Imagine you and I are sitting in a café having a coffee and cake a year from now. You’re telling me about how your business has changed over the last 12 months. About how you read this article/pdf, and it made you think differently about how you run your business. It made you get into action, to transform it into a grown-up business.
Now it makes good money for you, so you no longer worry about paying the bills or feel guilty when you buy yourself a treat. You’re planning a big holiday for you and the family; now it’s safe to travel. And you tell me how you enjoy your work so much more now. You feel in control, you’ve got a plan. There’s still tons to do to get to the next stage, but you feel like things are moving.
Does that sound like it would be a good conversation for us to have?
Well, here’s what you need to do for that to happen. Out of all the areas you need to tackle to get your business into shape, these are the top eight. Work on these, and you’ll be telling me how much you love what you do.
Here are some soul-searching questions to ask yourself about where your business is now. Plus, some pointers on what you need to do to make that transformation real.
If you want some help to fill in the details, maybe we should have that coffee now and talk about how I can be there for you, to help you get things started.
1. Do you have a big enough tribe?
This one is obvious. It’s the one which occupies most of our brain space as business owners. Do we get enough customers? Without enough people coming through our door and buying something, we don’t have a business anymore.
- Do you have enough people who come to you to buy what you sell?
- Are the people who come to you to buy the kind of folk you want? For example, are they the companies you want to work with, are they happy to pay what you charge?
- Would you give your current system for bringing in more clients a good score?
Mostly yes, answers – go to the next section on converting sales.
Mostly no – that’s okay. Most people feel they don’t have a big enough group of people queuing up to buy from them. Here’s how to get started on building a system to bring in more clients:
Step one – Work out in detail who your ideal clients are. It sounds simple, but most of us don’t have enough clarity on who we want to work with until we work out our ideal customer avatar.
Step two – Work out how many people you need to become your true fans. How big does your tribe need to be?
Step three – Start thinking in terms of a system or process for attracting lovely people who want to buy from you – your sales funnel.
Warning – do not be tempted to jump ahead to step three before you complete the first steps or you’ll have the wrong number of the wrong sort of people. It’s definitely on my mega list of business mistakes that I spend a lot of my time helping people to avoid.
2. Converting your tribe into customers who pay you real money
- Do enough prospective clients get in touch?
- When you talk to prospective customers, do enough of the ones you like the look of go on to sign up?
- Do you have a system for going back to people after they’ve talked to you and encouraging them to buy from you?
Mostly yes, answers – go straight to the next section on pricing.
Mostly no answers – that’s okay, we can fix that.
It’s worth remembering that these first two levers to pull are closely intertwined. If you put effort into doing great marketing, it will be much easier to persuade people to buy when they talk to you. They’ll get in touch sooner, and you’ll have more people to send out those juicy invoices to. And if you get to be good at converting leads, you don’t need as many people in your tribe.
Some people, (me included,) much prefer to work on marketing and attract people who want to buy. We’re farmers, putting our effort into nurturing our tribe so that people are super keen when we offer them an opportunity to buy. Others will prefer to go hunting for prospects and will be more comfortable at the end of the sales funnel, persuading people that they would love to buy. Both approaches work, but it’s useful to work out if you’re a farmer or a happy hunter.
Let’s get you started with some food for thought on how to encourage people to buy from you, with some inspiration from French people holding spiders. Here’s what to say at the end of your sales meetings.
3. Are you at your sweetspot price?
- Are you charging less than the absolute maximum you could be for what you sell?
- Do you keep your prices down because you worry that you’ll scare off some potential clients?
- Would you make more money if you raised your prices?
We’re looking for your Sweetspot Price – the point at which you’re charging enough to make the income you want to earn, and you attract enough customers at that price to achieve your desired income. 95 per cent of small businesses are not at their Sweetspot Price, so don’t worry if you answered mostly yes to these questions. Here’s a quick rundown of my sweetspot pricing method.
Mostly yes answers – this is the first place you should start with making changes to your business and is easily the biggest lever you can pull to start getting things in shape. Suppose you answered yes to “Would you make more money if you raised your prices?” the Sweetspot Pricing Resource Pack will help you work out exactly how to set your prices. It guides you through how to get people to pay what you need to charge.
Mostly no answers – go straight to section 4.
4. Have the courage to stand out from the crowd
- Can you categorically say that your business and what you sell is in some way unique? And that your customers couldn’t or wouldn’t swap you for another company?
- Do you have a unique methodology for your services? Or do you sell unique products that people couldn’t find elsewhere?
- If I visited your website today, and then went back in three months, would it feel familiar to me? I.e., do you have something unique about your brand that would stick in my head?
Mostly yes answers – brilliant, you’re already standing out from the crowd. Press on to section 5.
Mostly no answers – fair enough. It’s hard enough to be unique and even more challenging to communicate that difference to other people.
I can’t think of any better explanation of the importance of standing out from the crowd, or how to do it than Seth Godin’s Purple Cow book. To save you the trouble of reading the whole book, here’s a video I made to explain his concept.
5. Learning and getting better at what you do
- Do you deliberately put aside a chunk of time to learn new skills and techniques?
- If yes, are you learning business skills?
- Do you invest money in learning how to get better at your trade or being better at business?
The first three levers of business success are not exactly rocket science. Get more leads, convert more and establish a unique brand. “Right, got it, Julia,” I hear you say. Although exactly how you do this is a bit more like rocket science.
Deliberately developing your skills and investing in learning is seen as more for big businesses, rather than our little companies. But why should the big guys have all the good stuff? I’d say that learning new skills, finding out about exciting things, and making your brain work better is even more critical for us small business owners. And it’s what successful entrepreneurs say keeps them interested in working on their businesses for the long run. Here’s my prioritised list of what skills you need to learn to make your business successful.
If you work on getting better at what you do for clients, you’ll become more in demand. And if you couple this with telling people about why you’re the best, and why your services/product solve their problem, you’re on the way to a winning business. Here are some ideas for upping your game.
While we’re here, I can’t resist giving you the rundown on my favourite book ever about learning and getting to be, well, shit hot good at something.
6. How do I get the best return on the time and effort I put into my business?
There are two reasons why I make this one of the most important drivers of your business.
Firstly, your time, attention, love and care are the most important inputs to your business machine. The more efficiently you can put these in, the more money, satisfaction and fun you’ll get out of your business.
And secondly, I’m pretty sure you have other parts of your life where you also want to spend your scarce resources. Whether that’s your partner, children, your paragliding hobby or whatever else is important to you, we need to make sure you have some time leftover from the business for the other parts of your life.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you have written down processes for how to do certain things in your business?
- When you sell a product or start working with a new client, do you have a clear set of actions you do every time?
- Could someone else do this instead of you?
- When you work with a client, do you go through the same process every time? Or do you wing it?
- Do you have a master to-do list and a to-do list for today?
All yeses – you’re super advanced, go on to section 7. I have nothing to share here.
Some no answers? You’re in the company of 99% of small business owners. The productivity lever is horribly overlooked in most companies, large and small. And yet, it’s the one which even a few small tweaks can give you some mega results. Here are some starter personal productivity techniques I’ve found useful.
I recommend Graham Allcott’s How to Be a Productivity Ninja book as one of the best books ever for avoiding that horrible overwhelmed feeling by a huge pile of things you want to do but never get round to.
7. What’s going on in your head?
- Have you had a holiday in the last six months when you didn’t check emails?
- Could you take a month off work and know that your business would still be there when you came back?
- Do you believe that your business is capable of rewarding you with the money you need or want to support all the other areas of your life?
- Is your business fulfilling you by giving you satisfaction, creativity, learning new skills?
- Does what you do for work fit with your personal values? And does what you do matter?
- Do you feel excited about getting into work on a Monday morning?
- Do you have someone in your life who believes in you and supports you in what you do?
Mostly yes, answers? Well done, you’re ahead of me here.
Mostly no answers here? Well, that’s because this stuff is super hard for all of us.
If you were running a biscuit-making factory you’d have some big machinery – mixers, ovens, conveyor belts to cool the biscuits, that kind of thing. That machinery would have cost you some serious money. You would look after it, clean it up, oil the moving parts, get the maintenance person in every year, switch it off at night.
In your company, you are that machinery. You’re the most important, complicated, expensive asset of the company. And we need to look after you.
Most business people are not good at this. But like that expensive machinery in the biscuit factory, you will work better if you’re looked after and not overused.
How do we keep the machinery of your mind in tip-top condition?
Well, here’s one action you can take to start.
Most successful entrepreneurs have a business coach to help them to move forward. Someone who has been there before, seeing how other companies have met similar challenges to the ones you face. And knows what action to take and when. To give them a trusted friend, someone to talk things through when those challenges come up.
To take the first step and have someone on your side, you can do what thousands of other business owners do. Each week, I share some practical and useful snippets of advice, things I’ve learned about running a successful small business, and stories of how other business owners and I have tackled different situations.
And if you can’t wait to get your top-up of advice week by week, here are some resources people have found useful when the challenges get tough:
What I did when I lost 4.8m and was unemployed.
Try adding a creative project into your business.
A silly way of looking at your challenges – will make you smile.
What to do about FUD – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (video).
And why you’ve overdone things, and you need to take it easy, how sometimes to be a space rocket and sometimes be a donkey.
8. Strategy and planning
- Do you have a month by month plan for what you’re going to tackle next in your business?
- Is it written down somewhere and updated monthly?
- Do you measure how well you’re doing?
- Can you say that you know what you want to achieve with your business? What it means to you, what the next steps are and why you’re taking those particular actions?
All yes answers – that’s great. Carry on.
Any no answers? Maybe we should have a coffee together and talk about where you are now, what you want to happen in the story of your company and if you need some help to do that. Entirely up to you, but you know where I am. I love having these chats cos it helps me push my learning.
You’ll have worked out by now that these drivers are all interconnected. You need the leads coming in, but you also need to be able to convert those leads into paying customers. And you need the right processes in your business to be able to handle all those customers.
But you can’t tackle all of these at once. Feeling that you have to push all the levers at the same time will leave you exhausted and guilty for not making as much progress as you wanted to. That’s where the last driver comes in – having a clear month-by-month plan of action. Knowing where to start with moving your business into the fast lane.
Download all of these questions as a checklist to give yourself a business health check. And prioritise what you need to do next. Once you’ve done that, maybe we should have that coffee and chat (maybe with cake), and you can tell me about what’s going on for you in your business. Maybe I can help.