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Nikki Arensman is a brand designer and strategist who works with female entrepreneurs, particularly those building digital businesses. She spoke with Jessica Abo via Zoom about how entrepreneurs can navigate the early stages of growing their businesses and beyond.
What do you think is the biggest mistake that most entrepreneurs make in year one of their business?
Arensman: Ultimately, in year one, you’re really just wanting to prove to yourself that your business is not only viable but that it can also impact your industry and earn you an income. You’re wanting to make money. We’re building a business. The mistake that I see all the time is not building a foundation from day one that supports building trust between you and your dream audience.
Our most favorite brands, they’re the ones that we can count on for X, Y, Z. Whatever they’re doing good at. We know that if we go over to their Instagram, if we open up their emails, if we listen to their podcast, if we read their blog, we know what we’re going to expect from them in terms of the way that they look, their language, the way that they talk and the way they communicate. And, subconsciously, what that does for us is it starts to build reliability and build trust. And we know that ‘Okay, I can always expect this from them.’ Then when we need something, we immediately think of them.
What this does is it really makes us, the consumer, want to be a part of their story and want to be a part of their success and have a piece of their brand. I always think of the formula consistency equals reliability, reliability equals trust, and trust brings in more sales.
For those entrepreneurs who just finished year one, and they’re entering year two and they just feel like they’re all over the place, what are your pieces of advice on what they should do first and what they should focus on long-term?
Arensman: First things first for me. When I’m either wrapping up year one with a client or even back to when I was exiting year one and moving on, it’s figuring out what worked and what didn’t work. Strategically, what worked in your business, what brought in income, but also what felt really good and in alignment and what was a struggle and just was like pulling teeth, trying to get you to show up and do it. And then, what did your audience and your clients just absolutely love? Whether that was a service, an offer, a webinar you did, a live training, something that it just hit it out of the park.
From there, I decide how this person should move forward. Either they can do one of three things or a combination of three things. They can either scale an offer with an audience that was a total win. Something like a webinar that did really well and piece together whether it was the audience or was it the actual topic of discussion?
Number two is continuing to explore new offers and figuring out where I really shine the brightest.
Number three is really bringing your branding and your messaging up to speed with where you’re at at that point, which is typically such a different place from day one when you first got started.
For those who identify with one of those or all of those, break down each one for us a little bit more.
Arensman: Let’s take number one, which is scaling an offer. Was there an offer or service that was a total win for you and the client? If so, then it might be worth turning this into an offer that you can scale. For example, if that’s a one-on-one offer, you can think about it like breaking down each piece of content that you worked on in that one-on-one setting and turning those into lessons or modules for a digital course that then removes you from the equation. The plus side of doing that is that you can still have your one-on-one offer. Except now you can raise the pricing on that and bump it up because they’re going to get access to you and your time. You can still have the course that could be sold to a wider audience. That’s an example of that.
Or maybe it was a group program that you launched live and you had a set of four or five calls where they did get access to you. You can now break that course down into smaller training sessions at lower cost. Say you’re taking module one and turning it into its own little offer at a lower ticket than somebody needing to buy into the giant group program. This introduces your audience into what we like to call “the binge and buy” mentality — it supports them in coming back for more. It eliminates people just being one-and-done with a service. Instead, they’re saying, “Oh, I want this,” and, “Oh, I can see they offer this.”
There are some programs that do offer that. One of my favorites is MemberVault. These let you have easy access to a marketplace. These options are a great place to begin. Getting comfortable with paid advertising through Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest ads that will basically lead traffic into these scalable offers that you could have.
If someone is not ready to scale, but they feel more comfortable continuing new offers, what does that look like?
Arensman: This is a great route if you are still figuring out who your people are or you haven’t totally clicked with a certain ideal client or niche. If you didn’t really feel yourself get in a flow in year one at any time, then it’s worth taking a step back and looking at what felt out of alignment and find the gap between what you offered and your messaging and what your audience is wanting.
One of the ways of doing this is having past clients answer a set of questions about their time working with you. What was it like, where did they feel most supported and how did the work that they did with you and the time that they spent with you really impact their business? That’ll give you a really good insider look from the client themselves, what felt good and what didn’t feel good. That scares people because they might get some answers that they’re not ready to hear, but it’s so powerful to look at that and analyze and then say, ‘Here’s where I really excelled, straight from the client.’ Sometimes you don’t even have the awareness of that as the provider.
Also, just trying some new things. Don’t be afraid to pivot and put something new out there and see if it sticks. You don’t always need a fully built-out sales page, the perfect email sequence or the perfect funnel in order to get some sales and gauge, what works and what doesn’t. And sometimes the thing that you just get from a blip of inspiration and you throw out there —whether it’s on social media, on your story or in your feed or you email out your list — sometimes that’s the thing that sticks. And it turns into that killer program that does really well or that new one-on-one service that you can then go back and scale in the coming months.
You also say that it’s okay to give yourself time to catch up to your business. What do you mean by that?
Arensman: Sometimes, when you have an offer or service that isn’t converting the way that you hoped, it’s not always the offer’s fault. Sometimes it’s the messaging or not really reaching the right client. This really comes back to having a beyond basic understanding of who you’re serving and ultimately what their problem is. This requires taking a look at your brand as a whole and, like you said, really just taking a second to let everything catch up.
In addition to knowing relevant information about your ideal client, it’s equally important for you as a brand to have a solid foundation in both visuals and content. The two of those being able to work in tandem together. If one gets left at the starting line — let’s just say you DIY’d your logo over a year ago, and you are avoiding using it on client documents or in your email footer or things like that because you’re embarrassed of it or it makes you want to cringe. That is an energetic block there between the presentation of you out there. It’s time to upgrade and bring it up to speed with where you’re at as an entrepreneur. Ultimately, it’s elevating the experience that a client can expect to have from working with you.
That’s one way, through your logo and visuals like that. Maybe up until now, you’ve been getting by using stock photography, but this is now the year that you’re going to invest in a brand photoshoot and really put some time and energy into curating the visuals that are important to you. It’s really about the experience that your client gets, that they want to be a part of that and can make a visual connection where they want to be to what your photos look like.
And lastly, if in general you just feel like you don’t know what to talk about on social media or you’re getting stuck every time you go to write an email campaign — I hear it all the time, “I feel all over the place.” And whether that is on your feed or in a live session, then I would get clear on three-to-five things that are relevant to your ideal client and their needs and also important to you and your brand.
You want to think of these, they’re three-to-five main topics that are important to you, and they make sense for your client and the problem that you’re solving for them. And then within those three-to-five topics, you’ve got a whole bunch of content that you could talk about and ways that you could maintain within those topics every time that you show up. You’re no longer just fishing and trying to figure out things to talk about and ways to connect. It’s like, “These are my three-to-five things, and I’m going to give these three-to-six months of just maintaining this lane and see how that starts to convert within messaging, within offers and in general,” — just the way that you are communicating with your audience.