Perfectionism is Destroying Your Business
Planning is the enemy of action
Originally published May 2017.
This is something I feel quite strongly about, and it’s something that’s incredibly difficult to overcome, because it goes against every instinct that I have.
I’m a perfectionist, or at least I was.
Something that every entrepreneur is familiar with, is that taking action is incredibly important. However, I really cannot stress that just knowing this, and doing this, are two very different things, and you’re not doing this!
Let me set the scene..
It’s 2013, I’m studying at Birmingham University and running its entrepreneur society. I’ve just finished running an event series with my friend Peter Bidewell, designed to take prospective entrepreneurs and walk them through the steps they need to create their own businesses (somewhat successfully I may add, as this course leads to the formation of 13 new businesses, some of which are still operating today).
Based on the success of this course, Pete and I decideto take the process we’ve been working on during these events, and form them into an online entrepreneur course.
We get to work furiously figuring out every stage of our business, how the course will best work, how to market it, our brand strategy, legalities etc.
We plan out all of the content we need to launch, get some funding for equipment and start producing video lessons ourselves.
If you want a giggle, here’s one of the videos (but also, this has 1,400 views. Damn son):
Fast forward a few months — we hit a roadblock — we’ve taught the content to these students based partly on our own experience and partly from the advice sourced online. Our credibility in teaching this course has come because:
- We run a student entrepreneur society and so students assumed we know our shit.
- We’ve each had our own minor small business success, which compared to someone that knows nothing about running their own business, does to some extent mean we knew our shit.
But the Internet is different.
Why will anyone believe we knew what we are on about?
What right have we got to teach about business areas that we’ve never had to deal with?
Okay, back to the drawing board.
We’d decide that as we have decent entrepreneurial networks, we will crowdsource video lessons from other entrepreneurs to fill in the gaps in our knowledge. Battle plan V2 done and we started contacting our networks and have loads of them agree to make short 5 minute videos for us.
This was it, we’re ready for the big time.
Fast forward a fair few months — we’ve managed to get about 10 videos recorded of ourselves and maybe 2–3 videos from other entrepreneurs. Getting people to be free for an hour, and to prep a lesson, and to deliver that lesson on camera professionally, and to spend a week meticulously editing 1 hour of video mistakes to a 5 minute cut, isn’t that easy….
Back to the drawing board…
Fast forward another fair few months — we’ve figured out that an easier way to get content is just to compile, sort and add to the best of the best that is already out there (our first good idea?).
The new problem this creates is that if we wanted to create video lessons from the best content out there — much of it on Youtube, we couldn’t charge for the service.
Empire planning mode — we’ve planned out an MVP, version 1, 2 and 3 of the website. We will need investors and employees to scale up to loads of users so we can monetize their data.
So we get to work and we finally, about 2 years after starting this idea, build out a “minimum viable product” — we’ve read the lean startup, we knew what we are doing 😉…
Fast forward another few months (October 2015), we’re finally ready to start marketing the product to get our initial users.
I’m on an entrepreneurs trip in India.
I’m sat by the pool on top of some huge hotel in Bangalore, listening to the Tim Ferris podcast and he’s talking about how he’s stopped investing in startups because keeping on top of it had become something he didn’t enjoy.
That the potential money down the line just wasn’t worth the stress and loss of his time now.
It hits me. Despite all of my lofty ambitions to follow in Mr Musks footsteps, selling a large business for cash to push into some save the world business, I’m not willing to pay this price.
I don’t want a startup that needs investment.
I don’t want a startup that needs at least 50 employees.
I don’t want a startup that I have to sink at LEAST the next 7 years of my life into, in order for it to have a CHANCE at success.
And with that, the business is dead in the water.
We have ZERO to show for two and a half year of work on the business..
That’s not to say that it has been a waste of time, off course it’s been useful, but it hasn’t actually result in anything tangible.
Even though this sounds like I was made obvious mistakes, it’s a story that I know many, many entrepreneurs are closely imitating.
So let’s blow apart everything past Connor did, that I’d now consider “dumb shit”:
Starting with unique content.
This is something that it took us a few years to figure out, but trying to produce all of the content yourself, or trying to convince others to produce content for you, with no driving force, is just punishing.
Had we decided to curate great content from others from the start, we could have gotten the ball rolling much faster.
That doesn’t mean you should never create unique content. Unique content off course has much higher value. But curating content is much much faster, and still holds value. Start there first.
I fucking hate this! So many people are paralyzed into inaction through fear of not being credible enough to have an opinion on a subject.
Do some people care about your credibility?
Will some of them call you up on it?
But there are SO MANY PEOPLE THAT DON’T CARE. Stop convincing yourself otherwise.
Put yourself out there. Your experience gives you credibility to those a few steps behind you, and you only being a few steps in front can give you a closer connection to that audience.
Needing a full business course before launching.
People do this in all aspects of business, no matter how small.
Want to launch a blog? What if you’ve only got one piece of content? Best put it off until you have more pieces (never).
Off course there is some logical sense to this.
Will more people like your blog if there’s a good amount to read on it?
But putting something out there now “starts” your blog, putting pressure on you to actually make time for more content, and secondly — SOME people will like your one article, do it for them.
The real reason you think you need all the content before launching is because you’re scared!
Scared that people won’t like it or will make fun of you and call you nasty Internet names.
Stop being a little bitch.
Launch what you have. Right now 😑
Planning now will save time later.
I really hate planning, but only because I now know I’ve wasted soooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much time doing it.
Planning is over rated!
You’re not saving time, you’re scared and putting off taking action. Straight up.
When you launch NOW, your focus comes straight into whatever you’ve launched.
When it’s live you need to work to keep it alive and for it to grow. You will read around the subject and know which information is useful and actionable right now, because you are live.
You will make time when it’s live, which massively outweighs this imaginary “saved time” from all the planning.
You need to make time, because if you don’t you will have wasted the time you’ve actually put into it.
Guess what, people hate losing way more than they like winning.
It’s human psychology (loss aversion).
You will work much harder to stop yourself losing the time you’ve invested, than you will to gain more imaginary saved time later.
Not building an audience first.
What if, instead of spending 2 years trying to build the “perfect” product to help people become entrepreneurs, we’d just built an audience of entrepreneurs…
A place where they could find and share the most helpful information they’d found.
Well I’d actually have finished that two(+) years with something to build a business with.
A business that could fit the lifestyle I really wanted.
Instead, I had nothing..
So with that two year ordeal behind me, you’d think that I’d stamped perfectionism out of my system, right?
Here’s a more recent example.
When launching a new marketing strategy, the overriding urge is to do a deep dive before even creating an account on a platform.
I want to read every single marketing article out there to make sure I am as prepared as possible before I start.
Almost always, 80%+ of that planning and time is a complete waste!
What you find is that diminishing returns kick in pretty quickly. There’s only so much openly available, good information.
Yes, if you keep researching you may find more killer insights, but they become less and less easy to find, the more you know.
I find that before launching on a new platform, I only need perhaps 2–3 hours of research maximum. In that time you can find all of the best posts and articles and gather the knowledge that’s going to put you ahead of 80% of people.
The next thing is key — the extra info you find, is likely to be useless for one of two reasons:
- You don’t understand how this is implemented
- You think it’s harder to implement than it is.
Want to know how to quickly solve each of these?
By actually creating an account on a new platform and starting to push content out to it!
You will quickly realize what strategies are useful because you will be able to feel the platform. You’ll understand what information isn’t worth paying special attention to.
An really recent example of this is Pinterest rich pins. I’d convinced myself that they were an advanced strategy because they seemed complicated to set up from the reading I did.
What I actually found was that they took 5–10 minutes to set up once I actually decided to do it, and now they’re helping me absolutely crush Pinterest.
The point is that you should just get on the platform and start using it. You will understand it so much more quickly.
There’s also the added benefit that when you get on a platform, you’ll get a feel for what is actually helpful as a marketing strategy than when you read it online. If you’re familiar with the platform, you’ll know instinctively, almost, how helpful a strategy is likely to be.
When you find one that sounds interesting, you’ll also be able to implement it much more effectively, because you won’t have to focus on all of the extra information in the marketing article (account setup, defining what a hashtag is etc.), you’ll know what’s simple stuff and you’ll know what’s important.
Again, this all comes back to the point of planning being the enemy of action. You plan too much because you want your marketing to be perfect.
You’re afraid of just putting yourself out there and doing something.
We want to plan, we want to strategize, we basically want to put in the work to make sure that things go the way we want.
We don’t want to fail so we plan.
But, by planning so much you’re doing yourself much more harm.
Suck it up, stop being a baby.
To look at it in the way that my robot brain does, I’d much rather spend 5 hours trying 5 different, good marketing attempts (creating 5 good Pinterest graphics with accompanying posts), than spend 5 hours making one perfect one.
From a maths angle, if a good piece of content is worth 7/10 points, and a perfect piece is a 10, then 5 x 7 = 35 points vs 10 points.
Off course there is value to massively over delivering on quality, but in most of the cases I’m referring to, it’s just more valuable to get loads of content out, figure out what does the best and refine from there.
So this post ended up a little longer than anticipated, but it’s important! If you take this few minutes of reading in, you will actually save time, unlike planning…
Planning is the enemy of action! You’re just scared. Stop worrying. What’s the worst that could happen?
You won’t be cast out by the Internet and embarrassed and haunted with scathing articles about your faults for all of eternity.
No one cares.
Just launch now and figure the rest out along the way.
Let me know your biggest planning fail!
How much time have you wasted?
Let me know!
Yo, I’m Connor!
I’m a smart person. I don’t do smart things.