Business coach Melanie Miller demonstrates that you can know everything there is about business, but you can still make mistakes.
With the intention of starting something big, Melanie Miller opened her business coaching service on the Gold Coast in May 2010. She wanted other businesses to learn how to make the most out of their companies. “My business is to make other businesses better. That may mean more profitable, or more saleable, it could even mean that it is less dependent on the owner. Often it is a combination of many different reasons with the ultimate focus being on more money in the business owner’s pocket.”
However seven months in to her business, Miller found herself with little in her own pocket. “I was only seven months in when I ran out of cash. I was horrified, how could this happen to a business coach? I had not taken a wage, the business paid very little in overheads but my start up funds were gone.”
Suddenly in crisis mode, Miller had to identify where things had gone wrong. “I had made a critical mistake, I had not correctly identified my target market and I had been throwing money at marketing that clearly was not working for me. I had very few leads and the ones I did have were not the types of businesses I wanted to work with, and they didn’t want to work with me.”
Working as part of a franchise among other business coaches, Miller didn’t understand why hers seemed to not be bringing in business while others were. “I just kept doing what they were doing. When it didn’t work I just did more. Big mistake: doing more sent me further in the wrong direction and further into debt. When I asked for advice on why my marketing was not bringing in qualified leads I was told to stick at it and “do more”. So “more” I did. Even though I took advice, it was no one’s fault but my own. Ultimately I was responsible, no one else.
“The worst time was the six weeks leading up to the point where the money had all but gone. Every day I woke up with a sinking feeling. I approached every new client as though they were the one to save my business. I am sure they could smell the desperation. I pitched hard which is not my style and when the client chose not to proceed I felt broken.”
After sitting in a daze for a few days (“I sat on the couch for three days and cried whilst eating ridiculous amount of cheese washed down with ridiculous amounts of wine,” admits Miller), she began to examine what her next step should be, and if it included quitting. “I seriously considered it. Luckily I had supportive people around me that convinced me to give the business one more hard push, so that is what I did.”
Taking on a new attitude to her business, Miller began her research. “I reassessed everything I knew about marketing. I read every book I could get my hands on, mostly borrowed as I was so broke I couldn’t even afford a new book. I trawled the internet reading every blog I could find on target marketing and wrote pages of notes. I figured that if the business was going to fail, I did not want to look back and think “I wish I had have changed things when I had the chance”.”
Instead of following the crowd and their target markets, Miller narrowed hers down to the point of knowing exactly who she was talking to every time. “I ignored the advice of others who suggested I was not doing enough as I knew that wasn’t the problem. Instead I drastically reduced what I was doing and focused on a very small target market: women between the ages of 28 and 40 who ran a business on the Gold Coast. The business needed to be at least three years old and employ at least one staff member. Two weeks short of my deadline to return to full time employment I signed my first three clients who all coincidently fit my target market profile!”
Now, 18 months after Miller was close to calling it quits, she has turned her business around. “I have a waiting list of clients and leads coming in weekly. I spend very little on marketing as I have a great referral base. When I do market I am extremely specific in whom I target and when clients come on board they stay. Most importantly, I know I am good at what I do despite my mistakes. I see the results my clients get, I hear the testimonials they give me and I am never short of referrals for new clients.”
Her three top tips for other businesses that might have got their marketing plan wrong are:
1. Know your target market! Know them inside out, back to front, upside down – know everything you can about them.
2. Tailor your marketing to the customers you want and those that are profitable, not the customers that are easy to get.
3. Trust your gut. If you are going to take a fall or make a mistake, make it because you ‘chose’ to not because you weren’t brave enough to make decisions on your own. Don’t blindly and passively follow what everyone else is doing.