Forget what you’ve always done. Do what you’ve never done. 

Let’s face it: we’re all more comfortable in our comfort zones. So that means we usually just carry on doing what we’ve always done, and we usually follow the crowd. Because it’s easier that way. 

But you know what they say: do what you’ve always done, and you’ll get what you’ve always got.

And as for following the crowd, well somebody somewhere was at the head of that crowd, and inspired the followers. What if they’re wrong? And even if they’re right, it still took a leap of faith on their part to be the first. Wouldn’t you like to be in their place? 

Here are five ideas that might just put you there. 

1. Raise your prices

Yes, we all know it’s dog-eat-dog out there, but cutting your price is like pulling up the nose of your plane when you’re stalling. It doesn’t stretch the glide, but just makes the rate of descent faster.

I was recently chatting to a friend who bumped up her prices quite significantly, which seems like commercial suicide in a cash-strapped market. But she did two clever things.

First, she positioned it clearly – and research shows that if you explain something clearly, people are far more likely to accept it. Second, she decided to up her game – and that meant going after higher-end clients who expected to pay more, and avoided offers that seemed too cheap.

2. Don’t try to make everybody happy

In classic boiling-frog style, over the last few years the idea has taken hold that you should go the extra mile for everybody, every time. And nobody’s questioned it. But as I mentioned last time, that’s both exhausting and expensive, and rarely makes an appreciable difference.

So keep your valuable customers happy – and that means focusing on high-value, low-maintenance customers first. Low-value, high-maintenance ones can go elsewhere. Write for the perfect customer, market to the perfect customer, and sell to the perfect customer. Forget the others. Because they won’t stay with you anyway.

3. Analyse your failures, not your successes

When you do well, there’s often a temptation to see what you did right and replicate it. But often, sales are down to good timing or even just dumb luck. As long as you’ve got the basics right, and do it well and often enough, you should see the benefits.

It’s when things go wrong that you can really learn something.

When a client has checked you out and gone elsewhere. When you’ve lost a client you didn’t want to lose (as opposed to one you did). When you’ve had a string of losing pitches against a competitor who keeps eating your lunch. So analyse your failures, see if they matter  – some don’t, so you should move on – and see what you can learn. You might be surprised. And humbled (I certainly was).

4. Forget about quality

Well not totally. What I really mean here is that quality is all fine and dandy, but quantity is not to be underestimated.

I did an e-mailshot earlier this year, and had some hits and lots of misses. And yes, before you ask, I did eat my own dogfood and analyse my failures.

But I was also realistic, and accepted that quantity often beats quality.

So a couple of months later, I sent out a slightly modified version of the e-mailshot to the people who hadn’t replied. And when I say slight, I mean slight. I referred to my previous email and said I know that timing is everything and quoted that Woody Allen line about how 80% of success is showing up.

And guess what? It worked. Maybe because the humour appealed, or maybe because Allen had a point. 

5. Don’t obsess about growth

The ancients used to say that there was an optimal size for a city. If it was any bigger, it lacked human scale. And you have only to look at mega-cities like Tokyo or Cairo to see that they were probably right.

Companies are the same, especially if they’re small or medium-sized.

They provide a quality service and a personal touch to a select bunch of people, and they’re very good at what they do. But scale that up and the personal becomes impersonal. Doers become managers (and not everybody’s cut out to be a manager), quality drops and customers become faceless. People spend more time on admin than on doing what they love. Passion wanes and duty fills the gap. So growth has come, but at a price that’s probably not worth paying.

* * *

Questioning received wisdom on marketing is always refreshing. Swimming against the prevailing current may feel like hard work to begin with, but you’ll soon get used to it. You’ll get some fascinating insights and come up with some great ideas.

And you may just one day be the person at the head of that crowd.