Recently, as I was clearing out my study, I came across an old exercise book that I had used, about twelve years ago, to brainstorm the things I felt were important in my life. At the end of the brainstorming session, which I can still recall very clearly, I had a vision and had set myself a number of very big goals. It was very interesting to look down that list, after such a long time had passed, and realise that many of the goals I had set myself had now become reality.
Not all of them had materialised. One goal I had decided to, at least, defer because I had come to realise that the effort involved in attending to that particular goal would mean I would not be able to pursue the most important goal I had set, which was to create an online income. That goal has been a major focus over the past six years as I have built my website and gradually figured out what works and what doesn’t. I have learned such a lot in that time, but when I think about it, most of the lessons I have learned seem so obvious to me now¸ in retrospect. This, of course, is the important difference between head-knowledge and real know-how (see Tacit Knowledge).
When I look at the importance of strategy, for example, in forming an online business, it seems so obvious now that you absolutely do need one. Strategy is, of course, how you plan to win the game. But when I started, I just didn’t have a proper strategy. I had a vision and some strategic goals, and that was a good start, but I didn’t have a plan and I just didn’t think about branding.
My strategy was never intended, instead, it actually emerged from the activity in which I became engaged. This is what Mintzberg calls patterns in his four Ps of strategy: plan, perspective, position and patterns. Plans, perspectives (vision) and positioning (marketing term) are all intended strategies; patterns emerge from activity. In my case I just kept throwing the sticky stuff at the brick wall until, eventually, some of it actually stuck on there, finally – just trial and error.
Perhaps this is not the best or most optimal method for getting anywhere, but in the absence of a plan, you certainly could do worse simply by taking no action at all. Once a few things started to work for me, I simply began to do more of what was working and less of what was not, and the things that were working then became my adopted strategy. If you are running, or intending to run, an online business, I commend you to take a Look at Mintzberg’s four Ps and review your own strategy:
- Perspective – you need a vision
- Plan – you need a plan
- Position – you need to think about your brand
- Patterns – if all else fails, get cracking anyway and watch your results
Now, after six years of solid effort, I can truly say that I finally have all four of these things in place. I understand my brand (positioning). I know why people would want to purchase my main product from me. I understand my USPs (unique selling proposition) and I know why it is difficult for other people to compete with me in my chosen field. I understand the barriers to entry and I have a plan which, for me, is a real pleasure to be able to say.
Personally, I have never really been much of a planner. I have always preferred to just get stuck in and correct things along the way. It’s a method of working that suits me, but it is definitely not the optimal way of working. With a plan, you spend time up front doing your thinking and you get rewarded for that investment over and over again because you don’t have to make as many tweaks and changes of direction as I typically do. So now, with my plan, I know how to get to where I am going. I always knew the destination (my vision), but I didn’t previously know the route (plan); now I do.
Having a plan means that I can stop finding new things to do just to try them out and see if they actually work in practice. I know my plan will work because it involves a repeatable cycle of activity that I have proved to myself actually works. Finally, I have been able to connect cause and effect in my online success – I did this and it produced that. Previously, I was really unable to connect cause and effect so precisely because of the latency involved with techniques such as SEO (search engine optimisation) plus my lack of tracking ability.
It is a wonderful place to be when you finally know that what you are about to do (your plan) will yield the results you want because it then simply becomes a matter of effort – something I have never been short on. As someone once said, “you first plan your work and then you must work your plan”. Remember, you do still need to think of those other things. You need a vision, mission and goals and you need to understand your brand. But, don’t let the lack of any of these things stop you from actually beginning because, like me, perhaps you may need to work some of it out as you go along.