On a recent customer call there was a recurring motif (or theme) in the discussion. The business person was talking about how they had a clear vision for their service, but had been researching technology and solutions for over six months, and were still confused and unable to catch up with all the new developments. As a result, they had not even started their site. They were awash in indecision being battered by waves of new and conflicting ideas, and unable to get their bearings.
In this case the site owner hadn’t started implementing his content or business model at all, because the component he wasn’t confident in was the technology and so he was struggling to become an expert to get it just right. He was only succeeding in becoming overwhelmed. The end result was that he was procrastinating launching his business, with a very real personal cost in lost opportunity.
The Myth of the Silver Bullet
Many people are like the man above, looking for “The Answer”; the strategies and silver bullets that will guarantee them success.
There are no guarantees, and no silver bullets.
There are as many ways to become successful as there are markets and audiences. The trick is to take informed and decisive and principled action. You don’t need to know everything, and nobody is advocating shooting blindly. Evolve and refine your priorities and strategies. Change it if you must, but don’t get caught in the trap of chasing the strategy du jour. Strategies, unlike tactics take time to bear fruit, so be patient and consistent in your actions. Priorities like strategies should be part of your north star and should guide your decisions, not be guided by the struggles or decisions of the day.
The Hard and Easy Parts of a Project
In my experience working on sites for my clients, and working with our clients, the technology often isn’t the hard part. It’s often perceived as the hard part because most people aren’t comfortably familiar with how things work or what they can do. The reason for this is not that I am a “Guru” or wizard at making things work.
Working with technology every day and being familiar with it does make it easier, but the reality is that technology is a simply a tool. The real gains in productivity aren’t your expertise, but letting go and becoming comfortable. The technology gurus you see can’t and don’t know everything, what they’ve done is become comfortable with the subject matter so that anxiety is no longer a major driver in their behavior. Some tools are simple, some are more complex, but in the end they’re tools that you assemble or use, and they either do a particular function or they don’t.
In the world of WordPress websites and membership sites the real substance of the site is the content. Content is an amazing thing, it’s the raison d’être for most websites. While the membership site is firmly planted in technology, content is really about you and your expertise in your subject and should be the thing that flows into production the most naturally. Despite this, the content consistently takes far longer to produce than the technology takes to setup.
The Silent Thief Unmasked
What often happens though, is simply: nothing. Faced with discomfort over technology, too many people freeze and hold off on decisions — they procrastinate in the name of perfectionism, holding off out of fear of doing it wrong or not getting the maximum return. This actually has immediate short term costs which aren’t always visible but are very real: Opportunity Cost.
Opportunity cost is the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. What most people don’t realize is that inaction is a choice we make passively, and it’s the one choice guaranteed to minimize the resulting gains. We often mask this by talking about minimizing the risk, but the reality is we could be in business today, now, making money – but we’re not.
In terms of the Theory of Constraints (TOC), perfectionism and procrastination are the biggest bottlenecks in getting your membership site up and running; and it’s completely under your control. It’s one of the first things you should overcome.
The theory of constraints (TOC) is a management model that views the system as being limited in achieving more of its goals by a very small number of constraints. Constraints are the weakest, most vulnerable or slowest part of a process. There is always at least one constraint in any system, and you can use processes process to identify those constraints and restructure the rest of the organization around it to strengthen your production. In simple terms, TOC looks at the process like a chain, and the constraint as being the weakest link.
Overcome your perfectionism and procrastination to unlock your ability to achieve in your business.
Your MVP is Your MVP
Your “Most Valuable Player” in this game is your “Minimum Viable Product“. You don’t need or want to hit the ground with an overwhelmingly engineered solution. It increases your launch cost, and delays the time before you can get to your market.
Further, we often find out that our initial ideas and plans aren’t wildly successful, or may even be completely wrong. We run into this all the time in technology.
In MVP the “P” is the least important letter. It’s important to keep your focus on the “M” Minimum, and ensure you meet the “V” Viable.
Recently I was working with a radio show host, and we had just finished building out an amazing educational portal for her audience. Through surveying and trialing the service with her audience, and rigorous analysis of the data that resulted from that process she discovered that her plans were wrong.
She found that her ideal client segment was a portion of what she originally had planned, and that she needed to re-do her portal and her marketing approach to better serve that audience. She was beside herself over the wasted effort but I reminded her of the aphorism to “build one to throw away” from Fred Brooks Jr’s. “Mythical Man Month“. The reality was that all the hard tech work we had done was completely reusable not just for her revamped project but for all our other clients as well and that we could rebuild it faster and with improvements on the second pass. We had her new portal up in 2 days unlike the 2 weeks the previous portal required.
By wisely getting a basic site up and then testing it in the real world with her customers, she was able to to pivot her business to serve a different segment without losing a major investment. You can’t learn without making some decisions and getting out there.
Your minimum viable product should be able to onboard new members, and deliver your courses at a minimum.
Eating the Elephant
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Even your minimum viable product is going to likely be a little bit overwhelming when you first tackle it. The process is no different for membership sites than for any other project. You CAN eat the elephant, but you do it one bite at a time.
Break down your project into pieces as you can, decide which pieces you can do, and delegate or find people to help you with the pieces you’re not able to do yourself. Keep tasks for yourself where you add your unique value, and try to offload tasks that can just as well be done by someone else.
Website Themes are like fashions. They change with the times and your marketing focus. They’re the LAST thing you should get hung up on.
Also realize that not all “bites” are of equal importance. For example in the WordPress site world, your theme can be brought into the picture later, even though most people get hung up on dealing with that first, holding up progress in other areas. I’ve never once in my career run into a customer who said “I want to find the right online service to solve my problem and it must be in *this* shade of blue with yellow buttons.”. Customers are seeking solutions, not window dressing. That’s where your initial focus should be.
Once you have your minimum viable product, launch it. You don’t need to, and ideally won’t throw it out of the nest into the dark, cold world. What you want to do is a soft launch to a test market. This could be friends and family who can give you honest feedback, or it could be a segment of your list. The goal is to get real people using your service who will give you insights into how it will do with the larger market. Don’t rush to launch and turn out a shoddy product with the excuse that they’ll find your bugs, they’ll find plenty on their own – you don’t want to distract them with messiness. But you don’t need to be perfect.
If you wait until your product is perfect, you’ll never launch. Memberium didn’t start out as 35,000 lines of code, it started off as minimum functions to sync contact data with WordPress users. Everything else grew from there, and there’ve been false starts and mistakes. The trick is not in getting it perfect, it’s in taking care of the problems when you become aware of them.
You’ll want (and need) to engage with your soft launch audience. A closed or private Facebook group is a great way to do this. Be open and set your ego aside, this is not a time about being right – but being present in understanding your customers needs. Find out what your audience likes, doesn’t like, what’s a problematic challenge for them, and whether or not they’d pay for the service if your soft launch is free. You can also experiment with the system and work on fine tuning things and see how the members react.
Evolution and Growth
Once you have your feedback, the hard part starts. The difficult part about working with member feedback is to know what to take onboard and address, and what to discard. Not every request or perspective is to the benefit of the community you’re building. People will have wrong ideas, they’ll have expensive and selfish ideas that don’t serve your overall group.
Your job is to objectively decide in which buckets to put each piece of feedback. Consider also, feedback that shows trends. Trends can be valuable indicators of things that you should pay attention to.
When you do isolate the items that you need to implement, step back again and look at the bigger picture of what the member is trying to achieve. Often people will give you a solution along with their problem. That solution is often from their single perspective and may only be addressing the symptom of the problem, and not the root cause. Try to understand how you can solve the core problem for the larger customer community and not just leap to a point solution. If you don’t do this you’ll regret it later as you build technical debt in your system from poorly thought out decisions.
Sometimes after reviewing all the facts, what you’ll discover is that you got it wrong. That’s OK. Remember the principles we discussed above and that shifting direction or “pivoting” can be an amazing gift. Companies like Twitter and Flickr famously pivoted drastically from their initial concepts which bore little resemblance to what they eventually became. Flickr for example started off as a tools originally created for Ludicorp’s Game “Neverending”, and the earlier versions focussed on being a chat room with photo exchange capability. Twitter started off as Odeo, a podcasting system. The product that become Twitter started off in an internal Hack-a-thon while the company was struggling. Now, Flickr is owned by Yahoo!, and Twitter is worth billions of dollars.
This isn’t a destination, it’s a process. Celebrate your wins and the experience. We often talk about following your passion, but you need to nurture and feed it as well. Acknowledge and embrace the process and find the joy in it. Celebration isn’t just an intellectual acknowledgement of success. Get into it and DO something to make it real, whether it’s as small as a little dance or a fistpump, or as big as a party… Celebrate.
Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements.