As a successful entrepreneur and small business owner/CEO I know a few things about you:
- You are passionate about your business idea and the products and/or services you offer.
- You are most likely a visionary — with lots of ideas and the ability to see the amazing possibilities.
- Marketing and/or sales either comes naturally and has been your primary focus as you have created, developed, and grown your business.
All of these are excellent traits for an entrepreneur to possess and fundamentally are a key component to your success thus far. But in almost every small business there is an inflection point.
This point of inflection is fairly easy to identify for the owner as they start feeling stuck.
Stuck at a particular income level instead of consistently growing.
Stuck doing the same “boring” tasks instead of working in their zone of genius.
Stuck carrying all the burden of the business instead of enjoying the elusive entrepreneurial freedom so often touted.
Feeling stuck is your business trying to tell you that something is wrong (or maybe several somethings).
When most entrepreneurs feel stuck, their go-to solution is marketing. More ads, more posts, more offers. New tactics, new products, new programs. But, it is rare that the business’ marketing is actually the problem. So marketing will rarely help and in some cases will actually make things worse.
Instead it is time to look at the business’ operations.
I use the acronym GEARS for the parts of your business’ operations:
- Goods – Products and services you sell
- Effectiveness – Personal and team productivity, including goals and strategy
- Accounting – Profitability, financial tracking, and cash flow systems
- Resources – People, equipment, space, technology, and similar
- Systems – Processes, routines, and non-financial reporting
Most entrepreneurs are not operationally inclined; it is counter to their visionary gifts. So operations get overlooked or put on the back burner until an issue becomes critical. And then it gets addressed quickly, in a “make do” manner without lots of consideration for longer term effectiveness.
At the point of “stuck”, all of the patches, quick-fixes, and band-aids are no longer serving the business and the internal gears of your business are about to break. Your business has hit its operational capacity limit.
Unfortunately, what got you here (stuck), will rarely get you there (unstuck).
If you are feeling stuck and not sure where to start, sign up below to download your GEARS self-assessment, or click here to learn more. In just a few minutes you will identify which GEARS need to be addressed and how to prioritize your efforts for maximum benefit. Optimize your GEARS and you will be unstuck and moving forward before you know it!
A lot of entrepreneurs are in the problem-solving business: we help people do the things that will make life better. We solve the problems they know they have and sometimes, the problems they don’t. Are you helping your customers solve the problems they know about, or are you trying too soon to fix a problem they don’t know they have?
You understand that your product or service can solve someone’s problem. The question is: does your customer understand that, too? You can’t fix someone’s problem for them if they don’t know they have it. (A quick and easy example: I’m not currently in the market for termite services, but if you came to my house and showed me proof of termite damage, I’d suddenly BE in the market for those services. You’ve got to help me see the problem before I’m willing to pay for the solution.)
There are five basic levels of awareness that your customers have when it comes to their problems. Your job is to meet them at their current level and help them move toward the higher ones. I’ll use the example of a brick and mortar shop owner without a website as our sample customer.
Level 1: Ignorance isn’t Bliss
At this stage, your customer doesn’t know there’s a problem, at all. He’s a local toy store owner who is making occasional sales from customers who walk in off the street, and he thinks that’s pretty good! What more does he need? Nothing, as far as he’s concerned.
Level 2: Tip of the Iceberg
At this stage, your customer knows he has a problem, but has NO idea how to fix it. He probably thinks something like, “I’m not making enough sales to keep paying my rent on this shop.” So he realizes that he should be making more sales, but he isn’t sure how to go about doing that.
Level 3: Basic Awareness
At this stage, your customer knows that there might be options out there to solve his problem. He has seen other business owners employ sign wavers outside their shops, and he thinks maybe he should do that. He has also considered that maybe he needs a website like the store owner next door. He knows he has options, but he can’t connect those options to specific goals or results.
Level 4: Moving toward Choice
At this stage, your customer knows that if he had a website he could probably make more sales, but he isn’t sure the best way to do that. Should he hire someone to build it for him, or attempt a DIY solution? The choices are overwhelming, even though he already has an idea of a path to pursue.
Level 5: Solution-Ready
At this stage, your customer knows that he needs a website, and that you’re the best person to build it for him. He has already done research and has followed you on social media or visited your website so that he understands the credibility you bring to the table. At this stage he is ready to buy, and all you have to do is offer him something to purchase.
When you create a piece of content, like a blog post or email newsletter, you need to first think about the level of awareness your prospective customer has when he’s reading that content. Write the content to move him from one level up to the next, so that you can guide him on the path that will eventually lead to buying from you.
When you’re building your website or other platform, you should have content that appeals to your audience at the first four levels, because you never know someone’s level of awareness when they first come into contact with your work. As you grow your business, you can build sales funnels that start at each level (1-4), and move the customer up to level 5 with carefully crafted content.
Need a reminder? Download this free graphic to help you remember to move your audience through the levels! Just click on the image to save it to your computer:
Are most of your customers coming to you at one specific level? How can you create content that will help them advance to the next one?
If you’d like to improve YOUR content marketing and speak to people at all levels of awareness, join us in June as we read Epic Content Marketing in the Small Biz Book Club! Throughout the month you’ll learn how to create content that meets your customers where they are and moves them through your sales cycle. Sign up below to join us in the club!
If you’re not a writer by trade, chances are good that when you think about creating quality content for your audience, you start to worry about how much time that’s going to take. While it should take some time to create quality content, the key is to maximize the time you’re spending and get the most out of the content, to make it worth the time it cost you.
For our purposes, the term “content” means,”any educational, entertaining, or inspiring piece of information you put out into the world for consumption by your audience.” A single piece of content could be one page or a 2-minute video, but it could also be a 300-page book or a week-long online course. The first step in maximizing the time you spend creating content is to understand that you don’t always have to go for the longer end of that spectrum; shorter pieces of content are more likely to hook your audience and keep their interest all the way through.
Types of Content
Content comes in as many forms as there are ways to communicate – written word, audio, video, and visual images all make up the spectrum of content formatting. The main types of content you can harness for your business include:
- blog posts or website pages
- opt-ins (lead magnets)
- nontraditional content*
- paid content
If you learn how to make these different types of content work together, that’s the key to maximizing your time.
Tips for Maximizing Content
Create ONE main piece of content, and use it in a variety of ways to get the most out of it. For instance:
Scenario A: Maximizing Paid Content
Create a piece of paid content, such as an e-book or online course.
Now take one small section of that content (maybe a resource guide, or the first chapter or lesson) and make it into a lead magnet to get people on your email list.
Create a list of questions people have about this product before they buy, and turn each one of those questions into a blog post.
Take the most common question and turn it into a newsletter topic, really digging deep into your customers’ questions and explaining to them how this product can solve their problems. Then link to the blog posts you created to help answer other questions they may have.
Scenario B: Maximizing Free Content
Think about one big goal your customers have; now, create a series of regular, ongoing content to help them achieve that goal.*
Post this content series on your blog, for free.
In your regular newsletter, talk about the goals your customers have, and then let them know you’ve created this free content to help them achieve those goals.
Make an add-on resource to your free content, such as a workbook or a bonus video, and turn that into your lead magnet for your email list.
Create paid products or services that supplement the process of goal-reaching, for customers who want to go beyond the depth of the free content.
*Ideas for Nontraditional, Free Content:
- an audio or video podcast that breaks down the topic into easily-completed steps
- a social media challenge, such as posting a photo every day to Instagram
- a “mini course” or workshop with one new lesson each day for a week, month, etc.
- a book club, where members can come together to study topics that are interesting to them (Sound familiar?)
- a private online group (like a Facebook group or membership site) where they can come together to discuss their goals with people who are working on similar goals
- a _____-along (read-along, knit-along, quilt-along, de-clutter-along, etc.) – where everyone is doing basically the same thing at the same time and encouraging one another along the way
When you take the time to really plan out your content with a purpose, it becomes easier to see how you can present one piece of content in multiple formats to maximize the time you spent on it AND bring a cohesive theme to your online platforms.
Would you like to work on creating content that establishes you as an authority in your niche and lets you connect with your customers and earn their trust? Join us in June as we study Epic Content Marketing for the Small Biz Book Club!
One of the things I love most about reading business books is that I don’t always have to invent brand-new ideas for my business; instead, I can find great ideas in the pages of these books. Starting in April, I’ll be leading a book study of Brandscaping by Andrew M. Davis for the Small Biz Book Club, so today I wanted to share an example of how this book gave me a great idea.
Of course, you already know that I got the idea for the entire book club from Brandscaping, but that wasn’t the only gem I found when I read it. I was actually able to get an idea to help one of my consulting clients, too! Here’s how:
Advertising: Worth it or not?
My client and I were discussing an opportunity she had to advertise in a local community magazine (this client runs a brick and mortar craft supply shop). The advertising cost was somewhat steep, but she felt it might help her generate some local business for her shop. After all, that is often our go-to place to drum up business, right? Advertising. However, that doesn’t mean it’s always the best option.
Since I had read Brandscaping, I knew that advertising only gets you so far: a little bit of exposure in a single publication. Let’s be honest – how often do you actually read the ads in a magazine, instead of just skimming over them to get to the content?
Don’t advertise – Brandscape
With that in mind, I suggested to my client that instead of paying for an ad, she pitch herself to the magazine editor as a prospective contributor.
I told my client that she could write regular articles for this publication, centered around a topic that would be of interest to the local readers and help to promote her shop. (In this case, the topic was home decor tips using handmade projects, for which the readers could come to her shop to purchase supplies.) This is a win-win scenario, because the magazine editor gets regular, fresh content for her publication and the shop owner gets free advertising (heck, the magazine might even pay her to write the pieces!).
Share the Love
I told my client that if she was worried about generating enough content for regular publication, she could extend the “brandscape” even further by inviting a few other shop owners to contribute to the column as well. They could team up and divide the work so no one would have to find the time and inspiration to write one article every time the magazine was published. As long as she chose shop owners who could also write about the general topic without directly competing with her for business, this would be a great way to take some of the pressure off of her and add a few more networking relationships with other small business owners.
If I hadn’t read Brandscaping, I never would have had this idea. What will be the next great idea YOU have for your business? Will you find it in a book?
If you’d like to read Brandscaping and get a FREE weekly study guide to help you stay on track and apply the material to your small business, sign up below to be notified when the study guide goes live. It’s entirely free, and I hope to see you in the club!
Last summer, a professional colleague of mine approached me and asked me to consider serving as the interim Executive Director for The National Needlearts Association (TNNA – the trade organization for needle arts professionals). Now that I’ve concluded my work in that position, looking back I can say it was the perfect job for me. The thing is, I didn’t know that until they asked me to do the job. It’s an opportunity I easily could have missed, but I didn’t because I had been preparing for it for years.
Open to Opportunity
Ultimately, landing this job was a result of good sales; except I didn’t have to “sell myself” in the moment as a candidate for the position, because I had marketed myself so well up to that point that the TNNA president thought of me when the position became available. Instead of having to compete with other equally well-qualified candidates, I set myself up as the “natural choice” for the job, just by establishing relationships with my fellow board members within the organization.
When you can say to someone, I know you, I’ve worked with you, we have a relationship, that lays the foundation for future collaborations. The best opportunities often come from the relationships we form. Think about how many times you’ve found out about a great deal because your best friend told you about the sale, or how many times you’ve been recommended by someone else and that has helped you move forward in your career. Thinking about it this way makes it clear: it’s just as important to spend time forming professional relationships with other people as it is to work on improving your own skills and advancing your own career.
You don’t always have to keep the end goal in mind.
This job at TNNA was never on my bucket list, but it was an amazing opportunity that came up, and I took it. If you do have an end goal, great, but you don’t have to! Sometimes you don’t know what opportunities might come down the line as the result of forming a relationship with someone else, and sometimes they won’t come at all. But it’s always a good idea to establish yourself as an expert and a team player.
Working at TNNA lined up easily with all of my personal and professional goals, so it was an ideal fit for me at that time in my life, even though at the time I was focused on other projects and didn’t have a job like this lined up in my sights.
Keep surprising them
In the recent past I have worked hard to establish myself at TNNA not just as a knitter, but as a businessperson. I have transitioned away from teaching knitting classes and instead I offer business classes to the members at our annual shows. I served on the board and I brought my best “business game” with me to every meeting. In doing so, I set myself up as the natural choice to lead the organization when the former Executive Director stepped down, even though leading the organization wasn’t specifically one of my goals.
If I had focused on showcasing my work as a knitting instructor only, I probably would have continued to grow my knitting business through TNNA, but ultimately that wasn’t my goal. By putting myself out there as a business consultant and taking opportunities to showcase that skill set, I was able to further my own goals and those of the organization as a whole.
Lessons in Creative Marketing
To wrap up, here are the take-aways I hope you learn from this post:
- Put yourself in the position, whenever possible, to make relationships with people who will notice your presence and begin to feel like they know you.
- Focus as much on building relationships with others in your field (and in the professional world in general) as you do on building your own skills.
- Look for opportunities to network and connect with other people. Join a trade organization, a local board, or a leadership club.
- Showcase all your skills, especially those you want to focus on professionally, at every opportunity.
- Be open to opportunities everywhere; you never know when you’re going to find the best job you never knew you always wanted!
If you enjoyed this post and learned something from it, please take a moment to share it!
Starting in April, I’ll be facilitating a read-along study of Brandscaping, by Andrew M. Davis. Reading this book earlier in 2016 actually inspired me to start this new venture: the Small Biz Book Club.
Content is King
One of the main concepts in Brandscaping is that you should find ways to connect with your audience members through high quality content. An add-on tip to this idea is that YOU don’t have to be the person who creates that content; there’s no need to reinvent the wheel if good content already exists that would be interesting to your audience. The key is to find ways to leverage that existing content in ways that will be useful to your readers.
Serving my Audience
Inspired by that idea, I started to think about the content that already exists that would appeal to small business owners. I realized that the book I was reading was an example of that content – as were the other business books I had read. There’s a wealth of information available to small business owners within the pages of books, but many small business owners don’t take the time to read them.
Big Concepts for Small Business
I realized that for some small business owners, reading a business book was overwhelming, because in general the “big name” business books are written for bigger businesses. They might discuss scenarios from businesses like Wal-Mart or Ford, and if your business is nowhere near that size then it feels like those scenarios don’t apply to you. Boiling down these big ideas into applicable steps and tips for small businesses is something that comes easily to me, so I realized that if I could facilitate that process for other small business owners, it would be a way to help them apply the lessons in business books to their own experiences.
And thus, the Small Biz Book Club was born.
I talked to my assistant and we determined the format: weekly lessons delivered for free on my website or via email, which would provide insights and guidance to help make it easier to read these business books and get something out of them for your small business. We’ll include the option to join a private Facebook group for further discussion, to really get into the details of how to apply the lessons we’re learning. And then when we’re finished with a book, we’ll package up all of those lessons into a downloadable study guide for anyone who wants to read the book again or anyone who missed the first read-along.
If you’d like to read more business books AND actually apply the lessons from them to your small business, I’d love for you to join us for the Small Biz Book Club. We’ve got two options:
- Sign up to read along with Brandscaping, by Andrew M. Davis. Click here to read more about that, and join us for the read-along study if you like what you see. You’ll also have the option to sign up to be notified, just once a month, of the other books we’ll be reading. You’ll have the option to join in on any of the read-alongs, or sit them out.
- If you aren’t interested in Brandscaping but you still want to be notified about the Small Biz Book Club activities and have the option to read along with future books, enter your email address into the box below. You’ll get one email per month introducing you to the next book we’ll be reading, and if you choose to read along then you can do so by visiting my website or by signing up for weekly email reminders for that book only. Any month you may choose not to read along with us, and you won’t hear from me again until the following month when there’s a new book.
I hope you’ll consider joining us for the book club!