The Optimization Geek in the Hoodie

Any form of business within the same industry can be cut-throat, but that’s not how I view things. I’m not one who believes to trample on others to get what I want. I truly believe there’s enough money for every business to succeed. However, not all businesses will succeed because they’re in it for the wrong reasons.

My findings in my experiences of why businesses fail is the inability to help others. Since we only have 24 hours in a day, I know there’s only so much I can do by myself, which is why I’m elated to have this article focused on The Key Business Strategy You’re Not Spending Enough Time On by Mike Arnesen from UpBuild in Portland, OR.

Finding fellow geeks in this competitive space can be difficult, but they’re out there. Have faith in your value and what you bring the table, which is how I met Mike. Therefore without further ado, I’m happy to introduce PDX’s Optimization Geek, Mike Arnesen’s article.

The Key Business Strategy You’re Not Spending Enough Time On

Since October of 2018, I’ve been tracking how much time I spend on things. Not simply while I’m at work; I’ve been doing it 24/7. Adopting a habit like that is A) not easy to do and B) reveals the truth about how productive you think you are, in ways you might not love (to put it one way). 

Here’s a snapshot of a recent week (this one only shows “work” time). 


A quick scan is all it takes to make sense of most of it, but you might ask, “What is Manufacturing Serendipity?” It’s taking the time to be helpful to others with absolutely no expectation of getting anything out of it. 

If I’m being honest, the chart above is embarrassing for me to share. At 2%, my time spent manufacturing serendipity comes out to just about an hour. As the highest ROI activity that I’ve ever spent time on in my career, I need to allocate more hours to it and in this post, I want to convince you to do the same. 

If you’re an entrepreneur (self-employed or otherwise), you’re probably exposed to more business advice than you know what to do with. Aren’t we all? So I’m here to advocate for spending more time on the one business development strategy you’re likely neglecting. I want you to start manufacturing serendipity. 

For some light background, manufacturing serendipity is by no means a new idea. It’s been handed from person to person, passed down through generations of marketers like a well-read book. Regardless of who deserves the credit, it’s an important idea and is likely one of the most important ideas I’ve been exposed to in my career. 

It all revolves around acknowledging that some (if not most) of the best connections and situations we benefit from in our careers are really just happy accidents. As much as we might like to think that everything we accomplish professionally can be directly attributed to our hard work, our cunning, or sheer force of will and effort, oftentimes that’s just not the case. We were just lucky enough to find ourselves in the right place, in front of the right person, at the right time. But if you press rewind at one of those moments, you might discover some surprising insight.

While you think about your own experience, I’ll go first. When I founded UpBuild in 2015, I was terrified about how I was going to attract and convert enough clients to pay my bills — let alone the bills of my team members. But then the emails and phone calls started to come in. One, in particular, represents the rest pretty well. 

I got a LinkedIn message from someone who’d just landed a job as a marketing manager at a national non-profit. We had a few phone calls to explore how I and my fledgling company might be able to help out and now, nearly five years later, we’re still working together. They’re an incredible client and our working relationship is one I would have only dreamed about back in the day. 

Years before that marketing manager reached out, she worked for a web development shop. Years before that, she worked somewhere else. Just about five years before her non-profit became a “sales lead”, the two of us had actually been in the same physical space at the same time — a conference room in downtown Portland during SearchFest. This future non-profit marketing manager was in the audience and I was speaking on stage at about structured data. 

To be clear, I wasn’t running my own company at that point (I was working at someone else’s agency that no longer exists) and, in fact, “business” was the furthest thing from my mind — I never wanted to be an entrepreneur. My only goal for the day was simple: make sure everyone who attended my talk came away with something valuable and that they understood the concepts I was trying to convey.

We the two of us met back then and spoke for the first time, I clarified a few points about my presentation, did my very best to be helpful, and we exchanged cards (both of which I’m sure were lost). 

Exchanging cards isn’t and wasn’t the point; being helpful was. 

That person didn’t remember to look me up on LinkedIn five years later and sign a proposal from my new company because I gave her my card and “sold” her on anything. She didn’t do it because I got back from that conference and proceeded to introduce her to my agency’s account executive (i.e., salesperson); in fact, that probably would have guaranteed that we’d never work together. She did it because I was helpful and made a good impression with zero expectation of any ROI. 

At UpBuild this year, we conducted an analysis of every sales lead we’ve ever received in an effort to find the common threads among those leads that converted into clients. We came to find that it wasn’t advertising or outreach that got us the most or best clients. It wasn’t blog posts, being featured on Moz’s list of Recommended Agencies, or whitepapers. We found that the biggest and more lucrative lead category was Manufactured Serendipity (transparently, we lumped it under “networks” until we realized that 100% of it was, in fact, manufactured serendipity)! My success as an entrepreneur can largely be tied to this crucial idea. 

Manufacturing serendipity isn’t about the ROI, but it kind of is. It’s not that ROI is the goal or even the result; ROI is the by-product. It happens almost as if by accident. If you try to force it, it doesn’t work. 

You have to treat it as a by-product of helping others, lest you risk contaminating your efforts. You’re planting seeds in a garden, one at a time…by hand and it’s going to mean you spend the whole month outside in the hot sun. The secret is taking it one seed at a time. Enjoying the feel of your fingers moving through the dirt. Relishing in the ritual of pulling exactly one seed from the bag at a time in one fluid motion. Watering the freshly packed dirt just enough. Enjoying the sun on your face and the wind in your hair. Being outside. The more you can make it about the single seed and less about your yearning for the harvest, the greater your yield will be. 

If I haven’t lost you in the metaphor by now, then you might be just the type of person who can take this concept and run with it. If you practice it diligently, you’ll probably put in a lot of effort this year and, congratulations, you’ll probably get a 0% ROI. The beautify (and some could say the thrill) of it is what comes back to you in five years, in ten years, in twenty. 

How to Manufacture Serendipity

To start manufacturing your own serendipity:

  • Meet new people and be genuinely interested in them, their hopes, goals, and their backstories
  • Share from your area of expertise (we all have a few!)
  • Go out of your way to help people and invest your time in their success
  • Be a resource
  • Respond to your social media comments with genuine interest and empathy instead of just seeing how many likes and/or retweets you can get
  • Don’t be a dick (AKA, Wheaton’s Law)

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t know how to sell or that you shouldn’t — as a small example — advertise, but don’t put all your eggs in baskets that are inherently focused on short-term ROI. Focusing on ROI to the exclusion of all else can be absolutely detrimental to getting lasting and meaningful returns. That’s because the longing for ROI often means becoming overly-focused on only what you can measure and track; on what you can calculate and the cash you can put into your bank account this month, this quarter, or this year. Manufacturing serendipity, on the other hand, can have an incredibly long and opaque yield cycle. You may get results relatively soon but more likely than not you’ll get results in five years, in a decade. 

Wanting a healthy ROI is fine and working toward improving it is valuable, but make sure you’re spending time manufacturing your own serendipity, too. Odds are, it’ll come back to you when you least expect and at the precise moment when you need it most

Host: Nathan WebsterNW & Associates, LLC (aka, Mr. Social Entrepreneur)
Guest: Mike ArnesenUpBuild (aka, The Optimization Geek)

Enjoy the episode!

Dream Big,

Author: nathanwebster
From a US Marine to nonprofit executive director, I've been fortunate to do a lot of stuff. My quick history is I’m a brand marketer with a background in social good. In the process of running a small educational nonprofit, I learned the value of storytelling and digital branding. That’s how I got involve in marketing, websites, consulting via my podcast as well, and being an adjunct business professor at the local community college.