“Whatever you do, be different — that was the advice my mother gave me, and I can’t think of better advice for an entrepreneur. If you’re different, you will stand out.”
~ Anita Roddick
As a business coach and more importantly, as a business owner, I’m pretty obsessed with the importance of having a sustainable business model.
I started out as a brand new coach over a decade ago and between then and now I’ve pretty much made all of the business model mistakes a business owner can make.
Copying other people’s models without knowing the full picture, undercharging and overgiving, overcharging and under delivering and many more besides.
From it all, the greatest lesson I’ve learned regarding business model is the importance of sustainability.
A business that not only sustains you financially but that fulfils you personally. A business that gives you energy, rather than drains you of it.
A business that you actually enjoy showing up for, week after week, month after month, year after year.
So what makes a sustainable business model?
Most newer business owners, trying to figure out how to make money, will jump straight to looking at what combination of products and services they will offer, asking themselves “what can I sell in order to start bringing money into my business?”
And with this question comes a tendency to look around at what others in our field (particularly those who are more successful) are offering and try to copy it even when what they are copying might be totally unsuitable for the individual business owner.
My alternative to this is to take time to consider the following elements in order to create a business model or offering that is unique to you.
What stage of business are you at?
If you are brand new in business, the types of offerings you want to be considering will be significantly different to those for a more established business owner. My recommendation to people early on their business journey is to focus on a simple but impactful 1:1 service (like my subscription model).
When you have a small audience, it’s far easier to get 1 person to sign up for coaching with you, than it is to get 5–10 people into a group program, even if the latter is cheaper for the customer. I’ve seen many newer business owners get burned by trying to do group offerings too soon.
Having said that, there are always exceptions to the rule so the important thing is that you consider your unique situation rather than follow blanket advice.
What would you enjoy to create and deliver?
When you seek to create a new offering, rather than copy what “seems” to be working for others in your field, it’s crucial that you take into account your own gifts and strengths, preferences and tendencies. Are you a gifted speaker, for example, who thrives when teaching a room full of people? Or do you come alive when working 1:1 and going deep with individuals? Are you introverted or extroverted? Does lots of contact with people drain you or sustain you? These and so much more are really important things to consider as you design your next product or service.
What your audience wants (and needs) and would be prepared to pay for?
As business owners we often assume we know best when it comes to what our clients “need” but this isn’t necessarily what they want or what they are willing to pay for. What is key here is doing some research with your people before you create something. Most business owners do little audience research before creating and launching a new offering and the effects of this are few if any sales.
What your audience would be able to bear in terms of marketing?
This comes into play when we consider the product or service we want to create and sell. With a small audience, getting a new 1:1 client a month may still be pretty achievable. A small or stagnant audience, won’t however bear a big group launch 2 or 3 times a year. Here you want to be taking into account not only your audience size but it’s rate of growth. How many new people are getting to know you each month?
What marketing the business owner can bear or afford to do?
This is the one that tripped me up in the early days of my business. I got all excited when I came across a business membership for female entrepreneurs. The founder had hundreds (if not thousands) of members all paying less than £40 a month and I thought it was genius.
I figured I could make a membership for ethical and conscious business owners and I wouldn’t need half the members they had and could even charge less. To begin it was great — I had nearly 20 members sign up from my tiny list but pretty soon I was completely burned out from creating content and trying to retain the members I had (most of whom had paid a super low beta rate). Plus I didn’t have the energy or the desire to do the marketing required to enrol new people. A year later I had to close it down as it wasn’t financially sustainable.
All products and services require different levels and types of marketing to be successful. Make sure you take this into consideration before copying someone else’s business model. If they’ve been in business a while, they may have a whole team and advertising budget to support them (like the business I was seeking to emulate!).
The problem with copying
When you are early on in the business journey, it can take a lot of courage to ditch conventional advice and forge your own path.
I remember myself when decided I wanted to move away from the classic 3 and 6 month coaching package and instead offer a coaching subscription, I was actually terrified, it took me a year and lots of testing behind the scenes with existing clients before I changed my business model and made my coaching subscription the only way people could work with me 1:1. My business took off from there.
Creating something unique
It can be hard to create a unique business model or offering when we see nearly everyone doing the same thing. So I wanted to share some examples of unique (and successful) offerings that demonstrate how it can be done.
My subscription model for 1:1 coaching. When I realised that my clients weren’t able to achieve results in an arbitrary 12 week timeframe, I ditched the traditional 3 month coaching package in favour of a lower priced ongoing subscription and the results have been amazing both for my business (more clients + more income) and for my clients. Because of the lower price point, they’re able to stay with me longer and therefore get better results.
My favourite ethical copywriter Lauren Van Mullem realised that she didn’t only want to do full service copywriting for people and wanted to find something less intensive for her and more affordable for her clients so she created Loom Reviews. Lauren also ditched convention with her freebie. Rather than a “5 ways to make your copy stand out” PDF, she created Craft and Copy hour. A way for her to make time for her love of crafts, a chance to meet Lauren, do some crafting with her and ask her any copy related ideas you have. Talk about unique!
All of the above, hopefully demonstrate what’s possible when you create something that is truly unique to you!
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