It doesn’t matter how relentless you’ve been or how innovative you are. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been in business for days or decades, or how many millions or billions you have in revenue. You must keep driving forward. Even if you are at the top, someone or something is gaining on you or sees you as a threat and is trying to take you out.
To keep things going and going after the things you want, you must find a bigger pond, make new ponds, expand and stretch the pond you’re “fishing” in, or maybe move to new water bodies and go deep-sea fishing.
To begin your search for a bigger pond, ask yourself:
- What’s next?
- What do we need to do to reach our bigger goals?
- How will our brand, services, products, technologies, and our people keep standing out from the rest?
The key is never being satisfied with the way things are. That way lies mediocrity. Find that new and bigger pond. To do so successfully, you must be willing to do three things:
1. Re-Envision the Pond: Adapt
The speed of business today makes adaptation more essential than ever. You must strike a balance between satisfying demand for who you are and what you offer now and adapting.
Just ask Jaycen Thorgeirson, founder and CEO of UviaUs. At first, the company focused on unique direct marketing print material for organizations like the Washington Nationals baseball team. Then, in 2011, Thorgeirson saw a tool for embedding video technology in marketing being used in Europe and started investigating it. Today, UviaUs is 100 percent focused on its Uvideo as a dynamic marketing tool that fuses audio, video, and print.
What’s interesting is that UviaUs got more resistance internally than externally for this change, which reinforces the importance of adapting with your people in alignment. In the case of UviaUs, the salespeople faced price resistance: Uvideo was much more expensive compared to the traditional print media customers were doing. But the company pushed forward without excuses. Sure, it required a higher investment, but they also attracted a higher level of clientele that saw the value in the delivery method and its adaptability for more targeted marketing.
In the end, UviaUs found the brands it worked with expected the company to do something different to help them stand out. What mattered most to UviaUs and its customers wasn't the product but delivering on the promise of what they sold. Products must change; the goals for those products do not. “We are still you-via-us. This is still printed collateral and marketing,” says Thorgeirson. “This is about brand experience, and our customers get how valuable it is. They've come to expect that we're going to do something different. They don't want to be a one-trick pony, and neither do we. Otherwise we're not differentiating ourselves.”
2. Find New Ponds: Ask Directions—and Listen to the Answers
When you ask the right questions and listen to the answers— really listen—customers and potential customers will help you understand what you need to do to reach them. Consider what Eddie Rausch, the founder of Veteran Tickets Foundation, or Vet Tix, told me. Vet Tix provides family members of troops killed in action, active military, and veterans with free tickets to sporting events, concerts, performing arts, and family activities. One would think it was a no-brainer for success, yet Rausch says there was a surprising obstacle to making the pond bigger soon after he launched in 2008—and it didn’t come from the supply side. Initially, the families, active military, and veterans were skeptical of the service, thinking it was a little too good to be true.
Once they'd experienced the service, however, word of mouth spread quickly. But after some growth, suddenly they weren’t getting enough customers for the tickets they had. Rausch wasn’t sure why, so he asked his customers. The answer? “We'd reached the point where veterans who used the service didn’t want other veterans to know about the service because they saw them as competition,” says Rausch. “To solve that problem, we instituted a lottery for great tickets and prizes. Each veteran gets a unique URL or QC Code they can send out to their buddies, and once those buddies sign up and get verified, the veteran gets virtual participation appreciation coins in [their] account. They can use each coin as a chip in the hat for any lottery. So for every buddy you sign up it increases your odds.”
Vet Tix grew quickly again after that. It got a great “veteran wall” and is now working on getting more partners to make the service even better for the people who serve our country.
3. Move Faster in Your Pond: Automate and Systematize
Along the way, Rausch also had to find a way to update the company’s system to handle a large volume of electronic tickets to eliminate postage and man-hours. That’s similar to the problem Jermaine Griggs faced when his business, Hear and Play Music, took off. What he did provides another important lesson in building bigger ponds: If you don’t have the resources or manpower to find a bigger pond, you must do the work to make your business faster and better with communication, automation, and systematization so you find the time to do it.
Griggs grew up in his grandmother’s one-bedroom apartment with his mom and sister, envisioning life on the other side of the tracks. He found it through music, specifically the songs he spent hours learning to play by ear on the piano his grandmother won on The Price Is Right. By the time he was 16, Griggs was teaching people in the neighborhood how to play his way. At 17, he used $70 he saved to buy the domain HearandPlay.com and launched Hear and Play Music, an instructional music company specializing in teaching piano by ear.
Flash forward a decade, and HearandPlay.com is now an international “hub” where more than 2 million aspiring musicians download Griggs’s online lessons every year and 300,000 loyal students receive his newsletters. The company has grossed more than $10 million with no funding, no credit, no investors, and one secret weapon: automation. While studying law and criminology in college, Griggs relied heavily on automated follow-up and marketing processes to run his business while he made good on a promise to his family to graduate college. What resulted was a unique automation strategy and philosophy that he used to build a thriving business.
“Automation levels that used to be achievable only by big companies with huge numbers of customers and shopping data, giant technological infrastructures, and expensive integrated systems that talk to each other are now affordable and possible at the entrepreneurial level,” says Griggs. “Guys like me with a couple of employees can do things like an Amazon or Microsoft and make those processes generate massive prosperity in our businesses.”
As you read this, someone somewhere in the world is reading a personal email from Griggs, receiving a weekly text message or tip, or getting a birthday card or 30-day thank-you letter in the mail, every one of them thinking he's thinking about them because he is.
What Griggs’s success shows is if you invest the time and resources to collect data up front and keep collecting that data through a refined system to really get to know your customers, automation can be exceptionally personal—and personable—and take almost no time when functioning well.
Hear and Play has more than 150 auto-response possibilities based on what a customer clicks, shows interest in, or buys. With every click or purchase tagged, the profile for that customer is refined and a new set of communications is set for their future, based on their actions and interactions with the company. His customer relationship management is like a doctor’s file filled with your entire medical history—available to consult during your next visit and better communicate with you because it looks at that data and talks to you based on what's in that file.
“Because I paid attention to my customers’ individual needs and actions from the beginning, they don’t mind and often never think of my emails and texts as automated,” Griggs says. “I attribute almost all my phenomenal success to the relationships I have with my customers, every bit of which is fueled and strengthened by automated follow-up that comes directly from me—messages and information specifically tailored to them, their interests, behaviors, and needs. They feel personal, not robotic, and even though the correspondence customers get is computer-generated, these systems have grown my bottom line and lifetime customer value by double- and triple-digit percentages!”
How can you get started? Here’s some advice I adapted from Griggs:
- Stop personally doing anything that’s reactive. Stay in the mode of proactive.
- Automate any repetitive tasks immediately. If you have got to say it twice the same way, then make it a system, automate it, and leverage it.
- Outsource anything anyone can do as well or better. Cost, space, and proximity are no longer excuses for not finding help—the world is overflowing with highly qualified vendors.