Do Not Despise these Small Beginnings

There’s a little verse in the Bible that I love and hate.  It’s from the prophet Zechariah and it says this…

“Do not despise these small beginnings.” – Zechariah 4:10

Right now, what we’re building is small. There are just a few of us. We’re a small company with a big mission. Lord willing, one day we will be big.  But instead of bemoaning where we are, I’m trying to rest in it.

Because I got it wrong the first time.

When I look back on my days helping start a church that grew to 1,000 people pretty fast, the days I miss the most were the early days.  When the whole church fit in my living room.  When staff meetings happened at 9pm because that was the only time we could all get tighter.  When a small group of amazing people set out to help change the city.  It was a small beginning but it was an awesome beginning.

In the moment, I hated it. My eyes were on launching, growing, and expanded.  I was on the lookout for what was next and I was ready to smash the next growth barrier.  Always somewhere else but rarely present. I was on a quest for more and a quest like that rarely satisfies.

I despised that small beginning when I was living it but I love that small beginning now that I miss it. I’m determined not to do that this time.

Maybe you’re in a time of humble beginnings.  Your idea is still young, your business is still small, or your organization is still finding it’s way.  Not only is this okay, it’s desirable.  You shouldn’t just NOT DESPISE these times. You should lean into them.

There’s a good chance you’re underestimating what you can do over time. 

When I helped start a church, I wanted it to grow now and grow fast.  Over five years, some would say that happened.  But I didn’t have a 20 or 30 year outlook.  I didn’t have a 50 year outlook.

starbucks-logoI love the story of Starbucks.  Did you know it took Starbucks 20 years to get the business model right and open 100 stores.  Today, they have 18,000 stores, but there was a time not too long ago when they had just a handful.  They weren’t a national brand. They weren’t an industry icon.  It was just a humble beginning.

And it took them the better part of two decades to figure it all out.  I get frustrated if I don’t hit the business equivalent of a home run after a few weeks of focus, yet most companies work, reinvent, work, reinvent, work and reinvent for years before settling into something that’s mildly successful.

Brad Bridges says if you can see all the results of your work, you aren’t thinking far enough into the future.  What a powerful statement!  Parenting is like this (I have a 13 year old right now…pray for me!).  The decisions we’ve made over the last few years with our kids often don’t have immediate results.  We’re not parenting for NOW, we’re parenting for LATER.

When you look at what you’re trying to do, maybe you need to take a much longer view.  Maybe what you’re going through now is for later.

Likewise, you’re probably overestimating what you can do this year.

Just like we underestimate what we can do in 12 years we overestimate what we can do in 12 months.

Because I’m so guilty of short term thinking and tend to despise the small beginnings, I am also tempted to do too much too soon.  If left unchecked, I’ll have my hands in too many things and attach false expectations to them all.  I’ll come up with too many priorities, and you know that means making real progress on none of them.

Remember all those annual goals you set back in January? You have a higher possibility of success of you just focus on one of them.  You’ll actually accomplish more when you try to accomplish less.

Making the Most of Humble Beginnings

Do Not Despise These Small Beginnings

If you’re in a time of small beginnings, I offer these suggestions to help you make the most of these early days.

  1.  Document everything.

The other day, we had a board meeting in Atlanta with all four of the Church Fuel partners.  We didn’t have any fancy presentations in a fancy meeting room. It was just four guys sitting in a hotel lobby talking about what we’ve learned so far and where we want to go.  Jeremie stepped back and snapped a picture from his phone so we would have it for the archives.  He reminded us all of the verse in Zechariah about small beginnings.

Keep trinkets and mementos from the early days.  Take pictures. Hang a dollar on the wall.  These things will have a lot of meaning for you and others in the years to come.

  1.  Enjoy the simplicity and flexibility.

One day, things will be more complicated and more stressful. You might think growth will bring more people to take the pressure off, but the reality is growth brings pressure and responsibility.  While you’re small, enjoy the simplicity and flexibility that comes with it.

Don’t let the vision consume you to the point where you cannot appreciate the fun of where you are now.

  • Your kids are only this age once.
  • Your business is only this nimble now.
  • Your small apartment is easy to clean.  And there’s no mortgage.
  1.  Practice contentment.

Contentment is not a gift, it’s a skill.  You’ve got to practice it.  I know it’s hard because you’re comparing your startup, your organization or your family to someone else.  It’s so easy to look at other things and think you need to work harder to get there faster.

But the dirty secret of success is that if you ask people who look successful, they will tell you they traded away too much to get it.

Don’t look at what you don’t have or wha you can’t do yet…rest in what you do have.  Rest in what you can do.

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Three Ways to Get a Big Mailing List

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Small businesses and major corporations have long known about the power of building an email list for a while now.  But a lot of people still don’t recognize just how important it is.

Whether your business exists online or you’re a brick and mortar shop in a small town, you should build an email list.

Michael Hyatt says, “I have literally built a multi-million dollar business on the strength of my email list.  90% of my income comes from it.  Even today, my list is still my number one business priority – and asset.”

So how to do you get a mailing list?  There are three ways to do it.

#1 – Buy It

The fastest way to get a list is to buy it from one of the many companies that sell them.  For a relatively small amount of money, you can buy a list, dump the addresses into a program like Mailchimp and email away.

But you should’t do this and it’s almost always a waste of money.  The email addresses are probably scraped from websites.  And if they happen to be legitimate opt in email addresses, they opted in on a site where they provided permission for their name to be sold.  And the people on the receiving end of the email didn’t ask to hear from you. . These factors add up to a little wasted money and a lot of wasted time on your part.

To top it all off, sending mass messages through a program like Mailchimp to a list like this is a violation of their terms of service

#2 – Borrow It

The second way you can build a list is to borrow a list from someone who has it. There are a lot of ways to go about this.

You could ask the list-owner to send out an email on your behalf, perhaps offering something free of yours.  Instead of just delivering it, include an opt in link so they can request the freebie and join your list.  This way, you’re picking up email subscribers while offering value.

You could also purchase an email advertisement. You could buy a banner ad in an email or an entire HTML email sent to your targeted list.  So far, we’ve done this twice with Church Fuel.  One time it worked really well and the other time the results were awful.

You could  borrow someone’s influence and use it to build your list. That’s what we did at The Rocket Company when we interviewed well-known pastors or hosted topic-driven webinars.  People signed up for events or webinars because of the name recognition of our guests.  In a way, we borrowed their influence to build our list.

#3 – Build It

The best way to get a list is to build it yourself. This is much slower than buying it, but it’s far more effective. Why? Because the people who end up on your list want to be there; they want to hear from you.

When you create valuable, relevant content – whether it’s a blog, podcast, eBook, webinar, or video series – people will want it.  They will gladly pay with their email address.  This is the heart of content marketing.

When you create something of value and offer it to people, they will join your list to get it. We’ve had great success with this strategy. Here are some of our Church Fuel freebies.

  • People join our mailing list to get a free ebook on a topic they care about.
  • People opt in to see a webinar or training video on something they need help with.
  • People subscribe because they want help and they trust us to provide it.

When you build your mailing list using this method, the list is better and you’re able to be more helpful.

What’s Your Next Step?

A lot of my readers are business leaders or entrepreneurs. Others are pastors or church leaders. If you fall into that second camp and are interested in content marketing or list building for your church, check out our latest course at Church Fuel.  It’s called Content Marketing for Churches and it will help you implement a proven system for growth in your church.  If you run a business or a non-profit, the ideas I teach will still work for you.

You can also download a free eBook on this topic or watch a free video series.

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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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