When I started freelancing as a developer, I emailed my old boss, Joe, and asked for advice. Joe was a general contractor for more than thirty years and I wanted to tap into his business experience. I said something like, “I’m just starting out. What advice would you give someone brand new on how to be successful?”

I don’t know what I expected, maybe something about marketing or sales. Instead, Joe wrote back, “A plan is only as good as its options.”

This mystified me.

But as I’ve transitioned deep into my career, I’ve realized that it’s powerful advice.

As it pertains to growth, one of its applications is in customer acquisition. There are thousands of marketing tactics that you could employ to get customers, but few of them will actually work. And you don’t know which ones will work.

The crux is that most options are bad. The odds are stacked against you choosing an effective tactic.

The solution is to eliminate options to only the good ones. But isn’t this a Catch-22? You don’t know what the good tactics are until they bear fruit.

Not exactly. The reason most options don’t work is because they’re only effective in specific contexts. There are other businesses that are similar to yours. The trick is to find out what is working for those businesses with similar contexts and develop a short list of good options. Then form your plan based on those.

The first step then is not to employ the shiny new tactic everyone is crowing about, but rather to go see for yourself what works for businesses like yours.

Featured image “Gwendolen Harleth at the roulette table” (illustration to Daniel Deronda) used under the public domain.