The Four Pillars Of An Effective Small Business Strategy
The mission is how you move your business forward, live out purpose, and trek towards the vision. Within this mission lies the strategic guidelines directing us forward. And these guidelines contain four key ingredients for an effective small business mission.
Offering Strategy. (Our Solution to the Problem)
Positioning Strategy. (Our Unique Target Audience Focus)
Leverage Strategy. (How We're Uniquely Tailored To Deliver)
Promotion Strategy. (Our Ongoing Acts of Persuasion)
As we explore these four facets of our mission, it’s helpful for me to first visualize them in a metaphor of changing a tire on a car.
In this visual, we’ve got a problem, a flat tire and need for a working one. We have a wrench to tighten the bolts and switch it out for the spare in our trunk (offering).
When we use the wrench on the lug nuts, the position we choose determines if and how easy the process of loosening the bolts will be (It's hard to do so when the end is near the ground).
If I’m loosening the bolt and I place a long pipe over the wrench, I’ll have significantly more leverage to loosen the lug nut. What may be doable but hard with the wrench (even with good positioning) is easy with the pipe.
The final of the four pillars is the promotional piece. How do we effectively communicate the problem we solve (offering), who we solve it for (positioning), and how we're able to uniquely address that issue (leverage)? The answers to these questions are what transform a small business from a mediocre to top tier.
And when you as a small business can answer these four questions, you'll be far ahead and tremendously more focused than any of your competitors.
Let’s practically explore these four ingredients using my consulting practice as a living example.
1. Offering Strategy: What Solutions Are Provided, And What Problems Do They Solve?
A business is only viable if there's a problem to be solved, and people valuing the solution enough to pay for a fix. Getting clear on the problems we solve, and the solutions we offer is critical for effective selling, and for delivering on the expectations we set.
Let's explore what this looks like for me.
Growing Revenue, Teams, & Founders
What’s critical for small business is cash. How much money is coming in and what amount is going out?
When I begin a paid engagement with an entrepreneur, it’s urgent (in many cases) we identify how we’re going to quickly move the needle in the right direction. Money buys us time to continue setting sustainable systems. Ultimately, I want to be in a position where an organization is foolish NOT to work with me because the provided value far exceeds the expense of working together.
After growing income, building up teams is the second facet of my offering. This plays out in three ways. First is by coaching and working one-on-one with leadership to help them develop into the leaders they must be for the organization to advance. Secondly, I’ll work alongside the founder to launch and facilitate a talent development program to develop a cohesive culture and robust internal relationships. In other cases, I'll manage projects and work alongside this team to lead by example, and coach along the way. Thirdly, I’ll work with small businesses to build virtual freelance teams that deliver what they need while providing the financial flexibility of a virtual contract team.
In addition to growing revenue and building up teams, I'll also work directly with the business founder to help extract, articulate, and communicate their vision. While it’s ultimately up to them to establish direction and move everyone forward in unity, it’s terribly difficult. And, they need a guide that can look at the business from an outside perspective and provide insights difficult to garner from the inside. They also need help with concision, chopping down the large number of things they think they need to say or do, down to only the essentials.
So, simply put. Where cash is low, teams are lacking, and founders wandering, I come in and grow revenue, build up the people, and equip the small business owner. This is my offering.
While my mission is to move the company forward, I'm here to help carry the burden for a time, not do it for them. While there may be moments and seasons where this is necessary or messy, the intent is we both understand the goal and we work together to accomplish it. Together, we build a sustainable system that outlasts my time as a paid consultant. Our engagement will eventually end and how well we did will be graded by what happens when I’m gone.
The problem with focusing on one of these areas is the effectiveness of actually causing tangible lasting positive change. If I wanted to build a scalable company that had a smaller impact across numerous businesses, further offering focus would produce this result. But, if I want to go deep and have a powerful influence with just a few, it requires a different approach, one that includes the three focal areas. Every small project we do together moves your organization closer to the end game.
2. Positioning Strategy: What's Unique About The Client?
What's unique about the clients I choose to work with? And if I were to narrow it down, so there was only one client on the planet, what would they look like?
Understanding my offering, and who is best positioned to benefit from my solving these problems requires multiple filters. And as part of this exercise, we're going to go so specific we eliminate all options. But remember, before we land on our final positioning, we can pull back a so we can realistically build a small business around this audience.
So, what does my ideal client look like (be thinking about yours as you read through the list)?
They are a small business owner, married, and with five or more children. Inherently (via the owner’s beliefs) or explicitly (the organization’s purpose/vision) our personal intentions align.
Their small business is established for at least four years, and they have fewer than one-hundred employees. Across teams and departments, and they lack alignment.
Their small business has a heavy web presence with digital lead capturing, and online B2C purchasing transactions.
Part or all of their team operates virtually part or full-time. Some or most of their customer's interactions are virtual.
They've failed to build a sustainable and steadily growing company. Annual revenue is stagnating or decreasing over the past two to four years. When they build systems they fade away and are rebuilt later, again.
- Their marketing has failed to live up to the operations excellence, or the operational excellence has failed to deliver on the marketing promises.
They operate as a technology or training e-commerce company.
Getting this specific has me slightly terrified, and it should do the same for you. I could even get even more specific. In some of these areas, like the first bullet, I'll need to settle for simply being a parent (instead of having five children).
Historically my positioning has narrowed as my consulting journey matures, and it will continue to do so. Get as specific as you can, and get somewhat uncomfortable, but understand this focus will mature over time.
And, here's a little secret about exclusion. As soon as we draw boundaries, everyone outside them quickly asks us if they can be the exception. Prospects outside this will come to you wanting to work with you, even when they are not your target. At that point, you have the option to accept or decline their business.
3. Leverage Strategy: What's Unique About The Provider?
What’s unique about you as a provider? What makes you a minority? A monopoly of talent they can’t get anywhere else? And how does your uniqueness specifically compliment your target audience?
The answers to these questions will give us the leverage to easily do things we could not, or activities that were extremely hard. Using myself as an example, let’s explore a list of features that I’m able to uniquely leverage while working with my clients.
I'm a 5th generation business owner understanding, feeling, and experience all facets of entrepreneurship as the founder, follower, friend, and family member. I’ve seen it all, and over a large period of time.
As a former small business owner, and current freelancer still operating a small business of one, I’m in the trenches of small business from different perspectives. I feel the pressures that come with the territory.
My ability to operate in chaos (where others would run) with a movement towards sustainability, and breaking down complex issues in disruptive environments into bite sizable action items. And, I have a fair and flexible engagement and billing system to compliment.
My Adaptability to lead strategically, follow tactically, and play the role needed to fill the gap, so I can prevent the boat from sinking, and propel us towards the end game. In a similar vein, this also includes meeting people where they are and moving us forward from that point.
My technical aptitude, appreciation, and understanding include Hubspot, Joomla, Zapier, Airtable, & Mailchimp.
Marketing aptitude for writing compelling messaging, tactically executing SEO, and email marketing are additional vital skills.
My in-depth experience with content marketing from the ground up and maximizing a bloated and stagnant content program give me a full picture for effective growth campaigns relevant to current trends.
My strong ability for developing talent, and building a collective of self-starting learners, and teachers. Through my book efforts, I’m developing lasting leaders, robust relationships, and cohesive cultures.
I’m effective at extracting insights and helping people know what they think and believe. I’m steadily equipping them to act from this clarity.
My experience and skill in making messages and stories concise and compelling are critical in a noisy marketplace.
And always, I’m seeking opportunities for improvement. I’m making things better and building sustainable systems beyond myself.
If chaos or over-committed are words commonly used to describe your small business, you must hire me as opposed to a technical freelancer, or a marketing firm because I’m uniquely able to jump into the chaotic trenches of your organization, get a foothold on where we are, and make baby steps to move us out of this state into a sustainable one.
Simply put, when the metaphorical house (your small business) is burning down, I’m the one going into the flames when clients and team members are fleeing the scene (in the most extreme examples).
When we’re working together, I’m communicating, sharing insights, and working under accountability. Sometimes I’ll succeed while other times I’ll stumble, but I’ll communicate along the way. The stakes are high for small businesses because errors are costly.
For many freelancers, they can be unreliable or if they are trustworthy, they may be highly technical oriented. What my clients need is someone who can handle tactical tasks, but also understand how each task plays into the larger picture.
As an experienced and skilled freelancer who is a fifth-generation business owner, I’m able to uniquely run into the burning building to take care of business. And I’m someone you can rely on when that happens.
When small businesses hire marketing companies, those organizations operate with set processes and have a hard time adapting to the needs of a small chaotic organization. They need someone to jump into the trenches, meet them where they are, and help them move the business forward from that place.
When it comes to leverage, I’m able to press more effectively and with more force than others doing similar work. And you want the same for your business.
But, with leverage, we have the opportunity to create, grow, and maximize it. If we’re lacking in any area, we can shore it up so our future efforts are more effective with less effort.
What, in your small business, uniquely gives you leverage to serve your target audience?
4. Promotion Strategy: How Will We Persuade Their Choice?
With a strong offering, positioning, and leverage, we now must communicate these important messages to those that would refer work our way, and most importantly to those we specifically are set up to serve. We benefit from a promotion strategy that informs how we'll go about persuading people to consider, explore, and eventually engage with our business.
In your small business, what common initiatives will you follow to grow the size of your customers? Will you focus on new customer acquisition? Retaining existing customers more effectively? Outbound or inbound marketing efforts? Cold calling or networking?
Much of what dictates the answers to this will come down to our goals, and our answers to the other three strategic pillar questions. Let me explore this with you using my consulting business.
Relationship Maintenance, Building Authority, & Excellent Work
One of the most powerful steps I took in starting this coaching business was deciding my target annual income and the number of hours I want to work each week (you can explore this further in Path of the Freelancer). As of writing this, my monthly target is 117 hours. Generally speaking, I need two to three clients allocating a majority of this time and a half-dozen others with a handful of hours each. With my small freelancing business, I only need a small number of clients to succeed at the highest level.
Because of the work I do requires an intimate level of engagement with the founder, they must trust me to help them forward. This is what informs my promotion strategy, especially the first of the three elements.
Relationship Maintenance. The three months proceeding my shift from marketing small business owner to a freelance consultant, I was meeting with about a dozen people per week. I was reconnecting with old friends, and developing relationships with new acquaintances. And when I transitioned, I had a full plate of work within a month based on the relationships I had cultivated.
And since then, I've continued to maintain various relationships since 2014 without an agenda. People care about each other, and those they have stronger relationships with foster great value for each other. At times, they may become a client, others may refer, and some may just be good friends to discuss things and spend time together.
While relationships are great. being an expert and seen as one is critical to our small business success. This is why I've leaned heavily into building the authority of my expertise. In the three preceding months to this consulting journey, I began blogging and have done so consistently since January 2014. These blogs go out by email and social media, and much of the content is discussed and shared with people. And, my expertise on freelancing was consolidated on Path of the Freelancer. My small business competence is being compiled in my second book, the Jump. And the process of these small and large milestones all play a role in teaching me where I'm lacking and bolstering up where I'm strong.
My last strategic arm of persuading people to work with me is the proof of the things I say put into action. Excellent work leads to my clients continuing to work with me, and them referring prospects my way. These are the two easiest and most profitable sources of paid client work and my approach here leverages them both fully.
Often, I'm referred to skeptical business owners who learn to trust again through our working relationship that comes from growing their income, their teams, and themselves.
You've been given the guide and an example of its application, now it's up to you to spend the time and work through the four pillars of a sound and strong business strategy.
Offering, Positioning, Leverage, & Promotion.