Meet Corey Northcutt, CEO at Northcutt

4 min read · 7 years ago


Corey Northcutt operates a boutique, Chicago-based inbound marketing agency called Northcutt. Follow him at @corey_northcutt.

Who’s your hero? (In business, life, or both.)

In pure business, Elon Musk and Richard Branson. In writing, Douglas Adams and Scott Adams. In SEO, Danny Sullivan and Aaron Wall.

What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?

The most useful advice probably surrounds focus, something that Albert Einstein was well-known for. Einstein apparently owned seven black suits and wore nothing but, every day. When asked, he basically said it was so he might devote no mental energy to anything other than his work in the moment.

Take that as the metaphor that it is. As a business scales, I’ve found it repeatedly necessary to completely re-evaluate where focus is placed. Time is the only finite resource.

What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?

Biggest mistake? Probably comes back to a lack of focus. I’ve now owned three businesses that I’d deem successful. But along the way, I’ve probably had thousands of ideas for other web projects.

I have taken some of these projects further than others, and as a bit of an exercise, this does get me excited about my work in general. But eventually I almost always realize the same mistake: that I accomplish far more when I focus on a core business. It should often remain much simpler than 99 percent of my ideas would otherwise make it.

What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?

I’ve heard some pretty elaborate morning routines raved about, but mine is pretty simple. I identify three major things that I want to accomplish that day. I put those three goals on a big white board, where I also write a weekly and monthly goal or two. I then check on a few team members and make sure they can do something similar, before getting to inbox zero.

What’s your best financial/cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?

Most failed companies I’ve seen would have been saved by not being too eager to go into debt.

All of my companies have been bootstrapped so this is probably a little easier for me to say. I think that “startup culture” has really overcomplicated running a company. The Internet allows you to get by in most businesses with virtually zero upfront cost these days, and the first 10,000 decisions a company and brand make really aren’t financial anyway.

Not every company needs to be a big spectacular mess of venture capital and founders scrambling to blow that money at a pre-agreed rate. Sometimes, a company really should just be a concept you tinker with for a few hours a week for several years until it does everything right. And that’s when you scale it.

Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?

Think hard about what will set your company apart. Stand for something. Find ways to deliver at least the same value as the competition while being genuinely unique. Test elements of this message in conversations with your audience. Then, use it to build your mission statement and promotions. Next, begin to grow a reputation using content marketing to scale that process.

This can feel drawn out, but as you look back, you’ll realize that it’s the most efficient investment you’ll ever make. Years down the line, you’ll weigh this earned attention against other marketing channels and realize that it’s something tangible that your brand owns. You’ll see the cumulative value it’s added. Nobody can take that away.

Then, if you choose to layer on rented advertising, you’ll realize that the conversation, identity and positive reputation you’ve established organically gives you a fighting chance to compete in markets that, out of simplicity, tend to be very efficient, if not overpriced. In a situation where a 0.10 percent difference in conversion rate might mean that you can’t afford to keep up with the competitions’ rented ads, you will do far better with a well-developed brand identity first through unpaid mediums.

What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?

I’m terrified of heights. Despite that, about five years ago I got really into rock climbing for the first time. I thought I’d hate it. Some friends of mine invited me out, and on the first attempt, I made it maybe 10 feet up. I asked how they managed to look down without getting vertigo.

“I never look down. After years of this, just, never do it. I don’t even look very far up, because that can get you stuck in your head too. I only ever focus on the next thing I have to do, and maybe a move or two after that.”

After that, I climbed 65 feet in one go and have never had trouble since. I’ve let this mentality creep into a lot of other things I do. Sure, it’s great to have broad goals, but most of the time, it’s about masses of little wins. In my first company, I was never happy. I think part of it was that there was just always someone bigger and more successful. Some massive challenge was still unmet.

Success, for me, has become simply being in a better place than I was in yesterday. That allows me to never get too high or too low. It’s focusing on little things and moments that has allowed me to accomplish much bigger ones over time.

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