Why You Should Focus On Doing One Thing

I’m having a frustrating week. Bad for me, good for you. When I’m frustrated, that means I blog. I vent. You learn stuff. Everyone wins.

Proctor & Gamble Says I’m Right … 5 Years Later

This article about Proctor & Gamble taking a stand against a lot of the crap involved with online marketing and advertising was a bit of a kick in the teeth.

I’ve run into people at P&G numerous times throughout the years. This includes during one of my first “Social Media is Bullshit” presentations five years ago.

After I finished, two P&G people came up to me to thank me. They really liked the presentation and agreed with what I had to say. The thing is, they turned their badges around so I couldn’t see who they were at P&G, only saying they worked in the marketing department. Then they added, “You’re absolutely right, but we can’t do anything about it.” This is something I heard a lot over the years, and even just heard recently this Spring involving a very large part of our government you would never think of when you think of being obsessed with social media, but they totally are.

Now, P&G is out there fighting the good fight. They’re more or less saying what I was saying, calling out the fraudsters and bullshit online metrics. I’m not going to lie, this stresses me out.

I’m thrilled! But … I’m also stressed. These days when people hear the title of my book, they laugh and they’re open to learning more about it. But man, it’s easy to forget but I had to eat so much shit when the book first came out. No one wanted to hear it. Not (many) journalists, media outlets, tech companies, VCs, marketing people, advertising agencies, you name it and I had a hard sell to make to all of them.

It’s nice to be proven right; Don’t get me wrong, and the fight is far from over too. Just one more example involving Sherly Sandberg that I saw TODAY: She’s featured in The Drum saying Facebook is going to show that digital ads (re: Facebook ads) “ring the cash register.

Motherfucker! Facebook has been saying that for almost a decade now! 

Yes, Facebook Ads can be useful for a lot of things. I don’t dispute that. For those of you on a budget, they’re less expensive than Google’s Adwords, they’re a good place to test copy, headlines, and image thumbnails, and depending on what you’re selling, you may see results from using them. All true.

But at the same time, Facebook often exaggerates about their numbers and reach.

Not to mention, for those of you who have run Facebook ads, you’ll notice that their system punishes you the longer you run an advertising campaign with them. If you run an advertisement that’s successful, pretty soon you’ll notice the ads are less and less effective and you have to pay more money to get better results for the same ad — Yes, you should change up your copy and call to action, but people do need to see the same brand/ad multiple times before it even sticks in their head.

So if you’re constantly forced to change your ad because Facebook wants you to put more money into their slot machine, it’s a challenge to actually build a brand within Facebook’s system. Unless money is no object, which is all they really care about. Even though most of Facebook’s growth is occurring overseas, the majority of the advertising dollars they need to collect come from the United States and Canada.

Facebook wants agencies and big brands with big budgets that can drop $500k-$1M a month and don’t even care about the results as long as all those soft metrics are reached. Everyone else be damned.

So if you run something that’s successful, pretty soon you’ll notice the ads are less and less effective and you have to pay more money to get better, or even equivalent results to what you were getting when the campaign started.

And then there’s the whole debate about whether or not page views / unique users are actually great results to hang your hat on. Business Insider actually just came out agreeing with me that those numbers, after a certain point, are meaningless.

Growth for growth’s sake is stupid as long as you can pay your bills and turn a nice profit.


You Don’t Get Points For Being First

You don’t get points in life for being right or even being first. That was one of the big lessons I took away from “Social Media is Bullshit.” P&G heard me say stuff that they’re now saying publicly five years ago. I didn’t get a medal — although I think I’d look pretty sweet with one.

There’s a common misconception that you have to be first, but that’s not actually the case. You have to be first in your customer’s mind, not first to market.

YouTube was not the first online video service, it was just way more awesome than the previous one. Dropbox was not the first online hard drive. Nintendo was not the first home video game console maker. Airbnb was not the first peer to peer home sharing service. The New York Times was not the first newspaper in New York City. LinkedIn was not the first business / professional social network. Facebook was not the first social network. Windows and Mac OS were not the first operating systems to use graphics as part of the user interface. Netscape was not the first web browser to use graphics.

This list is pretty extensive, but you get the point.

The difference between the first companies and successful ones I named is that they were so much better than what came before them. Being so much better than the competition allowed them to became the first in their target customer’s head.

Whatever came before that product didn’t matter. So much so that if you ask most people today if Facebook was the first social network, a lot of people would say yes. But they weren’t. They were almost a decade late to the social networking game. They just had a way better product than MySpace.

(If you want to read more about why being first in mind, not first to market, is important, I highly recommend the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. You can see my notes on the book here.)

So, take it from me. I tell you all this because when I hear people say “You gotta be first” my skin crawls. Dude, I was first. I was five years ahead of where the marketing world is now with what P&G is doing. It doesn’t matter if you’re first.

Just be better. 10X better is what the startup people like to say. That comes from Peter Thiel’s book, Zero to One, and he’s right. You know what I did wrong that I regret a lot? I could have done a better job with SMIB, but I didn’t. So it made a dent, but it didn’t break open the advertising and marketing industries liked I hoped it would. It wasn’t 10X better than books that came out around it. But you bet your ass that I learned my lesson and the next one sure will be.

Focus On One Thing

Alright. Second thing and this is why I’m actually frustrated. There’s a lot of stuff going on. Good stuff. Positive stuff. But for those of you who freelance, whether it’s consulting or writing, you know there’s a lot of hurry up and wait that goes on.

You have good talks, good ideas, everyone is excited, but what people don’t tell you about freelancing is that you only get to work on your schedule when everything is all set and running. Otherwise, you’re waiting around on other people’s schedules. And while you may think you have the most important thing in the world to do, the odds are good you don’t rate too highly on the to do list of others because they have A TON of more important things to worry about.

(If they didn’t, why would they hire you in the first place?)

So, you wait. And when you wait, you have to keep your attention from wandering. This is where I often get into trouble.

I’m very calm and patient about most things in my life, but when it comes to my career I’m a lot like Bojack Horseman in “Stupid Piece of Shit.” I get that little voice gnawing away at me. I don’t like to wait because there are things I want to do. That little voice has always been there, but it got worse after I almost died (and it’s the reason I see a therapist. Believe me, when you crash and see nothing on the other end, your brain immediately goes, “I want to do ALL THE THINGS” when it comes back on.)

Allow me to let you deeper inside my head for a moment, so you understand what these things are I want to do.

My current goal is to write for Marvel Comics within the next three years. So, what does that mean? It’s seemingly impossible to break into the comics industry, especially if you’re just a writer.

So, you can publish your own comics (check!),  you can go to industry conferences (check!), and you can write for industry publications (almost everyone I used to work with at ComicsAlliance.com now works for comic companies like DC.)

And … you can take a major swing for the fences.

You can do what I just did and pitch a self-help book, disguised as a graphic novel, to major publishers and hope one of them picks it up.

Then, if one of the publishers does pick it up, you can hopefully generate enough heat (re: Press and media attention) to the point where the people at other publishers (Image, IDW, Boom, Archie, ect.) will want to work with you.

The way that breaks down, at least in my mind …

  1. Year one: You write, and get paid for, self-help columns for a major media outlet (check!). You pitch a self-help graphic novel to your agent (check) and hopefully, you can sell the darn thing.
  2. Year two: Your graphic novel gets finished and published while you continue writing your self-help column, and then you write for other places and start doing media appearances to promote your stuff. At this point, hopefully, one of the smaller publishers will be happy and receptive to work with you, and they put you on a book like Ghostbusters or Sonic the Hedgehog. Something that’s already pre-sold to the audience because of what the comic is based on so that people are going to take a risk on a “new” comic writer.
  3. Year three: You do a kick-ass job on Ghostbusters to the point where an editor at Marvel is like, “I like your stuff. Pitch me your idea for Deadpool.” (If you’ve read Social Media is Bullshit, you know I’d be AWESOME at writing Deadpool, although I really, really want to write Guardians (the original team, not the movie team …), Darkhawk, X-Men, and New Fantastic Four. In other words, shit I read in the ’90s when I first started reading Marvel.)

I tell you all this because if there’s something you want to do, the odds are good you can (probably) take a shot at doing it. The trick is that you have to think long term and follow the plan, knowing you won’t see immediate results. Shit, if I’m being brutally honest, you might not see results for an entire year. And that’s really hard when you’re impatient.

This, by the way, is also where everyone fucks up. Not just me. Sometimes, it’s for logical reasons. You’ve got the MBAs and data people making so many decisions now, and while those decisions aren’t always bad, they’re almost exclusively made at the detriment of long term thinking and solutions. Sometimes, it’s for illogical reasons, like a voice in your head that’s constantly kicking you to do more better now faster.

Branding is a long term play. Trying to crack into a notoriously difficult industry like Comics is a long term play. The plan I showed you above will take me three years to do. And that assumes everything runs on time.

It may not. It may take longer.

So you have to maintain your focus on this one thing. The second you start trying to do other things is where you mess up.

Like right now? I just sent Peter 9 pages of a new comic while we’re waiting to hear back from my agent. This is what I need to focus on: Comics. But that voice in my head says, “Ok now let’s pitch a TV show! Let’s write a screenplay!”

Every moment of your free time, not dedicated to friends and family, should be dedicated to getting better at the thing you want to do, and being ready for the opportunity when it comes.

The second a comics editor at any of the companies comes to me, I want to be able to show them all these comics. I don’t want to sit there and go, “Uh … I have great ideas!” Shit, we all have great ideas, but too few of us put them into a fixed form.

That’s the way I want you to think. It’s the way I need to think too, so don’t think I’m some guru or anything like that. But it’d be great if we can think like that together.

Wanting to work on a bunch of stuff at once sounds great, but believe me, I’ve tried for years and years trying to spin multiple plates at once, and I found I was ok at most of them, but I could be amazing if I were to focus on just one of them.

So for me, it’s focusing on comic books. For you, it could be doing something else. But the important thing is to not be in a rush.

Don’t worry about being first. Or the guy you worked with getting to write for Marvel before you did. Worry about you and the thing you want to accomplish. And if the thing you’re working on is fantastic, room will be made for you. I very much believe that. And I hope I can get you to as well.