Priceless Principles for Profitable Progress in 2021

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We’re at that time of the year when planning for 2021 is in high gear. But unlike prior years, the new year promises multiple unique challenges, all of them fueled by the dumpster fire that has been 2020.

So the question is, how will your business, like a phoenix, rise from the ashes? And can you do this knowing that uncertainty is the one thing we can count on for the coming year?

One of the pandemic’s silver linings is that it has opened up space for reflection and perspective. This is an invaluable opportunity to take stock of all your company has going for it as you prepare to decide about budget, resource allocation, and overall company direction.

Here are the top assets to evaluate as you get ready to take on 2021:


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We’re in an age of purpose-driven brands, and helping our client-partners keep the why of their products and services front and center always tops my list when it comes to revamping a brand.

The word “revamping” may sound strong, but in our post-COVID world, this is our collective reality. No matter how successful your company is, in the face of an ongoing pandemic, plus social and political unrest, how you show up has to change.

Pre-2020, consumerism was trending to an all-time high, thanks to the rise of the Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) brand and the “Warby Parkerization” of online commerce. While the opportunities were real, so were the pitfalls. In the gold rush to claim a DTC space, we saw a lot of copycat brands who skimped on or entirely skipped the work necessary to align products and services with purpose.

Today it’s clear that knowing your brand’s deeper purpose — your Ikigai, as the ancient Japanese called it — is the secret sauce. In a world where products are readily accessible and behaviors are predictable, the story you tell about what your company values and supports sets you apart.

So, for example, when Alexa flashes a yellow light at me to remind me to buy more fish food, there’s an endless stream of choices she can show me. With hurricanes bearing down on the East Coast, I’m more likely to choose a brand that talks about using sustainable ingredients or supporting wildlife conservation.

Give people a brand without a purpose-driven pitch, and you might get them to buy from you once. Teach people about what you stand for, and you’re more likely to earn their loyalty and repeat business.

Work Ethic

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If there’s one thing that the pandemic has shown, it’s the need to serve humanity in profound and meaningful ways. You have to do the work.

As Shane Parrish, founder of the great Farnam Street blog recently said, “If you want to perform when the world is watching, do the work when no one is watching.”

I’ll add to that: do the work to be ready to do the work.

Thanks to the world economy’s disruption, the path we were on — faster, better, cheaper, all at once! — is officially off the table. Our collective humbling of not being able to find staples like toilet paper as the pandemic took hold, in my opinion, made it clear that we can’t expect old systems to hold out magically.

This means replacing the perception of success with the realities of good old fashioned hard work, which entails creating systems that support incremental improvements each day. As we learned from some of the businesses that have folded during COVID-19, which includes legendary brands like Brooks Brothers, the work is about showing up and innovating to satisfy your customers’ needs and wants. Take the ego out of the effort, and you’ve got an ethic that will shore up your business strength and resilience.


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One of the most indelible lessons of the Great Pause is that momentum is not to be underestimated. In the face of global disruption, humanity collectively took its foot off the progress pedal in the early days of the pandemic. When we got our bearings, it was clear nothing would be the same.

No matter what getting back on track looks like for your business, a little bit of forward motion goes a long way. As a big fan of Jim Collins’ Flywheel Model, it’s clear to me that regaining momentum isn’t about any solitary innovation, action, or opportunity but a collective push to get that massive, heavy flywheel moving. Hubspot’s take on the flywheel is just as powerful, as it’s about replacing your funnel with a flywheel that has your customers as the driving force.

By leaning into uncertainty and leading with curiosity and a proactive mindset, you can start building energetically on small wins. And keep an eye on friction points, like negativity or team members not collaborating, which can slow you down. Plan to take swift action to minimize any drag on your momentum. And always prioritize progress over perfection.


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In my opinion, we spend a lot of time obsessing over KPIs that help to quantify business success. But as necessary as it is to keep tabs on indicators including CLV, CPL, and ROI, no one formula can take into account all the variables that impact progress.

That’s where the idea of your algorithm comes in. Taking a page out of Ray Dalio’s Principles, making better decisions in 2021 includes factoring in changes in human experience and expression. This leads to achieving purpose-driven progress that’s good for both your team and your customers.

As a side note, I love Dalio’s advice to young adults during the pandemic. He says he would focus on three things: “I’d feed my curiosities, stay in touch with people I care about and meditate.”

Being mindful about curiosity and connection sounds like an algorithm that works not only for individuals but also for business success.


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When it comes to striking just the right brand experience balance to win your customers’ hearts, minds, and wallets, the Goldilocks Principle is vital to keep in mind while heading into 2021.

The idea is to stay away from extremes and instead plot a path that’s just right. So, for example, if you’re like me, maybe you have a Peloton bike. There’s a scale on the interface that shows if you’re pedaling too hard or not enough. Your ideal progress lies in the gradient of growth — that middle section is a perfect balance.

Finding that intersect, whether it’s the right offer for your customers or actions you or your staff can take that balances the least amount of effort or expense for the most amount of benefit, is the trick. (And if you’d like help setting business priorities, be sure to check out The Progress Project.)

Because in the end, it’s the sum of experiences that define your brand and drive its success.

So when you’re plotting the course for a banner 2021, now’s the time to start taking stock in your beliefs, systems, and culture before tackling plans and projections. I’m curious about what you consider to be your biggest change-making asset for the new year. Let’s discuss — hit me up in the comments.

Founder and Force-multiplier @digitalsurgeons. &

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