The 4 Layers of Authentic Business

(Originally written in January 2018; updated July 2019.)

An authentic business is financially viable and deeply meaningful to you. You make enough money. Yet, the activity itself feels worthwhile, regardless of the money.

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to help many people in their authentic businesses, and also operating my own successfully for over a decade.

There seems to be 4 important layers of activity for every successful authentic business.
Each layer is important, and builds on one another. You begin with the first layer, and when you've gotten that into a rhythm, you add the 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 soulful — and generous — way to start an authentic business is through content. This is the first layer, the foundation for all that is to come.

Consider your interests and passions. Which one would you love to create a business around? Because it’s your passion, you are naturally energized to talk about it. This is called creating authentic content. It can be through writing articles, making videos, or recording an audio podcast.

As you share your passion online, you’ll naturally draw kindred spirits to you.

Where to share your content?

I’d recommend using a larger platform such as Facebook, Youtube, or Instagram, because there are so many people on those platforms that you'll be able to find just the right people for your content.

In the ancient past , when we lived in small villages, 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 online who resonate with your style. Gather your kindred spirits together with your authentic content, and create your own "village."

There are three important factors here:

  1. Authentic -- Be willing to share your point of view, even if it is controversial. The simplest way to start? Read articles or watch videos from others in your field, and ask yourself: "What do I disagree with? What’s missing from this piece of content? Can I fully support the values here, or what would I say instead? What do I agree with that I'd like to point out?" And then write it or record it. To be authentic is to share your experiences and reveal your views.

  2. Relevant — Within your area of expertise, gather the questions that your ideal clients/readers have. What are the problems you are hearing from them? Which of their problems would you love to solve, which questions would you love to answer? Talk about the things that energize your audience, that help or inspire them.

  3. Consistent--Commit to posting content regularly. No matter what. You might commit to a daily (Monday through Fridays, and take the weekend off) or a once-a-week rhythm, but keep at it. Consistency is required for your own skill-building. Follow a schedule — practice creating on demand. Of course having occasional respites of 1–2 weeks, e.g. Christmas break, is acceptable for any audience.

By doing Authentic Content Marketing, you will clarify your message, draw forth an ideal audience to you, and grow a body of work that makes you unique.

When someone needs your service, you'll be the first one they think of. When they have a friend who needs your product, they will tell their friends about you.

The easiest way for anyone to refer you is by sharing your free content with others.

How can you measure progress in this first layer of activity (Authentic Content Marketing)?

  • Are you getting real engagers... people who post comments saying that your content is helpful for them?

  • Are you getting real subscribers... people who want your newsletter because they don’t want to miss your content? This is why I don’t recommend opt-in freebies or telesummit list-building. It’s not as authentic nor effective as just having an honest sign-up form that invites them to get your best content once a month/week. You can see my own example here: George Kao's Newsletters.

  • Are you getting real sharers... people who share your content on social media because they enjoy it, not because they want to get a reward or win a contest?

You can speed up your audience-building by doing paid advertising to reach a lot more people with your content. (I teach an online course about Facebook Ads.

It would be wise to build relationships with influencers in your network that you resonate with -- comment on their content; then invite them to an interview to share their work with your audience. Then, whenever you have a popular piece of content that their network might enjoy, reach out and see if they would love to share it.

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 by being your most helpful self, through the first layer of activity: Authentic, Relevant, Consistent Content.

Your audience like 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 a private conversation with 10 of your fans (each) would mean you're getting better audience research than most business owners! Most entrepreneurs are very much in their own head, and miss out on relationship-building with their audience, which is where truly relevant marketing can come from.

You can privately reach your fans 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 during your research conversation, you can 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:
  • “What are you struggling with, as related to (the thing I want to do)?”
  • “What questions do you wish you could find answers to (within my area of expertise)?”

Pay attention to how they are wording their needs and problems 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 — as related to your area of expertise:
  • What kinds of products, services, programs, events, memberships did they already buy?
  • What did they like about what they bought?
  • What didn’t they like?
  • What kind of product, service, or program do they wish existed?

Your income comes from your audience’s spending. This is why you want to find out their existing buying patterns. The more you understand, the more you will see how your business can naturally slot into their buying behavior, rather than trying to make them spend money in ways they're not used to.

Don't put on the sales pressure. It creates bad word of mouth.

Instead, the more natural way is to sell something they’re already buying, or have tried before, or are considering buying. Your conversations 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 learn about what offers they might want, by looking for patterns in your audience’s engagement with your content. What topics do they enjoy from you? Might you then create a low-fee online workshop that dives 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 get the results you're hoping for.

Besides doing audience interviews as I’ve described above, you can also research your audience in these ways:
  • Keyword Research
  • Ask in Online Groups
  • Email a survey to your list
  • Listen in your everyday “conversations” with clients & prospective clients
  • Ask other industry influencers what they’re hearing

Layer 3 -- Launch to Learn

Once you have some clarity from your audience research --once you start to notice a pattern of what product/service is missing (or not good enough) for your audience, then it’s time to add the third layer — launch your offerings.

Make learning the key priority to your launches.

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 both their wants as well as 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) and testing it.

Would you like to speed things up? Here are the boosters:
Layer 4 -- Growing What Works

Through your launches, you’ll discover some offerings that your audience loves the most... the products/services that they’re most likely to buy from you.

Now, you can add the “final” layer, which is  continual growth of what is working!

This is where you:
  • Keep improving the effectiveness & delight of your service/product, which then creates more authentic word-of-mouth marketing.
  • Keep improving the alignment & accuracy between your marketing materials and the actual customer experience. In other words, sell only what your average client actually experiences when they use your services/products. This is different from most (inauthentic) marketing which hypes up their marketing by talking only about tiny minority of unusual successes.
  • Grow your marketing via paid ads.
  • Explore joint-ventures and collaborations with other authentic businesses.

You can apply these 4 layers to launching and growing any authentic business.

All along the way, keep returning to (and being a champion for) your highest and deepest values.

By doing so, you fulfill the true purpose of your authentic business.