In the span of seven years, I launched three service businesses. None of those launches was easy, but the first one was by far the hardest. It taught me that most of the tired tropes about building a sustainable business are false.
I learned everything the hard way – on my own.
This is why I am now on a mission to talk about the things you can get right without too much trial and error. You can get it right from the first try and you can build a resilient service business in any economy.
Quick intermezzo before we dig into today’s topic: if you want to build a business that’s resilient in any economy, you may be interested in my weekly newsletter, Ideas to Power Your Future. It’s free, it goes out on Thursdays, and it comes with analyses and tactics to future-proof your business. You can subscribe here.
Now let’s get back to business! This is what I’ve learned after building three businesses without a coach, expensive courses, or mentors.
1. Only Sell Services You’re Darn Good At
No, a quick online course won’t turn you into an expert on…well, anything. Before you sell your services, polish your craft. Make sure you’re damn good at it.
You may be able to sell your services to a few clients and build some chops on their dime. But that’s not the way to build a sustainable business. Plus, seasoned (read: high-ticket) clients smell vaporware a mile away.
Learn from my mistake: a couple of years into my first digital marketing agency, Idunn, I noticed an increased demand for Google Ads services. I already had a bit of experience with the platform. I got the Google certification and sold the service.
I even got some clients. And the clients had good results. But they were nowhere near the results my team and I had had with our core services – content writing and social media marketing.
I dropped the service after a few months and got back to what we knew how to do best. This way, we also got back to getting the stellar feedback we were accustomed to.
Speaking of this:
2. Don’t be Everything. Service Excellence Comes from What You Choose NOT to Offer
Would you work with someone that’s mediocre at everything or a superstar at one or two things?
Lady Gaga can pull off singing and acting. But not even she has tried to add tennis, football, cooking, and crocheting to the mix.
I’m not saying that you need to niche down and offer a single, tiny service. Sometimes, offering everything a client needs helps a lot with retention – but only if all those services are up to par.
Personal example: I took the Google Ads lesson above to heart. When I saw an increased demand for link building and link outreach, I said no. We kept offering SEO content writing services, but we never dabbled in selling links.
I tried such services for my own businesses and quickly realized that it’s incredibly hard to avoid the spam and the scam that comes with this industry. So I chose to decline every offer I’ve received for this service.
Yes, I left money on the table. But I left $10 one day and got $1000 the next day.
Having a backbone in the service industry helps!
3. Be a Partner to Your Clients, Not Their Hireling
Remember what I said in the beginning about tired tropes that harm your business? “The client is always right” is one of them.
The client isn’t always right. That’s why they hire experts like you. They don’t need their ego massaged, they need your expertise to tell them how they can improve. When you help your clients grow, your business grows as well.
Partnerships are the key to sustainable and future-proof businesses.
My agency has clients that have been with us for seven years and counting. But we never treated the work we did for them like donkey work.
We also pointed out when they could do something better. For example, we offered content marketing suggestions to go with the content we produced for them. This was outside the scope of our work but we knew that, without the right promotion, even the best pieces of content will only remain best-kept secrets.
This is the type of attitude that makes you a partner to your clients, not an easily replaceable hireling. Don’t be afraid to stand up and stand your ground – it always pays off!
Conclusion – Sustainable Service Businesses Aren’t Built Overnight
Just like any other kind of business, service ones have their ups and downs. However, a steady stream of clients and predictable income comes only if you have a backbone from the moment you launch your business.
Don’t try and grow to seven digits in a year. This is nearly impossible and it often involves “unorthodox” tactics. If you want to keep your business for the long run, make sure its name remains stain-free.
This may involve letting go of bad-fit clients just to make room for better ones. That’s OK. If you stick to your initial vision and code of ethics, you will attract the right type of client.