While managing teams and consulting clients, I have seen “best practices” push an efficient organization into a perfectionistic pit of quicksand.
I’m not talking about creating and following a set of standard procedures that truly work for your business. I mean seeking out resource after resource as a security blanket when you’re chartering unknown territory -- but never actually doing anything about it.
I call this the “best practices bottleneck.”
It happens when you attempt to synthesize and adhere to the recommended advice of so-called experts, even if it doesn’t quite apply to your business. You expect your team to deliver a flawless, high-quality finished product that meets someone else’s standards, when they don’t know what they’re doing any more than you do.
In this type of environment, fear and finger pointing often replace ambition and effectiveness.
The best practices bottleneck goes a little something like this:
A company wants to start publishing “thought leadership” content. They do a group brainstorm, and the marketing team yields several ideas for their next blog post.
It’s going to be amazing and original with a touch of humor. The team is excited! They all go back to their desks, and then one team member sends an email to the team: “I read that long-form content is the best, so we need to have 2,000 words or more.”
More team members start chiming in:
"I am reading that I should do keyword research.”
"Oh crap, I just read that shorter more frequent blog articles are way better for startups."
“Wait, our competitors don’t blog at all. Why are we doing this?”
The air is draining out of the enthusiasm blimp. Your little blog experiment has gone from exciting new idea to victim of analysis paralysis.
Let’s try an agile approach instead:
Monday: Brainstorm ideas for a blog article that customers would find valuable.
Tuesday: Assign article to a team member who will ignore best practices and just make something awesome.
Wednesday: Send the first draft to a single editor to review.
Thursday: Publish the article and schedule email and social media promotion.
Friday: Have a quick retrospective on how the process went and discuss ways to improve.
Monday: Do it again, continuously learning and experimenting, putting stuff out there and seeing what sticks.
After a few blog articles, you might decide that blogging is not as effective as other channels -- and that’s okay. At least you didn’t try and become an overnight expert. Instead, you produced real content and put it out in the world for people to react.
Avoiding the trap of conflicting “expert” advice
In my last blog post, I talked about the fallacy of self-appointed experts. As the hypothetical team discussion above proves, there’s tons of conflicting advice out there, all coming from reputable sources who are considered authorities in their field. How do you know who to listen to?
The short answer is, you don’t. That’s why we end up searching for “best practices” instead of just getting stuff done. We spend time organizing instead of creating. We can’t see a clear priority so it all becomes important. And then... we hear an expert tell us what we should be thinking. We usually don’t even evaluate this person’s credentials. We listen and read more on the topic, until we find ourselves deep down the rabbit hole and have become a pseudo-expert on some small facet of what is really important.
Here’s the truth: You won’t improve by getting hung up on countless tips from the internet that are not specific to your brand, marketing mix or customer. You get better through action -- by doing until you figure out what is best for your customer and business.
You know better than anyone what your customers need, so keep that at the forefront of your mind when figuring out what to do in any business situation.
Here is a real-life example from my business:
Because I am an executive coach, I get a lot of cold emails offering me lead gen services from coach marketers who target coaches. They guarantee they will fill up my calendar with potential customers, and they are sure that LinkedIn cold emails will yield me a ton of business.
Have you ever hired a coach from viewing someone’s LinkedIn page? I doubt it.
When I hire coaches to work with me, I go through my trusted network of advisors and check references before I ever make contact. 98% of my clients come to me via word of mouth. The rare exceptions read my blog and then decide to interview me to see if I’m a good fit. Coaching is a very personal type of working relationship; cold emails aren’t going to cut it, and I know that from firsthand experience.
In some recent client conversations, I’ve had to work hard to correct the best practices bottleneck by using a mix of customer data, consulting questions, and research. A few examples of common areas that have a lot of conflicting “best practices”:
1. Facebook - Facebook is changing all the time. You should be careful about how you approach advertising there (if at all). It’s well known that most organic reach is gone or has evaporated, and yet I have some clients that get pretty great organic shares and engagement. If your content is fun and engaging, it can still be shared. If you promote this content, it can go even farther. But sometimes, it is a terrible idea even to be on Facebook. Some brands just don’t work well there. For example, if you and your team don’t enjoy Facebook at all and you try to hire out a freelancer to just take care of it and make it go away, the results may be underwhelming. Most platforms need you to show up often and post, engage (comment, like, etc.), and curate your feed.
2. Increasing website traffic - Everyone wants more traffic, but you also want the right kind of traffic. Don’t just seek out traffic for any reason at all; rather, it should be to reach a qualified audience. There are lots of ways to acquire traffic. I have had clients tell me that the only way to get traffic is to pay for it. That’s bananas. I have worked in companies and have successful clients that use a healthy mix of PR, strategic partnerships, content marketing, and other clever strategies to earn traffic. Paid search and paid social are definitely important to consider, but are not the only way to get traffic in most cases.
3. SEO - God help me if I have to read another SEO article about the 3, 5, or 24 things everyone needs to do to have magic traffic elves deliver you every customer you ever dreamed of meeting. SEO smarts won’t save your content marketing gaps. Your content has to be good, compelling, helpful, informative or at least entertaining. Google is watching and rewards the sites that customers get what they are seeking. You can’t build a business by trying to game the system (aka Google).
The bottom line? Instead of trying to follow someone else’s best practices, just aim to do your best. Period. A cool-looking, influencer-recommended Instagram aesthetic isn’t going to get someone to call you. An email or tweet sent at the optimal posting time doesn’t matter if your offer is not resonating with customers. What matters is meeting your audience where they are and doing whatever it takes to build trust and authority in the marketplace -- even if it takes a few experiments along the way.
Remember, your current customers might give you a break, but your future prospects won't. Instead of wasting time figuring out how the experts are doing something, just start doing it and aim to assess and improve along the way.
Struggling to find your true focus? Go 2 Market Coach can help you get unstuck and prioritize the things that will help your business achieve real growth. If you’re wrestling with your own best practices or overwhelmed by trying to check every box, let’s talk.