What Are You Selling?

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.

Mermaid soap
Sparkly mermaid soaps in Crystal Coast Morning. They are beautiful!

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?

 

What an Entrepreneurial Family Looks Like

It started off with me owning my own business.  It’s not a unique business or completely new; people have been using soap for thousands of years.  I do, however, have my own special niche that is unique in the industry.  My daughters and husband are willing and (sometimes) enthusiastic helpers, because they know the advantages of my business being successful.

Then last summer, my older daughter began to run her own small mowing business.  The goal at the time was to earn money to go on mission trips, but then she discovered that she really likes having money of her own.  Her business grew a little this year with the incarceration of her primary competition.  Hey, gotta seize the opportunities as they come.

Then it happened.  After six months of “any day now” and corporate postponements, my husband got laid off as part of a corporate takeover and decided to launch his own business, a dream he’s harbored for at least twenty years.  His former boss told him that he’ll be working harder the first six months than he has ever before, and his chemical supplier said that after the first one hundred customers, it gets easier.  (He seems to be getting closer to that mark every day.)

Peter is doing what I call the “entrepreneur hustle.”  The day after receiving his last paycheck – this happened to be a Saturday – he was busting butt building up his customer base.  He’ll work for several hours taking care of his customers’ lawns, then come home and make phone calls and do computer work.  My daughter went out with estimate sheets as she was working on her customer base.  I go into shops and make contacts with people via email with whom I want to have a working relationship.  Being an entrepreneur is all about doing the hustle.  (Not to be confused with hustling customers, which is a bad practice.)

I’ve gotta insert a quote by Dave Ramsey here:

“If you work like no one else now, then later you can work like no one else.”

What does that mean?  Most people are happy getting by working a 9-5, Monday-Friday job.  They make enough to pay their bills, tend to their families, save a little for vacation, hopefully put away for retirement.  They are content biding their time, ticking off the minutes until retirement, complacently working as a cog in a larger wheel.  Then there are the entrepreneurs.  These are the ones who have a dream and a passion; they happily put in at least 60 hours a week to pursue their passion, and they reap the benefits from it.  That means that they can set aside even more for their retirement nest egg and retire early, enjoying life while others are down in the coal mines of corporate America.

One day not long ago, my daughter was heading over to a neighbor’s lawn to mow.  Peter was working in the office, and I was thinking a quick nap would be nice; after all, my work wasn’t going anywhere.  I discovered that it doesn’t work that way anymore.  Having this many entrepreneurs in the household has a peer pressure-type of motivation on each of us.  With all this hustle going on, we each know that we’re not the only person working.

We also help each other.  Peter has done a lot of legwork for my business.  He’s made initial contacts with potential customers, he’s picked up oils for me, and he’s helped with manufacturing.  Both of my daughters have helped wrap soaps and have helped make them.  They often accompany me on deliveries and customer visits.  My younger daughter and husband help the older daughter with her lawns when she needs a break.  And we’re all helping Peter with his new business venture.

I spent part of Sunday night hand-addressing envelopes. The curse of having the best penmanship in the family.
I spent part of Sunday night hand-addressing envelopes. The curse of having the best penmanship in the family.

This was how I spent Sunday night.  I had a stack of envelopes that I’d told Peter I’d address for him.  I sat in the living room at my parents’ house (we’d gone up for a funeral) while they watched a Chuck Norris series from the early 90s, and Dad and I ruthlessly critiqued the commercials, all aimed at the elderly and gullible.  I’d discovered that the handwritten note goes a long way towards making customers feel special.  Peter had over 60 letters in this stack alone, and no way were we handwriting that many letters!  This is time-sensitive, though we did personalize the mail merge, and one of my former soccer families got a personal greeting at the bottom of their letter.  Each was hand-signed, as well.

Whether or not they’re all working on the same business, the entrepreneurial family shares some characteristics.

  1. Entrepreneurial families help each other out.  People go into business to make money, and usually that money is to help the family in some way, which creates a common goal.  Helping each other is a way to ensure that everyone meets his/her goals.
  2. Entrepreneurial families encourage each other.  “Ohhh…  That soap is gorgeous!”  “Her lawn looks good!”  “You’ve got this!”  And one I texted today:  “Yea!  But this is getting so commonplace now :D,” upon learning that Peter had sold another account.  Frequent encouragement keeps each other energized and confident about the next step.
  3. Entrepreneurial families motivate each other.  “What do you mean you’re going to sleep for two hours this afternoon?  Get your butt up and get working!”  “Hey…  I need to use the desktop this afternoon.  Why don’t you go ahead and get your computer work done while I’m in the workshop?”  When you’ve been working all week on a new business and the weekend rolls around, the last thing you want to do is work more, no matter what the work load looks like.  Motivating each other helps keep the work flow going and ensures they meet each next small or large goal.

I never dreamed we’d have so many entrepreneurs in one family!  It’s an adjustment for sure, but we’re all feeling calmer, more confident, and way more excited about what lies ahead.