It Doesn’t Matter Where They Come From

For the first eight years of Four Minute Books‘ life, the only real source of traffic was people organically searching for book summaries on Google. More and more folks kept coming my way that way, and so there was no need to change anything.

Then, the growing flood of traffic stopped overnight. My visitor numbers dropped 70%, and for the first time, I had to ask myself a hard question: “Where am I going to get readers from? Fans? Subscribers? Customers?”

When you depend on one source for something for a long time, if that source dries up for whatever reason, your natural inclination is to fix it. “Why is this well no longer giving me any water? Is it the bucket? Did the rope tear? What’s going on at the bottom?” But unlike hope, no natural spring is eternal, and so when the water runs out, chances are, it’s run out for good.

Whether I could get my traffic back or not, several months into the decline, it was clear that it wasn’t coming back overnight. The only sane thing to do was to ask that same hard question, except this time, instead of defaulting to “I’ll fix my traffic,” like I had done the first time, I’d have to seriously consider every answer, not just the obvious one.

“Where am I going to get readers from? Fans? Subscribers? Customers?” I came up with a plan, and I’ve been acting on it ever since. Will it work? I have no idea. But in the process, thanks to that question, I learned a valuable lesson: It doesn’t matter where they come from. The customers. The dollars. The deals. The suppliers. The resources. The partners. The solutions to whatever problem you are trying to solve. It takes humility to accept this.

Will you take a bailout deal from your competitor to help you through a crisis? Will you accept the same goods from a smaller shop if your usual vendor is out of stock? Will you try paid advertising if organic acquisition is no longer working? All of these are questions of humility first and foremost.

It’s not a universal rule, but by and large, in life and in business, get what you need where you can get it from. Being picky comes later. First, make sure you can play another round tomorrow — and for that, it doesn’t matter where they come from.