The other day I had coffee with a friend who was struggling with her business. Their financial year had just wrapped up and the results proved what she already understood – it had been a tough year. However, deep down we knew the direction she was heading in was right – the principles were sound. It was just the implementation that needed work.
I think of principles as the “why” parts of a business, the overarching reasons the business does what it does. They are the bits that the owner stands for – the parts that force you to take those hard decisions. The middle of the Simon Sinek bullseye for the company.
When I set up Ark Advance in 2002 I had two core principles I wanted to apply. As the years have progressed a few more have been added. There are not dozens – probably fewer than ten. However, there have been times where I would have just loved to ditch each and every one of them to make life easier.
But unfortunately principles are not like that. They are part of you and so long as you remain true to yourself then they just sit there – guiding you forward and calling you to task along the way. Visions of my mother remind me of this fact.
My Mum was a quietly spoken person who believed in the principle of fairness. (It’s something I believe in too.) One situation in particular sticks in my memory.
Our home in England had as neighbours the local Anglican Church. All was going well until a new vicar arrived and decided to put up a two-metre high black fence along our border without talking to Mum. Effectively, it blocked the view out the front of our house across the nice church grounds towards the vicarage.
I still remember to this day the vision of my five foot Mum in her mid 50s trying to push the fence over from our side – while the six foot tall Vicar was on the other side trying, quite unsuccessfully I may add, to keep it up. Principles make you do that – fight and push and generally keep going when things are against you.
So here are four of mine for Ark Advance.
#1 It’s all worth zip if nothing gets sold.
I sold offset business printing on commission for many years, probably one of the more competitive markets to make a living in. My boss used to chase us out of the office at 9am to knock on doors – cold call style – to make our budget. We were allowed back in at 4.30pm to write up our orders. If we had any. Walking down the street going door to door is probably the least efficient way ever to market a business. Unless, that is, you pay people only when they sell – then it makes perfect sense.
The directors knew this and paid you well IF you made the sale. They had the numbers dialed in. Each drove around in the latest Jaguar sports cars and the company invested in high end printing machinery from Japan.
The simplicity of their sales model was a charm.
Compare that to all the marketing and sales options available, now that most offices stop cold calling reps turning up at their door. In online alone you have social media, search with all its different facets, email marketing and even remarketing. More options than most have time to explore.
However, what hasn’t changed is that it’s all worth zip if something isn’t sold to someone. Forget the razzmatazz of this technology over that one. The end goal remains the same.
#2 It’s David against Goliath, and we provide the slingshot.
A few large US tech corporates control an ever-increasing slice of the online space you market within. And yep, the dice are loaded heavily in their favour. They can and do change the game on a frequent basis and you are left to react as quickly as the rest.
Small to medium sized companies are only allowed to interact with these brands through script-driven call centres. Fairness has nothing to do with the situation. It’s market economics on a global scale that means a few can control so much.
Nevertheless, there are ways to make things work in your favour. It’s not about doing the same thing the big brands do. Their budgets are crazy and you will never get the same access they do. For you, it’s about finding the nooks and crannies in the online marketing space where, at the right price, you can locate the right prospect, win their attention, and convince them to do the right thing. Our job is to show you where these places are and then hand you the tools to achieve your goals.
#3 Process delivers repeatable success
Ever press the “send” button on an email campaign going to a half a million people? Our team do on a regular basis. The only way I can have them do this is by supporting them with a process that works. We would have over a hundred steps an email campaign needs to follow to ensure it is launched to spec – a similar number to setting up a good paid advertising campaign. So when things go awry it’s the process that’s called to task first, not the team member.
#4 The truth is in the data.
It’s less about opinions, feelings, thoughts or hunches. These are the places where seemingly great ideas can still remain alive, sucking your budget and, more importantly, your time. The cold hard data tells the front-footed truth, the bits you don’t want to know. Such as the thousands you spend with an SEO “specialist” each month without any data to show you the extra sales it produces.
Or the 80% bounce rate from the Google advertising campaign that makes you cringe but is managed by a friend of the boss who is nice to chat with each week BUT still hasn’t asked for access to your Google Analytics account so they can see the data themselves.
Ark would be a different business without these principles. For instance, we would have dived into social media from the get-go. Instead, we held back until we could see it driving sales as opposed to “brand exposure”. Also, our focus on Google Analytics would be way less than it is now. We actively look for data to challenge our approach.
Compare this to the accounts we are asked to review where there’s lots being spent because of just one thing – trust. No data – just the business owner trusting their supplier to do the right thing for them. There’s a great Peter Drucker saying, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, but in these situations it should be “data eats trust for breakfast”.