Love the Plateau. What does that mean? Say you have a goal to climb a mountain. You want to reach extreme heights and take in the view from high above the earth. Now say you are three days into your journey, and you suddenly find yourself walking across a plateau. It would be easy to get discouraged. This isn’t what you signed up for. Nobody told you there was a plateau here. You are passing time and doing work by walking, but you aren’t getting any closer to your goal. Loving the plateau is the notion that it is part of the journey. You can’t control the existence of this plateau, but you can keep walking while you observe your surroundings and look for a way to start moving higher again. Loving the plateau is just way to say love the work.
As you can see, I have been living on a plateau. I expected to have nine new clients through May, and instead I have one. Sometimes I feel as if I am not making any progress, so I go for a walk and list out the things I can control. I can’t control whether or not the people I talk to are ready to make a buying decision this month or next year. In some cases, I can’t even directly control whether or not I meet people that can use the services we provide.
So instead I remind myself that this plateau is not infinite. I love the work, so I choose to love this plateau too. I can directly control how many people I meet and talk to. I can influence how many people know what we do and understand how we provide value. If someone needs the value provide, they are a lead.
It turns out if I split new clients into a 2 stage funnel, first collecting leads and then bringing in new clients, I can show some progress towards the goal.
Even though I am not where I thought I would be, I am following this line upwards. I have also spent between between 84 and 100 hours in April and May teaching a Ruby on Rails class at Kauffman Labs. This tells me that I am doing pretty well, especially given how thin I have stretched myself. The worst case scenario here is that a very low percentage of leads will become clients, but even then, some will become clients.
Return on time investment
The problem with loving the plateau is that it violates what we are taught smart business people do. Smart business people, we are told, spend their time on their highest leverage activities. In other words, they spend time like it is money, seeking out the best return on their time investment. They also examine their time outlays for changes in results. They ask themselves if spending 10% more time will also increase the results by 10%. If the results will be flat, increasing time by 10% is an obviously bad decision, so smart business people will move on to other activities.
Education vs execution
Mark Suster likes to ask if you are ready to learn or ready to earn.
There’s no sense in being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.
My main goal at Databasically is to build a marketing and sales process from scratch. We have clients and are very good at what we do, but communicating that value and proactively finding clients is not something we have done before. More importantly, it’s not something I have done before. I know lots of the right things to do, how to build relationships, several sales and marketing strategies we can deploy, and who to ask when I get stuck. But at the end of the day, I am still stretching myself in this role. I can’t rely on the measuring stick used by smart business people because I can’t accurately predict results or how long it should take to see results. Since I don’t even know what I am talking about, I avoid the smart business person approach at times. Having a metric that I know is increasing and will lead to my goal makes this easier to accept.
Don’t love the plateau too much
However, there are lots of problems with living in a plateau. If you endlessly march forward, you are likely to do lots of work, but you may not notice opportunities to improve along the way. You must be aware of your surroundings and learning throughout your plateau. When you combine a commitment to educate yourself with leading through action, you will find that people want to follow you. As an entrepreneur, you can’t just blindly march through the plateau with employees behind you. Everyone can spot a death march. Commit to making your plateau a mission of discovery. Continue to learn.
Loving the plateau makes it easier to lead through action. It makes it easier to slog through a tough day, and it helps to keep you focused on your goals. Educating yourself is all about looking around on the plateau. It makes it easier to find your way off the plateau, and for you to predict some of your results next time you encounter a similar plateau.
So love the plateau. Love the learning experience. But love them together, and be attentive to the balance. This is one of the true keys of leadership.
I value being completely honest, telling the whole truth. So here are a few things that you should know matter, but that I chose not to share:
- Percentage of leads that gave us a permanent no.
- Not all leads are created equal. If you are overloaded to the point that working a new lead means ceasing to work an existing one, you probably should know how to pick between them.
- It is risky to assume that more leads equals more sales. But it is riskier to build a sales and marketing process without any leads.