What You Need to Know Before You Read Anything Else on “Marketing”

Everyone wants more marketing (read: promotional) ideas. As a blogger and strategist, it would be far easier for me to get clicks (and dollars) if I focused on how to get your big idea in front of more eyeballs.

But more often than not, when I sit down with a client, promotion is not the problem. She’s doing all the “right” things but it’s making little impact on her bottom line. And more importantly, it’s not impacting the people she wants to serve. That’s a lot of effort to pour into something that’s not putting anything back in her financial or emotional bank accounts.

Instead of focusing on promotional techniques, we check into her business model.

  • Is it set up to harness her strengths and the way her organization works best?
  • Is it compatible with the way her Most Valued Clients want to be served?
  • Does it address the whole customer and the way s/he naturally evolves?
  • Does it take into account the ebb & flow of the conversation the business & its customers participate in?

So, stop for a moment and check in with me here: Is promotion the problem? Or do you need a better model?

Your business model is the way your business creates value (solutions for customers’ needs or desires), delivers value (how those solutions get into the hands of your customers), and exchange value (how your business receives value in return for the value your business provides). I’ve written before on how to quantify this for your own business and how to consider whether the model you’ve got actually works.

But I’d like to take this idea to another level and talk about “social business models.” As I see it, a social business model is one that not only demonstrates how your business creates, delivers, and exchanges value but does so in a way that is tailor-made to the strengths of you (or your organization) and your customer and leverages the way you naturally relate to each other to facilitate co-creation.

It’s not enough to build a model that “works” in terms of numbers. If your business model isn’t built in a way that works for you and your customer, you’ll expend an enormous amount of energy trying to achieve ill-conceived goals.

As Jonathan Fields recently put it in a post on “Upstream Alignment Metrics“–fancy phrase, important subject:

Does the product, business and mode of delivery that customers are telling you they value enough to pay you to create align with the fiber of your being, your sense of meaning, fulfillment, your maker’s modus operandi and ideal life?

There’s a better way.

When your business model works–when it’s social, you’ll be able to count on your own personal strengths and less on your ability to “power through.” You’ll spend less time spastically promoting your business and more time attracting the right people. You’ll have work days that flow instead of feeling like your potential each day is less-than-fulfilled.

But perhaps the best part is that when you develop a business model that is social, you gain an incredibly powerful new team member for your business: your customer. Instead of making decisions in a vacuum, you can weigh each decision against the point-of-view of your customer. You’ll know what products you need to develop and when, you’ll know better how to price them, and you’ll have a more holistic, integrated approach to the way you serve your customers.

Let’s all take a collective sigh of relief:
you can stop searching for the killer promotional technique. You can stop worrying if you’re doing “marketing” right.

Instead, you can make your model work for you.

When your business model is social, it:

  • Grows from the understanding of your customer as a living, breathing, evolving human being.
  • Understands your market as a conversation in which you participate but don’t control.
  • Puts the function of what you offer first, well before format or price-point.
  • Allows you to work in a way that makes you feel most masterful and puts your customer at ease.
  • Involves your customer, whether directly or indirectly, in all decisions.

Customers are evolving human beings.

Customers’ questions change. Their needs change. Their desires change. Some businesses solve this by providing high-end, bespoke services. Others develop broad product suites of specialized solutions. Still others develop a single product that incorporates feature add-ons until the cows come home.

Which speaks to your strengths? How do your customers like to be served?

Your target market is a target conversation.

Customers control the conversation, not businesses. Your model can have the flexibility to adapt to the conversation as it changes.

Where do your strengths line up with the current conversation? How can your customers guide its evolution?

People want holes, not drills.

At least that’s what David Ogilvy said, and I couldn’t agree more. Building your model function-first means that each product evolves from a perceived need (or set of needs) your customers have. Forget trying to build out your model to some previously established set of offers.

What kind of “holes” are your customers asking for? Which “holes” is your business uniquely equipped to make?

When you operate masterfully, your customers feel at ease.

Part of operating masterfully is knowing how your business operates best. Not every business specializes in customer service. Not every business values customized services. Not every business speaks to the masses and draws a crowd.

When do you feel most masterful? When do your customers feel most at ease?

Your customers can guide your every decision.

Most entrepreneurs don’t suffer from a lack of ideas or a misunderstanding of tactics. They have difficulty making decisions between a whole lot of things that seem really good. Customers can help you make better, more confident decisions.

Does your model have a system in place to consider the customer’s perspective? Are you listening?

Remember, promotion probably isn’t the problem. If your model isn’t working for you, your business won’t ever feel like it’s working to begin with. Today, stop and consider whether your business is set up to work to your strengths, make your customer feel at ease, and bring you both together to make things flow.

The Myth of Solo Entrepreneurship: A New Relationship with “The Hustle”

This is a topic that’s been on my mind for months. It’s time to call bull crap on solo entrepreneurship.

There’s no such thing. Business doesn’t happen in a bubble.

And hustling isn’t the path to a sustainable business. Hustle plays a part–I’ll get to that–but if your “success” is built squarely on the shoulders of your own hard work, you haven’t created a business, you’ve created a prison.

This post is in three parts:

  1. Why solo entrepreneurship is a myth
  2. What you need to do to transcend this myth
  3. And when hustle and nose-to-the-grindstone work really pays off

Why solo entrepreneurship is a myth

Solo entrepreneurship isn’t a myth because people are lying to you. It’s a myth because it’s not the whole truth. It’s out of context.

The context is that, in the Social Era, work doesn’t look like it used to. Value doesn’t even look like it used to. Instead work and value creation happen in and through the network. Co-creation is standard, relationship is capital, innovation is vocation.

Working “solo” is possible only because we’re working together. And because we have new ways of working together. When you concentrate on the “me-ness” of your work, you forget the “us-ness” of how we got here. Click to tweet.

When you’re fixated on the “solopreneurship” shiny object, instead of asking for help, delegating to the crowd, or just flat-out hiring the right people, you berate yourself and try to work harder.

Those that appear to be doing it on their own, those who appear to shine the light on themselves, are actually running organizations. Those organizations are loose, fluid, and largely motivated by social purpose, but they are organizations nonetheless. It’s worth bearing in mind.

These people also see their microbusinesses as lean & mean, not small. They might not even identify with the term “mircobusiness” because the vision they have for their impact is downright big. They see “micro” as a way to do more, not get by with less.

Efficiency is the name of the game, not sweat equity.

Finally, these entrepreneurs don’t equate themselves with their businesses. They are building something that will outlast them, reach people that they couldn’t reach on their own, and something that–gasp–has value outside the individual work that they do or the products they create. It’s a tricky thing this shift from seeing personality and individual strengths as an asset and not the product in and of itself. But it’s an important shift.

So while “solopreneurship” isn’t the only realm where hustle is the name of the game, it’s hard not to run a business where you are the sole idea generator, sole investor, and sole executive without an overwhelming amount of hustle. And that’s just not sustainable. It’s time to see your business and its team for its full breadth and depth.

What you need to do to transcend this myth

It isn’t that Founder’s Mojo, as Charlie Gilkey calls it, isn’t sustainable. It’s that your business will grow–and probably already has–beyond its ability to sustain itself solely on your mojo.

“Founder’s mojo is like an electric generator that can move around in a business. That generator can power anything within the business; in fact, it has powered everything in the business.

But there are only so many things the generator can power at once. As a business grows, there are more things that need juice than the generator can power simultaneously.”
Charlie Gilkey

So where do you put your effort and attention to transcend this and allow your business to grow? Put your effort and attention where your unique skills, talents, strengths, and passions are. Identify your Onlyness and use it.

The beauty is that, when you put your effort and attention into only the things that make you feel alive, masterful, and purpose-driven, it ceases to feel like much effort at all. You can move quickly from burnout (i.e. trying to use your Mojo or hustle to force things to work) to flow (i.e. getting more out of every ounce of energy you invest).

What systems do you need to have in place to make this happen? Here are my basics (this is largely what we cover during 10ThousandFeet which begins again in September):

  • A Social Business Model that is built to the strengths of both you and your customers and leverages the way you naturally relate to each other to facilitate co-creation
  • A clear Perspective on the world through your customers’ eyes that inspires your messaging, marketing, and product development (get the FREE Perspective Map tool here)
  • A system for Delegation to key contractors or employees and a rallying cry to motivate them
  • A Communication strategy that keeps your customers and prospects in the loop and moving toward your shared vision

These systems largely organize themselves around a message that, as Nilofer Merchant puts it, frees “work” from jobs. If you can distribute the work required to reach your goal to as broad of a base as possible, there’s less of you required to reach your goal.

‘When a clear purpose is coupled with shared power, people can self-organize to reach a goal. In essence, Social Era organizations will finally act flat (and quite often this leads to speed) because they will actually be flat. The artifice of who is in or out of the organization will be less important than what work needs to get done by what talent and with what motivation.”
— Nilofer Merchant, 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era

Look at Anna Guest-Jelley of Curvy Yoga. Her business is built around a rallying cry that motivates her community to work for her. Her goal is to bring the power of yoga to every body. It’s a message that’s easy to understand and easy for her community to act on. It also motivates her team and guides her decision-making. A rallying cry like that creates opportunities without an overwhelming amount of hustle.

MailChimp is another great example. When they went freemium in 2009 with 100k users, their customer base grew exponentially to 1.2 million by 2012. While they employ marketers and pay for advertising, this growth was largely fueled by how excited their users are to talk about the service. Their belief that email marketing should be fun means they’re a fun referral to give. Beyond that, their commitment to continually bettering their platform means that they also motivate me based on excellence. Not only do I refer you all to them but I regularly teach how to use their service better.

Anna, MailChimp, and I need less effort to run our businesses because we understand how to leverage our message & strengths, the power of the network to take a role in “work,” and the importance of taking a real position of leadership in the world that you’ve created through your business.

When hustle and nose-to-the-grindstone work really pays off

After my last post on Playing a Different Money Game, Kelly Dahl wrote me with a question that was on many of your minds:

You mentioned that you aren’t “hustling” as much any more. Implicit in the way you mention this is that you did hustle, a lot, to get to the place you are today. How much hustle do you think is really necessary? I struggle so much with the hustle part. I’m not sure if I just need a swift kick in the ass to get over myself, or if I can hustle in my own way and still continue to build my business.

I stopped hustling constantly when my message became so clear, my purpose so organizing, and my process so reproducible that others were able to “work” on my behalf whether they were part of my organization or not. I didn’t need to spread the word about the You Economy because You did it for me. I didn’t need to prove the value of my process because others demonstrated that value for me.

I hustle–and I use the word the way my softball coaches used it–when I know where I’m going. I hustle to right field, home plate, or the pitcher’s mound. But I’m no long distance runner. I don’t hustle for fun.

For instance, I spent some time “hustling” this weekend when the spirit moved me enough to finish a new list incentive. I hustled a little more when I decided to go all in and start running Facebook more strategically from a Page instead of my profile. I hustled to finish The Art of Growth last year.

I generally don’t hustle for interviews. The requests come naturally because of the work I do and the message I espouse. I generally don’t hustle for sales. I’m direct and have learned how to communicate the value of what I do pretty clearly. I generally don’t hustle social media. If I’m inspired, I post and interact. In each of these cases, I lead with my strengths and passions so that the work feels more like play.

Hustle is an important of the growth of any business, though, as Kelly said. If you’re looking for specific ideas of where hustle will make the most difference in the early stages of a business, check out this post by Paul Graham.

As I was growing my business, I put hustle into exploring my message, clarifying my purpose, and systematizing my process. I spoke, I listened, I experimented, I tested. I had coffee conversations. I made beautiful mistakes by moving fast and furiously. But all that hustle led to having a message that others are excited to spread, a purpose others are excited to work toward, and a process that gets the job done over and over again. If the hustle you’re investing into your business supports similar goals, I say keep up the good work. If the hustle you’re expending on your business is scattershot, it’s time to reevaluate.

In the end, all this means my business is yours, not mine. It’s your excitement that makes the difference, not mine. I’m not a solo entrepreneur and this isn’t a business of one. It’s a business of tens of thousands. And no amount of hustle can overcome the power of those numbers.

Define your bottom line.

My bottom line is impact.

I believe impact can and should be profitable.

I believe profit is abundance. It’s the absolutely necessary positive gain on the energy, effort, and execution your business invests in [value] creation.

I believe an important part of that positive gain is financial. But wealth is not one dimensional. I also measure profit in relational, emotional, and organizational wealth.

I believe business has an obligation, a duty, a responsibility to increase its bottom line and maximize it’s profit margin: increase its impact, find the path to leveraged abundance.

Dollars & cents really do matter. And there’s so much more, too.

What’s your business’s bottom line?

Dig it? Click here to tweet this post.

You Economy Case Study: Deirdre Walsh

Here’s another case study from a 10ThousandFeet participant. Deirdre Walsh discovered how to organize her long-term vision into actionable steps she can take now, while reducing the stress of holding on to such big ideas.

Deirdre Walsh, Integrative Health Coach

deirdrewalshSpool back to December of last year. I was seriously frustrated with pulling my business together. Maybe frustrated is too cheery a word for what I was feeling. I couldn’t see what my business needed me to see.

A savvy client captured it when she said: “You’re an amazing coach, but you can’t sell worth sh*t.”

I didn’t know what to sell. I didn’t see the structure and dynamics of the business. I didn’t have a handle on the skills that were required. I thought I understood who my best clients were, but they weren’t picking up what I was putting down. My business was whispering encouragement to me, but I couldn’t bring it together into focus.

My eyesight scores high on the near-sighted scale–think Coke-bottle lenses. I need to leave my glasses in the same place every night so I can find them in the morning. And when Tara emailed me last December about 10KFeet she found me, sans metaphorical glasses, standing in the room of my business, squinting and listening, but unable to focus on what I needed to see.

Now, one thing that has served me well over the years is to recognize genius and listen when it calls. So when Tara asked me if I’d like to be part of this mastermind I jumped.

Here’s a short list of what Tara taught me to see and hear:

The strength and uniqueness of my business.

This was a game-changer for me. I’d been looking for a market niche to fill. The most sensible-looking niche met clients where they were stuck. The business opportunity was to drag, cajole, and coax them to stay status quo and not move backwards. Talk about tiring – like Sisyphus-type tiring. Tara helped me see that the strength of what I do is in moving forward with my clients, seeing what they don’t see for themselves.

The conversation my customers want to have about how my business can serve them.

A handful of clients popped up as soon as I got really clear on this. I’ve heard that before and thought it was hype but that is what happened to me. Half of them said: “I’ve been waiting for you, but I didn’t know how to find you.” It’s been much less resource-intensive to connect with, and convert, the clients who make my business hum.

The plan for growth

I have a two-year plan that is unique to my business. I can’t even begin to describe how much stress this has taken away from me. (And managing stress is my thing!) My plan is not hoping that someone else’s plan will work for me. My plan is the plan my business was trying to whisper to me. I’m not second-guessing the choices I’m making, the posts I’m writing, the courses I’m prepping. They all fit into a bigger plan that will unfold over the next couple of years. Wow.

Deirdre is now developing her business around stress resilience, especially for women who are making big things happen. Learn more about what she does.

Frank Conversation with Brigitte Lyons (Normally There’s Wine Involved)

Last week, I sat down with my friend, colleague, and partner Brigitte Lyons. Brigitte is a PR & media strategist for micro businesses who believes in changing the face of the media today. I send every one of my clients to her for easy-to-execute tips at the least and personal service at the most.

Since Brigitte has teamed up with me to help teach the next two rounds of 10ThousandFeet, I wanted to introduce her to you a little more personally. So we sat down and had the kind of conversation (aided by some great questions from readers) we generally have over a couple glasses of wine.

It’s geeky. It’s fun. And, yes, it’s really real. You can watch the video above, or download an audio-only version below. And scroll down to catch highlights from the conversation.

Click here to download the audio-only version. (right-click then “save as”)

This is an absolutely sales-pitch-free conversation. That said, if you’re compelled to check out 10ThousandFeet, I don’t blame you.


How does storytelling contribute to our bottom lines? (2:00)
“The stories we tell create the conditions our businesses are operating in.” — @brigittelyons http://bit.ly/P7eOsb Tweet it.
“Storytelling in business goes well beyond marketing.” — @taragentile http://bit.ly/P7eOsb Tweet it.

How do you launch a new product with energy & authenticity? (6:04)
“Allow yourself to nerd out about what makes you excited about your product.” — @brigittelyons http://bit.ly/P7eOsb Tweet it.

Wherein I get vulnerable about telling stories about my clients (7:16)

How do you build a relationship with people when ultimately you have an agenda to sell them something? (10:00)
“Everyone wants you to express an interest in the things that they are passionate about.” — @brigittelyons http://bit.ly/P7eOsb Tweet it.
“Just because you have something to gain in a relationship doesn’t mean you have an agenda.” — @taragentile http://bit.ly/P7eOsb Tweet it.
“Trust yourself as a whole person to bring what is most valuable to every relationship.” — @taragentile http://bit.ly/P7eOsb Tweet it.

What are your criteria for who you bring on to your team, who will be your mentors, and who you will partner with? (19:05)
“Vibe is so important.” — @brigittelyons http://bit.ly/P7eOsb Tweet it.

What are the top 3 things you can do to promote a new offering? (23:29)
“Give people the opportunity to say ‘yes’ to you.” — @taragentile http://bit.ly/P7eOsb Tweet it.
“Your inclination is ‘how can I help this person?’ not ‘how can I get out of this?'” — @brigittelyons http://bit.ly/P7eOsb Tweet it.
“Don’t assume that because the sales opportunity is over, that all opportunities are over.” — @taragentile http://bit.ly/P7eOsb Tweet it.
“Always assume people are interested.” — @brigittelyons http://bit.ly/P7eOsb Tweet it.

What are our predictions for future online business trends? (32:31)
“Businesses are starting to reorganize themselves to create value instead of just making a splash on the online stage.” — @taragentile Tweet it.
“Online businesses are following the wider trend of being more intentional.” — @brigittelyons http://bit.ly/P7eOsb Tweet it.

The Fundamental Beauty of Capitalism–or, Finding Your Ease in Business

How many times do I need to read about the ills of capitalism? The ickiness of marketing? The yuck factor of sales?

Capitalism has been exploited for all sorts of purposes that are yucky. But capitalism itself–at its core–is a force for good. Capitalism is a source of prosperity for both the consumer and the producer.

Fundamentally, capitalism is beautiful.

In his new book, Conscious Capitalism, John Mackey describes how business is in large part responsible for much of the great strides we’ve made in the last 200 years. Despite many of the problems that rampant cronyism has created–even in the recent past and ongoing today–it’s the soul of business that keeps us moving forward as a society. You and I are not subsistence farmers under the thumb of a feudal lord. Nor are we forced to follow in the career steps of our parents or beholden to a system of guilds.

We’re self-determined.

To that end, it’s the fact that business is based on the “voluntary exchange of value” that gives business its moral footing.

Whether as a producer or as a consumer, no one is forced to do anything. While it’s true that others utilize manipulation, prey on fear, or exploit weakness, it’s still choice that reigns in business.

We live in an age of information parity, as Dan Pink writes in To Sell is Human. More than ever, consumers have choice and agency when determining what to buy.

But how do they choose?

It’s easy to believe that all your customers think about is how much less they have when they’re doing business with you. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Your customers are thinking about how much more they have.

That means the fundamental beauty of capitalism translates into a source of ease for you & your business.

Business-done-well results in two parties having more than they started with. Your customer values what you’ve delivered to her more than the money she spent on it. You value the financial gain more than the time or energy you spent delivering the product or service.

It’s a beautiful exchange. And completely voluntary. Ease-full.

“That’s great,” you say. “But how does this actually help me succeed?”

It gives you a new frame through which to view your business:

  • What does my customer value more than money?
  • What is she already looking for?
  • What transaction would leave him feeling richer?

When you’re focused on that kind of value and communicating with your customer on her terms, you’re focused on the beauty of the exchange, the ease of the connection, the meaning of the transaction.