Use this proven 9-step framework for business growth in 2023
Why the 9-step framework actually works (if you apply it in the right sequence)
The market has changed a lot in recent years.
Following the Covid-19 pandemic, we've seen a dramatic shift toward online communities. Buyers have embraced virtual technologies and the market is generally open to communicating and transacting online.
But with these increased opportunities we've also seen an accompanying "gold rush scavenger hunt"
There's a lot of 'noise' in the world today. A high proportion of marketing is the equivalent of "shouting".
Outrageous promises are usually impossible to deliver on.
Spammy outreach just clogs up your prospect's email inbox and causes brand damage over the long term.
What if there was another way?
What if you spent the time really understanding the market using an empathy-based approach?
What if you found a tiny portion of the market that desperately wanted what you offer and you just whispered your offer to them?
That's exactly what Seth Godin and I discussed at length in our conversation about empathy-based marketing.
Having empathy for your audience is at the core of building a successful business over the long term.
No million-dollar overnight success stories here.
Like anything, it takes effort time, and commitment. But if you're consistent in applying these principles the results will come.
This 9-step framework walks you through the following stages:
- Get clear on your mission
- Spend time understanding your ideal customer and the problem she's trying to solve using an empathy-based approach
- Identify and articulate your customer's problem as she sees it in her world (not as you see it)
- Create a compelling offer that solves the problem you identified in step 3
- Walk a few customers through the buying process and watch and learn what's working as they buy (your offer)
- Establish (and then monitor) your key metrics
- Build an automated sales funnel based on what you learned in steps 5 and 6
- Build your authority using all the content and distribution platforms (and repurposing your content effectively to maximize your reach)
- Refine the process as often as needed
How to access the free 9-step business growth framework and the accompanying 9-day email course
I've created a 9-step email course that walks you through my 9-step business growth framework.
You can download that framework as an interactive pdf document and get the accompanying free 9-day email course which takes you through each step one day at a time.
While these steps appear to be laid out in a linear fashion (and should ideally be followed sequentially), you'll find yourself jumping back and forth between the steps as you apply the framework.
For example, you might decide that your mission (in step 1) is:
"To help 200 start-ups double their profit within 3 years via digital marketing strategies".
You go through steps 2 through to step 5 in sequence.
But when you get to step 5 you realize that you don't enjoy working with start-ups as much as you initially thought you would.
So you decide to change your mission statement to "To help 200 established medium-sized businesses double their profit within 3 years via digital marketing strategies".
The thing about the framework is that its power lies in iteration and refinement (on each iteration).
This framework doesn't deliver magical results. It takes time, effort, and consistency. But if you apply it iteratively and learn from each iteration, you'll get results.
Once you've downloaded the PDF document, just click on each of the steps (where it says "click me") and it'll take you to a podcast episode where I explore each of those topics with some of the brightest marketing minds in the world including Seth Godin, Neil Patel, Guy Kawasaki and lots more.
You'll need to subscribe to get the free email course and the downloadable pdf document, but if you'd rather not subscribe (cause you don't know me well enough yet) and you'd prefer to just follow along on this blog, you can do that too.
This framework will help you to build an unassailable position of authority in your market and help you generate inbound leads if you implement it effectively.
Let's dive into each of these 9 steps, and get your business ready for sustainable growth in 2023 and beyond!
Here we go ...
1. Articulate your mission
the first step is to get clear on your mission. What change do you seek to deliver? To whom? How will your product or service transform your ideal customer? Who is your ideal customer?
All these are important questions that need to be answered. We’ll unpack these later.
But writing down your mission statement is important because it helps you articulate (to yourself) your business’ purpose. It helps you set a clear direction. A clear intention around which you and your team (as you grow) will align with.
Will your mission statement change?
Most likely, yes.
But you need to start somewhere. The act of writing it down on a piece of paper and having it stare back at you can be very transformative.
It forces you to examine your core values as a business. Steve Jobs talked about Apple’s core values before Apple had its second renaissance. He explained why it’s important for companies to be really clear about what they want to be known for. And getting clear on your core values and your mission is a big part of this.
So how do you go about creating a powerful mission statement? We’ll explore that later.
2. Create a customer persona and build an empathy map
Empathy is hard. It's also one of the least-used words in marketing.
But empathy matters.
It matters more today than it's ever mattered in the past.
Why is empathy hard?
Because it requires you to see the world as your customer sees it. It requires you to believe what they believe and care about what they care about.
You need to act as if you were the customer (not you).
Most marketers talk about building an ideal customer persona or a customer avatar. That’s a great start.
But if you want to really understand what it's like to walk in your customers’ shoes, you need to create an empathy map. This framework is a great forcing mechanism.
It requires you to step into your customer's shoes. To see the world as she sees it.
It requires you to imagine what their world looks like. You need to pretend you're the customer.
Once you understand what the customer thinks, what she believes then, and only then, will be you able to show up with deep empathy.
You'll be able to market with them, not at them.
I recently had a conversation with Seth Godin about empathy in marketing.
Embedded below is a short excerpt from that conversation.
(You can access the entire video conversation with Seth Godin here)
3. Identify and articulate your customer's problem
There are two main kinds of research:
- Qualitative research
- Quantitative research
They both have their place. Quantitative research is scaleable but is often superficial.
Analyzing tons of data and analyzing patterns can definitely reveal useful insights, but in my experience, nothing comes close to face-to-face conversations (which I see as qualitative research).
Because a lot of communication is non-verbal and face-to-face conversations give you the golden opportunity to read facial cues and hear inflections in people's voices as they speak to you.
Did you know that we actually communicate with micro-expressions that usually don't even reach our conscious brain?
I don't see myself ever walking away from face-to-face communication with my customers.
Staying close to your audience is important. Some top surgeons who have moved into administrative roles often choose to continue to see patients and perform surgeries every so often, so they can stay in touch with their patients.
Tim Cook has been known to read emails from customers and sometimes respond to them himself.
Qualitative research is extremely valuable and a great way to stay close to your market. I recommend it highly, especially when you're a small business.
Quantitative research is often done online through surveys and is a bit less important in the beginning stages. Small businesses shouldn't spend too much time on this (until they're turning over a few million in revenue).
So for the purposes of this 9-step approach, I recommend doing your market research in one of three main ways.
I recommend approaching these in this order of priority.
- Face-to-face conversations (via zoom)
- Audio conversations
- Survey tools like the Ask method
I would classify the first two methods as qualitative research approaches and the third one as quantitative.
One of the key things you're looking to get clear on as you do your research is the 'voice of your ideal customer'.
What language do they tend to use when they describe the problem? What words do they use to describe possible solutions?
4. Develop an offer that solves your customer's problem by asking some of these questions:
I've often seen people confuse the word "offer" with the word "product" or "service". To me, the offer is different from your product/service.
The offer positions your product or service as a solution to your customer's problem. It involves copywriting, positioning, pricing, and several other elements.
It's a promise you make to your customer. It's a transformation you promise to deliver in exchange for the money your customer pays you to deliver that transformation.
The value the customer derives from that transformation is more than the money they pay you for your offer.
Empathy is at the core of creating a great offer because it's empathy that gives you that depth of understanding of your customer's problem and enables you to position your offer as a great solution.
Strangely enough, I don't see empathy being discussed a lot by marketers. It's one of the most important words in marketing but probably one of the least used ones.
Here are some key questions you want to answer to develop a strong offer:
- How does my product or service solve my customer’s problem?
- What results will my product (or service) deliver to my customer and how will that improve their situation?
- What will my customer miss out on if they don’t use my product or service?
Asking these questions (and attempting to find answers to them as part of your research process) helps you to get clear on the 'voice of your ideal customer'.
This is an important part of the research process.
5. Help 10-20 ideal customers purchase your offer and learn from those conversations
Have you noticed we didn't use the word "sell"? That's because the world has changed in recent years.
We can't "sell" like we used to.
Two reasons for this:
- Marketing has fundamentally changed in recent years: We've moved on from the post-industrial age of above-the-line advertising which came to our TV screens from the brains of the Madmen on Madison Avenue. The objective back then was all about generating demand and growing brand awareness via aggressive advertising. Product and feature discovery was in the hands of the seller and the buyer had very little say in the buying process.
- The death of the sales process (because product and feature discovery are controlled by the buyer): Enter Google. Search engines turned the product and feature discovery process on its head. Buyers now control the process of discovering products with features that solve their specific problems. Sales as a process is largely redundant. I don't believe we can "sell" products or services like we used to. We can only "facilitate purchases". We can only help buyers buy more effectively and be a guide in that process.
This is why it's really important for us to be aware of the buyer's journey.
In step 3, we talked about the importance of qualitative research.
Even though qualitative research isn't scaleable, it's critical to do some amount of qualitative research at all times. Especially if you're a small business owner.
Helping 10-20 ideal customers to buy your offer is a very important part of this process.
It goes something like this: You make the offer to your customer and then sit back and watch carefully.
Take notes if you have to. Get a really clear understanding of how they respond to the offer.
Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself as you watch your ideal customer interact with your offer:
- How does your customer experience his or her problem and what words does she use to explain the problem?
- What does she find interesting about the offer?
- What does she find unappealing?
- How does the offer solve her problem?
- What emotions do you think she's experiencing as she's considering the offer?
- What emotions drive her purchase decision?
- What does she need to believe to feel that your product is a good fit for her?
6. Establish and then monitor your key metrics
One of the most important metrics is your profit per hour.
This is not your billable rate but rather the profit you make per week/month/year divided by the number of hours you put in to generate that profit.
Naval Ravkiant recommends setting yourself an aspirational hourly rate.
Why is this important?
Because it factors in the value of your time.
If you’re making $10K a week and working 100 hours a week to make it you don’t have much of a life. You've got a reasonable income ($120K annually) but you'd probably be better off working at Mcdonald's because your hourly rate would be down in the weeds.
In contrast, if you’re making $5K a week but are only working 5 hours a week to make that income then you have an excellent lifestyle.
But profit per hour matters more if you're looking to build a business that supports a good lifestyle.
Some other metrics worth paying attention to are:
- What it costs you to acquire a new customer (Your profit per hour is important here. If you're spending three hours a week on business development activities, and you acquire one new customer each week, and your profit per hour is $100 per hour then you're spending $300 on customer acquisition)
- Your customer's lifetime value (this is reflective of how many of your offers they buy and how often they buy them)
- If you have a recurring income business — I recommend a membership model for service-based businesses — then the average tenure of your members is important
It's worth understanding the difference between lead indicators and lag indicators here.
The number of words you write on your blog each day or week is a lead indicator (and is something you can control). The number of visits your website receives or the number of new leads is a lag indicator.
Lead indicators usually have a causative relationship with lag indicators but you can't directly control your lag indicators. Getting too emotionally attached to lag indicators is usually a mistake.
Focus on what you can control (lead indicators) and the results (usually the lag indicators) will take care of themselves.
7. Build an automated sales process around your buyer’s journey
Several marketers jump right to this step without spending time understanding their ideal customer, or the change they seek to deliver to that customer.
Empathy is at the core of understanding your audience and the transformation they seek (from you as a provider of the product or service you're offering).
Most marketers (or business owners) don’t really understand their ideal customer (this takes time) and aren’t crystal clear about the problem they’re solving for that customer.
When they automate a process based on poor fundamentals, they end up with a sales process that is poorly targeted and frustrating to all parties involved. Especially their future customers!
This causes brand damage over the long term.
Understanding the buyer, their buying process, and the buyer’s journey (before you automate) is crucial.
It helps you meet your customer where they are on their journey.
Several business owners try to shoehorn the customer’s buying process into their sales process.
That might’ve worked several years ago, but these days the customer can use google for feature and product discovery.
The buyer holds the power and is no longer subservient to your sales processes.
The word sales implies a "push" mechanism. It's not an inductive process.
Today's buyer doesn't want to be "pushed" into anything. She wants to be an active part of the buying process and wants to be in control from beginning to end.
Perhaps it's time to replace the word "sales" with the term “purchase facilitation”. At least in our minds as we approach funnel building (another term for automated sales processes)
It’s where you help the customer buy by giving them as much information as you can (rather than selling to them).
This is where the buyer's journey comes in.Hubspot explains the buyer's journey in three main phases:
- Awareness stage: Where the buyer becomes aware that they have a problem
- Consideration stage: The buyer defines their problem and considers alternative solutions
- Decision stage: The buyer evaluates and decides on the right solution (for the buyer).
I see this as a condensed version of Eugene Schwartz's buyer awareness process which I've illustrated below (with one important observation):
The earlier you meet your customer (on her journey) the more likely you are to step into the role of trusted advisor. If you meet the customer at the awareness stage (as described in Hubspot's buyer's journey) you're more likely to help her define the problem and this positions you as the ideal person to solve that problem.
This means you step into the role of price maker rather than a price taker. You have a positional advantage as a seller because you're seen as an authority.
In contrast, if you meet your customer towards the end of her journey — where she's already defined her problem and quite possibly discovered alternative solutions — she's likely done most of the work in terms of problem definition and product and feature discovery around alternative solutions.
If you meet her at this stage in the journey, it's likely that she'll see your product or service as a commodity. She won't see you as a trusted advisor and you'll likely be a price taker, not a price maker.
Unless you're Amazon (and most people can't out-amazon Amazon) you're better off trying to meet your ideal customer earlier in her buyer's journey.
8. Grow your authority using one or more of the following platforms
Leading on from the previous point, it's important to build your authority in the marketplace by creating high-value content that educates and entertains.
I recommend building authority using content marketing as soon as possible.
This is often referred to as the audience-first approach. You build the audience and then ask them what they need. You then create an offer that is a no-brainer for them and they buy. At least that's how it's supposed to work in theory. It doesn't always work out that way in practice. And it certainly isn't as smooth as it seems.
If you’re a new business, chances are you need to pay the bills first and focus on getting leads and customers using a more direct approach.
Let's call this the product-first approach (or in this case a service-first approach).
I propose a hybrid approach that enables you to offer your services (to bring in the cash-flow) while building your audience and learning more about them simultaneously so that you can create compelling offers that solve their most painful problems in exchange for an income.
You could think of this as paid research.
I made the mistake of first building authority using content marketing strategies before I started to focus on finding more customers.
Looking back, I think it would’ve been better off using a hybrid approach where I served clients in a consultative capacity to bring in cash flow while also doing research on those same clients and creating productised solutions for them which I could then deliver at scale. A great example of this is the membership community I (eventually) launched.
- Working directly with customers gives you good actionable feedback on your sales process
- It allows you to get clear on what aspects of your offer resonate more with your clients
- It helps you understand what problem you solve with your customer better
- All of the above inform your content strategy
- Furthermore, a lot of content creation can be outsourced e.g. video and audio editing for your YouTube channel and your podcast. Doing it yourself only delays the process of increasing your Profit per hour.
9. Review and refine your process
Don’t gloss over this step.
It might seem obvious and might not appear that important.
But this step holds everything together over the long term.
The more you focus on reviewing and refining each of the first 8 steps, the better your product will be, and the better your sales-related process will be.
More importantly, you’ll be able to deliver better results to your customers, who will become your raving fans and will refer you to their friends and clients.
Your business will grow more via word of mouth (the best form of marketing there is) and you’ll reduce your customer acquisition costs.
If you deliver lasting and meaningful change through your products and services (which you can only get clear on by refining your process constantly) you’ll build a very powerful brand and raving fans who’ll continue to promote your business without you having to do much advertising.
So how do you go about refining and iterating?
It really comes down to four simple steps:
- Observe carefully for opportunities to improve
- Make incremental changes
- Measure the impact of your incremental changes
- Repeat steps 1-3
This is simple but incredibly effective.
I've been applying this process to my business over the last few years and it's worked very well for me.
Why does this work so well?
Because you're building an asset (typically a digital product which includes but is not limited to your website) and you're constantly adding tweaks to it to improve the user experience.
Apple has done this with great success since the passing of Steve Jobs.
The power of compounding is one of the most important principles a business owner can apply to her business.
And when you combine this iterative approach with the 80 / 20 rule you've got rocket fuel!
You've got this!