You’ve heard me say before that we’re an entrepreneurial family, with my husband, our older daughter, and I all having our own businesses. Our daughter’s mowing business has all but died this year, with many people taking care of their own lawns, a customer moving, and so forth – despite her serious hustle to drive new business. That’s meant she’s had to find other ways to earn money.
My husband’s business continues to grow with requests for some light landscaping and organic fertilization treatments. The girls go out to work with him on those days and take care of those jobs so he can focus on applying the inorganic chemicals. They get to engage with the customers and get paid for the work they do.
Suddenly this summer, mermaid soaps have taken off like crazy! The older daughter is the “Mermaid Diva,” crafting gorgeous mermaid soaps, each one beautifully unique. I pay her for each one. Between making soaps and working with her dad, my daughter has made up about half of her usual summer income. She’s driven, because she is earning the money she needs to complete her soccer referee’s certification course; this will enable her to make even more money over the next year. She’s saving up for next summer’s mission trip, next year’s sports (soccer, dance, or both), and next year’s awesome Language Arts class, should she decide to take it.
Yesterday evening, my husband told me about his former employer – now independent – offering customers a discount on their first treatment if they sign up. It’s similar to what a major corporate competitor does, though on a larger scale. Thanks to what I’ve learned throughout the time of my business and the years I’ve been a part of IBN and under the mentorship of Donna Maria, I was able to help him reframe how he thinks about driving his business. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “Big box stores have gotten customers trained to think they must always get a discount. Big Company XYZ (the corporate competitor) probably averages about $50 per lawn, accounting for both postage stamp-size and high-end neighborhoods. The local office may get $10-$20 of that for their operating costs and to pay their employees. Where does the rest go? It keeps the CEO in boats and vacation homes. The techs are like worker drones. That’s it.”
Him: “No company I’ve ever worked for has ever given customers a discount for signing up.”
Me: “OK. And for good reason. Why do you think that is?”
Him: “They didn’t need to. They were selling quality.”
Me: “Exactly. How closely do you pay attention to car commercials?”
Him: “I really don’t.”
Me: “Think about Chevy, Ford, and Honda commercials. What do they focus on?”
Him: “Their features.”
Me: “No. Their affordability. Every single one sells their cars on ‘4000 off MSRP or ‘Just 249 per month.’ They’re selling on price. Now, think about Mercedes or BMW. You know the Lincoln commercials with Matthew McConaughey? What are they selling?”
Him: “Luxury. Handling. Performance.”
Me: “Right. And how often do you ever see prices on commercials for high-end vehicles?”
Him: “You don’t.”
Me: “Because those car manufacturers are selling quality vehicles, and their customers don’t care about the price when they’re getting quality. What are you selling to your customers?”
Him: “My brand.”
Me (smiling): “Wrong. Try again.”
He looked at me with a smile, not quite sure what I was looking for. I smiled back and said, “Let me know when you’ve figured it out.”
As indie business owners, we have to be aware of our motivation and even more aware of what we’re selling. We’re not selling a product or a service; we’re selling ourselves. I’ve often privately thought that being a business owner is like legalized prostitution without the sex. We’re selling bits of ourselves to our customers, hoping fervently that they’ll come back for more. Packed in with every soap or every lawn treatment, we’re selling ourselves, our back stories, our experience, and our knowledge.
We’re selling to build our hopes and dreams, to leave a legacy for the next generation, whether that’s the next generation in our families or in the larger entrepreneurial community.
Why do you do what you do? What are you selling to people?