“In the minds of coffee experts, there is a right and a wrong bean to roast,” writes Jay Acunzo in his new book, Break the Wheel.
He’s telling the story of how Death Wish Coffee got its start, and Mike, the almost-failed-coffee shop owner (and future creator of the wildly successful brand) had decided that he had been roasting the wrong bean.
He should be using Arabica beans. Not Robusta.
That’s the best practice in coffee circles.
Except, that’s not what Mike wanted. He didn’t want to be another same-as coffee maker.
It took a lot of time and effort (and bean roasting) to realize he aspired to something else (the strongest cup of coffee!).
Voicing that aspiration out loud, Jay explains, is what unhooked Mike from “the endless cycle that we face whenever we make decisions at work.”
Suffice to say, by going against the best practices in his industry, Mike was able to create a unique product and brand.
We’ve been talking about best practices with Jay a lot recently.
In fact, he joined us for the first-ever Spin Sucks Community AMA last week to answer questions on just that.
The idea? Best practices aren’t bad, per se.
They are meant to be possible starting points.
But they should be questioned, challenged, and, when necessary, put aside in favor of what makes sense for you, your brand, and what you’re trying to accomplish.
Best Practices Are the Best, Right?
Still, they are best practices…
People WAY smarter than me (than I?) have tried and tested and found them worthy. So why should we question them?
Good question, right?
Admittedly, we did spend an hour in the Spin Sucks Community chatting with Jay about the hows and whys of best practices and why we shouldn’t follow them blindly, but that’s kind of the point.
There’s no one answer. So, we wanted to hear your thoughts.
Hence, this week’s Spin Sucks Question:
How do best practices fit into your business?
What are some examples of best practices you’ve upheld? What about others you’ve had to dismiss and rebuild on based on your goals?
You Have to Start Somewhere
Kamyar Shah feels best practices actually stifle creativity and success:
The concept of best practices is rather a misguided notion of uniformity and groupthink that at best stifle effectiveness and efficiency and at worst create a tremendous burden on organizational success.
I have made a habit to use best practices ONLY as a starting point.
For instance; in marketing strategy planning I help my clients to start with a comprehensive overview of all platforms and channels, yet quickly help them discard those that are not suited for their product or services.
On the other hand, some basic digital marketing best practices, such as standard on-page optimizations, are simply a must.
In HR projects, I encourage my clients to explore non-traditional methodology in the recruiting and selection process instead of the best practices that are currently standards for many organizations.
The bottom line is that the concept of best practices is generally either misunderstood or wrongly implemented.
It was never meant to be a uniform SOP for every organization; only a set of basics to serve as a starting point.
Success comes from the adaption of those best practices to the individual business based on its leadership style and product/service selections.
Best Practices: Forms!
Forms! Forms work! We should use forms, right? According to Marc Peterson, yes:
We followed the general “build an email list for our content site” and it’s been paying off well.
I was hesitant at first to use email capture popups and forms on high traffic pages, but we started capturing emails quickly with a nice conversion rate.
We’re using access to an ebook as the offer, making the email sign-up valuable to cold website visitors.
Since we’re a content site, we want people returning to read content and email has been a fantastic way to support that.
We’ve also found email is a great way to ask questions to our readers and get real-time feedback.
The learnings from those responses alone have been invaluable to the business.
So, in this case, Marc is acknowledging that there’s a so-called best practice behind building an email list with forms.
He was hesitant, but upon testing and learning from the data, they determined it was the way to go.
In other words, they didn’t blindly follow the best practice, they used it as a starting point, and foraged from there.
Best Practices: No More Forms!
Interestingly, Jay Acunzo recounts a like-minded case study in his book.
In it, he tells the story of a former Hubspot exec who starts another company and decides they should do away with forms altogether.
Let’s repeat that: A former HUBSPOT exec (you know, Hubspot, the company renowned for its wildly successful use of forms?) decides to axe forms.
His thinking? Marketing has lost its way.
We’ve lost the importance of a great story and truly connecting with people.
We live in this world where it’s all about content, content and more content.
And ranking for this keyword and that keyword. And algorithms and conversion rate optimization.
Pieces of that stuff are still important to marketing, but overall, I think we’ve lost our way.
Marketing today has become more about gaming the system and get rich quick schemes.
– David Cancel (Note: The quotation is also in Jay’s book, but you’ll have to buy that to find out more!)
The perceived best practice wasn’t going to fly here. Yes, it works. But that’s not the only reason to implement a tool or tactic.
In this case, the so-called best practice forced the team to look at what was missing. What could they do better in the context of their product and audience?
You Can’t Be Everything to Everyone
From Ronna Moore:
Best practices helped me shape my business a lot, especially when I was starting out.
I’ve always followed best practices like know your audience.
It allowed me to really understand where my buyers were coming from and then, in turn, I could figure out how to best serve them, how to market better, etc.
For the most part, I’ve stayed away from any best practices that have told me I had to be everything at once—a wholesaler, a marketer, a social media guru, an accountant, etc.
I’ve found it’s always good to delegate when you can.
I like how Ronna positioned this. Best practices helped her “shape” the business. She employed some but refused to adopt others.
Best Practices: Safety, Not Success
Steve Kurniawan is all about building a strong foundation and paving the way to success:
In my opinion, “best practices” are a solid foundation for any strategies or activities.
By applying best practices, you can reach a “safe” state and avoid major mistakes, but best practices won’t guarantee success.
We will need to use other creative tactics and approaches to outsmart our competitors.
So, in our businesses, we apply best practices as the foundation of our strategy, and then we look for other creative tactics that can expand the best practices to reach better results.
For example, when we implement SEO for our clients, we will first follow certain best practices, like an SEO audit, keyword research, and so on.
In those cases, we don’t completely dismiss the best practices.
Instead, we expand upon them with other tactics, like implementing content clustering, using uncommon (but still legal) practices to build backlinks, and so on.
In short, our tactics outside the best practices must still follow the best practices’ principles.
Clients Want Best Practices
One of the questions that came out of last week’s AMA was one on many of our lips.
Jill Manty asked: It’s great to embrace the concept, personally (not following best practices blindly), but how do you get around clients who want to know “best practices”?
Best practices, new trends, big ideas, etc. — the path you pick doesn’t matter as long as it’s the best path for THEM, your client.
So the trick is to never need that discussion “Well the best practice is X.”
The trick is to first understand their context. All a person’s or team’s context is, in any work situation, is the combination of three things:
You (the person/people doing the work).
Them (the person/people receiving the work).
Resources (the means to make the work happen and the constraints within which you must operate: the current time, the length of time, the money, team, goals, etc.)
If you intimately understand THOSE things first, you can tell clients which best practice makes sense and to what degree…or which common approach they should actually reject with confidence.
Please feel free to check out the Jay Acunzo Spin Sucks Community AMA in its entirety, but note you’ll have to join the free Spin Sucks community to get access.
Next Time: Write Better
We’ve fielded questions around the best online courses, and I’ve written about writing tools for communicators.
It’s not easy. Writing.
Whether you consider yourself a writer, or you just have to do a lot of writing in your field, it’s a skill that requires practice.
In some cases, it requires coaching. Lessons.
Recently, Laura Petrolino asked me what courses I would recommend for someone trying to improve their writing.
My answer? No idea. Our very own Modern Blogging Masterclass? Maybe.
Typically, I take creative writing courses. Fiction writing courses.
That’s the type of writing that keeps me interested in the craft and prevents me from using too much marketing-speak.
What about you?
What courses, tools, or tips would you recommend to someone hoping to improve their writing skills?
You can answer here, in our free Spin Sucks Community, or on the socials (use #SpinSucksQuestion so we can find you).