Small business consulting and coaching for self-employed people. Increase your reach and revenue. Boost clarity about your business and marketing models. Get practical tips, advice, training and techniques.
Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts in my 2018 Learning Survey! If you haven’t take the survey yet, you can take it here. (Don’t peek at the results below until you take the survey, so you’re not influenced by what others said.)
This year, I asked three questions of small business owners, asking how they preferred to learn new business/professional information.
Here are the results.
First question: I’m creating a new virtual class (delivered through video conferencing), and would love your opinion. The class has six hours of educational content in it. Which would you MOST prefer? 44% said they preferred 60 minute classes, with 23% choosing 90 minute classes.
Second questions: When studying a new business or professional topic, which learning methods do you MOST OFTEN choose? Most people (56%) learned through hands-on practice. People preferred video (54%) to audio (33%), and virtual classes (53%) to live in-person classes (34%).
What does this mean to you as a teacher or trainer? First, remember that the audience for this survey was small business owners. If that is not your target audience, you will need to ask these questions of your own customers to see if it mirrors what you’re seeing here.
It’s not surprising that people learn best by practicing what they’re learning. Are you giving them space in class to do homework or discuss how they will apply what you’re teaching to their real lives?
When I conducted the Learning Survey in 2015, some of the results were similar (video vs audio, for example). But the number of people who prefer live, in-person classes has dropped significantly, from 57% in 2015 to 34% in 2018, probably because people are more comfortable now with webinars and video conference based classes. (Click on image to see it larger.)
The third question: When learning a new topic or skill, how long do you prefer to focus on it?
This surprised me! Everyone says we have short attention spans and videos can’t be more than 5 minutes or people will stop watching. But clearly, when people want to learn a topic, they want to focus for longer: 30 or 60 minutes at a time. (Click on image to see it larger.)
Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey, and if you haven’t take the survey yet, you can take it here. I hope you find this information helpful when designing educational content for your audience!
When creating an email mailing list, there is a feature you should consider using: the double opt-in.
A double opt-in works like this:
First, a person who wants to be on your mailing list either fills out a form on your website or gives you their email address in some other way. That’s the “first opt-in.”
Second, the mailing list system sends a confirmation email to them, asking them to click a link to confirm their email address and that they really DO want to subscribe to your mailing list. That’s the second or “double opt-in.”
These are my thoughts on double opt-in:
In the end analysis, it’s a good thing.
If you want to be GDPR-compliant, double opt-ins ensure that the person who signed up for your mailing list actually wants to hear from you. This prevents (or, at least, reduces) the number of fake sign-ups from harvested lists via form bots. Some mail providers like MailChimp, are requiring double opt-in for EU-based subscribers as a way of complying with GDPR. By using double opt-in, you’re ensuring you have the subscriber’s consent, and that’s the rule in GDPR that you need to pay attention to. Note: I have not seen any wording in the GDPR regulations that specifically requires the use of double opt-in technology, and Infusionsoft says the same thing. What GDPR does say, however, is that you must have the consent of the subscriber to capture and store their personal dates (name, email address, etc) and communicate with them using it, and that they should be easily able to manage and/or delete their information from your system.
Double opt-in doesn’t stop spammers and bots from signing up to your mailing via your website, but it prevents them from getting on your “white list” of subscribers you mail to on a regular basis. Spammers and bots rarely click the confirm link.
By using the double opt-in feature from your email service provider, your email will be sent from a “proven clean” mail address, which will decrease the number times your business gets marked as a spammer by other email service providers.
You can see who has not confirmed yet, and you can email them again to ask them if they want to confirm and continue receiving information from you.
Most people now understand the double opt-in concept and look in their Inbox for the confirmation email they’ll receive. (Not everyone knows to look in their spam or junk folder, so you remind them about that as they are subscribing.)
By having your mailing list in the same database as your shopping cart, you have a huge benefit of sales and leads data that you wouldn’t have if they were in two separate systems. You also have the benefit of upselling to previous customers, thereby increasing your revenue.
It ads a second layer of technology that might fail. It’s possible that the subscriber will not receive the double opt-in email. Check with your email service provider about how many times you can sent the double opt-in email, or that it will go to their junk/spam folder and they’ll miss it.
Some people will subscribe but not click the confirm link in the opt-in email. It’s the risk of doing business online. (Just like some people move to a new house but don’t tell you their forwarding address and all your marketing brochures get sent back to you.)
Some email service providers, like MailChimp, are setting up single opt-in by default. Their reason is this: “61% of people start but do not finish the double opt-in process.” On my own list, it’s much lower, around 23% don’t complete the opt-in process. Of those who don’t, half will open future emails. The other half we delete. (Our system flags a good portion of those who do not confirm as spam bot signups, so it’s likely that they’re not real people anyway.)
Some email service providers will not allow you to email someone who has not double opted-in. Check with your email service provider for their rules.
Our test results
Last month, we set up two subscription forms on our website. Each page gets about the same amount of traffic, but one form requires a double opt-in confirmation before the subscriber can receive the free item we offered. The other form did not require double opt-in: it asked for it, but didn’t require it in order for them to get their freebie.
Here’s what we discovered:
We tracked the number of people who submitted the sign-up form for the two free offers.
We then tracked the number of people who ultimately confirmed their subscription (68%).
There was virtually no difference in the percent of people who confirmed, regardless of whether they were required to or not.
But the percent of people who consumed the free offer (in this case, a free ebook and a free video tutorial) was lower among those who were required to double opt-in. They never saw the link to consume the free offer because they never confirmed their email address — the step that was required before we would send them their freebie link.
However, of those who did not confirm, 51% did open and read subsequent email newsletters. Even though they did not confirm, they were still active and engaged.
Opt-out rates were the same, regardless of confirmation status.
So for us, requiring double opt-ins gives us the benefits above, but doesn’t stop us from mailing to those who don’t confirm (if we want to).
Our new rule: If someone doesn’t confirm, and doesn’t open or click on subsequent emails, they are deleted after a month. Why mail to someone who isn’t interested in what I’m writing about?
Don’t focus on what you’ll lose
Some people focus on what they’ll lose if they ask people to confirm an opt-in. Focus on what you’ll gain: a clean list of motivated subscribers that won’t bounce or be marked as spam, and who have proven they’re interested by clicking on your double opt-in confirmation link.
Your list size does not determine your loveability or your business success.
Your list size does not tell you if you are a good person, or if you are worthy of the best things in life.
People who don’t opt-in or who unsubscribe are not rejecting you personally; they’re probably just getting too much email and want to cut back.
People who DO optin are saying, “Yes, I like what you have to say and would like more of it.”
Many business owners have excellent revenue numbers with lists under 3,000 people, especially if these are your perfect target audience.
It’s not the size of your list that matters, it’s the relationship you have with your subscribers, and what strategic marketing you do with the list that counts.
I heard this comment at a National Speaker’s Association meeting recently: “Being your own boss is the hardest way to make easy money.” Boy, that is the truth!
I speak with people all the time who dream of becoming self employed and starting their own small business. Don’t get me wrong: being self employed is the best lifestyle I know. It has a huge range of rewards, from flexibility to independence to self-responsibility. I’m completely in love with being self employed and wouldn’t exchange it for a corporate job for a million dollars! (Okay, truthfully, if you want to offer me a million dollars a year in salary, I’m willing to entertain a discussion.)
But it is hard work, plain and simple. After carefully studying and working with people who start their own businesses, my best estimate is that it takes at least a year to make a serious profit, and often it’s more like two years. I have yet to see a “quick fix” for small business marketing that will land a lot of cash in your pocket in 30 days.
If your business structure and administrative process are not firmly in place, you’ll crash and burn eventually. If your business strategy and plan are not fine-tuned, you’ll spend an extraordinary amount of time running in circles trying to find the right customer and the right product or service to sell them.
So why do people look for (and purchase) products and services that promise a quick fix to their ailing small business? In the question lays the answer: they want a quick fix to the pain. Don’t we all?
Running your own small business is a marathon, not a sprint. Stop trying to sprint your way to your first million without a firm foundation under you. Remember, marathoners train all year long for just one marathon; they don’t wait until the month before to begin preparing.
Make sure you have enough money to finance your dreams, and a good financial plan that tells you when you’ll actually start making a profit.
Invest money and time in sound, effective marketing strategies and do them every month, rain or shine.
Have a written business plan and a business strategy, even if it’s only three pages long.
Test your marketing ideas, your product ideas and your service ideas to make sure you’ve got everything on target.
And finally, have a marathoner’s attitude: the finish line does exist, just over the next hill. Believe that you will make it to the finish line, as long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other and maintain a positive attitude.
“I’m going nuts,” one of my private clients emailed me last week. She continued, “There are so many marketing techniques, how in the world do I choose the best ones for my business, without making massive mistakes?”
Putting together your marketing plan and your marketing campaigns can be a daunting task. You hear rumors that a specific marketing technique is a “must” for your type of business, yet you wonder: Will it really bring the desired results before I run out of cash and patience?
There are over dozens internet marketing techniques and another 50 or more traditional marketing techniques. How do you choose among these 100+ possible marketing techniques to find the most powerful ones for your business? Here are some things to consider.
The Purpose of Marketing
First, let’s talk about the purposes of marketing. Knowing which goal you want for your marketing will help you choose the proper technique. There are thousands of books and websites on marketing, and by distilling them down to their core essence, we discover there are four primary purposes for marketing:
Brand Awareness – Helping your target audience to become aware of you and want to learn more about your services and products.
Lead Generation – Getting your target audience to request information and/or a sales conversation with you; also, for building a pre-sales relationship.
Brand Consideration – Your target audience is considering buying from you or at least has included you in their short list of possibilities, along with your competitors.
Direct Sales – Getting your target audience to purchase directly from you.
For example, you might use search engine advertising, like Google Adwords, for lead generation purposes, but it may be a poor choice for direct sales, especially if your target audience doesn’t purchase that way.
My client Mary called me and cried, “I need to find my niche!”
She had been told over and over again that she needed to find a narrow niche for her Life Coaching business so that she could be more noticeable among the pack of Life Coaches who market themselves to business professionals and managers.
But she had also been told that using words like “meaning” and “purpose” to describe what clients were looking for was over-used; all life coaches were using those terms and they had lost their power when it came to writing marketing text.
To find your niche, you need a tailor-made approach.
Here is my reply to Mary in regards to identifying her niche and writing her marketing text towards that niche:
Finding The Right Words
Remember, WITHIN the coaching industry, words like “soul,” “meaning,” and “fulfillment” are used constantly and we’re used to them and don’t think they’re special.
But, OUTSIDE the coaching industry, people are just awakening to these words. They love these words. And people ARE looking for meaning and fulfillment in their lives. (Just because you are used to seeing those words everyday doesn’t automatically make them powerless or boring.)
So you may be tired of hearing catch-words in YOUR industry, but that doesn’t mean that customers aren’t still searching for those very same ideas.
If you want to know if people are interested in these words, go to the Google Keyword Tool and type them in. You’ll see for yourself how popular they really are.
As a life coach, saying you don’t want to market yourself using the words “fulfillment” and “meaning,” is like saying you’re a dentist, but you don’t want to have the niche of “filling cavities” because every dentist does that.
Sometimes your niche isn’t just what topics you talk about with clients; sometimes your niche is the combination of what topics you talk about AND the people/groups you talk to.
Finding The Right Niche
The whole purpose of choosing a niche is so you can find a central place that potential clients congregate — so that you can get in front of them to introduce your business via your marketing techniques. You can find “professionals” or “mid-level managers” or “upper level executives” in specific industry associations, magazines, websites, newspapers, peer groups, etc.
But say you want your niche to be “Hyper Ambitious Stress Coaching.” There is no industry association for Hyper Ambitious people…how will you locate them?
Do you really want to be known as the “Hyper Ambitious Stress Coach?” (Do people really type in “hyper ambitious stress coach” into Google when they’re looking for help?) It implies that you work with only people who are hyper-ambitious, and only stressed ones at that. There are plenty of “non-hyper-ambitious” professionals who are want to achieve great things and be successful (and are stressed), they just don’t go overboard into “hyper” behaviors that create unbalance.
One caveat: labeling yourself the “Hyper Ambitious Stress Coach” is great for PR. The news media loves a specialist. But clients may not be looking for a Hyper Ambitious Stress Coach; they’re just looking for help with stress, over-scheduling, high demands, etc. So unless you’re going to get all your prospective clients via news media interviews, you might want to re-think that narrow niche.
Choosing a niche is not an exercise in finding a place where you have no competition. It’s okay if you have competition in your niche: it shows there’s a thriving market there.
Differentiation vs. Niche
If you’re simply looking to differentiate yourself from your competition, then that’s not done by choosing a niche market. Differentiation and Niche are two separate marketing steps. You can differentiate (brand) yourself based on:
your classes and products
your skill set & knowledge
Differentiation asks, “Why would they buy from ME versus my competition?”
Niche asks, “Where will I find THEM so I can introduce myself?”
I’m not saying, “Don’t go in that niche direction.” What I am saying is this: if you define your niche too narrowly, you’ll have a hard time getting in front of them with your marketing techniques. And along the way, you might not be following your own purpose or meeting your goals.
So, how do you define your own niche? I’d love to hear about your target audience and how you help them!
I’d love to be able to tell you that there are set of linear and finite phases that every small business owner goes through while you’re rethinking and redesigning your business model…
…but if I told you that, it would be a lie.
But there are some well known phases that you might go through, sometimes circling back to one you thought you already finished, and skipping others completely. Here is a short list of some of the signposts you’ll encounter on the road to redesigning your business model:
I know/feel something needs to change – You find yourself pausing in the middle of the day (or worse, in the middle of the night) and asking, “Is this the business I want? Is there untapped potential in me that’s striving to get out? What’s next for me?” People report feeling restless or frustrated, knowing deep in their heart and mind that the business needs a shake-up, a new way of being in the world.
Getting lost in the not-knowingness – This is one of the toughest phases in business redesign, because you have to be okay with not having the solution. Some spiritual teachers call this not-knowingness “the grace of mystery.” Puts a different spin on it, doesn’t it?
Finding clarity on goals – If you spend time tapping into your goals for your business, and for yourself personally, you’ll find that it’s easier in the next phases to explore and choose the right business model for you. Is there a particular problem you need to solve? A particular dream you’d like to achieve? Values you’d like to express into the world?
Exploring the possibilities – In this idea-generation phase you explore every aspect of your existing business model, looking for places to add, modify and discard. No idea is sacred and no idea is thrown away. Even the craziest of ideas can be a springboard to a new business model. Creativity and innovative thinking are crucial keys during this phase.
Making a road map – This is where you design your new business and marketing model, keeping what still fits from your old model and mixing in the new ideas you’ve generated. This is also where you create your transition plan and map out where and when changes will take place, and what resources you’ll need to make it happen.
Taking the journey – Implementing your business model changes can happen in a week or it can be a two-year process, depending on how complex the changes are and how many resources you have at your disposal. This is often a journey through the weeds and can be rough going. Why? Because you have to continue to run your existing business (unless you’re independently wealthy!) while creating your new business at the same time. Managing change can feel like a juggling act, and I’ll talk more about it in future posts.
Where are you on the path to rethinking and redesigning your business? I’d love to hear your story, so join me in the comments below!
In the small business world, where practically everyone is time-constrained, it’s sometimes difficult to give your best to every customer, every project, every task. This is what I discovered over the years: that giving your best to everything you do is so important that there’s rarely an excuse for not reaching for your highest potential.
The problem seems to come into play with competing values: you value your customers but you also value time with your children; you value creating a great service or product but you also value getting it done and moving onto something new.
I don’t believe multi-tasking is the answer. Instead, study yourself and ask yourself, “What are the things that are the most important to me in my life and business?”
By the way, there is no perfect answer to this question, and the things you value can be a moving target based on goals and events. If your child is in the hospital, then your business may take a back seat for a while. If you’re really excited about a new service or product you’re creating, you may choose to work weekends in order to bring it to fruition. If money is tight you may choose to do some parts of your project or marketing as inexpensively as possible.
Once you consciously decide what’s of most value to you, then go ahead and give it your very, very best. Don’t skimp and cut corners. Push yourself to be excellent in those areas that are important to you. It’s okay to make mistakes in your pursuit of excellence, as long as you attempt to correct them (or at least learn from them!)
As Nora Roberts says, “Flaws are acceptable, even necessary, to make us human and humble. But to serve a guest or a customer less than the best one is capable of, strikes me as arrogant or sloppy. Often both.”
The only trap you need to avoid is the one where you want to give your best to every single person you encounter, to every single task you do. Give yourself a break from perfectionism and make a choice to give your very best only to those things that are high on your “Things I Value” list. Things that are unimportant should be dealt with quickly so that you can focus your time, attention and passion on the things that need your best work.
Your customers deserve your very best efforts and they’ll greatly appreciate it. And when they’re happy, they’re more likely to tell others about your quality products and services.
I figure it this way: a good reputation is something to value highly and work towards. Doing my best brings me joy and satisfaction. Doing better than my best, continually growing and challenging myself, is one of the main reasons I’m self-employed. Is it one of your values, too?
1. to prevail on (a person) to do something, as by advising or urging: We could not persuade him to wait.
2. to induce to believe by appealing to reason or understanding; convince: to persuade the judge of the prisoner’s innocence.
So persuasion, especially in marketing, is all about encouraging someone to take action (call me to talk about your needs, sign up for my program, buy my ebook, etc.), as well as convincing someone by helping them to understand information, ideas and/or benefits.
CNN/Fortune Magazine recently posted a self-quiz entitled How Persuasive Are You? The quiz helps you to understand your own first reactions to a series of events, to see how much you use persuasion in your marketing and sales efforts. Go ahead, take the quiz! It’s an eye-opener!
I’m absolutely fascinated by the psychology of marketing: what makes people pay attention to a marketing piece, and more importantly, what persuades them to take action and buy. I’m reading several books on the topic right now, and as soon as I compile my notes, I’ll write more about the topic in this blog and on my ezine.
I think the psychology of marketing will make all the difference in the world to your success. I’ll keep you posted.
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