“The only way I can earn more is to work more.”
That’s the realization that occurs at some point in the life of every coaching, consulting, writing, teaching, designing, or developing business. Sure, you can continue to raise your rates little by little, break into new markets and serve clients willing to pay more, and hone your skills so you can deliver more valuable outcomes… but at the end of the day, your pay is still based on the hours you put in.
Breaking the time-for-money trap has long been a topic of conversation inside the freelance and small business worlds. The universality of the experience of “topping out” your earning makes it fodder for gatekeepers to try to sell you the key to breaking the cycle, whether that’s developing online courses, blueprinting, or selling retainers.
It’s a problem that seems to be solved by changing your business model. But…
The answer to breaking out of the time-for-money trap isn’t to change your business model, it’s to change your identity.
Until you see yourself as someone new, someone who occupies a different role in your business and does something different to earn your keep, you will never fully break out of trading your precious time for a paycheck.
I used to manage a Borders Books & Music.
It was a fun job where I learned quite a bit about the challenges of running an organization. It was also incredibly stressful, as my tenure there coincided with the waning years of the company.
Ultimately, however, this job wasn’t a great use of my best skills. I’d gone to school for religious studies and music with a big emphasis on writing and communication.
When I became a mother after 5 years in retail management, I started thinking about other ways I could earn a living. My top goal was fulfilling, meaningful work that utilized my capabilities. I’d never had aspirations of earning even a median salary so enjoying my work was plenty.
I researched and researched and discovered the world of blogging, freelancing, and micro business. I’d actually started my first blog back in 2003 (oh, Xanga, I will never forget you) so it was an easy leap to see how earning money blogging would help me utilize my writing skills and create more meaningful work.
Six months into my journey blogging, I was off to the races. First I added a few hundred dollars to the family bottom line each month, then a few thousand. Soon, I was making more than my original full-time salary — and we still weren’t paying for childcare.
It was around this point that I realized I needed to change up my business model if I wanted to earn more.
And, boy, did I want to earn more…
I started teaching, coaching, and consulting.
I loved the creativity of my work and I relished my ability to move others to action with a blog post or an email. My little business earned more and more — and as it did, I realized that my goals were still small in comparison to others. I had so much farther I could go!
Now, the decision had to be made:
Was I going to continue coaching and consulting so that I could do this work that I loved?
Or, was I going to move fully into the role of business owner, manager, and entrepreneur?
This decision felt like a huge gamble.
It was the sure-thing versus a chance at something that could be even better, plus a much bigger payout.
Now, it would be a huge lie of omission to not tell you that this decision actually took years to be made — heck, it took years to fully realize that the decision had presented itself. Yet, it was the key decision I faced on my path forward.
To move on and continue exploring a path I had never dreamed of as a child — that of the entrepreneur & business owner — I needed to choose between work I knew I loved and the potential promise of running a business.
Sure, I’d been running a business all this time. But 90% of my time had been devoted to doing the work of the coach, consultant, educator, and writer. I could continue to grow in those capacities and increase both my revenue and impact — but only incrementally. As Breanne Dyck would say, I was my business instead of owning my business.
If I wanted to reach my increasingly expansive goals, I needed exponential growth and I needed to spend 90% of my time on running the business — not coaching, consulting, and writing.
Would I love running a business? Could I find the same flow, meaning, and fulfillment in becoming a CEO?
I decided I was willing to find out.
You don’t have to make the same choice.
You can continue to love doing the work of a coach, designer, consultant, developer, writer, educator, or practitioner. You can continue to level up your prices, your clients, your outcomes, and — ultimately — your payout little by little. You can even take steps toward more freedom by offering packages, outsourcing some work, or putting clients on retainer.
But your rewards will always be tied to your ability to work and produce results in the capacity others hire you for.
This is the key problem with all the time-for-money trap solutions that exist in the market today. Someone will gladly sell you the framework for scaling your coaching business with online courses but they don’t explain that — in doing so — you trade in your coach’s hat for a CEO’s hat (many of them don’t realize this tradeoff themselves). Someone else will gladly show you how to change your bespoke design offerings into a productized service but they don’t explain that — when you do — you trade in your designer’s hat for a manager’s hat.
Because most of us started small businesses to create more meaningful work for ourselves, our identities tend to be tied to our titles.
I am a coach. I am a designer. I am a developer.
Trading one hat for another can become a virtual existential crisis. Wading through this crisis is the only way to get to the other side — if the other side is where you want to go. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t functionally be both a designer and the founder of a design agency. You can’t functionally be both a coach and the CEO of an emerging training company.
While the work may overlap, your identity can not. You can try to hold the duality in place but you’ll always default to what is known and comfortable. You’ll forget you’re the founder, CEO, owner, manager. You’ll make decisions for yourself and not for the business.
Now, I say it’s virtually an existential crisis because, of course, you can always be a coach, a designer, a developer, a consultant. But, if you choose to truly break out of the time-for-money trap, that will no longer be your role in your business.
If that sounds awful, don’t do it! You can have a meaningful, thriving, lucrative business doing the work you love. You might not make much money in your sleep… but you’ll do just fine and be incredibly happy as long as you define your own success and don’t let the entrepreneurial gatekeepers shape your goals for you.
Are you still with me?
Are you willing to wade through this existential crisis and find a new role in your emerging company?
Kudos! Everything looks different from this side. Your budget, your schedule, your next steps. You’ll find you are comfortable with things that seemed impossible before (hiring help, letting others talk to your clients, divorcing your self from your brand, etc…). At the same time, you’ll find all sorts of old things that are now incredibly uncomfortable — and you’ll be okay with it.
You might even find that you love your new role even more than the old one.
When you don’t know what works, marketing your business feels like a gamble.
Each new article, email, social media post, podcast episode, or video feels like it could be a home run or it could be just another invisible effort to get your business seen.
To make matters worse, the instinctive response to not knowing what will work seems to be to try everything. You chase every new platform, tactic, or fad that bubbles to the surface.
But by the time you’ve had a chance to try the “hot new thing,” it’s stopped working and you’re back to square one.
Tactics, platforms, and fads don’t make for great marketing.
Instead, great marketing comes from an acute understanding of what makes your brand, your offer, and — yes — even you, the marketer, a standout. Great marketing spotlights your brand not because you’ve executed a particular tactic perfectly but because you’ve tapped into something bigger, deeper, and more meaningful.
When you stumble onto great marketing, it’s because you’ve accessed an inherent capacity for influence that every person has and every brand should have. The “trick” is discovering how to tap into that capacity over and over again so that you can create great marketing more consistently and earn more visibility for your brand.
Marketing is about visibility. Visibility is about power.
In his book, The Power Paradox, Dacher Keltner shines some light on how we can connect our brands and their missions to powerful marketing through the lens of how individuals gain power in groups. He writes that power is really the ability to influence others and make a difference in the world.
Brands need power and influence to woo the right group of people and change their lives (in big ways or small) through their products. In essence, your marketing is an effort to establish power in your community or marketplace. When people are paying attention to your marketing, they’re granting your business the power to influence them.
So, marketing and power go hand-in-hand. Which is why we, as marketers, need to pay attention to what Keltner discovered are the 5 ways to earn more power in any group. While we might assume that there are sneaky methods or coercive tactics at play, power (and visibility) is really the reward granted to those who practice a more subtle art form rooted in authenticity.
We have a deep cultural intuition that nice guys finish last, that one must step on others to rise in the ranks, and that acquiring power requires the cold-blooded dispensing of rivals and even allies. But nothing could [be] further from the truth.
Visibility and power are found at the intersection of authenticity and strategy.
The 5 non-obvious ways to earn power that Dacher outlines can become a guideline for 5 strategies for crafting marketing that earns visibility through authenticity. Instead of marketing on a whim or eschewing strategic action to just do your own thing, you can combine intention and planning with a truly personal approach.
You and your brand determine what works for you but you create a strategy so it’s no longer a gamble.
Let’s take a look at these 5 non-obvious ways to put your business in the spotlight and how each are being applied by other small business owners:
The first way to earn visibility is remaining open to new perspectives, feedback, and information. It requires genuine curiosity, creativity, and plenty of communication.
Jenn Giles Kemper, the founder of Sacred Ordinary Days, used Openness to fuel the launch of her latest liturgical year planner. She’s created a community around her brand and uses that community to solicit feedback and suggestions for making her line of planners better.
The company had its best day yet when it released its latest iteration. Jenn even received emails from people saying, ‘You really listened!’ They appreciated the honest and curious way that Jenn asked for feedback and responded with an overwhelming number of sales.
At CoCommercial, we invest heavily in Openness too. Unlike other social networks that are algorithm-based, we pride ourselves on being human-powered. Our community managers are paid to invite new members into the network, show them the ropes, and solicit feedback. We could automate more of this process and reduce cost but the human touch means that we’re truly able to remain open to feedback and stay curious about ways to improve the experience for members. In turn, our members reward us by sharing the network with their friends and colleagues — meaning we earn the kind of word-of-mouth marketing that money just can’t buy.
Your turn: What can you do to incorporate curiosity into your brand or product marketing?
While certainly some brands and media outlets garner attention by riling up a frenzy, sustained visibility and influence comes from offering a sense of calm and a fresh perspective. Instead of syncing up with the latest freakout, your brand can represent a different way of looking at things.
The market rewards brands that don’t react frantically every time there’s a change or new challenge.
Take a look at Productive Flourishing founder Charlie Gilkey. While other business strategists flail around every time there’s a new hiccup in the marketplace, Charlie is calm, focused, and reliable. He consistently creates exceptional content that markets his sane approach to building a business in the 21st century.
In our marketing at CoCommercial, we provide an alternate Perspective by highlighting the real efforts of business owners who have been there, done that, and are still doing it every day. Instead of relying on experts or gurus — and the personality cults they create — we’re focused on distributed expertise.
We know there is no 1 expert who can have all the answers, so we shine a light on how different business owners handle different situations. We do this through the Help Yourself blog here on Medium and in a series of weekly live Help Yourself shows. This has been a great way for our members to find a safe-haven for discussion and alternative approaches to their pressing challenges.
Your turn: What are you willing to say or do that is counter to the current freak out?
Marketing that utilizes Kindness is cooperative. It draws others in, recognizes their contribution, and lifts them up. When you shine a light on others, your brand also shines.
Tanya Geisler, a women’s leadership coach and impostor complex expert, is one of the kindest people I know. But she’s also one of the kindest marketers I know.
Tanya’s first thought is always to spotlight others. So much so that when she wanted to develop a weekly live podcast, she named it “In The Spotlight With Tanya Geisler.” She talks to both influencers and clients about how they approach life in the spotlight, what holds them back from taking on a bigger role, and how they’re working to fulfill their personal missions. She regularly recognizes and amplifies their brilliance — and, in doing so, amplifies her own.
At CoCommercial, we take a similar approach. In keeping with our value for distributed expertise as I mentioned earlier, we highlight the stories of our members in weekly “I Am The New Economy” Member Features and use these same profiles throughout social media to earn attention from new potential members. We also crowdsource in-depth articles and workshops like this one on how Seth Godin (but really our members) taught me the importance of Constructive Encouragement.
Your turn: How can you shine a light on others?
Focused marketing is imbued with purpose. It is driven by your Why and executed with intention. We respect Focus because it gives us context and a sense of stability. Visibility emerges from Focus slowly but powerfully. Without Focus, earning sustainable attention is nearly impossible.
Communication Rebel founder Dr. Michelle Mazur is extremely focused on her audience. She knows they want to earn more paid speaking gigs and reach bigger audiences with their unique messages. Everything she does to market her business is based on their questions, challenges, and misconceptions about how to do just that.
She hosts a podcast called Rebel Speaker that addresses her audience’s hot topics little bit by little bit. She also does regular Facebook Live videos that take advantage of that same knowledge. Whenever she puts her brand in the spotlight, it’s with the same intense Focus that’s earned her higher and higher coaching fees over the last 3 years and kept her practice full.
Similarly, Budget Nerd founder Mark Butler is so focused that his marketing is almost entirely internal. He doesn’t feel the need to be plastering his message all over social media or even regularly blogging. He knows what his target client needs, what they want, and how to deliver it to them in a way that generates new clients. Word of mouth marketing from his existing clients drives the engine.
It’s easy to think that more, more, more is the answer to all of your marketing questions but Focus allows you to truly focus on less-but-better.
Your turn: What message are you willing to stick with for the long haul?
Dacher Keltner’s research on power makes one thing clear: enthusiasm is the #1 predictor of who receives influence and power in a group. It’s the same with your business. If you allow your brand to be ecstatically enthusiastic about what it’s all about, people will pay attention.
My husband always says, “I love to listen to anyone geek out about something they love.” Let that be a lesson for the way you market your business. Geek out, go on a rant, rave with excitement, follow an idea down the rabbit hole.
Pay attention to when your Enthusiasm makes you shine. Pay attention to when it makes your brand and business shine. Recreate that light as often as possible.
Sue B. Zimmerman, Instagram expert and social media educator, has an infectious personality. Her enthusiasm for marketing small businesses seems to know no bounds! She seamlessly channels that into Instagram, live video, and live events — and her audience has grown massively because of it.
Amanda Steinberg, founder & CEO of DailyWorth and WorthFM, has a fierce Enthusiasm driven by her mission to help women manage their money better. She’s relentless in her pursuit of learning, transformation, and better ways for engaging women on the topic of money. She’s used her Enthusiasm to find funding, break into the “boys’ club” of the financial world, amass over a million subscribers, and nurture relationships with major influencers.
L’Erin Alta, a spiritual guide for women in transition, has a soulful Enthusiasm. If you watch one of her videos or attend one of her events, you can’t help but be transfixed by her presence. L’Erin is conscious of her own power of Enthusiasm and channels that into soulful writing, a podcast, and videos that show her at her best. Her marketing is a beautiful blend of the authentic and strategic.
We’re enthusiastic at CoCommercial, too. We’re passionate about transforming today’s small business owners into tomorrow’s economic powerhouses. We have a vision for influencing public policy to better support freelancers, small business owners, and the self-employed. I talk about this mission as often as possible — though, possibly, not often enough — and, every time I do, we receive amazing comments, new referrals, and fresh perspectives inside our network.
Your turn: What message makes you shine?
It’s not the platform, the tactic, the frequency, or even the production value of the marketing you use that determines your success. Any “strategy” that starts there is bound to fail.
To put your brand & business in the spotlight, your strategy needs to start with authenticity grounded in openness, kindness, focus, perspective, and enthusiasm. Look back over the 5 questions I posed with each method and allow yourself to get creative about how you or your brand could show up and embody those qualities.
There is no right way to market your business, earn attention for your brand, or find the spotlight for your message.
There is only your way.
The world of small business in the online space is full of rapid change and here-today-gone-tomorrow opportunities.
If you can stay ahead of the trends, you’re more likely to keep yourself focused, build stronger systems into your business, and be more intentional about what you’re creating. It’s not a race — but it is a call for minding what’s going on around you.
Here, I’ve gathered 10 trends for which I see momentum building quickly in the digital small business world. I’ve chosen them based on my observation of hundreds of business owners at CoCommercial — the social network for digital small businesses that I run, over 45 business owner interviews from the past year for my podcast, Profit. Power. Pursuit., and conversations with movers & shakers in this space.
I’m defining digital small business as any small business which is powered (in whole or in part) by digital tools like social media, websites, online learning, video conferencing, etc… This includes coaching, consulting, design, development, online education, wellness, maker businesses, and more.
I stayed away from trends toward specific marketing or sales techniques, technology, or product development and, instead, focused on the structural shifts that are happening in our marketplace. I’ve ordered the trends by how confident I am that we will see them hit the mainstream by the end of 2018 — from most confident to least confident (with the ones I’m least confident in being the ones I’m most hopeful will come about).
The overarching trend — the one that ties all of these trends together — is one that many digital small business owners echoed as I gathered their input:
The market — and necessarily the businesses operating in it — is maturing.
As the market matures, it creates growing pains. Some business owners will realize their all-but-get-rich-quick-style businesses were never built to withstand changing market currents. Some will be forced out of their comfort zone to become much stronger leaders, executives, and managers. Others will close up shop.
These trends reflect the areas maturing business owners will need to contemplate in their year-end review and planning.
The world of small business online has been a fairly opaque one.
You get someone to sign up for an enticing free gift. You generously provide them with mountains of free content. You take them on a meandering journey that inches them closer and closer to wanting to buy.
Then, pounce! Activate full-throttled sales plan.
There is actually a lot of good in this way of marketing. You create value before you ever ask for a sale. You educate, inspire, and entertain. You answer questions and explore new possibilities.
But we’re starting to see the market diverge into two camps: those who want everything for free and those who just want to know what you’re selling so they can cut to the chase and buy it.
I believe we’re likely to see sophisticated marketers using the best of launch marketing, affiliate marketing, and content marketing to both provide immense value for free and being very clear up front about what they’re selling. We saw glimmers of this over 2017 (i.e. Danielle LaPorte announced that she was promoting Marie Forleo’s B-School course at the beginning of the promotional period and offered her audience a way to opt-out of that promotion while remaining subscribed) but I expect it to really explode in 2018.
Transparency is not just a marketing trend, though. We’re likely to see much more transparency in branding in 2018, as well. Copywriter Hillary Weissputs it like this:
I feel like in some ways Martin Luther reincarnated has posted his grievances to the door of the Church of Marketing and people are nodding their heads.
I foresee a “reformation,” a step away from super opulent branding and shiny “saints” of industry and into more grassroots, in-the-trenches-with-you type of experiences. Less shiny, more transparency.
In order for transparent marketing to be in integrity, brands will have to get real, too.
Live video and the evolution of social platforms (like Instagram Stories) give brands a real opportunity to drop the pristine posts and share more of the behind-the-scenes.
The lack of transparency in this space has often come from an underlying belief that people don’t really want what’s being sold — and so a complicated dance is needed to woo them whether that’s with marketing, branding, or a sales conversation. As digital small business becomes more mainstream, founders need to get clear about the value they’re providing and be able to clearly communicate that to customers. If the customer doesn’t want to buy based on that value, the product is at fault — not the marketing.
Review: Does your potential customer actually know what you’re selling? Do they start paying attention with the intent to solve a problem (and buy your product)? How can your marketing and brand become more straightforward and transparent in 2018?
Customers are tired of one-size-fits-all solutions. They are actively looking for ways to customize what you’re offering to fit their unique needs.
While they might have valued price and conformity in the past, they are increasingly opting for more adaptable, higher-priced options.
Of course, personalization doesn’t need to be high-priced in 2018. It can be incredibly scaleable and accessible. One place I’m seeing this is in the rise of communities and membership sites. These products put the customer in the driver’s seat and allow them to adapt the experience to suit their needs. They take what they want and leave what they don’t need.
Gina Bianchini and the team at Mighty Networks have created a software platform that allows business owners is to create highly personalized experiences in the form of deep interest networks. At CoCommercial (built on Mighty Networks), our goal is to provide a steady stream of exclusive content, events, and conversations so that members can create a customized experience of the platform. As they do, their own realizations and questions bubble up in the form of member-generated content and conversations (their own posts) and they customize their experience even further.
Where do you go when you have a question about your business or an obstacle on the path to your goal? There’s a good…cocommercial.co
Online courses and workshops are becoming less about loads of content and more about what students can do with that content. Mastery and application is taking over for learning and understanding.
Review: How could you create a more personalized experience for your customers? What opportunities are there to guide a customized application or experience instead of forcing conformity?
3. High-touch Service
This might just be the year where founders figure out how to utilize the best of digital and the best of real human interactions. While there is a trend toward done-for-you or 1:1 services (more on that in a bit), High-touch Service doesn’t have to mean selling services or service packages.
Business coach Racheal Cook says, “I see a lot of people returning to in-person events and real conversations instead of just information products. People are overwhelmed by information — they want a real human to help them.”
You can sell an information product, SaaS app, or membership community and still provide a guide.
You can offer workshops and still provide a personalized experience. You can have an automated welcome sequence and still send personal follow-ups to new customers.
I believe 2018 will be the year where business owners are not just providing High-touch Service — but investing in it. That’s what we’ve done. We’re allocating more of our marketing budget to customer service and member experience so that our retention is higher and word of mouth marketing is stronger.
Similarly, Beautiful You Coaching Academy founder Julie Parker cites investing in her staff, Racheal cites taking the time for personalized welcome videos, copywriter Jamie Jensen cites going deeper and creating more intimate experiences. Each of these examples of High-touch Service require an investment of time, energy, and/or money. Budget for your own High-touch Service on your calendar or in your financial budget for 2018.
Review: How could you allocate a greater portion of your budget to High-touch Service? How can you provide a greater level of guidance while maintaining a light and lean approach? Where do you customers often get stuck and how could High-touch Service keep them moving forward?
With digital small business hitting the puberty stage, it’s time to turn gangly limbs and immature frames into mature, adult businesses. This will occur in a number of ways over 2018.
First, we’ll see more and more businesses eschewing the sort of “junk drawer business models” — willing to sell anything and be anything to accommodate their customers — they’ve been using and the insane marketing calendars they’ve been tied to. Content strategist Lacy Boggs says, “Less but better in allthings. By this I mean, launching less but doing more with what you do launch; writing fewer articles but making sure they really have an impact; running less advertising but getting super strategic with retargeting, etc…”
Instead, they’ll consolidate their offers into a core product and get crystal clear on the key value proposition they offer to their customers.
They’ll better define their boundaries and operate within them to improve their brands, positioning, and profitability. They’ll better understand why people buy and use that to their advantage to create more strategic — and less spray & pray — marketing.
Second, we’ll see more business owners and freelancers coming together in one consolidated company or offer. Charlie Gilkey believes we might even start to see small-scale “acquihires” — where one company buys another with the purpose of acquiring the talent as much as the technology or intellectual property.
I’ve seen this — and even participated in it! — as well in the small business space. There’s a huge opportunity to acquire the services of a subcontractor you work with frequently or a client who loves your mission and brings with them complementary skills. This allows for more hires on the value creation or delivery sides, not just on the administrative or financial sides, which frees you up to truly take the helm on your growing company.
Review: Where has your business gotten overly complicated or convoluted? How can you simplify to become more profitable in 2018? How could you strengthen your company by acquiring the skills of another business owner or freelancer?
Unfortunately, 2018 will be the year when a lot of small business owners try to burn it all down. Either they will close up shop or they’ll pivot away from something that’s working because the work becomes optimizing and tweaking instead of designing new things.
There’s growing worry in the digital small business world that the opportunity is over and it’s time to abandon ship.
Of course, this isn’t true.
Anywhere people gather, ask questions, and look for solutions there is an opportunity to do business. The cause of the distress is largely due to businesses being built with little to no foundation under them. They were able to capitalize on a trend or fad but, when faced with the prospect of creating more sustainable systems, they feel stuck and left behind.
Breanne Dyck, founder of MNIB Consulting, says, “those who have built a cash cow with no underlying business structures will be forced to either grow up and start acting like a real business, or face collapse.” Burning everything down is not the only recourse when things stop working the way you’re used to. You can also decide to create a more intentional, mature, and foundational business that can weather whatever storm it faces.
On the other hand, some business owners have built great products, solid systems, and reliable revenue engines. Unfortunately, the next steps can be mind-numbing. Jennifer Kem, a marketing & brand strategist shared:
As a wise mentor has said to me: “Making money is boring. But that’s how you make money.” I’m seeing people abandon sales funnels because they “didn’t work” — when what they need to do is optimize it more and get it back to their core offers.
Denise Duffield-Thomas, founder of Lucky Bitch and a veteran of the internet marketing industry, echoed this sentiment, “I’m definitely seeing a lot of businesses throw the baby out with the bathwater, or ditch awesome programs because they are bored, or because their list is stagnant they think ‘everyone’ has seen it.”
I’d go so far to say that many entrepreneurs — not strictly limited to online small business — create problems for themselves to solve which can amount to sabotaging products, team relationships, sales systems, and marketing engines all in the name of having something new and exciting to work on.
So while Conflagration is definitely a trend for 2018, I hope that, as a community, we look to put out the fires as quickly as possible. There are more options than abandoning a great idea or your baby business. Just because things get more challenging and demand a more mature approach doesn’t mean there isn’t a huge opportunity for you to create value and reap the rewards.
Review: If you’re feeling the need to burn things down, what would make you excited about your business again? What’s your favorite part of running the business (as opposed delivering your product)? What do you find creatively fulfilling about growing your company? When are you most likely to self-sabotage on the way to success?
6. Done For You
One place Conflagration has been valuable, though, is with business owners burning down group programs and online courses they never really loved. They realized that the best results — and most valuable outcomes — for their clients came when there was a personal guide and a well-managed process rather than a half-hearted attempt for customers to do it themselves. These small business owners are opting to go back to the individualized work they love and build out scaleable systems and teams — rather than solutions designed to scale infinitely.
Back in September, I talked with Dr. Michelle Mazur, a speech coach and the founder of Communication Rebel, about her choice to stop offering group programs for her speech coaching services and instead focus on clients who were willing to pay more to work with her now and work with her individually. She said business has never been better!
Laura Roeder, who successfully self-funded social media scheduling startup MeetEdgar after running a profitable training company, predicted that even software companies would get into the Done For You game more often. She said, “we just piloted a complete ‘done for you’ set-up package for MeetEdgar and it was a huge success. People are willing to pay thousands for the entire solution instead of just a piece of it.” Even back in 2015, Nathan Barry’s ConvertKit got me to switch email marketing providers with a Done For You offer.
When you combine the Done For You trend, the Consolidation trend, and the Reorganization (next) trend, you get a big move towards forming specialized agencies that walk clients from start to finish through the messy journey of web design, branding, marketing, and other services. The rise of more sophisticated and mature agencies also benefits from the Personalization and High-touch Service trends, too.
Review: When has a DIY approach really worked for your customers and when has it left them stuck? Where could you or your team be most useful with some hands-on help?
As the digital small business industry begins to mature, more founders are going to be looking to make their own organizations more mature as well. Instead of allowing themselves to be the linchpin that desperately holds everything together, they’ll look to hire a team that can truly support them and be devoted to the mission of the company. I wrote about my own experience with this in my end-of-year review.
Look for more businesses investing in full-time teams or part-time employees.
They’ll still be hiring specialists and contractors but only to complete particular projects or get the team up to speed on a new initiative.
With this reorganization comes a real need to spend time on establishing company culture. Business strategist Charlie Gilkey says to look for “more discussion of culture, mission, and values as they apply to micro businesses.”
As more small business owners creep towards burnout, the discussion around culture is going to feel less corporate and much more enticing. They’ll be dialing in how they work, how things get done, and how the team works together at a whole new level.
Charlie said in a recent podcast interview with me, “Everyone on our team knows how we work. That’s just how we do things here. … Showing up in the morning and knowing how we do things takes a lot of the meta work out of the process.” While you might feel a negative knee jerk reaction to setting policies and crafting procedures, Charlie knows it makes things easier on everyone. Part of Reorganization in 2018 might be sitting down to get the business intentionally organized for the first time.
Review: How is your company culture defined and communicated to team members? Does everyone on your team know what the unique strengths of your company are? Are policies and procedures clearly defined for recurring tasks?
8. Pop-up Learning
Education has been a huge opportunity for digital small business for at least the last 5 years. Over that time, it’s become more and more slick, polished, and professional. In keeping with the trends of Transparency & Personalization, I believe we’ll see a trend toward “pop-up” education in 2018.
Education and training companies will necessarily become more attune to the in-the-moment needs of their customers and create new ways to accommodate their questions.
Think half-day workshops, live courses, and in-person events designed to quickly immerse the learner in a new subject and give them what they need to move forward.
Plus, instead of lecture-style courses, these learning opportunities will be heavily application-oriented. The curricula will be light and flexible to give students plenty of time to play and experiment with new concepts. These experiences will also be highly interactive — with students either engaging directly with the instructor in smaller groups (think 25 instead 2500) or engaging with each other in an intentional structure (think a mastermind group or class section).
Review: Where do you see an opportunity to help your customers without the expense of developing a full-blown product? What questions have they been coming to you with that you can answer quickly with a hands-on learning session?
The past year has been one where many of us realized just how segregated our social and professional circles were both online and offline. Further, we are starting to realize how much the shiny personal brands both men and women have used to get ahead in the digital small business space have tapped into patriarchal norms and conventional white/straight/cis-gendered beauty standards.
While I don’t believe any (or, at least, many) of these brands have intentionally created hostile environments for LGBTQ, minority, or feminist followers nor used structural racism, sexism, or gender norms to their advantage, the reality is that they have.
Luckily, the conversation around true Inclusion is starting to happen in this space and I’ll readily admit that I am no expert or saint on it. But I do believe that every step towards seeing the problem and taking action on it is a step in the right direction.
True Inclusion means, of course, that social media posts of support are not enough.
The privileged of the entrepreneurial class — speaking as a white, straight, cis-gendered small business owner — need to step up and step out of our comfortable social circles and seek out colleagues, interviewees, employees, and mastermind buddies who come from different backgrounds and who look differently than we do. Diversity is an asset, as Desiree Adaway, Ericka Hines, and Jessica Fish would say.
I feel confident that the conversation around Inclusion will continue into 2018 and beyond. But I’m hopeful that a real trend toward doing something about it starts, too. My personal goal is to continue to seek out minority voices and experiences to include in articles, in our community, and in the events we host. I also plan to make a strategy for finding more minority candidates the next time we’re hiring.
Review: Is your own professional network only full of people who look like you? Where do you go to seek out people with different experiences and backgrounds? Is your brand inclusive of different backgrounds? What’s your plan for making people from different backgrounds feel comfortable and valued in your community?
We’ve been bombarded with monthly income reports, inflated revenue numbers, and ludicrous status symbols for far too long. As digital small businesses mature in 2018, so will their owners’ understanding of the financial matters of their businesses.
Instead of blindly chasing revenue, they’ll get critical about what is profitableinstead. The trend toward Profitability will create even more momentum behind Consolidation, Done For You, High-touch Service, and Reorganization. It’ll probably lead to a fair amount of Conflagration, too.
Amanda M Steinberg, founder of DailyWorth and WorthFM, predicts more business owners will be looking for “less revenue, more margin.” Sure, you can spend $3 to make $4 but there are often far simpler, more profitable ways to make $4 if you’re willing to settle for less top line revenue and more in your personal bank account.
Digital small business has largely been a culture of vanity metrics — likes, followers, email subscribers, members, and revenue — while arguably much more important metrics like profit get the short shrift. The focus has been on whatever makes you look good, not on what means you have a healthy, sustainable, mature business. Brenda Wilkins, a leadership and business consultant, says, “This is my #1 concern with much of online business dialogue — too much talk about revenue, launch numbers, ‘$____figure business’ etc… and no talk about margin, profit, cost of goods sold, debt ratios, etc…”
As the market matures and business owners become more sophisticated, the profile of Profitability will rise. We’ll see less talk of vanity metrics and more talk about what makes a business really work. We’ll see less business owners trying to build platforms with flashy numbers and more concrete value propositions. And if we don’t? We won’t be around long.
Review: Where have you focused on metrics that don’t lead to long-term sustainability? What could change about your business to make it more profitable? Where are you expending more energy than necessary for the returns you’re getting?
Nothing about these trends is new.
The digital small business trends of 2018 reflect natural cycles in the market — a coming and going that all markets and industries experience in one way or another.
This should be heartening for many people. The biggest movement in the industry next year won’t be a particular tactic or formula but, instead, a return to sound business principles.
In short, 2018 trends mean less to “keep up with” but more to wrestle with as your own business matures.
“The real workout starts when you want to stop.”
When I started running earlier this year, the idea of sticking with it for more than 2 or 3 minutes at a time seemed impossible. But quickly, my level of fitness improved so that 2 or 3 minutes seemed easy. Four or 5 minutes seemed challenging but totally doable.
When I past 5 minutes, something else started to kick in: my brain. My brain told me that I was bored. My brain told me I was tired. My brain told me my heart rate was too high, my ankles were too sore, or my hips were too tight.
I would quit — not because I needed to, but because I wanted to.
“The real workout starts when you want to stop.”
As every runner will tell you, it’s not becoming more fit that’s hard. What’s hard is training your brain to shut up and let you run.
Over the last 9 months, I’ve surpassed running for 10 minutes straight, then 20 minutes straight, and — just this week — I hit 30 minutes straight. When the workout was finished, I still had more run left in me.
As I’ve progressed, I’ve learned that the 10 minute mark is my do or die moment. I’m good to go for the first 4 minutes. At that point, I start thinking, “I don’t have to make it the whole way. It’ll be okay if I take a break.” The mental chatter gets louder and louder until it peaks around 10 minutes.
I just have to keep it together until then, one foot in front of the other. Once I’m past 10 minutes, the chatter quickly dies down, my muscles relax, and I start enjoying the run.
“The work starts when you want to stop.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about commitment and small business lately. My workout this morning reminded me of a common question I receive when I talk about “sticking with 1 thing” in your business:
How do I know when it’s actually time to quit?
The final time Meg said, “The workout starts when you want to stop,” this morning, I thought: I’m good for now — but what if I really should stop another time? How do I know?
Injury or illness could mean I need to stop pushing, stop telling my brain to take a chill pill, and stop putting one foot in front of the other in the future. So how do I know when to stop?
With our bodies, as with our businesses, short of a compound fracture or an empty bank account, there is no definitive time to stop. There are only degrees of risk you are able to tolerate and varying signals you are listening to.Ultimately, it’s an educated guess as to when it’s the right time to stop.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Nathan Barry, the founder of ConvertKit, about how he decided to stick with building his new software company — even when it seemed obvious that it was a failure. Hiten Shah told him that it was time to shut it down or decide to give it the time and attention it needed to succeed.
Nathan faced a crisis: stick with it or quit.
Ultimately, Nathan stuck with it and ConvertKit has grown into a darling of the bootstrapped SaaS industry. However, the method he used for getting to that point could help you decide if it is, indeed, time to quit.
He told me he asked himself 2 questions about his fledgling company:
Do I still want to be the CEO of a SaaS company as much as when I started down this path?
Have I given this company every possible chance to succeed?
Who you want to be matters as much (or more) as what you want to achieve.
Nathan’s first question might not, on the surface, seem relevant to your situation but the purpose of this question is to remind you that your actions transform you. Ideally, your actions transform you into the person you want to be.
Too often, business owners start down a path because of what they want to achieve (earning $100,000 per year, selling out their program, writing a book) and don’t consider how those actions will fundamentally change their identity. The problem with this is that you might realize, on the path to those goals, that you don’t want to become what those goals require of you.
I run because I want to be a powerful performer with endurance for miles — not simply to lose weight or win races. Those might be wonderful side effects — but my purpose is to become the person I want to be. I am in business to become an advocate for the New Economy and the independent workers who are creating it — not simply to make money or even build a great product. Again, wonderful side effects but not my core purpose.
If you’re considering quitting a project, giving up on a goal, or changing course in your business, consider whether you want to become the person that project, goal, or business requires you to become.
If you don’t want to be that person, quit now.
If you do, ask yourself what else you need to do to fully become that person?For instance, I realized that running wasn’t enough to become the powerful performer I wanted to be. I needed to add strength training, yoga, and climbing into my workout routines. Each of those actions make it easier to put one foot in front of the other when I am running.
You can quit when you’re truly out of options.
Assuming you do want to become the person you need to be to achieve your goals, the next step is to consider what other options are on the table.
At this point in our lives, we have a usual bag of tricks. We know what’s worked in the past and our first instinct is to go back to that over and over again. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But our usual bag of tricks will not solve every problem. It is not full of every option at our disposal.
With running, my usual bag of tricks only included stopping to walk for awhile. Eventually, I learned that interval training helped keep me interested in the workout. Finally, I added rhythmic breathing, targeted muscle relaxation, arm positioning, foot strike positioning, and more to my bag of tricks. Now when I’m sore, tired, or bored, I know exactly what to do to keep going.
Before you quit a project, goal, or direction for your business, you owe it to yourself and your mission to search out new options. Try something different (again and again and again). Talk to people with a completely different perspective, experience, background, and bag of tricks from yours.
The options you’re accustomed to using aren’t the only options available. New options might be uncomfortable but they just might get the job done.
Quitting is smart.
I’m the first to admit that knowing when to quit is one of the secrets of my own success. More often than not, I’ve realized that I don’t want what I thought I wanted — that achieving the goal means becoming someone I don’t want to become.
Quitting is a smart, acceptable course of action — but not until you’ve gotten very clear about why you’re quitting and what that means for your next steps. It takes work to figure that out and, when you do, you have more clarity about where you’re headed than you ever have before. Each time you quit is a chance to do the work of figuring out what’s next.
After all, the real work starts when you want to quit — even if you decide that’s the best thing to do.
The Nitty Gritty:
- How Cathryn and Allen came up with the idea for the 13-week SELF Journal (and how they use subscriptions within their business model)
- How they found manufacturers through Alibaba and why the BestSelf Co team focuses on community in conjunction with offering a high-quality product
- Why they used Kickstarter to validate the SELF Journal before starting the manufacturing process (and what their content marketing and promotion strategy looked like)
In this episode, Cathryn shares how they designed the journal and funded the manufacturing process. She also dives into the importance of pairing the SELF Journal with community — and how prioritizing customer feedback inspires smart updates to the journal that people actually want.
Want to hear even more smart conversations with small business owners? We release new episodes of Profit. Power. Pursuit. every week. Subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode.
How to find quality manufacturers
Figure out for yourself what you’re looking for. Describe it to them and show them pictures of what you’re trying to do. Then have them send samples of similar products that they make. If they’ve never made anything like that, there’s going to be another manufacturer that has.
— Cathryn Lavery
Once Cathryn and Allen designed their journal prototype inside a Moleskin, it was time to find manufacturers. They had a clear picture of what they wanted the journal to look and feel like, down to the outer material and the paper quality — now all they had to do was find a manufacturer that would meet their quality needs.
Cathryn recommends first figuring out what you want your product to look and feel like — then find a manufacturer who does what you need before requesting samples. Otherwise, she says, you’ll end up with a library of samples that don’t meet the minimum requirements for your product.
Why you should use Kickstarter to validate a new idea (and get feedback!)
We’re big believers in validating first. Kickstarter is a great way to build a product with your community. You show them the product you want to create. We gave backers a free PDF of what we were creating. People started using it during the campaign and we got feedback that made the product better by the time we went to produce it.
— Cathryn Lavery
The SELF Journal was fully funded within 28 hours of launching the Kickstarter campaign (and they’ve sold a quarter of a million journals since then!) Cathryn recommends running a Kickstarter campaign — especially if you’re creating a physical product that you aren’t sure people will want — before you place orders with your manufacturer.
And how smart was Cathryn and Allen for giving away PDFs? Not only so their community could start using the journal right away but also so they could provide insights to the BestSelf Co team for immediate improvements before the journal went to manufacturing.
How physical products and community go hand in hand
We put out a challenge at the start of every month: fill out your journal every day and post a picture of yourself or put it on social media. That way we can see that you’re doing it every day. If you do it every day, we give you a $10 Amazon gift card. We want them to get in the habit of using the journal. Then there’s more engagement in the community.
— Cathryn Lavery
If there’s anything that sets the SELF Journal apart from other productivity tools, it’s the community that actually uses the product consistently. But just like using any new tool (digital or physical), it takes discipline to form a new habit. To encourage customers to use the SELF Journal right away, Cathryn and Allen built a community around the practice of using the journal every day. By using the community in this way, they’re able to foster relationships and support between customers working towards the same goal.
They also ask customers to share photos of their journal because it encourages new and potential customers to make the journal their own. People don’t want to mess up their new, pretty journal — but they’re that much more likely to use their journal consistently if they see others using it too. As Cathryn says, “it doesn’t have to be pretty — it just has to work.” Yup.
Listen to the full episode with Cathryn Lavery to hear more about BestSelf Co, the SELF Journal, and how she and her team have created a community experience around a physical product.
The Nitty Gritty:
- Why Christina prices her contract templates on results (and how her pricing structure changed over the last two years.)
- How she found her niche of creatives, including calligraphers, photographers, wedding planners, and coaches (and what her surprising top-selling templates are.)
- How The Contract Shop’s Shopify metrics encouraged Christina to raise product pricing — and how that pricing change inspired her to add additional education to her products.
- Christina’s smart method for creating content that reaches customers at different stages of business.
On this episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit., Christina Scalera, IP lawyer and founder of The Contract Shop, shares how The Contract Shop started and how business evolved over the last few years by increasing prices, offering semi-annual sales, and creating solid informational content.
Want to hear even more smart conversations with small business owners? We release new episodes of Profit. Power. Pursuit every week. Subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode.
I was really, really, really scared every single time I raised the price — and nobody noticed. Nobody wrote me an email that was like ‘you raised the prices!’” But I was horrified because I was like ‘nobody’s going to buy now.
— Christina Scalera
Raising prices is scary — or is it? Pricing is all about experimentation and seeing what sticks. As Christina mentions in this episode, she raised prices multiple times — and every time, sales never slowed down. Now Christina’s at a point where she’s comfortable with her product prices — but it was a two-year journey to get where she is today.
Sales and incentives
I’m a big proponent of a twice-yearly sales system. There’s two reasons for that. One because it’s a massive revenue generator. It’s dependable. At 6 month intervals, it’s something that people can tolerate. Secondly, and more importantly, not everybody can afford our templates at the price they’re at.
— Christina Scalera
The Contract Shop’s products range between $17 for the perfect email checklist to $1,499 for a bundle of multiple vendor contract templates for wedding planners, with her most popular templates ringing in at $455. Christina realizes that not every potential customer can afford regular pricing for higher end products so every year, she runs two sales: one during the late spring/early summer and one during Black Friday. She also runs these sales as a recurring source of revenue.
I write blog posts in groups of 3. I write one to the core consumer and that’s usually the longer one. Then, I think about someone who’s a little more beginner — where are they at and what’s the issue they’re facing around this topic? Then I think about somebody who’s more advanced or has more years under their belt: what are they concerned about around the same topic?
— Christina Scalera
Christina cares about creating great content — and it pays off. “There’s zero trick: it’s just me being really passionate about writing and creating long blog posts,” she says.
So how does she create awesome content? She thinks about her topic and what each of her 3 customer types need to know. For example, they might want to know more about the client experience. The core customer wants to know how to create a great experience. The beginner customer wants to know how to find clients. The more advanced customer wants to know how to address client refunds. Ultimately, the end result is always to offer a contract to meet their needs.
Listen to the full episode with Christina Scalera to hear more about The Contract Shop, pricing changes and incentives, and behind the scenes of her content creation method.