How to Get Your Business In Check for a Solid Foundation

You’ve taken course after course or tried strategy after strategy and still aren’t where you want to be in your business. You’re frustrated and confused because other people seem to get results but not you!

Building a business is hard enough. But it’s even more difficult when you don’t know what the big picture is supposed to look like. It’s like trying to build one of those 1000-piece puzzles without ever looking at the front of the box to see what it should look like in the end.

Years ago, I created the ultimate Business Growth Checklist but have completely overhauled it recently with even more insight and resources. In this episode, I kick off a three-part series that covers each of the three core stages of business growth and what to do for each so that your company has a solid footing each step of the way.

On this episode of Promote Yourself to CEO:

2:13 – What I heard over and over again that inspired me to create the Business Growth Checklist

4:40 – A quick overview of the three stages outlined in the checklist

6:29 – Revealing the first stage of business and its biggest challenge

9:27 – Strategies that work best for stage one of your business

12:32 – Walk-through of critical actions steps for the first stage

15:19 – Questions for each specific new offer in your business

18:25 – Why you’ll want to keep your starter offer as simple as possible

22:09 – One of the best things I did when I got started and highly recommend

26:12 – Your goal in implementing the 5-part marketing system in stage one of your business

Mentioned in How to Get Your Business In Check with the Business Growth Checklist

Have you ever tried to do one of those thousand-piece puzzles, but not look at the box to see what you're trying to create? If you have ever sat in front of all of these teeny-tiny little puzzle pieces and scratched your head trying to figure out what goes where, then it's a lot like entrepreneurship. It's a lot like being a business owner, when you don't know what the big picture is supposed to look like.

We find ourselves continuously adding more pieces to the puzzle of our business but we don't always know what the big picture is or what we're trying to create, what direction we're going and understanding what the right next step is to get closer to that picture.

It wasn't until I saw that big picture for my business that things started to fall into place. That's why I created the ultimate Business Growth Checklist. This Business Growth Checklist shares the bigger picture, the lid of the puzzle box so you can see clearly what needs to happen more step-by-step to grow your business.

In today's episode, we are kicking off a three-part series because I have completely overhauled the ultimate Business Growth Checklist, added even more insight and resources to it for you. I want to go through each of the three core stages of growth with you. Let's get into it.

Are you ready to grow from solopreneur to CEO? You're in the right place. I'm your host, Racheal Cook. I've spent the last decade helping women entrepreneurs start and scale service-based businesses. If you're serious about building a sustainable business, it's time to put the strategy, systems, and support in place to make it happen. Join me each week for candid conversations about stepping into your role as CEO, the hard lessons learned along the way, and practical profitable strategies to grow a sustainable business without the hustle and burnout.

Hey CEOs, welcome back to another series here on Promote Yourself to CEO. Now if you have been listening to the podcast for a while, you have heard me talk about the Business Growth Checklist. It's something I created years and years ago for my clients.

I created this Business Growth Checklist because I was hearing again and again from people who had signed up for course after course, training after training, webinar after webinar, they were implementing all these things and not seeing results.

When I really looked under the hood of their businesses to understand “Well, why didn't that work for you?” it wasn't the tactic, it wasn't the webinar, it wasn't the challenge, it wasn't the course. It was that they were not ready for that strategy. Their business was not actually ready for that strategy.

This can be hard to hear. This can be hard to hear for a lot of people because a lot of people are focused on “I just want to grow, I just want to scale,” etc. But if they don't have the foundations in place, it truly is like trying to run before you can walk. They only had a few pieces of that puzzle. They could only see the few pieces and they couldn't see the big picture of what it would truly take for their business to be ready for a strategy like that.

If you find yourself in a situation where you have been trying these different things that everyone else seems to be getting these amazing results out of but you're not getting those results, I want you to come download the Business Growth Checklist because you may discover that the reason it's not working for you, it's not your fault, it's just your business isn't ready for it.

If you try to skip ahead and don't have some of these foundational pieces in place, it doesn't matter how hard you work on that tactic, it's just not going to work for your business yet. You don't want to set yourself up for so much frustration by trying to run before you can walk. You have to do the foundational work before any of these strategies will actually get results for you. So no shortcuts, no shortcuts to sustainable success. You have to start where you are and continue to build a solid foundation.

Once you understand these different stages of business growth, and you start working your way through the Business Growth Checklist, you will determine exactly where you are in this journey and what you need to focus on to get to the next stage of business growth.

There are three specific stages that I outline in the Business Growth Checklist. I'm just going to quickly give you the overview. The first is the startup stage. This is a stage everybody has to get through. It's the hardest stage.

The second stage is the success stage. This is where you're actually starting to see some clients and cash flow but often still struggling with the feast or famine cycle. You're looking to stabilize your business to make it more predictable.

Then finally, the scale stage. This is where everybody thinks they want to be. But the scale stage is a whole different beast. It takes a whole lot more infrastructure. In order to serve more and more clients that's at scale, you have a lot of people that are working with you, that are working inside of your business. There's a lot more going on. I think a lot of people realize we just tend to focus on how much money is being made, not how much money is going out or how it really looks to have businesses at that level.

In this series, I'm going to break down some of the top action items for each stage of business. Even if you feel like you're already through one of these stages, I encourage you to listen through this entire series because, again and again, I have seen from my clients that they might be further along in their revenue, but they may have skipped a couple of foundational steps.

At some point, it will come back to bite you in the butt if you don't get things cleaned up. It's really hard to scale if you have gaps in your strategy, if you have gaps in your plan. At some point it will cause a problem. Let's get into today's episode all about stage one.

Stage one is a really challenging stage. I'm not going to lie. This is probably the hardest time in business for most entrepreneurs. It truly is. There's so much you're trying to figure out, there's so much you're trying to put into place, you're trying to get clients, you're trying to see if your product, program, or service is something people actually want. You're often building an audience from scratch.

Most of us do not start up a business with a built-in audience to sell to so you're also trying to figure that out. For a lot of the clients that I work with, while they may be an expert in the thing that they do, they're not an expert in business yet. They're really business beginners. They've not run a business before. So the startup stage is really hard, and it's really important. We all have to go through this stage. You don't get to skip this stage.

In fact, it's important to understand that every time you release a new product, program, or service, you go in through a lot of the startups checklist again, because you have to validate. That is the number one focus, priority in the startup stage. In the startup stage, you are validating your idea. You're validating your business model, you're validating your product, program, or service, your offer.

You're validating that you're trying to talk to the right clients, that you're creating the right offer for the right people, solving the right problem at the right price point, that you have the right positioning, that you have all of these different pieces of the puzzle. You're testing everything to see what works and what doesn't work. Because the reality is there's a million different ways you can build a business, but not every way is a perfect fit for you. You're trying to figure out what works, what gets results, what is a fit for you.

Now, the biggest challenge here is failing. The biggest challenge in the startup stage is understanding that you have to fail a lot as an entrepreneur, you have to fail fast as an entrepreneur. I find too many entrepreneurs, especially women entrepreneurs, tend to be hung up on perfectionism. We want everything to be right before we announce it into the world. That usually lends itself to people procrastinating putting their offer out there or waiting to truly take action.

They instead focus on things that seem to make it look like you have an amazing business like a logo, website, or photoshoot, all those things, instead of actually getting your idea out there and seeing if people will pay for it. Failure is part of the process and the sooner you can learn that and the sooner you can embrace that, the sooner you can learn.

Failure, fail really is the first attempt in learning. It’s something I told myself all the time. The faster you can put things out there and see, again, validate if people want it, the easier your startup stage will go.

Now marketing and sales at this stage for a lot of us is going to be primarily one-to-one. Most of the businesses listening to this podcast are not funded by venture capitalists. Most of us are not taking out loans for hundreds of thousands of dollars that then we can invest into advertising, PR, or any of the very expensive things that would get you instantly in front of tons of people.

If you're anything like me and most of my clients, you are most likely bootstrapping your business. You're trying to get this business up off the ground without over investing into it. You need strategies that are going to work quickly and not be too expensive for you. But at the same time, if you don't have that built-in audience, if you don't have thousands of people already and waiting to hear from you about your offer, then you have to think about what is going to be the easiest, fastest way to get those clients in the door.

It is going to be one-to-one conversations, it is going to be one-to-one messages, it's going to be growing your client base one person at a time. High-touch strategies work best here. I do want to say this is an advantage for entrepreneurs who are just starting up is that when you're just getting started, and you don't have a full-client load, you don't have tons of clients you're servicing, you actually have time to reach out and connect with people one-to-one.

You better believe those first few people who you connect with and take the time to build relationship with, some of them may become clients now but some of them may become super fans or evangelists for your business and your brand.

That is a huge perk of being earlier on in your business is that you have the bandwidth to actually build those one-to-one relationships. Your money goal in the startup stage is to get 10 sales. I specifically say 10 sales because the revenue can vary wildly. I've had clients who are focused on selling to corporate. I've had clients who are working on selling a group-coaching program or clients who are selling to the general public with a product.

If you can sell 10 things—products, programs, or services, it doesn't matter to me, for whatever price point, I don't care if it is a corporate contract for six figures or a group-coaching program for $2,500—if you can make 10 sales, then you have validated your offer, you are on the right track, and now we can move on to the next stage of business. But if you can't make 10 sales, then we haven't validated enough. We haven't validated the offer, the audience, the positioning, the price point, the promotional strategy, and we can't grow it if we don't have something that people will buy.

I think that's a really important thing to think about if you are in stage one. If you have not had 10 paying clients, we need to continue, get back to the drawing board, and work on a few things. What are the specifics here in the startup stage? Let's walk through the checklist. I think this is something that, of course, you can go download the whole checklist but I want to pull out some of the things that I think are just crucially important for you to be implementing.

First and foremost, please set up your business legally. Make sure you're being legit about this. This is where something that starts as a side hustle or an experiment can quickly get out of hand. If you are found not having these things in place, again, it could come to bite you in the butt. You could face some fines. I mean, I don't think anything terrible, terrible could happen but none of us want to get fined. None of us want to get in trouble with the IRS, with the State Corporation Commission, or anything like that.

Here in the US, which is where I'm based, there are things you might need to do. You might need to go register your business with the state. In Virginia, it’s the State Corporation Commission. Go on their website and set up an LLC most likely, pay the fee. That's all you have to do. Do you have to actually go hire somebody to do all this for you? I don't think you do. I think you just need to get on with Google. You can always make a phone call and ask these people, these organizations to help you because they will, that's their job.

You need to register your state and you may need to register your local business license or permit. You need to get your business federal tax ID number for your business. This is not your social security number. It's a separate tax ID. Employer Identification Number is the other thing it's known as. Once you have that in place, you can go open your business checking account, you can set up your payment processor like PayPal or Square and that is going to be important.

You do not want your personal money and your business money to be mingling together. You need to keep those separate. This is how we stay legit: we separate out business finances from personal finances and make sure we're really, really clean about how we're categorizing those things. Then you may need to set up something like a FreshBooks so that you can do invoicing, FreshBooks, Dubsado, or something along those lines. That's the basics. That's going to cover most of everybody.

If you're in a different country, I'm sure it's a similar process. Just make sure you're using your Google to register your business with your state, your local city or county, get your tax ID, set up your money stuff. Make sure you can take payments somehow and make sure you can send invoices.

Once you have some of those things, and this shouldn't take more than a day, then we need to get into some of the key things you need to know as you're starting your business, or again, creating a new product, program, or service. Because each product, program, or service is a little bit different. So you have to answer these things for that specific offer.

First up, who is your ideal client for this offer? If you want to blend in and make sure no one pays attention to what you're doing, then just look at what other people in your field are doing and imitate that, but if you want to stand out, you have to get very, very clear and specific about who you are serving, about the problem you are solving. The problem you're solving is key. Most people are not going to buy a product, program, or service unless it either solves a problem, or on the flip side, fulfills a desire.

Now I will say you'll hear us talk a lot more about solves a problem. Honestly, it's easier to sell something that solves a problem. fulfilling a desire is a little bit more of a challenge. Sometimes you have to have a really strong brand but there are obviously a lot of brands out there that fulfill a desire that fulfill something that people want just because they want it, not because it necessarily solves a specific problem. Two sides there, it either solves a problem or fulfills a desire.

Now if you are not sure what problem your offer solves or what desire it fulfills, then you gotta go talk to people. This is one of the assignments I give my clients that makes them so uncomfortable because they would rather do anything than start having real conversations with people.

But I promise you, getting on the phone, getting on Zoom, taking people out for coffee and having conversations, letting them know, “Hey, I'm working on this idea. I want to really make sure I'm understanding where someone like you might be struggling. Can I ask you some questions so I can get more clarity on what your specific needs are? So I can see how I could help,” the more people you talk to, the better.

Ten is our minimum. You have to talk to at least 10 people each time you create a new product, program, or service. But honestly, if you don't have a lot of experience putting yourself out there and selling, I would use this as an opportunity to talk to as many as 100 people. We've called this 100-conversation challenge here inside of The CEO Collective. We've got a couple episodes on the podcast about some of our clients who've done the 100-conversation challenge. This has led them to understanding so much more about what their clients actually want and will pay for.

Otherwise, again, you are guessing. We don't want to be guessing, we want to be doing the market research. We want to make sure we truly understand what those people are thinking, feeling, wishing, and dreaming could change in their life, their health, their relationships, whatever it is that you help them with. Once you've done those things, you can create that starter offer and establish your initial fees. Now I do want to say I think this is where a lot of people way overcomplicate things, if there was one thing I could tell every newer business owner, it's that the offer you start with is not going to be the offer you have forever.

The fees you start with are just a starting point. They will likely go up. As you work with more people, you will get so much more clarity about how you can upgrade that offer and how you can turn it into a high-end signature offer or you can productize that offer. But right now, if you don't have the experience of getting people through it enough times, you don't want to overcomplicate this for yourself, so just keep it simple.

Put an offer out there. I mean, when I get started, I literally had six months of one-on-one coaching. That was the offer. I did not overcomplicate it. I was not trying to make it super fancy. There weren't a bunch of bells and whistles. It was literally six months, 12 calls, $2,500 to get started. That was a long time ago now but it helped me at least get going, get the first 10 paying clients.

Once I had those 10 paying clients and I had the experience of working with them for at least six months, oh my god, the clarity that I had on what their problems were, their sticking points were, and what education they needed, what training they needed, that was the foundation of me being able to create my first online course. I could have never understood what people really needed until I had that experience of working with those first 10 clients. So don't underestimate the power of just getting started just working with people because in that, you will get clarity.

Then build a simple starter website. If there's one thing I wish that I had when I started my business in 2008, it is that something as simple as Squarespace was around. We didn't have anything that was like a drag and drop template. Everything was very custom and I invested so much money into a website that honestly, a year into my business, I needed to completely take down and change anyway. So keep it simple. You do not need to overcomplicate this.

I think this is another area where a lot of startups start to way over-invest. I would have a one-page website with a form for people to book a consult with me. Keep it simple. On that website, as you get going and you get more insight into what your potential clients are interested in, you can start to put a freebie up and build an email list. I was lucky that somehow my designer at the time thought, “Oh, let's put a button on your website so you can get newsletter subscribers,” but in 2008, people would sign up for a newsletter without much information about what it would be or how frequent it would be.

Things are different now. Now people want to have some sort of reason to sign up for your newsletter. An incentive like a little free offer, like a checklist, a workbook, or a guide, like the Business Growth Checklist, that is a free offer that we have available on the website and if you sign up for it, you will also get a welcome sequence from us.

If you sign up for any of our free offers, the Get Paid Calculator, the Business Growth Checklist, CEO Date Checklist, the 12-month Profit Plan, any of those, there is an email sequence that goes along with those. That allows you to start building your audience so that you can start marketing to more people.

Once you have these things in place, they are really the simplest, easiest things to have: a landing page online, a simple website, a simple first-step opt in for this free resource or book a consult with me, or both, then you can start telling people about it.

One of the best things I did when I got started was I sent out a business announcement email. This business announcement email went out to everyone on my phone, everyone on my Blackberry who I had ever emailed with, everybody who I had known from my previous career, college, from my network, or anybody I knew who was kind of a center of influence for small business owners and entrepreneurs. I sent out an announcement just like you would hear from somebody if they were getting married or had a baby.

At the time that I started my business, all of my friends were getting married and having babies and moving into new houses. So we were getting these announcements all the time. I thought to myself, “We're celebrating weddings, babies, and houses but I'm starting a business and I think that's a pretty big deal.” So I sent out an announcement, I sent out an invitation to a launch party. I sent out all sorts of things to everyone in my network because I was like, “You know what, they may not be ideal clients, but they may know someone who is or they may know someone who is a person of influence who I can maybe collaborate with, build referrals with, or whatever.”

As an aside, the Business Growth Checklist, I actually have a template for this business announcement email, like you literally fill in the blanks for how to send this out. I sent this to probably 250-300 people. I didn't of course hear back from everybody, but it's the momentum that pushes you out of your comfort zone and starts to get the ball rolling. This also becomes the momentum to start networking. You will be amazed how small the world is once you start getting out from behind your computer, go out, and talk to people, start having coffee dates with people, or start putting yourself in different rooms.

For me when I sent out that business announcement email, I would invite people to “Hey, let's have coffee. I want to hear about what you're doing.” Or I would say, “Do you know any events for entrepreneurs I should be attending?” I made it a point to get out of my office every single week to meet with at least one person. In fact, for at least the first five years of my business, Fridays I had a standing appointment with myself to meet with someone, to talk with someone, either a virtual coffee date or real-life coffee date, a lunch, a get-to-know-you call. I made it a point to build relationships and to connect with people.

Not everybody is going to turn into a referral source. Not everybody's going to turn into a client. But if you do that consistently for years, over the course of one year, you'll have talked to 50 different people, over the course of four years, you’ll have talked to 200 different people. You will start to find the group of people who will then become kind of your CEO squad, your peers, people you want to mastermind with, the people who refer clients to you, the people who invite you to events and take you to different places. But it starts really simply, it starts with a business announcement. It starts with putting yourself out there once a week, and again, you can do this virtually.

I used to be on Skype pre-Zoom. I would have virtual coffee dates and I would send them a Starbucks gift card on me and say, “Hey, let's have coffee,” and just get to know people. As you do that, you will get momentum building, opportunities will start to show up, opportunities to meet new people, to connect with new people, to speak different places. You have to get the ball rolling and be willing to talk to people about what you do and who you're here to help.

Then we want to implement your five-part marketing system, your marketing that converts system. This is what we teach inside of The CEO Collective, at the CEO Retreat using the CEO Planner. If you've taken any of those things, you know that we talked about attract, engage, nurture, invite delight. I'm not going to go deep into each one of those because I've got a lot of other content about what each one of those things are, but I do want to say in the startup stage, your goal is to commit to one item for each one of those categories, for each part of the process.

It could look like Attract: My goal is to attend one networking event or have one connection call per week. Engage: My goal is to have four potential clients on the phone every single month. Nurture: I'm going to follow up with every single person who books that free consult with me to make sure that they understand what the consult is and how I work with people so that, four, when they get on the call, and I'm talking about my offer, they already know they're a good fit. Five, when they're a client, I know exactly what the next step is.

You just want to make sure you're filling in the gaps and have one approach for each one of those parts of this process. You can layer on to it as you go. But I think one of the biggest things that stops people and slows them down is they try coming out the gate to do all the things and you really just need to get good at the basics before you start adding more.

Establishing some sort of social media presence. I would say this is something I've actually almost taken off the checklist, but I still think it's pretty important for most of our businesses, not because you need to be like some sort of nonstop content creator. A lot of the businesses I work with don't need to be on social 24/7 but it does help to build that credibility. It helps people to know that you're active and engaged in some way.

I would pick one primary social media platform that you know your audience is likely on and make a plan for yourself. How many times are you going to commit to posting each week? What types of content are you posting each week? What is the call-to-action from that content each week? How can you use your existing contacts, your existing friends, family, network to kind of amplify your social media platform and get the ball rolling? Just know that used to be a strategy that could attract a lot of people and grow really quickly.

Now I don't see that being the case as much unless you are choosing a platform like TikTok, which is a lot different than Instagram. TikTok is definitely an Attract strategy, a discovery platform. I did a whole episode about that. Whereas Instagram is very much a Nurture platform. Keep that in mind. Then of course, we want to enroll those first 10 clients and get testimonials, ask for referrals.

Now at this point, I literally walk through this whole checklist. I encourage you to go download the checklist. Link is in the show notes so that you can make sure you have no gaps here, that you have done a great job following through and making sure your business is ready for the success stage where you can stabilize that cash flow, make sure you're consistently getting clients.

This is how we build that foundation for predictable profits for sustainable scaling. If you have not checked off 80% of the checklist and enrolled your first 10 clients, you definitely need to come back through here and make sure you've done all of these action steps. But if you have gone through all of those and you've gotten your first 10 clients, then you're probably good to go to move on to the second part of the checklist all about the success stage.

I hope this episode was helpful, a deep dive into the startup stage of the Business Growth Checklist. I often see people who truly are in the earlier stages who are trying to jump ahead to strategies that are more appropriate for a business that's in the scale up stage. If you don't have these foundations in place, you can do all the marketing in the world and not see results. If you don't have these foundations in place, you can try all the sales calls in the world and still not see results. So please make sure you've gone through this process and gotten 10 clients before you start moving on to the next stage of the checklist.

Again, the full checklist is over on the website at Check out the show notes for the link directly to that episode. Make sure you peek ahead because we're going to talk about stage two: success, and stage three: scale in the upcoming episodes here on Promote Yourself to CEO. But you can see them in the checklist when you go download it. It has the entire checklist for all three stages. I hope this was helpful. Please let me know, tag me on Instagram @racheal.cook. I'd love to hear from you. Until next time, I'll see you on the internet.

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