The Nitty Gritty:
- How Jennie scaled her high-touch, human-centered service business (and what mistakes she learned along the way.)
- How she made a seemingly unreplicable service like book coaching… replicable.
- What encouraged her to adjust the Author Accelerator’s initial pricing model from affordable and accessible to high-price and high-touch.
- What Author Accelerator’s hiring process for book coaches looks like.
- How Jennie moved from being a writer to a book coach and, now, an entrepreneur.
- Why it’s 100% OK to say no to a creative idea (even if it’s a really good one.)
Today on Power. Profit. Pursuit., I jam with Jennie Nash, founder and Chief Creative Officer of Author Accelerator, a book coaching program that provides feedback, accountability, and support to writers so they can finish their books—and finish strong.
Jennie believes that people have a story to tell, whether or not they’re a writer. This belief is what transformed her career as a writer to book coach: to help people finally write that book. That excitement and passion eventually turned into a business. Despite being high-touch, human-centered work at its core, Jennie figured out how to scale the book coaching process and grow her team at Author Accelerator to over 25 employees.
Listen to this episode to hear exactly how Jennie scaled Author Accelerator, what mistakes she ran into, and her four requirements for all new employees.
We release new episodes of Profit. Power. Pursuit every week. Subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode.
On scaling a high-touch, human-centered service business
I really resisted it because I thought you can’t scale a high-touch, super human-centered system. Book coaching is so inefficient. It’s about the human touch. It’s about people’s hearts. It’s about their souls. I had this really deep aversion that the two things couldn’t connect. And he (Matt Sand, her business partner) kept insisting they could — and that I’d already done it.
It took years for Jennie to accept her now-business partner’s offer to scale her book coaching process into a full-scale business. Why so long? Because she didn’t see a way for someone else, like an employee, to learn her high-touch, human-centered process — and do it right.
But what Jennie found, once she said ‘yes’, was that it was possible: she could teach others her book coaching process. Scaling this business model wasn’t an instant success, as she uncovers, but more of a test-and-tweak-along-the-way to find the right model and pricing.
On how to hire, and retain, top-notch employees
This was the roadblock: I kept saying there is no way that we can get the level of talent that we need to scale this. We can’t get them at the price that will work. That’s what I thought.
Finding and hiring the right people was Jennie’s biggest roadblock to scale her book coaching business. But once she found a formula that worked, Jennie was able to grow her team to over 25 employees around the world. In the last 4 years, only 3 employees left Author Accelerator to start families, leave for their dream job, or start their own business.
So how do you craft a team that’s in it for the long run? Process. Process. Process.
Jennie determined what skills and personality type would thrive in the position — and she didn’t make exceptions. Everyone needed mechanical editing and narrative design skills as well as the ability to think strategically. They also needed to be nice and compassionate. This was a requirement. Even if someone had all the skills, if they weren’t kind, they didn’t make the cut.
This hiring process is so successful that Author Accelerator is launching a book coach certification program in 2018.
We’re really proud of the retention of our coaches and how we train them, the ongoing masterclasses, and oversight. In fact, we have become so sure of our process that in 2018 we’re going to launch a book coach certification program which is a whole other arm of our business. We had so many people who we didn’t hire ask how they could learn what they needed to know that we decided to do this.
On pricing a high-touch service
We made a lot of missteps, as every business does. We just completed year four and at the beginning of this year, we finally hit on the right combination of how to do it, how to price it, how to make it work, and we very quickly started to see a lot of growth. It was clear that this was the right way, the right system, strategy, and process. It was so exciting. Now we’re really starting to see that scaling happen.
Most business owners struggle with properly pricing their products and services. It’s not easy! After 4 years, Jennie found the right pricing for Author Accelerator — but it took many changes along the way. At first, Jennie wanted to offer an affordable program despite being a high-touch book coaching program. That pricing method didn’t work so they tried something else: high touch and high price and — it worked. Since then, they’ve seen a lot of growth.
If pricing comes as a struggle to you, consider this: sometimes it takes a few years to get it right. Focus on what you do well and how you do it — and don’t always look to competitors for your pricing inspiration.
Then, as Jennie says, ask yourself: “What is that I do that’s so different and special and good? And how can I take that and sell that?”
Listen to the full episode to hear even more from Jennie Nash, founder and Chief Creative Officer of Author Accelerator, on scaling a high-touch, high-price service.
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So you’re ready to create a new product or design a new collection. Further, you’re ready to take this baby to scale.
It’s go big or go home.
When your business creates a product that scales, you’re aiming to serve as many people as possible with a solution designed with them in mind. The danger is watering down what you offer. Solutions that scale are based on specific needs and desires, not on sweeping generalizations.
The key to discovering the specific needs & desires that scale is to examine particular customers you’d like to reproduce. You know the ones: you’re thrilled to see them on the calendar, you’re happy to package up their orders and send them a little something special, you’re glad to answer their questions and guide them towards the best purchase. They’re the customers who challenge you, thrill you, and inspire you.
Scale doesn’t start with a big idea. Scale starts with a single customer, a single problem, and single solution.
Click to tweet!
Too often, business owners try to diagnose the problems of the market instead of an individual customer. You try to spot the trends, the big opportunities, instead of getting clear on what the person right in front of you needs most.
The go to tool for this? The survey. Don’t get me wrong, surveying your audience can be extremely useful. However, it’s not useful when you’re looking for your next idea. Use a survey when you want to know more about your customers’ experience with [blank] or their frustrations with [blank]. But don’t use a survey when you want to know what’s on their collective mind. It will (almost) always be a shadow of what is really true.
The people who are right in front of you–those customers who thrill, excite, and inspire you–are constantly giving you information. They are writing you emails, responding to your tweets, and giving you feedback on their purchases. The best tool for discovering the needs & desires of those right-in-front-of-you customers is your own mental archive. Trust yourself, trust your observations, trust the information.
The same way you know how to give the perfect gift to someone you love is the way you discover how to create a product that scales.
The thing about the person right in front of you is that her needs are felt by someone else. In fact, those needs are felt by countless others. Obvious? Perhaps. And perhaps what you’re doing when you go trendspotting is trying to identify those very needs. But when you survey the group, you inevitably water down your observations.
You turn your observations into “big ideas.” Those big ideas are great for getting buy in. They can motivate, entice, and enthuse. But, they rarely turn into a sale.
Scale is about precision: precise language, precise desires, precise solutions, precise connections.
Scale is about the perfect gift.
That kind of precision isn’t about demographics or profiles. It’s about meaning, belief, internal scripts, personal priorities, and core desires. You won’t discover those by going broad; you’ll find them by diving deep. Focus your energy, your intuition, and your magnifying lens on the people right in front of you.
That’s where you’ll find the needs that will scale.
Are you ready to unlock those needs?
That’s why I created The Customer Perspective Process. It will allow you to tune into your customers’ inner needs & desires and creating lasting systems for growth based on them.
Click here to find out about the next Customer Perspective Process boot camp.
Often, clients come to me because they’re ready to go beyond serving one customer at a time. They’re ready to take their ideas to a bigger stage and a broader reach. They’re ready to scale.
You might be there right now–or approaching that point–if you’re asking questions like:
- Is the way I’m working right now really sustainable over time?
- Isn’t there a way to get more “bang for my buck” when it comes to marketing & sales?
- Where is the closest human clone machine?
Traditionally, scale has required making products or services less personal. You can’t clone yourself & your super personal service, so you scale back as you scale up.
First, what do I mean by scale? Simply, scale is serving as many customers as possible with as little effort on behalf of your business as possible. Serving a group of customers through scale means that your business has an impact on people who you wouldn’t have been able to reach otherwise.
What if scale didn’t have to be impersonal? What if scale was an extension of all the most human elements of your business?
Creating a business that scales leverages your gifts for the greatest good across the broadest channels.
I believe that most businesses require a level of premium, unleveraged work. It could take the form of commission art, couture dresses, one on one coaching, or corporate speaking engagements. But most of those same businesses require a level of leverage to take their impact to scale. The two sides of the equation can and do work hand-in-hand.
One informs the other, improving both.
Over the summer, I watched Danielle LaPorte work a room of eager, warm-hearted entrepreneurs. She opened with…
We were at World Domination Summit and it’s a beautiful example of how you can nurture relationships while leveraging your gifts & skills. Chris Guillebeau doesn’t have a relationship with each of the people who bought tickets – all within minutes of them going on sale. But, of course, many people feel like they have relationship with him.
More importantly, their connection to Chris makes connecting to the others at WDS much easier. It’s not the relationship with Chris that makes this event a success; it’s all the other relationships that are spawned by their implicit connection.
Yes, love scales at WDS. It scales at meet ups, conferences, and events. It scales at rock concerts, sidewalk sales, and yoga classes. Love even scales through ebooks, programs, and masterminds.
It’s the intention, process, and values that create the atmosphere that allows love to scale through a business. It’s not a business owner or her work with any individual client.
It’s a clear understanding of how one individual’s needs & desires are the fuel you need reach the masses. More on that next week.
The most powerful kind of scale happens when you make each & every customer feel like she’s one in a million, even when you’re serving thousands.
Click to tweet it!
What holds you back from leveraging your gifts & skills to create more wealth and impact more lives is thinking that your work can’t survive without you & your special attention to the client.
The thing is, you can duplicate your favorite clients. You can clone your best customers. You can leverage your love for these special people. You can know them better, discover their innermost thoughts & desires.
You can identify the patterns behind why they buy and when. You can design filters, campaigns, and events that attract & bind people who genuinely value what your business does.
And at the same time you can create work that fulfills their deep desires and answers their core needs.
When you leverage the love & scale your offers, you’re creating a big impact on the customers who are just right for your business.
And that ends up having a big impact on you.
The number one reason your business isn’t generating the revenue it could be is that your business model is not set up to generate more.
People who earn more know a very important fact:
It’s easier to earn the second $50,000 than it is to earn the first $50,000.
Or the second $100k, or the second cool million.
In other words, once you’ve earned $50,000, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be earning 6-figures. The difference is that earning 6-figures generally requires leveraging your earning. It means no longer trading time for money. It means understanding what parts of your business can be duplicated over & over again with almost zero effort. It means finding a tipping point again, and again, and again.
You don’t have to give up family time to earn more. You don’t need to resort to shady promotional tactics or annoying affiliate campaigns. Instead, your business needs to embrace a better business model that is based on value & results, not time & energy.
If you’re putting too much work into earning too little, there’s a good chance your business is based on a relationship model.
Now, don’t get me wrong! Relationships are great. The human element is the most important element of any business. But here’s what starts to go wrong when you base your business on a relationship model:
Relational transactions happen most often in project-based or one-to-one client scenarios. The easy way to develop a relationship is with time, exchange, and getting-to-know-ya. You put your whole heart & soul into the process. Those relationships turn towards a transaction when you have something that fills a need for the other person.
It’s a feel good way to do business. But it’s a slow process. Each customer represents hours of time, loads of money (don’t think your social media use & Skype coffee dates aren’t costing you), and emotional stress waiting for those relationships to convert.
On the other hand, sales in transactional models come fast & furious. They utilize scale to generate the revenue that’s needed in the business. Transactional models are built on acute needs & impulse purchases.
The difficulty with this model is that it’s hard to achieve customer loyalty, harder still to truly delight your customers. Once a solution is purchased, there’s often no word from the customer to find out if it’s working or not. And this type of business might leave you scratching your head, wanting more.
In a perfect world, there would be a sweet spot between transactional models & relational models.
Not to get all Dr. Pangloss on you, but the New Economy just might be the best of all possible worlds.
There is a sweet spot. There is a way to build a business that takes your big ideas and your brilliant products to scale in a way that makes each customer feel special and singled out.
Your customer understands that you are doing business with him in mind, that your business is geared to her success, and that you have a vision for how his life can be better.
Leveraged income isn’t outside the customer relationship cycle. It’s an integral part of it. You don’t develop leveraged income opportunities to generate money where before there was none. You develop leveraged income opportunities to solve problems for people you care about, over & over & over again.
If you’re making $10k, $20k, even $50k per year, you’re already solving problems for people one at a time. To make the jump to your dream income, your goal is to solve problems for people 10, 100, even 1000 people at a time.
Don’t fight your desire to forge & foster relationships with your potential customers. Just realize that you can serve more than one person at a time. In fact, you owe it to your customers to do just that.
It’s a personality brand, not a personality business.
Running a business that incorporates some level of personality branding is like driving a car. You put yourself in the driver’s seat but you turn the steering wheel, not the car wheels themselves. You step on the gas pedal and a hundred tiny reactions make the motor whir & the wheels spin.
You are not the car.
The car still functions whether it’s you in the driver’s seat or your best friend.
There are two real dangers of personality business – as opposed to personality branding:
- You risk being the only engine of growth for your business.
- You risk creating a customer base of sycophants.
Let’s examine the first risk.
When you are the only engine of growth for your business, you can’t maximize your effort-to-results ratio. In other words, to get results, you need to put in a comparable amount of work. You don’t move forward unless you’re putting in the effort.
Your goal is find your sweet spot (click here for a guide to finding your sweet spot) such that all you need to do is flick a switch here or there to create big rewards for both yourself and your customers.
- Do you have a product (program, blog, service, project, etc…) that generates new sales without advertising? That spreads exponentially through word-of-mouth from delighted soul to delighted soul?
- Do you have systems or applications that automate as much of your workflow as possible?
- Are your offerings progressive? Do they grow with your customers to generate additional revenue?
Now, the second risk.
This is an altogether more controversial statement. But one that needs to be made. There are too many businesses in this space that are driven by the desire of the customer to be more like the business owner. Are your customers working towards their own version of success or they working on being more like you?
- Are they out to please you in anyway they can? Or are they willing to push back when they have a new need or a question about your vision?
- Do they engage you in meaningful conversation or just want to be “doing things right?”
- Do they apply your teaching, product, or solution? Or do they just keep coming back for more?
And in fact, these risks are interrelated. In an effort to launch a relationship-based, personality brand, many business owners – and rightly so – offer their services 1:1. Then, due to a marketing misunderstanding, they position the offer as essentially “spend some time with me” instead of “get xyz results.”
If your business is positioned to be about just spending time with you, it’s near impossible to not be the sole engine of growth. If all you’re selling is access to your world, you’ll be forced to create & recreate that world… and all the logistics that go along with it. It’s a slippery slope of of too much work, too much frustration, and too much energy drained.
You can be a role model without creating an atmosphere of “I wanna be just like you!” You can create offerings that sell your ideas instead of yourself. You can create a brand is driven by your unique talents, experience, and perspective without being a slave to a business that requires your 24/7 supervision.
Here’s a 3 point plan:
1. Sever the emotional attachment you have to your business. Yes, I believe in work/life integration. But I also believe that your business cannot thrive if you allow it to control your sense of self-worth or self-knowledge.
Just like being a mother or father doesn’t wholly define you, being your business can’t define you either. Personality brands blur this line but they don’t erase it. Understand where you stop and your business begins. Hat tip to Adam on this one.
2. Separate your work from your technique or ideas. Your ideas and your technique exist separate from the work you put into your business. Others can (and should) run with your ideas. Others can (and should) execute your techniques.
It’s easy to get caught up and assuming you are a necessary part of the equation. You are not. Unless you’re prepared to helicopter-parent your business (gosh, I sure hope you’re not), build a business that’s based on scaling your ideas or technique.
3. Save yourself from over-sharing. Some business owners like to leak their own gossip in the name of “authenticity.” It’s all out front because there’s little in the way of strategy on the back end.
Authenticity isn’t an excuse or a demand to air your dirty laundry. Authenticity is an opportunity ask potential customers to align with your values, the value you provide to them, and the vision you have for who they’re becoming as human beings. Hat tip to Ali Shapiro on this one.
The illusion of personality branding is that you’re selling yourself. The risk is that you find yourself sold to a business model that crashes into a tree.
Make your goal to be the confident, in-control driver of your business. Not the commodity being sold.
— PS —
Kick Start Labs is about to release a brand new resource on the basics of product development. If you’ve found yourself little more than a commodity in your business, it’s time to take a serious look at how you can develop a product or service that liberates you. Keep your eyes peeled – registration opens Friday.