Are You Playing A Long Or Short Game?

When I was a kid, I used to really enjoy the old Batman TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward.  It ran from 1966 – 1968 (before I was born) but through the magic of television, I remember being a young kid and watching it while I’d eat my lunch in front of the TV.

One of my favourite characters was The Riddler when he’d say, “Riddle me this, Batman” and throw out some twisted puzzle.  Batman and Robin would usually be tied up, struggling to get free and they’d slowly work out the Riddler’s fiendish plan.  They’d free themselves, a few “KAPLOW!” and “BAM!” scenes later and the Riddler would be carted off to prison by Commissioner Gordon’s men.

So in the spirit of that fine show, today I will issue you a challenge:

Riddle me this, find reader… What goes really fast to get to a short destination reaches it, but then never arrives?

The answer?  Someone who eschews the hard and long road in their business to take shortcuts to try and cash in but ultimately always ends up broke.

I see this all the time, let me draw you a picture.

Everyone knows that the key pieces to being successful are: find and building an audience, create good content, put together a great product or service and make a compelling offer.

These are the foundational elements of all good online, and for that matter, offline businesses.  To have long-term success you have to achieve all of these things.

Sometimes it’s possible to skip a number of these elements and achieve short-term success, at least from a financial perspective.  Almost always though, these situations are not sustainable unless the business owner quickly and efficiently works out how to leverage their good fortune into building out their foundational elements for long-term success.

Being truthful with you, that almost never happens in my experience, especially online.  I can count on one hand the number of people who’ve successfully transitioned their short-term game into a sustainable long-term game and I’d probably have fingers left over.

Let me give you a recent example.

Back in March, Udemy announced that they were changing their pricing structure in April putting in place price ceilings and floors while also limited discounts being offered.  Almost immediately the bottom fell out for many Udemy Instructors and the income they generated from Udemy took a big hit.  Personally, my Udemy income fell by about 60%.

The nature of the Udemy marketplace is that as an instructor, you don’t have a strong marketing relationship with your students.  In essence, Udemy discourages you from trying to pull students off their platform onto your mailing list where you can directly market to them.  The reason for this is that in truth, Udemy generates the vast majority of the customers to their marketplace, so if they allowed instructors to pull students off Udemy onto their own lists, they’d actually be spending money driving traffic to give instructors fully liquidated leads.

Udemy’s position on this makes a ton of sense for their business and I strongly support their views on this.  For them to be sustainable, they can’t generate sales for instructors and then give them customer lists as well.

However, there are two sides to a coin.  On the opposite side, you have instructors (like myself) that do almost zero marketing of our Udemy courses.  We let Udemy do the heavy lifting to generate their customers and our relationship is one where I provide content for them to sell to their audience and I get a royalty.  I like that relationship and it works for me because I don’t depend on Udemy income.

Some instructors though earn a substantial part of their personal income from Udemy and when they took a 40% – 60% hit in the pocketbook, it really hurt.

Why did it hurt?  Well for some of them they were just playing a short game.  They hadn’t really built an audience of their own that they could leverage and their offer wasn’t really compelling.

Most of these people sized up the situation and rather than figure out how to pivot or even dig in and start doing the hard work of playing a long game, they took another shortcut and started making more shorter, inferior courses for a smaller marketplace (mainly Skillshare) in the hope that these folks would send them free customers.

On the other hand, there were some instructor who had developed and built their own audience and they did ok out of the situation.  Many of them took this opportunity to build out their own sites, invest in their own businesses and start playing a longer game.

When you talk to some of these people, they are earning more and building bigger audiences with closer connections.  They are building a real asset that they control and is not at the whim of a third party.

Which brings us back to Udemy.  In early August they announced that their pricing changes had been painful and not delivered the results they were hoping for.  They more or less went back to their old pricing regime with some minor changes.

The instructors who were playing the short game all rejoiced and became very excited, whereas the ones who were playing a long game were largely indifferent and had moved on to something they felt was better.  They were maybe leaving some money on the table, but they felt that long-term, they’d be better off building their own platforms.

Now, you’d think that the people who had been caught out playing the short game with respect to Udemy would have learned their lesson.  You’re probably sitting there thinking right now, “Ok, those folks are going to take the opportunity now to insulate themselves from this happening again.”

You’d think so, but in most cases, the people that I talk to who were playing the short game, they are generally doubling down.  They are putting aside plans to build a better, more robust business and creating more Udemy courses to “rebuild their income”.

Which leads me back to the riddle I started this conversation with.

These people often want the financial security, personal satisfaction and long-term stability that a good business can deliver you, that’s their destination.  But they never get there because they choose to avoid taking the longer, more difficult road and take shortcuts for immediate financial gains… Maybe.

The “maybe” is really important here because there are no guarantees.  If you decide to stop working on building a proper, sustainable business to “smash out” a couple quick courses for something like Udemy or Skillshare, there are not guarantees that those will be successful.  However, I can solemnly guarantee that your longer term, more robust business will not build itself.

Let me offer you a comparison.

I have, over the years, done the work to build a small, but responsive audience for myself that buys things that I create because they think it will help them and they enjoy what I create.  I could sit down on the weekend, create a short sharp info product or offer a paid webinar series, send an email to my audience and I’d sell some.  Absolutely guaranteed and more importantly, the money would turn up in my bank account right away.

Conversely, someone without an audience can spend however long they like, create a masterful course, post it to Udemy and/or Skillshare and bomb.  I’ve seen it happen more than once to even very successful instructors.

Because I’ve done the work over the long haul, I have the ability to get those short-term financial injections if I need them.  The best a Udemy instructor can do is create a new course and in six to eight weeks, maybe if it sells see the financial benefit.

Not every situation allows for a long-term view, I’m not dogmatic enough to suggest such a thing, but when given a choice, if you opt to take a shortcut instead of putting the work in, you just have to be prepared to pay the consequences at some point.

Maybe it’s part of who I am as a person, but I always prefer to play the long game.  I like to be in control, even if it takes longer and is harder to achieve.  Like anything, there’s a risk of failure, but even modest success that you have is entirely sustainable and gives you a platform off which to continue to build.

What I’m suggesting is that you think bigger picture and build a more sustainable business that you’re in control of fully.

Leave a Comment