As someone that has started several small businesses over the years and advised many small business owners, one challenging area for a lot of people is the idea that you need to set a strategy.
Business owners need a strategy that will enable them to understand the value that they bring to the market, and to ultimately target an audience of buyers that will need and buy their products and services.
Setting your strategy
Like most challenges we face as business owners, the challenge of strategy comes down to one of focus. Not so much focus on achieving activities or doing so many things, but focus when it comes to understanding the key drivers that will propel your business forward.
Over the years, I have come to operate under a simple framework of three essential questions that can and will help you clarify your value, target the right buyers, and give you an understanding of how to reach those buyers in a meaningful way.
Ask yourself these three questions to help define your business strategy:
1. What tangible value does my company provide?
This question is the essential question and the foundation of everything you and your business will do and become. Yet, in our haste to make a sale, we often fail to ask ourselves this question at the outset.
When I say tangible value, I want you to think in terms of real, enhanced value that you bring to a client. In my business, I always tell my clients that they are going to get increased revenue and profitability opportunities, enhanced prestige in their markets, and the chance to significantly reduce their sales cycles.
For you, it is important that you think about the value you provide in a strategic manner and lose the type of thinking and conventional wisdom that drives you to view yourself as someone that “is just a fundraiser,” or “handles social media,” or, heaven help us, “provides ethical solutions to IT problems.”
Instead, put yourself and your thinking in a position of power, and focus on the things that you do that make you outstanding—and that will drive your business to the forefront of your market.
How about something like this:
- “We deliver creative revenue solutions that accelerate your time to market and improve your profitability.”
- “Our holistic approach to IT allows you to begin deploying your IT department as a value creator, not a cost center.”
2. Who can use our value, and who will buy it?
Following on the heels of determining the value you and your company want to deliver to the market, it is important to clarify one very important issue that trips up all too many entrepreneurs and small business owners: Not everyone is your customer.
I’ll repeat that: Not everyone is your customer, and usually for various reasons. Maybe they don’t have the time or money they need to use your product or service. Maybe they don’t have a history of using someone like you. Or, maybe they just aren’t the right fit for what you do.
The list goes on, but it is important to understand that not everyone is going to want and need what you sell, and just as importantly, they might not be willing to buy from you, even if you have something that they can use.
Now that we have cleared that up, you can spend time focusing on the important people: people that appreciate what you do, and have the money to acquire that valuable resource. How do you define your target markets?
First, you want to make sure you are clear on what you are really delivering. Again, I can’t reiterate this enough—look at your value.
Second, think about what your value solves for your target market. If you are in website design, maybe your design and setup solves a business’s ability to reach new and varied markets. Or, if you are a sales coach, maybe your value isn’t in the sales training as much as it is in the reduced cost of hiring and training for your potential buyer. Whatever it is, make sure you are clear with regards to what your solution solves.
Third, identify the most likely people to have a need for this solution and who have the capacity to authorize a purchase of your solution.
In looking at these three steps to identifying your target markets, I feel like it is important to stop and make an important point about targeting. Because we can often be seduced by the elusive meeting, we can find ourselves in positions where we are spending too much time meeting with and talking to people that can only say “no” to what we provide.
It is imperative in this exercise that you understand quickly whether or not you are dealing with someone that can say “yes” to you and your solutions. If they can only say no, you have to act quickly to find out the correct person and work to get in front of that person.
3. How do I reach these targets?
Reaching your targets boils down to how you market yourself and your solutions. There’s a lot of information floating around on the internet (and the in world in general) about how you “have to do SEO” or you “must do Facebook and Instagram marketing,” and the list goes on and on.
The truth is, you don’t have “have” to do anything. One of the big errors that too many small business owners make in their efforts is that they fall for the trap of listening to lots of people telling them that they “have” to do something and then going around and doing that, despite the fact that they honestly haven’t defined their value or their market in a way that allows them to communicate with any specificity.
The trick to reaching your audience is knowing who they are and knowing where they are likely to be reached. Personally, I know that my buyers are executives, entrepreneurs, and decision makers with budget authority. So I make sure that I go to places that these people are going to be hanging around. Which means that I do a lot of speaking at small business events and professional conferences, and that I write in publications typically read by executives. I don’t spend a great deal of time making my Pinterest page “tight” however.
For you, you are going to have to make sure that you are really clear on your value and the people that are likely to be the purchasers of your solutions (I know that I am harping, but it is super important).
Once you have settled on your answers to the first two questions, to figure out where your audience is congregating, think about questions like this:
- Where do my buyers go for industry news?
- What do my buyers listen to when they need advice?
- How are other people reaching this same audience?
- Is there a way to reach them in a non-conventional, but effective manner?
- Am I making any assumptions about my buyers that are based on my own bias?
- Is there a gathering of my buyers that I can speak to?
- Is there a magazine, website, or industry publication that they consistently turn to for information or pleasure?
The number and types of questions that you will want to ask about reaching your market can be as long or short as your product or service needs, but the key point is that you need to make sure that you are basing your marketing decisions on hard, evidence-based information and not on the random suggestions of well-meaning friends, family, and “experts”—including me.
Once you have identified several ways that you can reach your target market, it is important that you come up with a list of actions that you will take to reach your buyers. For me, the most common actions that I take are writing, speaking, and networking, but for you, they will likely be different. The key thing is that you understand what drives your decision making process about marketing your product or service and keeping track of that metric.
The final thing I want to make clear with regards to marketing is that your marketing mix is going to differ from mine and likely everyone else you are familiar with. But despite the differences in our marketing plans, one thing that I can never reinforce enough is the importance of consistently delivering your marketing message to your target audience.
Even if you don’t have a perfect message, delivering that imperfect message consistently is much more effective than having a perfect message that never sees the light of day.
Again, I understand that strategy can seem a bit daunting to every business owner and entrepreneur. Most of us find ourselves stumbling into business and figuring out what our business is after the fact. These imperfect starts are no reason to fear strategy or concern yourself with the idea that you may not get it right.
Your strategy should mirror your life in that it evolves and changes as you gain new experiences and new knowledge. By keeping in mind that your strategy only boils down to three simple questions, you will find the process of evolution and growth in your business to be much easier to manage.
I look forward to hearing about your progress. Did something work especially well—or not? Share with us in the comments.