The One Thing That Will Make Your Business Grow

The company was called The Change Group and we helped pastors raise money.

When I stepped into this startup, annual sales were about $450,000.  Three years later, we had reinvented the brand and revenue topped $2 Million.  We won a marketing award and were listed at #602 on the Inc5000 list.

Three years of rapid growth.  Enviable growth.

People often ask me about what caused The Rocket Company to grow.

  • Was it the switch from consulting to online courses?
  • Was it the partnership with Jeff that led to the involvement of Andy?
  • Was it enlarging the brand and launching other courses like Preaching Rocket and Volunteer Rocket?
  • Was it the discovery of InfusionSoft and the world of online marketing?
  • Was is Michael or Casey or the quality work from the quality team?

It was none of those things.

And it was all of those things.

There wasn’t one single discovery or one change in focus that led to explosive growth. I’d like to think the revenue growth chart coincided with my leadership, but that wasn’t it. It was all of these things working together, plus a little luck thrown into the mix.

We like to look for the silver bullet, but in my experience, it’s the consistent firing of the six-shooter that leads to results. We’d like to think a superhero hire will safe the day, but it’s the consistent, quality work of a good team that leads to results.

Silver Bullet Thinking

Of course it helped for Jeff to interview Andy for the first big online event.  But that alone wouldn’t have led to sustained growth.  Maybe a spike, but not a solid uphill climb.

Of course it helped to build a bigger brand and launch a more professional looking website.  But no matter what designers tell you, a new logo or website without a corresponding growth strategy will just make you look better on your road to mediocre results.

The growth of a company is like the growth of a child. It’s not any one thing, it’s all of the things.  Eat right, go to school, good friends, time with parents…it all matters because it all works together.

Anytime someone reduces a large-scale victory down to one single moment or one single element, decision or person, they aren’t telling the whole story.  They are leaving out other details to simplify the story. “We were struggling and then we made this one change and it made all the difference in the world,” sounds great, but it stops short of capturing the total solution.

  • All you have to do lose weight is count calories.
  • If you would just switch to this software, you’ll have results.
  • If we could only staff this one position, things would be different.
  • If we could just get this famous person to tweet about our product, sales would explode.

Nope, nope and more nope.

That’s silver bullet, superhero thinking and it won’t produce the results you’re looking for.

It’s not any one thing.  It’s all the things.

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Behind the Startup – Our Mission and Vision

This is the fourth post in a series called “Behind the Startup.”  First, we talked about choosing a name.  Then, I shared the struggle of building a brand.  Third, I wrote about building a team. In this post, we’ll talk about the difference between mission and vision and I’ll share what I hope we accomplish.

Before becoming the secretary of the Smithsonian, Samuel Pierpont Langley was an assistant at the Harvard College Observatory. Two good jobs at two prestigious organizations.

Langley was also well-connected. He was friends with Andrew Carnegie and Alexander Graham Bell. Two good people to know.

Samuel_Pierpont_Langley_-_Potomac_experiment_1903

And when he set out to be the first person to achieve manned flight, the War Department gave him funding. He assembled the best and brightest minds to work on this project. Reporters from The New York times followed his progress. Everything was stacked in his favor.

He dreamed of being rich and famous. And he wanted to be first person to fly in an airplane.

A few hundred miles away in Dayton Ohio, Orville and Wilber Wright were also building a flying machine. They had no funding and received no grants. They had no connections and little education. All they had was a dream. On December 17, 1903, they flew 120 feet in the air.

Langley quit.

This isn’t a David vs. Goliath story, it’s a story about what drives you.  Langley had everything going for him, but his desire to be first was ultimately a shallow reason to work hard.  His why was weak. The Wright Brothers were driven by something much, much deeper.  It was more than being first or being famous. Their heart drove their hustle.

There comes a time (and the sooner the better) that every organization comes face to face with why they exist.  Whether you’re a 100 year old company, a non-profit organization, or a startup, you must find your purpose.

Finding Our Why

Start With Why, by Simon Sinek is one of the best leadership books I’ve read.  It’s a compelling argument for working hard to define a strong purpose and a sense of mission.  Your mission is why you exist.  Your purpose is the reason you do what you do.

In a way, your mission is never accomplished. You’re not going to wake up one day and say, “Great, we did that, now what?.”  It’s something you strive for – a goal you’re always reaching to reach.  It’s supposed to be this way because your mission has got to be deep.

When I was pastoring a local church, our mission was to lead people from where they are to where God wanted them to be.  That was our purpose and reason to exist.  There was never going to come a day when we would say, “We’re done with that.”  Our vision, on the other hand, was much more tangible and short term.  It had a number and a date in it.

Your competition can copy your strategy, but they can’t copy your why, says Sinek.  When you’ve got a clearly stated Why, anyone in the organization an make a decision as clearly and accurate as the founder, he says.

So what’s the mission of Church Fuel?  We provide insanely practical resources to move the church forward. We’re all about the local church, and we’re about providing practical resources to pastors. There will always be churches and they will always need real help. That’s what drives us.

Interestingly enough, getting clarity about our why is one thing.  The discipline to stay true to that purpose is something else entirely.

The Difference Between Mission and Vision

I use the terms purpose and mission interchangeably. Both describe the why factor for any organization and both are never really accomplished.

But vision is different. While your mission will never be accomplished, you should be able to accomplish your vision in a set amount of time.  You should be able to check it off a list.  You should reach it and say to yourself, “What’s next?” Your mission needs a deep sense of why but your vision needs a calendar and a timeline.  If your mission is the direction you’re going, your vision is the next exit on the road trip.

Every organization needs a clear mission – you’ll wander from idea to idea without one.  But you also need a compelling vision – a picture of the future.  When you cast vision, you’re telling people, “Here’s what it looks like in the next couple of years as we work on our mission.”

Learning to Cast Vision from a Software Company

We use a software tool called Infusionsoft to power the backend of our business. We use it for email communication, database management and shopping cart stuff.  It’s a great all-in-one tool for us.

But what I really love about InfusionSoft is the company. The software is great but the company is even better.  Every time I’ve gone out there, whether it’s for a coaching session, a conference, or a seminar, I’ve been inspired to focus on casting a big vision.

InfusionSoft says their purpose is to help small businesses succeed.  That’s a powerful why!  Their mission (they use the word mission like I’m using the word mission) is to create and dominate the market of all-in-one sales and marketing software for small business.  But they break it down even further with the mountain metaphor, boldly printed in their main office area on these two big doors.

2014-10-14 11.30.16

By 2016, they want to have 100,000 customers, employ 1,000 people and do $200 Million in revenue. That’s a big vision.  But it’s also clear and specific.  And unlike the mission, it’s got numbers and dates.

For Church Fuel, our mission is to provide insanely practical resources that move the church forward.  And our vision for the next few years is to serve 5,000 senior pastors on a regular basis. One day, we’re going to check that off and ask ourselves, “What’s next?”

Niches Lead to Riches

I only know a couple of things about Cleveland.

It’s the home of Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.  I’m glad they got LeBron because I remember feeling so sorry for them during the Mark Price, Craig Ehlo days. They always seemed to lose to Jordan’s Bulls. Then again, everybody seemed to lose to Jordan and the Bulls.

A few years back, I started learning about content marketing and it’s become a huge part of my business philosophy. And Cleveland is home to Content Marketing World, a great conference.

I attended a session led by Andrew Davis, and it was a highlight of the conference.  Andrew talked about niching your marketing and communication down to a super-specific audience. He used examples like the Tractor Supply Store going after hobby farmers who keep chickens in their backyard.  Not all farmers, backyard chicken homestead farmers.  He challenged all of us to make a fractal tree, thinking about your audience and then adding branches that got more and more specific.

That’s the power of a niche.

This is a tough one for me because I want everybody to be a potential customer.  But over and over again, I’m reminded if you aim for everyone you will reach no one. Maybe you’re going to broad in your business?  Maybe focusing on one segment would actually lead to greater growth?

I saw it the other day when I drove past a mom and pop pet store in a strip mall.  This pet shop was less than a block away from a nationally-known chain store.  And it was 1/4 a mile away from a second one.

How in the world could this pet store compete? What could they possibly offer that the two big box stores couldn’t?

The pet store was all about reptiles.  Not pets, but snakes and lizzards.  They carved out a niche, and it turns out, this pet store has been there for a while.

In an article every business leader should read, Kevin Kelly writes about 1,000 true fans. He says everyone can create a product, service or company to reach 1,000 true fans.

You don’t need a hit to survive.  You don’t need to aim for the short head of best-sellerdom to escape the long tail. There is a place in the middle, that is not very far away from the tail, where you can at least make a living. That mid-way haven is called 1,000 True Fans. It is an alternate destination for an artist to aim for.

Ironically, when you go after a niche, you will have more success honing your voice and finding your customers.  Turns out, there are more than enough backyard chicken farmers or reptile lovers to sustain a market.  The small niche might be larger than you think.

This brings me to the idea of the target customer.  What niche are we going to target with Church Fuel?  Senior pastors, lead pastors and campus pastors of evangelical churches who want to grow.

We’re going to create insanely practical resources for senior leaders in the church.  Not for the church itself, but for the leader of the church. Not for all the various staff members or volunteers in the church, but for the leaders in the church.  We want to be THE place senior leaders go for practical help.

The goal of business isn’t to do business with anyone who wants what you have. It’s to find and resource people who believe what you believe.  Senior Pastors are part of a tribe of people who think a certain way.  They occupy unique leaderships positions and have unique struggles.  Heck, I’ve been one.

So as we build this company, we’re building it with a strong mission, a clear vision and a focused audience.

Now, let’s see if it works.

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Stop Seeking So Much Advice

A few years ago, I was facing a big decision at work.  I talked to a friend who gave me some great advice.  Then I talked to a coach who gave me a different perspective.  I talked to a third person and my thinking was challenged yet again.  Believe it or not, seeking advice paralyzed my decision making.

In The 12 Week Year, Brian P. Moran says an annual plan can actually keep people from accomplishing their goals. We have the unspoken belief that there is plenty of time in the year to make things happen. In January, December looks like a long way off, so we can wait on results.  A good thing can become the very thing that leads to inaction.

Looking back on my situation, who knows who was right?  Maybe they all were. But I let the volume of advice keep me from making a decision. I was drowning in advice and delayed making a decision.

Failure usually happens alone but success always comes with counsel.  But maybe you’re allowing too much counsel to lead you to inaction. If this resonates with you, here are four suggestions.

  1.  Find two or three people you respect and dive deep.

About ten years ago, my friend Mike told me something I’ve never forgotten. He said, “If you follow one person, you’ll become a clone.  If you follow 10 people, you’ll be confused.”  They key he said, was to have two or three advisors who you trust deeply and leaning on them

I’ve spent a few years now coaching preachers and public speakers and I’ve seen this quote in action.  Some preachers model their approach after their favorite speaker and end up sounding like a clone.  They don’t create; they copy.  And it comes off all wrong.

Instead, find two or three people you respect and really learn from them.  Don’t just look at their style; look at how they do what they do.  Don’t just study their tactics; uncover their philosophies.

  1.  When looking for a mentor, the most important question to ask is “Do I want to be like them?”

A lot of my business happens online. For this reason, I work hard to stay on top of online marketing strategies and tactics.  Honestly, this is a pretty shady industry.  For example:

  • People send out automated, pre-scheduled emails saying the response to an offer crashed the servers.  How could a server crash be scheduled in advance?
  • Marketers often create fake scarcity, saying they only have 100 discount codes. In reality, it’s a standing offer.  Or there’s a countdown timer for when the offer expires, but if you visit the page a week later, the countdown timer starts over.
  • We’re taught how to tell stories that highlight the fear of the worst case scenario or the fear of missing out.

There are masterminds that costs tens of thousands of dollars, courses that cost $2k or more, and free books that aren’t really free and lead to a sales pitch.  All of this stuff really works.  And that’s the problem.

But just because something works doesn’t mean that something is good. There are a lot of people who can give you good advice or teach you a tactic, and while you can learn from anyone and anything, be careful who you emulate.

That’s why the most important question you can ask yourself about potential mentors is “Do I want to BE like them?”  Yes, you can separate tactics from character, but why force yourself to make that distinction?  If you’re looking for a marriage counselor, look for someone who has a masters degree and has been happily married to one person.  And if you’re looking for a business coach, look for someone who is leading a good business whose kids still love her.

  1.  Don’t be afraid to pay for coaching.

Meeting a friend for lunch to pick their brain is a great thing.  I’m grateful to have friends like this, and I hope I’m that kind of friend to others.

But there comes a time when you need to hire people and pay for coaching.  I haven’t always done this and I wish I had started sooner.  Right now, I’m going through one of those expensive online courses (it’s excellent and worth every penny).  I’m paying a business coach and talk to him on a regular basis. It’s money well spent, because it’s advice that I trust.

Maybe you should stop asking so many people for free advice and start paying a professional for counsel.  If you’re facing a challenge and you’re thinking “what’s the cheapest way I could get through this problem” that’s a big mistake.

  1.  Mentor someone else first.

The best way to learn the art of mentoring (and find good mentors) is to BE a good mentor. Find someone a step or two behind where you are and start pouring into them.  Teach them what you know and you’ll probably learn something in the process.

You have something to offer people. You have experiences, successes and failures and there will never be a better time for you to start pouring into people.  I know you don’t really have the time (the people you ask for advice don’t have the time either), but you’ll quickly find making time for this feels right.  Help somebody and be helped in the process.

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Five Hard Truths About Starting a Business

Last year, I sold my stake in a successful, growing business and launched out on my own. It was a good decision I do not regret, but it wasn’t without risk.

It’s exciting to be your own boss and run your own business, but it’s also hard work. Anyone who tells you different is just trying to sell you something.

It’s amazing to be able to take your wife to a movie on Friday morning and set your own schedule, but the bills are still due on time and the money comes from my own bank account.

You should start your own business. Maybe it’s a full-time, jump-off-the-cliff thing. Or maybe it’s something on the side. But it’s a good thing to build your own dreams instead of working to build someone else’s.

But I want you to know what you’re getting into. I want to share five hard truths about starting your own business.

#1 – There is no “somebody.”

Church Fuel has two employees – Rob and myself. And neither of us have received a paycheck. We’re self funding all of the startup costs through early sales and hoping our ideas gain traction.

Between the two of us, we’re doing everything. And for many entrepreneurs, it’s even more lonely than that. You might be the only one working on your business.

The small workforce means that if something needs to be done, we’ve got to do it. There’s no “somebody.”

Does that term ever come up in conversations? Someone needs to put it on the website. Someone needs to make a decision on pricing. Someone needs to call those clients.

There is no somebody. Well, technically there is…it’s ME!

If it’s going to go on the website, I’m going to put it there. If a decision needs to be made, all eyes are on me. If a client needs a phone call, I better start dialing. I’m the sales department and Rob is it IT department. He’s in charge of a ridiculous amount of things and I’m doing things I have no business doing.

Starting a business means you have to do things you don’t like doing or you’re not really good at doing. For all the talk about finding your dream or working out of your passion, there’s flat out hard work that needs to be done in any startup. It won’t be glamorous and it will have little to do with your life calling.

Yes, you should get in your sweet spot. Yes, you should work from your strengths. Yes, you should delegate. But early on, there is nobody else. These books about finding your passion and living your dream often leave out the part about, you know, reality. Some people are so addicted to vision, passion and causes they don’t know how to do the things that must be done. Some of the things you do in business don’t have ultimate purpose or lead to life fulfillment. It’s just…work.

Somebody doesn’t have a business card.
Somebody doesn’t have a job description.
Somebody doesn’t have an office.

You do.

#2 – There’s always a learning curve.

We started Church Fuel to provide insanely practical resources to move the church forward. I love the church and I love business, so I started a business to help the church. That’s what I love.

Not InfusionSoft.

Not WordPress plugins.

Not payroll, merchant processors, or legal contracts.

Passion alone can’t run a business. It turns out, a lot of knowledge and know-how is required.

But here’s the good news. We live in a time where if you want to know something you can go learn it. You can read blogs and listen to podcasts. You can read a book, representing years of research and expertise. There are conferences and cohorts and online classes. These times really are amazing. Everything you need to know about any topic in the world probably has a YouTube channel.

We decided that InfusionSoft – an all in one sales and marketing solution – would power our business. And while I used it in a previous company, I didn’t understand how it worked. I could create the strategy but I couldn’t do anything with the software. That wasn’t going to be good enough this time around.

So Rob and I went to InfusionSoft University in Phoenix. It’s the software that powers our business and we needed to learn how to use it. It’s not the simplest thing in the world, but we got through enough of the learning curve to get it working. This cost us thousands of dollars and we spent it before the company generated $1 in revenue.

In the last six months, I’ve learned more than I thought I needed to know about merchant processing, project management tools, payroll taxes and dozens of other boring but important topics. The learning curve ain’t sexy.

But it’s supposed to be this way. Getting through the curve is what’s going to separate you from the other idea-filled wannabes and get you into the world of hustlers who know how to make things happen.

You may know a lot about your subject matter, but you’ve got to learn a lot about how to run a business.

# 3 – It’s probably not going to work.

After we learned how to use InfusionSoft and built a small mailing list, we created our first product – a 12-month coaching program called The Year of Healthy Systems.

We added the digital resource to our online shopping cart and set up the payment terms. But we forgot to set up the confirmation page, so when people hit submit, all they saw was a blank screen. They went back in their browser and tried again, eventually giving up.

But in reality, each of those transactions went though. They just were’t redirected to the proper confirmation page. And since those products were subscriptions, not only were they billed, they were billed again 30 days later.

Oops.

And the name of the product didn’t really work either. Nobody wants to spend a year doing anything. People want instant help, so putting the word “year” in the title turned out to be a big mistake.

Rob fixed the billing issues and we changed the name of the product to The Systems Course. And we’re still finding with the pricing models.

The reality of starting a business is that what you do first often doesn’t work. You have to walk this tightrope between strong belief in your idea and the willingness to adapt. Mike Tyson says everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. That’s definitely true in the business world. Beautiful business plans often don’t survive first contact with real customers.

The reality of being an entrepreneur is that what you do often doesn’t work.

I’ve met so many people who started something that didn’t work but ended up giving up too fast. They moved on to the next idea before hustling on the last idea. It’s a vicious pattern for the impatient entrepreneur.

# 4 – There’s never enough time.

I use a task manager called Things to keep track of all my action items. I love this little program because it handles repeating tasks and syncs with all my devices.

There’s also a folder called Someday. You see, every task gets a due date. But the items are put in the Someday folder don’t. I’ll just get to them someday.

The items in the someday folder are growing.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve got way more ideas than I have time to execute them. As a company, we have products in line for production and campaigns that need work. But we don’t have enough time to do it.

And that’s the reality of business (life, really). There’s never enough time for all the projects. You have to be selective. You have to strategically say no.

More time is a myth. It’s related the the more money or more influence myth and it comes from a scarcity mindset. I’m never going to have more time. I have the same amount of time as Albert Einstein or Mother Theresa. It’s what I choose do do with the time I have that matters.

#5 – It’s not glamorous.

I recently spent two days with a client in California.

You might hear that and think I’m lucky to be able to travel to such exciting places.

But while I was there, I visited the inside of an office, the fellowship hall of a church, and the Holiday Inn. I was there working, not sightseeing. I’m sure Los Angeles is great, but I mostly saw the freeway.

That’s more or less how business travel goes. It sounds exciting to visit all these places, but I mostly see the airports and meeting rooms.

One of the guys asked me if my clients ever took me out to play golf. I told him I thought this was a great idea. Then we got back to work.

Starting a business is a lot like business travel. Because movies get made and articles get written about successful startups, everyone things they are glamorous. I’m not complaining – far from it! I’m thankful to do what I do.

But the reality is that starting something on your own is not always glamorous.

Chances are, your startup isn’t going to be acquired by Google. You’re not going to be profiled in the magazines or honored with awards. It’s far more likely you will do the work of two people until you can scrape enough money together to hire one other person.

Startup work isn’t glamorous, it’s ordinary. That’s the hard truth.

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Heroes, Finding Mentors and Getting Good

If you want to get good at something, you need to do three things.

  1. Learn.With all the books, articles, podcasts, conferences and courses to you, you’ve got plenty of opportunities.
  1. Practice.Knowledge alone won’t make you an expert – you’ve got to practice and this is hard work.
  1. Get a coach.Even with knowledge and practice, you’re missing the secret sauce.  You need a coach and a mentor.

But finding a coach or a mentor can be tough.

Maybe you’ve asked someone to mentor you but that relationship never got traction. Maybe you’ve met someone for coffee but it never grew beyond that. Maybe you’ve sent a few emails to people you respect, but they didn’t have time for a mentoring relationship.

Here are some ideas and strategies to help you find (and learn from) the right mentor.

You need mentors and heroes.

The most famous and successful person in your industry might not be the best mentor.  In my business, I work with pastors and church leaders. It’s easy to look to the pastors of successful mega-churches as mentors, but it’s more likely these are heroes.

Your mentor doesn’t have to be in the same industry.

You’re looking for someone who has broken through similar issues, not necessarily someone who works in your exact industry.  If you’re an aspiring filmmaker looking to build an agency, you could learn from the small town doctor who grew her practice to five specialists.

Look for someone two steps ahead of you.

If you’re the pastor of a 150 member church, look for a mentor who has led trough that type of growth in recent years.  If you’re running a restaurant and want to franchise, the McDonalds model might not work from you. Look locally and find someone who opened a second location.

Offer value.

I’ve been guilty of taking time, energy and resources from people ahead of me and failing to offer value to them.  Instead of thinking “what can I get” ask yourself “what can I offer.”  One quick tip…offering to buy a mentor a $3 cup of coffee is nice, but her time and expertise is worth so much more.  That’s not really the kind of value they are looking for.

Hire professionals.

I hope you have an extensive network of friends and family who love to hear your ideas.  But there’s absolutely no substitute for HIRING a coach.  You don’t need to pick their brain, you need to pay for their services.

Be a mentor.

When I was starting out in business, I hoped someone would take me under their wing and show me the ropes. But hope isn’t a good strategy for much of anything. One of the best things you can do to find mentors is start giving away your time.

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