John Caples was one of the best known names in copywriting and advertising, and worked for 58 years in the industry.
What, one might think, would someone who started writing in the 1920s have to say to us – a century later – about the nature of life and business?
Plenty, it turns out.
Caples learned his trade in mail order advertising, a tough school where you could precisely measure the return you got from your investment.
Mail order advertisers learned what worked, what didn’t and quickly focused on the approaches that made them a profit.
So, what’s it like today.
In many industries, technology has swept away the old ways of doing things, but created chaos and confusion along the way.
Take emails, for example.
No one denies that email has made it easier to contact people. You can get a message to someone across the world in seconds.
But… can you find a contract in your records from five years ago?
What if you’ve changed email service providers? What if all the documents were sent electronically?
How many photos or documents or spreadsheets can you find from even a few years ago that relate to a project you’ve finished?
One of the things we’ve lost by going digital is memory – we forget too much.
What does that mean?
It means that we’re so overwhelmed with the new and shiny that we forget to focus on the basics.
Caples said that there are two basic rules we need to follow to be successful in business – especially if we want to move from having a hobby or lifestyle business to one that can grow radically.
The first is to create business formulas – repeatable steps that produce results.
Your business exists because it uses resources to produce something that people want.
You can follow a new approach every single time you need to do something.
For example, if you run a law practice, you can approach each project as a completely new thing – a blank slate.
You wipe your memory of everything that has been done before and start again from scratch.
Or, you could create templates and processes and repeatable fill-in-the blank solutions for common problems.
Which approach do you think will scale?
You can make a perfectly good living from producing bespoke work. To grow you need to be able to create standard work that you can do yourself, or hire other people to do for you.
In other words, find what you are successful at and repeat it. Then scale it.
The second is to try something new every once in a while.
If you stick with a successful approach and only do that, then one day you’ll wake up to find that the market has changed and you’re no longer relevant.
You do need to have ideas, invest in research and development and make sure your business isn’t obsolete.
And, in today’s technological world, the more your business is based around technology, the quicker it becomes redundant.
People, however, don’t change. If your business is appealing to people – technology is simply a channel to help you reach them.
Like most things – these two rules seem incredibly simple.
- Repeat the successful
- Try something new
Some people might say – that’s just obvious. So obvious it’s not worth pointing out.
Very well then – if they know this already – then they must already have a successful, growing business, no?
Try going back to basics every once in a while. I know I need to.