On today’s podcast, I want to talk about this concept of an online business. I have spoken about this a number of times but I don’t think that I have really unpacked what I believe in a clear podcast episode. As we’re kicking off the new year, as new folks have been finding us, as many of you are deciding on the direction that you want to take your business, whether you are excited for that or whether you are frustrated by it, I think this episode is actually going to be really helpful for you.
I think it’s a good time for me to say I don’t believe in the concept of online business. I’m going to share why. This podcast is always here to help you think more critically and to give you a different perspective. I know that a couple of my clients who have worked with me, especially over the last year, have said that at first, it was difficult to take in this podcast or what I was saying because it was so different than what they had been used to consuming. It didn’t quite confirm their bias. I think it’s good that we challenge the way we think, that we take in content that doesn’t always confirm our bias, and when we are taking in content that confirms our bias, we should acknowledge that, “Hey, I like this piece of content because it confirms what I believe.”
I don’t believe in the concept of an online business. I believe in having a business.
I really don’t think that there is that much difference between what people refer to as an online business and what is maybe seen as a more traditional business, especially today when a lot of work is becoming more remote anyway. I have a business, my business has foundations. These foundations would work online and they would work offline. I always say I’m a basic bae. They are your basic fundamentals that you need to know in how to grow and run a business. You can apply them using online tools and you can apply them using tools that you might use in more of a traditional business landscape.
I believe that I have a business that is in this technological age using digital tools that allow me to do business virtually across the globe. I also really still enjoy going and meeting my clients in person whether that is in their offices, whether that is over a lunch meeting, whether that is doing a private retreat. I’m now doing private and semi-private retreats. If you’re interested in that, you should definitely reach out, nothing that requires a ton of travel and planning and a lot of people because of the time that we’re still in. But really looking forward to doing these private retreats because I do still like being with people in person.
When I meet people online, I like to build relationships with them off of social media. I like to build real, what I call real in real life, relationships with them. I don’t like relying on social media platforms as the only way to engage with prospective clients, or peers, or colleagues, or however you want to call that. When I meet people in person, if I go to a local networking event, I like to share ways for us to stay connected virtually because it just makes things more efficient. We can increase the number of touches that we make with somebody if we do it virtually. Through staying connected with them on our social platforms, or sharing that you have a podcast with them, or letting them know you have maybe a free opt-in that would be really beneficial for them, and sharing how they can sign up for that, that’s a great way to create this, maybe call it cross-pollination of people you know in your personal life and people you know in the online space.
I’ve shared this before but I remember when I was starting my business, it might have been about a year into me starting my business and my husband’s saying to me, “Hey, I think you really need to do more in-person networking. You’re much better in 3D than sometimes you come across on social media,” and I was not happy about that piece of feedback that he had given me. I threw a little tantrum about it because everybody else was making this online business thing work and why couldn’t I? I decided that I was going to be open-minded, not let my emotions or my ego cloud my judgment, and take into consideration what my husband had said to me. I went to a local networking event and, of course, I met the muggles—Listen, online is great. Yeah, it’s a really big place but it also makes it easier sometimes to find people who are like-minded and who are like us. We should absolutely use that tool for those reasons—I went to this networking event and of course there were some muggles there but there were also some non-muggles there.
There were also some folks who belonged to the wizarding world and through this networking event, that year, I doubled my business. I was able to actually translate that networking event back to me, doubling my business. The way I did it was that everybody’s complaining is like, “Oh, networking events, they’re so draining. They take so much time then you get to meet everybody for coffee,” and I just decided that I wasn’t necessarily going to meet everybody for coffee, that I had this advantage that I, at the time, had a free Facebook group. I was just going to let them know, “Hey, if you want to continue to connect with me, join my free Facebook group and let’s get to know each other. You’ll meet some other really cool people as well. We’re about to kick off. I was doing a book club—every so often, I host book clubs. I think I’m going to do it in 2022—I’m going to host a book club and why don’t you join us for this book club?”
That is really the strategy. It was a very simple strategy but that is the strategy that I used that year to really double my business.
I attribute it to getting out there in person, being around people, getting that real feedback, having those real dialogues because sometimes on social media, people aren’t really engaging with you the way they would maybe in person. We know that that in-person connection, that speaking from a stage, can really ignite and shorten the time frame it takes for someone to decide whether or not they want to work with you. It was an incredibly effective strategy. That is really where I decided, “Hey, I can merge both.” Well, I’m going to have a business. When I meet people online I’m going to build relationships with them “offline” and I meet them “offline.” I’m going to build relationships with them “online” and I’m going to create this ecosystem that allows me to stay in better contact in closer proximity to these folks. I have a business. My business house foundations that work online or offline. I have a business that in this technological age uses digital tools that allow me to do business virtually across the globe.
So much about online business to me—and this is my opinion, this is an opinion piece—is transactional, cheap, impatient, impersonal, and devalues the long-term relationships that actually build sustainable businesses. We’re giving people who might be new to running a business, or just starting a business, or maybe within the first three to five years of building a business, really the wrong impression that business is transactional like this, or impersonal, or people just like come in, and fly in and out of our programs, and people are program hoppers and so on and so forth, but that’s not actually how it is. My clients who run businesses in a more traditional space and are in the multi-million dollar revenue range have been in business for over 10 years. Most of them have been in business for 30 years and have long-standing client relationships that span decades. We just aren’t seeing that level of loyalty right now in the online space. It’s a real detriment to business, again in my opinion.
A previous client of mine, he’s a consultant and he runs a multi seven-figure business with very few clients but just very long-term relationships. There’s always another project they want him to work on. They always want him to guide them in some other way. He looks at his metrics for success around like if he’s been invited to the office, baby shower, or received a wedding invitation from a client, that to him is signifying this long-term relationship that feels good to him and what he wants to really be taking a stand for. Small business owners have traditionally relied upon a small tight-knit local network of other small business owners to thrive and grow. They do business with each other, they partner, they refer to each other because of their long-term relationships that go beyond commenting on somebody’s LinkedIn post, or just flicking through somebody’s stories, or maybe listening to a podcast but not taking action from it. There’s actually reciprocity that is happening for them that I’m not seeing happen as much or more selectively happening in the online space.
I think some people are really good at translating this to the online space. I think that most people don’t understand the importance of this and so therefore they’re not engaging in these reciprocal type relationships. I hear from people all the time that they’re doing something wrong if the majority of their business is through referral, word of mouth, returning clients, long-term customers, and that’s not actually you doing anything wrong, that is you doing everything right and that the online space is telling you that you’re doing it wrong because they want you to buy into the newest fad or tactic. But those are the things that have always worked. Now, do you still want to maybe cast a wider net? Do you want to look at increasing your traffic so you can increase your leads? Sure, absolutely, definitely a benefit of potentially using some online tools but that doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong.
As a matter of fact, I truly value businesses that I’ve been doing business with for a really long time who I can continue to call back over and over and over again. A perfect example is the people we use to paint our house. We outsource the painting of our house. We’ve been using this crew, oh, gosh, probably for a decade now. You don’t paint your house very often but I often do get asked by people, painters are hard to come by, painters who do a good job, painters who are clean, painters who are respectful of your home, are definitely hard sometimes. Painters that show up, are reliable, and just nice people since they’re going to be in your home for an extended period of time are often hard to find. I’ve recommended this person out to my dad, to my mom, to my neighbors, to my friends, and I continue to go back, and use the same person. I just messaged him the other day. My mom needs some painting done in her home. I said, “Hey, Craig. Are you still in the painting business? I know I haven’t talked to you in probably a year or so since you painted my home. A lot’s happened in the last two years. Let me know how you’re doing. Are you still painting homes? I have a job for you,” and he messaged me back. We’re so excited I’m going to get to see him. He’s going to give me a quote to paint my mom’s home.
Unless Craig is no longer painting homes, I would never not use him or never not suggest him to somebody else. This is a long-term relationship and I think about him whenever someone says, “Hey, do you need a painter?” I’ve given these examples before on my podcast. I think I’ve spoken about my dog trainer and I think I’ve spoken about the tutoring center where my kids go. This is really, really important that I’m going to start bringing in more examples of businesses not in the online space because I actually think we need to go back to some of that model and slow things down a little bit and really go back to basics and fundamentals.
If I zoom out, the reason why I’m having this conversation is that I’m genuinely concerned for the small business ecosystem, and what I’m seeing starts to transpire in the online business communities.
If we don’t have a profitable and sustainable business, we can’t do what small businesses were meant to do, which is create their own economy. I absolutely don’t mean this in like an MLM structure where everyone is in a Facebook group, all buying from each other. That isn’t sustainable for anyone involved and is actually a huge part of the problem in the online business space. Especially now, all of a sudden, everyone wants to be selling to women small business owners. I had a lot of this come up in the fall when people were looking to join The Bold Profit Academy. We were doing a lot of sales calls, asking them about their target market. Everybody’s target market is women small business owners, and I was like, “Gee, this is really interesting,” because the data says that 88% of women small business owners do not have revenue over $100,000. You’re trying to sell to a group of people that is the least likely to be able to sustainably afford what it is you’re trying to sell them. They’re also the most marketed to, especially in the online space, specifically in the online space.
If rule one of having a buyer is that they can pay you and you want to sell only to women small business owners, we might be bumping up into a legitimate problem. I’ve seen this with women when they join my program, The Bold Profit Academy, where there’s women in all different industries in there and they want to come in. They want to start doing business with each other. They want to hire someone who might be there to help them with their health. They might want to hire somebody in there to help them with their messaging. They might want to hire somebody in there to help them develop a podcast or something like that, but they’re like, “Wow, I don’t have the money to pay all these people. There’s so much opportunity to do business here but I don’t have the money to do that. I need to first start making the money so I can then go and not just support myself but as a small business owner, support other small business owners.” When everyone keeps selling incestuously to one another, we have a breakdown in how small businesses have typically worked.
Small businesses have always created their own economies but they can only do that when they are profitable and managing their cash flow well. Small businesses have long been looked at as the savior of a recessive economy. But when I look around what small businesses have become in the online space, I’m deeply concerned for the financial viability of the demographic as a whole. Business owners who have the cash to support themselves offer employment or contract opportunities, have the take-home pay to fuel their local small businesses or even branch out and support other small businesses like health coaches for your physical wellness, therapist to support your emotional well-being, gyms, yoga studios, and sports coaches purchasing holiday decorations or gifts from Etsy. Etsy is my new favorite platform. I am so bullish on Etsy. I love it. I’m obsessed. Their search feature is so good. You’ve heard it from me first, Etsy’s a big deal. Hiring a local contractor like I was just saying, like a painter to do work in my home, buying yourself flowers from the local florist, all of this, having family photos taken by your local photographer. This is only available to you if you have the income to then go and to create these opportunities.
We need you to be able to have the cash in your business to employ people, or to hire contractors, or to give yourself a healthy take-home pay that’s commensurate with your actual expertise, so then you can go fuel your local small businesses whether they support your business as a contractor, or you’re hiring an executive assistant from your local community, or you’re supporting small businesses that support you in your personal endeavors. When you remove yourself from the matrix of the online business space, you can see that the impact of running a profitable business goes way beyond the individual impact we might have through our actual work.
We need to zoom out and we need to consider how we can do better on a whole with the economies that we are involved in because when our businesses thrive, other businesses thrive. I’m seeing a lot more thriving happening with the businesses who are not sucked into this belief around, this is how online business is done. It’s actually a bit of a narrow perspective. I would like everybody to zoom out a bit and think a little bigger.
As you approach 2022 with growth in mind, check-in on the following points:
Are you unnecessarily narrowing your target market because you have limiting beliefs? Perhaps a limiting belief like small business owners will invest in themselves. Because right now, professionals who are working in corporate environments are making great money. They’re leaving jobs and they’re getting hired for huge pay increases. They need support too. They need coaching. They need support with their personal finances. They need support with their emotional and physical well-being. They need dog trainers. They need tutors for their kids. They need people to help them understand how to prepare for college, how to prepare their kids for college. There are so many opportunities when you really expand your view. I think that we can tend to get really myopic and stuck in an echo chamber.
What would it look like for you to identify as a business and not an online business? If you’re like, “Well, I’m an online business, that’s just what I am,” if that’s your belief, why is it important to you to call yourself an online business owner? Why are you attached to that line of thinking or that belief system? How would it benefit you to expand your business outside of the current echo chamber that you’re in? We all have echo chambers, whether you’re online or offline. When I’m consulting, I’ll walk into a company and I will sit in the boardroom with the executive team, that is an echo chamber. I’m in there to pierce that echo chamber.
If you’re a brick and mortar business listening to this—and I hope you are because I want to attract more traditional businesses into my space as well, like maybe a therapist, or an accountant, or an attorney—think not about how you can have an online business, because I know that this is attractive. I know that you folks are venturing into the online space, onto social media, onto the internet looking for ways to enhance what you’re already doing, looking to build some skill sets for yourself, and how you can be leveraging technology. If this is you, think not about how you can have an online business but how you can use technology to help you make selling and delivering your services easier.
If you choose to answer any of these questions—which I genuinely hope that you take the time to bust out your journal and maybe sit for a few quiet moments,15 minutes, set your timer on your phone and answer one of these questions—I would love for you to head on over to Instagram and find me @thetaranewman. Let me know which question you answered and what was your response. I’m really looking to start a deeper conversation on this, this year.