The Durable Business
'The Durable Business' Manifesto will clarify much of the 'conventional wisdom' that permeates the internet marketing space (this will make more sense shortly).
My version of story-driven marketing is not for everyone.
In fact, it's not for most people.
But, unless I’m mistaken, you're a little weird just like me.
You get the importance of zigging when everyone else is zagging.
One final word before I start...
One of my principles is to challenge everything. I’m constantly course-correcting my own journey as I learn new things, pressure-test my ideas, clarify the nuances of established thinking, and change my mind when my understanding is flawed.
With that said...
I encourage you to push back when my ideas are in conflict with your own experience and convictions.
Conversely, when I unlock new clarity and insights in your thinking, please let me know. Simply ping me on Facebook... You'll find the 'Messenger' Chat app on the bottom right of your screen.
First, it's important that I create some context
Let's start by identifying what we all want, then I'll explain, step by step, how you can get it.
I think the goal is not the desire to have a business. That's just a means to an end. It's just a way for us to gain control over our future, our financial security, our agency, and above all, bring some predictability in times of chaos and uncertainty.
Security, agency, and predictability are universal desires.
That's what I want. I’m pretty sure you want that too.
Standing in the way of achieving this desire are faux 'best practices' and one-size-fits-all tactics peddled like the Gospel by those in the know.
But, like a magic trick, these 'internet marketing secrets' are mostly an illusion. Often they only make money for the teachers at the expense of the students.
I’m going to focus on sharing my version of marketing
I'm not going to throw stones at the others or shine a light on their BS, it is up to them to answer for it. I’m going to focus on sharing my version of marketing.
Then you get to decide...
In 2012, Nassim Taleb released a book that unpacked an idea he called Antifragile. The central thesis can be summed up in one sentence:
Antifragile reveals how some systems thrive from shocks, volatility, and uncertainty, instead of breaking from them, and how you can adapt more "antifragile" traits yourself to thrive in an uncertain and chaotic world
One of Taleb's insights is that fragile businesses are harmed disproportionately by large, unexpected events.
COVID is one (obvious) example, but these 'large event' dynamics have always been at play.
For example, Google's notorious organic search algorithm changes over the years have destroyed fragile businesses.
Facebook indiscriminately shutting down advertising accounts left, right, and center for no obvious policy violations has hugely impacted fragile businesses that have had all their eggs in one basket.
I've seen large and small businesses disappear when sources of traffic dried up overnight, or government agencies (like the United States Federal Trade Commission) have decided to intervene.
So that this discussion doesn't remain conceptual, I’m going to unpack the three critical components necessary to build a durable business, and then discuss how those components work together systemically to produce results that no single component produces on its own.
I chose the word — Durable— carefully
The characteristics that make a durable business include:
- It's built to last (meaning it will create value for you and your customers next week, next month, next year, next decade, and beyond).
- And produces results day after day, in good times and bad.
- It is optimized for what matters most to you as the business owner. (There is no one-size-fits-all template.) Strategic Coach founder Dan Sullivan calls these the 'four freedoms' (time, money, relationships, and purpose).
- It improves consistently, gaining momentum over time.
You need three non-negotiable ingredients to create and sustain a Durable Business: Connection, Community and Conversion.
In more familiar terms:
- Connection = An ability to reach out and attract new prospects into your orbit.
- Community = A place where you can nurture those prospects, overcome their resistance, and make them receptive…
- Conversion = Stories that inspire those receptive prospects to become clients and ultimately super fans.
(We're going to discuss all three one by one, in detail...)
I’m excited to share this durable business manifesto with you.
Everything I share will be in service to this fundamental idea.
It's important to note that what I'll be sharing is anything but conceptual. The ideas I share are the exact things I do. There's no bait and switch... No magic illusion hiding an ugly underbelly.
In the end, you have agency to pick and choose who to believe, and who to follow. What I'll be sharing with you, you'll also see playing out in everything I do — complete transparency.
Next up — Connection
Connection is the moment that you make contact for the first time, using paid, organic or hybrid traffic or even affiliates.
One of these 4 large platforms springs to mind when it comes to making that very first connection…
- YouTube (paid and organic).
I use eMail to develop that Connection
Before we get into the details, it's important to be transparent about why Connection really matters... It's a critical component of any durable business, which can work synergistically with the other components to create leverage to make 1 + 1 + 1 = more than 3.
That's not why it's so important
Understanding how to create 'connections' and bring people into our orbit allows us to develop the one thing we want most -- Control.
What we really want -- more than anything -- is a sense of control. We want to know that our business results (and our income) are stable, predictable, and scalable.
That next month will be better than this month.
That there's opportunity to increase the value we contribute to the world and expand our horizons, our relationships, and our income.
Making connections allows us to turn the 'volume dial' for our business...
Once you understand how, you have the superpower required to create stability, predictability, and (if you want it), growth on demand.
To begin developing this superpower
There are three things to understand about Connection:
- Intent matters.
- There are three ways to pay for attention.
- Two traffic platforms matter most.
The starting point for understanding the Connection you have made is active intent vs. passive potential interest.
When someone searches for something, they're demonstrating active intent.
At that moment, they've made whatever they're looking for a priority.
That could be information ('how do I improve my golf swing?'), a product ('Callaway Big Bertha driver'), or a solution to a known problem ('best golf clubs to fix a slice').
Google, YouTube, Bing, and Amazon aggregate audiences with active intent.
Passive potential interest is present when someone is not actively looking for what you have to offer, yet they might be interested if they were made aware of it.
Combinations of demographics, psychographics, and explicit interests are used to identify these audiences.
Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and the Google Display Network aggregate audiences with passive potential interest.
A common myth is that there are two ways to create Connection -- Free vs. Paid traffic.
The truth is more complicated than that
There are THREE.
A better way to think about Connection is to understand that there are many ways to pay for access to audiences.
The most common are time and money or a combination of both.
... is the catch-all phrase for paying to access to Google or Facebook audiences and inviting them to view your offer(s).
Google Ads (search and display), Facebook, YouTube, Bing, and LinkedIn all have paid advertising platforms where you can bid for actions (cost-per-click, CPC) or ad impressions (cost-per-thousand impressions, CPM).
Paid traffic also applies to affiliate marketing because money is exchanged for awareness.
It's not uncommon for an affiliate to receive 50% of the revenue for every sale they make, for example. (Occasionally, more or less depending on the offer.)
The concept of 'Free traffic' is a mirage...
It is more accurate to call it 'Organic traffic'.
It is still paid for but this time through you or a member of your team expending time and energy. And we all know that time is money.
Creating blog posts, articles, videos, and other methods of content marketing are effective methods for generating Connection organically.
Google (search), Facebook, YouTube, Bing, and LinkedIn drive enormous organic traffic volume.
If you do it right.
Mastering paid or organic traffic on all the major advertising platforms is a monumental task.
The third method of making 'Connection' is a Hybrid way of leveraging both paid and organic traffic together to access these audiences.
By doing this, you straddle both worlds and benefit equally from each.
It is what I call ‘Integrated traffic’.
A very common mistake is to try to master more than one of these 3 at the same time.
It often leads to suboptimal results.
In my experience, you have to prioritize one of two platforms - Google (search and display), and Facebook - to generate connection organically because:
- Together, Google and Facebook reach an estimated 90% of Internet users worldwide.
- Google search is the world leader in active intent (accessible through its paid search platform, Google Ads, and organic search optimization).
- Facebook and the Google Display Network reach massive audiences that do not have active intent but may have passive potential interest.
How do you know where to start?
First, decide how quickly you want results and how much you can afford.
If speed is a priority, most people would recommend paid traffic (search, display, and affiliate relationships) as being the best choice.
Second, determine how you want to pay for Connection. If you want to invest more time than money, consider either the hybrid or organic options.
Organic is all about creating excellent story driven content that attracts your peeps.
Hybrid is about integrating paid and organic methods to leverage both at the same time rather than just doing one or the other.
Third, how important to you is control?
Paid traffic can be turned on and off like a light switch. When it’s off, it’s off. You have no traffic.
Organic traffic takes longer to build momentum, has almost no granular control but you build long term assets which grow your audience in the process.
Integrated traffic allows you to have the best of all worlds. Control + long term assets + community building too (more on that later)
Fourth, how important to you is accumulating and acting on data?
Paid traffic platforms are ideal for testing ideas quickly, iterating toward success, and building on audience-informed data in real-time.
Connection is fuel. Your business can be like a finely tuned race car, but without fuel, it's not going anywhere.
Organic traffic allows you test your offers before committing to paid traffic so you stand a better chance of reaching break even more quickly.
Integrated traffic allows you to feed off both worlds to optimise your offers faster and more effectively.
Okay, up next: Community.
Homo sapiens has three basic drivers.
- Identity: The way we think about ourselves and the characteristics that define us.
- Acknowledgement: To feel recognised and accepted for who we are.
- And Community: To feel we belong to or be part of a group
Identity and Acknowledgement are taken care of in the Connection phase.
Community is what we’re going to unpack now.
It is the future of marketing.
Conventional internet marketing wisdom defines Connection as the moment someone becomes a lead (i.e., they opt-in to receive emails from you).
That is a flawed definition.
Connection is a process.
There are 12 steps to intimacy
Relationships take time to develop. The more you see someone, the quicker that relationship builds.
That frequency is crucial when it comes to your marketing.
The old way of doing things was to give away some kind of lead magnet to get someone on your list, then carpet bomb them with emails until they either bought something from you or unsubscribed.
Everyone’s done it (me too).
Then, I woke up to the fact when I was opting in to receive some freebie or another, I was giving away nothing of value. Just an email address that I never use for anything else.
Result: single-digit email open rates, decimal place click rates, list fatigue, subscriber churn, and more.
So what’s the point of clogging up your MailChimp or ActiveCampaign account with fake email addresses?
There must be a better way.
That’s where Community comes in.
So let’s define what we mean clearly.
I define Community as a place where an individual can take the micro-steps required to move closer to me, my world, and my way of thinking.
It’s a place where they feel acknowledged, nurtured and comfortable.
Where there is no pressure.
This is where the Connection becomes deeper and more substantial.
To guide that individual on his or her journey, you provide content (especially long-form content), invite them to visit your Community (Facebook Group) or visit a website multiple times, comment, ask questions, and, yes, finally join you as a subscriber and receive emails (deeper levels of engagement), but only when they’re good and ready.
Connection deepens in the Community.
The key to doing this successfully is storytelling in a strategic way (about which we will discover more in the SIM Manifesto).
Result: Your subscriber list is 80% smaller but open rates are through the roof (typically up to 70%)
Lead magnets and free giveaways lead to trophy numbers on your list that give you an endorphin rush and a false sense of security.
Ultimately, this behaviour is counterproductive:
You spend more and more time creating click bait headlines to get the opt in. Only to enroll yet another subscriber who never opens your emails and is unlikely to buy from you.
Seems to me to be a pointless waste of energy because it is based on flawed logic.
Let's take a look at a few...
FL#1: Every buyer follows the same linear path.
This is a false assumption based on not fully understanding the customer journey.
Of course, a few make an impulse buy based on a very specific search term or as a result of seeing an Ad on Facebook.
Others take a much longer time stumbling around the internet researching this and that, making comparisons, considering the options, discussing their findings with a partner before finally plumping for one of the solutions available.
This journey takes time. It includes multiple search sessions. And multiple visits to various sites.
This is the journey of a customer who is typically preparing to spend a lot more… (but doesn’t have to be).
Someone euphemistically called a high ticket client by the gooroo marketers out there.
The result of this flawed logic is, we fail to provide the myriad of touch points where our audience can Connect with us, over and over again.
We fail to provide Community.
FL#2: The journey your audience takes is like a Roman road… straight.
Every milestone on that road follows in sequential order so once on it, the individual gets presented with a series of ‘logical’ choices before finally giving you their credit card number and checking out.
This is far from the truth.
It is a convenient way of thinking for us but reality is messy.
Instead of focusing entirely on how we want to sell, we would do better to imagine how our customers actually go about finding a solution to the challenge they face, before buying.
FL#3: — There is a 'right way' to get results.
We are always told that if we want success, the best way is to model a successful person so we do, forgetting that what makes him or her successful now, is not what will make you successful too…
Because they are in a different place on their journey. They are much further down their road than you are on yours.
Which means that, while you might keep a weather eye, on what they are doing, you should focus on only one thing.
Your audience and their responses to your content.
Nothing else matters.
There is no top-secret, one-size-fits-all magic method that guarantees results every time (shocker!).
(I reveal one of the other constants I believe is, by far, the most important to your success in the SIM Manifesto.)
Here are three things you can do immediately to benefit from our broader definition of Community:
- Play the long game. Your customers will come to you when they are ready. Trust them to do so.
- Have confidence in what you offer. Getting comments and likes on your posts may make you feel good but you cannot take them to the bank. Many more are watching what you do and say from the wings… They will appear when they are ready.
- Imagine you're your own customer and ask yourself… ‘Is this how I'd like to be treated?' At every step in your business system. If the honest answer is NO, change your system NOW.
One last idea before I wrap this up...
Even though I've described Connection, Community, and Conversion separately, they should not be seen as separate silos. They interact between each other so change one and you change what happens in all of them.
The sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
The real power is in their relationships and not how each behaves individually.
Re-read that a few times.
I'll explain more on that next (and expand on it in the SIM Manifesto too, if you choose to opt in for that journey).
The by-product of the Connection, Community and Conversion trifecta is that you attract, engage, motivate and inspire the people you would like to work with to put their hands up, without the need for hype, hoopla and hyperbole.
The moral of this story is that your customers are created long BEFORE they are ready to exchange the value you offer for money.
Okay, up next: Conversion.
Conversion happens when someone buys.
Simple enough, right?
Well ... not so fast.
Before your customer will do business with you he or she has to know, like and trust you enough to part with their hard earned cash.
Trust is a two way street.You have to trust your customer too.That means you have to have a relationship.
A relationship that you both value (more than money).
That means you have to release the pressure.
Start by taking a long hard look at every step in your marketing and sales process, with this question in mind…
“Is this how I would like to be treated?”
If the honest answer is NO then it’s time to go back to the drawing board and design a system that does.
For a start…
Treat your whole audience as customers long before taking any money from them.
That doesn't mean you give away the farm but it does mean that you are willing, nay happy, to help them to start moving forward. To help them make progress towards their goals.
Whatever that might be.
Remember we were talking about identity and acknowledgement earlier.
By expressing how they feel, acknowledging the impact that that is having on their daily lives, their business and their Relationships (there’s that word again), you make them feel better.
‘It’s not your fault’ is an overused phrase but more often than not, it’s true. Your audience sees what they think is an insurmountable problem stopping them moving forward.
But that’s just a symptom. The real problem is more profound. Just showing them how this is true gives them a new insight. A new perspective. Change the perspective and you change their lives.
When we do this, your audience begins to see how they could be your customers. They become open to the possibility of doing business with you.
Serving your audience like this makes them feel that you have their best interests at heart (because you do).
The emotional bridge between you begins to take shape
It would be a pity to spoil it by rushing to a sale… any sale at any price.
A sale at say $9.95 means you acquire dozens, hundreds, or thousands of customers attracted to a too-good-to-be-true, $9.95 offer.
The net outcome is you acquire a boatload of opportunity seeking buyers with no guarantee that they are prepared to part with more than $9.95 in the future.
Who could have predicted that?
And if your response is, no, I’d add up-sells and down-sells and so on to segment them into different groups of buyers.
I refer you to my question above… “Is this how I would like to be treated?”
Sure, I know you have to cover your Ad spend but consider this…
Of your whole audience of say 500,000 people, only 30% will ever be in the market looking to buy.
Of these 150,000 only 3% may be ready to buy from you right now.That’s 4,500 people.
15% of these may make a purchase in the first 90 days after becoming a lead.
Of the remaining 85%, some may buy in the eighteen months that follow.
Think about that for a moment
85% of the opportunity, 85% of the revenue in your audience, is available after the first 90 days.
Spot quiz: Knowing that, what do you think is the single most important thing you can do to transform your business by making the most of this new found opportunity?
The pervasive idea that Conversion must happen now and if a lead does not buy now, they should be carpet bombed with re-marketing Ads is damaging your business.
It minimises your R.O.A.S (Return on Ad Spend) and burns through that audience in next to no time.
(I'll dive into this real soon…)
The good news is that there is a better way.
Instead of pushing, cajoling, bribing, and strong-arming your audience to pull out their credit cards as quickly as possible, take a deep breath, relax, and treat them like they're already customers.
Take the pressure off.
Let them look around, ask questions, and make comments.
The moment you treat your audience like you would like to be treated, everything changes.
I mean everything changes.
Your audience is happier because they are being treated like they want to be treated and they feel the whole experience of being in your orbit is more enjoyable.
You'll be happier because business is easier, less pushy and more relaxed.
The irony of it all is when you stop trying so hard to sell, more people are ready to buy.
So the moral of the story is that your goal must be to build relationships and you do this in your Community.
Connection, Community and Conversion
Earlier, I wrote:
Relationships take time to develop. The more you see someone, the quicker that relationship builds. That frequency is crucial when it comes to your marketing.
(Later, I’m going to reveal one of the other constants I believe is, by far, the most important to your success.)
That constant is always lead with value.
Simply put… Give in advance without expectation or condition.
In the meantime, consider how powerful it would be if you reorient your belief system so that, rather than seeing your audience as something to exploit, you view your purpose in life to be of service to your audience.
It will change everything you do.
And rightly so.
Your business is built on your understanding of your people and how well you provide for them what they dearly want (and need).
Dig deep to find out what matters most to them, and consistently find new, innovative, more powerful ways to identify and deliver that value.
When you truly embrace this idea, you'll begin to see the real secret to business success.
First: If we strip away everything else, why we started our businesses was because we want to control how we lead our lives and earn money.
That requires control over how our businesses get results.
Then we can control how we live, where we live, with whom we live and what we do on a daily basis whatever life throws our way.
It allows us to predict the results we get with some certainty and develop a stable system that grows our wealth. (That includes anything else that's meaningful to you).
Second: a Long Term Business is built to withstand 'Black Swan' events beyond our sphere of influence so we can live in a stable environment.
Third: a Long Term Business includes three components that work together to produce those results...
- Connection: A process of deepening the relationship we have with new prospects in our orbit.
- Community: A place where we deepen that relationship even further and transform prospects into leads by moving them from resistance, to receptive to ready to buy…
- Conversion: A process of transforming a lead into a long term customer who will buy from us over and over again.
So far, so good.
But this is where I break with conventional wisdom, and why I believe you should too.
Conventional wisdom is based on flawed logic:
FL#1: Every buyer follows the same linear path.
FL#2: Optimizing the parts of the system separately improves overall performance. More traffic = more leads = more customers = more money.
Sadly this is not the case as we learn in ’The ‘Goal’ which unpacks the theory of constraints.
The single most powerful insight from this book is that if we optimise one part of our system, another constraint will appear in another seemingly unrelated place.
Businesses are systems in which the parts interact to produce results only when taken as a whole.
You cannot buy the best engine available, put it in the best chassis available then add the best wheels available and expect to have a winning car.
They are just a collection of parts that were not built to fit together.
Your business is a collection of subsystems that work together to produce something that no part can create without the others.
Connection without Community or Conversion is vanity.
Connection and Conversion are subsystems, just like an engine or a drivetrain, that were not built to work together without Community.
Conversion and Community without Connection do not produce results.
Each subsystem is required but on it’s own is not enough to produce a result. All three must be present before the results we seek are possible.
Optimising Connection will mean we will have to re-optimise Community and Conversion. The system is circular, not linear.
Once you understand this, everything changes.
Instead of looking for the 'best' way to create Connection, Community, and Conversion individually, we need to think about how each subsystem works with the others to produce the best overall results.
Example: We could optimise our business system to produce the most money but that might also produce unhappy customers and lead to low team morale so it would be a self-defeating short term goal.
Far better to optimise to produce happy customers and make all of our subsystems (Connection, Community, and Conversion) serve this goal.
Never optimise an individual subsystem without looking at the impact that has on all the others and how that will improve the single KPI that matters most… Happy customers.
How do we do this?
By focusing on core values:
- Treat everyone like a valued customer, regardless of whether money has changed hands.
- Focus on delivering the result that our customer yearns for.
- Tell memorable stories that attract people to the Community and repel the rest.
- Be transparent. Show up as you are. Warts and all. Don't create artificial barriers or force everyone into a one-size-fits-all process.
- Play the long game. Realise that 85% of your new customers will convert in the next 18 months, not in the next 90 days so I plan accordingly.
The Story Inception Method is a powerful growth engine in which the subsystems are optimised to deliver these core values to our customers and for our customers.
Its impact is profound.
It changes how you do business.
You become a story-driven company.
Ironically, the people who create fulfilling lives and careers—the ones we respect, admire and try to emulate—choose an alternative path to success.
They have a powerful sense of identity and don’t worry about differentiating themselves from the competition or obsess about telling the right story.
They tell the real story instead.
Successful organizations and the people who create, build and lead them don’t feel the need to compete, because they know who they are and they’re not afraid to show us.
If you decide to read the Story Inception Method Manifesto too, you’ll take a deep-dive into how to get the most from storytelling.
As always, I deeply appreciate your attention and love to hear your feedback (just ping me on Messenger).
If you're in a hurry and want to find out more, your best next step is to check out the Digital Business Strategy offer I have put together for B2B experts (coaches/Consultants)