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Many small businesses spend money on online ads - but how much time do they spend speaking to clients?

Since 2013, we've built nearly 98% of our client base on word-of-mouth advertising. Some blossomed from a chance meeting, while others spawned from friendships, networking, and compassion for non-profits. Nearly a decade later, we've only lost a client due to business closure or politics (which is part of the game).

We've always sold ourselves as a personalized business, emphasizing people before profit. Well, we can't think of a more personal way to connect with a client than to get to know them; actually, speak with clients about non-business-related interests and passions. We develop long-standing relationships instead of short-term profitability.

"...develop long-standing relationships instead of short-term profitability."

It's imperative to get to know your clients upfront to build an intimate level of acquaintance as they learn to trust you. And if they trust you, you can trust they will pass along your info to others, follow and share your social media, and champion your services if someone they know inquires about it at a social gathering.

So, how do you do this? ell, ask them questions that begin with why instead of what, such as:

  1. Why did you start your business? (they might have an exciting story to tell)

  2. Why do you provide your service or products? (they may not have a clear answer, but you could help!)

  3. Why don't you use Instagram or have a Facebook Page? (perhaps they don't know how to set it up)

  4. Why don't you write a blog or produce videos? (they may be intimidated, so you can support them)

  5. Why did you choose me for your business needs? (you may already know, but it's always good to hear)

If you treat clients like a commodity, as if they are a means to a profitable end, you may become wealthy but not valuable (i.e., you're not as beneficial to your clients as you could be).

Imagine if Alice walked through Wonderland, ignoring everyone during her travels.

What would she have discovered? Who would Alice have relied on to survive? What narratives would she have to tell when she left Wonderland? And more importantly, what reason would she have had to return?

When Alice reached the queen, many of Wonderland's inhabitants already knew who she was and what she could do, and they had their expectations. Some questioned her intentions and existence, and one of them wanted to chop off her head (and some clients may end up feeling this way, but more on that in another blog...). But the people Alice connected with supported her and stood up for her when she returned.

What can YOU say about your clients?

Do you know where they're from originally? Or, how many children or dogs they have? How long have they been in business? What's their spouse's name? What's their favorite food? Where do they vacation each summer?

What are your clients saying about YOU?

Do they tell people you're cheap? Do they say you're reliable? Do they share your social media posts or even follow you? Do they know why you do what you do? Or, how long you've been doing "it"?

Or are they telling people you're not responsive and "don't really know you" beyond your skillset?

Spend more time getting to know your clients and less time marketing to strangers - you'll probably discover that word-of-mouth advertising is more valuable than any ad campaign and won't cost you a dime.

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Is your business scaling beyond your current means? Do you fear being boxed in your business model?

During Alice's adventures in Wonderland, she grew to various sizes - often more prominent than necessary. As you progress with your business or pursuit, you may think, "this is becoming too much for me to handle."

Perhaps you're attracting more clients than anticipated and don't have the infrastructure to support the demand for your services. Or your pricing model isn't sustainable to be profitable. Or your supply chain dissolves.

Being an entrepreneur and operating a small business is risky, and most of the risk, if not all, falls on you.

One of those risks is establishing and maintaining a sound business plan to scale and flourish, which can be overwhelming. Many small business owners and entrepreneurs run on adrenaline - the excitement of being in business for themselves, the thrill of claiming 100% of the profits, the ecstasy of blazing a new trail.

But, if you don't thoroughly plan before executing, you could end up stupor with the walls caving in on you.

To avoid feeling dazed, you need to plan a strategy to overcome it and include safeguards to allow you to scale your business versus letting your business scale you. And, it's never too late!

Here are six tips and recommendations to help you if you're feeling things are becoming too large to handle:

  1. Pause the clock. Stop what you're doing and take a moment to reassess what "success" really means.

  2. Seek assistance. Ask a trusted colleague or friend to help you optimize your business plan.

  3. Stay calm. Take a breath and remember you are in control of what you and your business are capable of.

  4. Get smaller. Revisit your business portfolio to eliminate unprofitable or unnecessary products or services.

  5. Get larger. Expand your team, invest in a CRM, or partner with entrusted professionals in your industry.

  6. Learn Lessons. Accept your faults and losses and use them to improve your business model continually.

Remember! You drive your success and control the path! And sometimes, you must alter the way to make the journey easier. But, if you don't shift course, you'll remain boxed inside your business plan.

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Ever feel like the advice you receive is sung in a foreign tune, using fancy jargon and smoky illusions?

When Alice meets Absolem (the Caterpillar) in Wonderland, she does not like him because he ignores her and when he does speak, it is usually in short sentences or difficult questions. The first thing Absolem says is in the form of a pointed question asking Alice, "Who are YOU?" And, he continues to respond with this inquiry.

"Who are you?"

While Alice ponders Absolem's insistent question, she is forced to reflect on who she is as a person and what size she wants to be. As a small business or sole proprietor, you might be asking yourself the same questions - and if you're not, you should do so before seeking advice from others. Do you want to remain a side-gig? Or, do you want to scale your business regionally, nationally, or larger? What makes you different from your industry peers?

When Alice complains about her size (3 inches) after being shrunk, Absolem advises that she is a "very good height indeed" since he is also 3 inches high. As he puffs on a hookah upon his mushroom throne, Absolem symbolizes hierarchy over Alice - even though they are the same height with no discerning advantages.

With so many seemingly helpful characters to encounter, you will find several that question why you would want anything else but to mirror your peers and accept mediocrity (i.e., join the "race to the bottom"). It could be a friend, relative, colleague, or vendor who fears change or a challenge and is comfortable atop their mushroom.

Is someone telling you it's too expensive to form an LLC? Or, it's too risky to join the marketplace? Or even that you're not good enough to be prosperous? And, it's totally acceptable to live the status quo lifestyle?

If this is what you're hearing, then they're blowing toxic smoke. But, remember - smoke eventually fades.

As for Absolem? He couldn't comprehend Alice's unsettling disposition after she was shrunk and struggled with the conversion. But, Alice informed him that he would soon transform into a butterfly. Ironic, huh?

So, I'll ask you now, "Who are YOU?"

You must know who you are and why you're doing what you do. You can't sit on your mushroom forever.

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