This post could get very, very long. I could tell you a hundred small reasons why people might not be banging your door down. The list in my brain is vast (and probably kinda mean).
But instead, I’m going to boil it down to the ACTUAL, universal factors that affect business. ALL business. Not just online business. Not just creative business. ALL business. Because what gets very, very frequently lost when we start solo businesses is the simple truths of commerce, consumer behavior, and human nature.
So this is not about the minutiae of your voice. Or the colors you picked for your website header. Or your lack of SEO prowess. Those are all semantics.
This list is the truth. And if you see yourself in any one of the items below, I can 100% guarantee that THAT is the reason you aren’t making enough/any money.
1. Your brand fucking blows.
Maybe you have bad taste. Maybe you’re color blind and you just don’t know it. Maybe your vibe is profoundly not-cohesive. Maybe you used a bunch of cliché garbage words. Or you sound like everyone else. Maybe you’re just boring. Maybe you tried too hard to be all things to all people. Whatever it is, your brand says either: a. nothing interesting or different, or b. all the wrong things to all the wrong people. Chances are good that if this is the problem, it’s because you don’t actually understand what a brand IS or why it’s important. Go find out. And be ready to invest to fix it.
Brands require constant attention. They can’t be ignored or set up and forgotten about. What worked six months ago might not work anymore. From the largest companies to the one person shops, your brand is the signpost that tells the world who you are and what you’re about. So unless YOU stay exactly the same – you know…. forever…. your brand shouldn’t either.
Think about how frequently large companies change their promotional strategy, logo, website, etc… They are ALL in a constant state of reinvention. Even when selling evergreen products. If you want to make more money, you have to LOOK like you’re worth it. And you have to tell people why they should care. Period.
Bonus: Two people who I have recently watched up-level their brands to huge success? Tiffany Han and Farideh [neither of these fab women are Makeness clients, nor are these affiliate links to anything – FYI]. These are women who understand how good design and resonant branding can change the game completely. And I’m gonna bet they spent a pretty penny making it happen. And holy shit did it pay off. OBVIOUSLY. You can tell just by looking at their engagement in social media. The way people talk about them. The way THEY talk about their work. Did they get more brilliant than they were before? Nope. They were always brilliant. They just got better branding.
2. You whine too much to all the wrong people.
If you want people to hire you or buy your thing, you need to shut the hell up 90% more.
Stop telling everyone on Facebook that you hate your logo, or that you are changing your sales page for the eleventy-millionth time, or that you are so bummed that you’re not making any money that you might just throw in the towel. Because no one is going to come and look at you brand new About page for the fourth time.
No one cares.
And no one is going to PAY you when they have zero faith in you sticking to something long enough to actually follow through on whatever they bought from you. If you must vent, find a quiet place. A mastermind. A small private group. Your mom. Just stop telling Facebook and Twitter and your entire goddamn client base [because HELLO…. the people you are connected to on social media ARE your client base] that the sky is falling. You are not being all Brene-Brown-vulnerable. You’re whining, and begging for rescue.
People will not buy from you just to rescue you.
When was the last time you saw Apple beg for customers? Or tell the world that they aren’t happy with how iTunes works, and that it was some dumb assistant’s fault, so they are going to go ahead and re-work it for a few weeks – while hoping people still care when they’re finished.
Do they re-invent? Duh. Constantly.
Do they make it perfect and THEN show it off? Yeah. That’s kinda their thing.
Does Tim Cook go home and bitch and rant to his significant other about how totally fucking moronic some of his staffers are? Probably.
But people at the top of their game understand one simple truth: Consumer faith is one of the primary building blocks of ANY successful selling endeavor. It is hard to get and VERY easy to lose. And if you lose it, you are climbing out of quicksand to try to get it back.
[p.s. I’m a PC user, for the record. But goddamn if Apple doesn’t have one of the strongest brands out there.]
So no more whining. No more begging. No more venting. People fundamentally WANT to be in your corner. Stop giving them reasons not to be.
3. You sell something that no one wants/needs or they don’t know that they want/need it.
If people do not already KNOW that they need something, you have to do roughly 50 times [ok, not 50… more like three times] more work to educate them on why they need your thing.
50 times three times longer. So, when that blog post you read said that so-and-so web designer made six figures in her first year, and you’re all like,
“My course on how to bake with unicorn poop is SO good… why has no one bought it? I have been blogging and guest posting and tweeting and everything, just like so-and-so. Whyyyyyyyy won’t anyone buy it?”
Because people know they need web design.
They do not know that they need to learn how to bake with unicorn poop. Give it three years… keep doing all of those things, never let up, throw tons of money at a perfect website, great copy, and ads on influential blogs, and MAYBE the world will start to go,
“Hey, I want to learn to bake with unicorn poop…. I wonder if anyone has created an easy way for me to learn how to do that.”
Think about when smartphones first came out. The public consensus was that they were too big, too expensive, and not useful enough to shell out $400+ for. And my Motorola Razor made me feel like I was on Star Trek. Why would I want a big fragile thing that felt sort of useless? There was no Apps Market yet. The social media options were clunky and annoying. And the keyboards made texting harder than it was on a traditional number pad. The first smartphone makers lost a LOT of money in those first couple of years. Investment was slow and steady and eventually [again… this took a few YEARS for people to catch on to something that most of us can no longer LIVE without] consumers started to notice, understand, and purchase.
And they had billions of dollars to throw at helping this process along.
All you have is time.
So either start selling something people want or need NOW, or be ready to be VERY patient.
4. You don’t understand consumer buying behaviors so you fail to consider user experience or perception at critical points in your buying cycle.
When it comes to understanding and addressing the pain points of potential clients, waiting until they ask the question is already too late. If they have to ask, you have lost some of their trust.
You have to know what they need, know what issues that might have, and address them long before they have the question. As a rule, “Good enough,” is never, ever good enough when dealing directly with the buying process. Your purchase cycle needs to be seamless. You need to be prepared with systems in place that make clients feel cared for and heard. You need to WAY over-deliver when something goes awry.
People do not gush about those who fail to consider their comfort or disrespect their value.
And the only way to grow is for people to GUSH about how supercalifragilistically amazing you are.
[Or have a monopoly. That seems to work too. I was about to start writing about how all big companies need people to sing their praises, but then I started thinking about a recent call to Comcast [universally loathed cable internet provider, for those outside the US] and realized that I needed to rethink my position a bit.]
So basically, if you want to disregard what your people need, ignore their every request, make the buying process cumbersome and difficult, then you too can have a reputation like Comcast’s, you are just going to need to corner your market – i.e. be the ONLY life coach on the planet.
Are you the only life coach on the planet?
Yeah, didn’t think so.
But if you want to be more like the Burt’s Bees or Anthropologie or Apple of life coaches, you are going to need to care. About EVERYTHING. Which brings me to #5….
5. Your thing is crap.
Quality matters. For those who tell you that you should go ahead and launch before you’re ready… they are just goddamn wrong. Well sort-of, anyway. Sure, you can launch before every i is dotted and every t is crossed. But you better tell people that it’s a beta and that every i will not be dotted and every t will not be crossed. And you better not expect to make much/any money.
Market readiness is VERY important. WAY more important than business coaches like to admit. Putting an ebook out that looks like crap and has typos all over it is a bad idea. Period. Why? Because at least one of the following will be true:
a. People will not buy it.
b. The people that DO buy it and say good things about it are often at the bottom rung of your market – meaning that their opinion will not carry a ton of sway in long-term growth. This will serve to falsely boost your confidence in your thing. And you will fail to make it better because three people said it was great. This is dangerous.
Or they are your mom.
Which causes the same problem.
c. The next time you release something, even if it’s way better, you are facing an uphill battle of people assuming that this will also be crap. Unless you have grown your audience by at least double in the interim [so you have a whole new crop of people to make a first impression to with this new and better thing of yours].
Instead, test your thing in small, trusted arenas. Perfect it. Hone it. Make it excellent. And THEN sell it to the masses. Big companies call this product testing, test marketing, and market research. It is done for a very good reason: to find out if what you made blows chunks or not. But solopreneurs tend to have this fundamental problem: We are told to follow our passion. So we create things that are all tied up in our id – our ego – our mushy, tender, heart-centered passiony bits. So we don’t test. We don’t try out. We don’t ask for people’s REAL opinion. We create and release and pray. Because them tender bits are just not tough enough to handle the answers we might get. We don’t naturally possess the steely detachment of corporate marketing departments – faaaar removed from the mad-brilliant creative who thought up the original idea. So when we fail, instead of asking ourselves what was wrong with the fucking product, we instead analyze our launch. Our blog posts. Our promotional strategy. All to preserve our ego.
And if we do ask, we do it in warm, fuzzy environments like Facebook groups or masterminds – where people rarely want to crush your dreams, so they tell you either: a. What you want to hear on the off chance you will like them for it and hire or refer them later. Or b. Some crap advice that ties directly into their current offer. THIS is not the unbiased product testing I’m talking about.
Every entrepreneur needs at least one person who tells them when they are being brilliant AND when they completely blew it. If you do not have that person, hire them.
6. You don’t understand investment, ROI, or what bootstrapping actually means.
So you stress out over every penny you spend, and then spend it on all the wrong things [read: generic and expensive courses where the only benefit is the network they offer – which could not matter less if you don’t know what you offer yet, marketing books, and Facebook ads that go nowhere interesting]. You think that you can DIY a mediocre website, write your own copy [forgetting entirely to figure out what you actually do or who you actually serve first], and then the people will just come. You make choices with limited resources that do not consider your return on investment (that would be the ROI part). And you fail to see that when bootstrapping, the ONLY thing you really have to invest in your business (because you presumably have no money if you’re bootstrapping) is time. So the less money you have, the more time it will take. Period.
Think of it this way: You read about startups raising millions in capital to get off the ground. MILLIONS. And some of those are nothing more than a clever website. That money is used for focus groups, and product development, and marketing, and strategy, and branding, and website development, and admin talent, and managerial talent, and mentors, and connections.
And even though you are a solo act you still have to do itty bitty versions of every single one of those things.
And since you probably don’t have millions, or even thousands to spend on developing your business, you have to bootstrap. Because the only thing you have millions of is seconds. Time. You have time. It’s your biggest asset and your biggest nemesis. True bootstrapping means you do whatever it takes with whatever you have for however long it takes until you make it. You use up your savings. You go into debt. You brainstorm and develop and toss out A LOT. And you recognize that you are not throwing money and time into a hole. You are investing in your business with the only resources available to you.
And yes, that is way easier to swallow that when it’s someone else’s money, but the good news is, when you make it [and you will if you don’t quit], you won’t have to share the spoils with anyone but your cat.
7. You haven’t dealt with your own bullshit.
About money. About success. About attention. About your own weakness. About your ego. About your mother. Whatever it is… it can drag you under faster than pretty much any of the other things above. To thrive in business, you have to KNOW you can [and deserve to] make a good living. You have to KNOW you are born to be successful. You have to be comfortable getting attention. You have to be willing to admit you don’t know something. You have to be ready to fail again and again [and again] and get right back up and ask for more. You have to be ready for everyone you know to tell you you’re nuts. You have to be prepared for profound loneliness. You have to LOVE risk [like LOVE it]. You have to know when to be humble and when to dig your heels in. You have to know when to follow a trend and when to buck it.
And you have to know when to listen to people like me and when to tell us we are full of shit.
If you can’t do all of those things, you will fail. It’s that simple.
Entrepreneurship takes both guts and contemplation. Strength and weakness. Fear and bravery. [tweet this]
It’s the tension that exists between your most profound polarities – your light and your dark. Your willingness to do whatever it takes to make a lot of money duking it out with your integrity, your passion, and your most innocent dreams.
Clients come when you have found the sweet spot between these raw edges.
When you understand both your business and yourself.
When the confidence you have in an offer leaps off of the pages of your website and dances in their fantasies of who they desire to be.
Because people don’t buy products. And they don’t buy brands. They buy the life they want. They buy the vision of themselves that they hold most dear.