Building a firm foundation for your business

Something that I want to make clear right from the beginning is that I know where you are.

Let me know if any of the following sounds familiar:

You came up with an idea, maybe for fun maybe for business. Your friends loved it. They started passing on the word and you started getting requests for prices. Suddenly you’re thrown into the world of small business ownership, when all you were thinking about in the beginning was the product itself.

Intimidating isn’t it? Even the words ‘business world’ can seem like you’re entering some other place you’ve never been before. But the truth is? You can do this! My passion is helping small business owners discover their abilities to market, sell, and grow within the business community. That’s why this framework is so important.

Common mistakes of first time small business owners

  • Using the marketing strategies they see other businesses employing without thinking about alternative strategies or how those strategies are impacting their brand and the reach of their brand
  • Using marketing techniques they are unfamiliar with or uncomfortable with, or that clash directly with their brand
  • Setting up a business that can only go so far, not leaving any room for growth
  • Thinking that ‘brand’ means logo and never actually considering the message that they want their company to send with their business.

All of these mistakes indicate a weak business foundation. In building a firm foundation, we are going to help lay the foundation for the marketing strategies, brand building, and business growth that will surely follow.

This foundation will be applicable to every aspect of your business, and will provide inspiration when you feel stuck.

Having a foundation enables you to

  • Learn, in detail, what you’re selling/where that falls in the market and what the market is like
  • Assess your personal business goals to make sure that they are coming in line with all future plans
  • Find your target market and research them to the point of understanding how best to reach them
  • Make it easier for your customers to buy, and for you to sell.

Win-win-win-win, right? Now that you get what we’re setting out to do, let’s get started.

Step 1: It all begins with you

People tend to forget just how much of themselves they are putting into their business. It was your passion that started your business, and it is your passion and hard work that will maintain it.

On top of this? You are the thing about your business that nobody else in the world has!

YOU stand out! YOU can be the wow factor your business needs.

If you’re reading this and thinking about how unmotivated you are to try, or how you were only doing this for your friends’ sake anyway…you are not going to succeed. Either alter that attitude or find the passion you actually have and go into that business.

Building a business takes an unbelievable amount of time, energy, and even some money. If your heart isn’t in your business, you will already feel like you’re wasting these resources.

My basic business principle? Find what it is that you feel passionate about, make yourself a part of that market, and stop wasting your time with jobs that you don’t feel that passionate about.

The best part about realising that you are the centre of your business? You know yourself already, and your brand will be easier to define and form as it will be centred around you as an individual and market contributor.

So let’s get creative, put that mirror aside, and stand up to show the world what we have to offer.

Caution: Engage in your business only in appropriate ways

Keep your personal life largely personal, but don’t be afraid to share glimpses into your world. If you don’t shine through, your business risks looking like a product with no owner, or a set of advertisements, instead of the personal passion of yours that it is.

Small businesses have the home advantage in terms of fun stories surrounding their creation, and passionate people often being behind them.

Tips on incorporating yourself

  • Be genuine – share your interests, and do your best to market them instead of things that run counter to your habits. Example, don’t sell a health food if you are addicted to potato chips, unless you know how you will sell it and still seem genuine.
  • Have an at work persona – Friendly, but formal. Humorous, but appropriately so. Above all, professional. Figure out your business alter that your market needs, and be that person.
  • Accept privacy – Do not share what you ate for lunch or attempt to put up your personal contact information on a webpage you are uncomfortable with. You can set boundaries and maintain a sense of privacy, even while being open.
  • Accept rejection – Not every one is going to love what you are doing. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, it’s just a fact. Focus not on those who won’t like you but on those who will and how to reach that group instead.

Step 2: The target audience

Too many small business owners miss the importance of the target audience. Your target audience will define what approaches you take, where you look for more business from, and even what color schemes to pick for your website layouts in some cases.

So who is your target? Your target audience is that group of ideal clients you see when you imagine your dream business day. What are they like? Where do they hang out? Try to be as specific as you can be.

Too often the target audience becomes something general like “students” instead of “21-24 year old females”. This is a mistake because when you don’t target effectively, your business approach is not as tailored, and thus not as effective as it could be.

But my business applies to every one

That may well be, but by focusing on a huge market that may or may not be interested in your product, you are missing out the power of zeroing in on a group that definitely will.

So get it in there, you have a target audience, and you need to be targeting them through your business.

By figuring out who you’re after, we can start to figure out how to pursue them and what it is you need to say when you find them.

Visualize your target audience

Take some time and really visualize. Don’t just stick with your general “student” category, push yourself to figure out what type of student you’re after. Try to identify the group that would adore your product, not just the group who ‘might like it’.

Now answer some questions about these people:

1)    Where do these people hang out?

2)    What do they like?

3)    How do they decide to spend money and how much money do they have to spend?

4)    Do they have any distinctive values that make them feel good or bad?

5)    Do they have a specific problem that you could potentially solve with your product?

6)    How do you talk to them?

Answering these questions will have you identifying your target audience and forming strategies to reach them. You’re already at work!

Step 3 What you have to offer the world, the product itself

For the sake of simplicity we will be using the term ‘product’ to encompass physical products, information, or services that your business will be providing.

Your product is great, or you wouldn’t have gone into business to try to sell it. This chapter focuses you in on figuring out what it is that makes your product different from other available products.

Here’s some common terminology that is frequently used in the business community to describe products.

Terms

Benefits – The specific results people can get when making use of your product.

Features – The aspects that make up your product itself, the specific elements involved in your product.

Point of difference – The business term for what makes your product unique in your market, what differs from other products like it.

USP – Unique selling propositions. This is a business term for what your product offers that others may not. See ‘point of difference’ above

Features or benefits?

A lot of people mix these terms up. Features are often the ways that we describe the product, what makes it the product itself, and benefits are the results people can get when making use of that product. A good seller focuses on the benefits because the benefits are the personal advantages to a customer deciding to use YOUR product.

You are essentially working so hard at marketing to establish a positive impression of your product. This won’t happen by telling people what your product is (its features), this will happen by telling people what they can gain from using your product (the benefits).

Examples of this:

You are not selling conflict free diamonds, you are selling people a guilt free piece of jewelry, a reminder that they once did the right thing.

You do not sell photographs, you sell memories and moments captured on paper.

You are not selling safe play dough, you are selling the peace of mind that comes from knowing a parent has done right.

All of the statements above identify the benefits (specific, emotional ones) to customers looking into the services.

Take a few minutes now to think about your product.

1)    How would you describe your product? (What are its features, what are its benefits)

2)    What’s in it for the customer who uses your product?

3)    What about your product stands out from others like it on the market

Step 4 The market

If you have your own business, it is situated within a market. People try to pretend that they’re often the only one in this field (and that would be awesome) but the truth is that they’re usually not. The fact of the matter is that you are selling your product in a group of similar products and complementary products.

Being in a market though means that there are other factors at work beyond your drive to succeed. The term market actually encompasses your competition, your associate businesses, and even customers and their impressions of your product.

Even though you’re not necessarily in control over every piece of the market, the market is effecting you in ways you may not even realise.

Your competition

There are plenty of other people out there selling a similar product to you, I can guarantee it. Competition though is not all bad. By not ignoring the competition, you can often improve your own work.

The best way to do this is to use the competition as a guide to what makes your product stand out. What are you doing that they aren’t? What is nobody doing that you could? Looking at the competition is a great way to get yourself thinking about how what you are offering differs from the rest.

Don’t let your competition dictate what you’re doing. You have entered the business world because you have a good idea that you are now making money off. You have ideas, you have a brand, and they have value.

Start looking into who your competition is.

1)    What do they seem focused on communicating to potential customers?

2)    What are the popular marketing strategies?

3)    What strategies aren’t being utilized?

4)    How does your product fill a specific market need?

5)    How can you use what you now know about your competition to stand out amongst the pack?

Customer impressions

Customers’ impressions of your business are everything. Reputation is everything. Even if you do everything the ‘right way’ if your customers aren’t happy, you aren’t going to profit.

So what can you do? The best solution is to hone in on what the customer wasn’t happy with, and see if there’s any pattern amongst common problems with the product, then work on fixing them.

This really can’t be done until you know exactly who your target market is and what types of things they go for in the market, because you just don’t have enough information. Now that we have that however, it should be fairly simple to assess common objections to your product and try and brainstorm some solutions.

So, first and foremost, work to figure out what it is that could bother potential clients in your target audience about your product. (Ideally this will be done before they actually have the problem with it, you will anticipate a problem and create the solution.)

Not all problems need ‘fixing’, some of the most common objections customers raise are based on misconceptions they have about your product. These objections are easy to reduce by simply posting on your website about them, maybe under frequently asked questions sections or as a blog topic.

You can also prevent a lot of these misconceptions by being up front and open about your particular business values, that may easily address some potential problems customers may be having.

Step 5 Your brand

The final, and perhaps most important part, of your business foundation is your brand itself. It is encompassed by your visual design (layouts, color scheme, font), your logo, the photos you choose, and the voice that you use to communicate with people.

A lot of people think that brands are just the logo, or just the name of their business, and disregard its implications for marketing and making an impression. This could not be a bigger error! They end up down paths that are inconsistent with their values and the goals of the business, and can’t figure out how.

You will fall away from your original goals if you do not have a brand and a business plan to complement that brand.

A strong brand is consistently communicated throughout your entire business venture. Having a strong brand is the key to having consumers’ trust you, and is key even to getting recognition in your market.

The more consistent your image is, the stronger an impression that it makes.

So what do you need to keep your brand consistent with? The short answer is everything, but here’s a list to remind you of the individual aspects of your business that will reflect your brand:

  • You (the skills you choose to update, your voice, your passions)
  • Your product (the benefits should be consistent with how you choose to present them and what you say you have to present)
  • Your target audience (their needs, issues, and desires)
  • The market you’re in (You should stand out, but not in a bad way)

But let’s get you at least started on working on this.

1)    What ideas/concepts are most important to your business?

2)    If you could only tell people one thing about your business, what would it be? Now what about a few things?

3)    What commitment will your business consistently make? What are its values?

Be on the lookout for common themes or patterns that emerge among your answers, these will be key elements of your brand!

Now that your foundation is set up, it’s time to actually start developing strategies that will help you build on that foundation. You are officially now on your way to running a successful, stable business. But there is work to be done yet.

So what kind of work is left?

  • Getting traffic
  • Making sales from your traffic
  • Promotion, promotion, promotion!

These are some of peoples’ least favorite tasks typically, partially because there are so many different ways to do them. My plan has always been to keep things on a manageable level, breaking down my business goals into categories.

In the case of developing strategies, we will be focusing on marketing, selling, and growth aspects of your business.

Each of the following chapters lays out several strategies and business plans for you to consider, as well as providing resources in case you still feel stuck, but one thing you must realise is that what plan you ultimately make has to be yours and yours alone.

You are the one who will be putting all of the work into your business, I cannot order you how to best do that. Always use your foundation as a guidepost, asking yourself questions like “how does this promote my brand?” “Does this strategy seem like something that would appeal to my target audience?” and so on.

You can do this!

Step 6 Marketing

Marketing can seem quite intimidating for small business owners. Many people suffer from the misconception that they aren’t in sales. Guess what? If you’re in business, you’re in sales. While marketing aspects can seem intimidating, in reality, marketing is just communicating.

Marketing is merely the methods that you choose to tell people about what you’re offering.

Doesn’t seem scary when we put it that way, does it?

Now, that being said, this chapter focuses on helping you find a successful marketing strategy. Success in marketing means finding the right strategies for the right business. This is why it is absolutely critical that you keep your brand and foundation in mind as you move through and read these strategies.

With the work that you’ve already put in, you’re well on your way to successful marketing – just don’t forget what you’ve done so far as we cover these strategies.

Marketing strategies

  • Content – Focus on producing high quality content, and a lot of it! Consider a blog, newsletter, guest posting on other peoples’ blogs, or even article writing if possible.
  • Incentives – Offer giveaways, discounts, prizes – anything that gets people onto your website/into your door.
  • Loyalty programs – Offer bonuses to loyal customers to encourage people to stay with your company. This can be applied to referral programs, client retention and so on.
  • Newsletters – Anything that keeps your name coming up for a customer – in a positive light – is a win. Newsletters can be very successful if sent out only to those who request them. Set up a subscription for your customers to get more information about you.
  • Relationships – Remember that marketing is about forming relationships. This means not just with customers but with complementary businesses and fellow bloggers and so on, help promote some one else and find out if they’d be willing to do the same for you!
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Social media – Take full advantage of the internet to improve your business. This can mean getting involved in Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Pinterest, or all of the above.
  • Testimonials – We love them! Get them whenever possible and share them!
  • Visibility – Be as visible and out there as you can with your business. Keep your name on peoples’ lips!

Regardless of the strategy you choose you need to ensure that your brand is consistently present throughout, that you are using your foundation plan (and marketing plan, see next sheet), and that you are enjoying what you are doing!

Take a few minutes and jot down ideas based on these marketing strategies that you want to get into in the future.

Marketing planning sheet

WHO – Who is your target market, what do they want to hear, and what can you specifically offer them?

WHAT – What type of content are you offering? How will you present it? How does it benefit your readers? What are your overarching goals?

WHEN – What is your projected time line on implementing these strategies?

WHERE – Where will you need to be to achieve your goals?

WHY – What are your goals? Why should people go along with them? What is your call to action?

HOW – What is your brand and how will you consistently use the strategies you have planned above to promote it?

WATCH – How will you know when you have succeeded?

Step 7 Oh those sales

If marketing frightens people, talking about sales really gets them worked up. People often take rejection very personally on a business level, and it can be quite discouraging when you put the work in and don’t see the money pouring yet.

By developing a sales plan for encouraging people to buy, you increase your success dramatically. And guess what? Even though selling is technically merely the exchange of money that will be happening, sales also has a communication element.

You need to communicate effectively if you expect people to listen.

The truth is that with a good plan, sales can actually become an enjoyable part of your business. Just keep your framework in mind when planning your strategies, and make those sales.

Methods of sales

Now, when it comes to sales we need to discuss not only strategies, but also how you plan on selling. Will you be on the internet or own a store? Will you visit the flea market or focus on home parties? These are a few of the options available, check out the list below for more.

  • The internet (Websites, affiliates, online shopping sites)
  • Displays at fairs, marketplaces, and exhibitions
  • Franchises
  • In person only sales
  • Parties

Sales strategies

  • Bulk discounts
  • Coupons
  • Exclusivity
  • Guarantees
  • Limited offers
  • Providing a sense of urgency
  • Referral incentives
  • Subscriptions
  • Upselling
  • Trials

Regardless of what you pick, once again, keep your foundation in mind. I cannot overemphasise the importance of keeping your brand consistent with the strategies you choose. If you pick strategies that don’t complement your target audience, you will pay for it in the long run.

Sales planning sheet

WHO – Who is your target market, what do they want to hear, and what can you specifically offer them?

WHAT – What type of content do you need in place to make these strategies work?

WHEN – What is your time line for these goals?

WHERE – Where will all of this take place, what are the set up costs?

WHY – What is your call to action? How have you made it easy for your customers to agree to buy?

WATCH – How will you know when you have succeeded?

Conclusions

You have now set up a firm foundation for your business, and you are well on your way to developing strategies to make sure it succeeds!

My advice to you? Follow the advice you’ve been given. Re-read chapters if necessary and always make notes as you work with your own publications. Do not think you will get absolutely all of it done, but know that it is a resource available – not a pressure.

If you’re focused on putting out a quality product, it will show. Pay attention to your target market and how they respond to your strategies. Alter your strategies from time to time to ensure maximal efficiency.

Good luck!

The five w’s of it all

WHO – Research your target market!

WHAT – What content, materials, and equipment do you need to make this plan work?

WHEN – What is your plan? Break it up as much as possible.

WHERE – Where will you find what you need to make this framework work? What skills do you need do develop? Where will you put the profits?

WHY – What are your goals? Why should people go along with them? What is your call to action?

HOW – How can I make sure that new goals line up with this brand?

WATCH – How will you know when you have succeeded? What statistics will you track?