I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year or so listening to phone calls, webinars, youtube videos, and podcasts in which relatively newer business folks ask much more seasoned business folks questions about how to take their own projects to the next level. In that time I’ve figured out that just about every single question that’s asked about building a business can be answered with one of the following seven answers:
Know your bigger picture
Sometimes the “bigger picture” is referring to the bigger “why” of your business. The higher purpose your business fulfills, like providing clean water to those who need it or helping women learn to tap into their creativity. Sometimes the “bigger picture” is more about the life you envision for yourself. Do you want to make enough money to pay cash for a new house in five years? Do you want to be on Oprah? Do you want to take summers off? Knowing what you want and knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing can give you so much clarity when it comes to making decisions about which opportunities to take and which ideas to pursue.
Take the simplest next step
This one answer saves me time and time and time again. I’m a “big ideas” kind of girl, and sometimes I start to get caught up in this whole “big ideas require big execution” trap that results in my big ideas being postponed while I build whatever I need to build to make the execution big enough. Want to become a respected lifestyle blogger who earns an income through sponsorships with brands like Anthropologie? Sure one day you’re going to need a really spiffy, custom-built blog and lots of relationships with merchandisers. But the simplest next step is to start blogging on whatever platform you’ve got. Spend the next six months blogging instead of preparing to blog and you’re going to be six months closer to meeting your goals.
Clarity comes from action
I love this one. The idea here is that you can theorize and you can run the numbers and you can read all the books and you can speculate about your customers and you can fantasize about how amazing it will be to exhibit at tradeshows, but when you’re stuck on something, none of that’s going to give you clarity on how to proceed the way taking action will. Even the smallest action can yield big results when it comes to figuring out what will and won’t work.
It’s worth noting that this answer can also be a great relief when you’ve tried something and haven’t liked the outcome. It’s okay that it wasn’t what you thought it would be. Action brings clarity and now you know for sure and can move on. This is also a really good reason for why taking the simplest next step can save you a LOT of time, effort, money, and heartache.
Start from your client/customer
Every question ever asked about how to write a sales page or how to get more customers or how to get people to comment on your blog posts or how to get more traffic or how to design a product page is answered like this: think about the psychology of your desired client/customer. Think about her fears and desires. Think about what is happening in his life to lead him to look for you. Think about what she cares about. Think about what results he is hoping you will be able to provide. Think about her potential questions and objections and answer them before she even needs to ask.
Highlight the work that you want to continue doing
This answer usually speaks to the “I currently do X but I really want to be doing Y” kind of question, and it’s super relevant to creatives. You currently do portrait photography but you want to be doing more editorial work? Or you work with a lot of corporations but would rather be writing copy for punk bands? The answer here isn’t necessarily to stop doing the work that pays you money right now but rather to deemphasize the work you want to stop doing and to emphasize the work you want to be doing more of. Fill your online portfolio with editorial photography. Or write case studies on any copywriting you’ve done for bands or other less-corporate oganizations. What people see you doing is what they think you want to do for them, so make sure you’re being accurate with what you’re showing them.
Don’t get bogged down in details
Should I charge $29? Or $39? What should I name my business? Should I have two separate websites, or just one? Don’t worry so much about the details. Whatever you decide will be fine. Sure, catchy names are awesome, but businesses succeed on lame names all the time (and vice versa). Your business is the sum of all its parts, and no one single detail is going to make or break anything. What’s more, everything in your business is changeable. You are never, ever locked in.
Trust your gut (use your intuition)
Pretty much every single business expert I've come across advocates this in one way or another, which surprised me a bit. They talk about listening to that little voice in your head or suggest that you give as much credence to your business figures as you do to your personal feelings about those figures. They tell you not to start or continue a business that your heart just isn’t in, even if you think there’s money there. This can be the toughest advice to hear when you’re the kind of person who prefers to push through, or when you can’t tell which voice is your intuition and which one is the voice of your ever-disappointed dad and which one is the voice of that professor you had junior year who told you you wouldn’t make it.
SIDE NOTE: I’m actually working on putting together a list of fun little exercises, activities, and tricks you can use to tap into your intuition better. If you have an idea for me, please leave it in the comments below or email me directly.
Finally, I’ve got a few bonus answers — ones that come up a lot, typically as more actionable bits of advice:
- Develop relationships (with customers, with influencers, with experts, with your competition, with everyone)
- Tell stories (yours, your brand's, and your customers' stories)
- Track whatever you can, and then analyze the data (for what it's worth, The Business Experts are big fans of A/B testing)
- Not everything needs to be monetized (keep some things for hobbies, or for free things you do for customers, etc. -- not everything needs to be a business and not everything a business does needs to be profit-driven)
- Things will change (it’s okay to let them)