I get this question all the time (natural, I guess, since I teach people how to start or grow businesses): How long will it take before my business starts to take off and make money?
And there are two parts to the answer. One part is nuts and bolts — the processes of building an audience, uncovering market opportunities, crafting your marketing message, creating products and services.
But the other part is all the “fluffy” mindset stuff — the mental game that lets you take action on those nuts and bolts. And in my experience and observation, the mental game tends to be the hard part.
In this 23-minute episode, I talk about:
Listen to Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer below ...
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Sonia Simone: Greetings, superfriends! My name is Sonia Simone, and these are the Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer. For those who don’t know me, I am a co-founder and a chief content officer for Copyblogger Media.
I’m also a champion of running your business and your life according to your own rules. As long as you don’t lie and you don’t hurt people, this podcast is your official pink permission slip to run your business or your career exactly the way you think you should.
Today, I’ve been thinking about a question that comes up all the time — how long is it going to take my business to get off the ground? How long is it going to take me to start making some money? Specifically, usually with my online-based business. That’s a natural question since I teach people how to start or build businesses.
There is this school of thought that says it can’t be taught. If you have to ask, you shouldn’t even try. All of that makes me angry — of course it can be taught. The skills behind building a business, growing a business, making it stronger, getting it off the ground — they can all be taught. I’m going to talk about some of the maybe less obvious components to that.
I’m also thinking what you might call self-improvement for smart people. I say that because we have, for a long time, had Internet Marketing for Smart People. It’s kind of a theme.
The idea is working on your thinking patterns, working on how your mind works in an evidence-based way in a way that is consistent with all kinds of really, really interesting research that’s coming out of neuroscience and that is really based on a pretty solid understanding, as opposed to maybe mythology, wishing something was true, or a fast-talking self-help guru that wants to take money out of you, but really doesn’t have a firm foundation for the things they’re teaching.
There’s a whole new school of self-improvement, if you want to call it that, that is really based on science. There’s some very cool things that we’re learning about how people learn, how people grow, how people change, how people get better. I’m going to talk a little bit about those two things today — how long it takes for my business to start making money, and what are some of the best practices for changing my thinking patterns. Those two things go together.
There are two parts to being a business owner. There’s the practical stuff — building an audience, crafting content that gets shared, developing your professional network, building your products and services around what an audience wants. Then there’s the head game. In my experience, both personally and from observation, the head game is the hard part.
I totally understand why it is that people think this whole conversation around the mental game of business is what’s often called ‘fluffy.’ There aren’t any really good action steps. I can sit here and talk to you about how to build an email list that will nurture your business and nurture prospects until they’re ready to buy. I can give you very solid steps, solid resources, and a couple of recommended providers.
When I start to talk to you about how to improve your mental patterns so that you’ll be more successful, I don’t have the same really concrete steps. I don’t have the same specific processes. It’s not something you can memorize. It’s not something you can just go download. It’s not like Neo when he jacks into the matrix, and then he knows kung fu. I can’t give that to you in that way. I wish I could.
The right set of steps for me might very well be a pointless, time-wasting exercise for you. But I do have to say, when I encounter a student who gets impatient with the fluff and the rah-rah — and you know I’m really into rah-rah, and I’m really into the softer, squishier elements of success — I get it when people are impatient with that.
The first thing I ask is, “Okay, let’s get started with some basics. What kind of audience have you pulled together that’s listening to your message about whatever your topic might be?” They have no audience. Okay, that’s fine. “What steps have you taken to get your audience in place? Are you blogging? Are you podcasting? Are you creating videos? Are you guest posting? Are you networking with other content publishers? Do you have your email list set up? Is the content that you have loaded into that email list solid?”
Nine times out of 10, I get crickets for answers. I just get a blank stare. That’s when I know it’s time to go back to the fluff. It’s not that we don’t know what to do. It’s that we don’t know how to get ourselves to do what we know we need to do.
A lot of people start businesses, and a lot of people get over this not being able to make yourself do the thing — because they have to. My business partner started a project called Unemployable. It’s funny, but it’s not really a joke. All of the partners in my business have a definite unemployable streak in our makeup. For myself, my habitual patterns as an employee were just driving me out of my mind. To tell you the truth, I think I was also driving my colleagues out of their minds.
At that same time, the company that I was working for was facing some very significant challenges in the marketplace — external events, no fault of that company — but the challenges were very real. I was my family’s bread winner, and I have a three year old. I had a lot of reasons to develop some new and somewhat uncomfortable patterns as a business owner versus being an employee — because I had to. I put the pieces together because I didn’t have a lot of options, and I had exhausted the ones I thought I might be able to explore.
A lot of people do start businesses for this reason — because they have to. They are backed up against the wall. I didn’t fit into that traditional corporate structure very well at all. I’m not good at playing that game. I also hated it. I made something of my own instead.
I do not happen to believe that you have to get thrown into the deep end to learn how to swim. I don’t believe that you have to have your back against the wall. I think there is another way to do it, a kinder way, a less excruciatingly painful and terrifying way. It revolves around developing a habit of working on new habits.
In other words, becoming the kind of person who can consciously acquire new and beneficial habits. Both habits of behavior and habits of thinking. Science is very firmly on my side when I say that anyone can learn to do this. You have to just gather the right resources together and then get started.
If you’re going to do something new — it’s not necessarily about starting a business, it could be anything new that you’re working on — you’re going to need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Joshua Foer wrote a really cool book called Moonwalking with Einstein. It was about memory champions, people who memorize amazing things competitively.
For example, these are folks who can take multiple decks of cards, play the cards down one at a time — ace of spades, king of hearts, queen of diamonds, two of clubs … just play the cards one at a time — and in the amount of time it takes them to put the cards on the table, they can memorize the order of that deck. When you scoop the cards up and turn it back over, they can tell you what order every card in the deck is.
The people who are good at it can do it with multiple decks in one stretch. It’s very interesting and impressive. Foer’s book is about how that happens, what kind of person you have to be. It turns out you do not have to be somebody with an extraordinarily gift for memory. It’s a skill. It’s an ability you can learn to do if you put the time in.
One of the interesting things he talks about in that book is an observation that time goes faster as we get older — and we all have that feeling. When you were a kid, time stretched out endlessly. As an adult, it goes faster and faster every year. In your 20s, time starts to pick up steam. Then in your 30s, it gets fast, and in your 40s, it gets faster.
Apparently, the reason this happens is because we have more of our routines, more of our behavior every day on ‘autopilot.’ We don’t remember those autopilot routines because they’re automatic. When things are new, they fix themselves to our memory. They’re memorable, and we have this perception of time being richer.
The business implication of that is, the more time you spend on autopilot, the less creative, the less innovative, the less attentive you’re going to be, the less you’re going to notice, the fewer opportunities you’re going to see, and the fewer areas to make the world better by serving customers in a new, interesting, and creative way.
Also, business advancement, especially when you’re somewhat new to business or new to running your own business, progress and advancement normally comes from working on those things that don’t work for you on autopilot at this point.
There are two schools of thought about this in business success, whatever you want to call it. Some people really advocate working on what you’re already good at, getting to be amazing at what you’re already good at. If you’re good with numbers, you should work on that and become Warren Buffet, become somebody who’s brilliant with numbers. If you’re good with words, you should work on becoming brilliant with words and then outsource everything you’re not good at yet.
On the other side of that is the self-help movement, which seems to think that you want to become an entirely new person — that everything about you is broken. We’re going to fix the whole thing. We’re going to scrap you and change you into something else.
Both of those have some problems. Rather than scrapping some part of yourself, rejecting it, throwing it away, or transmuting yourself into something unrecognizable, what I would love to see you do is to explore some parts of yourself that you tend not to spend that much time with. The purpose being to create more richness, more growth, more wisdom, better-roundedness, and to be able to do things that you might have put on a category of, “I’m not good at that,” and “I’m never going to get good at that.”
You might have heard of a book by Carol Dweck. It’s called Mindset, and I will link to it in the show notes. This was something that, when I first ran across it, it was totally and truly revolutionary for me because Dweck identifies, both in children and in adults, two general patterns of belief about how we think of ourselves.
The fixed mindset thinks of ourselves as “I’m talented” or “I’m not talented.” I’m good at history and English. I’m not good at math and science. That’s a fixed mindset. The idea that, “I have certain talents and abilities, and those come naturally and easily to me.” Then “I have certain inabilities, and that’s because I’m not wired that way. I’m not meant to do that.”
The growth mindset is the idea that nobody comes into this world good at math and science. You get good at math and science by being interested in them and then finding out more about them, spending more time thinking about them, practicing math and science, digging into things that are a little bit difficult, not the easy stuff.
You don’t get better at math by adding 2 and 2 for 10,000 hours. That’s not how it works. You get good at math by doing addition until that’s easy. Then you add bigger numbers, and then you start doing subtraction, multiplication, division. You move on to algebra, trigonometry. You advance. You work on more and more complex kinds of math, and you get good at it because you are putting time in to what’s called ‘deliberate practice.’
Deliberate practice is practice that is on things that you’re not good at yet. People who are good at math are good at math because they spend a lot of time with it. They’ve spent a lot of time really delving into it and thinking about it on an ever and ever more complex level. It’s not so much that the growth mindset is correct and the fixed mindset is incorrect.
It’s that the growth mindset — in other words, the mindset of, “I can get good at that if I put enough time into it” — is much more practical. It’s much more useful. People who have that fixed mindset and who think that life is mostly about what you’re talented at or not talented at, tend to get discouraged very quickly when they run up against something that they’re not good at yet, and they won’t try.
You really see this with children, which is why, according to Dweck and some other researchers, it’s a bad idea to praise your kids for being smart. You don’t want to say, “Wow, you did four pages of math homework in 10 minutes. You must be really good at math.”
What you want to say is, “Wow, I noticed you went through four pages of your math homework in 10 minutes. Looks like you’re really excited about math. Maybe we should try and find you something that would challenge you even more because, clearly, you really like to work on math, and you like to work hard. Good job” — so praising working rather than praising natural talent.
I will tell you, if you follow this principle, you should outsource everything in your business that you’re not good at. If you’re not good with numbers or you’re not good at marketing, get somebody else to do it. That’s a great way to lose your company. It leaves you tremendously vulnerable to someone who is good at it and who might not necessarily have your best interest at heart.
There’s an athlete I really love. He’s a kettlebell athlete. He’s a former gymnast. His name is Mark Reifkind, very smart guy about fitness and strength. He says, “Compete on your strengths, but train your weaknesses.” In other words, if you have a monster dead lift and a really wimpy bench press, compete in a dead lift. Take your strongest lift and compete...