Ready to scale?
Chances are that if you run a business, you very much want the answer to this question to be a resounding yes.
Anyone who’s watched an episode of Shark Tank or picked up a business book in the past 10 years has been inundated with the idea that scaling up is the top priority of any successful business.
What they often fail to mention is that scaling too early can have devastating effects for your business.
How bad can it get?
Lost customers, a decimated brand reputation, and a shuttered business.
While a PR pro can help you work through a public crisis and help you build up a reputation, it’s better to avoid these pitfalls in the first place.
Here are 6 signs you’re not yet ready to scale, and some ideas on how to work through them.
1. You haven’t made a sale yet.
I work with a lot of digital business owners who are transitioning their business models. In other words, a lot of my clients are in the very early stages of their businesses, and they’re starting up with PR at the same time they’re refining their business model.
That’s okay — most businesses wait too long to start doing PR.
But it’s a big problem when you’re trying to scale up and you haven’t even made a sale yet.
Product bugs are inevitable. Online programs with have glitches. You’ll wish you’d added in (or cut!) some content and you’ll have improvements for the second round.
Physical products may have defects. Or maybe your shipping provided isn’t as cheap or reliable as you expected.
Consultants and service providers will refine their processes as they go.
This is all completely normal.
Being able to learn as you go is a key entrepreneurial skill.
What’s not normal or expected is to work these bugs out in real-time with thousands of users, customers or clients.
You should not attempt to scale a business model that hasn’t been tested with a core, dedicated set of users.
The risks are too great.
2. You don’t have any raving fans yet.
What do you need for those first product tests?
True fans. Also known as your tribe. Brand evangelists. Early adopters.
Whatever you call them, you know who they are when you have them
These are the customers that are the first to click “add to cart” — and to actually follow through.
They email you to check in.
They retweet or like all your social media content.
If you can’t name one, or two, or 10 true fans, you’re not ready to scale yet.
In the beginning, you should be nurturing your true fans. Giving them as much love and attention as you can stand — and then some more. Giving them reasons to rave about your business. Giving them opportunities to buy from you and engage with you.
This kind of love can’t be scaled, unfortunately.
And for a business whose long-term success relies on receiving real feedback from people who love your product, it can’t be skipped either.
3. You’re afraid to sell.
When I talk to small business owners about why they want to scale so soon, often I find out that they’re afraid to sell their products or services directly to customers.
They don’t want to go through the discomfort of having to talk up their offers face-to-face with another person, one who will maybe reject you or will make weird faces for unrelated reasons.
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but selling doesn’t get any easier when you’re doing it at a scale of 1 to 100, or 1 to 1,000 or 1 to 10,000.
The challenges just get bigger.
That’s because the key ingredient of sales is
Successful selling requires that you know your customers inside-and-out. You know what they want, and what they say they want. You know what keeps them up at night.
You understand exactly where your solution fits into this ecosystem.
And, most importantly, you know how to help them see the possibilities that you’re envisioning for them.
By the way, this applies just as much if you’re selling a dress as if you’re a business consultant or professional speaker.
There is a shop in my town that only sells high-end denim. The owner knows her product inside-and-out, but more importantly, she understands why I would rather go to her store than try to buy a discount brand at an outlet.
4. You don’t know your customers inside-and-out.
Speaking of which, do you know why your customers buy from you and not someone else?
If you can’t answer this question, you are going to waste so much money as you scale.
Mass market is expensive.
Unless your brand name starts with a C- and ends in -oke, you cannot afford it.
Which means that you have no choice but to identify exactly who you’re marketing to, and what it is about your brand that makes them want to buy from you and not some other business.
Scaling before you answer these questions is the online marketing equivalent of flushing your money down the toilet.
5. You don’t have a plan to build and protect your reputation.
As a PR pro, my first obligation to my clients is to build and protect their reputation.
Often when clients want to scale too fast, they’re still working out what they want their reputation to be.
Often I’m the first person to have even asked the question, “What do you want to be known for?”
But when you scale, not only do you need to have a plan to grow your reputation, but you also need to be prepared with a plan to respond when things go awry.
We already talked about the inevitable launch hiccups you’ll have when you first scale.
But what about negative customer reviews or blog posts written by an unsatisfied customer?
What about the true fan that has started to feel neglected and starts to warn people away from your business?
Or the fan that starts feeling a little too involved in your business for comfort.
I don’t mean to scare you away from scaling your business, but to share some of the challenges that can come up when you have a bigger platform.
Not all attention is positive attention.
There are ways to deal with mistakes (hint: the words “sincere” and “apology” have a role…).
There are ways to make your true fans feel cared for, even when you don’t have as much time to personally stay involved with them.
There are ways to create frameworks around how you engage with people that feel real and engaged without crossing boundaries.
Your reputation management plan will depend on the kind of reputation you’re hoping to nurture.
Just make sure you have one when you start to scale.
Is your business ready to scale?
Once you’ve tested your offers…
Identified the first of your 1,000 true fans…
Started feeling comfortable talking up your business…
Know your customers inside-and-out…
And have a plan to build and protect your reputation…
Now you’re ready to take on the challenge of scaling your business.
Ps…Having trouble identifying what customers love about your brand or business, and how you can intentionally build your reputation without the “ick” factor? It’s our specialty! Get in touch at brigittelyons.com/contact.
I’ve been working quietly behind-the-scenes with the amazing, patient and talented Natalie McGuire on a website update, and I’m so happy it’s finally time to share it with you.
While I know you can click around the site and see for yourself, I wanted to take a moment to welcome you and point out a few areas of interest, as there’s so much more to this refresh than a couple of cosmetic changes.
It’s a better representation of the work.
While you probably think of B primarily as a small agency that can help you with media outreach, our speciality is much deeper than that.
Where we shine is in helping forward-thinkers and purpose-driven organizations differentiate your work.
I felt this was an important distinction to make, because this is one of the top marketing challenges for our clients.
And even when an individual or organization has their positioning dialed in, it’s critical that everything we do is aligned with that market differentiation.
Because, let’s face it.
Competition for your audience’s attention is fierce.
Just as online marketing channels have made it more affordable for many businesses to launch, it’s also given your audience an abundance of choice.
This can often lead small businesses and organizations wondering how you can stand among so much competition.
This worry is natural, but it often blinds you to the opportunities that are in front of you.
What you may not yet see is just how many holes in the market there are.
Holes that your people are desperate for you to fill.
What I’ve learned working for clients across industries is that most of your competitors don’t put in the work to dig into the messages your clients are receiving in the media, through books, at conferences and from their peers.
And we use this insight to help our clients stand apart from the competition.
That’s why, even though PR is a big part of what my company offers, we don’t just pitch stories on your behalf.
We help you identify what it is about your work that makes your audience gravitate to you and buy from you.
Often, my job is reflecting back the very best of your work and using that as the starting point of our PR and marketing strategy. I love that I get to do that.
And now our website reflects what we do best.
So let’s get back to the site changes!
Two of the biggest changes you’ll see are the on the new consulting page and in our lead magnet.
On the consulting page, you can see the full breadth of our services.
We can help you with message development, getting an internal PR program up-and-running (probably my favorite thing to do), writing content, social media and media outreach.
For some clients, we even serve as the one-stop-shop for all your marketing efforts. You can outsource your marketing to B, and we’ll hire on the right team to manage all the work for you.
For a preview of our approach, you can also sign up for a new free email series on differentiating your brand in any market.
When you sign up, you get daily emails that guide you through the process I use to help my clients differentiate their brands.
I’m excited to share this with you, because the new optin gift gets to the very heart of our work. My hope is that you get a lot of value from this process and are able to better understand what draws your ideal customers to you.
There’s more to see, like new testimonials on the home page, but I’ll leave you to explore on your own.
Thank you so much for coming by today, and I do hope you’ll sign up for the new free email series, which you can also find in the footer just below this post.
Ps. I also want to thank Shelly Waldman, who staged and shot the photo on the home page and blog sidebar.
Most of the small business owners I work with have one thing in common — you’re not in it just for the money. You’re also strongly motivated by the desire to create work that feels personally fulfilling and has a positive impact on the world.
But the more success you create, the more you can feel tempted to make small compromises around the message you want to put out in the world. The last thing you want to do is alienate the customers you’ve worked so hard to attract.
I’m here today to make the case that this kind of thinking is actually counter-productive. If social impact matters to you, there are some real benefits to incorporating your mission into your business.
1. The road to mediocrity is littered with small compromises.
Another thing my clients have in common is they want to be known for something. Typically that takes the form of the go-to expert in your field, or a sought-after product designer.
It’s next to impossible to get known without staking out a clear and defined position in the marketplace.
Let’s face it — there aren’t huge innovations in how much of our work gets done. This is true for your industry and for mine. No single publicist has some magical method that’s going to guarantee you better results than what I, or the thousands of other firms and independents out there, can get you.
When you think too hard on this fact, it can feel overwhelming. How are your supposed to stand out when thousands of other companies are perfectly capable, if not brilliant, at the work you both do?
For a lot of my clients, it comes to their positioning in the marketplace. It’s not always the work product that gets you hired over the other company. It’s a sense of shared values, or a strong point-of-view, or some small difference in the way you serve your customers. Sometimes it simply comes down to branding — a customer likes your style.
When you start to compromise your dedication to impact, you’re eliminating one strong avenue for creating a market positioning that’s all your own.
2. It gives your brand evangelists something to talk about.
We’ve known for a long time now that Millennials integrate their beliefs into their buying decisions. Well guess what. The Millennials are all grown up. They make up a solid quarter of the US population and they have tremendous purchasing power.
I bring up the Millennials not to say you should be marketing to them, but to show you that a huge portion of the buying consumers in the population make buying decisions at least in part based on shared values.
At no time have we seen greater evidence for how much this matters than in the current election cycle. From the CEO of Penzeys Spices accusing the Republican party of embracing racism to the politically charged Super Bowl commercials, even large, established brands know that their customers expect them to take a stand.
If you believe the Penzeys CEO, this gamble can pay off financially in a big way. But beyond that, putting your company’s values out there gives your fans something to talk about and share. It’s an excellent way to mobilize them to share your company with their larger networks.
3. It’s a time-tested way to generate PR.
Similar to giving your fans something to talk about, being vocal around a hot-button issue gives the media something to talk about. I often hear from clients who donate proceeds to charity and want to get PR for it.
Unfortunately (or happily depending on your perspective!), this is such a common thing that there’s no media value in a story like this. To get press for your advocacy efforts, you need to get creative. And often that means speaking your mind.
Now, this can be risky. Beyond any fear of losing customers or partners you might feel, there’s also a very real risk that the narrative can overshadow the work you do.
I always ask clients, “Is this what you want to be known for?” before they go public with a controversial opinion. Does this value or belief system add to the larger narrative around your company, or distract from it?
But that’s not the only risk I wanted to share with you today.
If you’re going to put social impact front-and-center of your business, you better believe in it. Consumers can sniff out inauthenticity a mile away. In the environmental space, they have a term for companies that are faking their commitment to earth-friendly policies: greenwashing.
If you’re in it for the bottom line, that’s okay! You don’t have to fake a social mission. We can use one of the other techniques to make you stand out in your industry.
Just like another company wouldn’t fake being the first to market with a new technology, you shouldn’t fake a social mission just to get known.
At the end of the day, PR is about helping your audience get to know you. Not spin. Not faking an image. But rather helping the public see what you’re all about.