As it’s Global Entrepreneurs Week, I wanted to share a few things I have learnt in the last 15 years since setting up The Handbook…
I was ten years old when I first got excited about selling and business. I remember pleading with my mother to have another baby, I was one of three girls, and the idea of having a little brother (surely it needed to be a boy this time round) was an exciting one, to which she replied ‘No it’s too expensive’, that evening I decided my only option of another sibling was if I helped fund the way for one, so I decided to make bags of sherbet out of icing sugar, bicarbonate of soda and lemons which had cost a total of 0.50p for the ingredients and produced 44 small sandwich bags of this clearly delightful homemade concoction (yes, this was a few years ago). Cash takings three days later was £24, a pretty good mark-up, sadly not enough for the fourth child, but it led on to many things including endless stalls at the side of the road, and 17 years on, setting up my first business: The Handbook.
One of the turning points in setting up The Handbook occurred when I stopped waiting for success to happen and instead decided to make it happen, I had the idea of The Handbook which I knew there was a market for, but instead of sitting around wasting months thinking about how I was going to do it, and writing a business plan (which everyone advised I did), I took 3 weeks off as holiday in my current job, and literally picked up the phone and started selling profiles on my site, which was just 2 weeks old at the time. We had no traffic to the site, no brand, no reputation, but I had a complete passion for what I was doing and complete certainty that there was a demand for my product and that it would work, I made £1800 in my first week in sales, obviously nothing mind-blowing, but it proved that the model had legs.
I actually don’t believe in business plans, the things you think will make you the most money will make you the least and vice versa. It’s like a birth plan, you can’t plan these things, and attempting to do so is like mapping out the next few years of your life. Impossible.
The one thing that always surprises me is when people say to me ‘you’ve been so lucky with The Handbook’ or ‘you set it up at the right time’, the truth is I don’t think it is about luck, you choose something that will work for you at that time, and if it’s not working you change it and focus on other elements that are working. For example, initially, I always thought I would make money from our suppliers and when we started out we were merely a directory, The Handbook has now grown into a really successful 360 lifestyle magazine, which attracts over 1.4 million users to its site every month. The website now makes the majority of its revenue from brand partnerships and its celebrity and influencer subscription model, if I had carried on with my original model, we would not be where we are today.
If you are thinking about setting up your own business there are so many different things and bits of advice I can give, but I want to hone in on a few key ones.
People Buy From People
Whatever business you are in, ‘people buy from people’. I spent the first five years of my business making the biggest mistake of not telling people I owned it or had created it, I was embarrassed, I thought people would think it was really small and not worth investing in, but the opposite is true, people want to know about the person behind the business, you need to lead and serve those people, they are buying into you as the brand, and you need to become an expert in whatever field they are buying in to.
My very dear friend always said to me ‘If you don’t believe in yourself no one else will’ I truly believe this, I also would take it a step further and maintain absolute certainty in business. The person with the most certainty wins. I am not saying to be overconfident, but if you want to make an impact you have to be certain, this is especially important when sharing a message.
You Have To Be Prepared To Fail
There is a saying ‘No risk, no reward’, if you aren’t in a position to fail then you aren’t in a position to win. In life sometimes you have to take risks and go for them, or you will never have a chance to succeed. Never be afraid of failure because behind every mistake is an opportunity to be very successful. When things go wrong see it as an opportunity, be agile, look at ways in which you can change things. Don’t make excuses, it won’t improve the outcome. No matter how justified you are, never make an excuse for any outcome. Covid massively impacted our business, but instead of making excuses, we adapted, we changed our business model, we shifted focus, and because of that the business scaled during Covid, despite losing 90% of our original business income. We are also now in a far stronger position than we were pre-Covid. Always be willing to adapt and to move quickly.
Who Is Your Market?
This seems so obvious but sometimes it can be hard to identify who those people are, but you need to know this so that you can market to them.
Find Your Niche And Market Yourself Differently
When setting up a business look at what you’re an expert in and then find your niche so you can be the number one in your field. Don’t go after the same market as everyone else, and don’t market in the same way as everyone else, if you do this you’ll only ever get a marginal competitive advantage if you are better than them. Find your niche e.g. if your area of expertise is nutrition don’t just be another nutritionist but hone in on an area that you may specialise in, for example, nutrition for fertility or create a nutrition plan for those with skin problems. Then become the number one expert in your field at this and think outside of the box, market your business differently, don’t be the same.
Find Your Voice
It’s taken us a long time to find our tone and our voice, we’ve changed it a few times in the last 12 years. We’ve also started to branch out into other areas recently such as video, I started to do a few videos for myself selling our different products, these videos were never for the site though, they were for me so that I could find my voice and the way I wanted to position things, sometimes this takes time to find and get right.
Customer is not King, Customer is God
I remember hearing this at a conference once, and it really made me take note, there is an old saying ‘they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’. If you always go the extra mile for your customer and show them you truly care they will stay with you, most people don’t leave you as they don’t like your product or service, they leave as they feel undervalued.
Build a mailing list
If you sell anything to anyone you need your own mailing list, the truth is social media are constantly changing their algorithms, meaning they are in control of who your message reaches and which percentage of your followers it reaches, build your own list and have traffic that you’re in control of and that you can market to time and time again without having to pay huge ad fees. If someone lands on your website the chances are they may not come back, but get their email and you can keep marketing to them. building a mailing list will most likely be the single most profitable strategy for your business, it certainly has proved to be in my case.
Create Belief and Sell The Transformation
Everything comes down to one thing- belief. Belief creates the customer, belief creates the results. To be successful in business you must persuade people to believe in what you are doing, and a great way to do this is through the art of honesty and storytelling don’t be afraid to share with your audience. You don’t have to be perfect, be real and they will identify with you and want you to succeed. I always tell my sales team don’t sell people the features, sell the transformation, for example, if you own a clothing brand and are selling a pair of leggings don’t talk about the colour, the fabric the texture, talk about how this product will transform your butt like nothing has ever done before!
Those Who Pay, Pay Attention
A few years ago I launched my first book ‘Proven Secrets to Celebrity Endorsement’, the truth was for years I was putting amazing content about celebrity and influencer marketing on our site, but because people had not paid for it, they had not invested in it and therefore they had not read it or utilised my tips, this was so frustrating, as people were emailing us the same questions and I kept sending links to our guides and they were just not being read. So I decided instead to put it all together into a book, and I knew also that the more they paid for it the greater chance they would actually read it when purchased and utilise my suggestions, thus meaning they would get more value from our site, and stay a member for longer. Similarly, we used to offer free trials of our service, but because it was free, people often didn’t utilise the trial. So one thing I have learnt is that those that pay, pay attention and the more you pay, the closer attention you pay. You are actually doing your audience a huge disservice by offering everything for free.
Also for a long time, we undercharged for our service, but by undercharging, you are doing your business and your clients a massive disservice too, as by not charging enough you cannot give enough time and value to each account, and also if people have not paid enough, they won’t care enough to make use of your service, so always charge what you are worth and offer great value and customer support with that.
Put A Price On Your Time
When you run your own business your time is precious, my husband still thinks I am extravagant for paying someone to do the ironing when we can do it or doing pick up from school in an Uber, so I can do my emails in the car (and because I hate driving, but that’s another story), but you need to put a price on your time, and if your time is valued at more than you pay someone to do these things then pay someone else to do them, you will never be successful if you try to do everything. Secondly the more success you have the less time you will have. If you try and do it all, you will end up not being able to serve your audience and will never be able to scale.
Give People A NEW Opportunity
When you look at every successful leader out there, they offer their followers new ways and new opportunities, if you are selling anything don’t sell improved offers they are harder to sell, instead, sell new opportunities because people will get excited about them. Improvement offers are associated with pain, someone may have tried weight loss, or internet dating before, but it didn’t work, so an improvement offer is associated with that same pain and difficulty, it reminds them of previous bad decisions, whereas new opportunity is a new discovery something that will be more likely shared, and as it’s new there is more chance people will share it, as they will believe it gives them an increase in status.
You Never Get What You Don’t Ask For
I hear myself saying this every day, but I could write a book (a very boring one) on the number of times I hear people miss opportunities by not asking, people beat around the bush and don’t ask for the business. I always hear people say let’s go for a coffee and discuss, the truth is I very rarely ‘go for a coffee’ I just don’t have time and why spend half a day going for coffee when you can get someone to say yes over the phone? I am not saying don’t meet people as relationship building is important, but if you’re going for coffee’s and not closing at least 40% of those meetings, then there are better ways you can be managing that time.
Many people are so afraid to get a ‘no’ that they don’t ask for a ‘yes’. The ironic thing is that they’re virtually guaranteeing to get a ‘no’ by not asking for the ‘yes’. Embrace the fear of no and then ask for the yes.
If you also truly believe in what you’re asking for, no ask is too crazy.
- Upsell to your existing customers, and have a higher level of service that you can offer at a higher price, its much easier to offer more value to existing members than start from scratch and find new ones, so many people spend their whole time trying to acquire new customers, and not focusing on the ones they have.
The final three points I would like you to go away and consider is
- Always be learning more, never stop bettering yourself, and listen to other experts and entrepreneurs who have found success. I love a good business podcast, you can see a few of our faves here. A personal favourite of mine is the ‘The Diary Of A CEO’ from Steven Bartlett (who we are very excited to have just interviewed, read it here ), he chronicles the lives of some of the world’s most influential people, and how they “defined culture, achieved greatness and created stories worth studying.” The podcast is raw and intimate, with stories of failure and struggle, and overcoming obstacles. Never stop reading business books, that will help you, if you can’t afford a mentor you will get endless great tips and advice from the people that have been where you’ve been and made it work.
- Finally whatever business you’re in think about how you can have some sort of subscription element. If we didn’t have a subscription element to ours, we would be grafting every day to keep the business afloat, the subscription element allows us to predict revenue and more importantly get continual income over and over. In business, it really is all about the renewals.
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