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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

What Success Looks Like

Whether or not you're successful at anything depends entirely on how you define success.

Is your marketing campaign a success?

That can only be true if it accomplishes its primary objective and, for that to happen, you need to determine your primary objective at the start of your campaign. Did you want to increase positive sentiment for your brand, generate new customers for your business, or get lapsed customers to come back to your store and buy something? These are three different objectives, and to accurately determine if your efforts were successful, you need to measure the results against what you set out to accomplish.

Were your recruiting efforts a success?

It depends: what does a successful new hire look like in your company, and did the person you hired meet that standard? While we're at it, what timeframe are you using to evaluate the new hire, and what do you expect that new person to have accomplished within it?

You need to define success before you can know whether you have achieved it.

This truism doesn't just apply to business situations, of course; it applies to life in general.

Let me use an example that's very close to home: my first book, Tom Talent and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Recruitment Process, launched last week.

(A HUGE thanks to everybody who supported me on this by buying a copy of the book!)

Was the launch of Tom Talent a success?

I suspect you can guess the answer by now: it depends on how you define success.

Is it going to make me rich? Heck, no! The amount my illustrator and I earn from every copy sold is laughably small based on Amazon's publishing model and we'd have to sell hundreds of thousands of copies for the book to represent any significant level of income for either of us. Fortunately, we both agreed at the start of this project that the success of Tom Talent would not be defined by the profit we could generate from it.

Instead, together we decided Tom Talent would be a success if we could do the following:

1. Could we present an important idea to our target audience in a fun and creative way and get them to rethink how they treat candidates during their recruitment processes? (This one is still to be determined, but it's early and we're optimistic!)

2. Could we learn what's involved in self-publishing a book so we could more easily publish future works if it turns out there was a demand for this one? (Check!)

3. Would we have fun bringing this project to life? (Check!)

By our definition of success, Tom Talent is well on its way to being successful.

You need to define success before you can know whether you have achieved it.

And when it comes to your personal efforts, how you define success is often up to you.



If you're interested, on top of what my illustrator and I agreed would define success for Tom Talent, I had two additional objectives for my first commercial writing project:

Could I sell just 100 copies of the book?

There is an idea that a"creator" can make a sustainable living with 100 true fans. Granted, that idea assumes each of those fans is generating $1,000 in revenue, and the print version of the book will generate a tiny fraction of that per copy sold. Also, I don't currently aspire to be a full-time creator.

Still, I know I have more than 100 subscribers who regularly open dpThoughts every week, and I have almost 16,000 followers on LinkedIn. And I wanted to know if at least 100 of my followers valued the free content I share regularly enough to buy something I published.

That hasn't happened yet. In hindsight, launching the book on National Unique Talent Day (to go with the "talent" theme of the book) may have been a strategic error on my part given that this year National Unique Talent Day also fell on Black Friday (when people are generally focused on "deals", not "new launches").

But I'm hoping those who did buy the book as soon as it came out and received their copies this weekend enjoyed it enough to write a (5-star) review on Amazon and tell their friends about it... especially if their friends work in talent acquisition. After all, word-of-mouth is, and always will be, the most powerful form of marketing.

Could Tom Talent land at the top of Amazon's "New Releases" list in one of its categories?

This one was what's known as a "stretch goal" because it wasn't going to happen unless we sold far more than 100 copies of our book. Still, it would have been nice to see my very first commercial writing initiative land "at the top of the charts".

And while we didn't do it, we did have a few proud moments.

For instance:

  • #2 in the Human Resources and Personnel Management Category (eBook)...

A screenshot of Amazon's Best Sellers in Human Resources & Personnel Management list

  • #5 in the Human Resources Management category (print version)...

A screenshot of Amazon's Best Sellers in Human Resources Management list

  • And Top 50 in the Leadership category, just two below Walter Issacson's biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs!

A screenshot of Amazon's Best Sellers in Leadership list

(Yes, I know this is because everybody already has a copy of Steve Jobs. Still, I was excited!)

Another personal example of defining personal success can be seen in the blog you're reading right now. I write and publish a dpThoughts blog post at least once every week, and it gets sent out to my newsletter subscribers every Monday at 7 am.

But is dpThoughts a success?

If I defined success as either "the number of visitors I get to my website" or "the number of newsletter subscribers I have", then dpThoughts would be a complete and utter failure. That's because my website visitor and newsletter subscriber numbers are well below what other similar newsletters and websites can generate.

Fortunately, those aren't the metrics I use to gauge the success of dpThoughts.

(I do track my "visitor" and "subscriber" numbers, but they aren't the numbers that determine whether I keep writing. For the newsletter, I look at "open rates": the percentage of my subscribers who open the emails that arrive in their inbox every week. As long as that percentage is above industry benchmarks (and, so far, it is), it tells me my subscribers actually care to read what I choose to write and share. For my website, I look at a similar metric: "Average Engagement", which tells me how long people choose to stay on my site, an indicator of whether my content is compelling enough to keep people reading.)

For me, dpThoughts is successful if I can answer "yes" to these three questions:

1. Does writing dpThoughts each week help me define and articulate ideas more quickly and clearly, a skill I know I can use to generate income?

2. Do I believe writing dpThoughts can enhance my professional brand and create other opportunities for me?

3. Do I enjoy writing dpThoughts more than I'd enjoy doing something else that might also help me accomplish #1 and #2 above?

As long as the answer to all three questions continues to be yes, I'll consider dpThoughts a "success" even if it isn't commercially successful and the size of my readership remains small.


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Disclosure: As an Amazon Affiliate and a member of select other referral programs, I may earn a commission if you click on links found within my blog posts and subsequently make a purchase. The commissions earned are negligible, and while they help fund this website, they do not influence my opinions in any way.

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