One thing that I’ve struggled with, in building a business, especially in those early start-up days, is that with limited resources, you’re constantly faced with a series of choices. The choices regularly seem to be do or die, in terms of priority.
When you are building a business, you want to spend time figuring out what it is you are trying to do so that it’s clear to everyone else what your offer is. You also want to do that because knowing what you’re trying to do will ensure you pull the right resources at the right time and drive the right message about what you can deliver.
So, for example, I started out the business offering an opportunity to people to network and learn at business conferences and technical seminars. I saw myself as a creative person, our products were crafted to deliver a certain type of content and platform to the audience we were after. I saw myself as a producer of content.
That affected how we marketed, how we described ourselves, our product and where we went looking for audiences.
Over the years, we shifted from producing conferences to providing technical and business training through certification-led programmes.
This was different.
I was no longer creating content – the content was pretty much already there, in defined and structured syllabi, already familiar to those looking for it.
The approach had to change.
Progress comes when you acknowledge the change before you and begin to work to adapt or respond effectively to them.
We were no longer producers of content, we were now marketers. We were bringing established, internationally renowned and benchmarked programmes to new markets and our success relied not on the quality of the content (that was now a given) but on the success of our marketing efforts.
As you grow your business, you will encounter change. Some you will face happily and some you may resist. Progress comes when you acknowledge the change before you and begin to work to adapt or respond effectively to them.
A willingness to see those changes can take time to develop especially when you’ve spent so much effort on building things up in a certain way. It’s a fine line, knowing when to stop and when to push through. When to listen to the market and when to refine further.
I’ve read stories about people who’ve taken years to find the success they crave.
Matthew Weiner, the Mad Men creator, said it took him seven years from the time he wrote Mad Men until it finally got on the screen. “I lived every day with that script as if it were going to happen tomorrow. That’s the faith you have to have”.
Jeff Kinney , author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, talked about how he pursued his newspaper-cartooning career, where he would spend anywhere from six to nine months putting together submission packets and sending it out to all the syndicates – only to get really tough, terse rejection letters back.
“This went on for a few years and it was very soul sucking. It’s hard to send your best work out there and get no encouragement whatsoever”. Both were featured in Getting There: A Book of Mentors by Gillian Zoe Segal. ( I interviewed Gillian about her book).
The point is that it takes time.
We read about successes but rarely do we get a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes. And perhaps, most of the time, we like to fool ourselves into believing it was a case of good luck or innate talent.
Perhaps we don’t want to hear about the countless hours of practice, botched attempts and failed pitches.
Perhaps we don’t know about the inner and outer game that takes place.
The one thing that should guide you : your goal.
You have a product or service you are working on and want to bring to market. You cannot rely on the well-meaning support and understanding of others – friends or family – who are there to lend moral support and yet are not familiar with the challenges and experiences you will undergo.
It is you who knows fully what it is you are trying to achieve, what that final product or service should look like. And until such time that it is out there – launched, shipped – you owe it to yourself to give it everything you got to make it happen. No one else will come close to making it a reality as you will.
And the title of the post?
A realisation that every time you focus on one thing and you commit to deep work (the subject of Cal Newport’s new book) on it, you have to come to terms with the fact that there are many other things you will not be able to focus on.
That often proves hard to reconcile when the other things you want to do are equally important or related to the big project. Acknowledging and acting on this is critical to traction though.