Someone I know who is beyond talented and super eager recently launched his first new business as a service-based freelancer.
To drum up clients and a few glowing testimonials, he offered up his services on social media, completely free, to the first five businesses who contacted him.
Take my word, every business out there could benefit from what he does.
Yet all he hears is the sad sound of crickets chirping in the background.
He’s gotten no response.
He sincerely thought he’d be booked out almost instantly, so this utter lack of response has left him dumbfounded. He was positive that small businesses would be thrilled to take him up on his free offer.
Surely his passion and extensive knowledge, coupled with a bit of social media magic, would be enough to make this launch equal some major dollars out of the gate?
Welcome to the confusing world of entrepreneurship, buddy! It’s a struggle for new businesses.
His story was my story. Three years ago I sat at my kitchen table, head hanging in my hands, utterly confused, perplexed, and freaking out.
I had left my stable and decent paying job and hot damn!, I couldn’t even give my services away.
And to make matters even worse, everywhere I looked were people and struggling businesses who appeared to desperately need the exact thing I was selling. Still, I couldn’t give my services away.
Luckily, I’ve passed that hurdle — although growth brings new challenges. (Challenge accepted.)
But as I read my friends open letter on LinkedIn, asking for a mentor and some guidance, I thought I’d share three hard business truths I’ve learned about what it REALLY takes to land clients and build a booked-out business.
HARD TRUTH #1:
Yes, they do need you. But that’s not why they hire you.
When I first launched, it was clear to me that my special genius was needed by a lot of folks.
I still remember being baffled that struggling businesses would listen to how I could help…they’d nod their head…
And then, at the end of our little chat, they wouldn’t signup or commit to my program!
Frankly, it seemed like a horrific business decision to NOT hire me.
As my mindset in business has evolved and matured, I’ve come to realize a simple truth that may seem obvious to some, but personally evaded me when I was just getting started:
Fact is, most of us could benefit from a website redesign.
We could benefit from a bookkeeper, a janitor (or housekeeper), a social media manager, a business lawyer whom we check in a few times a year, and that new fancy marketing and sales system that automates everything, including ordering your tall flat white caffeinated beverage in the morning.
We could absolutely benefit from a life coach, personal trainer, and a personal chef who cooks healthy balanced meals, instead of the crap I tend to eat when I busy.
We could all benefit from more training and education.
But we only have 24 hours in a day.
And unless there’s a trust fund involved, we only have a limited amount of funds to burn.
Thus we focus on what will make the biggest difference, RIGHT NOW, with the least amount of energy and money.
We’ll give up our cold hard cash for things that will let us have more time, more money, more energy, more confidence, and more joy, depending on which of those is most important to us at that particular point in time.
It’s true. Businesses may need me and they may need you.
But if what you’re selling isn’t their most critical need, from THEIR perspective, at this exact moment in time — then you’re not gonna get the sale. (Not today at least.)
If you’re good at sales, you might be able to persuade them that it’s critical.
Or if your services requires little time/energy/money, they may go for it anyway. Convincing someone to spend $40 is a lot easier than a $2,000 service package…
In my case, their complicated, broken, or completely lacking business systems might suck. Their website might embarrass them. Their business might even cause them to mutter a F-bomb, under their breath, on a daily basis.
But it wasn’t their biggest problem.
It wasn’t a true crisis and it wasn’t a mandated item, like taxes and insurance. (There’s a reason there’s an H&R Block on every corner.)
In fact, new systems and/or coaching with me would likely take them away from their business operations. If they were on the cusp, that could spell disaster. Improving systems, learning, and training is time consuming after all, which is why no marketer worth their beans will never sell a program called “Spend Twenty Long Brain-Numbing Hours Learning How To Do Facebook Ads.”
Nobody wants to learn more.
But they do want the outcomes that comes from that investment.
So I had to learn how to sell THAT.
I had to recognize that my best market was actually businesses that weren’t on the cusp or struggling, who not only could afford me, but were established and solid enough to recognize the benefits in time, energy, scalability, and longterm money that my services could provide them.
See, I didn’t realize business owners – especially successful ones – have a zillion things to do on their list already.
I didn’t recognize that certain businesses might be messy, with everything balancing precariously like a house of cards on an earthquake fault, waiting for a little aftershock to push them over the edge. While they needed me the most, they were the least PREPARED to make improvements.
So you’re right.
They do technically need you. But few will need what you offer this very second.
The solution for new struggling businesses is learning your sales funnel.
Find unique and on-going ways to educate prospects on the benefits of your services. There are digital methods to do this including strategic social media campaigns, your website, and email marketing.
Then maybe one day, six months, or even a couple of years from now, when whatever issue rises to the top of the “MUST FIX NOW” list, they’ll think of you.
Because you’ve been maintaining a relationship — digitally — with them this entire time.
Moral of the story: Walk in the other business owner’s shoes.
Until you can prove otherwise, you’re simply MORE work and MORE money for them. You have to show them this is not the entire story by learning how to sell, and by recognizing that most business arrangements doesn’t happen the first time they meet or hear of you.
HARD TRUTH #2:
Social Media Traditionally Sucks For Sales
This is embarrassing, but when I launched my new business, I thought that buying a business license and running my fictional business statement would result in phone calls and interest.
All I got was a lousy flyer from Pitney-Bowes for a postage meter.
My friend is ahead of me in that he was brave enough to announce he was in business on social media.
You have to promote it. There’s lots of ways to do that: radio ads, weekly flyers, Chamber mixers, blogging, social media advertising, speaking events, newspaper articles, etc.
People must hear your story. They must, over time, understand why hiring you will make their life or business remarkable – or at the very least, more pleasant.
They’ve also got to get to know you.
Because if you’re a small brand, you ARE the business. And believe it or not, that’s a good thing!
(Unless you’re a psychopath, in which case, Corporate America is calling. <wink>)
If you’re a new business who is struggling, it’s probable that you don’t have a lot of influential business contacts on speed dial. If that’s the case, the best way to build your business is to start local and in-person.
Even if your longterm plan is to be an online brand, get yourself in front of real people.
Because if you can’t sell or build relationships to real live people, selling or building relationships to people online is even harder.
Meet other small business owners for coffee. Attend a Chamber mixer and give yourself a quota of 2-3 people that you’ll make small talk to before you speed walk back to your car and inhale a post-Mixer stress doughnut.
See if your local area has business networking groups. I’m the first to admit admit, it’s not fun at first — especially if you’re an introvert.
But these programs help you clarify what it is that you do each week.
Plus you’ll hear how other seasoned pros pitch and sell themselves, allowing you to choose which styles works and don’t work for you.
When you’re on a coffee date, watch and listen to what questions they ask you.
Notice how they sneak in their services carefully throughout the meal… Watch how they listen and allow you plenty of time to talk…and then how they’ll use that information later, when selling their services.
In-person networking allows you to receive business mentoring for free, by proxy.
I see a lot of new business owners rush to use social media, thinking that by being on it, their phones will magically ring!
Everyone’s on it AND it’s free. So why not, right?
Take a moment to think about why you actually go on social media eighteen times a day.
It isn’t to find your next business resource, or to find another way to spend your money. (We tend to use Google search or Yelp! for finding a resource, not social media.)
You’re on social to find a quick escape, to connect with friends, and to discover stuff that interests you that’s been curated by your friends and contacts. In fact, I bet you’re pretty good at ignoring a lot of the business promotions and ads you see on social media.
Social media is wonderful at building authority and highlighting your best work. It’s fun! It can tell your story and inspire others. You can meet people who can become allies and influencers.
But traditionally, for most of us, it’s not known for being a big channel for business leads.*
It’s more useful for interacting, keeping in touch, and promoting your latest services or additions with customers or prospects you’ve already met, via another channel.
*The exception to this is Facebook ads, and having a solid understanding of your sales funnel.
If your new business is struggling to land clients, stop spending the majority of your time on social. Until you have a regular stream of clients, spend 90% of that time networking in person either one-on-one or at larger group events.
HARD TRUTH #3:
Trust And Consistency Is Hard To Earn
There’s a stat on many business blogs linked to Bloomberg that states eight out of ten entrepreneurs who start a business fail within the first 18 months.
Getting to know and trust a vendor take energy and time.
So I want to hire the ones that’ll be there the NEXT time I have some work for them. I don’t want to search for and vet a new graphic designer or photographer again in a year.
The cold hard truth is most people select a business that’s a) been around and on their radar for at least a year and/or b) comes recommended by someone.
It isn’t fair.
This especially hurts the new business owner who desperately NEEDS sales to survive and build their portfolio.
It’s a New Business Catch-22.
The good news is: You’ll find if your business can survive past a certain point, your phone calls and emails will increase. Suddenly, you’re BUSY and you’re not sure what exactly changed or happened!?!
Whether it’s subconscious or not, people prefer to work with businesses who have been around for a few years because they feel more trustworthy.
At the same time, after 18 months you’ve probably gotten your business message clear and dialed in. When you attend a networking event, you leave a bigger impact in your introduction than a shy new business owner.
Around the two year mark, all these little things in multiple areas come together, and they pay off big.
It’s about being consistent and visible over a long enough period of time.
This is why I’d encourage any new business owner to have 18 months of savings in place to start.
And truthfully, if you’re strapped and need money STAT…for most of us, launching a business is probably not going to be the cure to your money woes. Find a part- or full-time job to cover the basics, and run your business on the side until it can pull it’s own weight.
Starting a new business is not for the weak-hearted.
That four-hour week myth comes after working eighty-hour weeks.
If anyone tries to sell you that running or starting business is simple, they’re liars.
Success isn’t easy. If it were we’d all own a business, and we’d all drive a fancy Tesla. But since the majority of people work for someone else, I think we already know being self-employed is a tough gig that’s not for the faint of heart.
But it can be done.
You don’t have to be a genius or an expert to run a thriving and profitable business.
Common sense, a pinch of stubbornness (so you don’t call it quits too quickly), and a mind that’s open to opportunities and willing to make a shift when it makes sense, can go a long way in the business world.
If I had to tell my friend anything, it’d be this:
Get it front of real people and network. Figure out who needs you and can afford you. Give it time.
Ask and seek help from those you trust, and in a couple of years, when you’re no longer struggling, be willing to give back to those new business owners who are still in the trenches and struggling.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN TO OFFER UP SOME ADVICE.
Have you made it to the other side? If so, please share something in the comments below that you wish you had learned sooner?
Still struggling? Then share which of these cold hard truths hit home for you in the comments below.