What It Takes to Build a Successful Business in Your Second or Third Act
In a recent episode of my podcast, The Courageous Entrepreneur, former Clinical Laboratory Scientist Susan Ordona, discussed her reinvention to real estate investor to social media marketing consultant to book publishing expert.
She shared the ups and downs of her ventures and what she’d do differently now.
One of the things she mentioned was how she had bought programs that were supposed to be a “recipe for success” when in actuality they weren’t.
Not that they didn’t have elements that worked or that worked for her but the key to keep in mind whenever you buy a packaged program is the devil is in the implementation details.
You’re a different person than the guru who designed it. And without guidance and support in the implementation process you may not have the same results they did.
Of course you could have better results. Or worse results.
But without doing anything you won’t have any results.
We’ve all done this at some point….bought a program we knew we had to have, that would solve our problems…and not even break the cellophane wrapper.
We’ve bought books we didn’t read or that we started and didn’t finish.
Or we bought some tool or roadmap that sounded good but that – without help or without some foundational thing — we struggled to use or follow.
I think it’s human nature to look outside of ourselves for answers. And that’s really true for those of us who reinvent ourselves by transitioning from corporate / organizational life to being self-employed.
We know we experienced success in our past career but doubt that we can achieve success in this new venture just with what we know.
I think there’s also a tendency to want to find a short-cut and to believe that someone else has found it.
While it’s true that someone who has achieved success can codify it and create a step by step process that jumps over some of the potholes they fell into, people can often paint too rosy a picture of how they reached the point where they are.
In reality, there aren’t any great shortcuts on the road to success.
Each of us finds parts on the trip where we can travel faster than others and sometimes we get sidetracked and need to pull over.
There are actually 9 elements that are needed to lay a foundation for a thriving business.
The faster you can build these bricks into a foundation then the easier time you have to build your business and take it from crazy startup to thriving enterprise.
Mindset. That famous philosopher, Anonymous, is reported to have said that being self-employed is the best and most expensive self-development program you’ll ever participate in. That’s because you come face to face with your own emotional crap.Issues you thought you dealt with or never realized you even had become these giant obstacles in your way.I know people who have negotiated multi-million dollar contracts, who have persuaded a room full of hard-nosed executives to take action, and who have made presentations in front of dozens and even hundreds of employees at a time not be able to put together a conversation to have with a potential client.
I had to face the fact that while I was excellent at selling my employers, selling on behalf of clients, I sucked at selling myself.
And there are at least dozens of other ways our beliefs and patterns that led us to be successful in organizational life cause us to struggle out on our own.
You’ve got to be ready for it and hopefully be able to recognize these obstacles and deal with them quickly. Otherwise you’re up for struggle that may lead you to the conclusion that you’re just not meant to work on your own.
Mission. We know that we were put on this planet to make a difference. Simon Sinek tells us we have to Start with Why – the deeper reason we do the work we do. Identifying this is like peeling an onion. How do you know the essence of your mission?I struggled with this for probably 10 years or more.I’m a faith-centered person, so at its essence, I believed my mission was to use my gifts in service to the world. I’d do whatever God wanted me to do.
It took me a long time to accept that God wanted me to use my gifts. Period. As long as I approached whatever work I was doing from a place of service I was doing what He wanted me to.
That helped me to tap into what I really wanted to do.
And I want you to know that your mission is similar. Embrace your greatest gifts, identify what brings you the most joy, and then go after it with all your heart. The key to finding your mission is to remember that it’s to be in service.
So find your mission by identifying a problem others have that you can help them solve.
The one mistake many of us make is to follow a passion rather than find a problem and solve it. It’s nice when your passion fuels the problem you solve but it’s not necessary for building a thriving business.
One of my passions is independence. I use that to fuel the work I do – ultimately I’m helping others achieve independence too by building the type of business that’s right for them and by using content to get their message out.
Message. If you thought Mission was hard to figure out, try creating your message. Sheesh. I struggled with this for years but that’s because I was making it harder than it really had to be and I was riddled with self-doubt.Your message is the essence of the change you want to bring to the world.You don’t want to rush this. And it is important. It’s really what becomes part of the foundation of the brand your building.
Don’t worry about your visual brand – your logo and other visual elements. Worry about your message and finding your voice.
I know you don’t want to waste time or build a reputation around the wrong elements; but the key here is to start talking about the problem you solve and shape your point of view (POV) so you can start branding the elements.
As you get stronger in sharing your message, you’ll begin to develop your own branded language and your pieces will fit together.
This is one of the pieces where it can really help to work with a coach or at least a branding consultant who can help you to recognize the themes and patterns to your own message. It’s the sort of thing where we struggle to see the forest for the trees.
Model. Boy if there’s one piece of being self-employed I totally missed when I started out this is it. I only thought of being a consultant. That was all I knew because it was all I had seen in corporate life.Unfortunately it didn’t take long for me to realize I DESPISED the consultant’s business model.I hated the whole corporate way of doing business and how slow hierarchical businesses could be to make a decision.
I hated the time it took to fully get clear about the prospect’s problem and then to write a proposal to address it, only to get turned down and find out later they had taken the ideas and tried to apply them on their own.
When I realized there were other ways of building a business as a solo professional – different types of models for making money and different models for marketing and selling services – I was able to build something that leveraged my talents and that was built around my personality.
It was incredibly freeing.
So make sure you think through your basic business model (which is how you’ll make money) and then think about the other sub-models or frameworks you need and map out something that fits your personality. You’ll probably need to try some things and decide you hate them or that they don’t work for you before you hit the nail on the head. One thing I encourage everyone to do is to just look around at how solo and micro businesses are structured and how they acquire and serve clients. Then pick and choose what you like and don’t like.
One word of caution – ignore people who try to tell you that what you want isn’t right because it’s not the model they would choose.
You can always change your model and you probably will as you and your business grow.
Market. This of course is who wants what you’re offering. Notice I said “wants” not “needs.” People buy what they want, not necessarily what they need. If that statement wasn’t true Oreos wouldn’t exist.Our job as professional problem solvers is to help people recognize our solution is actually both.Also notice that “Market” is number 5 on this list, not number 1. That’s the opposite of what every guru and business book will tell you. The reason for that is they just assume that you know or figured out 1 through 4 but I can tell you it’s unlikely that you did. Most of us don’t. So if you believe you’ve already nailed 1 through 4 congratulations.
This whole issue of “ideal client” or “client avatar” or “brand persona” or whatever you want to call it is really enough to drive you over the edge.
You want to know enough to get started.
Message comes before Market. Especially for service providers.
The better clarity you have about your message – the problem you solve and how you solve it – and the louder and more consistently you talk about it, the more your audience will be drawn to you.
In the meantime you want to think about the personality traits, characteristics, and habits of the people you most enjoy serving. These are all part of your ideal client’s psychographic profile and they’re way more important than the demographics ever will be.
It’s why I think understanding the problem you solve and your own POV and approach for solving it is so important. Especially if you’re the kind of person who hates selling (like me).
As you start to learn about your market, observe the language they use about the problem you solve and the solution they want that you provide. Then start using their language in your messaging. This will help you continue to attract more clients you enjoy working with and less you don’t.
Part of your message involves sharing your own story – warts and all.
That helps your Market to know, like, and trust you and it helps them to understand why and how you get them.
Money. Oh boy. This is the scariest part of the whole process and it gets back to coming face-to-face with your own crap.I didn’t even realize I had a problem with money but boy did I. I had this whole big story (ok stories) that I told myself about my worth. I was tied up with fear of rejection so I’d under charge.It wasn’t pretty and to be honest I’m still working to get past it.
The faster you can recognize your money issues and start to deal with them the faster you’ll become profitable.
Sit down and start making some notes about what you believe about money. What do you believe about people who have a lot of money?
If you’ve got money issues I strongly recommend you get a coach to help you deal with them otherwise you’ll face a lot of struggles including under-earning.
If you’re starting out you want to make sure you’ve got a year’s worth of expenses covered.
No, I’m not kidding.
That way you won’t feel desperate about getting clients and you’ll have time to figure things out.
If you don’t have that much in the bank to draw on then consider how you’ll make “now money” while you build your business.
And yes, a part time job is certainly reasonable.
Marketing. This is how you’ll get your message out. And when you start thinking “I hate selling” this is likely what starts to trigger that statement. We introverts (or quiet types or shy or however you describe yourself) tend to hate talking about ourselves. And we’re conditioned by our corporate experience to talk about “we”…the team….we worked with. There’s nothing wrong with that.
The problem is thinking marketing is talking about yourself.
It’s all about talking about and talking to your Market…your audience. If you’re talking about yourself you’re doing it wrong.
In this segment you need to think about how you’ll get your message out. What media and methods will you use.
Naturally, we want to save as much time, effort, and money as possible. But this is also where our Mindset can really trip us up and cause us to choose low risk, low potential reward activities.
But that strategy is a “play not to lose” rather than a “play to win” strategy.
By “risk” I’m talking about putting yourself out there.
This where all those awful thoughts like “no one wants to hear what I have to say”….or “but I’m not really an expert”…or “I don’t want to do video”…start screaming in our heads.
And when we think about marketing we often jump to “I have to get a website up” and “I need a logo” and “I need a list”.
All of those are true by the way but not as important as you think.
What you need is a crystal clear message about the problem you solve and directed at who you solve it for.
Then you need to take action to get that message out as loud and as big as you possibly can.
Management. In an interview I did with multi NY Times bestselling author Mike Michalowicz, he talked about the importance of management — systems, processes, and other elements that support working more efficiently and therefore maximizing your revenue and profitability.
While it’s natural to want to reject anything that smacks of your old organizational life there were some elements that were useful — like systems and processes. And getting help.
Contrary to the usual corporate line, you can’t do more with less. Unless you’re talking about your being more productive with less tasks because you’ve given those tasks to someone who can do them faster and easier and for less money than you can.
So the sooner you can start documenting and creating systems the better.
Plus, when you can show you work with systems and processes it instills confidence in clients and helps you feel more confident as well.
Metrics. Back in organizational life you might have referred to these as Key Performance Indicators or KPIs. They’re the elements you track and measure and as a solo professional or micro business owner it’s alot more than just your bank balance. There are lots of potential items to track so part of it is figuring out what stats are important and how often you need to look at them. Then setting up a schedule to (along with processes and systems) to track and review them.
Some important ones are around Marketing — website traffic, time on your key pages, opt-in’s, email numbers — and others are around sales and profitability like how long it takes you to go from a potential client’s inquiry to signed agreement and deposit check (or whatever is your process for what you’re selling).
It’s easy to get tied up in vanity metrics like shares of your Facebook posts, but what you want to figure our are the truly key indicators of success and make sure you’re focusing on what’s most important and of most value.
If you’d like to get some help figuring out where you are and where you want to go with these elements, click this link and share your best email address. I’ll send you a worksheet with these 9 elements that you can fill out or use as journal inspiration.