But funnels are big now. Really big. And among those raising awareness of funnels is Russell Brunson. He has a piece of software called “ClickFunnels” that businesses can use to market and sell their products and services. It’s kind of a plug-and-play all-in-one software.
And, to help him promote ClickFunnels, he has heavily marketed this book to describe funnels (and get people to buy ClickFunnels).
And the book is excellent. It’s simple to understand, incredibly practical, versatile for many businesses, and includes templates and scripts. The templates and scripts are worth well more than the price of the book.
Now, I’m not going to rush out and trash all the copies of The Sales Funnel Bible. I take a different approach: a little higher level, a little broader (outside of the scope of online businesses), a bit more strategic in some ways, a bit more tactical in others.
But Brunson’s book is a solid start for someone who is learning about sales funnels and how the can improve a business. It’s simple, elegant, visually appealing, and highly actionable. I wish I’d written it.
It’s 5:00 in the morning. My alarm goes off and I drowsily open one eye just long enough to turn off the alarm and go back to sleep.
I’d wanted to get up in the morning to jog but I’m sleepy and I can hear a cold winter wind outside. So I stay in my bed and sleep longer.
It’s not that I needed the sleep. Rather, it’s that that the comparison between the effort and cold of a winter morning jog compared to the comfort and warmth of my bed is a battle that is hard to win.
Actually, that’s not the real battle happening.
There’s a war going on inside my mind every morning.
… and every moment of the day.
Oh, and it’s happening in your mind, too, as well as the minds of every other person at each moment of each person’s day. In any and every area of your life and business, this is happening… in your health, your financial situation, your relationships, your hobbies, your professional life, your education, and in everything else as well.
The War Within
Let’s skip the really violent imagery and say that’s a tug-of-war. In my mind and yours. Every millisecond of the day.
It’s a tug of war between two people: On the one side is the person you were and on the other side is the person you want to be.
The person you were—this person represents stagnation and remaining idle in your comfort zone. This person fears change. This person believes that self preservation is the key to enjoying life, and they’re convinced that you can get by simply by doing things the way they’ve always been done.
The person you want to be—this person represents growth and challenge, which occurs outside of your comfort zone. This person acknowledges that growth can mean risk. This person believes that the key to enjoying life is to stretch yourself farther than you’ve gone in the past, and they’re convinced that only the strong survive.
These two people battle back and forth. Sometimes one wins; sometimes the other wins. In some aspects of your life, one is stronger; in other aspects of your life, the other is stronger.
In my own life, I have no problem working out at 4:30 in the afternoon each day, and it’s the challenge-accepting person that I want to be who dominates to get me off the chair and into my workout gear. But at 5:00 in the morning when the wind is howling outside and I’m tired, the person I was is stronger than the person I want to be, pulling that tug-of-war rope over to the side of comfort.
Think about the things in your life that you want to change. How successful is your change? If you are struggling, the person you were is winning. If you are succeeding at making the change, the person you want to be is winning.
There’s One More Person In This Scenario
There’s a third person in this scenario, too: it’s you, right now at this very moment. And the “right-now-you” is watching this tug-of-war happen between who you were and who you want to be. You’re watching… but you’re also participating, jumping in to help one or the other pull that rope.
You-right-now are deciding whether you want comfort or challenge, stasis or transformation, and you are aiding the person you were or the person you want to be to win in that moment.
And look, not every moment of every day can be devoted to growth. That’s going to be exhausting and difficult on you mentally and physically. And you’re not going to grow in every area at an accelerated pace. And maybe there are areas where you are happy and don’t see a need to grow.
… all fine. But the tug-of-war happens anyway. In every moment; in every area of life.
Here’s How You Can Win
Assuming that you want to grow, and recognizing that it’s not always easy to leap out of bed at 5:00 in the morning when the winter wind is howling, here’s what you can do to step up and lend a hand in the tug-of-war to the person you want to be… to help the person you want to be and to hinder the person you were.
Create a reason to push yourself. You might want to make a change in your life but you can’t seem to make it stick. When that happens, think about why you are making the change. Sometimes a change or improvement seems arbitrary, and that makes it a hard habit to stick to. But if the change has a stronger, more meaningful reason then it’s easier to stick to.
Get rid of temptations. I’m not much of a snacker but if you are, and if you want to snack less, then you need to get rid of the snacks in your house. All of them. Even the ones you buy for someone else.
Turn your change into a habit. Remember earlier I said that I had no problem working out at 4:30 in the afternoon? That wasn’t always the case. It was a struggle. I slowly made it a habit. Now it’s an expected part of my day and it’s locked into my schedule and I actually look forward to it… and feel like I’ve missed something important if I don’t workout one day.
Become curious. Curiosity is a powerful and often overlooked tool when it comes to change. Rather than saying, “I’m going to try to do this in my business” (which is a statement), get curious about it and ask yourself, “What will happen when I do this in my business?” When you’re overwhelmed with a big challenge, curiosity helps you to explore that challenge and break it down into a smaller one.
Make it fun. Our brains are wired to hate risk. Risk is scary. It’s the fearful step out of the warm and safe cave into the scary unknown. But have you ever lost yourself in a fun activity, only to discover that you’ve far exceeded your comfort zone? Let’s say you want to exercise a bit more but you abhor the thought of going to the gym to run on the treadmill. Well what if you and a few friends just started playing soccer in the evening? You’ll get the workout and barely notice it.
Turn it into a short-term challenge. This one is an effective strategy for me. Whenever I’m faced with an out-side-of-my-comfort-zone opportunity to grow, that I cannot seem to consistently complete on my own (such as the winter jog!) then I turn it into a short-term challenge. For example, instead of declaring that I’m going to jog every day, I say that I’m going to jog for 30 days straight and that’s it. By the end of the 30 days, it’s a habit that I love and I can more easily continue doing it but the fact that it’s a challenge makes it more enjoyable in that habit-forming period.
At any given moment there’s a tug-of-war raging in your mind between the comfort-zone person you were and the risk-tolerant person you want to be. And you right now? You’re in the middle watching it happen and deciding on the fly who you want to help win in that moment.
Stay the same or grow. It’s your choice in this very moment.
When it comes to starting a business, there’s the simple, straightforward way that is more likely to succeed… and then there’s the way that most people do it.
When I was a kid, I wanted to start a business. I thought about it constantly!
And my thoughts always started in the same place: what should I sell?
When my mind drew a blank I thought I was destined for a 9-5 job!
Problem is, that’s the backwards way to think about it. Yet, that’s how many aspiring entrepreneurs (not just me!) start their thought process. They think about what they should sell first. They try to come up with a product or service. They try to invent a product or innovate a new way of doing something.
This doesn’t work because it’s so wide open. It’s too hazy of a starting point and could go in any direction (often the wrong direction!)
It wasn’t until I was well into my career as a freelancer — having already started and failed once as a freelance writer, then picked myself up and started again — that I realized the better way to start a business…
Here’s How To Start A Business — The Better Way…
Start with an audience. Find a group of people that you are familiar with, or have a network around, or who you can connect with.
Get to know them. Really well. Find out everything you can about them. (If you pick the right group of people, this will go fast because you already know them well.
Identify a problem they have. Everyone has problems, challenges, obstacles, unfulfilled goals. Find the biggest burning problems they have.
Solve that problem. Figure out how to solve their problem. Maybe through a skill you have, maybe through a product you can make or import, maybe through a connection you have in your network or a relationship you can go out to build.
What? Were you looking for something more complicated than that? It’s not more complicated than that but most people make it more complicated than that.
Just find a problem that you can solve, and solve it. Period. Build a sales funnel around that solution and boom! You have a business.
If you do that for your network of people, and then expand it out to serve other similar clients, you can build up a solid business that gives you a comfortable life… or even more!
And this method works because it ensures that people will more likely pay for your solution (compared to the alternative of you identifying something to sell but not finding anyone to pay for it).
Of course you’ll want to use your skills and other advantages to solve the problem. If you identify an audience with a problem that you can’t solve, either find someone else to solve it or find a different problem or even a different audience. There needs to be alignment between what your audience needs and what you can do. But the key here is to start with the problem and work backwards toward yourself.
For The Naysayers
Some of you will point out something like, “well my cousin’s friend’s uncle started with a product and he’s doing really well.”
Great. Good for him. There’s always an exception to the rule. But chances are, the product that he brought to market did already solve a problem for a specific audience, he just lucked out by not identifying the audience and their problem explicitly first.
I found the same thing in my first foray into freelance writing: I still made money; I still had clients. But I struggled (and ultimately failed) because I didn’t solve one audience’s problem. And then the second time I started freelancing, I lucked into an audience that needed my services. Only later did I realize that I should start with the audience and their problem… and as soon as I focused on that, my business shifted dramatically.
I see this happening all the time with entrepreneurs: the ones who start with the product will struggle and may or may not (probably not) succeed; meanwhile, the ones who start with the audience and their problem dramatically increase the likelihood of success.
Slack. Asana. Voxer. We live in a time of amazing software that connects us and allows us to communicate for business.
… but is it good?
And is it better than email, which many are saying it is?
Well, at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly old man, I’m not convinced we’re in a better age.
I’m experiencing inbox fatigue — not fatigue from my email inbox but rather fatigue from the sheer number of inboxes I now have to manage.
THE EARLY DAYS WERE SIMPLER…
When I started my business (well, restarted my business) over 10 years ago, I had basically 3 inboxes:
Email was my primary inbox and in those early days I also used it as a project management system. I would accept projects in my email, work on them on my desktop, and then deliver them back through email.
And my phone — people would call and if they had to leave a voicemail then I’d get back to them.
These first two were my primary inboxes.
I also had an account on a site called Guru.com, which is a job-posting site that people would use to hire freelancers. I ran a bunch of my projects through there as well, so it was technically a third inbox (although those projects were automatically emailed to me so I could still monitor my Guru account in my email inbox).
So basically 2-3 inboxes.
…THEN THERE WAS INBOX CREEP…
Over time, things changed: There was the concurrent development of the growth of my own business as well as the advancement of technology.
So more clients, more complex clients, and more complex technology meant more inboxes to pay attention to…
More job boards (like Guru… including oDesk, Elance, etc.)
Client’s internal/proprietary project management systems
I also got my own act together and started managing my projects in another system instead of email (I tried a couple different ones but really clicked with Evernote, which I still love today).
It was a lot, and growing, but also manageable.
…AND NOW THERE’S INBOX OVERLOAD!
But today it’s become even more complex:
I have several clients using Slack, several more using Asana, and several more using Voxer, on top of the systems I’ve already mentioned above.
Yes, these all serve different purposes (some are communication-centric, others are for project management), but the bottom line is: they are all inboxes.
In short, I’ve gone from running a business with 2-3 inboxes to running a business with dozens of inboxes, sometimes multiple inboxes for just one client.
And it seems like we’re coming out with new inboxes all the time. Slack is relatively new, for example, and it’s touted as an email killer. Not surprisingly, several clients have jumped on board to use Slack instead of email. This will continue and it will grow as the next Slack and the NEXT Slack and the NEXT NEXT Slack is invented.
I’M NOT TURNING INTO AN OLD MAN — I HAVE A LEGIT POINT!
I swear — I’m NOT turning into a curmudgeonly old man. I realize that the level of client I now serve probably requires more complex communication and project management systems, and some of these systems provide value that email did not (such as versioning control). And to be frank, my business is far more complex and financially successful than in those simpler 2-inbox days so I definitely welcome the added features!
It seems like we’re in an era of “anti-email” — where communication is being done in more specific, more robust software that is more attuned to a single purpose.
But this new era of communication and project management causes me to wonder: is it better?
I don’t think it is.
In fact, I think this new era of anti-inbox communication is actually hurting us, for the following reasons:
1. We’ve reduced emails but we haven’t reduced messages: We once had inboxes that BURST at the seams with hundreds of emails flooding in every day and that was overwhelming.
(In fact, I still have a few clients with whom I have frequent “Replay All” email conversations between 4 of us, and if I miss a few emails while in a meeting then it takes a while to catch up.)
I understand that the sheer volume of emails is exhausting. But here’s the point I think people are missing: we’re not reducing the number of messages we once had; we’re just spreading them across more inboxes.
So instead of one big and daunting pile of emails (which is admittedly overwhelming) we have several small piles of messages in email, text, Skype, Facebook, Slack, Asana, Basecamp, Voxer, etc.
2. We are now paying an “invisible” price for this. We think we’re reducing email but we’re not — and now we’re ALSO paying a “switching cost” to check all of these different inboxes instead of just one. We now have to sign into several different inboxes to check those inboxes, communicate, etc.
3. We still use email for “important” things. Well, I don’t know about you but this is the case for me and my clients. We communicate on projects through all these various inboxes but whenever someone wants to raise the importance of something, they send an email. So email is still valued as a way to communicate but it’s become almost a place to indicate priority.
4. Even the anti-email mindset still benefits when there is only ONE inbox. It seems like people want multiple inboxes for different things, depending on the situation. They can have project management work in one set of inboxes and communication in another set of inboxes, etc. There’s this implicit idea that a single-inbox email is inefficient and old-school. Yet, how do you stay on top of all the notifications from each of these new and diverse inboxes? If you’re like most people I know, you do so through the notifications on your phone: each inbox has an app and each app notifies when there’s a new message. So all we’ve really done is take the single inbox value out of email and put it onto our phone. (But we still pay a “switching cost” to go from one app to another).
I THINK WE’LL SEE A SHIFT BACK
There is a lot of value to these apps. I use them and I like them. For example, I’m a big fan of Voxer. And Asana is growing on me (although it feels like a lot of its features were crammed in as an afterthought without a ton of user-experience consideration — IMO).
I think we’ll eventually* see a shift back to a single inbox in the future. We might not call it “email”. I predict that we’ll have some kind of inbox/dashboard/gathering-point, where all notifications will come into a single place from everywhere allowing us to review, sort, prioritize, and then launch into the right app.
… and this single inbox/dashboard/thing will need to be device agnostic so it works everywhere — on our mobile devices (replacing the mobile device itself as an inbox) and also on our laptops (for those of us who use them for work).
(* “eventually” = I’m not sure when. It’s not going to happen tomorrow. It could happen this year but I doubt it.)
My mobile device is working just fine as a notifier but I’d like something on my laptop too (so that I can download files I need to work on, etc.) and I’m hacking something together with my Evernote inbox, email, and IFTTT. But it’s sketchy.
If you are a developer looking for a project, I think this is going to be huge. People think they want an email killer but what they really want is one place to gather EVERYTHING. Right now we’re using our mobile devices to do that, but that has limitations. What we really need is an inbox that is like our email inbox right now (everything in one place) but doesn’t seem like email… and from which we can review, sort, filter, prioritize, and manage all those messages from all those inboxes… and to be able to access that anywhere (mobile devices, online, desktop/laptop, etc.)
In the meantime? I assume we’ll just keep piling on the apps every time a new supposed “email-killer” inbox comes out. And I guess we’ll just use our mobile devices to ping us every time we get a message.
Eventually we’ll get tired of it and do something about it.
A lot of people have a job but would rather start a business. Problem is, they feel stuck.
… They feel stuck in their job because it pays them a predictable paycheck every week and they need to pay the mortgage and put food on the table rather than risk starting a business and not knowing whether they’ll be able to pay their mortgage during the early start-up days.
Friends, former coworkers, potential clients — many of the folks I know are in the same boat. Just recently someone reached out because they were facing exactly this scenario: They want to start a business, they have entrepreneurial aspirations, but they weren’t ready yet to give up the predictability and assurance of a paycheck.
HERE’S THE ADVICE I GIVE TO EVERYONE WHO IS STUCK IN A JOB AND WANTS TO QUIT
(The good news: It’s easy and fun to do, and there’s ZERO risk).
As well, start thinking about how you’ll solve this problem and serve this target market. You do not need to nail down a specific product or service that you’ll offer, although you should start thinking about it. However, you do not need to have a product or service yet, nor do you need to figure out price, etc.
Second, build a website about that problem and the solution. You can create a free website on a site like blogger.com or wordpress.com, although it doesn’t cost very much (and it looks way more professional) if you build a website that you pay for (i.e. buy a URL and get it hosted on a server). It’s simple and affordable (maybe $100 a year) and it gives you a ton more credibility.
Once you’ve built the site, just start writing about the problem and solution. I recommend a blog, although you don’t have to use a blog. But I do recommend that you blog about the problem and the solution regularly. At least twice a month, although you should probably blog about it a little more frequently than that. (Once a week is great).
Blog. Blog. Blog. Just keep blogging. Keep it simple, have fun, and most important, be helpful! Don’t worry about giving away your secret sauce too early; just add value to your audience and get them reading your site and listening to you.
The reality is, you probably won’t get much traction in the early weeks or months. That’s okay. There’s a few things going on here:
You’re building a great foundation of content that will benefit you later
You’re positioning yourself as an expert
You’re testing the water to make sure you enjoy it and can sustain talking about it
… and of course you’re doing all that without quitting your job; you can do it about half an hour a week, in an evening. Easy!
Third, start sharing your content on other sites. Slowly start building marketing accounts at sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and start participating on industry forums. Don’t aggressively market, just start building content and interacting with people who find you there. Expect this to take a few weeks or months. That’s okay. Just keep working and having fun building this foundational component.
Fourth, assuming you’ve done the first three steps correctly, and a few months have passed and you’re now starting to get some traffic and some people listening to you, then you can decide what to do. I would consider building an email list at this point using a service like Aweber. Sign up for Aweber and add a contact form to your website. Then website visitors will add their email address to the contact form and you can start emailing them to connect with them on a deeper level. Again, expect to take a few weeks or even months to do this. There’s no rush.
If it’s impossible to start with a content-based product (for example, if you want to start a service-based business) then you need to make a decision:
Are you able to provide the service in the evenings and weekends? If so, you might consider starting that way. Lots of businesses start that way and it doesn’t take long to ramp up from there.
Are you able to outsource your customer leads to someone who can run the business? If you can sell your leads to someone else, or hire someone to perform the service for you, then you’re good. No need to quit your job if you don’t want to.
Or, you might have enough work to quit… then go ahead.
The easiest way to do assess whether or not you have enough potential business to quit your job is to do this: Send out an email to the list of contacts you built in the previous step and say, “Hey, I have some availability in about two weeks. You can hire me to (… do whatever service you’re selling). If you’re interested, just reply back.” If no one replies, there’s your answer. If people do reply, give them a small discount if they pay in advance so you have some cash flow during the transition. Then march into your boss’ office and hand in your two week’s notice.
QUESTIONS PEOPLE ASK ME ABOUT THIS METHOD
How long does it take to get this going? It takes only a few minutes to set it up and only about 30 minutes to an hour each week to keep it going. But the time to get to the point where you can quit your job, that part depends on you: You could be looking at weeks, months, or even years, depending on the target market you chose, the problem they feel and the solution you offer, how much you charge, and how much you position yourself. But I’ve seen this work over and over, and I’ve seen it take as little as 2-3 weeks. If you want, you can do this over a period of years; there’s no rush.
How much does it cost (or, can I use free services?) You CAN do this entirely for free. Actually, this is exactly what I did way back when I first started (using a blogger-based blog and a yahoo email address!) However, I wouldn’t recommend it. Setting this up doesn’t cost much — maybe $250 a year, max — but the level of professionalism that you achieve with that investment is priceless. Plus, if your business grows really big, you’ll need to eventually switch over to a regular (paid) site and that switch can be challenging after all the marketing you built up to your original free site in the first place. So seriously consider a paid site.
What happens if someone contacts me to buy from me but I’m still working and can’t serve them? If you can, see if you can help them on an evening or weekend, if appropriate. Or, sell them as a lead to another company who can help them. Or, if neither of those two things are possible, just tell them that you’re fully booked and can’t serve them at this time.
What happens if it doesn’t work out? Great! You’ve lost nothing but some time. Consider selling the website to someone else or just shut it down and consider it an investment into an education.
NOW GET STARTED
This is a simple, painless, and even FUN way to build the foundation of a business with no risk. I would advise anyone with a job to start doing this right away, even if you love your job and don’t want to quit. This creates options for you down the road but doesn’t expose you to any downside today. You may be able to build up a business that will replace your income (or just augment it)… and it’s easy to do.