Whether you’re starting your own agency or freelance career, competition is fierce. You’re either facing a giant in the space or a thousand other hopeful entrepreneurs or freelancers like yourself.
How do you stand out? Through carefully-executed branding.
Brands help to create a relatable identity and personality for the collective efforts of an organization. Without a brand, businesses seem inhuman, without values or purpose. That’s why it is crucial for businesses to nail down their brand— then ensure that it’s consistently communicated on all channels.
Branding can be notoriously difficult. It is, after all, mostly subjective. Thankfully, there are a few books you can read to follow the golden rules of branding, for your business or for yourself.
Best book on branding for entrepreneurs and business owners
All branding is ultimately based on a company’s ability to tell a story. Ask yourself, “why was this brand created? What separates it from other brands? What value can we provide to customers?” The answers, you will find, won’t always come easily.
In New York Times best-selling author Donald Miller’s book, you will learn about the StoryBrand process, allowing you to better tell your story and brand message. Miller covers the main points of a story that customers pay the most attention, as well as some tricks for clearly communicating your brand across all channels.
In the early 60s, business school graduate Phil Knight borrowed fifty dollars from his father to start a shoe company, importing cheap but high quality from Japan. He made $8000 in his first year. Now, Nike is a multibillion-dollar company, endorsed by the world’s leading athletes, musicians, entrepreneurs, while still having an everyman appeal.
In his memoir, Knight shares his story of how he built one of the most recognizable brands in history. Whether you’re a startup or a decades-old business, you can learn a thing or two about Knight’s legacy with the world-renown sneaker brand.
Designers have to think differently about brands- they’re usually the ones responsible for the aesthetics of a certain brand. At the same time, they must understand the process not just for designing a brand, but for implementing their decisions as well.
Designing Brand Identity is a staple resource for anyone looking for a guide into brand or identity design. The book features 50 case studies of real branding processes and their results, as well as hundreds of diagrams, illustrations, and other visual aids. Perfect for both marketing managers and aspiring design students alike, this book features a comprehensive guide to branding fundamentals that are critical to launching or even re-launching a brand.
Interested in building brands as a freelance career? It takes a lot more research and hard work, but the reward of having built it yourself makes it all worth it. Meg Mateo Ilasco and Joy Deangdeelert Cho demonstrate how to take a simple hobby into a long-term career.
Creative, Inc. is for illustrators, photographers, designers, animators, and other branding experts struggling to put their work out there. This book is brimming with useful advice on developing a portfolio and business that stands out from the crowd. If you’re just getting started as a freelancer or you’ve been thinking about it for some time, be sure to pick up this great book on branding.
Branding doesn’t just apply to businesses and entrepreneurs – in fact, it goes hand-in-hand with how you market yourself. It may be strange to think of one’s self as a brand, but in terms of finding new partnerships and creating business opportunities, it is no different from marketing and branding anything else.
The “Youpreneur” may sound unconventional, but it’s really a way to describe the new kind of entrepreneur- the personal brand entrepreneur. Youpreneurs aren’t bound by the traditional set of rules, but they still manage to stay as leaders within their niche. Regardless of what kind of business industry you may be in, this book will help you learn what it takes to become more successful in your career.
You built a visually unique brand… now what? Many designers and marketers know how to initiate a brand strategy, but few can adapt their strategy for long-term success. Ultimately, it’s about developing a sense of trust, offering something original, and hooking customers enough to make them your own brand ambassadors.
That’s exactly what Jonah Berger’s Contagious is all about. Why do some viral videos circulate millions of times, while others are quickly forgotten? How come anti-drug ads can actually lead to higher drug use? And what truly makes an idea popular? These are just a few of the questions posed by Berger in his book, and we highly recommend it for anyone seeking prolonged customer connections.
Craving for some more entrepreneurial insight? Check out these must-watch TED talks we discussed in a previous blog post.
After building enough experience working in a particular field or industry, you may decide to branch out into consulting work. Not only do you have the freedom to choose your clients and set your schedule, but your expertise may influence the trajectory of a company in substantial ways.
So exactly how does one become a consultant? First, we should clarify the very definition of consulting.
What is a consultant?
A consultant is a professional who offers their expertise to a company in a specific industry or specialized field. Typically this involves healthcare, media, marketing, and finance companies, although you will see consultants for just about any line of work.
While consultants can also be in-house employees, it’s more common to contract an independent consultant; this is because the consultant will have a broader set of experiences to draw from, and will only charge for the hours he consults.
What does a consultant do?
Consultants evaluate a specific company process, such as an accounting method or 3D modeling techniques. They then present their findings in a report or through proprietary, custom software. The company can then choose to take those recommendations and implement them as they see fit.
Watch MConsulting Prep’s video for a detailed explanation of how management consulting works.
Who can become a consultant?
Virtually anybody can become a consultant as long as they have the experience. It is worth noting that different types of consultants will require licenses for their consultancy. You can often see licenses in industries with high risk and competition, such as education, healthcare, marketing, and engineering sectors.
In reality, companies will be more interested in seeing a consultant’s previous experience, where they managed to enact some change or positively impact the company.
How do consultants add value?
Consultants are like advisors to kings and generals. They notice industry trends before they can happen, identify potential blindspots or roadblocks in a process, and ultimately offer another perspective on any given issue.
Now let’s walk through the steps involved in actually becoming a consultant.
8 steps to become a consultant
Find a practice to focus on
Maybe you are a spatial thinker and have a natural talent for interior design. Or perhaps you prefer working with numbers and tend to excel with financial or mathematical challenges. Whatever your interest or passion, immerse yourself in it. Read as many books on that topic. Speak with other experts in the field that may lecture at your university. The more you specialize in a particular topic, the more competitive you can be.
Build professional experience
The word “professional” is key. No one becomes a consultant in college or even graduate school, because no one will believe they have the track record. Even if that person has been practicing their craft since they were a toddler, it’s far more important to have industry knowledge and experience. Consultants have been working in their field for years, sometimes decades before they decide to consult.
Get a certificate or license
While certifications aren’t entirely necessary, they can certainly go a long way in proving your competitiveness.
Be careful in finding certifications online. Always do your research and validate authenticity before signing up.
Define a target market
Marketing your services to everyone under the sun is a surefire way to waste time and resources. Instead, think hard about who will use your services. Will you focus on B2C (business to consumer) or B2B (business to business)? Will they be large enterprises, or smaller startups and agencies? Are they in finance, healthcare, entertainment, or some other industry?
These questions will become easier to answer over time. In the beginning, it’s ideal to work with companies in industries that align with your personal experience. Instead of asking others or researching which market is best, ask yourself, “in which market do I have the most knowledge?” When you already know the ins and outs of that particular trade, you tend to have more conviction and sway in providing recommendations.
Find your first client
Just as startups must test their idea with a minimum viable product, consultants must start with one client on a single project. You could read or watch all the material available on consulting, yet nothing will prepare you as much as real-life, hands-on experience.
You don’t need to run any complicated ad campaigns to attract business. Start by looking inside your network. Ask your family, friends, former professors, coworkers and classmates, and other individuals that may be interested. You’ll be surprised by how many leads you can find by simply asking around.
Develop your physical and online presence
After your first few consultations, you will want to start building a name for yourself. Physically, that involves securing office space and meeting rooms where you can host and meet clients. Digitally, it means building a website or an online portfolio that showcases your experience.
Building your physical and online presence is vital to creating a memorable brand. Remember that your consulting firm or service is not the only one in existence— which is why you must find ways to remind customers of your services and differentiators. When customers see an attractive website or a well-maintained office, they also see a reputable business.
YouTuber, kchoi, has developed a following online as she shares her journey of consulting. We recommend watching her video, “A Week in My Life as a Consultant.”
Deliver a valuable experience
It’s no secret that consulting is one of the most lucrative businesses, with the industry raking in $250 billion in 2017. The challenge is in finding clients that can see and understand the value your services provide. Your prospects and clients will not be focused on the hours of research required to prepare for a consultation, but rather the results you produce and the prices you charge.
So, how do you provide value? In an article from Harvard Business Review aptly titled “Consulting Is More Than Giving Advice,” Arthur Turner shares a hierarchy of consulting objectives organized from the most common consulting actions to the most ambitious secondary goals.
Most consultants can agree that the first five actions are essential (although number 5, assisting implementation, might be more contentious). The top three actions are “byproducts” of the first five but contribute to more exceptional consulting services.
Moving up the hierarchy is essential to growing your business but at the risk of increasing your scope. Starting out, you will want to stick to the first few actions while ensuring the work is within your means and ability. Understand where and when you can add value and define rates accordingly. Only then will you gradually build the experience to consult on larger projects.
Become selective with clients
Once you establish a robust roster of reliable and valuable clients, you can have greater control over who you work with. Being selective may sound contradictory to the goal of consulting. After all, wouldn’t you want to work with as many businesses as possible?
Ideally, yes, more work means more money. With experience, you will discover which clients to avoid. Don’t be afraid to reject projects that aren’t a good fit. Being picky about projects can also significantly improve your success rate with multiple clients, allowing you to focus your energy and resources on clients who act on and benefit from your recommendations.
How to find clients
For your business to survive long-term, you will need to master the art of attracting and closing leads. Fortunately, you are not tied to a single method. Below are some of the more successful methods for generating new business.
Who are you most likely to trust with your business: someone you or your network can vouch for, or a total stranger? Nine times out of ten, you’ll choose the family friend or former coworker over someone on the street. The act of networking demonstrates the value of forming, maintaining, and nourishing your professional relationships.
You’re likely aware of LinkedIn by now, the social network designed for professionals. You may even have an account. But are you using it to your advantage?
A few quick tips on using the LinkedIn platform:
– Create a complete and comprehensive profile. Although you may already have one, you might not have included all the important information or details about your professional career. Here are a few steps you can follow to ensure you can create an all-star profile.
– Form genuine connections. After you connect with 500 people on LinkedIn, your profile will stop showing an exact amount and simply indicate you have “500+ connections.” While this makes you seem more reputable, it does not guarantee a practical network. You want to connect with people you actually know and build on those relationships.
– Post regularly and engage authentically. LinkedIn isn’t just about connecting–it’s about engaging. That means taking the time to share videos and articles you believe your network may find interesting. It means liking, commenting on, or sharing posts from others. The more you interact and create value for your network, the greater your return in the long run.
– Join LinkedIn groups. Similar to Facebook, LinkedIn allows people to build groups around specific interests or industries. Once in a group, members can connect with you and see posts you make in the group. Groups offer an effective way to communicate with larger audiences in a more focused manner.
Over time, the connections you make are likely to send referrals your way. Essentially, your clients become brand ambassadors, creating a positive feedback loop that grows as you continue to cultivate relationships.
Many may not realize that LinkedIn isn’t just a social platform; it’s an advertising platform, as well. With customizable ad controls and an audience of over 630 million, LinkedIn is one of the most effective platforms for online advertising.
Your ad can show up in a few ways. Ads can appear in a user’s feed, similar to an organic post or status update. Alternatively, ads can show on the side of the page with a brief description and a small image. Finally, you can send direct messages to certain people, which is often used by recruiters.
Arguably the best part of LinkedIn ads is the level of control you can use. Choose to pay per click, or 1000 impressions (views). Set a budget, and timing of when an ad shows on someone’s page. If it isn’t working, stop your campaign at any time.
To reach potential leads organically, start publishing blog posts on LinkedIn. Blogging can be an effective strategy to provide your network with value while demonstrating your expertise in a particular field or topic. Writing about the pros and cons of various pricing strategies or the purchasing habits of the millennial generation might showcase one’s marketing experience.
Some general blogging tips:
– Focus on relevant topics. What would your connections like to read? What have they shared in the past? The more value you can provide, the more willing readers will be to share your work.
– Write captivating headlines. It’s the first thing people see, and they’ll judge whether or not they read the entire article based on the ideas or questions introduced by your headline. It is best to pair your headline with an equally captivating featured image as well.
– Find a post frequency. Whether it’s weekly or bi-weekly, find a rhythm that works for you. You’ll need to strike a balance between giving people the content they want and leaving them wanting more.
– Add rich media. Videos, images, podcasts and other media elements can break up giant paragraphs of text and make your post more attractive.
If you don’t want to publish solely on your account, you can also guest blog. This is the practice of writing and publishing a blog on someone else’s channel, typically on topics of the writer’s specialization. Guest posts give others free content while generating free traffic for you too.
As a consultant, it can be easy to over-promise on research and recommendations. After all, you naturally want to impress your clients by showing off your hard work and experience. But then you run into the risk of under-delivering or taking on client requests that ultimately contribute to scope creep. That’s why it’s important to write an SOW (scope of work).
Why SOWs are important
SOWs are the terms both of you will agree to, the setting of specific goals, the absolutely necessary components of the agreement, while clarifying what will not be addressed during the engagement. It also demonstrates the importance of tracking progress and learning to measure value creation, so following up with your client becomes a matter of putting your work together.
How to define the scope of work
Before starting any work on a project, write up an SOW and have it signed by your client. This will protect you from additional work that you cannot be billed for, or from disagreements over your deliverables. Overall, it’s the best way to set expectations with a client.
SOWs typically include:
– The overarching goal or mission of the project
– The various initiatives and steps involved
– Additional work that will not be performed
– Process for enacting the steps
– Each person’s role or responsibilities
– The timeline of the project
– How success will be measured
– Terms of payment
SOWs can be as detailed or as simple as you want them to be, but the most important thing is that it clarifies the work involved in a project to protect the relationship with your client. So be realistic when it comes to estimating dates or workloads. You’ll naturally want to get their feedback and decide on something that works for both parties.
Business 2 Community’s infographic shows some of the questions that every consultant should be asking themselves when preparing an SOW and initial agreement.
Consulting is more involved than people expect. It requires patience, planning, and expertise. Finding clients, demonstrating value, and clarifying the scope may all prove to be challenging obstacles. But those that stick around long enough will find a fulfilling way to apply their skills and knowledge to the improvement of an entire organization.
If you’ve ever started or considered starting a business, you’ve likely heard of the terms “business model” and “business plan.” Nearly everyone uses these two phrases, interchangeably. What they may not realize is that a business model and a business plan refer to two completely different concepts.
In this article, we’ll define each concept in terms you can understand, illustrate the key differences, and provide a few examples of each concept to help you remember. By the end, you should be able to apply each concept as it relates to your own business.
The Difference between “Business Model” & “Business Plan”
Put simply, a business plan is a roadmap, detailing its specific vision, goals, and overarching strategies. It’s about what a business intends to accomplish in the near and long-term future, and the steps it will take to reach those ends.
A business model is about the strategy a business employs in creating, delivering, and capturing value. It’s about how the company turns a profit through its latest and greatest offerings.
So remember the main difference between a business model versus a business plan: a business plan is a roadmap, detailing a business’s journey and direction in the coming years. A business model is the engine or design of the car that will push that business towards profitability.
Definition of Business Model
What is a business model? It’s a company’s strategy for creating, delivering, and capturing value.
How to choose a specific business model
In identifying a business model, it’s important to not only look at what makes a business profitable, but what makes a company’s offerings valuable to a customer, and how that company’s value may differ from its competitors. Ask yourself how your company can best deliver to customers, and which business model may support that plan.
Business model example
Netflix employs a subscription-based business model. Users choose from three streaming plans (Basic, Standard, and Premium), then pay for digital access to Netflix’s library of movies and TV shows each month. Netflix is able to analyze data from an aggregate standpoint, and ultimately make decisions on which type of content to license based on user preferences.
Definition of a Business Plan
What is a business plan? It’s a document or description of a business’s future goals and strategies. When entrepreneurs pitch a startup idea to investors, they usually provide a business plan, because it outlines what a business will do, when, and how it will do those things.
How to build a business plan
Business plans typically involve:
An executive summary – What the company is and how it will become successful
Company description – A brief introduction of your company
Market analysis – An evaluation of the industry and competitive landscape
Organization and management – How your company will be structured
Service or product line – A description of your company’s offerings
Marketing and sales – A general overview of your marketing strategy
Funding request – The requirements for funding your venture
Financial projections – Statements that illustrate your past, present, and future financial performance.
Appendix – A section for providing documents and relevant materials.
Identifying the types of business plans that are likely to bring a company success can be rather difficult, particularly since companies are not likely to share such proprietary information.
We recommend exploring Bplans for a wide range of business plan examples, from e-commerce internet companies to sport clothing retail shops. You will start to notice that there is no one way to build a business plan: each company articulates their offerings in their own way.
Types of Business Models
Below are just a few of the more popular types of business models adopted by companies around the world, from Amazon to Zoho.
Manufacturers take some raw input and turn it into a finished product. They then sell to a middleman who will distribute for them, or directly to the end customer.
Examples: Tesla, 3M, Cisco
Distributors take a finished product from a manufacturer then resell it to another company or directly to the customer.
Examples: Apple Authorized resellers, auto dealerships
Retailers take finished products from a manufacturer or distributor and sell it directly to the public.
Examples: Target, Best Buy, Walmart
If you’ve ever downloaded an app or used a service online, you’ve likely dealt with a freemium model. Freemium is the offering of certain services or features for free while charging additional for premium features. Typically the free (often referred to as Basic) service has other limitations, such as ads or finite storage. Freemium has become so popular in the modern internet era because of its ability to help companies scale quickly.
Examples: YouTube, Dropbox, Evernote
Subscription models allow companies to charge customers for their services (such as a streaming platform) or products (such as a subscription box). This model is best suited for companies that have high customer acquisition costs, as subscriptions can secure a more reliable and continuous revenue stream.
Examples: Netflix, Dollar Shave Club, HelloFresh
eCommerce companies typically refer to any business that conducts online transactions. These typically involve online marketplaces, which sell a variety of products or services through a single platform.
Examples: Amazon, eBay
Companies always need to drum up hype and desire for their latest offering, which is where advertising agencies and marketing firms come in. Advertising agencies are strictly concerned with promoting and selling products, through print or digital. Marketing firms, on the other hand, provide other services related to the market of a product, such as customer service, service management, or market research.
Examples: Ogilvy, BBDO, Google
Types of Business Plans
Now let’s take a look at the various types of business plans commonly used today.
Startup Business Plan
Startups and other entrepreneurial ventures need to demonstrate value to potential investors and clients. Startup business plans can be helpful documents that illustrate the importance and long-term profitability of the founder’s pitch. These plans may involve product or service descriptions, market analyses, and financial projections. Today it’s not uncommon for businesses to condense these plans into a single page for readability and clarity.
Internal Business Plan
In some companies, the organizational structure is so vast that communicating any major initiative can be easily lost in translation. Internal business plans can help different sectors or departments of an organization better understand the scope of a project proposal. These plans would include the various goals and objectives, financial considerations (particularly the ROI), market analysis, and other relevant information.
Growth Business Plan
While growth is not on every company’s priority list, it can still be a requirement for continued success. As a result, companies that are seeking to grow in a particular field or industry should come prepared with their own plan. Most of these will involve research to support their theories, and the financial information to assure a steady ROI.
Operations Business Plan
Company operations can be a funhouse of varying initiatives and ideas. Operations business plans can assist managers in measuring progress and directing actions towards their more important business goals. They can also help to update certain processes.
Understanding the difference between a business plan and a business model at first appears trivial. But within context, it can help new startups more clearly articulate their strategy for success. It can empower more mature businesses with more direct communication across its disparate parts. The one value shared by both concepts: a company with quick, clear, and direct communication can become far more productive.
Infants learn to walk before they run, just as companies need to scale before they expand. Any attempt to rush the process will only result in careless accidents and mistakes. But then the question becomes: how can a business scale responsibly?
Before we can get to that question, we must first define what a scalable business is.
What is scalability in business?
Investopedia defines scalability as “characteristic of a system, model, or function that describes its capability to cope and perform well under an increased or expanding workload or scope.”
So how does this apply to business? A scalable business is one that can grow in revenue or production while cutting or stabilizing operating costs. It can mean achieving economies of scale. Or it can also translate to savings in cost that is proportional to the added level of production.
Let’s explore the implication of scalability on startups and small businesses. We turn to entrepreneur Eric Ries, founder of one of the earliest 3D social networks, IMVU, to guide us. Ries is the author of The Lean Startup, a guide to modern entrepreneurial management. He is also one of the most experienced and authoritative people on this topic.
1. Their vision for IMVU was transcendent. They pictured 3D avatars and the global availability of virtual goods online. They aspired to build an industry, not just a product or a company.
2. Their goal extended beyond monetary rewards. Rather, it was about achieving growth within their company. And there was never an exit plan to sell the company to make money. They believed their vision and work was either going to be worth a lot more, or worth zero.
3. They envisioned that their tiny startup was to going to be worth $100 million/year. They would achieve this by creating an entirely new market for virtual goods.
4. They used Customer & Agile development to search for a scalable and repeatable business model. It reduced risk while allowing them to aim high.
5. They hired a world-class team, with co-founders and employees who shared their vision.
6. They fervently believed that only they were the ones who could and would make this happen.
Breaking this down even further, we can draw 3 main traits of a scalable startup:
1. A scalable idea will lead to the development of its’ own market, industry, or network.
2. The business model is a repeatable and scalable process.
3. The company has a singular vision that unites a growing team.
Scalable Startup Examples
Some of the best scalable businesses were started with just a vision and a simple prototype. Here are two examples of startups with very different concepts. However, note that they still share the same general spirit.
Even after its acquisition by Facebook, Instagram’s popularity surpasses other social media platforms. And it remains an inspirational example. Kevin Systrom, former Google programmer and Stanford graduate started it all. He first created an app called Burbn, with location-based photos and note-sharing ability.
Soon after, Kevin met Mike Krieger and they decided to hone in on the photo-sharing feature. Since then, the app has gone through several reiterations and prototypes to become what it is today.
Within a few hours, the pair saw the scalable potential of the network. The main costs were the servers and time spent maintaining the app. And costs grew at a steady, proportional rate. Though users continued to sign up for free, ads & sponsorships would eventually generate revenue. Instagram became one of the earliest examples of a scalable social media service.
Consumer DNA tests have become popular in recent years. One of the biggest human genome research companies that serve this need is 23andMe. The company was founded by Linda Avey, Paul Cusenza, and Anne Wojcicki back in 2006. Within a year, they had secured $3.9 million in venture capital.
By 2009, Wojcicki was the only remaining founder. But investor intrigue remained high. In 2012, he raised $50 million, and another $115 million in 2015. With this funding, the company channeled investments into brand marketing. One of their most notable ads was sponsored by the movie Despicable Me and narrated by Warren Buffet.
Last year, a partnership was formed with GlaxoSmithKline. With a funding of $300 million, they’ve started developing new medicine and potential cures using genetics. Today, the company is worth roughly $1.75 billion.
23andMe demonstrates that companies are not always scalable in the first few years. There may still be some hurdles to overcome and reliance on venture capital. For 23andMe, many of the challenges were regulatory. In the early years, the company had a fraught relationship with the FDA. In recent years, this relationship has become much more productive.
Scalable Startup Ideas
We’ve introduced some real-life examples of scalable businesses. Now, here are some scalable business ideas that you may want to explore for your own business.
1. Content and Media
Audiences are always searching for new information to consume. They may look for articles, videos, or podcasts. Ultimately, all examples are the output of content and media. This is part of the scalable process. As you work to build the quality of your blog or YouTube channel, your audience will grow. Continue to create content that increases your authority and helps you stand out.
2. Online courses
If you’re a coach or consultant, one way to make passive revenue is by building out a course on your area of expertise. Benefits to your company are generating revenue and increasing brand equity. Whatever the focus, your users will find tremendous value in quality courses. More people are willing to pay a higher premium for a set of classes than a single ebook.
3. Apps and Software
You can purchase apps or software applications for almost every device. These can include note-taking apps, calendars, organization tools, plugins, and even games. If you’re in the business of app making, continue to leverage this strength. The ROI may continue to support you for years. The cost to create and maintain an app is far more affordable than you may expect.
Amazon and eBay were once unique in that they were the only platforms used to sell online. But entrepreneurs now have a variety of choices. Platforms like Shopify and Magento also allow you to build an online storefront. The best part is that you don’t need to own a warehouse, salespeople, or even a physical store. You save thousands in operating costs. As with the other ideas, expect to see a lot of competition if you plan on entering the e-commerce space.
You want to support a business through growth. But you’re not interested in managing its operations. If this rings true, you may want to consider being an investor. There are various ways for you to do this. You can provide seed funding, manage a portfolio, or trade commodities & currencies. Unlike the other ideas in this post, investing should be thought of as a long term commitment. While profit will take time to generate, the returns will be worth the wait.
How to know if your startup ideas can scale
Perhaps you already have an idea of what you want to do. How can you tell if the idea has the potential to scale?
Above all, your idea must have some basis in truth or data. It provides the foundation for which you can build on. There will always be risks attached to starting and growing a business. But proving the idea, even with few customers, will be an invaluable experience.
Lack of competition
The fewer competitors in your space, the better. Highly scalable businesses tend to be innovators or vanguards in their industry. Because there is not as much competitive pressure, they can price higher. There is also the added benefit of being first to market. Your brand has a greater chance of making an impression. As well, you’ll be at the forefront of customers’ minds.
Strong cash flow
Profitability should not be a metric used to measure scalability. However, cash flow can be used as a determinant of your future performance. It’s essential to gain a solid understanding of the business’ finances. Companies that are built to scale must first master the balance of cost and revenue.
Whether it’s selling a product or putting on an event, you should aim to standardize your process. It not only makes it easier, but it also makes it more cost-effective. Creating this winning formula will carve out your competitive advantage.
Exceeding targets and goals
Every business needs to have a goal — such as reaching one million users or expanding to new markets. If you find that you’ve quickly surpassed these goals, then you may have to reassess your standards. Goals should be hard to achieve. They should push your business to improve and excel.
It’s simple to look at the most famous brands and expect to emulate their process or success within a few years. But the reality is that the competition is as fierce as ever. A stay-at-home parent has as much a chance to succeed as an experienced entrepreneur. Use this as inspiration, and not as an excuse. Scaling a startup requires experimentation, hard work, and above all, patience. Trust in your ideas and your research, and the scalability will come.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve illustrated the successful growth hacking strategies used by startups. These have provided various outcomes to startups, such as operations or audience expansion. In Airbnb’s case, this involved the literal hacking of Craigslist for listing promotions. Zapier exemplified that more nuanced strategies like brand partnerships can also be effective.
If there’s anything to take away, it’s that each company has its own approach to growth marketing. But there are a few “ essentials” to keep in mind if you do plan on using a growth marketing strategy for your company.
What is growth marketing?
Let’s start with a quick recap. Growth marketing is an evolution of traditional marketing methods. It centers around accelerated growth using a modest budget. And it’s relevant to the needs of startups who want to acquire customers, but don’t have major funding. Tactics include viral marketing campaigns, social media, SEO, and other online techniques.
Benefits of growth marketing include faster customer acquisition, lower CAC (customer acquisition cost), and higher lead quality. But businesses other than startups can also benefit from this. For these reasons, growth marketing has also made its way to corporate environments.
The difference between growth and regular marketing
The role of a growth marketer will not be much different from a traditional marketer. But what is unique is that their sole focus will be on customer retention and acquisition. As such, growth marketers are not strictly salespeople or marketing executives— they may be engineers, writers, web developers, and even social media managers.
Growth marketers must be able to navigate through uncertainty, and with scarce resources. This makes their role somewhat more challenging compared to traditional marketing.
Key growth marketing concepts
To grasp the essence of growth marketing, it’s first important to understand the concepts that define growth marketing.
A/B testing and validated learning
One of the core tenets of growth marketing is to test every worthwhile theory with an experiment. This is an effective method of minimizing uncertainty while ensuring high ROI. One effective experiment might be testing the efficacy of two different landing pages (known as A/B testing). Another one might be running a low-budget ad campaign on social media.
Understanding the buyer persona
Understanding the buyer persona will set the groundwork for any campaign. This persona represents your ideal customer. Analysis should include everything from demographics, goals, pain points, to purchase behavior. Keep in mind, data will be composed of the aggregate of a much larger audience. But this will help your business make more accurate decisions related to acquiring and retaining customers.
Analyzing the customer journey
Whether you call it a conversion funnel, sales funnel, buyer’s journey, or customer journey, growth marketing is about understanding your customer. You should strive to understand their pain points and needs along the entire path. This may start with the moment a customer hears about you through an ad on social media. Or it might begin when a customer clicks to sign up. By exploring the fine details of their journey, you can develop more relevant ways to reach out to your audience.
Growth hacking, growth marketing— what exactly is the difference? We’ve covered both concepts in the past, but is growth marketing the same as growth hacking?
Short answer— no. Growth marketing focuses on choosing strategy through experimentation and validating the best theories. Growth hacking, on the other hand, focuses on a single tactic or channel that yields the best ROI with a low budget.
If you’re still confused, here’s an example to clarify. Growth marketing may involve the use of multiple social media platforms to reach potential customers. The ultimate goal of each platform remains the same: to grow the company under a smaller budget. Differently, growth hacking would involve the development of highly-targeted social media ads or Facebook groups that encourage greater post engagement.
Other key differences between growth hacking and marketing include:
Product focus. Growth hacking is more focused on improving a single product or channel, while growth marketing looks at the entire customer journey.
Unconventional concepts. Growth hacking is more likely to feature unconventional or innovative concepts with greater risk, while growth marketing relies on more proven and tested practices.
Tactics v. Strategy. Growth hacking may involve a single tactic, such as Airbnb’s cereal box sale. Growth marketing encompasses strategic decisions, such as the tactics to be used in social media or SEO.
Instead of having to choose between the two, consider how your company may use both. These are not mutually exclusive options. You can develop a solid growth marketing strategy while also experimenting with different growth hacking ideas. But be sure that your company plans accordingly to avoid wasting precious resources.
Growth marketing tactics
Stage-based content marketing
Content strategy plays a vital role in growth marketing. It is optimal as content production can be affordable, effective, and dynamic. Content can include blog posts, videos, podcasts, and other material found on your website that users can find value from. As your brand generates content that is relevant to your users, more people will seek out your brand. This will effectively save you time and money from developing costly marketing campaigns.
ToFU (Top of the Funnel) – this approach is centered on the number of leads. This stage may not be as persuasive and only seeks to provide useful information regarding a need or want of a customer.
MoFu (Middle of the Funnel) – this approach is centered on positioning the brand as the leader of a certain industry or field. Content in this category is much more targeted.
BoFu (Bottom of the Funnel) – this approach is centered on closing a sale. Content in this category is geared towards converting or convincing customers to try your product or service out.
Brainstorm the different content ideas your company can offer. How can you stay relevant in your customers’ minds as they move through the buyers’ journey?
Social media outreach
You cannot run a business in 2019 without the use of social media. Not only is it free to open an account, but you have the potential of reaching thousands of users across the world. Different social media tactics may include:
Each social network has a unique purpose, and it’s not advisable to use every single one. Instead, focus on the most relevant channels to your brand and audience. To learn more about the various social networks, check out our previous blog, 7 Important Social Networks for Entrepreneurs.
The price of your product or service is a strategy in itself. After researching your intended audience, you should have a good understanding of their budget and willingness to pay. There are four main pricing strategies to understand:
Premium pricing – This strategy involves offering a product at a high price to evoke a connotation of quality or luxury. iPhones, for example, carry a premium price. But consumers are willing to pay because of the value and quality the phones provide.
Penetration pricing – Conversely, this strategy is to offer the product at a competitively low price to amass as many customers as possible. This is a typical strategy for new product launches. You may see new restaurants or fast food places offer a major deal when they open shop for the first time.
Economy pricing – Also known as mass-market pricing. The cost of this product typically has low marketing or overhead costs. Examples include household products and office supplies.
Skimming strategy – For innovative products, a high price may initially be acceptable. When more competitors flood the market, the price will be forced down. You may see this strategy used by gaming consoles, televisions, and other electronic devices.
Think long and hard about your price. The number you end up settling on can have major implications on your supply chain as well as your consumer perceptions.
Advertising is all over the internet. You may see it reading an article, before a video starts, or even when you search for something. It’s easy to discount paid ads, but they can be an effective means of gaining customers. According to Formstack, PPC ads are one of the top three generators of on-page conversions.
Set up a small budget to test an ad campaign. You may set it up on Google Search, YouTube, social media, or various other platforms. To learn more about the efficacy of PPC marketing, check out QuickSprout’s article.
Examples of growth experiments
How can your company get started with experiments and validated learning? Here are a few simple ways that won’t break your budget but can yield useful results in strategic planning:
Landing page A/B testing – When your customer lands on your website, what do they see? Will it be an ongoing deal, an exclusive offer? Whatever it is, you’ll want to test a few variants of design to see how effectively you can capture that user. Even the wording of your landing page can make the difference between a new lead and a lost opportunity.
Price elasticity testing – How much demand is there for your product? Pricing tests can help you determine how sensitive consumers are to changes in price. This should help lead you to set the sweet spot for your product.
Content-based experiments – Your customers need information, and your brand can provide answers. Consider a wide range of content types – guest blogs, infographics, user guides, reviews… the list goes on. It’s always important to understand your customer preferences before producing your content.
Rich media experiments – Any ad that uses video or audio can be considered rich media. This experiment may be more costly, as it will have to involve a certain A/V production quality. But if your team focuses on media heavily, this experiment may lead to more leads.
Programmatic experimentation – Programmatic advertising is an emerging field of ad building and selling. It is intended to lower the cost of your ad. This allows teams to create multiple variants of an ad, and test several copies or formats, without spending a fortune. To learn more about programmatic advertising, check out Marketing Week’s beginner’s guide.
Experimentation is of the utmost importance when it comes to growth marketing. Many of the previous techniques employed by startups were theories put to the test. There is no standard when it comes to growth strategy, except that it should involve the same principles and methods as any other experiment. Start small, review your analytics, and re-tool based on feedback.
Growth marketing is a more deliberate approach to growth compared to hacking. Don’t expect overnight returns. Instead, work towards incremental improvements, slowly adding to your service’s value over time.
Look no further than Gabriel Weinberg’s story, the founder of DuckDuckGo and one of the biggest alternatives to Google today. Even though his search engine launched in 2008, he didn’t begin seeing results until years later. He recalls his story to Forbes:
I launched DuckDuckGo at the end of 2008, and in March of 2009 my first son was born and I decided to stay at home with him for at least the first two years. Through those two years I just kept at it and tinkering with it. At the end of 2010 all the iterative work on the project became better. Something clicked and people started to switch to it. Then in 2011 I started to treat it as more of a real thing, and at the end of 2011 I went and raised $3 million from Union Square Ventures.
Don’t lose sight of your company’s vision. The first few years of growth marketing may be an uphill climb, but the journey is half the experience.
Looking for audio content on growth marketing? Check out the Growth Marketing Toolbox podcast, a biweekly show about important growth marketing strategies companies use today.
People tend to use entrepreneurship and small business interchangeably to describe a business with limited resources seeking to achieve a certain objective. While this may be true, the similarities end there. In reality, entrepreneurs and small business owners tend to have opposite views on their objectives and approach. So what are the differences between entrepreneurship and small business?
In this post, we’ll cover the various characteristics of both a small business and an entrepreneurial venture to describe the main differences.
What are the differences between an entrepreneurial venture and a small business?
A small business is an organization, partnership or sole proprietorship that has fewer resources and annual revenue than a medium or large company.
An entrepreneurial venture is the concept of starting a small business to offer a product or service with the intention of disrupting an industry or maximizing profit.
Objective: Innovation, High Growth, and Profit. Entrepreneurial ventures aren’t just concerned with making money, they want to make more. They’re the ones that dare to shake up a market by introducing an innovative product or feature or become the most recognized brand from the quality of service or production. Entrepreneurial ventures are typically founded with a great idea or concept behind them.
Leadership Traits: Highly Motivated and Influential. Entrepreneurs are visionaries. They can see the forest for the trees, the overall plan towards success that no one else can see. Entrepreneurs know how to keep people motivated while also holding them accountable.
Team Traits: Experienced and Specialized. Team members of an entrepreneurial venture are constantly improving their processes and finding ways to do their work more efficiently and develop more unique products and offerings. They may also have a sense of friendly competition between teams as they constantly look to improve themselves.
Management Strategy: High Risk and Long-Term Planning. There’s a misconception that entrepreneurs are always taking risks without any plan. Conversely, some believe they are veterans in business development. In reality, they are simply attempting to develop an idea, service, or product under extreme uncertainty, and planning as much as possible to minimize waste and loss. This can apply to the college student with a startup, or the CEO leading his fourth company.
Environment: Fast-paced and Competitive. Businesses looking to grow don’t have time to waste, and often rely on smart time management and prioritization. Their offices are designed to encourage collaboration and discussion, while also promoting productivity.
Objective: Maintaining regular business. Small businesses aren’t always concerned with growing or becoming more profitable, they just care about the work they do day-to-day. Their goal is to ensure longevity and continual development.
Leadership Traits: Patience and Discipline. Small business owners are more driven by small gains over time and improving efficiency than competing with other businesses. They want to ensure the business continues to operate smoothly and steadily.
Team Traits: Calm and Objective. While small businesses can still be competitive, they are made up of individuals who care less about wins or profit and care more about their recurring duties and obligations.
Management Strategy: Flexible and Low Risk. The overall strategy is to ensure that there is a continuous stream of work and money for the team. While there may be uncertainty early in the business, after reaching certain milestones, small businesses become comfortable in their processes and routines.
Environment: Relaxed and Comfortable. A small business has a calm and quiet environment so everyone can do their work without any stress or concerns. Because of the limited resources, small businesses may operate out of smaller offices than other firms, or may even work remotely from their homes.
While entrepreneurs and small businesses have a lot in common, they are fundamentally different in terms of goals, strategies, and culture. Remember that entrepreneurs are looking for growth in profit and scale, while small business owners focus on building steady work and income. Neither one is particularly better than the other, but the two management styles can make a difference depending on the line of work.
The Pros & Cons of Entrepreneurship and Small Business
While entrepreneurial ventures and small businesses have their differences, they also share many of the same pros and cons:
Flexibility – Small businesses and entrepreneurial ventures are able to make decisions at a much faster rate compared to a major corporation. Since their teams are smaller and hierarchies are less frequent, they don’t have much bureaucracy to deal with. This makes for greater innovation and efficiency.
Greater Profit – With fewer people on the team and lower overhead than a corporation, small businesses and entrepreneurs can stand to profit much more with a lot less. With social media and digital marketing, a team of four can reach the same number of people as a company in the thousands.
Problem-solving – Big companies tend to be held back by years of dogmatic thinking and narrow-minded leadership boards. Small businesses and entrepreneurial ventures, in contrast, have younger spirits, willing to experiment and solve problems in creative ways.
Community – Small companies and entrepreneurs are like local heroes. They’re the ones sponsoring community events, the ones that get to know each customer on a personal level. They may not win the numbers game, but they’ll always have a loyal community (if they put in the time to cultivate one).
Passion – Most startups and small businesses were started out of passion, a deep yearning to make the world a better place. There’s something to be said about the personal satisfaction people receive from working with limited resources with a noble purpose in mind.
Risk and Uncertainty – No matter how many analysts or experts you hire, businesses are bound to experience some level of risk. These may include market conditions, the competitive landscape, or unpredictable consumer behavior. The best you can do is study the market and plan accordingly.
Workload – Entrepreneurs and small business owners should expect to work longer hours to ensure their company remains competitive. Without the resources of bigger companies such as HR, tech support, and sales, most people in a small business may have to work multiple roles or undesirable duties. Employees should be careful not to develop excess stress and burnout.
Financial risk – Small businesses, but entrepreneurial ventures even more so, must learn to manage certain cash flow limitations. Poor financial management can lead to stalled supply chains or even bankruptcy.
Key lessons to start a small business or entrepreneurial venture
Conduct market research. Before entering any industry, you need to do your due diligence. A SWOT analysis is a good starting point, but you’ll also want to analyze the competitive landscape, socioeconomic or geopolitical conditions (as it relates to your business), as well as the general market reception.
Validate your idea. Use a focus group even if it’s your friends or family. Share surveys and questionnaires that can bring you new insights. Develop an MVP (minimum viable product) or a prototype. These little experiments can help you determine whether your idea is really worth pursuing.
Focus on your value proposition. It’s easy to become distracted by industry trends, but you need to stick to what makes your brand unique (and it shouldn’t be price). Do you offer a more luxurious experience? Perhaps you speed up a slow or arduous process. Or maybe your product is unlike anything on the market. Focus on highlighting that value for your customers.
Build on your branding. Branding is what helps customers relate to a company. What colors, fonts, imagery, styles will you use to evoke your company’s personality? What vocabulary best represents your unique voice?
Develop your financial education. Most companies skip this step, but it’s also the most important. Without an understanding of how cash flow works, or how to manage your revenue, your company may end up in dire straits.
Build a road map. Strategy is key to winning long term. Create monthly and quarterly milestones to determine your company’s progress towards its goals. Only then can you judge whether you are on the right path, or if you need to revisit your tactics.
Choosing the Right Work Environment
Regardless if you’re a small business owner or an entrepreneur, it’s important to align everyone on your team towards that vision. A big part of your overall strategy is choosing where you work. Level Offices provide options for both kinds of leaders, from open areas that encourage discussion and networking, to private offices and suites just for your team. Book a tour with Level today.