Part One: What to do when your sales just aren't rolling in
First, a little backstory on what kind of businesses I run, and the kinds of businesses I've been involved with. I think this history is important to know, so you can see how my opinion has formed.
Currently, I run a business management and a hands-on technology support business. In the past, I had a local business where I installed internet, fixed cables, and built websites. This was over 14 years ago and since then I moved this gig online. When I ventured online my first online company was a website design and development business. It wasn't anything fancy and while I got to build some pretty innovative websites back then, most of whom are no longer around.
My specialty has always been technology, but I have also always worked in other people's businesses in a support capacity. This was how I learned about the technology and skills needed to run an online business. Back when I first started, there weren't 8 million courses available to help you learn how to run a business. You either had an MBA, or didn't, and just because you had one didn't mean you'd rock it anyways. Additionally, you should know that I'm a graphic designer and programmer, so I also run a Tshirt and web design/development biz on the side for fun (as an additional income stream). Throughout this transition to my expert status, I took on writing gigs and became a Virtual Assistant to help fill in gaps.
In terms of the types of businesses I've supported, they range from coaching (life and business) to services such as copywriters and politicians. I've seen the back end of both service and product based businesses. I've helped set up and design around 25+ e-commerce sites, around 30 or so membership sites, and over 200 service based websites.
Several times throughout my business journey, I have been the breadwinner and supported my family fully on the profit of my businesses. There have also been times where this wasn't the case and we were almost homeless because I couldn't bring in enough income. To say I've struggled would put it lightly. As I was going through these periods, I've identified patterns and things I could change to help my business do more than just barely survive.
What I can tell you with absolute certainty is that business is like an ocean, and depending on the weather, that ride can be smooth, or tumultuous. Things can change in a millisecond, but luckily there are a few things you can to help smooth things out.
When you are first starting out, (and even throughout your journey) I recommend having a way to still pay your bills without getting stressed. Due to several factors, such as the learning curve, startup funds, your availability etc, it can take years for your business income to become stable.
Start with your money, and not the money you hope other people are going to hand you
The reason? There are two things you need to do to get your business shit together. First, you need to get your mindset right, and second, you need to get your process right (more on that later). Take a deep breath and ask yourself, am I stressed over money right now? If the answer to this question is a resounding yes, you most likely have two things happening right now in your business.
1. You don't have a spouse, partner, parent, credit card, or savings account to bankroll your business and personal expenses. So technically speaking you are trying to to make money to pay your light bill, student loans, or simply afford groceries, rather than turn a profit. This kind of strain can put you under duress, and while there are a few cinderella stories about people pulling themselves up from the ashes of financial turmoil with one blog post, the reality is that's absolute horse shit for most of us.
2. You have a little buffer of income, or savings, to help you get things rolling but the sales just aren't enough to sustain you and you are worried. You bring in a little cash here and there, but you live hand to mouth, and feel like at any moment the rug will be pulled right out from under you. You exist on hopes, dreams, and coffee without ever really feeling like things will level out.
Both of these two people have something in common, lack of sales, but the first one is in more of a dire situation. The truth is, these two people are actually closer than you think and the second one is probably only a misstep or two away from being in the first one's shoes.
If either of these descriptions fit the bill for you, the very best thing you can do is take a good look at whether you actually have a business. To have a business, you have to have a 'thing' that is sought after. Every day I see new prospective business owners running through the doors of famous courses without ever really knowing how strong of an offer they have. They subscribe to the build it and they will come, or as I like to call it, take a shit on your life and step in it philosophy. It's literally guaranteed to lead most of the people entering the business world, down the path of depression and prolonged anguish.
DISCLAIMER: I won't go into my personal feelings about the perpetual online business hamster wheel because I've written about it a million times. I just want you to open your eyes and realize that half the advice out there is so generic, it's useless. If you take it at face value you'll never gain traction. You have to take what you learn, dissect it and apply it towards your situation, and even then you probably don't have enough experience to really do it in a way that will help you. Sometimes if you are lucky, later down the line you can use that advice so for now, just chalk that up to future adventures.
So back to your money. There are a few things I recommend for EVERYONE who falls into the two categories I mentioned above.
If I could have whispered one thing in my ear back then, it would have been to let go of the 'I have to be in business full-time' misconception.
The truth is you have to BE READY to be in business full-time so you can handle all the shit that comes with it. Everyone always talks about going full-time in their business as a milestone, and yet most of the people shouting about it on Facebook haven't really gotten to that point. So what happens at this point is they remove their safety net, and for some, they end up erasing their integrity and taking more risks 'just to survive'.
In other words, they get desperate.
When I look back, I would have absolutely slowed the hell down. Instead of worrying about selling to people, and constantly throwing spaghetti at the wall for sales, or feeling the fear of missing out on so and so's course, I would have done the inner work first. Believe me, no one buys two day old spaghetti that is stuck to the wall. You need to 1000% be the champion of the work you do, and have enough sense not to try and sell two day old spaghetti.
It's key to know how much breathing room you have because in order to go the distance, you need oxygen rich air.
Are you scrounging for pennies to buy food? Are you hiding from bill collectors? Is your financial situation putting too much pressure on you?
You have to know, deep down in your soul, that you can carry the weight of your finances and still do good work. If you are worried and acting out of desperation it just won't work. It will seep through your pores and make things heavy. So until your business is shelf stable, I recommend finding a way to bring in income that is separate from your business.
For me, this meant taking on VA or writing work while I was building up my reputation as the go-to person in my field. When I got my writing gigs (some of which paid crap tons, and some well, paid crap) I had never written for pay before. Sure I did a little tech writing, but that is nowhere near the same thing as ghostwriting. I started by writing 'sample' articles for a portfolio and pitched to 20 or so writing gigs per week. I did this religiously so that the seeds were planted and I'd have a plan B. Yes this was a lot of work.
Luckily for those wanting to go back to the workforce, there are a gazillion work from home jobs that range from customer service to higher level positions. Telecommuting seems to really be on the rise, which is kind of nice for those that need options. Keep in mind at this time in my life I was in an active PTSD episode so the options for 'work' for me, came down to doing anything that meant I didn't have to talk to someone on the phone or put on pants.
The second thing I recommend is getting far far away from having a poverty mindset. (If there is a better way to say this, someone chime in, but poverty mindset is my personal description of it for now). This one was huge for me. It caused me to undercharge FOR YEARS. I only recognized this fully when a client I had let go asked me why my replacements were asking 4 X's the amount I was charging her. My reply to her was "Because I'm stupid?". All I can do is shake my head now because by my estimate I helped business owners bring in over 4.9 million dollars in profits. I deserved a raise, but was I ready for it?
For me, getting my money mindset worked out made one of the biggest differences in my business. For over 7 years I complained near constantly about clients being late and instead of putting in boundaries, I just let it go and carried the burden because it was just what I did. This caused so much turmoil in my life, and in my relationships, and the tipping point came when we nearly lost everything and I put my mindset on the chopping block. I had to relearn what a healthy relationship with money looked like.
Thankfully through daily mantra's and affirmations, plus weekly money accountability with my BFF Copywriter Tania Dakka, and hanging out with coach Nathalie Guerin I learned that you attract what you talk about. As soon as I stopped talking about how poor I was I noticed a shift in how I approached and appreciated money.
One example of how I did this was I moved my family out of state, from our very inexpensive, rickety ass rental house, to a waaaaaay over my price range beach house overlooking the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year. The idea was, we'd bask in being waterfront for a few months, and essentially feel and live, the way rich people did. We did this by renting in the off season and paying LESS to live in this gorgeous house than we did in our little wood house back in the mountains. It was $1200 per month, all utilities included, with a million dollar view. Compared to our very run down house back in the mountains which was $700 a month + $600 for utilities for 1/5 of the space, and basically falling apart.
Before this experiment, we felt like our destiny was out of our control and that we couldn't change our circumstances. Things always looked doomed. I had to prove this wasn't true because I felt like we were just surviving and holding ourselves back from our dreams.
I became affluent, even before I even knew the definition of the word
No really, I actually had to google it.
Nathalie also taught me that I deserved to have an opinion, and ask for what I wanted. By overlooking this, and just going through the motions of "I have to have a business, because I can't face having a job" without ever really putting any heart and soul into what I REALLY wanted, I left my fate up to everyone else. I never felt like I deserved money, or nice things, or anything for that matter. I was a bundle of 'whatever everyone else wants' and I'll get the leftovers.
Coming from a family that struggled with money off and on growing up, I just assumed I'd always be poor and with that mindset, came several self-sabotaging moments. What I really wish I knew back then was that like attracts like, and if I would just have focused on abundance, and realized there as more than enough for everyone, and that I deserved to not struggle plus initiating the actions needed to change my life, it would have happened much sooner. The formula for me was shifting the mind first, and the actions would then produce better results...and they did.
With this mindset change came something else, the ability to see opportunities. In the next blog post, I'll discuss worrying about other people's money. I'll come back and link to it once it's finished.