About seven years ago, I found myself in a rotten position. My dream job with my dream company had just disappeared, a victim of the changing world of periodical publishing. I faced the choice of either figuring out how to make some serious cash on my own, or having to go back to the dreaded cubicle life.
I opted for Choice A.
It wasn’t easy: I devoured crash courses in blog design and monetization (this was well before the easy-peasy one-click WordPress install. We had to deal with FTP sites, people!). I learned how to podcast, to live-stream, to develop content, to market that content, to sell. I wrote over 100 articles in a three-month period for an article site (back when those were considered great for SEO). I figured it out, fast, and in less than 18 months I was pulling in six figures. All from my little niche blog. It was heady stuff, man.
Soon, other people started interviewing me, letting me write for their sites, and including me in speaking opportunities. John Lee Dumas. Pat Flynn. Danny Iny. New Media Expo. I’d get emails by the bushel, all asking the same thing: How did you do it, and can I do it, too?
Did that surprise you? Probably. After all, I’m an encourager. But more than being the internet’s biggest cheerleader, I’m a realist. After working with hundreds of aspiring business owners and individuals, I know that most people will never break through to a profitable business.
They think too much.
Thinking is a good thing – in limited quantities. But the real power lies not in thinking, but in acting.
You can read all the business books in the world, listen to all the podcasts on marketing, prep your business plan, participate in masterminds, attend a dozen conferences, and still make nothing.
Conversely, you can have no idea at all what you are doing, throw up a half-baked sales page with a PayPal button, and have your first sale in the next 15 minutes.
What matters is not what you plan, but what you ship.
You know that old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions?” Well, the road to bankruptcy is paved in plans.
You have to act.
You have to push “Publish” before you think you’re ready.
You have to ask for the sale before you think the product is finished.
You have to stand up in front of the crowd before you know exactly what you’re going to say.
You have to have confidence that you’ll figure it out before you start. If you’re waiting for perfect knowledge, you’re going to be waiting a long time.
If you want to be successful, you have to cut down on the amount of time between an idea and when you put that idea into action. Everything I did that has made me money, I did scared, I did unprepared, I did before I was “ready.” I got it out there as fast as possible and let the market — not my own fears and limitations — tell me whether it was worth someone.
As a result, I was building my business while other people, with arguably better ideas and more resources, were still lining up the paperclips on their desk. I got my first class out the door, staked a claim, and started working out the kinks. I didn’t wait until it was “perfect.”
Not everyone — in fact, very few — can stand this level of uncertainty and imperfection. Not everyone is comfortable with the idea their product, class, email, book, blog post might have typos or be missing some key piece of information. Not everyone can jump into the void, hoping their homemade parachute can handle their weight. That’s okay — they can work on refining their ideas while I’m taking their customers.
That’s the way it works: Fortune favors the swift.
One of the best books on business that I’ve ever read (and I read about 150 books a year) is Scott Adams’ “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.”
His basic premise is that you throw a bunch of stuff at the wall. Most of it will suck. If you throw enough, SOMETHING will work.
He lists all the things he tried that didn’t pan out, like the Dilberito, a Velcro rosin bag, and Webvan. Ever heard of any of them? Maybe, maybe not. But I bet you have heard of his biggest win of all: Dilbert.
If Adams had just thought about all these things, he never would have acted. If he’d been afraid of failing, he never would have acted. If he’d let imperfect skills or information stop him, he never would have acted. Instead, he moved forward in the face of imperfection, knowing that it was just a matter of time. Success, he figured, was a numbers game. Enough failures would have to bring about a success.
“I’m delighted to admit that I’ve failed at more challenges than anyone I know,” he writes. “If your current get-rich project fails, take what you learned and try something else. Keep repeating until something lucky happens. The universe has plenty of luck to go around; you just need to keep your hand raised until it’s your turn.”
Don’t misunderstand Adams or me: Failure is not enough. You need to refine what you learn in the process. Take the knowledge, feedback, and new skills and apply them to your next go-round.
And you can apply this approach to any goal, from weightloss to building relationships to organizing your home: Try something. Figure out what works. Figure out what didn’t. Take your new information and try again. And again. And again.
The more you try, the more you’re apt to reach your goal, whether it be a million in the bank, a rockin’ hot bod, a better marriage, or a garage so clean it could double as an operating theater.
This is the very principle behind the New York Times Bestseller “The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses” by Eric Ries.
Businesses (and you can consider yourself a business) need to ship fast. They need to get a minimum viable product (MVP) out the door, into the hands of the end user. They need to take feedback from those users and iterate again and again.
As a recovering perfectionist, I get the desire to make it “right.” But I also know that it will NEVER be right. And YOU will never be successful until you put something out into the light. The number-one thing you can do to increase your chances of success is to do your homework and then let go. Stop thinking. Make your goal not to be perfect but to be fast. The second you slow down to ponder, “Well, maybe we should have put the button on the right side,” or, “Maybe it would have been better if I wrote the story from the third-person omniscient rather than first-person,” you’re sunk.
You don’t have the luxury of a second thought because while you’re proofreading your sales page for the fifty-second time, some 12-year-old in a basement in the Ukraine is creating a disruptive technology that is going to put all of us out of business. Our only hope is to get our work out there, fast.
By all means, do some research. Give your best effort at creating something — a family, a book, a new burrito. But stop waiting for it to be “done.” Instead, push your baby out of the nest before you (or he) feels ready. Get your work into the hands of people who can benefit from it. And when you fall on your face — which you will — remind yourself that failure is the path to success. And the faster you move, the faster you’re going to make it over the bumpy parts to the rewards waiting for you at the end.
Stop thinking. Start acting.
P.S. If you’re interested in taking MASSIVE ACTION to your next goal, join my 90-day action pack accountability group starting April 4. Fill out this form and I’ll get back to you with more details if I think you’re a great fit. (Don’t think too much about it – DO IT!)