Starting your own business is difficult. By the very nature of the term – you have to actually start something, which invariably means you have nothing to begin with. No clients, no products and no profits.
Each day is a new adventure. You have no idea where this story ends. You’re full of hopes and dreams but at the back of your mind are the doubts, insecurities and worse case scenarios which haunt your daily thoughts.
Will I succeed or will I fail?
What could I be doing differently?
What if nobody likes my product?
I think it’s normal to have these feelings. We all go through similar emotions every time we start something new, whatever the situation. Our inner voice never shuts up. It’s the yapping dog from the other side of the garden fence. It’s the buzzing phone when we’re drifting off to sleep.
Its ten thousand spoons, when all you need is a knife…
No wait – that’s from a song.
Anyway, I’m not here to discuss the obvious stuff you’ve probably already picked up from the ‘Start your own business 101’ school of common sense. You know, things like;
- Creating a good website and ranking it in Google for the most searched for keywords/phrases
- Creating business cards and plastering them wherever you may roam
- Developing a brand (logo, theme, clear direction)
- Leveraging your friends and family and developing a mini ‘word of mouth’ network
- Advertising in the local newspaper and any other publications relevant to your niche.
I’ll safely assume you’ve done all that. Great, fantastic – let’s move on.
I want to share a load of techniques, methods and tactics which I’ve personally used over the last 2 and a half years to drag my guitar tuition business from zero students to where it is today.
Well, It’s in the same place – just with a crap ton of more students.
Some of these may seem a little crafty and a bit underhand.
Some of these may seem a little counter intuitive.
But they are all effective.
So if you’re just starting out, your business is in a bit of a rut or you’re just willing to try something new. Have a read through these 10 methods and see what tickles your fancy…
1. Study your competitors and exploit their weaknesses
How good are your detective skills? Have you ever wanted to become a private investigator? Do you often wonder how others like you go about their day?
Ideally you should do this kind of research before you set up your business, but in all honesty, there is never a better time than right now to learn a bit more about your competitors.
Using a withheld number, take on the role of an interested customer and give your closest rivals a call. Listen to how they answer the phone. What tone of voice are they using? What are they saying? What are they doing differently to you – is it better or worse? Ask as many questions as possible. What information are they giving out? How are they promoting their services? What questions are they asking you in return?
Be difficult. Make them work for your money. You’re testing this person to see how good they are at selling their business.
End the call by suggesting you need a little time to think about it. How do they react? It’s also interesting to wait and see if they follow up your call with an email or a prompt/reminder of some kind.
It might seem a little strange at first, but all successful businesses will do something similar. If you’re too nervous to call, try emailing (use an email address which doesn’t use your name) and you can find out much of the same information.
Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.
2. Charge what you are worth – don’t undercut
A wealthy man owned a steamship which was prone to breaking down. Usually his engineers could fix the problem, but on one occasion, they couldn’t get the engine running, so he called in a wise old ship maker who he learned would be able to help, but only at a significant cost.
Without any other options, the man had no choice but to contact this ship maker.
When he arrived, he spent a few minutes inspecting the many pipes leading to and from the engine – occasionally placing his hands on a pipe to test for warmth.
Finally, this old man took out a small hammer and gently tapped one of the pipes. Instantly, the sound of steam rushing through the pipes could be heard and the engine roared back into action.
When the wealthy man asked the ship maker how much he owed him, the bill came to ten thousand pounds.
‘What?’ – He cried. ‘You hardly did anything. Justify your bill or I will have you thrown in jail’.
The old man wrote something on a piece of paper. The wealthy man smiled as he read it and apologised to the ship maker for being so rude.
For tapping with a hammer – £1
For knowing where to tap – £9,999
Never undercut your competitors. Charge exactly what you are worth.
If your fees match your service – your value remains priceless.
3. Use the Goldilocks principle when promoting your services
The Goldilocks principle is derived from a children’s story “The Three Bears” in which a little girl named Goldilocks finds a house owned by three bears. Each bear has their own preference of food and beds. After testing all three examples of both items, Goldilocks determines that one of them is always too much in one extreme (too hot or too large), one is too much in the opposite extreme (too cold or too small), and one is “just right”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldilocks_principle
You already knew that story. But did you know this rule is often used in business to drive customers towards specific products? It’s the main reason why there is a budget range, a mid-range and a premium range.
Premium products cost a fortune because they contain the most expensive components and the highest labour costs.
Budget products generally they contain less expensive components, and are often manufactured in countries where labour is cheap.
The mid-range is where it’s at. Good components + affordable pricing + largest target market = big money.
The theory that both the budget and premium products only exist to funnel people towards the mid-range certainly makes sense. It’s something I’ve set out to achieve from day one.
I promote three main services to potential students. The first is your basic pay as you go lesson which is usually paid for in cash and requires the least amount of investment for the student. The second main service is the block of 5 (for the price of 4) at my address. The third service is very similar apart from the lessons take place at their address (at a higher cost).
I prefer the second option. Not only do I get guaranteed payment for several lessons, I don’t even have to leave the comfort of my home (and by eliminating travel, I have more time for teaching).
The third option is just high enough to prompt a student to choose the second option and travel to my address, whereas the first option is rarely taken because people are always tempted by a discount.
This funnels the majority of potential students towards selection of option two.
Create your flagship product and promote the hell out of it.
4. Learn from Richard Branson and always say yes (even if you don’t know how)
The key to a successful business is to say yes.
Accept every offer that comes your way.
During the early days of his Virgin Empire – Richard Branson would promote records (which he didn’t have) and sell them to new customers at considerably less than their high street value. But here’s the thing – Branson had no stock.
He used their payments to buy the products at an even lower price. It was a risky strategy – but he had total confidence in his ability to deliver on his promise.
I’ve adopted this mentality with my own business.
Several weeks ago I received a lesson inquiry from a woman who wanted an evening lesson at her location. Fantastic – another student.
After I finished my little celebratory dance (yes I have one) a horrible realisation dawned on me…
I had no free slots in the evenings. Dammit. Not wanting my little jig to come to nothing, I put my thinking cap on (no I don’t have a real one) and put my brain into overdrive as I tried to fathom a way of fitting this new student into my schedule. Unfortunately I couldn’t think of a way without shifting someone else to another day – something I hate doing.
So I channelled my inner Branson and sent this woman an email saying something like; ‘Of course I can fit you in’ and within a day or two, she had sent me the money with a request for her preferred evenings.
I couldn’t turn her down. So I accepted.
On the surface, this may seem a tad unprofessional but I had faith in my ability to work it all out. I had no choice but to fit her into one of her preferred evenings. Luckily one of my existing students went on holiday so his time slot became available (temporarily). When he returned he agreed to come a little earlier, so everything worked out brilliantly.
When you take out the possibility of failure – the only option is to succeed.
5. Go further than your clients expect (within reason)
Building a solid relationship with your clients is essential to your success. If they feel valued, they are more likely to return in the future.
One way I like to do this is to spend a little longer with my students than necessary – especially in the beginning. The vast majority of my first lessons with a student go roughly 10-15 minutes over the allocated hour. I do this for a several reasons;
- I am not rushing to get them out of the door when the lesson finishes.
- By going beyond the agreed time limit, I am making sure they understand everything we have gone through and I am demonstrating I value their learning over a measly few minutes.
- They go home feeling positive about their lesson and hopefully will look forward to the next one.
- Relationships are a two way process. They are getting a little extra time from me, and in return, I expect them to put a little extra in their preparation and practice.
Another way in which I like to go a little beyond the call of duty is on the rare occasion I have to cancel a lesson due to illness or when there is a problem with travelling/traffic. As I request payment of a lesson if my student cancels at the last minute (especially if I had to turn down someone else for their time slot) I will offer the same in return. I will always offer discounts or free lessons if I have to unexpectedly cancel or postpone.
Integrity is the key to forming trust and a solid reputation.
6. Focus on their needs, not your strengths
A few months ago I applied for a freelance writing job for a popular website. The hours were completely flexible and the pay was incredible. As soon as I read the application, I was hooked.
This was a job I could do with my eyes closed. I had experience of working with some of the most demanding editors on the planet and written articles which had been seen by over 10 million sets of eyeballs.
I couldn’t believe anyone would be better suited for this role. I had it nailed, surely…
Well, you know where this is going. I obviously didn’t get it. I didn’t even hear back. What was wrong with my application? It was baffling.
Do you want to know why I didn’t get to the next stage of the recruitment process?
I sold myself too well. Not once in my application did I spell out what I could do for this person – for their website – for their business.
I was too focused on detailing my credentials and my experience and why I would be great at the job. It later turned out the person recruiting for this position wanted to know how someone could make their lives easier. They didn’t want to read a ‘brag-fest’ – however clever and relevant.
I learned a valuable lesson there. When dealing with people who are willing to give you money – they key is in how you will benefit them. They need to know how you will help them achieve their goals.
There is a reason why employers value graduates with experience over those who merely hold the qualification – credentials are worthless on their own. They want to see how you have helped others just like them in the past.
When searching for more clients, stop thinking about ‘me, me, me’ and focus on ‘you, you, you’.
7. Communication and familiarity build solid relationships
I try and keep in touch with as many students as possible.
Every week I will send a text message the day before a lesson just as a reminder to the student and as a confirmation the lesson is still going ahead. I will periodically send emails with extra ‘homework’ and some other tips and advice. I even send former students texts and emails to see how they are getting on letting them know I am around if they have any questions or if they wish to resume lessons in the future.
Whatever your service or whoever your clients are – It’s important they understand you are always available. If you have a Facebook account it’s a good idea to add them as a friend or send a request so they can like your business page.
If they run their own business, send some clients their way if possible. Help each other out.
Keep in touch with your former clients because even a simple ‘hello, how is (whatever you worked on)?’ can be enough to prompt them into requesting your services again.
You want people to invest in you – not your product. Whatever you are providing can be found elsewhere, but you are unique.
If you market yourself properly – your business will follow.
8. A returning client is worth more than a new one
A couple of years ago I went to see the band Stone Sour, and while I thought they put on a great show, one thing in particular stood out.
Their frontman, Corey Taylor, is one hell of a performer. Vocally he’s spot on. His energy and charisma shine throughout, and the way he interacts with the crowd is second to none.
It was brilliant. But something occurred to me. The cynical part of my brain kicked into overdrive and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was all an act. It looked spontaneous. The crowd were chanting his name in unison and the look on his face was of genuine awe and excitement.
He loved it. They (we) loved it. Everyone loved it.
So I had a chat with someone who went to a Stone Sour gig earlier on their tour… and he said exactly the same thing. He even quoted the same lines I heard at my gig.
Corey wasn’t being spontaneous after all. Every line was rehearsed.
“Bournemouth, you are amazing.”
“Manchester, you are amazing.”
“Bristol, you are amazing.”
Sure, the look on his face was probably genuine. He loves his job and I’m sure he loves the feeling he receives while on stage every night. But the amazing thing is how good he was at making every single person in that crowd feel as if they are witnessing a unique show.
You can do the same with your clients. Give them 100% of your time and attention. Make them feel as if they are your only customer. Create a bond that lasts a lifetime.
If you’re a plumber – people will always need their pipes fixing. Be the only person they consider in the future when calling someone out.
If you’re a personal trainer – people will always require motivation when trying to get in shape for their wedding or to look good on the beach for next holiday. Be the person they return to time and again.
If you’re a life coach – by developing a strong relationship with your client and it’s likely that whenever they need a bit of guidance they won’t hesitate to get back in touch.
Searching for new clients is a pain. If you impress the ones you already have – you’ve got them for life.
9. Never put square pegs in round holes
It’s tempting to do everything yourself, but most people can spot a bullshitter a mile off. If you don’t know how to do something, say so.
Occasionally I get students who ask me for help when changing strings. Normally this isn’t an issue and I will gladly show them how it’s done, but if their guitar has a Floyd Rose style bridge or it’s a particular type of acoustic guitar then I will hold my hands up and say ‘sorry, I’m not familiar enough with this type of set up, it’s best if you take it to a reputable guitar shop’, and I will recommend them a few places.
People won’t expect you to be an expert in everything – but they will expect you to give them advice and to point them in the right direction.
Think about what happens when you go and see your doctor. If they don’t know the answer to your question they will refer to a specialist who is far more qualified to deal with your specific problem.
Play to your strengths and deliver them consistently. That’s all people want from you.
10. Raise your standards and accept nothing less
If you’re running your own business there’s a good chance you’ve spent just as much time as the CEO as you have running errands or scrubbing the toilet. This makes sense. At the beginning you have no staff so you’re in charge of everything – from the fun and the exciting to the bland and the dirty.
But who cares, right? A business is a business. Success or failure isn’t determined by how many people you employ or how big your office is. Sadly – there are people out there who seem to think ‘small’ equals ‘unimportant’.
They see an army of one and they will try and take advantage. They will haggle with you, turn up late for appointments and mistakenly believe they own your ass just because they are giving you their hard earned cash.
It’s also easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have to tolerate shitty behaviour because you’re new to this entrepreneurial lark.
Nobody is your boss. You’ve left that world behind. This is your business, and you will run it how you see fit. If you have a difficult client who is dictating terms then maybe it’s time to send them on their way. I know it’s hard to turn down money (this is different than number 4) but you’re not a babysitter, a doormat or an idiot – they are coming to you – this is the dynamic.
You are the authority. Act like it.
Bonus – Always have a day off (and take your holidays)
I don’t do Saturdays.
Nope. You can’t make me.
You can pay me double, triple, deliver a stack of gold bars to my front door, you can try anything you want but there is not a hope in hell I will work on a Saturday.
It’s my day, that’s why. I use Saturdays to do all the things I haven’t time to do during the week. You know – like absolutely nothing.
I can stay in bed all day and watch movies if I want. I can meet up with some friends or go for a walk around town. I can even use it as an extra study day if I’m falling behind. It’s the one day of the week where I can step away from the chaos and recharge my body and mind.
Some people never rest. They work themselves into a frenzy in the delusional belief their absence will cause their empire (or someone else’s) to crumble to the ground. It won’t.
But you might… if you don’t take a time out every now and then.
Your business and your clients need the best you they can get. Give it to them.
#6 is my favorite. I’m fascinated by the idea of perceived value and as I’m developing a new product that will (hopefully) save me from having to take another job that revolves around a phone, a cubicle and a cookie-cutter corporate culture, I intend to give this practice a shot.
Marc bryant recently posted..Tuesday
Hey Marc – good luck with your product. Stay away from that cubicle!
This was a GREAT article, Jamie! So much of it resonated with me. I am a primary school private maths tutor myself and I sure can relate. It is a slightly different game though, since the client you’re dealing with isn’t really the student, but the parent.
I will NEVER ever count the time during my lessons. Just as you’ve said, I think it’s so important to show that you value the student’s (in my case, a rascal kid!) progress and that it’s worth more than those measly few minutes. Even though this ain’t my ideal job, I still teach with a lot of passion and I see it as an opportunity for my own personal development; like I REALLY want to get the kid to improve and do well for the exams, and that’s a challenge for me. In the end, knowing that the parent also appreciates my work and care for the kid, it’s worth it.
And that’s how referrals happen! So much of business is really about building solid authentic relationships..
So even though I wouldn’t call this a business, it’s currently what’s keeping me afloat and allowing me to build up my music. (Thanks to the flexible nature of it, and not a 9-5.) I’ve been making piano videos on YouTube for about half a year now, and for that short period of time, I’m pretty amazed at the progress of it.
I’m wondering – besides your guitar tuition business, have you ever thought of expanding out to selling music online perhaps? With this blog and your current offline tribe, maybe something could happen? It’s something that I myself am looking into in the future, since I’m getting quite a good response at my channel. Plus, I don’t think you would want to be trading time for $$ all your life, no?
By the way, the story in #2 totally put a smile across my face man! I’ve actually heard that story somewhere a long time ago. Love that one so much, haha. People always tend to undervalue knowledge that takes years of practice/experience/learning.
Thanks for writing this great list!
Jeremy recently posted..Sword Art Online – Swordland (Main Theme) [Piano]
It’s good to see you’re in love with teaching. It’s a harder job than most people realise.
I am developing a website and with it (at some point) a book which is focusing on a very specific area of guitar practice and learning. This will be my long term strategy, as like you say, trading time for money isn’t what I want to do forever.
That story, and others like it, covers everything relating to value. I used to wonder if I was worth the money when all I do is sit down and (95% of the time) watch someone play guitar. But it’s knowing what to do to solve a problem. If you can solve a problem, then your value isn’t in the time – it’s in the knowledge. I think a lot of people struggle with this – both in buying, and selling.
“I am developing a website and with it (at some point) a book which is focusing on a very specific area of guitar practice and learning.”
>> Cool to hear that!
I love all your articles. Thanks fr doing what you do
Thank you 🙂
I’ve always underestimated the power of a day off in the past – always thinking that I must get x/y/z done, or I’ll run out of time.
But I never knew exactly what the rush was for. There weren’t any pending deadlines to work towards, so why the stress?
But now? My Saturday’s are mine, PLUS Sunday mornings. Taking a day off on a Friday just doesn’t feel the same …
Razwana Wahid recently posted..Professional or amateur: You decide
It’s funny you say that about stress and deadlines. Today I am feverishly trying to complete an assignment, because I arbitrarily decided it had to be done before the weekend. It’s not even due for another 3 weeks – and here’s me getting all stressed about it.
It’s 2/3 done already. That’ll do for now. Thanks 🙂
Solid advice Jamie. #5 & #8 in particular.
#5 – to underpromise and overdeliver is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. You gotta set expectations just right — Goldie locks zone 🙂 — from the get-go. The challenge, I find, is to do it in a subtle (not tryhard) way.
Ludvig sunström recently posted..Another 23 Excellent Books You Should Read
Hey, I agree. I think you have to overdeliver without mentioning or bringing the fact to anyone’s attention. It’s like going on a date and paying for the cinema tickets. Don’t ask if you should get them, don’t mention that you are getting them – just get them, silently, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.
Not that I advocate going to the cinema for a date – but you get the point 😉
This is ridiculously helpful advice here. Common sense just isn’t common anymore, people lack it. In trying to cater to a client, it’s sometimes difficult because it means adopting to their principles and ideals, rather than my own view on where it ought to go. I suppose with more experience clients will listen better, but it’s very hard when just starting any project, job, campaign, anything… to be viewed as any kind of leader on the matter with just a degree.
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Thanks Becca. Are you saying that it’s a rare sense to have common sense? This could get confusing 🙂