Over the last few years, I’ve worked with, and given advice to, a few hundred business owners. It’s been awesome to hear their stories, their challenges, their successes, and what drives them to show up every day. A handful were big name Fortune 500 companies but most were small businesses run by amazing people trying to build a life for themselves and their families. Across industries, sectors, geographic locations and levels of experience, I’ve noticed that there are really two big questions I get asked most often.
“How do I grow?”
“How can I get myself unstuck?”
These are both really big questions. If you’re reading this and are asking yourself one or both then you’re in the right place. While I won’t be able to give you specific advice for your immediate situation I can give you some great places to start focusing your attention. (If you’re feeling really froggy feel free to shoot me an email and I’ll do my best to give you some honest and authentic feedback - nunzio(at)disruptivestrategy.co)
In this post, I’m going to outline a handful of things you can do right now that have a relatively low financial cost but require more of a time commitment. I’m doing this by design because of the reality of growing a business and getting unstuck means figuring out what work matters most and creating the bandwidth to double down on it. The goal is to do more of the stuff that gets you the most results. Crazy right?! Unfortunately building enough momentum to create real change in your business can feel like you’re running on a treadmill that’s being dragged through a swamp.
It can feel like hard work, it can feel slow, it’s can be a murky mess...And sometimes even uncomfortably humid?!
Don’t let that deter you though! Patience and momentum are interesting forces and when harnessed well can yield positive results for your business that you hadn’t even considered. So try a few of these and let me know if you work your way into a pleasant surprise or two.
1. Remember that doing business is just people connecting with people.
When you’re scrambling to drum up new business it can be easy to forget that doing business is a person to person sport. It’s also easy to forget that people do business with you because they either believe you can provide the value you promise or you already have delivered that value. It’s easy to forget these things because the stress of finding your next customer or client starts to pile up and your attention starts to shift to actions that will potentially get your message in front of more people. So you’ll spend more time on social, maybe throw a few more dollars that you don’t have at ads (both online and in real life) and even give your local Valpak direct mail contact a call. Those aren’t bad things but the ROI is low and (most of the time) your spending time and money on activities that you can’t sustain. I mean honestly, when was the last time you bought anything from a ValPak - no offense but spammy direct mail doesn’t produce the results it used to. Instead, I would suggest going the complete opposite. Don’t think about how you can reach more people by casting a wider net, think about how you can make a real connection to a few people who will actually support you.
If you’re a small business who are the handful of people that could go to bat for you in terms of offering referrals, creating other relationships, writing testimonials or even buy from you? Connecting, or even reconnecting, authentically to these people will provide you more value than any direct mail effort. Why? Because these are people who you’ve walked through the process of getting to know, like and trust you! Who better to go to bat for you or to take the risk of inviting you into their network?
Lastly, if you’re at the end of this first point and you’re really struggling to identify people then maybe it’s time to get out into the world and find networking groups/events. In lots of communities all over the country, and the world, there are networking groups that meet weekly like BNI (Business Networking International), there are Young Professional groups, Chambers of Commerce, etc. These are places you can show up ask lots of questions, shake lots of hands and start to develop mutually beneficial relationships. You just have to make it a priority to get yourself out there!
2. Get to work in your inbox and start sliding into DM’s.
Email and DM’s are a double-edged sword. On one hand, they are awesome tools that can connect you to virtually anyone, in any company, anywhere in the world. On the other hand, you have to compete with the millions of people that are vying for your contact’s attention in cluttered inboxes full of spammy and impersonal nonsense.
Think I’m being hyperbolic?
Take a look at the current state of LinkedIn’s messaging system and tell me that the messages in your inbox aren’t just impersonal copy and paste jobs. You have the opportunity to stand out though. The odds are low so it’s definitely a numbers game but if you spend the time figuring out how you can add value to someone’s day in a meaningful way there’s a good chance that they’ll open up your next email and the emails after that. So, how can you offer a complete stranger enough value that they engage with you? First I’ll tell you what not to do. Do not send them a cold sales pitch that clearly reads that you’re just looking for their business. No relationship and no value equals no sale. What you should do is try to connect in a real way, just like the first tip. Here are a few suggestions:
You can offer a resource that could help them with their business or problem.
If you’re a designer maybe you offer a recommendation for a site or piece of marketing you came across.
Do you have an audience or market that they could benefit from with a little exposure from you?
If you’re a marketer maybe a suggestion followed up with a little support that could benefit their brand, products or service.
If you’re any other professional services provider, maker, or do’er is there something you can do on “spec” that might be of value to them?
If you think all that sounds like a lot of extra work with an uncertain return on investment you’re right. It is! But this is part of the process. Creating relationships and proving yourself to someone takes work, deliberate and thoughtful work. You win by embracing that and doubling down on the fact that most (all) of your competitors wouldn’t put in the same time or effort.
3. Ask for introductions.
I already explained that I think the current state of LinkedIn’s messaging is a complete mess. That doesn’t mean it’s without hope though. LinkedIn is an awesome place for you to reach out to the people that you already know and ask them to connect you with someone specifically in their network. Just like the first two points, you might have to explain yourself a bit but, as long as you’re leading with providing value it’s easy for your contact to make the connection. This is also another numbers game. There are going to be people that you’re connected with that refuse and ignore you. Don’t take it personally, say thank you and make a note to work on the connection you already have with them.
This strategy works in person too!
If you’re lucky enough to have a database of people who’ve already done business with you this is a good time to reconnect. Check in with them, really care about how they are post-buying from you, and ask to be connected to the people in their lives that could benefit from engaging with you. In general, people are AMAZING BS Detectors so if you try this by faking gratitude and appreciation they will freeze you out. No one likes to be sold to and like even less when sales-y people try to sell their friends and family. I’m sure we’ve all known a well-intentioned and poorly executing MLM sales person, used car salesperson blasting their offerings on their personal Facebook Page or real estate professional coldly mining for referrals.
So we are at the end of my list for you now. You’ve probably noticed that none of these tips were instant-make-money-now-online-marketing-sales-tactics. It’s not because I don’t believe in the efficacy of those tactics and strategies, because I do. (Here's a link to a post that outlines 10 tactics you can put into action right now.) I think well written and well-meaning copy, email funnels, and social strategy are awesome tools to support business growth. But if right now, today, you’re sitting looking for your next cut and paste marketing tactic to try to entice your next sale then I say it’s time to take a step back and immerse yourself in the business of connecting with people. Your business will thrive in the long run because you took the time now to build a community of customers, readers, watchers, and listeners that care about you and your business. It will sustain because people will buy from you, keep buying from you and refer the people they care about. Getting one more sale because you click baited someone might be good the first time but there’s a decent probability that they don’t try you again.
This is going to take work. It’s going to feel like a slog and that’s ok. To grow or to get unstuck is going to take the momentum you build as you shift your focus back to serving the people you committed to the first day you opened your doors - even if it’s not scalable.