10 Digital Small Business Trends For 2018

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.

1. Transparency

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?

2. Personalization

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.

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?

4. Consolidation

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?

5. Conflagration

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?

7. Reorganization

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 cultureBusiness 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?

9. Inclusion

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?

10. Profitability

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.


 
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7 Top Small Business Owners Share The Surprising Things They’ve Learned About Their Businesses

What is one thing you thought you knew about your business but later found out you were wrong about?

One of the podcasts I listen to regularly is Make Me Smart. It’s from the folks who produce public radio’s Marketplace. Their goal is to demystify the news, trends, and idiosyncrasies around business, the economy, and the financial markets. As they do this, they get to interview fascinating entrepreneurs, thinkers, politicians, analysts, and economists. Each week they ask one of these folks their “make me smart” question:

What is one thing you thought you knew but later found out you were wrong about?

The answers vary from quite personal to philosophical to professional. Some are quite focused, others wide reaching. Each answer has its own nugget of wisdom and an opportunity to apply it personally.

As we start to look toward the end of 2017, I thought it would be fun to ask former Profit. Power. Pursuit. guests to reflect on our own version of the question:

What’s one thing you thought you knew about your business but later found out you were wrong about?

We got back seven great answers. My guess? Each of these smart entrepreneurs will give you something to chew on as they reveal some of the surprising things they’ve learned about their business over the year. Keep listening and you’ll hear from Arianne Foulks, founder of Aeolidia, Anna Guest-Jelley, founder of Curvy Yoga, Andrea Owen, author of How to Stop Feeling Like Shit, Parker Stevenson, co-founder of Evolved Finance, Joanna Penn, author of How to Make a Living With Your Writing, Rebecca Tracey, founder of The Uncaged Life, Sue B. Zimmerman, creator of Ready Set Gram, and Shawn Fink, founder of the Abundant Mama Project.

You’ll hear their surprising lessons on management, scaling a business, marketing and sales, product development, and more.

Once you’ve listened (or read the transcript below), I’d love to hear from you. What’s one thing you thought you knew about your business but later found out you were wrong about? Tag me on Twitter or Instagram. I’m @taragentile on both places and let me know. I’ll share my favorite answers on social media.

And now, the surprising things top entrepreneurs have learned about their businesses:

Andrea Owen

I am a life coach, mentor, and author. I help smart women who struggle in the areas of perfectionism and isolation and numbing out, and I help them create a life of courage and confidence instead.

The one thing that I thought I knew about my business but later realized wasn’t true…

The word that first came to me was childish. When I started my business, I was fresh out of life coaching school. I went to college for exercise physiology and I also at the time was a certified personal trainer, and I wanted to meld together the worlds of fitness and wellness and life coaching.

A couple of things that I thought that I knew. First, I thought it was going to be easy. You know when you’re fresh out of training and it was this thing that you’re passionate about, you can’t fathom why the rest of the world doesn’t think so. I didn’t think I would need to sell. I didn’t think I would need to convince and persuade people that what I had to offer was valuable. I was under the assumption of, “Build it and they will come.”

That came as a bit of a slap in the face. I really just did not understand why everybody was not on board with this. This was a business, and that was the part that I was kind of embarrassed of that I didn’t realize from the beginning. I can’t believe that I didn’t know I was going to have to learn to sell. I also can’t believe that I didn’t realize I was going to have to learn to run a business. I thought it was going to be easy. That’s what I thought. I thought it was going to be simple and uncomplicated, that people would just line up to be my clients and take my courses, and that was that.

I was sorely mistaken. It’s not that it’s been just terrible and so hard and challenging. It has had its bad days, but it’s also had its great days. But it has had its trials and tribulations, and it’s been a labor of love. That’s the thing that I thought I knew about my business but later realized wasn’t true, that it was going to just happen.

Anna Guest-Jelley

I am the founder of Curvy Yoga, which is body-affirming yoga for people of all shapes and sizes.

One thing that I thought I knew about my business but later realized wasn’t true was that I thought my business needed to be as big as it possibly could be.

So if an invitation or an opportunity came my way, I thought, “I have to jump on this.” I thought I should build as big of a team as I could. I thought I should earn as much money as I could. So I started doing those things. I built a team, I developed a bunch of products, I opened a brick and mortar studio, and on and on.

Of course, doing all of that took a ton of time and money, and I was constantly overwhelmed, very rarely present, which is kind of hilarious for a yoga teacher, too busy to see my friends, the list goes on. I actually had this one year where I did so much that people were constantly telling me how amazed they were and how they didn’t know how I did it all. And I didn’t really know either. And then one day I looked up and realized, oh. I know how. By building a life I don’t want. I got everything I thought I wanted in my business and I was miserable.

That big business model totally works for some people, but it’s not for me. Just as importantly, I built it using a bunch of innovation marketing techniques that weren’t me either. I never did anything, of course, that I thought was wrong or manipulative because I am so not about that, but I did do it by having a pretty constant presence on every social media platform, sending tons of emails, and that’s just not how I really wanna be communicating. Again, not a bad thing, but it’s not my thing.

Amy Puller has a great way of saying this. She says, “Good for them! Not for me.” And that has really been my biggest lesson in business, and it’s something that I think is an iterative process that evolves over time. What is good for me? What is good for my business? What is good for my community, students, customers? How do I take advice from others and weigh it against my own experience and knowing?

Other people do not know me or my business better than I do, and that was true even when I was starting out. The first several years of my business I spent a ton of money and time on courses, coaches, and loads more, and of course, some of that was extremely helpful. I didn’t have any experience running a business before starting my own, so I definitely had a lot to learn. But I later realized there was a pretty substantial difference between learning new information that you need and secretly, or not-so-secretly in my case, hoping someone else can sweep in and tell you the exact formula for success. When I look back on those really hectic years now, when more money was going out the door than in, I don’t regret any of them.

One of the things that I love about yoga is that it teaches us what it means to practice. Each day on the yoga mat is a new experience because the me that steps onto the mat this morning isn’t the same as yesterday, much less last year or the last decade. I believe that the same thing is true about business. It’s really a practice. The me back then couldn’t have known what the me now does, and I hope the same is true of the me of the future.

Joanna Penn

I’m a USA Today bestselling thriller author, and I also help authors sell more books and make a living from their writing.

What’s one thing you thought you knew about your business but later realized wasn’t true? It’s a classic mistake, but I thought I could scale my income by doing everything myself. You can pretty much brute force your way to low multi six figures by working really hard, but if you want to up your game creatively, financially, and reach more people, you need to think differently. If you feel like you’re working too hard for your money, then you’re also at this stage of the game.

It was actually Tara’s advice on Profit Power Pursuit that helped me realize that the design of a six-figure business was not the same as a multi six-figure or seven-figure business, so I needed to change my mindset and think more about leverage. My core business principle is to be location independent and have no employees, but I shifted my thinking around processes and outsourcing. Now I have a team of freelancers, virtual assistants, and co-writers who help me with various tasks so I can focus on what I do best, writing thrillers and dark fantasy as well as helping authors sell more books and make a living writing. I’ve now broken through that previous income barrier and continue to redesign parts of the business to make them more scalable and sustainable.

Parker Stevenson

I am a co-owner and partner at a business called Evolved Finance. Evolved Finance is a bookkeeping service and also business education company. So my business partners, Cory and Anna Whitaker, help me to run the service side of the business. We all have clients that we manage. We have a phenomenal bookkeeping team that does a lot of the bookkeeping work, and then Cory, myself, and Anna are on calls every month with each one of our clients to review their books, go over what’s going on with their businesses financially, and just offer any guidance or advice that we can provide based on our experience looking at the numbers. The other side of our business, we also do business education, we sell some courses and online products to help smaller online businesses take control of their money.

The one thing that I thought I knew about our business but later realized wasn’t true was that I thought I could do everything myself.

As I mentioned, Cory and I are both on calls every month, but we also have other duties that we manage. Cory manages really the CFO, COO side of the business, where he’s managing the operations. He is also managing all the financial aspects of our business while I’m managing more of our marketing and business development as well as most of our sales. So I felt like, you know what? I’m lucky to have a business partner. I’m lucky that Cory gets to manage part of the business that although I’m involved in, I’m not heavily involved in, just like he’s still involved in the marketing and business development, just not in a very deep level. But I thought, hey, I have a business partner, which is better than most. I should be able to do all this stuff.

The beginning of the month is pretty easy, but as we get into the second, third, and fourth weeks of every month, my schedule is really busy. So we developed these three really great products that we’re currently selling, these digital courses. They come with financial tools.

I was so excited to get these out to an audience, but what I realized that between having to develop content, having to send out weekly emails, having to actually develop the products ourselves, which luckily are done now, but that took a long time, trying to create our sales funnels and our marketing automation in order to support our new products, I quickly realized that I would not have enough time to learn everything I need to learn to do all this stuff quickly and effectively, and that’s a big piece of it. I think for me, we work with so many amazing online businesses. A lot of the clients that we have are people who are doing amazing things selling their digital products. Not all of them, but we do work with quite a few businesses that sell digital products.

So I think for me, I thought, hey, look at them. They’re doing it. I know what they’re doing. I understand the systems and the models from a general standpoint so I can put this into action in our own business. And what I realized is that unless I was willing to just drop all my clients, which just wasn’t an option, I was gonna have to get help.

We were gonna have to find somebody or some people to help us get the course part of our business, the digital product part of our business, up and running. I thought I was gonna do it and after all our products were finished and I started jumping in, I quickly realized there’s not enough hours in the day for me to do this and get it up and running quickly, cause that’s the other thing. I could technically do all the work if I wanted to, but it might take me two years before we really start making good money from all the work that I’ve put into creating these products.

That’s where I realized in order for Evolved Finance to be as successful as I think we know we can be, that we needed to invest in advertising and we needed to invest in people. And luckily because our service based business has done so well and we had some profit left over to invest back into the business, that’s been something we’ve been able to actually make happen and something I’ve been very excited about.

Rebecca Tracey

 I work with coaches and new servers based businesses who want to be able to work online, and I help them understand how to talk about their business and market it in a way that helps them have clients come to them instead of them having to go out and hunt for clients all the time.

What is the one thing that I thought I knew about my business but later realized wasn’t true? When I started my business in the early days, I really thought that I knew my audience. I thought I knew what they needed, I thought I knew what they wanted, and I created a whole wagon load of stuff for them. I wrote blog posts, I wrote free opt-ins, I wrote paid online courses, and it didn’t really work.

What I later realized and what I now know is that there’s a big gap between what I thought my people needed and what I was actually selling them. It doesn’t mean that the things I created weren’t right for them, but the way I was talking to them, the way that I was marketing them was filled with all kinds of my industry jargon, and there was a gap between what I was selling and what they were wanting to actually buy and pay for.

When I realized that and I was able to close that gap by going up and talking to customers, talking to clients, asking people questions and really listening to what they needed, I was able to really shift the language of what I was offering so it was more in line with what they thought they needed. So I ended up with more sales, more clients, more money in my pocket, which obviously is a good thing for business. Now that’s something that I do all the time that I know is working in my business and that I’m always listening to my clients after I work with them and before I work with them and really paying attention to what they need so I can be sure that the programs and the free opt-ins and the blog posts that I’m creating are exactly what they need and not just my interpretation or assumption of what I think that they need. And that’s the biggest change that I’ve made in my business that’s really helped me grow.

Sue B. Zimmerman

I teach business owners all over the world how to get more visibility online from telling their visual story, specifically using the power of Instagram.

The number one thing I thought I knew about my business, specifically this online business, but realized it just wasn’t true, was that I thought there was a formula to doing an online business, so that’s what I was taught when I first entered into this online education space. And I paid for those formulas. I paid to attend conferences, to listen to those formulas. I paid for someone to write an email sequence, follow-up sequence to a course I created, and I even invested in learning about speaking on stage as if there was a specific formula to go through once I was on stage.

And what I realized was that if I just showed up as my authentic self and embraced all the experiences that I had in my entrepreneurial life, which spans over 25 years, and I focused on my stories and my wisdom that I’ve had through the years of having so many business, and just rocked my personality and my character, that my business would grow and attract those people that I’m meant to be serving.

Because I really believe that it is your character, your experiences, and your stories that sell. When I say sell, I don’t mean that necessarily in an exchange from money, but they sell who you are and how you show up as long as you do it authentically. That’s the biggest lesson that I’ve learned since entering into this online space five years ago, and it’s pretty wild that you can literally be talking to anybody all over the world in seconds from using tools like Instagram stories and Facebook and Twitter and all the social platforms that are out there to help you really amplify your message and broadcast your gift, but ultimately your goal is to attract those people into an offer that helps them solve a problem so that you can nurture those relationships.

And so my biggest lesson in all this online space has been the power of nurturing true relationships and growing an authentic community who ultimately cares about each other more than themselves and growing and making this world just a happier, better place, and that’s pretty cool, and I feel really proud to be a part of that.

Shawn Fink

I’m a family wellness coach for busy moms around the world.

I would say is very much, very clearly for me, that I thought that my business needed to be like everybody else’s business and that I needed to do what everybody else was doing, and while I didn’t always just follow the crowd, I certainly always felt a sense of I’m not doing as well because. And what I realized was that all along I was really listening to my true self, my authentic self, which set me apart, but I didn’t know that in the beginning, so I spent a lot of time researching how to make my business like everybody else’s business, but really it was never supposed to be that way. I only later realized that I could have all along just been doing my own thing, and that would have been so refreshing and such a relief.

Arianne Foulks

I run Aeolidia, a web and graphic design studio that has been serving creative and design oriented shops since 2004. We work with a ton of awesome clients and I’ve learned a lot of amazing stuff from their projects and the work that we’ve done with them and just seeing how they’ve grown their businesses, and we are currently expanding our business into a second venture which is called the Ship Shape Collective, which is an online community and educational project for people who are working to grow their businesses up and get them to the next level. So you can learn what we’re doing there and check out our web design work as well at aeolidia.com. I hope you’ll join us.

I try to be really open-minded about my business, but there is definitely one time where I was dead wrong about what the right thing to do was. I started out Aeolidia as a freelance designer and developer, and I did every part of the business myself, of course. I managed the business, I marketed it, I designed websites, I developed websites, I did the customer service and the product management and kept up with the schedule and all that stuff.

As my business grew and I got more clients and got busier and I started hiring other designers, I could see that there was a potential that I would get too busy managing everybody else’s projects and not be able to do my own projects anymore, and that is something I really resisted. I told myself that I did not want to end up just being the boss because I had no desire to boss anybody around, for one, and second, I loved the work that I did and I loved being able to be creative and I didn’t want to lose that.

So of course, life got in the way and things changed, and not only did I have more designers and more clients and more projects and many projects to manage, but I started raising a family and I had two babies to take care of and I just did not have time to also be designing websites and working with my own clients.

So I temporarily shifted from the role of being the boss, but of course, we ended up with me just totally being the boss and me not doing web design projects anymore, and I have to say I’m really glad I don’t have to open up that blank white Photoshop screen and stare it down every day anymore.

But aside from that, I really love being the boss. Not to boss people around, but I love being able to come up with ideas but instead of them just staying on a to-do list somewhere, they actually go into production and turn into actual things, which is thrilling. And I love working with my team; they’re super talented. Every person that I hired to replace me in any of my roles is way better than I ever was at the job and it is a delight to watch them work.

And you know, it’s just fun having a group of people. When you’re just by yourself you can talk to your friends and family about what’s going on at work, but they don’t really care as much as you do. When you have a whole team that’s working together with you to achieve something that you all want to happen and you’re all interested in, it’s really fun to have a whole group to work with.

I’m 100% happy that I went ahead and ditched all my other jobs and went for the managing a business job. It’s really rewarding and it’s fun for me to do all the visionary stuff.


If you loved this episode, be sure to check out our interviews with each of today’s contributors: Arianne Foulks, Anna Guest-Jelley, Andrea Owen, Parker Stevenson, Joanna Penn, Rebecca Tracey, Sue B. Zimmerman, and Shawn Fink. You’ll find them in the archives along with over 100 other episodes of the nitty-gritty details of growing a small business in the new economy.

Next week we hear from former guests on another important subject: what’s working right now? 

Let’s face it, the market and the marketplace change on an almost daily basis. New technology, new questions, and new opportunities make themselves known every day. Our business has changed and evolved to rise to the occasion or they don’t, and they end up sputtering out. I asked former Profit Power Pursuit guests what’s working for them right now to grow their businesses. Check out their answers on next week’s episode.

In the meantime, don’t forget to tell me your answer to this week’s question. What’s one thing you thought you knew about your business but later found out you were wrong about? Tag me on Twitter or Instagram — @ taragentile — and let me know. Or, leave a response with your answer to the question on this post. I’ll share my favorite answers on social media.

What’s 1 thing you thought you knew about your business but later realized wasn’t true?


Small business owner: it’s time for some year-end reflection and planning! We’re hosting a virtual conference on December 13, 2017 to do exactly that.

Join CoCommercial today and enjoy exclusive access to this conference during your 30-day free trial. Plus, for each new member that joins, we’ll donate $10 to the Special Olympics, now through December 13.

Click here to start your free trial of CoCommercial, the fluff-free social network for small business owners!

How to Find Success In a Crowded Market: Fix What’s Broken for the People You Care About

How to launch a product in a crowded market

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.

Take Emily McDowell’s blockbuster success.

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).

The solution?

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 when I realized the way people consumed online courses about small business was broken. Business owners would jump from course to course, answering questions they didn’t really need to answer, but rarely taking real action and never filling in the gaps between courses with real support.

My answer? You don’t need more courses, you need more opportunities to get answers to the questions you have about growing your business any time of day or day of week. That’s why I created CoCommercial, the small business brain trust, where you can have honest conversations about what’s really working with people who have been there, done that, and are still doing it every day.

I “fixed” the problem with online business courses by creating a platform for entrepreneurs to help each other.

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.

Joanna realized that, despite Google Docs and Evernote being incredible tools for writing or collaboration, they lacked features that would make creating marketing content much, much easier for teams. She created Airstory to fix the problem–and people are thrilled.

Nathalie realized that the software business owners were using didn’t match up with the goals they had for their businesses. They were cobbling together solutions built for other industries and with different kinds of entrepreneurs in mind. Nathalie didn’t try to create something no one had seen before–she simply created solutions that worked for the business owners she was connected with on a daily basis–and AmbitionAlly was born.

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.

 

Why You Should Hire for Happiness

Why you should hire for happiness

Business owners get too hung up on titles when it comes to hiring.

“Who should I hire first, a VA or a social media person?” people often ask me.

The answer is neither.

Whether you’re on your first hire, your 10th hire, or your 100th hire, you should only look to hire people who would be insanely happy tackling the responsibilities you need help with.

That probably sounds like a pipe dream.

It’s not. 

I talked to Vanessa Van Edwards, a behavioral scientist whose recent work has focused on happiness, about engineering happy teams. She said that through “job crafting” you can help people experience happiness every single day.

Now, in our interview, she described this process as part of reorganizing and optimizing her existing team. 

But you can–and should–hire this way too.

The first step is to determine what responsibilities you need help with. Sometimes this means delegating work you’re already doing, sometimes this means assigning work that’s been going undone but could really move the needle on your business.

Next, take those responsibilities and organize them into a job description. Forget trying to assign a title to it at first. Definitely don’t assign responsibilities based on what you think a certain title or role should be doing.

Then, you can use the process Vanessa describes as job crafting to make clear who you’re looking for. Instead of just listing responsibilities, include qualifiers:

The ideal candidate would:

  • Feel happy making customers feel understood and taken care of–even when we make mistakes.
  • Feel masterful when it comes to spotting places we could improve our customer service procedures and creating solutions to those challenges.
  • Love to craft customer-focused communication and reach out to existing customers to offer them additional opportunities
  • Feel capable analyzing customer communication and surveys and provide recommendations to the leadership team.

Once you have your job description fleshed out, you can pass it around to friends. Ask them if they know people who are happy doing the things you’ve outlined–not just moderately capable. 

You might be surprised at the quality of people who would respond to such a job description who would never think of themselves as a VA, marketing assistant, customers service rep, or project manager.

Of course, if you don’t find people through your friends or network, you can post about the job publicly, email your list, or advertise the job locally.

How would your life–and your team–be different if you were surrounded by people doing things they loved?

Want more on job crafting and engineering a happy team? Definitely listen to this week’s episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit. with Vanessa.

Click here to listen to the episode or read the transcript.

Your Periodic Reminder That Perfectionism Doesn’t Pay

Your periodic reminder that perfectionism doesn't pay

One of my favorite books about business is a book on writing:

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

— Anne Lamott

When I think about the difference between people who love running their businesses–overtime, cash-flow crunches, warts and all–and people who worry, slog through, and ultimately start to give up…

…it’s this ability to give up on perfectionism and create a shitty first draft.

You see, great products or services rarely start off as polished, complete, or even especially spectacular.

It can be hard to remember that when you probably see other business owners launching polished, complete, spectacular, and seemingly perfect offers all around you.

What we all forget from time to time is the unpolished, incomplete, and sometimes lackluster work that goes into making something a blockbuster.

It’s that crappy, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants first attempt that puts the ball in motion.

The barrier to entry for a great product is much lower than it probably seems. You don’t need all the bells and whistles, the overwhelming launch plan, or the glamorous website to be well on your way to new product success.

Most importantly, you don’t actually know whether you have the makings of a great product or service until you’ve sold it.

So the faster you can take a new offer to market the better. The sooner you make your first sale, the greater your chances are of success.

The more you learn to enjoy and embrace this part of the process, the more you’ll love your business.

Take Marie Poulin and her success with both Digital Strategy School and her software product, Doki. Before Digital Strategy School was born, Marie frequented a number of Facebook groups where other web designers hung out. She often had answers to the questions they asked about their process, clients, and general business challenges.

Eventually, it dawned on her that she could fill in a lot of gaps for the designers who were looking to take their businesses to the next level. She made a post offering help in the form of a “beta version” of a program. The response was resounding. Digital Strategy School was born based on the questions, challenges, and needs of that initial group of people who expressed interest.

Their participation formed the curriculum. Their challenges created the system.

Similarly, Doki, a software program for building and selling online courses came from real discourse with potential customers. Marie, and her co-founder Ben Borowski, heard digital business owners griping about the problems with other software platforms. They weren’t designed to meet their needs and they were hard to use.

Marie and Ben designed Doki to meet these objections first. They didn’t try to make the software do everything it would eventually need to do. It aimed to take care of the things the people they were aiming to please really cared about. Everything else was secondary.

While Marie told me that they didn’t want to release a bad MVP–minimum viable product–but they did want to focus on the basics instead of the bells & whistles. 

You can set the bar lower if you focus on the right things.

No one wants to put out a product that is truly embarrassing. And you don’t want to deal with complaints about a product that you’ve merely slapped together.

Focus on the right things–fixing problems that exist in other products, meeting the exact needs of your target customers, building a product to achieve a particular outcome–instead of trying to impress yourself or anyone else with the perfection of your product. You’ll earn more, faster.

 

Urgency Isn’t a Tactic, It’s Natural… Here’s How to Use It

Here in Central Pennsylvania, it’s cicada season… and allergy season. I don’t normally have it too bad, but this year I’ve gone through some serious stretches of discomfort.

What do you do when you’re suffering from allergies?

You go to the pharmacy.

Natural urgency is the key to helping people understand why they need your product now.

Fun fact: I worked as a pharmacy technician in high school at a CVS. I loved that job.

At the pharmacy, you’ll find a whole aisle full of allergy medication. Some of it makes you sleepy, some keep you awake. Some of it lasts 4 hours, some lasts 24. Some are fancy brand names, some are generic.

There is absolutely no scarcity involved.

Pick from whatever you’d like.

And still… if you’re suffering from allergies, you won’t walk away from the hundreds of boxes in front of you without picking up one and putting it in your basket.

Why?

Urgency.

You see, there’s manufactured urgency and then there’s natural urgency.

I have a feeling that you think the only way to use urgency to sell more is to manufacture urgency–limit the number of spots in your program, add early bird discounts, utilize disappearing bonuses…

(Maybe you’re even envious of the people who run businesses in which they’re essentially selling something as essential as allergy medication.)

And sure, that can work.

But it’s also a bit over-played.

Tapping into natural urgency, though, is never over-played.

Creating urgency for your product or service isn’t about telling people there’s a limited time to buy. It’s not about how many seats are left in your workshop. It’s not about an early bird discount or an arbitrary deadline.

Urgency is about need.

If you want people to feel a sense of urgency for buying your product or service, you need to know why they need it now.

  • People don’t need things now because they’d might like to learn more about what you teach.
  • They don’t need things now because they’re pretty or you’re so excited about them.
  • They don’t need things because they’d like to speak their truth and connect with their inner spark.

Those aren’t the kind of things that would send them running to the store–so they’re not the kinds of things that get them clicking to your sales page.

People need what you’ve created now because they’re ending a 10-year relationship and want to be intentional about what they’re creating next.

They need it now because they’re sick and tired of opening their closets and not having a clue what to put on their bodies.

They need it now because they wake up every morning still feeling exhausted and they’re beyond ready to make a change.

They need it now because they’re completely over holding back their ideas in meetings and watching others take credit for their work.

Urgency is absolutely the key to selling more of what you’re putting out into the world.

But it’s not based on numbers or time. Sure, those things help people make a decision.

Ultimately, however, people buy now because they’ve reached a point of no return. They can’t help but search for a solution to their need and start using the one they find.

What’s going on in your customers’ lives that might make them need or want what you have to offer right now?

Then tell them you understand. Tell them the stories you know are playing out in their lives right now. Show them the vision you have for them and how your product will take them from the urgency their already feeling into a brand new day.

Create a sense of urgency by respecting your customers’ needs and they’ll respond by buying—now.

On Wednesday at 7pm EDT/4pm PDT, I’m hosting a special encore of my popular workshop on 3 Ways to Help People Buy More From You.

—> If you’d like more ways to tap into the reasons people naturally want to buy so you can earn more money and close more deals, click here to register.