The most annoying business advice I ever received

In my courses, programmes and 1:1 mentoring I regularly teach small business how to market without social media. For many of them, the desire to quit social media has been with them for a long time—but they need the courage, strategy and support to actually make it happen. In this post, I share the 5 things I teach small business owners on how to market without social media. 

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In December 2018 I set up my first business website. I picked out a simple and clean WordPress theme, played around with colours and headings. I uploaded the beautiful pictures my partner had taken of me. I set up an about-page and a services-page. I added a way for people to get in touch. I pressed publish and waited.

And then? Nothing. Nothing happened.

Creating and publishing your business website is a big step. You’re showing the world who you are and what you have to offer. But very rarely does that step in itself automatically lead to enquiries or sales.

In fact, on publishing our websites for the first time, most of us just get crickets.

This is where the most annoying piece of business advice I ever received comes in. When I spoke to other business owners and coaches they all told me “It’s a long game. It will take a while for your business to get going. Probably even years”.

In this post I unpack that advice a bit more, starting with why it annoyed me (short version: because it made me feel powerless). I’ll also share advice on what to do if you’re just starting out in business, pivoting, adding a new service or product or are otherwise confronted with the reality of the long game. Because that’s the thing—the advice turned out to be true. Business is a long game.

Accepting the long game

Everyone who told me that growing a business is a long game was really well-meaning. What’s more, they were right—so right, indeed, that I now tell many of my clients the same thing. Doing anything, especially doing it well, takes time.

In education and in jobs, development and growth are structured: you progress from one grade to the next, from one skill to the next, from one role to the next, from one project from the next. In the day-to-day you probably don’t realise the steps you’re taking—and, because there is often this logical progression, it feels like you’re moving, like you’re doing something.

In the early phase of my business I often felt like I was not doing anything at all. Or that when I was doing something, it wasn’t what I really wanted to do: working with clients. I felt like I was swimming on dry land rather than in the water.

This is the phase in which imposter syndrome rears its head for many of us. When you find it nearly impossible to tell someone that you’re running a business. When you feel like a fraud because you’re not making any money. I vividly remember booking my first client, working with them for four sessions and then wrapping up with them. We both felt like we’d reached the end of working together and they’d reached what they wanted. But after that final call, all I could think was “am I still a mentor without clients?!?” (the answer is: yes).

What can make this phase especially hard is that from the outside looking in, it looks like other people make it overnight. And very occasionally they do (if you want a deep-dive into how jarring that can feel, read this post by Emily McDowell). But 99% of the time, we don’t see the hard work that has gone into someone’s business. The years they spent honing their skill, building a customer base or audience.

Most importantly: we can only ever live our own life, go our own path and our own journey.

Market your business without social media

Practical things to do while playing the long game

The “long game”-advice annoyed me because it felt like there was really nothing I could do at this point. In my most annoyed moments it even felt like I was somehow being penalised for being a new business. I had all of these amazing things to offer. I didn’t feel like such a rookie at all (at least about 50% of the time…)!

If you’re currently in the “long game”-phase, these are some strategies that can help.

We can compare ourselves to others and try to figure out what their secret is, but this will usually only make us feel bad (and, spoiler: there is no secret).

  • Do behind-the-scenes work. There is quite a bit you can focus on if you’re not (yet) working to capacity in your business. Some ideas for this phase: set up your website; decide on a newsletter, write blog posts; experiment with marketing; make sure SEO is working for your website.
  • Create a financial ecosystem. Depending on your financial circumstances you’re going to have to be making money outside of your business. As impatient as I sometimes was in the first stages of my business, I was also grateful for having another income and for not having to rely on this brand new business financially.
  • Reach out to potential clients and customers. As much as I don’t want us to work for free, it can be really useful to trial a new product or service and get some testimonials in exchange for a free session/product/whatever you’re offering. I did this a few years ago and very much enjoyed the experience. It also gave me confidence that I am wildly capable of doing what I want to be doing—and that I love it.
  • Get used to spending time on your business. Whenever you add something new to your life, you need to make the time to do it. Even though you might be still in the early stages of your business, use this time to get into the habit of spending time on your business, whether that means researching best postage options for your art, techniques to use while creating your jewellery or writing blog posts. Getting in the habit to making time to work on your business and discovering when and where you work best will serve you later on.
  • Experiment: when do you work best, and how can you work with your own rhythms and energy? How do you share and communicate with the world? Do you love writing about your business, or do you prefer to create videos, podcasts or still images? Approach this phase playfully and lightly—you have nothing to lose.
  • Reflect. Similar to the previous point, ask yourself what you are willing to do in and for your business. What do you feel comfortable with? What kinds of clients and customers do you want to work with? Do you want to sell your products wholesale, just through your own shop or both? Do you want to work with organizations and other businesses, only with individuals or both? Even if you don’t have any or many clients/customers at this stage, your feeling and intuition will be able to tell you a lot.
  • Listen and gather data. Even though in the early stages of my business I wasn’t working with loads of small business owners yet, I was speaking to a lot of them. I was reading their words, following their challenges and hearing their questions. Once I created a network and community for myself consisting of business buddies and my mastermind group I heard even more. But even without a community like that, you can gather data about what people are talking about, thinking and feeling. What kind of questions are they asking about buying art, for instance, or about caring for the knitwear they’ve made with your yarn? What kinds of services are people looking for, even if they’re not explicitly voicing it yet? This will inspire you in your work, but even more so, help you to create blogs, videos, posts exactly around the topics that your future clients and customers are interested in.
  • Get support. Running your own business can feel very lonely—especially if you’re trying something new, pivoting or just getting started. When it feels like the business only exists in your own head, reaching out for support is very valuable. Depending on your budget, you can start with physical or online business communities (like the ones paid subscribers to my newsletter Female Owned get access to), seek out other business owners to create your own mastermind group, or work with a mentor (like me!).
  • Root into trust and your inner compass. Keep coming back to the reason you started your business. Keep coming back to your enthusiasm and that little voice that tells you that you can do this. Know that you are the one who knows what’s best for your business.

An experiment

Take a moment to think or journal about these questions:

  1. What season of your business are you currently in?
  2. If you’re just starting out or pivoting, who can you reach out to test your product or service on? 
  3. How can you create a support network for yourself at any stage of your business?

If my newsletters and free resources resonate with you, I might just be the right mentor for you. I don’t believe in 10-step-plans, or get rich quick schemes. I do believe that it is possible to create and run a business that fits you and your life: your values and rhythms, your strengths and passions. I strongly believe that you don’t need to do all the things, or be on all the channels to make your business work. 

I’m here to help you feel more supported in your business. I’m here to give you the confidence to run your business from that place of deep inner knowing inside of you, offering my signature blend of mindset shifts and practical steps.

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