In This Week’s Update

I’m delighted that you are joining me on the journey of writing my book Discover Clarity.

In this first update I’m going to share:

  • the personal demons I had to battle
  • the initial crappy user research, and resulting change in direction
  • building a landing page by answering key questions

If there were a theme for this update it would be ‘forget perfect, just start, it is the fastest way to get good’.

You’ll get an email from me in the next few days as I invite you for a short user interview. I hope you’ll join me for a conversation as I want to write the best book that works for you. Your input will shape the book and allow me to work on the most important bits first.

My Childhood Curse

I remember being in school aged 10 or 11 and being described as a perfectionist. At the time I thought it was praise. It took me years into my adulthood to realise that it was a curse.

I now have two teenage kids of my own and have been through many parent teacher meetings. They always go the same way:

They are very clever and very engaged in class, but don’t get much down on the page. They seem to get distracted in their own head.

The first time my wife heard this she was shocked. I just shrugged and said ‘yep, that was every teacher’s report in my childhood’.

They, and me, are suffering from the same problem. We are being attacked by the perfectionism demon. He comes in like a friend but is really out to destroy us. He reminds us that we are clever and that we can do great work, and then sets us on the road to ruin by expecting that everything we produce be great. That is a debilitating level of pressure. It is more likely to result in chronic procrastination and distraction than shipped work.

[I] try and trivialize what I’m doing and not make it important and freighted down with weight, because that paralyzes me

Neil Gaiman – The Tim Ferris Show

The 80% Principle

Dan Sullivan wrote a very short book called The 80% Principle. In the book he compels us to get out 80% solutions as fast as possible. He sees the enemy of progress to be perfectionism. As he says:

“Perfectionists are always procrastinators, and procrastinators are always perfectionists.”

Dan Sullivan

He goes on to describe that you can’t produce anything of higher quality than 80%: “…the first time we do anything, when we finish judging our effort, it is 80% of the way there, no matter how much preparation we do before taking action. We see it as only 80% because as we were completing the project, we immediately saw all kinds of ways that it could have been better. The first-attempt result may be great, but in our minds it’s only 80% of the way there.

In my experience of making products you can’t do better than 80% as you don’t know what 100% looks like. You have to ship your 80% work and get feedback on it to know what comes next.

It’s Always A Battle

I completely believe in the 80% principle, and the concept of starting now and getting perfect later, but yet the perfectionism demon is still a part of me.

My perfectionism demon doesn’t like iteration, shudders at ‘quick and dirty’, and is terrified of anyone seeing my work before it meets an impossible measure of perfection. He tries to tell me I need to wait to be ready, that I can hide in a cave and produce perfect work before anyone sees it. He knows that they are both the same as doing nothing.

I wanted to start with user research, but getting the right people to talk to isn’t easy. It isn’t often that they are right at your finger tips, and even though I’ve lots of experience inviting people for interviews and performing them I still feel social anxiety in reaching out.

I thought up the ways I could try to get the perfect people to talk to, and perfectly prepare for the interviews. I could go into London and attend meet-ups of entrepreneurs, or reach out to a start-up accelerator I went through. As I came up with these plans the feelings of overwhelm and the pull of procrastination got stronger and stronger.

I told myself ‘something is infinitely than nothing’, so I scrapped the idea of perfect and did what I could do easily.

Crappy User Research

One of my altMBA buddies was in my target audience so I asked him for an interview and he agreed. In our conversation I was finding out about his life in the area I was going to write about.

He was great, I wasn’t. I don’t think he noticed, but I know enough about having these conversations that I had half-assed the interview. I hadn’t prepared properly and though my questions were ok and got me good information they could have been a lot better.

The dream scenario in building a product or service is to have the person know they have the problem and have the budget to solve it. Choirs of angels will start to sing if the person who will get the benefit from it is also the person who pays.

What I learnt in my quick and dirty interview was that I could tick off only some of those points. He described that he was great face-to-face with a client, but was struggling to get to that point. He also couldn’t clearly describe what his customers wanted – what their motivation was for wanting what he did. That told me that he had the problem I was seeking to address, but unfortunately I could also tell that he didn’t know he had the problem.

I looked back at my experience when I started on my entrepreneurial journey and realised that the same was true for me in the early years.

Up to this point I had been intending to write a general book on user research for entrepreneurs and small businesses. But I now had to face that wasn’t right. It was too theoretical, the person it was aimed at wouldn’t see the benefit of doing it.

I could be about to write a technically brilliant book that no-one cared to read.

I would have to give something tangible early in the process. There would have to be something concrete that they could see as a benefit they could easily understand. After sleeping on this I came up with the idea of a landing page.

A good landing page, or first page on their website, is the dream of a new business owner. Something that clearly speaks to their target audience and compels them to take action.

Doing a good landing page requires you to be able to answer some key questions about what your audience is thinking and their worldview. To do that you need to have done some basic user research.

Building a landing page was now going to be a key part of my book. A practical and useful benefit that could be easily understood and quickly achieved.

My next easiest person to interview was a business coach friend of mine. She was great, but wasn’t anywhere near the target audience. She was an expert and had already cracked the problem of doing great user research and was a true believer. She could tell me her experience of other people dealing with the issue, but these were second hand accounts.

I stopped there, and that was crappy user research and I knew it. But it had still moved me massively forward.

Eating My Own Dog Food.

I’m going to say in the book to get a little user research done, answer some key questions, then build a landing page. That will help massively, then you can iterate and go deeper.

Don’t I have to walk the walk? What in the software world is called ‘eating our own dog food’.

I had to start by building a landing page for my book.

Essential Questions For Getting to Know Your Audience

There are lots of questions I want to answer to get under the skin of my target audience. Questions like:

  • What do they want to feel?
  • Beyond the external problem (what you sell) what are their internal and philosophical problems (the reasons they buy)?

I’ll go into those in depth in a later email, but know that finding answers to them is hard. Fortunately I didn’t need all that information right now. I just needed enough to feed into the sections of my landing page template.

  • What is their desire? Then phrase that as the result they’ll get
  • Tell an empathetic story. The reader should see themselves in it
  • What does success look like? This is the positive motivation
  • What does failure look like? Avoiding failure is a massive motivating factor. Far larger than any potential benefits
  • A transformation statement would be nice. Something that starts with ‘become’, like ‘become an expert in the kitchen’
  • Address their concerns

Then there is the other stuff you need on a landing page:

  • A good picture of you, or people succeeding at your thing. Humans find faces engaging
  • A simple explanation of what it is.
  • A trust and authority section. Where you show that you are worth listening to
  • A clear, single, call to action. Shown at least at the very top and end of the page.

For those I did the best I could do right now. I knew I could do a lot better, but also that I couldn’t get it better until I got feedback from real users.

Why Won’t The Bastard Subscribe Form Show Right?

At the end of horror movies and thrillers, the good guys think they have killed the baddie or monster, then as they relax he leaps out at them for one last attack. My perfectionism demon did the same.

I’m a techie, but I still find building a web site to be unnecessarily taxing. There are always little things that don’t work right. This time it was getting the pop-up to display after someone clicked on one of the many call-to-action buttons. It was supposed to slide in and look pretty. It wouldn’t do that for me. Clicking on that button took you to another page, that was pretty stark and ugly looking.

I spent hours trying to fix that and wasn’t getting anywhere. I was like a terrier that wouldn’t let go – obsessed with getting the form to display the way I wanted.

In the end it was having a deadline that saved me. I’d promised to ship this by midnight on Friday night, so I’d have to make do with how it was.

In The 80% Principle Dan Sullivan writes that your 80% generally looks like 100% to other people.

A lot of people have looked at the landing page and given me feedback on it. Do you know how many people have pointed out the crappy subscribe form? I’ll give you a hint. It is a number with four letters that starts with a z.

Where ‘good enough’ got me

My crappy initial user research showed me I was going in the wrong direction. My book being good wasn’t enough, it had to be compelling to those who weren’t yet true believers.

Building the landing page was exactly the right thing to do. At the end I was a lot clearer on what I was offering, who to, and why they should care. I had discovered a little more clarity.

I also have subscribers like yourself, who are my perfect target audience. That allows me to step up my game. I can have conversations with you and discover what will really help. So I can do as I promised on the landing page: “…to share the essential things you need to know, and leave out the crap you don’t”.

What’s next?

I’m both scared and excited to invite you for interviews. I’m excited as I’m looking forward to learning more about you. I’m scared due to feelings of social anxiety. Nonsense feelings that come from the fear of being rejected. I’ll push through those.

Next week I’ll explain the format of the email I used to invite you for a user interview. Why it is written the way it is and how it sets the tone for a great conversation.