No-one wants to look bad or fail in business. No-one wants colleagues or competitors to look down on us or our clients to say they were dissatisfied or unhappy with something you delivered. We want to do our absolute best – what’s wrong with that?
Well, if you’re suffering from perfectionism in business, you may not even realise that you’re clinging to the belief that your pursuit of perfection is the positive pursuit of excellence rather than the more sinister fear of failure and cause of procrastination.
Failure to launch somehow doesn’t bother the perfectionist as much as failure to succeed.
From reading books, articles and social media discussions on the subject of perfectionism in business, there seem to be four sides to the habit, which can seriously impact our success in the long term.
# 1 – Perfectionism’s Ugly Sister
In bringing a service or product to market, the road to launching it, promoting it and delivering it is fraught with dangers of perfectionism and one of its ugly sisters, oddly enough is procrastination. Rather than working harder to perfect, we sit on things, we do everything but the thing. Rather than gather evidence and make improvements, we dither and dally round the edges.
In a recent discussion in one of the business groups I’m in, someone asked who has challenges with procrastination. But she asked it in the sense of who needs help ‘getting off their butt’? Well, that’s like saying the cause of procrastination is laziness, which simply isn’t true. In fact, it’s usually the least likely cause.
This pushed me to thinking about perfectionism and procrastination in ‘chicken and egg’ terms. Do we want everything to be perfect and procrastinate because of some fear of failure or public humiliation? Or do we procrastinate and fail to launch because we’re busy perfecting our craft?
As professionals, we strive for excellence. But perfectionism is not a friend in business. Neither is procrastination.
#2 – Perfectionism’s Holy Grail
So imagine this alternative scenario for a moment.
What if it was okay to show up before we were 100% ready, what if instead of “fannying around” (British expression for doing work without much accomplishment), we said to our target audience, hey this is a beta pilot thing, I’d like to know if it’s any good?
Do you think in that scenario we would procrastinate? No, we’d just get it out there, take the feedback and make it better. We might even do this a few times over.
With a service business, the success of your great idea – what you offer – is dependent on finding out a few key things.
- How great an idea it actually is (in terms of matching what your market needs and cares about);
- How well you package and promote said great idea to generate attention;
- Whether your idea represents value for money (i.e. in terms of perceived and actual value of what you provide/deliver) so people buy and are happy customers.
With all those unknowns, is it any wonder we become perfectionistas!
But what you need is not constant internal improvement or navel gazing. What you need is external evidence from your target market.
To get answers to these three questions, it’s obvious that we have to make our idea, product or service visible and test the waters at least.
#3 – Perfectionism’s Mindset Game
Perfectionism is really just a mindset game – the actions you take and the actions you don’t take – it comes down to decision-making. Everything we do comes with a risk of failure, disappointment and frustration. It’s just a necessary part of life and no less true in business. But everything we do also comes with the possibility of success, triumph and celebration.
Without failure, there is no learning, and even with success, there is always room for improvement too. Consider that your new thing – be it a service offer, a book, an article, a course – it is never finished and it’s never perfect.
So if we’re going to spend our time wisely, what should we focus our mind on?
The 80:20 principle has a useful contribution here. It says 80% of your results come from 20% of your activities. When you can identify which 20% bears the most fruit, you will undoubtedly find it easier to leave some tasks sooner rather than slaving over changing this word or that phrase.
Next time you’re dilly dallying, painstakingly spending a day creating one blog post or email or ad, think 80:20, tell yourself ‘good enough is good enough’. Imperfect action that takes you forward is better than no action that keeps you in the same place. Get your idea out into the world. Test what words resonate best. Spend your time on promoting not perfecting.
#4 – Perfectionism’s Road to Success
Winning the mindset game is about accepting and being comfortable with a state of continuous motion.
Success is not usually a straight upward line, it’s a bit like a game of snakes and ladders: it’s messy, it has ups and downs, you build the perfect plane only when you fly it. Embrace the process! Don’t be afraid to try new things, to trust again, to put yourself out there and take a risk. It’s all part of being a leader. It’s the fabric of entrepreneurial success. True success – it’s a journey not a destination!
What you need is a roadmap and a guide so you can find your own best way forward, to identify what is perfect for you. And the only way to ‘see’ the patterns that will work for your own business is through constant testing, tweaking, refining, and then building out the messages that are working with a particular target audience or platform.
The more I study modern day business and marketing, the more I realise that everything is a risk. You can follow a proven plan – a blueprint – but its implementation can be different. One marketer can make the exact same offer of another marketer and get a totally different result – why? Because there are many variables at play.
- The ad copy, its title, the keywords, the visuals, the call to action, the offer.
- The location you place your ad, the media channel, the timing.
- The people you targeted, if they are warm, cold, interested, pre-disposed.
- The relationship with your prospects, do they know you, like you, trust you.
Success depends on all of the above being in alignment. But we’re all at different stages in deciding what, who, when etc.
It seems that even at the most basic level of marketing, to achieve perfectionism in business, you have to be prepared to take a risk – or at least appreciate that marketing is about experimenting – until you get your own formula kicking in.