Naturally I couldn’t put every one of my lessons learned in my first year of business into one blog post, so here is the second part with the final five of my “top ten”—sort of inspired by David Letterman you might say. And, the global COVID-19 pandemic is teaching me all kinds of new lessons in my second year. If you haven’t had the chance to read part one, please click here and come on back! So, what do you think? Let’s get right into my final bits of advice:
Philip Morabito, the CEO of Pierpont, told me when I first started BlueByrd, "Never stop selling." These three words remained in the back of my mind over the course of the year. There were times when I was drowning in work, but I still networked, still created proposals, and still went on sales calls. In short, I didn't say no to an opportunity to sell. You don't want holes in the sales pipeline. Remember in my last blog post when I talked about cash flow? Well, if you have gaps in your sales pipeline, that means that there will be a gap in the work coming in. That translates to a slow month down the line. Even when you have a busy month, you need to continually be out there trying to sell to fill in those future gaps as much as you can.
There comes a time when you are juggling all of your responsibilities that you can't keep all the balls in the air—i.e., continually selling and keeping your promises. That's when you need to find help. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to hire people, but you must have trusted allies whom you can send overflow work. I have many contractors that I used to help me in tight situations. I knew I could count on them. When I handed a project off, I was confident they were going to do a great job, with me doing just a little bit of quality control at the end of the project. This is another great way for you to lean on your network. You surely know talented people that are going to be able to help you—just don’t hesitate to reach out to them.
When most people start out they're building a lifestyle business—the type of business that can support them and their families and a small group of employees. It’s a good way to go because you don’t have to focus on the things that a larger business has a focus on, like continuous growth. When I began BlueByrd, I wanted a lifestyle business where I could make a comfortable living and pay for my kid's college education. But what I learned about myself is this: I like to build things and I like to grow things. After four months, I decided I didn't want it to just be a lifestyle business. So I had to change my strategy to grow the business faster than I would have if it was only me on board supporting my handful of clients. I had to come up with a strategy for maturing my processes and hiring consultants. Now I am going into the people business, with a more intense focus on selling. Making that choice to expand the scope of your business is really important because it naturally changes the way that you go about your day-to-day.
A year ago, I had a very clear vision about the consulting work that I wanted to do. But it wasn’t too long before I determined that I needed to adjust my offerings a little bit. I thought about my model being focused purely on being a fractional chief marketing officer, doing workshops here and there, and working on pricing for my clients. I thought that the fractional CMO work would just be shorter-term engagements, maybe three to six months. As it turned out, my clients weren’t ready to let me go at the end of the initial term—they really wanted me to stick around for a little bit longer and help them oversee all the strategy work that we did in the first three months. And so that's been a pleasant surprise because recurring monthly income is a good thing.
One of my clients also started to turn to me to put together an in-house creative team instead of outsourcing to an agency. I was able to offer that as an outsourced service and it turned out to be a new offering I could provide that I didn’t consider at first. Just by listening to what the clients were asking for and adjusting has added a new dimension to BlueByrd. Looking back, if I had said, "No. I don’t offer that. This is my business model," it would've really hurt me from a revenue perspective.
As a one-person company or if you are just starting out, the simple fact is: you are the brand of your company. And like it or not, each promise you break erodes the brand associations you’ve worked hard to build. I was reminded of this when I double-booked myself for two meetings—both non-movable meetings. But I had to honor my previous commitment. One meeting was a yearly planning session for one of my loyal fractional CMO clients, the other one was a culture workshop for a large, international client that was literally flying people in from all over the world to attend the workshop. I booked the international workshop first, so I had to honor that commitment. Of course, my CMO client wanted me to reschedule the international workshop. I was really in a hard spot and was not going to be able to do that. Luckily, my friend Dave Lopez was able to attend the fractional CMO’s strategy session for me. And it all worked out because Dave is a professional and we were able to work hard to catch up on all the particulars of my client. However, it did take a toll on the trust level my other client had for me. I had to work really hard to earn back that trust over a series of months. It was one of the biggest lessons I learned: You have to be able to keep your promises and fulfill client expectations no matter what.
Making the choice to start a business is a big one. It can be really scary. But it's not as scary as you think. It’s a wild ride but honestly, it's a lot of fun. You just have to take your cash flow situation very seriously. You have to take selling very seriously. And you have to be willing to really work hard. And most importantly—if you don't really love what you do, it's going to feel like a lot of work. So love what you do, and get out there and do it. Hopefully, these tips will inspire and help you out. And finally—good luck and let me know how things are going along the way!
Also, I'd like to say thank you again to my awesome clients and friends that helped me throughout my first year. I am truly grateful. Ther are too many of you to name, but you know who you are. I couldn't have done it without you.
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