Taking the Hard Road (the illusion of easy)

Posted on: July 12, 2013

A couple weeks ago, I had a conversation with the owner of a local plumbing company. He had recently paid a fairly well-known inbound marketing guru and consultant to help him grow his business. But during the consulting process, something interesting happened.

Instead of the consultant helping the plumber create an inbound marketing system to grow his existing plumbing business, the consultant (using his own personal success story as proof) planted a new idea in the local plumber’s head.

Why try to [continue to] build a local plumbing company? 

Think about it …

You’re working long hours. You’re dealing with a seemingly endless stream of employee and customer issues. You’re forced to wear a million different hats. You never get to spend time with your son. You’re not making the money you deserve to be making.

What if instead of trying to grow your existing business, you did what I did which is to become a marketing coach for other business owners!? That’s right—instead of trying to grow your business, take the experience I’m giving you, and your industry experience, and teach other plumbers like you how to grow their businesses with inbound marketing!

(Note: Of course, the folks at HubSpot LOVE it when a good plan like this comes together—more inbound marketers means more clients for them!!)

In the scenario above, the consultant piqued the plumber’s interest with stories of how consulting allowed him to make more money than ever before while also spending more time with his family—for example, once he consulted with a client while the consultant was out fishing with his son.

Sounds great, right?

Sure … and if you believe it, I’ve got some beachfront property in Arkansas I’d like to show you. For a limited time, I’ll give it to you for a real steal of a deal!

Consulting with clients while on a fishing trip with your son!?

Are you f*cking kidding me?

First, I’m sure your kid really appreciates that (“Dad, are you almost done?”). Second, how do you think the client on the other end of the line feels—talking to you with the wind howling in the background and the occasional yelp from your kid screaming, “Dad are you almost done? Dad look at this!” If you want to piss clients off, this is a surefire formula for success.

It’s also hard to spend more time with your family when you’re traveling the country giving speeches.

Broadly speaking, there are three types of consultants …

First, there are those who have actually done what they are trying to get you to do. Second, there are those who did just enough of what they’re trying to get you to do to make fake that they’ve done it successfully. Lastly, there are those who have never really done what they are suggesting you do.

In my experience, which is albeit limited, most of the consultants that fall into category two and three have a big personality and some sort of evangelical background (former preacher, pastor, etc.). Now, I’m not saying that all consultants that have this type of background are fakers, but again, in my experience, most are.

Running Any Type of Business Is Hard Work

I run an online marketing company, and consulting is a big part of what we do. I can tell you from first-hand experience that building up a consulting business—whether you’re teaching plumbers how to market their businesses more effectively or coaching CEOs—is every bit as difficult as scaling a local plumbing company (or virtually any other type of service business).

In some ways, I’d argue that building and managing a sizable consulting business is even more difficult because you’re dealing with intangible services.

When you go out to replace someone’s toilet, it’s not too difficult for your customer to see that you’ve done it. It’s a much different story when you’re hired to help someone develop an inbound marketing program or optimize their website. In the latter scenario, you’ll often find yourself sitting with a huge headache, wishing you had more clearly articulated what optimizing a website includes, because suddenly the client thinks that they’ve hired you to help them with everything relating to their company’s computers and IT infrastructure (all for $500 per month!!!)!

You think it’s hard to manage a bunch of plumbers?

Wait until you try to manage a bunch of bloggers or website programmers (especially when your background is as a plumber)!

As I sat and listened to what this plumber was considering, I thought, “What this is really about is this guy looking for an easier road.” Sayings like “the grass is always greener on the other side of the field” exist for a reason, dude. In my opinion, the local plumber would get farther—in every respect—sticking with his current business and building it to be the best of its kind.

I learned this when Blue Corona started to pivot from consulting into software as a service. Until we started building our own software, I thought that people running software companies had it so much easier than I did. I thought that once we got the software up and running, I’d just be watching my bank account grow from a beach somewhere. Maybe someday that will happen, but it will only be because of a shitload of hard work—blood, sweat, and tears—on the front end.

Harvard Business Review even did a case study about this … the success rate of companies that try to pivot into a new industry vs. working to enter the top of their existing trade. Guess which companies did better?  You guessed it.

The illusion that there’s an easy path to success is just that—an illusion.

It’s such an easy sales pitch for the inbound marketing consultant to say:

  • You’re doing it wrong
  • There’s an easier way
  • With a few tweaks, you can make more money with less work
  • I can show you the secret formula—it’s worked for me
  • I’ll show you how to generate passive income so that you can spend more time with your family, do what you want to do, etc.

All of these are music to the typical small business owners’ ears—in exactly the way the magic fat-loss pill is the perfect solution for the fat, lazy, obese late-night TV watcher! More often than not, the secret consulting formulas work just a tad better than the miracle fat-loss pill—you know—the one where you can still eat anything you want?

Nothing annoys quite as much as self-purported experts that sell their clients on a dream instead of helping them use their current business to create a better reality.

On the whole, I love Tim Ferris, but the takeaways I get from him have to do with the power of contrarian thinking and his thoughts on effectiveness and efficiency. I don’t believe that most people can actually replicate the lifestyle that Tim purports to have. Even if they could, some would find that they don’t even enjoy it as much as they thought they would.

When you hire a consultant to help you improve your business, and you find that consultant telling you that the problem with your business is, well, all of it … it’s time to find a new consultant.

There Is No Shortcut to Success. There Is No Easy Road.

Building any type of business is hard work. There is NO easy road. Instead of wasting time looking for one [the easy road], spend time really thinking about the systems required to build a best-in-class company.

Anyone can do it … as long as you don’t get misled by the illusion that there’s an easy way.

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