You’re Not Perfect (and It’s OK)

On yesterday’s Marketing and Management call, one of our members asked how “perfect” his fall marketing campaign should be before he launches it out to the world. The question led to a lively discussion, and a lesson well worth repeating here.

I’ve always subscribed to the philosophy that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Unfortunately, I work in an arena (e.g., taxes and accounting) with personalities (e.g., accountants), where perfectionism runs rampant. That sometimes begs the question, how perfect do we have to be in our day-to-day work? And do the same standards run through everything we do, or can it vary from one task to another?

In accounting, of course, some things just need to be perfect. Balance sheets have to, you know, balance. (Longtime member Mike McCormick says he can always spot when a corporate return has been prepared by an attorney because the balance sheets don’t.) Payroll runs really ought to be perfect, down to the penny, or the IRS computers will happily and mindlessly make your client’s life a Kafkaesque nightmare of paperwork and red tape.

But not all the work you do has to be perfect Tax returns are rarely, if ever, perfect. In fact, Moneymagazine used to have great fun every year sending the same hypothetical tax scenario to 50 different preparers and getting back 50 different completed returns. They did it to make the point that the tax system is too damn complicated – which, of course, it is. But it serves just as well to make the point that you don’t have to kill yourself to be perfect when no such thing exists.

In many cases, perfectionism isn’t just unnecessary. It can actually get in the way of getting work out the door, efficiently and profitably. It can stand between you and the personal professional goals that you originally launched your business to accomplish.

And when it comes to functions like marketing (as opposed to client work), perfectionism can be even more destructive. Yes, your marketing has to look “professional.” It has to be “good enough.” But once it’s good enough, it’s good enough! You’ll fare much better for yourself taking something less-than-perfect and getting it out there than you will by endlessly sanding and polishing your copy or your presentation. Ready, aim, maybe aim again, but then fire!

The same thing applies when adding new services like tax planning or investments. There’s no way you can learn “everything” about them before you add them to your menu of services. You can’t. So learn enough to get started. Learn enough to deliver real and measurable value to your clients. Learn enough to distinguish yourself from your competition. (I can promise, that’s less learning than you might be afraid you need.) Then get out there and do it! (If you’d like to boost your technical tax-planning skills, you won’t want to miss the Tax Strategy Conference here in Cincinnati, November 15-17. And time is running out for the discounted early bird rate. So get yourself to www.TaxCoachSystem.com/CTM and sign up now!)

If you suffer from this terrible affliction of unnecessary perfectionism, your first step is to admit that you’re powerless over it and it’s making your practice unmanageable. Once you’ve taken that bold step, break your work down into component pieces. Which parts really need to be perfect, or close-to-perfect, before they go out your door? And where can you safely and comfortably cut back to “good enough”? Work on the wisdom to know the difference and watch life get so much easier!