Back in November 2008, I was laid off from a job that I hated.  At a time when everything seemed uncertain, there were two things I was absolutely sure of.  First, I absolutely love everything about marketing.  And second, I wanted to start a company of my own.

I also knew that I was going to have to bootstrap a service-based business because I didn’t have a lot of money to invest in creating a product.

This is how I went from being laid off to a 29 year old CEO of a marketing firm.

Identify a skill that adds value

After I was laid off, I realized that I needed to perfect a skill that adds value to the business community.  I figured businesses would be able to pay more than consumers, so I spent 4 months learning how to be a copywriter.

Chances are, you already have the skills to contribute to an organization or consumer.  Are you an accountant?  An HR expert?  A software developer?  Write down on a sheet of paper a list of tangible skills that you have.  Which of these skills are people willing to pay for?

The one caveat that I would add is make sure that you absolutely love the skill that you bring to the table.  You’re business is going to take over your entire life.  Even when you aren’t working, chances are you will be thinking of work.

Learn how to sell…  and copywrite

Once you’ve identified or mastered your skill, you must learn how to sell it.  If you don’t know how to sell, there are numerous books that will teach you how to sell, but I would start at Jeffery Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling.

Don’t worry about putting together a huge marketing plan at this time.  Go to networking events, meet your ideal customers, and set appointments.  This will allow you to learn more about your prospects so you can constantly tweak your sales message.

Once you know your customers inside and out, then you can begin to scale your marketing efforts with ads, landing pages, and webinars.

I might be a bit biased, but if you plan to sell your services online, then you must become a proficient copywriter.  Learning how to write a headline, creating a strong Unique Sales Proposition, and crafting a compelling call to action is the difference between an empty and full bank account.

Think Big, Start Small

When I first started my company, I had visions of a million dollar business in my head.  And I’m sure you do too.

However, in order to get there, I needed to make my first sale.  My first revenue goal was to make $500 per month.  I know this isn’t exciting; but you don’t know how hard this is until you actually do it. Those first few sales can often be elusive, so persistence is the key.

Once you are consistently make $500 per month (or whatever your initial goal is), it won’t take long to make $5,000 or $10,000 per month.

Systemize Everything

Every small business needs three key systems to thrive:

  1. A customer acquisition system
  2. A product or services delivery system
  3. A collections system

As your business grows, you will add other systems such as human resources and new product development.

Even if you are a single person operating out of your bedroom, make sure that you document all processes and procedures.

Strong systems will allow you to scale your business.

A customer acquisition system will allow you to hire a marketing team and sales force so that you can acquire more customers.  I have a sales script that I can hand over to any new sales person who joins the company and know with reasonable certainty that he will be able to close a good percentage of sales.

A product or services delivery system will ensure that each customer receives the same quality work.  Can you hire someone to replace you and still deliver the high quality work that your customers have come to expect?

And a strong collections system ensures that you get paid.  When you have one or two customers, you might not think a system to collect money is necessary.  However, when you have 20 or 30 customers at the same time, it becomes difficult to keep track of accounts receivable.

Take your time when hiring

After you’ve built your systems, you will want to hire people to manage them.  This will free your time so that you can work on growing your business.

I would highly recommend that you take your time hiring your first few employees.

First, you have to find someone who wants to be the first employee in a company.

Second, you want to find someone who loves what your business does as much as you do.

When I hired my first employee, I didn’t hire the most highly qualified candidate.  I hired the person I had the most chemistry with.  When your company is only two or three people, chemistry is more important than talent.  It’s easier for a smart employee to learn a skill, than it is for you to learn to like an employee.

Find a mentor

Finally, growing a business is an emotional rollercoaster.  It can be extremely lonely when things are going wrong.

Always surround yourself with people who have been there before.  This could be a family member who is also an entrepreneur, or you could set up a board of advisors, or you could hire a business coach.

You won’t need this person at the very beginning, but once your business gets to around $100,000 in annual revenue, a mentor will become a priceless asset to you and your emotional well-being.

Greg Digneo is the CEO of Cloud Marketing Labs and author of the new blog Sales Leads in Thirty Days, where you can Learn How to Generate an Immediate Flood of Online Sales Leads.


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