For the past three years I have been steadily building my online business. It has snowballed into a business that I would never describe as simple.

Yet, the principle that has kept me afloat (and kind/mostly sane) is simplicity.

How can simplicity grow your business?

My business began as a very simple long distance learning class. The students registered for the class and were scheduled on a weekly conference call where I taught the material live. My students emailed me their assignments and I emailed back the feedback. I did not use any technology except a conference line and email. So simple.

Or was it?

All those emails were hell to track. Getting potential student organized and registered was a mess. I spent a great deal of time answering the same questions over and over and I felt incredible stressed. It was unsustainable.

Over time my class delivery and promotion evolved. I added technology, ways to better deliver what my clients needed, and ways to keep up with the flow of students and clients.
Everything new thing I built required some other new thing to support the new thing. The project kept snowballing. And every step along the way it was (and still is) been scary and overwhelming as I dug into a new technology and new strategy and the learning curve of my own ignorance.

The journey of adding ‘things’ has looked something like this:

  1. I built a website to explain the big idea: why story matter to your business and how to use story to expand your influence.
  2. People wanted more information. I built a mailing list form for them.
  3. I researched and wrote weekly emails to send to my list.
  4. Then I needed to learn to use an email service (mailchimp) so I could automate emails to the email list.
  5. I built more classes and I turned the classes into videos which were housed on my website, so my clients could watch them whenever they wanted to.
  6. I had to learn to record and edit videos.
  7. Building online video classes meant learning more complicated web tools and plugins.
  8. I built social media accounts for The Art of Story Project so I could reach more people.
  9. Then I needed custom graphics and assets for those posts. I figured out how to use Canva to make my own graphics.
  10. I built a blog on medium to teach what I was learning and began to attract new clients.
  11. I learned to do webinars (so gnarly).
  12. I experimented with facebook ads (still learning that one).
  13. Now I need funnel software to stitch all this stuff together, which means learning how to use funnels well. Wheee!

What makes the list/What doesn’t make the list

What this list is missing is all the side projects and false starts and technology ideas I never sorted out. There were many.

There were projects like “The Amazeballz Challenge” and snapchat stories and plenty of other things too embarrassing to admit in public.

The things that stayed on the list above — the list of things I STILL use — all those things have one thing in common.

They made my life/my business simpler or easier — not harder — in the long run.

There are two questions in deciding what to add (permanently) to my list.

a) Does the new thing/new idea add more VALUE than the work to implement?
b) What is the opportunity cost of the new thing?

Opportunity cost is what else does NOT get done because you are doing something else.

These two questions give me the answers I need to keep my growing business exactly simple enough to not overwhelm me while still growing and building.

The MIG Effect

I work on many collaborative projects and in those collaborations I have learned to dread someone I call “The MIG.”

I have encountered this dangerous character in the quest to build something. The MIG is the “Masterful Idea Generator.” The MIG comes up with lots of pretty solid ideas and therefore thinks of themselves as super helpful. The problem is that the MIG is not the person in the trenches, DOING the day to day work and therefore they cannot recognize whether the shiny idea is adding more value than the work to implement.

If the MIG is in a position of authority, the team has to integrate the idea, no matter the opportunity cost. Even after it is clear that the project is more work than it is worth — the MIG only sees their own idea in action and their pride does not allow them to see the downside of their own project — no matter what the rest of the team tells them.

I have a confession — sometimes I am the MIG.

I get a shiny idea and then struggle and struggle to build it — without a clear sense of the value it will bring and what I am giving up in order to manifest my own bright idea.

The value of simplicity

It’s not about aesthetics or purity. Simplicity is the rigorous tactic of always asking:

Is this new idea/new thing/new technology going to add more value than the work to implement? Will the opportunity cost be worth it?

You won’t always know. In fact, you OFTEN won’t know, until you experiment with it.

But the two question will help you figure out when to keep going and when to abandon the experiment.

Are you your own MIG? Are you constantly generating ideas, struggling to implements them, and never evaluating their true value to your business?

Go for simplicity. You can always try something shiny again later.