Want to Grow Your Business? Be Like a Weed.

Riley Smith
Content Contributor
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How nature’s ultimate survivors can teach us how to persevere.

Dubbed the “father of Contact Marketing,” agency owner and bestselling author Stu Heinecke has devoted his career to helping clients achieve explosive growth.

We sat down with him to discuss WEEDS, the strategy inspired by nature’s most successful opportunists, and how perseverance is the key to success.

Can you tell us more about your background and current projects?

I’m the author of a couple books.The first is How to Get a Meeting With Anyone. That came out in 2016. It’s changed a lot of careers, launched businesses, and had a great impact in the world of B2B sales.

Recently, I published How to Grow Your Business Like a Weed. That just came out June 1st.

Besides being an author, I’m the president of my own marketing agency, but that’s not really my primary role these days. I spend more time getting out, speaking about these two topics: how to get meetings and how to grow your business using the incredible growth model of weeds. They’re amazing.

Tell us a bit more about your book.

How to Grow Your Business Like a Weed probably sounds like a goofy title, but it’s actually quite serious.

It came to me when I was driving down the Santa Monica freeway in LA, many years ago. This is a massive freeway. There are six lanes of traffic going one way, six lanes of traffic coming the other way, and a 40 foot wide concrete medium.

I looked over, and growing out of a crack in the medium was this dandelion. It’s a common sight. We see it all the time.

But this time, it really struck me. I thought, “Look at what this thing is doing!” It found that crack in a sea of impossibility. This whole area is roaring tires and concrete, it’s not a place for a plant to take root, but it found the one exception, the crack that allowed it to reach down into the soil and make a living.

It looked sort of happy there, bouncing around in the turbulence, with those little yellow flowers and the seed pods blowing into the wind. It was running its process. Even though it was a fleeting moment, it was cool to see it.

I’m going right by it, but I started thinking, “Look at that. It doesn’t look depressed because it ended up in the middle of the freeway.” It’s not saying, “Well, this sucks. I really saw myself as being at the beach.” It wasn’t doing any of the things that we humans do to hamper our own growth.

It was focused on its process and running through it very aggressively. And you know, it’s only the dandelion growing out of that crack. There were no apple trees. No petunias or rose bushes, because those plants don’t have what it takes to be a weed.

The weed has this “unfair” advantage over other plants: its seeds are built to go out and probe every possible opportunity for growth. In that way, they make miracles.

That’s how we should be in business.

How does perseverance factor into the “weed mindset”?

Ever since I saw that little dandelion in the crack in the highway, I’ve been studying weeds. I wanted to figure out if weeds have a unified model for growth, and if they do, what is it, and can we apply it to our businesses?

They do have a model. They leverage a fierce mindset and unfair advantages against collective scale.

They do it according to a process that they, of course, don’t have to think about. It’s baked into their DNA. You can see them respond to any challenge, get around it, and solve it quickly. That’s how weeds operate, and it’s how we as businesses need to operate.

Within the weed mindset, I’ve identified several necessary traits, including perseverance. They also include optimism, aggression, urgency, adaptability, and resilience.

When I was working on the perseverance section of the book, I realized that perseverance works like the throttle to our success. You either tap on the throttle and speed up, or you don’t. You’re either persistent already, or it’s a muscle you’ll need to develop.

I don’t know that it comes terribly naturally, but whatever you have already, you need to enhance it to improve your chances of success.

The more perseverance you have, the more successful you will be.

Your first book is about booking meetings and sales. Sales people have a reputation of being “pushy” or even considered annoying in mainstream culture. In sales and marketing, what would you say is the difference between persevering and being a pest?

The difference comes down to this: are you bringing value? If you’re bringing value, if you’re providing something that can truly help, then you’re being persistent, not a pest.

We know a lot of salespeople who will say, “Hey! Just checking in.” What’s the value in that?

We know there’s nothing there, not really. They’re just saying, “I’m going to bump this up to the top of your inbox.”

What’s the value of that to me? It’s one of the characteristics of an effective contact campaign. You never say, “Hey, just checking in!” You’ve always got to bring something new, some new insight, something helpful.

I’d also say you have to be microfocused. Focus on the handful of people who can make a difference for your company. When you focus like that, you’ll have an easier time being relevant and not annoying, which is key.

So to bring value, would you say you have to be listening as much as you’re speaking?

Yes. You could just be bringing insights, but you have to understand what they’re talking about and what they’re interested in.

It can be as simple as, “Hey, I thought you’d enjoy this article in Forbes. It talks about exactly what you talked about last week in your post on LinkedIn.” Something like that works nicely.

How does perseverance and the weed mindset help in troubled periods, such as an upcoming recession?

When we hear that a recession is coming, that really is a time when the weed strategy applies. Weeds are one of nature’s great disruptive forces.

You can see that when you walk ten feet outside your house! Weeds are all over the place, they’re everywhere. You cut them down, and we see them come right back. They demonstrate this ability all the time.

They’re one of nature’s great disruptive forces because they themselves are always being disrupted. They’ve been around for millions of years. They’ve gone through many disruption cycles.

They’ve developed a lot of strategies to deal with that, which gives us a rich source to learn from, especially as we come out of lockdown and head for another recession.

So what do weeds do when faced with disruption? The first thing to know is, they are prepared for it. It’s already part of their strategy.

For example, let’s say you see a clump of weeds. You feel motivated, so you go pull them out. Most of these weeds, if you pull on them, they’re segmented. You’ll just pull off tiny bits of them. Most of the weed will stay in place.

That’s part of their strategy in action. They mitigate loss and the risk of disruption that way. So how can we do that in our business?

I interviewed someone for the book, Paul Harrison. He's a marketer and a franchisee.

Franchises are probably the most weed-like structure in business. Because they’re collective, and they're all contributing to a shared knowledge base. So when one rises, all of them rise, as long as they’re paying attention.  

There’s strength in numbers. If you see a dandelion on your lawn, look around, you’ll see hundreds of them. They never do anything alone. That’s what franchises get to do.

Paul is an interesting case because he owns a few franchises, and one of them is a digital marketing franchise. During up times, it’s really busy, but we marketers know that when recessions hit one of the first things companies do is put the brakes on marketing.

To solve that, Paul is a franchisee of a car wash operation. He specializes in buying low-cost, distressed locations.

When times are tough, people still get their cars washed. It’s a hedge against the rough times in the marketing business, but he also uses his digital marketing business to pump up business for the car wash.

So when things get right again, and digital marketing is a hot commodity again, he can focus on that, but the car washes are still doing well. It allows for the cycles that he knows are coming. It’s like he’s built up his own counter-cycle.

We all know the downturns are coming.

What would you say to a marketer who is trying to demonstrate value and engage with an audience, but isn’t seeing any reciprocation or engagement? What strategies would you recommend?

Any time I reach out, even if I just send a cartoon to someone, I’m certainly hoping they’ll say, “Oh my god, that’s really cool! I love the way this person thinks. I gotta meet this person.”

I’m always trying for a strong initial impression and response right from first contact, but that doesn’t always work.

We hear a lot of numbers, sometimes seven, eleven, pick a number, but these are the best estimates for the average number of touches before a prospect will interact with us. I like to keep that number as low as possible, but sometimes, it can even be more than that.

If these are dream clients or dream prospects, or if they’re your assigned accounts, it’s your responsibility to break in and make something happen. It’s a matter of persevering and always bringing new value.

It’ll take some prospects quite a few touches before they awaken to the fact that you are a human being, and you’re reaching out because you’d like to help them. You’re sending them things that are helpful. You have to give some time to break down the walls.

We’ve all been there, on the prospect side of it. We’ve had someone persevering with us, and then something happens. There’s something that pushes us over the hump, and you’ve got us!

You have to hang in there and know that the more you offer value, the more welcome you will become, and you will break through.

So don’t be discouraged if it takes more than seven or eleven touches. Sometimes that happens! Keep going.

Do you find that a higher purpose or pursuing a passion is necessary to persevere?

I think that’s absolutely true, but I think we can simplify it even further by saying, based on the weed strategy model, perseverance is the throttle to your success.

How soon do you want to succeed? If you take your foot off the pedal, what do you expect to happen? You won’t move forward. You won’t succeed.

To me, it’s not so much what is necessary for perseverance, but simply understanding that it’s totally necessary for success!

Many weeds thrive in environments because they were brought to fulfill a purpose, or because they found a value to fulfill we don’t recognize. What can we learn from weeds in new environments?

Weed “invasions” occur because a plant that was in balance in one part of the world comes to another where the plants there don’t know what it is or what to do with it. Then there’s no balance.

One example is purple loosestrife weed which came over to the US in bilgewater from the UK. It’s fine over there, but here, it’s choking waterways because US plants have no natural method of holding it back. They have no method of competing with it.

But in Britain they’re pretty waterside plants.

This is what I mean when I say weeds are experts at finding opportunities and exploiting them. We’re all familiar with dandelions. You know they’re tough to get rid of. You usually see hundreds of them packed together, and that’s a great demonstration of collective scale.

If it was only one, you’d dispense with it easily. But there are hundreds, and each one produces up to 15,000 seeds per plant over their lifetimes.

They’re not going away easily, and the crazy part is that dandelions are like “weed light.” There are other weeds out there that are just the plant from hell.

One of those is called water hip. It’s invading farmland across North America right now. Here’s what makes it a weed from hell.

It’s an annual, which means the entire population dies off every year. The continuation of the species and its evolution is derived from pumping out a lot of seeds. Remember I told you that dandelions make 15,000 seeds over a five to ten year lifespan? Water hips live one year and produce up to 4.8 million seeds per plant.

This thing is never going away, because it’s producing so many seeds on a fast-pace of evolution because it’s an annual. Because of that fast-paced evolution, it has developed immunity to up to 70% of all herbicides used by agriculture. And they did it in just four years.

Plus, it grows faster than crop plants do. So it steals the sunlight, and it literally dominates its field. That’s a real pain for the farmers, but a great inspiration for us.

We should be putting out a lot of seeds! Seeds are analogous to anything that causes people to become aware of us and form the intent to conduct some kind of transaction or interaction with us.

We should be like the water hip or the dandelion. Their seeds are highly mobile. They travel and probe everywhere. They end up in water gutters, on your roof! They’ll end up in the darnedest places because of their unfair advantage.

They probe every possible opportunity to take root, which is what an entrepreneur should be doing and how they should be thinking.

There’s another weed that has seeds that can travel up to 300 miles. The seeding area of one of those plants, just one single plant, can be seen from space! It’s incredible.

So we need to have “highly mobile seeds.” Put them out every way you can think of! Social media buzz, other media, in-person, word-of-mouth, every single way you can, try everything to cause people to become aware of your business.

Tell us more about “high mobility seeds” and how we can apply that to our businesses.

Another aspect of high mobility in marketing is something I call pass-along. That’s when your initial prospect thinks your outreach is so amazing, they pass it along, and it generates even more business.

UviaUs is similar to my agency in this way. We’re coming up with things that we hope will fascinate the person that receives it, enough that they will pass it along to others.

That’s high mobility. We’ve seen campaigns with huge response rates. Our record is an over 300% response rate.

How on earth does that happen? It makes no sense, until you realize that’s pass-along. That’s acting like a weed.

This counts for social media sharing, too. If someone likes what you send, and they record it and pass it along to their online networks, that’s high mobility. You’ll have more people than received the campaign responding to it.

There are many kinds of weeds, but usually one or two seem to dominate. If you’re not already the dominant weed, how do we stand out among all the others?

First of all, you have to recognize that weeds never do anything without an unfair advantage. You need to have one that you’re cultivating all the time.

But let's discuss the model in more detail. WEEDS is actually an acronym: Weed-inspired Enterprise Expansion and Domination Strategies. There are eight levels to these strategies, all inspired by weeds.

So what do weeds do to create their unfair advantages? Here’s a few of the strategies we discuss in the book:

  • Seed strategy, which we discussed above.
  • Seed pod strategy: borrowing the reach and network of others.
  • Thorn strategy: defending your turf.
  • Segmentation strategy: limit damage so that if one part of your business dies, the others can still live on.
  • Vine strategy: Weeds are experts at partnering. They don’t build their own infrastructure. They borrow trees, fences, or buildings to gain dominant access to sunshine.
  • Root strategy: Maximizing your “life force” and value.
  • Soil strategy: Seeds can’t control the quality of the soil where they land, but we as businesses can create conditions to help ourselves grow.

If you are a small business, the first strategies you should look at are seed pod and vine strategies. You should be looking for ways to team up with other entities so you can gain access to other sales channels.

For instance, if you have a physical shop, choose a location next to other busy stores. Take advantage of their foot traffic. In a way, you’re borrowing the reach and infrastructure of others, and that’s an unfair advantage you need.

Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. Anything you’d like to point out as a big takeaway?

Remember, perseverance is the throttle! How fast do you want to succeed?

Join the conversation

We’re diving even deeper into Perseverance on our podcast, REACH, where we explore the mindsets of high achievers and then seek to apply the lessons to life, business and marketing.

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