When community invests in an idea, it also co-owns its success.
– Nilofer Merchant, 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era
Your business is not yours alone. Welcome to the brave new world of co-creation and co-ownership. Here, individualism coexists with collectivism. Here, the results of your ambition rely on your ability to create the network that allows you to succeed.
So the question is: are you creating a customer network that is ready to co-create your vision?
There is a piece of “popular” business advice that asserts that “you should teach what you know to people who are a few steps behind you.”
For instance, if you’ve worked through a big personal transformation, you can become a life coach & help others through their own personal transformations. If you’re a blogger, you can help others set up their own blogs. If you write books, you can teach beginning authors how to get published.
Makers, keep reading, I’m not going to let you off the hook.
Hey, this isn’t a bad idea. In fact, this is probably a decent way to get started serving others and making money doing it. You’ve honed in on a specific problem that you can solve and you’re willing to put a price tag on it. Sure, go for it.
But where will you go next?
You can keep serving these clients, incrementally increasing the sophistication of what you’re offering. As you solve new problems for yourself, you can turn those solutions into products and services.
It makes a lot of sense and it can work. Just like monetization.
But will you be satisfied?
I like a challenge. I love the thrill of unleashing my great work for clients who scare the pants off of me. My work gets better & better in environments of great uncertainty.
Having a client that challenges me doesn’t mean that my back is against a wall, it means that my eyes are open to the full array of possibilities before us both. I’m not relying on personal experience or a single formula for my success. It’s an opportunity ripe for never-tried-before ideas and mutual magic-making.
By honoring their experiences, their knowledge, and their trust in our work, we can create something brand new. Together.
I used to feel threatened by the brilliance of my clients. I worried that I failed them when they had an idea or a revelation that wasn’t directly prompted by …me. And then I realized that our very connection was what made that possible. When working with clients that challenge me, I don’t have to be the end-all-be-all in business strategy.
No, it’s my job to co-create the space for our mutual success.
I can be the catalyst. Our work together is the entry point. It isn’t confined to my knowledge & expertise; it’s open to collaboration.
When you & your clients are co-owners of collaborative success, you both are creating something more meaningful than livelihood or results. You are creating movements, future opportunities, and networked transformation. The effects are more wide-reaching, the value is more long-lasting. The possibly of up-ending the status quo is much greater.
But will I rise to the occasion?
Look, it’s easier to cultivate a social network of people who want to be like you. To do what you’ve done. To grasp a little piece of your success. But the rewards of creating network connections to those who are ready to co-own your success are vast.
It can be the difference between slogging by doing something that once thrilled you and forging a new path to a more lucrative future, both financially & meaningfully.
- Are you cultivating a network of yes-people? Or are you gathering a select tribe of idea-challengers?
- Are you going with what you know? Or are you seeking out opportunities for growth?
- Are you seeking out reinforcement of your own experiences? Or are you creating a hub for shared intelligence?
“… attracting and seducing consumers with a relevant, helpful, and unique point of view works better than shoving more messages into the already loud marketplace.”
— Nilofer Merchant, 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era
But how will I find these people?
Here’s a common exercise I do with clients who are ready to make this jump:
Look around your network right now. Make a list of 5 people with a “relevant, helpful, and unique point of view” who are connected to you in some (even tenuous) way who could benefit from your time, talent, and skills.
- How would working for them be different than working with the clients or customers you currently have?
- What conversations or projects would get their attention?
- If you were working for/with them, what changes would you make to the day-to-day operations of your business?
- What problems or desires would you be working on?
- How would your message be different if it was crafted for them and not the mass market?
“Attracting and seducing” the clients that will take your business to the next level begins with everyday changes in behavior. If you don’t adjust your routines, expectations, and message to be especially for them before you attract them, you’ll never have the opportunity to co-create your next-level business with them.
The answers to the above questions are your first steps. Those answers will guide you towards making the changes today that will breed success tomorrow. Those answers will help you step into the attitude of success before it’s even created.
Essentially, you’re inviting your future customers to co-own your success before they’ve even invested in your world.
And that’s why those kind of customers are powerful. And why that’s the kind of people you want to be in business with.
— PS —
I wrote this post with service providers in mind. But product creators & makers, you don’t get off so easy. I see so many makers limiting their visions to a customer who doesn’t fully appreciate what they do. And it shows. What happens if you challenge yourself to create your product for a more challenging set of customers? What would need to change about how your make, market, and sell your creation? How could your product fulfill the ultimate fantasy of a very special network?
Are the customer you’re courting ready to co-own your success?
— PPS —
If this is the kind of leap you’re looking to take in your business before the end of the year, I invite you to join me, Adam King, and a small group of dedicated business owners for Make Your Mark. It’s a 12-week, intensive business coaching program designed to allow you take on challenging, satisfying work that creates loads of personal wealth.
And it’s the only opportunity to coach long-term with me with Fall. There are a limited number of spots on the team – and they’re going quickly! Click here to learn more.
There are few businesses I work with today that don’t have as one of their goals, “challenge the customer’s comfort zone.”
Consider your own business for a minute: is it more beneficial to you for your customer to remain in her comfort zone? or to be pushed beyond her comfort zone?
Then consider your customer and the results you desire for him: is it more benefit to your customers for him to remain in his comfort zone? or to push beyond his comfort zone?
If your customer is comfortable buying from chain stores and you sell handmade bath & body products, you need to make them a little uncomfortable to change her behavior for both your benefit & hers. If your customer is comfortable with his daily routines but desires a big lifestyle change and you’re his life coach, you need to make him uncomfortable to change his routines thereby achieving his desires for both your benefit & his. If your customer is comfortable communicating with her friends using the phone but you want to disrupt & improve her communication with a brand new technology, you need to make her uncomfortable with the limitations of her current MO for both your benefit & hers.
Yet given the current media & marketing trends, you probably spend more time placating potential customers than confronting their comfort zones.
You are trying to build bridges when burning them may be the best strategy.
Your customers are, by nature, explorers. They’re seeking something. It might have started with a Google search. It might have been an interesting Facebook thread. It might have been a personal conversation over coffee. But they have sought out… something. They’re looking for transformation — even a tiny one.
They may not be able to identify their most pressing needs. They may not know what they’re looking for. But they have that nagging desire to learn more. And that’s where you come in.
Customers trust business owners that have something to teach. When you can give your customer a new way of seeing even the tiniest corner of her world, you are immediately trustworthy. But new ways of seeing don’t come from being comfortable, they come from confrontation.
Today’s most powerful sales people are challengers:
“They’ve got a provocative point of view that can upend a customer’s current practices, and they’re not afraid to push customers outside their comfort zone.” — Matt Dixon, The End of Solution Sales
Now, there are two things I know about you:
1) You got into business to challenge the status quo (your own, your customer’s, the world’s, etc…)
2) You are adverse to the over-the-top, in-your-face sales & marketing techniques of yesteryear.
So I also know that the idea of “confronting” your customer both resonates and feels a little, well, dangerous. Ya wanna push them… just not too hard.
Okay, okay. I get that.
Here’s the problem: your customers are on to your “not gonna push ’em too hard” ways.
Your relationship building techniques – questions, conversations, endless free teleclasses, etc… – aren’t mysterious anymore. People know you’re buttering them up. Sure, they’ll participate. Sure, they’ll engage. But are you really setting them up for a sale or allowing them more time to stew on the inevitable “no, thanks?”
The best salespeople are still empathic, clued into needs, and sensitive to individual perspectives but, instead of following the customer’s lead, they take the reins and deliver an insight that moves the customer to action.
What do you know about your audience – their habits, their failures, their opportunities – that even they don’t know? Supplying that information creates instant fans and eager customers.
Here’s the framework for creating a challenging sales process:
1. Identify a core belief or operating principle that your customer has and challenge it.
Example: Tara Mohr knew women weren’t reaching their full potential in life & business because they were “playing small.” They were excusing themselves from big opportunities or failing to take risks. So that’s how she framed her coaching program, Playing Big. Tara used her intimate knowledge of the differences between women who play small & women who play big to challenge the operating principles of the former.
2. Use your insight as an outsider or expert to demonstrate a new idea.
Example: When I talk to makers about their frustrations with pricing, I make sure to point out that I’m not a maker. No, I’m a customer. I’m one of the people happy to pay twice as much as what they’re charging. That fosters trust & credibility for my ideas.
3. Bring in data or case studies that prove your position.
Example: Copyblogger Media shares multiple insights into well-designed sales pages on the Premise landing page. Instead of just sharing features, the sales page actually tells customers things they may not know about constructing a sales page that works. Take this to the next level by sharing real results from your clients or customers in their own words.
4. Coach your customers on how to buy.
Example: LKR Social Media Marketer explains why – right on the sales page – it’s better to buy a monthly subscription to a community than it is to buy individual solutions to problems that will quickly go out of date. Knowing the solution might be intimidating to customers, Laura cut straight through why her plan is the best.
5. Tailor that position to the person you’re talking with.
Example: Writer extraordinaire, Kelly Diels, creates a separate landing page on her site for every guest post she writes. She understands that different audiences, different types of customers, have different needs, points of reference, and interests. Hone in on exactly what’s important to who you’re talking to.
Your customers can see right through your efforts to build relationships with them – genuine though they might be. We are all in some sort of business and your tactics for creating buy-in are becoming tired.
Instead of trying to make the sale feel warm & fuzzy, allow your customers to trust in the fact that you’re confident & in control. Take the lead with new insights and fresh perspectives.
Will you accept the challenge?
The greatest asset your business has isn’t its products, your experience, the equipment in your studio, or the technology that makes it all go ’round. The greatest asset you have is your ability to connect people.
Business has a unique power to bring people together. We have the sense that we have more than a little in common with the person at Starbucks who orders the same drink that we do. And we may strike up conversations with other regulars at the neighborhood bar & grill. Main street businesses band together to create community activities that bring together whole towns. A simple ebook can spark an ongoing discussion on Twitter.
These person-to-person, customer-to-customer interactions are important.
No matter how trusted the business, no matter how respected the brand, a business-to-customer relationship will always have an air of quid pro quo about it.
I experience this firsthand all the time. I’ll be having a drink with someone at a conference or lunch with a friend I’ve met on Twitter. The conversation inevitably winds its way towards business. Once the other person realizes what’s happened, they often apologize and explain that they value my take on things but don’t want to take advantage of the situation. Take advantage? I love this stuff! No one needs to goad me into talking about business and I’m happy to lend a fresh perspective at any time.
But there it is, that sneaking suspicion that our personal connection may require a greater investment down the line. Not so, but it’s something I’m always aware of.
Instead, facilitate conversations within your tribe. These are genuine, peer-to-peer, incredibly enriching connections that help you do your job better.
How can I create conversations within my tribe?
First, look for opportunities for external connections. These conversations & relationships happen in the public sphere. They happen on social media, main street, book clubs, community events, conferences, etc… anywhere people are gathering is fair game for people talking to each about what you do.
Your aim here is for your customers or potential customers to be talking about your ideas or product, not the business itself. It’s not that that’s bad, it just doesn’t make for as meaningful of conversations.
How can you encourage external connections?
- Make an extraordinary product. Products that change people’s lives – even in small ways – give people a reason to talk to each other. Yes, this is classic word of mouth advertising. But it’s also spreading special tricks & techniques or creating a product culture (look at the conversation around Apple’s press conference this week).
- Offer up a symbol. Paul Tillich defined a symbol as something that “points beyond itself” to something mysterious or unknown. My iPhone is a symbol of Apple brand culture but it also points to an unbound sense of creativity & love of design. The #youeconomy hashtag is a symbol of my philosophy of the New Economy but also points to a sense of hope in the future.
- Deliver an innovative idea. Your rallying cry, manifesto, or great ambition is nothing if it can’t spark conversation & connection. Almost every day, I spot a conversation on The Art of Earning on Twitter or Facebook. The idea that “making money is beautiful” is fresh for many people and it’s a reason to celebrate, talk, laugh, and share.
Once you’ve nailed some opportunities for external connections, take a look at how you can foster internal connections. These conversations & relationships form within your tribe in secret or private places. If your business was a tree fort, these connections would be on the other side of the secret handshake.
Internal connections work because there’s a sense of exclusivity. Not everyone is in on these connections and the people that are feel a sense of shared purpose.
While this has always been a part of the way I craft offerings, never have I seen this come together more beautifully than in the program I’m running with Adam King, Make Your Mark. It’s a fairly small group and weighty material so everyone in the group is helping to each other accountable, witnessed, loved, and moving forward. It’s downright inspiring to watch. I feel privileged to be able to witness the conversations & connections happen every week.
The Make Your Mark participants will each be more successful in what they produce from the program because they are now a tight-knit community.
That’s the beauty of internal connections: they amplify the work you’re already doing.
Facebook groups, forums, in-person meet-ups, phone calls, Skype groups… you can create these opportunities in a multitude of ways. Experiment and find out what works best for your tribe.
Never underestimate the power of your ability to connect.
Connection is one of the major touch points of the You Economy. Moving forward, connecting with others through business will be a non-negotiable. In your business, you have no room to ignore the power you have to facilitate meaningful, positive connections between the people who use your services or buy your products.
Last week, Abby Kerr tweeted that, while she’s seen all manner of business blowhards (myself included) wax poetic about motivation, marketing, and productivity, she’s seen very little about actual business development: generating a business model and the like.
So I took that as a personal challenge.
It’s true. You won’t find much out in the open on business model generation. And what you do find might not mean much to you because it’s either meant for someone in an entirely different industry or it’s so thick in MBA parlance that you could serve it up on a plate.
So let me start at the beginning. And I promise, I’ll reveal some secret sauce at the end of this post that will have you saying, “Huh. So that’s how it works!”
Why should you even care?
Sure, developing a business model can be the drivel that MBAs talk about when they’re trying to sound important. But there is more to it than that.
Do you wonder how to get everything done during the day? Do you wonder if you’ll ever make enough money to justify the business you’ve started? Do you think the answers to your business problems always come down to more traffic, more clicks, more subscribers?
You, my friend, need to understand your business model.
What is a business model?
A business model is the system in which ideas, people, and products come together to generate revenue. In more technical terms, it’s the system in which your value proposition, customer segments, products, cost structure, and channels produce profit.
Your business model isn’t your product, your price, your people, or your value propositions. It’s all of it, working together.
Laying it all out can help you find opportunities for growth, discover what’s not working as it should, and strengthen your own understanding of just how your business works.
This isn’t a “when I have time” kind of exercise. This is now or never.
What kind of business model should you have?
Business owners often make the mistake of thinking that there are several set business models that they can choose from. And true, you could probably put some different business models under the warming lights and dish yourself out the one that looks least frightening at the time.
Unfortunately, that type of business would be about as satisfying as dinner from Old Country Buffet.
There is no perfect business model for life coaches, or knitters, or business consultants, or therapists. I wish there was. Sure there are similarities, best practices, and things that just make sense. But that doesn’t mean it’s set in stone.
In truth, your business model is completely up to you, your strengths, your skills, your customers, and your “I absolutely won’t” list. You do have one of those, right?
Where do you start?
First, you lay out all the puzzle pieces. Business models have a lot of working parts as I mentioned above.
Below, I’m laying out the core pieces. These pieces will help you determine if your idea of how to run your business is viable. As you seek to optimize your business, you’ll need to incorporate the other pieces.
When you’re ready to do that, check out Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder.
You’ll want to grab some pen & paper – or open a mind mapping tool before we get started.
Products & Services
Let’s just start here, not because it’s the most important part but because it’s the most straightforward. What do you sell? What’s on the shelf? What could someone buy right now?
For example, in my business, someone could buy The Art of Earning, Email Marketing Kick Start, group coaching, or one-on-one coaching. Those are the offers on the table. They are all generating revenue, at different rates, regularly.
What do you have on the shelf? Physical products? Digital products? Services? Events? Gigs?
Write down each and put the price next to them.
Just who are you selling this stuff too? Who are your potential customers and where are they located? Within your “people” you might have several segments (i.e. beginner, intermediate, and advanced) who have slightly different, but distinct, needs.
For example, at Scoutie Girl, we have DIYers who are looking for inspiration & ideas, we have creative business owners who are looking for information & insight, and we have aspirational creatives who read to experience what they don’t have personal access to on a daily basis.
Write down each customer segment you have. If you know approximately how many exist within that segment, write that down too.
How are you communicating with your people? Since business in the 21st century is largely based on relationship & connection, it’s insanely important to understand just how many channels you have at your disposal when considering your business plan.
In this case, I have a bunch of channels. The blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, speaking, and email marketing are a few. Each of my channels hit different types of people, in different ways.
Write down all the customer communication channels you have available to you.
This is what you have to do to keep your business running, communicate with customers, and deliver value. Here I would think in terms of thriving and not just administrative tasks all businesses have in common.
For example, for Megan‘s jewelry line, her activities might include designing & developing new pieces, selling at trade shows, pursuing press mentions, researching art & design at museums, and following up with boutique & gallery owners who place orders.
Write down all the activities you need to be doing to make your business thrive.
This is how much money it takes to run your business, create what you make or offer, and find new customers or clients. It can be vastly different for different types of businesses so it’s important to know what your costs are.
In my case, my costs include email marketing services, web hosting, conference call lines, travel, and PayPal fees, among other things.
Write down everything you spend money on now (or check your tax return!).
It’s all written down. What’s next?
First, seek to better understand the business model you already have.
- What connections could you draw from section to section? Which channels line up with which customer segments? Which activities coordinate with which products? If you’re a visual person, draw out how your business looks to you based on the information you’ve just written down. If you’re more verbal, write down key statements that tie important pieces of information together.
- What appears unnecessary? As your business grows & changes, it’s inevitable that you’ll have parts of your business that just aren’t serving you. Write down what you could remove from your model to simplify your business strategy.
- What’s missing? Inevitably, there are holes in your business model. Is there an underserved customer segment? Are you underutilizing a particularly effective channel? Is there an opportunity to make a connection between a product & an activity? Write down all the opportunities you see in your model.
Next, figure out if what you have is viable.
The first thing you recorded was all the products & services you have available and how much they cost.
- Ideally, how many of each could you produce in a week? Keep in mind most freelancers, coaches, and makers can only produce “work” about 20 hours per week. The rest of the 40 hour work week is spent in support of your business (marketing, admin, learning, etc…).
- Ideally, what would your product spread be? In other words, how many of each would you like to sell in a week out of what you can produce (i.e. 10 hours of coaching, 10 hours on an ecourse OR 20 necklaces, 50 earrings, and 30 bracelets).
- Multiple the cost of each item in your product spread by the number of sales you’d like to achieve. This is the number that is your ideal income based on what you can create and how you’d like to sell it.
Now, when you take into consideration the costs to run your business, is this a number you can live with? Does it feel abundant? Does it feel scary? Does it sound ridiculously low?
Some conclusions you might draw…
You could draw many conclusions from this number.
If the number is very high… and you’re feeling like you’ve just won the lotto… How can you make those numbers reality? Can you reach more customers? Can you attract more appropriate clients? Can you better use the channels you have available to you? Can you move your product spread closer to what you’d like and further from what it is now?
If the number is very low… and you’re feeling like you’re ready to quit… How could you adjust your product spread to create better revenue? Can you raise your prices? Can you create more products by outsourcing? Could you develop a more profit-friendly product or service to boost your bottom line?
If the number just isn’t very exciting… and you’re feeling a bit bored… Can you incorporate one of those missed opportunities into your model? Can you create clearer value propositions & offers? Can you seek strategic partnerships to sweeten the deal?
The Secret Sauce
The truth is that you really don’t know how the businesses you see online (or even in your local community) operate. It’s tempting to try to replicate what you see on the surface. But you miss what’s really going on behind-the-scenes.
Behind-the-scenes is where the magic happens.
Our websites, our storefronts, our social media streams are only facades. Not in a negative way, but in an enticing, get-ya-in-the-door way. The newsletters, the inexpensive products, the retail shops – it’s all to capture the initial lead.
Often, there’s nice revenue being generated there. But it’s not enough to create a thriving business.
What makes the business thrive is how channels, activities, and customer segments are massaged over time to ready customers for a bigger, more profitable offer. You sell earrings to get the full collection purchased later on. You sell at craft shows to prime an audience & catch the attention of wholesale buyers. You deliver an ebook to prep customers to work with you one-on-one. You work in groups to ready a select few for a mastermind program.
I know, I know. You think that’s manipulative? It can be. But it’s not in most cases. In most cases, this is the model that’s required to actually build the most value into the business for both the business owners and the customer.
Everyone comes out on top when a business model is built to deliver higher & higher levels of value over time in more profitable ways.
Odds are, you’ve been focused on the front end because that’s what you’re aware of. You’ve been writing books, creating one-off art pieces, even working one-on-one with clients. But have you identified what could make your business truly profitable on the back end? Could you deliver more & better to your customers over time?
I think you can. I know you can.
Please, let me know the results of your analysis in the comments below. I’m dying to know what you do with this information.
Want more practical resources for experimenting with your business? Good! ‘Cause business shouldn’t be rocket science. Join me in the lab for lots of FREE resources.
Am I good enough?
Do I have what it takes?
Do I really measure up?
When it’s time to level-up in business (or life), those are the first questions that get asked.
When you see yourself sitting next to Oprah, lights-camera-ACTION, ready to deliver your message, you say, “some day.” When you imagine your product on the shelves at Anthropologie, you say, “5 year plan.” When you dream about the 5-page spread in Fast Company, you say, “slow & steady.”
What if slow & steady doesn’t win the race?
What if the next step is actually a quantum leap forward? What if the next rung on the ladder requires you to jump to reach it?
I’ve been there. I’ve done that.
I’ve laid the firm foundations. And realized it’s no fun to live in the basement.
I’ve got penthouse ideas & ambitions.
The thing about slow & steady is that you always know where your feet are going to fall. You know that terra firma will be there to meet you each step of the way.
You know the bills are going to be paid. You know the schedule, the routine. You know everything about your customers. You know the platforms, the methods, the channels.
It’s not that slow & steady doesn’t work. It’s that you’re craving something more.
I have an inkling you might even be a bit scared to admit that, deep down, you’ve always identified with the hare.
Up the the point where she loses, naturally.
So where did the hare go wrong?
You aren’t going to win if you take a nap, run an errand, or get cocky. Okay, the hare had it coming.
But you also can’t compete if you don’t train. Training isn’t about the slow & steady. It’s about visualizing a goal and putting in the work required to get there.
You can sprint ahead but if you haven’t built up your stamina & worked the muscles, you’ll fall behind.
So, yes, there’s work. There are grueling circuits of Olympic-level creation. There are daily exercises in extreme relationship-building. There is question after question after question long after the shin splints have started.
But I know you. This is what you’re already doing. Or it’s what you crave and, instead, you’re endlessly strolling through the “shoulds” you believe are on the path to success.
The training isn’t a problem. So why are you sticking with the tortoise?
I want you to sprint.
Trust yourself & your big ideas. Push yourself to speeds you never before imagined. Take the leap. Swan dive toward your dreams.
Are you ready to surge ahead? It’s time to do a one-on-one Insight Intensive with me. My brain, your business: let’s talk. Learn more here.
Now, when I think of wealth, I conspire ways to create win-wins for us all. I germinate strategies to help [my clients] increase not only [their] financial wealth, but also [their] emotional, spiritual, intellectual and relational prosperity.
— L’Erin Alta-Devki, creator of SisterFire.com