You think you’re selling web design, but your customer thinks he’s getting a business
I set up my first business in 1996, offering web design.
I had one brand client (Suzuki) and a handful of homies (home–based businesses.) Back then, entrepreneur was a term reserved for people with deep pockets and serial business success.
WordPress wasn’t around and hand-coding
Despite all the hard work and intense learning, there was one thing I was failing at. And that was building a steady customer base. I was making lots of contacts but simply couldn’t get the sales.
I closed my business and got a real job while I tried to figure out what had gone wrong. (spoiler: my sales and marketing efforts had no idea what I was selling)
In 2000, I set up shop again, and this time I went in armed with knowledge and strategy. The ride hasn’t been flawless. But when you’re a lifelong student and your business is your lab, it’s not supposed to be.
Over the last twenty years:
- I’ve contracted as an Operations Director for three startups, handling the day-to-day business tactics as well as designing and implementing strong, focused marketing and sales strategies.
- I’ve ghostwritten books, journals, and articles on business strategy and marketing.
- I’ve built a business that helps small businesses and freelancers get their product, implementation, and message right.
If you’re a small business or freelancer, this is what I wish someone had told me in 1996.
Lesson 1: You’re Not Selling What You Think You’re Selling
Stand in your customer’s shoes
- A hotel room is $120 to you, but it’s a last chance make-or-break weekend for the couple who’ve booked it.
- It’s a $5000 website makeover to you, but it’s your client’s future, his child’s education and his way out of a suffocating white cubicle.
- It’s a $15 green smoothie to you, but it’s your customer’s first day on their new-me life, and they’re nervous, excited… and trying not to think about dinner.
When you know how customers feel about what they’re buying from you:
- You can build layers in your product to serve their needs.
- Your marketing becomes more powerful because your copywriting speaks to them in a way that means something.
- Your price points reflect the different layers you offer, and suddenly, you’re accessible to a larger group of people and budgets.
Position yourself to meet your customers where they’re most happy to see you.
You’re offering a smoothie but they want to be led by the hand into a new skinny-jean-rocking healthier life? That’s fine, you don’t have to shove a bunch of kale at them. You can offer packages with price-points for coaching, personalized menus and lunchboxes.
It’s OK to charge for what you know now
There’s nothing wrong with selling services even if you’re still on a learning curve yourself. There are people who need the skill level you currently have.
But don’t cheat people. Never promise more than you can do. Always do more than you promise.
You’re going to be learning for the rest of your life, so throw away the insecurity that makes you doubt you’re worthy of a decent income.
Otherwise, you’ll be grabbing everyone as a customer — mostly those who want your service for next-to-free to give you “exposure” or “practice.”
It’s fine to accept that kind of work if you’re strategic. Set clear boundaries that provide a tangible benefit, such as a testimonial or data for a case study. Otherwise, after a while, you’ll feel resentment and possibly end up losing pride in your work. Also, you’ll have nothing to pay your bills with.
It’s far better to identify a niche you want to work in that’s within the boundaries of your skillset, make sure it exists, and then set up your marketing to attract those people.
Lesson 2: Prepare for Sickness When You’re Healthy
Your business needs you every day, no matter what mood you’re in or what stress drama is going on at the moment.
- Personal coaching: There’s a variety of coaching to suit almost every need. Lifestyle, business, mindset, stress…. The benefits are tremendous once you find a coach that suits you. It’s a way of organizing your thoughts and seeing the wood as well as the trees.
- Exercise and nutrition: We all know the benefits of this, and successful business people always make time for exercise. As well as the positive effects on the body, it removes stagnation and releases feel-good chemicals that help you think clearer and make better decisions.
- Time buffers: Build in buffers to provide room for the unexpected. Give yourself an extra day after a holiday to catch up. Integrate extra time into the deadlines you quote.
- Keep the wheel turning: Train someone to understand and manage the basics of your business in an emergency. This means answering emails, fulfilling outstanding orders, and paying bills. You can operate at a reduced service for a little while if you cover the fundamentals.
- Cash flow: Without cash flow, you’re a goner. Invoice regularly and don’t forget to collect the money. Learn basic bookkeeping and money management skills. Even if you hire someone to manage your money, you should always have a business mindset about money.
Lesson 3: Develop Your Message as You Evolve
Even if you stay in the same field forever, you’re going to grow and develop as a person over time.
You have to because change is the nature of the world and what people want now isn’t what they’ll want in a few years.
- Who are you?: Take notice of who you’re becoming over time. What’s becoming more important in your life? Do you enjoy working with a certain customer type? What thrills you about your business? Keeping a journal for business can help guide your thoughts and integrate your changing ambitions into your business.
- Marketing: Is your marketing touching the right people? The words you use, the way you say them, and where you say them — it all matters
- Website: People will forgive a website that looks dated, but they won’t forgive a website with bad content. Bad content is broken links, placeholder text, downloads that aren’t there anymore because you stopped offering that service but forgot to take it off your page. Audit your website at least once a year, and also after any major change in direction.
Enjoy Your Business With Your Eyes Open
Working for yourself is one of the most rewarding things you can do. You’ll learn from people whose words and actions resonate with you, but you’ll try your own thing too.
After all, you’ve got your own personality to infuse into your business. And your own vision that no teacher can see for you — our job is to help draw it out.