The 4 Stages of Business Owners
And the automation tools each needs
Everywhere you go, everywhere you turn, somebody is offering you a tool, a software subscription, a package, a new CRM (what the heck is a CRM?! Some of you may say), coaching, do this, do that, go here, you’re doing it wrong.
And as a coach/consultant where do you even start!?
What you may realize is that a lot of folks who are selling things to you, don’t see you for where you are in the business. They just see you as a buyer, as long as you buy, they are okay… but are you?
With that said, I started to realize for most business owners, especially those in the coaching or consulting space, there are four phases they all go through. And each phase has its own unique needs, demands, speed, and complexity.
One size truly does not fit all.
Breaking Down the Four Business Types
Infant Phase - this is where everyone starts and it begins with an idea. You have an idea of a solution to the market’s current problem. You have an idea of how you want to solve it, in your own unique way. You have an idea that you will leave your 9 to 5 and strike it out on your own. Basically, it’s just you, a laptop, no clients, and a strong desire.
Flying Out of The Nest Phase - it usually takes baby birds anywhere from 2-3 weeks to leave the nest (and up to 30 years for human babies - it seems like!). This phase of your business is when you’ve learned basic marketing skills, basic sales skills, you’ve gotten several clients, some more in your pipeline, and you’re most likely using one marketing channel to attract buyers (sometimes two if you’re feeling bold!). You’re no longer in the Infant Phase. You’re frantically flapping your wings trying to stabilize your launch.
Rebellious Teen Phase - You are far from the nest now. You know how to fly. Your idea is working. You’ve made it out of launch. Your revenue is climbing. You’ve hired some people to help you. You’ve got a chip on your shoulder (rightfully so!). But your bedroom is a mess! (I mean, your business.) You can’t keep track of all your data, you can’t keep track of who you spoke with and when, notes from your clients are on notepads, you have multiple products you’re trying to launch, it’s hard to meet deadlines, it’s hard to communicate effectively with your new support team. Basically, you’re screaming for organization.
The Early 20s Post-College Phase - Whether you’ve gone to college or not, you’re no longer the new kid on the block. This is a real business now. It’s stabilizing. But you’re trying to scale, onboarding even more vendors, taking on more clients, launching evergreen products. From the outside looking in, you’re rocking it. But from the inside, it’s a house of cards. Nothing is streamlined, it’s a bit clunky, if someone asks you what your SOP is you won’t have an answer. You chat with your vendors/employees/clients/prospects using 7 different communication channels. You have multiple marketing channels. Basically, multiple everything. But you hunger for more.
About these phases
As you can see, it’s tough to know which tool, automation, or subscription works best for you. And keep in mind that, each of these phases are not better than one another. Everyone, especially coaches and consultants, are on their own journey. It was simply a way to highlight the differences between types of business development phases.
You may not wish to ever get to the Early 20s Phase, and that is perfectly okay. Or maybe you just simply want to start a side-hustle to supplement your income with some additional client work and that is… perfectly okay.
Try to think which phase that best resonates with where you are and also, where you would like to go, so you can start preparing in advance.
The key here, though, is to make business as stress free as we can make it with the help of tools. No tools, SaaS product, etc. should ever make your business more complicated and frustrating - it should be the opposite. Nothing would make me happier than knowing that you’ve integrated a tool that just opened more opportunities for you and allowed some of your time back.
The first thing you want to think about is… how to get paid!
Setting up your accounting right, from the start, can really help you down the road.
And there are several invoicing tools you can use today to get started.
This is a bit different in different countries. For example, in my country, I have to have invoices or receipts for everything that somebody pays me for. These receipts are numbered in a sequential way, but not every country needs that. If you're in the US or Canada, definitely check out Wave.
It is one of the better tools out there. It is easy to use. It is free. It integrates with credit card payments. If you're in a different country and you have a US account, you can also use it, but this is basically not meant for international use (I can't use it).
With Wave, the idea is you send out an invoice, a quote, or a payment request.
You can have a button that integrates with credit card payments. And then when they pay you directly, it will send them a receipt. So your books are in order. You're going to be constantly updating your books and in this case, you don't have to worry about how to manage that.
But you don't need to have credit cards, because credit cards can become expensive.
In order to set up a credit card process, you have to pay them a monthly fee in addition to a percentage of each transaction (usually around 2.9%, though AMX may be a bit more expensive). And at this stage, you don't wanna get into payments without actually making money. So you want to go with something simple. If your country supports Stripe, Stripe is a great option.
It does take 2.9% of the transaction fee plus 30 cents on the transaction, but that's the cheapest you're going to get. You're going to see your money pretty quickly, and they do invoicing as well. So you don't need to use an invoicing tool. You can do it directly with Stripe.
And if your country doesn’t have access to Stripe, then you might want to consider something like PayPal. Now, the problem with PayPal is that for local transactions, they also take 2.9% plus 30 cents on the transaction. But for international transactions, they will take 4.4% to 5.4% on the transaction plus 30 cents on the transaction.
So you're losing a lot of money and PayPal will keep your money for eight days. And if it's the first time you're transferring your money. They’ll keep it for another 24 hours.
So if you can avoid using PayPal, do so. And how do you do that?
I would recommend creating a Wise account. My research shows that it has the lowest percentage of commission fees that you're going to have to pay. It really depends on where you're getting paid from and where you're sending it to and how you're sending it. But they do ACH transfers, which is an American way of transferring money.
It’s very cost effective: 50 cents on the transaction (which is nothing right?).
Creating a Wise account is free for a local account, but not for an international account. So for example, I have a US based customer, they created an account for free. They connected it to their own bank account and they transferred money to me through Wise. So, it comes out cheapest for all of us. It's a really worthwhile option. And that's what I recommend for payment processing.
We’ve Set You Up To Get Paid.
Now We Need to Get You Scheduled!
The next thing a business that's just starting out needs is a scheduling tool. Now I've talked about this forever in a day. The industry standard seems to be Calendly. If you're in Europe, you may be using Acuity. I'm not a fan of either of those; they're great tools, I'm not knocking them, but you can get so much more for so much less if you have no budget.
And even if you have a budget and you just want to save some cash, I would recommend looking into ScheduleOnce. ScheduleOnce is the best scheduling tool I've found. The reason that I love ScheduleOnce is that their free tier gives you everything: Multiple event types, multiple booking pages, and master pages.
Master pages are actually the best tool there because you can take different event types with different availability based on different booking pages and mix and match to create it, and make it your own.
Now with your scheduling and payment all set up. You should be deciding on what social media platform to use. Whether it's a Facebook business page or a LinkedIn profile.
Never forget: people buy from people.
When you pick your platform, you have to connect, build an audience, build a community, talk to people, make sure people are learning about you and about what you offer. This is the first stage of any business. You're not gonna be creating evergreen products at this stage. You're not gonna be creating complex workflows, because you're just getting your idea off the ground.
Flying Out of The Nest Phase
You're starting to make revenue, starting to feel the momentum, you're not exploding yet, but you're almost there. You're feeling a little bit of growth. You're feeling more traction in your business. This is a really good time to think about building a website because you want to have somewhere that you can drive your audience to.
But before we get into that. It is my strong recommendation that you, at the very least, get a domain name for your email. It looks way more professional when clients and prospects see firstname.lastname@example.org as opposed to email@example.com. You can choose to domain your email address when you build your website or you can just domain your email.
Now onto the website.
A profile on social media is great, a Facebook page or business page or a LinkedIn profile are also great, but as you grow, you'll need more. I would definitely recommend working on building a website. Now this is a double edged sword. Why?
You don't want to build a terrible website.
If you build a terrible website, you're doing yourself a disservice. On the other hand, if you don't have the money to do a really great website use a free tool. I, personally, love Wix. Wix is one of the better website development tools out there. It is so robust. You can grow with it. It has a modular pricing model - basically, you buy what you need.
If you don't want to use Wix or another DIY tool, you can go with WordPress, but trust me, you're going to need costly maintenance down the road. So I don't recommend it.
If you do have the money to invest, I would invest in either a copywriter, and/or web designer. In my opinion, choose copy before design because copy converts, design leaves people on the page. So invest in a copywriter to write your message. If you can invest in a brand message, that's great, but you really don't need to at this stage.
Then integrate your scheduling tool onto your website. You can have a button and when you click on it, it opens a popup window or it goes to a window that has your schedule on it. But make sure that you're already starting to have people get a feel for who you are.
This is also a good time to start building a simple automation for scheduling. You don't really need it quite yet because you're still small. But this is a good time to start to test it. One of the automations that I've set up is automating your prospect onboarding.
So, for example, if somebody schedules a call with you, the tool automatically sends them reminders, but what I've done is I've created a contact card for them in Asana. Asana is a project management tool that you don't really need yet, but for this use it's really great and it's free. I use this automation to help me or my clients know where every prospect is in the pipeline (proposal sent, needs following up, ghosted you, call scheduled, etc). Because when you start onboarding more clients, it can start to get messy really fast.
Now, you're right at that cusp. It's gonna explode. So you wanna have this ready so that when you scale up, it's already up and running.
Guess what, it’s also time to start developing an email list because as you grow on social media and build a following, you have to remember that social media is a rented space, it doesn't belong to us.
Let me teach you the basics of starting your own email list.
So what you want to do now is get people off of social media and onto your own list. And you can do this very easily. You can just repurpose the content that you've put onto social media and create it as email content.
And here's one of the rare cases that I would recommend not using a free tool. Because most people will now hop onto the MailChimp wagon. And that's really scary because MailChimp has a seemingly great free plan for up to 2000 contacts. The problem is that their free tier doesn't give you a lot of flexibility with automations and email sequencing. And that's gonna come in handy sooner rather than later, especially if you're building a coaching program, a mentoring program or something similar, because you want to have a way to deliver your product. And that needs an email sequence.
These days tracking open rates is a lot harder. So you want to have something that people will interact with. And then based on that interaction, you want to tag them and you want to take them to different places, which is my long-winded way of saying check out ActiveCampaign. It starts at $9 a month when paid annually, that's $108 a year for up to 500 contacts, but you get full sequencing. It's very robust. Much more so than MailChimp.
Rebellious Teen Phase
Now that you’ve got everything above in your tool box and you’re starting to grow rapidly, it’s a very good time to start thinking about cleaning your room… erm, your business.
The third type of business is where you're just about to explode and you're ready to scale and grow. At this stage, you want to start working with a project management tool, for sure because you're probably going to be outsourcing some of the work. You're going to be hiring a copywriter, maybe a social media manager, maybe a VA, maybe a project manager, depending on your growth.
You want to have more and more flexibility in how you're tracking their workload, how you're tracking what tasks are being done, and of course what tasks need to be done. My favorite tool for this is Asana mostly because of its simplicity.
Their one downside is that their support is terrible and I am looking for other tools, but I still haven't found one as simple as Asana.
I like building my initial projects in a list view because I can just see a list of all the tasks that I have and then I can drag them to turn them into subtasks, I can define start dates and end dates, and I can define custom fields. All of these are on the free tier but the free tier is usually enough, but as you're growing, you may want that flexibility of growth.
You can create forms to collect data and create tasks based on data. These are forms that you can use internally or externally with the clients. A project management tool will really help.
And since we’ve mentioned forms, let’s talk about forms for a moment. Most project management tools do have form building capabilities and those are great. They're usually a paid feature. But they’re also kind of limited.
I am a huge fan of Jotform. Jotform is a great tool to create very, very flexible forms. You can create multiple integrations with your PM tool to your CRM (we’ll talk about that in a moment), and too many other tools such as spreadsheets. You can use the data for reporting purposes, you can send them as an email, or export as a PDF. There's a lot that you can do with Jotforms.
And when you integrate it into your project management tool, you can actually map the different fields. So you have a lot more flexibility than you do on a regular form that comes with the PM tool.
Jotform also has payment capabilities. Even on their free tier, you can collect payments from one payment gateway when someone submits a form.
Video Documentation is a must at this phase
This could actually be used for Flying Out of the Nest Phase, but it’s an absolute need for this phase: using a video recording tool like Loom or Vidyard. Loom is great, but their free plan has a five minute limit. So if you don't wanna spend anything, you can look into Vidyard that also has great integrations. I also personally love Vidyard. That's just my personal preference.
And the reason I say to start using video is because you want to start saving time on meetings and you wanna start delegating.
You save time on meetings by recording short messages on video, passing them over, telling people how to do tasks or what you need done, or questions that you have (or questions you need to answer). And it just saves time on scheduling, especially with different time zones.
You know how they say, “This meeting could have been an email”.
Well, we’ve got the 2022 version of that!
There are a lot of meetings that could be cut down just by making them into a video.
The second thing I would use video for is training. As you scale up, you're going to want to delegate more. You will want to use a video to train someone how to do it. You can record yourself doing tasks, narrate what you're doing, explain why you're doing it. You can also record these clips while you're training the first person and then save that as a video. But whatever it is, start using video to scale up.
What is a CRM? And why should I care?
The next tool you need at this stage is a tool for managing your customers.
This is called a customer relationship management tool, AKA a CRM.
There are different levels of CRMs. If you're just starting out using one and you're using Gmail, you can integrate Streak. It's really great and has a very robust free tier. It looks more like an Excel sheet and it creates boxes based on emails and based on threads. It will collect all your email integrations with different clients and vendors.
And that's really great because you're never looking for an email again.
You're like, “oh, wait a minute, where did I write that email to?”
You remember one piece of information in Streak, and it’ll help you find it really easily. But it does live in Gmail.
Another great tool is Copper. Copper is a great CRM. It integrates with almost everything, especially using Zapier. I like Copper because it's a proper CRM, contacts are called people. When a person turns into a lead, you create an opportunity in a pipeline. A person can have multiple opportunities depending on the different pipelines that you have.
You can have a pipeline for sales, you can have a pipeline for a mentorship program. You can have different types of pipelines and people move through those pipelines. And then, depending on the stage, you can interact with them differently or set up different automations. The beauty of doing this in Copper is that it pulls in all of the information, all of the emails that you're getting in Gmail or Outlook or wherever. And it integrates with these tools directly and seamlessly.
It's not as big as Salesforce, which is for enterprise level and a monster of a thing. Don’t get me wrong, Salesforce is great, but it's just like a monster. It's really huge. So, for small businesses, it's usually an overkill. You could also look into Pipedrive, which is another good CRM. These are not free, but they're not all that expensive.
The question is, do you really need one?
If you want to stay organized and up-to-date with your pipeline: yes!
You will get more inbound leads, more emails, more sales calls, more interactions. How are you going to document it all? In your head? On your sticky notes?
A CRM is simply a way to be on top of it all and more efficient.
For example, I'm using Asana as my CRM at this stage. What I do is I create a task or a card for each new lead. And I label it by their first, last name, any interactions or any updates that I have I put into the description or into the comments. I'm updating all that data as it's happening. So, while I'm in a meeting, I'm writing all of the information on that task, on that card and I have everything I need. And then once I've won the client, I actually have an automation that knows when someone becomes a client and it will automatically create a project for that client in Asana.
A word about evergreen products.
If you’ve been following my blogs or my content on LinkedIn about this subject, I can feel you getting tense! Not to worry, I’ve written a handful of blogs on this topic and my love for the very robust and profit margin friendly ThriveCart.
So whether you’re new here or have been around, I’m not going to dive into it in this article, you can find the links below.
The Early 20s Post-College Phase
The fourth type of business is a business that's already settled in. You've exploded, you're working everything, but now you have a lot of employees or vendors working for you. And in today's environment, they're probably remote. And what you need to work on more, most is your communications.
The key here is for you to communicate on the fewest channels possible to the most people possible (your employees, clients, vendors, prospects, social media inquiries, etc).
I've heard from people that they have so many channels of communication, there's Slack and there's WhatsApp and there's Voxer. And then we have email, and we have social media, and the DMs in social media. And it's just never ending. You try to find the tools that your company works with most and push people towards working with those.
I had a company that wanted to get everyone on Slack, but they didn't have buy-in from it. And what ended up happening is we were doing all of our interactions within the project management tool. So when we had a task, all of the interactions were in the comment section or emails that were directed at the task itself. And so everything was located in one location with my clients.
(If you prefer Slack, there are many tools that integrate with Slack and will enable all messages to update a Slack channel of your choice.)
On a personal note, in today’s global economy, WhatsApp and its end-to-end encryption services are a big positive for my business. I use it often for staying in touch with different clients and vendors around the globe.
This ends my journey through the four phases of business growth.
It is my sincere hope that reading this, you’ll know exactly where you are and which tools you should be considering.
Running a business is hard work, but it shouldn't be harder than it needs to be.
The tools for the stages you are going through should be helping you, not hindering you. And more importantly, they should allow you to think strategically with your business and not get too deep into the weeds.
As always, if you have any questions, you can reach out.
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