If you’re trying to sell products and services online, you’re probably looking for that one magic key to make your business work.
You buy CDs and DVDs that will tell you the secret.
You subscribe to sites like Copyblogger to study the secret.
You look at mega-successful sites in your market and try to reverse engineer the secret.
After all of this searching, you may be tempted to believe there is no secret. But the secret is real.
Actually, there are three secrets that work together. To be blunt, these three magic success secrets separate the winners from the losers. Master them and you’ll start to move forward. Slowly at first, then you’ll pick up momentum and things will start to move amazingly quickly. No baloney, no tricks. These three secrets are . . .
Success secret #1: Take action
Every year, hopeful entrepreneurs buy millions of dollars’ worth of “how to succeed” or “how to start a business” products. The market isn’t limited to doing business online, but the idea of working at a computer making “six-figure incomes in our pajamas” is especially irresistible.
95% of the customers for these products will spend thousands of dollars, then turn around looking for the next magic pill before their credit card gets a chance to cool off. So are online marketing products all garbage? Are they just hype and spin?
There are some junky products out there, but the truth is that many of them are excellent. The “gurus,” as they’re (not always affectionately) called, have a lot of sound advice to give. Their advice can make you lots of money, if you know the success secret:
You actually have to do something with the advice.
Most customers for “business opportunity” products value the dream more than they do the result. They want to get out of the cubicle, out of their crummy apartment, out of credit card debt. They might even want it desperately. But they don’t take action.
I’m not saying this to be flippant or harsh. It’s not actually all that easy to go from advice to action. If you don’t have a good track record for that, if you’ve spent a lot of time or money on how-to products but never really done anything with it, you may believe you’ll never master it.
Your new productivity methodology
Get a little notebook. This is your to-do list for your project.
If you’re a content marketer, most of your actions will revolve around creating content, creating products, or delivering services. Be sure and maintain a long list of content ideas, so you’re never at a loss when it’s time to knock out a post or a podcast.
Write down all the actions you must take to get you to the next step. Add more actions as you think of them. Cross them off when you’re done. When the list is a mess, rewrite it.
You don’t need an elaborate system that wastes more time than it frees up.
Your system only needs to help you know what to do next.
Work every day (7 days a week, no exceptions), even if some days you only have 15 minutes. Working every day will increase your productivity by spurring your unconscious mind to come up with more ideas. This is helpful for entrepreneurs, and critical for content marketers.
Make a daily habit of one hour of action on your biggest goal. You’ll be astonished at how quickly you start to make progress. Ready, Fire, Aim author Michael Masterson recommends an hour of work on your dream goal every morning, as a way to start your day with a terrific rush of productivity. I’ve been doing just that for the past few months, and I’m starting to get used to the “whooshing” sound as the pieces fall into place. Not only does it work, it feels great too.
You can spend that hour all at once, or divide it into two or three pieces. Make it work for you. And once you develop the hour-a-day habit, you’ll actually find yourself making excuses to do more work on your project.
Success is built on lots of small steps. Start taking them. You’ve built this up in your head to be 1,000 times harder than it is. The fact that you have historically been terrible at getting stuff done is not relevant at all.
Just start taking action. It honestly is that simple.
Success secret #2: Have a plan
The down side of “just taking action” is that if you do a lot of random tasks, you tend to get a lot of random results.
You need to put together a simple, reasonably logical plan. If you want notoriety and attention for its own sake, put together a Paris Hilton sort of plan. If you want credibility and trust from your customers, make it more of a Copyblogger kind of plan.
There’s an old saying that when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem tends to look like a nail. Fight that kind of thinking as much as you can. Your plan may call for expertise you don’t have, or actions you aren’t very good at. So make some room in your plan to partner with someone else. If you’re great at connecting with customers but lousy at technology, find a partner whose strengths and weaknesses perfectly complement yours. Believe me, that person is out there and wants desperately to work with you.
Making too many plans can be the enemy of success secret #1. Be sure your plan has plenty of room for “actions I will take.”
For most of us, grandiose plans don’t get implemented. It’s great to have spectacular goals, if that inspires you. But put together plans for relatively simple, manageable projects. A dumb, simple little project that gets done is infinitely more valuable than an impressive one that gets 99% done.
The reason “back-of-the-napkin” project planning is a cliché is because simple, compact plans tend to get put into action, while 1,000-page strategies to create business empires tend to gather dust.
Keep your project plan in your little notebook. If your plan doesn’t fit into a small notebook, make a smaller plan.
If you want to make a million dollars online, start with a project to make $10. Figure that out, then scale it. It sounds simplistic and even silly, but it works.
Success secret #3: Your secret sauce is you
This is the one that’s going to take #1 and #2 to a completely new level. Success secrets #1 and #2 can make you a decent living. Add #3 to those and you’ll start to create an extraordinary business that supports a meaningful life.
As a content marketer, you’re going to need to create interesting, useful and compelling content pretty much every day you’re in this business. Your blog posts, free reports and email newsletters all contribute to one goal: to establish you as a trusted authority on your topic.
If you’re just going to regurgitate the usual stuff in a lame me-too blog, you’re not going to find too many customers. You’re betting off spending your time surfing or skateboarding — at least with those, you’ll get some exercise and you might meet somebody cute.
You have a unique view of your market’s problems. You have a unique set of techniques and approaches to solve those problems. You have a unique set of experiences to put the problems in a fresh light. Share those unique perspectives in your content.
If you need more expertise to establish yourself as a credible authority, get out and start asking questions. Be a reporter. Look for case studies. Look for real-life examples, even if they’re tiny. Look for lessons in your own life. Make connections no one’s made yet. Bring someone else’s expertise to light in a new way.
If you’re a Franciscan monk, write about the Franciscan monk’s guide to brewing better beer. If you’re a doting parent, write about the toddler’s guide to success. If you’re an indentured servant for a big corporation, write about how to avoid doing all the really dumb stuff your company does.
There will always be people — often thousands of people — who know more than you do. Acknowledge that so you stay humble and open. Then put it to one side and speak up anyway.
Keep whittling down your topic until you’re speaking with an authentic voice about something you genuinely know and care about. Stay curious and you’ll find the path that works for you and only for you.
The real secret
Nearly everyone will read this, feel inspired for about 45 seconds, then go off to hit Starbucks and check out what the hottie on the 2nd floor is wearing today.
But you’re going out at lunch today to pick up your small notebook. As soon as you get back, you’re going to scribble a simple plan and a good handful of actions that will make the plan happen. You’re going to put some thought into how you can execute this plan in your own inimitable way.
You’ll make 10 minutes and take an action today, even if it’s small. Tomorrow morning, you’ll start working for an hour every day, 7 days a week, toward your biggest goal. And just like that, you’ll be on your way to true, meaningful success, however you define it.
Send me a postcard when you’ve reached your dream. I’ll be very jazzed to hear from you.