Home Blog The Durable Business Series (Part I)

The Durable Business Series (Part I)

NOTE: We wrote this as a five-part email series over five days (Sept 28 — Oct 2, 2020), which we sent to all our email subscribers. This published version has been lightly edited for the web.

You can get access to Part II here. Part II was written and delivered on Monday, Oct 5 through Friday, Oct 9.

Part II focused on our specific courses, and coincided with the Fall 2020 enrollment for AutoResponder Madness, Sphere of Influence, and The Traffic Engine (October 9 — 19, 2020).

Part 1 — The Durable Business: Overview

As promised in Friday’s newsletter, we’re sending a five-part email series this week that will be broadly useful to everyone we serve.

Our version of marking is not for everyone; hell, it’s not for most people. But, unless we’re mistaken, you’re a little weird like we are.

This series — which we’ve named ‘TBD’ — will give clarity to much of the ‘conventional wisdom’ that permeates our internet marketing space (this will make more sense shortly).

One final word before we start…

One of our shared principles is to challenge everything. We’re constantly course correcting our own journey as we learn new things, pressure-test our ideas, clarity the nuances of established thinking, and change our minds when our understanding is flawed.

With that said: we encourage you to push back when our ideas are in conflict with your own experience and convictions. Conversely, when we unlock new clarity and insights in your thinking, please let us know.

Anyhoo…

First, it’s important that we create some context. Let’s start by identifying what we all want, then we’ll explain, step by step, how you can get it.

We think the desire to have a business isn’t the goal. It’s a method, a vehicle, that gives us control over our financial security, agency, and perhaps above all, predictability in times of chaos and uncertainty.

Security, agency, and predictability are universal desires. That’s what we want. We’re pretty sure you want that too. Standing in the way of achieving this desire are faux ‘best practices’ and one-size-fits-all tactics peddled like the Gospel by those in the know.

But, like a magic trick, these ‘internet marketing secrets’ are mostly an illusion. Often they only make money for the teachers at the expense of the students.

Instead of throwing stones at the others and shining a light on their BS, we’re going to focus on sharing our version of marketing. Then you get to decide.

In 2012, Nassim Taleb released a book that unpacked an idea he called Antifragile. The central thesis can be summed up in one sentence:

Antifragile reveals how some systems thrive from shocks, volatility, and uncertainty, instead of breaking from them, and how you can adapt more “antifragile” traits yourself to thrive in an uncertain and chaotic world.

One of Taleb’s insights is that fragile businesses are harmed disproportionately by large, unexpected events.

COVID is one (obvious) example, but these ‘large event’ dynamics have always been at play. For example, Google’s notorious organic search algorithm changes over the years have destroyed fragile businesses.

Facebook indiscriminately shutting down advertising accounts left and right for no obvious policy violations have hugely impacted fragile businesses who have had all their eggs in one basket.

We’ve seen large and small businesses disappear when sources of traffic dried up overnight, or government agencies (like the United States Federal Trade Commission) have decided to intervene.

So that this discussion doesn’t remain conceptual, in the following parts in this series we’re going to unpack the three critical components necessary to build a durable business, and then discuss how those components work together systemically to produce results that no single component produces on its own.

We chose that word — durable — carefully. The characteristics that make a business durable include:

  • It’s built to last for the long term (meaning it will create value for you and your customers next week, next month, next year, next decade, and beyond).
  • It produces results day after day, in good times and bad.
  • It is optimized for what matters most to you as the business owner. (There is no one-size-fits-all template.) Strategic Coach founder Dan Sullivan calls these the ‘four freedoms‘ (time, money, relationships, and purpose).
  • It improves consistently, gaining momentum over time.

You need three non-negotiable ingredients to create and sustain a durable business: awareness, engagement, and conversion. In more familiar terms:

  • Awareness = traffic.
  • Engagement = leads/prospects.
  • Conversion = sales.

We’re going to discuss all three individually, in detail, below. We’re excited to share this series about what we call a The Durable Business.

Everything we share will be in service to this fundamental idea. It’s important to note that what we’ll be sharing is anything but conceptual. Everything we share are the exact things we do.

There’s no bait and switch.

No veneer hiding an ugly underbelly.

No magic trick illusion.

In the end you have agency to pick and choose who to believe, who to follow. What we’ll be sharing with you, you’ll also see playing out in everything we do — complete transparency.

Next up — awareness.

Part 2 — The Durable Business: Awareness

In this five-part series, the previous part introduced three components necessary for creating a durable business: awareness, engagement, and conversion.

Let’s start by with a precise definition:

Awareness is any activity that makes your offer visible to an audience.

Paid traffic, organic traffic, and affiliate relationships are the three most common ways to create awareness. Google, Facebook, and YouTube (paid and organic) are the largest platforms, and email is most often used to channel awareness.

Before we get into the details, it’s important to be transparent about why awareness really matters. Yes, it’s a critical component of a durable business, and yes, if done correctly, it can work synergistically with the other components to create leverage where 1 + 1 + 1 > 3.

But that’s not why it’s so important.

Understanding how to create awareness for our offers gives us the one thing we want most — control. In our paid traffic manifesto, we described this simple truth this way:

…what we really want — more than anything — is a sense of control. We want to know that our business results (and our income) are stable, predictable, and scalable. That next month will be better than this month. That there’s opportunity to increase the value we contribute to the world, expand our horizons, our relationships, and our income.

Awareness is the ‘volume dial’ for our business. Once you understand it, you have a superpower that creates stability, predictability, and (if you want it), growth on demand.

To begin developing this superpower, there are three important things you must understand about awareness:

  • Intent matters.
  • There are many ways to pay for attention.
  • Two traffic platforms matter most.

The starting point for understanding awareness is active intent vs. passive potential interest. Let’s unpack this idea.

When someone searches for something, they’re demonstrating active intent. At that moment, they’ve made whatever they’re looking for a priority. That could be information (‘how do I improve my golf swing?’), a product (‘Callaway Big Bertha driver’), or a solution to a known problem (‘best golf clubs to fix a slice’).

Google, YouTube, Bing, and Amazon aggregate audiences with active intent.

Passive potential interest is present when someone is not actively looking for what you have to offer, yet they might be interested if they were made aware of it. Combinations of demographics, psychographics, and explicit interests are used to identify these audiences.

Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and the Google Display Network aggregate audiences with passive potential interest.

A common myth is that there are two ways to create awareness — free vs. paid traffic. The truth is more complicated than that. A better way to think about awareness is understanding that there are many ways to pay for access to audiences. The two most common are time and money.

‘Paid traffic’ is the catch-all term for platforms that charge money for access to their audiences. Google Ads (search and display), Facebook, YouTube, Bing, and LinkedIn all have paid advertising platforms where you can bid for actions (cost-per-click, CPC) or ad impressions (cost-per-thousand impressions, CPM).

Paid traffic also applies to affiliate marketing because money is exchanged for awareness. It’s not uncommon for an affiliate to receive 50% of the revenue for every sale they make, for example. (Occasionally, more or less depending on the offer.)

‘Free traffic’ is a misnomer.

The more accurate term is ‘organic traffic’. Creating awareness with organic traffic is paid for in time, energy (and if you’re paying others to create content, dollars). Blog posts, articles, videos, and other methods of content marketing are effective methods for generating awareness organically.

Google (search), Facebook, YouTube, Bing, and LinkedIn drive enormous organic traffic volume.

Mastering paid and organic traffic on all the major advertising platforms is an enormous task. A very common mistake is trying to scratch the surface on each platform, which often leads to sub-optimal results.

In our experience, focusing on two platforms — Google (search and display), and Facebook — produces superior results because:

  • Together, Google and Facebook reach an estimated 90% of Internet users worldwide.
  • Google search is the world leader in active intent (accessible through its paid search platform, Google Ads, and organic search optimization).
  • Facebook and the Google Display Network reach massive audiences that do not have active intent but may have passive potential interest.

How do you know where to start?

First, decide how quickly you want results. If speed is a priority, paid traffic (search, display, and affiliate relationships) are the best choice.

Second, determine how you want to pay for awareness. If you want to invest more time than money, consider organic options (e.g., creating excellent content that meets the needs of your Pocket of People).

Third, how important to you is control?

Paid traffic can be turned on, off, up, and down in minutes. Organic traffic has longer lead times, and those assets have far less granular control.

Fourth, how important to you is accumulating and acting on data?

Paid traffic platforms are ideal for testing ideas quickly, iterating toward success, and building on audience-informed data in real-time. Awareness is fuel. Your business can be like a finely tuned race car, but without fuel, it’s not going anywhere.

Intent needs a lot more unpacking. It’s a (very) powerful level.

Okay, up next: engagement.

Part 3 — The Durable Business: Engagement

Emergent Marketing Non-Linear Flywheel Funnel

The illustration above shows how we think about 1) awareness, 2) engagement, and 3) conversion.

In this part we will start to unpack this diagram. The nuances are where the breakthroughs happen, so pay close attention.

Conventional internet marketing wisdom defines engagement as the moment someone becomes a lead (i.e., they opt-in to receive emails from you).

In fact, a lot of internet marketing education is based on that (flawed) assumption. (We’ll explain why it’s flawed below.)

‘Give away a pile of freebies, get ’em on your list as fast as possible, then hammer away until you’ve made a sale’ is the conventional framework everyone follows like sheep.

The downstream consequences of that approach are fake email addresses, single-digit email open rates, decimal place click rates, list fatigue, subscriber churn, and more.

We believe there’s a better way, and that starts with a better definition of engagement.

We define engagement as the micro-steps an individual takes that moves him or her closer to us, our world, and our way of thinking.

Examples include consuming content (especially long-form content), visiting a website (or other web presence) multiple times, commenting, asking questions, and yes, of course, opt-ing in to receive emails (deeper levels of engagement).

Engagement is a spectrum of behaviors, over time, not a single, all-important event.

Focusing only on getting an email address (as in: optimizing for) leads to all kinds of crazy, counter-productive behavior:

  • Gated content (you can’t read the article, download the PDF, or watch the video until you’ve handed over your email…).
  • Ever-increasing content bribes (the free PDF ‘special report’ isn’t enough — now you need a four-part, professionally produced video series longer than two feature-length films…).
  • Crazy, over the top hype (‘I’ll send you my best-selling book, 10-hour course, and my firstborn child for free — all you have to pay is shipping and handling…).

This way of thinking is based on many flawed assumptions. Let’s take a look at a few of those assumptions…

Flawed assumption #1 — every buyer follows the same path.

We know this isn’t true. Some people search, find what they’re looking for, and buy in the same session.

Others stumble on something … follow their curiosity … find something else that’s similar … research … visit several websites … return to one website that resonates with them repeatedly … consume content … follow that company or person on social platforms … opt-in for email … purchase in weeks, months, or even years.

When we assume that every buyer follows the same pattern, we miss out on the infinite ways our audience wants to engage with us.

Flawed assumption #2 — the best path is straight.

Most internet marketing education emphasizes the importance of the ‘linear funnel’. Move people step-by-step, from point A to point B to point C, as quickly as possible.

… then BOOM! Champagne and party poppers!

Conventional Marketing Funnel

This may be the best path for us, but it’s rarely the best path for our customers. Instead of focusing entirely on how we want to sell, it helps to step back and ask how our customers want to interact, then buy.

Flawed assumption #3 — there is a ‘right way’ to get results.

Between the two of us, we have nearly four decades of experience in the digital marketing trenches. One of the (very) few constants we’ve observed is that there’s no causal relationship between specific marketing methods and marketing results.

Yeah, that’s right, there is no top-secret, one-size-fits-all magic method that guarantees results every time (shocker!).

(In the next part we will reveal one of the other constants we believe is, by far, the most important to your success.)

Here are three things you can do immediately to benefit from our broader definition of engagement:

  • Play the long (infinite) game. Don’t insist on the lead today if it costs you a potential customer tomorrow, next week, or next year.
  • Trust in the value you bring to the world. When you match your unique value with an audience that appreciates that value, there’s no need for over-the-top giveaways and marketing hyperbole.
  • Take a customer’s perspective and follow the golden rule. Imagine you’re a customer and ask yourself, ‘Is this how I’d like to be treated?’ at every step in your business system. If the honest answer is no, change your system accordingly.

One last idea before we wrap up this part.

Even though we’ve described awareness, engagement, and conversion separately, it’s more accurate to think of them as a spectrum of activity where each element is linked to, and influenced by, the others.

Where 1 + 1 + 1 > 3.

The real power is in what emerges from those relationships, not how each behaves individually. Re-read that a few times.

We’ll explain in more detail in part 5 (and we’ll expand on this theme in the second part of this series — Part II).

Here’s our visualization again:

Emergent Marketing Non-Linear Flywheel Funnel

The first insight is that it’s not a linear flow. In our world, the controlling idea of engagement is the concept of ‘worldbuilding’. Worldbuilding creates an invisible ‘pulling & tugging’ force in a prospect.

The by-product of engagement through ‘worldbuilding’ is that influence is created naturally, and desire is channeled organically, without the need for hype, hoopla and hyperbole.

The big insight (we’ll unpack this idea next week in Part II): customers are created BEFORE — sometimes long before! — money ever changes hands.

Okay, up next: conversion.

Part 4 — The Durable Business: Conversion

In Part 4 we’re going to talk about conversion. Again we’ll start with a precise definition:

Conversion happens when someone buys.

Simple enough, right?

Well … not so fast. There are a few nuances that matter, and some quicksand to avoid. Let’s start with the quicksand.

A common definition of conversion is the moment a prospect (lead) becomes a customer.

Money changes hands.

The cash register rings.

The problem with that mindset is we’re asking our audience to take all the risk. ‘Give me your money, and I’ll give you some value in exchange…’. Promise. Cross my heart.

Sure, we think we’re reversing the risk with money-back guarantees, but even then, we’re asking our audience to trust us completely in advance. That’s a tall, often unrealistic, order.

We believe there’s a better way, which we mentioned in Part 3. Treat people like customers before money changes hands. When we do this in service of helping first, prospects start to see themselves as customers before a transaction ever takes place.

That doesn’t mean we give away our courses, products, or ideas. Of course not. But it does mean that we’re willing to take at least as many steps towards our audience as we’re asking them to take towards us.

Re-read that last sentence. It’s important.

More quicksand can be found when we race to get the sale by making the barrier-to-entry too low. The classic example is the free + shipping book offer.

The basic structure is:

  • ‘Give away’ a book for $9.95 to cover the cost of shipping.
  • Add a ‘bump offer’ at checkout (audio version, digital version, extra chapters, mind maps, etc.) to increase the price to $19.95 or more.
  • Add an upsell ($47 to $97).
  • Add another upsell ($197 — $497).
  • If you’re feeling frisky, add a special, ‘one-time-offer’ for your $10k program because, who knows, maybe one in 1,000 customers will buy it and we wouldn’t want to miss out…

Then cross your fingers that the average order value (AOV) covers your cost to acquire a customer (cost-per-acquisition, CPA). The underlying idea is that an email list of customers is far more valuable than a list of prospects, and yes, in general, that’s true.

But — here’s the problem.

When you acquire dozens, hundreds, or thousands of customers attracted to a too-good-to-be-true, $9.95 offer, guess what you get? $9.95 buyers who expect offers that are too-good-to-be-true. (Who could have predicted that…)

This pervasive idea that conversion is so magically transformative that we must race to convert prospects no matter the offer or price point is responsible for so much bad decision-making.

Context matters.

The good news is that there is a better way.

Instead of pushing, cajoling, bribing, and strong-arming your audience to pull out their credit cards as quickly as possible, take a deep breath, relax, and treat them like they’re already customers.

Take the pressure off.

Let them look around, ask questions, and make comments.

(Note: Many ‘mousetraps’ are set up in a way that makes ‘browsing around’ challenging, if not impossible. After all, ‘mousetraps’ aren’t meant to allow the captured to browse around.)

The moment you treat your audience like everyone is already a VIP, everything changes.

We can’t emphasize this enough: everything changes.

You’ll be happier because business is easier this way. Your audience will be happier. And, in a beautiful example of irony, when you stop trying so hard to sell, that’s often a catalyst for more people to buy.

Weird, right?

Legendary marketer Dean Jackson has explained why this is true. Dean works with a lot of clients, and he observed a fascinating trend. Twenty percent of buyers make a purchase in the first 90 days after becoming a lead.

The remaining 80% of buyers purchase in the eighteen months that follow. Think about that for a moment — 80% of the opportunity, 80% of the revenue in your audience, is available after the first three months.

Spot quiz: Knowing that, what do you think is the single most important thing you can do to transform your business?

.

.

Build relationships.

In fact, over-invest in relationship building.

How?

In Part 3 we wrote:

Between the two of us, we have nearly four decades of experience in the digital marketing trenches. One of the (very) few constants we’ve observed is that there’s no causal relationship between specific marketing methods and marketing results.

(In the next part we will reveal one of the other constants we believe is, by far, the most important to your success.)

That constant is always lead with value.

(We’ll unpack what value really means next week. There’s no space in this email, but the idea of ‘value’ deserves a deeper discussion.)

Give — in advance — before you ask for something in return. More importantly, reorient your entire belief system so that you view yourself as being in service to your audience.

Embrace their interests, needs, and desires as your own.

Dig deep to find out what matters most to them, and consistently find new, innovative, more powerful ways to identify and deliver that value.

When you truly embrace this idea, you’ll begin to see the real secret to business success — that wealth is an emergent property of a well-designed, congruent, self-reinforcing business system.

That’s the subject of the final part when we’ll bring all of the parts of this series together into a coherent whole.

Part 5 — The Durable Business: Putting It All Together

In Part 5 we’re going to bring Part I of this series to a close by sharing the single most important insight we’ve discovered in our 38+ years in the trenches of Internet marketing.

Before we do that, however, we want to reinforce the foundation.

Let’s recap the week so far.

First: if we strip everything else away, what we really want from our businesses is control over our results.

We want to know — with predictable certainty — that we can affect the stability and growth of our wealth (broadly defined to include money, free time, relationships, and anything else that’s meaningful to you).

We want to feel powerful, not powerless in the face of whatever life throws our way.

Second: a durable business built to withstand predictable ups and downs, as well as significant unexpected ‘Black Swan’ shocks, is the best vehicle to create and grow our wealth.

Third: a durable business includes three components that work together to produce results — awareness, engagement, and conversion:

  • Awareness is any activity that makes your offer visible to an audience.
  • Engagement describes the micro-steps an individual takes that moves him or her closer to us, our world, and our way of thinking.
  • Conversion happens when someone buys (although, counterintuitively, a customer can be created long before a financial transaction takes place).

So far, so good.

But this is where we break with conventional wisdom, and why we believe you should too.

Conventional wisdom is based on two flawed assumptions:

Flawed assumption #1 — the path from awareness to conversion is linear: A to B to C. Example: Ad to opt-in to offer.

Flawed assumption #2 — optimizing the parts always improves the whole. More traffic = more leads. More leads = more customers. More customers = more money.

This is rarely the case. In words of Dr. Russell Ackoff (the Godfather of systems theory):

In any system, when one improves (optimizes) the performance of the parts taken separately, the performance of the whole doesn’t necessarily improve, and frequently gets worse.

The single most powerful insight we’ve discovered is that businesses are systems from which results emerge from the relationships among and interactions between the component parts.

Just like a car is a collection of parts / subsystems (engine, drivetrain, fuel) from which movement emerges — with no single subsystem capable of movement on its own — your business is a collection of subsystems that work together to produce something that no part can create without the others.

Awareness without engagement or conversion is vanity. Engagement and conversion without awareness are engines without fuel.

Conversion and awareness without engagement are offers no one ever sees. Each part is necessary but, on its own, none are sufficient. All three must be present before the results we seek are possible.

Once you really understand the implications of this insight, everything changes. Everything.

Instead of looking for the ‘best’ way to create awareness, engagement, and conversion individually, think instead about how each component can work with the others to produce the best overall results.

Example: We optimize our business system to produce happy customers (a KPI that is meaningful to us and the the only number that matters), which means all our parts (awareness, engagement, and conversion) are in service to this single goal. We never optimize an individual part without looking at the impact it’ll have to the single KPI that matters to us.

How do we do this?

By focusing on shared-principles. For example:

  • Lead with value. Be authentic and transparent in your advertising, your content, and your products. Don’t create artificial barriers or force everyone into a one-size-fits-all process.
  • Treat everyone like a customer, regardless if money has changed hands. Speak to prospects like they’re already VIPs, and use your traffic sources to actively discourage the wrong prospects before they even make it into your world.
  • Build worlds that your ideal prospects want to inhabit. Pull them toward you, don’t push them into your funnel, kicking and screaming.
  • Play the long (infinite) game. Eighty percent of your customers are on the other side of ninety days (through eighteen months). Act accordingly.

AutoResponder Madness, Sphere of Influence, and The Traffic Engine are exceptionally powerful together because they’re based on shared principles and core values.

Their impact individually is profound. Together, the effects compound exponentially where 1+1+1 >3. More like 5, 7, or 13.

If you already own ARM, SOI, or TTE, next week will be a deep-dive into how to get the most from them. If you don’t own any of our courses, next week will be an opportunity to learn from our counter-intuitive approach to marketing.

However, our most important core value is that we walk our talk, which means you must actively, explicitly raise your hand to receive Part II of this series and the accompanying (free) recorded masterclass.

More on that below.

Thanks to all of you who joined us on this week’s journey. As always, we deeply appreciate your attention and love to hear your feedback.

If you want to also receive Part II, which is part of our Fall 2020 enrollment for TTE, SOI, and ARM4, you can add yourself to that list here.

André and Shawn

P.S.

Next week we’re publishing another five-part series (and a corresponding free recorded masterclass where we’ll deconstruct the entire two-week series).

However, part-two will focus on our specific courses, and will coincide with the Fall 2020 enrollment for AutoResponder Madness, Sphere of Influence, and The Traffic Engine.

We respect your time and attention and you will not receive next week’s emails without your explicit permission. Clicking on this link will add you to that interest segment (from which you can one-click remove yourself any time).