Are you on the short & slow road or the long & fast road?
I have repeatedly received a similar question from startups and small businesses. That question is usually something along the lines of “how do I get more customers quickly?”
The founders or business owners give me the details about their efforts and explain that nothing they do seems to be working fast enough.
My answer is typically asking them which road are they trying to go down — the Short & Slow Road or the Long & Fast Road?
The short and slow road is the one where you try a bunch of “get rich quick” type activities. This road is constantly under maintenance and full of road works, so you never really build momentum or get going full speed. It also usually has a bunch of dead ends because once you start going down it you have already gone way off course with no way to get back … apart from starting over at the beginning.
The long and fast road seems long at first. No one looks forward to looking ahead and seeing a long path with more work. The challenge is that this road is uphill for the first several miles before it levels off and you can pick up speed and see your destination on the horizon. However once you get going down this road you will soon be up to speed and zooming along, covering more ground than you can imagine.
Here are a few examples of the differences based on conversations I have had with companies.
New Product or Service
Short & Slow Road — You’ve talked with 10 people (most of them friends and family) who said you have a great idea and it’s obvious that everyone will use it. You immediately start designing, building and spending lots of cash on making your idea come to life. If you do this quickly, you think you will have the first-mover advantage in the market. In reality you will end up “launching” this product 5 times until you get it right and wasting loads of cash and time along the way. You may even run out of cash on version 2 or 3 and never actually launch something.
Long & Fast Road — Take your idea and really understand what problem you are solving, not what “product or service you think” people need. Talk to 25, 50 or 100 people if you need to and do it in 90 days or less. Test your idea with them to see if they really get excited about it and tell you personal stories about how it would improve their lives … or if they politely respond “that’s a good idea”. (see blog on Finding Fab 5) Build the cheapest, less than perfect prototype you can to further test your idea. This could be a simple landing page, Facebook group or mock up. Remember that if it’s a great idea and really solves a pain point for someone, they will gladly overlook its faults or less than perfect appearance. This process may take 3-6 months, but you will now be building a new product or service that people actually want and start to buy when it launches. Overall you will see more cash flow in less time than taking the Short & Slow Road.
Short & Slow Road —Doing things like trying to land that one big news story in the Times instead of building up relationships with relevant reporters of the course of six months. Doing things like spending lots of time or cash on press releases, advertising, social media, attending networking events or creating a Kickstarter campaign — before you have really got your product/market fit nailed down. Doing things like this and then getting discouraged when “it doesn’t work” and customers aren’t beating a path to your door within 2 weeks.
Long & Fast Road — Really talk to your potential customers or who you think your target market is first. Then spend a few months creating and sharing content about your idea, the problem it’s solving, your companies mission and how you can add value to your customers. Test and refine your messages and content based on feedback. Do this for 3-6 months — so that when you do any marketing, press releases and Kickstarter campaigns — your time, money and messaging will be focused on the things that will get you real traction with customers. This will ultimately cost less and yield greater results.
Short & Slow — Looking for that one big whale of a client that will set your company up for life as your very first, second or third client. Expecting customers to buy your product or service the second after they learn it exists. Pushing sales offers at customers instead of having relationship building conversations.
Long & Fast — Building up a steady stream of small and medium clients to gain the experience and momentum for the larger clients. Understanding that customers are in different stages of the buying cycle when they learn about your products and services. They may want what you have to offer, but just need a bit more time to be ready to make the purchase. Build awareness, build relationships and then build sales. If the customer hasn’t initiated the sale, then don’t go in for the “sales kill” on the very first interaction. The Long & Fast Road is the way to build a sustainable pipeline of repeat customers.
Just to be clear, whether you are taking the Short & Slow Road or the Long & Fast Road, definitely take some action. I would advise everyone to have a think about the actions you are taking, then try to take the Long & Fast Road. However my advice is to TAKE SOME ACTION! Even taking the Short & Slow Road will get you somewhere faster than taking no action at all.