To Know Where You’re Going, Know Who You’re Walking Towards

It is always easier to do than to plan to do. We often have an internal knowing about where we’re going and what we want to accomplish, whether it’s a visionary decision or a single project. So we skip the meaningful questions that help us chart the best path.

But the hard questions that stop you in your tracks are also proof that you’re getting somewhere. They involve thinking critically about who you are and why you do what you do. They call to mind selling and marketing, which most of us avoid.

But most of all, we’re not clear about who we’re walking towards. Or we’re walking towards everyone and no one.

As the saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” That phrase has a negative focus. What if, instead, you saw success-focused questions as a fun and revealing to answer?

Who doesn’t love an ah-ha moment?

I have a confession to make. When I’m working on my own projects, I try to skip the planning process I make clients go through.

Then I take a few steps back and start where I should have started.

And then I laugh at myself for thinking I can construct the walls of a house without first giving it a foundation.

Maybe we feel pressure from our boss. Or there’s an event coming up and we need materials for it. Or we’ve lingered too long with a bad logo, a confusing company name or zero marketing. We just want to dive in and get started. Understandable.

We are all pressed for time. But here are three truths of skipping a discovery process:

• It wastes much more time than it takes.

• You lose out on the ah-has that take you from so-so to really effective.

• You remain confused and your efforts become ad hoc rather than deliberate, thereby sapping your enthusiasm.

Do this: Pick any endeavor in your work right now and apply these questions. Commit them to paper so you can free your mind, allowing you to create space for new ideas to flow. Play with it, and don’t worry about making it perfect. Do this especially if you tend to avoid this kind of process.

• Who do I need to reach that matters the most?

• What do I want them to do, feel and think? What action do I want them to take?

• What is their pain point (their biggest challenge or struggle)?

• How will I know if I was successful in my efforts?

• Why am I doing this? Is it even needed?

• Does this effort or project directly support my overall goals? (And what are those goals anyway?)

• What is the one single message I want delivered? And is this the only or the best way to deliver it?

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You’ll notice I started with two questions that refer to the people you’re trying to reach. When you frame any business action around your essential people (not all people, only those who matter most to your business), everything else flows from there. It forces you to pick sides. This can be scary and difficult. In some cases, there is more than one type of person or audience. That’s okay. Knowing who they are helps you shape the right messages. (It might result in targeted pieces directed at each audience.)

Focusing specifically on who you serve requires bravery because it often means closing doors to keep the right ones open to the right people.

Even if you’re clear on who you serve, are you sure you know what motivates them, what they fear, what they most need? (more on this in a future post)

Your energy is precious and your product or service is valuable. Guide your efforts towards the people you most want to serve. If you can picture your prospects or customers as real live people, you will think of marketing to them not as a burden, but fun.

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