picture of pad, pen, and hand writing

The SIMPLE way to start a business (and avoid the struggle).

When we hand a child a violin for the very first time, we don’t expect them to map out their worldwide concert tour.
 
We don’t hand a kid their first pair of ice skates and start talking about preparing for the next Olympic games.
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Yet that’s what we often expect of new business owners.
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Business coaches and groups start talking about “scaling” and “systems” and “brands” – world tours or Olympic competition – before a new business owner has even made the first sale.
 
Or even figure out what they are going to sell.
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How do you think that makes most new or aspiring business owners feel?
Overwhelmed.
Exhausted.
Intimidated.
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And worst? Feeling like a failure before they even start.
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Do you think that most kids scratching their way through Twinkle Twinkle Little Star would feel pumped up or frightened to be told that they need to be ready to play Carnegie Hall in a few months?
 
Do you think the kid still wobbling around the rink would be terrified of the pressure to medal in the Olympics by the winter?
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Yet that’s what we keep doing to new or potential business owners.
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Coaches and gurus, so in love with showing off their own expertise, sometimes make people who want to start a business feel like their aspirations are out of reach – or worse – that they are not dreaming big enough so why bother?
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I am not against big dreams. Not at all.
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Do you dream of founding a multi-million dollar empire? Have at it. But most new business owners are so defeated by all these steps and checklists and things to do that they often won’t even start.
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I am not against checklists and case studies and to-dos….what I am against is giving new business owners too much.
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Solve a single problem in front of you. Just that one thing. Then move on to the next thing. Solve that. Steps that are clear.
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We don’t expect the average Kindergarten student to get tossed into Calculus IV (don’t comment about child genius – they are the Jeff Bezos’s or Elon Musk’s of the business world).
Yet we expect the average Kindergarten/beginning business owner to figure out their sales funnels (along with upsells and landing pages).
We don’t expect violinists who have had three lessons to solo at the Met, yet we expect new business owners to set up “systems to scale”.
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Please.
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Can we get a little reality check here?
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New business owners need support around a few things:
–Figuring out what they want to sell.
–Figuring out who can (and will) buy it.
–Figuring out how to make a profit on what they do.
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That’s it. Full stop.
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The branding, the websites, the email lists. All that comes later. After the sales start coming in.
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Because your business will change based on what you learn from those first few customers.
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Your idea for custom cakes might evolve to business catering because you like it and because it’s more profitable and predictable. Or your business catering idea might evolve high-end chocolate making because you found a (profitable) need and can fill it.
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You just don’t know until you get out there and start testing the market.
Supplying to customers.
Meeting customers.
Listening to their wants and needs.
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You might uncover an untapped market. Or figure out that what you want to do does not have a big appeal. At this point, that’s okay. You are still in your exploratory phase.
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And the best news?
You have not spent months and thousands of dollars on “systems” and “scaling” for a business that you are now going to pivot.
Because if you *have* jumped in and done the branding and website and fancy logo before you have your business nailed down, it makes it much harder to do the pivot that your market is asking for.
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And then what happens? Business owners try to make a go of that original idea – because they are already so far down the road.
They struggle and fight and when they give up, they blame themselves.
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When the blame is squarely on the shoulders of all the gurus and experts they listened to.
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And I can tell you that the struggle is real.
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I have worked with clients who have spent months (and months and years) trying to test the colors on logos, getting websites built for businesses that don’t have any customers, and setting up sales funnels when they don’t have a tested product or service.
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All because these new business owners kept reading advice about how they needed to build their foundation to scale their business.
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It’s all BS. Lies.
Worse.
It’s emotional blackmail.
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The feeling that if you don’t “start right” you may as well not start at all because you are destined to fail.
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That you have to have the right plan in place to run this giant company rather than the help you need to just get started.
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There is a better way. A kinder, gentler way that lets you chart the course that’s right for you.
Without the fear of “doing things wrong.”
Without the blackmail of “just” wanting a small business that supports you and your family and not some “scaled up conglomerate.”
Without the overwhelm of trying to plan your Olympic championship while you’re still trying not to fall down on the ice.
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As a new business owner, I am telling you to focus on the basics.
–What do you sell?
–Who can and will buy this?
–How do you let them know that you are in business?
 
I consider a new business owner anyone who is still thinking about their business all the way through anyone who is making a few sales a month from their business.
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Let’s get back to basics.
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Forget all the other nonsense. It will matter someday. Just not right now. Not until you have enough sales to understand the following:
–Exactly what it is that your customers are actually buying. Not what you think they’ll buy…actually dollars in your bank account from actual sales.
–Exactly who is your customer. Details. Drill down so that you know what common characteristics your customers have. How did you get on their radar? Have they bought from you before?
–Exactly why your customers buy from you. Location. Needs. Speed, Convenience. Reputation. Why do they pick you over someone else?
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And you know how you find out this information? You ask your customers.
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Because even gold medal winners start somewhere.
 
 
woman with long hair on a porch tossing a ball

CATCH Your Clients (and build your brand) – Without the Overwhelm

When you’re just starting out, it can feel overwhelming.

I get it.

But if you put a plan in place before you start, you can be much more strategic about how you spend your time and money to reach your audience.

I developed the CATCH Branding system as a framework to help you get started and make it easier to remember.

Your mission? Every thing that you do, every piece of content you create should be CATCH-tested so you can focus on getting your message across, and being memorable, to your perfect client.

The CATCH System

C – Consistent Look.

Create a look and feel that people can recognize as you. 

Here is all you need to get started:

  • Create a simple text logo with your name. Put your logo on all the content you create.
  • Write a simple tagline that sums up what you do. 10-12 words max – less is better. Use the tagline in your email signature, your social profiles, your business cards, and on your website.
  • Start your “style bible” which can be just a simple Word document. It should list your two (not six) colors that you use for everything (list the hex color number which will look something like this #ABEBC6), the fonts you use for headlines and the font you use for the body your documents.

Please (please, please) don’t spend weeks or months agonizing over a logo. A simple word logo built in Canva will get you started. Use it everywhere: website, social, email, ads. Start to build name and image recognition – but don’t get bogged down.

I have had to do “interventions” with clients who spent months and multiple rounds of edits and changes rather than getting their business going.

So pick something that you can grow with and start using it consistently.

A – Authentic Voice.

Be honest and open about your area of expertise. Tell people about what you struggle with – and how you overcame problems. Offer help without being condescending. We are all on this journey and all on different parts of the path.

There is the school of “fake it till you make it” and frankly, I am ambivalent about this. 

On the one hand, it can be a boost to your mindset when you act as if you have already achieved. There is real science that says it can be a psychological boost to your performance and success.

But on the other hand, there is also fatigue from your audience. There are w-a-a-a-a-y too many faux successful Internet hucksters who project an image of success. But check behind the curtain and the cars are rented, the house is not theirs, and the women are hired models. Fake it till you make it might not be your best strategy.

What I typically advise is to adopt a mindset of success and expertise – but don’t lie. If it ain’t your Ferrari and you have less in the bank than the average fast food worker, don’t give the illusion that you are more successful than you really are. It not only will come back to bite you (and it will) it will simply not read as genuine to your audience.

If you approach your audience with honesty about your struggles and sincerity around your success, you stand a much better chance of actually gaining the trust of people you can help. Click To Tweet

So sure, preach the gospel of success, but be honest and open.

T – Targeted Audience.

Know exactly who you are talking to.

Fitness guru? You are not selling to “everyone” you are selling to “people interested in fitness.” But unless you want to compete on a race to the bottom on pricing, you need to dig deeper into who you really serve as your audience.

Let’s go back to you as a fitness expert. Your specific audience might be “pregnant women looking to manage their health” or “18-30 year old males looking for washboard abs” or “experienced marathon runners looking for faster recovery and nutrition guidance.”

All three audiences are interested in fitness. But they are very different audiences with completely different messaging. Know who you are talking to and then help that specific group achieve their goals.

This is probably the #1 mistake that new businesses make. In their push to just sell something, they throw a bunch of different messages and offers out. Rather than make you a versatile business, it dilutes your message and your brand.

Specialists make more than generalists – and typically have an easier time attracting the right clients. 

If you have tax problems, you go to a tax attorney not the woman who is an ace criminal attorney (unless your tax problems go to the criminal…whoops). The tax attorney is also not interested in representing you when you sue the guy who hit you in the parking lot.

Micro-target your audience so that you become the obvious solution to their special problem. You need to be the specialist who can get the job done rather than the generalist who is often stuck with commodity status  – and competing on price rather than value.

C – Creative Content.

Be creative when you are helping your audience. The fitness guy might make some serious videos around proper weight lifting techniques for pregnant women, and also create a Pinterest board with easy-to-use fitness flash cards, some downloadable nutrition guides, or five-day fitness jump-start challenge.

Your audience will consume different content in different ways. It does pay dividends to pick 1-2 social channels and create content.

Note: Yes, I am serious about 1-2 social channels at the beginning of your business. Unless you are hiring a creative team, there simply is not enough hours in the day to run your business – which should be your #1 priority – and create endless content for 4-5 social channels. Go deep on 1-2 channels and nurture your audience rather than scattershot on 4-5 where you will never get traction because your audience does not hear from you often enough.

Content creation can get out of control. It can feel like you’re on the content hamster wheel. That’s why it’s critical to understand where your audience is so your content creation helps with your marketing rather than wasting time and money. And to focus.

The key to sane (and profitable) content creation is to spend the most time and money where your audience is. Your fitness mommies are probably on Instagram and Facebook and may be active on mom boards, healthy family eating, or wellness groups. Your washboard ab young males may also be interested in tech and cars. But you can’t know that unless you talk to your audience and spend time getting to know them. Deeply.

Once you find your audience, listen. React. Comment. Take notes about what comes up over and over. Answer questions (bonus points if your answer can refer back to your website).

You will also hear exactly how they phrase their problems, wishes, and desires – and you can tailor your message with their language. Not to fool them, but rather to demonstrate that you hear and understand. Customers you can genuinely help find you and put their faith in your ability to solve their problem.

 Know where your audience is, how they prefer to consume content, and help them achieve their goals with shareable, interesting content.

H – Helping

Reach out to your audience and offer help and guidance. Be the person known for spot-on, kind advice. Give your expertise willingly and often. Offer the helping hand without asking for anything in return. It does pay off in the long run.

Helping can be anything from instructional videos to eBooks to in-person clinics. 

Your “helping goal” is two-fold:

  • demonstrate your expertise and experience in solving problems
  • set you up as the most logical solution when it comes time to hire someone.
 
Ideally, you will refer your potential clients back to your website. Unlike social channels, you control how you interact, the information you collect such as a name and email address, and a deeper understanding of the content that is resonating with your target audience.

Final thoughts…

If you follow the CATCH system, you can laser-focus on delivering your message to the right audience, with a consistent look and feel, and building your reputation as a thought leader in your niche.

Spend some time on the front end using these strategies, it can make the process less confusing and get you launched right.

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Before You Spend Money on Marketing…Do This (Please)

I know, you hear about the latest shiny thing in marketing and want to dive right in.

It’s tempting to think that the latest thing will be the thing that finally rockets your business to the top. But without a deep understanding of your current marketing, spending on new and shiny is usually disappointing.

Can I beg you to please hit the pause button?

Wait to start on any new marketing or ad spend until you truly understand and can state the following:

  • Your most productive, profitable, and reliable source of leads
  • What it costs you to acquire a lead/prospect/client
  • Are these costs increasing/decreasing?
  • How long does it take to get a lead/prospect/client?
  • If you’re like most business owners, you probably only have a vague idea of what is working and instead rely on your “gut instinct.”

Sorry. Your gut instinct may be costing you time, money, and clients.

If you want to truly understand the best use of your resources, it’s time to do a marketing audit.

I am going to help you do a deep dive audit on your marketing.

A what? Like numbers and accounting?

Well…sort of. And yes.

My clients are surprised when this is the first part of what we do.

But before we start down the path of figuring out what we need to do, we need to figure out not only where we are, but where the holes are. The good news is that the first time is the hardest – and the most eye-opening.

I had one client whose “gut feeling” that one advertising source was too expensive turned out to be wrong. This advertising source is expensive, but the audit showed it to be their most lucrative – delivering $10-$15 in profit for every $1 they spent. The client asked for the audit because they wanted to justify ending this ad spend. Instead, they will now devote more money to this source and less to other, less-lucrative sources.

This is the time where we toss everything onto the kitchen table and sort through it all.

Get yourself a notebook, fire up a spreadsheet, and clear off your whiteboard. Time to dig in.

Let’s dive in and start at the beginning…

  • What is the product(s) or service(s)?

This is where you need to look at your product offerings. Dust out the corners. Rank them in order of most profitable to least profitable, most popular to least popular, legacy and new, growing and stagnant, future and past.

  • Are there entry-level, mid-level, and high-ticket products/services?

Do you offer different levels of different products? Do they produce different profit level? Do high-level products/services require more hands on? More resources? How many clients are you serving at each level? Is there an upgrade path?

  • What is the average client spend?

What do clients spend money on? How long are they with you? Is there a glide path to upgrades?

Collateral

  • Is there a website?

Do you have a website? Is it aligned with your current products/services? Is it updated regularly? Does it convert lookers to leads? Is it fresh and appealing?

  • Are there social profiles?

Does the company (and you) have updated profiles on social media? Which social platforms are most closely aligned with your clients? Concentrate on those platforms first.

  • Is everything up to date and aligned with the current product/service?

Are products/services clearly listed? Is messaging aligned with current products/services? Is it clear who you serve?

  • Logo?

Do you have a logo? Is it consistently used across all platforms and on all collateral? Does it look updated?

  • Branding?

Have you built a recognizable brand? Is the brand tied to a product/service or to an individual? How is the brand deployed?

Client customer profile

  • Who is the customer?

Sure, you can tell me that “Chris Anders is 47 years old and has 3 kids and drives a Chevy and is interested in gaming and professional sports.” But rather than create a limited client avatar, do a deeper dive. Why is Chris interested in your product/service? Career advancement? Pride? What problem do you solve?

  • What are their demographics – age, income, location, needs?

Who is your typical client? Dig deep into who you already sell to. Who buys your entry-level product/service? Who buys your high-end offering? What similarities exist? What differences?

  • Have the demographics changed?

Have your clients changed as you have changed your offerings? Over time? What do you think caused this shift? Pricing? Positioning? Product? Brand awareness?

  • What does the client do for their customers?

Do your clients have clients of their own? Does your product/service impact your client’s bottom line? Is your product/service a profit center for your client?

  • What is the typical time from lead to customer?

From the time your client first becomes aware of you to the first time they buy, how long is the sales cycle? From first sale to upgrade?

  • What does it cost to acquire a customer?

This is often something that is guessed at – or completely unknown. Understanding this is an absolutely key indicator of where and how to proceed with your marketing. From advertising to collateral costs to time to whatever is specialized to your industry, tally up the costs and divide by number of clients.

Is this number declining or increasing?

Current marketing sources

  • Where do you currently advertise?

Industry publications, social, Adwords, print, online listings, pay for influencers, PPC. This is where your spreadsheet comes in handy to tally up the costs.

  • What is the ROI (Return on Investment) of that advertising?

What was the total spent on ads? How many clients did you get from that ad spend? How many leads? How many prospects. Sixth grade addition and division problem but for most clients this is eye-opening.

  • How do you get on the radar of your ideal client?

Where do you get most of your clients? How do they come to know you, like you, trust you? What are your client’s trusted resources for understanding your product/service? Are there other products/services that are on your client’s radar, competing with yours?

  • How long have you been using these marketing sources?

Do you have a history that you can track your results over time? Are they becoming more or less productive for you? What new sources have you tried?

  • What are all the sources of advertising and marketing?

Add these to your spreadsheet. List them all out with all pertinent details of spend, dates, and results.

Current lead sources

  • Where do leads come from now?

Advertising, social, email, website, word of mouth, industry reputation…list them all on your spreadsheet along with the numbers of leads that each source produces. Is this true across all your products/services or do some sources produce better for some of your products/services than other sources?

  • How many leads per month? Are they cyclical?

Break down the spreadsheet leads by month and over years if you have the data. Do you get more leads from some sources at different times of year? Are these lead numbers increasing or decreasing? Are some sources more productive than others?

  • What is the cost per lead?

Is your cost per lead increasing or decreasing? Is the cost per lead different for different products/services? Use the data from your spreadsheet to make these calculations.

Lead nurturing

  • How are leads nurtured?

Once someone expresses interest in you and your product/services (they become a lead), how do you turn them into prospects and then sales? What is your process?

  • Is there a customer list/email list/social list?

Are leads nurtured in some type of automated/semi-automated system? Has is been tested and updated? How are you collecting these leads? What is the typical engagement rate or open rate on your emails?

  • What is the sales funnel?

What does the sales cycle look like to your client? What steps do they go through? Is there an automated sales funnel? What does it look like? Does it take into account all your products/services or it primarily to “get people in the door”?

  • How long does it take from lead to sale?

What is the typical time between lead and sale? Does it vary based on which product/service they ultimately purchase? Has this changed over time?

Putting it all together

After digging through everything. It’s easier to see where things are – and where they are missing. While there are a lot of questions here, there may be some that are more specific to your industry or process. Going through this marketing audit should get you thinking more deeply about your particular sales cycle.

Don’t skip this process.

It is exciting to want to try “new and shiny” things, but you don’t know if the new and shiny is the answer to your problems or just a Band-Aid on a wound you don’t have.

It is critical before you start spending money and time that you understand what is working – and what is not.

Expecting to get new and better results from faulty data is a waste of efforts.

Bottom Line:

  • Put everything on a spreadsheet and work your numbers so you understand what it costs to acquire a customer.
  • Understand where your best customer leads come from and how you acquire them.
  • What collateral do you have (website, social, email lists) and is it aligned with current service/products?
  • How are leads nurtured?

I am constantly surprised by the number of clients who truly do not understand what it costs them to acquire a client. Or where most of their clients come from.

But this is critical information. Double down on what is working. Fix or ease off what is not working.

Marketing is a process.

Your “snapshot” should be done at least annually – ideally 2-3 times a year so that you can stay on top of shifts.

Has this article been helpful? Do you have questions? Happy to help you get your marketing sorted and on track.