Actually, I probably should call this “7 Lessons From Failures On The Web” …but you know… it’s just not as catchy, is it?
I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, because I know that there are a lot of AC’ers who are involved in direct or ancillary ways in web development/design and web-based businesses. Last night I spoke as a gathering of Cincinnati-based web entrepreneurs headed-up by Mindbox Studios and shared the top seven lessons I’ve learned about how to (not) find traction on the web. These are all attached to painful experiences I’ve had over the past several years of pushing AC onto the web and working to find a way to connect creatives in conversation about their process.
I don’t think these ideas are limited to the web by any means. They also apply to creative teams and organizations who are trying to do something meaningful. It’s hard work turning an idea into something beneficial to others and it takes discipline, focus and a willingness to learn. Here are my learnings:
1. Leverage enthusiasm early. When people get very excited about what you’re doing, have a simple, direct next action for them. Equip them to spread the word about your venture, then get out of the way. Six months later, the fire will be gone.
2. Taking ground is 90% grunt work, 10% air coverage. We were given a serious gift of major news coverage very early in the life of AC. There was a feature article in a magazine boasting a circulation of 10+ million (yeah…it was a big one) and we’ve received other major coverage since. And truthfully, I’ve seen significantly higher returns on my everyday, plug-away work ethic than I did from any of the big news coverage. There is no getting around hard work, and there are no “magic bullets” for instant recognition and success.
3. Consistency breeds loyalty. In the first four years of AC on the web, we changed platforms 4 1/2 times and switched up our product offering 3 times. Confusion leads to apathy leads to disinterest. Be consistent and clear in setting expectations for your customers.
4. Relationship (not content) is king. Broadcasting should be left to big media. If you don’t like people, don’t start a web-business. Period. You need to be prepared to build customers and loyal enthusiasts one interaction at a time. And you have to care about the results. If you’re not ready for that, don’t even think about it. Go get a corporate job.
5. Simpify. Simplify your platform, simplify your systems (and automate them as much as possible), simplify your product offering. You need to focus your efforts on high-impact tasks and projects, not on maintenance. That’s the sure path to getting stuck in the muck.
6. Understand your platform(s). You don’t have to know how to build a website, but you need to understand how they work. And you need to know how to have an intelligent conversation with developers about what you expect. Many developers are not visionaries. You will get what you ask for, and if you don’t know how to explain it to them, you will wind up with something less than what you want.
7. Find sounding boards and resonant voices. You need (a) sounding boards, or people you can bound ideas off of and “ping” to stay aligned, and you need (b) resonant voices in your life, or people who stretch you and challenge you to think in new ways about your business. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely world and it’s easy to get lost. You need both a compass (resonant voices) and a map (sounding boards to identify landmarks in the terrain.)
I would love it if you would share any additions to this list based upon your experiences. Some of the most powerful insights into my own work over time have come from simple conversations about what others have experienced. Failure is only failure if you learn nothing, right?