What separates the fastest-growing creators from the rest?
There are some table stakes – if you don't have a clear purpose, it's going to be hard to grow. If you're not investing in discovery platforms (social media, YouTube, etc.) then it's going to be hard to grow.
But if you have some traction already – a reason to believe that your message resonates with your audience AND you're investing time into good content on discovery platforms, what will help you grow faster?
More and more, I think the answer is efficiency: building your business to receive a higher output per unit of input.
Those sound like vague economic terms because they are. Efficiency can take a lot of forms.
But when you understand efficiency, you can apply it as a lens to everything you're doing.
The Math of Efficiency
Imagine the sales page for your main product offering.
If you convert 1 out of 10 visitors into a customer, you have a 10% conversion rate.
If your goal is to get two sales, that would mean you need 20 visitors at your current conversion.
Simple math, right?
You probably also understand that while getting 20 visitors is only one way to accomplish your goal – it's not the only way to accomplish that goal.
Another solution would be to improve your conversion rate – if you can convert 2 out of 10 visitors into a customer (20% conversion rate) then you need half the site traffic. If you're still able to get 20 visitors then, you'll end up with FOUR sales and not just two.
Efficiency vs. Optimization
People think about this as optimization but I like to think of it as efficiency.
When you hear "optimization," it implies some perfect solution. Making something "optimal" literally means finding the best solution.
That's high pressure – and almost impossible to achieve. Who is to say when something is truly optimized?
On the other hand, I think we can always work (and succeed) at making things more efficient.
In technical terms, efficiency is the ratio of the useful work a.) performed by a machine or b.) in a process to the total energy expended or heat taken in.
Basically, the ratio of input to output. The higher the output per unit of input, the more efficient the system is.
When I started freelancing, I made it a point to get a testimonial from every client I worked with. After working with three clients, I had three video testimonials to display on my website! And I was so proud – because that was just as many as much larger freelancers had on their websites too.
My input was 3 client projects and the output was 3 testimonials (3/3 = 100% efficiency).
Consider another freelancer who may have 10 client projects with 3 testimonials (3/10 = 33% efficiency).
A testimonial is a signal of legitimacy. When outside observers saw that I had the same number of testimonials as other freelancers, they saw me as an equal. Just by being efficient with the clients I had, I was able to be perceived as equal to more established freelancers (with a fraction of the time and effort).
And perception is reality.
Efficiency of Your Machine
Most people don't default to thinking about efficiency.
Consider the basic equation I shared in this post on your business as a machine:
Input + Machine = Output
The "Machine" here is your business – the overall systems, processes, and assets you've built.
When we want a bigger Output (like more revenue), we often default to thinking that we need a proportional increase in our Input to get there.
I'm averaging 100 new subscribers per month from Twitter, so if I double the number of Tweets I'm putting out each month, that will double my subscribers.
We gloss over the changes we can make to the machine itself in order to make it more efficient.
A more efficient machine takes the existing input and creates a better output – take the example above. Instead of increasing traffic, we focus on improving conversion. By making the page more efficient, we get a better outcome AND any future increases to Input then result in an exponential growth in Output.
That's the opportunity – the more efficient you are, the more quickly you can achieve outsized results.
When your machine is inefficient, it feels like riding a bicycle in first gear on flat land. You're pedaling like hell (and you're moving!) but you're not progressing as quickly as you'd expect.
But when your machine is efficient, it's like riding a bicycle in third gear – each pump of your legs results in a single, smooth rotation of the wheel. You're going further, faster – and it almost feels effortless!
Efficiency in Action
Efficiency is what has fueled the growth of many short-form video creators. Since the same input can be used across multiple platforms, it's a very efficient form of content creation.
Efficiency is also why repurposing is such a hot topic. If we keep our Input fixed (the effort to make a thing) but are more efficient with that thing, we can still increase our overall output.
When you use efficiency as a lens, you start to see it everywhere:
- How efficient are your processes and workflows?
- How efficiently are you spending your time?
- How efficiently are you allocating your cash?
- How efficiently are you turning social media traffic into website traffic?
- How efficiently are you turning website traffic into email subscribers?
This is what I admire so much about Justin Welsh.
Justin has built a rocket ship over the last couple of years in part because he's the most efficient creator I've ever seen.
Sahil Bloom (another master of efficiency) called Justin an "absolute tactician:"
Think of all the ways Justin is efficient:
- Every week, Justin is building relationships with other creators, which improves his social graph, the people engaging with his work, and the likelihood that his social posts spread further
- Each day, he publishes 2-3 posts on both Twitter and LinkedIn (efficiently using his available time in the day)
- Every post is designed with the consumer in mind – making each post sharable and potentially viral (getting the most potential outcome from his input)
- Almost every post now links back to an essay or landing page to drive the social traffic he's getting to his website (efficiently moving as many eyeballs from discovery platforms to a retention platform as possible)
- His website (the essays and homepage) is geared toward converting email subscribers
- Every email he sends is monetized via sponsorship
- Every email links to his paid products
- Each of his paid products is built to capture testimonials from students
- Each of his paid products is built to turn students into affiliates
We all do similar activities to Justin – we post on social media, we have a website, and we meet other people. But I would be willing to bet you're less efficient with those activities (I know I am).
As a result, he's quickly built a larger business than most other creators who may have been at it for many years longer. If he's 3x more efficient than someone else on a daily basis, he's going to be three years ahead of that person at the end of year one.
The takeaway here isn't to just "hustle more."
In fact, I'm saying the opposite. "Hustling" often feels like that bicycle in first gear.
I'm saying that you're already putting in effort...
So imagine what would happen if you focused on making the machine more efficient – rather than trying to increase the time you're putting in.
There's also nothing inherently wrong with increasing the amount of time you're putting into the system!
But it makes a whole lot of sense to focus on efficiency before increasing your time input. Because if you make the machine more efficient, then increasing the time you put into the machine will result in an exponentially higher output.