I’ll let you in on a secret: my biggest career move was conceived out of the blue, in just one afternoon, over drinks. It doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, does it? And to those who know me, who know that I am a devoted planner with a passion for process, strategy, and spreadsheets, it could come as a shock. But sometimes the best moves are based on intuition and passion…and then later are shaped by analysis and planning.
My big move? Becoming a small business consultant. I had been creating and leading successful businesses for over 20 years. My peers had long been tapping into me for mentorship and guidance. I had the skills, drive, and experience – I just needed to package it into a business.
The thought of starting a business is usually daunting, and also exhilarating. Google “how to start a business” and quite literally you get billions (7.1 billion to be exact) of results. The plethora of conflicting advice, tools, guides, and to-do lists is overwhelming and, for many, often paralyzing.
People often stop before they start because they get bogged down by thinking about the big picture. As a strategist, I am a huge fan of big picture thinking! But remember, when you are starting a service business your first goal - your most important goal - is to get that one first customer. So redirect your thinking to focus on that first customer. Take advantage of the quick win; when you have social proof that what you’re offering is desirable, what seems daunting now will feel more manageable. Then you can start digging into the bigger picture and building an in-depth strategy.
Here is how I did it in one night:*
- Craft a basic pitch/mission statement
Write down the solution you are providing to your target customer. Your pitch will not be perfect, so release yourself from that pressure. Out of the hundreds of business owners I know (no exaggeration), not a single person created a pitch that didn’t go through multiple revisions while they simultaneously served customers. Use this template to get you started: I solve (X problem) for (target customer) so they can (long term goal).
- List your initial services
What will you actually do for your customer initially? Remember, this is your first basic offering. You do not have to decide what you will offer long-term, or list every service you could offer. What will you do for your first 1-2 customers? Take 30 minutes and write down what you can do for people. That’s basically all it is.
- Define your title
Business consultant? Health coach? Virtual assistant? Home organizer? You can likely come up with a simple title to anchor yourself. You may change it as you refine your offering and grow, but it is easier to secure that first customer when your title fits within their lexicon.
- Define your first target customer
Who will most benefit from your help right now? Defining your long term customer avatar is a key component of building your business strategy and marketing plan, but you can start by focusing on that first person and having a basic idea. That first night, I knew I wanted to work with women around my age who had started a business but needed help with strategy and organization. They likely self-identified as “not knowing how to run a business” because they came in with skills and an idea, but no business education or specific experience. What does your first customer look like? Personally, I prefer to focus initially on behavior over demographics, but you will eventually want to dig into both (just maybe not tonight!).
- Choose your service price
This will change. (Let me say that again: THIS WILL CHANGE.) Right now, you are creating an introductory price for your first clients. (Once you have experience under your belt, you will raise and refine your pricing; you may develop packages that better support your initiatives. Don’t think about that quite yet.) It’s important to let clients know that they are receiving an introductory or a pilot price, in exchange for your very best service and a testimonial afterwards. (Testimonials are your best form of marketing, but more on that later.) There is no exact formula to determine a price; there are many personal factors that you’ll want to consider long-term. For your first customer, take 30 minutes to research those who are offering similar services and choose a price somewhere in the middle, and then discount it (make sure it feels right for you). Pepperlane also offers support on developing your pricing – stay tuned for our next workshop.
- Create a basic online presence
I was grateful that I could fill out a Pepperlane profile for a small fee to host my initial web presence on a trustworthy site. A Pepperlane profile offers a turn-key format with powerful SEO. I entered my title, pitch/mission statement, a listing of my basic services, a paragraph about myself and my credentials, and listed my price as “contact me for pricing” to encourage conversation.
- Tell people!
The most effective way to launch your business is to tell people that it’s happening. You are not placing pressure on people to work with you. You are simply informing your network that you are now available to provide solutions for the people looking to solve a problem. Once I filled out my Pepperlane profile, I posted the link on Facebook along with a brief explanation (make it enthusiastic and confident) - within five hours I had my first referral who turned into a customer. Note: my first customer wasn’t a friend – it was a business acquaintance’s contact - she had seen me in action and knew what I could offer to her contact. You never know who might connect you! This is often the area that is hardest for new business owners – do not insert yourself into someone else’s narrative. Simply put it out there!
- Yes, you have certain obligations you must meet in order to serve customers. Download our free guide “How to Start a Business: Step-by-Step” so you can kick those elements into gear the next morning.
- Remember: you are seeking one initial customer. When you break it down into tiny bites, it feels much more manageable and less daunting than “I need to feed my family this year.” One step at a time.
- Get out of your head about it. You have skills that are valuable to other people. You can help people solve their problems. You can’t help everybody, but you can help your target customer. Mindset is important and do not let doubt derail you (that was for my benefit just as much as it was for yours – most people constantly work on mindset!).
- Get a cheering section! When you are feeling insecure and imposter syndrome is creeping up on you, having people in your life who can reflect your worth back at you is invaluable. (Click here to join our endlessly supportive Facebook group of moms building businesses – it’s free.)
If I could do this, anyone can do this. And as you’re ready to grow, use our community and tools for support – we’ve got you.
*Full disclosure: a glass of wine helped.