Let me tell you how you should run your entrepreneurial internet business.
You should have a blog, and you should write on it regularly. You should have an email list and you should use it, but not wear it out. You should to have services in some cases, but there are also some cases where you should only have products for sale. You should think about your product funnel, meaning you should have some entry-level stuff for sale that leads up to higher-tier products. You should respond to all emails promptly.
You should work hard almost every day, but you should also allow time for yourself. If you have a family, you should allow time for them too. You should make a schedule and stick to it. You should never back off from a good idea. You should persevere. You should remain positive and never give up.
Those are the things you really should do.
Yeah, what a load of shit.
The problem with shoulds
Should implies that something is necessary. If someone says “You should do X,” it really means, “If you don’t do X, you won’t get the result you want.”
Should is the mark of a formula.
A formula works well when mixing chemicals or baking a cake. If you take this and this and this and put them together in this way using this exact sequence of steps, you’ll end up with nitroglycerin or a tasty dessert, or possibly a batch of awesome exploding baked goods.
Where a formula falls apart is when actual human beings and chaotic systems are involved. Your cake batter isn’t changed by the economic whims of millions of people or vacation schedules or politics in the way a life decision is — and if it is, that’s one fucked up cake and I’d like to try a slice.
Formulae don’t work. Advice works, but “works” means that it can steer you in the right direction, point out a few potential land mines, and suggest a few areas that might be sweet spots.
Another way to put it is that advice can point your rudder and set your sails, but it’s not so accurate that you can go below deck and take a nap. If you want to land in the right port, you’re still going to have to do some steering, and adjust to the big waves and gusts of wind that nobody saw coming.
There are no hard and fast rules. There are only guidelines. The point of mentorship or coaching (and I say this as a coach, hint-hint) is to lend experience and knowledge to a situation and to work together to plot a probable best course of action. This is what seems to frustrate so many people. No advice can do it all for you. You’re the one in the ship 24/7, with your hand on the rudder. The map helps, but the map can’t steer for you.
Now… think of all those things you think you should do. Think of all the things you’ve been told that you really should be doing, because there are almost certainly a lot of them. If you’re trying to get good at something new (a business, a sport, a lifestyle change, a discipline of any kind) and you’re like most people, you’ve read a lot of articles, blog posts, and books. You’ve listened to audio and watched video, and all of it from different people.
But you can’t do everything that all of those sources say to do, because a lot of it conflicts. But you try, and you feel guilty about the stuff you’re not doing that you should be, because if you don’t do it, you’re doomed to fail.
Stop shoulding on yourself
Stop it. Stop feeling guilty. There are no rules. There are only guidelines, so you get as much information as seems reasonable and you take your best shot. Then you see how you did, you adjust, and you take another. And another. You constantly tweak the position of the rudder and the set of the sails, and if you have to, you ditch the sails and you turn on the damn motor, or you break out the oars.
(NOTE: I guess I really do believe this, seeing as it just now occurred to me that the above is essentially the thesis behind Question the Rules.)
Think about some of these shoulds. Do they apply to you? Maybe. Probably, in fact… but not “definitely.”
Should you answer all emails promptly? In general it’s a good idea… but not if it’s something you can’t keep on top of; not if the tone of your brand doesn’t require or imply it; not if you have an assistant who’ll do it; not if it’s robbing you of time you need for more important activities.
Should you do joint ventures to get your name out there? Well, I’ve done a few JVs, but you don’t necessarily have to do them. They’re generally pointless if all of the partners bring the same skills and knowledge to the table, if you do just as well on your own, if too many cooks around you just leads to more problems, or if your partner is an asshole.
Clients ask me all the time: “Should I do X?”
And the unsatisfying answer is almost always, “It depends.”
Which really means that at each decision point, you get to consider where you are, where you want to go, your assets and your liabilities, and a bunch of other information unique to that one moment, that one situation. You get to take some advice and maybe consult a mentor or a coach, who can help narrow your options, give you ideas, and open some more possibilities.
But then it’s up to you.
And as always, the best advice seems to come from the Matrix movies. Like when Morpheus, after learning the prophecy he’d based his life around was a lie, said to the Oracle, “After everything that has happened, how can you expect me to believe you?”
And the Oracle says, “I don’t. I expect what I always expected — for you to make up your own damn mind.”
If you’ve got a lot that you think you should do, stop beating yourself up about the rules that other people have used to play other games. Stop riddling the solutions to other people’s problems. Look at where you are, what you know, and what others can advise you.
And make up your own damn mind.
P.S: If you’re looking for some of that specific guidance that will help illuminate the way but will not not relieve you from the need to steer your own ship, I should mention that I recently released my more-affordable, very to-the-point Bullet Sessions coaching.