

People buy great marketing once. If your product isn’t more jungle-icious than the next one, they won’t be back. But if you work hard over a number of years to make your offering distinctive, unique and presented with great customer service, people will refer you to all their friends.

The Best Marketing of All
Make a better chair and say hello to people you already know. It’s the best marketing you can do.

Why Africa (& the world) should reject Gladwell’s “Outliers”

Victimology doesn’t work.

I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book”Outliers” while in the poorest part of the poorest country on earth. Gladwell’s theory of success will not help Africa, or you. It’s actually dangerous to those who CHOOSE to live a life of significance.

Circumstances don’t make me who I am. How I respond to them does.

Gladwell disagrees. He says circumstances are largely to blame (or credit) for who I am.

Never has a book engendered such a reaction from me to make me review it. I don’t review books. I use them to change who I am, or discard them as interesting (entertaining, but not transformational) or not interesting. I loved Gladwell’s Tipping Point and use it regularly in my work and life.

But Outliers is not just “interesting”. For those who choose to embrace it, it could be a transformational compendium of victimology that gives excuse after excuse for not choosing to live a life of significance.

If it was by an obscure author it could be ignored. But because Gladwell has laid such a great foundational reputation with his other works, people have bought into this without critiquing it. Many people loved it and recommended it to me, which is how I read all my books. I was very disappointed by what I read. I hope you are, too.

Which 90/10 Rule Do You Live By?
My belief is that 90% of life is what you make happen and 10% is what happens to you. And you have two possible responses to the 10%: 1) Fascinating! How’d that happen? Let’s make lemonade! and 2) I’m a victim of my circumstances, background, legacy, great grandmother, the Duke of Wellington, Atilla the Hun or some outside dark force that rules over me.

Gladwell apparently believes 90% of life is what happens to you and 10% is what you make happen. And for the 90% that happens to you, he subscribes to ONLY response #2 – you’re a victim. Poor babies. You should lay down and die. Give up. It’s understandable. You had an ancestor 300 years ago that made a bad decision or was unlucky, or you were living in poverty, and you’re never going to live it down.

And if you’re successful, Gladwell says you also didn’t have nearly as much to do with it as you think. It’s luck, circumstance, legacy, the Duke of Wellington, Attila the Hun and a thousand other things outside you that nearly pushed you unwillingly over the edge of success. You nearly had no choice but to live the life of Riley.

I say CHOICE is 90% of the formula for success. Gladwell says CIRCUMSTANCE is…50%? 90%?. I say a difficult background makes you even more successful if you CHOOSE to respond to it well. You’ll be stronger than most. Gladwell says hardship makes it very unlikely you can succeed – it’s almost not your choice at all. In Gladwell’s world, hardship and a lousy background aren’t sources of fertile ground for building a unique and wonderfully powerfully story for you. They’re something to get over, if you can. Good luck with that.

Lies, Damnable Lies, and Statistics
Disraeli said there are three kinds of lies: “Lies, damnable lies, and statistics.” Here are some of Gladwells:

1) He cites Roseto, PA as “proof” that where you are FROM has more to do with success (health, lower crime, suicide, etc.) than your choices. Then he ignores the research that shows the reason the town was so healthy was exactly because of their 1) choice to live in close knit relationships, 2) choice to be spiritual, 3) choice to live by fundamentally sound values, 4) choice to respect elders, etc. Even the town they came FROM in Italy and others from that town that didn’t CHOOSE to live like the Rosetans didn’t have the same health and crime. The Rosetan’s CHOICES made them who they were, not where they are from.

2) He cites Canadian Junior Hockey stats showing 40% of the 10 yr. old all-stars were born Jan-Mar, 30% April-June, and only 10% Oct.-Dec. The age cutoff is Jan 1 so those kids born early in the year are playing against younger kids and get chosen to go through to the all-stars, even though they’re not better, just older (therefore appear better when chosen as all-stars). He wants a separate league for the poor babies born June-Dec. Get over it.

I won the city batting championship three years in a row in Pony League w/ a left-handed batting average of .555 and an on-base % of .695. I could draw a walk as easy as getting a hit. As the youngest and smallest tenth grader at high school baseball tryouts I was cut without swinging a bat. The uninformed coach lined us up by height and cut the bottom five in the first five minutes of practice. He was looking for football players for the fall. I was easily the fastest center fielder and the best hitter there (and a prized left-hander), and when I filled out to 6’ 1″+ a few years later it turned out I might have been a pro prospect. Wah, wah, wah. Life is not fair. Michael Jordan was cut from ninth grade basketball. He CHOSE to not give up. I CHOSE to give up and do something else. It’s about choice.

Apparently pro hockey players agree. The 40% born in Jan-Mar in kid hockey is reduced to 31% in the pros, and the 10% Oct-Dec. is doubled to 20%, just five percentage points below “fair”. An awful lot of those poor babies who didn’t make the All Star teams first time around CHOSE to not give up. Life isn’t fair, nor should it be. We would lose all our drive to succeed. Gladwell didn’t show us the pro stats. Because they demonstrate that circumstances don’t make me who I am. How I respond, does. Choice.

3) To debunk the ridiculously over-worked role of talent, Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to succeed – that at the highest level, work is more important than talent. I couldn’t agree more, except that having correctly correlated success more with hard work (choice) than with talent, this debunks most of the rest of his victimology as well. I have a choice to succeed. Working my tail off is the biggest part of that, and that is a choice.

4) He also correctly debunks the role of “genius” by showing many smart people don’t make it. I couldn’t agree more, but the reason isn’t because of their background. It’s because of their choices. He actually gives the smartest man in the world a pass for giving up on getting published because his background obviously was too difficult to over come. Poor baby. It took me 19 years to finish college, but I’ve started and run seven businesses. I’m not smart, I’m just relentless. Choice.

Gladwell goes on to talk in the same terms about legacy, heritage, deep ties to people you never met in the old country a hundred years ago that allow you to live a life of significance or keep you from experiencing it. But he gives almost no time to the most important characteristics of success: personal vision, personal choice, and personal commitment to get there no matter what. Burn the bridges, sink the ships, shred the parachutes, I’m all in. This is nothing more than background noise in the book, which he only recognizes as an annoying fact but not as the source of success.

My best lesson from all of college came from one of the Women’s Studies Courses I took. The female professor asked the one other guy in the 200 person class to come up front, gave him a toy gun and told him to hold her up. At first it was comical, but she kept belittling him and instructing him until he held the gun to her head and screamed at her, “Give me your f-ing money or I’ll blow your f-ing head off!” She congratulated him for eventually becoming convincing, and asked him to sit down.

Then she asked us a stunningly simple question, “At what point did I become a victim?” Her answer – “I never was.” And she said, “And at what point would I have become a victim? Only when I gave him control of my mind or he took control of me physically.”

She went on to say that the problem with victimology is that it gives us a pass from taking charge of our lives, and allows us to blame our circumstances for forming who we are. I never forgot that lesson from 30 years ago. Those who read Gladwell’s book should use it as a filter as they read.

As I road on the back of a motorcycle through the bush for 8 hrs in the middle of the rainy night, then spent 10 hrs with the Chief, and 10 hrs back last night without sleep (four flats, a blown gear box), my African friends on that trip were incredibly resilient. There wasn’t a victim among them. Together we plan to build a first world country on the backs of these incredible people. If they read Gladwell’s book and embrace it, they don’t have a chance.

Circumstances don’t make me who I am. How I respond to them, does.

Don’t be a victim. Chose to live a life of significance. It’s 90% choice and 10% what happens to you (and you have a choice how to respond to that 10%).