Even with all the hindsight gained from my previous mistakes, I’m still perpetually forced into multiple cycles of editing just to remove all the unnecessary garbage from my plans and my communications. In takes me three times as long to get from 2,000 words down to 750 words than it does to spill out the original 2,000 words.
I have a really hard time getting to the point. And as an entrepreneur, it’s the most damaging thing I do. And it’s not limited to blog posts.
We entrepreneurs need wranglers
Not long ago, I was putting together a potential deal between my startup and a Very Large Company. The Very Large Company asked me to send them a sample monetisation model. Nothing too complex or concrete, they said, just a spreadsheet that touched on about a half-dozen potential variables and options.
No problem, I said, and since I’ve been doing that kind of thing for a while, an image instantly flashed in my mind of almost exactly what I needed. A couple of rows, a few columns, some basic math and percentages, all wrapped up in a nice “good-better-best” scenario.
Then I sat down and opened up Google Sheets.
I couldn’t help myself. I came up with several intriguing and tempting options that resulted in a number of multi-line equations and colour-coding and even a little scripting. The end result was not only a monetisation model that worked for this deal, but one that would work for just about any option they wanted.
Hell, you could have used that spreadsheet to show the monetisation options for your own product. And I don’t even know you.
I was so excited, I emailed my CEO to let him know what I had come up with, and I hinted at how we might be able to use this for any future deal that came our way.
He replied back about 10 minutes later with some edits. His spreadsheet was four rows, five columns, no formulas, big font.
His was so much better.
I’ve also learned quite a bit about brevity over the last couple years as I’ve walked this crazy path from “entrepreneur who likes to write” to “featured columnist at a few real publications.” Now I have editors, and they’re all really smart people who care about the end product. They hack and slash my spaghetti words into posts that are coherent, concise, and far more readable than when I handed them in.
Their whole job is to understand how people absorb important information. I got this note yesterday:
“This is fantastic. Great advice. Well written. Please cut 500 words.”
I can’t stress enough how incredibly important brevity is for sales
I already knew this from having sat on the other side of the table so often. The worst sales pitches are the wordiest, the longest, the ones that open with awkward attempts at humour. Yet I can’t stop trying to cram every value prop, every benefit, and even a few one-liners into my sales communications. I do it in website copy, marketing emails, even investor decks.
I anticipate every objection, squash every detractor, cleverly pique your interest and then bury you with facts.
In all seriousness, I’ve gotten much better at this over the years, but I still marvel at an email or an ad that can get my attention in fewer than 10 words.
What I’ve taught myself is that there is no single email, web page, or ad copy that can close the deal. It’s all about pushing the prospect down the funnel. And if you bore them to death, they’ll just float back up to the top.
The simpler the product, the easier the sale
This is probably where my weakness exposes itself in its most dangerous form. Overbuilding products is a disease suffered by many entrepreneurs, especially tech entrepreneurs. And even though I preach and live by concepts like lean and agile and minimum viable, I still have an unrelenting tendency to make software and apps and features a lot bigger and bloatier than they need to be.
Thankfully, I’ve learned to rely on technical folks whose sense of elegance is more refined than my sense of ego. Our CTO at Spiffy, for example, shares my love for product perfection, but he’s usually tasked with doing 100 things at once, and he gets them done by being a minimalist, not by cutting corners.
There’s a huge difference between those two concepts, and when you start overbuilding and chasing perfection in your tech, corner-cutting gets more tempting as deadlines approach.
Like I said, I’m still learning, and I’m getting better at extracting the nugget of insight from the salad of words, putting the offer up at the front of the pitch, and keeping the simple in my products without resorting to the stupid.
I mean obviously, I’m doing something right. But still, this post should have been no more than 500 words.
Joe Procopio is a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur. He is the founder of startup advice project TeachingStartup.com and is the Chief Product Officer of mobile vehicle care and maintenance startup Get Spiffy. You can read all his posts at joeprocopio.com
If you want more direct advice and answers, look into Teaching Startup.