I often say that the secret to success online is that there isn’t a secret.
But … that’s not entirely true.
I say it because there’s so much nonsense for sale that promises a one-size-fits-all tactical magic trick to riches.
Here’s the truth — there is a secret and I’m going to tell you what it is.
When I do that you’ll have three choices…
Decide I’m wrong (which is always a possibility).
Decide I’m right, nod your head ‘yes’ and think to yourself ‘I get it’ or ‘I already knew that’ and then move on, unchanged…
… or, decide I’m right, internalize the idea so it becomes your North Star, and act on it every day.
If you choose the third option, your life will change immediately and you’ll become a professional instead of an amateur.
I love the distinction between the two, which I first heard in the context of sport.
An amateur does something until s/he gets it right.
A professional does something until s/he can’t get it wrong.
The rest of this email (and TDB) are about what it takes to become a professional.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me share four things that annoy the hell out of me. (Trust me — these are important for later.)
Context matters. André and I like to show our work so you know how we think, not just what we think.
First up is not knowing (or explaining to potential customers) the difference between prescription vs. description.
What’s the difference?
Prescription is a course that tells you how something should work in ideal conditions.
Description is a course that tells you how something has worked in the real world.
I’ve been behind the scenes on many projects with names you would recognize where the ideas being sold had no relationship to the way the person selling those ideas acted.
The strategy seems to be to sell one thing and do something entirely different.
You would not believe some of the things I’ve seen. I’ll just leave it at that.
(In my experience, this ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach represents most of the marketing training available with rare exceptions.)
Second is the mirror image of the first — selling something that has worked in a very limited context and pretending it’ll work, like magic, in any context.
Back in the Wild West days of Internet marketing this model worked well because we were still trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t.
If someone had some success with a particular strategy, business model, or collection of tactics, that was valuable to know and experiment with.
Those days are over.
There are no top secret ‘hacks’ left to exploit, no specific business model, strategy, or technology that guarantees results. There are principles embodied in processes that produce results — it’s as simple as that.
Third is an unwillingness to be honest and transparent about reality.
The most common example of this is reporting gross revenue instead of net income as a proof point.
How many times have you seen some variation of “My XYZ method has produced $50,000/month for the last year…”
The implication is that the ‘XYZ Method’ has produced $50,000 in income, but the reality (supported by the obligatory earnings screenshot) is that the ‘XYZ Method’ produced $50,000 in revenue.
How much did it cost in paid traffic, content creation, and affiliate commissions to generate that $50,000? Or, my favorite — how much of that million-dollar-launch was profit?
Funny how that’s never mentioned…
Don’t tell me how much money you made — tell me how much money you put in your pocket at the end of the month (or after the launch) so I understand the economics of what I’m buying.
This lack of honesty and transparency bothers me so much because it makes the student feel like s/he has done something wrong, even when s/he has done everything exactly right.
If someone buys a course, does the work, and gets a result, s/he deserves to feel good about that — period. Not like s/he has done something wrong, or underperformed because the ‘guru’ was unwilling to tell the truth about what to expect.
(One of the reasons we’re creating an example business for TDB outside our own market, with no audience, no list, no affiliates, and no advantages you don’t have is so you can see the reality of failure. Make no mistake — we will fail, repeatedly — and you probably will too. As I like to tell my Taekwondo students, no one tells stories about that time everything was easy…)
The fourth issue is not understanding survivorship bias.
(Stay with me — this is important.)
Survivorship bias occurs when we only look at people who have succeeded (i.e., ‘survived’) to determine if something is effective.
For example, I have worked with more than 200 clients in the twenty-two years I’ve owned a digital agency. Along the way I’ve completed more than 650+ projects, and managed somewhere in excess of $100 million in ad spend.
The clients I’ve worked with represent wildly different business models, offers, niches, strategies, and tactics.
I can easily cherry-pick examples from those twenty-two years and make a case for what works by stringing together a ‘top 10’ list of what I’ve seen the most successful clients do.
Intuitively, that makes sense. Of course it’s worth studying what the successful clients have in common, right?
Unless we look at all of the clients (not just those who were successful — i.e., ‘survived’), we won’t know if something actually worked.
For example, it seems perfectly rational to believe that meditation is correlated with success if you learn that many CEOs and business leaders meditate.
However, for every successful CEO meditator there are tens, if not hundreds of thousands of meditators who are not successful CEOs.
Correlation is not causality.
OK … rant over…
Now you better understand the lens through which I see the world. That’s the context for the secret I’ve learned.
In the spirit of full honesty and transparency, let me be clear that I learned this secret the hard way. I did not sit in lotus position on the mountain top where it was revealed and then descend from the mountain to acquire riches.
I stumbled around it, ignored it when it was as plain as my hand in front of my face, and made more mistakes than you can even begin to imagine before I finally understood that this is really the ONE thing that matters.
It is the common thread that has been present in every success I’ve observed, and absent in every failure.
Here it is…
The secret to business success is crafting an offer your audience desperately wants.
The key word is desperately. That’s the difference between ‘hmmm…this sounds interesting…’ and ‘oh my god take my money…’
If you get the offer right, everything else you do is easy.
If you get the offer wrong, nothing you do will be easy.
It really is as simple as that.
Some of you are thinking to yourself ‘I know that already’.
I certainly thought I did for many years.
That’s when I first made the distinction between knowing how and being able.
‘Knowing how’ is intellectual. ‘Being able’ is behavioral.
We can think that we should interview our minimum viable audience to identify their most important, visceral core desires — the stuff that keeps them awake at night — but then decide it’s too hard to talk to people…
… or tell ourselves we already know what the market wants, we just need to create it…
That’s knowing how.
Or, we can put our egos (and fears) aside and actually listen to what our audience wants. In their own words. For hours and hours and hours if necessary until we can’t get it wrong.
Then — and only then — do we begin to craft our solutions, test them with our audience, and act on the results.
That’s being able.
Discovery and validation never end. That’s how great offers are made and improved.
When you create a great offer, you’re parked on a downhill slope.
Without a great offer, you’re pushing a rock uphill.
Which would you rather do?
Several years ago I had lunch with the owner of a PR company one of my clients (a ski resort) had hired. She asked me if there was anything she should know about the client.
“If it snows, we’re geniuses. If it doesn’t, we’re idiots” was my reply.
The Durable Business is our description of what works, across niches, business models, strategies, and tactics.
It’s a distillation of four decades of experience from two very different perspectives about what it really takes to succeed online.
And in the spirit of full transparency, we’re going to show our work along the way.
If you’re interested in building a business from $0 to $100,000+, and you’re willing to do the work, you can join us here. (Enrollment closes tomorrow.)
Shawn (and André)
Reminder: enrollment for The Durable Business will close at midnight PST Monday, Nov 30.
We do plan to release TDB again in 2021 but we do not know yet when that will happen. Q2 at the earliest is a reasonable guess.