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The price of not doing what you know is right

Today I want to tell you a tale that the father of a dear friend once told me. I love metaphors, and this man loved fables, so let’s just say we got along well 🙂

The moral of this story can be applied to almost anything in life, but today I want to explore what it means for those of us thinking about launching a new project or trying to grow an existing one.

The tale goes like this:

The tale of the Babylon king and the thief

In old Babylon, a thief was caught after stealing 100 gold coins from the king. The king was merciful, so he presented the thief with a choice. He offered him 3 options:

  1. Repay the 100 gold coins. No interests, no fine, simply return what was stolen.
  2. Eat 2 pounds of salt, one spoon at a time, in 60 minutes or less.
  3. Receive 10 lashes on the back from the royal guard.

The thief knew that returning the 100 gold coins was the right thing to do. But being a thief, and selfish, he saw an opportunity. He quickly let the king know that he would happily eat the 2 pounds of salt.

He started eating the salt in front of him one spoon at a time, but after eating 1 pound his mouth was on fire. He was sick, could not take it anymore, could barely speak from the pain in his mouth, and no amount of water seemed to be able to relieve him.

It was clear he would not be able to complete the challenge. So with the little voice he had left, he informed the king he would like to change his punishment for the 10 lashes. The king was merciful, so he agreed.

The guards placed the thief against a wall and started lashing him on the back. His shirt was gone after just one slash, and after 5 he had no skin left. The pain was excruciating, almost making him forget about his mouth’s poor state after eating that salt… he could not take a single slash more.

He crawled in front of the king and begged for his forgiveness as he offered him the 100 gold coins he had stolen.

The king was merciful, so he accepted the coins and set the thief free, as he had promised.

The thief left the king’s palace without the 100 gold coins, had deep wounds on his back and was unable to eat anything solid for weeks.

If only he could back in time, he would jump at the opportunity to pay those coins back from the very beginning!

The moral of the story

There’s plenty of literature that explains how we humans sometimes behave irrationally, often against our best interest. This is especially true when there’s money involved.

The thief in our tale failed to do what was best for him, and we often do the same when it comes to launching or growing our brands/businesses/projects.

We want to get things done quickly and cheaply, and that ends up getting in the way of our best interest.

If you know good branding is key to differentiating yourself from the competition don’t settle for word art. If your website is going to be your main source of leads/sales, don’t settle for a bulky and slow premade theme, if you understand the long-term power of SEO, don’t try to find shortcuts…

How does this apply to business?

You would not believe how many clients come to us in this situation: they launched their project 6 to 18 months ago and things are just not working as they hoped.

  • They usually made their own logo or had a friend with the best intentions at heart do it for them. They also have nothing else in terms of branding other than that logo. No brand book, no brand voice…
  • They initially worked with a cheap overseas developer who built them a website they don’t quite understand on a CMS that might not be a good fit for them.
  • They started posting on their blog themselves, but quickly gave up after seeing no results right away, and because other aspects of the business were more urgent.

You get the idea.

To continue the parallelism, when these clients come to us they’ve already eaten a pound of salt, and many have even received a few lashes.

What’s the solution?

It’s never easy, but the only thing we can do at that point is explain to them that:

  1. We need to spend some time redefining their brand, their values, their mood, their voice… this is the foundation of everything that comes after. You can’t just build a good website, or design a good business card, a good ad, a good social media post… you can ONLY build a good website for this particular brand, or design a good business card for this particular brand, etc.
  2. If the website is going to be the main channel for lead generation, or in many cases the business itself, we must design it and build it from scratch. This is your window to the world, your showroom, it needs to be spotless! Otherwise, any marketing and promotion efforts you make will be diluted when people reach a site that’s semi-broken, slow, or doesn’t look as professional as it should.
  3. We need to work on a content strategy. This means actually thinking about what content needs to be produced instead of jumping right into it, why that content and not another? what goals do we hope to achieve through this content? in which timeframe do we expect to achieve them?

The clients who understand this, we jump on and start working together, tearing down a lot of the work that was poorly done the first time around and starting from scratch. For the ones that keep looking for shortcuts, unfortunately, we can’t do anything else than wish them the best of luck.

The bottom line is, there are no shortcuts. Doing things the best way possible does not guarantee success, but doing them poorly almost definitely guarantees failure.