No. 191

The Right Foundation

I met a friend for dinner last night. She and I have known each other a long time — pre both of our business days, when blogging was still in its infancy and we debated starting up a fashion blog together (in my very early days of playing with code). A few months ago, she referred a client to me, one she was doing some PR and marketing work for.

This client seemed to have the right setup: great mission, funny videos, good connections. But as my team and I began working with them, we discovered some huge problems.

First, there was a lack of willingness to invest in strategy: they didn’t want to spend the time discussing options to ensure they chose the best for them, they just wanted that info for free without their involvement in the process.

Next, there was a hodgepodged website. When I first took a look, I discovered that each page operated off of 4 different page-builders. If their website were a car, it would have been duct-taped together and barely able to move. It’s hard to get where you want to go when you have such a handicap. Their website wouldn’t convert for them or help them make money because it was hard for users to navigate and barely worked.

Finally, there was the question of involvement. Entrepreneurs just want their business or project to work. Ideally, other people are making this happen so the entrepreneur can return to where they thrive, in the land of brainstorming and visioning and having ideas. That’s not a bad land to live in — it’s actually where I thrive as well — but sometimes, you need to leave it and hang out in the land of getting stuff done and making sure systems are implemented. Not our favorite place, but really necessary to the long-term viability of your business or passion project.

As a business owner, you can’t abdicate the business once you have the idea. You are responsible for building its foundation, its systems, its processes so it can thrive (and you can thrive in turn).

So what then is the right foundation for a business?

  1. Vision. You have to know who you are as a business, who you’re helping, and what your big picture mission is. You must be able to sense what growth looks like.
  2. Team. It may start out as a solo-endeavor, but in time, you’re going to have to hire and collect the right team members. These may not be employees (they may); they can be contractors or anyone else who helps your business run, from virtual assistants to PR specialists to a website support team.
  3. Product. Whether it’s a physical item or a service, you need to know what you sell. Know the features (what it includes) and the benefits (how it changes people’s lives).
  4. Experience. No one is buying your product or service for that thing directly. They’re buying their experienced and they’re buying their evolution — who they will become in the process of using your product or service. Craft the experience and journey for them.
  5. Presence. You need a website that’s clear, engaging, and easy to navigate. And you need to utilize social media to create connection points for people to find you. It’s also really helpful to show up in the real physical world too, at meetings and conferences and events (not to mention your internal team meetings and client calls) — there’s a special impact you make with your presence.
  6. Positioning. You need to be well-branded, both with regards to your messaging (what makes you special and stand out) and your visual branding. The visual branding creates coherency; it builds a level of trust and recognition. Your messaging is what truly sets you apart from competition. The marketplace is saturated — it’s hard to avoid that — but no one will have your unique story or your unique message.
  7. Systems. While systems may be the least sexy part of business to an entrepreneur who loves ideas, they’re also what make the business run. When you have good systems and standards associated with those systems, you can delegate and the business will learn to operate without you, while still staying true to the spirit you gave it.

There are other pieces a business needs to operate, but these seven are my core and the ones I return to repeatedly as I evaluate where my business is and how it needs to grow. I often stop and look deeper into one of these pieces to elevate the business to its next level.

 

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Credits

Jane Reaction

(logo and original branding) is a graphic design and art director who works with with small businesses and creative entrepreneurs, creating cohesive and interesting brands and websites.

Carrie Coleman

(photography) is a wedding photographer, whose goal is to capture the visual expression of a couple's love through timeless, organic images. She is based in Charlottesville, Virginia.