3 min read

Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand: How to Focus on What Matters Most

Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand: How to Focus on What Matters Most

I’ve recently been working with a software company that has its sights set on tripling its revenue in the next three years. Unlike a lot of their competitors, these guys are bootstrapped, which means they don’t have bathtubs full of investor capital to throw at growth. 

In their case, the growth has to be achieved sustainably, while maintaining profitability, seeing as that’s how most businesses allow their owners and employees to put a roof over their family’s heads. 

It’s a tough task. The company’s competitors will likely release better features, since they have more engineers. They’ll hire enterprise-grade sales teams, while our founder continues to take every sales call. And if that wasn’t enough, the competition will dump millions of dollars into marketing. 

All of this means we’re effectively showing up to a gunfight with a rusty butter knife. 

But I’m still confident we’ll achieve the goal. Why? 

Everyone is crystal clear on the three big things we have to do to achieve our goals: our three big rocks.  

Managing Your Efforts: Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand

Early in my career, I worked for a company that had a very simple approach to managing priorities called the Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand method. It went something like this:

Rocks: the three single most impactful things you can do to help the business achieve its goals. 

Pebbles: items of medium importance that still have to get done. 

Sand: your least important tasks – those “I’ll get to them whenever I get to them” type activities. 

Every week, you have forty or so hours dedicated to helping your business achieve its goals. Imagine that you, as an individual, are a jar. Every activity you do takes time, filling up a little bit of your jar. The capacity of the jar is finite – as is (hopefully) your 40-hour work week.

Here’s the crux of the idea. If you start by putting in sand and pebbles, you won’t have room for the rocks. In practice, that means that if you spend all of your time on unimportant busy work or tasks that don’t move the needle, you’ll never have time to focus on the things that matter. 

content business resources

Instead, put your rocks in the jar first, then the pebbles, and then finally, sprinkle in the sand around everything else. Where before you were hopelessly stuck, plodding through work a day at a time feeling like you never accomplished anything, you’ll now have a clear understanding of exactly where you should focus your energies. It’ll be easier for you to say no to extraneous requests, measure the impact of your work, and really help your company build toward success

Choosing Your Rocks

You should have two sets of rocks: company-wide rocks and personal rocks. The company-wide rocks are set by your business’s executive team. Your rocks should be in service of the company-wide rocks, and you’ll typically sit down with your manager once a year to decide exactly what they should be. 

The key to success is choosing the right rocks. If your goal is to grow revenue, it’s unlikely one of your rocks is going to be planning the best company holiday party anyone ever attended.

Rocks, at both a company and personal level, should be clear, measurable, and achievable. 

For an example of what that looks like, let’s go back to our client, the software company that wants to triple revenue in three years. They named three rocks at a company level:

  • Increase qualified leads by X%
  • Improve conversion rates from X% to Y%
  • Reduce annual customer churn from X% to Y%

From there, employees work to pick their own rocks in service of these goals. Let’s say that you, like us, work in content marketing. Your three rocks might be something like:

  • Increase blog traffic from X to Y
  • Grow leads from content marketing from X per month to Y per month
  • Develop educational content for new customers

Now, every day, you know those are the activities you need to spend time on. 

The Dual Powers of Synergy and Compounding

This strategy works extremely well when the rocks you’re working on are all closely related to each other, as in the above scenario. Think about it: if you have more qualified leads coming into the top of your funnel, are converting them at a better rate, and are retaining your customers for longer on the back end, you’re pulling three different revenue levers at once. 

That’s an extremely powerful growth strategy. At first, it might not seem like that has a big impact, but over time, with the power of compounding, the growth can get scary fast within just two or three years. 

Back to our ambitious software company for the last time today. 

Let’s say that today, their revenue is $3.5 Million. They would like to get to $10 Million in three years. 

If they execute the specific goals in the three rocks outlined above, their revenue progression will look something like this:

2023: $3.5 Million

2024: $3.9 Million (... is this working?)

2025: $5.7 Million (... I think we might be onto something here)

2026: $10.2 Million (... hey, how much does a yacht cost?)

When you have a compounding strategy, growth can happen relatively slowly at first, until it doesn’t and goes parabolic. Building a compounding strategy is one thing: sticking with it is another. It’s why it’s so important to pick your rocks very carefully, and to stick to them even through challenging periods. 

What Are Your Rocks?

We’re now firmly in Q4, and many business leaders are starting to turn their attention toward their plans for 2024. As you do so, challenge yourself to identify your three rocks, and think through how you and your team can achieve them. 

If content marketing is one of your rocks, the team at Hire a Writer is here to help. Reach out to us today to learn more

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