Those first small business steps–they’re not carved in stone
Oh, I know, there’s supposed to be a rigid formula you follow when you start any sort of business:
- A concept, tested by research and proven viable
- A set of offerings – product, services, knowledge, etc.
- Knowing your ideal client – the person your offerings are best suited for
- Setting up your business “stuff” and hanging out your shingle
- Doing marketing according to all the formulas available online
- Networking like a maniac, even if you hate networking
- Getting your first client(s)
- Learning from the experience and then
- Lather, rinse, repeat
And yet I know so many great people who did it all “wrong”:
My friend Sharla dreamed up a set of services that made life easier for local business owners – things she loved doing and was good at, and it seemed like lots of people needed them. She gave away some free sessions first, and completely blew people away. Soon she had her first word-of-mouth client, learned from the experience, went back and re-tooled what she wanted to offer, did a little research, then started marketing.
A pal in California has been coaching clients for years and still doesn’t have a business. He’s making enough money, healing the world, loving life, and thinks maybe next year he’ll print some business cards. Just to see.
Matthias, a designer I met in Mexico City, has had a steady stream of design clients since 2002, when someone in a cafe saw the doodles in his journal and asked if he could please help their nonprofit make a brochure. That client told the next, who referred the next, who referred the next. He’s far too introverted to turn people down, so this steady-supply kind of business works perfectly for him . . . he doesn’t want to be swamped with requests and doesn’t want employees.
As for me, well, I got my first client before I even knew I wanted to start a business. It was a friend of a friend who needed web design help. She became the blueprint for my ideal client. Some time around my third or fourth client (many months later), I made my own logo and website. I officially developed service offerings a year later and started marketing . . . somewhere around my tenth year.
For all of these people, the keys to beginning were very different from all of the ones recommended by the big gurus. They were firmly rooted in three basic actions:
- Visualize a person/population who you might want to help, someone for whom you have genuine empathy and respect.
- Brainstorm some ways to help that someone’s life be easier, happier, healthier, more connected, or more fulfilling.
- Find one person who fits your focus and your product/service, and approach them with an open heart and an authentic desire to help.
Have you been waiting to really move forward with your work, or struggling to keep going? Do you keep following all the popular advice and it really doesn’t feel right? If you’re afraid you’re not following the right dance steps, not stepping in the right footprints, maybe it’s time to ditch the one-size-fits-all programs and let your heart lead you to something more authentic, more solid.
Shake it up. Do it another way—a more personal way.
You might really be surprised. And you might have fun.
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Margaret, I, too, started a business I didn’t know would become a business until much later. Back in 2007, when I was a freelance writer, I created and began presenting (at a rehab hospital) the first journaling program specifically designed for people with brain injury. I had no experience with facilitating a program like that, but I had cared for someone I love dearly through his brain injury experience and had learned a lot. I was already a journal-keeper myself. So I did some research and it all came together. A few years later, the people in my groups so inspired me with the honesty and courage in their writing that I decided to become a certified journal facilitator. And now that’s my (small) business that’s really my calling. I no longer work in the brain injury field, but now am certified as a Transition Writing Specialist and do programs about writing through transition. I love it! And I am so grateful for the meandering and mysterious path that led me here.
Barbara, I have always loved your story and its meandering but very clear (and important) path. You are so great at what you do!!