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Learning Business Tradeskill: Facing Business Facts

Business tradeskill is a package of 5 separate skills:

  1. persistence
  2. facing the facts
  3. minimizing risks
  4. Learning by doing
  5. grasping numbers

This is the second post in the the Tradeskill series: facing the facts.  In the first post I discussed a way to cultivate persistence.

“At the heart of tradeskill is the ability to see events around you in a detached, pragmatic way.”

Paul Hawken

Facing the facts is something everyone can do. It doesn’t take a PhD or even a middle school pass. It’s not reserved for people with high IQ’s, or for people with 10 year’s experience. In business, facing the facts has nothing to do with business size… or market… or experience.

If any one of us can learn to hold our temper, or keep from jumping to a conclusion, then we can learn to face business facts. We can develop that tradeskill if we decide to repeat a small number of actions. Again, this isn’t easy. It involves doing specific things over and over until they become a habit.

Here’s How to Learn to Face Business Facts

We’re going to do the same thing as when we decided to start learning persistence Here are the four qualities we need to develop so that we can face business facts:

  •  separate facts from perception
  • sort and bin the facts so as to be useful
  • test the facts
  • act on the facts

Unlike persistence, we don’t have to work at developing all these qualities together; and that might be a tall order for some of us. Still, we need to pace ourselves so that we’re developing these qualities in the order I’ve listed them.

Separate Facts from Perception

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

– John Adams

John Adams’ famous quote illuminates one bedrock truth about facing the facts; the facts are not our emotions.

To start learning how to separate fact from feeling as a habit, I did two things. First I used a simple list with three categories of information under these three questions:

  1. How to I feel?
  2. What do I observe?
  3. What questions am I asking myself?

Second, I tried to look at the list through someone else’s eyes.

As an example I’ll use something I did last week. I analyzed this GoodBusiness site to see where it (and I) need to improve, to better reach more of you.  Here’s the result.

Click to Open in New Window

Click to Open in New Window

It’s clear that I should be concerned. This GoodBusiness site isn’t growing as fast as I think it should. At the same time, I’m worried and frustrated. And I’m asking myself fundamental questions.

My “other person” is a fictional character with a 5 year old blog; someone with perspective. You can substitute a real person if you wish, and that might be a very good idea while you’re learning.

My “other person” immediately says “Wait a minute. You’ve had this site up for three months and you’re wondering if it will fly? You barely have enough content to begin collecting meaningful statistics. Instead. ask yourself what it would take to double GoodBusiness’ site traffic.”

Of course, it’s immediately obvious that I don’t have anywhere near enough observations to figure out how to double my site traffic. I only have enough observations to spin myself up. I’m not facing facts yet… I’m facing feelings. I need more observations.

The list and my “other person” helps me separate facts from feelings.

Here’s one more tip. If the list of feelings is long and strong, put the list away for 24 hours. Give yourself time to cool off until you can focus on the observations instead of the feelings

Sort and Bin the Facts so as to be Useful

Some hours later, I’ve spent some time with Google Analytics, and here’s what I’ve observed.

Click to Open in New Window

Click to Open in New Window

I’ve figured out what’s bothering me emotionally; it’s that precipitous drop in traffic the day after a new post. There’s are two business facts to be faced here. I have to keep GoodBusiness in front of you every day, and the site is so small that I need to add something every day so you see something new every time you visit.

Discomforting facts usually reveal the most truth.

Still, GoodBusiness shows a bit of well-rounded maturity, even now, and I should be pleased. New visits account for just under 80% of visits; over 20% of the visits are second, third, and fourth visits.

GoodBusiness’ two greatest draws are provocative titles for some posts, and the carefully crafted how-to’s; but only the how-to’s bring you back to GoodBusiness for another read. You’re not very interested in profiles of good businesses or good business people; that half of the site is languishing.

Face groups of facts: facing the facts means facing the right facts, and enough of them to reveal the (possibly deeply underlying) truth.

Finally, there’s an intriguing observation. The front page of GoodBusiness features a banner slide show of graphics, and 40% of you click them when you visit. How can they be more useful/helpful, without being less interesting? What can I do with pictures in an inherently wordy site?

Face small facts, too: small facts may reveal large truths.

Test the Facts

I have a collection observations in front of me. I may not like them, but they point to needed work. Now, before I go further, I need to ask myself: are my observations genuine?

Why should I be skeptical? here are several ways that observations can lead me astray

  • Observers can make mistakes
  • Statistics (especially site analytics) are not facts; don’t treat them as such.
  • One observation doesn’t make a trend
  • In business, conditions change; observations can become out of date.

In this case I’m looking more closely at the site analytics, for two reasons. First, my site is changing quickly as new content is added. I need to pay more attention to last month’s site behavior as opposed to longer term measurements. Second, I may be misinterpreting the meaning of certain Google Analytics measures.

… a couple of hours later… I’ve done some checking. I compared trends for this third month with trends from the first two months. There are some changes in the trends but I can see reasons for them. I’ve also gone back and read Google Analytic’s descriptions so that I understand what Google means by visits, unique visitors, bounce rate, etc.

Act on the Facts

For my Goodbusiness review, here’s the (long) list of actions that complete the process of facing business facts.

Act on the facts. Repeat to yourself; act on the facts.

Here’s my set of actions for the GoodBusiness site review.

Click to Open in New Window

Click to Open in New Window

There are a lot of them, aren’t there? The GoodBusiness site is new and I’m just becoming confident that my observations reflect your (specific and behavioral) feedbackI. I’m not surprised that there are a lot of changes to make. For convenience’ sake of separated them into three groups; promotional activity, site design-related actions, and content focusing actions.

What’s not fully reflected in the analytics numbers is my (lack of) outreach to publicize GoodBusiness. I’ve spent much of the past three months putting up infrastructure and creating a critical mass of content. I need to tell more of you, in more venues, whenever GoodBusiness has more to share. In time, you’ll make a habit of checking, or you’ll have subscribed and be receiving automated alerts… in time.

Because GoodBusiness is new and built with WordPress, it’s quite easy to modify. If whole categories of content don’t interest you, I should stop working on them. The traffic flow analytics suggest that I should change the site arrangement organization. I have a couple of opinion pieces posted; you like reading them but I should separate them from the less popular, but more repeatedly visited how-to posts. (Every news outlet separates fact from opinion; what was I thinking of?)

Now that your visiting behavior begins to give me clues as to what interests you, I can expand on those topics.

So I’ve got a lot work to do.

Make a list of actions. Massage them into a plan. Now, work that plan!

Thinking more generally, there’s a natural tensions between being persistent and facing business facts. How do you decide when to change direction? That’s really hard, but I have learned a few tips from experience.

  •  starting up: persistence trumps facing business facts
  • startup strategy: persistence is equal to facing business facts
  • startup tactics; facing business facts ALWAYS trumps persistence
  • product development: facing business facts trumps persistence (it’s almost never a good idea to stop listening to the market)
  • services development: facing business facts ALWAYS trumps persistence
  • entering a new market: persistence trumps facing business facts (it’s almost always harder and takes longer than you thought it would)
  • leaving a declining market: facing business facts usually trumps persistence

Over time, as you become more persistent and get into the habit of facing business facts, you’ll have a better feel for when to stay on track and when to pivot.

Honestly, I need to say this again; just because I wrote, and you read, this post doesn’t make either one of us one bit better at facing business facts. We’ll have to learn by doing, one quality at at time. No substitutes.

To face business facts:

  • separate facts from perception
  • sort and bin the facts so as to be useful
  • test the facts
  • act on the facts

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