When I started my business my father called my action “the confidence of ignorance.” I didn’t really know what I didn’t know so I held my nose and jumped right in. And with some long hours, perseverance, the hard work of lots of great people, and some good luck it turned out pretty well. Yet almost thirty years later it’s finally dawned on me that my dad was right – I often have no idea what I’m doing.
Social media has become a critical part of our agency’s branding and marketing. I’m promoting my ad agency, my speaking, and my books on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and whatever new technology has emerged since I wrote this post. But I have no idea what I’m doing.
I blog about branding and marketing and my own personal opinion about what’s going on in those worlds. I post it all online and send it out to my mailing list and try to promote it on all the social media sites that’ll have me. But I have no idea what I’m doing.
I travel around the world speaking at conferences and corporate meetings and attend acting classes and speaking workshops to try to make my platform skills better. Even with all the time spent and experienced gained, I still have no idea what I’m doing.
I’m starting to shoot videos and produce podcasts about branding and marketing and post them on YouTube. I’m taking videos of speeches I’ve given and learning how to edit them in Apple’s Final Cut and sending them out online and on CDs. But I have no idea what I’m doing.
I wrote a couple books on branding and produced them with traditional publishers. Then I self-published the latest book and we distributed it ourselves. Finally, I wrote a novel called The Mouth of the South and didn’t even self-publish it, just uploaded it to Amazon as a Kindle book. But I have no idea what I’m doing.
We’re creating a new website, trying to make it as interactive, mobile-friendly and user-friendly as possible and all at the same time. But I have no idea what I’m doing.
When people ask me if they should promote themselves or their companies on Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn; if they should blog, tweet, email or send handwritten letters; if they should shoot videos, record podcasts, write books, or speak at conferences; if they should offer discounts on couponing sites, or run ads on TV, radio, newspapers or billboards, my answer is a resounding “yes.” When they tell me they don’t know how to do it, I say, “don’t worry, I have no idea what I’m doing either.”
I’m not smart enough to figure out SEO and SEM. I don’t have enough time to respond to all the tweets I receive. I don’t like Facebook enough to really want to dive into it. I think I only use about 11% of the capabilities of Final Cut. And not one of my books has become a bestseller regardless of how much time, effort, and money I’ve spent on them.
Why not? Could it be because I have no idea what I’m doing?
My marathon times aren’t dropping, my harmonica playing’s not getting much better, and the TV show I’m trying to create isn’t rushing itself into production. You already know the reasons why. It’s because I have no idea what I’m doing.
Are you starting to see a pattern here? Have you gotten the message? As much as I’d love to use this page to brag about all the brilliant things I’m trying to accomplish I have no idea what I’m doing.
I think that my feeling is the true zeitgeist of what’s going on today in the world of online marketing, new entrepreneurship, and personal development. Of course we can listen to the experts pontificate about whatever it is they know about, but just like the tip of the metaphorical iceberg, what they know and talk about is just a small portion of what’s really out there.
What I have in common with those experts is that they don’t have any idea what they’re doing anymore than I do.
They just do it anyway. And so do I. And, truth be told, so should you.
The key, as Nike taught us, is to “Just Do It.” Microsoft has built an enormous company around the notion of implementing first and perfecting later. Or as my dad also used to say, “There’s never time to do it right but there’s always time to do it over.”
So blog, post, tweet, self-publish, promote, and sell, to your heart’s content. And don’t worry if you don’t quite know what you’re doing. Why not? Because I have no idea what I’m doing, either.
We’ve all heard the lies:
“The Mercedes is paid for.”
“I’ll call you in the morning.”
“I’m from the IRS and I’m here to help.”
“You may already be a winner.”
But lately, thanks to the brave new world of online marketing, I’ve heard five new ones that are worth considering before we fall for them.
1. The fundamentals don’t matter anymore.
2. The best pricing strategy is free.
3. To be successful, pursue your passion.
4. If you build it, they will come.
5. Content is king.
1. The fundamentals don’t matter anymore.
It seems like each time there’s a new boom, whether it’s real estate, IPOs or online businesses, this old trope gets rolled out. People think the fundamentals don’t matter because they’re looking at something revolutionary and how could something so new be predicted and controlled by something as old (and boring) as fundamentals?
Of course, while technology and opportunities are changing at lighting speed, what doesn’t change is how people react to these new phenomena. And so the same issues and problems resurface time and time again.
Bottom line? The fundamentals DO matter; that’s why they’re called fundamentals.
2. The best pricing strategy is free.
This lie is so counterintuitive that books have been written about it. And the strategy is so seductively simple: give things away to attract attention, build relationships and sell products. Unfortunately, what the authors of the “Free” books forget is that the people who take their advice actually need to earn revenue to survive. Like the World War I flying aces whose planes were shot at and spiraled gracefully down towards the ground where they inevitably crashed, the race to win the low price war finally ends with prices being so low that the sellers go out of business.
The ironic proof that this concept is hogwash? One of the first evangelists for this axiom, Chris Anderson, wrote the book Free: The Future of a Radical Price. It lists for $26.99.
3. To be successful, pursue your passion.
This lie is not only untrue; it’s also cruel. But thanks to its siren call, lots of college students study subjects they have no chance of turning into careers and lots of professionals abandon their careers in order to pursue activities from which they have no chance of earning a living.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a design degree and I think it’s great to study the history of comparative religion or the modal chants of the Renaissance. I just don’t think it’s a particularly profitable endeavor. The ugly truth of many “passion” industries – music, art, filmmaking, etc. – is that you may make a fortune but you can’t make a living. Mike Rowe, the host of Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs presented a wonderful speech at TED on this very subject. You can watch it HERE.
The simple truth? If you want to be successful, don’t pursue your passion; pursue your customers’ passion.
4 . If you build it, they will come.
Way back when, in the nascent years of the Internet, posting a site was about all you needed to do to generate viewership. Every site was new and every concept was exciting. And the developers who incorporated viral recruiting, like the guys who built the site HOTorNOT.com, were able to attract millions of users and enormous valuations.
But today the web is crawling with websites. According to the Netcraft Web Server Survey, there were 266,848,493 sites as of December 2010. Over the last few months there has been an increase of 47 million host names and 7 million active websites, and we’re quickly closing in on over 300 million sites.
It’s not much better in the publishing world. Amazon alone offers almost 810,000 ebook titles to browse through. And as you know if you read my blog post last week, I added my own ebook to the list (as of Monday, March 28th, Mouth of the South has sold a whopping 21 copies, by the way), which will really put the count over the top.
Woody Allen might have said that “70% of success in life is showing up” but it’ll take a whole lot more effort than that to be successful these days.
5. Content is king.
Nicholas Negroponte, the founding director of the MIT Media Lab, wrote a wonderfully prescient book titled Being Digital. Although it was published almost 20 years ago, it’s still a go-to guide for people who want to understand the online world.
One of Negroponte’s key points is that content is worth considerably more than distribution. As Negroponte points out, “the valuation of a bit is determined in large part by its ability to be used over and over again.” So Mickey Mouse is valuable because it can be produced in movies, printed on comic books, screened onto tee shirts, stamped onto lunch boxes and even formed into lollipops. Accordingly, way back in 1994 when Being Digital was written, “the market value of Disney was $2 billion greater than that of Bell Atlantic, in spite of Bell Atlantic’s sales being 50 percent greater and (its) profits being double.”
What Negroponte may not have thought about —back then in the dark ages of the Internet — is the incredible volume of content that’s been created, posted and repurposed across the ‘Net. And so his apocryphal line “Content is king,” is only true if it’s qualified that that content better be good, unique or compelling.
These lies are popular because they are grammatically symmetrical, comfortably instructive and because they appeal to our personal self interests. And thanks to today’s 24/7 news cycle hungry for endless bits information to report on, the lies are continuously repeated until they enter our collective consciousness.
Oh, and by the way, you know that money I owe you? Don’t worry, the check’s in the mail.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet lots of you at the different conferences and presentations I speak at every year. Because I spend so much time travelling to and from the speeches, I spend an inordinate amount of time on airplanes. Because I don’t like to waste time on planes, and because I have the attention span of a firefly, I started pulling my laptop out of my carry on and using my free time to write.
I write speeches, ads for clients, and these blog posts. I thought about writing another book too, but because I’ve already written three non-fiction business books (Brain Darts, New Design: Miami, and Building Brand Value), I challenged myself to write a novel instead.
Writing the book at 32,000 feet was mostly fun, until I got about three quarters of the way through. By then I had developed my characters, built the story of their lives and inserted the great mystery that the characters were busy unraveling. My fingers were jumping across the keyboard like a speed addict playing whack-a-mole when I simply ran out of story. And — KABOOM — just like that I had nothing left to write about.
In the meantime, I had sent a copy of the unfinished manuscript to my good friend, TV producer Brian Gadinsky, for his opinion. He e-mailed back that he liked the story line, loved the characters and had even picked some of the actors who would play the various roles in the movie version. (Danny DeVito will play the Cajun con man Floyd Barbonell? Be still my beating heart!) Brian just wanted to know when I’d finish the book because he was eager to read the ending. Then he dropped the bomb. “Or don’t you know,” he wrote, “because it’s very common that neophyte authors simply run out of story and give up.”
Very common??!! Neophyte author??!! GIVE UP??!! I resemble that remark… ouch, that hurts.
Brian’s words bothered me so much that I spent the next two days just thinking about where my story would go and how I would tie it all together. Then I spent the next year and a half back in airplane seats finishing the novel.
The result, The Mouth of The South, has been languishing in my laptop for a few years since I completed it. I never really wrote the story to publish it and I didn’t have any plan for distributing the novel anyway so it just sat. But lately I started thinking about what I’ve been writing about right here in these very blog posts — how media has become democratized and big publishing companies no longer control entrée to the market and that over 9,150 of you read this blog every week. And then my friends in the Florida Speakers Association gently suggested that I should practice what I preach and publish my book in the brave new world of digital media or else the cobbler’s kids would be barefoot. (Ouch again. All this honesty and constructive criticism is killing me.)
So I went online, learned how to publish an eBook and a Kindle edition, asked my friend Dr. Rebecca Staton-Reinstein to help me and I’ve made The Mouth of the South available for the world to read. You can download by clicking HERE if you’re interested.
But wait! Before you invest your hard-earned $3.77 for the eBook, here’s an excerpt from chapter four. Try it on and see if it fits:
While most people Floyd Barbonell came into contact with knew he was rich, few of them knew how he came by his money and fewer still knew where he came from. Floyd was the fourth child born to Etta and Cooter Barbonell of Henri Parish in Louisiana.
Floyd’s earliest memories were of his Mama squealing with delight at the ferocious sting of her homemade hot pepper sauce. “Oh chile,” she’d squeak, her hot sauce dripping from her fat greasy pork sausages onto her fat greasy sausage-shaped fingers, “‘dis sowse be jus’ so hot it like to make you slap yo’ mama!”
Floyd had tried slapping his Mama once and found that it was the only thing that could get old Cooter to come boiling out of his La-z-boy recliner, catching his undershirt on an errant spring and sending him tumbling all willy-nilly out the tattered screen door of the doublewide. Floyd was sure that if his Daddy hadn’t been so drunk he would have certainly caught him and beat him to a pulp, but this being 10 o’clock in the morning, there wasn’t much of a chance that old Cooter’d still be sober.
The fact that Cooter could be so snookered by 10 a.m. was really quite an accomplishment considering he’d only been awake a few minutes. But Cooter had always told his kids to be the best at whatever it was they chose to do with their lives, and Cooter had chosen to be a drunk.
There you have it. The other 230 pages are just as wacky, frenetic, and descriptive and if you’re giggling even a little bit already maybe you’ll like it. You can buy it HERE .
You should know that I’m about 60 pages into the sequel, Walkabout, so your opinion on this first novel means a lot to me. If a few of you like The Mouth of The South and spread the word, and I spend some more time on airplanes banging away at my laptop, I could have two novels online before too long. Who knew democratized media could be so silly?