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:

  1. Visualize a person/population who you might want to help, someone for whom you have genuine empathy and respect.
  2. Brainstorm some ways to help that someone’s life be easier, happier, healthier, more connected, or more fulfilling.
  3. 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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My actions are the ground on which I stand

My actions are the ground on which I stand. —Thich Nhat Hanh

I’ve been living in the world of words lately. As I try to grow this budding new “business” of mine (though that doesn’t seem a good description of it) I spend hours and hours writing, researching, listening to words of wisdom, and exploring.

I was talking with a client the other day who has been working on trying to build his business for some time. He has wonderful systems in place, a good vision statement, and beautiful product & service offerings designed.

And not a single client to show for it.

He’s been building the business in his head for a year. Building a website but not publicizing its existence. Building his expertise but not inviting anyone into it. His training is impeccable, his wisdom deep. But the weight of just carrying it around with no one stepping forward to say, “I want what you’re offering, here’s my money” was deepening into depression.

He asked me what to do.
I suggested he physically go out and find a client to work with.
He reminded me he didn’t know any clients.
I reminded him he knew some human beings.
He said that they weren’t interested in purchasing his coaching.
I said, who said anything about purchasing?

My advice was to close his laptop computer, get out of his home office, and ask, ideally in person, someone in his trusted circle (friends, family, cool colleagues) to be his coaching client, so he could try out what—until now—has been beautifully and productively happening only in his head and heart.

I suggested he make it someone who really believes in him and wants him to succeed, but also a) can benefit from what he’s doing, and b) is willing to be perfectly candid with him and give him good feedback.

Yes, I am a big believer in the small, bite-sized action as a powerful catalyst to jump out of torpor. Until the body moves, the brain will not get the picture.

Actions are the ground on which I stand. Thoughts and wisdom-gathering are essential.  But the action of reaching out—in real life—and working with a real human made of skin and bone and muscle and neurons is essential to get it all the click into place, like hooking the train engine up to its cars so you can finally take people on their journey.

Actions are tangible, physical, and stimulating to your brain, body, spirit, and energy in order to start attracting the right people to you.

Actions—even “free” things like the one I’ve suggested to my client—tell the universe, I am here, I am moving, I am ready. See?

In his situation, he didn’t need more learning, more online workshops, more reading, more podcasts, more website tweaks.

He needed action. (And he’s working on it. He has his first meeting next week with his former boss, who was interested in what he’s offering.)

Now that I’ve helped him, I wonder what MY action will be?