TL: DR: It’s ok to run a small business, with just you working “in” it or “on” it, whatever you please. You don’t have to scale your business up. You don’t have to grow “big”. There’s no need to stress yourself more than you need to.
When I was young, I’d think of a “company or a business” as an entity that produces products or services with a full crew of members working to make it all happen.
That’s how I was raised to think businesses would be. I also learnt that it’s only when you hire people and grow in size that you’d call yourself a business. Otherwise, you’d only call yourself self-employed.
I am usually not the types who likes to “scale” and “grow big”.
I like “small”. I love to just depend on myself to make things happen. I have trust issues. Plus, even when I genuinely tried, I found it extremely hard to find the right people to create a team.
All this, I was also bootstrapping my agency leaving me no breathing room with respect to cash flow although we bill every month and the agency is profitable.
Ultimate Resource KitSo, I just let it be and I work all by myself, seeking out help from experienced freelancers only when I need to.
But then, not everyone is like me and there are many entrepreneurs who’d like to scale up and grow. They’d like to run a business with a great team, and aim for something bigger.
Maybe you are like that. Perhaps you dreamt about it and chances are that you might be doing your best too.
If you run a type of service business that depends on “you”, chances are that you’ll find it incredibly hard to scale your business.
It’s no wonder that Venture Capitalists normally don’t invest in service-based businesses or small businesses that completely depend on a single individual.
But there are options, and which path you’ll go depends on “you”. Let’s see how to scale up your services business (or find alternatives):
Don’t Bother Scaling Up
Yes, there are legitimate ways that you can drop your service business model and turn to informational products like launching an online course, creating a productized service, or something else altogether.
Do it if you want to. That’s ok.
The trouble with a lot of people out there in the world is that they all think that everyone else is like them too. You’ll often read about “The Need to Grow and Scale Up your Business” or “The Blueprint to scale up your business” and God only knows what else.
Maybe you won’t enjoy having to hire, train, and manage employees (Is working with a remote team a better alternative?)
It takes time, effort, and limitless energy to make it all work — teams, processes, systems, and customers. Maybe running all this by yourself isn’t such a bad thing after all?
You don’t have to listen to anyone. You can do what you like.
Business Isn’t About Big Mouths, Big Numbers, and Big Ass Attitudes
Business Profits = Revenue – Expenses.
I don’t care how you made your logo or how much you spent on it. I don’t care what website platform your website runs on. I care less about your seed funding ambitions.
All that I see (and really anyone sees, and you should too) is the cash flow. Then, aim for sustainable profitability.
In all my years of working for myself, I’ve seen my share of entrepreneurs who love to talk big. They drop big names, and even bigger numbers. They’ll tell you about their trillion-dollar ideas and they matching plans to achieve just that.
The reality, however, at least among the idiot wantrepreneurs I’ve had the pleasure of meeting not one of those big mouths ever made it to a single $ in revenue. Not even a single dollar.
Meanwhile, I’ve come to admire all those self-employed professionals, one-person business owners, and other humbler businesses that actually make money every single month.
One person. A Single Resource. Making money all the time. Every single hour of the day.
You tell me: Who is better? The big mouthed wantrepreneur who talks but doesn’t make money or the humble one-person business that actually makes money?
Running a boring, One-person business Is Fine
I don’t know what this madness is about “innovating”, “company culture”, and “growth” but it’s perfectly alright to run an out-and-out boring company with nothing much to show for it except yourself running and managing your own business.
I run a terribly boring business, trust me on that.
HubSpot has long been the numero uno when it comes to Inbound marketing software. But HubSpot is not for everyone. If you are looking for HubSpot alternatives, you should read this now.
When you say, “all-in-one marketing software”, you already know a few things right off the bat:
It’s software, so why does it cost as much as a premium sedan?
If it’s easy to use, why an Onboarding fee?
When you buy Hubspot, is Inbound marketing way easier than it should be?
The answer? No one knows. By the time you know, you’d have ended up spending for an entire year of Hubspot’s mandatory annual pricing.
A while ago, I wrote on Hubspot and what I thought about it. I’ve worked (and I still do) with the Hubspot platform while I work with clients.
Ultimate Resource KitThere are a few things that are awesome about Hubspot, if you forget Hubspot’s ridiculously expensive price tag for a moment:
It’s a company that birthed Inbound marketing.
Hubspot provides you with absolutely everything for Inbound marketing you need within a single platform without you having to spend on at least 17 other services, apps, and tools to make Inbound marketing work.
You get Hubspot CMS, Hubspot CRM, landing pages, Website Builder platform, marketing automation, lead generation, lead nurturing, email marketing, lead analytics, social management, analytics, and more.
Now, let’s get to the price tag: Honestly, Hubspot is expensive for a small business.
You can go on all day about how you should think of Hubspot as an investment and how it’ll pay off over the long term, but it’s still expensive.
Hubspot is only software. It’s not like you are going to get blogging, content marketing, lead magnets, email automation, and every other piece of content written for purposes of marketing done for you.
Because all that writing? You’d have to do it yourself or hire a full stack agency or content marketers to write for you.
Hubspot won’t do any magic for you. The work involved with digital marketing? There’s just no escaping that.
For a fraction of the price of Hubspot’s software, you could get a full-stack agency to do complete digital marketing for you, even if you decide to tape 200 different platforms, plugins, SaaS Apps, and services together.
Hubspot CMS Vs WordPress
While Hubspot’s CMS does work, and for some people it might even be easier to use than WordPress, you just can’t beat the sheer versatility of WordPress. No, you just can’t.
Of course, there are better CMS solutions out there but you’d rather just stick to the ease of use, availability, security, dependability, and popularity of WordPress.
Using WordPress gives you incredible Choice:
You can host your WordPress website with any hosting provider. Choose the best of the hosting in the world thanks to the likes of Kinsta, Flywheel, WPEngine, and others.
You could use any email list building tool, social proof tool, sales funnels, and other popular marketing tools such as Sumo and OptinMonster. Each of those tools gives you unlimited potential to design and test your creatives the way you see fit.
You have the freedom to switch tools, apps, and hosting providers when you want to. You are not stuck with any one company, you see?
If you had to drop Hubspot or cancel your plan, what would you do with all the content you’d worked to build upon Hubspot?
That’s something to think about.
Hubspot CRM Vs Other CRMs
Yes, Hubspot’s CRM is certainly an amazing tool to work with. But then, it’s a way for them to get you into their ecosystem of tools and services. There are certainly better CRM systems that work great for small businesses such as PipeDrive, Base, and many others.
Heck, you could hack Trello or Asana (project management systems) or even Gmail to make them work like CRM systems.
It’s true that Hubspot will make it all look like how all your Inbound marketing efforts are finally leading towards leads generated and sales.
In a single dashboard view, you can see how your inbound marketing efforts are working to get you the results you seek.
But with a little effort, you could make Google analytics do that too (Goals, anyone?).
You also have other tools to complete your Google Analytics such as MonsterInsights, Mouseflow, HotJar, Mixpanel, and GoSquared.
You could mix and match. Play and experiment.
Do your own thing, you see?
Hubspot’s Limited Contacts
Hubspot’s pricing is set up in a way that it increases as your business grow. For simplicity sake, let’s just assume that “growth” for Hubspot relates to the number of active leads within your Hubspot lead database.
I find that severely limiting for a growing business.
I want to spend as less as possible while I make more in terms of revenue and profit.
I don’t want to spend more as my business grows, at least not for something like Software — the costs for which can remain more or less predictable and costs much less. Plus, I want the flexibility to drop a tool or two from my marketing stack when I want to. Or switch hosting if I wanted to.
Why am I expected to pay a bomb and stay married to it this way?
Hubspot Mandatory Onboarding Fee
Hubspot charges a ridiculous $3000 one-time for an onboarding fee, and I find that funny.
If hubspot is so complicated that it requires a $3000 onboarding fee to help clients understand “How Hubspot Works”, then a small business shouldn’t even be playing with this toy.
No business can afford to work with tools and software that have a steep learning curve (Infusionsoft also demands an onboarding fee that I don’t like and I am not a big fan of).
No, I don’t have $3000 lying around just to learn how software works. I should have had the privilege of learning it myself.
Hubspot is so confident about its platform that it even published a blatant workaround or a slew of alternatives to using Hubspot. They call it FrankenSpot.
I don’t think adding up the price for all those tools and software will come to a whopping $52,000 or more per year.
It’s ok to use WordPress for your Inbound marketing needs. It’s fine to tape together X, Y, or Z disparate systems, platforms, plugins, tools, and SaaS apps to make your marketing work. It’s alright to spend on 10 different services or tools.
I don’t see a big problem with duct tape marketing. I certainly don’t see a problem with “not spending on Hubspot”.
Also, read Ryan Masuga’s experience with Hubspot in detail:
Digital marketing sounds easy, until you start doing it right.
Once you are on the right path and pay due respect to the digital marketing channels, it only gets harder.
But your business needs digital marketing. You can’t be spending all you got on flyers and brochures. Don’t even get me started on traditional marketing methods, ok?
You jumped the gun, you decided to be on your own and you certainly are on the war path for entrepreneurship. You aren’t going to look back and you finally found your love in business.
Starting a business is admirable, but sometimes, you’ll let things slip (especially with digital marketing).
Plus, there are some ‘ways’ you do digital marketing for your business that could be hurting your own chances of success.
Here are some of those:
You don’t test and validate ideas
Entrepreneurs tend to be decisive loading with the ability to take risks. They are visionaries and they put everything they’ve got into making their dreams come true. Reads nice out of a self-help book.
Ultimate Resource KitIn reality, you should do all that backed by data, and not emotions. Testing and validating your ideas and opportunities is a no-brainer.
When it comes to digital marketing, you should be using any methods available to you to test and validate ideas.
Have an idea for a new business? Validate your idea by throwing up a landing page and spend $50 on Facebook ads or Google Adwords.
If and when you do launch, use a combination of both organic and inorganic digital marketing to promote your business (depending on any one digital marketing channel is plain stupidity).
Be sure to grow your email list from the start and find ways to nurture your leads to get the results you want.
Picking the wrong team
While consulting clients on digital marketing all over the world, I see a recurring pattern.
Most people that my clients hire are downright pathetic. Be it in-house teams or shady agencies that they end up working with.
Entrepreneurs either want to do it all by themselves, which is fine. If you do need help, take your time and do your due diligence.
You don’t want to work with any digital marketing professional or a digital marketing agency that never does what it preaches.
You don’t want to be asking a Facebook Advertising freelancer for help with Facebook ads when they never spent their own money running a few campaigns of their own.
Don’t assemble teams in haste picking up a completely wrong set of people. Or don’t underpay and undervalue great teams (or agencies, vendors, or freelancers that you work with).
You are at strike three.
Impatience is Poison
Everything takes time — be it relationships, mastery of skills, for things to happen for your business, and with digital marketing..
Impatient that most entrepreneurs are, it’s a characteristic that’s guaranteed to hit your chances of success.
It’s understandable that you have the pressure to perform, pay returns to placate your funding sources, and go to market fast.
Yet, impatience kills your marketing faster than it takes to sustain it. Even for something as quick as Facebook marketing or Google Adwords, you’ll still need time to optimize your campaigns or to split test your campaigns until they bring in profits.
There are no silver bullets to solve your problem in the next 24 hours. Period.
Doing (& Spending Money) On Exactly What Won’t Matter
Ever see entrepreneurs spending months and days on things like Logos, websites, branding, and other such nitty gritty? Have you seen teams huddled in useless meetings (or are you doing this yourself?). Do you spend all your time doing fancy strategy sessions, planning, and forecasting?
Do you often spend days or weeks just trying to finalize a blog post title or take several weeks to launch paid campaigns? Are you wasting time on metrics that only massage your ego but not serve your business?
You are wasting time. All that time is opportunity cost.
Stop doing all that. All you should be doing is to find your next customer or client. Put systems in place, automate your processes, and more.
I sit and work in a co-working space (just for the sake of productivity and because it’s cool to sit in one place and work sometimes). Most of the facilities we have here are all shared, so is the cafeteria (we get our own lunch).
As I sit with a colleague and eat, I noticed a tall, wispy old man who got two or three cohorts with him along with large boxes.
We settle down, start eating quietly. Out of the blue, the old man whips open a jar of pickle (this is the Indian version of a pickle — which is hot, spicy, and this particular one was made of raw mangoes), starts talking to my colleague who happens to be seated right next to where the old man was standing.
While talking, he opens the jar, scoops up some of that pickle from the jar, and drops into my colleagues plate. Next, he nods at me and drops some pickle into my plate too.
He then moves around the hall to serve others a free sample.
We taste some of that pickle. We like it. We let the old man know just how awesome it was and we leave after we are done.
Much like a webinar with a pitch at the end, I knew that he was going to nudge and ask for a sale soon after folks were done with lunch. The pitch was going to simple:
“Would you like get some of these little Jars of mouth-watering, spicy, and home-made pickles for your home?”
I also know he’d have made some sales that day.
But, wait. Why am I writing this little story? Because we have a few things to learn from that entire episode that day and from the old man who sells pickles too.
Here’s what we can learn:
It’s never too Old to Hustle
The man who sold pickles? He’d have been in his late 60s or early 70s. Yet, he stands tall (not just because of his height), proud, and confident with his product (his wife makes it probably).
I admire the poise with which he stood, the grace with which he opens his conversations, the fact that he was multilingual, and also how easily he moves around chatting away.
Looking at him that day, there was only thing going on in my mind: it’s never too late to hustle, and we should hustle when we can.
Are you hustlin’?
Give value away first
His pickles are his product. They are made from freshly-picked organic farm produce, and they are made at home, presumably by one person (the old man’s wife). They belong to a state in India that’s known for food (and pickles) so it’s safe to assume that the old lady has magic in her hands. After tasting the pickle, this much was confirmed.
But the old man didn’t just put up shop in a corner and wait for sales to happen. He was so confident about his pickles that he is willing to give away some of it for us to taste.
That, right there, is giving value away. Are you thinking of all sorts of lead magnets and free giveaways yet?
It’s all about relationships
Heavenly-tasting, out-of-the-world pickles are one thing; but relationships are completely something. Plus, you can put relationships in a bottle.
Apart from his product, the old man’s charm was palpable. He was unmistakably making an impression with his chitter chatter, warm small talk, and his ability to get along with so many people so very well (at so many different levels).
The reason why his pickles got sold is mainly because of the instant relationships he was able to create; it’s because of the doors he opened.
You only get one chance
The old man doesn’t work where I work, so it’s not like he has all the time in the world. He is obviously roving all over with his entourage most of the time.
That afternoon, with us seated there, he only had one chance at it. He would make it or he would not. He might sell some jars or he might not.
It’s a chance he wants to take everytime, though.
If you think about it, this is true when you start doing digital marketing too, right? Your popups have one chance, your website has once chance, your landing pages only have once change.
In a way, we are still lucky that we have retargeting.
The old man can’t put a pixel on me, if you see what I mean?
“Why bother running a business without a sales funnel?”
Without proper marketing funnels, you are trying to “sell” and no one likes being sold to. The sooner you let that sink in, the fast you’ll come around to appreciate the true power of sales funnels.
With marketing funnels, you don’t sell. You nurture.
Instead of screaming “buy” “buy”, you let your customers decide when to buy.
You almost spend nothing on running effective sales funnels compared to advertising on newspapers, for instance.
Marketing funnels work better than anyone who sits on their ass all day long.
If you don’t have a sales or marketing funnel yet, I’d highly recommend you stop doing everything you are doing right now and start your first funnel. You can even buy an Unbounce Landing Page or Download one for free.
Assuming you do have digital marketing funnels in place of any kind or if are looking to build the right kind of sales funnels, here are seven correction actions for you to do right now:
Designers are Not Marketers
Designers and developers for landing pages & marketing funnels? No, thank you.
You’ll have multiple offers to make. You’ll need a landing page or a funnel for every single offer.
Plus, you’ll need multiple variants of each funnel for testing. If you are using Facebook ads or Google AdWords, there’s this Message match that’s required for optimum performance of your funnels.
Given all that — and the fact that designers and developers don’t know a thing about marketing — how do you possibly stand to gain from hiring someone from a design or development skill set to build your funnels?
Further, designers or developers are expensive, and they take their time. Who has time?
Plus, with landing page builders such as Unbounce, Leadpages, and many others available, why would you want any help at all?
Should I use this tool or that one? Which landing page builder or funnel builder should I use? Should I use a CTA button with green color or red (or orange)? How about we use this image instead of that? I like this headline better than the other one.
“I want to use Unbounce to build a complete website”
Guess what? You are complicating the heck out of what can be really simple.
I get it. Simplicity is hard to achieve.
In the case of funnels, however, making them complicated loses you money. Or it makes you put precious resources to do monkey jobs that you could have avoided.
Or you’d screw up the entire purpose of using a particular marketing tool, an email marketing automation software, or a landing page builder, or a tool with which you build funnels.
Stay on Brand
It’s horrible to see some landing pages and funnels that don’t remotely look anywhere consistent with the brand or company that owns these landing pages or funnels.
It takes less than 15 minutes to ensure that your landing pages stay on brand. Take your primary colors, logos, and fonts and apply those to your landing pages too.
How hard is that?
Simplify What you have
Steve Krug puts it best:
“Remove 50% of the Copy on your page, then remove half of what’s left”
I’d say apply that to the whole funnel (including ads, landing pages, email autoresponder copy, subject lines, graphics, logos, and everything else you might use on your landing pages)
Too many landing pages have way too much out there. Landing pages are not websites; they aren’t built to inform as much as they exist to get you just one thing: leads.
To get leads, you’d just have to say just the right kind of things and nudge your visitors enough to get them to sign up. The rest of the information can be delivered using your automated email responders.
Don’t pollute your landing pages with unnecessary crap.
Make One offer. Run Multiple Tests
What offer are you likely to make?
You could give away a free ebook, a free download (PDF, checklists, eBooks, reports, white papers), a free trial, a paid trial, or a discount coupon.
Whatever you decide to give away sits right at the mouth of the funnel — this is where it all starts. What you offer is also the main message of your ad (be it Google Adwords, Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads, or any other paid to advertise or even organic links you’ll use to bring in traffic).
The simple rule is this: one offer per funnel.
If you want to test more offers, duplicate your funnel and use another offer. With Unbounce landing pages, you could just use another variant to test another offer too.
While you can only have so many offers, you can absolutely do unlimited tests.
Run your tests for a predefined period of time. Stop your tests. Analyze results. Pick your champions. Start testing against the previous champions again.
Your digital marketing funnels. How well are they working for you?
Leads and sales aren’t always the only objectives when you try to use paid advertising for your business.
When no one knows your brand and if you try to sell, you are trying to sell to a cold audience – the kind of audience that can be brutally nonchalant to what you are trying to sell.
Also, it only gets harder (and more expensive) to acquire customers this way compared to a situation where you try to acquire leads or sell to a rather primed up audience that already knows you.
TL: DR – You get way better results if you try to sell to an audience that’s familiar with your brand.
So, how do you achieve this? The first step is to make sure you have an audience and that you have a system in place to nurture that audience. Let’s find out:
Do Brand Reach Campaigns On Facebook
Facebook just happens to a great way to reach out to completely cold audiences – people who you can carefully choose to be as close to your ideal customer persona. You’d be able to reach as many people as you’d want to (optimize campaigns for reach) or increase your brand awareness.
Or maybe you can place a broad campaign at the top of your funnel (an evergreen campaign that’s optimized for reach) while you launch another Facebook campaign targeting everyone who interacted with your previous campaigns for something more targeted – like a campaign optimized for conversions or a lead ad.
You could use to just already free – but massive and powerful platforms such as Google’s Audiences and Facebook’s Custom Audiences to build your own audience. Once your audiences are well populated, try retargeting (it’s almost always cheaper to do this than anything else you spend on).
Now, when you do retarget this way, you can choose to actually put out an offer that they can’t refuse or warm them even further with something like a “reminder campaign” where you just introduce yourself again and let it sink into each of your visitor’s head.
You can use third-party platforms such as Adroll or Perfect Audience to build audiences too. Just saying.
Almost every email service provider such as Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor, and Drip provides you with a way to send out your blog posts as digests to all your email subscribers.
You’d know it as RSS-to-email campaign.
It takes one-time to set it up but once it’s set up and done, an automated email goes out each week to every subscriber who’s on your email list.
And what do they get?
Nothing but more goodness that you publish on your blog. RSS-to-email campaigns are easy to setup, cost you nothing (except what you pay for your email service), and are automated. With just 2 or 3 blog posts going out within the body of the email, you aren’t even trying to sell anything.
This way, your subscribers won’t feel rushed to buy. They get access to your blog just in case they forgot to come visiting (and you’d hence get some traffic), and they’d remember you (or maybe even learn a thing or two as they open their emails and read).
Plus, you are getting your subscribers into a habit of opening and reading – now that, in the world of digital marketing, is gold.
It’s not to say that you can’t throw your funnels at cold prospects (a lot of campaigns get into the act right away).
It’s only that your results are way better when you prime up your audience and convert them into warm prospects before you start pitching.