Today’s newsletter is, hopefully, applicable to everyone, but it’s specifically focused on small business owners and consultants.
Because we’ve recently realized that our most successful small business and consulting clients tend to have one major thing in common:
They’ve tried lots of other things before coming to us.
It starts with them feeling like they’re spinning, grinding away at inefficient or ineffective marketing tactics. They want to attract more profitable clients that value their work, but they simultaneously feel like they don’t have enough time in their day to actually do their best work.
So, first, they might look for software and tools to make their data and decisions clearer.
Then, they might reach out to some creative agencies or production partners to create exciting ads, videos, or social posts.
Finally, they might enlist some consultants or government agencies to make detailed reports and complex plans.
And, ultimately, none of it really works. At least not for long, or very well.
But that’s not because the software is broken or that the tools don’t work. Not because the agencies and studios aren’t talented and sincere. And not because the consultants and government aren’t trying their best.
It’s because they all took the starting point for granted, the stated goal and desire of the client as a given.
The business owner asked them to make their marketing more effective, and everyone tried their best.
But nobody figured out what the business owner really, truly wanted.
What they truly wanted for their business long-term, or the type of marketing work they wanted and were willing to do for a long time.
Business owners and their marketing partners often approach support from a fixed perspective—“Make me successful doing this, right now, and then I’ll have the freedom to figure out what I really want for the future.”
And it doesn’t work, because it can’t.
Look, there are exceptions to these statements, I know, but so few that they really prove the rules:
You can’t be successful doing something you don’t like.
You can’t successfully market something you don’t believe in.
You can’t consistently perform marketing tactics that you don’t enjoy.
And no one else—no agency, partner, or consultant—can care more about your dream, your business, or your marketing than you do.
I get it, there’s tons of advice out there telling you to focus exclusively on what the customer wants—the ones nearby, the ones you can get easily—and to build your business around that.
Who cares, they say, what you want? Focus on what they want.
These folks might also try to guilt you into getting on TikTok whether you understand it or enjoy it. Or to create a towering martech stack that intimidates and confounds you because, they say, you’ve just got to have that data and those beautiful dashboards.
But I believe that if there isn’t some significant overlap between what your customers want, what works, and what you like doing, you’ll inevitably start resenting your customers and your own business.
I absolutely adore David Fields’ The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients, but I really can’t agree with his statement: “It’s easier to sell services desired by the people you can reach than it is to find people who desire the services you want to sell.”
Because that’s only true if human motivation is a given, if extrinsic pressure were suitably powerful to get us to do something we don’t really like doing.
But it’s not. At least not for me and for most of the people I work with.
For us, intrinsic motivation is the fuel for our ambition’s engine.
Put more bluntly by one military historian, “Enthusiasm is incompatible with compulsion—because it is essentially spontaneous. Compulsion is thus bound to deaden enthusiasm—because it dries up the source.”
So, sure, in some senses it might be easier to disregard what you want and build a business around fulfilling a specified need in the market, whether it interests you or not. Or to ignore what you actually like doing and build a marketing plan that commits you to tiresome toil or expensive outsourcing.
And if you can do that, great, I guess.
But I don’t think it works for most people, and so I can’t recommend it. Instead, I recommend figuring out what you really, truly want and want to do, and then create a strategy—the structure to work efficiently—to help you make progress toward that, every single day.
It’s harder in some ways, but it’s easier in this one, all-important way: You’ll like it, so you’ll stick with it.
Here’s why this matters. I’ve seen countless business owners spend fortunes outsourcing their marketing—because they don’t like doing it and don’t want to do it themselves—only for it to endlessly flail or abruptly flop.
Because they don’t like marketing.
And so they were never going to invest the time or energy it requires to succeed, outsourced or not. Better to find something less effective which can work because you like it, than waste your resources on something super effective that can’t work because you don’t.
I’ve seen consultants drill down into niches they don’t actually like, just because they looked like profitable, “low-hanging fruit.” But specialization requires irrepressible curiosity about your specialty—it requires you to become the very best at what you do in particular.
And that’s an awfully tough sell when you don’t really care.
Yes, passion alone does not a business make. Yes, following your interests without following the money won’t get you very far. But following the money and forgoing your interests won’t either.
Instead, figure out what you actually want from your business. The lifestyle and the experiences you want it to afford you.
The change you want to make in your industry, your community, or your planet.
The unique advantages your specific experiences, interests, and skills provide you.
And what you actually like spending your time doing—what you find fascinating and fun that others find boring and difficult.
You can’t skip this step.
Because if something isn’t sustainable for the long-term, it’s only a matter of time before you stop doing it.
Perhaps abruptly, perhaps disastrously. But eventually, inevitably.
Better to find out what you like, what you want, and what you’re working toward now, than discover it too late, or not at all.
It starts by diving deep into your own motivations, interests, experiences, and life goals. The things that shape and define you, that fuel and drive you.
And then you define a market for the thing—the service, the product, the tool, the app, the idea—you like making or providing.
Sure, sometimes you’ll reach a dead end—not every great idea is a great business—but with enough thinking and enough support, you can find something you love doing that other people truly need.
Then, you determine some efficient, effective, and sustainable actions you can take every day to reinforce your position and give your ideal prospects a taste of what it’s like to work with you (also called marketing).
And then you build a structure around consistently performing those actions and endlessly improving upon them through feedback loops (also called strategy).
Essentially, you figure out what you ultimately want to achieve with your business, what kind of business you’d like to build to achieve it, what you’d enjoy doing to promote it, and how you can keep at it, consistently, for the long-term.
I know, I know. Easy to say, hard to do.
But hard is better than impossible. Frustration is better than futility.
Because when your business and your marketing focus on what you want, what you like, and what you can become the very best at, you’ll stick with it.
You’ll work at it until it works.
Because you want to.
Because you know what you want.