disused car with flowers in the engine

What You Do and Why You Do It

A few years ago, I started in business not at all clear about what I was going to do.  I was clear about why I wanted to be in business.  My business why has never changed, even though several people have told me it’s no good!  I’m convinced why you do business is crucial for success.

I looked back to my time as a development worker and realised something true for me and many other development workers.  Most of our projects no longer exist.  Some were successful at the time.  Now they are no more and the communities we sought to change are unchanged or worse off.

I concluded the reason for this was not quality of the work so much as funding.  Grant aid is not sustainable.  Thriving communities form around businesses that serve local residents.  My vision is of business as a means to local transformation.  I aim to coach in local marketing, businesses mindful of their impact on the lives of those around them.

I found when I spoke of this aim, audiences were always inspired.  My challenge was to turn this why into business activities.

In an earlier post, I suggested you need three aims for your business: your business, financial and lifestyle aims.  In this post I return to the first of these. 

Why versus What

It is worth reading Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why.  He explains why knowing the reason your business exists is important for success.  People buy why you do your business, not what you sell.

Look at it this way.  You offer something similar to many other businesses.  Even if you come up with something completely new, you will be copied.  Assume your competitors are as good as you are or even better!  What does this mean?

You could argue it’s best to hand your customers over to someone who is better than you because the public always chooses the best offer on the market.  You could compete on price – I may not be as good as the others but I charge less!

Let’s say you’re one of three people equally good at what you do.  Each is invited to pitch their business.  How will your audience choose?  Telling them what you do won’t help them decide. 

Telling them why you do it, offers them a choice.  They won’t all choose you.  Whatever turns one person on, switches someone else off.   But that’s OK, you’ve helped them decide. 

And who says the other business is better than yours?  When you help the people who choose you, they and you are happy.

Forgetting Why You Started

What you do is seductive.  You spend years honing your skills and you are proud of your achievements  You know you help people but somehow you can’t reach them.  They show no interest. 

You spend a lot of time designing better products and services.  This is productive, if part of routine housekeeping.  But don’t lose sight of your reason for being in business.  It should drive design of products and services and inform marketing. 

Don’t lose sight of why you started.  Maybe you need to persist with the packages you started with.  It is tempting to move on and abandon old ideas.  But if you chop and change, it makes it difficult for your market to remember you.  People need to hear your message many times before they take it on board.

Stay with your why.  Eventually people remember you and so turn to you. 

Failing Through Success

Which just about says it all except …

Success can undermine your why.  Most small businesses make a living from early adopters.   Their niche market makes enough money and they enjoy the work.

Some businesses make the breakthrough to the big time.  They grow into premises and staff and loads of customers.  It is possible to lose sight of your why when this happens. But remember it is still the reason people choose to become your customers.  If you lose track of your why, your customers will move on.

One business that has maintained clarity about its why is John Lewis.  Think of its Christmas commercials.  Do they lead to more customers?  There’s no way of knowing.  What they do is remind staff, customers and shareholders of their why.  They use their marketing to build their business.

It’s tempting is allow your what to overwhelm your why.  Many people don’t make the distinction, they don’t understand why your why is important.  In time, this means your why does not hold your business together and multiple whats polarise your stakeholders.  Conflict creates enormous problems and so it is the topic for next time.

Do you know why you are in business? How does it help you market and sell your products and services? Leave a comment below.

sofa possibly with teddies

How to Start Conversations Online

Sarah was puzzled by another thing.  She knows she produces high quality material.  Whenever she asks someone to comment on her writing, she receives a positive response.  When she speaks in public, she receives a warm response. 

Place the same material online and nothing happens.  Her analytics show people read stuff and yet few comment.  Why do so few engage?

Customer Conversations

Just like Sarah, most of her customers are busy people.  How do busy people read?  Online, they don’t read in detail, they scan.  They are pressured for time.  Many people prefer to read books or readers that are easier on the eye.  Online they usually seek something and used to most of what they see on screen being of little relevance.

Many people use audiobooks and online they are more likely view video or audio.  Audio is good for busy people because they listen while they do something else.  However, there is still room for text.  Here are a few thoughts.  Some of what follows works under more than one heading. 


Busy people scan and so they must see immediately what this page is about.  By inviting those interested to read on, you invite everyone else to move on!  Anyone who stays scans the rest of the page to ascertain whether it is worth reading in detail.

When someone scans the page they read headings and subheadings, captions, highlights, links.  Anything that stands out from the main body of text.  Make sure standout text conveys what the page is about in summary.

Text accompanying video or audio is likely to be read.  The reader wants to know whether it is worth hearing the recording.  A summary also reminds someone of its content, if they decide to listen again. 

Remember to include a call to action.  What do you want the reader to do next? 

Blog Posts

The same applies to blog posts although perhaps visitors expect more words.  It is possible to be too long.  Reading online is still tiring and time pressured.

Choose any call to action but most common to blog posts is the invitation to comment.  The big difference between commenting and replying to an email is comments are public.  It’s possible to discuss the post with other readers.  (You can do something similar on your website – however be sure to get a conversation going.  Somehow an empty comments section on a webpage seems more of a problem than a blog post without comments.)

How do you get people to comment?  It is not easy.  Ask questions.  Invite comments.  Always reply to comments. 

Social Media

Again the main way to respond is through comments.  You are likely to receive likes and shares (the names of these features vary with platforms). 

Generally, informative posts get fewer comments than posts that pose questions.  Controversial posts are also receive more comments.  Watch others in businesses similar to yours.  Which of their posts get comments?


Networking is a great way to build lists.  Give people your business card and offer to add them to your list.  Connect with them on a social media platform to keep in touch but joining them to something specifically yours is better.

Why should someone want to connect with you?  Engage their attention.  Be distinctive.  Try not to sound like everyone else!  If you have a stimulating conversation that really interests the contact, they may be minded to continue the conversation online but don’t forget to offer the possibility of a coffee – it’s still possible to converse in the old-fashioned way!

What About?

Indeed!  You can afford to be mysterious or challenging in real life.  You can gauge responses and modify your approach as you go.  Online you don’t even know when someone reads a page or post.  If they comment, you can reply but most readers move on, leaving no trace of their presence.

Many are simply not interested and possibly never would be.  But some may engage if they see the right thing.  Social media is a good way of finding those who hang around until they see the right thing.  Once they engage, invite them to join your list. 

Valuable content is important but it is hard to generalise.  Make sure headings or subject lines, are compelling to capture attention.  There are email marketers I always open and start to read, others I mostly ignore.  Those I ignore may be compelling reading for someone else. 

Generally, keep the message as short as possible.  Start with a story and then link the story to a single piece of teaching.  Finish with a call to action. 

Master this basic model for a successful email or post before you try anything else.  You can keep this underlying model and vary it in effectively infinite ways.  How you do that is a matter of practice. 

Remember to use every opportunity to build and strengthen relationships with clients and prospects.  We will look at this in more depth next time.

view of skyscraper from below

Your Worldview and Your Business Plan

In 1980, I packed in research science and elected for life as a development worker.  The biggest stumbling block to this new life was my worldview.  I was an extremely introverted young man and my new career depended on my ability to not only relate to people but take initiative.  Also, my general views about how things worked were hardly realistic.  I had a lot to learn. 

Community development is tough.  Over the years I saw many new workers crash and burn.  I have no idea how I survived.  Certainly, it took me well over fifteen years to understand what I was doing.  For one thing I had to stop blaming myself for failure.  It was sometimes my fault when something went wrong but well … most things don’t work. 

Most important I had to learn to trust other people and offer them space to make their own mistakes.  Funding regimes make terrible demands on people who are not being paid to manage projects and paid staff.  I slowly understood it is our worldviews that erect barriers to success.


It is worth starting with a word about personality.  We act out of the ways in which we perceive the world.  This is why people with similar views may respond in very different ways.  Knowing your own personality type helps you understand personal biases.  Once you know your type, read descriptions and watch out for those biases in the way you act. 

I favour The Enneagram, which is a system of 9 basic types that interact in various clearly defined ways.  You identify your type by observing your behaviour and comparing it with descriptions.  This is a slower but ultimately more reliable than using questionnaires.  You can find help from experienced practitioners and if you get the opportunity to meet with others of your type, you can check out whether you do comfortably fit in the same mould.

The point is you cannot change your type.  All have positive and negative characteristics.  They can all be healthy or unhealthy.  You become healthier by observation of your own behaviour and focusing on well-defined positive changes.

One reason most things don’t work is something devised by someone of one type may not function in the same way with someone of a different type.  You can adapt but if you are unaware of your own biases, it is unlikely you see the weaknesses in your own approach. 

Technical and Adaptive Solutions

Personality has a massive impact on worldview.  All nine personality types share all possible worldviews.  The reasons they hold the views vary.  For example, an Eight might support Remain in Europe because they believe the UK can best achieve its aims by throwing its weight around in Europe, whilst a Five might devise a detailed reasoned argument for the same cause.  And of course others of the same types might hold the opposite view. 

From a business perspective, all types will be drawn to congenial technical solutions.  Faced with a problem, people seek a solution and they most likely choose something where they feel comfortable.  So, the Eight may feel happy cold calling prospects whilst the Five is unlikely to feel comfortable doing so.

However, nine different takes on cold calling prospects does not tell us whether cold calling is a good business method.  Granted those who feel most at ease with the method are likely to use it more effectively.  But what if it is the best method?  Does that mean everyone must use it, whatever their predisposition?

Any proven method is worth consideration.  Personality is one factor to consider.  However, there are many ways to solve the same problem.  Choosing the right technical solution is an important skill, resisting biase from your personality and worldview. 

Seek an adaptive solution to the problem.  This allows you to construct a tailored response, something new that works for you in this context.  

Coaching Helps You See Things Differently

This is why working with a coach help.  Especially so if the coach does not share your personality type.  The coach can challenge you to think outside of your habitual worldview.    They suggest other ways of looking at the problem and point out where you act out of your prejudices. 

The aim in the coaching relationship is to engage in a dialogue.  There is no reason the coach is likely to be less biased than you are – they see from their perspective.  However, you as client can challenge the coach too.  You can say why you don’t think their suggestion will work. Together you seek a solution that works.

But none of this can work until you have clarity about why you are in business in the first place.

old fashioned telephone

How to Generate Phone Calls with Emails

Sarah prides herself on not being pushy.  She firmly believes, from her own experience, that people are put off by the overt sales pitch.  She certainly refuses to read advertising copy.  And she is sure her market is similar.

Her problem is no-one responds to her emails.  She shares good content and when she meets people on her list – they tell her they enjoy reading her emails.  But no-one ever replies or comments – let alone expresses interest in her business. 

The Call to Action

Sarah needs calls to action.  To respond people need several things.  They need to know

  • a response is required
  • why they need to respond
  • how to respond.

To put it bluntly, you need to tell people exactly what you want them to do.  This does not have to be “Buy my stuff!”  For example: “What do you think?  Hit reply and let me know …”  

This way you start conversations and so deepen relationships with the people who reply.  It also gets them into the habit of responding to you.

You may think you don’t need to tell people how to respond to an email.  It may need clarifying if the email arrives via an email service such as MailChimp but mostly the aim is to encourage a response.

There are many ways to respond and responses have different meanings in different contexts.  Replying to an email is private, whilst commenting on a post is public.  There may be more than one possibility.

For example, you could encourage readers to call you. 

Emergency Calls

The easiest is the emergency call.  If you are a plumber or electrician – you have little problem encouraging people to use the phone.  The challenge is how to get them to call you and not a competitor. 

Even if their call is not an emergency, it is something people generally find straightforward.  They need work doing and call to ask for a quote.  This is standard practice and both of you know the script.

Why Would They Call You?

But for many businesses, receiving phone calls is not so easy.  The problem is, if you offer a one-off singular service, a call implies interest in you.  Your competitors are not able to offer a comparable quote. 

If they call you they are likely to already be in or close to a buying state.  It is worth asking what steps they would pass through to be motivated enough to call you.  If someone makes the call, what is the immediate thing that prompted them to do so? 

What stages do they pass through to arrive at the point where they call you?

Should You Call Them?

Yes!  However, there are a few things you need. 

First and most obvious is their phone number.  Email marketing can help.  If you have a sign up form on your website, include their phone number.  If they leave it, presumably they are happy to hear from you.  You could include it as optional or required.  The big advantage of making it a requirement is it shows they are willing to play ball.  If someone is put off by a request for a phone number, the chances are they are not a serious prospect.

You need a plan.  What is the objective of the call?  It is possible to sell over the phone or an alternative might be to arrange a one-to-one meeting.  There is no limit to what you can sell over the phone but it is worth considering your options.

If you have something like a place on a workshop, a call to people you expect to sign up might be a reminder and does not really require a face-to-face meeting.  If you are selling long-term coaching a face-to-face meeting may be more appropriate.  A lot depends on what you want from the meeting and your level of experience or confidence. 

Email marketing helps you move to a point where a telephone call is the obvious next step.  You do this through online conversations. 

woman breathing at sunset

Getting Your Business Purpose Clear

When I first became self-employed, I had no business purpose.  It has taken me several years to find one.  So, why did I become self-employed?  I was attracted by the lifestyle and no longer wanted to work for someone. Could I use my days the way I chose? 

I needed a business purpose because I’d never be happy simply living from day to day without purpose.  What would get me out of bed in the morning and help me build new contacts? 

I knew I could live off savings but I needed income and so found I had another aim for my business.  As I worked on this aim, there was more to it than setting a financial target. 

Three Aims

From my own experience, I saw three aims together define my business.  For some the aim of their business is to make money.  But money is never the reason a business exists.  A business that defines its aims solely in financial terms lacks credibility.  There is financial sense in defining three aims that together define your purpose. 

“Profit is no more the purpose of business than breathing is the purpose of life.”

John Kay, a contemporary economist

This helps us identify two business aims:

Business Purpose

This answers the question: “Why are you in business?”  This is an immense topic and it is covered in Simon Sinek’s classic work “Start with Why”.

Once you are clear about why you are in business, you can discern what is relevant.  If you define your business by what you do, what you do constrains your activities.  If you make computers, you can’t make mobile phones.  If you aim to help people communicate, it helps you open new ways to meet that why – now you can make computers and mobile phones!

Your business is easier to understand and more attractive to your target market.  Indeed, you have no hope of attaining your financial target without your business purpose.  People need to know, like and trust your business if they are to buy from you.  

It doesn’t matter whether you see your business purpose as more or less important than your financial purpose, you need both!

Financial Purpose

This is not solely about setting a target, so long as you understand it may take several attempts over several years to get there.

The other part of your financial purpose is how do you plan to get there?  For example, a business during its early stages usually needs to maximise sales, while a business further down the road may need to maximise profit. How you understand your financial activity makes a massive difference.  You approach sales and profit in different ways. 

Remember John Kay.  Finance is essential to your business but it is not the reason your business exists. 

Lifestyle Purpose

A third dimension, often overlooked, is still important.  What do you want from your business?  This might include provision for yourself and your family, freedom, health …

This purpose influences the other two.  Here are a few reasons:

  • Direct impact upon your financial purpose.  If you want to travel the world for 3 months every year, that has financial implications for your business and impacts on your business purpose.
  • The demands the business makes on you.  Do you really want to find time to manage staff? 
  • The demands your lifestyle makes on your business.  Can you afford to take 2-3 hours per day out of your business for other activities? 
  • The exit strategy for your business.  Do you have an age you ideally want to work until and what happens after that?

Some of the demands life makes are massive.  Caring for children or others takes time.  If your business has to work around these commitments, it will be different to what it otherwise would be. 

Some people continue in full-time or part-time work as they develop their own business.  At what stage do they let go of their safety net?


Businesses are prone to failure where they lack clarity about one or more of these three. The point where the three purposes overlap is where you need to be.  For example, if you have unavoidable childcare commitments, then you have less time to spend on your business.  Therefore you need activities, compliant with your business purpose, which maximise income for least effort.  This may mean compromising your business purpose or accepting lower financial returns.

Sometimes there are other options.  Deciding what to do in changing circumstances is best when guided by your three aims.  The decisions you make can be guided by these aims but you are also subject to something else. 

Your worldview determines the decisions you make and if you are not aware of its important role, it can be another reason for failure.

braided loaf

Email Marketing through Professional Content

Sarah understands that to be credible as a business person, she needs a marketing strategy.  She needs to build a list to market her business online and she has made a start.  Today she was to write her first marketing email.  This is how she demonstrates her professionalism.

Now she encounters another problem.  She has so much to say, where should she start?  Should she tell her readers about her business and how much she charges?  But her list was mainly family and friends – sending them an advert seemed a bit pushy – she’d never hear the last of it!  So, should she tell them about nutrition so they would understand more – but it seems an awful lot to put in one email …

Exclusive Content

The first thing Sarah needs to consider is the difference between the people on her list and those who drop in through social media.  People on her list have expressed interest in her business.  They may be more or less committed – the least committed are likely to unsubscribe – so she can assume they have some interest in her business.

How can she reward them for being subscribers, persuade them to stay subscribed and eventually to buy her services?

Sarah meets some of these goals by being interesting, mysterious, humourous or suspenseful.  Any of these encourages the reader to open her emails and read them.  But this is not enough.

The key is something sometimes called FOMO – “fear of missing out”.  If Sarah’s email content is exclusive, her subscribers will believe it is worthwhile being on her list.  They open and at least scan all her emails. 

How much should she give away?  Some business people worry if they give away too much, there will be no incentive to buy.  Understand a couple of things about information online:

  1. Any information you share is likely to be present online in hundreds of places.  It is unlikely you will come up with something unique.  Even if you do, it will be copied and adapted by hundreds of other people.  You take time to find out about what you write about and combine it in various ways.  By all means hold back material for your coaching, but don’t worry if it leaks out because …
  2. Coaching is not an information dump.  The coach helps their client understand, make choices, practice, try new things.  Working out the best solution for them is always a unique problem.  They need help to think things through and find a solution that works for them. 

Bringing Two Strands Together

Your email series covers ground midway between elementary material you share on social media and complex struggles with reality many people engage in as business people and are the real purpose of coaching.

There are many ways to organise this material.  How a particular business works out their content strategy is a topic suitable for coaching.  However, we can illustrate the type of thing a successful content strategy could use. 

Genius is often found in combining two topics.  Find the right two topics that resonate together, producing new and valuable insights. 

I’m a marketing coach who specialises in one small part of marketing.  I do this because deep expertise in one area enhances practice in many others.  My specialism is business storytelling.  Without a business narrative, everything else is immensely difficult.   Going deeper into storytelling, brings meaning to other aspects of marketing and indeed business as a whole.

It soon became obvious to me that storytelling alone was not enough.  I needed another strand.  Strategy is something I have specialised in for decades.  Many business people are great tacticians with poor strategic skills.   

Strategy is why storytelling appeals to me.  Good stories are well plotted and plotting is similar to strategy.   Plotting is how we organise the raw content of a story to make sense of its direction, purpose and audience.  Strategy is what makes sense of a marketing campaign.

Your Signature Content and How to Deliver it!

Many people think of signature content as a one-off story, distinctive to your business.  Some business owners have a signature story.  But not everyone.  Everyone must however have signature content.

So, what is it?  Think of a piece of content you have produced.  You show you prepared it by appending your signature.  But what if someone reading your content thought it must be by you before they reach the end and see your signature? 

The content itself contains your signature style.  Only you could have written that article.  Now you can say, if you want more, if you want to see the insights I have from years of work, mountains of reading, hours of reflection, then join my list.

Of course it’s not as simple as that!  The point of creating a list is to build relationships with those who are on it.  Building such relationships is a long-term project but equally it can be faster.  Using the phone is a valuable marketing tool, alongside your email list. 

house overgrown with ivy

Understanding Context and Failure

Saul Alinsky was a community activist in the United States.  He invented Citizens’ Organising and after he died in the 70s, the Industrial Areas Foundation led the way.  Organising has been immensely successful in the context of the US.  President Obama was an organiser before he became President.

Attempts have been made to introduce Organising to the UK.  Not with a great deal of success.  One of the earliest UK Organisations was COGB – Citizens Organised for a Greater Bristol.  I saw one of their events in 1992, when I took an organising course.  The event was impressive.  (I failed the course because I didn’t get angry enough!) 

Impact was the Organisation in Sheffield.  It no longer exists.  Why?  I don’t know the details but I know what I experienced of Impact.  Funding is important for Organisations and it must come from their members (other organisations – in the States, often churches).  Impact applied for grants and this put it in the wrong relationship with potential members and allies.  It was perceived as competing for funding and to achieve its outputs it tended to strongarm the groups it was supposed to support.  Presumably the reason it applied for grants was because most organisations, themselves dependent on grants, could not justify its high fees.

Organising hasn’t worked in the UK because it is a completely different context to the US. 

Divergent Solutions

Context is one key reason proven approaches don’t work.  Time and again, I heard about some new initiative in a neighbourhood similar to the one where I worked.  I persuaded people it was worth a try and we found it didn’t work.  Often some apparently insignificant issue proved all important.

We tend to think of solutions as convergent and the analogy might be engineering.  Think of something that always works, eg a car engine.  A well-maintained engine works reliably and predictably.  It may be possible to modify the engine and improve performance.  If this is a positive change, it is not too difficult to persuade everyone that it’s worth adopting the modification.  Solutions for engineering problems are usually convergent.  Given two solutions, it is not difficult to agree which is the best.

Divergent solutions are where answers proliferate.  Unlike convergent solutions, where potential solutions can be eliminated, divergent solutions produce more and more options.  Most human systems are divergent.  There are at least as many solutions as there are people involved.  These are qualitative systems, described by stories – they cannot be described by statistics.  When there are effectively an infinity of possible solutions, the only way to manage is to make choices.

Trial and error is the main option here.  But can we guide the choices we make?

Soft Systems Analysis

Soft systems analysis helps us think about divergent problems.  It is too complex to describe the full method here but I can help you appreciate something of its power.

What tends to happen with any divergent problem is we lose sight of what we are looking at!  The situation is so complex we can’t tell apples from oranges.  Indeed we might not see the oranges at all because there are so many apples, all vying for attention.

When we take a soft system seriously there are many problems and many solutions.  Before we do anything, we need to agree on the problem.

One useful idea is the distinction between actors and clients.  An actor is someone who has a part to play in the system.  There are likely to be many actors and all have their own roles and objectives.

A client is an actor who wants to change the system.  Each client has their own perspective on the system.  So, what difference does it make, which actor you choose as a client?  (These may be real-life clients and you are helping them with their analysis; or you can choose several actors and compare the difference it makes when they are clients.) 

Let’s say you consider three actors as clients.  Each perceives the system in their unique way.  So, now you see the system from three distinct viewpoints.  This helps you see new problems and new possibilities. 

The context changes when you change client.  The system is unchanged except you view the system from the perspective of  each client. 

Why do most initiatives go wrong?  The reasons can be subtle.  There’s nothing visible but opposition to your solution grows, it seems out of nowhere.  You need to be able to read the system and soft systems helps you do that.

Each client has a purpose.  You can help a real life client achieve their purpose using soft systems.  You can view a system from the viewpoints of several clients using soft systems.  Either way you need to understand purpose.  And lack of clarity about purpose is another reason for failure.

A sieve with icing sugar.

Email Marketing Enhances Credibility through Automation

Sarah said goodbye to her client, sat down and sighed.  The session had gone really well.  Her client was delighted with the service she received.  Just like the other two.  It felt great to deliver a really professional service.  So, why was it so hard to gain credibility in the wider business world?

Sarah needed just three clients per month to break even and cover her bills.  It couldn’t be that difficult, could it?  She had invested several thousands of pounds in training over several years.  Now she was a skilled nutritionist and making a massive difference for her – so few – clients.  What was she doing wrong?

Credibility and professionalism go hand in hand.  It is hard to imagine a professional who lacks credibility or credibility without professionalism.  So, what is the difference?

I’m using professionalism in the old-fashioned sense of particular expertise.  Usually this includes knowledge and experience.  The medical doctor knows the theory but also how various conditions present in a variety of patients. 

Certainly, if the professional lacks knowledge or experience, they lack credibility.  For many professions though, credibility includes capacity to deliver.  Can the professional marshal the resources they need to the required degree?  It is possible to have professional ability and lack capacity to deliver as a business. 

This post covers credibility as a business, the issues all businesses must address, irrespective of their profession.  The next addresses how to communicate professional content online.

The Sales Funnel

This subheading implies a single thing called a sales funnel.  The concept is a funnel you might use in the kitchen, to fill narrow necked bottles.  It has a wide end and a narrow end and so channels fluids or powders into the bottle. For the cook, the funnel saves time and spills (loss of valuable resources).  Can the same be true of your sales funnel?

The analogy breaks down because the sales funnel does not save spills! Nowhere near the numbers who enter the wide end emerge from the narrow end as customers! Reality is more like the image at the top of this post!

If you are in business and can describe your sales funnel, you have a marketing strategy.  It serves several functions; it can be tweaked, reviewed and measured.  If you do not have a marketing strategy, you do not have a business. 

Your credibility as a business depends upon a marketing strategy that looks out for customers at whatever stage of your sales funnel they are at.  When potential customers experience your sales funnel, you must reassure them they are in safe hands, they can trust you to deliver on your promises. The details depend upon the nature of your business.  This is why I say there is no single sales funnel that applies to all businesses.

Social Media Alone Cannot Work

By and large, social media functions at the wide end of your sales funnel.  Use it to pique interest and build an initial following.  Social media may fulfil other functions, for example private Facebook groups help build community between paying customers.

Your aim is to move people from social media to your email list and website.  There are several reasons for this and I shall cover them in later posts.  Overall, moving prospects from social media to your own site gives you more control over their experience.

  • It is easier to sell within your own website and email list. 
  • Your marketing strategy is safer, protected from rule changes or suspension within social media platforms. 
  • It is likely there will be more charges for selling online as social media platforms work out how to sell services to businesses.  There’s nothing wrong with paying for social media support for your business so long as the service you purchase works for you.  But be aware the rules and the prices change and you have little or no influence over how and when those changes happen.

Your email list is the glue that holds together your sales funnel, including the social media elements within it.

Automating Your Sales Funnel

Your email list enables you to automate your sales funnel and increase your business capacity.  Once you have a name on your list, someone has expressed interest in your business and you can show them more material of interest, exclusive to people on your list. 

You increase your business capacity.  Automation saves time. 

You deliver regular information into their inbox.  Whatever social media platforms your prospects favour, they are likely to check their email several times a day.  You need to capture and hold attention.  Imagine if they see your email and trust you enough to at least open it and scan the content, based on past experience.

High quality content is essential.  Use it to win credibility by drawing upon your professional expertise. 

Never stop dreaming

Why Does Business Development Matter?

When I started my own business, I had no idea what I was going to do.  I knew I had no idea; what attracted me was lifestyle.  I wanted freedom to live my life as I chose.  I was at the earliest stage of business development.

So, I started as a website designer.  It’s been a journey, working out what I do – what I offer that people value. 

As I grew in understanding of website design, I worked out websites are always about marketing something, if not a business, a cause.  As I read about marketing I found much of it familiar from my time in community development.  We didn’t call it marketing.  When you have no funds and little influence, you need to communicate your message and respond to objections.

The next phase was to position myself amongst others who sell marketing.  Any viable business encounters competition.  I chose storytelling in marketing as a key area based on my experience in community development and my observations about how marketing is itself marketed.

It has been a long journey and a journey every business owner takes.

Why do most things fail?  The most likely reason is covered in this post.  It is important to understand the stage of business development you are at.  Not every technical fix works for businesses at every stage of development. 

A common problem is using methods that work for businesses at later stages.  It is also possible to be stuck with a method that worked when your business was at an earlier stage.

Five Stages of Business Development

Let’s review five stages of business development.  Five is not a magic number.  Five offers a helpful rule of thumb.  It is always possible to go deeper if you need to.

Stage 1: Dreaming

At this stage, you work out your business purpose.  Why are you in business?  Use trial and error.  Try things until you find something that works.

This stage can be swift or slow (years slow).  Sometimes it takes a while to work out not just your strengths but what you can meet from your market’s needs.

You can make money at this stage and indeed you must be in business.  How else can you test an idea to see whether it is viable?

Once you turn over a few thousand a year, you are ready to move to stage 2.

Stage 2: Marketing and Selling

At this stage you work out how to market and sell products and services.  If you cannot sell over a cup of coffee, you cannot sell online.  You need to know, through conversations with potential customers, what sells; work out how to get them to sit down with you over coffee.

Move to stage 3 when you feel under pressure to meet the demands of your customers.  By then you may be turning over a few tens of thousands.

Stage 3: Capacity Building

This is the stage most successful businesses reach.  Some pass through this stage with an eye to stages 4 and 5.  Others are content at stage 2 but wish to perhaps find more time by becoming more efficient.  This is not the place to go into detail but the main ways to build capacity are:

  • Automation – now you can sell online!
  • Increased prices
  • Buying in services
  • Employment of staff

Many use all four and so likely turnover is intermediate tens of thousands, up to the UK VAT threshold, perhaps. 

Stage 4: Mass Market

This is where you move out of your niche and build a mass market.  Whilst you must remain faithful to your business purpose (success is a frequent reason businesses lose their way) now you sell something with mass appeal.  You offer any flavour so long as it is vanilla.

This stage does not appeal to everyone. 

Stage 5: Guru Status

Now you sell more than one line to a mass market.  You are recognised by other businesses as the leader in the market. 

Reasons for Failure

Stage of business development is a frequent reason for failure because there are many ways of losing track of where you are.  Here are a few.

First, you leapfrog to a later stage.  This is a frequent issue for people starting out.  They are new to the marketplace and watch what others do.  Everyone’s going to a workshop about Facebook marketing and so you tag along.  It’ll work if you have something to sell and Facebook is right for your market.  If you don’t, maybe you are getting into Facebook too early. 

Another common problem is early success.  You can leapfrog stages 1 and 2 and go directly to 3.  This might happen where someone stumbles on something easy to sell.  They set up a business and it does well, requires loads of staff and shows great growth.  But what happens when demand falls? Now you have the responsibility of employing staff but no clear business purpose and no idea how to market or sell anything else. 

It is also possible to forget stages 1 and 2, if you are contemplating a move to stage 4.  The temptation at this stage is to compromise on quality.  Does compromise further your business purpose? 

Finding Solutions

My purpose in this series of posts is to identify likely reasons for failure.  It is not to suggest solutions.  Why? Every business is different.  What works for one business is a disaster for another. 

What can you do?  It helps to begin with two questions:

  1. How well do you know your own business?
  2. Do you know the stage of development your business is at? Whatever the reason for failure, it is coloured by the stage of business development. 


Get a coach or non-directive consultant.  A good coach not only boosts your brain power (two heads are better than one!) but sees your business from a different perspective.  It is easy to get locked into one way of seeing things.  Tell yourself a story and the story enchants you.  Sometimes the perspective you take has obvious flaws; obvious when they are pointed out! 

A coach helps you find the perspective to move your work on.  For this reason, the coach need not be an expert in the business you occupy.  You need to be nudged, you don’t need someone to do the work for you!

Technical Solutions

Technical solutions are great so long as you choose the right ones.  For example, Facebook marketing might be the solution you seek.  It’s a proven method.  Go to a workshop on this topic and you find other business owners there too.  They’re there because it is a good, proven method.

Spend no more time on Facebook marketing than you need to eliminate it from your enquiries.  Putting time, money and energy into the wrong solution destroys your business.  If Facebook marketing destroys your business, it is not the fault of Facebook marketing.

Most likely, it is not appropriate to your stage of business development.  There may be other reasons it does not work.  But consider whether what you are trying to do right now is best helped by marketing through Facebook.


Stage of business development is an important element in the context of failure.  But businesses fail for other reasons and it is important to understand how context influences the solutions we bring to our business.

Cart drawn by two horses

How Email Marketing Builds Your Reputation

Early on, Sarah was concerned about her branding and asked a graphic designer to produce a logo for her emails, website and stationery. He did a brilliant job for a few hundred pounds. But now Sarah’s business has moved on and she has a dilemma. She has a distinctive and attractice logo that has mislead several prospects. Even though it is lovely she fears it could damage her reputation.

Branding is about reputation.  No amount of graphic brilliance improves your brand if your reputation is poor.  So, let’s begin by considering what branding is and is not.

What is Branding?

Most of us don’t drive a horse and cart these days.  Even so we see the impossibility of putting the cart before the horse and expecting the horse to push it along.  Would you really spend a few hundred pounds on your logo before you launched your business?  Really?

Your priority, during early business development, is to create a great product or service, to learn how to market it and sell it.  No logo will help you. A logo is a distraction – putting the graphics cart before the marketing and sales horse. 

It is possible a good logo makes your business recognisable and memorable.  But, especially in the early days of your business, is it worth investing time and money in symbolism that might have limited application?

Quality of graphics does not make a good brand.  When your positive reputation is associated with your branding graphics, they acquire value.  

So, choose a business name.  Choose a font.  Put together a logo using your font and business name.  You can do this in half an hour.

This way you:

  • save time and money
  • have a scalable logo.  Text does not go fuzzy at the edges when you increase its size.  (The same is true of icons and so use an icon if you wish.)
  • can update it whenever you wish or inspiration hits.

Many successful businesses use text logos.  Their logo evolves over time but remains essentially text.  Take a look at the logos on these sites:

These successful businesses have simple logos.  We admire them (if we do) because they are successful. 

What is Reputation?

How do you build your business reputation?  Reputation is positive when you get two things right. 

First, show you deliver on your promises.  If you promise a workshop on a particular day, show up and deliver that workshop.  If you are a coach and promise to help your client develop a skill, they must develop that skill.

So far, so good.  The key is accountability. For freelancers this can be difficult.  In employment, you meet requirements set by your employer.  As a freelance, you deliver to your own schedule.  The temptation is not to make your objectives public.  If you do, you have to meet them and you can turn that to your advantage.

Setting tasks publicly and meeting them demonstrates credibility.  An email marketing strategy sets public commitments and automates them. You show you plan your work and have capacity to deliver on your promises. 

The second thing you must get right is your teaching.  The content you promise and produce through your emails, shows you understand and deliver on your subject area.  That’s what I am doing as I write this blog post.  People on my list receive notice of it, while those who access it through some other route sign up if they find the post helpful.

Credibility alone is not enough.  Deliver worthwhile material – material your customers and followers value and this demonstrates professionalism.

Your Email Marketing Strategy

A sound email marketing strategy supports both professionalism and credibility.  The next two posts take each in turn and shows how.  Taken together professionalism and credibility enhance your reputation and add value to your brand.

1 2 3 67