One of the biggest challenges digital entrepreneurs face when building products meant to solve a problem and make them money is over-building.
“I built this course that solves X problem but if you sign up NOW you get these 30 other things that I’ve also created that are $Y,YYY value and they’re not really related but hey! Psychology!”
Or, we get stuck in the build trap of continuing to build and refine and perfect without actually shipping anything publicly, and then when we do it’s not something people want or are willing to pay for.
If you’ve worked online for a while, or more aptly inside a decent-sized tech company, you’ve heard the concept of a minimum viable product.
Various people have issues with the term, others just misunderstand it, and some percentage of these try to define their own term which further only cements the dominance of the original. But at its core, I think the idea of a minimum viable product, of building the least possible to solve the problem in good enough of a way, is solid.
I then take this a step further and try to apply what I call Minimum Viable Effort to achieve a Pareto’s Principle outcome – the 20% of effort that is going to get us 80%+ of the results or cut down on 80%+ of the work that we are automating.
A recent Credo example
Just the other day I was on a call with Credo’s developer Ben. Ben and I have worked together off and on since 2017, so in many ways he’s my longest standing professional relationship at Credo.
Ben and I have built a lot of stuff together over the years. Lead distribution systems, feedback systems, lead acceptance systems, billing systems, and onsite ranking algorithms. I remember spending months, and lots of dollars, working through things that in the end made zero difference to the business’s revenue.
In many ways, Ben’s and my work together in those early years has influenced me because I’ve become VERY tired of throwing money after things that isn’t going to have a fairly quick payback on the effort.
A few years ago, we were at ~$28k/mo in revenue. Once I started implementing our prioritized roadmap and simplifying everything we build, we’ve about doubled the business.
A few days ago, Ben were talking about an undertaking we’re embarking on that is not meant to directly drive revenue but rather to streamline an internal billing process that will make the business easier to operate. So we’re effectively buying back time and reducing potential errors on one of the most important parts of any business – collecting money.
Ben and I started talking through the issue, and as we went we started to get deeper and deeper into the problem. The more we discussed, I started to get this uneasy feeling that we were doing our complicated thing again.
I asked Ben, “Ok, so we’re talking through all of this but how can we make the solution simple?”
When I brought that up and we started discussing it, we realized that the complicated part that would add a lot of complexity would only solve about 2% of the problem.
Stated a different way, but cutting that complexity out we’d solve 98% of the situations with just 10% of the effort and cost.
I then talked with my team who operates this part of the business, and they told me that they don’t really care about solving that 2% because it’s such a small part of what they do. All they really care about solving is the 98% that we can solve fairly simply.
This reminded me that when we’re doing something, and we’re tempted to overcomplicate it and solve for every real and every potential problem, we should ask ourselves how we can make it simple for ourselves.
Another quick example
Here’s another example for you.
I come from the SEO world. I was a professional SEO from 2010-2018. I worked on some of the largest websites on the internet, driving them hundreds of millions of search visits and tons of money.
In the SEO world, people like to overcomplicate it. There’s a common understanding that “SEO changes all the time” and “SEO moves fast so you need to keep up.”
While I believe this is a toxic understanding because SEOs literally become addicted to their work (and I believe addiction and obsession are bad things), I also believe it is based off a completely wrong misunderstanding.
Maybe it behooves professional SEOs to overcomplicate SEO so they can make more money from clients who are just overwhelmed and want someone to “just take care of it for me,” but I don’t believe most SEOs or most people generally do this purposefully.
We just don’t realize we’re doing it and don’t know better. But because of this, we end up wasting a lot of time and effort on things that just don’t move the needle.
“There’s surprisingly little worth knowing about SEO. Most of the Internet’s SEO advice is a waste of time—they’re trivial optimizations offering marginal returns.”
What do you folks think about this statement? 🙂
— Tim Soulo 🇺🇦 (@timsoulo) April 19, 2022
I firmly believe there are three things that matter in SEO. I call them the Core Pillars:
- Technical SEO – make sure your site is findable and crawlable by search engines.
- Quality keyword-oriented content – to target keywords that can drive relevant traffic and business to your site.
- Backlinks – so your site can rank for more competitive keywords and earn referral traffic from others places on the internet.
Sure there are many strategies and tactics within each of these that do change, and some quicker than others, but when they do it’s not “SEO changing.” It’s the short term tactics and strategies changing, not the core of SEO itself.
This is why products and courses and books like “SEO for the rest of us” or “SEO made simple” or “The beginner’s guide to SEO” are so popular.
They don’t include all the fluff. They don’t tell you that you need to be “obsessed with SEO” to win (because you don’t).
For the vast vast vast majority of business owners and marketers, understanding the 3 core concepts of SEO and keeping them in mind as you do things online is what they need to know. It’s what will ultimately make SEO a profitable channel for you.
Don’t forget to ask yourself how to make it simple
No matter what you are doing, whether in life or in business, don’t forget to ask yourself (and others) how to make it as simple as possible.
I can get from the ski lift I usually start my days at in Breckenridge to the good steep skiing in 3 lifts if I want to. I can also make it take 4 or even 6.
Why would I take 4 or 6 lifts if I can avoid it and my ultimate goal is skiing, not riding lifts?
The same thing applies to SEO, or building digital products, or building houses.
How can you make things simple?