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  • Aaron Beashel

Tips to work on, not in your small business

When independent casting director Cinzia Coassin started her business, she offered two distinct services—workshops for actors and casting services to film producers.

She had years of experience as an actor and worked for casting directors negotiating film and TV deals and auditioning actors. Starting her own business gave her the income she needed but also the time to work on her own creative projects and films.

“I needed to find my own creative path and that’s what my business has given me,” she says. “It took me a while to nail down all the processes and marketing, but now everything is done at the push of a button and my business serves my creative life rather than earning a salary to serve other people’s creative vision.”

Coassin says her business relies more on intuition and authenticity than formal business and marketing plans.

“Because I love what I do, I find that my priorities shift as the market and business shifts so I’m always reinventing myself because I have the freedom to explore and adapt to change,” she says.

And this is one of the key advantages small businesses have. They are nimble enough to adapt, pivot and evolve to market changes faster than bigger established businesses.

Creating value in a small business

“Big businesses can be like an ocean liner powering through the ocean, not needing to worry about the small waves or storms of change around them,” says business coach Victoria Gibson, who mentors women trying to grow their own business.

“Smaller businesses are like little speed boats who can be hit hard by a big wave, but are able to motor fast enough to get out of the way and try new tactics.”

Gibson specialises in helping business owners adopt ever-changing digital technology to grow their revenues and dominance in their niche.

“There are so many more opportunities for small businesses to market themselves to a global audience or exploit new and unserved niches in today’s digital economy,” she says.

“It’s not a matter of having a website and some email marketing anymore. There’s so much more you can do to add value to your business.”

Face-to-face networking is still important, but so is social media – particularly paid and targeted advertising – in-person talks, special promotions and partnering with others.

“I find that a lot of people in business for themselves simply fail to make consistent offers that allow them to be paid regularly,” Gibson says.

“Some don’t even know who their target market is because they get so wrapped up in their special skill or talent.”

Gibson recommends doing a SWOT check on your business every three months if you’re losing touch with the market, clients and business trends.

“You can’t afford not to have your finger on the pulse of your target market,” she says.’

Improve your small business—work on, not in the business

The biggest advantage any small, creative business has is how well they know their audience or market.

The challenge is taking enough time and consideration to work on growing the business, rather than just doing tasks demanded by the business.

Most businesses fail to balance their operations and their opportunities—they get stuck spending all their time delivering

— Victoria Gibson

“If you’re no good at marketing or business, then either pay someone to help you or invest time reading up on it to improve.”

Gibson suggests some of the best business opportunities happen through face-to-face networking, amplified through targeted digital marketing.

She recommends:

– Thinking of promotional offers to upsell your services. For example, designers could offer a 30-minute consultation for a small fee to build a list of prospects who might later become clients. Photographers could offer a special $150 introductory package to take a headshot for people’s LinkedIn page.
– Brainstorming ways to package your services into a small online course or ‘swipe kit’ for others to buy through an online store on your website or a special offer published on a Qwilr page.
– Asking clients to pay you on a recurring monthly basis rather than sporadically invoicing at an hourly rate.
– Partnering with other people in your business niche who also target your market and coming up with a win-win offer, like a masterclass or workshop.
– Building your own ‘trust’ marketing channels on social media and developing an email list of people interested in hearing from you.
– Volunteering to speak at industry events, meet ups and conferences with a presentation that clearly outlines what your business offers and what you’d like the audience to do for you (follow on Twitter, sign up to emails).
– Ask for referrals from other business people and offer affiliate deals or revenue share with those who send clients your way.
– Making sure you have good analytics on your website and marketing tools to track your offers or promotions.
– Find business buddies that you can partner up with not only to have a whinge about what you’re finding hard, but also hold each other accountable and brainstorm new business ideas.

“Basically, you need to consistently promote yourself and make valuable offers to your clients, community or customers,” Gibson says.

Can you package what you do at a premium price or syndicate your services?

The other neat small business trick is finding different ways to package your skills and services, rather than simply promoting them.

Let’s take personal trainers as an example. They work in a competitive niche mostly earning money through hour-long fitness sessions paid for by clients who want to stay motivated and have a tailored plan.

These trainers are usually booked solid from 6am to 8am and maybe from 6pm to 8pm but during the day there isn’t much to do except train and polish up their Instagram account.

But what if that fitness trainer focussed on building a brand around their unique potato workout?

The trainer could still earn their early morning and evening income but spend 9am to 5pm writing content, making videos about their whiz bang potato workout and syndicating their services.

The trainer could then start a website asking new clients to sign up via email to get a potato workout cheat sheet for free. He could then email a special offer to his new subscribers suggesting they pay $30 to take part in a 6-week potato challenge that has a $2000 prize. Heck, he could even upsell to a $40 a month subscription for interested customers wanting first access to the new workout videos each week. You get the idea …

The personal trainer has now liberated himself from the hourly prison of face-to-face client training, and can syndicate his services.

At the same time, those clients who still love the hour-long early morning or evening training sessions must now book their sessions through an online calendar and pay a cancellation fee if they don’t show up.

Those face-to-face clients might blink and run the other way, or simply be overjoyed that they now get to work out with the potato fitness guru. It really doesn’t matter, because if he loses a face-to-face client, there’s a pipeline of new clients waiting to come in.

And that’s a goldmine for any business, big or small.

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