As a consultant to some of America's most successful entrepreneurs, I can tell you with 99% certainty the biggest obstacle keeping your business from becoming the success you envisioned.
But fair warning: You might not like the answer.
Time to Look in the Mirror
Simply put: The biggest obstacle to your success is you. Or, more accurately, it's your lack of self-confidence. You believe successful business owners are privy to some secret formula that has somehow eluded you.
Truth is, most of those successful entrepreneurs were once as tentative and full of self-doubt as you. The difference is, they made the decision to overcome those doubts and move ahead with confidence. They became comfortable with being uncomfortable — with pushing past their self-imposed limitations.
You can do it, too. You just need to develop what I call a "champion's mindset."
That All-Important First Step
Before you go any further, you need to take a step back and make a brutally honest assessment of your business model. After all, you can't be a champion unless your foundational idea is a winner.
You can make a simple assessment by answering some basic questions that, frankly, not enough people think to ask before they go into business. For instance:
- What problem does my product or service solve?
- Can I identify my target market? (Hint: If you say, "It's everybody," you're already in trouble.)
- Is my product or service of high enough quality that people will pay a fair price for it?
If you struggled to answer any (or all) of those questions in a positive way, it's time to reassess whether your business idea is sound. You might have a passion for creating left-handed bamboo pan flutes, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a viable idea for a full-time business.
Can I Have Your Attention, Please?
So, we'll move forward on the assumption that your company offers a good product or service to an identifiable target market at a fair price — but you're just not making enough sales.
The most likely answer is that not enough of your prospective customers know you exist. As the business leader, your No. 1 priority — especially during the startup phase — is to sell your company's product or service. And I don't mean sell in the sense of accepting money; I mean sell as in being a salesperson who relentlessly promotes yourself and your company. You can't get customers until you get their attention.
The good news is that there are more ways than ever to do that, and many of them are free. Use social media platforms. Try a podcast. Post a video. Write a book. Do speaking engagements.
Chances are a lot of those things are outside your comfort zone. Well, guess what? They're outside everyone's comfort zone at first. Like any other worthwhile skill, all of these marketing techniques take practice.
I know. When I decided to add public speaking to my sales repertoire, I reached out to virtually every chamber of commerce in the Chicagoland area and asked if I could do a presentation. All but one of them turned me down.
But as it turned out, that one yes was enough to get me started. Now, five years later, I'm not only doing all kinds of local workshops, but also booking national speaking engagements. And it all started with a simple, but firm, decision.
You have to decide. Plant your flag. For the next six to 12 months, commit to mastering a method of marketing your company, whether it's videos, podcasts, social media posts or something else.
Remember the Rule of Six
Here's the second important thing you'll need to remember: Getting a prospect's attention is just the start. After that first contact, you need to be proactive about following up. It often takes at least six points of contact to close the deal.
Again, you need to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Too many businesses have failed for no other reason than the owner was afraid of "bothering" people.
Here's a typical scenario: You meet somebody that seems like a good prospect. You exchange business cards and the prospect says, "Great, I'll call you on Monday." You get your hopes up.
Monday comes and goes. No call. No call Tuesday, either. Your emotions go from super high to super low. You feel embarrassed and start to question yourself. Maybe you misread the situation. Or maybe the prospect was just trying to be polite when they brushed you off. Regardless, the outcome is the same: no sale.
At that point, many business owners are ready to bail on the whole idea of modern marketing. "This networking stuff doesn't work for me. I'm just no good at it."
The successful business owner, on the other hand, fishes out that business card and calls the prospect. And very often they find that the lack of follow-up was the result of a simple oversight or unforeseen development. "Hey, I'm so glad you called. I threw my back out and had to get to the chiropractor every day this week for therapy and now I'm running behind." Or whatever. You need to recognize that you're not the only one whose busy life sometimes gets in the way. Be persistent. If you take a one-and-done approach to reaching out for new business, the odds are stacked overwhelmingly in favor of "done."
Be proactive. Instead of waiting for the other person to contact you, you need to contact them, and you need to do it within 24 hours. Take control of the situation.
Have a Process
Once a prospect shows interest, do you have a formal process for closing the sale? You'd be surprised how many businesses don't. Like a football coach, you need a playbook that you and your employees can turn to in any contingency. Without one, you end up just drawing up plays in the dirt, which is no way to run a business.
Another advantage of having a playbook for your business is that it makes things run more smoothly. That puts guardrails around the business owner's time. Leaders tend to take on more responsibilities than they can handle, which makes it even less likely they will stay focused on following up with prospects. "How can you expect me to make six points of contact with each potential customer when I'm maxed out with HR and payroll and building maintenance and bookkeeping and IT and a million other little brushfires that I have to put out every day?"
The answer, of course, is to delegate or outsource as many of those responsibilities as you can. Once you turn to outside experts to help solve your problems, you can focus on convincing prospective customers that you're the expert who can solve their problems.
Scott Hansen founded a consulting business with a singular goal: "Helping entrepreneurs reach new heights in their business."