To increase both your focus and your profits
When I was writing my business column, a major publisher asked me to submit a proposal. I jokingly told the editor if I wrote an entrepreneurial book she wouldn’t like the title.
“It’s not that complicated,” I said.
In reality, it is and it isn’t.
The basic principles of marketing are concrete. That’s the uncomplicated part.
But the mind of an entrepreneur is complicated.
In the corporate world, most understand what the title CEO means. In the entrepreneurial marketing world, we give this acronym an entirely different meaning. The CEO or Chief Everything Officer.
A small business owner must do it all.
You are responsible for the day to day operations. You must be creators, salespeople, accountants, and customer service. Effectively, any and all things necessary to run your business.
This can be overwhelming. It is further compounded by the emotion invested in a startup. Add these two things together, and the entrepreneurial mind can become crowded.
I often give the following analogy to explain why business is a complicated yet uncomplicated contradiction.
It’s not unlike reading a parenting book and believing you have a firm grip on the concepts. Then you actually have your children. All of those well-intentioned things you were going to put into place fall by the wayside.
Not because you don’t know them or believe in them.
Because you are emotional about your kids, they keep you infinitely busy, and they present a lot of variables. One day as all hell is breaking loose you remember reading that book but are too exhausted to implement it. Your mind is cluttered with work, daycare, school, and so on.
There’s yet another similarity between entrepreneurs and parenting.
You become parents without training. Likewise, many entrepreneurs do not have a business background.
You launch a startup because you are passionate about an idea. You believe you can create something and make a difference. It might be designing a website, baking the best cupcakes, inventing an app, building an environmentally friendly product, writing captivating content, etc.
You have branched out on your own because you are a thought leader. Regardless of whether you are marketing a product, a service, or if you are creative in the field of writing, art, or speaking.
Understanding a few ways to unclutter your entrepreneurial psyche can prove invaluable. Because a startup can overtake our state of mind and impede our ability to concentrate.
The entrepreneur has a distinct personality.
When I initially consult with a client I tell them one important thing. It dictates whether or not I will be able to make a marketing impact. Because I can’t reverse a $10,000 a month loss if I am not direct.
“I’m going to tell you things you may not want to hear.”
Without fail, they generally agree they are open to any and all comments.
But I know a secret.
What makes an entrepreneur successful can often be what brings them down. Most people start a small business because they are tenacious. They believe they can defy the odds. They don’t listen to the naysayers who question them. They know they can succeed.
It’s a strength.
But it can also become a weakness.
I understand when I tell an entrepreneur my thoughts they may reject them. It’s a part of their personality. They believe they know better. It’s worked for them in the past.
They often have a need to stay in control.
But too much control takes up too much headspace.
If you free up the instinct to control every aspect you can improve your state of mind.
It may not be a marketer’s words, it may be a spouse, a family member, a friend, or a colleague who has valuable advice on how you can improve your product, writing, or operations. They may free your headspace by brainstorming problem-solving solutions, offer a fresh point of view, or suggest new ideas.
Entrepreneurs are often so close to the business it’s difficult to see it from every angle.
This isn’t a sexy example but I use it frequently.
Self-employed individuals often tell me they have hired someone to do PR, design a new website, a new advertisement, or chase the latest in digital.
I tell them to think of a tree.
I warned you not sexy.
The branches of the tree would be PR, website, advertising, etc. The trunk of the tree is your brand. It must be firmly planted and you need to know exactly what kind of tree you are marketing to the world.
If not, all of those other things are wasted money.
The tendency is to chase after anything which will supplement or increase the bottom line. The actual brand is often the most overlooked.
Chasing too many directions takes up too much headspace.
I see it all the time. A business owner is looking for avenues to increase profits so they go after the latest craze or fix-it solution and then are stressed by the dollars they have expended.
It’s a given how much financial stress preoccupies our heads.
A more solid approach is to understand what you are offering.
A friend and colleague of mine is a marketing professor as well as a full-time marketing consultant. She puts two bags of cereal in front of her students and asks them to taste both. One is the generic brand and one is the name brand. Once her students say they can taste zero difference, she explains this is known as ‘shelf value.’ The distinguishing aspect of your brand that makes people reach for the more expensive cereal even though the cheaper version takes just like it.
It puts marketing into simple terms.
What is the shelf value of what you are offering? What is going to make some choose your product or service or read your writing? This is your brand.
What differentiates you from your competition.
Having this degree of focus frees up your mind to concentrate on growth. Not chasing branches that won’t survive unless the trunk of the tree does. Once you understand what your brand promise is you can continue to spend money on the supplemental aspects which support it.
Most small businesses do not fail for lack of customers. They fail for the entrepreneur’s inability to realign their original vision.
The customer will tell you what they want. However, the owner often wants to tell the customer what they need.
I have many examples of this.
A jewelry store owner who sold overly expensive jewelry in a value-conscious town. I urged him to consider specializing in one cost-saving product such as diamonds. I knew once he had a following these were the types of loyal small-town consumers who would buy his other products. He refused. He closed his doors within a few years.
A once-booming restaurant which was now nearly empty. I urged the owners to hire a new chef. I told them their customers were sending them a message. They said they didn’t want to let him go. I told them if they didn’t, they would be letting go of an entire staff. Exactly what happened several years later when they went out of business.
These are not just examples of a failure to listen to the consumer nor realigning original vision.
They are also examples of the tenacious entrepreneur rejecting advice.
You don’t have to absorb every customer critique but you should notice collective patterns. This is true whether you are selling a product, service, or are in the creative industry.
Fighting the customer takes up too much headspace.
The aforementioned entrepreneurs were stressed, upset, and distracted as they fought their vision against their customer’s reality. It was difficult for them to think of little else.
I’m guilty of this myself.
I am a freelance journalist, former business columnist, and marketing/PR consultant who now writes primarily about relationships. I didn’t want to write about narcissism. I fought it. It’s not a pretty topic. But those who read my column or pieces here on Medium told me otherwise. I had to listen.
There is an infinite amount of emotion that goes into a startup. It’s your reflection. Your personal creation. Your baby. Your blood sweat and tears.
That pride and passion are going to set you apart from your competition.
In fact, emotion works well on both sides of the business.
As marketers, we know emotion drives consumer action.
For another not so sexy example…
An individual walks past a beautiful picture. It’s pretty but they don’t feel the need to buy it. The next picture they walk past says, “My mother is my best friend.” Suddenly, they are willing to buy the picture. They have been moved to emotion.
This is the reason individuals share things digitally. Something moves them to laughter, tears, or shock.
Emotion creates what is known in the marketing world as brand ambassadors or in the PR world as the PR effect. People who will go out into the world and let others know about your product.
Therefore emotion is good.
However, I tell entrepreneurs, “You need to invest the emotion in your product, not your operations.”
What do I mean? Separate the passion from the product and customer service and operations. Business owners can become defensive in their interactions because it’s their baby.
Too much emotion takes up too much headspace.
Taking things personally negatively impacts your state of mind.
It’s also distracting because it’s conflict.
If a customer has a complaint do not get defensive. If a vendor doesn’t ship something on time don’t overreact. If a reader doesn’t like something you have written do not internalize it.
I recently read a piece where a writer was criticizing some fellow writers and readers for their comments. It wasn’t a good look. As writers, we can be sensitive it’s a part of our strength. However, not when directed at others.
Not everyone is going to like what we have to say or sell. It should be considered the non-emotional aspect of running a business.
In the restaurant industry, they use the expression, “in the weeds.” It describes the moment a server has far more tables than they can adequately manage.
Remember the entrepreneur is the Chief Everything Officer.
It can be overwhelming.
Nothing can crowd the mind more than too many things to do and not enough time to do them in.
Too many details take up too much headspace.
We combat this in two ways.
Delegating and adding structure and operational procedures.
Can anything be delegated? Should you hire an accountant or a salesperson? Is there a family member who is willing to do paperwork, answer customer inquiries, or proofread your writing?
Many startups that are successful had someone in the wings who was extremely supportive. It’s motivating and educational to research entrepreneurial success stories. You’ll discover few did it completely on their own. At some point, they needed assistance — usually from a loved one or friend.
Set up structure and procedures.
Create a workweek calendar. Set aside times to deal with specific aspects of your business. Some days may be set aside for creating, others for payroll, etc. Mornings may be best spent answering customer inquiries and afternoons making deliveries.
If you’re a writer, set aside certain times of the day to routinely create and others to edit and do social media.
Figure out a schedule and operational procedures that work for you. It will increase your focus knowing when you will concentrate on each particular detail.
When my husband and I first started our business he could never relax. It could be a weekend, a holiday, or a vacation. It didn’t matter. He was distracted by the world of ‘what if’s.’
What if a customer was upset? What if an account was lost? What if an order was processed incorrectly?
It was fruitless worrying.
Something only a self-employed individual can understand. It’s hard to turn it off especially when it’s your primary source of income.
We were in our twenties at the time, and I had agreed to work together to grow the business. We were incredibly young to have the sensation you could never relax even after hours. It’s hard to believe a couple of twenty-year-olds couldn’t enjoy the beach. He just couldn’t turn it off.
Too much obsession takes up too much headspace.
Figure out how you can shut your mind down for the night and for the weekend.
Weekdays might entail setting boundaries after a certain time of night and writing a to-do list for the next day to free your mind. Or setting your computer and smartphone aside.
The weekend could mean answering all-important emails by Friday close of business. Or planning out your next week. If you’re a writer, it might be a brain dump of story ideas you have brewing.
Remember that parenting example? And the restaurant, “in the weeds?”
You need to get through the periodic chaos and overwhelming moments of a startup. Not to mention the self-doubt which can sometimes accompany striking out on your own.
This means you need to be organized and consistent.
Being inconsistent and disorganized takes up too much headspace.
You have to start each day with intent, planning, and routine.
Years ago I was chatting with a journalist I know. I marveled at how prolific she was. She was cranking out a high volume of freelance pieces for a large number of outlets. Her response? She was on her computer first thing in the morning, broke for lunch, returned to her computer, and stopped when it was time to get her kids off the bus.
Well, there you go.
What was I doing? I was watching my kids, volunteering, doing marketing and PR consulting, and writing a few pieces a week.
I was inconsistent because I was doing so many things.
There is a psychology to marketing. There is also a psychology to building your own startup. It’s all rooted in human behavior. In personalities. In what drives people. In what motivates. In what moves people.
When you are self-employed you understand the rewards.
You also understand the demands.
Both simple and complex.
The complicated and uncomplicated.