The Four Simple (But Not Easy) Secrets to Business Success

Your list may differ – feel free to rant (or rave) in the comments – but this is the list that I’ve come up with after 24 years running my own businesses and teaching and coaching other people to do the same.  The choice of which is most important has changed in those 2+ decades, but I can look back over the entire time and find them all firmly installed.

Have Vision

If you can not imagine where to go, you will end up somewhere you would never have imagined – yes, a tautology, I know, but stay with me.  Others have said that if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail and while that is true, I do not view “vision” the same as “plan”.

Vision (to me) is more like a “big why” or a BHAG whereas a plan is how to get some distance closer to that imagined long term outcome.  Vision is what must inform all the plans, both large and small, along the way.

Be Fearless

You can’t think long term while worrying about next week’s dinner budget.  The primary cause of business failure is time and again listed as “under capitalization” which is kinda of catchall like the NTSB’s findings of “pilot error”.  Running out of money, or crashing the plane, is not the cause of the problem, just the result of it.

If you don’t have enough money to stay the distance until you can get to breakeven then you should stop the bleeding, change the business model or accelerate revenue.  At least one of those is always possible so the real cause of failure is “pilot error”.  But there we are again – what caused that?  Almost always it is fear.

It does not take much in the way of brains to cut expenses, help with your business model is available for free from SCORE or for a beer from your buddies, and accelerating revenue is more often than not just being aggressive with sales or doubling down on production.  Business is not really all that technical, but it is damn scary!

Pretty much of the entire job is scary:

  • we are the top sales/marketing person; we hold all of our employees’ livelihoods in our hands;
  • our own financial future and good name are at risk;
  • we are always out of balance in terms of work, pleasure and health;
  • and with the exception of other business owners, no one appreciates what we do or can even understand it.

Sounds like a great gig, eh?  You have to control fear.  Choose your own poison, but mine is a unique form of faith long enough in form that it must wait for another day.

Check Your Ego

Where confidence leaves off and ego begins I have no idea, but I have seen many owners – myself included more than once – fail because they would not ask for help or admit they were wrong.  That’s a big problem.  When you get married to your decisions and refuse to correct them to save face, you will eventually make that one big mistake that crashes the plane.

BTW, ego is the primary cause of failure to delegate so if you are not hiring and outsourcing and doing the work yourself instead … check your ego … you’ll find that you are NOT nearly as good at your job as you think.

Embrace Discipline

No one in your company will ever do more than 75% of whatever you do, so do absolutely as much as you possibly can.  Set the bar high and by demonstration show other people where they work and how they are expected to behave.  This is not just about “hard work” – that’s easy – this is more about emotional discipline.

That means being on time; remembering action items, milestones, deliverables and appointments;  and it means always being a productive mood and never losing your cool.  Companies do not run themselves, people do, and they (we) are emotional creatures.

All The Things Not On The List

Here are a few common “secrets of success” from other lists that are not on my pwn because they are not causes – they are symptoms.  If you have these symptoms, check for your likely underlying causes above.

  • Hiring and Outsourcing:  Yes, you should be.  See Ego.
  • Documented Systems and Procedures: See Vision, Fear and maybe Ego.
  • Delegate Authority as well as Responsibility: See Fear and (as important) Discipline.
  • Business Model: See Vision.
  • [Enter your choice here]:  See all of the above.  :-)


The Third Age of Search

In the beginning…

Search engines were born to index and make available “information” and the web was just one really big library – well, not that large at first actually!  But it did grow at an enormous rate and started a transformation in the way we access information, both reference material and current events.  Witness the decline, and almost certain demise, of print newspapers and the much reduced attendance at libraries.  This was the first age of search.

Then along came e-commerce.  Mostly with information products at first and many folks figured that is all it would ever be – sort-of-a library with a little bookstore stuck in the corner – but it did catch on and pretty much everything was available for purchase online.  BTW, the success of online commerce we owe as much or more to efficiencies in overnight shipping as we do payment systems and shopping carts, but that is a post for another day.  Whatever the ultimate causes, this was the second age of search.

And then came local.  As the web matured and our use of it grew, it became not just where we learned and managed information and conducted a large and growing share of commerce, but it has now become the guide to our immediate physical world as well.  Just as most people in metro areas use GPS rather than maps, nearly everyone now uses search instead of phone books.  What we call the “world wide web” is increasingly used to explore our own backyards.  We are now in the third age of search.

The three ages – informational, commercial and local – are marked not just by user behavior, but by dramatic changes in the search engines as well.  Those of you that have been in this field the dozen years that I have already know what I’m talking about, but let me refresh everyone’s mind with some key highlights.

Adwords, Ansense and Google Shopping (originally Froogle, remember?) were clear signposts of the commercial age.  Moreover, as Google went public and online commerce grew even stronger, we saw more and more of the “organic” results chewed up by paid ads.

Maps, Places and the general emphasis on mobile mark where we are now and will be for some time.  Mobile is growing for faster than anything since The Big Bang and shows no signs yet of slowing.

But what does this mean for non-local e-commerce? [as most of my long time follows are involved in]

Answering that in detail is a longer story, but there are a couple principles that have always been true that you can still use in this, and any subsequent, age.

First, don’t fight the tide.  We’ve already learned the hard lesson that clawing our way to #1 with 3 paid ads plus a comparison ad with sitelinks above us is a bad use of time, money and talent – better to focus on those places that are not as clogged with Adwords.  This is still true, plus add local to the mix. :(  Sure, this might mean you are driven to use more longer tail searches as that will very often yield better ROI.

Second, don’t be completely reliant on Google organic!  Sure, “free traffic” is great, but having only a single supplier of business is never a good idea, and traffic is what supplies your business.  With the growth in social media and the availability of huge traffic through paid programs, you should NOT have “all your eggs in the organic basket”.

And finally, just get better at SEO!  Sure, it sucks to be at position 1 and to be below the fold – happens in may short tail commercial terms – but just as we have been “pushed down” by paid and local, the volume of searches and the willingness of searchers to spend money online has EXPLODED.

Complain if you want, but making money online is still the most wonderful thing ever invented – even if it is a bit more complex today.

Don’t be Evil? BULL S**T!

Everyone in SEO BrainTrust has already heard me rant about the duplicity and lies from Google (nofollowed as all untrusted links should be!) in regards the so-called “secure search” initiative but this is just too horrible for me to keep bottled up any longer. Hence, this public rant.

This supposed public service initiative is nothing more-nor-less than the arrogance of absolute power and is the most damaging thing to hit webmasters in the history of webmastering. Somehow it is ok for Google to know every last detail of a user’s search behavior – which is unavoidable without proxies and constant cookie dumps – but the inconsequential percentage of that traffic that hits any one website is somehow a huge security problem that searcher’s, if only they knew, would simply freak out about. BULL SHIT!

But why should webmasters care? Here’s an example.


This is a snapshot from a private client’s GA account (revealing nothing sensitive). For the period covered, this is 10% of total organic traffic and the bounce rate at 80% is fully 20% higher than the terms we actually get reported. So here’s the dilemma: How the F**K do I fix this?

For 10% of search traffic I can not begin to diagnose and decrease bounce rate because I have no clue what the visitor was even searching for. Thanks a lot Google – that’s a big help improving the search experience. Clearly it does my client/partner no good to rank where only 2 in 10 visitors stick around and that would pretty much define “poor search experience” too but despite Google’s stated mission to be “all about the searcher” they have intentionally removed – using a complete and outright lie – the one thing that we can use to improve both the search experience and the visitor experience to our site.

Organic search has always been, and will always be, a symbiosis where Google gets OUR!! content for free so they can run a paid traffic division while providing us “free clicks” in exchange. They have continued to “change the deal” over time with more and more non-organic results reducing the value to us while increasing their revenues. OK, so maybe all’s fair in love and war (and business but that’s just another war!) but if deceit and misdirection at our expense is not “doing evil” than I am at a complete loss for what would qualify.

Add the completely ridiculous BS around G+ … a topic for another day … and I’m seeing FTC in big red letters on the horizon.

Dear Google: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. With your 80% market share (like who the hell is in the 20%?) you have now reached a level of arrogance that is life threatening – to you!

What tools do you use to spy on your competitors?

My good friend, nearly unknown business success and wildly cool Internet marketer (no pressure) Kenny Goodman posted this to FaceBook earlier today:

“What tools do you use to spy on your competitors (apart from Market Samurai of course)?”

Here’s my reply – shared here for the 7 people world-wide that are not yet on FaceBook (hurry up already?!).

“Who cares? Organize right and do the right things and success is guaranteed in time. Measuring the competition is only about gauging how long it will take. Plan for the long term and competition doesn’t matter. Moreover, your competition is likely lame anyway, so setting them as your measure of success if in most cases aiming low.

Google is not your competition. Your competition is not your competition. Your only competition is that part of you, your life and your business that results in less of the right effort than is required to get the results you want.

Search is math, but success at search is personal.”

To put an even finer point on it …

  • what Google does is known enough and stable enough that you should rarely be thinking about it (more on this in a later post)
  • you should *assume* that what your competition is doing is “best practice” – even when it is not – because someone out there is, and they will come our of nowhere to beat you
  • so the only thing left is what you do – which is cool, since it is also the only thing you control!

Work on yourself and your business and external factors cease to matter that much.  That’s why so much of what Dan Thies and I teach in both The SEO BrainTrust and Link Liberation 2 is about (a) mindset and (b) business process.

But don’t we teach how search engines work?  Sure, and better than anyone else. :-)  But knowing is not doing, so our real focus and the reason our customers, clients and partners have been, and continue to be, so successful is that we “get real” about the repetitive actions that are the real cause of success.

Success in anything is a process and success in SEO is no different.

What would Matt do with £10? Wrong answer – read within

Matt Cutts was asked how to start a web business with just £10.  What would you do?  Take a listent to Matt and then read my answer.

Matt suggests buying a domain name and hosting which he figures the cash will last a month and then promote affiliate offers to make money.  Wrong.  Sorry Matt – hope Google works out for you.  Here’s my recommendation from actually making money online for more than a decade.

Don’t spend any money at all.  Ten is too small to matter anyway.  Instead, use free hosting on Blogspot, WordPress, Hubpages, Squidoo, Facebook and Twitter to pump out content around a niche, create a following, and monitize your traffic with affiliate offers.

More-or-less what we teach in Link Liberation 2.0 :-)

Visit Dan and me (and Andrea too) at The SEO BrainTrust for more information.

Business. Is it mental or is it (somewhat) physical?

Just ran across this on Tim Ferris’ blog :

The Billionaire Productivity Secret and the Experimental Lifestyle

“How do you become more productive?”

Richard Branson leaned back and thought for a second. The tropical sounds of his private oasis, Necker Island, murmured in the background. Twenty people sat around him at rapt attention, wondering what a billionaire’s answer would be to one of the big questions—perhaps the biggest question—of business. The group had been assembled by marketing impresario Joe Polish to brainstorm growth options for Richard’s philanthropic Virgin Unite. It was one of his many new ambitious projects. Virgin Group already had more than 300 companies, more than 50,000 employees, and $25 billion per year in revenue. In other words, Branson had personally built an empire larger than the GDP of some developing countries.

Then he broke the silence:

“Work out.”

He was serious and elaborated: working out gave him at least four additional hours of productive time every day.

All of us that are driven to achieve ultimately arrive at the notion of “focus” and how best to optimize our time. Clearly laundry, cleaning, dishes and shopping of (way!) off the list, but what is the trade off between being in front of the computer – on the ever expanding behind! – instead of sweating for an hour?

Until I have done what Richard has done, can honestly argue with his answer?

Too little Content? There’s no excuse. Here’s why

You think writing articles is hard?  How about 50,000 words in just 30 days?  That’s what a punch of folks do every year durning November.  Even Matt Cutts is giving it a shot.  Content really is not that hard, you just have to decide to do it and get it done!

“For November, I’ll be participating in National Novel Writing Month, or “NaNoWriMo.” The idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Does it sound like too much to do? Well, ask yourself: what’s the worst that could happen? The worst is that you write a little bit and then don’t finish. That’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s better than not writing anything.”

Read Matt’s full post at:

Mindset Reminder #10


Think in terms of laser beams instead of flashlights. Instead of lighting up all of Page 1 with a whole bunch of rankings, think about one key phrase at a time because No. 1 is so much more important than anything else.

The focus of a laser beam is what creates power, right? A laser beam actually puts out far less wattage than a flashlight, and yet it can burn through a wall. You can always outshine your competition with greater focus. All you have to do is get one No. 1 term (one search term that matters, of course) and you’re probably making more money than they are if they’re not at No. 1.

Ten top 10 rankings is a flashlight. One No. 1 ranking is a laser. Sequence what you do in your SEO so that you go after one No. 1 ranking and you beat it to death. When it’s No. 1, you then go onto the next search term, protecting what’s already at No. 1 as you go.

Always focus on beating No. 1. Don’t stop at No. 2 or No. 3. If you stop at No. 2 or 3, and say “good enough”, you’re giving up just before the finish line. Don’t stop till you’re No. 1.

So here are your ten mindset reminders all in one spot where you can refer to them if you find yourself slipping back into your old ways:

1. It’s Not About You
2. It’s Not Magic
3. Rankings Define Right
4. Rankings Don’t Matter
5. No Money In Measuring
6. Mr. Busy Wins
7. Knowing is Not Doing
8. Too Hard is Just Right
9. Twice 70% Beats Perfect
10. Laser Focus

Don’t memorize these. Instead inculcate them. Change your wiring so you don’t have to think about it, so that it becomes habit.

SEO Mindset Reminder #9

2 x 70% > 1 x 100%

I have to admit, this is my favorite mindset reminder. It involves both math and humor, two of my favorite things — the others are, um, well, nevermind.

About 70% of what it takes to rank is easy. It’s just three factors: title tag, link text and PageRank. The rest of those (supposedly) 200 factors account for the minority of ranking impact, not the majority. If you get really good at the three factors that make the most difference, you can ignore the multitude of factors that contribute much less.

Hence the reminder: twice as good at 70% beats 100%.

We know the three biggest factors do work. Work these as smart and as hard as you can, and you will outwork the parts that we don’t know and matter much less.

That’s one of the reasons “the algorithm” no longer matters as much as it once did. Rather than being highly skilled in the nuance of ranking, top positioning today is more about how hard you work. It’s Mr. Busy that wins, not Mr. Smarty.

Which leads to a corollary for our rule: twice as good at 30% is less than 70%.

This is another reason Mr Smarty loses. There is no money in studying SEO to the point you can figure out what all 200 factors are (if there actually are that many) because no matter how precisely you can measure and control that 30%, you still have to work the 70% that matters most.

Work the parts you know and work them harder than your competition. That’s the secret of ranking. It’s dead simple. It’s just hard work.

SEO Mindset Reminder #8


If it were easy, you would have even more competition. How would you like to have twice as many people competing for your keywords? Even if they aren’t any good at it, some of them are bound to get lucky and still others are likely to get good. Making SEO “easy” is bad for you, so don’t ever complain about how hard it is. Give thanks that it does take some skill and hard work, because the alternative is far worse.

Worse still, reflect for a moment on your alternatives to running a web business. Can’t quite make that picture? Go watch the movie Office Space. Or how ’bout this: watch all your neighbors drive to work one morning and then notice what time they get back home. Does that look fun? Now how do you feel about SEO?

And seriously, just how hard is SEO really? It is far more tedious than it is hard and most of that can be solved by being organized enough to use employees and outsourcers, so when you find yourself (as we all do!) complaining about not getting ranked where you want — just time your morning commute!