Starting From Zero
Researching Marketplace Trends
What opportunities are there in the marketplace and where should I place my bets?
There is always risk involved in business, so it’s important to study the marketplace as closely as possible - using the data - to make sure you put your focus where you have the best opportunities.
Where is the audience gathering?
First of all, you need to know which platforms have the best audiences and which are most appropriate to your business.
For example, you may be selling services for ecommerce sites but how do you know which are the main sites your customers are using?
Google Trends is a free tool you can use to see which sites or platforms are the most popular. This is a fast and easy way to find the information, although be aware that the data here is scrubbed i.e. it’s weighted to benefit their advertising.
Search for the main ecommerce sites, for example WooCommerce, Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, and you’ll see them displayed side-by-side on a graph.
From this quick search, we can see that Shopify is way ahead of the competition at this time. You can also see that Shopify is on the rise, indicating that there is an upward trend for ecommerce. Very useful information for you in terms of looking for opportunities.
You can use Google Trends to compare other types of platforms. For example, website builders or advertising platforms. In this graph we can see how the advertising platforms of different social media companies compare to one another.
Doing a Google search of the same companies will show you how many searches these ad platforms are getting. Putting this information together will help you get a picture of where people are spending their time online.
However, in terms of where you should be putting your focus, it’s important to look at not only how much traffic or searches these platforms are getting, but also how much money people are spending there. Even if there are huge audiences in some platforms, if these cannot be effectively monetized then they might not be worth your time.
Where is the money going?
To find out where the money is going, there are simple Google searches you can do to find out ad revenue. For example, search for ‘Amazon financial statement’ or ‘Pinterest ad revenue’. You can often find information about ad revenue in this way.
Again, bear in mind the source of the data and take the exact numbers with a pinch of salt. Getting data from as many different places as you can will help you avoid biases and build a more accurate picture.
When looking at this data, it’s worth considering trends as well as the actual numbers. Trends are almost more important as they will show where future opportunities lie.
Where are businesses focussed?
It is quite easy to see where consumers gather on the internet but it’s a little more difficult to find where businesses are focussed.
The Udemy marketplace has some useful analytics that can help if you know where to look. Udemy is the place to go for online courses on all kinds of topics, and businesses will use it to fill knowledge gaps and provide training to their staff. By finding out how much interest there is in certain courses, you can see if there is demand for the kind of services you are offering.
For example, if your company is offering digital marketing services, do a search and you will see some analytics on demand, the number of courses being offered, how much companies are spending on them, and other related search data.
If you think about the reasons why companies might be searching for courses on digital marketing, it may be that they lack internal expertise in that area. If that is the case, then at least some of them may be looking for external providers to help them with this. If there is interest, then there are opportunities.
What are the pain points?
Once you have identified a company’s pain points, think about how you can solve them and make money in the process - this is key to the success of your business.
As a service provider, there is more value in going for established businesses and helping them to grow. Beware of small businesses who need help getting off the ground. If they haven’t been able to do this themselves, they are going to end up monopolizing your expertise and draining your resources.
From your research, look at the upward trends and ask yourself whether new businesses are being minted because of this. One great example of an area with a lot of growth and where there are lots of new businesses being minted is YouTube.
According to this blog, there are over 16,000 YouTube channels with over 1 million subscribers and 160,000 channels with over 100,000 subscribers. With this many people making more than 6-figure sums from their YouTube videos, there is a great market for new business owners who need help with their content marketing.
Going after these successful and profitable businesses on YouTube is possibly one of the greatest opportunities out there at the moment. Here are some simple steps you could use to do this:
- Use SparkToro to find some of these YouTube channels and then target them specifically. For example, search for ‘Videography’ and see which channels are talking about this topic. In this way you can find the most successful channels.
- Another useful tool is SocialBlade which gives you stats on popular social media platforms so you can find those successful channels. Although the most popular channels probably already have teams to help them, you can look at the ones a bit further down the list or the ones who are new but growing fast.
- Once you have identified some of these channels, take a look at their social media accounts and see how they’re doing; how many views, followers, subscribers, etc. Identify some ways you think you could improve their numbers and reach out to them directly.
- You can also do a simple search on Twitter and see who is talking about what you are offering. This can be a great way of finding people who are experiencing the pain points you are trying to solve.
- You could offer to; increase traffic, increase subscribers, increase revenue, etc. Make it easy for them to say yes by offering to do the work for free on an initial basis. Then, once you have demonstrable success, you can use this to win more clients.
In summary, when looking for opportunities as a service provider, one of the surest ways of doing so is finding a way to help a company make more money.
There are three things to remember that you will need for success:
- You need the right information based on quality research. You can do that now!
- You need the passion to know you’re going to do something and follow it through, even if there are set-backs along the way. Without this, your business is not going to work!
- You need to be able to see the opportunity and have the focus to get to the point where you can make yourself profitable as a business
Prototyping Your Service
Now that I have all the information I need, how do I translate this into a service?
Now that you’ve done the information gathering stage from lesson 1, it’s time to test your theories and see what works. Whether you have already fully launched your own business or if you still have a regular job and are deciding whether you are ready to go it alone, the prototyping step is a useful and necessary one.
Before you can confidently offer your service to companies, you need to know that what you are doing will provide real value and that you can differentiate yourself from everyone else on the market. That’s where prototyping comes in.
Who needs your help?
Fiverr.com is a marketplace where you can buy and sell services. Looking at some of the stats on this website can help answer the question of who needs help and what kind of help do they need.
Go to fiverr and search for ‘analytics’ in the seller area. You will get a list of the top sellers and see what kinds of analytics services they offer. For example, you might see that most of the top vendors are offering Google Analytics set-up, suggesting that there is a lot of demand for this service.
A Twitter search can also show up what people are looking for on certain subjects. Also, as we saw in the last lesson, Udemy is a good place to see how popular certain topics are.
What help do they need?
Let’s say you are looking to offer SEO services and you have identified your potential customers as follows: Any website owner who wants to learn from past successes/failures and use data to improve results or increase sales.
With this in mind, you can start to identify some needs. For example, a company looking for SEO services may have the following needs:
- Confidence in the data they collect
- Clear perspective that they can act on the data
- Training on how to make sense of the data
- Staff augmentation
- Ongoing service level and specialized expertise without hiring a new team member
- Frequent reporting and analysis of what is happening
How do you solve these needs?
Once you have identified the needs, you can start to think about what services you can offer to address them and make money.
Looking at the SEO needs listed above, you could offer the following solutions:
How do you make money from solving these needs?
To work out how much money you can make from these different services, look at the price per hour or per job offered by marketplace sites like Fiverr or Upwork.
Doing some simple calculations, you can compare what you might earn in a salaried position to what you could earn on one of these marketplaces.
For example, if a logo designer makes $50,000 per year in a salaried position and you find logo design services going for $100 on the marketplace, you can quickly work out how many jobs you’d need to complete to match this salary. Are there other people on the marketplace completing this many jobs?
A better scenario is where you sell your services as a contractor and charge out at a higher rate.
For example, as a logo designer, you might offer your services at $3,000. This means you earn 30x more per job than on the marketplace and require much fewer clients in order to match your annual salary benchmark.
In addition, you have the potential to make some real money because you earn more as you gain more clients. A salaried position pays the same no matter how much business the company does, and in the marketplace you will always have an upper limit on how much you can earn because of the competition forcing prices down.
Are there enough opportunities to sustain you?
To get an idea of how much you can potentially make on a marketplace:
- Find a vendor who indicates how many jobs they have completed
- Use the number of ratings they have to calculate on average how many jobs it takes to get one rating
- Use this review rate as a guideline to see how many jobs these other vendors have completed based on their number of ratings
- Then, see how many clients you would need to make the same as you could make in a salaried position
Estimate how long each job might take and multiply that by the number of jobs to see how many hours you would need to work to make that salary.
As a rule of thumb, when you are running your own business, you should only be spending 20-40% of your time on the actual “doing” of your business.
So, as a service provider, you should be looking at spending 1 or 2 days a week working on client projects. The rest of your time will be dedicated to sales and marketing to grow the business, or back office tasks like accounting.
Following these calculations will give you a good idea of whether you can sustain a business without killing yourself doing it.
Which model should you use?
Selling your services on marketplaces like Fiverr, Upwork or Udemy is a good way to get some experience and build some cash reserves so that you can invest in sales and marketing to advertise your services to clients directly. You will be able to charge more when you are not surrounded by competitors and can differentiate yourself a little more.
Another downside of using a marketplace is that you are dependent on that platform for work. If they change their conditions or disappear, you may suddenly lose all your clients. Your aim should be to have a business model which is sustainable and has room to grow.
Although these external platforms make it seem easy because they do all the sales and marketing for you, remember that they don’t do this for free and take a percentage from every sale you make.
To create a sustainable business that can grow you should think about contracting your services or setting up an agency.
Hiring someone to work for you may seem like a big outlay in terms of salary to begin with, but it will allow your business to grow and you will start to see the benefits already by the second year as you expand your capacity to take on new clients.
- You can use online marketplaces to research current demand for your services and estimate what other service providers are making
- Build a prototype to see if your service offering is sustainable
- Selling your services on a marketplace is a good way to gain experience but is not a sustainable business model
- Offering your services as a consultant allows you to charge more and gives you more time to dedicate to growing your business
- Building an agency is a way of future-proofing your business
Wooing the Early Adopters
How do you get someone to take a chance on your new and unproven service?
Getting started in business may seem like a chicken and egg situation. In the same way that you need a chicken to make an egg, you need that first customer to become a real business. In order to get that first customer to take a chance on your company, you need to persuade them that the risk is worth the reward.
Early adopters and risk vs reward
Of early adopters, we can say that they are willing to take on risk in order to gain a significant advantage by acting fast.
They understand that there may be pain points along the way but that what they stand to gain will make it worth it. They also know that some of the new things they sign up to will not be worth the reward, but that in the long run, it’s worth it.
You can see on this adoption curve that early adopters are ahead of their time. They are key to the success of many products because they give the early majority the confidence to join in.
Who will take a chance on you?
Look at your potential clients and try to figure out who is in that 13.5% of people who would be willing to take a risk on you. What characteristics do they share? Do they have money? Are they tech-savvy? Do they already know the company? Do they know your competitors?
Think about what you can offer these people that will make it worth the risk for them. Some start-ups might work with you and agree to pay you in equity or once they become profitable. Although this might work out well (as in the case of David Choe), bear in mind that it’s you that’s taking the risk in this scenario.
Here are some ideas of where you might find your first customer:
- Extended family members or friends
- Former coworkers
- Religious/community organizations
- Connectors (those people who know everybody)
How do you put yourself out there?
Go out where you know you’re going to meet people and talk about your business with whoever you meet. Even if they don’t need your services, they may know someone who does.
Remember that sales is a volume game, so keep having conversations until you find that one who is willing to take a chance. Usually around 1/20 of these conversations will result in business.
How do you recognize the best opportunities?
Find clients who are realistic about what they need and who value what you are offering. Be careful of those who expect you to take on too much.
A company who doesn’t have a huge budget and so they are willing to take a chance on an unproven company like yours can work and could be the start of a long-lasting relationship, but be careful of offering your services too cheap; you don’t want to be saddled with a long-term client who bleeds you dry. Established companies will have a better framework and resources that can help you to be successful.
What can you do to gain momentum?
Starting out in a marketplace like Fiverr or Upwork might seem like a good place to start, but if you don’t know your craft yet, you may not get the top ratings that you need to be able to get some traction.
The best way to get that first opportunity is by having those conversations. Try to talk to one new person a day and your first opportunity should come within a month. Remember, 1/20 is the rule of thumb so if you focus on volume, it’s only a matter of time.
Are you ready to get started?
Set a target of how many people you want to speak to per month. Even if you know these people are not potential clients (e.g. you know they don’t have any money, they just contracted a similar service, etc.), they might know someone who does, or they might want to use you somewhere down the line - so don’t write off any of those potential conversations.
As you start to grow you will need to set limits and use your time and energy wisely, but for now the more people you can speak to the better.
Other ways to find opportunities
- LinkedIn can work as a distribution channel once you are more established
- Content marketing is a great way of getting clients to come to you over the longer term
- Training and educational forums are a great place to position yourself as an expert
- Around 10% of all consumers are early adopters
- Find those people who are willing to take a risk on you and work out what you are going to offer them to make it worth their while
- Selling is a numbers game, it should take around 20 conversations to win a client
- Start talking to people you already know, this might be where your first opportunity comes from
Making a Full-Time Commitment
Full Time Commitment: All In Scenarios
When can you turn your success into a full-time pursuit?
To be data driven means using numbers to make decisions. Using a spreadsheet, I was able to make the decision to go full-time in 2006. I outlined my different options as follows:
- Stay at my current job
- Take a job that was offered to me with Three Deep - where I was getting a retainer - part-time
- Take that same position as a full-time role
- Work full-time independently
I looked forward over the coming year and worked out how much I would stand to make with each option. Option 2 came back as the most lucrative for the next year and, on top of that, it was risk-proof as I would still be working part-time on a retainer.
Considering your options
Chances are you have some similar options which you could fit into the following categories:
- Employee + Side hustle - Staying in your job and working a side hustle is a good way of saving some money before you go all in and also building some client relationships with a view to getting an anchor client.
- Anchor client - Having an anchor client is the ideal scenario for getting started in your own business. If you don’t have an anchor client paying you a retainer, try negotiating with any clients you are working with as a freelancer.
- Job switch - Job switch would be the option where you take an alternative offer of working full-time. In most cases, this is not what you want in the long term, but it can be a great back-up option if your first attempt at going all-in doesn’t work out. In addition, the salary increase that comes with a new job can help you reach your savings target.
- All-in - Going all-in is the most risky option, particularly if you are coming straight from working as an employee. No matter how good your skills or know-how, you don’t know how well you are going to perform as a business owner until you try it.
Mapping out the scenarios
To find out how each of the scenarios could work out for you over different time periods, use the excel resource and fill in the columns as follows:
- Position - indicate the position or combination of positions that you will work e.g. full-time job, side-hustle, anchor client, all-in.
- Time frame - how long are you going to work in this position or combination of positions? Do you have a deadline to achieve your goal? What is the ideal outcome? Play around with this variable to look at different scenarios e.g. the next 12 months, next 24 months, etc.
- Revenue - what would be your monthly income from this position? Although your side hustle may not bring in a set monthly income, take a monthly average and use this.
- Expenses - how much are you spending while you are working in this scenario? How much could you realistically reduce your expenses? How does this affect how quickly you can achieve your goal?
- Gain/Loss - this is the difference between the previous two columns to see whether you are living beyond your means or whether you are saving money.
- Gain/Loss for time period - this shows the total loss/gain over the projected time period.
- Cumulative - here you will see the cumulative loss/gain as you add different scenarios to your projection.
Using this excel, you can try some different scenarios.
Employee + side hustle
A great way into setting up by yourself (and the way I did it) is to stick with your current job and guaranteed income stream and then develop a side hustle. It might take a year to find that first side hustle so map out the first 12 months just with your current salary and your current expenses. In my case, I was living beyond my means and so I was in debt at the end of that first year.
For the following 9 months, I had the revenue from my main job and the extra income from my side hustle. By keeping my expenses the same, I was able to pay off my debt and end up with a net gain.
At this point, I felt ready to go all-in and leave my job. I knew I still had the revenue from my side-hustle but this revenue fluctuates from month to month and isn’t guaranteed. Fortunately, I had an anchor client which would give me a guaranteed income.
If you don’t have that anchor client, you can project the next 12 months with no income, or just the income from your side hustle.
If you do this scenario, adjust your expenses for the next 2 years so that you have enough of a cushion to see you through that period where you may be earning less than you spend. Once you have established that anchor client, you can project forward the next year or two years to see how much you would stand to earn.
Saving up that cushion to give yourself a runway for starting your own business is crucial. Adjust the numbers to your situation, thinking about how much you are getting from your side hustle, how easy you think it will be to get your first anchor client, and how much you need to live on. These variables will be different for everyone so take my numbers only as a starting point.
The job switch may not be your preferred option but it is useful to have as a fall-back if you try going all-in and things don’t work out. It can also allow you to go all-in faster, so if you are unhappy at your current job and can’t stick it out long enough to save as much as you need, using the job switch as a back-up option can allow you to leave your current job sooner than you might do otherwise.
Calculate how much you can save working your regular job the next 12 months and including your side hustle. Then, in the second year, you go all in and so your only revenue will be your side hustle. Perhaps you can keep doing this for a couple of years and break even but if things don’t go as you hoped, you could easily start turning a loss.
Although taking on another salaried job at this point might seem like you failed, if could be the perfect result. Rather than looking at your attempt to go all-in as a failed venture, you should look on it as a valuable learning experience which is going to put you in a great position to go for a better job with a better salary.
Now you are back in a salaried position but able to save more. After 12 months saving in this new job, you can replace any losses that you made in your first attempt and start saving to go all-in a second time.
Even if you don’t have a side hustle, you can see how this scenario looks. You need to keep in mind that you have your own personal set of circumstances, so play with the other variables and think about how long you have to make it work.
If you want to go all-in but you have no plans for a job switch, it becomes a question of saving as much as you can to create a cushion for getting your business off the ground.
The best way to save is either through a side hustle or by cutting down on your expenses. If you have no side hustle, your expenses become even more important.
If you can save 50% of what you earn over 12 months, you’ll be able to give yourself a year’s runway. If you manage to save 25%, you’ll have a 6-month runway after a year, etc.
So, be realistic about your living expenses but also consider that making a sacrifice now is going to be of great benefit in the long run.
Not everyone can cut down their expenses; perhaps you just had a new baby or you have a debt you’re paying off, etc. In this case, maybe this is not the best time for you to go all-in.
Think of your own situation, how much you can save and how long your savings will take you to see if this is the best scenario for you.
- Securing an anchor client is a great way to ensure some guaranteed income when you are trying to go it alone
- Once you have decided to leave your job, start saving as much as you can
- The easiest way to save is to cut your expenses
- Getting a new job can be a good back-up plan if your business doesn’t take off in the timeframe you expect
- There are many ways of going all-in, find the one that works for your situation by doing the numbers
Growing via Word of Mouth
How do you double-up your initial success providing services to grow your client base?
Some people think that you are either a natural salesperson or you’re not. In fact, there are some qualities which help, but most people can develop these skills.
A fear of rejection can stop people becoming effective salespeople. If you have a fear of rejection, it’s just a question of working on that fear and overcoming it.
In fact, successful people aren’t afraid of hearing the word ‘no.’ They know the most important thing is the end result, no matter how many rejections they get along the way. They can see that each rejection is actually a learning opportunity that brings them closer to their end goal.
So, you don’t need to be a “natural” salesperson to succeed, nor do you need huge amounts of luck.
However, there are some techniques you can use to improve your chances.
Here are some quick wins to improve your sales by using word-of-mouth tactics.
1. The cross-pollination technique
When a client leaves to go to another company, make sure you stay in touch and they may give you an opportunity at the new company they are going to. This is a great way of winning a new client without having to go through the laborious process of earning their trust. You already come with a guarantee and someone who can vouch for you in that company so you don’t need to sell yourself.
Although you don’t have a lot of control over this kind of opportunity arising, you can improve your chances by maintaining good relations with your current clients. If you hear about them moving to a new company, send them an email or contact them on LinkedIn to see how they’re doing.
2. The ‘small fish in a big pond’ technique
You can start expanding into different departments or different businesses connected to the one you are working in. If you are working in one area of a company that has many different business units, ask to be introduced to the other units. If you already have proven success within the company, this is a much easier sell than going in completely cold.
You can also approach other businesses in the same sector you are working in and leverage your experience and knowledge to differentiate yourself.
3. The hero’s journey technique
This is where you make your client look like a hero by solving a problem for them. Going the extra mile for your clients can pay off in so many ways so keep the long-game in mind. Some ways you can make your client look like a hero:
- Nominate them for an award
- Spotlight them in a newsletter
- Write a case study on them in a prominent blog post
- Bring them business or connect them with another one of your clients for a need they have
- Promote their company to your audience
It’s about being committed to your story and your brand, rather than only focussing on the specific job you have been contracted for. The more benefits you can show to your client, the more likely they are to recommend you or bring you extra work.
4. The protect-your-turf technique
If one of your current clients moves to another company, make sure whoever replaces them knows who you are and knows what you can do for them. You have an advantage of knowing the territory, so be proactive in protecting it. There is likely to be a knowledge gap which you are perfectly positioned to fill. Let them know you are someone who can help them get up to speed.
5. The name-dropper technique
If you are working with big-name clients, make sure you mention them to other clients or potential clients and in your marketing (provided you have permission). This strengthens your brand and provides social proof to clients who don’t know you yet, making them more likely to take a chance on you.
If you have awards or certifications, make sure you mention those too.
6. The news-teller technique
This is where you provide value by sharing industry-related news. Most people don’t have time to stay on top of the latest news, so doing the work for them is another way of making yourself indispensable.
This doesn’t mean you have to spend lots of your free time educating yourself and learning about the latest news. Follow a couple of quality blogs and summarize to your clients on a regular basis. Your clients will soon begin to see you as an expert in the field and will come to you when they have a problem to solve.
You don’t only have to do this with your clients. Putting out a video on LinkedIn or Facebook, or writing a blog means you can reach a much wider audience.
- You don’t need any special skills to be a good salesperson - anyone can learn them
- Dominate your fear of failure. Know that you are going to hear ‘no’ multiple times and be OK with it
- Leveraging the contacts you have is one of the easiest ways to win new clients
- Create added value for your clients to make it more likely that they will recommend you
- Use your current client list or any big wins you already have to gain confidence with new clients
- Don’t let shyness stop you from speaking to clients. Find smaller communities if you find that more comfortable
What moves can you make now to free up your capacity when things take off?
When the going is good and you have momentum in your business, you never want to stop moving forward. There are some things you can do before you even get started to lay the groundwork and remove some of the potential obstacles to future growth.
The first 5-10 years of your business will be principally about survival. Because you never know when the opportunities will dry up, you say yes to everything and chase up every possible opportunity. This allows you to create a safety net that will keep you going through the fallow periods.
To successfully prepare your business for growth, you need to put aside some time for strategizing and pruning away parts which are not working. This includes removing unprofitable lines, redirecting marketing efforts, making personnel decisions, etc. We call this eliminating debt and we can categorize this into different areas.
1. Technical debt
Technical debt may consist of a manual process that you have which is time-consuming and inefficient. Find ways to eliminate or automate these kinds of processes. Focus on what you are good at and think about outsourcing the other parts.
Sometimes there is an initial time or money investment to eliminate this technical debt, for example, purchasing a tool or training up another staff member to take it over.
However, the sooner you do it, the faster you are allowing your business to grow and the sooner you will recoup your investment. This is a practice you can do on a regular basis as part of your business strategy.
2. Financial debt
It’s important to get rid of any outstanding debts as early into your business as possible. In the previous lesson, you saw how to project forward to see your year-on-year profit and losses. In those calculations, you always need to factor in any accumulated debts and make sure you pay these off before you start calculating your profits.
3. Management debt
Any employee or contractor who isn’t delivering for the company should be removed as soon as possible. This is one of the most difficult things to do in terms of debt elimination because it’s human beings rather than just numbers. However, if they are damaging your business, you need to be decisive in getting rid of them.
4. Organizational debt
If there is a part of your business that isn’t making any money and there isn’t a short term solution, you may need to get rid of it. For example, you may realize that you have more supply available than there is demand for your product/service. If that’s the case, then you can either reduce the supply to meet demand or reduce the price.
Organizational debt is about ensuring your supply/demand curve is functioning correctly. It also encapsulates all the other parts of your business and how they interact.
The coronavirus pandemic is a good opportunity to eliminate a lot of organizational debt by consolidating and focussing on your weak points.
- Eliminating debt is not just about financial debt, it’s about pruning your company to make it run more efficiently
- Don’t niche down too early. The best time to do this after at least ten results (services delivered to client)
- Don’t wait too long before addressing and eliminating debt; things can get out of control quickly
- Working with a coach or gaining experience with someone who knows more than you is a great investment
- Sometimes you have to take a step backwards to move forwards
Nailing Your Operations
How do you shift from survival mode to maximizing your revenue and profits?
Knowing when it’s the perfect time to shift out of survival mode and really focus on maximizing profits depends on your company; it could be a new big contract coming in, it could be a new team member coming on board, and for many companies, the coronavirus pandemic could prove the turning point. Keep an eye out for these opportunities to decide the right time for you.
Once you’ve decided to make the shift, you will need to turn your attention to the operational side of your business. Operations are key to maximizing your revenue and profits, but it’s difficult to find the time to give this your focus while you are in survival mode.
Instead of being the person who takes care of all elements of your business, at some point you will need to start handing things off to your team and automating processes to make them more efficient.
Operations are key to improving many different areas of your company.
When you are starting out, you may create and release marketing content on an ad hoc basis, for example, posting a weekly blog.
However, once you start to grow, you’ll find you have less time to do this and the goals of your marketing strategy may change, requiring different channels or content types. At this point, it’s important to have a plan for your marketing campaigns and apply some operational systems.
These might include:
- Conducting regular keyword research
- Using project management software to plan out your posts in advance
- Having a strategy on which marketing channels you will use
- Having a team to help you produce content
- Having a calendar to ensure frequency of posting
- Planning email sequences for onboarding
Once you have your marketing strategy, work out what resources you will need to achieve your goals. Maybe you need to hire an outside agency, or maybe you can create a lot of the content in advance. You can use project planning tools such as Asana to plan, schedule and track your marketing campaigns.
Applying operations to your marketing ensures that you have the right focus and allows you to build a strong brand.
Having applied operations to your marketing campaigns, your sales are naturally going to improve as well. In addition, taking some of the manual processes out of marketing means you should have more time to focus on sales and nurturing your leads. However, you should also have operations to make your sales processes more efficient.
Some operational improvements you can apply to sales:
- Creating templates for sales presentations
- Having a procedure for follow-up calls
- Creating auditory procedures
Data Driven has created a lot of this operational content for you. Use our templates and spreadsheets and tailor them to your business.
Once you have optimized your sales process, you will need to make sure you can consistently deliver your services. Having an operational plan for delivery means:
- Customers are happier as know they can rely on your delivery
- You increase revenue because you can deliver more units
- Sales increase as you get more repeat business
- You increase profits as it costs you less to deliver
Niching down is key to improving your delivery. If you are delivering fewer items, you will be able to focus on optimizing the delivery of that one service.
Operations also improve...
- Morale - If your team know you have confidence in their abilities and you aren’t micro-managing them, they will be happier in their work. You will also be happier because you can be more focussed on helping your business to grow.
- Efficiency - Operations are key to making your business more efficient, and efficiency enables you to cut waste and be more profitable.
- Quality of life - Being the single point of failure in your business creates a lot of stress for you. Operations will give you the peace of mind in your business so that you can focus on other parts of your life, like friends and family.
When to use Standard Operational Procedures (SOPs)
SOPs are written steps of a process that any team member can follow to complete that process. They can also include email templates for common communications.
Creating SOPs takes time so start thinking about doing it once your processes are established. Usually a small time investment to create an SOP pays dividends in time savings every time you perform that action in the future. It also means that any team member can now perform that process, useful if the person who usually does it is absent or leaves the company.
When deciding whether to create an SOP for a process, think about whether it will create a significant time saving that justifies the time investment needed to create it.
- Staying in survival mode won’t allow you to grow, it’s also not good for your health
- It’s time to focus on operations when you know who you are as a company and what your niche is
- Key to operations is having the right team. Make sure you have a diverse set of skills in your operational team and ones that supplement your own skills
- Hiring someone to help you with operations before you think you can afford them will accelerate your timeline really fast
What is the key to amplifying your sales?
Getting more high-quality leads is the short answer. In fact, amplifying your sales depends much less on tactics or strategy and is much more about brand building and the steps you take up to that point.
We have already seen how operations play a part in all areas of your business, and sales is no exception. If everything else in your business is set up well, sales is just a formality and you will find that business comes in automatically.
Whatever your sales tactics, building a strong long-term relationship with your clients is key. Your tactics will be much more effective if people actually care about you.
Ways to amplify sales
Here are some ways to amplify sales without resorting to sales tactics:
1. Build your brand
There are a few things you can do to start building your brand:
- Get a “real” company name i.e. not just your name.
- Act bigger than you really are. Talk about your company as if it is where you want it to be in the future. Clients tend to trust bigger companies so a little exaggeration will make them feel more comfortable.
- Be top of mind in your field. This becomes easier as you niche down. As you tie your brand closely to that specific service, you become “that company that does X”. Stay top of mind by communicating frequently with your customers about what you do.
- Enhance your reputation. This is about controlling your narrative and making sure people see you as you want to be seen. Ensure everything that you put out there about your company reflects this image and ask for third-party validation. If you want awards, ask people to vote for you and put yourself in spaces where you can make it happen. If you want certifications, find out how to get them. Then, once you have the certifications and the awards, make sure you tell everyone about them. Get yourself on speaking lists to establish yourself as an expert in your field, start a podcast, write a blog. There are many actions you can take but it means prioritizing them and seeing the value.
2. Share your expertise
You can do this by building a presence on social media channels and sharing content across multiple channels to gain a following as an expert in your field.
Concentrating your efforts on a particular channel can also be a great way of dominating that particular space.
3. Nurture your relationships
Nurture client relationships by maintaining contact in a personalized way; this creates a kind of long-term conversation which helps in building a relationship.
When you think about sales in terms of transactions, things are over quickly and definitely. When you think in terms of relationships, things are never over.
Stay in touch with your clients so you are front of mind when they need something or when they talk to someone.
4. Feed your pipeline
Create whitepapers or free guides that you can offer people in return for their contact details so that you have people in your pipeline you can nurture. The more people you have in your pipeline, the better chance you have of closing deals.
There are many different ways of feeding your pipeline including all the techniques we have looked at in this lesson. Use a variety of techniques to increase your opportunities and double-down on the efforts that work.
5. Create demand
Nurturing client relationships, sharing your expertise and starting top of mind are all ways of stimulating demand.
Although brand-building is a better long-term strategy for your sales, there are still certain sales tactics that you can resort to that are also very effective.
1. Make an offer
It may sound obvious, but the purpose of cultivating client relationships is to get sales. So, when you are communicating with them, don’t forget to make them an offer.
A direct, targeted offer will have better results than sending the same offer to all your clients.
2. Qualify your prospects
This means deciding whether the clients in your pipeline are worth your time and effort. Getting new business can be costly and so being selective is important to ensure you are spending your time and money wisely. Before you send your targeted offer, spend time qualifying your prospects to decide who should receive it.
Develop a process for qualifying prospects and treat it like any other part of your business.
3. Provide outsized value
One of the easiest ways to get more sales is through repeated business from your current clients. Add value compared to what other people in the market are offering and you will get loyal customers.
Try to tie your services to results or to how much money you can save your client rather than thinking in terms of price-per-hour.
- Nurture your client relationships by staying in contact with relevant and helpful communications
- Have empathy for your clients’ position and adjust your approach accordingly
- Building a brand is a better way to amplify your sales than just using sales tactics
- When focussing on building your brand, don’t neglect sales tactics: your business is about making sales
- If you can over-deliver whilst under-promising, you will generally have satisfied customers who will recommend you to others.