With more states starting to reopen for business, many small business owners are shifting into recovery mode. A big part of making it through this next phase for all businesses will be stretching whatever cash they have available and making sure they have a cushion for unpredictable emergencies. In one-person businesses and micro businesses, operating at peak efficiency will be the key to doing this.
For actionable ideas on how to do more with less, I spoke with Dan Faggella, 32, the Boston-based entrepreneur who founded a million-dollar, one-person business Science of Skill, an e-commerce site focused on martial arts, after running a martial arts dojo. He sold that site for more than $1 million and is now growing his next business, Emerj, an AI consultancy with three employees that serves customers such as the World Bank and the OECD.
Here are some of the strategies he recommends.
Double down on content marketing. Creating timely and relevant articles or videos that pull in your ideal customers organically can speed the sales cycle—and it often costs less than pay-per-click ads, when you look at the overall investment. You don’t have to draft 2,500-word opuses for this strategy to be effective. Faggella learned this at Science of Skill, where he attracted consumers with short martial arts videos made by leading instructors around the world.
Now that Faggella is focused on B2B customers, he and his team are creating the type of content that is relevant to their industries. For instance, his site offers free articles on topics such as AI and the future of supply chain and logistics, AI in video marketing and “weaponized” artificial intelligence. This is bringing organic traffic and attracting companies interested in one of his new offerings, Emerj Plus, which gives them access to a white paper library, AI use cases and return-on-investment guides for people who use AI.
Of course, it takes time to create quality content, so it’s important for any content strategy to focus on what will move the needle for the business. “We’re writing the kind of content that is going to rank on business-related terms,” says Faggella.
Put your marketing on steroids. If you’ve haven’t yet set up a customer relationship management (CRM) system, take advantage of any slack in your schedule to do so. Faggella has used this type of marketing automation to build all of his businesses. Using a CRM (popular brands includes Klaviyo, HubSpot and Keap [formerly Infusionsoft]) is a very efficient way for small businesses to send marketing messages to customers who’ve indicated interest in their products or services. “I’ve always leaned on this a lot to do to the heavy lifting in terms of marketing,” he says.
You don’t need to have a product to sell. Even service businesses can benefit from marketing automation, he says. “You’re not triggering a campaign for someone to buy something,” he explains. “It’s to book an appointment. They have to read about your services and prices and can fill out a form saying they’d like to request a phone call.”
Automate as much of your business as you can. Faggella is a big believer in using dashboards to track the progress he is making in his business. To make this easy, he uses Zapier, a tool that connects apps, to pull together data from sources such as Google Analytics and other software he uses.
He doesn’t stop with what can be automated. He also outsources repetitive tasks that are too complex for technology to do. “Once we get to the limits of what can automatically be done by machines reliably every week, we’ll take the remainder and film videos of the exact set of steps to get them done,” he says. One example is pulling together disparate email metrics automatically. “You might have to pull up three different reports, set it to a particular setting and date range and add different numbers,” he says.
He farms out this work to 24/7 Easy Support, a virtual assistant service based in India, which, he finds, does the work very cost-effectively. Typically he enlists the assistants for two or three hours a week. “They handle stuff that’s more manual and clunky,” he says.
While he could do a lot of the work the assistants do himself and save a few bucks, he’d rather focus on the big picture of building his business. That’s one of the big differentiators of founders who break seven figures in very small firms: They don’t sweat the small stuff, so they have time to think about the big stuff. They know when to hire others to help them out, so they can create something bigger than one person or a tiny team typically can.