There has never been a better time to start a business.
- A business that allows you to create success on your terms while allowing the freedom to work on your schedule and flexibility to work from wherever.
- A business that can simply support a comfortable lifestyle for yourself and your family – or scale up with systems and support to truly create financial freedom.
- A business where work doesn’t feel like work because you have finally found a way to share your passion and your purpose to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.
And you don’t have to raise venture capital – or take out tens of thousands of dollars in business loans – or invest thousands of dollars of your hard-earned cash to get started.
When I left my corporate consulting job in 2008 to start my business, I didn’t have much more than $5000 and my old MacBook!
In the 12+ years that I’ve been in business for myself, things have changed dramatically. Technology that was extremely expensive is now more affordable and user-friendly than ever. Finding new clients used to mean attending every networking event and ‘dialing for dollars’ as you called and called and called to set appointments – now social media and content marketing have created amazing free channels to reach new clients.
But how do you actually start a business and get paying clients ASAP?
As I thought about this question, I asked myself what I would do differently if I were to start my business over again today.
12 years ago I was a newlywed. We didn’t have children… just one very hyper cocker spaniel puppy. Thankfully, my husband and I didn’t have any student loans or debt. We lived a pretty simple life.
When I decided to leave my corporate career and create my own consulting business, it was easy to look at our finances and decide to downsize our townhouse and cut our expenses. We sold a second car. We sold things on craigslist. We downsized as much as possible so we could live off my husband Jameson’s teaching salary and I could grow the business without the stress of also having to pay our bills right away.
These days, I’m living a completely different stage of life. I am the sole breadwinner – Jameson is a stay at home dad to our three kids. Our expenses are much higher. We have a mortgage. We have more responsibilities. It’s not cheap to raise a family!
This perspective is important because not everyone has the luxury of being 25, debt-free, and no kids with a breadwinning spouse!
I share this so you know that as I break down what I would do to start a business NOW, I’m coming from a practical and profitable perspective.
Before You Start Your Business, Ask Yourself:
1: How much TIME do you have available to invest into your business?
Each and every week, how much time is actually available to you to work on your business?
Now… this answer is going to vary dramatically from person to person.
Ten years ago, I didn’t have any major obligations. We lived off my husband’s salary. I quit my job and could go full-time immediately.
These days, I have three kids. I really can only give my business the time that I have while my kids are at school. I would say anywhere from 25 to 30 hours a week on the high end, but more regularly probably about 20 to 25 hours a week.
That time availability is really, really important! Time is a real constraint – if you only have 20 hours a week, you need to make sure you’re making the most out of your limited hours.
2: How much MONEY do you have available to fund your business?
Here’s a truth-bomb…
It is very difficult to go out there and get a business loan for an unproven, untested business.
Which means the majority of us are self-funding and bootstrapping our dreams.
How much do you really need to invest into your business?
If you are starting a services-based business (coaching, personal training, private yoga teacher, consulting, website design, copywriting, etc) startup costs are basically filing the paperwork to establish the business, open a bank account or Paypal account.
Once you get your first few clients, you can slowly invest in a website, email marketing systems, and other tools to help you run your business.
When I started my business in 2008-2009, I had $5000 in my savings. I spent most of that on a website! But if I were to start over now, I would spend $100 on a Squarespace website and focus most of my energy on getting on calls to book one-on-one consulting clients before making any other big investments.
3: When Do You Need to Pay Yourself?
This is so important! Once you get your business up and running… when do you need that business to become profitable enough to pay you?
When I started my business, I knew we could live off my husband’s salary so I didn’t need to pay myself from my business for the first year or so.
That changed when I had kids. I needed to pay myself $2500 a month to cover the extra expenses of childcare and increased cost of living.
Fast forward to today and my life has changed even more dramatically. We have a mortgage, a mini-van, and my husband is a full-time stay-at-home dad. Any new business would need to generate at least $8,000 per month pretty quickly for us to survive!
How to Start a Business (And Get Paying Clients ASAP)
Once you’ve answered the above questions, we have a better idea of the time, energy, and money you can invest into this business. This is so important because we want to make sure you’re starting the right business for you!
Download your copy of the Business Growth Checklist to learn the next steps start your business:
1: Find Clarity on Your Business Idea
If you’ve been thinking about starting a business, you’ve probably brainstormed lists and lists of potential business ideas.
But you don’t have to invent the next Facebook to have a successful business!
I always start by asking myself these questions:
- What skills do I have?
- What problems can I solve?
- Who needs that solution?
- How do I provide that solution?
Let’s say that I’m brainstorming these questions and decide that I can use my cooking skills by becoming a personal chef.
What problem does a personal chef solve? Not having enough time to cook healthy meals.
Who needs that solution? Busy professionals and working parents.
How do I provide that solution? There are so many ways I could help solve this particular problem – I could run a workshop on meal planning and meal prep. I could do the meal planning and meal prep for them. I could create meal planning and meal prep guides so they can do it themselves.
Once you’ve narrowed down your focus to a specific problem you can solve, it becomes much easier to get your business off the ground.
2: Validate Your Business Idea
This step is the most important step of the Business Growth Checklist!
In the startup stage of your business, your #1 focus is validating your idea. If you attempt to start a business without doing this step first, you risk investing a lot of time, energy, and money on an idea that no one actually wants to buy.
How do you validate that idea? Talk to people.
You need to actually get out from behind your computer and have real conversations with real people.
If you can’t find 10 people who are willing to talk with you and share their experience and their challenges and their struggles with this particular problem you want to solve, it’s going to be very difficult to build a business around that idea.
>>> If you’re really serious, I would make a goal to talk to 100 people about your idea <<<
Until you have these conversations, it’s going to be really, really difficult to make sure your marketing message is actually clear and compelling to those dream clients.
Keep in mind that the purpose of these conversations is not to pitch yourself – it’s to do research on what your potential clients truly want and will pay for.
Ask questions like (I’ll use the chef example from above):
- Why is healthy eating a priority for you?
- What gets in the way of eating healthy in your family?
- What is your biggest frustration when it comes to healthy eating?
- Do you ever create a plan to eat healthier?
- Have you ever tried meal planning?
- Have you ever tried a meal delivery service?
- What would it look like if it was easier to make healthy meals for your family?
- How would that make your life easier?
These conversations will help you understand exactly what your dream clients want and will happily pay for – making it much easier to promote and sell that offering.
3: Create Your One Sentence Introduction
Once you’ve validated your idea, then you want to make sure you can describe what you do.
If you’ve ever struggled to describe what you do, you’re not alone. Most of us struggle to describe our work in a way that gets people interested.
But if you can’t clearly articulate what you do, then your dream clients won’t understand if you can help them!
That’s why I came up with this little Mad Libs Introduction template:
“I do [this] for [this type of person] so that they can [see this result].”
A quick example: I’m a personal chef for busy working families who want to eat healthy meals without spending their entire Sunday stressing over shopping and meal prepping.
4: Create Your Signature Offer
Before you start pitching yourself to new potential clients, it’s important to actually think about what products, programs, or services you are going to offer!
Now you might already be thinking about creating passive income products or group coaching programs… but the fastest path to cash is working one-on-one.
Services are the perfect foundation for creating a solid baseline revenue in your business.
There are so many benefits to starting one-on-one:
- It’s so much easier to fill your client docket and hit your revenue goals.
- You don’t have to grow a huge audience… you can get private clients by tapping into your existing network for introductions and referrals.
- You can easily fill a private client docket without stressing over website traffic, social media followings, and building email lists.
- You don’t need a complicated webinar or sales funnel… all you need is a conversation with a potential client.
Let’s create your signature offer.
The biggest challenge that so many serviced-based entrepreneurs run into is constantly trading dollars for hours. They are always hustling to get clients in their calendar. And because their clients aren’t truly committed to the work, revenue can be inconsistent.
Not only is the trading dollars for hours model broken for the entrepreneur… but it does not serve your clients either.
It’s not getting your clients results because a one-time session with you is likely not going to make a massive impact for them long-term.
Instead of thinking about how much does it cost to hire you for an hour, I want to shift your thinking to how can you truly get the best results for your clients.
- How can you help them get the best results possible?
- How much time is it going to take?
- How committed will they need to be?
- What challenges and obstacles will they face?
- How will working with you help them achieve those goals?
When you shift this from just being available for hire by the hour to now focusing 100% on the results that you deliver, you’re making a huge step towards delivering real results for your clients and making a shift towards more predictable profits in your business.
This shift will not only serve your clients because they’re going to see you more consistently and get those results, but you’re helping yourself because now you’re setting up a profit plan that gets you paid every single month.
Let’s look at some example Signature Offerings:
Goal: $100,000 Annual Revenue
Signature Offering: $2,500 6-Month Coaching Program
Number of Clients: 40
I love crunching the numbers on this because it gives me so much CLARITY about what needs to happen to achieve this business goal!
Instead of hustling non-stop to fill every available spot on your weekly calendar (aka trading dollars for hours), you’re focused on just making 40 sales and serving those 40 clients so they see real results.
What does a program like this really look like? Let’s dive in:
This program is literally the exact one I created over 12 years ago when I was leaving corporate consulting and I was starting my business as a coach and business strategist for entrepreneurs.
I worked with entrepreneurs for 6 months. 12 total client sessions. They could pay me $500 a month for those 6 months ($3000) or pay in full for $2500 (yep – I offered a nice discount to pay in full).
The benefits for my clients? They not only had dedicated time to work on their business strategy, but every other week, they were able to fine-tune that strategy with me and get the support they needed to implement. That on-going accountability meant they stayed laser focused and avoided any shiny objects that would have sabotaged their efforts.
The benefits for me as the entrepreneur? I had 20 people at a time paying me at least $500 a month, generating $10K per month for my business. And because I was able to manage my calendar effectively, it was easy to plan client sessions around vacation weeks and still get paid because my clients were paying me for a 6-month program instead of by the hour.
It’s a WIN-WIN between you and your clients.
And if you only have 20 hours a week to work (childcare was my biggest constraint starting my business), this allows you to work 10 hours a week with your clients and still have time to market your business and grow the next stage of your business.
Now let’s recap where we are so far in the journey to start a business…
I know what problem I’m solving.
I have an idea who I’m here to help, who needs that solution.
I figured out if I’m going to actually do the work for them, if I’m going to do the work with them as like a coach, or if I’m going to teach them how to do it.
I’ve validated that idea because I’ve gone out and talked to people.
I’ve boiled it all down into a clear, compelling sentence that helps people understand what I do, and I figured out what the offer is, how I’m going to help people on a one-on-one basis.
While we’re recapping – make sure you download The Business Growth Checklist so you can follow along and get ready to implement this process
Once you get through those first few steps, it’s implementation time.
5: Get Paying Clients
Now it’s time to get actual people to pay you for your signature offer.
This is the point when a lot of entrepreneurs start circling the creative cul-de-sac trying to do anything other than actually get a paying client. Hours and hours are spent looking at logos and business cards and websites. Months are wasted trying to make everything perfect before they ever get a paying client.
THIS IS IMPORTANT
A website is NOT required to get your first clients.
All you need to do is focus on getting in front of the right people. So let’s make that plan based on the signature offering we outlined above (the 1×1 6-month coaching program):
- How many paying clients do you want? 20
- How many potential clients do you need to talk to? 40-50
- How are you going to find those 40-50 potential clients to talk with? Your Network
The fastest way to find those potential clients isn’t reaching out one by one. It’s to get in front of other people’s network.
Sit down and brainstorm every single person in my network. Who are all the people I know?
Now, don’t get scared. We’re not going to pitch your friends, family, and former colleagues to be a client. But we are going to ask them for help and support!
Most of the people in your network aren’t the exact type of client you are looking for – but they might know someone who is a potential dream client.
The biggest reason you need to start with your network is those warm introductions, those warm referrals, can make all the difference.
If you make it a goal to focus on warm introductions and warm referrals, you will maybe only have to talk to 40 or 50 people in order to fill 20 private client spots.
Action Step: Make a list of 100 people in your network.
Send a Business Announcement
This is something that I thought of 10 years ago.
When I started my business, a lot of my friends were getting married, having babies, buying houses.
We are celebrating all these big events in peoples’ lives. We hear the wedding announcement, we have the engagement party, or we get the postcard in the mail with the new address for their new home and they have a housewarming party.
A business is just as big of a deal. We should be celebrating this big milestone!
If you would invite that person to your wedding or send them a Christmas card, chances are they want to hear what is happing in your life! And even if they aren’t your dream client – they can introduce you to your dream clients.
I hear from a lot of people that they’ve never actually sat down and reached out to the people in their network to let them know, “Hey, I started this new exciting thing and I want to tell you a little bit about it.“
I think one of the biggest reasons people hold back is because they’re worried that it might come off as sleazy or pushy, but again, our goal isn’t to sell to our network, it’s to ask them for help.
A business announcement email is simply letting your network know – just like you would let them know that you’re expecting a new baby, or let them know that you’re hosting a housewarming party – let them know that you’re excited about your new business!
And don’t forget to let them know how they can help! I would stick to 3 quick points:
- Pass my new website along to anyone in your circle who might be looking for [PARAPHRASE WHAT YOU DO, IN 5 WORDS OR LESS]. You can send ’em right over to [INSERT URL].
- Introduce me to [INSERT BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF DREAM CLIENT] who is ready to [FILL IN THE BLANK] more and [FILL IN THE BLANK] less. I’d love to offer then a complimentary consult to see if I can help!
- Connect me with any movers and shakers who may know others in the [INSERT YOUR NICHE] space.
There is a fill-in-the-blank email template for your Business Announcement Email in the Business Growth Checklist – did you download it yet?!
You can let them know if there’s a workshop you’re going to be running. You can get them know how they can get engaged and involved with your business. You can offer a referral reward. It’s all about asking for help instead of asking for a sale.
Action Step: Send out your business announcement to your network list. Do not just sent a blast! It is worth taking the time to personalize these emails. You can also modify and share via social media.
Host a Business Launch Party
If you are a local business, you might consider hosting a business launch party.
This is a great add-on to that business announcement email, because it could be as simple as a happy hour where you’re inviting your network to show up and say,
“Hey, I’m celebrating the official launch of my new business and I’d love your help in spreading the word! Bring a friend for this happy hour – I’ll be raffling off some prizes.”
The launch party doesn’t have to be over the top – a one-hour cocktail party is fine!
My friend Noelle Parent of Gifted RVA hosted a fantastic launch party to celebrate her curated gift boxes. It was a simple cocktail party at a local co-working space. We voted on our favorite gift boxes (everything from a Boss Babe collection to the Unicorn box to the Galentines Day box) to be featured on her website. She had a great photobooth set up to share the event. It was a great way to announce her business and share her products!
And you don’t have to make it a big sales pitch! This event is really about building those relationships and encouraging your network to introduce you to people. Spend 5 minutes sharing the vision and purpose of what you do, then mingle!
Action Step: Followup with anyone who attended your launch party. Invite them for a consult. Ask for referrals.
My best collaborators have all come from an introduction.
If I was going to go get back into teaching yoga, I would reach out to my network and say:
“Hey guys, I’m so excited. I’m starting up my yoga business again so that I can help new moms take precious care of themselves so they can take care of their families without all the exhaustion and mommy guilt. Do you know any businesses who are also serving new moms that might be good collaborators for me?”
I would look for any opportunity where I could partner up with someone and get in front of an existing community.
- Speak at local organizations. From the Chamber of Commerce to local mom groups, there are dozens of local organizations looking for experts.
- Host a workshop or seminar for another business. Does your work complement the work of another business? Partner up on a workshop for their clients.
- Organize a ‘lunch and learn’. I’ve hosted these mini-seminars over lunch at restaurant or even virtually during the lunch hour.
Once you share some great, useful information, offer free consults to anyone who wants to dive deeper.
Action Step: Organize a few opportunities to get in front of other people’s audiences! Make sure to followup with all attendees.
Offer Free Consultations
Some people absolutely hate doing free consults… but I love them.
I love them because they’re a great way for people to actually get one-on-one with you and really talk to people. You will get more clarity the more you talk to people. You’re going to learn a ton about the people you’re here to serve.
You simply want to get on the phone and ask them about their struggles. Ask them about their challenges. Ask them where they want to be and what their goals are, and then help them figure out, help them see where their roadblocks are, where they’re getting stuck.
If where they’re getting stuck aligns with how you can help people, that’s when you simply let people know,
“You know, where you’re getting stuck is something I love helping people with. I see this in a lot of my clients. I see this in the people I support. These are the common stumbling blocks, and the best way to overcome that is with XYZ.”
Then describe how your signature offering was designed to help them overcome those challenges and get their desired results. Walk them through how it works and what to expect.
Now – you have a system in place to get more clients.
- Collaborate to get in front of new audiences.
- Give amazing value.
- Invite them to a free consult.
- Host free consults.
- Rinse and repeat!
I know this seems like it’s too simple… it really doesn’t take rocket science to start a business! But it does take patience, practice, and a lot of courage to put yourself out there.
By now, you should have your first paying clients in your business. Now you can start building out the marketing systems that will help you to continue to grow.
6: Your Online Presence
Notice how this is AFTER the step on getting clients?
That’s because building a website and setting up social media can become a huge procrastination strategy that holds entrepreneurs back from ever getting their business off the ground.
Once you get those first few clients in the door, you can start building your online presence in a smart, strategic way.
At this stage in your business, you do not need to invest in a highly custom website. Keep it simple as long as you can with a Squarespace. Yes – there are free website builders out there but you will quickly outgrow them as you grow your business.
Email Marketing System
Start building your email list ASAP! The easiest way to do this is to design a simple ‘pink spoon’ aka freebie as an incentive for signing up for your email list. I love ConvertKit because they make it so incredibly easy to deliver our free checklists (like the Business Growth Checklist) and set up automated emails.
Social media can quickly become overwhelming! Don’t fall into the trap of surfing social media every single day. Pick one platform – the one your dream clients spend the most time – and create a plan to show up consistently. Hands down, my go to platform is Instagram! So I post new content, do stories 4-5X a week, and connect via DMs with podcast listeners and potential clients.
7: Create a Marketing System
It is precisely the model teach inside of The CEO Collective and how I run my business every week to consistently enroll new clients into my programs and services. It starts with a 5-Part Marketing System:
Part 1: Attract
Attract activities are all about getting in front of new audiences, introducing yourself and your brand, and attracting them to your business.
The big thing about attract marketing is you’re going to either do the things that take time and effort:
- Asking for Referrals
- Collaborating with other businesses and organizations
- Writing guest posts
- Interviews on podcasts or traditional media
- Drive traffic with organic SEO
- Guest teach or speak for other people’s communities
Or it’s going to take money to drive those audiences to you via paid advertising.
Ask Yourself: What is your go-to attract strategy for your business?
Part 2: Engage
Engage is all about getting contact information so you can start that new relationship with a potential client.
99% of people are not going to buy from you the first time they land on your website.
Think about the last time you were looking to hire a health coach, or a website designer, or a wedding photographer…
We land on your website to learn more and get information about how you work, but we’re not all ready to make a buying decision right away. We are in research mode!
This is where your ‘pink spoon’ comes in – you want to offer an incentive for those people to join your email list and start to hear from you on a regular basis.
Ask yourself: What is my ‘pink spoon’ to grow that email list?
These first two steps are essential to your business success. You don’t get to just skip Attract and Engage, because if you do, your business will hit a feast or famine cycle.
Part 3: Nurture
The goal of nurture marketing is to build that relationship with your community, but too often, entrepreneurs fail to provide real value for their potential clients because they basically just blast pitch after pitch after pitch to their audience.
Nurture marketing is about providing useful, valuable, entertaining, inspiring content to build the relationship and help them decide if you are the right person to help them:
- Sending regular newsletters
- Writing a blog post or
- Recording a podcast or
- Creating a video
- Posting on social media
In my business, I depend heavily on teaching. Each and every week, I teach my audience something to help them start and scale their businesses via my podcast Promote Yourself to CEO.
There are so many ways you can create nurture content that builds that “I know I can trust them” feeling.
The key with this is it has to be consistent. You have to make sure you’re showing up for your community every week.
Ask Yourself: What is your nurture strategy are you committed to sharing once a week?
Part 4: Invite
Once you’ve attracted new potential clients into your business, they’ve raised their hand by giving you their contact information, you’ve continued to build their relationship by giving them great valuable content, it’s time to take the next step from potential client to paying client.
So, are you inviting people into your business?
You have to tell clients how they can work with you and what you have available for them to take the next step with. You have to tell them how that works.
Ask Yourself: Do you have a real plan to invite potential clients to becoming paying clients?
As in, this month I’m focused on getting 5 new 1×1 coaching clients. I’m going to have 20 free strategy sessions. I’ll fill those free sessions by announcing them to my email list and social media.
Part 5: Delight
How awesome would it be to have a solid client base who continue to work with you again and again?
That is a game changer.
And it happens when you have a plan to delight your existing clients with an incredible experience that not only helps them see the results they hired you to achieve, but when you go above and beyond their expectations.
When you have an experience designed to surprise and delight, your clients get better results because they’re super engaged and excited about what work you’re doing together.
When your clients get amazing results, you get rave reviews, referrals, and repeat business.
Ask Yourself: How are you surprising and delighting your clients?
This is the process I went through my first year of business… and I was able to quickly grow to over $8K per month and $100,000 in my first year of taking my business online… even while working only 25 hours a week.
Your first year of business is the hardest year in business. But if anything, I hope you really took away a couple of key things.
1: VALIDATE YOUR BUSINESS IDEAS. Validate, validate, validate. That was almost half of what we talked about is validating by talking to people and validate by getting people to actually pay you.
2: PRIORITIZE PROFITS. If you don’t have endless number of hours and an infinite budget, then the fastest path to cash and sustainable baseline revenue is going to be working one-on-one. Higher value programs are going to be where it’s at to make sure that you start out with a more sustainable business model.
3: BUILD A MARKETING SYSTEM. You need to be able to continuously attract, engage, and nurture potential clients into your business. Don’t wait until you have run out of clients to find the next ones.
If you’ve been overwhelmed trying to get your business through this startup stage, I want to let you know that The CEO Collective walks you through each step of the Business Growth Checklist from Startup to Scaling your business to $15K months and beyond!
This post is just part 1 of a much bigger series: The Path to a Predictably Profitable Business.
If you’re ready for that consistency, you’re ready to know that your business can support you and your lifestyle with ease, while also helping you do the work that you love – here’s what you can expect from the series:
1: How to Start a Business (And Get Paying Clients ASAP)
2: What to Focus on FIRST with the Ultimate Business Growth Checklist
3: How Designing a Baseline Revenue Gets You Paid Every Single Month
4: The #1 Mistake Keeping Women Entrepreneurs From A Predictably Profitable Business
5: Do You Have a LEAK In Your Predictable Profit Strategy
6: My Go-To Strategy to Plan for Predictable Profits
So if you’ve been struggling to consistently generate $5K, $10K, or $15K months in your business, you’ll want to follow along with this series and download this action guide!
Keep learning! >>> Check out the next post in this series: What To Focus On First With The Ultimate Business Growth Checklist