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.
A lot of people are scared right now.
I’ve been open about the fact that I did not vote for Trump, and I don’t support his policies around the wall, immigration, or the Muslim ban. But that’s not what I’m writing about.
Today I want to talk to you about the conversations I’ve been having with other business owners around the news coming out of the White House.
From calls to boycott U.S. businesses to concerned citizens feeling they can’t or shouldn’t promote their work to anecdotal evidence that customers are slower to buy programs or products, many business owners are feeling like their position in the economy is precarious.
Embedded in these conversations are questions like, “Is it okay to post my product to Instagram when there’s a refugee ban in effect?” or “How can I go ahead with my offer with everything that’s happening?”
That’s what I want to cover today, because I’m in a unique position to weigh in on these conversations. My job is helping you communicate with your audience, and my background is in public affairs and crisis PR. Thinking through thorny communication challenges is precisely the work I’m trained to do.
I pulled together some of the questions and concerns that have been coming up the most in the past few days, so I can share with you how I approach these questions from a PR perspective.
First the biggie:
Should I respond to what’s going on, or do I ignore it and carry on as usual?
There are two aspects to this question: your personal values as an individual, and the values and desires of your audience. As an individual, you may or may not feel called to comment on what’s going on. I obviously can’t counsel you on that.
But no matter where you stand, you should also take into consideration what your audience wants and expects from your business. Different audience segments will respond differently to both public proclamations or silence. It’s easy to think that staying about the fray is the neutral choice, but that’s not always the case.
Let me give you examples on the opposite ends of the spectrum to help you think through this.
If you run an advocacy organization in the U.S., it would clearly be wrong not to comment on executive orders with such sweeping implications, because presumably helping your audience respond to events like these is part of your mission. I think we can all agree on that.
On the flip side, I follow a couple of makeup bloggers (don’t judge me!), and their content hasn’t referenced the election at all. I can appreciate that decision — no matter where these bloggers stand on the issues, they know their audience can get that info elsewhere and still enjoys their tutorials.
It makes sense that these blogs stay on mission, no matter what their personal positions are.
But many of our businesses are somewhere in the middle, especially when you get into the coaching or wellness arenas. Or even art, in many cases.
In making the decision on whether you want to use your business as a forum to speak out about world events, look to your audience.
If you’re connected to your audience through social media, it’s easy to tell right now how people are feeling.
Are your customers complaining about companies who in their orbit who aren’t taking a stand? If the answer is yes, you should probably say something — even if only to post something that acknowledges how people are feeling right now. It doesn’t have to be a partisan or political statement.
On the other hand, if your audience is saying, “Get over it,” think twice before posting a political message right now.
You do no one any good be jeopardizing your economic livelihood — and you’re not going to change any hearts or minds by posting how you feel to your business’s Facebook account.
There are other ways you can contribute to the resistance. Donate proceeds to the ACLU. Go to marches. Call your Congresspeople.
I’ve long felt like John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods and noted Libertarian, is laughing his way to the bank as he takes all that income from liberals and donates it to Republicans and Libertarians. This could be your form of protest.
Does this answer change if I don’t want to work with people who think the wall, deportations, etc are a good idea?
To me, the best part of running a business is that you get to choose who you want to work with. Never believe people who tell you otherwise.
The key to working with clients who are in alignment with your values is to be vocal about those values.
This is the push-pull of communications. The way you choose your customers is by deliberately using language, examples and content that turns off the people you don’t want to serve and attracts those you do.
It’s actually why I decided to share. If a Trump supporter reads this and decides I’m not right for them, I’m 100% okay with that. I get to choose who I help through the art of PR, and I choose to help people whose values and mission are aligned with mine.
If you’re not in a position where you can be turning work away, then what I’d encourage you to do is start a slow transition through the rest of your messaging. What can you do to signal to your audience a little bit more about your values?
I feel weird about posting product or happy images to social media right now. Should I stop?
When I woke up on Saturday, I saw a few launches announced on Instagram. And you know what, this didn’t bother me at all.
Some had been vocal about their beliefs, so I knew where they stood. Others had never posted anything, and I didn’t fault them for continuing to run their businesses.
But that’s just me.
This is another area where you should think of your customer. How does she feel?
If you’re not sure, it can be useful to delay, instead of cancel, your scheduled content.
Was a shocking announcement just made that will affect thousands of people? Maybe wait a day or two to post about your product in development.
Is your audience in mourning on social media? Can you post something that feels appropriate to that tone, even if you don’t feel the same way?
One last thing as you think through these questions. It’s important to remember that your audience is looking to your company for ideas and insight, and if you delve too deeply into politics you could distract from that mission.
What do you want to be known for? What role, if any, does responding to the Trump administration or world events play in that?
I know you might have questions about applying these tips to your own business, or very specific concerns I didn’t address here.
I’ve been thinking about how I could help with that.
I’ve opened up a series of 6 mini-sessions on my schedule this Wednesday for people who want to talk through if and how your business should respond to the Trump administration.
I know this offer isn’t relevant to everyone, but I wanted to make myself available for people in that murky middle ground.
Each session is 30-minutes long and costs $150. Not only will I donate 100% of the proceeds from these sessions to the ACLU, I will personally match them 1:1.
To make that clear, when you schedule a 30-minute session, I will donate your payment of $150 to the ACLU and match it with my own donation of $150.
Please note that these sessions are limited to questions and conversations around communicating in the midst of the political turmoil in the U.S. and are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
If this is something that would be helpful for you, click here to sign up. You will first be able to reserve 30 minutes on my schedule this Wednesday (February 1) and then you will be directed to make the payment.
And if you have a question you’d like me to address in a future blog post, please hit me up on Twitter.