On today’s podcast, I got to chat with one of my business besties, Michelle Warner. We met in a very large Facebook group back in 2014 or 2015. While all the information was being shared back and forth, we exchanged messages questioning some of the information and sharing some of our expertise.
Michelle is a business designer and strategist. She believes in the mix of art and science that grows into a business. Most of her work is with businesses that have plateaued or aren’t growing the way they want. She works to get them to their next plateau or stuck point, but that’s what businesses do, they grow in iterations. Businesses need to find alignment, and Michelle works with business owners to figure out where they are out of alignment and get them back on track.
I love chatting with Michelle because we both understand that leaving your 9-to-5 is complex and exhausting but also satisfying. Michelle started her first business in 2008 and has been in different versions of tired since then. On the pod, we chatted about marketing strategies and common places where businesses are misaligned to help you rethink your marketing strategy.
Employ a Sequence Over Strategy Mantra
Both Michelle and I have spent the last decades watching business owners in the online space. Even brick and mortar have an online presence with mobile phones. It’s taught us both so much. Michelle uses a sequence over strategy mantra. The sequence of business is important because 99% of people are doing things out of order.
Michelle makes fun of herself as a business strategist because she believes you can throw the strategies out the window. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing or how well you execute if you’re going it in the wrong order. It will insert noise into your model. Michelle focuses on the fundamentals of Harvard’s five stages of small business growth. You must follow the stages in order, or you will throw your energy away on the wrong things.
Many education programs are available about how to do specific pieces of your business, like TikTok, email newsletters, etc. People might be doing them perfectly, but it’s not going to matter if you aren’t doing them at the right place in the sequence.
Let’s look at a common example. Stage two is sales. You need to have predictable and repeatable marketing and sales. Stage three is your foundation and operations, it’s all about building up your core team and SOPs. Many people skip stage two and go right to stage three. These businesses are writing processes and training teams without understanding if these processes will even sell anything.
Another mistake many business owners make is staying in the first stage, which is validation. Perfectionists want everything to be perfect but then have to make changes at the next stage. Just ask yourself if your product can be useful and move forward.
Issues With Marketing Information
The majority of the material taught online is essentially busy work. It focuses on ways to get people out of doing what they need to do, which is to spend 85% of your time on sales and business development. The rest is just a distraction and allows you to avoid the only thing that will make your business viable.
Marketing strategies are easy to teach, and people think they need this, so many people are doing that. It actually just puts a barrier between you and the person you’re trying to sell to. You’ll avoid direct conversations with people, which are most important early in the process. These strategies are causing noise in your model.
We both work with service-based business owners who are selling a premium service because they have true expertise and qualifications. It takes a while to deliver. It’s people who are selling more business to business. Many of our clients are trying to use business-to-consumer (B2C) strategies instead of business-to-business strategies (B2B.)
Find the Right Place on the Marketing Continuum
Marketing has so many strategies, and it’s easiest to view them as a continuum. On one side, you have relationship strategies, like getting referral sales and connecting with prospective customers on a deeper level. The other end of the scale is the traffic strategies, like mailer coupons that are sent to the masses.
No matter where you are on the continuum, you’ll go through three stages of marketing:
- Awareness – people need to know you exist
- Engagement – people need to like you
- Sales – you need people to buy something from you
If you stick to the right-hand side of the spectrum (traffic), you’ll need a high quantity of leads, and they will be low-quality. It’s like trying to get a boulder up a mountain. With traffic strategies, you’re trying to shove as many people as possible through awareness and engagement and working extra hard on the sales piece. An example of this in the online space is the ticking time bombs of countdown timers used to help get somebody over the line in a traffic funnel.
On the relationship side, it’s more like a snowball running downhill. You work really hard at the awareness stage instead. Have a big impact on people when you first meet, and then it’s a high-quality, low-quantity game.
Relationship marketing strategies aren’t the ones that many online classes cover, so it’s easy to get confused. Mixing these up and using traffic sales techniques on sales that should move through the relationship funnel is when sales start to feel gross. Trying to shove a relationship sale through the traffic funnel is very misaligned. You have to know what marketing strategy aligns with your products.
You can sell almost anything B2B these days. Companies are looking for executive coaches, sales coaches, life coaches, or anything similar that benefits their teams. I see consultants who are coaching on team development, and they are hosting Facebook Lives for 30 minutes. Do you know who watches 30-minute Facebook Lives? Not the people you want to be marketing to. It’s misaligned traffic because you’re putting a relationship product into a traffic spectrum and then wondering why people only buy when you give them deadlines or you’re getting too many people saying they can’t afford your services.
Social media companies work to keep us on their platforms so they can make more money on advertising for products people aren’t even going to buy. It’s too much noise on too many spectrums. By focusing on the relationship, you’ll understand the actual urgency and don’t need to create fake urgency.
Practice Borrowing Audiences to Build Relationships
Michelle talks about borrowing audiences as an effective strategy. This means you’re connecting with groups of people connected with someone you know and getting a warm introduction. People aren’t finding you as part of an algorithm, you’re inserting yourself into their world. You’re asking yourself, “Where are these people, and where can I go and insert myself into the conversation that they’re having? Where can I go and meet them?” You’ll have a much easier time earning their trust.
This podcast is a great example. Listeners know what to expect from me when they tune in, so there’s already a bit of trust when guests come on. This is a better spot for Michelle to be introduced to new people than if they just stumbled upon a blog post. I’m able to introduce you to Michelle and share my experiences with her to build even more rapport.
Compared to most of the online teaching I’ve found, which is more passive, I teach proactive sales. Sales take a lot of emotional intelligence, skill, courage, and the willingness to fail. Online is inbound sales where you’re just waiting for leads to come to you. It will take a very long time if you only rely on that. Michelle and I are believers in outbound and proactive work.
I’ll admit that sometimes, I get complacent, especially when things are going well, or with COVID, I sleep on some of my outbound activities. It’s a skill that needs to be constantly redeveloped. I’ve been experimenting with getting back out and working on the other legs of my stool. Getting out there and inserting yourself into an existing community can be beneficial in person or online. Nothing in the awareness stage of marketing should be done on your own platforms.
Michelle doesn’t use social media for business, just photos of her pup. I’m more active in my DMs, and I used to be active in Facebook groups. But paid communities are a good place to spend time. Find groups with 40 people or more and do some networking. These smaller groups will convert so much more than an Instagram post.
Avoid the Biggest Missteps in Marketing
Michelle works with so many unique businesses. The biggest misstep that Michelle sees is people using the wrong end of the spectrum for marketing. On top of that, it happens when people use relationship marketing and have to hit people with something generally helpful to make a lasting impression. So many people don’t use their expertise at that moment; instead, they are rattling off a top ten list or something clickbaity.
I have a great example of a recent interaction where I needed to grab someone’s attention at the moment. I met a wealth manager at a breakfast with 20 other people, an area I hoped to break into. I asked him what he is currently doing to attract female investors, which got the conversation going. My question was, “Did you know that $30 trillion in assets are going to be changing hands in the next three to five years from men to women?”
With this, I was able to follow up and share the research with him as a way to keep the conversation flowing. This example was specific, relevant, and a conversation starter. Say something interesting that makes them rethink, and then finish the discussion.
Final Thoughts and Advice on Marketing Your Small Business
Michelle’s final advice was that business owners should stop spending their time reading articles about the next social media fad. Take the 20 minutes you’d spend reading an article and research a specific person you’re meeting with instead. Use that 20 minutes to think about your expertise and stop dumbing down your message and marketing formula.
You just need to reach a handful of people. You don’t need to start a movement. Do the simple, but not easy, work of finding where your people hang out.
If you are an expert selling a premium service, consider your marketing and whether it reflects that business model. Are you in alignment? Follow the money. It feels good to be busy, and it feels good to be doing things, but it doesn’t feel good to be doing the precise nature of following the money sometimes because simple doesn’t mean easy.
You can’t Google the best place to find high-quality leads in less than 10 minutes. You have to do the relationship building, but it will be way more profitable than searching a haystack for needles with algorithms.
Connect with Michelle, and join her monthly Q&A roundtable, where she answers questions and chats more about these topics.
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