Are you making one step forward, two steps back?
Almost all business owners who came to me think that they have a problem either with their marketing or branding issues.
My first question would be, "what makes you think it is due to marketing or branding?"
This gives me a sense of what could be the bottleneck.
I have seen how start-ups who have at least 10k following or audience in their database, backed by fundings, with well-known popularity, good P.R brand and marketing efforts, eventually suffered from a lack of market need, cash flow issues or high burn rate.
I have also seen small-medium businesses who have spent thousands on well-designed websites, Facebook pages, logos, names, taglines, CRM, sales copywriting, coming up with new products or services, etc, eventually walking down the 'failure lane' in growing their business.
Ultimately, what's common among these stories that I discovered comes down to having a sustainable business model.
Too many entrepreneurs are caught up with micromanaging every little detail of a business that they overlooked one of the vital foundations: a sustainable business model. This includes the mindset, strategy, management, purpose & vision, systems, branding and marketing and financial models.
This deserves a separate write up in the upcoming series.
For now, I would like to start off with six common bottlenecks or business blind spots almost every business owners' faced, which could potentially sabotage the way they lead their business forward and how you can overcome them.
If you build it, they will come.
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That’s just for the movie Field of Dreams played by Kevin Costner.
In reality, it is the reverse that is taking a toll on many entrepreneurs who simply build something based on their ideas and passion.
Fortune reported the “main reason” for startup failures: “They make products no one wants.” A survey of failed startups determined that 42% of them identified the “lack of a market need for their product” as the single biggest reason for their failure.
Of course customers won't ever tell you exactly what they want, but at least you can understand where they really struggle and how you can add value. A lot of software gets built without a really clear realization of what problem it solves for the customer.
Hence, they have to work much harder trying to market, brand and promote it, hoping that it will sell.
Even though Jack Ma, Founder of Alibaba, failed in his early days starting the company, he is clear about a vital component that differentiates him from the other internet company. In his words: “We never copied a model from the U.S., like a lot of Chinese Internet entrepreneurs did. We focused on product quality. It has to be "click and get it." If I can't get it, then it's rubbish.”
Just because you have created something fantastic and put it out there doesn’t mean people want it.
A common attitude of this can be found in solopreneurs and entrepreneurs who believe that “one day, people will see the true value of what I have and whoever resonates with it will come.”
This is so inherent in a lot of small business owners that they often asked “how can I reach more people and get more people interested in our stuff” rather than “are we addressing their real pain points that matter the most, in a way that they get it?”
This led many of them to create offerings that are “nice or good to have.”
As a result, they usually faced rejection from people giving reasons like, “when I have the _________ (whatever life conditions they can fill in, such as time, money, energy, retirement, etc), then I will look for you and consider.”
And when things don’t work out, they go around troubleshooting the design, the message, hiring SEO experts, spending on tweaking Facebook ads, changing the fonts/image and wonder why they don’t move the needle in their business.
The distinction here is really building your business based upon creating value for what people actually needed, not one they wanted to need.
Trying to appeal to everyone.
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The mentality of this goes something like this.
Imagine you are going to sell natural cosmetics skincare products to women in China from age 21 to 45. There are about 1 billion people in China, let’s say there are approximately 500 million women. And let’s say there’s about 200 million women in that age range.
Working your math, you might be thinking along the lines of “If I can sell to just 1% of them, that’s 2,000,000. And if I can make $30 per package, that’s $60 million.
WOW, I’m going to be rich!
That’s not how Alibaba, one of the world’s biggest e-commerce conglomerate, started.
They scale their way up through a unique business model focused on helping small and medium-size companies make money through a global vision with a local win.
At one point during the dot.com bubble, they expanded too fast, forcing them to have layoffs (troubles of focusing too big a pie before their foundation is strong).
That’s where they started improving by bits from developing a product for China exporters to meet U.S. buyers online. By the end of 2002, they made $1 in profits.
Even giants like Alibaba dominate each slice of the pie, one at a time strategically, not all at once. They established a strong foundation first before they diversified.
Sadly, the opposite is the case for many professional service provider, consultants, coaches, speakers, trainers, education specialist, wellness/health/fitness practitioners, creatives and other solopreneur or entrepreneur.
Most of them try to target too broad an audience to begin with, like the example given above.
The bottleneck here is trying to appeal to everyone.
What this does is that any messaging gets watered down.
It becomes too generic to pique anyone’s interest.
Remember the scarcity of attention we mentioned earlier?
Only a laser-focused messaging would have a higher chance of breaking through the noise and clutter in the marketplace.
Here’s the counterintuitive insight. The more specific your focus, the easier it is to sell and the more you can charge.
That said, this seem to be a recurring issue for many because of the fear of losing out.
“We fear we don’t have enough market.”
But the reverse is true for many of the solopreneurs, coaches, consultants, trainers, speakers and other professional service providers or subject-matter experts.
The larger the pie they try to target, the smaller the rewards they get eventually.
They lost even more than they realized, to the extent some give up completely!
Not only they get burnout easily trying to juggle the different slices, even though they may look similar or close enough to one another (e.g, pre-school kids and primary school children), they also get stuck at their plateau.
This can be a vital bottleneck especially for small business owners to progress.
However, once you are able to clearly define who this is for and who this is not for, standing firm that this is NOT for everyone, you are on the right track.
I need to prove my worth and get my name out there.
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It is getting more and more crowded to be noticed today, given the abundance of choices we have.
In fact, we are flooded with options, opportunities and distractions.
Therefore, in order to stand out, we are told we need to build an authority, a personal brand.
This led many coaches, trainers and consultants having to prove their authority and expertise in their so-called niches.
It is no surprise you get to meet people who has tons of accolades, certifications and awards to showcase.
Somehow through the education and the societal conditioning, we are taught to prove ourselves by all these means of validation.
Let’s break this down a little.
Underneath this, we believe we need other people to give us permission.
The approval trap is an invisible trap, rarely ever discussed, that has people looking outside for acceptance, permission, and the go-ahead to do what they want.
We all want our peers and people who we value to give us the nod of approval. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, that is encouraging.
However, the trap has us when we bind ourselves or limit our options and actions based on someone else’s perceptions of what’s important, what is possible, and what is your potential.
As such, we ended up creating our definition of success (or whatever the desire path in your definition) based on someone else’s.
How does this show up in the business world?
A classic example are entrepreneurs who tend to highlight a lot about their method, their secret sauce (you’ll know only if you attend their seminar, masterclass, webinars) and their proven system.
They like to throw in cliché and power words like "The World's Greatest... the most comprehensive... proven secrets to success...mind-blowing results... blockbuster sales... unstoppable breakthrough… unlimited potential within you..."
You probably also see this a lot from the internet marketers, who shared cases of their success, how much they are earning and the kind of lifestyle they live.
If you studied how they communicate their offering, although what they presented clearly indicated the benefits that are believable and is probably something you want, there's something untrustworthy about it.
Comments like the ones below are a good reflection of the audience’s responses to such, even if these entrepreneurs’ claims are legitimate.
With too much hype these days, people’s B.S detector is also raising.
Here’s the thing.
If you are trying too hard to build a business on you - your brand, your name, your experience, your charisma, your publicity, you do not have a business!
Seriously, why should people care about all these even if you are the world's greatest or loaded with all your accomplishments?
The question they are more interested in to get a buy-in is - what has all these got to do with me as a potential customer? Do you really understand me?
It is alright to showcase your portfolio.
But do not expect the other party to go figure out themselves on why it matters to them without connecting the dots for them, which is what most subject-matter experts do.
That is the disconnect.
On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve also seen a lot of coaches, consultants and small business owners throwing in free stuff or sessions, hoping to convert their prospects into clients by proving their worth.
Usually, this is a sign of insecurity than confidence.
Another manner how this lack of confidence is showing up is that entrepreneurs simply do whatever is told by the customers.
Again, we are afraid to lose people so we simply follow and not leading where we should.
There are times we need to demonstrate our understanding and there are times clients want us to lead.
That is the difference between someone whose expertise is demonstrated vs the other who is demonstrating himself too hard.
Better is better.
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For 45 minutes, on the morning of Jan. 12, 2007, concert violinist Joshua Bell stood incognito on a Washington, D.C. subway platform and performed classical music for passersby.
Throughout that experiment, only six people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money. He collected $32.
When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
No one knew it was him. There was no media, no publicity to this social experiment.
Joshua, one of the best musicians in the world, played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.
Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats averaged $100 each.
From this experiment, there are some powerful lessons we can learn from.
Let’s just take the busking industry as an illustration to correlate with what is happening in the business context.
You can try to be better than Joshua who is down the street. Perhaps, you add a little more fancy tricks, inject more interactive elements or play a variety of genre.
Those stuff might give you a little more advantage over the other buskers.
Nevertheless, you are still playing in the same league, crowded with your competitors.
If you truly want a breakthrough, you have to perform at a different league, just like Joshua performing in a different context that made him world-class.
This is not to say that quality isn’t important. But how can you be better at a different level.
Unfortunately, most business owners, coaches, consultants, trainers and professional service providers try to be better than their peers in a way that creates more noise, clutter and confusion in the market.
They think better is better.
We all strive to improve in some ways.
And starting our own practice and business is the first step towards change for the better.
For some, they are prompted by what’s missing in the market.
For some, they felt jaded by the system they used to work in and wanted to do something better.
But when we get trapped in wanting to prove our self-righteousness by trying to be better than what’s wrong out there, it doesn’t really serve our audience.
It actually serves our wounded ego more.
Hence, I’ve witnessed how many entrepreneurs are feeding into the vicious cycle of the red ocean, competing with one another to be better, sometimes embarking on a dark side without their higher awareness.
How does this show up in business?
Some try to gain the first-mover advantage.
Some try to create something innovative that is way too advanced or ahead of its time.
That’s where many technology innovation are either too “out there” - ahead of their time, too esoteric, too complicated or lack the complementary ecosystem needed to open up a new market.
In fact, many technology innovations fail to create and capture new markets even as they win accolades for their organizations.
And many others simple try to be better in terms of speed, size, being the most _______ (whatever), price and/or a unique methodology and forever trying to perfect their craft (more on that in the next point).
Uncovering and honing on your unfair advantage and differentiation doesn’t have to be fighting on the same ground.
It is about making competition irrelevant.
It doesn’t have to be done in a disruptive manner like Airbnb or Uber.
But it does requires a shift of paradigm and to reframe our perspectives.
Being a modality freak that freaks people out or no one cares.
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I’ve seen many subject-matter experts who are obsessed with their thing, their modality or the subject-matter they are great at.
While expertise and mastery are important when comes to the delivery of promise, it is also overrated in its grandiosity.
We raved about it most of the time and unknowingly shoved it in people's face.
You hear things like: “This is awesome, you should try it and experience this yourself…”
In the coaching, consulting, speaking, training, creative and wellness space, I’ve seen so many of them get caught up with trying to perfect their craft.
They can invest a few thousand dollars on a high-end lens (for photographers) or a ten thousand dollars on a coaching program and their business still remain status quo (if you are on subpar standards, then obviously you need to raise your mastery).
To the clients, all these don’t really mean much value for them in the same way you are obsessed with.
We underestimated how all these relate with our target audience because we overrated on the grandiosity of the modality that is feeding more for ourselves.
In their mind, they expect it to be your responsibility to keep up with your repertoire.
Drawing from Joshua Bell’s experiment, although he is great at what he does given his mastery in his field, putting his gifts in the context of a subway is working against him.
The context of the subway is like the psyche of target audience in the crowded marketplace.
In today's context, we place so much emphasis on our talents, skills and experience till the point that other people don’t get it.
No matter how good you are in your field of expertise, just like Joshua, being a modality freak makes you sound like you are talking at your audience than with them.
Therefore, that puts you as just another commodity!
And you are puzzled why these people don’t see and appreciate your expertise the way you do.
This is quite common especially in seasoned or an experienced professional who tends to project their experience on others.
While mentoring has its place and value, it is also the bottleneck in itself because what works in your career or business may not be the best model for the other person.
Just like this article is NOT for everyone and anyone.
Imagine you are 30 pounds overweight. You have low energy and you’re not in poor health. You’ve tried many diet plan, exercise and various weight loss trends. But nothing seem to work.
From a qualified professional nutritionist who is a modality freak, he usually come across sounding like this to you:
“Graduated from xxx university of metabolic medicine, been in practice for 27 years - have published 2 books on the ‘medicine industry of the future’ and is currently on the advisory board for GNC Nutrition. He also pioneered a groundbreaking studies on mind-body impact on our health.”
Now compare it to another nutrition professional who is on par with the first expert. The difference is, he communicates with you in this manner:
“Confused about all the contradicting information about healthy weight loss?
Sick of being over-weight, feeling sick and tired all the time?
Can’t stick to a well-thought out diet plan and fed-up with your yo-yo dieting habits?
You are not alone.
In fact, these are the challenges and frustration people like you are facing.
The good thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way.
The ultra-burn and trim system is a fail-proof plan specially designed to take you by the hand, step-by-step, in showing you exactly how to shed off 20 pounds of body fat in the next 8 weeks without any of the hardcore exercises. There is also no need for any pills, supplements or having to starve yourself.
It is completely safe, sustainable and healthy.
Contact or email firstname.lastname@example.org on how you can get started on a trial towards a vibrant, energetic and healthy you.”
Which one appeals more to you, supposing you are the target audience?
What's the difference here?
One is boxed-in by their expertise, the other is pacing and leading with their expertise.
I’m not saying that your professional expertise don’t matter in your field.
They do because that’s where you deliver results.
The question is, are you meeting people at where they are, instead of what you know?
I’m better off doing it myself.
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When I first started in the copywriting business, I was thrilled to land on a delicacy beverage project which is targeting the high-end luxury market.
Initially, things move along well.
Then we realized there was a big gap in my understanding about what he wanted.
He became frustrated at one point because I just couldn’t get him.
So in the end, I refunded him the fees and we moved on.
From what I learned about his decision, he even fired the web development agency he engaged overseas.
He decided it is better for him to do it all by himself since he has created websites that won awards.
That engagement, though it didn’t worked out, was a great learning experience for me being new in the field.
It has been two years since.
And I’m curious how has he progressed.
So I went to check his page. No change. It is still the same.
I texted him. No response even till today.
I really respect this ex-client. He cares deeply about what he does. He even invested about 3 to 5 years of his efforts and time grooming a sustainable agriculture system in Indonesia. He is dedicated to create something no one in the world have done it.
I also see this a common trait among entrepreneurs. We pride and preserve what we value.
While this is a gift, it can also be a curse.
Cursed in the sense that we think no one else can better understand it other than ourself.
And we ended up taking it on all by ourself.
That is also another aspect why most small business owners are stuck at this bottleneck.
It keeps them from scaling their business because they aren’t clear about who they really serve, what’s distinct about their offerings and their unfair advantage (the previous points).
Thus, they don’t have a system (not necessarily a technological one) in place to delegate the work which would then allow them to scale their expertise.
It can be quite an irony.
Given now we have greater accessibility, decentralisation of power, lower barriers of entry to resources, community, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding and so on, a lot of us are still stuck on our own trying to build our brand and authority.
Moving forward and growing beyond, I think it is to go beyond what we are attached to as proprietary.
Only then we can allow ourselves to scale and grow through a greater ecosystem.
After having identify these business bottlenecks, which of these are diluting your brand and marketing efforts?
Start with the one of highest priority and work your way through the others with the strategies given as follows.
Now let’s dive into some of the ways which you can breakthrough your business bottlenecks to elevate growth and results, without diluting your branding and marketing efforts.
Uncovering your laser focus and validating it
What’s the whole purpose of having a laser focus?
It has got to do with the attention curve as mentioned earlier.
In order to cut through the clutter of people’s attention, we cannot be diluted in our communication.
Uncovering your laser focus achieves just that; to increase specificity and relevance.
Let’s look at this two target messaging
Which one do you think will appeal more to the target audience as mentioned in each message?
Let’s break down the psychology behind each to contrast the difference.
The first one is what most businesses do when comes to communicating their message, whether it is through social media, their content or selling.
At first glance, it looks pretty targeted and niche.
The health-conscious part is clear in terms of search keywords though it can be more specific with regards to which aspects of the lifestyle you can zoom in.
Is it about their diet? Is it about the household items that can be more sustainable? Or is it about their travel habits?
As for the audience group ‘working professionals,’ it is too broad even though you might identify some people whom you know in your network who are health-conscious.
This is where you are trying to appeal to every working professionals who are health-conscious.
Subconsciously, what this does is leading you to create topics that are generic like stress and productivity.
There are tons of rehash information of such out there.
Chances are, topics like this get buried in the noise.
Also, subjects like this are ‘nice-to-have’ because stress and productivity may not be the top concern for every health-conscious working professionals.
Similarly, you want to avoid broad target groups like parents, educators, millennials and so on unless you define it with a strong context and give a richer meaning to it.
For the second message, the target audience is much clearer than the first one.
On top of that, the value offering of this message revolves around a common challenge faced by many trainers and instructors in the health and fitness industry - getting sore and fatigue due to the nature of their profession (occupational hazard).
What’s the impact of this?
The duration of their downtime for recovery and possible burnout can affect their income and livelihood in their career.
If they get injured in the process of their work, it will put them on a downtime for a long time, worst case scenario, they may be out of the game.
Notice that the Yoga breathing technique is ‘modified?’
This implies that the method can’t be commonly found out there and is unique.
This has a higher chance for the target group to check out because they are highly discerning about such topics.
By knowing who you are talking to, you can understand deeper about their challenges, fears, priorities and concerns.
Only then you can be specific and relevant to them without your message coming across as being “fluffy.”
Here are some areas you can begin your research:
From there, you can start a swipe file of collecting the quotes, language, questions they asked and phrases they used.
These will help form the languaging of your message later on as you are designing your communication - whether it is on your blog, landing page, videos and other formats of content.
But nothing beats talking to your audience in person.
There are several nuances to pay attention to which I won’t be covering them extensively here.
Essentially, instead of asking them what they want, start with understanding what is their biggest concern or challenge when it comes to the context you want to learn more.
From your experience, which is easier for people to share their experiences and stories with you more readily?
Keep the conversation open and be present with them without forming your judgments and conclusion too quick.
Ask wise questions along the way to learn more about them.
Wise questions make it easy for your prospects to start talking.
The more they talk, the more you’ll learn about them.
The more you know about them, the easier it will be to present your product or service in alignment with what’s already most important to them later on.
This helps them come to a well-informed decision easier.
Here are some examples to navigate the conversation to understand about their commitments, concerns, desires, aspirations, mental and emotional patterns.
This way, you will gain deep insights about them.
A bad question is one that leaves your client feeling pressured.
Bad questions are the result of you being attached to your own agenda rather than from the prospect’s interests.
Because your motivation is not to learn about them first, but to lead them somewhere before you’ve earned the right to be their leader.
Once you have gathered some useful information about them, the next thing you want to take note of is the priority of the problem.
Let’s say you are targeting expats small business owners in the wellness space who are doing alright in their business, here are a list of challenges you have identified:
- 1Lack of social engagement within their community
- 2Website design not appealing enough
- 3Struggling with trying to expand their base to attract more locals and not just expats
- 4Feeling low energy or too busy with their day-to-day business operation
If I’m a business consultant, this is the order of priority I will present when I talk to them, which has a higher chance of appealing to them.
I will be highlighting more on the third point.
I won’t be saying things like “how to get more clients…” which is what the rest of my competitors are doing.
Instead, the value I bring to the table would be to help them attract more local base/clients/market, which is a common limitation for expats owned businesses.
From the list of problems identified, I also have a clue which one is a possible bottleneck that keeps them from focusing on the area that matters most - attracting and growing local base customers.
I will look at point number 4.
That’s an indication they are stuck at probably because they lack a system of implementation and to delegate other areas of their business such as administration, accounting, design, social media and content management (more on that in the later segment).
The rest of the problems I will use as benefits in my proposal to them, where the web design being the last priority.
As for that one, I would probably reframe it differently, linking back to how he or she can reposition their web content and message that will help grow their local clientele from a local user’s experience point of view - thinking from their clients' perspective.
Again, this is just my side of thinking about it.
The key to move forward is to check in with them because I may have overlooked certain aspects between where they are and where they want to be.
If I were to position myself differently (more on that in the later strategy ) with a distinct value wanting to serve expats clientele around the world, I would consider having a network of cross-cultural consultants around the globe to enable expats to enter and attract the local market.
And the intelligence is shared across this network so that there is a consistent follow-up even if it is a different local consultant serving them as they travel or relocate.
This is taking into considerations that they travel around different parts of the world or relocate every several years which is an inherent factor of their life.
Now having uncover and learn about niching down, how can you validate it?
There are many ways of validating your idea, message and offering out there.
Fundamentally, it boils down to these two questions:
- 1Can they pay for this?
- 2Will they pay for this (the tricky part)?
There could be a bulk of potential people you like to serve or work with who couldn’t afford your service at this moment.
And is this the kind of thing they want you to take their money? Does it align with their values? Is it speaking right to their problems with the highest priority?
You can follow up with the same group of people you have interacted with during the phase of your research by putting up a minimum viable offer of your service.
You want to put a price tag to it and treat it as if you are offering a valid service to see how many would pay for this and take those orders.
If there are more than 70% of the people taking it on, great! Fulfill the delivery.
If they tell you they won’t pay for it or are somewhere in the middle, dig in a bit, including those who didn’t even if at least 70% of the people took up your offer.
What’s stopping them? Is it trust issue? Is it the price range? Is it right fit for them?
With all these said, beware of “niche traps” as well.
Your target audience will eventually outgrow your current service and change as they grow.
See your clientele as a WHOLE HUMAN being, not an ideal client on paper so as to adapt accordingly as you journey with them.
Defining your laser focus is by no means an easy task.
It takes both an art and science as you are unique with your life story, life lessons and life experiences.
Well-defined, it equips you with a high leverage.
Pacing and leading your expertise
Whichever area of focus you decide to be in, from clients and customers’ perspective, they are always trying to validate these two question in their minds:
- 1Do you really understand me?
- 2How can you truly add value to my challenges?
That is why the clearer you are with WHO you are reaching out to (refer to the previous strategy), the better you are in demonstrating your understanding about them, in a way better than what they could articulate.
Let’s say your laser-focus value statement is (though it may sound broad, the laser focus comes from having a deep understanding about them):
“I help modern man reclaim the lost art of being a man, enabling them to grow into their highest mental, physical, emotional and spiritual potential to thrive in the increasing demands of a modern society to be better husbands, fathers, sons, brothers and citizens.”
Having done the groundwork of understanding the unique challenges of modern man, you discovered that many men today feel adrift and have lost the confidence, focus, skills, and virtues that men of the past embodied.
In an increasingly androgynous society, modern men are confused about their role and what it means to be an honorable, well-rounded man who could thrive in the rigours of the modern world and into the future.
Hence, a lot of men idealized their grandfather, and wanted to be more like them. But the gap between their generation and ours seemed huge.
With today’s popular culture and media focusing largely about sex, sports cars, money, adrenaline and getting six-pack abs, modern men are facing an identity crisis deep inside and lack of direction or purpose.
By demonstrating your understanding about your audience better than they could articulate themselves, you connect with them with a sense of camaraderie.
Notice here that you aren’t talking about your methodology, techniques or coaching even if that’s what your program offers.
You CARE about their outcome more than your modality which so many coaches out there are doing.
Because that’s what your audience is buying and willing to pay premium for the specific programs.
In the above example, it would probably be a dynamic path designed for modern men in becoming a new generation of great men for specific outcomes such as how to lose/gain weight, social skills, style and grooming or living an awesome fatherhood.
When you really CARE about your audience, you’re not afraid of them rejecting you.
When you really CARE about their growth, you’re comfortable referring them elsewhere if it is not a good fit, while still staying in touch with their developments.
Not being a good fit now doesn’t mean they won’t be in the future.
Your reputation is earned by how much you care, without trying too hard to prove yourself.
And that gets the word out.
Demonstrating a deep understanding about your audience is just the first step. It doesn’t mean you have the capability to help them.
Here’s what your prospects are looking for next: how are you able to help me on this challenge or in this context?
“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.”
W. Edwards Deming
This is where you present your process on how you escalate value for your clients that relates to their unique challenges.
Essentially, you want to cover these elements:
Defining the unfair advantage
To stand out and differentiate, it doesn’t necessarily require us to reinvent the wheel.
Quite often, untapped opportunities lies in the existing industry problem - what is happening in the landscape.
Let’s take a look at the fundraising, charity and social enterprise landscape as a case study.
Charity and fundraising have already become highly competitive and overcrowded.
Nowadays, non-profit organizations even outsource their fundraising campaign to sales company to reach out to new potential donors.
They had to work harder on fundraising and marketing to stand out from the crowd including investing on TV fundraising shows.
Every now and then, they leverage guilt and pity (the images, videos and stories of the beneficiaries' sufferings) to raise money.
Not only that, most would tried to target high-income donors and big companies through year-round campaigns and membership programmes.
To the public, they felt confused by so many groups asking for money and donor fatigue had set in.
From the corporate world, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is still a norm for many big companies even though it has its issues in terms of ethics and can be perceived as sort of a “charity-washing” act in consumers’ eyes.
B1G1, a social enterprise and non-profit organization, sets to redefine the act of giving and making an impact to the world.
“What would happen if we all gave back just by doing the things we do every day?”
This paradigm shift changes the way businesses can make an impact.
Unlike conventional fundraising practice, B1G1 do not chase after big corporations.
They focus on helping small- and medium-sized businesses achieve more social impact by embedding giving activities into everyday business operations, transactions and creating unique giving stories through the process.
On top of that, the barriers to giving is lowered.
By allowing SMEs around the world to choose from the list of their carefully selected high-impact projects that resonate with their mission and purpose, every business transaction can impact lives for as little as just one cent.
This approach also help SMEs to position themselves in a different light from the typical CSR of big corporations as giving is now an integrated part of their business, not separate.
This also helps create stories of social connection, purpose, meaning that brings their employees and customers closer by utilising this platform as tools of engagement.
Businesses can also track and share stories of their impact as a result of this giving out of joy rather than guilt.
Unlike traditional giving programs which use a portion of your donation for administration fees, B1G1 pass 100% of your giving to the nominated projects when you give through B1G1. The operating costs are funded by their membership program.
By creating world-wide access, the giving and the impact happens 24/7, eliminating the high budget fundraising campaign held on a seasonal basis.
Till date, they have about over 2,100 members that created 123,155,208 giving impacts around the world during this 10 years.
Let’s see how you can implement the framework to help you uncover and develop your unfair advantage and differentiation.
- 1Landscape - What is the current reality and context in your marketplace? Narrate as in depth as you can. [refer to the case study above in the context of charity and fundraising]
- 2Identify - Identify the bottlenecks, constraints, fears, concerns that are inherent or unaddressed as a result of the system in place in the industry or target audience groups. [In the conventional fundraising practice, too much focus on high-income groups and corporations, high budget campaigns, competitive, crowded, donor fatigue, for some, it is geographically constrained when comes to their reach in fundraising, the traditional model of fundraising creates alienation and transparency issues]
- 3Pivot - Not every problem is worth attacking first. Among the list of bottlenecks identified, which one would create the highest impact or would give the greatest leverage? [For B1G1, it is to begin shifting their attention in the target audience to small-medium businesses as they are increasing in the economy. This would provide the leverage in terms of creating a lower barrier to giving and to open up accessibility to giving from around the world.]
- 4Scale - In order for a value innovation to scale and gain traction, it is to make it easier for people to say yes and to implement or adopt as part of their daily habits. To facilitate towards that, what are the current assumptions and mental models to challenge? What elements can be redefined, reduced, eliminated, combined, raised or be created to come up with your differentiation? [For B1G1, they do not want this to be just another CSR initiative. So this is the model to redefine and challenge at some level. Other aspects they shifted is from a guilt-based model to the one that is motivated by joy, purpose and meaning. The key is to embed giving as part of everyday business activities to make it easy for people to give without feeling obliged. This also eliminates the extra efforts trying to persuade and convince donors to give, just like how traditional fundraising campaigns do that tend to lead to donors’ fatigue.]
Results are on the outside
“In any organization, regardless of its mission, the CEO is the link between the Inside, i.e., ‘the organization’ and the Outside — society, the economy, technology, markets, customers, the media, public opinion. Inside there are only costs. Results are only on the outside.”
The impact happens on the Outside. The value is created on the Outside.
The focus of your business should be on the Outside.
Inside the business are costs that drag on the outside impact and value creation.
The inside is necessary, but it is not the ultimate goal or pivotal area.
Unfortunately, many business owners are hooked and stuck on the inside of their business.
Usually to the point that they lose touch with the Outside, where their potential clients, partnerships and untapped opportunities exist.
There is a way out so that you can focus ON the OUTSIDE.
The way to work your way towards freedom and real control is to first acknowledge that your TIME is the most important resources of all.
And there is another way of looking at it that provides the breakthrough, which I will explain later.
To begin, ask yourself this:
“What are you trying to accomplish or fulfill by building your business?”
What is it that you are trying to accomplish in your market, with your tribe, in your life or in the world?
Reflect upon this and allow yourself to write down whatever that comes to your mind without censoring.
If you have other partners, do this individually first before meeting to have a collective brainstorming session.
Next, assess your strengths, potentials and talents.
If you do not have a system for this, you can utilize the Johari Window method, it’s a concept from psychology.
This enables you to map out your skills, knowledge and strengths in your public self, your hidden potentials (unknown self), your blindspots (blind self) and your hidden talents (hidden self)
With that awareness of yourself, you can then move on to list down the following:
I highly recommend you to check out this resource on virtual hire: Virtual Freedom by Chris Ducker. What you will get from his book are the vital ingredients to create systems in your business through building a virtual team from organising, recruiting, training to growing your virtual team as well as avoiding those mistakes most entrepreneurs made in their virtual hires.
Despite having all these means to enable us to scale, why aren’t many people successful in benefiting from it?
- 1The biggest issue is a lot of small business owners aren’t clear or are weak in their positioning and distinct value in the market. You may want to refer to the previous strategies to refresh or get what I mean. As such, it can be tough for them to structure, organise and document their inner thought process and strategies that can be eventually pass on to others. Hence, when comes to hiring and training assistants to delegate the pieces as mentioned above, they faced a challenge.
- 2Trying to hire one V.A to do everything! This is a recipe for disaster. You’ll ended up losing these people and fire-fighting, going back and forth, because no one is good at everything.
- 3Trapped in the locality mindset and attachment to talents. While hiring local has its benefits and works well for certain roles that demand high touchpoints for efficiency and results, the locality mindset can also be a bottleneck because you are relying on a limited source of resources. Yes, I also understand that you can’t outsource relationship and it is vital to build a team culture of trusted advisors and talents. Although everyone is indispensable because each has his or her unique gifts to offer, no one is indispensable that your business can’t live without. Meaning, you don’t want to build your business in such a way that whenever a talent leaves, the business is crippled or handicapped.
- 4Seeing time is money! When you start seeing time is money, your potential is capped by time. What this leads to is that you ended up trading time for money. This is where small business owners only hire when they have more money. By seeing the reverse that MONEY is TIME, you’ll develop a much healthy attitude and a growth mindset towards scaling the time you have through systems, strong distinct value and other people’s resources/network.
Coming to this point, it might seem like a lot of work.
Actually, we are already doing a lot of work without us realising.
With no lack of means and resources these days, many of us are still wasting our efforts trying stuffs that were leading us nowhere.
Yet, with hundreds to thousands of different ways to succeed and grow, we are still not seeing the growth and fulfillment we truly desire.
We always wanted more.
Instead of jumping around different business or marketing tactics for more, perhaps, by focusing on the LESS that is more, by scaling on depth rather than width, the amount of work that matters isn’t a lot.
Ultimately, I wish for all of you to live your 2018, reclaiming your well-being, enjoying your freedom and loving the fulfillment that comes with focusing on the areas that truly matter.
Defining your laser focus is by no means an easy task.
It takes both an art and science as you are unique with your life story, life lessons and life experiences.
Well-defined, it equips you with a high leverage.
A holistic communicator and purpose coach who cares about the bigger picture that connects the dots towards sustainable growth, healing and transformation. His purpose and intention behind whatever he does is to translate life’s wisdom into practical applications which can be adopted by others.