One of the biggest challenges a business owner has is when they have to wear too many hats and do too many things. This is especially true when those multiple tasks don't align with their specialized skillset - like what the basis of their business is made of. Many solopreneurs, or one-person businesses, don't have marketing and sales as their main skill, which makes starting and launching a business difficult. There is, however, an easier way to market your one-person business.
Understand Your Target Market
In order to market to the right people in a way that doesn't make you lose a ton of time and money, you need to narrow down your "who." Every business should have a model where they are solving a specific problem with their products and/or services. Your who is the audience that is most likely to find value in what you are offering. Identifying your who is the most important part of your marketing strategy, because you should be able to attract them with your offering in a very repeatable way.
Your "what" is the specific offering, and the single biggest result that it provides. The what in your business should be measurable, tangible, and externally verifiable from your past clients. Having a what that shares your offering and the expectation from your offering allows your target market to build trust in your experience and expertise because they feel that what you are offering can solve their problem. Your what should also address your market's needs or desires. Their needs are problems they need to solve, and their desires are the outcome they would like to have.
When you think about the reason you started your business, you likely think about your past experiences and the knowledge you have built on solving a specific problem that you've dealt with. This is your "why" - the passion and expertise behind your business. Your why should never be financially motivated, but should be focused on solving a specific problem (what) for a specific audience (who) with your knowledge-based solution (why).
Identifying the Right Marketing Channels
Using the right marketing channels to reach your audience can be overwhelming. Many businesses feel like they need to be everywhere in order to reach their market, but this is actually counterproductive. Marketing should be very specific and relevant, so understanding where your target market spends time online is an important first step. Next, you need to figure out whether the platform you intend to use is best for business to consumer engagements, or business to business engagements. If you are hoping to target consumers, you don't want to only promote on business-focused platforms, and vice versa.
Chances are, you use a platform that would benefit your target audience. It is important to be comfortable using the platform to reach your market, so it may be beneficial to start marketing where you are already sharing. Your marketing should feel true to you and show your personality in a way that gains trust with your audience. If you are uncomfortable on a platform, your audience will be able to notice. You won't post as often as needed to gain trust, which means that you'll miss opportunities. Instead, focusing on what you're already using and doing more focused posting about your business is a great start.
Lastly, you need to decide your capacity for managing your marketing channels and strategy. If you are comfortable using one platform, but know that your audience exists elsewhere, you may need to build your skills in the other platform, or find an automation program to help you duplicate your efforts where they will work. You don't have to be everywhere, and testing different platforms can help you to learn where your audience is online. Once you find the right platform, you want to do more of what works.
Delegation, Automation, and Optimization
Delegating your marketing tasks sounds daunting and expensive, but realistically, delegation can save you money. Imagine it takes you six hours to complete a week's worth of marketing posts, but takes an experience marketing profession just two hours. Paying for their services means that you get time back to work on the sales within your business (the part that actually gains profit) and your marketing gets done without causing you stress.
Automating social media posting and email marketing is another way to reduce your stress. Using platforms that allow you to share content across a few platforms, or to schedule your content ahead of time can save you time and hassle. Setting up a landing page with an opt in for your information, which starts an automated email sequence means that you are keeping in touch with people who are interested in your business without having to do everything manually. This also reduces your mental involvement in your marketing process and opens up more time to work in your business, not on it.
Remember, marketing gains trust with your target market. Sales allows you to work with your target market. The biggest goal of marketing is to generate leads so that you can sell your products and services. Great marketing strategies can create those leads, so that you can get to work doing what you love.
After a very successful five-year mentoring relationship with a SCORE adviser, I decided to step into mentoring entrepreneurs myself. Before I ventured into the other side, almost ten years ago, I asked my mentor a couple questions: "What worked best in our partnership? What didn't work well in our partnership? What could have made our partnership better?" We had built a lot of trust in that time, so I knew he would be honest. Here are a few things I learned from that conversation and from my own mentoring relationships.
Be open to change and criticism
Early in my mentorship, I understood that I knew very little about business and the world. My adviser was in his late 60s and had dozens of years of experience with both. It was a well balanced partnership because I was open to his recommendations.
I remember feeling really bad after the first session he redirected me. It felt very negative at the time because I wasn't expecting someone to contradict my thoughts and actions. At our next session, I asked about his criticism. His reasoning? At this point in our relationship, he felt that it was best to be direct in his communication. He knew that I trusted him and I knew that his criticism was accurate. It might have been a tough pill to swallow at the time, but in hindsight, it was the advice I needed from the person who was best suited to give it. Many mentors are extremely positive, even in their criticism, so it's important to recognize that any request of change is coming from a someone who wants the best for you. In my case, if I hadn't taken his direction, I would have spent a lot more time spinning my wheels.
Be ready to work - and get it done!
Just like in any meeting, a mentorship without action items is a waste of time. When working with a mentor, be expected to have tasks to do ahead of your next session. A great mentor will make sure that you understand what is to be done and the reason for it. A great mentee will make sure that they work to accomplish the task, or communicates with the mentor for more direction if they can't complete it. The job of the mentor is to help find the struggles and pain points in how you are working in order to move you forward. They are responsible for growing your knowledge in your industry or area of interest. Your job is to take the steps necessary to put that knowledge to work for your situation.
Over the past few years, I have worked with mentees that took their post-meeting work seriously, and others who didn't prioritize the items we identified. The ones that did the work and reached out when they struggled were leaps and bounds more successful than those who didn't get things done. Seems obvious, right? It is, but you'd be surprised how many people get into a mentorship and think that it's just talking, not doing.
Communication makes or breaks the partnership
It is important to understand that your mentee is mentoring because they have experience in the business world. Chances are, they are carving out time in their day, away from their job duties, to help you. The expectation they have is that you are open with communication and take the partnership seriously. I have rarely met a business owner or executive who has time to sit twiddling their thumbs when left waiting for a meeting or phone call. Being timely, responding promptly, and making sure that you understand the expectations of the mentorship is important so that neither party feels like their time is wasted. Communication is a key necessity in every business relationship, and your mentorship can be improved and successful, or unworth the time and effort based on how openly and regularly you communicate.
Unfortunately, I have had to end mentorships with people who couldn't commit to meeting regularly, who missed calls, or who didn't meet the expectations we laid out. It's always hard to end a mentorship because you know the mentee needs help, but it is best for everyone involved. If a mentor continues to work with someone who isn't open and communicative, they will soon resent giving their time to help others. Alternatively, a mentee who continually wastes the time of a mentor will have a breakdown in other areas of their business. Sometimes this failure is the only thing that pushes them to make the changes necessary.
When I started working with my mentor, I wasn't sure what to expect. My mentor was a stranger who I knew little about. I am fairly guarded with new people, but I knew in order to make my mentorship successful, I needed to be open and give trust before it was fully earned. I'm glad that I did, because it lead to a very worthwhile experience for me and my business.
Trust is the most important and most difficult aspect of building a mentor/mentee relationship. There are a lot of fears and uncertainties that come with anything new, but especially when you have to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is incredibly important in mentoring because it allows you to openly discuss the struggles you have. Mentors cannot work on areas they don't know are broken, and openness is the only way to uncover all of the aspects they can help with.
Trust can easily be broken as well, by not being truthful about the actual status of your company, your struggles, or the knowledge you have or don't have. At their heart, mentors are teachers. They specialize in a specific area of business and want to share their experiences and information in order to help others. When they feel like they aren't as effective or don't have their mentee's trust, it can be hard to help.
Know when it's not working out
Sometimes, even with the best communication and trust, you realize that the partnership is not working out. It could be a lack of understanding, being unable to relate to each other, outgrowing their expertise, or needing different experience altogether. This is not always the easiest decision, but when it's not working out, then it's time to end the partnership.
I always feel guilty when I have to end a partnership, except when they outgrow me and my knowledge. My goal - and I make this clear from Day 1 - is for them to outgrow me. When there's still more I can do, but the timing is wrong or I'm not being effective, I end the partnership, even when I want to make it work. As a mentor, it is hard to feel like you're letting someone down. As a mentee, it is hard to feel like you failed. Instead, it's important for both parties to understand that the only chance of working with someone who is a better fit is to stop the partnership and find that other individual.
Mentoring can be so rewarding for both the mentor and mentee, but without openness, a willingness to work, good communication, trust, and an understanding of when the partnership should end, it will not work. I recommend that everyone both have and be a mentor. It takes time to find the right person for both, but when you do, you will grow as a leader and a person almost immediately.
We all get them - daily connection requests that, upon acceptance, immediately jump into a sales pitch. I spoke my opinion about this annoyance on Stu Heinecke's podcast "How to Get a Meeting with Anyone" in 2018, but for those who haven't yet listened, here's the Cliff Notes version: I think it's smarmy.
Recently, however, I received a connection request that followed two profile views - both partners and President/VP of a couple of companies. The request came with a message: "Hi Nicole, I came across your profile and noticed you are seeking opportunities to help companies. Would like to discuss some possible options with you. Thanks." Curious, I decided to accept the connection request and replied with a cheerful "Hey! Thanks so much for connecting! I'd love to chat - when is a good time for you? Talk soon, Nicole"
I have worked with consulting agencies and venture firms before on several projects. My background experience and focus give me a different perspective, and my startup experience has been beneficial for firms that doesn't specialize in them. I didn't think this connection was unusual and was very excited to hear what they were offering.
Immediately, I received a brief description of the opportunity - they have consulting firm. I have a consulting firm. They are looking to license their infrastructure that they've built over the past 11 years. When can we chat? I was mildly curious and definitely interested in hearing more about why they thought this would be a good match for me.
Over the next day, they sent a few documents about their structure, pricing, and offerings. It wasn't the right fit for my company, so I cordially replied that to him. He responded with something unexpected: "Sorry to feel it would not be the right fit. I actually disagree with that..."
Here's where the "pitch" and "sales tactics" fell apart: not once during this entire back and forth did they ask me a single question about my company, my staff, my challenges, my experience - nothing. Then, when I declined to move forward, I was wrong.
It's 2019 - time to stop condescending sales tactics. They don't work, and in fact further reinforced my decision that this company was not a good match. If you want to get someone's attention in a positive way, ask them questions. And follow up questions. Gauge the relationship before you try to make a sale. If, after those conversations, the other party feels like it's a poor fit, it is okay to ask them why they feel that way. This is the best way to overcome sales objections. It's not, however, okay to tell them that you disagree or that they are wrong, or anything close to that.
Asking "why" is the most powerful tool you can use to understand your customer. Anytime you discredit their feelings or make them feel like you value their wallet more than their needs, you will lose.
In my life and work, I don't typically wait around for inspiration to strike - I make things happen out of habit and careful planning - but there have been a few thought leaders who have been incredibly influential for me and my career.
Alexander Osterwalder: As the co-founder of Strategyzer, Alexander caught my attention several years ago when I was looking for a better way to organize startup strategy. I was working on a few different projects and consulting many clients and we all faced the same problem: a business plan is not very helpful for a startup. He (with Steve Blank) pioneered the Business Model Template, which is a great alternative to the antiquated and often-outdated business plans of yore.
Steve Blank: An entrepreneurial giant, Steve is not only responsible for how I manage a lot of my ideas, but he was my instructor and unofficial mentor for several years. The first Udacity course I took of Steve's was about Entrepreneurship, and I've since taken three more courses of his.
Patrick Lencioni: As an author and consultant, Patrick caught my attention with his book "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team." I was browsing my library, looking for something new to read and happened upon the book. I read it right away, then read it again. Within a few hours, I was buying every single book he ever wrote off Amazon. His storytelling about problems and solutions in the business world has shaped the way I work with my clients.
Dan Harris: Watching Dan's career for the past fifteen or so years, I was struck with how direct he could communicate and still be engaging. This became even more evident when I listened to the audiobook of 10% Happier. Dan taught me the importance of self-care and how to incorporate meditation and mindfulness into my life. I've been excited to watch his podcast and startup of the same name grow over the past year.
Richard Branson: My appreciation for Richard started the first time I saw him on a magazine, grinning from ear to ear. I love his views on risk-taking and being fearless - I'm not, but I work toward it a little each day. He and I are kindred spirits, as we both started our career early in life and just love to work - but differently than what most people classify as "work."
Chris Voss: I recently found Chris' book "Never Split the Difference" in my library's online audiobooks and decided to give it a listen. Sales and negotiation have never felt like my strong suit, so I figured I could learn a thing or two from the former FBI hostage negotiator. I was right, and have listened to the audiobook three times in two months, plus have read every blog post and watched every video his consulting agency has put out.
Who influences you in your life and career?
Over the past few years, as I’ve been working with more and more big businesses, I noticed a trend: when companies have turnover, they don’t make changes. They don’t change their hiring practices to prevent further turnover. They don’t assess whether or not the job description changed. They don’t analyze the current personalities and skill set within the department to see what they truly need. And they use the same, frustratingly antiquated hiring software to pilfer through candidates. Any one of these spell trouble for a brand looking to grow, and many companies suffer from all of them. That said, I think we have a hiring problem.
When I started consulting, I didn’t set out to understand hiring or culture. I didn’t study or have interest in consulting on human resources matters, but when I started analyzing why companies failed to move ideas forward and couldn’t build innovative teams, it all came back to their hiring practices.
Let’s start with the initial part of hiring: the job description. In order to attract great talent, you have to have a job description that spells out what the job entails, company history, and basic benefits. If you’re a large company with dozens, or even hundreds of job openings, you likely automate this process. You select the job you need to fill, and maybe the location, and the data goes into the want ad automatically from the previous similar listing. Nevermind that this same job has been listed three times in the past two years because the hired candidate “didn’t work out” — companies streamline this process based on what was done before because it’s easy.
Next, the resume. Raise your hand if your company has a candidate upload their resume into a system, which them scrapes it and populates fields with their information. Does that system then ask them to update the information and then verify that it’s filled out properly? Then, does that same system give them a score based on their results, which you then use to interview candidates? The fact is, systems like these filter out talented individuals because it asks them to duplicate their efforts in a redundant way, making them feel undervalued as soon as they engage with that part of the hiring process. This is the first step in getting hired, and already they are frustrated by a system that doesn’t work in their favor — if they are the least bit creative with their resume (the document we are told to prepare to get a job), then the scraping system erroneous pulls, or doesn’t pull, information. If feeding rote information into a system that grades potential hirees based on those answers is how candidates are analyzed, then we should ditch the resume altogether and standardize the form fields so that candidates can automate the application process — but this doesn’t fix the problem.
A handful of candidates were picked by the system as the best! Congratulations company, even though your method was broken, you still have people who, on paper, might work. They tailored their answers to game your system, and they get a call. So, what next? You interview them, narrow down to two or three candidates, give them a skills assessment project, then pick the lucky hiree. You bring them in, you train them to do work (which is another problem in the process, a blog post for another day), and then you let them do the thing you hired them for. And sometimes they don’t fit in to the team. And sometimes their skills don’t actually match up to what they thought the job was based on the description. And sometimes they get so frustrated with the misalignments, they leave. Then the cycle continues.
Let’s say, for the sake of this conversation, that there is a better process to hiring qualified candidates. Did you know that an interested candidate is willing to spend up to five times as long filling out an application that asks paragraph style questions instead of updating forms with information that can be found on their resume? Candidate that can read items like your company handbook, perks packages, and what to expect day-to-day on your website will either not apply due to lack of interest, or will put their heart and soul into answering long-form questions because the individuality makes them feel valued.
Does your application process allow for tailored responses? Does it ask real-world questions to test their understanding of the role? Do you give them a chance to show their personality, their experience, and what they bring to the team? Are they given a chance to show how they could solve problems that you have?
What about the existing team? Have you asked them what would make a good complementary teammate? How would the new hire fit into their job? What qualities they would look for if they were hiring the new candidate? It’s one thing to consider culture fit, and another to consider team fit.
Lastly, have you considered why, if this isn’t a new position, the last person left? Did you ask them? Did you compare their day-to-day activities to the actual job description to see if there was misinformation on your part?
If you aren’t asking yourself these questions, then you likely have a hiring problem.
Building better habits is hard. Let’s get that out of the way right now. If you are like me, you are a creature of habit, albeit sometimes bad ones. I’m no special case. I don’t have a magic solution to creating better habits — but I do have a few habits that, with some time and effort, could have a better impact on your day-to-day productivity.
For the entire month of December, I decided to challenge myself with 10 daily habits that I would like to incorporate into my life. Some of them are easy, almost “freebies,” and are things I already do. Others are a bit more challenging. The following 3 are the few that I feel will have the most impact on my life, and likely yours.
Personally, I know that I need somewhere around 7.5 hours per night in order to hit maximum restfulness. I know that less (and more) sleep decreases my productivity. I also know that for the most part, this habit is entirely in my control, so there is only one person to blame if I’m not meeting my needs. Chances are, you’ve given though to your own sleep needs within the past month, and likely didn’t make any real changes.
Lately, I’ve tried to develop a routine before bed: turn off the computer and phone, wash my face, dim the lights, and write out anything that’s causing clutter in my mind. I make sure my bed is made and my room is at the optimum temperature. I try to go to bed a little earlier each night. I also try to get outside more during the daytime. I don’t like to use an alarm, so I depend on this routine to tell my body when I should be awake, and when I should be asleep.
Recently, I wrote a list of 100 things I wanted to do in my life and answered an interview with my future self. This helped me gain a lot of insight and focus into how I should be spending my free time. There was a common thread throughout many of my goals and dreams: I needed to write more. In order to write more, I needed to create a habit that allowed and held me accountable to myself to write more.
This month, I decided to challenge myself to write anything, untimed, every day. I didn’t want to put pressure on myself to create content that follows a single focus, so I’ve been using writing prompts from Reddit to help me build that habit. There are no goals for the pieces, no plans to publish them, just writing for the sake of building the habit.
I still love email newsletters, but I realized how many were just cluttering my inbox. Unsubscribe became my favorite email function — and I don’t miss any content that I unsubscribed from. It’s amazing how many emails were going either unread, or was being read for the sake of reading. Now, I try to find content that truly interests or educates me, and I limit it to half an hour per day. I don’t watch the news, I rarely watch TV, so the bulk of my content comes from the internet. By limiting that content, I can start using the information I have instead of acting like I’m on a pursuit of more information in order to be more productive. Trust me, it doesn’t work.
Reducing my content means less time on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and my inbox, and more time building relationships with clients, friends, and family, and building a better me. I love that my email doesn’t feel as overwhelming — I either read and respond, delete, or unsubscribe. This habit will continue to save me hours a day.
They might be simple, but building better habits with sleep, personal development, and how you manage content can save you time, boost your productivity, and make it so that you can focus on the things that truly matter in your life and business. Life is too short for bad habits!
Here’s a fun fact: we juggle a lot more than our ancestors did. Once upon a time, each individual within a community had a specialty that they handled — they didn’t handle them all, every minute, hour, and day. In modern times, we attempt to be a Jack of all trades, handling work, child rearing, errand running, cooking, cleaning, and many other tasks. It can be overwhelming, exhausting, and stressful, but I have a simple method that can help: the one-touch method.
Before I dig in, let’s cover the psychology behind managing, or rather, not managing your to-do list. Have you ever felt this nagging feeling that something wasn’t done? Have you ever been relaxing and then had random undone things pop into your head, disrupting your peace and quiet? Have you ever dragged an unimportant task from one to-do list to the next, and the next, and the next (or, in my case, from one time block of my digital calendar to another, and another, and another)? Then you likely suffer from mental clutter.
What is mental clutter?
Mental clutter is anything that distracts you from the task at hand, typically something that you meant to do, but for whatever reason was not completed.It can kill your productivity and throw even the most well-intentioned time management strategy out the window. Mental clutter is no joke — it can cause distractions, stress, cognitive dysfunction, and impaired memory.
What is the one-touch method?
It can be difficult to build better habits, but the one-touch method is simple: as soon as you touch an item, you deal with it. This single-focused approach seems easy, but in our multitasking obsessed society, mindfulness is a practice that we overlook. One-touch means that you put your sole attention on one thing until it is completed. If you open an email, you read it, respond, file it, or delete it immediately. If you dirty a mug, instead of setting it in the sink, you wash it, dry it, and put it away right away. If you have a receipt you have to save, you scan it, file it, or box it as soon as possible.
What are the benefits of single-tasking?
Besides the obvious benefit of getting things accomplished once and for all, there are a ton of benefits of taking the one-touch method approach. If you’ve ever done archery or something similar, you know that the best way to get a bullseye is to aim at one target, not five. There’s a reason that splitting your focus doesn’t work — you cannot focus on more than one thing at a time.
Single-tasking increases your ability to focus, meaning that you can increase your productivity and time that you can spend on a task by learning to focus on one thing. Clearing mental clutter will help you reduce stress by calming your brain and keeping it from reacting. When we react, our brains send all sorts of chemicals out, even if they’re not actually needed. Once upon a time, we needed those chemicals to keep us safe, but now they make us stressed, sick, and overweight. Gaining focus and clearing the mental clutter will make you healthier in the long run.
I’m bad at focusing — where do I start?
My personal favorite method of learning to focus is to make it a daily practice. I try to carve out time every week where I put myself in time out. This means that I get away from all distractions and work on one thing at a time. If needed, I set a timer and try not to watch the clock — no email, no social media, no phone, door closed, no interruptions welcome — peace, quiet, and maybe a little background music. Some days this results in 20-minutes of doodling and nothing productive, but more often than not, I jump in and knock out a few nagging tasks.
The best way to prevent the mental clutter that multitasking can bring is to deal with things as they come, but remember — IT TAKES PRACTICE. Do better work with the one-touch method and watch some of that unnecessary stress and mental distress disappear!
Need help gaining focus and prioritizing work? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss ways I can help!
From a young age, we are taught about the differences between a need and a want. We know that we have only a few, true, basic needs, and many, many wants. In business, it’s no different, but it’s a lot harder to differentiate and understand. We’re going to explore the needs and wants that business owners have, a few pros and cons for each, as well as what the happy medium solution is. Here are a few examples of each, and how to focus on what your business actually needs to succeed.
Clients/CustomersThe backstory: Clients and customers are the only way we, as a business, make a profit. We need not only happy customers, but enough happy customers to run a sustainable business. We also need to continually bring in new customers in order to sustain and grow our company.
Needs: To find the right customers to buy your product/service so that you can make a profit.
Wants: Ability to delegate work to others in your organization so you can increase sales and make an even higher profit.
Pros: Targeting the right audience gets better results so that you can build a scalable business.
Cons: It’s hard to trust someone else to do the work that you specialize in, including business development.
The happy medium:
Identifying the right target audience of customers allows you to expand your business when you’re ready. Without an idea of how to target these clients and customers, you’re left with whatever sales come in — but you’re not finding the right people often enough. Building a hiring plan will help you to find the right talent to handle the work tasks that tie you to a heavy workload. It’s hard to get everything done, so building a plan to pass those skills off to qualified or vetted individuals will help you do things that add to the bottom line, or allow you to separate yourself from your business once in a while. Building on customer retention and increasing the average lifetime value of your customers is crucial to building sustainability in your business. Creating a referral program that allows your long-term clients to promote your business (for a perk) is helpful for forecasting sales.
Employee RetentionThe backstory: In addition to having a steady flow of customers, we need steady, consistent employees to help us operate and grow our business. High turnover is costly and creates significant problems within the company.
Needs: To have consistent, loyal staff to support our business, our customers, and our customer experience.
Wants: To increase the average span of employment while decreasing training time and costs associated with replacing a staff member.
Pros: It’s easier to manage a business with low turnover.
Cons: If growth opportunities aren’t presented and skills are underutilized, employees will look for other employment opportunities.
The happy medium:
One thing that’s said over and over is that people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. Making sure that your company culture is attractive and offering opportunities for employees to determine their own schedules, job titles, skills utilized, and offering other workplace flexibility (when feasible) will increase employee engagement and decrease work stress. This allows them to take ownership of their positions and puts their growth opportunities in their hands. By offering team building and occasional, consistent training, everyone will be on the same page — plus encouraging professional development will help everyone build skills and grow together. Making sure that management understands the goals of the company and are healthfully managing their stress and workload are key to keeping everyone happy with their employment.
MarketingThe backstory: Every business owner should understand the importance of marketing, and should want those efforts to equate to profit for the business; however, it can be difficult to know what to do, what to spend, and how to track results of these efforts.
Needs: A strategic plan, advertising budget, and both an online and offline presence.
Wants: To do it in-house with a dedicated marketing expert that can guarantee high conversions.
Pros: These efforts can grow your business.
Cons: It might not be within the set budget and might be extremely time-consuming for someone that doesn’t have the right skill set.
The happy medium:
A lot of small businesses are not equipped to handle hiring a dedicated marketing person. Budget-wise, you’re looking at around $50,000 per year minimum to bring on someone who has the knowledge and experience of the wide scope of multiple positions, and that might not be a feasible option. Hiring contractors or a marketing agency can help you cover your needs AND wants by offering experts who handle your marketing for you, but don’t require a dedicated workspace on-site, and can develop and execute a strategy that’s the right size and budget for your business.
Office SpaceThe backstory: A lot of the work that happens for a business isn’t customer-facing, and business owners need space to do that work. Many small businesses attempt to handle this work from a home office or in the midst of operations, but find that to be less-than-ideal due to multiple interruptions and distractions.
Needs: A set area to handle work, preferably away from home life and distractions, that has internet, workspace, and office supplies.
Wants: A rented or leased office space that fits the specific needs of your business and offers a branded feel to visitors and for meetings.
Pros: There are tax breaks associated with having dedicated office space.
Cons: It can be expensive to set up an office, especially one that doesn’t require a lot of space. Leased offices that are budget-friendly may be hard to find.
The happy medium:
When you need to break away from your home-based business, or can’t focus inside your retail store, workshop, or other business, heading to the library or a coworking space may be your best bet. Libraries offer a quiet space with few distractions, allowing you to focus a few hours per day. A coworking space may be a bit busier, but it offers dedicated and flexible workspace with access to multiple resources that can help you build and grow your business. Coworking memberships are also business write-offs. Sometimes even heading to the local coffee shop, restaurant, or park (with a mobile hotspot or work not dependent on wi-fi access) can help you focus by giving you a different environment.
VacationThe backstory: Business owners feel the pressure to be present and visible in their business all day, every day. This takes a toll on both their physical and mental health, but it can be hard to find the right person to cover so you can take time away.
Needs: Separation from work, home, technology, with boundaries set for clients, customers, and staff.
Wants: To get away from their business for a few days at a time without stress and worry, preferably in another locale.
Pros: Getting away from work is a huge boost for your mental health.
Cons: It can be expensive to pay extra staff and travel expenses for a vacation.
The happy medium:
Utilizing weekends and creating long-weekends (3-days) away as often as possible might be enough of a break to reset your mind. Planning one extended vacation per year will help you to keep costs lower. In order to take even a day away from your business, you need to identify a staff member that you can trust to make decisions for the business when you are unavailable. Training someone to manage the business in your absence is crucial to your mental health, because even if you’re physically away from the business if you’re worried, your mind will be too distracted to enjoy your time away, and will keep you from stepping away in the future.
Business has a LOT of wants and needs, and with a little planning, most of them can be realized. What needs and wants, pros and cons have you identified in your business? If we didn’t cover them, let us know in the comments!
I’ve seen it time and time again — startups that fail within their first year or two. Many of these startups offer amazingly innovative products and services. Some of them even target the right audience at the right time. There is still something, however, that eludes them: their reputation.
If you look at these failed startups, or companies that fail to raise funds through crowdfunding, you’ll see viable business ideas and plans. You likely won’t find anything about what the founder and team bring to the company. Not building and managing your personal brand is one of the biggest oversights that cost you the most early on. Building your personal brand is not a hard thing for entrepreneurs and founders to do, but it is extremely valuable to their reputation, as well as the reputation of any brand that they build.
A few years ago, I was working with an exciting, fresh company in the fitness apparel world. The product was fantastic — great fabric, great patterns and colors, great design, great construction — everything that you would want in high-end women’s fitness apparel. The founder had put a few years of personal and borrowed funds, time, sweat, and tears into her brand. She had developed a great mission, strategy for building her team, and seemingly had enough ducks in a row to bring in an investor early on. It looked like everything was going right.
When I came on board, I tested the market and discovered that potential buyers were less-than-receptive; they thought that the products were beautiful and they wanted to try them, but the founder was someone unknown in the industry with no personal reputation to stand on, therefore, despite how much they wanted the products, they couldn’t justify the risk of buying them compared to their current favorites. The reason the products wouldn’t sell came down to reputation and personal branding.
This was a huge wake-up call to me — in my dozen years experience in consulting, I hadn’t seen a brand that had almost all of the right elements, but couldn’t overcome a lack of reputation. In the fitness world, as well as many industries, the successful brands are driven by founders who have established themselves as an influencer in that industry before launching their company. For new companies, many founders establish reputation quickly by creating and sharing content to show that they are an expert in their field. Many times, trial and error help entrepreneurs develop their personal brand, adding credence to their character over time.
So how do you build a personal brand?Reputation building takes time, but there are great resources to streamline the process to set you up for success. In today’s connected world, it’s easier than ever to make your name known within a specific circle, and even easier to connect with people who want what your brand supplies. Social media, email marketing, and content sharing sites help business owners and enthusiasts alike share their knowledge, passion, and ideas quickly. After working with my client last year, I developed some great tools to help startup founders build their personal brand.
How have you built and managed your personal brand or reputation?
What strategies have worked best to make you an influencer in your industry?
There is something to be said for a business that makes it through the grueling, challenging startup phase to become a successful, established business. There is also something to be said about growing a business while keeping the startup mentality.
What is the startup mentality?When your business is always in a state of creating new lines of business or product lines with the hope of them growing their own legs and branching off to create a new company, you have startup mentality. This is crucial for an entrepreneur who has a slew of ideas — take time to flesh one out into a full-fledged company, then build the next. When you try to pile too many business at once, you can’t focus on any of them.
Google is one of the best text-book examples of continuing to build startups within an established business. Google prides itself on intrapreneurship, going so far as to allow their employees time specifically for contributing to their business passion product during paid work hours, with the hope that some of the idea will filter into Google’s business-building pipeline. Many other businesses are starting to take notes from Google, building in intrapreneurial departments within their businesses.
What are the downfalls to staying in the startup mentality?There are always downfalls to every upside, and the obvious downfall in the startup mentality is that it can detract or pull time from the established company. Many businesses fall into a typical bureaucratic system that doesn’t allow for time on extraneous-seeming projects, and most departments cannot devote employees to projects that do not directly impact their work. Budgeting for the potential failures and time to create a new line-of-business or new product is also a high risk for a business that has a solid, functional business plan.
Another downfall is that the startup grind is exhausting. Growing a business that has a solid customer base is hard enough, but continually starting something new can affect the mentality and stamina needed to keep the existing business moving forward. Burnout, conflict, and disorganization can cause an intrapreneurial team to struggle with the new business plans, causing financial issues and upper-management discontentment. Straining already tapped-out resources can cause companies to rethink their staffing or even whether or not they can support the startup mentality.
What should businesses do to continue the startup mentality while growing an existing company?Businesses need to budget properly and embrace risk in order to see something positive come from a startup within an existing brand. They also need to make sure that they have the right team: one that is comfortable with the entrepreneurial process of starting a business. Entrepreneurial traits can be taught, and intrapreneurial teams can be coached to learn the skills and mindsets they need to create “the next big thing.”
Businesses need to allow adequate time to the intrapreneurial team. Employees who assist with building a startup and contributing to an existing company need to feel that they are supported in both ventures, and have the flexibility to put time and effort into whichever project requires attention. Intrapreneur ventures will likely have the entire team being held responsible for the success or failure of the project, rather than a traditional top-down system of business, at least until the startup is established.
Intrapreneurship within a business is the best of both worlds for a growing corporation. In order to compete in today’s highly competitive, global market, businesses need to constantly keep their finger on the pulse of innovation. By allowing employees to devote time to growing a new business, product, or service within a successful company, employees become most invested and interested in their work within a business. Many risk-averse entrepreneurial types are hiding within existing companies, waiting for an opportunity to use their business-building strengths, and if given the chance, can help to create great things for their employer.