I’m often contacted by lovely people who are worried. Their small business isn’t taking off the way they’d hoped. They’ve listened to all the business gurus’ podcasts, they’ve “followed their bliss” in creating their business, they’ve taken all the right 30 day challenges and ‘free’ webinars, and still, they can’t seem to get enough clients. (Or, sometimes, any.)
My very first client came to me as a bit of good luck: She knew of me through my former employer, and at that time there were very few people who knew how to make websites.
My second, third, and fourth clients found me in sequence solely on word of mouth: “You’ve got to meet this woman.” I had what was—at the time—an unusual way of working with people. My process was to sit down with them, either in person or by phone, and let them talk about their dreams for their work, and scribble notes furiously.
Here’s what I generally observed as common to them all:
They really believed in what they were doing, and wanted good people everywhere to know about it.
They often were besieged with self-doubts but were pulling together all their courage to get through it.
They were afraid of the technology but willing to walk its path with the right someone…someone who “got” them and wouldn’t steer them wrong.
There was no magic there. I just listened. I didn’t “listen to respond,” no matter how sure I was about what they needed. I did ask some encouraging questions about what they were hoping to create, but then I let them do most of the talking. I sat on my end of the phone with a pencil and listened, putting people at ease, just by being usual my kind, funny self.
So many folks are moving into self-employment without that vital piece of the puzzle. They speak, they offer, they assume, they try to ‘solve,’ but they often don’t make opportunities to truly listen to their people. After all, if some superguru says this is what people need, then it’s GOT to be safe for us to build an entire business around it, right? The perfect offerings, “charging what we’re worth,” and clients will simply load up our schedulers to bursting. Then we’ll be successful, build that McMansion, and all will live happily ever after.
When that doesn’t happen right away, they will turn to more webinars, podcasts, incubators, worksheets, accelerators, trying to figure out what they did wrong, seeking the magic potion everyone seems to have.
One elusive magic potion to try is asking, listening, scribing the desires of the people you most want to work with. What’s missing in their world? What might help them create a new story for themselves? What are they comfortable paying for this help, and in what forms are they most comfortable accepting it? (such as a book, class, 1-to-1 session, retreat)
Building “listening structures” into every aspect of your business is critical to growth, no matter what size business we are, but especially solo practitioners like us.
So here are some opportunities—useful whether you’re just starting or have been at this for a while—to invite a conversation, listen deeply, and craft your business offerings accordingly:
1) Don’t assume you know what people need. Ask questions.
This seems so simple, right? But I’ve been shocked at how often it’s overlooked. It seems to be part of the bravado of mainstream marketing that we aren’t encouraged to simply ask, “I would love to help more people just like you…I want to create (less of/more of) (something) in the world. What kinds of things would help you the most?” Find your ideal people and ask it on Facebook, ask it in groups, ask it in local gatherings, ask it in your website’s contact page, ask it in your newsletter.
2) Stop talking until you listen.
The business heads are all about talking: Be bold! Tell people what you offer, over and over. Tell THEM what they need (if it’s you). Create offerings at one high price point, and tell them why you’re worth it. Set up a sales funnel so you can keep talking into their email until they buy. We’ve all seen it. If these are the marketing strategies you want to use, it’s not for me to criticize. But if you inform this process by asking, listening, and personally connecting with your ideal people first, you’ll be far more likely to attract people who will be loyal to you for a long time, rather than the ones who simply have a kneejerk reaction to your razor-sharp sales pitch.
3) Ask for thoughtful feedback every time you work with someone.
The key here is to create a safe space and extract a promise they’ll be 100% candid. (Hint: Email will get more response from introverts and sensitive people) What worked well? What would’ve been more helpful? Are they closer to where they wanted to be? Were they comfortable with the investment? If I were to offer X, Y, or Z as well, would that be interesting? Ask, without pressure, in a way that’s comfortable for them.
4) Be the one who cares more.
One of the very first things I do when I sit down at my desk in the morning is write a note to someone I’ve worked with (or done a free consult with), checking in on their progress, life, happiness. Note that this comes WITHOUT a sales pitch in my heart…I find that if people are interested, they will ask or go peek at my website to see for themselves. It’s part of the cycle of my business:
I care a lot about the people who choose to work with me…they matter to me, as flesh-and-blood individual humans, not as conversions.
I tell them that, and show them that.
They know there’s someone in the world who’s beaming personal, positive thoughts at them.
As a result, they’re more likely to think of me the next time they want guidance or help.
Data and products and marketing messages are plentiful these days; genuine, non-automated caring is still quite rare.
Be the one who cares.
5) Do everything–everything–from a place of love.
Yes, I do use “the ‘L’ Word” in business, and I am unafraid. When I connect with people, I do so because I love the possibility that I’m making something better, for a person or for the world. I love people who want to grow themselves. I love people who are self-aware. I love people who work for themselves and create something new and needed.
Your ‘loves’ might be different: You might love people who want to surround themselves with beauty. Or those who are struggling to make themselves better people. Or those who are trying to make relationships joyful again.
Whatever you love, place that at the center of everything you do, from accounting to promotion to service/product creation. Put a photo of them up in your office if you need a reminder of WHY you’re learning about Facebook ads, or doing your taxes, or writing an email newsletter.
6) Put daily listening activities on your calendar or reminder system
Nothing happens if you don’t make it a priority. Schedule a block of time in each day for listening, even if it’s just 15-30 minutes. Use it to write to an individual, ask for an honest review or testimonial, or survey your mailing list and ask what they’d just love to be offered.
If you are not open to breaking out of the popular sales-funnel wisdom of talk, sell, pursue, you may still succeed in business, just by virtue of the numbers game. People do all the time, and it’s just fine.
But if you want to grow a strong following of people who are loyal to you, who keep tabs on what you offer, and who want you to succeed, it’s a worthwhile experiment to build ways to listen into your day-to-day worklife.
Try it today. Pick one person—someone in your daily life, someone who’s shown interest in what you offer, someone who’s commented on a Facebook posting—and make a space to ask them what they think, what they’re going through, what their dreams are.
Then listen, and see whether you’re actually offering what they need…or what YOU need.
It’ll transform you, and transform your work.