General Business Advice
I certainly don’t have everything figured out, but below are some things I’ve learned along my journey as a business owner.
This guide is designed to be a reference, not a quick read, so don’t try to consume it all in one sitting. Take something from it and work on that, then come back to it later and pick something else to work on.
If what you see here proves to be useful, be sure to share this page with someone else who might benefit from it. We all make more money when we work together.
Also, here’s a link to a blog post I wrote that will provide some useful insights to anyone thinking about starting a business.
You Are In The Marketing Business
If you didn’t already know that, let me enlighten you. You’re in the marketing business.
It doesn’t matter how great your product or service is, if no one knows you exist, you will not be in business for long.
I’ll say it again because it’s that important: If you are not successful at implementing a marketing system of some form that generates inquiries on a consistent basis, your business will fail.
Marketing is your number one priority above all else. It doesn’t matter how great your customer service is if you have no customers or not enough customers to get the word out.
The Easy Button
If I had to point you to a single resource to help you market your business, Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port is it.
There is no Easy Button in marketing, but there are tried and true practices that built businesses before the Internet and work just as well, if not better now. Book Yourself Solid lays out those practices in a logical way with a companion workbook that guides you through implementing them.
If you need help marketing your business, start with that book.
A great follow-up book is The Referral Engine. There is a chapter on referrals in Book Yourself solid that will really help your business and The Referral Engine builds on that chapter to help you develop a comprehensive system for consistently generating the word-of-mouth business that we all want.
Consistently generating great word-of-mouth referrals isn’t something that just happens. But it is something that you can make happen by implementing the strategies in those two books.
Sales and marketing are not the same thing.
Marketing is how you make people aware that you exist. Sales is how you close the deal when your marketing efforts get people to contact you for more information.
A great marketing system and a poor sales process can result in you blowing opportunities that should have resulted in revenue.
If you need help with sales, connect with Thomas Ellis on LinkedIn. He’s always sharing great sales tips and he provides sales coaching for individuals and organizations.
If you think sales is a bad word, you really should have a conversation with Thomas. Sales done correctly is about helping people by presenting them with a solution to a problem they have. It has nothing to do with trying to sell people things they don’t need.
If you’re not into social media, I get it. I’m not either.
But LinkedIn is not Facebook. LinkedIn is where grown people go to conduct business.
If you put on a suit and go to networking events, but you aren’t taking advantage of the powerful networking that LinkedIn provides for free from the comfort of your home or office, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity.
LinkedIn is a platform that exists specifically for you to make business connections. You may or may not find clients on LinkedIn, but you will certainly find professional connections and other resources to help you achieve your goals for your business.
If your business is not where you want it to be and you’re not leveraging LinkedIn, you’re not taking advantage of an incredible FREE resource.
But it’s not enough to just create a LinkedIn profile. As is the case with anything, you will get out of LinkedIn what you put into it.
Click here to view a basic “How To Use LinkedIn” guide I put together that will help get you started.
You may also want to consider engaging a LinkedIn consultant like Elisse Barnes.
Here’s a quick LinkedIn tip: ALWAYS send a customized connection request.
Sending the default LinkedIn connection request to a complete stranger is the equivalent of walking up to a stranger, jamming your business card into their hand, and then walking away without saying a word.
You wouldn’t expect to get great results from that, would you? So why do it on LinkedIn?
If you can’t be bothered to introduce yourself properly and give some indication of why a person should connect with you, don’t be surprised if they ignore you. There are plenty of people on LinkedIn who have no desire for thousands of meaningless connections.
I ignore 100% of the generic connection requests I get on LinkedIn and I’m not alone in that practice.
An alternative to sending a customized connection request is to just “follow” the account of the person you’re interested in. Just visit their profile and click the “follow” button and you’ll get to see the things they post, which is often all you wanted anyway.
Build Your Team
No one is good at everything and certainly no one is great at everything. If you try to run your business without engaging experts to help your business stand apart and be great, you’re setting yourself up to ultimately fail.
No one gets excited about patronizing an “okay” or “average” small business. Be great or be overlooked.
Here is a link to a blog post I put together at the end of 2018 about some individuals you might want to add to your team to help you stand out as “great.”
Some of these people, I met initially through LinkedIn and then developed relationships with them “in the real world.” This is an example of the power of LinkedIn.
Here’s another blog post I wrote on the importance of surrounding yourself with the right kind of people. You can’t build a million-dollar business if you’re spending all your time with people who have thousand-dollar dreams.
Build Your Platform
This is more discussion pertaining to marketing.
If you pay attention, you’ll see that marketing is the recurring theme all throughout this page. That’s because marketing is the fuel that powers the vehicle. Without fuel, it doesn’t matter how nice your vehicle is, you’re not going anywhere.
I encourage you to build your own marketing platform instead of relying on social media, traditional media, or anything else that you do not control.
Tyler Perry is an outstanding example of the power of building your own platform. He built his own movie production studio in Atlanta that is effectively Hollywood on the east coast.
He can and does literally make his own movies. Instead of having to deal with Hollywood and having to compromise his vision at every turn, he built his own production facility. He doesn't need to ask anyone “may I?”
The Internet empowers each of us to do the same.
Make your blog your platform
You don’t have to build a production studio. If you build a blog on your website that delivers value to your target audience, you will build an email subscriber list as a result.
That highly targeted list of email subscribers who signed up because they value the kind of content you produce is far more valuable than followers on social media. People have to trust you in order to give you their email address. That’s one step away from giving you their phone number.
Having someone follow you on social media is not in the same universe as them giving you their email address so you can put stuff in their inbox on a regular basis. That’s a relationship where there is no third-party in the middle deciding (and at any time, arbitrarily changing) the terms for how you engage your audience, including what you can present to them, etc.
As Tyler Perry said in his speech: OWN your stuff! OWN your business! OWN your way!
That means building your own platform, of some form so that you can get your message out.
If you’d like to see the marketing platform I’m building for myself, check out the videos below.
As you can see above, me and my team put out content every week. None of us has to stress over coming up with content each week. We work together and we each get great content to put out to our shared target audience. You can learn how to do this from The Referral Engine.
And then once or twice a month, we create individual original content in addition to the syndicated content we create together.
So we get to stay in front of our target audience on a weekly basis and it’s not a burden to any of us.
I didn’t start where I now am with District Family. I started where I started and I ended up here by consistently doing the work necessary to Own My Way.
If you want to see some of the journey of fits and starts and failures that lead to District Family, you can click here to see a blog post I wrote about it.
If you don’t have a video marketing strategy, you are not competitive. That’s the bottom line.
If you have all the business you need, then you don’t need a video marketing strategy. Everyone else needs a video marketing strategy.
Choose your favorite five websites for information or entertainment or whatever. Do those websites have video content?
Does your website have video content? Do you have even one video where you explain who you are and what you do?
The days of a picture and a paragraph being good enough are long gone. Marketing these days is about getting inside people’s smartphone and the way to do that is with video.
Click the button below to see my series on how to get started with video marketing.
Don’t Try To Be Wal-Mart
…or Amazon or any other “we sell everything to everyone at the lowest price” business.
You’re not going to win that game. There will always be someone who will look at your prices and undercut you, just like you looked at someone else’s prices and undercut them. That’s called the Race To The Bottom. The winner of that race gets to deliver goods and services to clients who don’t appreciate them AND they get to pay for the privilege because they’re taking a loss on every transaction.
Aside from that, if the best reason you can give someone to hire you is that you’re the cheapest…just sit and think about that for a minute. If you’re going out into the world everyday and telling everyone to hire you because you are the cheapest, what message are you sending?…both to the world and to yourself?
Run A Boutique Business
Identify a target customer and focus solely on serving that customer. Do not try to offer something for everyone.
You’ll be much happier because you get to do your best work for people who appreciate it.
Fewer clients who pay more is better than scores of price shoppers.
People are happy to pay for a quality experience. Offer that and charge accordingly.
Here are some resources to help you develop the boutique business mindset:
Worth Every Penny by Sarah Petty
Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port
Make More Money and Discover Your Worth by Sue Bryce and Tiffany Angeles
I expect most of the people reading this to be in the Washington, DC region. According to the Census Bureau, 9 of the top 20 wealthiest counties in the United States are within an hour of DC.
If you’re in the DC region, there’s literally no better place in the country to operate a boutique business. Why in the world would you run around all day everyday banging an “I’m the cheapest” drum?
People who can afford quality goods and services are not looking for the person yelling “I’M THE CHEAPEST!!!”
Tools and Resources
Paying for a service to let people self-schedule calls and other appointments has made my life so much easier.
If you’re still playing phone tag instead of scheduling calls, or your scheduling process is iterations of “what about this day at this time?”, click here to see an easy way to reclaim some of your time and mental energy.
Business podcasts are an incredible tool for helping you learn how to grow your business. Click here for my favorites.
Whether you’re launching a new business or you need to pivot an existing one, the Business Model Canvas is an easy-to-use tool for helping you quickly figure out what direction to take. Click here for more info.
The easiest way to get started with a website is Squarespace.com. There are a variety of templates to choose from that will produce a good-looking website with minimal cost and effort.
You can also hire people to design a Squarespace website for you. BizGoPrint is a company that provides this service. Click here to see examples of their work. BizGoPrint is owned by Sheldon Jobe. Sheldon’s a great guy who I can’t recommend highly enough.
If you don’t know anything about website design and you didn’t hire someone to do yours for you, then your current website is probably bad. Most people will initially view your website on the smartphone. If your website doesn’t look good when viewed on a phone, it’s costing you opportunities.
Most people are going to spend less than ten seconds looking at your website. If you’re not delivering a clear message right up front that looks good when viewed on a smartphone, you’re not even going to get that ten seconds.
Nobody’s going to read a bunch of text or go through pages and pages of menu items to find what they’re looking for. Your website has to be interesting and informative and easy to digest. It cannot be an essay. You’re not interested in reading anyone else’s essay and no one is interested in reading yours.
Yes, you DO need a website!
A Facebook page or something similar that you don’t actually own is not sufficient. Owning your own database of email addresses is far more valuable than having an unlimited number of followers on a platform where you don’t own the relationship between you and those followers.
Facebook could one day decide to eliminate all business functions to go back to its roots and be only for friends and family. Or Facebook could decide to start charging a thousand dollars per month for access to business functions. In either scenario, where does that leave your business if your primary online presence is a Facebook page?
The image below is a screenshot of an email I received from a local nonprofit because I’m on their email list.
Critical Exposure is a nonprofit that trains DC youth to harness the power of photography and their own voices to fight for educational equity and social justice.
As you can see, Facebook suspended their account on the day before the most important day of the year for nonprofits.
Can your business afford to lose opportunities like that?
At least they were able to email me.
Would you be able to still communicate with your audience if [insert social media platform] shut down your account?
Don’t let something this happen to you. Create a website and build your own email database so you own the relationship between you and your audience.
Flyers, Graphics, etc
There’s no substitute for working with a professional graphic artist. But until you can hire someone, Canva.com will help you produce good-looking graphics for social media marketing with very little expertise.
View Yourself As A Rock Star
If you don’t, no one else will. Or as Maya Angelou used to say, “You have to teach people how to treat you.”
Developing the Rock Star mentality doesn’t mean you treat people poorly. It means you don’t allow yourself to be treated poorly.
Specifically, that means you should place a high value on your time and require that everyone else do the same.
You get the same 24 hours as Oprah Winfrey. The difference is how many of those 24 hours do you waste? And how many of those 24 hours do you allow other people to waste?
Think about the last time someone had an appointment with you and they no-showed or canceled at the last minute and offered some variation of The World’s Greatest Excuse.
Ask yourself would they have done that if you were Oprah?
Very likely not.
Not only would they have kept that appointment—no matter what—they would have been EARLY because of the value they placed on the opportunity.
Nobody would even think about offering Oprah The World’s Greatest Excuse.
But they offer it to you like it’s no big deal…because they don’t value your time.
They don’t place high value on the opportunity of having an audience with you…because you’re not Oprah.
But here’s the thing…we can all be Oprah.
You don’t have to convince the world that your time is as valuable as Oprah’s. All you have to do is convince yourself and act accordingly. The world will conform.
When people know that they are lucky to have an audience with you, they will act accordingly. For those who don’t, there are more than seven billion people on the planet for you to work with. You can find people who have the same respect for your time that you do. And you’ll be much happier as a result.
Your time is precious, valuable, and irreplaceable. Any time you waste or allow someone else to waste can never be replaced, recovered, or regained in any way. When it’s gone, it’s gone.
Father Time is unsympathetic to The World’s Greatest Excuse. He grants you no extra time to make up for time you’ve wasted. I’ve learned to guard my time vigorously and not care whose feelings get hurt by me not letting them waste my time. When people blow off an appointment with me or otherwise waste my time in any way, they don’t get on my schedule again.
I am a Rock Star. I suffer no fools. I don’t have time to waste.
You are a Rock Star.
Suffer no fools.
Don’t let people waste your time.
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If you would like to schedule a business strategy consultation for your business, you can click here to access my calendar and schedule a call.