“Start a business” they said.
“It will be fun” they said.
“Your product / service / skills are amazing – you’ll be a success” they said.
Oh, but how much more to it there is than that!
I was always told I should start a business. Since my primary school days, way before the internet was a thing. Not because my family was full of entrepreneurs but probably because I was pretty darn good at being bossy and organising people.
My response? No, never, that sounds too stressful! How wise I was…
But, having kids of your own changes priorities. All of a sudden that dream of lifestyle freedom appears. The ability to be able to work on your own terms. And the internet told me it would be possible so it must be true! After all, I am still good at organising things and I had picked up a bit of marketing expertise.
How hard could it be?
Well, it turns out kind of hard. And stressful. And overwhelming.
I have been on this crazy business journey for almost 2 years now. It has been a rollercoaster of emotions and there are a few things I have learnt along the way which I want to share with you today. Both from my personal experiences and those I see from the business women I talk to on a daily basis.
And I’m going to get a little bit real – because, well, that’s just how I roll.
Not with the aim to discourage you from this whole business / online marketing thing. But more to encourage you. To let you know that what you are going through is completely normal. Or if you are just about to step into this journey that you are prepared and maybe even avoid a couple of my mistakes.
So here goes!
the big lie: “build it & they will come”
Maybe in the 80’s this was true, but then again the storyline of Field of Dreams where this quote comes from is a bit far-fetched.
This mindset has moved into small business circles, with dangerous repercussions.
I see it time and time again, start-ups investing a tonne in their product line and fancy website and then launch to crickets.
Just because your family / friends / Uber driver think your business will be an instant success, doesn’t mean it will be.
People need to know about it to buy from you. And more than that, they need to like and trust you!
The online space provides us with amazing opportunities but with that comes competition. Not just competition for dollars, but as the great Gary Vaynerchuk puts it – we are competing for attention.
It takes a lot to get noticed. More than just a fancy website that no-one knows about. More than an Instagram account.
It takes showing up and connecting – even when you aren’t in the mood.
ad’s are not the answer
After someone realises that maybe their website isn’t quite attracting the attention they thought it would, the next step in the thought process is how to market their business.
And a big misconception about marketing that it is mostly about advertising.
Yes, this is part of marketing – but it is just the big shiny flashy object on top, not what marketing is about. And *gasp* you can even have a marketing plan that doesn’t include any form of advertising and still call it marketing.
Here’s the truth: If you can’t get leads and sales through organic, free means then ad’s will likely not work either.
Ad’s are for scaling. Ad’s are when you know you are onto something. That people are interested. That you are getting decent conversion rates.
It’s for when you have something that is already working and you now want to get that in front of more people.
Yes, you can experiment with a boost here and there or with some test ads but I would not rely on it as your primary strategy in the early days.
community, community, community
Don’t worry this isn’t all doom and gloom! One of the best things about being a small business owner in the modern online era is that there is an amazing community out there.
A tribe of women who get it and are willing to support & help you.
Building relationships has been the number 1 way I have created growth in my business.
While certainly having the content to back me up has helped, it has been often those very small business connections that have created the greatest impact.
Sometimes it was just a few random comments with influencers that got me on their radar. Other times it was just a genuine exchange with someone else that is in the trenches with me.
All done without the intention of “this will get me ahead” but by just being me and hanging out on the computer flicking through the socials – probably a bit too much.
But the impact has been felt. After all, when someone else recommends you or shares your content it has so much more weight than you sharing it.
you need an x factor
In order to stand out in the market, you need to be different.
The most successful businesses are those that stand out from the crowd in one way or another. Sometimes it is that they have a product or service that no-one else offers. Sometimes it is the way they brand themselves. Sometimes it is the magnetic way they manage to connect with their audience
But they all have something! Start looking around and you’ll see it everywhere.
Do you have an X-Factor? If not, start thinking about what it could be.
confidence is key
If there is one piece of advice I could give myself 2 years ago when I started this thing, it would be to “own it”.
To have the confidence to reach out to others, to be myself and to declare “I know my sh*t”. Not even so much to the world, but to myself.
I can’t tell you how much time and money I have wasted as a direct result of self-doubt.
I am a marketer. I have 2 degrees under my belt. I have a decade and a half of real-world experience. I’ve started my own business. But still, there were many times when I purchased a course or signed up for a freebie to help validate what I know. Thinking there must be something I am missing.
Often there wasn’t and I just realised that I knew that stuff already.
Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a place for learning and development. With confidence also comes the ability to identify what we know and what we don’t know too.
There will always be skills to learn. And as a learning-junkie I will probably always be on that bandwagon! But, there comes a time when you need to just put on your big girl pants and say “I know enough. I’ve got this.”
The online landscape is constantly changing. New technologies come into play. The market becomes wiser. What was once a great way to market a business might not be so crash hot anymore.
The fact is that what worked when I first started my business 2 years ago is not as effective now.
So when you are looking at the success stories out there of those dramatic changes and business booms and their “magic solution” for getting there – ask yourself “when was this? And have things changed?”
Because often they have! It actually saddens me to see online courses sold on tactics that worked 5 years ago being sold as THE solution. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt that this is being done with the best of intentions but it is a reality that we are faced with.
We need to be listening to people that move with the times. That aren’t scared to say things have changed. That aren’t afraid to update their content to reflect this. That recognise that now they have attained that influencer status that some of the newer tactics might be easier for them than someone starting out.
The truth is that all of these overnight success stories are the exception, not the rule. It generally takes a few years for businesses to become profitable and if you are one of them that is OK.
consistency is not required
This one might stir up some controversy! I admit I am still a bit of a recovering-consistent-content-creator. But I am here to tell you that you do not have to produce that blog / video / podcast every single week. You don’t need to email your list every week. And you don’t even need to post to social media for a full week if you don’t want to.
It is OK to take a break. It is OK to concentrate on producing higher quality content than churning things out for the sake of being “consistent”.
My thoughts on this topic is that consistency used to be really important. Back in the day when these first online businesses were really taking off, people were hanging out for that content. They built relationships with these influencers – relationships that still stand to this day.
But, times have changed. There is definitely no shortage of content out there. In fact, it’s becoming the case sometimes where sharing less is actually helping your audience as you aren’t overwhelming them!
Don’t get me wrong, creating content on a consistent basis really helped my business in those early days. It has meant I have a large library full of blog posts I can now leverage. I also just happened to have the opportunity to do so as I was on maternity leave and couldn’t take any clients – so I had the space to create. But if you have the priority of working with a paying client or making your products over creating a blog post – don’t stress over that blog post.
This comes with one caveat though – don’t just appear out of nowhere in someone’s email inbox because you happen to have something to sell. Or you are about to launch something in 2 weeks so all of a sudden you think you should “give value”. Trust takes time. Credibility takes time. People spot that really sales-y stuff a mile away so please DO create content, write those emails and publish on social media but don’t feel like it will be the end of your business if you skip it now and then.
but you need to be persistent
Persistence is very different from consistency.
Persistence means you keep showing up. It means you learn from mistakes and you keep on keeping on.
This will likely take some time but those who are willing to learn, grow, adapt and change will eventually get there.
The key to this is taking on a spirit of experimentation. Or as James Wedmore put it “Be the Scientist”.
A scientist doesn’t define success or failure on her experiment. She tests her hypothesis and observes what happens. If the hypothesis is proven, that is a result. If it is disproven, that is also a result. It’s all just data.
don’t let anyone tell you what your goals should be
It is very easy to get swept up in the business and online marketing thing. We are constantly hearing success stories and messages around achieving a certain amount of money in a certain amount of time.
But it is OK to decide on your own goals. Maybe it isn’t about all the money to you. Maybe it is the joy of the work.
For me, I would love to be on 5-figure months but the reason I started my business was so that I could work from home and look after my pre-school aged kids at the same time.
At the moment, I only get 2.5 days of help with them. 2.5 days where I need to fit in my clients, course students, product development, marketing and admin. Trust me, the time disappears fast!
If I filled those 2.5 days with back-to-back clients maybe I could get close to that 5-figures but I wouldn’t have time for anything else and I would feel totally exhausted. Not worth it to me.
Instead, I recognise that this is the season of life I am in and it’s not going to be forever. So I’m trying to embrace it and ignore those “6-figure” evangelists knowing that they are more likely to be in a totally different season than I am.
finally, learn the rules so you can break them
Marketing comes with a lot of rules and principles. Online marketing even more so.
There are things that all the experts say you should do. Some you should. Others you might not have to.
But in order to break the rules, you need to know what the rules are.
Think of it like art. There are many types of artists out there – those that paint highly realistic paintings and those that go way into the abstract. But most artists have still had to learn the basics. Things like the basics of composition, how to mix colours and how to use the tools.
But once they have figured that out, then they can start to play.
Marketing is the same. There are some core principles that haven’t changed in decades. But the way they can be applied varies significantly. You can find your own voice and do it your way, but it helps to have that basic understanding first.
Ultimately, this whole small business and marketing journey will challenge you in ways you couldn’t possibly imagine.
The biggest challenges often stem from setting too high expectations and then the self-doubts that come as a result.
It is my hope that from reading this you come away a little wiser and that little bit more empowered to take this thing on. To make your own rules and to learn to trust yourself. Because, hey, we are in this together.