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Optimization: When is perfect “too” perfect?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a cheap online course on how to build an e-commerce store with Shopify.

The idea had always intrigued me, but I hadn’t pursued it because I didn’t want to lose a bunch of money, and I knew that it would be a significant commitment of time that I didn’t have.

This time, however, it appeared to be a relatively insignificant amount of money to get started, and I did have some extra time that I could dedicate to building a little store. So I took a shot, got the course, and went through the lessons.

Everything was laid out in detail exactly how to start up your store: from sourcing products, designing your store, and how to put together your Facebook ads (including the exact copy to use in the ad).

I made a few mistakes early on, which made me lose a handful of sales. But after spending a little time every day on the store and my ads, I’ve been able to get my store to generate around $250-$300/day in revenue on average. It took me less than two weeks to get there.

Part of this course includes access to a private Facebook group with the course creators, so they can provide some public support. People share their successes and their frustrations, and we can all comment on each other’s stuff.

Last Saturday, I took a screenshot of my sales for the day – over $130 – and posted it, announcing my first $100 day. It’s a big milestone for an e-commerce store.

One of my fellow coursemates then replied with a comment that frustrated the crap out of me: “I’m so jealous of your success. I’m still stuck on Module One.”

I’ve seen this in other courses, too. Most online courses these days include a private Facebook group, and there are piles of people out there who are jealous of success but haven’t finished the courses yet.

Stuck in the Optimization Loop

Here’s what I see happening: everyone is trying to make the process as perfect as possible.

Even if someone lays out every step in painstaking detail (which this e-commerce course did), those who want to be perfect continue to question every step. They overthink. They want to reduce the risk of mistakes and failure to an unreasonable level.

They get stuck in what I like to call the “Optimization Loop”, and it paralyzes them from taking any sort of action.

“Optimization” is the online buzzword for entrepreneurs. We all started by wanting to optimize our search engine results. Then we optimized our ads. Then our time. Now, every time we try to do anything, we hide behind this stupid word, thinking we’re being smart about our actions.

But this relentless pursuit of optimization completely ignores the definition of the word: optimizing something doesn’t mean make it good. It means to make it better.

That’s a big difference.

In other words, you can’t make something better if it doesn’t exist already. Optimization assumes action. If you haven’t taken action yet, then you can’t optimize anything.

What you’re really doing when you’re “optimizing”

If you’re trying to optimize a step you haven’t taken yet, guess what you’re doing? You’re procrastinating. You’re avoiding the action entirely.

On the surface, this seems like a ridiculous notion: why would you avoid action?

There are a billion reasons why, but they all boil down to one thing – fear. Maybe you’re afraid of failure. Heck, maybe you’re afraid of success.

Or, more likely, you’re afraid of loss. I know I have been in the past. I’ve been terrified of losing money, time, and energy to a project that won’t go anywhere. I’ve done that plenty of times.

But if you continue to operate under this fear, sitting in the Optimization Loop forever, you’ll never give yourself the chance to be successful.

Let’s go back to that e-commerce store example.

That student that said she was stuck on Module One? She’s not making a dime right now. And she never will at this point.

She absolutely has to move on from Module One, finish the course, and start putting those principles into action. Just by doing that, she can learn the ups and downs and start optimizing that action.

But as long as she worries about all the details and tries to completely protect herself from making mistakes, it is literally impossible for her to make any money. Heck, she could launch a store, make a bunch of mistakes, and still make $10 in profit.

In Module One, though, she’ll make $0 in profit every single day.

The Optimization Loop will always keep you from the success you’re pursuing. You have to start putting yourself out there.

Quit planning and start doing. Then, and only then, you can start optimizing to get better results.