Business is a battle between fuzziness and clarity

As a business owner, you face two constant pressures: the pressure to be fuzzy and the pressure to have clarity. If you want to run a business that survives and succeeds, you need to get comfortable with the tension between these two approaches and you need to be comfortable with never fully achieving either one.

FUZZINESS AND CLARITY: WHAT ARE THEY?

Fuzziness in your business is the sloppy, draw-outside-the-lines, messiness of your business. I don’t necessarily mean disorganization or unprofessionalism; I mean the fuzziness that comes with trying new things, putting new ideas out into the world to see what happens, attempting a new marketing approach, testing a new product or service, working with a client in a new way or under a new type of agreement. Each of these scenarios (and many others I haven’t listed) creates a sense of fuzziness — a type of “clutter” in your business because each one creates new challenges and obstacles.

Clarity in your business is all about a smooth-flowing, predictable, almost-entirely-automated sales funnel that you create, refine, and then run without paying a lot of attention to. This approach strives to create predictability and balance and a nice clean straight line from finding clients to earning profit.

FUZZINESS AND CLARITY: WHICH IS BETTER?

Both realities will be present in most businesses. And it kind of works like a pendulum: At either end of the pendulum’s swing, that’s the fuzziness of your business. And the center point of the pendulum’s swing is the clarity. You will often see your business swing from having more fuzziness to more clarity to more fuzziness to more clarity to more fuzziness to more clarity to more fuzziness… and on and on like that.

You need both in your business: You need fuzziness to grow. That fuzziness is the the stretching of your business beyond the boundaries that you once thought were possible. You need clarity to get more profitable. That clarity is the refinement of your systems and processes to become efficient in what you do. You need both! A business that is too fuzzy for too long can grow but will risk burning out the owner, failing to serve customers properly, and may not earn sufficient ongoing revenue or enough profit to make it worthwhile. A business that has too much clarity for too long risks remaining stagnant and although they’re profitable, they may run out of customers, or they may miss out on innovation and industry developments and competitors could bypass them.

In my experience, new businesses start out with a lot of fuzziness. The founder tries new stuff, bashes their way into the business world with bold ideas and a whole bunch of enthusiasm. After a few sales and some early revenue generation, they start to swing that pendulum closer toward clarity as the determine what works and what doesn’t. But after a while, new opportunities open up or they want to grow and the fuzziness returns. And the longer a business lasts, the more clarity and “stasis” the owner wants to achieve.

But staying too fuzzy for too long or having too much clarity for too long is dangerous. You need to swing between each reality — sometimes having more of one than the other.

HOW DO YOU GET MORE OF EACH

How do you get fuzzier?

  • Create a new product
  • Test a new marketing method
  • Change how you sell and who you sell to
  • Create new deals with customers
  • Double your sales efforts or hire a sales person
  • Do something bold and daring that your competitors wouldn’t do

How do you get clarity?

  • Build great relationships with your existing clients
  • Find ways to be more efficient
  • Build and refine your sales funnel
  • Automate your sales funnel
  • Perfect your existing marketing, sales, and delivery techniques

Fuzziness and clarity — they’re two realities that will always exist in your business… and should always be there. It’s tempting to try and sacrifice one for the other but you need both, and you need to get comfortable living in the tension between these two realities.

What I’m working on this week (Jan. 26 – 30, 2015)

What a great way to start the week — well at least for me: It’s -1 Celsius outside. For this time of year, that’s AMAZING. (Less great: Friends and clients in the eastern US who are facing a storm that’s being described as “historic”… yikes! Stay safe and warm and dry, everyone).

Normally I like to start my day by writing copy. That’s usually what I have scheduled first thing every morning. But today is a bit different: I have a TON of emails to send and some end-of-month administrative stuff I’d like to knock out sooner rather than later, plus a few plans and strategies for clients that I’m putting together, which will result in a bunch of work in the coming weeks. So that’s what today is all about. Productivity aficionados might not like the fact that I’m starting my week with something other than my core best practice but this stuff needs to get done sometimes and I have a busy week ahead.

Here’s what’s cookin’ this week:

  • As I mentioned: marketing plans and strategies for various clients. For one client, we’re looking at turning his print book into an audio book, so we need a plan to make that happen. For another client, we’re building out a bunch of sales funnels to build his list and drive more engagement from it. For another client, we’re rebuilding his brand, business model, and sales funnels because he’s “changing course” in how he runs his business. For another client, we’re re-engaging his huge subscriber list that has fallen dormant. So yeah, a few big plans and I want to finish these today.
  • Start on a long-form sales letter for a real estate investing client.
  • Write regular weekly blog posts for clients — I have a handful of clients who get blog posts from me each week.
  • Write autoresponders for clients (most of the clients who get blog posts from me also get autoresponders).
  • Work on a couple of print books: I have four underway for various clients and this week is about moving them all closer to the goal of being published.

Okay, I’m putting more coffee into my cup and I’m getting back to work. Stay productive, my friends!

What I’m working on this week (Jan. 19 – 23, 2015)

Happy Monday!!! Hope it’s a good one for you.

Last week was awesome. I crossed off A BUNCH of projects that had piled up and were logjamming my productivity. Got a client’s book published, sent off a couple of magazine articles, and wrapped up a report for a real estate investing firm. The bigger projects wrapped up, my productivity went from a sluggish chipping-away-at-the-big-stuff to hammering out EVERYTHING. Feels really good.

Celebration: Complete.

Now to this week…

Here’s the stuff I’m rocking out this week.

  • This morning I’m wrapping up a magazine article about a real estate investor.
  • I’ve got 5 blog posts to finish and send to a client.
  • There was one project that’s been held-over from last week — a quick project for a real estate developer in Australia.
  • Got a handful of blog posts to send to a real estate investing client (well, 4 blog posts right now but he’s been sending me a bunch of ideas so it might increase).
  • I’m pitching articles like crazy — I’ve got 4 to pitch today alone!
  • Somewhere in there I need to dust off my second book and keep pushing on that. (It’s faltered a little bit with some of my other commitments at the beginning of this month).
  • I’ve got two magazine articles to write for a real estate investing client (he has a regular column in the magazine and my goal is to pre-write his articles ahead of time and build up a bank of articles).
  • Edit two smaller books for a client. He’s got a couple of (roughly) 10,000 word books that have been written and need to be edited. Our plan is to write several more of these but we want to first get a process hammered out with these two that already exist.

This should be a pretty fun week!!! Hope it’s great for you too!

Canada needs to end the skill-testing question

Lotteries are regulated. That’s a good thing and it helps to ensure that if you win, you’ll actually get the money. When businesses want to hold a contest, they have rules to follow that prevent them from being exactly like a lottery.

So far so good. I like that situation: I don’t want just ANYONE running a lottery and I like that contests are somewhat regulated to ensure fairness.

But here in Canada, we have law that businesses need to follow when holding a contest: The winner of a contest must answer a skill-testing question. This requirement ensures that the contest (a game of mixed skill and chance) is not a lottery (a game of pure luck). (Click here and here to read more detail about the laws behind this rule).

Furthermore, the rule is that the question has to be a skill-testing question. Usually it’s a math question with at least four parts.

I think this is a stupid rule and it should be changed.

First, it only tests one kind of skill — math. There are other kinds of skills but you’ll never see a skill-testing question like: “Choose three motifs from the book Moby-Dick and explain their significance”. I would love a skill-testing question like that. Or, you won’t see a skill-testing question like: “Assemble these electrical components into a functioning light switch. Okay, that makes sense because the minimum wage employee at the cash register is going to want to hear your answer to (5×4)+3-2. But still, we’re just talking about one kind of skill being tested.

Second, this commonly-tested skill can actually be quite difficult: With the four-part math question, it tests BEDMAS math skills that can include multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. So we’re talking about skill at a grade level between third grade and sixth grade (depending on the question). I know plenty of adults who are very intelligent people but struggle with math and can’t navigate around BEDMAS.

Third, in a country that claims to be inclusive, we’re pretty strict on this tiny rule. What if someone wins but they have a physical disability that keeps them from seeing the question? Or what happens when someone wins who has a disability and simply cannot complete a 4-part math question? (Here’s a story from 2008 of a woman who has a learning disability and was denied her prize… at first). Or what about if someone wins who doesn’t speak English very well? If businesses follow the letter of the law, they should be turning these people down when they win but cannot answer the question.

Fourth, businesses don’t enforce it anyway because, well, it’s stupid and exclusive. Years ago I won something at a restaurant and the person at the counter handed me the skill-testing question form and said: “Here, you have to fill out this form. The answer to the skill-testing question is 12, by the way.” I took the form, wrote the number 12 on the piece of paper and handed it back and I got my free whatever. Ridiculous… and it was also rare to even be asked at all. It’s not surprising that this is the practice because companies would rather risk the government reprimand than risk a customer service complaint or a lawsuit because someone who couldn’t easily do math was denied a prize. (In the story I liked to above, notice that the woman got her prize anyway even though she got it wrong… and what did the company get? An annoyed customer and some bad press. So yeah, it makes sense that companies don’t follow up on this… after all, who is going to turn you in?)

THIS ISN’T THE ONLY MODEL

Canada’s skill-testing question “contest loophole” isn’t the only model. The US has a model that doesn’t require a skill-testing question at all (check out this link, which compares the Canadian and US model)… they just have a rule that entrants don’t have to pay in order to play.

And although no-purchase-necessary is not a mandatory requirement here in Canada, I believe that most contest holders do it anyway just to be safe (you can reference this link I mentioned earlier that talks about the no-purchase-necessary rule as an additional safe-guard against an illegal lottery offense).

In the big picture of life, I realize this is a pretty minor thing. But it’s an annoying thing for business owners and for customers. It’s that thing you have to do even though no one really wants to do it and no one follows it anyway.

And what’s the downside to getting rid of it? If you follow the US model of requiring a no-payment-required-to-play (which Canadian contests often already do) then the skill-testing question can go away.

What I’m working on this week (Jan. 12 – 16, 2015)

What a week last week! I had two big deadlines converge and each one turned out to be considerably larger than I estimated. I put in some pretty LONG hours at my desk working on them. One was finally wrapped on Sunday and the other is having the finishing touches put on it it today.

I try to keep this situation from happening by carefully managing my clients and their deadlines. I think if it happens too often, we end up with lower quality work, a burned out writer, and clients who aren’t served as well as they should be. But it inevitably happens now and then and I just deal with it when it does. Last week was no different.

In spite of the last touches of the project, I still had a good rest this weekend and that helps me launch into this week with lots of energy and focus. Really excited about what’s coming up this week:

  • So one of the deadlines was getting a client’s book published (which we were going to do last week but then made the last-minute decision to delay it until today to make a change to the book). Now that the book is done and on its way to the printer, I need to complete a few other projects surrounding the book to help market the book and get it out to its intended audience.
  • I’m also working on a really cool project doing some real estate investing copywriting for a resort near Australia. Since it’s been -40 Celsius (and -40 Farenheit — that’s where the two measurement systems meet and it’s REALLY cold), those Australian resort pictures look really nice.
  • One thing I hope to solve this week is a bottleneck. Here’s the situation: I’ve got a client who needs A TON of ongoing work and I love writing for him. He and I are both pretty productive people so we put out a lot work. But we’ve recently hit on a bottleneck in our process (because we need some work by a third party that quite frankly can’t up). I’ve let it go for the last little while because of Christmas and then New Years and then the busyness of last week. But all these projects need to be finished (I hate half-finished work) so I’m going to see what I can do with these this week.
  • I’m interviewing a real estate investor for a real estate investment magazine this week, too, and I’m really excited about it because he’s got a cool story to tell. Can’t say much more than that right now but it will be a fun interview.
  • And now that things have calmed down slightly, I’m picking up a couple of my own projects that I’ve ignored recently (a couple of books and websites) that can now receive some more of my attention.

And if I’m not at my desk, you might be able to find me at the dentist this week: One of my many weird quirks is that I brush my teeth too much and I’ve worn some of the enamel off of my teeth. (Yes, I’ve switched to a soft tooth brush, in fact I’m supposed to use a tooth brush that’s even softer than the industry standard of “soft”. So now I need to get some fillings for my teeth to deal with the problem. It’s a point of vanity for me, I have to admit, because I’ve never had a cavity (and therefore, I’ve never had a filling) but now I’m getting fillings for my teeth (although if you ask me about it, I’ll still point out that they’re not for cavities — haha).