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.

small business owners singapore

If you build it, they will come.

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Trying to appeal to everyone.

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I need to prove my worth and get my name out there.

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Better is better.

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Being a modality freak that freaks people out or no one cares.

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I’m better off doing it myself.

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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.

2018 business growth strategy to scale your expertise

Uncovering your laser focus and validating it

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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

  • Yoga techniques for health-conscious working professionals to manage their stress and increase their productivity.
  • How this modified 15 minutes Yoga breathing system can help retrain your body and hack your brain for fitness trainers and instructors to bounce back fast within 24 hours from the “sore effect” and fatigue, minimizing the chances of injuries to ensure you are at your best performance for your clients.
yoga breathing

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:

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    Youtube comments related to the topic.
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    Amazon books on the topic and in the review section, what are people saying?
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    Niche blogs and forums - What are the popular topics?
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    Facebook and Linkedin groups - What do people post and comment there?
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    Quora - what questions are people asking?
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    Emails from your customers.
who is your target audience

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.

Why so?

From your experience, which is easier for people to share their experiences and stories with you more readily? 

  • What do you want?
  • What’s your challenge or struggle with this?

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.

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    What’s occupying your mind lately?
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    What do you most desire?
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    Why now?
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    How serious are you about this?
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    How's that working for you?
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    What are you TOLERATING and putting up with?
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    What would YOU suggest I ask you to move this forward?
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    Where do you want to see yourself xx years/months from now with regards to this [outcome/context]?
laser focused value

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:

  • 1
    Lack of social engagement within their community
  • 2
    Website design not appealing enough
  • 3
    Struggling with trying to expand their base to attract more locals and not just expats
  • 4
    Feeling 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:

  • 1
    Can they pay for this?
  • 2
    Will 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

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leadership business

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:

  • 1
    Do you really understand me?
  • 2
    How 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:

  • The setup and preparation - This is where you walk them through the overview, mindset and the underlying significance of how it will affect the success of their development. This is about priming your prospects for THEIR success.
  • Upfront transparency - Get all the concerns, fears and questions out on the table. Pace by listening first to what they have to say. Assure their concerns are valid. Let them know you hear them before asking for permission to lead with your recommendations and suggestions by revealing your thought process behind and establishing mutual agreement.
  • Stacking benefits - The template for this is: Get [feature] that will help you to [advantage] in a way that [benefit]. Walk them through how they can already start OWNing their results incrementally. When they start seeing results, even if it is a tiny bit, it drives them wanting more. This is what builds momentum.
  • Make it a no-brainer - In order for them to get started now rather than delaying it, you have to keep it simple. Make it easy for them to start doing the necessary towards their eventual outcome.
  • Support system - Creates assurance that they are supported and not alone in this. Orientate them in what ways they can get support or personal attention. This helps minimize the perception of risk in their mind that will sabotage their progress.
  • Highlight the counterintuitive - Help them be aware of your contrarian point of view and why that matters with regards to the context of their challenges and outcomes so that your prospects understand how not to blindly follow what others are doing. It also helps train your clients to develop an independent thinking by questioning the current assumptions and values. An example of a contrarian approach is given here... And despite not having a Black Friday sale like the rest of the businesses, they are still having a SPIKE in their sales on that day. They also invest half of the revenue for membership sales in microloans on KIVA, being aligned with their business purpose of wanting to make an impact to small business owners and entrepreneurs!
  • Fixed goal, variable means - Let your prospects understand the importance of committing and focusing on the outcome while having variable means of fulfilling that outcome. After all, the world is constantly changing and updating. What works now may be irrelevant few months down the road. Also, there is no one way to attain the end result.
leverage in small business growth

Defining the unfair advantage

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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.

The impact?

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.

  • 1
    Landscape - 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]
  • 2
    Identify - 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]
  • 3
    Pivot - 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.]
  • 4
    Scale - 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 breakthrough entrepreneur

Results are on the outside

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“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.”

Peter Drucker

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.

johari window 2

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:

  • Activities you should stop or shouldn’t be doing, to free up your time on what’s more important.
    What are some low-level tasks you should outsource to others (such as virtual assistants, freelancers or part-timers) so as to make way for more important matters such as strategic growth of your business?
  • Activities you are not really good at, which others can do it more efficiently and more productively than you.
    Are there tasks which other can do a better job than you, saving you the time of trying to figure things out on your own that could end up costing you even more?
  • Things you don’t like to do. List down areas of your business that you don’t really enjoy getting yourself involved, except for selling because that’s the lifeblood of your business. These are things that you tend to drag your feet doing them.
  • What are the things you must do, because it is the area which you are uniquely talented at and they are the ones which give you the greatest leverage in your business?
    Refer back to what you had mapped out using the Johari Window, that will give you clues and patterns of your unique talents. This is the area where not only you are better than anyone else you know, it energizes you as well.

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?

  • 1
    The 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.
  • 2
    Trying 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.
  • 3
    Trapped 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.
  • 4
    Seeing 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.
growth fulfillment freedom entrepreneur

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. 

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