Twenty minutes per day is all it takes to achieve epic product market fit.
It’ll pour jet fuel into your new business. You’ll supercharge growth. You’ll laser lock on to the precise product strategy that guarantees effortless customer acquisition.
All it takes is this one simple ritual.
You don’t even have to be strict: Twenty minutes a few times a week is fine.
The only catch – hard part about this tactic – is that it’s uncomfortable. It’s a little scary.
Enroll people in what you’re building
The idea of Enrollment is a simple mental shift of perspective. It’s a re-thinking and re-defining of your ultimate objective as an early stage entrepreneur. The tactic that comes next, changes everything.
I credit Seth Godin entirely for this concept.
He was the first person who helped me understand that the people my team and I serve at Commit Action aren’t just customers, they’re students. Reframing your customers as students is the key to understanding enrollment.
A good teacher doesn’t just transfer knowledge to his students. He enrolls them in the process of learning itself. When a high school science teacher makes chemistry come alive to a class of bored, distracted, hormonal teenagers… when they sit forward on the edge of their seats to see what’s happening… that’s enrollment.
And as entrepreneurs, we can do something similar in our businesses. And it changes everything.
Enrollment is simply the idea that people have agency and the volition to choose what they focus on. Where your target market chooses to spend their precious attention, time and money is up to them. As an entrepreneur, rather than seeking out sales, market share or even leads… the goal is to enroll people in what you’re building.
This shift in mindset can be applied in many ways, each more powerful than the last. Investors, mentors, joint-venture affiliates, partners, vendors, journalists, agents and more… can all be targets for the entrepreneur seeking to enroll the people who matter in what she is building.
Enrollment busts through chicken-or-egg struggle
Most great business ideas hit up against a wall where a chicken or an egg must be produced, but the entrepreneur has neither.
We need to attract advertisers to the platform to pay for building it, and we need a fully fledged platform to attract users. But we need users to attract advertisers.
Chicken vs egg.
Businesses always need to be jump started. Especially bootstrap ones. The extra juice comes from people who aren’t customers (or aren’t just customers) but who’re also key stakeholders who get invested – often merely emotionally – in seeing the company succeed.
It happens in that moment when a mentor introduces you to someone in their trusted inner circle, who becomes your first client. Or when a bigger company takes a risk because they believe in what you’re doing, and says “Yes!” to integrating your thing.
There are too many examples to list. The key is understanding that none of this happens without the concept of enrollment.
How to get people enrolled in what you’re building
Enrollment happens when you seek out and build relationships with the key stakeholders who can jump start your business.
Here’s a little secret: People LOVE to be involved in early initiatives and are flattered when they’re asked for advice. Those two principles will aide the goal of enrollment.
1. Early adopters are enrolled:
People will want to be involved in an early startup, particularly if it’s subtly suggested/implicit in there being some early-mover advantage to THEM. “Startups” (even when they’re bootstrap ones!) are so fetishized by society right now that you can often get people excited to connect, to chat, to grab coffee just so they feel involved/important/significant.
2. Asking for advice is asking for enrollment:
There’s an old saying in business:
“Ask for money, get advice. Ask for advice, get money.”
Almost every human being is flattered when they’re asked for advice in this context because of the implication that they’re a person of note in the industry, that their thinking will be valuable in shaping a new business.
In actually giving that advice, they mentally/emotionally enroll. A side effect of that enrollment makes them more likely to actually use/participate-in the very product being created.
These two approaches work for your list of valuable-people-to-enroll that’ll jump start a business.
It also works for actual customers.
Customers are arguably the most important people to enroll in your vision. A customer is just paying you for a product or service. They often walk away – even after spending money on your thing – without a second thought. But when a customer is enrolled, something altogether different happens…
An enrolled customer feels an emotional connection to the business
They’ve got a stake in it, if only mentally. They tell people. The product or service is a part of the story they tell themselves about what kind of person they are. They feel like an insider.
You’re enrolled at your local coffee shop where they know your name, your order, what you’re working on and where you went last weekend. Even more so when you – as customer – know all these things about your barista. That’s enrollment.
Enrollment treats the customer as a student
To enroll someone in your business is recognizes their innate curiosity. It’s going a little further, telling a bit more of the story, showing a bit of what goes on behind the scenes.
The barista at that coffee shop will – if he’s smart – pour you a tiny sample of pour-over from those artisanal shade-grown beans they’re trialling. It’s not on the menu, but he wants to know what you think. It’s a tiny gesture and it’s a story.
What it’s really about is having you enroll yourself in what he is building.
Enrollment is everything
A good friend of mine built a training company teaching people to bootstrap software business ideas – from scratch – by enrolling executives to collaborate on designing solutions to their problems. Those collaborators become first (and lifetime) customers. They fund the development of the actual software.
It’s a brilliant, lean process to arriving at powerful product-market fit. It breeds a fanatical customer base.
What I like about the approach is that it hinges on the idea that enrollment is the first step. Before you even have an idea, reach out and start talking to people. Get to know their work and lives. Empathize with their problems. Get them enrolled. Only then should you start to build.
The other powerful thing about this approach is that once you begin a relationship, the best thing you can do to continue it is to stay in touch by updating them on progress:
“Hey, we’ve published a simple MVP website for this. Here’s a link. Would love to hear any initial impressions!”
“We’ve just gotten an offer to work with X, what do you think of them?”
“Hey our first offering is live, check it out!”
It’s not that you need input from your mentor/customer/investor on all this stuff. But the more you invite it, the more crucial points of contact you create.
Direct sales gurus say that “five to seven points of contact” are required to build trust and close a sale. What they’re really getting at is enrollment. It’s not about points-of-contact, it’s about turning strangers into collaborators, comrades and students first. Then, when it comes time to find the customers (or resources) you need, they’ve all been waiting for you.
The simple ritual I promised at the start of this article is to just spend twenty minutes a day thinking about who you’re seeking to enroll in your vision, and how you’re doing it. Reach out, connect, educate. It doesn’t take long.
The real goal is to retrain your entrepreneurial brain not to think about sales, conversion rates or revenue. Instead, make enrollment en masse – of everyone that matters – your ultimate objective. All those specific results (and even product-market-fit) will follow.
Enrollment makes everything easier, faster and better.