Will focusing on a niche really help me get customers?
Do I need to hire people to grow my business?
How can I go mobile?
These are questions that entrepreneur, author and USA Today columnist Rhonda Abrams gets asked regularly by folks just like us. Rhonda is passionate about creating successful small businesses and is a frequent presenter at QuickBooks Connect events. We asked her to share with us five tips for tackling these questions. We loved her ideas and think you will too.
Whether you're self-employed and ready to take your work to the next level or launching a new business, read on for Rhonda’s perspective – including action items you can add to your to-do list today.
Let's let Rhonda take it away....
The biggest struggle I've noticed in most small business owners – especially those who are just starting out – is that they are trying to be all things to all people. Find a niche. Having a speciality is important, especially if you want to get big some day.
I know of two PR firms that started around the same time in New York last year, both helmed by seasoned pros. One firm specializes in representing esthetic wellness and beauty enhancing products. From the very beginning, they turned away clients that didn’t fit that specialty. Their company grew with Ferrari-like speed – within months they already had nine employees and they had to stop taking on new clients because they were growing so fast.
The other company decided to advertise themselves as generalists. They list ten different industries they serve on their website. Unfortunately, that means their potential customers don’t have a compelling reason to choose them over another PR agency. They've had a tough time growing their business.
The first company did so well so quickly because they identified a clear market and they hired people who had connections in the beauty and wellness industry. When a company came to them as a potential client, their expertise in that area was immediately apparent.
To go small to go big, identify a specific industry you want to target, understand the demographics (including the location) of your ideal customer and differentiate yourself from the pack.
It’s scary sometimes to specialize, but when I look at the #1 thing that enables small companies to grow, it’s having a specialty.
#3 might mean updating the copy on your your website to focus on *just* this niche or specialty or experimenting with a Facebook ad that targets just this audience.
So many entrepreneurs I know are overwhelmed by all of the the great ideas they have. Planning enables you to figure out how you define success. It gives you focus. Yes, plans *can* change. But the very act of planning has its own benefits.
The best way to plan is to set up a time for a planning session in your office. Sit down and write out a few goals for the rest of the year. Stick to 2-3 things you want to achieve, and make them quantifiable and specific.
Don’t forget to also estimate the resources that will be required for you to reach that goal. Will it take time? Money? Extra people? Set deadlines and be real about your expectations.
Set aside planning time on your calendar today and use it to write out your specific goals for the rest of the year.
Do you also need to make an overall business plan or schedule your annual business planning? Add a block of time to your calendar and tap a friend to help you out with accountability if you need it.
In my experience, small businesses are often too slow to hire. That’s actually what prompted me to write my book, Hire Your First Employee. It’s the hardest step in growing your business and it’s critical.
I've had the same head of operations with me for nine years and she is my right-hand person. She manages my contracts and all the other legal stuff, which frees me up to do what I do well. Even before I ever hired someone, I had a business buddy who was also a consultant. We worked on projects together and she was someone I could talk to about pricing. It’s like having your own advisory board.
Identify the skills you don't have. Then, ask yourself the following questions: what could my business look like if I had those skills? How much faster would I grow? What would I be willing to spend to achieve these goals I can't do alone?
You may decide that you want to hire someone, or perhaps it makes sense to explore having a "virtual" team member or assistant. For someone adamantly self-employed and who doesn't want employees, maybe there is a business swap with another self-employed professional here on a specific problem or item on your to-do list.
It is crucial for every business to be mobile. What does it mean to be mobile? It means you can access your business from anywhere: the car, a hike, on your vacation or even the gym.
If you're starting out right now, start in the cloud.
When you don't have to rely on on-premises software, you have so much more power, flexibility and capabilities with fewer headaches. You can run your business anywhere at anytime. It can dramatically increase your productivity.
In 2012, I moved everything to the cloud and it made everything so much easier. Once I was no longer tied to my office computer, I became much more productive and accomplished more with fewer people. In fact, this last year I shrunk my staff!
You can do the same thing. Here's a starting list of areas to consider when running a business in a mobile world:
Submit your business information to Google My Business, Yahoo Local, Yelp andBing Places for Business (or, if you're already listed on these sites, double check that your information and messaging is up-to-date).
Then, take inventory of the software or processes you're currently using to run your business. Look for ways you can move to solutions that will allow you to work from anywhere.
You *have* to market yourself. It sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how many people somehow think that customers will just find them. The saying, "Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door" is applicable here!
Marketing is a huge part of your business and you have to approach it the same way you approach your products and services. You have to be diligent about it.
I recommend that marketing is something you do every day. I spend at least one hour each day on marketing my business. You also have to plan for it, and the key is repetition, repetition, repetition. Find ways to reach the same audience with multiple channels and every day work on refining your market, your message and your method.
Define (or refine) your core message and then pick small marketing experiments you want to run each day for a week.
Major marketing methods you can explore are social media, online advertising (like SEM or Search Engine Marketing), sending an email newsletter, networking/word-of-mouth and traditional channels like print advertising or producing collateral (flyers or business cards you can hand out).
Rhonda has shared some great, specific ideas for getting customers and bringing sanity to your business TODAY. What are *you* going to try from this list?
I'm happy to hear this article was helpful to you. Let us know how this impacts your business!
#4 - go mobile. I started my virtual assistant business for that exact reason! I wanted the freedom to be able to work from anywhere. When I was first starting my business, I made a list of all what I wanted from it (work/life balance). I found the list the other day and I am now living it! I keep my list in my planner so I can look back regularly and make sure I'm staying true to myself.
@AudreyPratt that is awesome that you still have your list. I too am a big believer in that you have to write things down on paper.
Some very good advice in this article. It seems counter intuitive to most people to turn away clients or to not offer everything to everyone and anyone but it's a quick way to get left out in the cold. You will never be able to please everyone so you've got to focus your strengths. Thanks for posting.
I firmly believe that going narrow or catering to a specific niche is not all that it's cracked up to be. At least I did for over 20 years until I figured out that I always have been catering to a narrow audience - I just had to rethink the way I looked at it. Traditionally photographers specialize in industry segmentation: food, hotels, fashion, product, cars, …
I just couldn't get myself to do that. My clients are all over the board from Fortune 100 food companies to local hotels, fashion catalogs, just about every product you can imagine and even a bus company (although I did turn them down at first since I'm not a 'car photographer'), which I like especially when one of those market segments is having a bad year and I see my traditionally specialized colleagues struggle through the tough times.
I finally figured out what my specialty is: I am not a photographer. I'm a mindchanger. All the visual content I create has one and only one purpose: to influence my client's customers behavior. 'Buy this.' 'Learn about that.' 'Stop doing something.' 'Support something else.'
All of a sudden I found my niche. If you're looking to hire a visual content creator to just make something that's beautiful with no purpose behind it, don't hire me. If you want people to watch one of my videos unchanged, I'm not your guy.
But if you're looking for photography or cinematography that really affects it's viewers, that makes them feel like they need to do something, when they've finished watching my work, then let's talk. I am a specialist in this niche, although your product or service can be as general and fit into any category you can imagine.
Don't believe me? I bet that I can change your mind in the next 16 minutes. Here's what I want you to do. Take 30 seconds and write down what you think about Afghanistan. Just a word or two. Then take 15 minutes out of your day and watch my first documentary On Wings of Hope. When you're finished write down what you think about that country now and I wager that I have changed your mind.
Don't be surprised you're not the only one who's mind got changed. Here's how I changed 100 minds in 15 minutes.
@photosbydepuhl love this. Passion for what you believe in will bring out the best in others if they want it.
@SteveChase actually passion is just one of the three ingredients you need to succeed in "the Art of changing minds".
The other two are vision and action because passion without vision is aimless, and passion without action is powerless.
Watch my TEDx talk and see what I mean…
@photosbydepuhl ove your Ted talk. Thanks for posting this video for me to watch.
"Your aspirations are in heaven but your brains are in your feet." (Afghan proverb) So insightful.
And going off your Steve Jobs quote I heard him say this too -“You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
I definitely agree with the advice to Go Narrow to Get Big, since that is what I do and it has worked great.
I provide accounting consulting and training to a specific group of businesses that are Govt contractors, meaning their customer is the U.S. Federal Government or they are a subcontractor to a prime contractor whose customer is the Govt. This is the industry I worked in for 25 years before starting my own business,
so it is my specific area of expertise and so is where I can provide the greatest advantages to my clients.
This niche area of accounting is not taught in general accounting classes and until recently this knowledge was only available to those you worked in the industry and knew someone who could answer their queries. Now there are training courses all over and I have thousands of competitors, but has not been a problem as there are not too many people who have over 30 years of expertise that are not retired yet. So is all good.
Thanks Steve. Yes, I would say I definitely have, even though it was not anything I ever really planned to do.
Never planned to start a business, that just happened on LinkedIn when I started getting consulting offers. That was 10 years ago and I have had a non-stop flow of clients contacting me ever since then without me ever doing any planning, promotions, marketing, selling or even networking beyond LinkedIn online Q&A. This is a good thing since I hate all of those things and never would have started biz if I had to do those, ick!
I love to help other people, that is my favorite thing to do (I assume this is something that comes with age?). My time has passed to save the world or anything heroic like that, so best I can do is to share what I know. Fortunately, there is a large demand and I am confident Govt will not stop big spending during my lifetime.
I should maybe note that majority of my clients are not on QB since it is not best fit but I use for my own biz.
I've got to say Teri that your comments have been an inspiration to me. I am thankful to read them. As I start out on my own and hang my shingle I am leaning on my strengths, passion, and helping others. I actually don't mind the marketing and networking but I believe that I will get most of my future clients word of mouth referrals. I live in San Antonio and we have a great group of entrepreneurship community that I am seeking. I think bookkeeping is such a valuable service to work with business owners and accountants. We really get to help people grow and familes get stronger financially. I think my most significant contribution to helping business owners out in bookkeeping is that I can go deeper with them on a coaching level to help them get fit in a mindset that helps them make decisions with confidence and keep there fitness goals up.
Steve - Thank you so much for the kind words. I am happy to hear they are helpful to you since that is my goal, to help people, whether they are my clients, colleagues, family, friends or strangers for that matter. The ultimate goal we share, of helping new/small business owners with their accounting is important and can help so many people establish a secure financial future for their business to support their families.
As mentioned my work is a little bit different than most folks here where I believe the majority here are QB bookkeepers, accountants and/or business owners. Many have spent alot more time working on QB than I have for sure and I am clearly not here to compete or to try to steal clients or market share from anyone as I have more than plenty prospective clients contact me regularly and I refer 2 out of 3 to other consultants.
The clients I work with are all in my specific niche of Govt contractors who have a set of legal regulations to comply with in this industry and if they fail to meet those, they could be put out of business in a heartbeat. The bad part is many do not realize that until it happens or they choose to ignore the advice from others or think it does not apply to them so they are caught totally off-guard and end up in deep debt or even worse.
So when I come here I look for Govt contractors who might be on a bad path unknowingly so need help because I know with just a little knowledge they can increase their odds of survival and success so easily. Many have been totally misguided by CPA's or bookkeepers who may have good intentions but are also totally unfamiliar with the requirements for Govt contractors and can actually make things worse for them.
I can share dozens of stories of how this happens more often than not, since many of my clients are those companies who are in big trouble with DCAA audits and are trying to claw their way out to save their biz after taking a wrong turn and learning the hard way and then having to pay big bucks to get things right. Yes I make alot of money on "rescues," but I would rather help them avoid that bad path in the first place.
So in a general sense, the work I do is same as everyone else here, which is to help new business owners on their accounting/bookkeeping. I train many business owners, accountants and bookkeepers on this so the majority of my clients are not ongoing, since I train them to be independent vs. ongoing work for me. This part is the opposite of most folks here who are seeking ongoing work from the clients they get here.
I have worked with over 70 Govt contractors and have about a dozen ongoing clients where I work as their CFO, Controller or Accountant and for many I just do periodic reviews, like monthly, quarterly, etc. until we are confident they do not need my help anymore and then they just contact me as needed on new events. My assistant does ongoing bookkeeeping for a few of them when that is their preference so I oversee that.
The majority of my clients I have "trained and released" as I jokingly call it, which is not the best business model in most people's eyes since I am training my clients to not need me as soon as possible, but that is also why they like me and refer me since I am not trying to get as much money as I can from them, which is the bad reputation of consultants in general. I offer my assistance at whatever level of help they may need.
Why am I here if I am busy with so many clients? First, because every day they need less and less help but mostly because I stopped taking new clients several months ago to give me time to assist my mother with move to new state after her significant other passed away, so think I have not added many clients this year. We have now purchased new home so just need to sell old home and should be back on track by year end.
I actually came here to find answer to my own QB question since I use QBO for my own business, switched from QBDT, but still not sure I like it enough to stay yet. My bookkeeper does my company accounting and I think her vote is still to return to QBDT even after 7 months on QBO. Does anyone know if or when Intuit plans to pull the plug on QBDT and force us onto QBO, hopefully after they fix a few more of the bugs??
Terri, sounds like you have found your passion and are doing exactly what Zig Ziglar always said that you can have anything you want as long as you are willing to help enough other people get what they want.
I worked from 2008 to last month with 3 company files on QuickBooks Desktop. It was reliable for everything I needed. I pushed back to converting them to QBO because the price was not worth it. How could I pay $40/month plus for all 3 companies. And then in June my mind changed when I got my free QBOA account. I took all the training modules for QBOA ProAdisor program and learned a ton about QuickBooks Online. Then I took advantage of their 5 for $25/month. I get to lock down 5 company files for clients and pay $5 a month for the life of the subscription. Plus I get to use QBO Plus for my practice and have free payroll for me. That was a game changer. So I've added a client since I converted my 3 files and now next week I am in the process of signing an engagement to fill that 5th spot. So for me I see QBO as great asset for me because I want to teach it to local business oweners in San Antonio.
I don't know what the plans are for the life of the desktop QuickBooks. I don't think it is going away unless they sell it off.
I don't have any empoyees (yet) and yesterday I had to call QuickBooks support because my conversion from desktop to online did not convert the payroll right. They fixed the issue. My point is even though I don't have any staff members in my practice I feel like I have all the help I need right now if I have a problem with QuickBooks because I can call and screenshare with the QuickBooks support team.
I am so happy that I decided to get over my fears of starting out on my own and starting my own bookkeeping service. It truly is a passion to be in the middle of the A B C s of life. Accounting Bookkeeping Coaching. It is such a great position to have the vision of myself helping business owners thrive and develop better financial stations in life for their family which directly impacts the community.
How funny, did Zig really say that? LOL. I do know his name for sure from SO many years (decades) back. One of my ex's from way back was a salesman for BofA and attended his seminars is how I know the name.
As mentioned, "sales" is definitely not my expertise. In fact, back then I was working as a Payroll Manager.
Ex was good at sales, in fact he sold me/my company BofA Payroll Services back in 1980's on ADP. Funny part was after all that torture, ADP acquired BofA Business Services Payroll, so we were forced back to ADP.
Looking back I should thank him for the experience of my 2nd system conversion, always a learning event and I have done so many system conversions since then as that has been a one large part of my business.
So far I only thanked him for free week in Maui he won as salesman of the year when we started dating, lol. Cheers to Zig Ziglar, as I definitely agree with that statement. When you help other people, all else is fine.
I stopped thinking about me or my money over 10 years ago since I knew there was plenty so I can ignore.
I hate to confess this as an accountant, but I have no idea what I pay or have paid for QBDT or QBO since I know it is not much and my assistant handles all that, so the price would not really influence my selection.
Although I am well aware of what my clients pay for everything, usually more so than them but it is my job. However, I did happen to see the service fees if you let a client pay by CC, geez, that is really ridiculous. That client even warned me since he was on QB before I converted hom to GovCon system and I thought yeah whatever, how much can they be, lol, hundreds of dollars off of each invoice he paid, ah, no thanks.
I switched my books from QBDT to QBO for two reasons: I have QBDT on desktop in home office room where my assistant works at my house sometimes but mostly accesses from her home and we both were accessing QBDT via Teamviewer which is great but still not as easy as QBO. I also had two clients on QBO where I had to help cleanup books before I could convert them to new system, but those are both done, so the final motivation was so the one client could pay by CC, which he did but I turned off that function now.
Truthfully, I do not have any ongoing clients on QB but I have worked with many to clean-up their QB and often in preparation for conversion to a more appropriate accounting system for GovCon industry since even Intuit admits that QB alone cannot meet their requirements without add-on systems and expertise, so I don't see it as taking clients from them but rather saving them from the eventual bad PR when customers complain, which I am sure is the same reason they provide the disclaimer about not handling GovCon.
Congrats to you for starting your business! I don't think I ever would have made that big leap as a planned move due to dreading the marketing, etc. so I am very fortunate for how my business created itself for me via LinkedIn without me ever even thinking about it until it happened, so I can't take credit for any big plan. As far as having staff, not really necessary if you don't want to in my opinion. Some say that is the only way to make money, but I have a hard time taking money for other people's work, even if I train and manage it.
My assistant was/is my best friend, who I hired when she was laid off from her job several years ago. I hired her to handle my personal banking and errands and then I taught her how to do my boookeeping on QB and later how to do bookkeeping for some of my GovCon clients on other systems, which she still does. I think trust is the most important criteria for someone you hire, since you can teach them everything else.
Do be careful with QB Help as they are not all experts on everything, I see that here and I am not expert. Anyone who knows less than me about QB or Taxes, is a concern to me, since I know I am not the expert.
Thank you Teri. I feel like I just got 1 years worth of real world experience in the time it took for me to read your letter. Seriously, I would seek this kind of advice from a mentor.
Wow... the LinkedIn part of your story is amazing and yet I believe that is the connection ecomony that we all live in.
I just read in Allan Weiss's Getting Started in Consulting that he believes only 1 in 20 will make it without a formal plan. I'm not sure if that number is exact but it proves a point in which your practice has provided for you.
Thanks for the useful tips! I use emails effectively for my business and recently discovered a great contact management software ( https://voiptimecloud.com/online-contact-management-software/ ) that does more than make it easy to find someone’s email address or phone number. It helps me to categorize new or potential customers and increase layalty.
This is incredibly important. When we ask someone who their ideal client is, you can tell within the first 10 seconds if they have a defined niche or not. We've all been there. It's hard to define a nich because you feel like you are throwing potential business away. The amazing thing is there is so much business available. And when you become "busy" you will be glad you were able to define your niche and say no. Well written article!
That is great to hear. I hear that often about my long-winded emails by those who read. In fact, in my GovCon business, I tell clients I can teach them in 30 days what it took me 30 years to learn. So I can save them alot of time on research and interpretation of regs.
Never heard that only 1 out of 20 new businesses survive without having business plan, but I would believe that. I did not have business plan or even a plan to have a business, however, I do not really recommend to anyone to start a business same way that I did.
Although I did start with the most important ingredients:
#1 - Clients = Companies offering to hire my services.
#2 - Revenue = Payments received to open bank acct.
#3 - Intentions = Help by answering questions online.
#4 - References = Past employers, clients & colleagues.
#5 - Experience = Ability to provide what clients want.
@SportsEpreneur - Thank you for this incredibly important reminder. Finding your niche and staying true to it can be scary at first, but overtime it's amazing how much your business grows and how much happier it can make you as a business owner!