The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 24.04

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Image courtesy of DALL-E via ChatGPT

Will a fancy new system solve your problems?

I’ve always found it really difficult to write sales pages. I hate sounding “salesy”, and detest sales pages (or emails, or LinkedIn messages) that promise the end to all my woes (because I know they are over-promising, at best).

So I have a problem.

As I’m writing this, the sales page for SoloBOSS is about 50% complete. I have to describe the features and benefits, and ultimately give solopreneurs a reason to buy. I have to show them that their lives are going to be better with SoloBOSS than it is now.

The problem I’m battling is how to think of the benefits, present them in a compelling way, but not come across as sales-y. An honest sales page, if you like.

This is not a sales page for SoloBOSS—you will have to wait for that to eventually see the light of day.

But crafting the sales page made me think — will any system solve all your problems? Or more specifically, will any specific system solve a set of specific problems?

It turns out there are two parts to the answer.

The problem

Let’s look at an example - CRM’s, or Customer Relationship Management systems.

The promise of CRM’s is that you have all the information you ever needed about leads and clients at your fingertips. With that information in hand, you’re better able to go about selling your stuff, and looking after your clients after they’ve bought. There’s more to it, I know, but in essence this is how they’re supposed to help.

CRM’s have been around for a long time. The big daddy (OG if you like) is SalesForce. HubSpot, Microsoft and Oracle all offer CRM systems. Shake a tree and another one falls out.

These high-end systems do really neat things like hooking into your telephone system, lining up the calls you need to make, tracking those calls, notes about calls or visits, emails exchanged, guiding your sales team through the sales process, offering suggestions for how to counter objections (hello AI)… The list goes on.

All of this is overkill for smaller businesses

And non-starters (cost- and time-wise) for solopreneurs.

Enter light-weight CRM systems. Supposedly, they’re easy to use, easy to set up (just enter your credit card details) and will help you keep track of all your leads and close more sales.

The problem is most light-weight CRM’s are built on the same principles and assumptions as big company CRM systems.

Those principles and assumptions make even the light-weight systems difficult to use. Or force us into doing things in ways we weren’t trained to do.

For example, they assume:

  • We have lots of leads. We don’t. Most solopreneurs and small businesses work with (at most) tens of leads and clients a year.
  • We understand sales. Most of us don’t. We’re experts in our respective crafts, but were never trained in how to “sell”.
  • We can spend a lot of time on sales. We can’t. We’re solopreneurs or small business owners. We also have to do everything else.

These assumptions mean we have to spend more time than we have, doing things in ways we were not trained to do, just to get value from the system.

Most of the time, we abandon these systems after a few days or weeks because we don’t use them.

So what do we do?

The Solution

My first successful CRM system was a bunch of Post-It Notes, and it worked like a charm.

Seriously. When I started selling Highly Engaged Teams, I worked with maybe 5 or 6 clients a year. The number of leads at any time were about the same. I would get a lead and write them on a Post-It note. On my wall was a rudimentary sales funnel—Post-It notes arranged in columns. There were columns for New, Promising, Active, Cold / Disqualified and Past Clients. Every time something notable happened, I scribbled on the relevant note.

This system worked for two reasons:

  • It was simple and easy to use.
  • It was in front of me all the time.

Of course, the amount of information I needed about each client was relatively small. I was the only one who needed the info, so I could remember a lot of the details. I could easily track and manage all of this on Post-It notes. The “system” eventually evolved into a Trello board (same columns) that was easier to access on the road.

The simplicity of this system (and its successors) taught me a lot about systems and their actual value in a business.

Two fundamentals are now at the heart of all the systems I choose, use, and build. These are the “two parts to the solution” I mentioned above.

1. The system must have low friction

We don’t use systems that have a lot of friction. Too much effort for the value we get, and we lose all appetite.

So you have to choose systems with low friction. This means:

  • It’s easy to use.
  • It doesn’t require you to spend a lot of time on it (“feeding the beast”).
  • It doesn’t force you into doing things you don’t need to do.

This last point is particularly important.

In the CRM world, we can track every interaction, email, bits of personal knowledge (”daughter loves goldfish”) — but just like hoarders, we seldom use all that data. We spend a lot of time and effort gathering all this stuff, and get little value from it.

In reality, we don’t need all that data. We need just enough to get the job done.

So when you’re considering any system, ask yourself just two questions:

  1. Is it easy to use?
  1. Will it adapt to the way I work?

If you can answer yes to both, you’re on the right track. It’s worth doing a more detailed evaluation.

2. You have to commit

The second part of the “solution” is that you have to commit.

It’s become too easy to sign up for free trials. We spend a few minutes poking around, then life (and business) calls and we forget about the system until we get a reminder. And by then we’re too busy to get back to it.

So if you’re looking at adding a “system” to your business, you have to be do enough research to satisfy point 1 above (low friction), and then you have to commit to using the system. Full on, no holds barred.

The reason is simple:

The value of a system is directly proportional to how much you use it.

The fanciest CRM system in the world won’t help you get more sales if you don’t use it every single day. And commit to it being “your system”. You can (and in some cases should) do it with limited data, but don’t “just test it”. Commit to using it for real to see if it works for you.

Moral of this story

I love tech, and systems, and I spend a lot of time in those worlds. I even build my own (like SoloBOSS). But all my experience with system led to one key insight:

These systems only worked for me if I actually used it.

So next time that fancy system shows up, ask yourself three questions:

  1. Is it easy to use?
  1. Will it adapt to the way I work?
  1. Will I commit to using it?

Answer yes to all three, and chances are your system will deliver value for you.