Market it, then make it.
Client: “Lindsey, I think I want to start a business.”
Me: “Okay, amazing. What do you offer?”
Client: “Well, I find that a lot of people struggle with [fill in the blank] and I can help them with that.”
Me: “Love it! Have you worked with anyone this way before?”
Client: “No. Because I don’t have a business name picked out and I probably should create an LLC.”
I have this conversation all the time with clients. They think in order to have a conversation with someone about their business idea, they need to have the perfect logo or an LLC.
Believe me, I get it. It’s a LOT scarier to email a list of 10 people and say “hey, I’m offering X and if you know anyone who is looking for X, send them my way!” than it is to play on Canva or peruse 99Designs to see if someone can capture your uniqueness in graphic form.
Here’s the thing, one day you WILL need a logo. Just not yet.
If you haven’t had a practice client or customer, you’re not ready.
Why is a practice client so important? Well, they give you 2 very important pieces of information:
- YES, you DO want to spend your precious and finite time providing people with this service.
- YES, someone out there DOES want your service.
OR NOT. You may find that your answer is NO to either or both of those statements. And how lovely to know that now before you spend time and money building a website you may never use.
But in order to find a practice client, you must start talking about what you do (aka marketing).
Market it, then make it.
The concept “market it, then make it” is something I learned from the book Expert Secrets by Russell Brunson. Brunson has built a following of over a million entrepreneurs and popularized the idea of sales funnels. I *highly* recommend the book to any new entrepreneur (even if you’re thinking about starting a biz) – he will send you a free copy, you just cover shipping.
The idea goes like this:
- create the marketing content (this is you educating on an idea, whatever it is you offer, etc.) and no, it doesn’t need to be perfect)
- put it out there (say the words)
- see if anyone is interested (gauge reaction)
Here’s the caveat: you’re not spending a lot of time. Because you’re not yet fully designing your business and/or service.
I’ll give you an example.
Last May, I offered a webinar on decision making. (You attended? Awesome!)
Before Expert Secrets, I would have spent hours making my presentation, practicing, telling myself the content probably wasn’t good enough, and THEN maybe mustering the courage to advertise it. After Expert Secrets, I decided to take my best shot on the topic I thought would resonate most (ahem, decision making), came up with some words I thought would grab your attention, and put it out through my marketing channels (Facebook, a small email list I had, and LinkedIn). And what happened? People registered! Way more than I thought would. What did that tell me? “Lindsey, you have a webinar to create!” Because I knew people wanted it. They registered, after all.
So how does this apply to starting a business?
Instead of focusing solely on one-time set up activities (e.g. conceiving a business name and logo, creating a legal entity, buying insurance, creating a flashy website, etc.), start talking to people about your services.
Even if your ideas aren’t totally baked, it’s okay. The goal is to see what resonates with people, including the words you use. This is the only way you will begin finding your audience and know whether people truly want what you’re offering.
Most common response to this piece of advice: “I don’t want to sound sleazy and salesy.” Then don’t sound sleazy and salesy! Make conversation about how you spend your time and what you love learning about. Hopefully those two things involve your new business. If the person is a good listener, they’ll ask you to tell them more.
Note: some services definitely need some of those one-time things set up (like insurance) before you start practicing. Look into best practices for your industry.
Not sure where to find those practice clients? Here are some IRL (in-real life) ideas:
- At a class, club or Meetup you’re going to for fun
- At your job (share what you do on the side) — this is what I did to find my very first client (hi, John!)
- At the next birthday party you go to with your kids
- At a professional event (it doesn’t need to be related to your service/industry)
Who should NOT be practice clients: Family and close friends. Promise. Those people can, however, spread the word about you so that a friend of a friend becomes a practice client. Give them a blurb about who you’re looking to help. (Remember that writing you did earlier?)
Okay, now that you’re out there talking to people, you may want to direct them online to find you. I’ll give you what I think are the very first steps to marketing yourself online.
Step 1: Decide what your online presence is going to be. You only need one channel right now and you want to keep it manageable. Options:
- Website splash page (meaning a single page website) – I talk more about this below
- Facebook business page (or use your personal if you feel comfortable)
- Twitter (again, can use your personal if you feel comfortable)
- LinkedIn business page
Step 2: Whatever you decide, time to do some writing (this becomes your content for whatever channel you decide on)
People want to…
- Get to know you (read your story, why you care about helping people in this way, see what resources you have to share, and what you offer)
- Schedule a no-strings attached exploratory call with you (use an free app like Calendly)
- Get your contact information – this includes your title
- Read a review or two (yes, I bet you already have testimonials you can use! Remember that practice client?)
Step 3: Find a high quality photo of yourself and use this for your profile picture. Again, don’t worry if it’s not the best headshot you’ve ever seen, but it does need to be high quality and up close. And see, no need for a logo quite yet! Use your face. It’s there and it’s free!
Step 4: Give yourself a title. When I started coaching, I called myself an “Accountability Coach.” I don’t use that anymore. Has anyone noticed? Nope! This is all changeable. Have fun with it! Research what others in your field call themselves. It’s okay if yours is the same. Your content and approach will be different.
When you’re in a professional service industry, it’s waaaay more important for people to understand what you do and what you offer than it is to have a fancy business name. How many times have you heard a business name and have no idea what they’re about?!
Looking for synonyms? Use PowerThesaurus.org for ideas.
Step 5: (optional) Decided you want to have a website? This is a whole other post and something I can absolutely help with. I’ve created MANY websites. As a Coach, I’ll give you a first next step. You need to decide what your url is going to be. Use your name. Or your title and a piece of your name. Or what you’re helping people with. Or your initials and what you help people with. There’s all kinds of combinations! Rabbit hole warning: this step can suck you in. Remember, whatever URL you decide doesn’t have to be what you stick with.
You can see what domain names are available by going to https://instantdomainsearch.com.
Once you’ve set up your website or LinkedIn or Facebook page or Twitter account…now you share it!
- Put together a list of 10 people (personal connections, mentors, professors, colleagues, etc.) and send an email to let them know that you’re looking for a client or two. Frame it more as a “Thank you” and celebration – recognize them for their contribution to your growth.
- Find 3-5 blogs you really like an offer to guest blog. Many of them have a submissions link.
- Update your Email Signature! Here’s an example:
Certified Negotiation Coach, Sounding Board, Activator
To sum it up…
These are the very beginning steps to see if you actually enjoy the thing you want to create as a business. If reading through this excites you, then that’s a pretty good indicator you’re into it.
If you get stuck, there are SO MANY RESOURCES out there for you, including me.
Discouragement is part of it. It doesn’t mean you don’t want to be an entrepreneur. It may just mean you don’t have the technical know-how to bootstrap the online part. You can still talk to people about your services. I know plenty of people who have thriving businesses without an online presence.
Another option is hiring someone who is excited about the technical part. “But it’s going to cost a lot.” Not necessarily. There are lots of freelancing sites out there now where you can get high quality help.
To be honest, I’m a total DIYer. I’ve set up my own SCorp, filed my own business taxes, built multiple websites and learned WordPress from scratch, managed my own social media for years, and have grown many email lists to several thousands. I know a thing or two after bootstrapping my business for 7+ years. Reach out if you find yourself going down a rabbit hole.
Still not feeling confident about marketing yourself? Take a look at this business card I picked up the other day:
I’m not picking on Ron, but c’mon. If he can put himself out there, you can too!