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The Biggest Mistake You’re Making in Your Business.

“I don’t want to be too… ‘corporate’.”

I probably hear that 4-5 times a week. There is this negative association with corporations, as though doing anything that they do makes you somehow less noble, less helpful, almost evil. Like to be fully corporate, you would have to run your business with a board of advisers that meet in a shadowy back alley – outside the fringes of the law.

I’ve heard that a bit more than usual this week, and it was my call to say this to you:

Stop saying that.

Do you know why corporate marketing looks different from small business marketing? Is it because they’re evil, or manipulative, or distant and uncaring?

No, no, and no.

It looks different because it is. Corporations are marketing on a massive scale. They’re building brand associations, they’re creating a platform, they’re reaching hundreds of thousands, millions, and even billions of potential customers with their marketing.

They’re partnering with big name brands, getting major media attention every time they use the washroom or hire a new janitor, and just generally dominating their market.

Corporate marketing can feel impersonal because it can’t be one-on-one to hundreds of millions of people. How many personal emails or phone calls have you received from someone at Coca-Cola or Pepsi to get you to buy their products? That isn’t because they don’t care about their mission or their customers, it is simply that they’ve found more effective ways to reach you.

Many of you are probably saying “but I don’t want to be as big as Coke or Pepsi, so this doesn’t apply to me.” But, my friend, it absolutely does – and I know it does because I cause breakthroughs around this very challenge every week. For people just like you. (This is where you lean in and read intently…)

Being “corporate” isn’t what you’re afraid of.

In fact, being “corporate” just represents what you’re really afraid of. Something that scares the sh!t out of many of you, really.

Yes, there are some corporations that hurt people – no denying it. There are also people that hurt people, and with the negative focus of modern media, it is getting harder and harder to avoid hearing about them.

Microsoft has done some semi-evil things over the years (anti-trust lawsuit, anyone?) But did you know that they provide good paying jobs to over 100,000 people worldwide? That the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is working to solve world hunger with grants that also create dozens of jobs in developing countries?

But I forgot – you don’t want to be “corporate.” Why is that? Well, I think…

You’re avoiding playing a bigger game.

Because calling Sally over at Sally’s Health Spa to partner on a presentation to 10 of her best customers is easier than calling up Centrum and partnering with them to present your offerings to 10M people worldwide, right?

Because calling the local newspaper editor to share your story is easier than calling a journalist at People Magazine or TIME or The Wall Street Journal, right?

Because sitting there selling your own time and knowledge is easier than creating a product that can be replicated with or without you, right?

When you *are* the business, either you’re there and making money… Or you’re not there, and not making money. It is easier to do that than to scale, because your business getting bigger means you need to work a lot more – right?

Because staying small is easier than getting big, right?!?

But is it really?

A phone call to Sally and Centrum will take the same amount of time, and Sally is less familiar with promotional partnerships than Centrum is… She’ll probably take more convincing.

A call to the local newspaper editor won’t likely get you far, unless you’re in the local “clique” of important people… And because he is the only editor, it will probably take you weeks to chase him down. A quick email pitch to the editor at WSJ could be done in 5 minutes.

Selling your time and knowledge is easier at the beginning, when you don’t have a product to sell… But it is impossible to scale, and you end up owning your own job if you don’t evolve beyond that. “Well, if I want to make another $5k this year, I could work another 15 hours a week…” *shudder*

When you own a business and you grow enough to put someone else in charge, you sit around and help steer the vision of the company when you have time… All while getting a nice income from your creation.

Staying small isn’t easier than getting big.

Really, it isn’t. There are hundreds of thousands of companies out there trying to stay small. There are hundreds of companies calling Sally and John the Editor, hundreds of thousands selling their own time and knowledge.

The playing field opens up for the few who step up and play a bigger game. There’s just less competition the closer you get to the top.

So what are you really afraid of? Is it being corporate? Is it playing a bigger game? Is it working too many hours? Is it solving world hunger and creating 100k jobs?

No.

You’re afraid that you’re not good enough.

Who are you to call up Centrum, or WSJ? Who are you to create a product that sells millions of units per month, or to hire someone else to run your company? Who are you to build a company that helps millions, employs hundreds of thousands, generates billions in revenue, and doing it all while you’re enjoying your life?

Here is what I want you to understand: You don’t have to be good enough.

I mean, you already are, but you don’t have to be the best to have a huge impact and enjoy your life. You don’t have to create something amazing from scratch, or be the biggest innovator. Facebook is a publicly traded corporation worth billions, and they were a MySpace copycat. Apple is the same way, and they pay royalties on upwards of 100 patents for every single iPhone they sell.

You don’t need to be the best to have a huge impact, to change the world, to become a millionaire or a billionaire. In fact, to play a bigger game, you only need these:

brass-balls

They’re big, they’re brass, and they are the only difference between Bill Gates and that dude down the street who builds PCs in his basement. Mr. Gates had the “equipment” to walk into IBM’s office and strike a deal to put his operating system (one that he didn’t even create, he basically swiped it from Xerox) on every single PC they built, and pay him for it. That is what made Microsoft what it is today.

Now ask yourself, and be honest:

Do you want to help lots of people?

Do you want to be financially free?

Do you want to enjoy your life?

Do you want people to admire you for your accomplishments and your contribution to this world?

Then stop playing small.

You don’t have to sacrifice yourself and your priorities, you don’t have to be something you’re not, you don’t have to work like a dog or lie, cheat, and steal. You  just have to have the courage to step up, to put yourself out there, to align with people who are bigger than you are today, and to keep pushing until you make it.

Here is your challenge:

Do one thing, every day, that takes courage.

It could be that call to a big name magazine, or a partnership proposal to a Fortune 500 Company, or pitching a guest blog post to The Huffington Post, or sending one of your products to an A-List celebrity asking for their support.

Do one thing every day that pushes you into a bigger  game.

Even if you decide to stay small anyway, being small is a lot more fun when you’ve got big support.

– C

Minimum Viable Products: The Truth

You’ve probably heard me talk about this before.

Minimum viable products are the lifeblood of a startup or critical growth stage business. Getting something out the door to serve your customers as quickly as possible is how you grow.

It is how you test something, how you research, how you determine if your product really will sell.

But we need to make a distinction, and it is an important one.

Minimum + viable is a balance, not an excuse.

Though it is far more important to launch, test, track, tweak, and sell than it is to run focus groups, conduct expensive year-long surveys and write 40 page product development plans, there is still thought and effort required to reach MVP.

Minimum means the least amount of product development and back-end work you can do before releasing your creation into the hands of your customers. It means avoiding unnecessary features that will take longer to implement and add little real value. It means cutting out the non-essentials.

Viable is the qualifier for minimum.

Just as a car could sell without cupholders but not without an engine, your product must strip away the unnecessary luxuries without compromising the core value.

An example of this would be projectRADIANT, our latest product release. It was supposed to launch yesterday, and we were unable to make that happen. Why?

Because we didn’t have a minimum viable product – yet.

The entire value proposition of projectRADIANT is to provide useful, actionable case studies, worksheets, and other tools to learn marketing strategies from companies who have used them successfully.

The core value comes from an assessment of what these successful companies have done, and the breakdown of that assessment into actionable steps.

Our first case study will be courtesy of an amazing company in the SaaS space. They grew to over $500k in annual revenue in just two years, almost exclusively through a blog. The actionable breakdown of what they did will have incredible value to entrepreneurs who want to implement that strategy.

And the founders have graciously agreed to answer our questions and provide us with everything we need to make this case study happen – but they can’t have their interview responses back to us until the end of this week.

Sure, we had the forum. We had the members area. We had coupon codes and payment processing in place. We could have put together a quick case study of some other company, some other technique, and worked around the clock to get it ready. We could have launched yesterday and probably even made a few sales.

But it wouldn’t have been our Minimum Viable Product.

The core value of this project is the results entrepreneurs and executives can achieve by following the steps in each lesson. Without the right company, the right case study to follow, those results will be limited. The value of projectRADIANT would be limited.

We could have added cupholders. We could have put on a spoiler. We could have painted it in cool colours and added all kinds of bells and whistles.

But without the engine – the actionable lessons from successful companies – it wouldn’t have had much value or substance.

People often mistake Minimum Viable Products for Minimum Value Products.

It is common for people to assume that “just ship something” and “trim the excess” means to cut corners on the core value, and offer as little as you can get away with. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.

MVP means offer as much as you can get away with – without adding more than your customers need.

MVP means make it valuable, make it simple, make it clean and easy to implement.

MVP means 500 words to make your point instead of 5000, 5 core features instead of 50, it means the engine and the wheels and the seats and the steering wheel.

It means understanding what your customer really wants, and delivering nothing but that.

It required brutal honesty and self assessment.

“Is this something that my customers really want, or is it just something I want to create?”

“Is my tweaking of this product based on customer feedback, or my own insecurity?”

“Is the product not ready, or am I just afraid to launch?”

Your answers to those questions will tell you if it is time to launch, or time to get back to work.

For us, today we’re back to work building out the next few case studies and lining up more companies to analyze. We’re gaining more support for pR so that it can launch with a big bang. We’re keeping our eyes focused on what we know our MVP is, and despite the delay, not adding unnecessary features.

We’re also doing it very efficiently, using a concept popularized by Tim Ferris called “Minimum Effective Dose.” I’ll be sharing that next week.

Do you have a project you have been holding back on?

A book that isn’t quite ready, a program or service that you have yet to launch, something you’re perfecting to the point of procrastination? Commit publicly to finding your MVP – and launching it. I would love to hear what you’re going to ship – tell me in the comments!

What to do when you’re feeling uninspired.

10AM, every day. Not insanely early, in fact a late start by most accounts… But 10AM is the time I use to sit out on my front porch and admire the view down into the valley below my home. Just me, the warmth of my latte, and the view.

Parents return from their morning errands, with only the littlest children in tow. School is in. The eagles soar, the trees sway gently in the breeze, and the mighty glacier-fed river rushes below. It is a post-card perfect picture, something you could imagine Robert Bateman painting in his studio for display in a gallery. Breathtaking, serene, and humbling, the perfect accompaniment to my steamed milk and espresso.

Then you hear it.

Whir, whir, whir, whir…

The smallest of whispers, getting closer and closer. Louder and louder. Never deafening, so quiet that even a hushed conversation could mute the familiar sound.

Whir, whir, whir, whir…

The sound approaches, still out of sight but drawing me in with the familiarity of a thousand childhood summers.

Whir, whir, whir, whir…

And he appears. This same man, almost every day, just after 10am.

He is an elderly man, with at least 75 years of stories and wisdom behind him. He wears his jeans, his hiking boots, his coat. This must be his uniform, the way he dresses each day when he gets out of bed. There is a reflective safety vest draped over his delicate, weathered shoulders, likely at the insistence of his wife. I sit and watch, imagining her standing at their kitchen sink washing the dishes from breakfast – the same way she has for the last 50 years or more.

And he rides his old bicycle up the hill.

Whir, whir, whir, whir…

His frame, strong as ever is draped over the tubes of steel and rubber, bobbing and rocking as he makes his way to the top.

Whir, whir, whir, whir…

Suddenly, a car approaches in the opposite direction. A black Mercedes, likely a resident of the multi-million dollar homes resting on the crest of the hill behind me. A single driver, a man who appears to be in his mid-thirties, brings the car to a stop next to the man. The man on his bicycle stops, rests his feet on the ground, and lifts his head.

I perch on the edge of my seat, just close enough to hear their conversation yet far enough away not to intrude on their world.

“You’ve taken away all of my excuses,” the younger man says. “I stopped riding 10 years ago, thinking I was getting too old to keep doing it. But I see you here, every day, riding up to the top of the hill. You’ve taken away all of my excuses.”

The elderly man pauses, his face softening at the odd compliment. “When did you start riding?” he asks.

“I started in junior high. I loved the feeling of it, but when life got too busy to keep racing I just stopped. How about you?” the younger man prods.

“I started when I was 38 years old. My kids were growing up and I wanted to do something just for myself. I don’t always ride up this hill anymore, some days I have to stay in the valley, and some days I have to stay home. But whenever I can, I come here. Just look at the mountains, how could you not?” The elderly man shifts his weight and leans back, as if in awe of the beauty around him.

“I’m 38,” the younger man says. “You really have taken away every excuse I could think of. How do you keep doing it?”

“I’m 79 years old, and I’ve been doing this for over 40 years. I’ll do this until I can’t anymore. It isn’t a choice, this is just what I do.”

The young man pauses for a moment. You can see his expression change, even at a distance. “I’m going to start riding again. I’m just going to do it. You’ve inspired me. Thank you. What is your name?”

A truck comes up behind them, muting the sounds of their conversation. The younger man carries on down the hill, smiling and nodding at the elderly gentleman. The older man mounts back to his bike, just a few dozen feet from the crest of the hill, and pushes forward. And up he goes.

Whir, whir, whir, whir…

I never caught their names. I don’t know where either of them live. The elderly man is riding up less and less these days, but a curious sight caught my eye last week.

It was the younger man. Covered from head to toe in spandex, embroidered with a dozen logos from the Tour d’ France in black and yellow. And he was on his bike, speeding down the hill with the happiness of a little boy on his first two-wheeler. Smiling, riding, and taking in the view.

And so, my friend, I leave you with this today. When you’re feeling uninspired, when you think of quitting or taking a day off, when you can’t bring yourself to write that blog post or send that email or make that phone call, I want you to remember.

That fateful winter day, a 79 year old man was just doing the same thing he had done every morning for over 40 years. He got out of bed, mounted his bike, and rode. A simple thing.

But just the simple act of getting up and doing what he does – of not quitting, not taking a day off, not giving up despite his obvious and valid reasons to take a rest – inspired another man to get up weeks later, and rekindle his love of the sport.

Just by doing what he does, he took away all of the excuses for someone else.

His form isn’t perfect, he isn’t draped in medals, he doesn’t have the fanciest gear, and he has never been interviewed by the media for his accomplishments. And he taught me, that:

You don’t need to be “somebody” to be something to someone.
(^^Click to tweet^^)

If you’re struggling today, if you’re feeling uninspired, don’t rest on your laurels. Don’t wait for things to get better, or easier, or to “make it big” before you bother. Get out of bed, and do what you do. You just never know who you might inspire.