Are You Working On The Right Thing?

Sometime last year, I decided it was time to do a complete redesign of the marketing site for my SaaS business. I spent nearly eight weeks on that.

What was that decision based on? Was the previous version of the site not performing as well as it should?

We had traffic and customers, but growth was slow. Too slow. Something wasn’t working as well as it should.

Without any hard data to support this, I blamed our slow growth on our website design. This allowed me to work comfortably on something I was good at — Wireframes, mockups, copy, and site building.

Two months later, with the shiny new site launched, did our growth rate improve? No. It stayed about the same. There goes two months of my time. Time I could have spent much more wisely.

The Hardest Part

Self-funding a new business and transitioning out of a job or client work is tough to pull off. Really tough.

What’s the hardest part? Developing the right idea? Building the product? Landing your first paying customers? All very hard things to do, especially if this is your first rodeo… But not the hardest of them all.

How bout the time aspect? Everybody is strapped for time, especially of you’re balancing client work while bootstrapping a product on nights and weekends. Again, finding the time is a challenge. But there’s never a shortage of productivity advice to help with that.

The most challenging — and most critical — aspect when it comes to growing or transitioning your business is deciding to work on the right projects, at the right time, in the right sequence. That’s a really hard decision to bat 1000 on week in week out.

Getting it right

“What should I work on next?”

When you’re no longer working in a job where a manager gives you your tasks for the week, or when you’ve stopped working on client projects which have a clear scope and agenda, you get to decide what to work on every day.

At first, this is incredibly exciting. You feel lucky to be in a position where you have the freedom to choose to do whatever you want to do, and make a living at it.

But beware. The easy answer to the question of “what to work on next” is often not the smartest. We always gravitate toward doing what we want to work on and that’s usually not the same as what we should work on.

Coders love to code. So they’ll program a feature or a whole app before researching and talking to customers.

Designers love to design. So they’ll spend extra hours perfecting every pixel instead of just going with a template and ship.

Artists love to create. So they’ll spend all their time in the studio instead of figuring out how to take their work to market.

Marketers love to sell. So they spend all their time chasing the latest tactic instead of using their skills to build something that matters.

Get Critical

The key is to become your toughest and best critic. Learn how to identify where you (or your business) has fallen short. You can’t improve and make progress until you identify — and acknowledge — where you’re weak.

When you choose to take those weak points head on, you’re on your way to getting ahead.

Your next project should be focused on the thing you know is lacking or broken or uncomfortable. But think about what eliminating that shortcoming will do for your business. It will be a huge leap forward. So get to work. Then find the next thing to fix. There’s always something.

Example

I told you about how redesigning our marketing site was a huge waste of 8 weeks last year. Why? Because nothing was wrong with the one we had. I chose to flex our strength when I should have focused in improving a glaring weakness.

This year I identified and acknowledge that weakness. It was our sales and marketing funnel. Actually, it was a lack of one. So I spent 3 months of this year overhauling our sales process.

I wrote all new sales procedures. I hired and trained our first sales/marketing person (besides myself). I defined distinct stages in our sales cycle. I improved the way we measure and report our key metrics. I built in email automation and created new marketing materials.

Most of those things, like building a sales staff and tracking metrics were things I personally knew little about, and frankly was scared I wasn’t “doing it right”.

But I learned by doing, and the experience paid off. Today, our growth rate doubled and we’re on pace to have a very strong year.

How to Get Critical

It’s much easier said than done. Our natural inclination is to focus on our strengths and stay within our comfort zone.

So here are a few tips to help you become a better, tougher self-critic, and use that to your advantage when it comes to tackling each weakness head on.

  • Join a mastermind group – This has been a huge help for me (I’m in two groups). The whole purpose of a mastermind group is to keep eachother accountable and focused on the right priorities.
  • Plan ahead. I used to choose what to work on based on a whim. Usually that whim led me into photoshop or code. Today I plan out my year, this month, and this week ahead of time. I even dedicate a whole day each month to scrutinizing my work plan to make sure I’m being wise about how I spend my time.
  • Be open (and willing) to change course. The vision for my SaaS business was much different before I started than the reality today (a topic for another day). Expect change, embrace it, and learn as you go.
  • Work smarter. Not harder. Don’t convince yourself that working one additional hour will make the difference. Focus on how the projects you choose to work on will impact results.

So… What are you working on next?

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