What Business Are you Actually Running?

So much of the "business advice" in the online space assumes a one-size-fits-all approach. Unfortunately, it doesn't consider the nuances of your business model, which can impact everything from how and where your market your business to your email list size. In this guest post by operations strategist, Jessica Lackey, we explore how you can build sustainable business practices that are rooted in your business model.

“Feed the algorithm!” “Post daily on the socials!” “Show up in stories!”

“The gold is in your list.” “Gotta be consistent in your content, week over week.”

And if you’re a business owner, you might be frankly exhausted by the content hamster wheel narrative.

Especially if most of your clients come through referrals, word of mouth, and personal connections.

But the question is… who is this guidance for?

A major challenge in building sustainable businesses is that advice for entrepreneurs is lumped together in the same bucket, whether they classify as freelancers, creators, influencers, solopreneurs, or small business owners.

And as the ways you can connect with your clients and customers expands, it becomes more critical than ever to ask a fundamental question: what type of business are you running?

Delivery model businesses: service providers

Delivery-model businesses focus on delivering a service, either through yourself or through a team. Delivery model businesses have fewer customers with deeper and potentially longer-term relationships than creator or brand models. Sometimes, these businesses can be dismissed as “time-for-dollars” business models because they are limited by the size of the team and the number of hours for each service, and will not be able to scale exponentially.

However, they can be profitable and are often the fastest way to generate revenue.

  • The Craftsman: You pride yourself on delivering a craft, like graphic design, web design, or copywriting. You enjoy doing the work your clients hire you for, or perhaps you can’t or don’t want to move that work to an additional person. 
  • The Advisor: You love sharing insights with your clients 1:1 and then supporting them as they execute the plan on their end. You’re probably not doing ongoing production or “day-to-day” work for your clients.
  • The Agency: You have—or would like to—bring on a team to do all or some of the client delivery work. You might be involved with client delivery, but your role shifts to company and client strategy creation, Intellectual Property development, and sales/business development.

Creator model businesses: monetizing content or community

Creator model businesses focus on creating and distributing content around a point of view. Differences in these models emerge in how you choose to monetize content. This is the business model you’ll primarily see with online influencers, speakers, and content marketers. Compared to delivery model businesses, these models are characterized by requiring larger audiences, because the average revenue per audience member is often lower and the cost of acquisition and marketing is higher. These models are seen as more scalable because the revenue is not tied to delivery hours.

Even if you facilitate a community, course, or group coaching program, one of your major—if not your primary—responsibilities is to spread your message and attract new customers.

  • The Gatherer: You curate and facilitate groups for connection and conversation, including communities, retreats, and events. You may offer courses and recorded content, but the focus of your business is the community.
  • The Teacher: You make your money by using content to grow your audience and selling related products. You might sell content only: tools, templates, self-guided or evergreen courses, content-only memberships. Or you might sell content and interaction: cohort-based programs, course-based platforms with an online group, group coaching programs
  • The Edu-Tainer: You make your money by growing your audience and monetizing through sponsorships, advertisements, affiliate revenue, books, paid content, and speaking.

So most of this content hamster wheel advice is geared towards creator models – because they need a large audience based on the math.

Audience Math

If you’re making money from your business through a course or community, you may need to enroll 100 new people per year. The conversion expected here is much lower because it’s not a relational service, where you’re having real sales conversations.

At a 2-3% conversion rate… you’ll need 3000 people to visit your sales page or see your email. And if only 50% of your list reads your email?

You might need 6000 new subscribers to your list each year, unless you have renewing clients.

There’s no way you could have relationships with 6000 people. The only way to build the sheer number of people on your list is through leveraged distribution on social media, content creation, collaborations with other established audiences, and (most likely) ads.

Your goal here is scaled relationships.

But let’s say you run a delivery-based business. A business where you need to work with 10-20 clients per year. If about half of the people you talk to in discovery calls book with you, you only need to have conversations with 20-40 potential clients per year (that’s 2-3 sales calls per month).

Your goal here is conversations and connections.

Probably, the 20 clients you have send referrals your way. (I go out of my way to send referrals to my trusted partners). You do a few podcast interviews and guest teach in a community or host some workshops to invite more connections into conversations. You connect with real humans in the communities you engage with. You can build relationships with 40 people through conversations and connections. It may take time, but the relationships compound.

One of my clients needs only 3 clients every year… and many of those clients renew for a second year. She will always fill her business through curated conversations and relationships – and not through content creation as an attraction mechanism.

These are wildly different numbers – for wildly different business models.

Time Math

So let’s add up the time you (might) spend on short-form content creation:

  • Let’s say you spend 30-60 minutes to create each daily post and graphics
  • Another 30-60 minutes each day to engage on the socials to boost the algorithm (and to connect with real humans)
  • Lots of time checking each post for vanity metrics (no shame, I do this more than I admit)
  • Spending 2 hours on a weekly newsletter or a podcast

You might be spending 10 hours a week on content creation! Which, if you’re already spending a lot of your time delivering to clients, no wonder you’re overwhelmed.

Are you seeing your client roster grow in exchange for that 10 hours?

Or would you be better served with that 10 hours per week:

  • Publishing a monthly newsletter to stay relevant and top-of-mind
  • Inviting 2 colleagues or or people you find interesting to 30-minute connection calls
  • Emailing your past clients with podcasts or articles you know they’ll love
  • Creating a limited audio podcast series outlining your best points of view that new listeners can binge when they hear about you
  • Inviting people into an experience of your service (either paid in money or paid in their time)
  • Participating in aligned communities and building relationships
  • Hosting a monthly masterclass or roundtable
  • Writing long-form posts for your website with optimized SEO

In a relationship business, content should be the “soft landing” where people who hear about you can learn more about you and how you work to see if you’re a fit.

What business model are you running?

And with all of the options available, how do you want to focus your time and energy?

You can read more about Jessica on her website and subscribe to her weekly Deep Dive to build a stronger business.

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