3 Steps to Take Yourself from Good to Great

3 Steps to Take Yourself from Good to Great

Reader Comments (82)

  1. Find something that gives you juice is definitely the most important. I know that if you are not interested at all in what you are doing then you will definitely run out of gas. I have been there before but my love with television has given me a new start and I am really interested in it. So I think I might actually be able to stick with this website this time. Hopefully that will make me be able to create a great website not just good.

    • I think the best I can get is to be the best in your world. And yes, this is very true. Comparing yourself with the most professional web designer, or logo designer, even copyblogger in the world will get you to nowhere. Because whatever you do, there is always someone that is better than you if your world is the whole wide world. But try to make your world smaller, let’s say in your province, or in your your state, or in your country. Then you’ll see that the star inside you will shine.

  2. This is an excellent rendition of the psychological components, which are needed to make the transition from “good” to “great”. However, great is not always recognized within a person’s lifetime. One only needs to look at examples like Vincent Van Gogh. I believe he only sold one painting in his life – and for a meager sum to boot. But his paintings now sell for millions.

  3. Our basic purpose is to help others. That is why it works in business and in life.

    Have you ever noticed that often when we get old, our ability to help diminishes. But our desire to still be helpful is there. My mother at the age of 90 has really slowed down physically. But she always wants to help. Even if it means holding the door for me or making room for me when I sit down to the table.

    Thank you for the link “hedgehog concept” audios. I will be listening today.

  4. “Good to Great” is an excellent read; I’m due to reread it.

    And I believe it’s very true, there is always room at the top. The secret is getting through the layers between where one is now and the top.

    One quibble: whatever someone is good at, there has to be a viable market for that thing!

    • Yeah “Good to Great” is one of the first business books I read and it really helped me get in the right mindset. I found it really comforting to know that Level 5 leaders were both self-efficacious but humble.

  5. Sonia, have you ever heard of the cognitive bias called Illusory Superiority (in some cases it’s called the Lake Wobegon effect)? If you haven’t, it’s the reason why most people think they’re above average drivers, or why other people think they’re smarter than others.

    Well, I believe this same effect holds companies back too. Before you head down the path of “Good to Great,” you must first realize that you’re the former instead of the latter. Unfortunately, as you said, most companies have monstrous egos and they rarely realize that they’re running a “good” company.

    So, the question is, how can you convince people that they’re running a “good” business? Because once you do that, encouraging these people to follow your four steps would be much easier, wouldn’t you agree?

    • That’s a great point.

      For me it’s a matter of always questioning. Which can also be a recipe for complete paralysis, so you have to throw into the mix “When am I going to ship this, even if I’m afraid it isn’t good enough yet.”

      • I love reading Copyblogger. Thank you Sonia! I used to live in Analysis Paralysis hell, until one day it finally got through to me that even when I think something isn’t good enough after countless revisions it is in my best interest to keep things moving.

    • Really great point, Derek.
      You’ve interpreted my life-long fear.
      And now I’m getting more questioning that.

  6. Here’s the other part of what successful companies have done: they’ve figured out how to be unpopular. Like the hedgehog. He’s an ugly-cute little tart of an animal, but he knows his role and where he goes. Who will like him. And what will eat him. What’s going to eat YOU? (no filth intended)

    When businesses take a moment to think about the audience they’ll be unpopular with, they do themselves an incredible service: developing and discovering tools that will serve the RIGHT audience in the RIGHT way. Zappos hit it on the head with being a great online shoe store with kickass service. They are not a discount shoe purveyor, nor do they go after that market. The bargain hunters will shop elsewhere. Meanwhile, Tony’s got a book about how being unpopular made them one of the most popular brands in North America.

    Obsessing about your audience goes hand in hand with acknowledging the “others” – your critics, the haters and the one who will speak just as loudly about their dislike about what you’ve built. There’s value in knowing you’ve built up opponents – use them to continue honing your focus on your intended audience. Pride and ego will get you nowhere. Listening – acting – being humbled…yeah…that’s the ticket.

    On a side note, I think hedgehogs are cute. Especially little baby ones. They look kinda like exotic dim sum.

  7. Hi Sonia-

    My plan took a bit of a trajectory…I started out half-ass to good enough, then on to better, and I’m eventually going for great. I have a lot to learn, and I’m comfortable with that.

    I try and plug away every day, learn from others, keep quiet when appropriate, vow to not make the same ‘social media mistakes’ more than once, and work really, really hard. I know it sounds lackluster, but it has worked thus far.

    I love your comment about loving your biz more than your ego. That’s classic and key, and I think narcissism is the downfall for many corporations.

    Thank you 🙂

    • Every time I write about bigger companies I get terrible flashbacks to some of the narcissistic sociopaths I’ve worked for. I may need some kind of intensive therapy to purge the memories. 😉

      I forgot to put this quote in the post, and it’s one of my favorites, from Paul Newman. Unfortunately, I can’t find the exact quote, but I’ll paraphrase: “Always take the work seriously. Never take yourself seriously.”

      It’s very hard advice to follow, but it’s very good advice to try to follow.

  8. Viable Business Model – so important. I think Katy Perry said it best, talking about how she could have been just another indie singer, but instead chose to run around w/ a whipped cream bra. she could have run the indie circuit, but no one would know her name.

  9. I wanted to hug Sonia after having read this post. I was so excited to have her extol the virtues and benefits of niche marketing – she calls it “being the greatest,” I call it “being the expert.” In an overcrowded, marketplace where consumers can’t tell the difference between one provider and another, they turn to the experts for help and advice. Being the greatest at what you do helps to brand yourself as a “go-to” expert. Thanks Sonia – you’re a true expert, or in my lingo, a “nichepreneur!”

  10. I disagree to a degree.

    Yes, it’s incredibly important to be the best that you can be, but you have to be “the best” to be the most successful. Is Seth Godin the best marketer in the world? Maybe, but probably not. He just happens to be incredibly good at what he does, and he’s very well known and liked. Maybe it’s more important to be well-known and liked than to be “the best.”

    Of course having a great product (or service) is incredibly important. If your product sucks, you can forget about being well known or liked. But if your product is really really good, it’s ok to be one of the best. You may not necessarily be “the best,” but at least you can be one of the best. Once you’re one of the best, you should work your tail off to be the best known and the best liked.

    Some examples of this are Seth, Sonia, and Brian. They’re all well known and well liked. I like reading Brian and Sonia not just because they’re really good at what they do, even though that’s a huge part, but also because I like them for whatever reason. So yes, make sure you are really good at what you do, but once you are, don’t forget to make sure people know you and like you.

    With that said, Sonia, Brian, and Seth are all great at what they do, so maybe greatness has more to do with it than I think…

    • True, and I would never claim to be the world’s best content marketer or email marketer or copywriter or social media marketer or blogger. That would just be dumb. 🙂

      But I’ve created an approach that’s a combination of strategies, tactics, and mindset, and I’m the best at my approach. 🙂 So as I said, sometimes you create your own “world” to be best in.

      My dry cleaner is the best dry cleaner in my neighborhood. They’re super nice and friendly, they never lose anything, they get the clothes clean, and they have convenient hours. That’s all it takes for them to be best in their world, because their world is small. No one crosses town for a great dry cleaner. So often it’s about defining and redefining “the world.”

      • Hmmmm….I really like the dry cleaner example. You only have to be the best in your world. You don’t have to compete with the dry cleaners across town. Ok, I think I get the point now. It looks like you were right again. 😉

  11. I’m back to the discovering process, I fear.

    The niche I thought was giving me juice didn’t supply it in all areas. What gives me juice is DOING what I love in that niche. But the teaching aspect of that niche (which is what would make the niche profitable)? I don’t enjoy that, despite the supply of content.

    • In my own business/life, I’ve found that’s a never-ending set of questions and observations. Watching what gives you that buzz of energy and what drains that energy.

      Sometimes you can partner with someone else to do the part that drains your battery, or sometimes you can figure out a way (say, buiding a course with audio or video) that drains you but you only have to do it for a limited time.

  12. And don’t forget. Look for opportunities (using the Partnering For Profits method) to take someone else from good to great… and go along for the ride.

  13. “Why, we’re in luck! Humble and self-effacing, that’s me to a tee!”

    love it, love it, love it. I bet I laughed for 5 minutes and pictured every CEO I know.

    I liked you Paul Neuman quote and also have this one by my computer, “Write only what you alone can write.” (Elie Wiesel)

    Thanks–now off to become great…in a humble sort of way.

  14. Sonia, thanks for reminding about GTG. I’ve been working hard to find what I’m the absolute best at and it’s nice to know that I’m on the right path.

    I’m wondering if having a BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal is also a critical part of defining your path to greatness too. I’ve seen many businesses handicap their success by thinking too small.

    • Stanford, great reference to Collin’s other book “Built To Last”.

      A BHAG is important but you must have the four elements first.

      Too many times a person or an organization will have a BHAG and not have the core foundation to achieve it. Sure we all have goals – short-term and long-term – but a BHAG by definition is HUGE and inspirational and something that has a sense of reasonable applicability to our core strengths.

      BHAGs are important but if you can’t get the basics down first – as Sonia so eloquently stated – then your BHAG may just become a hag.

  15. Sonia, this is such an inspiration! My husband and I have just started a business involving e-commerce, and it’s a huge, new endeavor…a little scary, and very exciting! I find myself excited about many aspects of the business, even though e-commerce isn’t necessarily something I’m crazy about…I’m crazy about people and their success 🙂 With your advice I feel empowered to go out there and do the best I can in the business development world, and give my all to see the business grow. Thanks so much for your timely and thought-provoking advice:)

    • Another spot-on post by Sonia — exactly what I needed to hear today.

      And a big thanks to Esther — you called out exactly what I’ve been struggling with, but not able to articulate. LIke you, I’m new to new media. I’ve been feeling like I need to be instantly passionate about social media marketing. That’s not realistic, and, as you’ve reminded me, it’s not necessary. I’m already living my passion: creating effective content for my clients, and being part of the work they do so well.

      It’s my clients that supply the “juice” — every time they’re satisfied with a project, every time they ask me to take on another, and every time they pay their bills, it reinforces that I’m on the right path.

      Right now, I feel like I’m good at delivering communications solutions for my clients. Developing a competency in social media marketing tools and putting them to work for my clients is the smartest path I can see to get to great.

  16. This blog post seems to be reading my mind. I have only recently started freelance writing online. Recently being about three months ago. I am constantly looking for ways to make what I write stand out above all the other freelance writers out there.
    I knew from the start that there would be a lot of competition, but I had faith in my ability to write. I am nowhere near the best yet, but I am always looking for ways to improve the product I produce. This blog has just helped me to realize that I am on the right track.

    Thank you

  17. I love ordering from Zappos. My wife does too.

    But they spend a buck to make a buck. Their margins are horrible. Again, I love Zappos… but not their business model. 🙂

    Sonia, I’m not just quibbling over details. Here’s my point –

    1. Some people need to redefine what they believe is “great”. Despise Kmart but revere Apple? That’s a cool perspective as a consumer, but not as a business owner.

    2. Some people need to fall in love with the “business” of business, instead of expecting their company to give them “purpose” or reflect their “identity”. This opens you up to the many ways to make your business great that has nothing to do with what you like.

    For instance, how many ways can you make a show store great?

    Zappos competitor, Genesco makes $2 for every $1 that it spends. Payless doubled its earning in 2006 and also enjoys wider margins than Zappos.

    Zappos? It laid off 8% of its staff in 2008, even though it’s hailed as a great place to work.

    I know. It’s not sexy to pattern your business after Payless rather than Zappos, but it might just open you up to the many ways to be great!

  18. Excellent post. I have not figured out what I am best at yet–have been told by countless execs over the years that I’m best at pointing out where they should go next, and seeing between the lines of various business processes (troubleshooting) before it costs them tons of money and wasted time, but still have not yet figured out how to leverage these skills into making money for myself as I have for them–so we’ll see. Like Christi above, I am always interested in how to improve the product, as well as what the customer wants–unfortunately, these two views might not always match–thus have decided to merge my sales skills with high tech and see what happens.

  19. Great little read. Absolutely made my day… seriously.

    Getting out of your own way can be the hardest thing to do sometimes.

  20. Sonia, thank you, thank you. Your post of inspiration hit the spot on a tough morning.

  21. My memories of narcissistic sociopaths come from small business, which somehow makes them scarier. Fewer places to hide, I suppose.

    In my world, I see microbusinesses popping up like mushrooms. Most of them won’t last. Many of these people never even think about being great. They tell themselves they want to make some money, take a half-hearted stab at production and promotion, then can’t figure out why customers aren’t knocking down the door.

    If you’ll forgive the fractured metaphor, sometimes you have to get the hedgehog to *see* the water before you offer him a drink.

  22. I’m digging the undertone of obsessing over and completely knowing your audience.

    I’m struggling to do that lately, but this post lights a faint, but followable footpath through the dark, scary forest of target market research.

    I know– it’s a little off-topic, but I found your stuff resonant anyways. 😀


  23. Awesome post Sonia! As always. 🙂

    My path from good to great has been paved with relationships. It wasn’t who I knew; when I first started I didn’t know anyone! It was who I found along the way. If I wasn’t driven to put my name out there for my mentor to see, I would be working 12 hour days as a secretary. I would not even BE an independent copywriter.

    Humility and a drive to give people what they want and need were important, but they came later. The first step (since I had no clue as to how to be a copywriter) was to fumble around purposely until I found someone who did.

  24. love this post. always informative no matter what line of business you are in! I don’t miss reading them. xx peggybraswelldesign.com

  25. Great post. I noticed someone mentioning your line about loving the business more than ego. I would add something to that – It’s also important not to fall in love with an idea. When we do that, we start to believe our own mental publicity and are unable to see clearly. I am reminded of Seth G’s book the dip. Important to know when the dip is a great big hole, and it’s time to stop digging.

  26. Hi Sonia

    I’ve yet to read Good to Great – I know appalling isn’t it. Luckily I think I act out the principles and concepts in the book most days – either from people telling me them, reading them for myself or seeing them in action.

    Or getting refreshers on the important stuff from people like you – right here.

    The greatness thing is a toughie for us perfectionists. I recently shipped a product and was very proud of it, could it be better? Probably – can’t everything? But man I’m glad I got it completed and out to my audience.

    Just shipping (as Seth says) is something so many people fail to do, next step is to keep on shipping and make it better every time.

    Thanks for the kick today


      • Absolutely! and they are really cute IRL as well. My son wanted to make a feeding station for them but it just got knocked over by the neighbourhood cats – guess in life as in business you need to be prepared for the unexpected!
        Thanks Sonia 😉

  27. This is awesome information!

    I have been told I have a knack for explaining things to people in an easy to understand manner.

    I am now starting to teach classes in different areas- guess I’m on the right track?

  28. Hey Sonia! This is one of the best posts of yours that I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I think all of your posts are good, but this one’s great!

    I’m curious, why do you always tell people who are mediocre at what they do to never stop?

    I agree, just want your take. By the way, going to be at BlogWorld this weekend. I’ll try to introduce myself to you.

  29. Hi Sonia

    I loved this article and thought it was insightful to apply it this way in the context of smaller businesses.

    I quit a career in the corporate world because I believe people are searching for meaning in their work right now and won’t find answers to their questions through the traditional training and coaching their employers might give them. I wanted (and want!) to be a source of inspiration for folks trying to find a new path. I’ve spent the last year establishing a blog that talks to all of this.

    So, I find myself nodding in particular to what you say here about the business needing to be about more than your ego. Shit, I’ve made some sacrifices these last months and there are – still now – times when I wonder if I’ve gone crazy, lost the plot, and should just get back to some regular day job. But it’s that belief, that sense that there’s something bigger than me I’m engaged with that keeps me going.

    Without that sense of somehow being on a mission, I suspect I’d have given up long ago!

  30. Really enjoyable read and I can take on advice from each of the points you have made throughout the post. I feel that one of the most important aspects is to have passion and have a strong belief in what you are writing about. If the reader can see that you believe in the product they are more inclined to feel the same way.

  31. Me personally? I’ve learned a tough lesson and it’s that there’s a fifth step when you’re just beginning: be willing to do everything yourself.

    When I started I made a critical mistake of hiring a SEO guy BECAUSE I was clueless about SEO and didn’t want to deal with it. The result: paying over 4000 bucks in total with nothing to show for it because I only thought (and didn’t actually KNOW) whether he was doing the right things or not.

    My lesson as: do everything yourself, at least for a little while so you know:

    – The important do’s and don’ts
    – You can do it yourself if need be (handy for the one man bands out there)
    – You can come up with possible improvements for each area of business and how they affect each other

    Note about the last one: people are graphical designers, copywriters, SEO guys OR website builders. They stick to their own area and don’t think outside the box. Knowing the basics of each area means getting people to think outside the box so you can develop a better overall strategy than people who only delegate.

    Noteworthy success story of this approach: 50 Cent aka Curtis Jackson. Has earned hundreds of millions because of it.

  32. This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I’m in a restructuring phase of my business and I’ve just recently changed my mindset from what I want to what my potential clients want. I realized a couple of weeks ago that I was putting out there what I THOUGHT my potential clients needed. Instead, I am now interested in seeing what it is they need and go from there.

    I’ve become sort of a zealous researcher. I’m now more INTERESTED in others instead of interesting to them. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this much needed post.

  33. To me, the most interesting part of this that’s missing from 99% of the “do what you love” articles I’ve read is the “find a viable business model” part. It can really feel like a cruel joke if you finally get to a place where you’ve zeroed in on what you’re great at and what you love to do and then … realize no one wants to pay you to do that. IMO, that piece of the puzzle is the hardest.

  34. Great insight – all the successful people I’ve met are much more passionate about the cause they work for, rather than their personal advancement. Personal ego is easily the biggest thing that gets in the way of making an enterprise successful. The biggest sign of an ego is the need to be right all the time. You know what, no one is right all the time!

    Thanks for a great read.


    Alan Yu

  35. so i guess, we can eliminate the fourth step and add under the third category “Find something that gives you juice” – money should not be your only source of juice.

  36. Letting go of my ego and more importantly the pride that came along with it is what made the difference in our business succeeding. Pride still get’s in the way of my success sometimes, but I recognize that it’s a problem and try to avoid it as much as possible (plus my wife gently reminds me occasionally when it’s getting in the way of our success).

  37. GREAT article. I worked for a company who hired an inexperienced MD whose management philosophy was Jim Collins book.
    He fired people ruthlessly and in a very nasty way. Hired “the right people” -usually young eager to please girls in the face of sales declining rapidly, all the while quoting Jim Collins book.
    He was the least self effacing person you could meet. It was evident he Loved being the MD with a “business philosophy” more than anything else.
    He took the company from Good to Gone.
    Thank you for writing the article, I always knew there was a missing link, thought it was just me who thought it-great insight.

  38. When I read the title of this article. I was hoping for a self evaluation form that would detemine if I was good or great. Hmmmm… Interesting post.

  39. Fabulous post! Each and every person has greatness within him or her. We are here, in this lifetime, to express that greatness to its full potential. By express, I mean develop and share for the greater good of all.

    The only thing standing in our way of realizing and achieving our innate gift is ourselves. There’s a part of us that say’s we suck, or we can’t because, or whatever drivel we (through our Inner Critic) serve up to hold us (or a company, society, government….) from delivering our purpose in life – whether it be to an audience of one or millions. Both are as important.

    When we hit recognize that we’ve hit the ‘pause’ button on or sabotage on our greatness its time to mindfully examine how we are resisting the fullest projection of our authentic expression. Then do the hokey pokey and turn ourselves around. That’s what its all about.

    Many of the comments above – the Found Excuses And Reasons (FEAR) – for not getting to great is that resistance, the saying NO to YOU, I speak of.

    It takes a bit of Moxie – the confident courage to express our authentic greatness no matter what – to turn ourselves around. The good news is everything we need to muster up a little moxie is already within us as our birthright.

    We were born bundles of goodness here to become and provide greatness.

  40. I think the biggest point here is to get over yourself and love what you do. Don’t be concerned with the fame of doing great work just get satisfaction from doing your best and helping other people be their best.

  41. Great post. I got more from this post than I did Good to Great. I will admit that I read about half of Built to Last and made it through 1 CD in the Collection on Good to Great. Because.. well, Jim’s boring..while Jim talks about these principles of Good leaders and companies, he comes across as one of those people that are so passionate and interested in the importance of their own project that some of the good stuff gets lost… like the hedgehog concept…the research does warrant the theatrics… it seems like common sense to me…sticking with your passion combined with what you are good at, until you figure out your niche and how to make a good living at it. Thanks for bringing me back to some of those reads I came across during my corporate days if not to remind me why I became self employed.

  42. Finding ways to help people using ONLY words can be a challenge. When the reality of child abuse and the lifelong negative impact it has on brain development showed up in the professional literature, it became clear that translating that research for busy parents was something worth taking on. It’s become a passionate life’s work, the benefits of which hopefully will be leveraged for generations. Good or great doesn’t really factor into the equation.

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