It’s often said that in order for someone to have success in their business, they must know two important things. They must know who their target audience is (who their work is for) and what it is they’re providing to their target audience (what their work is doing for their clients). Equally important, but often overlooked, is figuring out if what we’re doing to achieve our goals is actually working.
Saying something is working doesn’t mean the same thing as saying that something has worked in the past. There are many things that we do, in our lives, in our relationships and in our jobs, that have worked fine in the past, but for some reason, they simply don’t produce the same results anymore.
Sometimes the things we do, the things that we hope are going to work for us, don’t work exactly like we want them to, exactly when we want them to. This uncertainty can make it hard to know if what we’re doing is working. And this lack of clarity can be a source of incredible stress and frustration.
Humans, at heart, are simple creatures. We are quite happy when we’re faced with a binary choice. Two possible answers; the theoretical black and white decision. Left or right. Up or down. In or out. Right or wrong. Having to choose between two options that are polar opposites; that’s what we like. Straight shot. Easy decision.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where there is no black and white. Everything’s laid out in front of us in varying shades of grey.
For business owners, the reality is that whenever we’re trying to do something in our business, whether it’s starting a new business, adding a new product or marketing to a new audience, it’s often hard to know whether or not what we’re doing is working.
It’s quite a rare occurrence when we try something new and immediately get the result that we need. The unfortunate reality is that we don’t often get the instantaneous feedback that we want, letting us know whether or not what we’re doing is working.
And that can be frustrating.
We’re wired for yes or no, but all we keep getting back is maybe.
So, in a world overrun by maybe, how do we know if what we’re doing is working? How do we decide when it’s time to throw in the towel and do something else?
Where’s that damn ‘easy button’ when we need it?
The reality is that there is no easy button in life. There is no absolute right or wrong decision. There is no answer key in the back of the book to tell us when we’re on the right track. It’s entirely up to us to make the decision whether or not what we’re doing is working.
So, how do we know if we’re on the right track?
Thankfully, there are some signs to help guide us along the path toward the decision that’s best for us and our business. If something is working for us, there will be clues that we’re doing the right thing. There will be hints that we’re making progress; that what we’re doing is incrementally moving us in the right direction. Signs to tell us that if we keep traveling down this same road, eventually we’ll get to where we’re trying to go.
The hard part is that, all too often, what we’re trying to do, the goal we’re trying to reach, the place we’re trying to get to, doesn’t come into view until much later. It’s there, it’s attainable, it’s in our sights, but we can’t get to it, not just yet.
Life is a marathon, not a sprint.Unknown author
To add to our dilemma, we’re constantly getting mixed signals. We put it out there, whether it’s ourselves, our hearts or our business (and often all three at once), and we wait. Sometimes we get a reply: “Sound’s great! I’ll be sure to give you a call next time I need your services.” Sometimes it even sounds sincere. Sometimes we get really excited about our prospects.
To throw even more fuel on the fire, we’ve got people around us, those friends and family that love and care for us, giving us (often unsolicited) advice on what to do. Maybe they tell us that we’re doing it wrong. Maybe they have some ideas on how they would do it if they were in our shoes. Maybe they’re giving us the same advice that we’re hearing from that little voice in the back of our minds, telling us that we’re wasting our time. Telling us that we should stop spinning our wheels, stop squandering away our opportunities and just throw in the towel. Quit with all the ‘running my own business’ stuff and just get a real job.
All too often, we’re looking for some feedback to tell us if what we’re doing is right, and we get nothing. We put it out there, and everyone ignores it. Walks on by us like we were a piece of gum stuck on the sidewalk. They clearly can see us, but they move a little bit to the side, so they don’t have to step on us, and keep right on walking, moving on through their day.
But if we stop and think about it for a moment, maybe we are getting some feedback on what we’re putting out there. Maybe our market is responding, ever so slightly, to what it is we’re doing. And maybe, just maybe, the problem isn’t that we’re not getting any feedback, it’s that we’re not listening intently enough to hear what it is they’re saying.
What if we really are getting feedback from our intended audience, but it’s not what we were expecting? What if they’re providing us with important information about our offering, but we’re so myopically focused on ourselves that we miss those signals entirely? What if we’re only listening for what we want to hear, so we think that all we hear is silence?
There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.G.K. Chesterton
The truth is, whether we’re listening or not, we’re constantly getting feedback on what we’re doing. Feedback on our persona, on our product, on our attempts at marketing. Everyone we encounter in our businesses is providing feedback. Sometimes, that feedback is easy to read. An online review, good or bad, is a pretty clear signal. An email from a client, thanking us for being thorough or berating us for being a dim-witted moron is easy to understand. But the fact that someone didn’t return our call or respond to an attempted connection, those messages can be much harder to figure out.
When I first started marketing my fledgling home inspection business, most of the answers I got to my marketing attempts involved silence. I’d ask for business from the agents that I’d meet, and I would get nothing but rejected. And I got rejected a lot! More times than I care to remember. But even though the pain of rejection was there, I kept striving. I kept trying to earn somebody’s business.
Initially, the majority of my rejections came by the fact that most people simply would not return my calls or emails. But slowly the types of rejection that I was experiencing began to change. Eventually, it changed from the agents simply ignoring my overtures to a brief reply letting me know that they’d heard my pitch but weren’t interested. Which, after a while changed to a more courteous reply, but still letting me know they didn’t need my services. Those courteous replies eventually became more personal interactions, which eventually led to an opportunity to prove myself worthy of their business.
Each step along the way, even though I wasn’t getting any business and definitely wasn’t making any money, I could sense that something was changing. I wasn’t doing any inspections for my target clients, but I could tell that what I was doing was having an impact. They were still rejecting my advances, but I was no longer just another pretty face. I was beginning to make an impression on them; they were starting to notice and remember me.
The whole time, I was paying attention. I was trying to focus on the details of each interaction, gathering information about my audience and making adjustments to my methods and messages along the way. Instead of beating them over the head with the same stick each time, I was evolving, changing my message and methods every time in an attempt to get better at what I was pitching. I knew that my ultimate goal wasn’t to simply get an inspection, it was to win over hearts and minds, changing someone’s perception of who I was and what I could do for them and their business.
It didn’t happen as I was expecting, and I certainly wasn’t an overnight success, but eventually, through hard work and persistence, I was able to break through the barriers and develop real and meaningful relationships, which eventually led to a profitable business.
It took me a while to refine my target audience, moving and changing who it was I was pitching my product to as I figured out who it was that I was destined to serve in my business. It took me much longer to refine my product, changing and adapting what it was I was selling until I was able to offer the right product, at the right price, to the right client. I took the knowledge I was gaining from each interaction and used it to mold my business until I found the level of success that I was seeking.
Success is not black and white. There is no right or wrong answer. Success looks different for each one of us in our business. It’s up to each of us to define what our own personal level of success looks like, and to attempt to fashion ourselves and our business models so that we attain that success.
We each have to figure out what it is we’re looking for and listen for those clues that help guide us along the path to success. However that happens to look for us.
The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.Peter Drucker
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