Month: March 2012

Why titles hinder your growth

Everybody has one. Director of this, manager of that, chief of something else. Every person, in every company has a title. And they all suck. Every single one. I could create a list right now, as could you, of every possible title a company gives to its employees. Aside from a few companies, this list is set. There’s one CEO, a few chiefs, directors, managers, etc. There’s one way to structure a company. Sure you can change around the org structure a bit but once you’ve taken that title, that’s what you do, that’s it. Your only hope of growing in the company is taking on another title.

But what if you don’t fit in a title? What if your skills combine two positions, or three? Or don’t fit into any title, what then? What if you have one title and see an opportunity, yet it falls under someone else’s title, what do you do? Even if you’re an extremely proactive A-type personality, I guarantee you’ll think twice before going outside your title. Or worse yet, you’ll subconsciously limit your thinking to within your title. And if even the best of us fall prey to our title constraints how hard do you think it’ll be for that new hire to break out of his or her title?

Companies hire for titles. They say, “We need a director of marketing”, so they go find themselves a director of marketing. It’s completely ass backwards. Sure the intention is good, we need more marketing resources, but it’s a cop out. It’s the easy answer. We need to do more marketing so let’s hire someone for a set position in marketing. It allows the company to ignore the real reason they’re hiring.

Why not reverse it? Why not focus on the need first, outside of titles or departments. Then hire for that need. The title shouldn’t come up once during the hiring process. Hire someone with a passion for marketing and say, tell me what you’re amazing at and own it. Titles attempt to give ownership but they’re horrible at it. Not to mention, companies are dynamic and fluid, their needs changing constantly, especially the smaller ones. What happens when you need more resources in a different area? Do you hire for a different title each time your needs change?

Forget titles, forget departments, focus on your employees’ passion and let them be amazing without the handcuffs.

The two simple ways to win your market

There are two main ways companies compete in a market. By price or by value. Either you increase your value and thus, are able to charge the same or more than your competition and win customers. Or you lower your prices, cut  costs, improve inefficiencies and beat your competition by offering the same solution for less.

New markets start on value. A company solves a new problem or solves an old problem a completely new way (think Ford, Apple, Twitter). No one cares if they spend more to use the service or buy the product, the value is so high it really doesn’t matter what the price is. At this point pricing usually comes down to a guess by the company or some perception of the new value, also a guess.

Then the competition starts. Other companies come in, provide the same value as that first company but cheaper. They might provide some new value here or there but the main focus is to copy and cut pricing. This turns the whole market into a pricing war with little to no innovation.

And finally, someone innovates again. The problem is solved yet again, new value is provided, pricing is meaningless. It’s okay to compete at any stage of this cycle. If you can provide a service for cheaper, go for it. If you can add value, do that. The question is, do you know which one you are? They are two very different mentalities and two very different strategies. You can’t do both.

An easy litmus test is to ask yourself, “Do I/ Can I  provide 100 times more value than my competitor?” If you do, then go crazy on value. If not, focus on your pricing as you wont win on value.

Why good companies focus on the lifestyle behind their product

People don’t buy products, they buy experiences or values or lifestyles. They purchase what the item represents, not what it is. They’ll buy a BMW because it represents luxury, or maybe because it is luxurious and they value that type of lifestyle. Whatever the product is, they’re purchasing it because it fits into a larger personal ideal they have.

If you’re selling your product as is, without understand the larger value behind it, you’re selling yourself short. You’re only touching on the surface values of your product and losing out on all the emotion and larger picture reasons. Which exist whether you conciously acknowlege them or not.

GoPro does an amazing job of selling a lifestyle, not their product. Their product merely fits into the lifestyle. Take a look at their latest ad and think about how it makes you feel.

What lifestyle or value does your product or service represent?

The hidden danger of taking startup advice from the blogosphere

There’s a lot of great advice floating around the blogosphere about how to grow your website, startup, business, whatever. But there’s something important to keep in mind when reading all this advice. Something nobody ever talks about.

99% of the advice you’re getting is written by already-successful entrepreneurs. And because they’re already successful, their advice is rarely applicable to the fledgling, green entrepreneur (that’d be you, my friend).

For example, do any of these blog headlines sound familiar?

  • 5 strategies for improving your marketing
  • Why blogging is the best way to acquire new customers
  • How to become a thought leader in your industry

Harmless, right? Why wouldn’t you want to improve your marketing? Why wouldn’t you use blogging to acquire new customers? It sounds so harmless. But if you’re just starting out, this kind of advice is lethal. Here’s why:

  • If you haven’t even started marketing, you shouldn’t be worrying about how to improve it. Just get started, do something, anything! Reading marketing blogs is just going to confuse and slow you down (yes, even this one).
  • Many successful entrepreneurs admit blogging is a terrible customer acquisition strategy when first getting started. You’re better off focusing on email list building, or other more basic marketing strategies. Yet these same successful entrepreneurs already built their email list years ago, so writing about these basic strategies is boring, old-news that won’t increase their RSS subscriber count.
  • If you’re a nobody just getting started, becoming a ‘thought leader’ isn’t going to do you a damn bit of good. First, focus on the basics. And then when you actually know something worth sharing with the world, you won’t need to read blog posts about how to become a thought leader. You’ll already be one.

Bottom line: Every successful entrepreneur you’re trying to emulate slogged through a lot of shit before they started writing the blog posts you’re reading. The advice you really need is how to slog through the shit, but because they were busy slogging, they weren’t writing about it. Why? Because you can’t slog through shit and write about it at the same time – you’ll drown and die.

It’s a blogging catch-22 rarely discussed. You’ve been warned!

Simplicity starts from within

Simplicity is usually a focus of customer centric projects. Make your website so easy you don’t need help pages. Your marketing message should be so easy you can pitch it in one sentence or one elevator ride. Only focus on the critical features and prevent feature bloat. How this is actually accomplished is even more important though.

The best way to build a simple, focused product is by first building a simple, focused team. Create a very simple vision your entire team understands and can get behind. Give them simple tools and simple focuses. Get rid of feature lists and bug lists. In fact, get rid of any list longer than a few immediately actionable items. Get rid of unnecessary services or processes. Get rid of titles and hierarchy. The simpler you can make your team and your company, the easier it will be to create the ideal product.

Talk to your team about simplicity inside and out. Their focus should be on simplicity in everything they do, not just what they create. Enlist them to help you cut the fat. It’s very easy for everybody to get caught up in unnecessary tasks or get overloaded by the sheer number of things to do. As long as you have a good vision, allow your employees to ignore everything beyond their immediate goals.

Simple does not mean easy. This is much harder to create than a complex company. But the ROI on simplicity is definitely worth the effort.

What do you think about retargeting ads?

Have you heard of retargeting? It’s becoming quite popular. I’m noticing more and more SaaS companies retargeting me after I visit their marketing websites. If you’re not familiar with this marketing strategy, here’s how retargeting works:

So who’s using it? Lots of companies. I’ve been retargeted by BigCommerce, iContact, NewRelic, and countless others. Most notably, I’ve recently been retargeted by 37signals. Which is interesting, because if you follow them you know they are pretty against advertising. So is retargeting so good even word-of-mouth based companies like 37signals can’t pass it up?

If you’ve tried retargeting, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And I’ll be sure to post about our experiences should we try it in the future!