Life-long learners know that they don’t know everything. Let’s take a closer look at what this means, what opportunities arise, and why you should use this as a competitive advantage by incorporating it in your business values.
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know…
…but you can be one of us, who recognise this, sit with the occasional discomfort, and choose to work with it rather than pretend it doesn’t apply to you. The implications of not knowing what we don’t know are enormous, if we have no solution ready for how to handle the need for dynamic change.
First, the internet happened and those with dinosaur mentality started to lose business opportunities. Digital marketing saw the daylight and they didn’t embrace it, so when competitors opened websites to lure new customers, they kept putting ads in papers, on window shields of cars, or relied on word-of-mouth only. They are of the category that grudgingly own a business card type of website today with looks from the 1990s, and since it just sits there, no traffic with conversions as a result appears either.
Next, social media happened and those late to the party didn’t understand the possibilities of not only being social as a private entity but business as well. Many are still wondering how to use various platforms to their advantage, but how many set aside a number of hours to actually read significant sources, learn and apply in practice? How many scrape the surface, read an infographic here or follow some digital marketer there in hopes of cracking the code, finding a quick fix to boost vanity metrics, and creating proof for themselves that “at least they’re trying”?
Now we are living in an age where TikTok has arrived and it looks like maybe it wouldn’t be such a great idea to join after all. Instagram seems to keep changing their algorithms like we change underwear (daily) and the glaringly obvious conclusion out of a business owner’s perspective is that vanity metrics are nonsense makeup, the 24-hour lifespan of Insta stories resembles instant noodles (quickly made, quickly disappeared), and the only thing we own is our website.
SEO, SEO, SEO. Organic traffic, evergreen content, and people who don’t subscribe to the favourite excuse that since the goldfish has an attention span of eight seconds, we can have it too. Imagine if scientists would think like this amidst a pandemic when the world needs a vaccine. Time to step into the shoes of a real business owner or go work for someone else. Frank? Yes. Honest? Absolutely. (I’m a scientist in case you didn’t know. :) )
But They Sound Like They Know
Yes, their egos want them to sound like experts. I’ve fallen for that same magnetic fluff. When we are new on the scene, there’s so much to learn still, and everyone else seems to know more—and do it better. It’s easy to put our trust where people yell the loudest and talk about their financial achievements without distinguishing between revenue and profit.
When someone says “You should do this!”, the first question I recommend you ask is “Why?” and if there’s no deeper thought behind it walk away.
Keeping facades intact causes people to stay quiet about failures, but it’s with absolute certainty that they happen. A few business owners have confessed in newsletters that a year or so ago, when they made it sound like they had it all together, in fact they were feeling like crap inside. Or they were fierce proponents of a launch technique that left them exhausted, desperate for less work and in sore need of something more sustainable in the long run. And since they seemingly spoke from experience, their followers were implementing the same unhealthy practices. I thought they knew what they were talking about, too.
People want leaders and experience. People want to trust. I’m unusual in that I don’t mind admitting to not knowing something, but that’s only because I’ve done some deep-level self-development. My view is that I don’t lose anything on drawing lines between knowledge and lack of it, since this clearly allows me to recognise priorities. I myself prefer a leader, who is okay with vulnerability and who doesn’t have a god complex, so why not do my best to be like that too?
What do I need to work on (whether I like it or not), if it’s good for the health of my business? What must I learn the basics of until/so that I can hire help successfully later on? And which skills are complete no-gos for whatever reason?
The sooner I recognise where I stand, the sooner I can get comfortable as well as make good decisions. And the more transparent I am whilst setting my ego aside, the higher the quality of my interactions with others.
People tend to trust others more when it’s clear they speak honestly from the heart. I’d rather not create smoke screens by insinuating I know more than I do, and most certainly don’t want to lead anyone astray by teaching unsustainable methods and quick fixes. Building a business isn’t supposed to be quick, so why preach “proven methods”, which most likely cannot be implemented in other businesses unless their business models are exactly like mine—and what’s the likelihood of that?
The only way to carve through the fluff is by knowing, having spent time learning on your own, and realising lots of people are merely parroting what others have spoken as absolute truth before them. I neither need nor want to read another confessional email in which the business owner admits to not having done the work and, especially importantly, hasn’t done thinking of their own but driven themself to the brink of burnout because others told them to.
Listen to your gut, trust your instinct: if something feels bonkers when you’re trying to implement another’s subjective truth, stop immediately. Rationally you may lack insight into why it’s wrong, but as long as you acknowledge that it is, you’re on the right track.
Keep It Private
Moving on to the values of your business. You can have both public and private values. If it makes sense to post some in public to inform your audience, do. When it comes to life-long learning, however, may I suggest you keep this one to yourself?
Whether you know it or not, there are others watching your moves and if you blast it to the world that you’re constantly learning new stuff, they might be inspired to do the same. In saturated markets in particular you don’t need this extra burden of competitors breathing too closely down your neck.
But let’s backtrack a bit. Why put life-long learning front and centre of your business at all? Can’t it happen without formalising it? Sure, but perhaps you’re familiar with the saying “out of sight, out of mind”? In a busy everyday, what we don’t bring to awareness regularly is forgotten.
How will you recognise fluff if you don’t know what the real deal is?
Avoid Power Words
I’ll use the Overdrive app used by libraries for borrowing books and magazines as an example. I just browsed the section for photography magazines the other day and its five pages were overwhelming to say the least. How was I supposed to know which ones would suit me when the sheer volume was mindblowing?
Upon closer investigation there were magazines available for brands (Canon, Nikon), themes (outdoor, landscape, photography, black-and-white, macro), apps (Lightroom, Photoshop), round-ups (nutshell compilations based on best-of articles from a year or more), gear (camera models, lenses, equipment), experience (beginner, advanced) and more.
If a teacher can’t explain themself through the 6 W (who, what, where, when, why and how) as well as categorise what they preach, like we can understand from dividing the photography magazines above into different contexts, they do not know the topic well enough. The magazines were easy enough to divide into different contexts, because the knowledge required was built by simply observing society and life at large, but understanding business requires deeper learning through books and courses.
If the wannabe teachers are unable to explain things clearly, without citing more than peers, blog posts and articles in popular-business magazines or books, chances are they don’t actually know business. But you can work this out if you spend time learning business of your own as part of the core values.
Power words such as “proven”, “ultimate”, “epic”, “exhaustive” and the like all appear when copywriting is tiredly boombastic and actual depth of knowledge is masked. Who can confirm it’s truly as ultimate as they want to claim? Heavy-weights aka large enterprises would never, ever use these words in order to avoid lawsuits, so think for a second about how freely small-business owners throw them around like confetti, without any worries.
Transparency means people have nothing to hide, so ask them about their “six-figure launch” and “seven-figure business” whether they mean revenue or profit. Profit is truly impressive, because that’s what is left in the bank after any and all expenses have been paid. Some believe they mean profit, when they really talk about revenue.
Can you afford listening to someone without a touch of academia in their approach to business skills? Someone who thinks you as a B2C owner can implement the same activities they have done in their B2B firm to get similar results? Someone who talks about strategy when they mean tactics? It’s your livelihood on the line here and we’re possibly listening to people, whose dayjob it is to teach business skills to fellow entrepreneurs.
Business owners like us need shortcuts to get results faster and this means signing up for expensive courses to get the nutshell version quickly. We are prepared to pay to avoid doing the hard and lengthy work of piecing all details together, but how can success selling that nutshell package (B2B firms) to other entrepreneurs be interpreted as knowing how B2C or other B2B firms in a different industry should do business? There’s no certainty that their 7-step process intended for B2B in their own industry will work for you in your unique B2C.
It’s easy to fall for the power words and I’ve done so myself, but luckily the investment in my case wasn’t too large. Look at their credentials is all I can encourage you to do, in addition to scrutinising how they talk about business.
Steer clear if they mention Instagram or Pinterest “strategy”, because it’s Instagram or Pinterest “tactics” and the difference is humongous. They most likely don’t know what strategy even means and hence can’t help you create the business and marketing strategies your firm sorely needs. Did they go to business school at all? Or open an actual business book used in business schools? If they talk about for example marketing strategy without being able to mention Philip Kotler, please do yourself a favour and find someone else to listen to and learn from. Kotler is a legend in marketing.
Don’t panic. Plan for the long haul. This means you have years to hone your craft, stay dynamic, let others jump on the latest fads and test stuff on your behalf before you implement. Consider learning new skills and working on your current ones as part of the job, and set aside time for both.
It’s only through reading and reflection in peace and quiet that you take the greatest strides forward, because the social noise with its vanity metrics around us can be shocking at times.
Return to your foundation at regular intervals and question whether something in your values, vision, mission, business model and strategy has changed. Then bring back those thoughts to strategic planning and implementation.
Be mindful of whose opinions you let into your business universe.
Photo credit: Joyce McCown.