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Can you answer these 5 questions about your business?

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In the last three weeks, I have attended three conferences: Wealthy Thought Leader in San Francisco, Conquer & Grow in Las Vegas, and BOLO 2010 in Phoenix. All were crawling with smart, motivated and optimistic entrepreneurs.

Since I had many, many conversations with both the speakers and the participants, I noticed an interesting phenomenon: many of the people I talked to did not have a clear idea of how others could help them.

You may remember I wrote a post about Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen and how they relate to entrepreneurs. When you meet Connectors, (which I happen to be), they immediately scroll the Rolodex in their brain to think of people or resources to help the person they are talking to.

But if you don’t know what you need help with, you miss a lot of opportunities.

So here are five questions to answer about your business, so when presented with a generous offer for help, you will know how to respond!

The 5 questions

  1. Who is your ideal client?
    You must have a specific, concrete example of who would be an ideal client. “Women who feel stuck in their lives” or “any company facing technological challenges” do not count. If you know of a specific person or company, say so! “I would love to work with ZeFrank!” or “IDEO would be my idea of an ideal firm to work with” or “My ideal non-profit client would be the Show Me Campaign.” If you don’t have an actual person or organization in mind, be as clear as possible in your description, such as “I would love to work with realtors in the West Valley of Phoenix who specialize in green homes.”
  2. Where should I send people who are interested in learning more about you?
    If you have a distributed web presence, you want to be clear which site would be the best place for a contact to reach you. If you are at a social media conference, people may prefer to get your Twitter handle, but if you are at a more traditional networking event, you want to send people to your main website. I am fond of simple sites such as chrisguillebeau.com or sethgodin.com which give a nice, clean architecture, clearly show how to connect on social media platforms and point to much more detailed blogs and resources.
  3. Who would you really love to meet?
    There are some people who could be instrumental in growing your business and deepening your knowledge, if you could just make a personal connection with them. I would love to interview John Legend about his pre-rock star days, when he was a consultant cranking out PowerPoint presentations and spreadsheets, and doing his music at night. Could there be a better side hustle post?

    Who is your version of my John Legend obsession? Would you love to meet Richard Branson, or Anne Lamott, or Joel Spolsky? The sooner you name your business crushes, the sooner we can activate our six degrees of separation and get you in contact with them.

  4. Which media would you love to cover your business?
    In the ecosystem of your business, your ideal clients read very specific books, magazines and blogs. They listen to particular radio stations and watch particular television shows. Do you know which ones they are? Define this list, and get busy connecting with reporters who cover these specific beats.
  5. How do you make money?
    For those of you who hang out in blogging circles like I do, this question may seem a bit direct. But I have come to have a new respect for it, after fielding this question no fewer than 25 times in the last few weeks, in particular at the Conquer & Grow conference which was attended by a lot of people in the Internet Marketing industry. There are a few interpretations of this question, one which is “What is your business model, because I am interested in it!” and the other is “Do you make any money? I want to know if I should take you seriously.” You should have a pithy response for each, and if you cannot answer the question, it may be time for some strategic business model work.

If you can’t answer these questions, may I suggest you do this as a homework assignment? Feel free to post your answers in the comments. Who knows, we may be able to help you! :)

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33 Responses to “Can you answer these 5 questions about your business?”

  1. [...] her thunder, so I’ll just point you in the right direction. Click here to get the scoop on networking with natural connectors. This entry was posted in Success and tagged networking. Bookmark the permalink. ← A cure [...]

  2. [...] the answers to 5 questions about your business that will help people refer qualified customers to you quickly and [...]

  3. Nikki says:

    Hi Pamela,
    I have a fairly successful craft blog, but am struggling terribly to turn it into a business! Maybe because I can’t answer 4 out of the 5 questions? Thanks for giving me a place to start. When it comes to crafting…I can do it all. When it comes to the business…my head is spinning and I don’t know which way is up. Hopefully laying this foundation will at least get me moving!
    Nikki

  4. Jane Park says:

    Pamela, I used to work with John Legend (aka John Stephens) when he was a consultant at BCG! He was lovely and brilliant and built excel spreadsheets like there was no tomorrow. But he also seemed quiet and I would have characterized him as an introvert. “He’ll never make it in client services,” I thought, “he doesn’t have much of a personality.” Now, when I watch him emerge out of a cloud of dry ice, bursting with . . . personality, I eat my words. I too have left Corporate America to start my own company – Julep Nail Parlor. I love your book and your blog – I only wish I’d discovered you earlier!
    Warmest wishes,
    Jane

  5. Usama says:

    If we look at our product or services through a client’s eyes, it can bring a lot of factors that you wouldn’t have thought of. Make it as if You want to buy it.
    Thanks for the tips.

  6. I like this. In the past week, three people have used the word “connector” to describe me, and I guess that means I can use it too. I do know a lot of people from many walks of life, and I like connecting them. People who make it clear what they want are so much easier to help! When I have done the hard work in my head, and figured out what I want, I am far more successful in finding it.

    In my day job, these connections are currently less relevant, but for my emerging side hustle, I can answer:
    1.) I work with Chinese individuals and organizations that need to communicate the value of their technical or environmental work to an international audience (usually unfamiliar with the topic at hand) in English.
    2.) leslieforman.com
    3.) My latest obsession is learning to write advertising copy, so Luke Sullivan (whose book is right in front of me.)
    4.) I would love to be featured in a book about post-college career options.
    5.) By the project.

  7. Bo Warburton says:

    1. My ideal client licensed and is paying maintenance on the Enterprise Content Management software application Open Text Content Server, also called Livelink. The client has at least one Livelink workflow in production, does not currently outsource Livelink application support to a large vendor, is willing to have development work done by a remote (offshore) team, does not use body shops to fill job reqs for Livelink, and has at least one business analyst or project manager on staff who understands the product and can manage a remote team.
    2. Our Web site is the best place to learn about us, http://www.supaisystems.com. We also sponsor a booth at “Content World,” the annual Open Text user conference, which this year is November 7-12 in Washington, D.C.
    3. I would love to meet Ryan Pavelich, CIO of Encana. Also Dave Girouard or whoever succeeded him as head of Google Enterprise.
    4. I would love to get media attention by the trade organization AIIM on their Web site and in their magazine Infonomics. Computerworld, Information Week, and Network World are also widely read in my field.
    5. We make money in two ways. First, we sell services on a fixed price, retainer, or time and materials basis. Second, we sell add-on modules. Yes, with 14 engineers in Bangalore and a CEO in Nevada we have about 40% gross margins and 15% net profit as a percentage of revenue.

  8. Yael Grauer says:

    1. I want to work with people who wanted to go to herb school but couldn’t afford it, or who thought that they wanted to move to the backwoods but are too social.

    2. They can go to yaelwrites.com/blog or find me on facebook!

    3. My biz crushes that I have not met yet include Michael Pollan and Jonah Lehrer.

    4. NPR. Wired. Utne Reader. Simple, Good and Tasty.

    5. Right n ow I make a decent living off of freelance writing, copywriting and SEO work (including brand ambassador/web ad buying gigs) as well as teaching creative writing courses. I’d like to make money off of information products and books, plus workshops on making healthy living accessible.

  9. [...] week, Pamela Slim at Escape from Cubicle Nation wrote about her experiences attending three conferences in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Phoenix. [...]

  10. 5 Great questions to help keep your business on track. I think every business owner needs to know the answers to these questions.

  11. George Bush says:

    I think there is an additional question that is very important in looking at your business. That question is, would I buy my business if it were for sale. This helps you focus your attention to the 5 questions you have listed and honestly consider your position with regard to the value of your business.

    It will also help you to see the points that need attention.

    George

  12. [...] In the last three weeks, I have attended three conferences: Wealthy Thought Leader in San Francisco, Conquer & Grow in Las Vegas, and BOLO 2010 in Phoenix. All were crawling with smart, motivated and optimistic entrepreneurs.Since I had many, many conversations with both the speakers and the participants, I noticed an interesting phenomenon: many of [...] Original post [...]

  13. Francine has a lovely response…

    It’s really about self realization isn’t it? Know who your customer is, and before that learn who you are and what you stand for.

    Great points every business owner must address at some point, the earlier the better

  14. Mark Romney says:

    Raise hand here! That was me with the money question. Pam you were the BEST in your response. I left the conference with new confidence and renewal. You are the best!

    #1. The best business, person or service you have never heard of, with a willingness to try new and different things to attract customer. Willing to put themselves or their company out there.

    #2. http://www.atomicpenny.com, it keeps evolving, and it will grow.

    #3. Mohammad Yunus, Dhali Lama, Randy Wrighthouse (look him up).

    #4 CNN Small business microsite.

    #5, By helpng up and comers see beyond what is currently out there. A crayon, a handfull of clay and a passion to do what others don’t. I want to make money, by opening the mind and the eyes, looking for opportunities i their peripheral vision.

    Mark

  15. Thanks, Pam.

    I must say, tho’, I find LinkedIn useless. I tried to focus on my area of interest, publishing, and wound up open networking. But, ultimately, LinkedIn looks like a hunting ground for h.r. types, where they just fatten up their rolodexes. Unexpectedly, Twitter’s been a much more fruitful environment for me. I’ve cultivated a few online friendships ther into paying projects. Not so LinkedIn.

  16. [...] Slim tosses out five questions to answer about your business. They’re meaty, vital questions, ones that you can answer and re-answer periodically as your [...]

  17. True. But many people don’t know what they don’t know , and that’s the first step to finding help — learning that you don’t know everything. Then there’s reaching out. You can’t get help if you don’t reach out:-) On my list: someone who can help sponsor/fund a Fasttrac program at Gangplank.

  18. Brian Notess says:

    I started my organization two weeks ago, but I can definitely answer all of the questions.

    1. My ideal client is a church planter who values creativity and quality media but can’t afford full time creative staff.

    2. I will send them all (for now) to http://www.freshroastcreative.com/blog

    3. I’d love to meet John Saddington (an indirect business mentor) and Ed Stetzer, church planting guru.

    4. I’d love to be covered on the social media outlets of the aforementioned people I’d love to meet, once I get my products ready to sell.

    5. I plan on selling ads, getting some affiliate deals, selling products, consulting and offering design, development and production services.

    • Pamela says:

      Sounds great Brian, congrats on starting!

      For #1, any churches in particular? Geographical regions or denominations? That can get you a very specific list to work with, that you can do a combo of passive and active outreach.

      Go get em!

      -P

  19. Wonderful blog post Pamela!

    I think #5 is the most skipped over question as most people don’t want to talk money – it’s kind of like a taboo. However, once people start to feel more comfortable with talking about how they make money, they will begin to remind themselves of their business model – hence, more success.

    In answer to your questions:
    1. My ideal client is a small business, start-up or blogger. The more passion for their business, the better their search engine and social media strategies.

    2. Most definitely you should send people to my website: http://shansteffen.com. I’ve packed it full of free information through blog posts as well as video on my presentations, services offered and client testimonials.

    3. I’d absolutely LOVE to meet 3 people – Sergey Brin (Co-founder of Google), Tony Robbins (Motivation Speaker) and Donald Trump (Entrepreneur Extraordinaire).

    4. The best way to cover my business is through social media. My passion and business thrives on the Internet.

    5. I make money through B2B and B2C SEO, SEM and Social Media Strategies, Consulting, and Training services. Therein lies my passion!

    • Pamela says:

      I agree Shannon, #5 is often skipped! But it was so refreshing to hear it. When you have a very clear, robust way of making money, it makes all the other parts hum.

  20. Pam,

    These are nearly the exact questions I ask my web design clients in my ‘side-hustle’ job. It’s amazing what you can do, which answers to nagging business questions become self-evident if you take this approach.

    It is, of course, an exacting standard to repeatedly set for yourself! But hey, nothing worthwhile ever comes easy!

    • Pamela says:

      Rock on Ted!

      I agree, when you get really specific, it makes your plans so much more targeted — and by design, more achievable!

      -P

  21. Love these questions Pam – I’m gonna make this post required reading for new clients ;)

    • Pamela says:

      Thanks Peter!

      Believe me, I am attacking them too! The 25 questions in a row about how I make money did get me thinking. :) Last person who asked me was the Editor of Inc. Magazine. ;)

  22. Justin Hong says:

    Thanks for this informative post, Pamela. You raise some excellent points here — it’s really interesting how big of an impact that clarity (in your vision and goals) can make when you’re out meeting people — and in your life as well.

    Of all the points that you made, #4 (which media would you love to cover your business) has given me the greatest pause. I guess it’s just not something that I’ve spent much time thinking about compared to the other items — but now I can see how being clear on who you want to cover you can help you develop relationships with the media and gain visibility.

    Here are my answers to your questions:
    1. Enterprise-level E-Commerce websites
    2. My company website (www.HighlyRelevant.com) or my personal blog (www.JustinHong.com)
    3. Mark Cuban and Keith Ferrazzi
    4. Entrepreneur websites, magazines, and blogs
    5. Our business model is primarily a service model currently

    • Pamela says:

      Great start Justin!

      Let me be a coach here and push you to define #1 a lot more clearly. Which websites in particular? Any industry segments? Favorite businesses? Growing markets?

      Same with #4. Which blogs? Which magazines? What is your order and priority?

      Inquiring minds!

      -Pam

  23. Interesting post. Good jumping off point for considering the future, where I hope to wind up from where I am and where I’ve been.

    So …

    1. Alfred Knopf, a publisher that’s always meant prestigious presentations of important books is one of my two ideal clients for freelance book design and layout work. But short of the twice-yearly unsolicited emails seeking such freelance work, as well as a snail-mailed postcard once a year, I’m not sure how to reach them in a winning way. Which is to say I haven’t succeeded in getting work from them yet. Likewise my other ideal client is the self-publishing author with a strong book, a well thought out marketing plan, and capital to finance the business their book needs to be.

    2. The place to find out about me is my website and blog, http://www.tianobookdesign.com and http://www.tianobookdesign.com/blog. Oh, yes, and my Twitter presence (stephentiano) and my Facebook page are two more ways.

    3. I’d be interested in meeting Robert Bringhurst, author of The Elements of Typographic Style, one of the books I turn to in my study of typography and putting words on pages.

    4. A work in progress this one. Not even half-baked yet. Except that I surely wouldn’t mind being interviewed in print by, say, Publisher’s Weekly.

    5. Well, I freelance with a net, having a full-time day job unrelated to publishing. But I’ve gotten to the point where I make enough money as a freelance book designer and page compositor to support myself if I were single and interested in a monastic like existence.

    Did I get with the spirit of what you wrote about above?

    • Pamela says:

      I love how specific y0u are with your ideal clients! Great start. I would love to see you do some Connector strategy (maybe using LinkedIn?) to see if anyone in your network has connections to Alfred Knopf.

      Can’t wait to see how things develop!

  24. Amy Pryor says:

    Hi Pamela – really enjoyed this post and your bio. I’m pretty good at answering most of your questions. I’m a contemporary artist in Newport Beach, so I know pretty well who my target audience is. I’m struggling with wrapping everything together; the website, blog, facebook fan page, twitter…. Unfortunately, making the art is the easiest part. Running the business is another story. Thanks for putting these 5 questions together.

    Amy

  25. Can’t back you up enough on this, Pam. Working with business owners every day and on businesses of every shape and size, these are imperative questions to be able to answer at any time. And the answers to these will (and SHOULD) change over time. And the answers shouldn’t take more than 10 seconds each. There!

    Great post.

    • Pamela says:

      Yay, thanks Erika!

      You are so right, they do change over time. I am so ready to do an overall refresh on my products and services, but had I not had things as they are for awhile, I would not know the next best step to take.

      -P

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