Is hope killing your business?

How many stories do we hear about people making it through horrific ordeals and seemingly impossible situations because they had hope? Hope is wonderful. It can carry people through the darkest of times, help them achieve incredible things.

But hope can also be dangerous.

False hope. Misplaced hope. Blind hope.

Unfortunately, you can’t replace action with hope and wishes.

And it saddens me that there are so many businesses owners running their business on hope. Putting all their faith in positive thinking and finger crossing.

Don’t get me wrong, positive thinking is not a bad thing, but it’s not enough on its own.

That’s why I hate all these ‘inspirational’ quotes about how anything is possible if you believe in yourself.

Self-belief isn’t a magic wand. Closing your eyes and believing clients will suddenly appear isn’t going to make it happen.

Do you know what will make it happen? Good marketing.

The right message in the right place at the right time.

Not positive thinking. Not magic potions made with moon water. Not meditating on a mountain top.

All those things might help you feel better – they might help you get clarity, they might make you feel more optimistic, they might make you feel less stressed. That’s great. But by themselves, they are not enough.

You need to put the work in…

If you build it…

Apart from “If you build it, they will come,” being one of the most commonly misquoted movie lines, it’s also terrible business advice.

Sure, it worked for Kevin Costner, but that was a film. In real life, you don’t suddenly get queues of customers just because you started a business.

Bricks and mortar businesses are a little bit different – you can do well from passing trade if you find the right location.

But with a service-based business, you need to market yourself. And sticking a fancy website online, hoping your ideal clients will find it is not a strategy.

If you’re not getting traffic to your website, you either need to figure out how or work out a new way to get in front of your ideal audience.

Paid ads, search engine optimisation and blogs can all help increase website traffic. Email marketing and social media can help you get in front of your ideal prospects.

The best option for you will depend on the services you offer and how easy it is to identify the people who need them.

Building a brand is not the same as building a business

Too many people focus on building a brand. Fancy logo, tone of voice workshops, growing a ‘community’ – these things are all well and good, but they aren’t cash in the bank.

A business relies on sales – and having a ‘brand’ doesn’t automatically guarantee you’ll get any.

“I’m still building my brand” is an excuse people use to avoid facing  the fact they aren’t getting any clients.

I started my business with a website I built myself, no logo and the totally uncreative company name of Lisa Slater Copywriting. I cringe now at how awful my ‘branding’ was, but it got me through the first three years.

You don’t need a brand to build a successful business. You need clients. And you don’t get those unless you have a process to attract, nurture and convert them.

Build your business first, and then build your brand around it.

Giving value doesn’t mean working for free

If you’ve ever been part of a BNI group, you’ll be familiar with the phrase ‘Givers Gain’. And if you spend more than ten minutes on LinkedIn, it’s likely you’ll see someone telling you that giving value is the best way to get business.

But there’s a fine line between using your expertise as a marketing tool and working for free. And it’s a line that’s so easy to blur.

I am a massive fan of content marketing – it’s a great way of building trust and credibility. I say go all in on blogs, videos, social posts and lead magnets. Give value, share tips, make your content useful.

You only have to look around my website and you’ll find loads of blog posts and videos full of tips and advice. I’ve got a free email series on improving your sales copy and marketing content, and I send daily emails with marketing and business tips.

I ‘give value’.

But I don’t work for free.

I don’t ‘jump on a quick call’ with people or let people ‘quickly pick my brain’ because if I gave away bespoke advice for free, it wouldn’t be fair on my paying clients.

Giving your time free to provide bespoke advice rarely leads to a good outcome. In most cases, one of three things will happen:

  1. They’ll ignore your advice because it is not what they wanted to hear, and they didn’t pay for it, so they won’t value it
  2. They’ll implement your suggestions themselves or find someone to do it on the cheap (and it probably won’t get the results you would have got them)
  3. They’ll keep coming back with ‘one more question’ or another ‘quick request’ with no intention of ever buying

None of the three scenarios above gives you any return on your investment of time. You might feel nice about helping people, but you aren’t going to feel so great when you go out of business because you aren’t making any money.

You can still help people – you just need to charge for that help.

If you don’t value your time and expertise, other people won’t either.

Generic advice only gets you so far

The problem with most free business advice is it’s generic. It’s not tailored to you or your business. So while you can learn a lot from free courses and free downloads, they will only get you so far.

Once you’ve got the basics in place, you need to get bespoke support – whether that’s from a coach, a mentor, a consultant, one-on-one training – whatever.

Bespoke support rarely comes for free, but trust me, it’s worth the investment.

I’ve been working with business mentors since the start of 2020 – I’ve been with my current mentor since August 2021.   

Before that, I was in a networking group so I had a support network, but even that only got me so far. I needed something more.

I’ll be honest, I fought against the idea of getting a mentor for a long time. Thought I could do it by myself. If I could just get through this busy patch. If I could just find time to do this thing. If I could just figure out how to do that thing.

I would have figured it out a lot sooner if I’d got help instead of hope. Same goes for you.

There is no magic bullet

This is probably the biggest barrier to people finding business success – they are waiting for that magic bullet.

And that’s where hope can really kill your business.

Because there isn’t one.

There’s no secret formula.

No single trick or hack.

No one thing that if you find it will solve all your problems.

It just doesn’t exist.

Because the success of a person or business depends on so many factors, it’s impossible to carbon copy or blueprint the process they went through.

Imagine an obstacle course with 100 obstacles – cargo net, balance beam, monkey bars, zip wire and so on.

Every obstacle you complete moves you closer to success. You can complete them in any order, take as long as you want, have as many attempts as you need. You can even get help.

The speed and ease at which you complete the obstacle course will depend on multiple factors – your fitness, strength, ability, skill, stamina, mood, fears, motivation, training, confidence, experience, support network, determination and so on.   

Even your starting point and how you approach the course will impact the outcomes.   

Will you take time to assess all the obstacles and create a plan for the best way to tackle them? Will you ask for advice from people who have already completed some or all of the obstacles? Or will you dive in and tackle each obstacle as you come to it?

This is exactly how things are in business. Everyone starts with completely different skills and experiences, advantages or disadvantages, goals and perspectives.

You can plan or not plan. You can ask for help or figure it out alone. And you might succeed, or you might fail.

There is no trick. No secret sauce. No one-size-fits-all masterplan.

You’ve got to tackle the obstacles – getting advice might give you an advantage, but you’ll still have to put in the work.

If you want things to change, change them

The goal of this article is not to depress you or make you give up hope of success.

You can build a fantastic business and you can get the life you want. But you have to go out and get it.

If you feel like it’s two steps forward and one, two or three steps back. Or you feel like you’re treading water. Or you’re not getting the clients you want at the rates you deserve, then do something about it.

Things will only change if you make a change.

Maybe that means sacking a few clients, increasing your rates, or taking some time away from working in your business so you can work on it.

Perhaps it’s time to get some proper support – invest in someone who can help you get the results you want.

Don’t wait until this thing happens or that thing happens. Take action now. Otherwise, you’ll just keep hitting the same brick wall.

As someone (who may or may not have been Einstein) once said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

I offer 12-week training and mentoring programmes to help freelancers, coaches, consultants and service providers attract and convert more of their ideal clients.

This is one-on-one, bespoke support so I only offer three new places per month and only work with people I genuinely believe I can help.

Here’s what Peter had to say after he recently finished my programme:  

“Supportive, Engaging, Motivating, Encouraging and Delivering are five words that sum up my experience of working with Lisa.

I signed up for Lisa’s 12-week course after searching for someone to support me and help drive business forward.

From the very start, I never questioned that decision.

And during this time, I have learned how to write better copy, improve my marketing, increase my profits and boost my confidence.

If you’re looking for similar support, contact Lisa. You won’t regret it.”

If you’re interested in driving your business forward (just like Peter is), drop me an email – lisa@makeyourcopycount.com – or hit me up on LinkedIn.

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