Image: Brendan Church via Unsplash
In this 2nd part of the post I'll go through yet more business mistakes I've made since starting WPStrands and what I've learned from them.
Mistakes I Had To Make
In a previous post (see part 1 here) I outlined some of the mistakes I've made so far in setting up WPStrands. Here I'll carry on with that list.
Remember, you will make mistakes so make sure you use them as the learning opportunities they are. I'm neither morose nor pessimistic but I do think it's important to handle mistakes in this order: acknowledge them, learn from them and move on.
Mistake #6: "Trying" Facebook Advertising
According to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, digital advertising for Q1 2017 is up 23% on Q1 2016. Digital advertising has grown by double digits for the past seven years. Despite that, over 30% of marketers believe that paid advertising is a complete waste of time and resources! Where's the disconnect here?
This can only mean that many of those billions being spent on digital advertising are being spent by people who don't really know what they are doing and are hence throwing money down the tube.
I have to admit to getting sucked in by the whole advertising-to-advertise industry. Without really understanding the platform, I made a few half-hearted attempts at running Facebook ads to a free course on a landing page on my site. I got a few signups to my email list but nothing phenomenal so I stopped running the ads.
This was symptomatic of my impatience at the time and wasn't the only project I dipped into without any real commitment (remember my Kindle book, my Udemy course etc?)
Since then I've learned a lot about the topic. Results from digital advertising are definitely getting harder to come by but if you do it carefully and sensibly there's no reason to ignore it.
So many business owners approach their businesses like I did advertising. They take a wild stab at something and then quit when their hopes aren't realised.
Running a business can't be like that! It's a long-term game. You need to learn the fundamentals of everything you do and you need the patience to adapt and retry again and again. How often do you need to try? I keep in mind what Jim Rohn says about his amazing circle of business friends:
"How many books will they read to solve a problem? As many as it takes. If they need to consult - how much consulting will they do? As much as it takes. How early will they get up? As early as it takes."
Of course advertising works for some. It did get me some new email addresses on my list but for now at least, I'm getting better results by building real relationships with real people.
Giving real value to people who know me is a long-term strategy that has only positive benefits. The advertising platforms can and do change at a moments notice and I don't want to build a dependency on them right now. But advertising is definitely something to come back to at some point.
So, lesson learned: Don't just give something a try; far better to commit to a definite course of action. More about this in a later post ...
Don't just give something a try; far better to commit to a definite course of action
Mistake #7: Blogging Badly
The only exam I ever failed at school was English and since then I‘ve been convinced I’m not a writer. I sometimes wonder if teachers like Mr. K realise the life-long impact they've had on some people ... ?
Yet to make it online you need to write about things that interest and help your potential customers so they can get to know like and trust you, right?
Well, maybe not.
I knew I could teach lots of helpful stuff but so can lots of other people who are probably much better at it than I am. I spent a full three months earlier this year really trying to get into the rhythm of blogging and I Hated. Every. Minute. Of it.
Corbett Barr wrote that "... you have to like creating content". I didn’t enjoy it at all. I had a ton of ideas but when it came to writing about them it took a supreme effort of will to force myself to do it every day.
As I wrote last week, the problem was that I wasn't being myself. I was writing what I thought someone running a WordPress maintenance company should be writing about.
A few months back I reviewed the plan I'd made at the beginning of this year. To my surprise I discovered that I had set the goal of writing about my journey as it happened. The writing never happened because I didn’t really feel I had a lot of valuable experience to share. That was until I took a step back and asked myself why this wasn't working.
I find it hard to keep in mind that what's obvious to me might not obvious be to many other people. At all.
I realised that I would enjoy and learn from documenting this journey and that others could find it useful. From the relationships I’ve built with people in the same boat I now know this is valuable.
Since then I can’t wait to write about what’s going on and the whole writing thing has become an enjoyable means of getting the story out. It's still early days but so far so good and it feels right.
Remember, it’s your business. It’s your blog. Although you need to find some common denominator between you and your readers, to a huge extent, you can decide what you want to write about.
Mistake #8: Searching Perfection
So much has been said about the search for perfection being fruitless. But it didn't stop me trying.
I created an email course about looking after WordPress. I spent countless hours making sure it was complete and that the email automation worked. As an example, I once spent two hours looking for and cropping an image for one of the lessons ... !
I didn't think it was world class so I dropped it.
I then compiled that email course into a book on WordPress maintenance. Again I spent countless hours editing and formatting, rewriting parts, adding parts, deleting parts. I once spent almost three hours looking for a tool to convert emails to PDF; this was more time than it took to finally do it manually!
In the end Ihad a 65 page book as my giveaway. And I wasn't happy with it. I’m also quite sure that no-one has actually read it in its entirety.
I’ve since had much better success creating shorter more actionable guides and not worrying too much about whether they’re perfect or not. They aren’t. But they do get better every time I review them and ask for feedback.
Building a following is not about how perfect it can be right now , it's about the long haul. If things are getting better over time then its good enough. As Jim Rohn (again) said, "it's the set of the sails, not the direction of the wind that determines which way we will go".
It's the set of the sails, not the direction of the wind that determines which way we will go. -- Jim Rohn
Mistake #9: Getting Distracted
I'm naturally curious. Whenever I come across something interesting or new I like to learn about it. In a little kid that's an endearing quality but it's a constant battle to keep it from happening these days and distracting me from what's important.
When I was trying to blog I was continuously researching how to be better at writing; I read books. I took courses. I made notes on what the experts told me in podcasts and webinars. I learned writing tips from Gaiman and Hemmingway. I learned a lot of writing theory. I didn't actually write.
When I was trying out Facebook advertising I got sidetracked into the copyrighting of Ogilvy and Halbert.
When I was trying to promote a blog post I’d spend hours reading about how to promote a blog post.
When I was creating my first landing page I spent days trying out LeadPages and Unbounce and InstaPage. I researched the most effective ways to do it to maximise conversions.
Of course the result was information overload.
I couldn't possible take enough action to keep up with the huge amount of information I was consuming. I became confused by the varied and fascinating directions I was being pulled in.
The truth is that any tactic and strategy will probably work for someone. It's like dieting; the one that works is often the one you stick with long enough. But also like dieting, there is no approach that works for everyone. Everything we do in our business is a hypothesis - we need to experiment, measure, learn, take what works, ditch what doesn't and repeat.
The strategy that works is often the one you stick with long enough to confirm or deny your hypothesesThe strategy that works is often the one you stick with long enough to confirm or deny your hypotheses
Generally you have more willpower in the morning. So at 5am one Saturday I sat down at my computer. I unsubscribed from dozens of email lists, deleted a ton of free ebooks and course and videos I’d downloaded and kept just a handful that really resonated with me.
I then started taking action one step at a time. Whenever I read something that sounded good I tried it with enthusiasm. If it didn't work, I adjusted and retried or I moved on. The speed you can try new things in a smart way and then learn from them has a lot to do with the speed your business will grow.
Really putting your heart into a single tactic at a time is vastly superior to briefly trying lots of things that vie for your attention. It’s about doing one thing that will move the business forward now. As David Risley says “it isn't the tool which matters as much as what you're doing with it.”
Research and reading isn’t bad, of course; it's essential to your ongoing education and to reiterate principles you're already familiar yet.
I still find it hard to resist a compelling headline and I have to constantly remind myself each time that I haven’t yet exhausted the possibilities of whatever I'm currently working on.
Walk before you crawl. Remember the basics. If your main product isn’t ready, you don’t have a business. If you haven't sold any of that product you don't have a business.
Get these things done well enough first before you worry that your writing isn't as simple as Hemmingway's or that your landing page conversions aren't as good as Frank Kern's.
Mistake #10: Caring About The Small Things.
You can debate the truth of Peter Drucker's "you can't manage what you can't measure" (or something like that) all you want but there's no denying that it's important to track the important moving parts of your business.
Here's the thing - metrics can distract you. Most metrics simply aren't important when they're small.
I used to regularly check the popular pages of my site and tweak them to improve conversion rates and make them perfect (see Mistake #8 above). I used to check what tweets did well, what Facebook posts got most likes, most shares etc. etc.
This is all kind of pointless when your site has 20 visitors a day.
There are more important things. Like getting your basic offer to a good standard. Like looking after your current customers in every way you can.
Until you have hundreds of visitors a day, most of those metrics really don’t tell you much that's useful.
The Biggest Mistake Of All
While making this list I realised that all of the above mistakes actually combine to reveal my greatest mistake of all. It's one of the biggest mistakes any business can make:
Not focusing on sales!
Sounds silly doesn't it? You're not in business until you make sales. Yet with everything that needs to be done it's fairly easy to lose sight of that simple fact.
It's Not All Mistakes
I'm happy to say there are many common mistakes I didn’t make, some things I got right first time around, like:
- Making it all about the product instead of the customer
- Not setting goals
- Not thinking about marketing
- Spending money too freely
- Not being flexible
- Not having a clear vision
- Giving up!
These were usually thanks to the advice of others who were several (or many) steps ahead of me.
Ryan Sullivan of WP Site Care advised me to get my processes in order. Sigrun taught me not to overextend myself beyond my area of expertise even for what seems like a great opportunity. Jen encouraged me to find my own voice and, while it’s taken me 2 years, this blog is the beginning of that.
There you have it. There are no earth-shattering revelations in there. No gigantic abysmal failures but they are many of the same mistakes that people make time and time again. I'm no longer amazed I will never have it all figured out and I'll keep learning. But NOT by making the same mistakes.
You can spend a lifetime reading about this stuff but the only way is to forge your own path and make your own mistakes. We have to do that anyway. The ones who come out of it better are the ones who never stop trying and adjusting.
What do you think? Do any of these ring true for you? Any mistakes you’ve made that you’d like to share in the comments below?