One of my weak (and strong) spots is I sometimes drill deep into topics and subject areas far beyond the basic level of required understanding for day-to-day life (under normal circumstances.) I first learned of this trait when much younger, when I decided to learn about and experience Africa to a level most people in North America would consider extreme. Later, I took the challenge to airline frequent flyer programs — more specifically Air Canada’s Aeroplan — where I discovered a program rules loophole so great you could fly an entire company’s employees on any flight, at any time, on inexpensive points. (The airline quickly changed the rules when I posted my discovery on a public Internet forum.) More recently, I began studying one of Google’s programs to such a degree that Google has decided to pay me (and a few hundred others in the same group from around the world) to an all-expenses paid summit in Mountainview in September.
Now this deep learning process is a weakness as well as strength, because the time I spend on these activities can be seen as peripheral to my primary business. If only I could put the same energy into the core publishing operation rather than these “diversions”, wouldn’t we do much better as a business?
Perhaps. But the value of digging deeply into any topic area cannot be underestimated. Although I’m past the point of taking separate two-day trips to Hong Kong and Singapore for only one reason — to gather airline points – the airline rules knowledge still allows us to keep our company travel costs to a fraction of the normal levels, and enables our family to enjoy vacations with a degree of luxury few can achieve. I’m still not sure where my knowledge of Google’s specific program rules will take me; but I was able to modify the travel plans San Francisco this September to include a side trip to visit my extended family in Vancouver, and a first class return to Ottawa for about $200 above the lowest economy return fare Google is paying for the summit. My in-depth knowledge will create a rich, week-long travel experience for a total out-of-pocket cost of about $300. Frugal, eh.
And maybe, just maybe, the in-depth knowledge of journalism, writing, and more recently marketing also took me to the “authority” stage; wait — I’m probably there, with my book, daily blog, and speaking engagements. Guess what: Now that I’m an authority on the topic, I am actually paid to conduct my marketing. Yes, the book has led to speaking gigs and these have led to advertisers and feature revenue (and some happy sales reps in this organization, who receive some gold-plated leads.)
The next question, obviously, is where you should focus your efforts to achieve “authority” status. The simplest (and not necessarily best) answer is to follow your passions. If you enjoy the activity and you are good at it, you’ll persevere the 10,000 or so hours of practice and experience to reach mastery. However, you can overlay this passion with some practical considerations — specifically, appreciating what your clients really wish to see and then modifying and focusing your learning and authority-seeking in these areas.
So, yes, for our business, it is rational that I become an authority on construction marketing, far more than airline frequent flyer programs and some arcane aspects of Google’s systems. Can you select the area/initiative you will reach “authority” status and work to reach that stage? Remember, frugal does not mean “instant success”. You’ll have to work hard and long to become an authority on any topic. But once you reach that stage, you’ll discover one of the most important and effective frugal construction marketing concepts available to anyone who is willing to put in the effort.