How We Got Here
When I started my business in February of 2021, I was lucky enough to have 3 or 4 friends & family members that were willing to purchase my services.
For over 12 months, I hummed on, taking a drop in my pay from my position as a marketing manager for my dad’s business, not having any real plan for how I was going to generate revenue.
I took the “build it, and they will come” approach, and I would jump on rare opportunities I heard about.
Eventually, I got another referral or two, spoke to the person next to me in the coffee shop, and I was feeling goooood.
But it didn’t last.
The referrals stopped, and I didn’t get the blessing of someone I sat next to at a coffee shop again (at least not until the following year 😉 )
So what could I do?
I rode the waves of short lived website and marketing projects.
I made my first hire because that would give me time to market and sell!
Another 12 months went by and I was faced with reality. I lost a couple of my retainer clients, big projects that I expected to close didn’t, and I was running out of the little cash reserves I had.
At that time, I had a project manager and a developer working for me, but there was nothing I could do.
No more cash meant no more payroll.
No new projects coming down the pike that I had any confidence in closing.
So, 6 days before Christmas, I called my project manager (who was also a dear friend) and told him there was no way I could make it work. I would only be able to pay him until mid January, and I was out of options.
That call brought me down.
Not because of how the team member handled it - he was actually full of so much grace and kindness I could barely believe it, a true friend - but because I failed.
After the call, I called my wife Kylee, I told her that I had to let him go and burst into tears.
How could I let this happen?
I had read all the books. I had joined the business & leadership group. I had taken the courses.
But the facts were the facts.
I hadn’t put in the work every day to generate new business. I hadn’t set aside sufficient cash reserves for the business.
I would get all excited about vision and core values of the business, but the real building blocks weren’t even in place!
I was holding a ticking time bomb and the time had run out.
The Christmas party was canceled. There would be no celebrations. No looking back at the great strides we made the past 12 months (despite having over doubled our revenue).
I had failed and that was that.
The next few weeks were all about getting through the time I committed to give my 2 team members.
I was able to afford about a 3-weeks notice, maybe a tad longer, and I wasn’t going to fail on that.
I remember thinking only about those few weeks. I didn’t even consider what life would be like after January 15th.
And then the day came and past.
Still in the same spot.
The small business emergency fund I had a month before, which had held only couple of thousand dollars, was empty.
I was left just staring at my blank computer screen in the middle of nowhere Central Wisconsin with a snowy winter outside.
Mike Michalowicz created a business hierarchy of needs, that he lays out in his book Fix This Next, in a similar vein of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for life.
The foundation of the business needs is sales.
If you aren’t selling your services or products, then the business will not survive.
Businesses must generate revenue.
So when I started looking at my sales system (or the lack there of), things became clear on how foolish I had been running my small website studio operation.
A few of my major points of failure that stood out:
- A lack of consistency with what I was doing to generate more business.
- Quickly jumping to the next thing, spreading myself thin, and trying to be a master at too many things.
- Lack of focus on the things that matter most (marketing, sales, creating websites, taking care of customers) and too much focus on things that matter less (my next big idea, community, education, coffee, and oh so many more things)
What was I thinking? How could I miss this?
I was walking on a tight rope and taking in the view, oblivious to the destined great fall.
There were a few major things that I needed to put in place: Consistent marketing & sales actions that I could control, a system for managing my time and not falling for the never-ending daily distractions, and an overarching plan for generating new business.
One of the biggest pitfalls I noticed was how I let my time be managed by external influences instead of prioritizing my time with what mattered most.
I also didn’t have a consistent practice to engage in marketing actions that would help generate new leads and new business.
And I needed an overall plan that would guide what I needed to do.
1. Daily Marketing Habit
If you want to consistently have a full pipeline, you have to choose to do so.
You have to set aside time every day, put in the reps, take actions to help generate new business.
I was in this time of trying to figure how I could count on having a full pipeline when I heard about the Morning Marketing Habit from my friend, Austin L. Church.
He talked about how these 30 minutes each morning are the most important 30-minutes any independent business owner will have all day.
And that it needs to be in the morning or you will put it off, things will come up, and it just won’t happen.
The real gains come in the compounding affect of it.
If you’re an independent business owner (like me), freelancer, or consultant - Austin has an incredible course that is insanely affordable for the value it provides.
I won’t dive too deep into this as he explains it all so much better, but I will give you a quick rundown on what my morning marketing habit looks like each day.
Getting started I work off a social media theme schedule I’ve created and write a post for LinkedIn and Twitter.
Then I spend 10 minutes commenting & interacting with other posts (primarily on LinkedIn)
Then I go over all my active prospects in my pipeline and make any necessary actions to move them forward.
I am still working through my MMH, but I am kicking myself for not starting it sooner, and can’t imagine running my business without it in place.
2. Time Blocking
This is still in progress.
But it is a must.
Without it, the squeaky wheel WILL get the grease. And I will not have time for marketing, sales, and client work.
Without time blocking, administrative tasks, distractions, quick texts, emails, and whatever else that sounds more fun than what I need to do, will take over. This then causes a ton of stress because I didn’t spend time doing what I should’ve been doing.
Here’s how I want to block my day:
- Workday Startup (15 minutes)
- Morning Marketing Habit (30 Minutes)
- Core Block #1 (2 hours)
- Break (15 Minutes)
- Core Block #2 (2 hours)
- Lunch Break (30 Minutes)
- Core Block #3 (2 hours)
- Emails, Communication, Admin, Proposals, Etc (30 Minutes)
- Workday Shutdown (15 Minutes)
Core Blocks are specifically for 2 things. Client/project work & sales/discovery calls.
If needed, each core block can be broken up into 30-minute parts. If you have tasks that need to be done that are less than 30-minutes, try to lump them all together.
Do your best to plan out your next week the Friday before.
I think this will help keep my days on track, rather than just tossing with whatever is yelling at me the loudest.
It will also help when I am booking out projects.
If I know what time blocks I have available, I will know if I can actually feasibly take on that project in that time period.
If you have any resources time blocking, please share them with me!
3. The 10-Step Rocket Plan
There are tons of marketing and sales plans out there, but this is the plan I came up with that is simple and easy for me to understand.
It’s a 10-step marketing & sales plan for small businesses.
Affectionately known as (The 10-Step Rocket Plan for Small Businesses)
This should work for pretty much any type of business.
Here’s the plan at a high-level:
- Define Your Ideal Client (Who are we selling to?)
- Create Your Messaging (How are we positioning ourselves?)
- Establish Your Products (What do we sell?)
- Take Action on the 3-Rs (Relationships, Referrals, Repeat Business)
- Make Your Business Known (Top of Funnel, Ads, Affiliates, Content, Social, Etc)
- Generate Prospects (Subscribe to Newsletter, Access Free Download, Free Webinar)
- Nurture Your Prospects (Emails, Texts, Calls)
- Create Leads with Core Conversions (Lead Form Submitted, Phone Call, Email)
- Get Your Sales Right (Processes, Content, Tools, Resources)
- Measure, Improve, and Repeat
I’m writing a post to further explain this plan. (Feel free to subscribe to my email list to get notified when that comes out)
There's a lot to say.
I can't point to one exact thing.
I think success takes time. It takes work.
If I had started doing these 3 things when I have started my business, would I have been better off than I am now?
Financially, probably so.
But the lessons I have learned also seem somewhat invaluable.
Almost like I had to learn them the way I did.
The hard way.
I was talking with my brother, Cobren, a few weeks ago.
I told him that I had made the switch and was just going to focus on creating great websites for small businesses and that I didn’t want to do full-service marketing anymore.
I laid out my plan and how I was going to make it happen.
He was enthusiastic and and pumped for me, like he always is.
Then he said it.
“Ezekiel, can you do something for me? Put your head down and follow this plan for at least 90 days.”
But - NEEDED!
You see, I love starting new things.
And Cobren has heard of my “new plans” more than just about anyone.
He knows that I can get excited about a plan and then let it simmer out weeks or months later.
So that’s what I am doing. I am sticking with this plan full-stop until July 1.
Let’s do this.
A Note, Where Things Stand
You might be wondering how I am doing now.
As I write this, the next 45 days are completely booked with website projects.
And the following 60 days after that are quickly on the way to be filled.
My business bank account is cheerfully full when I check it, and I am on my way to having a real cash reserves of 3 to 6 months of business expenses & salary.
Each day, I have time set aside to TAKE ACTION with marketing and sales.
And I’m learning to say “no” to the things that don’t move the needle.
I’m humbled and blessed to be in the situation that I am.