Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Your Best Foundation for a Sustainable Business

Would your business survive burning down?

What would you do if your business burned to the ground? If you had to literally start over, would you be able to cope? What would your approach be?

I have been falling behind with my workload lately. You just have to look at my posting frequency to see that I have been dropping as many plates as I manage to keep spinning.

I’m busy. That’s a great problem to have, so long as it does not impact my commitments and customer service.

My first act has been to cut back on any new commitments. You may have noticed I have suspended offering consulting and coaching. I just don’t have capacity to take on any new clients. Even critiques now will only be offered as part of the Authority Blogger monthly mastermind calls.

This is a difficult reality to face, but it made me think about what it means to have a business that sustains itself even when you are so busy you find your business with nobody at the wheel …

It also got me thinking about if I had to start over again, what elements of my current business would I need to recreate to know I had good foundations?

What are the essential foundations?

What does a self-sustaining business look like?

Of course the first definition we need to agree on is that a business that is going to function long term must make more income than is spent in expenditure. Seems obvious, but there are a lot of businesses not in that situation.

How does a business get to that place? A business that can support itself is built on assets.

Assets are the foundation of a healthy business.

We often get confused about what that really means.

Your equipment is not an asset, because, while you could sell it to solve some short-term cashflow issues, it depreciates in value, and once you have sold it you can’t make income that depends on it.

There are also a lot of things that are not strictly assets – things you don’t have ownership over, but that you can influence:

  • Traffic – Ashkan recently moved to a new domain for his app reviews site and found his traffic disappeared. It’s still a good site, but Google needs time to rediscover the content and start trusting it again. Even though many websites are sold based on traffic, it doesn’t mean that you own it. You are at the mercy of outside forces. At best, you borrow or rent traffic for a while.
  • Reputation – We build our reputations but can slip up and destroy it at any moment, and we see in the media all the time how even innocent people can have their reputation destroyed by a powerful story.
  • Relationships – Relationships are a partnership, all you can do is your best to hold up your side.
  • Market – Even the goliath companies that seem to be able to steer a market ultimately fall from grace.
  • Social media accounts – I don’t need to tell you how little control you really have over the accounts you get from Twitter and Facebook. I have the same name as a USA politician and a Canadian Football player. Some day they might decide I don’t deserve to have vanity URLs that match my name. I don’t have a vanity URL at Google+ yet. With these accounts, at best you are a tenant, at worst you are the product that they are selling. Copyblogger calls this Digital Sharecropping.
  • Third-party tools, such as gmail, hosted video platform, backup solution – Outside of the excellent spam team, Google is renowned for not exactly putting customer service as a priority. I know very few people who have managed to speak to a customer service person there. Even when you are paying a lot of money in advertising.
  • Influence – You might have influence today, but who will say how long it will last? Stars rise and fall.
I’ve said in the past that I think a network is one of your key assets, but by my above-mentioned standard, I think we only have partial influence over our network because it depends on relationships and reputation.

So … What DO you own?

Your real business assets

I had to think long and hard about what are actual assets were (I would love your input into this).

What we really own are the things we have built ourselves and have complete control over.

  • Your content – Even if people rip you off, copy, and the like, your content is still something you own that has value, even if you don’t sell access to it.
  • Your list – You don’t have complete control over the response from the list, but you do own that list of names while ever the people on it continue to give you permission to contact them. This is why I always encourage my clients to start an Aweber list as soon as possible and to start email marketing.
  • Your knowledge and expertise – Nobody can take what you have learned away from you, and the more you know, the more useful you are to other people. I have always tried to keep my knowledge and skills expanding. Just this week I have been learning Adobe InDesign, not because I think I can be the new Rafal (if that was even humanly possible), but because it will make me more useful on the projects I work on.
  • Customer experience – Things can go wrong with anything, and a lot of events are beyond our control, but the ultimate customer experience you provide is down to you. Part of that is how you say sorry and correct problems. The better your customer service, the better your long-term business prospects.

Why my business survives despite being too busy to promote it

Now we get to the whole point. How can you make your business work even when you can’t be 100% present in it?

  1. Build useful skills. Educate yourself as much as you can. Start with free material (try your best to sort the signal from the noise) and when you can afford the premium information and training, start investing in it.
  2. Grow your network and show your value to the people in it. Part of that value will depend on your character, another part will be the knowledge, skills and experience from #1.
  3. Build systems that attract leads without your constant, direct input. (As I said above – Get Aweber. Build your list) – Part of that is giving the people who do buy from you the best possible customer experience so they will advocate on your behalf (see above).

Why does my business survive despite me neglecting my marketing? Because I am fortunate that my foundations are in place. People reach out to me to help them, they know where to find me, and I have systems in place that help people 24/7 without my direct involvement.

Over to you, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments! 



Qingping Kong Roger Corbett George Paz Arthur F. Ryan Matthew K. Rose

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