Do you celebrate incremental success?

Entrepreneurs interpret goals and measure success in very different ways. While most people appreciate huge wins, many have difficulty appreciating smaller accomplishments. After all, most of us are conditioned to believe that success in founding a start-up is met only if you sell the company for hundreds of millions of dollars. Many think that success in starting a blog is meaningful only if we have 50,000 subscribers. Some believe that success on Twitter means a minimum of 50,000 followers. Some think that being a successful graphic designer means being able to charge tens of thousands of dollars for a logo.

Setting very high goals is important – we do it as a company at crowdSPRING and I set high goals for myself as an individual. In fact, I believe that it’s impossible to become an industry leader and to innovate unless you push yourself. But setting very high goals can also paralyze because it takes an incredible amount of effort to achieve such goals. And while that effort is ultimately well-spent when you achieve your goals, it does limit what else you can do while you are trying to get there.

Success need not be a zero-sum game. Think of success as an incremental process.

Especially in today’s chaotic economic climate, it’s important to understand how to measure your own success. You should never lower your goals merely because it would be easier for you to meet them. But you should celebrate incremental success. And then you should build on that success, step-by-step.

Startup Tip: Marketing One-To-One

When most people talk about marketing, they talk about broad, strategic tactics focused on large groups of customers or potential customers. Adwords, banner ads, print ads, email marketing – these are all common tactics used by many businesses to market their products and services.

It’s easy to forget that some of the most important marketing opportunities arise when you deal with customers or potential customers one-to-one. The one-to-one marketing opportunities (while providing customer service, answering email, talking with people on social networks) are sometimes far more valuable than broad marketing tactics. Here’s why:

Do you agree?

Goals, Strategies and Tactics

It’s not uncommon for young entrepreneurs to focus on tactics at the expense of also setting appropriate goals and developing core strategies. It’s easy to fall into this trap when you see someone else successfully executing a tactic – and trying to duplicate their success by doing the same thing.

It’s not enough to understand your core business. Without clear goals – and strategies to accompany those goals – tactics could prove to be futile and a waste of time. Here’s why:

If you want to read more about this subject, you might be interested in today’s post on the crowdSPRING blogNew to the world: strategic marketing for startups and small business.

Do you agree that it’s impossible to succeed without clear goals and strategies? Are tactics enough?

How To Respond If A Customer Thinks You Run The Bunny Ranch

The customer service team at my company, crowdSPRING, has answered over 40,000 requests from customers. Few have been as entertaining as a recent note which opened with: “hello whores” and then proceeded to discuss vegetarianism, good & evil, moral high ground, and my personal favorite – capitalist baggage.  I wrote about that unusual note – and our response – in crowdSPRING’s blog today: Whore, Vegetarianism, Moral High Ground & Capitalist Baggage.

Book Review: Rework

I admire 37signals because they make simple, easy to use web applications and because of their unique perspective on business.

Rework is a collection of short essays by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, focusing on doing less and embracing constraints.

Jason Fried co-founded 37signals and David Heinemeier Hansson later joined the company as a partner. Jason and David frequently write and talk about their business philosophy on marketing, hiring, culture, and productivity. If you haven’t read their blog, Signal v. Noise, I recommend that you do so.

If you’re looking for a business book on writing effective business plans or about strategies for finding investors, this isn’t the right book for you. Much of the advice in the book is contrarian to how most people think about startups and business. For example, while most entrepreneurs want to deliver more than their competition, Jason and David suggest you focus on delivering less.

The book is a short, quick read. The tone is confrontational and is far from the academic, dry tone you’ll find in most business books. It’s about 270 pages (the margins are fat and there are lots of pictures and white space). You can finish most of it over lunch.

A friend who has not read Rework but who skimmed a few chapters referred to Rework as a “fortune cookie approach to business advice.” Although I don’t completely agree, this isn’t far from the truth in one respect. The essays in Rework aren’t focused on giving you practical, step-by-step advice about what to do. Instead, Jason and David offer their perspective on business – a perspective that can change not only your attitude, but everything you do in your own business.

Bottom Line: Rework is an outstanding book for anyone who wants to learn about a fresh approach to business not found in other business books. If you’re looking to shake things up and to follow a path rarely traveled by Internet companies these days, you’ll learn a great deal from this book.

To Succeed, Don’t Obsess About Reasons You Might Fail

A few months ago, I talked about why startups must focus first on the problem, not the solution. A few days ago, I talked about the need to refocus from time to time.

There’s another side to focus that’s rarely discussed – focusing (and often obsessing) on reasons you might fail versus focusing on reasons you might succeed.

To succeed, don’t obsess about the reasons you might fail. If you do, you WILL fail.

The recent reactions from the developer communities to moves by Apple and Twitter underscored both the importance of making sure that you don’t tie your business to that of another company, and also the importance of making sure that you obsess about and focus on success – and not on failure.

At the end of the day, even if there are 99 ways you could fail and only 1 way you could succeed, there’s a very basic and undeniable fact: you can only succeed if you focus on the 1 way you can succeed. Focusing on the many ways you could fail will NOT lead to success. I discuss this in the following video:

What do you think? Do you agree that focusing on possible failures significantly increases the chances that you WILL fail?

The Need To Refocus From Time To Time

It’s common for us to be consumed by our daily tasks and routines, at the expense of focus, learning, and assessment of strategy.

Two announcements yesterday highlighted for me the importance of constantly reassessing the direction in which we’re moving (personally and professionally). The first was a post by Chris Brogan – “What Goes Into Redrawing” – talking about why he’s decided to “redraw” how he connects with people, spends his day, and pursues his business interests. The second was a video by Gary Vaynerchuk talking about his decision to significantly adjust what he calls his “work/work” balance (Gary’s video is below mine).

It’s very important to step aside from daily routines and tasks and assess what’s working and what isn’t. While you can balance your own daily priorities and routines, and teams can refocus by going on on strategy retreats, that’s often not enough. It’s also important for us to find ways to refocus individually over a longer term. Here’s why:

Here’s Gary’s video:

How do you periodically refocus what you’re doing (personally and professionally)?

What is Your Core Business?

Too often, startups risk getting misdirected by the media and customers to add features and functionality to a product or service that turn out to be collateral to the core business. I believe this is happening now with Gowalla and Foursquare, among others. Both services have recently become media darlings, but neither has managed to break out beyond a relatively modest group of technology enthusiasts.

Last week while at SXSW, I tested both services and believe even more strongly now than I did before SXSW that the feature creep evident in the recent releases from both companies may do more harm than good to their ability to compete with other companies focusing on local advertising (Google, Facebook, and MANY others).

By following the media’s lead (and thirst for more “cool” releases), Gowalla and Foursquare seem to be focused on features collateral to their businesses.

Are Gowalla and Foursquare squandering their opportunities and visibility? I believe they are.

Location based marketing is important, but every website and service will soon be able to execute location based marketing strategies. Importantly, location based marketing is expected to take up a 70% share of all U.S. interactive marketing spending as soon as 2014 – $4 billion in 2015 (up from $34 million in 2009). Companies that don’t focus on their core business will cede leadership and market share to those who do.

As I discuss in this video, there’s a danger when you split your focus and forget about your core business.

Do you think that the features being introduced by Gowalla and Foursquare are critical to their location based advertising models? Why?

Startup Tip: Dealing With Customer Resistance To Change

Whether you are a small or a Fortune 50 company, customers typically resist attempts to change products or services they perceive work well. People prefer to deal with the things they already know rather than get used to something new. But innovative companies must constantly find ways to improve their products and services.

How can innovation and resistance to change be reconciled? In this short video, I talk about the lessons we’ve learned along the way in introducing changes to the crowdSPRING marketplace.

What have you done to help your customers or your community deal with change?

Not Every Failure Is A Learning Experience

Many entrepreneurs and investors – especially in Silicon Valley – believe that failure is acceptable. Mark Suster writes:

I prefer second time (or more) entrepreneurs.  Sure, I would love to work with people who have had multiple successes.  But I’m not afraid of entrepreneurs that didn’t succeed the first time.  I want to work with talented people with good judgment.  And so I’m out to spread the word, “Good Judgment Comes from Experience, but Experience Comes from Bad Judgment.”  Go out and learn.

There’s a big difference, however, between failing while giving your very best, and failing for the sake of failing.

I discuss this difference in the following short video.

Do you agree?