While businesses with tangible outputs can simply produce and sell more products, it’s often more difficult for entrepreneurs in service-based businesses to envision ways to increase revenues, particularly if they typically offer their services on a per-hour or per-project basis.
Excelsior Growth Fund spoke with Deb Boulanger, EGF Consulting Corps member and founder of The Great Do-Over and The Launch Lab for Women Entrepreneurs, a 12-week virtual business accelerator. Deb teaches service-based entrepreneurs how to grow their businesses into six- or seven-figure businesses – even “solopreneurs” can create a leveraged business model with only a small virtual team.
Here’s Deb’s practical and actionable advice for growing your service-based business.
1. Package your services appropriately
In her own coaching work, Deb had an “aha” moment when she realized that she was teaching the same strategies over and over to her private clients. Instead, she envisioned flipping that scenario around: What if she created a single coaching package that could be offered as a training program and applied to an infinite number of clients?
Now, Deb packages her coaching services with an online training program that she updates as needed and with this one simple package, she’s made significant gains in revenue for far less of her time.
“When I did that,” Deb explains, “I also realized that I could provide different tiers of coaching and charge more for higher-level work. For example, while some clients only want access to the online curriculum, others need more advanced coaching to take their businesses to the next level.”
Get creative about how to pivot, flip and unfold your offerings. Think in terms of what you can create once and sell an unlimited number of times. Eventually, you’ll find an idea, or several, that will enable you to significantly boost your revenue. While doing so, consider the following:
For current and potential clients within your existing target audience, think about how you can leverage your expertise in ways that best address their needs. In Deb’s case, this meant developing a coaching and training program that she could offer to an unlimited number of clients.
Think in terms of additional audiences, such as how you can leverage other professionals working in your field. For example, you could take your proven system and repackage your service as a “train the trainer” program and license others in your methodology, or develop (or hire someone to create) an app that can be licensed.
“It’s all right to start small,” says Deb, “but always think big, because if you’re truly meeting a market need, the potential for unlimited revenue exists if you are tapped into it.”
2. Do more research and ensure your business solves a problem
An exciting idea is a good starting point and basic competitive research and customer surveys are great steps to help you get started.
To build on that foundation, Deb suggests having direct conversations with the people that form your target audience – a step that many entrepreneurs miss. The first question that must be answered is, “Do they need what you’re offering?”
“It’s often said that the leading cause of small business failure is a lack of funding. When that’s broken down further, though, the research shows that actually, there’s often no market need for what a business offers,” says Deb.
“Entrepreneurs rarely nail it right out of the gate,” Deb explains. “You need to be clear and correct about your customer niche and your packaging, pricing and messaging – and getting even one of these wrong means that your business will struggle. Sometimes, it’s just a slight pivot that can enormously change outcomes for the better.”
3. Use financial resources wisely
Service-based businesses often have a harder time securing funding for startup and growth phases, because there are few-to-no assets that can be used as collateral.
Lenders know that when service-based small business owners charge clients by the project or hour, there’s going to be a limit to how much they can earn. The upside, however, is that service-based businesses often have much lower startup and growth expenses and many can get off the ground for relatively modest costs.
“Too often entrepreneurs, and especially women, tap into retirement funds or home equity to launch and grow businesses. That’s not ideal if you’re making your life unstable in the long run,” Deb explains.
“If there’s a way to get your business launched or expanding without risking your retirement or your home, use those options,” says Deb. “As your business grows and you have a solid plan that’s supported by your cash flow and financial projections, you’ll find additional funding, if and when you need it.”
If you need funding to start or grow your service-based business, talk to EGF and your bank to learn about options. For example, you may qualify for a business line of credit, a fixed-rate and low-interest personal loan or other options that can move your business forward. EGF’s business advisors can also help you plan for longer-term options, such as SBA-backed small business loans.
4. Automate, delegate and outsource
Deb’s business employs only a small virtual team of part-time assistants. Instead of getting bogged down with employees and administrative work, she spends her time doing what she loves – working with clients – and outsources and automates everything else. With programs such as Infusionsoft®, Mail Chimp® and Constant Contact®, as well as many excellent and low-cost ecommerce programs available, there’s no reason not to automate.
“When you outsource day-to-day administration and marketing,” says Deb, “you’ll have more time to focus on the services you love to provide and on creating ways to improve and expand them, so that your business grows into a thriving enterprise.”
Deb recommends using software programs and apps to handle marketing campaigns, ecommerce and more, and automating the work by setting up weekly emails to current and potential clients. Outsource an accountant and attorney to handle the aspects of your business that you can’t automate or fill yourself.
5. Learning from others in your industry
Deb points out that there’s a difference between growing your business as a solopreneur and trying to do it all by yourself.
“No one succeeds alone,” advises Deb. “Participate in your local business community and with associations focused on your field. Work with a mentor or coach, because as business owners, we can’t always figure out how to get through barriers on our own and we may need fresh perspectives to see opportunities. And surround yourself with people who encourage you to reach your fullest potential, because that’s what you deserve.”
If you’d like to learn more about how Deb’s coaching and consulting may benefit your business, contact her today. In addition, EGF’s business advisors can help you learn more about how to manage the day-to-day and long-term growth opportunities that further fuel your success.