I always chuckle when people tell me their market is “really crowded” and for that reason, they’re a special case when it comes to marketing or business development.
What market is not really crowded in the 21st century?
I mean, we now have competing toilet sprays to keep people from knowing you’re going #2 while you’re at your significant other’s house.
A crowded market often means more opportunity, not less opportunity.
First, if a market is crowded it means that there is plenty of demand. There are loads of people who want to buy.
Second, if a market is crowded there are lots of straightforward, non-ninja ways to figure out what needs still aren’t being met.
And it’s this second piece of the puzzle that I want to focus on today.
You can develop a product in a crowded market and become a key player…
…if you focus on what’s “broken” about the other solutions on the market for the people you care about most.
Take Emily McDowell’s blockbuster success.
Emily noticed that, despite Valentine’s Day being a multi-billion dollar industry, none of the greeting cards she could find matched the relationships that she and her friends were really in.
Those greeting cards were “broken” for people like Emily (and probably for people like you, too).
Make a greeting card that was laser-focused on that kind of relationship.
1500 orders in 1 week with zero marketing on her part…
…and the idea was proven.
I did the same thing when I realized the way people consumed online courses about small business was broken. Business owners would jump from course to course, answering questions they didn’t really need to answer, but rarely taking real action and never filling in the gaps between courses with real support.
My answer? You don’t need more courses, you need more opportunities to get answers to the questions you have about growing your business any time of day or day of week. That’s why I created CoCommercial, the small business brain trust, where you can have honest conversations about what’s really working with people who have been there, done that, and are still doing it every day.
I “fixed” the problem with online business courses by creating a platform for entrepreneurs to help each other.
Last week, I talked with both Joanna Wiebe and Nathalie Lussier who have both launched software products in crowded spaces and they echoed the same strategy:
Find out what’s broken for the specific people you care about and fix it.
Joanna realized that, despite Google Docs and Evernote being incredible tools for writing or collaboration, they lacked features that would make creating marketing content much, much easier for teams. She created Airstory to fix the problem–and people are thrilled.
Nathalie realized that the software business owners were using didn’t match up with the goals they had for their businesses. They were cobbling together solutions built for other industries and with different kinds of entrepreneurs in mind. Nathalie didn’t try to create something no one had seen before–she simply created solutions that worked for the business owners she was connected with on a daily basis–and AmbitionAlly was born.
Don’t worry that your product is one of many in a crowded market, if it’s designed with for a customer who isn’t satisfied with the existing options–no matter how many there might be–you’ll have a winner on your hands.
Think about your own market:
What do you hear about being “broken?”
What do your customers have to “make work” for them?
What disappoints them about existing options?
The answers to those questions could be the key to your next blockbuster offer.
Art of Growth, Show Notes
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It’s tempting to think that “lucking” into explosive growth is all that’s standing between you and the lifestyle you dream of as a small business owner.
All you need is a tap on the shoulder from a big influencer, or a blog post that goes viral, or a product you create to appear on Oprah. But explosive growth is often uglier than it is exciting or lucrative.
On this episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit., my guest is Emily McDowell the founder of Emily McDowell Studio and the creator of the wildly popular greeting card collection Empathy Cards.
When Emily realized that the Valentine’s Day cards that were on the market didn’t really reflect the relationships many people found themselves in (ya know, dating–sorta–but only if that’s okay with you), she decided to try her hand at producing an alternative.
It said, “I know we’re not, like, together or anything but it just felt weird to just not say anything so I got you this card. It’s not a big deal. It doesn’t really mean anything. There isn’t even a heart on it. So basically it’s a card saying hi. Forget it.”
Etsy–kingmaker for independent designers and makers–put it on their Facebook page and Emily was inundated with orders. She received a whopping 1700 orders in 1 week and had to refuse to sell more.
What would YOU do if you received 1700 orders for your product overnight? Could you fulfill them? Do you have the customer support to keep everyone happy and informed?
It would be easy to say that Emily’s success was a fluke, a stroke of luck.
But Emily tapped into a key strategy for product design.
“I was really focusing on what I didn’t see versus what I was seeing and what I was seeing done successfully.”
Whenever you’re trying to “get creative” about what you’re going to bring to market, when you’re trying to innovate on something as ubiquitous as a greeting card (or an online course, a coaching package, a wedding photography package, or a t-shirt), you might think the best plan is to shut off the internet, go into a cave, and wait until lightening strikes.
Emily had the opposite approach.
As a former creative director, she knew the best way to create something new and remarkable was to really look at the market. By examining what else was available, she started to see the hole–the opportunity–where there was great need.
It wasn’t luck.
It was a process.
And because Emily had a process for tapping into the market with her products, explosive growth didn’t stop with that one card. Emily created a line of 40 cards she presented at the National Stationery Show and received an order from Urban Outfitters.
Each time she’s experienced that kind of explosive growth, she’s had to figure out how to make things work… even as what she knows might feel like it’s crumbling around her.
Now, her company’s mission is to identify universal emotional truths and observations on being human and turn them into products that help people feel understood.
Emily and I talk about the other side of explosive business growth. We talk about what went on behind the scenes when her very first greeting card design went viral and sold 1700 units in one week. We also discuss how things have evolved from landing a big order for Urban Outfitters at her first trade show to licensing the production of her gift line to another company.
Click here to listen on iTunes and, while you’re there, be sure to subscribe & leave us a 5-star review.
And, find Emily’s new book, There is No Good Card for This, on Amazon.
Art of Growth, Show Notes
Some of my fondest memories from high school and college are of being on stage with the jazz band performing.
I love taking an audience for a ride with rhythm, melody, dynamics.
When you get it right, you can feel the energy in the room shift with the music.
Needless to say, performing music in school got me hooked on performing period.
Once my business started humming, I knew that performing–in the form of public speaking–would be a big part of my goal. Over the last few years, I’ve worked hard to become known as a speaker, learn the craft, and hone my skills.
Now, I have the privilege of getting paid well for it and getting to do it often.
Whether speaking on stage is a part of your goal or whether you realize public speaking (webinars, presentations, meetings…) is a key part of any business owner’s success, you’ll want to invest your time and energy in getting it right.
One of the best things I’ve ever invested in when it comes to speaking (other than working with this week’s Profit. Power. Pursuit. guest, Michelle Mazur) has been seeking out pro speakers and finding out about their process.
So I thought I’d take you behind the scenes of my own process, from booking gigs, to negotiating fees, to planning my talks. Ready? Let’s go.
I have a speaking page on my site that highlights that I’m available. There’s a form on that page for meeting or event planners to submit an inquiry.
However, most of my gigs don’t come because of that page, even if they come through that page. Instead, my speaking gigs generally come from personal contacts (even if a few degrees removed) or because an event organizer has seen or heard me speak elsewhere.
When we receive an inquiry, the first thing I do is investigate the event as best I can and start considering the audience. The audience determines pretty much every other step of the process—including negotiating my fee.
Once an inquiry comes in, I normally need to share my speaking fee. While this used to cause me tons of stress, now it’s pretty matter-of-fact. I share my fee and if it’s an audience that I’d really like to get in front of, I might even suggest some alternatives to matching my fee.
The conversation about my fee is often mixed with the conversation about what I’ll present, and I consider this a part of the negotiation too.
It’s in my best interest to both use one of my core presentations and to present a talk that has the most potential for piquing the interest of audience members to purchase from my business. Of course, the event organizer often has something else in mind entirely!
I negotiate the topic balancing what they want with what is in my best interests. Sometimes that might mean designing something new but often it means tweaking what I have to best meet their needs.
I’ve accumulated about 200 hours of potential talks (thanks for 6 classes with CreativeLive and plenty of webinars) over the last 3 years.
Once I’ve spoken with the event organizer and negotiated both my fee and the topic, I’ll do some more research. I try to gauge the tone and format of the event, as well as look for key audience questions or problems.
My goal isn’t to say what I want to say. My goal is to say what I want to say such that it answers a specific question or problem for the audience—just as I would with a product or service package.
I’ll try to find folks who have been to the event before, engage with an event community, or just poke around the website for the event or event founder to see conversations with real people in the audience.
Over the last year, my goal has been to nail the introduction of any talk I give. That means not getting up on stage and introducing myself, telling people what I do, or asking how everyone’s doing.
You can tell a pro from an amateur by the way they start their talk.
I like to get the audience engaged & laughing in the first 2-3 sentences. So I spend a good bit of time finding that one punchy line I can land to set myself up.
For the talk that I’m giving in Denver this week, the second sentence of my talk is, “We were shocked to learn that Sean…[insert dramatic pause] is an extrovert.” Trust me, that’ll get some laughs.
I’ll actually write out the full introduction so that I feel good about the narrative flow, since storytelling is not a strong suit of mine but writing is.
The Slide Deck
Once I’ve outlined the rest of the talk, citing an example and an action item for each point I’m making, I’ll start the slide deck.
I keep my slides simple with lots of big text and interesting images. While bullet points can help a sales page or blog post become more readable, they’re often messy, messy, messy in a slide deck. I avoid them except when I’m actually listing things out.
One of the reasons I never finished my music degree (I’m 1 class and a few private trombone lessons shy) is that I’m terrible at practicing. So, I don’t spend hours in front of the mirror running through my presentation.
I start by running through the presentation once for timing.
Then, I carefully rehearse the introduction. If I nail that, I know the rest will go smoothly.
Then, I focus on rehearsing transitions. Again, if I can nail each transition, I know I can easily get through the minutes in between.
I isolate the 2-3 slides around each place in the presentation where I change points. I’ll run through how to make the pivot from point to point several times.
The conclusion has often been a sticking point for me. Many of my talks in the past have ended with, “Well, that’s it. Thanks!” as I sheepishly walk off stage. Even if I gave an outstanding talk, that ending damages the overall effect.
I’ll practice the last thought of the talk… and practice stopping there even more.
I’m writing to you on the way to my next gig and, already, I’m thinking about my routine for tomorrow morning. I always wake up early and use that quiet time to settle my mind and do a final run through of the introduction, transitions, and conclusions.
Once I’m at the venue, I’ll find the green room as quickly as possible and get settled. I need “introvert time” without surprise interruptions or personal introductions for at least 30 minutes before a talk or I don’t feel ready.
Then I get miked and head to the stage.
Once it’s over, I love talking with people. In fact, it’s one of the easiest times for me to connect with new people because it’s like we’ve been chatting for the last hour (my presentation!). I feel in my element and completely comfortable continuing the conversation.
I’ve honed much of this process thanks to working with Dr. Michelle Mazur, my guest this week on Profit. Power. Pursuit. Her Speak for Impact methodology has made it so much easier to prepare for talks, find stories and examples to use, and feel confident that I’m going to hit a home run every time.
To hear how Michelle uses public speaking in her own business, from negotiation to preparation to getting paid, make sure you listen to our interview:
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Photo above by Jessica Hill Photography