How do you choose your priorities in business or in a creative project?
The easy way is to start somewhere… And get lucky.
If results arrive fast you made the right choice. Great!
Problems arise when you don’t get lucky from the start. In that case self-doubt takes the driving seat and a bad situation becomes worse.
To not depend on luck, you need a system to choose your priorities. This includes:
- a foundational philosophy for business,
- a method to choose between alternatives,
- and a structure to setup business experiments.
This article analyses these 3 elements. Let’s start!
A foundational philosophy to choose business priorities
A business philosophy is similar to one for life.
It defines your first principles for business, from which you derive more complex conclusions.
It’s relevant for the strategy, since it includes its general element. But there’s more.
Business is a competition of knowledge. Those with the best understanding of reality, thrive. The others struggle.
To define our business principles we first learn from the experience of other creators or entrepreneurs. Then we verify and adjust them through our own tests.
What I share here are my business principles:
- perfect knowledge is impossible,
- small bets pave the way to better knowledge,
- the Visitors Subscribers Customers framework.
Verify and adjust them based on your experience.
1. Perfect knowledge is impossible
Business is a competition of knowledge. Do your best with what you get.
Of course better information leads to better choices. And by making better decisions consistently you gain the best chances of success.
“Buts” of life tend to kick your butt.— Samuele Onelia (@samueleonelia) May 14, 2021
Perfect knowledge is impossible.
Jim Simmons runs the most successful hedge fund in history. Its approach is based on statistic decisions. Since 1988 he gained an average 66.1% gross return yearly (or a 39.1% average net return) not thanks to “perfect knowledge”. His investment system allows him only to make more right decisions than wrong ones.
Aiming at perfect knowledge leads to analysis-paralysis. And indecisiveness condemns a creator to lose his hedge against competitors.
When you choose your priorities, as a creator, ignorance is part of the game. Accept to make decisions without complete knowledge.
2. Small bets pave the way to better knowledge
As a creator you have to aim for the best decision possible. Total knowledge will remain impossible. But you can improve your chances.
Going all in with a priority every time, expose you to enormous risks.
Small bets on the other side help you to gather more information. Plus they reduce your risk.
If it works, awesome. If it doesn’t the downsides will be irrelevant or bearable.
Plus a good small bet require only resources that you already have in terms of audience, money, tools, etc. This way you can act immediately, without any delay.
3. The Visitors → Subscribers → Customers framework
Every business online is a variation of this framework:
Visitors → Subscribers → Customers
You attract visitors to your website through ads, content marketing or any other tactic.
There you invite them to become subscribers to your mailing list.
To those that do it, you will propose your products and services. Some of them will buy and will become your customers. (Yes, sometimes people buy without or before subscribing to a mailing list. It’s a trivial number of the total.)
When you work on it remember that:
- there is no strict order to follow in the development of an online business,
- growing a business is a continuous balancing act,
- to make your business solid, do not focus only on the immediate ROI.
There is no strict order to follow in the development of an online business
To develop it you can start from anyone of the 3 elements (visitors, subscribers and customers).
Content creators often start from the visitors. They grow a public. Then to monetize it, they start a mailing list. They gather their subscribers. And then they present them new products or services to convert them into customers.
Freelancers may start with the customers. They find them through personal contacts or word of mouth. Then to systematize the selling process they start an acquisition channel. With it, they bring visitors to their website and convert them in subscribers to their mailing list. At that point they have the complete framework in place.
Entrepreneurs with a clearer business project in mind from the beginning, start by gathering the first subscribers. Then they work on an acquisition channel, to bring visitors to their websites. This way they build a bigger mailing list. Through it, they present their products or services and find their customers.
Growing a business is a continuous balancing act between different priorities
To stay in business long term you need the whole framework: Visitors → Subscribers → Customers. Not just one part
To develop it, improve all 3 elements. If you let one behind, it will become the blocking factor of your business.
To make your business solid, do not focus only on the immediate ROI
It is exciting to get great results for your efforts.
Working on low return activities is harder. But growing a business is a continuous balancing act. If you focus only on the already-working elements of your business, you will make it less solid in case of a downturn.
If your acquisition channel brings in already lots of visitors, more effort on it will be rewarding, but not much useful. Prioritize instead on the element of the framework that is lagging behind.
That’s what stops the growth of your business.
A method to choose between alternative business priorities
Work mostly (if possible 80% or more) on 1 elements of the business (either the visitors, the subscribers or the customers) at the time.
- Pick what at the moment works less.
- In case of analysis-paralysis consider that hard decisions, are in fact the easy ones. Why? Your uncertainty between different options, happen when they are close in pros and cons. Meaning: based on your present knowledge they will bring equal value to you. In this situation your decision will be good anyway. You can pick one option randomly. Or…
- Follow your passion. It is never a good starting point for a decision. Start by elimination the unreasonable options. Only then passion comes into play. By following it, you will gain extra energy (in sales or in any other activity). This will improve your chances of success.
Reevaluate your priorities when you have new relevant information. To get there, setup business experiments.
Record and re-check your choices. Verify regularly which one became reality. Keep a monthly log (a sort of decision journal) or use a task manager tool.
At this point it comes the moment to test your priority.
Setup business experiments
You need to test your business assumptions. This way you understand if your choices are right or wrong.
First of all you have to make a decision. For example: ”I choose to start a blog”.
After that, you put it into practice and evaluate the results. But keep in mind 1 important caveat: duration and intensity of the test do count.
If I blog once a month for a semester I will not acquire reliable data. After such experiment, every evaluation will be as random as before its beginning.
But how do you know what duration and intensity is necessary for a test?
Every situation is different. So to set up a valuable experiment, study the best practices in your industry and cases similar to yours.
After that and also during the phase of testing, ask for qualified external opinions.
Non-creators have no clear understanding of the mental challenges of being in business.
This is a common fact in many different context (parents/non-parents, writers/non-writers, etc.). A business advice from a non-entrepreneur, on average, does not give real insight to an entrepreneur.
The opposite is not true by default. But you will get more qualified opinions from people that truly understand your challenges.
The next step
Pick one priority.
Focus on the element (visitors, subscribers, customers) that at present lags behind.
Then set up a small bet to verify the quality of your decision.