The New Business Mindset
Going Against the Grain to Find Success in Building Your Business
There are a set of new business principles that fly in the face of the lessons I learned when I was in the corporate world. These principles are often relegated to the back row, because conventional wisdom cements the status quo every day.
Business is still about relationships — that will never change. However, the way we form those relationships, nurture them, and manage them continues to evolve quickly. The way we communicate is vastly different now, and it’s having a massive impact on customer expectations.
This is a huge advantage for small businesses. But it requires a mindset shift. For instance:
- What if we look at business not as a zero-sum game, where someone has to lose in order for us to win?
- What if we look at generosity as a source of power, helping people over and over until we earn enough trust to ask for the sale?
- What if we made decisions based on earning trust, rather than looking solely at traditional business metrics?
- What if we get comfortable with relinquishing a little control and trusting our customers to take care of us?
- What if we commit to loving the process itself, and not just the results?
While these may seem counterintuitive, they fit well in the new consumer landscape, where customers control the conversation. They are well-informed, well-connected, and are not shy about making more demands of you before they make a purchase.
Your posture matters. Yes, you get one first impression, but expect dozens of “tests” beyond that. Who are you? What are your values? Do you come through on your promises? All these questions and more — and you will be judged by what you do, not what you say.
Content strategy is how you meet these demands. Show up to the game well-practiced, and it will go well. Show up unprepared, and there are dozens of other players who will take the ball from you and run the field. You have to set yourself apart in some way.
Going against the grain is in my nature. I’ve always been a champion of the underdog. Indie bands are better than corporate rock. Craft beer is better than Coors. Local shops are better than Amazon. We need more Cinderella stories that subvert and unseat power.
Why? My strong belief is life is better when small, independent businesses succeed. We as consumers get more choice, better quality craftsmanship, and closer relationships with those who create things. We should do all we can to support the underdogs who do good work and produce good stuff!
So I produced a 16-part series of podcasts about these 21st Century Business Principles. The first set of episodes is all about what I call The New Business Mindset. Not everyone is a podcast junkie like me, so I compiled these episodes in one convenient place for you.
Let’s start by being nice — not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s an effective business strategy.
Business Isn’t “Just Business” — We Can All Be Nice to One Another
Why does business need to be a ruthless, zero-sum game?
It doesn’t. You can still be successful by being nice — and in point of fact, I think that you can be even more successful if you unlearn some of the awful lessons that the corporate world teaches.
This is especially important to small business owners and others who are the face of their brand. The businesses we create are extensions of ourselves. Do you want to be seen as cold-blooded and heartless? I don’t. It’s not me — and if you’re reading this, I know it’s not you either.
We treat our customers differently — with compassion and respect. We don’t try to control them — we work every day to earn their trust. Consumer behavior has changed. Today, trust is the only path to a purchase. It feels good, and it works.
- Listen to the complete episode here: Business Isn’t “Just Business”
The Service Disposition — We Exist to Serve Others
When you do someone a favor, it sparks the urge to reciprocate. The favor has to be genuine. It creates a little vacuum that the recipient wants to fill.
This dynamic is at the core of content marketing.
The best thing you can do then is to show up with the genuine intent to serve. This has always been the case in business — we serve our customers. But in today’s world, take it one counterintuitive step further. You have to serve people before they’re your customers.
Generosity is contagious. Not only does it make you feel good, but it’s also the key to unlocking business growth. This used to be hard to scale, but not anymore. You can now produce and propagate content to serve thousands of people at once. You can talk to them like it’s one-to-one. You can serve, at scale.
When you serve, you earn the right to serve again. Over time, you earn enough trust to ask for the sale. You can’t ask too often and you can’t ask too much. But when it comes time to ask — your best customers will come through for you.
This is what I call the “service disposition,” and you can employ it in every aspect of your business — a lesson that I learned from content marketing.
- Listen to the complete episode here: The Service Disposition
How Do You Measure Trust? Getting Past ROI as the Only Metric
Return on investment (ROI) is one of the pivotal metrics in the business world, with good reason. It measures what you get in return vs. what you put in. It’s a way to measure whether the “juice is worth the squeeze.”
But when it comes to content marketing, ROI is the wrong metric. Content marketing is about getting to what I call the Threshold of Trust, the point at which you earn a small transaction in return. That transaction might not even be a paid one at first. But then repeat the cycle until you accumulate enough trust to convert your prospect into a paying customer.
The limitation of ROI is that it’s just a snapshot of a moment in time, whereas content marketing has a long gestation cycle. And in light of today’s consumer behavior, if you only measure ROI in money, you’re selling yourself short.
If you’ll suspend disbelief for 15 minutes, I’ll make my case for getting beyond this simplistic measure when it comes to your marketing — and how to measure trust instead.
- Listen to the episode here: Getting Past ROI as the Only Metric
Be In It for the Long Game — You’ll Make Better Decisions
As small business owners, we get to create our own rules. We don’t have to buy in to the aggressive, zero-sum tactics of “business.” We have the opportunity to get closer to our customers in ways that are impossible for larger businesses.
But we still have to make money. And in the rush to profitability, this eagerness can pervert the process. We’ve all been there. You’re impatient. I am too.
When we start to rush, we look for shortcuts. We start to just “go for the sale.” The customer begins to feel “pushed” and can sense our desperation. This puts more distance between us and our customers, robbing us of our key advantage as small businesses.
Look to slow down the process instead. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but you have to get comfortable with not having control. Community growth can’t be rushed, so you’ll have to play the long game and learn to relish the indirect benefits instead.
- Listen to the complete episode here: Play the Long Game
Consistency in Content Strategy: If You Can’t Commit, Don’t Start
Consumer behavior is different now. No trust, no sale. While trust was always a part of the purchase path, it’s now more important than ever. That’s because:
- Every business has direct access to customers now, and
- Customers have access to one another now.
The playing field has widened, and a customer’s options are nearly unlimited. The only way to stand out is to become the person that customers trust.
While there are a lot of ways to earn trust, one of the best ways is to show up consistently. When you’re setting out to solve people’s problems — even before they are customers — consistency shows that you are reliable and trustworthy.
When it’s time to make a purchase, this can make a big difference in the customer’s decision. It can set you apart from the others who don’t have the stamina to serve. But to make this work, you have to make a commitment. A “toe in the water” strategy isn’t going to cut it. You’re in it for the long game: Consistency, persistence, and the patience to let it grow organically.
That means that you’re going to have to love the process — not just the results. Are you up for that?
- Listen to the episode here: Consistency in Your Content Strategy
To Learn More / Go Further
What Content Strategy Teaches You About Business (Podcast Series)
This post was based on a 16-part podcast series called What Content Strategy Teaches You About Business: Counterintuitive Lessons from Mentors and Mistakes. Here are the links for your convenience:
- Unit 1: The New Business Mindset (6 episodes)
- Unit 2: The New Marketing & Sales (5 episodes)
- Unit 3: The New Customer Relationship (5 episodes)
How to Start a Business: A Case Example (Free Online Course)
Starting a business is difficult — there’s so much to learn, and the challenges that you and your business will face are as unique as your own fingerprints. It will be up to you to chart your own path. But it helps to have a map.
That’s why I created a free online course on how to start a business, taking you through my process as I built my own company, Control Mouse Media, LLC.
In 8 video lessons, we go from a standing start on Day 1, and take you through all the major milestones of success and failure in the first 18 months or so.
Content Strategy Basics: An Overview (Free Online Course)
Marketing is nothing without a content strategy behind it. I produced this free online course to introduce you to the principles and practices of content strategy — using content to find and connect with an audience, build trust, and ultimately, earn paying customers.
It’s for small business owners of all types, including solo entrepreneurs, freelancers, writers, musicians, and other creatives.
The course content is open to the public — you do not need to register.
Content Marketing for Creatives (Online Course)
For writers and other artists: I have a comprehensive online course to help creatives of all types build a business around their writing, music, and art. It’s modeled after the course that I teach at Emerson College.
It consists of 42 video modules, with dozens of worksheets, templates, and guided assignments.
The introductory lesson is open is you want to get a taste.
More Courses: Core Concepts of Content Strategy
Here’s a complete list of current and upcoming courses I offer. Sign up to be notified of future courses!
Originally published on August 21, 2018 on Control Mouse Media.