Are you overlooking your biggest competitive advantage?

A lot of the small business advice you’ll encounter online is focused on “how to become a BIG business.” 3 really common themes:

  1. Automation: getting computer programs or online services to perform tasks for you.
  2. Scaling: growing bigger.
  3. Leverage: moving away from “trading time for money.”

These are so common and so often repeated that you might think they are the only options. They’re not. They’re just opinions.

In today’s video (scroll down for text version) I counter these ideas with a different perspective: using small and personal to your advantage.

Over-run by customers wanting to throw money at you? Don’t read this post!

First of all: there’s nothing wrong with any of these things. They all have their place. This is not a blanket suggestion to NOT do these things. (I use a number of them in my own business!)

Just make sure that whatever you choose aligns with:

I wrote this post specifically for people in the following situation:

  • You work 1:1 with clients to provide professional services. Coaching. Counselling. Wellness services. Freelance services. Consulting.
  • You are not overflowing with clients. There are empty slots in your calendar.

If you have more clients than you can handle, this advice isn’t for you!

Your biggest advantage in this situation is that you can be personal.

Big businesses don’t have a choice. They need rules and policies and automated systems.

You, on the other hand, are free to treat people like human beings instead of numbers. This is one thing you can do and your larger competition can’t.

So let’s look at these 3 “impersonal” trends and explore the alternatives.

1. Instead of automating, send personal messages

It’s not everyday that you get mail delivered by a real live snail!

Automation entails using options like the following:

  • E-mail list management programs (like MailChimp)
  • CRM – customer relationship management programs
  • Automated “funnel systems” for internet marketing
  • Social media “robots” – programs you can set up to post to social media for you

All of these things can be helpful time savers.

They can also be impersonal.

As our good friend Steven Covey says: you want to be efficient with things, and effective with people.

Which would land better (from the recipient’s perspective): receiving a personal email or getting an automated newsletter?

When you have a small list, you don’t need an automated email system. You can keep people in your contacts list and email them individually. (You might be surprised at how many contacts you can manage in this way. I once did a MailChimp setup for someone who had 4,000 contacts in gmail!)

Instead of sending a canned message, you can:

  • Send a personal email to a single individual
  • Send a letter or card in the mail
  • Pick up the phone and call them

2. Instead of scaling, go small and exclusive

I don’t see your name on the guest list…

Scaling advice includes things like:

  • Building a big email list
  • Accumulating social media followers
  • Finding promotional partners so you can sell each others’ stuff

The focus here tends to be numbers numbers numbers. It’s common practice for promotional partners to refuse to work with anyone who has fewer than 5,000 people on their email list.

Another option: quality over quantity.

Which would you rather have?

A list of 500 people who fit your ideal client profile, who open your emails and who buy stuff? Or a list of 5,000 random strangers?

For an encouraging perspective on this, read: 1,000 True Fans

Consider implementing what Michael Port calls a “Red Velvet Rope” policy: ONLY work with the right people for your business.

3. Instead of leveraging, deliver personal 1:1 services

I can’t come on Tuesdays. Can you do it on Wednesdays instead? I would totally sign up if you started it in April. Starts at 7:00 – oh, that’s too late for me.

In the “stop trading time for money” category, we have:

  • Group programs
  • Digital products
  • Online courses

The Cookie Cutter Gurus promote these as the easy way to make lots of money online. Here’s what they don’t tell you:

Groups can be harder to fill

Unless you already have a ton of leads and an overflowing practice, filling groups is harder than selling 1:1 services.

  • You have to make multiple sales to run a single group
  • This multiplies the work: more lead generation, more sales conversations, more follow up work
  • Everyone needs to agree to the time/place/start date

When you try to run groups too early in your business, you may find that you don’t sell enough seats to meet your minimum. You get 2 or 3 registrations when you need 5 to break even. Now what? Run the program at a loss? Cancel and refund the money?

Digital products and online courses don’t sell themselves

Digital products and online courses are something else to sell – and they require a lot of marketing.

They also take a lot of time to create (assuming you want to develop something that is high in quality.)

People who want to purchase online courses aren’t typically looking for 1:1 help, so now you need to try to market to 2 different audiences.

Most people don’t finish online courses and very few get good results.

When you work with people individually:

  • You can give them more attention, so they get more value
  • They get better results
  • Which leads to testimonials and referrals

Whether you’re making a strategic decision to keep your business small and profitable – or you are at the beginning stages of a business you intend to grow, take advantage of your “smallness” to do business in a more personal way.

Also? It’s a loving thing to do.


  1. Regina Orchard on February 19, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    Thank you Patty, I love your work: succinct, human, kind and effective. This one post gives me plenty to consider for my direction. I also appreciate the added links.

    • Patty K on February 24, 2017 at 9:48 am

      Thank you, Regina! I’m so glad to hear you found it helpful. 🙂