We’ve all been there. Hoping our next growth strategy will finally be the one that pays off.
Running on our little hustle hamster wheel waiting for our moment of “having enough subscribers / enough Instagram followers / enough traffic”.
Wondering why we’re not reaching our goals even though we’ve been working on overdrive…
Fed up with second guessing ourselves…
Distracted by the next “shiny thing” that’s going to change our business…
And then… feeling like you were supposed to be making huge strides and yet nothing’s quite been accomplished…
That Pinterest account has still been untouched. The email list you know will help is sitting helplessly ignored…
If someone’s saying they haven’t gone through one of these feelings, they’re lying.
(how’s that for a motivational kickoff to a blog post?)
The problem is, working harder and growing incrementally isn’t going to radically shift your business. It’s not how big change is made.
“Reaching a breakthrough isn’t about being incremental. Breakthroughs require a profound change in the way that you work before it shows up in your results”.
Reading that I kind of panic shook my head. I was on a plane to NYC for work and a few pages later I was scribbling onto my cocktail napkin (it was WATER, but a water napkin isn’t a thing) as the woman next to me glanced oddly my way, I realized I had to go a new direction.
^ps. writing in my books is a BIG deal… I don’t usually like to mark up pages, but I was dog-earring and scribbling in the margins of this thing like whoa.
^^pps. don’t judge my writing, I was on a plane…and also, it pretty much always looks crappy like that
I immediately thought of all the work I’ve done the past few months and how I approached each day with a scrambled egg brain and kind of had to laugh. I had been bouncing from idea to idea with no real growth strategy.
The reason I haven’t had a business breakthrough was that I had to profoundly shift the way I work.
I couldn’t spend another year spinning my wheels.
So I buckled down and came up with new strategies that would set me up for the success I wanted. I started using the Strategic vs. Buffer time blocks they discuss in The 12 Week Year, which I’ve found easier to execute than traditional time-blocking by task category.
With Strategic blocks, you set aside time each week for your big strategies + making-money activities. I like this because it doesn’t ask that each day you think super high level (girl’s got commitments like a day job + a penchant for netflix) and you pre-plan what you’ll accomplish so you do the right work on the big things every single week.
Buffer blocks are meant to help you handle unplanned or lower value activities that come up during the day – like answering emails, fixing that tech issue, etc.
Then of course you still have regular working time for things like product creation, writing emails or blog posts, taking photos, etc. But the big strategic blocks make sure you’re legit moving the business forward. Not running in the same place week after week trying to grow in increments.
Using these principles and systems, I’ve been able to move through action step after action step and do more in 3 weeks than I did the prior 3 months. #legit
In the past three weeks:
- I wrote 4 new blog posts, one is still pending review before publishing – it’s a new Interview series I’m excited about!
- from October to December I wrote ONE post
- Created a brand new 4-day challenge, Make Sales Happen (<< shameless plug, you should join us!)
- our last new challenge together was in MARCH
- Stuck to my new work schedule for The Shop Files (which includes a scheduled night off!*), despite traveling for my job + heading into our busy fall planning season
- *This is big for me as I previously would work, feel guilty for working, hang out with my husband + pup. Then get anxious I wasn’t working, keep hanging, but head on Pinterest to feel “productive”, annoy my husband because I wasn’t actually present andddd then would go to bed annoyed I hadn’t gotten anything actually done and that I wasn’t being a good partner
- Worked out twice and started wearing my Fitbit again
- (okay, this is actually super pathetic, but I seriously just sat + shoved cookies down my face from November to December so let’s celebrate small wins, huh?)
When you shift your mindset + make space in your business, you’ll be able to choose the right growth strategy for your individual business. And you’ll create a plan for success you can actually follow through on.
This post contains affiliate links which means I may (at no additional cost to you) earn a small commission if you purchase. I only recommend what I use + love and appreciate your support of The Shop Files!
The first thing I did was eliminate fluff.
I think other people call these distractions or non-essentials; but it’s winter here in Chicago and I’m feeling fluffy. (in my huge winter coat, from the extra cookies… ya know, a cute, but fluffy marshmallow woman)
I don’t have full-time hours to commit (and I know many of you don’t either), so the idea is to focus on just a couple big ideas every 12 weeks. If you hit those goals, you know you’re actively moving towards your ultimate vision; everything else is just gravy. (mmm gravy)
I already really love working in 90 day blocks so I quickly scratched my crazy big annual plan that had kinda failed me last year (or more so, I failed it). And I got to work on defining my goal for the next “year” – aka 12 weeks aka 90 days. tomato-tomatohhh.
This is usually about the time ‘shiny object syndrome’ kicks in.
(aka ‘come see how much stuff I want to do’ aka ‘screw that, THIS will finally be the answer’)
And I knew that wouldn’t work. I wanted this year to be different – and not in a let me make this resolution that I have zero intention to follow through on way.
First up, I brainstormed everything I could do. Every thought or new tactic that jumps into my head and distracts me from what I set out to do 10 minutes ago.
Get all the shiny baby unicorns down on paper.
I already keep a list in Trello of strategies and ideas, so I went in there, added a few others I thought of and then reviewed them against a set of criteria.
I wanted to choose 3 goals for the next 90 days, so below is the criteria I set up to ask myself and help me pick my focus strategies.
How To Pick a Growth Strategy When Distracted by *All The Ideas*
1 | Which would have the most immediate payoff?
Sometimes we have a product or a growth strategy that just needs to be tapped into. Like if you had a new product collection that was 90% done, but then you let it sit there. Maybe because you were nervous to put it out for others to see, you started second-guessing if you were good enough, you lost motivation on the last step of taking photos and uploading the dang things… or you tell yourself you just don’t have the time; we humans have a weird way of self-sabotaging.
These immediate payoff activities may also be the most obvious, but not the ‘most fun’ to work on.
What have you been putting off doing that could have an impact on your business in the next month?
This may be re-launching a product or picking a best seller you can actively promote and make a priority for the next two weeks. There’s no additional product work to do – so the payoff (literally cash cha-chings 💰) could happen pretty immediately with a plan.
2 | Will it build long-term capacity?
The idea of long-term capacity is that you can do something today that will build upon itself for greater momentum in the future.
This can be hard to swallow sometimes. Because it means putting in up front work with little in return. It’s the exact opposite of the immediate payback.
BUT starting it sooner than later can have huge benefits to your business; especially since we’re at the beginning of the year.
For most shop owners, the fourth quarter is when you do a bulk of your business. We’re going holiday SHOPPPPING (in Oprah voice).
So, what if you spent 10 hours this next month putting together your foundation for a life-long communication channel to your audience? (see also: was that a weird way to say an email list?)
Imagine how you could grow that list month over month: providing value, earning their trust and connecting with them so they return as loyal customers. By the time November rolls around you have a list of excited customers that know, like, and trust you.
It could also mean putting in the time to write 5-10 valuable blog posts in the next 12 weeks. Writing evergreen year-round content allows your posts to gain exposure and spread throughout the year. Some of my best pins on Pinterest are from articles I wrote in 2015.
Let that sink in a second. At that time, I was getting less than 20 pageviews a DAY. A few months later I was waking up to 5x that amount by 7am. #notsohumblebrag #alsonotsureitsbragworthyatall?
Long-term capacity strategies are the type of efforts you just have to do. You follow a strategy and have to trust in the actions you take, over the immediate results.
There’s a really good chapter on this that totally changed how I check off a “good week” vs a “bad week” — Instead of focusing on traffic (which may take time to build), I could focus on whether I completed my strategic actions (writing new blog posts + following my Pinterest workflow). Based on their research, if you successfully complete at least 85% of the activities in your strategic weekly plan, then you will most likely achieve your main objective (ie. those results you were looking for each week).
Ideas for Building Long-Term Capacity:
- Starting or improving your Pinterest account which will generate traffic on autopilot moving forward
- Using content marketing on your blog to grow traffic and leads
- Creating an email strategy or starting an email list which will help earn your customer’s trust + loyalty
- Incorporating affiliate marketing as a new income stream as the content you create today can build momentum + earn more each month
3 | What do I already have that I can improve?
This criteria is similar to above, but instead of tackling something new and possibly foreign, it’s improving upon what you already have.
My favorite example of this is updating your product pages.
If you do the long-term capacity work, but then lead potential customers to a just-okay product page (aka your sales page); that work may not have the payoff you expected.
Sure, your traffic is up; but if that traffic isn’t converting then the end goal of making sales can’t happen.
Updating your product pages could mean:
- showing more images of your product in use or as lifestyle shots, versus only on plain white backgrounds
- improving your photography skills or even hiring out for a professional
- re-writing your copy with your customer in mind, focusing on benefits versus product features
- eliminating common reasons customers abandon their shopping carts
4 | Will it be attractive to my current audience vs. having to build a new one?
I often see product sellers share the belief that more options are better. We think in order to sell more, we need to offer more (varieties, options, colors, categories…).
If the categories or products align well, and still serve your customers’ needs, then yeah, go on with your bad self! But we have to be careful for those times when we overwhelm them or make a hard left turn.
Like if you carry baby teething rings so your audience is a lot of new moms or families with young babies; and then you start introducing baby shower invitations.
Yes, they’re both aimed at families with new babies, but there’s a few steps in between ‘We’re expecting!’ and ‘help, they’re teething!’ — don’t forget to bring your audience with you!
Wanting to broaden your brand is a perfectly good idea, but one you may need to work towards.
There’s some steps in between ‘I don’t have this audience’ and ‘here’s the new thing I’m selling’ (hint: steps may include blogging to share your own story, sharing sneak peeks, sharing helpful resources to grow your community, asking customers questions or giving them the opportunity to answer a survey, etc.)
5 | Have I given my current products or marketing strategies a fair shot?
I’ll admit, this one’s a bit of a catch all. But before starting in on the next shiny thing, really ask yourself: Am I throwing new spaghetti at the wall, instead of learning how to improve my current spaghetti? (or whatevs)
Here’s the simpler way to ask yourself this question: If I’ve been unhappy with (x product or y strategy), did I actually execute my plan or did I toss it aside because it didn’t start working after two weeks?
I know I’ve been there. You put a new Instagram strategy in place – you find the right hashtags or you plan a week ahead – and then after a few days you’re upset your followers aren’t growing at a faster pace. You assume Instagram is garbage now and it just doesn’t work for you.
Well… I hope this next quote will help you as it did for me. *prepare for a gentle boop on your head*
“The second thinking shift is to focus more on the actions than the results. … If you faithfully complete the critical actions on a daily and weekly basis the results will come.”
*Cue my frantic scribbling on the plane.*
The idea is that you need to measure both the actions you take and your results. Otherwise you won’t know where the issue actually lies.
We’re sometimes quick to assume the problem is with the product or marketing tactic, instead of our execution.
Here’s how our thinking usually works when we launch a new product that doesn’t go as well as we thought.
- the product wasn’t a good fit for our audience
- it was priced too high (so we maybe try again at a deep discount)
- our audience isn’t interested or engaged
- Instagram doesn’t work for selling
- Email isn’t the right marketing tool for you
- etc.. etc..
But really ask yourself – did you create a good plan AND actually follow through?
Or did you post it twice on Instagram, send one email, and launch it without any fanfare or introduction?
If you’re sitting there like, uh shoot. Don’t feel bad!
I’ve done it, that amazing Etsy seller you love did it, hell – big brands have done it.
We have to help our customer move from “I don’t know about your product” to “I’m thinking about it” to “Here’s my money, I want it!”
Commit to creating a plan that brings your customer into the conversation, introduces your product, and then closes the deal – and then commit to moving through each piece. No matter how terrifying it is to *send that first email, *go live with a tutorial, *write your first blog post.
This may also be a good time to review your brand’s foundation.
Before you start seeking out growth opportunities, expanding your marketing plans, or changing your product assortment… do you know the W’s of your brand?
Who Do I Serve?
Do I understand my target market + who they are. Can I sum up my ideal customer in a few sentences so that when she finds me, she thinks “this is so ME”
What Benefits Do I Offer?
What exactly am I selling beyond the product itself.
People don’t buy a product, they buy a transformation, a benefit, a better-version of themselves. It’s not about your product, but what your product can do for them.
(we uncover this + find what you’re actually selling as part of IG90: Creative Instagram Plans)
When Are You Reaching Them?
If you’re inconsistent in sharing your message, it’s hard for customer to remember to come back to you when they’re ready to purchase. On average, it takes up to 7 touch points for someone to consider making a purchase.
Where Are You Reaching Them?
Are you spending your time on the platforms that matter to them?
And when you’re ON those platforms, are you connecting with the right potential audience or other creative peers?
I hear this most often about Instagram. Shop owners want to know why it’s only other creatives + makers liking or commenting on their posts.
Usually it’s for one or two reasons:
1 | Their content is all about their shop, their process, their concerns. They need to bring their customer into the mix! They can still share those things, but they need to relate it back to why it matters to their customer.
2 | They’re inviting other creatives + makers to their space! It would be like getting upset that your parents showed up to your 21st birthday party when you were the one to send them an invite. (<<< I did not do this, it’s just an example)
If you’re using hashtags that only speak to your shop’s products and other creative businesses, then that’s who you will attract. You need to find where your customer hangs out and get your posts visible in those feeds instead.
phewwww. That was a lot. Let’s quick (promise) discuss how you can use this information.
How to Take Action + Pick the Right Growth Strategy for Your Business:
- Set aside 30 minutes today (or this week – don’t let this pass you by!)
- Write down allll of your ideas. It may be helpful to think of them in buckets, such as: marketing, product, technical, educational
- Review each against the above criteria
- Review your product plan for the year (ie. do you know when certain things are launching, important holidays, etc)
- Based on that schedule, pick the 1-3 strategies that align timing-wise or will move you closest to your overall vision
Resource to Consider:
But I read a lot of books, productivity articles, hacks, tricks, et cetera, et cetera (which you know I’m serious if I’m not abbreviating) and nothing’s made as much sense for me as this book.
It’s really changed how I’m viewing well, everything. I’ve changed how I approach work at my job, it’s changed my mindset on how I’m speaking about this business, and it led to a really good conversation with my husband where he was just like “yaaass, I’m glad you’re committing to it, both feet in.” (except he was like, yes.) I’m sure I’ll be sharing a couple monthly updates on how it’s working for me long-term, but until then, I’ll just be over here fangirling and inappropriately pushing it on whoever will listen.
(PS. If you’re coming from my email list, it WAS the dog one. Surprise!)