When I first had the
insane brilliant idea to start a business and get out of the alleged safety of the corporate world, I started by reading everything I could find.
I wish I could remember where the thread started for me. It might have been Dan Kennedy, it might have been Michael Port, it could very well have been the Personal MBA.
Hundreds of books and thousands of dollars in information products later, I’ve given myself an education. Was it expensive? Sure was.
But no more expensive than anyone’s education. Even an education that’s completely free is expensive in time and effort.
And just like a college senior ought to be able to get more out of a class than his freshman counterpart, I’ve gotten very good at efficiently extracting the information I need, leaving aside what I don’t, and avoiding the information that’s just not worth my time.
(Because yes, I still study compulsively, all the time. There’s always more to learn.)
Most of us who run online businesses get an education pretty similar to mine. We get some free stuff from our favorite blogs, we might pay for some information in a home study course or an ebook, and we cobble together a lot from pure observation.
Today I’m going to talk about what I’ve learned, so if you’re a little earlier on the path you can avoid some blind alleys.
It’s always about the fundamentals
Maybe you’ve heard of the Pareto Principle. (It’s also called the 80/20 rule.) It’s the observation that, in an amazing variety of circumstances, 80% of the output comes from 20% of the input.
Which means that 20% of your customers provide 80% of your revenue. 20% of the time you spend behind your computer provides 80% of your best work. And 20% of that great meal you had last night provided 80% of the pleasure. (It was the chocolate mousse cake, wasn’t it?)
Because of the Pareto Principle, there’s always a “20%” you should be spending your time on. And in just about every discipline, it’s known as the fundamentals.
Most people race through the fundamentals so they can get to what they consider the fun stuff — the esoteric, “advanced” weird material that no one knows.
Do you think the fundamentals in your topic are kind of boring? In that case, how do you feel about mastery?
The fact is, real masters of any endeavor get scary good at the fundamentals. Read the biography of any massively successful person you admire, from Michael Jordan to Warren Buffett, and you’ll discover someone who got freakishly good at what the wannabe hot shots look down on as “the boring basics.”
Understand Pareto’s 20% in your field, and work on it over and over again.
Then work on it some more.
Inspiration is great, but execution pays the bills
There’s one guy in particular whose stuff I find wonderfully inspiring.
I always feel energized after reading his paper newsletter or listening to his CDs. I’ve got a renewed sense of enthusiasm for my profession, I’m filled with hope and energy, I’m ready for anything.
And all that is fine. The problem is, it lasts about 20 minutes.
Enjoy the inspiration, but don’t stop there. Instead, use the energy from all that inspiration and translate just one idea into an action (it can be incredibly small) you’re going to take to move your business forward.
Then take that action. Really take it, don’t just intend to.
Which leads to:
Just one thing
If the book, membership site, ebook, or home study program you’ve got is any good, you’ll probably have more to act on than you can actually get done this week, this month, or possibly this year.
It may be helpful to remember a piece of advice given by David Allen. You can’t do a whole project. You can only do your next action on that project.
Whether or not you’re a devotee of Allen’s productivity cult Getting Things Done (I am), the idea of the “next action” is critical if you want to move forward on anything complex.
Writing a rough first draft for your email autoresponder is a next action. Spending 20 minutes brainstorming ideas for cornerstone content (and putting them someplace you can find them again) is a next action.
“Learn how to start an online business” is not.
Don’t neglect little things because you’re looking for big results. Big things are made up of the execution of many, many little things.
Education for its own sake can be inspirational and fun (and I would have happily stayed a college undergraduate forever if that had been an option). But if you have practical goals beyond learning, remember to keep those goals front and center.
Revisit the most valuable stuff
Human beings are a novelty-seeking monkey. We’re so attracted to what’s new and different.
But keep an eye out for those rare resources that are worth visiting again and again.
When I had a commute, I used to listen to the same marketing CDs over and over again. They burned a neural pathway in my brain. The information became second nature, as automatic as changing the channel when Leno comes on.
Reread the classics in your field. For me, it’s Robert Cialdini’s Influence, Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing, Eugene Schwartz’s Breakthrough Advertising, and a handful of decidedly old-school books on copywriting.
When you can get unabridged audio versions, pick them up in addition to the print versions, and listen to them when driving or on the train.
In the digital realm, I keep going back to Gary Bencivenga’s Marketing Bullets, our own Teaching Sells (I was a student before I ever dreamed of being a partner), and Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula.
I’m not looking for radical new insights. I’m looking for one small thing I can add to what I’m doing now.
Be ready to get bigger than you thought you would
When I started out with all of this self education, all I wanted to do was to convince people to hire me for copywriting gigs. I was good at that and I liked it, and I was itching to get out of that corporate job.
But by the time I figured out how to market my freelance writing, I realized that copywriting was a small subset of what I really enjoyed doing, and I wanted a bigger picture.
So if you’re going to expand your thinking, build new skills, take on a new mindset, and start making new neural (and social, and financial) connections, you may find your life shooting off in an amazing new direction that you never really thought was possible.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
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