It’s not complicated, it’s difficult

Great strategy is about doing the hard work, not searching for a silver bullet

“It's not complicated; it's just hard."

— Michael Slaby, Obama's 2008 chief technology officer

Getting what you want might not be as complicated as it feels. It might just be difficult.

The strategies that succeed usually aren’t brilliant in their creativity or especially surprising in their presentation. They’re often quite simple. And that’s what makes them work.

But they’re also often difficult. Rudyard Kipling once said, “If you don't get what you want, it's a sign either that you did not seriously want it, or that you tried to bargain over the price.”

That price is usually careful thinking, long-term planning, and hard work, day after day.

Grant’s victory at Vicksburg—the most famous military campaign of the Civil War, and probably the most brilliant ever in execution—wasn’t complicated. It was just profoundly difficult. So difficult that his top general, W. T. Sherman, felt it necessary to repeatedly advise against it.

But it was also dreadfully simple: Rush past the enemy’s defences, take the long way around (often the quickest path, according to Hart), and turn your enemy’s fortress into a prison.

Simple, clear, and successful. It wasn’t brilliant in its design, it was brilliant because it worked.

So much of strategy can be summed up as, “Just do the things you know deep down you should be doing. Do them in the right order, and do them in a way you can adjust if it doesn’t work. And celebrate every victory, so you have the motivation to keep going, day after day.”

Most business owners know they should focus more on their highest value services or products. They know they shouldn’t jump on every opportunity that rolls their way. They know they need to be more consistent with their messages, and make promises about their products that matter to customers.

But they get distracted, they get busy, and they often get desperate. Because as the problems pile up, the pile starts to look complicated. And then desperation leads them down an even worse path. They start looking for a silver bullet.

So they search for any app, tech, tool, or agency that can just make all their marketing problems disappear. They want someone or something to simply turn up the sales dial and they’ll suddenly have a successful, problem-free business.

But there is no silver bullet, and there’s no such thing as werewolves or vampires. Our problems are based in reality, and they require real-world solutions.

There’s no app, tech, tool, or agency that can suddenly make your marketing problems disappear, because it’s actually not that complicated. You need to do the hard work.

You need to say no to more opportunities, and focus on the ones that actually work for you. The ones that make you money, and satisfy you personally.

You need to market your product or service consistently, you can’t chase after every new opportunity, tactic, or technology.

You need to charge prices that will allow you to turn a profit, even if that means some uncomfortable conversations with prospects.

You need to have an obvious advantage over alternatives—and merely being “better” or cheaper isn’t it.

And you need to be willing to jettison directions, ideas, efforts, and tactics that aren’t working, without regret.

Strategy isn’t about a “big idea” that suddenly rockets you into a different territory. It’s not about a brilliant solution to a complex problem. It's about taking one step at a time, in the right direction, all the way to the end.

It’s about walking in a straight line instead of running in a circle.

Because, at the end of the day, it’s not complicated. It’s just difficult.

Further Reading:
On thinking things through all the way to the end
Most small businesses don’t simply need more customers

If you’re feeling stressed, and your marketing challenges are feeling more and more complicated, send me an email. I’d love to chat it out:

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