Malcolm Gladwell wrote in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, “We learn by example and by direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction.” As small business owners and solopreneurs, we can draw immense power from the example of others.
When I see how others overcome challenges like mine, I identify with them. I connect with the common struggles and emotions. But I also connect with their success: “If they can do it, so can I.”
This kind of emotional connection can start an education that goes far beyond the power of written or verbal instruction. It reaches down to the subconscious where we can finally “own” the tools we need to succeed.
With that in mind, we’re bringing you a series of interviews with successful small business owners. My hope is they’ll inspire us with their stories and guide us by example.
Today we are privileged to have Meg Guiseppi share her story with us. It includes several great takeaway ideas to help you avoid common, sometimes fatal, small business mistakes. Also, her insight and advice on personal branding in business can add hundreds of thousands of dollars to your lifetime income.
First a little background.
Meg Guiseppi has been partnering with senior-level and c-suite executives for 20+ years to help them differentiate and strategically position their unique ROI for today's executive job search, and Land a GREAT-FIT New Gig!™
The Personal Branding Expert at Job-Hunt.org, a leading Internet employment portal, Meg has been featured and quoted in Forbes, Huffington Post, Fast Company, Wall Street Journal's FINS, Inc.com, Fortune, CMO.com, PBS’ Next Avenue, and many other publications.
She has earned 10 professional certifications, including Reach Certified Personal Branding Strategist, Reach Social Branding Analyst – LinkedIn Profile Strategist, and Certified Executive Resume Master.
Let’s get started!
Who is your ideal client?
C-suite and senior-level executive job seekers who know where they want to go, but need help differentiating the unique value they offer the employers they’re targeting.
Tell us briefly what you do for your clients.
I help my clients target and research employers that are a mutual good fit, define their personal brand and unique value proposition, create brand-driven content that will position the value they offer, navigate the new world of executive job search, and land a good-fit gig.
How long have you been in business?
Nearly 25 years. About 20 of those years, I’ve operated entirely virtually, with clients from all over the world.
How did you fund your startup years?
A small inheritance came my way that I used to purchase office equipment and set up my home office. It was a minimal investment.
What was your biggest mistake in business?
I wish I had niched my business sooner. It took me several years to move from working with any job seekers to narrowing my focus to only c-suite and senior-level executive job seekers.
The big turnaround came for me and my business when I came to understand what true personal branding is all about. It's not just knowing what my best qualities, qualification and areas of expertise are. It's wrapping these things around meeting the specific needs of a specific target audience, so that I’d know how to write business marketing content that would resonate with and attract those specific people.
So I embraced branding to help me market and grow the business. I went through an intense personal branding process which pushed me to niche my client base and narrow the services I offered.
Niching seemed counterintuitive to me at first. Why not keep myself wide open to work with any and all job seekers? Turns out niching is a smart move. With research, niching helps you put yourself in your target market’s shoes. You learn their pain points and what problems of theirs you’re uniquely qualified to help them solve. Since you know who you’re marketing to, and how you can help them with specific problems, you’re better able to write hard-hitting marketing materials (blog posts, website pages, articles, etc.). And businesses that niche (or specialize) typically command higher fees than generalists.
What were your top two or three biggest challenges in the beginning?
1. Taking way too long to increase my fees because I thought I shouldn’t charge too much more than my competitors. I believed that most of my potential clients would be price shoppers . . . not value shoppers.
2. Similarly, becoming confident enough to communicate to prospective clients that my services were worth a steeper investment than most of my competitors.
3. Setting up processes, systems and scripts for working with clients and sticking to them, and learning to say “No” when they tried to disrupt the process.
How did you overcome them?
I attended a 3-day mastermind workshop 10-15 years ago which gave me some tools to better market and grow my business, and helped me understand how to move forward.
Then I became very serious about branding myself and niching my business, to differentiate the value I offered over my competitors. As I said, defining my personal brand around the clients I wanted to target was a major turnaround for my business. I positioned myself – through social media and regular blogging, in particular – as a subject matter expert to a target audience (top-level executives) that grew their employers’ businesses by knowing how and who to delegate work to.
My clients find me because they search online using various keywords and phrases that lead them to my blogsites, social media outlets and other online materials. I’ve worked hard on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and building a robust online presence. Prospects know, often even before we talk, that I’m a good writer, as demonstrated by my blog posts and other marketing materials, and that I have the expertise to create personal marketing materials for them that will differentiate them and help them land. They know that I’m a professional they can delegate to.
I decided to take a giant leap and tripled my fees overnight. I figured that if it was a mistake, I could always make adjustments. I experienced very little pushback, because the value was there.
Confidence-building came slowly. I think this is a particular problem for women entrepreneurs. We tend to undervalue ourselves, thinking that “If I know how to do this, it must not be that hard to do, and it’s probably not worth much”.
Once I set all my systems in place, with numerous email and verbal scripts designed to deal with the various client situations and demands that pick away at systems, things ran very smoothly. The key is to outline from the very beginning exactly how the process will work, and then never waver from it.
Over time, I got better and better at saying “No”, because I realized that it didn’t stop prospects from wanting to work with me. In fact, it helped me to weed out clients who weren’t a good fit for me, leaving room to let in the best-fit clients.
Knowing what you now know, what, if anything, would you do differently if you were starting out again?
I was resistant to – and uninformed – about how important it is for any business to have a website. I didn’t launch my first company website until 2007, and it was an extremely rudimentary template site with only 2 or 3 pages.
I quickly came to understand how SEO works, and that a website set up as a blog is the best choice. In 2008 I launched my first blogsite, and immediately began blogging 3 times a week.
Of course, blogging for the best impact takes a major commitment, and a lot of time. But it’s one of the best ways to demonstrate your subject matter expertise and thought leadership, and build community, credibility, brand awareness and brand relevance.
These things all help to position you as knowledgeable in your field and a problem solver, and gives prospects a feel for who you are and what you may be like to work with. Since so many businesses do NOT have a website – let alone a blog – those that do stand out and above the rest.
What are your biggest challenges today?
Finding the time, and getting psyched, to push my marketing efforts harder on social media. With the ever-changing nature of social media, new things come along all the time, but it’s easy to become complacent and continue doing things the way we’re used to doing them. At times, I tend to be slow to embrace new social media strategies and platforms. It’s often a time issue but also, these things can become overwhelming.
What are the rewards of being a solo small business owner?
Being a solopreneur is ideal for me. I work from home entirely virtually. I don’t meet in person with clients. I think most entrepreneurs would appreciate not having to dress for work or commute to work.
But it’s not for everyone. You have to be well-disciplined. You can’t goof off when there’s work to do, and there’s always something that needs to be done when you’re a solopreneur. Thankfully, discipline has never been a problem for me.
One of the best things about being a solopreneur is that we get to make all the decisions. When I come up with an idea for a new revenue stream or way to build business, I can make the decision to go ahead with it, and dive right in. No one else needs to be consulted. If a new idea doesn’t fly, I can quickly shift gears and go another way.
Another issue some solopreneurs never get used to is the highs and lows in cash flow, as business surges and subsides. I remember being so nervous in the early years when I had the inevitable dry spells. If you keep at your marketing and stay active on social media, business comes back to you.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in business?
Work on branding before you launch the business – not just business branding, but personal branding as well. It will help you with niching, knowing your target audience and what kind of messages to communicate in social media and other marketing, and – one of the biggest benefits of branding – it will help you understand the value you offer. Every successful and fulfilling business stems from that.
Niche your business to a certain type of customer or client, or type of product or service, right from the start. Know who you’re marketing your products and services to, and research what their current pressing needs are, so you can position what you offer as something that will fulfill those needs. Know how to best communicate the value you offer in a way that will resonate with a specific group of people.
Build an SEO-friendly website right away. Set it up as a blogsite, whether or not you actually blog, but it’s a good idea to get in the habit of blogging at least once a week. This will help your site be more visible and your business more findable online. When people are looking for companies to do business with, they lean towards those that have robust websites/blogsites. A website also provides more information about you and your business.
Don’t shy away from social media. Learn how to use it, and set up a realistic social media marketing campaign. Get busy with LinkedIn, especially. It’s a very powerful site that offers many ways to build your network, connect with people who can help you reach your goals, and stay top-of-mind with potential customers and others. LinkedIn is definitely not just for job search. In fact, most of my clients find me through LinkedIn.
Thanks Meg, for your incredible insights and for sharing your valuable time with us!
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To contact Meg Guiseppi directly, visit her website Executive Career Brand.