three foundations of a thriving business

At some point last year, it became clear to me that there are three main things most entrepreneurs need to have handled in order to thrive. They overlap each other like circles in a Venn Diagram.

And I realize now that I’d never written about them explicitly. So, here we are.

First, there’s a seven minute video of me sharing the overview and then I’ve written a recap and bit more about my thoughts on this.

First of all, I want you to imagine that a successful business is like a stylish bucket full of water. And then we need to ask ourselves, ‘why don’t most people have a full bucket of water?’

FOUNDATION #1: Your Platform

Your platform is what you’re known for.

It’s your brand, your identity, your reputation.

It’s also the basis of every, single marketing decision you’ll ever make. It’s the core of what makes a business either authentic or not, original or a copy cat.

I want to submit that there are six things you can be known for. And that most entrepreneurs only focus on ONE of those things (which is also the one that makes them seem the most generic, boring and ‘just like everyone else.’ You can be known for what you do, but also why you do it, your point of view on it, you can be known for you and your style, you can be known for the particular journey you take people on and you can be known for the unimagined possibility you introduce into people’s lives.

Most businesses try to get known for what they do or make (e.g. I’m a massage therapist, I make widgets, I sell groceries). The challenge is that, unless you’re the only one in your area or community doing that then how are they supposed to make a decision about who to work with? How should they know if you’re a perfect fit for them?

When people don’t have a platform their marketing will always come across as generic and lack lustre.

Foundation #2: The Container

There’s no point in pouring more and more water into a leaky bucket. The first step is to stop the leak.

It seems obvious. But most entrepreneurs don’t so much have a leaky bucket as a sieve or strainer. It holds onto almost nothing.

And some entrepreneurs have a bucket that’s so ugly (to them) that they don’t even bring it with them to the river side. They’re afraid people might see them with it and laugh at what an old bucket they have.

It’s important not just that our bucket ‘works’ but that we’re so proud of it and so charmed with it that we want to take it everywhere. That we’d be so happy for people to see us with it.

I’ve known so many people who’ve gotten covered in the media for their work and have gotten no clients from it. Or they’re super well known and loved, but don’t have a lot of clients. So much water that pours in and then almost immediately out.

Your container is the embodiment of your platform. It’s what people see or experience about your business that immediately gives them a sense of whether or not what you’re offering is a fit for them. The clearer your platform, the stronger your container.

If you were hosting a party, the platform would be the theme of the party and the container would be all the decorations, the cleaning, the hot cup of cider offered to guests as they arrived. Your website is a container. Your landing page. The story of your business. The free workshop you do is a container. The blog is a container. The community that you cultivate and create is a held in the container of your online forums, live events, your email list etc. Your container is comprised of all the structures you create that warmly hold your community.

Your container are all the things they can see, hear and explore that give them a sense of you.

Your container are all the processes and systems you create that make it safe for people to check you out at a safe distance and slowly get closer to you and opt in to being in touch with you.

Imagine Oprah Winfrey tells everyone to check you out. Vaguely mentions what you do but not enough to give anyone a real sense of it. So, what do they do? They check you out online. But, what if you don’t have a website? Or what if your website doesn’t really clarify what you’re about? So many people would see your site, maaaaybe bookmark it . . . and then be gone forever.

But what if they found your website and the homepage immediately helped them figure out if what you were doing was a fit or not, the ‘about me’ page gave them a really good sense of who you were and what you were about. And then there was a way they could sign up for things to be in touch with you (e.g. ‘join my email list and get this free gift’ or ‘follow me on twitter or facebook’ or ‘come to my monthly free workshop’ etc). Imagine the following you’d build over time.

For a container to be effective, it needs to be clear (which means the platform should be clear). It’s good if it’s safe and welcoming, but atthe bottom line it needs to be resonant.

If they’re on Island A and trying to get to Island B, your container is, basically, your boat. And of course, a boat might have many rooms in it or different types of tours you could take people on (the different offers you could make).

Your container is the home made ready for the party. When they show up that they want to stay. They get to the door and they’re nervous, but then they smell the food, they see how beautifully decorated it is, they see the wonderful people inside, they’re greeted with a cup of hot apple cider and they hear the beautiful music etc.

One of my colleagues Bill Baren recently shared a thought about this. He had a client who was promoting a teleseminar and there was a webpage people would go to to register for the teleseminar. They were obsessed with reaching more people. But Bill asked them to pause and check out what percentage of people who were actually going to the landing page were signing up. It turned out that 10% of people who hit the page actually entered in their name and email to register for the free teleseminar. That means 90% hit the page and just left.

Doesn’t it make more sense,” he offered. “To see if we can tweak the page to boost the percent of people that say yes? Isn’t that a better use of energy? Instead of investing so much time and effort in getting more people, let’s see if we first can’t get more results from the people who are already coming. Right now we’ve got a tub with a huge leak. Instead of pouring in more and more water, let’s plug the leak first.”

When there’s no container it can be so confusing, ‘I’m doing everything right and I’m not getting any clients!’

Think of online dating. You create a profile. And then, you get a message from someone. But do you open the message right away? Often not. Most often, people will check out, ‘who is it that sent this message?’. So you go to their profile and, within seconds, you’ve determined whether or not it’s a fit. Your profile is a container. The message is just a path that gets them to it. Make sure the container is good.

Having a strong and clear container is the basis for creating ongoing , long term relationships with your clients.

And that’s vital.

Most entrepreneurs are obsessed with getting new clients. But it’s often much, much, easier to get an existing client to come back than to find someone entirely new. A massage therapist might make $100 on their first hour long massage (to keep number simple). But if that client comes back even three times a year for three years – that’s $900. The front end ($100) always pales in comparison to the back end ($900). And with some work (less than you’d fear, but more than you’d hope) you can increase the backend. What if they came in 4 times a year for three years? Suddenly, it’s $1200. With no new clients. And what if each of those clients referred even one new client? What if you offered workshops, products or other packages to them? Without a single new client you could be making much more money. And having your clients feel so much more supported.

Your container is your sales funnel. It’s the levels of offerings you have. It goes from the free samples to the bronze, silver and then gold levels.

I was in a Gaelic short film in the summer of 2011. You’d think that I would be spreading the word to everyone I know about it. But I haven’t. Why? There’s no website. No DVD’s are available. There’s no email list people can sign up for. Where would I send them?

One of my dearest colleagues has yet to create a website that’s really worthy of his work yet. I adore him. I want to spread the word for him. But he has no email sign up form yet. His homepage feels a bit vague. And I’m only going to have one chance to launch him to my list. I want that to count. I want it to matter. If I send people now, they’ll go and leave and he’ll get very little from it. I don’t want to waste my time.

A good container creates instant and ever deepening clarity.

A bad container creates confusion.

And I hate confusion. If you ask me to spread the word about you and you’ve got a bad container, it puts the burden on me to explain it all and make it clear to the people I’m spreading the word to. It makes it hard. Don’t make my life hard. If you have a bad container you’re not ready to approach hubs yet.

I want to be able to take one look at your boat and say ‘I get it’. Just from the kinds of boat, types of sails, the paint job, clothing of the staff on board . . . I want to know what the platform is. I want to know: aha! this is an adventure boat or a luxury boat or a fun times boat or a new agey boat.

If you offer some kind of therapy, I want to know, ‘is it in person or over the phone? Am I sitting or lying down? Am I hooked up to some fancy machine? Are you touching me? Am I naked? Are all these things happening at once? (awesome).’

Remember: the confused mind says ‘no’.

Before someone even thinks about stepping onto your boat they need to know what kind of trip they’re in for. And people hate it when their expectations are broken. They got on what seemed like the ‘classy’ boat but it turns out it was the ‘raunchy’ boat. Then people are pissed.

Amway has a bad reputation for this. You meet someone. They seem nice. They invite you for ‘coffee’. You end up getting a 45 minute presentation. It’s sneaky. The beauty of a good container is that it’s immensely upfront.

Real life example: you go out an tell someone about what i do (path). they say cool and check out my website (container) and like it because of all the unique content that expresses what i’m about (platform). I run a free teleseminar (container). It’s hosted by a colleague who tells all of their friends via their email list (path). While they’re on the teleseminar I tell them about a next thing i have (path). So a container can also be a path. Once they’re in relationship with us there’s just an ongoing deepening. I tend to think of the path as ‘how do they find out about things?’

In my Six Week course I’m running right now, one of my clients shared this, “don’t forget the path to your website, it doesn’t matter how awesome your website looks, if there is no path to it, it’s as though it doesn’t exist. the main paths that a paying client would take to your website are search engine searches. so you have to know what your clients would be searching for (keywords) and you have to tell them something on your website that would show them that you have the answers.”

The platform is the gift you want to give. The container is the making of it. The platform is what you want to offer to the world. But not offering it in a foisting it upon others and being pushy kind of way. I think of the container as more like a space you create that you carefully invite people to. And you design the space so clearly that it would inherently attract people who are a perfect fit for you.

There’s a chain of hotels I heard about the models it’s boutique hotels after magazines. So, one hotel is a Rolling Stone magazine style hotel. Another is a Chatelaine style hotel. That kind of thing. You can imagine what the Rolling Stone style hotel would look like and how, even in the colours, construction, design of the rooms, food served might be different. They are not generic hotels. They’re particular. The hotel (container) perfectly expresses the platform (the magazine).

When we first start out, our container is like an old one room house. There’s really not much to it. We offer one thing. Maybe that’s individual sessions, workshops, a particular product etc. And it’s a lot to even get that together. But, as we grow our business, we have a chance to add rooms to our house. With each room, extension, addition and beautification we can hold more people and make our home more resonant with the right folks. Of course, each addition to the house is a project. And these projects often take longer than we’d think and go over budget and we’re left thinking, ‘is this worth it?’. Because while we’re working on that we’re not making money. But eventually, it’s all done and we step back and get chills. Our house is a little more beautiful and exciting to us. And we want to show everyone. And, eventually, our home is perfect. Not too big and not too small. It’s got just the right number of rooms all painted just the right colours. There are minor fixes to be made but, basically, we’re there.

And, at that point, our attentions moves mostly to creating more paths to our place. So, much of this process is about our time and attention. At first, most of it goes to the platform. Then it moves into creating the container. And then the paths.

Here’s an odd way of looking at your container. Have you ever dated someone and realized it wasn’t going anywhere? It had gone as far as it was going to go? So what did you do? Likely you left them. There was no more potential. Nothing else to get or give. Clients are like that too. If the show up and check out your website and there’s lots of free stuff but there’s no products to buy, no workshops to attend, no next steps . . . they will just drift away and find someone else who can better help them on their journey. A container is not simply a static thing. It’s a series of invitations into something more deep and wonderful.

The container has a lot to do with being ready. Preparing our home to receive guests. Making sure we’re ready for when they show up. Being craftsmen of our arts. Attention to details. Small things matter. Wrapping our gifts as beautifully as we can. This gives us a sense of pride. We’re excited (not embarrassed) to send people to our website. We can’t wait to show off our cafe. We know that the details are handled so we don’t fuss about them. We can relax. The container, we find, not only holds the potential client – it holds us too.

Foundation #3: The Path

If the platform is the bucket design, and the container is the bucket, then the path is a faucet that water comes out of (and I suppose your clients and income would be the water). Not much point in having a beautiful bucket if it’s going to sit there empty all the time.

Another analogy: So many people set up their businesses in the middle of a forest with no paths leading to it. They are hoping that somehow, lost in the woods, the right people will stumble upon them and want to buy what they’re offering.

The more paths you have leading to your doorstep the more easily you can be found. This is the heart of marketing, making it easy for the right people who are a perfect fit to find you and say ‘yes’ to working with you.

But there are so very many ways to market what we do.

And that can feel overwhelming. Where do we start? Especially when everyone has an opinion about what the ‘best’ form of marketing is. There’s public speaking, writing, hosting events, social media, PR, advertising, online events, free samples of our work . . . So much.

Weight watchers has an interesting and very down to earth take on this. When doing their workshops, they’ll ask their audiences, ‘what do you think is the best form of exercise for weight loss?’ and people will throw out their opinions: running, walking, swimming etc. And then they’ll say, ‘Here’s the truth. There is one form of exercise that is the best. It’s proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be the most effective form of exercise for weight loss. Do you want to know what it is? The best exercise is . . . the one you’ll do.’

And there it is.

The one you’ll do.

I think the analogy of paths is good for another reason: they’re already looking for us. People are already struggling with certain problems and symptoms and looking for relief. Let’s make it as easy as possible for them to find us by making as many clear paths through the woods as we can. The easier you are the find, the more easily you will be found.

Many people think that marketing is about searching people in the forest. But we need to remember, the people we think we need to search for are already searching for us. And they’re highly motivated. So, let’s put our energy not into chasing anyone but into getting very clear about who the perfect someone’s are that we want to work with, creating wonderful and inspiring containers to receive them into and then making it almost impossible for them not to find out about us and check us out in low risk ways.

We can’t always afford to lay down a highway to our doorstep. Start with trails of breadcrumbs. Start where you can with the types of paths that resonate most with you.

When there are no paths it’s like you’ve got this amazing thing that nobody knows about.

My suggestion to you: pick three paths. Pick three marketing tactics and strategies that feel really good for you and invest deeply into them. Do you like writing? Speaking? Hosting? Think about the ways of expressing yourself that you are naturally drawn to and delve deep into those.

When a business has all three of these, a clear platform, a strong container and easy paths they tend to have all the business they can handle.

What do you think?

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