In a good economy, you can do reasonably well with “good enough.”
Good enough design, good enough marketing, good enough skills.
When demand is high and dollars are sloshing around, there’s a market for Decent. Capable. Adequate. Acceptable.
Unfortunately, we’re not in a good economy. We’re in a wretched economy. Industries all over the world are falling like bowling pins, and “good enough” professionals in all fields are scrambling.
There’s always room at the top, the guru says smugly. Don’t you want to smack that guy sometimes? How are you supposed to get to the top? And how are you supposed to pay your bills until you figure that out?
But believe it or not, there’s a map to the top. And you don’t have to have superhuman skills, talent, or even perseverance to get there.
Take these three (ok, four) simple steps. No, they’re not easy, but they are simple. You can do them. And you must do them. Good enough isn’t good enough anymore.
Find out what you’re better at than anyone in the world
Now before you start hyperventilating, hear me out.
You’re probably not going to be the greatest copywriter or greatest web designer or the greatest dry cleaner on the face of the planet.
You’re going to be the greatest in your world. The greatest copywriter for Dallas high-end commercial real estate, or Orange County chiropractors, or for B2B direct marketing in Bangalore.
You’re going to find a world small enough, and then work your tail off to make yourself the greatest Doer-of-the-Thing-You-Do in that world.
Sometimes you create a world of one. I’m the world’s greatest practitioner of Sonia-style marketing. Brian’s the world’s greatest Copyblogger. (I nip at his heels to keep him honest, but he’s still the greatest.) Seth is the world’s foremost Seth.
Being “the world’s greatest you” isn’t an excuse to slack off, though. It means that every day you show up and try to do your thing a little better than you did yesterday.
Find a viable business model
If what you’re best at is playing Mozart sonatas on air guitar, even if you’re quite amazing at it, you may struggle to find paying customers.
If it’s a business, you’ve got to get paid.
Sometimes there are multiple strong business models for what you do, and it’s a matter of picking the one that suits you best. Sometimes one strategy will stand out.
And sometimes, what you do is a very enjoyable passion, but it doesn’t form the kernel of a business.
A viable business model isn’t a matter of will power or can-do attitude. The customers are either there or they aren’t.
If they aren’t, keep framing and reframing your ideas and strengths until you find a market of buyers. Then offer them something they want (not need) to buy.
Find something that gives you juice
Remember when I mentioned working your tail off?
Running a great business, even a business of one, isn’t easy.
You’re going to have to be stubborn. You’re going to have to get past hurdles that make you uncomfortable. You’re going to have to give some things up, especially when you’re getting started. You’re going to have to care. A lot.
And you’ll never do that if your business bores you to tears.
Understand — you don’t have to necessarily love real estate to be the best agent in your well-defined world. You might love negotiation, or you might love the type of clients you focus on, or you might love playing matchmaker between houses and buyers.
But you’ve got to adore something about it. It’s got to give you juice. It’s got to make you stronger. Otherwise you’ll run out of gas before you can make it happen.
Of course this comes from the book Good to Great
The three steps above are from Jim Collins’ groundbreaking book — he calls this trio the “hedgehog concept.” (Hence the cute if slightly creepy small mammal at the top of this post.)
These three factors aren’t just for copywriters and web designers — they’re for multinational conglomerates and billion-dollar empires. And they’re for soccer teams and nonprofits and musicians.
I’d heard great things about Jim Collins’ book for years, but I never read it.
I looked at it this way: Every idiot CEO and Dilbert-worthy executive in the country has read Good to Great. And from what I’ve seen, most of them couldn’t effectively manage a hamburger stand, much less run a great company.
But then I read Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness, and darn it, Hsieh does run a great company, and he found Good to Great essential reading. If I can pick up a $14 book that made Tony Hsieh smarter about business, don’t you think I should?
So I did. And it’s brilliant. But I can also see why it failed.
The crucial fourth step
Collins (or more accurately, his team of researchers) found another common element in great companies. It’s certainly the case with Hsieh.
You’ve got to love the business more than you do your own ego.
The leaders of Collins’ great companies were, without exception. personally humble and self-effacing, but they were fanatically passionate and driven to make their companies succeed.
If you’re in it for the Breitling, the house in the Hamptons, the thrill of watching minions scurry to carry out your personal immense vision, then your endeavor (small or large) is in deep trouble.
(If your CEO is in business for these things, start looking for a way out now. Luckily, mine isn’t).
If you’re crazy in love with the market you serve, the product you create, and the good that you do in the world (even if that good is a bit frivolous … frivolity can be a beautiful thing), you’re on to something big. Don’t stop.
That’s why Good to Great didn’t create a million great companies. Every executive in America read it and puffed up with pride. “Why, we’re in luck! Humble and self-effacing, that’s me to a tee!”
Self-delusion is a powerful thing
But you’re more honest than that. You have the potential to level with yourself, and to step up your game. Good to Great is probably a pipe dream for most big companies — the entrenched egos are too giant to shift. More important, they don’t really want to.
But you can hone your hedgehog concept. You can refuse to let yourself off the hook. And you can get the hell over yourself and start getting obsessed about helping people.
And when you do, you’re going to do some amazing things.
How about you? What has your own “good to great” journey looked like? Let us know in the comments what you’ve found along your path.