The 4 Layers of Authentic Business
Updated July 2019: Click here for the better version of this post.
An authentic business feels deeply meaningful, and financially supports you.
It’s not just one you’d do for the money. The activity or topic is itself worthwhile to you, even if you had to do it for free.
On the other hand, it’s not just about “doing what you love.” It is an Authentic Business, a true livelihood.
Gratefully, I’ve been able to help people make progress on their own authentic business, and I’ve been running my own for almost a decade.
My specialty is in helping transformational businesses: Coaching, Consulting, Counseling, Mentoring, Healing, and other person-to-person services for personal & professional growth.
Here is my current framework on how to launch an authentic business successfully.
Layer 1: Authentic Content Marketing
The most generous — and authentic to the soul — way of starting or growing a business is through content. This is the first layer, the foundation.
Talk about you passion, something you would love to create a business with. Since it’s your passion, you are naturally energized to talk about it.
Online, that’s called “creating content.” It can be your writing, your videos, your images, your audio, and also, the links and content you curate (gather and share) from other sources.
As you share your passion with others, you’ll find kindred spirits to connect with and talk about your passion. You’ll also be educating the general public so that more people can discover the thing you’re passionate about.
Where to create & share content?
I’d recommend using a larger platform such as Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Reddit, Medium, or Quora.
In the past — when we lived in tiny villages and that was our entire world — we had to try to please everyone, or risk being ostracized.
The beauty of the internet is that it is an almost-unlimited collection of many villages — of every style and belief. You can be truly yourself, and there will be enough people in the world who resonate with your style. Gather your kindred spirits through content sharing, and create your own village.
Start by creating content right there inside the platform (such as this blog post you’re reading) rather than trying to get people to go to your website to read it. Of course you can mention your website, and have a newsletter sign-up there, but build a following by primarily having them consume content directly on the platform first.
Also send out a monthly or weekly email newsletter (mine here) of your best recent content.
When creating content here are the three factors to keep in mind:
- Authentic — Be willing to share your real point of view, even if it is controversial. The simplest way to get started is to read articles or watch articles 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? And then say it, write it. To be authentic is to share your honest opinion.
- Relevant — Within your area of expertise, focus on answering the questions that your ideal clients/audience have, and talking about the things that energize them. Make list of problems you love to solve. Which ones could you create a quick solution for? Which problems are most popular or do you hear the most? Create or curate content for these.
- Consistent — Commit to posting content regularly. No matter what. You might commit to a daily (M-F if you take weekends off) or a weekly rhythm, but keep at it. Follow a schedule (practice creating on demand). Of course having occasional respites of 1–2 weeks, e.g. Christmas break, is acceptable to any audience.
By doing Authentic Content Marketing, you clarify your message, you clarify your offerings, you draw forth an ideal audience to you, and you grow a body of work that sets you apart from everyone else in your industry.
When someone needs your type of service, you could be the first one they think of. When they have someone in their network who needs something you offer, they will share you, because the easiest way to refer you forward is by sharing your free content.
How to measure progress?
Are you getting real engagers? People who post comments saying that your content is helpful and/or uplifting for them.
Are you getting real subscribers? People who are subscribing to 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. Starting a relationship with subscribers by requiring them to do something before you give them content? 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.
Are you getting real sharers? People who share your content forward out of genuine delight, not because they want to get a reward or win some contest.
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?
It would also be wise to be doing 1–1 outreach, to the influencers in your network, whenever you have a particularly popular piece of content that you believe they (or their network) might especially enjoy.
Layer 2: Audience Research
You’ve started to gather a real audience (engagers, subscribers, sharers). These are your “tribe”, the village you’ve created on the internet.
You’ve gathered them not by some clever marketing tactics, but simply by being yourself… They like who you authentically are, and how helpful and consistent your content is.
Connect personally with as many of your tribe members as possible. Start a discussion with each one. If you’re busy, maybe you can only handle personal conversations with 10 people, but that’s better than most business owners who are too focused on marketing, and not on relationship-building.
By the way, in the months when you are focused on having such conversations, continue to create authentic & relevant content consistently. This is why these are “layers” and not “steps”. They are simultaneous. As you become more skilled at each layer, it will take you less time, and you will be able to add on new layers.
You can reach them via Facebook messaging (don’t do a group message, just individually message each person). You can have the discussion over a private message thread with each one. Or if possible, invite them to a private video call so that in conversation you can also see their facial expressions.
Within your area of passion, find out what problems they’re facing, and goals they’d love to reach, e.g. “What are you struggling with, as related to (the thing I want to do)?”
Also ask something like: “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 desires and questions.
These words and phrases may be “keywords” you will use to create content that reaches more people just like them.
This is the most important part — find out what they have spent money on — in the area of your passion or in a related area. What kinds of products and services did they try already? How about programs, events, or memberships? What did they like about these things 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 behavior. The more you understand it, the more you can see how your business can naturally slot into their buying patterns.
Why will someone buy a kind of thing they’ve never bought before? It can eventually happen if you keep sharing authentic, relevant content, thereby building a trusting relationship with your audience, and then they’re willing to try out your product/service even if they wouldn’t have bought it before.
Or, if you want it to sell stuff quickly, it takes putting on the sales pressure that doesn’t feel authentic to you, and sometimes creates buyer’s remorse in them (there wasn’t enough trust and understanding), and 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 better than they could 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 or subtopics do they most love that you talk about? Might you then create a low-fee online workshop that dives more into that topic?
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:
- Keyword Research
- Ask in Online Groups
- Email a survey to your list
- Listen in your everyday “conversations” with clients & pros clients
- Ask other industry influencers what they’re hearing
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 the audience members you’re talking to, 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. I don’t say “needs” because what you think they “need” might not be obvious to them — they understand their “wants” and you’d be wisest to focus on that in your offer creation and marketing. In other words, create offerings using popular problems as the front door. You can then serve their deeper needs once they have purchased or hired you.
I recommend having 2 or 3 price tiers, so that you can also be testing prices. For example, a healer might offer 1 session for $100, and 6-session package for $500 (giving a $100 discount for buying in “bulk”).
Or you might offer a one-hour online workshop for $25, and also offer a 1–1 session with you for $125 as an alternative for those who prefer private work.
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 of conversations, and how much you are learning by trying to market your offering and tweaking as you go along.
All along the way, you are still engaging in the first 2 layers: Content & Conversations.
This “launch and learn” layer might look like this: one month you are launching your online workshop; the next month you’re focused on announcing your 1–1 sessions; the following month you’re testing whether there’s enough interest for a group program; the following month you try launching another online workshop, etc.
Keep things interesting for yourself and your audience, but also keep coming back to earlier offerings that you believe in, making the marketing even better this time based on your conversations since the previous launch.
You can speed up the above layers with:
- The quantity of your content, conversations, and launches (Quantity leads to Quality)
- The quality of your productivity (True Productivity, Green Yellow Red)
- Paid advertising (I teach an online workshop on Facebook Ads)
Layer 4: Growing What Works
Through your various launches, you’ll discover some offering that your audience likes 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:
- 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/client experience. In other words, sell only what your average client actually experiences by using your services/products. This is different from most (inauthentic) marketing which hypes up the minority of the most unusual successes.
- Grow your marketing via paid ads.
- Be doing 1–1 outreach to influencers of your network to let them know which product/service is being of most impact to your audience.
- Explore joint-ventures and collaborations with other authentic businesses.
I’ll end this post for now, as it’s already getting a bit long.
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 being a champion of your highest and deepest values. By doing so, you fulfill the true purpose of your authentic business.
Now that you know about the 4 layers, let’s consider your launch timeline: