An authentic business is financially viable and deeply meaningful to you. You make enough money to support you, but the activity itself feels worthwhile, even if you had to do it for free.
However, it's not just about “doing what you love”... not just a hobby. It is an Authentic Business, a true livelihood.
I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to help many people make progress in their own authentic businesses, and I’ve been operating my own successfully for a decade.
Here is my current framework on how to effectively launch an authentic business:
There are 4 layers of activity to a successful authentic business.
Each one is always happening simultaneously. However, when you first start, you begin with the first layer, and when you've gotten that into a rhythm, you then add a second layer, and so forth.
Once you have all 4 layers, you are operating a successful authentic business.
Layer 1 -- Authentic Content Marketing
The most generous — and soulful — way to start and grow an authentic business is through content. This is the first layer, the foundation for everything.
Consider your various interests and passions. Which one would you love to create a business with? It’s your passion, so you are naturally energized to talk about it. This is called creating authentic content. It can be your writing, your videos, your images, your audio, or the links you curate (gather and share) from other sources.
As you share your passion online, you’ll naturally draw kindred spirits to you.
Check out the 10 reasons to create content consistently.
Where to share your content?
I’d recommend using a larger platform such as Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Reddit, Medium, or Quora.
In the ancient past — when we lived a small villages for life — we had to try to please everyone, or risk being ostracized.
Today, the internet is like an unlimited collection of villages — of every style and belief.
You can truly be yourself, and there will be enough people in the world who resonate with your style. Gather your kindred spirits through your authentic content, and create your own "village."
There are three important factors here:
When someone needs your type of service, you'll be the first one they think of. When they have a friend who needs something you offer, they will share about you.
How do you make it easy for others to refer you? By creating authentic, relevant, consistent content. The easiest way for anyone to refer you is by sharing your free content with a friend who needs it.
How to measure progress in this first layer of activity?
You can speed up your audience-building by doing paid advertising (e.g. Facebook Post Boosts) to reach more people with your content.
You can speed up the relevance of your content by doing keyword research: what are people actually searching for on google, youtube, facebook, etc? I like using the free tool KeywordsEverywhere.
It would also be wise to be doing 1–1 outreach, to the influencers in your network, whenever you have a popular piece of content that you believe their network might especially enjoy.
Layer 2 -- Audience Research
You’ve started to gather a real audience (engagers, subscribers, sharers.) This is the "village" you’ve created on the internet.
You’ve gathered them not by clever marketing tactics, but simply by being your most helpful self, through the first layer of activity: Authentic, Relevant, Consistent Content.
Your audience enjoy who you authentically are, and how helpful and consistent your content is.
Connect personally with as many of your audience members as you have time for. Even having a private conversation with 10 of your fans is doing better than most business owners who are focused on marketing from their own head, and missing out on relationship-building with their audience, which is where truly relevant marketing can come from.
You can reach them via Facebook messaging (don’t do a group message, just individually message each person.) If possible, invite them to a private video call so that in conversation you can also see their facial expressions.
Find out what problems they’re facing or goals they’d love to reach, that your business can help with, for example:
Pay attention to how they are wording their needs and desires and questions.
These words and phrases might become “keywords” you use to create content that reaches more people just like them.
The most important part is to find out what they have spent money on — in the area of your passion or in a related area:
Your income comes from your audience’s spending. This is why you want to find out their existing buying patterns. The more you understand it, the more you can see how your business can naturally slot into their buying behavior, rather than trying to make them spend money in ways they're not familiar with.
What if your audience has never before bought they kind of thing you sell? It can eventually happen if you keep sharing authentic, relevant content, thereby building a trusting relationship with your audience. Then, they might be willing to try out your product/service even if they wouldn’t have bought it before.
Don't put on the sales pressure that doesn’t feel authentic to you, and will create bad word of mouth later.
Instead, the more natural way is to sell something they’re already buying, or have tried before, or were already considering buying. The conversations you have with them will help you understand their buying intent so that you can serve that intent more effectively than they can easily find elsewhere.
You can also learn a lot about what offers they might want, by looking for patterns in your audience’s engagement with your content. What topics do they most enjoy from you? Might you then create a low-fee online workshop that dives more into that topic? (See my examples here: George Kao's Workshops.)
The more you understand them, the better you’re able to serve them. The more trust they have in you, the more they will use your product/service and thereby get the results they couldn’t get elsewhere.
Besides doing audience interviews as I’ve described above, you can also research your audience in these ways:
If you're interested in my methodology for audience research, take my training: Resonant Marketing.
Layer 3 -- Launch to Learn
When you have some clarity from these conversations, when you start to notice a pattern of what product/service seems to be missing (or not good enough) for your audience, then it’s time to add the third layer — launch your offerings with learning as the key priority.
Your offering — service, product, event, package, etc — is an experiment, testing whether you’ve really understood the wants of your ideal audience. What you think they “need” might not be obvious to them — they know what they "want." You’d be wisest to focus on their wants in the marketing of your offerings. In other words, create offerings using their stated problems as the front door. You can then serve their wants and their deeper needs through your products and services.
This is where you are practicing creating a better sales page and conducting website user interviews to learn.
Remember that this layer, “launch to learn” is not about success or failure.
It’s about implementing the information you’ve gathered in the previous layer (Audience Research) as well as what you learn from ongoing marketing.
All along the way, you are still engaging in the first 2 layers: Content & Research.
Would you like to speed things up? Here are the boosters:
Layer 4 -- Growing What Works
Through your various launches, you’ll discover occasional offerings that your audience loves the best, that they’re most likely to buy.
Now, you can add the “final” layer, which is unlimited — continual growth of what is working!
This is where you:
You can apply these 4 layers to launching any authentic business, and to keep innovating and creating additional offerings.
My final encouragement to you is — all along the way of applying these layers, keep on returning to, and being a champion for, your highest and deepest values.
By doing so, you fulfill the true purpose of your authentic business.
George Kao is a Marketing Coach for small business owners, especially solopreneurs such as Coaches and Mentors. He focuses on ethical & effective ways to grow one's platform and build true livelihood.
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