It’s hard to see our own business objectively.
It’s hard because we’re so close to it. We can’t see much of ourselves without a mirror, and we can’t always see our own business from the inside, either.
Indeed, as Trout and Ries wrote in Positioning, “Objectivity is the key ingredient supplied by the advertising or marketing communication or public relations agency.”
But that doesn’t mean we need to hire outside eyes just to get a better sense of ourselves, or that we should completely outsource analysis of our business. As Kim and Mauborgne warned in Blue Ocean Strategy, “A company should never outsource its eyes. There is simply no substitute for seeing for yourself.”
The truth is, you can learn a lot just by looking at your own business from a new perspective.
A few times a year, my partner and I write out a short report on our business. We document who we work with and what we do with them. How we’re gaining clients and how our work performs.
We dig into the detail of our financials and our operations, and the big picture of our industry and the global context in which we work.
And then we edit the document to give the business a different name and specialty. We make small changes to help us look at the business as if it wasn’t ours. And then we give that business advice.
Making those changes are vital. We have to act as if we’re giving advice to someone else. We all talk to ourselves all day, every day, usually in the form of criticism and banal observations—and we’re really good at ignoring it.
But when we give advice to someone else, we tend to take it more seriously.
As behavioral scientist Katy Milkman wrote in How to Change, “After offering that advice to others, we feel hypocritical if we don't try it ourselves.”
But even more than that, Milkman continues, “We tend to tailor the advice we give based on personal experience.” So we’re more likely to be able to integrate the advice into our lives and business because we’ve already suited it to our needs.
Of course, giving advice is simpler than applying it, and something is always easier when someone else has to do it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to do.
This process has helped my partner and me make continual adjustments to focus on just the services we’re best at and love most, and just the clients who value what we do and want to work with us in particular.
Because it’s often pretty clear what we should be doing once we have some perspective.
So if you’re looking to improve your marketing, write out a report on your business. And then adjust it so you can look at it as if it was run by someone else.
And then give that business owner advice. What should they do? What changes should they make? What should they focus on, and what should they ignore?
Be kind, but be clear. Acknowledge the fear and uncertainty, but be honest about what needs to be done.
I suspect, for instance, that you won’t tell them to blend in, or to do what everyone else is doing.
You probably won’t tell them to try to work with everyone, all the time.
And I doubt you’ll tell them to do everything, all at once, as fast as they can—burnout be damned.
I don’t know what exactly you will tell them, though. That’s up to you.
But whatever it is, it just might work.
So give it a try.