One True Thing

I spent the weekend at an airport hotel in Los Angeles. I was trying to help about 300 businesspeople get their arms around this thing called the Internet.

Most of the attendees at “The Billion Dollar Internet Strategy Setting Super Summit” run businesses worth $1-3 million, according to Carl Turner, who helped organize it. They know how the real world works, they’re good at what they do, but they don’t know how the Internet works. Maybe they’ve built a web site, maybe even a web store, and it didn’t work out. So they came here confused and looking for wisdom.

My message reflected what Jack Palance’s Curly told Billy Crystal in the movie “City Slickers”: “One thing.” Figure out what that thing is, and everything else becomes easy.

How do you get to that one thing, though? Start by asking this question: What do you do better, or care about more, than anyone in the world – where are you world-class? Say you have a furniture store. What’s your real passion here? Maybe it’s room design, maybe it’s a type of furniture, maybe it’s just customer service – whatever it is, that’s your one true thing. That’s what you concentrate on, not just furniture.

Now how do you translate that passion to the Internet? (The first Clue of the Internet is that it’s about universal connectivity, not HTML.) What can you give strangers that might convince them to give you a chance?

Figuring that out requires that you first build a personal portal. Spend an hour each day online, using every search engine you can find – not just Yahoo and Go.com but Google, Topica and Deja.com as well. You’re looking for the news, views and resources that define the business niche you want to enter. When you find changing resources of value (even competitors’), you bookmark them (or add them to your “Favorites”), returning whenever they change. You’ll always spend some time looking for new resources, but you’ll soon spend more time learning and less time hunting for knowledge. That’s called progress.

Join the newsgroups and mailing lists that interest you. Contribute when you have something important to say. Spend plenty of time framing those contributions. You’re not really selling, you’re offering your wisdom. But you’re also building your reputation. You build your reputation further by finding wisdom in others and developing email relationships. This is called networking.

You develop your web business from all your knowledge – what you get from your portal and what you get from your network. You now can offer your knowledge to your business prospects (if you can’t write well, hire a writer), offering a free email newsletter that ties those prospects to you. Again, the emphasis is on developing relationships, not just making sales. As you build your reputation and your network, your business direction becomes intuitive. You can trust your gut again.

It’s embarrassing to have bright people listen rapturously when I say this. This is Business 101, what an old football coach would call “blocking and tackling.” But this is the one true thing you need to know to succeed in the 21st century. Find your passion, and follow your bliss.

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