Let’s try a new approach, Part 1

Ever have one of those startling moments of clarity when you suddenly realize that everything – literally EVERYTHING – we’re trying isn’t working?  Ever had one of those moments last three years? Oh, me neither.  I was just asking.

Working BlindfoldedI think we need to realize that now is the time to take a step back and look at what we’re doing on the internet. What better time to worry a little less about the risk of putting a company on cruise control than when everything is out of our hands anyhow? Now, I’m not in any way advocating taking our eyes off the road; I’m just saying let’s just take our attention off of trying to work the pedals and control everything one piece at a time to reflect on what the hell is happening to us.

We’ve just gone through a long period of excess where every decision was right and newcomers to the stage were getting standing ovations.  And we know now that it was quickly followed by a stage where all of our mistakes came back to haunt us.  A quick drive through town shows us that: a lot of businesses with the lights out.

There are things I think we need to start thinking / worrying / crying about today.  And I mean TODAY.  Here are two of them, with more to come later.

1. Do the people I trust really know what they’re talking about? Are they holding that against me?

Your agencies.  Your employees.  Your neighbor who “fixed” your lawnmower.  Ever feel like every time you find expertise or help, everything goes to hell? There is a reason for it. There’s even a phrase for it.  You’re being bullshitted.

There are three types of internet professionals:

  1. People who genuinely know what they’re talking about and are arrogant, lazy jackasses because of it (“It will take 3 months to develop that software [while I play Freecell].“)
  2. People who are full of it (“We guarantee top position in Google.“)
  3. People who genuinely care (“We are on it. We will do everything we can to succeed.“)

In essence, you have competence alone (Usain Bolt), work ethic alone (Bernie Madoff), or a combination of the two (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Jesus).  How do you picture these different people in your mind? Can you see that some of your employees / agencies / neighbors strike a similar chord with you?  What category do they fall into?  We all hate both Usain and Bernie, and while we might grimace at a healthy ego in people like Steve Jobs and Tiger, they’ve earned it and we respect them for it.  And they’ll continue to earn it rather than resting on their accomplishments.

I used to work at an agency that doubled in size and earned its true stripes in the industry.  We celebrated the managing director of the office for facilitating this achievement, but everyone couldn’t stand this person because this person was faking their way through it and taking credit for some of my very talented colleagues’ hard work.  Sure, we doubled in size under this person’s watch.  But what would we have done if the role were filled by Warren Buffet? But this person was content with their success and felt that knowing what you’re doing isn’t necessary if you’re succeeding.

But success does not equal success.  A high school running back can set a school record, but never go to the NFL.  We have to all remember that we have a long way to go and a lot to learn.  We can rest after our 10th interview in Fortune Magazine.

Fire all of your Usains and Bernies. Today. And get feedback so you know who these people are.  Bernie Madoff scammed some of the smartest and most successful people in America.  Don’t be so egotistical as to think you aren’t being fooled, too. When you hire the next one (sometimes they’re hard to identify in interviews and you find out later), fire them once it becomes apparent. Period. You’re actually doing them a favor – this is the only way they will learn that change is necessary. Their egos flare every time they get away with their parlor tricks, so firing is the only way to teach.

2. Do I have an actual vision for my web site? Do I know the difference between goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics?

Generally, I reject this sort of corporate speak and feel like it puts us in a death spiral of executive blabber, but this part is important.  It’s how you plan and achieve.  If you don’t have a plan for your business, everything is an accident, both success and failure.

Goals, e.g., “Attract the most qualified users to the site and convert them with maximal efficiency.”

  • Measurable: NO.  Seriously. Get over it.
  • Scope: Large

Objectives, e.g., “Increase our web marketing ROI by 25% / Increase conversion rate by 10%.”

  • Measurable: YES. Woohoo!
  • Scope: Large

Strategies, e.g., “Understand the value of various traffic sources and optimize both spend and landing pages to increase conversion.”

  • Measurable: NO!
  • Scope: Small/Medium!  Strategies are NOT at the company/site level.  They are discrete to certain goals and objectives and qualitatively describe the methods employed to achieve.

Tactics, e.g., “Identify top 5 SEO landing pages and align copy with popular keywords being used. Remove extraneous form fields. Test ‘sale’ creative in PPC ads. Conduct A/B test of the ‘Buy Now’ button color.”

  • Measurable: YES! Think of measurement as checkboxes with results: I did this and here’s what happened.
  • Scope: Small

By understanding what each one of these things are, we can write down what we want to achieve, how we want to achieve it, how we know whether we’ve achieved it, and how we know what helped / hurt us in achieving it. I can’t think of any better way to understand what the hell is going on.

Please, share some of your experiences!

No Trackbacks


  1. Great post as usual. One thing I’m going to challenge- when people are full of it, this doesn’t mean they have “work ethic” alone. Ambition, drive, or maybe you could even call it vision, but empty promises should not be confused with ethics.

    Posted September 3, 2009 at 8:22 pm | Permalink
  2. Thanks, Amy. I’m not sure I follow, though. Is my math off? Empty Promise = Lie = Ethical shortcoming?

    Posted September 3, 2009 at 8:32 pm | Permalink
  3. Maybe I misunderstood what you were trying to say! You had written:

    In essence, you have competence alone, work ethic alone, or a combination of the two.

    I’ve worked with enough people whose promises are not based in their plans to actually deliver that I don’t think that practice can be referred to as “work ethic”–there is no work or ethic involved. Just hype and angry clients.

    Posted September 4, 2009 at 11:22 am | Permalink
  4. Aah yes. I see what you’re saying, but think about it this way: look at the amount of energy these people spend getting themselves out of these messes they’ve gotten themselves into. There is a tremendous work ethic there: they’re working their asses off to try to fool people into not firing them. And it works for longer than any one of us would want. That’s why you still work with them (or have worked with them in the past longer than you thought possible).

    If they could use that work ethic productively, they could actually do something with themselves other than being a corporate skipping stone. Unfortunately for them, the mental laziness they have in between spells of hard work to get out of these tangles is what prevails.

    Thomas Edison had a pretty good quote on this topic: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Instead of doing what looks like no fun, the fakers are forced work their butts off in other ways to avoid permanent unemployment.

    Posted September 4, 2009 at 12:09 pm | Permalink