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“A business can be a prototype of the world you want to live in.”
You probably started your business to create the world you wanted to live in.
You thought about the kind of people you wanted to work with, the kind of work you wanted to do, the kind of time off you didn’t want to have to ask permission for, and the kind of flexible schedule that would allow you to accomplish more than work.
I hope you accomplished a lot of that!
Maybe some of it is still a work-in-progress…
Yet, as you are very well aware, the world doesn’t stop at your office door or even your front door.
If you want to build a business that prototypes the world you want to live in, you have to consider how your business is impacting your customers and your community.
- Does the structure of it embody the values you hold dear?
- Do the offers you make reinforce your idea of how you want to build relationships with others?
- Does your team reflect the way you want to see our communities organized?
- Does your mindset as an entrepreneur and leader represent the mindset you want to see in the leaders of our community at large?
Building a business that is a prototype for the world you want to live in doesn’t just mean you get to live a great life (although that’s incredibly important).
It also means that the decisions you make for your business reflect your greatest hopes and dreams for our society.
What you’re building has the capacity to be so much bigger than you.
If you want to live up to that potential, you have to answer those questions. And then keep answering them so that you are always improving on the world you’re creating for yourself and others.
And today–today–I challenge you to rise up to that potential.
Your potential gives me hope–hope that is growing day by day by day:
Between 1997 and 2014, non-employer firms in the United States grew by 60% (for contrast, traditional payroll jobs grew 12% in that same time).
What’s a non-employer firm, you ask?
Well, it’s you. Or, if you’re not anymore, you most likely started your business as a non-employer firm.
Non-employer firms are–most often–the scrappy, creative, determined sort of micro businesses that have no employees. They consist solely of an owner creating something from scratch with an idea and loads of ambition.
This is an unprecedented rise in this measure. And that means…
There is an unprecedented number of entrepreneurs taking steps to create the world they want to live in. There is an unprecedented number of business owners building personal wealth and contributing to the common wealth.
There is real change afoot.
And, it’s not coming from the top down.
It’s coming from the bottom up.
What you’re doing right now—by building your business, circumventing pre-established norms, creating value for others and wealth for yourself—is slowing but surely changing the dynamics of power in your community.
I always chuckle when people tell me their market is “really crowded” and for that reason, they’re a special case when it comes to marketing or business development.
What market is not really crowded in the 21st century?
I mean, we now have competing toilet sprays to keep people from knowing you’re going #2 while you’re at your significant other’s house.
A crowded market often means more opportunity, not less opportunity.
First, if a market is crowded it means that there is plenty of demand. There are loads of people who want to buy.
Second, if a market is crowded there are lots of straightforward, non-ninja ways to figure out what needs still aren’t being met.
And it’s this second piece of the puzzle that I want to focus on today.
You can develop a product in a crowded market and become a key player…
…if you focus on what’s “broken” about the other solutions on the market for the people you care about most.
Emily noticed that, despite Valentine’s Day being a multi-billion dollar industry, none of the greeting cards she could find matched the relationships that she and her friends were really in.
Those greeting cards were “broken” for people like Emily (and probably for people like you, too).
Make a greeting card that was laser-focused on that kind of relationship.
1500 orders in 1 week with zero marketing on her part…
…and the idea was proven.
I did the same thing earlier this year when I decided that I’d have enough of “online courses” but not enough of virtual training and created our Virtual Planning Retreats.
Online courses weren’t getting the results customers wanted (or that I wanted) because of the very way they were structured–so I “fixed it.”
I thought about the specific people I care the most about (you) and I created the Virtual Planning Retreat to “fix” the online course experience for you.
(By the way, the next one is February 22-23 and if you’d like to see if it’s for you, I’ve got a 4-video training series that walks you through the big reasons you’re not making the money you’d like to be right now.)
Last week, I talked with both Joanna Wiebe and Nathalie Lussier who have both launched software products in crowded spaces and they echoed the same strategy:
Find out what’s broken for the specific people you care about and fix it.
Don’t worry that your product is one of many in a crowded market, if it’s designed with for a customer who isn’t satisfied with the existing options–no matter how many there might be–you’ll have a winner on your hands.
Think about your own market:
What do you hear about being “broken?”
What do your customers have to “make work” for them?
What disappoints them about existing options?
The answers to those questions could be the key to your next blockbuster offer.
It’s tempting to think that “lucking” into explosive growth is all that’s standing between you and the lifestyle you dream of as a small business owner.
All you need is a tap on the shoulder from a big influencer, or a blog post that goes viral, or a product you create to appear on Oprah. But explosive growth is often uglier than it is exciting or lucrative.
When Emily realized that the Valentine’s Day cards that were on the market didn’t really reflect the relationships many people found themselves in (ya know, dating–sorta–but only if that’s okay with you), she decided to try her hand at producing an alternative.
It said, “I know we’re not, like, together or anything but it just felt weird to just not say anything so I got you this card. It’s not a big deal. It doesn’t really mean anything. There isn’t even a heart on it. So basically it’s a card saying hi. Forget it.”
Etsy–kingmaker for independent designers and makers–put it on their Facebook page and Emily was inundated with orders. She received a whopping 1700 orders in 1 week and had to refuse to sell more.
What would YOU do if you received 1700 orders for your product overnight? Could you fulfill them? Do you have the customer support to keep everyone happy and informed?
It would be easy to say that Emily’s success was a fluke, a stroke of luck.
But Emily tapped into a key strategy for product design.
“I was really focusing on what I didn’t see versus what I was seeing and what I was seeing done successfully.”
Whenever you’re trying to “get creative” about what you’re going to bring to market, when you’re trying to innovate on something as ubiquitous as a greeting card (or an online course, a coaching package, a wedding photography package, or a t-shirt), you might think the best plan is to shut off the internet, go into a cave, and wait until lightening strikes.
Emily had the opposite approach.
As a former creative director, she knew the best way to create something new and remarkable was to really look at the market. By examining what else was available, she started to see the hole–the opportunity–where there was great need.
It wasn’t luck.
It was a process.
And because Emily had a process for tapping into the market with her products, explosive growth didn’t stop with that one card. Emily created a line of 40 cards she presented at the National Stationery Show and received an order from Urban Outfitters.
Each time she’s experienced that kind of explosive growth, she’s had to figure out how to make things work… even as what she knows might feel like it’s crumbling around her.
Now, her company’s mission is to identify universal emotional truths and observations on being human and turn them into products that help people feel understood.
Emily and I talk about the other side of explosive business growth. We talk about what went on behind the scenes when her very first greeting card design went viral and sold 1700 units in one week. We also discuss how things have evolved from landing a big order for Urban Outfitters at her first trade show to licensing the production of her gift line to another company.
Click here to listen on iTunes and, while you’re there, be sure to subscribe & leave us a 5-star review.
And, find Emily’s new book, There is No Good Card for This, on Amazon.
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When it comes to networking, I’m a little intense. I’ve actually reserved every Wednesday at 3pm for a meeting with a close friend or a new stranger who I’m interested in meeting. So I literally email, Facebook, or Instagram someone who I think is doing something interesting.
— Justin Shiels, marketer, speaker, and community builder
This week’s Profit. Power. Pursuit. guest is Justin Shiels the founder of This Creative Lab and Curious Tribe. Justin has over 9 years experience in communications, marketing, and graphic design. He uses his passion for community and his hometown of New Orleans to fuel his work. In 2014 Justin cofounded Venture Pop, a conference for creative entrepreneurs.
Justin and I talk about the power of nurturing relationships, the specific tactics he uses to connect with new people, and his value of diversity in building creative communities.
A Simple Networking Tactic Even You Can Use Every Day
Aside from his weekly standing meetings to get to know new people, Justin also recommends a networking tactic (oy, that sounds so cold and impersonal for such a friendly thing) for staying in touch with the people he meets. I’ve been trying to implement this networking tactic myself all year–and it’s panned out beautifully.
The process is simple:
If you read something, see something, hear something, or think something that reminds you of someone you know, let them know. Don’t let the thought pass and wonder why you haven’t talked to them in forever.
Drop them an email, text them, post on their Facebook wall…
…heck, pick up the phone and call them!
Share the thought, article, or video that made you think of them and tell them why. That’s it!
These small gestures–whether you actually reconnect with the person or not–puts you (and your business, mission, movement, ideas, etc…) back on the top-of-mind for the person you just thought of.
It’s a little thing that can have big results.
Take Action Now
In fact, why not give it a try right now.
Who do you know who is a natural relationship-builder? An authentic networker? A consummate community-wrangler?
Let them know what Justin’s interview made you think of them. Tell them how much you appreciate their curiosity, friendliness, and openness.
Love this episode? Subscribe on iTunes and while you’re there, leave us a review, too! It helps us reach more smart & ambitious small business owners like you.
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I’m pretty lucky that my job isn’t just to build my business but to watch businesses being built. And from my perch in the online business market, I see a lot of lies about building businesses.
Some are obvious. Others… are more pernicious.
Many lies are distortions of truths that have been passed along in a sort of entrepreneurial game of telephone. These are the ones I find most damaging.
What you’ll find below are 4 of the lies–most definitely grounded in some truth–that are stifling the prospects of businesses left and right.
Lie #1: Your most important goal is to build your list.
A few years ago, there was a major shift in the community of people building businesses in the wake of the rise of social media.
They realized that social media—on its own—wasn’t going to produce the financial results they were looking for. The platforms got more crowded, it got harder to earn attention, and followers became elusive.
There was no way to predict whether anyone would see your message—let alone click or buy.
What was working was email marketing—as it has since it was created—and savvier new marketers started to put more and more energy into ushering new people onto their email lists.
They found people who were interested in what they were offering, signed them up to “the list” for free, nurtured their blossoming relationships with content, and then made an offer.
Money was made.
A mantra was born: The money is in the list.
By the way: I’ve been–unintentionally–as guilty as almost anyone of perpetuating this lie.
Soon, everyone was talking about list-building. List-building, list-building, list-building.
There were list-building challenges, courses on how to get your first 1,000 subscribers, webinars on how to turn Instagram followers into email subscribers…
Everywhere you looked, someone had an answer for your list-building problem.
Only… you never had a list-building problem.
List-building isn’t the real goal of any business.
Finding customers is the goal.
Attracting people who want to buy from you is the goal.
List-building be damned.
As you think about your email list moving forward, remember that your goal is to fill it with potential customers, not just to add to the numbers on MailChimp or ConvertKit or Infusionsoft.
There might be a hot new “list-building” tactic out there and it may potentially add hundreds or thousands to your list but that doesn’t mean it will add new customers.
Be intentional, think socially, and grow your audience with purpose this year.
Lie #2: If you can’t scale, you can’t succeed.
Tech startups, software-as-a-service companies, and of course, online education businesses are all the rage.
All around you, you hear about the promise of scale: serving hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people with the same amount of work you use to serve one.
Scale is awesome. And, yes, the internet makes scale more accessible than ever before. But it’s not the end game for every business.
Businesses have been succeeding and making their owners millions of dollars without scale for the entire history of capitalism. Think about advertising agencies, construction companies, hospitals, and architecture firms.
Certainly, building this type of business is a challenge in and of itself. But if you have strong values for personalized service, bespoke results, and deep experiences, this is the growth path you should be on.
You don’t need to build an online course to grow a successful business. You don’t need to create an app. You don’t need to build a media site that tallies their visits in the millions. Those are all viable models—but they’re not the only model.
Lie #3: You have to work harder to make more money.
Now, this is a tricky one. Because it’s a lie that seems to have been debunked early in the rise of the New Economy.
However, for those of us with working class upbringings or ingrained Protestant work ethic (and I’m sure for many others too), this lie dies hard.
In a virtual planning retreat, I facilitated last week, several of participants expressed concern that their new, bigger goals would mean that they’d have to work really hard to reach them.
They were signed up for this event specifically to create a plan that would allow them to work less and earn more. And yet, they still struggled to get past this mental block.
As I’ve written many times this year, the main difference between a business that earns 5 or 6 figures and a business that earns 7 figures is not the work ethic or schedule of the owner. It’s a matter of design.
Design your business to produce more with the effort you’re already giving it. Change your behavior, don’t do more of the same. Build creative solutions instead of working harder. Adjust what you’re offering to produce the results you want, don’t pile on more, more, more.
Lie #4: Learn first, then do.
Having access to a wealth of information both free and paid is fantastic.
My pre-2003 self is still amazed at how effortlessly I can access news, opinion, education, and tutorials on any subject.
This wealth of information at our fingertips has created a strong culture of learning and exploration online. In many ways, this is extremely positive.
However, that learning and exploration culture can also prevent many people from taking action. There’s extreme FOMO when it comes to new ideas, new tactics, and new trends:
If you don’t learn something because you’re off doing something, someone else might learn it first.
The truth is that learning doesn’t actually happen until you do something.
All those courses you’ve taken, blog posts you’ve read, podcasts you’ve listened to, and coaches you’ve hired haven’t actually taught you anything until you put their teaching to use.
That’s just how learning works.
Keep investing your time and money in learning, but take action before you’re ready and as part of the learning process—not something that happens later.
(This 4th lie inspired by Mary Ann Clements, founder of Jijaze.)
The most important truth you can take with you into 2017:
Critically examining what you perceive to be your limitations never fails.
If you bump up against an obstacle time and time again, it will always pay to ask yourself why you’re bumping up against it and how you can get around it or over it instead of pushing through it.
Transcript, edited for readability:
Over the course of this year, I’ve noticed something happening with a lot of small business owners like you. Even I haven’t been immune from this problem as my business has grown and grown.
That problem… is overcomplicating things on the path to success.
This problem shows up in a lot of different ways:
You might be stuck in analysis paralysis… not sure which way to go.
You might feel spread thin… trying to do a little bit of everything to figure out what is going to stick.
You might be nearing burn out and just trying to keep it together.
Or, you might be excitedly planning for the next phase of your business and oblivious to how difficult you’re making things for yourself.
There are 2 main reasons this problem crops up in the first place:
1) You work forwards instead of backward.
You’ve got a new goal and you’re ready to build on the success you’ve already had (whether that’s the decision to start your business in the first place or a long track record of making things happen). You start with what you’ve already got and look to add on to that.
And you add and add until your goal is in sight.
That’s working forwards. And it makes sense… but…
When you word forwards toward your goal, you layer idea on top of idea, or solution on top of solution.
You say, “I’ll work with 10 private coaching clients. Then I need to sell 100 courses. Then I’ll sell 500 books.”
You just keep adding things on until you reach your goal.
This creates a complicated and nearly impossible-to-follow plan.
When you work backward, you start with a goal and ask yourself, “What’s the fastest, simplest way I could reach my goal?”
You might discover that it’s by simply taking on 15 private coaching clients with a 50% price increase, which people will happily pay because your attention isn’t divided between them and trying to make your complicated plan happen.
Or, you might discover that it’s by simply selling 200 courses and putting all your attention on making your sales process as effective as possible, something you have time to do because you aren’t also seeing 10 private clients.
That’s not to say that multiple streams of revenue are bad or wrong. It’s just that layer upon layer, complication upon complication, in the service of hitting some far off goal isn’t going to get you where you want to go.
Focus your plan by working backward from what you want to achieve and keep it as simple as possible.
The other reason this problem occurs is:
2) You set incremental goals instead of exponential goals.
And that brings me to a personal story:
When my partner Sean and I moved back to Pennsylvania a year ago, he quit his job to pursue his creative interests including fiction writing.
He’d dabbled in writing for quite some time, working on character development or penning short vignettes, but he’d never devoted himself to it. He couldn’t find the discipline to take a single idea from start to finish.
And he knew that no matter how many days he worked on character development or short vignettes, he wasn’t going to end up with a completed novel until he changed the way he was approaching the whole pursuit.
So he gave himself a massive challenge…
…he decided to tackle NaNoWriMo.
If you’re not familiar, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month and it happens every November, right alongside No Shave November (for which he is also a faithful participant). The goal is to write approximately 1650 words every day of the month so that you end the month with a 50,000-word manuscript.
You do it knowing full well that the manuscript will likely be terrible…
…but at least it will be done.
This was going to be a real test: going from a scant 100-200 words per day to 1650 words per day? How could he manage it?
Well, he did. He actually finished early and proudly printed off the entire 50,000+ word manuscript on November 30, 2015.
The reason he accomplished it was simple…
He made structural changes to the way he approached writing. He was no longer just trying to get in some writing 100-200 words at a time, he structured his day around achieving the necessary 1600 words.
It wasn’t a matter of time or hustle. It was a matter of design:
- He stopped writing in a notebook and started writing in a Google Doc.
- He stopped writing at the pub and started writing in an office.
- He stopped putting it off til the end of the day and started prioritizing the action first thing.
- He stopped second-guessing every artistic choice he made and started moving through the plot bit by bit.
These 4 simple changes meant that he octupled his production in largely the same amount of time he was spending on writing before. Not only that, but he actually set a goal and reached it.
He could have forced himself to sit and work on character development and tiny plot points a few more hours a week, hoping that the extra work would eventually see his novel finished.
But that would have never worked.
It’s the same way with your business.
When you set a goal that’s just incrementally higher (maybe 10%, 20%, or even 50%), your brain automatically thinks that doing more will get you there. You’ll add photographing one more wedding to your schedule, you’ll work harder at building your list, you’ll pump out 2 more websites, you’ll sell a few more courses…
How long will you be able to keep that up?
How tired are you already?
The only way past this is to set a goal so much higher than what you’ve done before that you’re forced to consider an entirely new way of doing things, just like Sean.
You stop adding more clients, you stop building new content upgrades, you stop jamming more webinars into your schedule, and you look at the way your business is fundamentally structured.
Then, you can work backward and find the fastest, simplest way to this amazing new goal.
Now, let’s tackle two listener questions and apply this to their situation.
First up is Yvonne Radley.
Yvonne has a niche publicity and coaching practice for fitness and wellness business owners. She’s found success with a small email list but she’s looking to ramp up and break into new markets next year. Her best list-builder to date has been an email challenge she’s been running for 4 years.
So now she wants to know:
“What else can I do to grow my email list and break into new markets?”
Yvonne’s question is one that I’m sure is on a lot of minds for next year.
And our “fastest, simplest way” philosophy is going to come in handy.
First, realize that “list-building” has become a monster as a marketing mantra.
About 2 years ago, once every finally realized they weren’t going to be able to build their businesses with social media alone, the gurus started talking about list-building.
List-building, list-building, list-building.
And… everyone forgot that the goal isn’t to build your list.
The goal is to find the right people to become customers of your business.
You heard me: the goal isn’t to build your list.
Instead, you need to be 100% focused on finding the right people to become customers.
You don’t need to have tens or hundreds of thousands of people on your list to have a million dollar business.
So… what’s the fastest, simplest way to find the right people to become customers of your business?
It sounds like Yvonne already knows: it’s this challenge that she’s been running for 4 years.
I would look for ways to amplify that, to spread that challenge into new segments of her market. And I would do that 2 main ways:
1) By tapping into the people who have already gone through the challenge and asking them to share.
Her existing list is going to be a huge help in growing her audience. Craft a campaign specifically around re-engaging these people and asking them to share the wealth with their friends and family.
At this point, I’d also look for technology that can help to simplify this: a referral system, viral marketing campaign software, etc… She should be rewarding people (even if it’s just with a “thank you” email) as people refer their friends and she should be making it as easy as possible for them to do it.
2) Paid Advertising
When you have something that you know works to turn interested people into buyers, it’s time to invest in advertising and then look for ways to scale the campaign once it’s working. Plus, since Yvonne has her customer defined soooooo well, she’ll be able to target them easily and speak to them directly—which makes any advertising campaign much more effective.
I’d start by advertising some really great content related to the challenge: a video, a blog post, even a few photos. Build general awareness about your brand and the value it provides.
Then, I’d advertise the challenge itself.
You can even run a concurrent ad to the people who have done it in the past asking them to share it with their friends!
Finally, I’d use advertising to ensure the people who are signed up are actually consuming the content you’re sending them and following up on your pitch!
If Yvonne invests all her audience-growing energy into that 2-fold strategy, she should have a great chance at both building her list and finding the right people to buy.
Our second question comes from Michael, who’s just starting his business and wants to know how to set goals.
“As a new business owner, at what interval should I be setting goals and how often should I be reevaluating them?”
At Quiet Power Strategy, we do goal setting a little differently—and you guessed it, one of the big reasons is because I like to simplify and keep things focused.
So I ask clients to choose a Chief Initiative—the main driver of their activity for a period of time, generally 3, 6, or 12 months. That Chief Initiative is the core focus and single goal for that length of time. It’s the 1 thing you want to have created or accomplished in that time frame.
For a new business owner or even an established business owner who is looking to make some big changes, I recommend a 3-month Chief Initiative.
For Michael, that might mean securing 4 client contracts in the first 3 months of next year.
In order to do that, he’ll need to accomplish some supporting things as well. I call these Projects. Your Chief Initiative might have 3 Projects, it might have 10.
Michael will identify each of these Projects, things like completing his website, contacting warm leads, or creating a proposal template. Then, he’ll make a list of the actions he needs to complete for each Project.
Each of those Projects needs to have a definitive milestone or metric associated with them so you can measure their completion.
Finally, Michael should complete a pre-mortem for his Chief Initiative. All that means is brainstorming all the ways his plan could go wrong… and putting new actions or safeguards in his plan to keep those things from happening.
He can then work in 3-month blocks throughout the year to keep the business growing and keep him and Elizabeth feeling focused and productive.
If you’d like to dive deeper into this goal-setting technique and the idea of working backward instead of forwards, check out Episode 47 of Profit Power Pursuit, called Lead Yourself Backwards.
Plus, there’s more good goal-setting advice in Episode 28 Microplanning for Success with Natalie MacNeil and Episode 25 How to Focus & Get Stuff Done with Pam Slim.
That’ll do it for this episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit. Remember to keep things simple, work backward, and set exponentially higher goals as you plan for next year.
Next week, I’ll be back with another listener-inspired episode so keep your questions coming! Simply write or record your question and email it to email@example.com. Remember to include your name, what you do, and where we can find you online so that I can give you a shout out!
If you loved this episode or any of the 60 deep dives we’ve done with successful small business owners over the last year, please subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.