Now it goes without saying that you’re embarking on a journey that will be rewarding, emotionally and financially – but it will also test your spirit and grit. There will be moments when you feel like you’re the only one who gets it, who sees the vision you have in you mind. And many times, you’ll be absolutely right. But that’s where your drive comes in – you have to be so sure, and rock solid in your vision that you don’t’ get pulled off the path by the naysayers, or the people who mean well but wonder why you don’t just get a real job. Or worse yet, get demotivated by comparing yourself to others. Why do they seem so much farther along, what do they know that you don’t, why aren’t you hitting it big.
Just remember, the overnight success is largely a myth – you are going to have to work, and be patient. Building a business that has staying power isn’t a get rich quick process, it will take work – and yes, I’ll say it – in the beginning you may even find yourself grinding – but every business goes through seasons, and yours will too. You won’t always be grinding it out, but you won’t always find yourself on a beach with an umbrella drink either. Maybe sometimes, but not always.
So, in this episode we’re going to focus on nursing this seedling of an idea you have, into full bloom.
It all starts with what do you want to do? Now again, we’re focused on using your expertise to start a consulting services business, so that can really narrow things down a bit. What is your expertise? Are you a bookkeeper, or HR manager, or IT professional, or maybe you’re a social media manager, or consultant, or architect or advertising manager. The main thing that consulting based service firms have in common is that they are providing expertise and guidance to someone, usually another business or business owner, in an area where the customer has little or no knowledge.
Another thing to keep in mind as you’re thinking about what you want to do, is how will this help someone. You need to know that – your reason for doing this, and how you’re making someone’s life better. Sure, most people start out thinking to themselves, “well I want to do it so I can be wildly rich, or famous, or something similar”. But that’s not enough to get you through the tough times (and trust me, there will be tough times). And it’s certainly not enough to convince your ideal customer to buy from you – because, well, they’re only interested in what’s in it for them. And they most definitely are not interested in what’s in it for you. So, to keep your head on track, and your marketing message successful, hone in on why you’re doing what you do, and how it can help someone.
Now depending on the field, you may or may not need some level of licensing (for instance an accountant does, a social media manager doesn’t). But just because your field doesn’t require licensing or certification, stop to consider if getting certified will help your business build it’s reputation. And even if you decide not to get certified, you should still get all the knowledge in your field that you can, and don’t forget to stay up to date. Things change at lightening speed, and if you aren’t up on the latest techniques, tools and solutions, you can easily find yourself way behind the curve.
Alright, we’ve squared away what we’re selling – now the next thing to figure out is who you are selling it to? Yep, I know you’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again – you have to define your target customer. Now, you’ll notice that sometimes I say target market, and sometimes target customer. They actually are two different things. Your target market might be small business CEOs. But your target customer is more narrowly defined – that might be a small business CEO, with 1 – 5 employees, who lives in New York, and runs a coaching business. See, much more narrowly defined and specific. When you are developing your marketing message, being that specific can really help you speak clearly to that specific customer.
“…Building a business that has staying power isn’t a get rich quick process, it will take work – and yes, I’ll say it – in the beginning you may even find yourself grinding – but every business goes through seasons, and yours will too. You won’t always be grinding it out“
And before you start groaning about leaving out a bunch of people you could be selling to – remember, when you speak to everyone, you are speaking to no one. Believe me, focusing in on your target customer makes your marketing message a lot easier to create, and a lot more successful. And it gets you closer to having the perfect client, because the people who aren’t perfect for what you offer, in the way you offer it, will self select out – which is what we want.
So, bite the bullet – and just decide that you’re going to be as specific defining your target customer as possible. Believe me, it will save you a bunch of headaches – and put you on a good path to success.
OK – so far you’ve been doing a lot of what I call, internal work. Now it’s time to go external. You have to validate your business idea. And that, my dear, is an external exercise. You’re going to have to put the idea in front of other people, and get their feedback – better yet, put a limited offer in front of them and hopefully, get their money.
There are lots of ways you can do this – you can reach out to friends or former colleagues, or if you’re a member of any business groups you can put it out to them (and this goes for virtual groups like FaceBook and LinkedIn, as well as real world groups like Chambers of Commerce).
One of the best ways to get feedback is to offer something in return. Maybe a free consultation, or whitepaper, or tools and tips checklist – be creative. You want to offer something that will be of value, but isn’t your full blown service offering. This is just a ‘thank you’ for participating. So, participate in what you ask? Well, if you were a software company you could give them temporary access to the application and get their feedback on how easy it was or wasn’t to use. But since you’re providing a service, generally you’ll want to ask questions and get their feedback via a survey or something similar. Now when I say a survey, I don’t mean a 50 question surveymonkey project. Maybe you send an eMail with 1-3 specific questions around your offering, for instance – which would you prefer a) a virtual bookkeeper b) a bookkeeper who comes to your office monthly c) a full time on site bookkeeper or d) it doesn’t matter. And in return, maybe you offer some value add piece of content, like a whitepaper on the easiest overlooked tax deduction for small businesses.
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Of course, the best validation is if you can actually sell your target customer something. It can be a small, low priced offer, connected to your service – this will help you figure out if someone will actually buy from you. How about some sort of subscription service – maybe 30 minutes of ‘ask the expert’ each month for $50. Sure, this may not work for every service business, but again – be creative – see what you can come up with for a low ticket validation offer. Make sure it’s something of real value, a reduced or limited version of your service, and it’s something that you can offer at a no brainer pricepoint.
As you can see, figuring out what you want to do, exploring certification, defining your target customer and validating your idea will all take some time. I say that because, I firmly believe that if you want to build a solid foundation for a thriving business, you have to be able to put some investment in the business. And that can be difficult when you are just starting, because revenue hasn’t started to flow in just yet. All that to say, be prepared to put some dollars behind your idea. There’s just no way around it, you will need to be able to invest in the business at the beginning. It may not be thousands of dollars, but it will be something – so be prepared. I know there are lots of people out there who tout growing a $50 million dollar business starting with zero dollars – but believe me, that is the rarest of rare exceptions.
So, next week we’ll talk about how you can actually get clients. So stay tuned.
Oh, and one more thing – this isn’t the only way to start your service business, but it’s worked for me, and I know it can work for you too. But listen closely – there are all sorts of experts and business coaches available. It is absolutely critical that you find the one or ones that resonate with you. Don’t follow someone’s guidance if it makes you feel really uncomfortable or goes against your core personality or beliefs – not even if it’s guidance from me. There are a lot of ways to have a successful business – find the one that works best for you. And then- go for it!