Direct answers are hard to come by these days–especially when it comes to business.
In my best Carrie Bradshaw voice–*glamorously exhales cigarette smoke*–I can tell you that’s partly because not much in life is certain, is it? Well, except for that your first kiss had too much tongue, that you’ll accidentally shrink your favorite sweater in the dryer, that saying “I’m not going to drink tonight” are famous last words, that nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m., that cutting your hair is always a bad idea, and that you won’t be able tell the difference between a $20 and $200 bottle of wine. Those things definitely are certain. But not much else.
But when you’re starting a business, sometimes you just need some direct answers, and drop the it depends act.
So I thought I’d take a moment to cut through the parade–excuse me, pardon me–and give you some of my own.
I get asked a lot of questions, every single day, in particular about small business, marketing & whether the men really do have mullets in Chile. (They do.) And I’ve formed some opinions over the years. And these are *my* answers. While they might not be neutral, modest, or even remotely objective, they are, at the very least, based on experience. And direct. No diplomacy here. Hell, I probably won’t even be tactful.
That’s for people who give a damn.
Q: I want to start a business/company/non-profit/brothel but everyone thinks I’m crazy for leaving the “safety” of my job–some people would kill to even have a job. Maybe I should just be grateful. But…I want more from life. HELP.
A: First of all, a non-profit brothel would be hilarious. Second, sack up and do what you want. You don’t ask permission to change your underwear, do you? Stop asking for permission to live your life.
Q: What if everyone’s already taken my idea? It’s already been done! Should I still do it? Or should I start a completely different type of business–even though it’s not really what I’m crazy about?
A: Everything’s been done, so stop worrying about it. Unless you’re inventing the world’s first calorie-free champagne (please, gods), whatever you’re thinking to do? It’s been done. So the question really becomes: How do I stand out in a sea of competitors doing the exact same thing? And the answer to that is to consider not what you do, but how you do it. It’s not so much about “differentiating yourself,” as it is branding yourself. (Not necessarily the same.) How can you appeal MORE to your target customer, and make them feel more like the person they aspire to be, through every single detail? Details count more than you think. In business, they’re never details. They’re doctrine.
Q: How do I set my fees/prices?
A: Let me tell you a little secret: Pricing is arbitrary. Get a feel for industry standards, and then? Go ahead and price it up a notch. There. Solved. Sherlock, step aside. The trick isn’t about knowing what it’s worth–it’s about knowing what it’s worth to your customer…and THEN, learning how to communicate that to your customer, and even get them EXCITED about spending the extra bucks. That’s called marketing. And that’s called the difference between the guy who charges $500/hour and the guy who charges $50. So what you really need to figure out isn’t what to charge–it’s how to market yourself in a way so that people would be fucking delighted to pay it.
Q: Do I really need to trademark my name & set up a formal company entity?
A: Yes. Ignorance doesn’t breed success. It breeds homelessness. Go here, instead.
Q: Is it better to use www.myname.com, or should I develop a brand name and use that, instead?
A: Unless you’re Oprah, nobody cares about you. (Yet.) Your name is not memorable. Nobody can spell it. That silent K is annoying. And it says nothing about what kind of business you have – or why you might have something to offer me if I stumble across you online. I don’t care that Danielle Laporte uses her name. Don’t forget she gained momentum under White Hot Truth, first. Stop letting your ego run the show, and think smart, instead. Develop a brand name that catches the right people’s attention. Until you’ve got momentum and people care about your name? Make a brand. You’ll need it if you ever want to grow outside yourself. And you should always plan for growth. (Sidenote: Using your name is common in the photography industry, because it’s a business that’s based 100% off a personal brand. If that’s the case for you, then this might be an exception. Though again, consider what I just said.)
Q: What if I’m a multipotentialite and can’t decide on anything because I have too many passions?
A: Stop using that word. Then start a hobby. Not a business.
Q: Do I need a niche? Or can I just be a catch-all company for life coaching, web design, and tire manufacturing?
A: First, stop it. Second, you can’t become known for something if you’re trying to become known for everything. In order to become known for anything, you’ve got to to pick something to hang your hat on–a style, a thing, a movement, a product, a service, a WAY–and then HANG YOUR HAT ON IT. If you had to pick one word that you’re known for, what would it be? For my copywriting company, that word is personality. What’s yours? If you can’t narrow it to one word, go back to the drawing board, pick up a marker, and draw yourself some pots. Soon, you may need them to piss in. <–Carrie Bradshaw wouldn’t say that.
Q: How do I get people to click on my stuff and read it?
A: Learn how to write headlines. By which I mean – think about what would grab a stranger’s attention–not your mom’s–and go from there. If you’ve written a post on 10 Lessons You Learned in 2013, do you think anyone who isn’t your mom is actually going to care? This is not compelling. Rather, repurpose that same material, and create a headline that’s going to resonate with people that didn’t give birth to you. What’s a theme that runs through those 10 lessons? Can you connect the dots for people, and then present it in a compelling fashion that makes for some intrigue? A headline that reads: “10 Things You Should Never, Ever Do If You Want to Survive The Beast That Is Entrepreneurship” is much more compelling than, “10 Things I Learned in 2013.”
Q: Do I need a blog?
A: Yeah, you do. It’s a wildly effective (free) marketing tool, and you need to stop being so god damn stubborn about it. It’s 2013. This is akin to asking if you need email. What you publish on the blog is a whole other thing–it doesn’t have to be writing. Think of Hugh from the Gaping Void cartoons – what does he send out? Examples of what he’s best at. CARTOONS. Try telling stories. Showing case studies. Before & after pictures. Quick ‘n dirty tips. Photos with funny captions. The only rule? Make sure it’s not boring. Also? Stop whining that it takes time. Of course it takes time. You’re running a BUSINESS. This is what it’s like to run a BUSINESS. Did you actually think you’d just lace up your roller skates, peruse a few emails, and the genius of your idea would just take off on its own? You did? That’s sweet.
Q: What do you think about work life balance?
A: I think we could all use some. But I have no idea how to get it. I do know it’s a lot harder than attending yoga class once a week. I used to think that non-stop hustle hustle hustle ’til your eyes bleed and your back aches and you cannot even string together one last coherent sentence was THE battle cry of the true business owner. Now I just think those people need therapy.
Q: Should I offer a free consult?
A: Would Seth Godin offer a free consult? If you’re worth paying, then you’re not giving away your time for free. Period. There are much better sales strategies than this big, ridiculous time-waster. Like marketing yourself well enough in the first place so by the time they get to the sales process? They’re already ready to give you–and only you–their money. (We’ll be releasing a new resource library in the fall; hopefully this will help you understand the how of a lot of these things.)
Q: What if I can’t afford a web designer? Can’t I just throw together a website on my own? A website is a website is a website, right?
A: Absolutely not. Your website is not only your calling card–it’s your one shot at making this work. If you can’t afford to hire a designer, do the next best thing and click here.
Q: What needs to go in my client contract?
A: How much money you’re getting paid, when you’re getting paid, how you’re getting paid, what happens if you don’t get paid, what happens if the client wants to cancel, what happens if you need to cancel, the fact that there are no guarantees, what the client’s responsibilities are, when those responsibilities need to happen, what happens if the shit hits the fan, and the signatures. Click here if you need to learn more about this.
Q: Why won’t any one hire me?
A: Because your website looks unprofessional, and your copy isn’t compelling enough. You also may suck on the phone.
Q: What’s the hardest thing about running your own business?
Q: Will I have grey hair before the age of 30?
Q: Why are pizza rolls the go-to frozen food of choice for business owners?
A: The crispy outer crust to inner fake pepperoni ratio and melty cheese ratio. They’re pillows of pizza. And while they might kill you, at least you don’t have to take the time to step away from the computer and actually do anything that isn’t contributing to your bottom line. Then again, eat enough pizza rolls and they’ll definitely contribute to your other one.
What other questions do you want a direct answer to? Ask me in the comments. I’m here.