These are trying times: 5 tips to help get through the stress of slow business
Every business will encounter slow times. Every business owner will run into discouragement and depression. I’ve had my fair share of this and I want to share what I use to pick myself up and keep going. While many will say there is no 1 magic thing that will make you succeed in business, I will tell you that there is one thing that every successful business owner has (hint: it’s perseverance).
Note: when I initially spoke about this I was targeting real estate agents. I realized that nothing I said is specific to the real estate industry. So I’m opening this up to be more inclusive to any industry.
When I first started my business of a real estate photography a while ago, I thought, “6 weeks and I’ll be able to quit my job and pursue my dreams.” Yeah, that didn’t happen. 2 months into struggling with trying to find my footing and figure out how to market myself I got low, really low. I wanted to quit and give up. Nothing I was trying was working and I wasn’t getting anywhere. I took a day for myself and reflected on what I wanted. I drove around, did some street photography, got a bite to eat. I got some ideas about my business and started working on them the next day.
A few weeks ago I had another bout of depression, thinking nothing is working out, I should just give up and find a job doing something else. Those days are hard, and I know you’ve been there. I like to think that the more mature your business gets the less often these days happen, but I’m positive they still do happen. So here are a few tips that have helped me get through these tough times.
- Figure out your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). This is what differentiates you from everyone else. It is...well...what makes you unique. If you don’t have a USP then you don’t have an edge and people are not likely to buy your product or use your services. A USP is critical to identifying your brand, more on that later. I used this article to help me determine my USP. And your USP doesn’t have to be set in stone once you figure it out. It can change as your business grows. But knowing your USP will help you build your brand and identify your target market. My USP is that I sell more than just photography to real estate agents. I provide a comprehensive marketing strategy and a one-stop-shop to market your home and yourself (speaking to real estate agents here in Salt Lake City). This may change as my business grows.
- Prioritize your to-do list. It helps to have a to-do list to begin with, so if you don’t have one, make one. It doesn’t have to be a list of people to call or lunch appointments to set, but rather a list of necessary or useful things to get your business rolling.
- Design a business card
- Design a logo
- Get a website
- Set up your Facebook page
- Set up a bit of software or online service (like 17Hats).
- Write a blog post
- Make a video
- Contact a vendor or contractor
Your list may be large or small, but having the list is what is important. Next, prioritize the list so you know what needs to be worked on versus what would be nice to be worked on. A list will help you visualize what you are still lacking in your business. There are a number of list apps for your phone out there. I personally like Google Keep (because I have an Android phone). I can access the list anywhere (keep.google.com) and I can quickly add ideas to it when I think of something.
- This bring me to the next thought, set aside time to work on your business every day. I guess this really applies to those just starting out with their businesses and perhaps they are either still working somewhere else (like I was when I started my business) or maybe going to school. I guess this could apply to those who have started their business but they are depressed and go days without working on it or doing anything. That happens too. When I say to set aside time, I don’t mean to set aside 3 hours every day. I mean set aside from 7pm to 10pm every day (or whatever your schedule allows). It’s easy to budget 3 hours and then feel justified that “other things” came up and ate into your business time or feel that “I’m too tired today” to spend the whole 3 hours. So you end up just making a lazy post on your Facebook page then turn on Netflix. When you block out a certain part of the day you limit your options during that time. A few years ago I joined a gym and shortly thereafter signed up for a 6 month fitness/body improvement competition. I decided that every day after work I would hit the gym for 1 hour. This meant that I had to turn down invites to get drinks after work, blow off work early and go see a movie, or whatever else. I missed a lot of events because I had already told myself that from 4:30 to 6:00 (including commute time) I was busy. But, at the end of 6 months I got 3rd place out of 157 participants, going from 17% body fat to 7% and 187lbs to 177lbs. I could have said “I’ll go to the gym for 1 hour each day” but I would have always found excuses not to go. I could have thought “I’ll go see a movie and hit the gym after” then been “too tired” to go to the gym. If you find yourself doing this same thing, try setting aside a specific block of time to work on your business. The time I set aside was from 4am to 7:30am, Monday-Friday. I could work on my business without my two little boys asking me to play Hot Wheels or anything interesting going on in Facebook. It didn’t take away from family time, dinner time, bedtime, or other important-to-me time. I will still regularly get up at 4am to get stuff done if I don’t think I’ll have enough time during the day to do so. This also really helped me be disciplined with my bedtime. I had to be IN BED by 10pm (no phone or tablet) or else I would be dragging the next day. This meant no more Netflix marathons (except on Friday and Saturday) and limited my TV time to 1 hour (my wife and I scheduled that too, from 9-9:45pm).
- Next is using your newfound USP and defining and establishing your brand. It is very important to know what a brand is and what a brand isn’t. A brand is not your logo, it’s not the colors you use on your website, it’s not how you feel about your business. A brand is what other people say about you. But, lucky for all of us, we can nudge people in the direction we want them to go. We can say about ourselves “I am the kind of business woman who does XYZ.” And soon, after proving that to your customers, they will leave you a review saying “Sally is the kind of person who does XYZ and I really love that about her.” Determining your brand will also help you figure out your target market. This is really important because just saying “Well my target market is anyone who wants to buy my services” will put you out of business faster than a 2 year old will sneak a cookie from the cookie jar. I’ve heard a lot of real estate agents say “My target clients are anyone who wants to sell a house.” Have you any idea the hell you will put yourself through if you try to market to everyone? Not only will you be more stressed than ever, but you’ll often miss opportunities to nail the really great clients that everyone wants. I know it seems scary to limit your potential client pool, but if you are good at marketing to one specific group of people (let’s say single moms ages 25-45 who make $60k+ per year and live in the suburbs) then you will find those great clients that are a joy to work with and you will make a killing. Kimberly Houston, a professional copywriter, said she saw massive gains in her business when she stopped marketing to everyone, doing every kind of copy writing, and narrowed down her target market. For real estate agents specifically, I have an ebook that talks about establishing and maintaining your brand. You can get it here. You can also learn more about branding with Dale Partridge here.
- Lastly, my most powerful piece of advice. Turn. Off. The. Radio. If you are like me, you spend a lot of time in the car. You don’t need to listen to the same 20 songs you’ve heard 1000 times. You don’t need to listen to another used car commercial. You don’t need to hear about what embarrassing thing President-elect Trump said this week. Replace your radio listening with podcasts. They are the best source of FREE, actionable information. I would say at least half of the ideas I’ve had for my business came from listening to podcasts. Find podcasts about your industry, your interests, or your hobbies. Find podcasts about marketing, about business, about becoming a better person. Podcasts usually have expert interviews that you can hear for free. FOR FREE! Do you know how much it would cost to attend a keynote speech by Gary Vaynerchuck? Like $1500. Do you know how many times he’s been interviewed in a podcast? I’ve heard him speak 3 different times through my podcasts. If you would like to see a list of recommended podcasts and podcast episodes, check out my frequently updated list here.
- I lied, you get one BONUS ITEM! I meant to talk about this on my video but I forgot. Find a trusted advisor. This can be a friend, a spouse, a child, a parent, or a business coach. This needs to be someone you can share your ideas with without fear of ridicule. Someone you can talk to about your successes and your failures. Someone who will listen when you just need to talk and will offer advice when you want to be advised. Someone you can practice your elevator speeches or sales pitches with. I can’t stress enough that it needs to be someone who will provide a safe environment for sharing your thoughts and feelings. For starters, you can check out SCORE. They are a Federally sponsored, FREE mentoring program for small business owners. I personally didn’t get much value from them but you may have a different experience. I will give them credit for being very open and very good listeners. They won’t ridicule you for any idea you have and will offer help to develop and grow your ideas. You can also find and subscribe to a business coach. There are all sorts of different levels of coaches that come in at pretty cheap to very expensive. Don’t spend more than your means allow.
Alright, I hope this has been useful. I would love to hear your comments. Send me an email or leave me a message.
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