Check Your List Twice

A marketing checklist

(Photo by Oregon Department of Transportation)

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
George Santayana

Before I send out my monthly newsletter, I run through a set of steps to ensure that my newsletter makes the right first impression. But last month, I took a shortcut, and goofed (again).

First of all, here’s my simple checklist:

  • Send a copy of my newsletter to a few different email addresses I maintain. My goal is to make sure it looks right, and is deliverable.
  • Read every word of the newsletter. Even though I’ve written all of the articles, it’s easy to think I remember what I said. Sometimes, there’s a typo or there are problems with using special symbols in the newsletter that only show up in email programs.
  • Click every link. Ensure that every link in the newsletter works correctly. While this would seem obvious, I missed checking all the links, and had a bad URL in my newsletter.

While making a marketing mistake isn’t life-threatening, it feels embarrassing. On one hand – having my readers point out my gaffes makes me feel dumb – on the other hand – it also lets me know that people want to read everything I write.

Checklists are a time-honored way to ensure you don’t screw up the big or small things. As a private pilot, I was taught my pre-flight checklist well. Walk around the plane, touch everything, look at every gauge, get all current weather conditions, double-check things now (before it truly matters). As you gain experience, the desire to take shortcuts increases. Of course everything works. Of course I know that certain things aren’t that important. Experts know that a checklist is there to save them from their own blindness. Experts depend upon the monotony of a boring list to ensure that they don’t miss anything. Problems will appear, but there’s no good excuse not to deal with avoidable problems.

The Checklist ManifestoThese points are drilled home in The Checklist Manifesto (by Atul Gawande). Atul was inspired to improve surgical problems by developing a safe surgery checklist. Noticing how many details are impossible to remember, he worked with airplane pilots to understand how and why flight checklists were developed and how these checklists resulted in “happy endings”. He then applied the same practices to surgery, refining the checklists until the results were dramatically better.

If you have a system for doing a task, write it down (and test it). If you develop a system for your clients, test it first, then write it down. The bonus for having a written system is that you can easily delegate it to others, and instead focus on the parts of your business that you want to, rather than have to.

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