Marketing consultant Lynn Serafinn invites you to dive into six investigative questions to help understand your business at its core. Part 1 of a new series.
Traditionally, the New Year is the time when we make resolutions. Every year we make a plethora of nebulous promises that we’re going to lose weight, give up smoking, drink less, exercise more, etc. And just as traditionally, we joke about the fact that few of us actually succeed in bringing our New Year’s resolutions to fruition.
Nonetheless, I believe setting intentions at the beginning of a new year is important – especially for our businesses. But saying something like, ‘This year I’m going to increase my income,’ or, ‘I’m going to get more clients,’ is just as amorphous as all those ill-fated resolutions. While initially it can feel inspiring and even energising to do some ‘blue sky thinking’ about what we want to achieve over the next year, simply creating a feel-good vision is rarely enough to help us actually attain it.
As a marketer, I frequently tell clients that saying we want to increase our income or become an international best-seller is not enough. To give our vision a chance at success, we need to dig right down into the core of what lies beneath the surface of our understanding about ourselves, our business, our customers, our services and even our network of professional peers. One way we can get to that place, so our business visions and intentions have a fighting chance to WORK for us on a practical level, is to engage in rigorous self-examination. A great vehicle for this is the journalists’ practice of asking these six key questions:
Within these questions lie all the parameters of our business. However, they can only work if we are brave, patient and self-honest enough to get to the heart of each. Just as a good investigative journalist needs to probe relentlessly to make his/her story not only factual but meaningful, we business owners also need to examine many facets of these questions to make them meaningful, practical and feasible within our businesses.
Over the next few articles, I’m going to walk through each of these questions so you (and your team, if you have one) can do your own self-examination and start the coming year with the clarity and focus that can help you succeed in achieving your ethical business goals this year.
Because it is such a substantial topic, today I’m going to focus on just the first of these self-enquiry questions:
Defining the ‘Who?’ of Your Business
Most of us walk through our day-to-day lives operating upon assumptions that may or may not be entirely accurate. Our self-beliefs and beliefs about others often direct our thinking and actions at an unconscious level. While it’s impractical (and would probably drive us insane) to continually challenge our own assumptions, unless we give at least some periodic attention to them, we are likely to make decisions in our lives – and in our businesses – that backfire on us, without understanding why.
For example, we might have spent months (or years) developing a wonderful new product, service, course or book, but when we go to launch it is an indisputable FLOP. So, what was the error? Is the product ineffective? Is the branding off the mark? Did we get the marketing wrong? While asking these questions might highlight some superficial flaws in our product or marketing, the issue often has to do with our maintaining out-of-date beliefs about the different levels of ‘Who?’ of our business, namely:
- Who are you/your company?
- Who are your customers/clients?
- Who are your partners/collaborators/support/suppliers, etc.?
Let’s look at each of these levels in turn.
WHO #1: Who are you/your company?
First and foremost, it’s vital to take a moment at the same time every year (it doesn’t have to be in January, after all) to reassess who you and your company are NOW, compared to the previous year. Initially, you might say, ‘I’m the same person/company I was last year.’ But, whether you are aware of it or not, you have inevitably changed:
- Your experience has changed.
- Your circumstances have changed.
- Because your experience and circumstances have changed, your outlook has changed.
- Because your outlook has changed, your desires have changed.
Even if all the above has occurred in barely noticeable micro-increments, the sum total of all those little changes may have created a big shift in your bigger vision. However, you may have yet to acknowledge it. After all, change can be a scary thing. If you remain oblivious to these changes and simply plod on in the coming year the same way you did the previous year(s), you might be working to an obsolete ‘you’ and not be taking full advantage of the ‘you’ you have now become. Perhaps you have not yet incorporated your new experience into your product offers, and are losing potential new customers as a result. Perhaps you are working to priorities you set in the past, but find yourself wondering why you don’t have the same drive or enthusiasm you had two years ago.
Defining who you are in the present tense can sometimes mean letting go of old dreams and pre-conceived ideas that are no longer working for your company. Understandably, this can ‘rattle your cage’ a bit; you might feel disoriented, disappointed and overwhelmed. You might even feel like a failure or a fool. You might experience grief or a sense of loss. But once you get past these normal responses to change, you will see that your decision to let go of obsolete definitions of your identity can open up entirely new possibilities for you and your company.
WHO #2: Who are your customers/clients?
Taking some time once a year to ask the question ‘Who are my customers/clients?’ is equally important. Again, many of us THINK we know the answer to this question, when in reality we have either superficial or outdated notions. Just as you and your company will have changed over the past year, the same will be true for your client base:
- You might be serving similar clients but with a higher (or at least different) level of needs, perhaps owing to your increased experience over the past year.
- You might be serving a more specific sub-category of clients, and are gaining a reputation in that area.
- You might have expanded OR narrowed down your demographic pool (by age, location, gender, etc.).
- Changes in the economy, technology or even the political climate may have shifted what your clients need or want.
- Your client base might have shifted organically due to an increased volume of referrals in a specific area or niche.
- Conversely, you might have found yourself turning away certain kinds of clients (or getting into ‘difficult’ communicate quagmires with them), without taking time to understand what it is about them that didn’t work for you.
Changes to our client base don’t necessarily mean we have ‘lost focus’ in our business. However, it is my observation that when we have an amorphous idea of who our customers really are, we tend to allow our customers to determine our direction to such a degree that our business can lose its identity and cohesiveness. Conversely, if we maintain a fixed, rigid idea of who our customers are – ignoring, resisting or even resenting the inevitable and natural changes that occur over time – we will soon feel like a salmon swimming upstream, only to die of exhaustion (or, in our case, eventually go out of business).
This is why one of the first questions I ask my marketing clients is, ‘Who is your audience?’ New clients will often respond with a list of external demographics, e.g. ‘women between 35 and 50 with some college education’ and so forth. While these kinds of stats have their usefulness, they fail to provide you with enough information to give a true picture of who your customers really are. Without this depth of understanding, your brand is unlikely to have a clear identity and you will be less likely to attract the kinds of clients you ‘should’ be serving.
When I say you ‘should’ be serving a particular kind of client, I mean there are certain personality traits and prerequisites that contribute to making a client more likely to succeed and be satisfied with your products/services. Again, to reach a point where you understand what those traits and prerequisites are, you have to get to a deeper level of questioning than mere demographics can provide.
For example, these are the defining criteria of our clients here at the 7 Graces Project:
- They are micro-business owners (often sole traders), possibly with out-sourced support staff.
- They run an ethical, service-based business that helps individuals, communities or the environment is some way.
- They have been in business for at least a year (hopefully longer), and have a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses. In other words, they have reached a level of ‘conscious incompetence’, where they ‘know what they don’t know’.
- They desire to promote their business, but they don’t want to resort to cliché hard-sell tactics.
- They would like to make all their products and/or services work cohesively in their business.
- They TRUST our company to help them! While they ask lots of questions, they don’t continuously challenge, look for faults or try to micro-manage things they don’t understand.
- Their business has the potential to generate a sizeable percentage of their income via their online activity. In other words, if they are a local osteopath drawing upon a small, geographically-based audience, we’re probably not the best match for them. However, an osteopath who has developed training videos, written books or who can offer some kind of services over Skype, might benefit from working with us. Similarly, someone who is looking to organise a speaking tour or be on national TV or radio would be better off going with a PR firm, whereas someone who is looking to set up online events (webinars, telesummits, etc.) or an Internet radio tour might be a good fit for us.
- They might not understand social media, but they are not resistant (or scornful!) towards it and are curious to learn how to make it work for them.
- They enjoy expressing themselves through the written or spoken word (blogs, books, e-books, webinars, video, etc.), and already have at least some experience with one or more of these media.
Defining the pre-requisites of our clients (in particular, the last three bullet points) is as important as defining their qualities, desires, etc. Speaking from experience, whenever you ignore this aspect of your client profile, you will be prone to saying ‘yes’ to anyone who calls you up. Sometimes it will work out fine, but often the mismatch between you and the client will result in frustration, leaving all parties feeling as if they have failed.
So when you ask yourself, ‘Who are my clients/customers?’ don’t take it lightly. Go deep. Then, go deeper. I really cannot stress this enough.
WHO #3: Who are your partners/collaborators/support network, etc.?
One question many newer business owners fail to ask is, ‘Who are my “allies” in this wide world of business?’ In other words, who are my potential partners and collaborators? Who comprise my support network of peers?
Being able to answer this question is what will take you from feeling like a lone wolf to an established brand in the business world. Ethical business success is impossible inside a vacuum; isolation, lack of transparency and competition are the cornerstones of the ‘old school’ and have no place in the new paradigm of business and marketing. Networking with – and actually making time to get to know – other professionals related to your industry is essential. It is from this pool of peers that you will find a wealth of ideas, connections, solutions and possibly even some business collaborations.
Here’s the big bonus: once you’ve proven you are a trustworthy person, whose work is full of integrity and who treats others like human beings instead of vehicles to advance their own interests, your network of peers will become a resource from which a large portion of your referrals will come.
There are many business networks that attempt to create these kinds of connection artificially, via weekly or monthly meetings. Some of these groups even have mandatory reciprocity, in which they are required to exchange referrals in order to remain in good standing. In my experience, only a small percentage of members of such networks manage to create strong ‘power groups’ within the larger group. Apart from these isolated examples, as there is no shared professional interest or value system amongst the members of the larger group, there is little potential for authentic partnerships to emerge within such an environment.
The new paradigm marketer creates his/her own partnerships organically by watching and listening (often via social media) and then reaching out personally to explore whether or not they ‘click’ with the other person. Over time, they also help facilitate partnership between others in their extended network. Those who understand the new paradigm also understand there cannot be ‘rules’ around reciprocity. Giving referrals to someone else must arise from a genuineness of spirit; we must believe fully in the person to whom we are referring a customer, and we cannot do it with the expectation of receiving something in return. Of course, true friends will support and help each other anyway, without feeling the need to ‘keep score’.
To start addressing the question, ‘Who are your partners/collaborators/support network, etc.?’ ask yourself:
- What interests, values, attitudes, outlooks and personality traits do I most appreciate in others? Which do I find abhorrent or distasteful?
- What qualities do I most respect or admire in others? What qualities put me off?
- What professionals do I know who are in the same (or closely related) industry as I am?
- Which of these do I respect or admire the most? Why?
- Which of these are the closest match to me in terms of the interests, values, attitudes, outlook and personality traits I most appreciate?
- Of those I listed in answer to the previous two questions:
- What is my relationship like with them right now?
- Which ones are already close to me?
- Which did I used to know, but have fallen out of touch with? Are they still on my ‘A-list’?
- Which ones would I like to get to know better this year?
- Which people in my network are the furthest from me in terms of interests, values, attitudes, outlook and personality traits? How much energy am I putting into cultivating a relationship with them? How is this working for me? (Clue: Ask yourself if you’ve been spinning your wheels trying to curry favour of big celebrity or brand names rather than deepening relationships with people with whom you actually have something in common).
- If I ‘cleaned house’ and stopped putting energy into dead-end connections, how much time, money or stress would I be able to free up?
- If I started putting attention into fresh, vibrant connections, what kinds of collaborations might open up for both of us?
- Who can I introduce to one another, so they might benefit from their alliance?
If you’ve read the book The 7 Graces of Marketing, you might recall my definition of marketing is ‘the act of communicating that we have something of value to share’. Marketing has nothing to do with how clever we are. It doesn’t even have anything to do with selling. It does, however, have everything to do with the interaction between ourselves and others:
- Unless we know who we are, we cannot speak with authenticity; without this, we cannot market ethically or effectively.
- Unless we know who our customers are, we cannot address their needs; without this, even the slickest marketing campaigns will fall on deaf ears.
- Unless we know who our support network is, we will be working and marketing in a bubble; without the help of others, we will burn out and fail to achieve all those bright shiny goals we resolved to reach at the beginning of the New Year.
So even if you’re reading this sometime in July, if you haven’t spent any time over the past year reassessing the big ‘Who?’ question, put the kettle on, get your team together and take out your flipchart, your notebook or whatever helps you generate ideas. Print out this article and go through these three questions. Then, be prepared to see yourself, your customers and your network in perhaps in an entirely new light.
Let me know how you get on with this. I’d love to hear your comments.
And if you’re looking to create a comprehensive portrait of the ‘who, what, when, where, why and how’ of your business this coming year, drop us a line via the Contact form on this site, and enquire about our new
The ideas I’ve been sharing are inspired by the work I do with my clients. If you’re an independent business owner looking develop the ‘who, what, when, where, why and how’ of your business and marketing, I invite you to explore our 7 Graces Business & Marketing Strategy Packages:
- Our 7-Week Business START-UP Package – for people with a seed idea for a new business, but who have little or no experience running their own business.
- Our 13-Week BRANDING & Copywriting Package – for people with some business experience who either want to solidify their brand OR change their brand direction.
- Our 13-Week PLATFORM BUILDING & Growth Package – for established business owners who want to build their online presence, increase their blog traffic and grow their Twitter following. This can also be used in combination with one of our product development packages.
- Our 13-Week FOUNDATIONAL Product Development & Copywriting Package – for experienced business owners with well-defined platforms who want to develop a new ‘signature’ product line, including pricing structure AND have professional marketing copy made for it.
- Our 26-Week (6-month) COMPREHENSIVE Product Development & Copywriting Package – for experienced business owners with well-defined platforms who want to develop a range of new products, including pricing and copywriting, PLUS explore long-term marketing plans and collaborative partnerships.
- AUTHOR services – we also have a variety of services just for authors, including full-service Amazon book launches, wholesale copywriting, virtual blog tours and other marketing services.
- ‘A la carte’ services – Many of our other services can also be purchased ‘a la carte’ (although the package prices are always lower for the equivalent service). Some a la carte services have fixed fees, while others will vary according to the complexity of your particular project.
On that page, you’ll also find downloadable PDF information packs, so you can read about each package in your own time. If you like what you read, and you’d like to discuss how we might work together, follow the link provided in the info pack to set up a FREE 30-minute consultation.
Of course, if you have any questions before you do that, don’t hesitate to drop us a line via the Contact form on this site.
Lastly, do be sure to subscribe to this blog so you can receive the other articles in this series, when we’ll explore the next 5 questions every business owner should ask at least once a year.
8 January 2015
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Find out more about how changing the paradigm can help make the world a better place:
The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell, by Lynn Serafinn, where you can learn how the 7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Graces impact the world through media and marketing. Brit Writers Awards Finalist eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian & Ecological Social Issues
Tweep-e-licious: 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market Their Business Ethically by Lynn Serafinn, which can help you learn how to create meaningful collaborations through Twitter and other social media. eLit Book Awards Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.
Get instant access to a free 90-minute Twitter marketing class at http://tweepelicious.com
The Social Entrepreneur’s Guide to Successful Blogging: An Effective, Creative & Ethical Way of Marketing for Visionaries & New Paradigm Business Leaders. To receive an update when that book is available, just click here. As a thank-you gift for showing your interest, you’ll get instant access to an exclusive, free 5-page PDF revealing the exact same blogging template we use with our clients and we teach to participants on the ethical marketing training courses at the 7 Graces Project.
LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketing strategist, social media expert, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales. Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors.
Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project, created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.