When The Merry-Go-Round Stops

At work today, one of the women in the office brought in her little daughter who is three years old.  I sat down in my chair with her sitting next to me and asked her about her day at Luna Park.  She told me all about what she had for lunch, the funny things she saw and how this pretty young woman painted her face like a kitten.

Children have a natural exuberance, they just love life – it’s really quite refreshing.

I asked her if she went on any rides and her expression changed, she pursed her little lips and she had a slight frown.

“I was on the merry-go-round sitting on a brown horse, but just as I was laughing it stopped and we had to get off.  I wanted to keep going, but other little boys and girls were waiting their turn.”

In her mind, the merry-go-round was never going to end.  She would just ride that giant horse, listen to the music and laugh forever.  It never occurred to her that the ride would stop – you could see it in her eyes.

The fascinating thing for me is that I see this with people who I doing business coaching for all the time.  They have hit onto something that is working right now and they think their success is going to last forever.

They are like the little girl on the merry-go-round, listening to the music, laughing and watching the world go by.

But then something changes and the ride stops.

I’d like to say it’s a gradual decline that people see coming but they almost never do even when the data is staring them directly in the face.  It’s always an abrupt stop with a jarring emotional impact because they didn’t want to believe it was possible.

Usually, it’s people with a one-legged stool type business model.  Their success is serendipitous more than strategic.  They often spend so much time polishing the one leg of the stool that they forget to try and do something to stabilize the whole situation.

This is a message I try and share with people all over the place, “If you’re not responsible directly for generating your own leads, then your business is at serious long-term risk.”

It doesn’t matter what kind of business you’re running or what your business model is – if you’re reliant on someone else attracting potential customers to you, you’re already in trouble but you probably just don’t realize it.

The biggest victims of this are almost always my clients who rely on organic traffic from Google Search of to marketplace platforms like eBay, Amazon and Udemy.

Let’s start with my SEO clients.  I’ve successfully run my SEO business for nearly seven years and for the last five, I’ve pretty much told every single client that they need to have alternative sources of traffic to Google Organic.

That might seem weird for someone telling his SEO clients to find other sources of traffic, but I have seen dozens of people whose businesses relied exclusively on Google go from hugely successfully to virtually destitute in no time at all.  Something changes, they end up on the wrong side of that change and their traffic falls off a cliff.

I think of search traffic as a bonus for most people.  It’s the traffic you get that you don’t expect.  It’s serendipitous traffic, even if you are good at SEO.

When SEO makes sense is when you have a strong lead generation game through other traffic sources.  Maybe your paid traffic strategy is working really well and it’s dialled in.  You decide to spend some money then diversify and grab more organic – that’s clever, I encourage that.

What I don’t encourage is someone saying that their business is predicated on the whims of Google’s algorithm.

The other one I mentioned is marketplaces.  I know numerous people who think they can just continue to focus on creating “great content”, publish it on a marketplace and let them take care of bringing them customers.

First of all, that “build it and they will come” mantra is rubbish.  That’s hope, not a strategy – it’s dumb, don’t do that.  It doesn’t work for SEO, “Oh, I’ll just create good content and Google will reward me” and it doesn’t work for selling info products, “My book is awesome, Amazon will promote it for me.”

If you do that, you’re leaving yourself wide open to disappointment.

Secondly, there’s nothing wrong with starting out in a marketplace.

Let me share a story with you.

I had an SEO client a few years back who created some pretty neat products, had them manufactured in China and started selling them on eBay.  It was a good niche, their products were good and they did well.

They made a smart play by leveraging their eBay success and using that to invest in new products, more inventory and their own site.  They became one of my customers for SEO and we worked with them to drive their business nicely into seven figures.

They continued to act smart – they move some of their lower priced, commodity products onto Amazon and used Amazon FBA to fulfil the shipments into new markets.

At the same time, they built our a big email list of 20,000 people, big social followings and most importantly, we worked with them to get AdWords paid traffic working like crazy.

Then they made a couple of very, very bad product manufacturing decisions and the whole business went off the rails.

They stopped creating entertaining and engaging emails and moved to a model where every email was just “sell, sell, sell!”  Constant discounting via scarcity driven sales drove down the value of the products.  As you could imagine, their email list became tired and stopped responding.

Then they decided to “save some money” by putting a hold on any paid traffic spend.  I argued with them profusely – every dollar they spent on AdWords they immediately got two back.  They were acquiring customers and doubling their spend.  I failed to convince them and they turned off the ads.

Finally, their products started to stagnate, smaller more nimble competitors appeared and eventually as they continued to cut their SEO budget to save money, their organic traffic over the course of a year or so dwindled to 20% of what they were previously at.

They went from starting on eBay to seven-figure business to shutting down in about five years while losing money for the entire last year.

This client is the perfect narrative for what I’m talking about.  They had all of their eggs in one basket, a marketplace they didn’t control.  They used that to prove their idea, but then they branched out and took control of generating their own leads.  They enhanced that by leveraging other marketplaces to build their brand while establishing multiple traffic sources.

Then they imploded.  We were so successful at their SEO work that they thought of Google Organic as “free traffic” and when business got tough, they stopped doing anything and became single source dependent on a lead flow they couldn’t control.

The merry-go-round always stops, that’s how it works.  Children never think it will stop because that’s their inherent optimism.

You’re not a child though.  You need to be more aware than that.

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