Recently, my long-standing colleague, Brenda MacIntyre, who is also a member of our 7 Graces community on Facebook asked me about the courses we are currently developing here at the 7 Graces Project. I explained how we had hand-selected a group of people to attend a pilot run of our Foundations of Ethical Marketing course. Then, after we completed the pilot last summer, we spent 4 months doing a rigorous course review, based upon detailed feedback from the course participants, and fastidiously outlined all the things that needed to change. We’ll be spending the next few months making all these changes. Once all that is done, we will launch the ‘official’ course to the general public (we’re shooting for an April 2014 launch date).
Similarly, we’re currently in our third month of a ‘beta’ run of our follow-on course and certification programme, which we call ‘Applications of Ethical Marketing’. The participants on that course are a sub-set of those who completed the Foundations course back in July 2013. We’re calling it a ‘beta’ rather than a ‘pilot’ because many of the delivery strategies we designed for it came to us when we did the Foundations course review. As a result, it’s much more organised and refined than our earlier ‘pilot’. And even so, after this ‘beta’ run ends in May 2014, we’ll do another course review based upon the written feedback we will receive from our flagship group of participants.
Brenda was curious to know more about how doing a pilot could be beneficial when creating business courses. As I was sharing my reflections with her, it occurred to me that it would be a great topic to discuss in a blog article, as I believe many business owners who offer training, or who create instructional content of any kind, could benefit from knowing more about the how’s and why’s of running a pilot course, and how it can become a fantastic collaborative vehicle to bring your business and your community closer together.
How People Misunderstand the Idea of ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’
Running a pilot before launching your content to the public has numerous advantages. However, very few independent business owners who offer workshops or online business training do it. Perhaps it’s because the thought simply never occurs to them; but perhaps it’s also because there is an ethos in the modern entrepreneurial world that we should all work less and ‘get’ more. More books have been written on this topic than I can count. Many of us have become convinced that if we spend time on things that are not immediately making us money, then we are wasting time and not doing our business ‘right’.
On that thought, one of the most common business mantras of the past decade has been ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’. The primary idea of ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’ is to avoid over-thinking, over-planning and over-analysing things so business leaders and teams can make decisions and take action quickly. For the most part, I agree with this principle. I believe our businesses (and our lives) can get stuck with too much second-guessing and not enough action. It’s important to keep the energy moving in our businesses, whether we’re talking about ideas or money.
However, I believe many people who embrace the ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’ approach do not fully understand how it actually works, and they tend to focus most of their attention on the ‘Fire’ aspect than on either the ‘Ready’ or the ‘Aim’. For example, I wouldn’t dream of publishing a first (or even second) draft of one of my books, and then fix the errors as my readers point them out to me. First of all, I’d be cheating my customers if I were to charge them money for a carelessly produced, unfinished book. But on top of that, I’d get the most dreadful reviews (the kiss of death for an author)! What I will do, however, is test out fledgling ideas with my business partner, my social media followers or my blog readers, and see what kind of response I receive. I’ll also give a not-quite-finished draft of a book I’m writing to a small, select group, with the express intention of getting constructive feedback from them. This is considered ‘good practice’ in the authors’ craft.
The ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’ approach is also commonly used by many developers of software programmes and applications. If the company acknowledges that the product is in ‘beta’ mode (and the price they charge is reflective of that) and they are committed to developing the product from the feedback they receive, this is the appropriate way to implement ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’. But not all application developers are so ethically inclined. More than once, I’ve fallen prey to fly-by-night developers who interpreted ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’ to mean they could launch and sell their half-baked and faulty products to the public at full cost, with no disclaimers and with no intention of improving or developing it. Unfortunately, many online ‘info-preneurs’ also offer e-books, courses and training materials that are not fully developed and deliver far less than they promise.
While ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’ might be a great motto to use to motivate us into action, it’s important to remember that it’s a 3-part process. There’s a time when we’re ready, a time to fire, and a time to go back and ‘aim’. ‘Aiming’ means to refine our products until they meet the promises and expectations we have set up though our marketing. If we ‘fire’ before laying the groundwork, and then don’t bother to make the necessary refinements, we’re likely to fall into a pattern where we ditch one faulty project and simply dive into creating another. I’ve seen independent business owners do this WAY too many times. Such a pattern locks us in a continuous state of creation and early development, and prevents us from moving onto the growth and expansion phase of our business.
Thus, the modern ethos of ‘working less and getting more’ can sometimes hold our business back, rather than help it move forward.
A Lesson for Business Owners from the Educational World
Back in 2002 when I was doing my MA in Adult Education and Distance Learning, my favourite course was ‘Instructional Design’. This was where we learned the principles and systems that went into constructing rigorous, cohesive courses for adult learners. We learned about defining objectives, stating aims, breaking things into smaller components, creating assessment, defining criteria, measuring progress, and all the things essential to creating any kind of educational module. I found it fascinating, and its systematic approach appealed to my naturally analytical brain.
Two concepts that were completely new to me at the time, however, were course feedback and evaluation. I had been in the educational system (off and on) for years. I was used to providing constructive feedback to students. I was also an ‘external examiner’ for an awarding body here in the UK, and I was used to performing evaluations on the way colleges did their assessments, and to giving verbal and written feedback to teachers and department managers. But the concept of course feedback and evaluation within Instructional Design was the complete opposite, in that the feedback came from the learners. One of the steps when designing a course is to devise a method for students to provide detailed feedback about the course itself. Then, the course designers would carefully go through every word of that feedback to evaluate and redesign the course to make it better. This meant that, to be truly rigorous, the course designer would need to pilot the course – sometimes more than once – and fine-tune it until the feedback received from the learners is consistently positive. Only then could the course be introduced into the larger educational system.
Obviously, unless they happen to have come from an educational background, it’s unlikely that the average business owner has studied Instructional Design. But whether we’re talking about designing live workshops, webinars, online courses, video training, books, e-books, etc., ‘feedback and evaluation’ is an absolutely crucial component to the creation of any kind of training materials for adults. Adult learners don’t want us to ‘tell’ them what they need. They have an entire history of experience that needs to be taken into account. Moreover, as they are at choice as to what kind of training they wish to take, they have needs and expectations that must be met. If we wish to create any kind of course that is relevant and of value to them, it MUST be designed collaboratively with people from our intended audience – especially when it’s a business or marketing course.
But because the average independent business owner does not know this, and because they have often been encouraged by aggressive Internet marketing gurus to ‘Fire’ without really knowing what either ‘Ready’ or ‘Aim’ actually means, they will launch their products to the public only to receive a lukewarm or mediocre response. Frustrated and discouraged, they’ll see the product as a failure, and imagine that the solution lies in creating something altogether different. Thus, they’ve put themselves back at square one, when really the problem was that they ‘fired’ their product directly into the public arena rather than ‘firing’ it into a ‘safe’ test group that could have offered them the crucial feedback that could ultimately make their product a success.
Your Tribe is Your Natural Think-Tank
If you have read the book The 7 Graces of Marketing or you follow this blog regularly, you’ll probably have already recognised that the underlying topic of this article is one of the 7 Graces – the Grace of Collaboration. Creating meaningful informational content can (and should) be a collaborative process. But with whom do you collaborate? Your team? Your colleagues? Your business partners?
The answer: your tribe.
In December 2011, I published The 7 Graces of Marketing. From the 1000s of people who bought the book early on, a small but enthusiastic group of people here in the UK began to gather. When I say ‘small’ I mean about a dozen of us. Together, we organised the 7 Graces Global Conference in June 2012. Financially, the conference was a huge FLOP. But, in terms of human potential, it was a complete bonanza because it gave birth to a highly passionate ‘tribe’ of about 50 people. Now, a year and a half later (and as a result of a lot of work by our team), we have an active Facebook community of about 1000 people and receive about 150,000 visits to our site every month.
A tribe, as Seth Godin puts it, is a group of ‘like-minded people’ who are ‘hungry for connection, meaning and change’. In the past, a ‘tribe’ meant a group of people connected by blood and/or cultural similarities. But in today’s cyber-world, it means a group of people who have come together because they share common values. All tribes have leaders. Just as the Leader of a traditional tribe must hold the protection of the tribe’s safety, culture and way of life, in new paradigm tribes, the Leader must be the person who protects the tribe’s common values and holds the vision for the entire tribe.
A tribe doesn’t ‘appear’ in a day. It cannot be magically conjured just because you’ve launched a product. It has to be cultivated, nurtured, maintained and (dare I say it) LOVED. I’m continually on the lookout for new people to bring into the tribe. I see people say things on Twitter that strike a resonant chord in me or remind me of someone else in our community and I say, ‘Hey, why don’t you join us. You’ll meet lots of people just like you.’ I often write my articles with specific people from our tribe at the forefront of my mind. While writing is in my life-blood, I’m not writing for me; I’m writing for my tribe.
In doing pilot runs of our 7 Graces courses, we also took the ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’ approach. But the important thing to note is that we ‘fired’ our unfinished product into a safe, contained area – i.e. a group of people from our tribe. These people came into the pilot knowing fully that the course was still in development and that their response, performance and written feedback would be integral to creating the final product for the public. Thus, the expectation of ‘unfinished-ness’ was set up from the outset, and there was Transparency (another of the 7 Graces) in the relationship between us (the content creators) and the participants. Our tribe are true co-creators of our courses.
Your tribe is also a veritable ‘think tank’ just waiting to be tapped into. If you have spent time cultivating them – continually defining, aligning and articulating your common values – then you have laid the groundwork for the shared vision and trust that is needed to create an authentic Collaboration with them. Your courses, your books, your products, your services – all of these can become more powerful, more relevant, more effortless and more successful when you tap into the collective genius of your tribe rather than try to ‘make it’ all on your own.
Being Ready. Knowing Where to Fire. Crystallising Your Aim.
As I see it, ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’ works just fine IF you have ALREADY put in the time, care and attention to forming and nurturing your tribe. If not, you’re just plain firing into a dark wasteland. Then, who’s going to help you with the ‘aim’? If you break it right down, here’s how the ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’ formula really works:
- READY: ‘Ready’ does not mean YOU are ready with a product you want to sell to the world. It means your TRIBE is ready to receive it because you have spent the necessary time to build and nurture a following or community of people who share common values and who rally around the vision you hold for them. It means you’ve created something that you already know is likely to be well-received by your tribe, because you know what they are looking for.
- FIRE: You deliver a ‘beta’ version product into your tribe, either for free or at a reduced cost. You are transparent about the nature of the product, and that you really want their feedback so you can make this product better before you offer it to others. You create an easy and systematic way for your tribe to give you honest, objective and constructive feedback, making it clear you’d like them to tell you as much about what they see as ‘wrong’ with the product as about what is ‘right’ with it. In doing this, you are deepening your relationship, showing your courage and integrity, and demonstrating the confidence and respect you have for your tribe.
- AIM: You and your team gather the feedback and painstakingly go through every syllable of it. You look for repeating themes. You discuss solutions to the issues that are coming up. Every now and then, you’ll see an ‘off the wall’ one-off comment that might not land right away, but later you’ll realise it was highlighting an issue you simply hadn’t noticed before, but that you should consider with care. After you’ve made an exhaustive list of actions to take, you go back to the drawing board and you start to redesign your product, integrating all the changes. If the changes are radical enough to alter the actual content and delivery at a fundamental level, you might wish to do a second test-drive of the course, including another round of feedback and evaluation.
While this may sound like a long process, it is important to emphasise that this is not about ‘planning’, ‘analysis’ or ‘over-thinking’. It’s about timing. And, most importantly, it’s about people – your tribe, your clients, your customers.
Few business and marketing gurus from the past decade talk about the need to cultivate a collaborative feedback system with ‘your people’ throughout the process of content creation. Instead, they focus on the ‘Fire’ and not on the ‘Ready’ and ‘Aim’ part of the equation. I am encouraged to have seen a few bright stars on the horizon of business mentoring who are encouraging their followers to shift away from this old-school way of doing things.
10 Good Things That Come to Those Who Collaborate
Offering our courses as pilots has been a delight, and they are helping the 7 Graces Project in so many ways. Here are 10 wonderful things that came as a result of our collaborative course creation:
- We found out whether or not the courses were of interest to anyone! What a huge loss of time and effort it would have been to refine the courses and then find out they were completely irrelevant to the needs of our audience.
- We found out specifically who the courses were for. We realised that certain profiles were better matches for the courses than others. This will influence the way we market the courses, and help us reach people who are the best match.
- Because it helped defined our ‘best match’ participants, it also gives us the option to develop additional courses to address the needs of the people who, for one reason or another, might benefit from a different kind of training product.
- We found out which content elements and delivery styles worked and which didn’t, within the ‘safe’ environment of people who were close to us, but who we also knew would ‘tell it like it is’ rather than just say what they thought we wanted to hear.
- We got some AWESOME constructive feedback that is going to help us turn the course into a superlative product.
- We got some equally awesome testimonials, which not only made us feel good, but will be an invaluable part of our marketing materials.
- It helped strengthen our community, and helped them know that THEY are an essential part of this enterprise.
- It helped develop an ‘inner circle’ of people who now REALLY know our brand and content. This core of people will be our very best ambassadors in the long-term of our social enterprise, and some of them might even become future facilitators and mentors within the 7 Graces Project.
- Because the pilot participants were so openly enthusiastic on Facebook when they were taking the course, it helped strengthen our brand and create the buzz about the courses months before they’ll be available to the public.
- It embraces every one of the 7 Graces – Connection, Inspiration, Invitation, Directness, Transparency, Abundance and (most of all) Collaboration – which brings a powerful feeling of congruence to our work, as we are ‘walking our talk’.
Taking the collaborative approach to content creation for your business takes patience and dedication. Altogether, we will have worked – from concept to launch – for 15 months on the Foundations course alone. Clearly, this approach is not for the ‘get rich quick’ minded (you might even say it’s the content creation equivalent of the ‘slow food’ movement). Rather, working collaboratively with your tribe to co-create your content is for people who want to build a legacy – to create something lasting that will have a profound, positive social impact while building their enterprise and bringing in a sustainable income at the same time.
And I’m fairly certain if you’ve read all the way to the end of this article, I’m probably talking about you.
Come join our 7 Graces ‘tribe’ on Facebook at http://facebook.com/groups/7GracesGlobalGarden, where you’ll meet hundreds of others who think like you, and you’ll be amongst the first to know about our courses when they go live later this year.
11 January 2014
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Find out more about how changing the paradigm can help make the world a better place:
The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell, by Lynn Serafinn, where you can learn how the 7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Graces impact the world through media and marketing. Brit Writers Awards Finalist eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian & Ecological Social Issues
Tweep-e-licious: 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market Their Business Ethically by Lynn Serafinn, which can help you learn how to create meaningful collaborations through Twitter and other social media. eLit Book Awards Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.
Get instant access to a free 90-minute Twitter marketing class at http://tweepelicious.com
LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales. Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors.
Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.
(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)