So, you want to start an online business, and you’ve got an idea, talent, product or service you think the world will love. You’ve seen the glamor shots on InstaGram, the influencers, the Lambos and the “laptop on a tropical beach” photos. “That must be the secret,” you think, with a twinkle in your eye. “Gotta do the online thing.”
Maybe you have more compelling reasons. You “don’t play well with others,” or you don’t like your boss, or you’re tired of the rat race. Maybe you’re a good salesperson or marketer for terrestrial business, and you heard there’s a ton of money to be made online. Or maybe you’re a tech whiz kid fighting your way into Silicon Valley riches.
It’s simple! All you have to do is push the right buttons, pull the right levers and you’ll be raking in the cash on Easy Street. Right?
Er, no. Not quite. You’re actually about to travel a secret, invisible path business owners have walked for centuries. You’re going from being a consumer, who asks, “What’s in it for me?” … to being a producer, who watches consumers buy products and asks, “Why do they buy it?” Particularly if they buy a lot of it.
Welcome to the Real World
You have a bigger problem than you think. You’re about to enter a marketplace so vast, nuanced, segmented and complex that you’ll have difficulty existing, in the minds of your target audience. If you thought it was hard persuading people in the physical marketplace, you have no idea what it’ll take in the digital one. What’s worse, you’ll discover this while watching veteran competitors appear to “make money in their sleep,” which makes it more frustrating.
I don’t mean to sound like Debbie Downer here. If you’re not careful, you can end up like Willy Loman, the main character in the play Death of a Salesman. He said, “After all the highways, trains, appointments and years, you end up worth more dead than alive.”
You need a way to distinguish yourself to your audience, and prove that people want to buy what you offer. Usually, that means taking a few “piggyback rides” in the early days, so you can make some customers happy and get social proof on your website to back it up.
JVP’s ISO JVP’s
“Junior varsity players in search of joint venture partners.” That’s the best way to describe a startup owner’s dilemma, when approaching an influential person with the power to promote you. You play for the high school JV team, and you’re approaching someone playing professional ball.
In my experience, there are two ways you can grab the attention of someone with the scope and range of a major influencer. Either you approach them with a built-in audience of sufficient size that it makes sense for them to work with you … OR … you follow the steps I’m about to share, while you work your way into being a viable marketing avenue for them.
Rise 25 founder John Corcoran, a former presidential speechwriter, spelled out a list of things you can do for an influential person when you’re looking to get on their radar. According to his website, The Smart Business Revolution, John says you can:
- Record a video review of their product or book
- Ask for an interview
- “Buy” some of their time (there are websites that offer this)
- Meet them at a conference, or go to one of their events
- Reach out using a heartfelt letter
- Look for mutual friends online
- Honor them with an award
Now, while you’re doing this, you also need to build your audience. If you need help doing that, I want to recommend you try out this podcast episode I recorded on two key things you need to do if you’re starting from scratch. If you can build relationships with influential people, while cultivating a community or list you can sell to – you’ll be in position to monetize your relationship.
Sales vs Marketing
There’s another shift you’ll learn – and this is one you make several times a day, throughout the life of your business. Producers learn to shift from being a salesman to being a marketer – and back to being a salesman.
The difference is subtle, but you could compare it to the difference between being someone who sells berries at a farmer’s market, and the farmer who produces the berries to sell.
A salesperson takes a finished product to a target market, but a marketer studies the wants and needs of that market, and crafts an offer to sell to them. Neither one is lesser or greater than the other; they’re simply different.
As the owner of your business, however, you’re going to alternate between hats. At any moment, multiple times throughout your day, you need to be able to make the switch from salesman to marketer, and back to salesman. It made me think of an insurance agent I know, who described his day like this:
When I wake up in the morning, and drive to the office, and sit there planning out my day, I’m a marketer. I’m thinking, “Who is my ideal client, and when they encounter me, what are they likely to want?”
If I encounter that person during the day, at a luncheon or networking event, I know they don’t want to buy insurance then and there. But I also know they DO want to buy “me,” if they’re not super-tight with their current agent. So I sell myself, by being generous and adding value when interacting.
I don’t usually put on my “salesman hat” until they specifically say they are ready to write a check and sign papers. Up until that moment, even if they tell me, “I want to have you look at my insurance,” I sort of “bob and weave” in and out of being one or the other. I ask them questions like, “How comfortable do you feel with your current coverage?” or “What’s the quality of the relationship with your current agent?”
It’s only once they’ve expressed that they are 100 percent comfortable with me making recommendations that I propose a plan for their insurance needs.”
You may not have as delicate of a process. People might make up their minds much faster on purchasing from you. But as a producer, you want to continue asking yourself the question: “When something works, why does it work?” When people buy from you, why do they buy? What is it that causes your offer to align with their interests and motives?
You must validate what you offer by surveying the marketplace. As long as you’ve done your homework and research ahead of time, it shouldn’t take very long to figure it out. For some handy refreshers and review on how to understand your target buyers, check out this podcast we recorded.