Business Model Not Working? Chuck It, And Start From Scratch

Find yourself stuck in a stagnant business model? Take a cue from the story of a former Chicago web designer who fired every single one of her clients and started a fresh (totally scalable) business. Here's how she made it work.

At the end of 2008, I decided to tear down my business model and start anew.

I had been doing web design for small local businesses, and by all accounts it was going well; I was earning double what I had as a salaried junior designer at an agency. But after only about two years, I was starting to feel stuck. I saw the revenue ceiling I had created for myself, and I couldn't figure out how to bust through it.

I didn't want to build an agency; and between serving clients and hustling every networking event in Chicago to find new ones, I was spent. My rates were already on the high end, and I didn't see how I could charge much more without building out a team capable of taking on more complex jobs.

So I did the only thing I could think of to break every limitation I had imposed on myself: I fired all my clients.

Yes, every last one, including the one client that paid me the equivalent of my old yearly salary. I thought they would keep asking me for one more project, and they did, but I held firm. I knew that it would be too easy for me to keep sliding by as a web designer, and it would hold me back from building what I really wanted.

But what did I really want to build?

I knew that I wanted my new business to somehow be around social media, which started to head up as a business tool in 2008 and 2009. I had viewed social media and online marketing advice as a "freebie" that I gave to my design clients, and the idea that I could get paid for just that one effortless element of my business seemed too good to be true. 

So I started in on my new social media business, unsure of where it would take me.

Although social media was a brand new field, the path to monetization seemed pretty clear: Corporate consulting. When I told people I was starting a new social media marketing business, they would always ask who my clients were; and they wanted to hear impressive names.

The next step that I could see was putting together proposals and pitching companies, so that's what I did. I had learned the basics of this process from my web design days, so I could fake it enough but there was one problem—I hated it. It felt like I was just putting myself back into the same struggle, and the same feast or famine cycle. I had worked hard to get out of the trap of having my business start from zero each time a gig ended, and now I was putting myself in the exact same place.

There was another thing bothering me: I loved immersing myself in the businesses of my clients, and that seemed missing. Most of my clients were very small, and I loved doing sites for those small businesses because of the huge impact it made for them. I loved my small-business clients and had no desire to work with big corporations. But I also didn't want to have to lower my rates enough to make my consulting accessible to a one-person business.

There had to be a business model that didn't rely solely on trading hours for dollars. And I soon found it, completely unexpectedly.

How A Dating Advice Millionaire Changed The Course Of My Business
Surfing the web, I came across the blog of a founder of a multi-million dollar relationship and dating advice business. He said that he was new to social media marketing, and he was hosting a little contest for people to submit their best strategies for using social media to generate leads. I won the contest, and through the application and selection process, we ended up meeting and becoming friends. Suddenly, I was in a whole new world. He had used online education to teach men how to talk to women, but I saw how I could use the same model to use the web to teach small businesses about social media.

I attended a weekend conference about how to build and market online education. Afterward, I went home and built my first program, which I called "Your Backstage Pass to Twitter." To promote this new arm of my business, I started with what I had: My Twitter following and the list of email addresses for people who had signed up for news from my web design business. I invited them to attend a free webinar about Twitter marketing.

People need reassurance that that you know your stuff and will deliver on your promises. Hosting a webinars gave my prospects a taste of my offering while providing a marketing platform for me. I gave twitter marketing tips for about 45 minutes, and described my new program for about 15. For businesses that enjoy the free content, getting more of the same via the paid program becomes an easy decision.

Selling that first program made me the kind of money I used to struggle for months to get one contract for. Your Backstage Pass to Twitter is to this day one of my best-selling programs. If I hadn't been willing to throw out tradition and explore a totally new model, I never would have found what worked.

Laura Roeder is a social media marketing expert who teaches small businesses how to become known as #1 in their field and claim their brand online. She is the creator of Creating Fame and Your Backstage Pass to Twitter, and is a member of The Young Entrepreneur Council (Y.E.C.), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the country's most promising young entrepreneurs. The Y.E.C promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment and provides its members with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of a business's development and growth.

[Image: Flickr user ario_]

Add New Comment

3 Comments

  • Traininguru

    Laura--an inspiring story, demonstrating your willingness to take a risk and change. Is there anything signaling you that other "changes" may be necessary to adapt to the changing landscape?

    John  

  • CindiHoutz

    Thanks for sharing your story Laura!  I've been in a similar situation, trying to figure out the right direction for my business and trying to avoid the same traps of trading time for money, how much to charge, etc.  As I was reading your story I did start thinking of some new ideas... so you've inspired me and I thank you for that! 

  • Marissa Bishop

    Laura -- I think the business model you describe IS the key to success in today's marketplace. Using the web to reach a mass audience that has a desperate need for a specific service makes perfect sense. I love the added value you provided as you rolled the program out!