Brilliant author, philosopher, and speaker Alan Watts once published his autobiographical book, In My Own Way, the title of which is a play on words with alternate meanings. An extremely independent thinker, Watts clearly did things in his own inimitable way. The clever alternate meaning is probably more common for the rest of us, where we use excuses and other convenient reasons to get “in our own way” on the path toward success. As Watts pointed out, the difference lies between fulfilling yourself and obstructing yourself.
Starting a business is a bold step, not one for the timid. The list of excuses used to avoid the dangers of launching a business are many and varied, but they all resonate with the same timidity. Fear of failure is probably the most common thread among all of the excuses holding us back. It takes courage to take the plunge, and a prospective entrepreneur must be willing to take some chances or they will definitely getting in their own way.
Excuses, Excuses, Excuses
You are familiar with these. We have heard them all before: I don’t know enough about running a business. I don’t have the skills. I don’t have sufficient contacts with the right people to get started on the right foot. I can’t afford it right now. The economy won’t support a new business just yet. It’s just not the right time.
Each of these may be a valid concern, but the bottom line is that they are nothing more than excuses holding you back from exploring your dream. THEY are not what is holding you back. YOU are what is holding you back.
There are many ways to overcome the fear of failure. One of the most common is simply out of necessity. People lose their long-held jobs and have to pay the rent. Being “forced” into business has been the best thing ever to happen to a lot of people. But whether you are forced, following your dream, or simply fall into it by chance, the opportunities are there for you to succeed. Pat Flynn’s success is a good example.
Pat Flynn was laid off by an architectural firm in 2008. He set a goal of passing an architecture-related exam and created a website to gather information on the test and how to pass it. Many others were also interested in this objective and the site started generating thousands of hits daily. His internal light bulb went on and Flynn wrote an ebook study guide on how to pass that test, selling it for $19.99. Within a month, he had generated sales in excess of $7,000. He never looked back, and today is the brain trust behind SmartPassiveIncome.com, as well as numerous other revenue-generating websites. Pat Flynn got out of his own way.
Founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg is an extremely successful entrepreneur. He didn’t start the wave that has become social media, but his brainchild is today clearly the most popular vehicle in the genre. On his profound success, Zuckerberg said, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
You must get past that little voice in your head that says, “You can’t,” and find the other one in there that says, “Yes, you can.” That voice is in there. You just have to find it and listen, for a change. The boldness to take the plunge depends on it. As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
When it comes to the marketing materials that you’re putting out into the world, there is nothing more important than the factor at the heart of it all: your message. Ultimately, the best-looking print mailer, poster, or other material in the world won’t mean a thing if you don’t have the clear, concise message in the center of it to back it up. If you’re worried about whether or not your design instincts are getting the better of you, and you are, in fact, diluting your message in your marketing materials, you can use these delightfully simple tips to find out.
Are You Overloading the Reader Visually?
Graphics, interesting font choices, and more can all be great tools to help get your message across to readers – but they should be complimentary, not supplementary. Every element that you use in your materials that is not contributing to your message is only taking away from it – never forget that. If your materials have swayed decidedly in the direction of “a lot of style, very little substance” in that you’re loading them up with tons of bright colors, flashy logos, images and more, there’s a great chance that you could actually be accomplishing the exact opposite of what you set out to. Start designing your materials with your message in mind and then lay everything else around it. Don’t design the best-looking print material you can and THEN try to cram your message in there somewhere.
Does it Take Longer than 30 Seconds to Discover Your Message?
In order to achieve a maximum level of effectiveness, your message needs to be as simple as possible. “This company is the one you can trust.” “This product is the one that can solve your problems.” “This service is the one you need to make your life easier.” These are (admittedly simple) examples of marketing messages that can be identified and absorbed quickly and easily. If it takes longer than 30 seconds for your target audience to realize what you’re trying to say, you’ve probably already lost them. Trust us – you don’t have that kind of time.
Do You Have Enough White Space?
White space is undoubtedly the best friend that you have when it comes to the print marketing materials that you’re designing. People don’t want to read a wall of text to find out what you’re trying to say – they want to be spoken to directly and succinctly. If brevity is the soul of wit, white space is the brevity equivalent when it comes to your marketing message. If you design a particular material and have very little white space left over at the end of the process, the chances are high that you should probably take another look. There are undoubtedly elements, whether graphics or text or something else entirely – that you can drop without harming what you’re trying to say.
Anything that isn’t directly contributing to your marketing message is only serving to take attention away from it, which is absolutely something that you do not want under any circumstances. People shouldn’t have to work to figure out what you’re trying to say – it should be immediately clear. By keeping these few, core tips in mind regardless of the type of material you’re designing, you’ll place yourself in a better position to establish a direct line of communication with your target audience in the exact way that you intended.
If your marketing campaign is all about telling a story (and make no mistake, it most certainly is), the most important quality that story can have is a sense of desire. When you really stop to think about it, marketing is similar to almost every other medium in that regard. If your story took the form of a movie, desire would be the need for your audience to stay right where they were and not even think about getting up for popcorn. If you were writing a novel, desire would be the absolute need of the reader to turn the page and find out what happened next. In marketing, desire involves communicating to your target audience exactly why they need your product or service in their lives and why they can’t stand to live another day without it.
Creating Desire in Marketing
One of the single best ways to create a desire in your marketing materials is to use your target customer’s own natural sense of curiosity against them. Help them visualize the many ways that your product or service can fit into their existing lives through a combination of scenarios. Highlight what makes your company a very different (and better) animal than your competition. What you absolutely should NOT do, however, is give the game away too early. If a customer thinks that they have all of the information about every last thing a product does, they may feel compelled to easily write it off without giving it a second thought.
Don’t rely too heavily on trying to be clever or to “impress” your potential customer, per say. Not only is it difficult to master without wasting space, but it also isn’t necessarily something you even need to do once you’ve piqued their curiosity in the first place.
Simplify the Next Step
Much has been written about the idea of the call to action as a way to direct the reader farther along towards the sales funnel, but many people don’t realize that it can also be a great way to amplify desire in a customer.
Say you’ve designed a perfect, enticing ad campaign that both highlights benefits about your product and also leaves enough to the imagination where they can’t help but want to know more. A great way to kill that desire before you’ve had a chance to use it is to make the next step far too complicated for its own good. People don’t want to fill out a form to get an e-mail to download a PDF to possibly satisfy their curiosity and desire. Keep it simple: “Having this wonderful product or service in your life is only a phone call away.” That one simple technique can put many potential customers over the top and turn them into sales.
These are just a few of the many reasons why the concept of desire is such an important one when it comes to marketing. If you can master the art of desire, you’re almost leveraging the power of your potential customer’s own brain against them. Once the seed of desire has been planted, it is one that will essentially grow and come to fruition on its own. Once a potential customer truly and deeply wants something, they will move heaven and earth to make it happen – which is absolutely something that you want to create in as many people as possible.
Certainly, a strong sense of individualism is a valuable asset to possess. Free market capitalism is based in large part on the ability to be both clever enough and individualistic enough to see a need and meet that need in a way that no one else has done before.
After all, it is the individual who supplies the needed answer, where only the question existed before. They do this by doing something in a new way, differently than it had previously been done, providing a product or service that is in some respect novel. In a way, they predict the future by inventing it. They supply something that was simply overlooked by everyone else. Albert Einstein said it this way: “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” The individualistic entrepreneur wants something more than what they have “always got,” and they set in motion the mechanism to obtain it.
Apple’s, Steve Jobs may have been the poster child for innovative individualism, but he is by no means alone in this capacity. Indeed, most successful entrepreneurs in Western culture adhere to the belief that their success was the product of their undaunted individualism.
For the most part, we have all heard of the bandwagon effect. It happens when an individual or group forms an opinion based, to some extent, on the stated or observed opinions of others, particularly if the others have formed a growing majority. Those who are influenced in this way are said to have “jumped on the bandwagon.” According to this confirmed psychological effect, the more people who hold an opinion, regardless of how true or untrue it may be, the more additional people will have a tendency to accept that increasingly popular view as their own. The bandwagon effect, therefore, relates to how opinions are shaped by the observed behavior of other people. It is based on our innate attraction for group activity. No matter how individualistic people may be, they are still affected by this innate attraction to group behavior. We are, after all, extremely social beings.
Among other things, research into the bandwagon effect has focused on politics due to the critical nature of the effect on election results. However, the effect has been observed in many environments, explaining the growth of fads and fashion trends, as well as the popularity of Internet memes on social media, especially as they are said to “go viral.”
In business, too, the bandwagon effect has a definite place. As such, it seems radically opposed to the apparent benefit of individuality, but the connection is both meaningful and useful, and should not be overlooked.
The concept of rugged individualism is the basis for the Boot Strap Theory, whereby someone of more modest means can pull himself “up by the boot straps” to a more successful position in society. Keep in mind, though, that successful business ventures must acknowledge the necessity for meeting the needs of a wide spectrum of customers or the relatively fewer “individuals” served will not provide enough of a base for financial success.
Individuality really is a good thing as long as it comes with the realization that it is not alone in some sort of exclusive importance. For most businesses to develop and prosper, owners need to realize that most people are not leaders, but followers by nature, adhering (whether they realize it or not) to the bandwagon effect. A successful business operation usually depends on the overall popularity of the business. Social media constitutes a good tool for exploiting the benefits of the bandwagon effect. However it is accomplished, though, the smart business owner will explore the benefits of increasing the popularity of her business by understanding and taking advantage of the bandwagon effect.
“Following all the rules leaves a completed checklist. Following your heart achieves a completed you.” This quote by author Ray A. Davis may be a bit of an oversimplification, but it carries some significance, too. Some people are attracted to breaking rules and live their lives accordingly. They are typically acknowledged as either highly successful people or scoundrels. But in any case, they are people who choose their own paths instead of following the well-beaten trails of life. Many times they are revered as leaders. However, not everyone is cut out for rule breaking.
This may be the key difference between two very different types of leaders. One is devoted to organizing procedures and processes and directing operations and the systems that make them functional. The other is primarily engaged in creativity and the positive influence of others. As such, these two types are differentiated as managers and visionaries. Some individuals are fortunate enough to have both of these capacities, but most of us, if we are leadership material at all, fall into one of these two categories more so than the other, and that is not a bad thing. The world needs both types of leadership.
Perhaps the most important difference between these two is that one of them is routinely devoted to following the rules, or at least helping to make and institute those rules. The other is largely committed to finding ways to circumvent the same rules, exploring new ground instead of restricting one’s latitude to a structured set of limitations. One follows the rules; the other seeks to break them.
Looking at these two individuals we can see some very clearly defined differences. The one who seems born to be a manager is focused on technical aspects and structural adhesion. She is committed to smoothness in operation and well-practiced efficiency. Everyone usually acknowledges that she is quite good at what she does.
The other is visionary in his approach to problem solving, so his solutions are not always popular. He is, instead, a bit of a maverick. But his ideas can be so very convincing sometimes, usually due to his emotional involvement and vision. In a word, he is passionate, and his passion is contagious. He is an idea factory.
Successful entrepreneur and co-founder of Twitter Jack Dorsey said, “Everyone has an idea. But it’s really about executing the idea and attracting other people to help you work on the idea.” The idea for Twitter was amazingly simple. It was also untried. The “idea people” attracted some management types to make it happen…and the rest is history.
Successful organizations usually require both types of leadership, the idea generators and the systems people who build and pattern the formula. Successful World War II general and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” That, in a nutshell, is the path of the idea creator, the entrepreneurial genius, the visionary leader who starts the engine and motivates it to keep running.
The running of the engine requires the attention of those most capable of coaxing from it the power that is needed. The engine must be tuned to perfection. Systems experts keep it running and running in the right direction. Without them, the visionary’s idea could easily die on the vine.
True leadership may begin with a breaking of the rules, but it can only truly succeed by virtue of learning one’s real limitations and finding help in those areas of relative weakness. Break the rules to get started, but then find help covering your weaknesses from another kind of leader, and your chance of success is increased.
In its simplest context, a bridge is a solution for getting from point A to point B. The best bridge is one that accomplishes that task with the least amount of difficulty. But bridges, even the metaphorical symbolic ones, come in all shapes and sizes.
In northern India, the roots of the banyan fig tree are used by the indigenous population to form bridges across ravines and streams. As solutions to problems, these living root bridges are quite successful. It is not known who first built these amazing structures, but the trees are known to live for more than 500 years. With that knowledge, at least as far as bridges are concerned, you don’t have to worry too much about the decay of your infrastructure.
These aerial roots grow perfectly well in the air, and the young pliable roots are trained to travel through hollowed out tree trunks laid across whatever must be crossed. The process can take up to 15 years, but once the roots attach themselves to the other side, the bridge is usable and simply must mature with a hardening of the roots to become fully functional. Some of the best solutions take time, but if you have one that is going to perform for 500 years, you have a pretty good solution.
Exemplifying another kind of bridge, in 2014, the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, received an award of distinction for its leadership in the areas of diversity and inclusiveness. In fact, the award presented by the Greater Baltimore Committee is actually called the Bridging the Gap Award.
Led by Dr. Richard Bennett, Bayview’s Diversity Council was recognized as one of the nation’s top ten such councils. In this case, bridging the gap involved uniting business interests with community interests with the bridge of commitment toward generating summer employment for minority students pursuing health care and life sciences careers. Bayview was also recognized for its efforts to support leadership initiatives among the medical center’s under-represented minority and female staff members.
One of the most innovative and successful business leaders to emerge in the past 50 years was Steve Jobs. One of the primary problems he routinely addressed was how to do business with a focus not on his product, but on the utility of that product, and how clients received and used that product. Steve Jobs was focused on people, not products. As a result, his energy was poured into solving the problems of people rather than solving the problems of making products.
Clearly one of his biggest success stories was the iPhone, as it performed the functions of three or four machines with one device. That solves a people problem creating a bridge between multiple needs and utility. But it didn’t stop there for Jobs. He went further by creating an environment in which the iPhone was not merely an industry leader. Other companies in that industry were creating applications to use on his iPhone. In essence, he created an ecosystem in which his product sales were now being driven by other companies through their software marketed specifically for the iPhone. Steve Jobs built a bridge between multiple needs of people and the obvious solution to those many needs with a single product. And then, he widened the bridge by getting other companies to basically market his product for him.
Business has always been about solving problems. The best bridges solve problems the most effectively. Like the famous folk-rock group Simon and Garfunkel said in their Grammy-winning song, “like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.” Successful bridges make the journey over troubled water a much easier task.