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Fire Bullets Then Cannon Balls – The Secret to Social Business

I’m reading Jim Collins’ latest business strategy extravaganza, Great By Choice, and it has me re-thinking everything – like a good book should.

One concept is so blindingly obvious and profound that it has me thinking about social business in a whole new light.

The concept is “Fire Bullets Then Cannon Balls”

Social Bullets and Cannon Balls

Here’s a quick primer to Bullets and Cannon Balls:

Bullets: Low Risk, Low Cost, Low Distraction tests that validate an opportunity.  Bullets can be incremental product innovations, new marketing approaches, and even acquisitions.  Shooting bullets don’t overtax an organization.

Cannon balls: Riskier, Costlier, business-defining initiatives.  Collins makes a distinction between two types of cannon balls: uncalibrated – high risk gambles, and calibrated – calculated risks proven out by rigorous testing or firing a lot of bullets. Firing calibrated cannon balls is essential for achieving greatness.

Jim Collins’ principle is straightforward, smart business leaders don’t gamble huge resources, or fire cannon balls, on any strategies that haven’t been rigorously tested in the real world. Instead they fire bullets by conducting a series of tests to evaluate and validate their intuition.

For example, Collins points to Progressive Insurance testing standard priced car insurance in several key states. Once they validated the opportunity they dramatically ramped up their investment, firing cannon balls to capture the market.

The original iPod was Apple’s first bullet in the consumer electronics market. It was relatively cheap to produce and didn’t get major investment until the market validated it’s success. Apple immediately fired cannon balls with the iPod Shuffle, iPod Nano, iTunes, and the iTouch.

This approach requires patience and discipline. It’s wildly seductive to fire cannon balls and bet it all on an idea, but it’s also suicidal.

The business landscape is littered with the carcasses of people who bet it all on untested strategies. Small business and startups are especially prone to rolling out strategies that burn through precious capital while getting nothing in return.

Why Scrappy Entrepreneurs are Gun Slingers

In business, we are constrained by two factors – time and money. The goal is to make a profit before you run out of money. The sooner you pull off this balancing act the better. Scrappy entrepreneurs work like the devil to maximize how many test bullets they can fire before they run out of capital. The goal is to find the idea that works and still have enough cash to leverage the opportunity.

Dumb companies don’t have this mindset. They have one plan that they throw everything but the kitchen sink at. Collins shows in his book that this strategy is almost statistically assured to fail.

As you architect your social business it makes sense to shoot as many social bullet as you can to quickly find the opportunity that sticks.

How to Shoot Social Bullets

First start with the goal of trying regularly firing low risk, low cost, low distraction bullets.. It helps to make a list of your bullets, here are a few for social publishers

  1. Creating an email newsletter and regularly promoting products that you love and are passionate about.  Check out Thrillist for inspiration
  2. Using Google+ hangouts as an intimate webinar with your top readers and or customers
  3. Using LinkedIn Ads to direct targeted readers to your business blog. Facebook works well for consumer blogs.
  4. Changing your primary blogging medium from text to video and gauging how your readers respond
  5. Reducing your posting schedule and using the saved time to write 2 new products, design an infographic, or write a book.
  6. Use client or opinion-leaders interviews as your core online marketing content.  Mixergy is a fantastic example.
  7. Writing 250 word “asides” and saving your “epic stuff” for newsletter subscribers

All of these bullets are easy to do and encourage you to try something more than just writing a weekly blog post. You might find that an email newsletter is the best way to earn a solid income. If so, use your real-world experience to fire a calibrated cannonball at it by ramping up your time and money investment.

Google+ hangouts may turn out to be the best way to deliver high-end coaching and consulting at a fraction of the cost. If so, shoot a cannonball and scale it up.

LinkedIn (or Facebook) may be a dirt-cheap way to attract fanatical followers and future customers. Remember Adwords isn’t the only game in town and it’s certainly not the cheapest.

Get the picture? Shooting bullets gives you’re the freedom to have fun with your social business strategy, inspire creative thinking, and put you on the path to something extraordinary.

Give me just one of the bullets you plan to fire this week. I double-dog dare you ☺

About Stan

Stan Smith is the CEO of Pushing Social a content marketing consultancy for aggressive, results-focused organizations.

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