Laddering Up – a framework for achieving big goals one step at a time

Having big audacious goals in life is exciting, but they can also be overwhelming and the sheer scale of the challenges we set ourselves can easily crush the confidence and motivation required to achieve them.

The answer of course is to break big challenges down into manageable, bite-sized chunks; but this in itself can also be difficult, especially when trying to conceptualise the different components and the order of priority in which to tackle them.

So how do you avoid trying to solve a significant problem without having a complete brain meltdown?

One approach that has recently resonated with me is the concept of Laddering Up.

In an interview with Pat Flynn, the co-founder and CEO of Leadpages Clay Collins explained how he had built his business by Laddering Up from a simple blog into a multi-million dollar software-as-service (SaaS) business that has recently received venture capital funding.

As Clay explained, the same strategy has been employed by the likes of Netflix and Apple to build their businesses in stages; focusing only on their current stage, before using that as a launch platform to the next stage or rung in the ladder.

How to use Laddering Up?

Ladder upPicture a simple ladder and at the top of the ladder is the goal you want to achieve. At the moment you are standing at the bottom of the ladder and each rung between the bottom and the top represents a specific objective that you must reach before you can proceed to the next rung.

Whilst you are on Rung 1 of the ladder, your entire focus should be ruthlessly spent only on the activities that will enable you to achieve the Rung 1 objective. So at no point should you start doing Rung 2 activities before you are ready.

Why is this good?

Well to begin with, you have given yourself an achievable and timely objective to work towards, which does not overstretch your time, energy and mental resources.  This vastly increases the likelihood of reaching your objective and helps build up the momentum for stepping up to the next rung.

You also gain better focus by not deviating onto other projects and being able to say no to other opportunities; because they do not fit within the tight scope of your current rung (and would require their own separate ladders).

Another benefit is the ability to clearly define the scope of your overall goal / mission and change rung objectives further up the ladder to reflect the things you are learning on your current run.

An example of Laddering Up

To see how Laddering Up can be used in a practical sense, it is worth running through the example Clay discussed in the interview, which is a three rung ladder to build a SaaS (software as a service) business.

The three rungs in this example are:

  • Rung 1 – Create a Minimum Viable Audience (MVA)
  • Rung 2 -­ Create a Product and Start Selling
  • Rung 3 – Scale

Note: The full interview can be heard on the Smart Passive Income podcast.

Rung 1 – Create a Minimum Viable Audience (MVA)

Establishing an audience is a way of proving the concept and gaining reassurance that there are people out there interested enough in solving the problem you have chosen as your specialist area, so the objective for this rung is to build an audience of 2000 email subscribers within 3 to 6 months.

As previously stated, absolute focus is required to meet the deadline, which in this case means the only tasks you should consider are those that enable you to engage with subscribers.

It is also important to hone in on one type of content and a single marketing channel.  So rather than trying to build a blog and run a podcast at the same time, just chose one of these and do it really well.

Again with marketing, don’t try to be present across every social media channel, just pick the one that is most relevant to your audience and focus on that.

Rung 2 -­ Create a Product and Start Selling

After building a baseline audience, the goal of Rung 2 is to monetize it and generate a six figure annualised income, within 12 months.

In this case, monetization will be achieved through the development of a product to sell.  This could be anything ranging from consultancy through to an ebook or an app that solves a particular problem for your audience.

Again brutal focus is required during this period to ensure you don’t start creating a different product each week or keep changing the customer proposition.

In summary this means you should ensure you are:

  • Creating just one product that you can be really proud to tell everyone about
  • Creating just one proposition
  • Creating just one conversion mechanism
  • Creating just one traffic source

Remember any additional products, conversion mechanisms, traffic options or business opportunities will simply dilute the resources you have available and slow you down from meeting your revenue objective.

Rung 3 – Scale

Rung 3 seeks to double-down on the things that have worked at Rung 2 and find ways to optimise them to achieve a seven figure annualised income.

It is at this point that things can go awry for businesses, who in the bid to scale at all costs, end up developing too many new product features or chasing too many different markets, all of which dilute the resources they have available.

To help retain focus whilst trying to scale, limit your team to adding one new product, conversion mechanism and traffic source at a time, whilst avoiding the temptation to add others until you have mastered what you are currently working on.

Adapting the Laddering Up framework to master different situations

The rungs Clay described here are quite specific to his industry and will vary for different situations.

For example Netflix laddered up in the following way:

  • Rung 1 – Buying up cheap DVDs and hiring them out to people via distribution centres.
  • Rung 2 – Transforming into high-tech business and streaming movies to people across the internet.
  • Rung 3 – Becoming a production studio and creating their own high-value content for their subscribers.

But it is not just building businesses where Laddering Up can help, as the concept can just as easily be used in our personal and professional lives too.

If you think in terms of personal finance, the goal at the top of the ladder would be financial independence, a point where we have sufficient income to support a comfortable lifestyle without having to work and the individual rungs would likely consist of the following:

  • Rung 1 – Focus solely on gaining control of your spending and paying-off your unsecured debt.
  • Rung 2 – Develop a system for regularly saving and investing, and focus on increasing the proportion of your income that you are able to invest.
  • Rung 3 – Focus on growing your income / finding new income sources to increase your investment levels.
  • Rung 4 – Transform your growth investments into income-generating investments.

Having a focus for each rung means we don’t need to spend time worrying about the activities that will take place further up the ladder.  So when I am up to my ears in debt, I only need to think about creating a budget and paying off my loans, without having to think about the more complicated details of balancing higher and lower risk equity investments!

Learning and changing rungs

The other great thing about Laddering Up is the ability to change the goals of different rungs as you learn more from the experiences you have gained when tackling previous rungs.

This is important, as the rungs you might think you need to achieve at the start of your journey may be very different from what you actually end up progressing through. In addition to this you may well add further rungs to your ladder as you start to reach your goal and become even more ambitious.

How can you use Laddering Up to reach a major life goal?

We have seen the different ways Laddering Up can be used to break big goals down into more accomplishable, narrowly-focused tasks; so my challenge to you is to take the biggest goal in your life (whether it be business or personal) and map out on a sheet of paper the rungs that will enable you to get there.

Try to include key tasks and timelines for achieving each rung objective and then use your Ladder to direct all your efforts towards achieving that goal.

Good luck and keep focused!