I recently listened to a great podcast episode from Brene Brown, that was published in September 2020, titled “Stretching and Chasing”.
In that episode, expert Dr. Scott Sonenshein talks about two concepts that help explain a range of things in life and business. The two concepts are:
- Stretching – where you are being scrappy and using whatever is at your disposal to make things happen.
- Chasing – where you have plenty and are just trying to do more for the sake of more, to keep up with the Joneses, and maybe to even find happiness.
My Business Stretching Story
I think back to the early days of Credo, where we had like $4-6k of monthly revenue and I was still consulting on SEO to pay for my half of my family’s living expenses.
In 2016 and 2017, when Credo was anywhere from $4k to $18k/mo in revenue, I went to a lot of conferences. I offset the travel by using credit cards in smart ways to get airline miles so I could fly “for free” and I would often share an AirBNB with a friend at a conference because I couldn’t afford the conference hotel. I also leveraged friendships and relationships to often get free tickets to these events, which often cost $1k+ to attend.
In this period, I was stretching. We had limited resources, so I did what I had to do to make Credo a “thing.” And it worked – it became a thing. We do mid to high six figures a year in revenue currently and have a small but mighty team that does good work. I have time and financial freedom to largely work on what brings me joy and what I am best at, while also having a lot of location and time freedom.
Chasing (and worse off for it)
In the last few years, since Credo has done better revenue-wise, we’ve become less scrappy. I don’t write as much content (I pay someone to do that), I don’t do many lead calls (I pay someone to do those), I don’t do most of the sales (I pay someone to do that too). For a few years I also had a technical partner that was doing a lot of the development work.
But, we’ve also slowed down our innovation significantly. Some competitors have come up and caught us. They’ve driven up acquisition costs and we’ve struggled to adapt and innovate.
We’ve tried to do a lot of things to grow that just haven’t worked. We’ve lacked direction at times, which is 100% my fault.
In short, we’ve been chasing something unknown, just trying to grow, trying to keep the ship steady, spending in areas that didn’t bring us results.
We’ve experienced the Innovator’s Dilemma. The Innovator’s Dilemma is defined as:
a theory about how large, outstanding firms can fail “by doing everything right.”
I did all the “right” things. I’ve hired people. I’ve bought back my time. I’ve worked with coaches
But I’ve been on the verge of burnout for years and, to be honest, I got comfortable. My wife does well and my life is great, and I’ve prioritized my own comfort in life over pushing hard in business.
This isn’t to say Credo hasn’t grown. In fact, our revenue for March-June 2022 is up 15% from the same period in 2021 and June 2022 revenue was 33% higher than January 2022.
Back to Stretching
The point still stands, however, that our innovation has slowed. We haven’t launched anything big in over a year, even though our team was the biggest it’s ever been for the second half of 2021. We were laying groundwork for new things to be sure, but it shouldn’t take a year to lay groundwork for a company at our stage.
We quit being scrappy. We had “enough” in the business, and I quit innovating.
I felt at the time like we had pretty unlimited resources. The business is fully funded (according to the Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits! methodology), we had people in each of the six core business function seats, and had grown well in 2020.
I was cocky. I was “becoming a CEO.”
What I needed to do was keep innovating.
That’s what we’re doing now. We have some big launches coming up in Q3 and Q4 2022. We’re finally innovating again. Things feel fun again. I’m writing more code than before, more in the weeds than I’ve been in a long time, and I’m having a blast.
What changed? A few things.
First, our team is half the size it was a year ago. All of the people we had then (all contractors, though some as much as half of their time) were needed at the time, but now are not. I’m back to working in the business more than before, working on new things which gives me energy. I’m writing code and building pages and optimizing and following the data, then actually implementing tests and changes.
Second, I have space in my life to think creatively and look at the bigger picture, which is driving innovation in new areas again.
Third, necessity is the mother of invention (or, innovation!). As the United States and world has emerged from the Covid pandemic (which is still very much going on), people seem to be working less, are less focused, and are traveling more which means they are slower to make decisions. We saw massive revenue growth in 2020, to the tune of 70%, which slowed substantially in 2021 though we still grew revenue despite the headwinds. Like many businesses, we’ve continued to experience headwinds in 2022 which has meant that to keep growing, we need to diversify our offerings.
I’ve been chatting for months, and maybe over a year, now with my coach Chris about Credo’s offerings. If you’ve been paying attention (which let’s be honest, you probably have not been!) over the last 6 months we’ve been slowly adding things to the site to meet the needs of our customers on both sides of the market. In February we dramatically simplified our top navigation, which had no adverse SEO effect like I worried about, and have slowly been rolling out new offers. That will continue through the second half of 2022, as we’re actually accelerating our innovation right now.
Stretching vs Chasing Personally
I’ve never really been one to feel like they need to keep up with the Joneses. I’m an ambitious and hard working person, and I’d rather be the person that others are trying to chase rather than chasing others.
For a long time after going out on my own, I pushed hard because of the fire burning inside me to prove myself, to make Credo (and now EditorNinja as well) successful. Early in my career, when I was single and living in Brooklyn while working for Distilled, I worked incredibly hard to establish myself in the marketing industry. I went to conferences. I spoke at conferences. I blogged twice a week for two and a half years.
And guess what? It paid off. I established myself. I built a great audience across this site and social media, an audience out of which some of my best friends and business connections have come.
But around 2019, I stopped stretching so hard. My daughter was born, Credo was doing well (we got our first office! I hired my first full time person! I was a CEO!), and some things changed in my personal life that made me feel…comfortable.
But around late 2020 to early 2021, I started feeling this sense of dissatisfaction. I felt like something was missing in life. I started trying new things, new routines, new hobbies. We bought a house in the mountains, I got a new truck, etc.
None of that solved it though. I felt myself chasing always something else, something more, that the next thing would plug the “Missing” hole.
What I learned though was that nothing does. Nothing external will plug something that may be missing personally. As the world has opened back up, I’ve been able to travel again, which was a large part of my life before. I’ve been able to meet up with friends more, which was missing. And, honestly, I’ve found my creative spark again and I’ve been creating and innovating at work.
I no longer feel like I am chasing, chasing something other to keep up. Instead I’m leading again, pushing, doing new things.
Are You Stretching or Chasing?
No one has unlimited resources. Some have more than others, but at the end of the day we’re all after one thing – satisfaction. And weirdly, having more resources can make it harder to feel satisfied when you quit stretching and innovating, and instead start chasing like I was.
So I ask you – are you stretching or chasing? Both personally and professionally (though the two cannot be completely separated), if you’re feeling stuck it may be useful to consider whether you are setting the pace for others or whether you are chasing others.
It may change how you approach the world and how satisfied you feel with your current situation, or at least give you insight into how you can change it.
Hope that helps.