Thinking about starting a business? Here are the THREE key questions to ask.

What is the basis for a successful business?

You must like (or love) what you do
You must be great at this (or at least better at it than your client)
Ideally, it’s hard or unpleasant for your client.

#1 You love to do this (or at least learn to like) doing this.

You want a business you can sustain.

You already may know the feeling of having to drag yourself out of bed to a job that you don’t like. Your business is supposed to make you happy that you ditched your 9-to-5, not that you traded one slog for another (with probably less pay and fewer benefits – at least at the beginning).

If you like doing something, it’s also follows that you will be willing to work harder and longer to make it succeed. In fact, Inc Magazine cites it as one of the three keys to success.

So if you’re going into business, be pragmatic with your choices, but choose something that does good for you – and for your clients. And that you can see yourself doing for the long haul. It’s going to take time to build your business. Ideally, it would be nice to actually be happy that it is succeeding and that you get to wake up and do this. Every.Single. Day.

But there is a flip side to all this happiness. Your happy place should be paired with an unmet need in the market. Otherwise it will simply remain a hobby business.

#2 You’re great at this.

People will pay for great skills, especially if it takes training, practice, specialized equipment, or experience. And EVERYONE has something they are great at. Everyone.

The key is matching your skill set with a problem that people need to solve – and are willing to pay to solve. That is the piece that is sometimes missing from the evaluation part of starting a business. Your “really good at” has to align with “customers will clamor to pay for this.” And the more you can narrow down your skills and abilities to align with customer needs, the more you can potentially demand.

For example: If you have a problem with your eyes, you will probably decide to see a specialist eye doctor. Someone whose skills, knowledge, and experience will solve your exact problem. A general practitioner might be able to cure your eye problem. But you have a built-in confidence that the eye doctor’s skills will be better at fixing your particular problem. 

A specialist will command bigger fees and more respect around solving problems.Be a specialist who is great at what you do and you’ll always have clients willing to pay for your knowledge, skills, and experience.

One caution: you may be passionate about something (see #1 above) but not be very good at it. Think about all the bad actors, un-funny comics, and awful paintings you’ve seen. Good at something beats passion every day of the week when it comes to your business. Your skills need to be “pay-worthy” if you want to have a business.

#3 It needs to be hard or unpleasant for someone else. 

The harder and/or more unpleasant, the better your chances of commanding a decent, livable rate. And the more specialized your skill is, the better able you are to serve your audience.

The eye specialist is fully booked because she went to medical school to learn about eyes – she can diagnose eye problems with confidence. If you had a problem with your hips or your chest, she is (probably) not a great fit to get you back in shape. But problems with your eyes? She has the skills.

The mechanic who fixes your car is a whiz at Toyotas and knows exactly how to keep your car running so you can pick up the kids with confidence. If you had a Tesla or a Ferrari, you would probably seek out a mechanic with specific skills around electric vehicles or exotic cars to keep your vehicle carpool ready.

There is a guy around here who makes a living doing…wait for it…dog poop pickups. Yup. He comes to your yard on a schedule and picks up all the dog poop. This is actually a very popular business. Google showed 6 different companies offering a similar service in the Boston area.

The dog poop guy is willing to scour your yard in rain, snow, and the mid-day heat wave for Fido’s crap. While picking up dog poop is not hard, it is unpleasant enough that people will happily pay for his service. 

Regardless of whether you need training (like the eye doctor) or a specialized skill (fixing Teslas) or do something that is unpleasant or inconvenient (picking up dog poop), all these businesses have one thing in common:

They found something that customers value and are willing to pay for.

Test idea for a business

The “friends ask for my help all the time” test for a business.

You are a closet-whisperer.

You read Marie Kondo’s book and fell in love with her methods. They “spark joy” in your life.

Are you good at it?

Better than good. You can quote chapter and verse of of gospel according to Marie.

Your friend’s kitchens and closets are masterpieces of joy after your magic touch.

Is it hard or unpleasant for your customers?

Yes…breaking up is hard to do with all their clutter. You are the master at getting them to part with their excess and feel good about it.

Rather than feel overwhelmed, they feel the freedom of less. All because of you.

You’re particularly good at helping seniors who are downsizing, pairing empathy with a keen eye for what has resale value. 

Is there a way to make money?

Yes. Organizing is a valued skill.

You can do one-on-one consults, create a training class for other organizers, create a line of organization tools and products. You can specialize – empty nesters looking to downsize, city-dwelling new parents – and create your own methods.

There are lots of directions to make this a successful business.

Yes to all three questions. There are lots of opportunities here.

A short warning about MLMs – those “party plan” businesses

I have to stop and preach a little about MLMs. It can feel so attractive when you’re desperate for change to jump onto the MLM bandwagon and start selling Mary Kay or jewelry or Herbalife or any of the thousands of MLM sales “opportunities” that people are trying to get you signed up.

Please, please, please don’t. 

Just no.

MLMs are overwhelmingly a losing proposition. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that over 98% or people who join MLMs not only don’t make any money, they lose money. Often thousands of dollars more than the “training kit” that you need to buy to get started.

Please read more about MLMs in this article. And if you think you finally found the exception to the rule in MLMs I will tell you almost certainly that you have not. The hidden gotchas are there somewhere. 

To sum it up….

Find something that you love (or at least don’t mind doing.

Are you great at it? Be honest here. If you’re not great, can you get great? Take a course, get experience, do an apprenticeship…what can you do to sharpen those skills?

Is it hard for other people? Having a barrier to entry (skills, experience, specialized equipment) help.

Having those three things will at least help you eliminate business ideas that will not make you money.

Ready to launch your business?

Still figuring things out?

Check out these resources to launch with confidence.

little boy in a cape with sunglasses reaching up to sun

Can you be the next Nike, Spanx or Stonewall Kitchen? Hint: YES

What does your new (or not yet) business have in common with Nike, Spanx. Amazon, and Stonewall kitchen?

A lot actually. 😊

Each of those businesses started with someone having a crazy idea and chasing their vision.

(BTW: keep reading to the end to find out one other amazing thing…)

From Fax machines to an underwear empire

Sara Blakely scored too low on the law school admissions test to follow her dream of becoming a lawyer, so she ended up selling fax machines door-to-door.

While the pantyhose smoothed out her panty lines, she didn’t like wearing them in Florida where she lived. Blakely cut the legs off a pair of control top pantyhose and liked the result.

She kept tinkering until she came up with a design. Then she took $5000 of her own savings, developed prototypes, and tried to get pantyhose manufactures interested.

No one would take a chance until the owner of one of the mills, impressed by his own daughter’s enthusiasm for the product, decided to take a chance.

That company is called Spanx.

 From a waffle maker to one of the biggest athletic brands in the world.

Nike started with one guy building shoes at his kitchen table.

Phil Knight went out to athletic events and talked to runners. He kept refining and rebuilding until runners were demanding his shoe.

His commitment to making the best shoe meant burning through a couple of his wife’s waffle irons in the process because he was truly bootstrapping at his kitchen table.

From a crappy website with a single product to the world’s largest retailer.

Amazon started with a crappy website selling books.

Jeff Bezos had a vision for a one-stop “everything” shop but started with books. Bezos went all in on the venture, leaving his Wall Street gig to get Amazon up and running.

He had a vision to sell, well, everything, but started with books because it seemed the easiest category for him to break into. Amazon kept expanding as Jeff Bezos added products and refined the system until it became the Amazon we know today.

From farmer’s markets to international gourmet brand.

Stonewall Kitchen started off with founders Jim Stott and Jonathan King selling jams at a farmer’s market in 1991 in Portsmouth, NH.

Stott and King enlisted their family to help them fill jars.

Jim’s 90-year-old grandmother stuck on their signature burlap on top.

Now they sell in 42 countries with lines of foods, cookbooks and home goods. Oh, and they have a cooking school and café at their “mother ship” in York Maine. Well worth the visit, BTW.

Each of these businesses were started by someone using their talents and skills – their superpower.

Each of these businesses chased a vision that their founders had.

–Phil Knight wanted to create the premier running shoe in the world

–Sara Blakely wanted to create undergarments that gave women confidence in how they looked

–Jeff Bezos wanted to make an “everything store”

–Jim Stott and Jonathan King wanted to build a gourmet food empire that started with a family blueberry jam recipe.

 

So I am asking you…what is your superpower?

Don’t you DARE tell me you don’t have a superpower.

I will wait right here until you can tell me just one thing – even if you think it’s a very small thing – that you do better than anyone.

Got something in mind?
Good
We can continue….

You can start a business around your one superpower.
The other stuff, getting in front of your customers, figuring out if what you’re selling is what your audience wants to buy – all part of the process. And EVERY business goes through this.

I can see you in the back, shaking your head and saying, “nope, I can’t do that because _(fill in your own excuse here)”

I am telling you, you can.

In fact, I am on a mission to help women recognize their skills, their knowledge, their life experiences have value. As a business. In their lives. In their community.

Incredible value.
Monetary value.
Leadership value.

I am tired of the world telling women who feel beaten down because everyone around them has told them that they are “just (something)”

Just a mom
Just a big fat failure
Just getting too big for their britches
Just not good enough / smart enough / ambitious enough to chase their dreams.

I want women to be strong enough to grab onto the power and skills they have right now.

Because YOU truly are enough

Right here.
Right now.
This instant.

YOU are enough to
Start a business.
Start changing their lives
Start changing the lives of your families and your community

 

All with the simple vision of yourself as
Important
Powerful

And it does not require that you follow someone else’s idea of what is perfect.

Nope, you get to (in fact you must) do this for yourself if you are going to be successful.

You can work from what you are already good at and make money doing it.

Yes.

And it doesn’t take buying into someone else’s business model, or something weird that you don’t really understand, or some “get rich” thing that all the cool kids are doing.

Maybe they could be a great fit for you.
But probably not.

So can we figure out your greatness?

Figure out the marketable skills you already have (and you do – you just need some help pulling the weeds away to see it)….and get you started on an adventure?

Because (as my very wise friend Seth says….)

Nobody makes your choices but you
Nobody gets to choose who you are but you
Nobody gets to choose who you are NOT but you

Want to figure out how to get started?

It’s actually a pretty simple process.

Step One: What is your superpower that people will pay for?
Don’t you be telling me that you don’t have any superpowers – because EVERYONE has superpowers. Sometimes you need a little help to see your amazing.

Step Two: Who will pay for your superpower?
There is someone out there who needs exactly what you can do for them. You might need a little help finding them – but that’s part of the process.

The other stuff, getting in front of your clients, figuring out if what you’re selling is what your audience wants to buy – all part of the process. And EVERY business goes through this.

We can figure this out. All of it.
Let’s do on this journey to becoming your version of Jeff, Sara, Phil, Jim, or Jonathan.

PS…

Here are the other “amazing things” I promised I the beginning…

Spanx was a side gig for Blakely for the first nine years. She kept her office supplies sales job until Oprah picked Spanx as “her favorite thing” and sales exploded.

Knight worked as an accountant and sold Japanese-brand Tiger shoes out the trunk of his car at track meets while he worked to build Nike.

Bezos’s parents were not thrilled when he decided to leave Wall Street and advised him to do Amazon as a side gig. Bezos refused and went all in.

Stonewall Kitchen’s first big order for 2500 jars from Crate & Barrel in 1993 took a month to fulfill. One. Jar. At. A. Time. The success of this helped them with their first expansion.

PPS…

Your journey is right there….
Nothing is stopping you …but you.

Tell Your Story to Stand Out In a Crowded Market

 

10 Steps to Tell Your Story and Stand Out in a Crowded Market

Storytelling gives you a unique opportunity to create a memorable impression when you tailor content, delivery, method, and message to connect with clients – and stand out in your market

There is an art to using stories to connect, convince, and create raving fans. Just like your favorite TV show or book, the way the writer hooks you in is to first attract your attention, then they create a connection.

After they have you, the story moves forward, adding details and layers to keep you engaged. Then, an end, a kicker, a delightful, sad, earth-shattering, matter-of-fact event that brings satisfaction.

People are hard-wired to listen to stories.

There was probably a caveman version of “A guy walks into a bar…”

Stories are a way of sharing. We share our experiences. Facebook, LinkedIn and social media sites are filled with ways that we share our great – and lousy – experiences.

Brands tell stories, too.

A restaurant might tell the story of its founder coming from Italy and working three jobs to save up to build a backyard brick oven because he was hungry for the pizza this mama made in the old country. How he went from baking pies for the neighbors to a 6-chain restaurant that still makes the best a-pizza in the region.

The restaurant website shows photos of the young founder standing in his backyard and behind the counter of his first hole-in-the-wall pizza place – and Instagram photos posted by current customers.

A candy company proudly boasts of still using the same taffy machine that it bought in 1920. They put the machine right in the window along the boardwalk to show off – and a YouTube video of old home movies showing the taffy machine at work in the 1950’s and 1960’s,

Clothing companies that manufacture in America can tell stories about making heritage designs or cutting edge fashion on Pinterest boards. Car companies talk about luxury and reliability. Stories about founding or traditions or cutting-edge technology on industry blogs.

Real Estate agents could talk about what got them into the business – and their passion for connecting clients with the right home. They can post video tours of their neighborhoods so clients can get the feel of a place. Facebook allows them to connect and answer questions. Tell the story of making a house a home.

Ready to get started?

Let’s look at the 10-step method to stand out in a crowded market.

“Go where the money is…and go there often.”
Willie Sutton, bank robber, 1901-1980
Step One: Define Your Goal

Goal: Turn Lead Into Sales. Increase brand awareness to increase sales.

You won’t get where you’re going unless you have a goal

Let’s say you’re a Real Estate agent. You have a long-term goal of increasing sales (doesn’t everyone?) . Before you plunge into your marketing, take some time to do a business audit and review.

  • How are you going to let your buyer know that you are THE EXPERT in your area? That you know which neighborhoods are great for commuters and which are home to the best coffee shops and bars?
  • What do you want to achieve? Increase your long-term leads? Get some listings immediately? Sell a house that’s been on the market a little too long? Be very specific.
  • If you have more than one goal, put them in a priority order. It’s much easier to focus and be clear when you are working on a single goal.
  • What does success look like? 20% increase in foot traffic? Two more listings monthly? Adding 50 people to your client list? Be very specific.
  • How fast do you want/need to achieve your goal? Want versus need are two different things – and can mean different things to your time/money budget. Set out a timeline for achieving your goal.
  • Do you have a deadline looming? Is your market seasonal? New housing development coming on the market? How does this effect your goal and timeline?

Just like Harry Potter’s quest to vanquish the evil Lord Voldemort, the best stories must have a goal that is achieved in telling the story.

Here is a link to more about SMART planning.

Step Two: Describe Your Customer

For our fictional Real Estate agent, let’s profile our potential customer…

BUYERS

  • Want to be close to transit and shopping.
  • Want access to amenities like gyms and restaurants.
  • May have some challenges around student loan debt.
  • Needs to be close to work.
  • Doesn’t want to “overpay” for the right house
  • Stressed about lack of inventory.
  • May feel overwhelmed by the process.

SELLERS

  • Want to balance preparing the house to show well while not spending a lot of money.
  • May have emotional ties to their home.
  • May be moving because of work or family needs.
  • May be looking at school data to help them decide.
  • Wants a fast, easy, clean closing
  • Wants to get as much money as possible

Everyone – and every brand –
has a story to tell –
but you need to tell the right story to the right audience.

Your marketing probably revealed some additional demographics that help you describe your ideal customer: 30-55, income between $100,000 and $350,000, etc., etc.

All that goes into the sauce to help you tell your story.

Step Three: What Problem Do You Solve?

Here is where you begin to make the deep connection with your customer. Step One set out your goal. Step Two had you define who your product is for. Step Three takes you into the WHY.

Why does your customer choose to work with you over a competitor?

  • Are you quicker, better, cheaper, more desirable than alternatives?
  • Will you make the process as stress-free as possible?
  • Do you take away pain, embarrassment, social consequences?
  • Are you thought of the THE EXPERT in your area, with insider knowledge and the best advice?
  • Do you have a track record of getting the house sold? Of finding the right house for your buyer?

What is your customer’s problem – and how are you UNIQUELY able to solve it?

The keyword in that sentence is UNIQUE. Take time to really figure out your UNIQUE selling proposition (USP in marketing terms).

This is the heart of your story…

Once you really understand the problem that your customer is trying to solve, figure out how you can solve it better – and then work on building your brand story around that solution.

State the problem. Feel the pain. Use your UNIQUE ability to solve the problem.

Step Four: Gather Your Assets

Make a list of EVERYTHING you have related to your company.

Founder’s story.

Did you grow up in a family of Real Estate agents? Work your way through college selling houses? Have you spent your career working with builders to create houses that meet the specific needs of your market?

No better way for buyers and sellers to connect than understanding what drove YOU to become a Real Estate agent.

Customer testimonials and reviews.

There is a LOT of research around social proof. People don’t actually have to personally know a reviewer – buyers will assign a lot of trust to a stranger IF they think that the stranger has nothing to gain from a great review.

If you have been in the business for years – and perhaps worked with clients on multiple transactions, ASK for a testimonial. Most people are happy and flattered.

Market research.

If you don’t already know who your ideal customer is – time to find out. Reach out to your existing customers. If they’re local, take them for coffee or hold an open house. Not local? Engage on social media.

Start the conversation and get to know them. And then figure out the common threads.

Step Five: Figure out the WHERE

Social Media: There is lots of demographic info available that will point you to best places to reach your audience. Young males? Head over to YouTube. Females of all ages? Pinterest. Is your product or service photo-worthy? Get thee to Instagram.

For Real Estate agents, I recommend focussing on Facebook for immediate results. With billions of users worldwide, you can find your audience in your specific geographic area and create engagement.

Blogs/websites: Are there sites which attract your demographic? Audiophiles have review sites. Tech enthusiasts have sites that cater to both broad and narrow subjects. Fashion? Food? Travel? Whatever your customer is interested in, there are sites that feed their passion.

For Real Estate agents, think about all things home related. Builders, aspirational room designs, movers, attorneys – they are all connections to your clients.

Where does your customer hang out?
What blogs do they read?
Who do they follow on Twitter or Instagram?

Conventions/events/trade shows: Do you sell a B2B (business to business) product that benefits from a hands-on demo? Is your product the next big thing at Comic-Con or CES?

If you’re a Real Estate agent, would a booth at a home show be a way to meet your customer? What about a local, town-oriented event for sponsorship?

Partnership/Complementary business: Is there a natural fit with a related business? Are you the peanut butter to another product’s jelly? Is there a mutually beneficial relationship that will make both of you new customers and money? Joint venture? Partnership?

For Real Estate agents, local movers, home builders, attorneys, interior decorators, home improvement contractors, and relocation companies could all be good sources of mutual referrals.

Step Six: Be a BIG FISH in ONE (or maybe two) bowls…um…platforms

Based on what you’ve done in Steps 1 – 5, select one social outlets. If you are really trying to jump-start your business and you have lots of time (and maybe some money for marketing) you can pick TWO. No more.

Based on Willie Sutton’s advice, “go where the money” and customers are.

It’s tempting to want to jump into a lot of areas. How hard can it be to get going on LinkedIn and Instagram and Facebook and start sending out press releases? You figure that more is better when you’re trying to get traction.

And there is the temptation to focus on social media because it’s free, and everything else costs money.

Yes and no.

Even though a lot of social media is “free”, I liken it to getting a car rolling up a hill. Not impossible, but it does take some effort.

Understand that, like getting that car rolling, the first few months are going to take up a lot of resources to keep up with an active presence. The worst thing you can do is be starting and stopping. Whatever momentum you got, you lose when you aren’t consistent.

Go deep on one (or two) social platforms. Post, engage, search out your audience and build your credibility.

Don’t overlook something that will cost you money in the short term if it really is the best place to connect with your ideal customer. Yes, this means social ads.

Create a rich environment with engaged users. Better to be fully committed and successful with two and then expand as you gain attention – and customers.

Remember…this is only a start.
Create a rich environment with content and interactions.
Give yourself a little time to make connections.
Then leverage those connections and add new media outlets one at time.

Social Strategy:

  • Select your social platform(s0 based on where your ideal client hangs out – not where you or your peers hang out.
  • Fill out the profiles completely. Add user photos, bios, profiles, links – whatever they will let you add to beef up your presence.
  • EVERYTHING on any social presence links back to your website “start here” page.
  • Create a business page and/or group and cross-post content from your website to your social accounts to seed the page with content.
  • Join 2-3 groups where your ideal customers hang out and you can be helpful. Post content, answer questions, and be helpful. Always include a link back to your “start here” page.
  • Add a tab/form to sign up for your email list (see Step Five – Email Marketing).
  • Scrub your “drunk with friends” and “kitty playing the piano” posts. Once you engage, you want people to take you seriously.

Here are some social media templates and cheat sheets to get you started.

Step Seven: Craft your story for the platform

Now that you know your customer, know where to find them, and have identified the two areas you’re going to focus on to start, it’s time to map out HOW you’re going to tell your WHY story.

What do you need to tell stories in these outlets? Video, photos, testimonials? Do you already have enough that really tell your story or do you need to create them?

Focus on the HOW and WHY of telling the story.

Be brutally honest here – but also be willing to take a fresh look at what you already have.

  • Can materials be rewritten or repackaged? Can they be combined in different ways?
  • Your goal: use the medium (social media, website postings, video) to create stories that connect.

Some examples:

  • Use YouTube to give a video tour of your neighborhood so prospective buyers get an inside look
  • Pinterest could have boards where you post customer’s before and after photos of prepping a house for sale.
  • Instagram might feature updates of what is new to the market.

Bottom line: using the specifics of the media and the platform, craft the story you want to tell.

Step Eight: Create Content. Lots of Content.

So…let’s recap here.

You have defined your goal. You know who you want to reach and the most likely places to find them. You have picked two story venues to write for and you’ve started to suss out the best way to use these venues to connect.

Now comes the fun part. You begin.

By selecting your story venues, you may spark different ideas about content and production.

If video is part of your storytelling, consider if you will use animation, slide share, video, photos, or some combination. Do you already have these assets or do you need to produce them?

Build your story around your goals (Step One). If you are trying to raise brand awareness, focus on stories that don’t sell directly – founders stories, how-we-do-it, testimonials, tours, and background. Remember your goal is to get people liking and talking about your company.

Go long.
Be consistent and be helpful. Give before you expect to get.
Post a lot.

Get a calendar and add content regularly. Google rewards ranking positions for frequent relevant content.

How often? While there are some variations across industries, research shows that you should be adding new content at least 3-5 times a week.

Google also rewards for quality of content. That in-depth piece on market conditions and forecasts will help your ranking.

Create content that is about your brand – but that also speaks to the larger topic.

BIG SECRET REVEALED: Google also rewards for content from other quality sources that you reference. Example: Let’s say you read a piece in an industry blog about a new environmentally sound way of refinishing floors, you can comment, excerpt, and link to that piece. You get rewarded not only for adding content but linking to a quality source.

Step Nine: Keep the conversation going. Season with social proof.

Whether on you website, social media, or any other venue, keep adding stories. Make the conversation richer. Comment, reply, add details. Post new photos. Add a video comment.

Add social proof.

Open up reviews. Data shows that people will trust perfect strangers who talk about your products. If you have a good product, be brave enough to let the good and the bad fall together. While people trust strangers, they trust the overall reviews when they feel that the reviewers have nothing to gain and are posting honest opinions.

When users comment or ask questions – respond! If one user is asking, many other users might be wondering the same thing.

There is a strong temptation to delete less flattering comments. And yes, there will always be Internet trolls whose sole purpose in life is to try and pick a fight. Defuse what you can, delete anything defamatory or ugly, and let the rest of your customers see the transparency of your process.

Don’t wall yourself off from customers. Be honest, Treat it as a conversation not a confrontation.

Step Ten: Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

When I tell clients that this last step is the hardest, they rarely believe me.

“We’ve done the hard work. We have a system.” And most of the time they do.

But after a couple of months, maybe a week or two slides by without content. You don’t assign someone to take over videotaping customer testimonials after Chris leaves the company. You get busy and a month goes by without posting or commenting on Facebook.

That’s why you have to plan.

Create an editorial calendar for the year. You know your business cycles and industry events. Build your stories and conversations around them. This is not an overnight quick-fix. It usually takes at least 6 months to see any uptick in customer inquiries and sales. Plan the work and work the plan. It will bring success.

Now here’s another helping of secret sauce

Plan for spontaneous opportunities to tell your story.

If there attention is on something that is a natural fit for what you do (news about the effectiveness of music while learning plus your wireless speaker business = opportunity to tell your story) then jump in and create content to piggyback on the wave of attention.

Why Your Audience QUALITY Matters

Your offer may be irresistible – right product, right service, right price – but only if you present it to people who understand its value. You aren’t going to sell the most delicious, perfectly prepared steak to a vegetarian. Right offer to the wrong audience.

What does it look like when you align your business with your audience?

The client journey:

This (real but information-changed-to-protect-privacy) client:

  • sells information products to other entrepreneurs
  • offers a professional service around his skills
  • writes and promotes books around his expertise

The client’s problem:

  • His message was fragmented – three messages for three services
  • His marketing was all over the place – literally. Too many places because of FOMO (fear of missing out)
  • WAY too much time spent working on his marketing meant less time for working on his business
  • He was zigging and zagging trying every new shiny marketing tactic that came along.
  • No traction for his marketing efforts because there was no plan in place for execution and a cohesive message.

The solution:

First, we aligned his offerings around a single message so we could target related audiences.

The offerings were broad enough to meet his professional needs, but tight enough that there was no confusion about who he served.

Next, we focused on making him a “big fish in a small (but lucrative) pond.”

We looked over all the channels where he was marketing and winnowed it down so that he could make a bigger impact in fewer places. And those places were selected based around where his best quality leads congregated.

Once we had messaging and media channels, it was time to create a marketing plan.

We set up the plan around limited release of his information product, a book launch schedule that supports both his info product launch schedule and his done-for-you services, and done-for-you products that were treated as the “limited availability” that they truly were.

He embraced advertising.

We started with a small (read: teeny) budget with a hyper-targeted audience and he was able to grow his audience and profile. With test ads, retargeting traffic, and look alike audiences, we were able to prove the ROI.

We started with the books and built his audience with reviews and offering packages. The book audiences were leveraged to his info product offering. The info product audience was offered done-for-you services if they showed interest in the info product but did not buy.

We tested and tweaked until we had a winning concept.

We reverse engineered his offerings and marketing to align everything toward the sale.

His messaging on his website, sales pages, emails, social media, and even his product, book, and done-for-you offerings were all aligned around making the sale. When we started at the end – conversion – it made it easier to work backwards to lead generation and brand awareness.

Has it worked?

The results took a few months. It was a little scary for him to let go of his old methods – but he quickly saw that he was speaking to better audiences who understood the VALUE of what he was offering.

He gained about 250 new subscribers and improved his open and click through rates.

He also lost and deleted a couple of hundred subscribers – but they were simply taking up space on his list and were never going to buy. This was scary – but the improved attention to his offers and his profile as an expert was worth losing subscribers who were not interested in his offer.

He has a specific plan around his offerings and can spend more time on his business and less time doing random things to move his business forward.

He has planned future offerings – books and info products – to appeal directly to his new audiences. And with this plan, products support and reinforce each other, making it easier to offer upsells and packages.

His plan makes it easier for him to know precisely what he needs to focus on at any time. And with a system in place, he can outsource tasks such as social media posting and graphics with confidence.

So…less stress, better quality leads, and more time for his business.

I won’t lie…getting to this process is work. And yes, you will still need to find the quality audience that is interested in your product or service. You are still starting with an wide audience of people who are unaware of you (and maybe haven’t even defined their own problem yet) and take them through the process with purpose.

why audience quality matters

six steps marketing plan

Six Simple Steps to Create a REAL, Working Marketing Plan

Are you frustrated with your marketing?

Do you feel like you’re always chasing “shiny things” that promise to make your marketing (better, faster, easier, cheaper)? Do you feel like creating a marketing plan is too hard and too complicated?

You’re not alone.

This is one of the questions I get asked about the most. So how can a small business or an entrepreneur do the things they SHOULD do around their marketing without spending ALL their time on marketing?

I have a solution.

I have developed a simple, six-step process that should take you no more than a single day to set up and then about three hours a week to maintain. And this includes a blog, social, and email.

Here is how I approach marketing:

–Marketing is a multi-platform effort. No one thing is going to be 100%.

–Your website, social platforms, emails, and brick-and-mortar all need to be aligned around a very clear, single message.

–You have to spend time, money, or some of both. Nothing is free.

–Unless you are willing to spend big, it will take months not weeks to get traction.

–Be a big fish in a couple of ponds – focus your efforts to get in front of ideal audiences rather than being everywhere. Your message and your business is not a great fit for “everyone.”

–Have a plan – and be willing to execute and stay on track even when it feels like nothing is happening.

Ready to finally get your marketing working for you?

–Set aside one full day or two half days to get this done

–Don’t try to get this done a few minutes at time – you need to get in the “marketing mindset” to be most productive.

–Be ready to toss out what isn’t working – or what is not aligned with your goals and mission. Even though you spent time on them, if they are not pulling you forward, they are not contributing and may be distracting both you and your ideal customer.

Ok…let’s GO!

Step One: What is your goal?

Goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-oriented, and Time-based

–What do you want to achieve? More in-store sales? Foot traffic? Publicity? E-commerce? Greater number of clients served? Be very specific.

–If you have more than one goal, put them in a priority order. It’s much easier to focus and be clear when you are working on a single goal.

–What does success look like? 20% increase in foot traffic? Two more classes monthly? New product line launch? Be very specific.

–How fast do you want/need to achieve your goal? Want versus need are two different things – and can mean different things to your time/money budget. Set out a timeline for achieving your goal.

–Do you have a deadline looming? Is there a new product launch? An annual meeting? How does this effect your goal and timeline?

–Here is a link to more about SMART planning.

Step Two: Mission statement

Craft a mission statement aimed at your ideal client

–Here is a starting point:

I/We are a (describe company) who helps (audience) to (your core business). Our (unique business proposition) allows us to (deliverable).

You might need to tweak the format a bit, but you can see where I am going.

Using that template, here is what my mission statement could look like:

I am a sales funnel marketing company who helps small- to mid-sized businesses to get more customers. My “Turn Leads into Sales” focus allows me to help customers drive more traffic, convert that traffic into leads, and then sell their product or service.

–Write this and then read it out loud (really…use your voice). Keep rewriting and reading until it flows and you really could say this to someone in the time it takes for you to get from the ground floor to the fifth floor. This is called an elevator pitch. 

Refining my pitch from awkward, fill in the blank, to a smooth elevator pitch that I can say out loud:

I help small- to mid-sized companies get more customers by building sales funnels  using email, social, and chat bots that build traffic and turn leads into sales.

Better… but is it too technical?

I help businesses Turn Leads Into Sales with my exclusive marketing system that leverages email and social marketing to get more customers.

This hits all the notes I want: describes my business, adds in why they should be interested, and gives a little information about how we accomplish this.

Put your mission statement front and center.

–Distill it down and use it as your tag line on ALL your social accounts.

–Write it as a mission statement on your website.

–Use it on your email signature (along with links to your social accounts and website).

–Print it out and post it on the wall where customers and employees can see it. Make it poster sized so it’s easy for everyone to see.

–EVERY employee should know it AND understand your mission statement.

–Add it to invoices, letterhead, anything you send out.

Step Three: Update Your Website

I assume you have a website. If you don’t spend a day and get one set up. Here is a post I created about setting one up. It’s not hard and only a little scary.

And before you ask: YES you do need one. Social platforms are not enough.

–Set up an FAQ page on your website that is not only about your business but about your industry. Add to it frequently. Create categories and headings for easy scanning.

–Add a “start here” page to your site. Orient your new users, give them a map and guide them to content that introduces new arrivals to your business. Mission statement is front and center on this page.

–Add a “success story” page where you highlight your successes, customer profiles (get SIGNED WRITTEN permission from any customers that you feature that allows you to use it on your website, publicity, and social accounts and keep it on file). Nothing like social proof.

–Put your mission statement front and center on your website. Visitors should know instantly who you are, who you serve, and what you do.

Step Four: Social

–Pick one or two social platforms – not all. Keep repeating to yourself “big fish, small pond.”

–Select based on where your ideal client hangs out – not where you or your peers hang out.

–Fill out the profiles completely. Add user photos, bios, profiles, links – whatever they will let you add to beef up your presence.

–EVERYTHING on any social presence links back to your website “start here” page.

–Create a business page and/or group and cross-post content from your website to your social accounts to seed the page with content.

–Join 2-3 groups where your ideal customers hang out and you can be helpful. Post content, answer questions, and be helpful. Always include a link back to your “start here” page.

–Add a tab/form to sign up for your email list (see Step Five – Email Marketing).

–Here are some social media templates and cheat sheets to get you started,

Step Five: Email

Daily emails/inquiries

— Create email signatures that include your mission statement, links to social, and (if appropriate) a photo. A face really does ramp up the engagement and remind the recipient that there are real people behind your business.

–Hubspot has a great free signature template

–Outlook builds this into their software. (Create new email > Message > Include > Signature)

–You can add a signature to Gmail using a simple table in Word.

–Every business email you send out should have this signature.

Email marketing

–Sign up for an autoresponder account. An autoresponder email account lets you send out emails to your list on a schedule that you set. Mailchimp lets you have up to 2000 subscribers on a free tier.

–DO NOT try to use your personal or business email account to send out bulk email or manage email marketing. You may end up getting your account suspended.

–Start collecting email addresses so you have a list. An email list simplifies business announcements and connects people.

–Create a simple opt-in form and put it on the front page of your website, and on other pages.

–Ask people on social posts to subscribe to your list. Provide links to make it easy to sign up.

–Most social accounts give you some way to collect email addresses via a tab or form. Your autoresponder may have pre-built forms that you can plug in to your social account.

Email sales funnels

–If you want to use your list for sales, you need to create a plan around the marketing and sales process.

–You will need an autoresponder (such as Mailchimp) to automatically deliver emails on a schedule.

–Write a welcome email for new subscribers telling them about your business, restating your mission, restating your respect for their privacy, and telling them what to expect going forward.

–BONUS: Write 6-10 emails that welcome new subscribers and then lead them down the conversion path to buying your service or product.

Step Six: Create a plan – and execute

Goal:

–Keep your goal from Step One in mind. What do you want to achieve and when do you want to achieve it?

–Constantly reinforce your mission statement. EVERY post, comment, answer, press release should be written through the lens of your VERY SPECIFIC message. Don’t waste time or money with anything off-message.

–Keep your time spent to 3 hours per week.

Website: Once a week – 30 minutes

–Write/post once a week. It does not have to be long. Answer a question once a week and then add the question to your FAQ page. Write about a trend. Talk about the challenges that you face.

–Reference you mission statement in your posts where possible.

Social: Once a week – 15 minutes

–Log in to your one or two social accounts, write a short intro, and post a link to your website post on your social accounts.

–Once a week post something helpful. Post about a question that frequently gets asked, write a short answer, and then ask for input from the community. Dispel a myth about your business. Write about trends or things-you-should-know. Highlight a customer or business success story (with WRITTEN permission). Write a post that you can add to your FAQ page. Write about what is going on this week in your business.

–If possible, commit to a once-weekly FB Live, YouTube channel video, or other video event where you demonstrate something or answer a question on camera. Just 5-10 minutes can convey a lot of information and put a face on your business. Not everyone is comfortable with on-camera, but this builds a lot of traction fast. Casual video is okay – it builds a better, more authentic connection.

Social: 20-30 minutes a day

–Commit to spending about 20-30 minutes daily (really…don’t go down the rabbit hole – 20-30 minutes is plenty) being helpful and answering questions. Set a timer so you don’t look up and two hours have gone by!

–Help people. Seek out questions, write a short answer and then send people back to a longer answer on your FAQ, start here, success story, or a post on your website that references the question/answer.

–Check on posts that you have written and respond back.

–Post lots of images. Images get MUCH higher engagement. Video is even better. Your social activity for the day might simply be a photo and caption of what you’re doing that day. Get signed, written releases from any customers in the photos.

Email: Once a week – 15 minutes

–Send out an email to your list.

–Don’t overcomplicate this. Post updates, answer a question that got asked in the shop or online, a write story about what happened this week. A few paragraphs and an occasional photo (If there are customers, get a signed, written release).

–Repurpose content. If you write a post for social or your website this week, use it for your email.

–Pass along an interested article you read or video you watched that relates to your business. Link back and attribute the original source. Write a few lines about why you’re passing this along.

Old-school media: Once a month – 15 minutes

–For brick and mortar businesses that rely on local traffic, building local buzz is just as important as social (and often overlooked).

–For small digital businesses, your job is to get on the radar as a local expert in your field.

–Send out press releases alerting print and television editors about interesting, local stories. Here is a great resource from Hubspot on writing press releases.

–Make it easy for an editor to say yes. Make your pitch timely, include contact info, write a compelling reason that this merits the attention of their viewers/readers. Winning press releases are written from the point of view of what’s in it for the editor.

–Editors get dozens or hundreds of pitches a week. Don’t get mad or set your expectations around your pitch being picked up. You’re getting on their radar so when they have a story or need an expert, you’re the person they think of.

Spend some money, save some time: Achieve your Step One goal faster.

If you have even a small budget ($50-$100/month) you can invest in advertising.

If you are brick-and-mortar and want to raise your local profile, consider advertising locally. What your ideal customer read and view? Local advertisers can give you detailed demographic information. Newspapers will give you bang for a (smallish) buck if your audience is very local. If you can up your ad spend, consider a local or regional magazine or even TV.

For many businesses, their customers come from all over the world – so they need to expand their audience base beyond local marketing. The two biggest online ad platforms Google AdWords and Facebook Ads cover the broadest audience options.

There are lots of places to spend your advertising dollars including Pinterest, Instagram (which is owned by Facebook and shares an ad platform), Twitter, LinkedIn, and Snapchat. Depending on your audience and goals, one of these other platforms might make more sense.

Another creative approach is YouTube ads. If you are not competing in a high-cost keyword market (diet, exercise, making money) you may be able to find cost-effective ads that run on videos that attract your target audience. Here is an article by Hubspot that details the different types of ads and the pros and cons.

Google AdWords

Here is a great how-to post from Kissmetrics about Google AdWords

Pros:

–Great for local businesses as you can dial down the geographic reach

–If you are non-profit, you may be eligible for free AdWords

Cons:

–It can be tough to get the right balance of messaging, audience, and budget.

–It can be intimidating to navigate the AdWords account settings and find the right keywords to target.

–If you are in a competitive keyword business (fitness, diet, relationships, finance, personal improvement, etc.) it can be hard to find a keyword that you can afford AND that reflects your business. Use the Google Keywords Planner to understand trends and get ideas.

Facebook Ads

Here is a great post from Facebook about getting started with Facebook Ads

Pros:

–Great for wide audience reach.

–You can target audiences fairly precisely

–You select your goal and Facebook presents the ad to audiences most likely to take the action you want

Cons:

–You are still part of the firehose that is the average Facebook feed. It is easy to overlook your ad.

–Getting the right balance of messaging, audience, and budget can take time (and money).

–It can be intimidating to navigate the Facebook Ad dashboard.

–While you can be fairly specific about geography, it is not as flexible as you may need it to be and may present ads to people who are not your customers.

Summary:

Understand your SMART goal.

Write a mission statement that defines who you are, who you serve, and what you do.

Update your website so the mission statement is a prominent part. Add Start Here, FAQ, and Success Stories pages.

Select one or two social accounts where your audience hangs out – not your peers.

Start an email list with an autoresponder account and create a short email welcome sequence.

Create – and execute – your three hour a plan

–Post on your website every week.

–Cross-post on your social accounts every week.

–Send an email to your list every week.

–Spend 20-30 minutes a day on your social accounts being visible and helpful answering questions. Point back to content on your site if it is directly relevant. Link back to your “start here” page on your website if you are just making general posts.

–Bonus points if you can do a Facebook Live or add a short video to your YouTube channel.

–Build a relationship with local media by sending out monthly press releases.

Spend money to save time. If you have the budget, a hyper-targeted AdWords or Facebook Ad can drive traffic to your site and help build engagement.

What is your biggest struggle around your marketing?

Comment below – or even better – send me an email and perhaps I can help.

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