What, you thought this was going to be an article about business? Well, it is, and we’ll get to that, but first: ice cream and sprinkles.
Now, I really like ice cream. I love going to Baskin Robbins and ordering my favorite flavor, Peanut Butter Chocolate. Fun fact: I’ve never, ever, ever ordered another flavor from B&R. As far as I’m concerned, 30 of them are just distractions. There’s only one true choice.
A lot of people think this is crazy. Some of you probably like to order something different every time, or get two different flavors in one cone, or —HORROR— dump a bunch of sprinkles on top of a perfectly good sundae.
I’m kidding (kind of). Add all the sprinkles you want to your sundae, but limit that approach to your dessert choices, will ya? When it comes to business, there comes a time when we have to ask ourselves…
“Is this necessary, or is this a distraction?”
An Ice Cream Metaphor To Help You Know What To Focus On With Your Business
If you’re trying to build a business right now, there are 3 things that you should be exclusively focused on. Let’s call it your triple-layer hot fudge business sundae:
Layer 1: The ice cream (your product or service)
Layer 2: The hot fudge sauce (the promo you do to make everyone start drooling)
Layer 3: The cherry on top (your customer service)
Notice what’s missing from this sundae? Yep, SPRINKLES. This sundae is laser focused. It has none of the random cool features that we could add to our core product, but that distract us from the point.
Read every business book on the planet, and they’ll all come back to the importance of focusing on the 3 things above, and of not getting distracted by the ancillary stuff. Sure, adding a bunch of rainbow sprinkles might help a little bit here and there, and they’ll make your offer look extra pretty, but remember this: if the ice cream itself is a pile of dog poop, no amount of sprinkles is going to make it edible. Weird metaphor, I know.
Now, let’s take a look at each of the 3 layers.
Layer #1 to focus on: The ice cream (the product or service your business sells)
When you’re starting a business, working on a side project, or even working for someone else on their product, the most important thing you can focus on is making sure it solves a problem (is useful) or will enrich someone’s life (is entertaining).
And just how do you ensure you’re making something people actually want? Well, you could talk to them for a start.
Considering no one from Apple is reading my articles and trying to learn how to make the next iPhone even better, I can assume that your product or service doesn’t need to be shrouded in secrecy from the masses. And while I firmly believing in building buzz, you still need feedback from your target customers. My last big project (BuyMyFuture) was a secret to the public for three months, but behind the scenes, I talked with over 100 people before launching it to the masses.
Make sure you’re getting feedback from your target customers (not just from anyone who will give you feedback).
Whether you’re making sundaes, building an online course, creating a calendar scheduling application, or inventing a dryer that can fold your laundry and put it away after it’s dry (if you’re doing this, please email me immediately), you need to see how your customers actually respond to what you’re creating.
Ask your customers to play around with your product or service without giving them much information. Your conversations with them beforehand, followed by a semi-formal interview after, will reveal the following:
- How do they describe it back to you?
- How do they use the product? As you intended?
- What type of outcomes happen after they use it?
- When they talk about their experience, do they use the same words as you’d thought about using on your website, sales page, marketing, etc?
You might need to do multiple rounds of testing with your customers. And that’s okay! Revisions are only going to make your offer better and easier for you to sell to future customers.
Invest in the product itself!
So many business owners want to allocate budgets for marketing and advertising, but they skimp on making the product itself really great. Again, no amount of rainbow sprinkles makes dog poop taste good. The underlying product (beneath the marketing and advertising hot-fudge layer) needs to be as good as you can possibly make it!
Note that I didn’t say “perfect.” Don’t strive for perfection as you’ll never get there. Strive to put out the best product or service you can with lots of testing, revisions, and feedback from your actual customers.
As an example, it may cost little to nothing to make an online course—it’s really just organizing your knowledge in a digestible way—but investing in good production equipment is extremely worthwhile. You don’t want someone to purchase the course, start listening to a lesson, and think your audio sounds like it was recorded in a tunnel. And, unless you’re a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, you should invest in an editor to go through all your course copy (heck, I bet Pulitzer Prize-winning writers have great editors).
SnapChat won’t make your product better.
I’m calling out SnapChat, but it could be Facebook, Twitter, Periscope, etc. They’re all sprinkles. There’s absolutely no need to worry about building a social media following, creating a social media content calendar, or coming up with any strategies about which filters you’ll use for your hot-fudge sundae photos on Instagram.
Every one of these platforms is a distraction from making your core offer great.
Layer #2: The hot fudge sauce (the promotion you do to make everyone start drooling)
I don’t have a fancy statistic backed by Harvard Business School about the amount of time people spend building a product versus the time they spend promoting it. What I do have is a decade of experience watching friends (of all walks of life) build businesses and put products out into the world. Most of them represent an extreme opposite from the one above, in that “promotion” tends to be looked at as a dirty word. These friends poured their knowledge into creating amazing things—they didn’t skimp even a little bit on the ice cream—but when it came time to add the hot fudge sauce, they stalled out. Maybe you’ve been there, too.
If you believe in the product you are selling, you should never be ashamed to promote it.
This doesn’t mean you should spam people on Twitter (we’ll get to social media promotion in a moment). It also doesn’t mean you should hand out your business card to every single person you meet.
What it does mean, is that you should invest the time to promote your product or service, and that you should iterate on that promotion (just like you should do while building the product itself). You may find that your customers don’t like hot fudge sauce, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like ice cream—it just means you should try caramel sauce instead.
If you’re stuck, I wrote an article with 10 free marketing ideas. They aren’t foolproof, and none of them are guaranteed to work. But they are ideas you can borrow, steal, and get your inspiration from.
Spend an equal amount of time promoting your product as you did creating it
If it took 40 hours to get the first version of whatever your product is to a completed and ready-to-promote state, you shouldn’t spend 4 hours promoting it and then give up. In fact, I believe you should spend the same amount of time promoting your product as you did building it. Promote in different and unique ways, and only then determine whether the product is a failure or a success. Too many people will slave away for hours upon hours building something, and then after trying to promote it once or twice with little success, they’ll throw in the entrepreneurial towel.
Listen, I’m a big believer in quitting when it’s appropriate, but not without the adequate and deserved time spent trying.
Promotion doesn’t mean jumping at every opportunity
There are a plethora of attractive platforms that can help you promote your shiny new product or service. What you need to ask yourself is, “Does my target customer hang out here?”
It may seem like a good idea to start a social media account on every service you can and see which one sticks, but it’ll never work. Your time will be spread too thin, which will give you a lackluster response on every network. But, if you remove the distractions of all the social networks and pick 1 or 2 (where your customers hang out), you will see some solid success.
And while I’m mentioning social media, don’t use your business’ Twitter account to share every thought you have. Focus on solving problems for your target customer with every tweet you put out. Sure, add some personality in there, but if you’re trying to build a business you don’t need to share your thoughts about Kim and Kanye’s next baby’s name. What you should be doing is searching keywords based on the problem your product solves and directly talking with people and helping them if you can (read: actually helping, not shoving your product in their face).
Especially on social media sites, being helpful can be more effective than any sales pitch.
Or just forget about social media and build an email list.
This is where every business owner should start and should focus their time: not on growing a social following, but on building a highly targeted list of potential customers whose problems you can solve with information transmitted via the amazing technology of email.
The equal time spent idea is really important here. Spend 40 hours trying different things to grow your list. People like Bryan Harris are great people to learn from. (I learn from him all the time.)
We’ve also written an in-depth guide to building an email list if you want to check that out.
The last layer (#3) of your business focus: The cherry on top (your customer service)
Go above and beyond for the customers who give you money.
This was the goal all along, right? To get someone to pay you money for the thing you created? If you accomplish that goal, you should do everything you can to make sure that customer is as happy as a clam (which is a very bizarre thing to imagine).
Make a plan to reward your customers.
Create an amazing first touch point: Once they buy, what’s your first touch point with your brand new customers? Is it a receipt of purchase that gets emailed to them? Borrow an idea from Derek Sivers and add some fun copy to the receipt email:
Follow up: After they’ve owned your product or service for a few days, plan to send them an email and ask your customer how they’re doing. Is the product actually helping them? Could you make it any better?
Make it easy to ask for help: I don’t know about you, but I get Hulk-smash angry when I can’t find a simple help or support contact form on a company’s website. Even if my question can be answered in a FAQ or Help Resources page, I don’t have time to scroll through topic after topic to try to find my issue. If I paid for a product, I expect part of that payment to include the company talking to me if I have a problem.
Say thank you: What’s a fun way to thank your customer that would surprise and delight them? Is it a handwritten note? Maybe a photo of your staff celebrating how happy they are that there’s a new customer? You could make a fun thank-you video that features a dog barking and it being translated as a message telling the customer how wag-tastic they are! (Please feel free to use the word “wag-tastic” in any of your marketing or thank-you materials).
There are lots of ways you can plan to offer great customer service. And the key is to PLAN for it. Don’t just end up with a database full of customers, and then wonder why no one is spreading your company through word of mouth. Yes, the wag-tastic-ness of your product should do that on its own, but you can give people a helpful nudge with your customer service.
Your triple-layer hot fudge business plan
So there you have it: a triple-layer hot fudge business sundae that promises a fun entrepreneurial venture for you, a high-quality end product, and a winning experience for your customer. Betcha you won’t even miss the sprinkles.