The Right Level

One of the core skills of entrepreneurship is solving challenges at the right level.

Imagine a ruler, standing on end and driven through the conceptual blob of your business. At the top of the ruler, near the 12″ mark, you have a band of strategic challenges. In the middle, at 6″, you have a band of tactical challenges. At the bottom, at 1″ you have technical challenges.

As an entrepreneur, you need to know where on that ruler is best to deploy solutions.

On Tuesday, I was reviewing PPC results from July for a campaign we’re running. I thought that we needed about 5x as many leads as we were getting for one of our offers.

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Personal Retreats

How well do you understand your challenges?

I just spent three days surfing coffee shops in small towns in the Columbia gorge. I turned off Slack and email. I was alone with my thoughts as I went from location to location. View to view. One cup of coffee to another.

It was somewhere around the 8th or 9th personal retreat that I’ve done in the past ten years.

This time, I wanted to focus solely on business strategy.

It was an odd experience. I kept circling in a loop around my values, the business vision, pulling out my calculator app, running numbers, checking our analytics, checking search stats.

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Inventors vs Engineers

There is a consultant in the agency industry, Blair Enns, that trains agencies to sell high-priced projects. An idea Blair promotes is to have your team stop tracking their time.

Blair believes that an agency should innovate in creating value for their clients. They should be discovering solutions to difficult, valuable, problems. That sort of thinking doesn’t work well when you’re watching the clock.

Innovation is massively wasteful. But when you’re highly profitable, you have room to be wasteful.

That assumes that you can still convert enough of your demand while charging a premium.

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Do What You Can

I’m having a rough day. An early morning tornado transported my house to Oz and I’ve been fending off flying monkeys.

I’m waaaay off course from what I intended.

You know what I’m talking about.

Here’s the advice I give busy people I work with:

Do what you can, where you are.

Today, I’m swallowing my own medicine. I committed to writing a blog post when I’m working. This is what I can do today. See you tomorrow.

Featured image is “The Wicked Witch of the West melts,” from the William Wallace Denslow. Illustration in the first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). Used under Public Domain

Pricing and Demand

“They charge too much and it’s making it hard for them to grow,” my friend told me.

We were discussing a small creative agency we both know as we sipped scotch on the bank of the Lewis River in southwest Washington. We were backpacking and had just finished a long hike through the summer heat.

My friend gave me some example projects that the creative agency had sold in the $30 – 60,000 range and related it to the feast and famine cycle that many agencies experience. He theorized that the team kept growing and shrinking because the creative agency couldn’t maintain demand at the current pricing.

Pricing is a lever you can pull to power growth.

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Put Your Thumb Down

Have you ever sat on a mattress and had something roll to you? Your body creates a gravity well on the mattress and pulls objects to you.

A similar effect occurs when we engage our attention onto a focused point. If it’s a problem, solutions begin to appear. If it’s a question, answers begin to bubble up. I call this, “putting your thumb down.” As in pushing your thumb into the mattress.

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Opportunity in Data

How many leads do you get a month?

This was a question I asked a couple of friends on a backpacking trip this weekend. We hiked up a Southwest Washington river lined with waterfalls and camped on a sandbar at a curve in the river. We talked a lot about life and a lot about business.

They both run agencies, one small one like mine and the other a mid-sized agency with around 40 employees.

Their answers surprised me:

  • The agency similar in size to mine wasn’t sure and hadn’t checked in a while.
  • The larger agency said he was getting ~20 leads when he bought the business a few years ago. Back when he acquired it, it was also smaller in terms of team size, but still good sized in the 25 – 30 person range. Since then, both leads and head count increased.
  • For myself, we received 8 – 9 leads last month (I think we have 1 – 2 un-tracked leads.)

This tells you a lot about the agency business model we operate in.

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Who Should Own Sales?

“Did you know that they would choose that option?” my account manager Slacked me.

Last week, we had a client request an estimate for an integration into Google Sheets. I responded to the request by pitching them on a different option that would provide more value to them. This also provided more value to us as the price for that option improved by 36%.

At this point in my career, I’ve done a lot of selling. Beyond my experience, I’ve done industry specific training on selling. I’m not a phenom, but if you put me up to bat, I can put runners on bases.

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The Edges of Ability

What is the limit of your current capacity or capability?

It’s a challenging question. If I asked you, “What are the obstacles limiting your business’s growth?” You would know immediately.

But where the line is that demarks what is possible for the business today is harder to identify. Standing on that line, you can’t help but think about the frontier beyond it.

“What would it take to…”

  • Increase customers beyond x
  • Grow profit higher than y
  • Boost throughput above z

In the shadows beyond that limit is a future version of your business.

The question is valuable because it provides hints on how you might grow. It prompts you to try and fill in the blank about what might increase customers beyond x.

Today, the limit is the highest you can reach. Tomorrow, it will be the ground that you stood upon.

Featured image is of dragons beyond the edge of the world on the Psalter world map, a 14th century metaphorical map of Christianity. Used under public domain.

Deal With Reality

I spent the first month of 2022 working from a remote fishing village in the middle of the Baja peninsula. A couple sand covered streets over from our beach house was a baseball diamond for the high school kids. It was backed by a concrete wall with a slogan painted on it, “hard work equals success.”

It was a belief that I was familiar with as a high school student. That effort oriented thinking served me well when I was in the Marines and as an aspiring martial artist.

But it’s not true.

Growing up on my parents’ farm, we irrigated using handlines: sections of hollow metal pipe topped with a sprinkler. These sections were connected into lines with around 30 pipes that stretched from one end of the field to the other. Every morning and evening, they had to be moved fifty feet over to the next position to ensure the whole field got water.

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