Admitting mistakes isn’t always easy, particularly in the age of social media “highlight reels” and carefully selected Instagram filters. But there’s beauty in trial and error, particularly when it comes to developing a business. Trust me, I know. When I first started my business, my mindset was “Leap and the way will come!” I assumed if I put myself out there, people would be knocking down my door. I think a lot of business owners believe the same. While this kind of gusto is admirable, it’s also not practical. And when I heard crickets after I initially struck out on my own, I realized I needed another plan.
That plan included tweaking and adjusting my services. I offered coaching at deeply discounted rates to build a foundation for my business. I also worked part-time while building my own brand for two years, which is surprising to some people, but it’s definitely something I recommend. Give yourself the gift of a little bit of time. Test the market and see where you connect, and understand what needs to change about your offerings in order to be successful.
After reflecting on this and other lessons I’ve learned as I went through the process of building my business, I decided to put together a post sharing some of the steps I wish I’d taken from the start. If I could go back and give my past self some advice on starting a business, these are the top 6 lessons I wish I’d mastered when I first started my business:
Choose your audience
If, for example, you’re an acupuncturist who’s trying to talk to anyone and everyone who may consider acupuncture services, you may think you’re opening yourself up to as many potential new clients as possible. In reality, your messaging may be so broad and vague that it’s not appealing to anyone. Instead, get specific about your ideal customer. Whether it’s athletes or expecting mothers, craft your message accordingly.
As you build your client base, make it a point to set and keep boundaries.You don’t check your e-mail on the weekends. That’s okay! Let your clients know what they can expect from you, and then maintain these boundaries. You’ll be able to serve your customers much more effectively when you do business in a way that feels authentic.
Solidify your message
The way in which you do business matters, but you’ll also want to think about the larger meaning behind your brand. Being an entrepreneur presents a unique set of challenges. It’s frighteningly easy to “forget” why you do what you do when you’re stuck in the weeds of bookkeeping, administrative tasks, and answering emails. BUT what keeps clients coming in the door is when they connect with you on a deeper level. So, focus in on why you started this business in the first place. What key problem did you wish to solve? Who did you want to help? Make that the forefront of your marketing and message to continue to connect with your ideal audience.
Define your offerings
Four years after I started my business, I was working my tail off and was completely exhausted. However, I wasn’t making enough to justify my efforts. Frustrated and confused, I sought the help of a friend who was skilled at creating profit plans for businesses. Together, we broke down exactly how I was making money. When I paid attention to where my income was really coming from, I was able to customize packages based on client interest, and not just my own beliefs about what my customers wanted from me.
As a coach, I’m always amazed at how many of my clients don’t pay attention to (or want to even look at) what’s coming in the door. They let their own beliefs lead the way, and don’t take note of what’s actually selling. Your customer base will tell you what they’re looking for. It’s up to you to make sure you’re paying attention.
Design a client process
I was fortunate in that I intuitively developed a strong message and process when I first started my business. However, many entrepreneurs don’t, and they find that it impacts their ability to succeed early on. Your clients want to know that there’s a tried and true process behind what you do. It gives them confidence in your abilities, and lets them know what to expect.
Expand your reach
You’ve landed all of the “low hanging fruit” like friends and family. Great! But now it’s time to expand. This is most often where businesses stall. To avoid a plateau, get out into your community in a more visible way and really own your product or service. For some, a watery message can hold you back from explaining what you do. It’s certainly harder that way! If you’re an introvert like me, fear can hold you back in a major way, too. Fortunately, you can get really creative about how you develop a community. When I was starting out, I created a meditation group for holistic business owners. It was dual purpose in that there was time to network, but it also served as a way for busy entrepreneurs to give back to themselves. I loved it and so did they! Once your message is solidified, it’s time to gather referral partners, create a solid social media strategy, and connect in bigger ways in your community.
Set your sales strategy
After learning what my clients were buying again and again, I was able to package my services in ways that helped them even more. As you’re in business longer, you’ll start to understand your sales options and form a more productive sales strategy. You’ll also get to play with honing in on your process, delivery, and customer service. To me, that was the most fun. I love to spoil my clients! Foundations first though – you have to walk before you can run.
Beyond just packaging your services carefully, you should focus on building a funnel of leads. To do this, think about how you can offer a taste of a product or service to entice your customer base to make a purchase. What’s the next thing they might want or need, and how can you encourage them to buy it?
Keep in mind that all of the steps in this post are evergreen, and are meant to be revisited according to the phases of your business. It’s about tweaking and adjusting to find the perfect balance. That need to re-calibrate never goes away.
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