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3 Things You Don’t Want to Hear about Growing a Business – but Must

When Creative Souls Tribe graciously asked me to write this article, I wondered if I should. My perspective is typically different than other contributors on this site. And by “different,” I mean harsher. I’m not the friend nor business partner people come to when they want coddles. However, my intentions are good. I desperately want others to elevate their work and business outcomes; I want others to raise their game, and in turn, raise my own. And sometimes, in order to do that, you have to hear some things that you may not want to…

  1. Get critical feedback. 

Whether you like recognition in private or public is another matter, but I’m sure that we can all agree that “You got this” feels much better than, “You sure you got this?”

However, in reality, balanced feedback – knowing where you or your product are not so great – is required on the road to growth. This adverse information can give you cues about when to rein things in, ask for help, and even how to run your business.

Let me share two vulnerable examples: one of the themes that’s come up for me, for many years, is that I can be so focused on the outcome, that along the way, I sometimes ostracize those I’m leading. I hate reading this in my 360⁰ reports, but it’s important to know for when I lead, work, and advise. In response, one tweak I’ve made to my business process is that I have clients explain to me how they view change so that I can be more conscientious about how I lead them toward a new outcome.

When it comes to business skills, one glaring gap for me is that I stink at politics. I do believe that elegantly navigating politics is a legitimate skill, where my personal proficiency is around -19. My response on this? I have zero interest in improving my political prowess. So unlike the efforts I’ve made to improve my change management, this one I’ve decided to dodge completely. My company’s target market includes businesses with ten or fewer employees.

Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of budding entrepreneurs fall into the trap of not asking prospects, users, and customers for real feedback. Instead, they talk to friends and family who say, “Your idea is great!” Of course, you need this positive reinforcement. Don’t stop asking for the good! Add to your interviewees. Ask people who are indifferent to you. They should have no attachment so they will tell you truths that help in the long run. To see what I mean, check out the brilliant “honesty curve” in minutes 21-24 of this Stanford lecture.

2. It takes money to make money.

If you’re an employee who doesn’t get paid so well – or someone who is starting a business and bootstrapped for cash, this one is hard to swallow. In some cases it takes an immense leap of faith, but spending is critical (assuming that you’ve done your fact finding and due diligence). I’m a huge fan of outsourcing. Over the years I’ve spent money on business education, fitness and mental help, cleaners, painters, food delivery services, etc. I spend money to optimize others’ expertise where I lack it. It’s a way to reinvest in my life so that I’m freeing up personal resources to reallocate elsewhere.

The same thing goes for your business.  When I launched my company, I spent serious money on my product, branding, infrastructure, and even office decor.  I made these investments because I’d done the work to project where my money was most likely to have effect. That’s investment: making a short-term sacrifice to create a long-term, exponential result.

Lately, I’ve been recommending You Are a Bad-ss at Making Money to friends and clients. It has a tacky title and annoying writing style, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. The content is important and impactful. One success story in it recounts: “Jill, 42, went from making an average $2,500 a month to an average $45,000 a month… [she says] Find a business coach and make the investment. Follow their advice to the letter, change your systems, get out of your own way, and do it.” (Shameless plug: of course, I as a business adviser like this example; my company does this very thing). However, the larger point is: there are probably plenty of places that you should be investing in yourself or your business; pick a strategic pocket, and start spending money.

3. Winning customers is not mass warfare; it’s hand to hand combat.

As today’s world is happening more and more online and en masse, one-on-one interactions, ironically, mean more than ever. The online echo chambers in which we live want us to believe that if our website is flashy enough, or our social media game is on-point enough, customers will come. (Customers, not followers). For a few businesses this may be true but not for most.

A few weeks ago, I had a fascinating conversation with the CEO of SEO firm Conversion First Marketing. He explained to me that his clients come from word of mouth. Which, to me, sounded like an argument against hiring his firm. Naturally, I had some questions.

Yet, he explained: “Marketing these days is a one-two punch. Especially in the Nashville region, word of mouth is how business gets done. A website doesn’t draw initial interest; someone’s personal recommendation does. That’s the first punch: the personal recommendation. Then, the potential buyer looks you up online. That’s the second punch. At that point you need to be easy to find and have a trusting online presence; our firm delivers that second punch”

His point? You do need a resource that can reach the masses, but that’s not how you initially draw customers in. One-on-one interactions is why people buy from you; and these days when everything online is blurring together, hand to hand is how you differentiate yourself.

I’d love to share one last thing that’s helped me, in addition to get critical feedback; spend money; and get offline if you want to win business. It’s a contributor to these three suggestions but not explicitly stated.

Creative Soul Tribe is a “Tribe for Creative Women.” If you know me personally, you know that I am proud to be a woman’s woman and lean on my girlfriends, female business partners, and clients for a lot. But I also proudly say that several people who have helped my career, as well as get my business get off the ground in Nashville, are men.

The three learnings shared here come from both women and men. Male sponsors have changed my life and work trajectory over the past ten+ years. And since I’ve moved to Nashville, I’ve been welcomed into the city’s business community and referred clients by several men. These days, this may be an unpopular point, but I stand firm in it.

We women are excitedly inching our way toward a vision where women hold the same power as men, but realistically, the world is not yet organized in this way. It’s important to know how to operate effectively in the world’s current organization in order to move us forward. If you’re a woman, keep being a woman’s woman and contributors in wonderful groups like Creative Soul Tribe (which has been one of my warmest welcomes in Nashville). And also, be expansive and inclusive in how you seek out contributors for your career, business, and customer base. Seek women and men for support, as men offer an important perspective. If you find the right ones, they will offer support and the path forward to help us women grow our careers and our businesses.

Julie Sellers is a Nashville-based business adviser.  She loves working one-on-one with solopreneurs and companies with less than ten people, who sell services, have a high focus on client intimacy, and want to grow their business with integrity. Learn more about Ellevated Outcomes and connect with Julie on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest

*Photo by Christy Dux 

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