Eternity Changers: The Power of Numerical Goals

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In January of this year, I sat down and created goals for myself in my ministry. I said that I wanted to write more, have more followers, etc. In April, I revisited the goals and realized that everyone was too fuzzy. How much more is “write more”? How many more followers are there in “more followers”? Maybe I’d hit my goals, but maybe I hadn’t.

I set out to get firmer goals. I decided on a few key areas. I wanted 20,000 twitter followers, 100 FaceBook page fans, 200 YouTube subscribers, and a few other metrics. Now, I’ve hit two of those three and still have work to do on the third. That tells me where to concentrate my efforts. Also, as I look past at this year from April on, I can tell that while I’m headed in the right direction on YouTube subscribers, I’m not sure that I’m going fast enough to get the 54 I still need.

So, why am I so concerned about these things? I don’t want you to think that I’m a genius who touches things and they turn to gold. The truth is that I’m still struggling to get to where I want to get.

My business is profitable. I can honestly say that I make more than I spend, but the reason for this is that I’m not paying myself very much. I actually need to make more. I don’t need to make a million dollars a year. I would like to consistently make more than minimum wage, though.

So, I decided that I’d start measuring markers that I’m headed the right direction. I don’t know how long it will take to get me where I want to go, but I do know that I should be seeing signs of more influence as I get closer.

I think of it as a trip. If I were driving to Las Vegas from my home in Kentucky, but didn’t know how far it was, part of the way I could know that I was making progress is by certain indicators. If the land starts to get flatter, that tells me I’m going west toward Vegas. If it gets more mountainous, I’m probably headed toward West Virginia, in the wrong direction.

If after the large areas of flat land, I start to see larger mountains, I’m headed toward the Rockies and I’m getting closer. If I cross the Rockies and enter the desert, I’m getting very close indeed.

Success can be like that. In my business, I know that influence precedes money. So does gratitude. As those increase, it’s proof that I’m going the right direction.

If they decrease, I’m going the wrong direction.

I think of influence as an exercise in scouring the world for the people who’d be interested in what I’m trying to teach. I don’t expect that everyone will have interest. In fact most won’t. With a little over 7 billion people on this planet, I actually need very little of the population to care at all. Let’s say, just for argument sake, I need 100,000 people to know what I do and care. That’s just 1/700th of 1%. I just need to find them. It’s like a needle in a haystack, but it’s worth doing.

So, are there 100,000 (for the sake of a round number) people out there that would care, if they knew? I think so. I think I’d go farther than that and say that there are probably that many people who are searching for solutions that only I can provide at present.

How do I find them? I blog. I make videos that I upload to YouTube. I podcast. I guest post on other blogs. I Tweet. I Facebook, I use Pinterest. I do everything I can think of to get more and more people to notice what I’m doing.

This isn’t because I think I’m special; this is because I genuinely want to help them. Let’s look at it from their perspective. If you’re looking for answers to questions and you can’t find them, aren’t you frustrated? Now, what if you’re looking for those answers and someone tells you where to find them, aren’t you grateful? I’d be happy not to have to search any longer.

That’s why I’m doing all these things and measuring the return. As I’m measuring, it tells me how close I am. That tells me if I need to try something else or not.

I’ve been very surprised at how much experimentation is involved in being an entrepreneur. You can read books, hire consultants, and surround yourselves with mentors, but when it comes down to it, some answers won’t emerge until you try out a lot of options.

Probably the best way to do this is the “A/B split test” method. Try to do two things, one with one group and another with the other. In order to get good results you need to go with the largest group you can. If you test out a page on two groups of 20, your results won’t be as reliable as if you test it on two groups of 200 or 2,000 or even 20,000 or more.

Your intuition that people like links on Twitter (or whatever) should be tested repeatedly with as many variables removed as possible. Record the results; don’t trust “it feels like I got more interactions here” because “feels like” or “I think” aren’t as reliable as “20 retweets today and 5 yesterday.”

Repeating a test, helps eliminate variables, too. It could be that you chose to test on a day and time when your normal audience is otherwise occupied, so you get skewed results. Imagine you decided to test if your newsletter subscribers are more likely to open a newsletter with a creative headline or a more predictable one like “ Newsletter for (today’s date).”

I actually tested this out for three weeks straight with different splits of my subscribers. I thought that given the fact that I talk about creativity in a lot of what I do, I’d get more responses with creative titles, but I was wrong. Every time I send the “boring title” newsletter, it got more responses.

This got me thinking. Where had I assumed one thing and not tested it to prove that it was true?

Perhaps content doesn’t drive traffic or maybe videos aren’t a great way to communicate. Now I’m testing these things to see what the results are. I’m blogging these chapters as well as my normal content this month to see if I get more visitors with more content.

Later, I might try and see if I don’t post links to my videos if my unique visitor count goes up or not. I care more about finding out what works than I do about holding on to what I’ve done before.

You might think this is all cold and calculating, but I disagree. Let me compare it to another situation where numbering people is the best thing you can do.

If you’re taking your kids and some of their friends to a few different places for an outing or a party, how do you make sure that you’ve got them all when it’s time to leave? You count. “Let’s see, I had 8 earlier and now I’ve got 7, some one’s missing.” You count them because you care, not because they’re “just a number.”

If I want to help as many people as I can, shouldn’t I pay attention to whether I’m getting more people to help? I should. It’s just shorthand to use numbers instead of their names. If you knew all your kids’ friends, you might say, “I’m missing Charlie or Janie,” but if you don’t, just knowing that one is missing is a great first step.

I want you to think of your audience as people with hopes and dreams. The need to be real to you, people that have problems that are painful enough that they want you to solve them.

As you’re making your product, as you’re reaching out to them, you’ll make different decisions if you don’t stop at “I used to have 3,037 on my mailing list and now I have 2,941,” but proceed to the question of why you lost people. Did you decide to put money ahead of their needs? Did you say something offensive? Maybe you didn’t do any of that and people just decided to leave. That’s fine. Just ask the question.

This can go too far, though. Some people will leave because they shouldn’t have been there to begin with. Perhaps they’ve learned what they wanted to learn. Maybe they lost interest in your topic. Whatever the reason, it’s okay to let some people go.

Just keep in mind that you want to both care for everyone who’s part of the community you build and let them go, not jealously guarding them like a cable company trying to keep a subscriber. You should care that they leave, but not send them so many offers to stay that it sounds like you’re desperate.

While it’s the case that attracting new people is much harder than keeping the old ones, you want to balance, solving problems that might cause them to leave with being too eager for them to stay. Your audience isn’t your spouse; don’t cross the line and act as though they are.

One thing that needs to be said that some big companies haven’t figured out is that at a certain point, you will saturate the market. You’ll never get to the point where you have 100% adoption, but at some point, depending on what you’re doing, you’ll get as high as you’re going to get unless something changes.

Think of it this way. When you first start hitting your stride, you might experience double digit growth percentages year after year for a while. When this stops, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It might just mean that you have a loyal customer base and you’re in a period where you can’t get a much higher percentage than what you already have with the way things are.

Mixing it up might change this. Apple was a boutique computer manufacturer for years until they started selling the iPod. Before that growth peaked, they started selling the iPhone. Before the iPhone ran its course, they started selling the iPad. As a result, their computer market share increased because people started to wonder if Apple computers worked like their i-devices.

I’ve seen tons of companies try everything they could think of to gain market share after their peak. Few try pivoting into other markets that interact with their primary one.

There comes a time when your growth as a company will stagnate. Expect it and deal with it, but don’t think “I’m just not reaching the right customers” because you’ve probably already reached them and they’re not interested.

Try something new, but related instead and see if that changes who you’re attracting. Measure what you try and experiment until you get it right.

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