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The Best Laid Plans

This day ten years ago you probably had plans in place for the year ahead. Maybe you achieved some of those goals in 2010. But I’m guessing that you could never have planned for some of the unexpected events, opportunities, twists and turns of the decade you’ve just lived.

It turns out that it’s harder to predict the future than we think because we underestimate how much we, and the world will change over time. As psychologist, Dan Gilbert says;

‘Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our life is change.’

Ten years ago, I had just started blogging. I had no plans to write a book. I couldn’t have imagined building an online community, the joy of teaching story skills to thousands of people or speaking at TEDx. None of those things happened because I had a five year or a ten-year plan. They happened one blog post, one idea, one conversation at a time. Long-term goals, dreams and intentions are worthy, but they only eventuate because of our short-term actions.

Here’s to the next decade of showing up to do work we’re proud of and building a world that’s better for our being here.

Image by Tamarcus Brown

Marketing Forwards

Lachie was a half-decent painter and decorator, but what he really had going for him was his youth and enthusiasm. He’d been in business long enough to reap some reward for his efforts, but not so long that he’d experienced the bust that inevitably followed the boom in Western Australia. Lachie had an easygoing nature. When other tradies ominously shook their heads and pursed their lips, Lachie just smiled and said nothing was a problem. It was no wonder that he’d talked himself into building a thriving business.

It wasn’t until Lachie started work painting our kitchen that I realised just how much he loved to talk. I quickly learned working from my home office was a bad idea if we wanted the job finished on time. Before the smartphone, Lachie had talkback radio for company while he worked, but the iPhone opened up a whole new world. Now he could simultaneously paint a ceiling and chat with a friend on his phone. I will never forget the morning when he spent an entire hour telling a friend about the new accounting software he was using. He waxed lyrical about how much time it saved him on invoicing. But not only that, he’d increased his customer conversion rate by using this new software for quoting. He was getting better at following up on overdue accounts, and his cashflow had improved as a result. Lachie had become a walking, talking advert for Xero overnight. He even made sure his friend noted the correct spelling. ‘Zero with an ‘x’, not a ‘z’.

As marketers, we spend a lot of time on the story we tell. We obsess about what we can say to convince more people to buy our products and services, often forgetting that the best marketing is about giving the customer a story to tell. Your marketing doesn’t happen once the product is ready to stack on the shelf. It can start by being clear about the story you want a prospective customer to tell and then working backwards to create that result.

What will your future customer tell his friend about how your product or service changed his life or worldview tomorrow? Design for that today.

Image by David Meurin


What Do You Need More Of In Order To Succeed?

If you had to pick one thing you need more of in order to succeed what would that be? Do you really need more time or more resources? Will more attention or more influence enable you to get to where you want to go?

When we dig deeper what we find we’re lacking isn’t cash or connections, it’s the courage and commitment to finish what we started. The story we tell ourselves and the lines we draw are a choice. What are you choosing to believe and act on today?

Image by Thomas Hawk

Beyond Attention

The black-gloved sales assistant in the jeweller’s window is busy polishing the stones in every ring. Totally absorbed in her task, she starts with the rubies, moves on to the emeralds and finishes with the diamonds. She carefully places them exactly two centimetres apart on velvet lining.

The stones sparkle under perfect lighting as the first customer pushes open the door. The two sales assistants glance up from their mugs of tea, then get back to their conversation.

We mistakenly expend most of our effort attempting to get people to take notice, polishing the stones, thinking our work is done. How much better would our marketing be if we stopped making attention the endgame and acknowledged that the real work of marketing is what comes next?

Image by Nefraton.

The Three Steps To Articulating Value

It’s tempting to begin with product and service descriptions when you are communicating the value your business creates. Of course, it’s easier to start with what we know for sure. We list features, benefits and specifications—telling the customer as much as we can about ‘the what’.
And all the while we’re doing it backwards.

Intead of starting with our ‘what’ we need to begin with the customer’s ‘why’.

How To Articulate Value

1. Why does the customer need your product?
Reflect the customer’s challenges or desires back to him.

2. How will it work?
Describe the change the product will create.

3. What is it?
Finish with the facts.

Very few of our buying decisions are led by reason and logic, so why seek to persuade by starting there?

Image by Mike Melrose.

The Unsurprising Way To Find More Customers

There was clearly a big job of work to do on the old Victorian home close to where we live.
We didn’t envy either the owners, or the painting contractor who was slowly and carefully laying down dust sheets on that first morning, long before many people had started their day.

The painter worked alone, quietly and methodically sanding, undercoating and finishing each part of the project before moving to the next. It took a week of noticing him every day before I asked for his number.

Peter didn’t have a branded van, or a sandwich board on the pavement, or business cards he could give to passers by. All he had was his work and that was enough.

In our rush to grow we sometimes forget that the best way to attract more customers is to do the kind of work that people want to both, experience and talk about.

Image by Mike.

Ditch The Business Plan And Write A Letter To Your Future Customer

This might sound like a pointless and obvious exercise that’s easy to do… why would anyone bother? I guarantee you, that if more of the forgettable businesses you’ve visited and never been back to, had written this letter (or their own version of it), they’d be one step closer to remarkable.

Time to ditch the business plan for a second and begin…..

Dear ——————————,

It was great to hear from you today. I remember the day I saw you struggling to ————————, a hundred light bulbs went off when I realised at that moment that I could help you to ————————.

I know that you want to do/create/be/feel/have ———————— and I understand the challenges you face, like ———————— and ————————, because over the past five years I’ve been working on/helped ———————— to overcome similar problems. Understanding your experience is the reason I created ————————.

Here’s how it works.

Once you begin/finish/buy/use ———————— you will be able to ————————.
And that’s the reason I can’t wait to jump out of bed and get to work every morning.

You can try/start/buy it now [hyperlink]. If you have any questions you can contact me anytime at

Best Wishes

Image by Rachel.

5 Steps To Getting Things Done, Strategy Before Tactics

On rare sunny, summer days at the beach in Dublin, my brother and I would have long, drawn out arguments about how deep and wide to dig the moat around our sandcastle.

Obsessing over the tactics feels like the important work. We can often trick ourselves into jumping ahead to details that don’t yet matter, before we’ve done the real work of understanding the problem we’re going to solve.

It’s fun to think about what colour to paint the walls of your new café, or to spend hours mulling over which font to have in your ebook title.

But strategy must come before tactics, like so

1. Goal
Decide what you want to achieve.
2. Strategy
What are you going to do to achieve it?
3. Plan
What are the steps that are going to get you there?
4. Tactics
What tools will you use to help you?
5. Take action
Start, and more importantly finish.

It doesn’t matter how wide your moat is, if you build your sandcastle in the wrong place.
And the flip side is, you won’t know any of this, until you pick your spot and begin to dig.

Image by sarah-ji.

What Does Success Look Like?

Is it starting or finishing?
Getting there in a hurry?
Or stopping to take in the view on the way?
Is success the elimination of failure or growing with every experience?
Big deals?
Or a series of tiny impacts?
Is success really a destination or more of a journey?
One big blinding flash of brilliance?
Or a thousand of sparks wisdom?
Empire or legacy?
All or nothing?

Success could be viewed from 336,000 different perspectives.

True success though, is creating your own definition, then living that.

Image by Paojus Alquiza.

The Cycle Of Striving

Are you stuck in a cycle of striving? Busy brainstorming, creating, iterating, going for it, launching, succeeding and then doing the rinse and repeat routine.

Sometimes we get so caught up in our projects and wanting to make everything work, that we forget to stop for breath, or come up for air. We adopt two postures. One is waiting for the starters gun and the other is striving. Going for it for all we’re worth towards the finish line. And what happens when you get there, when you finally achieve your audacious goal, have the ‘big win’? You probably just turn right around and start again, without even looking up.

When you get stuck in the cycle of striving and don’t give yourself permission to celebrate you eventually burn out and lose longer term momentum. I know I’ve lived it and I’ve seen it happen to countless other ‘driven’ people. I also know that you’re driven, that’s why I’m putting this out there.

When you do great work it needs to be acknowledged and celebrated by you, not just the rest of the world. It’s okay to stop, drape the flag around your shoulders and stand smiling on the podium.

Image by Matt Hinsta.